The Appalachian Mountains are a monotonous place. Everywhere you look or go you will see mountains, they surround us. This place is just a backwards town carved into the wilderness. Sure we have connections to the outside world but our “do it yourself” culture is all about keeping things local. We rely on no one when things get rough, and generally do things our own way. This is all to say that though we arent isolated, it sure feels that way.

Before I get started I should probably introduce myself. Please excuse my poor manners, I am not much of a writer. My given name is John, and I am twenty two. I have been going to community college for the last two years, got a kind of a late start with my education. I am an average enough guy to look at; I have a job, car, girlfriend, and I think I am a pretty smart guy.

Living here is extremely boring, and there is nothing to do aside from the excess of drugs and the loose women. I don’t partake of either; I prefer to make my own fun. My friends and I are exceptionally good at this; we like to explore the wilderness, especially abandoned mines. In fact it was the summer of 09’ when our most strange and tragic expedition took place.

In 2007 there was a strange murder that took place in Pikeville, which is only around thirty miles away. The victim was found at a city park, apparently dumped there by the killer. His head however, was found near the steps of city hall. I am told it was impaled on the fence.  He was found by a woman in the middle of the night, and apparently she required a lot of therapy after that. The newspapers told us that he was killed with an axe and his decapitation was not post mortem, something about the wound being consistent with that theory.

In the years that have passed up until 2009 there have been twelve other victims who were killed in an eerily similar fashion, with their bodies found all over the county. Now if you do your research you will find that Pike County Kentucky is one of the larger counties east of the Mississippi as far as land mass goes, and most of that land is untamed wilderness. The killer seemed to not be following any type of specific pattern, with three of these murders taking place within fifty miles of our stomping grounds. He was sporadic, anywhere was a crime scene and anyone a victim.

But the murders and the murderer were far from our minds, I mean what are the chances of running into him? Or her, for that matter. We had things to discover and a one in a million chance that one guy would take on the four of us was not enough to deter us.

So one warm day in the July of 09’, the four of us drove to an old dirt road, just outside of Pikeville. There was this little shack by the road, and it was used as a way station for the hikers and explorers. This hike was the real deal, and would require at least two whole days to make the most of this trip.  I had told everyone about the Stell-Hardin mine that had closed down in the sixties. It had closed after a collapse had trapped twenty five miners inside. Rescue efforts lasted for five days, but tragically they all died before help could come…

Our group consisted of Nick, Amber, Bobbie, and me. I have to admit we were a reckless bunch but none of us were out to destroy property. Seemed that there wasn’t a drop of angst among us.  Nick was my high school friend, and he probably knew me better than my own girlfriend did. Amber was my girl, and we had been together now for about three years. She was a firecracker but had a mouth on her that I feared, as any man would. Bobbie was Nick’s girlfriend, and she was a quiet girl with a sensitive heart.

Just a bunch of kids looking to escape our reality, for however long we were able.

We spent the first part of the first day hiking and laughing at ourselves; joking about everyone we knew. The girls lagged slightly behind, whispering as they always did. I think they really loved us, something in their eyes. I couldn’t help but notice that. With some shame I have to admit that I did not have quite the same feeling in my heart. In fact it was hard to pinpoint how I felt about them; it was like a phantom sensation. No matter what I felt I did know that they were my loyal friends, and Amber My lover would do anything for me.

It wasn’t until around eight thirty that evening that we decided to find a place to camp for the night. We settled on a small clearing partially surrounded by tall pine trees. It had uneven ground and terrible visibility but it felt safe, and feeling safe makes for a better night’s sleep. Plus it was right next to the mine, which meant a full day of exploring and I am sure uncomfortable picture taking.

Later that evening we all gathered around the campfire that I had built after the sun had set; our two tents were pitched neatly beside each other with just enough room between that would allow us not to disturb one another with the certain rustling young couples make. Our campfire discussion centered mostly around our plans for the future. Stuff like where we would build our houses and what careers we would keep. Then out of nowhere we all heard it.

It sounded like one of those hollow bamboo wind chimes, but much louder. It came coupled with a grunt and some shuffling that resonated into your very soul. The sound reverberated over and over and I could feel the stiff tension mounting. Fear gripped everyone as I rose, flashlight in hand. Amber yelled after me in a very hushed tone to come back to the fire that whatever it was sounded angry. I kept going, I know this sound. I have heard this more than a few times.

About forty feet away from the fire I saw them, two adult male deer with antlers locked, pushing one another. I breathed an immediate sigh of relief and chuckled lightly as I backed away slowly. Deer you see, bucks mostly, like to fight. Two bucks will lock antlers and fight relentlessly, it is a mating thing. Some bucks even die doing this. The sound it makes is actually a pleasant one if you have never heard it, and I have simulated it many times myself when hunting with my brother. It attracts some, repels others.

I returned to the campsite and saw the gallery of flabbergasted faces greeting me as I strode back into the warm glow of the campfire.

“Dude, what the hell was that?” Nick asked.

