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In the Forest of the Damned

In the Forest of the Damned


Estimated reading time — 65 minutes

My sister was not an evil person; not before that camping trip anyway. Yes, she did those horrific things. I can’t deny that, as I was the one who stopped her, though it wasn’t without something of a cost. It took a toll on me I still can’t quite explain; left a stain I cannot clean. There was a time when she was the most caring and compassionate person you could ever meet. She would always put others’ needs before her own, back then. The woman who did those horrific things; yes, that was Laney, but at the same time, it wasn’t; not the Laney I knew anyway.

I’m not making any sense. Forgive me, if you will. I’m not the same man I once was either. Though that trip did change my sister to someone I barely recognized, what came after altered me as well, both physically and mentally. It was some weeks ago, when we took that ill-fated vacation, but it’s only been days since…I’m sorry. I’m getting to the point, I promise. Just hang in there. It can be difficult to find the words at times. It’s hard to form the thoughts into something understandable, or even legible.

My family was really no different from many others, I suppose. Mom and dad split when I was young, both remarried, and my sister and I would be stuck in the middle. Yeah, I would get two Christmases, extra birthday gifts, and all the other good stuff children of divorce use to convince themselves that things are just as ok as they were before, but I didn’t always buy it. I could twist my mental arm, so to speak, in an effort to believe I was content, but it was rarely effective.

Laney was a good seven years older than me, so she was more aware of how dysfunctional our parents were before they gave up on trying to make it work. She would try to explain to me what those times were like when I got older, but I could only imagine what she went through back then, before I came along. I was around five when they gave up the fight to pretend they were a happy couple, but I remember crying a lot over those first few months of living with mom, and only seeing dad on the weekends. We got used to it, though.

“We always have each other,” Laney would remind me when I was feeling down, and she was right.

I know none of this backstory may seem all that relevant to what happened, but I just wanted to illustrate why my sister and I were so close. I’m sure it’s not necessarily hard to believe that siblings can be tight or anything, but my whole life, Laney was the only person I could count on. Our parents were usually so caught up in their own shit, they didn’t pay us much attention. They’d bicker when one or the other would drop us off, or pick us up, and when they started seeing other people, they were pretty much focused on the new relationships, more than their kids.

A little after I turned eleven, my sister moved out, after being unable to take either of our parents shit anymore. I didn’t see her for a few years after that day, but I had no doubt she needed her space for a bit. Admittedly, she had it a lot harder than I, as both my mother and father practically ignored her existence. They didn’t exactly lather me with affection either, but after they split up, they would barely acknowledge her. It almost felt like they blamed her for the divorce, but I couldn’t see how she could’ve caused that. Maybe it was simply because she was a good bit older than I, but it still pissed me off the way they would just brush her to the side.

Regardless of how they treated her, she never took that out on me. Even though I didn’t see her for a while, when she moved back to our hometown, it was like she’d never been gone. We have spent a lot of time together since her return, and when I got my learners permit, we began our regular camping trips. We would go to a different spot each time we headed out into the wilderness, and I began to love the peacefulness of it all. Maybe it was due to my parents’ incessant need to bicker and bitch any time they shared a room together, but I had grown to almost despise being around other people, with the exception of Laney, of course.

So, by the time I reached twenty-three; the age I am now, my sister and I had ventured to about every good camping spot in the state, and many more beyond its borders. We had saved up some years back, and invested in a decent camper, as it had become a very regular part of our lives. It was nothing fancy, but it suited our needs just fine. We would still bring tents along for when we wanted to rough it a bit more, but it was definitely nice for those rainy nights out in the woods.

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While I was doing some research to find a new place for our next stay in the many forests of America, Laney came bursting into my apartment out of the blue. She told me about this spot she’d found, just outside of an old ghost town, somewhere practically on the other side of the country. Though I wasn’t all that well versed in what she did for a living, she would do a lot of travelling, and could sometimes be gone for weeks at a time, so she’d come across a good many interesting areas and back roads. I hadn’t really come up with any other alternatives, so I didn’t argue about her recommendation, as she had grown far more worldly than I.

I was a bit apprehensive, as the old deserted town was a good many miles from where I lived, but Laney assured me it would be worth it. The farthest we’d ever ventured from home in the past had only taken about four hours in the camper to get there, but this one took us over half a day to reach. Luckily, she had committed the route to memory, as the city we were seeking out had no name assigned to it anymore, and, as such, I couldn’t punch it into my GPS. We headed out around eight in the morning, and it was a little after nine at night when we passed by what was left of the city limits sign.

Most of the beaten, warped and buckled sign had been worn off for what could have been decades, but whatever the name of this town was, it began with an R, and ended in either an L, or an I, but there wasn’t enough left to tell one way or another. I could barely see it at first, let alone the thin, single lane road, as the wild brush and low hanging branches of the trees hid them well. There was absolutely no way I would’ve even noticed it, if it hadn’t been for my sister’s guidance

The old city itself looked like it was once a nice little place, though, even when the road widened into dual lanes, as we entered what was once seemingly the main street, it was covered by just as much greenery as the thin pavement that led us there. I stared around at the old place in awe, feeling as though I was gazing into the past. The crumpled gas station appeared as though it had closed its doors at least thirty or forty years ago, as did the department store with broken boards of splintered and dry rotted wood covering where windows once sat in place. There were lamp posts bent over, while still erected from the concrete, and others having toppled to the ground.

Each building that stood to one side or the other of the cracked and potholed road, was in their own state of decomposition. The ones that didn’t have windows boarded, had only shards of filthy and foggy glass remaining, while others had crumbled to their tarnished foundations many years before. Part of me wanted to get out of the camper and explore what was left of the little town that time forgot, but, given how rough it was to even drive through the streets, I knew it would be risky at best to attempt to enter any of the buildings. Still, it was a strange sensation to be what felt like the only living thing in this town, well, aside from Laney, anyway.

After navigating the lengthy camper around the scattered debris and broken down houses and stores, we finally cleared the city from years gone by, making our way to another slender, one lane road leading up the mountain behind the little town. Again, greenery pushed through the splits in the pavement, but that offered little resistance to the thick and wide tires. Even if it wasn’t the prettiest little house on wheels, I maintained it well, so I knew what it could and couldn’t handle. I had led it up and down many back roads and trails over the years, and hadn’t ever gotten the old girl stuck, not even once.

Even the trees on either side of us looked ancient; their thick trunks reaching high above, almost farther than I could even see. Laney looked out the windows at the beautiful sights with just as much wonder in her eyes as I had. She was around thirty now, but I swear she looked just as youthful and glorious as I remember when we shared my mother’s house together, so many years ago. She never changed in my eyes, even now. Even after the things she did, she’ll always be that beautiful, carefree and magical spirit who kept me from breaking back then.

We were maybe some miles away from and above the dilapidated little town, after the steeply inclined road finally levelled out, when Laney suggested we may have reached our destination. I’d have to say I was thrilled to finally have a chance to crawl out from behind the wheel, and when I opened the door, the wonderfully fresh and clean air of the woods we parked beside felt heavenly. I stretched my back out, while Laney called out into the night, to hear her voice echo across the seemingly empty woods.

As soon as she yelled out, the forest’s inhabitants suddenly sprung to life. Crickets chirped, feet and hooves, both tiny and larger scampered across the leaves, while wings fluttered and flapped against the branches, carrying birds up into the sky. I couldn’t help but laugh at my sister’s goofy chuckles after she awoke the creatures of the forest, accompanied by her wide, enthusiastic grin, but things settled back down after a while. We didn’t do much else for the remainder of that night, aside from chugging down a few beers, and grilling some burgers.

When I woke up the following morning, Laney was already gone. I was worried at first, but I assumed she had just ventured out into the woods for a bit, to take in the beauty of it all. I still wished she would’ve waited for me, but she was often prone to waking at a far more premature hour than I. Honestly, I didn’t mean to sleep in, but I think my body had been exhausted from the hours of driving. While I was in the middle of making some breakfast, I saw my sister clearing the tree line with a huge smile on her face.

“This may be one of the coolest spots we’ve ever been to!” She said, with her excited grin lighting up her wide eyes.

“Yeah?”

“Wanna go for a hike after you eat?” She was practically hopping in place, coming off like a giddy little kid.

“Hell yes! You hungry?”

“Nah, too excited to eat,” she replied with a laugh.

She would get like that sometimes. She could be easily distracted, and it didn’t take much to make her light up like a kid on Christmas morning, but it still made me smile every time. She had that infectious kind of happiness. It was almost impossible not to share her inherent joy and love of life. So, I finished up making my food, scarfed it down, and grabbed my pack to head out into the wild with my sister. It was absolutely beautiful behind the treeline, and quite spacious within. There was no trail to speak of, but the terrain wasn’t particularly bumpy either.

I got the feeling that ours were the first human feet to walk between these trees in some time, though the squirrels, deer and other occupants did not seem especially alarmed by our presence. If anything, they appeared more friendly than those of many other forests we had spent time in over the years. A curious doe even walked directly up to me at one point, allowing me to run my fingers across the soft fur of her back. Laney and I just smiled at each other, before she sprinted back over the mound she had trotted around at first.

After walking in varying directions for some hours, we settled down in a wide clearing, with a slender stream running through its center, to a glistening pond, not far from where we parked. Some time later that day, we’d head back to the camper to grab our tents, chairs, portable grill and fishing poles, to camp out in that lovely open space, as it was just too good to resist. I truly wish that we could have spent days in those woods, with each being as wonderful as that one. As I grilled the fish I caught in the pond; while Laney danced to the music echoing from my little Bluetooth speaker, I felt more content than I ever had before. I suppose that happiness was just too good to last.

The sound that pulled me from my sleep sometime during the night, was unlike anything I had ever heard. It was something like a wailing that would accompany someone hysterically crying, combined with something mechanical, almost. It wasn’t like rusty sprockets turning, or chains rattling against gears, but more like a slipping belt squealing, or worn brake pads scraping against the rotor. It’s hard to explain, really, because it wasn’t exactly similar to anything I was familiar with. I know, it sounds like I’m just babbling, but that’s how it, I guess, felt, more than sounded.

