It was around lunchtime when Noah and I arrived at the base of the hiking trail.
He practically ejected himself from the car the moment we were no longer in motion. His enthusiasm was infectious. I retrieved our backpacks from the seat behind me and stepped outside as well. Noah had already run ahead. He was standing among the wildflowers and tall grass, looking back with an expectant grin as if to say “Keep up, nerd.”. His disheveled mop of bleached curls and oversized t-shirt swayed in the warm, dry breeze. The poor guy was built like a flagpole, but hell if I wasn’t into it at the time.
I rolled my eyes with an amused sigh and jogged up to him, then tossed him his backpack which he almost fell over trying to catch. The year was 2014. We were fresh out of high school and were now blissfully enjoying the remainder of our summer. The plan was to make our way up to some landmark called “Wilhelm Bridge”. Noah’s parents apparently owned a cabin there that they rarely used—the perfect weekend gateway for a pair of horny teenagers desperate for some privacy. Mainly, I was just glad that we could stop hooking up in my dad’s car; certain stains were getting hard to explain away.
The day was a scorcher. The woods provided cover from the sun’s immediate glare, but there was no escaping the heat itself. It made an otherwise easy trek feel as if we were embarking on a goddamn expedition.
“Please tell me there’s air conditioning up there. Or, at least, a working fan.” I complained while wiping streams of sweat from my forehead.
“Fraid not. Think pops forgot his leaf blower last time we were there, though, if that helps.” Noah answered with that trademark shit-eating grin of his, face glistening with perspiration.
The path tapered as we reached an impressive arrangement of boulders and rocks; likely the result of a landslide. I slowed my pace in order to retrieve the water bottle from the cluttered bowels of my backpack, which Noah interpreted as his cue to run ahead of me once more. He strolled up to one of the moss-covered slabs, and then—for reasons best known to himself—determined that it was his duty to climb it. I shook my head and squeezed the plastic bottle, shooting a refreshing jet of lukewarm water directly into my mouth.
“God I wish that were me.” Noah teased from the presumed safety of his perch.
“It won’t be if you keep it up. Let’s go before I pass out.”
“Just a sec.”
I had no choice but to continue supervising this 18-year-old toddler as he hopped from surface to surface. Eventually, after clearing a rather precarious gap, he latched onto the side of a particularly large boulder and clambered up to its peak. There he triumphantly sat, feet swinging and eyes honed on what must’ve been an impressive view of the park.
“You’re lucky you’re endearing.”
Noah stuck his tongue out in response, after which he went back to admiring the scenery. I conceded and plopped onto a nearby patch of flattened grass. Once seated, I squinted upwards at the looming evergreen, catching glimpses of the sky through its tangled mesh of needles and branches. Instead of taking the time to appreciate the untainted serenity of nature, however, for some reason I decided to broach the one topic that Noah hated discussing:
“So, when do you think we should tell our folks? You know, about us?”
Predictably, his mood turned instantly sour. He threw his head back with a groan, clearly annoyed at me for reviving the subject.
“Come on, man…”
“I’m tired. I’m tired of sneaking around; I’m tired of lying; I’m tired of getting slapped away every time I try to hold your hand in public. My mom and pops aren’t exactly ‘progressive’ either, but I’m ready to come out if you are.”
“Yeah, but I’m not ready. I’ll literally get disowned if they find out. You know that.”
“So… what? You’re fine with pretending like we’re not a thing? Like I don’t fucking exist?”
“Oh my god, can you not be a selfish asshole for five fucking seconds!? I told you, I’m not ready!”
Noah’s uncharacteristic but admittedly deserved outburst echoed across the pinewood forest. We both sat in tense silence for a good while: me with my knees pressed to my chest and him staring at his dangling feet. I chewed on my lips and averted my eyes in an effort to stave off the tears. Feelings of hurt, guilt and regret came together to form a lump in my throat. I shouldn’t have pressed him, I knew that, but at the same time I was so sick and tired of having to conceal something as obtusely trivial as my own sexual preference, and all for the sake of complying with someone else’s outdated ideology.
