You never did like that corner of your room. It was just out of reach from the faint and flickering television—riddled with shadows. I remember your nightly texts, begging me to come over and stay with you until dawn. You said the darkness was too much to bear. That what was waiting within it was watching.
I assured you so many times over the months that you were safe. That the shadows were nothing more than the trick of light. The nights I stayed with you, I would keep a close eye on that corner, on the shadows stirring. And that was all they simply were. Shadows. Yet, no matter how often I tried to comfort you, you told me otherwise.
“Can’t you see him?”
You told me in the early hours of morning, you would awake to an added weight on your bed. A man, no, creature, smothered in shadow. You’d say he would just sit there and stare through empty voids, examining each one of your movements. Your breaths. But you never saw his face. All you could make out was the heavy stench of decay. Death. Night after night, I would hear the same story. But, yet, each time I stayed with you, the entity never appeared.
“You’re tired,” I’d say. “Over exhaustion can cause the mind to conjure up shapes in the darkness.”
“They’re not shapes,” you’d interject. “They’re real. He’s real. And he’s coming for me.”
It wasn’t until late November that my suspicion finally grew. You were working the closing shift at your part-time job, bringing you home close to 1am. It certainly wasn’t the best paying and the late night hours weren’t always reasonable, but you insisted on keeping it. Just until the following spring. You’d chosen to defer your first year of college unlike many of the others who graduated with us just a few months prior to help pay the bills if needed. Your recently separated single father was always working. And any extra help with your younger siblings was enough to ease his mind. So, like you, I deferred, as well; picking up odd jobs during the day until the spring.
I waited in your room, in silence, scrolling through social media on my phone, until you’d come home. When I heard the knock on your bedroom door, just a little past 12, I assumed you’d finished up early. But, it wasn’t you. It was your younger brother, Brad—only ten.
“Can I stay in here with you?”
Your brother always looked up to me, so I assumed it was more or less to tell me about his school day or show me videos he was making on his mobile app. But, something about him seemed off. I could sense the fear in his eyes and the quiet way he spoke. He was never one to keep his voice down—not even after family had fallen asleep. It was regular he’d get a scolding: “Dad’s in bed, keep it down!” But tonight… He just wasn’t himself.
So, of course, I stepped aside and let him in.
When I asked him if everything was okay, he shook his head, gaze to the floor. My initial thought was either a bad dream keeping him awake, bullying in school, or the late night loneliness of a child missing his estranged mother. But, what he uttered was nothing that I was expecting.
“The Woodsman was visiting again…”
At first, I suspected you had been telling these stories to Brad, in hopes to keep him awake at night. You never called it “The Woodsman”, but from the description the child provided, I was certain it was the same old story. A dark, shadowed figure that lurked in the corner of the room, getting closer as the night went on. With every blink. Every fading ray of light.
“He comes every night and watches me… And that smell…”
It took me by surprise when you informed me you’d never spoken of the being with your brother. You said, you were too busy with work, or with me, and when you were home, he was in school. It was just more evidence, more proof that this thing was real.
But I’d yet to see it.
I tried thinking back to when you first began mentioning him. When we first started dating, you were so full of happiness and laughter; but now, you were quiet. Solemn. But, when was the last time I’d seen you smile? Genuine?
The only night I could think of was in autumn, late October. The night we decided to play that game.
It was the week before Halloween, and I had been spending nearly every day at your house. My schedule was light at work, so I took any earlier shifts that were offered to ensure I would be home with you most of the day. Home just in time to get the kids from school down the street. You came from a decently sized family: your younger brother and twin sisters, Sasha and Sarah, who were just entering their first year of high school. Sasha was much more refined, mature beyond her age. She was quiet, with a borderline Wednesday Addams look to her. Sarah, on the other hand, was far more childish. Bright, loud. Pastel and bubblegum. I often wondered how they could be sisters, let alone twins.
The girls would always be home first, about an hour before the elementary school let out, so most days, they would join us in picking up your little brother.