I sat straight up in my sleeping bag, which made me feel like some sort of bug attempting to escape its cocoon. I unzipped my tent, peeking my head through like a freaked out kid; afraid of a potential monster in the closet, or perhaps nestled under the bed. When I saw that Laney’s tent was open too, I practically ran out of mine, replacing my fear of what may be lurking in the darkness, with concern for my sister. It was freezing outside, far more so than it had been when I laid down. I pulled my jacket and flashlight out of my backpack, and headed out into the night, after confirming her tent was indeed vacant.

I had no way of knowing which way she’d gone, but she was always more curious than I, so I had little doubt she was seeking out the source of the sound that was still echoing from somewhere in the distance. It was a good deal softer than it had been when it caused me to jerk awake, but loud enough to be able to trace what direction it was coming from. I don’t know if it was the cold, or just how eerie the trees looked through the beam of my flashlight, that was making me shiver, but I could barely hold the damn thing straight. The fog that blew from my mouth when I exhaled didn’t help things appear any less creepy either.

As the sound increased in volume, I hoped it was because I was getting closer, and not whatever was causing it to grow more, I don’t know, agitated?

“Laney…” I called out, not quite whispering, but not especially loud.

My brain hadn’t yet decided if it thought the noises belonged to anything living, but it hadn’t ruled out the possibility. Either way, it wouldn’t allow my voice to fully expose me.

“Sis…where are you?”

“…Brian…” I heard my name echoing from somewhere beyond the trees ahead.

“…it’s beautiful, Brian…”

It didn’t entirely sound like my sister’s voice; similar, but not quite right, if that makes sense. It was enough to allow me to assume I was going the right direction, but it was also enough to cause me to slow down a little. I could feel the pulse throbbing in my neck, as well as my chest beating against the fabric of my shirt. The bizarre sound now combined with the beating of my heart on the inner lining of my ears, causing me to feel even more on edge. The plumes I breathed began to combine with a subtle mist that caressed the forest floor, made even more unnerving by a subtle light, emanating from somewhere ahead.

My surroundings grew more visible, but it was more like I could just see more clearly. Things didn’t appear to be especially illuminated by the dim light, but I could make out that the trees around me were rotting and dead. Their blackened barks were split, with a dark ooze leaking from within. The leaves I could make out that lined the ground beneath the sporadic fog, all looked to be as lifeless and discolored as everything else around me. Every branch was bare, and each bled that same thick pus.

When I finally cleared the rows and rows of deceased trees, I came to another clearing; large, but much smaller than the one we had set up our tents in. My sister was in the very center of the almost perfectly circular area. She had her back to me, with her arms outstretched from the body which appeared to float above the mist, which had grown far thicker than it had in the forest of the dead I left behind.

There was nothing else around her, though she still moaned her words in that borderline foreign voice,

“…It’s so goddamn beautiful, Brian…”

“What’s beautiful, Lane?”

I could make out nothing I would consider even remotely pleasing to the eye, nor could I figure out what caused my sister to hover a foot or two from the ground. As I approached her, that disturbing sound now surrounded me, as opposed to being where I was headed towards. When I turned my head to each side, seeking the source of the noise, I screamed out, horrified by the hands which reached out from the trees that lined the circumstance of the clearing.

There were more of them than I took the time to count, each with darkened flesh that looked as rotten as the bark and branches they reached through. As I watched on, slender, almost skeletal legs stepped out, followed by sunken, emaciated torsos, and abnormally small, spherical heads, with orange, glowing eyes peering through. Each of the creatures slowly broke free of the treeline in jerky, staggered movements. I could hear bones shift and crackle, as the scrawny arms and legs sliced through the fog.

That sound emitted from what I would assume to be their mouths, though I could make out no openings in those tiny, roundl heads, only the bright, beady eyes glaring towards where my sister floated.

“Lane! We gotta go…”

She didn’t respond, only continued to moan and whimper, which contrasted with the sound of the blackened creatures to form noises which almost made me feel sick to my stomach.

“Lane! Goddamnit! Snap out of it!” I screamed at my sister, wrapping my hand around her right wrist, turning her to face me.

“J-jesus fucking Christ!” I stuttered, when I looked upon the white light, breaching out from somewhere within her head, beaming through her eyes, nose and mouth.

Those things were getting closer, regardless of how slowly their staggered movements pushed them forwards. Their wails were so much louder now, causing a thin stream of blood to leak from my ears. It was practically deafening by this point, inspiring me to scream out, just to make sure I still had a voice, while yelling my sister’s name as hard as I could.

“LANEY! FUCKING SNAP OUT OF IT!”

Though it made my chest hurt, I slapped my hand across her face as hard as I could. As her head jerked to the side, the light shining through her, beamed across the creatures to her left, showing me a better glimpse of the sunken cheeks, and withered flesh, before it snuffed out, blinking her eyes back to the real world.

“Fucking ouch, Bry!” She said, not even noticing when her feet made contact with the ground.

“Are you here!?”

“What? Of course I a…WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT!?” she screamed, finally noticing the approaching hoard.

“W-what the fuck are they, Bry?”

“I don’t know, Lane, but we have to get the fuck away from here! Are you with me!?”

Her whole body shook, while she rapidly nodded her head, darting her eyes all around her. We were surrounded by those things, and they were edging closer but the second, but there was space between them. If we ran fast enough, I was sure we could get through.

“We gotta run, sis. As fast as we can, okay?”

She nodded again, and I wrapped my trembling fingers around her shivering hand. I hoped I spun to face us in the right direction, but I planned to just keep running until we got back to the camper. I didn’t care about the tents, nor any of the other shit we had left in the clearing where we set up camp for the night, I just wanted to get the hell away from here as soon as I could.

We ran between two of those things, though they were closer together than I had hoped. I pushed one back, feeling its rough and cushioned tissue give way against my palm, before the other reached out to grab Laney by the wrist. She screamed out, attempting to pull away from it, but the grip was tight. Another was moving in from the other side, giving us little time to get her loose. I just punched at that rotten flesh of its arm, while kicking at its withered knees. Its sounds bellowed in an angered screech, causing my sister and I both to share an equally loud scream, before I slugged the thing in the face over and over again, finally causing it to let Laney’s arm slip from its grasp.

Giving the rest of the jerkily approaching mob no chance to get any closer, as soon as Lane was free, we hauled ass, hopefully, back the way we came. I could still both feel and hear that echoing chorus of haunting howls behind us, causing my head to spin, damn near sending me to the ground, but it was Laney who kept me on my feet this time. Hand in hand we plundered onwards, breaking free of the forest of the blackened and deceased trees, back into the clearing where our tents still stood in place.

We were almost to the other side of that clearing, before I realized my keys were still in the tent. I told Laney to continue on to the camper, while I spun in place to see the creatures already breaking through the treeline.

“KEEP GOING!” I called to my sister as I sprinted back to the tent, with those things moving considerably more quickly than they had before, which, given the fact their movements were still incredibly staggered and jerky, made the whole scene look even more bizarre.

I yanked my pants which held my keys in their pocket from the floor of the tent, with the rotted figures closing the gap between us more and more by the second. I pulled free of my tent, while three of the things reached out towards me, but I leapt away from them before they could make contact. Laney still stood where I had left her, visibly shaking from head to toe, but I locked my fingers around hers once more when I got alongside her, as we resumed our effort to escape.

The whimpering, metallic shrieks from behind us, combined now with the scampering of their feet crackling against the dried leaves lining the forest floor. As I looked back to see how close they were, I noticed anything living around them was growing as blackened and lifeless as they appeared, as they passed between and through the trees. They were maybe fifteen feet from our backs, but that just inspired me to force my legs to speed their pursuit of freedom, practically pulling my sister along.

Finally, I could make out the moonlight reflecting off the windows of the camper ahead. I hoped to God and everything I held holy, that I had left the damn thing unlocked, which, to my surprise, I had, as my sister pulled the side door open, with me jumping in after her. I slammed it shut, sliding the simple lock to the side, before hopping into the driver’s seat, and cranking the engine as soon as I convinced my trembling fingers to feed the key into the ignition.

As I heard the glorious, familiar rumbling echoing from under the hood, it was accompanied by the sounds of pounding and scraping on the outside wall of our home away from home on wheels. I cranked the radio up in an attempt to drown out the creature’s wails, along with what sounded to be metal being sliced into and pulled apart. I pushed the pedal to the floor so damn hard, I thought I may crush it through the floorboard, but I felt the wheels spin in place, before they secured themselves enough to force us along the road, away from that goddamn forest from hell.

Even with Credence, loudly warning us there may be a Bad Moon Rising, I could still hear the pounding of those little feet across the pavement, as they fought to chase us down, but I wouldn’t let up. Though I was incredibly unfamiliar with this winding and bumpy road, I would be damned if I was going to let them catch us. The wheels violently bounced in and out of cracks and holes in the pavement, while skidding against the border of where the road met the steep drop off to our left, but I wouldn’t allow us to yield our descent from the mountain.

Laney was still whimpering and screaming out with every jump and skid, but I wouldn’t break my focus. The wails from somewhere behind the rear bumper were fading more as we approached the town lost to the past, but I still pressed the gas as hard as I could. I almost lost control of the long camper as I turned back onto the two lane road of the broken down old city, but I managed to control it, even after the tires on the right side lifted from the crumbled concrete.

I sped onto curbs to avoid the debris scattered across the road, as well as the tipped over lamp posts, and various street signs. I didn’t even think about letting up, even after passing by the faded and warped city limits signpost, still neatly hidden behind the unkempt overgrowth surrounding the deserted single lane road. I didn’t allow the blood to return to my whitened knuckles, until I finally began to see signs of life outside of the ghost town and the forest of the damned behind it, before pulling into the twenty-four hour truck stop, close to the exit to the interstate.

“It hurts, Bry!” Laney said, while I examined where the blackened and frigid fingers had wrapped around her wrist.

