Don’t Go Into the Woods :
Rain fell in small silver pools in the bottoms of potholes that lined the city roads, and bejeweled the apartment windows with tiny liquid beads. On her wooden desk, old turpentine-soaked rags and crusted paintbrushes cluttered the space. The room was dim, except for a light that was clamped on her easel, pointed toward an empty canvas. As her paintbrush danced across the canvas, leaving behind thick globs of color, she began to feel disheartened. On this day, she was particularly uninspired by the still life of plastic fruits and glass bottles she had set up on the window sill. Art was the coals that fed the flames in Julianne’s soul. Painting was the only thing that made her feel like an accomplished human being. She glanced over at her bookshelf and instantly, one book in particular caught her eye. It was one on how to paint landscapes. She thumbed through the pages until she came across a photo of interest: a picture of a forest. Julianne paused for a second, thinking of a way to approach this new painting. She looked around the room at the stacks of unfinished works. I need a change, she thought, and with her new-found inspiration she packed up her supplies – a bag full of assorted brushes, a few blank canvases, and her easel – and kissed her black and white cat Ash on his nose. She packed her things into the backseat and got into her jeep.
By three o’ clock pm, the rain had halted, but the gloomy atmosphere still persisted and a thin blanket of mist yet lingered. Julianne drove out of the city past apartment buildings and concrete districts until the surroundings became increasingly suburban, and eventually, wooded. After a half-hour of driving, the State Forest sign appeared ahead and she turned into the parking lot. She stepped out of the vehicle and inhaled, taking in a lungful of the late-October chill. She threw on a jacket over her hoodie, tucked her fold-up easel under her arm and slung her bag of art supplies over her shoulder. There was a fifteen minute walk along the train tracks that ran parallel to the forest’s edge to get to the opening where Julianne wanted to enter the woods. As she walked further and further down the path, she noticed how although most of the leaves were gone from the trees, the forest was still thick with thicket and thorn bushes. The forest was beautiful though, and Julianne was happiest when she was in the wilderness, among all things natural. The path twisted and turned around bare trees and fallen logs until she stopped at a stream. She became mesmerized by the crystal water that cascaded over the smooth rocks. A satisfied smile showed across her delicate features as she realized she had found the ultimate spot.
Once the canvas was set up on the easel and her paints were out and ready, she lightly sketched the scene first, planning where she would carve the trickling creek through the brown forest on the canvas. She noted exactly where each tree would go, sketching the trunks softly, and where the tiny beams of sunlight would come streaming through the tree branches.
It watched her. It monitored her every move. It curiously turned its head from side to side, watching its prey. The creature usually walked on all fours, but as it stalked her, it crouched on it’s scrawny hind legs. Its front limbs were curved, serrated scythes like that of a praying mantis. It only stood three feet off the ground, at most. It possessed four large black eyes on the top of its head, arranged like that of a spider’s; Four portals of inquisitiveness that stalked with the curiosity of a child, but with the malicious intent of a murderer.
The sudden crunch of a branch a few yards away made Julianne turn around and scan the edge of the foliage directly behind her. There was nothing there…nothing that she could see, and so she went back to her artwork.
It knew that its prey was becoming aware of its presence in the brush and it knew it had to be cautious if it wanted to have a meal. It began to silently scale a tree, digging its mantis-like limbs into the bark. It crept out onto a tree limb overhanging Julianne and peered down at her, its bulbous eyes intensely stalking her. It picked up her delicious scent, and then it began to salivate.
Nightfall was slowly encroaching on the dense forest, and Julianne was adding the finishing brushstrokes to her new piece of artwork. A drop of liquid landed on her cheek and she brushed it off with the back of her hand. Julianne looked up at the forest canopy above her. There was nothing there, but a slight breeze blew through the trees and sent water droplets down to the forest floor. She began to pack up her things.
