The ringing in Ted’s ears finally subsided. The high-pitched scream, presumably coming from Angie, had helped to pierce Ted’s mind back into reality. Something was happening up above. He heard the attacks, but didn’t see anything. He didn’t dare draw attention to himself, figuring any living member would return to check on him.
He tried to gather his surroundings, but the cave was dark; the only light was that coming through the hole. After his eyes adjusted more to the darkness, he saw just how large the cavern was, and realized he must have fallen a good fifteen feet or more. There was a wall along one side of him where he fell through the hole but he didn’t see himself being able to tread up it in the mud.
He stood up in the pool of water he landed in, the surface coming to his waist. The cold water soaked Ted’s clothes, making them hug his skin, adding weight to an already heavy man. It was slippery below him but the jagged rocks he had landed on gave enough tread under his boots for him to pull himself out of the shallow pond and up over a large boulder. As he lifted himself out of the water and over the rock, he came face to face with the rotting skull of a hunter.
“Fuck!” Ted screamed, falling backwards into the water once again. The jagged rocks at the bottom of the pond scratched Ted’s back, pulling at his shirt and ripping at his skin. His head popped up out of the water, coughing and spitting up dirty cave-water. He now had an obligation to see this through: he was search and rescue crew member after all. Granted, there was no one to rescue except a severed head.
“Calm down, Teddie,” he said to himself. “It’s just a head, nothing you haven’t seen before.” Once again, he hiked himself up and over the boulder, facing the dead hunter once more. It was a relatively fresh head, as there was more skin and hair on it than not. The hunter’s head was propped between two boulders and it sagged under its own weight. Atop the head lie femur bones, arranged so it appeared that the hunter had antlers.
“What the hell,” Ted whispered. As Ted looked around the this new area within the cave, he realized it was littered with bones and bodies. Hikers and hunters alike were piled over one another, their skin peeled away from their arms and legs, the bones there missing. The bodies all had thier heads removed. The heads themselves were nestled in a far corner, lined up like ducklings in a row. Like with the hunter’s head, these heads adorned bones atop their skulls as well, looking like a wall of heads and antlers made of bone.
The cave walls sweat with rain water, and tell could smell the thick layer of blood in the air. From the right of the wall of heads came a clattering of bones. Ted froze. There was something else down here with him in the dark. He heard the crunching of bones beneath someone’s feet. From out of the darkness came a small figure.
It was Samantha, the missing jogger.
Blood was encrusted all around her mouth and nose. She was shaking, her clothes dirty, her body weak. Sam whimpered as she unstuck herself from wall she had hid against. She was covered in mud with slashes torn into her skin on her arms and legs. Her blood ran down her body and pooled in the murky cave water at her feet. She almost tripped while walking on a pile of bones towards Ted.
“Sam?” Ted finally spoke. The girl lifted her head at the sound of her name. Clumps of hair strung from her head down her face, sticking to the crusted blood. Her blue eyes stood out like diamonds among a pile of coal.
“Who… who are you?” she asked in a whisper.
“I’m Ted. I’m part of a rescue team that’s been on the search for you for three days now.”
“Three days?” she mumbled.
“Yeah, I’m sure it’s felt a lot longer than that out here,” Ted said. He started walking towards her when her eyes widened and she began to retreat back to the wall. Ted stopped walking forward, noticing this behavior. From above the ground, Ted heard the rumbling of thunder and the roaring of an unknown creature. Sam shrank against the wall at the sound of the monster’s bellow.
“The bone man,” Sam said to herself.
“The what?” Ted looked up towards the hole. Sam sat against the wall, holding her legs.
“Got to hold him off,” Sam mumbled as she started feeling her hands through the pile of bones in front of her. She pulled out a small fanny pack, bright yellow, and slowly unzipped it. From within the pack, she pulled out a Swiss Army Knife.
“What have you got there?” Ted asked nervously. Sam brought the knife up to her face to eye it closely. There was already blodd on the blade.
“Sam, we need to get out of here,” Ted said, trying to distract her. Instead, she replaced the knife blade with a pair of pliers from the multi-tool. Sam took a deep breath and turned the pliers towards her mouth. Before she could get passed her lips, Ted was heading towards her. She opened her mouth wide for Ted to see that she had already pulled multiple teeth out.
“Jesus!” Ted said as he tripped over a piled of bones and flesh. The teeth she had remaining were chipping away, showing she had tried to pry them out and lost the grip as she pulled. Ted could only watch in horror as Sam brought the pliers back to her lips again.
“For the bone man,” she whispered. The tip of the pliers went to one of her back molars; she exhaled through her nose and started pulling, making a grunting scream emanate from her throat the whole time. Her hands shook as she pulled on the pliers, stealing the tooth from its gummy bed.
