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Dead trees and dead leaves.

Author's note: Inspired by the original stories Lone Stones and Great Pines.

Growing up in rural Oklahoma, I’ve always had a strong connection to the local forest. I spent a great deal of my childhood there. You could say it was my home away from home. Days on end were spent on my adventures out there.

Many people fear the woods at dark these days. The sounds of wild animals wandering about is enough to keep many people from the city home once the sun sets; which is how I liked it. With none of those ignorant fools around I could set up my shelter and sleep without worry of the local bozos from stumbling onto my camp. I wasn’t very popular you see, but that doesn't matter now.

I was fearless in those woods. The sounds of the coyotes howling scared most folk back to their cars and straight home, but I’d learned that the coyotes were much more afraid of me than I was of them, and after a while I just learned to ignore them. The closest thing to an actual worry I had was the local mountain lion, but even he would leave me alone so long as I didn’t sleep in the open (in my tent or my cabin). I had nothing to worry about.

I had a pretty good setup. I had my old family cabin for the really bitter weather and my tube tent for everything else. Personally I preferred the tent; my boyish ego made me feel "rugged” that way. Needless to say my time in the wilderness brought me great joy. Many a day in school was spent looking forward to getting back out there where I could be free and happy. It’s funny how quickly that all can change.

I must admit, I left one thing out earlier when I said that I was fearless out there. That place my grandfather warned me about, that place all of the locals liked to pretend didn’t exist. That place struck fear in my heart. We called it the Dead Hollow. Well, not because anyone in particular had ever died there so much as there was nothing but dead, overgrown bush for at least a square mile. Grandpa said that the place was cursed, and that the sun never shined directly on that hollow. He never told me why or how the place was supposed to be so dangerous; he just made sure that I promised never to go in that hollow.

The place had been like that long before the white settlers came here. The Natives already had a history with the place though, in that they avoided it. They called it “Devil Rock”. No one knew why they called it that, there certainly aren’t any mountains or large plateaus in this area. Then again none of us had ever really been inside the hollow so for all we knew it was full of sunshine, dust and fairies.

I still remember it like it just happened yesterday. I just wish I could forget. School was out for the summer and I was excited to get back to my camp again. I packed my bags the first night school was out and come morning I told my parents I was camping out for a few days.

Mother told me to be on the lookout for our neighbor’s youngest son, James Berkin. Apparently he went out to go fishing at the river and was taking his sweet time coming back. His parents figured he was having too much fun to come home. I figured the little idiot had gotten lost on his way back; the boy had no sense of direction. How his parents let him out and about is beyond me.

It took me a good hour to hike to my favorite clearing. It was a nice place to set up camp. The ground was nice and flat, it was reasonably close to a stream. For some reason though, the local fauna avoided the place like it was poisonous. I didn't like that it was parallel to the Hollow, but It never really bothered me much because grandpa had said I'd be fine so long as I never ventured in there.

I pitched my tent and sat out to gather some firewood. The best thing about summer was that the daylight gave you a lot of time to work with. It didn’t take long for me to gather enough wood to last me about two days. I still had a few hours left before sundown, so I figured I’d go check the river and see if I couldn’t find what James had gotten himself into.

It didn’t take me ten minutes to get to the lowest point in the river (which happened to be James' favorite fishing spot in the area). Oddly enough I couldn’t find James anywhere. After poking around for a minute I found his fishing pole and tackle box, but no James in sight. I called out to him but it was met with no response. That’s when I noticed a small set of boot prints in the dirt along the shore line. There was no mistake; these had to be James' footprints.

The footprints led away from the river… and to my shock straight towards the hollow. James had been warned to stay away from the hollow just as I had been, and in all of his years out here he’d never ventured towards the place. I dare say he was more frightened of it than I was. My thoughts turned to horror as I imagined poor James stuck out here near the hollow after dark. I just had to find him.

I followed the tracks he left for a ways before I had to stop. Just as I had feared, the tracks led straight into the Dead Hollow. I thought about turning back and just leaving James to his own stupid fate. I’m ashamed to say that I wished I had.

James had left a clear enough path to follow, but I just wasn't moving fast enough. I was running out of daylight and had to find him fast; there was no way I’d ever be caught dead in that place after dark.

I started to notice something off about the hollow. I knew damn well that there was still a few hours left before sundown, but the hollow was already very dark. It was like the sun refused to shine on it. The deeper I got into the hollow, the worse things got. I noticed the animals, or should I say the lack thereof. There were no traces of any living creature, no birds chirping, no squirrels prancing in the bush, just the sound of complete silence. I soon felt myself experiencing an awful case of the chills. I felt my arms and they were cold to the touch. For late May, it sure felt like the middle of December. But the worst part by far was the unshakable feeling that I was being watched.

I felt like there were was a set of eyes staring down my back… that’s when I heard a twig snap behind me. Without thinking, I dashed in the opposite direction of the sound. I didn’t realize until it was too late that I had run deeper into the hollow. Not only that, but I had managed to get myself turned around. As I scanned the sky for the sun, my heart sank—the sun was setting. I didn’t take long for the already dark hollow to become nearly pitch black. I stupidly forgot my flashlight back at the camp.

