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The Trail

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I love the forest, and I don't see how anyone couldn't. The chirping of the birds and rustling of leaves drew me like a fly to honey. A poet once said man's soul lie within the trees, and I'd be inclined to agree. Near my home was a national park with plenty of trails, creeks, and caves, a beautiful place in the Daniel Boone National Forest. Long stretches of nothing but nature and its beauty. I never understood some peoples' fear or hate of the woods, until a few months ago.

A cold April morning, I was off of work. For the first time in my busy life of the past few weeks I didn't have to commute to Louisville, I could stay in my small town and enjoy the bachelor life as best as I could. I went out onto the trail that morning, athletic shorts and a t-shirt, embracing the cold air rather than being opposed to it. I set out on the paved-gravel trail from the parking lot, up past the yellow-upon-brown sign welcoming you to the National Forest. The parking lot behind me was pretty empty that morning. One or two cars on the far side a park ranger's Crown Vic, the ranger sitting on his hood and enjoying a cup of Joe. I was glad to know I'd have the trail mostly to myself, and so I broke out on a jog, earbuds set in and the volume pumped up.

The trees breezily shook in the morning air, the sun clouded out. Overcast, maybe rain later. I huffed and shood my head, continuing on down the trail. I passed another jogger at one point, and we shared waves, but I saw no one else for a while. I think half an hour passed, judging by how many songs I'd cycled through, until I came up to Big Bend Fork, a split in the trail leading up two different paths. One path was a little more overgrown and I'd only been up there a few times.

It led past an old grill and bench, along with an abandoned power box shack, which had since been transferred to the other path, my normal one, which went past some campgrounds and a fishing dock. However, to my surprise, a park ranger was there, armed, what looked like a tranquilizer rifle in his hands. He seemed to be guarding the trail and keeping an eye out. I stopped my jog and took the earbuds out, asking him what exactly was wrong.

Luckily, it wasn't anything too scary. A few large bears had been spotted wandering around and upon the campgrounds up ahead, a mother and father and cubs, and they'd ripped up a vacant tent of another hiker. Black bears aren't the most dangerous bears, not at all, but with cubs the parents tend to be... highly protective. "Better safe than sorry," the ranger told me, and that the trail should re-open the next day when they could relocate the bears deeper into the woods. Another ranger had headed up the second path and reported nothing abnormal, so he ensured me it was safe. The path that way was shorter and would probably let me finish my jog before the rain came, but I had no choice. I jogged along the other path and up into the more overgrown part of the park, and hoped the storms would be delayed long enough for me to finish my jogging routine.

Another half hour or so along the gravel path, grass starting to overcome it further on up. It clearly saw some level of disuse, that much was clear. I reached the rusty bench and felt my legs begin to give out: time for a break. I slowed my pace down and walked off the trail to the bench, taking a seat and giving my body a rest. My head tilted up to the sky and I shut my eyes, lost in the world of 80's music.

I'm not sure how long I sat there, but after a while I started to... smell something. Something wafted over to me, and I couldn't fully tell what it was. It seemed to be coming from further up the trail, near the power shed. Whatever it was I hopped off of the bench begrudgingly, stretching out and doing a few toe-touches before continuing on the trail. The smell became more pervasive as I made my way further up, and I started seeing some kind of material along the trail. Bits of red, black, some grey.

Strewn along the sides of a trail in odd patterns. I stopped and picked a few pieces up, pieces of black hair stuck to them thanks to static: they were pieces of tarp. Maybe from that fence? It would make sense. They continued up the grassy trail towards the distant power shed. Something told me not to check, that it may be the bears, but I knew there was another ranger out here, so I carried on. That's when the smell got worse.

The smell got worse, and I could see red... spray, on the grass. Reddishness over parts of the tarp leading up to the old, rusty, cream-colored shed building. I could tell from the trail that the shed door was open, and that the trail of this paint... or... God, no, it couldn't have been blood, I thought. But I followed it. Breaking off the trail I walked up to the shack, which itself had a small gravel trail, a sign on the wall reading "KEEP OUT", rusted and grimy.

