It was just another normal walk. That’s how it started anyway; a casual morning stroll on the forested trail that ran behind my parent’s house. They own a home on a couple acres in the small town of Skyline, Alabama. At the time I was in between jobs, and had been living with them as I tried to get back on my feet.

Their property intersects with a winding trail that ran for miles through some unkempt woods in the boonies. In the morning, the Appalachian hills would come alive with the songs of birds and fluttering of insects. The crimson sunrise would paint a beautiful portrait as it filtered down through the bristling leaves of aspen and spruce trees.

There was something about the place that just made me feel at peace. It was like all the stress and anxiety of modern day worries just faded away. It was my Zen place, until the day it was shattered forever.

The day it happened I woke up a bit before dawn, had my coffee and went out for an early-morning walk. The sun had just begun to creep over the horizon when I left the house.

I hadn’t planned on being gone any longer than an hour, and had only been walking about 15 minutes when I noticed something strange. The path around me was oddly silent, with the only noise coming from the sounds of my own footsteps against the gravel. The usual sounds of the woodland creatures or wind gently rustling the trees were absent. Everything was just completely silent.

It didn’t really bother me at first, but the longer it went on, the stranger it seemed. I finally stopped to try and determine whether it was some auditory illusion of some kind. I listened for any of the usual sounds. Cars on the highway a few miles out, lawnmowers fired up by the neighbors or just any noise at all. But there was nothing; just silence.

All of the sudden I began to feel lightheaded. My vision started swimming and my knees grew wobbly beneath me. The hairs on my arms stood on end, and a cold sweat dampened my brow. I didn’t understand what was happening, but in seconds I was struggling just to remain standing.

Panic struck hard, and I desperately reached for my phone thinking I was having a medical emergency. I never managed to reach it, and I just seemed to lose all control of my body and fall face-first to the ground. I still don’t know exactly what happened, but it must’ve been a seizure or fainting spell of some kind. What I do know is that when I finally came to, I wasn’t where I was before.

The environment was pitch black and suddenly cold. Only when I struggled and felt my knee knock into something solid, did I realize I was awake. The sudden jolt struck right on the funny bone, causing me to wince in pain.

I tried to reach my hand out to rub the aching nerve, but found I couldn’t. There was something restricting my movement; something cold and covered in a sticky substance. My whole body was pinned vertically against a wall.

Thankfully, the binds were not entirely restrictive, and I managed to fenagle the cellphone out of my pocket. I flipped it open and the light glowed in the dark. It wasn’t much, but it was enough for me to see where I was. That’s when the true dread set in.

As far as I could tell, I was in some sort of underground tunnel. The binds that restricted me looked almost like the roots of trees. They felt different though, more like dried mud than plant. They were greyish in color and coated with random splotches of this greenish-black goo. It was sticky like tree sap, and hung in gobs of tendrils from all over that smelled truly foul.

I almost had a panic attack in that moment, as I realized I had absolutely no idea where I was or how I’d gotten there. My initial thought was that there was some weird cave-in or earthquake which somehow led to me ending up where I did. I shined my phone up at the ceiling, but saw only the rigid, outline of the rocky walls. No fissure or gap I could’ve slid through, and thus that potential explanation died a quick, unceremonious death.

My next thought was that I had been abducted by someone. I thought about yelling for help, but if that were true, then I doubted they would be likely to come to my aid. I realized an explanation in that moment was not nearly as important as actually getting out.

After wiggling back and forth a bit, it was clear that wasn’t going to be enough to escape. I shined the phone around the corridor; using what sparse lighting it provided to try and formulate a plan. I caught a break when I the light gleamed off of some shiny metallic object only a few feet to my right.

It was too far for my hand to reach, and so I extended my right foot out as much as I could. After struggling for a few minutes, I finally managed to dig my heel down on top of it and drag it back towards me. I then managed to press it against the wall and move it vertical so I could reach it with my hand.

It was some sort of bent, iron rod. I didn’t know how it had possibly gotten down there, but I was nonetheless happy it had.

