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Chapter 4

Lost in the Woods

They walked through the woods, retracing their steps, trying so desperately to remember the way they had come; but it was no use. The further they departed down the mountain, the higher the altitude they gained. There was something about this place that defied all logic, they were entirely lost.

The wolf attack, and now this mind-trip had them all in a start. Coral walked beside Ross with her rifle ready. The forest had become something interwoven, and entrapping, gradually growing denser.

Angelus glanced back at Helen; she was aside Samantha who held onto Eric, walking slowly in horror and dejection.

In this next area, a fire that had come through here years ago, blackened the huge old saplings. The moss grew obscurely beautiful, over the black bark, in uneven patches, covering most of the trunks of the tall and mighty titans. At their feet, as they walked, were all kinds of rocks, moss, plants; and from how the ground was before, scattered with debris from the trees, there were very few twigs and branches now. The smell of mildew had stricken the air of the woods; these woods of desolation and dying. What a magically morbid place. What a mind-trip. This was the sort of place that one would go mad; find all the delirium and delusion that could possibly be had; only here could they hope to find the worst of their imaginings, being likely to come true. This place surely was wretchedly stifling to the soul. All aspects of freedom, or getting out alive, gone; taken. All of them were thinking of it; this hopelessness, this knowledge to expect nothing, but a bitter end; it had been thrown in their face, mocking them; the loudness of their thoughts, could not be ignored.

Early evening told them, they had been walking for hours, and still had found nothing. Angelus stopped and turned, observing the surrounding area, exchanging brief words with his fellow team; and then, said authoritatively. “We set up camp here!”

Adrian, had made a comment to Jack, under his breath. “Finally, it’s about time.” Jack replied. “You’re still alive aren’t you? Be grateful; if it weren’t for Angelus, you wouldn’t be… none of us would.”

By nightfall, there were five, canvass, two man tents, set up in a half circle, around a blazing and crackling campfire. The pops were many at first, but then, every-so now and then. That is how fire reacts to damp timber. The fire was just far enough away, so the canvass wouldn’t catch ablaze, from any shooting embers. Emily and Mark were on first watch, while everyone else slept. They had stood guard for four hours, when Angelus and Coral had taken their place. Mark and Emily fell asleep immediately, as they stumbled into the tent on the outer left.

None of them did get a decent night’s sleep. This strange place had made everything they did, harder than it use to be. It was taxing on their health; Coral might have came down with something. She had a nasty wet cough. Awake, from a struggle with restlessness; it was four in the morning, as they gathered around the campfire, eating various packaged foods impatiently; time to pack up and get the hell out of there. They had made their presence known plenty well enough; at any moment, they could be under attack from some wild animal, looking for a snack. Speedily, it was, packing up the tents; they just wanted to get out of there. Angeles led the way, and they all were glad to be on the move again. Adrian thought of everyone around him. What was to become of them? Were they ever to make it out of the woods alive? Samantha had kept a strange silence about her, after the wolf attack; but so did everyone else. She, most in particular, always being the one known to instigate entertainment out of anyone or anything around her, now projected a different persona. But she let the situation be… and left Adrian alone. She was scared, and Adrian never saw her act such a way. Had things really become so hopeless? Eric kept her close to him, shielding her.

There rose to remain, and then, stagger along for the ride, a stench in the air. Angelus grew frustrated and a little angry. Ross was beginning to become delirious from the wolf bite; he felt light headed, dizzy; and all around, exhausted. His immune system was failing to fight off the infection. Coral took his arm and pressed on the stitches, causing pus to emerge, and wiped it away with a swab of disinfectant. Ross could not have gone on, how he did, without Coral’s attentive support every step of the way; he was grateful for her, and also, that he was not in worse condition. Any more time on him, that wolf could have done such injury, requiring serious medical assistance.

