Welcome to THE MORTAL DAWN! I'd love it if you would consider leaving a review after you've read through it. It will help keep me motivated to write more as well as help me gauge if there is still any interest in this ship/The Dawn Will Come.
Sam sat in the middle of the wide, ostentatious grand staircase at the center of the large entrance within the Giddings' family home. Staring up at the modern, industrial chandelier hanging still between the foot of the steps and the front door, a flash of Hannah's disfigured Wendigo body morphed in her mind. A distant shriek forever ingrained in her memory whined, and she jerked back. "Fuck…" she whispered. When reality snapped back around her, Sam gasped, shooting up to her feet as she clamped her hand over her mouth. The trauma was still too fresh, so it took her a few seconds to realize that the chandelier wasn't actually moving.
Violence...giving into her anger...hurting others...none of that had ever been a part of who Sam was. But that was all she'd felt since the helicopter swooped down, saving the survivors of Blackwood Mountain. Everything had changed. And no matter how she looked at it, Sam Giddings was a murderer...she'd so easily burned her best friend alive and abandoned Josh down in the mines. All because she'd allowed her fear to finally take control of her. The Wendigo had been inches from her face. The ringing in her ears hadn't really stopped since that morning. Mike had only said that Hannah had taken Josh. That meant he was likely still living when they'd all just fucking left. Between the anger, Josh's betrayal, and the horrors they all saw, Sam hadn't even thought to go back for him. So there was really no coming back from that.
Over the last year, the petite blonde had done her best to cope without her obsessive best friend. Moving on, so everyone repeatedly told her, was necessary. But Sam wasn't sure about who she was without Hannah, without Beth. And now...especially without Josh. There were exactly three people in this world with whom she'd formed a genuine, natural friendship. And they were all gone. All the dance recitals she and Hannah, a natural at tennis and effortlessly graceful at ballet, and the nights where the older twin snuck into her room to cry about Mike getting with yet another girl she hated had all burned with her. With everyone else, the bond—the need to just see them again, to touch Mike again—had all been forced. It wasn't ever supposed to happen. But it did.
Because of the fucking trauma.
A pacifist by nature, Sam hadn't honestly blamed the group for the twins' death. At least not for long. It had all been a stupid, fluke mistake. None of them could have known about the dangers of the forest or that Hannah would rush out of the lodge alone. But beyond the awful circumstances, the girl had been a true friend to Josh's sisters. She'd never hurt either of them. Neither had Chris, really. And the night of the awful prank, the quiet, quirky girl had tried to stop it all from happening after she'd caught wind of what the others planned. And even despite all of Hannah's bullshit, the manipulation, the mild backstabbing, and the possessive nature of her crush on Mike, Sam had genuinely loved her friends. She'd done her best to do what she could for them. But it would have never been enough to matter.
Maybe there'd been another way to save at least Hannah that, with enough time to plan, she could have eventually realized. Didn't matter now. At the moment, the only priority had been to survive. To save Mike, the complicated manwhore-slash-asshole who'd just caused more problems than he offered real solutions for the sake of being in the goddamn spotlight.
Until that night.
Sam unconsciously reached for her hand, and the warmth of his lightly resonated in her memory until her palm tingled. He'd risked his life to come back for her, when she panicked and stood frozen in place while the Wendigos crawled toward the movie room. In a single night, likely within only the last couple of hours, he'd crept under her skin, invaded her bloodstream, and spread like wildfire in her veins. There were parts of him that scared and confused her, but she'd seen a different side of him back at the lodge. No matter his real motivations, he'd risked his life for all of them. And that was honestly more than anyone, her family and few friends, had ever done for her. He hadn't written her off and shot Emily like she suspected he would. He'd made mistakes, sure. But he'd shouldered some of the responsibility he'd felt toward the group onto her. Without a lot of thought, too. Despite everything he was and all that she stood for, they'd fit and worked so well together.
