Estimated reading time — 7 minutes
The sun was still up when we arrived.
The car park was more of a passing place.
Simmers was shuffling in the passenger seat next to me, he was overheating. Dressed in all the latest climbing gear, tin whistle and dodgy Japanese head torch from ebay, he had certainly put in considerable financial effort whilst preparing for this (his first) relatively basic hike. “I’m sure we cant stop here” he said, pointing assuredly to the water logged clearing at the side of the tree-lined road. I assured him that we could. I had checked and double checked for easily two miles each way of Utch forest’s main signpost, and this was the car park. It had only taken us two hours to get here, but those were two long hours. Simmers had originally stated that it would be a 35 mile drive, however, nearly forty minutes into the journey, he muttered “ actually, 35 miles north of Kathrie rock, then another 40ish on the B roads”. He also insisted the website had mentioned a sizeable car park next to an old cattle grid, but there were neither, and I was done with wasting petrol trying to find one. Anyway, we were here now.
We alighted and I grabbed my kit from the boot, Simmers grabbed his backpack. The annoyances from the journey seemed trivial now, I was glad to have a friend with me for once, I was so used to doing everything alone, and whatever David Sim lacked in experience, he made up for in enthusiasm. His interest in my wilderness camping and hiking stories was genuine, and it made me feel wiser than was really justified. He had been talking about doing some proper trips away with me in the coming year, and seemed to be taking a significant interest in the outdoors. As we began to climb along the immediately uphill trail however, the conversation became physically strained on Simmers’ end. He was slim enough, and prepared in every other aspect..aside from his fitness level, which was surprisingly low. The fancy vents in his jacket, and his high priced baselayer were not compensating for his poor cardio, and I suggested we turn back and he leave some unnecessary items in the car, it was forecast to be a stable night with temperatures staying above 8 degrees, and his multiple accessories seemed a hindrance at the time. Ten minutes later we were back at the “car park”. We dumped some weight then set off again, the sun now starting to set, and lending an eerily sombre tone to the forest. I can’t honestly say that I felt something was wrong as we set off that second time, it’s a struggle to articulate the change in mood we both felt, but we did both feel it, it was an intuition almost, but not really….it was maybe just a tweak in chemistry, not enough to make us turn back. However, thinking back to being at the foot of that initial uphill trail the second time around, the car ten meters behind us, it fills me with regret. The sadness I feel when I think about this specific point in time is unwavering. If we had been given an opportunity to save ourselves the sickening horror, and ultimate tragedy which was patiently waiting for us within the forest, that was it.
The breeze picked up significantly after about twenty minutes, and though it wasn’t cold, the atmosphere seemed to be snarling as the increasing wind snapped through the trees, whipping loose straps into our face and onto our skin. Within an hour, perhaps less, the sun seemed to have set. We assumed it was simply the effect of clouds mixed with the large Douglas Firs that surrounded us giving the illusion of a premature sunset, as it was at least three hours early. It was around about this time however, that we made a rash and ill conceived decision, which was to haunt me for the rest of my life, every night, every morning, and finding a place in every dream.
Clearly uncomfortable with my moderate hiking pace and frustrated at the chronic wind, Simmers convinced me it was better that I go on ahead, that he was certain of where to go once the path gave way to a clearing with around a half mile of 30-35% gradient rocky scramble to the top of the mountain. I initially objected as, although this was by no means a technical route, and even a map and compass were unnecessary, it was still his first proper hike, and it was by no means unheard of for people to go missing on trails half this size due to absence of light/lack of orienteering experience. I have to admit though that the walk had been tedious for me, and that strange, unrelenting wind was having an odd effect on my temperament. Usually it takes a lot to aggravate me but I was aware that I was becoming more abrupt with Simmers, despite him obviously just trying to improve the mood by talking. “Hurry the fuck up, you out of shape piece of shit.” I screamed silently, through closed mouth and gritted teeth. My mood was becoming more and more hateful, and I mean hateful. When the wind would get particularly strong I would actually spit these kind of immature and vicious remarks into the air, convinced there was a big enough gap between us that he couldn’t hear me.. I don’t understand looking back what it was filled me with such uncharacteristic.. maliciousness. There were points before we split up that I didn’t even feel self aware, for a while we were just walking, half bent over into the wind, I was just thinking about how I didn’t want him to be there. It was him, however, that made the suggestion openly that we should break away.
