*Based on a true story*
“Bis-Mil-Lah! Nooooooo we will…”
“Turn it down, moron,” Christin shouted over my operatic singing.
“Let him go,” I sang in a high-pitched falsetto that could have woken the dead.
“Dude, I said turn it down.” She barked and turned the knob on the car stereo eliminating Freddy Mercury’s perfectly toned voice.
“That’s the best part.”
“So, we can restart it later.”
“What’s the big deal, anyway?” I huffed from the passenger seat.
“Uh, I’m pretty sure we aren’t supposed to be up here this late. We probably shouldn’t draw attention to ourselves.”
“Seriously? Look around. Do you see any other cars?” I waved my hand at the windshield and looked out all the windows of the old rusted out ’86 Ford Escort we affectionately called “The Beast”.
“Still. Rangers patrol up here. We don’t need a fine or anything. I’m sure we needed to come up here at 11:30 at night, anyway. We could have watched a movie.”
“Yeah, cuz that was working out,” I argued in the dim light of The Beast’s interior. “We argued for like an hour and couldn’t decide on one. It’s Saturday, we were bored. Ghost hunting at Lost Boys seemed like a viable cure for teenage boredom.”
“We’ve been here a million times, Kim.”
“Maybe something will happen on the million and first.”
“Let’s go,” I urged opening the car door.
As the door protested, heavy against my efforts, headlights shined directly into the passenger window; blinding me. I hesitated. Then, I quickly pulled my leg back inside the car and slammed the door, locking it behind me. Christin locked her door as well.
“Is it a park Ranger?” I asked as my eyes tried to readjust to the darkness of the woods.
“I don’t think so,” Christin answered. “Looks like a Pontiac.”
“Who the hell comes up to Blue Knob at midnight on a Saturday?” I grumped.
We looked at each other and then stared at the dark interior of the white car parked perpendicular to us. Their front end looked directly into my passenger window. For ten or more minutes there was an intense stand-off. We could see movement inside but had no idea who might be in it. Was it a couple there to park? Someone else ghost hunting? A madman looking for stupid kids wondering around the isolated woods in the middle of the night?
“Maybe we should leave.” Christin said.
“No. Just wait.”
“Kim, I don’t think they’re leaving.”
“They’re either going to leave or get out.” I said.
The inhabitants of the other car surrendered first. The driver’s side door swung open, followed by the passenger door. Two guys, about our age and a short, brown-haired girl climbed out of the car. They stretched, walked to the front of their car, and then smiled and waved at us.
I smiled at Christin, “Ghost hunters.”
We climbed out of the Escort and met at the front of the maroon car. The three from the Pontiac walked casually over to greet us.
“Hey,” the driver said. “I’m Dave. That’s Mike and Angie.”
Dave wasn’t so bad. He was tall, lean and muscular; dressed nice. Mike and Angie were typical hippie wanna-be types. The scent of pungent patchouli wafted right off them and into my nose.
“I’m Kim.” I said and outstretched my hand.
“Ghost hunting?” Dave asked flashing a toothy white grin.
“Yeah. Boring Saturday, so we figured why not.”
“Same with us,” Angie said.
“You guys ever been up here before?” Dave asked.
“Yeah, more than is probably considered normal.” Christin said.
“Do you have flashlights?” Mike asked looking at our empty hands.
“Nah,” I said, “we know the way. It isn’t too far in.”
“We haven’t been here before.” Dave said. “Do you mind if we come with? We have flashlights.”
“Sure. That’s cool.” I said.
The five of us gathered in a group. The boys turned on the flashlights and shined their yellow orbs into the small opening that led into the thick woods. It was mid-autumn. The forest floor of the Central Pennsylvania Alleghenies was littered with the decaying flesh of red, orange, and yellow leaves as they began to rot and turn brown. Most of the maples and oaks were bare, but some still clung to their foliage; a desperate attempt to fend off the coming winter. Had it been daylight, the woods would have been beautiful, in the blackness of night they looked like a cemetery. A chilly wind whipped at our backs, flinging the girl’s hair in a tornado, scented by mildew and moss.
“Brrrr,” Angie protested, “it’s colder than I thought.”
“It’s always colder up here,” I said. “It’s this way.”
I started walking toward the light beaming into the trees. The thin dirt path was partially covered by leaves, but I knew the way to the Lost Boys monument by heart. Our hunting party crunched over fallen acorns and trampled through piles of sticky damp leaves, secretly hoping no snakes were hiding inside. A small arched wooden foot bridge over a trickling stream creaked as we crossed over it. It was a strange decoration in the middle of rarely traveled woods. The path twisted and turned, bent up over small hills and down naturally made steps. Christin twisted her ankle for the fiftieth time on the exposed roots that created the steps.
