01 Feb Fenter Woods
I used to live in a small town called Fenter. It was a quiet place to grow up with one school, a doctors, a police station, a cinema (with films shown a month after the national release date), two restaurants and a host of local shops on the west side. Over on the east side of Fenter was the residential area with about forty houses, the town bar and the local woods, which were about twenty square miles in across.
Even though I’d grown up my whole life playing in those woods it was still easy to get lost in them, so my father used to tell me and my friends to never go past the creek that ran through about a mile in. Still this gave us plenty of space to play in and we spent many summers building tree forts and playing hide and seek amongst the tall trees. One late summer evening me and my friend Jess were out near the creek seeing how close we could sneak up on the rabbits that inhabited the woods before they’d notice and run away. I’d spent about ten minutes searching for one and, in my eagerness; I’d left Jess behind. She’d stopped to examine some odd shaped rocks and being impatient I’d told her to catch up when she was finished. I was just reaching the hill where the creek bent and curved round to travel off north for another three miles when I spied one chewing on some leaves near an oak tree. I held my breath, grabbed my jacket to stop it flapping in the breeze and began slowly inching towards it. I was careful to avoid stepping on any twigs, if one snapped underfoot it was a definite game over and with the sun going down this would probably be the last chance I got to play before I had to go home for dinner. The rabbit was blissfully unaware of my presence; its brown coat tinged orange by the setting sun, ears flopped down like a hunters hat. The irony didn’t escape me as I crept up on it, silent as the leaves floating in the breeze. I smirked, I was about four meters away from it now and it still hadn’t noticed me, not my best but not bad. I slowed my pace even more; I didn’t want to make a rookie mistake in my excitement and ruin this opportunity. The rabbit finished on its leaf and casually began sniffing the next one before digging in. Two metres away now, the closest I’d ever gotten, I felt my heart beat in my chest and for a second I was scared the rabbit would hear it thudding against my rib cage and dart off. I shook my head and continued up behind it. It was almost within arms reach, I couldn’t believe it, I stretched out my arm, fingers extended. Wait till Jess heard about this, I’d be the first kid in town to have touched a forest rabbit. My hand was about a foot from brushing its soft pelt now, I could see each individual hair on it’s back. Thirty centimetres, I’d done it. I’D DONE IT! Suddenly an ear splitting scream pierced the air, shaking the silence of the woods in to shock and causing the resting birds to panic and scatter from the trees. I gasped and quick as a flash the rabbit was under the bush and gone forever. I cursed aloud and spat, frustration clouding my head. It was a good few seconds before I even stopped to think where the scream had come from. Then like a falling tree it hit me. JESS.
I sprinted back up the creek as fast as I could. She’d been about two hundred yards back when I’d last seen her, near the old silver birches. It took me about two minutes to reach the spot, next to the weird pile of rocks. My brow was covered in sweat and my hair was messed up where the wind had whipped through it but all I could think of was finding Jess, even though I knew the woods were perfectly safe I cursed myself for having left her alone. I spun around in a circle; scanning for any sign of her but there was none.
“JESS!” I yelled out, my voice travelling through the woods and echoing off the trees. It was getting darker and tall shadows were being cast all around me like a net.
