Estimated reading time — 15 minutes
In the skies over Ontario, Frank Ryker and Stanley Dawson flew in their plane, heading home. The two men had been on a business trip in Alaska, deciding the fate of their company. The company was doing well, and the men were offered money to sell out. The meeting in Alaska had not been a success, as they felt the money offered was not enough. Ryker wanted more money, and would not accept less than the very most he could get for his company. Dawson agreed, he was not opposed to sitting on the company until better offers came around.
They decided to fly over Canada as Dawson loved the scenery. Ryker piloted the Cessna over the immense forests of the province, and Dawson watched the snow-capped tops of the trees as they went. He loved the purity of the forests, there wasn’t a splotch of humanity as far as the eye could see where they were. To Dawson, it was serene.
“So Frank,” Dawson spoke, eyes still glued to the landscape, “How long are we going to hold out?”
The man watched the skies, looking for any sign of a storm, “I don’t know, but I won’t accept less than thirty million. I’m looking to retire wealthy, man. No way am I taking twenty five million when I can wait a few weeks and get thirty. That’s just good business.”
“I guess that’s right. I can wait too.” Dawson was silent for a moment, then decided to speak again, “Boy, Canada sure is cold this time of year.”
They flew over the province in the dead of winter. January weather was unforgiving in Canada, for two New Yorkers like them.
“Damned right, Stan. I could never live out here.”
“I think I could, I like the trees, and the fresh air. The city is too much for me.”
“Not me man,” Ryker chuckled, “The city is where the wealth is. Money, women, good food, that’s where I can have it all. What more could a man ask for?”
The two sat in silence for the greater portion of an hour before Ryker noted some turbulence in the wind. He had noticed the clouds rolling in slowly as time went by, and at this point the sky was completely overcast. Snow began to fall, in great amounts. The winds picked up, and threw the snow around in all directions. Before he knew it, Ryker had flown himself into a snow storm.
“Shit. I didn’t think we would face this weather.” Spat Ryker as he looked ahead, assessing the storm. He saw heavier clouds and snow ahead. The storm was getting worse, the winds intensifying.
The plane was taking on the burden of the rapid winds, and it became harder and harder for Ryker to control. Soon the wings were losing wind, and the plane’s flight became erratic.
“What’s happening, Frank?”
“It’s the storm, the winds are blowing in too many directions. A plane like this could drop in this weather.” Ryker looked frustrated, flipping switches and turning control dials.
Dawson looked around, assessing the weather, “The forecast didn’t say anything about a snow storm this afternoon.”
“I know, it’s odd. It came out of nowhere.”
Suddenly, the winds picked up. The turbulence became so fierce that Ryker completely lost control of the plane, and it tossed about at the mercy of the storm. The nose dipped, and the plane began to lose altitude. As it dropped, Ryker struggled to get the nose to turn up. The storm had drastically reduced visibility, and Ryker had little bearing on his altitude. He felt he could crash into the trees at any moment.
Dawson braced himself in the plane, expecting impact. His heart raced, he was scared for his life. Ryker caught a wind, and managed to pull the nose of the plane up. He angled the rudders to reduce speed, and shut the motor off. He knew he wasn’t going to be able to continue through the storm, he was just hoping for a soft landing.
The landing was indeed soft, relative to what it could have been. The plane suddenly smacked into the tops of the pine trees, and tumbled down to the ground. A considerable amount of speed had been lost by the time the plane touched down to the forest floor. The two men were not even scratched, but the plane had been badly damaged. Both wings had been torn off, and there was significant crumpling in the tail.
Happy to be alive, Dawson let out a sigh of relief, “Not a bad landing, Frank.”
“I’ll say. We are lucky we caught that wind, or we’d be gone.”
After a moment of cooling off, the two men had absorbed the physical shock of the landing, and the emotional shock of nearly crashing. Ryker looked around, realizing he was surrounded by trees, and cursed. Reality had hit him.
“What?” Dawson looked over at him, “What’s wrong?”
