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The Clearing

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It was a cold winter day in Minnesota when it happened. Now, not much happens here in our shantytown, but when news of someone’s disappearance comes about, we get on edge. The missing person happened to be my friend John Mora. Most of the town gave up searching after a few weeks had passed, but my friends Jane and Scott decided to keep searching themselves, and, being John’s friend, I went too. Day after day, we went deeper into the forest that he was last seen in, and we made a trail over time. Almost two weeks passed, and we were searching farther into the woods when we stumbled across a huge clearing. The grass was dead all around, compared to the lush green around us and before the clearing itself.

“I don’t remember this being on the map,” Jane said.

“Hey, there’s still a tree over there,” Scott said, pointing to a part of the clearing.

And there it was. A thin tree, with the branches broken off. And something by it... I was still trying to make it out when I heard Jane gasp.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“That’s...” and she murmured something inaudible.

“Jane, what is it?-” I pressed, looking back and forth at the thing and Jane nervously.

“I think that’s John,” she whispered.

“THAT?” Scott was now staring at the thing, just standing there.

“That’s his red sweater, see?” she started taking steps into the clearing...

By the tree was a figure, but it didn’t look like John to me. A sense of dread began to creep into my mind. That was his red jacket, alright, but that wasn’t couldn’t be. I wanted to believe it, but...I felt a tingle crawl through my spine. This doesn’t seem right, I thought.

The tree was also strange. It had an unusually grotesque form, and what looked like four roots meeting together at one point, like a really tall person- but that wasn’t it. It...was just a bump at the top of the tree. It couldn’t be a head, right? It was probably just my mind playing tricks on me... Then I felt like I was being watched, like the figure standing by the tree was looking at me.

“HEY, JOHN!” Jane called out.

“Jane, I don’t think that’s a good idea-” I warned her, but she didn’t hear me, and started to run towards the figure. Scott and I glanced at each other for a split second before running after her. I kept my eyes fixed on her as we neared the tree.

“Jane, get back, I don’t think-” and we stopped a few yards away from the thing. Jane was just standing there, motionless. Her back to me, I heard her say something but I couldn’t make it out at first.

I walked a little farther and looked at her. “Oh my God...” I heard then, and she was saying it over and over. Her face was paled, and her lower lip was trembling- her eyes fixed on what was in front of her.

Fear gripped me, and I didn’t dare to turn to look at it until Scott pointed with a shaking finger, and I saw him mouth, “John.” So I looked.

The tree, or what I thought was a tree, was John’s body. It was skin, that made up the tree. Skin stretched far out of proportion. His limbs bending where they shouldn’t, his arms and legs making the whole form of it, and his torso making the stub I saw at the top. Only...there was no head. Then a sudden realization hit me, and I knew it reached Jane too when she screamed.

I slowly turned to the figure wearing the red jacket, and it was John.

John’s head.

I walked closer to him then, closer and closer, until I was only a foot away, looking at him. His eyes were closed, as if he was sleeping calmly, but my heart began to race and I couldn’t help but feel extremely uneasy.

“We need to get out of here,” I said aloud, and I turned back to Scott and Jane-

They were gone.

“Jane...? Scott...?” I was trembling with fear, they didn’t leave me did they? I couldn’t move.

Then I felt a cold breath on the back of my neck and a chill ran down my spine.

I felt a sharp pain in my neck, then no pain at all.

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