It Came From the Forest

📅 Published on March 15, 2022

“It Came From the Forest”

Written by Hank Belbin
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 10.00/10. From 4 votes.
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“The world is full of monsters with friendly faces”
— Heather Brewer

It’s been almost thirty-five years since Danny’s gruesome murder, and the killer has still not been caught. Some say that they never will be. Like many unexplained deaths in the area, Danny’s untimely demise in that damp stretch of the forest will only be added to the ever-growing list of missing people who simply do not exist anymore. And how they did all meet their ends will never be solved. Some speculate that a local known murdered him to hide out in the woods. A feral homeless man called Buck. He was someone who liked to build dug-outs in the dirt and pretend that they were his fallout bunkers. But most believe that something else took Danny’s life, something that was not entirely human. And, more than anything, they all believe that the evil that did kill  Danny can never be stopped.

Danny died in 1991. He was seven years old. He had just moved to Dartmoor with his family. His father, Malcolm Vine, was a famous painter and had decided to scoop their family up from the dreary streets of Guildford in Hampshire and move them to somewhere with more scenic vistas. That was how Malcolm described it to his family. Somewhere with brooding rolling moors and deep valleys full of pine trees, not somewhere with discarded beer cans clanging down desolate gray streets. Not somewhere with faded terrace houses and rusting warehouses. He wanted somewhere that was downright beautiful to wake up to.

Danny’s mother was a landscape designer. Her name was Debbie. She had built up a small company from nothing, and some of her best clients were famous actors, musicians, and even politicians. So when Malcolm burst into their shabby townhouse one day and told her she was moving to somewhere with actual foliage, she was ecstatic. They were almost fifty and had decided it was time to wind down a little and start to enjoy the life they had built for themselves.

It wasn’t long until they found the perfect house for their family. It was a neat little cottage wedged in-between the terrace houses of Moretonhampstead in Dartmoor. Its white masonry walls were all slanted, having been built on a hill sometime two centuries ago. The thatched roof had a  distinct bowing in the middle of it. But it had character. That was what Debbie had said when they viewed it. Four cute little bay windows and a heavy Victorian front door completed the front of the house. The door even had an elegant brass knocker for a doorbell. Everything they had wanted for their next chapter was the quiet countryside life with their two children: Daniel and  Robert. Danny and Bobby.

When the sale was agreed, they moved to their new life in July of 1991. Around the time that Jeffrey Dahmer was arrested after the remains of 11 men and boys were found in his Milwaukee, Wisconsin apartment.

They settled in quickly, and the local community soon recognized and loved the four of them. Malcolm Vine had a few fans down there anyway, and they were not too shy to ask for a  personalized painting from him, for which he gladly obliged. It was no bother for him. He could easily finish a painting a day with his unique work ethic and talent. Debbie didn’t take long to participate in local gardening projects and even helped design the market town center’s flowering arrangements. Danny and Bobby joined Moretonhampstead Primary School in September. Danny started in Year Two, and Bobby started in Year Five. They both made friends easily. Danny had a  curious innocence about him, and he was interested in almost everything. Even though he was only seven years old, he was incredibly perspicacious and would talk a great deal with his parents about nature and animals. Danny was like his mother—Unusual yet strangely charming in many ways. Bobby was a little older and was more like his father. He was active and athletic, always looking for a reason to compete with something. Yet, he was also very creative and would often write short stories purely to entertain himself on those hushed rainy Sundays at the house. Life was good for all of them. But it did not last.

* * * * * *

It was a brisk autumn day when the family went for a walk with their new dog. Mid-October. They had driven to Fernworthy forest and reservoir to let Rufus the dog stretch his legs with his new family. It was only ten miles away from their home. The forest was a long and dark stretch of coniferous trees that straddled the manufactured reservoir and eventually the wide-open damp uplands of the moors.

They’d pulled up near the boathouse on the reservoir at about ten. They all got out, and Rufus scampered around their feet—as excited dogs liked to do—while they all sorted themselves out. They put on their padded coats, and Bobby helped Danny zip up his puffer jacket,  smirking and play-fighting with him. Then they started walking south, towards the deep valley. Rufus ran off ahead, wagging his furry brown and tan tail back and forth behind him. Rufus was a mongrel breed between a Sheep Dog, Border Collie, Whippet, and a Labrador. As such, he acted like all four at once. He was a dog constantly thrilled by anything.

