To Felicity Walker, there was something special about today. She thought maybe it was the unseasonably warm morning, which left a thick blanket of fog to cover the whole city and a refreshing chill that lingered on her dampened skin. She thought maybe it was because today, in front of the whole school, Principal Weaver would announce the winner of the Best Teacher Award for Washington Central Middle School. She thought for sure she was an easy front-runner. All of her students adored her. She was the go-to teacher not just for her students, but for the entire school. Winning this award meant everything to Felicity. Her best friend and co-worker Heather spent the past two months mocking Felicity’s desire to win. Even Felicity knew how stupid it was to want something so insignificant more than anything else, but after everything she’d been through, that insignificant award was what Felicity needed the most right now. That was something Heather would never understand. Everything came easy for Heather. From working to dating and everything in between, all Heather ever had to do was ask nicely and she got whatever she wanted. Felicity loved Heather to death. After all, she’s the only family Felicity had. She just wished for once that things would work out for herself too. Sadly, Felicity’s thoughts as to the cause for the heaviness in the air was nothing compared to the truth. Had she known what today had in store for her, she would’ve skipped her morning run and just stayed in bed.
Felicity’s pink and gray Nikes, a direct contrast to the muted gray sky, beat against the slick pavement. Running through the woods, she felt invincible. Her labored breathing synced nicely with her pounding steps, but she couldn’t hear the beat she was making over Nirvana blasting in her ears. Their cover of “The Man Who Sold The World” was her favorite song by them. With every aspect of her life, but especially with music, she hated everything modern. If she could live in a world where the 80s and 90s were alive and well she wouldn’t hesitate to leave her current life behind. Until that world was created, she settled for keeping the best time, at least in her opinion, alive with her love for the greatest music and denim jackets.
The one upside to waking each morning at the crack of dawn to run through the wooded park was knowing there were no chatty, entitled, middle-aged women taking up the width of the trail to slow her down. On the days she was too tired to get out of bed and was forced to run after work she would always get stuck behind the trail-hogging women. She was too polite to ask the gossiping women to move to the walker half of the trail. Instead, she would jog behind the group until she could move around them. She wished she could plow through the group with no remorse, but her mother and father taught her too well.
Her invincibility was brought to a screeching halt by a large, neon orange plastic sign propped upright in the center of the paved trail. Lost in the music, she didn’t see the obvious sign until it was too late. She halted abruptly, but the slickened surface of the pavement caused her to slide into the sign, knocking it over. She awkwardly lifted the sign back upright and looked around to see if anyone saw her clumsiness. Not one other person was seen. Yet another reason she preferred to run in the morning. She tilted her head as she read the sign.
TRAIL CLOSED BY ORDER OF PARK POLICE
“You have to be kidding me,” she grunted as she removed one of her earbuds. She looked down at her Apple Watch and saw she was only fifteen-minutes into her run. “I haven’t even gotten my adrenaline hit yet. What am I supposed to do now?”
Felicity looked around the park trying to decide what her next move would be. Sure, she could run the open part of the trail two more times, but if she were going to do that she may as well have bought a treadmill to run on at home. Felicity tapped her fingertips rapidly against her thigh, a familiar sight among friends. As her fingertips drummed on her leg, the iconic bass slap spoke to her like a holy man preaching to his disciples. Her eyes locked on a narrowed path leading up and into the woods.
“Well Lou,” she said as she took her first steps on the path far less traveled. “You got me here. It’s not really that ‘wild’ but it’s a start.”
Felicity’s New Year resolution this year was to be more outgoing and fun. Her life had gotten boring— routine even. She felt trapped in her own life. It was almost like someone else was controlling her life. That someone’s name was anxiety, stress, and post-traumatic stress disorder as countless therapists and psychologists called them. After her parents died when she was a teenager Felicity became more introverted than she already was. She stopped meeting up with friends, she refused to participate in school clubs and dances, and she even skipped her high school graduation. She started to feel like her old self once she met and started dating Josh her sophomore year of college. The two bonded over their shared love of the arts and dream to say “fuck it” when it came to anything that didn’t make them happy. Everything was going great. The two had been dating for years and even moved in with one another. But one day Josh snapped. Since that night nearly two years ago Felicity struggled with her mental health. Finally, she decided enough was enough. No longer did she want someone, or something, else to control her life. She and Heather, moderately drunk on New Year’s Eve, decided to make a resolution to be more fun, spontaneous, and care-free, like they used to be in college, starting with chopping Felicity’s long, auburn hair into a bob. Felicity made the first cut and regretted it immediately. It was too late to go back once Heather got her hands on the scissors. One thing led to another and when Felicity woke up the next morning she was still heavily intoxicated and blonde. Over the next four months Felicity did nothing else that could even be considered fun, spontaneous, or care-free. Disappointed, Felicity realized the failure in herself.
