Welcome to August

We are eight months into 2018.  The weather in the Northern Hemisphere has been warm everywhere it seems.  August is traditionally the hottest of months before Fall begins.  It’s also the month when many children return to school, mine included.  I’m one of those parents who dread the going back to school period.

Back to School

I love having my kids home, hearing their laughter, having them pop into my office to share something funny or interesting they’ve discovered.  School tends to drain them and make them zombie-like, and that makes me sad.  The pressures of competing academically with other countries have changed primary education to something stressful and honestly, depressing.  That’s where the idea of this month’s story started.


I have probably shared with you many times before that I often get inspiration from asking what-if questions.  This story came from a quote on a tea bag of all things and Lord Byron.  One line in his work, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, Canto 4, “There’s pleasure in the pathless woods…” had me wondering what kind of pleasures exist in pathless woods?  What if pleasure didn’t mean the same to everyone, and it meant something much darker?  What I came up with was, Pathless.  It’s dark but explores ideas relevant to today’s society.

As always, leave a comment for a chance to win an Amazon Gift Card worth $5! But more important, let me know how the story touched you.  I write to share with you my joy of a good story.  If it’s not right, or something invoked a particular emotion, I’d like to know.


‘There is pleasure in the pathless woods’ — Lord Byron.

The first time I read this quote the image of a notorious nature trail off Highway 202 in my hometown came to mind. It had a reputation as an anonymous hookup spot for homosexuals, closeted and non-closeted alike. Bordering several small communities, it was convenient and safe for them to meet up without judgment. I laughed to myself, thinking how much some things stay the same from century to century and that perhaps Lord Byron knew the convenience of nameless, no strings attached sex without criticism from peers. Later, the same quote would take a darker meaning. It would stand for a more violent time. A reminder of a series of heinous murders that occurred over the summer of my junior year of college.

The first body discovered in the Highpoint Forest Preserve was that of Professor Donahue. She was a research fellow in the biology department. She’d been reported missing by a colleague after she didn’t show to relieve them from their post in the lab. Her apartment revealed no signs of forced entry or foul play. Her keys, wallet, and other belongings were there. Only her favorite running shoes and her music device were unaccounted for. The police never found them, but her decapitated body was located about a week later, deep in the woods, nearly a mile inward from any walking path.

After her came Clara Cho, Melissa Stark, and three others. All discovered in the same conservation boundary, but in different areas of the preserve, always a mile or so away from any path. Detectives assumed that each woman was taken while enjoying the pleasures of the beautiful outdoor area, protected and maintained by the State Forest Reservation Association. But the perpetrator had selected each of the victims for a specific reason and the setting for their discovery, along with missing personal belongings, were all a part of the pleasure principle.

For example, Professor Donahue, or Moira. The killer selected her because of their shared passion for science. They worked together for a short time in the lab. Moira wasn’t particularly pretty. As you can imagine someone who dedicates a significant portion of their time to the study of cellular biology doesn’t spend their freedom fussing over clothing selection, applying makeup or showering regularly. And that offended the killer. Women should be concerned about their appearance. Even though in nature, it is the male who is responsible for attracting its partner, with its colorfulness, loud calls or fancy dance moves. Femininity in humans is what set the species apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. It turned out Moira did have a few dance moves, and she had a lovely alto voice when she decided to sing, which was typically only in the shower or alone in her car. Except for one time, when there was a win in their research. She danced and sang a victory song. That’s when the killer knew she had to die. It was her mating call.
It took quite a bit of courage to work out all the details and angles of what might go wrong while planning Donahue’s death. Using the K.I.S.S. principle turned out to be invaluable. Keeping it simple left less room for error. Earning her trust, the professor invited the killer into her home on several occasions, allowing unprecedented access to the inner workings of her life. Moira even offered her couch up one night when they stayed up too late, drinking wine and discussing the subtler points of cell structure. Blurring the lines between student assistant and friend, she offered unintentional insight into her likes, dislikes, and routine. By observing the victim the way one might study cells in the laboratory, the killer predicted Moira’s choices before she did, and on the morning of November 17th, 2002, Moira made the unfortunate decision of answering her door in welcome. She never saw the change in demeanor of her student friend, never suspected what was to come. And that was the heady power of control that drove the killer to commit the first of the six murders. As a token to remember Professor Moira Donahue, the executioner collected her favorite running shoes, which she hardly ever wore because she was too busy researching and too afraid to get them dirty, and her portable music device that held 1,000 of her favorite songs. Her decapitated body displayed in the woods was a homage to cell destruction. Without getting too geeked out, there are two main ways a cell dies, either through external trauma or its natural programmed lifecycle. Because the victim was in her thirties, and of perfect health before her demise, you can guess which way her cells were destroyed.

