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Screaming Haint Woods
Lisa Criss Griffin
Perry sighed, kicking pebbles on the shallow shoreline down the slope from their campsite in frustration. One skittered noisily across the other rocks and plopped into the rushing water. It rolled away into oblivion, just like some of their supplies had done earlier. Nobody expected the fresh mammoth rockslide that had partially diverted the river current into a smaller, rarely explored branch. Although the smaller creek also fed into the same lake eventually, it was rustic, uncharted territory…with a legend. A legend told around campfires by the locals.
Goosebumps rose on his arms as the evening breeze picked up. It carried a damp chill, and some noises he wasn’t sure he could identify. Perry gathered some wood for a campfire, since he and Libbie certainly weren’t going any farther today on the whitewater rapids roaring between the limestone cliffs of the flooded creek branch. They had been fortunate to wash up on the pebbled beach, their canoe questionably intact.
Libbie sat on a log rubbing her swollen ankle, hoping the bruising would not be too bad. An involuntary shudder shook her lithe frame as she recalled hitting the edge of the unexpected landslide, the awful sound of the bottom of the canoe grating as it spun around, almost dumping her in the roiling rapids. She had panicked and used a large rock to thrust herself back into the swirling canoe, barely conscious of the quick pain in her ankle at the time. In doing so, Libbie almost capsized the canoe, much to the dismay of her boat mate Perry. A stream of provisions spilled into the roaring river, never to be seen again.
The next scraping sound she heard was the canoe grinding up onto the pebbled beach. Libbie raised her head up and peered over the side of the canoe, relieved Perry found a place to stop. He helped her out of the canoe, up the slope and onto the log. The pain in her left ankle intensified as she attempted to put weight on it. She could walk, but barely. The prospect of being stuck out in the wilds with a significant injury caused her head to swim. Her throat tightened ominously. No. No! She was not going to give in to the anxiety surging through her body. She filled her lungs and released the air slowly through her pursed, trembling lips to combat the panic attack before it got out of hand.
The sound of a lighter flicking caught Libbie’s attention. She watched as the fire grew in size and intensity, the heat from the flames warming her damp clothes. A calm began to tamp down the anxiety plaguing her. They had survived.
She looked at Perry, who was busy moving what was left of their gear from the canoe to higher ground. A lump formed in her throat as she watched him. They had only been dating a few months, and she liked him way more than she wanted to admit. She supposed this misadventure would reveal their true colors to each other. A sheen of tears lingered in her eyes as she watched him struggle to move the canoe higher up the slope.
“I’m so sorry, Perry.”
“What? For what?”
“Well…I didn’t mean to almost capsize the canoe and hurt my ankle. I’m really sorry.”
Perry turned the canoe over by the edge of the natural clearing, then eased down on the same log next to her. His hand caressed the side of her face tenderly as their gazes met.
“Libbie…I am just thankful it wasn’t any worse. You have nothing to be sorry about. You could have been killed. Both of us could have easily perished. We were very lucky to have landed here when we did, and with some provisions.”
Perry gently wiped a stray tear rolling down Libbie’s cheek with his thumb.
“I suppose we should toast our survival and eat something before the sun goes down. Everything will be okay. You’ll see.”
“I wish I could be more helpful….”
“The very fact you are here, with me, is helpful, Libbie. Take a good, long swig of this before we look at your ankle. Nope, no arguing. It is for medicinal purposes, my dear. You will thank me shortly.”
Libbie made a face as the liquor burned its way down her throat and into her belly. By the third swig, a tingling warmth began to spread through her body.
“Ah yes. Let’s take one more big swig for good measure, Lib.”
He helped her tip the bottle until she pushed it away, gagging and sucking in air. He took a smaller swig and replaced the lid. Libbie’s face was flushed, her eyes watering. She was a mess, and she knew it. She squinted at Perry, then surprised them both with a massive burp. The couple burst into laughter, desperately glad for some comic relief. Perry leaned in towards her, a glint in his eye.
“I have to take off your shoes and socks now, madam.”
“And possibly your pants.”
Libbie’s eyes widened in faux horror, playing along. Perry was so much fun to be around. She loved his sense of humor.
“Oh no, sir…surely not…my pants!”
“Muhahahaha! We shall see, my little chickadee, we shall see.”
Perry inspected, then wrapped her bruised, swollen ankle and placed her damp shoes and socks near the fire to dry. They feasted on peanut butter and crackers, grateful they had a meal to enjoy. Around sunset, Perry located a dry sleeping bag in their supplies, and insisted they both allow their damp clothes to dry before putting them back on.
