Zombie Nightmare of the Appalachian Trail
Zombie fiction is getting popular and read mostly by those who love an adventure story in the woods. Zombie Nightmare in the Woods is one of them. Hope you enjoy this short story.
In a small clearing not more than 50 paces off the main footpath of the Appalachian Trail, a few faint wisps of smoke curled from half-extinguished embers. Moonlight glinted from an
overturned lantern. Open tent flaps rocked in the cool night breeze. The sight started out as a wonderful secluded and romantic destination for a pair of lovers to enjoy nature and each other. Tempest and Roger spent weeks planning this adventure. They plotted the trail and packed provisions, they interviewed people who’d walked the trail before. They’d even hired the most venerated trail ranger available to marry them in the moonlight at the stroke of midnight. Everything had to be perfect for their ceremony. After their marriage, she was to ascend to the position of the high princess at the Wiccan people. So all of the details had to be perfect.
Instead of consummating their marriage and completing the required rights of the people. They ran, as hard and fast as they could until Roger tripped.
“Come on, get up. We have to get out of here.” Tempest growled at Roger through her teeth. She paused for a moment then kept running.
“I didn’t fall on purpose.” He said finally getting his feet back under him. “I tripped. Give me a break.”
“I’m not getting killed or worse because your dumb butt can’t make it through the forest at night.” She scolded him. Even though he stood a good foot taller, Roger had a slow unhurried way about him. If she tried, even a little Tempest could cover ground twice as fast as he could.
“Well, excuse me for growing up in a house instead of in the woods like you,” Roger said.
“Stop talking and keep moving.” Tempest pinched the soft skin on the underside of his bicep. He couldn’t feel it through the winter jacket he had on
He clamped his arms closer into his torso and glared down at her. Then he stopped in his tracks. “What are we running from?” He extended his arms and turned around. “There is nothing here.” He said trying to convince himself as much as he was trying to convince her. He couldn’t see anything that part was true, but he could feel it. Something dark, something awful and murderous.
“Shhh.” Tempest tried to get him to keep moving, but he wouldn’t. She pulled on his arm but he remained unmoved.
“No, I’m serious. Tell me what it is we are running from.” He insisted as if knowing the name of the monster in pursuit would somehow make a difference.
“I know these woods, Roger.” She started in a low town. “There is something out there and it’s not good.”
“What?” He said loudly. “What is it? It could be a fox or something. We could scare it away or kill it.” He took a deep breath. “Would that make you happy, if we kill the fox, would you calm down and let me go back to sleep Tempy?”
Roger wasn’t done screaming at her, he wanted to keep going, and let her know how much he hated the woods and camping and everything about this cursed forest. Before he could lay into her, again he heard a sound. Thump. Drag. Thump. Drag.
Blooding cold, he looked into Tempest’s eyes. “What was that?” He asked barely able to press enough air through his mouth to make a sound.
Without saying a word, Tempest turned and soundlessly ran away. This time she had no intention to let Roger slow her down. He tried to keep up with her but his big clunky puppy-dog feet were caught in tree roots again and he wound up flat on his face in the mud. He thrashed around to get free but the root wouldn’t let go. In agony, he watched her faintly glowing outline disappear below the next ridge.
“Wait!” He screamed in panic. He listened for footsteps. There weren’t any. Darkness crept in closer, as the moonlight was obscured by clouds. Roger was alone.
He scrambled to get up. Vines from the tree wrapped around his ankles and yanked him up off the ground. He hung upside down in the tree slowly spinning. Blood rushed to his head. His brain throbbed. Every moment that passed the tree wrapped its vines a little tighter around his legs and drew him up a little higher in the tree. He couldn’t be entirely sure, but Roger thought he saw dark sunken in eyes in the tree trunk staring at him as slowly ascended into the air.
Taking a moment to get his thoughts together, he closed his eyes and took a deep breath. In the stillness of his mind, he remembered the knife in his pocket, the one Tempest insisted he keeps with him at all times while they were in the woods. It took a few minutes to reach the knife in his pocket but he finally managed it. He yanked it out of his pocket and started wildly slashing the vines wrapped around his legs. The tree shrieked and began shaking causing Roger to slice his own arm. It took a lot but he was able to keep holding onto the knife and keep cutting through the vines until the tree dropped him. He landed on his face on the roots.
