Our trip started in late February as my three friends, John, Steve, Max, and I drove my truck deep into the backwoods of Boxwood Gulch to follow the North Fork of the South Platte River. Steve owned a cabin up in the backcountry, so we left my truck there and began our 57 mile hike into the wooded terrain following the river.
We had all of our camping and fishing gear packed, and enough food to hopefully last us the 3 day journey both ways. The pre-spawn bass wouldn’t be an easy catch once we reached the hole, but if we were going to endure this brutal cold, we wouldn’t go home without a fight. As we first set out in the early morning, a few light snowflakes began to fall. The terrain was heavily wooded and uneven making for slow going, but the cool mountain air rustled through the trees and sunlight streamed through the canopy, making the snowflakes glint and shimmer as birds chirped overhead. It was going to be a near perfect trip.
We stopped for a quick rest a few hours in. The weather had been slowly worsening since we had left, but it was only then that we realized how bad it had really gotten. The snow was whipping around us in a blinding flurry as the wind howled. The crooked, mangled trees creaked and swayed violently, almost threatening to snap in two. The ground had already accumulated a good 6 inches of snow.
It was about midday, but the sky was black.
And I don't mean dark due to the ever intensifying storm; I mean that in between the gaps in the clouds, there was no blue, just solid black.
None of us really made a note of it at the time as it was hard to notice through the thick cascade of snow and the limited visibility. After continuing our hike for some time however, it became all too apparent that something was wrong.
In addition to the sky, we also realized that there was nothing in the distance.
There should have been some mountains or something like there had been at the start, but no matter which way we turned, the world only seemed to extend fifty or so feet around us, then it disappeared into the blizzard.
It was nighttime now, or at least, it was dark out. My watch however, read 2:00 in the afternoon.
As we walked forward, new things slowly came into view, but everything behind us disappeared, and although we could progress further, we couldn't seem to double back. Once we left something behind us, we couldn't reach it again. Steve had forgotten his lighter a little while back when we stopped to eat, but when we tried to turn around and go back, we were greeted by a wall of snow and fog impossible to see through.
Our flashlight's beams didn't penetrate the fog; they stopped as they hit it as if it was a physical wall. Tendrils of vapor danced across the indistinct surface, and the grey void behind it seemed to extend into eternity.
Curious, Steve slowly reached out and moved his hand into the fog. First his fingertips disappeared, and then his whole hand vanished into the haze. We all stood in disbelief, looking at the wall which was impossibly tall and extended as far as we could see. There was no real gradient to it. Things didn't fade into the distance, there was a clear line where the wall began, and nothing was visible beyond that point. We were making a note of all this when Steve muttered something.
"What was that?" I asked.
"I . . .” he stammered, “I can't feel my hand."
He said this slowly, as if realizing it as he said it. Puzzled, he retracted his hand slowly, and then screamed.
His glove was shredded, almost disintegrated, and his hand looked like it had been forced through a wood chipper. Deep gashes revealed white bone underneath, and what fingers were left were stripped clean. We all panicked.
"Oh God, Oh God! This is bad!" Max cried.
Steve simply stood clutching what was left of his hand and hyperventilating. We had to get him to a hospital or he would certainly bleed to death, but we were almost a day’s walk from Steve's cabin which was already remote enough. We were all frantically checking our phones for a signal when the worst happened.
Steve fainted. His eyes closed, his legs buckled, and he fell forward . . . into the fog.
None of us noticed at first, but when we finally did, all we could see were his legs protruding from the mist. We immediately, without thinking, rushed to pull him out. We grabbed his legs and strained to drag him back into view. Before we even saw him however, we immediately regretted doing so. We somehow knew what we would find.
The thing we dragged out was not Steve. Not anymore.
All of his skin was cleaved off, his ribcage ripped open with his entrails spilling out, and his face instantly burned into my vision, becoming an afterimage that haunts me to this day. Not merely because it was horrendously mutilated, not merely because his eyes had been torn out leaving only empty sockets, but because it smiled at me. A big wide smile that started small, but the gashes in his face allowed it to literally stretch . . . from ear . . . to ear.
Max screamed and shoved Steve's mangled body back into the fog. We ran as fast as we could, the only way we could, deeper into the woods. Just as before, the snow and fog parted before us, but swallowed up everything we left behind. As we ran and ran, the scenery around us began to slowly change, the trees surrounding us were now withered and dead; the grass was flattened and bleached white.
In fact, everything around us was lifeless and dull. Colors had all but disappeared leaving only shades of grey and an intensified feeling of loneliness and death.
