My friend and I have always known not to go into the woods around my house at night.
I live in a really, really rural area. Like, the nearest house is about a mile away kind of rural. I love it; I grew up in suburban areas, so living somewhere so far away from civilization is really nice and peaceful to me, most of the time. But there’s an area of woods just a few minute’s walk from my home that I and my friends all knew about. We all knew something lived in those woods. God only knew what, but the people in my neighborhood knew you kept your pets indoors or fenced in. You didn’t walk there.
And you never went there after dark.
Whatever or whoever lived in there, they – it? – never left. It’s not like people and pets went missing from yards and stuff. But visitors tended to vanish. Mostly because they didn’t listen to the warnings. No one’s really sure what it is; we had a somewhat famous supernatural hunting crew come tromping in up there once, to try and check it out. They claimed they never found anything up there, but they also refused to spend the entire night.
“It’s Halloween,” my friend was whining at the moment, the night that the story I am about to tell you happened. “You have to come out for Halloween! Stop being such a damn wet blanket!”
“Thanks, Michelle,” I groaned, putting my feet up on the table. I hate Halloween.
I’ve always hated Halloween. I don’t like being scared, and I don’t like dealing with tiny brats wanting candy every five minutes. I just wanted to put my feet up, watch stupid comedies or something on Netflix, and relax. “I don’t like being scared. I don’t like haunted houses.”
“Then don’t come to the haunted house! Just come to the party after!” she whined, and I could practically see her bouncing up and down on her toes like a child trying to get her way. “It’ll be fun. Jack’ll be theeeere–”
“Yes, that’s what I want to do. Get drunk in front of Jack.” I rolled my eyes. “Drunk people act like idiots.”
She giggled on the other end of the line. “So don’t get drunk. Have you ever actually gotten shit-faced?”
Well… no. I had never. I didn’t see the appeal of it, personally. Why would you want to get so damn drunk that you did God-knew-what, and then couldn’t remember it the next day? Why would you want to end up with a massive migraine? I just didn’t see how it was fun.
“Well, I–” I bit my lip. Maybe it would be fun, if I was careful – I was always careful – if I didn’t actually get drunk “Maybe,” I said.
“Great, perfect! I’ll pick you up at twelve!”
“I said maybe!” But it was too late. She’d already hung up on me.
I didn’t have much choice now. Either I got ready to go, or she dragged me out in my PJs. Groaning, I dragged myself upright and forced myself to put something sexy on. Despite my dislike of the holiday, I did my best to be “fun”
and “flirty.” I was midway through putting my makeup on when she knocked on my front door.
“Hold on, Michelle, I’m almost ready, okay?” I called back, irritably.
“Hurry up! It’s really cold out here!”
Brat. I rolled my eyes as I finished putting on my lipstick, checking myself in the mirror.
“Dani!” Michelle called again.
“I said hold on!” I yelled back.
“No, Dani, I–”
Suddenly, I heard her yelp.
Now, Michelle had always been a drama queen. We all knew better then to take her seriously with a lot of things, but that sounded like an honestly frightened yelp. I paused, head tilted, and listened hard.
“Michelle? You okay?”
Oh, hell. Now I was actually worried about the little idiot.
“Michelle, if you saw a goddamn snake–”
“Dani!” Her voice was scared and breathless, and when I opened the door she grabbed my arm hard. “Dani, there’s a guy out here. He was in the woods, just by your house…”
“Michelle, there’s no guy by the house. And even if there was, it’s Halloween. People are trying to be creepy.” I didn’t want to let her know that she was seriously freaking me out, too. Hell, for all I knew it was her intention. For all I knew, this was a stupid prank.
“Let’s just go, okay?”
She was still clinging to my arm, and nodded quickly, all but dragging me to the car with her by it. I staggered behind, catching myself on the trunk of her car.
“No one’s there, Michelle. Calm down!”
“I swear, I saw–” She cut herself off, lips thinning. “Can we just… go?”
The party was everything I thought it would be. That is, boring and stressful. I don’t like (and never actually liked) parties. Jake had barely noticed me in favor of the girl in the bee “costume” that I didn’t know; and I use the word costume supremely loosely. I use the word clothing loosely, for that matter. I was pretty sure I could see her ass.
