That’s what time it was when I heard a scratching noise outside the back door of my house. I know this because I had just gotten in bed and was setting the alarm clock on my phone for work the next day. I live alone, so the first thought that ran through my head was the dog. I accidentally locked Toby, my little black lab, out of the house.
The absence of the jingle to his collar and the pitter patter of puppy paws on the wood floor had confirmed my suspicions. Great…guilty as charged. I rolled out of bed, threw my house shoes on and headed to the back door.
“I’m coming Toby dog!”
I opened the back door and didn’t see Toby in sight. It was a brisk night. I could see the white steam escape my mouth with each breath I took. The moon hung large and low in the night sky and for a split moment, I felt like I was viewing the night through an extraordinary oil painting.
The night was quiet—families and nightlife alike were tucked in for bed. Except for me. Of course, I had the little nosey dog who was wandering around the house by now.
I heard a rustling in the bushes to my left and feared that Toby had found a baby rodent of some kind. Guts and gore were the last things I wanted to deal with at this time of night. I grabbed the knob to the door and slammed it shut behind me as I headed towards the commotion to the side of the house.
Sure enough, a black little silhouette swayed in the bushes, nosing around with intent.
“Toby! What are you doing?”
Suddenly, the black silhouette sprang from the bushes and darted towards the forest behind my house. I watched as the little black shadow disappeared into the tangled tree limbs of the forest.
Now, I know a lot of dogs tend to run off…but this was unlike my Toby. He never had run off in the middle of the night, especially into the woods. We had our nighttime routine, he would go outside and do his business. Then he’d patiently sit at the back door, waiting until I let him in. Occasionally, he would paw at the door to let me know he was done. I would open the door, he’d run inside, straight to the bedroom and we would tuck ourselves in for the night. My point being, he wasn’t one to stray from this routine.
He wasn’t mischievous at night. Not at all. He was a very good boy.
I immediately ran to the edge of the woods shouting out for Toby. I didn’t want to make an attempt at wading through the brush. If I was lucky, Toby would come running back out with that rodent in his mouth. Funny how you change your mind on what you perceive to be good versus bad.
He didn’t come out, though. In fact, I couldn’t even see or hear him anymore. I started to grow panicked and decided to suck it up and make my entrance.
It was cold in the woods. The dew on the grass was already dampening my slippers causing my feet to become soggy and pruned. Thorns and spurs stuck to my pajama pants as I made my way deeper into the thick woods.
I still couldn’t hear a thing, there was complete silence. Not even the bugs were chirping tonight. Without a flashlight in hand, I knew that it would be near impossible to find my black dog in the dead of night. Where had that little monster run off to? I made a mental note to put up a fence around the backyard to keep this from happening again.
A certain chill ran through my bones as I shouted for him one last time. Did it just drop 10 degrees within the few minutes I’ve been in these woods? Goosebumps rose on my arms and I blamed it on my slowly numbing feet. I squinted my eyes and tried to look for any movement in the distance. It was not easy to see in these dark woods. The twigs and branches were so thick that I couldn’t even see that beautiful moon anymore.
“Damn it, Toby! Where are you?! Come on home, boy!”
I thought about turning around to grab a better pair of shoes and a flashlight. These slippers were sure to give away, exposing my feet to the elements of the forest. I began to turn around to head home when I stopped dead in my tracks.
It was in this moment that I felt a tingling sensation run down my spine. Goosebumps tightened the skin on my arms, and the little hairs I sported stood straight up. I had this sudden sense of fear spike through me, and I couldn’t tell you why. Dread filled my veins and I felt like I was shrinking against the ever-expanding forest. I was small in these woods. I was prey in these woods.
I felt a blow of hot air on the back of my neck followed by a foul smell. A whimper left my lips. What was behind me causing this sensation? Should I turn around? What would I see if I turned around? Suddenly, I felt something touch me; an icy cold sensation. It felt like fingertips brushing the nape of my neck. They slowly crept up my neck and slid forward towards my mouth. My legs suddenly felt heavy, like sandbags were weighing them down. My heart was thudding heavily against my rib cage, and I could feel my face going numb; blood draining away from me making me white as a ghost.
The frigid fingertips slid past my ears, tickling my earlobes. They rubbed against my five o’clock shadow and past the corners of my lips. The foul smell grew stronger, and I felt the icy digits begin to prod into my mouth. My lips stretched apart as the tips of the fingers slipped in my mouth; as cold as ice cubes. The taste of raw, spoiled meat filled my mouth. I felt the air escape my lungs, and I was drowning in fear.
I shook my head and screamed. I frantically turned around, but there was nobody there. Nobody was anywhere near me. Then, I noticed that I was much deeper in the woods than I had thought. Nothing about this made sense to me. I only walked to a certain point in the woods, no farther than the light on my back porch had shown. My perception of my place in the world no longer matched with my reality.
