“Every monster under the bed, slimy thing that crawls out of the sink drain, and beast covered in muck and twigs that comes out of the dark wood at night came from somewhere. Most were born of overactive imaginations of innocent children, but some…some come from events so twisted and arcane that they could only be true. This is one of those stories.”
“Jeez, Molly, laying it on thick aren’t ya?” Josiah Hatch asked, rolling his eyes as his friend narrated into her phone.
Molly Jenkins was a twelve-year-old aspiring documentarian of the macabre. She had drug her best friend Josiah into the woods behind her home in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee in one of their hunts for the dark urban legend told in hushed tones at campfires all around the small town of Fletcher’s Forde. Molly had heard the story of the body in the woods from some friends at school, then later at a campout with some friends from church. Her father had mentioned it offhand once or twice, but never talked about it much.
“Josiah- you’re lucky I was done narratin’ when you interrupted,” Molly said with mock irritation. “I’d’ve had to start all over.”
This was not their first venture into the woods to find the alleged cursed body of a settler who died in the woods centuries before. Nor was Josiah her first partner. She had taken some of her girl friends, but they all got too scared and begged to go back. But Josiah was just as fearless- and determined- as Molly. They both wanted to find the body, and be the first kids in working memory of Fletcher’s Forde to see the corpse and live.
The legend was that if anyone saw the body of ole Slick Bill, the forest would close in on you and you’d die screaming in a supernatural dark- even if it was broad daylight.
Of course, Molly didn’t believe that version. It was ridiculous.
But she did believe the body was a curse on Fletcher’s Forde. Molly wanted to prove this dark artifact was not only real, but that a girl could be the one to find it. And Molly had other reasons, too. She feared the curse was real, and that it was on her family in particular.
“You really think this body is out here?” Josiah asked, swatting a low hanging twig out of his eyeline.
“I do,” Molly answered. She offered nothing else. She didn’t want to talk about it, but she was also just focused on finding her subject. She and Josiah were deeper into the woods than they had ever been, and Molly knew it because the last of the red markers she had stuck in trees to mark her progress had been seen fifteen minutes earlier. And the terrain was going up and getting rockier- all signs that they were drawing close to the alleged grave site.
It was late summer, school was starting back up the next week. That meant that her dad was working late at the school to get ready for students. He was a history teacher at the high school- which was connected to the junior high where Molly and Josiah would attend that fall. Just as her father had attended when he was a kid. And his father before him. Molly was the latest in a long line of Jenkins, and before it was Jenkins, it was the Walkers- a founding family of the Forde.
As the sun began to sink lower, a twinkling effect began to move through the pine trees, and the shadows were growing darker. Both kids checked their flashlights, as their adrenaline began to flow more freely. Not only was it getting dark, they were- they assumed- close to an actual dead body. Molly kept placing new red markers so she and Josiah could find their way out- and so she could pick up where she left off if they didn’t find their quarry.
So intent was she in pressing on, that she stepped on a loose stone and her ankle twisted. She let out a yelp as she started to slide down a small hill, and Josiah tried in vain to stop her tumble.
It didn’t matter, Molly only slid a short distance before she bumped into a patch of raised earth, just a few feet from the path they had been on.
But when she hit the dirt mound, it made a hollow sound.
“Molly! You okay?” Josiah yelled, fear and panic heavy in his cracking voice.
But Molly was focused on the mound at her feet. With her good foot, she tapped the mound again. The same hollow sound was emitted, but this time there was a small cracking noise. She pushed again, harder. The cracking grew louder, and the mound started to give. She pressed once more, and there was a loud crack and her foot shot into a dark open space- and she felt a sharp pain in the flesh of her calf. The sudden breakthrough and the pain that followed made her yelp, and she heard the sound of sliding rocks from above her.
“Molly! Answer me when I call!” Josiah admonished as he slid down beside her. “You okay?”
Molly blinked rapidly, then slowly pulled her foot from the hole. “Yeah- just twisted my ankle. But, Josiah- I think we found it!” She barely noticed the trickle of blood running down her leg from the wound, and had she been a bit older she might have worried about needing a tetanus shot. But for the moment, Molly could only think about documenting the find. She pulled out her phone, clicked on the camera and began to speak. “After a short fall, I literally stumbled upon this wooden thing covered by dirt and dead leaves about a mile and a half into the forest. My foot broke through there,” she pointed the camera at the hole- “-And now we are going to break the wood open and see what we found!”
“We are gonna what now?” Josiah exclaimed. “You didn’t say nothin’ about digging’ around in what might be a coffin!”
“Josiah, it definitely IS a coffin!” Molly said excitedly. “Help me lift it here. It’s real brittle. Should just break open.” She grabbed the top of the hole and jerked. Another crack and a hole about a foot long and a foot and a half wide appeared.
Josiah’s jaw dropped, and they exchanged a look of shock. His fear was briefly overcome by his curiosity, and together with Molly, he leaned in to get a hood look.
At first, their eyes saw only darkness. “Aw,” Molly said with disappointment. “Ain’t nothin’ in there.”
But Josiah thought he saw something. “Wait,” he said, leaning closer and grabbing the broken edge of what they could clearly see was wood. He pulled hard, and another foot broke away.
And they both screamed.
Laying in the half buried wooden box was a body. Or rather, a skeleton with dried, hard skin covering a few small areas lay with its arms crossed over its chest, clutching what looked like a jeweled necklace or amulet. Its mouth was open as if it was itself screaming. And had the kids bothered to hang around, they would have noticed a rotted rope looped around the wrists as if someone had wanted to ensure the dead person was restrained even in death.
But the two young documentarians had run- injured ankles completely forgotten- with all speed back home. So much speed, in fact, that Molly left her phone laying right there by the clump of ground that barely covered the simplistic coffin.
The phone was still filming, but for the moment, it merely shot footage of the darkening sky through the whispering pine branches.
In the coffin, on the rib cage there rested a small drop of Molly’s blood. It began to roll off the rounded bone covered in a paper-thin, mummified flesh toward a crack in the skin. The blood dropped down into the almost empty chest cavity. Almost empty in that a black, hard ball of what had once been the pumping heart of a man still lay there. Unbeating. And dark as the soul of the man it had resided in.
Molly’s blood dropped down onto that dead heart and for a moment, nothing happened. The blood seemed to soak into the heart, and the hard, petrified flesh began to soften.
Had a human eye been there to see it, they might have perceived a tiny flutter of movement. They would have dismissed it as a trick of the light, a childish fear amplified by the horrific nature of the scene of a poorly buried body being discovered after ages of being hidden.
But when the heart began to beat- they would not have been able to dismiss it. And when the clacking sound of bone on bone moving in the confines of the box meant to contain it for eternity began, the person would have fled in terror. Just like the kids had.
And when the skeleton tore through the almost paper thin wood covering it, and rose slowly from the earth, no one saw it. No living thing, anyway. For all the creatures of the forest had also fled the unnatural event unfolding.
But the phone of Molly Jenkins did see. It saw a skeletal hand clamp down on the camera as the dark and evil thing rose, crawling forth on all fours across the damp, dark forest floor.
Rose to find its way back to life.