Greed. Greed is what got me into this situation, greed is what tore my family apart. It’s what drove a wedge between my sister and I, and what eventually ruined my home town.
My sister, Wendy, and I had always been close. Always the inseparable sisters, growing up. Ever since I can remember, her outgoing nature always inspired me to be more social, and to have confidence. She was always the social butterfly, I was the thoughtful one. That’s not to say she was brash or stupid at all, she was brilliant, in her own way. Calculated, methodical, and driven. That was Wendy. Still is, really. Some things haven’t changed, they just turned darker.
I can remember when things started to go downhill for us. It all started when she decided to get into politics. Our small town, quaint and rural as it was, lacked any real decisive action from the council. Oh we had a mayor, but it wasn’t really a career, more like a part time job. For the longest time, our father, the mayor, worked two other jobs. It wasn’t that we needed the money, he was simply the sort to always keep busy. A trait that Wendy obviously inherited.
He would take us camping at least once a month, we all loved the great outdoors. Our father instilled in us a great respect for the wilderness and forests. The position of mayor was always little more than “babysitting with a title” my father would joke. We obviously didn’t have enough significant things happening in town for him to need to take charge. The council was pretty self sufficient in organizing local events, and debating development projects (which were usually staunchly opposed).
Fresh out of high school, I couldn’t be more excited to go to college. I was going to be near the city, about 4 hours south of our town, closer to the American border. The biggest city in the country definitely held its awe for me, who had never been to a town that had more than one movie theater (and even that was exotic to me!). Wendy wasn’t interested in the big city life, or at least she wasn’t back then. She wanted to follow in dad’s footsteps as mayor, but she wanted more.
It had been over 4 years since I’d been home, far too long. I always had a soft spot in my heart for this time of year, when the leaves turn, and the air takes a chill. The city didn’t have the same effect on me as Aleswell, and I felt determined to see it sometime soon. I visited throughout college, but after I graduated and got a job, I never seemed to find the time. I still talked to my mother quite a bit. She would regale me with tales of how
“Wendy is remaking Aleswell, one project at a time!” She had a habit of making it seem like it would be a whole new place by the time I decided to visit.
Turns out, it was. Everything seemed to be going great for them, until I got the news that dad went missing. I couldn’t believe it at first, it didn’t make sense. Apparently he went on a camping trip, one that Wendy didn’t want to go with him on, and he hadn’t been back for over a month. Mom hadn’t told me until then, as she was apprehensive to cause me worry. Frustrated as I was with her, for not having told me sooner, I could understand her concern. Regardless, I booked time off work, and headed home immediately.
Aleswell was always a quiet town. The loudest days were when there was a street fair, the outdoor movie night in the park, or when Mr. Hubbard, the mechanic, briefly tested out a souped up car on the neighbours. It didn’t go over well with the council.
Something was different now though, it seemed busier. I immediately noticed development proposal signs on the way in. They seemed strangely far out from the town’s core to me, but as I got closer I realized why. All the areas that were previously outskirts had been developed, or had construction going on. Curiously enough, it seemed they had been built by big name companies. It felt to me that they had almost sprouted up overnight. I’d never have guessed I’d see an auto parts factory in Aleswell, but I suppose the future came to town and brought big business with it.
The bus didn’t stop outside the gas station as we went by. I got up in a hurry and told the bus driver that I needed to get off here.
“We pull inside the Aleswell greyhound station now, miss.” He said curtly. I sat down, scratching my head.
“I don’t remember any greyhound station. Things really have changed…” I muttered aloud.
When we finally pulled into the town center where the greyhound station was, I had a strange feeling. This spot used to be something else, I could hardly remember what. Everything around the area was different. There was even a Mcdonalds! Then it hit me. This building used to be dad’s carpentry studio. How did this happen? I remember having so many novel experiences here, watching dad work, eating cheese sandwiches in the back with Wendy while we waited for him to close up just after school… It felt like I was in a different town.
I wandered around this new alien version of Aleswell, still clutching my baggage for about an hour. I couldn’t believe how much had changed. When I left, there were no buildings over 3 stories, now there are proposals for condos. The park where Wendy and I would play every weekend was now a parking lot… It was a lot to take in. I couldn’t help but feel like I had lost someone dear to me.
Eventually I found myself at the once proud town hall. It seemed smaller than I remembered. Dwarfed by the cluster of taller buildings around it. I figured it would be a good opportunity to catch up with Wendy before heading to my parent’s house.
After what felt like a hostage negotiation with the secretary, I breached the impenetrable walls off Wendy’s office.
“Special delivery!” I exclaimed enthusiastically.
