My father told me a story once. I'll never forget it, for a few reasons. I think it's the first story he ever told me, as a child. It's also the story of how my grandfather died. But honestly, that isn't the reason.
You hear stories, on TV, or sometimes you over hear something in a public place. People talk about ghosts and aliens, and you think to yourself, “That isn't real. They're making it up, or they're mistaken, or they're crazy,” or something like that. You just can't believe it.
Until something happens. Something that brings it all together, connects the dots in a way you didn't think of before. Maybe it happens to you, maybe you hear the same story again and again, happening to different people. It doesn't take long for the world to become a lot bigger than you thought it was.
As I said, this is a story my father told me, but I never believed it, even though he swore up and down it was true. It wasn't until I started clicking around the internet I started to believe. I started to hear other stories just like the one my father told me. It didn't take me long to believe in The Rake.
That's not what my father called it, of course. He's never used the internet in his life, he wouldn't know what the consensus has taken to naming it. When he chose to call it something other than “it” or “that thing”. He called it “Skinwalker” after an old Cherokee tale his grandfather told him.
But I'll tell you the story, the way he told it to me.
“We were out hunting one night,” he'd tell me. “Coyotes. We'd kill 'em for fifty bucks a skin.” They lived on a dairy farm, in Ohio. “They'd kill calves sometimes. We'd do it every night, because we needed the money. Sometimes, while we were out, we'd come on a deer, and kill it. Our landlord didn't mind, and it could a feed our family for a few nights and save us some money.
“Anyway, we were done making our rounds and heading home, walking, 'cause we didn't have a car or some four-wheeler back then. We'd cut through the woods. That's when we came up on it.
“Blood, everywhere. Splattered on the trees, in the grass, in the creek, everywhere. At first, we figured it was a pack of coyotes. We'd seen it sometimes, they can't scavenge and start hunting deer or cattle. The worst was when they bred with feral dogs. But this wasn't like that.
"See, when a pack of dogs, or wolves, or coyotes attack something, they do it right. They'll pick off one that's weak, or sick, or old, or just small. They'll hunt it, draw it into a corner, some place it can't get out off, and they'll run it right to the biggest one, the alpha. And that deer will never see that alpha. It might hear it, but it won't see it. It'll just notice that its throat is gone, and then it'll drop dead. It's quick, it's clean. That wasn't what happened here.
“Something had run up on a den of deer. Coyotes won't attack a den, wolves neither, because they'd get too much of a fight. There were three, I think, three bodies. Just torn apart. You'd see a head here, a leg here, a torso there. Predators don't do that. They don't leave behind scraps. What had done this hadn't done it for food. It had done it for fun.
“But we didn't know that. We saw a bunch of carcasses and we think it's something we gotta take care of. I remember my dad telling me to go home; he thought it was a pack of feral dogs."
"But I wasn't leaving him, and I damn sure wasn't walking through two miles of woods alone, with nothing but a twenty two and a pocket knife.” He was only thirteen at the time, so a .22 rifle was about the only gun he could reliably use. “Dad had the shotgun, and I wasn't going anywhere without it.
“It took me a while, to convince him, but finally we began tracking whatever did that. It wasn't hard, either, we just followed the blood. Either that thing bled a deer before it got away, or it dragged one for a mile. I don't know. I know that I'd never seen my dad scared before that night.
“We started hearing noises. I've been in a lot of woods, in my life, I've been all over the world, and ain't never heard noises like I heard that night. I heard things screaming.
"Heard deer, and fox, and rabbits and raccoons and birds, just scared. Keep in mind, this is maybe twelve, or one o' clock. 'Cept the fox, and some birds, nothing was supposed to even be awake. But they weren't just awake They were moving. I saw flocks of birds that night fly straight into trees just trying to get out of there. We came up on a pack of coyotes, nearly shot a couple thinking it was what we were looking for us, but then we saw they were running towards us. They ran right passed us, didn't even notice.
