Last month my boyfriend Fisher began to exhibit some strange and alarming behavior.
He'd become fascinated with a place called “Woodharrow Park” after reading an online post documenting bizarre events that had purportedly occurred there , and what I originally believed to be nothing more than macabre curiosity quickly spiraled into an obsession that threatened to consume every aspect of his life. Fisher grew withdrawn and retreated into a state of self-induced isolation, leaving our apartment only to go to work. His job performance deteriorated and he spent most of his time submerged in his ever-mounting research into the park. He scarcely ate and slept very little; several nights I awoke to find him hunched over his laptop, his tired unshaven face and reddened eyes illuminated by the computer screen. He wore a constant faraway expression that never faltered, as if his thoughts were full of endless rain.
The abrupt change in Fisher's personality disturbed me immensely. At first I tried to be patient and hoped that it was merely an odd phase, but instead his infatuation with Woodharrow Park only became more destructive. My frustration eventually boiled over into frequent arguments. When he told me that he was leaving to search for the park and would return at the end of the week, I begged him not to go. I was hurt, embittered, and regrettably hostile, but no amount of desperate or emotional words could convince him to stay.
A week wrought with apprehension followed Fisher's departure. After my texts and calls continued to go unanswered and I could no longer ignore the sinking feeling that something terrible had happened, I reported him missing. The official investigation into his disappearance remains fruitless and my own attempts at finding Fisher initially appeared equally barren; every scrap of his research was missing from the apartment, and he left behind nothing that could pinpoint the routes he planned to travel. Most worryingly of all, authorities have yet to determine for themselves where Woodharrow Park is located—I suspect that they don't believe it even exists. It was as if Fisher had vanished into thin air and taken half of my heart with him.
But yesterday an unexpected clue arrived in the form of an unmarked package resting on my doorstep. Inside it was Fisher's cellphone. I've decided to publish its contents online in hopes that someone else might be able to help me piece together the mystery that has shattered my life. I have left each entry intact and made no alterations to the journal beyond providing dates and time stamps for the sake of structural clarity. The words you are about to read are entirely Fisher's own.
The local forecast showed no sign of rain, but I opted to carry an umbrella with me just in case. I pulled into the parking lot and was somewhat surprised to discover that a few other vehicles were already stationed there; the nameless author of the post this entire venture has been built upon was the park's sole visitor during their ordeal, and I'd expected to find it similarly vacant upon my arrival. I sat in my car for several tense moments, my hands trembling on the steering wheel as I attempted to summon enough courage to open the door, before finally taking a deep breath and surrendering myself to the mercy of Woodharrow Park.
Sunlight beamed down on me warmly as I headed towards the park entrance, but dread's cold hand ran an icy digit down my spine the instant I stepped foot onto Woodharrow's paved trails. An eerie, disquieting chill sank over me as I imagined the doomed writer journeying along the same path that I myself was now traversing. A jogger spared me an impartial nod of acknowledgment when she brusquely passed by, while a man sitting on a bench never bothered to look up from his phone screen as I strolled past him. Though we were within arm's reach of one another, I felt as if they occupied a world millions of miles apart from my own. I briefly considered asking them if they were aware of the supernatural events that'd unfurled inside the park, or if they themselves had witnessed anything curious, but ultimately I chose to continue exploring Woodharrow instead. I'd rather not converse with the townsfolk if it can be avoided—not out of snobbery, but because I worry that I'll come across as a pushy, overly-inquisitive outsider or an outright crackpot. Neither label is desirable, and somehow I don't think they'll be understanding of my reasons for visiting their humble little town. I've never been much for conversation anyway.
Still, I realize that being deemed strange may be an inescapable risk I'll have to take if I want to gain answers to the questions I find myself fixating on again and again; after all, that's the entire purpose of my being here.
