It’s the absolute best time of year. Halloween!

This is the time of year when scary stories flood from every fount and bring me happiness.

In celebration of this joyful time I’m adding my own entry to the fount of internet scary stories. It was supposed to be flash fiction (meaning 1000 words or less), but I don’t know if I’m able to write something shorter than 2000 words.

Let me know what you think.

Girl in the Woods

Charles, Brenda, and I spent last Halloween at a local pub. It took a little convincing to get Charles out of his apartment. He said he was trying to rest, but after multiple offers of free beer he gave in. We shot a few games of pool while taking turns ordering rounds of longnecks and telling our favorite ghost stories.

Brenda told a good one. It was about some chick who hung herself from the rafters in the local water treatment plant. She still haunted the night guards and kids who broke in to spray their graffiti. I told one about a man who lost everything back during the Great Depression and jumped from the belfry of the tallest Baptist church. “His spirit still jumps each night at midnight. My uncle saw it when he was a kid.” I said.

After a few beers and a handful of stories I had a good buzz going, slightly hazing all of my senses. The beers were starting to get to Charles as well. His cheeks tended to get rosy when he drank. We sat down at a booth and order some greasy bar food. This particular establishment was known for its cheese and bacon covered curly fries that were rumored to lessen the harsh blow of the inevitable hangover. Charles hadn’t told a story yet, so we poked and prodded him and threatened to not order him a beer on the next round.

“If you guys really want to loose some sleep, I’ve got one for you.” Said Charles. He looked down the neck of his almost empty beer in deep thought. Almost a minute passed before saying, “Never mind. Forget I said anything.”

“You have to now. Come on!” cried Brenda, her voice overly loud, even for the amount bar hubbub surrounding us. “You can’t just say something like that then just back out.”

I agreed with Brenda with an enthusiastic nod and a hardy clink of my beer to hers; but I didn’t say anything. The look on Charles’s face was serious and still staring down the neck of his bottle.

Brenda scudded her rump around the back of the booth, positioning herself beside Charles. She slung her beer toting arm over his shoulders. “I’ll buy the cheese fries tonight…”

No reaction.

“And the next five times we come in.” Brenda pleaded leaning her face only inches away Charles’s.

“Fine. Fine.” Charles set down his bottle and studied his folded hands set before him on the table with that same stolid serious look.

“It’s okay if you don’t want to share.” I said.

“You hush. I’ve got to hear whatever this is.”

“Fine. But I want a harder drink before I start.” He looked directly into Brenda’s too close eyes. “You’re paying.”

Brenda waved down the nearest staff and had a line of five whiskey shots brought over and set in front of Charles.

She reached to take one of the shots for herself, but Charles blocked her grabbing hand with the back of his own. “Nope, these are for me.”

A comic look of defeat pulled her smile into a ridiculous insincere frown.

He threw the first shot down his throat then slammed the glass down on the table. He shuddered against the taste of strong alcohol.

Having recovered from the shot, he started to tell his story.

“Okay. So I’ve never told anyone, other than the authorities, any of this. Even then, I left out some details. I didn’t want them to send me to the nut house.”

He leaned back and slumped down in the booth seat. Brenda still sat pressed up next to him. I was a bit jealous, but wouldn’t have done anything about it. We had a relationship that resembled dating, but it had never been officially verified by either party. We both actively went out with other people occasionally, but never while the other was around. And there she was, cozying up with Charles right in front of me. But I digress. Charles continued his story with both of us enthralled.

“Last year I got tired of the same old mountain trails and decided to go totally off-trail for a multi-day backpacking trip in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest. I studied the maps closely before heading out, plotting a general course through valleys and over ridges. I also made sure to have accurate maps in my pack. On the day of the trip I drove over 25 miles in on a forest service road. There’s a fairly popular trail-head at 10 miles; after that the road is not maintained and gets pretty rough. Grass and brush encroached onto the dual dirt ruts. Gravel and growth raked the bottom of my Bronco. I had to use four wheel drive to get around the switchbacks and twice I nearly slipped my tires over the cliffs which edged alongside the crumbling path. It would have been days before anyone else would come out that far and possibly see my ruined truck in the forest below if anything had happened.

“The road never really ended. It just slowly faded. Once I got to a point where the Bronco was having trouble getting through the rough terrain I stopped and got ready to disappear into the wildness. All geared up and ready to go, I check my GPS and noted the coordinates, making sure I could find my truck when it was time to head home.

I had my bearings; I knew where I wanted to go. So, I left my truck behind and started heading up the valley that made up the first day of my plotted course.

