Estimated reading time — 19 minutes
My name is James Lockely and I have been a backpacking guide around the world for most of my life. From the frozen wastes of the Russian tundra to the tropical dense jungles of the Amazon and damn near everything in between. Always putting my clients’ needs above my own, even at the cost of my food and water in some instances. Like this one time I gave up nearly a day’s worth of food since my client at the time had forgotten where he stashed food for the return journey from K2. Even gave up my favorite meal to eat, spaghetti & meatball MRE. But I am not writing this story to talk about my selflessness by giving up food nor am I going to talk about the close calls I had getting clients out of trouble on numerous occasions. No, this story is one that changed me into the person I am today but let me back up a bit first.
I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer two weeks ago, stage 4. It was unexpected to say the least, wrestling with my mortality is something I am still working towards as life slowly dwindles from my body. The doctors tell me I could last about 6 months max with treatment but I elected to opt-out of that, I have been here long enough and have done enough to last almost three lifetimes. Plus I want to go out on my own terms. My 55 years on this Earth were filled with so many life-fulfilling experiences that they are all almost hard to remember. But one has always been in the back of my mind, haunting my dreams and my waking life like an ever-looming ghost looking to torment me slowly to the grave. I want to share this story before I become too weak to record it down for the world to remember, a story of my greatest disgrace. An attempt to reconcile for what I have done and let the story of the people I failed to be known. For the safety of young and dumb adventurers, I am omitting my specific location at the time and where I went, but not the names of those involved. Without further ado I guess.
This all started roughly 30 years ago, I was a young buck waiting tables in an attempt to save money to be able to move to South America and start my career guiding people on backpacking trips and expeditions throughout the region and eventually the world. I put everything I had working towards this goal and was going to achieve it no matter what, spending all my time outside of work saving money however I could. I ate so much ramen noodles. I was still some ways off from affording the move so I started advertising myself as a wilderness guide in my area. Willing to go anywhere in the Rocky Mountain states for damn near any amount of money. At the time I was an avid hiker and backpacker, spending all my weekends exploring the local trails, forests, and whatever landscape I could to get more experience.
That’s why I was off the walls excited when I was approached by this brother and sister team who wanted me to guide them through an unknown section of the mountains nearby that had come to their attention. They had learned about me through one of my friends who attended the local university. I asked everyone I knew to help me advertise myself as a hiking and backpacking guide and it finally paid off with those posters that I politely forced them to hang up for me. They first introduced themselves as Adam and Bethany Dallarosa, two wide-eyed nerdy nature enthusiasts and college students. Adam was tall and a little lanky, sporting an unkempt mustache with trimmed black hair that suited him well. Bethany wore circular framed glasses and kept her brown hair in a ponytail and had beautiful green eyes and was short compared to her tall brother. Probably a foot of height difference between them.
We exchanged pleasantries for a bit before they started telling me that they learned of a potentially unused or forgotten region of the mountains that they were interested in exploring for one of their college classes. Something along the lines of a field project they had to complete before they were allowed to graduate, I can’t remember the details of it even though they explained it to me multiple times, all I cared about was getting the experience in with clients. Hearing about this from a friend of a friend sort of deal whose names all escape me at the moment. Elaborating that this would likely be about a week, maybe less, long trip deep into the mountains and forested valley that I was decently familiar with.
I had done a few longer trips around a week-long so I had a rough idea of how to prepare for such an adventure, but Adam and Bethany had only been hiking on trails and marked paths in their time so they wanted someone with more experience on longer trips and with unfamiliar territory. They scraped together a rather generous amount of money upfront for me to secure my time and interest in but I was already interested in this before a down payment of sorts was even mentioned, this was just a bonus. It got me that much closer to my goal after all.
Looking back I should’ve turned them down or at least advised to shorten the trip length because they weren’t ready for such a trip and neither was I, nobody could’ve been ready for what we experienced. The planning for the trip took a couple of weeks, gathering the necessary supplies needed to last about a week in the wilderness. Food, water, camping supplies, things to make fire, and protect ourselves in case of wildlife that got too close. Things of that nature.
Fast forward a few weeks to the day of the trip, I took some time off from waiting tables since the money they scraped together was enough for me to take time off and not lose much money. I needed the break from the job anyway. We carpooled to a local trailhead and were surprised to see it had been closed for a couple of days since before we arrived so we had to park up the dirt road and walk from there. The signposted by the park rangers said this trailhead was in process of being shut down since it is sparingly used and trail conditions have been deteriorating for a while. Like that was going to stop us. They told me precious little about this offbeat route that hardly anyone knew about. I don’t ever recall seeing or hearing of such a thing despite my own visits to this place. Saying their friend of a friend told them it was somewhere between mile four and seven near some trees off-trail, very descriptive when hiking in a forested region such as this. Keeping our eyes peeled, we hiked for about 5 miles on this relatively easy way that looped around one mountain only to dip into the valley and then back up another.
