07 Jul Nightmare
“Nightmare”Written by Brandon Wills Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available
⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 14 minutes
It was a cloudless, sapphire-blue sky that day. We had the camping trip planned for a month, and it took even longer than that for us to coordinate our vacations, so that we could all be there together. It was a reunion I had dreamed of for so long.
In high school, we were inseparable. Our weekends consisted of booze and easy girls. After college and getting married, my weekends consisted of sitting at home drinking alone, and maybe a date with the wife. Exciting stuff, right? Well, that’s how it was for years – until the camping trip. These days, I spend a lot of time with my therapist, and a lot more time dwelling on what I could’ve done to prevent all of this.
Survivor’s guilt is a bitch.
I’m writing down this sad, horrible story in hopes that maybe if I tell it, then I won’t feel so crazy and that, hopefully, it’ll relieve the guilt.
I spoke to Ron, and he wanted to carpool in his new SUV.
“It’s the newest and greatest, or at least that’s what the salesman said to me,” he laughed, “It has different modes for sand, snow, mud, and rain. So, if we’re stuck in a desert covered in snow and mud, and a downpour starts, then we’ll be set!”
He could always make me laugh. That sharp wit of his hadn’t dulled in the twelve years since high school. Ron wasn’t the most athletic guy but could slay a room with his humor. We had grown up next door to each other from the time we were born until that painful time of leaving home, bound for different colleges. Ron was off to major in business, while I was going to major in accounting. Thanks to him, I was the smartest jock in school, and I have him to thank for my career now.
The trip to the camping spot in northeast Oregon was going to be a five-hour trip for us, so I told him we would switch halfway.
“No way, man! You were always driving me around in that chick magnet Charger in high school! I owe you at least six hundred hours of chauffeuring.”
“Alright, Ron. Whatever you say. Just don’t kill us.”
“I didn’t want to tell you this, but your wife told me she was sick of your shit and she’d split the life insurance if I killed you out here.”
“Yeah, okay, Ron. Like she’d ever talk to a lowly nerd like you?”
“Didn’t I tell you about the affair?”
It was like that for the entire five-hour drive, him tossing one snide joke after another. I could’ve done that for the rest of my life and been happy.
God, it’s so painful to think about. I’ll cherish that trip for the rest of my life.
The cabin and the property belonged to Andrew and his family. The property itself was fifty acres and was situated nicely by a beautiful lake. If you’re thinking “damn, they must be rich,” you’re correct.
Andrew rolled up in his new Ford Raptor, which I was convinced he had bought for this occasion just because he could.
“‘Sup, guys? Long time, no see!” he greeted Ron and me, as he lugged two rifle bags from his truck. “Got these babies on special back in town. Thought maybe we’d shoot a deer and have some fresh meat for the weekend?”
I laughed, “You gonna dress it yourself? I’m not, nor do I know how.”
“The only thing Andrew knows how to dress is himself,” Ron quipped.
“I see you haven’t changed,” Andrew said, laughing. He went inside and hung his rifles on a gunrack mounted in the living room. We chilled on his super comfortable couches and watched TV until the others arrived.
Howard and Mark showed up about an hour later. They said a wreck had postponed them. Ron laughed and said, “Luckily, the wreck didn’t postpone our drinking,” pointing at the four empty beer cans that sat beside each of us.
Dusk approached after we drank a few more beers… I remember the sky being painted the perfect shades of orange and yellow, with a hint of purple. Laying back in a pretty comfy deck chair by the lake, as the sun sank below the mountains, was the most relaxing time I’d had in years – no worries about life, work, or anything else.
I’d give anything to go back.
As I was basking in the beauty of the sunset, Mark came strolling through the French doors, fishing rods in hand.
“Anybody down for some fishing?” He had a grin spreading across his face. Fishing was always Mark’s favorite hobby, and he was remarkably lucky at it. Somehow, some way, he always managed to catch more fish than any of us.
I thought about it, agreed to come along, and so did everyone else. We fished for the rest of the evening. It felt as if every ten minutes Mark was reeling in another one. I just sat there, tossing back beers, because I always have shit luck with fishing. On the far end of the lake, I saw a couple of deer wandering around, not even seeming to care about us. I considered the idea of going hunting the next day like Andrew asked, but that never happened.
At some point that night, old age set in, and we decided it was time to turn in for the night. Ron, Mark, Andrew, and I watched old wrestling matches until we fell asleep one by one. Howard, being the one who always caved in first, was in bed before we were done fishing. In the old days, he would’ve woken up with some Picasso-level drawings on his face.