“Just some stags locking horn, they might do that all night. Just chill out and don’t go anywhere save to piss.” They seemed relieved to hear me say that, and how could they not be. After all they probably thought something “got” me.

“I think we should go to bed, this day has been a long one,” Amber said with a shrill hint of fear in her voice. I had only just now noticed that I was trembling slightly. I guess the excitement of the day had taken its toll.

I agreed that we could all go to bed since I was sure everyone was getting tired and I didn’t want them up all night. I did insist however, that I get one chance to tell a scary story. They agreed but it was a very reluctant agreement.

I started the story as cheesy as I could, with a group of young teens wondering the forest. I set the tone very “over the top generic hollywood”. The teens were just like us, even with similar names. I thought it was just hilarious. In my story there was a deranged killer who had just broken loose from the nearby psych ward. He stalked the young group and picked them off one by one, it seemed like such a tired old typical camp story that it wouldn’t bother them but I suppose I was wrong. When I got to the part where the killer killed the first teen I looked all around and saw that Amber had a few tears welling up and Nick was looking at his feet.

After a few moments of uninterrupted silence Bobbie spoke up, “Maybe a crazy killer story isn’t the best thing for us to hear. There is a serial killer loose after all.”

It hit me that she was right, my story was insensitive and I forgot that there was a dangerous person out there. As I sat there feeling embarrassed at myself I formed the words, “I am sorry. I guess I forgot about all of that, but I didn’t intend to scare you guys. I thought you would laugh.”

After some more uncomfortable silences mixed with some lame chit chat made in attempt to restore the mood we finally went to bed. I cuddled next to Amber and as the warmth of our bodies mingled certain human reactions happened. We spent the better part of an hour indulging those needs.

It was around three in the morning when I felt the light breeze on my bare skin. It was a little chilly but a refreshing change from the warmth of the tent. Something was out of the ordinary.

There should be no breeze in my tent…

My skin was wet…

Wet with blood…

I saw her laying there, motionless, the same blood covering my bare body was everywhere in the unzipped tent. My mind raced as I saw that lying next to me, Amber was dead. My scream was deafening, and the pitch changed as my voice cracked. I started to hyperventilate as I crawled from the blood soaked tent. I kept screaming right as Nick and Bobbie rushed out of their tent, dressing partially as they did so. Nick tripped trying to pull his boxers up.

Everyone looked into the tent and they both repelled at the gruesome sight inside. Bobbie actually vomited. Fear was awash in their faces. My veins were no longer pumping blood, but rather a cocktail mixture of adrenaline and battery acid. I couldn’t breathe.Over the next few brief moments I told them that I found her there when I woke up and that I didn’t know who did it or why. I did this between shaky breaths. Nick said the wounds looked like someone killed her with an axe, kind of a strange thing to say.

A few stray noises in the night were enough to set all hairs on edge and rather unfortunate for us, our fire was out. We panicked, screams of “what now” and “oh God” filled the night air. It was unanimous that we could not stay here, so with much reluctance in my tone I suggested we run to the nearby mine so that we wouldn’t be so exposed. I was immediately hit with resistance. It was our only real option though.

No one wanted to go, and I could not blame them, but the truth was that out in the open we were sitting ducks. There was so much fear in the air, and I was shaking.

With my flashlight in hand I led Nick and Bobbie to the mouth of the mine and as we entered the dark, dank, shaft I could feel that something was about to happen. It was the tension in the air. I think it might have been me who stepped through the tripwire about fifteen feet in, but nothing happened. A few moments later you could see a large figure drop in front of the shaft entrance. It just stood there, looking right through us. You could see the silhouette of the figure against the dark forest backdrop. It’s body was irregular, almost lumpy, kind of like the scarecrows I used to make as a kid. It was truly ugly. We ran…

We ran for less than a minute before coming to a room with a heavy iron door; it was a way station designed to give miners a place to stop in and out of the mine incase of an emergency. The door as wet with a crimson, metallic stinking handprint. It was dark and my flashlight was just able to make our a light crimson hue in the dark void. What choice did we have but to enter? Once inside I tripped over a conveniently placed rock as Nick barred the door, and my flashlight shattered. There was a single, dim, hanging light in the room revealing a bloodstained table and some heavy duty restraints. The room had a bunch of dark objects scattered throughout and I nervously began to feel my way around the wall.

Nick and Bobbie were crying now, sobbing uncontrollably near the center of the room where the light shone above. I edged to my left, walking along the cluttered room.

“We’re trapped,” Bobbie sobbed.

“W-w-we can do this baby. Wait w-where is John?” Nick stuttered through his sentence like a child.

My hand found a long, end-heavy object and I picked it up. It was an axe, wet with blood. Its weight felt familiar, comforting. I imagine it was what a soldier felt when holding his service rifle.

My other hand found the light switch above my head. I could no longer contain my trembling; I have never been quite this excited. My panicked expression morphed into a sly smile. If only they knew how hard it was to rig a scarecrow up, to set up a kill room, and especially put up with their infantile bullshit.

“What a trip,” I said aloud.

Their eyes darted at me. I flipped the light switch…