The Murdered Hiker

     I was excited to get away. It was the first day of summer vacation and I had plans to travel fifty miles north to my favorite hiking spot. Not many people knew of this spot, which made it so much more inviting. Peace and quiet in nature were just what I needed after the past few months. Three months ago, I was as happy as I ever thought I could be. My husband and I were doing well. I recently got promoted at my long-time job. I really felt like things were falling into place as they should be at my age, that is until my twenty-sixth birthday.

     The day after my birthday I moved in with my grandparents. I didn’t want to do it, but I felt I had no other choice. In the weeks leading up to my birthday I felt like something was off with Eric. I just couldn’t figure out what it was, I just knew things weren’t the same. Eric and I had married when I was twenty-two. We met in college and fell into a whirlwind romance right from the start. We were inseparable, or so I thought. Eric began coming home late. He started making excuses as to why he couldn’t go to family functions or hang out with friends. There was even a time where he said he had to work, and I later discovered he hadn’t been to work at all. So where was he for eight hours?

     Two weeks later we had plans for my birthday. We were going to go out to our favorite place to eat and later meet up with some friends. I was so excited and looking forward to spending some time together. I put on my prettiest dress and pulled up my hair the way Eric liked it. Maybe things would change for the better between us. Maybe we just needed some time together. An hour before we were set to leave, Eric entered the bedroom holding his stomach.

“I don’t feel good at all. I don’t think I should go anywhere,” he said as he laid across the bed.

“Are you serious?” I whined. “I’ve really been looking forward to this, Eric.”

“I know, I know. I’m sorry. I can’t help it.” He said, covering his eyes with his arm. “You should still go,” he said.

“I wanted to go with you.” I said, tossing my brush on to the dresser. “We can watch a movie here instead, maybe order take out.”

“No, you should go. It’s your birthday. Go have fun.”

“Okay, but promise you’ll call me if you need anything.”

“I will, I promise.” He said, sitting up to look at me. “You look so pretty. I’m sorry I’m not going.” He slowly stood up and kissed me on my cheek.

     His words stole away all the feelings of doubt and suspicion I’ve had over the past few days. When he talked to me this way, I felt like I was the only girl in the world. I felt special. I kissed him good-bye and headed out the door.

     Four hours later I pulled into the driveway. I didn’t have as much fun as I wanted to. Sure, I had my friends around me, trying to make it the best night ever, but I missed Eric. I had sent him a few messages throughout the night and received no response. His car sat in the driveway and the house was dark. I entered through the front door and removed my shoes, realizing I had a bit too much to drink when I swayed into the wall and had to use it for leverage. I went to the kitchen and poured a glass of water. As I stood at the counter, I heard a small bang come from the bedroom.

“Eric, are you still up?” No answer. I walked down the hall toward the bedroom. The door was closed, which was sort of strange. We rarely closed the door, even while we slept. I slowly turned the knob and pushed the door open. It took a few moments for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. Finally, I could see, but at that moment I wished I was blind. Two dark silhouettes in the bed, our bed. I turned on the light and was disgusted at the scene before me.

“This is what you stayed home for?” I shouted. Eric, jumped at the sound of my voice, throwing the strange girl to the side. As much as I wanted to grab the girl by the hair and throw her out of my house, I ultimately acknowledged that I knew this was happening. It’s been happening for a while. I just didn’t want to admit it. I didn’t want my marriage to end. I saw all the red flags and I chose to ignore them, but not anymore. I turned, leaving Eric and the strange woman in the bedroom and walked out the front door and didn’t look back.

     That’s how I ended up here at my grandparents. They raised me from the age of six and I knew I could count on them. They opened their arms wide and welcomed me back. I’ve stayed here the past few months until I could get back on my feet. I filed for a divorce two months ago and in two days we would sign the papers ending the marriage for good.

“Please don’t go out there all by yourself.” My grandmother pleaded with me.

By myself is exactly what I wanted, needed to be. “I’ll be okay, grandma. I’ve been there alone lots of times. There’s nothing to worry about.” I assured her. It was the truth. I had been to my hiking spot over a hundred times, and I’ve only ever ran into another person a handful of times. The place was very remote and secluded.

“Will you be home for dinner?” My grandma asked as I packed up my car. My grandfather was close by, pulling weeds from the flowerbeds.

“I should be,” I said, then turned back toward my grandfather. “Hey, grandpa, if I catch some fish will you clean them for me?”
“Absolutely.” He said as he stood up and wiped the dirt off his knees.

     I got in my car and waved to them both before I backed out of the driveway. Little did any of us know this would be the last time anyone would ever see me again.

     I stopped at a gas station close to the trail head. I took a selfie and posted it to social media, listing my location. “I’m finally on vacation! I’ve been waiting since Fall to go hiking.” I got back in my car and drove the last ten minutes to the trail head. I pulled into the dirt lot and wasn’t surprised to see no other vehicles parked. Excitement welled in me to have the whole trail to myself. I grabbed my pack out of the back seat and locked my doors. I took another selfie standing at the trail head and captioned it, “time for some nature therapy.”