I remember how crisp the air had been that day. The leaves crunching under our feet as we made our way down the long side streets to the school. We held hands, our body heat keeping each other warm. From behind us, I remember hearing your sisters giggling. Talking in hushed tones. It wasn’t until after we picked Brad up that we heard what they were conspiring.
“Dad’s working late tonight,” Sasha said. “He said he won’t be home until at least midnight. We’re thinking, why don’t we do a little ghost hunting? You know, to kill the time?”
You barked back immediately at your sister. “You know Dad doesn’t want any of that in the house. He doesn’t even want us speaking about—”
“Dude, chill,” Sarah chimed in. “Dad’s not home until late, can’t you hear? He won’t even know. Plus, I know you’ve been dying to do it.”
She wasn’t wrong. You always did have a fascination with the paranormal. Things that couldn’t be explained. We’d spent a few times over lunch talking about it: old ghosts in mirrors, cryptids, shadow people. But, I didn’t think you would actively seek such entities.
“Jade’s staying over tonight, too. Come on, it’ll be great.” Sasha pushed.
You were quiet for a moment longer. I could see it in your eyes that you were leery, but, with a sigh, you agreed.
“Alright, fine. But we cut it at 11, understand? We don’t need Dad walking in to any of this.”
Sasha and Sarah agreed.
We waited until dark before we began the little game your sisters were so adamant on playing. As soon as the sun sunk behind the hills and the shadows swept across your living room, we gathered.
“The only light we can use is candlelight,” Sasha said. “Candles can determine if the spirit is close, and can be used for asking questions.”
Your sisters’ friend Jade was the one who supplied the candles. Burned down old things that were likely used in games similar to these over the years. She removed her lighter from her back pocket and lit each of the wicks—four candles now flickering in the darkness of the room.
“They represent North, South, East, and West,” Jade said. “Or, the elements. Something like that.”
“The next thing we need to remember is to watch the time. Both for Dad, and, well, so we don’t lose track. Sometimes, when you talk to spirits, you end up trapped in time. They mess with you. Someone has to keep an eye on the clock,” Sasha said.
Sarah agreed to be the time keeper.
“We also need to take notes. Anything that the spirits say to us, we need to write down. We can decode it later. They don’t always speak in straight sentences… sometimes just broken words. You gotta piece them back together,” Sasha continued. “Like a puzzle! Jade will record, as well. We need the audio, just in case there’s more than just what’s coming through the app…”
“App?” you asked.
Right away, I knew this was nonsense. No one was actually able to speak to the dead through some mobile app. It was most likely something you’d pay $1.99 for and it would generate words when you talked to it—like Siri, only less helpful. But, your sisters claimed otherwise. They were convinced that this app was real. Legit.
“And lastly, no one can speak unless you’re the one asking the questions. No whispers, no laughs, nothing. If we’re going to pick up what the spirits are trying to say… we have to be silent.” Sasha opened her notepad, ready to begin taking notes. “Any questions?”
I, of course, had none. To me, this was silly. The kids were going to scare themselves senseless over random words and phrases their mobile app decided to pull, and actually believe it was true. So, I just sat back, arms folded, and watched as the others took their seats beside me, forming a circle.
“Do… do you really think we’re going to talk to a ghost?” Brad asked, huddled up beside me.
“It’s just a game,” I told him. “You’re going to be okay. There’s no real ghosts.”
Once we all were situated, Sasha silenced us, and opened her app.
“Hello?” Sarah wanted to initiate the conversation. “Are there any spirits here that we’re connecting with?”
The app was silent for a few moments, but then, the words HELLO, BROTHER appeared across Sasha’s screen. From the corner of my eyes, I thought I saw the candles flicker, as if brushed by the wind, but I kept my focus on your sisters.
“Hello brother?” Sasha asked, writing it down. “Whose brother?”
From here, the app began generating random words: ROSE, FALL, SKIN, SNOW.
I sat throughout the game, uninterested, watching as you tried to comfort Brad, who was believing this I think more than your sisters had been. I could tell with each word the phone generated, he was getting more and more anxious. Like everything had been targeted at him personally.
