The Couples Vacation
The story behind my murdered friends began with one bad idea.
Have you ever felt like you just needed to get away?
Maybe just away from your cell phone. Or away from social media. Away from the hashtags, and blogs, and Buzzfeed articles, and bullshit online arguments… away from the God-forsaken, constantly rotating cycle of notifications and news feed alerts commanding our eyeballs’ attention every useless second of every wasted day.
Needless to say – the idea of a couples vacation in the woods injected a spark into six very dull and unlucky lives. Hindsight is invincible. I know now that we should not have stayed.
My wife and I spent most our daylight hours at work. We filled our spare time with overtime. That almost felt like a requirement. We paid high rent in a little city too shitty and crowded to fit our future plans of having kids. The stress of that fact weighed heavily on us both. My buddy, Kyle, and his wife Casey were stuck in the same situation. Our friend Staci worked as a lawyer. She just started dating a new girl, but never could find the time to see her. Veronica had never even met the group.
We all needed to get ‘unstuck’, so to say. The camping trip seemed like the perfect excuse to just… you guessed it; get away.
Casey read about the grounds in one of those online blog sites. You know, the type that claims to list the top ten most romantic places in the world? She had been in my wife’s ear about it for the better part of the past two months. I can still hear Casey’s obnoxious Brooklyn accent piercing through the speaker phone in our uncomfortably crowded one bedroom loft a week before we left.
“Look at the list again Em. Numba two is only a three howa drive away! I swear. It’s beautiful. So secluded and stuff. We gotta do it. Cmon girl, I need a vacation. Ky is driving me friggin’ crazy.“
That voice drove me nuts. Most tri-state kids lose the remnants of their parents’ accent sometime around the teenage years. But not Casey. She squealed the emphases to each uncomfortable syllable like she was stuck ‘underwawtah.’ She was also one of those people that needed to simplify every name down to two letters. Call it my biggest pet peeve – I swear the girl would have called me ‘Ma’ instead of ‘Matt’ if given the chance.
Kyle messaged me about the trip a couple days later.
“We gotta go. My job is killing me, man. I need to take some time off. If I stay at home, Casey will make me do work around the house. This is the compromise. It can’t be that bad… we can go fishing and drink beers. What’s the worst that could happen?“
I caved the next morning. The rest is forensic history.
Casey and Emily booked the only three cabins available. The lodge offered a group discount for six. We were psyched to have the place to ourselves for three days. Finally, after so many years of being trapped in the disgusting city life, I felt finally ready to break free and see some trees.
All six of us stuffed into Veronica’s minivan. We left on a Friday afternoon. Our plans were to unpack before nightfall, check in, and crack open a couple of drinks to kick start the weekend.
The trip took six hours.
Kyle made sure to point out the inaccuracy of his wife’s prediction several trips. I chortled along with him in the backseat, but kept my big mouth shut, in order to avoid a bigger fight. Happy wife, happy life.
“Look, I didn’t know about the storm, okay? Who coulda predicted this traffic?“
In Casey’s defense, that part was true. Nobody could have predicted the storm, and the traffic that came with it. All six of us watched the weather forecast the previous night and decided to still give the trip a try. Nevertheless, twenty percent chance of rain turned into a hundred shortly after we crossed state lines. The streets started to flood a little bit sometime around nine.
After a miserable trip, we arrived to an empty parking lot outside the campgrounds right around eleven o’clock at night. Our small group tumbled out of the minivan, with a gaggle of groans, like kids stuck in a clown car.
“Okay guys, three keys, three cabins. Maybe we can get changed and meet at the fire pit?“
Most of the group ignored Emily’s opening statement. Kyle tumbled out of the car and hustled away into the woods to stretch his long legs. Staci cuddled up to Veronica as they looked longingly at the dimly lit cabins. Casey was the only one to match my wife’s pace. As always.
“Sounds good! Let’s get a move on, meet back in five, I need a fucking DRINK!“
I welcomed the excitement. Casey was good for some things. She cheered Emily up, for one, and each couple seemed to come alive a little bit at the thought of some alcohol. I held the case of beers over my head like a trophy as we trekked to the cabin. Staci and Veronica chuckled at my stupidity as Kyle lumbered reluctantly back towards his own door.
