The Shadows in the Forest

We were just kids. Tom really loved to throw pennies into the swamp. We all did. The Boys of Center Street, that’s what they called us. And we loved it! We were a gaggle of losers, and we were unstoppable.

“I dare you to…” was the weakness we all shared. It was freshman year of high school, and we all settled on one dare. To take the hottest girls in school out to the forest behind Old Valley Park. It was just really creepy; there really was nothing more to it than that. If we could all take the hottest girls out to the spooky woods, we could graduate as men. Yup, I told you, we were losers.

It was October, and everyone was acting like crazy idiots. It was that time of the year. Everyone was gearing up for homecoming and Halloween. And there she was.

Victoria, man, what a woman. We all thought so. She was the smartest girl in our class, and also captain of the cheerleading squad. She was brunette, and her hair when she didn’t have it tied up, hung all the way to her butt. She had the best body, and she knew how to use only her eyes to drive a guy absolutely crazy. She wasn’t super tall, which we liked because we were all taller than she was.

The four of us, Tom, Allen, Spencer, and I were inching on six feet. My big bro Xander always bought us some beer when we wanted to go into the forest. He was like,

“Just don’t wuss out, you gotta take them all the way to The Shadows.”

Just saying “The Shadows,” gave anyone with a brain stem the creeps.

It was the deepest part of the forest where the trees and tall thick weeds with thorns created a clearing. But it was always pitch black, even in the middle of the day, and definitely too far for anyone to hear you scream.

We all camped out in that forest a bunch of times, but we never went in that deep. Xander swears that he did when he was a freshman.

“You gotta have a beer if you’re going in that deep,” he would say.

So, I called dibs on Victoria first, obviously, and the rest of the guys had their sights on the scene girls.

The guys and I wanted to sample The Shadows before bringing any girls there. We had a very scientific plan you see. So that night, we took a six pack of beer and went out. I brought a flashlight, and Tom just brought his cell phone and a hand-full of pennies. Allen and Spencer each brought backpacks with camera equipment and flairs.

By the time we reached the swamp, we all had a nice buzz and the beer was gone. Tom stopped to throw his pennies. One right after the other. Just in case the cover of night weren’t dark enough, the heavy fog that hung over the swamp made it hell to see anything. Allen and Spencer were slapping away all of the mosquitoes, and I was looking at my phone to see what the girls from school were planning for any homecoming after parties.

You didn’t realize it, but subconsciously the kerplunk of the pennies hitting the swamp had a cool rhythm to it. It always followed the light coin flip sound that the pennies made when Tom flipped them off from his thumb. Ding, kerplunk, ding, kerplunk, ding… then an unsettling silence took over the swamp. Then as I looked up from my phone, I saw Tom get hit by the penny he had just thrown into the swamp. Something or someone caught it and threw it back.

I reached for my flashlight and shinned it into the swamp, and nothing was there, but one after the other the pennies came flying back at Tom. His face was contorted in confusion as he tried to dodge the pennies.

“Come on Spencer! That kinda hurts!”

Spencer and Allen then looked at one another and back at Tom who was dodging flying pennies.

“Oh hell no,” Allen said simply as he ran back from where we came. Then all we heard was a loud snap, like a huge branch had been broken directly in half. We couldn’t see anything; I shinned my flashlight, but the fog made the light just scatter. Then we heard a heavy fluid sound like someone had just dumped a bucket of water onto the forest floor.

All that I could think to do was find the twerps that were trying to get a rise out of us.

So calmly I just said,

“Alright guys, it’s obviously some dorks. Let’s keep going, we gotta get to The Shadows.”

Tom ran onward, and I smirked to myself. He looked ridiculous. Spencer was all defensive and started acting all tough, which made me chuckle to myself. I gave him a slap on the back and he just about jumped out of his skin and let out a scream like a little girl. That’s when I just had to belly laugh.

I walked onward. Eventually Tom calmed back down, and Spencer seemed a little antsy, and we just assumed that Allen ran back to the car. The air was super still, and heavy with fog. The darkness felt so empty and vast. We were stepping through a lot of thick weeds, and the crunching beneath our shoes made a lot of noise. It was almost deafening.

There it was, just a few thorn-riddled steps away, The Shadows.

“It’s not so bad,” I said as I stood surveying the area getting a read. I really could see why it’s so creepy, but so is your own basement with a couple of ghost stories before going down.

