The Old Woods

The smoke from the forest fires made beautiful sunsets.  Wes marveled at the intense oranges and reds as he reached into his small sweaty Coleman cooler and pulled out an Olympia beer and popped the tab.  He shifted in the beat up lawnchair, held together with a judicious application of duct tape. The pain in his back spiked and he grimaced.  Two years ago Wes suffered a traumatic back injury while working on a loading dock.  On his first day he was shown a video on safety.  A man dressed in an official lab coat placed a jelly doughnut between two bricks to demonstrate how the spinal column worked.

When he turned to pick up a thirty pound case of yams, his jelly doughnut spurted jam and Wes got a disability check.  Now he sat on his porch, drank beer, popped pain pills and listened to his neighbors in the trailer park argue.  His next door neighbors, Tina and Fred Hill were the worst.  Every night right before Fred left to work his job at the convenience store Tina picked a fight.  She accused Fred of sleeping with Paula, the incredibly cute college girl who also worked the night shift at the store.  A brilliant bit of hubris on Tina’s part.  Fred Hill, fat and balding, barely able to keep his light bill paid, driving a piece of rusted metal he called a car, as charming as a dead skunk on the road, would never be able to get in the pants of Paula.  The fact Tina felt it was possible must have been her way of thinking she had a man worth holding onto.  Or something.  Wes didn’t think too much about it.  At least he liked to tell himself he didn’t think too much about it.  But he did.  Two years sitting on his tiny porch watching the people come and go was all the entertainment he had.

He thought about everyone in the trailer park.  He wondered why they did the things they did, what decisions did they make to land them here, with him, at the shitty end of the stick.  Wes had the time since his injury.  Once, he was a loader, a guy who drove a forklift at a warehouse.  Now, he was a borderline drunk with tens of thousands of dollars worth of medical bills and a monthly stipend from an insurance company.  Every day blended into the next with a mixture of pain pills, beer, Wheel of Fortune, and grilled cheese sandwiches.  Sitting on the four foot by six foot slab of wood he called a porch let him keep in touch with the world around him at least a little.

Fred slammed the frail screen door behind him as he fled his nightly fight with Tina.  He stopped at his gray and rusty 1994 Ford Escort and gave an anemic wave to Wes.  “How’s the back today, Wes?”

“Hurts like a son of a bitch.  How’s the wife today?” Wes asked.

“Yelling like a bitch.  Take care of yourself, now,” Fred said as he ducked into his car and started it up.  It finally turned over on the third try and Fred sputtered down the road.  Just the mention of pain caused Wes to crave another pill.  He was warned about the addictiveness of them so he really tried to work through the pain, doing the stupid breathing his physical therapist told him to do.  It never reduced the pain, it only made him feel like an ass.  The pills worked much better, and quicker.

The following night he found himself in the same chair, drinking another beer, swinging a fly swatter at the houseflies.  So many houseflies.  Wes couldn’t remember there ever being so many houseflies.  Some dogs must have gotten into the trashcans and spread rotting garbage around.  He held his hand over the top of his beer can to keep the flies away.  As he sat there, he felt odd.  He adjusted himself in the rickety lawnchair and took another sip from his can.  He flicked the fly swatter about a few more times finally whacking it against the railing of his porch killing several flies at once.  He glanced up by his door where a Ziploc bag of water hung in a folksy attempt to scare away the flies.  Wes didn’t know how it worked, only that it usually did.  On this day, it failed.

Something else was odd. There was silence.  Wes looked down at his watch and realized it was past 8:30. Fred’s piece of shit car still sat in front of the Hill’s trailer.  There wasn’t any fighting, only silence, except for the constant buzzing of flies.  Wes wasn’t the meddling sort of man, but he had grown so accustomed to the pattern of the day he didn’t feel right when it wasn’t flowing as he expected.  The flies were so bad they finally drove him out of his seat.  The steps were the worst.  He knew each time he bent down, it would feel like a dagger cutting into his spine: four steps leading down from his wooden porch to the cement walk, four daggers stabbing into his spine.  The pain pills he took numbed the pain so much that apart from those moments of stabbing excruciating pain, Wes felt nothing.

