Clink! Mary and her boyfriend Sean had just tapped their wine glasses together in honor of their 5th anniversary. “Happy anniversary babe,” Sean said sipping his glass of Chardonnay.
“And to you as well,” Mary replied, cupping Sean’s hand across their table for two. "Thank you for such an amazing night. I guess I’ll get the check?”
“No, no babe. I’m paying. My treat.”
“Really? Are you sure?”
“Yes, of course. I’ll let you pay next time,” Sean said, waving to their waitress as she passed their table.
“Can I help you?” she said politely, adjusting her short, black skirt, uniform for this restaurant in particular. It included a white blouse, a black tie, and a black skirt.
“Yes, may we have the check?”
“Of course, I’ll be right back,” the waitress said swiftly, walking, almost trotting in her heels, until disappearing behind the restaurant's front desk. A few moments later she returned with the check on a black, glossy tray. Sean retrieved it from the tray, careful not to smudge its reflective, almost perfect surface.
“And, there, you, go,” he said, pausing slightly after each word, leaving a final peck with the pen on his incomprehensible signature. He handed off the check and stood up, brushing off his black dress pants and refolded his napkin on the white, silky table cloth. Sean offered his arm to Mary, slightly bent at the elbow, prom style, and walked her out to his navy 2015 Honda Civic.
Once they were inside the car, Sean handed Mary a neatly wrapped box, only big enough to hold a gift card. “Oh, what’s this?” Mary asked, taking the shiny silver box.
“Just a little something I found when I was helping your father with the move.” A week before their celebration Sean had assisted Mary’s father to his new, more capable house. Mary's father was a year older than dirt and deserved the help after the loss of Mary’s mother. “Consider it an anniversary present.” Mary carefully lifted the top off and almost cried at what was inside. Inside was her mother’s ring, carefully placed in a thin white foam casing. It was lost after her mother was murdered ten years ago. Mary hated to speak about her mother’s death. The way she went was sometimes too much to let into the conscious mind. She was found with the ring on her left fourth finger, after she was mauled to death.
Her liver was missing and authorities concluded that no weapon was used in the attack. It looked as if the skin had been clawed open by human hands, or something very, very similar. The death was messy, but the way Mary’s mother’s body was found displayed a sort of disturbing intelligence. Mary remembered every second of that night, the way her mother just lay there, eyes wide, frozen in an eternal state of terror, how her father shook and weekend at the sight. Every detail, every little thing. But the thought of whoever, or whatever had brutally mauled her mother kept her awake most nights, to stare at her blank ceiling and wonder what could posses such evil intentions.
Mary cradled the gold piece in between her fingers, then slipped it on her left, fourth finger. It fit perfectly. When the cold metal of her mother’s ring met her skin, it seemed to reach every nerve in her body. Then an old hermit of a memory seemed to crawl from its dwellings in the deep corners of her mind. Her mother had found the ring at her place of work, and unfortunately brought it home. Now, Mary’s mother was no waitress, or lawyer, or accountant. She was a mortuary assistant. She had stolen that ring right off the body of her recently deceased mother. She was killed in a now eerily similar way. Liver savagely removed by something almost human. The carvings on the inside of that seemingly innocent ring, now pressed against Mary’s skin went unnoticed, for now. Mary slid over and hugged Sean from the side. She was hesitant, but did not want to disappoint her lover. “Thanks babe. Shall we head home and maybe watch a movie?”
"Why not?” Sean pushed the start button and the car ticked to life.
“Are you sure this is the right way?” Mary asked Sean. The Civic was cruising smoothly along a seemingly deserted road.
“I’m not sure. Can you check your phone?”
“Yeah, hold on.” Mary reached into her pale pink hand purse and retrieved her phone. She opened Google Maps, but failed to connect. Just then, the car stuttered to a stop. “What’s wrong?” Mary asked, concerned.
“Goddammit, we’re outta gas,” Sean replied, frustrated.
“What now? We’re stranded. No service, no gas-”
“Okay, calm down.” He paused. “It’ll be alright,” Sean said hesitantly. He paused again, and they sat in the dark together, the silence outside nearly ear-piercing.
“I can walk to the nearest gas station," he started, “or house, or something. You just wait here. And lock the doors,” he commanded, already exiting through the car’s driver side door. “I’ll be back as soon as I can.” Mary watched as Sean slowly dissolved into the night’s dark blanket, making his way down the road.
Now, Mary was alone, engulfed in the overwhelming black emptiness that surrounded her. The Civic’s headlights provided a spotlight on the paved road in front of the car. Everything else was dark, daring, daring her to come closer, to become lost in their shadows. The moon beamed off center through the car’s transparent windshield, washing everything in its silver light. Not a cloud in the sky, weird.
Suddenly Mary began to hear a scuffling noise in a group of small shrubs beside the car, interrupting her thoughts of observation. Then the reality of her situation hit her like a brick wall. The nerves began to crawl from the corners of her mind and flooded her senses. The what-ifs danced around in her mind like ballerinas who were given steroids, crazy but graceful. She pressed back against the cool leather of the car’s passenger seat. Then a small rabbit jumped from the bush, patted its fur with a freshly licked paw and disappeared into a burrow somewhere off the road. Mary calmed herself astonished at how naïve she had been. It was just a rabbit. Would you relax? Sean will be back any minute.
