26 May The Woods Past Dark
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"The Woods Past Dark"Written by
Estimated reading time — 40 minutes
It was January 27, 1977. I was on my way home from work in my 1968, half lime green, half rust brown GMC truck. It was lime green when I first bought the thing five years ago; I swear it lasted a mere twenty minutes before the rust started to eat the body away. I was sure it was spotless when I picked the truck up at the used car dealership on the other side of town. Unfortunately, as soon as I brought my new purchase home, my “darling wife” Susan, pointed out, in a crude fashion, as she always liked to do, that rust appeared on the bottom of the passenger’s door. It spread like wild fire! Now my truck is a fifty-fifty split between paint and rust. Susan is always nagging me, saying we needed to get a newer vehicle before this one completely falls apart. “We won’t be able to afford to keep fixing the truck,” she constantly reminds me. She is right of course, but if we can’t afford to fix the truck, how the hell does she think we can afford to buy a new one!
At two thirty five in the afternoon, I pulled into my driveway, at least as far as I could through all the snow. Typically I wouldn’t be home for another hour or so. I still wouldn’t even be punched off the clock at the old factory for at least another thirty minutes. The factory was forced to close up early due to the extremely poor weather conditions. The snow had been coming down hard for most of the day. By the time I started to make my way home it had started to slow down. The roads had been terrible all the same and I almost went off the road three times on the drive home. The majority of the roads had yet to be cleared.
Before I even opened the door I heard my little angel Diana comes running down the stairs shouting “Daddy’s home, Daddy’s home!” I barely had the door shut before she was trying to climb up me like a ladder. I threw her up into the air and caught her with a big hug. “You came home early just like me!” “They said it was too snowy for school today and everyone got to go home.” I saw Susan walk in from the dining room finishing what remained of a sandwich. “See Mommy, Daddy came home early just like you said he would!” “Yes, I always like it when he does what I say,” she said as she cracked a smile. I looked over at Susan as I put Diana back on the ground.
“Will you need me to do anything before I take off my coat and boots?” She peered out the window on the front door. “Well, since you asked, would you be able to get the driveway shoveled before the snow picks up again?” It really was the best time to shovel, although I really hated the idea of going back out. “I guess now is the best time.”
“Can I go outside with you Daddy; I want to make a snowman?” Diana asked, jumping up and down. “Well ok, if Mommy helps get you dressed into your snowsuit, you can come out and make a snowman.”
It took over an hour to shovel the driveway, in spite of its small size. It could just barely fit two vehicles. With only the truck it’s not an issue. If any other vehicle wants to park in the driveway then the back end of their vehicle will stick out onto the street. I picked up what remained of Diana’s accessories for her half made snowman. Typically, Diana would never have stopped until she was finished what she had set out to do. She always had great determination to complete whatever she had begun. Diana had just turned 6, A couple of months ago and I have always been amazed to watch a child so young show such determination and then actually have the ability to see things through before getting sidetracked. I knew the only reason she didn’t finish the snowman was because it was absolutely freezing out here. It was really too cold for her or anyone else to stay out for very long. I know that snowman would have ended up being even taller than she was.
As soon as I got inside I poured myself a tall glass of scotch. A good strong drink always helped me relax after a tough day at work. I really enjoy the way alcohol warms my insides after each sip. Susan had started to prepare dinner so I had roughly an hour before it would be served. I clicked on the television to watch an NBA game or to at least see what time my team would be playing. Cleveland was playing New York; the game was nearing the end, which meant I would at least get to watch the start of the Phillies game.
I turned off the television when Susan called Diana for dinner. Susan hates the T.V. to be on during dinner. She insisted that we use dinnertime to sit at the table together and talk about our day. I really don’t understand why since it’s the same routine, same stories, day in and day out. Whatever, Phoenix already had a twelve-point lead on Philly? I poured myself another tall glass of scotch and sat back down for tonight’s same old dinner routine.
Diana entered the dining room; she asked what we were having for supper. “Spaghetti and meatballs” Susan answered. “YUK! I hate spaghetti” Diana shouted as she turned to leave. “Oh no you don’t, you love spaghetti, now come sit at the table.” Susan sat down reluctantly, “Fine, but I’m not going to eat.” Well this is a great start, I thought. It was actually the typical start of dinner, since half the time it’s a struggle to get Diana to sit at the table, let alone eat anything, unless she is famished. She spent half of dinner just rolling her meatballs around her plate as Susan asked questions about our day.
Diana had just learned vowels in school; she knew A, E and I. I thought that was pretty impressive. “And how was your day John?” Susan asked me. “Same old, same old. Poured bullets into small boxes, and then put those small boxes into bigger cases.” The job was mind numbing, but being in a small town like this, your options were limited. The factory was the single reliable job unless you started up your own business. I wasn’t responsible enough for that. I always wanted to start my own business, a bar, or something like that. The truth was I couldn’t trust myself around that much alcohol. I had a hard enough time with my limited supply at home.
Susan started talking about a conversation she had with her mother on the phone, I’m not sure what about. I try to ignore as much as I can with what goes on with her mother. My mother-in-law and I don’t get along well to say the least. She thinks I’m a worthless alcoholic who’s not fit to be a husband or father and I think she’s a gossiping cunt that needs to mind her own business. I daydream about the game I’m missing as I glance aimlessly around the room. I notice that Diana has started to eat her spaghetti at this point. I didn’t begin to pay attention again until Susan turned to Diana and asked if she had any homework from school. “I just need to practice all my new vowels.” She answered.
“Do you mind helping Diana with her vowels John?” her eyes now fixed on mine. “I’m tired, I worked all day, what did you do chatty Kathy?’ She shot me the dirtiest look that I’ve seen form her in quite some time. She is always shooting me dirty looks, but this one had been particularly nasty. She continued to stare at me without saying a word. I suppose she wanted me to apologize. Instead, I simply picked up my drink and drank until the glass was empty. “Don’t worry sweetie, I’ll help you with your homework while your Daddy cleans up dinner,” Susan says while shooting me yet another dirty look.
