Estimated reading time — 26 minutes
I rested my arms behind my head, skim-reading the credits of a movie I’d just watched. After seeing them through about half way, I lifted myself from the sofa and walked to the kitchen, stretching my arms out above me. I opened the fridge door and found a full cartoon of juice, so I sat down on the kitchen counter by the window, cracked open the lid, and took several long, noisy gulps. When I couldn’t drink anymore, I gasped to let in new air and wiped my mouth on the back of my hand. My evenings were uneventful around this time in summer. It was 9:15pm on a Saturday in July; school was out for the holidays and my parents had gone to visit my aunt and uncle who lived by the coast, they would still be gone for 2 more weeks. I declined the invitation to join them, I didn’t dislike the place or my relatives, but we usually stayed there so long that I’d miss most of summer break, and I’d truthfully rather spend it with my friends in town. I was a good kid who knew how to wash clothes and use an oven, and generally not an idiot, so they let me stay at the house so long as I kept it clean.
As I sat, I looked out into the garden to check for anything scary in the dark, it was empty and black. I kind of wished we had a pet, a dog or a cat would be nice about now, but their hair always made me sneeze and my eyes go red and itchy. With that in mind my dad said no, even though I wouldn’t mind it. 9:22pm, I put the rest of the juice cartoon back in the fridge door, and went back over to the window. Hoisting myself onto the counter again, I glanced out to the garden and identified the shadows one by one to make sure everything was in it’s place. The bushes were their usual shape, two small trees stood together by the back fence and a metal table with 4 chairs sat casually on the patio. I liked to check these things, which is largely why I wasn’t scared of the dark. I would always get up to investigate small noises in the night, and I hated sleeping with my face to the wall. If someone was in my room at night, I’d rather know about it so at least there was the faintest chance of getting away somehow. This meant that my worries were quickly put to rest as I either found nothing downstairs but the radiator popping with the heat, or opened my eyes to see an empty bedroom. Not knowing what could be making the odd noises coming from the kitchen, or on the stairs, or in my room is what makes my skin creep.
9:30pm, I got down from the counter and wandered back into the living room to turn off the TV, and decided to take the rest of the juice upstairs. I went back into the kitchen, opened the fridge door, and stopped. Turning my head to focus outside, I could see someone was standing in the garden. I shut the fridge door and turned off the light so they couldn’t see me so easily, and moved slowly to lean on the kitchen counter to get a better look. All the doors were locked and all the neighbours were home, I took a moment to remind myself this. Still, my heart quickened a bit as I stood there straining to see his or her shape in the darkness at the end of the garden. I had to keep glancing away to keep their fuzzy outline clear in my vision. They were standing very still, and were a little thin, but that’s all I could see, I couldn’t tell anything else.
‘Oh.’ I said aloud. It was the garden umbrella leaning up against the back fence, I forgot that we used it for barbeques. I smiled at myself, pleased that I didn’t get too worked up and went upstairs to my bedroom. I laid on the bed and propped my head up on a pillow, opening my laptop on my stomach to see if anybody was online. Apparently someone else was bored and saw my name pop up.
Me: Hey, you ok?
Chris: Yeah, bored, are your parents still away?
Me: For a couple more weeks
Chris: Why don’t I come round?
Me: I don’t want to be rude, but I kind of can’t be bothered to hang out tonight lol, thanks though
Chris: I know what you mean, it’s cool, what about tomorrow?
Me: Yeah that sounds better
Chris: Cool, I’ll be round about 1, I’ve got some family stuff to do in the morning
Chris: Do you still have a tent btw? We can camp in the garden or something.
Me: Aww a slumber party, I love you too bro x
Chris: Whatever lol, you got the tent though?
Me: Yeah somewhere, let me check. Brb.
I got up from my bed and headed to check the cupboard under the stairs. I didn’t know where the tent was but it seemed a good place to start. I opened the cupboard door and started shifting coats aside, some cardboard boxes were stacked up at the back and might be hiding it, so I started unstacking them. I took out a couple of the easy to reach ones and had a stroke of good luck as the tent bag came into view. I leaned over the other boxes, and picked up the bag, and took the big garden umbrella that sat beside it too, just in case it rained tomorrow. I paused. I put the tent down.
