Forest of ShadowsMature

There was something gone from American life, that used to be there… In many ways, the land of the free and the home of the brave was much the same as it had always been, but in some small, almost invisibly subtle way, it had changed. It was no longer a place where you could raise your children without them taking up the vices and bad habits of the generation before them; drugs, cheating, or that classic bugaboo of dozens of generations of broken families, putting the booze bottle (or whatever intoxicant they so chose) before the wife and kids. Unlike most of the slums and dead-end rural communities that dotted the nation, Fairweather Washington was a different place. Like most small towns along the Cascade Mountains, Fairweather was a tight-knit community where everybody pretty much knew one another, and inner-city parents sometimes moved their families before they could be corrupted by the problems in mainstream America.

Fairweather was surrounded by woods, with a huge blue, crystal-clear lake, only about a 15 minutes walk outside town. From Main Street, you had a stunning view of the light blue, snow-capped features of Mount Rainier. The sheer beauty and perfection of it all, was almost startling. As such things are though, it was taken for granted. Never once did it ever occur to the comfortably overweight, cheery mayor, the doting parents on the PTA, the towns four cops, or the generally care-free citizens of Fairweather, that it might all be too good to be true. Never did it occur to them that some freak twist of fate, or divine (or wicked) twist of fate might someday rip the rug out from under them, and their laid back lives, in the Pacific Northwest paradise of Fairweather. Nobody ever questioned themselves, that it all might come to an end, someday.

This prospect didn’t trouble Jim Reynolds that much either. In fact, it didn’t even register on his mental radar that early Autumn morning, as he stuffed a wad of tobacco into his pipe and lit it. After the light ‘took‘, as he said, he took a long drag and was about to try his luck at blowing a smoke ring, when he saw the dark figure standing in the tall grass just outside the woods, watching him. Mr. Reynolds gasped and breathed in the smoke and let loose a series of ragged, dry coughs. After he had regained his composure and wiped the tears from his reddened eyes, he looked back towards the tree line.
Nobody there.
He stood up and looked all along the edge of the woods, squinting to see the finer details, hardly breathing, and standing completely still in his concentration. But still…
There was nobody there.

Had he imagined the dark figure among the tall grass and thickets? Maybe it had been a trick of the sun, on his aging eyes. He’s been thinking about updating his eye-glass prescription, the last few months…

There was only one thing wrong with this explanation, though. It hadn’t been all that sunny to begin with, and if there was any lingering doubt that Summer wasn’t over yet, this now overcast morning had put them to rest. There was a light, barely noticeable reddish tint to the overcast, even so. Mr. Reynolds sure noticed it, though. And it only added to his now growing unease.

“Hello?” he called, with a slightly shaky quality to his voice.
Nothing.
“Is anyone out there?”
The only reply he got, was more of the eerie silence.

Mr. Reynolds picked a wrench off his porch’s railing, descended the steps and began to survey the edge of the woods, looking for the mysterious specter. After five minutes of an increasingly doubtful search, Jim Reynolds had become skeptical of whether or not he had actually seen anything at all. After all, he had just woken up. Maybe he’d dozed off without knowing it and simply dreamt of the dark figure? Yes. That was probably it.
Keep telling yourself that, Johnny.
He stopped.
No, this is ridiculous. I didn’t see nothin‘. But ya know what? Just for shits and giggles, why don’t I go take a look-see where he was standing at? Just to see if there’s any footprints or broken twigs or somethin’.
He started walking towards the spot in the overgrown grass and weeds where he thought he’d seen the dark man. As he edged his way towards the spot in the brush, he noticed for the first time since he’d moved here, how a person could think these woods were scary. It wasn’t something you could really put your finger on, but… Well, these woods were a little ominous. The sun never seemed to make much of a dent on the constant darkness, which permeated it. In the countless times that Jim had strolled through them in the years after returning from Vietnam and buying the place, he had often noticed that the woods always seemed to be gripped by perpetual twilight.
Well, I’m not going into the woods. I’m going to that little stand in the grass. Just to look.
Yes, just for shits and giggles. As Mr. Reynolds neared the spot, he didn’t see anybody or anything, and he sighed a sigh of relief.

