Some time ago, I initiated a collaborative and fun writing project on Hubpages titled, “Join Me in the Story.” The premise was that I would begin the story and hubbers would enter their ideas and contributions that continued the story in the comment section. I added our ongoing comments and ideas to the story as time progressed. I didn't write the ending to this story, entirely, until recently. The names of the fellow, talented authors and contributors appear at the conclusion of the story.
It was one the coldest winters Jim had seen in years. The snowstorm arrived earlier than predicted and he wondered if he should have told someone where he was bound. Mountainside Road was secluded, narrow and winding, and could be treacherous in bad weather.
Snow started to mix with heavy sleet that chipped at his windshield like ice picks. I learned how to drive on mountain roads like this in the winter, he reminded himself as he clenched the steering wheel. He was driving to his girlfriend’s house to surprise her when she returned home from her senior year at college that evening. An engagement ring was snuggled in a small velvet box, tucked away in his backpack.
The storm had reached its peak and Jim was pleased his new Jeep maneuvered well through the thick snow. The first-rate heater was blowing at full blast and the windshield defroster was doing its job...for now. He fought to stay awake as he watched the constant, jagged-white patterns dart into his headlights. Just as he was about to doze off, a dark object rushed into the narrow road ahead of him. Huge and shrouded in black, it loomed in his path with a menacing and foreboding presence. Jim caught his breath as he jammed his foot on the brakes and jerked the steering wheel to the left. He quickly lost control as the back end of the Jeep spun around and slammed into a ditch.
Stunned and angry, Jim slowly climbed out of the Jeep and staggered forward. Where the hell is that thing? He looked into the road but the mysterious figure had vanished. A quick look at the damage to his vehicle told Jim that he wasn’t going anywhere. Pulling his coat tightly around him, he noticed blood on his hands. A warm trickle of red ran down his forehead and stung his eyes.
The cold night air and snow clung to his face as he struggled to see his way forward. Stumbling away from the wreck, his dazed walk through the blinding snow led him across the road to an embankment of pine trees. When Jim turned to see the headlights of an oncoming car, he lost his footing and pitched backward. He cried out as his body tumbled down a steep clearing and hit the freezing waters of a stream below.
The headlights from the approaching car slowed. Megan was on her way home to her mother’s house for winter break when she saw the damaged Jeep. So…I'm not the only idiot driving in this mess, she thought. She stopped to see if anyone needed her help. Cell phones were useless at that altitude and the nearest residence was several miles away.
Megan gasped when she saw the extensive damage to the rear end of the vehicle. Wait…isn’t that Jim’s Jeep? Oh my God...no!! Her blood ran as cold as the blizzard air when she turned to see Jim plunge off of the embankment at the side of the road. She quickly slipped her gearshift into park and ran from the car. Her feet were nearly frozen by the time she reached the pines. With her head bowed, she slowly trudged through the snow by the tree line that bordered the steep clearing.
“Jim! Jim! Can you hear me?” Megan’s screams swirled with the snow into the darkness below.
She looked back to where she had left her car running, searching frantically for the headlights that had begun to grow dim. "You can't turn back now...just keep moving," she whispered as she fought back her tears. Closing her eyes, Megan tried to will feelings of warmth into her shivering body, but it was no use; she was colder than she'd ever been in her life.
At the bottom of the clearing, a pair of eyes glowed from the large dark figure shrouded in black that whimpered like a wild animal in pain. Jim’s body was motionless in the icy water. He didn’t see or feel the long, spindly arms that reached down and pulled him from the stream. The creature emitted a low screeching sound before it slithered behind a tree and out of Jim’s view.
Moments later, Jim awoke to blistering cold. His aching body shivered, violently, and cried out in protest as he tried to stand. That skittering thing in black...it couldn’t have been real. Maybe I fell asleep and only dreamed it. He thought he heard his name echoing through the trees in the distance, but he no longer trusted his senses. He struggled to bring his mind into focus. If I don't get control, I'm going to die out here. Jim could feel his body functions begin to shut down, and knew that it wouldn’t be long before the blissful sleep of hypothermia threatened to overtake him.
As Jim fought to stay awake, Megan heard a vehicle slow to a stop on the mountain road behind her, and turned to see a second set of headlights through the snow. She yelled for help, and was heartened to see the figure of a tall man slowly make his way toward her with a flashlight. When he reached her, she quickly told him about Jim who was lost somewhere below them in the storm. The man nodded, and began to push the tree branches back to clear a path. Megan’s voice was growing weaker, overwhelmed with fear as she continued to call out Jim’s name.
“You know, when I get scared or worried, I sometimes whistle,” he said, sensing her growing panic. He began to whistle a haunting, soothing melody. At first, Megan felt foolish as she, too, began to whistle, but soon found a strange comfort in the song. Maybe Jim can hear me, she thought. The snowfall and heavy winds began to subside, and she picked up her pace with renewed hope.
Near the freezing stream below, Jim thrust a trembling hand into his right pants pocket and slowly pulled out his cell phone. When he flipped it open, the blue glow cast a bit of light into his eyes. What was left of the battery was fading. There was no way to call for help, and his hope slipped away into the icy darkness. He worked the small keyboard with numb fingertips and stared for a moment at a woman's face in a photo he'd taken only recently.
Jim began to feel himself lose consciousness again and move into a different realm. He no longer felt the cold. The picture of Megan melted into other images -- forgotten images from his childhood and memories from later years. His life was unfolding before his eyes and he felt strangely content. He wrenched his head upward when he heard a woman's voice in the distance. Megan! Her voice was becoming louder. Is this real? He fought to pull himself back; he had to survive...he had to reach her.