“What was that?” Tom said it first, but we were all thinking it. Heavy sounds of footsteps just off into The Shadows. These weren’t person footsteps; it was like if a large four-legged animal was walking through the thick brush.

My own animal instincts lifted the hairs on my neck and arms and made me measure my breath very carefully and stand very still. Then a penny from The Shadows flew and hit Tom in the head. Now we had been walking easily twenty minutes since the swamp, and the whole time had no indication that whatever twerps were throwing pennies had followed along.

Then a low-toned quiet growl came from The Shadows. My stomach felt sick, and I began to feel afraid. The animal definitely had mass to it, and the growl definitely had a territorial sound to it. I, for sure, thought it was a bear. But then another penny came flying out and this time hit me on the chest. There was no way a bear could throw pennies, and no person could make that growl. The steps got closer.

“Boys, time to go. Move extremely slowly until the swamp, then we run.”

“Austin! Are you Kidding me?” Tom shot back at me.

“We gotta run now!” Tom said as he took off toward the swamp as fast as his legs could carry him.

All I could hear was the same snap as before that seemed to echo throughout the entire forest, and then the heavy slush sound of liquid hitting the ground. This time I thought Tom was hurt. I knew he was.

I stuck to my plan, and Spencer had my back. He walked very slowly behind me. I turned off my flashlight; it didn’t help anyway.

“Austin?” Spencer said my name as though he didn’t want to be heard and there was sheer terror in his voice.

“Spencer, we’re gonna be fine. Let’s just get to the car and go home.”

“Austin no, look behind me.” His whisper was shaky.

I turned around and saw him standing too still. I didn’t notice at first but then I saw a hand, well what was supposed to be a hand wrapped around his throat. I couldn’t see who or what was holding him. Behind Spencer was pure darkness, all I could see was Spencer’s eyes and the massive, dirty, and hairy hand that was holding him.

Spencer’s backpack had fallen and was by my feet. So I very quickly picked it up and grabbed a flair and lit it. Then a thundering rawer came from whatever beast had Spencer by the throat and next thing we knew it was running off into the distance. The heavy galloping thuds faded into The Shadows and Spencer just looked me in the eye and I grabbed his shoulder.

“We’ll figure out if you’re okay back at the car, we gotta get there in case Tom and Allen are waiting for us. Can you run?”

“Yeah Austin, let’s just get the hell out of here.”

We ran faster than our bodies knew was possible. It didn’t matter if we wussed out, this was definitely something beyond what anyone could imagine.

We passed the swamp, and finally could see the lights in the park. We got out of the forest, but we still needed to get to the car, and that was in the parking lot about a half-mile away.

Spencer and I then started calling out Tom’s and Allen’s names. We found Allen; he was laying face down in the middle of the paved trail we were walking on.

“Allen!” I shouted. Spencer grabbed my flashlight and shinned it on him, we rolled him over and he began moaning. For good reason too, Allen had a deep and open gash across his belly and was losing a lot of blood. He smelled so badly Spencer turned off to the side and puked. I lit another flair and waved it around as I dialed 911.

“Hello? Please send an ambulance to Old Valley Park, about a half mile south of the parking lot. I am waving around a flair.” I was running out of breath, and my mind was racing almost as fast as my heart.

About five minutes later an ambulance and police cruiser arrived. The paramedics ran over to Allen and looked up at me with stern eyes.

“What happened?”

Boy, I had no idea even how to begin answering that question.

“Well, we were over by the swamp, and we lost track of him. Then we found him like this.”

Yeah there was no way I was about to tell them we were in The Shadows.

“It looks like an animal attack.” Said another paramedic as they swiftly lifted Allen onto the stretcher.

The police officer walked over and with assuming authority she asked simply,

“You boys been drinking?”

Spencer just shook his head and I did too, we didn’t say a word.

“Well the only car in the lot had an empty cardboard six pack container in the back seat. Is that someone else’s.”

“My brother’s, it’s his car too,” I shot back. Not technically a lie, but definitely not admitting to drinking.

“Well you boys look like you’re out and up to no good, so you’ll forgive me if I don’t believe you.”

“I’ll call my brother right now, and you can talk to him if you want,” I said defensively.

“That’s a mighty good idea kid, why don’t you do that?”

I got out my phone and dialed up my brother.

From inside the woods we could hear his phone ringing. I was completely embarrassed and confused. Had he followed us to make sure we didn’t wuss out? No such luck.

The ringing simply stopped. The officer then pointed her flashlight into the woods.

