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From Bones To Bones

From bones to bones

Estimated reading time — 34 minutes

It all started with the missing hikers, then it was the missing hunters, the second group of hikers, and now it’s a jogger. They couldn’t find any of the others, Ted didn’t have much faith that they would find this lady either. Who jogs mountain trails? Overachievers, that’s who. Ted was tired and his body hurt; this was day three of the search for the missing jogger and he was over it. Why do I even have this job still? One day, I’ll quit this temporary job and find what I’m really supposed to be doing. The job did a number on his body, he wasn’t in his twenties anymore. Hell, he would be thirty-eight next week. Same job, no wife, no kids. Maybe it was time for Ted to consider a dog, for company…

In the meantime, Ted was part of a rescue team, and it was time to rescue. The downside was that Ossis Woods was notorious for gobbling up campers, hunters, and hikers galore, inexperienced and experienced alike. Too many wives (and two husbands) were reporting their spouses missing from those woods within the last month alone. It was a tempting place, thick with brush but with open areas as well; it was a forest that housed many varieties of plant life, and it was perfect for hunters and hikers to explore.

It was only until this year that a warning sign was finally put up. It announced that too many people had gone missing in these woods and no bodies had been found. People all chalked that up to the rich biodiversity among the forest, but there was still that undertone of the unknown that pulled at your heartstring as you walked by the sign, fully warned.

The sightings of the Ossis Woods beast were the real “straw that broke the camel’s back” for Ted. Lots of things happened in the woods, especially when you’re tired, hungry, and afraid; what could be seen as a huge monstrosity was more likely a tree and dehydration. Ted didn’t really know what to make of it other than a new species of tree or bush, but the hand-like tracks he couldn’t explain; nothing left behind human-like handprints throughout its tracks.
The old lore surrounding these woods was that the bone fairies could lure you in with their whispers and keep you for themselves. No one could describe what these bone fairies looked like or exactly what they did to you, they were just used as an excuse for those that never returned. Ted never found any bone fairies, although he never explored the extent of Ossis Woods; there were some areas simply too remote, too dense to bother trekking through, much less do it for enjoyment. They did have a hiker come back blind and mute once, unable or unwilling to communicate what had happened to him and his party; Ted never knew what happened to the man after his rescue.

“It’s eight in the morning and I already don’t want to be here,” said Cid, another crew member. They were driving up a winding trail, deep into the heart of an “off the grid” forest. There were bumps every which way the van turned, making the coffee in Ted’s stomach seem like a bad idea. Why did he have such a big cup before leaving for work today?
They arrived at a clearing and the engine stopped. A second van full of search party members was in toe, ready to rescue. They were loaded up with supplies to last them each three days should they get lost themselves, plus each party member was savvy in the ways of the woods; it’s what they trained for after all.

The forest was dense, and Ted was amazed the cars made it as far as they did. Sure, they were meant for all types of terrain, but the thick brush on either side of the unkempt road was invading in on the driving space. It felt like they had been driving directly through thick underbrush the entire way there. This was the farthest location the search parties had marked, and it was the heaviest for vines, bushes, and all varieties of trees, but it was the most promising spot going into day three of trying to find this woman since it was the least explored.

Her picture showed a young blonde with a bright smile, probably a young mom of two or three. Her blue eyes stood out the most, and Ted thought twice about her. He yearned for the family life, to be a dad, so it seemed he was always on the hunt for a wife, not just a romantic interest, but a traditional stay-at-home wife. Someone to do the chores while he was away bringing home the bacon, to talk to after work, to spend time in the yard with on weekends, that would be the life. He would search for his wife through thick and thin if this missing jogger were her, and no partner had come forward to help with the search. Her parents called it in since she was supposed to visit them for dinner and never showed up.
The caravan of rescue team members pulled into a clearing. Everyone clamored out of the cars with deep sighs accompanying them, most remained silent on the misty morning.
“Alright,” the man in charge put her picture and a map down on the car hood. “Let’s go through this once again. Her name is Samantha, goes by Sam, missing since Monday evening, last seen entering Ossis Woods. Team A will search the gully in the east while Team B will go through the thicket to the west. Questions?”

“Ray?” A raised hand from the tallest member came from the back of the group.

“Yes, Cid?”

“How long do we have to search today?” Virtually every member of the crew groaned.
“We go until dusk. Everyone meet back here by sundown.” Cid spit, apparently in agreement. The rest of the members were already collecting their gear from the cars.

“I have to piss,” Cid chimes in.

“Then piss,” Ray replied as he stuffed the car keys in the glove box. Angie stood beside Ray, second in command but acted like the leader too often.

“Cid, I swear to God, just make today easy, ok?” Angie said. Cid was standing in front of the tree line a few yards away from the group.

“What does that even mean?” he shouted back at her.

“Ange, just let it go,” Ray said, still staring at the map, pen cap in his mouth.

Ted had come to see Ray as a father figure and he sincerely enjoyed being on his team. Ray cared for the group just as he cared for every missing person or rescue they went on. Ted knew that if he ever was in a life-threatening situation that he could count on Ray. The man was a workaholic and that was enough for Ted to respect him but seeing him in action was another story entirely. You couldn’t let his age fool you; the pepper-haired, mild-mannered man with dad jokes could climb, lift, dig, you name it. He wasn’t just an asset to the team, he was a necessity.

“I don’t want to be the one chopping down shit on the first go again,” Cid said.

“Don’t worry,” Angie replied. “We won’t count on you for much.”

“You shouldn’t let him get to you like that,” Dan chimed in. “It’s not worth the negative energy.” He was kneeling on the ground, spreading out the contents in his pack to review. His supplies were mainly medical, but he always carried the odds and ends like fishing hook and wire, a lighter, and other survival items recommended for every bushwhacker. Angie smiled when she caught the faintest whiff of weed while Dan was doing an inventory of his backpack; truly a medicine man.

