Today started out as any other normal morning as I was doing my rounds around the trails. I was patrolling to make sure everything was safe, and no one and nothing was on the trail that could hurt anyone. I always love the cold chill of October mornings in the woods. They reminded me of when I was a boy scout in middle school. Every October we would take a camping trip, and the mornings when it was silent, was my favorite part. I feel at peace in the woods. I was almost done with my rounds and back in my jeep when the call came through. A gentleman, about thirty years old, was missing and four of his friends. It was reported that he was about 6’ 2”, blond short hair, deep blue eyes, and has a tattoo of an arrow on his upper right arm. He and his friends were out camping for a week, but haven’t been heard from in ten days. We were supposed to look out for any clues that might tell us where he, or where his friends were. I had just walked every inch and decided to just go back to headquarters and tell them where I had already been patrolling.
When I got back to my office, a tall slender woman, probably about twenty five, was crying and describing who the missing gentleman was in relationship to her. She would sob and then tell a detail and start over. They were to be married in a week and his friends took him camping before they said “I Do”. I slid into my desk and went to work, but listened to her at the same time. She was telling my co-worker that the man missing was very sweet and even tempered, that he had no enemies and asked, “Who would want to do this to him?” She had been dating him for five years, knew all his acquaintances and friends, and said adamantly, “no one would hurt him”.
My co-worked asked her for a list of names of the friends who were with him. No one was at the camp site. Everything was left, the tent, cars, camp stove, but no men were around. It looked like no one had possibly been there in days. Trash was torn open, clothes thrown about, but no one was in the woods at all as far as I knew. After she said there were four friends with him, I took off again to do another check at the site and see if any clues were there that would indicate where they all went. How could five grown men just disappear? No trace, nothing.
I drove out again to their assigned camp site. I went through their trash. Tore all that remained out of their tents, looked in all the vehicles and nothing! I had already checked all over, why did I expect to find something this time? I could not help fear that something horrible had happened to them all. I decided to go walk the trails again and this time, walk slower, take a flashlight to shine it on everything, and see if I couldn’t find some clues. I was not prepared for what I found.
I remember this day being cold and damp out. The leaves were peeping different colors. I think it was later into October when I found the body. It had been a month since this gentleman and his four friends went camping and disappeared. It looked like someone, maybe something, ate at the body for days. I knew this was the person, fitting this man’s description, which was reported to us at the state park department last month. Well from what was left of him. There was his arm with the arrow tattoo and not a whole lot more. That arrow looked familiar though I could not think where I had seen it before. What in these woods could have done such a thing to a human in so little time? And where are the four friends who were also reported missing? I walked around the area where I found the body and saw strange claw marks on some lower tree trunks. They did not appear to be human or bear. They were huge in size and deeply scratched into the tree. Something with immense muscles would have been able to make these marks. I started to fear for my safety and got back in the jeep and called in what I had found and my location to headquarters. I waited safely in the vehicle until the local cops arrived and I tried to go back to work. I tried to wipe the horrific scene from my mind. What I had seen mortified me and that arrow tattoo, where had I seen that arrow before. I decided to take the day off. I felt sick to my stomach and had had enough.
I no sooner got my front door of my apartment shut then my doorbell rang. I opened the door and to my surprise the fiancée was at the door. She smiled deviously at me, which sent a shiver down my spine. How had she known where I lived? Did she follow me? She said nothing and sauntered into my apartment. I closed the door, but little did I know what was to follow.
As soon as I shut the door I felt a stabbing pain in my heart. She was standing about five feet from me and seemed to be muttering something. In a flash the pain stopped and she asked me to sit down on my own couch. Ummm, this was my place, but I sat down because my knees were about to give way. She impressed upon me how her finance’s death was an accident. She kept saying he was careless, how he was in the wrong spot, how he was supposed to be elsewhere. She kept repeating that nothing was in the woods that shouldn’t be. I soon began to realize she was hiding information on her fiancés death. Wasn’t this the lady who was just in tears at headquarters hours before? Did she not say just today to do any and everything we could to find out what happened? I began to suspect she was in on the murder, maybe responsible for releasing the monster that killed him, but how?