Helen peered straight forward; sight fixed. Something odd had caught her eye. “What is that?” As they neared, they saw that it was Oliver’s body, with the dead wolf piled on top, but the image that they had seared in their memory, was not the sight they had seen now. It was something both disturbing and mysterious, how not much of his body remained. His limbs torn off, and his bones, scattered abroad the place. Thomas vomited; Samantha covered her mouth, looking away in disgust. While the atmosphere filled with despair and wailing of how lost they were, Adrian had strained to understand what had happened here, and observed, and found, that not just Oliver’s remains were eaten; all the wolves’ bodies had been mostly ripped open, and eaten as well. All-and-sundry stopped arguing, when he shrieked. “It’s not just Oliver! Something has devoured all the wolves. Look…” Jack, Eric and Samantha, were the first to look into this, and then, everyone grew curiously examinant. “This could not be the teeth marks of another wolf, but from something else.” Emily hastily tread passed them, going on to investigate the teeth marks in a nearby wolf. “By the looks of it… something big and very hungry...”

She glared down at the wolf’s carcass before her, largely and savagely, eaten in the middle. The intestines were gone, just a very empty cavity, dangling with stringy tissue. Sure enough, Adrian was right; the teeth marks were not of another wolf; some much larger, and more vicious creature, had done this! Her eyes actively shot the ground around her, revealing all the other wolves, having the same sizable bite marks. “What kind of animal could do something like this?” she stood there for a moment or two; then, walked over to Angelus. “I think we should be worried, about more than just wolves, coming after us.”

“Why, what is it?”

She responded with overwhelming fear, which Angelus did not know to be in her nature to do. “I don’t know!”

Angelus went over to view the wolf Emily had been inspecting. What a violent sight. He turned, gaping at all of them. “Let’s get out of here, as quick as we can!” The group hesitated for a moment, and then, followed Angelus; after he commanded, while treading off. “Come on! This way!” Angelus had his rifle ready to shoot, as he led the group into the significantly darker, colder, death-written woods, where the wolves had come from formerly; betting that that, would be a wise decision; it was the choice between more wolves, or something they might not be so lucky to escape from.

Samantha and Eric held onto each other even tighter than before, to keep safe and keep warm; it was cold, but then it always seemed to be that way in this place. As the group moved further into wolf territory, Helen ran to catch up to Angelus. She grabbed him, and held tight to him, and kissed him. “Promise me we’ll get out of here alive.” Angelus let his gun hang by the strap, and then, gently held her face in both hands. “I promise you Helen…we’ll get out of here.” Angelus drew Helen close to him, and gave her a reassuring embrace, of his own. Romance in the midst of this peril and hopelessness; Adrian was touched in a kind of way. In the moment, of their caressing, he said, as if baffled by something he was trying to take on an influence from…but could not quite grasp the concept at work. “Why doesn’t that ever happen to me?”

Jack answered. “Maybe you just don’t understand women. Lesson one: they want a man!”

Adrian snapped back. “That explains why you’re single.”

“Okay… alright… now be quiet, they could hear us.” Jack and Adrian began to pass on by Helen and Angelus, who were walking together now; then shortly after everyone else caught up to them, as well, though it was kind of awkward, Angelus said dominantly, yet playfully to Helen; in wishes of giving her faith, even where all hope was nonexistent. “How about a date after we get out of this place?” Helen replied with a smirk on her face. “I’m looking forward to it!” He scurried up in front of the group, as they had passed, and Helen joined Samantha and Eric, in the rest of the bunch, just behind Jack and Adrian.

Mark declared anxiously to Angelus, as he approached his side. “Sir, there is something out there!” Angelus silently stepped, cautiously gripping his rifle. Looking around, he noticed this part of the woods, was different from what he had seen up till now; it was more matured, more savage. Loads of moss hung from the trees, and the branches were weighed down, by nature’s curtains. They appeared as though they were weeping. Jack and Adrian, stared up into the eerie, sorrowful trees.