The girls headed upstairs as I turned and headed towards the liquor cabinet to pour myself another drink. I was almost finished tidying up when I dropped one of the plates. It shattered on the floor, echoing throughout the house. Susan rushed down the stairs, “What happened!” “I dropped a plate; my hands are still slippery from washing the dishes.” I called out just before Susan entered the kitchen.
“Its fine, I’ll clean it.”
I went to the closet to grab the broom. When I turned back around Susan had picked up my glass of Scotch. “So, your hands were slippery were they?” She said with an unabashed tone in her voice. “They were!” I snap back. I walked back to the shattered plate and started sweeping it up. “I thought you said you would cut back, that you didn’t need to go to “AA” meetings. You said you would use self-control and moderation.” I dumped the filled dustpan into the trash and stood up so I could look Susan straight in the eyes. “I can, and I will; just one day at a time.” I reached for my drink but she pulled the glass further away. “No, I think you’ve had enough for tonight.” She sounded sterner than before. “It’s my last one, I swear.” I didn’t even believe it myself and I knew that she wouldn’t either. She tilted the glass over the sink and started to pour out the rest of my drink. “Maybe my Mom was right about you being a wreck, well” SMACK!!! I didn’t even clue in to what had just happened until Susan was lying on the floor. I didn’t even hear the glass smash on the ground beside her. I had never hit Susan before; I’m not sure what made me do it now. It was as if something snapped inside me.
I looked down at Susan, holding her face, which was already turning a bright, ugly red. I reached down to help her up. “I, I’m sorry!” She slapped my hand away. “Get away from me!” I jumped back, still in disbelief. I can’t believe what just happened. She was half way back on her feet when she began pushing me. “GET OUT! GET OUT NOW! GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY HOUSE!” Susan screamed. I had a hard time making out what she was saying. “YOUR House?” I try to talk, but she cuts me off using her entire body to tackle me towards the front door. NOWWWW!! I throw my coat and boots on as she stormed away still yelling and crying. I could no longer make out any of what was being said, it blended into one obstreperous sound of an ear-piercing shriek. I opened the door to leave and heard her scream, “I NEVER WANT TO SEE YOU AGAIN!” she threw my bottle of scotch, smashing it on the side of the door, a mere inch away from my head. I turned to object, only to find I had no words, so I just slammed the door shut.
The cold hit me the second I stepped outside. I got inside the truck only to realize I had to get back out to clear off the windshield, which was covered in snow once again. The snowbrush was inadequate to remove the quantity of snow that lay upon my windshield so I used the arm of my coat to push the snow away, soaking my coat as I did so. It was difficult to get out of the driveway due to all the snow that had accumulated since I last shoveled. The snow started coming down pretty heavily making it hard to see. I didn’t know where I should go. My first thought was the bar in town, although I didn’t think I’d be welcomed back, the bartender and I had gotten into a fight last week. I can’t remember what it was about, sports maybe. I believe I called his wife a slut as well, but I’m not a hundred percent sure about that. There’s another bar in the next town over, it will be at least a forty-minute drive in this weather.
An hour later, I final made it to the bar in the next town. The drive took a bit longer than expected. The roads were worse that I thought they would be. As I entered the bar I found it to be nearly empty. There were two guys sitting at table and the bartender stood behind the bar. I sat at the bar and ordered a glass of scotch. I wanted the results of my game but the television wasn’t on. I asked the bartender to turn on the sports network as he placed my drink in front of me. “Sorry, I can’t, all that snow coming down knocked out the reception. I have no working channels.” After the bad weather I had just drove through it didn’t come as any surprise. I asked if he knew the score of the Philadelphia and Phoenix game. He was tiny for a bartender and didn’t look like he was the type to be into sports, but he was a bartender so I figured he might still know the score. “Yeah, Phoenix won 111 to 94.” “Great,” I said back, sounding far more enthusiastic than I felt.
“Philadelphia fan I take it?” he asks me. He looked bored, not having many customers or television to pass the time. I imagine most bartenders must be big talkers. That seems to be a big part of what they do that and serve drinks. I glance back at the bartender, “Yep, since before I can remember.”
I keep up the small talk until the other two guys call him over for more beers. I finish my drink after he stepped away. He notes my empty glass as soon as he got back. “You look low, pour you another one?”
“Please and thank you.” I said. I stayed quiet after the bartender filled my glass. I had a lot going through my mind. I didn’t understand how I could have let myself hit Susan. I knew I was really angry; she poured my drink down the drain, three or four shots worth. That’s still no reason to strike your wife. I’ve never been an angry drunk; I may become a little over-protective, even jealous at times, of course that’s when I notice another guy flirting with her. I just can’t imagine what might have been going through my head when I swung at her. Nothing came to mind or at least nothing good.
The two guys at the table got up to leave and called out to the bartender telling him they left the money for their drinks on the table. The bartender collected the money and then started washing the top of the bar. I continued to sit on the bar stool lost in my thoughts, sipping on my drink, hoping it would make me feel better and knowing just how impossible that was. I have found that if I’m in a good mood before I drink it makes me feel great; but when I’m in a bad mood, it makes me feel like a piece of shit. At this moment I felt like more like a piece of shit than I ever had in my entire life.
The bartender put some glassware away and turned towards me, “So you look like you had a rough day.” I guess I must look like shit. I said, as I took another sip out of my glass. We both became silent for a good five minutes as I sat on the bar stool swirling what was left of my drink. The bartender continued to clean. “Do you have a family?” the bartender jumped a little as I broke the silence. He looked like he wasn’t sure how to answer. “You have a wife or kids?” The bartender now answered, “Oh…oh…yeah, my wife’s working on our first. She’s 17 weeks now.” I smiled at him.
“Congratulations.” I said. “Thank you.” He started to clean the mirror behind the bar.
“Do you two fight a lot?” I ask. He continued his cleaning and answers, “A little more now that she’s pregnant; hormones and all. Actually we don’t really argue that much. Not about important stuff.” “Lucky you” I said back. He puts down his towel, “How about you, got a wife?” I took a sip from my drink before I answered. “For the moment I do.” I thought about telling him how I had hit her. I figured he had probably heard a story or two about couples fighting. Bars seemed to be the go-to spot after a fight with your wife. He stood there for a few minutes waiting for me to say something but I never did. Neither of us said anything for quite some time, we just continued to look at each other. He went back to cleaning and I continued to sit there sipping my drink.