They’d been walking about an hour when they came to the tallest part of the forest. The low white light from the weakened sun filtered through the gnarled branches. Malcolm and Debbie chatted casually about how best to decorate the living room and what paint would look good over the fireplace. Bobby jogged around with Rufus and threw sticks for him to fetch.

But Danny was nervous. He’d never liked forests. There was just something about them that made him feel exposed. He often read nature books and knew that predators used stealth and camouflage to attack their prey. What better camouflage than a forest? But that wasn’t what bothered him about them. After all, there were no bears, wolves, or other carnivorous predators in England big enough to attack humans. So that wasn’t what had upset him. Instead, there was just something unnerving about the presence of the forest that really bothered Danny. He didn’t like how the trees seemed to stop swaying when they walked past.

He particularly didn’t like how he couldn’t hear any other animals. Danny hung especially close to his mother, where she even acknowledged his anxiety. As she talked with his dad, she gently reached down and stroked the top of Danny’s head. She tousled his light blonde hair as she chatted, and somehow he felt much better. She had that effect on him. As much as he loved his dad, he felt much safer with his mother.

But as much as his mother’s affection temporarily helped, he still felt strangely on edge. As far back as he could remember, he felt that there was something different within him. He could hear and feel things that no one else seemed to. He felt those unexplainable presences all around him. He imagined that he had a strange and unexplainable connection to this unknown force that was seemingly hiding in every dark place. Danny just did not like the shroud of the forest. His young imagination ran away with him, and he thought that there was something else out there, a  ghastly being made of moss and twigs or some kind of swamp creature like the ones he read in his comics. And if Danny did not stay vigilant, the thing from the trees would come and snatch him away, right from his mother’s grasp.

Fernworthy forest was an ancient sprawl of trees, deep valleys and trickling streams. All over the aged spruce and pine and even the damp floor was a lurid green moss. Danny thought that the forest looked like somewhere dinosaurs would be wandering around.

As Malcolm and Debbie held hands and smiled softly at each other, Danny felt the anxiety rising in his stomach. Every time he looked up at the unending rows of trees, he’d imagined seeing that monster between the branches, something slinking from tree trunk to tree trunk. He’d had enough, and he wanted to go home. He tugged at his mother’s coat, and she then leaned down to him.

“Hello, dear,” she smiled at Danny with that unmistakable warmth only parents can give. Danny couldn’t meet her gaze. “Yes?” She prodded gently. He was half-embarrassed, half-scared. He winced and looked at the floor. “Oh dear, are you okay?” She then asked as she knelt down to him.

Malcolm came around and also leaned down to his son. “What’s wrong, kiddo?” Malcolm asked Danny.

“Nothing. I…” Danny began to say but stopped, looking back up at the tree line of the ridge. “Oh, he’s just a little bit nervous,” Debbie finished for him.

Bobby had heard the conversation and stopped playing with Rufus to run up to his little brother.

“What’s that? Danny’s nervous,” Bobby asked their mum.

“Only a little bit,” she said.

“Why?” Bobby asked while looking at Danny.

“He doesn’t like the forest that much, Bobby. You know that,” their mum told him. Bobby then rolled his eyes and threw his stick away for Rufus to go and fetch. “Don’t worry, Danny. They’re only trees. They caaaan’t move or nothing,” Bobby grinned,

and Danny suddenly felt incredibly embarrassed at all the attention he was receiving. He huddled into the side of his mother’s coat and rubbed his cold nose against her hip.

“I’m fine. I like trees. Honestly,” he said, trying to feign confidence.

“You wanna go back?” His dad asked.

“Nope,” Danny said and tried to smile. More of an attempt to ward off the unwanted fuss he was receiving.

“Hey! I’ve got an idea!” Bobby chirped. “I’ll carry Danny. That way, he won’t be nervous.” “That’s a great idea, isn’t it, Danny boy?” Malcolm smiled.

Danny nodded sheepishly and let go of his mother’s hand. Bobby then gleefully ran over to  Danny and turned his back on him. He held his hands down and back in preparation to catch  Danny’s legs. “Jump on in three…two…go!” Bobby chirped.

