Rachel’s first sight of the house happened under a gloomy autumn sky, the threat of rain heavy in the air. All she knew about the place was from rumors in town, and a folk story the old people used to scare kids.
This was the home of a murderer. So they said. He had lived here with his sister and her husband, back in 1904. Supposedly, he had been sweet on a girl from town, and kept courting her; but in the end she chose a farm boy. The day of their wedding, the jilted lover followed them up the mountain and through the woods, right past his sister’s house, chasing them down, until they fell, horse, wagon, and all, into a sinkhole, now known as the Murder Hole.
That was the extent of the story. The man insisted he had been trying to warn them of danger; that they had been driven to their deaths by “the watcher in the woods”, an even older legend about a vengeful forest spirit. The judge decided the man wasn’t in his right mind, and sent him back home so his sister could care for him.
But it seemed there was more to it. Rachel had looked through some old genealogy books, and found the name of the man that was supposedly the Sinkhole Murderer. The page was marked by a very old, very yellow newspaper clipping.
“His body was found in a tree near his sister’s house. The sheriff believes he was attacked by wild animals. A small funeral service will be held at…”
It was certainly intriguing, and Rachel couldn’t resist a mystery. To her parents’ lament, she was a very abnormal teen. She spent her time watching the “educational” channels, especially when a program focused on true crimes. Unsolved cases drew her in, especially when they had one in their own town. James Abbott, the sheriff’s brother, had disappeared one morning, his car abandoned on the mountain. That was twenty years ago. No one had seen or heard from him since. He had disappeared into thin air.
And that was why Rachel was here now. Because James Abbott’s car was found next to the murder house.
Rachel picked her way through the overgrown yard, trampling firmly on thorn bushes and lifting her arms almost over her head, until she made it to the porch, creaky and rotted. People had tried to live here over the years, and ten years ago a young couple started fixing up the place; but they left after their toddler fell down the stairs and died. It had been abandoned since.
She stepped up to the door, confident at least that the porch would stay intact, then tried the handle. It was locked, but a brief shove was all it took to open the door. She slipped into the musty entrance hall, then pulled a flashlight from her pocket. It was the first thing she had grabbed when she decided on this excursion. That and her digital camera.
Now she shone the light around. The house was small. One door lay straight ahead; two others sat on opposite sides of the hall. Though she wanted to move straight, she chose to explore the one to the right. This led only to the kitchen. It was empty except for a very old square table, unadorned, except for what appeared to be burn marks all over the surface. Rachel ran a finger over the marks, then felt a sudden chill run up her back.
Nerves, of course. She had expected them. She was in a mysterious old house all alone. To get the shivers wasn’t surprising in the least. One other sensation she hadn’t anticipated, though. It felt as though eyes were boring into her back. She gave into the impulse to turn around and look, but all she saw was the small window above the kitchen sink, looking out into the woods.
Rachel left the kitchen and walked into the other room. This was a sitting room, with a small fireplace set into the wall. She edged closer; she didn’t want to risk stirring up a snake’s nest by accident. But she saw only ashes through the grate. Then she paused, looked closer at the brick. Ash was swirled in a pattern, almost like letters. She focused her flashlight and leaned in.
“He…” Rachel squinted. “He did it.”
That was it? Mysterious, but hardly revealing. Rachel pulled out her digital camera and snapped a picture. It was blurry, but it would do.
She stood, looked around the room, once again feeling a slight shiver. Was it darker? But no, she hadn’t been here that long. Yet when she slipped back out into the entry hall, she saw that it was evening.
How did time slip away so fast? Rachel gave her head a shake. No matter. She only had one other room to investigate. If she found anything, should she call the police? Would a hundred year old murder be worth solving?
Unless she found evidence of a more recent murder. And what else could that ash be referring to? It had to be…
No. The young couple? Did the father really murder his own son? But no, that wasn’t possible. The parents had both been downstairs. Surely they wouldn’t have conspired against their son. Then that meant there was a third party involved…someone who had never been caught…
Rachel gave her head a shake and moved on to the room at the end of the hall. If someone had murdered that poor child, then they wouldn’t still be here. That would be ridiculous. Rachel turned the knob with a soft click, swung open the door, and shone her flashlight into the room.
With a gasp, she stumbled back, dropping the flashlight. It wheeled away across the floor, momentarily casting crazy shadows along the walls. She stood back, shaking, hardly daring to breathe, or even move. Then, regaining her sense, she picked up the flashlight and looked back into the room.
All across the wall, interrupted only by the window, were words, written over and over in large letters.
“THE EYES THE EYES THE EYES THE EYES THE EYES THE EYES THE EYES”
Rachel stepped in, crept toward the wall, then examined the letters. They were written in some type of brown substance. Rachel glanced down at the floor, saw more of it caked on wood, and suddenly realized what it was.
Blood. They were written in blood.
Rachel swung the flashlight around the room, heart pounding, looking at everything. It was evidently a bedroom, but the bed sat on only three legs, and the old dresser was collapsed, as if something heavy had fallen on it. Some old yellow papers lay scattered across the floor near the dresser, and Rachel walked over and picked them up, glad to get away from the bloody wall.
Call the police now? Get arrested for trespassing but maybe help solve a murder? But she didn’t know how old that blood was. It could have been there for ages. Surely the couple noticed it when they bought the place.
Something wasn’t right here, and for whatever reason Rachel was uncomfortable with calling the police right away. She sifted gingerly through the papers, and realized many of them were the small paper found in diaries. Very old diaries.
Steadying her light, she squinted at the old handwriting and skimmed the documents.
“I wish my brother would not moon over this girl, yet he will not listen. I fear for his health…”
“He will go to the wedding, though I have warned him against it. What he means to accomplish I do not know.”