The bartender finished wiping down all the tables when he turned towards me, “hey, I think I’ll close up early tonight since it’s dead and I know it’s going to be a rough drive getting home as it is. “Yeah, that’s fine.” “Do you mind if I finish my drink first before I head home?” As the words left my mouth, I realized that I had nowhere to spend the night. There wasn’t a chance in hell I would be allowed back at my place. “Oh yeah, drink up of course, but if you don’t mind, I’ll just finish cleaning up the rest of the place.” I nodded in understanding.
He proceeded to put the chairs on top of the tables. I was contemplating my situation and the options I had opened to me. Where was I going to sleep tonight? Money was tight, so a motel would be the last option. The problem was I couldn’t come up with any others solutions. I knew I couldn’t sleep in my truck without freezing to death. I had no friends who would let me crash at their place, at least none that I could think of. All of the friends that I used to have I had lost contact with because of my drinking or rather due to things I did or said when I was drunk. Most of the people I saw now were Susan’s friends that she would have over to the house. I was at the bottom of my glass now and I still had no answer.
I decided that I’d drive back into town and hope to figure something out by the time I got on the other side of the forest. I left the money I owed for my two drinks on top of the bar, shouted out “good-night” and headed to my truck, stumbling on the way. I knew I wasn’t sober, but I sure didn’t think I could be drunk enough to be stumbling to this degree.
I cleared the snow off my truck, doing the bare minimum. I got into the truck and turned the key, only to have the engine rattle to life and then die. Please, I thought, please let this bucket of rust not die from the cold now. I continued to turn the key while giving it some gas. It finally started on the fourth try. I tried the radio, but of course there was no signal. I knew it would be a long drive back to town since it was snowing once again making it very difficult to see. There were no other vehicles on the road this late at night and besides, who would go out driving during a snowstorm? I began to swerve all over the road due to the unplowed snow and the fact that I was drunk, more so than I wanted to admit.
The storm became worse as I entered the woods. I was having a hard time keeping control of the truck. I could barely keep the truck on the road when suddenly there was a loud thud. I either hit something or a tree branch had fallen heavily onto the truck. There was too much snow for me to know for sure what had just happened. It really didn’t matter since I was sliding completely out of control and heading for a tree. I slammed on the brakes with all my strength but to no avail. I was going to hit that tree.
The next thing I knew my truck was completely buried in snow leaving me in complete darkness. Did I hit the tree? I must have, there’s just no way I could have stopped in time. Surely I would have felt the crash. Was I knocked unconscious? I couldn’t remember waking up from an unconscious state. What the hell happened?
I tried to push my door open but there was just too much snow. It wouldn’t budge an inch. I was barricaded in. In a panic, I tried again, using the strength of my legs. I was able to open the just door enough to squeeze myself uncomfortably out. I was afraid to see what was going to remain of my truck. I cleared off the snow to see the truck’s bumper wrapped around the tree. The hood now resembled an accordion. I was dumbfounded at the sight of the truck’s destruction.
What the fuck was I supposed to do now? It was highly doubtful that anyone else would be driving through the middle of butt fuck nowhere at this hour in the middle of a snowstorm. I walked along the side of the road and unreasonably hoped that someone might come along and pick me up. I was glad that I had grabbed the flashlight out of the glove compartment; I would pretty much be blind without it. The sky was filled with clouds as it continued to snow. Thoughts were racing through my head. How was I going to fix this mess? How was I going to afford to replace the truck? It was totaled; there was no doubt about that.
I must have been walking for five or ten minutes and still hadn’t thought of anything useful. The brutal wind cut right though my clothing and skin chilling me to the bone as snow blew everywhere. I knew it would be extremely unlikely that a car would be out in this weather at this time of night, but I swore I could see headlights emerging from the darkness in the distance. I waved my hands high in the air in spite of the distance the car seemed to be. Excitement filled my body with warmth. Something today was finally going my way. I focused on the car to the point that I didn’t even notice the deer until she stood a mere six inches from where I stood. It was a doe and seemed to be focused on the approaching cars headlights, almost hypnotized by them as she walked past me. The doe continued to walk closer to the road until she took a step right onto the pavement.
She came to a complete stop in the center of the road, staring at the headlights of the car. There was no way the person driving the car would see the deer. I tried to scare the deer away but she didn’t pay me any attention. She just stared at the car as it continued to get closer. I ran alongside the road close to where the deer stood making loud noises and flapping my arms trying to scare her away or at least get the attention of the driver. I was close enough to almost touch the deer but by that point so was the car.
SMASH! The car hit the deer and sent her flying right at me as I hurled myself away. I found myself falling down a hill hitting every rock on my way down and unfortunately I could also see the headlights of the car chasing me all the way down. When I stopped my rapid decent down the hill, I shut my eyes tight and waited for the car to hit me. I waited for what felt like an eternity. Nothing hit me; in fact I could no longer hear the sounds of the car barreling toward me at all. I was afraid to open my eyes. When I did, I didn’t see the car or the deer anywhere.
They had to be somewhere. It wasn’t a small car! I started to climb back up the hill. The car must not have driven off the hill after all. I had only climbed a short way when I heard a voice in the distance. I turned to see where the voice was coming from. I noticed a faint flickering light in the distance. It seemed to be the source of the voice. It must be the driver, and the light must be the headlight from the car. I started walking towards them to see if they were all right. I kept walking but didn’t seem to be getting any closer. I couldn’t imagine how the car could possibly have gotten so deep into the woods without hitting a single tree. I could still hear the voice calling out but I couldn’t make out what they were saying. The voice was too faint to make out. I decided to shout back.
“HELLO! ARE YOU OK?” I heard nothing. I just kept on walking towards the voice, using the headlight from the car as my guide.
After five minutes of walking and still not getting any closer I started to hear something else. It wasn’t a voice, but the sound of someone walking through the snow. I raised my flashlight to a sheer white face directly in front of me. It was as white as the snow in the wind like a mist
“Run,” the face said, in a whispery voice.
