I don’t know why I’m here. I shouldn’t have come. I knew I shouldn’t have accepted the dare. Well, I couldn’t back down from a double dare, could I?
My name is Jacob but my friends call me Jake. My friends had dared me to come here at midnight to prove I wasn’t a pussy. There was no way I could back down from the double dare, as everyone would know I was a coward.
My friends and I were in the woods near our town, just messing around, you know, teenage stuff. Our parents had always warned us to stay away from the woods as anything could happen in there. Of course we didn’t listen to them, we were 15 and thought we knew better than them, as every teenager does.
Our town’s woods are like any towns’; parents warn us not to go in as a child, leading us to create fantastical tales about creatures living in those woods, who only come out at night, with the body of a deer and torso of a man, with unicorns and dragons living in the deepest depths of the green utopia when the sky turns in an inky black. Of course, we outgrew all of these childish creations and fantasies and grew to enjoy the woods, often going in there to enjoy a sneaky smoke, or to take their new girlfriend away from the prying eyes of their parents.
We had entered the woods at just gone 4pm, it was autumn, and the clouds were hanging low over the treetops, looking pregnant and black, threatening to burst and shower us in heavy rain that had been expected for weeks now. My friends Sam and Archie were with me. Archie is my best friend: ever since we first met in second grade, we had gotten on like a house on fire and were practically inseparable. Sam was a big dude, towering over us at 5 foot 11 at just 15: he was the one guy you always wanted on your side when you got into a fight. Me and Sam didn’t get on as well; we had only met through a friend of a friend type thing and had never really bonded well. We were just hanging around; Sam was doing his usual bragging about the stuff he got up to last night with his girlfriend that we all knew were just over exaggerated fantasies. We had just arrived at The Clearing. That was its name. Everyone just called it The Clearing. It was exactly that:; a clearing in the centre of the woods, with a large boulder in the centre, that as kids, when on walks through the woods with our parents, we would climb to the top and yell funny phrases from our favourite cartoon at the time. We walked towards the boulder and our conversation turned towards movies. We had all recently seen a horror movie together and were just making comments at how we each saw the other flinch at certain scenes. Both Sam and Archie were claiming that I was the one who jumped the most, and of course, like any testosterone-driven teen I was on the physical defensive immediately; jokingly pushing Archie off the rock and kicking him lightly. They both commented on how I was always a pussy when watching horror movies; always jumping at every shadow after the movie too. One thing led to the other and before I knew it, I had been dared to prove that I wasn’t the coward they were claiming I was; I had to stay in the woods with them until midnight and then they would leave me alone for an hour; see how long I would last in the dark woods on my own. I was hesitant to accept the dare, thinking of my parents and stuff and it being a school night, but then Archie went and double dared me. You can’t decline a double dare.. I had to accept the challenge.
We hung around, waiting for midnight to come. They continued their conversations but I couldn’t get involved; I was far too nervous, dreading the moment I would be left alone in these dark woods. They had promised me they wouldn’t be too far off, and that they would be able to hear my “girly screams” quote Sam, if I got too scared and wanted out of it. It wasn’t the dark I was going to be scared of, it was what unseen in the dark that worried me the most. My hands were shaking, and I couldn’t stop my breathing rate to increase as the minutes ticked down to midnight. Just 10 minutes to go. 10 minutes and then an hour standing in the pitch black woods in The Clearing, proving to my friends I wasn’t a coward. “Was it worth it?” I asked myself. I honestly didn’t know. To live for the rest of my friendship with them being called a pussy, or to stand through 60 minutes of sheer terror and dread.
Dammit. I shouldn’t have watched so many horror movies. My mind was a blur. My vision couldn’t focus; I kept seeing things in the corner of my eye; shadows behind trees that moved out of sight when I turned my full attention on them, footsteps behind me. I knew it was all my imagination. Just my imagination.
“Hey.” Archie’s voice cut through the mist in my mind. “A deer” I squinted through the darkness in the direction he was pointing.
“Where?” I heard Sam ask.
“Shush! You’ll scare it away!” Archie hissed. He gestured ferociously with his hand to the left side of the boulder, middle distance, and, sure enough, there was a deer. It was standing still. Absolutely stock still. It wasn’t grazing the grass, it wasn’t looking around for possible dangers or predators. It was just standing there, head pointed forwards, looking east.
