October 14, 2003. The weather in Stratton, Maine is perfect for a hike. The coloured leaves dance around trees through the cool, autumn air. The sun is just about dipping below the horizon, leaving the town in an orange-ish tint. The sky turns to a blend of orange and red, and the clouds turn a light purple. Everyone is going inside about now, except for Thomas Markoya and Daniel Sette. The two sophomores had been fooling around in the woods behind Daniel’s house for hours, and had become lost.
Daniel notices the sun is setting. He blames Thomas for leading them off the trail.
“I told you it was the wrong way, dickhead.”
“Well cutting through saves time, a lot more than just following the trail.”
“We are NOWHERE near my house. I don’t recognize any of this.”
“We’ll get there soon, I know your house is this way.”
“Well, we should hurry the hell up.”
“‘Why? Because it’s almost dark, it’s cold as fuck and I’m starving. We should have just followed the fuckin’ path.”
“Wanna pick up the pace?”
“No. Remember last year-?”
That’s right. Daniel had fractured his knee cap by falling on a rock last year, in the same woods, because he was running on the trail.
“Oh yeah. Well look, I think I see a clear path up ahead. Just keep going, we’ll get there.”
In an effort to get home quicker, Thomas had recommended that they go off-trail and cut through the entire forest. They had been walking for what seemed like two hours, and Daniel was right. It was getting dark and it would be a cold night.
They walked for about thirty minutes in silence, dodging fallen tree limbs and rocks.
Thomas noticed something was wrong. “Wait. Hold up for a second.”
“See that rock? In front of us like ten feet, with the tree branch leaning on it?”
“Yeah, what about it?”
“I think we’ve passed it. Like three times.”
“What? No, we’ve been walking in an absolute straight line for two and a half hours, of course we haven’t passed it.”
“And that tree! It’s got a thorn bush next to it and those squiggly stick things running up it. I remember that.”
“Dude, we haven’t passed it. Don’t be an asshole.”
“Well alright then, fucker,” Thomas said, with a grin on his face, “Next we will pass a red thorn bush with two rocks next to it.”
“Haha, no we won’t.”
Two minutes of straight walking, and Thomas points out a red thorn bush, and then two rocks side by side next to it. Daniel is shocked.
“What? How the hell? We’ve been going straight! For like three hours!”
“Are you SURE we haven’t turned? At all?”
“Yes, I’m fuckin’ sure. How did we end up going past-”
Before he can finish his sentence, Daniel notices a figure approaching them.
“Is that a person?”
“Right there, by your tree with the fucking squiggly sticks.”
“Wait... yeah! I think so! HEY! OVER HERE!”
The figure doesn’t respond. It just keeps walking towards the boys, slowly. It comes close enough for Thomas to see that It’s a large man, with a trucker’s cap on.
“Hey, dude! We’re lost, can you direct us back onto the trail?” Asks Daniel.
The figure comes closer, silently. It is a large, muscular man in a leather jacket and sweatpants. He has a big, bushy brown beard that covers his mouth and chin. His cap is unmarked, with nothing but orange and white stripes. His face brightens, he smiles, and walks up to the boys.
“Well howdy, strangers. You boys needin’ any help?”
“Well yeah,” Daniel says, “My dickhead friend here led us off the path and now we’re lost. Can you direct us back?”
The man strokes his beard, thinking. “Which trail were you walkin’ on?”
Thomas can’t remember. “Was it... orange, Dan? Or yellow?”
“It could’ve been white. That brings you to the lake.”
“You don’t know either?”
“Just any trail will do,” Daniel said to the man. “I live right by here so I’ll be able to get my bearings once we get on any trail. Which is the closest?”
The man thought for a second, then came to a conclusion. “Orange is just up that embankment, and then a mile further. You boys really are in the middle o’ nowhere out here.”
The sun had completely set and it was almost totally dark, except for what sunlight lingered through the horizon.
“It’s pretty dark. If you want, I’ll walk ye’ back to the trail.”
“Oh man, thanks. That’d be awesome.” He turned to Thomas. “If it’s okay with Magellan here?”
Thomas shrugged. “Whatever gets us back the fastest.”