“JESS WHERE ARE YOU, CALL OUT TO ME, JESS!” I stood and listened but there was no reply. I was just about to run further up the creek where the trail began to see if she had started to make her way home when I saw it. On the other side of the creek about fifty yards away it stood, tall as the lowest branches of the sycamore next to it about seven foot up. It was covered in black rags, ripped and torn across its thin, wiry body with a hood pulled tightly around its head, obscuring it’s features. Two white, pupil-less eyes stared at me from the shadowed recess and I spied the flash of teeth. Long slender arms with hook like fingers splaying off of stumped hands almost dragged against the floor by its sides. I suddenly noticed an over powering smell and wondered how I’d missed it, I’d smelt it before on the farms when the cattle were harvested in the slaughterhouses; it was the smell of death, thick and despairing. I almost choked but my mouth wouldn’t make a sound, I just kept staring at it, petrified, blood running cold through my veins. Even the birds had stopped yelling in protest and now there was nothing but silence, it and I; locked in a gaze that I would remember to the day I died. I don’t know how long I was standing like that, it felt like minutes but it was probably only a few seconds. Suddenly, it shifted its weight and hunched down. For a brief second I thought it was going to start running at me and I almost threw up, uncontrollable fear racking my body, but then I noticed it had stooped to collect something from the ground. I cried out silently… it was Jess; her limp body looking like a doll compared to it’s freakishly proportioned frame. Despite being thin and stick like it picked her up in one bony hand with ease, fingers clasped around her waist, teeth bared in a crooked, humourless smile. It opened up part of its shoal and pulled her close against it’s blackened torso, I caught glimpses of a rib cage and rotten flesh. I reached out my arm, as if somehow I could pull her back to me but it was too late, it had turned and started to stride off deeper in to the forest. Even if I had known that area of the woods and had the strength to move my legs I would have never been able to catch up to it and, before I even knew it, it had disappeared from sight, like it had never been there at all. Only the heavy smell of decay was left lingering in the air, the only evidence that I hadn’t just imagined the whole thing. I snapped my head round and began to run back towards town, it was a good miles distance and I’d never run that far before, but that day I ran and ran and didn’t stop, jumping over fallen logs and ducking branches, I dared not look back.
The darkness was almost complete by the time I burst from the undergrowth and in to the town’s edge. I sprinted to the bar and threw myself in to the door, practically collapsing on to the floor. I don’t really remember much after that but from what I was told later on it took them about ten minutes to stop me from screaming about a demon I’d seen in the woods and that we had to find Jess. By the time they’d actually gotten the story out of me and organised a search party two hours had passed. Jess’ dad shook me and shouted at me, asked me what happened to his baby girl. I could only stare dumbfounded and mute until my own father dragged him off and told him to get a grip. The sheriff organised the towns’ folk in to two groups and they each took a section of the woods. I tried to tell them that they all needed to bring their guns, that the thing had to be killed; the thought of going up against such a nightmare un-armed was too much, I begged my father to stay but he told me to calm down, that I was talking nonsense and was probably just in shock, my mind making up stories to deal with what had happened. He sent me home to rest under the watchful eye of my mother as he lead one of the groups in to the woods.
Three hours passed.
I was laying in bed still unable to sleep, huddled in my blankets, paranoid of every shadow and creak, convinced that IT, the nightmare, was going to come back for me, the only witness to it’s abomination, when I heard the front door open and the heavy steps of men entering the living room down stairs. I listened as they sat down and began to talk.
“Damndest thing I’ve ever seen in my life Jerry, I don’t know what’s out there but it sure riled up the dogs”, that was the sheriff speaking.
“What was it, a bear do you think sheriff?” I didn’t know the speaker but he sounded young, maybe one of the farm hands.
“Maybe… all I know is two of my best tracker hounds caught a scent, started going mad, they tore off in to the woods faster then I’ve ever seen them run, and they didn’t come back, now we’re two dogs and a little girl down, Jesus H”
Then the voice of my dad, I eased up a little, knowing he was back in the house made me feel safer,
“Chris said he found the poor girls gloves down by the creek, right where my boy said they were playing”.
The unknown voice came again, obviously Chris, “It’s true, they were covered in some kind of slime or something, don’t know what but it smelt god awful, one of the boys almost upped his liquor”.
“Okay, well at least we know she was there, I’m not hoping for much but I’ll pray, it’s one big forest and the chances o’ finding her are mighty slim”, the sheriff sighed, “I suppose I better go tell the family that they should be prepared for the possibility that they will never see Jess again, fuck, no man should have to outlive his kid, and the not knowing like this…”
“Didn’t Travis say he saw something big moving through the forest?”, another unknown voice, this one new.
“Yeah, he radioed in; said he saw some kind of, shit, I don’t know, giant moving in the distance, but the man was half pissed and it’s dark as the bottom of a well out there, probably just jumping at shadows, no most likely a bear or… a wolf or, something, jumped her from behind and dragged her off”, the sheriff again.
