Estimated reading time — 9 minutes
In the backseat of her mother’s minivan, Ashley admired the passing autumn foliage and contemplated the excitement and fear she and her best friends were sure to experience at Frank’s Forest, an attraction featuring actors as zombies, witches, and werewolves galore, all trying to “kill” the visitors.
For four years, she, Emily, Sarah, and Zoey had wanted to go to this haunted attraction. Each girl pleaded with her parents, only to hear the same answer: “You’re too young.” Now that they were freshmen in high school, their parents decided they were old enough to experience it. To make it even better, they had the opportunity to partake in the thrills and fear on the night of Halloween as well as that of a full moon.
Despite this, Ashley had a sinking worry in the pit of her stomach. Though she knew thousands of people had participated in Frank’s Forest and loved it, she was certain something would go terribly wrong.
Over the course of the past year, Ashley started seeing a therapist to discuss her increasing feelings of paranoia. At first, it was focused on the paranormal; she claimed to see countless ghosts lurking around her home. Since her parents had no reasons to believe otherwise, they kept an eye out for supernatural happenings around the house. To their dismay, her parents never experienced any ghostly activities. The spirits only seemed to want to interact with Ashley.
Once her ghost phase moved on, she felt as if someone was constantly staring at her. Whether she was in class or with her family or completely isolated in her own room, she could not shake the feeling that someone was watching her. This feeling kept her constantly on edge and would not allow her to sleep for more than a few hours at a time. She realized she must be going crazy and admitted it to her parents.
Therapy worked as long as she didn’t have a reason to have paranoid thoughts anymore. However, her feelings of paranoia only intensified when her friends reminded her of their dream to go to Frank’s Forest. Ever since that conversation six months ago, Ashley has had nightmares where she and her friends have died in hundreds of different, gory ways. These nightmares only got worse when they made definitive plans to go on Halloween night, the night of a full moon. Her paranoia convinced her there would be real werewolves there that would transform and maul all her friends and her to death.
Although her fear was petrifying at times, she refused to ruin the fun and excitement for her friends. Ashley decided not to tell them of her therapy sessions or her unshakable worries.
“Ash, are you okay?” Sarah asked tentatively from the adjacent seat.
“I’m fine; I’m just a little nervous, I guess,” she assured.
Zoey turns around from the passenger seat, glaring at her with an annoyed expression. “Why are you nervous? We finally have a chance to go, and you’re going to ruin it for all of us! Just enjoy it, won’t ya?” she demanded.
“Now, Zoey, that’s enough,” Ashley’s mom interfered.
“C’mon, Zo, don’t be rude,” Emily chimed in. “By the way, thanks for the ride, Mrs. Hamilton.”
“Yeah, thanks,” the other girls added.
“No problem, girls,” Mrs. Hamilton said, smiling as she turned down a dirt road and into an unfamiliar forest. After five minutes, the girls saw a small yet packed parking lot. Mrs. Hamilton backed into a space and turned to face the girls again. “I don’t know this area well, and it’s quite a drive, so I think I’ll find somewhere to relax until you girls are done. Just shoot me a text or call me when you’re all done and I’ll be back for you, okay?”
“Alright,” Ashley answered as her friends climbed out of the vehicle.
“Ashley… Please try to relax and have fun tonight. I know it might seem scary, but don’t freak yourself out. Your friends are with you, and they all want to have fun with you, too.”
“I know, Mom. Thanks again. I love you.”
“I love you too, sweetie.”
Once Ashley exited the van and the girls crossed the lot, Mrs. Hamilton pulled out of her spot and back down the road. After the girls watched Mrs. Hamilton leave, Sarah interrupted the silence. “We don’t want to be late, guys,” she said, gesturing toward a narrow dirt path with a “TICKETS” sign handwritten in red paint.
The girls walked silently down the path for a minute until they reached the ticket booth. Sitting inside was a woman with dark circles under her eyes and an uncommonly pale face. “Four of you?” she asked in a husky voice. All four nodded. “That’ll be $80.” Each handed her a $20 bill, which she placed in a cash register. “Behind this ticket booth is a group of picnic tables. That’s where your guides will be meeting in a few minutes. Until we meet again.” She smirked at them as they passed.
