Chapter One

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A couple hundred miles north of Hammond, Indiana, and thirty-seven miles past the ever-growing trees lies a secluded lake territory that not many have discovered up until today. According to Seth, it's where "Heaven meets Earth." And yes, he loves to exaggerate.

With only three weeks left until the end of our summer vacation, a handful of my friends and I finally agreed to take Seth's offer and road trip towards that supposedly heavenly land, and spend the rest of the week swimming in the waters and disconnecting from the world.

My best friend, Ariel, and I took a plane together from our hometown in Illinois and met up with Seth somewhere along the northwestern region of Indiana. How we managed to get there safely was beyond me, because frankly I was asleep throughout the entire trip. Ariel, being the more responsible among us two, was in charge of all the transportation and connections made.

We are currently in Seth's Jeep, with Ariel in the passenger's seat and in control of the AUX, blasting The Weeknd through the speakers, and I sprawled out on the backseat with a bag of salted Lay's chips lying on my stomach, half empty.

"You are sure we're headed the right way, correct?" Ariel asked for the hundredth time, her trust in Seth almost nonexistent.

Seth groaned in annoyance, "yes, for Heaven's sake, Ariel. I live in this region, and I've been to the lake before. I know the way. Stop doubting me!" I could see him rolling his eyes from the rear-view mirror, and I suppressed a giggle.

"How much more?" I asked, rubbing the back of my neck that was gradually becoming stiffer by time. I sat upright, scooting towards the door and resting my head against the window.

"About half an hour," Seth replied.

I took a deep breath, huffing it out. "It better be worth it." I mumbled softly, but Seth caught on to it.

"Oh, believe me. It'll blow your brains out." He glanced at me through the rear-view and winked. I hummed in response, not entirely convinced.

My attention was diverted towards the passing trees, their barks extending towards the midnight sky and the slight breeze dancing through their leaves. The forest seemed infinite; we had been driving alongside it on the road for the past hour and a half, and it still extended some more. Although dark outside, my eyes could still point out the silhouettes and figures deep inside the forest, and they didn't fail to distinguish the figure of a four-legged animal running alongside us. My first thought screamed "dog", but it's size contradicted it. Even with the great distance between our car and the animal, it looked huge.

I sat more upright, my nose almost touching the window as my curiosity got the best of me and I peered outside, searching for the animal among the tall trees. Maybe a coyote, if not a dog.

"Hey, Seth?" He hummed in response. "Could there be any coyotes in the woods?" I asked.

He glanced quickly to his left, searching among the trees before Ariel scolded him, ordering him to keep his eyes on the road.

"I don't know, to be honest. But the land does stretch out for miles, so anything could be in there." He explained.

I nodded my head, my eyes searching for the animal that suddenly disappeared from my sight, probably hiding behind the trees.

"But don't worry, Nora. The forest stops before the lake by miles; so we'll be safe." Seth smiled as he glanced over his shoulder at me.

"No, I'm not scared," I rushed to explain. "Just wondering."

"Could you step on it, Seth? I need to pee." Ariel shifted uncomfortably in her seat, frowning.

"Well hold it in. You aren't a kid." Seth snapped at her, annoyed by her constant nagging.

Ariel turned to give him a deadly glare. "You do know I wouldn't hesitate to ruin your seats, right?" She threatened.

Seth scoffed in response; until he stole a glance at her devilish smirk, and gulped in fear.

"You better step on it, Seth. You and I both know how wild this woman can get." I replied from the back seat, hiding my smile. The car began speeding down the road, going faster than before. Ariel turned around to glare at me but I just shrugged.

"What the...?" Seth began, and I looked at the front to see the reason behind his comment.

Three black SUV's were parked on the sides and in the middle of the road, blocking us from going further in. Three men stood in front of the car parked in the middle, all of them wearing black dress-pants and dark long-sleeved shirts, their backs straight and their chins held high, with their hands crossed behind their backs.

"What's going on?" Ariel shrieked, her voice suddenly high pitched, which conveyed her fear.

"I have no idea." Seth whispered as he slowed the car to a stop in front of the men.

One of them marched towards us, his face void of emotion, and he motioned for Seth to lower his window, which he reluctantly did.

"You're trespassing." The stranger stated in a monotone voice while frowning at Seth.

"Trespassing? This is public territory." Seth argued.

"Not anymore."

Ariel glanced behind at me, and I gulped nervously. She opened her mouth to speak but I shook my head, silently telling her to allow Seth to deal with it.

"Since when? And who does it belong to?" He fought the man, and I had to stop myself from slapping him on the back of his head for doing so. The men looked very intimidating, what with their tense postures and expensive cars, driving away seems like our only chance at surviving. But Seth wasn't going to let it go so easily. He had been begging us to go on this trip for so long and now that it's actually happening, I doubt he'd give up so quickly.

"Sir, we simply cannot allow you to pass by without the owner's consent." The man explained, refusing to answer Seth's questions.

"This is ridiculous." Seth raised his hands in the air in exasperation. "Public territories out in the middle of nowhere cannot just simply be bought by anyone. Who's this owner you're talking about?"

The man's frown deepened, his jaw ticking at Seth's stubbornness.

I reached forward, my fingertips lightly touching Seth's shoulder to grab his attention. "Maybe we should just head back." I suggested, but he immediately shook his head in refusal.

Another man slowly started approaching our car, headed towards the first stranger. He whispered something in his ear, then glanced behind Seth, at me.

My heart began to thrum loudly in my chest.

What the Hell?

"What is it now?" Seth continued to push his buttons, and I was so close to strangling him.

The first man turned to us, glancing at Ariel then at me. He studied us carefully for a few seconds before taking one step away from our car. "You may pass." The cars parked in the middle of the road began moving away, clearing the way for us to pass by.

We all stared at him, dumbfounded. He raised an eyebrow when he noticed we weren't moving, and I kicked Seth's seat.

"Drive!" I hissed.

He frowned at the man and nodded, shifting the gear and slowly driving away.

"That was very weird." Ariel commented, clutching the edge of her seat. "Who were they?"

"I've no idea," Seth began. "This region has been public ever since my family and I discovered it, which was three years back. Nothing like this has ever happened." He frowned. "And it's ridiculous to think someone bought such a huge territory out in nowhere. Who could ever afford such a thing?"

The car was silent for the next three minutes, everyone lost in their own thoughts, trying to make sense of what just happened.

"We're not being followed by them, are we?" I asked, suddenly paranoid. I glanced behind me, seeing an empty road.

Ariel turned to look at me. "We're fine." She reassured me. But my gut feeling told me otherwise.

I could almost swear we were being watched.

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