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I'm Never Walking In The Forest Again

An forgettable nightmare

By LimjiPublished about a year ago 14 min read
I'm Never Walking In The Forest Again
Photo by Simon Wijers on Unsplash

As I took my first steps through the entrance of the nature trail, I was confident that this was exactly the escape I needed to decompress.

The moist soul sunk beneath my boots, flowers bloomed, the leaves on the trees shook and hummed gently in the summer breeze, and birds sang. I felt like I’d walked into the Garden of Eden.

Lost in thought and devouring the beauty radiating itself through all my senses, I never heard the footsteps approaching behind me.

“Hey there!” A woman’s chipper voice plucked me out of paradise.

“Hey, happy trailing?” I asked politely, despite my annoyance at the disruption.

“Definitely! I come here a lot when I need a break. You?” The girl lingered slightly behind, tucking her dirty blond hair behind her ear.

“First timer, but I brought reinforcements,” I said, gesturing to the map in my hand.

“There are better areas from when they were first building the trails. They’re not as well maintained, but they’re easy enough to follow. They won’t be on your map. I’m taking one up to the river. Some people say it’s dirty, but I like to dip my feet in anyway.”

We were walking side by side now, our boots smacking the dirt trail in rhythm. I looked at her closely for the first time. We looked close enough to the same age, maybe her being a year or two younger. We were sporting identical hiking boots. In another life, we might have been friends. As if sensing my thoughts, the girl looked towards me and smiled.

“I’m Claudia by the way. Care for a walking buddy? The forest is beautiful, but sometimes it feels lonely. I can show you the river!”

I hesitated and nearly declined. I had come out here to escape, not to be social, but she seemed nice and a river view sounded amazing. “I’m Avery, and I’m in. Lead the way!”

After a few minutes, Claudia gestured to a thin trail barely visible through the overgrown vegetation. I stood at the small opening, thinking about the critters living there. Wondering if they bit. So much for “easy to follow”.

As the trail widened a few yards in, my worries fell. It was beautiful. The sun glistened as it danced through the leaves. Claudia put her arm out for me to stop and pointed. In the distance a fawn lingered near its mother. In this moment, I was so glad to have met her.

As we trekked on, the foliage became more dense and only small streams of light flicked through. A light, unpleasant odor wafted on the breeze. It seemed familiar, but I couldn’t quite place it. Mold growing on stagnant water was my best guess.

A gentle mist twirled in the rays of light between the leaves.

As I followed Claudia in silence, I wondered just how well she knew the trails. She hadn’t hesitated, but the mist was flirting with fog by the minute. Claudia kept moving forward, as if pulled by an invisible string.

Out of the corner of my eye, something moved on the edges of the fog to my left. My heart picking up speed, I closed the gap that had gradually formed between us. “I think there’s something out there,” I whispered.

Claudia didn’t slow down, but she turned back towards me and giggled, “Of course there’s something out there. There’s a lot of somethings, we’re in a forest.” Claudia must have seen the fear on my face and as an afterthought asked, “Was it big?”

“I’m not sure,” I admitted nervously, “I only saw it for a second. It disappeared behind a tree. It was pretty far out, but I think it’s moving in the same direction we are.”

Claudia kept her pace, but she agreed she’d keep an eye out. For the last 20 minutes, she’d kept her eyes firmly on the trail, so somehow I doubted that.

I looked up over her shoulder and finally realized what she’d been so fixated on. There was something large up ahead peeking out through the fog. A cabin?

“Oh man this is amazing!” Claudia exclaimed, “My dad told me about these! During tourist season, the park rangers live out here!”

I watched the fog drop into the hole in the roof of the cabin. “It doesn’t look like anyone’s lived here in a long time,” I remarked. I’d only known Claudia from the trail, and yet I knew she was going to suggest we go in and explore. She was the adventure to my play it safe. On second thought, maybe we wouldn’t have been friends in another life.

Claudia started to speak, but I couldn’t hear her over the throbbing of my heartbeat in my ears. Closer than before, the thing from earlier stood still ahead of the cabin. It was watching us. The fog obscured my vision, but I could see it was wearing something dark that fluttered in the wind.

“Let’s go inside,” I interrupted her. Her eyes opened wide as I stormed past her. The door groaned its protest as I threw it open and flew inside.

“That thing from earlier followed us here, Claudia. It was watching us. We need to figure out a way to get out of here. It’s ahead of the cabin. I think we can go back the way we came. Can you see the trail well enough to run?”

