Not Alone In The Woods

I still remember the day we move into our little forest home in 1983. I remember drinking my coffee when I heard on the radio of the Challenger’s successful maiden voyage to space before my wife Laura and I headed out for the hour-long drive to our new home. For a while, it was the happiest we both had ever been, especially coming from the city. The doctors had recommended a less stressful environment for her and while she loved the city life, we both agreed it would be the best for both of us.

Three years later, Laura disappeared. One morning, her car was gone. Troopers soon found it half an hour away at her favorite beach of Lake Michigan, a single set of clothes neatly folded on the passenger seat, the car key resting on top of it. Laura had battled most of her life and our entire marriage with depression and schizophrenia. To this day, she is still technically missing, but I have no hope that she might actually be alive.

When she disappeared, I was briefly investigated, but once the detectives learned of my wife’s medical history, they quickly concluded that it was a shut and close case of suicide. They assume that one morning she drove out to the beach, undressed in the fresh morning air, walked into the surf and swam out into the ocean, where she inevitably drowned. To this day, her body has not been found, possibly still laying in the dark cold depths of Lake Michigan.

It has been over five years since I made the phone call to the police to report my wife missing. I maintain the house to the best of my abilities. The silence can be oppressive at times, but it also helps me write for long stretches of time. I didn’t maintain any contact with her family. I’ve been unable to shake the feeling that they hold me responsible for what happened. To this day, I still maintain her little garden in the back of our house.

I probably would have spent the next ten years, maybe even the rest of my life, in this house, surrounded by the woods if it hadn’t been for the events of the past few months.

It all started in early fall of last year when I was tending to Laura’s garden in the back, pulling the last weeds of the season. I can’t be sure anymore, but I think I remember seeing movement in the corner of my eye, further back in the woods. I expected to see some of the local deer or other critter, yet when I looked I could not detect any movement. Then my eye caught what looked to be a person, sitting on the ground. It looked like they were wrapped up in something. They were not facing me and my first instinct was to dismiss it as an odd looking tree stump, just in the right light. The high grasses were obscuring some of it. I dismissed it as a case of pareidolia, like when people first saw the ‘Face On Mars’ in 76 and lost their collective minds. I returned to pulling weeds and when I looked back up, I wasn’t able to see it again.

Over the course of the next few days, I seemed to notice it occasionally again, often when looking out the window from my study. I was certain that now that I knew it was there, I’d naturally see it more often. But something still seemed off to me. For one, I felt that it was never quite in the same spot. Once I began to notice this, I made a note of where I had seen it, even making a little sketch using the nearby trees as reference points. After that, it didn’t seem to change its place, allaying my worries. I decided that I had been working too much on my latest manuscript and decided to pay my editor a visit for a change of scenery.

Once I had returned a week later, I had almost forgotten about the shape in the woods, until I came across the note I had taken before I had left. I scanned the tree line for the shape, only to realize that it was nowhere to be seen. Part of me was relieved to not see it, chalking it up to a stump falling over or any other natural cause that might have moved it. Another, more primal part of me, was convinced that it had moved away, but was still there.

As much as I tried to put the thought out of my head, as much as I tried to distract myself with work and projects, the seed had been planted in my head that someone or something was moving around in the woods outside my house. For many weeks, I did not see the shape again, searching the tree line almost obsessively. The more time passed, the more certain I was that whatever I had seen was hiding itself from sight. My work slowed to a crawl, and I began to rely on sleep-aids to help me to at least find at least a fitful kind of sleep full.

One late afternoon, I saw it again. My heart raced, part fear, part excitement. This time I decided I would go out and find out what has been tormenting ever since I first saw it.

The sun had already begun to set, and the trees had lost most of their foliage, the wind blowing the last remaining leaves through the yard as I approached the gray, dark shape. As I got closer, I made certain to not keep my eyes off of it. As I was within 50 feet, I felt almost frozen in place once I was able make out the distinct features of a person.

I could make out that they were wrapped up in a grey, dirty blanket. Long dark and thick strands spilled out from their head over the fabric, their face was hidden under the tangle of their hair. I couldn’t tell if they were facing towards me or away from me.