From above the hole came the same roaring from before, and Ted had to cover his ears. A shadow appeared over the only light source in the cave, making Ted look left to right, searching for a place of refuge. Sam, ignoring him, made her way down the large boulder and into the pool below the hole. Ted looked on from behind the large boulder, watching Sam as she stood under the light remaining.
“Don’t,” Ted whispsered. Sam either didn’t hear him or just ignored him.
The monster made its way down the muddy trail, giving Ted a full view of his assailant. It was just as it had been reported: a white ape-man with antlers. It stood a good eight feet tall, just as Ted had seen with the eyes in the bushes, and its mouth took up half of its face. It had thick, white lips, and cloudy white eyes, and it had no scent. There wasn’t even a change in the air when the beast entered the cave. Ted had been in the woods all of his life; it felt weird being in the presence of such a creature and not being able to pin point any identifiable markers. He couldn’t compare this creature to anything he had seen before and he didn’t know how he would make it home. Maybe it was a good thing he never got that dog.
The beast stood before Sam, towering over the dainty, frail woman. Shaking, she held out her hand, offering the tooth she had pulled to the bone man. The creature stepped forward, sniffing at her hand. It lowered its own hand, where Sam placed the tooth among a bed of fur. The bone man brought the tooth to its mouth, sawing back and forth on it, grinding it to dust. Satisfied, it grunted and moved towards Sam.
“No,” she began to cry. The beast grabed onto her hips and hoisted her up through the hole where she desperately grasped at the vines and branches within her reach. Ted’s eyebrows raised as he watched Sam make her way to freedom, leaving him behind with the monster.
The beast snorted, turned, and made eye contact with Ted. It was the same cloudy stare as before, only this time, Ted was alone in an enclosed cave with it, unable to defend himself. When he fell, he didn’t fall with his pack. He turned back towards the wall where Sam had left the pliers; he eyed the pool of blood they sat in. When he turned to face the beast, he saw it was already making its way through the pool towards him; he had to act fast.
He shuffled through the pile of bones as quickly as he could to get to the pliers. When he got them, he sat down and wiped the blood off with his shirt. The beast roared as it peered over the boulder at Ted, drool coming from the corners of its mouth.
He dropped the pliers in response to the beast’s howl. It came up over the boulder and started making its way towards him. Ted picked up the pliers from the cave floor, took a deep breath, and started pulling on his upper right canine. He screamed, the monster screamed, and it picked up its pace. Ted could hear the cracking of the tooth roots as he pulled the tooth from his skull. His mouth flooded with warm blood; the tooth was free.
The monster screamed, stopping its run directly in front of Ted who lifted the tooth above his head like a sacrifice. The beast sniffed his hand, took the tooth, and knawed at it like it had with Sam’s. It turned to face the pile of bones it had just sifted through and made its way towards a back wall of the cave where fresher bodies where piled atop one another.
In a moment of desperation, Ted scrambled over the piles of bones and boulders to make it to the hole as quickly as possible. He was soaked from head to toe, and the wall was muddy and slippery. Ted tried to grasp at anything within the wall that might give him a foundation on which to jump from. From behind him, the beast came into the water. It walked up to Ted, staring him down. For a few moments, they did nothing but stare at one another. Ted heard ringing in his ears.
The ape-man finally bent over and lifted Ted from his hips. He brought him up through the hole where Ted managed to grab onto a branch and pull himself out. He heaved himself out of the hole, gasping for air. He lay on his back to catch his breath and soon his eyes turned to his backpack. It had water, food, and a map. He could make it back to the cars and leave this place. Now was the time to start searching for that new job he kept threatening to leave Search and Rescue for so many times.
The sound of birds chirping never sounded so clear to Ted. He wanted to get away from the hole and its master, so he stood on his wobbly legs, and headed for his backpack. Tears streaming down his face, he decided he was going to get that dog after all. He’d get a female and name her Hope; he didn’t care how cliche it was, it was his only goal now.
From the treeline, Ted heard the chewing of something hard. He grabbed his pack, ignored the painful blister in his foot, and crept through the bushes towards the sounds. Through the bushes, he could see another bone man squatting over a recent kill. Sam. It was Sam. The beast had removed her head and was pulling her arm bones out, breaking them, and jamming the sharp ends into her skull. Ted thought of the gun in his pack but decided against drawing attention to himself. He wasn’t sure how many more of these things inhabited Ossis Woods and he didn’t want to find out.
Slowly creeping his way to freedom, Ted left the bushes without drawing attention to himself. He started back down the path from which he originally came and decided he would never enter these woods again.