Estimated reading time — 12 minutes
[For what should be obvious reasons later in the story, I’m withholding my friend’s name. I’ll just call him Matt or Matthew for the sake of privacy purposes or whatever the whole thing is.]
It’s been over 10 years since it happened.
When I was really little, I met my best friend in the world. Matthew. His father and mine were friends from college and we just kind of bonded when we met in no time flat.
Matthew and I were born just 10 months apart, so we had fun confusing people on who was older when they didn’t pay attention.
Back when I was 5, my grandparents both died in a car accident during a snow storm. But Matthew’s grandparents sort of took over their job for them. So I started to refer to them as my grandparents as well. We used to visit their farm out in Idaho. Their farm had some thick woods behind them. A bit clichéd, I know. Especially since that’s where a majority of the story will take place.
When I was 10, we were invited over to stay for the whole Summer. Naturally, we agreed and convinced my parents to let me go. My uncle Sam always went with us to ensure safety.
We went on the long flight from Michigan to Idaho and greeted our grandparents with a large hug, waving goodbye to my jet lagged uncle. They were thrilled to see us, as always.
My grandmother, let’s call her Alice, reminded us of the rules of never going back into the woods. Our grandfather, let’s call him Nicolas, always reminded us of the poison ivy and the dangerous wild animals like snakes and raccoons. There were also plenty of bear traps to be used on wolves and bears and such that tried to get to the farm animals.
They had also taken us out back at one point and shown us an old barn from when they were kids. This farm was passed down through the family for a long time, they claimed.
The barn was so old, it looked like it could fall apart if someone just touched it.
Naturally, they were wary of us going inside. So, to keep them at ease, we didn’t go near the place.
When they were awake. At night, we used to sneak out and take old, cruddy flashlights with us, then go back to the barn and explore around it. We’d gone inside a few times, but the boards were really rotten so we got nervous.
We were about halfway through our Summer with our grandparents when late one night after a horror movie marathon, Matthew sat up in his bed and turned to me. I was reading an old comic book and the look on his face caught my eye. From the other side of the attic where we were allowed to sleep, I saw him wave his hand for me to crawl over.
I did slowly, clicking off the flashlight, but he grabbed it back and clicked it on, much to my surprise.
“Let’s go all the way inside, tonight.” I blinked, confused. “What do you mean?” I asked, looking over his little smirk with some concern. That smirk always meant bad news..
“The barn! Let’s go all the way in and upstairs!” He replied with a chipper tone in his voice. The barn used to be a hide out and playhouse for our grandparents.
I looked at Matthew like he was crazy.
“You know how rotten it is..! What if we get hurt and can’t get out or something?” He laughed a little, forcing my cheeks to puff out and turn red. “What’s the matter? You a chickeeeen?” He teased, starting to ‘buwak’ at me. Truthfully, I was a bit of a coward.
I didn’t like the idea of getting into serious danger or even just a little danger. I can probably thank my overprotective parents for this. But, being a kid who didn’t want to look weak to his best friend, I yanked the flashlight from his hand, grabbed on my little cowboy boots, and my coat.
Even though it was usually pretty hot in the day, the night was somehow cool enough to make us shiver.
“Let’s go.” I said as bravely as I could, feeling oddly scared of this idea. Matthew sat there in shock at my weak bravery then grinned like always, hopping up and joining me. We made our way quietly down the stairs as we could, grabbing a few snacks for the trip.
Then, we slowly creaked open the back door and made our way out into the night.
The forest was a long ways away from the house, and we knew we had to hurry in case some of the animals tipped off our escape. We made our way quickly into the woods, hopping over logs and cracks in the ground, the sound of the leaves crunching beneath us being the only sounds besides some crickets, an owl or two, and our breathing.
I ran behind Matthew, so I was surprised by a sudden stop. I bumped right into him. I hadn’t really been looking ahead, but rather down at my feet so I wouldn’t trip. “Matt, what the he-!” He clamped his hand over my mouth with wide eyes, then pointed ahead of us, whispering.
