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It was an unseasonably warm and dry autumn in New England, but the nights had just begun to grow cool and chilly. The first frost had come and gone, but it didn’t seem to affect the days much. A haze had sat over Rockland County for well over a week and if Fall was coming, it didn’t seem to be coming any time soon.

Hannah lay beside Wyatt, watching him through a forced squint. She couldn’t fall asleep and she could see he hadn’t yet fallen asleep either. She watched as his chest rose and fell rhythmically, like the cool breeze from the fan in the corner of the room they kept on at night for noise was ever so slowly inflating and deflating his lungs. She couldn’t see much, but she could see his eyes were open and he was looking through the small cracks in the blinds, and it worried her.

The last few weeks had been like this, her pretending to sleep as she watched him stare uneasily out their south window, past the old rock wall and into the field behind their house. It had only recently become that, their house. They had only moved in some two months prior, but before this the two had been living together in Seattle where they both grew up. Wyatt had gotten a job offer in New Haven designing engines for military planes, so the two decided to move, much to the hesitation of Hannah. She didn’t love the idea of moving across the country to some town they didn’t know in some random little state whose only notable feature seemed to be how wealthy it was. However, after Wyatt had explained that this was the best opportunity for him to make a living, especially after struggling for the better part of the last two years to even find a long-term job in his field, Hannah agreed.

They spent a few weeks of looking for houses on the Internet and they found a quaint brick country home located in the town of Deerfield, 25 minutes northwest of New Haven towards the New York State border. It was expensive, there was no doubt about that, and it was above their budget by a pretty substantial margin, but Wyatt became obsessed with it. They looked elsewhere, but the conversation seemed to always end up back at that house where it began. Finally, as Wyatt’s start date at the new job approached, they discussed what would have to be done to afford the home. Wyatt was certain there was growth at the company and that if they scraped by for a bit and lived conservatively, they could manage it. Hannah, not wanting to kill Wyatt’s spirit, agreed and with a phone call and some papers sent by fax they bought it, sight unseen.

Upon arriving in Deerfield a few months earlier on her original scoping trip, Hannah was reminded of some of the smaller towns outside of Seattle, but still, it felt foreign somehow. When she looked around, there was an overwhelming sense of history, a lingering breath of the old world somehow cast upon the landscape like a heavy woven blanket over a sleeping giant. The stone walls, the colonial houses, the industrial mills (or at least the decaying foundations of them.) She recalled grade school lessons on starving pilgrims, witch-trials, and the midnight scalping of the colonists by hostile natives. She always secretly thought to herself that they deserved it. An eye for an eye. She always saw it as being so black and white, and in the end to her it boiled down to money and greediness, a parallel to the town’s current reputation she couldn’t ignore.

The house had gone to auction as a result of foreclosure after the previous owner had lost their job and fell behind on payments. Like a lot of Connecticut towns, Deerfield was divided into those with money who had up scale commuter jobs in New York City, and those who scraped by and made their living locally. When the housing market crashed and the country went into a recession a few years back, a lot of people in town lost their footing and were forced out of homes their families had owned for decades. Hannah’s new house was in a neighborhood where half the houses had “For Sale” signs on their lawns posted by banks, incidentally many of which were run by the wealthier people who lived on the opposite side of town to the south on the other side of the highway where the bigger home developments were.

Although historically it was the only house for miles, it was now incorporated into a cul-de-sac. It was the last house on the street, with four or five houses littered unevenly down the road leading up to it. Those homes were new and large, unlike the little farmhouse. In most respects their house was unlike any other around them, making it stick out amongst the sea of cookie cutter tract models. The realtor had explained a brick builder who had bought the land that was now the entire street built this little farm house in the 1760’s. He built it by hand, laying all the brick doing all of the mortar himself. The inside had been gutted at some point in the 80’s and modernized. What was once all hardwood had been laid over with carpeting. A screen door was added in the back that lead out to a small deck the previous owner had installed. The windows were new, the plumbing was new, and a wooden garage was added with an entrance into the house. Nonetheless, the brick was weathered and the chimney was period correct, still making it look its age on the outside. The old world met the new world in a series of stark compromises, the overwhelming result of “progression”.

Even with modern land development, their house was fairly removed from the rest by a wide and long front yard. The whole of the yard was surrounded by a two-foot-tall, somewhat derelict stone wall that made the little brick home look fortified and isolated. In the rear of the house, the large backyard led to the back 4th of the stone wall with a small 3-foot gap in it to walk through, which lead into an adjoining field of tall grass that stretched for quite some ways into the thick woods beyond. At one point the field was used to grow small yields of crops the brick builder used to feed his family and trade with.  The woods beyond were perfect for hunting back then, but now, although still quite dense and spacious, the forest had shrunk, surrounded on all sides by neighborhoods and business. From their new house it only stretched for a few miles in each direction and was split in half by the highway.

            As the months had unfolded, Hannah thought back was still not quite sure why Wyatt had been acting so unlike himself. It wasn’t unusual for Wyatt to go through small fits of anxiety, and with the move and having been relatively new to his job, she could understand if that was what was going on, but something deep down told her it was more than that. He had been acting funny since the day they had arrived at the house. This was perhaps why she felt so uneasy, mostly because he seemed so uncomfortable, like he couldn’t relax, even after the bedroom was set up the way they used to have it set up back in Seattle. She was prone to falling prey to the moods of others, none more so than Wyatt’s. If he was off, she was off. She could never temper her own moods if someone else’s was powerful enough.

