Monsters Among Us
 

The Beginning
(Chapter 1)


The scariest monsters are the ones we can't see. They hide among us, in plain sight, humans don't have the ability to see their true form. Until one fixes it's sights on you, instinct kicks in and you will see more than you ever have before, like taking off a blindfold you've worn since birth. The only problem is, you can't unsee it.

All small towns have their secrets, with ours, no one would ever believe us so we keep it to ourselves and create stories to keep the truth from getting out. Our little town has the highest number of "hunting accidents" "car accidents" or "boating accidents" per year, in the whole state. We can't exactly write down "monster attack" or "ripped apart by some sort of animal then eaten".

All kids grew up hearing the warnings and ghost stories of the thing in the woods. When we all got older, we stopped believing the stories. We thought they were just trying to scare us away from those woods. I mean come on, if there was a shape shifting monster living in our town, we would have seen if by now...right?

I haven't told this story to any outsider, so to understand the event, you should know the history. According to the legend, there was a family living out in the woods in a log cabin, which allegedly is still there. The father went out hunting one day, when he came home, it was completely dark and he found his family murdered in the cabin. Now that is what he said happened. For reasons unknown, he continued to live there another month until someone came to check on him and found the bodies of the guys family, all partially eaten. They say a windigo possessed him and caused him to crave human flesh.

There are many other stories about kids and adults going into those woods and never returning, no trace of them anywhere. I never believed all those stories, how come no one has gone missing in the past few years?

Well I went to find answers, and I took my 3 best friends with.

The morning we left it was the first day of summer vacation, we all packed a lunch and water bottles, and we made our trek into the forbidden forest.

The first couple hours went by without any issues. We walked in silence most of the way, following Max. Max is always the leader, we wandered the forbidden forest most of the evening until darkness started to slowly blanket everything. We turned around to go back the way we came in.

Only it wasn't, it was different in every way. It wasn't until we started passing things we had never seen before that we started to panic. I then could make out a clearing up ahead and suggested we go there and see if we can see the lights from our town. We hurried over there and when we broke into the clearing, we instantly forgot about looking for the lights.

There it was, looming dark and foreboding, almost like it was smiling at us. We looked at each other with wide eyed stares, nobody could speak.

We had found the log cabin....


Truth In Legends
 (Chapter 2)

 

The old log cabin had seen better days, the door was barely hanging on, swinging lightly in the breeze with a high pitched squeak, then thump against the outside wall. We stood there, mouths open in utter shock. None of us ever believed it existed but here it was in all its dilapidated glory. Then reality hit every one of us right between the eyes.

If this is real, could it be possible the thing guarding these woods is real too? We are in the middle of monster territory with no idea which way was town.

We were dumb kids, barely 15, and thought we knew everything and nothing could ever hurt us. That one moment, 20 years ago, changed everything. Without intending to, that night we unleashed an evil we never dreamed possible, and that little country town and all it's secrets will never forget that summer (and most likely will never forgive us stupid kids).

See, we had been told stories our whole lives, stories of "The Guardian of the Forest". According to legend, it had the head and antlers of an Elk, it had long, skinny arms with sharp, pointed talon-like claws, with a body so skinny it's rib cage was well defined, it walked hunched over but moved smoothly and swiftly. By all accounts, it was a Windigo, only it wasn't, not exactly. See this creature was also a shapeshifter, it would turn into someone you know and trust and lure you into its grasp and make you do things, horrible, terrible things. If that didn't drive you to the most literal form of insanity, then you would turn into a creature yourself and guard the forest for years and years.

Pretty unbelievable, right? We thought so, up until that fateful summer that changed our lives forever.

Here we were, in the last purple light of sunset, standing in the middle of the clearing, gaping at this skeleton of a log cabin that up until that very moment, didn't exist in our minds. We all looked at each other silently. Finally Max said "might as well take a look" Luke shrugged "I'm in". Becca looked terrified, her eyes were the size of saucers. "Come on, Becca" I said quietly "we don't want to be standing around out here alone when it gets completely dark" I reached for her arm and gently pulled her along. "Gabby?" She said quietly. "Hmm?" I was staring at that cabin and barely paying attention. "How are we going to find our way home?" I paused, mostly because I was wondering the same thing but didn't want her to see that I was just as scared as she was, I was fairly certain that would drive her to hysterics.
"Don't worry, we will find the way, we just got turned around. Once we get our bearings, we will be home in no time" I sounded way more confident than I felt.

The four of us found ourselves standing at the front door. Luke looked the cabin up and down "are we sure this piece of junk won't collapse on us?" He asked, but Max was already inside. "Hey guys! Are you coming?!" Luke sighed and stepped over the threshold. Us girls were on his heels.

The inside was just as bad as outside, there were plates sitting on the table with what once must have been edible food, but now was some form of black mush. I looked around with my hand covering my mouth and nose from the putrid smell. "Guys? Let's get out of here before I throw up!" I called to the guys.

Just then, both boys screamed, and I mean an all out terrified, blood curdling scream...in stereo. Then thumping of feet running clumsily toward us. "We're getting out of here!" Max yelled as he flew past me. I didn't care why were running, I was happy to just get out of there before the smell sunk into my clothes and hair.

We were back out in the clearing, catching our breath "what did you see?" I asked when I caught up. "Gabby! We don't need to know, I just want to go home and forget this!" Becca whined. Ignoring her, Max answered, breathing hard "blood..looked like...blood...everywhere" he bent over with his hands on his knees, catching his breath. "Let's get out of here" Luke said in a shaky voice. The rest of us just nodded and headed back into the trees.

The sun had finally set, as we entered the tree line, I stole a look back at the cabin, out of curiosity maybe, or maybe I felt like someone was back there, I'm not sure. There was a shadow of a man standing in front of the door. I gasped and ran to catch up to tell the others but when I looked again, there was nothing there. "Just my imagination" I said under my breath.

"Hey guys!" Max called "I hear people ahead of us!" "Great" I said "they sent out the search party, our summer is gonna suck now" the four of us trudged toward the voices, forgetting about the horrors in that little cabin.

If I only knew how right I was, just not in the way I was expecting...

Awakening
(Chapter 3)


We were collectively grounded, but only for a week, since our parents were all just happy they found us right away.
We effectively learned our lesson and had no intention of ever entering that forest again. A few weeks later though, scary things started to happen to us.

One afternoon, on a hot June day, we met down by the swimming pond to spend the afternoon swimming and keeping cool under the hot sun. Becca and I were first there, so we locked our bikes next to the old outdoor showers/bathrooms, and headed to a shady spot under one of the trees to wait for the boys. I sat down on one of the roots and folded my knees up to my chest and wrapped my arms around them "hey my dad said he would drive the four of us to the beach on the 4th of July, him and my mom are planning a BBQ party up there and reserved a camping spot. We can swim all day and hang out watching fireworks from the beach" I said excitedly, I looked over at her and my smile instantly faded "Becca?" I nudged her gently, she didn't respond "Earth to Becca?" Finally she turned her head and said "oh sorry I didn't hear you" the blank stare she gave me made my heart start to thump in my chest "Becca what's wrong? You're really freaking me out"

"Did your parents ever bring up that day in the woods again?" Her voice was close to a whisper and I detected nervousness. "No they figured I learned my lesson and left it at that, and we agreed we are never going in there again" I answered, confused as to why she was bringing this up now. "What if we woke it up?" I snapped my head to her "what? Why would you say something like that? Stop worrying about it, you're just scaring yourself. I see the guys over there, let's go swimming" I patted her shoulder reassuringly, even though her question left me on edge.

We swam until dusk, I had forgotten about Becca's disturbing behavior and she seemed to lighten up too, I never mentioned it to Luke or Max.

We were the last ones at the swimming pond, we got out and dried off. We were all standing by the tree Becca and I had been sitting under earlier, gathering our things and talking and laughing, slowly making our way up to the showers and the bike rack when Max, who was in the lead, stopped dead in his tracks. Becca wasn't paying attention and ran right into his back "whoa! Why did you stop?" She laughed and looked past him to where he was staring, her laugh died in her throat. We were all frozen, staring at the thing next to our bikes. It was human but it wasn't, I can barely find the words to describe what we saw that day. It stood on 2 legs, like a human, it was very tall had to be close to seven feet or more and thin, so thin that I could see the outline of its rib cage. It stood tall with its head up high and a large antler rack pointing directly behind it with the angle it's head was in. It's face was up to the sky and it let out a sickeningly loud, shrill, glass shattering scream or howl, I'm not sure what it was but it was so loud we all dropped our things and covered our ears. We were frozen where we stood in fear. I'm not even sure we breathed.

Then it stopped quick, like when someone turns off a radio in the middle of a song, for a few seconds, I thought my ear drums popped and I was deaf. Then I heard Max, his voice quivering, "does..any..anyone..see...uh..him..err....that??" He stuttered. I had never seen him so scared, he was always the brave one, the dare devil. Ever since we were 6 years old and his family moved into the house down the block.

"Look!" Luke yelled pointing at the thing, which was now looking directly at us. It made the grunting-snorting sound of a pissed off moose, which made me imagine that it would charge right at us. "We need to get out of here" I whispered. "Ye..yea..yeah Gabs is ri..right" Max was still stuttering, but now he was slowly backing up, the rest of us following suit. "Keep it slow guys.."I whispered "we don't want it to charge at us" we all slowly backed away from the showers, while it watched us, unmoving. When we got back to the tree, it was starting to disappear behind the building. Suddenly, it took a step around the building and faced us, it cocked its head to the side like a dog would. We stopped at the tree, we were out of options, if we kept going backwards we would fall down the hill and into the pond, if we went right, we would run across the beach and right into a stone wall serving as a gate to keep people out of old farmer Wright's crops, that man was scarier than the thing staring at us at this moment. If we went to the left, we would go right into the forest, it's territory. We were stuck, the boys got in front of us, blocking us from the monster.

It suddenly snapped its head up to the sky and started sniffing, "what's it doing?" Becca whispered "I don't know, just don't move or make a sound" I whispered back. The monster was getting visibly agitated, snapping its head in all directions, then it turned and ran swiftly into the trees.
Once it was out of sight, we all breathed again "let's go!" Max said and we ran to grab our bikes and we didn't look back until we were all safely home.