     The trail ran parallel to the river. It was such a beautiful spot and exactly what I needed. I took a deep breath inhaling the fresh air. I listened to the birds and the river water slapping against the edge of the trail. I was completely engulfed in the tranquility of my surroundings when suddenly, a dark shadow appeared from the bush and trees to my left. It was so fast I had no time to react. I felt a hard knock to the back of my head and fell forward face first into the dirt. I tried to turn over, but my body wouldn’t cooperate. I couldn’t move. I felt two more big pounds to the back of my head and that’s all I remember. Everything went black.

     Two days later I stood on the bank of the river and watched as rescuers pulled my lifeless body out of the river. A hiker had found me floating along the edge and contacted the police. I can’t believe I’m dead. I don’t want to be dead. I have so much more life to live. I don’t want to leave my grandparents or my friends. I wasn’t ready to die.

     My body was severely beaten and black and blue. It was bloated from being in the water so long. I watched as they carefully laid me out on a gurney in the parking lot, as others looked around my car. They covered me with a white sheet and left me lie there alone. The hiker that discovered my body was being questioned.

“Did you notice anyone else in the area when you found her?” The sheriff asked the hiker. His face had turned white, he was clearly in shock. “No. No I saw no one. She was just there floating in the water.

Maybe he killed me I thought. I tried to remember what happened, but it was all a blank. All I remembered is a shadow figure. I didn’t have time to see any features. He didn’t speak. He just kept hitting me.

“Did you happen to notice the car parked over there?” The sheriff asked the hiker. “Yeah, I saw the car, but thought nothing of it. Just figured someone else was hiking.” The hiker managed to say before he vomited all over the ground, just missing the sheriff’s shiny boots. The sheriff jumped back. “Okay, son, here’s my card if you happen to remember anything else.” The hiker took the card and retreated to his vehicle and drove away.

     I stood there, listening. No one could see me, no one could hear me. I was invisible.

“Find any identification in the car?” the Sheriff asked one of his men.

“Her wallet was under the front seat.” He answered as he placed the wallet in a plastic bag. I watched as a tow truck made its way back the narrow dirt road. It maneuvered around into position to hook my car up. Where were they taking it? I wondered. How will I get out of here? Will I be stuck here? I needed to get back to my grandparents. I needed to be there for them. I needed to help them find who did this to me.

“I’ll notify next to kin. This is goin’ to be a tough one. So young.” The Sheriff said.

“You think this is connected to the other murdered girls?” The deputy asked.

“Same MO, but we won’t know anything until an autopsy is done.” The Sheriff said. “If it is connected, we have a huge problem, that’s for sure.” He said, getting into his squad car.

I watched as they loaded my body into an ambulance. I watched as the paramedic wiped tears from her cheek as she closed the door. I watched as they all drove away, leaving me standing alone along the river.

“Autopsy showed blunt force trauma, sexual assault, and asphyxiation, but actual cause of death was drowning.” The Sheriff read out loud.

“Jesus. So, he not only beat her, raped her, and strangled her but then threw her in the river and left her to die. Brutal.” The deputy said.

“I think it might be the same guy, but according to the grandparents and friends of the victim there were some issues with her spouse. She was set to sign divorce papers in two days. We need to question him and see if there’s any connection.” The Sheriff said.

“How about her social media?

“What about it?” The Sheriff asked.

“Couldn’t someone see her location and then go there to find her?”

“I don’t think so,” he said, sitting up in his chair. “Her last post was at 11:45. I think she died shortly after that post, considering she didn’t post anything else after that. She was texting friends, too. Her last text was sent at 11:55, and according to that text she was fine and having fun. I don’t think anyone could have traveled that far in the time frame we’re looking at.” The Sheriff said.

“So, the husband then?”

“I think he’s our best shot at this point. We’ll see what he has to say. See if he has an alibi.” The Sheriff said.

“You know if it wasn’t him that means we have a possible serial killer on our hands here, right?’ The deputy said, standing up from his chair.

“One step at a time. Let’s get the husband in here as soon as possible.”

I’m dead. I’m never coming back. I’ll never get to say goodbye to any of my friends, or my grandparents. They’re all just left with the overwhelming grief of my sudden death. They’ll go years without knowing what happened to me. The torture of wondering why and how someone could do this to someone like me. I didn’t deserve to die. I didn’t deserve to be murdered so brutally. Could it have been Eric? Would he go to such great lengths just to prevent me from taking the family home in the divorce? Could he be that cold blooded? I mean, it’s possible. After being married for three years I thought I knew him, but it turned out I really didn’t know him at all. Or could it have been the man that killed the two other girls in the same county? The Sheriff seemed to think it was a possibility. My manner of death was almost identical to those other girls. He could’ve been on the hunt for his next victim. Could I have just been in the wrong place at the wrong time?

Who do you think committed the murder?

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