He carefully walked over past Fred’s car to the short walk leading to Fred’s trailer.  Wes stopped and debated his action.  Stopping gave the flies something to land on and they swarmed him, covering his bare arms, crawling on his neck. He waved his arm about and made his way to their trailer.  He lifted his arm to knock on the door and he realized the screen door had been torn away and the door to the trailer was ajar.  Fred must have torn the screen door off its hinges when he got home in the morning.  There must have been more fighting.

Wes pushed the door open slowly.  “Fred?  Tina?  Is everything okay?”

Sprawled on the floor was Wes.  His skull had been cracked open, soft grayish pink brains leaked from the skull.  A thick heavy cast iron skillet covered in blood rest near his prone lifeless body.  Flies buzzed all around the body, laying eggs in the dead tissue.  Wes felt himself growing faint and weak in the knees.  His stomach and brain both rebelled against the grotesque scene in front of him.  He stumbled back, walking as quickly as he could, ignoring the stabbing pain in his back, climbing the four steps to his trailer faster than he ever had since his accident.  He grabbed the cordless phone and called 911.

“911. What’s your emergency?”

“Hello, I’m at Deep Canyon Courts and my neighbor is dead, I just saw my neighbor Fred dead in his home.  His head… smashed…”

“I’m dispatching units now, sir.  Calm down, please.  Help will be there shortly.  Is there anything else you can tell me?  Was there anyone else there?”

“I think his wife killed him!”

Wes could feel the hysteria come over him.  He started to hyperventilate.  The world went gray then black.

He saw nothing but blobs of white and blue with occasional flashes of red and green.  He felt safe.  Then the images of Fred’s body on the floor, his bloody brains spread across the floor came rushing back at him.  He felt the panic.  A voice started speaking to him.

“Please, it is okay, just calm down.  Take a deep breath.  It is okay Mr. Duran.  You’ve had an accident.”  The voice was feminine, but strong.

“Where…” speaking was hard.

“You are at Gallatin Hospital, Mr. Duran,” the woman said.  The blobs of color started to take shape.  Was could start to make out the woman next to him.  She held an IV bag in her hand and a full catheter bag rested on the cart next to her.

“Don’t conf…,” speaking was still hard and he couldn’t make a joke about mixing up the bags.

“I’m sorry, what is that, Mr. Duran?” the nurse asked and then in a motherly voice, “You shouldn’t be trying to talk.  Just rest.”

“Fred… dead…,” Wes mumbled.

The woman frowned a bit.  “Your neighbor is fine.  Everything is fine.  It is a good thing you called 911 when you did or you might be the one who died.”

Wes had other questions but the need to sleep was too great and he drifted off again.

The next time he awoke, he felt his spine being sawed out of his back.  Serrated edges ran between his ribs against his vertebrae on both sides.  He instinctually fumbled for the alert button next to his bed and thumbed it over and over.  Seconds later a nurse rushed into his room.  “What is wrong, Mr. Duran?”

All Wes could managed was a mangled cry and a gasping, “My back!”

“Mr. Duran,” the nurse tried to explain, “We’ve had to take you off your pain medications temporarily.  You suffered an overdose.  It is what caused you to hallucinate your neighbor had been killed.”

Wes sat in his doctor’s office while the thin pasty wisp of a man looked over test results.  Wes hated him.  He didn’t hate him for any specific reason, but he grew up with a specific vision of what a doctor was.  Doctors, he admitted only to himself, were supposed to be like the doctor on Little House on the Prairie, like Marcus Welby, or even Hawkeye Pierce: paternal and brilliant, learned men of medical science.  Dr. Charles ‘Chuck’ Gross with his nebbish looks and mannerism was someone’s kid brother who constantly was picked on and beat up at school.  Wes looked at him and tried hard to think of him as a man who could help him.  It was beyond his imagination.

“Wes, how long has it been since the accident?” Dr. Gross asked.