But, also as I’d predicted, Michelle was plastered within the first twenty minutes, and an hour later I was dragging her drooling ass out the front door as her designated driver. She was loopy and giggling and, God, drunk people are irritating. But I loved her, so I rolled my eyes, smirked, and tolerated it.
Michelle may be an idiot, but she’s one of my dearest friends, and really, I didn’t mind. Once I got her back to my place, she’d just pass out in the guest bedroom and I could go through with my original plans of watching Netflix and relaxing for the rest of the evening.
But when I pulled her out of the car, I saw it.
Around the corner of my house, in the spot where shadows met light: a figure, moving. I blinked in confusion, figuring Michelle had gotten me paranoid and jumping at shadows. And like I said, it was Halloween. If anyone was there, it was probably some stupid kid trying to spook me.
“Hey! Get out of here!” I barked, as I walked Michelle up to my front door slowly. “This is private property!”
There was no reply. Something in the pit of my stomach lurched. Something isn’t right, my instincts told me. Don’t go inside. Don’t go any closer.
I stopped in my tracks, frozen like a startled, spooked deer. I didn’t know what to do; I didn’t want to call the cops, mostly because I had nothing to call for. What was I going to say? Oh no, officer, someone spooked me on Halloween, the holiday of spooks!
But my mind and gut were screaming at me that something was just wrong.
I shifted to take a step back towards the car. “Michelle, I need you to pay attention to what I’m about to say. I think someone’s–”
Her scream cut me off and sliced the air like a knife through butter. My ears ringing, I nearly dropped her. I staggered, trying to figure out what was going on, but I didn’t get the chance.
We got hit from the side before I got my head on straight.
Someone big, a man, wearing a clown mask. He was huge and heavy, and I couldn’t get him off me. My brain had stopped working on a conscious level; I was in pure fight or flight mode. There was an enormous, powerful man on top of me, and I could see the glint of a knife in his hand.
Oh, God, I’m going to die, I thought, hysterically, after my brain kicked back in. I’m going to die in a slutty outfit after a Halloween party, like a stupid B-movie victim.
He was bigger than me, stronger than me, and I could feel myself loosing the struggle. And then there was a thud and he fell off, leaving Michelle standing there, wild-eyed and breathing fast and hard, holding a flashlight from her car.
“…did… did I kill him?” she asked, then leaned over and puked immediately.
I struggled to my feet. We weren’t that lucky. She hadn’t even knocked him unconscious. He was getting to his feet, moaning.
“No. No, Michelle, we need to run! Can you run?!” I grabbed at her, grabbing her arm and trying to tug her along behind me.
“Hell, yes, I can run!” she snapped. “I’m drunk, not crippled!” It’s funny how fear and adrenaline will sober a person right the hell up.
I could hear the attacker breathing hard right behind us as we bolted, his heavy footsteps not far behind, and I could tell he was gaining. Michelle could move, but she wasn’t in her prime, and I had never been athletic. Fear can only carry you so far. It can only do so much.
We didn’t have anywhere we could run. I told you already, I live in the middle of nowhere. There was no chance we’d get to a neighbor before he caught us, and even if we did, no certainty we wouldn’t end up shot by a redneck with a tendency to shoot first and ask questions later. Dead by crazy masked man, or dead by redneck; either way, not my idea of fun.
I pulled my phone out, still running, panting heavily. I dialed 9-1-1, half-sobbing as the operator picked up.
“Help me, please!” I cried. “I–my friend and I are being… there’s a man–” I wish I could say I was strong, clear-spoken, and calm. I wish I could say I kept my shit together and gave her an accurate description of what was happening.
What I did instead was stammer like a damn fool and start sobbing.
“Ma’am, calm down,” came the cool yet urgent voice over the line. “I can’t help you if I can’t understand what’s wrong.”
“Someone’s trying to kill us!” I managed to blurt out. “There’s a man! He was outside my house! He’s chasing my friend and I–”
I half-expected her to call bullshit, to accuse me of playing a prank. Thank God, she didn’t, and took me seriously.