“I’m okay!” She called out as she limped on.
I chuckled to myself. Without fail, she did it nearly every time. Finally, a tall limestone monument came into view. It was shiny, light gray, and carved with an inscription.
“That’s it guys,” I said.
“Oh, cool,” Dave said and ran over to it with his flash light.
“Hey,” I said to Christin, “what’s with the fence?”
“I don’t know. Must be new.”
“Dedicated to the memory of James and Gregory Connor who were lost to all who loved them October 18, 1859.” Dave said.
“What’s with the fence?” Mike asked.
“I don’t know,” I said. “A lot of people come up here ghost hunting. Probably some jerks vandalized it or something.”
“So, how does the legend work?” Angie asked.
“It’s nothing really,” Christin answered. “Like, if you’re quiet you’re supposed to be able to hear them laugh or something. People say they have seen shadow figures here.”
“Really?” Dave asked. “Shadow figures?”
“Yeah, the kids.” I answered.
“Not if they see shadow figures. Not according to legend.” Dave said.
“What?” I laughed. “They got lost is the woods and died from exposure. Standard horrible death stuff. It isn’t supernatural.”
“That’s the authority’s story,” Dave said. “My great-great grandmother was their neighbor. She said the story the cops told the papers was wrong.”
“Because she witnessed it?” I laughed.
“No, because she was a witch, a medium. She helped with the investigation.”
I rolled my eyes.
“Do you want to hear the story or not?” Dave condescended.
“Alright, hot shot,” I said finding a suitable spot on the ground to get comfortable. “Tell me what really happened.”
“Ok, so, it was about this time of year, October 1859. The Connor family had a wood cabin about two miles from here.”
* * *
The early morning rays of autumn passed through the multi-colored leaves that clung to the trees, holding on to the remnants of life, and filtered through the windows like a ruby fire. It danced on the modest walls of the Connor family’s wood cabin home and created a rainbow prism on the breakfast table as it passed through Mary’s old crystal flower vase at its center. The vase sat empty now, a tombstone the Connor boys could reminisce over daily since Mary’s passing two years earlier. It was only the flu, but in cold winters, pneumonia was quick to call Death to your door.
“Papa, can’t we come hunting with you?” Gregory pleaded over his eggs.
Gregory, seven, was the younger of the Connor boys and had felt a deep sense of loss and abandonment when Mary passed away. Jacob was nine and had assumed the role of caretaker when their father had to be gone. The pair were seldom seen apart.
“Not this time, Gregory.” Marcus, their father, explained. “I won’t be gone long. Two days, maybe. Just long enough to stock up on meat for a few weeks.”
“I could help hunt. I’m a good shot now.” Jacob said.
“I can keep Gregory quiet.” Jacob added.
“I’ll stay very quiet.”
“No boys. Not this time. I need you to watch the house, cut firewood, feed the chickens and keep their coupe warm.” Marcus said.
“Yes sir,” the boys answered.
After breakfast Jacob gathered the dishes to wash in the steel basin in the small kitchen area. Marcus loaded the dusty potbelly stove with fresh firewood, and Gregory sat in a rocking chair drawing in the sun.
“Now boys, don’t stray far from home while I’m gone.” Marcus instructed.
“Yes Papa,” Jacob said.
“Gregory,” he called as he pulled on his jacket and swung his rifle over his shoulder. “Did you hear me? Don’t wonder into the woods. There are bears out there looking for a last meal before hibernation.”
“Yes sir,” Gregory muttered not looking up from his drawing.
Marcus walked over to the window where Gregory sat and kissed his sandy blonde hair. His eyes drifted down to the dark drawing speckled with flakes of charcoal. Gregory had drawn a bizarre shadow with long claws and sharp fangs hovering over a frightened deer. Marcus pulled back.
“What’ve you drawn my boy?”
“The shadow man that lives in the woods. I see him sometimes when I get firewood at dusk.”
Marcus ruffed the hair on Gregory’s head and stomped across the rotting wooden floor to where Jacob stood over the wash basin in the kitchen.
“Keep an eye on your brother. I won’t be gone long.”
“Yes sir.” Jacob answered.
“You’ll be able to come soon. Right now, your brother needs you here. He’s still young up here,” he pointed to his head, “and in here,” Marcus pointed to his heart.
“I’ll keep him busy.”
“And watch he doesn’t wander off. His imagination.”
Jacob nodded. Marcus patted his back and looked over the open living area one last time. Then, he grabbed the rest of his equipment and left through the creaky red front door.
