The Woods and the Goddess

📅 Published on May 30, 2020

“The Woods and the Goddess”

Written by Kristyn Mass
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: 8.17/10. From 6 votes.
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The far-off unfocused stare of a corpse is something that still unnerves me. Their gaze locked on to a spot somewhere out beyond the physical realm, the milky haze of the degrading cornea acting like a barrier between the living world and the endless black void of their saucer-sized pupils. That I can handle. It freaks me out, but I can handle it.

I crouched beside the body, taking in its grotesque form.

But this, this was un-fucking-natural.

The body was male, mid-twenties. Skin barely stretched over bone and nearly mummified with patches of blackened skin resembling frostbite. He sat in a high back rolling chair, slouched forward in front of his computer, one bony hand on the keyboard, the other on the mouse. His sunken eyes were set on the screen, his gaunt slack-jawed face transfixed by the blank monitor.

“Neighbors said they hadn’t seen him in a couple of weeks.” Dover leaned against the doorframe and flipped his notebook closed.

I stood, eager to get away from the corpse’s dreamy expression.

“And they didn’t think that was unusual?”

He shook his head.

“The kid was a shut-in. The landlord only checked on him because rent was due.”

I stood back, taking in the macabre scene.

“It’s like he didn’t realize he was dying. What do you think he was looking at that was so engrossing?”

Dover gave me a sideways glance and a knowing smile.

“It might not be porn, ya know. I mean, both of his hands are on the desk.”

The station was bustling per usual for a Monday morning. The smell of burnt coffee mixed with poor choices in aftershave and cologne were suffocating.

I sat at my desk opposite Dover’s, mine stacked with manila folders and random documents to be filled out or filed, and his spotless, with the exception of a couple of tchotchkes of unknown origin.

It had been a week since the emaciated corpse had been found, and I held the freshly delivered coroner’s report in my hands. I skimmed rapidly through the medical jargon on my way to the summary page.

“Severe organ damage, likely from dehydration and malnutrition.” I shook my head in disbelief.

“How does an otherwise healthy person just let themselves die like that?”

“Suicide?” Dover said, reading the report over my shoulder.

I exchanged the file for the proffered cup of coffee in his hand.

“There are a lot quicker, less painful methods than slowly dehydrating to death.”

He nodded taking a seat.

Jenna Harkins, one of the officers, knocked timidly on the door before stepping in.

“Detective Gabel? You two are working that mummified corpse case, right?”

“Yeah, but there’s not much to work. It looks like an accidental death.”

“Well then, I guess I have some bad news for you.”

I took a bracing gulp from my cup, then gestured the go-ahead.

“There are more. A lot more.”

Thirty-eight deaths in total peppered the country. Wasted, emaciated bodies found at their computers, game consoles, or in front of their TVs. Some clutching cell phones and tablets in a rigored death grip. The cases were ruled accidental then closed without much thought, until more steadily began to roll in. It didn’t take long for the labels to switch from accidental to suspicious.

We managed to trace the first known case back to early December, two days after the worst blizzard the state had seen in decades. Dover requested Archives to be on the lookout for any similar cases occurring before our suspected victim zero. Speculation began to circulate about the cause of the mysterious deaths, ranging from ‘cult’ activity to Sgt. Vickers less accepted ‘occult’ activity, but the more withered corpses I saw, the more I began to believe Vickers.

“So far they’ve all been male, between eighteen and sixty-five,” I thought out loud as Dover strode ahead ducking under the yellow tape then stretching it overhead allowing me to pass beneath.

“And they were all using some kind of electronic device capable of connecting to the internet.” I weaved through uniforms to the living room of the small bungalow.

Jenna approached looking worse for wear and obviously rattled.

“Lee Adler, thirty-eight, sister found him,” she said, handing me the deceased’s driver’s license and wallet. She then gestured to the couch and remains.

I hesitated at the sight, wanting to scramble back out of the room and away from that face. I closed my eyes against the image, but it was already burned into my mind.

The body reclined on an over-stuffed sofa, its feet on the coffee table, and upper body propped up on one skeletal arm. The skin was stretched tight, every bone protruding so fiercely they could have burst through the waxy coating at the slightest touch. The head crooked downward, but I could still see the lidless sunken eyes, sharp and focused, the lips so thin they had drawn back in a toothy smile, and the nose and fingers blackened at their tips.

I knelt beside the sofa, following the corpse’s gaze down to a cell phone cradled loosely in one hand. I reached out, gently grabbing the edge and began wiggling it free. The hand snapped shut around the phone. I reeled backward into Dover, who caught me under my arms and brought me to my feet.

“He moved.” I could barely get the words out.

I could see the skeletal figure trying to work its jaw and manipulate its tongue, but the jaw made a horrible grinding noise and the tongue fell to pieces in its mouth.

“Get the paramedics, he’s still alive!”

Lee Adler didn’t make it to the hospital. As far as I could tell, he didn’t make it to the ambulance. His sister sobbed hysterically in the passenger seat of one of the squad cars parked out front, an officer doing his best to console her.