‘I saw something big moving..’ My eyes went wide in fear. It could’ve been a bear for all we knew, but after a horror movie marathon, I was thinking of everything but bears being out here.
Matthew and I stood there as I listened closely for leaves crunching, then felt a cold hand on my shoulder.
I shrieked in fear, leaping up pretty darn high for my age and height. I felt my heart pounding my chest, then heard the sound of Matthew’s high pitched laugh behind me. “You actually fell for it! Zack, I can’t believe I got that to work!” His laughter continued as I frowned and clenched a fist. “S-Shut up! I wasn’t scared!” I lied, hoping he’d buy it.
It wasn’t a surprise when he laughed harder. I’d screamed like a little girl after all.. “I’m sorry, Zack, I had to.” He always did.. He sighed after the laughter nearly stopped and wrapped an arm around my shoulders playfully.
“C’mon, lil scaredy princess, I’ll protect you from any scary monsters in the dark!” He laughed again. I felt more cowardly than ever in that moment and was thinking on getting him back, but I couldn’t think of anything at the moment.
We continued on our way, just walking for a bit to catch our breath from our run.
Then Matthew stopped again, and I bumped into him once more. I was a bit startled, because I had been shining the flashlight on the ground so we both could see if something was there, keeping my eyes on it.
I opened my mouth to ask why he’d stopped again, but he clamped his hand over my mouth once more.
He held a finger to his lips, genuine fear in his eyes this time. He pointed behind himself and I looked past him. A light shone brightly from behind the thick leaves of the forest foliage. The barn.
Our hearts were racing as we got down on our hands and knees, making as little sound as possible as we inched our way to peek through the leaves.
There was a fire brightly lit outside in a campfire. Some sort of small animal had been skinned then put on a stick, roasting above the crackling flames. We waited a while to see if someone would show up.
Nothing happened. I was scared out of my 10 year old mind, wanting to just go back home and tell our grandparents in the morning. But.. Matthew just had to be the brave one.
He stood and stepped on through the leaves before I could think, and I found myself following him, my hand nervously gripping the back of his coat.
I half expected him to tease me again for it, but I could feel him shaking slightly.
He led me over to the old door to the barn and pushed it open. It creaked open a bit loudly much to our dismay, and.. A foul stench filled the air, like that of rotting meat or old fish.
We gagged quietly, then made our way further inside. I really wanted to turn and just run, but I couldn’t leave Matthew behind. So I didn’t.
As he said, we went further inside and made our way to the old, rotting stairs. I shone my flashlight around nervously to see the inside. It looked.. The same. As always. But something was deeply off.
I forced the thought out of my mind for the time being, making my way up the stairs with Matthew, my heart pounding to the point it hurt. Once up the stairs, the scent was so much stronger. We nearly threw up on the spot, I think. We heard the sound of flies coming from a small room down the left of the long hallways.
Matthew took the lead again, leading me along and to a room at the very end of the said hallway. The scent was so strong.. And the buzzing of the flies was so loud. He reached up to open the door, but I gripped his arm gently, shaking my head and mouthing: ‘No.’ But he just pushed my arm away, gripping the knob tightly to avoid me trying to stop him.
My breath stopped as I waited for him to turn it, terrified and curious at the same time.
He turned the knob.. But it stopped halfway thanks to the lock. I let out a sigh of relief, but he was silent.
He then turned to me in the dark, and I could only see his face thanks to the faint light of our flashlights. “We need to tell my grandparents about this. Something is seriously wrong here, Za-” Then we heard it. Thump. Thump. Footsteps. They were heavily creaking along the floorboards downstairs. Matthew bit his tongue as he silenced himself, his eyes wide as he took a look back down the hallway. We clicked off our flashlights under our coats to muffle the noise and got back down on our hands and knees, creeping to the staircase. We peeked out, myself being balanced atop Matthew since he was the stronger of us two.