* * * * * *
The next morning, we grabbed all our camping gear and hiked up the mountainside to this spot that Andrew suggested.
“I came up here a few days after we made the plans and cleared this nice spot that my family used years ago. It’s fantastic. Lots of tree cover to shelter us from the rain, a direct view of the lake, and it’s not very far from the cabin. The weather that night was predicted to be perfect by the local meteorologist.
“Look out, folks! Tonight, will be clear skies for good times on this balmy mid-July day! Today’s high is ninety-two, expected to drop to seventy-nine by dusk.”
We worked together with setting up all the tents and getting the fire rolling in the nice little pit that Andrew’s family had made. I saw Andrew standing by the entrance of a trail, looking around as if inspecting it.
“What do you guys think of a hike? The path looks like it’s still in decent shape,” Andrew said as he inspected it from below.
“Well, I brought a machete just in case we came across some thick hedges that needed clearing. Or some sexually aroused camp counselors,” Ron joked.
“Calm down, Voorhees. There aren’t any of those here. Just sexually-deprived early-30s men with receding hairlines,” Howard retorted.
“Speak for yourself, but I still have a full heard of luscious hair and luscious babes at my disposal,” Andrew teased as he combed his long hair back with his fingers.
“Hair plugs and inflatable dolls. Now, let’s get on this hike,” Ron said as he walked by Andrew as we all died laughing. He drew the machete from his hip and marched ahead, acting like an English explorer cutting through the Congo.
“I wish I had thought about this trail when I was up here before,” Andrew said to himself.
The trail wasn’t terrible. We only had to pause a few times to cut through overgrown foliage, and there was a part that had washed down the hillside that we had to navigate carefully. We reached the top after about an hour, and I will admit that I was pouring sweat by then. The other guys were in about the same shape as me, except Ron who looked to be on the verge of death, and Andrew who stayed fit over the years. At the top of the mountain, there was a large stone formation that appeared to be an altar, with a stack of stones in the center measuring to be about twelve feet high.
“My parents said the realtor told them this was built by the Nez Perce and was used to make offerings to their gods. Not blood, or human sacrifices, but probably baskets of food and such,” Andrew educated us.
“Uh-huh,” I responded out of breath. The other guys were chugging water or looking for shade. “If that’s true, then this would be protected or something.”
We rested at the mountaintop for a while, and we made phone calls, texts, social media updates, etc., as this was the only place that had cell service.
After a long, much-needed break, we made our way back down the path. About halfway down, Mark started yelling that he saw a bear.
“I swear to God, Andrew! It was right there in the clearing! It walked behind those pines!”
“You’re losing it, Mark. I’ve never seen a black bear around here,” Andrew replied to him.
“Doesn’t mean they aren’t here! I don’t want to be a bear’s lunch. Can we just wait to see if it shows again?”
“Sure, man. Whatever makes you feel better,” Andrew said, “Maybe I should’ve brought one of those rifles from the cabin?”
“That would’ve been nice, Andrew,” said Mark, who was very distraught by then. He was visibly shaking and had a terrified look on his face.
It took him half an hour to calm down enough for us to continue back down to the campsite.
Once we got there, we were shocked.
Andrew and Howard’s tents were torn to shreds, all our possessions were scattered around the campsite and some were even in the woods. Pissed off and tired, we cleaned up the mess. It was dark by the time that was finished, and we decided that it wasn’t safe to trek back down the mountain to the cabin. My tent had enough room for two people, so I told Howard he could share mine.
Mark said that he had to take a piss while we were cleaning, and after we were done, he still wasn’t back.
“Maybe he got the runs?” suggested Ron.
“No, I don’t think that’s it. Something feels wrong,” I said, “Let’s go find him.”
“Man, after all this walking, I can’t believe we’ve gotta go babysit Mark now!” Ron scoffed.
We searched through the trees and brush for what felt like hours with flashlights, but we couldn’t find him. He never responded to our calls and we never found a trace of him. The only things we found were some old tire tracks on a narrow path and heard an ATV in the distance, which isn’t uncommon in that area, so I didn’t think much of it.
On our way back to the camp, most of us were a mixture of aggravated or worried. Mark wasn’t one to pull pranks like that – not even Ron would take it that far. Ron seemed to be especially annoyed. He ranted the whole way back.
Just outside the campsite, Ron was in the midst of a fiery spiel, “That son of a bitch! He better not –”
He hit the ground with a thud and didn’t move. It took my brain a few seconds to notice the arrow sticking out of his right eye.
“Oh, shit! What the fuck?” I remember yelling. My fight or flight instincts kicked in, and I ran for my tent and dove in.
