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Lost in the Woods



Estimated reading time — 20 minutes

“Lost in the woods,” was a phrase my father used a lot. When I was young; should we be out in the world and witness someone acting out in any way,

“That boy’s lost in the woods,” he’d say, shaking his head in that parental disappointment sort of way, even if they weren’t his child.

When I reached my early teens, struggling to find my place amongst my peers,

“You’re lost in the woods, kid,” he’d say, in a far more sympathetic and compassionate manner.

I endured some hard times over the years, while I tried to find where I belonged in the world, but my dad was always there for me. Though I wasn’t exactly an outdoorsy type, his words were always reassuring, even if I hoped to never be caught dead in a forest, let alone lost in one.

We would inevitably talk about my problems after he would diagnose my symptoms in his own special way, but I learned to understand how the same saying would read differently, depending on the situation.

Even during those last few weeks, he battled against the cancer devouring him from the inside out, he too was ‘lost in the woods’. I like to think that when he passed; when his suffering reached its end, he finally saw what lay beyond the trees.

I suppose it was only fitting that it was as I drove home from his funeral that I found myself in a far more literal version of his all-purpose metaphor. Over that time, I became certain I would be joining my old man outside the borders of the forest, so soon after he made the trip himself.

I had chosen not to ride with my mom and stepfather, Dale, as I wanted to be alone with my thoughts. I didn’t have a problem with my mother’s husband; he’d always treated me well enough. My parents had remained close after the divorce, as they both agreed they were always better friends than lovers.

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Dad got along with his replacement better than most under such circumstances, but it always felt like Dale tried a little too hard when my old man was around. It may have been nothing more than the inherent jealousy a man feels towards his significant other’s ex. Maybe he had some insecurities about the situation, but Pop and I would laugh about it when we were alone.

I was always tight with my dad; far more so than anyone else in my life. With him being the one I would turn to when I needed to talk, I wanted to be alone on this one. I think I needed to. Had I ridden with my mom, Dale would’ve likely tried his damndest to get me to talk about how I was feeling, which was not remotely ready to do.

Even when the rain began to pour down from above, I was mostly mentally checked out as I guided my car from one road to the next. The spot in which my dad wanted to be buried was some miles into the next state over; the one he grew up in before relocating, back in the day. While the path I traversed that day was somewhat unfamiliar, my subconscious was able to focus on the road while my mind drifted beyond the confines of my old Chevy.

I suppose that’s why it took me a moment to register the truck ahead of me, sharply veering into the other lane. By the time I noticed where the road had split, opening a wide fissure in the tarmac, I didn’t have a chance to miss it. The collision, for lack of a better term for skidding into a large gap in the pavement, happened so quickly that I was only vaguely aware of what was happening before everything went black.

The heavy rainfall we had been experiencing, off and on, for weeks, had led to a few of these fissures forming across the state. Be it from poorly maintained roads or simply years of water seeping between the cracks, I couldn’t say. It wasn’t exactly my area of expertise or anything.

I remember my dad saying, sometime over that previous month or so, that the cities would be buried beside him by the time the dust settled. Maybe it was the medication talking, but he feared that Hell itself may be reaching through the cracks; stretching its tendrils through the very foundation of reality, to claim this world for its own, one stretch of road at a time.

When my eyes blinked back to awareness, my dramatic shift in surroundings caught me off guard, at first. While I had been at the helm of my old Chevy when I blacked out, the fact that I found myself laying splayed out on the floor of an unfamiliar forest took me a moment to fully grasp.

The rain had stopped, leading me to believe I must have been out of it for a while, but when I pressed my palms to the ground to find it wasn’t even damp, I began to question my sanity.

“You’re lost in the woods, kid,” I heard echoing from the back of my mind as I hesitantly raised from the dirt to trembling and weakened legs.

Attempting to rationalize my relocation while I slept, I assumed that someone must have pulled me from my likely crumpled car, before dragging me into the middle of the woods that stood beside the road I was traversing. Why anyone would do this, I couldn’t quite fathom.

“Maybe,” I thought, “more cracks opened up, so someone carried me in here. Perhaps they thought the road wasn’t safe, so they dropped me off before going for help.”

Not the most likely rationalization, but it was something.

While I gazed around my newfound surroundings, seeking out any indication of which direction would lead me back to the road, I became more aware of the unsettling silence. Being the middle of winter, the bare, skeletal trees, and dead leaves lining the forest floor didn’t feel out of place, but I could find no evidence of anything else alive out there.

