She told herself the dark shape beyond the line of trees was just a shadow and the thumping in her ears was merely the pounding of her heart. She turned slowly in a circle. It was so dark. She shouldn’t have left her brother and his friends- shouldn’t have wandered off alone, but she had been so angry. So fed up with their taunting and their insufferable gossip.

            Thump. Hillary whipped her head around. Silly. It was probably just a pinecone falling from a nearby tree. But her palms were sweating now, and her pulse quickened. It had sounded like something much larger than a pinecone, like a sack of flour falling to the floor of the kitchen… or a body falling from a tree. She was overreacting. She wasn’t a coward. But even so, she found herself calling out into the night.

            “James.” Her voice was soft at first, as if she didn’t want to wake whatever was lurking in the shadows. She swiveled in a circle. No reply.

She should have figured as much. Her brother was probably enjoying the thought of her lost and scared. Jerk. When she found him, there would be hell to pay. But then…

“Hillary!” Her blood ran cold. It was not the call of a brother looking for his sister, nor was it a shrill scream of terror. It was James's voice. Yes. But the sound of it was feral, almost unrecognizable- a snarl erupting from the mouth of a beast.

Hillary didn’t dare call back into the shadows. It was no longer the darkness she feared. It was her brother. 

She knew better. This was her brother, and though he could be a pain at times, he would never hurt her... But a voice in the back of her mind told her to run, and she did.

Hillarie’s legs burned. She didn’t know where she was running. Didn’t know where she could go, but with every step she put more and more distance between herself, and whatever evil had consumed James.

She didn’t pause when a thorny plant scraped her arm, didn’t pay attention to how far she had ran or how much her lungs ached. Something in the back of her mind told her this bush was familiar, and she swore she had seen that tree before, but by the time she realized she had come upon the campsite, she was already standing upon the torn tarp of the blue tent.

It looked like it had been torn apart by a mountain lion or a bear, but there were no predators in these woods, nothing that would do this. The food remained untouched, the leftover hotdogs from dinner sat neatly on their plate.

The crunching of leaves behind her sent chills flying through her body. She turned slowly, and was relieved as she beheld Marty, one of James’s friends. Her relief faded as she took in his pale face and gaunt features.

Hillary had a crush on Marty for as long as she could remember. He was usually so tanned and handsome- the only one of James’s friends she could tolerate, much nicer than Fred or Carter, but the boy she saw before her now was not the boy she knew.

“Hillary.” He breathed. His eyes were pleading with her, begging her to save him from whatever watched them from the cover of the nearby trees. Her eyes dropped to his shaking hands. She could feel her brother’s eyes on her now from somewhere in the darkness, hungry and waiting. But what was he waiting for? Hysteria was upon her now, grasping her nerves and squeezing until she threw her hands up and bellowed into the darkness.

“What do you want!” Her scream vanished into the distance, reaching no ones ears. No one who could help, at least.

James stepped out of the darkness now, blood splattered on his face and around his lips. No, this was definitely not the brother she knew. Hilary took a step back, then another. Marty stood frozen before her, staring at James as he stalked forward.

“Marty.” She whispered, the word merely a ghost on her lips. 

She forced her eyes closed, not wanting to see what would happen next, and tried to tell herself it wasn’t the ripping of flesh that she heard next, tried to tell herself she was just imagining the warm liquid that splattered her face. Tried to convince herself it didn’t smell of iron. No. She must be asleep. Must be dreaming…but her trembling fingers reached up to her face as she opened her eyes. Blood as dark as oil glistened on her hand and... Marty. James. They’re gone.

Alone and scared, she didn’t want to move. Didn’t think she could, but still she found herself walking. She stumbled past the nearest line of trees, where she had been laughing with her brother just a day before.

Hillary bit back a scream as she tripped over a branch. No. Not a branch…an arm. Carters arm. His hand lay limp on the ground, and his torn face was frozen in a scream. Fred lay next to him with the same look of terror eternally plastered on his face. They hadn’t been her favorite people in the world, no, but the nearly unrecognizable bodies before her had suffered, and it wasn’t a fate she would have wished on anyone.

“Hillary.” James voice teased. It was close now. Evil and calculating. “Come on, I just want to play.”

She couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t speak. Hillary forced herself to her feet, and ran. She flew through the trees faster than she ever dreamed possible. Ran. Ran. Ran until there was nowhere else to run, until she came upon a dark lake…and a cabin. The rangers cabin! She threw open the door, much to the rangers dismay.

She tried to explain what had happened. The ranger might not have believed her- might have thought it was some sort of prank- had he not seen the terror written all over Hillarie’s face and the blood splattered on her cheeks.

The bodies weren’t found until the morning. Hillary sat on the back of the ambulance with tears streaming steadily down her face. This can’t be real. But it was. The blood was real, the tears were real, and the bodies were most definitely real.

Where was James? Would they find him? Did she want them to?

Before long she saw him, led by the search team. He looked dazed and confused. Hillary eyed him warily. There was no trace of the animal she had seen last night, no indication that anything had been wrong at all.

He sat next to her, breathing heavily as the paramedic bandaged his arm. “What…What happened?” He asked heavily.

She was about to answer, about to tell him everything. About to feel relief that he was back to normal. But as the paramedic walked off, James looked at her again…and smiled.


JoAnnaQuist   JoAnnaQuist wrote
on 3/20/2014 12:26:55 PM
Wow Scary! Would like to read the rest of the story. I'm hooked.

Short Story
writing OstensiblyAwsome
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Rating: 10.0/10

She told herself the dark shape beyond the line of trees was just a shadow and the thumping in her ears was merely the pounding of her heart. She turned slowly in a circle. It was so dark. She shouldn’t have left her brother and his friends- shouldn’t have wandered off alone, but she had been so angry.
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