Danny did, and Bobby caught him. He then shuffled and hoisted Danny on fully. Bobby started marching up the gravel path, and the pair took off in front of their parents like a little rocket made of puffer jackets. Debbie chuckled as she watched them and went back to holding hands with Malcolm.

“Not too fast,” Debbie called after them.

Bobby was incredibly strong for his age. He steamed up the hill with Danny on his back like  Danny was made of feathers. The blur of darkened trees bounced past Danny’s vision as he swayed from side to side on Bobby’s back. In an instant, Danny felt his fear melt away like it was butter on a hot pan. He then wondered why he was so nervous at all. It was ridiculous. There was nothing out there. Bobby was right. They were just trees. They couldn’t move.

Danny wanted to prove to Bobby that he was no longer scared to keep that feeling of confidence.

“I’ll carry you now!” Danny exclaimed.

“Huh?” Bobby replied.

“I’ll carry you now. Put me down, and I’ll show you.”

Bobby stood there with his hands on his hips, breathing heavily, ignoring the single bead of sweat rolling down his forehead. Bobby stopped walking, and Danny then slid off his back onto his own two feet. Bobby then turned around and saw that Danny had that mischievous grin again. The grin always meant that Danny wanted to compete with him. Bobby liked it whenever Danny was in these kinds of moods. He loved nothing more than play-fighting and subtly proving himself against his younger brother.

“I bet you can’t go as far as me!” Bobby announced with a smirk.

“Bet I can,” Danny replied.

They took turns giving each other piggybacks up and down the path in front of their parents, and Bobby was surprised that Danny could match him in strength. He was rueful and impressed that he was still just as strong as himself even though Danny was younger.

* * * * * *

After another hour of walking, the family came to a little piece of history right in the middle of the forest. In a small clearing between the trees stood twenty-seven granite slabs arranged into a  perfect circle that looked in on one big boulder in the middle. On the middle boulder were archaic glyphs. Fernworthy Cairn Circle was a Bronze Age ritual circle where ancient shamans were said to come and sacrifice small animals back in the days when the forest was young. The Vines didn’t know that the whole of Dartmoor, although outwardly pleasant and striking with its beautiful landscape, was steeped in a deep-rooted history of the macabre and black magic. Everything from witches to demonic entities was said to have originated from those moors. Having just moved to the area, they were unaware of the strange folk tales that lingered over Dartmoor like a perpetual fog. But they would all soon learn about them.

The family stopped at the sight and just looked at it. Malcolm was more intrigued than off-put by the stone circle. He didn’t even know it was there. He didn’t see any mention of any historical sites on the map before they had set off from the car. Rufus, the dog however, lowered his head and cowered. His tail fell between his hind legs, and he began to whimper loudly. There was something about the circle that made him scared.

Malcolm looked up to the sky. Without the shield of the trees, Malcolm couldn’t help but notice just how low and gray it was. The clouds were dark and laden with foreboding. It looked like it would rain soon.

“We should probably head back now,” Malcolm said to Debbie, looking across at her. “Looks like rain is coming.”

“I think so too. We’ve walked for two hours. That’s enough to warrant a glass of wine, isn’t  it?” Debbie replied with a wink.

“How about a whole bottle instead?” Malcolm jibbed, wrapping one arm around her and pulling her tight.


“And a nice big roast dinner and crap TV?”

“Now you’re speaking my language, Mr. Vine,” Debbie blushed.

“Right, Bobby, Danny!” Malcolm shouted playfully. “We’re off. Let’s get out of here.” However, while the couple had been chatting, they hadn’t noticed that Danny had approached the stone circle. He had wandered up to the first stone alone. Rufus barked nervously at everyone as Danny crossed over the perimeter. But Danny didn’t hear the dog. He was too enamored with the stones to pay attention to anything else. He walked past one of them and,  almost as if he were in some trance, reached out to brush his fingers lightly across the rough, abrasive ancient slab. His footsteps were slow and serene. When he reached the circle’s center,  he stood there and glanced up at the monolith. There he saw—carved into the middle stone—a  spiral. It was a snake eating its tail. Danny stared at it, hypnotized, and the world fell silent around him. He didn’t understand what the symbol meant but was fascinated by it nonetheless. He felt as if he’d seen it somewhere before, but he could not say for certain.

