Another missing person in our idyllic little town... shit, Forest Hills is going to hell. In more hopeful news, a new hottie just rolled into the suburbs and the ravens say she’s a feisty redhead from Orange County. — Tweet from the Raven_Eye.
I don’t like stories that start with someone moving into a new town, which, ironically enough, is exactly what this was. But I guess it’s more of a homecoming for my dad. I was just the seventeen-year-old girl who was along for the ride because I wasn’t old enough to live on my own yet.
“It’s going to be great, Jess, I promise,” dad said.
“Sure, great, who wouldn’t want to restart senior year at a school full of strangers in a town like Forest Hills, last stop in the middle of nowhere,” I replied wryly.
My dad had grown up in Forest Hills back in the nineties, which he claimed had been the best time of his life, although he’d never been able to answer just why he’d moved away if his hometown really had been “the bomb!” as he liked to put it, and there was always this deep kind of sadness showing on his face whenever he talked about it like something tragic had happened to him there. Weirdly enough, something tragic was the reason we were moving back to Forest Hills.
Dad had gotten an email from one of his old friends about his ex-girlfriend and her family dying under mysterious circumstances. Apparently, the mystery of her death was enough to uproot our family of three from our cozy bungalow in California to the back end of Oregon so quickly that I barely got to say goodbye to my best friends, Kim and Lori. Sigh, boys and their first loves.
The unfairness of this situation brought out a tantrum in me that lasted through two states’ worth of driving on the freeway. My anger petered out eventually though, and I settled on a moody kind of quiet that made even my sister, June, the queen of annoying little sisters, not want to bother me for that last leg of the trip.
Meanwhile, Dad did his best to sound positive and hopeful during the ride, two things that just set me off more.
“You’ll make new friends,” he promised.
“Probably not,” I replied.
I wasn’t exactly what you would call a social butterfly. I was more of that redheaded wallflower most people looked at once but ignored as soon as they were finished deciding the color of my hair was the only interesting thing about me. Nope, Kim and Lori were the exceptions while most of the kids of my school were the aliens I just couldn’t get with... even the cute ones.
“You’ll love the old house,” he insisted.
The word ‘old’ made me sigh. I wasn’t into antiques.
“We’ve got a pool too,” he added.
This made June perk up considerably as she was part-dolphin and the former captain of her middle school swim team.
I wished I could be as perky as June was, with her bright green eyes — a replica of mine — widening at every speck of new-home-trivia dad threw at us, but I just wasn’t built like that. And seeing her face light up that way made me guilty about being such a bitch throughout the trip. After all, mine wasn’t the only life that had been derailed by the move. It was a seriously sobering thought that softened my mood toward June so that I actually passed her my cup of dark mocha frap when she asked for a sip. Yes, that was a big deal, because I only share when I’m extra guilty over something.
Besides, the email dad got was pretty dark, like seriously morbid. So morbid, in fact, that I can’t bring myself to write the details into this record yet. Also, I guessed the death of his friend hit him hard enough that he wanted to return to his roots. I hear old people get sentimental like that.
Wait, how did I know about the email, you ask? Easy, I hacked his account and found it there. Not that difficult when I knew his password — I knew all his passwords.
Soon enough, we pulled into Forest Hills’ suburbs, a single street of houses to either side of it with backyards covered in tall oaks and hiking trails. Our destination was dad’s childhood home, a two-story house of red bricks near the end of the long street. It was pretty big but old in that weathered down way. You could see the wear and tear in the dark stains of the bricks and in the missing tiles across the roof.
“It’s a fixer-upper,” dad claimed.
Well, I wasn’t waiting for him to give me a chore list, and I wasn’t in the mood to be helpful either. So, after unloading what few boxes we brought over with our truck onto the front porch, I went out for a run on the trail behind the house which I thought was the only charming thing about Forest Hills.
Dad didn’t stop me. He was probably hoping the cold Oregon air would help cool me down. It didn’t. If anything, the sight of endless trees and shrubs all around me just made me miss the warm California sun more.
Later in the jog, I’d become so lost in thought that I didn’t even notice how deep I’d dived into the forest trail. I couldn’t even see the roofs of the suburbs past the tree line anymore.
