There are things in life that we will never explain. And that’s okay. Life is a mysterious thing, and there are things that we will just never truly get to grasp in our time here.
We may try to understand, put the supernatural into our own perspective, but the true greatness of something unexplainable is just that. You can’t explain it. To discover its truth would just remove that, change it into something that’s entirely average and easy to look out without wonder.
But perhaps you aren’t that kind of person. Maybe you look at life and see the wonder in everything ordinary. After all, the true mysteries are the strangeness we find in something completely normal. If you look hard enough, maybe you’ll find a certain strangeness that perplexes you, even with a scientific explanation.
You see, I’m not one to keep secrets. I’m a very open man, I’ll tell stories of my most embarrassing moments and terror. There is no barrier between me and what I say, everything slips out. This is my greatest weakness and my greatest strength. People love to be fascinated, and a good storyteller is one who seems to make everything seem fascinating. Like I said before, many people do like to find the strange within the ordinary.
But there are those times where we encounter something in which we can never speak a word about. An experience that becomes a secret, one which people will never be able to understand or is just too plain odd to speak out loud. I’ve never told this story to anyone. I’ve encountered the weird before, whether it’s a car full of smiling children looking back at me going at 90 mph or a man standing on the edge of the woods, looking down at me as I walked through a field, I’m no stranger to the out of the ordinary.
The thing with this is that it was perfectly normal, maybe not the situation, but the event itself. Looking back you ponder about what really was strange and what wasn’t, and this is where the story can go to different ways. You believe what I say, or dismiss it as a story on a place full of stories, one that doesn’t stick out or seem to be any different from the rest.
Camping was the source of many stories for me. When you camp with borderline pyromaniacs, things can come up. One time a drunk man came to us, stole our Frisbee, stood backward, and threw it right into the winning slot of our Can Jam bin.
The usual crazy stuff like that.
It was nightfall, and the kids wanted to play manhunt in the woods. In retrospect this probably wasn’t a good idea. The woods are vast and we were bound to get lost, and no one would be found with the petrifying darkness surrounding us and the sheer number of hiding spots.
But we did it anyway, the young little adventure seekers we were. My team got to hide first, and without any real boundaries, we broke towards the tree line. Being the klutz I was however, I hit a large rock protruding upwards and landed right on my face. As I screamed in the pain, the last thing I saw of my teammates was them disappearing into the darkness of the woods.
Like that, they were gone.
I quickly stood up and ran towards them, shaking off my leg, but they had already vanished into the abyss.
I was all alone in the darkness, surrounded by trees that pierced the night sky.
People are scared by many things. Snakes, spiders, and the dark. I however, loved the dark. A stroll down a nighttime street would be great if you didn’t have to worry about every car that passed you. It’s peaceful, the world around you is silent and you feel serene, especially in the woods.
I walked slowly, staring upwards as time seemed to move forward in the stars. I felt like the world was spinning.
They say there are places where the world is a little less disconnected from reality. Highway restrooms, empty parking lots at night, large fields, and the woods in total darkness.
At that moment, I knew what they were talking about. Everything seemed to just glow. I didn’t want to be found, I was happy.
I found a good hiding spot in the roots of a large tree and squatted beneath it.
Silence. Not even the crickets wanted to break the peace I felt now. I could lie down and look upwards until dawn. There was only so much time until the manhunt commenced. They’d find me eventually, and it’d be over.
In the moment, I really did wish I could stay there. I could live in that moment forever, it was one of the most serene moments of my life.
The cold gentle air floating across my skin, goosebumps breaking out as a relaxing shiver went down my spine. Everything around me still, not a single worry in the world…
Yet I still couldn’t shake the feeling of being watched, the one that comes with every nighttime experience.
I sat there waiting for someone to come. Seconds felt like minutes, minutes felt like hours, I had no sense of time. It was only the moment, the gentleness of a dark forest holding me as I waited patiently for someone to come. For a second I thought I almost dozed off right under the tree.