“She said she talked to him this morning. They were supposed to meet-up. That’s why she came to check on him.” Jenna trembled as she spoke, then excused herself to answer a call coming in over the dispatch radio clipped to her shoulder.

Another week went by with more bodies being reported. We’d done everything we could to keep the strange deaths out of the news, but the media picked up on it, and the “Cyber Serial Murders” quickly became a sensation.

We warned people to limit their computer usage, to stay off the internet unless absolutely necessary, but the deaths trended on every social media platform and were the most popular search on all major search engines, so a fat lot of good that did.

It felt like a never-ending series of events leaving no time for sleep or even a small respite. Dover sat jotting down notes from case files, powered by toxic levels of caffeine and will-power, while I reclined at my desk, phone pressed against my ear, hoping for some good news from the chief M.E.

“I’ve examined them all, Detective. There’s no sign of disease, injury, or illness, none that would result in death anyway, and now, I don’t think we can rely on time of death either.”

“Why not?”

“The last victim, Adler, his organ temperature at death was already in line with ambient temperature, it should have taken several hours to fall such a degree. I’m sorry, Detective, but I’m at a loss.”

I pinched the bridge of my nose and thanked Dr. Rosenfield for her time before hanging up, then sat staring at the photos of shriveled faces laid out in full horrific color until a sudden shrillness roused me from thought. A great deal of commotion was coming from the lobby.

I sprinted down the hallway and into the clerk’s office with Dover at my heels. A group of people were shouting and waving their arms in the air on the other side of the safety glass, trying to get the attention of the desk clerk, who refused to look up from his laptop.

Dover tried to settle the restless crowd, while I crept up behind the clerk peering over his shoulder.

“Peters, what the hell are you doing?” He ignored me, continuing to stare at the computer screen.

A young woman, eighteen or twenty years old, stared back. She smiled, fixing her black snowflake-dotted hair as it fluttered in the wind. Her nearly translucent skin blended in with the fallen snow around her. Sunlight streamed through icy pine boughs in the background, wrapping the girl in a halo of warm yellow light.

Somehow she seemed familiar, I was sure I knew her face, but I couldn’t recall where I’d seen her. It was then I noticed a chill in the air and saw Peters creating little puffs of steam with each breath. The young woman stopped to stare directly into the camera, locking eyes with the entranced clerk.

He was held captive by her gaze, wearing a dreamy expression, as though he were staring at a high school crush.

A notification sounded as a pop-up window appeared over the video.

“Invite Yuki to chat?”

The clerk hovered over the accept button, Yuki smiling and slowly nodding her encouragement.

“Yuki?” That name, that face. I knew this girl somehow.

The click of the mouse startled me.

“Wait!” I was too late. Yuki shook with a soundless laugh, her features shifting, eyes darkening and lips taking on a bluish hue. Her black hair whipped in the wind, hiding her face.

Dover made a move toward me, but I waved him off.

I could feel the frosty air cutting through, chilling my blood. Still in a stupor-like state, the clerk let out a sigh of steamy vapor that poured from his mouth gathering into a steady stream of mist flowing toward the laptop screen.

“What the hell?”

I took a step back into the warmth of the office, then watched in horror as his face became taut, and his eyes sunk deep into their sockets as more of the misty breath flowed from his mouth.

“Peters, snap out of it!” I grabbed him by the shoulders, shaking him violently, but he didn’t so much as blink. Dover lunged at the desk grabbing the laptop, slamming the screen shut.

Peters stirred, beginning to regain control, only to double over in agony as the mist continued to escape his lips. I turned the computer over ripping out the battery and tossing it to the floor, but the clerk’s wails of pain grew, as he dropped to his knees, writhing on the dirty linoleum.

“Shit, shit, shit!” I looked wildly around the office for anything to stop the invisible onslaught.

Dover rushed to the large blinking modem on the back wall, grabbed the cord feeding and ripped it from the outlet.

Peters let out a final sigh before his body sagged, becoming quiet and still.

Now, we had seen it ourselves and there was no arresting it.

That girl haunted me more than the smiling mummified faces of her victims. I knew I’d seen her face and heard her name. I stood at the missing persons board. Black and white photos and artist sketches stared back at me like a grim wallpaper design.

The edge of a flyer caught my eye. It was just the corner of a grin and a name.

“Yuki Masaki.” I grabbed the flyer, yanking it from the board.

Two months ago, nineteen-year-old Yuki Masaki went missing and was marked down as a runaway. I’d walked by her picture every day for a month before the other flyers overtook hers.

Dover watched the solemn gathering of Peters’ body as he was prepared to be taken to the M.E., though at that point, an autopsy seemed trivial. A YouTube video sucked the life out of him. I’d like to see that typed up on the “cause of death” line.

I handed Dover the flyer.

“That’s the girl from the video. She went missing the same time these bodies started cropping up.”

“Not a runaway then.”

“Probably not.”

The tech guys worked wonders, as they tended to do. The station’s computer traffic was monitored around the clock and they were able to tell us the video that killed Peters came in as a live stream from a cell phone and with a little more time they would be able to give an exact location.

A response unit was forming, but we couldn’t wait. Calls we still coming in reporting bodies being found on trains and in internet cafes, we had to find the source as soon as possible.

