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Darkness fell in the forest, through the trees; along the paths. I had been running for around an hour and was ready to head toward home. The nights were coming so much earlier as fall was fast approaching.
I loved running, and this time of year was my favorite since all the leaves were bright and splashed with color. Plus, the weather wasn’t too extreme in any direction; it wasn’t too hot, and it wasn’t too cold. It’s a nice mixture of the two that allowed me to run without fear of overheating or catching myself out too late and freezing.
I like to run through a not so used path in the forest behind my house. This area cuts off through the deepest portion of a heavily wooded zone for about a half an hour. This has always been my favorite place to run because I know it isn’t likely I will run into another person, it is always mine; calming and serene.
I had been out longer than I should have been considering how quickly the dark was enveloping everything. Still, I was reluctant to turn back.
A pleasant breeze blew through the trees carrying the sweet aroma of the dried leaves, bark, moss; all the smells of the forest. It is easy to lose track of time by paying less attention to it and more attention to your surroundings. I seem to have this problem often. No more now though. I wouldn’t step foot back into those woods, or any other woods, for anything.
I had been distracted by running through the sea of swimming, vibrant colors; often slowing my pace while I took in all the surrounding beauty. I even made a mental note to come back the next morning with my camera. I was enjoying myself.
I am not a photographer and I don’t sell or gift out my photos. I do however find an odd enjoyment taking pictures of things I find beautiful or interesting. My husband has joked on more than one occasion that I have more pictures of leaves and rocks than I do of him or myself.
He surprised me last Christmas by taking a few of my nature shots; one of a shocking red leafed tree, an ancient well, a few orange and yellow leaves, and some rather unique looking rocks, blowing them up and framing them for me. They are hanging neatly in the hallway even now.
By the time I reached the end of the woods and turned to head home it was almost completely dark. I leaned over, my hands on my knees, readying my body for the trip back.
I popped out my ear buds and took in the sounds of the forest; the crickets and frogs were already playing their familiar nighttime songs. No sooner had I caught my breath and moved that I heard a strange, unnatural, rustling in the near distance. It sounding like it was coming from off the path, but not quite within my view.
Though I love the sounds of the night, it is also a little unnerving to hear something odd when you are so far away from anyone and anything. Those sounds let you know just how late it is and how alone you really are.
I decided not to replace my music and to just listen. I figured it was a squirrel, but something told me I should pay attention and be safe, anyway. A small way down the path the rustling started again. I slowed my pace and listened again for a second.
I wondered if there could be someone else in the woods with me. I walked for a moment and listened, realizing I was holding my breath, as the rustling continued. I breathed deeply and picked my running back up when a new sound struck me.
It almost sounded like painful moaning, but I couldn’t tell if it was human or animal. I was paralyzed with fear for a second, but I found my footing and ran faster. Unfortunately, it seemed the rustling and moaning only became louder; closer. I looked around as I ran, to see if someone or something was there, but there was nothing.
The moaning drowned out the sounds of the forest until all I could hear was it and the rustling. I ran through the dark until my foot caught on a small tree root along the path. I fell hard on my hands and chest, hitting my head along the way and scraping my face across the cold ground.
It took a moment to gather my senses as my head reeled from the blow. Everything flooded back in red overcast as the distressed moaning picked back up. As my sense of sight returned to normal, I wished that I had brought a light with me.
I wasn’t generally out this late; I had been so distracted, even more so than I realized. It was now full on dark and seeing very far ahead of me in any direction was difficult. There was a sliver of a moon. I could see, but the dense forest kept the light from penetrating too far in.
Even just the light of a cellphone would have been comforting, but all I had was my MP3 player and it had no lights. Another wispy sound caught my ear and this time I turned around to see if I could find what made that terrible noise.
I regretted looking. On the ground moving hastily toward me; much quicker than it had any right to do so, was what appeared to a beaten and bloody woman. At first, I felt a twinge of concern and worry for her, as it appeared she had been through something horrific. I felt she needed my help, but that feeling was swiftly replaced with intense dread and fear. As she moved closer and her features came more into focus, I could see that she wasn’t all there. There was only a head with nappy black hair, thin muscular arms, and a torso.
She was dragging her browned and dirty entrails along behind her, making her way along with her hands. For a brief second, we made eye contact, but there was more malice in her milky eyes than pain. She screamed out in, what might have been agony or desperation, and barreled toward me.