“The first couple days went great. That valley took me to a tall strand-like waterfall streaming over a tall ridge. It was a tough climb, especially with a pack load of gear, but I made it up the loose rocks and cliff walls to the top of that ridge next to the waterfall. From up there I could see the forever waves of forest rolling in all directions, undulating with the extreme topography. Pointed mountains stabbed up and through the tops of the tree line in haphazard intervals. Even though I was almost a day out by that point, I could see a little depression in the canopy where, I supposed, my truck waited for me.

“Over the ridge, a valley continued, bringing me further up in elevation. At the end of the second day I’d already passed the headwaters of the creek I’d been following. It had spidered out into a web of trickling strands coming from all directions. The valley led up to another ridge, this one above the tree line and rising in a gentle slope. I setup camp on that gentle slope.

“The next morning I dropped over the other side of the ridge. The way down was dangerously steep. I was close to pulling out the maps and plotting another path. But after a few controlled slides down the scree, and using the few trees as handholds, I made it to the bottom.

“It felt like a different forest. The trees grew much closer together, moss wrapped every trunk and blanketed the ground. More moss hung in streaming curtains from every exposed branch. The canopy let in very little light. I had to use my headlamp a few times to see where I was going. Without the sun as a guide, I had to consult my compass many times to keep my bearings.

“That’s when I found the little girl, she couldn’t have been more than five or six years old, lying inside a barrel sized circle made up of hundreds of fist sized brown mushrooms. I later found references calling these mushroom circle fairy rings.”

Charles went quiet as he stared down into the next shot of whiskey. He twisted it right and left on the table with his thumb and finger.

“You found a girl out there? How the hell did a little girl get way out there?” Brenda asked. Her face now serious as the story drew her in.

Charles continued to twiddle his drink, slowly, side to side. Brenda and I just stared and waited expecting him to continue at any moment. We were in our own little world among the bustle of the bar. That booth was ours and we cared for nothing outside of it and Charles called the shots. He slammed back the next shot then immediately followed it with another. Charles struggled to hold on to reality as he shuddered through those two shots. After he regained himself he continued his story.

“To make things stranger, the girl wore a bunny costume. Fluffy cotton tail attached to the rear, bunny mask over the face, and a big blue body bunny suit. I didn’t know what to do, and something about the setting felt off. The trees were clear in a 20 foot circle around the mushrooms. It was still dark; the canopy still solid above. But the air felt wrong. It felt thick, and there was an absence of the normal forest sounds. The leaves didn’t rustle, no birds twittered in the distance. Nothing.

“The girl woke up and stretched with a silent yawn. She didn’t seem alarmed at the situation. But she also didn’t speak. I asked her how she got there and where her family was. But she never said a word. I decided that it was my job to get her out of the forest and to the authorities. Immediately, I worried that I would have to carry her the two and a half days back to the truck and it would take much longer than my supplies allowed for. But, surprisingly, she got up and followed me out of that uncanny clearing. After passing back into the trees, nature had started it’s welcome chorus again. I looked back, and the mushrooms were gone. The clearing remained, but the mushrooms were just gone.

“We made it back up the ridge very slowly. I don’t know how many times I lost my footing and about tumbled head over heels down to fatal injury. I still question most of that day’s hike. It’s like a blurred spot in my memory. I do remember camp that night. She sat quietly beside the fire with her mask positioned on top of her head and ate a pack of lasagna, rehydrated with campfire boiled water. She did not look healthy. The heat of the fire brought a rosy red to her cheeks, but her hands and the rest of her face remained a sickly pale. I’d completely given up trying to get any information from her.

“After eating, she laid down inside the tent in my sleeping bag and slept through the night. I’m no father figure, but I felt the need to protect her; that her life was in my hands. After dousing the fire, I crawled into the tent and slept in a crescent around her on the unpadded tent floor wrapped in my warm coat. She stirred slightly in her sleep but did not rouse. If anything, she seemed more at ease with me surrounding her. Her steady breathing was a comforting sound as I drifted off as well.

“My dreams were uneasy that night. I kept waking, with my eyes darting around looking for unseen horrors. Each time I was covered in sweat. One time the sounds from my nightmare seemed to carry into the waking night. A buzzing sound, far off in the trees, moved closer to the tent. It sounded like a large cicada flying close by, but it carried the characteristics of spoken words. The buzzing seemed to be saying over and over in it’s slow buzzing voice ‘bring her back, bring her back’. It faded away and I fell back into restless sleep. In the morning I decided that it was just another nightmare. I packed up camp as the girl sat on a mossy log in her bunny costume with the mask atop her head again; the canopy-filtered light gave her a pallid skin an ethereal glow as she inhaled some re-hydrated scrambled eggs.

