A Folk Horror Short – The Woods Might Be Calling My Name by Eve Volungeviciute
6:33pm, September 18th, 1993
I can’t believe they thought this was a good idea.
Sure, even I can’t argue that this place is practically a paradise. The cabin is so newly built it still has the hint of the smell of pine trees elevating the air within the room, along with a faint scent of wood polish. The porch is set up perfectly to observe the lake at the bottom of the hill, which is only a few minutes down a path constructed of unevenly-levelled rock. Past the lake, as well as in all directions from the cabin, patterns of trees stretch out, covering the horizon. Autumn had been an early visitor this year, colouring the leaves shades of crimson, mustard, and pumpkin. In a gentle, yet chill autumn breeze, the trees resemble skeletons allowing the colours to blur together. Occasionally, a few of them would rip off, filling in the gaps of the crunchy carpet on the ground. Even the air itself feels more real, the crispy coolness brings some life into my city-bearing lungs.
In any other case, it would seem like the perfect getaway.
Except for a woman who just had a miscarriage.
I know they only invited me because Kim would want me here. Being her younger sister didn’t exactly grant me a VIP entrance into her friend group when we were younger and although the high school cliques have faded out of her life, the unspoken rule still exists. Not that I would want the privilege anyway, considering her taste in friends dropped lower than the stock market in 2008. You got Tanya, who is basically a human version of marmite, and recently even her husband seems to learn towards the ‘hate’ side of the debate. Then again, she does rinse his bank account like no one’s business. As for Marry, well, a full wallet compensates for an empty personality. If ever an actually interesting thing came out of her mouth, I’d check if she’d been replaced by her doppelganger. The only one I can somewhat stand is Susan, as she’s the only one who doesn’t scrunch her nose if a piece of dirt accidentally goes on her shoe. And yet, you are who you hang out with, so at the end of the day, she must have enough in common with them.
I just wish they had the nerve to be honest about why they rejected my idea on where to take Kim instead. But no, of course it would boil down to me not actually knowing my own sister, at least not according to them. Not like Mary wanted to show off the cabin she only got because it had been the trend recently, making everyone else feel inferior while putting on a fake humble act. And it’s not secret Tanya’s husband got fed up with her entitled leeching ways and cut her trophy wife allowance until further notice. It’s been abundantly clear Susan didn’t care what the plan was, as long as she could get some time away from the kids to work on her PhD.
But since admitting all this out loud would mean confirming the fact they’re all horrible people, they pretended it was all for Kim’s well-being. Why on earth waste money when there was a perfectly good destination just a couple hours away? Well, I don’t know, maybe because Kim hates countryside? She’s always been the busy bee in the family, constantly buzzing about somewhere taking care of ten different things; and now she needs that noise more than ever. Of course, Phillip, Kim’s ever-so-devoted husband didn’t side with me, either. But then again, he would’ve done anything to get her off his back for a week. So much for an understanding and loving marriage. As bad as this will sound, the one silver lining of the whole situation is that at least she won’t have to carry on the bastard’s genes. Now I’m praying that Kim never decides to snoop around in this notebook, as it would officially make me the worst sister in the world.
If I wasn’t so consumed by frustration, I’d be able to enjoy the beauty of nature around me. Unlike Kim, I always appreciated the rural scenery, especially since it helped me break that horrible writer’s block. If I have to be here, I might as well put it to good use. Actually, it’s one of the main reasons I’m scribbling down everything that’s happening – my agent keeps saying I have to constantly look for inspiration in order to give birth to another book idea, or he’ll have to pull the plug on the deal. One thing no one tells you – once you’re published, it doesn’t get any easier. Which is why I now have exactly two months to come up with a draft of the first hundred pages, or I’m screwed.
Tanya’s calling us for dinner. I’m not sure who gave her the cooking utensils, as I’ve tasted her attempts before and let’s just say, thank God I snuck some snacks to hide in my bedside table.
9:45pm, September 19th, 1993
Today Susan found something strange in the woods.
It didn’t take Tanya and Mary long to realise there wasn’t much to do here, so they made up a flimsy excuse about us needing to top up on food and toiletries and drove five miles to the nearest town. I had no doubt they’d take their time, maybe even chat up a cute pharmacy advisor while they were at it, and then later be passive aggressive about which one he’d really been flirting with.
Susan put on her walking boots and set out to explore the forest, most likely as a way to procrastinate. Normally, I would’ve suggested it wasn’t safe to go alone, but Susan was a girl scout back in the day. Besides, no one better than me understood the need to gather your thoughts before trying to put them down on paper.