I called out to them, let them know I could see them, asking who they were and what they were doing here. There was no reaction. The wind had picked up noticeably. The dirt fabric fluttered, strands of hair were carried by the wind. I called out again, but this time I had to start shouting over the howling wind. I felt like I was frozen to the spot, shielding my eyes against the wind and the last dead leaves were blown against me. I tried to take a few more steps towards the figure as I kept calling out to them until the figure started to raise itself from the ground. I still could not make out any of their features, just that they were tall. The wind pulled on their blanket and revealed the outline of a thin shape. Then the figure began to walk away from me. I tried to hurry after them, shouting at them, hoping for them to stop.

As I tried to keep my balance in the strong winds, I slipped on the wet leaves. As I looked up, I had lost sight of the figure. What if they had lured me out here? After all, they had shown themselves and then retreated into the woods when I came closer. Panic gripped me as I feared that they might have circled around and were going to ambush me. As fast as I could, I ran back to my house, experiencing a fear I have not felt since I was a child. A fear of what might be lurking in the dark. I reached the door and locked it behind me. I made sure that all windows were closed. The woods were dark and night would soon engulf the house completely. I locked myself in my study, curtains drawn. I was unable to sleep.

I decided that I needed to do something else and I called the police. I haven’t had any interactions with any police ever since their investigation into my wife’s disappearance. I reported a trespasser on my property and when the police officers arrived, I did my best to fill them in on what I had seen. I recapped my experience from last night and they asked me to show them where I saw the figure. I brought them to the last place I had seen the figure, but there were no signs that anyone had been here, with the floor being covered in leaves. They spend a few more minutes looking in the surrounding woods, but neither them could find any sign that anyone was here. They suggested that I might have seen a hiker or maybe a wild animal. I insisted that I hadn’t just see a wild animal, but when they asked me for specifics about the person, I couldn’t provide any details apart from the black hair and gray cloth it had wrapped itself in.

The senior officer told me that folks would see all kinds of weird things in these woods and that they had been called to three Bigfoot sightings this year alone. They could cleary tell how distraught I was and tried to reassure me how our mind can play tricks on us and how I shouldn’t feel too bad for calling them out here.

As they left I tried to replay the events of last night and weeks in my head, looking for anything to disprove to myself that I haven’t seen what I thought I had seen, that it had just been some sort of optical illusion, maybe even just high levels of stress. But I couldn’t. My memories weren’t hazy, I remembered every moment clear and detailed and every time I replayed it in my head, fear tightened its hold on me more and more.

What if the figure was watching me right now from within the woods? I closed the curtains, afraid to see it, but when they were closed, I began to fear that the figure might be waiting right on the other side of the curtain; waiting for me to pull them back. That night, I decided that getting a drink was the only way I’d be able to calm myself down. I had bought a bottle of Scotch the day Laura had disappeared, but only had one drink since then. I never liked the way it made me feel and how it numbed my pain. This time I embraced the numbness and after drinking most of the bottle, I managed to fall into a dreamless sleep.

When I woke hungover in the morning, I started to feel angry. Angry that I was afraid in my own home, the place Laura and I had spent our last few years together.

This was probably the moment I should have just gotten into my car and left this place behind, but anger makes you not think straight. Instead, I got into my car and headed into town, constantly keeping my eyes in the the tree line in case I saw the figure again. I couldn’t possibly spend another night feeling scared and defenseless.

That afternoon, I bought a small handgun for my self-defense. Laura and I had agreed to never have a gun in our home, and if it hadn’t been for the recent events, I would have been perfectly content to keep it that way.

It was as if they knew what I had brought back home on that day. No matter how often I went from window to wind and stared out into the tree line, I didn’t see the figure again for several weeks. I relied more and more on heavy drinking to help me fall asleep at night, fighting with myself to work on my manuscript.

Winter arrived one night, covering the house and woods in several inches of thick snow. I supplemented my heating with an almost constantly burning fireplace, regularly bringing stacks of wood in during the day. As the winter progressed, I looked less and less for the figure, allowing myself once again to let my guard down. Maybe whoever had been living in the woods near my home had to seek shelter some place else. I still carried my gun with me every time I left the house.