The IT team pointed us in the direction of a mountainous area of the National Park just outside city limits. The signal came from over a mile off the marked trail, well into the white, craggy woods.

Snow hung heavy on the pines, bending their branches low, making them creak in the slightest breeze. The sun was beginning to set and the blinding white of the snow softened into something a bit warmer in color, though it did nothing for the near sub-zero temperatures.

The signal was remarkably strong for being so far into what should have been a dead zone. Dover and I crunched through the knee-high snow, making steady progress toward the last location we’d been given.

“You hear that?” Dover said, stopping to cup his hand around his ear.

“What is it?” I stood as still as I could, but all I could hear were the trees complaining under the weight of wet snow.


The wind kicked up around us, gusting through the thinning pines, pushing the fallen snow back into the air as a blinding ground blizzard.

“Dover!” I called out for him, but my voice was thrown back at me.

I couldn’t see or hear anything through the roaring snow. He’d been less than ten feet away on my right. I tried to move in his direction, hand outstretched, but I was blown backward onto my original path. The sound of a woman weeping rose over the frosted tempest, drawing me forward. With a few steps, I passed through the frigid squall into a muted clearing.

I was frozen, not from the three-dog night, but from absolute terror.

Black hair and black eyes met me. They seemed to hover, unanchored to a physical form, the hair flowing freely as though it were submerged in a clear lake.

When the last streaks of sunlight sank behind the mountains casting cold, blue shadows, I could see it plainly.

A nude woman, skin so pale she blended in with the surrounding snow, eyes like an endless black void and hair that moved and shifted in graceful fluidity obscuring her face.

“Yuki Masaki?”

The woman made no sign of acknowledgment, continuing to glide toward me leaving the snow undisturbed as she passed through the drifts.

“Stop right there!” I drew my sidearm, aiming at the approaching figure.

She opened her arms, beckoning me toward her. My arms fell to my sides and the pistol slipped from my hand, disappearing beneath the snow. I stepped closer unable to stop or look away from her terrible beauty.

“Gabel? Dover?” Jenna’s voice shattered the silence.

Lights swept across the clearing where I stood, alone and shivering. A thick mist hung in the spot where the woman had been and the raging storm behind me was gone.

Jenna and a team of ten other officers burst through the wall of pines, flooding the area with light and sound. It took less than an hour to find the remains of Yuki Masaki, her cell phone clutched in her withered, frostbitten hand, the battery long dead.

The last person to see Yuki alive was her boyfriend, who sobbed out a confession of leaving the girl beaten and stranded to be consumed by the blizzard. Yuki’s body was returned to her family and buried. The Cyber Serial Murders stopped.

We searched for Dover for weeks. A dedicated team combed the woods from first shift to last. By mid-March, the snow began to melt. We found his revolver lying on the forest floor, but no other sign of him.

Eventually, the search team was recalled and his case went cold. I knew we wouldn’t find him alive, I’d known that when we didn’t find him the first night of the search, but we’d been together too long for me to just let him rot in that forsaken forest.

I took an extended leave, under the guise of needing some time away.

“Hey, Gabel!” Jenna sprinted up behind me waving a plump manila envelope as I unlocked my car.

“These are from Archives, something Dover requested. I thought you might want it.”

I slid the package under my arm and thanked her.

“Are you going to be okay?”

“I don’t know,” I answered honestly, sliding a box containing two tchotchkes of unknown origin into my car.

I drove out to the National Park, and walked the mile off the marked trail to where Dover had gone missing. I set up a tent and gathered stones and wood for a fire pit. I wasn’t going to leave until I found him.

The night air coated every available surface with a thin frost. I huddled next to the fire as close as I could without bursting into flames. I withdrew the thick envelope marked “Archives” from my backpack and began leafing through the enclosed papers.

Cases identical to the Cyber Serial Murders stretched back to the station’s founding in the early 1850s. They lacked the electronic element, but hundreds of male corpses resembling those of the latest victims were discovered all over the mountain and surrounding forest. Occasionally, couples were reported missing, with the man being found a mummified husk and the woman never being found at all.

One case stood out from the others, this case left a witness.

I read in stunned silence as the air around me grew cold in spite of the rolling flames.

A father and his young son, on a weekend camping trip, were caught in a freak blizzard in early spring. When they were found by park rangers the next day, the father had been reduced to a withered collection of bones and tattered skin. The son, unharmed, told of hearing crying in the forest, then seeing a woman in white, who he described as a beautiful goddess, with long black hair. He said she sang to him before disappearing into a snowy mist.

I blast of icy wind shook the trees and tore the papers from my hand, blowing them into the air and scattering them around the fire’s stone pit. I quickly snatched them off the ground before another wind could tear through the clearing. I looked up to see Dover’s thin twisted figure slumped inches away, the dancing light casting shadows on his weathered face.

“Jesus, Dover.”

Snow began to fall in large flakes, heavier and faster with each passing second. A wailing cry bounced around the darkened pines as I grabbed my pistol.

I knew it wouldn’t do any good to run.

Rating: 8.17/10. From 6 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by Kristyn Mass
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

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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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