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The Littlefork Bodysnatchers

The Littlefork Bodysnatchers

Estimated reading time — 12 minutes

Over the past few decades, a disturbing rumor has spread throughout the backwoods settlement of Littlefork. People there tell tales of so-called “alternates,” who kidnap and impersonate the small town’s residents. Taking the form of their victims, they appear human at first glance. But the alternates possess uncanny facial features like dead, bulging eyes and unusually long limbs.

Of course, none of this concerned Dr. Emma Wilton. She was in search of another Littlefork legend: the ivory-billed woodpecker. Once the largest woodpecker in the US, the bird was now considered extinct by most ornithologists, Emma included. Although the last official sighting of the bird occurred in 1941, some in the area claimed to have seen a large bird with shiny black plumage not unlike those of the ivory-billed woodpecker.

Emma made the trip to Littlefork alone, stopping first at the town’s only hotel. An old, rickety porch wrapped around the front of the building. There two older men sat in wicker chairs with smoldering cigarettes between their fingers. They watched Emma with a blank stare. Smoke spilled from their lips.


Inside, a portly woman sat behind the counter. She sighed as Emma approached as if annoyed that she actually had to work. “Can I help you?” she asked.

“Yes. I booked a room. It should be under Robert Monroe,” Emma said.

The woman blinked long and slow. “You’re not Robert Monroe.”

“No. But the room was booked for two people.”

“That’s right,” the receptionist said.

“And I’m the second person. I’m Emma Wilton.”


“I see,” the woman said, “And where is Mr. Monroe?”

“He decided not to come.”

“Why not?”

“That’s personal.” Emma forced a smile, but it was hard to hide the irritation in her voice.

“Well, I can’t let you stay in the room. It’s booked under his name.”

Emma sucked her teeth and glanced around the dingy interior of the hotel. Aside from the two men out front, the place was dead. “Meaning no offense, but this doesn’t look to be a busy hotel.”

“None taken,” the receptionist replied dryly.

“What are the chances someone would come to the hotel and correctly guess the name of a guest?”

The fat receptionist pushed a greasy strand of hair behind her ear and shrugged. “Company policy. You can call him if –”

“No,” Emma said quickly. “You must have his number on file. How about you call him? Okay?”

With a sigh, the woman picked up the phone and dialed Robert’s number. While they waited for him to pick up, Emma paced around the lobby. She stopped by a bulletin board, which only had two papers pinned to it. One was a flier for a local concert scheduled for two months ago. The other was a wrinkled notice about a missing girl. According to the faded, black letters, the girl’s name was Ashley. She had disappeared two years ago at the age of sixteen. Sad. But again, it was none of Emma’s concern.

While the receptionist dialed Robert’s number a second time, the old men from the porch entered. “Don’t get many visitors,” said the first. He was missing most of his teeth, and his breath reeked of tobacco.

“Not safe around these parts,” said the second. He had thin, shriveled lips that seemed to stretch to the edges of his face. He pointed to the missing person poster on the bulletin board.

Emma offered a polite smile. “I’m just here for the forest,” she said.

“That’s exactly the place you need to avoid. There’s a killer in those woods. Done skinned poor Ashley, and she ain’t the only one,” the toothless man said.

“Not so. Wasn’t no killer,” the other said. His friend shook his head and sighed. “They say she was seen in the neighbor’s barn. But she wasn’t nothing but a cheap copy. A fake.” An alternate. Emma had heard the tales, but she didn’t have the energy to argue with a couple of old men.

“Yes, well, I will be careful. Thank you for your concern.”

Fortunately, Emma was called over by the receptionist, who happily informed her that she could not reach Robert. Having left him a message, the receptionist told Emma she could leave her luggage and walk around the town in the meantime. It was just as well. She had had enough of the hotel and the irritating people inside it.

With a camera slung around her neck, Emma decided to venture into the forest for an early start on her research. The ancient woodland encircled Littlefork on all sides. Like a fetid, green shadow, it lurked behind every building and at the end of each road. However, there were no entrances into the Littlefork Forest. They had all gone unused and overgrown with vegetation. Gnarled branches crossed over one another like a wall of mossy veins, and from the earth rose tall reeds of grass that hid the forest interior from view.