Then I saw it, in the distance. One of the pyromaniac kids, striding across the forest with a flashlight. His beam stretched across the leaf-cluttered ground, and he too seemed like he had lost direction and worry out here. He was gliding across the forest gently, a smile across his face.
The light in the distance, a warming sign. Seeing him walk through the dark forest made me feel something I could never describe. An idea of a shared thought that we both just wanted to get lost here.
I pushed back into my branches.
As the light disappeared, I waited again. This was not a wait of anticipation however, it was something entirely new. Then I heard it. The snaps, as if something was moving closer and closer to my position. Every three seconds, another crack would be pushed out into the open air, breaking the calmness manifesting every second.
I closed my eyes, and continued to wait, but the next crackle never came. It was silent once more. I took a second to collect myself, it was an odd disturbance which confused me on the way I felt.
When I opened my eyes, I froze. A child, who looked to be about my age, stood in the distance looking directly at me. He stood still, his unblinking eyes causing me to go stiff.
I shot upwards, struggling to my feet as he walked forward. My serenity had turned into fear, as if the forest had turned on me, using the very thing I found to love about it into my worst fear. The darkness was no longer relaxing, it was what I now feared.
The kid stepped forward, and I was ready to make a break for it before I heard his voice.
“Wait! Don’t go!” he shouted, causing me to turn my head to shoot him one more terrified glance.
“For god sakes, I’m not a bear!”
I didn’t say a word.
“I’m just a kid, not gonna hurt you. It’s always interesting to see people like you out in the woods. The very second you see something out of the ordinary, you flip. I’m just a kid, perfectly ordinary, alright?” He spoke with an odd sense of hush in his voice, as if he was trying to keep the silence I longed for.
“I don’t talk to people I randomly meet in the woods. What are you even doing here?” I said, talking to the person I randomly met in the woods.
Part of me told me to run away, but the other was curious. I was interested in this kid, and I was all for a good adventure. It took me a moment, but I decided he could do no harm.
“I think you know why. Look around you, who wouldn’t want to be here? It helps me think. I sneak out here at night sometimes, get the mind cleared out. It definitely helps.” He looked around the forest, and I understood what he meant completely.
“Oh, right… I guess I could see why. W-What’s your name?” I said, stuttering.
“Names aren’t important, you’ll forget me in a week’s time, and you’ll never see me again by morning.”
“Alright… And sorry for being timid. This place is like an entirely different planet. It must be awesome living here all the time.”
He looked away, scanning the area. “Yeah, yeah, follow me, I want to show you something cool.”
I followed, interested in what the kid had to say. I kept my head upwards, looking at the stars in wonder. I extended my arms up into the air, but quickly put them down in fear that the new kid would judge me.
“What you said, about living here? Don’t judge a town by its parks. The whole place is total rubbish. Spoiled adults raising spoiled kids, I really do I could just live out here. What’s your name?”
“Benjamin.” I said lying straight through my teeth. I still didn’t fully trust him. I didn’t want to give him any info, a great deal of kids sneaking into the woods at night weren’t exactly sane.
“Listen, I can’t really go that far, I got people who will look for me and get worried…”
“Don’t worry. Popular at school Benjamin?”
I shrugged. I knew everybody, but I wouldn’t define myself as popular. “Eh, not really. I talk to most of the kids around the class however, I just wouldn’t stick myself anywhere specifically.”
“Heh. In my school, they made a tier chart. Guess whose bottom tier?”
I looked away, peering around the woods. I really didn’t care, and that actually made me feel rather bad.
Walking, I felt the strange sense of something moving in the distance. Like something was hopping behind each tree, staring me down until I wasn’t looking and moved on. The night was definitely getting to me, but still.
There’s no way something wasn’t following us that night. Whenever I think about that night, this is usually the first thing that comes to mind.
We arrived at a shack. This is where I really started to get tense. I thought about running, looking for that flashlight shining over the ground, but the feeling of being watched really halted any escape attempts.
Whatever was out there, I didn’t want to encounter. The shack was better than getting mauled by a bear. The kid turned my whole idea of the forest against me, but looking back, he could have saved me.
