–By J.J. Cheesman
When I was in my teens, my friend Robert and I would often visit Forest Glen National Park, it’s a National Forest Preserve that’s located just about fifteen miles from my home town. It offers camping, fishing, and most importantly for our purposes back then, many winding trails to hike on. Robert and I didn’t have a whole lot to do back in the day, so Forest Glen is where we would go to spend a lot of our time. Both of us enjoyed the outdoors and we would go hiking on one of the many trails nearly every day, sometimes we’d do two or three depending on our mood. It wasn’t long, of course, before we knew them all by heart and we both had our favorites. That didn’t matter though, we would still go on any of them on any given day.
Eventually, time went on and Robert and I grew up. Robert and I are still good friends, but we hadn’t been out to Forest Glen in a long time. It was recently that I had been reminiscing about those old trails, and I decided that I wanted to go back out there and visit some of my favorite spots. So two weeks ago I called Robert, and asked if he wanted to go back out there with me that weekend and to my surprise, he was overjoyed at my proposal. He said he’d been thinking about going out there himself, but just hadn’t gotten around to it. So it was decided, on Saturday morning we would head out to Forest Glen and meet up at one of Robert’s favorite trails.
I made it out to Forest Glen about ten after six in the morning. When I drove out to the preserve, I parked my car in the spot closest to the trail but I didn’t see Robert’s car. There’s more than one entrance into the park, so I thought that Robert hadn’t arrived yet, or he was parked at one of the spots that was near one of the other entrances. I thought I might call him, but when I looked at my phone I saw that I only had one bar, and figured that it wouldn’t go through. I should have known the reception would be bad out there. Stashing the phone in the glove box, I got out and made my way to entrance of path.
I started to do some stretches in front of the entrance while I waited for Robert to arrive. After waiting for what felt like about ten minutes, I began to wonder if Robert was going to show up late. When we made the plans to meet up, we agreed on 6:30 A.M. I thought about jogging back to my car to grab my phone and call him after all, but I decided to instead venture into the trail a little way and then return after a moment to see if he had shown up.
I started my walk at a brisk pace into the forest, the clear patch of the trail’s entrance quickly gave way to a narrow cleared path, surrounded on both sides by a thick growth of brush and tall trees. The trail seemed a bit more overgrown than I remembered, but I supposed that was a good thing, it meant that the preserve was thriving. I did notice, however, that it was strangely quiet. That isn’t to say I there was NO sound at all, I could hear the occasional caw of a bird and the rustling of leaves, but the sounds seemed somehow muted. It was if the entire area had its volume button turned way down low.
About three minutes into my stroll, I stopped just before a small stream. The path stretched out a few hundred feet beyond the stream and looked like it forked off in two different directions as far as I could tell. This is when I decided to turn back and wait for Robert at the entrance, I never knew this trail like Robert used to, and for the life of me I couldn’t remember how far it went. Before I turned to leave I knelt down to tie my sneaker. When I finished, I stood up and had to stifle a scream.
Robert was standing right in front of me, grinning like an idiot, and when he saw the look on my face he howled with laughter. My face went hot and I gritted my teeth.
“What the hell man!?” I yelled, “You nearly gave me a freakin’ heart attack”
Robert had to stifle his laughter to be able to reply,
“Sorry bud, I couldn’t help myself, I was up farther when I decided to turn back and wait for you, when I saw you kneeling here I just couldn’t resist.”
I couldn’t help but smile after that, and the red hot feeling in my face start to drain away.
“It’s okay, but you did scare the living hell out of me, I didn’t even hear you.”
Robert said nothing, he only smiled a wide toothy grin. I gestured down toward the part of the trail Robert came from.
“I was wondering if you had gotten here yet, you can lead.”
Robert nodded in reply before he turned around and bounded over the stream that divided the trail. When his feet hit the other side of the small bank he just kept on running
“Hey, wait up!” I called after him. He acted as if he didn’t hear me, and carried on deeper into the wood. I really wasn’t prepared to jog yet, I wanted to walk a little more first and stretch out my legs. However, it seemed I didn’t have a choice, and I bounded after Robert, hopping over the stream and pushing myself to catch up with him. Robert was jogging at an even pace, but not a quick one, and soon I was just behind him.