I pried my raw lips, intending to utter an apology when, suddenly, a third voice chimed in:
“Don’t mean to interrupt, but ya’ll doing alright over there? I was nearby and heard yellin’.”
Surprised, I spun around and saw our anonymous spectator emerge from the surrounding woods. The first thing that stood out to me about the woman was her excessively long hair. It was white, peppered with the occasional strand of silver, and spilled past her knees in thick, heavy clumps. Tangled in it were various twigs, leaves and god knows what else, making her appear like some sort of ancient woodland spirit.
After a rushed and clumsy descent, Noah rejoined me on our side of the clearing;
“Sorry if we startled you, Ma’am—just had a disagreement, is all.” He stumbled to explained, face red and burning with embarrassment.
The old woman smiled and leaned against her walking stick. If I had to guess, I’d say that she was probably in her late sixties to early seventies, though her unkempt appearance made it difficult to tell for certain. Behind the curtains of hair, she wore a faded yellow dress that barely clung to a pair of weak shoulders. It looked to have once had a floral pattern, though it was difficult to tell for certain.
“It takes a heckuva lot more than that to startle this old hag. Haven’t heard your voice before, though—guessing y’ain’t locals.”
“No, Ma’am.” Promptly confirmed Noah.
“Can it with the “Ma’am” thing, boy. I ain’t your schoolteacher. Name’s Agnes.”
As the odd woman introduced herself, I noticed that she wasn’t looking directly at, but rather past us. It took me a moment—perhaps longer than it should have—to realize that she was visually impaired, if not outright blind. I couldn’t help but wonder what someone in her condition was doing out here all alone.
My boyfriend nudged me, hinting that it was my turn to say something.
“Pleasure to meet you.” Was all that I could think to add.
I purposefully omitted the courtesy of revealing our own names. Regardless of how harmless she appeared, I had a gut feeling that there was more to Agnes than what were capable of readily perceiving. Perhaps sensing my distrust, she gave me a nod and made a point of moving the conversation along:
“Anywho, I’d be careful if I were ya’ll. The wolves will be out soon.”
“Wolves? Here? I’ve heard of foxes and coyotes, but never any mentions of wolves.” Noah asked with an understandable degree of skepticism.
After all, our state certainty isn’t known for its native wolf population. You’re more likely to get mauled by a bear or get trampled by a deer than you are to encounter one outside of a zoo.
“Oh, trust me; they’re out here, alright. And they sure as hell know you’re here. My advice is to do whatcha gotta do and head back. These woods ain’t as safe as they used to be.”
Noah and I looked at each other, mutely concurring that the woman was clearly not all there. The sun was still beating down on us relentlessly and we were eager to get a move on, so we just thanked Agnes for the warning and continued up the trail. Once there was considerable distance between us and her, I looked over my shoulder and saw glimpses of the crone-like figure disappearing back into the woods. There was no evidence of her ever having been there, apart from the residual feeling of unease in the pit of my stomach.
After some more strenuous hiking, we finally arrived beneath Wilhelms Bridge, which, contrary to my expectations, wasn’t an actual bridge, but rather a natural arch between two neighboring cliffsides; effectively forming a sort of “gateway”. The lodge was a stone’s throw away from it, situated near the center of another, larger clearing. It was quite the picturesque little property—straight out of a brochure or a lifestyle magazine. I’ve always been more of a city dweller, myself, but even I wasn’t immune to its rural charm.
We shared a cold shower together and spent the rest of the afternoon indoors. As the day progressed, the torrid temperatures dropped to mostly manageable levels. We decided to have a stroll around the homestead before packaging up and heading back. It turns out that sightseeing is significantly more enjoyable when you aren’t on the verge of heatstroke. Who knew?We watched the once oppressive sun now dip behind the hills, dyeing the sky in a palette of reds and oranges, which gradually gave way to an encroaching tide of grayish blue.
“Holy shit!” Noah exclaimed.
At first I thought that he was enthralled by the view, until I looked over and saw him veer off in a seemingly random direction. ‘Here we go again’ I thought. I didn’t even attempt to match his pace; I just trailed behind while simulating enthusiasm.