Team B was composed of Ray, Angie, Cid, Dan, and Ted, the team known for their daring searches and high-risk rescues. Angie set to work checking her supplies, ensuring everything was in its place and accounted for before leaving. She was the swimmer for Team B, Ray was in charge, Cid was the best climber of the group, Dan was the zen medic, and Ted was the hunter/tracker. Years of hunting as a teenager and young adult had earned him the right to be “wildlife management”, ergo, Ted held the shotgun and dealt with the animals.

“These bugs will be the death of me,” Cid said, swatting at the flies buzzing around his head. He slapped at his arm, apparently killing one, judging by the disgusted frown on his face. The buzzing of flies was only missing the chirping of frogs in the woods but the insects were annoying in their own right.

The mud certainly wasn’t going to make today any easier. Ted was sure to wear the best hiking boots, but no amount of high-end boot work can prevent your boot from being sucked into the earth with each step. Because of this, it took extra effort just to walk, a burden they didn’t need. The woods were still soaked from the downpour, leaving little room for dry patches to rest. The dampness of the forest floor only brought out more bugs and worms to get in the way; rain always hindered a search and rescue.

The sun was still trying to peak through the clouds to give them reprieve from the musk of the woods, but to little avail. They would have to hike through damp, thick brush to find what they believed was a body at this point, it was just reality. Few people were savvy enough to make it in the woods for three days without supplies, that was just a sad fact. Ted held very little hope for finding her at all let alone alive; he was certain they were looking for a dead body. Cid swatted at bugs flying around his head.

“Time to load up on the big spray.” He pulled a can from his backpack, took a deep breath, and covered himself with the spray. Team A was already making their way down a clearing along the treeline. Angie was clearly anxious to not be beaten, speed-packing her various hiking supplies back into her pack, Dan following suit with his own supplies. Annoyed, Angie glanced towards Cid who was eating a protein bar and staring at his fingernails. Ted was ready and waiting as usual and Ray was busy gathering north from south, choosing which path to take.

From deep within the forest came a screeching that pierced the ears of every member there. It was a mix between an owl’s screech and a bear roaring, and it stopped the rescue teams from their tasks. Everyone looked at the treeline before them. No one said anything. Ted noticed the birds stopped chirping for a moment, the buzzing of mosquitoes disappeared, and the wind picked up. Each member from Team A down the clearing to Team B felt the chill run down their spines, the hairs stand on end, and their heart rates increase. No one could identify the sound, although Ted wouldn’t admit to it. The thought of being alone in the woods with an unknown potential threat made Ted’s ears ring; tinnitus was a bitch but so was his job.

“So… are we just ignoring that?” Cid commented.

“Yes,” Ray replied. “We have someone to save, and we have a hunter on hand with a gun. Now get your gear and get to work. We’ll start down this way, folks,” Ray said. He was pointing in the direction of tall grass and thin trees, all of which needed to be hacked through. Ted would take the first round since Cid made it clear he would not.

“Down that crap trail? Are you serious, Ray?” Cid asked.

“I don’t want to hear it, Cid,” came Ray’s reply. Ted smiled, smacked Cid on the back, and followed after Ray, machete in hand. The birds had returned, as did the singing of insects. The wind died down but still, the sun just couldn’t make its way through the cloudy morning.
It wasn’t far down the trail when they found the body of a raccoon. Angie found it.

“Hey, you guys, come see this,” she shouted behind a large bush. Its fur was matted and bloody, its body was torn to shreds, and its head was gone.

“Ew, what the fuck,” said Angie to herself.

It appeared that most of the bones had been pulled out; the skin had been peeled away, exposing the innards of the mangled raccoon, and one bone from a leg protruded out into the sky as though it were a landmark. Blood pooled on the forest floor surrounding the body, thickening the air with the smell of iron and sweat. The black and white stripes on the raccoon’s tail were the only identifiable markers. Flies surrounded the body, maggots already making the remains their new home.

“OK, that’s messed up,” said Cid.

“Ray, what do you think?” Ray came around the corner to see the spectacle. He said nothing, drawing nearer to the pile of meat and bones. Bending down, he came face to face with the mass, the smell wafting up his nose.

“Ted,” Ray said without taking his eyes off of the raccoon. “What do you make of this?”

“I say don’t touch it and move on, that’s what I say,” Angie kicked in.

Ted walked by her and knelt down near the body. Using a stick, he moved the pieces around, carrying some intestines out of the pile for all to see. Dan came up close behind, more intrigued than disgusted.

“Whatever it was, it wasn’t hungry,” said Dan.

“It?” Cid scoffed.

“Well, this didn’t die of natural causes, now did it, Cid?” Dan remarked. “Something did this, took a lot of the bones out, and left the meat behind.”

“OK, so no one else is as concerned as I am?” Cid asked.

“Cid, we have Ted,” Ray said, standing up from squatting. He was still looking around the dirt and mud for signs of anything other than a raccoon.

“Ted, seriously, what do you think?” Ray asked as he finally stood up. Ted put his hand to his mouth, deep in thought. He stood silent for a few moments before speaking.

“I suspect this animal died and other things came to take a meal when they could. Maybe it had gone bad by then.”

“Oh, please,” Cid scoffed.

“Would you prefer me to tell you a madman in the woods did this?” Ted said. “Dan was right. Something killed this creature or it died on its own but either way, there are body parts missing, mainly the spine, ribs, and head.”

“Guys, this isn’t doing anything helpful. We need to move on,” Angie said. Ted walked over to Cid and offered him the machete who glared at the offering. He crossed his arms, not yet accepting the blade.

