"This tape is here for a reason," I said to my friend. "I know this was kinda my idea, but I'm having second thoughts. These woods were safe to walk through when we were in 7th grade, but they're closed off now."
There was a length of translucent yellow tape fixed hastily across every entrance to the forest, and men pacing in strange uniforms around trucks near the main one. A man in neon yellow directed traffic around the site.
"Shut up," he said. "It's a construction zone. They want to build a Starbuck's or something on that leveled plane of dirt."
"I've never seen a construction worker wear a hazmat suit." I retorted. He sighed.
"There's dust around, Joe. Plus, with that ruined building over there, we're probably breathing in asbestos right now," replied my friend.
"Okay, fair enough," I admitted. "It's about time they did something with that patch of land anyway. Either that, or they're trying to catch some monsters that got loose from the GenTec facility!" I said jokingly.
My friend began laughing, rustling the charcoal cumulus of hair that sprouted from his sand-brown follicles. I lifted the yellow tape and ducked under it, stumbling onto the wooden bridge that arced over a verdant length of swampy water from which we could hear the staccato calls of amphibians and other diminutive fauna.
"Spring Peepers." He said.
"Yup," I replied. "sounds like a lot more than last year. But then again we weren't here this early last year."
"True," he said. "Now I'm kinda just regretting not buying that net we saw at CVS, we could probably catch one. I have an extra tank in my kitchen from when my fish died."
We stepped over the last plank of wood and onto the paved path, surrounded by looming trees. I couldn't find the moon in the night sky, probably a new moon. Or maybe it was behind some trees.
"Mars is supposed to be visible tonight," I said, suddenly thinking about the sky. "I think it's that star with the orange-ish tinge over there."
"Awesome," he said, smiling. "I love mars. They said there was supposed to be life there a really long time ago."
"Aren't there still micro organisms there?" I asked. "I think I saw that on a special sometime."
"I don't think so," he said.
"Well then google it on your phone!" I exclaimed. "You have internet."
"No," he replied. "I don't feel like taking my phone out right now."
We were nearly a quarter mile into the woods and the frog calls were faded and muffled. The trees covered up most of the sky now, and we could see only the path and rough impressions of some stumps and sticks close to the edge. There were some larger branches piled parallel to the path, presumably fallen from a storm and moved to the side by a thoughtful jogger. We now approached an opening in the trees, a spot near the edge of the river where thick bushes lined the bank before the dropoff into the water. It was dark still, very dark. The trees no longer shrouded our vision but we could barely see thirty feet ahead of us. Luckily we knew this path well from many daytime fishing trips.
"I remember coming with my other friend here when I was little at night, it was really creepy," I said.
"Well it's not that bad" he replied, "But to be fair, we're not that deep into the woods."
We were approaching the end of the opening, and were about twenty feet from where the bushes ended and the path curved left back into the ominous forest.
"Stop." I said. I halted and so did my friend. "Do you see that?" He squinted his eyes.
"Do I see what?" he asked. "That whitish shape." I replied, pointing to the very last bush at the end. There was a floating shape near the end of the bush. It looked to be about the size of a dinner plate and white, or at least lighter than anything around it. I tried to imagine what it might be, but I could still only make out a hazy outline.
"Yeah." he said, suddenly nervous. "Do you think we should turn around? That could be anything."
"Maybe, but I want to see it first." I said pulling out my cellphone for light. A glance at the screen temporarily impaired my vision, and I had to re adjust. I pointed my phone towards the shape, just 15 feet ahead, but it didn't help. All it did was cut through the darkness a few feet, and reveal the light brown, dirt covered pavement that had become dusty and cracked from floods in years past. I put my phone back in my pocket.
"Cover me." I said, "Keep an eye on that shape, I'm gonna grab a stick or something."
"Okay." he said, holding up his cell phone still in a vain attempt to get a better look.
I took my phone back out and pointed it downwards toward the grassy ground to the left of the path and squatted, scanning the foliage for a large stick. I saw the ash gray end of something poking out of a clump of grass and grasped for it, pulling it off the ground. It was a fallen tree limb, about four feet long and covered in branching twigs. I pulled the larger ones off and went back to where my friend was.
"Okay," I said. "Go get a stick. I'll cover you."
Silently, he walked off to the same grassy patch I had gone to. I stared at the shape, unmoving and floating, attempting to focus. After a few moments of rustling in the grass, my friend returned with a stick, slightly smaller than mine.
"My stick sucks," He grumbled.
We both put our phones in our pockets and slowly crept forward. The closer we got, the more the shape seemed to move. Sway back and forth. At a distance of about ten feet I squinted and saw that it was the shape of a long triangle, flat on the top and pointy on the bottom. Upon closer examination I noticed something black behind it. It was larger than the white shape and seemed to touch the ground. It appeared as though it was attached to the triangle.
"Do you see that black thing?" whispered my friend. "Yes." I replied, eyes wide with surprise. We looked at each other and turned around, dropping our sticks and running as quickly as we could, causing birds to flee from nearby branches and stirring up invisible dust. We retraced our steps, running down the path. We slowed to a walk and eventually stopped to catch our breath once the clearing was out of our field of vision.
"Oh my god!" I said, almost laughing. "I nearly had a heart attack. What in the hell was that thing?"
"How am I supposed to know?" He asked. "I'm never coming in here at night again."
There was a faint rustling in the foliage to our left.
"Let's go" he insisted. I squinted to see what was stirring but it was useless. We started walking again, at a slow pace. There was a second rustling slightly louder. We were now out of the clearing so seeing was even more difficult than before. No light from the moon or the stars to aid us. We stopped. I raised an eyebrow in confusion, looking around only out of habit at the unbroken ink. Suddenly we heard a loud screech, followed by a growl and the cries of something wounded. We heard something tumble out in front of us and stepped back. There was a faint outline of hazy gray and a subtle squishing sound. My friend pulled his cellphone out and inched forward, shining it on the object. He froze in fear. I looked at the weak beam of light and saw a fat, lifeless raccoon laying on its side with a gaping, bloody hole in its torso. Standing above the raccoon was a truly strange animal. It was covered in dark gray scales and had the body shape of a small raptor, albeit thicker in the limbs. It stood about 3 feet tall and had a white head. The line between its head and neck was lined with stitch-like metal loops and it held in its mouth a red rag—a bloody component of the masked forager, pierced by jagged teeth. It was startled by the light and dropped the flesh, looking up and shrieking loudly at the cell-phone. My friend looked at me and ran as fast as he could down the trail, leaving me behind. I ran and followed, deeply frightened by what I had seen. I felt a sharp pain in my thigh and I suddenly tumbled to the ground, my face scraping the concrete. The creature was standing over me, screeching. I called out for my friend, but no footsteps were heard. I watched as the bright screen of his cellphone disappeared into the distance. The creature swiped at my arm, gashing it deeply as I cried out in pain. My wounds throbbed in rhythm with my heart beat, pulsing and soaking the ground in a sanguine bath. The creature lunged its dinosaur-like head forward and the last things I felt were crooked teeth sinking into my nape before I blacked out, floating into a sea of empty thoughts.