The Mystery of Sunshine Valley

Part one in a series of short stories

by Shaira Nixon / Garnet & Black

It was supposed to just be a normal day. I just wanted it to be a normal day. 

August 7th, 2020. I woke up early (8 a.m. to be exact), got dressed, combed my hair, and walked to class. I was enrolled at the local college, SVU. It was a really small college, perfect to match the small town it resided in. I want to be a pilot one day, though you wouldn’t be able to tell based on how much I complain about my classes. But today started like every other day. I went to class, got lunch, did some studying (even though it didn’t feel like I kept any of that knowledge), and I was walking home, tired and ready to relax a bit before the cycle continued tomorrow. But on the way home I ran into a friend, and that’s when my day started going to shit. 

Jake looked like your typical jock-six feet of pure muscle, wearing shirts that were probably a bit too small for him, but he was a nerd at heart, showcased perfectly by how we met at a Dungeons and Dragons campaign led at the school by our other friend Camilla. He’s a robotics major, which he enjoys telling people in order to see their reaction. But Jake wasn’t here to talk. In fact, Jake looked kind of scared. I asked him what was wrong, very concerned at what could scare a man as intimidating as him. 

He told me he had seen a strange man in black. I laughed a little, which in hindsight probably hurt his feelings. He said he was the strangest man he had seen, dressed in all black, face obscured by shadow. Jake said the man was wearing a red necklace, one that he had never seen before. And when Jake tried to follow the man to see what the deal was (something I told him was incredibly stupid), he said the man had just vanished. There was nothing but a brick wall. I was a little concerned for him, getting this worked up over a stranger. But something did seem off about them. The dark clothing in the summer’s heat. The way his face was always obscured in shadow. The red necklace that stood out from the rest of him. After a few minutes of calming him down, I asked if he wanted to follow me to my house, and he gladly agreed. And so we continued walking, both of us a little on edge, though not exactly sure why.

To pass the time, I tried to look at my surroundings. A coffee shop to my left, a bakery to the right, another fast food restaurant just a bit ahead. Sunshine Valley was a relatively small town, with about ten thousand people. Large enough to be on a map, but not enough to have any semblance of traffic or crowding. I really liked living here, as bland as it was to some. I enjoyed the peaceful nature of the town, a place where all his troubles just melted away. Even thinking about it he felt a little relaxed. Sunshine Valley had nothing to really set itself apart other than that. Just a small town on the edge of nature, secluded from many of the problems the world had.

I was deep in thought when the man appeared. Standing across the empty street as he waited and waited for something. I immediately knew something was off because there were no cars passing by. Why didn’t the man just walk? And as I was taking a closer look, I realized a small, red necklace dangling from his neck. And sure enough, the man wore all black, and despite the sun bearing down on him, the man’s face was obscured in shadow. I didn’t know what to do. I turned over my shoulder to nudge Jake, asking him if it was the man he had seen earlier today. But Jake wasn’t there. In fact, no one was around except me and the man. 

Everything was empty, which was pretty unusual. And just as I realized that my friend was gone, the man started to move, darting down an alley. Normally I wouldn’t have followed him, but Jake was gone, and the man most likely had something to do with it. So I quickly walked across the street, ignoring the red light as there were no cars passing by anyway. I turned the corner, and sure enough, the man was still there, walking briskly down the alleyway. I wanted to keep a distance, not entirely sure what to do, just wanting to keep out of his sight. But, of course, he turned around, noticed me, and immediately started running away. But something happened to my friend, and this man might have been responsible. So I began the chase.

As I followed the man down street after street, part of my brain was telling me to be rational. I was chasing a man that I had never seen before down through the city at breakneck pace just because he looked kind of suspicious and I lost track of my friend. But an instinctual side of my brain had kicked in, the kind that somehow knew something was off about the man but didn’t know what. My friend, and everyone else randomly disappears, and it’s just us two. And the necklace, as benign as it seemed, was strange, and something drew me to it. So despite my attempts to stop, I kept pushing forward. But as I kept moving forward, I started to lose track of where I was, and in a scary way. I have lived in this city all his life, and I know the city front and back. Yet somehow we were in a place that I had never seen before. The streets had changed from asphalt to gravel, the ground shifting underneath my feet as I started losing ground on the man, who seemed to glide across the streets effortlessly. I looked around at the buildings, trying to figure out where I was, but the buildings were strange. They looked old, almost ancient, and they were decrepit and nearly falling apart. Black, wilted trees cast shadows around me, and the dead grass painted the ground in shades of green and grey. Chills ran down my spine as cold winds blew through my hair, giving me goosebumps as I desperately tried to catch up. I began to feel others watching me, their eyes staring into me like daggers. They were all dressed just like the man I was chasing. Black clothes, faces obscured in shadow. Their presence freaked me out, but I pushed it off and continued my pursuit as he was starting to get away. In a final effort, I dived at him, trying to catch his coat in a last-ditch effort to catch him. But he was too fast, passing me by as I fell facedown onto the pavement.

I slowly got up, cradling the arm I used to break my fall, when I noticed the man was gone, replaced by a dead-end at the end of the alley. The buildings were back to normal, their brick walls giving me great relief. The roads were road again, and the grass was bright and wonderful. People were passing by, walking along as they continued about their day. It took me a bit, but I realized where I was. This was the alley I had chased him down to begin with, except now it was a dead end, and the man was nowhere to be seen. So what the hell had just happened?

I didn’t have much time to think about it before the car hit me.