“It’s your turn and besides, it will keep you safe, right?” Ted smirked. Cid took the machete, glanced down at the mangled mess of raccoon, and started clearing a path from where they left off. Angie was close behind, ready to put distance between herself and the curious death. Despite having the stomach for handling some serious injuries in the wilderness, she had little stomach for what she saw as “gore”. She once came home from school to find her cat died. She hopped off the bus without thinking anything of it, went to get the mail, and noticed something on the road when she turned around. Felix had been run over, his guts squished up out of his body, and blood was spattered in all directions on the pavement around him. The pile of raccoon leftovers reminded Angie of that memory and she felt sorry for the poor thing. She only hoped it was dead before it was skinned.

Ray was distracted as he followed close behind Dan and Angie. He was more curious than afraid; his biggest fear was not being able to find the missing jogger. Too many people had gotten lost up here recently and strange things in the woods, like finding mutilated animal bodies, were becoming concerning. First the missing people, then the sightings, and now to hear weird screeching and then find this raccoon? He didn’t know what to make of it, he was leaning on Ted for this, wait where was Ted? Ray had been following Angie and stopped long enough to glance around and see Ted standing over the dead raccoon, staring into the woods.


No response.

Ted didn’t even flinch at the sound of his name. He was distracted by the big, white eyes staring back at him through the brush, at least, that’s what it looked like. Ray walked over to him and rested his hand on his shoulder.

“Hey, man,” Ray said. “What’s up?”

Ted couldn’t look the man in the eye, he couldn’t turn his gaze away from the white round objects that appeared to be looking at him. He could even see the veiny details in the corners of the eyes. They were nestled in white fur but Ted couldn’t see beyond that; the woods were too thick.

“Ted,” Ray insisted. “What’s wrong?” He looked towards where Ted was staring but apparently couldn’t see the spectacle. Ted raised his arm and pointed at the eyes, but still, Ray saw nothing.

“There’s nothing there,” Ray patted Ted on the shoulder. “We need to get moving.” He turned to walk away when he heard rustling in the bushes where Ted had been staring. His stomach immediately dropped and his heart picked up. He whipped back around expecting trouble, but instead, Ted hadn’t moved and nothing had appeared.

“Ted?” Ray was officially freaked out. “What did you see?”

Ted didn’t move his gaze from the bushes but there was only silence to accompany him. Whatever it was had left them alone for the time being. There was no scent of a beast in the air nor did the sound of bugs flying about hit Ray’s ears; there was a weird echo of nothing ringing off of the rocks of the woods.

“I think… I think I saw a sick owl,” Ted finally spit out. He dropped his glare into the bushes and made his way towards Ray with his head down, not making eye contact as he passed him. Ray grabbed him by the arm as he walked by.

“Teddie,” Ray stated firmly, forcing Ted to look him in the eye. “What did you see?”

Ted paused a while before finally saying something. “I thought I saw a pair of white eyes staring back at me,” he said, feeling like a child saying he saw the boogie man.

“So? Could have been albino or something,” Ray played devil’s advocate.

“Ablino’s have red eyes, Ray, and that’s not what I meant. I mean there wasn’t any iris or color anywhere; it was just a pair of cloudy white eyes.

“Ok, so you saw weird eyes,” Ray said.

“Yeah, but I saw them at about eight feet up in the air, Ray,” Ted replied, jerking his arm away to freedom. He continued walking down the path while Ray looked back at the brush where the eyes had been.

“So it must have been an owl sitting on a branch,” Ray confirmed, catching up to Ted.

“Sure,” Ted said. “Except there aren’t any trees there, just thicket.” Without glancing back at the brush, both moved on in silence.

The search continued deep into the afternoon. The sun was high above but still hidden by a thin layer of cloud cover. A woodpecker overhead had the team searching the trees for a sight of it. Instead, Angie found a species of fern she adored.

“I need to take a cutting back and try to cultivate this,” she said excitedly. She knelt down near the plant, plopping her pack beside. The group trekked on, Dan lingering behind for her.

“Ange, you must have a whole forest at home by now,” he said.

“Yeah, you would think but I keep killing them,” she chuckled. She poked a few clippings into her pack and ran up to Dan. She gave him a gentle punch on the shoulder as she jogged passed him, the fern bouncing on her pack as she ran by.

They trekked on for most of the day with no luck in finding Sam, the missing jogger. When they finally stopped for a break, Ted could feel a blister forming on his right heel. He freed his foot from the boot and realized the shoe was coming apart at the soul. He hadn’t felt the mud enter the boot yet but the dampness had made its way to the inside, making Ted’s sock wet. The constant friction of the materials rubbing against one another was sure to cause a blister and Ted felt it starting.

“Great, I got a sliver in my finger,” Cid complained. He plopped down in front of a tree and started chugging his water. Pulling his pack beside him, he dug through it with one hand, the other he held in the air; the sliver. Angie sat down on a log near Ray, both of them going for their water bottles and protein bars.

Cid hadn’t seen Dan approach, but there was he, offering him tweezers.

“I can do it for you if you would like,” Dan offered. Cid took the tweezers from his hand, not offering a thank you or even a no thank you.

That’s when Ted noticed the awkward silence surrounding them all.

“You guys hear anything?” Ted asked. Everyone stopped what they were doing to look around their makeshift campsite for signs of trouble. Cid was the only one not distracted by the silence, staring at his finger instead..

“I hear water where there shouldn’t be any,’ Ray commented.

“No,” Ted shook his head. “I mean there aren’t any birds chirping or crickets or flies or anything.”

“Well, I got bug spray on,” Cid said.

“Yeah,” glared at him. “But I mean there aren’t even bugs around right now making noises; it’s like the whole forest just went quiet.”

Each member of the group made eye contact with the other. Aside from hearing the running water that Ray had mentioned, there weren’t any signs of life.

“What’s with the water?” Angie asked Ray.

“Well there aren’t any rivers or creeks noted on the map here, so we shouldn’t be hearing running water,” Ray replied. “At the very least, water is an attention-grabber so I suggest we check it out.”