The first night, after she had been asleep for some time, she awoke in the middle of the night to find him still awake, looking out the back window into the field. When she asked him what was wrong, he shrugged her off and said he was just wired from all the coffee he drank to keep them driving through what was the final part of a five-day semi continuous drive. The final stretch they had driven overnight, with Wyatt barely taking any breaks except for gas and coffee. After a light unpacking throughout the day of their arrival, they had gone to bed early as the sun began to set, where, according to Wyatt, the caffeine was keeping him from sleeping. Hannah accepted this answer and fell right asleep herself. The next morning, they continued the unpacking and Wyatt seemed fine, until they went to bed that night and she caught him awake again late into the early morning hours. This time, she said nothing.

            Hannah had too been experiencing some heightened anxiety, more and more as their residence in Deerfield rambled on. Leaving their families behind wasn’t easy on either of them. Hannah had grown up in Seattle with her sister Maggie and their parents. She lived in her childhood home with them all until she met Wyatt, and after a year of dating they decided to move in together closer to downtown.

When she moved out, it seemed like she had mortally wounded her parents, who rather aggressively suggested she was not ready for the move and that Wyatt was not right for her. They didn’t care for him, although they never made a particularly good case as to why not. Perhaps it was his upbringing or his interests, all of which were a lot more working class than they considered appropriate. Hannah’s sister Maggie was dating a Med. Student who was a lot like her father who was a doctor at the Washington State Presbyterian Medical Center, the top hospital in Seattle. Maggie was a lot like Hannah’s mom, who had been a stay at home mother who gave every bit of herself to raising her girls to be proper young women in hopes they would someday end up just like her. It all made Hannah cringe. She wanted excitement, not the hum drum bore of being complacently well off and pretentious. At home, although loving her family, Hannah didn’t feel like she stacked up. Despite the pressures to conform to her own family, she was strong willed to break the mold and her attachment to Wyatt held firm.

            All of the unpacking had been done long ago but there was still plenty to do. Hannah didn’t have a job, so she spent her days in the house week after week trying to decorate while Wyatt was at work. Before they moved she had managed a boutique in Seattle which kept her busy and allowed her to work out her creativity. She would often change the flow of the store around, re arranging merchandise and making new displays. Now, having had no job for several months and having only the house to focus on, she was getting restless. In an effort to get out of the house, Hannah decided to try and copy a little wall decoration she had made in the boutique. It was simple, it was just a wreath made of twigs with some ivy wrapped around it for color. Having the woods at her disposal, she figured she would trek in a ways, get some fresh air, and try to use her craftiness as a distraction.

            Hannah walked through the yard, past the rock wall and the field into the woods. The flatness of their yard started to change as she passed the treeline. It became rougher, with rocks and fallen trees littering the forest floor. While walking through the yard she heard cars, lawnmowers, and wind. In the forest, it was silent except for her own soft breathing. She liked being out of the house and having time to reflect. She thought of Wyatt’s uneasiness and considered bringing him for a hike through the woods sometime to help him clear his head. She wandered deeper into the woods, lost in thought.

            Before she knew it she had reached a large boulder strewn hill with dense trees. She looked around and realized she had hiked quite far but she still had a lot of energy, so she curiously began to ascend the large mass. It went up at a steep angle, and at times she was almost on her hands and knees. After working up a sweat and winding herself, she made it to the top. She walked through some trees, seeing a rock cliff face through the brush. When she hit the large boulder, the trees thinned. It was large, flat and smooth. The sun powerfully beat down on her. She took off the flannel she was wearing and looked around.

She could see a great deal from up here. She saw the highway and the cars speeding by. She saw houses far beyond the highway, large and jutting out of the woods with large yards. She could see the small shopping area, and neighborhoods. She saw intersections and street lights. She looked behind her and she could even see her own neighborhood and her house off in the distance. How could they not see this large mass from their house?

She looked out and saw a main street busy with cars. There were police lights and what looked like an accident, but she could barely make it out. She felt a prickle in her neck and felt uneasy. She wondered if it was from too much coffee or being dehydrated from the hike. She looked down at her watch. It was about lunchtime anyway, maybe she just needed to eat to balance out the caffeine.

When she looked back up she saw smoke and fire raging out of pockets of neighborhoods and shopping areas. Spots of flames and dark smoke rose out of the sea of green trees like horrible bursting berries in a large wreath. She spun around and saw that it was happening everywhere. She looked out and saw their house. It too was on fire. She screamed and tried to run towards the house. She tripped hard over a large rock, slamming into the ground. Ignoring the pain, she got up and saw the whole forest was green again. There were no fires, no smoke, nothing. Her house was still off in the distance, sitting quietly. She sat down to catch her breath. What had she seen? She composed herself and spent the afternoon hiking back.

Hannah and Wyatt had retreated to bed that night after a long day for both of them. Hannah was exhausted from the hike, and Wyatt seemed stressed and fatigued after what he described as a “rough day”. While Wyatt finished showering, Hannah took her wavy long blonde hair out of a bun and let it down messily to her shoulder, and undressed.  She saw herself in the mirror, her milky skin glowing dully from the dim yellow light in the corner of the room. She liked her own image staring back at her. Her green eyes glowed like a snakes. She was surprised at how oddly sensual she felt, almost electric.