“I’m not expecting any deliveries.” she sternly spoke without looking up from whatever she was writing.
I stood on the spot awkwardly, awaiting some kind of greeting. She finished furiously penning the abused paper, and looked up to me.
“Oh, it’s you.” There was silence.
“Oh, it’s me?” I asked back, confused at her reaction.
“I wasn’t expecting you. In the future, please call ahead and let me know if you’re going to drop by.” The curt statement cut like a knife.
“I need an appointment to see my sister now?” She stared at me, or rather, through me, for what felt like an eternity.
“Welcome back to Aleswell, Eva.” Her appeasing tone did little to ease the tension. What has happened since I’ve been gone? How could she be so callous?
I forced a smile back on, and took a seat opposite her.
“What’s going on with dad? What happened?” I asked, cutting straight to the point.
“Ah, you heard. Well it seems he went on another one of his outdoor excursions and forgot the way home. The Inspector said they found the site where he had made camp, plenty of his gear was left behind. They don’t expect anything serious, maybe he had a fight with his wife.” I can only imagine how it must have sounded downstairs when my jaw hit the floor.
“A fight with his wife?!? Are you kidding me? This is our dad, you know him, you know that he wouldn’t just run off due to some kind of marital dispute! How could you even say that?”
Again, she simply stared at me with a passive frustration. I wanted to slap that arrogant look right off of her face! I stormed out, determined to get answers somehow.
Finally I arrived at my parent’s home.
“Thank god 'something’s' stayed the same…” I whispered to myself.
My mom was only too happy to see me. She embraced me at the door. We stood there hugging for what felt like hours. The last time I had a hug like this was when I said goodbye to Wendy, when I left town for college. Mom looked pretty well, all things considered. Wordlessly, we sat down in the dining room. I left my bags in the hallway. I couldn’t hold back anymore, I broke the silence.
“What happened to dad…?” Her gaze fell as she took a deep breath.
“I wish I knew, Eva, I really do. The last time I saw him he was frustrated. Hurt.”
“Why mom, what happened?”
“Your sister is a driven woman. She works hard, possibly harder than anyone in this town. I’ve seen more development in this town in the past few years with her as mayor than I have in the rest of my life, but somewhere along the way she changed…”
“You can say that again…” I huffed in frustration.
“You’ve seen her then? Please don’t be too hard on her, she means well. Your father had a hard time seeing that. They fought like cats and dogs, those two. There wasn’t a damn thing they could agree on. She kept wanting to ‘move Aleswell forward’ as she would say. ‘Aleswell didn’t need moving’ was what your father would rebuttal with. That last day before he left, he was packing for an outdoor excursion. He was going to go see her, try to get her to go with him. I think he was trying to make amends, find common ground, despite all the disputes they’ve had lately.”
Seeing the way she is now, I could only imagine she was ‘too busy’ to even speak with him, let alone go on a camping trip.
“I’m going to see if I can get any more answers. I’ll join the search party too.”
“Eva” she grimly looked up at me as I stood “there is no search party. Wendy called it off. Said the chances that he’s alive after two weeks in the wild were low, especially this time of year. She said it was just a waste of time and money to keep it going.”
I began fuming. Without a further word, I headed back to Wendy’s office. Screw her appointments, her excuses and her ‘busy’ schedule.
The secretary stood up as if to try to prevent me from getting into Wendy’s office, but I think he realized there was no stopping me, and slowly sat down.
“What the hell is your problem! You’ve written dad off, left him for dead out there?” I could feel the ground shake as I yelled at her, but maybe it was just me.
“It’s a waste of time and resources at this point. If we could have found him, we would have. He knows the outdoors, he can take care of himself.” She coldly retorted.
“I don’t know what’s happened to you, but this person I see in front of me, she isn’t my sister! I’m going to find dad, not everyone can be as careless as you!”
For the first time since I arrived in town, she looked distraught. She clasped her hands together, elbows on the desk, and pressed her mouth against her knuckles, as if preparing her rebuttal. I wasn’t ready for another debate. I was ready to get things done. I left to go prepare my old camping gear, and go find my father.
“I really don’t think this is a good idea Eva, this is best left to the authorities…” mother seemed stressed, but nothing was going to stop me.
“The authorities aren’t doing a damn thing, Wendy saw to that.” I slipped my arms through the straps on my backpack, and opened the door to see Wendy, fist up, about to knock.
“What the hell do you want?” I spat out.
