“Stay out of the woods, especially in October.” It was an odd thing to say to an 11-year-old girl on the very day the movers were carrying her things upstairs to her new bedroom. A new home, new town, new life for Cassie Sullivan. The old man who said it was an albino, white hair, pale skin. “Why?” Cassie asked. “What’s in the woods?” His eyes darted toward the porch where her parents stood; then he pressed a finger to his lips, “Shh.” With that he vanished behind a hedge. Cassie would learn soon enough what the strange man meant.
Autumn came, Cassie started school and as Halloween approached she’d all but forgotten about the old man and the warning about the woods. Then she heard the sirens, police cars followed by an ambulance going in that direction.
She watched the news and they said a young man was found in pieces by the railroad tracks, hit by a train, they thought.
Cassie didn’t sleep that night. She found herself staring out the window at those pitch-black woods. She thought she heard laughter as she pulled the thick wool blankets over her face. It was hard to breathe but it felt safer.
The next day she asked her teacher who the albino was. “They call him Gunny,” she said. “He lives in the caretaker’s house at St. Mark’s cemetery. Odd ball. Stay clear, Cassie.” She promised she would and then when school let out did the exact opposite, riding her bike to the bone yard.
Cassie thought Gunny was dead, sitting so still in a rocker, his eyes glazed over. “This was a bad idea,” she said out loud, turning to go. “WAIT” bellowed back. “Wait, child.”
Gunny made her lemonade and Cassie made a promise not to repeat what he told her. “Every October something strange happens in those woods,” he began, “People are killed and it’s made to look like an accident. The boy, the train; it’s not the first. Go look for yourself.”
Cassie pedaled home like the devil was chasing after, straight to her computer where she searched the history of the woods. Gunny was right. In the last ten years, six people hit by trains, two killed by wild animals, one fell from a tower and one still missing—a teen named Emmet Myers. All gruesome deaths; all in late October. “What in God’s name?” she said.
Winter was quiet as was the spring and summer that followed but soon it was October again. At night Cassie would watch the woods and listen for that terrible laugh but the silence mocked her. Then, two days before Halloween, she did something stupid. Cassie grabbed a flashlight, climbed on her bike and rode alone into the woods.
A single dirt road split the forest in two, leading her deep into darkness. The trees were so tall they swallowed the sunlight, turning noon to night. Cassie had just reached the train tracks and switched on the flashlight when she heard it; that same creepy laugh from the night that boy was killed. Was it even human? Branches began to snap and whatever was making that horrible sound was big and getting closer.
She jumped on her bike and started pedaling away. Something was chasing her now and gaining fast. The woods were dark but she could see the lights of the main road ahead. It sounded like a wild animal was right behind her, matching each stride. “Make it to the light,” she was screaming in her head, “Make it to the light.”
She was almost there when she felt something grab the hood of her sweatshirt. She screamed as she cleared the woods racing blindly across Pinewoods Avenue — a dangerous move on such a busy road. What came next was a blur; headlights, a crash, then silence.
Cassie woke up two days later in the hospital, her parents and doctors telling her how fortunate she was. The truck barely clipped her but hit and killed the man who was chasing after. “Emmet Myers,” a familiar voice from the corner of the room said. It was Gunny. “The missing boy from ten years ago. We think he’s behind a lot of what’s happened in those woods.” Before she could even ask, Gunny added, “I was the one who hit him with my pick-up. I was just driving by. Lucky timing.”
It was Halloween and Cassie felt uneasy, like there was a sliver that needed removing. She rode her bike back to the cemetery to ask Gunny if there was something he didn’t tell her. “It’s just as I said, child, but..,” he paused. “Emmet Myers hadn’t aged, not a day in ten years and…,” pausing again. “I found some hair stuck to my truck’s bumper. Wolf hair. Girl, I didn’t hit no wolf.”
Cassie Sullivan never set foot in those woods again, nor did she trick-or-treat. When her friends asked why she whispered, “Because monsters are real.” They all thought she was kidding.