It took me a couple of seconds to get back to the kitchen window and focus on the darkness outside. My eyes weren’t yet adjusted to the dark, so I couldn’t see all the way to the back fence. Turning off the kitchen light I leaned on the counter and continued staring at the same point. The other garden features began to fade into view one by one, fitting my previous mental image. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to see, the darkness gave way to the familiar forms I knew, but after a while, I was certain there still stood a figure against the back garden fence. It hadn’t moved. I stood there for 15 minutes looking at it, I couldn’t tell it’s shape properly, but it did look like someone standing there. I decided it wasn’t a threat; I thought if I was in any real danger I would’ve been a lot more worried by now, that thought kept me calm. But I also wanted to find out what it was. I couldn’t stand there forever, I jogged upstairs, picked up my laptop, and brought it down to with me to the counter.
Me: Could you come round now?
Me: Yeah, I think I can see something in my garden.
Chris: What Is it? An animal?
Me: No it’s tall, I thought it was an umbrella.
Chris: And now you’re sure it isn’t?
Me: I don’t know, I thought it was someone, but now I’m sure it’s not a person. It just looks weird and I don’t think it was there before.
Chris: Before when?
Me: I don’t know, earlier today maybe? I can’t remember.
Chris: Are you scared?
Me: I’d feel better if someone else was here
Chris: Well I did offer to come round, and I am bored…
Me: So yeah?
Chris: Yeah, I’ll come soon
Me: Cool, thanks, use the front gate.
I sat there watching the black shape lean against the fence for another 10 minutes, eventually, the doorbell rang. I opened it and Chris ran in, and bear hugged me.
‘It’s been too long!’ Chris mock-cried.
‘Yeah it must have been a whole day.’ I retorted, smiling.
‘The torment!’ He replied, pretending to ignore me.
‘Look, come over here.’ I said, pushing him off and walking to the kitchen. I switched off the light and pointed in the figure’s direction. ‘Look’.
‘Give me a sec,’ Said Chris, ‘I can’t see properly…’ A minute later he noticed, ‘That black thing?’
We both stood there looking at it for a while. I half expected it to be gone when he looked. He leaned over the counter.
‘It’s just a big plant or plank of wood or something, Let’s go watch TV.’
‘Will you check with me to make sure?’ I asked.
‘Do you have a torch?’ he returned.
‘No.’ I admitted.
‘Well, we could check if we keep the kitchen light on and open the back door a little.’ he offered. I thought for a second and agreed, but said we should stay right by the house.
We slipped on our trainers and opened the back door, stepping onto the patio I felt the air was heavy and warm that night. Chris walked behind me. We stood very close to the door, peering at the back fence.
‘Should we-‘, I had just started to speak when he quickly stepped into the house again, still looking at the fence.
‘What?’ I asked following him in. I turned, and realised that the figure was gone. It was obvious from the light coming from the back door, that the fence and the rest of the garden was just as it always was.
‘Where is it?’ Chris said.
‘If it was leaning against the fence, it probably fell over into a bush or something.’ I tried to convince us both. We stared out for a few seconds longer, and decided that we were too nervous to go and check. I don’t usually give into my night terrors, but now they were just beginning to click into my head.
‘Can you stay over for the night?’ I asked Chris.
‘Um, yeah, sure…’ It didn’t sound like he really wanted to. He kept his eyes on the fence.
We both went inside and locked the door before going up to my room. I got out a sleeping bag for Chris, and drew the curtains without looking outside into the garden again. We talked about stupid stuff for a couple of hours to take our minds off the garden, and fell asleep.
In the morning, I found Chris’s sleeping bag empty. I called out to Chris and he said he was downstairs, so I threw on a T-shirt and went down.
‘Sleep well?’ I asked.
‘Yeah pretty well, but I kept thinking about the garden and stuff. Hey, did you find that tent?’ He returned.
‘Er, yeah.’ I answered, remembering that shape which I had forgotten about until now.
‘Well, I was thinking about the camping thing, and thought maybe we could bring the tent to my house. It would just make a change you know?’ I didn’t have to ask him why, I wasn’t to keen on staying in my garden after last night. Wait, last night… Come to think of it, the sun was up and I wanted to check the garden while it wasn’t pitch black. I asked Chris and he hesitantly agreed.
