Updated: Nov 7, 2022
A week before the fifth anniversary of the day they met, Mia and Oliver trekked to the Black River Forest.
Mia and Oliver. They were not only lovers. They were also best friends and partners in adventure. They had earned their bachelor’s degrees in Computer Science last year and were now preparing themselves to earn master’s degrees in the same field while Mia worked as a Software Developer, and Oliver as a Database Administrator. As fitness freaks, they always managed to maintain their muscular bodies, spending hours in the gym at least five days a week.
For the past five years, they had enjoyed trekking together on hot summer days, through the cool air of spring and even in the icy depths of winter. Today, they wanted to try the rain.
Mia had thought that the noise of thunder roaring overhead as they walked, the wind whooshing through the branches around them, and the rain hammering down onto the trees above would be an adventure, and Oliver had agreed. Already about six hours had passed since they began, and both were soaked to the skin and regretting their decision. They had left their car in a dirt parking lot at the trailhead about fifteen miles back along the path.
Luckily the route was circular. They had four to five miles left to go before the path returned them to where they started.
The couple had their jackets zipped up and hoods drawn over their heads. It was three o’clock now, and their flashlights shone on the path ahead of them in the darkening light. Their backpacks, covered with plastic bags to keep their possessions dry, rubbed their shoulders as they continued walking, holding each other’s hands, following the red ribbon tied on every other tree.
Their senses were at full alert for danger.
The path led even deeper into Black River Forest before it came back out again at the trailhead. Oliver’s heart began throbbing in his chest as the path narrowed, the branches of towering trees hiding the last glimpses of the sky above them. Oliver felt as if he were trapped in a tunnel. There was no sunlight left, dark clouds had hidden the last light of the sun, and the heavy rain was still pounding down.
No other people were in the forest, at least not within Oliver’s eyesight.
“This part of the forest is freaking me out,” said Oliver. His hold on Mia’s hand slightly tightened. “It’s like a tunnel. I wish we could finish this faster.”
“It’s only a few hours until we reach the car now. Are you OK? I haven’t seen you nervous like this before!” said Mia.
“This forest could be beautiful in summer,” said Oliver. He ceased the grasp on her hand. He felt sweaty even though he wasn’t and wiped his face with his palm. “But I’m getting scared now.”
“What are you getting scared of?”
Oliver stopped and looked back at her. She could see his face beneath his hood, pale and drawn, his forehead wrinkled in thought. “As we keep walking into the forest, I remembered that story. That one about . . . the psychopath.”
The lightning bolts flashed in the sky, lighting up the path and their pale faces for a brief moment.
Oliver and Mia startled and swiftly held each other’s hands for a bit; the hair on the back of their necks raised in a chill.
They both looked around.
“I hope the lightning doesn’t hit the trees here,” said Mia.
“According to the weather forecast, the rain was only supposed to be for three hours. But it’s been going on for much longer than that.”
“Do you think it’s going to stop anytime soon?”
“It was supposed to stop hours ago. So hopefully.”
“Alright!” Mia sighed in relief. “Anyway. You were saying something about the psychopath?”
Oliver put his hands on her shoulders and locked his eyes with hers.
“I’m worried for you.”
Mia and Oliver had heard the story before. Apparently, many hikers had gone mysteriously missing from this forest. No one knew what happened to them. Yet, Mia was sure it was only a story. Not every hiker went missing. But now that they were here, the story didn’t seem so silly. Oliver and Mia were eager to return from here alive.
“Don’t worry. Everything will be alright,” said Mia. “Didn’t you see three girls leaving the forest when we were arriving? They were alone, right? Did anything happen to them?”
Oliver stayed quiet. His eyes still locked with Mia’s.
“Hello!” Mia continued, waving her hand near his face to capture his attention. “We saw them alive, making their way out of the forest, chit-chatting, and laughing. And if you are still scared, I have an axe in my backpack.”
“I know that. We always carry an axe when we go on adventures like hiking, but—” Oliver sighed. It seemed like he didn’t want to drag out the topic anymore. He looked around. “Anyway. Forget the psychopath! It’s just a rumor.”
Oliver smiled. “Let’s finish the trekking, have a fun adventure, and get back to the car to get warm. Let’s rock it!”
However, he had dragged the smile to his face, part of him still believing a psychopath could pop up out of nowhere. Mia smiled back at him, giving him a quick kiss on his lips.
They continued on, but only a few steps forward, and . . .
“Stop!” said Oliver, his voice full of panic. “Did you hear that?”
“Was it a girl’s scream?” Mia looked around in alarm, shifting the focus of her flashlight as she looked through the trees.
“Where did it come from?”