She was bordering on tears while I gently turned her arm over in an attempt to see how bad it was, under the flickering fluorescent lights of the gas station restroom. The imprint of a slender hand appeared to be almost burned into her flesh, along with five little pin prick holes; each oozing thin streams of dark blood. I tried to wash her wounds as well as I could, but even the slightest pressure I applied with the moistened paper towels caused her to wince and practically buckle from the pain.

Being both untrained and unable to do anything to actually treat the damage to her skin, I grabbed some ibuprofen, antibiotic cream and gauze from the truck stop. I applied the ointment to the inside of the gauze before wrapping her arm, to avoid causing her more pain than necessary. I wanted to take her to the emergency room, but she wouldn’t have it. I made her promise she would go have it checked out if it either got any worse, or didn’t show any signs of improvement after a few days had passed, but she still seemed reluctant.

She was never one to seek out medical assistance, as she was both somewhat untrusting of doctors, and a bit grossed out by hospitals in general. She had always been a bit of a germaphobe, but that would never keep her from exploring the darker and more gritty places of the world. It did seem a bit contradictory to me, but I’m sure I have my own share of oddball aspects to my personality to her and just about anyone else, so I wouldn’t hold it against her or anything. Still, I was worried about this one. God knows what sort of fungus those, whatever the fuck they were, had pasted to their rancid flesh.

Regardless of how late the hour had grown, nor how far from home we were at this point, Laney begged me to get back on the road, to head back home. I had tried to suggest a hotel for the night, but I couldn’t blame her for wanting to get as far away from that mountain as possible. Of course, I was far beyond exhausted at that point, not to mention growing more worried about my sister by the moment, but I did what she asked.

If nothing else, I would be able to keep an eye on her, to make sure the marks on her wrist didn’t spread, or somehow worsen her condition to something more than just a tired and freaked out woman. My mind was still reeling from what we’d seen out there, but I still had no idea what she had been through before I awoke. The eerie little creatures were one thing, but I wanted so badly to ask her what left her floating above the ground, bordering on some sort of catatonic ecstasy, or whatever the hell that was.

I had already tried to ask her a few times, but whenever I brought it up, she would begin to shiver and cry again. She had seemed in such awe and wonder while she hovered only feet above the foggy forest floor, but whatever it was that she saw, only brought fear back to the forefront of her mind. As much as I wanted answers to what truly happened out in those woods, up on that mountain, behind the town that time forgot, I would have to wait until she was ready. Of course, I didn’t realize at the time that my nightmare had only just begun.

It felt as though it took twice as long to get back home, than it did to make our way out to the mysterious ghost town in the first place, but that may have simply been the fact that both the camper and I were running on fumes when we arrived back onto my street. Laney had calmed down considerably, especially since she slept for a good half of the trip. I would’ve loved to have been able to pass out for a bit myself, but I was certain she needed it far more than I.

Yes, I hadn’t exactly enjoyed much of a rest for the portion of the night I spent in my sleeping bag, but I still had no idea how long she had been awake before I showed up. I hated to think what could have happened had I not arrived before those things came staggering through the trees. Given the marks on her wrist that still looked quite fresh, I could only imagine what they were capable of if they had more time to spend with their victims.

My sister agreed to stay at my place for a few days, as we had already planned on being out of town for at least a long weekend. She still refused to see a doctor, but she didn’t resist my insistence that I had to be allowed to keep an eye on her. Of course, I wouldn’t be able to do much until I got some much needed sleep. Before I hit the sack, I ordered some pizza, as neither of us had eaten much over the previous twenty-four hours, but once my stomach was content, I passed out as soon as my head hit the pillow.

My dreams took me back to that foggy clearing in the woods, but it was more in that distorted and far removed from real life imagery that the sleeping brain takes us to. I won’t say it wasn’t exactly a nightmare or anything, but it wasn’t enough to cause me to jerk awake in a cold sweat or anything either. I’ve always had a bit of clarity in a dream state, finding even the most horrific ones a bit too far fetched to believe to be taking place in the waking world. I’m not a lucid dreamer or anything, I like to think I just generally have enough awareness to know what’s real and what isn’t.

It had been around five in the afternoon when I pulled back into my driveway, so, when I finally reopened my eyes, it was nearing seven in the morning. I hadn’t paid much attention to what time it had been when I crashed for the night, but my body felt pretty content from the longer than normal rest, albeit a bit sore from laying in one place for so long. Well worth the price, I thought as I dragged my heels to take a shower, where I stayed for a good half hour at least.

When I finally strolled back into my living room, I saw no trace of Laney, causing my heartbeat to quicken as I stood staring at the vacant blanket and pillow on my couch. In a way, I wasn’t surprised, but I had still been hopeful she would stick around like she promised. She has always been a free spirit, though. Even while she maintained eye contact when she gave me her word she wouldn’t go anywhere without me for a few days, I think I knew she was full of shit. Maybe I was just too damn beat to read too much into it at the time.

I still took a compulsory look around my home, along with the camper parked outside to make sure she wasn’t just hiding out. I thought she may have also experienced some nightmares about the events that still seemed barely believable at the time, and even more so as I look over some of the words I’ve already written. Of course, she wasn’t around, but I could only hope she was alright.

I considered calling my mom to see if she had heard from Laney, but they hadn’t really been on speaking terms since my sister moved out. Honestly, I think they had barely talked since before the divorce, but I can’t speak to the times I wasn’t around. I can’t necessarily say if it was some sort of grudge between my parents and sister, but any time I brought her up to either of my folks, they would just act like they didn’t want to talk about it. We weren’t exactly a close knit family, but I did long for the more simple times on occasion; back when I was a kid.

Two more days went by, and I still hadn’t heard anything from Laney, nor could I even get in contact with her. I was growing more and more worried by the day, leading me to call around the hospitals in the area to see if anyone matching her description had been admitted. It set my mind a little more at ease when none showed any records of anyone by my sister’s name or appearance, but I was still very uncertain about the whole thing. She was often prone to just being gone for extended periods of time over the years, but I was still spooked by the events that led us to cut our trip short.

After yet another day passed with no sign of my sister, I finally gave in and decided to reach out to my folks. I didn’t want to talk about any of this on the phone, so I hopped in the car and headed to my dad’s place first. I could see my sister being far more likely to talk to him than our mom, as he was most certainly the more understanding and open minded of my folks, but, like I said, neither of them were ever particularly open to the topic.

Truth be told, I didn’t talk much with my parents anymore either, as they had grown so self consumed and distant over the years. This was not a situation I needed to leave alone, though. Even if it could be a bit awkward, I had to give it a shot. I still highly doubted Laney would ever think about getting in contact with either of them, but I just didn’t know what else to do at that point.

As I drew closer to the house my father shared with my step mother, I realized I should at least place a call to ensure he would actually be at home; something I felt stupid for not doing before driving the thirty or so miles to get there. Given my erratic thoughts and concerns for my sister’s well being, I couldn’t fault myself for being so unfocused, but it had to be done. I was already within the last few minutes of my journey, so, when I received no reply from the call, I didn’t immediately turn back. I thought I may be able to at least wait for him for a bit if he wasn’t home.

When I pulled into his driveway, next to my dad’s glossy black Expedition, I noticed the garage door was open. Assuming he may indeed be home after all, I headed to the front door and knocked, inadvertently pushing it ajar, as it was apparently unlatched. I called out to my father, while nudging the door farther open, peering my head around the side. I was barely aware of my own scream when my eyes met the bloodied mess across the living room.

I couldn’t remotely convince my own limbs to move as I stood frozen in place, glaring at what appeared to have once been my father. I couldn’t even fathom what could have done this to him, but my thoughts were not nearly focused enough to make any sort of clear judgement at the time. His left arm looked as though it had been pulled from the socket, as the bone protruding from the discarded limb was not jagged, but rounded.

There were deep gashes across his chest and remaining arm, both eyes were replaced by dark and meaty, scarlet globs, and his jaw had been torn from the skull on the left side, leaving it hanging loosely from grisled strips of tissue. His legs were splayed in opposing directions, with shards of bone splitting through the flesh of his thighs and shins, and blood still sleeping out from within, as well as having sprayed across each and every wall in the room.

Regardless of how far removed from my parents life I’d grown over the years, I still found myself kneeling on the floor beside my father’s remains, holding him in my arms, while still screaming out in horrified shock. When someone else entered the house behind me, I was only vaguely aware of the cold metal of the handcuffs snapping around each wrist, as well as the fact my hands had been pulled from my dad’s corpse in the first place. I was still in that mentally vacant state over the course of the ride to the police station, finally coming back to awareness, sitting straight up in a drab, grey concrete walled room.

“Why did you do it, you piece of shit!” The middle aged, balding man in the wrinkled suit said, breaking me from my catatonic state.

“ANSWER ME!”

“What? No…I didn’t…”

“Bullshit!”

“Cool it, Jerry,” the taller man with the salt and pepper, messy hair said.

I could only assume he was to be my ‘good cop’ for the remainder of the interrogation. I can’t say I exactly had much experience with this sort of thing, but I had watched enough movies in my time to be familiar with the concept. I never actually knew if this was a real thing that the police do, but I had to believe I was not just coincidentally locked in a room with two such polarizing different personalities.

“Why don’t you just tell us what happened, yeah?” Good cop asked.

“I…I don’t know! I just got there and saw him like…”

“Bullshit!” Bad cop said, pounding the table with his fists, “We know you fucking killed him! What, you didn’t get what you wanted for Christmas!? He didn’t love you enough!? Just tell the goddamn truth, you piece…”

“Jerry! You’re not helping! Let the kid tell us his side of the…”

“We already know his side! Bastard brutally murdered his old man and, what, we should put on kid gloves!? Did you see what he did to the guy!? I ain’t never seen shit like that…”

“I didn’t do it! I swear to Christ I didn’t! I just went to see him, and found him like that!” I said, practically begging them to listen.

Before I knew it, Bad cop pulled me from my uncomfortable chair, slamming me up against the solid wall. I coughed and gagged as the oxygen was thrust from my lungs, and into the greasy bald man’s face.

“You’re a fucking murderer, you piece of shit! Admit it!” He said through gritted teeth, with his nose practically rubbing alongside my own.

“I didn’t do it! I swear!” I said, wheezing, still trying to catch my breath, while Good cop pulled the portly guy off me.