She slid her hand down her stomach past her naval. As her hand slid over her crotch, she felt her blood become like fire, her mind raced with images of her running through the woods she had hiked through earlier, but in her mind she was being followed by an unknown man. She was not scared; this was intentional. She began to sweat as he caught her, threw her onto the pine needles and crisp leaves and laid upon her.

She didn’t know who he was, all she could see was his long hair obscuring his face and his heavy chest and dark torso. He entered her and she came instantly. It was so powerful that she felt like she was going to faint. She couldn’t breath and the ecstasy grew so intense it began to be painful. She was shaking and her stomach began to ache. She pushed him off of her. He rose up above her, staring down at her as she laid naked. She was still aroused but began to be fearful. He began to descend upon her once more, but as he was about to enter her again the door opened and Wyatt stood there watching her. She seemed to snap out of her fantasy, and saw herself in the mirror. She was glossy with sweat and her hair was matted. She saw a red mark with purple bruising on her neck she hadn’t seen before, but she assumed quickly it was from tripping over the rock while hiking. Wyatt walked over and touched her and she began to feel electric again.

She grabbed Wyatt’s hand and guided him to the bed she slid below their covers. Their physicality and intimacy was a cornerstone of Hannah’s sense of permanence within their relationship. It was constant, and unwavering. She felt wanted by him, needed. When they had sex, they were one, an unbreakable bond formed and solidified between them, solely them. She was able to express herself through sex in ways she wasn’t able to in her everyday life, and she felt the same was true for Wyatt. This night, Hannah felt they needed this release and put a lot of pressure on it, as if it would fix Wyatt’s distance and quell her own anxieties.

Wyatt, usually the dominant partner, seemed frail, distracted and distant. He was usually powerful and rhythmic, but this time, he was off time, starting and stopping over and over. He was looking out the window, and couldn’t make eye contact with Hannah. Hannah felt rejected and inferior. She could see his lack of passion. She felt herself grow self-conscious. She wanted it to end. She almost asked him to stop but before she could speak her mind shot violently back to her fantasy.

She was back with the unknown man in the woods. She could smell pine and dead leaves. It felt so real. She felt her loins flood and began to buck wildly. She reached her hands back, digging her nails into his back. The man reached down and choked her intensely, she could feel her pulse crashing against his fingertips. He came inside of her and she felt like she had been struck by lightning. She orgasmed so powerfully she thought she was going to implode. She looked up through squinted eyes as she came and saw the man’s face. He was smiling, He had red paint in a horizontal bar across his face over his eyes. His iris were not there, instead his pupils lit up, filled with fire and smoke. He began to laugh. He exited her, and walked away, his laughter filling her ears as he disappeared. His semen burned inside of her and felt like it was expanding, pressing her vagina and uterus like a balloon. It grew cold and she felt uneasy. She began to panic and grew nauseous. She looked around the forest she was laying in and saw no one. A twig in the distance snapped and suddenly Hannah was back in her bed. Wyatt was thrusting weakly for a second, then she could feel him lose his erection. Wyatt pulled away, and fell to his back.

“Wyatt, Are you ok? Did I do something wrong? Hannah asked, pulling the covers over herself. Her previous freeness was compromised as reality flooded back in. Her sense of self exposed as if in a bright light by the realization that Wyatt had seemed indifferent to her. She began to see her body as if it were damaged, ugly, imperfect. Her fantasy was so vivid she had forgotten that she was even having sex with Wyatt. She felt like a liar, a whore. She was overcome by negativity, self-loathing, and anger, but she had no idea why.

“No, no it’s… it’s nothing, I’m just tired.” He said feebly.

“We’ve done it before when you were tired, it’s never gotten in the way. What’s going on with you? You’ve been off for months” she said with a hint of hostility.

“I told you, it’s nothing, drop it. I’m embarrassed enough without you dragging it on. You just laid there all glassy eyed staring into space. What’s wrong with you?”

Hannah didn’t want Wyatt to know she was fantasizing about someone other than him, something she had never done, and she didn’t want to scream at him and rip his face off the way she currently desired to. She took a breath, calmed herself, and deflected.

 “There’s nothing to be embarrassed about, it happens” She responded, half believingly. “I’m just worried about you, you’re not yourself.”

Wyatt looked out the window towards the back lawn, deflated. “I know, it’s not you, it’s nothing, this move and my job just took more out of me than I thought it would. I’m stressed and it’s just getting to me. I’m sorry.” He moved in and kissed her forehead. He looked into her eyes and gave her a reassuring nod.

She felt her vitriol dissipate. She took his word and let it go. She knew this type of hiccup happened, but it had literally never happened to them. He had never not finished and she had never fantasized about anyone other than him. She had never gotten so much as angry with him, and moments before she was ready to cave his face in. After a moment’s thought, she considered that she was worn out and that’s what was causing her issues. Her fantasy was probably stress induced, as was Wyatt’s lack of libido. She turned to her side, forgave herself and him, pushed away the worry, and fell asleep.

The next morning, Hannah awoke thinking there would be a palpable awkwardness between her and Wyatt over the botched love making, but when she came down the stairs to make a cup of coffee, she found a well rested Wyatt making breakfast.

            As they sat together, the uneasy topic of the previous nights events melted away. Hannah stared into Wyatt’s eyes as he chatted with her, talking about plans for fixing up the house, and planting a garden, and how excited he was to start work in a few days. His hair was undone, and flopped to the side messily. He was wearing a tattered green-checkered flannel shirt with a crisp white tee underneath. He looked youthful and carefree, and for the first time since the move, at peace.