Along the way, we chit-chatted getting to know each other a little better. They told me about how they both moved away from abusive parents a few towns over. Leaving when Bethany turned 18 since Adam was older by about a year and wasn’t going to abandon his sister at a house where the abuse would only escalate in his absence. They both decided to go to the same college, being the first in their family to accomplish such a feat, I gave them a small congratulations on being able to escape an abusive household and try to make something of themselves. The conversation quickly shifted after that though, I remember Bethany going on and on about her love for drawing and painting while Adam just smiled and nodded as she kept talking. He seemed to be the stoic quiet type I remember thinking, only talking when he had something to add.
That conversation drew to a close after Bethany finished talking about whether she liked painting or drawing more, it ended up being a tie. They began chatting amongst themselves a few feet ahead of me as I was taking a look at a map I brought to get an idea of where this path could be and where it could lead us. Not really paying attention to her footing amidst the conversation, Bethany tripped over a medium-sized rock lodged in the ground. Falling hard and fast forward, she got a sizable cut vertically across her right shin over a sharp rock leading uphill.
Adam pulled out a small first aid kit to patch his sister up before I could even ask Bethany if she was alright, always ready to help his sister. While he was cleaning the wound and applying a bandage, I put my map away for a moment and wandered a bit towards a large fallen dead tree about 50 meters away. Looking to break off a branch to whittle down and transform into my personal hiking stick. I lumbered over the tree and was scanning for a decent branch to use and that is when I noticed this tiny dirt groove in the middle of a grove of trees another 25 meters beyond the fallen tree. I walked over to it and glanced down the inlet expanding further into the forested valley downhill. I walked back to Adam and Bethany who had just finished dressing and treating her wound, they both shot up with excitement and wonder in their eyes when I told them I believed to have found the path they mentioned.
You couldn’t see it from the main hike so I could understand why next to nobody knew about this trail. We hurriedly walked over to the passage that curiously seemed to start out of nowhere in the middle of these trees and began our true journey on a path less traveled, excitement filling the air between Adam and Bethany as we strode towards our unknown destination. But once starting I couldn’t help but feel this sense of anxiety doom as I led these two down a path I never heard of or seen before, at the time I attributed it to the nerves of my first time guiding people but I was oh so wrong.
The map was of little use to me anymore since I couldn’t seem to find this boulevard of dirt anywhere on it despite knowing our general location before departing on this offshoot. I only had a vague idea of where we were and at the time I thought that was enough. It looked as if nobody had set foot on it in years, barely noticeable while twisting and turning deeper into the forest and further into the valley of the mountains surrounding us. Nature had all but reclaimed this dirt way as if in an attempt to hide a forgotten secret from the world.
The beginning part of this trek was challenging, we wandered off this half-hidden half-visible route more than once since it blended in with the surrounding grass and dirt beneath our feet. We couldn’t have gone more than a few miles before I decided we needed to make camp for the night as the sun was setting and we all deserved a break from this maze-like forestry. I took out my knife and marked a couple of trees right next to the trail so we would be able to find it the next day as we went a little off the path until we found a small clearing that was a good spot to rest for the night.
Adam and Bethany began setting up their tents as I searched for firewood to get a nice fire going. I returned with arms full of firewood with the sun half set still and set up my tent as well. There was only a sliver of the sun over the horizon by the time I got my tent set up and the fire going for us all. We enjoyed some dried ration meals and conversations around the warmth of the fire as the sun was fully set by this point. We talked about what we liked to do in our spare time when they weren’t in school and I wasn’t busy hating my job waiting tables. Adam shared he liked casually playing soccer as a goalkeeper even though due to his tall frame I would’ve pegged him as a basketball player. He said he hated basketball and got that all the time. Along with soccer, Adam told me how he also enjoyed reading in his spare time, one of his favorite books being The Exorcist. The same one that later came out as a movie. Bethany talked our ears off about her hobbies of swimming, even bragging how she can swim better than her brother, as well as continuing her talk about drawing and painting from earlier that day as well which we both happily listened to.
