14 Dec What Lurks Behind
“What Lurks Behind”Written by Shawn Krueger 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 — 12 minutes
My family still visits now and then. They check-in, a text once every so often, an email. I don’t blame them. They act concerned but keep just enough distance not to become wrapped up in the stench that follows me. My parents still hold onto a glimmer of hope that the story has a pleasant ending. Their belief in me disintegrates with every passing day in this hellhole. I mean, they understand something happened, but just not my version of the events.
Dread consumes me; a familiar ritual of sleeping pills and whisky helps me sleep through the night. That is one good thing about my parents. On special occasions like Christmas, they slip a bottle of Jack under my mattress. Psychologists diagnosed me with schizophrenia, a long-term psychological disorder. They claim I withdraw from reality, and become delusional sometimes. The doctors desire to put a label on this burden I carry—I presume it is a professional requirement.
My name is David Krieg, myself and two others experienced a foreboding event that shaped my awareness of what genuine horror is. Today the doctors felt they made some progress; I gave them a bit of a conversation, and the doctors feel a sense of pride and accomplishment. You see, everyone in this loony bin is crazy, well except me, of course. I am the perfect specimen because my story is true. That is how it works around here. If the doctors don’t see progress, they feel like failures. Being a failure means more sessions, treatments, and mind-numbing antipsychotics. So today was a pleasant day. The warm weather allowed us to be outside, and with summer around the corner, the orderly’s permitted the season’s first bonfire in the courtyard.
I was in my sedentary position on the bench when my phone lit up. It was my long-time friend Vern dialing me up. He wanted to talk about the “Old Railway Trail” hike in the summer of grade nine. Our conversation opened memories locked in my subconscious vault, memories my doctors want me to forget. It was supposed to be one of those coming-of-age experiences. The Movie Stand by Me had just come out in theatres, and somehow Vern, myself and our friend Michael were compelled to recreate the plot. The movie is about four boys in 1959 Castle Rock, Oregon who go on a hike to find the dead body of a missing boy. The only difference… Stand by Me ends when the credits roll up the screen.
Summer was finally here. The first year of high school was not so bad. The discovery of girls and Jack Daniels made this new chapter in our life seem adventurous. It was also where I met two lifelong pals. Vern and Michael knew each other from going to the same grade school together, and I was the kid from the country that rode the bus. We hooked up one day during lunch when I was looking for a place to sit in the crowded cafeteria.
Vern yelled to me, “Hey, buddy, need a place to sit?”
We met earlier that morning in science class. From that point on, I sat in the same spot beside my two friends for the rest of the school year. It was during those lunch hours we planned our trip. The school year ended, and we were none the wiser. We met the night before our trip at Michael’s house to pack and get organized. Michael was a perfectionist and the mastermind behind our journey.
I had a restless night’s sleep, but the thrill and freedom we adolescents had with this trip made the tiredness rush from your body. Michael’s mom dropped us off at the starting point about twenty miles from the nearest town. The Old Railway Trail travels the distance of Bruce County, scraping the cliffs of Island Bay. The views are breathtaking, but the trek is dangerous. Not only do you have to worry about the hundred-foot cliffs, but the genuine fear was finding Mary Rutherford.
As legend reveals, she committed suicide after being stood up at the altar. Her rundown cabin is just a few steps from the trail, and our mission was to find her grave. Mary haunts those who try to find her. She travels through the forest wearing her mangled-up wedding gown, torn from decades of searching for a husband.
After a few hours of backpacking through the rugged terrain, we landed on top of the highest cliff. This is where we had our first sit down and a chug of water from our canteens. The clouds were rolling in, and we were about five miles from our first “Michael” organized campsite.
“Looks like a storm is brewing!” Vern commented after leaning his backpack against a tree.
I remember wanting to get moving and get our camp set up before night fell. My focus was on the sky. Black clouds painted the sky and blocked out the sun. Vern was still talking when I peered over to Michael. He was standing like a statue, staring into the dense forest upon which we came.
“Shhhhh,” Michael held his finger to his mouth. “Do you hear that, fellows? Something is in those woods behind us.”
“Mary Rutherford, perhaps,” I replied with a giggle.
