To recap, inspired by Kristine Kathryn Rusch who posts a free short story every week on her blog, I’ll post a free story on the first Monday of every month. At the end of the month, I’ll take the story down and post another.
October is the spooky month, so here’s a spooky story for you about teenagers on their way home from a festival coming across something terrible in the woods. It’s called “The Horror in the Westermark Woods” and may be found in the collection Roadside Horrors.
The Westermark Woods are a real place in my region, a popular hiking spot, and the towns, the Schützenfest, the Gessel gold hoard and the now defunct US military base on Hoher Berg are all real as well. As for the teenagers, though the characters are fictional, I’ve met those kids. I’ve been this kid. As for the horror… well, I’m still here, still alive and still go hiking in those woods.
So accompany Nils, Silke, Britta, Jens and Matthias, as they encounter…
The Horror in the Westermark Woods
Thanks for the drink, man. I really appreciate it. Prost!
Oh yes, the story. You want the story about the things in the Westermark woods? Well, buckle up then, cause this one’s going to be a doozy.
It was more than thirty years ago now. I had just turned eighteen and I had a driver’s licence and a car, a red Volkswagen Golf. And in rural Northwest Germany, a car and a driver’s licence meant freedom. It also made me really popular, the most popular guy in the village. People who hadn’t even looked twice at me before suddenly wanted to be my friends, just because I had a car.
It happened at the height of summer on the night of the Schützenfest, the local target shooting competition. Though a Schützenfest is much more than just a shooting competition. Sure, there is shooting, but there is also a parade and the crowning of the winners of the shooting competition as king and queen of the marksmen. And last but not least, there is a fairground with sausage stands and beer stalls, a party tent and even a carousel or two.
If you grew up on rural Northwest Germany, the Schützenfest was the biggest event of the year. Everybody went there, whether you were into target shooting or not. Even if, like me, you considered yourself a pacifist and couldn’t hit the side of a barn anyway.
So of course, I went to the Schützenfest that year. I hung out with my friends, having a good time, and we all danced the night away in the party tent, grooving to Madonna and Kylie Minogue, George Michael and the Pet Shop Boys.
It was already half past two, when we finally staggered home. Well, the others staggered. Not me. For I had a car and a driver’s license, so I was the designated driver and also the only one who was sober.
Two weeks before, a girl from a neighbouring village had gone missing. And the last anyone had seen of her was that she’d ridden her bike along the very same road we needed to take to get home.
Most likely, she’d just run away and would eventually turn up again. At least, that’s what the police said. Nonetheless, everybody was nervous and no one wanted to go home alone that night.
For we knew that the girl wasn’t the first to go missing in the area. There had been several cases, going back decades. A farmer milking his cows before dawn, a country doctor on the way to a late night emergency, a young couple making out in a cornfield, a few scattered soldiers, stragglers separated from their regiment, during the war. They all vanished, never to be seen again.
The people rarely talked about the ones who’d vanished, but they remembered. They remembered only too well. And so few of my friends were allowed to ride our bikes after dark. “It’s too dangerous,” our parents said, though they never told us just why being out and about after dark was so dangerous.
“If you’re somewhere and can’t get home, call me,” my Dad always said to me, “Even if it’s three in the morning, call me and I’ll come and get you.”
But I was officially an adult now and I had a car besides. Whatever had spooked my parents and half the people in the village didn’t faze me. It was all just stupid superstition anyway, like old Mrs. Holthusen, who wasn’t quite right in the head, babbling about the things in the woods and how they’d almost gotten her back in nineteen thirty-something.
So we all piled into my little Golf. My girlfriend Silke took the passenger seat, while Jens, Britta and Matthias squeezed onto the backseat.
Once everybody had buckled up, I gunned the engine, shoved a tape into the cassette deck and drove off. The first notes of “Time of My Life” filled the car and we all sang along. We’d all seen Dirty Dancing — Silke and Britta had even seen it five times, which is excessive, if you ask me — and we all knew the words by heart.
The drive home didn’t take long, not if you had a car. But we lived one village over, which meant that I had to drive along a winding country road, passing through fields of corn and a patch of woodland, the Westermark Woods.
I must have driven that road dozens, if not hundreds of times, on my bike, as a passenger in my parents’ car, during my driving lessons. But I’d never driven it this late at night. Even my Dad always avoided that road at night. “The woods are dangerous by night,” he said brusquely, whenever I asked him about that.
As soon as we left the festival ground behind, it got dark, pitch dark. This late at night, the street lights were off, as were the lights of the houses and shops along the road. The sky was overcast, so there was no moon or starlight either.
Once we left the town behind, it got even darker. All I could see was the little puddle of light cast by the headlights of the Golf. Everything else was dark, as if we were in a tiny boat adrift on a sea of darkness.
The speed limit here was one hundred kilometres per hour — fast and scary enough by daylight, at least for a new driver like me. But that night I drove much slower, so slow that Matthias hollered from the backseat, “Hey, Nils, can’t this bucket go any faster?”
“Yeah, if you want to land in a ditch or smash into a tree, sure,” I called back. Beside me, Silke rolled her eyes.
“I… hiccup… I think I’m going to be sick,” Britta slurred.
“Now?” I asked dismayed.
This story was available for free on this blog for one month only, but you can still read it in Roadside Horrors. And if you click on the First Monday Free Fiction tag, you can read this month’s free story.