Then something all too unnerving came into play, viciously dominating all nature around, manipulating the leaves to shudder and shake; horrifically, a shocking roar of a great carnivore reverberated from above them! A huge wolf like beast, jumped down from the trees, crushing Ron underneath him. The group of humans dispersed, from being anywhere near to the beast. If not every bone in his body was broken, they wouldn’t wait around to find out. Emily and Coral, fired at the creature, as it tore off Ron’s head, and jumped up, back into the trees; it had completely disappeared into the dark abyss. Angelus and Mark, breathing uneasy, pointed their rifles up and around, desperately searching for it. Emily and Coral, reloaded theirs and joined them.

There was a profound silence; all that was heard, was their heavy breathing, and the faint sound of frail hearts pounding within mortal ribs. Then, wretched and terrifying growling echoed through the trees, leaving them all in a panic. Emily, Coral, Angelus and Mark, had hysterically shifted their guns, to the sounds upon the ground, bouncing off from one tree to the next.

Angelus ran over to Helen, who glared at the head that had been brutally separated from Ron’s body. He stood beside her while still aiming his rifle, and looked to the trees. Helen spoke soft words, losing all faith, and passionately giving up. “We’re going to die.... we’re going to die here.” Angelus corrected, in a harsh whisper. “We are not going to die!” Helen’s eyes began to flood with grief. She blinked, and tears rolled down her face. Slowly, she turned her head towards Angelus, and then turned it away; consumed in silence, and nothingness. The sounds of the beast’s roar, came howling through the trees again. Helen dropped down on her knees, and wiped her tears back into her hair. Angelus turned to face her, and behold her, oh so pitiful sight. “Helen, look at me… we’re going to make it out of here.” She looked up into his scrutiny as though she saw; regardless his words, he believed them to be doomed as well.

Emily, Coral and Mark, were still on the lookout for the beast, and then came a snarling growl, much more unnerving than anything they had heard thus far. Angelus pointed his rifle into the branches above, and then, another fierce, and unsettling roar, came. The great animal, crashed down on all fours, dead on in front of Emily and Coral; then stood up and whacked their guns out of their hands; before any of them could shoot! The beast spoke in a deep monstrous voice. “You will die foolish mortals.” He swiped his claws across Emily’s face, and broke her neck. Mark and Angelus, blasted at the great wolf creature; and while Mark kept firing, Angelus took two seconds to line up a fatal blow, and shot the beast in the head, twice between the eyes. The beast wobbled and moaned, before he finally plummeted to the earth; Eric, Samantha, Ron, Angelus and Helen, rushed out of the way, as the hulk came down, lying flat on the ground; exploding mud and moss everywhere.

Adrian wiped the muck from his eyes; his face completely covered. Angelus took Emily’s wrist, and felt for a pulse. “She’s gone... is anyone injured, is everyone okay?” Eric, Samantha, Thomas and Jack, gestured a yes, and then, Angelus went over to Helen, who had been sedentary, there on the ground a few feet away. He knelt down beside her, and she took hold of him immediately, clinging to him tightly; as if he was her very Savior and Lord.

Jack cleaned mud off Adrian’s face, with a handkerchief; and then, with irritation and impatience, his little brother, seized the handkerchief. “Ah, just give that to me!” Adrian robustly wiped off his face, and impatiently, tossed the dirty cloth back to Jack.

Coral brought something very important to all of their attention. “Upon my word… Did that thing speak?” Mark agreed. “Yes Coral, it spoke...” Adrian, annoyed, added. “Yeah! It said something like. ‘You’ll die mortals’!” Angelus declared. “How could it be? It’s impossible!” Jack, looking off into the woods ahead of them, concluded. “Unless… the legends are true, and there really is a Lost Forest!” What a revelation. Ross, lying in the mud, interrupted. “I could use some help getting up!” Seeing him there, all doused in filth, Coral had gone over to assist him promptly. “Poor Ross!”

“Thank you Coral.”

If anything needed to be said, it had to be said right now. Anything could go wrong, in the unpredictability of their dilemma now. Samantha whispered in Eric’s ear. “I love you Eric; I want you to know that.” Eric held her close. “I love you too my dearest... and sweetest Samantha.” Samantha wept a little, wiped her eyes, and rested her head on his shoulder.