I had somehow ended up much deeper in the forest, in complete darkness now. I felt frightened; frantic.
A faint laughing noise snapped me out of my hysteria. It was a cackling laugh that sounded female.
“He he he he he…”
I started to run in circles.
“Who is it? Who is there?!”
A sticky string of spider webs coated my body as I somehow managed to become deeper and deeper in the woods. I didn’t remember walking through huge spider webs on my way in, yet somehow, I was covered in white string. The webbing stuck to my fingers as I picked the sticky mess away; tangled in my hair and in between the crooks of my neck.
I felt the tickle of little legs run through my hair and down my back, into my shirt. I started patting myself like crazy. Spiders were all over my body. Big spiders. Hairy spiders. The tickling sensation of a million little legs dancing across my body.
I was in a full-blown panic patting away the spiders when I heard a deep voice pierce my ears.
“Pssssst. Over here…”
My head whipped around in each direction. I spun around and kept dancing the spiders off me. I looked around as I did another circle in place. I didn’t see anybody. The deep growl of the voice spoke fast, once again getting my attention.
“No. Down here. Look over here.”
I looked to the right, down towards the stump of a tree and felt my heart skip a beat at the sight. A girl sat tangled behind the stump of the tree. I couldn’t see her whole body because she looked like she was trying to stay hidden. I could tell that her legs were twisted up behind her head, though.
I was frozen in fear until she started to move, because what happened next sent me running. I didn’t know where I was at in the forest, but I ran in the only direction I knew to run. I didn’t care where I was going at that point; I hoped I was running towards home. I just needed to get away from that thing in the woods.
It wasn’t human…humans can’t move their bodies in the way this girl moved. Humans can’t twist their head around in a complete circle and extend their jaw down to the ground. Humans can’t gallop towards you upside down with their knees buckled in the opposite direction.
My slippers were falling off my feet, but I didn’t care. They were so soggy that I could feel the thorns breaking through the soles. I could feel the blood breakthrough as my feet stomped over each sharp rock and thorn. I ran for what felt like 15 minutes which I don’t understand at all, because like I said, I could see the light of my back porch when I first stopped walking into the woods.
I kept running until I finally saw a shimmer of light. It was my back porch. Thank goodness. My legs ached, and my feet were ruined. My pajama pants had ripped and tore from the frantic escape I had made. I ran straight to my back door and deadbolted it shut.
I wasn’t sure if what was out there had followed me.
Once I was safe inside, I leaned forward and rested my palms on my knees. I was out of breath and terrified. My heart was racing, and my palms were sweating. What was that thing out there? It was the most horrifying experience of my life.
My body iced over as a faint noise strummed through my eardrums; the pitter patter of nails hit the wood floor. A jolt of fear pulsed through me as the noise crept closer and closer. Had it gotten inside my house somehow? The thing wasn’t human after all, perhaps it out ran me and beat me home. What would I do if it was in this house with me? Where would I go?
All at once, the fear melted away as the black shadow rounded the corner. It was Toby. He had been inside this whole time.
I got down on my knees and held him tight as he licked my face. I was relieved, yes, but this also terrified me even more. If Toby was inside this whole time, then what had I seen outside before? Why hadn’t he come running to me the first time I called for him? Why hadn’t he barked at the scratching noise outside?
This realization terrified me. Something led me outside. Something scratched on my door and tricked me into thinking it was Toby. Something wanted me to follow it into those woods.
I held Toby tight and walked over to the back window. I looked down at Toby, and he sat looking at me quizzically. I pulled the curtain of the window to the side, just enough to where I could show half of my face to the woods.
What I saw staring back at me made me feel nauseous. I could feel my stomach turn in a spiral motion as the bile rose up my esophagus. My fight or flight response was operating at lightning speed, and my head started to spin from the overload. I was horrified…petrified in place.
Hundreds of faces were staring back at me from the woods; eyes glowing with no bodies attached. They were deep in the woods, but they were looking at me, wanting me, calling me.
The thing that truly scares me is what I started to think when I saw all those faces staring at me. I felt the urge to go back into the woods. Can you believe that? Call it a need or a want, I felt like that’s where I belonged. How could I be feeling this way? I just ran out of those woods afraid for my life, yet here I was being drawn back into them.
My legs carried me to the back door and my hand rested on the doorknob. I could see the black silhouette in my backyard now. It was crawling towards the back door waiting for me. I could sense what it was thinking; calling me, wanting me to follow it.
I started to unlock the back door when I felt the paw of Toby hit my leg. A slight scratch from his nails left a few red streaks down my leg. He started to whine, then licked at the red scratches he had left.
I smiled down at Toby, then peered back out the window. The black figure stood waiting, patiently. I didn’t wait for a second longer. I swiftly shut the curtains. Then, gave Toby a gentle pat on the head. It was time.
“Come on, boy. We’re leaving this place.”