(I’ve narrated this story and posted it to YouTube here!)
The trees rustled secret whispers to one another as the three kids sat at the fire beneath them. They had brought their sleeping bags outside of the tents so that they could wrap themselves in warmth while they challenged each other to stay awake. The waning moon loomed over, forming long, reaching arms in the shadows of the leafless trees.
“…and when her parents found her bed empty the next morning,” Brandon was saying, holding a flashlight under his chin to deepen the shadows on his face, “they called the police, tracked her phone’s location, everything. They never saw her again. But once in a while, they could still hear the ticking noise of that doll they had bought her for Christmas.”
“Boring!” Caleb scoffed. He reached his hand out towards Brandon, gesturing for the flashlight. “My turn!”
Rhian sat with her knees bent, ready to dart out at a moment’s notice. She wasn’t scared. She was shivering because she wasn’t as settled into her sleeping bag as much as her brother and his friend. Caleb and Brandon always told stories like this. She just wished that they didn’t have to be told in their huge backyard, where it wasn’t so dark… and cold… and… well… unsettling. They didn’t even have a fence for crying out loud. It just… turned into wilderness eventually.
“Alright, I’ve got a story that will make you lose the bet in a heartbeat,” Caleb said. “You won’t even have the guts to blink once I’m done. Unless you want to chicken out and go back into the house.” He glanced at his little sister with a mischievous grin.
Rhian gulped. This was all just to scare her. She knew that. It wouldn’t work. Her mother always said not to believe anything her brother told her. “I’m not scared,” she shrugged.
“If you say so. But tell me to stop any time you want. I don’t want to have to explain to Mom why you peed your pants again. Who knows? Maybe she won’t let you play with us anymore.”
“I’m not scared!” Rhian said again.
“Okay, okay. But I’m warning you. This one’s a true story.”
“What’s it called?” Brandon asked.
“How the hell should I know?” Caleb replied. “It’s a true story. True stories don’t have titles.” Their mother wouldn’t approve of him using such language. Rhian made a mental note to remember him cursing in front of his baby sister.
“Every good story has a title,” Brandon said.
“Fine, fine. This one’s called ‘The Skeleton of Sin’.”
Brandon’s eyes widened. “Oh, that story.”
The two shared a look. “You know it?” Caleb smirked.
Brandon nodded. “Yeah. The skeleton with four arms, right?”
“That’s the one.”
The two boys looked to Rhian at the same time. Caleb pointed the flashlight back to the house for a moment. “Looks pretty far, Rhi. And this story gets pretty bloody. Last chance to back out.”
Rhian turned around to look back at the house. Maybe she could stay up long enough for the boys to go to sleep in the tents and then sneak back to safety after. Besides, the way they sat around the campfire, the boys had their backs to the forest. She would see anything that came out of it first. Most importantly, she wouldn’t pee herself. Don’t believe anything Caleb tells you. “I’ll be fine.”
“Very well,” Caleb nodded. He turned the flashlight upwards towards his face. Rhian didn’t look. She focused on the moon peeking through the trees above, watching the light from the flashlight dancing across the barren tree branches.
“You guys know the story of how Jesus saved everyone from sin, right?”
“Sure,” Brandon said.
“Where do you think that sin went?” Caleb asked. When he got no firm reply, he continued. “He didn’t destroy it. He pulled the hatred, the rage, the violence out of every human on Earth, and made a creature out of it. Something so grotesque and horrible that anything that lays eyes on it is paralyzed with fear. Not an angel. Not a demon, but an abomination that looks vaguely human, because it was the physical embodiment of everything evil about people.”
Don’t believe anything Caleb tells you, she heard her mom’s voice in her head.
“It has a skeletal body because it once lived inside each person, but it has a few important differences. Like you said Brandon, it has four arms, eternally drenched in unholy blood. Each of its fingers end in sharp claws that are unnaturally long. It’s legs are crooked like a dog’s. They look like… kinda like lightning bolts. It doesn’t have a jaw like a human, but instead two giant mandibles like a bug. But the worst part about it is its eyes. They don’t glow red like the cartoons, no. They are bright white, like a car with its high beams on. They’re bright so it can find its prey more easily.”
A snap of a tree branch, and Rhian swiveled around to see… nothing. She exhaled. Don’t believe anything Caleb tells you.
She turned back to see both her brother and Brandon watching her intently.
“Since the monster was born two thousand years ago,” Caleb said, “and everybody after that was born with sin, it still hungers. It’s constantly on the hunt to tear people apart, limb from limb, seeking to become whole again. But it’s smart. It knows that staying where too many people are will get it killed. So it stalks people who live near forests, much like this one.”
Rhian thought she saw movement deep inside the forest. A raccoon, maybe, but no. It must have just been the shifting shadows from the moonlight.
“It doesn’t hunt adults, because they’re too smart. It’ll either get shot or its prey might call the police. It doesn’t hunt babies because they haven’t sinned. No, it’s favorite thing to prey on is…”
Wait, there was definitely something back in the forest. Like someone holding a flashlight.
“You guessed it…” Caleb said.