Normally when you’re lost, people advise that you stop and collect yourself. In my state of fear, I wasn’t about to stop looking for a way out of that godforsaken place. I stumbled in the dark for what seemed like forever until I was startled by the crunching of dead leaves in the distance, followed by an audible SNAP. Not learning my lesson the first time, I took off running as fast as I could. That’s when it happened...

My running was cut short as I made my way into a clearing as my foot caught the edge of something buried beneath the surface of the dirt. I grasped my knee in pain and looked down at the soil I had tripped over. That's when I saw it, the Lone Stone.

There was enough moonlight shining through the treetops in the clearing that I could see a large stone hidden beneath the ground. Upon further examination I realized that there was no grass around the rock, and the rock itself seemed to have some kind of circular carvings on it. The carvings didn't look like they'd come from anything natural like erosion, but more like they'd been cut into the stone with a very sharp tool.

It was so strange. There just seemed to be something wrong about the stone. Just looking at it made me feel disparaged, like something inside me wanted to lay down and die. My ears began to ring loudly and my stomach turned as I doubled over to the ground in pain. That’s when I saw James' boot lying on the ground. I realized that whatever had chased me here must have surely chased James here too!

I couldn’t take any more time near that stone. I had to put some distance between it and I. I found what I thought was west (the direction of my cabin) and started walking ever so cautiously. It didn’t take long for me to catch sight of the river bank. It was too dark to walk home and my cabin was closer, so I decided I’d hole up there until morning.

I made my way to the cabin. It wasn’t much but it put four walls and a ceiling between whoever—or whatever—it was that had been chasing me. Once inside, I pushed some of the furniture up against the door and tried to make myself comfortable for the night.

Somehow I managed to drift off to sleep. I was jarred awake by a tapping sound. I realized that someone or something was at my window tapping. What I saw next almost relieved me… the moonlight in the background lit up enough for me to see a pale, blonde haired face. It was James’ face! I sprung up and started towards the window to let him in, but something was wrong.

His eyes were blacked out like a shark’s eyes, and his mouth was moving sporadically with no words coming out. The look on his face was contorted. When his face shifted towards me, his tapping become more intense. He didn’t have to say anything for me to know what he wanted—to open the window and let him in.

I stared in horror, too petrified to move. James' face seemed to become more disfigured. His lips curled back, revealing his teeth. They continued curling back further and further until the skin inside his mouth began to tear. His eyelids receded until his eyes seemed to pour blood. All the while, that infernal tapping only got stronger and stronger as James pounded and pounded on the window.

I’ll never be able to get that image out of my head. That little boy who lived next to me, that carefree kid who loved to go fishing—he was gone and this thing was all that remained. In my mind I couldn’t even call it James anymore. He—no, it—began smacking its head against the glass as hard as it could.

I was sure the glass was going to break. I heard it begin to buckle and crack as he hit time after time! I said my last prayers to God and asked Him to make it as painless as possible. I closed my eyes and anticipated the sound of glass breaking before I was torn to shreds. But nothing happened.

I opened my eyes to see sunlight peering through my window. James was gone. The only trace left was the blood from his forehead on my window. I pulled myself together and ran home as quickly as I could.

I told my parents what happened. I said that we had to tell James' parents. I was met with a slap in the face. Mother told me that someone my age should know better than to make up stories, and that I should be ashamed of myself for even thinking of scaring Mrs. Berkin like that. Grandpa was eavesdropping on the conversation, though. After my parents were through chewing me out and telling me how I’d be grounded until the second coming of Christ, he pulled me aside and took me upstairs.

He told me that he believed me and that James was dead. He explained that in every forest, there is a stone. A Lone Stone. These stones have been there since before the time of man. These stones are a place where the dead seek a way into our living world. Not the human dead like a ghost, but something far worse. Contorted beings too malicious and evil to exist in our world. Grandpa next explained that these beings desire life in our world, and that the only way for this to happen is if they take the body of a human. He explained to me that their true form cannot be hid through the body of a human, and that in the end the body of whomever was taken would end up contorted and hideous just like them. Finally he said that unless they could continue to find a new body, they would have to return to the stone to wait for the next poor soul to wander across them. Grandpa said he’d call the police to tell them where James' body could be found.

Sure enough, when the police investigated the area, they found James. Or at least his body, just as grandpa said. He was bent and twisted nearly beyond recognition. They initially thought that he had been in some sort of car accident, but that was ruled out. In the end, his death was attributed to murder. It was no surprise that both me and my grandfather were examined as suspects. After a while though, we were both ruled out. No killer was ever found. People still think that I killed James, that I twisted his body like a pretzel. Of course they wouldn’t believe that the stone had killed him.

I’ve never gone into those woods since that happened. I’m so afraid that the stone might reach out again for me like it did before, and that I, like James, will end up twisted and contorted over the Lone Stone of the Dead Hollow.

I write this tale not to scare you, but to warn you. Beware the Lone Stones! Beware the dead places of the forest for these are places that aren’t meant to be trespassed upon. Stay away, far away, unless you want to endure the same fate as James.