The wind howled repeatedly battering a young man’s olive skin as he ran through the Renshaw forest. He stopped momentarily to look back, his brown eyes caught a glimpse of grey fur dashing between the trees. Letting let out a cry of despair he continued running, hoping to escape the monstrous forest, into the safety of the road. One of his expensive trainers slipped off while he was trying to climb over a mossy boulder, he looked down noticing it lying by a creeping vine but was forced to leave it behind. The rain stopped suddenly, the wind picked up. The young man could see the road in the distance, and he began laughing and crying from exhaustion and terror making his way towards safety.
He looked up at how the trees had woven their branches together, blocking out the meagre sunlight struggling to break through the dark grey clouds above. He stumbled to the edge of the forest and looked down the embankment at the road. He noticed a blonde man in a black car had stopped. The passenger, a blonde woman, was looking up at the forest and straight at him. He screamed as he stepped forward, his ankle was mauled by what looked like an ancient bear trap. Dropping to the ground, he whimpered watching his means of safety drive away.
He sat still, he could hear a faint panting. He desperately tried to open the trap using a branch, but screamed louder as it snapped the wood and cut deeper into the bone. The panting gradually become louder and, as the sound of a beast snarling filled his ears, he resigned himself to the fact that he was about to die.
He trembled feeling its warm breath on the nape of his neck. He hung his head down and prayed for salvation. Seconds later he heard someone shouting in the distance. He heard whatever was behind him run off followed by a woman’s voice echoing through the trees.
“Hello!” she called.
Instantly worried what the beast would do to her, he shouted a warning, “There is something in the forest!” “It’s coming after you!” He heard the woman scream, he tried again to free himself. His ankle pained but he tried to get his foot out of the wrought iron trap. Positioning the branch between the rusty iron teeth and using his other foot to lever it open, he finally got his mangled foot out of the trap and heard something approaching him. He dragged himself towards one of the big oak trees but realised he had left a trail of blood. He rested against the tree, his heart began galloping. He heard panting again, he closed his eyes and sat still.
“Are you alright?” he heard a woman ask, he opened his eyes.
“I thought it had got you,” he said, the woman knelt down looking at his ankle.
“You thought what had got me?” she asked seeming confused.
“I heard you screaming and then…” he was interrupted, by the woman who was looking at the severity of his injury, she studied the bear trap and then glanced back at the man.
“Those damn traps,” she mumbled.
“What happened to the wolf?” he asked.
“Wolf?” she chuckled. “There are no wolves on Black Mountain Island,”
His vision became blurry with a large amount of blood pouring from his wound.
“We will never get to the hospital in time,” she stressed, she tore the bottom of her shirt. She took the rubber band that was holding her hair in a ponytail and used it in conjunction with the ripped shirt. He groaned, the woman wrapped the material around his ankle and then put the band in place to hold it together.
“Don’t put any pressure on that foot,” she instructed him, looking for the easiest route to take. “There is a man living in the heart of this forest,” she explained helping him up. “I will take you to him and he will stop the bleeding.”
The young man did not argue, he was in such a numb state of shock that he just blindly went along with the helpful stranger.
“Well, stop the bleeding and any infection, then we can take you to the hospital,” she concluded, he slowly limped along with her help.
They hobbled into the forest, the body of a woman lay half eaten not far from where the young man initially heard the screams. Something tugged at her body before it was ripped into the bushes, bones could be heard breaking as she was being devoured. A pair of ochre eyes glared out of the bushes before the blood-stained beast streaked past at lightning speed, vanishing into the autumnal foliage.
“What is your name?” she asked the young man, as they made their way deeper into the forest.
“I’m Harkin,” he told her. He noticed her smile. “Why are you smiling?” he asked, observing her pale cheeks becoming flushed.
“I’ve not heard that name before,” she answered, he looked before him, they ended up in front of a small stream.
They both stood still, they could hear something moving through the forest.
“Don’t make a sound,” she whispered, slowly pressing him against a great oak tree.
“What are you doing?” he whispered before she let go of his arm.
“I’m going to go see what that is” she replied. “Before it comes to see what we are.”
Harkin felt sick at the thought of trying to run in the shape he was in. Walking two steps forward a great red deer leapt out, almost trampling her. She gasped and she jumped out the way of its foreboding antlers. It stopped and looked at Harkin before darting off.
“Could it have been a deer that was chasing after you?” she asked, putting his arm around her neck.
“I saw grey fur,” he said with conviction in his voice. “It was a wolf.”
The woman was silent for a while as they walked.
“In winter the red deer tend to turn a greyish colour,” she explained.
“It’s autumn,” he said frowning at her.
“I know that!” she raised her voice slightly, “But if you start telling people you are seeing wolves in the forest can you imagine what they will think?” she asked. “I’m just trying to spare you from ridicule.”
The entire time they chatted they were unaware that they were being tracked by the beast, it stalked patiently, watching, waiting…
“Would it not have been easier just to wait in the road?” Harkin asked, realising that they were making their way even deeper into the forest, to which the woman shook her head.
“You could have been sitting by the side of the road for goodness knows how long,” she moaned. “I did what I thought was the right thing.”
Harkin looked at her, her eyes kept flitting and she seemed slightly on edge, he wondered if she knew something and didn’t want to worry him.
“What is your name?” Harkin asked the stranger.
“You can call me your saviour,” she joked, trying to lift his spirits.
He looked down at his ankle, blood was seeping through the torn grey shirt.
“How did you know what to do with the wound?” he asked slowing down slightly.
“Endless hours of medical shows on television,” she joked and Harkin finally cracked a smile.
They heard something ruffling in the autumn leaves behind them.