A childish thought, but as an author, I can’t think of a forest that sucks victims in with its serenity only for a creature to swoop down and steal you just when you got comfy.
“Welcome to the shack! This is where I usually hang out when I come here. I feel protected really.”
“Hey, how do I know a molester isn’t in there waiting to grab me?”
“A molester wouldn’t be able to keep his operation in a public park for that long Ben, come inside and don’t be a wuss. Isn’t this an adventure to you?”
I supposed, but I was starting to get uncomfortable.
As we entered, I coughed and walked directly in a cobweb, falling back on the side. For a second I thought the impact would cause the whole place to fall down.
Around me was a table filled with journals, a cooler, and a stack of clothes. An entire pile, ranging from t-shirts to skirts. The kid just ignored it, acting as if it was a normal part of any house decoration.
“It’s not much, but I don’t spend that much time here. Maybe come every once and a while to do some night time writing, you know?”
“What’s with the clothes?”
“Oh, ignore those.” Yeah, ignore them. Simple as that. Where those his clothes? Or the clothes of the victims he lured in here and murdered? Ideas raced through my head, and I started to come up with escape plans.
The feeling of something behind me grew.
He handed me a coke out of the cooler. One that could have been laced with rat poison, or filled with dirt found on the forest floor, I could never know.
“Here, refresh yourself. It’s amazing how you can find peace in ordinary places. Everything ordinary has that special feel if you want it to, you know? I know that you think this is a terrible little spider filled hut, but I can find happiness in it. You just gotta… appreciate it.”
Something about this comment made me feel a little better, but I continued to hold the coke in my hand, not daring to take a sip out of it. It was better to feel the peculiar coolness manifest on my hand, allowing for some peace to push through my body.
“I suppose it’s pretty cool. I wish I had a place like this, but if I ever snuck out my parents would murder me. The only reason I’m here now is because we’re supposed to be playing manhunt. Not like it’s going too well though.” “Oh, my parents don’t care. They never notice, and I suppose that’s a good thing. More time for me to develop by myself, you know?”
“Say, do bears come back here?”
“No, only raccoons, the occasional deer. That and the miscellaneous creatures of the night. Why don’t you tell me about yourself, friend?”
I looked outside the small window into the woods. My fear of a bear attack had dropped, but I could swear I saw something.
Looking at the kid, I supposed it wouldn’t hurt to tell him a little generic information, with a lie or two thrown in.
“Oh, I live in Pennsylvania. Simple childhood life you know. I get good grades, got a ton of hobbies and friends, like any ordinary kid.”
“Right… Ordinary on the inside as well as ordinary on the outside. I’m the opposite. I appear to you as a normal kid, but apparently, I’m a total whack. I get bullied all the time. Remember that thing I said about coming here to get my mind straight? They’re the reason I come here. Not to mention my ignorant parents.”
“Wow that sucks.” I continued to stare at the window, waiting for a light to pass by. I didn’t want to hurt the kid’s feelings, he obviously was dealing with some important issues. I didn’t want to become his psychiatrist in the middle of the woods. “Have you tried getting help?”
“The teachers don’t give a damn and neither do my parents, who do you think I should go to? I know I act a little odd, but don’t people find enjoyment in that? Someone who is a little different and a joy to be around? I always thought I brought some little happiness to the crowd, let people just let it out. Everyone just pushes me away.”
I turned my head to him, nodding. I was having a genuine moment with a kid I met ten minutes ago in a shack in the woods. I was getting a little frightened myself.
“They keep telling me to stay home and never come to school, I’ve gotten death threats before as well. What do the teachers do? Tell me to work it out, just talk to them! Simple as that!”
I wish I could give him more advice, but I couldn’t really relate to the situation. All I could give was my pity. My pure, useless pity.
“I even thought I could make friends, visit their place, you know? And that turned out just fine. Even the parents think I’m a freak. Everyone here knows each other, we all live in the same community out east from here. Word gets around quick, every kid on the block was scared of me. That’s why I come out here. Away from society, where the forest can just take me away with its melody, and I can feel the trees loom down on me. Watch me.”