We put on our trainers and stepped out into the garden. I don’t know what we were so worried about, it was bright and colourful. The plants and bushes around the edges of the garden smelled good, and there was a bird in one of the small trees singing out for it’s mate somewhere. We walked to the back fence to find nothing out of place, and looked over the bushes in front of the panelling to check if anything lay behind them. We found nothing. I walked around the edge of the whole garden once more while Chris tried whistling to the bird. It cocked it’s head from side to side trying to figure him out. It was a warm day, perfect for camping that evening, I decided.
We talked as we filled a couple of rucksacks with sleeping bags and some food from the kitchen. We didn’t want to set up a fire, so we packed some tinned hot dogs, bread, a packet of tomatoes, and chocolate, as well as some bottles of water. ‘There’s a forest just next to my house which is actually pretty good,’ Chris explained ‘Our garden backs onto the edge of it. I stayed in a tent there once with my dad for my first little camping trip when I was like, 7. I remember I was so excited at the time, I thought we were really roughing it like some hardcore mountaineers.’ Chris laughed at himself. ‘If we get too cold or need more food we can just go to my house. My parents are out so we’ll have free run of the place anyway.’
‘Yours are away too?’ I questioned.
‘It’s their anniversary so they’re out for the night,’ he explained, ‘They’re staying in a hotel the next town over, they’ll be back in the morning.’ Apparently leaving your kids behind was in fashion this summer.
At about noon we left my house with the 2 rucksacks, a sleeping bag for each of us, and the tent, and made our way to Chris’s house. It was fairly close by, and a part of the same pleasant neighbourhood. We talked and joked a lot walking side by side, nodding and greeting a couple of familiar neighbours as we went. It was a crazy nice day, the sun was almost too much, it was hot on our necks, and the trees by the sidewalk seemed to glow green from underneath as the sunlight passed through the leaves. A sprinkler offered us some water as we walked by one house, and it felt good on my hot arms. I was already sweating by the time we got to Chris’s place, we hadn’t been walking for more than 20 minutes. We didn’t go inside his house immediately because it was so hot, so we went straight to his garden and dumped our bags in the shade. He wasn’t joking, the gate of his garden backed straight onto an impressive forest. very tall, thin trees stood high above the house, and continued as far as I could see. Some bushes and shrubs littered the forest floor, but most of it was either grass, or fairly smooth sections of dirt. I didn’t see how this forest was classed as ‘small’.
‘Looks good right?’ he boasted.
‘It’s awesome.’ I admitted, opening the gate and surveying the area. I walked out in between the trees and found a flat spot for the tent. I turned around to ask Chris’s opinion, and paused, a little disappointed. It didn’t feel like real camping when his house was so obviously in our faces.
‘Let’s go a little further in so it at least feels legit.’ I said, and walked back to pick up my bags, Chris objected to carrying his ‘heavy shit’ any further. We walked in a straight line from Chris’s house, and kept checking behind us until the house was just about obscured by trees in front of each other. We had only gone a very short way in but the forest was already thicker and greener, there was even a long rope swing hanging from one of the trees, but it looked too old to hold our weight, so we decided to keep our spines unbroken and give it a miss. I unpacked the tent and set it up with Chris’s help, and we threw our sleeping bags inside. I laid down inside to test it out. It was so warm and humid I had to adjust my breathing for a second. I stepped out again, and asked Chris if he had a torch for the evening.
‘I can do better than that.’ was his response and he took off towards the house. I was too hot to run after him, so I opened my rucksack and cracked open a bottle of water, downing half of it and putting the rest back in the pack. I Laid down on a patch of grass and looked up at the canopy. The leaves were shifting gently in a breeze I couldn’t feel from down here, and I watched them sway and mesh together until I heard Chris return.
‘Did you get a torch?’ I asked closing my eyes. The sun shone through my eyelids and coloured my vision red. I listened to the soft sound of his footsteps on the grass as he walked past me towards the rope swing. ‘That’s not going to hold you,’ I warned as I heard him tug the branch with a small creak. He tugged it and it creaked in response. I listened. He tugged it once more, and again. There was a moment of silence as I guessed he was still weighing it up, and then another tug. He continued to tug a few more times, and the creaking followed each one. I was sure it wouldn’t hold his weight, and I smiled predicting one big creak and a snap as the rope or the branch broke. I waited as some final tugs were made. Creak, creak. I waited still. Creak, creak, creak.
