6. They

“They would come out of the trees,” John’s father told him, “Painted, screaming…such an awful sound like you never heard.” He often talked about Tennessee as though it were a mystical land, and he always drank while telling these tales, punctuating each sentence with a gulp.

He looked at John once with his good eye, the one that hadn’t been hit by a flint arrow. He told him that, when it was his time, he’d hear the screaming again. And no one would be able to stop that because its just how it is.

7. One Day

One week after Kate’s death, John went on a hunt. He stared at his reflection in the black-and-gold mirror in his house, noting that he’d lost weight. There were dark circles under his eyes, and he was a few days past a shave, stubble forming on his jawline. He was starting to get jowls now, too. The image staring back at him felt like a stranger.

Hoisting his Deringer over his shoulder, John went out to the woods, a place he and Kate had explored together on countless occasions. The air was heavy with the scent of pines and the distant echoes of birds. The hunt became more than a quest for game; it was a way to find solace in nature and come to terms with the heart-wrenching loss that had shattered his world.

8. Into the Woods

As he approached the treeline, John squared his shoulders. “This is my land,” he thought, drawing strength from the familiarity of his surroundings. The treeline imposed upon him, dark and intimidating, glaring down at him. There was something ominous in this forest, but John Bell wasn’t a man to trifle with.

It wasn’t long before he saw it. A shadowy figure darted among the trees, just out of clear view. John’s heart quickened, and he followed cautiously, the memory of Kate haunting his thoughts as he ventured deeper into the woods, determined to confront whatever it was that lurked there.

9. Losing It

John let out an embarrassing scream before immediately chiding himself. It was a squash carved with a face, likely some All Hallow’s decoration that had been left in the woods by rowdy teenagers. The squash leered at John as he laughed at his own jumpiness.

You’re losing it, Johnny. He kept walking until he reached a clearing. There, he saw a buck. His heart thumped with excitement as he raised his Deringer, narrowing in on the shot. This meat would feed him for weeks.

10. Go On Then


The deer looked straight at him. John could barely describe the expression he saw on its face. There was a reptilian intelligence in its eyes, something ancient, something that had been in the woods—his woods—for a long, long time. The connection between man and beast transcended the ordinary; he felt as though the deer held a piece of the forest’s wisdom. “Go on then,” a voice said behind him. “Kill it.”

Startled, John turned to see a tall, enigmatic figure shrouded in shadows. His heart raced as he recognized the voice, a voice that seemed strangely familiar, yet ethereal and out of place in the quiet of the woods. He was faced with a decision that would alter the course of his life, caught between the mysterious and the mundane, the past and the present.

11. It

John jumped a foot in the air, whipping around to see what had spoken to him. When he saw it, his mind felt as though it was crumbling. The voice came from a creature with the body of a dog and the head of a rabbit. Its bloodshot eyes looked at him.

The creature said, “Alright then, John, kill it, shoot it in its—” Bang. John fired at the creature, which scampered off with a horrible, bow-legged run. He then ran for his house, feeling, the whole time, as though something were on his heels.