“It’s fine.” I pulled up my hood and slowed down my pace. “It’s not like there are any perverts out here... I’m not that unlucky...”
No, it wasn’t lost on me that I was sporting a red hoodie while running through the woods, so perhaps I shouldn’t have been so shocked when something strange and otherworldly happened to me there in the forest.
The moon had risen by the time I made my way back to dad’s old house — I refuse to call it anything but that — and it was only then that I realized the trail was gone. I was lost. How that happened, I didn’t have a clue. It’s not like I was so immersed in my ear-pods and the scenery that I would forget taking a wrong turn somewhere. And despite the uncommonly bright light of the moon shining down on me, I didn’t know whether to turn back or press forward.
Then I heard it in the underbrush not far off from where I stood between pines. It was a low growl that I’d only ever heard on a TV screen.
I frowned. “Seriously...?”
It stepped into view a moment or two later, its shaggy form revealed by the moon’s light. Gray-furred with a snout baring sharp fangs in my direction, the large wolf sent me an icy stare that caused a shiver to run up and down my spine.
“Oh my God...” I breathed.
Yes, I was afraid, something I’m proud to say rarely happened to me. I’ve faced off against bitchy cheerleaders, negotiated discounts with shady social media sellers, and navigated past half-drunk football jocks with shady intentions, but none of these experiences ever made me feel as threatened as I did now.
A wolf couldn’t be reasoned with, it couldn’t be threatened, and I had no weapon to fight it off — not that I could have. Despite being five-eight, I was on the lower side of a hundred pounds with barely any muscle to show off. Basically, I was screwed.
The wolf drew closer and closer, and yet my feet were glued to the ground.
“Shit,” I hissed. “Not now...”
It bared sharp fangs at me. Swaths of saliva dripped down to the forest floor.
“Not like this...” I begged. “Not like this...”
By the way, it wasn’t true. That thing about flight or fight I often hear about when confronting great danger. The stories never hint at that all-consuming fear that just drowns your reason into nothing so that the only response you can give was to shut down.
“Stop!” said a voice that was both authority and gentleness at the same time.
I turned my head in its direction, and what I saw bathed in the pale light of the moon caused my eyes to widen even more than when the wolf first appeared.
The new arrival wore a tight shirt and running pants that did little to cover his well-toned body. He was tall, tan-skinned, and looked to be about my age which was probably why I’d let out that involuntary gasp. No, it wasn’t because he was way too hot to look at or anything like that, although he seriously was — like his six-pack abs might have been an eight-pack, something I didn’t know was actually doable in real life.
As for his face, well, there was handsome and then there was gorgeous, to which he was definitely the latter.
Framing his rugged face was raven hair that fell past his ears in wavy curls. His eyes were a pale blue hue astonishingly similar to the wolf stalking me. His nose was long and pointy just like his ears. But his lips — the lopsided, self-assured grin plastered on his face — that’s what I focused on because this was not the look one gives in the kind of life-or-death situation we were in.
“Stop,” he said again in that authoritative tone. “She’s not for you.”
Then the strangest thing happened. The wolf seemed to actually listen. It stopped just feet away from where I stood and then turned back like it had lost interest in me completely. Soon enough, it trotted back into the underbrush and was gone almost like I had just imagined the beast this whole time.
“—Are you okay?” he asked.
This time his voice was soft and gentle, the kind you rarely hear from a stranger you meet in the woods at the dead of night. Not that I’ve had many experiences with strangers beyond the realm of TV.
I nodded. “How did you—”
“—you should go home,” he cut in. “The forest isn’t safe at night.”
“Um,” I fidgeted in place and I wasn’t entirely sure if it was the stress of what just happened or his piercing stare that unnerved me more, “I... I can’t find the trail back to town...”
“Seriously?” he asked, his grin widening slightly. “You took a jog in these woods without knowing where the trail goes?”
My awkward silence was answer enough for him. He laughed, and the sound of it caused my pent-up anger from the move to bubble back to the surface, instantly obliterating the fear that kept me prisoner just a while ago.
“I can find my way home,” I insisted.
This was an obvious lie, but I didn’t really care if he believed me or not. I strode forward and pushed past him, not even caring that we bumped shoulders.