They heard it again, this time clearly the high-pitched scream of a woman in fear or pain. In the heavy rainfall, with the wind whooshing and thunder roaring at intervals, they couldn’t tell exactly where it was coming from.
“Let’s go, quickly,” said Oliver. “Don’t risk your life. We need to get out of here. It’s the psychopath!”
“Just a minute ago you said it was a rumor,” said Mia. She glanced at him, then continued scanning the area with her torch, trying to look through the bushes and around the nearby trees. “I need to help this girl.”
“I . . .” Oliver shook his head in disbelief. He knew there was no point in arguing with her. Mia had decided to help the girl, and she would not leave unless she found her, no matter what danger she was putting herself in.
“How could you not help someone? Especially when an animal could be after her, or . . . according to your belief of a psychopath’s existence, maybe a psychopath is after her.”
The scream rang out again, louder this time. It was as if the girl was approaching them. Then came the sound of someone crashing through the branches.
Mia and Oliver turned to the right where the noise was coming from. The girl screamed again. She was close now. They were frozen in fear.
Then an unexpected sound drowned out the girl’s scream. A bear’s roar.
Mia and Oliver looked at each other, their eyes wide in shock.
A tall, skinny girl burst out of the bushes in front of them.
She stopped dead, staring at Oliver and Mia.
Mia scanned her from top to bottom in shock. Wet. Her rain jacket was torn, bruises on her hands, and knees bleeding beneath her jogging pants. Mia realized that she recognized her.
“We saw you leaving with your friends hours ago! What happened?”
The girl’s lips fluttered as if she was about to wail or say something, but before she could, a bear roared so loudly that they could all feel it in their bones.
Oliver jerked in horror.
The girl glanced over her shoulder. “RUN! IT’S A BEAR.” She ran down the path. Oliver and Mia sprinted after her.
Another crash in the bushes made Mia pause and turn around. A bear about seven feet in size, black as the night, came out from the bushes and stood on the path. It looked around, its jaws wide open and fangs clearly visible. It seemed like the bear was infuriated and desperate to end its hunger.
Before the trio could hide somewhere or get far enough away, the bear spotted them.
Mia was frozen in fear.
“It’s seen us!”
Oliver and the tall girl looked back.
“Fuck,” both said in unison.
The trio sprinted up the path, each glancing back as they went. They kept running, and running, and running . . .
In panic, not focusing anymore on the red ribbon on the trees, the trio turned right.
The bear was gaining on them. It was only about three feet away from Oliver.
The bear was so close Oliver could feel its breath on his neck. It swung its huge paw at him, its claws—sharp like knives—bared. Oliver pushed himself forward with a last burst of energy, dodging death by a fraction.
Oliver heard a crash and risked a glance over his shoulder. The bear had fallen; it must have tripped when its swipe at him missed. Oliver powered on, catching up with the girls 150 feet away. With the bear distracted, they ran on, turning left, right, right, left.
They soon heard the bear crashing after them, chasing their smell. But it must have turned the wrong way. They heard it roar in anger.
Oliver felt his panic ease as the noise of the bear became more distant. The group continued to take multiple turns, leaving it far behind them.
Still, they weren’t going to take any chances and continued running at full speed. After a few more minutes, when they couldn’t hear the bear at all, they stopped near a gigantic tree to catch their breath.
“Thank God!” said Oliver. “I survived its attack.” He bent over, drawing air into his lungs.
“I thought we’d all die today,” said Mia.
The tall girl nodded, breathing heavily.
Oliver looked up at the sky. They had run into a more open part of the forest, and they could see above them now. The dark clouds were fading away and a few white clouds appearing. The rain had stopped, and, as they watched, the sun made its appearance in the open, blue sky. He smiled. Following his eyes, Mia also looked up at the sky and smiled too. But her smile disappeared the next moment as the girl started sobbing.
“What happened?” asked Mia, putting her hands on the girl’s shoulders. “Where are your friends?”
“When the bear attacked us, we ran in opposite directions in panic,” said the girl. “I’m scared. I hope they are safe.”
“Don’t worry,” said Mia. She hugged her. “We will find them, safe and alive.”
“Thank you,” said the girl and tightened the hug.
“What’s your name?” asked Mia.
“Jany. I just graduated from high school. I don’t want to die soon here in this forest. I’m only eighteen.”
“Guys!” said Oliver in a panicked voice.
The girls looked at him in wonder.
“What now?” asked Mia.
“We didn’t focus on the trail signs when we were running from the bear. Where are we? I can’t see any red ribbons on the trees.”
The girls began to walk between the trees searching for ribbons, but no trace of any could be found.
“Hell no! I don’t want to be lost again. I—”
A painful scream in the distance halted Jany’s voice.
In alarm, Mia jumped, and Jany startled.
