We have all heard the legends, of the creatures that live in the woods and call them home. But no one really knows what's in them once the sun goes down.
The children and young people especially are warned from birth to avoid the woods whenever possible and to avoid the sounds of voices when they cannot.
I remember well that dark night when I and my companion learned the legends were true. I was 14, and thought I knew everything.
So when the village elders warned us all not to go into the woods, I knew to heed the warning,
but Jasper had asked me to meet him and a chance to be alone with him was more tempting than the idea of evading some elusive monster.
The men of the village claimed it was a wolf, and I had no reason to doubt them. It had evaded capture for nigh on ten years, so clearly it was clever.
However, I knew men who claimed the woods held nothing but shadows and no one had ever actually seen the wolf. In fact, no one had seen anything, which is in itself frightening.
It's well known that the animals all disappear at night, as if something tells them to escape and they alone follow it's call.
Everyone in the village knows a story of someone who walked into the woods and never returned. One would assume there would be evidence of their departing, but there never is.
The Elders tell us it is because the woods are too large to search everywhere but I know now that that is a lie.
The creature in the woods never leaves a trace and as horrible as the stories were of it, they did not do it justice.
I found myself in then woods later than I intended, and almost worried that Jasper wouldn't be there. But he was, hiding in the bushes and waiting to jump out and scare me.
I was expecting it though so I kept turning around to see if I could see him before he saw me.
I wasn't successful but that hardly mattered at the time, because soon I was in his arms and he was kissing me.
I felt my heart flutter for a brief moment before I heard the screaming and suddenly my heart was racing for an entirely different reason.
At first, I thought it was just a girl, but as she continued to scream, I realized I recognized the voice.
I told Jasper it was Meredith Hanson, the girl who had disappeared not three days ago.
Our need to help overtook our need to question why she had suddenly appeared when she'd not been found in those three days, not even by expert trackers.
I remember running into the woods, calling out to her to keep yelling so we could find her. But it didn't matter, no matter how fast we ran, her voice always seemed farther ahead of us.
I know now it was because we were being led away from the safety of the village but in our mad dash, we were not thinking of that.
No one told us the creature could mimic voices, or that it was smart enough to understand the concept of a 'trap' and to use cunning and guile to lure its victims exactly where it wanted.
That was why there were no traces of the bodies, because the creature would lure its prey in different directions,
thus not only confusing the prey but also eradicating any chance of following by tracing expected paths. By the time we realized we were following something inhuman, it was too late.
I don't remember much of what happened in the next few seconds. What I do remember is rustling, and Meredith's voice screaming out "HELP ME!' over and over as it drew closer.
I must have turned because the voice came from both behind us and in front of us. I saw something move in the bushes, and then Jasper was gone.
I heard him screaming as something dragged him away, and I tried to follow but something else pulled me to the ground and dragged me back into the trees.
I woke up alone, bloody, long scratches in my back and arms but very much alive.
I returned to the village, where I was both a welcome sight and something of horror. I remember falling unconscious just outside the woods, arms lifting me up and carrying me away.
I was burning with fever and apparently kept babbling as I fought off a strange sickness. When I could hold a thought in my head, I tried to tell everyone I could what had happened.
Some believed me, some did not.
The fact that I, a young girl,
had escaped when someone like Jaspar had not put a sour taste in many people's mouths and it wasn't long before whispers started that maybe I had killed Jaspar and was blaming the beast out of
The church found the gossip more than proof enough to question me and my family. The wounds in my body were seen as proof that I had been attacked, but could not actually prove my innocence.
However, I had been verifiably ill for over a week and in that week,
no less than 6 people had disappeared so clearly whatever was doing the killings in the woods was NOT me as I had been confined to my bed.
The suspicion of Jaspar's death continued to follow me as one by one the villagers turned their backs on me.
I tried to let it go, but soon enough, I could not escape the glares and threats of violence against me.
My parents tried to protect me, even going so far as to send me to my grandmother's for safe keeping. But even there, the darkness followed.
I started dreaming such strange things, and more often than not found myself outside with dirt under my nails. My grandmother called it sleepwalking due to stress and nothing more was said.
I thought I was safe with my grandmother, until the night a group of villagers came to her home demanding me to come with them.
I was pulled from the house, the mob angry and clearly unfeeling as they dragged me back home and chained me to a pole in the middle of the village.
I was told that since my departure, more people had died and that clearly the monster was angry about being cheated out of my flesh so as an offering of peace, I was to be sacrified to it.
I was gagged, and chained tightly, traps placed around me to catch the wolf. And finally a blindfold was put over my eyes so that I would not see death coming.
True to their word, I saw nothing but I heard everything.
The screams, voices I knew as people from the village, screaming the same words over and over again but never deviating as new voices joined in.
These voices changed, turning loud, soft, some stopping suddenly as whoever was screaming had their throats torn out.
They came for me last, something sniffing at me then turning away with a growl before everything was silent once more.