I haven't re-read anything, so it's bound to be full of errors. I'm just too lazy to check it over.
I’ll tell you what happened. When I’m done, you’ll understand why Allan blew his brains out and you’ll pity the poor guy. What he went through... I mean, his kid being kidnapped was bad enough. That’d send any father over the brink, especially when it was them who took the boy. Poor Wendy. I can’t imagine what kind of hell she must be going through right now. Both her husband and her son are dead. At least she doesn’t know the truth.
What? Are you nuts? Of course I’m not going to tell her!
No way. Listen, just let me tell my story and afterwards you can decide for yourself whether you want to tell her. By that time, I’ll be long gone. I quit. I’m leaving this all behind me and I’m going to try and start a new life somewhere else. Somewhere far, far away.
All right, just listen.
I’m not sure how familiar you are with the entire story, so I’ll give you the background first: for months, Elmridge was being plagued by a series of disappearances – well, kidnappings. Men and women, boys and girls and even elderly people started disappearing. Each time, strange footprints were found in the immediate area where the kidnapped person had last been seen. Doc Spurlong investigated those prints and he said they looked mostly like human feet, but strangely under-evolved or mutated in a very feral way, almost like a wolf’s.
One day Allan’s kid, a seven-year-old boy called Jonathan with the face of an angel, disappeared. He was such a sweet kid, you know. He had this purple birthmark on his right cheek that looked like a little sailboat every time he smiled. It was adorable. Anyway, he had been playing at the brook near the forest, not far from Allan’s farm. Again, the same tracks were found. Of course Allan went to the sheriff, but you know how that went: that idiot can’t distinguish his ass from his elbow. Allan decided to go out looking himself. He and I had been friends since childhood so he asked me to go with him. Of course I said yes. Immediately.
On previous kidnappings, the sheriff had traced the footprints deep into the forest to the river. There they disappeared and they didn’t reappear on the other side. We took camping equipment and food provisions for a couple of days and set up our tents near the river. Then we systematically went looking around. For days we found nothing.
Allan, as you can imagine, he really teetered on the edge. He’d fly into a rage or he started shaking and sobbing. It broke my heart to see him like that. I mean, he lost his little boy and he knew the rumours of the townsfolk well enough: the kidnappers were actually ghouls, ape-like people who ate the dead and they were led by some warlock or necromancer. Of course we thought that was crazy, but that’s not the kind of thought you want to have when your own son is in the hands of those people.
We finally decided to set up camp deeper in the woods. We walked for hours and hours along the river bank. It was past midnight when we had put up our tents again in a place where we hadn’t been before. I decided to take a little walk to get familiar with our new surroundings. I walked along the river for a while, thinking of Allan and Jonathan. To be honest, I had given up hope already.
From somewhere down the river, I heard splashing. At first I thought it might be a grizzly, so I hid and took my gun. I crawled through the rotten leaves and pine needles until I got a good look. It was dark, but I remember it clear as day. That image will forever be etched in my mind: I saw a kind of... you know, human shape but it was hunched over, almost like an ape. It had a huge head with a big, protruding jaw. The mouth hung open and the teeth it had... Jesus, it was like... I don’t know, like a shark, maybe. They looked vicious. And the hands weren’t hands but claws with big talons. The thing was loping through the shallow water at the opposite side of the river. It stopped and looked around, as if making sure it wasn’t being followed. I tell you, I have never been so scared as right then. It looked in my direction and its eyes... There was definitely something intelligent behind them. This was no dumb beast or freak of nature. It was smart and... it sounds ridiculous, but when I stared at those eyes from my hiding place, I knew, I just knew that this thing was evil. Don’t ask me why I thought that, but that’s the truth of it. Even now my skin crawls when I think of it. Then it went on, moving in a curious hopping manner.
When it was gone, I hurried back to Allan and told him what I’d seen. He immediately took his rifle, reserve rifle, hunting knife and pistol. Whatever that thing was, it had taken Jonathan. He was sure of it. I wanted to wait until morning when it was light, but he wouldn’t hear of it. So that was it. What could I do? Say no?
