The Woods

Kenneth Norwood

“This way! Hurry the fuck up”

The darkness of the forest stretched into infinite space. I could hear James’s voice but couldn’t pinpoint his location.

“Dean! We have to hurry and get to the cabin. Run!”

Twig bones snapped against my bare feet and hidden cold pockets of mug pulled me back with every step I took. We were warned about the beast but me and James gave it no power or relevance; we both are still young and brazen. We knew the risk of wandering away from the village but our impudent nature had taken over.

“James! Stop, I can’t find you! It’s too dark.”

The fear of losing James in this void took me to a place of panic one rarely feels. The trees began to ache as the wind pushed and pulled them; wood creaked and leaves chattered amongst one another.

“James!” I screamed over their voices but there was no response.

“James! Where are you? James please! Answerer me!”

Only the night called back. I stopped to breathe. It was almost impossible for me to run in this frigid climate; I wasn’t strong like him. Did he leave me behind? I was his weakness yet again. I slowed him down. I deserved it. Falling to my knees, zesty tears began to irritate my eyes as I wept in the night.

“Dean! We can make it, just get up! The cabin!”

The fear of abandonment left me as soon as his sapphire blue eyes broke through the shadows. He didn’t abandon me. He never would. He never will. He put his hand out and I reached backed.

“Get up! Can’t you see the lights? We’re almost there…”

 Brief flickers of salvations that almost went unnoticed; I was so overcome with fear that the lights in the distant didn’t register.

The blunt skin of James’s palm clasps my own. Warm, sticky, and slippery liquid drips from it onto my thigh. His hand was doused with a substance; enough to make me almost lose grip in the midst of his leveraging.

“Your, bleeding?”

James didn’t respond. He just rips his hand away in protest of my inquiry.

“This way. Now!”

He was calm, cool, collected, and calculated, just as our teachings had taught us to be in situations like this.

The trees begin to gossip once more. It was getting closer.

“The cabin– NOW!”, James demanded in a low tone.

We both ran to the obscure lights which then began to define our refuge. The deteriorated grey wood was blemished with stains of green and white discoloration. Looking at it from the front, it consisted of a thin, tall, narrow door for its mouth with two small square hollow windows for eyes. Its foundation was caving in the middle, leaving a malice grin on the face of the structure. James knew of the cabin through our family records and of its utilization as a safe house in times of need. The flimsy door was easy to break through due to the decay of its hinges. It seemed darker inside of the cabin than outside–James led the way. He entered into the narrow jaws and was engulfed by shadows. Abruptly, the stick of a match was heard and a small taste of illumination brought clarity to the contents of the house.

“We need to barricade the door. It will not hold on it’s own. I’ll get the table. See if you can find more objects. I don’t have many dry matches left. Be quick Dean!”

James slaps the matches into my hand.

“I’ll try…”

“You will.” James corrected.

Now that we both are in the house, James shuts the door and then begins to drag the small table to it. I strike the match against my belt, but it snaps and falls into the abyss of darkness.

“No.”

“Dean!”

“I’m. I can’t. I’m sorry.”

“Breathe, stop, and let the fear flow.”

Our teachings mantra; James was reminding me of it.  The jitter of my hands was due to a mixture of fear and cold. I closed my eyes but my sense of sight did not change.

“Breathe, stop. And let the fear flow,” I told myself.

My turbulent hands began to come to a still. I grasped the match stick, tilted its head against my leather belt, and gradually led it into a vigorous strike; sparking the light we desperately needed to see.

Flimsy wooden peg chairs and an assortment of discard items litter the floor with no stopping power for the oncoming barrage. We had the coffee table, but that wasn’t enough. Scanning the space before the flame dissipated, I looked to James with the sobering reality in his eyes. His panting and wheezing was now more identifiable in the closed space. The wound in his top shoulder crusted over with frozen blood, but drops spouts out onto the floor and tip-tapped on top of the dusty frozen wood–he wouldn’t last.

As he falls to his knees I grab him before the impact can reopen the womb.

“Block…The. Block the doo…” he struggled to keep me focused on our survival but I couldn’t let him go. I couldn’t watch him slip away while I still had the strength to carry him. I lay him lightly on the floor and pivoted the light coffee table against the door knob. Gently, I moved James to the back wall adjacent to the front door. Ripping of my tweed coat off, I try my best to wrap it around his wound to slow any bleeding that may have been prompted due to me moving him. As he trembled, I hold him to block the air from biting at our near bare bodies.

