Okay, and we’re back.
Sup everybody. Happy Tuesday to you. It’s been a busy-ass week.
But let’s skip the formalities. The last time we did this it went over pretty well, so we might as well get up to it again.
This time, the prompt (graciously given by the noble Mr. Bacchus) is as follows:
“An investigative journalist goes to a forest where people have been disappearing, and one night they’re awoken by someone breaking into their tent.”
Pfft, spoilers, right? (#kidding)
But just like last time, we’re going to set a timer for thirty minutes and just start pounding keys until it’s either done or those precious little seconds have all dripped away.
“Yaaaaas! But Evan,” I hear you cry, “how will we know you’re actually timed??”
Easy, I’m a believer in the Honor System (and you…well…you just can’t).
Lost in Hoia-Baciu
Justin adjusted his camera strap. He held the straps on his backpack as he took a deep breath and filled his lungs with the fresh, mountain air. It had taken him three flights, a bus, a boat, and a rented car, but he’d finally made it.
Hoia-Baciu, nestled in the arms of Transylvania, Romania, it was known as the world’s most haunted forest was the common villain pointed to for missing persons, alien sightings, paranormal experiences, and supernatural occurrences. There was no shortage of stories ranging from the bizarre and eerie, to the ookie and strange. Urban legends even told of one where a young girl went missing and reappeared seven years later without having aged and with no recollection of her absence.
Justin hiked down the hill to the treeline. He’d been warned by his editor, the locals, and even his parents to get a story some other way, but he was set on this one. He wanted to get a lens on what all the hubbub was about. Though, for his money, he expected to spend the night, find a few tire tracks, some tags, or some other evidence of government presence, then bounce with a catchy headline. All that crap about aliens and ghosts was just…well, too easy. He stood at the edge of the dense forest and checked the time: 11:23 am.
Plenty of daylight to march to the center, set up camp, and get a good boundary before dark. So he did, and on the way saw the sights that made the woods so famous. There was a portion where the trees were strangely curved, like upside-down question marks, and arranged in neat rows. Justin always figured they might have been planted like that by someone who died a long time ago, and when the next people came around and couldn’t meet him, people cried “Aliens!”
He found a spot to set up camp and began unrolling his tent. The stories about strange lights, feelings of unease, and illusory people would probably be easier to judge once it got dark. As it was, he felt great. No lights weirder than the sun poking through the trees, no uneasiness besides a bit of an irritated colon (but that was probably the stew from earlier), and the only imaginary people were just the figments of his boss and Hot Susan from the office he normally kept around. He spent the rest of the day’s light checking his equipment and playing his harmonica.
Once dark had fallen, he ranged a bit with his flashlight. About two hours of looking for Slender Man and an alien light show, he was met with nothing, not even the quiet fart of a white-tail deer. He made his way back to his tent with a strange mix of deep-seated relief and the confidence of a debunker. He crawled into his tent, zipped up his sleeping bag, and prepared for sleep. Then he noticed something. He sat up in his sleeping bag and strained his ears.
He couldn’t hear anything.
Nothing at all, save for his own quiet breathing and small movements. There was no wind through the trees, no small brushing of leaves, or distant animal calls. The close walls of his tent suddenly felt incredibly claustrophobic.
It’s okay, he told himself. You’re out here by yourself and you’re jet-lagged. Bound to feel a little weird, but you’re by yourself – no one’s out here with you.
As he breathed a small sigh of relief, his heart leapt out of his chest.
A sound. He heard a sound.
It was distant, tough to make out. It sounded like leaves crunching. Then the sound drew closer, and Justin realized there was a rhythm to it. It sounded like footsteps- no, it sounded like someone was running.
Someone was running towards him. In that moment, the anxiety returned to the thought that was once so calming, but with a chilling new addition: No one can help you either.
He reached for his flashlight with one hand and the tent door with the other. He fumbled with the zipper as the footsteps approached faster and faster. As he hissed the zipper open, there was a splay of leaves that covered him. A figure, a person, tackled him back into his tent.
“Ah!” Justin screamed. “Get the fuck off me!”
