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September 15 1991
My name is Peter Holcomb, age 19, amateur writer and avid nature lover. About ten months ago, I moved away from my hometown of Aspen Park, Colorado, into the city of Denver.
Aspen Park is the smallest town you could imagine, with a three-figure population, and endless rows of evergreen trees that surround the town at every angle. My family consists solely of my father, still living in Aspen by himself. My mom died when I was still just a baby, in a car crash. It really screwed my dad up; he hardly talks to anybody now. Nowadays, he just watches the forest at the back of the house and hums some song to himself. I never learned what that song was.
Living in Aspen is like spending your life in quicksand. Everything is in slow motion. Not even the wind blows in Aspen, because of all the trees. Motionless. Unbreakable calm. The atmosphere in Aspen is contagious, almost hypnotic. When you stay in Aspen for a time, you don't want to leave. The calm takes a hold on you, and makes you never want to do anything. Ever. You make nothing of yourself in a town like Aspen Park. You just watch the trees and hum songs to yourself and wait to die.
I probably would have done just that, too, if not for what happened in the summer of 1988, when I was sixteen years old.
Alone, without my dad's constant gloom hanging around everything. The forest seemed pure, untainted, happy in its own right. That summer started out just like that.
Like I said, I'm quite the nature lover. I enjoy camping trips and long walks through the forest,
The one particular day that this whole event started was a hot, muggy day, just a few weeks into summer vacation. After a heated argument with my dad - about something stupid and pointless, I'm sure - I did what I always did. I slammed the back door behind me and headed right for the forest behind the house.
I ran through the brush, winding for what felt like hours through tall evergreen trees. By the time I had stopped to gather my thoughts, I had left my usual trail far, far behind. At the trail's first turn, I can only assume that I ignored it and just kept marching forwards, reciting curse words in my head. The last thing I wanted to do now is just head back to the house to deal with my father. So, I decided to just keep walking forwards, and calm my nerves, despite my surroundings were completely foreign.
After a while, hours and hours, the sun dipped well below the tree line. I was slowly starting to panic. I thought I had turned back towards home a long, long time ago. The thing about forests is, everything looks the same. A tree is just a tree. They're all the same. As far as I knew, I was still walking completely the wrong way. After another few minutes, the trees started to thin out, and I thought I was getting closer to home. I forced my tired legs to walk faster, and my heart beat to the rhythm of my footsteps.
Soon afterwards, I started noticing things I hadn't picked up on before. The birdsong that echoed through the entire forest was gone. I looked up and failed to find a single bird. No movement at all. Something was off about wherever I had ended up.
By now, the sun had disappeared from sight, being replaced by the white glow of the moon. I knew in the back of my head that I was far from where I wanted to be. And with the setting sun, something else odd began to happen. Fog started rolling in, as thick as storm clouds.
I had been through fog in the woods before, but never lost and in the dark all at the same time. I used my very limited survival knowledge, and I decided that, since the trees were too sparse in this part of the forest, I must have been close to town, or at least some kind of civilization. I resolved to climb the tallest tree I could find, climb above all of the fog, and try to spot some houses. Or an electrical tower, or whatever to help me find my way back home.
So before I knew it, I started climbing. I found the tallest tree I could see from where I stood, and started upwards. Tree-climbing was one of my favorite things to do during my routine wilderness trips, so climbing was child’s play. I climbed as quickly as my exhausted feet would take me. Above the fog, and higher still. I didn’t realize on the ground just how tall the trees around me were. It just seemed to keep going up, and up, and up. Soon, I forced myself to stop climbing, and I felt the entire tree sway underneath me, my weight throwing it off-balance.
I started feeling dizzy. It could have been a number of things that made me feel so nauseated. Exhaustion. The altitude. But after reaching the highest point of the tree, I realized that the one I had climbed was taller than any other tree I could see for miles. Much, much taller. Impossibly taller. I looked around. There was no Aspen Park to be seen. No smoke stacks, no electrical poles. Nothing.
It was all just trees. Evergreens as far as I could see, at every angle, just extending outwards to the edges of the world, completely flat, under a cloudless, full-moon sky. It was as if the forest had swallowed the entire world and left me the lone survivor.
I looked downwards into the fog, far below me, and my body went numb. Bad news too, because I almost let go of the tree and fell to my death.
