Her hand trembled as she clutched the unmarked letter. Scrawled in all-too-familiar handwriting, the note set her skin on fire. Her heart fluttered. There was no way this could be real.
The letter was worn, as if it had been folded and unfolded several times, shoved in and out of many a pocket. Instinctively, she knew it was meant for her. She had found it that morning, tucked between the door and the doorframe. The simple sight of it on that foggy morning had stopped her heart, because that place was special. Only her fiancée, Hunter, had left notes for her there, and he had been dead for three years.
Victoria Martin sat on the porch of her mountain top cabin, drinking coffee and watching the sun burn the fog away. She left the worn piece of paper folded by her leg. She felt rather stupid since she had not yet opened it. Yet every time she reached for it, something stilled her hand.
Usually she loved mornings like these. She used to find that the dreariness had its own kind of beauty. She would sit on her porch for hours with Hunter before he had died, just drinking coffee and enjoying a little conversation. He came over every morning, and sometimes surprised her by making her breakfast. She shook her head to clear out the memories. They were still too painful, especially now, especially today, April 17th, the three year anniversary of Hunter's death.
The dark memories flooded back all too quickly. She pressed her hands to her face.
It had started off as a perfect day. She had been at the beach with Hunter all day long, watching the rain hit the waves from their warm, dry tent, drinking hot chocolate and eating homemade chocolate chip cookies. She was snuggled in a grey oversized sweatshirt and loose blue pants, wrapped up in his embrace. The sound of the rain hitting the tent and the waves crashing on the beach lulled her to sleep in the cozy little haven. Hunter kissed her forehead as she slept in his arms. How perfect her world was at that time. How little time was left before her world came crashing to an end.
The grey sky darkened as night fell. Hunter woke his sleeping girlfriend and they packed up their belongings. He drove her home, and she convinced him to stay just a while longer. "Wait until the rain lets up," she said. She had only wanted her perfect day to last longer. She regretted those words though, as she would until her dying day. He stayed for a while longer, just long enough to enjoy listening to a thunderstorm. They had both treasured thunderstorms.
Vic could feel her breathing getting ragged. The memories didn't stop… couldn't stop… wouldn't stop. A single tear rolled down her cheek. How she wished she had let him go, because letting him go would have meant keeping him.
He finally left around midnight. Vic walked with him to her door, where he kissed her goodbye and held her in a long, sweet hug. "See ya tomorrow Tori." He grinned, and then he was gone.
He was the only one who ever called her Tori. No one had since. No one would ever again.
Vic let the pine door swing shut and let the grin linger on her face. She was so content. She had everything. She yawned, and decided to go upstairs to her bedroom.
A disturbance rippled through the air. Vic paused from her walk up the stairs. The crashing sound hadn't sounded quite like thunder, but it was terrible and deafening. She bolted to her window, but could see nothing in the inky blackness that pressed against it. She thought nothing of it, thinking she had maybe just mistaken the thunder for something else, until a bloodcurdling scream ripped through the night air.
She could remember in perfect detail everything that happened next. She could still hear the screams of her neighbors, the rush of the wind and the sound of the sirens. Every moment was burned into her memory, her scars to bear eternally.
"Ohmygod, oh my god, someone call the police! Call 911!" The ghastly shrieks of her terror stricken neighbor prompted Vic to run from her house, not even stopping for a jacket. Her heart raced as she nearly flew down the hill, sliding in the mud that collected at the bottom of her driveway. She caught herself in time, but the driving rain nearly blinded her.
"What's going on? What happened?" Vic shook her neighbor who was staring into the lake next to the road.
"There was a drunk driver … a really bad accident… think someone's dead…" Sophie's entire body was shaking, her eyes wide with terror. "It was awful… the guy hit this other guy and that guy's truck flipped into the lake~"
"Truck?" Vic's heart stopped beating. "Oh dear Jesus," she prayed. "Sophie, go call an ambulance." By now, more neighbors had collected. "Steve! Go check out the guy who hit the tree!" Panic rose. She didn't see Hunter's truck anywhere. Maybe he had escaped. Maybe it wasn't him. After all, a lot of people in trucks drove this road. . .at midnight. . .
Her legs couldn't carry her fast enough. She leapt over the fence and waded in to the lake. The icy water reached her knees, then her waist, but she was numb to it. She felt nothing but blind fear and the now-icy rain in her hair.
"Hunter…" She called his name, knowing she wouldn't get an answer. Her eyes searched the lake in front of her, but she found nothing. Water lapped against her body. She was saturated in mud and lake, but kept going deeper. The water reached her chest now. She still saw nothing.
Faintly she could hear Sophie calling to other neighbors. Apparently she had gotten over her fear and was helping the drunk man. "Ohmygosh there's blood everywhere! Sir, sir, can you hear me? Sir! He's not responding! Ohmygosh he's still bleeding! There's so much blood! Somebody, help me!"