After slowly wedging it into one of the ruts, I managed to push outward and cause it to crack. The roots – or whatever they were crumbled with relative ease. A few of them broke away, and within a couple moments I managed to push my arm free. Soon after I managed to slide my entire body up and out of the hole I had created.

Somehow it was only then that I remembered my phone was good for something besides shining a shitty light. I dialed 911, but to no surprise the call didn’t go through. That seemed another confirmation that I was somewhere underground, but had no way of telling how deep. I realized then that in all likelihood, no one was coming to find me.

The time on my phone read 11:48 AM, meaning I had been out cold for nearly six hours. I had most of the same clothes on; a pair of tan cargo shorts and my running shoes. The only thing missing was my crimson Alabama university hoodie.

After looking around, I saw no sign of it. The air felt chilly and stagnant, and I shuttered as I rubbed the goosebumps on my exposed arms. Other than my thin layer of clothing I also had my phone, Leatherman multitool, keys, a pack of gum and Chapstick. Not exactly a wilderness survival expert’s emergency pack.

The corridor was unnervingly silent; devoid of any cave ambience. No howling wind leaking in cracks or distant drips of water. Just silence, intrusive and all-consuming. I started to walk, squinting to try and maximize my ocular reception under the minimal light of my cellphone. Each footstep I took, I did so with the utmost caution I was capable. It felt as though every sense in my body had been hypercharged from the onset of adrenaline and confusion.

Before leaving the area, I had one last look back at the root system that had formerly imprisoned me. A thought struck me then as I observed it from further away; it almost looked like some sort of primitive cage.

The tunnel stretched on for dozens of yards. Along the ground I started finding tufts of what appeared to be dried grass and straw randomly strewn about. Beyond that the tunnel came to a bend to the left, and the trail of grass continued towards it. Once around the corner, my eyes were met with the sight of an open cavern. In the waning light of my flip phone it was difficult to tell, but it was clearly of much greater volume than the previous tunnel.

In front of me was a large pile of sticks and dried grass similar to that I’d seen earlier. Beyond that, the walls came to a sort of arch that briefly narrowed two-dozen yards ahead of me, before seeming to expand out again in the next chamber. On top of the stone arch was a structure almost resembling a natural limestone bridge that seemed to connect two separate ledges some thirty feet above me. Above that there appeared to be another open space, but once again my lack of proficient lighting made it difficult to tell.

I tiptoed into the first section of the cave, keeping my head on a swivel. I reached the pile of debris, and decided to dig within it to see if there was anything useful. After finding a long stick a moment later, an idea blossomed in my mind.

I collected a few twigs, and cut a long vertical strip off my belt with my pocket knife. I then removed both of my boots and socks. I fashioned the socks into a sort of pouch, stuffed them with grass and twigs and then slipped it over the end of the stick.

Once it seemed suitable enough, I took out my pack of gum and popped a piece in, while cutting the wrapper in a way so make it one long strand of foil. I bunched the foil into a cluster, and popped the battery out of my cellphone. I placed the torch end in a pile of brush, then moved the foil cluster beneath it.

Carefully, I took the two ends of the stripped foil and pressed one to each of the battery’s terminals. In seconds the strand began to smoke, and then burst into a small flame in the brush. The flame took to the dry grass quickly, and I watched the crimson hue dance along the pile. Thank you, boy scouts; don’t know what I would’ve done without that little trick.

A second later my makeshift torch ignited. The flame grew stronger, penetrating further into the shadowy canopy around me. The panic in my mind diminished ever so slightly, as the orange glow of the torch painted an encouraging trail through the dark. As I turned to my left my torch glinted off something upon the cave wall that caught my eye.

I thought for sure I’d seen it wrong, but as I got closer a series of distinct shapes came into view. On the porous grey rock, about four feet off the ground were a series of cave paintings. They started low, and spread for at least a dozen of feet up the side of the wall. There were all sorts of things depicted. Most were little more than scrawny stick-figure drawings of people, but there were a few of animals as well.

