It was supposed to be a routine hunt.
Supposed to be.
Instead she was stumbling around in the woods, woods that weren't how they were supposed to be.
She had been hunting a ghost that was getting people's attention, which leading to idiots wondering the woods and damn near dying from stupidity. But time had gotten away from her and she had lost track of the hours passing as she tried to find something that would explain what these people were seeing. The falling darkness had not presented a problem for her, she was well acquainted with moving through rough terrain with minimal light. The fact that she was armed gave her even more confidence.
Despite that, she should have known to turn back when the fog rolled in, quicker than she had ever seen, obscuring the ground and the trees around her.
A less stubborn hunter would have turned around, gotten out of the woods and come back the next day to try again.
She was too stubborn to give up like that.
So she continued further into the woods, allowing the light from the full moon to guide her through the fog. She even had the thought that the fog and moon actually made it a pretty night. Plus the woods had a certain feel, like they had been standing for a long long time, and you could practically feel their oldness. The trees grew together, their branches and roots tangling to create a seemingly endless mass.
As she moved forward, the fog continued to take a deeper hold over the woods and something began to feel wrong.
She really should have listened to that instinct.
A blast of dizziness forced her to her knees at the same moment that a flash of pure and dense darkness took over the entire woods.
It took several minutes to gather herself and regain enough of her senses and balance to use a nearby tree to unsteadily pull herself back to an upright position. As the blackness faded from her vision and she once again took in her surroundings she started to realize that something was off. Little changes were becoming apparent. While the trees were in the same places, they weren't exactly the same. They appeared to be smaller, less connected and overgrown. She had seen some pretty weird shit in her time, but this shift in her surroundings had her a bit freaked to say the least. She shook her head to clear the last of the darkness clouding her vision and slowly started forward again.
She had apparently wrenched her knee and acquired a collection of scratches from when she was thrown to the ground by whatever the hell the sudden darkness was, and it made moving painful and caused her to move much slower than she had before.
She resumed on the path she had been on before the darkness had taken over. At least she thought it was the same path and it should have been. But the shift in the way things looked had severely thrown her sense of direction off.
One thing that hadn't changed was the roots of the trees seeming to have a mind of their own and she swore loudly as she tripped over one, landing on her knees once again.
"Remind me to never take a case that no one else wants to handle because it seems too easy." Catherine muttered to herself as she forced herself up and leaned against one of the trees to try to take in and evaluate her surroundings again. There were no obvious clues as to why the shift in appearance had happened. She was starting to think that the trees looked as if they were younger, but that didn't make any sense.
Then again, none of it did. In her life things rarely did.
The fog was still present, although the woods had gradually been going back to the same amount of moonlight as before. Her knee was throbbing and the raw patches of skin opened by her falls were burning, making her limping journey even more of a hassle when she started to move again.
As she walked she started to accept that her original plan of finding the cabin hidden in the woods that the stories centered around was not going to pan out. She should have come across it by now, at least she thought so, or there was no cabin in the first place.
Making the situation worse was the continuing pain from her fall and the tiredness that was setting in after hours of non-stop walking. She was becoming concerned that her knee would actually give out from under her soon. Plus she hadn't eaten or had anything to drink in a day, and she had yet to come across anything in the woods that looked safe. If it came down to it, she could try to find something to kill and cook it over a fire, since she had the skills to do so. But animals had been scarce since the flash of darkness and she would rather not attract attention by firing her gun, and who knew if she would end up possibly needing the bullets for something more threatening than a rabbit.
She knew that she would soon have to stop and rest as well. She hadn't seen any sign of any kind of shelter, so she came to the conclusion that she would have to make due with a decent sized tree. She'd prefer one near a stream, where she could find water to drink and to tend to her wounds. But knowing her luck, she wasn't going to find one as soon as she would like.
After a while more of hobbling along, having to lean on the trees for support more and more, she finally decided to give it a break. She leaned heavily against the rough bark of a tree and slide down to sit at its base. She stretched her legs out in front of her, trying to get as comfortable as possible. She removed her gun from the waistband of her jeans so it would stop poking her in the back, and tucked it under her leg where it would be concealed, yet easily available if needed. She leaned her head back against the rough bark of the tree and closed her eyes, swearing it was just going to be a short break and then she would be back at it. However, she quickly succumbed to the tiredness that had taken hold.
At first when she woke up, reclining against a hard surface, she thought that she was at yet another shitty hotel like the sort she usually stayed at between hunts. Or against a wall in some back alley, it wouldn't be the first time that had happened. But once she opened her eyes and saw the woods, it all came back to her and she realized she was still stuck in the woods and still had no clue what had happened.
Still sore from her fall, and now having the addition of an ache pounding in her head, she had an internal debate on what to do next. She decided that the smart thing to do would be to use the light to keep moving, since the sun was filtering through the still dense leaf cover overhead. Slowly dragging herself back to a standing position and sliding the gun back in the waistline of her jeans, Catherine started to move along the same path she had been following before. She prayed to anyone who might be listening for some water at the very least.
As she walked, she cursed herself for not being better prepared, even though carrying a heavy pack full of supplies would not have really helped her any. She also went over the information she had found regarding the case she was working.
The stories she was following only said anything about ghosts being seen in the woods, that people had been hearing screams and howls, and mentioned a connection to a strange group of people who used to live near the town that had ceased to exist long ago.
There was nothing about the area suddenly changing appearance like it had. By this point she had started to question if she was even still in the same place. What if she had somehow been moved or somehow taken somewhere else when the flash happened. It wouldn't exactly be the weirdest thing she had heard of or even seen.
She had heard legends about people being in one place, only to be in another just a second later. A fellow hunter once theorized that that is what happened to the missing Amelia Earhart, that something had happened that had shifted her from her current place in reality to another different location or time.
