The Woods are Watching

Submitted into Contest #143 in response to: Set your story in the woods or on a campground. ... view prompt

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Horror Thriller Suspense

This was supposed to be a calming trip. I guess it could have been with just a couple different decisions. Maybe one could have been going to a hotel instead of bringing my own tent, but no, I just had to camp in a forest. I don’t even know why. That was nothing like me. I haven’t been camping since I was a little girl, and after this experience I can promise, I will never do it again. If I even survive this.

It didn’t start out bad. Really it started off as a quick break from people with a relaxing trip to a forest. That clearly didn’t go as planned. 

When I first got here it was simple. I set up my tent and made a nice fire getting ready to cook a couple of hot dogs when it got a little dark. Well, it got more than a little dark very quickly. Before I knew it, the sun was down, the stars were out, and the forest was unnaturally quiet. Not a single bird sung, not even a cricket chirped. I stood up to check my surroundings but found nothing. I put out the fire and retreated into my tent. I admit I haven’t been camping in a while but still I don’t remember the forest ever being this way.

I held my flashlight close while falling asleep. Eventually, as much as I tried to fight it off, sleep took me.

I was awakened sometime through the night by soft, almost undetectable, footsteps pacing outside. The forest was silent in a way that made me want to scream just to change it. I strained my ears to listen to whoever was outside my tent. I don’t remember anyone camping around here. In fact, I didn't think there was anyone within ten miles of where I had chosen, but that would have been impossible so there was clearly someone close by. I kept thinking they might have gotten lost and needed directions. I mean honestly, how are you supposed to ask someone sleeping in a tent for directions without seeming like you are going to kill them. I did my best to ignore the fact that pacing outside didn’t give the best impression either.

I also tried not to think about the fact that I am alone in the middle of the woods. If I went missing no one would know until three days later because that’s when I am supposed to be back. I reached for my phone even though there would be no service, and silently searched in my bag bringing out my knife and bear spray. Apparently, I wasn’t silent enough because the footsteps went quiet.

I got a sudden fear that something was very wrong. It was silent until the footsteps went back into the forest. That gave me some sense of relief. Maybe it was just an animal, startled by my movement. That made perfect sense, my mind was obviously just blowing it out of proportion. I kept telling myself that until something broke through the silence making my heart stop.

“Hey,”

It’s strange how such a simple word made me terrified to my core. There is no way someone was out there, I was sure of it. There was no one else in this forest for miles, yet how else would someone have called out from the forest. It didn’t make me feel any better when I think of how long they could have been circling me while I slept.

My eyes focused on the entrance of my tent, which I could see was sealed shut, but really how hard would it be to open from the outside? It’s just a zipper, and even if for some reason they can’t get that open the next thing they would need is a knife. That was a new fear I hadn’t thought of. What if they were armed?

“Hey,” I heard again.

The same word repeated. There was no denying it now, there was definitely someone out there, and they are trying to get me out of my tent. My mind was spiraling, trying so hard to find what I should do. At one point I thought about cutting a hole in the back of my tent but that was a bad decision. If they heard my bag, they would no doubt hear me trying to escape. I could’ve just made a break for it, run to where I parked. It wasn’t too far away, maybe only a five minute walk. I was confident I could make it.

“Hey, are you there?”

My fingers tighten around my knife, fresh fear washing over me. “What do you want?” My voice is shaking slightly and my words are a little rushed, but the message was clear.

I waited for a reply until the voice called back, “Hey, are you there?” The voice seemed like it’s moved but I couldn’t tell in what direction.

I took a deep breath. I had two choices, stay here and let them have every advantage, or go out there and fight as hard as I could. It wasn’t even a question really. I stood up, my hands shaking as they reached for the zipper. I began to unzip it while holding my flashlight at the ready. As soon as the flap was down, I would shine my flashlight at the brightest setting to where it would flash in the person's face, theoretically leaving them in shock. That would’ve given me time to run to my car.

I counted silently in my mind to three before bursting out of the tent and shining my flashlight the way I planned. Except it didn’t go as planned. Instead, when I shined my flashlight the flashes only showed something out of a nightmare. It was tall, but hunched over. Its skin was pale and thin, like it was stretched too far, but that wasn’t the truly terrifying part. No, the face is what got me. Its eyes were dark and beady and stared at me far too long without blinking, its nose looked like it didn’t even exist, and its mouth was hanging open showing its razor sharp teeth.

I just stood there stupidly, as if waiting to wake up. But this wasn’t a dream, and I needed to move. I took off through the forest in the direction of my car, knowing that the countdown had begun. It was me against this thing. I was armed with a flashlight, a knife and a lighter that I forgot to take out of my pocket. Despite my lack of defensive tools, I told myself I would win because honestly, I didn’t want to think about what might happen if I failed. 

My feet pounded on the forest floor and I heard a scream that was definitely not human. The only thing that made me feel a small bit of victory was that it sounded like it hadn’t moved to catch up to me. That thought stuck with me until I heard a twig snap behind me, then another. It was right behind me.

I ran through the forest until there was nearly no breath left in my lungs. Tears trailed down my face but I kept going. My eyes caught a glimpse of red between the trees which meant I was only a few moments away from my car and safety. I pushed myself to make it through the last bit of trees. The thought suddenly hit me that I heard no more footsteps behind me. Did I actually lose it? No, that was too simple. The thing that I was too afraid to admit was that it didn’t even seem to be trying. Like if it truly wanted to, it would have gotten me by now. A small branch hits me in the face as I burst into the empty lot, and beeline it to my car. The keys were in my hand, the door was unlocked. All that was left was to get in and drive away.

I reach for the handle and throw it open as a bony hand closes around my ankle dragging me to the ground. My hands patted down my pockets searching for my knife but I must have dropped it. I looked over to see that I was eye level with a small bottle of bug spray. I snatched it from the cubby of my car door and prayed that the lighter was still in my pocket. I struck it as the creature was towering over me and sprayed the bug spray, shooting the flames into the space in front of me.

It screamed and I wasted no time closing my door, locking it, and starting the car. It tried to stop me but my foot pressed on the gas, tires squealing out of the parking lot, leaving a nightmare that will haunt me forever.

April 29, 2022 23:30

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2 comments

Tanya Humphreys
02:12 May 05, 2022

Reedsy critiquer here... There is nothing wrong with this story. I was hooked from the get-go. (I don't camp, not for fear of nature, I love nature. But I'm middle aged now and prefer AirBNBs or nice hotels.) It's rare I like a story so completely. Your grammar and the way you describe the events unfolding are superb. It's written in the style of a diary/memoir, which I normally don't like. But you make it work, without any metaphors even. Good job. Ps- the funny thing is, I'm submitting a story for the camera/photo prompts for this we...

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Tricia Shulist
18:39 May 02, 2022

Yeah. There’s a reason I don’t tent camping. Thanks for this. It was fun.

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