I had a million questions, ones that I’m glad I never asked. The kid was getting really discerning, and the things he said were probably starting to go two ways.
I turned my head back at the window without blinking at the cold night. The wind was starting to pick up, it was whistling past the shed, moving through the cracks and past my ears. A single light stretched across the trees, brightening up the area I felt discomforted about for so long. The one area seemed to glow, as if it was a singular area in a never-ending void.
It was the pyro kid.
“Wadda you looking at?” the troubled child behind me said, staring over my shoulder as I frantically turned out, nearly hitting him in the face.
“Oh nothing… Since you come out here all the time, do you ever get the feeling like you’re being watched? I know that’s pretty corny, but I always feel like something is lurking in the woods, even if it is relaxing.”
He looked down, and gave a brief grin of uneasiness as he raised his head in the opposite direction.
“Probably the nightstalkers.”
“All things reside in here, you know? Deer, figures in the night. The darkness plays tricks on you if you don’t want to succumb to just how soothing it is. I call them the night stalkers. Basic legends around here, the shadow figures sitting just on the edge of the treeline.”
I stared at him, ready to throw my coke bottle out the window just to get someone to come over and rescue me from the hell this was. The kid was crazy, but I still felt bad. Even the people he just met turned against him just like that.
“What? Don’t look at me like that. It’s just a legend. I tell it all the time, to kids like you. I meet campers often, usually adventurous and young. Those are really my friends. We’ll play under the trees and tell a little about ourselves, but they always had one thing in common. They always had to go. They got up and left, looking back at me as an alright memory with my legends and tales of the nightstalkers from beyond. Then they’d forget me, but I never forget them. They’d always hold a special place in my heart.
“But they always had to go. And I would be alone again, with the nightstalkers sitting right beyond the trees, right from my sight. I was so good at making new friends, but they kept on going. Why couldn’t I use these skills to make friends back at home?”
I lightened up once more. This place was an eternal cycle of getting ready to run and relaxing once more. The kid was unpredictable, yet so captivating. I think I saw a hidden part of me in him, the part that would come out if I ever lost control of who I was.
“I tried one more time. I met the kids on the edge of the fields. I’d sneak in for a bit, they never objected to me being with them for just a little tiny bit, and I’d get them into the woods. I’d say ‘wanna see something cool?’ and take ‘em here! They were interested for a while, say some cool things. I knew the truth though, they’d exchange glances when I talked, things would get real silent when I cracked a joke.
“Night fell. Are parents wouldn’t care, maybe Jimmy would have to go home because he was the goody two shoes who never objected to what his friends did, but we’d stay out. I’d tell stories, the ones I told the kids. Nightstalkers, they loved it! Creatures watching us from around, circling us, getting closer and closer. I thought I made it.”
I shifted to my side and noticed the kid was on his fourth soda. I could see him twitching, he definitely was getting sugared up. Every time he was finished, he’d throw one into the clothes pile.
“And what happened next? Why are you out here now?”
Something wasn’t adding up, but I had to hear the end, the way the kid spoke really gripped me, my tiredness causing anything to become interesting.
“They let me around, but they used me as their punching bag. Soon, I couldn’t take it, you know? That stuff gets to you. One day they were just kidding around, and they made this joke… It was a divorce joke about my parents… And I just got furious. I went to punch the kid and they threw me on the ground, made me eat dirt. ‘Look, he can’t take a joke!’ they’d say. A stinking little joke! I told them the nightstalkers would come for them at night, take them away for being the bad kids they were. They laughed, but I had a plan.”
I didn’t like where this was going. Each word drove his never ending monologue into a deeper sense of madness.
“I started messing with them. I’d throw rocks at their windows at night until they woke up, set up strobe lights in the woods in their backyard. A joke they wanted, and a joke they would get!”
I laughed before it diminished into a small chuckle. It was pretty funny at the time, I was a sucker for messing around the place, especially with friends. Scaring them was always a joy.
“Then I started taking their stuff. Whether it was clothes from the draws, wallets, or video games, it would go unnoticed for a while, until they thought to themselves about how things seemed to be missing.”