I went straight up to my room, shut my shades and my door and laid down on my bed and cried. I cried mostly because I was sure, at that moment, that we were the cause of this thing showing up in town. I was sure it was going to start stalking us, all because we were curious and adventurous kids doing what kids do. I wanted to tell my parents but I just couldn't muster up the nerve, and that made me feel very lonely.

There was a light knock on my door "Gabby? We ordered a pizza, honey. Wanna come down and eat?" My moms quiet voice sang through the door. "Yeah, let me shower quick" I called back "ok but hurry up, before your brothers get home and eat it all" I smiled at that "ok thanks mom, I'll be 5 minutes" I replied. I could hear her footsteps on the stairs. I gathered my stuff and took a quick shower.

After dinner, I hung out in the living room with my younger brother, Owen, and watch a movie. Halfway through the movie, I noticed movement outside the picture window behind our TV. At first, I thought it was my imagination and just ignored it. Then I hear a soft tap on the window, I muted the tv and slowly and quietly moved toward the window. "What are you doing?" Owen sounded annoyed."shh..I thought I heard something outside" I whispered "whatever, it's a squirrel or raccoon" he rolled his eyes and leaned back on the couch, while I reached for the curtains...too dark to see anything.

The following day, after my parents left for work, I went out the front door to the living room window. I had to see if there really was someone out there. I looked around in the dirt with no luck. Then I saw something in the bushes, stuck to a branch. It was some sort of fur, dark brown, almost black. Then I looked at the dirt and saw what looked like some sort of hoof print. I backed away and ran in the house.

I called Becca "we need to talk, all 4 of us, but it can't be here, let's all meet at the park in an hour" she agreed and we hung up.
An hour later, all four of us were sitting at a picnic table. I told them what happened and what I found and they each one by one told a similar story.
We are being warned.

Gone
(Chapter 4)


The Fourth of July, the halfway point in summer vacation, a time for celebration, fireworks and food made on a grill and eaten with fingers. That year was no different than the last. My parents had their party, the four of us and our siblings spent the day on the beach while the adults sat around a grill, drinking beer and making more food than there was people.

As the sun started to set, us kids made our way back to the campsite to change into dry clothes and graze through all the food. "I swear I gain 20 pounds every 4th of July!" Becca laughed as she filled up a plate. "I think we burned through most of those calories swimming all day, so it's ok it evens out" I teased as I filled my own plate "no, the guys burn through it, us girls pack it into our hips and butt and outgrow the swim suits" she said, looking at the boys. Max snorted "I put it in my biceps, see?" He held up his scrawny arm in a flex. Becca reached over, patted his arm and said "you need to eat more!" Max's face blushed red and broke into laughter, the rest of us joined in.

"You kids having a good time?" My dad smiled as he browsed through the food "ugh if I eat any more I will explode!" He added with a chuckle.
"Oh yeah Mr. Martin, thank you for inviting us!" Max exclaimed and the other 2 followed with similar thank you's in agreement.
My dad chuckled again "oh who invited you? I thought you guys were our other kids." He beamed and added "by the way, just call me Charles, please. Mr Martin was my dad and it makes me feel old" he laughed, the all nodded in agreement while I rolled my eyes. Catching my eye roll, he added "I'm thinking about trading Gabriella here for you guys, I seem to embarrass her and you guys laugh at my jokes" he laughed hard at his own joke and I replied with a laugh "oh thanks, Dad" "sure thing sweetie" he gave me a wink and joined the other adults.

For the next couple hours, we ate until we thought we would pass out, we goofed around, we laughed. For an entire day we forgot about the horrors we had witnessed the last month.
We laid beach towels out on the sand and plopped down on the beach to watch fireworks, making sure to position ourselves well away from the adults, who were buzzed from the beer, some of them well into drunk by now, which meant that once the fireworks started, they would all start singing (very off key) the star spangled banner as loud as they could. I am certain they did it to embarrass us kids and it worked well.

The beach wasn't near as packed as it had been in the past, which we just viewed as more leg room to stretch out and comfortably watch the fireworks show. After the grand finale, we packed up our things and headed back to the campsite, which was considerably less crowded now. My dad saw us coming and yelled "hey kids! I brought 2 small tents if you don't want to share a camper with us!" "Sure!" I called back and we ran the rest of the way up there like little kids going after the candy thrown at parades. When we got there he handed me a tent and Max the other "boys in one, girls in the other. No funny business" his face was stern and I wrinkled my nose "gross, dad! They're like brothers that's just wrong" he cracked a smile and said "good. But still, humor me" I shrugged, it didn't matter to me anyway.

We set up our tents a few feet from the camper, around a small built in charcoal grill. The boys were trying to get a camp fire going in the grill, I went to the camper to get us some sodas and see what I could muster up for junk food. When I got back, there was a small fire going and Becca was sitting on the ground laughing so hard she had tears in her eyes. "What did I miss?" I asked, passing out bottles of coke. When I got to Max, he was sulking in a lawn chair, when I got closer, I saw it and I was the one laughing till I cried. He was having trouble lighting the grill so he found some lighter fluid and lost his eyebrows. Luke shrugged with a smile "I warned him, but nooo he is invincible. That should teach him...hey did anybody bring a camera?"
At that, Max mumbled some profanities under his breath, but I saw the little smile creeping across his face.

We went to sleep around 1am that night. At 3am, I awoke with a jump. Someone was outside our tents walking around. I nudged Becca and whispered "hey, wake up I heard something outside". She rolled over groggily, furrowed her eyebrows "what time is it?" "Nevermind, do you hear that?" I whispered. She sat up for a moment then said "yeah so? One of the guys going down to the bathrooms, you're just scaring yourself, go back to sleep" I decided she was right, I must have been more on edge than I thought I was. I laid back down and went to sleep.

When I awoke again, it was still dark. I saw Becca unzipping the tent "where are you going?" I asked her. "The bathroom, so when you hear footsteps outside you will know it's me" she giggled at that and left the tent. I lifted my arm to my face and illuminated my watch. 3:35. What? I've only been sleeping for maybe 20 minutes, how can that be? I was too tired to worry about it, I went back to sleep.

This time I woke up to sunlight illuminating the tent, I yawned and rolled over and saw that Becca's sleeping bag was empty, weird, I thought but didn't think too much else about it. I stretched and dug some clothes out of my bag.

When I stepped out of the tent, I could see the guys over by the camper while my mom made breakfast. I went over to greet everyone when I noticed that Becca wasn't with them. "Morning guys, is Becca over here with you?" I was beginning to feel uneasy. "No you guys are the last ones up" my mom replied without looking up. "Huh, I wonder where she went" I muttered. "She probably went to shower, she will be back in a few minutes" my mom replied reassuringly, she sensed the tension. "Yeah you're probably right" I said and sat down next to Luke at the picnic table.

She never returned. By late afternoon, there was close to 50 people combing through the trees and the whole site, cops were searching campers and by the time the light started to fade, there were plans to drag the lake. I heard them planning it, the whole idea make my stomach sink to my feet and my blood went cold.

She wasn't found in the lake either. Having to leave without her was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. I didn't want to abandon her.

I didn't eat much for the next few weeks, all I wanted to do was sleep.

The end of July, Max and Luke called. "Hey Gabs! Can you meet us at the park? I think we figured something out, besides you need to get out of the house" I wanted to hang up on him for being so cheerful on the phone, but I didn't. Something told me I should listen to them, call it a gut feeling or a hunch but I knew I needed to hear what they had to say.

An hour later, I pulled up next to the picnic table the boys were sitting at "so, what's going on?" I cut right to the chase. "Whoa! Slow down there, missy" Max said with a smile, I gave him a "drop dead" look and he reached over and grabbed my arm to pull me into a big hug "hey I didn't forget her, she is our friend too" he said in my ear, and I broke down.

When I pulled myself together again, Max said "we need to go back to that cabin, she's there, I know it, we need to get to her before he or it or whatever this thing is, decides she is lunch"

I didn't know why, but it sounded like a good idea.

We were going back.

I will never forget that Fourth of July, those were some of the last good memories I have from my childhood.

After that night, everything changed...

The Forbidden Forest
(Chapter 5)


The following morning we met in the same place we did on that first day, that felt like a million years ago. We each had a backpack and when we all were there we went through them to make sure we had everything.

Luke unzipped his pack first "I got 6 bottles of water, 2 boxes of granola bars, a big Army flashlight my dad gave me, and extra batteries" he looked up smiling "well we got snacks covered" Max laughed and unzipped his pack "well I have a big cantina for the water, I also brought 3 bottles, my BB gun and extra BB's, just in case.." he shot both of us a scared look and continued "I didn't find any snacks but I have some lighters, old newspaper, and a box of wooden matches in case it's too windy for the lighters" "uh Max? Are you planning on being stranded out there?" Luke's voice cracked and he looked uneasy "no but Boy Scouts taught be to be prepared for anything, I could have gotten more stuff but I didn't have the time" Max dropped his eyes to the ground and kicked the dirt. There was an uncomfortable silence between us for what felt like an hour. Finally I cleared my throat and unzipped my pack. I also had a flashlight, extra batteries, a couple water bottles and I grabbed a first aid kit from the closet, my mom kept them all over the house plus travel ones, she was an ER nurse, so she was always prepared for the worst case scenario. I held up the first aid kit and both boys nodded in agreement that they didn't even think about that, but boys/men never think of first aid, they're too busy thinking about how they aren't going to get hurt, then act like babies when they do.
I re shouldered my pack and adjusted it to a comfortable position "ready?" I asked them. All three of us were staring at the tree line, Max sighed loudly "let's do this" he sounded more confident than he looked. Silently, we entered the forest.

That is where my memory stops, nobody ever believed me but it's true. My therapist asked me to write out my story until I couldn't remember anymore, that didn't help to jog my memory, nothing worked.

Until I met Paul Randall, a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) and a licensed Hypnotherapist. After hypnotizing me a couple times with no luck, then finally it worked. I assume it did anyway, Mr Randall left the room in a hurry and won't return my phone calls anymore.

