My uncle used to take me fishing. At least that’s what he would tell my mother.
And the first few times, he wasn’t even lying. We’d actually roll up to a quiet little pond somewhere off the beaten path---always off the beaten path. He put a rod in my hands and watched me struggle with it for a bit before coming up behind me and gently guiding my arms. “There you go,” he said in his easy drawl. “That’s the way to do it.”
Many times, he would “guide my form.” As our fishing trips went on, his hands gradually found their way from my arms to other places. Before long, there weren’t even ponds. Only secluded areas in the middle of the woods, miles from any road or campsite. In these places, we’d “make a day of it.”
I didn’t like it, but I knew my options. “I’ll tell your mama you wanted it,” he said. I believed him. I didn’t stop to realize that this would incriminate him, too. All I could see was my own shame, and the surest way to make it worse.
Once, on a cold, gray afternoon at the beginning of fall, he took me deeper into the woods than usual. The chill in the air didn’t phase him. “It'll be invigorating,” he said. “The breeze against our skin. Besides, we’ll keep each other warm.” He chuckled lowly and brushed a rough knuckle against my chin. My heart sank.
Twigs and pebbles scraped against my bare back as our “fishing trip” began in earnest. I broke away from a sloppy, beer-soaked kiss for a bit of air, but what filled my lungs wasn’t much better. Mingling with the yeast and hops was an odor of a different kind: half vegetation, half meat, all decomposition. Something had probably died nearby, I reasoned. My uncle didn’t seem to notice or care.
If I hadn’t turned my head to the left at that moment, I might not have seen it. Two eyes---small, back, and squinted---peered out from the brush. For a moment, I just stared at them, blinking, unsure of what I was seeing. All was still. What the hell am I looking at?, I wondered. A trick of the light? No. A moment later it moved, and its full face came into view.
It was dark, and covered completely in coarse hair except for the flesh of its nose, mouth, and around its eyes. These had a shiny, black, leathery skin. My breath left me as I realized all too clearly that this, whatever it was, was not human. Instinct took over.
“Uncle! Uncle!” I shouted, tapping his shoulder with a free hand.
He turned his attention away from the flesh of my neck. “What the fuck are you hollering for?” he demanded.
I pushed him off of me and pointed to the brush. “Over there!” I shouted, but it was too late. The thing had disappeared. The only evidence that it had been there was a gentle shake of leaves as they slotted back into place.
“What?” he asked. “What in hell are you pointing at?”
Good question, I realized. What in actual hell was I pointing at? “Some… kind of animal,” I stuttered.
“You dumb bitch!” my uncle savagely replied. “There ain’t no animal over there!” He turned sharply to face me. “Are you fucking with me?”
My fear over what I had seen was gone in an instant, replaced with something sharper and more immediate. “No, I… I just….”
“You just what?” he spat. “You thought you could get out of it? Thought you could put one over on me?”
The back of his hand smashed against my jaw. My head hit the ground. The stars in my eyes barely had time to fade before he grabbed my face and forced me to look at him. His cheeks flamed and his eyes bulged with rage. “This is what happens when you fuck with me!” he said.
The next few moments are a blur. I hope they stay that way.
Later, as I pulled my sweater back down over my scratched back, I tried to ignore the throbbing in my cheek.
“What are you going to tell your mother?” I heard him ask through lips that clamped a cigarette.
I paused. Tell my mother? What did he want me to say? “Nothing?” I guessed.
“About your face, genius!” he snapped. “She’s gonna notice.”
I hesitated, keeping my eyes trained on his. “I’ll say I fell.” I waited to see if this was right or wrong.
A smile crept over his lips. I was flooded with relief. “Good girl,” he said.
That night, I sat at my bedroom mirror, trying not to feel. It was a losing battle. The reflection in the glass seemed broken to me, disgusting. The longer I looked, the more the tears threatened to flow. It was time to call in the reinforcements.
I reached down and opened a drawer. The gleam of the razor met me and I nearly began to salivate at the thought of the numb relief that was so close at hand. Turning my attention back to the mirror, I raised my arm to examine its underside, revealing the tiny scabbed lines I’d left there so recently---one or two for each "fishing trip." I frowned. There was so little room left, but I was sure I would find a spot. I always did.