I jumped back from the shock of the face appearing in the wind. I pointed my flashlight back in the direction of the walking sound. It was a GRIZZLY BEAR! My light shined right in the bear’s face, which was only ten feet from where I stood. I heard a loud whoosh and clank sound as the grizzly stood up on its hind legs, lifting its giant paws above its head as it let out a loud ROARRR!
My eyes went wide at the sight of this huge beast towering over me as I could feel the vibration of his roar go through my entire body. I took a few steps backwards in haste before tripping on a log behind me and dropping my flashlight. I looked up, still cowering in fear as the bear took a few steps forward. I heard a rattling of chains and a clunk of metal as the bear walked closer. Suddenly, after a loud BANG, which sounded like a gunshot, the bear stopped dead in its tracks for a few seconds before toppling down to the ground. As the bear hit the ground, its legs were lifted upwards and I could see what appeared to be a bear trap on one leg. A big gust of wind and snow flew at me from the impact of the bear hitting the ground. It covered me completely in snow. I heard a faint voice in the distance saying.
I lay motionless in the snow for a few minutes before moving a muscle; I was petrified. Now my body wasn’t just frozen with fear, it was actually frozen from all the blistering cold snow piled on top of me. I knew I couldn’t just lay there in the snow with my clothing soaking wet. My only thought that I had while unburying myself was that the bear could be standing right over me, angrier than ever. I was ready for the bear to take a swing at me with its giant claws and maul me to death. I was dreading the inevitable fate of being ripped apart, limb from limb with the bear’s enormous teeth and claws.
A part of me clung to the hope that the bear was dead or that it hadn’t gotten up yet. If it’s not up, I need to get out of here as fast as possible. The wind blew against my face as I uncovered my freezing body. For a brief moment I wasn’t sure whether it was the wind or the breath of the bear standing over me, ready to attack. I sat up once the logic of that thought struck me. If it had been the bear’s breath, the breeze would have been warm and foul smelling. Besides that, the bear would already have attacked me if it knew where I was laying.
It was an incredibly dark night with the clouds and the snow hiding the light of the stars and the moon. I could only see the light from my flashlight a few feet away, shining on the log that I had tripped on. I got to my feet, half crunched over as I moved towards my flashlight as quietly as was possible. I picked up my flashlight and pointed the light towards the area I had last seen the bear. My hands were trembling; the area was clear. There was no bear at all! The snow wasn’t even disturbed, it was completely smooth, with not so much as a sign that the bear had ever there. The only marks in the area were my own footprints.
I shined the flashlight in every direction trying to locate the bear. “Wear did it go” it couldn’t have just disappeared, and who had shot the gun! Did they save me from the bear or had they been aiming for me? It must have been the person who laid down that bear trap. Did they even know I was there? If they did, they would have called out by now. Wouldn’t they want to make sure that I was ok?
“WHO’S THERE? SHOW YOURSELF!” I shouted out.
There was no response or sound at all.
There was still no answer. I became very concerned when they weren’t answering me, yet I could here a voice talking after they shot the bear. What were they doing? What were they planning? I didn’t know and I didn’t need to know! I ran as fast as I could through the deep snow. I headed back the way I had come. Hopefully I could find some help if I made it back to the road. It was much more difficult since my footprints had been buried in the freshly fallen snow. I still felt confident that I could find my way back.
After thirty minutes of wandering I was coming to terms with that fact that I had now gone astray in the woods. The pressure in my bladder made me realize that it had been quite a long time since I last took a piss. I’d had quite a lot to drink and haven’t been in a bathroom since back at my home. After having all but the piss literally scared out of me with all that had happened tonight, I really had to go.
I walked to the nearest tree and unzipped my pants. A freezing gust of wind came blowing by right as my skin was exposed. I didn’t think I could get any colder until my ice-cold hand receded into my pants. Barely able to withstand the touch of my own freezing cold hand, I tried to get through this as quickly as possible. The wind had become so brutally cold that my piss almost froze mid-stream. I hated taking a piss outside no matter what the weather was and I especially hated to pee in these woods. Ever since I had been a boy my father would take me hunting with him whether I wanted to go or not. If I had a choice in the matter, I wouldn’t have gone. Unfortunately for me, my father was a huge hunting fanatic and thought that being in the wilderness built character. Every fall he would bring me out deer hunting with him.
I hated hunting, not because I was against killing animals, I’m the farthest thing from being any tree hugging type and I love eating the fresh meat. I hated hunting because I found the experience to be boring. Sitting in the bush for hours and hours without making a sound, to me it was basically just watching the grass grow all day long. Even if you did finally catch sight of a deer there was no guarantee you would make the shot. If you did, well that excitement is over in a matter of seconds, you have to deal with the carcass. The cutting and gutting was what I found to be gross and disgusting.
After I finished pissing and zipping my fly back up I had to decide which way to go. I turned in circles with my flashlight not knowing which direction to go. It didn’t really matter since I couldn’t be more lost. It was most likely that I was in the dead center of this God forsaken place. I had the urge to just fall down on my knees and scream, “I can’t go on”! I was just too fucking cold to move. Besides which the snow was incredibly deep. I was positive that I was just a matter of minutes away from turning in to a solid piece of ice. I didn’t know what to do. Without warning I heard the same faint voice I had heard earlier when I ran into that bear.
“This way,” the voice said, sounding like it was the wind talking. I forced my cold aching body to turn around to try and locate where the voice had come from.
“This way… comes… hurry.”
The voice was louder now. I noticed the same apparition that I had seen before, but now the figure had an arm and a torso and definitely resembled a man. He seemed to be waving me towards him.
“Hurry… this way… hurry.”
I didn’t like the idea of following something that I couldn’t really identify. Hell, I didn’t even know if it was real or not. Unfortunately if I was looking for some sort of sign this was undoubtedly it. Hesitantly, I walked towards the beckoning figure.
“This way… hurry.”
Every time it seemed I was getting closer, the vision would then appear much further away. I lost track of how long I’d been following when suddenly I came upon an open area in the otherwise dense forest. That’s when I saw the face in the wind again. The image was quite clear now. It was the face of a young man that couldn’t be any older than 25. He looked like he was standing beside a tree with his hand resting on it.
