by R.T. Allenson
I am still deeply troubled by what happened to Denny and his gang. How can something as simple as a camping trip change a man and cause him to murder his friends in cold blood? They say he’s crazy but the way he speaks is calm, and there is honesty in his words.
I visit him daily, as any good friend and neighbor should. It’s a one-hour drive from our suburbs to the county jail, but I’m the only one willing to spare him the time and company he seems to crave. He’s got no family anymore, not after what happened, and I’m his only remaining friend that he hasn’t killed yet.
The guards know who I am. It’s my fifth time visiting Denny, and they shake their head and give me a disappointed, almost sad look. He doesn’t have that much to live, so I’m making the most of what little time I have. I need to tell him something important.
He sits where he’s always sat. At the far right corner of his cell, his back facing away from a broken mirror. He’s humming a strange tune to himself, sort of like a lullaby, but something I’ve never heard of before. He turns to me and flashes a wide smile, and it’s only then that I notice that his hands are cuffed.
“Why did they put handcuffs on you?” I ask him. He shakes his head and throws his neck back, and I see the deep impression of the rope he must have used in trying to hang himself.
“Why did you try to kill yourself?” I ask him, trying hard not to raise my voice. He shakes his head again and smiles. “I want this nightmare to end. It has to. The death sentence is taking too long.”
I move a chair near his cell and sigh as loudly as I can. He laughs at this, and I glare at him. “It’s no laughing matter, Denny.”
He sits next to me and tries pushing his head through the bars. “But I want to die. It’s the only way to end this nightmare.”
“You made this nightmare.” I retort. “And you know, you still refuse to tell the whole story. Even to me.”
He takes a moment and looks at me strangely. He’s fidgety and his eyes seem to dart unnaturally as he scans my entire being. “If I tell you, would you believe me?”
“I’m the only one who believes you, Denny. But it’s hard to process your story if you keep insisting that you ‘had to kill them’, your friends.”
“But it’s true, I had to kill them. It was the only way –”
“Now, you keep telling people that and they’ll really believe you’re crazy, or worse, a psychopath.”
He looks at me as if to speak, but he only stares at me seemingly in disbelief. I shake my head and apologize under my breath, and he laughs.
“I’ll tell you everything, so long as you don’t cut me off again.”
“I won’t.” I smile at him and he beams back. It’s still strange to see him so happy despite his current situation. We’ve never been that close, but I do know he’s a cheerful person. It only makes his situation stranger and that, perhaps, is the underlying reason I go to great lengths just to visit him.
He leans back on the side of the wall, and pauses for a bit, staring at his palms intently. “I’ll tell you everything. You’re the only one who’ll believe me.”
He opens his mouth and speaks.
Me and the gang planned a camping trip as a farewell celebration for Alyssa, who was supposed to move away to Turkey this week. We’ve been planning the outing for a long time and decided to brave the woods a few miles from the suburbs. You know those woods right? The one our parents always warned us about. The one they told us that always seemed ‘wrong’?
Anyways, it was a Wednesday and we arrived there at around 5:30 pm. Alyssa brought her asshole of a boyfriend Matt. Sandra was supposed to come, but she had work then so I decided to bring Carl along instead. You should have seen it though; the sun was about to set, and the woods looked like a painting on an orange background. The guys were thrilled.
We trekked through the woods for almost half an hour until we decided to make camp near the edge of a brook. I decided to look for firewood while they set up their tents and as I made my way through the deeper parts of the forest, I started feeling uneasy. It felt someone watching me through the trees.
I didn’t know how long I spent wandering the woods, but it only felt like minutes to me. When I got back to the camp, however, Alyssa and Carl were gone and the tents were all broken down. Matt was lying on the middle of the ground, dead and missing his left arm and leg. It looked like something tore them off.
I followed their tracks opposite of where I thought I got lost and, armed with my hunting knife, I went deeper into the woods. I didn’t know what time it was anymore and the sky was pitch black. There was no sound in the woods save for the subtle padding of my feet and the occasional sound of crunching leaves when I stepped on one by accident. I was afraid to make any sound that may draw whatever killed Matt and chased the others away.
