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My name isn’t really important…but for the sake of this story, let’s just say I’m Ruby. Yeah, that works. In any case, I’m currently a junior in high school, I’ve got a lot of friends, and I’m happy with life. But all of this happened during my sophomore year, and trust me, nothing has ever been the same since.
I’ll start with the town lore. A few hundred years back, there was a huge spike in the number of missing people around the area we call Watchmen Woods. It’s a fairly large forest, and it’s dense too. The limbs are so tightly woven together and the trunks are so close it’s like a maze. No daylight reaches that place. But back then I guess there were a lot less trees and a lot more valuable resources other than just a squishy swamp. And well, the people that went in there sometimes, didn’t come back out. And the ones that did were never, ever the same. They’d become mute most of the time, their eyes glued to those woods. Then the people started coming back.
I know, the usual set up for a creepy story. But these people weren’t the same either. They all had a dead look in their eyes, but they smiled as if the forest was the most wonderful place on earth. Now, they were always so obvious when you saw them, but somehow they were still able to lure people in behind them. That’s how the majority of people around here went missing, because they saw their loved ones and wanted to bring them home. There hadn’t been a missing persons report in town since like 1950, but people still listened to this “bedtime story” because, well, those woods were fucking creepy. Until January of my sophomore year though, and news spread that Chloe was gone. Just up and vanished.
“What if she went into the woods?” My friend Trevor asked me one day. “You know how interested she was in the folklore. That girl could have gotten herself killed for all we know.”
“Take it down a notch Trevor.” I hissed, pulling him to the side. “We can’t just go saying things like that. There hasn’t been a Watchmen Woods incident in decades!”
“Don’t you think it’s about time there was?”
That last sentence chilled me to the bone. The rest of the day I was pretty shaken up, so was everyone else in school. I was pretty quiet until I got home to find that my mom was out shopping and my dad was still at work. I kicked back in the recliner and watched some television until I saw a news report about Chloe. Five-two, seventeen, wavy black hair and blue eyes. They had a pretty picture of her up on the screen and it sort of hurt to see her there. I went to turn off the TV, and that’s when I heard it. Someone was outside my god damn house. And they were calling my name.
“Ruby!” The silky female tone appeared to be coming from my back door. “Ruby, come here! It’s me, Chlo-”
That’s all I heard before I was up and off the couch, sprinting towards the back door. When I got there I practically tossed it off of its hinges and whipped my head from side to side, looking for the girl. There was no way in hell she knew where I lived. We weren’t even that close, but she was still my friend.
At the time we had one of those old wooden peg-styled fences, where there were two vertical posts and there’d be circular gouges cut in the sides to put in two horizontal wooden posts with tapered ends to fit the holes. The latch on the back gate was nothing more than a pin and two circles, so I pulled the pin and ran to the edge of the woods. Oh, I forgot to mention that didn’t I? We lived right on the edge of Watchmen Woods. So close that I could almost smell the wafting scent of death from the bogs and the broken carcasses from animals and whatever else that got trapped in them.
“Chloe?!” I shouted, looking around. “Chloe, are you there?!”
No answer. I took a deep breath and pretty much gagged from the lungful I got. Deciding that enough was enough I went back inside to wait for my parents to get home, but I didn’t tell them about it. What would I say? “Oh yeah, the girl who went missing was at our back door and she was sucked up into the woods like everyone else who goes missing around here”? No. That wouldn’t do anyone good.
The next night my parents were leaving for some dinner thing, and they said I could have a few friends over if I wanted. They trusted me not to do something stupid and for that I was glad, because not even five minutes after they left did I begin calling at least ten people. There wasn’t going to be a party of the normal kind. I wanted to have a search party formed.
Trevor was more than willing to go into the woods, but everyone else was ready to piss themselves at the thought of it. One girl though who I hadn’t even realized was here said she’d gladly go because she didn’t believe in that sort of stuff.
“Do you really want to go out into the swamp Hanna?” I questioned, pulling her to the side. She was my ex-boyfriend’s little sister, younger by a year. She was a freshman and, to be honest, sort of bitchy. I don’t even know how she got here or how she found out, but I guess I did call my ex and tell him. She probably overheard and thought it would be a good chance to get out of the house. After all, she was treated like she wasn’t there.
“I’m down for it.” She pulled her black hair back into a ponytail, taking off her pink brand jacket only after she had it perfect. “You guys are all fucking pussies, there’s nothing back there.”
“Fine.” I scowled, returning to the group. “Whoever’s coming, get ready, I’m going to go get a jacket and flashlights. We leave in five.”
