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Journey in the Woods

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Estimated reading time — 11 minutes

It was summer break and my best friend Liam invited me and a couple of our other friends to his family’s cottage. I’ve visited their cottage many times in the past but for my friends this was going to be a new experience.

On Saturday morning about 2 weeks into the break, my neighbour Ryan came over to my place and his parents were talking with my parents while me and Ryan were loading up my dad’s truck with our camping supplies. In total, there were 5 of us going to the cottage: Ryan, Leah, Liam, Julie and of course me. Leah was Liam’s girlfriend so she was already at the cottage with him and Liam’s family. My dad drove Ryan and I there and Julie got a ride from her older sister.

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When we arrived at the small cottage, my dad parked off to the side of the dirt path near the cottage and we all got out of the truck and walked up to the old steps. Ryan knocked on the door and when the door opened, we were all greeted by Liam’s dad. He was one of those dads that always had a friendly demeanor and was very chatty and energetic. Complete opposite of my dad, which was why I loved going over to visit Liam. Liam’s father has always had this warm, upbeat energy that was contagious. Whenever you were around Liam or his family you couldn’t help but have a good time.

When we got inside, we saw that everyone was there already. Liam and Leah were together on the sofa and Liam’s dad sat beside Liam after walking us in. Julie was talking with Liam’s mom about a case they had read in the newspaper recently (Liam’s mom was a police officer and Julie always had an interest in detective work/journalism). After a while of sitting down and chatting, the parents decided that it was time for them to go. Liam’s parents and my dad told us to be safe and Liam’s mom kept making it a serious point that none of us were to consume any alcohol. I remember Liam kept making jokes about this and mocking her while pretending to be drunk after sipping his water and she had a stern look on her face. Eventually, she laughed and just shook her head and left along with the other parents.

As soon as they all drove off, Ryan reached into his backpack and pulled out two bottles of vodka that were tied together with a blue shoelace from one of his old pairs of shoes. He told us he snuck it into his bag from his cabinet at home. He said that he tied it with the shoelace so that they wouldn’t rumble around in his backpack during the ride over. I’ve had drunk a few times before but it was not something I looked forward to doing here, especially with Julie around. This was because the last time I drank with a few family members I got too drunk and made a huge fool out of myself. I had a huge crush on Julie but this was something I kept to myself, the only person who knew that I liked her was Liam. Julie only tagged along to the cottage because she was Leah’s friend.

We basically ended up just bullshitting the afternoon away, talking about things from school and telling random stories. Eventually, it started to get dark so we went outside of the cottage and got a fire going and all sat around it. We were roasting marshmallows and again just laughing and talking. After about 10 minutes around the fire, Ryan went inside and brought out one of his bottles of vodka. He gave us each a shot glass and started filling them up.

“Don’t give me too much, I don’t feel too well,” said Julie.

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“I’ll only put a small amount and I won’t refill it. Just have a little bit,” said Ryan.

Even though I really didn’t want to take any alcohol, I let Ryan fill up my shot glass because I didn’t want to look like a square in front of the rest of them, particularly Julie. We all took our shots at the same time and we all made faces of disgust. I hated the way liquor tasted. The feel of it running down your throat and the burning sensation it created always made me want to throw it up instantly. But I held it down while trying to keep the straightest face possible. Liam was the only one who was acting as if he loved the stuff. He let out a loud “Woo!”, when he drank his shot and motioned for Ryan to bring the bottle over and give him a refill.

I’ve known Liam well, and being his best friend, I knew he was acting this way just to impress Leah. For as long as I’ve known him (which was since the first grade), he’s always been the type of guy to act macho, but I never judged him for it. He was a great person and when I first moved to our area, he was the one who came up to me and asked me to be his friend. I loved spending time with him and his family, so I was always grateful for Liam growing up.

While we were around the fire, Liam talked about how there were expensive items buried in the woods left by people decades ago. He said that his dad told him this story a while back and vowed to go looking for these items the next time he went camping. Liam was describing his dads face when he told him this, and he said his dad was shocked. He was saying how upon mentioning looking for the items, his dads face became pale but eventually he laughed it off and just said, “kid, stay away from the deep part of the woods.”
Ryan suggested that we all bring flashlights and go looking for the items in the woods. I got pissed off when he mentioned this because I knew that he was going to say that sooner or later upon hearing the story Liam told.

The story which I knew was clearly bullshit.

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Liam must have told it because he was bored and wanted a little adventure, and he knew that if he told a story like that, Ryan would fall for the bait.

