Estimated reading time — 10 minutes
Let me begin by stating that I have always had a fascination with nature and its creatures. Even at a young age, I would watch documentaries that explained nature, its inhabitants and humanity’s place as the apex predator.
As I progressed from childhood to adulthood, the documentaries ingrained in my subconscious would determine my career—an ecologist. I was twenty-five when I applied for ecology and I was ecstatic when I received a phone call from Seattle’s ecologists accepting me as their latest employee.
Weeks transitioned into months and months became years as I worked tirelessly to solve any problem an ecosystem faced, whether it’d be a lack of a carnivore’s diet or too many herbivores. Sure, the work was tedious and demanding, but it provided me satisfaction for the effort of doing something worthwhile; providing relief for the wildlife’s misfortunes was all I required, aside from my paycheck.
It had been an uneventful day at the University of Washington, and I had been reviewing the statistics of local lobsters when I was approached by one of my colleagues that—for privacy—I will name as Mr. J, who seemed to be troubled by something I could hardly fathom, his perplexed face was enough to warrant my inquiry into the matter. When asked what troubled him enough to seek me, he seemed to remember he’d been gripping a clipboard that had escaped my notice. He relinquished the clipboard to me, and as I read the report attached to it, I soon became confused as well.
The source of my confusion was that, for reasons not understood, the black-tailed deer population had dramatically declined at Olympic National Park. There were multiple scenarios that served as a valid answer—perhaps a foreign predator had entered the territory, the population of predators in the area could have greatly increased or the deer had contracted a disease.
All of these scenarios were plausible, but until the cause of this mysterious occurrence was ascertained, it was difficult to know. Once I had finished reading the report, I voiced my question of how this pertained to me. Mr. J’s reply was an apologetic look before seemingly mustering the courage to tell me that he had been planning a vacation that couldn’t be delayed. He had prepared for the vacation to begin tomorrow, and he sincerely hoped that I would complete his assignment with a young man who had been employed. Reluctantly, I agreed to his request with no small amount of annoyance developing inside of me. Satisfied with my answer, he left my sight with a joyous smile and an energetic skip in his step.
What my co-worker had failed to mention was that his assignment would begin two days after he received it, and the dead-line was in six days. Perhaps he did not feel the need to speak to me about this information; whether it was laziness or lack of memory, it only reminded me of the regret I felt for accepting his request. Our conversation was exchanged three days ago, now I sat in the passenger seat of a small, white jeep being driven by a new employee who I, or the other ecologists, had not been well-acquainted with.
There was not much known about him, only individuals who personally knew him would say he was a quiet man, socially withdrawn, but he did possess compassion for animals. In certain aspects, he was identical to me, albeit he was much younger, and my 30th year was approaching. One rumor had spread rapidly throughout the university; some people believed he was the man whose sister had perished with his house to a fire when he was a small child, but it was not my right to pry into his personal life.
As the young man continued to drive us toward our destination, the sky became darker and the last rays of sunlight disappeared. In response, my driver turned on the jeep’s headlights to get a better look at his surroundings as nightfall became evident and stars glittered in the sky.
It had taken several hours to come close to our destination, and it had been quite some time since I had seen another vehicle on this barren, concrete road; the only company we currently had were the vast amount of trees that lined the road on both sides, some of the trees even appeared to be covered in moss.
Soon, a wooden sign came within view on the right-side of the road, and we halted the vehicle. We observed the sign, and were relieved to have finally reached our destination—Olympic National Park. The sign itself was lovely, the base of the sign was supported by stones and the wood was adorned with a small insignia of a tree and mountain. Still, we did not come this far to admire a mere sign; we had quickly driven past it and continued our route.
We drove further into the national park, until we arrived at a security booth operated by a middle-aged forest ranger who seemed to recognize us as the team from Seattle. He welcomed us through the window of the booth before politely asking that that we park the vehicle on the side of the road, which we complied as we turned off the ignition and headlights.
After exchanging pleasantries, the forest ranger, grasping a flashlight, lead us to a thin, dirt trail winding into a section of the forest. He proceeded to give us orders to follow the trail until we found a cabin, he also advised us to be wary of wolves, bears and cougars as he handed us his flashlight. Satisfied with his warning, we thanked him as we entered the forest.
