Silence In The Woods

Jeffery walked through the woods every day. He didn’t think today would be any different as he slipped his feet into heavy hiking boots and tossed a light jacket on. Today, he was headed to the caves at the north end of the woods. A place he had yet to explore. The drive to the trailhead was only about ten minutes, and he pulled into the empty parking lot with a sigh of relief. He enjoyed hiking alone more than anything. Locking the car was second nature, and he pushed the button on his key fob as he walked away. Stepping on the trail that would lead him through Shri Woods, Jeffery let his mind drift. This was why he walked the paths through the woods. To reconnect to nature and find the strength to keep going.

The path was rough with roots and rocks, so he had to be mindful of where he was going else he would trip over things and end up eating dirt, which was never fun. He walked along occasionally, checking over his shoulder to make sure his slow pace wouldn’t impede anyone else. It was on one of these glances behind him he noticed something was off. When he turned to get a better look, he found himself captivated by the play of light and shadow through the trees. It reminded him of a face, but that couldn’t be right. There was no way tree branches and leaves could form human features that well. 

He changed his mind at that moment and moved to the other path. One he knew lead in the end to the mouth of a dry cave. As he walked along the alternative path, the temperature seemed to drop fast. Soon he was seeing his breath come out in puffs as he walked. Strange for late august in Texas, but then again things had been getting stranger over the last few weeks of his life. From his mother deciding to marry the man she met only two weeks before to his father dying unexpectedly from heart failure, having had no previous symptoms. Life was just getting weird on him. Wrapping his jacket tighter around him and rubbing his arms through the material to push off the chill, he kept walking. He had to know what was causing the face that was being more and more clear with each step he took away from the main path. 

He had walked for only five or six minutes into the growing cold and darkness before something again stopped him. This time, it was a sound. The sound of something large and awkward moving in the trees to his right. He spoke, “Is someone there?” He wasn’t sure why he was asking – it wasn’t like a bear or mountain cat was going to answer him.

Everything went silent in the space between heartbeats. Jeffery stood as still as a statue, praying that whatever was out there wasn’t looking for a quick meal. What felt like an hour later, though it could only have been a few seconds, the sound came again. This time it was closer and he could see the branches of the trees moving as whatever it was made its way out to the path. “What a day to forget to carry a knife,” he mumbled to himself.

“A knife wouldn’t hep you, son,” the voice was human, older and male but decidedly human. However, the body that stepped from the trees had lost whatever remains of humanity it had long ago. 

Jeffery straightened, fear pouring through him like fire. “What? Who are you?” he stammered, unable to look away from the thing’s face. He could tell it might have once been human, but now the skin was burnt black and looked like leather. It stood more than a foot taller than his own five-nine and before whatever happened to it had been well built. 

The creature laughed, its mouth opening to reveal human teeth that had been filed to points. “I am your worst nightmare. I am the soul of this forest and I will be the end of you.” The words came out, followed by a roar that split the quiet around them as it lunged from the edge of the path at him. Long claw-like nails glinting in what little light remained. 

Jeffery stepped to the side at the last breath and managed to avoid the first charge. Before he could stop himself, he had spun on his heel and was running full speed back the way he had come. He could hear the creature running behind him. The thought passed through his mind that he was glad he had taken up track in high school and actually kept up with it. Normally he was fast, but over the roots and rocks, he was still quick. He thought he was going to make it as the opening to the main trail came into view, but a root caught his foot, causing him to tumble to the ground. 

Before he could even get himself righted, the creature was on him. Claws ripping through not only the jacket but the flesh beneath. The last thing Jeffery heard before the claws pierced his heart was the voice speaking. “No one leaves my forest.”

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