“Eh, I’m not really up to it. Besides, I like being around the fire,” Julie said.

“It’ll be just a quick walk. Plus, we’ll be in a group, not like anything could attack us,” Liam said in response.

Julie sighed but didn’t argue much. Leah started saying to Julie it would be good if people were out lurking in the woods because then she could find her a boyfriend. This made Julie laugh and she eventually ended up softening to the whole “exploring the woods for secret items” idea.

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Internally, I was really upset. In all honesty, I wanted to just hang out around the fire and try to get to know Julie better, but now, I had no other option. We all ended up getting up and going back inside the cottage for a bit so we could use the bathroom because we all knew that we weren’t sure how long we were exactly going to wander around the woods.

We gathered things that deemed would assist us in searching for the items out in the woods. This list of things was small and boiled down to essentially just a baseball bat and of course, flashlights. Liam brought the baseball bat from one of the bedrooms in the cottage. He put it under one of the beds two years ago. I remembered the bat because I was over at the cottage that year with my parents and his family. Liam was showing the bat off to his dad saying, “if anyone ever tries to break into here, I’ll beat the shit out of em with this.” I distinctly remember Liam’s dad laughing hysterically at this, responding with, “son, I promise you, if anything around these woods breaks into this cottage, a bat wouldn’t be a strong enough form of defense.” Liam’s mom didn’t find what Liam was saying funny. She kept a straight face. She never liked when he used bad language when she was around.

“You think that shit is going to do any damage if there’s a bear out there?”, I said to Liam.

Everyone laughed, and I couldn’t help but crack a smile too when I noticed that Julie was laughing. It put me at ease seeing everyone in a good mood. Even Liam was laughing and responded, “If it’s a bear, I ‘ll just throw you at it as a sacrifice Trev.”

We all walked out the door, and Liam closed it behind us and locked it. He told Ryan to turn on his flashlight and follow him. He told us to all stay close because there were only two flashlights in total. Liam led the way and we followed behind him huddled close together.
Julie started to rub her shoulders and said that she was cold, and then she grabbed my arm and started walking close to me. I asked her if she wanted to wear my sweater but she said she would be fine and we kept walking. For some reason, a part of me felt that she wasn’t really cold at all. Not sure why I thought that.

At the beginning, it wasn’t that bad. We were all in an upbeat mood, sharing stories and laughing as we walked throughout the woods. If we looked back, we could still see the faint outline of the cottage and that made us feel safer. From time to time, Ryan and Liam shone their flashlights at the ground and would occasionally stop to examine the ground, but for the most part we all knew that we were here just to pass the time rather than search for expensive artifacts.

After a while, conversations dried up and we were just walking in silence. I really wanted someone to say something to spark the conversation up again, but no one seemed to want to speak, so I kept quiet as well. I took a quick glance over my shoulder and felt a chill because I could no longer see the cottage behind me. It felt eerie walking around in complete silence, and paired with the fact that the cottage was out of sight, it made that feeling much worse.

“Think we should head back now?”, Leah said.

I was grateful she said something. I definitely didn’t want to bring up the idea that we should turn around, especially not with Julie around. Julie was still holding onto my arm, and I noticed that the deeper we got into the woods, the tighter her grip was. Clearly, I wasn’t the only one who was spooked.

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“Just a little while longer.” said Liam. “I’ll probably never come out this deep into the woods again so I really want to see if I can find something out here tonight.”

No one spoke for a while after that until Ryan broke the silence.

“What the fuck is that?!”, he exclaimed.

“What, man?”, Liam said in response.

When we all took a glance over at Ryan, he looked haunted. He was breathing heavily, and the beam that was coming from his flashlight was shaking rapidly because his hands were shaking so much. This removed any doubt that he was playing a joke on us.
“By that log over there. There was someone wearing a mask.”, he said.

Liam shone his flashlight over to the area that Ryan was pointing at because Ryan’s beam was so unsteady. We didn’t see anything, but we did hear noises from behind the log. A slight scratching sound could be heard coming from the wood.

We were all scared shitless, but Liam mustered up the courage to walk up to the log. While he was walking over to the log, he stumbled over some branches, and dropped his flashlight. He was feeling around for it but had trouble locating where he had dropped it. He asked Ryan to shine his light by him.

As Ryan was raising his flashlight, he let out loud shriek and his flashlight fell to the ground. The area around us was pitch black as both flashlights were off. Ryan kept repeating over and over that something smacked the flashlight out of his hand. He was hysterical at this point.