Roger stood up, brushed the dirt off, and looked around. He had a crick in his neck from falling on his head, but he had to push through if he wanted a chance at surviving. The woods consisted of Heavy oak timbers separated by dense patches of briar bushes and vines. As he slowed his breathing, he began to see paths left by deer and other wildlife zigzagging around the larger thorn bushes. He knew the official Appalachian Trail had to be close, but he couldn’t see it. Roger had neither his watch nor his phone; both had been left in the tent. Lacking any real survival training, he took off in the direction opposite where the moon hung in the sky.
He slowly shuffled along dodging the largest clumps of underbrush until he came to a sudden drop. A small rock face jutted out of the ground beneath his feet. The ledge afforded him a bit more visibility, but it also left him feeling exposed. He looked signs of Tempest but he didn’t see any. The ground lay ten or fifteen meters below the cliff face, and beyond that, he could see the trail. Roger wanted to jump off the rise and regain the trail, but he couldn’t. Some deep fear he couldn’t name deep within kept him from jumping.
Before deciding what to do next Roger heard slow scratch then a thump, then another scratch and thump. He stepped back and pressed his body against the closest tree trying to make himself harder to see. A familiar groaning accompanied the sounds coming up the trail. He knew this was the monster, which had pursued him before. Probably the very one that had separated Roger from Tempest. This thought made him mad. He slunk down and felt around on the ground for a stick to use for a weapon. His eyes never left as they searched for the source of the scratching and thumping.
The beast’s sluggish movements kept it from view for several minutes. Each scratch dug a little deeper into his psyche each thump weighed a little heavier on his heart. His fingers found a hearty stick and he yanked at it to make sure it would be free enough to swing if it came to that. The monster finally made it far enough down the path for Roger to catch a glimpse. Clouds and faint moonlight made it difficult to make out precise colors. He thought the man-sized creature seems a bit grey or maybe even green. It wore a tattered park ranger outfit with mid-calf length black boots. The same boots the ranger wore when he came to their campsite to perform his duties.
The creature groaned a horrible groan as it pulled its partially broken leg behind. Drag. Then it plopped its foot down to take another step. Thump. He shook his head knowing if a park ranger could be taken when he was in much more danger than he estimated before. The beast looked up at Roger and tipped its head. Indicating it had seen him.
In one second, he whipped the branch over his head and charged at the zombie. He brought the stick down onto its head breaking the wood in half. The monster groaned and fell to the ground. Roger stepped back to make sure he’d killed it. He had not.
The creature reached up, removed the stick from its head, and felt around the new crater in its forehead. It moaned again and began dragging its foot along the ground again toward Roger. Thump. His heart stopped. The creature was undamaged.
As fast as he could Roger turned and blindly ran up the path. He looked for nothing, his only desire to get away from this undead nightmare. He planned to run all night if needed. He determined not to stop until he was completely safe, or he knew without question that the zombie was gone.
What happened? He wondered. How had this day turned out so bad? Just this morning He and Tempest were unloading their gear from a borrowed pickup truck parked beneath a high-tension power line next to an old radio repeater. This should have been a fun and romantic evening under the stars. Equipped with pepper spray, a couple of knives and a flare gun, they should have been safe. Then, just after they finished dinner at the campfire before they could fully disrobe and slip into the tent Roger heard a noise.
Thinking it was nothing she playfully convinced him to go investigate. Alone in the darkness, he’d panicked and called her over. She laughed and made fun of him. How that made him mad. He yelled at her. She looked behind him, screamed and started running. What had she seen? Was it this same monster he ran from now? He followed her. They fought. He fell and she ran away. Now he was running from the monster again.
He rolled it over in his head. What had she seen? What did he hear? The more he thought about it the less clear it became. What was she wearing that day? He strained his memory as he ran. He didn’t know. All he could remember was the way she seemed to glow in the moonlight as she ran away from him. He couldn’t even remember if she’d worn boots or shoes on the trail. Wait, he remembered something. They were to be married that evening by the park ranger at midnight by the park ranger who was currently chasing him.
Roger looked at the sky again. He wished he could tell what time it was, if only he had his watch or his phone. If only He’d been able to keep up with Tempest. His head swirled so much he wasn’t paying attention to where he was running.
