Diary of a woodland survivalist
An interactive Halloween special, not for the faint of heart. For the full experience, hit play and listen with headphones.
Last night I heard howling. Again. I’m not sure how far away it was. Closer than I’d like. If they do come closer…
Sam made a mistake. A stupid one. Thinking silver birch bark would have same effect as actual silver. It does not. He learned the hard way.
Yesterday I thought I saw something through the window. A man. I’m sure it was a man. Then, I have been here alone for almost three weeks. Maybe I’m starting to see things.
I’ve had to ration now. Portion out the remaining volume of each precious tin. Who knew convenience food could taste so good? Today I ate ten baked beans, a spoon of cold spaghetti hoops and something that I think used to be meat. Thank god whoever previously owned the cabin bought in bulk.
Things have gotten worse. So. Much. Worse.
The good news? I did see a man, so I’m not crazy.
The bad news? He wanted my brains rather than my looks, if you catch my drift. Oh, and he brought friends!
The sort you smell before you see. Pestilence. Decay. Rotting flesh. It crawls up your nostril and hibernates.
They tried the window, scraping, clawing, moaning as they pushed each other aside. Carelessly clambering over the broken glass. Led by their lust the wanted the quickest route in — and they’d left the door clear.
The only pro of living these days is that you’re always packed and ready to go.
I figured things would be safer deeper into the forest. The cities are gone now and who knows what’s living in the remnants?
I’d been living in the cabin so long I didn’t know what to do without a bed. I never was great at the outdoors stuff. The first night was torture. The cold ripped at my toenails. It hurt so much I wanted to scream. But you can’t scream here. Never scream.
It didn’t rain, mercifully. As I lay painfully awake, I remembered taking Gracie to a forest summer camp. The kids made shelters out of sticks. I thought it was all just for fun.
Now I know watching that forester build a shelter saved my life.
So now, I have a small but somewhat sturdy roof over my head. It keeps me dry, but it wouldn’t keep anything out. They know how to get in. They’ll do whatever it takes.
I’ve managed not to starve to death. It’s mostly thanks to Sam’s foraging guide. Sam was smart — in some ways. While everyone was fighting over the dying embers of the internet, he was raiding libraries. Searching for books that would help him get through. This was before they started burning books for fuel.
After he was gone, I grabbed the few I could carry. Less than I’d have liked. Cabin supplies were running out fast. So I figured it was time to explore what I can eat out there. I’ve been super careful to only eat stuff I can ID. It would be too ironic to survive everything until now — and then croak it on a poisonous mushroom.
As I kid I was obsessed with Robin Hood. I dressed solely in green for a year, to my parents’ chagrin. But I did get pretty handy with my bendy bow. No one could shoot a suction cup arrow like yours truly. Today I decided it was time for an upgrade. A necessary one.
I heard yew trees make good longbows. Good elastic strength, apparently. Thank you Tree ID guide. I can even pick a yew out of a (forestry) crowd.
So, armed with my trusty penknife, I go to work. Now I know why people don’t fell trees with knives. I spent a day making my hands bleed. Blistering as I sawed, bent and tied. I’m no craftsperson, and my hands are shot, but I’m pretty proud of my bendy creation.
Last night wild garlic saved my life. I have never, ever been more thankful for the food I’ve found. Yesterday it was cep mushrooms and wild garlic. Under different circumstances, it would have been quite civilised. I lit a fire.
It was my first hot meal since I left the cabin. I ate until I was sick.
In the middle of the night I woke up suddenly, pulled out of a dream by a weird feeling something wasn’t right. I couldn’t hear anything. No snapping twigs, no breathing, no desperate calls for help. Just…silence.
I finally opened an eye and drank in the darkness of the shelter. I wished I hadn’t. A face. White, with dark smears, congealed and pulpy. I always imagined I’d be cool in the face of death. Calm and collected.
I screamed. And screamed and screamed. And the wild garlic saved my life. The benefits of sacrificing dental hygiene when wild camping. Whatever had crept into my shelter had bolted at the smell. I tried not to take it personally.
When I finally built up the courage to look outside, there was nothing. I rubbed the garlic leftovers all over the shelter entrance, but I couldn’t get back to sleep. I just sat staring out into the forest, waiting for something else to appear. Only the sun showed up, five hours hours later.
After the incident, I’ve decided to take precautions. I’ve been coasting on luck, and that’s due to run out.
I had a book about witchcraft in Scotland as a kid. You know, the sort of light reading goth kids with a penchant for the occult might carry around. I remembered the rowan trees. They were planted to protect against witchcraft and enchantment. I always loved the aggressively red berries — each with a little pentagram on the underside.
I had to venture out of the forest to find the tree I was after, back into the outskirts of a small village nearby. It was so quiet I almost had to pinch myself to believe it. All it’s inhabitants had gone, and I don’t know where. I don’t think I want to know.
There were traces of them everywhere. White washing billowed abandoned on forgotten lines.
The shop had been stripped clean of food, goods and even the fixtures had been the victim of a smash and grab. Stains of desperation.
I restocked my matches and twine, and bagged up the few remaining chocolate bars and tinned goods. The rowan tree I had remembered remained untouched, bar the weird circle of salt that had been poured around it.
The tree was an odd sight, standing proud and alone in this empty husk of a village. I pulled out my penknife and stepped over the line of salt, preparing to cut some branches down.
I can’t describe the sensation that ran through my body. It was like being too hot and cold at the same time. A sense of sadness and fear flashed through my mind.
I propped myself up against the tree for support, dropping the penknife with a clatter to the ground.
I wish I had stayed in my shelter that day. That I hadn’t decided to be brave and explore. I wish I had decided to forage for food, or collect water. I wish I had done anything but set foot in that village.
As I bent down to pick up my knife I heard a noise around me. Quiet like a whisper but echoing all around me. A sound of branches bending, animal talons scratching stone, raspy breath being drawn in.
An odd smell surrounded me, forcing itself up into my nose. Death was in the air.
I didn’t need to turn around to know what was there.
It had taken Gracie. It had taken my parents. It had taken the people I loved most in the world. And now, it was going to take me.
I closed my eyes and waited for everything to happen.
Wait, what w………