The two survivors slid into the protective warmth of the sleeping bag and watched the fiery orange, pink and purple clouds of sunset morph into an expansive array of sparkling diamonds set in the depths of the midnight blue sky.
“Do you remember that legend about these woods we all used to listen to around the campfire?”
“Tell me. Tell me the story right here in the safety of our firelight.”
“Lib, don’t you think we have had enough excitement for one day?”
Perry sighed and squeezed her soft shoulder gently with his hand.
“Okay, but don’t get scared.”
Perry clumsily tossed a couple more pieces of firewood close to their sleeping bag onto the campfire. A spray of fiery red sparks rocketed towards the starry sky. A cool breeze ruffled Perry’s hair as he wiggled back down in the sleeping bag, pulling Libbie into his protective embrace. He placed a loving kiss on Libbie’s forehead before he began telling the legend.
“Once upon a time….”
Libbie giggled and slid an arm across his chest as she snuggled in for the story.
“A group of teens decided to hike along the edge of a small creek that transversed the infamous Screaming Haint Woods to the trailhead at Lost Lake. They followed a well used deer trail when the banks of the creek became steep and impassable. They made good progress, and eventually stopped to make camp as the sun dropped close to the horizon.
“It was a moonless night, with flashes of lightning off to the northwest. The campfire was their main source of light. Thunder rumbled ominously as the group quickly ate their evening meal. They hurried to construct pine branch shelters to protect them from the rain of the impending storm. The teens huddled under the protection of their shelters as the sky turned an ominous orange color before the light faded away. The campfire hissed, billowing smoke as it sputtered and died from the rain. Lightning lit the camp sporadically.
“Around midnight, the ground shook as thunder boomed overhead. Lightning hit somewhere close by, illuminating the misshapened figure of a large creature by the edge of the camp. Everyone’s eyes were riveted on the creature, who seemed to be lit from within by an unusual glow. Arms raised, it released an eerie sound that the teens later described as a grating, electronic, inhuman scream. The Thing circled the campsite, the electrified screaming intensifying as the forest floor sizzled underneath it. Patterns of electrical charges crawled across the ground as the creature travailed. It seemed to be searching for something, without success.
“‘Where are you?!’ the Thing finally hissed. ‘Come to me, and we will ride the night skies, forever free!’
“The creature, electrical charges undulating through its terrifying form, stood before one of the pine bough shelters and sniffed. The Thing moved before each shelter, still sniffing. It seemed uninterested until it stood before the last shelter. The pine boughs caught on fire as the creature swiped the shelter’s roof into the woods. It leaned down, intense eyes of fire burning from what seemed to be a head, maybe. The Thing screamed at the exposed boys. It grabbed Kagan Creech, whose father worked at a government facility on the far side of Lost Lake, tossing him in the air. Kagan screamed as he caught on fire, then convulsed as the Thing caught him. The creature watched as the boy’s body instantly incinerated and fell on the dirt as a pile of glowing ashes.
“The Thing looked at the rest of the campers. It screamed, the rage in the sound evident as it retrieved the ashes.
“‘One to go, maybe more you know,’ The Thing whispered loudly. ‘Until this wrong is right, I fight!’
“Thunder clapped again, rumbling through the forest. In a blinding flash, the Thing was gone, leaving an acrid smell hovering in the smoke-filled air. Kagan was gone too. No trace of him was ever found.
“So beware, all of you who dare to enter the Screaming Haint Woods. Beware the storms. The same could await you, unless the wrong has been righted. And the next one could be…YOU!!!”
A small snore wandered past Perry’s ear. He rolled his eyes in frustration. He thought he had done an exceptionally fine job recalling the legend of Screaming Haint Woods. Perry sighed and closed his eyes, quickly succumbing to the cocoon of warmth in the sleeping bag.
It was three in the morning. Thunder rolled in the distance. Lightning sizzled and crawled across the approaching thunderheads. The wind began to pick up, a strange, acrid scent permeating the air. Libbie turned over, surprised to find Perry gone. She got up and slipped into her warm, dry clothes.
“Perry! This isn’t funny! Where are you?”
“Libbie. Get the sleeping bag and come over here…get under the canoe. Now!”
“What is going on? Why is the fire out?”
Libbie slid under the canoe, dragging the sleeping bag while favoring her ankle. Perry followed her, wedging her in.
“Ugh…all our stuff is in here too. What is going on? Why have you essentially packed up our campsite? This whole place smells like our natural bug repellent…lemon grass, citronella, peppermint and stuff. I don’t understand….”