Riding the thrill of the kill and getting away with it, the murderer quickly moved to a new victim. Clara Cho was a classmate and also a science geek, which lead the authorities to believe female science students were specific targets. But that wasn’t true. Clara and Moira just happened to know the perpetrator through the college and its science program. The killer didn’t have anything against female science students. Quite the opposite. Science is a topic underrepresented as a female career choice. It was that Clara was a know-it-all, pain in the ass. She was always the one to raise her hand first for the answer and to get 100% on all of her exams. A real-life Hermione Granger, complete with correcting people’s pronunciation of things and out-of-control curly hair. One day she went a little too far in trying to prove herself smarter than anyone. She embarrassed the teaching assistant to the point that he excused himself from the class 30 minutes earlier than the scheduled end. He stated he was unwell, but everyone knew she’d pushed too far. Science can be a cutthroat field, and if one is shown up to a group of peers, let alone third-year students, well, it can be a real blow to one’s ego. That incident sealed Cho’s fate.

The thing about people with inflated self-worth is, they can be easily stroked and manipulated, given the right encouragement. After class that day, with Clara’s over-inflated ego it was a wonder she could squeeze out of the lecture hall doorway. Plying her with compliments that she should be the one teaching the class and laughing over how the T.A. looked faint when he left, solidified the killer’s influence. A simple, ‘Do you want to grab a coffee?’ and she was putty in the psychopath’s hands. And a few hours later, blood over said hands. Choosing how she was displayed and the location of her body in the woods related to her need to feel superior. It was by far the prettiest part of the entire preserve, and her remains were displayed in a manner no one would forget. The pure pleasure of seeing the work on display was better than any orgasm experienced from a natural sexual encounter. As for a souvenir, the killer took a worn copy of The Golden Compass, a young adult novel popular among teens in the 90’s, and a pair of chopsticks that Clara sometimes used as hairpins to hold her unruly hair in a precarious bun.

The amount of violence and physical labor that went into Clara’s death had the killer pausing to assess if perhaps they had gone too far. Also, it was the end of the quarter and the holidays were nearing. With two murders to solve, the police would be working double-time to complete a profile of their suspect, narrowing down motives, and creating a list of possible new victims. Knowing how the police worked a crime scene was advantageous. With time off from studies, the murderer had time to think outside the box and get creative. Weather and limited access to the pathless woods added challenges to future crimes, but nothing one couldn’t overcome with a little ingenuity.

Melissa Stark was the next and last victim the killer knew personally. She was an accident. A friend since freshman year, Melissa or Meli for short, returned from winter break early to spend some time with her friend. Home life was stressful for Meli, due to her parents were going through a separation. It seemed that empty nester syndrome had struck again and they found their relationship had lost meaning. They merely ‘grew apart’ in Meli’s words.

Foraging through her friend’s fridge, she found a half-eaten flatbread pizza. Settling in with a beer in one hand and a slice of pizza in the other, the two friends sat and chatted about their journey into adulthood and what that may look like once they finish college. Within minutes of consuming the food, Meli complained of feeling itchy and her throat sore. Neither of them considered it was something she ate but rather the stress of all the difficulties they would be facing in the future. As each vital minute passed, Meli’s appearance changed from flush, vibrant young woman to a blotchy mess of hives and a hint of blue tinging her skin. Then she was on the floor, clutching her throat and gasping for air. From the time she took her first bite of pizza until she struggled with her final puff of breath, mere minutes passed. Later, an autopsy revealed she had a severe walnut allergy. The pizza crust had been brushed with walnut oil and drizzled with it to set off the flavors of arugula and goat cheese.