‘Yo!’ I heard Chris’s voice coming from his garden, I sat bolt upright almost spraining my neck as I snapped my head sideways to face his house. He was jogging through the trees holding an electric lantern. I switched my gaze in the other direction towards the rope swing. It was hanging still, nothing nearby. I stood up and turned full circle, nothing in any other direction.
‘What…’ I mouthed to myself walking towards the rope. I tugged it gently, it didn’t creak. I pulled it harder, it didn’t creak. My mouth went dry. I jumped up, grabbed hold, and yanked it down. The branch bent a little as my feet touched the floor, and still it didn’t make a sound. I kept hold of it as I stared up towards the branches, but eventually the rope gave way under my weight somewhere in the middle, and a soft thud fell on my ears as the thick rope fell in front of me. Chris was rattling the lantern as he came by.
‘I’ve never used this before, I got it for Christmas from my cousin. She buys some weird presents. Ah, I see the swing is dead, lets have a proper burial in memory of all the joy it gave us!’ I didn’t respond. I continued looking up at the branch with half a rope swing tied to it.
‘…Hey, are you good?’ Chris followed my gaze.
‘I thought you’d already come back,’ I said immediately, I wasn’t the type to let things slide with an “oh… it’s nothing.”
‘What?’ He replied.
‘Someone walked by me and was messing around with the rope swing.”
‘Who was it?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘Are they still around?’
‘I don’t know! I had my eyes closed and was laying just there,’ I pointed, ‘but then I heard you shout, so I looked around and there was nothing here. I heard them walk by my head.’ I felt a bit sick.
‘Look, calm down a second’. Chris began. ‘It’s the middle of the day, we’re 30 feet from my house, and even if it was a person, so what? It’s just some public woods, anyone can come through here.’
That made some sense, and he was right about it being public. But then where were they? I glanced around one more time, however the trees quickly layered up and I couldn’t see far at all. I guessed it was possible for me to lose track of someone here in a short distance.
‘Okay.’ I said ‘Man… I can stay alone in the house for weeks on end, but I can’t handle a short walk through the woods on a summers day.’
‘That’s why you’ve brought some muscle!’ Declared Chris, wielding the lantern above his head, and I laughed.
We spent the day walking around the forest, and returned to the tent to get some water when we were too hot. We talked about school and what our plans were for the future. We talked about dreams we’d had, and ghosts, and creatures that lurked in the dark. Neither of us were too scared of things like that, but they made for good camping stories. Chris told a particularly good one of a woman who lived in the woods. She had the head of a cat and if you heard her raspy meow, that meant she was trying to find you. If she stopped meowing, it signified you were found, and she was quickly making her way towards you. It made my skin crawl a little, and we stopped telling stories soon after that.
The light of day eventually faded, and it was getting hard to see, so we headed back to the tent for the night. The impressive heat during the day had killed our appetites, so we left the food for now and decided we’d eat it in the night if we got hungry. Chris hung the electric lantern at the front of the tent, flicking it on as he did so. It was surprisingly bright, and spilled a yellow light onto the ground and onto the trees that faced us. The warm glow looked dramatic, but whatever was beyond the light was hidden in blackness. Our immediate area was clear, but after a few paces the light seemed to stop dead. It looked weird. Chris ducked under the tent opening and I followed him. The sleeping bags looked inviting as the heat from earlier had gone and it was too cold for shirts and shorts. We got inside and took the lantern with us.
‘Can you hear meowing?’ I said, my head tilted as I strained to hear.
‘Yeah, I can hear some bullshit too!’ Chris smiled and zipped up his sleeping bag. Damn, I thought I had him, oh well, I zipped up my own bag and we laid there talking for a little while, and then the exhaustion of such a hot summer’s hit us and we fell asleep.