I asked her if she wanted a glass of water. She instead told me her name was Emma and before I knew what happened I was now feeling dizzy and faint. A dizziness that crept over me inch by inch starting in my feet and gradually, slowly worming its way up my body. I was wobbling now, trying to get to the kitchen. She kept repeating that nothing was in the woods that shouldn’t be. I wondered if she was in the woods when he was attacked. I got the feeling again that she knew more than she was saying. I got up to get us the water, which she hadn’t answered to , but I thought it better to get her some then sit there doing nothing. I was feeling dizzy again and her mouth seemed to be moving, but no sound was coming out. What was going on? I was thinking I was losing my mind.
The last thing I remember was going to get us the water. I woke up and was in my bed fully dressed. How did I get here? I remember her being in my apartment, but she was a small lady. Maybe one hundred pounds and tiny in size, maybe 4’ 5”. It is not possible for her to get me into bed, but then again, there wasn’t something not natural about her. Something eerie, something hidden in her eyes, but I had no idea what.
I moved slowly toward the shower and had a stabbing headache. I pushed through it and turned on the hot water and gently slid into the shower. I began to go over the day in my head. I remembered the morning and all the details, but after she showed up, I was drawing a blank. I showered and got into my uniform for work. So many things were irking me. To top off everything that day I kept thinking of that arrow. I remember it, but why would I know it. I don’t hunt, nor shoot archery. I am involved with nothing that has anything to do with arrows. This detail was going to bother me until I figured it out.
I got into the jeep and started the car. My right forearm started throbbing and itching. I pulled up my sleeve and I had a tattoo on my arm, the arrow I had seen on the victim. Had she done something to me? Some sort of mark? Was I next to die? My mind was racing. I went to back out of my parking lot and saw her in my rearview mirror. I turned back to put the car in park and turned back and she was in the passenger seat. How did she move so fast? I did not even hear her walking. She said good morning like we had just met casually. I asked her what was going on. She said drive to work and I will tell you a tale along the way. I had no reason to believe her, but drove onto work as I was heading that way anyways.
She told me she was really 300 years old. I said, “Well you look good for your age.” I was half intrigued and half scared to death. She said she hides in the woods. That evil forces were at work and after her. I asked if she did something wrong perhaps something involving drugs, but then I realized she was serious about being 300 years old. “How could that be?” I asked her. She explained to me she was a witch. She believed in doing only good deeds and only used her magic for healing. That she was being forced to do evil against her will or she would be responsible for more humans dying. I began to worry again. I asked her if she knew how I got this arrow on my arm. She said she put it there with a spell to protect me. Just like she did to the man who was her fiancé. Now I was really afraid. He was just brutally attacked.
I drove into the state park. I put the car in park to open the gate by headquarters. When I turned back to my car she was gone. Now I was wondering about my mental health. I wouldn’t believe I even saw her or talked to her, well except for this arrow tattoo on my arm. I felt a shiver go through my whole body. I loved the woods, but today they seemed like my enemy waiting to devour me whole. They were going to suck my soul out of me and spit my body out for that creature to murder me next.
I was flustered from all that had happened. I was marked. Marked for death? Protection? I could not tell what this witch was saying or doing to me. I checked in at headquarters and went out for my daily trail walk. I figured I was safe as the police had checked the whole area and found nothing and also that Emma kept saying that there was nothing in the woods that did not belong, but honestly I felt she could not be trusted.
I loaded my gun, which I normally do not take on my hikes, and headed out. I decided not to tell my co-workers about the supposed witch, after-all who would believe me? The first trail went along the river side of the park. It was a short quarter mile of a trail and I had done it a million times. It was flat and easy, so I walked slowly to clear my head. I heard an owl hoot. I looked up and there was a snow white barn owl. How odd. I thought about the owl for a min, wait aren’t owls out at night? I walked on. I finished my first trail and headed out to the second. Each trail is marked by a small square colors on the trees, so that people coming into the park could follow them easily. I started my second trail which was three miles into the woods, around a lily pond, and back around to the road. About half way down the trail, I noticed the square colors on the trees, they were arrows now. Same shape as the one on my arm. Hmm odd, but maybe they decided to change the trail markers at headquarters and did not tell me. I didn’t think too much of it at the time.