It felt nice to talk with people again. I felt for the first time in a while I had made some actual friends and it filled me with a warmth that a fire couldn’t quite do. As the conversation continued, the crackling of wood filled the cool night air as they told me about how they wanted to be some kind of biologist and study nature in its entirety since they both loved being outside and interacting with life of all kinds when they could. I shared my dream to become a professional guide across the entire world if I could, also taking the opportunity to thank them for giving me this opportunity of being a real guide for someone. Our conversations continued as we laughed and joked around the fire for longer than I had anticipated until it was time that we all retreated to our respective tents for the night.
Sleep came easy that night as the cacophony of nature singing around me hushed me into a dreamless sleep like a lullaby. The following morning I woke up before Adam and Bethany and began packing away my tent and putting out the fire. I let them sleep a little longer since they had earned it. We exchanged morning pleasantries with one another when they emerged from their tents about 20 minutes later. I waited for them to finish packing up their things while I ate a breakfast bar for some morning energy. I tossed them each one from my pack when they finished and told them to eat up while we continued onward. We all walked confidently back on the path to find the knife marks I left the night before. Finding them in no time at all, the day had officially begun. However, that day was especially difficult as the forest condensed around us the further we ventured forth.
It was a rough journey, to say the least, tree limbs and dense foliage encompassed the entire lane forward and our progress was slowing close to a crawl as we manipulated our way down the barely visible footpath. We made less progress than I originally thought we would, probably venturing no further than two or three miles. It seemed almost as if the forested valley itself was trying to stop us from venturing deeper and discovering a terrible secret. The whole day was filled with challenging backpacking and maneuvering through an unforgiving dwindling forest path with little conversation between us besides the occasional checking in on everyone and breaks for water and food. It was an exhausting chug through the valley. We happened upon a small opening to the left of the artery of foliage and decided to make camp for the night as the sun was beginning to set. Marking up some trees as I did the night before as to not lose our place in the forest. As I gathered firewood just like before, Adam and Bethany set up my tent for me while I was out in a nice gesture of friendship. I returned to camp delighted to see I didn’t have to do so myself and thanked them for their kind effort, exchanging smiles with them both.
The conversation wasn’t as lively that night though, we all had mirrored expressions of exhaustion that spoke more than our words could at that time. We ate our food rather quickly, not even waiting for a blooming blaze to warm it that night. Retreating to our tents as hastily as we could to find adequate amounts of sleep for another exhausting day of backpacking at dawn.
Sleep would not find us that night however since that was when our waking nightmare would begin.
At first, the forest was quiet besides the symphony of crickets and frogs singing out in the night as I laid my head down. Trying my best to listen in and have it lull me to sleep, that is when I noticed it just before sleep had encompassed me. A sound that was barely discernible from the chorus of the forest around me, but the more I focused on it the more disturbed I became by the noise I heard. It sounded like a low crying moan of a dying animal, it continued to crescendo in volume until the rest of the forest began to tune out as my mind honed in on that sound that seemed to be encompassing every corner of my mind the more I listened.
I also wasn’t the only one who noticed it as well.
I heard the tents rustling open as we all emerged from our tents to see if anyone had any idea what that noise was that we were hearing. We exchanged glances of curious fear as we attempted to make sense of what we were hearing. It didn’t sound like any animal we had heard before and as we stood around the entrances of our tents we knew we had to see what it was making that noise, for sleep was not going to find us as long as we heard this creeping noise.
There was no way we could ignore it or even worse, listen to this low pitched siren-like moan all through the night so we gathered a couple of flashlights that we packed and threw a couple more pieces of firewood on the campfire so we could still see it in the distance as we ventured forth. Adam brandished a sizable knife that he had been carrying to ready himself for whatever lay forward as I also did the same.
The sound seemed to be coming in the direction further down the trail we had been hiking on previously so we walked down it, cautiously and ever so slowly. We were all practically piled on each other with Adam slightly ahead of me and to my far left. While Bethany was in the middle of us wielding one of the flashlights and myself wielding the other. Dashing our flashlights back and forth in the pitch blackness in a desperate attempt to illuminate whatever could be making this horrific sound.
The pathway wasn’t nearly as bad as it was during the daytime, branches, vines, and bushes seemed to part from where we stepped as if it wanted no part of what was about to happen. The wailing moan was getting louder and with increasing intensity the more we inched forward. It sounded as if an animal was being tortured with relentless cruelty and was crying out uncontrollably for a savior to come to release it from the pain or yet praying for the release of death.