Just behind the hotel, Emma found a small gap in the trees. Petite as she was, she managed to slip through without much effort. Yet, just as she disappeared into the shaded woods, Emma felt a cold gaze on her neck. She glanced back and saw the men from the hotel watching her. Their faces were blank and expressionless.

She thought nothing of it. Emma had more pressing matters on her mind. After her conversation with the receptionist, she began to think about Robert Monroe. An esteemed ornithologist like herself, Robby was a silver-tongued man with a chiseled jaw and piercing, blue eyes. And whether by luck or sheer force of will, he was also the sort of man that acquired anything his heart desired. So it wasn’t long before Emma fell under his charms and into his bed.

In between their frequent bouts of lovemaking, Emma and Robby found time to collaborate on academic ventures. Even professionally, they had chemistry. Their interests and ideas always complemented one another, and together they had published a few papers. So, as their personal and professional lives faded into one another, Emma found herself thinking about Robby at all hours of the day. And in time, her thoughts turned to the future.

This would not be a problem for any other couple in a relationship. However, from Robby’s perspective, they were not in fact in a relationship. Therefore, when Emma began discussing her desire to have a daughter one day and how lovely their own children might look, Robby decided to set the record straight. He also decided it would be healthy for them to go their separate ways.

Emma cursed herself for being so oblivious. Part of her hoped this search for the ivory-billed woodpecker would train her to be more attentive. Yet, as she looked around at the expansive canopy of trees, she saw no creatures, not even a squirrel or a sparrow. She listened for the repetitive tap tap tap of a woodpecker’s beak. But Emma heard only a soft, sighing wind and the groan of shifting branches.

Woodpeckers have a particular fondness for dead trees. So Emma followed a path of decay to deeper and darker sections of the woods, where hollowed oaks and twisted beeches lay in toppled wrecks. Shadows played against their shattered bodies as the sun descended into evening.

While Emma gazed around in search of the bird, she noticed a rustling among the trees. At first, she thought it might be the rustle of a creature in the canopy. But whatever made the sound was bigger. As it moved through the forest, it shook entire trees so that their rotten trunks bent and snapped. Emma could even feel the ground tremble as the beast drew near.

Backing up slowly, Emma raised her camera. Through the lens, she glimpsed a small fraction of what lumbered through the trees. At once, she grew sick from that oozing and unwholesome form riddled with scabrous growths and hair-like filaments. The creature uttered a gurgling moan. Panic filled her, and she staggered backward in fear.

As a fleshy tendril reached towards Emma, her foot slipped on a twisted root, and she tumbled down a hill. The hill was not so tall or steep to warrant concern. However, when Emma fell backwards, her head struck the corner of a jagged rock. The last thing she remembered before her vision went dark was the crunch of her camera beneath her.

No doubt concussed from the head trauma, Emma passed between bouts of waking and unwaking. And in that limbo between dream and reality, she saw herself carried away by a looming mass of writhing flesh. It wrapped her in its moist appendages and stroked her belly in a swift, obsessive circle. Although terrifying to look at, the creature was not evil in itself. On the contrary, it doted over her well-being with warm, gentle touches not unlike a mother with her child.

Once Emma came to, she found herself in a cave on a bed of moss. Moonlight shone through a hole in the stone ceiling. It fell on her like a pale spotlight upon a stage. Yet, as far as Emma could tell, there was no audience watching her.

The comforting environment eased her nerves to a small degree. Emma found herself able to rationalize all that had happened. She told herself the beast was nothing more than a mangey bear. Frightened, she had tripped and fallen through the hole in the cave ceiling. All that nonsense about being tended to by a fleshy monster was nothing more than a dream.


Indeed Emma felt completely calm and rational. Her only concern was the gash atop her head. But judging by the dried clumps of blood in her hair, the wound had already clotted. In addition, Emma still felt sick to her stomach. No doubt, it was a lingering effect of that revolting and wholly imagined nightmare.

