13 May Vermins
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Estimated reading time — 7 minutes
There’s always something inherently eerie about living in the forest, in complete isolation. You almost always assume the worst when you’re on your own surrounded by the thickly wooded area, it’s almost like time doesn’t pass the same as it would anywhere else, like the edge of the woods was a portal capable of transferring you to the unknown the moment you placed your feet on the soft dirt. As if the vegetation is closing in on you the further you get from civilization. It’s not an ideal situation for most, so you can imagine my feelings when I had to move into one. Allow me to explain, because you’ll need some backstory to understand the depth of what I’m going to say.
You can call me Jed, I’ve grown up in a city, and that’s where I had stayed for almost my whole existence. I lived on my own in an apartment, but that’s where this whole thing started. It was getting more challenging every passing month to pay rent, and that was in an apartment in the rougher parts of the area. My credit wasn’t where it probably should have been, so I really couldn’t manage to get a home in the city at all. I finally had to settle on a small trailer, in the woods. It was about four hours away from my old place, with my sister begrudgingly agreeing to help me move out. I didn’t have many belongings, so it proved to be a generally easy task.
The moment I bade farewell to my older sister and she drove away, I closed the door. That moment, I realized, I was really on my own. I don’t care to admit it, but being around people gave me an odd sense of comfort. That was something I didn’t have anymore, but I vaguely remembered seeing a house not too far from here, so I figured maybe I should say hello so I can have at least a tiny bit of company.
I knocked on the door, and an old man came to open it. I introduced myself, and he almost immediately invited me in for coffee. He was probably glad to have some company, which I could understand, due to the location. I came to know him as Otis. He owned land here and in the field out behind his house and used it for farming. The only people he spoke to were those who would come and buy his produce, and it was all business talk. I watched my drink cool while he told me about the area; he’d been living here a long time.
We were making small talk when seemingly out of nowhere, he looked me dead in the eye until I stopped talking. As soon as my mouth shut, he asked me if I was new to these parts. When I responded with a simple “yes,” he told me I needed to watch out for the “vermins,” which confused me. I expected small animals to be a given, but the way he said it made it sound off. I asked him what he meant. He sighed and settled in his chair. From what he told me, these weren’t your typical “vermins.” He said it was imperative that I not let them fool me. I was puzzled, but I didn’t want to be rude, and he was the only neighbor I had, so I brushed off the creatures he described as unusually ugly animals that he might’ve run into. Besides, he was old, and he seemed to enjoy my company, so he was probably looking out for me since I didn’t have lots of experience with animals aside from pigeons and the occasional raccoon.
A few weeks went by, each being more uneventful than the last, visits with Otis aside. I was becoming close friends with him, and I spent time with him often. Despite the weird vermin comments now and then, he was a nice guy. He told me stories of his late wife, and of his children, who have long since moved out to attend school. I help him out on his farm sometimes, which I can tell he appreciates due to his having some trouble because of his age. Sometimes we would sit inside and watch his black and white TV, and occasionally we’d eat dinner together. It comforted me knowing I wasn’t entirely on my own like I initially thought. When I returned home, though, it felt painfully lonesome. I mindlessly flipped the TV on as I sat on the couch, a habit I had started not long after the move. It helped somewhat to ease the feelings of isolation, but I’d take what I could since I couldn’t simply go to Otis’s house all the time. The rain followed soon after.
I was half asleep, barely paying attention to the program that was showing, listening to the peaceful patter of rain on the window pane. When I was about to get up and move to my room, I felt that something was wrong. The formerly consistent sounds of rain had become sporadic. When I crept to the kitchen to grab a snack on the way to the bedroom, it hit me. There wasn’t any noise coming from the kitchen window.
It wasn’t raining anymore.
I froze. The pitter-patter of what I imagined was “rain” could be faintly heard if I listened carefully. I had to see what it was; I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t discover what was out there. With every step I took, my feet felt heavier. I cringed at the drawn-out creaking of the shoddy flooring. The television’s blue light illuminated part of the room, and just enough so I could see a few feet out the window. I flinched when a light suddenly turned on, temporarily blinding me. The motion sensor.
