Feet pounding as fast as they can, I tear across the hard-packed ground. Tree branches slap my arms, scrape my face, tangle in my hair; I don’t think I’m gonna make it. I hear it chasing me, not quite on my heels yet, but close enough to make my skin want to crawl clean off my bones. At any moment, I expect to be snatched from the trail by god-knows-what kind of clawed hand. The thing is so near I can smell its stench. It’s enough to make me gag: make my eyes water and my nostrils burn. I set out to find it, to track it – to prove its existence. What a fool. I was never tracking it; it was tracking me the entire time.
If I can make it to the water, everything will be all right – that’s what all the stories say. Make it to that deep blue pool buried in the Pines and for some reason, the creature won’t come any closer.
I can’t be too far from the lake. Christ – I must have trekked thirty miles into the dense Barrens since leaving the road. It’s got to be around here somewhere; I’m right where the locals said the water would be. But there was something not quite right about the way those ‘Pineys’ were smiling…
My foot tangles in an exposed root where the dirt loosens and turns to a softer, sandier mixture. In near panic, I almost go down but somehow manage to keep my feet beneath me. The forest is thinning out quickly; I can see a much brighter patch ahead.
A guttural roar sounds from behind; it’s nearly on top of me. I can feel the air shift to the side as my eye catches sight of something black whipping by just off to the right. I scream – no sound comes out – but I don’t stop moving. Before I know it, the trees clear and I stumble onto a small beach.
I can see the water and whisper a silent prayer of thanks to those hicks who somehow managed to get me here. Flinging myself down at the water’s edge, I finally dare to look behind me. I can’t see it clearly, but I can feel it standing just under the dense canopy of the trees – hiding in the darkness.
Dunking my head into the cool water, I laugh when I realize what I’m holding. The entire time I was running, I was clutching my cell phone, but lost everything else. Can you hear me now? No! More hysterical laughter; the sound desperate even to my own ears. There’s no cell service out here. I can’t believe that in my panic the only thing I managed to save is this useless piece of crap. One last look at it and I hurl it as far as I can across the lake.
Leaning down again, I taste the water. At first barely a sip to make sure it’s safe, then small handfuls to quench my thirst. Making myself stop, I roll over and stare at the sun like it’s my new found savior. The Pines are so dense; this small clearing is a godsend. I can still hear the thing rustling in the trees, but for now, next to the water, I’m safe.
I must have drifted off from exhaustion, maybe simple relief, I don’t know. When I wake, the sun is low and dim shadows have crept half-way across the small beach. I can hear it breathing and pacing in the brush. A spike of adrenaline slashes through me and I dive for the only hope I see; one long bow from a white cedar growing out over the lake. Scrambling to it, I climb as far out as I can, shimmying backward the whole while. From what I know of the Blue Hole, the water is deep as hell. Drowning is no better an option than feeding myself to Mother Leeds’ thirteenth son, and I would prefer to do neither.
As full night falls, I can see its red eyes glaring at me, along with the shadowy impression of a dark, winged figure. Its tail flicking from side to side accompanies the sound of tree branches being torn apart. Bellying down further onto the limb, I try for a little more distance. I know my chances of surviving the night are slim… Still, if I can keep my balance and stay awake, I might just make it until morning.
I hear a faint splash, and a responding roar from the woods – almost a challenge. Terrified to take my eyes off the beast before me, but more afraid of what lurks below, I chance a glance downward. Elongated, translucent hands reaching from the depths are all I see before I’m yanked from my perch, screaming for help that’s never going to come.
“Howdy there, Bob, Tomas,” the deputy says as he steps from his vehicle to greet the two men sitting outside the small shack that serves as a convenience store in this area of the Pine Barrens.
“Mornin’ officer,” they reply in kind. “What can we do you for?”
“Well, seems we found a car, one of those German import types, parked a ways down the road in one of the pull-offs. Little yellow thing called a Jetta. You boys know anything about that?”
Looking at each other, Tomas spits and says, “Might be we do. Some young girl in a yeller car stopped in here yesterday asking for directions to the hole. Could be it’s the same car.”
“Tell me you didn’t give them to her, did you?” exasperation plain in the officer’s voice.
“Might be we did. Don’t see why we wouldn’t if she asked,” Bob answers rolling a toothpick between his teeth.
The deputy reaches into his vehicle and grabs the radio handset. “Dispatch, we’re gonna need a tow out on Rt. 532. It’s a yellow Jetta – can’t miss it. Hang on just a sec.” He releases the com button. “Boys, she have anyone else with her?”
“Nope, but she had a crap load ‘a gear in the back seat of that foreign auto-mobile of hers.”
Clicking the mic back on, the deputy relays, “Dispatch, I’m gonna need a team on the ground looking for a backpack, tent, cell phone – any personal items they can find heading from that location toward the hole. Better make it a wide sweep, call all the guys in on this.”
“Copy that, Tim. Do we need a rescue team down there too?” the dispatcher asks with hope and concern in her voice.