What I saw below me was not a forest covered in fog. It was still a forest, alright, but the fog had been replaced.
What seemed like a mile below me, I saw people were walking on the forest floor beneath me. Then my mind corrected my eyes. What was shuffling around down there was not human, nor was it animal. The fog had seemingly become a huge host of beings, almost formless, on the ground below.
Needless to say, I practically lost my mind. I started coming up with crazy explanations. I was too tired. I was too thirsty. I was too high up. But as my mind raced, my gaze was locked on these forms as they paced and stumbled.
They didn’t look like they were doing anything of in particular. They were just walking around. Following curved paths, some just barely moving along, some walking around in circles or pacing back and forth.
I decided to get the hell down from that tree before I passed out and cracked my head open on the ground ten stories below me.
I kept an eye on the fog. As I slowly descended through the tree, shaking, the beings slowly dissolved back into a single smudge of gray. By the time I was halfway to the ground, there wasn't a trace of them to be found.
But I decided that I didn’t want to go back to the ground. I wanted to see more of these things. Without thought, I started climbing again, regardless of my arms and legs, which were in terrible pain by this point, straining to keep my weight latched to the tree.
I kept moving up, and my view of the ghosts on the forest floor came back. They came back into focus, continuing their aimless marching. It was mesmerizing, but absolutely terrifying. I got to a place on my tree where I could watch them all, and stayed right there, exhausted.
I don’t know how long I kept on watching the ghosts. They came and went, doing nothing but walking. It might have been minutes. It might have been hours. And then, suddenly, an idea came to mind. I wanted to talk to them.
Well, not exactly talk to them. I doubted any of them had ears to listen to me with, but I wanted to communicate somehow. I wanted to see if they could do anything more than walk around in circles.
I snapped off a branch from my tree. It was a nice-sized branch; my arm almost felt like breaking just trying to hold it up, but I was determined to see if I could get the ghosts to notice me.
I took the branch with my free hand, and tossed it below, far below, and watched to see if I could hit one of the ghosts passing by. The stick just hit the ground and cracked in two. The same thing happened to the next branch, and the branch after that.
After quite a few tries, my arms genuinely felt broken from the effort of holding up my weight. With my last try, I finally managed to hit one of the beings below. Though it wasn’t a hit, really. The branch just passed right through its target.
At first nothing really happened. The being I managed to hit dissolved into a puddle of fog, almost like disturbing a calm pool of water.. but then, I heard a noise. It was the shattering of the branch hitting the ground, followed by a shriek of some kind. Almost like the call of a dying bird.
Then, the ghosts stopped walking. The fog became completely still, and I swear to god, I felt their eyes on me. I couldn’t tell if they even had eyes, but if they did, every last one of them was fixed on me now.
Then the worst of it all. The shrieking. An absolutely terrible noise. It sounded like a million birds being shot out of the sky at the exact same time. But It kept going, on and on. And they all just kept staring at me. Staring and screaming.
I tried to plug my ears, but my arms were too weak by now, and it took all of my strength to keep from falling. So I did the only thing I could to drown out their horrible, horrible noises. I started screaming, too.
For a while, it somewhat worked. But then something started happening. After a few breaths, my screams got quieter and quieter. Not because I was getting weaker, or running out of breath. I screamed as loud as I could, but there was no sound. I felt like my vocal cords were about to burn away, but I could barely make a sound. The only sound was the sound of a million birds dying.
The ghosts had taken my scream. My voice was gone. I realized at that moment that these terrible things were the reason there were no birds singing here.
For a while more, I tried to scream, but I couldn't. I started crying, but I couldn’t. I tried calling for help, but I couldn’t do that either. Soon I couldn't breathe as well, and lost consciousness. There was the sensation of falling for just a moment. And then blackness.
I woke up in the hospital weeks later, suffering several broken bones, and a ruptured lung. I was incredibly lucky to be alive, But I will never speak again.
I always try to convince myself that what happened in the woods that night was just a result of my exhaustion- a terrible, powerful hallucination. But in the back of my mind, I know it was all real. I know why birds don’t call in the middle of the forest. I know the People of the Fog can’t see with their own eyes or talk with their own mouths. So through they see through the eyes of birds, and speak with the voices of dying crows. I know because my voice is among them.