The sight of fingers pressed up against the glass caused me to jump back, frantically studying whoever, or whatever, they belonged to. The face I saw, I’m not even sure I can describe it today. I don’t trust my memory. I thought it was a person, but it just couldn’t have been. No. All I saw was its smile. A motionless, unnaturally wide smirk. My attention was drawn immediately to its teeth. Its tusk-like fangs, dripping with some unknown substance, stuck out like a sore thumb from its wretched maw. She – I think it was a she. I wasn’t going to stick around and study “her” any longer, however, to confirm. I fumbled around and made my way to my room as fast as my legs could carry me. My heart practically leaped out of my chest as I locked the door.
My windows, doors, and even the shed have remained locked tight since then. My shed lock was more of a rope, but no one was trying to steal gardening supplies. That wasn’t a safety concern, so I didn’t waste much time on it.
When I awoke, the sun shone through the blinds, painting my skin with stripes of morning light. I sat up in bed, looking at the TV which was now displaying nothing but static. I went to turn it off on the way to the kitchen for a coffee (or six, considering the night I’d had). I racked my brain for any more details I could recollect.
Her clothes had been soiled and torn, caked in dirt and God knows what else. Her disheveled hair flared up in all directions. It was easy to see her hair was red, as it stood out almost as much as those damned teeth. What was the worst, though, is that a word went through my mind the whole time I thought about her. Fake. She didn’t look like an actual person. The way her body contorted, her facial expression, it wasn’t possible. She was a poor facsimile of a human being.
I had to warn Otis. I hopped in my car, but I took a moment to glance at the backyard. The shed doors were open. I didn’t have time to investigate; Otis needed to know. I practically jumped out of my car when I pulled up to his driveway, knocking much more desperately than usually. He had to answer; his truck was in the garage. When no one came to the door, I opened it reluctantly. The sight before me made me regret everything I’d done up until that point.
He was sprawled motionless on the carpet, a look of hopelessness in his eyes. It all happened so fast. There was a gash in his chest which extended down to his pelvis, and approximately half of his extremities were missing. My eyes brimmed with tears as I leaned over his remains.
Whoever did this – whatever did this – had no plan. It was a mess; all of the wounds were completely inconsistent. All I could do was glance around, noticing the broken bottles and tipped-over furniture littering the room, indicating a struggle. I couldn’t imagine Otis fighting. Images of him sitting in a rocking chair, peacefully smoking a cigar, flashed in my head.
I turned slowly to look in the direction of the doorway, and there she stood, clutching the frame with that permanent smirk plastered on her face. Crimson sloppily coated her mouth and face, trickling onto her clothing. She was holding my garden shears. She stared at me for what seemed like an eternity. Despite the smile, her eyes betrayed fear, as if she was trying to express emotion but her mouth refused to uncurl. I scrambled for the back door, grabbing a notebook and a pen from a counter as I made my escape, thinking that perhaps they would come in handy later. As I crossed the threshold of the trailer and darted into the outdoors, one word echoed in my mind, over and over again, like a broken record.
Fake, fake, fake.
I had nowhere else to go but the cornfield. I ducked into the stalks, sprinting to safety. It was my only option. I tried to ignore the stinging of the plants around me and did my best to travel in one direction.
That brings me to now. I’m lost. Lost in the woods. Completely isolated, but I’m not sure which idea is scarier. Am I on my own, or is she following me? I’m not going to last much longer out here. Now, please listen. I want to tell you something a wise man once told me.
The vermins don’t look real. It is imperative that you not let them fool you.
There are all sorts of possibilities for how I’ll meet my end. I’ll most likely either die from starvation or become sustenance for her. I feel sick every time I try to think of how long it will take for her to grow hungry again. One day, Otis won’t be enough to satisfy her.
Sometimes I think about how I just left him there for her to devour, spending a minimal amount of time mourning the loss of a dear friend. I’m making up for that time now.
I’ll be waiting, among the bushes and the trees, helpless. I’ve been staring up at the baby blue sky for hours, and in that time the clouds haven’t moved. Something is wrong.
When will the day she finds me finally arrive? I don’t know.
I’ve written this as a warning to all of you. If you ever come across my body, let it be known.
The passing of time is strange out here.
Credit: Warpy Glassman
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