Some people like to assume the woods are quiet at night. That is not really true. The buzzing, biting, beckoning sounds of nature still surround every heat-stricken, sweat and saliva siphoning, soul-sucking moment.
Can you hear it? I still can.
Maybe, if it wasn’t so fucking hot and loud, Steve would have had better aim.
It’s a funny thought. Some lacking corner of my brain bet that nightfall among the swinging and sweeping Pine trees would provide some shade. But that was a big negative. Ninety degrees stayed steady until well past two on that Northern New Jersey early morning. The second I thought all existing mosquitoes on Earth had been swatted on my skin; some squirming little rodent rustled in the bushes by our right side.
Steven decided to try and shoot it with a pistol that nearly caught me in the thigh.
I was about to hold a knife to his neck before he offered up the same excuse he had been riding the whole night;
“You’re such a pussy.“
Whatever, man. Not worth it.
The whole experience was nauseating. I was never a hunter. Steve was my cousin… but that was never a fact worth claiming in public. The kid christened himself the Redneck Cowboy on all his social media accounts. In his sick mind, somehow that title entitled him to post borderline pictures of mutilated animals on the Internet. This got him banned from FB, and so naturally, his mom insisted I accompany him on the next hunting trip to Essex County. To keep a watchful eye on the guy, I guess.
“You are not going alone this time, bring Matt for company!” my mom squeaked at the dinner table.
And, much to my shock and surprise, it was decided.
After the night’s first fight involving a firearm, we set off through the moon-lit and foggy hills. The park was empty. We knew from the get-go that not many other folks would be in the reservation on that holiday weekend. That fact was very much appreciated by my chaotic cousin.
The lack of competitors and game wardens made Steve all the more confident. He cocked his rifle and shot it like he was out alone on the prairie. Unseen owls flipped out of nearby trees, only to fall victim to ricocheting and well-aimed bullets. He took down at least ten of those, not including a fox or two he shot somewhere along the way. I tried to stay and see if they could be saved. But the it must have died somewhere in the woods before I could find the source of it’s cries.
It was at that time, around five, that I finally had enough.
“It’s time to go home,” I shouted over the newly falling rain. “We’re wet, and you are going to get us both arrested. We are supposed to be here for deer.”
“You’re such a pussy,” he repeated while eyeing the distance. “Look, something is coming over that hill. We got company.“
Steve aimed his gun in the distance, presumably using his scope to get a better look. Then, he turned to me with an excited laugh.
“I can’t quite get a good look, there’s some fog in the way. But it is definitely a person. Let’s scare the shit out of them!!“
This was the type of crazy shit that made me the parental assigned warden of the evening.
“Steve, put the gun down. You can not fire it at people,” I paused, realizing that possibility of lives lost would do little to convince the psycho. “It could be a bear. Don’t want to attract a bear, do you?“
“Too thin to be a bear… too tall to be a coyote. I think it’s a man.”
I never thought he would actually do it. But in one smooth motion; he stuck his tongue out at me, put his nose in the scope, and pulled the trigger.
The scream that erupted caused every creature on the ground and in the air to shake and stir. I once watched a documentary… that described the effect a lion’s roar has on it’s surrounding environment. If the deep-toned bellow that followed was not so human-like, I would have thought he hit a big cat.
I dropped my rifle and reached over to punch Steve in the face. He evaded me easily, laughing the whole time while wrapping his arms under mine. With a quick kick to the groin, I fell to the floor with Steve and my weapon each well out of reach.
He picked back up his gun and aimed it again carefully while I laid on the ground clutching my pants like an idiot. I should have stopped him.
“Aw, shit. You scared him away.” Steve said, regretfully. Then he paused. “Quit your crying for a moment, do you hear that?“
After a few throaty gasps… I heard it too.
The water falling through the treetop was deafening at that point. But there was a steady rhythm behind it that became unmistakable a moment later. The puddles nearby shook with the impact of heavy footsteps hitting the ground. The bats and birds in the area scattered around the moon, hiding and waiting for what was to follow. The last thing my cousin Steven said was –
“Shit, get your gun, stupid,” before the beast broke through the treeline.
It moved so fast the moment felt like a flash.
The creature ran on two feet. It leaped from an embankment towards the left side of the path and tackled Steve some twenty feet down a hill to the right. My cousin screamed for a moment. The noise was still exiting his throat when the thing cut his jugular. Then he just gagged. The monster was efficient. It noisily sucked gulp fulls of blood from the wound with audible sucklings and slurps.
After a short amount of time, I climbed down the hill to sneak a peak at its horrible shape in the shadows.
The creature calmly acknowledged my presence with red eyes through the fog of the night. It was crouched, and feasting on Steven, but after witnessing my approach it stood to reveal the entirety of its seven foot, hairless frame in the dripping rain.
I didn’t interpret the stare as a threat. More like a statement of fact.
This is our toll.
The unspoken message was received.
I retreated to my car a mile out of the ravine, leaving the beast to finish the remains of Steve.
We did all the right things after that. My family and I went to the police immediately. We told them everything I had seen. Even how I left Steve behind. His body was recovered near the scene. The crime was ruled to be an animal attack, and my story about monsters was never believed.
Even still… Mom, Aunt Cindy, and I know the truth. They trust what I saw between the trees. Sometimes, the woods has a unique way of collecting its fee.