The laughter was completely gone. This kid was breaking into houses. I knew it now, all the doubt in my mind was gone. This kid was mad, and he was dangerous. But I only realized how truly bad it was until now.
“Y-You stole their stuff?”
He studied me for a while, then looked up at the window.
“Yes, but I always put it back, how mad do you think I am? I wouldn’t even have a place to put it.
“One day the kid was angry about how the video game he bought three days ago was already missing, and I turned to him and told him like it is. I told him the nightstalkers had gotten to him, and soon, they would take him away. You should have seen the look on his face! Sometimes people take stuff so seriously, I swear. He punched me right into the gut and kicked me down. I didn’t cry, I didn’t swear, I laughed. Someone was angry. I always wish I could go with the campers, just run away with them in their RVs and cars, it’d be so grand. Find a new life with people who appreciate me.
“One day I got caught. I went to go throw their trash in the streets and the house light came on. The parents started screaming and the leader of their stupid gang came out, looking directly at me. Not with anger, but with a look of actual fear. I worried him, and that was the wonder of it all.
“The next day I was writing in my shed and they came, and since it was during the day, the nightstalkers couldn’t come. They threw me down on the floor after they saw the shed once more. Don’t ask why, something must have disgusted them so much that they got angry, the nerve of some people!”
I was ready to stand up, but he was practically sitting on top of me now. He obviously planned no action against me, and if I ran, something bad would happen. He’d send his ‘nightstalkers’ towards me. After all, I was just an ordinary camping kid at face value, he wanted to be my friend.
“Holy crap, that’s awful. What kind of place is this, a gang neighborhood?”
“Close! They threw me on the ground and started beating me up. I thought I was going to black out. Blood dripped from my face and my nose was broken. They said that tomorrow I’d better not leave my house or they’d kill me. Not that my home was that much protection anyways. My parents wouldn’t notice me being beaten up if I was in the same room as them. I needed to hide, think it out for a bit. You know where I went.
“But before that, the nightstalkers made one last visit. I went into their home, straight into it. Sat in there, took it all in. I didn’t do anything, just stood there. I wouldn’t risk waking anyone up. I knew they always left their garage window open, so I snuck in. I swear, I didn’t do anything. Just let the nightstalkers do one last thing, before I disappeared. One last thing…”
I was ready to leave, getting ready to bolt for the door.
“So I snuck out here, and I’ve been waiting here ever since. I’ve been waiting in this shed for two days, I don’t dare going out.”
“What about me?”
“What? I, erm, I came out every once in a while you know. Fresh air, something better than cramping my hand or going through that strange pile over there, see what clothes were left behind here.”
Something was not right, and while most of the true terror came later, what I was seeing clicked in that very moment. This kid was not being honest. His story had holes, there were parts that didn’t make sense and inconsistencies that my brain didn’t want to fill in.
“Everyone leaves Ben. Sometimes people just disappear, and whether or not you appreciated them in that moment or later, they will disappear, and you will long. I’m glad I got to talk to you in this peaceful night. I really got something off my chest, I don’t get to have this special experience with all kids you know? Your special, and I wish I could run away with you, even in your silence. Those kids won’t know what hit them in the morning, and sure, they won’t appreciate me, but they’ll find something else. They’ll appreciate something else, even if that ordinary thing to them was special in its own terrible way. They’ll long to have done differently, but they’ll never be able to change what has happened. I am so glad I got to speak about this, do you think my parents care?”
I stood up quickly and walked to the door. I couldn’t handle it anymore, I didn’t want this, not this. I left my undrunk coke bottle on the floor and headed to the door. I know differently know, but back then this kid had a knife behind his back and he was ready to strike.
“It’s late, I really should go, they’ve probably been looking for me for 30 minutes, I don’t want to worry them.” “Ben, it’s my time to go, don’t worry. I know how you feel, and even with that, I still appreciate you for listening. Nightstalkers won’t come to you, you’re protected in these woods. You’ll look back at this memory and appreciate it. Because I’m an ordinary kid, and you found something special in me, didn’t you? A wonder of life. We find that not everything is how it meets the eye.
