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During my summer vacation I had decided that I would get in touch with nature and also try to get into better physical shape. So, on a particularly sunny Tuesday morning I hopped into my car and drove down to the countryside for a walk, where I could do those two things at the same time.
Just as I had hoped, the weather remained pleasant once I reached my destination. Clear blue skies without a single cloud in view, vast hills of green green grass as far as the eye can see with only a few clusters of tall trees scattered about the hilltops. And when I looked out far enough to the horizon I could see sparkling blue seas stretching on for what seemed to be infinity.
I love the city but, hell this place looked fucking amazing. Still, I get the feeling the novelty would wear off quickly if I stayed around for too long.
I set off walking, heading up the nearest and the steepest hill before me. The fresh air was bracing and clean compared to what I’m used to in the city. The sweet sounds of nature filled my ears, from the distant chirping of birds to the whistling winds that faded in and out of earshot regularly.
The place was so serene, but despite the beauty of it all… I felt uneasy. I’m not sure how to explain it to you, but… it just feels strange to be the only human being around, you know? There’s a sense of isolation, and the feeling in the back of your mind that nobody would be around to help you if something happened.
Despite this, I pressed on, walking up the hill until I was walking through one long cluster of trees. There was a growing stench in the air that I noticed more and more as I progressed up the side of the long hill. The smell of… decaying leaves, but there was a faint hint of smoke in the air. Smelling that made me a little nervous, but I brushed the thought aside. Hell, some plants probably smell like that naturally. I’d hardly know either way.
As I walked through the trees, the wind blew up again and I heard the faint noise of singing. It grew louder and louder over the span of a few seconds, and then it suddenly died down entirely. And then I heard a voice, a sweet and soft voice that still sent chills down my spine for some reason.
“Hello there. What brings you out to my neck of the woods?”
I turned quickly, half expecting to see some fucking Leatherface-like monstrosity… and to my surprise it was a woman standing before me. A rather attractive one at that. She was a little on the short side and somewhat skinny, and her skin was strangely pale. Her hair was black and curly, a little frazzled in some parts.
“Oh, ah… Just going for a walk. I didn't mean to intrude on you miss.”
“Ha, don’t worry about it. It’s nature, you can go where you please in these parts, nobody owns this part of the hill.”
Part of me still felt uneasy. This woman, whoever she was, seemed to just teleport in, not a single sound indicating her approach. Maybe the wind drowned out the noise, but… well there were no signs of footprints anywhere near her.
“So I take it you like here?” It’s a really stupid question to ask, but I was nervous at the time and just blurted it out.
Thankfully this mysterious woman was a kind individual, and didn't mock me over the stupid question. “Sure do. I was born and raised in this part of the country…feels like I've been here forever.” That sickly scent grew a little more intense in my nostrils, and I tried my best to suppress my disgust at the smell. “I’m not alone though. I have a husband and a daughter, and we’re always eager to meet new people,” she added.
The more I looked at this woman, the more ill she began to look. Her eyes became more and more sunken in whenever I looked at them, and I began to notice a few cuts, bruises and burns along her arms. Had they always been there? Had I just not noticed them before now?
“Well that ah, that’s good to hear. Family is important, and all…” I replied, feeling more awkward and uncomfortable around this nameless woman.
“Ain’t that the truth. Hey, why don’t you come by our house for lunch? It’s just over that hill there.” She pointed upward and I followed to the hilltop where her finger was pointing. A sudden wind kicked up, making me flinch, and once I turned around I noticed that the woman I was just chatting to had completely vanished.
At the time I thought this was just some sort of creepy prank being played on me. You know, country folk wanting to get a good laugh on the city kid. I laughed nervously to take the edge off, but I was utterly alone at the time
Seeing that this woman wasn’t going to reappear any time soon, I continued trekking up the hill to continue what I came here to do. The walk up the steep hill gradually took my mind off of the strange events from earlier. The ambience of nature took hold of me again, the soft sounds of birdsong and grass crunching underfoot filling my ears. That smell persisted and just continued to grow stronger.
I came over the hill and was greeted by a sight that made my heart stop, beads of cold sweat breaking out along my body from the sudden fear.
A burnt out husk of a house on one relatively flat patch of land beneath the other slope of the hill… The flames, whenever they had come about, hadn’t actually reached any trees thankfully. I don’t know why but… I started moving down the hill, getting closer and closer to the smoked out ruin to investigate it.
I can’t quite tell how long ago this fire happened, but the freshness of the smell makes me think that it couldn’t have been more than a day or two. The flames hadn't spread too far from the structure, and whoever owned the place seemed to clear out all the grass that surrounded their home. Lucky too, could have set this whole place ablaze.
When I reached the clearing and got a better look at the burnt out home I had to hold my shirt up to my nose, anything to block out the stench. I surveyed the ruin, pressed closer to it until I felt something loudly crunch underfoot. I pulled my foot back and then…
A bone. A scorched human bone, cracked under where I had just walked on.
My eyes trailed up, against my better judgement, coming to rest on the collection of burnt human bones trapped beneath a layer of dirt and ash. One empty socket stared right at me, shook me to my core and sent me staggering backward.
I looked away, tried to clean the horrible sight from my mind, but as soon as I looked away I saw another skeleton. This one was lighter and slightly shorter, and going by the anatomy I think it was a woman's skeleton.
And there, cradled in that female’s lifeless bony arms, were the small scorched remains of a child’s skeleton.