“We continued our silent trek down the valley to the next ridge before carefully climbing down to the bottom of the thin waterfall. At the bottom we sat and fueled up on some trail mix and water while listening to the water showering the rocks beside us. I looked up over her shoulder and saw a dark shadowy figure standing around the back of a thick tree. The girl coughed, distracting me for a moment, and, by the time I looked back behind her, the figure was gone and the leaves of some underbrush were shaking with its quick retreat.

“I brushed it off as just seeing things after a night of uneasy sleep. I figured it was probably a spooked deer.”

“Later, we made camp far enough along that I knew we’d make it back to the truck before lunch the next day. I could then get her to the authorities and she would be safe. She, again, ate and went to bed in silence. As I climbed into the tent I heard the snap of small twigs in the woods. It sounded like a deer or elk walking by only a handful of yards from the tent. I stopped and held my eyes wide, trying to force my pupils to expand. I could see nothing beyond my bit of dim moonlit ground. After a long moment of quiet, I decided it was probably a passing deer. I crawled into the tent and into my guard position around the little girl.

“I slept soundly through till morning. But I woke to find the girl gone. The sleeping bag was empty, the tent was zipped closed, and I couldn’t see any little shoe prints leaving the campsite.”

Again Charles stopped his story. He slammed back the last two shots in succession. This time there was no shudder as the drinks went down. Brenda and I were speechless, wide-eyed and holding our beers, not drinking. We waited for him to continue.

“But there was something else.” Charles let out a sigh and carried on his story, “There weren’t shoe prints. But there were these large circular prints in the dirt coming in then out of the campsite. They were the size of a large coffee can and led up to the front of the tent, before trailing off into the woods. Something had taken her right from the tent while I slept. I tried to follow the strange tracks, leaving camp and all of my gear behind. After only a few minutes the tracks faded to nothing. They were gone, along with that little girl.

“I decided then that I would need to go get the police and rangers. They would set up a search party. Finding her in this wilderness was too much of a job for me alone. I ran back towards camp and made it to the little clearing where we had set up the tent and burned a fire the night before. But there was nothing there. All of my gear was gone. The only proof that we had stayed the night was the doused fire pit. I had nothing. No food, no water, no map, no compass. Nothing.

“I did know what direction I needed to go though, so I booked it towards the truck. I worried a little that my sense of direction was off. Before noon I saw the truck through a gap in the trees.

“At the ranger station they listened to my every word and called the police up from town. The left me with a cup of coffee as they started organizing the search and rescue teams. When the police arrived, they promptly put me in cuffs and drove me back to the county jail. I was being arrested as a suspect in the disappearance of Daphne Brunswick three months prior, being the only lead and suspect they’d gotten on the case. I left out the details about the disappearing mushrooms and strange shadows when talking to the police and forest rangers.

“After a few days in the cage, they had to let me go. I had a solid alibi for the day she had disappeared. Her family had gone on a hike about 50 miles away from where I spotted her and I happened to be visiting family out of state. It turns out that her father went to take a leak around the back of a tree while the mother and brother went along further up trail. When he came back, she was gone. There were no tracks of anyone other than the family, and there were no little girl tracks leading away into the woods. It was as if she had disappeared.

“I went home and got my life back in order. I had to explain what had happened to my boss, as I had missed a few days of work while sitting in jail. My sleep, again, became restless and full of nightmares. Over and over I dreamed there were towering shadowed figures standing outside my curtained windows staring in at me. Staring with large black bowling ball eyes too large to logically fit in their heads. Months passed and the nightmares slowly ebbed away.

“It’s now been a year and a few days since I found the girl in the woods, and the nightmares started again. I haven’t gotten real rest in a few days. I know this all sounds crazy, and I probably am. But that’s my story.”

He looked down to the collection of empty shot glasses before him. I slid my, mostly full, longneck over to him, which he quickly chugged down.

The mood was dead. Brenda, Charles, and I ended up just calling it a night. Brenda and Charles caught a cab together; they lived on the same end of town and wanted to share the fare. I only lived a few blocks down the road, and so walked home alone.

The next morning I called Brenda’s cell to make sure she made it home alright. I also thought about asking her out to lunch. Her voice was tired and frantic over the cell phone. “He’s gone! I went home with Charles last night, and I woke up and he’s gone!” The pit of my stomach dropped at the thought of her spending the night with Charles. But I couldn’t worry about that with Charles missing and Brenda in a panic.

After calming her down we hung up and I called the police.

They didn’t find anything. His cell and keys and everything were still in the apartment with the door locked.

It’s been a couple weeks and nothing has turned up. There was no trace of Charles anywhere. Brenda and I still meet for drinks at the pub. Together, we wonder and worry about Charles.