“Look, obviously I don’t need to tell you that pranks can go wrong. Your friend is possibly very seriously injured. The two of you, names and your parents’ phone numbers. You’re coming with me to the station. I’m afraid I can’t let you drive tonight.”

I hung my head and complied. Spencer did the same. But I couldn’t help but wonder, where the hell did Tom go? What the hell was chasing us and throwing pennies?

We got to the station and our parents were there. My mom had a look that perfectly combined tired with very annoyed. My dad just looked like he always does, not surprised in the slightest. Spencer’s parents were both pretty annoyed, but they’re the kind of parents that just don’t want us getting caught being stupid.

My dad slapped my head and called me a goof, and my mom just stared at me with eyes that said everything she needed to.

“I’ll see you in school tomorrow Spencer,” I said as I looked over at him rubbing his neck and wincing in pain. He just gave me a nod.

Back at home my parents gave me the old speech of,

“Well if your friends jumped off a bridge would you do it too?”

After a long shower, I went back to my room, smoked a bowl and listened to some tunes.

The next morning I woke up to my mom screaming. I shot out of bed and flew down the stairs and into the kitchen where I heard her. She had the house phone clutched in her hand as she began to cry hysterically.

“Your friend Tommy. Sweetie he was found dead in the park this morning.” I felt my stomach drop. My mind flooded with questions, and all I could feel was anger and guilt.

Poor Tom, all he wanted to do, all any of us wanted was to have a bit of fun.

“Austin, the coroner’s office is saying it was an animal attack.”

My phone started ringing at that moment and it was Spencer.

“I just heard,” I said with a deadpan tone to hide my fury and guilt. The lump in my throat made speaking painful.

With the phone in my hand I walked over to my mom and gave her a hug.

“Go get dressed, we have to arrange a vigil.” My mom said as she kissed my cheek.

I was getting ready and I heard footsteps in the hallway outside my bedroom. I opened my door to see my brother in his gym clothes. He looked overly tired and hungover.

I just walked up to him and punched his back,

“Dude what the hell? Why did you follow us last night?” I was pissed off.

He turned around and had a very confused and dazed look to him. He didn’t even reply, but I looked down to his hands, and they were covered in dirt and what looked like dried blood.

“I told you,” he began with a dumb smile that showed his bloody lips.

“You always need a beer before you go out to The Shadows.”

“I dare you to…” was the weakness we all shared. It was freshman year of high school, and we all settled on one dare. To take the hottest girls in school out to the forest behind Old Valley Park. It was just really creepy; there really was nothing more to it than that. If we could all take the hottest girls out to the spooky woods, we could graduate as men. Yup, I told you, we were losers.

It was October, and everyone was acting like crazy idiots. It was that time of the year. Everyone was gearing up for homecoming and Halloween. And there she was.

Victoria, man, what a woman. We all thought so. She was the smartest girl in our class, and also captain of the cheerleading squad. She was brunette, and her hair when she didn’t have it tied up, hung all the way to her butt. She had the best body, and she knew how to use only her eyes to drive a guy absolutely crazy. She wasn’t super tall, which we liked because we were all taller than she was.

The four of us, Tom, Allen, Spencer, and I were inching on six feet. My big bro Xander always bought us some beer when we wanted to go into the forest. He was like,

“Just don’t wuss out, you gotta take them all the way to The Shadows.”

Just saying “The Shadows,” gave anyone with a brain stem the creeps.

It was the deepest part of the forest where the trees and tall thick weeds with thorns created a clearing. But it was always pitch black, even in the middle of the day, and definitely too far for anyone to hear you scream.

We all camped out in that forest a bunch of times, but we never went in that deep. Xander swears that he did when he was a freshman.

“You gotta have a beer if you’re going in that deep,” he would say.

So, I called dibs on Victoria first, obviously, and the rest of the guys had their sights on the scene girls.

The guys and I wanted to sample The Shadows before bringing any girls there. We had a very scientific plan you see. So that night, we took a six pack of beer and went out. I brought a flashlight, and Tom just brought his cell phone and a hand-full of pennies. Allen and Spencer each brought backpacks with camera equipment and flairs.

By the time we reached the swamp, we all had a nice buzz and the beer was gone. Tom stopped to throw his pennies. One right after the other. Just in case the cover of night weren’t dark enough, the heavy fog that hung over the swamp made it hell to see anything. Allen and Spencer were slapping away all of the mosquitoes, and I was looking at my phone to see what the girls from school were planning for any homecoming after parties.