The smell was unbearable by now, and I could see what it was. Behind the shed, off to the angle I couldn't see from the trail, was a large, black body. Hairy, fat, animal-like, and ripped open, flies massed around it. I clasped a hand over my mouth, holding back the urge to vomit. I got a better view of it as I closed in on the shed, and could tell its... face, its skin there, parts of it were ripped clean off, leaving bone or muscle or flesh behind, but no skin. However, the red trail didn't go to the bear. It went inside the shed.

The door was open slightly, and the shed itself wasn't too bad, nor too small. It could hold a few power terminals and breaker boxes, and could maybe hold 8 or 9 men standing together. The smell got even worse, flies buzzed about as I neared the door. Every instinct told me to turn back, and I nearly did, until I heard a chewing noise. A chomping, spitty chewing sound. A breathing, a shuddering, like a human. I thought someone may be getting attacked by an animal. I couldn't just leave, not if they were in danger.

I pressed the door open slowly but surely, pale light from the outside beaming in, dust particles scattering from it as more of the room was opened up and illuminated. The old power boxes and monitoring systems were dusty, destroyed, long since vandalized and abandoned. The red trail continued, blackened and thick inside the shed to a dark corner. I could make out a silhouette in the dark, something.. huddled, or maybe sitting or laying, I couldn't tell. My hand remained over my mouth, the smell absolutely unbearable by now, but I pushed the door further open. The sounds of chewing stopped, and as the wave of light rushed over from the open door... I wish I hadn't been there.

A man, but not a man, a... humanoid, maybe, sat there. His palms were bloody and bony, bear claws shoved into his fingers where nails had seemingly been ripped off. His body was pale and patchy with thick hair and what seemed to be fur, some grey and falling out, some black and fresh. As I looked over his, or.. its, full body, I noticed then what gives me chills to this day: the bear's face was badly plastered over his own skull, his eyes pale and features gaunt, bits and pieces of the mutilated bear attached to his own body, his nose ripped off and left with a poorly-fitting black one of the bear I'd seen outside. Further in the corner behind him, the unmistakable off-violet uniform of a Kentucky park ranger, his legs, or what was left of them, stuck out, his chest completely torn open and his entrails hanging from the thing's fingers. A look of terror and of shock was solidified on his half-eaten face.

The thing stared at me, head tilted in curiosity. I was absolutely silent, as was it, like we were locked into some kind of staring contest, like it was looking upon me with the same shock and awe I had looking upon it. Then it... smiled, a toothy, bloody grin, its mottled, yellow teeth jagged and barely fitting together. My blood went cold. I couldn't move, I couldn't speak. But a sudden lightning strike and a rumble of thunder from the coming storm broke the silence, and it startled me. I couldn't help but scream, losing my cool in that one moment. The creature didn't like that.

He didn't like it at all. Maybe he perceived me and a threat, or as prey, but it let out a howl, an unnatural howl, and it lunged off the floor. I was startled, but I've been running and jogging since middle school, and as soon as it started moving I took off in a sprint down the trail and back the way I came, away from the shed, away from whatever the Hell was chasing me, but it screamed like a banshee and ran like one too. I could hear its footsteps right behind me, its beastial, primordial grunts and screams as it pursued me. I lost all track of time as I ran, all sense of being. Adrenaline rushed through me and I was on autopilot. I sprinted for what seemed like an eternity until I nearly reached the Big Bend Fork. I looked behind me to see if I could still see... it, but I couldn't. I couldn't see anything behind me for the length of the trail.

But I didn't see something in front of me, and I tripped. I fell on something hard, but soft. Fleshy and squishy, and immediately felt very warm all across the front of my body and my face, warm and uncomfortably slick. I struggled to stand but my hands only met something squishy, a mass of wetness and disgusting, slimy surfaces. I sat up from whatever it was, and could see only red. I wiped my eyes clean, and then discovered I'd fallen onto the corpse of the park ranger. On his back, his face ripped to absolute shreds, his abdomen torn open and half of his torso ripped off.