A shadowy figure was visible in the faint moonlight peering through the old, broken windows. The large being let out a small grunt as if he was looking for something and couldn’t find it. The fire outside was burning less brightly, but did assist the moonlight.
Matthew and I held our breath as he thunked around downstairs, rifling through old boxes and cases of stuff.
We backed away slowly to avoid being seen and looked to each other.
Matthew was thinking what I was: We had to get out. This guy could be a crazed murderer on the run or something!
We both looked around, not moving any body parts but our heads and hands, desperately looking for a window or something to just jump out of. The barn wasn’t that far off the ground when it came to the second floor, so we’d probably be fine.
But we didn’t see anything.. So we stood as slowly and quietly as we could, wobbling slightly. We were both thinking the same thing. If we couldn’t run, we could hide. We tip toed along the hallway slowly. A door was open slightly at the other end of the hall.
It was our best shot. We made it past the stairs without him seeing since he was somewhere else down there and were getting close to the door.. But my foot went right through a floorboard.
I let out a squeak of fear, thinking I had been grabbed or something.
Matthew’s heart probably dropped when I did so..
But I was sure both of our hearts sank to the bottom of the ocean when we heard a confused grunt, followed by fast moving footsteps.
Matthew motioned for me to get up as quickly as I could, but my leg had gone completely down. I was stuck. He quickly figured this out and grabbed my arms, tugging me out just as the man reached the top of the stairs. We backed away slowly into the darkness, praying that he wouldn’t see us.
But luck wasn’t on our side that night.. He stared long and hard into the darkness where we stood. I could see he was nearly 7 feet tall. If he was a bad guy, we were so dead. And when I saw his body coming over to us fast, I screamed.
My best friend grabbed my arm and tugged me along, ducking under the man’s legs. We ditched our flashlights, some of our snacks falling to the floor as we made our escape. He glanced around, then let out a growl, racing after us.
We straight up jumped down those stairs then barreled out the old door, breaking wood on it. The fire was dim by now and we couldn’t see a thing as we ran, just going for the faint lights of the city peering through the leaves.
We could hear him chasing us. We were scared as hell, no doubt.
Due to my cowardly nature, I think, when I heard his footsteps getting closer to me, I sped ahead of Matthew.
That was the biggest mistake of my entire life. Matthew stumbled and broke off the path we were making, right into one of grandpa’s bear traps. It didn’t seem real as I heard him scream in agony, and the sound of the trap clamping down on his leg.
It still doesn’t seem real.
The man was closing in fast. I raced back to him, but I could just barely see the man. I could have sworn I saw his eyes flash in the darkness under his hoodie. Matthew saw the fear in my eyes and shouted for me to run and get help. I couldn’t move for a few seconds.
I was frozen with fear.. But he screamed at me again to keep running and get our grandparent’s. I couldn’t stop myself, now. I sprinted away as fast as I could, leaving my best friend in a bear trap with a 7 foot hooded figure.
I heard one final noise as I was running. Matthew was screaming. Begging to be left alone. Begging me to come back. His fear had gotten to him by now.
But I didn’t stop. I wish I had gone back, but even though I wish I could’ve helped, it wouldn’t have done anything.
I didn’t stop running until I was home. I ran through the back door then slammed it shut and locked it, screaming for my grandparents. They came rushing down the stairs to find me crying my eyes out. I frantically explained what happened and saw the fear on their faces. As Alice called the police for help, Nicolas told me to go to bed and not come out until morning.
Later that night, unable to sleep and shaking like nuts in my grandmother’s arms, I saw dozens of headlights.
Over half the town showed up to help, and the entire police force was on it. They all went out to the woods to search for Matthew and the man. I ended up passing out in fear and was told I woke up 2 days after the incident.
My parents and Matthew’s parents were there. I’d been transported to a hospital to make sure I was alright.
My first question was where my best friend was, and for what seemed like forever, no one would answer me. They just sat around me as I forced myself to sit up to see their faces. Their expressions nearly gave me my answer, but I wanted to believe it wasn’t true. I wanted them to tell me it was a dream. I wanted Matthew to just pop up from under my bed and laugh at me for worrying.