“Stop there… wait!”
I practically jumped. The voice sounded louder than ever. I froze in mid step just staring at the figure in front of me as the snow and wind blew it away. I continued to take another few steps forward, when the voice yelled again.
With my heart beating quickly I froze in fear once again. I heard the sound of something running through the bushes. It got louder. It honestly sounded like a stampede and it was coming right towards me. There was howling from dogs that sounded like they were in pursuit. I tried to run, not knowing what from, just fear itself. The snow was too deep and I was too slow to get out of the way fast enough. Five or six deer came charging right behind me. With my head turned facing them all I could do was throw my arms up around my head and scream. The buck leading the pack ran into me, or more correctly, the buck ran right through me, like I wasn’t even there. The sound of a gun firing came from one of the trees around the opening. BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! With every gunshot the snow would spray up where the bullet had hit the ground. One of the doe’s near the back of the pack took a hit. It fell on top of me and passed through like air. It disappeared into the snow as it hit the ground.
I stopped screaming and lowered my arms not at all sure of what had just happened. My whole body was shaking and my heart continued to race. I was sure my heart was about to pound its way out of my chest. The heavy beating of my heart was actually making me sick to my stomach. In spite of all the chaos, it was silent now. There was no longer the sound of the stampede or of the dogs howling.
I looked all around myself and saw nothing but my own footprints. No deer, dead or alive. The doe that had been shot was nowhere to be seen. There had been no marks on the ground where it had landed after it went through me. Where it went and how it went through me made no sense. My thoughts went to the hunter, the person that had fired those shots. It had to have been the person who shot the bear. Had they been following me this entire time? Why the hell would they be following me? Are they getting a kick watching me freeze to death in the woods? Or worse, what if they’re hunting me! Are they just waiting and watching me struggle and suffer before they finish me? What kind of sick person would do such a thing? What kind of sick person was I dealing with?
I cried out “WHO’S THERE? WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS? WHERE THE FUCK ARE YOU?”
I wasn’t expecting to get an answer, but I was hoping that I would see something to give away their position. All I could see was the trees. All I could hear was the wind. I headed back in the direction where I had first seen the figure of the young man. I didn’t want to stick around where that hunter would have such a clear shot of me. I just kept moving, hoping I could lose him. It was slow going as I would trip and fall often as the snow continued to accumulate.
I was moving as fast as was possible, until my whole body was beyond exhausted. I leaned up against a tree to catch my breath. It had become all but impossible to move.
“What the hell was going on.” how did I get myself into this? I heard a branch break somewhere behind me. Was it the hunter or another vanishing animal? I had no plans of sticking around long enough to find out. I had to find the energy to keep moving. I plowed my way through the snow, going from tree to tree, pushing my way past them as I trudged on.
Who was this guy chasing me, where did he come from? The car! It had to be. Who else would it be? It must be the person who hit the deer on the road. But why was he after me, it wasn’t my fault he hit the deer. Perhaps he’s the reason the animals keep disappearing, but how? There’s no way he can do such a thing, it was absurd, you can’t make animals just disappear. Yet, that’s exactly what had happened to the deer and the bear. They would die, and then they would disappear. Yes, that’s when it was happening! Right after he shoots them. What in hell could he be shooting them with that was capable of making an entire animal just vanish into thin air, and why would anyone even want to do such a thing? Were the animals even there? I had just been through an accident myself. Was it possible I had just hallucinated, the entire thing? How badly could I have hit my head?
I came to the top of the hill and the snow became much easier to walk though, “thank God” Ultimately, I knew I couldn’t keep going at this pace much longer. My feet had been soaking wet and in extreme pain for some time now. I could no longer feel some of my toes at all. I was pretty sure I must have sustained some frostbite by now. The hill I was climbing was much steeper than it had first appeared. I had to grab on to branches from the trees to pull myself up with each step. When I finally reached the top I was relieved to find that the snow was much shallower. I still had an eerie feeling I was being watched. I was fairly certain that I had lost the hunter but I wanted to know for sure. I also wanted to know what the hell was up with the guy in the wind. The image of the young man seemed friendly enough, like he wanted to help, if he was really even there. I still wasn’t sure what to make of that.
Just up ahead I noticed the side of a cliff and I started towards it. When I got closer I focused my eyes on what appeared to be a small cave. My heart lit up with joy, I found a place to spend the rest of the night. Maybe I could even get a fire going and get myself dried and warmed up. I worked my way through the snow, moving forward with my newfound energy as if my life depended on it, because it very well might. As I got closer to the cave opening I suddenly found myself thinking of what might be inside. My initial joy started to subside as I considered the fact that it was not too far fetched to believe that a bear might be hibernating inside. Then a thought struck me like a thunderbolt. If bears are in hibernation, what was with that bear that almost killed me earlier, doing out and about? “None of it made any sense!”
When I got closer to the cave I definitely heard something inside making noise. Struck with terror at the unknown I came to an abrupt stop. My instincts told me to just turn around and get out of there. Unfortunately for me, I was running out of options if I wanted to survive. I didn’t have enough time to seek other shelter. The cold would kill me before I found something else. I turned off my flashlight and crept over to the side of the cave being as quiet as possible. I just needed to get a glance at what might be inside. I peered inside to find it pitch black. There was something in there; there was no doubt of that. The sound had become far too clear to question it. There was the distinctive sound of breathing. It sounded like a lot of bodies breathing. I raised my flashlight and turned it on to get a better look inside. The flashlight in my hand almost fell as my hand was shaking uncontrollably.
There before me, lay a pack of sleeping wolves! I quickly turned my flashlight off hoping I hadn’t disturbed any of them from their sleep. Of course I hadn’t been so lucky. I was about to sneak off when I heard one of the wolves get up and start sniffing around the opening of the cave. I pinned myself against the outside of the cave praying that I wouldn’t be discovered. The wolf poked its head out of the cave sniffing at the air. The wolf was on the far side of the cave entrance working its way over to my cold, tired, aching self. “Should I try to make a run for it?” I thought. There was no way it would be possible for me to out run a wolf in the best of conditions, never mind my present situation. There was a tree a short distance away. Maybe I could make it that far since the wolf hadn’t spotted me yet. I really had no choice but to give it my best shot. Maybe if I’m lucky it will run right through me like the deer and the bear did. Maybe all the wolves will just disappear. After everything I’d seen, it was a definite possibility.