CRACK! The path gave way under his feet. THUD! Roger hit the bottom of a pit carved out of the path and expertly covered with leaves to look untouched. Dirt and leaves fell into his eyes obscuring his view. Pain shot through his leg when he tried to stand up. Unable to do much else he lay in the pit hoping to be rescued instead of captured.
Wiping the dirt and debris from his eyes Roger looked up to see a forehead and a pair of eyes looking down at him. He held his breath praying for a miracle. Praying the creature, whatever it was, wouldn’t see him. A few minutes later another forehead and pair of eyes appeared. Then a few minutes later, a few more heads and eyes appeared. Roger found himself looking at twelve pairs of eyes before long. He waited.
Maybe they didn’t see him. Maybe he was far enough in the darkness to look like a pile of leaves and sticks. He prayed again, asking, begging God to save him.
God did not answer.
Two of the zombies climbed down into the pit with Roger and picked him up. One grabbed him by the shoulders, the other by the feet. The pain in his leg intensified as the swung him. With a great heave, they tossed him out of the pit and back onto the mountain path. With the rest of the wind knocked out of him, Roger stared at the zombies. He recognized the one he’d hit earlier by the crease in its head.
A zombie grabbed each of his arms, each of his legs one grabbed his head, and they all pulled. Roger could feel the tension in his joints as they pulled. He screamed in pain. They pulled harder and harder. Just when he thought his arms and legs would tear off his body, he heard the howl of a wolf. The zombies relaxed their grip a little bit as if to listen for another howl. Instead of one, they heard several howls all at once. Quickly they dropped Roger on the ground. He looked around as ten zombies disappeared into the woods. The remaining two still down in the pit.
For a moment, he looked down in the pit and watched the zombies climb up on each other than fall over as they tried to grab the lip of the pit and climb out. He laughed at their plight. He thought about helping them up but then decided against it. They couldn’t hurt him from there and for some reason, he didn’t want to try to kill them again, so he decided to leave them alone. He heard another wolf howl coming from the depths of the woods. Roger crawled off the path and into the trees. He covered himself with leaves and branches from the forest floor.
Only moments after he’d hidden a handful of wolves stepped out of the forest on the other side of the path. The largest howled and the others followed. Within a couple of minutes, two dozen wolves surrounded the pit in the path and stared down at the two zombies still inside. The alpha wolf made a yelping noise and all twenty-four wolves dove into the pit at one time. An awful screaming noise followed by vicious ripping sounds came from the pit. Then as quickly as they’d come the wolves jumped out of the hole and disappeared one by one into the forest never noticing Roger hiding in the brush.
With the threat of zombies and wolves behind him and no sign of Tempest Roger tried to stand up. Pain shot through his leg and up through his hips and up his back. It hurt so much he could barely put any weight on it. Afraid the zombies might come back He did his best to hop on one foot and drag his leg behind. The woods remained silent except for the dragging sound of his broken leg on the dirt and the thump of his good leg advancing. Drag. Thump. Drag. Thump. He hobbled along the path. Looking for something, anything that would bring some semblance of safety.
After what seemed like hours, Roger started hearing a stream of water making its way across a bed of rocks then down off a cliff face. He tugged on. Drag. Thump. Drag. Thump. Eventually, the waterfall came in sight. Moonbeams danced across the water rushing off the rocks. The pool shimmer drew him in. He felt it tugging on him, beckoning to come and drink.
Drag. Thump. Drag. Thump. He approached the water. The water sang to him as it lapped up around the edges of the pool. Unable to resist Roger stooped down and knelt on the ground. He leaned over and looked at his reflection in the ripples. He looked tired and worn. He could see his own sadness and despondency on his face. He plunged his hands into the water disrupting the image. Cupping his hands together brought his hands up to splash water in his face.
To his surprise, the water pulled back against his hands and drew them back under. He pulled again, the water resisted. He could feel something tightening around his wrists pulling harder and harder against his hands. He pulled back hard. The water pulled harder. He released his hands and stood up pushing through the pain in his leg. The water slipped off his fingers and he fell backward and landed against a nearby tree. Regaining his balance, he turned away from the water. A blue tentacle of water shot out of the pool wrapped around his middle, and drug him back into the pool. Dragging him under water and not letting go. He could feel the watery arm tighten around him as he gasped for air. Roger thrashed back and forth he punched and kicked. He didn’t know how but eventually he was able to break free from his watery captor and swim back to the surface of the water. He crawled out of the water and stepped back onto the path.