While we were trying to calm him down, we heard something near us. It was letting out heavy and deep breaths. We all stood completely frozen and quiet. The thing near us let out this muffled, gurgling sound. It sounded much like a bear, but almost as if a human was trying to mimic this sound.

Liam told us to not move. He said it was most likely a bear that was circling around our group. We heard footsteps walking slowly around us. None of us moved an inch. After a few seconds, Leah started to scream.

“My arm! Help me! The son of a bitch is fucking grabbing me!”

She kept screaming over and over and we heard grunting of what sounded like a man near Leah. Liam rushed over to where he heard Leah screaming and once he got a hold of her he yelled out that we all needed to run.

We all started running through the woods and thankfully the path in front of us was lit because Ryan retrieved his flashlight off of the ground when Leah was being grabbed by whatever the hell that thing was.

Adrenaline was flowing through me as I ran through the woods. I was desperately hoping that I would not trip and fall over. In my mind I had the dark feeling that whatever it was that grabbed Leah was trailing us.

While we were all running, I noticed that Julie was still holding onto my arm. I started to tell her that she shouldn’t do that because it could mess with our balance as we were running.

“Julie, you should let go of my arm. Julie. Hey, Julie?”

“Julie is at the front with Leah, man.”, Ryan responded.

When Ryan said this to me, my heart dropped. I quickly clawed at the hand grabbing onto my arm and tried to pry it off of me. It had a firm grip, and I felt hot breath near my left ear. I let out a small yelp and kept swiping at the area near my ear and while doing so, my hand hit some type of plastic material.

“What happened?”, Liam shouted out from in front of me.

I told him that I think I felt something but it was probably nothing. I yelled out that we all needed to keep on running.

Eventually, we could see the lights that were on the sides of the cottage and we all felt relieved. We got up to the door and Liam yanked it open and held it open for us as we all ran inside. As soon as he saw that we were all in, he came inside as well and shut the door behind him. He fastened the lock from the inside and ran around every room of the house making sure that it was locked securely.
We were all panting and Julie and Leah were holding each other while crying. Liam came over to Leah and started to hold her. Julie locked eyes with me, so I went over to her and held her closely. She was crying softly on my shoulder and saying that she wanted to go home. I was about to tell Liam that we should call his parents, but right before I could get the words out, Ryan spoke.

“Where the hell is my other bottle of vodka? I left it right here on this table Liam.”

“It has to be there somewhere. Check your backpack or something. You sure you didn’t bring both bottles outside by the fire? We might have drunk more than you think.” Liam responded.

I wanted to help Ryan search for his other bottle of vodka, but I didn’t want to leave Julie alone. She was weeping and it almost felt as if she was trying to whisper something to me. I figured she was probably just talking to herself because she was so scared.

We sat in silence for a while, then decided that it would be best for us to go to sleep. We didn’t want to call any of our parents to come and pick us up because we were afraid that they might have known that we were drinking. We decided to spread blankets out onto the floor and set pillows down and sleep right in the main room of the cottage rather than in separate bedrooms. Nobody said a word, and it took us a while, but we all ended up eventually falling asleep.

The rest of the summer was pretty boring. We were all keeping in touch via social media and we even had our own little group chat going. The conversations we had never mentioned that night at the cottage. Everyone seemed to act as if that whole night never happened, which was probably for the best. Having Julie in the group chat made me get over that night pretty easily.

Around a week before school started, my dad came up to me and asked me if I had seen Julie anywhere. I told him that I didn’t and I asked him why he was asking me this. He told me that Julie’s parents called him and said Julie went out a few days ago and had not returned home yet. I told him I never saw her since the night we went to the cottage, but I let him know that I would message some friends to see if they knew where she might be. I went into the group chat on my phone and Leah, Ryan and Liam all said that their parents got calls from Julie’s parents as well.

The police were eventually involved and they organized a search team. Julie’s parents were frantic and were telling the cops to search every inch of the town and surrounding areas. While I was sitting next door on Ryan’s porch with him one day, Liam and Leah came up to use and sat down as well. Liam suggested that we should all go out and try to look for Julie. We thought it would be a good idea.
As we all stood up and started walking down Ryan’s driveway, all of our phones got notifications at seemingly the same time. We all looked at each other, then pulled out our phones. It was a message in our group chat.

My heart started beating wildly as I opened up the chat. I looked down at my phone and saw that we had all gotten a message in our group chat from Julie.

It was a picture of her with her back facing the camera sitting next to a log.

On top of the log was a bottle of vodka with a blue shoelace wrapped around it.

Credit : Trev Wavy

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