I could hear Howard howling outside my tent. My instincts told me to stay inside and not to move, but I had to check on my friend. Throwing my instincts aside, I peeped out and saw him on the ground near where Ron died, grabbing at an arrow in his right thigh. He was lying on his back, screaming, when a gun fired and erased half of his face.
The other guys were still scrambling around outside when that happened. We froze in our positions for a few seconds, then everybody scattered.
That was the last time we were all together, alive. That’s one of the hardest parts of the story. My last memory of them is of us scattering in a frenzy.
In my panic, I forgot my flashlight, and the path I ran down blended in with the forest in the darkness. In the dark, I thought I had found the right path to the cabin, but I found myself stumbling around the woods, when another gunshot exploded into the quiet night.
I picked up my pace, trying to duck behind trees whenever I could. The realization dawned on me that I had been walking much longer than it should have taken to get to the cabin.
I was lost.
A hand clapped on my shoulder. I spun around and swung. Luckily, I missed. Andrew stood there, putting his hand over my mouth.
“Quiet. Follow me.”
He led us through some trees down to the lake. “We’ll follow the lake back to the cabin. You can’t see it in the fog, but it’s over that way,” he said, pointing. A bullet whizzed through the air, barely missing Andrew.
“It came from the cabin! Go back that way!” Andrew said as he took off running past me. He ran a few feet before I heard a loud snapping sound. A wooden spike was jammed into his ankle, wrapped with a homemade trap that looked like a small cage. In his anguish, he tried prying it off with his fingers, but it didn’t budge.
“Ah, fuck! Ah! God!”
I grabbed a sturdy looking stick and tried to pry it open, but the stick snapped, not even slightly budging the trap. Another shot rang out. Andrew flew backward, the back of his head gone.
I ran back into the trees, having nowhere else to go. For a while, I was using my phone’s flashlight but that drained the battery in no time. It’s difficult to put into words how terrifying it is to be lost in the woods at night, with no light source and nothing to protect yourself. Every tree looks the same. Every rock looks the same. Every thing looks the same. I don’t know how long I stumbled around before I finally came across a small cabin.
There was a large bonfire roaring in the front, with what appears to be random junk to fuel it. I was starving, dehydrated, and praying for a working phone inside because I still had no cell service on my dying phone.
The police had to come before it was too late.
Inside the cabin, I found the most disturbing menagerie of various types of skulls, bones, and taxidermy I’ve ever seen. I recall seeing dozens of skulls sitting in various places in the cabin – on tables, shelves mounted on the walls, on top of the refrigerator and cabinets. Some of those skulls were human. The place had an odd smell; a mix of must and rotting meat. Thinking about those skulls sends chills down my spine. Somehow, I didn’t think I would find a phone in there.
I backed out, overwhelmed by the macabre scene. Part of me considered running down the path next to the cabin, thinking maybe it went to town. I was about to leave when I heard an ATV roaring up the mountainside, heading towards my direction. Running back in the cabin, I hid in a space behind the couch and a wall. There wasn’t enough time, and no other direction, for me to run and not be caught.
The ATV slammed to a stop by the cabin. I heard a man mumbling to himself, almost yelling, in gibberish. The fire hissed after he struggled with something heavy and threw it on. I half considered trying to sneak by the man while he did whatever he was doing, but I was too scared to move.
From where I was hiding, I could look out the tiny front window that faced the fire. I saw the man for the first time. He was a huge man, probably close to seven feet tall, if not that. He was dragging something toward the fire.
It was a body.
He was putting bodies in the fire.
The fire hissed again as he tossed another into it. There were two more bodies on the back ATV.
When the reality hit me, it instantly sent me into shock.
So many memories came flooding back, so much laughter and good times – so many times of my life that I will never get to relive.
The bodies were my friends. He was burning my murdered friends.
What could I do? How could I intervene and stop him before he burned them all?
The shock kept me frozen for a while. I watched as he carried another body to the fire. The flames hissed again as picked it up and tossed it in. The hunter, man, whatever he was, stood back admiring his work. His arms went up in the air and he began chanting, “Oh Dark One! Please accept these sacrifices! I have gone through many trials and tribulations to bring you what you wanted! I brought you blood and flesh, I brought you their clothes, I brought you their food! Please, oh Dark One! Please, hear my voice!”
He waited a few moments, and after no response, he started yelling, “Oh, Dark One! Please! Hear me! I want my wife back! I will do anything you want! Anything!”
