Made of Clay

📅 Published on October 7, 2021

“Made of Clay”

Written by JRT McMahon
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 1 vote.
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I watched the back of their feet as we all walked into the woods together.  Trailing behind and looking down to watch my steps, I could see their shoes leading the way.  Three sets of different colors pressing the forest floor.  For some reason, despite everything that happened, that image is always the one my mind goes back to.  The four of us made our way into the woods, filling a dimming sky with laughter and whispers.

My fingers clutching the 12 pack of the cheapest beer we could find, I kept looking around the trees.  It seemed like every gap between trees acted like a clock, showing that the once bright blue sky was fading to shades of gray.  We were all graduating from college around the same time, and with how close we all were, the decision was made to party like we were teenagers sneaking around after prom night.  It was silly, but just meant as good fun.

The further the four of us got into the woods, the darker it got, canopy shading the floor from whatever residual moonlight there still was.  Conversation carried on as we occasionally stopped to mark our path, bright strips of reflective orange tape wrapped around trees.  Lines of yarn tied from one tree to the other.  The yarn had two sections tied together: One end was green, and the other was blue.  Green meant you were exiting the forest.

Cara had a surplus of art supplies, and she was more than happy to cut a few threads for us.  I held the flashlight on her as she wrapped the yarn around the thinner trees.  When it was secured, she looked towards me and smiled, the light pattering of freckles manipulated by the grin.  Her red hair almost looked like it was on fire as the beam of light pierced through it. “All set!” she exclaimed, and we continued on.

Every so often, we would stop and do the same thing, making sure that whenever there was orange tape, you could shine your light around and find the next one.  Eventually while doing this, the pack of beer started to feel a little heavy.  Aaron must have noticed, and he came over to me.  Lifting it up from the bottom, the case slipped free from my fingers. “I can carry it,” I told him.

“I just want the first one when we get there,” he spoke, shuffling around his backpack to make room from the case under his arms.  I wasn’t about to complain; he was the most athletic of the bunch anyway.  He probably should have been carrying it in the first place. “Can you push my glasses up, though?” he continued, now that both his hands were occupied.

Leaning over, he brought his face close to mine.  I could see my thin fingers pushing up the dark rim of his glasses, framing his obnoxiously blue eyes. “Thanks a million,” he finished before turning back around and moving to catch up with the other two.  We were about a half-hour into the walk.  We hadn’t planned to go too far in, but we got distracted by each other’s company.  Me?  I just liked looking around the woods, catching the occasional firefly drifting up.

“Whoa!” a low voice called from in front of me.  I picked up my pace to quickly catch up with the others to see why they had stopped.

“What is it?” I questioned as I rounded the back of them.  Making it past Jackson, my flashlight shot ahead and revealed the obstruction.

“No idea,” Jackson replied.  He knelt down to the tree that had been knocked down and carefully eyed the figures that sat on top of it.  All our flashlights converged, lighting the oddity before us.  The back of Jackson’s short and neat blonde hair nearly blinded me in the process. A boy scout through and through, he looked at the bottom of the tree. “It fell over not too long ago, though.” He pointed out the debris still sitting around the impact site.

“Not really concerned about the tree, Jackson.” Aaron mocked.  But he was right; a fallen tree wasn’t too odd, but the figures sitting on top of it were.  They were lumpy and gray, small shapes that looked as though they were made of clay.  There was a vague “human” quality to them, the way they stood upright and got more narrow at the top but chunkier near the bottom.

My friends talked among themselves, Cara and Aaron dissecting whether they were cute or creepy, Jackson trying to figure out what they were made of.  While I listened to them, I lifted my flashlight to the forest ahead of us.  Jackson rose to his feet as the group mutually decided to leave the things alone.  He and Cara started walking to the side of the tree, intending to walk around it or step over in a spot free of the figures.

Flashlight still before me, I felt as though I could see something.  My eyes were starting to adjust when I realized what I was trying to focus on wasn’t in the distance.

Too late did I see it.