Glancing upward, the blank and gray sky appeared as lifeless as the world around me. I couldn’t even feel a breeze. While I still wore the suit I donned for my father’s funeral; one that wasn’t exactly made for winter weather, it wasn’t as chilly as I would’ve expected. It wasn’t warm either, mind you, but everything felt wrong, somehow.

The colors looked muted, in a way. The bark of the trees was an almost sickly, grayish brown. The discarded leaves scattered across the ground were more yellowed and diseased looking than what I would’ve expected. Even the drab sky felt more like a ceiling over the woods, than a vast emptiness, adding a strange sense of claustrophobia to my already scattered senses.

While all I could hear was my heartbeat against the inner walls of my ears, the crunching beneath my feet when I finally took a step almost caused me to recoil. Being out in the wilderness, surrounded by such emptiness and quiet was far more unsettling to me than how I ended up here in the first place.

I was in a daze while I trudged onward in no particular direction. With only more stripped-down trees being all I could make out in any direction, I had no way of knowing which potential path would be the right one. Regardless of my uncertainty, I knew I had to keep moving. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I had the strangest sense of urgency, assuring me that I must reach the border of this forest as quickly as possible.

The scenery remained unchanging, even after walking for what felt like a few hours. At the beginning of my stroll, I’d fished my phone out of my pocket, only to see the broken screen and the absence of any backlight or life behind the shattered glass. Given that the last thing I remembered before waking in this place was crashing into a damn hole in the world, it wasn’t hard to accept that my device had not survived, even if my body was somehow unscathed.

I have no idea how much time had passed when the humming sound began. That’s about the best way I can describe it; a hum that started soft, growing steadily louder, as if something was approaching. Had it not been for the almost suffocating quiet of my surroundings, I likely wouldn’t have even noticed it until it engulfed me, if that was indeed its intent.

For all I knew, the unsettling vibration that accompanied it, was something good; something I should approach, rather than run from. Ultimately, I wasted no time deliberating the options, opting to transform my stroll into an outright sprint for my life. With the noise originating from behind me, I could only hope that speeding away from it was the right call.

To fully illustrate where my head was at the time, I think I assumed that I had landed in some sort of purgatory, somewhere between life and death after the accident. Being that I saw no sign of the road I had quite literally crashed into, it seemed a reasonable assumption.

With that working theory, that I must escape these woods to reclaim my mortal shell, my immediate fear was that the sound belonged to that which would send me to whatever afterlife awaited me. That, or it was something far more sinister, perhaps intent on leading me to the gates of Hell itself.

When a subtle mist joined the ambient and elevating hum, gently caressing the forest floor beneath my quickly tiring legs, I grew far more certain I had to escape whatever was happening. While I ached from head to toe; something that somewhat contradicted my theory of being absent of living flesh at the time, my frenzied thoughts were interrupted by the ground shifting to a steep downward slant.

For the briefest moment, I felt weightless as my feet found nothing to land on, slipping on the dried leaves when they finally did make contact. I was so caught off guard, having been otherwise occupied by both my surroundings and the oncoming storm, for lack of a better term, my mind fought as much as my flailing limbs while I tumbled towards more uncertainty.

If nothing else, when my fall came to an end, with my body splayed out, face down on another unfamiliar bed of dried leaves, the humming vibrations felt further off, again. My mind fought to remain conscious as the dizziness of my quickly paced descent caused the world to spin around me, but I could not allow myself to pass out here, not with whatever was pursuing me.

As I pushed my palms against the ground, struggling to get somewhat upright before the darkness could swallow me whole, something happened that most certainly brought my wavering consciousness back to my dire circumstances.

“Stay down, friend,” the stranger, who seemingly appeared out of nowhere said, pushing me back down by the shoulder.

Regardless of his encouragement, I landed hard, having completely lost my footing being surprised by the unexpected touch.

“What? Who the fu…”

“Shhh,” he said, crouching down beside where I now sat, “just let it drift on by.”

I followed his gaze back up the steep hill I had tumbled down, to see that dense, white fog lining the woods above like a cloud.

While I had assumed the unusual mist to be something chasing after me, the full weight of that irrational thought didn’t sink in until I watched it shift directions, some thirty feet above. While it was so thick, it almost reassembled an enormous, sentient, cotton ball, it had ripples throughout, like waves running against the direction of a stream, spiraling endlessly as it hovered in place.