The wolf was getting closer and closer until I made a break for the tree. The wolf seemed to startle somewhat and stood there watching me run until I was halfway to the tree. I couldn’t begin to guess why it stood there for so long before coming after me. Maybe it wasn’t sure what to make of me, or what to do with me. When he decided to chase after me it didn’t take long for him to catch up, in spite of the deep snow. The wolf let out a loud and vicious bark and darted through the snow waking up the other wolves inside the cave as he did so.
The wolf managed to run past me and block me from the tree that I had almost reached. The low growl made the hair on my neck stand up. The rest of the pack came howling out of the cave. In spite of the odds, I tried to run past the wolf that was keeping me from the safety of the tree. As soon as I took one step the wolf lunged at me, biting at my arm, ripping a piece of my coat off and forcing me down to the ground. He managed to grab my right arm in his teeth and began to shake it wildly. The muscles in my arm tensed up all the way to my shoulder.
The pain began to shoot up from the point that the wolf had hold of me with his teeth to my shoulder and down to my fingertips and through every nerve in my arm. It felt like the wolves teeth had sunk down into the bone. The wolf started to drag me closer to the tree at which point I managed to grab one of the roots sticking up out of the ground at the base of the tree. I had to drop my flashlight in order to reach it. It took all the strength I had to pull myself up and climb the tree.
It’s definitely the result of the shock and adrenaline running through me. When I had reached high enough to grab the first branch the wolf was forced to let go of my arm and started to attack my legs. Now I needed the strength to pull myself up the tree using one good arm and one badly injured arm. The entire wolf pack now surrounded the tree I had managed to escape into. They jumped up at me, biting and scratching at my dangling legs and my lower back, ripping my clothing and skin as I climbed up higher into the tree. Even after I was out of reach of the wolves, they still kept jumping up wildly, as they growled ferociously. I kept climbing until the branches started to become too small to support me. I settled for a sturdy branch that was thick enough for my frame.
I reluctantly started the task of inspecting my wounded arm. Nausea filled my body as I touched the inside of my triceps. The entire muscle was shredded and bleeding heavily. I knew I had to stop the bleeding or chance passing out from blood loss in a matter of minutes. I grabbed hold of my coat where it was ripped and tore off the sleeve with my left hand. It tore off easily since the wolf did most of the work already. I tied the material around the wound as best as I could. I was able to use some of the smaller branches on the tree to help hold my sleeve in place. It became an extra finger to help me tie the knots. I stepped on the bottom of my sleeve to pin it down as I pulled up to tighten it. Pain shot though my arm as I wrapped it as tight as possible. A scream escaped my lips which antagonized the wolf pack even further, making them growl and bark in a frenzy.
Now that my arm was patched up as best as I could get it, I pulled up the bottom of both of my pant legs in order to inspect them. They were covered in deep cuts and scratches. The deeper cuts stung badly and would probably get infected if not treated soon, but I knew I would still be able to walk on them. My arm was really bad off. If by some miracle I made it out of the situation I found myself in, I was sure it would need to be amputated. If I were to leave the tree, the wolves would tear me apart, if I stayed, I would either freeze to death or bleed to death. I’d gotten myself into bad situations in my life but this was definitely the worst. There was no way out this time.
Knowing that you will soon die has got to be the worst feeling possible. My mind flooded with all the mistakes I’d made in my life and how much I’d hurt the people I cared about. If there was any silver lining it was that Susan wouldn’t have to put up with me anymore. Susan is a beautiful, caring and intelligent woman. She would be able to find someone else to love and support her easily enough. I hope the next guy in her life doesn’t turn into a useless drunk the way I had. She deserved better than that. Susan is an incredible woman and I was lucky to have her. I don’t understand how I got her or why she stayed with me for so long. I was barely able to support her. I had a hard enough time keeping food on the table. Of course that was because of the insane amount of money I wasted on liquor. I also managed to lose every decent paying job, besides the factory, due to my drinking. Susan stuck around no matter how bad things got. She became my caretaker, always dealing with my messes. Susan never gave up on me though; she was always trying to make me into a better person and trying to get me to clean myself up. If it wasn’t for her, I would have drunk myself to death years ago. She wanted me to join AA for the longest time now. If I had, I wouldn’t be in the middle of the woods waiting to sleep the eternal sleep, where my body may be laid to rest but my soul will live to suffer on.
I wish now, more than ever, that I could go back and fix what I’d done. I had always assumed there would be more time to clean myself up and be a better person to the people I loved. Susan will be left with nothing but a mark on her face and a bunch of bad memories; Diana will grow up without her father. Diana had been the one good thing I had done with my life. Diana is everything I’m not and I couldn’t be prouder of her. She will grow up to do great things in this world and I won’t be around to witness it I hope she grows up knowing I loved her with all my heart and was so proud of her. With all the bad stories she will hear about me as she grows up I hope she will always remember that.
There I sat in the tree, in a completely lugubrious state as I waited for death. I was hoping it would come without any more horror. I didn’t want to become faint, fall from the tree and be ripped limb from limb by the wolf pack that lay waiting for that to happen. My eyelids were becoming too heavy to keep open. I began to drift on and off to sleep. I was startled back to consciousness as I saw a light shining near the wolves. I knew it wasn’t my flashlight, since that had been buried in the snow for some time now. Besides that, it appeared to be a different light as it had a bluish glow to it. Whatever it was, it had caught the attention of the wolf pack.
“Here boy… come along… here wolfy, wolfy, wolfy.”
I thought it sounded like that snow mist boy’s voice again. I couldn’t really be sure if it was that same voice again or if I was just imagining it. Then again I’d stopped being sure of everything I’d seen and heard in these woods.
“Here wolfy, wolfy, wolfy… come along.”