It had since moved from the tree, and was now watching her from a greater distance. It was becoming desperate now. It needed to make a kill. The blood-thirsty thing decided to move in on her.
As she was about to sling her bag over her shoulder, a screech erupted from the dark brush and she shot straight up. Did she just imagine that? Her subconscious wanted to tell her so very badly that the sound wasn’t real, but her instincts were pleading otherwise. It sounded again; a blood-chilling, high-pitch shriek that lasted for four seconds. It wasn’t earthly at all. Everything about the sound was alarming and it gave her goose bumps. Something was moving toward her in the distance, the underbrush rustling with every step. It started out slow-paced, and then picked up speed. Something was darting towards her. Julianne, being a skilled outdoorswoman, decided she wasn’t going down without trying, and so she ran in the opposite direction.
Ripping through thorn bushes and tree branches, she was sprinting as fast as she could possibly run. She heard the noise again, but this time it was more of a groan. It was only a couple of yards ahead of her. Ahead? She though to herself. This thing is swift. She strained her eyes in what was now turning into darkness. The sun was sinking away behind the trees. She was left alone, without the comfort of day. A tear streamed down her cheek, past her chin, and gently fell to the ground. She could not speak. She could not move. She could only watch as a clawed forelimb curled around the trunk of an evergreen tree in front of her, and then a second limb appeared. Whatever the thing was, it was clinging to the other side of the tree, hanging there a few feet above the ground. Julianne stood there for a while, tears silently pouring out. She was still paralyzed with fear and could only stand there, forced to watch. The creature made its way down the tree trunk to the forest floor and inched toward her. As it neared, she could barely breathe. The hellish thing was so hideous. She tried to utter “oh my God”, but all that came out of her was a whimper. The creature was now directly in front of her, and it was making sounds -almost like radio static, as if it were responding to her whimpers. Her eyes widened as its own empty eyes peered up at her. It began clicking its insect-like mandibles together, ready to seize her. It fiercely roared and screeched, slicing its front limbs through the air. As Julianne put out her hands to defend herself, she was knocked back by the force of the thing, and she tumbled backwards slamming her head on a large stone. Laying on her back, she began to drift away. She could only feel defeated as she watched the disturbing creature crawl towards her. She closed her eyes and prepared herself to be devoured.
A thick fog permeated the forest and sunlight penetrated the forest canopy, signaling the arrival of day. The sun’s rays beat down on Julianne’s pearly facial features and warmed her cold skin. Her eyes opened wide in sudden terror and she inhaled deeply, coming out of shock. She laid there for a while with her red hair wet and matted to her face, then sat up and looked around. Cardinals and blue jays were singing in the canopy above. It was an altogether brighter day, and She was ecstatic and grateful to be alive. Julianne took off her jacket and checked her body. To her utter surprise, she had no wounds other than a few minor scrapes from the thorn bushes. The creature had left her alone. Barely able to stand up, she limped down the path and made her way through the woods. Shrouded in dense mist, the forest now seemed more like a fairytale. The way back to the parking lot was a long one for Julianne as she marched along the train tracks, head held high, and made it to the jeep. She put the keys in the ignition and sped towards the city.
All Julianne could do when she got home was crawl under the covers while her mind raced. What the hell had attacked her? Where did it come from and why was it there? It was obvious the horrid thing was not of Earth; or at least the elusive predator had not been discovered until now.
Something began to scratch and claw at the bedroom door. Julianne lost her breath and began to shake. She started to sob again and watched in horror as the door creaked open and a dark figure darted across the bedroom floor. She pulled the covers tightly over her head as she felt it crawl into bed with her…and then it began to purr.
“Ash!” she proclaimed, pulling the blanket off. Her cat licked her cheek. She had never felt so relieved in her life. She hugged Ash and wept, rocking back and forth. She kissed the tuxedo cat on his white paws and on his neck.
The feeling of relief subsided when she caught a glimpse of two mantis-like forelimbs slowly curl around the doorframe.