This sort of thing pissed Wes off.  The information sat in the file on Dr. Gross’s desk.  A file Dr. Gross read right before Wes came into his office. “Two years,” Wes answered.

“Yes, yes, and how is the physical therapy going?”

“It isn’t.  I’ve run out of insurance.  Not even sure how I’m going to pay for this latest episode.”

“Well, we aren’t here to talk finances, just trying to get you well again.  How have you been spending your time?”

Wes shrugged.  “Sitting at home.  Watching TV.”

Dr. Gross shook his head.  “I’m afraid, Wes, that you might have a case of severe depression.”

Wes imagined his hands going around that smooth porcelain white neck and giving it a firm squeeze.  No need to break it, just slowly choke the life at of the fucking bastard.  Depressed? No fucking shit, Dr. Shitforbrains.  “I can see that,” Wes said.

“I don’t want to mess with your medication too much and I don’t think medicating you is necessary for your depression.  I’m thinking you just need to see that there is more to life than sitting at home.  The accident didn’t end your life, Wes.  What did you enjoy doing before the accident?”

Wes thought about that for a moment.  “I liked to fish.  Fly fishing to be exact.”

Dr. Gross smiled.  His teeth gleamed a brilliant white.  Such a white could only come from never eating any food ever or paying some fancy dentist a ton of money to do unnatural things to the teeth.  Wes could knock several of those teeth free with a good punch in face.  “Fishing… yes, fishing is good.  As long as you don’t attempt to pull in any 15 pound pike.  Stick to walleye, that should put too much of a strain on your back.”

Wes smiled back at Dr. Gross and grudgingly gave him some respect for knowing at least something about fishing.  “So, you are writing me a prescription of fishing?”

Dr. Gross laughed, “I am.  I want you to get out of your rut.  This has nothing to do with you back, and everything to do with your mind.  You were once an active man, you need to recapture some of that.”

Wes threw a few pairs of jeans and a couple shirts into a duffle bag, slung it over his shoulder and headed out the door.  His fishing gear had already been loaded into his truck.  After climbing behind the wheel he took his bottle of pills and shook out one of the new lower dosage pain meds the doctor gave him.  They didn’t work as well.  Instead of feeling nothing, he felt a dull ache in his back and his fingers and toes tingled.  It was one of the side effects.  The pills played games with his nerves and the nerves in the hands and feet were extra sensitive to these games which made them tingle.  He focused on going away.  A call to his cousin yielded great results.  His great uncle owned a cabin up in the mountains next to a stream that Wes remembered fishing in when he was young.  The stream only had brook trout in it, which was fine for Wes since he was certain he wouldn’t have been able to pull in a walleye that wanted to fight.  The cabin was barely used anymore since the family went from young and active too old and lazy.

The ride up into the mountains caused Wes more pain than he expected.  The roads were poorly maintained dirt roads with bumps and divots.  The dirt road took Wes through a small town called Baldwin where he had to stop to get the keys to the cabin.  A local, a storeowner named Mitch Guthry, acted as a de facto caretaker for cabin. The town of Baldwin was beyond tiny: one store, half a dozen houses, awe inspiring mountains and sagebrush.  Ancient vehicles bloomed like mushrooms after a midnight rain shower in the field across from the store.  Abandoned derelicts, picked over for useable parts.  A few goats played behind the barbed wire fence separating the field from the road.  A dry wind blew, kicking up little dust devils in the parking lot.  Wes pulled into the store’s gravel parking lot and parked next to a beat up white and rust brown Chevy truck.

Inside the store smelled of dust and coffee.  Wes liked the smell.  It was an honest smell, not a chemical cover up. An old man sat behind the counter watching a baseball game on TV.  The satellite antenna provided a crystal clear picture on the 13 inch tube.  The man looked up at Wes and nodded, “Howdy.”

“How’s it going?”

“Goes well, what can I do for ya?”

Wes pulled off his cap and scratched his head before putting it back on.  “I’m looking for Mitch Guthry.”

“You found him.”