Jacob cleaned the breakfast dishes and emptied the water from the basin behind the cabin. Then, he and Gregory went to work chopping wood and piling it next to the front door. The halved sections of maple, oak, and birch were stacked high. Gregory carried arm-fulls as he scaled the mountain of wood halfway up the side of the dwelling and placed them neatly on top. When Jacob’s arms felt like rubber and he could no longer wield the axe they sat on tree stumps around the fire pit next to the house to rest.
“I could’ve helped hunt,” Jacob lamented.
“I could’ve kept quiet.”
“You’re never quiet. That’s why we couldn’t go.”
“Yes I am. I’m plenty quiet when I draw.”
“I could kill squirrels and rabbits with my .22.”
“I could carry them,” Gregory said beaming. “We could surprise Papa. We could hunt around the house while he’s gone, for stew meat.”
“He said not to go in the woods.”
“We don’t have to. Just around the house here.”
“It could help out,” Jacob said. “Ok. I’ll get my gun.”
Jacob ran into the house and into the bedroom he and his brother shared. The afternoon sun left the room abandoned, dark as a well. Jacob held his hands in front of him to prevent a banged knee on a bedpost, found his way to his bed, and dug through the treasures he had stowed underneath until he located the pine case that held his rifle. His eyes had adjusted to the dark and he took a moment to inspect the shadow of his gun. Then, he retrieved the pouch of bullets from the pine box. Jacob’s head jerked at an unexpected scraping sound. It was ominous and his skin electrified when he heard it. The noise was like the thick claws of a giant animal tearing apart the dense flesh of an oak tree. Frozen, stared into the closet where the sound originated, but saw nothing. Only a vast emptiness peered back at him. Jacob squinted, certain he recognized movement, and out of the nothing appeared two glowing red eyes. Jacob screamed and ran for the door, slamming his hip into Gregory’s bed post on the way out. When he reached the fire pit the late afternoon sun stung his eyes and he choked on the cold autumn air.
“What happened, Jacob?”
“Nothing. I thought I saw…” he struggled through gasps. “I thought I saw something.”
“Like a spider?”
“No, a…it isn’t important.” Jacob shook off his fear and steadied himself. “Are you ready?”
“Uh huh,” Gregory nodded. “I have the varmint bag,” he swung a canvas bag that was on his shoulder.
“Ok let’s go. Be quiet.”
* * *
As the sun began to disappear behind the trees the color of the October sky transitioned from blue to orange to pink on the horizon. The woods grew dark and long shadows cast by the trees looked like the men on stilts from traveling carnivals. The boys kicked through piles of mottled brown and yellow leaves thick and damp with dew that never got the opportunity to dry in the shade. They had travelled further from home than they realized, never stopping to check their route, searching for prey that hadn’t yet settled in for winter’s long slumber.
“I’m getting tired,” Gregory whined.
“Just a little longer. One little rabbit isn’t going to get us out of trouble for hunting.”
“We can say it was by the house.”
“We’re already out. We might as well keep looking.” Jacob scolded. “Be quiet. You’re going to scare them away.”
The boys trudged along on their path until they came to a clear stream that trickled casually over smooth stones. Abruptly, they stopped and eyed each other suspiciously.
“Where did that come from?” Jacob said.
“What do you mean?”
“There’s no crick near the house.”
“How far did we go?” Gregory panicked.
The two stood at the edge of the water and attempted to look at their surroundings, but the sun had nearly set and all they were left with were the dim remnants of a pink sailor’s sky. There was nothing for them to see except the stream, the leaves, and the trees.
“Don’t panic,” Jacob said. “We’ll just walk back the way we came.”
“Ok,” Gregory answered.
“Walk fast now,” Jacob said picking up his pace. “We couldn’t have gone far.”
They picked up speed but stopped suddenly when they heard a crunchy grinding noise echo through the trees. Jacob’s ears perked up. He knew that sound. The same unsettling claws against timber noise that had startled him back in his bedroom.
“What was that?” Jacob whispered.
“Jacob,” Gregory choked. “Arglath, he-he doesn’t like people in the woods at night.”
“What,” Jacob said. “What are you talking about?”
“The shadow man. He won’t like this.”
“Stop it, Gregory.”
The forest was soon gray, lit only by the iridescent glow of the waning gibbous moon. The barren trees had slowly become skeletal with the onset of night. The forest, some wicked place harboring nightmares instead of the vibrant world of fantasy it represented in the warm glow of the sun. The Connor boys carried fear and longing in their bellies as they realized they were lost and traveling in circles. Their breath came out in white puffs of fine wet mist as the temperature dropped. They fought the cold by trudging through the moonlight, pleading to the night for survival.
“Hello,” Jacob yelled. “Anybody. Can anybody hear me?” His voice was cracking and hoarse.
“It’s no use, Jacob. I don’t think we’re near home. No one can hear us.”
“Maybe there are other hunters out here. We have to try.”