I walked the paths for over two hours before eventually leaving in a dissatisfied mood. I found the park entirely unremarkable, and frankly I feel more than a little foolish when I recall my earlier nervousness. The only child I saw was a small boy wearing a shirt blotched with melted ice cream, laughing as his mother gently pushed him on one of the park's swings—hardly the stuff of nightmares. If Woodharrow contains anything worth fearing, I certainly didn't witness it today.
I ate lunch at a diner near the motel before checking in and unpacking my suitcase. I turned on the room's outdated television set and stared into the screen's intermittent static-riddled picture as the park crept back into my mind. I thought of the extraordinary claims that'd brought me this far and compared the frightening experience detailed within them to my own underwhelming excursion.
Before I left for Woodharrow, my girlfriend Nora told me that the only thing I was going to achieve was an embarrassing waste of time and money. She's made no attempt to hide her frustration over what she calls my “obsession”, and I can't say that I blame her. Maybe Nora's right; maybe the Woodharrow post is nothing more than a modern-day campfire tale. I myself had initially regarded its peculiar content with skepticism when I first happened upon it online—and so had Nora, though her disbelief has yet to waver—but as the days passed I couldn't seem to get it out of my head. The difficulty I had hunting down more information about the park only fueled my curiosity, and when I finally unearthed the Internet trail that led me here I felt as if I'd won an incredible prize. The rush of pure excitement surging through me wiped out any lingering doubts. Shortly afterwards I began making plans.
I won't allow myself to entertain negative thoughts or lose focus, and I refuse to give up after just one uneventful visit. Otherwise, everything I've sacrificed thus far—the countless hours dedicated to analyzing the post's every word, the sleepless nights spent researching paranormal matters, the funds I drained from my savings account and the damaging strain on my relationship with Nora—will have all been for nothing. That's an exceedingly bitter pill I'm not prepared to swallow.
The TV's snow ended up lulling me to sleep. By the time a sliver of a news broadcast loudly pierced through the static just long enough to rouse me from my slumber, the sun had already set. My body feels as heavy as lead and I'm still tired; I suppose my travels exhausted me more than I'd anticipated.
Turning in for the night now. I could barely keep my eyes open long enough to type this.
I returned to Woodharrow Park this morning and sat in my car for what felt like a contemplative eternity, watching the park's handful of visitors step out of their vehicles and into the sunlight. I was badly discouraged; I slept restlessly last night in that cheap motel room, and I awoke to a series of tersely-worded text messages from Nora. Each one expressed her mounting resentment.
It occurred to me that I could easily turn around and leave for good instead of walking into the park and subjecting myself to a repeat of yesterday's disappointment. I could accept that my childish fascination had been a regrettable lapse of better judgment. I could swallow my humiliation, go home, and spend the rest of the week I've taken off from work in the comfort of my apartment rather than wandering around a small town's park.
I buried my face in my hands, sickened by the revelation rising up my throat like acidic bile: I had made yet another spectacular mistake. I'd once again done something short-sighted in order to distract myself from the unhappiness that has tormented me for as long as I can remember. I felt like something much worse than a fool—I felt hideously pathetic, a living monument to humanity's never-ending romance with self-sabotage.
Something is profoundly wrong with me. This is an indisputable fact.
Shame burned through every fiber of my being. I was bemoaning the cost of my misguided adventure when I heard the first raindrop land on the car's windshield.
I froze. Another drop followed, then another, and by the time I shakily lifted my head the sky had erupted into a full-on downpour.
Yesterday's dread paled in comparison to the wave of terror that overcame me when I realized the other parked cars had suddenly vanished, leaving me alone in an empty lot. I frantically reached for the car keys and sped away so rapidly that my tires shrieked across the asphalt. My heart was still pounding when I ducked into the motel room and bolted the door shut behind me. I wrapped myself in the threadbare blankets I'd tossed and turned beneath the night before and tried to warm the chill prickling across my flesh. The rain clouds have long since disbanded, but I've continued to cautiously peer out of the window nonetheless.