The stench of rotting meat assaulted my senses before I perceived the actual carcass. From a distance it just looked like a mound of dirt, but then I noticed the antlers, and then the swarm of flies hovering above it. There, sprawled along a shallow ditch, was the half-eaten body of an adult deer.
“That’s so fucking gross.” I stated the obvious through pinched nostrils.
The creature’s lower half was picked clean, and what scraps still remained were being feasted upon by hordes of wriggling maggots. Flaps of fermented flesh hung from exposed ribs, mired in a sickening miasma of decay.
“Think the weird old prune might’ve been telling truth.”
I glanced down at Noah, who was squatting next to the dead animal’s skull and poking at it with a branch. He gingerly pushed the fur around its neck aside, revealing multiple bite marks. We, of course, weren’t exactly qualified to determine whether the culprits had indeed been wolves, but the woman’s ramblings didn’t seem so farfetched all of a sudden.
“Let’s just grab our shit and go.”
I pulled my boyfriend up to his feet and we quickly made our way back to the lodge. Dusk was starting to settle. A peculiar sense of gloom hung in the air. As I pushed the front door open, I was greeted by an unexpected yet familiar visage.
Blocking the cramped entryway was none other than Agnes herself. The sightless, scrawny woman stood there like a pale apparition, her form outlined by the dimness of the interior.
“Lock your damn door.” She remarked with a plain tone and retreated further inside, ushering us both to follow.
We did, albeit with a substantial degree of uncertainty.
Our uninvited guest cautiously maneuvered between the furniture. I heard her joints pop as she found a suitable seat by the cold fireplace. Her hair brushed against the floorboards, her clouded eyes concealed beneath a waterfall of silver tresses. Mustering a modicum of courage, I said:
“You shouldn’t be here.”
Agnes proceeded to snort in amusement. She tapped her long, spindly fingers against the arm of her chair.
“Funny. Was about to say the same thing.”
As if to emphasize her point, a choir of longing howls suddenly tore through the stillness outside. I felt the tension from before rise from my stomach to my chest, evolving into proper dread. Noah rushed to the nearest window while I just stood there, glaring at the hag, who in turn looked utterly aloof.
“How about it, fellers? Ya’ll believe the “weird old prune” now?”
“What do you want?”
“Watch the tone, boy. I’m tryin’ to keep you safe.”
“Keep us safe? Why? From what?”
“From the goddamn wolves!” She shouted, rising slightly from her chair with unexpected vigor. “ Ain’t you listenin’ to what I’ve been tellin’ you!? I’m the first; they’re here cause of me. And I don’t want any more folks dyin’ because of an old grudge.”
“Chill, lady, what the hell are you—“
All of a sudden there was a thump, closely followed by a rattle. Noah slowly withdrew from the window. His expression was a blend between complete bewilderment and fear — the kind of fear that debilitates you, and leaves you unsure whether you’re meant to flee or hold your ground. As I peeked over his shoulder, I noticed that the glass was still shaking, as if someone had slapped it before running away. I gently squeezed past my terror-stricken boyfriend, walked up to it and leaned in.
Just as I was about to announce that there was nobody out there, a human fist collided with the pane, this time causing it to explode. Shards scattered like shrapnel. Reaching in, the meaty hand wrapped around my throat and pulled me towards the window, dragging my entire body through it, before dumping me onto the wooden porch outside. Shattered glass crunched beneath me as I landed. I rolled onto my hands and knees, straining to produce a cough.
Noah shrieked in the background. His voice was quickly drowned out by a cacophony of barks and ravenous growls. I had to get to him. I had to.
Ignoring the bitter taste of blood in my mouth, I looked up at my assailant. Standing over me was the figure of a man — a large, corpulent man, with arms twice the size of mine and a bloated gut to match. There was a disgusting sheen of filth covering the entirety of his naked body, and consequently suffocating the inflamed sores that occupied its various greasy crevices. The most grotesque feature of them all, however, was undoubtedly the face. His nose was pressed against his skull and his lips were peeled back, revealing blackish gums that had curved, dog-like canines protruding from them.
Images of the bite marks around the dead deer’s neck flashed briefly before my eyes.