Halfway through this second trail I heard a distant noise. I thought I heard chanting and drums. I decided to steer off the path and follow the noise. The arrows on the path trees were now leading me somewhere. I followed them deep into the woods and in a cleared out circle, there she was, dancing and chanting. All I needed was to see a cauldron and I would have fainted. I stayed some distance away and watched. There seem to be nothing dangerous going on, but my fear froze me and I stay put. I stepped on a branch and it snapped and the noise traveled. She turned to look but could not see me, somehow though I knew she knew it was me. She continued on with her chanting and all of a sudden she stopped. A black cloud appeared over the circle and fell to the ground with a loud thud. She turned to look in the direction I was in, as if she was warning me to be quiet. When the cloud cleared there stood the most horrific looking being I had ever seen. I think it was a man. It looked like it was an animal, a man, a vampire all in one and it seemed to keep shape shifting. It asked her which form frightened her less, she said a human, and he said as you wish and turned himself into a human. He seemed to be doing something to her. She was off the ground in an instant and wriggling around as if she was in pain. Kicking through the air as he was telling her something. I wanted to help, but feared for my own life. I could hear him threatening her. Do I dare move? He put her down and began to speak to her.
“Did you find me another human sacrifice my dear or do I need to harm someone you care about again?”
She fell to the ground and hit it hard. Her arm was bleeding from being smashed into a large rock.
“I am working on someone right now” she said.
“You have three more days and then, I take you and torture you as my bride forever!”
She looked so tiny all of a sudden that I wanted to save her, but another loud noise in the sky, another black cloud and he was gone. I ran to her side to check on her and her arm. There was no blood. I had seen it bleed. There was no cut, she was not hurt at all. She was trembling though in fear. I said, “I thought you said there was nothing in the woods that did not belong in the woods”. She said at the time, she thought she had gotten rid of him. She thought she was so well hidden in the woods, that he wouldn’t locate her. I said well how did he find you than, she said that with using her magic to make the arrow mark of protection on me that he must have found her that way. She explained that every time she does magic it sends a spot light on her throughout the universe.
I tried to get her to leave the woods. She refused. It was then that I noticed a small dwelling back a bit from the circle. She lived out here. I asked her if she killed the man she called her fiancé. She said she did not, nor did she plan on turning him over to that thing, that shadow walker. She pleaded that he must have followed her one day and seen him with her in town. She ran off into her house crying. I didn’t know what to do. Was she telling me the truth or would I be the next man dead? Next thing I know, the owl who hooted earlier flew into her house before she could shut the door.
I suddenly did not feel like checking the rest of the trails. I was exhausted mentally and physically. I went back to my desk and sat. I sat pouring over the report of the ripping apart of her now ex fiancé. I did not know what to believe, but I knew I had to go back out and talk to her some more. First though some coffee and try and gather my thoughts. I needed a plan. I needed answers. 300 years old? Is it even possible she is that old? A shadow walker? My head throbbed, my arm itched, and I was exhausted.
Once my head was cleared, I decided to go back out to her house in the woods and speak with the witch. I needed some answers. I packed up some food for her, do witches eat food? Well surely they do, and I hiked back out. It was the second trail this morning, so since I always did them in order I easily remembered which one. When I got to where I thought the house was at, there was no house. There was a pile of leaves pressed down onto the ground like something had been on it, but nothing was there. I couldn’t make any sense of this.
I back tracked through the trail and tried again. Nothing. Hmm?? I decided to do my walk through the next trail. I started in and heard a strange whistling. A song. It seemed to be something I remembered, but where did I know it from? It took me a minute and I remembered all of a sudden, Cub Scout camp. We used to sing it and whistle it as we hiked. The arrow. It was the arrow of light in Cub Scouts. How did I forget that? Ok so now I had a link. This yellow arrow, sign of being ready to advance into Boy Scouts. How was the witch using it? Was I advancing to my death with her? I needed answers.
I went into the farthest point of this third trail and sang the song. I called to her. I used her name, Emma, Emma. I turned around to look in all directions. By the time I had tuned 360 degrees she was right next to me and I jumped straight out of my skin. She smiled and said, “You called for me my love.” Um yes Emma yes I did call for you. I need some answers. Can you give them to me? Her eyes looked defeated, exhausted, and she sat down on a fallen log and summoned me to sit next to her. I asked about the arrow. She said she truly loved her future husband and placed it on him the first time she senses danger was lurking. Since I was walking where the murder happened, she wanted to protect me from being killed also. It turned out though that the creature follows the marks to kill and she did not know this when she placed it on me. Now I knew my life was in danger.
