My father told me a story once. I’ll never forget it, for a few reasons. I think it’s the first story he ever told me as a child. It’s also the story of how my grandfather died. But honestly, that isn’t the reason.
You hear stories on TV, or sometimes you overhear something in a public place. People talk about ghosts and aliens, and you think to yourself, “That ain’t real. They’re making it up, or they’re mistaken, or they’re crazy,” or something like that. You just can’t believe it. That is, until something happens. Something that brings it all together, connects the dots in a way you didn’t think of before. Maybe it happens to you, or maybe you hear the same story, again and again, from different people. It doesn’t take long for the world to become a lot bigger than you thought it was.
As I said, this is a story my father told me, but I never believed it, even though he swore up and down it was true. It wasn’t until I started clicking around the internet that I started to believe. I started to hear other stories just like the one my father told me. It didn’t take me long to believe after that.
That’s not what my father called it, of course. He’s never used the internet in his life. He wouldn’t know what the online community had taken to calling it. When he chose to call it something other than “it” or “that thing”, he called it a “skinwalker”, after an old Cherokee tale his grandfather told him.
But I’ll tell you the story, the way he told it to me:
“We were out hunting one night, in the woods surrounding the dairy farm in Ohio where we lived at the time,” he’d tell me. “We were tracking coyotes. We’d kill ‘em for fifty bucks a skin. They’d kill calves sometimes. We’d do it every night because we needed the money. Sometimes, while we were out, we’d come on a deer and kill it. Our landlord didn’t mind, and it could feed our family for a few nights and save us some money.
“Anyway, we were done making our rounds and heading home, walking ’cause we didn’t have a car or four-wheeler back then. We’d cut through the woods. That’s when we came upon it.
“Blood, everywhere. Splattered on the trees, in the grass, in the creek, everywhere. At first, we figured it was a pack of coyotes. We’d seen how, sometimes, when they weren’t able to scavenge for whatever reason, they’d start hunting deer or cattle out of desperation. The worst was when they bred with feral dogs. But this wasn’t like that.
“You see, when a pack of dogs, wolves or coyotes attack something, they do it right. They’ll pick off one that’s weak, sick, or old, or just small. They’ll hunt it, draw it into a corner, someplace it can’t get out off, and they’ll run it right to the biggest one, the alpha. And that deer will never see that alpha. It might hear it, but it won’t see it. All of a sudden its throat will be torn out, and it’ll drop dead. It’s quick, and it’s clean. That wasn’t what happened here.
“Something had come upon a group of deer. Coyotes won’t attack a group. Wolves wouldn’t either; they’d get too much of a fight. There were three, I think. Three bodies, just torn apart. You’d see a head or a torso here, a leg there. Predators don’t do that. They don’t leave scraps behind. Whatever had done this hadn’t done it for food… It had done it for fun. But we didn’t know that at the time, of course. We just saw a bunch of carcasses and figured it’s something we had to take care of. I remember my dad telling me to go home, that he thought it was the work of a pack of feral dogs.
“But I wasn’t leaving him, and I damn sure wasn’t hiking through two miles of woods alone, in the dark, with nothing but a .22 and a pocket knife. I was only thirteen at the time, so a .22 rifle was the only gun I could reliably use. Dad had the shotgun, and I wasn’t going anywhere without it or him.
“It took me a while to convince him, but finally we began tracking whatever did that. It wasn’t hard, either; we just followed the blood. Either that thing bled a deer before it got away, or it dragged one for a mile. I don’t know. What I do know is that I’d never seen my dad scared before that night.
“We started hearing the most horrible sounds. Now, I’ve been in a lot of woods in my life, and I’ve been all over the world, but I ain’t never heard noises like I heard that night. I heard things screaming.
“I heard deer, fox, rabbits, raccoons, and birds, all of them afraid of something and hightailing it. Keep in mind, this is maybe twelve or one o’clock in the morning. Except for the fox and some birds, nothing was supposed to be awake at that hour. But they weren’t just awake, mind you. They were on the run! That night, I saw flocks of birds flying straight into trees trying to escape… something. We came upon a pack of coyotes, and nearly shot a couple thinking they had their eyes on us, but then we saw they were running in from someone, nothing toward us. They didn’t even notice us and went right past.
“Then some deer did the same. Then some rabbits, squirrels, and foxes. Even a couple of wild hogs. These critters were supposed to be hunting each other, and the only thing they cared about was getting as far away from there as possible.
