I was never a heavy sleeper, the slightest noise waking me up from the depths of unconsciousness. An intermittent scratching sound resonated throughout the room and into my pounding head. I went to open my eyes only to realize they were already open; staring into the abysmal void of a foul-smelling environment.
Bringing my knees to my chest, I turned over onto my hands and stood. Dizziness washed over me as I got light-headed. I hadn’t eaten in about 12 hours. My own stirring caused the scratching to stop. I assumed it was some little critter realizing he wasn’t alone however the sound returned immediately. This was possibly the only time I would ever be thankful for being a smoker as I pulled a lighter out of my pocket and gripped the top.
The metal struck flint as light penetrated the darkness, exposing the small room I was in and the figure with his back turned against me. My heart skipped, breathing slowed, and adrenaline pumped furiously as I noticed the myriad of markings covering the walls: Latin among symbols, and pentagrams, but more importantly a door to my right.
I took my thumb off the lighter and let the flame extinguish, bolting for the door and swinging it open into a dimly-lit hallway. The hellish shriek of whatever had been with me in that room echoed through the halls as my legs carried me as fast as they could. I wheeled the corner passed an open door, my peripheral catching a glimpse of a handful of hooded figures sitting silently in candlelit room. The sound of my echoing footsteps reverberated through the hallway, as I reached the end and gripped the door handle. It turned, but the door didn’t open. Unlocked, but inaccessible.
I could hear them running towards me as I frantically threw my weight on the door. A handful of them were sprinting towards me down the hallway at impossible speeds. I backed up, ran at the wooden door, and heard a crack. They were almost on me as I ran at it a second time and I erupted through the other side in a volley of splinters and euphoria. The soft earth of the cave was a stark contrast to the concrete of whatever the fuck I had just escaped. There was just enough natural light coming in from the cracks in the cave’s ceiling to allow me to see where I was going. Animal carcasses littered the ground, my heavy footsteps shattering some of the smaller remains.
It felt like an eternity, no thanks to the adrenaline still pumping through me. Light was becoming more and more abundant as I reached the mouth of the cave and disappeared into the surrounding woods. I didn’t stop running for a good long while just to make sure nothing was following me. I slowed my pace to a stop and looked around to double check again.
Apart from the huge lapse in consciousness, the series of events that had unfolded had done so at breakneck speed. Not only that, how was I supposed to explain all this shit when I got back? Well, if I got back. I ran my hand through my hair and noticed a patch of dried blood right behind my left ear. A huge wound was running up from that to the top of my head. It seemed too methodical to be an injury — the cut was too clean. Did they cut something out of me? If I was missing a part of my brain, I sure as shit didn’t know it because I felt fine — as fine as you can feel after being kidnapped and chased by…forest demons. An echoed shriek interrupted my thoughts. A mix between a rabbit and a fox screaming — just a lot louder and definitely not a rabbit or a fox. I ran and hid in some brush and waited, listened, tried not to shit myself.
A dead silence enshrouded the forest with only the sound of the wind cutting through the trees and my heartbeat keeping a steady metronome to what seemed to be the final seconds of my life. The scream repeated itself, this time closer, but still far enough away. I figured squatting in some bushes wasn’t going to up my chances of survival, so I scanned the area. There was a tree with a low enough branch to my left and I slowly made my way to it. I steadily climbed to the highest branches that would support my weight and realized I hadn’t actually climbed a tree in decades; then again, it wasn’t necessarily a staple of adult life. I ended up hugging a branch that was just wide enough for me. Through the eerie silence of the forest, I picked up what sounded like rustling in the foliage no more than 400 feet from me. Black fabric contrasted the green backdrop of the woods, four figures slowly making their way towards my tree. Adrenaline took over as I gripped the branch. I felt like I was in a fucking Looney Toons cartoon with myself starring as Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd being four demonic entities.
One of the hooded figures passed right under my branch and stopped. Raspy breathing and a foul stench assaulted my senses as I felt a bead of sweat roll down my temple and hang precariously at my nose. Have you ever tried to not sweat? Well, it makes you sweat more. It rolled off my nose and froze in midair like a Kodak moment before sailing through the leaves and towards the thing below me. Eyes widened, I watched it about to hit the ground in front of this monster. A squirrel scurried up an adjacent tree as all four of them turned at the last second.
They eventually scanned the rest of the surrounding area and were out of sight. It was beginning to get darker now. I positioned my feet up on another branch and slept in that tree for the night. I wouldn’t call it sleeping, though. It was more like passing out and waking up sporadically through the night.
As light broke the horizon, I wearily made my way down feeling every tendon and joint in my body creak from the wear and tear of the past day or so. I honestly had no idea how much time had passed in that underground hell-hole. The only reasonable thing to do was to pick a direction, mark some trees so I didn’t circle around, and walk straight until I hopefully saw civilization. My only concern was running into those atrocities again. I walked until walking became autopilot. The sun slowly made its way from the east and was again settling to the west as I came upon a familiar clearing with an even more familiar rectangular behemoth near it. It was my truck. I had never been so happy to see it in my entire life. The left side of my cargo load had a massive dent in it. I walked to the driver side door and climbed inside. The soft cushiony seat felt like an angel’s kiss on my torn up body. I rummaged through the center console and drank an entire bottle of water. I locked the doors, hopped in the back cot, closed the blinds, and promptly passed out.
I filed a police report. I let my company know what happened and why it took me twice as long to do my job. I got back to John later that week and told him what happened. I hugged him goodbye and ruffled his hair, feeling an all-too-familiar scar right behind his left ear.