A low chatter rumbled through the cave, and Emma saw a shadow play against the walls. She looked around for her camera but found it was missing. “Hello?” she said. There was no reply. “Is someone there? I’m hurt.” But no one answered.

Emma got to her feet. Her stomach flopped, and her head dizzied. Regardless, she pushed ahead. She had to get back to the hotel. No doubt, the receptionist would have something snarky to say. But she needed proper medical care and a bed. Hopefully, Robby had returned the receptionist’s message.

As Emma stumbled down the dank passages of the cave, she came upon a group of childlike drawings scrawled in chalk. Under the slanted moonlight, these drawings depicted happy families with wide, goofy smiles. Innocent as they were, there was something off about the drawings. The family member’s forms and expressions were stretched and skewed as if the artist did not fully understand the human body.

What’s more, there was a sketch of some other form. Not by any stretch of the imagination could it be confused with a human. Long, cystic limbs surfaced from spotted globs of flesh while lidless eyes bulged from sparsely hairy masses. It was not certain what this abomination had to do with the grinning families, but it was certain Emma had seen it before.

Emma pressed on through dank and dreary tunnels. She followed broad, smoothed out paths that coiled this way and that. She trudged past cold, inky pools whose depths she could not fathom. All the while, her head ached, and her stomach panged. She clutched her gut. It was bloated and firm.

After a seemingly endless sequence of passages, Emma came upon the exit. The first morning light peaked above the horizon, penetrating the forest in pale swaths. Had she really been in the cave that long? It didn’t matter. Emma had entered the forest from the east. If she followed the rising dawn, she could find her way back to Littlefork.

Just then, a guttural bellow erupted behind her, and Emma heard the dull scrape of flesh against stone. At once, she ran into the forest as fast as she could. She ran without looking back, knowing she wouldn’t like what she saw.

And yet, despite her desperation, Emma could only run so fast and so far. Her feet were heavy, and her stomach throbbed with acute pain. When she could force herself no longer, she leaned against the trunk of a rotted birch and gazed down at the source of her pain.

Her belly was massive. She pulled up her shirt to get a better look. Blue veins struck sharp paths across her skin. And although there was no obvious sign of injury, that didn’t rule out the possibility of internal bleeding. Judging by the size of her gut, the bleed was serious. Without help, it would certainly prove fatal.
Emma placed her hand on her stomach and thought of Robby. All she had wanted was love and the joy of a child. But now Robby was gone, and she would bleed to death in some forsaken forest, afraid and alone.

But Emma was not alone. As if reaching out for her hand, an infant limb stretched against the walls of Emma’s abdomen. She stared at her stomach in disbelief. But there was no denying what she had seen and felt. Something was inside of her.

The sudden pregnancy shocked Emma so much that she had almost forgotten why she had run into the forest in the first place. Behind her, the branches groaned and cracked. A mucousy heap of changeable limbs dragged itself into view. On its raw and oozing flesh, gaping eyes peered down at Emma. And though she saw no mouth that could utter a sound, Emma heard a shapeless baying as if of some great and terrifying hound.

By now, Emma knew there was no point to running in her current condition. She wouldn’t make it far. Already her body tensed with vicious contractions in an attempt to expel the growing parasite. So she fought back by flinging both rocks and obscenities. But by the sound of it, the creature was hurt more emotionally than physically; for it merely suffered Emma’s attacks with a disappointed whimper.

Although the revolting beast did not leave, it at least kept its distance. Its engorged eyes peered through the crooked trees while its tentacled limbs twisted and snapped. It was waiting.

Another contraction sent shivering pain through her loins. She felt something burst between her legs, and a gush of hot liquid spilled onto the ground. The writhing mass of contorted limbs cooed with delight.

Emma staggered to the ground. Birth is never a pleasant affair, but her pain was too sharp, too quick. Blood oozed down her thighs, soaking her trousers red. Tremors ran through her arms in tune with the violent pangs that wrenched her gut. And it took all her strength just to slip out of her clothes.