The group stayed quiet, Cid picking at his finger with tweezers, Angie noticing how little bottled water was left, and Ted squeezing the dampness out of his sock. Dan took the opportunity to smoke and relax; no one else partook but no one cared that Dan did. Everyone smoked these days and if it helped their medic stay calm and level-headed then fine. Ray gave a deep sigh, stood up and stretched, and started walking around a large set of bushes.

“Where are you going?” Angie called after him.

“I won’t be gone long and I’m not going far; I’m just checking out the water sound,” he called back. Angie visibly slumped back, dissatisfied that the man couldn’t sit still for long. It wasn’t good for him not to be resting now and again. He needed the breaks just as much as the rest of them and she couldn’t tell if it was his dedication or curiosity energizing him.

Ted could sense Angie was frustrated with Ray, and he threw a granola bar that landed directly in her lap. She glared back at him while he grinned like a dumbass, proud of himself for at least trying to make her smile. He stood and followed Ray; it would give Angie some comfort knowing Ted was there with him. He passed through the bushes, opening up to a small clearing surrounded by dense foliage. There was a very small creek running down the side of the mountain and it stopped directly in the center of the clearing where a hole appeared. It was just large enough for a grown man to slip through. Ted knelt on his hands and knees to stick his head through the hole, flashlight in hand.

“Careful there, Ted,” Ray commented. The earth was still damp and it left room for the mud to give way at any moment. There wasn’t much that Ted could see; the hole opened up to a large cave where the creek water ran down into what appeared to be a shallow pool.

“Might be a cave system,” Ted said.

“Teddie,” Ray called behind him. Ted lifted his head and followed Ray’s voice. To the left of him, Ray was standing with his back facing Ted. As Ted stood, he realized Ray was standing over something, something big. He thought it was a dirty boulder at first but as he made his way closer, he made out the silhouette of a deer. Its stomach was swollen and exposed. All of its organs were laying scattered on the ground around the body, but the weirdest part was the skin and bones. Much of the skin had been peeled back, like the raccoon, and many of the bones were missing, including the deer’s head; the ribs and spine appeared to be the target as they were composed of most of the missing bones.

From behind the thick bushes came Angie followed by Cid who was busy swatting at the mosquitoes buzzing around his head. So much for bug spray.

“What did you find?” Angie was perky. She must have eaten.

“A dead deer, in a state much like that of the raccoon we found earlier,” Ray replied. Angie and Cid walked up behind Ted and peered over his shoulder at the spectacle before him.

This was a violent attack. Something killed this deer, ripped it to shreds, and left. There was no sign of the attacker, no hint of a predator around. Ted found himself staring through the trees, wondering if those white, cloudy eyes would be staring back at him. He looked from bush to bush to bush but nothing looked back at him. The forest had gone quiet again, and Ted half expected something to come running out of the woods at them, lunging with all its might.

“Are those handprints?” Cid asked, pointing to the ground around the neck of the headless deer. Ted stopped staring into the thicket long enough to glance at where Cid was pointing. Sure enough, huge handprints were embedded deep into the mud in several places around the deer’s neck stump. Large, bare feet accompanied them throughout the tracks. Ted couldn’t help but notice there were traces of white fur sticking out of the mud around the prints.

“Ok, that’s not weird or anything,” Cid said, backing away from the remains. He made his way towards the hole in the ground but was stopped by Ted.

“Don’t move! There’s a hole behind you!” Ted pointed.

Cid froze and slowly turned around to see the opening in the earth not five feet from him. The water trickled down into the gaping mouth, echoing in the chamber below. Ted walked up to him and gently pulled his arm away from the hole, but as he did, he lost his footing.
While the party was distracted by Ted tripping over himself in the mud, a loud roaring came piercing through the woods and hurt every member’s ears. Everyone ducked and held their ears in protest. Whatever it was, it was nearby and it was big. Cid’s eyes grew wide, the bags under his eyes becoming more significant. Ray found himself holding onto his heart rather tightly and had to consciously relax his fingers to release his grip. The roar lasted for several seconds, leaving a ringing in Ted’s ears just like before.


“Now can we head back?” Cid asked.

“We should keep moving,” Ray spoke up, ignoring Cid.

“Hey, you guys?” Dan called from behind the bushes. “You need to come see this,” he said. The group left the running stream and headed for the sound of his voice. The sun was starting its way on the downside, and Ted couldn’t help but notice the wind had picked up.
From around the bend back on the trail, Dan was standing over a plant. Angie came up behind Dan to see part of the fern she had chipped away at earlier in the day and gasped.
“That’s the plant from earlier!” she panicked.

“Wait, are you saying we have been going in circles this whole time?” Cid spoke. He put his hands on his hips and came up toe to toe with the fern as though he were ready to fight it. He glared back at Ray, turning his anger and frustration with the situation on him.

“I told you we should have called it earlier,” he hissed.

“And I said we go until sundown,” Ray responded, unafraid. He walked up behind the group and came to the center. “This doesn’t add up,” he said as he unrolled the map from his pack. Angie sat on a large boulder, Dan close behind, digging through his backpack for water.

“Well now is the time to head back,” Cid insisted.

“We head back when Ray says we head back,” Ted said sternly. Ray sat with the map in his lap and a confused look on his face. They couldn’t have been going in circles. His throat seemed to close up, making it hard to breathe when he realized he couldn’t pinpoint their location.

“So where are we, boss?” Ted asked, kneeling down next to Ray.

“This doesn’t make any sense. We should be over the ridgeline by now and down into the thicket, but instead, there is running water and there are boulders everywhere.”

