My brother and I used to go out in our backyard and make bonfires. Now, before you say anything, we made sure to be careful when we created it. The woods were to our backs, our house was maybe 20 yards away from us — and our pit was used frequently by my parents (and us) for gatherings.
The hot Missouri weather, the humidity, and the sun all combined made for a hellish environment. The only reprieve we’d all get was when the sun would go down and the cool night air would give all of us a second wind. It was around mid- or mid-to-late July. I can’t really remember, since the days seem to blur into one another during summer when my brother and I, along with my friends, Harry, Tyler, and Jason sat around our bonfire, drinking beer and chain smoking cigarettes.
It was around midnight when I realized we were out of beer. Harry, being the big drinker that he was, made a big stink about it.
“How can you guys run out of beer?” he asked. “That…that’s so stupid!”
“Shut the fuck up, Harry,” my brother said. “If you want more beer, you can go get them yourself.”
“N-no, no, no, no. Fuck you! You’re the dickhead that invited us over. T-that’s some h-hospitality right there.”
My brother got up from his chair and put Harry in a headlock.
“Hospitality? Here’s some hospitality, you dumb fuck.”
Everyone, including Harry, laughed. It was an all-too common scene.
Then, out of nowhere, everyone stopped and stared at one another.
“Ugh,” I said. “What is that smell?”
My brother wrinkled his nose. “Harry, did you just shit yourself?”
Harry shook his head.
“Don’t lie, man. No shame in shitting your pants,” Tyler piped up.
“No man, it smells like real bad body odor,” Jason said. “Or like some rotting corpse or some shit.”
“…I think…I think I might throw up,” Harry said.
My brother let him go and Harry fell to his knees, retching violently.
I turned to Jason, who was now out of his seat and walking around to find the source of the smell.
“Guys,” he said. “I think it’s coming from the woods.”
“You go check it out,” Tyler said to Jason.
“Me? No way. I’m not going in there by myself.”
When provoked, Jason’d go on and on about this thing that lived out in the woods that had chased him down a couple of weeks back when he went out for a midnight “walk”. He was always kind of a weird guy, so we never really thought about it. Looking back on it, though, he never did go back out to the forest at night. In fact, he hardly went in there unless he was with at least a group of people.
My brother picked Harry up.
“Get yourself together,” he said, pointing to the vomit on Harry’s shirt.
That’s when we heard it. A low growl just beyond the darkness, and with it, two piercing eyes. We caught each other’s terrified faces in the glow of the bonfire and we bolted to the house. I was last and slammed the door behind me. Jason, Tyler, my brother, and — no Harry. He was still outside.
“GUYS! HELP ME, HELP —”
Harry’s voice stopped abruptly and was replaced a shriek that was quickly silenced.
My brother and I basically duckwalked to the kitchen window to peek out through the curtains. My eyes focused on the bonfire. There was no sign of Harry. No sign of a struggle. I jumped — something jabbed me in the ribs. It was Tyler.
“Do you see anything? Is he okay? Is Harry okay?” he asked.
I moved over to let him look outside. Jason was typing something into his phone.
“I’m calling Harry,” he said, holding the phone to his head. “Maybe he’s fucking around with us.”
Tyler moved back towards where Jason and I stood. He shook his head. He couldn’t see Harry outside either. I looked at the green glow of the digital clock on the oven. 12:16 AM. Surely someone heard the screams too? I wondered.
Jason hung up and shook his head. “Voicemail.”
“Well, shall we?” my brother said. No one answered. He headed for the door.
The smell was gone. And so was Harry. We looked around the yard and even walked out to the front of the house to see if he was in his car, laughing his ass off at our paranoia, but he wasn’t there. In fact, there was no trace of Harry whatsoever. There was no sign of a struggle, no shoes, no blood, nothing that indicated that he was taken. It seemed as if he had simply left on his own accord, but we knew that that wasn’t the case.
The only thing to do now was search the woods. My brother and I had entered the woods a long time ago, but we weren’t in there for long. The woods just felt creepy. I remember feeling disoriented and feeling as if I was never going to be happy again, while roamed around in the woods. I remember reaching a clearing when the feelings just stopped. We didn’t turn around and go back the way we came. We went through the clearing and took a roundabout way and found ourselves near our high school, which was almost four-and-a-half miles away to the west. My brother must’ve remembered the same thing because he looked at me and said for us to keep the search as short and quick as possible.
“We don’t want to get lost in there,” he added. “There’s something not right in there.”
The woods smelled musky. Once in a while, we’d get a whiff of something rotting, but it would disappear as quick as it had come. We must’ve gone about 10 minutes in when I heard something snap in front of us. We all stopped in our tracks. Something was walking towards our direction.
“Anyone there?” I asked. “I have a gun,” I lied. “Say something now, or…I’ll shoot.”
Jason took his phone out and shone his light in the direction of the sound. It was Harry. And he was limping towards us.
“Harry?” I asked, incredulous.
Tyler pointed at Harry. “What’s wrong with him?” he whispered. “It looks like he’s hurt.”
Harry kept limping towards us. There wasn’t a scratch on him, but something looked off about him.
“Harry,” Tyler shouted. “Harry, are you okay?”
We saw his mouth open as if to respond, but not a single word came out.
“Dude, what are you doing? This isn’t funny,” Tyler said.
“Wait, wait,” Jason said. “Call his phone,” he said.
I took my phone out and dialed Harry’s number. We heard the phone ring. The ringing came from behind us, then to the side of us, then it stopped. That’s when the phone went went to voicemail. Harry stopped and stared directly at us.
“This is creepy,” Jason said. “Real fucking creepy.”
And we smelled it again. That disgusting smell from before. It smelled foul. It smelled like disease and filth and…death. A feeling of despair and unease washed over me and I could tell my brother was experiencing it too. He shook his head. “This ain’t right,” he mouthed to me. Jason and Tyler looked panic-struck. I glanced over at Harry and he seemed to stand still, breathing hard.
We heard something snap behind us and we all turned to see what it was. Jason flashed his light, but there was nothing. We turned back to Harry. He wasn’t there. We didn’t have to say anything. We all bolted back in the direction of our house.
The smell grew stronger and stronger as we got closer to the house, and for the last 10 or so yards, I held my breath and made it to the backyard. When I took a big breath, the smell had gone. We were all panting and looked at where we had come from. Just out of reach from the light, flitting between true darkness and the faint shadows, we saw the unmistakable silhouette of a man. The silhouette turned around and faded away, leaving us bewildered and wondering about our friend, Harry.