One night a particularly strong storm was raging outside, making the old wooden house groan and creak with every strong gust. I had nestled up next to the fire after having a few drinks, when I heard multiple loud bangs coming from the roof above me, like something being dropped on it over and over again. I thought tree branches were falling onto the roof, but as the loud bangs continued, I noticed the regular interval between them.

My mind imagined all the different things that could create such a regular thudding noise and as I tried to make sense of it, I seemed as if the gust of wind carried with it not only a howl but a piercing scream. It seemed as if it went on for several long minutes. Then with one more loud thud, the house shook, dropping my empty drink glass onto the floor. The wind had suddenly died off and I found myself sitting sweat-soaked next to the crackling fire as if nothing was amiss. Had I just had a nightmare and knocked the glass off the shelf?

Maybe I had even heard something fall onto the roof as I was sleeping and in my dream, it had taken a form of its own. I was unable to get any more sleep that night.

Once I could see the sun creep in from behind the blinds, I pulled them open to reveal the snowy landscape outside. I could see that multiple trees had fallen in the woods. I stepped outside to inspect the roof, expecting to find it damaged. To my surprise, nothing seemed to be wrong and I couldn’t make out any damages. Just as I had dismissed last night as nothing more than I nightmare, my heart stopped as I could clearly see a trail of footsteps leading from the back of the house leading all the way into the woods.

It was as if seeing evidence of something, anything really, sent me into some sort of righteous rage. All my stress and anxiety came crawling out to the light at once and without any further thought, I decided to confront whoever had been trespassing on my property and made my life of the past couple of months a waking nightmare. I was furious.

Having the trail to follow, I felt confident that I could confront the person and with the clear sky and the sun being high up, I could see clearly where I was going. To my surprise, the trail led fairly deep into the woods to a point where I wasn’t quite sure if it was still part of my property. Even if it wasn’t, the fact that they had come close to my home and I had seen them many times meant they had trespassed.

Soon my house was out of sight and I found myself deep into the woods, but soon after my eyes caught a structure in the woods in what looked to be an old stone foundation. It was half buried in snow, but I could still make out remnants of an old chimney. The trail was leading to what seemed to be a staircase leading below the foundation.

I had considered calling the police, but I wanted to make sure that whoever I had trailed was still here. The first few steps were covered in snow, but I saw that the footsteps were leading down into what I thought to be a former root cellar. I called down, asking whoever was hiding down there to come out and talk to me. There was no reply, and I tried a few more times. There was only silence coming from below. I decided I would confront whoever was hiding down there.

Looking back, it must have been the adrenaline coursing through my veins that compelled me to go down into the damp, dark space on a narrow staircase barely tall enough to stand. As I stepped down, my eyes began to adjust to the darkness.

As I stepped down into the small room of about 10 by 10 feet, I quickly realized that nobody was down here and that there was no sign of anyone camping. A curtain of roots was hanging down from the low ceiling, reaching down further like long knobby fingers.

As my eyes adjusted to the dark, I realized that I stood in front of a small wooden door, inset at an odd angle into the dirt wall across from me. I quickly raised my gun, expecting the door open at any moment. For another minute I stood frozen in place, before I stepped towards it. Then I heard it: A hushed conversation was coming from behind the old wooden door. I could only make out a single voice, but I was unable to understand what they were saying, too quiet for me to make out any single word.

This was it. Whoever had been hiding in these woods was behind this door. For a moment, I hesitated and looked around on the floor. If I could block the door, I could call the police and bring them here. My eye found an old wooden plank leaning against the wall next to the staircase. I holstered my gun and carefully took the board. I stuck it in the dry soil, making sure it found purchase, leaning the other end against the wooden door. In this moment, I almost felt triumphant. I quickly made my way out of the cellar.

I followed the path in the deep snow back to my home. I hoped that with the trespasser gone, I might be able to leave all of this behind me, reclaim some normalcy in my life.
I picked up the receiver, but there was no signal. The phone line must have had gone down in last night’s storm. I had no time to lose, so I decided to get into my truck and made my way into town.

Once I arrived at the sheriff’s office, only one of the officers was there. As I explained my situation to him, he seemed to be genuinely concerned. He radioed another deputy, and we decided to head back to the house. I showed them the path in the snow, which would lead them to the old foundation and the root cellar. I followed behind them and after a few minutes of walking through the snow we arrived.