My father spoke, voice raised so everyone could hear, “Okay, lets all go home it’s been a tough night, we’ll search again for her tomorrow, even if it’s only a body we find, it’s better then the poor folks not knowing what happened, I want everyone to tell their kids not to go in that forest no more till we know for certain what occurred, understood?”
There were mumbles of agreement and then solemn goodbyes. The men left and the front door locked shut behind them. My father moved about downstairs for a few minutes before climbing the stairs and going to bed. Before he turned in he poked his head in to my room to check I was okay. I just pretended to be asleep, I had nothing to say, I didn’t even know what to tell myself, but one thing I knew for certain, I hadn’t been hallucinating, I’d really seen… IT, and whatever IT was it had Jess. I waited for a half hour after I heard my dad climb in to his bed before I sat up and switched my bedside light on. I crept out of my bed and got dressed as quietly as I could then I descended the stairs. My father had taught me how to shoot and maintain a gun a few years back, out here in the country it was important to know; hunting was a tradition amongst the men and when I was old enough my father would take me camping in the woods for a weekend of game shooting like his father before him. I knew where my dad kept his 44.Magnum and rounds in the garage and after searching around for a few minutes I found the key for the lockbox. I opened it up, loaded the pistol and grabbed a flashlight before leaving the house and locking the door behind me. My breath misted in the air as the unseasonably cold chill hung around me. I looked at the forest, once a place of fun and laughter now dark and sinister in the moonlight, branches stretching and contorting towards the sky like skeletal fingers. That thing had Jess and I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t do a damn thing to get her back, after all it was my fault for leaving her alone out there. I swallowed back the lump in my throat and began tenaciously walking down the road towards the woods.
“Don’t worry Jess”, I thought, “I’m coming”.
As I entered the woods I immediately began to question my actions, I knew that what I was doing was not smart by any stretch of the imagination, that my fool hardiness could very well get me killed. The thought of bumping in to the creature, out here, alone in the dark was more terrifying then anything I could ever imagine. And knowing that Jess was in that very situation herself was the only thing that drove me on. I trudged on the familiar old trail for about twenty minutes or so until I eventually came to the creek. I had never been here before in the dark and although everything was where it should be, it looked different. It was as if these were my woods to play in during the day, but now in the dark, it was an alien place, this was IT’s domain. I was a stranger here, unwelcome. This feeling was reinforced by the fact I had no idea what lay beyond the creek, except from what I’d seen in the immediate area from the other side. Carefully, I crossed the creek, the water soaking through my boots and dampening my trouser legs.
As soon as I stepped out on to the other side I felt like I was lost. How would I find my way back? Which direction would I go in? I ignored the first question; I had bigger things to worry about at the moment, and decided to head off in the direction I’d last seen the creature going. I started walking, vigilant for any signs of movement or noise. I’d expected there to be animals out this late at night but eerily it was silent, which made me feel vulnerable. Every footstep sounded like an alarm, telling the creature where I was. I stopped for a moment and looked around with my flashlight. I felt like the darkness was swallowing me; that the thing sat just outside the borders of light, laughing at my efforts to find it. I realised that if there was anything out there, the light would only serve to give away my position, effectively ending any kind of advantage I would have over it. After a pause I switched off the flashlight and waited for my eyes to adjust. It was difficult at first but after a few minutes I could make out enough of the forest to start slowly making my way through. It was about ten minutes later when I heard it. A short sharp yelp to my left in the distance. I paused and waited to see if any other noise was made. A moment later a snap echoed through the darkness and a dull thump. I was not alone anymore. Swallowing fear I sunk to my haunches and slowly made my way towards the noise. I had plenty of experience at being quiet from the rabbit game and even in the dark I didn’t find it too hard to distribute weight so as to move almost silently.
