The Stalker

Photo by Julia Hoven

Something about this trail is wrong.

As I run, my eyes begin to scan the trees for some semblance of familiarity but there is none. The sparse amounts of sky I can see through the canopy of trees look dark and cloudy.

Maybe I shouldn’t have picked today to try a new trail.

As I run there is something that I can’t shake. It’s almost as if someone is following me. Just the thought of this unnerves me and I jerk my head back to look. The trail behind me is empty. As I turn my head forward I manage to stumble over a large root and fall. Pain erupts from my knee and the side of my arm from the impact.

“Shit.” I curse as I inspect the scrapes on my limbs. I can feel the damp ground through my shorts but I stay there, the sting of the scrapes keeping my attention. They don’t look deep but they are bleeding. I wipe the dirt off of them.

As I sit for a second, breathing heavily, I look around. Looking at the trees only makes my uneasiness deepen. It doesn’t seem as if I simply took a different trail: the woods around me feel different. They feel alien. I have explored these woods ever since I found them with some friends in my early teens. My parents found out about us going into the woods and forbade me from ever going there again. At the time I had freshly learned that I was adopted, so their demands simply caused an increase in my ventures here.

I slowly pull the ear buds out of my ears and drape them around my neck. The silence is deafening. No bugs or birds are making any noise. The recent rain has made the smell of wet leaves and pine needles thick and it clogs my throat. Swallowing deeply, I stand and brush off my butt from where I have been sitting.

Maybe I should go back the way I came, I think as I look back down the trail. But something feels wrong, like going back would be a bad idea. It feels as if something is waiting. I stare out into the green and brown shrubbery. I can’t seem to focus on anything. The details are too sharp and I am too exhausted from my run. The pressure in my chest tightens the longer I stand there. It expands into my stomach until I know I have to move.

Just as I turn to continue down the trail I hear noises in the trees behind me. Loud noises, like someone is stumbling or limping through the underbrush towards me.

Crunch. Scrape. Crunch. Scrape.

Without chancing another look I start to run again, my heart pumping adrenaline through my body. Time passes until the surge of energy has left and I slow to a jog. As a few more minutes pass I stop jogging and walk. The woods around me are denser than they were earlier on the trail. I should have exited the woods long ago. I stop and look at my phone.

Of course it’s dead, I think as I start to walk again. Sometime later it starts to lightly rain. Soon the trail gets narrower and narrower as I walk until it ends in a small clearing. At the other end sits a small, dilapidated house. The red paint is all but gone and ivy is growing over every surface. Behind one of the first floor windows is a light and I can smell something warm and delicious wafting through the air. Rain is falling heavier now and I decide to try my luck with the house. I know there is a trailer park back here somewhere and perhaps this house was just sitting on the outskirts of it.

The closer I get to the house, the more I can see how decrepit it is. I barely trust my weight on the steps and I cringe as they creak under the pressure. There are pots all over the porch: their contents overgrown as if many years have passed since they have been tended to. Water has started to leak through the porch roof and is falling over the sides in a curtain.

“Fucking hell.” I mutter as I lift my fist to knock on the door. There is no response. I knock again and as my fist hits the door it swings open. I try to speak but my throat is too dry. I swallow and try again, “H-hello?”

There is no answer. After a few more ‘hellos’ I decided to walk in since the rain is increasing in intensity behind me. A burst of lightning urges me forward. Maybe there will be a phone…

The wood of the front hall creaks under my feet and the smell is even stronger now. There is a door to my left and a light is gently glowing under it. Ahead of me is a staircase with bowed in steps that ends in an eerie darkness. To my right is a small living area that is shrouded in shadows. I walk into it slowly, trying to ignore the unnerving feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Dust covers every surface. There is a small fireplace that has burn marks wrapping around and up the brick. In the ashes I can just barely make out pieces of paper, curled and burnt. A small wooden chair is in the middle of the floor with a wooden crate right beside it. I take a few more creaky steps towards it. Peering in I see a pile of stripped bones that could only belong to a large animal. Fascinated, I reach down and pick one up. The smooth surface is charred and etched with tiny, intricate drawings of a young girl. I am astounded by the detail. I can feel the pain in her face as she stares at me. I set this one down and pick up another. This picture is one of a mother holding a baby. Something about the pictures seems vaguely familiar.

I am still staring at this picture when I hear a sound coming from the kitchen. It sounds like a kitchen timer is going off. I feel like I’ve been caught doing something and quickly set down the bone, my face reddening.

I walk towards the kitchen and call out again, “Hello, um, I didn’t mean to just walk in but it was raining and I got lost…um, hello?” I open the door to an empty kitchen.

There is an ancient stove and a fridge whose door is hanging on hinges. To the right of the fridge is what I presume to be a back door and another door beside that. In the middle of the room is a wooden table with chairs. One of the chairs is pulled out. A small doll is sitting in the chair. I pick her up. Her body is stuffed and soft. The plastic of her limbs are smudged with soot. Her long black hair is neatly brushed and pristine. Something about this makes me reach up and touch my own dark locks.

BING! The timer sounds again causing me to jolt. I drop the doll. Reaching down I pick her up and set her on the table, her limbs making a dull thud as they meet the wood.

The smell in the kitchen is now overwhelming. I stride over to the stove and pull the oven door open. On the rack is a tray of burnt sugar cookies. The same uneasy feeling from the woods fills me again. My mind seems to be making a subconscious connection that I can’t seem to grab hold of.

Thud. Scrape. Thud. Scrape.

It’s the sound from the woods and it is coming from the porch. Fear is clawing at my brain as I work through my options. I turn and race to the door beside the fridge. I twist the knob and pull. It’s locked.

Fuck. I glance once more at kitchen door and try the other door. It pulls open almost silently. Beyond it are stairs leading upward. With a deep breath I start up them, closing the door behind me.

Thud. Scrape. Thud. Scrape. The movements enter the kitchen. I can almost imagine the person seeing the displaced doll. Even as I reach the top steps I can hear the cursing and a loud bang of something being thrown against the wall. I hurry up the steps, trying not to make a noise. At the top of the landing I duck into the first room. Gently closing the door behind me, I turn and inspect the room in the evening light. There is a disheveled bed in the corner and photos are scattered all over the floor.

“No…” I whimper as my eyes dart from photo to photo.

They are all of me. I pick up one. It is a picture of me playing on the playground at school when I was ten. I remember the sweater I am wearing in the picture. I feel faint as I set it down. My stomach is twisting and churning in confusion and violation. I reach for another photo but the sound of the door opening behind me snaps me back to reality.

I can’t bring myself to turn to confront my stalker.

Thud. Scrape. Thud. Scrape.

I can feel him looming behind me now. His breath uneven and haggard.

Closing my eyes, I unsuccessfully try to stop my body from shaking.

His breath heats my neck as his voice hisses in my ear, “Welcome home sweetheart.”

  • Anna Patricia Hawkins

    That’s terrifying…..I was hooked from the moment I started reading it. Very well done!

  • Jake Trower

    The last line gave me chills. Like, the creepy kind. Which is good!

  • Julia Hoven

    This piece was incredibly descriptive and chilling. I am thoroughly impressed. Keep ‘em coming, Sarah!

  • Maury

    That was awesome!

  • Beth

    woooooah this was such an intense read!! very well-paced and written. kudos!

  • Stephen Allen

    Finally got around to reading this. Good style occasionally distracting bad word choice.

  • Haley Erin Seale

    This was just overall wonderful. Very creative