Claudia stood staring at me, cheeks flushing. “I’ve never been to this cabin before. I lost the trail a little ways back. I figured we could regroup here and make a plan. Are you sure there’s something out there?”

For a moment, I was dumbstruck. She had lost the trail. We were screwed. Finally, I choked out, “I’m positive. It was some freak in a dark flowing gown or something. How did you lose the trail? I thought you said you came here all the time?” I hissed. Fear slithered its way from my stomach and tickled my throat. I swallowed hard.

“I mean, yeah, but not in the fog. I was hoping we’d beat it and be able to watch it float across the river. It’s gorgeous. Like the Mists of Avalon!” Claudia looked uncomfortable. I know she didn’t lead us off trail intentionally, but it didn’t feel that way. Especially with some freak following us, slowly moving closer.

“Let’s look around and see if there’s anything here we can use to defend ourselves, then we need to try to get out of here,” I could hear the frustration in my tone. I never should have followed a stranger into the forest. How could I be so stupid?

I headed left, towards the kitchen as Claudia made her way towards the back rooms. I opened several drawers and cabinets to find nothing but spiders and dust. Defeated, I headed to meet up with Claudia, hoping she’d had more luck.

As I entered, the first thing to hit me was a putrid smell. Claudia was bent over the bed in the corner of the room softly crying. On top of a bare, stained mattress was a severely decomposing body. Dirty blond hair clumped around the partially exposed skull. As the body had turned to liquid, the red and white plaid shirt had turned a nasty brownish along the chest. It would have been completely unidentifiable if not for the clothing. Claudia was starting down at her own red and white plaid shirt. Pulling on it. Willing it to not be true. Both Claudia and the body on the bed both adorned the same denim shorts, a small rip along the right hem.

The arms of the body hung limply, cuffed to the bed. Both feet were bound. I slowly stepped back as Claudia whispered over and over, “Oh no, oh no, oh no.” It became a mantra. As I reached for her, Claudia finally looked up. I yelped and jerked my hand back. Claudia’s face now mirrored the body on the bed. The dirty blond hair she’d pushed behind her ear earlier now dirty, clumped, and missing in patches. Her eyes long since disintegrated leaked a gelatinous substance from the empty sockets. The few patches of skin left on her face hung like dry snake skin.

“I’m sorry, Avery. I just can’t handle this,” she garbled with her stump tongue and a mouth with no lips left to help enunciate. She ran out of the cabin door and back into the forest.

Shock paralyzed me, and insanity threatened to leave me in the fetal position in the corner, waiting for someone to rescue me. But deep down I knew, no one would come. That’s why Claudia’s body was still lying here, left to rot. I couldn’t stay here. But leaving meant facing The Follower. The thing lingering in the woods. It was possible that the person who’d killed Claudia and The Follower were one in the same, but somehow, I didn’t think so.

I did the only thing I could do. I peeked my head out of the front door to make sure no one was waiting for me outside, and I headed back out into the forest.

I had two options. Continue on in the direction Claudia had been leading me, or attempt to find the thin trail in the fog Claudia had somehow managed to lose and head back to the main trail. Upon inspecting, the trail seemed easier to follow heading in the direction we had originally been moving. So onward it was.

The further on I went, the denser the fog. The foul smell from earlier slid down my nostrils and made my lungs ache. Through the corner of my eyes, The Follower inched closer. I kept my eyes forward to keep my sanity.

I stopped briefly to catch my breath. I’d been nearly running for close to ten minutes. I was terrified to stop, but the built-up lactic acid in my muscles begged to differ.

As my breath quieted, I heard running water. The river! Just like Claudia had said! I had to be close to the original trails! I pulled out my map to try to make a guess at where I could possibly be and how to get the hell out of here.

While I couldn’t be sure as to my exact location, I could see where the main trail met up with the river. I could be anywhere from a few feet to a few miles. The fog was so dense I couldn't see more than two feet from my nose. My hope was by the time I was near the trail, I’d be able to see it. I inched forward slowly, carefully.

Up ahead, something dark moved from higher up in a tree and floated down on the breeze. It fluttered like a downed large bird, but as it neared I realized in horror what was coming. I tried to scurry back, tripping over a rock on the trail. My tail bone screamed painfully as it hit the hard ground below. I scooted frantically away but made no real progress. The Follower continued its descent.