            After some time lounging around the kitchen together, Wyatt received a call from the bank. He told Hannah they needed him to come by because he had to fill out some paperwork for the property that they had missed during the closing, so he kissed Hannah goodbye and headed out for the afternoon. Hannah was alone in the house. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. The windows were open and the balmy autumn air flooded the kitchen where she was. As she stood there, Hannah could smell leaves burning. The nutty richness of the coffee mixed with the smell of far off burning leaves flooded her senses and for a moment, she felt at ease.

She turned to look out the south kitchen window towards the back wall, and she froze, paralyzed with fear. Just beyond the rock wall stood a man. He was shirtless, with dirt and soot all over his chest and neck. He had long dark hair and dark red paint under his eyes, which were directly fixed on Hannah. It was the man from her fantasy the night before. She inhaled sharply and backed away from the window slowly, the man’s eyes following her as she crept. She backed up far enough to have found the counter where her phone was. She fumbled blindly for it, and finally, as her hand came upon it, she whirled around quick and began to dial 9-1-1. As she fired off the call button, she spun back around to face the trespasser, but found no one staring back at her. The operator answered to a mute Hannah, who sat dumfounded on the other end of the line gawking at the empty back yard.

Hannah talked the operator out of sending a squad car, and she called Wyatt. She was nervous to tell him what she saw, so she lied and said she had seen a wild animal in the yard. He told her to stay in the house and not bother it until he was finished and he would get home as soon as he could. After waiting for a half hour or so, Hannah grew impatient. Her fear had now turned into embarrassment. She felt foolish, there is no way she saw this fictional man she dreamt up. She had been hallucinating a lot lately she thought. Hannah put on her shoes and walked out back to investigate for herself. As she came upon the rock wall, there were no footprints. She felt better, she really must have been imagining things.

As she was about to walk away, she noticed something wedged in the rock formation. She knelt and inspected it closer. She couldn’t tell what it was, as rocks buried most of it. She pulled a few from the top and she paused. Hannah had just unearthed a dirty, but fully intact human jaw. She stood up, holding the mass of teeth and bone in her hand. Hannah could almost swear as she held it, there was a subtle vibration that coursed from the jaw, through her hand into her arm and up through her shoulder down through her spine into her feet. The earth below her felt soft, the subtle vibration seemingly loosening the soil beneath her feet. A sour smell enveloped her and she began to feel weak.

Hannah walked back inside, jaw still in hand. As she hit the steps leading to the screen door, a violent wave of nausea struck her and she uncontrollably vomited into a bush right off the landing. She wiped her mouth with her sleeve and looked down at the vomit she had just spewed all over the bush, and she felt queasy. She went inside and put the jaw in the sink to show Wyatt when he got home. She found it weird, but was more worried about how sick she felt. As she feebly walked up the stairs towards her room, she pulled her vomit-stained sweater over her head and discarded it behind her on the steps. As she hit the top of the stairs, she walked towards her room, unbuttoning her pants and shedding them on the hallway floor right outside of her bedroom. Down to just her bra and panties, she flipped back the comforter and slid into bed. She felt a deep, uncontrollable fatigue possess her. She closed her eyes, and right before she fell asleep, she had the unmistakable feeling that she was being watched.

Hannah dreamed that she was in the woods behind their house. She wasnude, but did not feel self conscious or uncomfortable. As she walked deeper into the growth of trees, she found a deer. It did not startle as she approached it, and as she got within several feet of it, it bowed its head and allowed her to touch it. She stood there a while, petting the wild animal’s head as she saw the sun setting through the tops of the trees. The deer calmly picked its head back up, and walked away.  It was quiet, and Hannah stood alone for a moment to soak it in. As she turned in the direction of the house, she saw it was ablaze, a raging fire consuming it. She ran towards it, but before she could get to it, the earth below it opened up and swallowed it whole. Hannah fell to her knees and began to sob into her hands. She felt a hand on her head. She thought it to be Wyatt, but when she turned to look, she found it to be the dream man she had seen in the field staring down at her with his intense eyes. A wave of immediate terror fell over her and she began to vomit.

Hannah woke up with a bolt, out of breath and sweating profusely, her chest heaving back and forth violently as she tried to calm her lungs. It was dark. She rubbed her eyes and tried to allow light into them so she could see but it was no use. She fell out of bed and scrambled for the door. She found the cool knob finally and was able to get out of the room, her breathing finally less labored. She descended down the stairs into the kitchen where the light was on. Wyatt was sitting at the kitchen table, glasses on, fiddling with a screwdriver and lamp. He looked up, his face serious. Hannah assumed he was frustrated with trying and failing at fixing the lamp.

“ Hey, she’s awake.” He mumbled, distracted by his fiddling.

“ What time is it?” Hannah mumbled back

“ Uhm, I don’t know, around 8:30?”

“ Pm?!” She retorted, “when did it get so late?”

“ When I came home you were sleeping, and I tried to wake you but you wouldn’t budge so I just left you.”

“When was that?” Hannah asked confused

“ Around 1 I think.”

Hannah was confused and disoriented, but above all else she was starving. She had thrown up her whole breakfast eight hours ago and then slept on an empty stomach, but as she stood in the kitchen, she was encouraged at her lack of nausea. She went to the pantry and grabbed a box of crackers. She grabbed a glass from a cupboard and went to the sink to fill it with water, but she noticed the sink was empty.

