The sound of the autumn leaves crunching beneath my boots projected itself through the forest around me. Finally, I could breathe in the fresh air of the mountainside and feel alive again. I love my place here in the mountains, there is just something special about the peace and quiet.
Naturally, you can assume that when I finished my deployment in Iraq and was given block leave to go home for a short while, I quickly accepted the opportunity. Here I was, just outside my cabin, in a rural part of Tennessee. Far from any bustling military outpost, indirect fire, or the boredom that is the desert. The flat, flat, boring desert. More importantly, far from any people. I’m tired of all the people. Now, the only town was several miles away. Peaceful.
My land was several acres, passed down my family for a few generations. What doesn’t belong to me is no man’s land, or miles of undisturbed forests, rivers and wildlife. I relish every bit of time spent I get to spend in the mountains, and now I’m just about to hike a familiar trail. It’s a good route that isn’t too tough but also not too easy, which my father cut through a small valley decades ago. I really love this hike because it leads to the peak of a small mountain nearby which gives a gorgeous view of the land. I packed a lunch, stuffed it in my backpack, along with a flashlight and some first aid just incase it got dark before I got back and I headed off.
The first hour of my hike was exactly how I remembered it from when my father took me the first few times we went to a familiar hunting spot together. “Stay with me, buddy.” I could hear him holler. I would easily get side-tracked playing with the sticks and rocks, running along the fallen trees and bounding through the woods. As I got older, friends and I would grow fond of the land and play army together. The way the sun cuts through the roof of the forest is very stunning. Rays of gold pushing their way through the bright green and shining onto the bed of the forest.
Looking around now, though, I’m definitely not where I ought to be. I got turned around, or must have, because I never remember there being a creek on this side of our land before. It was a thick river, of unknown depth. Perhaps 25 yards across, and gushing. I was standing next to the bank which was about a four-foot drop to the rushing water below. Gorgeous. “I’ll have to try to make it back here, maybe I can do a bit of kayaking.” I thought to myself.
Despite my better judgement of getting back on track, I decided that this could be fun to follow the creek and have an adventure off the beaten path. I began off, following the creek for a mile or so, enjoying the company of the water and of the singing birds, and of the beautiful sounds of nature. Entirely peaceful. Until, that is, when I first saw it.
A small stone building about 20 meters into the forest. It looked almost ancient, moss growing up on the side of an old, rotten tree (which must have fell on the building years ago), and covering the entire left side of the structure. The right side of the building was slightly caved in. There was no door in the center, but a hole acting as a doorway. A doorway which was void black.
I eyed it cautiously, something felt very wrong about it. It didn’t feel like it belonged there. The blackness in the doorway seemed to be staring out towards me. Almost whispering to me to come and see. The wind blew on my back, almost as if to push me into it. Everything in my heart screamed for me to turn and run. To sprint. To do anything to get away from this place now, and be rid of it entirely. I closed my eyes, and shook myself of this irrational feeling that seemed to want to control me. I spent a year in a war-torn country and never felt such horror as this, and I knew I was being silly.
Annoyed at my foolishness, I took a step toward the building and all the bad feelings went away as fast as they had come. The leaves crunched below my feet, and twigs snapped. With each step, a small echo of the crunching from my feet were sent out to bounce amongst the trees. I didn’t realize it in the moment, but those were the only sounds in the forest. There were no birds, or rustling of squirrels or any of the insects which love to buzz and click and burrow into the living jungle. There was nothing there. Even the river at my back was silent.
I reached the doorway and the small room inside was about the size of a walk-in closet. Very small, and very dark. I turned on my flashlight and took a look around the tomb. Dust and dirt covered the stone floor, with old dried leaves in the corners and edge of the room. All the room was plain aside from the debris, except a small stone pedestal in the center. On the pedestal was an old keepsake box.
I chuckled a little, wondering if I’d just stumbled upon a geocache for the adventurous hiker. I brushed a thick layer of dust off the old thing, and pleasantly found that it was a beautiful piece of craftsmanship. Intricate designs of the forest were carved into all 4 sides of the box, the bottom had a smooth feel and the top had a golden circle. In the center of the golden circle was a carving of a silhouette of a deer being chased by wolves.
