The Woodland - Runner Up

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The Woodland - Runner Up

Postby carnage_lee » Tue Mar 10, 2009 5:11 pm

The Woodland


It is difficult to write a document meant to be read by people whom you do not know, even more so when you have not had much of a social life for the last few years of your existence. However, there is something that I have heretofore been unable to tell to anyone, something which has eaten away at both my resolve to live and my dignity as a human being in the years that I have been burdened with it. Something, which for fear of being read, I have not even mentioned in my diaries, not that those are likely to be read by anyone anytime soon. But lying here in the hospital, with probably only a few more days, or at most weeks, to live, I feel that I finally have the courage to divulge this tale, in the hopes that the deeds that I have committed can somehow be undone by those that may find these written words.

It all began back in 1945. Having returned from my brief escapade in the Great War, I had found it troublesome to reintegrate myself into society – the bustle of my old home of New York, while filled with the same wonder and excitement as it had been in my younger days, now only left me with feelings of revulsion and alienation. The scurrying masses that wandered to and fro, the leering faces of unsympathetic strangers and the superficial kindness of those whom I referred to as ‘friends’ – all these things seemed designed to mock and hinder my attempts to simply get on with my life. And while said ‘friends’ bid me not to go, it was not with a small amount of relief that I finally did leave in the summer of 1949, breaking off all contact with my old acquaintances.
With the aid of the last bit of my savings I purchased a small amount of farmland in a more or less isolated area of Massachusetts. While I was aware that the condition of the soil was fairly poor, I was still satisfied with the arrangement – I had a small, yet comfy two-story home, surrounded by nothing more than my land, a road which after a few miles of travel led to a nearby town by the name of Dean’s Corners, and a dark forest untouched by civilization. The paltry amount of wheat and vegetables which my harvests yielded were still more than enough to support my new life of solitude, and the hard work that went into garnering even meagre results from the land took my mind off of remembering my old home.
It was all I could ever had asked for really. As the years rolled by, I became quite comfortable with my self-appointed expulsion from human society. What little I did need I either acquired from a store on the outskirts of Dean’s Corners or had sent to me by mail. I had no use for such luxuries as a television set or a car or other such accoutrements, so I was able to afford quite a bit in shipping expenses. The only things I really did indulge in were books – mind you, not silly works of fiction for which I had no taste whatsoever, but non-fiction works. Still, I found out that a man cannot completely live in solitude, so I it was not long before I acquired a roommate of sorts, a stalwart young German shepherd by the name of Linus. He was my only companion for years, and I still miss the little fellow today. But I digress…
I believe it was quite a few years into my successful separation from society, about 1957 or 1958, that all of this changed dramatically. It was on a hot summer evening, only an hour or so after the sun had set, when Linus began barking up a storm outside. The noise had startled me quite a bit, as he had never before had any occasion to bark in such a furious tone – it was simply something that he didn’t do. After shaking off the initial moment of surprise, I quickly grabbed an old broomstick – I kept no firearms in the house – and went outside to see what the racket was all about.
At first I only saw Linus barking at something that came from the direction of the woods, so I figured that it was probably some sort of animal. I began to casually stride towards Linus to calm him down, but as my eyes began to get used to the surrounding darkness outside of my cot, I saw that whatever had gotten the dog’s attention was still there, and I froze up just as the shape darted back into the woods. Though I did not get a good look at it, I could tell that it was fairly big, somewhere between a small deer and myself in size. Its silhouette seemed to change oddly as it moved in the most peculiar fashion – the only way I could describe it would be to liken it to a combination of flowing and hobbling, as if it didn’t have a solid shape. Shadows, of course, are wont to do that, especially in the dark. Most disturbing of all however, was the way the moonlight had reflected from the great eyes of the thing, giving it an even ghastlier presence, like some malevolent spirit that wrathfully scorned that which had disturbed its night-time stroll.
The sight had startled me considerably, as I had had no idea that such large animals commonly roamed these woods – at least, I had not seen any of them in the years I had been working on my little farm. As I checked for the probable pilfering the animal had likely done to what little I grew on my fields, I made it a mental note to forego my usual way of handling things and ask the shop owner in town about the local fauna when I next made my way up there. That, and maybe get a gun, depending on whatever answer I would receive. Though I had come to abhor their use, that did not mean that I was stupid enough to believe I could effectively defend myself with nothing but a dirty old broom. Having found that a few vegetables had indeed been clawed out of the earth, I resolved to take a closer look at the tracks in the morning, as it was too dark to make out any specific details.
Sleep came easily for me that night, despite the odd excitement. I distinctly remember it, as it was one of the last times in my life that I slept so easily, without seeing…but I am getting ahead of myself.