I fell to the ground, buckled over, still gasping. Bad cop pushed Good cop away, after they exchanged some heated words, before the chunky, bald guy headed for the door, pounding on it to get the attention of the guard posted on the other side. I gathered myself up, while the thin man with the salt and pepper hair helped me to my feet.

“Sorry, kid. He gets a little bit…heated.”

“I swear I didn’t…”

“Ok. Just take a seat. I’ll give you a few minutes to cool off. Want something to drink?”

“Yeah…thanks…I appreciate it.

After he left the room, I was left alone to attempt to process everything, which was no easy task. Regardless of my being far from close to either of my parents, the sight of what was left of my dad was practically etched into my brain. That, combined with the fact I appeared to be the lone suspect in his murder left my thoughts far more erratic than they had been before I left my home that morning.

I just couldn’t wrap my mind around it; what had happened, as well as the recent events which left my sister’s whereabouts unknown to me. I had absolutely no clue as to how the hell I was going to get out of this. Yes, I knew I was innocent, but as long as they were focused on me for the crime, they would not have a chance of tracking down whoever, or whatever did that to my old man. I couldn’t even imagine what could be capable of inflicting such horrendous brutality.

After a while, Good cop walked back in, accompanied by a younger guy in a nice, grey suit, who was revealed to be a lawyer my mother had contacted to help me. He looked to be maybe a few years older than me, with perfectly styled, dirty blonde hair, and a tidy beard. He introduced himself as Derek McArthur, from the law firm of McArthur and Heath. Apparently his father was quite the well respected attorney, as was his partner, Abby Heath.

He assured me I was in good hands, and they planned to have me released within a few hours, as the evidence was circumstantial at best, regardless of the fact I was still covered in my fathers blood. Before I would be permitted to leave, I had to allow them to take possession of my clothing, as well as providing DNA samples, along with giving a statement on my account of the day’s events.

Bad cop still stared knives at me from the other side of the table, while Good cop continued to play the part of my best buddy. Both looked quite unhappy when McArthur stuck a fork in the discussion, before leading me out of the police station, wearing some fresh clothes my mom had brought by. Though I was beyond relieved to feel the fresh air hitting my face again, I was still stunned by everything that had occured that day.

The following days blended together, during which I repeated the story I had told the police numerous times. Everyone from my mother and her husband, Carl, to my step mother, Breanne wanted to know what had happened. It wasn’t easy to recount what I had seen, especially to Breanne, but I suppose they needed to know what I knew, which wasn’t much, truth be told. McArthur was still content with the notion that I had nothing to worry about, but I was still terrified; both of what I could be facing, as well as the things I had witnessed over the previous days.

Maybe two weeks later, after several more visits from detectives and lawyers, I finally got some answers to the craziness of late; truths I was not prepared for. I returned to my home around mid-afternoon, after having to attend yet another meeting with my attorney. I had grown exhausted from this situation, but it wasn’t in my hands to put an end to it. Yes, I knew myself to be innocent, as did McArthur, or so he claimed anyway, but it felt as though we were making absolutely no progress, as the only evidence revealed in my dad’s home pointed to me.

I was far more than stressed, and quite mentally checked out while I drove the far too familiar roads to reach the solitude of my house, that I didn’t even notice my guest when I arrived. I was paying little attention to anything around me, after I swung my door open. I just strolled over to my favorite chair, flopped down into it, and flipped on the television. It wasn’t until I heard the voice from behind me, that I realized I was not alone.

“Hey, little brother…”

“Jesus Christ!” I yelled, almost falling out of my chair, as I had assumed myself to be the only resident of my home.

“Lane! Where the hell have you been!?”

I got up and walked over to where she stood at the back of the room, but she held her hand out, before I got close enough to wrap my arms around her.

“Stay back, kiddo,” she said, with wide eyes and a trembling lower lip, “I don’t know if it’s contagious…”

That was when I noticed the wrist that still wore the charred imprint of the hand which had wrapped around it in the woods, now branching out into darkened veins.

“Oh my God, Laney! We need to get you to a doctor!”

“I-I can’t, baby brother, they’ll lock me away!”

She now waved both arms in front of her, looking downright terrified at the thought of facing possible involvement from the authorities.

“Lane, that does not look good! I mean, it looks like it’s infected or something. If we don’t get you to the emergency room, you may end up losing the hand! It may already be too far gone…”

“It…it doesn’t matter what happens to me…I’ve done…”

She cut her own words short, as she covered her face with the hand that was attached to her untarnished wrist, which now had tears leaking from behind it.

“What have you done, Lane?”

I almost didn’t want to ask, but I feared I already knew the answer.

“I didn’t mean to…I…couldn’t stop it…I didn’t even realize what I was doing, until…there was so much blood, Bry…I don’t…”

Her sobbing overruled her ability to speak, causing her to drop to the floor. I walked closer. I wanted to console her, but she still wouldn’t allow it.

“STAY BACK!’ she screamed, holding her hand out once more.

“Laney, please just…”

“NO!” She yelled, getting to her feet and running for the back door before I could wrap my arms around her.

“LANEY!” I called out, chasing after her.

I was closing the gap between us as she threw open the door, but I couldn’t even hope to catch up after she freed herself from my home, she was just so goddamn fast! I had never seen anyone move like that before. For a moment, I had entertained the idea that she was transforming into one of those things from the woods, as those blackened veins were almost reminiscent of their rotten flesh, but they had barely even moved in any human manner, while she now seemed as though she could outrun my car with little to no effort.

I still made an attempt to chase her down, but I knew it was pointless before I even reached the end of my backyard, as she was barely visible by that point. I still tried, though. I kept running in the direction she had fled towards, even after I could no longer see her. I held onto some sort of hope that she may run out of energy before long, possibly dropping her to the ground, but that was wishful thinking at best.

After a solid ten minutes at least, I finally gave into the splitting in my side, gasping for breath, while almost buckling to the concrete. I knew I wouldn’t be able to find her now, but I still returned to my car after my head stopped spinning, to drive out in hopes of being able to maybe find some trace of where she had gone. I spent hours speeding from one neighborhood to the next, up and down back roads, and even out towards the interstate, but it had been pointless to begin with.

When I finally returned to my house, I allowed the gravity of what she had told me to set in. “So much blood,” she had said. Those words bounced around in my head for some time, until I allowed the truth to break through the wall my own denial had begun to build around itself.

“She killed him…” I said aloud, finally accepting it; admitting to myself that my own beloved sister was the one who killed our father with such brutality.

I just sat there, glaring at the nothingness behind my television, which was still tuned into whatever it was I had been watching before Laney broke me away from it. I could neither focus on it, nor anything else, other than what she had done. I knew that it had to be due to whatever the hell those things in the woods were, but them being on the other side of the country, made them far from my current dilemma.

What concerned me at that moment was that I needed to get my sister some help. I couldn’t allow her to be taken into custody for something I knew she would never have done, had she not been, I don’t know, altered? That alone made her innocent in my eyes. Yes, she had torn our dad to shreds; something I still had trouble wrapping my mind around, but it wasn’t her! Not entirely anyway.

Somewhere in the midst of my brooding over all of the chaotic craziness, I suddenly broke free from my pensive stare, practically leaping back to my feet. I ran to my bedroom to fetch my phone from the charger, before it dawned on me it was still in my damn pocket. I placed the call to my mom as soon as I was able, feeling my heart slam against the inner wall of my chest.

“Pick up, pick up, pick up…” I rambled over and over, while every beat of the dial tone caused my breathing to grow more erratic.

“PICK UP!” I screamed out one last time, before my mother’s voice greeted me from the recording, requesting that I leave a message at the beep.

“FUCK!” I yelled, jogging towards my front door, while placing the call for a second time, knowing full well it would result in the same thing.

Before I knew it, I was speeding much faster than I knew I should have, but I had to get to my mom’s place. I had to be sure she was safe. With the knowledge of who had actually murdered my father, I knew I had to intervene before my sister inflicted the same thing on my mom. Whatever that thing was that grabbed her by the wrist, had infected her with something, I had no doubt about that, but I couldn’t help her if she wouldn’t allow me to. The only thing I hoped I could do was stop her from what I had little doubt she was planning.

My tires tore into the front lawn of my mother’s house, after I screeched them to a halt, halfway in the driveway and half in the grass. I ran from the car to her front door, leaving the engine running as I wanted to waste as little time as possible. As soon as I knocked my fist against the wood, the door swung open to reveal Carl, my step father, standing behind it.

“What’s up, kid?” He asked with a puzzled and somewhat annoyed expression, made even more aggravated after his eyes met where my tires had torn into the grass.

“Carl, hi. Um, is my mom around?” I was panting as I spoke, still gasping for the breath that had not seemed to fill my lungs since I chased after Laney.

“She stepped out for a few. Would you care to wait for her inside?”

He pulled the door open further, before cutting his eyes back to the shredded lawn with my wheels buried. He clenched his jaw, but still spoke in a friendly tone, though I could make out the underlying annoyance underneath. I glanced back at my car, before giving Carl an apologetic shrug.

“Let me adjust my parking real quick. I’m, um, sorry about the lawn,” I gave a pitiful excuse for a bullshit chuckle, before heading back over to my vehicle.

“Just come on in when you’re done,” he said, wearing a facsimile of a grin.

In all honesty, I never much cared for Carl; a feeling that I was certain to be mutual. He wasn’t a bad guy overall, he just always had that ‘my shit don’t stink’ look on his face, and he had a tendency to sort of look down his nose at me. I don’t think he had ever even met Laney, since she didn’t come around anyone but me since the divorce, but I’m sure he would’ve treated her the same way if he had.

It took far longer than necessary to regulate the parking of my car, but I was in no rush to share my mom’s place with her husband for any longer than I had to. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I think I was hoping that she’d pull in behind me, before I would have to drag my heels into the house. Unfortunately, it appeared that I would have little choice but to just bite down and deal with Carl for the time being.

He was just sitting on the recliner when I let myself in, staring at his phone, while barely acknowledging my entry. I was still moving slowly, even if we did officially share the room already, but I could tell he was about as excited about this as I, while he did his best to continue to ignore me.