Each step forward was sending our hearts further into an ascending frenzy as the sound got louder and louder in our ears. My heart was practically beating in my throat, the sound was at the point of complete uproar inches from our ears and that’s when the path ended and opened up to a grove-like clearing with a near perfectly circular pond resting in the middle. This pond couldn’t have been 500 meters from our campsite and it seemed to be the end of the trail as it completely dissipated upon discovering this hidden grove at the heart of the valley. The moon was full and shining upon the pond with a circular clearing overhead and causing the still pond to glisten with beauty in the moonlight with a smooth reflection of the moon across its surface.
Despite the beauty of the moonlight, we all looked at each other and knew what each was thinking at that moment, the moaning had completely stopped and we didn’t know why. That was only the first thing we all noticed. The second was that despite not hearing the moan anymore, we couldn’t hear anything anymore. There were no sounds of frogs, crickets, bugs, or wildlife at all.
It was as silent as a graveyard and that made us all more anxious than we thought possible.
My heart pounding is the only thing I could hear in my ears at that point and I wanted to leave immediately but before the suggestion could leave my mouth, that’s when Bethany began to tap both mine and Adams arms like an excited child who can’t wait to point something out to their parents.
She pointed across the water and that’s when we all became starstruck at the same time, a flower unlike any of us had seen before. A flower that looked as if a star had fallen from the heavens and implanted itself on the edge of the pond to bless it with its presence. It was magnificent and captivated us all the moment we laid eyes upon it, we all walked towards it in near unison.
Admiration and curiosity flooded my mind, almost as if I had no control over my own body and needed to see this flower up close and personal. The flower itself looked like a silver-white lily with a thick stem and expansive petals that seemed like it was radiating pure starlight. It seemed to have a glow about it with the stigma of the flower protruding proudly from its center and the stamen of the flower almost representing small stars themselves.
To say that it was captivating was, to put it mildly, it was almost hypnotizing.
Bethany was leading us with Adam a few feet behind her and myself a few feet behind him. She was the first to get close to the flower and reached out to touch it, slowly inching her hand towards the petals until she was just mere inches from it and that’s when it happened.
A black sludge-like slug the size of a small car emerged from the pond with eyes, god the eyes, dozens of eyes and faces of animals lining its slimy grotesque malformed matte back skin. Each eye was different from the rest in size and shape ranging from near human-like to the soulless looking doll eyes and everything in-between. It made my own eyes dart all over its body trying to reconcile and make sense of what I was looking at. The faces lining its body appeared to be almost jutting out from the inside of its body, crying out in pain and desperation. Hoping that someone or anyone would come to be their savior from what seemed to be a never-ending torment. Animal and human faces screaming at us for help burned a forceful memory into my brain. It was all anyone could hear from the moment it emerged and it could pierce the most stalwart of hearts with how soul-wrenching it was, it’s a sound nobody could forget.
Time seemed to slow down tremendously as I watched this abomination of life lash out with its black sludge tendrils at Bethany, grabbing her by her injured right shin. She kicked at the creature’s body with her other foot but was met with her boot sticking to its frame and sucking in her other leg like a frantic man in quicksand. She attempted to grasp at the surrounding grass and shrubbery in a vain attempt to claw her way out of that thing’s grasp.
Being reeled in like a freshly hooked bass on a summer morning, all Bethany could do at this point was scream and cry out in pure terror, pleading and reaching for us to save her from a certain grisly fate that awaited her. From the moment I saw this monstrosity emerge from its hiding place in the pond I was paralyzed with fear and dread, a crushing feeling in my chest preventing me from moving a single muscle fiber in my body in an attempt to help her.
At first, he recoiled a few steps backward in fearful instinct when the creature emerged from its hiding place, near dazed by trying to make sense of it all. When Bethany started screaming for help is when he snapped out of it and overcame his fear of the beast in an attempt to save his sister, gunning towards the tendrils that grasped his sister with his knife wielded in his right hand.
The flower on the end of its body began to quiver and tremble as Adam got closer to it, violently shaking back and forth until he was a few feet away from the knife connecting with that abomination’s tendrils. That’s when the dust spewed forth from the center of the flower in a wide arc around him. Purplish-pink dust filled the air around him and was so thick that I could barely see his figure once he was encompassed in it.
The dust reminded me of fresh pollen falling from a large pine tree in springtime with how much spewed forth and how thick it was. How could such a beautiful flower be attached to such a monstrosity of life? Baiting animals with its beauty only for it to be wielded by a horrid creature.
I glanced over to Bethany, her gaze meeting mine, her green eyes pleading and begging for me to do anything to save her, but I couldn’t. Still paralyzed by pure fear I could only watch as she helplessly flailed like fish out of the water as that thing continued to reel her in.