The next day, as soon as the sun was up, I strode outside to inspect the nature of the prints left by the thieving creature from the night before – only, there were none. I could readily find both my and Linus’ tracks, but there seemed to be no others besides those, which was odd, as the soil between my acres and the outskirts of the woods was of a particularly soft nature. Not even said outskirts seemed to offer up any unusual trails, but I did not wish to go too deep into the woods without more knowledge about what might await me therein, so I could not be certain that there was absolutely nothing to be found there. If it had not been for the missing vegetables – a pair of salads – I might have even disbelieved that anything had happened at all. Not only were those two clearly missing, the holes themselves bore clear indications of having been frantically clawed out of the dirt in a circular pattern around the salad stem, removing the plant from the earth in its entirety. The claw marks themselves did not seem to suggest anything too sharp or long and seemed to resemble something a large rodent or raccoon would make, but I was no expert in such things.
After finishing up breakfast and some of my usual daily chores, I set off to the town for supplies, and more importantly, an answer to this small mystery. I left Linus behind, as he seemed to have been enough of a deterrent to scare away the animal, whatever it had been.
It takes a about 4 hours or so to walk up the road to Dean’s Corners, making any excursion into town and back quite a lengthy affair which I only rarely take upon myself. It also meant that I was fairly isolated in case of an emergency, but this did not bother me too much. I had been in far worse situations in the war, so something as insignificant as the inability to receive immediate aid did not deter me from being happy with living so far away from people that would just bother me anyway. The only person I had spoken to in the years that I had so far spent near Dean’s Corners - I say ‘near’ because I technically lived outside of the city limits - was the shopkeeper of the grocery and agricultural store, a man by the name of Alfred, whose last name I had never bothered to learn. Though our conversations were of an exceedingly brief nature, the somewhat short, nearly Hispanic-looking man had apparently warmed up to me after he had learned of my service in the war. Not that he himself had been there, but apparently he had lost some family in it, and had the general notion that being a soldier meant that one was automatically some sort of hero. It was not an idea that I shared – I simply knew better – but I had also never bothered to relegate him for it. So when I finally arrived in his store, it was quite easy to begin my inquiry after purchasing my usual chocolate bar.
Apparently, the man was quite an expert on the animal and plant life of the region. He was fairly certain that animals as large as the one which I had purportedly seen did not exist in that region, it being primarily inhabited by much smaller game, which would make more ideal suspects for the theft of my produce. However, when I mentioned the marks I had seen from where the salads had been plucked, he briefly paused. Mistakenly, I thought that his pause was due to considering which specific animal had made these marks, as there were perhaps many critters in the area that could have done so, so I described them in full detail, making sure to convey the depth and curvature of the dull incisions in the earth.
Hesitantly, Alfred seemed to be grappling for words, before explaining what he thought the perpetrator was. As he spoke, he was gripped by a curious mix of emotions – something between awe and fear. I had never seen him like that before and I still remember fairly clearly what he had told me that day, for his words, though not in particularly frightening by themselves, chilled me deeply:
“No, Mr. Talbot, I am afraid there are no animals in the region which could have made such marks…but…I think I do know what it might have been that you saw. You see, long before this town was erected, this region was home to others…Indians, mostly. I say mostly, because in this particular area a very brutal and strange tribe resided, shunned by the others…the Nutomon Nomihtu. It is said that the tribe won the ire and fear of the others by trafficking with the demons of this land and worshipping strange gods, and the Nutomon Nomihtu used this fear to drive most of their rivals off – at least for a while. You see, it would seem that neither the other Indian tribes, nor the settlers which had begun to build their towns here were going to tolerate their ill business for too long, and so the tribe was decimated over the span of only a few short years. The sudden attack on the Nutomon Nomihtu was not without due cause …the tribe had always been a curiously small group, and the reasons behind it were discovered shortly before the attacks on their villages were undertaken.
“Part of their rituals involved the sacrifice of one of their own to their wicked demon gods. But when I say sacrifice, I do not mean that they killed their tribal members, or anyone else for that matter. No, what they did to them was far worse. Those that ‘survived’ the ritual apparently became part of the tribe proper, while those that failed were set loose in the forest. They were shells of their former selves, nothing human about them anymore, or so they say, raving and snarling like wild dogs. Their demeanor and appearance were apparently so frightening, that they had been thought to be monsters by the other tribes, which occasionally put down those that they came across. It was only after one of the settlers had followed one of the strange Nutomon Nomihtu hunters home and witnessed parts of the gruesome process that went into creating those…things, that their true nature became known, and thus the downfall and destruction of the Nutomon Nomihtu followed.
“I can see that you are confused as to what this may have to do with you and the thing you saw. I shall explain this in but a moment: for you see, long after the Nutomon Nomihtu had been eradicated there were rumors…rumors that the settlers of this land and perhaps some of the other Indians of this area had secretly intermingled with the tribesmen of the Nutomon Nomihtu. Mind you sir, that would not include anyone from this town – Deans Corners hadn’t even been founded yet at that time – but some of the neighbouring towns do have a few more shifty types than one would normally think possible…anyway, the rumors were never really taken seriously until about one hundred years ago, when a wild child whom had been living in the woods for some time had been discovered. The way the child acted and the odd unwholesomeness of his features drove those that found the poor thing to put it down. And so the rumors flared up again. It is said that there were more cases of wild children and even young adults being found in the woods after that. In my time here, I have not heard of any being discovered, but I do hear the occasional story of some hunter having heard of a friend who went through the woods one night and saw strange shadowy shapes…quite similar to your description. We call them the “Tibik-kizis”, after the Indian word for the moon, because of how their eyes are supposed to glow with an eerie light during the night…superstition of course, but you know, with all the stuff you hear around a place like this, a man is lead to be more inclined to believing stories like that…”