The man led them up an embankment. Daniel noticed he used a walking stick.
The man turned around. “No, no, it jus’ helps with these hills.”
He turned back forward. “So what’re your names?”
“Nice to meet ‘ya both, Tom and Dan. M’name’s Chuck. Not short for Charles, jus’ Chuck. I live pretty close here m’self. Come here every day, I do. Know the forest like the back o’ m’hand. I call ‘em ‘my woods’.”
The man chuckled.
They walk for about ten minutes in absolute silence. Tom walks up next to the man, and gets a glimpse at his face. It may just be the lack of light... but Tom could swear his eyes were... completely black. He saw no whites, just black. Like his pupils had dilated to take up his entire eye.
Thomas shook the idea away and fell back next to Daniel.
“Dan, this guy’s a little creepy, don’t you think?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well he just happens to be off trail in the middle of fucking nowhere and he helps us get back to the trail? Seems weird.”
“I dunno, he seems friendly. Plus it’s cool of him to help us out.”
“I guess. Are you remembering any of this? I’d rather just go home from here alone.”
“I think I can get us home from here. He said it’s straight, right? So why is he with us? I’ll ask him.”
“Hey Chuck.” The man turned around.
“Unless you’re headed this way, I think we’re okay from here.”
“Y’sure? It should be a long way from here.”
“We’re fine. I think I know the way from here.” That was a lie. Dan doesn’t recognize any of this, but he’d rather be lost than be stuck in the middle of nowhere with a man he doesn’t know.
“No, I think I’d better stay with you.” There was a disturbing certainty in his voice.
“No man, like thank you, A LOT, for helping us, but I honestly think I’m okay from here.”
The man turns around. His face is stern.
“Y’won’t make it. Stay with me.”
“Listen, buddy, I honestly think I can get there alone.”
The man stared at him for several seconds. Thomas was almost certain that his eyes were completely black.
“Suit y’self. Keep goin’ straight.” He then started walking back the way they had came.
The boys sigh in relief watch him walk until he is out of sight. He never turns back.
“That guy was fucking weird.”
“Did you see his face when I told him I wanted to go without him? Like he wanted to kill me or some shit?”
“And why is he just walking back into the middle of the forest? Is he trying to get lost?”
“Can we please just get home? For fuck’s sake, it’s dark, freezing, and that guy scares me shitless.”
They run straight until they arrive on Daniel’s street.
Daniel’s mother scolds the boys for being late. They just tell her that they were lost.
The boys eat dinner and go to sleep early.
That night, Daniel has horrendous nightmares.
He dreams that he is back in the forest. He is walking along a familiar path.
As he walks on the trail just behind his house, he sees the dead body of a girl on a bed of leaves. She looks about their age, perhaps fifteen or sixteen. She is laying on her back with her entrails in a heap on top of her. She is naked, except for a pair of red shoes. Her head is just barely attached, just hanging on by a small piece of flesh on the back of her neck. She appears to have been raped.
The girl’s eyes move up to meet his. They close.
When they open, they are completely black.
Thomas and Daniel wake up late... around 12 P.M. They decide to eat an early lunch and then set off into the woods again.
“I’m kinda freaked out about going back into the woods... maybe that guy is there.” Thomas asks, “He said he’s there every day, right?”
Daniel keeps quiet about his dream... and the visions. He doesn’t want to scare Thomas.
“We’ll be fine. It’s a little early for him to be there, and now we know to stay on the fucking path.”
Daniel makes a plate of pizza rolls, and Thomas makes a hot sauce and bologna sandwich. Both eat their lunch while watching TV.
They eat in silence, but both are thinking about Chuck. Will he be there today? If so, what do they do?
“What time is your mom bringing me home?” Thomas asks.
“Whenever you want. Let’s go into the woods, then we can stay here for a bit.”
They finish their lunches quickly, put hiking boots on, and head outside.
The boys are reluctant to enter the forest, for fear of the man in the leather jacket. They start on the trail.
After about an hour of walking and talking, they decide to sit on a fallen tree and take a break.
“Y’know, I’m surprised we haven’t seen your friend yet,” Daniel said with a grin.
“Oh, fuck off. He was giving you the creeps too.”