“Danny!” Bobby shouted from behind him, snapping him out of his lull. “Come on. We’re going home now.”

“Okay,” Danny replied absently, still not taking his gaze away from the stone carving. “Danny, if you hurry, I’ll get you a coke,” Malcolm called to him.

“Coming,” Danny said as he then turned away from the strange glyph and the brooding stone. He walked back out of the circle and back to his family. They all turned around and headed back down the gravel path.

Standing in the knee-high grass from the tree line behind them, the dark evil thing watched  Danny leave. Its lips drew back hungrily at the promise of the feeding to come.

* * * * * *

The family headed back down the track that they’d all walked up an hour previous. The wind cut through the trees mercilessly all around them. The temperature had dropped, and everyone was getting tired. The enjoyment from the trek had left them a while back. There was less talking now, and Malcolm sighed frequently. Rufus sauntered around in front of them, sniffing and urinating on various rocks. Danny was dragging his heels as he walked sullenly behind his mum and dad. They all wanted to get back to the car and back into the warmth as soon as possible. But not Bobby. Bobby was still full of energy. He danced around them and asked his mother an interminable stream of questions. She had lost the desire to reply with enthusiasm and instead resigned herself to grunting and shrugging her shoulders at her son’s questions.

“Hey, mum? How big is a blue whale?” Bobby squawked.

“I don’t know, dear. 10 meters…” Debbie mumbled as a reply.

Not feeling satisfied with the responses, he then turned his attention to Danny and challenged him to a game of hide-and-seek. His parents had continued walking down the path ahead of the pair of them.

“Danny, hide and go seek?” He said.

“What?” Danny replied absently.

“We haven’t played it in ages. You hide first, and we’ll see who can find the other the  quickest!” Bobby said as he jogged backward in front of Danny.

Danny didn’t reply at first. He was away with his thoughts. Something about crossing over the stone circle’s perimeter had made him feel uneasy again. Bobby didn’t notice, though. “Yeah? You go second. Ten seconds to hide! Ultimate ninja stuff!” Bobby said. But Danny could not stop thinking about those strange unnatural symbols on the rocks. What did they mean? Who were they for? Where had he seen them before? “Okay,” Danny muttered.

“Okay? Close your eyes.”

Danny did obediently. The world went black for a few seconds, and he walked, all the same, imagining himself coming before that strange symbol again.

While Danny’s eyes were locked shut, Bobby had taken off and practically dived into the bracken and gulches just off the main path. A few moments were when Bobby scrambled around in the underbrush, then nothing. Bobby was silent and laid still under the leaves. Danny trodded on down the gravel path and reluctantly obliged his brother’s masquerade. He spotted him eventually and called out to Bobby. “Got you.”

“No fair!” Bobby said after bolting up from the bracken.” You were looking.” “Was not…”

They played hide-and-seek for another ten minutes. When it was Danny’s turn, he’d jog and hide behind a tree. When it was Bobby’s turn, he went a little further and would crawl down into ditches to hide. Their parents were much further ahead now, both clearly eager to get back to the car. The forest seemed bigger to Danny. He trundled behind them by a hundred or so meters, and the trees seemed to grow bigger around him. Danny tried to ignore it and catch up to his parents while still playing with Bobby. But then something else happened.

He ran off into the woodland to the right on Bobby’s last go. Danny had closed his eyes for what seemed only a few seconds. Danny listened carefully to the sounds of the wind rustling the branches all around. And then there was a strange vacuous silence that followed it.

“Three, two, one, open!” Bobby had crowed from somewhere in his peripheries. Danny’s eyes bulged open, and suddenly, he couldn’t see anyone anymore. Bobby’s voice then drifted off into the wind.

Danny was alone. Now, there was just the unending sprawl of trees before him. He stood there on the path, all of it looming down onto him. They had all disappeared. But how? His family was not a hundred meters away from him five seconds ago. He couldn’t even see their shapes further down the track. Danny looked around, utterly perplexed by what had just happened. He took a few more nervous steps forward.

“Hello?” Danny called out quietly. “Bobby? Mum? Dad?”