It was somewhat confusing to look upon, the way it jerked one way, with the bizarre rapids flowing backward, but it was clear that some sort of consciousness guided it. After it pulled to the right and left, swaying this way and that, it finally came to a halt, spinning around and around, as though waiting for something, or someone, in this case.

While I didn’t know whether or not I should trust my new companion, his reassuring grip on my shoulder helped more than I could understand at the time. Though I hadn’t looked at him yet, just having someone by my side, after hours of solitude, trudging through this seemingly never-ending forest, encouraged me to remain as still as possible.

We both continued to glare upwards, even after the fog began to dissipate, before drifting back the way it came. For some minutes after its retreat, I was scared to move a muscle, even after the stranger let his grip on my shoulder slip free.

“Should be okay. For now, anyway,” he said, lifting himself back from the ground.

“What was that?” I asked, getting to my feet.

Finally having the opportunity to take in the appearance of this man, I felt a little more at ease, noticing the uniform he was wearing. It was similar to a police outfit, but one I recognized as more of a Park Rangers garb. I hadn’t spent a lot of time in such places over the years, but I was certain that’s what it was, plus it fit, considering our location.

He looked a little older than me, thin, but in decent shape. He pulled his wide-brimmed hat from his short, brown hair, wiping his sweating brow with the back of his forearm. He had a neatly trimmed beard, a few shades darker than his hair, and stood a couple of inches taller than me.

“Nothin’ you wanna get caught up in,” he said, placing the hat back in place, “that’s a damn fact.”

He looked back at me, giving me a small smile. It was then that I noticed that his eyes were an almost translucent, sky blue. Though I assumed he was likely wearing some sort of novelty contacts, or something, they were still almost mesmerizing.

Of course, given the fact that everything around us was so lifeless, drowned in muted, depressing colors, it may have been nothing more than the stark contrast of something so lively amid everything else appearing so lifeless and cold.

“Tucker,” he said, holding a hand out, “Maxwell Tucker; Ranger Tuck, ’round these parts.”

“Nathan Solomon, um, Nate,” I replied, shaking his hand.

“Nice to meet ya, Nate. Let’s get movin’, yeah?”

“Yeah.”

The more we talked as we walked onward, continuing in the direction I was going; something I wasn’t entirely sure of, considering that my tumble had potentially altered my trajectory, the more I felt comfortable with the guy.

His voice had a friendly tone. There was something warm and inviting about it, like I was chatting with an old friend, rather than someone I had only just met. He spoke of strange occurrences in these woods; woods I had apparently been alongside when the road swallowed up my car.

While I didn’t want to get into said strange occurrences, being that I was already freaked out by everything, I still couldn’t figure out how I had ended up here, so far from my likely totaled Chevy.

“Likely,” Ranger Tuck said, “it dragged you in here, deep into the heart of it. Wouldn’t be the first time.”

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“It? I mean, it, who?”

“Folks ’round here just call it the Gray. It seems to enjoy messin’ with folks; the ones it don’t finish off right away, anyway.”

“Wait,” I said, stopping in place, “so, some guy screws with people, leaves them for dead, or just straight out kills them!?”

He just tilted his head with a shrug.

“And that’s okay? Like, the police won’t do anything about it? You Rangers just let it continue? Some sick bastard is loose out there, and you guys…”

“Never said it was a man. It ain’t exactly somethin’ that fits into normal conversation, y’know? Naw, friend; this ain’t nothin’ natural, sneakin’ through the cracks. Can’t say what it is, but it ain’t bound by our laws.”

“Okay,” I said, attempting to push aside my disbelief for the time, “why all this then? Why drag me, God knows how far into this damned place, only to leave me to wander around?”

“It likes games, for whatever reason. It enjoys the hunt, the chase. We’ve been able to save some, but most end up the same way, whether it does it right off the bat, or after makin’ them think they got a chance. S’pose it depends on what kinda mood it’s in at the time. Could be you just got lucky.”

“Lucky? Are you serious? I crashed my car, ended up in the middle of this dismal freaking forest, and damn near broke my legs running from a cloud, which I can’t even believe I’m saying with a straight face. What the hell should I feel lucky about!?”

“You found me,” he said, with a smirk and a wink, “so, you ready to get outta here, or what?”

While I can’t say this especially put me at ease, his carefree expression did make me feel better about things. Yes, it would seem I was only one of many to fall victim to ‘the Gray’, whatever the hell that was, but Ranger Tuck had seemingly witnessed what this thing was capable of and lived to tell the tale. I had to believe I was in good hands.