“I’m coming with you, but first we need to talk…”
We sat at the dining room table, and she explained to me why she called off the search. Apparently dad wasn’t the first person to go missing recently, and none had been found. The locals, those of whom weren’t newcomers to the town, had been talking about old stories. They say that there’s something that lurks in the woods, something hungry and greedy, old and insatiable. I couldn’t believe that Wendy would buy into that kind of thing, but it looked to me like mom did. After a brief debate on whether or not we should go alone, mom and Wendy won out, and we called mom’s friend Parker, who’s a retired park ranger. He was more than happy to help us search for dad, and admitted that he had been going out on excursions to see if he could locate any of the people who’ve gone missing.
It was a cool September morning when we set out to the site of dad’s abandoned camp. Parker warned us that this time of year was both a blessing and a curse.
“People get used to the longer days of summer, and in early Autumn, it’s easy to forget that we’ve already lost so much daylight.”
There were also less issues with bugs, but of course, more risk of exposure at night. All of us were experienced in the northern Ontario wilderness, so we had little to be concerned about in terms of the elements, but then again, so was dad...
We found the camp around midday, but there was little indication it had been used recently. The fire pit was cold, and the charred logs had become moist, either from rainfall or the permeating damp. I immediately began searching around for any sort of clues as to where dad had gone, why he had gone.
“There probably ain’t much to find that the authorities haven't already” Parker barked from the trail, not having bothered entering the site.
I knew it made sense, but there could be something that we may notice, something that people who didn’t know him wouldn't think twice about.
“I’ve got something…” Wendy yelled out.
Underneath what was left of his lopsided, collapsed tent pad she had found his ID.
“Why would he leave his ID behind? Why would he have even taken it out of his wallet to begin with?” I pondered out loud.
“That’s somethin’ for sure…” Parker trailed into thought. “Maybe someone met him out here? Only someone in an official capacity would asked for identification though…”
He was right. There’s no other explanation for why he’d have taken it out of his wallet while alone, and in the middle of the woods.
“There’s an ATV trail not far out from here, if he didn’t go ‘round that way, maybe one of the regulars did, and saw somethin’?”
It wasn’t the best lead, but Parker was right, it could be something.
We’d been following the trail for well over an hour before the telltale signs of late evening settled in around us. The shimmering gold of the sunlight on the bronzing maple leaves turned to a pale glow, and what small measure of heat the sun helped provide started to wane.
“We oughta set up camp for the night, get back out there bright and early.”
“We can still go on for a while, can’t we?” I asked Parker, not willing to give up the search for the night.
“Not a great plan. We know people have been going missing, and wandering out here in the dark is hardly brilliant. You may want to risk your life on a foolhardy errand, but I value mine.” Wendy sneered.
As much as I hated to agree with my sister and her newfound egotism, I knew deep down that she was right. With a frustrated grunt, I loosened my pack, and dropped it on the needle-laden forest floor. We were about to find out that missing people would be the least of Aleswell’s problems.
I couldn’t tell what exactly caused me to wake up at first, the terrible stench of decay mixed with rot, or the thrashing sounds. I sat up abruptly in my small shelter, slithered out of my sleeping bag, and stuffed my cold feet into my boots. Grabbing my flashlight, I burst out of my tent to feel an abnormal chill in the air. It wasn’t nearly late enough in the season to see frost forming, but the familiar crunch of ice-tipped leaves under foot proved otherwise. I could see light from Wendy’s tent, but Parker’s, on the other side of the fire pit, was dark.
“Parker, Wendy, did you guys hear that commotion?” I called out.
“I heard it alright” Wendy muttered back, with the grogginess of sleep still crusting her stern tone.
No response from Parker. I shone my flashlight over his tent to reveal a gruesome scene. The tent was torn, many of his goods were strewn about, and there was blood staining the area around the shredded canvas.
“Wendy, get out here!” I nearly screamed as I tore open her tent flap, barely able to open the zipper with hands trembling from both cold and fear.
Inside the tent she was sitting with her knees against her chest, tightly clutching an ornate hunting knife. I recognized the knife immediately, it was one I had given to dad years ago, for his birthday. Next to her on the floor was dad's wallet, it's contents spilled out indicating her scavenging. I shook off my frustration, holding that berating for a more appropriate time.
“Something’s happened to Parker! He’s gone, his tent is a mess, and there’s a ton of blood!”
“Blood? Why is there blood?!” Wendy shrieked, all colour draining from her face. She looked truly afraid. “We need to get out of here Eva, we need to go home!”
“Not without Parker! We aren’t going to abandon him! He only came out here to try to help us!”
“I don’t care! I only came out here because Mom told me to, she threatened to write me out of the will if I didn’t help you! I don’t want to be here, and I don’t care what happened to any of these people!”