“It’s beautiful innit?” Archie said, smiling at me. I nodded, my mouth still dry with nervous anticipation. I pulled out my phone to check the time, see how long I had left before I was left alone in these woods but Archie stopped me, grabbing my hand and shaking his head. “No,” he whispered, “ the light from the phone might scare it away.” I put the phone away and squinted through the darkness again at the still motionless deer. We stood there for a few minutes, watching it. It hadn’t moved once.
“Yo, why aint it movin?” Sam asked.
Then the deer moved. I saw it. Just as Sam had uttered those words in his deep whisper, the deer turned its head to look at us. I felt an involuntary shiver go down my spine. I dont know why, but the way it had turned its head to look at us.. didn’t seem right. The movement wasn’t fluid, it wasn’t like the deer was afraid of the noise and had whipped its head around to check it out. The deer had turned its head so slowly. Too slowly for an animal of prey hearing an unknown sound. It stared at us. We stared at it. Nobody moved. The woods were silent. It was as if the trees and animals were all holding their breaths in anticipation of what was about to occur next. It moved again. So slowly. So unnaturally and unnervingly slowly. It started to walk. I don’t know if walk is the right way to describe its movements actually. It was more.. forced. As if its legs didn’t belong to it and it was trying to figure out how to use its limbs along the way. Jerky and slow movements. Moving away into the darkness until the inky blackness enveloped it and we could no longer see it.
None of us said anything for a long while. Sam turned to us. He ruined it. Of course he would.
“Enough of that weird ass deer. We’re here for a reason, no?” I could do nothing but stare at him, my heart beating so fast in my chest and my head swimming with thoughts. Archie didn’t respond. “Well?!?” Sam demanded. Archie looked at me. I couldn’t move. Fear had paralysed me. I was both scared of what I had just witnessed and the strangeness of it and the fear of the dare. Archie shrugged at me.
“A dare’s a dare bro” was all he said to me. Taking out his phone, he checked the time. 12:03. A little over midnight. “Well..” Archie began but Sam cut in,
“Come on lets get to it. It’s bloody freezing out here.” He pulled down his beanie further on his head and zipped up his coat higher. “Do the dare and lets get home where its warm, yeah?” I nodded. I couldn’t believe myself. I actually nodded. Despite all my internal senses going haywire, all of my gut telling me that this was the complete and utter wrong thing to be doing, I had nodded, sealing the dare and confirming my participation. The dare was on.
They promised me they wouldn’t be too far away, that they’d be near the creek at the west entrance of the woods, about 100 metres away from the Clearing I was in. Then they left me. Left me all alone. Alone in the dark, cold night. Alone in the unknown. Alone with who knows what. Alone with- “STOP!” I silently cursed myself. I tried to control my breathing. My heart was hammering in my chest. I let out a sigh, watching as my breath vapour steamed the cold air in front of my face. I just had to make an hour. One hour.... one hour... I walked to the boulder and leaned against it and waited...and waited.
And that’s where I am right now. Still waiting. I shouldn’t be here really. I know I shouldn’t. But... I let out a sigh. Taking out my phone, squinting at the sudden bright light of the display, I check the time. 12:42. Just 18 minutes. Time was going so slowly... SNAP!. A loud noise interrupted me from my self pitying thoughts. The sound of a twig snapping. Someone was moving near me. My eyes were wide, darting around trying to pierce the inky blackness of where my natural night vision couldn’t see. I tried to swallow, but my mouth was too dry. SNAP! The noise came again, this time from behind me. I spun around, trying desperately to squint through the darkness. I turned on my phone, turned on the flashlight and shone it through the trees. It was Archie and Sam. I knew it. They were trying to prank me. Try and make me scream so then they could tell all their friends that Jake was scared of the dark and was such a coward. My fist clenched tighter around my phone.
“Archie. Sam. I know its you!” I called out. SNAP! And the noise came again. From my left. I whipped around. And saw it.