He recorded all his sessions, as many therapists like to do for their own references. He left so quickly, he left everything in his office. I sat down at his computer, dug around in my bag until my fingers brushed against the smooth plastic of a flash drive, I popped it in the USB port and was prepared to maneuver around the password protection but he didn't have it activated. "You stupid man" I said under my breath as I scrolled through literally thousands of sessions, finally I found my name and made a copy of the folder before uploading it to my flash drive. I was starting to get nervous that he would come back. 50% done....come on, I was fidgeting, I couldn't help it...99%. Finally, after it hit 100 I grabbed the drive, shoved it deep in my jeans pocket and quickly left the building.

I just finished watching my last session, it all came flooding back to me, all the things I never wanted to remember was now right there staring me in the face, taunting me, eager to take me back to that day in the forest.

As soon as we stepped inside, it was dark, the tree tops formed a very large teepee. The air was cool and damp, I could smell a mixture of pine trees, cherry blossoms, and something less pleasant. It was subtle but I picked up on it right away, but couldn't put my finger on it.

We walked and walked for what felt like hours, it didn't seem this long last time. I mention it to them, they both shrugged their shoulders and mumbled some sort of agreement and we trudged on.
I paused a moment to dig a water bottle from my pack, the didn't hear me and kept walking. I got the bottle and zipped my bag back up, when I looked up, they were gone. My heart started pounding and I nervously scanned my surroundings. "Hey guys! Wait up!" I yelled, loud enough that I heard my own muffled echo. I ran in the direction they were heading last time I saw them. I ran to the top of a hill and saw them stopped at the bottom. "Hey! Are yuh coming?" Luke yelled through cupped hands. I breathed a sigh of relief and headed towards them.

When I got closer, I could see that they had found something, they looked excited. "Look!" Max pointed to the clearing, we appeared to be on the opposite side from the last time we were here, but that can't be right, we used the same entry point and were careful to go the same direction, did we go in a big circle? "Guys? How is that possible?" I asked. "We were just wondering the same thing" Max was staring at the back of the cabin, his eyes like saucers, he was terrified. I patted his back and said "are you ready?" He forced a smile "ready as I will ever be"

We were halfway to the cabin when we had to stop, a horrible smell hit us, it was like rancid, rotting meat. We pinched our noses shut and kept moving. Now directly behind the old, sad looking building, Max stopped suddenly and in a low voice I heard him say "oh...my...god!" I spun to look at him, he was staring to our left, past the cabin, there was a glimmer that meant water. "It's a lake, what's the big deal?" I asked, confused and a bit frightened by his odd behavior.
"Look at the tree line there" he said pointing to more forest. I scanned the treeline and saw it immediately, it was a clear walking path. We looked at each other and nodded in agreement, but when we looked at Luke, he was pale and shaking his head. "Would you rather stay here?" Max asked him and I smacked him in the arm and snapped "be nice" in a loud whisper. "Ok Luke, I'm sorry but we are here to find Becca, have you noticed that no cops or adults have made any attempt to find her besides the day she went missing. It's like they all forgot her, even her parents, I don't understand but I can't sit by and let our friend be tossed away like garbage, so let's go!" Max's speech did the trick, he still looked unsure but he was done arguing.

We cut across the clearing, through tall grass. Every once in a while, we would hear a rustling then the grass would bend as an animal ran away from us.
I see that clearing in my dreams every night, I feel the breeze on my face and the tickle of the grass on my palms as I reached out to the side and brushed my hands over the top of the blades of grass. It's a peaceful dream, I wouldn't mind having it all the time if I hadn't figured out by now that the peaceful dream is an omen.

The peaceful dream is a warning to stay out of those woods, HIS woods.

 

In Over Our Heads
(Chapter 6)

 

We trudged through the tall grass in what felt like slow motion or walking underwater. Nobody spoke but the tension in the air was thick, we were on edge, hoping to find our friend but afraid of finding her.
The closer we got to the tree line, the darker it seemed to get, just beyond the trees, it seemed impossibly dark, staring into it was like staring into an abyss, it was mesmerizing. We stopped a few feet from an opening and what looked like a footpath leading deep into the forest, my pulse was racing and I was suddenly freezing despite the still, humid air that blanketed my skin with a thick layer of sweat, but I was shivering. We stood silently in a row, just staring into that abyss that we never even knew existed until a couple months ago.

"Ready?" Max asked but he sounded far away, we only responded with a half nod, we weren't even close to ready but we made it this far.

Nobody moved.

Max blew out an exaggerated sigh and stepped toward the trees, without looking back he waved us forward with circular motion of his arm. We finally moved and followed close behind.
Entering the forest, it was dark and dreary, the air was cool and still and smelled of moss and wet dirt. It was silent, not even animal sounds. "G..g..guys" Luke stuttered and cleared bus throat "it shouldn't be this quiet, should it? It's summer, animals should be out" his voice trembled, it sounded just how I felt. "Let's just go guys" Max's voice was quieter than I have ever heard it, that frightened me more than the silent dark forest.
We continued on deeper into the trees, following what looked like an overgrown path. Up ahead, there was a small clearing, we decided to stop there and pass around waters and granola bars and rest for a few minutes.

I took a granola bar from Luke and said "you know we probably have low blood sugar and that's making us so edgy and jumpy" I suggested. Max gave me a look of confusion. "What? My mom is a nurse" I offered, as if they didn't already know. In reality that look was probably more annoyed, he hated it when I offered explanations that were medical because my mom usually explained things that way. Luke smiled "I like your explanations, especially when the outcome means I need to eat" he laughed. I was glad to see he had lightened up. We goofed around for the next half hour or so, just to make light of the situation, it seemed to ease the tension.

"We better keep moving, I don't want to spend the night out here" Max said "yeah my parents will send out a search party if I'm not home for dinner" Luke said. He wasn't wrong but the way Becca's disappearance was handled made me doubt they would try very hard to find us either, and that thought made me shiver...we were on our own out here.

I was about to suggest moving on when we heard a loud crash and a growl, deep and guttural, I had never heard anything like it, we froze not knowing what to do next and trying our hardest not to freak out. For less than a minute, we heard crashes as if someone was coming into the forest, then they just stopped. "I don't know what is scarier, the crashing noises or the suddenly silence" Max whispered. I nodded my agreement and took a quick look at Luke, he looked scared, his ventolin inhaler almost hidden in his right hand. He is going to have a panic attack, I mention this concern to Max, who quickly looks over and nods. "We need to find someplace safe to hide for a little while. "Hey Gabs, did you bring bug spray by chance?" Max asked, scratching his arms. I was looking in all directions and absently handed him a spray bottle of bug spray. "Guys..."!i said and they both looked up at me. "That noise was behind us...what if it didn't just stop? What if it stopping means that someone is watching us?" Max handed me back the can of bug spray and said "not to mention that is our way out, we may have walked into a trap. It or he or whatever is corralling is toward something, like a bunch of cows, we are probably dinner tonight" his voice had started to crack. I strapped my backpack back on my back and quietly said "let's go" and started walking. I wanted us to keep calm and think clearly, with Max on the edge of hysterics, Luke was surely to follow. I checked behind me to make sure they were following

They had finally caught up to me and fell into step, Luke was doing breathing exercises to calm down and Max was constantly checking all directions, at least he was moving now. Suddenly, Luke stopped without warning and we had to turn around and go back to him. I got there first, he was just standing there, staring straight ahead. I remember thinking he had a stroke and it's all my fault, I should have said no to coming out here to look for our friend. I waved my hand in front of his face...no reaction. Then I noticed his eyes, the eyelids flickered and all that showed was the whites in his eyes. That image has been burned in my brain. I put a hand on his shoulder and talked into his ear, hoping to ease him out of this comatose state.

Finally he blinked and looked at me "did you guys just hear that?" "Hear what, man?" Max asked. "That guy talking, at first I thought it was another language but the closer I listened, the more I understood what he was saying. You guys didn't hear any of that?" We both shook our heads "no, we were just walking along and you stopped there and had some sort of seizure" I told him. His face scrunched like he was thinking. "I heard it very clearly, I thought it almost sounded like it was inside my head but that's crazy.." he trailed off and stared at the ground. "Luke, what did the voice say to you?" I asked, not really wanting to know the answer but needing to hear it at the same time. Luke looked at me, his face now streaked with tears "he told me we are trespassing, and we need to keep moving...." he paused there, taking a deep breath "he asked me if I wanted to live forever, he knew my name even. I thought someone followed us and was playing a joke on us so I asked how I would live forever" Max and I exchanged worried looks. "Luke, what did he tell you?" I coaxed. He had begun crying again, quiet sobs. In between sobs, he said.

"He said I have to kill my friends and bring him the bodies". He put his face in his hands and cried harder.

On The Prowl
(Chapter 7)

I felt myself start to panic, "what do you mean he's talking in your head? Like psychically? You were having a mental conversation?" I felt my voice getting louder, Luke flinched away from me and Max put his hand on my arm. I took a deep breath and said "I'm sorry, I'm just scared, yelling at you was uncalled for" Luke eased up a bit and gave me a hug "I didn't mean to scare you, you know, I would never take that offer." I hugged him back and gently pulled away "guys, we should probably head toward home. I think we are in danger out here" I said softly. They both just stood there, kicking dirt. It was Max who spoke first "yeah I think I've had enough today, I am in full support of going home"

So we headed back the way we came, still shaken, our senses on high alert. We attempted to talk about something else to ease the tension but none of us were listening and the conversation died off into silence.

Up ahead, I saw a small patch of light, I pointed it out to the guys and we all walk/ran toward it. As we approached the entrance we came in, I heard it deep in my head yelling "STOP!" Over and over. It scared me so bad, I almost tripped and fell. I caught my footing and Max caught my arm. I'll never forget the look on his face, it was terror in its purest form, I knew right then that he heard it too.

We made it to the clearing and stopped to catch our breath. Max spoke first "Luke, you scared Gabby and she damn near face planted, if I hadn't caught her" Luke looked up, confusion on his face "what are you talking about?" "When you yelled Stop! Was that a joke? It really wasn't funny" Max scolded. Before he could say another word, he saw in Luke's face what he had feared when he first heard it. Luke didn't yell anything.