“Do you have somewhere you can go? A neighbor’s house, a police station or fire station, a nearby hospital?”
“No, I live at–” I gave her my address, and no sooner had I gotten it out then, like said B-movie bimbo, I tripped.
I hit the ground hard, as did my phone, which went clattering into the darkness. I didn’t bother trying to reclaim it. I staggered to my fee, and kept running, Michelle screaming at me to get up the entire time.
The mistake cost us precious moments. He was going to catch us. He was going to catch us. If we kept running in a straight line, he’d catch with up and then… and then…
I didn’t want to think about what came next.
“Michelle, turn left! Into the woods!” I screamed. It was the first thing I could think of to do.
“We can’t!” she protested.
“We have to!” I insisted.
“Dani, we can’t!”
“We don’t have a choice!” I was already veering up the hill, into the thick treeline. All together we bolted into the darkness of the woods everyone knew not to go into after dark, scrambling, stumbling, scraping our knees and hands, blood leaking from deep scratches.
All of us, that is, except our assailant.
I slammed to the ground, pulling Michelle down with me, just as I heard him tromp in after us. She clamped her hands over her mouth to muffle her sobs. I was crying, too; I knew I was. We clutched one another, there in the shadows, trying desperately to keep quiet while footsteps marched by our hiding spot, heavy and deliberate.
“I’ll find you,” he whispered – whispered – not yelled or screamed. “I’ll find you both. You think I’m scared of your little urban legend, you inbred hicks?” He laughed, deep and raspy.
You have room to talk, I thought to myself. I could feel a hysterical giggle rising in my throat, and I clamped my own hands over my mouth to keep it back. My chest convulsed with sobs and laughter, and I could feel Michelle clutching me tighter, desperately whispering to me to shut up, asking what was wrong, terror in her subdued voice.
The sound burst out of me in a choked, strangled hybrid of a laugh and a terrified yelp. I coughed it out, choked it out, and then Michelle was screaming again, and I was screaming too because I knew he’d heard me, because I’d gotten us killed. We were dead and it was my fault, all my fault…
…and then blood splattered across my face.
For a minute, I was horrified by the idea that it was Michelle’s. At first I shouted her name, horrified and grief-stricken, before I noticed that she was standing behind me, uninjured, clutching my shoulders with one hand and pointing with the other.
“Oh. My. God. Dani. Dani, oh my God.”
I twisted to look at what she was pointing at. I wish, now, that I hadn’t.
Something stood before us. It was easily eight feet tall, and I couldn’t make out many details because of how dark it was, but I could see the deer head it had, and the horns that rose easily five feet high themselves, if not more. Something hung from the prongs, moss – or something else – trailing down almost to the ground. The body seemed to be human enough, but the legs and feet were deer or goat-like. The long, thin, fur-rimmed tail that trailed behind it, complete with a tufted tip, seemed like it belonged on a unicorn or kirin, or some other mythical creature. It was easily as lengthy as the creature was tall.
The hands that held our attacker were more like claws, the nails so thin and razor sharp. Sharp enough to have torn his head off without effort, apparently, because that’s exactly what it had done.
It tossed the corpse aside, then bent down, down, until it’s head was level with mine. Hot breath from its nose blew into my face. It smelled like rot, and mold, and mud, and dirt.
I’ll be honest. Everything that happened after that is a blur that I don’t remember well. Michelle said I passed out, and that it walked away, leaving her a sobbing wreck on the ground beside me. She said the cops finally showed up twenty minutes later.
The next few weeks were a mixed-up mess of questionings from the cops, and of attention from the media and people trying to get us to appear on news and talk shows, or ghost-hunting, supernatural programs. Michelle ate it up. She’s always loved attention and being in the spotlight. Me? Not so much.
For my part, I guess I just needed to get this out. To tell the story for real, with no frills or embellishments, not to a screaming crowd or nosy, stupid teenager thinking he’s going to catch the next Bigfoot on film.
My friend and I have always known not to go into the woods around my house at night.
But now I go, once a month, every month, and whisper a word of thanks to the empty air.
And sometimes – just sometimes – I think I hear laughter in reply.