“Wait, wait,” he called after me. “I’m sorry... I... I didn’t mean to upset you... It’s just a really weird time to see someone out here alone.”
I glanced over my shoulder and saw him smiling sheepishly back at me. And just like that, my bubbling anger evaporated.
“So, where do you live?” he asked.
My response was to cross my arms over my chest. “Why would I tell you that?”
After a second of exasperation flashing across his face, he replied, “Because I can point you in the right direction... Or you can keep going the way you’re going and you’ll probably reach the cliff-side, which would definitely be the wrong way.”
He was smug. I didn’t like smug. But he might also be right.
“Fine...” I sighed, giving in to the gorgeous boy. “I live in the red brick house at the end of Old River Drive...”
“Isn’t that... the Day house?” he confirmed.
“Yeah... I’m Jessica Day,” I answered.
One of his thick, bushy eyebrows rose. “Seriously... you’re a Day?”
“Um, yeah...” I suddenly found I couldn’t look at his eyes, and so I glanced down, noticing how tight his shirt was — which was pretty much the wrong place to look — and just opted to shift my gaze to somewhere safer like the trees. Trees certainly wouldn’t make my cheeks flare up like they just did. “You’ve heard of us?”
“The Days have a long history with Forest Hills,” he answered flatly.
There was something with the way he said it that caused me to turn my gaze his way. “What do you mean...?”
“Nothing...” He shook his head. “I guess this is a homecoming for you, huh?”
“For my dad... For me,” I shrugged, “I don’t know how I feel about the place yet... I just got here.”
“Well, it would probably be better if you didn’t jog this late at night,” he chuckled. “Some small towns have secrets... the kind that comes out when the moon’s up.”
And on that ominous note, this gorgeous boy whose name I didn’t know pointed west. At least I thought he was pointing west.
“Old River Drive’s that way,” he said just before turning his back to me. “Go home, Jessica Day... Stay safe.”
He added that last bit in an undertone. Then he moved in the opposite direction of where he pointed, and he was almost gone from my sight by the time I called after him.
“Wait... I don’t know your name!” I yelled.
He paused, glanced over his shoulder, and said, “After tonight, you won’t need to...”
Then he was gone, and the only thing I could think of was how sad he sounded. I kept on thinking about it until the moment after I noticed my feet were taking me in the direction he’d taken, and not, as he suggested, back toward dad’s house.
“What am I doing?” I asked myself as that impulsive walk turned into a light jog. “I don’t even know the guy...”
Soon enough, my jog turned into a sprint and I chased after a boy who’d moved way too fast for me to even see where he’d gone. All I could remember was the direction he’d taken, and yes, I know I was doing something reckless and stupid. But he’d saved my life, and I hadn’t thanked him, and I just needed to thank him, and then ask him what was up with his emo-goodbye because guys who look like him weren’t supposed to sound so wretched.
Well, I didn’t get lost. In fact, I found him about ten minutes later, although I wasn’t sure that was a good thing either.
The trees and undergrowth eventually gave way to rocky ground, which is where I found him standing by the edge of a cliff — probably the very one he warned me about — looking up at the unnaturally large half-moon with eyes that were glowing brightly in the darkness.
I was too late in calling to him because the gorgeous boy had already taken a step toward the edge, and he was one final step from falling off it by the time I jumped forward to save him.