I couldn’t believe it. My sister, the exuberant, caring girl I had always looked up to had become nothing more than a greedy, narcissistic manipulator.
“I have no idea what happened when I left that made you this way, that made you so cold and egocentric, and right now, I don’t care. Whatever happened to Parker was violent, and it’s still the middle of the night. We have no hope in finding our way home right now, in the dark, with whatever took Parker still possibly around…”
Wendy nodded absently. She knew attempting to find our way back now would be more dangerous than waiting it out until morning.
“I’m going to see if there’s anything useful in Parker’s bag, we need to stick together and be prepared for the worst.”
In Parker’s duffle bag I found a handgun, compass, and some jerky. We waited out the rest of the night, attempting to take shifts awake and on guard while the other slept. I don’t think it mattered, I doubt either of us got any more sleep. I know I didn’t. At the crack of dawn we broke down our campsite, rushed and uncaring, we didn’t bother to pack up our tents. We just needed to get back to town. As we got ready to head back, I noticed something peculiar… The trail we had made camp just off of was gone. In fact, I didn’t recognize this part of the woods at all.
“Eva… where are we..?”
I pulled out the compass, I knew that we had been to the west of town.
“This way, let’s go.” I barked at Wendy, as I headed east, back home.
After constant traipsing through unfamiliar woodland, I couldn’t help but feel the sinking sensation in my gut that we were lost. Both of us were hardly able to keep it together, after what happened to Parker, but neither one of us wanted to be the one to break down first. I looked up and something peculiar caught my attention. It was later in the afternoon at this point, odds were bad that we’d make it home tonight, but the sun… The sun should have been to the west southwest in the sky, but according to the compass, it was directly south of us… it didn't make sense. Maybe the compass was busted, maybe we’d been going the wrong way this entire time.
“There’s something over here…” I heard Wendy mutter.
I approached her, standing just at the entrance to a large clearing. There was that cold sensation again, the unnatural icy bite to the early fall air. In the centre of the clearing was a strange rock formation, some kind of cave entrance. Then came the smell. Similar to the one when Parker disappeared, only way stronger, it made me gag. The cave looked like a good spot to spend the night, especially considering we’d foolishly left most of our gear back at the last campsite. As I entered the clearing I heard a scream from behind me. I turned around and rushed back into the thick to see Wendy on her knees, all colour had drained from her face. Her unblinking stare focused into the shrouded forest.
“What happened? What did you see?” I asked.
“There's something there, I saw it! It looked like a person, but was tall and contorted! It had antlers! We need to get out of here, we need to leave this place!”
She kept incoherently rambling about what she had seen, making less and less sense every time.
“Wendy, we need to seek shelter, it’s getting late. We can’t be out here, exposed. We’re going to take refuge in the cave tonight, and we’ll make it home tomorrow.”
She wouldn’t look at me. She stopped speaking, looking down at the ground. I guided her into the cave, which wasn’t all too deep. It didn’t look like anything had been living here, which was a small relief.
In the early morning hours, I’d finally managed to find some sleep, but not for long. I woke to the sounds of hushed whispers, and that permeating stench of decay. I could hear Wendy’s voice, but there was another voice too, deep and guttural.
“Wendy… who are you talking..”
“I’m hungry.” She brazenly interrupted.
“You woke me up to tell me you’re hungry? Well I don’t care, we’re low enough on food as it is, we’ll eat the jerky in the morning.”
“I’m hungry now!” Wendy sternly insisted.
I looked around the cave, and in the sliver of early dawn’s light I could see the mess. She’d torn open my backpack, and eaten the last of our food, the empty jerky bag was laying on the ground beside her.
“You ate all of our food? Are you kidding me?! What the hell is wrong with you! I’m done trying to babysit you out here! Grow up and take care of yourself!”
I was seething with rage. I started trying to stuff all my scattered belongings back into my torn backpack. As I stood, I felt a sharp pain in the back of my head, then everything went dark.
I began to regain consciousness. I have no idea what time it was, but I knew it was night, it was almost pitch black. The fire was roaring near the entrance to the cave. There was an ugly squishing and crunching sound.
“We..Wendy…?” I managed to struggle a word out.
The sounds stopped. That smell of decomposition was still thick in the air, but this time it was more acute. I turned my head to see the mangled carcass of an elk next to me, I almost screamed in surprise. I started trying to get up, but I felt dizzy from what happened earlier. I managed to crawl backward until I hit the cave wall. Looking around, in a daze, I saw the source of the smell. Parker’s corpse was near the fire beside someone who was lurched forward, in an inhuman way.
“I’m so hungry…” The voice said.
