What Breanna liked most about hiking was how quiet it was. Even in large wooded parks, you could still hear the sounds of traffic in the surrounding city. It was a constant, distant thrumming that shattered the illusion of solitude. However, out here, Breanna truly was alone. Well, not entirely alone. There were still daytrippers that used this area, but not many. Most people preferred to stay at the city parks and within easy distance of amenities.
Breanna had come prepared, of course. She intended this hike to only last the day, but she packed a small tent and some food just in case. It paid to be prepared. She passed a few worn signs that continue to point deeper into the woods. She also began to notice a number of people coming back. It appeared they had turned around; probably didn’t feel like hiking the entire trail.
It really was very peaceful here now. The air was crisp, the birdsongs seemed clearer, and the dry leaves were alive with squirrels running to and fro. Once or twice, Breanna caught a flash of white; a deer loping away as she approached. She breathed in the smell of heavy vegetation. She felt stress and tension fall away.
She noticed benches here and there, optimistically hoping people would make it this far. Breanna took advantage of one and pulled out a sandwich. She took her time, savoring it. It was then she noticed it had gotten quieter.
Not by much, of course. She could still hear some birdcalls, but they seemed somewhat distant. This meant nothing, of course. Perhaps the birds had tired of her company.
Breanna moved on, and the woods seemed to enclose around her now. It was quiet, and dim, and cool. All in all, she found it rather comforting. But the birdcalls continued to become more distant, and no new ones began. There appeared to be no birds here. She wondered at that; perhaps there had been a fire somewhere around here recently? She also noticed no more benches, although the trees were more heavily marked. She thought perhaps the marks were some sort of letters or pictographs; they looked Native American. Either pranksters, or possibly even done for some sort of event. She knew the area often cultural events at the picnic area near this trail. Breanna stopped to examine one of the carvings.
The letters didn’t look familiar, but she also noticed trees, and what appeared to be a man, although instead of a head there was a curl like a question mark. She had never seen anything like that, and wondered what it represented. She’d ask around when she got back.
Breanna moved on, and began to wonder when the trail would end. She had been told it took about five or six hours to get to the end, and then she would have five or six hours to get back. But the trees blocked out the sun now, and when she checked her watch she saw it had stopped. Wonderful. It was all a bit nerve-wracking, and finally Breanna decided it was time to turn back. She was adventured out.
When she turned, she caught a glimpse of something very large and dark disappeared into the woods.
She caught her breath, her limbs stiffened, and she felt the hair on her arms prickle. Something had been following her. For how long, she didn’t know. Was it a predator? Breanna reached into her pack and pulled out her cell phone. No signal, of course. She looked around warily, found a large tree branch, and picked it up. She didn’t want to go forward; she couldn’t go back. She waited.
Absolute silence followed. There were no animal sounds; no wind; she only heard her own quick breathing and pounding heart. She swallowed and tried to calm herself down. It was getting even darker.
Nothing happened. Breanna knew she could not stand here forever. Perhaps whatever it was, she could scare it off. It was probably a black bear, and unless it was a mother, it would be easily frightened by loud noises and waving arms.
So she moved forward, starting to wave the branch around, and tried to shout. Instead, her voice came out as a croak.
That’s when the sound started.
It was hideous, it was everywhere, a sharp, animalistic howling but something so uncannily human that Breanna almost wondered if maybe there was another person out there, another person who had somehow been caught by this thing, but the howling was so loud…
She dropped the branch and clamped her hands over her ears, trying to shut out the noise…her knees hit the ground…
The howling grew closer, and a ringing started up in her ears, and she felt something pop, and suddenly, there was silence.
She pulled her hands away. There was blood trickling from her ears.
Then she realized something dark was standing over her. She looked up.
“Question mark” was the last sane thought that went through her mind.
A/N: Look, Derleth wrote a story that isn't an entire regurgitation of Lovecraft's stuff. http://www.unz.org/Pub/WeirdTales-1944nov-00008