I remember very well the walk home after having heard Alfred’s story. While I did not believe the more unnatural side of the tale, I could not let go of the fact that it did explain the size of the nightly intruder, as well as the marks left in my field. I doubted that Alfred would have lied as to his knowledge on local wildlife, so I was somewhat hesitant to think that the marks could have been made by anything other than what he had described. Children were set loose all the time – this was a sad truth; so it did not seem too crazy to me that a person could have possibly survived in the forests of this region, especially if he were capable of scaring off hunters with the tales that had been spun about him.
However, though I fancied myself a more-or-less rational person, I could not shake the detail that the man had mentioned about the eyes – they had shone in an uncanny cadence, something which I had quickly dismissed as having to do with the moonlight. It was quite normal for the eyes of certain animals to reflect light in a bright manner, so it did not seem strange to me at the time that a person’s eyes might do the same.
As it had gotten rather late when I arrived back home, the sun had already begun to set, the orange sky and lengthening shadows creating quite a serene scene. The silence was rather disquieting though – normally, trusty Linus was immediately there to greet me as soon as he heard my footsteps. He hadn’t done so yet though. Concerned, I called out towards my home, but I heard no movement or other sign of the dog. As I went inside my cot to put down my purchases, a thought struck me – it had not occurred to me before, but given the possible identity of the thing that I had seen last night, and how it had reacted to my presence, it was possible that it had not at all been scared by the dog, but merely surprised. Perhaps only my own appearance had scared it or him off. Since I could still not see or hear Linus anywhere, I feared the worst.
Taking my newly acquired rifle and an old flashlight that I had lying around, I made my way to the edge of the forest, determined to find Linus, or at the very least, some sign of where he might’ve gone. It was quickly turning dark, so I hoped that I did not have to get too much use out of the flashlight before returning home – if something had happened to Linus, he could not have gotten too far, or so I hoped. My tracking skills were not exactly the best, so it took me quite a while to get an idea of which direction to look in. Since I could not find any paw prints further into the underbrush of the woods, I just decided to search in a sweeping pattern, calling out his name every once in a while. Though after darkness had descended on the forest, it quickly became apparent to me that even with a flashlight it was nigh-impossible to find anything without going fairly deep into the forest and though it pained me to do so, I decided to break off my search and give it another try in the morning.
As I neared the end of the forest, I became aware of a presence, a movement of some kind beyond the underbrush which marked the beginning of my land. Since I had long turned off the flashlight, I hoped that I had not yet been noticed, and so I crept up, as quietly as possible, behind a bush to get a better look at the figure which was apparently going through my crops. My eyes being already adjusted to the darkness this time around, I was able to make out some of the details of the figure – it did indeed look like the outlines of a person of some sort, stooped over and clawing at the ground, likely trying to dislodge some morsel from the dirt. The person had his back turned to me, and seemed pretty engaged with his task, so I felt confident in being able to surprise him – I had no intention of shooting him, of course, though I still needed to be careful.
I decided for the direct approach – the flashlight might frighten him, so I didn’t turn it on despite the darkness. Stepping carefully out from my hiding place, I called out to him in a tone that I deemed to be as unthreatening as possible. The figure whirled about immediately, glaring at me with its eyes, eyes which seemed to glow slightly with a strange inner light…though I thought that it must have something to do with the moonlight, it still evoked a bit of a fright in me. It froze for a while, staring at me. I feared that it was ready to bolt, so I lowered my gun and flashlight, laying them on the ground before me. Given the distance between the two of us, I didn’t think I was in any danger of being assaulted by the somewhat scrawny looking figure, which followed my every move with what I read to be confusion. I briefly wondered if it had ever come across a situation before where anyone had tried to communicate with it before I carefully strode towards the figure, arms extended but lowered. It made no attempt to move away, but did seem agitated. I could think of no better way to approach it though.
The closer I got, the more details I could make out. Clad in what appeared to be filthy rags was a spindly thing, a woman no older than maybe 25 years. Her taut, spooked face was covered partially by dirt and her long grimy hair, and she was cradling one of the cabbages that she had obviously dug out before I had arrived. As she still seemed very frightened, I stopped a few feet from her, waiting for her to make a move. Eventually she did creep closer, sniffing at me like an animal, unsure what to think of me. An idea occurred to me – I reached, carefully, into my pocket, and produced the small candy bar that I had purchased from the store. Opening the package as she watched me warily, I handed it over to her.
My plan worked. After a quick sniff at the strange object, she recognized the bar to be food, quickly prying it from my hands and eating it. It wasn’t long until I was able to get her to enter my home, the initial lure of food still fresh in her mind.