They were gone. Fallen autumn leaves stirred around his feet. The wind filtered gently through the pine leaves, and the trees swayed back and forth slowly all around. The path in front of him was the only path he could see. A dead-straight bolt of mud and gravel carved its way through the deep and gloomy woods. Danny could see all the way down the track, but still,  there were no people on it. He could not see his family anywhere, not even Rufus the dog. Now,  suddenly, Danny felt stricken with incredible anxiety and loneliness. Danny’s low self-esteem made him wonder whether his family had abandoned him on purpose. Maybe Bobby had planned all

along to trick Danny into shutting his eyes so they could all run away joyfully from the forest and leave him in there alone?

Danny walked on alone. The fading sunlight was slanting its way through the canopies onto him. Layers of thick milky mist swam through the pine trees, covering up everything in the middle distance. He skulked down the muddy path with his head bowed at the thought and wondered whether they would all be waiting for him back at the car—a big joke on poor scared little Danny.

* * * * * *

It had been almost two hours since Danny got separated from his family. He’d been ambling down that same lonely path looking for them for what felt like all day. Yet the path has not changed at all. Every time Danny thought he was coming to the end of it, he looked up and saw that he could not see the forest’s edge. His heart sank, and he felt like crying. The track seemingly repeated itself repeatedly in front of him like he was on a hamster’s wheel. He called out a few times but heard nothing. A small tear ran down his face. A part of him hoped that they would all spring out of the bushes gleefully and laugh at any minute, having pulled a good ol’ gag on him. Bobby would leap up with a big grin and shout, “I win! You couldn’t find me!” But that didn’t happen. Danny continued roaming forward.

It was starting to get dark. The forest was growing dimmer. Shafts of light from the dying sun began to fade from white to amber and down to a mottled brown. Danny saw silhouettes of bugs flying around in the dwindling rays. It was getting colder too. It was at this point that Danny started to feel truly terrified. What if night fell? What if he had to spend it huddled under a fallen tree? What if his mum and dad never came looking for him? A string of ‘what-ifs’ swam through Danny’s mind. He gulped, and the thick heavy stone in his stomach dropped. He was finally able to articulate why he was scared of forests. It was because it was so easy to get lost in them.

Danny tried to calm his racing thoughts and decided to pick up a small fallen branch. The wood was soggy and had clumps of fungus on it. To make himself feel better, he pretended the dead piece of wood in his hands was a rifle, and he was on patrol in an Army. He was a soldier marching through the forests, and he was not scared. He gripped the length of wood and held it outstretched in front of him like he was looking down its sights, imagining now and then that an enemy jumped out at him, and he dispatched them with a few quick shots. Danny pretended it was

camouflage he had put on his rifle, so it was harder for his enemies to spot him. But that only distracted him for a little while.

After another ten minutes, he tossed the stick away and sighed heavily, remembering just where he was and how utterly alone he was. Danny called out again. He shouted his parents’  name. He just wanted to go home. He wanted his bed and a cup of hot chocolate. He called out for  Bobby too, but there was no reply. Danny traipsed forward. The crawling shadow followed him since the stone circle slithered ever closer. It was almost time.

After the spherule of the sun fell behind the flat wall of black trees, Danny stopped walking. He couldn’t hold it in any longer. The forest was darker than he ever thought possible. Only silhouettes of the pine trees gave any sort of definition against the inky blackness of dusk. Danny cried. Tears streamed down his young and blistered face. It was almost night, and he knew that his chances of leaving the woods before then were slim.

Danny stepped off the main track and went and sat on a lone tree stump in the middle of the mire. The chilly air was beginning to suck the warmth from Danny’s body. He brushed the mud from his chin and tried to control his crying. He thought about what he should do. Perhaps he could use some fallen branches as a quilt? He stuffed his cold hands into the pockets of his jacket and buried his head in his chest.

As he sat on the stump alone, it was then that he heard something completely out of place in a forest. A sharp clicking of metal against metal. This snapping of bolts could’ve only come from some locking mechanism. It came from behind him. It came from that deep dark forest at his back.