“Is it cool if I grab a drink?” I asked reluctantly.

Though this was the house I grew up in, something about it felt foreign to me these days. It could be no more than the fact I no longer lived there, or just the fact that good old Carl appeared right at home in it.

He just nodded his head to my request, so I strolled into the kitchen, fully planning on grabbing my beverage and sitting at the dining table, to avoid the man as much as I could. That was my intention anyway, before the scream caused me to drop the beer, shattering the bottle into both thick and fine shards of reflective green glass, while the liquid within splashed across the tile floor.

By the time my short sprint brought me back to the living room, blood had already sprayed across the dark wood of the coffee table, as well as the front door and wall. It still dripped from Laney’s fingers, which had only just pulled themselves free from our stepdad’s throat when I entered. She didn’t even look up at me, as my wailing took the place of my step father’s now gargling voice.

There was nothing especially deformed or maliciously expressive in her eyes, as she grabbed both of his arms, before thrusting her heel against his chest, to pull his limbs free from his torso. She still wore my sister’s kind face, her warm smile, and almost childlike eyes, while globs of crimson and chunks of grizzled meat slapped across her own body, as Carl’s spewing shoulders gave way. I was borderline paralyzed and rooted to the spot, as I watched her rip more and more from what was once a middle aged, condescending prick.

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Somewhere within the chaos of my frenzied and shell shocked mind, I wondered why she kept tearing her fingers through his flesh, as it appeared her initial attack had put an end to his life, but she just wouldn’t stop! I knew it was my beloved sister I watched shred our mothers husband, but I was also well aware that it wasn’t.

Regardless of the lighthearted glint in her eye, as though she were doing nothing more than messily preparing a meal, I had to put an end to this. After what she had done to our father, I had no reason to believe she would stop after this. I loved my sister more than anyone else in this world, but I could not allow her to go on this way. For all intents and purposes, Laney died on that mountain. Whatever I brought back with me could not be permitted to live on in her place.

Finally convincing my shuddering limbs to function again, I charged at my sister, connecting my tightly balled fist with the side of her face. Blood sprayed across my knuckles, but I couldn’t tell if it was hers, or just some of my step father’s bodily fluids, as she was currently soaked from head to toe in them. She fell back onto the floor, before gazing up at me with a look of shock on her face; an expression of one who had been betrayed by the only person they loved.

I felt the tears well in my eyes, as we stared at each other. The stabbing pain in my chest was not from fear, but from the agony of knowing what had to be done.

“What the fuck, Bry!?” She asked; her own eyes glassy and trembling.

“Look what you did, Lane!” I replied, choking on the words as they rippled from my throat.

Her mouth drooped as she looked upon what she had done to Carl. She blinked from his remains, to her blood soaked hands, and back to me still holding my fist out before me like a shield. She began shaking her head, pushing herself across the floor, away from the bloodied heap of what was once a man.

“No no no no no…I-I didn’t do this! I-I couldn’t!” She gazed back into my eyes; hers now flowing tears down her reddened cheeks, though I couldn’t tell if her own blood flushed beneath the surface, or if it was just liquid-Carl smeared across her skin.

“Lane, I saw you…I watched it happen! You have to stop!”

“Bry, what!? I mean, I…couldn’t…”

“But you did! You killed dad too!”

“No…no, I wouldn’t…I…”

“You did, Lane! You even told me you did!”

“…no…I couldn’t…

“Laney, you told me earlier today. You remember coming to my place?”

“No…I…how did I get here!? What’s going on, baby brother?”

We just stared at each other for a time; both of us in our own separate degree of shock. I knew she wasn’t in control while she did those awful things, but I couldn’t allow this to continue, even if I dreaded the thought of what I would have to do to put an end to her murderous rampage. While our glassy eyes glared into one another, I could tell she was of the same mind as I, as well as sharing the fear of what was to come.

When she got back to her feet, there was a look of resolve on her face; one that I believe I also shared. She walked around the dismembered body of our mothers husband, trying as much as she could to avoid stepping another foot into the thick, scarlet fluids which still spurted from his many grevious wounds. After the gap between us was closed, and we stood face to face, I felt my chest heaving, while my heart sank to the pit of my stomach.

“You know what you have to do, Bry,” Laney said with her lips forming a quivering smile.

“I…I can’t, Lane…don’t make me…”

I could feel the moisture drip from my chin, dampening the wrinkled, Jimmy Hendrix T-shirt I wore. My breathing skipped, while my heart fought to regulate itself, causing my trembling fingers to feel cold, and absent of blood.

“You have to, baby brother,” she said, placing her hand on the side of my face, allowing me to feel the warmth of her skin upon my frigid cheek.

After gazing at one another for more time than I can say, she once more lowered her hand, wrapping her fingers around mine. We walked side by side as she guided me to the kitchen, where the remains of the shattered bottle still lined the floor. She did not break her eyes from mine, as she reached for the rack of knives, perched on the marble countertop. She never broke her stare while she lay the hilt of the long blade in my hand, before lifting it to her own throat.

“Please…” she said, sounding far more calm and accepting than I was even remotely capable of, as my hand shuddered so violently, I could barely keep the knife gripped between my fingers and palm.

“Don’t make me…” I pleaded, knowing she was certain this was necessary.

“You love me, right?”

“Of course!”

“Then let me die as me, not as what did that…” she said, pointing towards the oozing corpse in the living room.

I tried to fight against her grip, as she guided the blade I held into the flesh of her neck, instantly causing blood to stream from around where the cold metal pierced. I cried out, allowing the hopelessness to consume me, letting the tears spill into a veritable storm, soaking the fabric of my shirt, while blending with the warm spray erupting from her throat.

As the life began to leave the hands she still held in place around mine, they dropped to her side. I pulled the knife from her neck, tossing it to the floor, to wrap my arms around her. The gargling from both her open, gushing throat, and her gaping mouth did not distract from the childlike beauty of her eyes, as we continued to look upon each other. Her mouth twitched as she fought to form her lips into a smile, and I attempted to return the sentiment, though my racing heart was slowly fragmenting.

Her body became heavier when the final sparks of life left her, and I allowed myself to sink to the floor, with my arms still clutching her tightly. I could barely form a rational thought over the course of what felt like hours of crouching on the tiles, running my fingers through her hair, wishing for nothing more than for her to inhale another sweet draw of oxygen into her now permanently deflated lungs. I stared down into her wide and blank eyes, allowing my tears to splash upon that final attempt at a loving smile, still frozen onto her face.

Some time later, I was vaguely aware of the front door creaking open, followed by a horrified squeal that finally broke my pensive stare from that of my sister. My mother was still wailing when she saw me perched on her kitchen floor, as she ran towards me, rubbing her hands across my face and arms.

“Who did this!? Are you hurt!? JESUS CHRIST, ANSWER ME!” She yelled, still searching my body for injuries.

“I…I had to stop her…I didn’t want to…it’s not her fault…”

“WHO!? YOU HAD TO STOP WHO!?”

“It was Laney, mom. She killed him. Dad too…it wasn’t her, though. Not really…”

“B-Brian…” she said, pulling her hands off me, as she backed away from where I sat, still holding the corpse of my beloved sister, “did you…did you do this!?”

“What? No, mom. It was Laney!” My senses were returning, though my mind was still reeling, “She was infected with something in the woods. It…it made her…bad, I think…it wasn’t her fau…”

“What the fuck are you talking about, Brian!?”

“We went to some mountain behind an old ghost town. There were these…things up there. They touched her…I think they infected her with…”

“Jesus Christ, Brian! Your sister has been dead for thirteen years! You know that, right!? What the hell is wrong with you!?”

“What? No! She’s…”

I looked down to see nothing but my own blood stained jeans staring back up at me. I darted my eyes around the room, searching for any sign of my sister, but there wasn’t even a trace! I saw the knife lying on the floor, but it was clean, besides the residual blood around its hilt. I began to lift myself up from the floor, causing my mother to jump, screaming out once more.

“What the fuck have you done, Brian!?’

“No! I didn’t! It was…”

I finally got back to my feet, attempting to wipe off the dried blood which had soaked into the skin of my hands, still seeing absolutely no trace of my sister. I felt my stomach churn as an endless stream of questions attacked my frenzied mind.

“STAY BACK!” My mother screamed, pulling a gun from her purse, before outstretching it towards me in a shaking hand.

“It wasn’t me, mom! I wouldn’t! It was Laney! I swear to God!”

“I’m calling the police!” She still held the gun trained on me, as much as she could with her very erratic aim at the time, while placing a call with her free hand.

“Mom! I didn’t…”

“T-there’s been a murder!” She stuttered into the phone, “my husband! My son…he…”

I shook my head from side to side, backing away from the woman who had already determined me to be the killer. I knew I hadn’t hurt anyone! Well, anyone besides my sister, but she made me do that! I knew I would never hurt anyone, but she just couldn’t see it! I couldn’t understand how she could believe me capable of such a thing, but I couldn’t wait around to be thrown into a prison cell, when I could never prove my innocence if I were locked away.

Without giving it a second thought, I ran for the back door. Two shots rang out from behind me, along with another terror filled wail from my own mother who I could barely believe had actually tried to shoot me! I didn’t waste any time checking myself to see if any of the bullets hit their mark, as I just wanted to get as far away from there as I could. I don’t know if my mom attempted to chase after me or what, but once I busted through the back door, I circled the house back to my car, and hauled ass in a hurry.

I was a good ways up the road when I heard the sirens in the distance, which I could only assume belonged to the police headed for my mom’s place, but I did not stop driving until I got back to my home. I gathered up as many of my things as I could, before loading up the camper, and getting back on the road before giving the authorities a chance to catch up with me. I couldn’t risk staying at a hotel, but I hoped I could keep my camper under the radar until I could clear this shit up.

I don’t know what’s real anymore. I know what I saw, I know what I’ve lived through, but any information I can find on my sister, claims she died before my parents even divorced. I’ve known her my whole life! I’ve spent more time in Laney’s company than anyone else on this goddamn planet. She was the only person I could ever count on, and it was my hands that put an end to her life. I know that! I still feel the guilt of having to kill the only person I truly loved in this fucking world, as well as the memories of all the good times we shared growing up.