“I’m Wes Duran, Hollis Duran’s nephew.  I was told I could pick up the keys to his cabin from you.”

“Oh, time hasn’t been kind to her, but she’s still good.  She’s been locked up nice and tight for four or five years.”  Mitch opened a small metal box that held a variety of keys with tags on each of them.  After picking through a few of them he pulled one out and handed it to Wes.

“Thanks.  I better pick up some supplies while I’m here.”

“Yep, I reckon you better,” Mitch said smiling.

Wes went about shopping and took several six packs of Olympia from the asthmatic cooler.    He struggled a bit with the items, bringing one or two things to the store counter at a time.  Mitch rang each item up on an old style cash register as Wes dropped it off.  As Wes paid Mitch, Mitch took one of the two bags of Wes’s groceries, “Let me give you hand with that.  Must be quite an injury you got.”

Wes nodded, not really wanting to share the story.  “Some pain, yeah, makes it difficult to move about.”

Mitch lifted the sack into the back of the truck, “Say, be careful up there, okay?  There has been a lot of traffic up’n this way lately.  Young kids, hikers, mostly.  Never know what trouble they may cause.”

“Sure thing, Mitch,” Wes said as he backed out of the parking lot.  The gravel crunched under his wheels.  The truck pulled onto the dirt road.  Mitch stood in the parking lot, gave Wes a wave and watched the truck as it disappeared around a curve.

Wes followed the road and took a look at the directions his cousin had written down for him.  He looked up and slammed on the brakes.  A man and woman squatted in the middle of the road sorting through their backpacks. His truck skidded a bit and came to a stop several feet from the two dumbstruck hikers. Wes leaned out his window, “Sorry about that.  You guys okay?”

The man nodded, “No problem, we didn’t expect to see any vehicles up here.”  The woman pulled a flashlight from the pack, “Got it.”  She gave a friendly wave to Wes.

“You two been up here long?” Wes asked, one arm and his head sticking out the window.

“Just one night so far.  Hiking the old logging roads, nice easy trails,” the man said as he helped the woman with her pack.  “Where you heading to?”

“Going to do some fishing at my cabin,” Wes answered.

“I hate to ask this but the day sort of slipped away from us, can you give us a ride up the mountain, at least as far as your cabin?” the man asked.  The woman clicked the flashlight on and off before looking over to Wes, “We’re camped in a clearing at the end of the road at the top.”

“Sure, hop in,” Wes said, pulling himself back into the truck.  The man and woman set their packs into the bed of the truck and slid into the cab.

“Hi, I’m Kelly,” the woman said.  She wore a bandana over her hair and was covered in dust.  “This is my boyfriend, Neil.”

“How ya doin, I’m Wes.”

Neil reached over and shook Wes’s hand, “We sure do appreciate this, Wes.  I’m not going to lie, it’s a bit creepy up here at night.”

Wes put the truck in gear and started up the road again.  The light faded quickly and he relied on his headlights to keep him on the road.  “You two from around here?”

“No, we’re tourists.  Hope you aren’t one of those California hating Montanans,” Neil joked.

“I don’t have beef with anyone.  Your money spends just as good as the next guy’s so I’m not sayin’ anything, but I have to wonder, why Montana?  California is supposed to be paradise.”

Kelly laughed and said with good bit of snark in her voice, “Californians leave California because Californians are a bunch of pretentious pricks.”

Wes laughed, “That’s what I’ve heard.  How long you guys about for?”

“Two weeks,” Neil said.

“Nice,” Wes said, not thinking of much else to say.

The two guests in his truck turned to talking to each other about the trails they wanted to explore in the morning.  Wes spotted the turn off for the cabin but agreed to take the two hikers to their campsite.  Thirty minutes later, Wes dropped his two passengers off at their campsite.  They had the latest in high tech camp gear and a rented Subaru Forester with Bozeman plates.  Wes gave them a wave and drove back down the mountain road until he reached the turn off to the cabin.  The two ruts in the ground that marked the road bounced Wes’s truck around violently even when he crawled along at an abysmally slow pace.  Each bump caused a seizure of pain.