“Hold on, there are some more things coming through…” Sasha held the phone out so we could read it for ourselves.
“Beware… dear?” Sasha repeated. “Dear, who? And… beware what?”
Sarah glanced around between us. “Is… that day important to any of you?”
None of us spoke. We just looked amongst ourselves, waiting for an answer. But, of course, none of us could give one. Again, Sasha questioned the app.
The candles all went out. I’d be lying if I didn’t also emit a scream when it happened, but it was lost in that of your sisters, Jade, and Brad. And, of course, you—who turned to laughing as you flicked the light switch on. Of course, at that moment, the front door opened and your father entered, looking exhausted and annoyed after a long day’s work.
“What is going on in here?” was all he could ask, eying the candles and the terrified look on Brad’s face.
“We were just telling scary stories, Dad, chill,” Sasha said.
I could tell he didn’t like that answer. And so, he ushered everyone to bed.
Brad turned in for the night immediately, in his room down the hall. The rest of us gathered in Sarah and Sasha’s room, reviewing what was written in the notebook and the playback Jade recorded of our session. Sasha laid the notebook out for all of us to see, recounting all the words that the app pulled for her.
HELLO, BROTHER, ROSE, FALL, SKIN, SNOW, BEWARE, DEAR, JANUARY, 24, FATHER…
“Well, when we said hello, the first thing it came back with was ‘Hello, Brother’,” Jade said. “So, obviously, it had to be talking to either you or Brad.”
She motioned towards me. I did have a brother—five years younger than me—but he was at home, most likely sound asleep by now. There were no ghost siblings that I had. Nor did you or your family. Again, I was convinced, it was just an app pulling words it thought we’d want to hear.
“Beware…,” Sasha read quietly. “That whole part just, it’s eerie. BEWARE, DEAR. JANUARY 24. But, beware of what?”
“Falling? Or snow?” you asked, looking at the words. “Or falling in snow?”
“I still think it was creepy how it knew your dad was coming home right before the candles went out,” Jade said. “That, I’d say, takes the cake tonight.”
I did agree that part was a little creepy, but again, it was most likely a coincidence. The kids had left the windows open—so it was likely the late night breeze blew the candles out, and it just happened to be when your dad was pulling into the driveway.
“What about the playback?” you asked. “Is there anything picking up on there?”
Jade hit the replay button, and for a while, we just sat and listened to Sasha and Sarah asking their questions to dead air. None of us spoke, and the app was text only. So, frankly, it was quite boring listening to.
But then, somewhere around the 11 minute mark, there was another sound. Like a low whisper.
“Whoa… what was that?” Sasha asked. “Go back. Was that Brad?”
Jade rewound the recording a few seconds. Brad? No… he had been seated right next to me the whole time. He was silent. Too scared to say a word. The only sound he’d made was a scream when the candles went out—but, we all were guilty of that.
Jade replayed the audio, and we all leaned in close and listened. There definitely was a voice in the background static, but what it was saying was indistinguishable. It would fade in and out throughout the rest of the recording, until just before the candles went out. Only then, were the words clear—deep, raspy.
“I smell the skins…”
Then, on the audio, we all screamed.
You were the first one to stand up. “Turn it off. Right now, Jade.”
I glanced over to you, feeling uneasy for what I know we all just heard, but certain that it was something Jade had messed with on her recording app to scare us. I tried to calm you, but that’s when I noticed that Sasha was panicking, as well.
“Did it really just say that? ‘I smell the skins’?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked, immediately thinking of some 80’s slasher film cannibal killer, making furniture out of the skin and flesh of his victims.
“Maybe it’s a skin walker,” you said, looking horrified. “I know you’re not supposed to speak of them, but…”
“Shh,” Sasha hushed you. “Don’t say that! Please!”
The kids didn’t sleep that night. To be honest, none of us did. I stayed awake, comforting you, while your siblings huddled together, keeping their eyes on the dark end of the driveway outside their window. When morning came, I assured you all it was just a game on the phone, that we’d all just worked ourselves up into believing we heard what we did, and that there was nothing actually there.
