At a trendy Turkish tavern one Friday night, astrophysicist Gabriel Diaz meets a mysterious young woman. Captivated by her beauty as well as her views on good and evil, he spends the next several days with her. Soon, however, he begins to notice a strangeness in her–her skin’s abnormally high temperature, her obsession with milk products, her child-like and bizarre behavior as she seems to take pleasure in toying with his conscience. The young woman, Kamilah, invites him to Rize, Turkey, where she claims her family owns a cottage in the woods. In spite of his heavy workload and the disturbing visions and nightmares about his sister’s baby that is due to be born soon, Gabriel agrees to go with her.
“Who’s that woman?” Gabriel demanded.
“I don’t know.”
“Don’t tell me you don’t know. I saw the way she looked at you–the way you looked at her.”
“She’s just an old woman, a silly superstitious old woman.”
Gabriel was sure Kamilah lied. He grasped her by the shoulders and turned her to him. “Why was she afraid of you?”
Kamilah laughed, her cheeks flushed. “Listen to what you’re saying. Why would she be afraid of me?”
“I don’t know. But it’s a fact that she gasped when she saw you, that she was afraid.”
She shrugged. “She must have mistaken me for somebody else.”
“But why did you look at her like that? I saw your face.”
She scowled. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Obviously you misread my face.” She wrestled away from his grip. “I want to go home.”
“Yes, home. To the forest. To the cottage.” She stomped her foot and kept going, leaving him behind.
Craning his neck, Gabriel looked back toward the scarf stand but the old woman was gone. “Damn!” he muttered. He trotted after Kamilah.
Kamilah started running, her shrill, childish laugh defying him. Never stopping, she ran all the way to the mountain trail. With the heavy backpack and his sore leg muscles, Gabriel had a hard time keeping up with her. People turned to stare at them. Desperate to catch up with Kamilah, Gabriel clashed into a man as he crossed the street. Gabriel muttered a curse. He felt like strangling Kamilah. Her erratic behavior was wearing thin.
“Wait!” he shouted when he saw her going up the trail.
She glanced back over her shoulder and flashed him a feral grin, her flushed cheeks contrasting deeply with her brilliant eyes. “You cannot catch me, you cannot catch me!” She sang loudly in monotone, between gasps. “You cannot catch me, you cannot catch me!”
As Gabriel ran after her the dull pain on the right side of his ribcage came back. He halted, panting. He leaned forward with his hands on his slightly bent knees and his eyes shut to concentrate on the ache. Massaging the painful area, he made an effort to regain his breath. When he looked again to the trail Kamilah had vanished into the woods. The hell with her. If she thought he would run after her and play her little hunting games, she was mistaken. He would very calmly find his own way back to the cottage. He reached into his backpack for the bottle of water and took a big gulp. After resting for several minutes the pain lessened and he felt better. In the deep chambers of his brain an alarm went off–for the first time the pain in his torso began to seriously worry him. He didn’t think it had anything to do with indigestion or any exotic virus or bacteria. Words like tumor and cancer flashed through his mind but he tried to shove them away. He couldn’t think about this now. Once back in Baltimore he would go to a doctor and have a complete examination.
He’d been hiking for about an hour when a sound came from deep within the woods. Gabriel stopped, his head turning to the source. The sound was familiar… the distant shrill murmur of children playing. As suddenly as the sound had appeared, it vanished. Goose bumps rose on his arms. Had he imagined it? He massaged the sides of his head while drops of sweat trickled down his back. The burning sun and the humidity didn’t help clear his mind. After taking a few deep breaths, he continued his way up the trail.
About a quarter of an hour later he heard the sound again. This time it appeared closer. Gabriel stopped and peered into the woods. He closed his eyes and concentrated on identifying the sound. Yes… the shrill murmur of small children playing. Ridiculous but true. Gabriel decided to investigate. Once under the canopy of the trees, moist coolness and shadows enveloped him. He welcomed the feeling and continued deeper into the woods, the ground soft and mushy under his boots. After a few minutes it struck him the sound wasn’t getting closer or farther. Even though it was distant, it seemed to be everywhere, all around him. Tilting back his head, he stared at the dense canopy of trees. Soft beams of light filtered down. He turned around slowly, light-headed and somewhat dizzy. For an instant he felt himself floating as the distant murmur of children caressed his mind.
“Kamilah!” he shouted. “Kamilah!” He stopped turning and stood immobile, listening to his own heavy breathing, to his thudding heart. “Kamilah, I know you’re here somewhere! Stop playing games!” He scanned the surroundings. Something about the tree trunks caught his eye. Their surface wasn’t smooth as normal tree trunks. Lines marred the surface, natural lines which seemed to come from within the bark itself.
The lines, as if carved by a human hand, appeared to be forming something. As realization dawned on Gabriel he gasped and stumbled back, nearly falling on the ground. He looked around him, terrified. Each tree trunk portrayed a different face… a baby face, crying, the mouth wide open in anguished misery. The shrill murmur of children became louder than ever. And then Gabriel understood it, heard it clearly. This wasn’t the murmur of children playing. This was the sorrowful crying of infants. He ran back toward the trail as fast as his legs would allow him.