One scene that stood out from the others. Three tall figures were drawn above a horizontal line, and three shorter ones were drawn down below it. The way the scene was centered on the wall made it seem significant, but I didn’t understand why.

The torch was burning quickly, so I maneuvered forward into the large open chamber beyond the archway. The fallen column above the arch appeared to bridge the gap between two rising ledges about thirty feet up. The way it was wedged made it look like it was done so intentionally, like someone carved it out of the rock. The roof of the cavern beyond the structure appeared to curl upwards, and I wondered whether there was more to see. I stepped beyond it, and felt my jaw nearly hit the floor as I got my answer.

The room beyond the arch transitioned abruptly into an absolutely colossal chamber that appeared to extend upward for at least several hundred feet. Suddenly it was bright enough to see without the torch, and I knew that meant light had to be filtering in from somewhere at the top. That realization provided hope, but also disbelief.

How far underground was I?

The chamber branched out at various points into countless winding passages, and pieces of rock ran overhead as makeshift bridges, looking like enormous veins in a massive stone organ. In the center was a massive center spire of rock that seemed to stretch all the way to the top. Many of the veins were connected to it, making it seem like a sort of central anchor.

Something then suddenly moved a couple hundred feet up. I didn’t see what it was, but I heard pebbles shuffle and plunge from above. They hit the ground with thunderous clacks; sounding like popcorn popping through a megaphone.

Not knowing what caused it – and not exactly yearning to find out, I ducked back underneath the arch. I waited there for a minute or so, but didn’t hear any further noise. It was clear then that I wasn’t alone down there.

A metallic gleam shown then caught my attention from the brush pile in front of me. After looking closer I recognized the distinct shape of a long barrel jutting from underneath the pile. Part of me couldn’t even believe what I was seeing, but as I got nearer and pulled it out things just got even stranger.

It was a musket; old-school, flintlock kind, like one from the Manifest Destiny era. It was in poor condition, and obviously wouldn’t be suitable for self-defense except maybe as a vulgar club, but that wasn’t what held my attention. If it was authentic – and judging from the advanced rust on the hide it seemed like it could’ve been, then it had to have been nearly 200 years old.

After digging around for a few more moments I quickly stumbled upon other treasures. An old leather belt, an adidas sneaker, a broken machete, a knapsack, and finally… a bone. I dropped it as soon as I realized what it was that I was holding. It looked like a large thigh bone from an animal. Probably a horse or a moose.

An extremely worrying thought then entered my head, one which sprouted goosebumps along my arms. I glanced around at the environment, seeing the large gathered pile of sticks and other things. The way the bundles were arranged made it almost look like it was some kind of nest.

Even then it seemed like a ridiculous notion. The pile was at least thirty feet in diameter. There’s no creature on earth that makes a nest that big, at least not that I know of. I couldn’t calm my nerves after that though, and decided to just continue trying to move upwards and reach the top; and more importantly the light.

Once past the pile I found myself faced with a series of three branching tunnels. One of them appeared to slope downward, and after a moment of contemplation I decided to just take the one on the far left that veered up.

My torch began to dim, and I did everything I could to maintain the flame for as long as possible. My pockets soon began to run dry of grass, and the cave once again grew dark. After a couple more seconds it was little more than smoldering ashes. Once again, I found myself alone in the dark.

I grabbed the cellphone from my pocket, and silently debated whether or not to go back for more fuel. An awful stench then accosted my nostrils like the malaise of a polluted rolling tide. It smelled like sewage and rotten eggs. The scent became so overwhelming that I felt my eyes begin to water, and bile climb in m throat. Along with the noxious scent was an overwhelming sense of impending doom. Like my olfactory senses had triggered some deep, primal fear hidden deep within my subconscious.

I flipped open my phone, and prayed my gut was wrong. The light from it barely made a difference, but it was enough to confirm my worst fear. I nearly dropped the phone as the outline of a decaying human hand became visible further down the corridor.

