So, since I have extra time to write, I'm going to work on some prompts I missed out on in the month prior.
I remember the sensation of being watched in the woods, always in the woods. Living in Northeast Pennsylvania, you're surrounded by nothing but woods. Trees of various ages, types, and conditions curl their branching fingers together like lovers in summer or corpses in winters. And every time I walked the deer stomped paths that splintered throughout the forest, I felt unseen eyes watching me; burning two holes into my back.
It started when I was young, exploring the woods like any adventurous and curious kid would do. The difference was that I was always alone.
Where I lived, you had to drive ten minutes to get to the next house, and twenty minutes to get to the gas station, and even thirty minutes to get to my school.
In summer, when my mom didn;t have enough money to put food on the table, let alone put gas in the car to drive me to a friends house, I entertained myself by pretending I was a wild animal, claiming my favorite parts of the forest I frequented as my territory. I was always by myself, with no friends to laugh with me, and barely any family to fawn over my reckless decisions that marked my skin with a number of scars. That's why the sudden feeling of being watched turned my stomach so violently because even as a small child I knew I was playing in the woods alone.
I tried to investigate at first, a rambunctious nine-year-old climbing over boulders a jumping over logs, shouting, "ah, ha!" But every time I searched, I came up short. Nothing was in the woods with me, save the occasional squirrel, doe, or rabbit. The small birds usually kept to the tree tops, but the sleeping owls and the cawing crows would flutter above me from time to time.
I tried to swallow the feeling as I got older, an awkward preteen whimpering next to a hollow tree, scribbling in my journal about the latest bullying incident. The forest was my safe zone, a place where I could be alone when my dad left, and when my mom brought her newest boyfriend home. It's where I went when my first dog died, and I didn't make any of the after school sports teams. It was the place where I still felt the eyes watching me, and where I was heading to now, as a fresh college graduate.
My jeep rolled into my childhood driveway, the house that built me groaned a hello as I slammed the door and gazed at how weathered away it looked. Four years ate away at the deck and the paint, and since no one lived in it, no one was caring for it. It was sad, to see my old home on its last leg, but it was something I could do nothing about.
Instead, I headed around the back and towards the woods I knew so well. Into the clearing the deer made by constantly bedding down, over the V trunk base that two old maples shared, and through the endless ferns that caressed my shins with fuzzy fingers.
The more I followed the paths I grew up on, the more I began to realize that I left marks in the forest just as much as it had left on me. The broken branch where I had climbed still hung lifelessly without leaves, like a broken finger, matching a jagged scar on my right elbow seamlessly mirroring the crooked bend.
I didn't feel the sensation of being watched until twenty minutes into my walk. This was why I came, this was what I needed. A part of me was more romanced than curious of the feeling because it was so intense and only in specific spots of the forest.
I found the stump I used to sit on years prior, and placed myself squarely in the middle. Legs folded, I undid the clip holding my honey brown hair, and simply waited with eyes closed. What I had learned over the years of coming to this stump, in particular, was to ignore the feeling to make it more intense. Whether it was a trick of my mind or imagination, the feeling gave me goosebumps as I half smiled towards the sky.
The wind rustled the leaves, the various animals shuttered the forest floor debris and the gentle chirping that had always alluded me returned.
I kept myself very still.
This quiet cricketing sound was one that appeared only after I began to ignore the feeling of eyes on my back. It was an uneven rhythm that matched my movement, and the longer I stayed still, and the longer I pretended that nothing was there, the louder the sound became as it skittered closer to me from behind.
I could feel my heart hammering in my throat, my pulse pounding in my ears, threatening my ability to hear the chatter approaching behind me. I felt my stomach twist, my mouth water, as whatever creature creeping behind me got close enough that I could've sworn I felt it's breath on the back of my head. And just as I was about to jump out of my skin, to turn and look to see what I had found all these years, the chattering sound shuffled to my right.
It was never anywhere but right behind me.
It was enough to shock me out of my romanced naivete and send my stomach into spirals that threatened to make me vomit my lunch of chocolate chip pancakes. My brown eyes flip open, my neck snapping to the right, where I could've sworn I saw a branch move and something depart into the darkness.
Part of me, the rational survivor, told me to turn back and leave, never to return to this haunting place. The other part, the curious young white girl who would surely die in a horror movie while looking for answers that should never be revealed, pushed me off the tree stump and propelled me forward through the line of oaks.
I could see very clearly the tree branches move aside for an unseen force just out of my line of sight. I tried to stay focused on it, but was forced to watch my footing as I stumbled and tripped over lifted roots, loose stones, and washed out ditches; enough so that the child in me would shake her head ashamed at my rusted experience.
I saw the ravine too late.
I skidded to a stop, my sneakers slipping in the moist earth before my momentum brought me leaning dangerously over the edge. With an "eep!", I tried to lean back but fell uselessly foward.
