THE WOODS (PART ONE)
by RYAN DANIEL BUELL
artwork by MIKE SNYDER
NOTE/BACK-STORY: In the fall of 2003, I was accepted in to the advanced writing program at Penn State. Our grade for the course was simple: we had to write three short stories. The grade for each story would count as 33.3% of our grade. My first story, "Hurricanes," had no paranormal/supernatural/horror themes to it. The story was about a broken family that came together in the middle of a hurricane. For whatever reason, it just came to me. Despite the melodrama (it could've been turned in to a Teen Nick movie), I received an A. For my second story, I wanted to do something more ambitious. At the beginning of the semester, the professor said we could write about anything but he gave us a warning. He said he did not believe that paranormal/horror/sci-fi writing was good fiction. He had a major disliking for it. He warned that if we ventured into that territory, we'd likely fail. Call me a troublemaker, but I wanted to take the challenge. For obvious reasons, I disagreed with him. So I wrote what ended up being a 60-page story called "The Woods." You can imagine the disbelief the class had when they realized they were being handed a 60-page story to read. After we reviewed it, my professor handed me my grade for "The Woods," which was an F. Ouch. He scribbled on the story the warning he previously told the class, and added that my story proved that horror was not good fiction. Okay, so maybe my story wasn't great. Or, maybe he was just prejudiced. Most of the class genuinely enjoyed it. A few of them approached me after the class to give me encouraging praise. One said, "it's pretty cool that you tried." I did try, but apparently, I failed. And now, I was at risk of failing the class. My first grade (A) and the second grade (F) meant I was a C-student for the class. If I wanted to pass, my third and final story would have to at least be a C. I don't know why, but I was determined to prove to my professor that paranormal/horror stories could be good fiction. At the end of the semester, I put my heart into my third and final story, "Conversations With An Exorcist," which you can read later on. I won't go in to details about the story or what I made until that story is posted.
When it comes to "The Woods," perhaps it was my ambition that ultimately steered me off course. I like the story, but after re-reading it, I can see that it falters in quite a few places. When it came time to post it on this website, I struggled on whether to "revisit" the story by polishing it over. Adding and subtracting here and there. Ultimately, however, I decided that it's best to present it as-is, with some minor edits and changes.
Also, I wanted to show everyone my evolution as a writer. I wrote this story in 2003. 12 years ago. I was 21. Now, I'm 33. As time passes and as I continue to add new stories, I hope aspiring writers and fans can at least appreciate the change in my writing style.
"The Woods" is definitely a great example of why all aspiring writers should keep trying. Overall, I like the story for what it is and what I was trying to do 12 years ago. Every once in a while, it still pops in my head and I'm tempted to completely re-write it. That's why I decided to publish "The Woods" as-is. Maybe one day I will re-write it, but for now, enjoy this odd story from the strange mind of 21-year-old Ryan.
Screams. Screams in the night.
Hayden opened his eyes in terror, mouth wide open. He could feel the air release from his lungs and the shrieks vibrate his throat.
His bedroom door burst open, filling the room with light from the hallway. Morgan ran to the bedside of his younger brother and knelt down to meet Hayden’s dark, brown eyes. It was like staring into another world. Outside, the dogs were howling. Morgan placed his hands on Hayden’s shoulders and shook him.
“Hayden!” Morgan yelled. Hayden let out another scream. Morgan slapped him, jerking him awake. He still wasn’t the same. But Morgan knew the routine. Hayden panicked, fighting against Morgan as he pinned him down. He knew it would be over soon.
“Hey, hey! It’s me, Hayden,” Morgan whispered. “It’s Morgan. Come on, wake up.”
Hayden writhed for another moment before going limp. His brother’s voice took him out of the spell. Morgan released his fragile brother from his firm grip, leaning back to give him some air.
“Another nightmare,” Morgan muttered. He wasn’t asking, but his brother nodded anyways. He looked at the clock. 3am. As always. Morgan shifted to lie beside his brother. He was exhausted.
“What was it this time?” Morgan asked.
Hayden tried to remember. He saw the trees, yes – the trees were staring down at him. Watching him. He could hear them moving behind him. Every time he turned, the trees were in different positions. But as long as he kept his eyes on them, they wouldn’t make a move. And then there were the screams. Someone else was in the woods. A females voice. Screaming as if she were being–
“Hayden?” Morgan slapped him lightly across the cheek, then snapped his fingers.
“The trees were alive,” Hayden said slowly and quietly, as if he feared someone else could be listening.
Morgan put his arms behind his head and let out a deep, angry sigh.
“This is the seventh night you’ve had nightmares around 3am,” Morgan realized, glancing over at Hayden’s old alarm clock.
Hayden came to a realization too. He was drenched in sweat. He smeared his hands across his face and then wiped the sweat on his tank top. Morgan leaned over, shook Hayden’s already messy, dark black hair and stood up. Before walking out, he turned back to his frail brother.
"Say your prayers again for protection."
Hayden's eyes fell to the floor. "They don't work."
"Sure they do, you're just not trying hard enough."
Just as Morgan reached the door, Hayden felt the urge to tell him something. He didn’t know what exactly it was he wanted to say, though.
He turned around. Hayden looked up at his brother. He noticed a fresh scar on the left side of his neck.
“Are we still going tomorrow?” Hayden asked eagerly.
“I promised you, didn’t I?”
“Yes sir, you did.”
“And I never break promises to you,” Morgan said quietly. “Goodnight.”
Morgan shut the door, and Hayden's room was dark once again, except for the dim glow coming from outside. Hayden looked out his window. He could see the old abandoned farmhouse a hundred feet away. The rusty shutters on the sides looked like dark eye sockets. It was watching him. Behind the farmhouse, lie the woods. He scanned the forest, looking for any sign of movement, as he did every night, until he fell asleep.
TO BE CONTINUED...