"I heard it too Max" I offered. "I think we should keep going before it gets dark" Max was upset, he walked off to the other side of the clearing in the direction we had come in. We followed not far behind him, nobody spoke and as we entered the woods that would lead us home, I stole a look back into the abyss and saw a large animal. I thought at first it was a deer and nudged Luke. It was staring right through us, then it stood on its hind legs and stretched to the sky. It was huge, its skin pulled tight enough to see the rib cage under neath. It looked up and made the most chilling noises I've ever heard. It was like a high pitched bark, with a deep guttural growl. I still hear that noise in my dreams. Luke and I ran faster than we ever had until we saw the way out and saw that Max was already on the other side. We didn't look back. We kept running until we felt we were far enough away.

We stood at the park that begins our block, catching our breath. That is when we noticed the commotion. We slowly walked toward the yelling.
There was a crowd forming near city hall, I could hear yelling and crying and hysterics and when I look back to remember that, it's all in slow motion, the commotion is muffled like they are all underwater or maybe I am underwater. I'm sure I was running by now, I was in panic mode. On some primitive level, I knew what I was about to see but I had to look.

I pushed through the crowd without even looking up and stopped at the curb and dropped to my knees as adults were trying to drag me back so I wouldn't see my best friend laying in a pool of blood on the concrete. I was fighting the arms pulling me back with everything I had left in me. I think I was screaming but I'm not certain. Then Max was there, pulling me up and into a bear hug. "Come on, let's get you home, you don't need to see this" he said gently leading me away from the scene burned into my head. I broke down then, I don't think I stopped crying until after her funeral. They said it was suicide, she jumped off the top of the city hall building. I never believed it, I felt responsible.

We never found out what lake was behind those dark woods, we had no desire to return there. It wasn't until after school started that things started really happening.

The three of us were inseparable, we couldn't talk to anyone else about what we had seen so all we had was each other.

It was the beginning of fall, leaves were starting to change and the air was crisp and perfect. It was a weekend. I awoke suddenly to a loud bang outside my bedroom window. My heart raced, it sounded like someone was trying to break in. I lay perfectly still, listening. Knock, knock, knock on my window. I jumped and as quietly as I could, crept to the window. Then I heard "Gabby!" In a loud whisper. "Max? What time is it?" I asked opening the window for him, he jumped in the window and whispered "Luke is gone, he was staying at my house, I woke up and he was staring at the door. I asked him what was wrong and he had that same look that he had in the woods that day, the one with only the whites of his eyes showing. I tried to snap him out of it but he kept repeating "I must obey or he will kill me too" then he got up and walked out the door. I followed him for a while but he went in the forest. I don't know what to do." He was pale and had tears in his eyes. "We have to go after him" I said "I don't know if you remember but last time he was in a trance like this, he was told to kill us" now he sounded like he was getting angry. "What else can we do?" I asked. His shoulders dropped "I have no idea"

We sat in silence, to terrified to even consider what we needed to do and too tired to do anything that night.
Max slept on my bedroom floor, i dug out a sleeping bag and extra pillow for him. Neither one of us wanted to be alone that night.

The next day, Max called Luke's parents and by the end of the day he was a missing person.

By the end of the weekend, Gavin, Max's twin brother, was found mauled to death in the park. We thought it was supposed to be Max.

We were right...


Locked Away Memories

(Chapter 8)

 

My therapist was the one that pushed me to write down my story, she also referred me to the hypnotherapist that first hypnotized me and stopped returning phone calls. She also found the second one that stuck around. She felt it was unhealthy for me to repress those memories from my teenage years, when I lost everything.

KI insisted that nobody believed me, my parents got me a therapist after Gavin was found in the park, and their parents up and moved the rest of their family away with no return address. They wanted to keep me away from Max, like this whole thing was my fault. The therapist I saw back then had me committed after I told him the story. I was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, bipolar and narcissistic personality disorder. According to them I was a chronic liar looking for attention and I was suspected of killing my friends (even though Luke was never found). There was never an investigation into the murders because the town knew who killed them. I was in a sense, ex communicated. I was a scapegoat.

I have spent the last 20 years locked up in an institution with no visitors. I was assigned a new therapist about 6 months ago, Grace.  She gained my trust and got me to tell her what happened, and for the first time in 20 years, someone believed me.

She researched the town and found a large number of "suicides" that couldn't possibly be suicides and started to dig deeper. She says the land is cursed and the original settlers had made a deal to live in peace, a contract with a monster.  We nullified that Contract by going into the woods that day. I was ex communicated to restore the peace.
I don't know where she got all this information from but it was starting to make sense why no one went looking for the missing kids.

She even found Max. He didn't live far from this hospital that I call home. She said he wanted to see me, that he felt terrible about his parents taking him and leaving in the middle of the night, they tried their hardest to blame me for his brothers death, but he knew the truth.
She set up a visit for the following week. I asked her about my family. She couldn't look at me when she said she thought she found them but when she called, they told her they never had a daughter, she tried to be comforting by convincing me she had the wrong people. I know she didn't. After 20 years of never once seeing my family, I wasn't all that upset.

She changed my diagnosis to anxiety and major depressive disorder. She said there was no way I had a personality disorder and that is why the meds they gave me never seemed to help much. She ordered me Prozac and cymbalta. I am finally feeling normal like a cloud of fog has lifted and I can see clearly for the first time in 20 years....

Max came today, he looked almost the same, his face has hardened but I could still see the 15 year old kid he was in his big blue eyes. He grabbed my hand "Gabby, I am so sorry they did this to you. I tried to tell them it wasn't you but they said I was just a kid with a crush and brushed me off" I smiled "it's not your fault, they had a secret to keep, and this is how they keep it" he got a sheepish grin, one that reflected the Max I once knew. "I have a confession to make, I have never forgotten you like they wanted me to do.  I have spent years looking for a therapist that give me the benefit of the doubt and that's when I found Grace. She is actually my therapist, I sent her to you because I knew you weren't schizophrenic, I knew you weren't lying"
I was surprised "you did that? Thank you, I didn't think I would ever find someone who would listen to me" I squeezed his hands, then looked at them. His hands were rough but strong, from a life of manual labor, I also noticed he didn't wear a ring. He saw me looking and blushed "I'm not married, I have dated off and on but can't get close to anyone. It's hard enough getting a therapist that won't call me delusional, I don't need a girlfriend thinking I'm bat shit crazy" he laughed at that. I was relieved, I never really thought about him like that when we were kids but I realized the thought of him coming for a visit with a ring on his finger and a wallet filled with kids pictures, was causing a lot of anxiety. "I have another surprise for you" he said. I looked up from his hands and caught his eyes, a deep blue that reflected a deep sadness that only I knew the truth behind. I smiled "what's that?" I asked. "With the help of our therapist, Grace, we got you released" I smiled "for a weekend?" I asked and at that he laughed "no sweetie, discharged, forever, you need to come home" my smile got wider "seriously? That's great! Thank you!" I couldn't contain my excitement.

"Gabs, will you help me find Luke?"
I hesitated "Max, you realize he is more than likely dead right?" "Yes I know that, but his body never was recovered, everyone else's was. I need to know why. I can't explain it, I just need to know" he looked embarrassed and averted his eyes.
I sighed "of course I will help you"

That is how, twenty years later, we ended up back in that dark forest, that felt like a living, breathing thing the last time we went in there.

As adults, that magic didn't wear off, the evil still lurked in the shadows, and it definitely did not want us there...


Freedom Tastes Like Home
(Chapter 9)

 

The day I was released, it was a beautiful fall day, the air crisp and perfect. Max was waiting in an old Honda that had seen better days. I didn't care, it had been a long time since I even rode in a car. He took my bags and tossed them in the trunk and I jumped in the front seat.

Nobody spoke until he entered the freeway, his face turned to stone and he said "neither one of us are welcome back there, we will have to park somewhere else" he didn't take his eyes off the road. "What about that little lake my parents had their 4th of July parties?" I suggested. He nodded "I was actually just thinking the same thing" now he smiled, glanced over at me and took my hand in his, interlocking our fingers. "We always had chemistry, if things hadn't gotten...bad" he paused and cleared his throat. I squeezed his fingers gently and smiled "I know" I whispered.
"So why now? What made you put this in motion now?" I asked, changing the subject. He furrowed his eyebrows and said "God, Gabs did they actually brain wash you in that loony bin?" "Max, please don't call it that" I said, looking down at my hands, and trying to think. What did I forget about? I shook my head "I'm sorry, they pumped me full of drugs and lies so I would forget what they convinced me were fantasies I made up for the attention".

"Do you remember the night Luke wandered off and I spent the night on your floor?" He asked staring straight ahead, he face was stone, I couldn't read any emotion. "Yes, of course I remember" still confused.
"Gavin was found that morning, and my parents didn't even wait until he was in the ground to pack up and leave in the night. I snuck out to tell you we were leaving. I thought about running away and letting them leave without me. I'm sure they would have just left..." he trailed off. I had completely forgotten that last night. We had made a pact that night, he would come back for me, no matter what. I guess I lost any hope I had after they locked me up.

20 years ago...3am

I was laying awake in bed, my face stained with stale tears, I couldn't cry anymore and resigned to staring at the ceiling. Everything was uncertain, I was pretty sure I would never again see the one person who would believe me, the one person who was by my side.

There was a soft rap, rap, rap on my window. I hesitated a moment, then jumped off my bed and ran to the window, pulling the shade "Max?? Is that you??" I whispered when I pushed open the window, a moment later, Max jumped to my floor. "I can't just up and leave without saying good bye" I smiled "good, I was hoping I would see you again before they drag you away" I gave him a quick hug, as I pulled away from him, he wrapped both arms around me in a bear hug. Fresh tears streaked down my face. "Look what you made me go and do" I punched him playfully in the arm. "Gabs, make me a promise" I stepped back and looked at his face, it was hardened, I could see the man he would grow up to be in that baby face I loved. "Anything" my voice was barely a whisper now. "That you won't go into the woods, looking for Luke or whatever that thing is, by yourself. I will come back for you, I promise, then we will find our answers together" now he was staring straight into my eyes, it was actually making me uncomfortable but I can't remember why, maybe it was the haunted look in his eyes, he didn't seem to be present. "I promise" his face cracked a bit and a sheepish grin formed as he lifted his hand, sticking out his pinky "pinky swear?" I looked at his outstretched arm "pretty sure we out grew that in elementary school, but why not?" I teased and we shook pinkies. That was the last time I saw him, well until now anyway.