“What’s wrong? Look around you, Stan. We are in the middle of the forest. There’s no place to go for dozens of miles. We are stuck out here with a trashed plane.”
“Does the radio work?”
Ryker checked the controls, and had a moment of celebration when he found that the plane’s radio was functional. “It works. We will send out a distress beacon, and hope that someone finds us. Are you hurt? There’s supplies in the back.”
“I’m fine. We can save them. We don’t know how long this will take, did you pack any food?”
“I have a survival kit in the back as well. It has some provisions. We can hold out for a little while on those. For now, let’s check the plane.”
Ryker opened up the door, and climbed out of the Cessna. The cold was blistering, and the wind snapped at any exposed flesh. He walked around the plane, assessing the scope of the damage. It was worse than he thought, the landing gear and bottom section of the plane was crushed. He looked over, and made out the form of one of the wings several yards away.
It was hard for him to see in the storm, the wind blew snow around, and the frozen rain blanketed the ground. These were harsh conditions, but Ryker felt that things could be worse. He climbed back into the plane, and sat in his seat. He turned on the radio beacon, and listened in for any transmissions.
After a few hours of sitting and listening, Dawson noticed a change in the weather. The storm had subsided, and the winds had died down. The snow was still falling, but it was a declining; peaceful rain, as opposed to a flurry of biting hail. Sitting there, Dawson noted how dark it was. He strained to look up at the sky. Between the clouds, he could see it was already night.
“Frank, what time is it?” he asked.
Looking down at his watch, Ryker saw the time and craned his head in surprise, “It is only 5:30 PM. That’s odd, it’s completely dark outside.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Dawson noted a swipe. It was minute, but he thought he saw a shadow zip between the trees. Looking closely, he surveyed the area. He found nothing. Wary of the environment, he studied the trees around where he’d seen the shadow.
The situation was frightening, and Dawson thought the possibility of running into wolves or other predators was real. He had considered the wildlife around Ontario, coupled with the season. If someone didn’t pick up on his transmission, he may not survive. In his mind, he began to panic. He didn’t want to die, not without the full life experience. He hadn’t gotten married, or had any children. He felt he was too young to die.
Ryker was having issues as well. He knew if nobody came, they would have to try and find someone living out in the forest for help. If not, the two of them would freeze to death, or starve. His mind raced, his savings, his bonds, all for nothing. He hadn’t become fabulously wealthy yet. Ryker hated the idea of starving out in the forest, as far away from his bank account as he could be.
The two looked at each other. They understood their mutual concern. Ryker looked at the survival kit, then back at Dawson.
“Listen, Stan.” He sighed, “We have to decide what we are going to do right off the bat. We could stay in the plane, and wait for someone to answer our transmission. If no one does, we freeze and starve in here. Or, we could ditch the plane, and try to find some help. If we don’t find anyone, we freeze and starve out there. What are we going to do?”
Dawson thought for a minute. “Well, even if we weren’t in the plane, a distress signal would have the officials send a search party anyway. We might as well leave and hope for the best.”
“Good point. Let’s go.”
Ryker crawled into the back of the plane, and pulled out his large survival pack. He slung it over his shoulder, and climbed out of the plane alongside Dawson. Knowing he was heading east when he landed, Ryker decided to go in the direction that the plane’s nose was pointing.
The two men trekked through the snow, surveying their surroundings, looking for any sign of life. Dawson was hoping they would get lucky, but he knew there was nobody for miles and miles. He didn’t want to give up, but the chances were grim. The other option seemed less sensible to him anyway. Dawson kept looking behind him as well, he couldn’t shake the slight feeling that he was being watched.
They had walked for several hours when Ryker decided it was time to stop. They took a rest next to a large pine tree, and Ryker pulled out some canned beans from the kit. The two ate in silence, slowly consuming the food for energy. Ryker suggested that they sleep in that spot, and Dawson agreed.