His assailant just screamed in response, but not normally. It sounded like a loud moan, like they were screaming without parting their lips. In the fumbled light of the tent, with the flashlight flailing about in the melee, Justin scrambled and wound up on top of them. He beat his fists against the intruder until, in the chaos, the flashlight illuminated their face.
He would never forget the feeling of that moment, the regret of seeing what he saw.
The intruder was a young man with fair skin and brown hair, though it was matted with dirt and…was that blood? This observation paled in notice that they had only one eye. The rest of the man’s face was fused together, like a wax statue that had been melted and blended. The single eye was panicked and frightened, but upon being seen, seemed suddenly to turn angry and hostile.
(…nope. No, we’re gonna keep going. Adding ten minutes and restarting in 3…2…1..)
The intruder’s hands gripped Justin by the wrists. Whoever they were…whatever it was, was inhumanly strong. They wrestled Justin over and began to hit him again and again alongside his head. Justin kicked frantically and finally freed himself. He burst from the tent and ran blindly out into the dark.
He ran, breathless and without a guide of any sort. Twice he was knocked over by the trunk of a tree in the invisibly dark wood. Each time, he clawed his way to his feet. The forest that had once been so silent was now alive with sounds of all kinds: clicks, burbles, distant caws, but above all of them, the pursuing moan of the one-eyed intruder.
Then, he began to see lights. A twinkling procession of pale green lights revealed themselves between the dark forms of tree trunks. He used this as a heading as he ran with all his breath, all the time hearing the pained moans behind him. A wayward root sticking up from the ground caught his foot and Justin flew forward, landing on his face and chest. Sharp stones in the dirt lacerated his cheek and got in his eyes. He rubbed his eyes fiercely to clear them and got his left open.
With his depth-perception compromised and breathing made difficult from his bloody nose
(No! Fuck, spent some of that editing. We’re close. Five more minutes! Starting…now!)
With his depth-perception compromised and breathing made difficult from his bloody nose, he felt like a wounded deer being stalked by a wolf. Nonetheless, he made his way to the floating green lights. Behind him, he heard the furious moans of the monster in pursuit.
He burst from the trees onto a small, dirt path. The green lights lit the way like road flares. He followed these, sprinting with all his remaining strength.
The path curved, and near the end he saw something. Was that…a tent?
There were other campers here! He’d have help! Maybe they had a phone since he’d left his behind. Maybe they had weapons.
He gritted his teeth and ran. Just as he got to the tent, its door flew open and he slipped. Justin fell headlong into the stranger’s tent and the two scrambled into a twisting mess. They were hitting him and he tried to scream, but he found he couldn’t open his mouth.
Finally, a flashlight was rolled over and clicked on. He froze by what he saw.
(No! Two minutes!)
Justin looked up with his one good eye and found he was looking at himself from earlier that night. He screamed, but all that sounded was a moan. This wasn’t happening. His doppleganger screamed back. There was a fight. Justin was kicked, and his doppleganger ran off into the woods. Stunned, the disfigured journalist sat there, but soon heard the rhythmic running footsteps come up from behind him and primal fear pulled him to his feet.
He ran back out into the dark of Hoia-Baciu.
The Take: Okay, technically the timer rang halfway into the word “dark” of that last line, but c’mon. Anyway, hey! We did it (mostly)! Even though we cheated just a little bit, this one was cool. I liked the prompt and as soon as I read it from him, I knew I was going to base it in Hoia-Baciu. Speaking of, if you’ve never read it before, it’s pronounced like ‘Hoya-Botchu,’ and least, I’m pretty sure. If you prove me wrong somehow, that’s okay. But yeah, I put you through a lot of set-up to get there, but that was mostly just me ‘blurrrrb’ing until I pieced together what was going to happen. I knew early on I wanted the twist to be “He runs into himself out there” but what to do with it once we’d gotten there was the trick.
Anyway, hope you enjoyed it this time around, catch you guys n’ gals Thursday!
Almost- WAIT!! If this little appetizer whet your palate for something creepy, pop on over to the NIGHTLIGHT podcast and check out my episode with them, “The Scars of Eliza Gray” because I think that would be pretty cool. If that works, then consider also sticking around the catch and interview between me and the podcast’s creator, Tonia Thompson (and tell ‘er Evan sent ya!).