After walking a considerable distance and seeing nothing but trees, bushes and an occasional stream, we were greeted by the sight of a large, circular clearing; at the far end of the clearing, positioned on a small hill, was a decent-sized cabin. Once we strode across the clearing and up the small mound, I was able to obtain a better examination of the cabin. Upon closer inspection, I was slightly disappointed; numerous areas of the window were cracked, and the exterior wood had been rotting for quite some time.
Silently praying that the interior structure wasn’t horribly damaged, I grasped the door handle and opened the cabin door, only for an acrid smell to pierce the air. My colleague and I quickly retreated from the door to escape the nauseating stench in fear of regurgitating our meals. When the scent had dissipated, we spent several minutes scouring outside the cabin to identify the origin of the smell that we had the misfortune of inhaling.
Unable to find the source, we decided to enter the cabin and were astonished by what we saw; despite the exterior structure being damaged, the interior was unharmed. The cabin only had one room, yet was spacious enough to hold a large group of people; two green beds accompanied by a nightstand for each respective bed lined the walls, and a desk was positioned near the front window.
Although we were interested in the room, we began to feel weary from the trip, and the beds seemed to almost beckon to us like sirens to sailors. With haste, we discarded our clothing, placed the flashlight and jeep key on a nightstand, dove into our beds and drifted to sleep.
The next two days spent trying to find any sort of problem that plagued the deer population were in vain; despite my years of expertise, I could not find anything abnormal. During many of our breaks from our work, we also attempted to locate the source of the mysterious stench from the first night for curiosity’s sake, yet the origin continued to elude us. I had thought this would be another regular assignment that would provide an easy answer, but I was proven extremely wrong; the next three days’ events are what truly disturbed me, and had me concerned for my partner. Over the course of those days, he’d become increasingly agitated, sluggish and complaining about painful headaches. He would barely eat any of the packaged jerky we had stuffed in our pockets, and would occasionally leave to vomit in random bushes. I didn’t know what ailed my co-worker, but I was determined to see him receive treatment. Night soon overcame the day, and we prepared to accept that we would not discover the answer that had been elusive. Once again, we discarded our clothing, climbed into our beds and drifted to sleep.
I can not recall when I awoke that night, all I can remember was that it was extremely dark when I glanced at the window. It was unusually quiet, and I was slightly frightened; there was no chirping of crickets, no croaking of frogs, nothing that indicated anything was alive outside of the cabin. As I pondered about this unusual behavior of the wildlife, a repulsive stench filled the room, only it was much more intense than the first night I was exposed to it.
I was soon alerted to faint footsteps outside the cabin, and I could see something stirring outside the window. I strained my eyes to peer out the window, and immediately regretted it. Something was definitely outside, and although I could not properly see it, I knew that it was immensely large.
The door groaned as the shape outside pushed it open, and I quickly hid under the covers and remained motionless. I desperately tried to gaze through the fabric of the sheets at what stood outside the doorway, yet I could only see the faint shape of the creature; it was obviously massive and bulbous but despite its large shape, it was somehow able to step through the doorway, almost as if it passed through a non-existent door frame. Its foot steps, oh God, it sounded unnatural! The rhythm of its foot steps would give someone the impression that it had more than four legs! That was impossible, no mammal that was recorded had more than four legs!
I continued to watch the shape as it seemed to disregard me, instead it focused its attention on my partner. Once it strolled across the room, and stood beside the bed of my associate, it proceeded to simply stare at the sleeping form. Several moments passed before I saw the silhouette of the young man awaken, and leave his bed. He seemed to stare at whatever was in front of him before muttering in disbelief “Cassandra?” He began to sob uncontrollably and—to my utter horror —embraced the thing that stood in front of him. “I missed you so much, it was my fault for playing with that lighter, I couldn’t have known what it would have done,” he whimpered.
The thing continued to remain still as the man embraced it as if he had known it his entire life. He quickly composed himself before asking the creature why it wanted him to follow it. The reply was only chittering and guttural noises, yet the man seemed content with the answer. He quickly wiped away his tears, followed the creature out of the cabin, and into the night.
Once the pair had disappeared, the forest life seemed to return; I could hear the croaking of frogs, the chirping of birds, and sounds of movement in the forest encircling me.