“Today I am the camper and I bid farewell. Life is hard, but only if you think that way. I go, I live, you live, it works out.”
He opened the door, and I stood at him. I was perplexed, it was the strangest feeling I had felt in my life. I really did appreciate this kid somehow, his story was captivating, it had kept me in that shed. What he was saying ringed true even in a mad way.
He whipped out a compass and faced west, looking at the vast forest standing tall before us.
“Goodbye, I must head the way I was meant to go. The flashlight is sure to catch up to you.”
So he walked, and he disappeared into the darkness as he trotted west, the nightstalkers looming over him. I looked back into the shed one last time.
A stack of clothes. A journal, coke bottles.
I opened the journal and looked around. A map had been drawn crudely on one page, and I assumed it would help me with my position. The shack was in the center, and I looked at each marking around me. I wasn’t that far off.
But before I exited, I flipped through the pages. Most pages only included a view sentences. “Barry’s pet snake – Important?” circled. “9:00 am” sketched quickly across an entire page.
An entire novel of mad thoughts jotted down quickly in a slow attempt to make sense of them.
I looked at the last one.
“Like a young kid, I must go west, back to where I always must go to escape the true terrors of this town. Not the nightstalkers, but whatever lies around the forest. I am excited about my future, the past is far behind me. I cry at not being able to witness this beautiful morning out where they say I must be, but I can only imagine the great possibilities of the horrors that will be seen around me as sun dawns. If you have found this journal, you know what I am talking about, and you must know what I am doing now.
Should have had some appreciation.”
The date was signed today. I closed the book and stepped back, and ran outside. I tried my best to follow the map from memory, but the place seemed like a maze. Each tree seemed the same, as if they were cornering me to keep from escaping. My chest was pounding and I was ready to throw up. The eyes from before pounded on me from every direction. What I had found so wonderful originally was my worst nightmare now. Nightstalkers were manifesting around me, the true terrors from my mind.
Then I saw the light. It pushed past the creatures in the night and shined over me, warming my soul as I smiled, pushing my hand over my eyes.
“Holy crap dude is that you? We’ve been looking for you for like a half an hour! Games over, we have to back, I think we’re in trouble. Not that I enjoy being out here anyway.”
I sighed relief, not willing to tell anyone what had happened. The pyromaniac saved me.
“I think I got lost… This place can give you the creeps. Strange things out here, let’s head back.”
And we did. I left the shack behind, leaving it in my mind for possibilities to arise. We were scolded at for our inability to think, and we slept.
The next morning we left. I’ll never forget that drive out of the campgrounds. Looking back at the forest waiting for the child to stare back at me with his cold face, a nightstalker standing behind him as his shadow. The forest casted a dim feeling of mysteriousness, as if I had not or just wasn’t ready to try and discover his secrets.
We went past a neighborhood. The entire road was cut off and we had to go a different route. Cop cars and ambulances surrounded the streets, tons of people on the roads. It stuck out like a sore thumb, that neighborhood on the end of the forest which perfectly summed up the dreariness of the woodland that it neighbored. The cops told us to turn around, and I saw the faces looking at us in cold horror.
I had a lot to think about in the car ride back, and it was something I would think about for the longest of times, never telling a soul. I’m glad I got this off my chest.
The kid had told me that you can find the ordinary in the strange, but that night I learned something new. Within the strange, there is something more sinister waiting to be found, an explanation that you would have rather not known in the first place. I still don’t want an explanation of that night, but I still can’t help but ponder.
The child was a liar, his story had flaw, but the general statements were still there. Part of me realized he didn’t want me to know the whole truth, he just wanted me to hear what he had to say at the moment, lies or honesty.
Some stories just need to be told, no matter how disturbing or untruthful they are. They slip out. It’s our duty to make of them what we will.
Looking back as I write, I know now that we all want to express or feelings one way or the other, and this kid did just that. He wanted to freak me out but captivate me at the same time, and ignore the details.
But I’m not an idiot.
I can put two and two together.
And that’s where the real horror lies.
Written by Tin77