“It’s just an app.”
“But you heard it,” you insisted. “We all did. You can’t deny that. You heard what it said…”
I was silent for a moment. “What exactly is a skin walker?”
You were hesitant, I could clearly see that. But, you trusted me.
“Just… keep quiet about it, okay? We’re not supposed to speak of them.”
I knew that your family had ties to a reservation out west. You’d mentioned it a couple of times, about how your grandfather left during the war. He met your grandmother overseas, and, well, he gave up most of his tribe’s tradition. Passed only a few things down to the later generations: your mother, you, and your siblings. You’d mentioned a few times, on your talks of the unknown and uncanny, that he mainly focused on the stories. The unexplainable parts of the culture. And, now that I thought about it, I vaguely remembered skin walkers being one of those.
“When you talk about them, they become stronger. It’s like, your words and thoughts of them attract them. Bring them to you. Something like that,” you said. “I don’t remember everything. It’s kind of like a curse. One that just becomes unbearable. Humans turning into animals, cutting half their lives to be able to become one. And, if they can’t become an animal themselves, they take the body of animals nearby. They become monsters. Some of them, even to the point of cannibalism. Always looking for fresh flesh. My grandpa says, he always believed those they loved were the most at risk. The skin walkers would go to them first.”
I listened to how sincere your voice was. So quiet… but I could tell you were serious.
“You can tell they’re not a normal animal because they walk on two legs—like man. They have no tails. And, often times, you smell rotten flesh when they make themselves known. They’re like witches, sort of. Usually, they’re a sign of a bad omen… death. We don’t speak of them.”
“Why do you think that’s what it is?” I asked. “I mean, I didn’t smell anything rancid when we were playing the game. I didn’t see anything like that.”
You looked guilty. “I was talking to my grandpa a few weeks ago on the phone. Just… asking questions. About mom. About the stories. Culture. I don’t know how it came up, honestly. But we… we talked about them. Maybe he saw something in my future. Or, in a dream… I don’t know.”
I pulled you close and kissed your forehead. “It’s okay. I’m not going to let them hurt you.”
You didn’t speak of the skin walkers or the game for the next few days. We spent our time picking out Halloween costumes that we would wear when taking Brad around your neighborhood. And loading up on candy and pumpkin spice.
When Halloween night fell, we made our way through your quiet neighborhood, through the shadows and lack of streetlights. Sasha and Sarah used their phones for light, and we trailed behind with flashlights. We’d all agreed on the same theme—forest spirits. You were a stag, with handmade antlers rising from your amber curls, and your sisters were rabbits. I chose a fox, cat ears repainted to fit the design. And Brad—he was a bear. His zip-up onesie was the perfect fit for him—and comfortable, too.
We made our rounds until curfew, gathering up as much candy as we could for your brother. With so many houses on your street, his bucket was overflowing, and he promised each of us a handful when we got back home.
We stayed up for a while and watched scary movies, waiting for midnight. For the end of Halloween and the dawn of what would become Thanksgiving season—or, for others, Christmas. Brad turned in to bed before then, and your father fell asleep on the couch. Around 11:30pm, Sasha and Sarah ushered us to their bedroom, figuring it would quieter there—less of a chance to wake their father.
But, when we all sat on their floor, eating away at our piles of candy, I realized it wasn’t for just sitting around and talking.
Sasha pulled out a spirit board.
“There’s no way we’re playing that,” you insisted. “Sasha… those things are dangerous.”
“Look, if you follow the rules, there’s nothing to worry about. You played the other game with us last week, didn’t you?” she jeered back.
I interrupted. “We played that game and you all freaked yourselves out.”
Sasha waved me off. “Pssh. Yeah, and? That’s the point. Come on. Don’t be lame.”
Being honest, I’d never played with a spirit board before. Even though I really didn’t believe in this stuff, there was something about it that bothered me. Something that kept me away from ever wanting to try. But, when Sasha set it up, hands on the planchette, I felt the need to.