The blade had just barely made contact with my flesh when I heard a sound. What was it? Rustling? Shifting? I turned swiftly toward its source, my bedroom window. Instinct overpowered judgement and I raced to look out. Nothing. All I could see was the darkness of night.
And then it hit me. That smell that was somewhere between cabbage and corpse. The same one I noticed before. It was there on the wind, hanging all around me. The memory of those black eyes came flooding back. My breath came out in heavy pants. My muscles locked in terror. My eyes darted around in the darkness looking for any sign of movement, or the glint of moonlight off of any shape that shouldn’t be there. There was nothing.
It was several minutes before I could move again. I looked down at the razor, still clutched in my hand. The urge had passed, so back into the drawer it went. After that, there was nothing left to do but turn out the lights, climb underneath the covers, and pass out until morning.
The next weekend, my uncle came calling again, and I braced myself for another “fishing trip.” It was another cold, gray day. This comforted me. It seemed to promise that winter was on its way, and maybe the colder months would put a stop to our outings. I could hope, at least.
We landed at a secluded spot at the base of a cliff. “This is the place,” my uncle said. “It’s nice. Quiet. No one around to bug us.”
I shivered. Whether it was from the cold or the sentiment, I couldn’t tell. Then, the words came up from somewhere within me. I didn’t know from where. I hadn’t planned to say them, but they were out before I knew it. “I don’t want to.”
My uncle abruptly stopped undoing the buttons on his shirt. He narrowed his eyes at me. “What’d you say?”
I swallowed. No turning back now. “I said I don’t want to.”
Twigs snapped under his feet as he inched toward me. His voice was low and even. “What do you mean you don’t want to?”
Instinctively, I moved backward. “I don’t like this,” I said as my body began to shake. “It’s wrong.”
My uncle closed the gap between us so quickly, I lost the air from my lungs. He seized my wrist and thrust my back sharply against the rock face. I could feel his sandpaper skin scrape against mine. His sour breath assaulted my nostrils. “Just when did I ever ask for your opinion?” he asked.
“Stop it,” I begged meekly. “You’re hurting me.”
He laughed. “You have no idea how much you’re gonna hurt.”
As he pressed his lips violently to mine, there was a change in the air. I don’t know which I noticed first. It could have been that rotting smell, or the pounding of feet along the forest floor as they headed straight for us. Before I could react, my uncle was ripped away from me, and there it was: the creature I had seen before.
It couldn’t have been less than eight feet tall, and covered in hair from head to toe. Even so, I could see the rippling muscle that bulged beneath its fur. It grunted ferociously as it gripped my uncle’s neck and hoisted him into the air.
For all the blurry moments I spent in those woods, I will never forget what happened next. The creature slammed my uncle to the ground with a bestial roar. My uncle screamed and flailed, looking more like a rag doll than a man. Wasting no time, the creature pounced on him. I watched, frozen, as it took my uncle’s head in its hands. With one quick and deliberate jerk, it was all over. A loud crack echoed off the rocks. A family of birds bolted from a tree. My uncle fell limp.
Silence fell over the scene. For a moment, neither of us moved. The beast was the first to act, rising slowly from the ground where its handiwork lay. It slowly turned to face me and my body tensed to throbbing. All the while, that putrid smell hung in the air. This was it, I thought. This was how it would all end.
Moments passed. Nothing happened. The creature did nothing but stare. Feeling my muscles start to loosen, I let myself take in and process what I was seeing. The creature's eyes seemed soft. It was almost as if it were asking me something, begging.
I looked again at my uncle, lying still in the shadow cast by the cliff side. There was no sign of life. My uncle’s reign of terror had come to an end.
Meeting the creature’s gaze once more, the strangest thought occurred to me. Did it look... sorry? Worried?
I don’t know what made me do it, but I took a deep breath and spoke to it. “I’ll say he fell.”
At this, the creature’s shoulders relaxed. Apparently needing nothing more, it turned and lumbered back the way it came. Just before it disappeared into the brush, I called out to it.
It faced me one last time and stretched its lips back, revealing a set of enormous teeth. A smile, I realized. My lungs inflated fully, and a tear of relief ran down my cheek as I watched my savior disappear into the forest.
Written by Jdeschene