The new house brought a smile to her face. A mien that had been drowning in sorrow for months. Eyes that were more wet than dry. A walk that was more drag than swag. But, Alicia had reason to smile now. This new house—not even a house, a cabin, a dream-place, a beautiful wooden structure lost in the country. Not another neighbor for miles. The new cabin played a big part in her happiness, yeah, but this transformation into positivity jumpstarted the moment she left the city. The very place that killed her son. And now all she had left was her husband and five-year-old daughter.
She looked at this new home as a blessing, “God’s apology” she called it, for getting more than what they paid for. A twenty acre home in the jungle, she thought. She, nor her husband, were outdoorsy, everything outside the city was jungle to her. Jungle had animals, but the city had monsters.
But something about this home…the husband couldn’t shake. The noises at night; the quiet noise. They were in the middle of the woods and after a week there, they hadn’t seen or heard any animals. The damn trees barely moved. But it was the price of this beautiful bungalow with land farther than they could see that cost the same as a one-bedroom duplex back home.
Alicia didn’t care but Shawn had to know. So, he drove the thirty minutes to town to ask some questions. And he did not like the answers.
A widower and his two sons claimed this land, chopped down trees and built the home (one lady said it was on sacred land). But two weeks after completion of the home, the two sons disappeared into the woods. The father never fully recovered from the death of his wife, he couldn’t stand to lose his sons, not now. So, the following night, he searched the woods for them and never came back. The boys returned unscathed and left the property forever. They told the townsfolk of a creature who claimed their father as a prize. The boys were said to have burned down this very cabin before they left. But here it stood. Some say this happened fifty years ago, others say a hundred.
Alicia scoffed through all of it, especially the creature part. “So, there’s a creature out there.”
“It’s what the townsfolk say.”
“Townsfolk,” she laughed. “We talking monster creature or some wild animal?”
“A bear maybe, what most people said. But I heard witch, even a cannibal cult.”
“Yeah. Maybe.” Shawn seemed more concerned than she.
“I believe in what I can see, Shawn. Not some country folk cut off from the rest of the world needing something to keep them entertained.”
“This be the same type of country folk you plan to turn into?”
“Nothing in those woods can be scarier than what that God-forsaken city took from us. NOTHING!”
On the eve of his high school graduation, their son Camron joined a peaceful protest in the middle of the city that turned violent. Protestors clashed with officers, and dozens were injured. One person died that evening; their son. He was struck by a real bullet that was supposed to be rubber. Alicia and Shawn sued the city, they lost, and they left.
They weren’t going back to the city. Alicia’s foot was down, and Shawn wasn’t strong enough to lift it. So, he dealt with it and tried not to think of the witch lurking out there, or the cannibal cult. God help him, the man hoped to see a bear prowling out there.
On the second weekend, Shawn woke up to the smell of eggs and bacon. He walked into the kitchen to his wife drinking coffee and reading a book. “Where’s Lea?” he asked.
“Oh. She’s on the porch kicking her ball.”
“Our little soccer player.” Shawn smiled and made his plate.
When he finished his meal, he sat back in his chair to let his food digest.
“Alicia?” he squinted his eyes and looked around the room.
“I don’t hear a ball.”
He jumped out of his chair and ran to the porch. She wasn’t there. He ran back inside, looked all over the house—nope. Back outside, two laps around the house, and then he stopped and looked out into the woods.
Alicia was a skeptic until that moment. The woods had her little girl. Lea knew better than to wander off. As Shawn rushed back inside to grab his boots, his coat, and an axe, she did the same, but with a bat. He had never been physical with his wife, but he pushed her away from following him. “No. Stay here in case she comes back.”
She argued, in that way she was known for, and she never lost a battle. But Shawn was in rare form, wielding the axe with fear and anger flooding his eyes. She argued, protested, but she stayed, and he left.
Each minute felt like an hour. Each hour, an eternity. She drove herself crazy, pacing all over that porch, screaming that little girl’s name over and over. She finished her seventh cup of coffee when the night came. Then, she screamed her husband’s name too, and called the sheriff.
No matter the massive amounts of caffeine she consumed, she cried herself to sleep on the porch steps with the bat in her lap.
The rise of the sun woke her, and there was no sign of her family. No sign of the sheriff; he said he’d be right over. But—
“Oh, to hell with this.” So, she ran into the woods with her bat.
An hour later, the husband returned with the little girl. Both of them unharmed, but pretty shaken up. Shawn couldn’t wait to put his foot down this time, because as far as he was concerned, they were already gone. No more woods. No more country. But, when he and Lea entered the home, no more Alicia.
He knew she went looking for them, but maybe she didn’t get far. Maybe.
He called for her return, screamed her name. The poor little girl screamed for her “mommy” too.
An hour turned to two hours, two hours to four, and come night time, he called the sheriff, who said he’d be right over. He never did. And come morning, Shawn knew that his wife was gone to the woods, never to return. So, he made the decision, the right decision, to not go looking. Shawn and Lea left the cabin for good that day. Filed a report and returned to the city.
There was something out there. Not a bear. Not a witch. Not a cult. A monster! A ghoul. Lured his little girl deep into the woods until he caught up. And that ghostly figure, as tall as the trees with fangs and claws, bent over to the father embracing his little girl and spoke; “Take your daughter and leave these woods. Never return. My prize is here now.”
copyright © M. Sydnor Jr.