It wasn't just a connection with him, a chance or a possibility if circumstances were better. Not like Josh. The future with Mike was tangible, real. And she suspected he could have felt it, too. After comforting Jessica at the hospital, the boy had stuck close to Sam's side, convinced that she wasn't as fine as she let on. He didn't have to know he was right. He just did. As quick as the tears welled up, Sam wiped them away. Mike was off-limits. At least back in this twisted, normal, and safe world. Their old reality. Sam hadn't ever really fit well within it. She'd always accepted her part in their play: the background character they sometimes interacted with. But since that night, she'd felt closer to an actual protagonist in her own fucking like than a stupid side character. All because of Mike. Because he'd needed her, and the others saw she'd been more than capable of helping them stay alive. Even when she could have simply just looked after herself...given everything the bulk of them had done. But Mike...
Both of them stood at opposite ends of an already fractured board bridging a Grand Canyon-sized gap. He was a future she could never know. The hollow ache in her stomach gnawed on her lungs until it forced her to hold her breath. Rubbing her stomach, Sam swallowed and lowered her face in her hands. With a quiet sigh, the girl sniffled and rubbed her cheeks with her signature eye roll. Anchoring her gaze back onto the large, double glass front doors with ornate metal flourishes trapped inside it, Sam groaned. It was the silence that hurt the most. She'd been back at home for less than five minutes.
Her parents had peaced the hell out just as soon as they'd walked her into the large foyer moments ago. Election year wouldn't stop for even an uncharacteristically catatonic daughter, she supposed. Sam had said less than five words since their smaller private plane took off, effectively leaving Canada behind them. Her mother had waited behind in D.C. because she'd wanted to haul one of the most respected psychologists to a different country just to probe her already traumatized daughter. As if the detectives hadn't interrogated her enough before they'd signed her over to the hospital to make sure she was at least physically fine. They'd all left within about a week except for Jessica. She'd been in critical condition and was likely either still in the local hospital recovering or in physical therapy. Flipping through her phone, Sam added a quick reminder to bring Jessica some flowers...wherever she was.
For Sam, though? It'd been almost three weeks since she'd left home for Canada. Once she'd been cleared of any major harm and the others had left the hospital, the doctors turned her back over to the police. Her fucking mom let her goddamn daughter suffer in a foreign cell for fifteen and a half days longer. Because the fucking psychologist couldn't fit the trip to his busy schedule. It wasn't like this was new for Sam. This had been her whole life. She should have been used to it by now...
This spacious, empty mansion stretched for more than ten-thousand square feet. Old money wreaked all over the outdated decor, despite the house only being built in the eighties. Not a single inch of this house felt safe, so Sam pocketed the credit card her father had personally given her and clutched onto her new phone like it was her last lifeline. Walking toward the door, the girl swiped the keys on the side table next to the door as she looked down at herself, inspecting the oversized sweats reading Blackwood Jail that swallowed her body. If not for the long drawstrings, the pants would have just plunged toward her ankles. Something thumped from upstairs. It could have been all in her head, but she didn't want to stick around and find out. Catching her next breath, Sam's whole body shook as she fumbled with the door knob, gritting her teeth until it swung open. Slamming it shut behind her, the girl crossed her arms and rushed toward her car.
"Shit…" Sam muttered as she pounded her palm on the steering wheel a few times, finally accepting the cruel reality that her car was in fact out of gas. The world felt more volatile now. Things like violence, anger, and hate were easier to hold onto than reason, peace, and ease. In this new world, her very breath threatened to choke her. Swallowing, the girl sighed, relaxing slightly as the tight ball at the center of her back chilled the fuck out.