It must be real; the wolves began to follow him. The wolves were walking away from the tree following the light as the voice was calling them.
“Come along… wolfy, wolfy.”
It didn’t take long before I was left alone in the tree. This was my chance; I might just get out of this alive yet! I pulled myself up as little pieces of ice broke away from my coat. My body was incredibly stiff from not moving for such a long period of time. My right arm now had become all but useless, both from the bite and from being frozen, since it was exposed to the elements having had the sleeve of my coat ripped off. It got the full blast of the cold wind and snow. I cautiously climbed down the tree; constantly keeping an eye out for any wolves that might come back. I was almost at the bottom of the tree when I grabbed on to a branch that couldn’t hold my weight. I fell the last few feet to the ground, landing on my shredded arm.
The pain shot through me like a bullet. I couldn’t even scream as all that came out was a quiet “ugh.” I held tightly to my wounded arm with tears freezing to my face. After at time, I sat up and began to dig through the snow looking for my flashlight. The wind was now burning me like a hot stove to the touch. My hands were past freezing now and my left hand was now a useless black and blue appendage. My right hand was a pale weight that had limited use.
After what seemed like an eternity I found my flashlight. I was barely able to rap my hand around it. I tried turning it on only to find that the battery was now dead. I wasn’t really sure if the batteries had died or if one of the wolves had managed to break it. Whatever the case, it wasn’t working now and I couldn’t see a dammed thing. I threw it down and started making my way through the woods. I headed in the opposite direction that the wolves had taken. Thankfully it wasn’t long before a glowing light appeared in the direction I was heading. It was identical to the light that drew away the wolves.
“Come… this way.”
I no longer had a choice but to follow the light now. It was the only thing I could make out. I walked towards the light trying not to trip or walk into anything. Walking was more difficult than ever. I couldn’t make out my surroundings so I tripped and stumbled on everything. I still had that eerie feeling in my gut like I was being watched.
I no longer had any sense of time. I didn’t know how long I’d been wandering through the woods. I did feel hopeful that the sun would soon rise, which might give me a greater chance of being found. Surely someone would come across my smashed truck and begin to look for the missing occupant. Of course that could still be hours away.
“This way, almost there, this way.”
The voice grew louder and the light brighter. I must almost be there. Where the hell I was headed or where I was going to end up, I didn’t know.
“This way, almost there.”
I walked through the trees to another cleared area. It looked like a trail that had once been big enough for a car or truck to drive on. The trail went on for miles in both directions. With the bluish light shining brighter than ever, I continued following it in the new direction. The trail broke off from the one I was currently on. The misty image of the young man stood at the opening of the new trail. The light appeared to be coming from his body, which now appeared in its entirety.
I stumbled towards him. Right before I reached him he disappeared leaving me in complete darkness once again. With my one good arm out in front of me I continued to make my way down the path where the young man had been just moments earlier. This path led to another wide opening with a huge hill at the far side.
At the center of the hill, there stood a small cabin. It had a rustic appearance with its simple design showing years of taking abuse from the elements. It appeared to have been abandoned for many years.
This was it! This was what the young man wanted to show me, the cabin! Tears of joy and relief came to my eyes. However slim my chances were, I now had renewed hope of possibly surviving this ordeal. I had a place to spend the night and there might possibly be some medical supplies. I forced my unwilling body to move towards the cabin. I worked my way through the huge snowdrift that blocked the door and made my way inside. I felt instant relief being out of the blistering cold wind. I sat down with my back resting against the door in order to catch my breath and just enjoy the moment. I felt safe for the first time since the accident. It was so great to be indoors even though I couldn’t see a thing as I sat in complete darkness. I couldn’t even see my own hand in front of my face. I got up and began to stumble around looking for a source of light. I waved my good arm around in front of me to prevent me from walking into anything.
I found a table in the middle of the room as I walked right into it. I placed my left hand along the top of the table praying I would find a flashlight or candle or anything else that might help me to see better. As luck would have it I did come across a small pack of matches that still had at least half of the matches still in it. I struck one of the matches and was a little surprised when it actually lit. Of course it didn’t give off much light but it was enough for me to at least see in front of me. I walked along the wall to look for a light switch sparking up more matches as they each quickly burnt out.
The wall was rough and cold. I didn’t feel or see a thing on it. I ended up stubbing my toe on the woodstove. When I fell back I knocked over the stack of wood beside it. This was the answer to my prayers. I would soon have plenty of heat and a source of light as well. I rummaged through the cabin until I found an old newspaper that I rolled tightly together to help start the fire. It took the rest of the matches that remained in the pack to get it to light. It wasn’t a big flame and it didn’t give off much light or heat but I knew with a little patience it would soon give me both.
I continued to scour the cabin in the hopes of finding a first aid kit. With each discovery I’d return to the woodstove to take a better look. There hadn’t been too much for me to find other than a few kitchen appliances. After more searching I came across a book. I brought it over to the light of the woodstove to examine my find more closely. It was a tattered old brown book with nothing but the letters F. F. printed on its cover in black marker. I opened it and discovered it was a personal journal written by someone named Faolan Foley. I flipped through the pages and noted there were a bunch of entries dating from August 20th 1952 to November 30th 1952. I went back to the first page and began to read in detail what already had me intrigued.
Faolan was born in Ireland but moved to this country at a young age. The army drafted him in 1942, shortly after his eighteenth birthday. He was front line infantry and had seen a lot of action that he wrote about quite descriptively. Apparently he suffered from a severe case of shell shock after the war. It seemed to be such a severe case that his own family couldn’t tolerate his screaming almost every night or his breakdowns during the day. A lot of his entries talked about his time in the war and how everything back home seemed to remind him of it. He indicated throughout various entries that it was the reason he spent so much time in the woods; he felt safer with a gun in his hand. Faolan was an avid hunter who survived on all that he killed and prepared himself. He didn’t seem to concern himself with whether or not it was hunting season.
I started to come across some strange writing in his journal regarding some missed shots, and even the word “ghost” started to appear more and more as the entries continued. He wrote how he was never able to hit anything at dusk, even when he would have a clear shot and a steady arm. Faolan wrote, “I hit it, I know I did, there’s no way I could have missed. I was the best shot in my squad, I know I hit it, the shot went right through him.” Faolan must have been talking about an animal he had been hunting.