And so began my strange relationship with the girl from the woods. She did not speak any English, or any other language that I could figure out, only furtively communicating with soft grunts or clawing hand motions. Though she initially went off to the woods after her short visits, her obvious desire for human companionship – I can only imagine that she had lived all alone in the woods – and the promise of free food did entice her to return again and again, and to stay for longer and longer periods of time, until she one day finally decided to stay over night, permanently. In the absence of Linus, who I never did see again, it was only natural for me to welcome her into my home.
Daphne, for that is what I had named her, was quick and eager to learn of what there was to be done around the house and farm, and though she never did quite get the hang of how to use the tools that one used to eat or plough the fields, she never had to – I had no other guests besides her, and her uncouth mannerisms at the dinner table did not bother me. After a year or so of living in the cot, she even went so far as to finally take a bath once in a while, and to wear something besides the rags with which she had arrived. She even began learning basic words and phrases, though she only used them infrequently.
I never told anyone of the strange girl which had come to live in my home. I had no desire for anyone to come and bother our tranquil, simple lives, especially not by those that had so cruelly subjected Daphne to a life in the wild. Perhaps I was simply afraid that the girl would be taken away from me – she was the only person I had been capable of forming a bond with, and the thought of losing that bond might have been something which prevented me from ever mentioning her. Over the four years of her stay, perhaps the happiest time of my life, we grew very close, and it was not long after she had begun to communicate and help around the house that she was with child.

