“I don’t believe you.” Chad whined as he pulled a piece of beef jerky from Mark’s pack before Mark could slap his hand away.
“What’s there to believe? It’s horseshit.” Eric poured a half a cup of whiskey, downing it in one gulp.
“It’s not though. The legend goes back centuries in these mountains.” Jack snatched the whiskey bottle out of Eric’s hand as Eric attempted to pour another cup.
Eric and Mark scoffed as Jack leaned forward, elbows on the rickety kitchen table, wetness soaking his thermal shirt. The previous owners had forgotten the old table at the cabin, which was now sticky with alcohol spilt when the group had played beer pong hours before. “They say, the creature still stalks these woods.”
Sensing Jack was gearing up for a long, dramatic story, Eric called to the girl sitting in the only lit corner of the living room, reading a book. “Merideth, honey, you got to come hear this.”
“Another one of Jack’s wild stories? No thanks.” Merideth never took her eyes from her book, her voice riddled with annoyance.
“Oh, shit.” Eric lowered his voice, leaning in, stifling a giggle. “I’m in trouble.”
The guys roared with laughter.
When the laughter died down, Jack continued. “Don’t worry about her,” waving his hand near the living room. “You’ve got bigger problems.”
“Oh, Right. The creature.” Eric drew out the last word, mocking Jack’s theatrics.
“You think I’m joking.” Jack slammed back in his chair, crossing his arms over his chest.
“Aw, you gonna pout?” Eric took a gulp from the bottle of whiskey and slammed the bottle back on the table. “Alright, guy. Tell your story.”
Jack narrowed his eyes at Eric and continued. “The creature. It lives in these mountains. Has for years. They say that going into the woods alone makes you vulnerable to it. Like a cat stalking a mouse, it plays with you. It’ll warp your sense of time. You’ll lose your direction. Walking paths will disappear.” Jack looked around the table at his friends.
Eric smirked, Mark drank from the whiskey bottle, and Chad’s eyes teared up.
Jack leaned back in his chair, dropping the theatrics. “The creature took the guy who lived next door. He was new here. Didn’t know the story. Wasn’t around long enough to make friends, I guess. When my family was staying here last summer, I was sitting on the back porch with my dad. This neighbor guy was making his way into the woods through his backyard to get firewood or something. Hell, we even waved to him and my dad asked if he needed any help. He said he could manage, so we watched him go into the woods. That was the last time we saw him. Later that summer, his house went up for sale. It’s still empty.”
They stared at each other for a few moments, silent. Then Eric shook his head. “Ain’t no creature, man. The guy was probably just there for the summer.”
“I don’t think so.”
“You ever see this creature?” Mark took his lips away from the whiskey bottle long enough to ask.
Jack shook his head. “But I’ve heard it.”
Chad leaned in closer, although it looked as though he was about to throw up. “What’s it sound like?”
“Like a wailing. A high-pitched, anguished wailing.”
“That’s a fucking coyote, man!” Eric was sure he solved the puzzle.
That Jack wasn’t responding to what he had said annoyed Eric. After staring at each other for a while, Eric said, “All right. Let’s go.” He stood.
“To find the creature.”
“No way, man!” Chad’s face had lost its color.
“I don’t recommend it.” Jack replied.
“C’mon. We’ll all go. Even Merideth.” Eric turned to where his girlfriend was sitting in the living room, but she wasn’t there. “Anyone seen Merideth?” Eric called loud enough for her to hear.
“Seriously, where’s Merideth?”
“Last I saw her, she was reading, like a nerd.” Mark chuckled.
Eric shoved him hard. “Shut up, douche lord.” Eric left the kitchen to check the bathroom and the bedrooms. “Merideth! Hey! We’re going out. Let’s go!”
Eric returned to the kitchen after searching the house. “Where the fuck is she?” He rushed out the back door.
“Hey!” Jack called after him, hurrying to the open door. “Where are you going?”
“She’s fucking with us.” Eric called back, heading for the woods.
“Dude! No woods!” Jack rushed out after Eric.
“There’s no creature, man! Relax!” Eric responded.
“Fuck that, you don’t even have a light!” Jack followed Eric to the edge of the woods, Chad and Mark close behind.
Jack stood at the treeline, watching Eric go further into the woods. Chad and Mark bumped into Jack’s back.
“Aren’t we going?” Chad asked Jack.
“He can’t go by himself.” Mark pointed to where Eric had disappeared into the trees.
Jack shook his head. “I know better.”
Chad and Mark stared at Jack. Finally, Mark said, “Well, I’m going with him.”
“I wouldn’t.” Jack said to Mark’s back.
Mark turned to face Jack. “He doesn’t know these woods. You’re a real shithead for letting him go in alone.” Mark continued toward the treeline.
“He won’t come out. It’s too late.” Jack grabbed the sleeve of Mark’s jacket. “If you go in there, you won’t come out either.”
Mark wrestled his arm free of Jack’s grasp. “Get off me, man.” Mark continued past the treeline, disappearing into the woods after Eric.
A high-pitched wailing sounded. The bushes rustled. Chad shuffled closer to Jack. “What… I…” Chad wiped his palms on his jeans.
Jack and Chad froze when they heard painful screams coming from the woods.
“They’re not coming out.” Jack turned back to the house and hurried inside.
Chad looked into the woods, then back to Jack, who was already closing the back door, and hurried to catch up.
Inside the kitchen, Jack reached for the whiskey bottle as he slumped into a chair. He took a long sip off the bottle, then offered it to Chad. Chad bounded over to Jack and slapped the bottle out of his hand. It shattered on the tile floor. “What the fuck?” Chad’s anger shocked Jack.
“What the fuck what?” Jack stood, towering over Chad.
“What are they gonna do? Huh?” Chad’s voice rose.
“Not my problem.” Jack got in Chad’s face. “Eric’s the asshole who can’t stand to be stood up, and Mark’s the dumbfuck who follows whatever he does.”
The back door opened and shut so quietly Jack and Chad didn’t hear it. They didn’t notice someone standing beside them until Merideth spoke. “Where’s Eric?”
Jack and Chad stopped their bickering to stare at her. “Where did you come from?” Jack’s confusion written on his face.
“I went for a walk. You’re all so boring.”
“Eric and Mark went into the woods looking for you. They’re probably hurt. We have to go after them!” Chad stammered as he rushed to get the words out.
Merideth nodded and walked toward the living room to retrieve her book. Her calm demeanor set both guys on edge. Jack looked closely at Merideth as she walked away and nudged Chad sharply. Jack pointed to Merideth’s shoes. Chad’s eyes widened. The hem of Merideth’s jeans were covered in blood.