Concerned the accidental death would lead to an unnecessary investigation to the apartment and into the killer’s connection to the other victims, Meli’s body was moved and displayed in the same wooded area, this time miles away from the others, to avoid any encounters with investigators. It would be springtime before Meli’s body was discovered. By then weather and natural elements destroyed any DNA evidence connecting her to the apartment. The cause of death confounded investigators and medical examiners alike. For it appeared she died of anaphylaxis due to a severe allergy, yet her discovery in the woods, displayed similarly to the other women pointed to the same killer. She was not a science major, nor did she seem to have anything in common with the other victims.

Angry with the turn of events, the killer lashed out three times over as many months, choosing victims that had anything to do with the friend’s demise. The chef who created the menu for the restaurant, a delivery person who supplied the homemade walnut oil, and the bookkeeper who managed the daily receipts for the trendy establishment all disappeared and later showed up in the woods. The dog of the waiter who recommended the dish mysteriously disappeared as well and was later found in the woods, yet the investigation never tied that detail into everything.

Over the course of the school year, six deaths in all were recorded and discovered in the 3,400-acre Highpoint Forest Preserve. Investigators and profilers were baffled at the seemingly random selection and type of death each victim experienced. It was so perfect in its randomness that the pattern was only evident to the killer. Even throughout the countless interviews of students, faculty and surrounding residents, no one seemed to fit the mold of a serial murderer. When the final quarter ended, the college decided to cancel summer sessions to allow for a more thorough investigation of its grounds and housing areas. No suspect ever turned up.

Ten years later, as I move from one apartment to the next, due to a job promotion, I come across The Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, by Lord Byron. I flip to Canto IV and am overcome with emotion as I read the first line about the pathless woods. It was such an intense time. One filled with fear, worry of the future, yet also filled with such pleasure. For you see, the killer was me, a junior with a double-major in cellular biology and neuroscience, a substantial course load for a young, still-developing mind. It is not uncommon for adolescent brains, especially females, to splinter under intense anxiety and academic performance pressures. Women have more to prove, a glass ceiling to shatter, and to do it all with a smile. Add in sleep deprivation and occasional drug use and/or alcohol abuse to deal with performance demands is a recipe for potential disaster. It’s why I chose to focus my Ph.D. work on the mental health crisis exploding across the country. Violent crimes and mass violence, high suicide rates, and an opioid epidemic are just some of the plights facing our modern times. Fortunately, after my psychotic break, I was able to recognize that I needed help and have been on a solitary journey to recovery ever since. As long as I continue to take my meds, seek out therapy on a regular basis and focus my energy on helping instead of giving in to the dark pleasures of our animalistic impulses, those murders will forever go unsolved. I have forged a new path in the woods, one that is lonely, yet joyous, as I work to absolve myself from my transgressions and ensure others like me are identified before it’s too late.

What did you think? Were you surprised, scared, bored? Any other emotions come up for you? What do you think about the academic pressures put on students today? Are women more prone than men? Let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.  And enjoy the month of August.  ~ KTG.

© K.T. George 2018 | This post was first seen on ktgeorge.com


I’d love to keep you updated with the latest news and offers 😎

I don’t spam! Read my [link]privacy policy[/link] for more info.

Short Story Series: Story 11 – Pathless
Tagged on:             

2 thoughts on “Short Story Series: Story 11 – Pathless

  • August 2, 2018 at 9:47 am

    Nice little twisty ending. Your killer shouldn’t be allowed to get away with 6 murders though.

  • August 5, 2018 at 2:05 pm

    KT! I found you! I used to follow you over on Fanfiction.net. I noticed you removed most of your works there, but saw on your profile your link to here!

    This first one, Pathless, was fantastic. I reminds of the dark stuff you used to write on FF. So happy to have found you. ~Meg2


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.