“Did you see what I found outside?” Hannah asked Wyatt, still groggy.

“What do you mean?” Wyatt responded, half listening.

“You didn’t move anything from the sink?” Hannah said.

“I put away my dish if that’s what you’re getting at. Also, did you see that animal again after we talked? What the hell was it?”

Hannah was confused for a second. She didn’t remember seeing an animal, but as her brain woke up, she realized she had lied. She didn’t want Wyatt to think she was crazy so she decided to keep up the story.

“No, it must have just been a bear or a moose or something.” She said unsurely.

“What?!” Wyatt yelled concerned, “an animal that big could be dangerous, we should call animal control.”

“No, Wyatt its fine, like I said I got scared, I wasn’t seeing straight, I’m sure it wasn’t either of those, it was probably nothing.”

She didn’t want to create a witch-hunt for an animal she made up, nor did she want Wyatt to find out she was lying. She finally talked him down and he agreed not to call animal control. Wyatt had been so normal that day and evening, she didn’t want to add to his already worried demeanor. She smiled and kissed him on the cheek.

When they went to bed, Wyatt seemed fine, Hannah was the one who was feeling off. The events of the previous night and that afternoon were weighing on her. Something didn’t feel right, but she couldn’t put her finger on it. She felt out of touch, unstable. Hannah was generally of sound mind, and did not scare easily or concern herself with matters that were not in her control, but the mixture of her hallucinations, getting sick, and the deep sleeping with the strange dreams unnerved her.

After worrying for some time, Hannah finally fell asleep. She again dreamed she was in the woods behind their house. She saw the deer again as she walked, but this time it saw her and dashed off in the opposite direction.  She walked towards where it had ran and noticed a rock covered with leaves. She brushed it off and saw writing on it. She bent closer to see what it said and panic struck her. “Wyatt James” she read. She felt her stomach turn and then the smell of smoke and the sour stench of sweat filling her nostrils. A few feet behind the grave stood the man staring at her, a hatchet in his head. Hannah began to cry. She shouted to him through sobs. “What is going on!? Who are you!?” The man approached the grave, and laid the hatchet down atop the rock. He stared piercingly into Hannah’s eyes, and with a gust of wind carrying a flurry of leaves he was cloaked, and when the leaves had stopped blowing he had disappeared.

Hannah woke up in her bed. It was quiet and the lights were off. The only light came through the south window from the moon. Hannah saw that Wyatt was still awake, Staring off into the woods. She couldn’t take it any longer.

“Wyatt?” She whispered. He didn’t answer.

“Wyatt, what are you doing up?” She beckoned further.

“We can’t stay here.” Wyatt whispered

“What? Why?” Hannah hissed back.

Wyatt didn’t answer.

Hannah thought of what she had been experiencing. “Are you seeing him too?” She asked softly.

Wyatt looked at her, confused “Seeing who?”

Hannah took a deep breath. She told Wyatt all that had been happening to her. He looked at her, his eyes wide and worried. Hannah began to cry and Wyatt hugged her tightly. After a minute of comforting her, Wyatt pulled back and looked at her. He didn’t quite know what to say.

“Wait.” Hannah choked, trying to stop her chest from heaving and wiping her nose, “Why can’t we stay here?”

Wyatt stared at the floor silent for a moment.

“I pushed for this job. I pushed harder for this house, because I loved it, I still do, but it was never going to work, and deep down since the day we set foot in this house I knew we were stepping into trouble. I had this idea that by moving here to a house this nice in a town this nice that we could be… more, or that I could be anyway.  I got laid off Hannah… I am losing my job. Those fuckers at the top of the company wanted bonus’ so the newest workers got cut. I had my suspicions that this job was too good to be true but I didn’t want to tell you because I really wanted to leave Seattle and I fell in love with this house. We already could barely afford this house to begin with, now without that job I have no way of paying for it, the bank is going to foreclose on the house and we’re going to lose everything. It’s all my fault. I moved us all the way across the country for a job that I don’t even have anymore and a house that we have no way of affording, we probably never had a way of affording it and I knew that. We’re fucked.”

Hannah gaped at Wyatt, fixated on his trembling hands. She struggled to wrap her head around what he had just said. She felt both sickened and relieved. The mess of this had been profound and had sucked up all of their finances, but they had family in Seattle who would help. She knew their credit would be destroyed and her parents would never forgive Wyatt but they could weather this and build something again back home. In that moment she felt a great deal of love for Wyatt, it flooded through her filling her to the point of bursting. This had all been rough since they arrived but they still had each other and she was proud of that. After a few moments she nestled her head into the crook of Wyatt’s neck and hugged him.

“We’re going to be ok.” She whispered.

Wyatt smiled. He said nothing for a moment, but then, the smile faded. He slowly pushed her off a bit and looked at her with an odd sideways tilt.

“I think you need to go to the hospital.”

“What? Why?” Hannah asked, her eyes meeting his with some confusion.

“Everything you just told me sounds like you’re having some kind of      breakdown.

“Breakdown!? You don’t believe me?” Hannah whispered, wounded by Wyatt’s words.

“It’s not that.. “ Wyatt paused. ”Never mind. I believe you.”