The slow pace saved Wes from a broken axel.  A flash flood had torn apart the road right as the trees opened up.  He could see the cabin nearly sixty yards away.  There was no sane way to get the truck over the 3 foot wide washed out section of the road.

“Well, fuck,” Wes said to no one in particular.  He climbed out of the truck and checked over his options.  He grabbed a bag from the back of the truck and started walking to the cabin.  He left the truck lights on to show him the way as best they could.  The walk, while not long, was painful.  His pills were in the jockey box of the truck.

Wes examined the door to the cabin.  Two iron bands ran across the door and met the jam at large padlocks.  Heavy boards and mesh protected the small windows of the cabin.  Wes jumbled the keys and unlocked the padlocks.  The door creaked on its rusty iron hinge and a stench of musty stagnant air hit Wes’s nose and lungs causing a coughing fit.

No light penetrated the cabin except for the dim glow of his truck’s headlights sliding in around him and into the doorway.  The interior of the cabin was divided into three spaces, a kitchen area with a table, a sleeping area with two sets of bunk beds, and a seating area between the kitchen and sleeping area where a Franklin potbelly stove stood like a small dark guardian over the entire cabin.  Wes set the bag of groceries down and considered briefly everything he had to carry.  Making multiple trips would be the death of him.

Wes looked about the dark cabin looking for anything that could help him and his eyes settled upon a pair of ancient cross country skis and poles.  The leather bindings had long fallen away but the two seven foot skis still seemed to be in serviceable condition, at least for what Wes needed.  He pulled them down off the wall and dragged them behind him as he marched his way back to his truck.

Wes opened the passenger side door and flipped open the jockey box, grabbing his flashlight and bottle of pills.  He downed three pills quickly and shoved the bottle into his pocket.  He laid the skis on the ground two feet apart and tapered them to be three feet apart at the tips.  Wes then laid the poles perpendicular to the skis at both ends and secured them there with bungee cords.  He took a plastic tarp and set it over the skis and poles, securing each side to the contraption.  There was enough slack in the tarp that it billowed down between the skis.  Wes loaded all his equipment on his jury-rigged traverse.  Lifting it at the butt ends of the skis leaving the tips on the ground sent jolts of severe pain through Wes’s back.  He struggled a bit, especially over the washed out section of the road, climbing down into the washed out section and then clamoring up the other side.  Even though it was only a foot deep the sides of the crevice crumbled under his weight and it made climbing out precarious.  Once he got moving, he ignored the pain and dragged his load to the cabin.

Wes lay on a sleeping bag he spread out on the bunk.  Beneath the sleeping bag was a cheap egg crate pad that offered almost no cushioning.  The new pills took too long to take affect.  The pain brought tears to his eyes and he even found himself struggling to breathe.  He reached for his duffle bag.  His hand found the little plastic bottle – a bottle of his old pills.  He knew he shouldn’t, but the pain was too much.  Pain clouds reason.  If only he could think of something else besides the glass daggers shredding his back.

Whoever thought the woods in the mountains existed in a state of silence had never actually spent a night in the old woods.  Everything makes noise.   The loud grinding sound of the mountain pine borer beetle, the yelps of coyotes, screeches of owls, and so many unidentifiable sounds.  Insect, animals, and the environment itself might be soothing to some, but to Wes, lying awake in his uncomfortable bunk, each sound he heard was an ice pick stabbing into his skull.   The woods weren’t filled with life, the woods were life.  And life is noise.  Each sound Wes heard sounded as if some poor soul was being tortured alive.

In the mountains, no matter how hot the day was, the night becomes quite cold.  Mornings are even worse because the need to piss wars with the need to stay tightly tucked in under blankets and sleeping bags.  Wes dragged himself out of the bunk and wandered out the front door of the cabin.  Dawn’s light broke over the mountains and a mist hung along the tops of the ponderosa.  Wes struggled against the pain in his back as he walked behind the cabin to the outhouse.  He rounded the corner and saw the carcass of a deer, blood and entrails covered the ground.  Wes paused, catching his breath from the horrifying sight.  He turned his back feeling as though he was going to vomit.