“Oh my God, Matt, get in here. This place is beautiful!!” my wife soon exclaimed from inside.
She was right.
Our cabin consisted of a gorgeously overstuffed king sized bed; decorated with a plush red blanket, heaps of fluffy pillows, and an assortment of crimson colored candies placed evenly on top. A coffee maker on the dresser stood ready next to a deluxe mirror and decadent wooden Armoire. The phone looked like something from a century ago. But everything else seemed to fit the utmost expectations of luxury.
“I can’t believe we got all of this for so cheap!!“
Emily shrieked happily as she whisked away into the bathroom. I saw bits and pieces of a rustic bathtub and expensive graphite countertop behind her before she slammed the door.
“It’s beautiful! I gotta pee!” she squealed.
I smiled to myself again and began unloading our beers into a convenient little refrigerator under the nightstand. The trip started to shape up in my mind at that point. I felt excited, for the first time, all day.
Kyle ruined that moment when he shouted for our attention outside.
“GUYS, GET OUT HERE. GUYS, GET OUT HERE.“
The seriousness in his voice caused me to get up quickly. I smacked my head on the edge of the nightstand and stumbled for a moment. My wife called out from inside the bathroom somewhere around the same time.
Great. Two problems.
“One sec, bug, going to check what Kyle is yelling about.“
I opened the door to find Staci and Veronica by his side in the spitting rain. They were yelling about something, but it was hard to hear in the storm. I threw the hood over my jacket and rushed out to greet them. The girls looked dumbfounded as Kyle shouted and pointed towards the woods.
“I heard him over there,“
I walked up and tried a joke to ease the tension.
“You guys start drinking already?“
Veronica turned to look at me with a frightened look on her already tear-stained face. The fear in her eyes told me that something was truly wrong for the first time.
“Someone slashed Veronica’s tires,“
Four simple words changed the entire evening.
I tried to rationalize the situation in my head. Maybe the tires got cut while we were driving. Maybe it was an accident, or a rogue piece of glass. I asked how the fuck this could have happened, and Kyle started to answer, just as Emily marched outside and shoved a waterlogged piece of paper in front of my eyes.
My reply to my wife probably seems a little shorter than it should have been.
“What is it? What? Veronica’s tires just got cut.“
Emily stared at me blankly. She paused. She looked at the sagging mini-van. Then she started to sob a little bit.
“I found this letter. I thought it could be a greeting, or something nice, from the owner. But its not. It’s horrible. Listen…“
My wife mumbled the creepy poem softly, with an absolutely trembling tone.
“Six souls went into the wide wild woods all on their own. Each bore gruesome sins that needed to be atoned. Three days later, only two came home; both covered in blood, bile and bits of bone.”
“We need to get out of here. That letter is not funny. My slashed tires are not funny. None of this is fucking funny and it cannot be a prank. I want to go home. I want to go home right now because I barely know you people.“
Veronica’s shrill and hysterical voice went unanswered. The rest of our group stared at the disabled mini-van in dumbfounded silence. My cell phone listed zero bars of service. The rain made the local road in front of us mostly mud. The nearest town was nearly fifty miles away… a fact we were all so fond of just fifteen minutes ago.
There is something disturbing about the way wind moves through trees on a September evening. Dead leaves drift aimlessly in the breeze, branches drift and crack at the seams, and even the most suspicious sounds could end up being nowhere near as sinister as they seem. I trained my ear to listen to the different sounds; hoping to hear someone, anyone, running away. I heard nothing.
Kyle stepped forward and walked towards the driver’s side door of the car.
“What are you doing?!” Veronica asked him.
Kyle paused and looked at all of us.
“Nobody has a cell signal, right?” We shook our heads. “Me neither. We won’t get one. This is the middle of nowhere. Our best shot at getting home is driving out of here.“
Staci spoke up as she wrapped her arm around Casey’s shuttering frame.
“What about the tires?“
Kyle lifted himself into car seat and hooted happily as the engine rolled over immediately.
“You can still drive on slashed tires! It won’t be fast, but…“
Hope rose up in my chest. He slammed the car door behind him and pushed the gas pedal hard. The wheels spun out and spit out some mud a bit. The van lurched forward. Unfortunately, ‘forward’ was the wrong direction.