A small golden latch protected the contents, which I flipped up, and then opened the box. Inside were about 12 things, tiny trinkets and toys and junk – all neatly placed inside the box. My eyes wondered over them, and one object really caught my eye. It was a bright red rose. At first, I thought it was a replica, but looking closer I could see it was alive. Small water droplets were even formed inside its petals. The stem was a healthy green and the thorns were clipped, as if it were taken directly from a florist and placed in the box not a minute before I looked upon it. Impossible.
I reached inside and my fingers lightly touched it. Immediately the entire room and space around me melted away. It was as if I was falling very quickly, and then everything went black. I couldn’t move. I could only watch what was happening. I could feel what I was watching, every moment. I could feel what was here. I was in a dream, but I was also in reality.
I was a woman. I was beautiful. I had bright blue eyes, with rose red lips. I wasn’t alone. I was inside a restaurant with a man. We were smiling and having drinks. We laughed and danced and lived and loved and I was loved throughout the night. We were inside of a taxi. We were at the park, walking home. He stopped and bought me a rose. I kissed him deeply. I smiled and looked it over. I held it to my heart. He kissed me again. It began to rain. We were running home. We crossed over a street and immediately my body was broken as a car slammed into both of our bodies. He was torn nearly in half. The legs went under the car. The torso through the windshield. Drunk Driver, maybe. The rose flew through the air, and slowed. It fell, and it landed softly into a puddle on the asphalt below. Rain sprinkled down from the heavens above.
A bright white flash, and it was dark again. I started coughing, and realized my eyes were trying to focus. The room re-appeared before me and I threw the box away. What the hell just happened? I was shaking violently, appalled at the horror that just appeared before me. What happened seemed and felt so real that my head was spinning. I felt sickened for what I saw. I took a deep breath and composed myself. It must have been several minutes before I could move once more. I gathered strength, and looked again into the box.
I don’t know why I did so, I should just leave but I had to know what it was. Once again, my eyes fell upon the trinkets. A small red marble caught my eye. My trembling fingers slid up and hesitated. Do I dare touch another thing? Was what I experienced real? Or maybe I just imagined it. It had been moments before but now was fading quickly, like when you wake from a dream and can’t remember what the dream was, or what happened. All you remember was if it was a good or a bad dream.
What was in my heart now told me that I felt something awful, but I was too curious to let it go. I ceased to abstain from my curiosities and I touched the marble. Like before, the room melted away and I was once again in a trance state.
I was a small boy, chasing my sister. She laughed and teased me. Anger filled my heart. I grabbed a bag of marbles and I threw them at her as she ran. The marble bag snapped open, the marbles free among the floor. Her ankle landed directly onto a bright red one. Her foot twisted and snapped, her body flailing through the air. Her head slamming into a wooden post. Her body limp. Then twitching violently. Blood pooled around her skull. Screams from my mother. The marble rolling away.
The scene faded away and I was back in the room. I sat up, sweat poured off my skin. I was trembling and cold. Still gasping, I tried to get control. I composed myself, and this time I didn’t throw the box but I looked once more and not only at the trinkets. A small latch on the underside of the lid, which I hadn’t seen before, caught my attention. I pulled it open, to find a small notebook. It was leather bound and only the size of my palm.
I cracked it open to find a list of dates and times, and the name of an object next to them. A log book, perhaps? The earliest entry was for a doll, dated January 12 1912. I saw the one mentioned amongst the junk. It was a small porcelain doll with a white dress and pink trim. Looking back at the list, I found the rose, dated April 30, 1965. Then I found the Marble, dated March 3 1982.
That’s when I realized that the outside was pitch black. My heart froze. I had been here for far too long, hours must have poured by. I looked at the manifest once more. The final entry, “Compass. October 15 2017”. Today’s date. I felt my pocket for my compass, and sighed with relief when I found it. I looked it over, my dad’s compass actually. It still had his name carved in the lid. I looked into the keepsake box, and tucked away in a corner was the exact same compass, with the exact same carving. I dropped the box, the lid slammed shut, loudly echoing through the room and the forest outside.
What could this could mean? Why was there a duplicate inside the box? Why did I not remember how it got so late, and what had I seen in this place for hours? What was this feeling of unbelievable terror? Like something was here, just invisible. Why was my heart pounding so hard, as if to get out of my chest? The sound of my heartbeat in my ears, that’s all I could hear. And then, from outside, the distinct sound of approaching footsteps.
CREDIT : Isaac J Rood