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The other campers and I begged the girl to go into more detail about Timmy’s alleged sightings within the Appalachian region. She seemed all too happy to oblige us, seeing as we were hooked now, and launched into her second tale. This one cropped up a couple years after the initial sighting, a couple hours North of our camp.
According to the girl, Timmy used the Appalachian Hiking Trail to get around and keep away from the authorities. Only an unlucky few traversing the famed trail ever encountered him or one of his rocking chairs.
Kurt squinted at his map again. In the waterlogged foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, navigation was almost impossible. The big, mountain man reserved only one contingency for such drastic conditions: stick to the trail until you come across the first serviceable clearing.
His two friends were close by, both in good shape and experienced themselves. Kurt checked his watch. 2:37 in the afternoon.
After looking over the map once more and then up at the cover of black-grey clouds through the pine-trees above, Kurt came to a resolution: stop until the rain let up.
He waited for his companions and told them the plan. “We make camp at the next clearing. Shelter would be preferable, but I can’t be sure where it is on this blasted map. If the rain clears before four, we’ll go on for a couple more hours, but I want to be done well before nightfall.” His companions nodded in agreement.
Kurt left his other reason for wanting to hunker down unsaid. There’d been but scarce rumors so far, about a pair of women going missing a couple miles north of them two months before. The general consensus ruled they must have fallen off a cliff or simply hitchhiked out of the area. Pinning disappearances down on a 2,500 mile trail was like picking out a snowflake in a blizzard. Damned impossible. Kurt opted to remain silent.
They set off once more, and were relieved to find shelter within another half hour. Everyone stripped their packs free in the silver drizzle, set up their tents, and changed into dry clothes. The rain continued to fall, something everyone felt secretly relieved about as the prospect of hiking more in this gloom was unappealing.
Kurt relaxed in his two-person tent, enjoying the extra space afforded for his burly physique. He and his companions ate cold rations that night, not wanting to attempt a fire, so Kurt spent a couple hours reading an old paperback, chewing on jerky, and sipping from his canteen. Beyond the nylon walls of his tent, the rain continued to patter down, forming a blanket of watery monotony. Kurt delved deep into the contents of his book–a feeling he loved when he read. Sometimes hours slipped past without his noticing, and his mind would resurface at the strangest times.
That night it was around 7 pm. At first Kurt wasn’t sure what alerted him, but his eyes were torn from the pages nonetheless. He looked to either side, staring at the translucent, green walls of his tent. Water raced down over the gridded patterning, chilling the man on sight. He felt thankful for his tent.
Beyond the campers’ shelters, nothing but dark, sodden trees, brown leaves, and a bit of clearing resided. It was all empty, cold space, where nothing sane would roam. Kurt twitched as he struggled to go back to his book, but something about the isolating soundscape felt off. He sat up and tilted his head to either side.
As he rotated his ears toward the Northeast, he finally picked up on the disturbance: a faint buzzing. Mechanical in nature. Entirely bizarre to hear this far from civilization. Perhaps construction was going on down the mountain, but Kurt doubted that was the case.
Gritting his teeth, the big man hunkered down in his sleeping bag and tried to focus. Eventually the book pulled him back in once more, capturing his attentions for another half hour, before the buzzing sounded again. Closer this time.
Kurt pressed his ear to the tent, straining to pinpoint the source. He would be damned if he ventured out into the cold, wet dark at this time of night. It was almost 8, and the sun had disappeared, plunging the world into a dusky silver. Eventually the buzzing died away, so Kurt went back to reading.
At 8:42 on the dot, the buzzing sounded again, and this time it could be heard clearly. Kurt shivered at the thought of someone spending that much time out in the woods, soaked and on the verge of pneumonia. It felt queer.
Slowly, Kurt unzipped the inner layer of his tent and called across to his friends. “You boys hear that?” he said in a hoarse whisper.
Only one of the other men, a long hair man named Mark, responded. “No. Don’t hear nothin’ but the rain. John’s response is gonna be the same. He passed out before eight.”
Kurt chewed on that for a moment. “Right then. Just thought I’d ask. If you hear anything, let me know, you hear?”
Mark nodded and retreated into his tent. Kurt lingered at the edge of his tent for a moment longer. He’d been focused on John’s tent, tempted to go and wake the other man up, but there was little good about a poorly rested John. Instead Kurt cast his gaze beyond their tents to the edge of the clearing, where branches hung heavy and close to the ground, forming a dark silver netherworld. For the briefest of moments, Kurt could almost swear caught the outline of a child, emaciated and ragged, but a second glance bore nothing. Just a void of rotting trunk and slimy leaves. Sighing, Kurt zipped his tent back up and doused his lamp, ready to sleep.
The buzzing cut through the dream like a chainsaw. It was close. Kurt could tell even as he shook off the remnants of sleep. It permeated the air, fighting against the soft patter of rain for dominance. Kurt shivered. He could feel it only a couple yards away, as if someone were drilling holes in the trees.
Reluctantly, he crawled forward to the flaps of his tent and undid the inner flap of his tent. In the misty gloom and the moonlight cut up by the leaves, he could just make out the other tents. The buzzing had stopped. Only his breathing could be heard.
Kurt licked his lips, trying to think whether he should call out or not. After weighing the possibilities in his mind, he opted to see if Mark was awake. “M-Mark?” the words rolled over the clearing, ominously clear. No answer. Kurt straightened his back and pressed his face to his tent fabric, and said with a little more force, “Mark.”