The beast-man unhinged his oversized jaw and snapped at the air in front of me, drool seeping from between his carnivorous teeth. I wanted to crawl away, but as soon as I reached the edge of the platform, I realized that there was nowhere left to go. Multiple sets of hungry eyes stared back at me. There was an entire pack of those freakish amalgamations surrounding the lodge; each more inhuman then the last. I saw a tall woman whose deformed and disproportionately long limbs allowed her to exclusively walk on all fours. Then there was the man with sharp ears and half his body covered in fur. Behind them both was something that could hardly be categorized as a person, possessing claws and a fleshy, languid appendage that vaguely resembled a tail.
I’d compare them to animals, but that would imply a degree of inculpability. They weren’t driven by simple instinct; there was intent behind their viciousness, and their wretched forms only reflected it.
There was a wet snarl in my ear, followed by a sensation of weightlessness, before I was slammed back down against the unforgiving redwood. The air was knocked out of my lungs. I would’ve cried in agony if I could. The mutant crowd of spectators jumped with sadistic excitement. Some chanted garbled phrases that were impossible to decipher over the ringing in my skull; others just yapped and howled, encouraging my abuse.
Using my elbows, I desperately tried to pull myself forth, only to be picked up for a third and final time. The hulking mass of greasy flesh lifted me above his head, and once again savagely bounced my limp body off the wooden deck. Something audibly snapped. I couldn’t tell whether it was a loose board or one of my ribs. Helpless and gasping, I lay there among the broken glass. The world kept fading in and out. Darkness occupied the corners of my waning vision and— in spite of my attempts to stave it off, to remain conscious —it eventually swallowed everything, including me…
I was standing beneath Wilhelm Bridge. The trees around me bore shades of autumn, and the air smelled of rain. Across from me, bathed in the shadow of the rocky archway, was a young girl. Her black hair was tied in long braids that had small charms interwoven into them. Her dark, narrow eyes glared at me spitefully, her lips curled in disdain. I noticed that she kept tugging on the hem of her bright yellow dress, which was dotted with flowery motifs and looked slightly too big for her. She was trying to conceal the bump inside her stomach.
Given her age, the implications of a pregnancy were disconcerting to say the least, especially coupled with the clear signs of abuse, like the purple ring of bruises around her neck. She bent over, picked a tiny rock off the ground and threw it at me. It bounced against my chest, landing squarely at my feet. Tears of hatred and frustration rolled down her face.
The girl grabbed the fabric around her swollen belly, clenching it in her fist. Suddenly, a bitter smile tore through her face.
I was stuck in the role of a passive observer, watching through someone else’s eyes as dark red bubbles began to appear around corners of her grin. Something was trying to crawl its way out of her. She lurched back, pressed her palms to her stomach and, after what felt like hours of painful retching, a long, bony arm burst forth from her mouth. The ghastly appendage flailed aimlessly, before digging its beast-like claws into its host’s lower jaw and stretching it past its limit, leaving ample room for another set of fingers to emerge. And then a wolfish skull. And then a torso. And then a leg.
My senses were polluted by the familiar stench of rot. I looked down. In place of the pebble that was previously thrown at me was the decaying head of a deer. Its lolled tongue began to twitch. It turned its sunken, dead eyes up at me and said:
“Marc! Marcus! For fuck’s sake, please wake up!”
My eyes shot open. I tried to sit up, but a sharp ache in my ribs forced me to reconsider. I was back on that porch, only now I had Noah kneeling by my side. I heard him breathe a tense sigh, presumably relieved to see me conscious again. He hastily brushed some of the glass off of me and, before I could ask him what was going on, I was already being pulled up to my feet. The pain spread, radiating throughout my upper body, but I did my best to block it out. Though my mind was still raddled, Noah’s trembling tone was enough to convey a sense of urgency:
“C’mon, get up! We gotta go!”
As I reluctantly guided my eyes away from Noah’s pleading expression and towards the clearing, I was greeted by a sight that was as terrifying as it was surreal.
Blood flowed freely from recently decapitated torsos, dyeing the grass beneath them crimson. There were limbs and other minced body parts scattered haphazardly about. Guts hung from branches like some sort of twisted Christmas display, with the disembodied shell lying lifeless beneath it, features frozen in a mute scream of agony. A layer of gore was splattered across every conceivable surface, but it was the imposing figure at the center of the hellscape that truly made me question my sanity.