No, wait. There were two flashlights, right next to each other.
“It loves to feed on…”
Actually, the more Rhian watched, the light source looked more like…
“Kids like us.”
Rhian stared, unblinking as the thing took form. She got the unmistakable impression of a skull as she watched it approach, still some distance away but undoubtedly the exact horror Caleb had been describing. It was too far away to make out details, but those lights, those eyes… She couldn’t look directly at them, they were so bright, yet she couldn’t tear her vision away, either. And it was stalking towards them.
“Scared, Rhi?” Brandon asked.
“I can stop if you want to lose the bet,” Caleb offered.
Rhian didn’t respond. The monster peered down at the ground beneath, looking at one arm as it curved around a tree. It’s fully blood-soaked arm and it’s horribly misshapen legs.
Oh God. She could hear its faint footsteps as it dragged its feet across the floor.
“Rhi I swear, if you peed yourself I’m going to tell Mom. I don’t want to sleep out here having to smell it all night.” She wasn’t looking at either of the boys. She couldn’t take her eyes off that thing. Out of her peripheral vision, the boys seemed to exchange looks at each other. Rhian just kept staring at the same spot. Over the fire, in between the boys. Right at the monster that made its slow, methodical approach.
The rustling of tree branches nearby. Rhian knew. It must be the sound of any wildlife leaving.
The creature wasn’t far now, and it was tall. Too many arms hung about its frame, staring straight at Rhian as it walked. It was less than fifty feet away now.
She should move. She should do something. Anything it lays eyes on is paralyzed with fear, Caleb had said. It was staring at her. She debated screaming. Telling Caleb and Brandon to run. Would that compel the monster to attack? How fast could it chase them?
“Seriously, Rhian, if it’s too scary for you just say something. It’s no big deal if you’re not ready for grownup stories. I keep telling Mom you’re too young to hang out with us.”
She felt a tear hit the palm of her hand as she stared at it. This horrific thing that had come to kill her and her brother.
She was too scared to even cry for help.
Caleb’s mirth faded as he turned the flashlight off. “Rhi, you okay? You haven’t said a thing since I started the story… You’ve just been staring…” He trailed off.
Her focus snapped away from the creature and towards Caleb and Brandon as they both turned to where she had been looking.
The eldritch horror raised its four bloody claws into the moonlight.
A piercing cry shattered the silence of the woods, shaking every bone in Rhian’s body. Almost like it was trying to pull it out of her. Like her skeleton was desperately trying to leap out of her skin.
She didn’t want to die. Didn’t want Caleb or Brandon to die. She just wanted this nightmare to be over.
Her bones pulled her towards the creature with enough force to hurt. If she stayed here, it would hurt even more. So despite her terror, she stood.
And approached the creature.
Her bare feet felt numb across the dirt and grass, walking under the piercing gaze of the bloody skeleton. Caleb and Brandon were frozen in place, now, too. They didn’t move or speak when she walked ahead of them towards certain death.
“Rhian!” a voice yelled, some distance behind and away from her.
“Rhian!” it repeated. It was her mother’s voice. She knew it, but would not turn away to make sure. Could not turn away from those bright, piercing eyes.
“Don’t believe anything Caleb tells you!” her mother called. She was running. Running towards the campsite.
Don’t believe anything Caleb tells you, she had said. Words often repeated. They were right, of course. But he said so himself. This was a true story. This creature was real.
“It’s not real, honey! It’s all a dream! Please!” Her mother was far too distant to be of any help.
Rhian was within arm’s reach of the creature now. It’s hulking form towered over her, pelvis as high as her head. Her bones still ached to leap out of her skin. To tear itself away. She knew that if she didn’t get closer it would succeed.
“You’re…” Rhian said, holding a hand out towards the creature.
“It’s just a dream, Rhian! You’re safe!” she could hear the terror in her mother’s voice.
Her bones pressed against her skin, yearning to be free.
It hurt. She cried out in pain, tears rolling down her cheeks. The monster screamed back in the same pitch, reveling in her suffering.
This was too much.
Don’t believe anything Caleb tells you.
“You’re… not… real,” she told herself, pressing a hand to its grotesque leg.
It passed through.
Her mother was right. It wasn’t real.
A wave of relief washed over her, and the monster began to dissipate. The brightness in the eyes faded first, then it’s arms, followed quickly by the rest of it’s body.
She fell to her knees as the walking nightmare faded. And felt her chest constrict in a tight embrace. Her mother was hugging her.
“You’re safe, honey,” her mother said, cradling her with a hand behind her head. “Don’t worry. You’re safe.” They both cried into each other.
“What… what was that?” Rhian asked.
Her mother turned Rhian around to look at her. She glanced at both the boys, who were both staring at her, trembling with fear. Fear…
“Don’t believe anything Caleb tells you,” her mother said, voice cracking. “Every story he tells is fake, okay? Even if he says it’s true, it’s not.”
“Yes, ma…” she said.
“Right,” her mother said, wiping the tears away from both of them. “Let’s all go back inside.”
None of the kids cared much about the bet anymore.