I screamed louder than I ever had in my life and scrambled up to my feet, standing over this mutilated corpse, until I heard that familiar banshee cry from behind me. I looked over my shoulder, and that smell hit me again, the smell of this creature. I then remembered. "The rifle!" I said, thinking out loud, and looked to the ground. Sure enough the bloody rifle of the park ranger lay just off the trail. I grabbed it and checked it. It was loaded, and it was an actual gun, not just some tranquilizing tool like I initially thought. Low-caliber, but good enough for me. I couldn't check if it was loaded or if the safety was on, but I aimed it up the trail, just as that beast of a man was gaining distance on me. It looked more horrific in the open light, and I could see every vein, every patch of mottled and rotted flesh, the blood streaming from where it had attached the mutilated bear parts.

I shut my eyes, expecting death to be coming, but I pulled the trigger. A loud crack resonated throughout the forest. I don't know if I hit the thing or not, but I heard a howl, and the rustling of leaves. I opened my eyes after a moment, and looked ahead. It was gone. Nothing beside me, behind me, or in front of me. The rustling of bushes got quiet until there was absolute silence. Me, with this rifle, standing above a dead man. Utter silence. I stood there like a statue, rifle still aimed, finger on the trigger, and I waited.

I thought it'd ambush me, I'd thought it was waiting for me, but another rumble of thunder woke me from this frozen position. Droplets, then a sprinkle of rain began to fall, and without any further consideration of the situation I took off running back down the trail. Minutes seemed like an eternity and my body slowly gave out from the sprint. I couldn't push myself any longer, and soon I came in sight of the parking lot through the trees. I mustered up my best jog to safety, down the trail and out to the pavement, but then I noticed it was no longer empty.

Three ranger cruisers were parked in a wall-like fashion against the trail. I was panting, my vision blurry as my body continued to recoil from the fierce push I'd put it through, but I remember seeing men behind the cars, black and white cars, weapons aimed at me. Were they police? Rangers? Had someone called them here? I didn't know, I couldn't think. "Drop it!" was the last clear phrase I heard before I collapsed to the pavement, the patter of rain on my blood-soaked clothing the final thing I heard before it all faded away. I blacked out entirely.

I didn't sleep well nor feel well, even when they let me out of the hospital I woke up in, because all that awaited me was a ride in the back of a State Police truck to the local detention center. Details were fuzzy and it all seemed like a blur, but the looks I got from some of the cops told me what I needed to know. I appeared in court not long after. Two counts of first-degree murder of two Kentucky park rangers. They never found the bodies of the mangled bear nor the ranger in the shed, but with my clothes caked in blood and a crimson-spattered weapon in my hand, I was the only possible suspect to them.

With the huge amount of blood found in the shed and one dead ranger left on the trail, I was to blame. I tried to plead my story, I wanted to, but even running it in my head sounded ridiculous. What, that a bear-man had killed both men and I was only out for a jog? That my DNA was on the corpse of one and his blood was on me because I tripped and fell on him? An idiot might believe that, but sadly for me the justice system wasn't as dumb as some people say it is.

It's been eight months since I was placed in this prison. Eight months that I've had to wear this jumpsuit, shit in an open toilet, shower in a public shower, eat the slop they give us. Eight months because of my curiosity and my love of jogging. They're still doing tests and trying to determine every possibly factor, but their search across the forest turned up no signs of the dead ranger. No other body to prove the case that I had nothing to do with the deaths of these men. Hell, they thought I was potentially insane, with the trauma I had of that day showing through, and my story of a monstrous bear-man being the murderer.

My assigned therapist gave me this journal to write my thoughts in, and even if I'm not insane, it still comforts me to write my story. It comforts me to know that maybe, just maybe, I'll be proven innocent, and I'll get to be out of this place and back to my normal life. But I'll never go jogging in the woods again. That other man couldn't have killed the first ranger I met, he was at the shed... There are multiple things out there in those woods, old things that maybe not even Appalachian folklore speaks of. Spooks and monsters existing as shadows among the trees, howls at night, shrieks in the morning, figures in the fog, the things grizzled hunters spoke of while clutching a rifle to their side. They're still out there.

Word of advice to you? Be careful what trails you go hiking on. You never know what you'll find.



Written by Superbattletoads64
Content is available under CC BY-SA

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