I couldn’t believe she could move that fast with just her arms, but as I backed away from her in a childlike crab walk, she flew toward me. I blubbered and begging her to stop; I asked her if she needed help, then I screamed for help of my own.
I don’t know how long it took before I was back on my feet and running. I turned to see if she was still following me, and realized, much to my dismay and absolute horror that not only was she still following me, she was nearly on me. Her hands were making an awful squishing sound as they hit the forest floor, like nothing I have ever heard before or could ever explain.
The cold evening air now burned my raw lungs as I breathed in between screams. I knew there was no-one around to hear me, but I couldn’t have held it in if I had tried. I have never run so fast or hard in all my life. My lungs felt as if they would burst. My heart pounded in my throat. My legs threatened to give out on me at any second, and I knew if they did the thing chasing me would get me before I ever got back to my feet.
At last, I saw a break in the woods where dull light from the outside broke in slightly. I screamed for my husband; if he was home yet, he should hear me. It was a longshot, but gripping that tiny piece of hope was all that was holding my mind together.
I broke through the small opening like a marathon runner, screaming the whole way. I had nearly reached my back door when my left knee gave out. There was an old injury there from my athletic days in high school and pushing it too hard always leaves me in a lot of pain.
I fell to the ground once again, screaming in terror and pain; quickly turning, fully expecting to see that horrible figure sloshing toward me, but was shocked and relieved to realize that I was alone.
My husband came running out and tried to calm me down, asking what was wrong, but couldn’t understand all that I was saying. I knew it was coming out in inaudible waves, but I couldn’t seem to control any portion of what was flowing from my mouth.
He scanned the area well, looking to see if he could spot someone chasing or following me. Feeling satisfied that no-one was he scooped me up as gently as possible and carried me into the house.
My husband, John, is a paramedic, so he made quick work of caring for my leg, massaging the swelling knee until he felt it was ready to be left alone. He then wrapped it several times over with a well-used beige bandage and helped calm me down with some extra strength pain relievers and a cup of hot chamomile tea.
Finally, he sat and listened to my story; a look of disbelief on his unshaven face. Of course, he didn’t believe me; he figured I got spooked in the dark and my mind played tricks on me. He believed perhaps I had seen an injured animal or something else completely rational and my mind had made it irrational in the dark. It made sense. It wasn’t true, but it made sense. I know what I saw, and I know how this sounds.
John iced my leg with a large blue ice pack we kept just for this type of thing and cleaned me up. There were a lot more injuries than I realized. I had a knot on my head; my hands were cut up, my face, arms, and back had bruises and scrapes from both falling in the woods and when my knee gave out. I was bleeding in several places and could already feel a massive headache coming on.
After patching me up, John went outside to take a good hearty look around. I knew it was only to appease me. He hadn’t seen or heard anything unusual and chocked it up to it being late and me being tired and scared. That was the end of it; John was convinced that he had solved the mystery of what I had seen and there was nothing more that could be said to convince him otherwise.
I’m writing this now so that whoever reads it knows I’m not crazy. I know what I saw in those woods, then in my yard and now what I see inside my home. She is with me now, everywhere I go. She constantly stalks me, teases that she is coming for me. I see her matted hair full of twigs and dead leaves, lingering in the distance and darkness of every room I enter.
The fear I feel from her still brings a tear to my eyes. I don’t know what she waits for, why she hasn’t taken me yet, but she taunts me in her own way. Perhaps it is because I saw her, or maybe there is another reason, but the waiting is an unbearable torture.
John hasn’t seen her, but he has admitted that the house feels different somehow. What is she? Each day she seems closer, and through the night I can hear her dragging herself along throughout my house then breathing heavy from the dark corner of my bedroom as I try to sleep; her grotesque form showing vaguely in the dim light.
I will finish this here, as I can hear that horrid sound she makes as she drags herself along, slowly moving down the hallway. She is by the bathroom now, only two doors from my room, the guest room, only one room left.
She has stopped, just outside my door, but I can hear her raspy breathing, can smell the stench of rotting leaves and dirt and flesh. I can see a filthy hand with long, dirty fingernails twisting its way into my bedroom. I believe it is time…
Credit: Rachel Wesley