“No, I’m serious!” he responded. Michael was a pensive character and was not in the mood for jokes. Vern and I sauntered over to where he was standing. We heard some cracking of twigs and a faint moan.
“What the….” Vern interrupted me before I could finish.
“Come on… Let us get moving before whatever that is gets any closer.” We agreed, took a last sip of water, grabbed our packs, and hurried to the trail.
We were young and immature and not as brave as we thought. We arrived at our first camp in just over two hours. I hurried to set up our tent as we could hear the thunder in the distance. The other two searched nearby for some kindling and dry firewood. There were remnants of a previously burned fire pit formed from some rocks, most likely from the trail. The coals were cold, and the site appeared to have no visitors for an exceptionally long time. The thick forest was on three sides of us, and the tent faced Island Bay.
“Mikey, what’s for dinner?” Vern asked. “I’m starving.”
“I have a surprise, burgers from your old man’s chip wagon.” Vern’s dad owned a local chip truck. Vern worked Saturday afternoons, and I would always visit him looking for a free burger and fries. To us, the place was world-famous, and Vern’s dad must have donated some frozen patties for our adventure. As the thunder became more deafening, Michael built a protective shelter of large branches over our fire pit. This allowed us to have a fire in the rain, for a while anyway. Vern placed the burgers on the small grill we brought and asked me for the matches. It took a few minutes, but we had a fire in no time. Vern cooked the meal, and Michael and I chatted about what grotesque creature might have been in the forest during our last stop.
As quickly as the burgers came off the grill, we stuffed them in our faces. We were starving like most teenage boys and had no one there to judge our eating habits. The rain hammered down. Lucky for us, Michael’s fire shelter worked perfectly. It was an eerie sight, watching the glow of the fire with rain in the background.
With each of us propped up against a rock, we continued our chat about who or what might be prowling in the surrounding trees.
“Well, guys… I am not kidding. Maybe the legend is true. Marry Rutherford’s shack is up here somewhere in these woods. Her final resting place can’t be far, and I’m sure the old oak tree where she hung herself is still standing tall,” Vern suggested.
We continued with the teenaged boy chatter for another hour. By this time, it was pitch black, and all you could see was a parameter reaching only as far as the glow from the fire allowed. We could hear the gentle rain shake the leaves on the trees. We were deep into our stories when a rock the size of a baseball came rolling through our lighted area. I froze at that moment as the hairs on the back of my neck stood tall, fear crept through my spine, but I was too frightened to scream. The three of us looked at each other with shock as it silenced our voices.
From the direction in which the stone came, the rain sounded different. I would best describe it as a muffle. The rain was landing quietly, almost being absorbed, virtually silent. Michael picked up his flashlight and pointed it in the vicinity. The light picked up a silhouette of a human body. The rain outlined it perfectly, and the humanoid figure was pointing in the direction in which we were heading.
“I think it’s trying to tell us something,” Vern said in a panicked stricken voice.
“Turn it off, turn it off.” I repeated. Michael clicked off the flashlight, and I could see our petrified faces from the gleam of the fire. I remember sitting there for almost an hour. Nobody spoke, moved or blinked. The rain continued, but this time ever harder, the storm finally hit, and it soaked the fire. Michael headed first into the tent as his sleeping bag was furthest away from the door. Vern and I followed. The only words spoken were, “I want to go home.” I was so terrified.
It was about 3:30 when Vern’s old man’s burgers wreaked havoc on my digestive system. There was still a continuous downpour of rain. I woke up with my head welded to the pillow from my tears. Needing to get outside for some fresh air, I grabbed Michael’s flashlight from the damp floor of the tent. I tapped, hitting the light till it showed some displays of life. Vern was snoring like a drunken sailor as I carefully stepped over his lying body. I quickly unzipped the door and slid into my boots. I crawled through the opening, stumbled to my feet, and shone the light into the tent. I noticed Michael was not in his sleeping bag.