“It’s time for me…”

He knew what I tried so hard to ignore.

“Please just be still. I know. Just be still.”

“Thank you. For. Holding me.”

The wind shook the cabin even more than before. The lights, outside in front of the cabin, began to flicker. It knew we were inside.

“Please, just let me go…” James begged.

The front door began to shake violently and splinters of dead wood began to dance in the air with each attempt to break it down by the beast. Moonlight had broken through the blanket of clouds and began to illuminate the inside. I knew we wouldn’t make it. I knew that we couldn’t out run this beast anymore–I had to face it.

The brass hinges pop, and fly in different directions. Air is suddenly sucked out of the space but then plugged by the size of the beast blocking the only opening. Sound ceases and my chest becomes heavier.

“Close your eyes James. I’ll protect you.” I lied.

I turned to James, expecting on last glimpse, but he was already gone. The light was stripped from his eyes, they had become dull and opaque. The dilapidated wood began to whine and beckon my attention to the monster that was chasing us through the night. Crimson beads for eyes shimmering in the darkness, its fingers–like a long daddy’s legs–crawl into the room.

Slow, distant, pants, are heard from outside of the door. Its breath, so powerful, that with every exhale dust is blown from the floor into the atmosphere. It’s skin, so devoid of life or pigmentation, that its sight almost looks like a mistake of the optical lens. The nails of its hand breach the old wooden floor creating subtle vibrations I can feel through my naked toes. It pulls the rest of its body into the space. The other arm stabs the wall against our backs with a striking blow shaking the flimsy wall, but still, I refuse to be moved.

James was gone, but I couldn’t let this monster desecrate his body further. I had been weak, for so long, and James had been so strong for me. I couldn’t let it hurt him anymore. I couldn’t let it take him away. I push James’s limp body behind me and managed to fight through the sharp air to stand up.

The crimson beads lock on to my motion and react without hesitation. Its entire body snaps into the room making the small cabin almost flip on its backside. Its hair was thin and stringy like a witch. Its jaw was narrow and salient like a crane’s beak with millions of little teeth. As it crawled on all fours in the form of an insect, it manages to pull the long arm back from the wall and stands up straight. With a height far surpassing that of any living creature, its head reached the shadows of the roof and it stood poised and ready to take the lives of both of us. In the darkness, the ruby eyes still lay fixated on me as I stand to protect the body of my fallen comrade.

As we glare, like predators over meat, into one another eyes. It knew that I was challenging its will and I knew that I would not be moved in this moment. I had strength now, strength that I have always possessed but never knew. It began to reach out towards us.

“No!”, It hesitated as the vibrations of my taunt, but continued to reach.

“Stay back!”, I commanded once more.

With no weapon but my own body I threw my arms into the air in an attempt to create a barrier between the beast and James’s body. Closing my eyes, preparing for the blades of its claws to rip my body apart, I began to feel the tips of its nails dance on my skin. My fragile and already fatigued body could feel the edges lightly pricking my arms. I feel the warm fluid of my own blood trickling down, but then, something begins to cradle cheek–it was warm; so warm that heat began to travel from my shoulders to all the tips of my toes.

 It was caressing my face, like a mother’s embrace of a child. I opened my eyes with disbelief, how could this be the same monster? It rubbed me with reassurance and grace, a feeling that I had never felt outside of James. I was afraid, but now I was calm. As it’s arm retracts it began to point at James’s body, and I knew that it wanted me to understand. No words were spoken, no sounds were made, but I knew that it wanted me to know that no harm would come to him after this. With salty tears and weak knees, I lowered my arms and turned to James’s corpse. There was nothing more to protect. He was cold and stiff. I knelt down and pressed my hand against his face. Even though I had fought the truth, I knew this reality. I had to say goodbye. I turned to the monstrous creature and began to move from its path.

The beast, that both me and James had been running from, gently scooped James up as if he were made of noble glass. It began to cradle him and I could see the warmth I had felt begin to bring glow to James’s body once more. The creature looked at me once more with its crimson eyes and turn to the door. I could hear its weighted steps against the cabin floor moving onto the lush wet grass outside.

One would have believed–if they were a fly on the wall in this moment–that I had given up the fight, but that was not the case. I found courage to face this monster for a fallen comrade, but found even more to let that comrade find peace and warmth in the embrace of the unknown. I could only hope that others would do the same for me when my time comes.

The Woods