I had a dream that we were walking to Chris’s house again, but there were more trees than before, and it was getting dark very quickly. I blinked, and suddenly it was night, with the forest sprawling in every direction. The rope swing hung in front of me. I turned around and Chris was gone. I heard a creak behind me, a feeling came over me like I’d missed a step on the stairs. For some reason, I couldn’t turn around. I started walking straight ahead, and the rope swing soon came into my view again, I was aware I was in a nightmare. The rope swing slowly lifted itself up into the trees and I watched it disappear. I walked over and stood beneath where it had been, and there was a rustle above me. As I lifted my eyes to the canopy, a black figure with the head of a cat came hurtling downwards with it’s mouth open horrifically wide, one of it’s teeth touched my left eye, and I tore myself awake, gasping as I sat up in the tent. My back was damp with sweat and Chris was asleep next to me, the lantern was still on and I could see our backpacks at the end of the tent. I took a moment to breathe and then let myself lay back down, my head thumping on the floor a little too hard. I winced and reached for the bottle of water to my side, downing a few mouthfuls. I couldn’t fall asleep with the glow of the lantern on my eyelids, so I sat up and searched the tent for it. I quickly realized the light was coming from outside.
‘Chris?’ I said, still confused from sleep. He mumbled something in reply. ‘Chris, where’s the lantern?’
‘Uh…Somewhere….’ He said slowly and sleepily, before turning over.
Looking around again, the light was obviously coming from outside. I weighed up the options. Either some murderer had snuck into our tent and done nothing but take the lantern outside. Or, we didn’t actually bring it into the tent and I had remembered wrongly. That sounded more convincing. So I knelt by the tent door and unzipped it. From the opening I looked around, it wasn’t immediately obvious where the glow was coming from. Why couldn’t I see it? I looked up. The lantern was resting 20 feet in the air, hanging in the dark. Goosebumps swept across my skin and I zipped up the door before shaking Chris.
‘Chris, please wake up!’ He heard the urgency in my voice and sat up.
‘What? What’s wrong?’ Chris said, rubbing his eyes.
‘The Lantern’s hanging outside.’
‘But I brought it in.’ He assured me. I felt sick as my reasoning broke. We both looked at the front of the tent.
‘We should go back to the house.’ I said, my resolve buckling. I was just a kid in a forest who’s parents were away.
‘I’m not walking through the dark.’ He replied, Chris was now looking worried.
‘We’ve got a Lantern-‘ I stopped myself. We looked at the front of the tent again. We couldn’t sit there forever. We were getting scared as we sat there doing nothing, so this was the plan; we weren’t going back to sleep, we would get the lantern back somehow, leave everything here, and spend the night in Chris’s house.
I hated being the one to go first. I wanted to turn back even just crouching by the tent entrance. Unzipping the fabric door I looked around, nothing. I peered over the tent behind us, nothing in sight. Literally nothing, everything was black outside of the light. I took a step out and it was cold, Chris said the same as he stood right by my side looking over his shoulder. He turned back and saw the lantern in the air.
‘Oh my god.’
We stood there looking at it for a few seconds that seemed to crawled by. Eventually I worked out which tree it was hanging from, the broken rope swing at my feet confirmed it. Way up out of reach, the lantern hung above our heads, tied to the other end of the rope that still dangled from the darkness. I couldn’t work it out, it was high up, too high up for even a ladder. The trees were thin and bare besides the leaves that made up the canopy, There was no where to climb. Picking up the length of rope that had snapped off earlier, I bundled it up and tied a knot, and aimed at the lantern. I took a step back and jumped, tossing it into the air. It caught the lantern on it’s side and sent it swinging. It threw shadows rocking around us, I suddenly wished it hadn’t hit it. The light made the shadows lean from side to side with the lantern. The horrible, unnatural swaying made me panic and my eyes became wet as fear took a solid hold of me. I picked up the rope again, and lobbed it desperately at the lantern. I missed, and the bundle of rope sailed off into the darkness. Helplessly I turned to Chris who had already grabbed his backpack. He span around and threw it with a yelp, and it hit the lantern dead on. it fell and thudded to the floor with a crack, but the light was still on, I ran to pick it up.
I turned to Chris and almost cried with relief.
‘Okay go, go, go, let’s go!’ I urged, and he started jogging quickly towards his house as I followed. We half ran, half stumbled off into the dark, checking over our shoulders and working ourselves up as our thoughts were consumed by everything that may be waiting in the trees for us. I don’t know how long we were moving, but it soon became apparent that Chris’s house wasn’t in this direction.
‘For God’s sake, where is it!’ Chris said, tension taking hold of his voice, ‘We’ll have to find the tent and try again.’ A couple of tears were forming at the corners of his eyes. They were probably on mine too, but my heart was thumping so hard I didn’t notice.