He turned back around to look again, to see what might have caused this catastrophic scene, but nothing was there.  He blinked and looked at the ground.  There was no blood, no guts, nothing but dirt, rocks, and weeds.  The pills, he thought to himself, those fucking pills.  He relieved himself and stumbled back into the cabin, the false vision unnerved him.

By nine in the morning, Wes stood in the stream that ran behind the cabin.  Between the cups of camp coffee and the icy cold water, Wes was quite awake, quite aware.  Each cast of the line reminded him of the pain in his back but it was tolerable.  He enjoyed being in the middle of the stream, witnessing the sunlight dancing along the ripples, feeling the push of the current against his legs.  He made sure to step carefully in case some unseen obstacle caused him to lose his footing.  Wes lost track of time which is exactly what he was hoping would happen.  When he finally waded to shore with no fish to show for his hours of effort he realized he hadn’t taken a pill in all that time.  He smiled to himself, but with the idea of the pills in his mind, he felt a sudden need for some.  Standing all that time in the water was hard on his back, he imagined, and while it wasn’t hurting any more than normal, Wes was certain that an ounce of prevention was better than a handful of temporary cure.

He took his pill and washed it down with a beer from a six pack he had in the stream, wedged against a log, weighed down with a rock.  The cold mountain water chilled it perfectly and it soothed his parched throat.  He sat on a rock next to the gurgling water.  Wes noticed something floating down the middle of the stream.  It looked like a body, clothes undulating in the water as it drifted downstream.  Wes closed his eyes and crushed the half full can of beer in his hand before throwing it into the water.  “God damn it!” he cried out, sick and tired of the visions.  He needed to stop taking the pills.  Cold turkey, no more. He pulled out the pill bottle and thought of throwing them into the stream.  But he couldn’t bring himself to do it.

As night fell, Wes stretched out in his bunk and groaned against the pain.  He tried to clear his mind, to think of something else.  It was no use.  Despite the cooling temperature, sweat dripped from Wes.  He had no appetite and the one attempt to eat something failed miserably as he immediately threw it up.  The pain had never affected him like this before.

Wes heard a scream.  His eyes shot open and he felt a sudden adrenaline rush.  There was another scream.  Wes quickly went down the list of what it could have been.  Screech owl? Cougar? No, there is a certain quality of a human voice that cannot be denied.  Shrieks of terror are quite different than animal noises.  The desperation and fear are carried with it to everyone listening.  Wes grabbed his flashlight and eased his way out of the bed.  The pain was excruciating.  His hand went to a pill bottle.  They were the new ones, less effective.  He tossed it to the side and grabbed the old ones.  He needed immediate relief.  He swallowed ten, far more than he knew he should, but he needed to be able to move.

He stepped out of the cabin and swept the tree line with the light to see if anything caught his eye.  There was another scream.  It wasn’t far away, upstream.  Wes hobbled his way towards the trees.  At night the vanilla smell of the ponderosa filled the air.  These were old woods.  The trees stood as silent witnesses to an ever changing world. Wes could feel his limbs starting to go numb from the pills.  The pain in his back ebbed to a dull throb.

Under the towering pines, Wes found himself even further removed from the world.  In the dark with no visual reference to anything, he immediately lost his sense of direction.  He relied upon his memory of where the screams came from.  He didn’t know whether to shout back or not.  If the person was being attacked by a bear, it could help.  Bears were easily frightened.  Most animals were easily frightened actually, or startled at least.

“Are you okay!” Wes shouted at the top of his lungs.  It seemed as though the trees absorbed his voice.  No echo, no reverberation.   “Are! You! Okay!” Wes hollered, cupping his hands in front of his face to amplify his voice.  Nothing.  Wes turned about listening when he heard another muffled scream.  It came from his right and was not that far away.  He tore through the brush, wincing as his back bit him with each long step he took.  Low hung branches whipped at his face but he protected himself with his arm.  The flashlight guided his path.