"Guys," I shouted while I ran, not daring to stop for even a minute, "we can't turn around and go straight back, but maybe we can circle around back to Steve's cabin. Then we can get the truck and get the hell out of here!"
John and Max nodded their heads and we turned 90 degrees right and continued running. Eventually, we ran through what appeared to be a herd of deer. All of which were laying on the ground. Grey and lifeless, hacked to pieces. Blood soaked the snow covered ground. As we ran through the heard, dodging corpses, it was hard not to notice that their dead lifeless eyes seemed to follow us.
When we felt confident enough that we wouldn't be doubling back on ourselves, we turned towards Steve's Cabin - towards safety.
We ran for at least another hour, eventually however, none of us could run any longer. Our bodies simply wouldn't allow it, and we were forced to stop. After some time, Max, John and I managed to get a fire going despite the snow and damp tinder. We had hoped that it would bring some sense of warmth and security, but we were wrong.
The flames were a bright orange hue, bleeding some color into the greyscale world. It clearly did not belong, nor did we.
The longer the flames crackled and popped, the more we began to hear something: distant and quite at first, but slowly growing closer, louder, and more numerous. A chorus of bloodcurdling wails and moans soon filled the stagnant air around us.
Focused on the fire and pretending to be safe, mesmerized by its beauty, we didn't immediately notice a mangled deer carcass slowly dragging itself out of the fog and into view. Nor did we notice the second . . . nor the third.
Finally, we snapped out of our trance just in time to scramble to our feet in terror as a myriad of different animal carcasses clambered out of the fog, drawn to the strange light of the fire. We were intruders in their world. I was paralyzed by fear, unable to breath. The corpses moved with a surreal and broken haphazard toss of limbs, as if poorly animated puppets.
I turned to my friends to find that they were no longer beside me. They had taken off running, leaving me behind. I turned around to run after them, but something grabbed me by my shoulder. I didn't need to turn around to know what it was. I could tell by the hand gripping my shoulder. A hand that looked as though it had gone through a wood chipper.
I flailed and managed to free myself before it could get a good grip on me and took off running. I didn't look back. No way did I want to see that face of what was once my friend.
I could no longer see John or Max, and I assumed that they must have been ahead of me, but I was the one with the keys to the truck and Steve had the keys to the cabin! They wouldn't be any safer if I couldn't meet up with them, so I ran and ran faster and for longer than any human could possibly do under normal circumstances.
Finally, after god knows how long, I could faintly make out a structure in the distance. It was the cabin. I felt a twinge of hope. The wails continued to ring out in the night air, but I seemed to have a lead on them at the time.
I reached the truck, unlocked it, and jumped inside. I scanned the area for Max or John, but could see neither. I couldn't just leave them, but I couldn't wait forever either! I sat sweating and shaking nervously as the wails grew closer and louder. I had just about made up my mind to leave when I could suddenly make out someone sprinting towards me. It looked like Max! I started up the truck and motioned for him to run faster.
But for some reason . . . I found myself subconsciously pressing the switch to my left, locking all of the doors.
My instinct told me that something was wrong. I looked down at my hands, they were shaking like crazy.
I looked back up and Max's horribly mutilated face was pressed up against the driver’s window, staring at me, smiling. He was trying to open the door.
I slammed my foot on the gas and drove off, shaking like a madman and holding back the vomit.
As I drove home, the sky slowly brightened back up into a blue hue and I could eventually see the sun breaking through the clouds. It was 9:00 in the morning. I began to see other cars on the road and the people inside waved at me as I waved at them. Nice normal people. I went straight home and asked my girlfriend to marry me.
I’m sorry. That’s just not true.
I'm sitting in my house now, door locked and barricaded, windows boarded up, and I’m writing this story . . . and I felt happy for the first time in a long time writing that ending. I hardly even remember what a blue sky looks like, but I just wanted to picture it in my mind one last time. I just needed to imagine a happier world, because in reality, that’s not how it ended.
The truth is, as I drove, the sky did not brighten up, the sun did not reappear, and the fog still surrounded me as it now surrounds my house. I hear wailing all around and knocks at my door constantly, and when I look through the peephole, all I ever see is some THING smiling at me. The stench of death is everywhere. The phone doesn't work, the TV and radio broadcast nothing but static. I hear the locks on my door being undone at night and I must constantly keep watch and re-lock them. I'm simply waiting for the night they get into my house when I forget the check the door, or when they break through a window, or when I wake up in the middle of the night to see them next to me. Their smiles . . . inches away from my face.
Written by Liam Vickers