Ever since I was a boy, I have always loved the woods. Well, had might be better word, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
As a child, I lived in a house right next to a heavily wooded area. Every day, I would go out into the woods with my friends. We covered nearly every inch of those woods. Hiking, camping, climbing trees, you name it. The woods were our playground and we controlled them.
Or so we thought….
Thinking back, I remember as we ran around the forest, out of the corner of my eye, I could see something quickly flitting between the trees next to us, next to me. I put it off as my eyes playing a trick on me.
Other times, when I was camping with my friends and we were sitting around the fire, just out of the fire light I could have sworn I saw a silhouette of something. When I turned away to get my friends’ attention to look at the thing, it was gone when we looked back, not a sound having been made. My friends laughed at me and joked that I was scared of the dark. I laughed with them, assuring myself that it was simply a trick of the light or something.
Sometimes, at night though, I’d look out the window at the forest. These were the scariest time because I couldn’t rationally explain what it was. But when I looked out the window at the woods, I would see…a face amongst the trees…before it quickly disappeared. Those nights I couldn’t sleep a wink.
I still went into the woods fairly often, usually at the behest of my friends. I did my best to forget the strange face, which I managed to do…for a while.
I was seventeen and my friends, Hayden, Noah, and Mason, and my brother Kieran, managed to annoy me into going camping in the woods with them. We packed up our gear and headed to our usual spot in the woods. We set up and a few hours later it was dark and we had a fire roaring away.
Noah sighed contently as he leaned back in his camp chair. “Well, I’d say I did a good job if I say so myself.” he said. I rolled my eyes. Noah was a sixteen and our resident goofball. Jokes endlessly streamed from his mouth.
“Please,” I replied. “You sat on your ass the whole time.”
“Hey, I set up my chair,” Noah retorted. I rolled my eyes again. Hayden, our group’s token arrogant son of a bitch and sixteen as well, snorted in laughter.
“You didn’t even do that,” Hayden said. “Kieran set it up while you were off looking for squirrels in the trees.”
“I heard from a reliable source that an albino squirrel lives out here,” Noah stated matter-of-factly.
“Curtis is not a ‘reliable source,’” Mason cut in, using air quotes as he said “reliable source.” Masson was a funny, athletic kid and one of the youngest in our group at age fifteen. “The guy is so high most of the time, he might have seen a unicorn and believed it,” he continued.
Noah hesitated, “He…actually told me he saw one over by the river…”
We all burst out laughing. Kieran, the youngest at 14 years old, gave Noah a sarcastic thumbs up as Noah glared at us.
“You’re such a dumbass,” my brother told him. Noah grumbled under his breath as he crossed his arms.
“Let’s just roast some marshmallows, okay?” Noah said in a huff, attempting to change the subject.
“Alright, alright,” I replied, still grinning. I reach back behind my chair and groped around for the bag of marshmallows. The others were reaching for their roasting sticks as my fingers brushed not against the plastic bag that held the fluffy orbs, but against something smooth and warm, almost like…like skin. I yanked my hand away in fear and shock. I heard whatever I had just touched skittering off in the trees. I looked at the dark forest around us, but I couldn’t see anything. My friends stared at me in confusion.
“Dude,” Mason said after a few tense moments of silence, “are you alright?”
“Y-yeah, I’m fine,” I said uncertainly. “My hand just…brushed an animal, is all.”
“Don’t be such a baby, Cameron” Hayden said with a mocking grin. I glared at him as he continued, “Pass me the ‘mallows.”
“Fuck you,” I said, reaching back and tossing him the bag of marshmallows. Nothing was there this time. The mood quickly eased back to our usual laughter and good cheer, but I couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling the forest was giving me. The feeling that we weren’t alone.
I woke up the next morning to panicked shouts and arguing. Rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I left my tent to see Mason, Kieran, and Noah yelling at each other.
“What the hell is going on?” I asked, annoyed. Noah looked at me, a confused and frightened expression on his face.
“Hayden’s gone,” he told me, a fearful edge to his voice.
“What?” I asked in bewilderment.
“Hayden’s gone,” Noah repeated. “Vanished, poofed, disappeared.”
