Before this whole mess happened, I was just an ordinary reporter, from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Catching up on the daily news was my life, and I loved it. Finding out what was going on in the world excited me, but the story about to unfold was more news than I wanted. This is my story…

It was about two weeks ago when my problems started. On my way to work, I passed a beggar on the street where I live, and he looked up at me expectantly, hoping for some charity. Ignoring him, I strolled past, but before I could go too far, he grabbed hold of my trouser leg and jerked me back. ‘Please…’ he murmured, barely audibly. Pulling myself away from his weak grasp, I said – ‘Let go, I haven’t got any money on me.’ But as he released his grip, coins chinked in my pocket. I reddened and hurried away. As I put distance between us, the beggar started cursing and he whispered something that carried on the breeze.

‘You should take a walk in the woods…’

The following Saturday, I took a hike near where I lived. The weather was beautiful, and I couldn’t have asked for anything better to clear my mind of stress from the previous week. But as I started back home, I stumbled upon a small wood in the middle of nowhere. I could’ve sworn it wasn’t there before… did I not see it as I came past? I remembered what the vagabond had said a few days before about taking a walk in the woods and shivered. It was creepy – but just a freak coincidence.

I tried to walk around, but it seemed to stretch on forever. I couldn’t understand it. There was a well-worn path through one section, however, so I decided to see where it lead. I wish I’d never seen that wood.

As I started to enter the wood, the temperature dipped sharply. That’s odd… I thought. It had been warm sun all day. How could it have got colder? I shivered again, but continued onwards.

The whole wood was gloomy and foggy, and the trees were mostly blackened like they had been burnt. Quite menacing. I seriously considered turning back, but my curiosity got the better of me. At that moment, I heard something in my head. It was hard to make out – muffled and very quiet. But it sounded like a warning. The words were inexplicable. I laughed nervously. How could someone, or something, talk inside my brain? I passed a small cabin on my left side. Having ventured into the unknown, it was comforting to see signs of human life, so I started making my way towards the cabin.

It was a sorry sight. Wooden boards rotting away around the sides and vines and ivy covering up most of the front. It looked like nobody had been there for a very long time. I started to abandon any hope that there was anyone living here, but stepped closer.

I heard the voice in my head again. It was still muffled, but now rushed and the threat was clear. I halted. This time a word was discernible – ‘Go!’ I don’t know why I didn’t stop. I was such an idiot. Ten paces. Five paces. I reached out for the rusted, copper handle, breathing quickly in anticipation, and as I touched it, my mind jolted and swayed like I had done something very wrong. There was the rushed voice again, but now inaudible. Seriously freaking out at this point, panic gripped me and I turned and ran. As I stumbled away, I could’ve sworn two small red dots appeared at the broken window of the shack, like glowing eyes. I couldn’t be sure but I didn’t stop to take a second look. As I approached the city, I couldn’t shake off the feeling I was being watched.

I didn’t tell anyone about my experience in the wood when I got back to my apartment – not even my girlfriend. But I sure didn’t forget about it. Over the next few days, from dawn till dusk, I kept hearing the same muffled voice inside my head. I had nightmares about the cabin every night, about what may have been inside, about what I could have seen. Then, while typing up a report in the office, I found myself writing repeatedly:

‘You had a chance. You had a chance. You had a chance.’

Next thing I knew, I was in the hospital. Apparently, I had collapsed with convulsions. At one point, I had punched one of my friends in the nose, while delusional. I have to admit – I wasn’t taking the encounter in the wood very well. Then the doctor told me that during my seizure, I had murmured two words over and over again:

‘It’s coming.’

Shortly before I was discharged from hospital, I got the message that my boss was letting me off for a little while to get my problems sorted. This meant – ‘You’re fired.’ So now I’d lost my job to a stupid ghost story. Great.

I was let out of the hospital around early evening, two days after my fit. Tired and hungry, I returned to my apartment, had a quick dinner then went straight to sleep. My girlfriend had gone out for the night to party with her friends, so I was alone. Or so it seemed.

At two o’ clock, I jerked awake screaming. I switched the light on and calmed quickly, telling myself it was just another nightmare. Nevertheless, this one had been particularly real. I was back at the cabin in the woods – the door had opened, and the muffled voice had whispered - ‘You.’ Then the door had slammed shut, and a few moments later, a large body brushed against my shoulder and made its way towards the edge of the wood. It snarled like a wolf, and that’s when I awoke.

Unable to sleep again, I made my way downstairs to the kitchen. I switched the radio on. Classical. Not really my style, but I was grateful to break the silence. I splashed my face with cold water at the sink a few times and looked at myself in the mirror mounted above it. I looked exhausted – I hadn’t really slept in days. Who could blame me?

The music abruptly stopped. I flipped around, but there was no-one there. Had the radio fused? Next, the lights burned out above me, leaving me in complete darkness. Terrified, I heard the front door open and quickly close again. It didn’t sound as though anyone had entered, but I knew I wasn’t alone anymore.

The lights flickered on again. I didn’t notice any change at first, but as I glanced in the mirror, I saw the picture on the wall behind me, the one of me and my girlfriend on our first date. My girlfriend’s striking blue eyes had been replaced with a malevolent red glow. Her beautiful, smiling face was twisted and contorted, her mouth a gaping, blacker than black hole. I turned, screaming, and nearly blacked out as I stared into the bloodcurdlingly deep, breathing mouth of a revolting, fetid spectre, hovering directly in front of me. It whispered one more time, but not in my head:

‘I warned you.’

The only thing I remember is the striking pain as it bit deep into my arm. Then the blackness mercifully claimed me.

Woken by the blindingly bright sunlight of morning, paramedics were towering over me, fussing over my wounded arm. One of them dropped a sealed envelope on my lap, but didn’t say anything. I looked over at my arm and retched when I saw how bad it was. When I got my bearings again, I could see that I was lying on a stretcher in front of my apartment. My burning apartment. Firefighters were crowded around the sides of the building, spraying huge jets of water at all sides. The chances of moving back in looked pretty slim. The cause of the fire has never been agreed, but I know. I know.

My kindly neighbour agreed to take me under her wing for a while, so at least I’d have a roof over my head. But I’d be alone. The envelope contained a letter from my beloved girlfriend. She was moving to New York. Thought it better if I was left alone for a while to recover from my ‘delusion’. This meant – ‘I’m dumping you.’ I cried for a while, then there seemed to be little point.

A week later, I received news that strangely held no surprise. The doctor told me I had developed an aggressive cancer and it seemed to originate from the wound on my arm. They had never seen anything like it before – it was spreading at an incredible speed. They couldn’t do anything for me. It will gradually eat me away, and I knew I didn’t have much time left. That malodorous beast has taken my life. At least it has now left me in peace.

As I walked back to my neighbour’s house, I saw the beggar from the start of my story, sitting in the same place across the road as before. He seemed to be in an even worse state. With tears in my eyes, I realise everything I own has been destroyed. I was no better than this vagabond who had cursed me. I swallow back the emotion and turn to glance at the beggar again, then did what I thought was right. Walking over, I emptied my pockets of the remainder of my money. My last possessions. He looked up and grinned at me. For a second, I swear I saw a flash of red glow within his eyes, then dirty brown twinkles once again. “Thanks,” he said as he took the money. Again, a brief red flash. My imagination, nothing more.

But I couldn’t be sure.