Anyway, we got to the riverbank again and started going upstream. After several minutes, we heard splashing again. This time it was different, softer and more organised. We ducked for cover. Then it appeared: a sort of canoe rowing upstream... and it had six of those things in them. They were actually rowing! We couldn’t believe it. I had to pull Allan down because he was getting up in disbelief. The animals weren’t just slashing around with their peddles; they were working in perfect unison.
When they were far enough, we followed them. It was hard to keep up with them, but Allan’s rage and despair spurred him on and it was all I could do to keep up with him. Eventually the canoe ran onto a little pebble-beach. The things got out and disappeared into the forest. We snuck across the river. The water was freezing. Christ, my balls are still thawing.
It wasn’t hard to follow those... well ghouls I guess I should call them: it had been raining frequently and the ground was soft, making it easy to find the footsteps. The steps followed a beaten path through the bushes and trees. After a good twenty minutes, we saw a greenish light in the distance. We got on our bellies and crawled closer. I don’t know about Allan, but my heart was pounding so hard I thought it was going to burst out of my chest. I was afraid they would hear it.
We got to a small ridge behind which lay the source of the light. With our rifles gripped tightly in our hands, we peaked over the crest of the rise. There was a glade in the woods, surrounded by broken, sunken and toppled walls, no higher than two feet. Piles of rocks – cairns, I think they’re called – were scattered throughout the enclosing. In the very centre of the space was something that looked like an old well: a ring of stones around a hole in the ground. The green light was emanating from it. A dozen of the animals were gathered around it. Some of them were kneeling before it like they were praying. Three others were dancing in circles. I couldn’t believe my eyes. These animals were worshipping some kind of sick deity!
Another beast suddenly emerged from the pit. It leapt onto the ring of stones and then to the ground, looking around at its environment.
Allan jumped to his feet and screamed. He couldn’t contain himself anymore. He started shooting and walking towards the glade. I cursed, scrambled to my feet and did the same. The things all shrieked and I think the green light grew dimmer with each ghoul we shot.
I honestly don’t remember much of what happened next. It was such a scary frenzy. Everything was a blur of blood and screams and fear. We entered through an opening in the low wall and killed anything that moved. Allan was yelling the name of his son after every shot. More of the things emerged from the pit. I ran out of bullets and clubbed one of them with the butt of my rifle. Luckily I had my pistol as well.
Before I knew it, I wasn’t being attacked anymore. From somewhere behind me, I heard the must bloodcurdling scream I have ever heard in my entire life. I still have to think of it from time to time, especially at night when I’m alone. It scares the living daylights out of me. When I heard it... Good God. It was frightening beyond comprehension, but at the same time also so full of despair. I didn’t really understand it at that moment.
It was Allan, of course. He kept screaming with loud, maddened gasps. I thought he had finally lost it. He sat on the ground, kicking his feet at the dirt to back away from what had caused him to scream. It was one of the things, which now lay lifeless on the ground. I looked around to make sure there weren’t any more coming. Then I looked at Allan. He had been slashed in the face and chest by the animal’s claws, but those wounds didn’t look serious. He finally staggered to his feet, turned around to run, slipped with another loud cry, got up and ran again. He crawled over the walls and turned around, staring at the thing at my feet. He screamed ‘No!’ over and over. Then he took his pistol, put it to his head and pulled the trigger.
I ran over to him. He was dead. I took the reserve rifle from his back and went back to the thing that had scared him so. My heart was still pounding against my ribs, almost cracking them. Perhaps I shouldn’t have gone back. Perhaps it would have been better not knowing the truth. But I had to know, you know? I just had to.
The thing lay facedown. I kicked it over with my boot. It looked just like all the others, except smaller. A ferocious, feral grin was frozen on its face, making the purple spot on its right jaw look like a sailboat of sorts. It was Allan’s son.