“It’s a deer,” she assured him, before moving carefully over the mossy ground. The trees deeper in the forest looked much more ominous. You could see that humans had rarely come to these parts, and the pathways were disappearing in the overgrowth.
“How do you know there is a man in the heart of the forest?” he questioned her, when she seemed unsure which way to go when the pathway came to an end.
She pointed to what remained of a pathway. He looked down and observed that underneath the weeds and moss there were cobblestones. They both looked back hearing branches snapping.
“It’s a deer,” she repeated herself.
But she was wrong. The beast snarled watching them. Its nostrils twitched feverishly picking up the scent of Harkin’s blood. It descended into one of the many burrows of Renshaw forest and threaded through the maze of damp muddy passageways beneath Harkin and the mysterious woman.
“How do you know about the man in the middle of the forest?” he asked again. “And what were you doing in the forest?” he continued to question her.
“Settle down Detective Harkin,” she joked.
Harkin stood still, “just tell me what you were doing in the forest!” he insisted.
“I can see you are in your running gear,” she pointed out. “Did you stop to think that maybe I was doing the same thing?”
Harkin looked at her clothing and realised she was probably out for a walk or run herself.
“Happy Detective?” she mocked, Harkin nodded.
“How do you know about the man in the middle of the forest?” he persisted.
The woman tugged Harkin’s arm to carry on moving, but he pulled back.
“I’m waiting,” he told her staring into her baby-like face.
“My father lives in the middle of the forest!” she shouted. “Jeeze Harkin, how to kill the air of mystery.” The woman yanked him by the arm continuing forward.
“Why didn’t you just tell me it was your father?” he asked but noticed she seemed slightly embarrassed.
“Where are you from?” she asked, avoiding his question.
“Ireland,” he answered.
She laughed. “That explains the accent at least.” she jested, to which Harkin smiled.
“So, have you always lived on Black Mountain Island?” he asked, to which she simply nodded.
“You seem very guarded,” he told her. “Do you live in the middle of the forest with your father?”
A pain shot up into his leg that immobilised Harkin. He yelped with pain dropping to the ground.
“We are so close,” the woman assured him, trying to get him back up.
“I can’t!” he shouted, his leg felt as if it was doused with petrol and set on fire.
“Get up!” she screamed. Her entire demeanour changed towards him.
“What is wrong with you?” he shouted at her as she stood back.
“We need to get out of the forest and into my father’s cabin,” she said trying to lift him again.
He pushed her away, watching her shake her head.
“You snivelling, whiny, idiot!” she sneered at him.
Grabbing him by his dark brown hair, she dragged him with sudden supernatural strength, deeper into the forest. Harkin’s hands were cut open by the vines and branches which he tried to grab hold of while he was dragged away. The woman hummed the most peculiar tune hauling Harkin down a misty path towards a stone cabin. She pulled him through some tall spiky grasses, Harkin pleaded with her, but she ignored him.
“Why are you doing this?” he begged for an answer, he heard the sinister growl return.
He yelled as she dragged him over a jagged rock, then pulled down hard on the stone and finally got out of her grip. Desperately, he tried to crawl into the long grass to hide but she was too fast for him. She grabbed him by the wounded ankle. He howled in agony, she continued to drag him along. His head fell back, staring in horror at the pitiless eyes which suddenly appeared through the gloom.
“The wolf!” he shouted with the beast growling, its blood-stained grey fur emerging from the mist.
“It’s right behind us!” he warned the woman, who finally stood still.
She dropped Harkin’s leg and turned towards the long grass. The beast snarled and sprang from the mist. Harkin lay on the ground paralysed in fear.
“Finders keepers!” she shouted out.
Harkin could hear the beast growling. Lightning ran across the grey sky and the heavens opened up; torrential rain began to bucket down and the ground quickly became a quagmire. The smell of wet dog suddenly hit Harkin’s nose. He tried to crawl away, but it was too late. He could feel how the beast’s blunt teeth entered his flesh and crunched into the bone of his good leg.
“Please!” he continued to beg wetting himself.
The woman ran hastily and grabbed Harkin by the arms and the beast had him by the leg.
“This one is mine!” she shouted to the beast, it growled, still holding Harkin’s leg in its jaw.
Harkin screamed as the beast ripped the muscle from his leg exposing his shin bone. Harkin began to lose his mind, he thought he heard the beast speaking when the woman swore at it. The creature let go at the same time the woman did and Harkin fell onto his side. He looked down at his calf muscle lying beside him.
The woman ripped off her torn grey top, the rain came down much harder now. She screamed, running towards the beast. It jumped forward colliding with the woman, striking her down into the thick mud. Harkin began to go into shock watching the beast sink its jaws into the woman’s neck, she was trying to strangle it. The beast jumped back and the woman got back onto her feet, blood was pumping from her neck but it did not seem to bother her.
Harkin turned onto his back and looked up at the sky as he could feel the blood leaving his body; the rain drops hitting his face as the beast howled. He could no longer hear the woman shouting at the beast, he readied himself for the inevitable…
His eyes widened as he felt a cold wet nose nudging his leg that was injured in the trap. He gasped when he heard yet another beast howl.
“Two of them,” he whispered to himself, the sound of a lock could be heard opening. The beasts took Harkin by each foot, and a trap door sprung open beside him revealing a blood-stained white glove. Harkin screamed as he was snatched halfway into the underground passage like a trapdoor spider would ensnare its prey. The beasts ripped at his legs and he could feel his hips dislocating. The trapdoor repeatedly smashed down onto Harkin’s body, until with a sickening crunch, his body was severed in half.
The beasts ripped his bottom half in two and ran off into the forest each sporting a trophy while Harkin lay in the dark passageway. With his life ebbing away, he could hear a maniacal giggle. A pair of enormous jester shoes with bells on was the last thing Harkin saw before his tormented soul left his body…