The car landed in a ditch.
That left us in a much worse situation than the one we started with. Kyle opened the door to a line of death stares from all four ladies. He asked me to help push.
I decided we should try something else.
“Look, man, this is pointless. Even if we make it some distance, we’ll probably just get stuck again, and we’ll have nowhere to stay. The cabins have locks. Maybe we should just wait until morning. We’ll sleep in the same room and someone can keep watch.“
The group nodded in unison. Kyle stared at me angrily. Then he looked back at the car, and at his wife. Finally he relented after muttering one prickly comment sent in my direction.
“Fine. But I’m not sleeping tonight. Somebody has to look after the girls.“
Veronica did not like that one.
“Thanks – Perfectly capable of protecting ourselves. Good job with the van, muscles.“
Kyle’s face turned an uncomfortable flush of red. He shot back a few comments. After another few minutes arguing in the rain, we ultimately decided to stay in mine and Emily’s cabin. For no other reason than the fact that one was closest to the car.
Once inside the safety of the cabin, we stayed up for a couple hours. Kyle and I looked out the window. Veronica and Staci whispered quietly in the corner. Casey and Emily tried to rationalize the situation.
“I really think it had to be glass. That kind of thing happens all the time. Remember when a rock on the parkway cracked your windshield, Matt?“
I nodded in her direction as Kyle continued to glare. The attitude started to piss me off. This trip was equally his idea, as much as anyone else’s. I suddenly had no desire to stay up and listen to his bitching. I joined my wife in our corner of the King bed and let myself fall asleep to the sounds of my friend’s dozing voices.
I woke up again shortly after four in the morning.
My eyes were caked with crust from falling asleep with my contacts. But I looked around the room and saw a few familiar faces. Veronica and Staci were lying together on the floor. Emily curled up against my back and snored quietly. Casey snagged another corner of the bed. I rubbed my eyes and realized the idiot of the night was missing.
I thought about alerting everyone in the cabin. No one seemed to have noticed him gone.. But the probability that Kyle went outside to try with the car again seemed pretty high. I got out of bed quietly, tiptoed my way towards the door, and stepped into the drizzling night.
It was quiet. The rain slamming against leaves and the roof of the cabin overwhelmed my senses.The car stayed in the same place. The other rooms remained locked. Everything seemed to be the way we left it.
Then the sound of a whinnying horse in the distance broke the cool sounds of nature.
My fear turned back into hope.
I called out Kyle’s name a few more times while searching the area. I could think of only one other place he could have went. The woods.
I knew it would be stupid to venture too far in. In fact, I almost got cold feet before ever making it past the tree line. But a light one hundred feet in caught my attention. I thought it could be a cell phone.
I approached the light with the utmost caution. I called out to it continuously. But nobody answered. The panic started to build inside me. It had to be a cell phone, but what was it doing out here? Why was the light still on?
When I found the answer to my questions… I promptly vomited in the bushes.
The phone was still attached to a hand. That hand stayed attached to an arm. I found a second arm about twenty feet away. The next morning, we found two legs, each about a half mile from my location.
As a horse whinnied again somewhere in the distance, the puzzle picture became disgustingly clear.
None of us would be safe here.
My best friend Kyle believed in God. He believed in life after death. We talked about it more than a few times… usually over a few killed bottles of wine. The concept of faith stayed instilled in him from a very young age. He went to church every week. He memorized all of the masses in Latin, just like his dad, Dale. One day… he hoped to be a priest, or a deacon, or whichever one could still marry and fuck his wife. Kyle preached a merciful God, an understanding one, a God that would of course welcome the likes of our notably gay best friend.
I don’t think he ever planned on being drawn and quartered for his alleged sins.
The shock eventually settled in my stomach. That disgusted pit of vomit and bile got replaced by panic. I don’t know when that happened. I could not think clearly. I could not see clearly. Shapes in the trees started to merge and meld with the darkness and I questioned them all. I stared at my former best friend’s severed arm for what must have been an hour and wondered what the fuck could have cut him apart like that.
Somewhere around that time, it became clear.
The four limbs, the letter, the animal sounds I heard in the woods all started to add up. I read about it in history class. First the victim is drawn. Each limb is tied to four separate horses. Then they are quartered. Some sick fuck shouts ‘go’ and the horses run in different directions.