Looking over the roof of his car at Bob and Tomas, seeing the grin on both of their faces, he answers, “Negative on the rescue team, just the cleanup crew and the tow.” Getting back in the car and replacing the now silent handset, the deputy tips his hat to the men on the bench as they nod in return. He puts the car in drive, and mutters to himself “Fucking city folk,” as he drives off.
© Copyright 2013 Nina D’Arcangela. All Rights Reserved.
October 3rd, 2013 at 3:47 pm
Geez. I kept not wanting to read each line but couldn’t stop. The epilog is priceless. Thanks for the great read.
October 6th, 2013 at 1:04 pm
Uhhhh…. I hope that ‘not wanting to read but couldn’t stop’ is a good thing? lol – Thank you Jerry, and I couldn’t resist a little local colloquialism at the end! 🙂
October 3rd, 2013 at 4:25 pm
Oh, so freaky and wonderful. Thanks for the great read.
October 6th, 2013 at 1:05 pm
Hi Mari! Thank you for popping over and reading my little ramble. Being from ‘Jersey, it’s hard to pass up an opportunity to scribble about our many legends. I’m glad you enjoyed it! 🙂
October 3rd, 2013 at 6:23 pm
Lovely Nina, with such an unexpected twist, you’ve no idea how grateful I am for this heart-pounder. Coffee and some swift terror to start my morning off just right, much appreciated. You, my dark-minded sister are one Author that consistently reaches beyond subjects in our mutually adored genre that have been, shall we say, already beaten to death? Well done and again, I thank you from the bottom of my little black heart for the share.
October 6th, 2013 at 1:08 pm
Ahhh… thank you, sweetie! I’m glad you enjoyed it, and that it didn’t come across as the average ‘beating the bush’ creature tale. The appreciation of your darkened little heart is most greedily gobbled! (And I’m very happy to see you around – much luv, and many hugs!) 🙂
October 4th, 2013 at 10:35 am
I worry that this will be me the day I finally go squatch huntin’. 😉
October 6th, 2013 at 1:11 pm
I worry for you too, Hunter! lol Any time you want to hunt some JD, you let me know – I’ve got Piney cousins!!! And as for searching out the Blue Hole, there are two that I’ve nailed the legend down to, it’s just a matter of finding them on foot! Hunt we should, my fearless friend!! 🙂
October 5th, 2013 at 7:38 pm
Read this a few days ago but didn’t get it after I read the second part. So I googled Mother Leeds 13 child. Then I got it. As with all of your work I always learn something new. And always appreciate the story’s flow
October 6th, 2013 at 1:14 pm
Hi Sue! I’m glad there was a little education to be found in my tale. I didn’t want to flat out refer to the Jersey Devil or The Blue Hole if it could be avoided. Those from the area might find it an easy ‘go-to’. I’m happy you enjoyed it even if you didn’t know who the feature creature was! Thanks as always 🙂
October 5th, 2013 at 10:16 pm
So, it’s the Jersey Devil in the woods, but is the thing in the pond based on a named creature?
Wonderful to imagine what a creature that scares the devil might be like.
October 6th, 2013 at 1:19 pm
Hi Renae! 🙂 Yes, it is wonderful to imagine what type of creature would put a fright into the old JD! As far as I know, the legend of The Blue Hole is about the lake itself, and not a particular creature inhabiting it. Lore has it that those who visit don’t return (which would in fact negate there being lore… but we’ll graze over that part), and the lake itself takes the sacrifice. I’ll let you know after I find my way to it if my imagined watery hands hold any validity!! 😉
October 6th, 2013 at 12:54 am
[…] Leeds by Nina D’Arcangela A push-you-through-it short story, with a hidden little riddle. […]
October 7th, 2013 at 11:18 am
I absolutely loved ‘LEEDS,’ Nina!! I mean, c’mon, the Joisey Devil, fuggetaboutit!! 😉 You offered just enough of this tale to satisfy readers, & yet leave us hanging (and wanting) for more. Seems to be your way 😉
A thoroughly enjoyable read :} More, please, please!!!
October 8th, 2013 at 5:24 pm
May’be you should git yerself one of them there yella auto-mobiles and meet me by the red barn, just past the brown cow off that dirt road down in the Barrens?? LOL (the other ‘Jersey drawl)
Thank you, Joe! If you’re from Jersey, you can’t help but gobble up the JD stories, and if you already knew about the Blue Hole, well… only one place to go from there… 😉 Thanks again for the kind words!! :}
October 7th, 2013 at 4:28 pm
thank you Nina. I have to do a presentation next month. Had planned on doing vampires. But the group is not paranormal oriented. So, I thought, what myth or legend can I do ? will do Mother Leeds, perfect for the group and will be a quick write for me. 😀
October 8th, 2013 at 5:16 pm
Good luck with it! Shoot me a copy, I’d love to read it!! 🙂
October 15th, 2013 at 10:12 am
This was utterly brilliant, Nina.
The tension was masterfully layered and the ending had me grinning.
October 15th, 2013 at 10:24 am
Thank you very much! Now I’m grinning 😀 I had fun writing this piece. Being from ‘Jersey, you have to write about the Jersey Devil eventually, and getting to mix in a little Piney humor, well – it doesn’t get any better than that!
October 15th, 2013 at 10:25 am
I have to agree.