Danny turned and looked over his shoulder, and there he saw something. He gasped when he did. There, against the gloom, was a frail old man standing in the underbrush. Bracken and grass blew gently around his legs. He wore a large waxed farmer’s jacket and had these dirty big brown wheelies on his feet. In front of him was an old footlocker. It was a great dark thing, encased in faded black leather and wooden corners. The withered old man was locking it up in the middle of the moss-strewn forest. He craned over it and labored as he checked the first latch. Then, he heaved and sat upon it like some weary traveler, scrubbing the sweat from his brows as he did.

Danny sat on the tree stump and just watched him. He frowned and was curiously intrigued by this person he did not know was behind him. The old man groaned, sighed, and didn’t acknowledge Danny until he spoke.

“… Um, Mr, are you okay?” Danny asked the old man. When he did, the figure in the dark stood upright as if alarmed by Danny’s presence.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t notice you there,” the old man replied. He then continued with his task. “Um, yes, I am just fine, young man. I just… I can’t get this damn thing to lock. It’s running me around the ring.”

The old man struggled and tried to pull the second latch down to meet the lock. “What is it?” Danny asked, glancing down at the thick black slab in the woods. “Looks like a coffin.”

The old man smiled and shook his head in embarrassment. “Well, it’s all my things. It’s  everything I own in that wretched little chest.”

Danny looked around, unconvinced by the stranger’s statement. “But, why are you in the  forest with it?”

The old man looked up at Danny and gave an apologetic smirk. “I live here.” Danny frowned. “You live in the woods?”

The curious old man nodded. “Unfortunately, yes. It’s the only place I can live.”


“Well,” he said as he reached into his pocket and produced a cigarette. “It’s the only place  on this earth that will have me.”

Danny watched as the old man struck a match and lit his cigarette. From the effulgence of the match, Danny saw the old man’s face. It was a tired and tattered face. His eyes were sunken in, and his skin was wrinkled and sallow. The glazed-over sheen on his irises made Danny think of boiled eggs or something else that had faded. He was a sad old thing, and Danny felt sorry for him.

“Were you sitting there the whole time?” Danny asked. “I mean, as I was…” The old man blew out a plume of smoke and looked at the floor. “No. I’ve been dragging this thing through the trees for a long time. I only stopped here to take some rest. I didn’t know  anyone else was here.”

He looked up at Danny with an unmistakable warmth that made Danny think of his mother. The stranger’s eyes glowed as he smiled sheepishly at Danny. “If I’d have known, I wouldn’t have disturbed you.”

“It’s okay, Mr. I’m alone too.”

“You are?” The old man asked. He craned his head to look at Danny.

“Yes. I was here with my family, and now they’re gone.”

“Oh dear,” the stranger said as he raised as if perturbed by Danny’s statement. “Well,  that’s no good! Are you saying you’re lost?”

Danny looked off into the blackness of the forest. That wall of trees rose deep, dark,  and impenetrable all around him.

“Yes…” he said. “I was with them, then we played hide-and-seek, and it was my brother’s turn. And when I opened my eyes again, they were all gone…”

“That’s awful… To leave you like that… Not good,” the old man snarled.

“I think it was a mistake. I don’t think they would leave me,” Danny replied apologetically.

”No?” The old man hissed. His eyes seemed to darken.

“No. Bobby wouldn’t do that to me…”

The old man laughed maniacally. “Oh, but he did!”

The old man then stood up and leered over Danny. He suddenly appeared to be very virile and full of strength, as if something had awakened within him. Danny could smell the old, crusted sweat on the man. His old eyes began to glow unnaturally as if catching the moon’s waning. The skin around his face began to move and squirm like worms were burrowing around under it. His ears twitched, and his hair started to pulsate.

“You don’t think your family left you? Well, let’s prove it!”

The old man took hold of Danny’s wrist and pulled him a few steps forward. He twisted it unmercifully as he tugged Danny deeper into the woods.

“Ow! You’re hurting me, Mr,” Danny said.

“Malcolm! I’ve got your boy! He’s here with me. Come here, and I’ll give him to you! He’s here with me,” the stranger screamed upward into the night sky. He bellowed and shouted banshee-like at the stars like some deranged rabid wolf. “Malcolm! I’ve got your boy! Get him. COME TRY TO GET HIM!”