I began to steadily increase my pace, the wind seeming less of an irritation now that I was alone The negativity which had been building inside me like an off-tone crescendo had now been tempered, and I felt as if something that had once been cloaking me was lifted, or had dissolved. It was almost a tangible difference in restraint. They way I felt when ascending was almost comparable with the feelings a beginner might have when imagining climbing Everest. I only experienced the positives, the beauty of the place (the darkness now lent a different, less macabre tone to the shadowed forest and rocks ahead), I had no feelings of fatigue or even of physical exertion, or I was unaware of any such feelings I might have been experiencing. It was almost as if I was being rewarded for leaving my friend behind, although I say this with hindsight, as Simmers’ presence or lack thereof never once seeped into my thoughts during this period. This unbecoming feeling of euphoria despite my close friends extreme fatigue and my lack of care of his progress, continued as I broke through the trees and commenced a scramble to the top. It was only here that I can recall thinking of my companion, and I thought of him only because I knew he would have trouble with the jagged and (unusual considering the time of year was only late autumn) almost frosty rocks. I am ashamed, and find it hard to understand why this realisation brought an unnatural smile to my face. This wicked smile stayed with me even when I noticed blood on the rocks, and smeared across my palm, and instead of stopping to inspect the wound and wait to warn Simmers of particularly jagged rock edges, I increased my speed tenfold, rushing to the top, the wind screaming with me, pulling myself with bloodied hands onto the monstrous, cracked, horizontal rock signalling the top of the mountain, grunting and trembling like a savage at the end of a bloody fight.
Everything was silent, and I was oddly numb. Regret or worry had not yet started to return to my once fully irrational mind, but gradually I began to become aware of the situation. What was wrong with this scene? What was I thinking leaving Simmers alone and rushing off, unable to hear anything he may have been shouting, not caring, and not even considering to look back, not once!.. Where had the wind gone? I had been battling it for hours and now, at the highest point in the climb, there was nothing but an eerie heaviness, and strange patches of what looked like frost on the rock surface. From my vantage point at the edge of the towering rock, I established the path with which my friend would most likely ascend, and using my broad view of the trees now far below I began painfully focussing on anything which looked like it may be a torch light. I couldn’t see him. I sat for what seemed like an hour, though I had no way of estimating time. I just sat, gradually succumbing to a creeping fear, unable to take any comfort in lying to myself, suggesting he may have just gone back to the car. The biting cold form the rock seeping into my body.
Then I saw it, moving at a furious pace.
The head torch was progressing in a rapid, irregular manor. Every now and then it would disappear, only to reveal itself a few seconds later in an impossibly advanced position. My initial relief of seeing Simmers in motion was quickly turning to bewilderment, mixed with the fear that I was going mad, that my eyes were deceiving my logical mind. How could he move like this up such an unforgiving route, he was nowhere near the path we had agreed on taking..Then he broke through the trees. I was half standing, with one leg behind, poised as if to retreat, though I knew I had nowhere to go. I now had no idea what it was that desperately climbed the rocks only meters below me. I tried to look down clearly, inching forward whilst still poised to run, but as I did, the head torch jolted up, as if to look back at me, its light blinded me and I involuntarily spun round…My eyes recovered and this is when I saw her. She stood at the edge of the rock behind me, a cruel twisted smile on her white face, long fingernails pushed in to her bald head, like a maniac in ecstasy she was laughing, but I could now hear nothing save the immense wind which had returned, it was worse than ever. As I lay helpless on the cold rock I saw that thing which took my sanity forever, her eyes, reflecting utter darkness, her mouth was open and darkness spewed out. Her body was white, and draped over her nakedness was some crude symbol made from what looked like twisted branches and torn skin. More violently she laughed, and more painful the wind became, gnawing at my skin and taking my breath. Her posture was menacing. She stood on disfigured toes, like a cadaver hoisted up and moving like a possessed marionette. Though I could hear nothing, I could see her cracked black lips move as she stared at me, her smile mocking my vulnerable body. Then she looked down, as if in some sickening trance. As she did, I saw the light of Simmers’ torch. With difficulty I turned to face my friend. Oh god, what had she done to him, his face! That smile! That wretched smile on his face!