Jim tried to push his body up from the ground but his arms and legs were so anesthetized from the cold, he couldn't move. Megan! He tried to call out but couldn't make a sound. Suddenly, long arms reached through the darkness, coiled around Jim’s body and lifted him into the air. The huge creature in black started to carry him swiftly up the hill toward the sounds of whistling. For a moment, Jim thought he was having the same nightmare he had as a child. He looked up to see a glimmer of light through the trees that was getting closer.
Behind the light, Megan stumbled through the snow as she led the man in the direction she was sure would take them to Jim. The man pointed his flashlight at the white ground ahead, guiding their steps. "What’s your name?" he asked. When she half turned to answer, the man shrieked, pulled a crowbar from underneath his thick coat and swung it violently. As Megan looked up to see the crowbar bearing down, a long black claw of a hand caught it and tore the arm from the man’s body.
Jim could hear the bloodcurdling screams as he was flung to the ground. He saw the creature shrouded in black wrap its arms around Megan. She cried out in terror and tried to free herself from its grasp. Jim struggled to rise to his feet, then collapsed. Before he lost consciousness, he caught sight of the severed arm in the blood-soaked snow next to the man who had fallen on his side, writhing in searing pain.
When Jim finally opened his eyes he was lying on his living room couch, barely able to make out images that fogged in and out of his vision. A figure hovered above him as his eyes struggled to focus.
“Jim…are you all right…can you hear me? Honey, that was one terrible dream. You were screaming and thrashing about…are you okay?”
Megan was leaning over her husband who had fully awakened from his horrific sleep. He looked up to see her concerned face as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes. She gently ran her fingers across his damp forehead.
Jim suddenly remembered the menacing creature from his nightmare. It was neither animal nor human, but he knew what it was. He sat up, slowly, and swung his feet to the floor. “It was so real, Megan…and he was there ... again.” Jim’s throat was parched. He grabbed the bottle of spring water from the coffee table and gulped down its contents.
“Your dark ghost?” Megan knew he was referring to the frightening beast, shrouded in black, that had haunted his nightmares from boyhood.
“Yes…you were….” He stopped in mid-sentence, sensing it was unwise to tell his wife the gory details of his chilling dream.
Megan sighed as she sat down next to him and gently stroked his back. “It doesn’t mean that something bad is going to happen, Jim. I thought you were done with this nonsense.”
“Meggie…every time that thing appears, it’s a warning," he snapped. "Ever since I was a kid." Bastard, Jim thought. It had been years since the creature had assaulted his dreams. Why would he terrify Megan and destroy the man who had tried to help them? What possible reason could he have?
“Now…you listen to me, Jim Mercer. It's very rare, pure coincidence and it’s not real. We went through all of this once before…so did your therapist. Please don’t do this to yourself again.” Megan's tone was kind and loving, but Jim could tell she was beginning to lose her patience. As she stood up from the couch, he noticed she was holding her warm winter pullover and pocketbook.
“Where are you going?”
“Honey, it’s Sunday, and I have to pick up the kids from Mom’s...remember?”
“Jim…it’s three o’clock. We’re supposed to get another snowstorm later tonight and I want to make sure I get through Mountainside Road before it starts.”
“I'll go with you.” Jim was feeling guilty that he had fallen asleep on the couch in the middle of the afternoon.
Megan gave him a quick kiss. “You promised to fix that leak under the kitchen sink today. So, no more naps. I’ll be back with the kids before dinner. Coffee’s all made and waiting for you. Love you.”
"Take the Jeep, babe.”
Megan laughed. “That old thing? No way…I’m taking my new Camaro. In case you forgot, I learned how to drive on mountain roads in the winter.”
Jim jerked his head up. What did she say? Her words made him uneasy, as if they somehow echoed back to his nightmare. Megan slipped into her thick pullover and hurried out the door before he could say another word.
After watching Megan pull out of the driveway, Jim took a long hot shower before getting dressed in jeans and a warm sweatshirt. He retrieved the local Sunday paper his wife had forgotten to bring in from the front porch and headed to the kitchen. Filling his mug to the brim with Meggie's famous home-brewed coffee, Jim shook his head to rid himself of visions of the creature that invaded his thoughts. Nothing in his strange nightmare made any sense to him. He sighed and spread the newspaper out on the kitchen table for quick read before tackling the sink.
Moments later, he jumped up and cried out as the mug dropped from his hands. The spilled coffee quickly soaked into the newspaper headline:
SERIAL RAPIST AND MURDERER ESCAPES FROM VANDICUTT INSTITUTE
"Carl Mansen, a psychopath known as the “The Whistler” by police investigators, escaped from the Vandicutt Psychiatric Institute in Mountainside just before midnight, Saturday. Officials had not previously released confidential information about Mansen's brutal, ritual killings due to ongoing investigations..."
Jim ran to the hall closet to retrieve the cell phone from his winter jacket. He frantically pressed Megan’s number. No answer. Yanking the jacket from its hanger, he tore out of the house and into the chilly mountain air. He prayed that the old Jeep would start. Snow had begun to fall, signaling an early arrival of the storm.
This was such a fun project. I want thank those special hubbers who contributed to the story:
WillStarr; Mckbirdbks; Hyphenbird; BenWritings; Ahorseback; Breakfastpop; MarshaCanada; Ghaelach; Amy Becherer; Trish_M; FayPaxton; LivingSimply; What is Q; DaveBaldwin