‘Okay.’ I took a breath and we turned around, heading in a straight line directly behind us. What if we didn’t find the tent? I couldn’t stop myself thinking that over and over as we retraced our steps. We walked for what seemed like twice as long, before the light finally fell on the side of the tent.
We ran up and stood close to it’s side, looking around to try and figure out which direction we should go. The silence was like the build up of a nightmare, right before some horrible thing lurches out at you, screaming. The comparison made me gag and I scrunched my eyes shut, the hair on my skin lifting. My temples were so hot it felt like my brain was thudding against the inside of my skull. I couldn’t begin to guess where the house was. We could see about ten feet from the lantern, and then pitch black, there were no clues. Every direction looked wrong. Chris took the lantern from me and walked in a small circle, straining his eyes to try and see. I stayed put.
‘Chris, Turn it off.’ I whispered to him hurriedly
‘What?’ He asked
I stepped quickly and quietly towards him, bringing my face to his.
‘There’s something in the tent.’
His gaze shifted past me towards the tent and he stood there staring. We were standing on the left hand side of the tent, and from this angle I could just about see the unzipped door hanging open, but I remembered leaving it that way. So that wasn’t what was making me clench my teeth together. A few feet away, my rucksack sat outside on the dry earth, with the food I had packed, now neatly arranged trailing from it. Our sleeping bags were also nicely laid out, end to end, making the line of belongings lead straight into the mouth of the tent. I took a careful step forward so the light could pass more easily through the fabric. It couldn’t have been a trick of the light, something big and dark was obviously crouched, with what I guessed was it’s front, facing the open door. I hated myself for not seeing it sooner. It didn’t move at all, or seem to breathe, it just sat, waiting for us to investigate the display it had made.
‘Turn it off.’ I whispered again. Chris continued staring, deaf to me.
‘CHRIS.’ I pleaded in a whisper.
A voice from nearby joined in.
We both heard it and the blood fell in our veins. It came from the tent. A slow, strained, rasp of a voice that sounded like a parrot copying a new word. The sound clicked across my skin and crept into my ears. The light flicked off with a click that was too loud. Chris grabbed my shoulder, and I clenched my fists closed, painfully tight. We stood there in complete darkness, I didn’t want to move and I didn’t want to stay. My brain fought for control as my legs waited for a decision, rooted in place. We breathed shallow, quiet breaths, blackness pressing on our eyes like water. Sweat ran down my neck, I couldn’t see the tent.
‘Chrisss.’ Something said. ‘Turn it offff.’
My stomach flipped inside out as the thing in the tent played with my words. I quickly grabbed Chris’s hand, yanking him in the opposite direction. I ran like I never had before, Chris’s legs thudding alternately with mine. The sprint continued for about a minute, we lost ourselves as we ran through absolute darkness. I forgot where we were and I couldn’t see what was in front of my face. I ran head on into a tree, and my forehead struck it’s side with a sickening, hollow knock. sparks lit up inside my eyes as I chocked back the pain. It hurt so much I couldn’t breath. Chris tried to pull me on, but I buckled to the floor on my knees and threw up. As I collapsed onto my back, my head went numb, Chris lifted me up.
‘Please don’t stop, please, please!’ He begged, I couldn’t reply. ”Please, please keep going!’ I forced my legs to take my weight as I locked my knees upright, leaning on Chris. My body felt empty and a little blood rolled down my forehead and into my brow, I wiped it away as I tried to grasp the situation again, but the pain was too much.
‘Wait, I can’t!’ I begged, ‘Just wait, just wait…’ We stood together in the inky woods, but we could have been anywhere. I couldn’t see Chris as he huddled next to me, it didn’t feel like darkness, it felt like someone had wrapped my head in a blanket.
Neither of us said a word as we waited, but our breathing was loud, and I wondered from what distance it could be heard. Reality began to return to me, and the pain was now just about bearable, I straightened up, grasping at what was happening, the pins of fear sank into me a second time, and I started counting in my head. One minute passed without any sound in the world. The wind was dead, and the birds might be too. another minute went by, I continued counting. Three minutes. We were still alone, was it even looking for us? I reached for Chris’s arm in the dark, he jumped when I touched it, but I steadied him with the other, he was still holding the lantern, good. We had light on our side, now if only we could use it. I went over the events hurriedly in my mind; the lantern was hanging from a tree, we got out of the tent, then couldn’t find our way home. By the time we returned to the tent, something was in it, but then why did it take the lantern and do nothing while we slept? If It was sheer luck that we were alone when we were trying to get the lantern, I wondered just how small the possibility was of us getting a second chance.