When she did – to her horror – she saw a pair of pink, wormy hands forcing their way into the open air. Emma bit her tongue to suppress the screams rising in her throat. But she could not resist the swelling current of terror and skin-splitting pain. As the parasitic child exorcised itself from her bleeding womb, her tortured wailings reached greater and greater heights.

Emma watched helplessly as the nearly human child ripped her cunt into a long and literal gash. By then, her agony had exceeded the limits of her perception so that each new injury was a mere wisp lost amid a hellish conflagration. There seemed no end to the torment. But in time her trials finished, and before her lay a raw and mewling infant.

The small creature looked up at Emma with eyes not unlike her own. It studied her briefly and mimicked her exhausted expression. And below the child’s left ear, she noticed a pair of black moles. It was a feature she had only ever seen in the mirror.

But there was something off about the child’s appearance. Its lifeless eyes sat too many inches apart, its limbs reached too far, and its familiar smile stretched too wide. Only at a glance could that thing be called human.


Just then, the lumbering mass beyond the trees issued a long bellow. Answering its command, the newborn scurried into the forest, dragging its shriveled afterbirth with it. That was the last Emma saw of it. As for the malformed beast, Emma was not safe just yet. The bristly heap of flesh peeled back the trees and pulled itself towards her.

Emma grabbed her clothes and rose to her feet. Hot gore spilled down her legs, and a dreadful ache smoldered inside her. But she would not let the beast take her again. “Leave me alone!” she screamed and threw a rock. Emma didn’t even wait to see if the rock hit. She bolted as far and fast as her feet would carry her.

For well on an hour, Emma jogged through the trees. When she could jog no more, she decided to walk. And when she could not walk, she stopped to dress. There was still a small trickle of blood, but for the most part, her wounds had clotted.

Dawn had bloomed in slanted shades of orange and red. A cool wind blew against Emma’s face, and the trees swayed to and fro. The only sounds were of the squirrels chattering, the sparrows tweeting, and an incessant tap tap tap. Emma craned her head to stare up at the trees, and it was then she saw it: the ivory-billed woodpecker. The regal bird hacked away at a dead oak with its strong, straight bill. Its feathers shone red, white, and lustrous black. The long-lost bird was a beauty to behold, but all Emma could feel in the moment was contempt.

In time, Emma found her way out of the forest and onto a narrow dirt path. She followed the long and lonely road back to Littlefork. There the townspeople called her an ambulance and sent her on her way. She did not tell them what she had endured. Nor did she tell the doctors at the hospital. They would not believe her. They would not understand.

Following the traumatic events in the woods, Emma entered a state of intense apathy. Her memories were now so full of pain. To avoid feeling them, she had learned not to feel at all. That night had changed her, and in her darkest hours, Emma wondered whether the monster had stolen her humanity as well as her womb.

A week after the event took place, Emma received a phone call. It was Robby. “Emma, I just heard the news. Are you okay?” he said.

“Yes,” Emma said. She did not want to talk about it, least of all with him. “I’m doing better now.”
“I am glad to hear that,” Robby said. “So it’s all true then? What happened? I got a call from the hotel one day and then the next …”

“We really don’t need to discuss it,” Emma said. “You made clear how you feel about me.”

Robby scoffed. “Just because I don’t want a serious relationship doesn’t mean I can’t worry about you. And of course I’m worried! The police said they found you naked in the woods.”

“What? What are you talking about? Police?”

“I know it’s embarrassing, but you don’t need to lie to me,” he said. “You attacked some lady and tried dragging her into the woods. They took you to a psych ward.”

“That wasn’t me.”

“I’m surprised they let you go to be honest.”

“Robby, that wasn’t me. When did this happen?”

“A couple days ago. But —”

Emma hung up the phone. She did not doubt Robby’s story, but she did not want to hear it. She already knew the truth. Someone had attacked that lady. Someone was in the psych ward. A second Emma. A copy. An alternate.

Credit: Andrew Layden

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