Angelus glanced at Helen, then, stared off into the same distant direction as Jack; he spoke. “Should we move on Jack…or should we try to get out of here!” Jack replied. “Angelus… this is going to be the most important discovery of all time; and it is right in front of us! We should continue it regardless. It doesn’t look like we have a chance of getting out of here alive otherwise!” Thomas argued. “We should turn back, that’s the sensible thing to do.” Angelus retorted. “Turn back to what!” He was right. Turn back to what. Only hopes and dreams of salvation, but a reality of chaos. Jack; resolved; frustrated. “Moving onward is our only hope!” Coral reminded them, pointing out. “Sir, what about that beast… it killed Emily you know; and didn’t you hear what it said! It said…we would all die hh”—Angelus cut her off, and ended the conversation. “It is dead isn’t it.” Coral looked at the carcass, then was silent; he was right, it was. Adrian turned, and declared. “I’m with Jack and Angelus!”

They all became quiet, with wondering eyes; looking… waiting for one more of them to speak up or disagree. Finally, Eric broke the silence. “If Jack and Adrian want to keep moving on ahead, then, of course I’m with them, beast or no beast! It’s better to stick together, than split up. Haven’t you seen what happens in the movies when groups split up?” Helen watched Eric for an indefinite period, and said, in all seriousness; when he finished. “This is no movie, Eric; this is real life; and we will slowly be picked off, one by one… we don’t have a chance, if we choose to turn back, or move on… we are going to die nonetheless. This is it. This is all of it.” She turned to look at Angelus, and right away, found his eyes staring back into hers. “Angelus, I’m sorry, but now I know for certain we are never getting out of here; so why try… let us keep moving ahead.” Helen took off her boot, rolled up the leg of her cargo pants, and revealed a handgun, strapped to her calve. She unstrapped the gun, rustling her pant-leg back down. She put on her boot, and held the gun firmly in hand, while looking at Angelus, powerfully and beautiful. “Let’s move!” Angelus scampered up beside her, and questioned, while everyone else followed on after them. “Did you have that piece on you this whole time?” She laughed a little, and said. “Yes; and why are you looking at me like that?”

“Because I didn’t expect such things from you... you were a fragile, falling apart mess, and now you’re this tough, I don’t care, diehard chick! I have to say it suits you.”

“I’ve accepted my fate, but I’m not going out without a fight, I’m sorry if I didn’t help out, earlier with the wolf attack, but I didn’t think I needed to; you all seemed to have everything under control, but mostly; it’s that I only have so many rounds, you see. Call me selfish, but I’ll only use this gun to protect “Myself”!”

“Helen… something tells me that you’re full of surprises.”

Angelus ran ahead, and signaled Mark to join him. They walked with caution, maintaining a steady pace. Helen peered into the branches, holding her gun pointed up; with both hands clasping it firmly, above her right shoulder. Angelus viewed back at Helen. “Now that’s the kind of woman I want to end up with.” Mark responded, positively. “I have a wife like that at home, she’s really something.” As they moved on, the trees, had drifted further apart. The woods weren’t as crowded as before… was it because Ron was gone, leaving this suggestion of something being lost. Afternoon sunrays shone down from above the trees, exposing large and small patches of unoccupied dirt here and there.

A noise came from beyond. It was a loud screeching! While shuddering, Helen pointed her gun forward, above Angelus and Mark, who pointed their rifles upward as well. The sound of something falling, striking the branches, and screeching in pain, was slowly growing louder and louder. Then the screeching was no more, but the resonance of falling and cracking, continued.

A huge bird of some kind dropped to the ground, on out in the open, just ahead. Angelus crept towards this colorful creature; he aimed his rifle at it, and Mark followed him, and did the same.