Sleeping in the frozen woods proved a chore for both men, but Ryker in particular had issues sleeping. As soon as he fell asleep, he began to have nightmares. A tall figure haunted his dreams, oblique in nature. He could only make out certain parts of it as it chased him down: a thin, lanky form. Sharp claws, and antlers. It was covered in blood.
The dreams haunted him all night, and he continually woke to the eerie sound of howling wind. Then, waking for the last time, he crawled over to the survival kit. For some reason, he woke up hungry.
When Dawson fell back into consciousness, he expected to find Ryker lying next to him. Instead, he looked up to see Ryker hunched over the survival bag. The man grunted and smacked his jaw. He had noticed Dawson, and looked up at him. Food covered his face and shirt, and trash littered the ground around him.
“What happened?” Dawson shouted at him, “That’s all of our food!”
“I-I don’t know, Stan. I was just so hungry. I couldn’t help it, I needed the food, I needed it bad. I don’t know why.”
“You ate almost all our food!” he continued as he sprung up and walked over to the bag, only to find it mostly devoid of canned food.
“I’m sorry! I woke up, and started eating. I couldn’t control myself. I think I’m ok now though. I just can’t believe that I managed to eat it all. I’m so sorry, Stan. I know what this means…”
Dawson shook his head, “I can’t believe this, this food was supposed to last us until we found help. Now, we are going to die out here.” After a minute of standing there, shocked and angry at his friend, he spoke again. “Well, there’s no point in fighting about it. Let’s just go.”
The two packed up, and started out again. Ryker looked up and noticed the sky was still dark. He checked his watch, it was 7:14 AM, and still dark.
“Hey Stan, it is morning time now. But it’s still dark.”
“Wha- Oh man. I don’t understand. Maybe the sun rises late this morning.” He looked up, nervous, “I’m sure we will see it soon.”
The two walked in the forest for hours without the sun. Neither chose to speak about it, they were too freaked out to say anything. Dawson walked along, studying the trees. After looking at the trees for many hours, they began to take on a different light to him. On the plane ride over, he found them beautiful and majestic. Now, they seemed looming, creepy, almost sinister. He began to feel the trees watching him. All the while he kept seeing little shifts in the shadows, as if something very fast was running between trees. It usually escaped him before he saw anything, but he always noticed it again.
At first, he thought it was just his eyes in the cold, and the shock from the landing, but he began to second guess himself. He felt tracked; as if someone, or something, was moving around with the express purpose of following him. He felt watched, from the shadows. It made him anxious. On top of that, the feeling in his gut of being watched had greatly intensified. It started to make Dawson believe he was being followed. He decided to say nothing to Ryker.
For Ryker, it was the wind. As he walked, he could hear the whistling of the wind through the trees. It was slight, but noticeable. The whistle seemed natural, but over time it took on a different tone. It became a twisted rendition of the original tone, slightly diminished. The overall note was sour, and persistent. He felt like the wind itself had consciousness, and the very vibrations in his ears were a means for the color of the wind to seep into his mind.
Then there was the hunger. Ryker felt like he was starving to death, even though it had not even been a day since the plane had went down. He was still thinking about the previous night. He just could not wrap his mind around why he had eaten all of their food. It was strange, and unnatural to Ryker. He was still hungry, though. He wanted more, Ryker kept his eyes out for rabbits or other small wildlife he could trap and eat. He decided not to talk to Dawson about it.
Between the two, the anxiety of the situation became almost too much for them. At the same time, they walked for more than twelve hours with no food or water, as Ryker had eaten all the food over the night. The sun had not shone all day, and the time was nearly 8 PM. The tension became thick.
The breaking point was a noise. It was not a minute noise, nor a loud one. The noise had no specific direction, but seemed to have come from somewhere in the near distance. It was a crack of wood, followed by loud thump and rustling of branches. A tree had fallen over somewhere. Dawson looked up and around. He thought the wind could’ve knocked it over, but the crack was too sharp. It had to be cut down.