"Then some deer did the same. Then some rabbits, squirrels, foxes, even a couple wild hogs. These things were supposed to be eating each other and the only thing they cared about was getting out of there.
"We should have put it together. That maybe whatever we were tracking, it wasn't something we were supposed to see, and it wasn't something we could kill. I don't know why we didn't just go home. I guess we were curious. I think that was my dad's nature, to go toward trouble, to fight. And knowing what I knew about what my father did during the war, my nature was to stay close to him.
"We finally get into an open valley. It was normally a soy field, but it wasn't in season, so it was just flat dirt. We saw the tracks, then. A lot of the animals fleeing the forest had paved over the land. But where that deer blood was, nothing had taken a single step. Like they were leaving it for us to find.
"The tracks were shallow. Whatever it was couldn't have weighed more than one hundred pounds, but that didn't mean much. A bobcat weighing forty pounds wet nearly tore out my damn throat, once. All that means is that it's quick and hard to hit.
"So we follow the tracks, and it doesn't take us long to find where it is. There's this old school house that sits on the top of a hill. Half of it had been ripped out by a tornado, but nobody lived there, not for a long time. We caught homeless people in there, sometimes, or druggies looking for a safe place to shoot up. We figured maybe that was it. Maybe it was some sick kid riding a high. But we didn't think that for long.
"We get within fifty yards, and we hear this noise. A screeching kinda sound. It was sort of made up of two different sounds. One was a high pitched screech, another was a low pitched growl. It was making both, at the same time.
"We get within twenty yards, and we hear this sound. I can remember thinking that it sounded like paper being torn apart, while someone was swinging water in a bucket, back and forth.
"Dad looks at me, kneels down, and whispers. 'I gotta stay behind him, 'cause we're about to corner him. Any animal will fight when it's cornered, 'specially when it's a predator. But we can tell by the tracks that it's just one'. He tells me it's probably a single, feral dog, probably rabid.
"The plan is to sneak up on it while it's eating, shoot it, and then keep shooting it 'till it don't move anymore, then slit its throat. If it gets to dad, it's my job to shoot it or stab it to get it off him. So he walks up, and I'm right behind him, just a tad to his side, so I can see what it is. I wish to this day I hadn't.
"It was leaning over a carcass, tears off its flesh, and throws what it doesn't nibble at aside. There's blood all over the brick, glistening in the moonlight. It's pale white, human looking; but not quite human. It had arms and legs like a human, but it sat like a monkey, hunched over. Its hands weren't normal; it had long fingers with claws at the end.
"So we see that, and my dad hesitates. He wasn't about to fire on a person. So he clears his throat, to try get it to turn around.
"I swear to god, all the noise just ceased. I ain't ever heard true silence before that, and not after it. But for two seconds, nothing, nothing, made any noise. Which made it all the louder when it turned around, made this shrill cry, and jumped on dad.
"He got a shot off. I think he missed. If he hit the thing, it didn't mind. But it was on him, tears parts of him off. I start shooting it with the twenty two, point blank, but it barely bled the thing. I got off five rounds, and then I started hitting it with the gun butt. But it wasn't budging.
"It didn't even register that I was there.
"It clawed at my dad, taking off bits of his flesh. It started on his torso, ripping off the skin, his tit, then it moved up. It tore off his throat, it tore off his nose, his eyes. It scalped him. Then it started digging in and ripped off the bottom half of his jaw, the little bones and that tube in your neck, then his ribs.
"I don't exactly remember what happened, but somehow, my dads knife ends up in this things shoulder, and my dad ends up on my back. I'm running, and by god I'm running faster than I'd ever run before or after. And it's following me. I end up back in the woods, opposite the ones we been in. I'm headin' towards my landlord's house, 'cause it's half a mile away.
"I can hear this thing, screeching and moaning. I hear the tree branches crack and get thrown around. It sounds like someone's taking an axe to every single tree I pass, it's cracking so loud and often, but I just ain't looking back.
