From the moment Zeke stepped outside, he could tell it was a most peculiar day.
If you had asked him what indicated this to him, he would not have been able to tell you—it was not anything that could be defined. But the clouds seemed to be bearing down on him, a succubus heavy on his chest, trying to suck the breath out of his lungs even as he desperately gulped in mouthfuls of the crisp mountain air.
He felt claustrophobic in spite of being outside. He couldn’t get somewhere much less confining, actually—there wasn’t another house for a good five miles. Still, he felt as if he needed to escape, even if he couldn’t put his finger on what was making him feel so unsettled. He decided to go for a walk.
Zeke’s summer home was nestled in the beautiful Catskills Mountains, a welcome respite from the ceaseless calamity of New York City. If he walked down the (usually deserted) road outside it, in just over a mile he would be at a nature preserve. He always felt peaceful hiking along its trails, and he hoped going there would soothe him now.
Zeke was a quick walker, and reached the preserve in a matter of minutes. Not a soul seemed to be around today, and he couldn’t decide if this made him more or less uneasy. He was sure he would have regarded with suspicion anyone he encountered, but it definitely contributed to the feeling that something was very off.
He turned down the trail he liked best, one that wound past a waterfall before skirting the banks of a lake. But when he reached the waterfall, normally so breathtaking, he could not focus on its beauty. Today, the rush of falling water seemed only to echo the heavy thumping of his heart. Today, it seemed somehow ominous. What would happen to a body if it fell over that edge, the frantic flailing of limbs, the sickening crunch of bone against the rocks below…
Zeke walked away from the waterfall quickly, trying unsuccessfully to keep his mind off the way that crashing water would silent any cries for help. He reached the lake a few minutes later.
Here, everything was seemingly perfectly placid. The still, smooth surface held up its liquid mirror to the sky and the mountains just a bit distant. Zeke gazed out at it and took a deep breath, the another, trying to steady himself. After all, he was being irrational, wasn’t he? He didn’t even know what he was so nervous about, so, logically, it must be nothing at all. The water was so calm, so perfectly calm. Everything was all right.
Then, he noticed something that pricked up the hair on the back of his neck.
Dead center to the lake was one of the mountains. This time of year, they were all lush with vegetation, and Zeke could see the vibrant hue of mountain flowers mixed in with the greenery. But the flowers were not ordinary, not today. He could see, very immediately and plainly see, that they were arranged in a patterns. Letters, spelling something out. It was too distant to make out, but if he squinted, it did almost look like the first one could be a Z…
And suddenly, Zeke knew exactly what he had to do. There was an ax in the garage, kept for chopping firewood in the winter. He ran away from the lake, past the waterfall, out of the preserve entrance, not stopping to even catch his breath. He had to be ready.