Present Day

"I remember now," I smiled and he said "I'm back for you now, let's go find Luke and that thing or at least find some answers" he turned down a dirt road and the Honda jumped from pothole to pothole, I hung on to the arm rest "are you sure this thing won't just collapse right here?" I teased and Max laughed "she'll be just fine" he said, patting the dashboard gently.

We finally parked in the little paved patch they call a parking lot, nothing had changed, it was like I never left, I half expected to smell the aroma of meat cooking on a grill and hearing splashing and yelling from the beach.

I looked around and found Max standing by the tree line behind the designated camping spots. He turned and yelled "we can go in over here!" I started heading toward him in a half jog half walk. When I caught up to him, he was pointing toward the water "see that?" There was an island in the distance. "I think that might be where it hides, when I looked over old surveyor maps of the area and there should be an old barn on that island, the only building left standing after some pretty nasty storms wiped the rest of the buildings out."

"Max, I hate to state the obvious, but how exactly did you plan on getting there? I completely forgot to pack my BOAT"
"I'll show you, c'mon!" He waved his arm, motioning me to follow. He was almost giddy.

I was starting to get uneasy, there's no way he could know all this from some surveyors map. I watched him carefully, something didn't seem right. Max disappeared from my sight for a few minutes, then reappeared in a small paddle boat yelling "c'mon!" Is this guy for real? How long had he been meticulously planning this out? This was doing nothing to ease the growing anxiety in my chest.

I took a deep breath and headed down the hill...

 

In Search of the Truth.
(Chapter 10)

 

What happened next I'm not sure I even believe and I was there. I want to say my eyes were playing tricks on me but I know that isn't true. Max pulled the little paddle boat over and I hopped in, still pretty unsure about this whole thing. He was grinning like he knew exactly what was happening which didn't help with the anxiety I was having over this.
"What is going on, Max?" I asked. Still grinning he said "we are going to check out this island, see what's on it" he was staring at me. I watched his eyes and face before I spoke again, I became very good at reading people's faces while I was locked up, I had to, doctors were always lying to the patients and I needed to protect myself. "You have always been a horrible liar" I said finally. His grin wavered for a moment. "Gabs, come on, it's me you know you can trust me" this comment struck a nerve, which surprised even me. "Stop the boat please" I said softly and he furrowed his eyebrows "why? You going to get out and walk?" He teased. "No I'm being lied to and I want you to tell me what you are hiding. I'm sorry but I've been lied to most of my life and I don't appreciate it. Also, I did know you, but I haven't known you for the last 20 years, Max. You can't just show up one day and expect things to be the same because they're not and we're not" I took a deep breath and stared down at my hands in my lap.
His voice softened "I'm so sorry Gabby, I got carried away. Im so happy you are here with me after all those years. The truth is that I have been on this island and I saw something, I don't know exactly what it was but it looked like the thing we saw by the showers at the beach that day. I couldn't tell anyone or they would think I was completely..." he stopped mid sentence and hung his head "completely what? Crazy?" I finished for him, amused. "Yeah sorry I wasn't thinking" "no worries, that really doesn't bother me" I offered. He looked up and smiled "anyway I wanted to take you out here to see if we found it again and I have a crazy theory that I can only share with you. It's probably going to sound crazy to you even and you've seen this thing with me" he paused to look at me
"A theory? About a weird looking monster that has the town brainwashed?" I asked. "Well, yeah kind of. I did some research on this area and the legends that we called home. The guy in the log cabin, the missing people, including Becca and Luke. Some where found, some were not, but no one in town lifted a finger to investigate or even seem to care about what was going on" he stopped and studied my face "why didn't they care? That always got me" I asked. He was quiet for a minute, "they were conditioned to believe it was part of life. Of course there was always people like us who wanted answers. They were either killed or sent away, like us. But there is a pattern...I dug a bit deeper and found that people go missing every 10 years, give or take and it looks suspiciously like sacrifices. I think the town is offering people as sacrifice to keep the monster out of sight, it's always easier to offer up the troublemakers" he stared off out at the still water. There wasn't even a breeze that day, the surface of the water was like glass and the air just cool enough to be comfortable but I had chills as I processed this. Did my family sacrifice me? Is that what that was, and why they never came back.
"Are you saying we were sacrifices?" I asked, still processing.

He grabbed my hand in both of his and said "yes, and this is why we can't go into town. You might think they wouldn't remember but they do and they will run you out. We aren't the first to come back, but I would like to live to tell about it" I agreed "but what about this island? You said you've been there before, what is over there? Why are we going there now?" I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, this whole thing didn't feel right.
"Because of what I found, my theory. There is a monster but it has to feed, for lack of a better word, every so often but the ones that aren't found are possessed by the monster. I'm saying that Luke became that monster and I need your help finding him" he confessed. "Isn't that dangerous? Assuming your theory is correct, by all intents and purposes, it's not Luke, not anymore, he would be unpredictable, dangerous, he would have no emotional attachments. Killing is instinctual" I was still staring out at the glass surface of the water. "I know but I can't just let go and forget my friend" I could feel his stare, I turned to look at him "let's go" I said.

We paddled the rest of the way to the island and found a place to pull the boat up on shore. "Come on, there's an old shack up this way". He started walking up a hill, I followed, trying to look around at my new surroundings, mostly just thick trees and tall grass, everything was so still, it was eerie, made me uncomfortable. I jogged a bit to keep up with him, at the top of the little hill I saw the shack, sagging and dilapidated it looked sad. "That little thing?" I asked catching my breath. "That's it, it doesn't look like much but it works for shelter." He replied.

When we made it to the shack, he was inside arranging things as I stood in the doorway. Someone was staying in there, there was no dust on anything and what looked like a rolled up sleeping bag in one corner. Seeing the look on my face, Max said "I know it freaked me out the first time too, but it's ok. Come in"

I entered the little shack, where we sat until the sky darkened.

In the dark, we hunted and it hunted.


Retribution
(Chapter 11)

 

Max wordlessly handed me a flashlight and put his finger to his lips, he then turned and slowly crept out the door. My heart was pounding so hard I could hear it and was sure it was loud enough that it could hear too, but I crept out behind Max.

In the shack, Max had told me as little as possible, I'm still not entirely sure if he was protecting me or himself but I walked out into the night, blind and scared. I felt Max wave his hand behind him groping for my hand, I gave it to him and let him guide me into the impossibly dark forest. We walked along what must have been a path for a few minutes until I could finally see the reflection of moonlight on water. We made it out in the open before he dropped my hand and stopped. "It's safer out here, less hiding places out in the open" he whispered to me. "You still haven't told me where you think Luke is" I was getting irritated with his evasion of the facts. My irritation must have been more prevalent in my voice than I intended, because he reeled like I slapped him in the face, he stared through me, the light was dim but I felt his intense eyes staring daggers through me and for the first time, I was scared of Max. I stared down at my feet, afraid to look at him in the face, afraid of what I might see. "I'm sorry" I muttered to the sand. "I didn't mean to sound bitchy, but you are freaking me out with this evasive information" it was my attempt at an apology, I still couldn't look up.

Finally, after what felt like hours, he broke his stare and walked right up next to me and with a finger under my chin, he lifted my face to his, which was so close to mine, our noses bumped, my heart was fluttering again, I didn't know what he was going to do. Then he kissed my forehead gently and whispered "I'm telling you as much as I know, I know you're scared but I'm not going to let anything happen to you, ever. I really hope you believe me, I know 20 years is a long time but it hasn't changed how I feel" he paused "Gabs, do you trust me?" He asked finally. He was wrapping his arms around me in one of his famous bear hugs, I put my head on his shoulder "of course I do" I answered. He perked up then and was smiling.

"Good. I think we should stay around here..." the words died in his throat as we heard a loud crash somewhere in the trees. I jumped "what the..." there was some rustling in the underbrush and another loud crash "what could possibly be making that sound?" I whispered and realized I was shaking. Max didn't answer, I looked over and his face was stone, but his eyes were huge as he just stared into the blackness that was the forest. "Hey!" I whispered sharply and he jumped and looked at me "shouldn't we be doing something? Like finding somewhere to hide? Or at least running?" I was talking faster and faster. He snapped out of his trance and grabbed my arm again "let's go! Follow me" and he started running to the other side of the beach. The crashing paused and seemed to change directions, although I couldn't be sure. Finally he calls out "in here!" And pulled me along to some sort of bunker in the sand, he jumped in first and holds his arms out to catch me "c'mon!" The crashing was getting louder and louder. I jumped, it wasn't a long way down and he did catch me then pulled a swing door closed and latched it. "What is this place?" I asked when we were secured in there. He flipped his flashlight on "it's a bunker to hide from, that thing, it was built 20 years ago..." he moved in front of me and waved at me to follow him down a corridor. "I dug up the towns secrets Gabby, they know I did it. I was ex communicated, kind of like you were, but they said if I came out here again I would be sentenced to death. This seemed like a strange thing to say as it is no longer the Wild West, we have a justice system and no death penalty in this state. They were threatening to kill me over their secrets and now I think they did the same to Becca and Luke." This was more information than he had given me all day and I needed to process what he was saying. This was huge.
"What you're saying is those warnings and legends we were told as kids were true, but this thing that lives out here does the town's bidding? They can control it?" I summarized and Max chuckled to himself "when you put it like that, it sounds crazy as hell!" He said amused. "But yes in a nutshell that's about it, and I can prove it" he added.
"Prove it? How?" "C'mon, I have more to show you" he motioned for me to follow him again. After a few minutes I could see the dim glow of a lantern up ahead, does that mean someone else is here? Who could possibly live like this? It was a dark cave and it smelled of dirt and rotting wood, we finally came to a little room, a bearded man in his thirties was sitting in a chair with a lantern strung up on a pole next to him. He smiled and stood up when we entered. "Gabby, it's so good to see you again!" He exclaimed. How did he know my name? I was getting scared again. I looked over at Max and he was smiling ear to ear. "What? Do I know you?" I asked.
The bearded man laughed "of course you do, you probably can't recognize my face hidden behind all this hair" he reached up and stroked his beard. I was studying his face and I kept looking over to Max's face for any telltale hints "oh my god!" I exclaimed when it hit me, I ran to Luke and hugged him tight "have you been here the whole time?" I asked.