It seemed to be an ongoing occurrence, every time the sun began to set. Personally I would have thought that it was possible for his aim to have been affected from the lack of light. I got the feeling from reading a great deal of his personal journal that he wasn’t the cocky type when it came to his skills as a marksman. He appeared to be losing his grip on reality as the entries went on. He claimed to see animals that he had already killed in the past, reappear in the same place he shot them time and time again.
On September fifth he had found a spot in the densely covered woods that had a clear-cut area. Faolan had gotten into position to shoot after he sent his dogs on the chase for the deer. It didn’t take long for his dogs to pick up the scent of deer. An entire herd came darting in their unpredictable patterns through the clearing. Faolan shot and killed a doe at the back of the herd. Ever since that day, whenever he went to that same clearing after dusk, he would see that same herd run through He would even hear the barking of the dogs and the shots from the rifle. The doe at the back would get shot and collapse in the same way, night after night, right before disappearing.
My thoughts instantly went to my own experience earlier in the evening when I had been in that same clearing. The herd of deer had run right through me. I put down the journal and found myself shaking, unable to believe what I had just read. I couldn’t believe there was such a thing as ghosts! But how could I deny what I had seen with my very own eyes?
“NO, it can’t be something as ridiculous as ghosts… can it?” I needed to calm myself down; I needed a drink to calm my nerves. I stood up and looked for something to drink. It didn’t take long; I found an old water bottle on the ground. The bottle had still been sealed shut so I cracked it open and poured a big mouthful down my throat. It had easily been one of the dirtiest; more disgusting tasting things I’d ever drink! It was the taste of what I could only assume extremely dirty snow might taste like. It had obviously been lying around for quite some time, possibly years, but I still would have thought a sealed bottle would have been safe to drink from. Well I knew my body needed it nevertheless. I looked at the fire still burning in the woodstove. I couldn’t understand why it wasn’t providing me with any warmth. It must be warming the cabin though because the water bottle had been defrosted enough for me to drink from it.
I sat back down near the woodstove still holding the water bottle as I picked the journal back up. I wasn’t entirely sure if I wanted to read it any further or not. The eerie similarities to my own experience with the herd of deer made my flesh creep. In spite of my initial reluctance, I picked back up where I had left off. Faolan’s entries continued with more of the same experiences.
He would see a deer or other animal for a few seconds before they were mysteriously killed and vanished. It seemed Faolan became obsessed with the phenomenon as he continued to go to that same clearing every night to witness what his mind couldn’t comprehend. I was now more frightened than ever because it was all making sense. I had to be losing my mind, just like Faolan Foley. I went to take another needed sip of water from the bottle only to realize that I was in fact holding on to a rock. “That settles it, I have gone crazy.” I threw the rock away. I must have sustained a worse head injury than I thought. Not to mention all the booze that was in my system before the accident. I must be hallucinating. The question now being what was real and what had I only imagined.
I thought of Faolan Foley and what might have happened to him. Did he live here until he died? Was he dead? If so, would he be like the ghostly animals, caught in some horrible limbo, replaying his death night after night? The figure in the bluish mist was the one who brought me here, and he definitely wasn’t repeating anything. Could that be Faolan Foley? How else would he have known where this cabin was? Why did he bring me here? Did he want me to find something or did he simply want to save me?
I continued to read from the journal. Faolan seemed to get progressively obsessed with the ghosts. He was going mad trying to make sense of it. His writing made less sense the more I read. A cold breeze blew by sending a chill down my spine. I glanced up to find that everything had vanished. The cabin along with everything in it, GONE! I found myself sitting in what appeared to be a small cave. The journal I had been holding was no longer there. What was happening, I couldn’t make sense of anything. All that remained was the rock that I had mistaken for a water bottle. Have I been in this cave the entire time? Had I imagined everything? It was completely ludicrous.
The confusion I felt was overwhelming. It was driving me insane. I threw my hand alongside the woodstove to prove to myself that I was in the cabin sitting next to the woodstove. It was stone cold. I had a nauseating sensation in the pit of my stomach. To think that I’ve been sitting in a cave all this time without realizing it was insane. I had to be in the cabin, Faolan Foley led me here so I wouldn’t freeze to death, I was sure of it! I re-opened the journal and flipped the pages back and forth as a source of comfort. I continued to do things in order to convince myself. It had to be real. I couldn’t be out of my mind. I prayed that I wasn’t. Suddenly there was another bone chilling breeze that shot by from where the door appeared to be. The door was shut tight.
I suddenly became less sure that I was in the cabin. I was starting to become less sure of everything that had happened this night. Ghosts couldn’t be real. If they were, then Faolan Foley must be real as well since he led me to his old cabin and saved my life. If I have just been hallucinating, this experience after being in the car crash then maybe I have suffered some brain damage. Was I in a cave with no fire? Was wind blowing in the opening of the cave? Of course a cave still wouldn’t be the worst spot to end up. There were definitely worse places I could have been. Without a fire to keep me warm it was still very possible that I would end up freezing to death. It had been the worst blizzard I’d ever seen.
I had the gut-wrenching feeling I might never see my family again. I would never have the chance to reconcile with Susan. The thought made my eyes sting with tears of anguish. My chest became tight with a building pressure and my heart filled with so much emotion I thought it would burst. I felt myself slipping into unconsciousness. All hope was gone. I was absolutely terrified to think of what might await me when I passed. I could end up spending all of eternity, night after night; reliving all of the horrors I had been through tonight. If I was in the cabin I still might just make it! I would become a better person, a better husband and father. I would give up the bottle and never go back. AA meetings, cold turkey, whatever it took, just so long as I could be there for the ones I loved. All I needed was the chance to do so.
As I drifted off, the last thing I saw was the image of Susan and Diane, my two angels, both of them smiling. It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. I hoped it wouldn’t be the last time I saw it. I’ll find the answer soon enough.
Once I wake up…
If I wake up…
Credit: Carl Bluesy