The dark, vibrant trees in the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State in late February towered over the winding roads that disappeared in both directions around the curves. Silosalm sat closer to the scenic forests on the outskirts of Olympic National Park than US-101, the only major road so far north. It'd, at one point, been a logging town; however, in the eighties, some billionaire decided he'd had enough of the big city and moved to the remote ghost town with a few of his closest friends, including her dad and the Washingtons. Together, they restored the town, funded and built a fancy prep school, added a university in the early two-thousands, and voila...other rich families had flocked to the small, barely-on-the-map town for the last decade or so. Now, the small, quaint place was a sanctuary for the rich and a decent opportunity for the other locals and folks in the surrounding towns. Scholarships were a big thing for not just the university.
Sam almost growled as she searched her new phone. None of the others' numbers, of course, were programmed yet. But being stranded in the middle of a vast, remote forest alone just didn't sit well with her just yet. One of the unique perks and cons of such a small fucking barely-a-town? Only a handful of people. At least nobody changed their landline numbers out here. Back in high school, Hannah had talked Sam into working with her at the Silo Spot, a diner Mike, his groupies, and the gang often crowded after the student council's meetings or last period. The girl jammed her fingers on the numbers she'd likely never forget and held the phone up to her ear while she waited.
"Silo Spot, this is Maggie…"
"Maggie...it's Sam. Thank God you picked up. Listen, I've got a favor to ask…"
"SAM?" the older woman screeched. "We've been so worried about you! Where are you? What happened? No one's saying much…"
Sam winced, scratching at her throat. "Mags, I really don't have time to chat. I just got back in town, and my car ran out of gas. Is Dan there? Can he help a stranded girl out?"
"No, but…" the waitress started. Rather quickly, the phone sounded like she was moving it. "Now hold on, young lady!"
"Oh, my God! We have to talk to her! Oh, my God. Oh, my GOD! SAM! It's Ashley! Chris is here with me, too…" the younger girl said. A few voices exchanged in the background, and Sam was sure she heard Chris try to calm Ashley down. "OH, MY GOD! Chris, we have to go NOW! We can't let her sit out there in the woods alone. Mags, where the fuck is the fuel cans? This is an emergency! Chris, get her number now! I'll go grab a couple of those cans from the office. Mags, HELP!"
The phone shifted some more until it settled again. Chris cleared his throat, swearing under his breath. "Sam?"
"Jesus, it's really you."
The corner of her mouth ticked slightly. Given all they'd gone through with the Wendigo, a piece of her dark, sarcastic humor slipped through the inner turmoil to say, "In the flesh…"
"That's not funny, Sam."
Josh probably would have found it funny. Hannah would have waited for Mike's reaction, and Beth would have crossed her arms and sighed. It didn't matter. They were all gone. Tears welled in her eyes, but she managed to answer, "You're right. Want my number?"
"Right! Let me grab my phone…"
After the quick exchange, Sam sighed after hanging up. They'd get to her within thirty-five or so minutes. That left her with even more time alone. Great. Tossing the phone onto the passenger seat next to her, she drummed her thumbs on the steering wheel and looked around her car, eventually freezing once she saw a familiar oversized, worn hoodie on the floorboard in the backseat. The center of her palms felt cold as she slowly extended her hand to grab it and pull it up to her in the driver seat. The charcoal fabric had a big S on the front left beside the zipper, and the longer she held the jacket, the more of the large patch protruding on the back of it in her palms burned her, like it was actually made of fire.
Her eyes welled up and itched. Swallowing down the sharp gravel in her throat, Sam's breaths overwhelmed her, leaving her head feeling light. Shoving her hand in her pants pocket, she withdrew the crumpled ball of paper, unfolding it until it lay flat in her palm. Thick, hot tears fell down her face, feeling like they shredded the skin in their path. The unlabeled phone number etched onto the crinkled paper held her undivided attention. Gripping onto the thick hoodie, Sam brought it up to her face, inhaling it until the hint of Josh's familiar cologne beat each and every one of her nerves like Texas-sized comets rammed into the Earth. He was alone, likely starving. Just like Hannah. He'd probably already started...eating. He didn't know what it would do to him. Nobody had told him anything!