Aaron, as tall as he was, just decided to step over the log, stating he didn’t want to ruin the straight line we had established.  Just as his foot was rising over the log, I noticed it—the small glints of light reflecting seemingly off of thin air.

“Wait!” I whispered, far too late.  Aaron’s foot was already crashing through the interwoven threads of the spiderweb before me.  It wasn’t a complete web, and the silk was hard to see in the dark even with the light, so before I could stop him, his foot struck a few of the strings.  He started pulling back when he heard me, but some of the strings had stuck to his shoes.

We watched as Aaron stepped back from the log and turned to me.  He didn’t see that some of the strings he had pulled loose were connected to the figures on the tree.  So as he stood there, three of the plump little clay dolls fell from the tree and landed on the floor of the woods.  The forest was silent as the group, standing still, stared at the figures on the ground.

“Do I put them back?” Aaron questioned, turning to look at Cara.

“How should I know?” she spat back.

“You do all that crystal shit.  Isn’t this up your alley?”

“I just like rocks, Aaron; I don’t make little demon dolls.” Cara’s voice started to raise as she gestured to the dolls.  There was a pit of unease forming in my stomach. “I guess, yeah.  Put them back, I think,” she continued.  I can’t speak for how the others felt in the moment, but I felt like we had done something wrong.  Cara’s knuckle on her pointer finger was resting on her bottom lip; she always did that when she was nervous.

Aaron knelt over and reached down, Jackson moving his light to show Aaron where the dolls had fallen.  One after another, Aaron picked up the dolls and placed them onto the rock, trying his best to recreate how they looked before falling. “Got some stuff on your hands, man,” Jackson spoke, resting the light on Aaron’s fingers.  Small blotches of gray rested on his fingers, residue of the little dolls streaked like paint.

“God, that’s gross,” Aaron’s voice grunted out as his fingers dragged against his pants, wiping the gray streaks onto the jeans.  He stood up again.  I could still see some faint traces of the substance on his hand as he walked over to Cara and Jackson.  When he was out of the way, my light lingered on the effigies on the log.  The three that fell over sat side by side.  I watched the small strings of webbing hanging loosely above them, small slivers of translucent, like spectral worms reaching for their next meal.

“Come on, Em!” I heard Cara’s voice call out, snapping me free from the idols on the tree.  I couldn’t help but feel that as we walked away, there were five of us now, so much so that I would cast the light through the gaps in the trees, looking for someone who I felt I had forgotten.  We stopped two more times to wrap orange tape and tie colorful string, but we didn’t say much to each other, small offerings to one another as we all felt a sense of unease.

I had hoped that sensation was just caused by being deep into the woods at night, that seeing those figures on the tree just reminded all of us that we were still somewhere unusual.  A home for critters and vegetation; humans, not so much.  The mood did start to lift when we found a small clearing of trees and started to set everything down.  Four folding chairs were set down facing each other, and a bright lantern was placed in the middle.

We had thought about lighting a small fire, but that idea was quickly dropped, especially when alcohol became part of the equation.  Looking over, I felt a sense of security when I saw the orange tape in my eye-line.  Felt like we had prepared well enough.  Aaron set down the case of beer; I could hear the cardboard being ripped open like it was Christmas morning, and we all took a seat.

Aaron’s arm extended out to Cara, and she grabbed a can.  Then Jackson.  I was the last to feel the chilled aluminum in my hands.  Almost in synchronization, we all pulled up the tabs, and a harmonious pop rang out.  I felt the can press against my lip as amber liquid poured through them.  I don’t really drink beer, but it was nice.  It felt nostalgic somehow.  It was all so nice.

We sat illuminated by the lantern, telling stories we’d told a million times before, laughing at the same jokes we’d been telling since we were in high school.  Every time I looked to someone, they would look back; the smiles seem so surreal now.  As one drink became two, I felt my body becoming a little warmer, a little lighter.  Then we all cracked the tab on our third and final beer.  We didn’t feel like drinking too much, considering where we were.  Nor did we plan to stay long enough.  Drink a few beers, hang out for a bit and go home.  Simple enough.