"Well that's why we brought you here, to tell you the truth. We wanted to 20 years ago but when Gavin turned up dead in the park, mass hysteria broke out and you were gone"

"20 years ago? You mean Max knew where you were this whole time?" I asked, trying to understand. Max dropped his eyes and kicked at the dirt, for a second I saw the awkward 15 year old kid again, and I had to smile.
"The night Luke wandered off, we overheard some things we weren't supposed to hear.." Max began.  Luke picked up from there "we snuck into the library when I noticed my dad had an invite to a secret town hall meeting held there that night. Max and I snuck in before the meeting and hid, that's how Max knew those things he told you earlier. They were planning our murders. When we got back to Max's that night, my dad was waiting in his car on the street. I knew right then that he knew I heard everything. He tried to blow it off but I wasn't stupid. I didn't know what to do so I ran, I ran straight to the forest and hid. Max ran to your house to make sure you were safe and Gavin heard the commotion and tried to follow me, someone saw him, thinking he was Max, he was tackled and stabbed." He paused for a moment, a single tear sliding down his cheek. Max chimed in "it was my dad, that was the most messed up part" my knees were shaky and I sat down on the dirt floor. "I knew right then I could never come back" Luke finished.
I was shaking my head "so there was no monster?" I was confused, I saw something that day at the beach and something was just chasing us. "Oh no, there is a monster, but the people in town are monsters too. They've been feeding it in return for protection from attack" Luke answered.

"This is so messed up" I said shaking my head. "How does a 15 year old boy survive in the woods for 20 years?" I asked. "Easy, I didn't. I realized that nobody was going to report me missing so I hiked as far as I could until I found a little town, claimed my parents were dead and got adopted by a nice couple, my name is now Kyle, I'm out here now because kids started disappearing again." I was rubbing my temples and looked up at Max "and what about you? How do you fit into this?" I asked. "When my parents packed up to leave, they wanted to drop me off at an institution like what happened to you, I figured it out and ran away from the car. I walked towards town and cut off into the trees. I found this island and this bunker with evidence someone had been staying there. I was hoping it was Luke, he came back one night to leave a note in case one of us came looking. He took me back to the town he found and another family took me in. We vowed on graduation day we would find you and get you out of there, it just took a bit longer than we wanted"
"So what about the monster?" I asked. "It's real, it's very real. We all saw it that day at the beach. It knows we are here now and why we are here, it's stalking us now." "Wait, WHY are we here?" I pushed. "To kill it, of course" Luke said matter of factly

"How do we kill it?" They looked at each other and stood up "c'mon we need to show you something" they moved to the other side of the little room where there was a small crawl space, Luke went first, I squeezed through after him with max behind me. When we were all in the room, Luke lit another lantern and illuminated an arsenal of weapons plastered on all walls. I was speechless.

"We are finishing the war it started 20 years ago. It ruined all our lives and now we are seeking retribution"


Answers Lead to War
Chapter 12

 

I looked from Luke to Max and back again. "How do you know you can kill it with regular weapons?" I asked, thinking of silver bullets for werewolves. "We actually thought of that, but we actually did a google search and came up with the answer" Luke said. I stared at him for a few minutes "you googled it?" Luke's face flushed red and he began to stutter "well..ye..ye..yeah it's..a..a..." "it's a Wendigo" Max finished impatiently and shot Luke a disapproving look. "Wendigo's hunt at night and keep victims alive and feed off of them for days. Defeating them is easier in daylight and their biggest weakness is fire" Max explained. "Ri..rig..right!" Luke chimed in.
"So we are going to wait till the sun comes up and go out there with blow torches and lighters and cook it while it sleeps?" I asked. "Yes" Max said. "Ok, I can get behind that but one problem guys, where does this thing hide out, or live or whatever?" The both were silent. I rolled my eyes and sat down on the dirt floor. "Seriously? You were going to go in blind?" I shook my head.

"New plan, since you guys were at least smart enough to bring a woman on board, I am taking over. We wait until the sun comes up and we start a search, what do we know about this thing? It doesn't like sun, so I would look for caves first. We have to stick together though, we are weaker separated so this could take longer than planned." I paused and looked at both of them. Max had a crooked grin "I am so turned on right now" he said and I punched his arm "shut up!" I rolled my eyes.
"So we are limited to blow torches? Please tell me there's some here and you don't have a useless arsenal here" I asked Luke, who smiled "of course I have blow torches, I am more prepared than you guys give me credit for" I smiled at that "good man" I said slapping him on his back, which pushed him forward a few steps. I found this slightly discouraging but let it go.

Luke jumped up and started grabbing weapons down from the wall, Max and I looked on silently. His arsenal was pretty amazing. "Do I dare ask where all this came from?" I asked. Luke paused a moment, looked down at his hands "no you probably shouldn't ask" I smiled, I couldn't help it, I didn't push the matter any more. "How much time till sun rise?" Luke asked. I looked at my watch "4am already, feels like it should be earlier, time flies when you're reuniting I guess" I said "just missing one.." Max added.
Luke sighed and stood up "do you guys not remember anything?" He sounded exasperated. I shook my head and Max said "what do you mean?"
"I mean Becca, I miss her too, I really do, but if she were here today do you know what we would be doing? Gabby would be trying to calm her down from a panic attack and we would be trying to figure out how to do this and keep her safe at the same time. I don't mean to be an asshole, but she was taken because she was the easiest target" his words stung a bit, but what stung more was he was right, she would be holding us back and putting us all in danger. I nodded "you're right, but she was still our friend and she's dead now. The least we can do is avenge her death, make this mean something. If we don't all make it back then at least we don't die in vain" I said. They both nodded and Luke went back to his weapons.

Max nudged me "do you think we should help?" I smiled "nope he seems to have a system, let him do his thing" "good I wasn't really wanting to anyway" he laughed and put an arm over my shoulders "I forgot how short you are" he teased, patting the top of my head. "That's why we are using you as the lookout, you can watch over the tops of the trees and let us know if something is coming" I nudged his rib cage playfully. Luke overhead and stopped in a fit of laughter. "Oh come on man, don't encourage her" Max laughed with him.

Spirits were high, even with current situation, it felt good to be around them again.
Just then we heard a loud Thump above us. We got instantly quiet. "It knows we are down here" Luke whispered. "Can it get to us?" I asked. "No not tonight, it has maybe an hour and a half till dawn, not enough time to find its way in" Luke answered. "Are you saying it is intelligent enough to figure out how to get in here?" I was liking this less and less. "Well, yeah. It used to be human, it still has human intelligence" that put a knot in the pit of my stomach and all the air sucked from my lungs like he just sucker punch me, I sank to the floor.
Worried, Max crouched down "hey are you ok?" I met his eyes "no but I need a minute to process all this" he gave me a sympathetic smile and patted my knee "ok, just don't pass out on us, we need you. You're clearly the brains of this operation" I smiled "you're a quick study, I knew there was hope for you" I teased. Max stood up and laughed "there she is".
Luke shook his head and laughed. "You guys are so stupid, the perfect couple, everyone knows it but them" I felt my face turn red and I didn't want to look at either of them. Finally Max said "well I guess we will have to look into that when we get out of here" I looked up and met his eyes, I quickly looked away and blushed. Max put a hand on my shoulder and laughed "lets go kill a monster first"

I felt foolish, Max had always had a crush on me and I knew it, but I "friend zoned" him back then and I actually felt guilty for it.

"Guys it's been quiet up there for a while, should we worry?" I asked moving on from the previous conversation. Luke stopped and listened for a minute "what time is it?" He asked "it's a quarter after 6" Max replied. "It's gone then, the sun should be rising now" Luke seemed to be in a trance collecting weapons and stuffing them into a duffle bag. "One question, how do we find it's hiding spot or whatever to kill it?" I asked. Luke let out an exaggerated sigh "I am 99 percent sure it sleeps in the cave on the other side of the island" he said without looking up. There was a long uncomfortable silence until finally like muttered softly "guys grab a flame thrower and anything else just in case" we silently did what we were told and followed him out of the bunker.

We followed him across the island, he was looking a lot like Rambo and I was having a hard time not giggling, then Max shot me a curious look I pointed at Luke, who was now entering the forest, and whispered "Rambo" Max grinned and whispered back "you better not let him see you laughing at him or he will break out the potato gun and chase you down" this sent me in a new wave of giggles.

There was a loud screech or scream (it really sounded like both) my giggles died in my throat and l began walking as silently as I could in the direction Luke went, Max was in tow, he looked nervous. We came to a hill, lay down on our stomachs and peek down. Nothing. "Where the hell did Luke go?" I asked, more to myself than Max. "I have no idea, there's nothing down there" max answered.

"Hey! Max do you have the binoculars in your back pack?" I asked. He took his pack off his bag and put it on the ground "I think I have some but I better check" he rambled on nervously. I was calmly watching the things that he took out with shaky hands. "Here it is, I knew it was here" Max beamed. I reached out my hand and he handed over the flashlight. I looked it over, looked up and said

 "let's go find Luke...again. Then let's go kill a monster"

I holstered my flame thrower and started down the hill to the caves. And possibly, death.

 

The Cave
Chapter 13


We found the cave by accident, I tripped over it. I ran down the hill after Max and I heard him yell "watch out!" A little too late. I went tumbling down the rest of the way and came to a stop at the bottom with a loud thud! "Ow, I twisted my ankle!" I call out. Max takes his time down the rest of the way and I may have been a little too snappy with him, if he had fallen too and got an injury then we are both useless and could be stuck out here
He got to the bottom and helped me up. "We found the cave" I said, pointing behind him. He turned and stared "there she is in all her creepy glory" Max turned his attention back to me and slipped one arm under my armpits "ready?" He asked. I blew out a quick breath and said "yeah let's do this" and he lifted me upright and held on while I tested my weight on my ankle.  It was sore but was holding up "I can walk this off" I said and he just nodded, turning his attention to the cave. Following his gaze, I asked "think Luke is already in there?" Max looked at me a second "oh no doubt, I also think that asshole lied to us and knew this was here all along, I feel like this is a trap" I had to agree, the creepy shivers the cave gave me told me to trust my instincts and go back.
"What do we do?" I asked, not taking my eyes off the entrance.