I asked her what was going to happen. She said she would protect me since it was her fault that the arrow was now on me. Now I knew for sure my life was in danger. She said she did not fight the creature before, not even when it was killing the love of her life. She assured me that she could have protected him. She said she would stay with me day and night from now on to make sure I was safe till she knew this demon was gone.
The next day was a crisp October morning and Emma moved into my apartment. She had one large carpet bag. She pulled things out of it like a grandfather’s clock, table, pots, jars of spices, clothes, shoes, chairs and she kept pulling till my apartment was furnished with all her belongings. I just looked at her and the bag in wonderment.
I felt safer already, than a knock on the door and we both jumped. So much for feeling safer.
It was just the neighbor saying how nice it was to have a lady living next door. She welcomed Emma to the building and gave her a hug. She left soon after and we sat down to talk. She told me her life’s story and began 300 years ago. She was born a virtuous witch. Never to do malevolent spells. When her family was murdered one night, she escaped by running into the woods. She did not learn till centuries later that the demon was the one who killed her family. She had been hiding in different cities and centuries since.
My arrow on my arm started stinging. Then a deep burn and I doubled over in pain. I could hear Emma chanting and I was sure she was the cause of this pain. I yelled at her to stop it. She kept chanting and after a min she fainted straight away and was sprawled out on the floor. My arm was still in massive pain and the door blew open. The demon was in human form and ready to kill again. He blew into the apartment and I felt like I was hit with lightening and fell to the grown and instantly passed out next to Emma.
When I awoke I was in unfamiliar surroundings. I was bound up by twigs. Was that even possible? I tried to move and the twigs tightened around me. I knew that the human figure I was seeing was the demon by the black pools in his eyes. A second later I saw him coming toward me again.
Ahh you are awake my friend? It will be better to hear your screams of pain as I shred you and kill you now.
I couldn’t think. Where was Emma? Wasn’t she just with me in my apartment? How did I get in this, this, what is this? A cave?
Slash! Searing pain shot down my leg. The demon had clawed open my leg and I was bleeding immensely and I was in insurmountable pain. I screamed out. I screamed the loudest blood curling scream anyone had ever heard. The burning sensation and horrible pain was too much. He seemed to laugh. Again he slashed at me. The same spot so it hurt more. I wriggled in pain, trying hard not to scream, but it escaped my mouth and the demon laughed loudly. He was enjoying my pain so enormously.
I heard a noise and tried to look, but the twigs came up around my head and grabbed it tightly, so I could not move nor barely breath. I know I heard something. The demon, fixed eyes upon me heard nothing. I heard it again, a whimper, a moan, what was that? This time it was loud enough that the demon heard it too and literally flew toward it. I heard Emma yell, NO NO! And a loud bang. I had no idea what was going on. It was so dark now and Emma was just a voice across what I thought was a circle in the woods.
I heard Emma chanting again and saw flashes of light. I then saw the black cloud up over me and knew the demon had taken that form, so Emma could not fight him. She ran to me and tried to heal my gashing leg wounds. As she started the healing a great flash happened and the demon appeared again. This time he had others with him. They grabbed Emma. They put her in this glass case. She looked like a scared child in there. She could do know magic while contained. Her eyes bulging out of her sockets, her face frozen in terror, she could only watch as I was killed literally piece by piece.
The demon approached me again. Looked at my arrow mark and said, “Ah she really loved you.”
Loved? Past tense? , I thought what is the meaning of all this. Then Slash again and the flesh that had the arrow on it was gone. He said, “ well not anymore, your mark is now gone, she will mark someone else.” Emma marked people to be killed. Now I knew. She lied, she used me and now I will pay for her loving me. I will die at the hands of this creature.
The others had formed a circle around me. Enjoying my being brutally shredded to pieces like Emma’s dead fiancé. Over and over the demon attacked me. I was bleeding now out of my arms, legs, and torso. I gave up hope of surviving and made peace with my dying. I would not scream out again. I would not let this thing have the satisfaction of hearing me scream in agony.
All of a sudden a loud shattering of glass and somehow Emma was free. She knew all attention was now on her. The demon’s companions all wanted their turn at attacking this witch. This witch who stopped so many others from being harmed, because of her love, her kindness, and her being a good witch. Well at least that is what I thought. I really did not know her well and still was not sure if she was a light or dark witch.