The thing was a huge, ten feet in length, falcon looking fowl. Its wings, had one horizontal purple and yellow lightning-pattern, lined across the tops, with two bunches of red, beard like feathers, on both sides of its cheeks. Angelus poked the gigantic bird with his rifle a couple of times; he turned to announce to the cluster behind him. “It’s okay, its dead.”

Helen, in relief, pulled her gun back, and started towards them. Jack and Adrian, Eric and Samantha, Ross, Coral and Thomas, took that as a sign that they should follow. Samantha caught up to Helen. “Don’t get trigger happy now!” Helen replied. “Don’t worry; I’ve got it under control.” Eric caught up to Samantha as Helen spoke; and said, while gawking at the gun in her hands. “You look like you do!” Angelus made ever-lovestruck eyes at Helen, as she came up to join him and Mark. She looked down at the wing of the bird, and then, moved her observation over the rest of the lifeless creature. Eric and Samantha looked at the strange bird, as if it were more than just a fallen creature of an unknown kind, but a celestial creature; a fallen angel. Jack and Adrian glared in awe of the vibrant beauty; but Jack, significantly, did so more intently. Its remarkably colorful wings, scarlet beard, great size, and even its white and black tail feathers, astounded them all. What an enchanting specimen. Thomas spoke, as if mesmerized in fear and delusion. “There could be more of them coming!” Angelus, Jack and Adrian, and Mark, turned their heads, with the perfect pronouncement of confusion upon their faces. There was a moment of silence; then Thomas continued, in the same hysterical manner. “We don’t know what’s in these woods… there could be more of them out there!”

A loud piercing screech came from above, and Thomas snapped, and turned, in the opposing direction, in hopes to go back from where they had come. Why did he do this; he was a crazed madman! Angelus ordered Mark, while cocking his rifle. “Get him back here!”

Running as fast as his legs would carry him, Thomas sped off; but Mark, caught up and knocked him down into the dirt. Thomas squirmed to get away, pleading with Mark. “Please, please, just let me go!” Seizing an inescapable grip on Thomas’s feet, Mark retorted. “You’re not going anywhere, you are sticking with us you idiot! Are you trying to get yourself killed?” Dread arrowed through their bowels, when a loud screech came from above. The screech sounded close; very close; and then, an undeniable closeness of this lurid shriek, bent them all to their knees. It was loud. It was sonic horror, burning in their ears. Then, all of the sudden, it was quiet. Hiding itself. It was motionless. It was dramatic! It was there before them, turning its head from side to side, curiously and dotingly at them; its victims. Mark and Thomas, rose up their gaze slowly.

The bird was huge, standing ten feet tall, right over them, and looking down. Oh what horror was this now. Without warning; the falcon grabbed Thomas in its powerful beak, and snapped him in two! While the bird was momentarily occupied, Mark hurried away, hiding behind the closest and largest object near, where he could find safety; a tree. The bird cocked its head forward, and then, back, to help the first half of Thomas, to slide down its throat. Angelus and Coral, started bombardment of gunfire from across the distance; the bird was ruthless, and enticed to pursue its attackers; it flew straight for them! It soared over, stretching out two black clawed feet, eager to grab hold, of one of those juicy morsels below. They quickly dispersed, in separate directions, confusing, and causing the fowl, instead, to merely snatch up the earth and dust; yet it wouldn’t be long before the bird turned, to come back around, for another try. Angelus shouted for everyone to lie on the ground, and keep their heads low!

Ross saw his rifle there, which Coral had leaned upon a rock. He rolled over to the gun, and grabbed, and cocked it back. A gurgled screech caused him to regret this, and he looked up. “Oh fuck!” Ross had drawn attention to himself, when he moved! Now it was coming straight for him!