Ted felt the wind pick up and heard the rattling of branches crashing into one another among the trees and brush. That’s when he saw movement within the bushes to his right. He didn’t know what he saw, just the movement of the brush. Then to his left, he heard rustling. Shadows cast on the tree trunks from the canopy above. The sun had been able to peak through for just a moment, but soon it was hidden by cloud cover yet again. The movement and sounds of the bushes stopped, as did the crows that had been circling above. Branches moved back and forth in the wind, so Ted chalked it up to his own head. Had he really seen anything?

The ringing in his ears returned, making the silence hurt his head. That’s when he noticed there weren’t any bugs flying around their heads, no woodpeckers pounding against the trees, no squirrels or chipmunks darting back and forth through the underbrush.

“Somethings wrong,” Ted said, staring up into the trees.

“Eh?” Ray was focused on the map in front of him.

“It’s too quiet. We need to keep moving.” Ted walked over to dan and lifted him up by the arm, insisting he get up. “Come on, we got to move.”

“Hey, man,” Dan hesitated once he stood. “Can’t we chill for a few?”

The woods came to life with birds flying up out of the canopy at the sound of a tree falling over. Everyone turned around, looking for the source of the commotion. From back on the trail they had cut, a roaring echoed through the woods.

Ray looked up from his map to Ted who was scanning the trees. The familiar roar of the unfamiliar creature sent shock waves through the woods. The wind carried the voice, echoing it through the trees. Birds were flying up out of the canopy, chirping angrily in a cacophony of fear.

Growling came from behind Ted.

He knew he heard it.

He whipped around to see the tree branches moving, the bushes shaking. Something started running around them in circles, grunting.

“It’s over there!” shouted Angie, pointing back towards the trail. Everyone picked up their feet and ran back into the clearing. The beast shrieked, running forward through the brush at them. Ted ran towards the water, almost falling back into the cave but stopped short at the entrance.

A second roaring came through the woods, closer this time. Ted couldn’t identify it, but it had the same screeching and the same deep bellow the last time. The ground rumbled with the sound of falling timber and Ted ran, lost his footing, and slipped into a cavern below. He landed in the shallow pool of water, hitting his shoulder against the rocky surface. His head was saved from any damage, but Ted’s arm shot pain from his fingers up through his neck. The water was freezing and the shock of hitting it along with the rocks sent Ted into a sensory overload. He lost his hearing for a moment, but it returned with the screaming coming from Angie as she watched Ray become impaled.

Something big, humanoid, and covered in white fur ran at Ray with inhuman speed from the bushes. It wasn’t until it reached him that Angie, Dan, and Cid could see what had happened. The thing was huge, it towered over them all, and it beheld thick antlers atop its head. When it reached Ray, it squatted and then lifted its head under him so that the inside of his jawbone was caught on one of the thickest antlers the creature adorned.

The creature raised Ray into the air, releasing a screeching roar in the process. It violently shook its head from side to side, causing Ray’s jawbone to dislocate from his skull. Ray’s body went flying towards the dense woods, his body landing against a tree. Blood gurgled from the open maw that was now Ray’s mouth, and his tongue dangled and drooled. The man was still alive, coughing and drawing in his own blood for air. His body jerked back and forth, spasming from the pain. What could be considered moaning accompanied the blood bubbles popping out of Ray’s open throat, until finally he stopped moving and the bubbles stopped popping.

Cid, Dan, and Angie all began to run back from the direction they came when the beast stopped roaring and instead started running on its hands like an ape towards them. Cid was closer and therefore became the natural target. The creature breathed heavy heaves through its thick nostrils that the trio could hear with every huff it gave out.

The beast rushed him, grabbing at his body with both of its lumbering arms. It forced Cid to the forest floor where it revealed a mouth that took up half the size of its head and had multiple rows of short but sharp teeth. Its mouth came down right above Cid’s hip, the soft flesh giving out to the saw-like jaws. The creature ripped a literal chunk out of Cid’s side, Cid screaming in pain from the damaged organs. He looked down at his side to see the monster swallowing the chunk of his body that it had bitten off. He would not be home to feed his cat tonight and the realization that something was standing over him, eating him, made Cid cry, helplessly.

He rolled over on his stomach, and the half-eaten organs fell out of the hole in Cid’s side, a dark pool of blood forming around his body. The creature put its foot on Cid’s back, reached into the hole it had created in his side, and gripped firmly on one of Cid’s ribs, making Cid scream in agony before losing consciousness. The beast ripped out a rib from his victim, letting out a triumphant roar in the process.

Angie held her hands over her mouth while she hid in the bushes, tears streaming down her face. Ray and Cid were dead and something was coming after her and Dan, where ever he ran off to. She turned to grab her pack when she realized she left it behind when she ran. Anything she could have used to defend herself was in that pack, and it was now nestled between her and a violent creature not known to science.

She took to a deep breath to stop herself from crying. She had to get this monster away from the hole Ted fell into, but she had nothing with which to defend herself. She grabbed at everything around her, looking for a sturdy branch or log she could use, but most of the brush around her was thorny thicket.

From her left flank, she heard the rustling of the bushes. Whatever it was, it wasn’t quiet but it was fast; she had to move. What if the creature already knew where she was? The shaking of the bushes stayed to her left, so she decided she hadn’t been found out and that now was the time to act.

Angie gently pushed the bush branches aside, making an opening big enough for herself to slip through relatively unharmed. The noise to her left came to a stop as she started to move through the bushes. She froze, heard grunting, and then the shuffling of the bushes continued. She took a deep breath, then made her way through the thicket opening. Before her lay a wall of tall grass and marshland. Angie had little choice but to take refuge within the weeds.

From behind her, the creature roared. Angie picked up her pace. If she could make it to the cars in one piece, she could get help for Ted and Dan. There wasn’t anything she could do for either of them at this rate; she had nothing to defend herself let alone protect someone else.