After several minutes, they continue walking.
About thirty minutes pass. A stick breaks behind them.
“What was that?”
“I dunno. Probably something falling from a tree.”
The sound of leaves rustling and twigs snapping grows closer, and approaches them quickly.
“It’s probably just another hiker.”
A bus is pushed to the side. I large hiking boot steps out beyond it.
“No, it’s gotta be another hiker...”
“Howdy, strangers. Fancy seein’ y’here.”
The boys jump, startled. The hairs on the backs of their necks go straight up. Something about him makes them so tense.
“Ohh, yeah, hey man. How’s uh... how’s it going?” Thomas nervously says.
“Pretty good. Great day for a walk, eh? Sure is.”
“Yeah, it is. Say we have to get going, so we’ll see y-”
“Great day for a RUN, I sh’say. I’d love to go for a nice sprint through the woods.”
“Okay, man. You do that. Take care now.”
Chuck grinned. “You know your way back?” He chuckles.
“Oh, hehe, yeah man, we’re okay. Bye.”
Chuck stared at them for several seconds, then turns around. He walks back the way he came, just like last time. Once he is out of sight, Thomas turns to Daniel.
“Dude, that was weird.”
“He just said like four sentences to us, then just went back the way he came. What the fuck is his deal?”
“Did you notice he was wearing the same clothes as yesterday?”
“He was? He’s probably just some homeless guy or something.”
“Yeah, I guess. Either way, he’s weird. Let’s go back to your house.”
“And you know what I noticed about his walking stick?”
Daniel hesitates. “It’s sharpened.”
The boys had been walking for about thirty minutes, until Daniel notices something.
“Haven’t we passed this before?” he asks.
“Don’t you fuck with me.”
“No, I’m serious. Remember that rock we shot with our paintball guns last summer, and now it’s really colourful?”
“Didn’t we pass it already?”
“Yeah, and there it is.”
Daniel points to a paint - covered rock about a hundred yards in front of them.
“You’re kidding me.”
“I know this trail. I walk it EVERY day, and I KNOW we didn’t turn around.”
“Why are we just walking in circles?”
“We AREN’T, I don’t know why we keep-”
Daniel can’t finish his sentence. Something he sees stops him. Something poking out from a pile of leaves.
Is it... It can’t be... a leg?
A shoe. There’s definitely a red shoe.
“What’s that?” Thomas asks.
He walks closer to it, in silence.
“Dude, what the hell?”
He grabs two handfuls of the leaves, and pulls them off.
It’s a girl. Perhaps around his age, perhaps younger. She is completely naked, except for her shoes. Her throat looks as if it’s been slit. So deep, that her head is barely hanging onto her neck. The body looks fresh.
Dan jumps back in shock. Thomas steps back.
Then Daniel realizes. This was exactly the same girl from his dream.
Same place, same girl, even the same shoes.
Dan can’t help it. He doubles over and vomits until his stomach is sore. Neither of them can speak. They are in shock.
Finally, after what seemed like ages, Thomas speaks over Daniel’s coughing.
“D-Do you think we should get h-help?”
Daniel doesn’t answer. He just coughs and sputters at the ground.
“Dan? Oh shit, Dan?”
Daniel can’t take his eyes off of the girl.
“Well howdy, strangers.”
Thomas sharply turns around to see Chuck, leaning on his sharpened walking stick, with a friendly smile on his face. Daniel slowly turns around to meet his eyes with Chuck’s.
There’s no doubt now. His eyes are completely black.
‘What’re yall doin’ way out here? Y’might wanna get back on the trail.”
He pauses. “Maybe I c’n bring ya?”
“Dude, there’s a dead girl here!” Thomas yells. “We need to call the police!”
His grin doesn’t move. His eyes remain black. “C’mon boys, I’ll lead y’on back to the trail.”
“Dan... Dan! RUN!”
Thomas grabs Daniel’s shoulders and hoists him up onto his feet. He starts to walk and pick up his speed, still looking at the girl, and still recovering from the ordeal.
Thomas looks back to see Chuck, massive, 270lb. Chuck, sprinting at them at a speed he’s never seen before, holding his walking stick like a spear. His grin is still on his face. Thomas is about five feet in front of Daniel, and looks back. “Dan, Hurry up!”