…But as he came upon the spot, his stomach did a sickened back flip. There was a circular patch of dead, blackened grass, that was about four feet in diameter, where the man had been. It wasn’t black because it was burnt, it was simply black. He was gripping the wrench he’d been holding so tight that his knuckles were white and he was looking left and right, trying to decide what to do next, when he heard the voice behind him.

“Is something wrong?”
It wasn’t what a person would normally think of as a frightening voice, but Jim Reynolds had never been so scared in all his life. The voice was smooth and quiet. It put Jim in mind of a cold wind. It was the voice of the devil. Not turning around, Jim addressed the man.
“What are you doing on my land, and what do you want?”
What had been intended as a hostile growl turned into little more than an old man’s whimper. The fear in Jim’s face must have been obvious to this boogie man who had seen fit to show up in his front yard, because he started cackling a high pitched laugh, that came right from the depths of his gut.
“You look like the kid that got caught pissing in the bathtub, friend!”
He slapped his knee and continued to chuckle. Not once throughout this bout of near maniacal laughter however, did the man’s facial expression changed. It was entirely the same as it had been when Jim had gotten his first good look at it and noticed the deep pools of black, where his eyes should have been. Even though he sounded like he was laughing, Jim knew he wasn’t, by looking into the abyss that was this man’s face. It wasn’t that he saw anger there, or the dripping sarcasm that usually comes with false laughter; it was the fact that there wasn’t anything there, that helped Jim come to this eventual conclusion. In the later years, as he lay on his death bed, and all the other memories of his life had become murky and mostly washed away from the chalkboard that was his mind and he had trouble recalling the names of his dead wife and kids, the blank look of this man’s unsympathetic, uncaring face would always be with him.

The man’s face was very plain. There wasn’t one distinguishing feature on his face such as lines or blemishes, that would’ve given a clue as to his age. The only thing that was at all remarkable about him, apart from his paper-pale skin, and the way his black eyes made a person feel like they were being examined by an X-ray, was the odor that he seemed to exude. It reminded Jim of the sickly sweet smell of rotting food, or a steak that’s been left out on the countertop for too long on a hot day.

The corner of the… “man’s” lips twitched into a dark, barely noticeable smile. Unlike the laugh, this was real.
It’s ‘cause he knows I’m scared.
He ran his fingers through his slicked-back hair. He had a crudely wrought iron ring on one of them with a large red gem in the middle of it, which had a thin, lightning-shaped crack running down the middle of it.

“Hey, now… I was just wondering if you could tell me where we are.”, he asked in that smooth, quiet voice of his, his eyes boring into Jim.
“Well, you’re in… You’re in…”, Jim began to say something along the lines of, Well, you’re in my yard, motherfucker, but couldn’t quite muster the courage to do so, so he started again, after clearing his flemmy throat.
“You’re in Fairweather.”
“Where?”
“Fairweather.”
“Yes, I know that.”, said the man pleasantly. “What state?”

Jim was flabbergasted. “Well Washington, of course!” He pointed his finger over the trees to his right. “Can’t you see the mount-”, his voice trailed off. “tain?”
Mount Rainier was gone. What was usually a glorious view of the mountain from this point was now only a view of sky. That sky, that had seemed only to be tinted slightly red only moments ago, but was now a pale violet color. Jim turned in a complete circle, scanning the horizon for the newly disappeared Mount Rainier.

“And what’s the date?”, asked the man.
Frightened tears stood in the eyes of Jim Reynolds’s old, tired face. “Where’d the mountain go?”, he asked confusedly. “Where’d the-”
“The date. Tell me the date.”, the monster on Jim’s property demanded sharply.
Jim’s thoughts were all scrambled. He had to think.
“Um, the twenty-eighth. The twenty-eighth of September.”
“Ah. Well done!” the man clapped his hands together, in mocking applause. “Now that wasn’t so hard, was it?”
Jim was now very still. “Are you going to kill me?”
The dark man looked thoughtfully into the woods, as if looking for a long lost lover. “Well, I haven’t ruled it out… I don’t really see any need for bloodshed yet, though.”

The End

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