Once they are out of earshot, Zoey commented, “She was creepy.”
“Are you guys sure we can handle this?” Ashley wondered nervously.
“Of course, Ash! We’ll be fine,” Emily reassured her.
“We just paid for our tickets, anyway,” Zoey reminded her. “If you don’t wanna do it, I guess you don’t have to; you’re just out $20.”
“Look, there’s no need to make such a big deal out of this, guys,” Sarah chimed in. “Plenty of people have gone here before, and it must be pretty good if it’s still open. Let’s have fun.”
Ashley sighed and nodded. “Sorry, guys, I’m not sure why I feel this way. But I can do this.” She lied to appease her friends.
The girls approached the picnic tables, all of which are occupied by couples and small groups in their late teens and early twenties speaking of their excitement and anxiety about this upcoming experience. In total there were around a hundred fellow visitors. Once the girls found a spot to sit together, they idly chattered for a few minutes until the actors slowly approached. There were two physically fit actors and a skinny actress. One man donned a heavy mane and excess amounts of thick hair on every visible inch of skin. The other’s skin was a haunting grey color, and as he sluggishly shuffled forward, he brought the unmistakable odor of rotting flesh. The woman wore a skintight, seductive black ensemble with a velvet red cape, featuring pointy vampire teeth and sticky blood around her lips.
Ashley shuddered immediately upon recognizing the monster the actors represented; she was right about a werewolf being there, and was now absolutely convinced they were going to die. Every part of her wanted to turn around and go home, but she couldn’t explain it to her friends in a sensible way.
“Hello, ladies and gentlemen. We will begin as your guides and transform into your worst nightmares,” Werewolf introduced in a menacing growl.
“Basically, we will lead you into the area and leave you on your own,” Vampy added.
“Do any of you have questions before we begin?” Zombie asked.
Ashley called out, “How long will this take?”
The trio exchanged a look and chuckled ominously. “However long it takes. It depends on how much of a fight everybody puts up,” Vampy responded, winking at Ashley.
Ashley involuntarily shivered. By asking that question, she made herself — and her group of friends — an easy target, she was sure. “Guys, I have a really bad feeling about this,” she whispered desperately. “We can’t do this. I can’t let us do this.”
“What’s your problem, Ash? They’re actors; they’re supposed to intimidate us and make us afraid. It’s their job,” Zoey snapped quietly.
“Don’t be rude, Zo,” Emily scolded. “Ash, it’ll be okay. Do you realize how many people come to this every year and have an amazing time? Seriously, we’re gonna walk out of here safe and sound. I promise.”
“Alright, everybody follow us!” Zombie commanded as he and his comrades turned around to head back in the direction from which they came.
Ashley exhaled deeply and looked to her friends. “Here we go,” she murmured as they walked side by side, following their temporary guides.
After a silent and eerie walk deep into the woods, Werewolf, Vampy, and Zombie abruptly stopped. “We’ve arrived at our destination,” Werewolf explained. “Now, we must reunite with our comrades. All of us will return in five minutes’ time.”
“We take pleasure in hunting humans and making feasts of them,” Vampy added, smirking. “Each of us is famished. If you do not desire to become a meal, I would suggest that you hide or attempt to escape.”
“However, half our pleasure comes from the thrill of the hunt. Therefore, you cannot stick together as one large group. It would be much too simple to track you down and devour every last one of you. The people you came here with are the only ones you may stay with,” Zombie said.
“Know that our next encounter will be fatal. We — werewolves, vampires, and zombies — are the only ones who can fatally wound you. Our other friends are simply devices to terrify you. Your screams are also clear indicators of your location. If you encounter our less deadly friends, refrain from shouting out if you value your lives,” Vampy supplemented.
“We sound like soulless monsters, and rightly so,” Werewolf augmented. “Despite this, we are not completely unreasonable creatures. If your group is the last group standing, we will restrain ourselves and let you go free. Oh, and don’t even bother calling outsiders for assistance; you have no cell reception. If you don’t believe me, go ahead. Take out your phones.”