“You’ve been yelling for an hour.”
“Help!” Jacob screeched.
A rustle in the bushes caught both of the boys’ attention. Jacob pushed Gregory behind him and held him there with his arm. He peered into the darkness seeking the thing that created the noise but saw no animal or man.
“Hello, who’s there?” Jacob asked the darkness.
He was greeted with silence.
“Maybe an animal.”
“Hello,” Jacob asked again.
“Stay here,” Jacob instructed. “I’m going to look.”
“No, I’m coming.”
“Uh uh. No.”
“Fine. Be quiet.”
The boys took careful footsteps toward the small bush that had emitted the noise. The leaves under their boots crunched and shuffled. Gregory stepped on an acorn that cracked loudly.
“Shhhh,” Jacob scolded.
There was nearly no moonlight seeping onto the bush. Jacob closed his eyes as he came closer to it, hoping they would adjust to the tarry darkness faster. When he opened them, he was nearly on top of the thing. He reached out and pushed away the branches. Through the leaves and thin twigs, he could see light colored fur wet and shiny with dark liquid. He dug deeper into the bush and found a leg.
“Here, help me,” he said to Gregory as he stooped on the ground.
“Grab this,” he instructed.
The two boys tugged, and from the bush they pulled a young doe. She had a gaping wound on her neck and she was drenched in blood. Her eyes were open and set in a wide stare as if she had been terrified before she had been murdered. The light from the moon reflected in her honey brown irises, lifeless.
“What happened to her?”
“Probably a mountain lion.”
“We would have heard that,” Gregory protested.
“Not if it happened a while ago.”
“That looks fresh.”
Jacob hesitated, “I don’t know.”
“There,” cried Gregory. “It’s Arglath.”
Jacob looked up at Gregory and followed his gaze into the woods. Just beyond the bush were a pair of glowing red eyes staring at them menacingly. They were attached to a figure that was larger than any man could naturally stand. Enormous and threatening it was blacker than the night, and yet, transparent enough to see the trees beyond. The shadow man was real.
The boys stood cemented to the earth as Arglath floated soundlessly toward them.
“What does he want?” Jacob asked.
“He doesn’t like people in the woods at night.”
“What will he do?”
“The…the deer.” Gregory stuttered
Arglath bared down upon them. Denser now like coal smoke and soot intermingling. A tuft of haze reached out revealing razor-like claws that tried to snatch the boys. They dove to escape Arglath’s clutches. Another arm reached out gripping for their bodies, seeking the tender flesh it could shred.
“Run!” Jacob screamed.
Gregory took off through the woods. Jacob could run faster but let Gregory stay ahead so he would be the first claimed by Arglath. The cold night air pricked their cheeks, burned their lungs as they gasped for breath. They slipped on wet leaves decaying on the ground as the shadow man nipped at their heels; stabbed at their backs and tugged on their boots licking his lips in anticipation.
“I can’t go anymore,” Gregory cried.
“Keep running,” Jacob commanded.
“I’m so tired.”
Gregory was slowing. Jacob by his side now, put a hand on his back urging him on. Arglath lurched, claws outstretched, and the boys felt themselves lifted from the ground as their legs fought to keep moving against the dirt. They screamed and bellowed; pleaded for mercy from the shadow man, the demon in the woods. He showed them none. He opened his gnarled evil jaws and sucked the life from Jacob, and then from Gregory; leaving their bodies to become one with his woods.
* * *
“Two days later Dad comes home and the whole town looks for them, great-grandma gets involved, she is the one that led them to the bodies. She had a dream about the deer or something. Anyway, that’s how it happened.” Dave said.
“Yeeaah, ok.” I chucked. “Crazy shadow demon haunts the woods at night. Spooky. Are you guys ready?”
“I am if you are,” Mike said
“Totally. Bad vibes up here.” Angie said
We started the hike back to our cars separated in our original groups. The three newcomers in front with their flashlights, Christin and I in the rear.
“Nothing as usual,” Christin huffed.
“Whatever, fun story this time.”
I ran face first into Dave’s back crushing my nose, which sent a painful shock into my eyes. I saw flickering buttery stars for several seconds.
“Hey, what are you guys doing.” I complained as I rubbed my face.
Everyone was silent, breathing heavily. I noticed Dave was shaking. I put my hands on his shoulders and moved him to the side so I could see what the problem was. The dull yellow from the flash lights scurried in the air like confused mice. Then, I saw them. Two red eyes in the darkness.
#LostBoys #HumpdayHorror #KiraMcKinney Copyright Kira McKinney
Welcome to my blog. Sit back and enjoy a short story, a poem, or some flash fiction--whatever I have recently cooked up. I will post a new piece as often as possible. Check back once a week to see what's new.