Thunder rumbled loudly overhead, ending Libbie’s tirade. Perry shushed her. There was no need. Something was moving around in their former campsite. Lightning flashed. A strange crackling sound came from the camp. Perry snugged Libbie more closely, half afraid he had called up…the Thing. Light flashed across the canoe. Something screamed in the night as the rain started. Whatever it was, sounded angry. More crackling sounds followed the screaming, along with flashes of light.
A jolt of shock shot through Perry’s body as he was sure he heard his name being called, barely audible over the incessant crackling noise and the pounding of the rain on the top of the overturned canoe. He lowered his head in disbelief. He was toast. Maybe Libbie was too. Unless the creature was unaware of her presence. He would protect her and offer himself to the Thing in the hope it would lose interest in her. He had stupidly called it up. She was innocent. He grabbed her, pulling her ear to his trembling lips. He whispered, trying to sound confident.
“Libbie. I’m going out there. No matter what you see, hear, and smell, do NOT move from here until daylight. Stay still until daylight. No matter what! Promise me, Libbie. Promise me!”
“Okay, okay. I promise. But you come back. Don’t you leave me out here by myself, Perry!”
“There is a gun in the purple waterproof zip bag. Use it if needed. No matter what happens…Libbie…I think I love you.”
“Oh, Perry. Me too…I think I have loved you for a while. You better come back!”
Perry kissed her soft lips with all the tenderness in his heart. Then he wiggled away and was gone. Gone…into the storm, along with the weird sounds and screaming. Tears slid silently down her dirt-smudged face as she realized there was a chance he might not return. She had never really believed the legend of Screaming Haint Woods. Until now.
The shouting stopped. It was hard to hear anything over the drumming rain on the canoe. The light flashes started again. And now there was an ominous roaring sound overhead. Libbie debated making a run for it, then remembered her bum ankle. She pulled the sleeping bag over her head, her heart pounding. She felt the familiar tightening of her throat. Libbie began her breathing exercises, finding it somewhat comforting.
The canoe groaned and skittered downhill as something removed it. She screamed hysterically as light flashed all over her, blinding her. A firm hand grasped her. It took her a moment to recognize Perry’s voice.
“Libbie. Libbie! It’s me…Perry. Look at me. Here. Look at me!”
Libbie reluctantly looked up, terrified it was a trick of the Thing. She was eighty percent sure she was going to see a pair of flaming eyes ready to incinerate her on the spot.
“Here. Get that light out of her eyes, man. Lib, it is Perry. I am okay. You are safe and you will be okay too.”
“What? I don’t understand. Where is the Thing?”
She heard several men guffaw. She sat up, slightly blind and getting angrier by the moment.
“What’s so funny? Who is here?”
“Libbie. They are part of a rescue team that was called in to find us after the landslide was discovered. We are one of three groups stranded out here.”
The couple soon found themselves safely ensconced in the overhead chopper, along with their rescuers. The team was murmuring quietly among themselves, but the couple could hear them.
“Glad we found those two after the crazy story the first group told us. The creature, the lightning, that poor guy missing from their group….”
“Yeah. You know the legend of Screaming Haint Woods, don’t you?”
The rescuers looked at each other. Everything fit. The legend was well known to the rescuers.
The solemn rescue leader looked at each teammate individually before speaking.
“We all know what is going on here. The wrong has not yet been made right. It continues to fight. How many more people will the Thing incinerate before this ends?
Perry and Libbie locked gazes. It was real. The legend was real! And they were not the only ones who knew it. The legend of Screaming Haint Woods was fairly old. How long had this been going on? What would make things right again? The couple smiled at each other, knowing they had a future together. And a new quest with a riddle to solve.
The Thing watched the overhead chopper fly away. The forest was quiet and undisturbed once again. It fell to the ground, disintegrating as the electrical charges holding its form together were recalled to a clandestine source in the Screaming Haint Woods.
“Nicely done, Dr. Pellstein.”
“Yes, Comrade. This has been a great place for our covert operations. The Americans will never know what hit them when the Thing is completely under our control and operational…and we can easily duplicate it for use in other areas.”
“Soon, Doctor, very soon.”
Dr. Pellstein pulled a Cuban cigar from his jacket. He clipped the end and lit it. Blue smoke shot into the room from his thin lips, forming a toxic cloud.
“Yes indeed, Comrade. Very soon.”
Copyright © 2022 Lisa Criss Griffin
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