The Phantom Forest
On a warm, mid-summer evening I was walking home from work when I decided to take a short cut through a section of woods known to locals as, the “Phantom Forest.” I’ve heard stories about the Phantom Forest being haunted all of my life. Gettysburg is known to be one of the most haunted places in the country due to the bloody battle that took place here during the Civil War. The Phantom Forest is said to be even more ghastly because of an onslaught of cannon fire that rained down like a hailstorm on confederate soldiers.
Growing up, I knew to stay away from the Phantom Forest. When I was five years old my mother told me a story about three young boys who were playing in this haunted forest back in 1977. Although their parents told them not to, Ricky, Johnny, and Zack decided to go into the Phantom Forest to build a fort. Ricky and Johnny had begun construction of the fort, while Zack was searching for more twigs. Now out of eyesight from Ricky and Johnny, Zack let out a blood-curdling cry. The sound of his scream shocked Ricky and Johnny. They took one look at each other and panic set in. Horrified at what they had heard, Ricky and Johnny sprinted toward Memorial Park (a mile away) without ever looking back. They ran up to a police officer who was patrolling the park, and trembled as they told him what happened. Police organized a search party, but after two weeks of probing Zack was never seen or heard from again. There were rumors that Zack was attacked by a bear but police never found any blood or evidence of an animal attack. In fact, the only evidence police did find was a single red shoe worn by Zack the day of his disappearance. Some people think Zack was kidnapped and then murdered. The truth of the matter is Zack’s disappearance remains unsolved to this day.
I am thirty years old now and have never gone into the Phantom Forest, until tonight. My car broke down earlier today so I have to walk home from work, and cutting through the Phantom Forest will save me twenty minutes. “I guess it’s not really that scary. I do have my cell phone handy in case I need it,” I thought while looking down at my phone, realizing that I don’t have a signal. “At least I can still use the glow from my screen to navigate the forest.” I thought. “I’m halfway through now. Another ten minutes and I’ll be home kicking up my feet and relaxing,” I thought to myself.
Suddenly an elderly woman seems to appear out of nowhere. She's trembling and looks very confused. “Hello,” I call to her. She doesn't answer. “Do you need help?” I ask louder. The old woman, who looks too petrified to even answer me, nods yes. “How did this little old lady, clad in a black and red bonnet, get out here in the middle of the Phantom Forest all alone?” I wonder. “What’s your name ma’am?” I ask. “Mmm, Mmm, Mildred,” she answers shakily. Mildred is trembling so bad that she can hardly speak. I ask her, “Where do you live Mildred? We need to get you home.” I feel so bad for her that I forgot all about my fear of the Phantom Forest. “Maybe Mildred has Dimentia or Alzhiemer’s disease and wandered away from Memorial Park in a frantic craze.” I consider. “I, I don’t, I can’t remember.” She states. “Well, is it far from here?” How did you get out here?” I ask. Mildred’s eyes begin tearing up. She throws her hands over her face and starts sobbing loudly. I notice that it's getting darker. “Oh no,” I said. My cell phone is dying. “How could that be?” I wonder. “I charged it before I left for work today.” I thought to myself. “Well that’s just great!” I said in an angry tone. “My cell phone just died.” I exclaim. Mildred doesn’t seem to be bothered by this fact. It is now pitch black at this point. Mildred’s cries start breaking up. She's calming down a bit, it seems. “Well, at least that makes one of us.” I thought. Mildred’s sobs had now turned to a quiet laughter. “Yep, she definitely has some sort of mental illness.” I conclude. “If I can just get my phone to turn on for a few minutes maybe I can guide us home and get Mildred to a hospital.” I decide. I turn on my phone, while praying it will stay on long enough for me to get us out of here. “YES!” I exclaim. The phone turned on. “Ok Mildred, I’m going to get us out of here.” I stated. Mildred’s quiet laughter had now turned to a maniacal hilarity. She must have turned her back to me in the darkness. “Mildred.” I call as I place my hand on her shoulder. She's hot. Her skin feels as though it could burn my hand. “She must have a fever too.” I thought. Mildred turns around and…”Oh my God!” I cry. Mildred is no longer the scared old woman I had just met anymore. She is now snarling amidst her laughter. Mildred’s eyes are solid black now. There is no white left in her eyes at all. Venous wings rise up from her back and are missing pieces as if they had seen battle. These are not like ordinary wings of a graceful bird, but can more closely related to those of a bat. To my horror, I notice blood and viscera pouring out of this thing’s nose and ears. This creature, clearly no longer Mildred, sticks out her forked tongue at me. “Beep, Beep.” My cell phone is dying again. Darkness falls upon me once more and I am paralyzed with fear. My heart is pounding so hard I that it feels like it is going to beat out of my chest. The anxiety feels as though I can jump out of my skin, although I can’t move a muscle. “This is it.” I cry.
Suddenly, someone grabbed my hand and pulls me away from this macabre creature. Instinctively my legs follow, and we start running fast through the darkness of the Phantom Forest. Finally, after what seems like a lifetime, I can see Memorial Park in the distance. Getting closer to the streetlights of the park, I can now see that the person who is leading me to safety is just a kid. He's merely a boy around ten years old. As we cross safely out of the Phantom Forest and into Memorial Park, I catch my breath I thank the boy for saving me. “What’s your name?” I ask him. The boy, dressed in disco-era clothing, does not mutter a word. He just gives me a big bright smile, which is comforting after what I had just experienced. Then he turns around and darts towards the Phantom Forest. “Wait!” I shout. Just then, I notice something peculiar as the boy is running away. He is only wearing one shoe, a single red shoe.
© Copyright 2016 Matthew Zabala. All rights reserved.