"Do you hear something?" I was starting to get alarmed. Max had his hand on my arm and was pulling me backward "it's coming from inside the cave and it's getting louder, we need to hide quick!" He was talking fast now, I turned and quickly followed him to the tall grass where we laid down, watching the cave entrance.  After a few minutes, Luke emerged wide eyed and out of breath, he bent at the waist with his hands on his knees for a few minutes, finally he stood upright and yelled "Gabby! Max! Where did you guys go?" I moved to get up but Max patted my arm and mouthed "not yet" so we waited. Luke started getting agitated and pacing, he seemed at the verge of panic when he called our names again, his voice squeaking this time. Max nodded and whispered "follow my lead" and we emerged from the grass.

"Man where did you go? We came up over the hill and you disappeared!" Max called out to him. Luke visibly relaxed "there you are" he jogged up to meet us. "Sorry I was kind of on auto pilot, not used to working with other people...but it is definitely in there and you have got to see this!" He waved for us to follow him "dude you just ran out screaming and you want us to go in there with you?" Max was sounding irritated. "I dropped a trail of gasoline up to where it's sleeping, we can just end this but I thought you would want to see it" Luke sounded disappointed actually, which confused me. Max looked at me and said "let's light this thing up and get out of here" he dug a lighter out of his pants pocket "Luke, where is the gas can you had in there?" Max asked "it's near the entrance, I'll get it" and he jogged off toward the cave. Max was clicking his lighter when he looked at me and said "I don't trust him, he is definitely up to something" I was thinking the same. When Luke was returning with the gas can, Max produced a glass bottle from his inside coat pocket and started pouring the little bit of gas left in the can into the bottle, he must have sensed me looking at him because he said "I found the bottle in the hunting shack yesterday and figured it could come in handy. Luke, I need part of your shirt" Luke nodded and ripped his flannel shirt, Max soaked it in the gasoline, he finished making his Molotov Cocktail and looked up "we only have one of these right now so if we miss and piss it off, we could be its next meal." His voice was flat, void of any emotion. I was starting to get scared.

"We need to go inside then" I said. "Luke and I will go, Gabs is the lookout for anything suspicious" Max turned and winked at me. Max picked up two flame throwers from the pile on the ground and handed one to Luke. "We will be back" Max said and they disappeared into the cave.

They were only inside for no more than 15 minutes, it felt like hours, the knot in my stomach was moving in. Why he wouldn't let me go with I didn't understand, we should stick together, I was irritated.

 It was dead quiet, I was too antsy to sit and wait so I had been pacing to calm my nerves. Then there was a loud bang inside the cave, now I am officially freaked out. A few moments later, I hear running, then more loud bangs. I lay on the cold ground, covered by brush, I watched as the guys came barreling out of the cave entrance, and nothing happened. "Max? What happened to your bomb?" Luke was catching his breath again. Max stared at the cave entrance through squinted eyes and grumbled "I don't know" he scratched his stubble on his cheek and started looking around "Gabs? Please tell me you are still around here" he voice started to choke and he couldn't get words out anymore. I quietly got up and stood next to one of the outside trees. "Hey.." I called softly "I'm right here, I expected an explosion after you guys came out so I took cover. Did you see it?" I asked. He pulled me into a bear hug and said "yeah I saw it, it looked almost human but it has wings and antlers, it's skin is wrinkly and almost transparent" he choked again. "You forgot to throw your bomb?" I asked. He shook his head "it woke up and grabbed the bottle mid air and put the rag out." He sounded exhausted.

I picked up a flame thrower, messed with it for a bit until flames came shooting out the long barrel, the kickback pushed me backward a little way. "That was awesome!" I exclaimed excitedly. "Just be careful with that" Luke mumbled. I had an idea. I took the flame thrower and headed toward the entrance of the cave. Max stopped me "what do you think you're doing?" He sounded angry "I'm going to kill it, I want off this island and I want to sleep in a bed" I argued. He paused and said finally "fine but I'm coming with, wait for me to get a thrower too" I shrugged why not?  
He came back with the weapon on his back and muttered "follow me and stick close to me" I nodded in agreement and followed him into the cave.
About 6 feet in, it got dark, like we were closed in, I could turn around and see where we came in but it was like the light would only go so far before you couldn't see in front of you. Max flipped on a big flashlight "c'mon" he said and kept walking.
We took a couple turns and came to a room, it was fairly decent size and empty, Max swung his flashlight to the middle of the room and there, up close to the ceiling was this large cocooned man-like creature. It had antlers like they had said and it wrapped itself in its wings and appeared to be sleeping. "Gross!" I whispered. "Told you. Wanna end this?" I pulled my weapon off my back and said "hell yeah"

So we moved to the middle of the room, when the thing screeched like what I had heard earlier, I jumped at the sudden loud noise. It took off through the corridors, still screeching. "At least Luke gets a heads up with that noise" I said "we have to get back and make sure he's ok" we hurried back to the entrance, and there was Luke standing over the creature. "Got him!" He exclaimed excitedly. The three of us stood around it staring at its ugly transparent skin and bat like wings, it gave me the chills so I walked away. The guys were slowly moving toward the gasoline, they were going to cremate the thing.

I moved over to the edge of the tall grass and sat down, hugging my knees to my chest, I watched. I watched in slow motion as they poured gasoline on the monster, and it reeled one last time and reached for Luke. He jumped back and Max quickly lit a match. We listened to the screaming for a few minutes before it stopped, i still hear it loud and clear in my dreams, Max does too.
All three of us stood around it at the antlers and ashes piled in the grass. It was actually over, I could breathe again.

"Lets go find a hotel and sleep for a week" Max said "I'm game" I said and we looked over to Luke, who was still staring at the remains, he seemed distracted. "Let's get him something to eat first he's getting spacey" Matt said and I nodded. "Lets go guys, this place gives me the creeps" I said. Luke slowly walked over to us "if it's all the same, I would like to go into my bunker and crawl in bed" he said "ok, go get some sleep" Max slapped his back and he gave me a hug before heading back to his hole in the ground. "What's with him?" I asked. Max shrugged "who knows, let him be, he'll come around" we headed back to the little paddle boat and headed back to shore.

What we didn't see, the blood dripping down Luke's arm. He was trying to dress the wound in his bunker and trying not to panic. He could hear the monster in his head, convincing him he needed to finish what had been started. He got up, grabbed a full whiskey bottle and tried to drown out those voices.

 

Cleansing Fire
Chapter 14

 

I swam back to consciousness to a fully lit hotel room.  Max was asleep next to me and I watched him breathe slow and deep for a few moments until the sleep fog lifted and I realized the bright light wasn't from the lights being left on.  I rolled over to see the clock on the bed stand 3:12am.  My heart went faster and I jumped from the bed to the window in one fluid motion and threw back the curtains.  I think I screamed because Max was suddenly next to me, rubbing sleep from his eyes. We watched tall flames engulf that abandoned island.  My knees gave out and I collapsed to the floor "oh my god, Luke!" I croaked out a raspy whisper that sounded foreign even to me.
Max wrapped his arms around me "I'm sure he's fine, he probably set the fire"
We sat in silence, watching in disbelief as the orange flames seemed to lick the sky.  My heart was heavy, I felt it in my bones.  Luke was gone, very likely by his own hand. I replayed the last moments in slow motion, Luke had been distracted, he smelled of cheap whiskey and stale cigarettes from the beginning but something was off in the final moments.
"Gabby!" Max had his hands on my shoulders and was shaking me. I felt tears well up in my eyes and I whispered "he's gone now.  He died to save us, to save the town" I said without looking up. "What are you talking about?" He was holding back the panic, but barely.

I shook my head "I saw it, in my dream and just now I saw it in the flames..." I paused, realizing how I sounded. "I'm not crazy, I saw Luke, in his bunker, I see blood in drops, making a pattern on the dingy metal yellow floor in the bunker." I stopped to look at him, he looked scared and reached out to hug me "we have to go and never come back here" he whispered so low I had to lean into him to hear.  I agreed wordlessly and slowly got up to gather my things.

We slipped into his Honda and out of town while everyone was preoccupied with the burning island.  We didn't speak for close to an hour.  "He was bit you know" I said quietly staring at my hands.  Max was quiet for so long, I thought he hadn't heard me, I looked over at him and I could see on his face that he saw it too.  "Is Luke doing that? The visions I mean?" I was unsettled by them, mostly because I didn't want to go back to the hospital for another 20 years.  "It makes sense, and it's the only answer I'm comfortable with" I accepted that answer and let myself relax a bit.

"Gabby? Hey Gabs, wake up" Max was gently shaking my shoulder, I lifted eyelids that felt weighted down.  "How long was I out?" I rubbed my eyes until my vision came into focus.
It was dark outside and we were sitting outside a very large, old Victorian house.  The house seemed to swallow the darkness into its large, ornate, wooden window panes.  The house was beautifully unsettling.  "Where are we?" I asked, turning my attention back to Max.  To my surprise, he waspp smiling "we are home, Gabs" "this is your house?" I asked and instantly felt silly, of course it was his house. He gave a quick laugh and his smile widened "come on, I'll take you on the grand tour"

The inside was just as beautiful as the outside, after going room to room, we stopped in a small dining room with vaulted ceilings and a large chandelier bathing the room in a soft glow.  "I restored this whole house, it was abandoned for a few years after the last owners foreclosed on it and did quite a number on her.  It was a steal" "well, it's beautiful" I said scanning the room until my eyes passed over a discolored blotch in the hardwood floor, it looked wet and almost like motor oil.  "Max? What is that?" My voice started to shake again.  His face darkened.and he ushered me out of the room and into an entry way "wait here" he whispered''
He tiptoed into a small empty sitting room and was instantly swallowed up by the darkness.  I waited for what felt like hours, finally I inched closer to the dining room we came out of and poked my head out quickly, empty.  I backed up and quietly shuffled to the door Max walked through moments ago, the room was impossibly dark, like the light wouldn't even go in there.  My heart was thumping so loud, I could hear it in my ears.  I stood there, statue still for a few moments when I heard a loud crash then a blood curdling scream, seeming to come from right under my feet.  Panicking, I turned and headed to the front door when I heard Max yelling my name, he was running toward me "outside! Let's get out of here!" I nodded in agreement and ran for the door.