Dawson threw his head up and screamed, “HEY! IS ANYBODY THERE!”
He listened to the echo as it ran through the trees. Waiting for almost five minutes, he heard no response. He looked over to Ryker, who had already picked a direction to go and find the source of the noise. They ran in that direction, and went about a hundred yards until they found it.
It was a tree lying on the ground, not covered in snow. The base had large slashes in it, looking like the claw marks of an over-sized bear. There were similar markings on the stump nearby, and on the ground as well. The ground was covered in wide arcs, as if the claws were swiped in a pattern such as to draw attention to the ground. Ryker and Dawson didn’t know what to think.
Then, the same noise was heard behind them, this time closer. Ryker whipped around to locate the source. He began to walk over in the direction of the sound. Dawson stood frozen in fear. The chilling thought had come over him, the noises were distractions. Whatever made them, it was toying with the two men. He tried to comprehend what this meant for Ryker and himself. They were being stalked, and he knew it.
Dawson rejoined his companion, who had found the second tree. It was knocked over, with the same markings in it. On the ground held similar patterns as the first space. Dawson knew full well that whatever made the first markings, had certainly made these. He looked over at Ryker, who had fallen to his knees.
“Wha- what is this?” Ryker scrambled to speak, “What’s going on?”
“I don’t know, but we need to go!”
Dawson picked his confused friend up, and the two started walking again. Wary of the circumstances, Dawson watched the forest closely, looking for any sign of what was stalking them. After they had walked for a few more hours, the two became too exhausted to continue. Sitting against a pine tree, Dawson thought harder about the situation. He felt the chances of them surviving were low.
At the same time, he hadn’t actually SEEN anything. He had been looking at trees and snow for the past day, his mind was exhausted alongside his body. He didn’t even know if he WAS being stalked, but it seemed clear to him that he was. That was the most maddening part of this whole experience. In his mind, he began to think of all scenarios where he could die, starvation, freezing, or at the hands of this thing.
The more Dawson thought, the more nightmarish the whole experience felt. He couldn’t even tell what time it was, the night had spilt over into day. The cold had gotten to him too. It was freezing, the whole time. He slept in his wet, chilly clothes. He was dehydrated, he hadn’t had any water in a long time. Also, he was very hungry. Tired, Dawson was ready to give up.
He looked over at Ryker, who sat shivering, silent. The man looked broken, he hadn’t been taking things well. He had an episode the night before, where he’d lost control of himself and had eaten all of their food. Ryker also had been anxious the past day, and was now nearing complete incapacitation. He was acting strange, as if he smelled something. Lifting his chin, he just kept sniffing, and looking around. Dawson couldn’t smell anything, but he decided it was time to sleep. He laid himself on the snow, and started to drift off.
His dreams were full of terror. It was him, running naked through the snow, being chased by something. Looking back, he could barely make out the figure behind him, but it appeared to be elongated. He could make out limbs, stretching out from the figure, and sharp protrusions. The scent of blood was on the wind. He heard a shriek, a terrible cry that broke its way into his head and filled his heart with horror. The sound made him trip over himself, and he whipped around just in time for the figure to catch up to him. Looking up, he could finally see the figure in full view. It was Ryker, crazy-eyed. He lurched towards Dawson.
Dawson woke himself from the dream. When he came to, the cold hit him again. He looked over to see if Ryker was there, but he couldn’t find him. Picking himself up, Dawson scanned his view for any sign of Ryker. He didn’t find the man, but he did find Ryker’s clothes. The man left them, and they were scattered on the ground. The winds had picked up, and Dawson had a hard time seeing anything. He did notice some footprints fading with the falling snow.