“Can you wait just a second?” I asked.
“Why, what are you afraid of?” He asked, turning to me with a wide toothy-grin that seemed to have not left his face. That question caught me off guard. What did he mean by that?
“Nothing, just need to stretch a little more before I pull something is all.” Robert didn’t stop or slow down, he just kept on smiling as he turned his head back around to face forward.
“You’ll be fine, there’s a nice place to rest just after the fork in the trail.”
We kept on jogging until we hit the fork, and I followed just behind Robert every step of the way as we veered off onto the right path. Shortly after the fork, the trees of the forest grew denser and numerous, their leaves blotting out light from the sky above. Even the path itself started to become more overgrown, as weeds and brush seemed to reach out toward the center of the path attempting to catch what sunlight they could. Where before it seemed that the sounds of the forest were on low volume, here they seemed to be on mute as not even a buzzing of an insect could be heard. Though I could attribute the muted sounds of the forest to not being able to hear them over my heavy breath and stomping feet, the dense growth could not be ignored.
“This trail doesn’t seem very well maintained… are you sure you know where you’re going?” I asked Robert, still keeping close pace behind him, though my right leg was starting to burn. Robert didn’t answer, but ignored me instead without slowing down. I stopped and knelt to rub my leg. I looked up to see Robert stop and turn around to walk back to where I was kneeling.
“Sorry man, I told you though, I needed to stretch more, I think I already hurt myself.”
Robert just smiled as he leaned on a tree next to me.
“Sorry, I thought you’d be able to make it, we’re not far from a really cool spot. I just got excited to be out here with you again.”
At Roberts words I couldn’t help but laugh and return a beaming grin back to him. I had no idea he missed being out here so much. On top of that, it had been a couple weeks since we had done anything together, so maybe Robert also just missed hanging out. I couldn’t blame him, I did too, but growing up gets in the way.
“Don’t sweat it”, I said, “I really missed this too, what’s the really cool spot you wanted to show me?”
Robert’s grin seemed to somehow get even bigger.
“Okay, do you remember that wooden bridge we found one of the last times we were out here? It has that really deep stream running under it.”
The memory came back to me in a rush, it was vague, but I DID remember finding a bridge the last time we came out here, I had completely forgotten which trail we found it on though. I remember the water under that bridge was so clear you could easily see the fish swimming about within it.
“It’s on this path?!” I asked excitedly.
“It sure is, and I can’t wait to take you there, I’ve been down there already, it is absolutely beautiful.” Robert said.
I stood up quickly, and brushed some dirt off my knee.
“Well, let’s go!” I exclaimed, walking forward on the trail.
“Okay, but we can walk, I don’t want you to hurt yourself.” Robert said.
I was going to tell him I would be fine if we jogged again, but I thought better of it. Though the excitement that came with the prospect of seeing that bridge again abated some of the pain in my sore leg, it was still there. So we walked on, talking about the memories of being out here on the trails as we walked side by side. Robert was recounting things I hardly remembered. He said he remembered a time when I scraped up my knees really bad after a nasty fall on one of the trails, but I only vaguely recalled that. For the most part, though I could recall every memory Robert had and I realized how much time we REALLY had spent out there. We spent nearly all our time out here as teenagers, staying in shape to try to impress the girls in school.
We had been walking for nearly five minutes, when Robert said,
“Hey, do you remember when you fell down that slope and hit the bottom? I thought you died!” Robert belted out a loud booming laugh. I stopped walking, because something about what he said about when I hurt my knees didn’t make sense. I remembered falling down that slope like it was yesterday, it was terrifying.
“Robert, you fell down that slope too, remember?” Robert, who hadn’t stopped walking until then, froze just ahead of me. He turned slowly, to me and slapped a hand to his forehead.