Oliver looked around in terror, believing the bear had attacked someone nearby and that they once again would be in danger.
“What the hell was that?” he asked.
“The scream came from that way,” said Mia, pointing to the right.
They slowly walked to the trees alongside the path. They saw the ground sloped down to the valley. Mia tried to take one more step forward to have a clear look, but Oliver pulled her back before she could slip.
The three of them stood by the trees and looked around to find the source of the scream.
A few seconds later, what they saw made their hair raise in horror.
Mia’s hands flew to her mouth as a scream tried to make its way out. She was looking at a man thrusting a machete in a teenage boy’s gut and dragging it horizontally to the right and then to the left with all of his force.
“So, the psychopath story is real?” said Mia.
The boy’s severed body lay on the ground beside the bank. Next to him lay a girl’s body. Blood was streaming from her stomach.
“Yes. The psychopath is real,” said Oliver. “I hope we return safe and alive.”
The killer bent, having finished with the boy, bent down to the girl, and started to take off her clothes. There was an X symbol cut into her stomach and a hole near the belly button. It seemed like the killer first had thrust the knife into her stomach and then carved the X symbol.
The killer checked the girl’s pulse and then held a hand under her nose as if to check for breath.
“Dead bitch!” he said.
He looked around.
The trio was frozen in silence in the trees, hidden from sight. They were lying on the ground, taking a position of concealment just like a sniper as they watched in trauma from the top of the valley.
Oliver grabbed his hair, perhaps feeling some type of pressure in his brain. Trying to stay silent, he walked away, slowly. He stumbled as if he would lose consciousness.
He leant against a tree across the path, bending forward to be sick at its roots.
Petrified, Jany remained lying on the ground, gaping at the killer, who was perhaps preparing himself to have intercourse with the corpse.
Mia stood up, keeping behind a tree to stay hidden. She looked at Oliver and Jany with tears flowing down her cheeks. She tried to speak but couldn’t let the words out of her mouth.
She took a deep breath. Then she cleared her throat.
“Jany!” she said in a croaky voice.
Jany remained the same, unresponsive.
Mia cleared her throat once more.
“Jany,” she said, her voice clear but soft, as she was afraid the killer would hear her, despite him being down in the valley. She bent and gently shook Jany, holding her by the shoulders.
Jany opened her mouth as if about to scream, but Mia swiftly clasped her mouth.
“Don’t! He’ll hear us!” she said.
Jany stared at her for a moment and then nodded. Mia took her hand from her mouth.
Jany stood up and followed Mia toward Oliver.
“We will die. He will find us,” said Jany. She was speaking too loudly, panicked. “I hope my friends are safe.”
“Be brave, Jany,” said Mia, swallowing the fear. “Think positive. Just stay together, and we will find a way out of the forest.”
All the while, Oliver stood watching them. For a moment his terror had paralyzed him. He had no answer, no solution, only the storm of horrifying thoughts of their death in his mind.
Oliver took a deep breath and removed a water bottle from his backpack. He drank a few sips. He cleared his throat. Then he said, shifting his look between Mia and Jany, “Mia is right. We can get out of here.” He paused. “We must hurry and try to find a way back to our original path before dusk.”
A silence fell for a bit as the trio exchanged a look, nerves clear on their faces. They looked around them at the different paths.
“Where did we come from?” asked Mia.
“I’m not sure. I was so scared,” said Oliver.
“And everything looks the same to me,” added Jany quickly, looking at the paths on either side, both covered with branches and leaves littered from the storm.
Mia unzipped her backpack and slowly, quietly pulled out her axe, still glancing around for signs of movement. “Alright! Let’s go this way,” she said, adjusting her backpack back on her shoulders.
They set off up the chosen path, but Mia grasping the axe strongly.
Just a few steps on, Jany slipped on some wet leaves. She fell and let out a scream that rang through the air.
Oliver scanned the area in a panic.
Mia swiftly helped Jany back up.
Jany hissed in pain as she stood, clearing the dirt from her scratched elbow while Mia brushed off the dirt from her clothes.
“I hope he hasn’t heard your scream!” said Oliver.
Jany and Mia looked toward the valley, following his eyes.
They waited for a few more seconds in stillness.
The psychopath didn’t appear.
“Keep moving!” said Oliver in a very soft voice, only audible to Jany and Mia.
They resumed their walk.
After a few minutes . . . Mia began to feel that someone was following them. She looked through the corner of her eye, but she could only see trees.
The hair on the back of her neck prickled as her senses still signaled someone’s presence.
All the while, Oliver and Jany kept walking hurriedly without glancing back.
Mia turned around slowly. Still no one, only the emptiness of the forest. When she was sure she couldn’t see anyone, she turned back and strode on to catch up with Oliver and Jany.