I remained frozen in shock as my mind tried to process what had occurred.
When the realization of what happened finally sunk in, I threw the bed sheets from my body, donned my clothing, grabbed the jeep key from the nightstand, and sprinted out of the cabin. It is known that when a person experiences copious amounts of fear, it overwhelms said person, this was especially true for me. In my panic-stricken state, I had sprinted into the nearest section of the forest, completely forgetting the flashlight and losing sight of the trail that I was supposed to follow, now I could only hope that I was close enough to the trail that my co-worker and I had followed when we first arrived.
My hopes of quickly exiting the forest began to diminish; I did not recognize this part of the forest, and I could only imagine that I was running deeper into the dense woodland, but I could not stop, I would not stop! That thing was after me, I knew it was! In my moment of casting fervent glances in any direction I could, I had failed to notice the object that was lying in front of me, and proceeded to trip and fall on top of it. I had become disoriented by the fall and I required a moment to regain awareness of my surroundings; once my head had cleared, I decided to look at the object that I had fallen on, and immediately scrambled away from it.
What had tripped me was not simply a log or something that someone would expect, but the corpse of a deer, a black-tailed deer; the mammal’s chest appeared to have been sliced open and its organs strewn across the ground. I would never forget its eyes, those lifeless eyes that seemed to stare into my very being, and its visage displaying the most human-esque expression I had ever seen from an animal—terror. I soon became aware of the other corpses of animals that littered the ground; there were wolves, rabbits and even numerous bears, all seemed to have suffered the same fate as the deer, and all displayed looks of absolute horror.
I quickly rose to my feet, ignored the coagulated blood that covered me and continued to dash through the forest, my desperation increasing with every step I took. I could scarcely imagine what fate had in store for my friend, and I shuddered as I recalled him following whatever led him away from the cabin; he had not bothered to grab his clothing, and the way he left the cabin seemed as if he was in a trance. I had been so distracted by my thoughts, I hadn’t realized that I emerged from the forest, and was in familiar territory.
I instantly recognized the security booth in the distance, and the jeep parked on the side of the road leading away from this nightmarish place. With renewed energy, I sprinted down the road, past the booth, and to the door of the jeep. I fumbled the key from my pocket, and inserted it into the vehicular door as my mind raced with thoughts of relief. As I prepared to leave, I noticed movement in the side mirror of the vehicle and froze. I saw it, its true form, its inconceivable form that elicited a primal scream from me, and my vision darkened.
I do not know when I regained clarity in a padded cell, and many of the doctors who worked at Western State Hospital had told me that they had no hope for my recovery, and it was a miracle I had recovered my sanity. As they removed my straight-jacket and prepared the release forms that would grant me my freedom, I requested to know why I had been placed here. They exchanged worried glances to each other before answering that people had found me crawling down the road away from Olympic National Park, muttering unintelligible words and phrases, and the appearance of my hair and clothes disheveled and covered in dark, dried blood frightened onlookers.
Throughout my year of insanity at the psychiatric hospital, the doctors also mentioned that I produced many sketches of odd symbols, constellations, planets and a creature that appeared to have a crustacean body and arachnid legs with slender feelers on its chest, two large claws protruding from its back, possessing multiple humanoid eyes and no visible mouth, underneath the drawing was an abnormal word simply spelled Xilctha; the drawings disconcerted the doctors whenever they gazed at them, and were often thrown way or burned.
A missing persons report had also been filed for my friend; the police found my partner’s nude, decayed corpse deep within the woodland, his visage displaying a look of terror, and his rotting organs scattered across the ground. To this day, I dread to envision him resembling the animals I’d found.
It wasn’t long before memories of my days of being insane returned, although I wish they hadn’t, for it was not merely memories, but life-altering facts. Nothing excited me anymore, I did not dare to continue my work, I no longer had sympathy for animals, only contempt for exposing me to the reality of life and my value in this world. Often, I resorted to drinking liquor to repress the horrendous truth that I knew; humanity was simply a plaything, we created our illusion of superiority, only to never have been contested.
Now, as I prepared to throw myself out of my apartment window in the hope of ending my life, I can only advise that you don’t travel to Olympic National Park, lest you are unfortunate to encounter the epitome of madness that I had discovered.