“We should have put two and two together, that maybe whatever we were tracking wasn’t something we were supposed to see, and wasn’t something we could kill. To this day, I don’t know why we didn’t just go home. I guess we were curious. I think that was my dad’s nature, to go toward trouble, to fight. And being aware of the things my father did during the war, I figured it was best to stay by his side.
“We finally reached an open valley. It was normally a soy field, but it wasn’t in season, so it was just flat dirt. That’s when we saw the tracks. Animals fleeing the forest had leveled everything in their path. But where that deer blood was, nothing had taken a single step. It was like whatever was responsible had left it for us to find.
“The tracks were shallow. Whatever it was couldn’t have weighed more than one hundred pounds, but that didn’t mean much. A bobcat weighing forty pounds soaking wet can tear out your throat if you ain’t careful. The fact this thing was on the lighter side just meant it was probably quick and was going to be tough to hit.
“So we followed the tracks, and it didn’t take us long to find where they led. There’s an old schoolhouse that sits on the top of a hill. Half of it had been ripped out by a tornado, but nobody lived there, not for a long time. Sometimes we caught homeless people in there, or drug addicts looking for a safe place to shoot up. We figured maybe that was it. Maybe it was some sick kid riding a high. But we didn’t think that for long.
“When we got to within fifty yards, we heard a noise. A sort of screech made up of two different sounds. One was high-pitched, and another was a low growl. It was making both sounds, at the same time, if that makes any sense.
“We approached to within twenty yards, and we heard another sound, different this time. I remember thinking that it sounded like paper being torn apart, while someone was swinging water back and forth in a bucket.
“Dad looked at me, knelt down, and whispered. He told me I had to stay behind him, because we’re about to corner our prey. Any animal will fight when it’s cornered, especially a predator. But we can tell by the tracks that there’s only one. He tells me it’s probably a single feral dog, most likely rabid.
“The plan, he said, was to sneak up on it while it was eating, shoot it, and then keep shooting it till it didn’t move anymore, then slit its throat. And if it got to dad, it was my job to shoot or stab it to get it off him. So he walked up with me right behind him, just a tad to his side, so I can see what it is. I wish to this day I hadn’t.
“It was leaning over a carcass, tearing off its flesh, and throwing what it didn’t nibble at aside. There was blood all over the brick, glistening in the moonlight. It was pale white, and looked a little like a man, but not quite human. It had arms and legs like ours, but it sat like a monkey, hunched over. And its hands weren’t normal; it had long fingers with claws at the end.
“So we saw that, and my dad hesitated. He wasn’t about to fire at a person. So he cleared his throat to try and get it to turn around.
“I swear to God almighty, all the noise just ceased in an instant. I ain’t ever heard true silence before that, and never again afterward. But for two seconds, nothing made any noise. And I mean nothing. This made it all the louder when that thing turned around, made this shrill cry, and pounced on dad.
“He got a shot off. I think he missed. If he hit it, it didn’t faze the thing at all. But it was on him, tearing entire parts of him off. I started shooting it with the .22, point-blank, but the thing barely bled at all. I got off five rounds, and then I started hitting it with the butt of the gun. It didn’t budge, or even register that I was there.
“It was clawing at my dad, removing whole chunks of his flesh. It started on his torso, peeling off the skin on his chest, and then it moved up. It tore out his throat, ripped his nose clean off, and gouged out his eyes. Then it scalped him, and started digging in. I stood there, helpless, as it ripped off the bottom half of his jaw, the little bones and that tube in his neck, and then his ribs.
“I don’t exactly remember what happened, but somehow my dad’s knife ended up in this thing’s shoulder, and my dad, what was left of him, that is, ended up on my back. I was running, and by God, I was going faster than I’d ever run before or after. And it was following me. I ended up back in the forest, opposite the woods we started in. I was heading towards my landlord’s house because it was the closest thing to help nearby. But even that was half-a-mile away.
“All the while, I could hear the thing screeching and moaning. I heard branches cracking and getting thrown around. It was cracking so loud and often that it sounded like someone was taking an axe to every single tree I passed. But I never looked back, not once. The thought didn’t even cross my mind.
“Finally, I tripped and fell into some gravel. I looked up to see my landlord and a bunch of his buddies drinking around a campfire. I screamed and cried, and they came over. I told them to call an ambulance, and my landlord looked at me and said something I’ll never forget.