I tell you now, those woods were something else. It was almost unreal, and unearthly place that was so eerily quiet. There were no stars, not even a silhouette of the moon and the wind was still. I think I spent more than two hours roaming the woods, and I could never shake the feeling that I was being watched. Somebody or something was out there, and I was afraid it would get me. Eventually, I made my way into a small clearing that was littered with stumps and overturned trees.
And then I saw it.
At first I thought it was a shadow cast by the trees, but then it started moving. It was a barely human thing that had this sickly, rugose skin that was lined with small bumps and scales. Its arms were gaunt and swung on its sides like a pendulum and I saw that its hands, which seemed almost human, ended not in nails or claws, but in slimy looking feelers that were almost a foot long and were firmly grasping Alyssa and Carl’s bodies.
The air around me was begin to grow putrid from the stench of their rotting corpses and several times I had to cover my mouth to lessen my coughing for fear that the thing lumbering about in the clearing would hear me. I watched that frightful abomination tear through their bodies with its sinuous appendages, placing bits of their flesh in its radial mouth. The creature was feasting on their bodies as if it was eating a snack, carefully tearing out flesh and organs it deemed appetizing.
That horrible scene, which seemed to go on for hours, did not disturb me at all. No, what pushed me over the edge and made me run for my life was when it turned towards me, and as if surprised, morphed its featureless face into Matt’s.
I woke up the next day in a tent at the campsite. It was already dawn. Carl, Alyssa, and even Matt were there, talking about how much of a good night sleep I had last night. I tried my best to convince myself that what I saw or experienced last night was a dream, but something was off. There was something eerily different with the way they moved or how it was almost difficult for them to pronounce certain words.
Their eyes too were different. No longer green, blue, or brown, they all bore the sickening color of death.
We went home that day and parted ways. I killed Carl first, strangling him in his sleep. I went to Alyssa’s house the following night and put a bullet through her head. I remember her eyes rolling back as the bullet pierced her brain, and an inhuman growl escaping from her disfigured mouth.
Matt was the last one I took care of. We struggled for a few minutes as I tried to jab my knife through his skull. I remember his face, awash with hate, rapidly shifting from human to that of the thing from the woods.
I gave myself up to the police the next day and told them what I did. But I never told them about what I saw in the woods, or what my friends became for they’ll never believe a word. I know what I did and I know what I saw. That’s enough for me.
He turns away from me. I’m still at a loss for words, but I can’t help thinking that he must have made everything up in his mind.
“But you know what? It isn’t over until I’m dead.”
“Why is that?” I managed to ask. My voice is low, almost afraid, though I don’t know why.
“Because of that.” he says, pointing to the shattered remains of the mirror on the wall. “I see the thing looking back at me. It’s inside of me, and I don’t know how long I can keep it away.”
“What do you mea –”
“It’s inside of me!” he screams, and it’s only then that I noticed that his left eye was now a sickening yellow which, just like he described, was like the color of death. “I killed it but it’s inside me now, festering like a disease. I want to die to get rid of it, and end this nightmare.”
“Please help me.” he says pleading. “You have to kill me.”
“I can’t. And they’re going to kill you anyway.”
“How do you know?”
“I overheard them one time.”
“I don’t know. Pretty soon, I think.”
“That’s good. It’ll all be over soon then.”
He looks at me and flashes a smile. It’s tired but there’s a semblance of satisfaction from the way he grins. “I think you ought to leave me now. Thanks for hearing my story and delivering your message.”
“Well, that’s now what I was going to tell you.”
“What do you mean?”
“Your death. It’s not my message.”
“Then what is it then?”
I move towards the bars of his cell. Wordlessly, I motion to him and he moves closer. I plant a soft kiss on his lips which turns passionate in a matter of seconds.
“Since when?” he asks, pulling away from me.
I look at him and smile. “Always.”
He laughs and turns away from me, moving towards his bed. “You should go now.”
I walk away without saying goodbye and my heart feels like it’s about to fall apart. I leave the prison and get on my car, and that’s when the tears start falling. Five days. That’s all he has left. I should stop visiting him. There’s no point. It’s only going to make things worse for both of us.
It will be a long, solemn drive home. I turn the key to start the car, making sure everything’s in place. As I turn to adjust the mirrors, I see it reflecting from the glint in my eyes, which are now yellow like the color of death.
I see it now, as he described it to me. That thing from the woods that he swore he saw that night, reflected in my eyes, and whose presence is now festering within me like a disease.