I stayed silent for a moment and then whispered as best I could. ‘Chris, we need to turn on the lantern. We need to fucking get away from here, we can make a run for your house but we need to see!’
‘No! please, we have to stay here!’ Chris tried to whisper too. ‘We can wait for morning if we have to, you can’t turn it on.’ I could hear in his voice that a sob was breaking through. ‘Just keep quiet! You fucking have to, Please!’ I parted my lips to try again, but as I did, I heard something. A very faint clicking sound from somewhere in the dark. It was almost inaudible, but it was there. An irregular, stuttering, clicking sound. It sounded fingernails on a wooden table. And it was moving. It came from in front of us, I was sure of it. A steady ‘click, clack click,’ filled my ears as we tried gauge the distance. It was drawing closer. ‘Click Click Clack.’ It stopped. I was glad for the first time in my life that I couldn’t see what was waiting in the dark, perhaps that meant we were also hidden. As my thoughts fired off in every direction, I gave the thing in the darkness the image of the cat-headed woman, and it terrified me. I was just waiting to hear that meow. But my ears were met with something else.
‘Chris.’ I tensed my throat and tried not to cry. ‘Chris.’
It said his name twice, and I cupped my hand over my mouth, the horrible, scraping dialogue sounded a few steps away. The words were said oddly, with no meaning behind them. They were just sounds that this thing had picked up, and was now using them to catch us out in the dark. Chris let go off my hand and I heard his foot plant softly on the grass behind him as he prepared to run. ‘Don’t you dare.’ I tried to project into his mind. ‘Don’t you make a sound’.
It sounded so wrong, drawn out like a door slowly opening. Chris let out a whimper as it called him. I froze and waited for something, anything to happen. There was a long silence and I held my breath for as long as I could. I couldn’t wait anymore. Very slowly I reached out to Chris and put my hand on his shoulder, and very carefully we both lifted our feet and managed to step without making a sound. We back stepped away from the voice and didn’t stop moving, but ever so carefully. So, so slowly. I didn’t care how long it would take us to get somewhere, if it took us an hour every step, we were going to get out. Chris backed into a tree, and gasped audibly. The clicking started up immediately, ‘click click clack click’, it rolled on, consistently moving towards us. I didn’t know what to do, All I could think of was to screw my eyes shut and try not to scream. As we stood there, the clicking came to a stop an arms length away from where we stood. Silence.
‘Chrisss. Turn it on. Pleeease.’
Fear took over, Chris switched on the light and tore off in the other direction without looking behind him, I wheeled in place and held that lantern in my sight like nothing else existed. We didn’t dare look at the thing, but we could hear it. Our footsteps thudded on the grass, and the thing pursued us with a ‘taptaptaptap’, now like scurrying little claws on hard earth. As I ran desperately to catch up to the light, the sound suddenly rose up behind me and over our heads in between the trees. This wasn’t happening, it was going to drop down on us. ‘Turn!’ I screamed. I didn’t care anymore, if we were going to get out with our lives, we were going to have to run for them . We suddenly changed course, the tapping stopped for a moment, long enough for us to gain a few feet before it came in our direction again. My legs were cramping horribly and Chris was gasping hard, We couldn’t keep this up. Where were we? I saw the light from the lantern come to an abrupt halt up ahead, I didn’t have time to stop, and braced myself to thump into Chris, but the light passed beneath my feet. He had dropped the lantern. I turned my head and watched it recede into the darkness, it was immediately too far for me to go back, the thing would be on me in a second.
‘Chris!’ I was crying and swiping tears from my cheeks as I ran, preparing for my face to connect with a tree at any moment.