You didn’t realize it, but subconsciously the kerplunk of the pennies hitting the swamp had a cool rhythm to it. It always followed the light coin flip sound that the pennies made when Tom flipped them off from his thumb. Ding, kerplunk, ding, kerplunk, ding… then an unsettling silence took over the swamp. Then as I looked up from my phone, I saw Tom get hit by the penny he had just thrown into the swamp. Something or someone caught it and threw it back.

I reached for my flashlight and shinned it into the swamp, and nothing was there, but one after the other the pennies came flying back at Tom. His face was contorted in confusion as he tried to dodge the pennies.

“Come on Spencer! That kinda hurts!”

Spencer and Allen then looked at one another and back at Tom who was dodging flying pennies.

“Oh hell no,” Allen said simply as he ran back from where we came. Then all we heard was a loud snap, like a huge branch had been broken directly in half. We couldn’t see anything; I shinned my flashlight, but the fog made the light just scatter. Then we heard a heavy fluid sound like someone had just dumped a bucket of water onto the forest floor.

All that I could think to do was find the twerps that were trying to get a rise out of us.

So calmly I just said,

“Alright guys, it’s obviously some dorks. Let’s keep going, we gotta get to The Shadows.”

Tom ran onward, and I smirked to myself. He looked ridiculous. Spencer was all defensive and started acting all tough, which made me chuckle to myself. I gave him a slap on the back and he just about jumped out of his skin and let out a scream like a little girl. That’s when I just had to belly laugh.

I walked onward. Eventually Tom calmed back down, and Spencer seemed a little antsy, and we just assumed that Allen ran back to the car. The air was super still, and heavy with fog. The darkness felt so empty and vast. We were stepping through a lot of thick weeds, and the crunching beneath our shoes made a lot of noise. It was almost deafening.

There it was, just a few thorn-riddled steps away, The Shadows.

“It’s not so bad,” I said as I stood surveying the area getting a read. I really could see why it’s so creepy, but so is your own basement with a couple of ghost stories before going down.

“What was that?” Tom said it first, but we were all thinking it. Heavy sounds of footsteps just off into The Shadows. These weren’t person footsteps; it was like if a large four-legged animal was walking through the thick brush.

My own animal instincts lifted the hairs on my neck and arms and made me measure my breath very carefully and stand very still. Then a penny from The Shadows flew and hit Tom in the head. Now we had been walking easily twenty minutes since the swamp, and the whole time had no indication that whatever twerps were throwing pennies had followed along.

Then a low-toned quiet growl came from The Shadows. My stomach felt sick, and I began to feel afraid. The animal definitely had mass to it, and the growl definitely had a territorial sound to it. I, for sure, thought it was a bear. But then another penny came flying out and this time hit me on the chest. There was no way a bear could throw pennies, and no person could make that growl. The steps got closer.

“Boys, time to go. Move extremely slowly until the swamp, then we run.”

“Austin! Are you Kidding me?” Tom shot back at me.

“We gotta run now!” Tom said as he took off toward the swamp as fast as his legs could carry him.

All I could hear was the same snap as before that seemed to echo throughout the entire forest, and then the heavy slush sound of liquid hitting the ground. This time I thought Tom was hurt. I knew he was.

I stuck to my plan, and Spencer had my back. He walked very slowly behind me. I turned off my flashlight; it didn’t help anyway.

“Austin?” Spencer said my name as though he didn’t want to be heard and there was sheer terror in his voice.

“Spencer, we’re gonna be fine. Let’s just get to the car and go home.”

“Austin no, look behind me.” His whisper was shaky.

I turned around and saw him standing too still. I didn’t notice at first but then I saw a hand, well what was supposed to be a hand wrapped around his throat. I couldn’t see who or what was holding him. Behind Spencer was pure darkness, all I could see was Spencer’s eyes and the massive, dirty, and hairy hand that was holding him.

Spencer’s backpack had fallen and was by my feet. So I very quickly picked it up and grabbed a flair and lit it. Then a thundering rawer came from whatever beast had Spencer by the throat and next thing we knew it was running off into the distance. The heavy galloping thuds faded into The Shadows and Spencer just looked me in the eye and I grabbed his shoulder.

“We’ll figure out if you’re okay back at the car, we gotta get there in case Tom and Allen are waiting for us. Can you run?”

“Yeah Austin, let’s just get the hell out of here.”

We ran faster than our bodies knew was possible. It didn’t matter if we wussed out, this was definitely something beyond what anyone could imagine.