“Oh duh, yeah, well I didn’t fall as hard as you.” Robert laughed again dropping his head and gesturing back down the trail.
“Come on, we’re almost there.”
I began to breathe heavily, and I took a step back. Something was wrong, I didn’t know what it was, but I had to get out of those woods and away from Robert. I had to get away because a memory had finally resurfaced to the shore of my recollection. A memory of me falling, and scraping my knees. Robert’s grin for the first time since he snuck up on me, faded from his face.
“What’s wrong bud?” He asked, a little shaky.
“I need to go back.” I said, a little shaky myself. Robert took a step toward me and a look of concern spread on his face.
“Come on man, we’re so close, why do you want to leave?” He pleaded.
“Because you were home sick the day I scraped my knees.”
Robert’s eyes widened in realization as I turned tail, and began sprinting in the other direction as fast as my legs would carry me. Green leaves and brown bark flashed by in my peripheral vision as a blur, the sound of wind swished around in my ear lobes as I ran. I couldn’t hear footsteps behind me, and I was thankful for that. My right leg throbbed and begged for me to stop, but I wouldn’t, fear is one hell of a motivator and it pushed me passed the fork in the path and over the small stream that divided the trail. I never looked back to see if Robert; or whatever wore Robert’s skin, was following me, not even once. I kept my eyes on the path in front of me and focused on not tripping over anything the whole way back out of the trail.
I didn’t stop running till I got into my car. Once inside I grabbed the keys that I’d left sitting in the passenger seat and quickly turned them in the ignition. I paid no attention to the speed limit as I raced all the way home. Once at my house, I grabbed my phone out of the glove box and ran into the house, latched the dead bolt behind me. I turned my phone off when I stored it in my car at the preserve, so once I got inside I turned it on and sat on my couch while I waited for it to boot up. My plan was to call Robert immediately, but when the display on the screen flicked on I saw I had a text message from Robert. I opened it, but I was shaking so bad from the adrenaline it was a little hard to read.
‘Hey man, so it looks like we can’t go out to Forest Glen. I was talking to my neighbor this morning and he said they closed it down. He told me at least four hikers have been found dead by drowning out there. I hope this gets to you before you leave, maybe we can just catch a movie or something?’
When I read the last word of the text message, there was a loud knock at my door. I jumped, and stood from my spot on the couch. The knock came again, even louder, and I crept over to the door as quietly as I could look through the peep hole. It was Robert. Robert stood on my front stoop with a wide toothy grin. I saw him raise up his hand to knock once more, and as the sound thundered from the wood of the door I backed away.
On my phone, I searched my contacts for Robert’s name and dialed. After two rings, Robert picked up.
“Hey man, what’s up?” Robert asked.
“Robert, where are you right now?” I asked.
“Well, I’m at the store right now, do you want….” His voice cut out as I hung up, and immediately began dialing the police. I explained to the dispatcher that there was an intruder trying to break into my house and I did not feel safe. The woman on the other end told me to remain calm, and she would be sending help to my address. When I hung up with 911, I went to the door once again to look through the peep hole. The Robert imposter was gone.
When the police arrived, I just told them someone tried to break into my house and I came home to find them messing around with my door before they ran off. I didn’t know what else to say. They said they would file a report and send a squad car by every couple of hours that day to make sure everything was fine. That was two weeks ago.
Ever since that day, late at night, that ‘thing’ comes back and knocks on my door. In a warped mockery of Robert’s voice, it calls to me.
“Let me in” It wails, “Let me in, I am just so lonely, come be with me.”
The first time, I obviously called the police, and the time after that. The third time, they stopped coming. That creature is always gone when they get here, but he always comes back. He’s back tonight, and I can hear him as I sit on my couch with a bottle of brandy and a tight grip on the large butcher knife I own.
“Oh please, let me in!” It pleads in a gargled wail that sounds nothing like Robert anymore. “I need more friends.”
I don’t know what the hell is in Forest Glen National Park, but it followed me home.