“‘What is that on your back?’ he asked me. Just as the words left his mouth, it dawned on him without my saying a word. It was one of those godawful flannel shirts my dad wore everywhere, he realized. And it was damn near all that was left of my dad. Aside from a bit of my father’s head and torso, that’s all there was. Absolutely nothing below the waist.
“Suddenly, we heard it. The screeching. My landlord grabbed me, causing me to drop what’s left of dad on the ground. And I was fighting him, crying, because I thought we could still save him, somehow. But the truth is, my dad had been gone well before I ever picked him up, and all I’d done was carry a corpse back home. My landlord had to pick me up and throw me inside before I would go with him.
“He and his buddies, all of us went inside together, and they locked the doors and got their guns. The landlord asked me, ‘What happened!? What happened?!’ But I didn’t know what to tell him. He pieced enough of it together to understand that there was something dangerous out there. All the lights in the house were on, and someone called the cops. They would get there as soon as they could, they said, but that meant in fifteen minutes.
“We looked outside and saw it walk in front of the fire they’d made. No one knew what it was. One of them said it looked like an ape. Suddenly, something came crashing through the window. We all fired at it, but quickly realized it wasn’t the thing. No. It was my landlord’s dog. Well, his body, anyway. His head and legs were missing.
“We had just started pushing things in front of doors and windows to form a barricade, when we heard something in the garage. I remember one of his friends saying that the doors were open. We heard metal and glass being ripped and smashed. We dragged the couch and TV in front of the door to the garage, for added measure.
“It banged around some more, but then it got quiet. Not silent, like it was before. We could hear it move around some, and the guys were talking, making sure their guns were ready. Someone handed me a pistol. No sooner had I cocked the hammer back when we heard something shatter upstairs. Then we heard it screech again, except this time it was louder, and it didn’t echo and fade out. Because it was inside.
“We all rushed to the one door that led upstairs, and we got to it just as that thing did. It opened it just a bit, and four or five men just slammed into it. It managed to get its hand through. Someone with a shotgun took care of that. Put the barrel right up to its wrist and pulled the trigger. Blew its hand clean off.
“That only pissed it off, though. It started shoving that door, clawing. We were on one side, pushing as best we could, and it was on the other, doing the same. The wood wasn’t going to hold, so someone told us to keep our heads down. Suddenly the top half of the door was gone and my ears were ringing. There were splinters everywhere. Two or three of them had just unloaded on the top of the door.
“I don’t really know where it went after that. The police got there. I was still glued to what was left of the door. The sun was up before they pried me loose. They put me in a hospital for a while. While I was there, a whole lot of people talked to me, but I didn’t respond. Not for a long, long time.
“When I got back home, I got a job for the landlord, working on the farm. We didn’t talk much, not about the thing. But, I signed up for the army when I was nineteen, and he sat me down to drink some scotch as a send-off. I asked him, right away, what the police told him. The story they went with was that it was a wild animal, probably a wolf, or maybe a bear that had migrated north. I asked him how they could say that when they had the hand. He looked at me, stunned.
“He told me that the hand never made it back to the station. The cop who had it in his car got into a wreck. Drove into a tree, and died on impact. The hand was never found, likely taken by an animal. The cops, when they would acknowledge the hand existed at all, said it was simply the paw of a bear that resembled a man’s.
“I never talked to the landlord again. He went missing while I was in basic training, and no one ever saw him again. There were rumors that he owed some people some money and skipped town, but I don’t think it’s that simple.
“As for me, I never went back to those woods. I wouldn’t even if I had the whole goddamn U.S. Army at my back.”
* * * * * *
That was the extent of what my father told me about the incident in the woods.
There’s just one problem, however: my father lied.
When my mother died, I don’t think my father felt he had anything left, and that he might as well settle old scores. He returned to the woods, and he never came back either. The FBI was called, and they came and put on a show for everyone involved, but I knew they weren’t really looking. I had to get an agent drunk and slip him a few fifties before he finally told me that they get a few calls about those woods every year, about someone up and vanishing. But that was all he wanted to tell me. Before he got up and left with the rest of his team, he wrote the name they’d given the creature on a napkin. Of course, I didn’t realize that’s what it was at first. It wasn’t until I put the words in a search engine online that I understood what they meant.
Honestly, I would have rather not known. As it turns out, there are hundreds of stories just like my father’s, as well as photos and drawings of the thing. And though the details vary, everyone who has encountered it agrees on one thing: it’s still out there, and there isn’t a man on earth that can stop it.
Credit: Max Minton (a.k.a. HolyHeretic)
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