The past week has gone by quickly and, thankfully, without incident. I am now of the mind that the email I shared in my last post might have been nothing more than a reader trying to freak me out. If so, then job well done. Allow me to return the favor.
As promised, I am going to share something of a much more paranormal nature than the mill. I understand if you don't believe me-- I probably wouldn't either. All I ask is that you read this fully, with an open mind.
The first time I remember venturing into the sickly woods surrounding Pale Forest was when I was sixteen. I am sure that I did so when I was younger as well, but of those times I have no recollection. This trip was not merely to explore the grotesque countryside, though. In my teens, I had been the owner of a rundown stick-shift which, despite its reluctance to start at times, was my pride and joy. I have always enjoyed working on cars since the first time I was old enough to do so. On this particular day, my craft had betrayed me, leaving me stranded on the side of the road, a good three miles from my house which was in a neighborhood outside of town. I am usually good with direction, and I knew that heading north would get me home in half the time. Unfortunately, the road ran east. My options, therefore, were to follow the empty road for three miles or to cut through the forest. I reluctantly chose the latter.
I have been in forests since then, in other areas of the country, so I am not speaking from ignorance when I say that the woods of Pale Forest are unlike any place I have ever been. It is not the unnaturally white trees that I am referring to (though they are, thankfully, unique in my experience), but rather the lack of virtually any other life. Within these woods, it is as if sound does not naturally exist-- it is quiet beyond all sense of reason. This exaggerates the sound of your own footsteps until they are all you can hear or focus on. That is, unless, the monotonous crunching of debris underfoot is broken by something else.
That is what happened when I was sixteen. I had only been in the forest for twenty minutes or so when a sound off to my left made every hair on the back of my neck stand on end (the fact that it was the first noise I'd heard that wasn't my own since the car had broken down made it even more frightening). It is hard to explain what it sounded like. It was a sort of loud skittering, replaced by shuffling every few seconds, as if something large was running around in the woods, pausing every few moments to drag something along with it. I had already been consumed by a feeling of apprehension the minute I set foot in the forest, so it took very little to push me over the edge. The sound was clearly out in front of me, and I don't remember my panicked sprint back to the car, but I do know it took far less time than getting out there to begin with. That night, I thought about telling my parents about my experience, but I remembered my father sternly telling me to never go into the woods, and thus thought better of it.
It wasn't until after college that I dared to go back. Now, a man, I was determined to face old fears and conquer them. Looking back, I wish I had been less arrogant. What I had seen as a silly, childish fear, I now regard as something wholly to be feared. For if it had been my intent to find the cause of the sound I had heard years before, then I was successful to a greater extent that I had hoped.
No, I did not see an actual creature. Thank God for that. What I did find, however, was a cave not far from where my car had broken down. The sight of it was repugnant, though I'm not truly sure why. It was little more than stone with an opening large enough for me to enter if I stooped a bit. Still, there was something about it that made me sick to my stomach. I eventually managed to convince myself that there was nothing to be afraid of, and after several minutes of mental deliberation, found myself ducking under the mouth of the cave.
Inside, there seemed initially little to see (I had wisely brought a flashlight). The cave consisted of an area no larger than a child's bedroom, the floor of which was apparently barren. I swept my flashlight towards the back wall, hoping to find the place empty. I sighed afterwards in relief, glad to find I was alone. I was just about to leave, in fact, when the beam of light caught something that was a very different color than the stone walls. There was little to do but investigate, which involved digging very briefly into the floor of the cave. The ground was quite loose as if recently replaced.
Removing the object from the soft mound, I brought it closer, my dirt-covered hands trembling. I had to steady myself to keep from dropping the flashlight when I recognized what it was I held. There is no doubt in my mind, so help me, that it was a skull! I involuntarily let it fall again to where it had been hidden. It landed with a thud that did not sound right, and I had to force myself to shine the light into the small hole I had made. The skull was not alone. I was standing in a burial mound!
I have no memory of the next few moments. My assumption is my mind has been wiped clean by a combination of fear and adrenalin, much like my teenage experiences in the same area of the forest. The next image I have is that of the interior of my car as I drove haphazardly away from that awful place. I hadn't investigated well enough to truly say whether or not the skull was human (it was cracked and badly disfigured), but the possibility is terrifying and quite real. The sight still haunts me.
I have not been back to that "lair" since, and I hope to never have a reason to do so. I did try reporting it to the Pale Forest police, but they told me it was probably nothing more that the home of a bear. They also dismissed the possibility of any humans having been attacked or eaten. I'm not so sure of either conclusion.
Hopefully you are still with me, believers. I intentionally did not share this story until now because I was afraid that you'd write me off as a lunatic if I started off with tales of a man-eating monster. Now that we've moved into more supernatural territories, think it's time I talk about my best friend, Mike. That will have to wait, though. I have been getting migraines lately and I need to lie down.
Until next time...