I’m slowly making my way across the country, hopeful that I can make it back to the town that time forgot before the police catch up with me. I swear my sister was not a monster, but I also know I didn’t kill anybody! Unfortunately, I can’t prove either of those facts to anyone, nor that Laney was even real, until I truly understand what’s going on myself. I’m terrified at even the thought of going back up that mountain, but I think it’s the only choice I have left.

Laney was my best friend, and the only person I could ever count on. I have to find the answers to what made her do those horrific things, as well as why nobody remembers her but me, well, remembers her to be alive anyway. I can’t take back the things that happened, and I will never look upon my beloved sister again, but I hope to God I can at least rationalize it all.

I don’t know if those things in the woods changed reality in some way, or maybe even sent me somewhere else, but I know they did this! I know all of this insanity is connected to them, whatever the fuck they are. I’ll try to pick up some sort of weapons before I get back to that mountain, and I’ll get to the truth of it all, even if I have to gut a few of those creatures to make them listen to me. I’ll set this right; I’ll make everyone see it, one way or another.

Just please believe me; I am innocent, and Lane was too. It wasn’t her who did those things. She had the kindest and most loving heart, and would never ever do such a thing to anyone! I may have lost touch with reality a bit, but I will never believe she was capable of such horrifying acts. I won’t even entertain the idea that I was responsible for them either. My sister wasn’t a monster, and I swear to Christ, I am not one either!

It took me a few days to make that cross country trip, back to the broken down old city, as I only travelled at night. I was sure my mother had already told the police that I was responsible for the death of both her husband and ex, but I still maintained the belief that I was innocent. Given the fact there was likely an all points bulletin out for me, I couldn’t risk exposing myself during the day.

I followed the old movie tips for those hopeful to avoid the law; dyed my hair, muddied up my tag, and even crudely repainted my camper. I’m not a professional by any means, so I could only keep my fingers crossed that my meager attempt at a makeshift camouflage color scheme would be enough to not warrant any second glances from any police cars I may have inadvertently passed by. It wasn’t pretty, but it did help a little when nestling the old girl behind whatever trees I found to hide out in before sunrise.

Even though I’d spent a good deal of my life since moving out of my mother’s house on my own, I still felt almost cripplingly lonesome, especially on those long days hiding in my camper. I would take some chances here and there; walking to local fast food joints, various stores and the like, but I always kept my head down and spoke as little as possible. Most of my gas stops were at night, and I would only use cash for my transactions. I pulled every cent I had out of the bank before giving the authorities a chance to lock me out, so I was sure I had enough to cover whatever I may need.

Since Laney had done the majority of the navigating from the passenger seat, I wasn’t entirely certain if I was going the right direction when I neared the border of the state that housed the ghost town. I ended up backtracking quite a few times, basically getting myself more lost. I didn’t recognize anything, the closer I got. I was sure I was at least in the neighborhood, but I’d gotten so turned around, I had to find a new hiding spot for the day before I’d be able to pick my quest back up after nightfall.

I was yelling and cursing while I searched for a good place to park, feeling my face burn from the frustration of being so close, yet so far. When I finally found the day’s resting area, I cut the engine off, and just sat there, feeling as though my ears were billowing thick plumes of smoke, while fighting against the urge to beat the hell out of my steering wheel. I controlled my building rage to the best of my ability, as I couldn’t risk unwarranted damage to my RV.

I stared through the windshield, focusing on calming my breathing, while gazing upon yet another series of trees beyond the glass. I was growing incredibly tired of this whole ordeal, but I had little choice but to plunder on, and just hope to God I could find a way to fix the train wreck my life had become. Not only was I a wanted man, for crimes I was certain I hadn’t committed, but I missed my sister terribly. Maybe it was that very state of mind, combined with being quite disconnected from reality, that made what happened next seem far less disturbingly bizarre.

“You’re not far off now, Bry,” Laney said from the passenger seat.

“Shit, I can’t tell! Feel like I’ve just been driving in circles for the last few hours!”

Somehow, I had felt her with me this whole time, and somewhere in my chaotic mind, I knew she couldn’t be, but I didn’t question it when she spoke from beside me. Perhaps I just wanted her to still be alive so badly, her sudden appearance was simply my only way to deal with everything.

“I can help you find your way back there, if you want,” she said, giving me her classic, playful smile.

“Hell yes! I’m only getting myself more lost by the minute!”

“Wanna get going then?”

“Nah, can’t risk it in the daytime. Can’t fix this if I’m behind bars, y’know?”

“Yeah, I gotcha. Probably a good call.”

We talked for a bit, just like we always did. No particular topic, just one pointless subject led to the other. We laughed and joked about all of the craziness of the last few days, though it felt quite the grim discussion to be making light of. Still, it felt amazing to have her by my side again, and her being there made me far more confident that I may actually be able to pull this off.

After a while, we took a stroll to find a place to grab something to eat. She was still as bouncy and enthusiastic as she had been when we first parked the old camper beside those very woods we were headed back to, and her joy was just as contagious as always. By the time we found a local diner, just off the road a mile or two from where we parked, I had almost forgotten how terrified I was about what lay ahead.

I got some strange looks from the waitress, and the guy behind the counter flipping burgers, as it would seem they could not see the person I was talking to, but the food tasted amazing nonetheless. After I noticed their erratic glances, I slid out of the seat, to join my sister on the other side, with my back to the staff of the small, roadside cafe. Laney chuckled, joking about how crazy I must’ve looked to them, but I attempted to keep my words and laughs to a minimum.

As unusual a situation as it was, I think Lane and I both were well aware that she wasn’t exactly there, but it didn’t bother us. In some ways, I think I just saw the girl whose company I shared, as the restless spirit of my beloved sister, more so than a manifestation of my fucked up mind. I generally didn’t believe in such things, but not too long ago, I didn’t believe in creepy little skeletal creatures, capable of altering people or reality either.

Once my meal was done, I got up to pay, when I saw the cook was now on the phone, cutting his eyes back at me on occasion. I felt my chest heaving again, with the realization the man may have recognized me, perhaps from the news or something. I just grabbed my change from the waitress, and took off out the door.

“We may wanna run, Lane,” I said, already quickening my pace.

She looked as nervous as I felt, so we gunned it back in the direction of the camper. I had hoped to get a little rest before heading back towards the ghost town, but I just knew we had to get back on the road as soon as possible. I threw the door back open as soon as I got back to my little house on wheels, locking it behind me. Laney was already in the passenger seat when I slid into my spot at the helm, and I cranked her right up.

“We’re close, Bry. We can be there within an hour if you follow my lead.”

“We’re that close!? I was sure…”

“Just go! Get back to the highway, and take the first right you see.”

I thought I heard sirens off in the distance, but I hoped to God I was just imagining it. The paranoid mind can hear things that aren’t there, but I had little choice but to get moving, whether it was real or not. Once I backed out of the trail between the trees, I floored it to get back to the highway. It should only be a few miles from where I was, but I could still make out what could have possibly been the approaching hoard of officers, as though they were not far behind us.

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I felt the tires bounce in and out of cracks and splits in the neglected back road, before the tarmac smoothed out once I pulled back onto the highway. Just as Laney yelled out, pointing towards the right turn we had to get on, the sirens grew significantly louder, and were now accompanied by strobing lights from a ways behind us.

“Shit!” I said, darting my eyes to my sister, who looked as worried as I.

“Don’t let up, baby brother!”

She barked directions from one road to the next, and things were beginning to feel familiar to me again. We were close, maybe only a few more miles to go, but I could now make out the front bumpers of our pursuers. I pressed the pedal as far as it would go, but there wouldn’t be the slightest chance of escaping a police car in a rusty old camper, no matter how well I maintained her.

I knew the road wasn’t far ahead now, as though I could feel it! All of the trees to our right were overgrown and unkempt, just like the ones that covered the buckled city limits sign, but I highly doubted I could even hope to lose the cops chasing us down. My sister looked over her shoulder, out the back window, before glancing back at me. I could feel the tightened skin of my knuckles, as though the bones were about to tear through the flesh, just as I had when we sped away from where I now hoped to return.

“Just a little further…” Laney said, with a certain intensity in her voice.

“Keep going, Brian…”

She was right beside me, having apparently gotten out of her seat, to talk directly into my ear.

“You know the turn now, right?”

“Yeah, Lane. I got this!”

“Alright, kiddo. You hit that turn as soon as you get to it, and don’t stop until you get to the other side, you got it?”

“Yeah…Lane?”

“I’ll see you there, okay?”

“Lane!?”

She just gave me a wink, before running to the back of the camper, and out through the window, passing through the glass as though it weren’t even there.

“LANE!!?”

Almost as soon as I saw the small gap in the trees ahead, with the slightest rim of the corner edge of the once green city limits sign, I pressed down the brake pedal, while cutting the wheels to the right. While I faced sideways in the road for maybe a second or two at most, I saw my sister slam into the police car closest to me, causing the driver to lose control. It quickly veered to the other side of the road, flipping onto its roof, and over again, as the one behind it screeched its tires to a halt, before careening into the side of the other.

I could still hear the slamming and crushing of metal against metal, as I sped down the slender, single lane road towards the city lost to the past. I breathed a heavy sigh after assuring myself that I was alone on the bumpy and potholed pavement, with my pursuers having somehow been removed from the equation through the efforts of my deceased sister. It didn’t make a damn bit of rational sense, but I didn’t give it a second thought at the time.

As soon as my tires made contact with the cracked tarmac of the main strip down the center of town, my momentary settled pulse began to quicken again. I hadn’t had a chance to look upon the city with the sun shining down the last time we were here, but it strangely felt far more ominous than it did after dark. Maybe it was simply the fact that I could make out the destruction of the little place in more vivid detail in the daylight. Perhaps it was nothing more than the reason I was here that led to the inherent foreboding in the recesses of my mind.