Maybe it was the pain and dehydration talking, but she had to wonder if that was what had happened when the flash of darkness hit. But she couldn't recall hearing about any disappearances in the area, unless they had been unreported or it was just her less than stellar luck that it happened to her. There had been people going into the woods, deer hunters and thrill seekers trying to find the remains of the abandoned town and seek out the ghost that the stories were about. If it hadn't been for overhearing about a stupid teen breaking his leg trying to climb through the woods while looking for an adventure the case may not have come to her attention.
She had been nearby, she need a case, and ghosts were simple enough to take care of. So she took the job. She had done some basic research, she wasn't dumb enough to go in completely blind. The story of the ghost was one that had been going on for a while. And the fact that the report said that whenever when the ghost was seen it was walking the same general path had her thinking that it was the even more simple case of a bleed through.
Sometimes when someone does something over and over, it leaves an imprint on the environment. When conditions are right the imprint takes over and the vision of the person and their actions shows up and can be seen. Similarly, very emotional scenes can also leave imprints. A moment of pain can indeed last an eternity in some cases.
So that is what she thought the ghost might be. That the visions of a woman running through the woods and towards the town, sometimes being seen with the image man or even two men, could just be an imprint of something that had happened with the town was still active. When the town was abandoned, nature had started to take over, and eventually the forest edged over the town boundaries and started to take over the area. Over the years it became a rite of passage for thrill seeking teens to hike out to the old town, to explore its desolate buildings and look for things to take back with them.
From these risk takers came the stories of sightings of the woman, and the men. At some point came to include screams coming from the woods. Eventually a rumor started said that the female was the spirit of a witch that had lived in the town, hiding her true identity from the townspeople.
There were never any specific names connected to the case, only whispers of stories that had been handed down and changed over the decades.
Based on that information, or lack of information, Catherine had decided the best course of action was just to go out to the former town and see for herself what was out there. If it was an imprint or a bleed through, there wasn't much anything that could be done, rather than let it run its course, and eventually it would just fade away and stop. If it was a ghost, well those just require finding a body, or if that can't be found, a connecting object that belonged to the person, and burning it until it was ash.
And that was how she came to be in these woods, that she was now stumbling through, confused by the flash and change.
That is how she ended up in these godforsaken woods before she was thrown to where ever she was now.
Catherine had noticed that the trees were starting to become more spread out, and that for the first time since the flash she noticed sounds that she hadn't noticed before. The woods were regaining their natural soundtrack of birds chippering at each other, of trees making barely noticeable groaning sounds, and a sound that was music to her ears. She could hear the sound of water running over rocks. She had to be close to a small creek or stream from the sound of it.
Propelling herself towards the sound, she found the source beyond the trees about 30 feet away. Not caring about the flare of pain when she hit the ground, she dropped to her already sore knees. She immediately scooped water up with her cupped took a drink of the cool water and groaned with relief. After drinking her fill, she put her hands back in the water and rubbed them together to get the dirt off.
Seeing small slivers still stuck in her palm from her earlier falls, she used the edges of her nails to pull them out. After shrugging off her jacket, which had seen plenty abuse from the past and was now looking much more worse for wear, she plunged her hands back into the chill water and continued to wash.
Her arms had been protected by her jacket and had only gathered a few small bruises. Her back was sore from the endless walking and sleeping upright against a tree. Her head was still angry and throbbing, and the pain had increased due to her lack of water and continued exertions. Her feet were crying to be freed from her boots, but no real damage had been done to them. The legs of her jeans and sustained numerous tears and stains. She could feel deep scratches under the tears in the fabric, and she knew her knees were torn up. Her right knee was throbbing. She had injured it in the past and had probably done it in again when she was thrown by the dark flash.
She poured some water from her cupped hand onto the scratches on her legs, deciding to risk having wet jeans over trying to strip them off. She would deal with treating them when she got back, she told herself.
Sipping more water, she again tried to evaluate what the best course of action to take would be. It was becoming even more clear that she wasn't going to find the cabin. She could still try to heads toward the town, even though it was farther off; she could turn around and head back at from which she came; or she could stay near the stream. If she was going to find someone or the town it would most likely be near the water.
But if she did find someone then what? She asked herself. Were there even people here? She was uncertain of anything in this changed environment.
Thinking back to the maps she had looked at during her research, she guessed that the abandoned town would be upstream. It was a stupid risk, but stubbornness won, and she forced herself to her feet and headed that direction.
Once again passing through seemingly endless trees, with the stream on her right, Catherine tried to watch for anything that might tell her something about what was going on or where exactly she was. Far enough into the woods, there was no noise from the outside world. She heard only a few animals, the wind and the slight sounds that emanated from the branches of the trees. The leaf cover overhead had lessened when the flash hit, and it was thinner near where the stream divided the forest floor.
The longest hours of the day had passed and despite feeling slightly revitalized by the water, it wasn't long before she was once again exhausted. Long hikes would normally not have been a problem, but not two days of hiking with no supplies, no food, and no end in apparent sight. Recognizing that she would have to settle down for the night when it started to get dark, she added a place to rest to her list of things to look out for.
The late hours of the afternoon passed and darkness began to fall. She still had not seen any signs of people or anything else. Feeling a chill coming on, Catherine knew that it would be in her best interest to risk lighting a fire for heat. She headed off the path and into the slightly thicker woods that lined the stream. She chose a spot to camp at for the night and started to gather some kindling. Stones from the edge of the stream supported her rough fire pit. Starting the small fire was easy enough, since her plain bic lighter was still in her back pocket.
She leaned back against the tree, tried to ignore her hunger, and quickly managed to doze off despite the worsening pain.