The drop had to have been at least three stories before I belly flopped into the water below. The sting on my skin told me I was still alive, enough so to wake myself up so I could swim to the top. Breaking the surface, my lips gasped like a fish, but the wind had knocked hard out of me. It took a moment before I could breathe, and when able, sucked in as much as I could whilst treading water.
No doubt I had lost whatever I was chasing. But whatever it was, it was real. Something alive that watched me grow in the woods behind my house. Big foot was my first thought, but with a smile and a huffed chuckle, I put off the thought and swim to the shore. Soaking wet, tired, and red raw from my hideous high jump performance, I shuffle onto the edge of the river and try to ring out my clothes.
I had never gone this far south before, and regret not being even more adventurous as a youth to find this gem of a peaceful place.
To the rivers left, where I had fallen, was a straight drop to the water below, but to the rivers right, where I was currently standing on the shore, the forest continued uninterrupted. In the distance, I could hear the soft whoosh of a car drive by.
Well, time to see where I was, since there was no way I could safely climb the cliff side and hike back soaking wet to my jeep.
I was too excited about finding my creature, be it human, animal, or... my inside did a little dance, a folklore myth, to be upset about my soaking wet self trudging through... I looked down to my black sneakers, my white laces stained red.
Unmistakably blood, that iron red with dirt flakes was all too familiar from my various mishaps playing in the woods.
I circled, looking in all directions for a dead or hurt animal that was more than likely limping away from being struck by one of the cars I heard up ahead. But there is no animal, no bloodied deer hobbling around, so where did this blood come from?
Curiosity and blood lead me, if I was in a horror movie, undoubtedly to the scene where I find a murderer or bloodied up corpses.
"Is someone there? Hello?"
Never before had I felt the need to call out in the woods that were mine alone. But this fresh blood lead me down a rotting hillside covered with last years leftover autumn leaves. The blood, to my knowledge, isn't enough to assume the victim dead. But it was enough for me to think that something must have gotten hit by a car, or chewed it's leg out a trap.
The blood trailed curved around a large boulder, so I followed it, my eyes falling on something smooth and brown... like the back half of a young black girl, who rested in a pile of mud, ferns, leaves, and her own blood.
"Oh shit, hey!"
I rush to her side, placing my fingers on her neck and happy to report that she was alive and breathing, not because I felt her pulse, but because I could see her bare chest rise and fall with breath.
She was completely naked. Thought I didn't have anything to cover her without revealing myself, I pulled my soaking blue t-shirt over my head and draped it over the girl. It was better than nothing, ever if my white bra was now partially see-through.
I wiggled my arms under her and sat her up. In an instant, I almost drop her. She had been laying on her left side, and when I lifted her, blood covered her arm.
Someone had carved long streaks into her entire left side, like marking strips of bark down her side.
"Oh god, oh god, cmon", I tried to calm myself and lift her into my arms. No amount of heavy lifting at my dad's lumber yard prepared me to carry a body the same size as mine through the woods and hopefully towards what I assumed was a road.
"I'm sorry, I am so sorry, hang on-" I say over and over again, trying to get a good grip around her body without touching the lash marks. Her body smells heady and makes my mouth fill with bile. I try not to think about how slippery her blood is and opt to just dragging her instead of picking her up. "I'm sorry, we're almost there".... there being I don't know where as her heels drag across the ground.
She's unresponsive but breathing.
It feels like forever, the heat of the late summer air blocked by the canopy of forest leaves above us. I try to blow away the bugs landing on her wounds, but at the same time, I can't stop huffing and puffing from dragging her who knows how long. I shouldn't have left my phone in my jeep... but if I had brought it, it would probably b dead from the water.
Finally, the pavement is in sight, and I pull her to the shoulder of the road, my back and breasts swimming in sweat. I lay her down and turn, already hearing a car coming up. I raise my dead arms and shout until I see the car, and then I step into the road.
Hopefully, they see the blood and take me seriously, a worried thought, but it passes as the car slows and pulls over. Really now, who would think a young white girl would be anything dangerous?
A man and woman both get out of the car, and I feel the exhaustion hit me all at once. My legs buckle and I fall to my knees. Panting, the woman comes up to me and kneels, asking if I'm alright.
I can't stop staring at my blood soaked hands. I use one to point to the girl, "she... huff... needs... huff... help", as I say the words, the couple turn and horrified the man runs to the girl, digging his phone from his pocket.
I lean against the woman, my eyes heavy and the world going silent.
The last thing I feel is the sensation of being watched from the woods... I turn and see in the fine moments before darkness, the branches moving in the distance, waving goodbye.
Welcome to my Blog
Hey, I'm Maryah Stevens, a 25 year old, self-published, college graduate, married, 1st time mom! Phew!