I won't go back to the park. I can't. Tonight I'll get some sleep, and first thing in the morning I'm packing my bags and leaving. If there's anything I've learned from the post I now wish I'd never read, it's that the rain in Woodharrow isn't merely a bout of bad weather.
It's a warning.
I'm at the park now. I've gone back. God help me, I've gone back. Why? I truly can't explain it. I haven't even exited the car yet and already I regret my decision. It wasn't mere curiosity that drove me here, but something perilous inside of my mind that just won't allow me to stay away. I was wide awake all night, pacing until I was certain my footsteps had left behind a permanent indention along the motel room carpet.
No one else is here. The sky's still dark. It started raining seconds after I arrived.
I don't think I should bring the umbrella with me.
I found her.
She's sitting on a swing, her head bowed and her tiny pallid hands frigidly clenching its rusted chains. The wide brim of her hat obscures most of her face, but I can still see the blond knots of her tangled hair. She doesn't seem to mind the rain pelting her—she just remains unnaturally still, her small feet dangling stiffly above the wet ground, like she's been frozen in place or stricken with rigor mortis. Even from this distance I can feel her despair.
The sun should have risen by now.
She's yet to move. Should I call out to her?
Back in the motel room now. I'm going to type this up while it's still fresh in my exhilarated mind.
Before I could stop myself, I opened my mouth.
“Hello!” I shouted. “Are you alright?”
If the girl heard me, she gave no indication of it. She sat as motionless as a statue even as I slowly approached her, my pulse accelerating with each step. Just when I was close enough to see the cracks running along the paper-thin surface of her fingernails, a sudden burst of thunder caused me to jolt with surprise and glance upwards into the ominous sky. When I looked back down she was gone.
I ran throughout the park, so drenched with cold rain that my teeth chattered as I sprinted. I ran until my breathing grew ragged and the pain in my chest became too sharp to ignore; only then did I slink wetly back to my car and return to the motel, where the sun shone brightly above me. My flesh feels like it's been constructed from ice and I still need to change out of my soaked clothes, but it isn't my body temperature that's making me light-headed—it's the overwhelming sense of victory coursing through my veins like adrenaline.
I wasn't wrong. The Woodharrow Children are real. I haven't seen the boy yet, but if the girl is there then that means he's likely not far behind.
I'm going to take a hot shower, then a nap—but only a very brief one. There's still much work to be done.
My joints feel as if they've been replaced with broken shards of glass that grind together agonizingly whenever I move. I can only make it as far as the bathroom before the ache becomes too much to bare and I retreat back into bed.
At some point the scent of roses began to permeate the motel room. I covered my nose with my shirt and even attempted to smother the fragrance with a half-empty can of pine-spiced air freshener I found stowed away in a dresser drawer, but it continues to linger inside my nostrils and make my head swim with memories I want to forget.
I can still see the bouquets clutched in my father's calloused hands—the delicate white blossoms of baby's breath brushing gently against lush emerald leaves and petals as rich as red velvet, the pink tissue paper cradling the flowers and tied elegantly with a satin ribbon, the jarring contrast between his roughened palms and the fragile arrangements he held in his grasp. Each time my mother was presented with roses she would wipe the tears from her blackened eyes and bruised cheeks, smile shakily, and forgive Dad once more.
Today just walking past a florist's shop is enough to turn my stomach.
Both my parents have been dead for years. I've spent my adult life trying to lock the bleak specter of my childhood inside the deepest recesses of my memory, hoping that it will eventually wither away and rot into dust. Why should it reemerge to haunt me now?
The smell's giving me a headache. I'm going to try sleeping in the car.
I woke up in the Woodharrow parking lot. I don't remember driving here.
It's raining again. Perhaps it never stopped.