“Shouldn’t someone keep notes?” I asked.
“Sarah’s got it,” Sasha replied. “She’s too chicken to play.”
“Am not,” she said. “I’m just way better at taking notes than you.”
“Stop arguing,” you groaned, placing your hand on the planchette, as well before looking at me. “You… gonna play?”
I sighed and added my hand. “What are the rules?”
“Haven’t you seen any horror movies?” Sasha sassed. “It’s kind of like last time… only the person asking questions can speak. And… no one can play alone. You have to keep your hands on the planchette at all times. And, you have to keep track of the time. You can’t let it get away from you. Also… always remember to say ‘goodbye’. You have to remember that. And finally, if the board starts counting down to 0, you need to say ‘goodbye’. No more questions.”
That wasn’t so hard, I told myself. Basically, you’d sit there and let your fingertips move the piece on the board to different letters, building an answer that you want to hear. I knew right away that Sasha was going to be spelling things out—trying to make it look like we connected with a spirit.
“First thing’s first. We circle the board,” she said, moving her hands on the planchette so that we all joined in.
Three times around the board… One, two, three. We stopped in the middle. Sasha looked over at you, nodding.
“Are there any spirits here with us tonight that wish to talk?” you asked.
The planchette remained still. We kept our arms outstretched, watching for any sign of movement. But, there was none. After a few minutes, you repeated your question.
“Are there any spirits here with us tonight that wish to talk?”
Everything was still, but then, slowly, I felt the planchette under my fingertips move. Sasha gasped and looked over at you.
“Are you doing that?”
You hushed her. “No, of course not. It’s probably you.”
I glanced at them for only a second, before looking back at the board.
I felt Sasha pull her hands back for a moment, fingertips still touching the planchette.
“Holy shit!” she shrieked.
“Sasha. Language,” you said.
“Hello, brother?” Sarah asked, writing it down on her notepad. “Hello… brother… Isn’t that the same thing that the app said last time?”
“Sasha, I know it was you,” you said, glaring across the board at your sister.
“Honest to God, it’s not,” she replied.
I hushed everyone and looked back at the board.
“Are you a good spirit?” I asked, my voice low.
At first, I wasn’t going to ask any questions. But, for some reason, it kind of just came out of me. The planchette was still again for a moment, but then glided over to the image of the sun on the board.
“Sun?” I asked.
“Yeah, I think that means it’s good,” Sasha replied.
I looked at the word YES on the board, unsure why that wasn’t what was chosen, had that been the case. Perhaps the planchette had overshot, missing the word and landing on the sun. Nevertheless, I shrugged it off and kept playing. You and Sasha asked basic questions back and forth, getting simple YES or NO answers. I had to admit, it was entertaining. Yet, time seemed to tick away, lost to a good hour or so with the board. Around 1am, Sarah spoke up.
“Guys, I think you should ask maybe two or three more questions and call it good. It’s getting really late.”
I looked down at the letters and at the planchette, and asked, “Is there something that you want to tell us before we go?”
Again, the planchette was still. But then, slowly, once more, it made its way over to begin spelling out words.
“Beware,” I said.
From behind me, I could smell something foul. Almost like old, rotting meat. Or an old dog bone. I tried to ignore it, watching as the rest of the word spelled itself out.
“Dear. Beware, Dear,” Sarah said as she wrote.
“That’s… that’s the same thing we heard from the app,” you said quietly.
“I think we should say goodbye,” I said.
Our hands began to force the planchette down towards the words at the bottom of the board, but with a greater force, we felt it stop at the numbers.
It was slow at first, and we all watched with intent. Quiet. Until we realized what was happening.
It was faster now.
“Say goodbye!” Sasha yelled.
We used what strength we had to slide the planchette away from the numbers, down to the words “GOOD BYE” at the very bottom of the board.
9- GOOD BYE…
The planchette slid from beneath our fingertips and glided across the wooden floor, under Sarah’s bed. We all sat in silence, breathing heavy, before glancing down at the board.