But nobody said it. Matthew didn’t pop up. Instead, my mother gently began to explain. “The police and the townspeople searched all over the forest all night, but.. All they found was the barn, fire, the bloody bear trap, and..” She shuddered before continuing, obviously struggling. “They found three dead bodies upstairs in the barn behind a locked door. The police think that the man may have been a crazed murderer. They haven’t found him-” I stopped her. “I don’t care about that freako, where’s Matthew?! Did they find Matthew?!”
I shouted, a begging look in my eyes. She froze and winced, then bit her lip and looked away. “All they found was his coat, Zack.. M.. Matthew’s gone.” My dad chimed in, and I just sat there, my entire world crushed.
My best friend I’d known all my life.. Was gone forever. He was most likely dead if that guy was a murderer. Tears fell from my eyes, and my parents tightly held me close. I could hear Matthew’s mother crying behind me, which forced harder tears.
Weeks later, I was out of the hospital after having told nearly countless reporters what had happened. But my parents and Matthew’s insisted it never be released. I will admit, I was confused. Why let me tell them, then tell them not to release it..? I still don’t know.
I underwent some therapy for a while, but I refused to show any signs of distress to keep my parents from worrying.
But one night, I sat reading a new comic book my parents had gotten me in my bed, the flashlight causing little strange shadows to dance across the walls due to the time, when I felt uneasy.
I felt eyes on me. I looked up, sweating slightly. Nothing there. Just my room.
I went back to reading, but the feeling stayed with me.
That’s when I heard it. “How could you leave me, Zack?” I gasped.
My eyes darted all around the room, flashlight bouncing along with them. Nothing there. But the voice didn’t stop. “I begged you to help me! How the heck could you leave me there?!” The voice was clear as if he were..
Right in the room.
I felt my heart skip a few beats, my eyes wide and breathing erratic.
“I thought I was your friend, Zack.. Your best buddy. But you left me behind to die! Bleeding and crying.. What kind of friend does that, Zack?” I thought I was going crazy. I gripped my head with both hands, covering my ears to block out his voice. My flashlight fell to the floor with a gentle tunk, and the voice just grew louder. “Zack… I won’t forgive you. You’re the worst friend ever. You let me die, Zack! YOU LET ME DIE! YOU JUST RAN AWAY AND LET ME DIE!”
The screaming was unbearable. I shouted out in agony. “LEAVE ME ALONE! LEAVE ME ALONE! I DIDN’T WANNA DO IT! I DIDN’T WANNA!” I kept screaming, tears flowing down my face, not even stopping when my parents burst in, concern written all over their faces.
The next day, I returned to therapy. I was really scared to tell them what had happened in fear they’d lock me away in a mental hospital like they did in movies. His voice was still in my head as I spoke to the kind and calm therapist, telling me to shut up. ‘You have to pay. You have to pay.’ The phrase was repeated over and over.
In the end, I thought it helped me. The voice faded away slowly. I felt free. I didn’t hear the voice anymore, made new friends, went to new schools, and lived a normal life. I even got a girlfriend. My sweetheart from kindergarten Nora Winston.
It’s been so many years since that night, and I still remember the look on Matthew’s face when he was in that bear trap. So much fear. He was just a kid, like me. It wasn’t fair, I always thought. I always wished I could go back and change that. But I knew deep down I probably wouldn’t have made it out alive.
But.. A while ago, after I graduated, I heard him again. ‘Didja miss me, old friend? I’ve been watching you.. Letting you have your little happy life and all..’ And he hasn’t been quiet for long since. As I type this, he’s screaming at me to stop. But I refuse to listen. Call this a work of fiction if you want, but I know this voice isn’t fake or just in my head.
Matthew is here. He’s back. And I’m going to be stuck with him until I die, I’m sure.
He’s in my head and he won’t go.
Credit = Zack.x
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