The adrenaline took us almost four blocks away, finally we stopped to catch our breath.  "Max? What just happened?" I asked between breaths. "Something is in the basement, I locked it in down there but we can't go back" he said, as he took out his cell phone and began dialing.  We could still see the house clearly, the windows gave off a soft yellow glow, that flickered for an instant, I squinted and moved toward it, trying to see what made that flicker.  I didn't realize how far I walked until I was across the street and Max was running behind me.  "What the hell?" He yelled when he reached me. "Something big made the lights flicker, I was trying to see what. I guess my feet just have a mind of their own" I half heartedly smiled, knowing my explanation was lame. Max was staring at the windows now "we should get a hotel room, we can pack up in daylight and find a new place far away from here and start over" he said, not taking his eyes off the house.  "We?" I asked and his cheeks turned pink "sorry, you are free to go wherever you want, I didn't mean to assume...or hold you prisoner" he smiled then and looked at me. "Lets go then" I replied. His smile got brighter and he moved closer, just then the sirens started wailing, getting louder by the second, we watched the direction the noise was when behind us there was a loud BOOM!  Then everything seemed to slow down, I felt like I was being lifted in the air, then a second of white hot heat to my head and shoulder, then nothing.

I saw a bright light, it was a small pin prick at first, and I could heard noises, like people speaking in hushed voices but I couldn't understand what they were saying.  I was trying so hard to hear them, then they would fade away and the light would get smaller and smaller until I was back in the darkness.

The light and the voices would return and fade the same way without changing over and over until finally the light was bigger and so bright, my eyes burned.  My eyelids weighed fifty pounds, my eyes watered and burned from the bright lights that started swimming into focus, fluorescent lights, an IV bag next to my head.  I was in a hospital.  I blinked away the pain of the lights until I could focus.  A woman in her fifties with salt and pepper hair tied up in a severe bun, wearing baby blue scrubs and black tennis shoes, was standing in the doorway staring at a clipboard in her arms, occasionally marking things down.  I tried to speak, but only managed a raspy croaking noise, I cleared my throat to try again, before I could say anything, the startled nurse dropped the clipboard and was at the side of my bed in one fluid motion "oh my goodness, you're awake!" She was smiling now and I could see the sparkle in her green eyes, I tried to smile back and speak again, it came out a little more than a gravelly whisper "water?" I asked, "could I have..." she cut me off "of course dear!" She said sweetly and hurried out of the room.  She returned moments later with a large blue cup with a straw in the lid, it looked like the extra large coffee mugs you can buy from a gas station.  I sucked down the ice cold water, she watched me patiently.  "How long was I out?" I asked finally, my head was starting to clear, I remembered standing on a curb hearing sirens getting closer, what happened? And where was Max?  I looked around the hospital room, I was in a private room, everything was bright white and shiny.  I looked back to the nurse, her smile had faded, she said "you have been here four days only" that isn't too bad "where is the guy I was with?" I asked. "He is down the hall, he has been asking for you" she said and I relaxed, relieved. "You're other friend didn't make it though, I'm sorry" she added.  Other friend? What was she talking about? "There was just 2 of us, my friend Max Hodges and me..." I said. "They found remains inside the house of another person, they said you guys found a gas leak and ran across the street, the fire department was already headed there after Max called them, your other friend didn't make it out in time and died in the explosion" in my confusion I muttered "thank you"and I drifted off again.

This time, I awoke to Max sitting in the chair by my bed, he had a bandage covering most of his forehead, and a few red scrapes and bruises in various stages of healing, but he seemed to be in good spirits.  "What happened Max?" His smile faded when he saw the look on my face.  "How about we get you better, then we can go home and talk about it and I promise I will tell you everything" his smile was back but there was doubt in his eyes, and something else, guilt? Fear? "Max we have no home to go to, you blew it up remember?" I accused and his eyes dropped to the floor, he mumbled something I couldn't make out "what?" I asked, a bit more harshly than I meant to but it got his attention, he cleared his throat "I said, that wasn't my house, I lied" his eyes were glued to the floor and his cheeks turned rosy red.  I sat silently, replaying that nights events as best I could.  The drive there, I fell asleep.  He had said he restored the house with its beautiful woodwork and the ugly dark stain on the floor.  What was that stain? Blood? I realized we had been sitting in an uncomfortable, thick silence "Max, please don't make me ask the obvious" I said finally.
"Ok..." he began as he twisted and tangled his fingers in his lap like he was nervous, he licked his lips and stole a quick peek out of the room.  "The house actually belongs to your psychiatrist, Grace.  I was hired by her to restore it to its original beauty, only I don't believe it was a coincidence that she hired me around the same time she started working with you.  I think she knows more about this creature than she is letting on..." now he looked up, staring blankly out the window.  "We were supposed to die on that trip, that much I know.  I took you there because I wanted to find out what she was up to sending us out and quickly releasing you.  The body in the basement, that was Luke, he was turning into one of those things, I tried to break him free but I couldn't." Now he leaned closer to me and whispered "Gabby, there were more bodies down there, there had to be 15 to 20!  How was only 1 body found?" I let that sink in.  Panic began in the pit of my stomach, "Max, we have to get out of here now!" I whispered harshly, he scrunched his eyebrows and I continued "if Grace is behind this, and had all those bodies that haven't been found, she set it up so they would burn to nothing leaving Luke's charred remains.  Luke, who is tied to us, who we were with the past few day..." I paused to look at his face "we are going to be charged with his murder aren't we?" He asked, I managed a nod "we need a plan..."

That night, we made a plan.  We got out of the hospital much easier than we expected and cut through a wooded area out of sight from the main road "I parked my car far enough back from the house, I really hope it didn't catch fire" Max muttered quietly. We walked for what seemed like hours before we started seeing charred remains of the beautiful Victorian home, Max quickly ducked and waved his hand for me to do the same.  I was about to ask why when I saw it, it had to be Grace, standing in the middle of the skeleton that was once the foundation of the home.  We watched her for a while, she seemed to be dancing and waving her arms around.  Suddenly there was rustling of leaves all around us, like an invisible army had us surrounded.  Grace stopped her dance abruptly and stared in our direction, my breath caught in my throat, I knew she could see us and I felt like I was being pulled toward her by invisible forces, I looked over at Max and he was also being pulled. "What do you want?" I called when we got closer, her eyes appeared to be glowing red, the sight sent shivers down my spine, what is she?
Her lips peeled back in a big smile, the kind you see in nightmares, but I couldn't look away. "I want justice!" She answered back.  Confused, I asked "Justice for what?" The Air felt electric, and a soft far away rumble threatened to bring a storm this way.  She was glaring at me again.  "You don't remember do you? The person sneaking around the tents, looking for the person who awakened the monster" I jolted back like I was slapped "what do you know about that camping trip? Do you know who took our friend?" Max now had his hand resting on my upper arm, his fingers were cold against my skin, I looked at him, his eyes wide and when they met mine, I saw something that made my blood run cold.  He knew who this woman was and he knew what happened that night at the beach.  Confused, I broke my stare and turned back to Grace, if that was even her name.
She began to walk toward me, her facial features becoming clearer, there was something familiar about her sharp features that I couldn't quite grasp.  Her sloped nose, the thin lips...a memory played in my head just then, like a video recorder on play back.  I was 16, sitting in my room with my best friend as we gave each other makeovers, Becca stares in the mirror, making faces like she was trying to push her lips out, she poked at them for a minute and said "hey when I'm 18, I'm getting my lips done!  I hate it, I look like a dog when I try to smile!" She pouted and I started laughing, she feigned hurt but then joined me laughing...

"Oh my god, you can't be..." I said, snapping back to reality. "Becca's dead, I watched her fall, I saw the blood...". "You saw what I wanted you to see, I was always the third wheel, you guys were burdened by me tagging along, I saw the looks you gave each other when you thought I couldn't see you, you were relieved when I was gone" she accused. "That's not true!" I yelled back, the wind had started to pick up now and intermittent drops of rain pelted down around us.  

I tried to process all this information that seemed to not fit together.  Then it clicked.  "The windigo wasn't the monster lurking in those woods was it?  No the windigo was keeping the much more sinister monster out of the town, and you sent us to kill it for you"  she smiled "what happened to you, Becca?" I asked, her smile faded but her eyes never left me.  "You happened to me, I was planning to run away, I knew you didn't me around, you felt like I was weak and holding you back.  When we heard those people outside that night, I went to find them.  They accepted me the way you guys never did" her voice was bitter, accusing.  

She had put on that little show that last night, she had killed Max's brother and made the town think I was unstable and dangerous.  The rain started falling in sheets, instantly drenching us in cold rain water, but I didn't feel it, all I felt was betrayed and cheated out of most of my adult life.  I started scouring the ground around the ashy remains, looking for anything, Max was at my heels, trying to stop me.  I grabbed a thick metal pipe laying among the debris, it was surprisingly heavy, but I swung up behind my shoulders and lunged at Becca, I don't remember much of it, as I blacked out, I came to in a cabin, the floor under the sleeping bag I was in was hard and cool on my shoulders, my eyelids felt weighted down and my head throbbed so hard, I heard the banging in my ears as if someone were trapped and trying to escape.  I slowly pushed myself up on my elbows, every muscle contracting and aching, I groaned and blinked away tears as my eyes watered.  When my vision cleared, I realized I was in the old cabin in the woods, how did I get here?  
"Morning sunshine!" I heard Max before I saw him, "you look like shit" he said as he entered the room, I managed a smile and said "thanks, not so bad yourself!" He chuckled and went to the little kitchen area and poured 2 coffees.  "We are here because we are wanted by police, you killed Becca, or over killed Becca, and collapsed, I had to carry you to the car and this was the only place I could think of that we would be safe until we figure out something permanent, like another country" I gratefully sipped the hot liquid and stared into my cup, fugitives.  "If we tell them the truth they will have us committed and we can grow old together in the state hospital" I joked, even though I didn't feel like laughing.  "I got a friend of mine to make us some passports and I got all the cash that I've hidden away over the years so we can go to Canada and from there, wherever we want"

By the following morning, we were in Canada, a day later, I can't disclose our location.  You see, the Feds eventually found our hideout cabin, burned to the ground with charred human remains of a man and woman presumed to be us, Max managed to switch dental records (it's amazing what hackers can do online!).

We are officially dead, just like Becca was officially dead...