After a while I reached a clearing where the trees parted to a grassy patch about half the size of a football field. In the centre of the clearing was a rocky depression that sunk down in to the earth. I was about to make my way over and investigate when I saw it. It was standing near the edge of the clearing to the south and was slowly limping its way over to the depression, dragging something behind it. In the dark I couldn’t make out what it was but it was about the size of a child, except if the child had been snapped in the middle, it flapped limply with every bounce like a paper fan. I swallowed a lump and tears stung my eyes. I wasn’t sure if I was more scared or sad. I prayed to God to not let it be Jess and continued to watch it as it reached the pit and then hurled the object over the rim. It hit the ground with the unmistakable sound of crunching bone. The creature bent down headfirst as if to crawl down the rocks and then stopped. Slowly it stood back up and sniffed. I instinctively pressed my back to a tree, removing myself from view and strained to listen. I heard it sniff again softly and walk around in what sounded like a small circle and then… nothing. I waited. For what seemed like eternity I waited. I was unbearably tense, expecting to see it’s milky eyes slowly peer round the side of the tree followed by that big crooked smile at any second, or a long hooked finger to slide out of the darkness and rest itself on my shoulder. Nothing happened though, and nothing continued to happen for the next couple of minutes. Gathering my courage I hesitantly glanced round the trunk only to see the clearing was empty. I double, triple and quadruple checked the area making deadly sure it was gone and then I stepped out back to the clearing edge, making sure to keep low to the ground. To step out in to the clearing was out of the question, suicidal. What if it was only hiding at the clearing edge itself, or waiting in the rocky fissure at the centre. It would defy all logic, rebel against every survival instinct – and yet I had to know. I had come here looking for Jess, if I turned back now with out checking to see if it was her, crumpled and contorted at the bottom of those rocks then I may never know. The sheriff was right; the not knowing was the worst part. Before I stepped out I pulled the magnum from out of my waistband and cocked the hammer back, being careful to mute the click by smothering it between my legs. When it was loaded and ready to fire, I began to slowly inch my way out of the safety of the tree line and in to the open. I took a few steps and stopped, waiting to see if anything came crashing towards me. When nothing did I continued my cautious journey to the depression.
When I reached the lip I aimed the gun ahead of me and looked over. It was a couple of feet deep, about ten or so and was a little larger then I had expected. One side of the hole was hollow and extended in to the ground as a sort of cave, large enough to drive a car through. At the mouth of the cave was the body, slumped over a jagged rock. I glanced around again making sure I wasn’t being snuck up on then started to lower myself down. I would just need a quick glance to make sure it wasn’t – or was – Jess and then I’d leave, run back to Fenter. I’d wake my dad and the others, lead them here and we’d kill it, in this cave that was surely it’s dwelling. It could be in there right now, watching me struggle down the smooth rock. But I reasoned that if it was in the cave then there was noting I could do about it. I must be crazy; fear has consumed my brain so completely I must not be able to feel anything anymore I thought. This was proven wrong when I slipped and fell off the side of the rock, landing awkwardly and sending pain shooting through my ankle. I almost cursed aloud but bit down on my lip and shouted silently in my head. Luckily it wasn’t twisted, just achy and I was able to walk on it without a problem, the last thing I needed now was a broken foot. My thoughts were so preoccupied with the sudden pain that I had forgotten I was now right next to the cadaver. My leg bumped against it and I spun round gun at the ready, almost firing it off in to the rocks. I quickly berated myself for being so trigger itchy and then looked down. Relief and repulsion flooded through me. From this close I could see it wasn’t Jess, wasn’t even human, instead I realised it was a large dog, one of the sheriffs hounds that had gone missing earlier. It’s back was snapped in two and folded upon itself and its snout was crumpled back in to its face turning it in to a flat, tooth filled gap. Blood, fur, bone and brain where splattered over it and one eye hung loosely from the socket. The eye was positioned in such a way that it appeared to be staring right at me. I looked away and felt bile rising in my throat. The smell of death and decay was overpowering this close to the cave and I dreaded to think what other corpses were nestled away inside. I was about to begin scrambling