Hannah sat quietly. She was beginning to think she didn’t believe herself. Was it the stress of moving? Was she losing her mind? Everything had felt so real, it was visceral. The look on Wyatt’s face was the most worried she had seen, even more so than the worried looks she had witnessed nightly. She felt loved in that moment.

“We can go to the hospital. It might not be such a bad idea.” She conceded.

“It’s probably just stress, it can’t hurt to get you face to face with a doctor who can prescribe something to calm you down, just for now.” Wyatt said gently.

“Let me change and we can go.” Hannah said.

Hannah went into the bedroom and put on a simple grey knit dress with two pockets at the hip. She put some lip balm in one pocket that she would apply compulsively when she was nervous.

Wyatt locked the door and gently put his hand on Hannah’s back as they walked to the car, a gesture she found comforting outside of the fact that it somehow represented a profound image of weakness and frailty on her end. The old beat up grey Saturn they had brought with them from Seattle was not a looker, but it did the job. As they drove, Wyatt played gently with her earlobe. Hannah loved it when Wyatt did that and was impressed at how affectionate he was being. It was the first time since the move that he seemed out of his own head and present with her.

They pulled up to a 4-way intersection and sat at the red light waiting for it to turn. Hannah was worried about what a doctor might say to her. What if she was actually losing her sanity? Would they lock her up? Would she be able to live life as she had or would everything change? As she sat nervously, playing with a ring on her finger by anxiously moving it up and down towards the tip of her finger then back against her knuckle, she saw a deer out the window. It was grazing aimlessly, hovering from place to place as it serenely chewed grass. She began to feel nauseous.

A car pulled up behind them quickly with its high beams on. The light turned green and before they even had a chance to react the car blasted its horn at them. Wyatt looked annoyed but said nothing and started driving. The car behind them followed closely, the nose of the car coming dangerously close to their bumper.

Wyatt brake checked the car, slamming on his brakes to annoy the car behind them and make them realize how dangerous their tailgating was so they back up a bit and not actually end up crashing. The car behind them slammed their horn on again. Hannah yelled at Wyatt to stop, and seeing that she was upset, Wyatt obliged and pulled off to the side of the road, slowing down so the car could pass him.

Hannah watched the car speed from behind them to next to them, both cars driving slowly side by side. She saw that it was an expensive car, a BMW luxury model by the look of it. She saw a window roll down to reveal a well dressed blonde man with his hair slicked back. He began screaming at Wyatt, cursing and spitting at him for his apparent inability to drive the speed limit. The man was enraged, scaring Hannah. She didn’t understand why he was so angry, they hadn’t done anything except possibly keep him from doing 100 miles per hour, which was hardly an injustice on their end.

Wyatt rolled his eyes, gave the man the finger, rolled the window up, and sped up quickly trying to get back in front of him again. Hannah saw the man’s face light up with a deranged fury. She grabbed Wyatt’s arm in fear. They drove no more than a few seconds before the BMW rammed the driver’s side with his car, sending them several feet to their right towards the edge of the road. Wyatt lost control of the car, the tires locking as he tried to brake. The car fishtailed then spun. Hannah looked over at Wyatt, his face frozen in fear. He was no longer in control of the car. With a loud crack, the car came to a violent stop, Wyatt’s door came crashing into him and their airbags exploded.

Everything slowed down. Hannah’s ears were ringing, and her vison was blurry. There were small specks of powder and dust sprinkling down from the roof of the car like snowflakes.

“Wyatt?” Hannah coughed, “are you ok?”

The car was silent. Hannah tried to look over at the driver’s side by craning her neck which had become board stiff and shot pain into her spine as she moved it. Through the debris, Hannah saw Wyatt motionless. She reached over to shake him in an attempt to get him to respond.

“Wyatt?” Hannah said panicked.

He wasn’t moving. She tried to find a pulse but felt nothing. She grabbed his face, trying to get a better look at him. Her hand became warm with the flow of blood coming from the left side of Wyatt’s head. She began to scream and cowered away from Wyatt’s lifeless body. Hannah opened the door and fell out onto the wet grass, as she hit the ground she blacked out.

Hannah woke up on the floor of the kitchen back in the house. She was stiff, achy, and disoriented. She wasn’t sure how she had gotten there. She looked down and saw her hand covered in blood. Her dress was dirty and had tiny glass shards sticking out of it, covered in powder and dust. Was she dreaming? She called out for Wyatt but no one answered. She knew she wasn’t dreaming. Her stomach dropped and she began to sob. She cried so hard she didn’t make any noise, just the occasional gasp for air and the sound of her chest deeply inflating.

She carried on like this for a long while until she had no more tears or air left. She slowed her breathing down, but her mind continued to race. She saw a half-drunk bottle of wine on the counter above her. She grabbed it and uncorked it with her teeth. She took a large swig and felt the alcohol fill her stomach, making her warm. She felt as though it was coursing through her veins. She downed the rest of the bottle in several large gulps and went to the pantry to grab another. She uncorked it, and began swigging again. She wanted to be numb but the house felt oppressive, she needed air and alcohol. She needed to be dead.

Hannah walked out the back door, letting the screen door smack loudly behind her. She walked aimlessly through the yard towards the split in the rock wall, stumbling here and there over rocks and small holes. She had the bottle of wine in her right hand and as she walked through the split, she put the bottle to her lips, cocked her head back and let the wine flood her throat. Her brain was swimming now, and she didn’t much care. What was the point in clear headedness right now? When she was finally done swigging the drink, she found herself standing in the center of the field. The woods beyond were still and she could see the house out of the corner of her eye, lit up like someone was there.