Alone at last, Kim and I sat on the porch, reading, with tea and biscuits placed precisely in the middle of the table. Every once in a while, we’d exchange a sentence or two, but mostly I’d let her wander in her thoughts. I promised myself I’d try harder to make her feel better, but I just didn’t know what to say. I wasn’t sure there was much I could say. I couldn’t help but feel like there was a scab somewhere inside her that I couldn’t see, and with wrong words I’d rip it off, causing Kim to bleed to death because I was careless enough with trying too hard to be helpful, so I’d feel better about myself.
So, I let her do as she pleased, with constant observation in the background. I didn’t even say anything when I could very clearly smell vodka in her tea. I just hoped it would help to disinfect the wound in her heart.
Susan was the last one to come back. When she walked through the front door, she looked like a hypnotist’s experiment. The rest of us were having more tea and biscuits – except Tanya, of course, who needed to keep up her figure. She had set up the fireplace, sizzling flames warming up the room bit by bit. Feet under the blanket and fruity flavours hitting my tongue, I almost started to think that maybe this week would actually pay off.
She closed the door with a drawn-out light movement. An unfocused gaze going past us, she had leaves stuck in her hair, as well as a couple of small twigs dangling on her black-and-white striped top. Another thing striking my attention was dirt seeping from under her unmanicured fingernails.
We all stared her down, baffled. After what seemed like ages of confusing silence, she spoke, kind of lethargically, like trying to describe a dream. Apparently, after wandering around in the forest for what felt like hours, she got lost. Just as she was about to panic, she stumbled onto some sort of a clearing. Surrounded by a nearly perfect circle of trees, there was a strange formation of what looked like old gravestones. There were no names on them, only shapes of moss marking their territory, and erosion eating up the sandstone. On one of them there was a spider, knitting a delicate cobweb. Even though the forest had countless birds and crickets chirping all around Susan, in the clearing she felt as if she was wrapped in cling film.
She sat down in the middle of the formation, and before realising, started digging into the ground. Only once a lone rock in the soil brushed up against the fingertip did she come about, got up, and ran off. After she left the clearing, the way back to the cabin was so obvious Susan almost punched herself in the face.
Tanya and Mary were almost maliciously amused by the story, poking fun at how she must’ve got too much fresh air. Kim asked what formation the graves were in. Susan said it was hard to tell as they were crooked and partially out of place, but it looked like a star. Something in my brain shifted, like a tide in the sea, but then rolled before I could submerge myself in it.
We went upstairs not long after. Susan lingered behind, staring out the window, towards the trees. They were dancing in the night wind, branches almost inviting her to join them. It seemed like she wanted to.
7:12pm, September 20th, 1993
Something seems to be wrong with Susan.
The sun finally decided to grace us with its presence today, its pale complexion gently caressing our faces. Figuring it would be a pleasant change from sitting in the cabin all day, we grabbed a lounge chair, and went down the path to the lake. I planned to continue the book I started yesterday, partially because it turned out to be quite interesting, and partially to dodge the devoid chatter coming from the rest of them.
As I had my face buried in the book I wondered, how many times could Tanya complain that her husband cheap-ed out on some diamond earrings for their anniversary? How many more times could Mary brag about a new beach house she milked out of her man for the next summer? I wish retirement would come early and my hearing would give away once they started whining about their annoying brat kids, who in reality are just taking after their mothers. As they were going on and on about dollhouses and football classes, they failed no notice of emotion draining from Kim’s face bit by bit. Considering the topic, it wasn’t hard to realise why. And yet they just wouldn’t shut up with their mindless yapping, just wishing I could get my hands on them to shake some long-lost sense into them.
Susan, who’d been quiet pretty much the entire time, suddenly jumped up and started looking around. Tanya glared at her, in disbelief at Susan’s audacity for daring to interrupt her tirade. Oblivious to that, Susan settled her gaze towards the forest across the lake, where it rested for a few drawn-out moments. Then she puckered her lips, and let out an irregularly-pitched noise, which evolved into a simple melody, consisting of three notes in a minor key, drawn out to the point where they just seemed to fade into the air. Something in it crawled up my skin, tiny goose bumps erupting from my arms. To my mind, surprisingly, it felt welcoming, like I was being invited to go somewhere I couldn’t find, join someone I didn’t know.