back up the edge of the depression when I heard a sob. I spun round and stared in to the darkness of the cave. It sounded faint, as if it had come from quite a way away, echoing through narrow rock passages until eventually finding its way to the surface. It came again, this time it was unmistakable. It was the sound of a child crying. The first thoughts to rush through my head were of joy, she was alive, it must be Jess, hidden away deep in this creatures lair, and as soon as the thought had come I realised, with a fear unlike any I had ever thought possible to feel, that I would have to go in to the cave and get her. I didn’t have a choice, I just couldn’t turn back now, I may as well kill myself with the gun I held in my shaking hand then live with the guilt. I pulled out the flashlight and, readying the gun, switched it on. The beam stung my eyes for few seconds as they adjusted to the sudden light but I could see the cave went on for a few metres before widening in to a kind of large, rocky chamber that had passages of varying sizes detouring off further underground. I entered the mouth of the cave and shone the beam over the walls and floor. The beam danced over bones scattered across the ground. It looked as if every type of animal in the forest had eventually wound up in here, torn apart then stripped of flesh. I covered my mouth and nose with the sleeve of my gun hand and continued to walk. There were four passages and the sobbing appeared to be coming from the one furthest to the left, thankfully it was one of the wider ones and I found I could comfortably walk down and still have enough room to stand up straight. If the creature were to come now from the mouth of the cave I would be trapped. However if it was already in the cave then I was walking straight in to its spindly, disproportionate arms. I swallowed hard and continued to walk, after a couple of meters it turned right sharply and opened up in to a small version of the chamber I had just come from, I was amazed to find it was full of items. Watches, Jewellery, Passports, Letters, Glasses, Clothes, Books, Wallets; it went on, as if a museum to sentimentality and trinkets. I picked one of the passports and opened it up. Paul Ashcroft, born 1972 Herronford, Ohio. Another read Richard Blunt, born 1954 Westville, California. I shone the light over the letters, seeing the addresses were to places all over the country. Then it dawned on me. I finally understood. It all made sense, the reason I had never seen this thing in the woods before was because it had only arrived a short time back. It must of travelled from place to place, from forest to national park to desert to mountain, picking people off, taking their effects then moving on to the next town. It was like a sick scavenger hunt. IT was killing people and then keeping their items as souvenirs. Another sob brought me back to reality and I dropped the passport to the ground. I hurriedly walked to the back of the chamber I now called the museum and found another short passage and then a medium sized cavern, inside was Jess sitting on the floor and crying. She looked up when my light shone over her and covered her eyes.
“Please… P-please let me g-g-g-“ She burst out in to fresh sobs, tears streaming down her pale cheeks.
I stood paralysed for a second. I was so intent on finding her that now I had I didn’t know quite what to do. I decided I had best let her know it was me before deciding on anything. I shone the light upwards illuminating my face. Jess stopped sobbing and stared.
“ Jess I’ve come to rescue you, we don’t have much time. We need to go now before that thing comes back to find me here” I whispered kneeling besides her. She did nothing for a few moments then threw her arms around me, her body shaking.
“I thought I was going to die down here, I thought it was going to eat me, like it did the rest, I just- I don’t- it’s…” she trailed off unable to get her words out through the tears. I squeezed her back for a moment, and then went to lift her. The sound of metal clanging against rock reverberated through the cave. I shone the light down and my heart sunk. She was chained to a heavy metal ring pin that had been nailed deep in to the rocks beside her.
“I couldn’t escape” she sniffed, “I tried to pull it out but, it’s no use”. I stood for a second, defeat washing over me.
“I could go get help come back and-“
“NO” she squeaked, “Please don’t leave me here”. Panic spread across her face and it was all I could do to promise not to leave. I thought for a few moments and then realising my only option I took her chin and looked her in the eye.
“Jess, I have a gun, I’m going to have to shoot the chain to set you free, it’s going to be very loud and the noise will probably attract the thing here”, she said nothing just looked at me, ”as soon as it’s broken we’re going to have to run for the cave entrance and back through the woods”. She looked thoughtful for a moment herself and then took my chin, kissed me and then nodded.