Only silence responded. Sighing, Kurt pulled on his boots and reluctantly. Heavy sleepers, that was all. The little reassurance didn’t stop him from slipping his folding knife into one pocket though. Once he’d slid into his raincoat and fetched his flashlight, Kurt unzipped the tent all the way and slid out. A chill trickled down his backbone as he crept into the open. With the thin buffer of his tent gone, Kurt felt exposed; to the air, to his surroundings, and to something’s gaze. Try as he might, he knew something had its eyes on him. But he needed to ensure his companions were all right.
“Mark,” he hissed again. “John. Godammit, one of you answer me.” A faint buzzing sounded from behind him. Kurt whipped his head around, focusing on the clearing to his right. Nothing. Of course.
“Mark, something’s out there,” Kurt unzipped his friend’s tent and screamed. Mark lay on his back, mouth open in agony and his eyes twisted into gnarled craters of blood and gore. Stumbling back, Kurt fumbled for his knife and managed to wield it in front of him. Already, he suspected John suffered the same fate. But he had to check.
Another buzz curdled the air as Kurt parted the second tent. John’s skull bore the same devastation, not giving Kurt the same shock, but instead imparting a far worse feeling on him. Kurt was alone. Completely isolated, and whatever had done this was watching him.
With no other plan, Kurt did the only thing he knew might save him and ran headlong down the trail. The only thing Kurt sought at this point in the night was company. He needed to be with other people, both as a line of defense and simply to rid the burning ember of dread lodged in his gut. It made it hard for him to breathe, and before a mile he was gasping shrilly. Up ahead, he saw the outline of an old shelter framed against the trees.
Fighting a stitch in his side, Kurt made for the shelter. Only as he headed for it did he realize he was going off path. To the best of his knowledge, the trail had been rerouted around a rock fall, and the shelter lay on the old path. Still, he needed to get out of the rain. To hide. To cower.
Some sensible part of him returned at some point during his flight through the forest. Dangers of pneumonia were hot on his mind as he shivered and stumbled his way toward the hut. It looked slightly run down, but no worse for wear than most other huts. At this point, Kurt simply longed for a place he could crash and burn in until morning, then he’d navigate his way down the mountainside to civilization.
The hut creaked as he stepped up onto the raised platform. His flashlight illuminated a frail, wooden door and a rusted, tin roof. Kurt stepped up to the door, wrapped his hand around the handle, and froze. A pungent odor wafted up through his nose.
With a resolve borne of desperation and lunacy, Kurt slowly winched the door open. The smell nearly overpowered him–rotting meat, lots of it. Fearfully, the burly mountain man aimed his light through the door and found a huge pile of animal carcasses stacked against the far wall. Squirrel, rabbit, birds of every kind, fish, even smaller cats were all strewn into a miasma of rotting fur and bones. Kurt took a closer look. They were sloppily killed, with mangled limbs, and all bore crude rips from where human teeth tried and failed to mimic its predatory ancestors in devouring their prey.
Kurt buried his nose to ward of the stench, but it clung to him now, palpable and thick. As he made his way just a little more into the cabin, he noticed something else in the far corner. A rocking chair. Made of bone and bound together with sinew.
Kneeling to inspect it, Kurt was surprised to find the craftsmanship rather beautiful. The bones were worn smooth as pearls, and the sinew had been dried and handled with care. Kurt felt some of his exhaustion return to his mind. Sleep. He needed sleep.
With a final sigh, the mountain man lowered himself into the rocking chair, and found it held his weight easily. Kurt stared at the ceiling above as he began rocking back and forth. Baaack… and forth. Baaaaaaaack… and forth. Sleep came.
Bzzzzzzzt. Kurt jolted awake. Every muscle flexed as that sound drilled into his skull. The silent killer had returned. It came from beyond the door. Suddenly Kurt remembered his friends. And the very real danger he was in.
Standing slowly, Kurt took his flashlight like a club and his knife in his other hand. Another warning bzzzzzzt sounded from beyond the door. Already Kurt had a plan. Run down the mountain, don’t look back, don’t stop.
The bzzzzzzt’s grew louder. With a feral yell, Kurt stormed out of the cabin and into the morning light. No one could be seen. Still, he could hear the bzzzzzzt of a drill. It was all around him; a warning growl. Swallowing his fear, Kurt turned in the vague direction of the local town and ran.
As he raced down, the bzzzzzzts followed him, gnawing at his mind. He didn’t stop until he burst into the local police station, wild eyed and laughing madly. Only once the police were able to subdue him, calm him, and get him to talk, did the buzzing finally die away. Kurt huddled under a blanket and spoke with an officer, reporting everything he’d encountered that night.
They tried to get him to lead them up to his friends’ campsite, but he didn’t budge. Several police officers and a local forest ranger made the trek that afternoon, first stopping by the dilapidated cabin. Just as Kurt promised, there did appear to be a grotesque plethora of remains, reminiscent of a feral human squatting in the abode. They did not, however, find the rocking chair Kurt talked about.
The campsite proved more compelling in backing up Kurt’s claims about the killer potentially being the missing kid from a few years back. Both John and Mark resided in their tents, eyes in pulpy ruins, but the officers made another discovery. One disturbing enough to shudder each and everyone of their spines.
Like the animals in the hut, John and Mark’s bodies had been ripped open and their bones crudely removed. In the center of the clearing resided a new rocking chair, lacquered with blood and bile, strung with sinew, and crowned with the victim’s spines. And just as the officers discovered it, the chair finished rocking baaaaaaack… and forth.
Baaaaaaack and forth.
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