Out of instinct I took a step back and covered my mouth as I wretched. Unfortunately, there was no real choice aside from proceeding. I popped in a fresh piece of gum and prayed that my eyes had deceived me as I stepped forward.

It was even worse up close than even my imagination had built it up to be. Partially skeletonized hands and legs dangling with gangrene ribbons of flesh attached to a rotting corpse seated against the wall. Blackened intestines spewed from the gut like dead worms from some grotesque, moldy fruit. The head was missing entirely, and there was no indication as to where it had gone.

My instincts were all but begging me to flee. I had every intention of doing so too, until I saw a small knapsack on the ground beside the remains. On a hunch it may provide something useful – and seeing as how the person clearly no longer had any use for it, I decided to take it. Once I lugged it onto my back, I said a few parting words for the nameless corpse and moved on.

As if it wasn’t obvious before, that moment was when I truly realized the severity of my situation. Before that I had almost assured myself that me waking up there was some kind of mistake or odd coincidence, but after seeing that I abandoned that rationale. Anxiety constricted my mind as I wondered whether I had been kidnapped by some perverse serial killer; chained up like a pig ready for slaughter whenever he thought to entertain the notion.

After putting sufficient distance between myself and the corpse, I knelt down and popped open the knapsack. Inside I struck gold with a flashlight, a box of matches, a half-full water bottle, a pack of granola bars and a few magazines. Those were all most welcome additions, but much to my chagrin there was nothing to identify who the person was, or how they had gotten there. At least the flashlight still had some juice left in it.

I flicked the switch, and watched the flashlight sputter to life and blaze a trail through the passage. The tunnel was pretty unremarkable, appearing as just a long winding passage that led upward. Ever since the brush pile I hadn’t heard so much as a single decibel of sound. I never really realized how comforting background white noise is until I was forced to go without it.

After a couple more minutes of walking in utter silence I reached another open chamber. Two more branching passages lay further ahead and seemed to stretch in nearly opposing directions. One branched out left, and one right with both seeming to lead upwards.

As I approached the two passages, then noticed there was another directly above me on the ceiling. I looked up to see an extended chute, stretching for countless feet above me. Even the light of the flashlight was not enough to illuminate it’s entire length.

Obviously, I had no means of traversing the vertical shaft, but the discovery made things even more mystifying. I elected to take the left-hand tunnel in hopes it would lead to a higher level of the cavern. Before I could enter one of them though, my footstep disrupted a pile of pebbles and sent them skittering outward across the ground.

I froze, cursing myself for the noise and hoping nothing had been alerted by it. My mind was flooded with a torrent of catastrophic thoughts. It felt like breaking the silence within that place was somehow a graven sin in and of itself. Luckily for me, there was no other noises.

The further I went, the less likely it seemed like the cave was a natural formation. The walls had almost patterned groove marks in them, as if something had methodically yet boorishly dug them out. A worrying thought manifested as I remembered the apparent nest from earlier; maybe this was the den of some massive unknown creature.

For some reason I thought of Shelob – the giant spider from the Lord of the Rings, and obviously, that thought did not bring any comfort whatsoever. It seemed ridiculous of course, but darkness and silence can play cruel tricks on a solitary mind. I hoped that’s all it was, and I did my best to suppress them and continue on.

I dropped a piece of gum at the entrance of the next tunnel and continued walking. The idea was to use the glint on the shiny wrapper from the flashlight as a rudimentary map to help me find my back to where I started if it came down to that. The more I went though, the more I doubted and hoped I would not have to resort to that tactic.

All sense of direction in that place was restricted to a bare minimum, as with even as short as I had travelled, I had no real sense of where I was in relation to where I had started. That tunnel seemed to bend and twist; like an enclosed spiral staircase on an endless incline. Finally, as I rounded yet another bend, I saw a dull light breaching the other end.

I ventured forward, and once more the room elongated into that massive open chamber. There were some unusual items spread across the ground there as well. Splintered pieces of wood, along with a half-destroyed wooden chair. There was also a scattering of copper colored coins across the ground, but I didn’t recognize the denomination. However, one item stood out right away: an old rusted sword.