And she'd let it all happen…
Sam had gone back to the lodge with Emily and Ashley. She'd been unable to look at Josh at the moment. She wasn't ready to face him. There would be time to scream at him, to ask him everything left un-fucking-said! Later, she'd thought. So fucking much for the future. Just like his sisters, his life was squandered, rendered nonexistent. But unlike Hannah, Sam knew what would happen to him. Now, there was something more she could do for the Washington boy she'd grown closer than she'd ever been with Hannah over the last year. Everyone in the group knew that she'd told the Blackwood cops that she thought they'd had some kind of a connection.
When they'd been released to the hospital, they'd all reconvened. Some, like Sam, Jess, and Matt, kept pretty quiet for the first few days. The others had corroborated what they'd told people. Shouted, bickered, argued. Emily, though? She never stopped shitting on Matt for leaving her alone in the mines and on Mike for pointing the gun at her face. The nurses transferred her to a private room until both left a day or two later once they'd been physically approved to go. Everyone's family, even the Washingtons, came up for their kids. Bob and Melinda had tried to join the ground search for their son, but the authorities didn't want anyone else possibly getting hurt until they cleared the areas personally. Sam had transferred back to the police's custody by then. Both had spent the few days they were there, sitting with her, eating, reading, or even reminiscing with her. It had been strangely comforting. And then they'd left. Just like everyone else.
Fuck her family.
Being alone hadn't ever been a problem for her. This wouldn't be any different...but if she could do something for Josh...even if that was ending his misery...then she'd do what she could. Nothing would ever make the amends her soul starved for, but it could be a way to ease all the turmoil. It could be a way to "move on" with her life. Exactly what her parents wanted.
Unlocking her phone, Sam sighed, wiping the tears away with the jacket. Sniffling, she leaned back, closed her eyes, and counted to fifty. Clearing her throat, the girl dialed the Canadian number and leaned her head against the window as she gripped the steering wheel. As the dial tone rang, Sam searched around the trees framing the empty road.
"Hello?" an older, feminine voice said like she was distracted or in a rush.
"Sam! You made it home okay?"
"Yeah, I did. I'm calling so you have my new number...and to let you know that I've thought about your offer. I need some time to process everything, but I think I want to help…"
"Listen, there's nothing we can do right now anyway. But if we're gonna do this, you have to be all in, girl. I hear a lot of uncertainty coming through this phone. You know there's a lot riding on this."
"I know," Sam quietly muttered. "I'll let you know for sure when I'm feeling clearer, then. But is there anything I can do for the investigation in the meantime?"
"The stranger you mentioned? I found that man's journal in the basement a week ago. It's in pretty decent condition, considering. No one else has seen it. I didn't document it as evidence. I figured you'd call, so I stuffed it into your bag before we turned you over to your parents. Read it when you're feeling...better. Don't call me until you've read what wasn't burned, you hear?"
The phone clicked without so much as a goodbye. A shiver rocked up and down her spine as her chin shook uncontrollably. The center of her back between her shoulders pinched, quickly ricocheting until something invisible stabbed her there. Breathing the cramped air within the small car was almost impossible. Fresh, hot tears burned as they swarmed and fell down her face. Shifting her attention to the glove box, Sam gasped, ripping her gaze away to stare at the road ahead. It had been years. She'd been able to survive the loss of Hannah and Beth without going there...Clutching Josh's jacket in her fist, Sam unlatched the front door, slammed it, and rushed around the car. Facing the woods, the petite girl froze, the need for release overwhelming her. Turning around to the passenger side front door, Sam yanked the glove compartment open and withdrew the old lighter. A part of her hoped it didn't still work. Backing away, she swallowed and abandoned the vehicle, sprinting straight into the vast, quiet forest.
Chapter 2 will have more interaction with the group! Plus a taste of the Sam/Mike moments to come! I'd love to hear your thoughts on this chapter/story! Please review.