10 PM, a dark forest path. The silence is interrupted by the distant rumbling of a car engine. As the engine noise grows louder, it is joined by the intermittent sound of snapping underbrush and tires struggling to surmount the many holes and hillocks that lie in the car’s path. Eventually the beams of a pair of headlights stab through the darkness, and the car appears in the distance. The car crawls slowly closer, then draws to a stop. In front of it the trees grow more closely together. The path remains, but it is no longer wide enough to accommodate a vehicle of the car’s size. The engine shuts down and, after a moment’s hesitation, the driver’s side door opens and a woman emerges.
The first things out the door are a pair of feet clad in brown hiking boots and white socks. A face pokes out of the door and looks around. The woman has brown hair arranged in a loose ponytail that runs down to her shoulder blades. She surveys the area cautiously, looking out for any dangers that might lurk outside the safety of her vehicle. After a few moments she stands and begins considering her next action. The woman’s name is Amy Shaw. She has blue eyes that are somewhat obscured by the round frames of her glasses, which she wears more out of vanity than out of any genuine need. A cold wind picks up and she hugs her arms to her chest, wishing she’d thought to wear more than the black t-shirt she’d put on before leaving home about two hours before. She knew better than to trust the weather in upstate New York in early May; during the drive up the pleasant warmth of evening had melted into the chill of night. Fortunately she had the forethought to wear a good pair of jeans, sturdy enough to protect from wayward branches, warm enough to keep her legs from freezing, loose enough not to inhibit the hiking she now realized she would have to do.
“Now what?” she thinks. She had come up here in search of her friend, Shannon, who had disappeared a week ago. Shannon had heard about a haunted house out in the woods and had bugged Amy to come explore it with her.
“Come on!” Shannon had said last Sunday, “It’ll be a fun way to relax before finals. You can get some exercise and fresh air. Besides, you have to take a break from studying or you’ll forget all the things you’re cramming right now.”
“A study break isn’t a terrible idea. But driving two hours in the middle of the night, to the middle of nowhere, to look at an empty house, then driving back isn’t the most practical way to blow off steam. Just wait until I finish this chapter and then we’ll go to the gym together.”
“I don’t want to wait an hour, I want to go now. Your final isn’t until Wednesday. You can have fun tonight, sleep in tomorrow, then spend all day Tuesday studying.”
“Look, I don’t want to go. If you want to waste your time up there, that’s fine, but leave me out.”
“Fine. I’ll go alone.” With that, Shannon had stormed out and Amy had returned to her studying. A minute or two later Shannon was back.
“Look, I’m sorry I got all mad. I just… I’m worried that we’ll graduate soon and then never see each other. I wanted to do something fun before all the graduation craziness.”
“I understand. I guess it could be fun, and we should hang out before graduation… Look, does it have to be right now? The more I’m reading the more I’m panicking that I don’t know this stuff and I don’t know what I don’t know. Could this possibly wait until I have a better handle on my studying?”
Shannon had gotten a big grin on her face, “Okay, but it has to be tonight. How about if I go on ahead and you can follow after when you’re ready? That way you’ll have to come or I’ll be all alone in a scary woods and you’ll feel guilty for leaving me there.”
Shannon left again and returned a moment later with a couple of sheets of paper.
“Here are the directions. I got them from Greg. Come whenever you’re ready. Just don’t leave me alone out there!”
But Amy had left Shannon alone. She had gotten pulled into her books and had ignored the phone calls from Shannon. She had tried calling Shannon back the next day, but Shannon hadn’t picked up. Probably, Amy assumed, ignoring her to emphasize Amy’s betrayal. Amy felt bad for flaking out on Shannon, but decided not to feel too guilty, since it was a mess of Shannon’s own making. At worst Shannon had wasted a night she could have spent studying. Amy put it out of her mind and focused on finals.
Amy took her finals on Wednesday and Thursday. On Friday she ran into Greg.
“Hey, have you seen Shannon lately?”
“Last Sunday she said she was going out to that haunted house you told her about. I kinda told her I’d join her, then stayed home instead. She hasn’t talked to me since then.”
“Well, I haven’t seen her in a while. In fact, I noticed she didn’t take the final for the class we had this morning. I figured she’d just made arrangements so that she could be done early.”
“I wouldn’t worry. You know how she gets. She’ll turn up eventually.”
But Shannon hadn’t turned up. Amy called around to her friends who knew Shannon and nobody had seen her since last Sunday. Now a week’s worth of pent up guilt flooded out, given further force by the concern that something terrible might have happened to Shannon. Amy decided to go out and try to discover what had happened to Shannon, and to rescue her if need be. She had reached her decision at 8 o’clock on Saturday night. She didn’t want to wait another night to go searching, but she still harbored a doubt as to whether this wasn’t just Shannon being dramatic, so she had decided to go alone.
Now she stands by her car, looking at the narrow trail vanishing off into the darkness. She feels a pit growing in her stomach, like maybe this whole thing was a really terrible idea. Banishing that thought from her mind, she resolves not to return home until she finds Shannon or confirms that Shannon isn’t here.
What should Amy do now?
Head down the path
Inspect the car