I was still confined and bleeding. It was too much for her to help me. She fought off as many demons as she could and a loud ringing was heard and she was gone. She left me here to die. I had no mark because it had been torn from my flesh. She did that to me, she put it there. I was glad she was gone. Glad she showed who she really cared about, herself!
As I lay there sure to die, the other demons left. The head warlock, demon, monster whatever said he wanted to kill me alone. He set a spell into motion and the twigs let me go. He knew I was dying and no threat to him tied up or not. He knew I was bleeding and would soon be dead. He just wanted to play cat and mouse for a while and have his fun with me while I still had air in my lungs.
Just then I heard a loud ringing again and Emma appeared once more. I wondered if she could save me. If she had a chance or if she came back to help finish me off. I wondered if she really loved me or just used me. I knew I would get no answers.
The demon welcomed her back. He embraced her and she let him. What was going on? Was this some sick game they played with humans? I was getting woozy and felt like I was going to pass out. I had managed to claw and crawl my way into a corner. I don’t know what I was thinking. Not like they couldn’t follow the blood trail to find me.
They stopped talking and both looked at me. At that moment I knew I was dead, but Emma winked at me and the demon didn’t see. I couldn’t figure this out and then I passed out.
When I woke up once again I was back in my apartment. I was in one piece and not even a scratch on me. I wasn’t sure what happened and thought maybe it was all a dream. I looked at my arm. The arrow was gone. All of Emma’s belongings were gone. I heard a knock on the door. I hoped it was Emma. It was my neighbor. She said she hadn’t seen me go out in a few days and wanted to make sure I was ok. I asked her if she had seen Emma. She responded with saying she knew no one by that name. I said the lady who moved in with me a little while ago. She said no one had moved in and wanted to know if I was ok. I said I was and closed the door.
She left and I sunk into the couch. I thought for sure I was hurt. I remember the screaming I did and the pain I felt, but my body had no mark on it. Not even that arrow. I decided in the morning to go out to Emma’s house and ask her directly what was going on.
I headed to bed and tripped over a book. I didn’t look at it and tossed it on the couch. I didn’t wash up, but just fell into bed. I don’t know what happened all day or week, but I knew my body was exhausted. I fell into a deep slumber.
Ten hours later I went to work and started my day going through my trails. I called to Emma, but no answer this time. I searched for the owl, but none were out. I tried singing, yelling, summoning by chanting anything I could think of and sadly nothing. No response.
I thought I was losing my mind. I headed back to headquarters and tripped over something on the way. I stumbled, but caught myself and drove back to my office. I had asked the other rangers if the murder was solved. They all looked at me with worried glances. What murder?, they all asked.
I said the young man who was mauled to death? They said there hadn’t been a murder in the park in decades.
I decided to go take a walk even though I had just come in from one. I went to my favorite spot in the woods and just sat. Was I dreaming it all? It all felt so real. So horrifying. How was my subconscious thinking this all up? What was that item I tripped over? I hadn’t paid attention.
I walked back to my car and called in saying I was ill and going home. My boss agreed I needed a day off and said to lay down and rest. I got back to my apartment and sunk onto my couch. The book I tossed the night before poked me in the back. I pulled it out and looked at it. It was a book on witches. I knew it wasn’t mine. I opened the book and looked through it. Halfway through I saw a picture of a lady who looked like Emma.
The lady in the book winked at me just like Emma did and then the book vanished. What was going on? I was too tired and stressed out to make sense of it and I fell asleep for what seemed like days. I decided I was going to get to the bottom of this. I walked to my fridge to get some water and on my freezer door was a magnet with an arrow. Underneath the arrow it said, “Follow the light and you shall not be lost.”
I then and there decided to leave it all alone. I knew it was real and I escaped with my life. Why would I ever want to risk my life again? Especially for a witch which I still wasn’t sure if she was good or evil. I went to my room to lay down. There on my nightstand was a rock, probably the one I tripped over in the woods. It wasn’t there in this morning. Etched into it was an Arrow. The same one I remember being marked with. Emma was watching over me, but why? To kill me another time or protect me? I drifted off to sleep and left it alone. I would never know and I would always believe she was good, but I just didn’t know. I was simply happy to have made it out of this chapter of my life alive. Happy to have more crisp October days to live out.