Whatever the case, my hands were already beginning to tremble, as I let off on the gas a bit. I told myself I was just slowing my pace to more easily navigate the camper through the streets filled with rubble and debris, but I knew exactly what it was that caused me to no longer find myself in a rush. I could see the mountain ahead, looming over the old berg like a feral beast preparing to pounce, but I kept going towards it. This had to be done.

No matter what I may be facing, this was not a choice I had much control over. It was this, or face the authorities, and pay for the crimes I knew myself not to have committed, regardless of the facts that were handed to me. Maybe my sister did die when I was just a kid, and my fragile and immature mind couldn’t handle it; cracking under the weight of it, not unlike the tarnished pavement my wheels bounced across. Perhaps there was something else at play here, though; something I could potentially look upon very soon.

It had been early when I got myself turned around and lost, so, as I guided the old girl back onto the steeply inclined, slender and rough road behind the ghost town to see the world falling into darkness around me, I couldn’t help but find myself a bit more unsettled than I already was. I knew it wasn’t long after leveling back out that we pulled over the last time I was here, but when I saw my own tire marks from our rapidly paced escape, I knew I had reached my destination.

I sat in place, just glaring out into the trees for some time, unsure whether or not I was ready to seek out that circular gap in the diseased and rotting trees. A good half hour or so of staring down the treeline, I lifted myself from the driver’s seat, reached for my flashlight, and the machete I had been able to pick up at a department store some miles back, and walked out of the RV.

My initial footsteps were still reluctant ones, but once I walked into the grass, still lined with the blackened leaves left in the wake of those who chased us down, I felt my pulse quickening again. It was then that I became aware of the noises, though they were somewhat more subdued than when they pulled me from my sleep, what felt like both long ago, and only yesterday at the same time. With my blade in one hand, and my guiding light in the other, I took a deep breath, and forced one leg in front of the other once more.

As I wandered onwards, towards the escalating sound, I noticed the blackened bark of the trees surrounding me, oozing that same dark pus. I walked into the wide clearing, recalling the woods falling lifeless as those creatures chased after us. Everything around the now deflated tents was as sickeningly diseased as the things I headed in search of, as the mist gently caressed the forest floor, while wafting between my legs.

It took everything I had to continue on, while my legs were weakening the more I forced them forwards, and my back felt as though my spine had been replaced with a sturdy, wooden table leg. As I strolled from the wide area, back between the bleeding trees, I felt my shoes attempting to stick to the thick liquid that now lined the forest floor. I felt my own fluids leaking from my ears again, as the sound intensified back to that near deafening howl, but I still wouldn’t let up. It wasn’t until I stepped from within the woods, back into the circular clearing that I found myself stunned; unable to pick my feet from the ground.

I just stood there like a startled doe, where the trees gave way to the almost perfectly round, empty area, struggling to process what I looked upon. The rotten and skeletal creatures all stood, sat or perched in the center of the clearing; maybe fifteen of them altogether, though I didn’t exactly waste time counting them. Each and every one of them had at least one hand gripped tightly onto my sister, who hovered above the ground as she had before.

The flickering flame-like orange eyes of the things now shone brightly, somewhat mimicking the light breaching from Laney’s mouth, nostrils and eyes. They all looked as though they were in something of a trance as their glows carved through the darkness in varying directions, spilling across the fog and blackened barks surrounding them. I noticed that my sister’s skin appeared charred around where the seemingly endless bony fingers grasped, but she did not look to be in any sort of pain, as her gleeful expression would imply she was beyond content.

While her audible moans blended with the awful screeching, yet somewhat ecstatic howls of those scrawny beasts, my mind fought to regain its composure; to figure out what next move. I still held my flashlight and machete, but my limbs ignored my pleas to do any more than hang limp to my sides.

“Move, goddamnit,” I commanded aloud, momentarily afraid I would prematurely gain the attention of the decayed little critters.

I felt my left foot break free from the sticky ground, closely followed by my right. My arms still were not responding, but I would worry about that when I got closer to my goal. Those initial steps were slight, but each one gained more momentum than the last, finally garnering the aid of my arms. My mind was clearing more and more as my legs pursued each other, right, left, right, left, one after the other until I could pick up the stench of those grotesque little bastards.

Before I could allow myself to give it a second thought, I softly carved my blade into the throat of one of the things that lay, sprawled out on the ground, with one hand wrapped around my sister’s ankle. It didn’t so much as twitch as its voice(?) left its sibling’s chorus of madness, before the flickering flames of its eyes went dark. As its hand slipped away from Laney’s leg, leaving only the scarring left by its grasp, I noticed how thin and malnourished she appeared.

It wasn’t easy to get a clear look at her through the creatures gathered around where she hovered, but it looked as though the life force was being drained from her. I could only assume that these things were somehow feeding on, or being intoxicated by what they stole from her, but I would be damned if I was about to allow them to continue. Though the realization that she had somehow been here, possibly this whole time, I was prepared to do whatever it took to get her back; really get her back this time.

I tried to keep my actions as controlled as possible as I guided the blade into the decayed flesh of the grotesque creatures with my shivering hands. I could only hope to not alert those still entranced as I left one after the other oozing their noxious, milky fluids onto the ground from their lifeless, skeletal bodies. As I worked my way up to those hanging onto her arms, it was growing more difficult to keep my assault somewhat silent. The higher up they were, the farther they had to fall, landing with a nasty slapping sound onto their fallen comrades.

I still carried on, slicing throats, and carving fatal wounds into the brittle and hardened meat; each of them spraying that creamy and foul smelling pus across my clothes. The gut wrenching stench and sounds would not distract me from freeing my sister from the bony tendrils of their knobby fingers. As the chorus of their horrendous howl’s were growing softer from more voices falling silent, I sped my movements, pulling my blade from one, and almost instantly slicing into another.

I feared it was only a matter of time until at least one of them became aware of what I was doing, so I couldn’t drag my heels. Only five remained; all dangling like disgusting, meaty ornaments from the upper arms and shoulders of my sister. I found I was now having to step over the mound of corpses that lined the ground beneath me, causing me to take far more care in my jabs and cuts, as to not inadvertently slice into Laney. I finally had to take something of a back step, to clear some of the heap from the path, which was when my smooth sailing came to a jarring and bitter end.

I was somewhat distracted while heaving the gruesome sacks of rotten flesh away from my sister’s feet, audibly gagging more than once as my fingers felt as though they were wrapping around some sort of dense, crusty pudding, lined with a brittle skin. By the time I realized my shadow was being cast across the bodies I had already moved, I didn’t have a chance to escape the blackened hands which latched onto my arms, as soon as I turned around. All ten of the remaining flickering eyes gazed into mine, while my skin began to burn.

I screamed as I attempted to move my arms, but I couldn’t so much as break free from the tight grip. Two of them held onto me, each with one hand clutched on, but they were insanely strong for having such a seemingly weak and fragile frame. I kicked at their knees, causing them to shriek in a much more aggravated version of their maddening wails, but they still wouldn’t release me. I just continued to smack my heels against the bones of their legs, while trying with everything I could, pull away from them.

The other three were bearing down on me, each moving in those staggered and jerky motions, while I waged my assault. Finally, after successfully snapping one of the legs into something of a reverse sitting stance, my left arm slipped loose. I frantically felt around for the machete I had stabbed into the ground while I made my efforts to clear a pathway. As another wrapped its fingers around my right arm, just below where the other hand still grasped tightly, I felt my thumb brush across the hilt of my blade.

I gave another loud yell, both from the incredible pain of my scorched flesh, as well as the anguished desire to reach my weapon. I stretched my body as much as I could, grabbing onto the rubbery textured handle, while another burning hand grasped the upper thigh of my right leg. I roared a rage fueled battle cry, as I freed the blade from the dead grass and dirt, before swatting it down upon each of the arms of the creatures who held me in place. Their shared squeals blended with my own, as the skeletal forearms separated from the hands which still held me tight.

I leapt back, as the quintet bore down on me, now revealing haggard and gaping mouths, with more of that fiery aura glowing from within. Their stuttering movements quickened, as they staggered at me, but I kept swinging my machete from one side to the other while I gathered my bearings. As I felt both of my feet secure themselves to the ground beneath me, I prepared to make my stand, no longer retreating. When the nearest one closed the gap between us, I sliced my blade once, and once again across its midsection.

The anguished howl erupted from its orifice again, now spewing as much foul and milky fluids, as the gut I tore into. It grasped at its stomach, attempting to hold in the meaty, entangled cords that spilled from behind the opening I made, before one last swat from my gore lined weapon, silenced it for good. I leapt towards the next two, which staggered side by side towards me, until I carved deep into the chest of the one on the left, before hacking a ditch into the neck of the other. When they fell to the ground, I stuck them both again, just to be sure the deed was done.

Only two remained; each of whom had begun to back away from me, but I would be damned if I was about to let them escape from their shared fate. I dug the machete right through the upper torso of the next in line, before raring back with all my might, to separate the head from the spewing neck of the last. I stood there, heaving deep and exhausted breaths, while continuing to slice through the meat and tissue of each and every one of my victims, until I was damn sure they would never grip their boney tendrils around anyone else, ever again.

I gripped at my side, while buckling over, retching across the widely strewn mounds of gore I had scattered across the forest floor. I gasped for breath as my erratic lungs begged for me to take control and regulate my frenzied heartbeat, which I battled as well as I could while attempting to slow my intake of oxygen. My chest continued to pound, but my lightening head began to alleviate, as I once more slowed my breathing back to something almost in the neighborhood of normal.

I gazed across the now darkened area, as the glowing from my sister was now the only thing illuminating the circular clearing. I looked around for my flashlight, but realized it was more than likely buried under the mass of rotten meat and bone; something I was not about to root through. I finally stepped towards my sister, not remotely hesitating before throwing my arms around her, pulling her close, while begging for her to awaken from her catatonic state.

As I held her, I couldn’t tell if my own feet were lifting from the ground, or if she was descending to where I stood but, when the darkened forest dissolved before my eyes, I suddenly didn’t care one way or the other. My entire body; no, my entire being was filled with such ecstasy as I had never even imagined possible. It felt as though I had escaped the body which imprisoned me, allowing me to soar above reality itself. Within what seemed to be no more than seconds, I watched my life play out before what I could only assume to be my mind’s eye.