‘Keep Going!’ I heard Chris from up ahead, ‘there’s a light!’ My vision was bleary from tears but could see it, an orange glow hanging in the air in the distance. Another one? What was happening? I wanted to scream at him to avoid it, but I realized it was a street light. My legs felt like I was running through water, but I pushed them harder with a goal in sight. Gradually and painfully the light drew closer, as did the clicking. This thing could move like nothing I knew. I saw Chris’s figure pass underneath the street light and then he was gone again. ‘Don’t stop!’ I yelled as I approached the edge of the forest, and my legs adjusted as the forest floor gave way to solid footing. I could see a row of more streetlights leading off to the right, and Chris’s figure was passing regularly underneath each. When I was sure I was completely out of the trees I didn’t stop, I ran under several more street lights putting as much distance as I could manage between us and the edge of the woods. I realised after a while that the clicking had stopped, I needed to see we were ok. I turned my head and looked back along the row of lights, keeping my gaze on the first light. my pace slowed as the pain in my head and legs came back. There was silence once more, and the lights revealed an empty pathway. I jogged on and kept my eyes on the glow, expecting to see something at any minute. but it lit up nothing but concrete and the edge of the road.
‘Is it there?’ The question pulsed in my mind over and over. As I turned my head to continue catching up to Chris, I caught sight of something pass under the first street light. An almighty shock went through me as my fears were confirmed, I let out a cry and picked up the pace once more, sprinting between the lights. The image was burned into my mind. I hardly caught a glimpse of the thing, but it was white, and massive, it almost brushed the street light as it went under it. It had a long, upright body full of kinks, like it had just unfolded itself, and that’s all I was able to tell. It must have had a face and limbs, but I didn’t have time to see.
I didn’t look again, the path gave way to more lights and soon I could see the glow of windows in some houses either side of the road, I recognized where we were, close to my house by some miracle. A little further and we would be there.
‘My House!’ I yelled, and Chris listened, turning left onto a side street and dashing down. With panic on my side I reached the turning and looked down the road to see Chris jumping the fence into my garden.
‘Hurry up!’ I heard him scream. Reaching the fence I planted my hands on top, hoisting myself over and shredding my elbows in the process. My ankles stung as I thudded into the garden, and sprinted towards the kitchen door. Chris stepped aside gasping for air as I fumbled the key into the lock and wrenched it sideways. We both flew into the kitchen and slammed the door behind us. I locked it from the inside and we both sprinted upstairs into the bathroom, locking it behind us.
‘What was that!?’ I managed to say in a panicked whisper, wondering if it would get in. ‘Did you see it?’
‘No.’ Chris crouched under the window, letting tears roll.
‘Shit! It was so tall it- It was- I couldn’t-‘
‘Don’t tell me’ Chris cut me off.
I mulled it over again and again as we sat there, minutes slowly ticked by into hours. My head was fizzing all the while and I could still hear it’s voice, that disgusting voice. My elbows and fore arms were sticky with blood and we both looked at the floor, the occasional sob coming from the two of us. Our hearts banged in our chests, and we spent the night that way.
Light streamed in from the window, but we didn’t unlock the bathroom door until noon. We crept downstairs, the kitchen door was still locked and nothing was in the house. I looked out of the living room window, another perfect day. No people walked by, but the sprinklers were on and I could hear birds again. It helped to calm our nerves.
‘That tent can stay there.’ I said at last.
‘Yeah.’ Chris Agreed. We stayed in the living room with the TV off all day, we didn’t know what to do, and talked about if we should call the police or something. The day crawled by as we tried to rake our thoughts together and think of what to do next. but all that went through my mind was what had just happened, not what we should be doing. By the time it was dark at about 9pm, the phone rang. It was Chris’s parents asking if I had seen him as they were getting worried, they had just got back from out of town. I let them know he was ok, and asked if they could come and pick us both up from my house because something had happened. They wanted to know what, but I said we’d both tell them when they get here. They said they’d be here soon. Relief washed over us as adults were on there way to make everything alright. They would believe us, we didn’t lie about these things. Even if they were sceptical, they’d at least believe that some dangerous animal was in the forest and that was good enough for us.
I went into the kitchen to get some juice from the fridge and realised I hadn’t had a drink all day. I could hear water dripping in the sink, so I turned the faucet tighter and glugged some juice. As I headed towards the living room, the water started to tap again. I flicked the light on and realized it wasn’t coming from the sink, or anywhere in the room for that matter. It sounded like it was coming from further away. I looked out into the garden, and could just about see a fuzzy, tall silhouette leaning up against the back fence in the dark. Actually, the tapping sounded more like clicking. The figure slowly moved away from the fence and clicked across the grass towards the house.
Credit: Polum Chill