Author: Miina Chopp – Second Place Senior Division 2024

Wednesday, September 13th, 2019, River Birch Post – Obituaries

Mallory Amelia Hayes, age 17, was sadly pronounced dead on Saturday, September 9th following her disappearance four years earlier. Mallory, also known as Rory, lived in the town of River Birch all her life. She is survived by her parents Terrance and Naomi, her older brother Percy, and her closest friend Erin, who she considered family. Mallory was a beloved member of the community and was always ready to help those in need. With ample kindness and empathy, she befriended everyone she met and was a truly wonderful person to be around. She volunteered at the local animal shelter and had dreams of being a veterinarian after finishing school. To honor Mallory’s memory, the Hayes family will be holding a funeral service this Tuesday at 4:45p.m. and extend an invitation to all who would like to attend.

* * *

Erin thought that the service had been nice, if not a little crowded. People who had known Rory, people who’d helped with the search, even people Erin had never seen before came to pay their respects. Rory’s family gave a speech, saying how much they missed her, how they hoped she was in a better place. Erin gave a speech too, but it didn’t sound as warm and appreciative as she’d meant it to be. Everyone around her was silent and respectful, watching her with sad eyes filled with pity. Rory had been her best friend. Erin watched as people slowly filed out of the cemetery, offering their condolences as they passed her. She let her curly black hair hide her face. She didn’t like the way people looked at her, as if she might shatter any minute.

The funeral offered some closure, but not as much as it should have. Rory had gone missing years ago with no warning. They never found any trace of her aside from a few footprints. She’d been planning to hike a new trail in the woods, one that led to a large river cave. The best anyone could guess was that she went too far into the cave and fell into the water with no one to help her escape the current. Erin had always felt guilty for not offering to join her on the hike. Maybe she could have. Erin stopped herself before she could feel worse than she already did. Rory wouldn’t have wanted her to be so hung up on something she couldn’t fix, events she couldn’t change. Erin smiled. Rory had always been nicer than anyone deserved. She was hopeful that she was happy wherever she was now.

Erin walked out of the cemetery with her family, Rory’s family close behind. The car ride home was quiet and melancholy, no one attempted conversation. When Erin arrived home, she was looking forward to going straight to her own room. She’d made it halfway to the front door before she heard her mom yell for her.

“Erin!” her mother called, “Could you please grab the mail before you go in? Thank you.”

Erin nodded, trying not to show her exasperation. The mailbox wasn’t very full, and only contained a copy of the local paper and an unmarked letter. Erin grabbed the paper and letter and brought them inside. She tossed aside the paper and studied the letter more closely. It had no address, no stamp, and not even the name of who it was for. Out of curiosity, Erin opened the letter and found a singular sheet of paper with scratchy handwriting scrawled across it. The paper had suffered from water damage, but Erin could still make out the handwriting that belonged to someone she thought she would never see again. The letter said:

Erin, I know you will be able to tell who sent this to you from the second you open it. You always said I had horrible handwriting, even though I never thought it was that bad. Come to our spot in the park by the river birch tree. Maybe you’ll find something there.

Erin stood as still as a statue as she read the paper. It couldn’t be true, it couldn’t. Yet here it was, a letter written in Rory’s own hand. A letter that shouldn’t exist. Erin clutched the crumpled paper tightly; she didn’t want to let it go. Erin ran to her room and changed from her black funeral clothes into a navy-blue T-shirt and old leggings. She hurtled down the stairs, trying to find her sneakers and hoodie.

“I’m going to the park!” Erin shouted as she sprinted out the door. She didn’t wait for an answer.

When Erin arrived at the park, her heart beat faster than it ever had before. She knew she shouldn’t place so much hope in a small piece of paper that had mysteriously shown up at her house, but she couldn’t help it. She longed to see her best friend again. If there was a chance that a miracle might happen, she was going to make sure she was there for it.

Erin ran to the tallest hill in the park, where a river birch tree slowly swayed in the wind. This had been where Erin and Rory had played every day after school. But for the past few years, it had not been a happy place. When Erin reached the tree, she looked around desperately. She couldn’t see Rory, or anyone else for that matter. The park was deserted.

“Hey Erin,” a voice whispered.

Erin whipped around to face the voice and nearly screamed when she realized who it belonged to.

“RORY!” Erin yelled at the top of her lungs as she lunged to embrace her long lost friend. “I missed you so much! What happened? Are you okay? They thought you had drowned, and we looked for you for years! We need to go back right now; everyone will be so happy!”

Erin pulled out of the hug to look at her friend. When she had first seen Rory, it had seemed like nothing about her appearance had changed aside from her being a little taller and older. However, upon closer inspection, she could see that Rory’s clothes were fraying and that she was barefoot in the grass. Rory had always been pretty thin, but now she looked sickly and emaciated. Her eyes were dark and sunken.

“What happened?” Erin asked, her voice heavy with concern.

“Nothing,” Rory replied, “I’m fine.” She grabbed Erin’s hand. “Let’s not hang around here. Why don’t we go for a walk and catch up before we go anywhere else. There’s so much you need to tell me about.”

“But don’t you want to see your family? We could get something to eat, you look absolutely starved. When was the last time you-”

“I’m fine,” Rory insisted rather harshly.

Erin didn’t resist as Rory pulled her toward a forest trail that connected to the park. She was too scared to let go of Rory’s hand, even if she was acting strangely. She had always trusted Rory more than anyone else. The two walked down the rough trail and enjoyed the scenery that surrounded them. The trail was bordered by luscious greenery and wildflowers that grew wherever there was room. The leaves on the trees had already turned, causing them to cast orange and yellow light on their surroundings.