I still didn’t speak much as we plundered onward, but I did feel hopeful that I would see the other side of this. Given that neither the accident nor the tumble down the hill left me as beaten and bruised as they could have, maybe my wandering companion was right; perhaps I was lucky.

That’s what I began to believe, anyway, right before the fear took hold of me once more.

“Run!” Tuck said, having noticed the approaching fog before I did.

When I grew aware of that humming sound once more, my heartbeat quickened faster than my feet, at first.

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Though we did as he demanded; both of us sprinting as hard as our legs were capable of, those smoky tendrils began to wrap around our surroundings, weaving between and around the trees on both sides. It almost felt as though it was attempting to flank us; to force us forward, rather than allowing us to veer or separate.

“Don’t slow down!” the ranger called out, noticing the power behind my strides dwindling.

I was doing everything I could to force one leg in front of the other, but when the sound of the thick bark cracking and splitting reached my ears, it took everything I had to remain upright, let alone continue charging onward.

I felt the fingers of my companion wrapping around my wrist, as he pulled me alongside him. How he still had so much strength in his extremities, I had no clue, but his encouragement and support succeeded in filling me with more purpose and drive to keep charging toward the hope of freedom.

“Don’t let up,” he said, not so much as glancing from the path ahead, “we can make it, just keep pushin’! You can rest when we get outta here.”

Regardless of his determination, the sight of those wispy tentacles now weaving themselves around the trees ahead assured me that our options were running out.

As the misty fingers entwined before us, sealing the path ahead shut, we both practically skidded to a halt, falling back to the forest floor. The white smog formed a dense, misty wall in a circle around where we lay, leaving only the ground and sky free of its grasp.

It was over.

Whatever game it had been playing had reached its conclusion. The time had come for it to claim its prize.

There was nowhere to go; not unless the ranger who already saved me once, had a set of wings or a fast-acting shovel he hadn’t informed me about.

“I’m sorry, friend,” he said, glancing back at me as we lifted ourselves from the ground, preparing to meet our shared fate.

As the flowing rapids within that ivory smoke continued to spiral around us, I felt my heart racing so quickly, I feared I may pass out any second. While the idea of not being conscious to experience whatever was to happen next did seem an almost welcome sensation, my mind and body were scattered to the four winds at that point.

“It’s not your fault, Tucker,” I said, attempting to fend off the trembling in my voice, “if it wasn’t for you, I’d be dead already.”

The cylinder of dense fog began to shrink, closing in on us from every angle, stopping its approach only feet from where we stood.

“You’re not followin’ me,” Tuck said, slowly drifting his head all around.

It looked as though wispy feet were stepping from the fog, as though a ghostly army was hidden away within. More mist flooded upwards, forming some sort of spiderwebbed dome above us. As legs began to trail out, followed by almost translucent bodies, the smoke peeled away between each one, like cotton candy being separated.

“That ain’t what I’m sorry about…”

As the arms reached from each misty torso; every one of them with elongated fingers, ready to snatch us up from where we stood, my companion moved so quickly, my mind hadn’t a chance of understanding what was happening.

“I’m sorry I can’t go no further with you,” he said, gripping my shoulders in his hands, “just keep runnin’, and don’t look back…”

Before I had a chance to protest, or otherwise argue against it, I felt my feet lifting from the dried leaves, as my body was launched through the gap ahead, tearing through the already torn strips of dense, stringy fog.

“GO!” I heard screaming out from the strange ball of wispy energy, as a light began to illuminate from within.

While I wanted to fight back; to free the one who had thrown me to freedom as effortlessly as if he were tossing a towel into the laundry hamper, I wouldn’t even know where to start. While the ripples of smoke encased him, the high-pitched, shrill squeal that accompanied the vibrant glow damn near turned my hair white.

“GO!!” his now almost tortured voice shrieked once more, sounding as though he was experiencing a pain I could barely fathom.

Whether it was simply my desire to escape that inspired me to do as he commanded; to get off my ass and run even harder than I had before, or just that I knew there was nothing I could do to help him, I can’t say, but I was ashamed of my actions, nonetheless.

Not only had he saved my life twice by this point, but I had to believe he was sacrificing himself to save me. Given the tortured howl that wailed out from behind me as I sped onward in search of safety, I was certain this was the fate met by those other poor souls who encountered the Gray.

When the agonized scream bled into an explosion, sounding as though it fragmented those trees surrounding where the Ranger made his final stand, the shockwave tossed me back to the forest floor like a ragdoll.