“He could have gone home,” I said, trying to bring some rationality to the situation.
“With all his stuff still here?” Mason said, pointing to Hayden’s chair and day bag. I blinked in confusion as I stared the camping gear.
“You were tenting with him,” I said, returning my attention to Noah. “He went to bed when we all did. Where’d he go?”
“Last night, I heard him leave our tent to take a piss,” Noah explained. “I went back to sleep right after he left and he’s still not back.”
Fear was beginning to grip me as I tried to think of what could have happened. “M-maybe he got lost…?” I stammered.
“In these woods?! You can’t get lost here!” Noah said in exasperation. I didn’t respond.
“Look,” Kieran cut in, “Mason and I will go look for him. You guys pack up while we’re gone, alright?”
“Alright,” I said with a hesitant nod before adding, “Be careful.” Mason and Kieran nodded in reply before marching off into the trees and out of sight. Noah and I began packing our camping gear. About an hour went by before we finished storing our gear and cleaning up the campsite. I sat down on a stump, bouncing my leg nervously as we waited for Mason and Kieran to come back. A few more minutes had passed when I heard them come back, or more accurately, run back. Their faces were pale and pure terror was written on them as they quickly grabbed their backpacks.
“We’re leaving!” Mason shouted through panicked breaths.
“What about Hayden?” Noah asked.
“He’s dead!” Kieran answered. “We need to leave now!”
Noah was about to protest, but listened and grabbed his and Hayden’s backpacks. I quickly shouldered my bag and we began to run out of the trees. Panic was rising in my chest as we sprinted through the forest. I couldn’t believe it. Hayden was dead. There wasn’t anything deadly in these woods. The river wasn’t fast or deep. None of our climbing trees were too tall. Falling from them barely merited a sprained ankle. There weren’t any bears or wolves in the woods, either. Why was he dead?!
We reached the tree line and burst into an open patch of grass between two houses. We slowed to a stop, gasping for air.
“Now…” Noah wheezed, “talk. What,” another paus for breath, “happened?”
“Give me a damn minute!” Mason huffed. We all went silent, resting and catching our breath. The horror of the entire situation sank in during those quiet, tense moments as Kieran and Mason caught their breath.
“We found Hayden near the river,” Mason explained upon recovering. He shuddered as he remembered what he saw. “He… he was impaled on a tree branch. His… oh God… his hands were tied to two other branches above his head with his- his fucking intestines! His eyes were clawed out and his face, Jesus his face, was frozen in this awful look of horror. His shirt had been ripped open and… oh God…”
Mason stopped talking and began to retch. Kieran picked up where he left off, absolute terror plain on his face, “Scratched in his chest were the words ‘Wrong One.’ Both of us threw up on the spot before running back to the campsite.”
Noah was pale, his face in an even more fearful expression than Mason and Kieran. We all sat in silence before Noah spoke again.
“Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck fuck,” he said. “What do we do?”
“We… we need to call the police,” I said, trying my best to hold back my panic.
“What about the woods?” Kieran asked.
“Man, fuck the woods!” Mason shouted. “I’m never going back in there.” We all nodded in agreement.
“We need to get out of here,” I said, standing up straight.
“You don’t need to tell me twice,” Noah agreed. We hurriedly walked away from the trees that we never returned to, fearful of what lay within.
A few days have gone by since Hayden’s death. The police recovered his body during this time and his funeral will be in a few weeks. Closed casket, of course. Mason, Kieran, Noah, and I all refused to speak to the police on the matter. What could we say? We had no idea what happened. We were originally suspects for his murder until his autopsy. There was no evidence that anyone had killed him. No DNA was present on Hayden’s corpse other than his own. But I knew what killed him. It was whatever creature that had been stalking us. The face in the forest.
And I know what “Wrong One” means now.
Every day, the creature grows closer. I can tell what it looks like now. Hairless, gray, mottled skin, long, gangly limbs that end in hands and feet with razor sharp nails, and a long, thin head with sunken black eyes that never blink. I lock my windows and doors every night and sometimes I can hear it scratching at the glass of my window pane. It wants in. It wants me. And… and when it grows impatient enough, nothing will stop it.
Nothing will stop the face amongst the trees from taking me.