Adam began coughing violently and swinging his knife around with pure randomness. Mere seconds pass by and I watched him fall back hard like a cold knockout from a boxer. My legs still not allowing me to move, the dust crept towards me with the wind that picked up and dissipated it but not before I inhaled some. Not thinking to hold my breath. Bethany’s screams for help mixing with the unceasing moans crying out was the last thing I heard in the sober world before the only thing I could hear anymore was the unyielding moaning pains of creatures trapped in that thing’s body for eternity.
I felt my eyes begin to become heavy and a sinking feeling in the back of my throat like there was something there that I just couldn’t get rid of. My body felt light and heavy at the same time as a miasma of shapes and colors began to cloud and distort my vision slowly. The price to pay for interfering with its meal. I had taken shrooms a few times and LSD once before this so I had a pretty decent idea of what psychedelics were and what to expect when tripping but this was on a whole different level.
I looked over in a dazed horror at Adam as the moonlight was shining over him, I could barely see that his eyes were completely black and staring through me. Looking as if devoid of life altogether. He was glaring at me with those pitch-black eyes and he didn’t need to speak a word for me to know what he wanted to say if he could talk.
Help us, please.
The creature was wasting no time as I struggled to get a grip on reality and the situation at hand with these psychedelics ramping up in intensity as the seconds ticked by. It was reeling in Adam as he stared into me with those doll black eyes, looking through me as that thing’s tendrils were wrapped around his ankles and dragging him across the ground to a horrid fate that awaited him. The last I saw of Bethany was a hand reaching out of the side of the creature’s body quivering and twitching with the last seconds of life as she was absorbed into the creature’s body.
I was getting lightheaded and I knew if I didn’t start moving soon then I would become its third meal for the night. I focused all of my efforts on forcing my frozen legs to move before I was grabbed by its sludge ridden tendrils. Finally, I was able to move my terror-stricken body, fear for my own life being the only driving force. I dropped my knife and ran like a coward, I ran as hard and as fast as I could back the way we came as the forest began to contort around me. Swirling and transforming into indescribable shapes and colors as if I was being sucked into a black hole of living colorful energy. The incessant moaning of those trapped inside that abomination screeched in my head like a siren’s wail as I retreated away from that thing.
The void of living energy encompassed me as I sprinted for god knows how long in a sea of transforming and shapeshifting unknowable patterns of near blinding radiant colors that I couldn’t fully comprehend. All the while those cries for help tore at my brain with ramping intensity. As the maelstrom of hallucinations enveloped my sense of sight completely and the howling moans of the damned inside my head were raging, I collapsed mid-stride and my world went black.
I awoke in a hospital in a panic, heart rate racing through the roof and with the slight swirling of color and shapes still in my vision. Nurses rushed in to calm me down but it took restraining and some drug injected into the IV to descend me back down to a calm state. Returning from my manic state, they told me I was found by park rangers in the early hours of the morning. Passed out in the middle of the trail about 4 or 5 miles in and completely unresponsive to anything they did to try and bring me to.
They drew some blood while I was incapacitated and told me that numerous psychedelic compounds were found in my blood, some that were unknown to doctors there. They had a plethora of questions but I skewed the truth out of pure fear and shame, thinking I was complacent in the deaths of Adam and Bethany I didn’t even mention them as to not get the police involved. I told the doctors that I took some drugs that a friend gave me and went for a walk in the woods and freaked out at some funky looking trees and animals.
I could tell they took that statement with more than a pinch of salt and treated me until the drugs were out of my system. I stayed overnight at the hospital making sure my blood pressure and heart rate returned to normal before I was discharged the following day. Sleep didn’t find me that night, however. I laid there all through the night thinking of what I had done, how cowardly my actions were.
After leaving the hospital I sold everything I couldn’t carry with me in a suitcase and a backpack and moved to South America. It felt like running away from it but I rationalized it as a way to do better somewhere else if that makes any sense. It’s not sometimes that I think about them, not a single day goes by that I don’t think about them and that crude parody of life that took their lives from them and how I just stood there and watched. Could I have saved them? Maybe if I was less of a coward and acted faster they would still be here on this Earth. It wretches and tears at my soul every day. Not only can I still hear the gurgling moan of eternally trapped creatures but Adam and Bethany begging for my continuous help. I find no solace in the waking world or my dreams as I can hear it no matter where my mind drifts. All that’s left to do now is put one in the chamber and pray that in the next life I can find peace and forgiveness.
Credit : spudford74
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