There was a man who lived in the forest. His dwelling was a tiny hut, comprised of old wood and a straw roof. He was an eccentric being, but he didn’t mind it. He lived in comfort and solitude, with few worldly possessions, but he liked it this way.
Every night, he would emerge from his hut as soon as twilight fell beneath the horizon. He would prowl among the trees, searching, searching, searching. Always searching.
No one knew what it was he had to find; only he did.
During the early years of his existence, he was alone, always alone. Not a soul ventured into his forest; not a soul came near his hut. During these years, he did not ever leave his home, for there was nothing for him to do. But one day, many years ago, an unsuspecting little girl stumbled into his woods, and from that day forth he began searching. For what, we still do not know.
It had been fifty years since someone had last seen the man, so the whispers had died down. Only the old remembered the stories about him; only a select few could recall the terrible acts he committed. Long ago, they had learned to stop speaking these words. The consequences, they knew, were not to be desired; after all, who wished to spend the rest of their days with their lips and eyelids stitched shut?
It was midwinter when a boy of twelve ran into a forest during a game of hide and seek.
“Billy!” called the boy’s friends. “Come out, come out, wherever you are!”
Billy ran deeper into the trees, determined to win this silly game. Unfortunately, he ran too far, and couldn’t tell which path would lead him back home.
The boy wandered, getting more and more lost as he did so. Finally, night fell, and he slumped against a tree in defeat.
No matter, Billy thought, trying to keep his panic at bay. I will find my way out tomorrow.
Billy huddled tightly in his jacket, trying to conserve body heat as best as he could in the freezing weather. Eventually his extremities froze, and he knew there was no choice but to walk around and keep his blood flowing.
Not an hour had passed since nightfall when he heard the footsteps, the rhythmic heavy crunches on the packed snow. Billy paused, waiting. The footsteps steadily continued, moving toward him.
Hide, Billy’s instincts told him. So he ran.
He halted when he came upon a moldy old hut. It was hardly taller than he, but there was smoke rising from the chimney and a soft flickering glow from within.
The scene warned of danger, but Billy didn’t listen. He crept toward the hut, enticed by the prospect of warmth and shelter. He opened the door and, finding the single room within void of predators, entered.
With a sigh of relief, he sank down in front of the fire, holding out his hands to warm them. Dully, he noted how empty the small space was; aside from the fireplace, there was not a single decoration nor piece of furniture. Nothing here gave the impression that the hut was lived in…yet there was a fire burning.
Billy was nearly asleep when the door creaked open. Startled, he whirled to face the intruder and found the single most horrific sight he had ever beheld.
The man had tangled locks of pitch black hair that hung to his waist; he could see bugs wriggling throughout the strands. The man’s teeth were yellowed and cracked, his gums purple and swollen. His clothes were in tatters and too small, even for his thin body. His bare feet were bony and red, the toenails stained a dirty yellow and coated with dirt and grime.
But it was his fathomless eyes, black as the darkest night, which informed Billy what stood before him was not human. After all, humans had whites within their eyes.
“I see you’ve found my hut, Billy,” said the man in a deep, gravelly voice. Inhuman.
“How do you know my name?” gasped the boy.
“As if invading my forest weren’t enough,” the man continued, “you had to invade my home as well.”
“I’ll leave,” Billy squeaked, “and I won’t ever come back. I won’t even – tell anyone what I’ve seen.”
“Do you know what I do to those who enter my forest, Billy?”
The boy shook his head, eyes wide with fear.
“I stitch their lips and eyes closed, so they will never speak or hear again.” A malicious grin stretched across his gaunt face. “And do you know what I do to those who enter my hut?”
Another shake of the young boy’s head, followed by warmth spreading through his pants.
A scream split the night, shaking the needles from the pine trees standing over the wooden home.
Billy’s parents searched tirelessly for their son, but gave up after a fruitless eight months. Finally, on the one year anniversary of his disappearance, a box appeared on their front step.
Inside was a boy of twelve, whose brain had been eaten by worms, his lips and eyelids crudely stitched shut. Stay out of my forest and away from my hut was etched into his belly.