She could hear the creature making its way through the grass but soon the sounds faded. Angie hoped that meant she was free of the beast. She paused to catch her breath. Surrounded by the tall grass, the plantlife itched at her skin, trying to comfort her in a blanket of weeds. Angie wanted nothing more than to be home under real blankets, hiding from the things that go bump in the night. In this case, things that roar and kill your coworkers. She thought of her kids, and her husband Greg; there was a chance she would never see them again.

The rustling of the weeds picked up again. Angie held her breath, hoping a bird would jump in the air and fly by, but nothing came. Instead, the movement through the weeds came closer to her. She took a step back, her shoe getting caught in the mud momentarily. What would Greg do if he were here? She took another step backward and the noise mimicked her. When she stopped, so did the movement. The moments felt like hours as the sweat beaded down her face. It wasn’t a hot day, her heart was just racing incredibly fast.
Another step, another rustled of the grass and weeds.

“Fuck this,” Angie said to herself as she turn to run. From within the tall grass came the monstrous beast, stalking its prey and finally pouncing. It brought Angie down to the ground in one pounce. She could feel the scream building up in her throat but didn’t get the chance to do so. The last thing she thought of before she died was the face of her husband, Greg.

The beast opened its gaping mouth with rows of teeth and brought it down on Angie’s face, ripping her skull in half in the process; it sawed back and forth as it tore Angie’s face from her head.

The white ape-man sat atop his latest victim, chewing her teeth as though chewing on ice cubes. The crunch of the breaking bones between the monster’s maw echoed throughout the woods which were silent otherwise.

The ringing in Ted’s ears finally subsided. The high-pitched scream, presumably coming from Angie, had helped to pierce Ted’s mind back into reality. Something was happening up above. He heard the attacks but didn’t see anything. He didn’t dare draw attention to himself, figuring any living member would return to check on him.

He tried to gather his surroundings, but the cave was dark; the only light was that coming through the hole. After his eyes adjusted more to the darkness, he saw just how large the cavern was, and realized he must have fallen a good fifteen feet or more. There was a wall along one side of him where he fell through the hole but he didn’t see himself being able to tread up it in the mud.

He stood up in the pool of water he landed in, the surface coming to his waist. The cold water soaked Ted’s clothes, making them hug his skin, adding weight to an already heavy man. It was slippery below him but the jagged rocks he had landed on gave enough tread under his boots for him to pull himself out of the shallow pond and up over a large boulder. As he lifted himself out of the water and over the rock, he came face to face with the rotting skull of a hunter.

“Fuck!” Ted screamed, falling backward into the water once again. The jagged rocks at the bottom of the pond scratched Ted’s back, pulling at his shirt and ripping at his skin. His head popped up out of the water, coughing and spitting up dirty cave water. He now had an obligation to see this through: he was a search and rescue crew member after all. Granted, there was no one to rescue except a severed head.

“Calm down, Teddie,” he said to himself. “It’s just a head, nothing you haven’t seen before.” Once again, he hiked himself up and over the boulder, facing the dead hunter once more. It was a relatively fresh head, as there was more skin and hair on it than not. The hunter’s head was propped between two boulders and it sagged under its own weight. Atop the head lie femur bones, arranged so it appeared that the hunter had antlers.

“What the hell,” Ted whispered. As Ted looked around this new area within the cave, he realized it was littered with bones and bodies. Hikers and hunters alike were piled over one another, their skin peeled away from their arms and legs, the bones there missing. The bodies all had their heads removed. The heads themselves were nestled in a far corner, lined up like ducklings in a row. Like with the hunter’s head, these heads adorned bones atop their skulls as well, looking like a wall of heads and antlers made of bone.

The cave walls sweat with rain water, and tell could smell the thick layer of blood in the air. From the right of the wall of heads came a clattering of bones. Ted froze. There was something else down here with him in the dark. He heard the crunching of bones beneath someone’s feet. From out of the darkness came a small figure.

It was Samantha, the missing jogger.

Blood was encrusted all around her mouth and nose. She was shaking, her clothes dirty, her body weak. Sam whimpered as she unstuck herself from the wall she had hid against. She was covered in mud with slashes torn into the skin on her arms and legs. Her blood ran down her body and pooled in the murky cave water at her feet. She almost tripped while walking on a pile of bones toward Ted.

“Sam?” Ted finally spoke. The girl lifted her head at the sound of her name. Clumps of hair strung from her head down her face, sticking to the crusted blood. Her blue eyes stood out like diamonds among a pile of coal.

“Who… who are you?” she asked in a whisper.


“I’m Ted. I’m part of a rescue team that’s been on the search for you for three days now.”

“Three days?” she mumbled.

“Yeah, I’m sure it’s felt a lot longer than that out here,” Ted said. He started walking toward her when her eyes widened and she began to retreat back to the wall. Ted stopped walking forward, noticing this behavior. From above the ground, Ted heard the rumbling of thunder and the roaring of an unknown creature. Sam shrank against the wall at the sound of the monster’s bellow.

“The bone man, the bone fairies,” Sam said to herself.

“The what?” Ted looked up towards the hole. Sam sat against the wall, holding her legs.

“Got to hold him off,” Sam mumbled as she started feeling her hands through the pile of bones in front of her. She pulled out a small fanny pack, bright yellow, and slowly unzipped it. From within the pack, she pulled out a Swiss Army Knife.

“What have you got there?” Ted asked nervously. Sam brought the knife up to her face to eye it closely. There was already blood on the blade.

“Sam, we need to get out of here,” Ted said, trying to distract her. Instead, she replaced the knife blade with a pair of pliers from the multi-tool. Sam took a deep breath and turned the pliers towards her mouth. Before she could get passed her lips, Ted was heading toward her. She opened her mouth wide for Ted to see that she had already pulled multiple teeth out.