I blushed, sitting below ground in a monsters cave and I was blushing. I almost laughed. I forced the emotion down and just smiled before taking my gun and aiming it at the chain.
“Cover your eye’s, I’ll do it on three okay? One, tw-“, a guttural moan sounded from the mouth of the cave and carried its way to us. I saw the colour drain from Jess’ face and I knew mine was doing the same. It was back. Without thinking I pulled the trigger. The gun cracked, deafening in such a small space and the chain shattered, I grabbed Jess before she could react and pulled her up, sprinting towards the museum. As we entered in to it I dived behind a table full of brick-a-brack pulling her down with me. No sooner had we landed on the floor I saw the creature enter in to the room and scramble over to the passage we had just exited from. As soon as it was gone from sight I pulled her back up and pushed her towards the passage that led to the cave mouth. She didn’t need to be told twice and we ran as fast as our legs could carry us. As the cave mouth came in to view a scream, full of horror and anger, rang from behind us as IT discovered its meal had been stolen. As we got to the cave mouth I could hear wood splintering and the tinkle of a dozens of tiny objects hitting stone as it tore through the museum after us. I grabbed Jess’s foot and hoisted her up till she grabbed the lip of the depression and pulled herself in to the clearing. I spun around and saw IT exit the passage in to the main chamber. Its hood had fallen down and exposed what can only be described as a half insect, half human face. I fired a shot off in it’s direction and it screeched in agony as the .44 bullet connected with it’s thigh, knocking it back for a second. I took the distraction and spun around, leaping for the edge of the depression and grabbing a hold. Jess seized me by the collar and helped pull me up just as I felt hooked fingers brush the bottom of my shoe. We started to run across the clearing. The sun was coming up now and the sky was a pinky-red, casting a slight glow on everything. We ran and ran and ran and ran. The whole while I could hear it crashing through the trees after us. If I hadn’t of hit it in the thigh I don’t think we would have stood a chance out running it, but somewhere, some God was watching over us.
It was about forty-five minutes before we reached the creek and by the time we saw the edge of the woods an hour had passed. I still to this day do not know how we managed to run so fast and far without stopping, but I do remember the adrenaline coursing through me so violently that I shook for hours afterwards. When we reached Fenter I fired the gun off in to the air. Within two minutes dumbstruck towns people surrounded us, some asking what had happened, others grabbing and hugging Jess and most just staring blankly. When Jess’ father arrived he broke down and cried holding his girl to his chest and thanking God, and me, equally for his daughters safe return. When my father arrived he took the gun from me, put his hand on my shoulder and gave me a look. It was a look that said he didn’t care what happened just that he was glad I was safe. Regardless we had to explain to the sheriff what had happened. After we both explained our stories, a group was organised and armed and I was asked to lead my dad, the sheriff and twenty or so other men to the cave. I was tired and reluctant to go back but next to my dad I felt safe. After a couple of hours we came across the clearing and found the cave system just as we had described. The museum was empty. The shattered chain was found at the back untouched and a brief examination of the other caves revealed them to contain skeletons of other people later identified as other missing persons from the towns that backed off of Fenter woods. A medical check showed they had been dead for days. The woods were searched all day but nothing was turned up. That Night as I looked out my window before going to sleep I saw it again, standing at the edge of the woods. It looked at me through my window for a while and I stared back, like when we had first encountered one another and then it turned and walked back in to the woods. I knew this would be the last time I saw it, it was moving on to another place, away from Fenter, from this area. The woods were searched for another week but nothing was found. The official report stated people had been kidnapped and killed by a maniac who had escaped in to the wilderness before he could be apprehended although the people of Fenter never questioned our versions of the story.
So that is my account. This all happened twelve years ago now and IT is but a distant memory. Jess has just finished university and is going on to become a lawyer for animal rights and I am working on the family farm after dropping out of college. I tell you this story not to entertain you but as a warning, next time you decide to go hiking in the mountains or camping in the woods. IT is still out there and next time, it might be your town IT decides to visit. Be safe.