The thought of Wyatt waiting for her in the house quickly gave her a glimmer of hope, before she realized the state she was in and the gravity of the deep black hole within her dragged her swiftly back in. “you’re ours”. She chugged the bottle again, and without spotting herself, fell to her back on the cool earth. She stared up at the sky and the stars she had grown to hate vehemently, staring down judgmentally at her, mad with power, their glimmer mocking her, “We have what you want you sad pathetic girl.” She closed her eyes, raised her bottle and finished what was left down to the last drop. Her head was under water now, her brain moving slower as the seconds ticked on, like a submarine meeting the resistance of the deep sea, blackness everywhere. A calm swept over her, or the wine did, either way the earth began to hug her and she had accepted it. “Swallow me whole and drag me all the way to hell, like Alice to Wonderland” She thought. She laughed aloud at the absurdity of it. She could only be so lucky to be granted the mercy of being ripped into some other place, anywhere but here, anywhere but now. But even with her half serious, wine soaked wishes, nothing happened. As far as she was concerned, life should have ended when Wyatt’s did. Her world and anything worthwhile within it came to a halt at a blistering speed, but the world around her clumsily and indifferently meandered on. Everyone around her carried on as they always had, the seasons would change as they always did and always will, and off in deep space the stars kept violently burning out, unaffected by the sudden and incomprehensible death of some man, on some worthless little watery grave of a planet that probably should have never allowed such a being to come to fruition in the first place.

It was then that Hannah thought of the man who had run them off the road and his nice car and dress. She thought of the bankers and the insurance agents and the heads of marketing who lived in the town. She thought of all the accumulated wealth these people made based on selling the public poisoned apple products and deals to control them and make money off their suffering.  She imagined them, their perfect families, and their hardship free lives. Their children would go to college, fully paid, and meet beautiful partners and have beautiful kids who would never know what debt was. Their blissful ignorance would guide them through life, until they took over those banks, and those insurance agencies and those marketing firms where they would keep the wheels spinning as they ruined lives, all the while profiting, making a living, 10% or 20% off of every dollar ripped from the pockets of hardworking people who never had a chance.

As she postulated, her mind flowing wildly with thoughts of conspiracy soaked with wine, she could feel a hot breath on her neck. She knew it was him, she could tell by the stench of smoke, soil and the smell of blood. She closed her eyes and let her brain empty. She thought nothing for a moment, and saw nothing but the tiny constellations from the stimulation of the cells caused by the pressure of her eyelids being closed. She felt a calloused palm spread over the top of her head and then it all struck her. She saw vivid images of fire, the crushing of skulls and blood-soaked tiles playing on in inside of her closed eyes like a projector on a dark wall. “REMOVE THEM FROM THIS LAND.” She heard the loud slamming of deep drums, quickening like her heartbeat, and the pressure from the hand on her head grew painfully strong, as if it was trying to crush her skull. “DESTROY.” She started to pass out. She could feel reality breaking down and her vision grew dim and fuzzy.

Right before she was about to lose consciousness, She felt something heavy fall into her lap. She opened her eyes and looked down. The drums were gone and there was no one around her. She lifted a hatchet from her legs and held it in her hand. It was pulsating. She touched the tip of the blade, and recoiled immediately. The tip was cold but it was deadly sharp. She had sliced a gash in her palm all the way across and it was bleeding profusely. “REAP.”

Something in Hannah snapped. Some frail, rotted out string holding her together simply stretched too far and broke. She stood up and raised her hand to her face.  She rubbed the current of gushing blood across her forehead, and diagonally over her eyes, creating a thick band of red that surrounded her face and nose like a bar. She walked slowly towards the house. She passed by the side door, and around to the front yard. She tried to open the garage door around the other side of the house but it was locked. She smashed her fist through the window pane, cutting her knuckles and arm as she reached her hand in to open the door. She walked to the far end of the garage, and grabbed a gallon of gasoline Wyatt had kept for the lawn mower. It felt as though she was watching herself from afar, this foreign being, with dead eyes, bleeding and walking slowly through the house door, gasoline trailing behind her.

Hannah grabbed a box of matches from the junk drawer in the kitchen and put them in her pocket as she headed towards the back-slider door, the gas container hanging lackadaisically in her hand dripping large drops of gas over the kitchen tile. With her free hand she grabbed a chair from the table, the one Wyatt had often used when they had dinner, and with a strength she didn’t know she had, she threw it the glass slider door, exploding glass onto the back deck. She kicked her shoes off and walked across the glass, large shards cutting the bottom of her feet as she almost glided across them. As she hit the rock wall, the smell of gas mixed with the smell of her blood and she began to heave. She fell to her knees and vomited into the exposed soil.

When she finished and looked up, she saw a deer slowly walking through the field into the woods. A calm rushed over her. She took the matches out of her pocket and struck one against the inside of her thigh. It lit with a silent fury. She stared into the small flame and saw an image of the world burning; it turned her on. She threw the match into the trail of gasoline and it lit, chasing itself as it rushed towards the house like falling dominoes. She heard the house catch fire with a loud POP!

