Don’t go in those trees after dark. It was one of those things you grew up hearing from everyone when you were a kid, at least in this town. Stuff you slowly figured out wasn’t actually real but was just there to protect you or keep you in line when you were too young and defenseless. You know, don’t swim too soon after eating or you’ll drown, your dog’s at a farm somewhere having a happy life, that sort of thing.
And as we grew up all those little white lies started to unravel. Kids figured out about Santa at the appropriate age, stopped thinking gum would stay in their stomach for seven years, grew past all those naiveties. All of them except the woods.
There’s something wrong with those woods. My parents said it, my grandparents said it, my teachers and neighbors said it. Don’t go in after dark and that was that. There was no further explanation and any questions just got you yelled at. And that was the thing, you wouldn’t get scolded for asking about any of the other lies adults told you. You’d maybe get a look of sympathy or something along those lines. But with this? You could tell there was genuine fear behind the yelling.
And it’s not like there was any evidence that anyone was making any of this up. No one went in those woods after dark and those that did either came back broken, or not at all. John Pfeiffer, the guy that used to own the town’s liquor store was one of them. He’d gone deer hunting one early November morning. I suppose he must have followed a pack of them too far or something, I wouldn’t know, I don’t hunt, had lost track of time and wasn’t able to make it back before the sun set.
His wife spent the entire night at the edge of the trees screaming his name. The sheriff had to tie her to a tree right outside my bedroom window to keep her from running in there after him. And so she stayed there, arms hanging from a branch until sun rise, my parents on the back porch watching the whole time to make sure she didn’t go anywhere. I stayed in my room the whole time, like I was told, but that didn’t stop her sobs from coming through the window. I can still hear them, and I can still see her fallen moonlit silhouette. She was already mourning at that point.
They found John the next day but he wasn’t the same. Just muttering some incoherent sounds and shaking. I never really got to see him, I was too young, but that’s what people said he sounded and looked like. That’s what everyone looked like if they came back. And once they did, there was nothing to do. They wouldn’t eat, wouldn’t drink water, wouldn’t talk, wouldn’t move. Like the last of their energy was spent stumbling out of the woods and that was that. Nothing left.
The one person I saw like that was Doreen. She and her twin sister Becca decided the whole thing was bullshit back when we were high school sophomores. They went in at night despite all our warnings. Despite everyone’s warnings. I don’t know if that makes Doreen brave or stupid. I don’t know if it even matters. Well Doreen came back but Becca did not. We tried asking her but again, she just stood there and then fell to the floor foaming at the mouth and murmuring something no one could understand over and over again. I remember her eyes, bloodshot and baggy, like if she hadn’t slept in three days, wide and darting all over the place, the only real amount of movement she made after coming back. And Becca, well, Becca was never really found.
I guess that’s why I’m writing this now. Because I know that I’m either going to be a Becca or a Doreen in a couple of hours and I suppose I just hope someone will find my body with this note so I don’t give the old parents an awful scare when they see me wide and bloody eyed.
So yeah, take this whole thing as an apology. Because for what it’s worth, I really am sorry. Maybe this is dramatic, I don’t know. Let me clarify, because I don’t think all the weed was morally wrong, but I know Mom and Dad will be disappointed to find out what I was actually doing, and I wish it wasn’t something that’d hurt them. I guess Fred and I panicked when the cops showed up at our front door. Jumped out the back window and ran straight into the woods. We weren’t high or anything, just not thinking straight, not realizing we were making a pretty solid mistake coming in here.
I’ll admit it took a bit for us to figure out what we’d done. Not the law breaking, the running in the woods. By the time we realized where we had actually run to, when all the initial adrenaline spikes had come down and we actually looked around and saw nothing but trees and darkness and nothing else…
We did our best not to panic. I mean we’d both heard all the stories and knew what had happened to every single person that had done what we’d done. So I guess this is my way of giving back somehow. Like maybe if I can just record whatever it is that goes on here it’ll help someone figure out something. So here goes, because I really don’t think I have much time and I just wasted a lot of it with all this explaining.
Fred froze when he realized where he was. Like panic froze. Started shaking and being all quiet. I didn’t know what to do. I tried shaking him and moving him and yelling at him but nothing worked. I even slapped him a few times. He was just terrified.
So I eventually just told him to stay put and that I’d try to retrace our steps a bit to see if we could actually get out of here. There was this little path sort of thing that seemed to go back towards the town, or at least the direction I thought the town was in. So I followed that for a bit, and I left Fred by a big seven foot tall egg looking boulder.
I must have walked for about ten minutes rounding the side of a steep ass hill. I could hear a river off to my left. The moon was out so I could kind of see in the dark and there were crickets that somehow made me feel a bit better about the situation. Then the path just went up towards the top of the hill and I followed it and I got to the top and then I realized something almost immediately once I got there.
It was like going from one room to another. There was a different energy or something. The air before had been cold and crisp, but suddenly I was hit with a wave of heat and humidity. Uncomfortable and very much in your face and everything felt so much heavier for some reason. And then I realized the crickets were completely gone and I couldn’t hear the river anymore. Total silence. I know people say deafening silence and all that cliche stuff but that really was what it was. You could feel that ringing in your ears that sometimes happens when things are really, really quiet.
So of course I started sweating immediately and I could feel all of me just start to shake like something was wrong. The back of my neck had this weird pressure behind me, like that sensation you get when you’re going up the stairs in the dark. And I knew, I knew completely, that something somewhere was watching me.
And there was nothing I could do. I looked around but everything was too dark. I thought maybe I saw a couple of dots of light up in the trees. A pair of eyes or something. I didn’t stick around to figure it out. Just turned around and ran back towards Fred as fast as I fucking could.
Fred wasn’t where I left him. Like he’d just disappeared. So I started yelling out for him. Just screaming his name at the top of my lungs. I figured it didn’t matter if whatever was out there heard me, it was probably watching me anyway. And for about a minute there was no response. Until finally I heard Fred off in the distance. So I ran towards the voice for a bit and then stopped and yelled out his name again to see if I was closer.
Fred yelled back again and this time I was closer for sure, but that’s what let me realize the problem. Fred wasn’t Fred. His voice sounded wrong somehow. Like… different. Just slightly off, kind of like when someone uses too much autotune, but not an electronic sound. I don’t know how to describe it but fuck it was awful, like a very subtle and more guttural nails on chalkboard sort of sound. The chills I felt when I heard it nearly made me fall to the floor. And it was calling my name.
How the hell did it know my name? It was slightly off in its pronunciation, like when a parrot is really good at talking. I ran in the opposite direction the second I realized what was going on. Ran as fast as I could as far as I could before I had to stop and rest and catch my breath. And now I’m just sitting here behind a tree, writing this thing.
And I can still hear it out there, calling my name. Calling my name every few seconds or so, sounding more and more desperate, like afraid. Making it sound like if Fred were afraid, like trying to trick me into going toward it. But I don’t think it matters. As far as I’ve been able to run and as well as I think I’ve hidden it keeps following and I can feel it getting closer.