There was a deer. Standing there looking at me. It was close, like 2 metres away from me. I could see its coarse fur and its twisting antlers. And its eyes. Its eyes were wrong. Its eyes were a deep, dark red. I stepped backwards. Those eyes. They had me transfixed. I couldn’t stop staring into them. Then the deer started to move. Jerky movements. Towards me. I was frozen in shock. I thought I heard a faint noise in the distance, some high pitch noise but it was for a split second and I was left wondering if I had imagined it. The deer kept moving towards me. Menacing. Terrifying. I was paralysed in fear. My body wanted to move. But I couldn’t. All I could do was stand there as the deer kept stalking towards me so slowly. It wasn’t a deer though. It was obvious. The eyes, the way it moved, the way it held its posture. It was clear that this was something else. What it was, I didn’t know. It wasn’t a deer for sure. Something was inside it. Wearing it. Testing it out and seeing how it worked.
My body jolted to life. I had control of my limbs. Breaking free of its stare, I turned and fled. I wasn’t paying attention to where I was running to; just anywhere away from that.. that thing. I looked behind me. It wasn’t following me. It was stood in the Clearing, watching me. I turned back to look where I was going. Too late. I tripped. Over a log I think. My knees throbbed with pain. Pain seared through my left elbow . I scrambled to my feet, ignoring the pain and looked behind me. The woods were silent. The only thing I could hear was the sound of my own heartbeat and my heavy breathing. I heard footsteps. Pounding footsteps coming towards me. Sam burst through the foliage, panting.
“It...lt...” He couldn’t speak. His chest was heaving as he struggled to catch his breath. His hair and face was slick with sweat and he had lost his beanie on the run. “It got Archie! It freaking got Archie!” He managed to gasp out. He noticed my look of confusion. “The deer!” He exclaimed, “the freaking deer! There was one there. We were watching it, I turned for a second and...and when I turned back..” Sam broke into a hacking sob. He broke down. Tears were rolling down his cheeks. I realised this was the first time I had seen the big guy cry. “When I turned back... there were bones on the floor. The deer had gone and.. and there was this thing! This freaking ugly ass creature. It.. it was horrible dude!” Sam broke down again. I could do nothing but stay crouched where I was, shocked out of my wits. “It transformed in front of me dude! It had taken his skin. Like in the horror movies. Ya know.. skinwalkers. They take the skins of their victims. More of them freaking deers showed up then. Like about five of them dude! Five of them. Next to the thing wearing Sam’s skin. And...then.. I...” Sam coughed, and spat onto the ground. “I ran. Ran like hell dude. Oh my God. This freaking dare! We shoulda never stayed dude.” His tears stopped coming and he collapsed onto the log. I was breathing heavily still.
“I saw a deer too” I managed to whisper. “It was in the Clearing. I ran.. cos.. it just didn’t seem right... If I had stayed...” I ground to a halt. There was a deer walking towards us. Its eyes were red.
“Run!” I yelled, leaping to my feet and grabbing Sam by the arm, dragging him with me. I could hear the deer following us. Then a loud crunch followed by a snarl and I knew that if I looked back now, it wouldn’t be a deer following us, it’d be one of those creatures Sam had described. I didn’t look back though. Just kept running. Running and running. We got lost. Branches whipped in our face, foliage shredded our trousers. If one of us tripped the other would simply keep going, dragging the other along with them until they got their pace back.
We got split up. I don’t even know how. I think there was a tree and Sam was going around the left of it but I was going right. I let go of his arm for a second I think. When I looked to where he had been... he wasn’t there. I had lost him. I kept running. What else could I do? I kept running until I couldn’t run any further. I staggered to a halt and leaned against a tree trunk, trying to get my breath back. I took a step forwards and heard a brittle crunch from underneath my shoes. I stepped back and looked down at what I had stepped on. There was something white on the floor. I took my phone out and shone its flashlight on the floor.
There were bones on the floor. Shattered by me stepping on them. I shone the light around more. There was a skull near the bushes. I wanted to vomit. This must be all the was left of poor Archie. I sank to my knees. I started to sob. Uncontrollable, racking sobs. I fell onto my backside, but felt something underneath me. I sat up and picked it up. It was Sam’s beanie. Then it clicked. I span around and of course, there was Sam. But it wasn’t Sam of course. His pupils were red and that smile wasn’t right. The thing wearing Sam’s skin forced Sam’s grin even wider and it said in a deep, gutteral snarl,
“I dare you to run. Go on. Double Dare”