“Jesus!” Ted said as he tripped over a pile of bones and flesh. The teeth she had remaining were chipping away, showing she had tried to pry them out and lost the grip as she pulled. Ted could only watch in horror as Sam brought the pliers back to her lips again.

“For the bone man,” she whispered. The tip of the pliers went to one of her back molars; she exhaled through her nose and started pulling, making a grunting scream emanate from her throat the whole time. Her hands shook as she pulled on the pliers, stealing the tooth from its gummy bed.

From above the hole came the same roaring from before, and Ted had to cover his ears. A shadow appeared over the only light source in the cave, making Ted look left to right, searching for a place of refuge. Sam, ignoring him, made her way down the large boulder and into the pool below the hole. Ted looked on from behind the large boulder, watching Sam as she stood under the light remaining.

“Don’t,” Ted whispered. Sam either didn’t hear him or just ignored him.

The monster made its way down the muddy trail, giving Ted a full view of his assailant. It was just as it had been reported: a white ape-man with antlers. It stood a good eight feet tall, just as Ted had seen with the eyes in the bushes, and its mouth took up half of its face. It had thick, white lips, and cloudy white eyes, and it had no scent. There wasn’t even a change in the air when the beast entered the cave. Ted had been in the woods all of his life; it felt weird being in the presence of such a creature and not being able to pinpoint any identifiable markers. He couldn’t compare this creature to anything he had seen before and he didn’t know how he would make it home. Maybe it was a good thing he never got that dog.

The beast stood before Sam, towering over the dainty, frail woman. Shaking, she held out her hand, offering the tooth she had pulled to the bone man. The creature stepped forward, sniffing at her hand. It lowered its own hand, where Sam placed the tooth among a bed of fur. The bone man brought the tooth to its mouth, sawing back and forth on it, grinding it to dust. Satisfied, it grunted and moved towards Sam.

“No,” she began to cry. The beast grabbed onto her hips and hoisted her up through the hole where she desperately grasped at the vines and branches within her reach. Ted’s eyebrows raised as he watched Sam make her way to freedom, leaving him behind with the monster.
The beast snorted, turned, and made eye contact with Ted. It was the same cloudy stare as before, only this time, Ted was alone in an enclosed cave with it, unable to defend himself. When he fell, he didn’t fall with his pack. He turned back towards the wall where Sam had left the pliers; he eyed the pool of blood they sat in. When he turned to face the beast, he saw it was already making its way through the pool towards him; he had to act fast.

He shuffled through the pile of bones as quickly as he could to get to the pliers. When he got them, he sat down and wiped the blood off with his shirt. The beast roared as it peered over the boulder at Ted, drool coming from the corners of its mouth.

He dropped the pliers in response to the beast’s howl. It came up over the boulder and started making its way towards him. Ted picked up the pliers from the cave floor, took a deep breath, and started pulling on his upper right canine. He screamed, the monster screamed, and it picked up its pace. Ted could hear the cracking of the tooth roots as he pulled the tooth from his skull. His mouth flooded with warm blood; the tooth was free.

The monster screamed, stopping its run directly in front of Ted who lifted the tooth above his head like a sacrifice. The beast sniffed his hand, took the tooth in its massive hands, popped it in its mouth, and knawed at it as it had with Sam’s. It turned to face the pile of bones it had just sifted through and made its way towards a back wall of the cave where fresher bodies were piled atop one another.

In a moment of desperation, Ted scrambled over the piles of bones and boulders to make it to the hole as quickly as possible. He was soaked from head to toe, and the wall was muddy and slippery. Ted tried to grasp at anything within the wall that might give him a foundation from which to jump. From behind him, the beast came into the water. It walked up to Ted, staring him down. For a few moments, they did nothing but stare at one another. Ted heard ringing in his ears as water from above trickled down over his face.

The ape-man finally bent over and lifted Ted from his hips. He brought him up through the hole where Ted managed to grab onto a branch and pull himself out. He heaved himself out of the hole, gasping for air. He lay on his back to catch his breath and soon his eyes turned to his backpack. It had water, food, and a map. He could make it back to the cars and leave this place. Now was the time to start searching for that new job he kept threatening to leave Search and Rescue for so many times.

The sound of bugs flying never sounded so beautiful to Ted. He wanted to get away from the hole and its master, so he stood on his wobbly legs, and headed for his backpack. Tears streaming down his face, he decided he was going to get that dog after all. He’d get a female and name her Hope; he didn’t care how cliche it was, it was his only goal now.
That’s when he heard the howling of a second bone beast through the brush. These fairies weren’t nice, they wanted his bones, God knows why. Ted ran. He could hear the thumping of footsteps behind him. He glanced back, not seeing anything following. Maybe he had heard them in his head. That’s when he heard the rustling of the bushes beside him as he ran. The thing was keeping up after him.

The gun.

He ducked under a large log and slid into a pool of mud and water. Tree branches grabbed at his skin, kissing it as he slid down on his back through the muck. His backpack caught on a branch as he went down, taking the gun with it as it flew from Ted’s shoulders, swaying back and forth on the branch. From the bushes above, the monster made its move. It jumped down into the mud pool, slipping on its side in the process. Ted was on his back, unable to get his footing. He slid on his heels back towards his pack, thinking solely about the gun tied to it.

That’s when he heard the revving of an engine. Through the woods, up the path, and over the bushes came Dan, riding high and mighty in one of the rescue vans. He kicked it into high gear and aimed straight for the beast. It roared at the oncoming traffic, ready to play chicken. Dan was ready too. He slammed his foot on the gas and rammed into the thing at full speed. He hit it head-on, blood smearing the windshield, and rolled over its dead body on the driver’s side. Dan could hear the crunching of bones under the vehicle as he plowed forward. He braked, put the car in reverse, and backed over the beast. This time he heard the popping of the monster’s skull as it crumbled under the weight of the van, sending brain matter splattered to the earth.

Dan rolled down the car window and shouted to Ted.