Aaron was finishing his last beer, letting the can rest by his mouth for a moment, savoring the last bit.  Once we were all done, it was going to be time to start walking back.  I think we all wanted to linger there, closed off from the world and the expectations we had before us.  But that can had to be empty at some point.  When Aaron’s can emptied, he lowered it slowly from his mouth; he wasn’t looking at any of us.  His eyes focused on the forest between Cara and me. I could see his eyebrows drop and his head tilt up.

“Can we help you?” Aaron spoke, his words hanging momentarily on the alcohol still coating his tongue.  All of our gazes shifted to where he was.  I looked to my left, at the ever-expansive forest around us.  The darkness filling in the trees, the bugs chirping.  I couldn’t see anyone. “Hey, are you okay?” Aaron continued.  I looked over to Cara, who returned a bewildered expression to me; she wasn’t able to see anything, either.

We turned to Aaron, who was starting to rise from his chair.  His face was genuine; when I looked into the woods, I couldn’t see anything, but looking at his face, I felt like he really was looking at something. “Aaron, what’s going on?” I asked.  He turned to me, giving me the same bewildered look that Cara had.  He lifted his arm and held his hand out, gesturing to the forest. “Aaron, I don’t-” I started speaking as agitation wiped over his face.

“The kid, Em.” My heart sank a little bit.  It was such a bizarre thing to say; it almost felt like a different language.  Turning my head, I looked again—still nothing.  I couldn’t see anything resembling the shape of a child.  Even the shadows in the trees just looked like amorphous blobs to me.  Leaves on the ground crunched as Aaron stepped forward.

“Hey man, uh, let’s just get going,” Jackson spoke out as he started rising from his chair; concern or confusion, I couldn’t tell.  Aaron brushed Jackson’s hand off of him when the attempt to console him was made.

“Are you lost?  Where are your parents?” Aaron continued.  He was so disconnected from us, like he was alone in the forest.  He stepped forward again, but they weren’t big steps, as if he was being cautious, afraid.

“Aaron, there’s nothing there.”  Cara’s eyes portrayed sympathy.

“The kid…” Aaron pressed further. “Look at the goddamn kid, right there!” He was shouting at this point, his hand shaking violently.  It was like a puzzle we couldn’t solve, and he knew the solution, but he couldn’t get us to see it too.  He needed us to see it.  So I looked again.  As I turned my head, I could see Jackson and Cara also offering one more scan for the child.  Soft light from the lantern drifted off into the trees.

I tried to focus, strain my eyes as much as I could, but all I could ever see was an empty treeline littered with dark shapes.  Nothing.  No little girl.  I planned to pull Aaron out of there if I had to.  It was obvious something wasn’t right, and we couldn’t fix it in the wood.  Adjusting my weight, I turned back to where Aaron had stood.  Cara turned back as I did.

It took a moment for my brain to register it all.  Turning slowly, more and more information was revealed to me.  Soft wind pressing my face, Aaron was there.  Body pinned to a tree.  One of the short branches had pierced his head, red sap flowing from the eye the branch protruded from.  Even as my mouth opened to scream, I took in more information.

His arms were gone.  Both pinned to trees on either side of him, held in place by wrappings of bright orange tape.  What looked like sinew and wires connected his arms to his torso, spread out like angel wings, blood flowing from both the torso and the arms met in the middle and dripped off.  The wires…they were yarn, colors fading from blue to green.

My body retched in response.  The beer in my stomach suddenly churned until it was a hot, cohesive swill.  He was like a puppet, disassembled and held up for display, wires and all visible for anyone wondering how the toy would operate.  Hadn’t noticed I was trying to back away until I fell over my chair and hit the forest floor.  As much as I wanted to run, I couldn’t take my eyes off the grisly scene.  I couldn’t stop looking, wanting it to just go away.