I left momentarily to get the aforementioned items, and this was where it got weird. I started hearing something outside my window, like soft singing, mixed with giggling that in an instant turned into maniacal laughter. My blood turned to ice as I bolted out of my room and ran into the front to make sure everyone was there. One, two, three, four…all the way to nine. I had to do another count to make sure I was right, and I got nine again. The horror clawed its way up my spine as I dropped the flashlights.
“Where’s Hanna?” I asked shakily. Everyone looked confused, until Trevor stepped forward.
“You mean the freshman girl? She ran out the back saying something about a “stupid myth”.”
“Oh no.” I whimpered, grabbing a flashlight. God, why did she have to be so stupid?! Can’t she just listen to someone for once in her life!
I kicked open the back door to see the woods beginning to darken. I steeled my nerves and ran forward, reaching the edge of the fence before I stopped. I could hear the sounds of someone saying help and branches breaking underneath heavy footsteps, but what I saw next would stay with me for the rest of my life.
There was Hanna, running through the woods, fear plastered to her face like the sweat that was dripping from her forehead. The full moon gave me enough light to pull the pin out of the gate and run forward, pushing her behind me when I saw the thing chasing her. It wasn’t human, it wasn’t an animal…no, it was something else altogether.
It was white, or translucent, if that could be applied. It was at least seven or eight feet tall, with elongated limbs and looked to be like it was a living tree. But it’s limbs were like sticks, and it’s head was nothing more than a gnarled mass of bark and hollow eyes, a gaping mouth turned down in a hungry scowl. As it reached for me I saw more of them in the trees behind it, all with their heads cocked to the side as they waited to see me killed or turned into whatever the hell people were turned into when they had been caught. But that didn’t happen.
The creatures arms didn’t even even touch me.
Instead, a girl stood in between it and I, outstretched arms blockading me from being hurt. Even though she was shorter, the air of fierceness surrounded her more than anything. Chloe was there, but she also wasn’t. She was already dead, a spirit, but she had enough control left to stand up to the captors of her soul.
“Go, Ruby.” She said quietly. “They’ll kill me for this. Save yourself.”
“Thank you.” I sobbed, running back towards the fence. I turned around only when I was at the door to see that the thing had taken hold oh Chloe and was lifting her fragile body off of the ground. Her eyes turned to ash and so did the rest of her as she crumbled away in its grasp. I slammed the door shut and didn’t look again.
I pushed past everyone in the front room, knowing that Trevor had kept them inside while I ran. Instead I grabbed my phone and dialed my ex, waiting for him to pick up. He sounded tired as hell when he did, but he didn’t mind that it was me calling.
“Ruby? What’s going on?”
“I need you to come pick up your sister. Hanna has been nothing but a disaster and she almost got me killed! That kid-”
“Did you say Hanna?” His cut off response was quiet, almost fearful.
“Yes I said Hanna!”
“Ruby, how do you know that name?”
“Um, your bratty little sister who is a grade below us and always sat on the couch with her phone when I was over? Why?”
“Ruby…my sister Hanna died three years ago when we first moved here.” The air almost seemed to quiet itself. “She ran into Watchmen Woods to prove that it was just a story and never came back out. We never told a soul about her. It was better just to leave the past in the past.”
“But…she was here…”
Then it dawned on me. Why everyone always seemed to ignore her. Why she was never with anyone at school. She was a fucking puppet this whole time. And an image came to mind that I regret never taking more interest in. I’d seen Hanna talking to Chloe not even a week before she disappeared, probably planting the idea in her head.
“No, she wasn’t.”
Everyone was in a blind panic until I sent them home. I stayed up all night, too scared to sleep, researching whatever the hell those could possibly be. I found a blog post back from 2007 from someone in our area about the woods. They called the creatures Watchmen, fitting, I suppose. Described them like wood nymphs or dryads, except instead of the friendly female form, they were the animated forest trees that didn’t take kindly to visitors. They were like spirits themselves almost.
The months following that incident I never saw Hanna again. She was gone completely, not a trace of her left. When I told Trevor he about had a nervous breakdown thinking he was batshit crazy. I myself was worried there was something wrong with my own head. But I haven’t been able to completely trust anyone in my town since then. Especially the kids that always sat alone like they were just new to the school or something. But in some of them I began to see the dead look in their eyes. I started paying closer attention to myself after that. I regret to inform anyone reading this that I’ve started to see the Watchmen around town now, they’re no longer sticking to the forest. I guess they were there all along.
It’s getting hard to stay out of the forest actually, now that I’m seeing it everywhere. The school is gone, the store is gone, it’s all trees. I can’t even go home now because it’s gone, replaced by trees. I miss my parents. Pretty soon I’ll wake up and I’ll already be in the woods with their empty eyes, just staring at me.
Maybe it isn’t so bad…