I made my way over and knelt to inspect it on the ground. Looked like an old cavalry saber from the civil war era. The hilt was rounded and encrusted with bronze, and the metal blade had clearly seen better years. It looked authentic – like the rifle from earlier, but of course that would lead to the quite elaborate conclusion that it had been there for a couple hundred years. I didn’t think much about it in the moment though; I was just happy to have a weapon.

“Hello?” A sudden voice froze me up like a breeze in the dead of winter. I killed the flashlight and ducked down.

“Hello? Anyone?” The ethereal voice sounded like a young girl calling from somewhere within the cave. Her vocal inflection quite clearly conveyed her terror, and I felt my heart quiver. The thought of a young girl alone in that place and terrified was haunting, and my instincts demanded I try to help.

I crept onward from the room, and found myself once more entering the massive chamber from earlier; this time on a higher level. The cavern loomed large like an ancient empty tomb, and felt as though I were a single ant in an alien, termite colony. Down below I heard the sounds of the girl whimpering, and I approached the ledge to try and spot her.

The area beneath me was shrouded in shadow, and I saw nothing upon first glance. I debated upon turning my flashlight back on and shining down, but some part of me wouldn’t comply with the thought. Like I knew it was the right thing to do, but fear had constricted me, and wouldn’t allow my hand to cooperate.

I peeked over the edge, waiting in the darkness top try and see her. Her hushed sobs and frantic breaths met my ears, but I couldn’t determine exactly where they were coming from. I kept quiet and continued listening, but something strange then happened. Her muffled cries changed pitch, and suddenly morphed into what I can only describe as a hooting, almost manic animal screech. It was the weirdest thing I’d ever heard.

Something then suddenly darted through the darkness down below me. I couldn’t tell what it was, but it was quick. It disappeared in a split-second, and I was forced to entertain a ridiculous notion. Maybe those sounds were not meant to signal distress; maybe it was a lure.

I can’t exactly say why that unnerving thought entered my mind, but I picked up the pace a bit from then on. I crossed a fallen column to reach a higher elevation of ledges, sneaking glances down below to keep an eye out for whatever that thing was.

Luckily, I managed to cross without incident, and kept maneuvering further into the convoluted cave system. Every path which seemed to incline upwards was the one I took. At every tunnel I took I left another piece of the wrapped gum at the entryway, and the pack continued to dwindle.

Most corridors and rooms I came to held very little of interest. Found a few sparse piles of animal bones, as well as various personal belongings scattered around. The items I found in no particular order were an old briefcase, a torn pair of jeans, a solo winter boot, a Chicago Cubs baseball hat and a lunchbox with spoiled contents. All of it was rather asinine, but then I came to that room.

It was tucked away behind a large room that split into several other paths. By this point I was at least several hundred feet above where I had started. The room itself was little more than a small separate grotto, but the items inside I found truly interesting.

Most were articles of clothing: shirts, jackets, pants, hats and shoes of all sorts numbering in the hundreds. I also saw a cane, a fishing pole, a baseball bat, a deflated football and a small drink cooler. All the items in that room seemingly had a single thing in common, they all were either entirely or primarily red.

It looked as though someone had collected all of them over the years, and some of the articles and items looked decades old at the very least. I kept my new saber clutched tightly as I waded my way through the debris.

I was then struck by the epiphany that my suspiciously absent hoodie had also been red. I looked around for it briefly, but didn’t find it. It got me thinking though; maybe red was the reason I was there in the first place. Of course, I knew by then that I was not alone in the cave; and likely had been abducted to arrive there by someone or something. Maybe whatever had taken me didn’t like red, or maybe they were attracted to it.

Back outside and I was once again met with another fallen column that led up to another higher ledge. This one was different though; incredibly steep and worn. There appeared to be no easy way up, and no other real path to follow. I could see the light growing more luminous from above, and knew the steep path was my only option to reach it.