When I came to my senses, I looked around the cabin, looking for anything that would help me fight this psycho. My first thought was kitchen knives. With the grace of a cat, I ran toward the kitchen. It took a few guesses to find the right drawer and I grabbed the biggest knife in there. On my way out, I found something hanging on the wall that was calling my name. It was a homemade double-bladed machete. The thing was shaped like a Y, and the blades were serrated by hand. I put the kitchen knife down and yanked it off the nail that it was hanging from.
Exploding out of the front door, I yelled, “HEY, FUCK FACE! WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH MY FRIENDS?”
His head turned like a startled deer.
“Huh?” was all he managed.
I rushed at him with what remained of my offensive tackle skills. He flew off his feet, flat on his back. He lay winded on the ground as I slashed the machete at his face. I missed my original target of his eyes, but I managed to take off his ear and part of his cheek.
“You’re dead, fucker!”
BAM. I felt a pain scorching up my side, and for a second I thought I had landed in the fire. I touched the area and pulled back blood.
The madman hunter laughed. Blood was pouring down the side of his face as he said, “I wondered where you went to. Perfect! She told me she needs you! She needs a fresh one! Fresh blood! Fresh, tasty, delicious blood!”
The machete was close to me. I picked it up and slashed at his chest, but this time he jumped back. He started swaying on his feet, almost losing his balance. I saw my chance. I rushed at him again, this time sending him straight into the fire. He screamed the most pained, anguished sound I’ve ever heard, and I don’t feel bad about it. That bastard could fry for all I cared.
The area was reeking of burning flesh and hair, and I hadn’t realized it until the adrenaline started dying off. I was trying to not vomit as I ran over to the ATV. To my dismay, I saw that all their bodies were in the fire.
After I pushed the man into the fire, I looked at it as I got on the ATV. In the flames, I saw a black shape forming. At first, it was a shapeless mass, but it began taking shape into a grinning, menacing face.
Dirt and rocks flew as I turned the ATV around and back down the path. I wasn’t wasting time. It’s cliché to say you’re running from the devil, but that’s really how it felt. The hairs on my neck stood on end until I reached the end of the path. It came out near the bottom of the road that leads to the cabin. I rushed up to the cabin and saw that the front door was wide open. I rushed in, hoping that those bodies I saw at the fire were of some other people, but nobody was there.
The inside of the cabin was ransacked like the campsite – clothes, electronics, DVDs, were all toss around the cabin, like he was in a hurry. I went to Ron’s room and found his keys lying on the dresser. On my way out, I noticed that one of Andrew’s rifles was missing from the mount on the living room wall. I grabbed the remaining rifle, a box of ammo, and made a mad dash for Ron’s SUV.
A few minutes after I drove away from the cabin, reality started setting in. My friends were dead, and I had somehow survived. Then I remembered the blood. The flow had seemed to stop, but my entire side was drenched, and I was starting to feel light-headed. I burst into tears, barely able to see the road. I was afraid to pull over in fear that the hunter or that face would find me. I’m thankful that I made it to town alive.
The police station was easy to find. I stumbled in and all that I remember saying was “My friends are dead!” and blacked out. When I came out of the haze of unconsciousness, I was in a hospital bed alone. I looked around, hoping to find one of my friends, but nobody was there. I felt the momentary hope that it was all a horrible dream and that maybe I had suffered a head injury from a car accident – anything but the horrible truth.
The button to summon a nurse was attached to the arm of my bed. She came in looking relieved, checked my vitals, and then called for the police. They interviewed me, and I told them everything…minus the demon face in the fire. They eventually told me I wasn’t under arrest. After I was discharged two days later, they escorted me to the cabin to retrieve my things. They said they never found the hunter but did find my friends’ bodies, and they said escorting me was for my own safety. I thought about that on my way to the cabin, “Didn’t I tackle him directly into the fire? How did he survive that?”
To this day, the murders remain unsolved. The hunter, as far as anyone knows, has not re-emerged. I still have nightmares about the hunter attacking us, about seeing their bodies and their charred remains inside the fire. The vivid sounds, the smells, the pain – it’s all relived every night.
There have been two other things that have been haunting me as well, and it’s in the literal sense. It’s not my friends, or the hunter, but the face; that black, shapeless face in the fire. I see it in random places. I see it in windows, mirrors and TV screens, and in my cell phone screen, in anything reflective. The face is always stretched in a wide, nightmarish grin.
The face from the fire isn’t all that I see. Accompanying the face is a woman, dressed in a long, white nightgown, and her skin a dull putrid grey. She is also smiling. Always smiling. It is the woman torments me, mocking me with that smile…and that insidious laugh.
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available