Aaron’s macabre figure hung high in the trees, feet never able to make it to the ground.  Red ran down the tree, soaking into the soil and all of it so perfectly captured by the glow of the lantern.  A set of hands rested on my shoulder for a moment before clutching the fabric of my shirt.  The hands shook me until they were removed and placed on my chin.

Forcibly the hands spun my head away from the scene until I came face to face with Cara.  Her face was so wet, but her lips tried desperately to offer me a smile, anything reassuring. “We have to go,” she said, over and over, with her hands gingerly supporting my head.  She placed warm palms against my cheek. “We have to get out of here, Emily.  Please,” she continued begging.  I nodded my head, quickly shaken free of the trance I was in.

Jackson ran over, another set of hands pulling me to my feet.  I was confused to see Jackson removing his shirt, soft pale flesh revealing underneath…confused until Cara took it and rubbed the material across my face and chest.  When she rubbed it the second time, I could feel that bits of it had gotten wet; I didn’t even realize it was my own vomit until the smell invaded my nose, an awful swill of barley and bile.

“Let’s go.” Jackson demanded, anxiety plaguing his voice.  He looked around until he saw a familiar strip of tape and started walking towards it.  Cara and I exchanged glances, my head started turning back to get a glimpse of Aaron, hoping that he would just be standing there perfectly fine.  Still he hung in the tree, shirt torn and chest split open.  I felt a second wave of sickness, but Cara tugged at my hands, urging me to follow Jackson.

It felt like a daze, more similar to being underwater than walking through the forest.  We walked from one piece of yarn to the next.  Cara kept her hands on me, guiding me along.  I could tell, though, that she was barely holding it together.  Jackson kept mumbling to himself, trying to preoccupy his mind, stopping it from going back.

The beams from Cara and Jackson’s flashlights drifted through the air, dancing together against the trees and within the shadows.  Our steps were hurried, but we couldn’t just run; we’d risk missing one of the markers if panic took us too much. “What the hell?” Jackson yelled.  It was so sudden and loud that it nearly threw me back.

Jackson’s light suddenly vanished from the trees.  Fearing the worst, I looked over to see him kneeling.  He was fumbling with his shoes; I thought his laces might have become untied as we were running.  Cara and I quickly rushed over to him; she held a light to his shoes, as his flashlight wasn’t illuminating them very well. “What’s going on?” I asked, wanting to get back to running away.

“My foot itches so bad.” I could see his nails digging into skin as he spoke, layers giving way, causing the pale flesh to flare up.

A noise of contempt rang out from beside me. “Your foot itches?  Are you serious?” Cara’s patience was running on a short timer.  She was right, though, we needed to leave. “Suck it up, let’s go!” She echoed my thoughts until Jackson rolled down the socks around his ankle. Immediately a swath of small black dots started to climb up his leg.  It was as if the socks were a dam that had just been busted.

Critters of various shapes and colors climbed up Jackson, some stopping in their place while others made it to his knees.  His hands started colliding with his legs, one hit after another, slowly coating his legs in fragments of bugs and their insides.  Kneeling down, I started trying to swat some of the bugs away as well.  When I brought my palm down on a group of them, I couldn’t help but notice that all I felt was skin.  Pulling my hand back, I could see it was dry and debris-free.

I tried a few times but never seemed to stop the onslaught of small creatures.  It started becoming apparent that they were tearing Jackson apart as his frustrated groans became painful musings.  “What do we do?”  Cara asked, her voice latent with panic, shivering words and lingering breath.  Jackson ignored her, digging away at his skin.  Bits of black were clumping under his fingernails, small pools of blood dotting fingertips.

Soon enough, it became apparent that Jackson had begun mutilating his own flesh in tandem with the bugs.  Strips of flesh would peel off as he dragged his nails harder.  The bugs would swarm to where the open wound was.  Sickening dread ran through me, seeing those bugs trying and succeeding in climbing into the injuries.  Jackson had started tearing up and giving up on fighting the tide of insects.