Immediately, every human pulls out their cell phone. Each one has the same message on the screen: NO SERVICE. Zoey, Emily, and Sarah look around at one another, both impressed and slightly worried.
“Your five minutes begin once we can no longer see you: a generous gift since our eyesight is much better than yours,” Zombie concluded. “I hope to see many of you soon. Good luck.” He and his comrades crept backwards until they were no longer visible.
As soon as the group was left to its own devices, couples and small groups immediately branched off and began walking away in several different directions, talking quietly amongst themselves.
“I think we can be the last group to be found if we jog instead of walk,” Zoey suggested. Sarah and Emily nod in agreement as the girls begin their run in a direction unique from the rest of the crowd, backtracking toward the ticket booth.
“What’s our strategy?” Emily wondered.
“We do whatever we can to be the last ones standing,” Ashley answered grimly, assuming her friends now agreed with her worries. “It’s good we’re heading in the opposite direction of the monsters. It should take longer for them to find us.”
As they progress, they heard the familiar sound of a wolf’s howl, a sound that stopped them in their tracks. Living in an area where it was common for wolves to appear in someone’s backyard, the girls all knew it was a genuine howl, not a human imitation. “They wouldn’t have a tourist attraction like this in a forest where there are wolves prowling around, would they?” Ashley questioned. This was proof enough for her that the werewolf was real, and if he was, so were the others.
“They must have speakers in the tops of the trees and a recording of a wolf howl,” Zoey rationalized. “Come on; we need to pick up the pace.”
The girls continue running until they heard a series of bloodcurdling, paralyzing screams from behind them. Once again, the group stopped. Ashley began to shake uncontrollably as she knew the screams were real, too. “Our five minutes must be up,” Emily stated matter-of-factly.
The others hushed her. “If they started already, we need to keep quiet and keep moving,” Zoey whispered. “We want to last as long as possible, right? We need to get our money’s worth.”
“Do you think everybody found each other back there and kept close together?” Sarah wondered softly. “How many screams were there?”
“I don’t know, and I don’t want to know. They don’t concern us,” Zoey stated diplomatically. “All I care about is us making it close to the end, if not the very end. Let’s go.”
After a few more minutes of uninterrupted silence and running, more bloodcurdling screams break out from behind them, closer this time. “Others are heading back here, which means the monsters are, too,” Zoey observed quietly. “We need to pick up the pace.”
However, before they could do that, they heard a crashing sound from directly behind them. As each girl turned around, she gasped and covered her mouth to stifle the screams. A lifeless, pale, and hauntingly thin female body lied limply inside the enormous dent of a previously healthy and stick-straight tree, featuring two puncture wounds on her neck and little trickles of blood dried onto her neck.
“Do you see the dent in the tree?” Sarah shrieks, forgetting about the importance of muted voices. “Humans can’t throw that hard, even from a short distance away. They either have a catapult, or…”
All eyes turn to Ashley as they realize her worries were both justified and correct. “I told you guys I didn’t want to do this,” she murmured as tears formed in her eyes.
As the girls’ faces slowly lose their color, they attempt to walk slowly in the directly for which they were heading. “We need to keep moving,” Emily muttered, emotionless.
“We’re not getting out of here alive, are we?” Sarah asked them.
“I don’t think anyone is,” Ashley responded honestly.
After thirty seconds of lifeless walking, they hear leaves rustle behind them. As they turn around to investigate the source of the noise, they hear it from the previous direction, as well. All four girls realized instantaneously that they were surrounded. At the moment, none of the monsters were visible yet. “Are we the final group?” Emily called out timidly. “We heard plenty of screaming going on. Does that mean we get out of here alive?”
The response consisted entirely of growls and devious laughter. “We aren’t known for our honesty,” the familiar vampire voice responded, a smirk apparent in her tone.
“Well, I’m sorry we ever doubted you, Ashley,” Zoey said, reaching for her hand as the girls felt the monsters closing in on them. Once they were finally visible, Ashley noted the clothing dampened with blood and the dried blood ringing their mouths. In the moment before the four girls were preyed upon like wild animals, Ashley felt a strange happiness, finally realizing that at least her paranoia regarding Frank’s Forest wasn’t paranoia at all.
Credit To – Melanie Adela