He aimed his rifle, at the falcon’s head, when it decided to descend upon him! He waited for the right moment, lining up his gun, and pulled the trigger. The bullet successfully penetrated the head, but the bird, was still coming at him. Ross tried, with strenuous exertion, to get out of the way. Angelus and Coral, within the radius of his location, ran towards their fellow team member, shooting at the bird. But the giant bird plucked up Ross, as easily as a flimsy flower is plucked up from the ground, and flew away. That was it. Ross was gone. The bird became smaller and smaller, as it carried him off; and then, was no more heard, or seen from again. Angelus kicked at a fallen branch, snapping it, cursing into the sky, where the bird had vanished. They lost yet another, from their group, feeding the ever-hungry hopelessness within them. They all soon would die; would see an end, unknown; not now, but it was coming for them, nonetheless; they could not escape it! One way or another, it would come. Death would come for them. Why move on, why not just give up right now. Angelus looked at Coral, and then, at the rest of his remaining team. This would not be how it ends. They would not die here! He would not allow this place to consume them; he would not allow this place to have its way with them.

Arising from the ground, Jack opened a mouth, of an inflection of sorrow. “We should keep moving, more could be coming...” Angelus cocked his gun, and led the way, once again, in succession. He seemed to be the only one calm and gathered; taking, the now, faded hope, like a torch, and holding it high up, showing the rest of them, the way... as if he knew where to go from here. Coral pulled out a cross necklace hidden under her shirt, and looked off in the distance, of where the bird had taken Ross. She kissed the cross, while a single tear, rolled down her cheek. “Rest in peace, Ross... my dear friend.” Coral turned, and sprint, to hurry up to the side of her leader; rifle ready.

There was a wood-rot smell in the air. Night would fall in next to nothing; and regardless, the time of day, being the reason; it darkened more and more, with each and every one, of their significant steps. This was something illogical; it became too dark too fast. What was the reason. Either the forest grew thicker, trees closing in; or it was indefinitely, an occurrence that could only be explained or accepted, if by, from some unnatural source; works of witchcraft. With the peculiarity of this place, the strangeness of its beasts... that would not surprise any of them. And at this point, they were prepared to accept anything, as an explanation. Least likely, the reason hadn’t anything to do, with the sun going down; regardless, they would have to set up camp soon. This oddity; it wasn’t something to dwell on, or investigate; but to just acknowledge as strange, and move on. Angelus and Mark, were in the lead as before, and Helen, now, had her gun in her belt. Eric and Samantha, held each other, as if woven together, like they were made of the same fabric, as if… if they would die… they would die inseparable. It was eerie. There was something even stranger, that had occurred now, in the dark around them. Every now and then, a gust of wind, passed by them, whistling through the trees. Then something preternatural came into play; every creature in the woods, that would roam and scavenge, during the early morning, were doing so now, in the middle of the night. Were they confused? Were they possessed? Squirrels jumped from tree to tree, and small birds swooped around, singing; and cleaned themselves in collected puddles of water. Coral, observed this with Angelus. “Sir, don’t you think the animals’ behavior… peculiar?” He responded, in a hushed and uneasy tone. “Everything in this place is peculiar.” Just after he spoke, a squirrel, sitting on a near branch, munching on a nut, of some sort, froze; its black eyes, staring at him, like a devil, sizing up his soul. The attentiveness of the squirrel, made Angelus return focus upon it, just as intently. He slowed his pace, redefining his step. The crazed stare of this little jokester, shined, like two big glossy ebony marbles. The thing, had a look, disturbing and wicked, as it peered at him; with a mad expression, intending evil bidding. Angelus said to whoever would hear. “Be cautious… there’s something not right with these critters.”

From behind them, the squirrel, staring at Angelus, darted off, faster than what would be natural. The leaves, and other debris, pulled away behind it. The sound of several squirrels’ squeals, looped through the trees, around and around, causing more, and more, to join. Angelus glanced up, and saw hundreds of squirrels, on each and every visible branch above them. The sound loudened, and grew horribly unbearable. They covered their ears, but it rang in their heads; like the persistent dong of a bell never ceasing volume. Their only thought, was, ‘when will this excruciating torment be over.’ The earsplitting pain worsened, until they could take no more; and then, they all overlapping, fell down unconscious.

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