Rory asked so many questions about things that had happened in her absence that Erin had trouble answering them all. The conversation was so distracting that before she knew it, Erin found herself at the end of the trail and facing a river that flowed into a gaping cave entrance. It was the river cave.

“We shouldn’t be here,” Erin said, glancing worriedly at Rory.

“Why not? It’s just a cave; it’s not like I drowned in there!” Rory laughed and her thin frame shook violently as she chuckled. She didn’t seem concerned in the least.

Before Erin could object further, Rory pulled her into the cave’s mouth and led her down the long and winding passage. Erin pulled out her phone for light and saw that the cave now split into multiple paths that seemed to go on indefinitely. With a laugh, Rory ran down the nearest opening and disappeared into the darkness. Erin scrambled after her, wondering how she could run so fast in that condition.

“Rory, slow down! We need to go back!” Erin’s voice echoed through the long passageway. It was met with distant laughs and beckoning from Rory.

“Come on! Let’s see where it leads!” Rory called back.

Erin continued to run, ignoring her foot catching on stones and cracks in the cave floor. Suddenly the narrow pathway opened up into a larger passage with the river running through the middle. The water was deep and fast. Erin took a step back from the river. The current was strong enough to pull her away if she wasn’t careful. Erin followed the river further into the cave, occasionally gazing into the dark water. Maybe it was paranoia, but she had a feeling that something bad was going to happen when she was this close to it.

After what felt like an eternity of wandering through the cave, Erin finally stopped to take a break. She sat down on a boulder and rested her feet on a smaller nearby rock. Erin leaned back against the jagged wall; she was exhausted. Every time she turned a corner, she would see a flash of Rory’s ragged clothes, but she could never catch up. Whenever she felt like turning back and waiting for Rory to leave on her own, she would hear Rory yell for her to keep going. But Rory was never there when she continued. Erin sighed, she was not going to leave without her best friend, no matter how odd and reckless she was acting. She hoped this was all just a game, a joke.

As Erin rose, she tilted her phone flashlight to the wall behind her and something caught her eye. Words covered the cave wall from top to bottom, all in different handwriting styles and even languages. Phrases overlapped and wound around each other, creating an unintelligible mural of warnings and last-minute cautions. Erin searched the wall for things she could understand and immediately wished she hadn’t looked.

She led me here.

You can’t leave once you enter. Don’t follow the river.

It was a trick, they’re already gone.

Erin tried to rip her eyes off the wall, panic building inside of her. She shouldn’t be here. Erin turned to the middle of the wall and saw a nearly untouched piece of writing. It was written larger than the other phrases and sent a chill down her spine when she read it.

It’s starving.

“Erin!” Rory called from deeper in the tunnel. “Come on!”

Erin flinched at the sound and as she opened her mouth to yell back, she heard a shrill scream from Rory’s direction. The sound echoed through the cave, filling the space with the sound of shrieks.

“Rory?” Erin yelled. She was met with silence. “Rory?!” This time it was a scream. The echo of Erin’s own voice faded and all that was left was the sound of the river.

Erin ran faster than she ever had before. She ignored the tiredness in her legs and pushed herself to keep going. She was not going to lose Rory again. As she ran, the size of the passageway slowly increased until it opened into a cavernous room with no way forward. Erin stopped, suddenly tense.

The cavern was so dark it was almost impossible for Erin to see any of her surroundings, but she could make out a few things with her flashlight. One of the few things she could see was that the river that flowed beside her emptied into a large lake in the center of the cave. The inky water swirled slowly and patiently, as if waiting for someone to fall in.

Don’t follow the river.

The second thing Erin noticed was that Rory was nowhere to be seen. She began to feel her trust in Rory slip away as her eyes searched the darkness warily. There were no other pathways besides the one she had come from, so she had to have ended up here. Unless Rory could walk through walls, she was in this room.

It was a trick, they’re already gone. She led me here.

The third and most terrifying thing Erin realized was that she wasn’t alone in the cavern.

She watched in horror as a great shadowed mass rose slowly out of the water, causing small ripples to glide across the surface of the lake. The looming figure rose to its full height in the

water and looked down on her with three dark and sunken eyes. The creature was as dark as its own shadow and the edges of its body blurred in and out of focus. It was so gaunt that Erin could count each of its ribs through its thin skin.

It’s starving.

Erin couldn’t scream, she couldn’t even move. She stared into the starving creature’s eyes and watched as it curled back its lip, revealing thousands of white teeth that shone in comparison to the monster’s darkness. Erin found courage and began backing away towards the previous passage. However, when she turned to run, she found her path was being blocked by a similarly skeletal body. Rory stood in the way, face blank.

You can’t leave once you enter.

Erin felt her heart sink. She had placed so much hope in that letter, so much trust in her best friend. Now she realized there was no hope, no need for trust. She turned back to the creature and saw it lean toward her expectantly, salivating at the thought of a new meal. There had never been any hope.

* * *

Thursday, November 23rd, 2023, River Birch Post – Obituaries

Erin Marie Alexander, age 21, was sadly pronounced dead on Monday, November 20th following her disappearance four years earlier. Erin lived in the town of River Birch for most of her life. She is survived by her parents Keith and Emmi, and her younger sisters Anna and Charlie. Erin was an upbeat and valued member of the community and will be thoroughly missed. Even after her best friend’s disappearance, Erin always looked on the bright side of things and brought happiness wherever she went. She was a smart student and dreamed of becoming a costume and set designer after she graduated. To honor Erin’s memory, the Alexander family will be holding a funeral service this Friday at 5:00 p.m. and extend an invitation to all who would like to attend.

Comments are closed.