The lump of his dad’s old hunting bedroll was open, and the underside exposed printed deer and hunting images. My mind started racing, reviewing all the reasons where he would be. At first, my thoughts were logical. He had to slip out and take a leak, or worse, felt the indigestion of Vern’s undercooked burgers. A simple reason till I noticed his hiking boots were still at the door. Not to mention I had the group’s only flashlight, Michael’s flashlight. Did he slip on a saturated rock and tumble over the cliff? I frantically begin searching the area in and around our campsite.
“This fucking rain,” I mumbled as the cool rain condensed into an eerie patch of mist rising from below the rock cliffs. I called out to him only to have my voice muffled from the downpour. After a few minutes, which felt like hours, I heard the most blood-curdling scream. It ripped through me like a piece of shard glass. My stomach felt twisted, and I could feel the pulse in my neck ready to explode.
“Michael, Jesus, is that you?” I called in the direction in which the horror sound came from.
With caution, I briskly walked towards Michael’s shrieks. Not knowing what I was going to find, I continued to call out to him. His screams of agony led me deeper into the forest and eventually to an old rundown cabin. One would describe the cabin as rancid, vile, and disgusting. I tore the doorway open, allowing the scent of decay to linger over the entire property. Amongst the hand-hewed log walls sits a broken-down stone fireplace with the initials “M and M” scratched into the mantel.
Sitting below the fireplace was an old wooden chest. The hasp had rusted away, leaving easy access to the contents. Sealed in a plastic bag and tightly wrapped in barn twine revealed some old letters and newspapers. I grabbed the brittle newspapers and stuffed them down the back of my pants. If I ever find Michael, the newspaper will make perfect kindling to start a much-needed campfire.
“That’s a big ‘if!’” I whispered.
The rain wreaked havoc on my search; it pounded on the tin roof, creating a hypnotizing sound that forced my mind into a state of hallucinations. With every movement, I heard unfamiliar sounds, sounds of torture and agony. The smell of burning flesh filled my nostrils, and with every angle of my flashlight appeared Michael. He was screaming, “Kill me, kill me.”
From corner to corner, I aimed my light. There he was, but for only a second! I cried out to him, my body becoming paralyzed as an icy grip surrounded me.
The force lifted me and threw me through a broken-out window. There was a sudden stop of rain. A sea of calm, as if before the storm. I staggered to my feet and searched as far as the flashlight would reach. Dazed and confused, I explored my surroundings. With soft steps, I walked towards what looked like the backyard. The property appeared to have several large oak trees, but only one caught my attention. A monstrous-looking tree reaches high into the sky. The mammoth oak almost appears human, with pointy limbs for arms and an oddly shaped peak.
The fractured peak resembles a broken neck that eerily keeps watch over the cabin. It gives you the sense something terrible is about to happen as it sits atop Island Bay cliffs. From one of the lower branches, I noticed an old broken piece of rope. The frayed rope stayed motionless as I approached it. After a few steps, I heard Michael cry out once again, and my thoughts became refocused on saving him. His desperate and terrorized voice haunted me to my core.
I pointed my flashlight towards his moans, coming from just behind the rope tree. At first, when my light hit Michael, he was on his knees, arms reaching out for me to hold him. His eyes melted shut as he moaned with blood-covered hands.
“Kill me! Kill me! Kill me!” he cried out.
My voice was frozen in my terrified lungs. As Michael kneeled there helpless, I noticed a figure standing behind him. Based on the legends, I recognized it as Mary Rutherford. Her face was pitted with burrowing insects and my nostrils filled with the smell of rotting flesh.
She was dressed in a torn wedding gown with a noose around her neck, confirming all the stories. Her face was a blackened, lifeless skull, and her eyes had been picked clean, likely from the same vultures that currently fly above my head. Michael screamed out again. And it was at that point, I noticed her exceptionally long arms. She had them pierced into the middle of Michael’s back like swords. He cried out again as the decaying limbs pulled him towards her decomposing body.
Her arms cauterized Michael’s chest as they cut it, burning his flesh like in a crematorium. The arms tangled back in through his mouth, hushing his screams. Michaels limp body was melting into Mary Rutherford’s demon corpse. All that was left was his deformed head, protruding out of the side of the corpse bride, almost like a trophy.