I recognized the voice, it was Wendy. She slowly started to turn to me, shambling inhumanly.
“Eva please, I’m so hungry…”
She was holding the lower portion of Parker’s severed leg in her hand effortlessly, as if it was a chicken wing she’d been working on picking clean.
“Wendy… What have you done..? The world moved in slow motion, it felt like I was seeing everything through a tunnel, hundreds of meters away. The dizziness was starting to subside, but I couldn’t stand, my legs weren’t obeying me.
“He told me I’d be hungry, I’d always be starving. He told me this was the way… I still feel so hungry.”
Her voice was wrong, it was deeper than her normal voice, and garbled, like she was choking back mucus. I began to dig through my bag for the handgun, but it wasn’t there. I feverishly looked around the cave, and saw a glint, just behind where Wendy was sitting. It was dad’s knife! I called upon the last reserves of strength my body had in it, along with the spike of fear induced adrenaline. I dashed forward, grabbed the knife, and ran out of the cave, never looking back.
I could heard Wendy yelling from the cave, at first I couldn’t understand what she was saying, but then I heard it.
“Don’t stop, run. Don’t stop, run.”
I was disoriented, alone, and terrified. The woods were almost pitch black, other than the few sparse patches where the moonlight desperately tried to push through the canopy above. I had no idea where I was going, but I sure as hell wouldn’t turn around.
“I’m so hungry” I could hear the words in my head on repeat.
“Eva please, I’m so hungry” It kept echoing, like a twisted mantra. There was a sadness in her voice, a sickened desperation. The woman I met in Aleswell a few days ago wasn’t my sister, but that thing in the cave was a monster.
I collapsed, out of breath. The adrenaline had run out, and my body had begun to give up it’s desperate last stand. I was safe from that creature at least, and the early signs of sunrise were indicated in the surreal background glow in the sky. I could finally get out of here, I just had to find the way. But then the smell began again, subtly. As if there had been a rotting squirrel carcass somewhere around, then the scent grew to a putrid and unmistakable herald of death. I looked around, seeing things shift and move. Behind every tree there was something hiding, something watching in the predawn light. A humanoid outline here, an outstretched arm there. I couldn’t tell whether I was delusional or truly being stalked until I saw it. Behind a tree in the distance, an unmistakable pair of large antlers. It wanted me to know it was there, it wanted me to be afraid. I tucked behind a tree. I hadn’t noticed until this point, but tears were streaming down my face. I’d never been so terrified. Suddenly, a huge, cold, hard grip seized my arm. I turned my head to see an abominable form, towering over me. That of a huge, emaciated man, on the brink of starvation. I tried to see his face, but there were only the hollow eyes of the skull of a stag staring back at me. The air became ice. Simply breathing hurt my lungs, causing them to seize. I knew this was the end. I closed my eyes, not yet ready to embrace my end…
Suddenly his grip was jolted away, almost dislocating my arm. I heard terrible grunts and thrashing. As the sun began to peak through the trees I could see the form of this monstrous devil being eviscerated by another ungodly monstrosity. It was Wendy, her once proud frame distorted and contorted into a disfigured shape. Her skin was so tightly pulled over her bones, it looked like they may pierce straight through her flesh. Her hair, hair that I always envied, fell not in flowing auburn locks, but in greasy patched strands, like dead weeds. She was thrashing into this similarly horrific monster, attempting to tear off his arm. I thought she would succeed, until the stag skull fell back off of the massive, round head of the rival beast before he sunk his filthy, black, razor teeth into her shoulder. She howled like a banshee. I couldn’t move, I was paralyzed. What was any of this? How could this be reality? As the other monster gained the upper hand, mounting the shell of my sister like a hyena over a sickly gazelle, I moved. In a flash, I saw myself lurch over from behind, and grab the head of the monster. Sinking my fingers into it’s dark, sunken eye sockets for leverage, I used my father’s knife, stabbing into its neck at the spine and feverishly sawed until I felt no resistance. I was back in my body. I was covered in a black, tar-like blood. The creature’s head fell to the forest floor with a thud, followed shortly after by my father’s knife. I felt hollow.
The distorted Wendy began to languidly rise. She slowly hunched forward, and began to feast on the emaciated massive corpse. I couldn’t help but stand there and watch passively, as if it was a horror movie scene that I was separate from. Once she finished, she slowly erected herself, the stag skull in her hands. She delicately placed it over her own face, pressing it hard into her flesh, as the dark blood oozed down. She turned to me, placid.
“Eva….” She gargled.
“Wendy…” I responded, “I’m hungry…”
Written by Tewahway