I saw the child who would grow to be the man I could be, being brought into this world, before taking my first steps, my first run, my first kiss, and my first love. I just watched on as though I were living a movie, as I married the amazing woman I had known since junior high. I viewed the travels we would share together, along with the heartache of the struggles we would endure, but even the tears filled me with such awe, I could barely rationalize the thoughts.

As one life ended, another began, as though I were switching the channels of a television tuned to a realm of possibilities. When I would come across a life I did not care for, I found I could simply fast forward to the next, and were it not to my liking, I would just flip the script once more. I saw myself go through so many trials and hardships, yet so many more wonders that showed me hope that pure and exhilarated joy can truly exist.

“It’s so goddamn beautiful…” I felt whisper from my lips, which were so far removed from where I was.

As I gazed into the endless wonders of what could be, I was vaguely aware of the moans and whimpers as they left my mouth, but that was not where I lived anymore. My body was little more than a dream I no longer cared to take part in. It was an old, beaten down car, that I saw no reason not to leave deserted on the side of the road. Even when I became aware of fingers, tightly wrapping themselves around my arms, I didn’t care. ‘let them have it’, I thought. I didn’t especially want it anymore.

I felt the sensation of the vessel I once occupied being shaken, with something of a jarring that threatened to send me falling back into it. My grip on the wonders I viewed and somehow lived all at once, began to slip, causing the experience to fragment slightly. I fought to maintain my connection, with my soul practically begging not to be pulled away.

“…Brian…” a voice called out from miles away; somewhere beyond the realm I struggled to remain within.

There was a sudden, and somewhat alarming pain that shot across what was once my face, causing my awareness to falter.

“Brian!” The distant voice screamed from much closer than before.

Something inside me became heavy; a weight I was once familiar with. Something tangible, that I began to crave, ever so slightly. It was a hunger, almost, though I didn’t know if that was the right word.

“BRIAN, SNAP OUT OF IT, DAMNIT!”

Another sharp and more shocking pain pulled me from the glorious oasis of the place beyond reality. I felt my body toppling back to the ground, momentarily confused as to what I was looking at. My eyes burned, feeling as though I hadn’t used them in years. I was struggling to remember how to function within my body, when I finally looked into the kind and loving eyes of my sister, which practically thrusted my mind back to the awareness of what led me there in the first place.

“I thought I’d lost you, baby brother.”

The tears spilled down her sunken cheeks, while her lips quivered in a strained attempt at a smile. I wrapped my arms around her and, though I could feel her ribs right below the surface, her heart rapidly beating against my own, caused a warmth to spread through me I never thought I would feel again.

After a while of just holding one another, we helped each other back to the camper that still rested next to those ancient trees. I could already see signs of life returning to the forest behind us, assuring me that I had indeed put an end to those creatures who fed on my sister’s bliss like a drug. As I guided the old girl back through the streets of the city from times long gone, I was quite reluctant at what we may be facing back in the real world. Yes, I had retrieved my sister; something I hadn’t believed possible, but I still hadn’t actually changed anything, or so I thought at the time.

I pulled out of the slender road, and back onto the highway, next to the tarnished and warped city limits sign, seeing no sign of any wreckage that could have potentially been left by the police cars that chased after me. There weren’t even any tire marks on the road, from where I knew at least one of my pursuers to have screeched onto the tarmac. Don’t get me wrong, I was thrilled to see nobody awaiting my emergence from the land before time, but I couldn’t help but feel a bit apprehensive about what could really be going on.

I pulled up to a twenty four hour diner, just as the sun was beginning to emerge from its dormant state. Laney had been sleeping for the last hour or so, but I had to get some food into her incredibly malnourished body. I didn’t wake her up until I returned with some burgers and fries for us both, and, though she was quite groggy at first, she enthusiastically wolfed the meal down like it was the first thing she’d eaten in weeks It wasn’t far from the truth of things, of course, but it still felt good to see her so happy.

I didn’t give her a choice about heading to the first emergency room I could find, well, the first one, far enough from the old ghost town anyway. Even if I was confident our nightmare may be reaching its end, I still wanted to be nowhere near that damned place by the time we stopped for the night. She actually didn’t resist my recommendation and, given her weakened state, the nurse didn’t waste any time getting her back to see a doctor.

I also had to be treated for the hand shaped burns on my arms, but, while mine bore the oozing pin picks, Laney’s did not, this time. I could only assume that whatever infected her before was now coursing through my veins, but the hospital staff managed to get it under control before any blackened veins began to spiderweb from within.

Laney was kept in that hospital for a good week, while she regained her strength, during which time I made some calls and checked online to see what I may still be facing. I reluctantly reached out to my mom, which was a conversation that did not at all go down like I was expecting. She assured me that she and her husband; my father, had lost their son when he was only a child, and the prank I was playing was nothing short of cruel. The more I insisted that I was who I claimed to be, the more enraged she grew, threatening to call the police.

I hung up the phone, shocked by the revelation that I apparently did not belong here. I attempted to reach out to a few of my other contacts, but the numbers that still led to who I expected, didn’t know me either. Laney and I talked a good deal about this, but she assured me that she still had my back, no matter what. When she was ready to be released from the hospital, we resumed our cross country trek, back to the town I no longer had a place in, but at least I had my sister; the only one I could ever count on.

Over the course of the journey back home, I began to feel an almost overpowering weakness, forcing me to yield the responsibility of driving the old camper to Laney. Given the fact she was far healthier than I had found her behind those ancient trees, she took no hesitation in accepting the task. Yes, she was still quite withered and was slowly recovering her strength, but her scars were almost completely faded, and she was already back to that energetic and youthful woman I had always loved.

By the time our road trip came to its close, I could barely keep my eyes open for more than a few minutes at a time. Laney insisted I let her take me to a hospital this time, but I had a feeling I knew what was happening. I didn’t belong in this world, just as she had not belonged in the one that left me labeled a murderer.

I have no regrets, all things considered. I think this is still a better outcome than being locked away for the rest of my life, or even being put to death for the crimes I did not commit. I just hope that Laney will get through this. She’s the best person I’ve ever known, and I’m just grateful I was able to get her back home, even if it’s one I cannot join her in.

It would seem that this is the end of my story, but I thank you for hearing me out. I don’t think I can write anymore now. Getting harder to focus by the second. That’s it for me now. It’s not the ending I hoped for, but it would appear it’s the one I got. Maybe I still left things better than they were. Maybe it was all still worth it.

My name is Laney Renee Harris, and it would seem, until recently, I had a brother. I don’t remember him well, since he died when I was around nine years old, but I know it hit mom and dad pretty hard. He was, like, two, I think, when we lost him, but I can’t say I really knew him, you know? He had a lot of medical issues, so he had to be kept in a sterile environment. I was always made to stay away from him, but only for his own good. I still felt bad when it got the better of him, though.

I’m thirty now, and I’m part of a sort of think tank/ group of paranormal researchers. We were looking into this old ghost town that was apparently once called Rimrose Fall, but it took us a lot of work to even get that much information. My colleagues wanted to do some more looking into it, before checking it out, but I think my curiosity got the better of me, and I headed across the country to see it for myself.

When I got there; even though I was immediately intoxicated by the melancholy beauty of the broken down old place, something, I guess, called to me from the mountain that stood behind it. I know, that sounds like some crazy, psychic, cat-lady shit, but that’s the best way I can describe it. Before I knew it, I was weaving through the streets in my hand-me down camper, and speeding up the steep hillside road.

Somewhere along the line, I sort of blacked out, and didn’t even come out of it until I just fell to the ground in the middle of an open space in the woods. I don’t remember much, but there was a boy there, sort of floating above the ground. I know, it sounds nuts, right? That’s not even the weirdest part, though. At the time, I, like, knew him. Not just that, but I knew him as my brother, like, totally forgetting that he died when I was a kid.

I snapped him out of the trance he was in, and we booked it, back to the camper, but it was our camper, not just mine! Crazy, right? So, even though it had only been a little while from my perspective, I was all skin and bones, like I hadn’t eaten for a month, or something, and I had these burn marks all over my arms and legs. Brian, my brother, got me to a hospital, and it took a week or so for me to get back on my feet, but, by the time we headed back home, he was in bad shape.

He asked me to finish what he was writing and post it online, but, when I read it, I couldn’t even believe what I was seeing, you know? I guess I was already myself again by the time he just vanished; that’s right, I took the luggage back into my house, came back out, and he was just gone! Anyway, even though I didn’t see him as my brother after I got my mind right, I know he helped me, so finishing his story and posting it is the least I can do.

It does make me a bit sad if everything he had written was true, because it sounds like we would’ve been pretty close if my brother had survived. It’s weird, because even though I know who I am and what my life has been, I miss him, you know? I feel like we’d only just met, but I’d known him for years at the same time.

I can’t ask you guys to believe any of this, especially since I’m not sure if I do or not, but I know something happened to me up on that mountain. I’m halfway tempted to go back and try to figure it all out, but, I don’t know. I suppose I’ll run it by the guys and see what they think. Come to think of it, I should probably call them. If I’ve been out of action for a while, I suppose I need to get in touch with my folks too.

We were never really a close family or anything, and I think they’ve always been right on the brink of a divorce, but I gotta give them some credit for hanging in there, even if they did sort of push me to the side. Meh, that’s nothing for me to bore you guys with, and I’m sorry for rambling and all. I guess I just don’t really know how to finish this, you know?

If the guys are interested in checking the old town out, I think I would be open to returning, just not on my own this time. I suppose I owe that much to Brian; to see what else might be out there. I do wonder where he is now, though. Maybe I’ll never know, but I hope it’s somewhere happy. I think he deserves that. For some reason I’m crying right now, like, I feel as if my heart is breaking. It’s like I’ve lost a part of me I never knew I had, if that makes sense at all.

I’m not sure if I’ll ever really come to grips with everything that happened, but I hope I will. Maybe my kid brother is still out there somewhere, in some magical place beyond the walls of reality. Of course, it’s very possible that I’m still there too.

Credit: William Rayne

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