“Sasha…,” you said after a few minutes. “Was that you spelling that stuff out? The stuff from the app?”
“No,” Sasha said quietly. “Swear on Dad’s life it wasn’t.”
There was a stillness around the house that night, though none of us could sleep. We all remained in your sisters’ room, board hidden away in the closet, camping out and watching the shadows on the walls. You had become silent. Staring into the nothingness with empty eyes. Sasha attempted to get your attention once or twice, but to no avail. We assumed it was from shock. From disbelief and fear of what had just happened. And how no one was taking credit for the words that were spelled out on the board.
Only when you rose to your feet and walked out of the room towards the kitchen did we begin to worry.
You stood before the opened fridge, letting the cold light from within flood you. The foul stench from the bedroom—of rotting meat—wafted through the air. Thin at first, but heavy around you.
Cold blood dripped from between your fingers, the sound of raw meat squelching. The thawing steak your father had placed in the fridge overnight was gripped tightly in your hands, torn apart in fatty strings by your teeth. The droplets of red meat blood clung to your lips as your vacant eyes continued to stare into the depths of the fridge. Teeth and nails still tearing away at the hunk of raw meat. Sasha gasped at the sight, yanking you away, and prying the bloodied mass from your fingers.
“What are you doing?” she yelped. “Are you… are you okay?”
You didn’t answer her. Your eyes still only remained empty, clouded over, and staring off into the blackness of your bedroom. Sarah watched from afar, cautiously, as Sasha did the only thing she knew.
I stayed in the living room that night, waiting as your sisters shrouded the bedroom in white sage. Your grandfather’s voice was muffled on the other end of the phone, but I could sense the fear in his tone. I closed my eyes at some point in the night, praying that whatever it was that befell you would vanish. That, hopefully, you were exhausted from lack of sleep and unaware of what you were doing. This couldn’t be a spirit, could it? I kept trying to tell myself that. But with the frantic measures your family was taking, I wasn’t so sure anymore.
At around 4am, I glanced back towards your sisters’ room, when the voices had finally died down. From the corner of my eye, however, leaning just around the doorframe of your room, I swore that I saw a dark shadow. Standing there. Watching. It was quick, so I was unable to make out any features of a definite shape. But I knew it was there.
I brushed it off as a trick of the mind. After all, I thought, I hadn’t slept in almost 24 hours.
It wasn’t long after that Sasha and Sarah emerged, heading over to the couch and smiling sadly at me. I hugged them both, reassuring them that everything was okay.
“How is she?” I asked after a moment.
“She’s going to be alright,” Sasha said. “Paw-Paw knows how to heal things like this.”
I looked in at you just to make sure all was well. And, sure enough, your sisters were right. You were wrapped in blankets on their bed, sound asleep. The room was thick in smudge smoke, but to me, it was better than the scent of rotten meat.
I turned to Sasha and motioned towards the closet. “Do you think it was…”
She nodded. “Whatever we connected with… something got through.”
Sasha and Sarah agreed that in the afternoon, they’d walk the board to the river and dispose of it.
For a short time, everything seemed to return to normal. You were your bright, bubbly self again. We spent afternoons over coffee and laughed about old memories and stories. I had to hand it to your grandfather… Whatever it was he had told your sisters to do seemed to work wonders. Even if, as I told myself, it was subconscious for you. And it stayed that way, but only for a few weeks.
As autumn faded into the dreary and cold winter, I watched as you became more distant. Silent. You spoke of having nightmares, of seeing that dark figure in your room. How Brad was beginning to see it, too. The Woodsman…
You told me the more you looked at it, you could see its basic shape. What looked like long hair covering its face, long and emphasized features. But still all silhouetted in the shadows of your room.
“Sometimes,” you’d say, “it almost looks like it has antlers. Kind of like my stag costume on Halloween.”