I stashed the sword on the back of my belt and began to climb. The rocks were slick and parts of them crumbled as I grabbed. I moved slowly, trying to stay both alive and quiet as much as possible. The road was tough, but I pushed on.

I was nearing the halfway point when something stopped me dead in my tracks. Somewhere far above, I heard the sounds of pebbles tumbling down the cavern slopes. I looked up and saw a dusty cloud of residue blossom off the cavern wall. My eyes rapidly scanned the area above, but I didn’t see anything that could’ve caused it.

I was just about to continue, when I spotted something strange. The dull light was filtering in from above, just barely illuminating the cavern. It was in that mystical twilight canopy that I saw it. On the far wall there was a small spot where the light appeared to shimmer in an odd fashion.

I didn’t understand what I was seeing at first, and just stared at the odd image. It almost looked like something translucent was partially obscuring the light, like an impossible patch of water held together by some unknown force. I must’ve blinked or something, because one moment it was there, and the next it was gone.

A cold chill crept down my spine, and I decided the best thing I could do was just keep moving. After taking a moment to level out my breaths, I continued onward, and thankfully reached the next ledge.

Once I hauled myself up, I peered back down over the ledge and saw the chamber plunge downward into obscurity. By that point I was nearing the top where the light was coming from. I just hoped that all the effort to get there would be worth it.

The room beyond that ledge was yet another empty space; or at least I thought it was. Once inside, my flashlight gleamed off one of the walls and illuminated several patterns on the rock. The entire thing appeared haphazardly scrawled in some sort of black ink. It was only when I backed further away from the wall that I realized what it was.

At first, I saw only squiggled lines, bloated ovals and winding tubes. Then I saw the X carved into one side. A realization struck me then; it was a map.

It was crudely made, but after further examination I recognized that the X section was similar to the cavern I was in. The paths drawn also seemed to vaguely reflect the ones I had taken to reach that point. My eyes grew wide, as I made the undeniable discovery that if the map was in any way accurate, then I hadn’t seen anything yet.

The colossal chamber I was currently in was only a tiny fraction of the entire piece. I counted six or seven other sections that were at least double the size. The ends of the portrait seemed to fizzle away, as if whoever had drawn it had not yet completed the entire thing. That realization was staggering; just how big is this place?

I took a picture of the diagram with my cellphone, and moved on. There were sudden noises and clangs far off in the distance, and I decided to move towards the light as quick as I could. According to the crude map, the way out of the labyrinth was near. If it was anywhere near true proportions, then I was already about three-fourths of the way there. I just had a little bit higher to go, but the worst was yet to come.

I advanced onto yet another tunnel, and began the arduous climb upward. I could see the light getting nearer, and just hoped there was an actual means of getting out. Luckily, after rounding a few corners I came face to face with just about the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. The exit.

In the ceiling there were several partially transparent films of unknown material stretched over holes. The light was gently beaming in from above, and I knew it had to be the way out. The only question was how I was going to reach it, as the ceiling was well over twenty feet up.

I made my approach into the open cavern, and stared upwards at the patches in the rock above me. There were grooves and indentations in the side of the wall, and I thought I may use them to climb up. It looked possible, but I didn’t get the chance to try then.

Out of the blue I was suddenly struck in the chest by something. The blow was sudden, completely unexpected and sharp. I crumpled to my knees and held my ribs where the blow had struck, feeling blood begin to spill from several open wounds on my abdomen. I then heard the sudden pitter-patter of feet scampering by me. My eyes franticly darted around the room, but I did not see my assaulter anywhere; even though they had passed right by me. It didn’t make any sense.

A plume of dust was then disturbed above me. I looked up, and saw something I still cannot fully explain. It was the same odd shimmering anomaly of the light that I’d seen before. It was closer this time, perched just above me on the ceiling. It was different than before though.

There was a distinct shape to it; at least partially. Like it looked different then the area around it. For anyone whose played the Halo franchise; just picture the translucent silhouette of an active camo upgrade and that’s basically how it looked. Something that was either partially cloaked or my eyes just weren’t capable of fully perceiving it.