They decided to send one of them down while his partner was waiting with me, in case whoever I had locked in had managed to get out. As the deputy walked down the stairs with his gun drawn, he made himself known. He kept calling out for whoever might have been down there. After he reached the bottom of the stairs, he stays quiet for a while and then eventually calls up with an ‘All clear.’ When the deputy returned, he was carrying the wooden plank I had used to block the door.

The deputy told us that there was no sign of anyone down there or a door. At first I thought I had misheard him. I was certain he had missed it. When I insisted that he check again, he asked me to follow him down into the cellar.

Once down in the dark cellar, I could immediately see that the door I’ve seen only a short while ago was gone. The deputy even showed me where he had found the board propped up against the soil. I felt along the cold dirt wall, hoping that whatever door I saw was just covered with a layer of dirt. But the door was gone. When he asked me if I was certain that I saw a door, I couldn’t help myself. The frustration and stress of the past few days had caught up with me and I shouted at him. He was taken aback and took a slow step back. I immediately apologized, but the deputy directed me up the stairs. As we reached the top, he asked me if I had been drinking and while I wanted to say no, I was aware that I probably still smelt like the half bottle of Scotch I had drank the night before. The two men exchanged a knowing glance, and all I wanted to do was to cry at that moment from frustration and anger.

That night, I decided I have had enough to drink and poured out any alcohol I had left down the drain. Once the night engulfed my house again, I knew I would not be able to sleep. I had forgotten to bring in more firewood during the day and since I would not want to go outside, I had to keep the fire low if I wanted it to burn continuously throughout the night. In the dark of the flames, I thought back to the voice that I heard in the cellar. Had I just imagined it? Was I just imagining it in that moment? I could almost hear it coming from within the house that night. I pressed my hands over my ears, closed my eyes and I started to hum to myself. I can’t recall now for how long I did this, but when I opened my eyes again, daylight was streaming in from behind the curtains. I realized then that I could not stay here, no matter how many memories tied me to this place.

I grabbed my unfinished manuscript, notes, and a few important documents from my study. I packed up a suitcase of clothes and brought it to the car.

I felt defeated. What was wrong with me? Had I really just imagined a door? Everything about that experience had felt so real. After all, I had seen and all I had heard, I had nothing to show for it, just doubts. I felt exhausted, but I needed to make sure that what I had seen in the cellar had just been my imagination. The trail leading away from my house was still there, the snow frozen solid by the cold temperatures from last night. I decided I would go back one more time, making sure I was not losing my mind. On my way through the woods, I was questioning everything I had seen. Had this all been in my head?

I reached the foundation and, standing atop the stairs, I listened. I was almost certain I could hear a voice come from below, but I dismissed it as my mind playing tricks on me once again. I slowly walked down the steps into the narrow catastrophic space below the old foundation.

There it was. The door. I must have watched it for several minutes. I just stared at it, unwilling to go any closer. It couldn’t be there. What I saw must have been just be in my head. I wondered what would happen if I tried to open it. Would it just disappear when I touch it or could I feel it’s cold, damp wood. As I got closer, I heard a voice again. This time it was clearer, yet I was still unable to make out distinct words. My hands reached for the door and as I felt the grain of the wood, I could feel tears run down my face. Then I realize that the voice was familiar to me. It was Laura’s voice. I could hear the fear in it mirror my own.

I reached for the handle and as my hand touched the cold metal, a head-splitting scream threw me back onto the ground. I scramble backwards away from the door as I heard Laura scream. Long, painful howls. The roots vibrated and dirt fell on me. I heard the screams as I was running up the stairs and back to my truck, all the way, as if she stood next to me.

It has been a few years since I experienced this and I have not returned to the house, nor do I plan to. Sometimes when I look out onto the street, I sometimes see a person walk by wearing grey clothes with long black hair and my heart stops for a split second. To this day, I still don’t know if any of the things I’ve experienced were real, but I won’t sell the house in case the figure still lives in the woods. Whatever they are, I hope nobody will ever come across them.

Note: This First Draft was part of NaNoWriMo 2021 – 30 First Drafts in 30 Days

📷 mood v3 by Hannes Flo

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