Nora has made multiple attempts to contact me. I haven't answered her calls or read her texts. By now her anger has likely abated into concern. I love my girlfriend, but I don't know what to say to her anymore. I certainly can't tell her about what's happening here. If I'm alive long enough to complete this journal, I won't publish so much as a single sentence of it online; though I've continued to document my experiences, I don't intend for these words to be read by anyone but myself. I will not be responsible for the demise of anyone who might use them to seek out Woodharrow and find themselves trapped in the cycle I currently find myself imprisoned within—powerless to battle whatever keeps bringing me back to the park, frightened of what might lie ahead, yet still ravenous for the knowledge that lurks behind Woodharrow's veil. What scares me the most is the realization that if I could somehow travel backwards in time and prevent myself from ever journeying to Woodharrow, I'd doubtlessly come right back here anyway.
You see, I need to know.
I need to know what lies beneath the boy's hat. I need to know who the children are and why Woodharrow is their home. I need to know how this park can simultaneously be an ordinary estate and a godforsaken place. Most of all, I need to know what happened to the writer of the post that began my irreversible descent. I wish I could believe that they never returned to Woodharrow and instead went on to live a peaceful life far past the park's reach, but I know better. Whatever their terrible fate was, I am certain that my own impending destiny will soon mirror it.
I'm aware that each answer I seek will carry a heavy, dangerous price. But I'm willing to pay for them all.
I can see the girl's swollen form standing near the park sign. I don't know if she senses that I'm observing her. It is essential that I remain as calm and careful as possible; if she notices me, she might flee again.
Ah! She's just turned towards the entrance path and begun to walk away. I'm going to follow her from afar.
I don't remember the path being this long before.
I'm starting to hear things: my father's enraged roar distorted by water and my mother weeping an ocean of tears, drowning cries for help silenced by crashing waves, serpentine hissing and the nauseating writhing of maggots, fingernails splintering into fractured shards as they claw frenziedly at unmovable stones.
I have to keep going.
A thought just occurred to me. The Woodharrow post's author stated that their phone ceased to function when they encountered the girl, yet mine continues to operate smoothly. I think it's because the park somehow knows that I have no intention of calling for help. I think it wants me to share my story. Well, that's not going to happen. Whatever awaits me at the end of the path, I won't allow Woodharrow to fashion me into a pawn and use my journal to lure others here.
I don't think I'll ever see Nora again. While this saddens me more than I can express, I acknowledge that it's for the best; she deserves better than a boy with an ugly past who grew up to become a man dragging the unbreakable hidden chains of self-loathing alongside him wherever he went. What kind of person finds the beauty of roses appalling?
Something is profoundly wrong with me. This is an indisputable fact.
In time she would have eventually grown to hate me. Maybe it's for the best that our relationship concludes with my disappearance—at least this way she'll mourn me rather than look back and regard our life together only with revulsion. Tragedy has a tendency to make even flawed people appear magnificent.
Part of me always knew this would become a one-way journey. I can admit that now.
There's footsteps behind me. I already know who they belong to.
He's reaching for his hat now.
I love you, Nora. I am grateful that you will never read this.
To say that these entries devastated me would be a grievous understatement. But I can't afford to become absorbed in despondency and fall to weeping pieces; right now the only thing I care about is finding Fisher. Someone out there knows exactly what happened, and they want me to know too—why else would they have sent me his phone? It contains more than just his journal: it holds enough information to retrace Fisher's steps and guide me to the park.
I am acutely aware that Woodharrow is dangerous, and I realize that Fisher wouldn't want me to go, but I feel I have little choice in the matter. You see, after I finished examining Fisher's cell I noticed something that chilled me to the bone. Though the phone was free of residue and as clean as if it'd just been freshly plucked from his pocket, it left behind a dark stain on my hand. I've since tried to scrub the ink-like mark away, but it won't seem to budge. I suppose it doesn't really matter—I would've gone anyway. Whatever sorrow Woodharrow holds cannot compare to the pain I've felt in the wake of Fisher's absence. I too am prepared to pay a heavy price for answers.
Anyway, it's time for me to leave. I want to get there as quickly as possible.
There's someone waiting for me in the rain.
Written by CertainShadows