Only when Tanya snapped at her to stop the shrieking noise did Susan go silent, staring mindlessly at us. Bewildered, she slowly whispered she hadn’t realised she was doing it. It was just something she’d been hearing, coming from the woods. This statement earned a weird look from everyone, before Tanya laughed at her making friends with forest birds. Susan sunk further in her seat, visibly embarrassed.
Only then I noticed a ruby on a black string around her neck. She’s never been one to accessorise much, especially not with gemstones. Seemingly absent-mindedly, she clasped her fingers around it, and exposes it to the light, the crystal seemingly exploded, splashing on her skin. I blinked, and in a flash, it turned into a deep cut on Susan’s throat, a burgundy colour seeping out on her marble skin, cut-out smile on her mouth, body slumped in the lounge chair like a rag doll. A spider crawled out of a hole where her right eye used to be, the remaining one staring above, seeing the kind of black only death can bring.
Just as quickly as the visual appeared, it was gone, Susan back to her normal self, sunk in the chair, sulking in silence. I winced from what I’d just seen, the memory leaving a bad aftertaste on my tongue. Suddenly the sun’s efforts to keep me warm became pointless. Shuddering, I wrapped up in my hoodie, hoping the light reading would take the heavy image away.
2:43am, September 21st, 1993
We probably wouldn’t have noticed it till the morning if Tanya hadn’t been an uncharacteristically light sleeper and the two didn’t have to share a room. She recounted a shuffling sound that didn’t exactly match her dream, but it took the slam of the front door in the distance to fully wake her up. Once she came to, Tanya saw Susan’s bed perfectly made on the other side of the room. Even someone as self-absorbed as her realised something wasn’t right and she woke up the rest of us.
We had been sitting in the living room area for what seemed like years, but no satisfying explanation entered our minds. I couldn’t help thinking about the weird behaviour she’d been displaying over the past few days, and how I seemed to be the only one to notice and didn’t do anything. Probably because I wanted to pretend all the unpleasantries had been a figment of my imagination. I kept telling myself that others hadn’t said anything either, but that wasn’t much help. Even now, Mary kept complaining about being awake at this hour, saying it wasn’t our business if Susan wanted a midnight stroll. Tuning her whining out was partially why I had kept scribbling down everything that had been happening, but I also felt like an invisible hand was holding mine down against the notebook. Like there was a need to document everything, just in case… I didn’t even let my mind finish the thought.
Tanya showed some signs of sensibility when she suggested to drive to town and notify the police, as there was no way Susan wouldn’t get lost at this time of night, girl scout knowledge or not. Kim also suggested some of us should stay here in case she came back. Mary jumped at that chance, her selfishness poking through like persistent weeds in what otherwise would be a perfectly-maintained garden.
There hadn’t even been enough time for us recognise the awkward silence falling on the room like a blanket covering furniture in an abandoned house before Tanya burst through the door again and locked it, her face trying to hold in the panic seeping through.
Our car wires had been cut.
8:17am, September 21st, 1993
This was one of the most exhausting nights of my life.
First things first – Susan hadn’t come back all night. After Tanya made the distressing discovery, our reaction divided into two sections: me and Kim grew even more worried for her, while the other two prioritised their own skin. Either way, we barricaded the doors and shut the windows. We even managed to find a blunt kitchen knife each, ridiculously armed with them as we sat in a circle, each of us settling into our own characteristics – Tanya relentlessly made up theories more ridiculous than the next, but I thought she actually liked hearing herself speak; Mary snuck in passive aggressive complaints in between every silent space, as if it was our fault that she didn’t sign up for this when she offered us the cabin; Kim kept trying the phone, her distressed expression betraying her lack of success. And me? Well, I had been observing the others, trapped in my own thoughts.
Sure, there had been a possibility a racoon decided to make the car wire a late-night snack, but Tanya insisted it had been slashed off clean. However, as minutes, and then hours passed and no one came bashing through the front door or smashed the windows throwing themselves in, the hillbilly theory got disproved and Susan’s name came up. Tanya seemed to think this had been some immature prank she was playing on us. While that would’ve been the explanation easiest to comprehend, it showed how they didn’t actually know Susan at all. Even I, who barely connected with her, knew it would be way out of character. Unless she wasn’t really herself anymore… My conscience knocked again, gently reminding that I kept my mouth shut the whole time. Yet again, I put up a good fight ignoring it. It wouldn’t had done anything good to say anything about it at that point.