Ryker was naked, but not cold. He felt a burning sensation all over his body as he ran through the woods. His mind was everywhere, every sound and sight, taste and smell, it all haunted him. He was being hunted, he just knew it. He wasn’t going to let whatever it was get the best of him. Most of all, though, was the hunger. Ryker’s whole body ached from the hunger. He wanted to eat, he wanted to eat anything. He stopped for a moment to eat some snow and dirt. Shoving the sludge into his mouth, he almost felt better, but he knew it wasn’t food. He looked down at his own arm. The glistening flesh, his own flesh, looked attractive to him. He wanted badly to just take a bite. Right as he raised his arm up to his mouth, a shriek pierced the wind. He heard the scream and bolted through the woods.
Hearing the haunting cry from his nightmares, Dawson froze again. For a moment, he could feel the utter fear of the loathing sound. In his ears, it held an insatiable evil. Dawson considered surrendering, standing still for a time until he succumbed to the cold, and evil. He looked around, watching the wind throw the snow around. The trees seemed to go on forever, a never ending formation of wood and snow. Realizing he had momentarily lost himself, Dawson picked up his feet and started running.
Dawson ran, not knowing why, for close to fifteen minutes when he came to the clearing. He dropped to his knees, utterly defeated, as he stared at the downed Cessna he had been flying in just days before. He had gone in a complete circle, accomplishing nothing. By now Dawson had lost the will to go on, and he sat there for a while, trying to think. The thing was, he couldn’t think, he was too afraid. The situation was grim, and the whole time he felt the snow and forest draining his sanity. He had heard noises, seen odd things, things he didn’t know were real. His mind kept turning over, trying to rationalize thought, but it had lost the ability to think rationally. Thinking he was being tracked and forced into his actions, he felt helpless. He started shivering, wondering when death whatever form it may take, would come for him.
His thought was interrupted by a heavy breathing behind him. Whipping around, Dawson saw the shivering form of his friend, Ryker. This Ryker was different though, he was covered in dirt, and otherwise naked. His eyes bulged out of his head, red with insanity. His lips were gone, he had eaten them off. The teeth were fully exposed, and his chin was streaked with his own blood. He took a step towards Dawson, focusing intently on the man.
Ryker found this food to be appetizing. He saw an entire day’s meal in the man in front of him. The flesh would be succulent, full of blood. He looked at his friend’s face, eyeing the exposed cheeks, the chewy ears. He could have his meal right then, and be full again, for a moment. He was so hungry, Ryker could hardly stand it. The hunger took over his body, he was shaking with the excitement. Eat, eat, eat, it was all he could think. He didn’t speak, he didn’t feel anything, besides the sheer hunger.
Dawson jumped up, seeing the madness in Ryker’s eyes. He knew he was going to die, but he didn’t know it was going to be Ryker. The man had not acted right since the first night, he had been on a slow decline. He was always greedy, hungering for money, but now it appeared to Dawson that he hungered for something else. Dawson ran past the plane, expecting Ryker to be close after him, but he wasn’t. Looking behind, he couldn’t see Ryker.
Heart pounding, hands and feet numb, Dawson ran through the woods, trying to keep away from Ryker. He looked over his shoulder to check, and in turn neglected to see the fallen tree in front of him. The fall to the ground was cushioned by the thick blanket of snow. Looking all around, disoriented, he could see nothing. The wind had picked up, and visibility was almost zero. Though the winds and snow picked up, the forest fell oddly silent. Not a sound was heard by Dawson as he lay in the snow, soaked to the bone, frozen, hungry. The darkness had persisted for over 48 hours, and it had taken its toll on the man. Deep down, he didn’t want to die, but he couldn’t think of a way out of the nightmare he had slipped into.
He started crying, thinking about the death he was faced with. He thought of the company he and Ryker owned. They should have taken the offer in Alaska, if they had, they would be partying there right now, safe and warm. Instead, they headed back home in a damned Cessna. Things had happened so fast for him, and he hardly had time to process his own demise. His thoughts were broken by a sound behind him, rolling over, he found the source of the sound. Tears in his eyes, he couldn’t make out the figure looming over him. He wiped his eyes, and took in the form. What he saw rendered him still, frozen in utter horror.
A single scream broke the silence of the forest.
Credit To – Greg P.
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