Thomas is too late. Chuck dives for Daniel and spears him through his shoulder with the spear. Blood lands onto the dry, dusty dirt.
Daniel screams in agony and falls to his knees. Chuck runs up to him and grabs him by the throat. Thomas turns around and stops running. “GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM HIM!”
Chuck ignores Thomas’ orders and Daniel’s pleas. He digs into Daniel’s throat with his fingernails until his dirty, meaty fingers are lodged in Daniel’s esophagus.
Daniel makes some sort of gargling/whistling sound. Blood flows from his throat and mouth, and pools at the dirt floor. Chuck grunts as he pulls Daniel’s head near off of his body. Thomas can hear Chuck laughing through the sounds of Daniel’s gargling, tearing flesh and snapping vertebrae. He pulls until his head is bent all the way back, and facing him. Chuck raises Daniel’s body to its feet. A jetstream of blood fountains through the air and soaks the tree next to it.
Thomas rolls over and spews his hot sauce and bologna sandwich all over his brand new short sleeved shirt. Chuck’s eyes are now a deadly shade of black, darker than anything he’s ever seen. Chuck brings his head up slowly to meet Thomas’ eyes. His smile begins to turn wider, wider, and longer, until he is wearing a long, demented, crooked smile that literally reaches from ear to ear. The pool of Daniel’s blood had seeped into the earth and created a large patch of red, rust-smelling mud. His tongue snakes out of his beard and laps up the blood on his fingers and forearms. He grabs Daniel’s jawbone through his throat. His fingers reach from Daniel’s chin, through his mouth and onto his teeth. He holds Daniel’s jawbone as a handle and drags his body into the woods, walking backwards and leaving bloody footprints in his path.
His gaze never leaves Thomas. His eyes remain a disturbing shade of black and his inhuman smile remains, until he is out of sight.
After a two week search/manhunt, the Stratton police give up on finding Chuck, and Daniel’s body. The mysterious girl had turned out to be Rachel Landino, a local high school student who had gone missing after a walk in the woods with her boyfriend.
John Bader, Rachel’s boyfriend, is now incurably insane.
The police identify her not by her body, which had disappeared without a trace, but by dozens of photos of her mangled corpse, scattered around the forest paths.
The spot at which Daniel was murdered was now clean. There was no trace of blood or a struggle anywhere.
His funeral takes place a month after his death. There is nothing to bury.
Thomas is in a state of mild insanity for several years. He is diagnosed with schizophrenia. He does not attend the funeral of his best friend.
After three years, his condition suddenly disappears.
He is released from mental care and lives with his parents for fourteen years before leaving Maine and buying a house in Pennsylvania.
Soon, the event stops haunting him, and he continues his life.
Thomas became a journalist, writing for the local paper, and occasionally he wrote his own stories. He published four horror novels, which were quite successful. They all follow the same character, Charles, a deranged serial killer who lives in the woods. Something disturbed him about using his life’s worst day as a base for stories, but he eventually put that event behind him.
Thomas’ house was very nice. It was small, just one bedroom, for him and his dog, Daniel. His cat, Rachel, slept in a cat bed in the living room. He kept it clean and tidy, but never had visitors. He dated one girl, Tina Markinson, for a year, but she was forced to move to California for job reasons. Since then, he’s been very lonely. His mother and father were both dead and he forgot all of his friends. He only left his house for groceries and his twice-a-week therapy sessions. Dr. Evers, his psychiatrist, became the only person he contacted.
Another peculiar thing, was the eyehole on his front door. It worked for the first week he was there, but since then, it has been blocked. He doesn’t know what is blocking the view, all he could see was black. He would get ding dong ditched by the neighbor’s kids (Although he never caught them.) but every time he looked through the eyehole, he saw nothing but black.
One day, on the 15th anniversary of Daniel’s death, as he worked at his desk, a knock came from the door. The knocking continued until he reached the door. He asked who it was. He looked through the eyehole. Nothing but black. He knocked on the door from the inside.
“Hello? Anybody out there?”
After several moments of silence, a faint voice came through the door.