Sirens faintly appeared in the distance, the sound of hope breaking through the night of horror. The bright streaks dissipated the darkness over the water. Vic's eyes beheld an unspeakable horror that decimated her heart. She saw Hunter's truck upside down in the water, mangled, with the tires still spinning.
She couldn't breathe. She couldn't speak. She heard someone call for help, maybe it was her. Officers from the second squad car entered the water and pulled her away from the wreckage. She struggled against them. "NO! NO! That is my fiancée! He has to be ok! I need to make sure he's ok! No! NOOO! Let me go! LET GO!" She fought the officers and waded back into the water with a strength she didn't know she had. "Hunter!"
The police pulled her out of the icy lake. "Miss, just wait on shore. We'll tell you as soon as we know something. We have to get you out for your own good. You'll freeze if you stay here!"
She knew they were only trying to help. Reluctantly, she let them lead her away, never taking her eyes from the truck. Paramedics had arrived and swarmed the street, which had been blocked off a mile away in both directions. Some passed Vic and the police as they went out into the water, ready to check find Hunter. Vic knew things did not look good. But she was not ready to accept what may have happened.
She stayed as close to the water as the police would let her, shivering as the cold wind whipped around her tiny body. Sophie was right, the ground was soaked with blood. She could hear the drunk man being pried from his car and carried out on a stretcher. She heard the tow truck pull up and haul away the wreckage the driver's SUV had become. Despite everything around her, she kept her eyes focused on the outline of Hunter's truck in the water. She could see the men scrambling around it, trying to get the doors open. It had already filled with water.
Her mind was blank. All she thought about was Hunter. Their memories replayed before her mind's eye, as well as what she had dreamt for their future. She stared out across the lake. . .hoping. . .praying. . .
One of the men shook his head. He motioned towards Vic, and stared to climb out of the lake.
"Uh, well, miss. . ."
He looked at her quizzically.
"It's short for Victoria. What the heck do you want to tell me?"
He scratched his head, unsure of where to start. "Well, Victoria, there's no body in the truck. There sure as heck is a lot of blood, but no body. We're going to search the lake in the morning. There's no way he could have survived a roll down that hill into this lake."
"But w-what if he did?"
"He didn't, m'am."
"But what if-"
"He couldn't have. Even if he had, he's drowned by now anyway. I'm sorry." The medic turned and slowly walked back to the lake.
At that moment, Victoria Martin's world came crashing down. Her fiancée was dead, and his body was missing. She felt hot tears roll down her cheeks. Slowly, she managed to put one foot in front of the other and walk back up to the base of her driveway. Sophie wrapped her arms around Vic, as the tears began to pour like waterfalls. Vic hung on to Sophie, because she knew if she didn't, she'd collapse.
"Shh, baby, shh I know, I know. . ." Despite her attempts at comforting Vic, Sophie began to cry at the sight if her neighbor in pain. "Come on now, hun, let's get you dry, let's get you home now baby girl."
Sophie walked Vic back up to her house. Once inside, more tears began flowing freely. Sophie left Vic on the couch and went up to her room, bringing back some dry clothes for her to change into.
"We. . .were gonna . . .be together forever. . .we were . . .gonna get married. . .and that stupid drunk killed him. . .if I had let him leave. . .if I hadn't made him stay. . .if he had only gone home when he wanted to . . .he . . .would. . .be . . .safe. . .and . . .alive.. .." Her sobs took control of her and she couldn't speak. Her body wracked with anguish and agony. "I . . . made. . .him . .. stay. I . . .I. . .I. . .KILLED Hunter!"
Sophie held her friend and let her sob. "No, you didn't. Don't ever say that., No, Vicky, no, you didn't kill him. Don't say such awful things. No, baby, no, no one thinks that. It was the drunk that killed him , not you, Baby no. You didn't kill him!"
Vic looked up at Sophie. "If . .. I . . hadn't. . .asked. . .him . .. to . . .stay. . .longer. . .he. . .wouldn't. . .be. . . DEAD."
"Look at me." Sophie grabbed Vic's face and wouldn't let her look away. "Look at me. You. Did. Not. Kill. Him. You did NOT kill him. Do you understand? You DID NOTHING WRONG."
She did not sleep that night. She didn't even go to work the next few days. She stayed home, glued to the television, watching the search for hunter's body.
"It is now day three of the search for the body of Hunter Drew, the man who was killed in that awful drunk driving accident. He was struck from the side by a drunk man in an SUV and rolled down the hill, across the road, over the guard rail, and into the lake. His truck was destroyed and the body still hasn't been recovered. The drunk is now in intensive care and has been identified, but his name has been withheld until further notice. Divers say that if they cannot find the body by the end of tomorrow, they will give up the search and Hunter Drew will be given a memorial service. In other news. . ."
Vic turned off her TV. She had been watching this broadcast endlessly, with no sign of hope. Always a bit of a pessimist, she was on the edge of giving up the last shred of hope that she clung to.
Somehow, she knew the body would never be found. . .