“Stop it, Mr!” Danny squawked. “You’re scaring me!”

As the old man yanked him further into the trees, Danny smelt the stench of the stranger even more. This loathsome stink radiated from under his jacket. The old man smelt like a  marsh. It was a harsh concoction of tobacco smoke, cider, creosote, and mud. Danny tried to wriggle away from his grasp, but the old stranger clenched tighter.

“Let me go!” Danny shouted. “What do you want?”

The old man looked down at him. His eyes smoldered now like fiery coals locked in a  furnace.”Oh, don’t be scared, my boy. It’s not like your family has abandoned you or anything!”

“They haven’t! My mum is right over there!”

The old man leaned in further. “Are they? Have they not left you? Answer me this little lone  lamb: if your family cares for you so much, why are you standing here alone in the marsh?”

“Because I ran off..”

The old man snarled. “Ran off you did. But you touched the stone back there, and I came for you. And you know what, little lost lamb?”

“What?” Danny answered meekly.

“I am soooo hungry. You know, I have been in here for a long time! I have not had a decent meal for years. I am so ravenous that I could literally feast upon the bark of trees.” The stranger then cocked his head downward at poor little lost Danny. Danny looked up at the stranger’s face in the darkness.

“I think your guts would taste pretty good right now,” the old man said. “I’d like to chew on your entrails, my boy.”

“Nooooo,” Danny whimpered.

Danny reeled back and tried to escape. He pulled his arm away from the old man. But the dark presence loomed down upon him.

“It’s not like your family will miss you, is it? After all, they left you here!” The old man crowed. He then leaned in and sniffed Danny. “Soon, like all the others, you shall live in that chest. Your soul will belong to me forever.”

“No! Get off me!” Danny yelped.

The old man’s face peeled back from his skull. Underneath the flap of skin was a pale surface made of writhing tentacles. Down the middle of the skull was a slit that was its mouth. It opened up sideways. Danny screeched. He stared up, utterly horrified at the churning mass of worms where the old man’s face used to be. Danny’s screams echoed up into the night, but no one heard them.

* * * * * *

A police constable discovered the remains of Danny just after sunrise on that cold, wet autumn day that changed the family’s lives forever. The police had been scouring the woods all night with sniffer dogs, and one of them had found the scene just after dawn. Just off the main track,  there was a small puddle of blood. Sitting in it was Danny’s ripped-up coat. There was nothing else to find.

Danny’s family had reported him missing that evening and had joined the police search party throughout the night. When PC Nolan found the remains in the morning, he refused to let any of the family see them. He ordered the other constables to usher the family away and get them back to the car. It was something wholly unnatural and not fit for anyone to look upon. He remained and knelt in the underbrush, trying to maintain his composure as he looked down at the horror. The blood was gloopy and somehow bubbling like a saucer of gravy over a stove. PC Nolan shuddered.

“What on earth has done that?” He whispered to himself as he looked down at the pool of simmering primordial blood.

Later that day, the forest was cordoned off, and it was all over the local news. Police officers stood in the rain around the perimeter, and forensics were in and out of the scene. There was nothing to find. No one could stomach the investigation. The case would be the end of many of the detective’s careers.

There was a large token funeral for Danny a week later. The whole town came out to show their support for the troubled family. The police never found anything, and the local folk could only speculate what killed Danny. The local folk shudder even to think that something could ever happen in their area. The years drew by like a knife, and everyone but the family slowly forgot about Danny’s horrific disappearance—mainly out of fear, they all chose not to acknowledge such an event.

Everyone but the family forgot about Danny. Everyone but Bobby. It has been thirty-five years since Danny was murdered, and Bobby has never stopped looking for the killer. Driven by an insatiable rage-filled desire to solve it, Bobby soon joined the Devonshire police force. It did not take long for him to be promoted to Detective Chief Inspector. Now, thirty-five years later, on the anniversary of Danny’s death, DCI Robert ‘Bobby’ Vine knows who, or more to the point, what killed his baby brother all those years ago. After exhausting every lead and ruling out every other suspect, all his research and investigations now point to only one possibility. When the sun sets over Dartmoor, he will go back into that forest to confront it.

Rating: 10.00/10. From 4 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by Hank Belbin
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Hank Belbin

Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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