It hovered just above the ground, and although its face was shrouded in the same black fabric, I could feel it’s eyes bore through me. My body shook as it looked down at me, waiting. Slowly, it extended its arm towards me. The sleeve pushed back to reveal what I believed to be a woman’s hand. The nails were long and the skin carried the grayish hue of rot. As the hand uncurled itself, I struggled to tear my eyes from the golden sigils that started just under the fingernail and continued up past the sleeve.

It took me a moment to realize it was offering to help me up. I started to extend my own hand before hearing Claudia whisper, “She’ll help you up, but she’ll take you. We can stay in the forest together. We can be friends.” Any part of me that questioned my sanity was squashed by Claudia’s hot breath leaving condensation against my neck. “I’ve been so lonely out here, Avery. I’ve been so lonely for so long.”

Suddenly, I recognized the smell carried by the fog. Once when I was young, a mouse died behind one of the walls in the kitchen. In the summer, the smell became unbearable. My mother begged my father to cut the wall open. To pull the mouse from its poorly sealed coffin. But my father refused. We ate dinner outside to avoid killing our appetites. Eventually the smell faded and things returned to normal. But I’d never completely forgotten the smell.

The fog and my childhood home both smelled of death.

The Follower was still waiting with her hand extended for my response.

I crawled backwards slowly. The Follower remained still. I sprang to my feet and ran back the way I had come. I tripped twice, skinning my knee, but I didn’t stop. After a few minutes, I ventured a look behind me. The Follower wasn’t there.

I slowed to a walk, desperately looking for the trail. The fog was slowly pulling back. After nearly ten minutes of panic, I’d found the small trail Claudia and I had started on.

To both my relief and dismay, I didn’t pass the cabin again. Just as panic threatened to take hold the fog cleared enough to reveal the main trail just up ahead.

I broke out in a sprint.

As soon as I hit the trail entrance, I called the police. I knew if I told them the whole story about Claudia, they’d never believe me. But there was plenty I could tell.

A park ranger who introduced himself as Park Ranger Thompson arrived first. I told him I’d begun on the main trail, but noticed a small side trail and decided to take it. He frowned at this but continued to listen. I told him about how at some point I’d lost the trail but continued on. I told him about the rundown cabin and the body chained to the bed. He stopped me there.

“You’re telling me that in those woods there’s a cabin with a girl’s body chained up and you didn’t call the police then?”

“I left my phone in the car. I came out here for a break from the real world, not to bring it with me.”

“Well ma’am, we haven’t had a hiker go missing here in at least three years and we’ve been all through here searching. I’ve never come across a rundown cabin,” he responded flatly.

“She had dirty blond hair,” I had started to cry. For everything that had happened and the loss of someone who could have been a friend, “She was wearing a white undershirt and a red and white plaid flannel. We had matching boots,” my voice trailed off. My throat burned with the effort of containing sobs. The park ranger tensed.

“If this is some kind of joke, you need to leave right now,” anger wavered his voice.

“Why would I joke about this? What’s wrong with you? She needs help!” I felt insane. How could he understand? None of this made sense.

“My daughter went missing in these woods three years ago. She was last seen in a white undershirt, red and white plaid flannel, and brown hiking boots,” his voice cracked, “You said she’s in a cabin?”

“She -” I stopped myself quickly, realizing my mistake, “I heard park rangers stay in them during tourist season. But no one had lived there for a long time. There’s no way.”

I tried my best to lead Ranger Thompson back to the side trail, back to his daughter. But without Claudia leading me, I couldn’t find the trail. I swore it was there, and the hope for closure that flashed behind his eyes let me know he believed me.

“I’ll pull the map for the original trails. Maybe one of them will have the cabin on it. If you want to leave your number, I’ll call you if I find it.”

On the drive home, I had too much time to think.

I don’t think Claudia knew she was dead when she first walked up beside me. I don’t think she knew she was leading me to her body either. I think she herself was pulled by whatever it is that allows our souls to call a body a home. And I don’t think The Follower was a monster anymore. I think she was Death, offering me an easier way out.

I wonder if Ranger Thompson will call me after he finds Claudia or if The Follower will be waiting for him in the cabin, offering him an easier way.

I wonder if Claudia will whisper in his ear about how lonely she’s been. I wonder if her hot breath against the back of his neck will convince him to stay.

Regardless, I’m staying off the trails.


About the Creator


A horror and Psychology entusiast

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