It was 8 months into her pregnancy when the event occurred for which I have begun to write this record. It was on a September morning that I awoke to find Daphne gone. I at first thought that she had gone outside as she was wont to do in the mornings, but when it became apparent that she was nowhere in or around the cot, I became quite panicked. Shouting her name, I looked around, making sure to search every nook and cranny of my property. Only one place came to mind where she could possibly have gone – the forest.
Not thinking straight, I immediately set off to find her, running and tumbling through the thickets. In my agitated state, I did not realize where I was going as I searched and called out for Daphne. Only after I had calmed down a bit did I realize that I was completely lost, deep in the dense forest. I did not care anymore though, and so I wandered for many hours through the dense foliage, which had apparently not been disturbed by any man for quite a long time. Briefly I wondered at the overall silence of the area – no birds or any other creature seemed to be making a sound, something which I only barely registered in my mind as I continued my desperate search.
I was nearly exhausted when I finally found something, a small, shredded scrap of the dress which Daphne had worn the day before. Not wanting to think about what it could possibly mean, I frantically searched the immediate vicinity of where I had found the piece of cloth. It did not take me long to find a further indication of her whereabouts as I came across a small cave opening in the side of a shallow hill, covered in gnarled tree roots. The entrance bore clear marks of recent usage in the dirt in front of it, and their appearance did imply the possibility to me that they could have perhaps been made by a human; so without further ado, I got on my hands and knees and entered the cave.
It was damp and dark, and I could barely see anything at all as the light of the entrance behind me began to fade. I pressed onward though, fumbling carefully through the tenebrous twisting turns. It did not take me long to finally reach the end of the cave, a dark cavern, barely illuminated by a few holes in the dug walls through which the barest hints of sunlight fell.
I can only describe with great difficulty what I had seen on that day down in that cavern, or perhaps only imagined to have seen in the gloomy half-light. It had not been right of me to judge the actions of the Nutomon Nomihtu Indians, or of the neighbouring townspeople, when they had cast out those poor children, those which had been christened Tibik-kizis in local legendry. I had been wrong to assume that this had been done out of cruelty, stupid superstition or maybe even a necessity born from poverty. No, the truth was far more sinister and horrifying, and its discovery drove me screaming and clawing from the cave.
It was years later that I awoke in a madhouse, where I was told that I had been in a sort of gibbering stupor for quite some time. When asked if I could remember anything of what had happened prior to my arrival in the asylum, I feigned ignorance, only going so far as to describe my old life in New York. They did believe me eventually, and thus I returned to New York, where I stayed for the rest of my life, living off of what little scraps and jobs life threw my way. But I had not forgotten what I had seen. I had merely learned to suppress it.
On that day, so long ago, I had indeed found Daphne in that cave, her eyes glowing with the same light that I had seen the first time we had ever met. However, her eyes were not the only pair of orbs which were glowing in that darkness. There were other things down there with her…things with eyes like hers. I was not able to see them very well, for they were small and hidden in shadows, their strange shapelessness making it difficult to ascertain any details about them. Until one of them crawled into the weak ray of sunlight which lit some of the cavern.
My memory of the impressions of that one short gaze before I had fled the scene still haunts me to this day…it was a vaguely rotund thing…grey, and covered in a slick ichor of some sort…waving, tiny things, like ropy hair, covered its surface…an anomalous amount of eyes and mouths…as it noticed me, it began to mewl sickeningly, much like something between an infant and a goat…it was after hearing that sound that I could take no more, and commenced my flight from that wicked place.
It took me a very long time to even come to grips with the realization of the existence of things such as those that I had seen that day. Even longer to make the obvious connection between them and myself. But I know now…though I wish I didn’t. Death will claim me in a short time anyway, and I am glad that the nightmares will finally be over. Though I doubt anyone who may find and read this document will look at it as anything other than the demented scribbles of a dying old man, I feel absolved of the guilt that I have borne for so long…I have surely done the best I can under the circumstances.
Perhaps I’ll be able to convince myself of that lie before I die.
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carnage_lee
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