Another hour passed as he limped along the trail. Roger passed nothing but trees. The woods remained silent. No wolves, no crickets, no frogs, nothing. No sound at all except for the sound of his own feet. Drag. Thump. Drag. Thump.
Then without warning, a black and green forest imp jumped out from between the trees. He lunged for his face. Roger punched it and it fell to the ground. He reached in his pocket for his knife but it wasn’t there. He realized it must have fallen from his pocket in the water. The imp jumped at him again. This time he was able to grab it by the arm and sling it into the trees. It crashed into the branches and fell to the ground. Roger could tell by the way that it hissed it was going to come back. He stooped and grabbed a handful of rocks from the path. As soon as he could see the imp, he threw a rock as hard as he could. The rock hit the small creature in the chest. It fell back a little and coughed. When it regained its breath, Roger hit it with another rock. This only seemed to make the creature angry. It leaped into the air again with its teeth and razor-sharp claws extended. Roger managed to slap the creature out of the air. He fell on top of it putting his knee into its chest. The creature coughed and for a moment he thought it was trying to beg for mercy. He didn’t care. It had tried to kill him too many times. He raised the last rock in his hand over his head and brought it down on the imp’s face. He heard its skull crack as he hit it. He smashed the rock into the imp again and again and again. He just kept beating the creature in the face until it fell cold and limp in his hands. Purple blood drained from its smashed face onto the path. Roger spit in the hole where the imp’s eye had been.
Roger finally left the dead thing in the path. He could feel shocked setting into his system. He couldn’t feel the pain in his leg anymore. He could only feel the broken pieces of bone rubbing together. He took a quick detour off the path and broke a large branch off a tree to use as a crutch. He hoped with enough time and physical therapy he would be able to walk normally again one day. He also hoped he would find Tempest coming back for him with a park ranger or something. She didn’t come back.
With his energy near its end and the sound of unseen creatures ebbing ever closer in the woods Roger almost gave up. Then he saw a faint yellow light peering at him through the woods. He a surge of energy as hope returned to him. He kept to the path and edged ever closer to the light, hoping to find a cabin or a vehicle or anything where he could hide and maybe get warm. The path rounded a corner and he found a large clearing and a log cabin on top of a hill. Smoke gently billowed from the chimney into the moonlight sky. A single light porch light shone from the wrap around deck. Roger screamed for help as he began to cross the yard. Another light came on inside the cabin. Roger screamed again. Another light came on inside.
A man dress in an unbuttoned flannel shirt white undies and rubber boots stepped out onto the porch holding a rifle.
“Get.” The man shouted. “Get gone you!”
“No please.” Roger put his hand up. “I have a broken leg. I need help.”
The man raised the gun to his shoulder. “I’m warning you. Get out of my yard you freak.”
“Please, I’m begging you,” Roger shouted again.
The gun rumbled, fire flashed from the muzzle Roger felt a heavy ball of led dig into his check and fly back out the other side. He fell to the ground and clutched his chest. Cold wet globs of flesh and organs fell into his hands. He squeezed his heart and a thick viscous liquid oozed from it and poured onto the ground.
The man in the house racked another shell into his gun then turned his head and yelled back into the house. “Mel, Zombie in the yard. Grab the gasoline.”
BLAM! The gun fired again hitting Roger on the leg just above the knee. He felt his flesh explode and heard the thump of his leg hitting the ground. With only one leg to stand on and no internal organs, Roger fell over and landed flat on his back. He looked up into the moon above. He heard footsteps approach, then a dumping sound, then fire all around.
Weeks later, a trail ranger stumbled upon an abandoned campsite. Unzipped tent still partially standing. Bits of lantern and camps supplies strewn about. The ranger found an alone body, a woman with long hair, skin torn to shreds, arms and legs ripped from their sockets and gnawed. Her hollow eyeless face stared back at him half-buried in the ground. Most of her head missing. A report had been filed indicating three missing persons, but the others were never found. Not even a trace. Roger’s body had been consumed by fire and spread in the farmer’s garden. The park ranger devoured by wolves. In the end, Tempest received a lovely closed casket memorial service. No other bodies were ever found and no last rights performed. The souls of Roger and the park ranger still roam the woods at full moon reliving their last night alive.
By Amos Jones © 2019