It stood as tall as the trees—a gangling, bipedal sculpture of muscle and protruding bone. Its skin was stretched so tightly that I could see the individual vertebrae shifting in its back. It was hairless apart from the pale mane of blood-stained fur dangling from its skull, mercifully obscuring its true visage. Only its lupine muzzle stuck out from between the strands, aligned with rows of jagged, interlocking teeth that couldn’t even fit inside its own mouth.
The worst part was that, as unfathomably monstrous as it was, there was still something about it that I recognized; an underlying tragic element that eluded description.
I watched the creature effortlessly pick up one of the lifeless bodies left bleeding on the ground. Its long fingers wrapped around the lesser abomination’s dripping remains, and lifted them up to its gaping jaws. The crunch that followed finally caused me to avert my eyes. I sought comfort against Noah’s chest, pressing my face against it.
“Can’t be real… This can’t be real…” I whimpered.
“We have to go.” My boyfriend repeated, feigning courage as best he could.
He threw my arm over his shoulders and led us away from the lodge. I could feel his rapid breathing on my cheek, his eyes darting wildly in search of the trail back. As evening approached, we pulled out our phones and used them to illuminate the path ahead. A pair of artificial lights, shining in unison, kept the encroaching darkness at bay, if only temporarily. If not for the context, It could’ve been quite poetic.
“What the hell happened back there?” I finally asked, still wincing.
For a while there was no answer—only the rustling of leaves.
“Agnes, s-she… she told me to grab you and make a run for it, and that she’ll hold those freaks off. Then she just ran out the door and… fuck me man, I don’t know…”
Noah shook his head, as if trying to erase, or at least suppress that particular memory. When that didn’t work, he went on, growing more frantic with each sentence:
“She started… changing?” He phrased it almost like a question; like he didn’t fully trust his own recollection “They piled onto her, tried to hold her down, but there was no point. She ripped into them like a fucking chainsaw. And the more she…the more “it” ate, the more it grew, and—“
His chin trembled. His attempt at a stoic expression crumbled away, revealing glimpses of the traumatized teenager hiding behind it.
“God, please tell me you saw that thing too. Please tell me it wasn’t all in my head.”
“It’s okay. I saw it too.” I assured him in the most comforting tone I could muster, though, in truth, a part of me still held out hope that this was all a cruel dream.
One by one, stars twinkled into existence. Wilhelm Bridge became a distant silhouette against the dimming sky, and soon dipped behind the forest entirely, as if it never existed. The blood loss from my various cuts, coupled with the intermittent stabs of pain, rendered each step a challenge, but we eventually made our way back to the car. Noah ended up driving me to the nearest walk-in clinic, which thankfully wasn’t very far.
Turns out that I was right about the broken rib. I was apparently quite lucky that it hadn’t punctured a lung. It took half a year, but I eventually made a full recovery, save for a few unsightly scars. When questioned, we opted for a more believable version of the events—explaining that we were attacked by a group of crazy hillbillies out in the woods, which is the same version we later gave to our parents. Lying proved to be the right call, since the local sheriff’s department apparently found nothing out of the ordinary when they went up there to survey the scene—no obscene amounts of gore, no half-eaten mutant corpses, no nothing; though I suspect that it would’ve been immediately covered up even if they did.
Regardless, I won’t be planning any trips to Wilhelm Bridge in the foreseeable future. I’ve mostly kept to my therapist’s advice and never really gone down the proverbial rabbit hole. Perhaps digging into the site’s history might yield some context to the horrors we experienced that day, but I feel like some things are best left forgotten to time.
In fact, consider this a parting letter to the last twenty-five years of my life. Noah and I are finally getting married in January, after which we’ll be planning a permanent move to Pennsylvania.
The cliché thing to do would be to warn you against trying to find the actual landmark I may or may not have renamed to Wilhelm Bridge for the purposes of my story, but we all know how that usually goes. If you do end up finding it, however, do me a favor:
If you see an old woman with long white hair and a yellow dress, tell her I said thanks.
Credit : Morning Owl
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