As she walked towards the field, she began taking her clothes of, shedding her dress and underwear, the heat of the blaze licking her back as she went. She was on fire, her soul set ablaze, crumbling into itself. She did not look back as she hit the tree line, but heard glass shattering as the windows exploded out from the pressure of the fire. She knew there was nothing left of her old life or her old self. The dark of the woods hungrily swallowed her whole.

The police were baffled. They had responded to a car crash to find a man dead with the passenger door wide open but no one else was around to be identified. Shortly after while still investigating the crash, they had received a call about a house in a residential neighborhood being fully engulfed in flames. Several ATM’s were also reportedly on fire. Shortly after, motorists on the highway were calling about a trail of dead deer blocking their path. It was standstill for several exits stretching into the next town. A woman in town thought she had seen a naked woman in her backyard when she looked out her window. Shortly after, there had been reports of several break ins. The town had descended into chaos, and with such a flurry of activity, the police were stretched thin. They had to handle the crash, the highway and the fire, the rest would have to wait. For a relatively small and affluent town, this wave of crime and disturbances was completely unprecedented and alarming.

All of the senior officers were sent to the fire and the highway scene. A young recruit, Officer Daniels was the only one available to check out the remaining reported incidents. He drove to one of the ATM’s that were reported to be on fire. As he arrived at Alliance bank’s Court Street ATM, he saw from afar It was in fact on fire. He had a towel in the trunk of the squad car that he grabbed and used to try and fan out the flames, but to no avail. He ran back to his car and radioed the dispatcher who said that they would try and get someone out as soon as they could, but they were too busy at the moment to handle it.

Daniels stared at the fire, but realized he could do nothing, so he pushed the rest of the ATM’s out of his mind and sped off to the next issue, the break ins. He drove parallel to the highway off to the south part of town where the wealthier families lived and he saw bright car lights sitting idle. As he cruised, his phone rang. He saw on the screen it was his commanding officer.

“Daniels” said the officer in a gruff tone.

“Hey what’s going on over there?” Daniels responded.

“I’m at the car crash. We got the driver’s info. His name is Wyatt James. He just moved here from Seattle, he works over at the factory, or he did anyway. He got laid off recently. We sent a guy over to his house to see if he lived with anyone. It’s the damndest thing. It was his house that was on fire. A neighbor came over and told us they had seen his girlfriend at the house not too long before it went up in flames. We think she could’ve been the passenger. But none of it makes sense.”

“That’s really strange” Daniels said. “Are there any updates on the highway scene?”

“That’s another odd one. Those deer weren’t hit by cars, they were butchered. They had neck wounds that looked like it was from a small axe. They had been dragged there but how they could have been pulled and piled up that quickly with constant traffic makes no sense.”

Daniels could hear worry in his commander’s voice and it made him uncomfortable. What the fuck was going on?

“Daniels, any news on those ATMs?”

“They were fully in flames, I tried putting them out but it didn’t work. The fire crews will have to take care of it later. That’s a lot of money getting trashed.”

“Fuck it, just go check in with the break ins.”

“Will do, I’ll call you with any news.” Daniels replied.

“Hey Daniels.” the commander said before pausing, “Be careful.”

Daniels pulled up to a large estate surrounded by dense woods. He got out and walked up to the door, looking around for any signs of distress. He rang the doorbell and waited, but no one came. He rang it again, and a moment later there was no response. He saw the door was cracked open. He pulled his gun out from his waist and he slowly entered.

“Hello?” he shouted, but no one answered.

He saw dishes with food on the table. He got closer and touched one. They were still warm. He heard a tv in another room. He walked down a hall and looked into the room. It was decorated with sports team memorabilia and had a brightly colored bedsheet that a child would use. He looked around, and opened a closet, but he found no one.

He walked back to the main room and saw that the door to the back yard was open slightly. He walked slowly towards it and let himself out into the darkness. His eyes took a moment to adjust, and at first he could see nothing. Finally, with some clarity, the back yard came into focus.

“Fuck.” He screamed as he saw 4 bodies, two adult and two children laying in the grass in a straight line pointing towards the woods beyond. He picked up his walkie and radioed in.

“We have 4 bodies here, two adult and two children. I need an ambulance now!” he shouted before putting his walkie back down and raising his gun up. He walked slowly over to the trail of the dead bodies. He saw each without deviation had the back of their heads viciously caved in, blood and brains spilling out onto the lawn. He heard a branch snap in the woods beyond and he immediately ran towards it, guns drawn.

“Police, stop where you are I’m armed.”

He broke through the brush and into the forest beyond, following the sounds of twigs snapping and leaves crunching. After running a few yards the sound stopped. He continued on but saw and heard nothing. He spun around, he was swallowed by thick, dark brush. All was quiet, all was still. He heard a man speak.”

“Kill him.” The deep voice said.

“Get down on your hands and knees, I’m armed and I’m a police officer!” Daniels shouted

Daniels spun around, he could see nothing but dark trees and brush.

“Remove them from these lands.” The man bellowed.

He felt a light airy breath on his neck heard the soft voice of a woman in his ear. “Gladly.”

With that, Daniels felt a sharp pain in the back of his skull and he buckled over onto the forest floor. He felt the back of his head and he was bleeding. He looked up towards the sky and saw a hatchet attached to a pale white arm swinging down into his chest.

The last thing Daniels saw was the milky backside of a woman with dirty blonde hair wielding a hatchet walking away from him deeper into the forest. Blood filled his lungs and he began to choke. He could hear the sound of drums beating in his head as he lost consciousness.