I found the center of my friend’s poor corpse closer to our cabin. That confirmed my theory. I never found his head. Kyle’s Radiohead shirt stayed attached to his middle piece throughout the attack. The tattered cloth covered the gruesome severing that had caused small pools of blood to settle in around all four corners of his body. Maybe it was the shock of that image, or the confirmation of Kyle’s death… but that moment finally triggered my fight of flight reflex.
I ran back towards the cabin. Trees whipped me in the face. I heard shapes in the woods following me but that only made me run faster. I just wanted to see my wife. The rain co-mingled with my tears and I didn’t care. When I got to the cabin, I banged on the door and begged the girls to wake the fuck up. Staci was the first one to open up. I didn’t give her a chance to ask what happened.
“Kyle’s dead. Drawn. Quartered. His arms are everywhere. Legs too. Radiohead shirt covered the worst. Help me. Help. Help.“
A tiny voice called out from inside the cabin.
“What are you talking about?“
I tried to explain the situation to Casey as clearly as I could. My voice stumbled over itself a hundred times. She ended up sobbing uncontrollably while Veronica screamed at me to speak clearly. Staci ignored all of this and looked for something in her bag. When she found it, she shoved the long object in the butt of her jeans and tried to push past me.
“Is that a gun?” I asked.
“Someone has to protect us,” she replied.
Veronica, Casey, and Emily turned their anger towards Staci. They shouted at her as she exited the cabin and walked outside with a giant rifle at her side.
“Staci, you can’t go out there. I heard someone.“
She ignored me. Staci blew through the door and pounded her way out into the parking lot. I followed her as the rest of our group screamed from the threshold in the cabin. When we got near the car, Staci took a long look through the scope of her rifle, then turned to me with surprise.
“I see a light!“
That was the last thing she said.
A bullet zipped through the trees. It caught a couple leaves on the way. Them the round caught Staci in her pretty little head and popped it like a pimple.
Bits of my friend’s blood and brains covered my face. Before I even had a chance to scream, the gunfire continued. I saw Casey go down in a heap by the doorway. I saw Veronica run towards my side and reach for the gun before another round caught her in the face. Emily… thank God, she retreated back into the cabin and locked the door.
An unknown, gruff voice called out from somewhere in the woods.
“Got the whores and the adulterer, they look just like their Facebook pictures! Two left!“
The voice gave me his location. That was stupid. The adrenaline coursed through my veins as I picked up the rifle. I do not know a lot about guns, but I have been to a few firing ranges. I know how to shoot, I know how to aim, and I know how to get lucky. As the ricocheting bullets dissipated, I crouched behind our mini-van and aimed into the woods. When I saw a flash of that same torchlight… I fired.
The voice in the woods called out again.
“Brian’s hit! You fucking murderers!“
I didn’t wait to find out more. A few bullets whizzed past my head as I ran back to the cabin and pulled Emily out. She was hysterical. I wrapped my hands around my wife as she tried to fight me and go back into the safety of the cabin. When I got her back outside… we ran.
We ran for what felt like hours.
We never looked back. I don’t know if they gave up on looking for us, or if they followed, or if they just decided to stay true to the words of their sick little poem.
We found a road somewhere along the way.
I can clearly remember describing the situation to the first car we encountered. Part of me felt like it could be the gunmen. But when the Good Samaritan pulled out his phone and called the police… I finally collapsed from exhaustion in his back seat.
The cops searched every inch of those woods. They did not find any of my friends. For a while, Em and I were suspects in the disappearance. Eventually, it was determined that our gun fired only one round, making that theory less likely.
We tried to go back to our normal lives. Our cramped city apartment suddenly felt safe and secured. We bought three extra locks. We keep each of them tied at every hour of the day. We deleted our Social Media accounts. I figured that was how they found out about our pasts.
My sense of security changed shortly before I began writing this story to you. On Saturday, we got a letter in the mail. The format feels familiar. The chicken scratch is similar to the first.
It is considered by the police to be the first contact in two years.
“Two souls went into the pretty little city all on their own. They have read the signs shown in this poem. But the man in a high window has too perfect a view of the street below. One cloudy day, one just won’t make it home.”