We passed the swamp, and finally could see the lights in the park. We got out of the forest, but we still needed to get to the car, and that was in the parking lot about a half-mile away.

Spencer and I then started calling out Tom’s and Allen’s names. We found Allen; he was laying face down in the middle of the paved trail we were walking on.

“Allen!” I shouted. Spencer grabbed my flashlight and shinned it on him, we rolled him over and he began moaning. For good reason too, Allen had a deep and open gash across his belly and was losing a lot of blood. He smelled so badly Spencer turned off to the side and puked. I lit another flair and waved it around as I dialed 911.

“Hello? Please send an ambulance to Old Valley Park, about a half mile south of the parking lot. I am waving around a flair.” I was running out of breath, and my mind was racing almost as fast as my heart.

About five minutes later an ambulance and police cruiser arrived. The paramedics ran over to Allen and looked up at me with stern eyes.

“What happened?”

Boy, I had no idea even how to begin answering that question.

“Well, we were over by the swamp, and we lost track of him. Then we found him like this.”

Yeah there was no way I was about to tell them we were in The Shadows.

“It looks like an animal attack.” Said another paramedic as they swiftly lifted Allen onto the stretcher.

The police officer walked over and with assuming authority she asked simply,

“You boys been drinking?”

Spencer just shook his head and I did too, we didn’t say a word.

“Well the only car in the lot had an empty cardboard six pack container in the back seat. Is that someone else’s.”

“My brother’s, it’s his car too,” I shot back. Not technically a lie, but definitely not admitting to drinking.

“Well you boys look like you’re out and up to no good, so you’ll forgive me if I don’t believe you.”

“I’ll call my brother right now, and you can talk to him if you want,” I said defensively.

“That’s a mighty good idea kid, why don’t you do that?”

I got out my phone and dialed up my brother.

From inside the woods we could hear his phone ringing. I was completely embarrassed and confused. Had he followed us to make sure we didn’t wuss out? No such luck.

The ringing simply stopped. The officer then pointed her flashlight into the woods.

“Look, obviously I don’t need to tell you that pranks can go wrong. Your friend is possibly very seriously injured. The two of you, names and your parents’ phone numbers. You’re coming with me to the station. I’m afraid I can’t let you drive tonight.”

I hung my head and complied. Spencer did the same. But I couldn’t help but wonder, where the hell did Tom go? What the hell was chasing us and throwing pennies?

We got to the station and our parents were there. My mom had a look that perfectly combined tired with very annoyed. My dad just looked like he always does, not surprised in the slightest. Spencer’s parents were both pretty annoyed, but they’re the kind of parents that just don’t want us getting caught being stupid.

My dad slapped my head and called me a goof, and my mom just stared at me with eyes that said everything she needed to.

“I’ll see you in school tomorrow Spencer,” I said as I looked over at him rubbing his neck and wincing in pain. He just gave me a nod.

Back at home my parents gave me the old speech of,

“Well if your friends jumped off a bridge would you do it too?”

After a long shower, I went back to my room, smoked a bowl and listened to some tunes.

The next morning I woke up to my mom screaming. I shot out of bed and flew down the stairs and into the kitchen where I heard her. She had the house phone clutched in her hand as she began to cry hysterically.

“Your friend Tommy. Sweetie he was found dead in the park this morning.” I felt my stomach drop. My mind flooded with questions, and all I could feel was anger and guilt.

Poor Tom, all he wanted to do, all any of us wanted was to have a bit of fun.

“Austin, the coroner’s office is saying it was an animal attack.”

My phone started ringing at that moment and it was Spencer.

“I just heard,” I said with a deadpan tone to hide my fury and guilt. The lump in my throat made speaking painful.

With the phone in my hand I walked over to my mom and gave her a hug.

“Go get dressed, we have to arrange a vigil.” My mom said as she kissed my cheek.

I was getting ready and I heard footsteps in the hallway outside my bedroom. I opened my door to see my brother in his gym clothes. He looked overly tired and hungover.

I just walked up to him and punched his back,

“Dude what the hell? Why did you follow us last night?” I was pissed off.

He turned around and had a very confused and dazed look to him. He didn’t even reply, but I looked down to his hands, and they were covered in dirt and what looked like dried blood.

“I told you,” he began with a dumb smile that showed his bloody lips.

“You always need a beer before you go out to The Shadows.”

Published by m.d.smith

An aspiring writer with a love for fantasy-filled adventurous journeys.

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