It then moved, and my heart dropped like a lead weight. There was definitely something up there, and I had no idea what it was. It’s outline looked vaguely humanoid, but it was hard to tell for certain. The saber in my hand quivered as I held it out towards the thing. The three separate wounds on my chest stung like hornet’s venom, and I realized then that the pattern of them almost looked like something inflicted by claws.

We just stared at one another for the longest time, before it suddenly made this sort of hooting noise. I then watched as it leapt away several feet, and then disappeared into the shadows. Things fell silent once more, and I seized my chance.

Freedom was only a simple climb away, and with that in mind I made a scramble for it. I began my climb up the wall. It was jagged, and I felt rocks puncture into my hands, but I didn’t care. I just had to get out.

I was nearing the halfway point when something suddenly slammed into my back. The impact caused me to lose my grip and plummet about ten feet back to the cavern floor. I struck hard, with my head bouncing off the solid dirt. The room wobbled around me and my head pulsed from the impact.

Something then touched down ahead of me. I tried to stabilize my vision, and clutched tightly onto the rusted saber as my only means of defense. As I rose to my feet, I felt the thing slam into me. The two of us fell and rolled onto the dirt, wrestling and flailing about.

It’s claws were like razors, and piranha-like teeth tore my flesh into ribbons. I fought back and struggled, somehow managing to force the thing off of me. I could barely even see what I was fighting, but as we broke apart and it tried to slink back into the shadows; I saw blood shining on it’s torso.

I took a step forward and slashed horizontally with the saber. I felt the tip strike and tear through it’s translucent hide. It seemed only like a minor wound, but the thing went ballistic. I can’t even possibly describe the multilayered cacophony the thing produced. Voices and animals all blended into random blurbs of vocalized pain.

It flailed about, wailing in a god-awful tone. As if suddenly driven to utter madness by what was honestly just a minor wound. In shear disbelief, I watched it suddenly leap – or perhaps stumble over the ledge and plummet to the chasm below. It struck with a hard squelch a second later, and the silence returned. It didn’t last though, and before I could even ask myself what the hell had just happened, I heard something down below.

It began as a chorus of hoots, grunts and indistinct noises. I heard pebbles scuttling about, and the aggravated voices grew in volume. There were more of them; many more of them.

The only option I had was the holes up above, and so once more I dashed towards the rock wall. I scrambled up as quick as I could, as the horde of camouflaged things climbed from the abyss below. I heard them right beneath me as I reached the hole on the ceiling. There was some sort of thin film material covering the hole, but luckily, I was able to push right through it.

Daylight seared into my eyes as I plunged upward and burst out of the cave. The light accosted my retinas, and it took a moment to adjust after being locked in darkness for so long. There were boulders around me, and trees in the distance illuminated by a setting sun. Just as I was about to lunge outward, something grabbed hold of my legs. I felt claws sink into my legs and tear into the flesh.

I kicked and fought back with all the strength I had left; refusing to be dragged back down into the cave without fighting. My fingernails cracked as I clung with all my might onto the ledge and kicked around wildly. By some miracle I felt the thing’s grip relinquish on my leg. I hobbled to my feet as the chorus of sounds wailed from below. My leg was bloodied, but the pain barely registered. Adrenaline had taken full control, and I galloped into a run.

I didn’t care where I was going, I just knew I had to get as far away from there as possible. I don’t think I’ve ever ran for so long in my life. I heard them following behind me, and I knew if I stopped for even a moment I was dead.

It was dark before I finally saw smoke wafting in the distance. With every last ounce of energy I possessed, I dashed towards it. The most beautiful sight I’d ever seen came into view then as a simple, wooden cabin.

I yelled out, hoping someone would hear my pleas and help me. Exhaustion and loss of blood struck me then, and I collapsed within a few dozen yards of the home. My vision began to fade, but I saw blurry outlines emerge from within the cabin. Things then went dark once again.