“Get in!”

As he finished the sentence, a second monster came running through the woods and shoulder-rammed into the driver’s side, crushing Dan’s leg. Dan screamed feeling the blood loss. First, it started slow but soon he could feel the blood leaving his body at an uneasy pace, making him light-headed. He felt dizzy and heard a ringing in his ears. From the window, came the beast. It smashed the window glass, punching Dan in the process. He felt blood in his mouth and sharp pain in his jaw and up through his ears.

“Dan!” Ted screamed from the muck and mire of the earth below him. The beast glanced briefly at Ted but turned his focus back on Dan when he let out a scream from the pain in his legs and from the realization that he was pinned. From the open window, Dan was dragged through shards of broken glass, his body sliced, blood streaming down the side of the car door. His body resisted at first, his legs pinned between the metal. He screamed as the beast pulled him from the car, breaking his leg in an unnatural position. Tiny pieces of glass from the window embedded themselves into his skin, making the smallest muscle movement hurt. So when the beast dragged his body from the car, all Dan could do was screech in agony, arms flailing against the beast.

“No!” He screamed. The creature dragged Dan towards the cave, lifting him up by one leg and hovering him over the cave.

“Don’t!” Dan shouted. He could survive the fall into the hole but he didn’t want to be dropped. His leg was surely broken and his body couldn’t take much more. The bruising had already begun, and the blood kept coming. He held his breath, ready to be dropped on his head into a pool of water below. The beast grunted and a shot rang through the woods, piercing Dan’s ears. The monster let out a roar and dropped Dan. Ted stood in the clearing with the shotgun in hand, ready for the second round. Blood dripped down the creature’s arm, staining its white fur bright red.

It turned to face Ted. A crackling like that of bubble wrap being crinkled came from the beast’s mouth. It dislocated its lower jaw, opening wide, revealing its rows of teeth, and letting out of bellow that shook Ted in his wet shoes. Its lower jaw hung slack, wide enough that it could swallow Ted whole. The monster’s scream lasted for seconds that dragged on, echoing through the woods, scaring any wildlife away into their holes. The beast started making his way toward Ted. The thump of every step shook the earth. It rushed at him.
“You sick,” shotgun blast, “twisted”, shotgun blast, “fuck!” With that, the last bullet had been spent and the beast was beginning to trip over itself. Ted started to back away when he realized the four rounds hadn’t taken the monster down, and he landed every one.

The beast was almost to him. Ted backed into the bushes and up against a tree as the beast fell forward over itself and landed flat on its face just a few feet from Ted. It was still alive, getting on all fours, it shook its body back and forth as though he were simply drying himself off. Blood spattered the leaves and trees, leaving more red than green left behind. It let out a weak growl, and then the crackling came.

Ted’s eyes widened, seeing the beast was still crawling towards him on all fours. He reached into his shirt pocket where he held the extra bullets and tried to reload. He dropped one, the beast moaned, he loaded a second one, and the creature roared to life, knowing it was facing death. It stood up, weakly wavering back and forth. Ted loaded the barrel and aimed. The creature towering over him rushed with all its might at Ted as Ted pulled the trigger.
He landed the shot square in the creature’s face. It made no noise as it went down, but its antlers scraped one long wound on Ted’s arm as it fell to the floor, drawing dark blood. Ted found himself holding his breath and let out a sigh of relief. The beasts were both dead.

Then it hit him: were there more? He glanced around the treeline, half expecting to see a mob of bone beasts rushing him. Instead, a crow overhead cawed at Ted’s victory. There were only the woods to face now.


Ted limped over into the clearing.

“Dan!” He shouted.

“I’m here,” a weak reply came from the tall grass surrounding the hole to the cavern below.
Dan was badly injured. A circle of blood surrounded Dan where he lay, and growing. He was lying on his back, his glass wounds still seeping blood, staining his clothes.

“I’ve lost a lot of blood, Ted,” Dan whispered.

“I gotta get you to a car,” Ted said. Dan coughed, blood spattering Ted’s face.

“Might be too late,” Dan closed his eyes and winced at the pain. He felt the blood leaving his legs and arms, and his unconscious was panicking at the thought of losing his life force. He felt dizzy and his vision was blurring. He could see Ted but barely made out his silhouette.
“Teddie, you got to warn people,” Dan said. He grabbed onto Ted’s unwounded arm with what little strength he had left. That’s when his other senses started failing him. The weight of his own body felt heavy and it didn’t feel like his own anymore. It was as though his soul was in the blood and with the blood leaving, so was he.

The tinnitus in Ted’s ears returned as he watched Dan have a fit of seizures, shaking and coughing, he stretched his neck towards the sky and took a deep breath. That’s when Ted noticed he was surrounded. Throughout the clearing, bone beasts surrounded Ted and his dying friend. They stood silent, unwavering, staring the duo down. Ted’s wounded arm started to turn cold. He felt his skin become cold as ice, a shiver going down his spine. He glanced down at the wound where he had been scratched to see it turning white. It was solidifying around the edges of his skin and slowly creeping into his blood.

“No,” he said.

Something white and hard was invading his body and he couldn’t stop the progress. It started on the outside of the wound and whatever it was crept through the blood of the wound and made it solid white, like bone.


The infection spread quickly, sealing his wound and running up through his veins. The bone beasts only stared at Ted, unwavering in their stance surrounding the clearing.

Ted blinked. His vision was turning fuzzy. The beasts soon turned into white, blurry figures to Ted. The color of the trees started dying, turning different shades of grey. The spreading of the calcification on his arm stopped, but the bacteria were already in his bloodstream. He could see that the figures were turning away from him, retreating back into the forest from whence they came, leaving Ted alone to go blind. Ted screamed into the sky, the light slowly fading from his vision until he saw nothing at all.

Credit: Heather Hemmes

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