As I lay there, feeling my consciousness slipping back into the black, I couldn’t tell what sort of condition I was in. My mind slipping, I tried to push up from the dirt and dead leaves, but that concussion had drained every ounce of strength I had left.

Before my eyes closed, dropping me back into almost blissful darkness, I heard a familiar voice; one that was almost surprising enough to keep me from drifting away.

“You’re gonna be alright now. See you ’round, friend.”

The hospital bed I awoke in felt heavenly after passing out in the woods, or so I thought anyway. When my mom came running up to my bedside, with Dale smiling down at me by her side, I was still out of it. Be it from whatever they fed into my veins to take the edge off the pounding in my head, or simply whatever damage lay beneath the gauze around my scalp and forehead, I had no clue.

We talked a little while we awaited the doctor, my mother trying to fight back the tears that streamed down her face, with my stepfather’s arm wrapped around her midsection. Though what she told me didn’t quite match up with my recollection of things; that it took the firefighters and paramedics some time to pull me free from the wrecked car, halfway swallowed up by the fissure in the road, I didn’t fully register the implications at the time.

When my doctor arrived, stating that he was confident the surgery performed on my cracked skull had been a success, I still assumed the injury to have been caused by the shockwave, throwing me to the forest floor. The cast around my left leg, as well as the bandages around my left wrist and both hands, would take less time to heal than my fractured dome, but he felt certain I would make a full recovery in due time.

Over the months that followed my short stay in the hospital, I went through a good deal of work to retrain my broken body and mind, once I had healed enough to do so. Before long, I was cleared to return to work, having made a full recovery from my injuries, as the doctor had predicted.

The three-inch scar across my hairline isn’t too noticeable, and neither are those across my wrist, but the marks on my hand from the mincemeat left in the wake of my windshield crashing down on it, stand out like a literal sore thumb. Still, some battle scars are a small price to pay, all things considered.

Once life returned to normal, I took a short trip one weekend, back to the woods I had crashed alongside. It took me a while to locate the Ranger station, but I had to find out if Maxwell Tucker was real or just a figment of my fractured mind. While I hoped this could provide some answers about what I truly experienced that day, I also wanted to be able to thank him for what he did for me.

When I pulled up beside the quite lovely log cabin that appeared to house the Rangers of this slice of the forest, a uniformed man and woman, leaning on one of the jeeps gave me a wave. While I thought about beginning with a little small talk, as I climbed out of my dad’s old truck to approach the two wearing friendly smiles, I thought it best just to get right to the point.

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“Hi,” I said, tipping the brim of my baseball cap, “would you happen to know if Ranger Tucker is around?”

“Tucker?” the tall, broad-shouldered guy asked, glancing at his associate.

The woman, who looked to be in her mid-thirties, or early forties, with her dark hair tied into a ponytail beneath her wide-brimmed hat, formed a strange sort of scowl as she blinked from her colleague to me.

“Only Tucker we had around these parts ain’t around anymore,” she said, squinting her eyes as she studied me.

“Oh. Maxwell Tucker? Is that him? Ranger Tuck?”

“Uh-huh,” she said, giving me a very strange look, “he used to work with us, some fifteen years back.”

“Oh, wow! I could’ve sworn he was around my age,” I said with an awkward laugh, “do you happen to know where he is now?”

“Same place he’s been for a decade and a half, son,” she said, gesturing to the left with a tilt of the head.

When I turned to see the small cemetery, up on the hill, I felt all of the blood drain from my face, my legs giving out beneath me.

“Woah, now,” the woman called out, she and her partner catching me before I hit the ground.

After they carried me inside, laying me on a lumpy, yet comfortable couch, the tall man fetched me some water, while one of the others laid a wet towel across my brow. After my heartbeat regulated, Ranger Angie Temple, who had helped me inside, accompanied me on a stroll up to the old boneyard.

We talked a good deal over the hours that followed. While I was hesitant to tell her about how I met Ranger Tucker, she told me a good deal about the man who consequently saved both of our lives.

She was still ‘green around the gills’ back then, with Tuck being her trainer. One day, some six months after she joined the Rangers, they responded to a call about an attack out in the woods; those that ran alongside the road that swallowed my car.

Assuming it to be a bear, or some other wildlife having jumped some innocent campers, they headed out to the scene, armed and prepared.

“I felt like my damn heart was about to burst through my chest, but Tuck looked just as calm as if he was walkin’ to the kitchen to fetch a snack,” Angie said with a chuckle, running her hand across the tombstone bearing his name.