Hours passed with no Sean, no gas, and still no service. And the ring that encased her left fourth finger was beginning to burn ferociously. Something was close by and those three symbols pressed against her skin called upon something beyond our realm. Something hellish. For that ring was such an evil item, to Mary nothing but an innocent memento. Little did she know those symbols brought death upon the wearer.
That ring was ancient and filled with the pain of many. It was cursed many years ago by a Native American chief. He was beyond evil. His voice was like mountains collapsing and many said he smelled of rotting flesh. He claimed to have connections with spirits of darkness, which he brought upon the ring and proceeded to engrave those three awful symbols on its underside. Death to this mortal. The chief, a leader of a small tribe, more of a cult rather, spent his days killing and eating his victims. His cannibalistic cult worshiped something whose name was Hell, brought to this realm by our very own kind. Brought by the evil that dwells within you and me, each and every one of us. It is not a force to be reckoned with. But that tribe leader, better known as the Chief of Darkness, stirred the pots of good and evil. He wore that ring wherever he went, wreaking havoc on the innocent, and sticking his filthy, bloodstained hands into the darkest of corners, places that weren't meant to be explored...
Mary’s body propped up with joy when she saw a figure, about Sean’s height, slowly approaching the car. She waited in excitement until she could clearly see who this mystery man was.
It stood in front of the car, its head cocked to the side, grinning like a mad man. Its chest was bare and splayed open in several different locations. Its hair was short and bristly and there wasn't much of it. But wait, this was no man at all. It had the eyes of a cat, black slits instead of pupils, bulging from its sunken face. In its mouth, sharp jagged teeth, a tongue like that of a large serpent or something equally terrifying. Its hands seemed to have too many fingers, something awful in their grasp. And strangely it had blue jeans sagging off of its hips making it seem more disturbingly human. Its veins bulged from its body and its skin was pale like it hadn't seen sunlight in decades.
Then Mary’s eyes drifted to its hands. She could see it was grasping something in its right hand, which this half man, half creature, slowly began to raise. Its hands were bloodstained as well, but what it was holding made Mary’s eyes twitch, her hands shook, and her core tensed. Her boyfriend’s severed head was slowly swaying in the being's hand. Sean’s tendons and veins hung out at the neck like a jellyfish’s many arms, except much, much more gruesome. And the line wear his neck would continue down to form his shoulders was not a clean cut, a clear tear. Every tendon every vein, swaying, torn apart. Small shreds of bodily substances lay scattered on the deserted road. No weapon, echoed throughout Mary's mind like the screams of that cult, lost in darkness. But the gut-wrenching scene only worsened. The human-like thing still did not move, grinning with its jagged yellow teeth in the horrible spotlight of the Civic’s headlights.
There was something oddly familiar about the figure, it clawed around in Mary’s brain like a rabid dog, barking and growling. Mary curled her legs to her chest and closed her eyes hoping this was only a dream, or a nightmare for that matter. The ring burned her finger like five thousand candles now. But when she opened them, the deranged being was standing staring through the driver’s side window. Now Mary could see its face, she remembered it from long, long ago. Possibly her childhood. Then the realization of who this man-creature was filled her with anger and fear. The two conflicting emotions twisted into a horrible feeling of dread.
“You're my mother’s killer!” She didn’t know how she knew. But she did.
That thing had viciously mauled two generations of women in Mary’s family. Then the almost human being began to raise its left hand, its eyes locked with Mary’s as she curled defenseless against the opposite window, clutching the ring and silently praying for Sean’s return. But no, there was his head in the creature’s hand, lifeless and bleeding.
“You wear the ring!" the creature bellowed in its dry, gravelly voice. "You must die! Just like your mother and your worthless little boyfriend, you cursed little bastard! She possessed the ring and so did he! Now you!” And in its now raised left hand it held the keys to Sean’s navy 2015 Honda Civic…
Mary and Sean have not been seen by anyone since the night of their anniversary. It's been almost a month. There have been several search parties but nothing, not even a certain, familiar little gold ring, could be found. Because that navy, 2015 Honda Civic, now hidden away in the Pinchot State Forest, a seemingly welcoming state park to the residents of the North-Western part of Pennsylvania, smells of rotting flesh. Locals have assumed the smell to be ‘just a deer or something,’ nothing less and nothing more. But Mary’s body still lies lifeless in that car. Eyes wide, frozen in an eternal state of terror. Liver savagely removed by something almost human. And the symbols now branded into her pale skin, black. Black like the night, black like the darkness inside of that horrible, brooding man-like creature. Black like the darkness that dwells unnoticed inside of all of us.
So, if ever you decide to go for a hike in the Pinchot Forest, be warned. If you smell the stench of slow decay, do not look for that navy Civic. Do not get too close. For, the ring is still out there. The symbols' call, ancient and deep, is still active. So be careful. Deep in the forest of Pinchot, something dark awaits, something hungry, hungry for the sweet, sweet taste of human flesh. Something brought upon this realm by those three awful symbols. But don’t go too deep into those woods. For the sake of the human race, do not go looking for those strange symbols carved into the bark of many trees deep in the Pinchot Forest, clawed with hands used for the savage hepatectomies of the innocent, belonging to that not so human thing. And at all costs do not speak its name.