He reached a spot where the trees opened into a clearing.  In the middle of the clearing was a fire; a fire large enough to illuminate the entire clearing.  Three naked men covered in red and white paint held long stone knives.  Two people were tied to racks made from lodgepole pines.  One of the three men was trying to stifle the woman tied to the rack.  The other two stabbed repeatedly at the man.  Wes caught a glimpse of the woman.   It was Kelly.  The man must have been Neil.  It seemed his shouting had caused them to panic.  Wes contemplated how to proceed when he noticed a fourth knife on the ground near the fire.  A fiery pain blasted his head and everything went dark. Another man, completely naked covered in similar markings, whacked Wes in the head with a wooden club.

Wes recovered slowly next to the fire.  He could feel the ropes wrapped around his wrists and ankles.  The four men stood over him.  Their faces were painted white, like skulls, and the lines over their bodies had no discernable pattern.  “What the fuck is going on here?” Wes shouted.

“He’ll be another sacrifice to the old woods.  Mok Tur Du Tel will reward us greatly for the gifts we have given,” one of the men said.

Wes struggled violently against his bonds.

“Mok Tur Du Tel will be pleased by his fighting spirit.  It has been centuries since the old woods have been fed the blood of a warrior,” another one said.  Kelly screamed again, the energy to fight draining from her.  The men parted a bit to look over at her, strapped to their sacrificial rack.  She had been cut, several times, and her blood dripped from her arms and legs, running down the bark to the ground.

“Are you guys completely insane?  You can’t do this! You can’t get away with this!” Wes tried to reason with them. They didn’t pay any attention to him.  One of them stood between Kelly and the fire, his wavering shadow falling upon her.  Wes could see her eyes were glazed with pure fright.

“Mok Tur Du Tel, when our people chose a path of peace, they vanquished you to the old woods.  You were forgotten, left out of the great stories our elders told.  We have not forgotten, Mok Tur Du Tel, we call upon you again to bring the cleansing destruction to the world once again.  On this night of sacrifice, we give you not two but three gifts of blood.  Like the fire which cleanses the woods, allows the trees to birth anew, you will cleanse our lands of the taint and let your people birth anew.”

As one spoke, two others sliced at Kelly, opening two more shallow wounds which immediately swelled with blood and leaked her essence onto the ground.  Wes struggled, but the fourth man watched over him.  As Wes moved his arms he realized he no longer felt the rope.  He no longer felt his hands.  He was completely numb.

“Kelly! Kelly!” Wes shouted as he strained against the rope.  He couldn’t feel it cutting into his flesh.  He couldn’t feel the blood dripping from the wounds he caused himself.  The rope gave way just enough Wes knew he could slip out of it.  He knew he’d have to untie his feet quickly and knock his silent guard down.  Nakedness was a disadvantage in the woods.

Wes moved as quickly as he could, which unfortunately was not quick enough.  As his hand worked free, the fourth man lunged at him with the stone knife.  Wes tried to roll off to the side to avoid the blade, but his tied feet didn’t allow him to move and the blade sunk deep into his shoulder.  Wes hesitated, waiting for the pain.  It never came.  He felt the cold knife in him but there was no pain.  When he rolled back, the handle slipped from his attacker’s hand. Wes grabbed it and yanked it free, flinging it towards the assailant. The painted cultist dodged the knife and saw it crack and shatter against a rock on the ground.  Wes took the moment to free his legs as the other three men moved around the fire away from Kelly.

Blood soaked his shirt, but he was completely pain free.  He didn’t walk well because his feet were numb, but that didn’t matter.  He reached down and grabbed a handful of rocks and threw them at the four men stalking him.  They scattered to avoid being hit and Wes trudged straight to Kelly.  The four men moved much quicker than Wes though.  By the time Wes was able to pick up a piece of the shattered stone knife, they were on top of him.  They slashed at him and he slashed back.  The sharp ragged edge of the knife cut both ways, slicing his hand as he connected with one of the cultists.  He didn’t feel the cut, though he recognized the wetness in his hand.  Wes slashed and swiped a few more times before getting a chance to cut at Kelly’s ropes.  He held them at bay for a moment as Kelly limply climbed off the rack.