Resting his hands on the ground, he gritted his teeth and looked at us. “Go.  Just go!” he chimed.  I thought he would break his teeth if he closed his jaw any tighter.  Swiping his hands at us like we were dogs, he repeated his urgency. “Get out of the woods!” His voice shook me, and once again, Cara was the one to drag me.  With Aaron, I couldn’t help, but all I saw was the aftermath.  With Jackson, I couldn’t help, but he was right there, still alive and I-

We had to walk away.

Looking back as Cara pulled me, conducting my feet forward, Jackson opened his mouth to scream.  Instead I watched centipedes escape from his throat and climb out onto his face. There were so many, some longer than his arm, as they wrapped around him.  Just as the vision of him was fading from my sight, he resembled nothing more than the vague shapes the shadows in the tree made.

“Emily.” I heard the voice, but it failed to catch my attention, my feet moving through the woods, still trying to return to Jackson. “Emily!” The voice repeated, this time snapping my focus away, turning to Cara.  Her eyes were stern and focused. “I need you to run.  I can’t hold you,” she said, red strands of hair hanging in her face, hiding green eyes raging with intent.

My head shook in defiance.  She placed her hands on my cheeks again, offering me a smile that she failed to summon before. “I know you can do this.  We’re almost out.” Her words were soothing, and all I could see was her face.

“I can do this,” I whispered back.  Her lips curled even more, and the warmth of her hands retreated.  I missed it right away.  She then took a moment to look around.  I knew she was looking for the orange tape.  Lifting my hands up, I pointed behind her.  She spun and caught sight of it. “Let’s go,” I affirmed, and we started running.

Our feet carried us to the next line of yarn, and seeing the color, we kept running forward, making it further to the edge of the woods with each step.  With an increased pace, it wasn’t long until we found the next piece of tape, only it wasn’t alone.  We discovered that all the trees in front of us had the tape wrapped around them.

We tried to turn back, but all the trees behind us had become dressed in the tape as well.  It created a solid line of vibrant yellow that wrapped around us.  Then the yarn…when we weren’t looking, the colored yarn would litter the trees, lines of blue and green tied trees together at various heights and lengths.  It was like a spiderweb; it was all around us. “What do we do?” I spoke.  I felt closed in and isolated; I just needed to know I wasn’t alone.

“Em-” Her voice was soft and trailed off reluctantly.  I didn’t want to look at her.  An overwhelming instinctual fear chided me. “There were three of them,” she continued, her voice calm and wispy.  Turning to her, I could feel my legs start to shake, ready to plummet to the mud below.  The lines of colored yarn she had brought for us were everywhere.  They surrounded us like a cage.

Those same lines of yarn ran through Cara like a pin cushion, greens and blues piercing her hands and chest.  It looked like they had always been there, a natural part of her biology, holding her in place.  It was as if she was about to do a stunt, and some studio was going to CGI the wires out.  Her face was soft, despite the red pooling around where the yarn was intruding; a kindness to me, though I could see her pain.  It was right there. “Once I’m gone, it’s over.”

Tears started forming in both of our eyes. “Please, please no,” I begged, as if she was able to just make it stop.  I stepped forward, one of the yarns in my way bending as I got closer.

“You have to go.  It’ll be done with me,” she replied, every word stinging.  We stood for a moment, just looking into each other’s eyes.  Then I looked at her hands, imagining the warmth they had.  Before I knew it, my hands were on the yarn, trying to snap it.  The threads wouldn’t budge though, so I knelt over and put it into my mouth.  The fibers tasted putrid like they were dragged through the garbage.

“What are you doing?” Cara demanded, but I just kept manipulating my jaw.  I could feel it giving way, one fiber after another, until it snapped in my mouth.  A small trail of liquid seeped out of the yarn that tasted like battery acid.  Spitting it out, I moved to the next thread.  Cara kept talking, begging me to go, but I wasn’t about to give up.  I wasn’t going to walk away.  I wasn’t leaving those damn woods alone.