"Finally, I trip into gravel. I look up and there's my landlord and bunch of his buddies, drinking around a campfire. I scream and I cry, and they come over. I'm telling them to call an ambulance, and he looks at me, and I'll never forget what he said.
"'What is that on your back?' he asked me. Just as he said it, he saw. One of those godawful flannel shirts my dad wore everywhere. It was what was left of my dad. Most of his head, his torso, but nothing after the waist.
"Suddenly we hear it; screeching. He grabs me, my dad gets thrown on the ground. I'm fighting him, crying, cause I think we can still save him, somehow, but my dad had been gone 'fore I ever picked him up. He has to pick me up and throw me inside before I come with him.
"He and his buddies, we're all inside, and their locking doors, and getting guns. The landlord's asking me 'What happened? What happened?' but I just don't know what to tell him. He pieced enough of it all together to understand that there was something dangerous there. All the lights in the house are on, and someone calls the cops. They'll be there, but in fifteen minutes.
"We look outside, and see it walk in front of the fire they'd made. Don't know what it is, one of 'em says it looks like an Ape. Suddenly, something goes through the window. We shoot at it, but ain't the thing. It's my landlord's dog. Just the body, though. Not his head or legs.
"We start pushing things in front of doors and windows, when we hear something the garage. I remember one of his friends sayin' that the doors were open. We hear metal and glass just get ripped apart. We put a couch and a TV in front of the door to the garage.
"It banged around some more, but then it got quiet. Not silent, like it was before. We could hear it move around some, and the guys were talking, making sure the guns were ready. Someone hands me a pistol. No sooner did I cock the hammer back did we hear something shatter upstairs. Then we heard it screech again. 'cept now it was louder, and it didn't echo and fade out. Because it was inside.
"We all rushed to the one door leading upstairs, and we got to it just as that thing did. It opened it just a bit, and four or five men just slammed into it. It got its hand through. Someone with a shotgun took care of that. Put the barrel right up to its wrist and pulled the trigger. Cut its hand off, clean.
"That only pissed it off, though. It started pushing on that door, clawing. We were on one side, pushing as best we could, and it was on the other, doing the same. That wood just wasn't going to hold, so someone tells us to keep our heads down. Suddenly the top half of the door is just gone, my ears are ringing, and there are splinters everywhere. Two or three of them just unloaded on the top of that door.
“I don't really know where it went after that. The police got there. I was still glued to that door, what was left of it. The sun was up before they got me off it. They put me in a hospital for a while. A lot of people talked to me, but I didn't talk back, not for a long, long time.
"When I got back home, I got a job from the landlord, working on the farm. We didn't talk much, not about the thing. But, I signed up for the army when I was nineteen, and he sat me down to drink some scotch as a send off. I asked him, right away, what the police told him. The story they went with was a wild animal, probably a wolf, or maybe a bear that had migrated north. I asked him how they could say that when they had the hand. He looks at me, stunned.
"He tells me that hand never made it back to the station. The cop who had it in his car wrecked, drove into a tree, died on impact. The hand was never found, probably taken away by an animal. The cops, when they would acknowledge the hand existed at all, said it was simply the paw of a bear that looked like a human hand.
"I never talked to the landlord again. He went missing when I was in basic. The cops never found him. They said he owed some people some money and just ran away, but I don't think it's that simple. I never went back to those woods. I wouldn't even if I had the whole goddamn US Army at my back."
But that was a lie. When my mother died, I don't think my father felt he had anything left, and that he might as well settle old scores. He went to those woods. He never came back. The FBI was called, they did a show for everyone involved, but I knew they weren't really looking. I had to get one drunk and slip him a few fifties before he finally told me that they get a few calls about those woods every year, about someone up and vanishing. But that was all he wanted to tell me. Before he got up and left with the rest of his team, he wrote “The Rake” onto a napkin. I didn't know what it meant until I searched for it on the internet. Honestly, I would have rather not known.
Written by Max Minton