There was a brief amount of time again between the end of December and early January that you didn’t speak of the shadows. Of the man in your room. Of the Woodsman. Maybe it was the joy of the holidays—the lights of Christmas and New Year’s. Their golden glow illuminated even the darkest corners of the house, and for the first time since mid-November, I saw you smile.
But, it was around the end of January that I began to see your fear again. You weren’t eating. You weren’t sleeping. The dark circles under your eyes made that clear. And so, I decided to spend a weekend getaway up in the mountains for us at my parents’ old cabin. Just enjoying the snow and the peace and the quiet. Getting you away from that house. From your thoughts and your fears.
Your sisters told me that your lack of sleep had been making you distant. All aspects of you fading with the changing of the season. And your hunger—they said if nothing else, you still had an appetite. You’d been eating more than usual, likely to sustain some sort of energy.
I promised them both that the trip away would be good for you. That upon our return, hopefully, you would have gotten enough rest and been able to relax. Far away from the Woodsman and the fear of ghosts. Sasha handed me some dried sage the night before we left.
“Take this,” she said. “Just in case…”
The drive was long and the roads more difficult the more we climbed the mountain, but I saw that look in your eyes of content. That maybe you believed everything would be okay. That the nightmares would finally stop.
“How much longer do you think it’ll take?” you asked, once we were on the back roads away from towns—surrounded by endless white.
“Oh, probably another hour or so,” I replied. “Why?”
“I dunno,” you said quietly. “I’m just, starting to get hungry is all.”
I reached over and took your hand, giving it a squeeze. You smiled back at me, softly. Had I not looked over and at you, just long enough to see the fading sunset in your eyes, maybe I would have seen it.
From between the trees, out from the mounds of endless snow, a deer emerged—striking the front of my car. You shrieked at the impact, my breaks screeching, car sliding on the powdered snow beneath the tires, driving us down into a ravine of white.
Everything was so blurry. My head spun from shock, and I watched as you began to breathe heavily. Likely a panic attack coming on. I reached my trembling hand out to you again, resting it against your knee. But you pushed me away.
“I-I need fresh air…,” you stammered. “Everything’s just so… so dark. I just need air…”
You undid your seat belt and opened the door, squeezing out and heading towards the road. To where I knew the carcass of the deer lay. My breath was still shaky, as well, and I scrambled for my phone to call for help. I knew service would be blotchy up there, but if I managed to get ahold of someone for help, even if it took a while, it was better than nothing. After all, the sun was almost down over the ridges now—and soon, the shadows would start to cover the land.
I was able to connect with the police, reporting the accident and informing them that we were both okay, just shaken up, but that we were remaining with the car. They estimated about a half hour or so, depending on how heavy the snowfall became. The flurries now were enough to make the roads slick, but thankfully not enough to hinder sight. At least, not yet.
Once I disconnected from the call, I glanced down at the screen of my phone, and the date and time that displayed.
January 24th, 4:38pm.
January 24th. That date stuck out in my head for some reason. More-so than just our trip. But why, I just couldn’t pinpoint. I just looked out ahead of me, out at the steadily falling snow.
That old, rancid smell of rotten meat—of death—began to creep back into my nostrils. And my blood began to run cold. January 24.
My heart raced against my chest as I glanced in the rear view mirror, looking out over the ditch and into the road. I unbuckled my seatbelt and hurried outside, looking for you. To tell you that maybe, just maybe, those little games were more than coincidence. But, when I got to the roadway, there was nothing there. No you, no deer. A faint pool of blood where the animal had bled out was all that was left. And next to it… a pile of your clothes.
I stepped closer, inspecting it, before I heard your heavy, panicky breaths behind me. On my neck. Hot. Wet. With each breath you emitted, I smelled that rotten stench again. The foul, lingering scent of flesh. And in the setting sun, I watched as your shadow stretched out above mine. Long, dark, emphasized. With antlers—those stag antlers from Halloween.
There was a low, guttural groan as you opened your jaw, before whispering to me in your honeyed voice. Sad, but yet, confident. Breathy. Sinister. As I turned to face you, your words echoed through the winter wind on the mountain, caught in the flurry of snow.