One thread after another snapped, and eventually, Cara tumbled to the floor.  I could still see the threads hanging out of her, but they were no longer connected to the trees.  Reaching down, I grabbed her arm and pulled her up.  That nauseating liquid still coating my tongue, I smiled. “Let’s go,” I demanded.  We looked around, noticing the threads of yarn and tape had been reduced to one set.  The illusion was lifted.  Even the ones in Cara vanished when we looked back, though the injuries remained.

Looking at the yarn, we saw where we needed to go and started running for it again.  My heart was beating fast as our feet crashed on the forest floor—one section of tape passing the other, trees passing between Cara and me.  We hadn’t even noticed when we stopped passing by trees, when our feet hit the pavement in the parking lot.  It wasn’t until I almost slipped and saw the gray pavement under my feet that I stopped.

Stopping in place, I reeled my head back and took a heavy breath.  Cara fell to her knees, and we both just tried to calm our bodies.  We listened to our breathing, confirmation that we were alive, that we made it out.  Looking at each other, I felt a great warmth and sorrow, so happy that Cara made it out with me.  Deep pain resided, wishing that Aaron and Jackson were there with us.

Cara clearly felt the same.  Her face dropped into deep despair at realizing how alone you can feel with two people.  I stepped over and knelt in front of her.  She was the only reason I made it out of there, that I found it in me to fight back.  Lifting my hands, I placed my palms on her cheeks, feeling the chill of her face.

She looked up, eyes wet and looming.  Lips trembled but slowly, the pain melted, and bit by bit, her lips curled, a smile that was able to comfort me before returning.  Basked in night and stars hanging over our heads, we had made it out of the woods.  My thumbs rubbed her cheeks as I watched her eyelids close.

I don’t know how long I knelt there with her head in my hands.  I don’t know when it was that it became so light.  How long it had been since her body had fallen to the ground.

Even as I felt the blood pouring out of her neck starting to soak my knees, I couldn’t find it in myself to move.  Somehow, she still smiled.  Even as the color drained from her face, she just kept on smiling.  The can is always going to empty, though.  And at some point, I was going to have to let myself feel it.  Body shaking and mouth open wide, I screamed.  Everything I had experienced spilled out at once and cascaded into the night sky.

I could hear the wolves in the woods howling out in reply.  I screamed until my throat rattled and my lungs emptied.  Slowly I placed Cara’s head down, resting it in front of her body.  My knees got sore, and as the hours passed by, I found myself waking up, eyes suddenly opening to reveal bright sunlight.  Clouds drifted overhead.  From where I was lying, I could still see her head, lifeless.  I just wanted her eyes to open.

Others started arriving, running over, appalled at the scene but desiring to help.  They picked me up and led me away.  It was all so blurry after that.  Repeating to the police dozens of times, having to relive it over and over, flashing back in my mind.  It took a while to clear me of the events, ruled that there was no way I could’ve physically performed the mutilation that unfolded in those woods.  Then the dreams.

It would’ve made sense for me to have nightmares about it.  That’s all I thought they were for a long time.  Visages of my friend’s bodies, hanging pinned to trees, eaten by swarms of bugs and beheaded right in front of my eyes.  Then, I started waking up with empty lungs.  I’d roll over to the side of my bed, and when opening my mouth, I saw clumps of dirt fall out and smack the hardwood.  Sometimes various bugs would crawl away, or pieces of tape and yarn would be mixed in it.  Either way, I’m never allowed to forget them.

I’m not allowed to just remember them as their best.  I have to see them.  I have to spit out reminders.  Whatever took them may have only needed three, but I was still there when the webs were broken.  I still bore witness.  I’ll always have to bear witness.  I see it sometimes, in the distance, small pieces of bright orange tape, leading me back to the woods.  Where it waits for me.  Where they wait for me.

“Your eyes are lovely, dark and dense
Pulling legs off salamanders
Little creatures you unspun
The skin and bones and brains and blood
While witches they surrounded us.”
– San Fermin

Rating: 10.00/10. From 1 vote.
Please wait...

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by JRT McMahon
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: JRT McMahon

Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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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).

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