“Dead, and he insists he did not do it! Yet how am I to believe his story? The Watcher is a story. A story we were told to keep us out of the woods. My brother will not speak to me anymore. He stays in his room. He insists on keeping all the curtains shut. He says the Watcher is always outside now. That he is coming for him. I do not understand him…”
Then, a last page, abrupt and frantic, handwriting losing its form and barely legible.
“he was right my brother was right the watcher was here he killed him no it killed him what is it what does it want what does it want we must leave this place leave before it comes for us as well god save us all”
Rachel dropped the papers and rubbed the goosebumps from her arms. God, does everyone just go crazy here?
Then she spotted it. Lying by the bed. A wallet.
Shaking, she flipped it open with a finger. The license in it read “Abbott, James”.
Rachel started taking pictures like crazy, of the blood, of the room, of the papers, of James Abbott’s wallet. Then, she knew she had to leave, call the cops, because now, this was immediate, this wasn’t just some stupid adventure, this was real, maybe he was killed here, maybe it was the same person that shoved that child down the stairs…
She stopped in the middle of her mad activity. On the window, she noticed a mark. She knelt down, and found it was merely a stick figure. From her child’s eye view, it appeared as though the figure was placed directly in the trees behind the house. What, did the child see the murdere—
And then Rachel’s heart was in her throat.
For now she saw a figure, standing at the edge of the forest. The man was very tall, and very thin, almost freakishly so. And it appeared he was wearing a suit.
Feds. Rachel breathed a sigh of relief. The house was getting to her, and here she was flipping out over some FBI agent. Probably doing some double checking on the James Abbott case. She was in trouble, but she’d explain herself well enough. She left the room, slipped outside, and rounded the house.
The man was gone. Did he see her leave? Did he think she was dangerous? It was getting dark, and Rachel wondered where he was now. She held up her hands shakily and called out.
“I’m not armed or anything! I was just looking around!”
No answer. Did he have a gun trained on her? But surely he would just come right out and arrest her if he thought she was doing something wrong. Rachel lowered her arms.
Well, she’d just head back to her car. She jogged down the steep drive, deciding right then and there that she needed some friends, and a social life, and less hiding in her room. That would do the trick.
Then Rachel let out a strangled scream. The man was standing in the middle of the drive. He was closer now, much closer, and it occurred to Rachel that there was something utterly wrong about him. The way he stood there stiffly, unmoving, as though he’d been waiting, yet a moment earlier he hadn’t been there at all. And how tall he was…no one was that tall. He must have been eight or nine feet. What was he, some mad circus freak?
When she realized he was wearing something pale that concealed his face, she knew he was a mad circus freak. This must be the killer, though a fleeting burst of logic told her he couldn’t possibly be connected to the killings in the early 1900’s, the child’s death, and James Abbott’s disappearance. But all she knew at that moment was stark fear, and she darted back up the drive, sudden panic giving her the energy to make it up that hill.
Her cell phone wasn’t getting a signal. It wasn’t even turning on. Where to go? The house? No, he’d find her there. The neighbor’s? Could she make it that far? She’d have to go through the forest. With that thought, she turned her steps, still sprinting, into the woods, fumbling with her flashlight until she could see where she was going, shoving aside branches with impatience. He must be pretty fast, but he wasn’t that fast. She had a good head start. Rachel leapt over a log, dodged a tree, and…
The Murder Hole. She nearly toppled over into it, but caught herself last second. Inside lay the skeletal remains of a horse and the rotten wood of a wagon. She twitched her flashlight around to find a path away from the sinkhole, then paused.
Slowly, she raised her flashlight higher and higher into tree next to the Murder Hole. What she saw petrified her with horror.
A man’s body lay in the branches of the tree, blood dripping from a large wound in his chest, forming a puddle of blood in the grass. Without a second thought Rachel turned to flee.
And suddenly, he was there. Rachel wasn’t aware of any footsteps, but just a few feet away stood the same tall man, still unmoving, still absolutely wrong. It was then she realized…he wasn’t wearing a mask. There was simply nothing there.
Something broke inside Rachel’s mind, and she threw herself into the forest, a loud, high-pitched sound filling her ears, and she thought maybe it was her own screaming, but it didn’t matter, because that thing was still here, it was the Watcher, it must be, she could feel those eyes on her back, the eyes that weren’t there, oh God, was this why the kid fell down the stairs, so terrified he wanted only to run, no matter where, no matter how…
The forest gave way to the overgrown lawn. Stars wavered above her head, but Rachel kept stumbling on, gasping for breath now, steps taking her straight to the house. She dragged herself up the stairs, into the house, and to the only open door.
As if acting under some other influence, Rachel mechanically shut the door, locked it, then drew the ratty curtains over the window and backed away. Safe. Finally safe. Finally alone. Away from the eyes that weren’t there.
Rachel felt something behind her. She turned. Floating above her in the darkness was a pale orb. She didn’t have time to scream.
For several weeks, the small town was abuzz with the news. “That poor girl”, neighbors clucked, bringing casseroles to the bereaved parents as well as whatever new gossip they could glean from the sheriff’s office. It wasn’t much. The police were absolutely puzzled. What the girl had been doing in the woods, how her body got in that tree, why James Abbott’s body was found in the same place and who in their small little place would do such a thing?
The sheriff was puzzled by the fresh wounds found on his brother’s body, but he was also puzzled by something else.
The girl’s camera had been recovered. It held some pictures of nature, blurry flowers, and then, suddenly, pictures of the house. The fireplace inside, with something written in ash. And then, a bedroom with crazy writing on the walls and a ground floor window looking out into the forest, a stick figure drawn on the glass.
Funny, the sheriff thought. It almost looked like the stick figure was really a man in the woods.