CHAPTER TWOBoy Meets GirlHow many kids have to plunge down Suicide Cliff before #sheriffclueless blocks access to it...? #Governmentfails whenever we really need them... Forest Hills, the place kids go to die. — Tweet from Raven_Eye.No, I don’t know how I did it either. Call it an adrenaline rush or whatever — because I’m no track star — but it just happened. I literally leaped the distance between us and slid over to the edge to tackle him right before this gorgeous idiot jumped off the cliff. It was an honest-to-god miracle for both him and me.And no, we didn’t fall to the ground in a heap like I imagined we might. He was pretty damn sturdy. Still, I managed to drag him back a few inches so it counted as a win.I clung to him, my arms tightening around his waist, with words spilling from my mouth, “Are you crazy?!” and then, “Why would you do this?”Yes,
CHAPTER THREEStranger Things, Part 1There are way too many wolves outside town, and the ravens say there are even a few within. Whatever the case, don’t forget to lock your doors at night, people. We are not safe. That should be the town logo. LOL. — Tweet from the Raven_Eye.Dad was livid.“Do you know what time it is, Jessica?” he snapped at me.Jessica — he never called me that unless he was really, really angry.“I was about this close from calling the cops!” he continued.The lecture about how dangerous it was to be out at night alone would go on for a full five minutes, and I was honestly just glad none of the neighbors had come out to see why a forty-two-year-old man was raving like a lunatic on our front porch. I was also glad he didn’t notice Ollie earlier, either. That would have been a whole other rant.Still, seeing how pale dad’s freckle
CHAPTER FOUR Stranger Things, Part 2 Two days after my night in the woods, dad surprised me with a car. I know! A freaking car! And it had been such a struggle just getting him to pay for driving lessons last year. “Driving before you’re eighteen and responsible just leads to accidents, Jess, and I’m not comfortable with you driving in the city with all the other drunk drivers who populate California’s teenage driving population,” he’d once lectured. But now, mere days after we’d left Orange County behind, he actually got me a car... a car! Yeah, I still can’t believe it. “Okay, who are you and what did you do with my dad?” I joked, although I w
CHAPTER FIVE The New Girl, Part 1 The ravens come bearing news. A certain new redhead was spotted in Midtown today. And I hear her daddy dearest is every bit the #mchottie his daughter is. Forest Hills could certainly use middle-aged eligible bachelors. Too many of them leave. #foresthillsmysteries — Tweet from Raven_Eye. They say lightning never strikes twice, but it apparently does in Forest Hills. Ollie’s life was in danger once more, and there I was trying to rescue him again. Honestly, I’m not entirely sure how I did it, but I managed to reach him just before the truck did. “Hey!” I grabbed onto the sleeve of his arm and then pulled him back in desperation. I didn’t mean to twirl him around so he
CHAPTER SIXThe New Girl, Part 2I woke up on the wrong side of bed the next day thanks to yesterday’s weirdness, and I was still feeling like an extra on the Walking Dead by the time I parked my car in the parking lot of the place that filled me full of anxious vibes.Yep, you guessed it. Today was D-day, and first day as a senior at Forest Hills High.I glanced over at the rearview mirror to stare at my tired-looking face. “It’ll be okay, Jess. You’ll make a ton of friends, breeze through AP classes, and not make a fool of yourself on your first day in a new school.”No, I didn’t believe anything I’d just said, but it cost me nothing to try to feel upbeat about it all.&nb
*NOTE: Edited 08/17/21. Streamlined sentences, added in dialogue, and fixed grammar issues.CHAPTER SEVENJoyride, Part 1The ravens say that the new girl and the football jock have flown the coop… a budding romance? Or teens turning bad? You decide Forest Hills! #jessiver — Tweet from Raven_Eye.The ride wasn’t as long as I thought it would be, just a short hop from the high school to one of the shops in midtown, which was enough minutes for me to feel just a little guilty for ditching school on my first
CHAPTER EIGHT Joyride, Part 2 Ollie handed me the flowers while he took the time to wipe away the fallen leaves around Ellie’s gravestone. The careful and respectful way he cleaned around her told me she must have been important to him. “Was Ellie your girlfriend?” I asked. “She’d tell you she doesn’t date jocks,” Ollie chuckled, although the laughter never reached his eyes, “right before laughing in your face for thinking she’d ever hook up with me.” I gave Ollie a skeptical look. “So she wasn’t your girlfriend then?”
CHAPTER NINE Nancy Drew, Part 1 People say Forest Hills memorial is so old even the ghosts don’t remember who they are… I’d be cautious when visiting the place though. Some stories claim that a daytime visit to the cemetery might mean you get a visitor at night too. #ForestHills #Spooksville — Tweet from Raven_Eye. The following message was read from the email of Jonathan Day and later added into the live journal of Jessica Day; Jono, It’s happening again… but it’s worse now because there’s no one else in the know. The rest of our goon squad has moved away, and the few of us who are left have begun to forget, or at least they’re trying to… Ellen did. It’s why she couldn’t protect her girls from it. Sh