While the others seemed to ease up once the sun started making its way through the sky, the cold light didn’t manage to take the dread away from me. As soon as we could see our surroundings, Tanya shot up her chair and insisted on going to town on foot to get someone to fix their car. I could’ve sworn she just wanted to get away from here under the ruse of being useful. Mary also took the opportunity to look like the saviour. Despite the risk they’d forget about us as soon as they stepped back into civilisation, it was the best plan we had at the moment. Besides, it made sense for some of us to stay behind, as all our stuff was back at the cabin, not to mention the mere chance Susan would come back and explain herself.
Sat on the porch, we observed Tanya and Marry disappearing in the distance until their outlines got lost in between the curtain of trees. Just the two of us left, we divided the duties – I would walk around and check the parameters while Kim continued the phone duty, relentlessly to the point where her movements have become robotic.
Surprisingly, all areas surrounding the cabin looked completely ordinary. There didn’t seem to be any menace lurking behind the trees or in the tall grass near the lake. I was just about to finally calm down a bit and consider some lighter alternatives of the situation, when my dread turned into horror.
My ears gradually filled up with a melody, the same tune I had heard a couple of days ago coming out of Susan’s lips. Only this time it was her making the melody.
It was Kim.
12:42pm, September 22nd, 1993
I feel like I’m living my worst nightmare.
I had to practically drag Kim back inside. Whatever was happening in this place seemed to find its way under her skin as well. But no matter what, I was determined she wouldn’t get lost in the woods like Susan. I tried to ignore her stiff posture and glazed stare out the window; both made her look like a wax figure. The only thing indicating any life had been faint whispers coming out of her mouth. It was like she had been trying to talk to someone, almost as if to console them, to apologise. My eyes travelled down to her stomach, which she had been clutching for a while now. A small ember of realisation flickered in my mind, but it quickly got put out by the urgency to keep her safe.
I settled for the most mundane distraction of all – making us some tea and biscuits. I figured maybe some chamomile would soothe her nerves, maybe even let her get some sleep. I sure as hell could’ve used some, but one of us had to stay alert.
It all seemed like everything would pull itself together when I heard a loud crash upstairs.
Hastily, I picked up the kitchen knife, as if it actually offered any protection, and bolted upstairs. The sound had come from Mary’s room at the end of the hall – she obviously wanted the biggest bedroom in the cabin all to herself. I slowed down as I got closer to the door. I wasn’t sure what I would find in there. With the way the cabin had been laid out, there was no way for someone to just climb in through the upstairs windows, and yet that would’ve been the most sensible thing to have happened in the past few days.
Anticipating, I inched closer to Mary’s room, and kicked the door open as quickly as I could. I walked in and was met with an empty space. My eyes immediately darted to the window, which had been broken by a rock that was now residing on the floor, along with random bits of shattered glass.
I didn’t even have time to think about it before I heard the front door opening.
I rushed out of the room and back downstairs, only to witness a scene I was not expecting. The cup of tea had been knocked down on the floor, liquid splattered everywhere, soaking the cushions that somehow also ended up down. The door had been opened wide, muddy footprints leading through the threshold, and then back out. But none of that worried me. There was only one thing that made my blood stop running.
Kim was gone.
4:33pm, September 22nd, 1993
This is hopeless.
I spent at least an hour searching for Kim everywhere I could think of. Around the cabin, down the lake, towards the road to town, I even peaked into the path towards the woods – all for nothing. It was as if she got swallowed by the forest, becoming its long-awaited meal in hopes to satisfy what was proving to be an insatiable appetite.
My worst fears had been realised when hours passed but there was no sign of Mary and Tanya. It all boiled down to two options – either they got lost on the way or got themselves to town and left us to God’s will. I didn’t know which option terrified me more, but one thing was for certain – whoever’s will we were subjected to, it wasn’t anything heavenly.
By that point, I didn’t even know why I kept writing everything down. I could’ve been doing something more productive, but what else was there? The phone still wasn’t working and wondering into the forest to get lost didn’t seem like the smartest idea. Besides, I couldn’t shake the feeling something bad was going to happen any minute and I just had to let someone know exactly what happened, a record of events, just in case… No, I couldn’t think like that, and yet no matter how hard I shoved that thought into the furthest corner of my mind, it kept trying to find its way back.
Despite knowing that the most logical action was to stay in the cabin, I kept blaming myself. I should’ve been a better sister, a better person, to just take a leap and go out to find them. After all, anything would be better than being here all by myself, going crazy by the second–
That was when I heard it. That familiar bone-chilling gentle whistle. The eerie melody seeped its way into my bloodstream, slowly filling my brain with a smoke cloud of terror. It gathered around me, finding a way through the walls, inching towards me, growing louder by the second, to the point where it filled up my ears, pushing into my brain, making its best efforts to squeeze it to death.