“C’mon Kelly… Run.  Run that way, run to the stream!”

Kelly stumbled off as Wes grabbed a burning piece of wood from the fire and swung it wildly at the four men.  They seemed unsure as to what to do next.  One broke from them and sprinted after Kelly.  Wes turned to chase after him, leaving his back open for attack.  He felt the knives cut into his back.  This time he felt a twinge of pain.  Pain began to overtake him entirely.  He didn’t stop running, the flaming log still in his bloody hand.  He swung and knocked the cultist to the ground.  He turned quickly, swinging the fiery club with all his might and caught another square in the shoulder, sending him sprawling to the ground.

Wes struggled to reach the stream, expecting to be stopped with each step until the cold mountain water flowed over him as he collapsed into the stream.  Kelly had started wading across it and Wes grabbed her.  She struggled out of instinct but Wes pulled her to him and let the current push them downstream.  There was no denying the pain now.  It ate away at him like acid, devouring his back, his shoulder, his wrists, and his hands.  By the time they floated by the cabin, he could barely move.  Kelly and Wes leaned against each other, limping and stumbling towards the small building.

Wes knew it wouldn’t be long before the four crazed lunatics made their way to the cabin, but he needed to stop Kelly and his bleeding before doing anything else.  Kelly had lost a lot of blood and was barely able to remain conscious.

“Stay with me Kelly, stay with me. We are going to get out of this.”  Wes bandaged her many wounds, noting that most were shallow cuts, but there were so many of them.  He had no idea how much blood she had lost.  He wasn’t doing well himself.  He used an entire folded towel on his shoulder and wrapped gauze around his wrists and hands.  There was little he could do for the stinging cuts on his back.

Light shone through a window.  Wes peeked out and noticed four figures emerging from the woods.  He needed to get to his truck. His truck was stuck on the other side of the washed out road. Kelly was too far gone to walk on her own.  Wes panicked. The four cultists walked closer and closer.

Wes struggled with the cross country ski contraption he had built.  Kelly was slender but still heavy enough to bow the skies.  Wes fought to keep a grip on the skies with his bandaged hand as Kelly did what she could to stay on the tarp.  The cultists were now running after them.  Wes hoped he had enough of a lead to get to the truck first.  He helped Kelly in on the passenger side just as the four men reached the washed out road.

He shouted at them as he crawled over Kelly to get to the driver’s side, “You sons of a bitches I’m going to kill you all!”

He shoved the key in the ignition and the truck roared to life.  Wes slammed it in reverse and gunned it.  Rocks and pebbles sprayed his pursuers as the truck backed along the mountain road.

Wes reached for his pills and realized he left them in the cabin.  The pain was too much and he couldn’t see straight.  He focused on the road as best he could and kept thinking about getting to Mitch’s store, the closest civilization around.

Highway patrol and the sheriff’s office scoured the mountains for weeks looking for the four murderers.  A total of eight bodies were found in the stream and river the stream fed into.  One of the deputies believed there had to be more since the number of abandoned campsites and vehicles would conservatively put the number around twenty-seven.  Wes rested in the hospital bed, an IV tube stuck in his arm and a painfree drug haze clouding his mind as a deputy asked him questions over and over.  “They kept talking about Mok Tur Du Tel.  Whatever that is,” Wes repeated to the deputy.  “Mok Tur Du Tel.”

The deputy nodded as he took notes, “Folks round these parts say Mok Tur Du Tel is some sort of Native American fire god, or demon, or something.  Shit I don’t know, but whoever did this to you and that girl are some sick people.  Hope we can find ‘em.”

Wes nodded before slipping off into sleep, “Hope so.”

At night, sometimes, you can see the orange glow of the forest fires from behind the peaks of the mountains.  It is as beautiful as the northern lights, but far more dangerous, far more destructive.