When they arrived to see a large, shaggy-haired man with a pistol trained on the crying teenage girl he held, and a butane torch in the hand wrapped around her, she was uncertain if this was something they could handle. The boy around her age laying on the ground, bleeding upon the leaves, looked like he was long gone, but all of this was enough for the fear to almost paralyze her where she stood.

Again, Tuck still wore that carefree smile as he tried to calm the situation, attempting to convince the disturbed man to release his hostage.

“For a second there, I thought he was gonna pull it off,” Angie said, a tear leaking from her right eye, “but when the big guy raised the gun, pointing it right at me, pushin’ the girl he held to the ground, I knew I was done for.”

She lowered her head, still caressing the gravestone like a dear friend. The sadness etched into her gaze almost inspired my own eyes to leak as hers did, but I tried to fight them back.

“As soon as he raised that pistol to me, Tuck jumped right in front of me, knockin’ me outta the way. How he knew he didn’t have time to get a shot off before the gun on me discharged, I’ll never know, but it all played out in seconds, right in front of me.”

“When the bullet dropped him to the ground beside me, I’d already fired off three rounds myself. At least one of the shots hit the canister the bastard held, blowin’ it apart and lightin’ him up like Joan of Arc in seconds. He still tried to fire off the shots he had left, while he screamed out from the well-deserved pain. I jumped towards the girl, to pull her away before she got caught up in the flames or the gunfire, but It was too late for Tuck. He was gone before he hit the grass.”

We stood in silence for a moment, both of us staring down at the headstone. When she spoke again, I once more found myself lost for words; bewildered by everything she shared with me.

“The man we took down that day turned out to be one foul son of a bitch. Seems he’d been killin’ folks for years until Tuck and I put an end to him. If nothin’ else, I take some solace in knowin’ that Tuck was the last victim of Jeremiah Gray.”

“Gray?” I said, almost more to myself.

“Yup,” she said, crouching down to wipe some dirt from the tombstone, “won’t see no grave for him, though. Don’t know what they did with what was left of him after the fire died down, and don’t give too much of a damn either. He took Tuck away from us, and he deserved that agonizing end. When the law arrived, all that was left was a crispy frame billowing plumes of thick, white smoke.”

“Accordin’ to Stacy, the girl we saved that day, Gray had kidnapped her about a week before. He tortured her some, over that time, finally settin’ her loose in those woods. He told her he’d let her go free if she got to safety, but if he caught up to her, he’d put her through hell.”

“The boy bleedin’ on the grass was the one who called it in, havin’ witnessed what was happenin’ while he was takin’ a hike. Poor kid didn’t know what hit him when Gray got there before we did.”

I never told her the full story about how I came to meet Maxwell Tucker, nor the implications of what or who we perhaps both faced between those trees. We talk a lot since I joined the Rangers soon after that meeting. We still talk about Tuck, as well. While I may never have had the opportunity to really get to know the man who saved me from a potentially grim fate that day, those who knew him in life have shared with me a great deal about him.

Over the years that followed the death of both Maxwell Tucker and Jeremiah Gray, there had apparently been some strange occurrences out in that forest. Someone would go missing from time to time, others would turn up dead. Now and then, though, one of those presumed dead would turn back up, confused about what happened.

Even after they closed that section of the woods to the public, it wasn’t easy to keep those curious enough to enter from sneaking in. A forest isn’t something easily blocked off completely, but they still did what they could.

While those who survived these strange occurrences had no recollection of how they made it out alive, I know how they reached safety, or who led them to it anyway. Whatever the case, ever since my encounter with the Gray, these unsettling events seem to have come to an end.

I like to think that Tuck finally finished that son of a bitch off for good, that day. While I want to believe that this may have allowed him to move on to whatever lies beyond this world, I have a feeling he’s still out there watching out for us.

I spend a lot of time out in those woods. It’s a strange sensation, how vibrant and alive everything appears on this side of the looking glass. Still, should I ever have an opportunity to thank Maxwell Tucker for what he did for me, my best chance would be out there. Plus, if he is still out there, it’s only fair that I keep watch on this side, just in case our old friend returns.

I still miss my dad. I suppose I likely always will. That’s the nature of loss, after all. Now that I feel like I’ve finally found my place in this world, I just wish I could tell him, you know? I wish I could let him know that his son is no longer lost in the woods but found where he belongs within them. I doubt that either of us could’ve predicted that one.

Credit: William Rayne

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