Felicity’s alarm rang in her ears. Having been lost in her memories, her body tensed for a moment before her heart rate returned to normal.
“Shit. I have to remember to turn off the ringer for tomorrow.”
Felicity turned around to head back to her car but she found herself lost in a sea of trees. She pulled her cell phone out and opened Maps. The blue dot appeared and showed she was inside the park, something she already knew. When she dragged the map across the screen to where she remembered parking her car the green turned to a forever grid, like the paper she used to use in math class.
“No service? Shit. Now what?”
Felicity opened her mouth wide in preparation to scream for help, hoping by now someone else would be enjoying the morning air at the park, but someone else beat her to it.
“Help!” a breathy female voice called from the distance.
“Hello? Can you hear me?” Felicity called back.
“Help!” the voice screamed again with more distress this time. She shoved her phone and headphones into her runner’s belt and sprinted in what she thought the direction of the voice came from. “Help me. Please, someone, help me.” The voice grew louder.
The cracking of a fire let her know she was getting close. Felicity had no clue how she was going to help whoever needed help. That was never a question in her mind. Being the nurturing, helpful person she was, the only thing she thought about was getting to this person as soon as possible. The symphony of pleas for help and break of the charred log brought her to a clearing in the park, about the size of a football field at the bottom of the hill she overlooked. The only thing that separated Felicity from a small, makeshift campsite was a couple dozen birch trees scattered down the hill.
“Help!” the screams continued.
“I’m here, don’t worry.” Felicity skidded down the hill on the muddy dirt.
“God, someone help me please!”
“What’s your name? What happened?” Felicity passed the now smoking fire pit. A fresh pot of coffee housed in a blue and white canteen sat on the ground beside the pit. Felicity’s stomach churned. Something wasn’t right.
“Help!” the penetrating screams came from the nearby tent.
Felicity took a few cautious steps toward the navy blue nylon fearful of what she would find inside of it. She slowly reached her clammy hand toward a loose flap of fabric that hung in its doorway. Grabbing it in her fist, Felicity peeled it back just enough for her to peek into the tent without being seen by whoever was on the opposing side.
“Help!” the panicked voice screamed again. Felicity took a deep breath and ripped open the tent’s door. From inside, a disheveled and abandoned sleeping bag lay. “Please help me,” the phantom voice screamed.
Felicity stood, surveying the empty tent. Shivering feverishly, an icy chill tiptoed down her back as the begs for help repeated on a loop. A white auxiliary cord sticking slightly from inside the sleeping bag caught the attention of Felicity. Curious, yet fearful, she pulled the sleeping bag back to reveal an iPhone and speaker system playing an MP3 file on repeat. Felicity strained her eyes to read the file details. The album artwork, a black box, proceeded the scrolling title. Time seemed to have stood still as the words, “Don’t Look Behind You” took the screen. She had seen enough.
She backed away from the sleeping bag. She stumbled to stay on her feet as the lip of the tent door attacked her feet. The tiny hairs on the back of Felicity’s neck became erect as a dozen or so faces stared back at her in a cardioid pattern. The faces of young women, some younger with most seeming a little older, hung in plastic protective sleeves to the wall of birch trees she had just walked through. Each face bore the words “Missing” at the top of the page. One face, in particular, grabbed Felicity’s attention. Her knees shook as she approached the posters.
Born March 2, 1993
Auburn/Blonde Hair, Honey Eyes
Approximately 5’2 and weight 105 lbs
Last seen April 14, 2017
Her body shook. The air became dense and forced her to gasp for air. The color washed away from her face. Her mouth hung open, but sound refused to come out. She stood, staring into her own eyes, at a picture of her and Heather that was posted to Instagram just last night. A large, black X covered Heather’s face. Felicity’s eyes involuntarily overflowed with tears. She stood, hypnotized, when she realized that today was April 14th.