Then, just as gradually as it came, the whistling seized, like a retreating sea wave, now condensing in one place somewhere outside – more precisely, coming from something that was moving towards the cabin. I looked out the window abruptly, just in time to see a glimpse of a passing silhouette. It was followed by a knock on the door, which made my heart drop to the floor. Trembling, I stared towards it, the rhythmic knocks growing more persistent.
Every nerve in my body was screaming not to open it, but something more powerful was tugging at me like a fishhook catching its prize. Before I could stop myself, I was moving towards the door, my hand slowly stretching out to reach the handle.
I can barely grasp it because of how sweaty my palms are. Despite my heart thumping like it was going to make its way up my throat, my movements were filled with a sternness I didn’t know I had. My body seemed to have a purpose it didn’t share with my mind.
I opened the door.
5:25am, September 23rd, 1993
Now I finally know why I’m still writing this down. Everything that had happened so far, all the things that didn’t seem to fit have turned out to serve a purpose. There was only one thing left to do, but I had to write out what happened first.
Once I pried the door open, I immediately stepped back, the stench of rotting flesh hitting me right in the face and burning my nostrils. Kim took a step, her foot lingering on the threshold like she had to fight her way in, then went inside. Only then did I get a good look at her.
Right eye somewhat wonky, she blinked slowly, staring me down. From head to toe, she was completely covered in dried mud. Dirt seeped from under her fingernails, leaves and branches tangled up in her hair. Across her lower stomach there was a massive fresh gash that looked like a knife wound, bloody stains and blotches around it on her clothes. Pain didn’t seem to be a problem, however, as she flashed me a smile, showing off bloody gums, crimson staining her usually perfectly white teeth. My intestines tied up like shoelaces and the cold sweat made my skin feel like it turned rubbery.
Slowly, she extended me her hand, which I now noticed was also covered in grazes and bruises. After what seemed like an eternity of thinking without comprehending a single thought, I took it, my spare arm still clutching this notebook like my life depended on it. Her hand was cold and clammy, like she was pulled from underground and didn’t belong in this world anymore. My gaze lingered on her dirty fingernails. Then, she gently led me out of the cabin, straight down that damn path that took the real her what felt like centuries ago.
I couldn’t tell how long we’d been walking in the forest for, but once we reached the clearing, it felt like no time passed at all. It looked exactly how I pictured in my head, from the tombstones assembled in a star formation to the circle of trees covering the sky apart from a tiny piece right above. Every single thing fit the image, except from them, of course, resting against three of the graves.
They stared at me, smiling. Not that they had much of a choice in the matter, the corners of their mouths sloppily cut into the happy shape. Each had their right socket empty, their remaining eyes staring above. A spider crawled out of Tanya’s socket, dropping on the ground. Deep slashes ran across their throats, streaks of blood dried onto their marble skin. Susan’s right hand was still clutching the knife, so drenched in red I couldn’t even see the blade.
Kim observed the scene, her head slightly titled. She then practically glided towards Susan and gently took the knife out of her hand. She turned back to me along with a popping sound. I almost puked when I saw her right eye dangling from the socket, the nerve losing battle against gravity and her popping on the ground, bouncing off like a tennis ball.
Gracefully, Kim handed me the knife and put my fingers over the handle. Not a single word was spoken, but I knew exactly what I had to do, like the last puzzle piece suddenly fitting together. I looked at what used to be my sister, and surprisingly, she seemed more like her old self than ever. This place saved her body and now what I needed to dowas save her soul. I knew if I waited too long, I would lose my courage. Inhaling, I closed my eyes, raised my hand, and slashed.
At the moment, a hint of dawn is starting to colour the sky. There’s still a dim part of me that wants to run away, that tries to scream this isn’t right. That scream, however, is becoming more of a whisper, until it disappears.
I still have a purpose to fulfil and I’m the only one who can do it.
‘I don’t know about this.’
‘Oh, come on, what’s the difference? A lake’s a lake wherever you go, and they’re offering us a great deal.’
‘It’s just… this place feels… off.’
‘You’re overthinking it. It’s got furniture, a fireplace- look, there’s even some books! Like this black one.’
‘Kind of looks like a diary.’
‘It’s a writing journal, you know, to get ideas and all that. She’s talking about some monument in the woods that inspired her story. We should go check it out, what do you think?’