Next thing I remember was waking up in the hospital; greeted by the desperate expressions of family and friends. It was all so surreal. They wept tears of joy, thanking god and others that I had returned.

Part of me wondered then whether all the things I’ve related here today were just nightmares or vivid hallucinations of some kind of coma. Bus as soon as I saw the extent of my injuries, I knew that wasn’t possible.

I had apparently been gone for nearly 24 hours when I was found. My body was covered in deep cuts and lacerations. I had three broken ribs and a partially rupture spleen. Many of my wounds had been stricken wit infection, and it took weeks for me to heal.

It was not a fun time, but at least I was alive.

The doctors and police thought my injuries were the result of an animal attack. They questioned me profusely, but I took the cowards way out. I didn’t tell them much; only that I was out hiking and was suddenly attacked by something. Doesn’t really explain the fact that I ended up at that cabin which was nearly 15 miles away from the trail I had started on, but that detail didn’t come up.

It felt wrong to lie to them, but I was paranoid that no one would believe me. I didn’t even know if I could believe myself. Ever since that day I’ve exhausted every possible rational explanation, but they always come up short. The memories are just too vivid. I still don’t understand exactly how it all happened, but I’ve learned a few things.

After I got out of the hospital, I started doing some research on all of this phenomenon, to try and see whether anyone had been through something similar. The Appalachians are known for cases of mysterious disappearances. Dozens of cases have been reported over the years, with many of them remaining unsolved. I don’t know whether they all were victimized by the same thing I was, but I did notice one peculiar detail. Many of them were reported to have been wearing a red article of clothing when they were declared missing.

In nature, red is the color of danger. Many animals like bulls have an innate fear or dislike of the color. It makes sense when you think about it too. Blood is red, fire too. Often times venomous snakes and insects will be partially or entirely red in color. Many poisonous mushrooms and berries also follow this pattern. I’m not positive, but I do believe red has something to do with this.

As for what those things were, I really don’t know. I’ve considered everything from aliens to ghosts and interdimensional creatures, but I don’t think anyone knows for sure. There’s a local legend about beings that supposedly live deep in the woods, hidden away from people. Indigenous folklore in the area mentions them extensively, but it sounds ridiculous. Faeries.

Nothing like the cutesy Tinkerbell or Cosmo and Wanda. According to legend, they are subterranean creatures that stalk and drag their prey back to their burrows. A lot of stories claim they live near rocks and boulders; something which reminded me of the location I arrived in after first exiting the cave.

I didn’t really buy into this explanation until a friend of mine who is native American mentioned one particular detail. Apparently, these beings are allergic to steel. That may explain what happened to the one that attacked me after I nicked it with that old saber. Maybe the steel of the blade caused it to have a reaction.

As for their apparent ability to cloak themselves, well, no one who I’ve told this account to honestly has been able to explain that. My same friend who told me about the faeries admits that he never really believed in them. They were just stories that his grandfather used to tell him as a kid. Both of us don’t really know what to think now.

Some people say that all myths and superstitions are rooted in something real. Real, but benign stories passed from generation to generation by word of mouth is spiced-up and exaggerated upon thus eventually leading to the folklore we tell each other around campfires. Maybe this time, the myth doesn’t need to be exaggerated. Maybe the reason that the world scoffs at these stories, is because the truth is very good at hiding.

I know how all of this sounds, trust me. Every skeptical thought that has passed through your mind while reading this is probably something I myself have considered at one point or another. If you choose to write this off as no more than fiction, then that is your decision.

I’ve saved this for the end, because I know there are those who skim through posts to see the conclusions. I want as many people to see this message as possible; it’s the only thing that really matters. Please, don’t wear red in the Appalachian woods; or any other woods for that matter.

You may not believe in or ever see the things I have – and honestly, I hope you never do. But just remember, when you’re out on a trail in the middle of the woods, they will see you. Don’t provoke them, because even if you survive, you’ll spend the rest of your life knowing a truth that no one will ever fully believe, just like me.

 

 

 

red woods