Once the torture stopped, an eerie calm stilled the night. Her appetite for death satisfied. She lifted her hand and pointed towards our campsite. With my heart racing, I ran, dropping the flashlight. I wasn’t about to stick around and look for it either. After a few running steps, I tripped and found myself at the bottom of a gaping hole. My sheer adrenaline allowed me to claw my way out. At the top of the hole was a stone monument. Without my light, I could feel the letters inscribed on the face.
HERE LIES MARY RUTHERFORD
DIED OF A BROKEN HEART
MAY SHE FIND WHAT SHE’S BEEN LOOKING FOR
I sprinted as fast as my adolescent legs would go, eventually reaching the tent. I screamed for Vern to wake up. He popped his head out through the entrance.
“You okay, man? Where is Mikey?”
“No, I’m not okay. We need to get moving now. Something’s happened to Michael. He’s dead Vern… dead,” I repeated.
The severity of the situation registered with Vern just then; he knew something had gone dreadfully wrong. He figured getting help would be the best course of action. I just needed to get the hell away from that grotesque being that absorbed my friend. We waited for the first light and then hiked our way out. Vern thought I had been through too much and didn’t believe me when I looked back towards her cabin. There I got one last glance. Mary Rutherford was pointing in the direction to the end of the trail, as if telling us to leave. Sometimes things are more disturbing in the sun’s light.
After we started walking, a family of raccoons ran out in front of us, a group of six or seven. I could not tell as they were moving extremely fast, heading in the same direction as us. They disappeared in a flash down the trail. A second later, there was a family of skunks, followed by a herd of deer. Animals of all species were leaving the area. We even saw a mother black bear and her cubs, oblivious to us.
We double-timed our stride, almost keeping up with the raccoons. I heard noises behind us, constant moaning. I called out Michael’s name. Vern knew I needed help. Branches were being broken, and the distinctive smell of Mary Rutherford was all around us. Between the marathon and my sense of fear, my heart was pounding from my chest. Before we knew it, we had traveled almost the distance of the trail. The end was near.
There was a sense of civilization at the rendezvous point, a little picnic shelter just off the main road, washrooms, and a payphone. This is where we called the police. The rain poured once again. Puddles were overflowing, and there was about a foot of water in the shelter. We stood up on top of the picnic tables, making sure not to be standing in the tiny river below us. Vern held me like a baby while we waited for help. I didn’t say much. I really didn’t know what to say. I would have to tell the cops and my parents, and…oh God, Michael’s parents.
Minutes turned to hours. Vern and I were starving and contemplated calling the cops again when the strangest thing happened. The earth shook, trees uprooted, and a horrendous noise echoed for miles. The forest cried out like an animal in distress. All I could hear was the cracking of granite. It was hard to see through the downpour of rain, but in a moment’s glance, the entire twenty-mile rock face broke off and slid into Island Bay.
We were in a safe location when a police cruiser pulled up. He was worried about us as the news reported a major earthquake, causing the entire stretch of the Old Railway Trail to break off. It was on national news as the slide crushed about four hunting cabins in the area.
* * * * * *
Vern keeps in touch. He checks in with my parents. It’s been thirty-four years since I have last seen Michael, since I have last seen Mary Rutherford! Her legend still lives on. The folktale includes stories of a rundown cabin, a grotesque-looking tree and missing grade school kids longing for a thrill. I don’t have to get into the details as you’ve heard the story. I can hear the nurse coming. The clicking of her high heels gives her away every time. Another day, another daily dose of sleeping pills and antipsychotics. Maybe tomorrow I will read the headlines from the old newspaper to my doctor. Then again, maybe not!
COUPLE SWEPT OFF CLIFF ON WEDDING DAY EARTHQUAKE
Michael Allen and Mary Rutherford were planning the wedding of their dreams when Mary was found battered and bruised, lying face down in the water. She was rushed to the hospital in stable condition. The search continues for Michael Allen.
There was something about that summer of grade nine, like Richard Dreyfuss said in his last line of Stand by Me, “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was 12. Jesus, does anyone?” held a special place in my heart. Vern has a family and an impressive career; Michael will forever be in our dreams. But for me, the dreams are my nightmares.
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None AvailableCraig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A