This one, jeez. Sometimes you write stuff, and don’t really remember what prompts it. With this one, I’d written a story set in Whispering Pines (the haunted woods in my fictional universe, in central Massachusetts) already for the Reddit board No Sleep. I’d written one about aliens which had done well, and this one later, which barely anyone read.
To begin with, it’s an old black guy. I wanted to write as an old black guy. So I did. That’s probably the King influence again. I’ve always had an affinity for stories about old guys recounting sketchy things from their younger days.
Recently, I reread Ligotti’s “The Frolic,” and while the only similarity is a child killer, I feel that “Jumpin’ Jack” shares a similar tone, and feel, though it’s less cosmic horror, and more folk horror.
There is an episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention, “The Tale of Watcher’s Woods.” Had an impact on me as a child, and helped get the mythology of Whispering Pines going. Probably some Blair Witch in there, too.
They sat around the fire, and felt its untamed heat. Jim, all twenty-six years of him, was off to the side, and they faced him, ready to hear his tale. It was Halloween night, around nine o’ clock, and he’d promised them a ghost story. A local one.
A bit of ember exploded in the flames, and made a sound like a gunshot. The wind rustled through the trees in the backyard, and caressed their cheeks like a harsh lover.
On the stone tiles of the porch, circling the fire pit: Debbie, Jim’s girlfriend, twenty-five, Jim’s mother, Abi, none of your business, his father Sam, same sentiment, and his sister Edith, twenty-one, waited. The only sounds heard were those of the forest. Crickets, and off farther into the woods, an owl hooted. Nature’s witnesses.
“His name was David Arden, and he used to live on this street. He lived right across from this house, in point of fact. He was an unassuming man; not too loud, but not too quiet either. He was one of those people who blend in perfectly. One of those people you more often than not, forget you were even talking to.
His parents were normal. His father coached his baseball team when he was in middle school, and his mother Maria served on the PTA when he was in high school. There wasn’t any crazy discipline from them. They were responsible parents, and they never hit him, or yelled at him excessively. For the most part he did well in school, getting mostly b’s. David appeared to be completely normal. Unless you knew what he got up to at night.
He first began to wander the woods at night when he was twelve. One warm summer night, in 1984, the urge became overwhelming; so David put his shoes on, and grabbed a flashlight, making sure not to wake his parents. He was an only child, and often a lonely one. He wandered off into the woods behind his house for the first time that night. They connected to a bit of that conservation land, you know, Raft Pines. Except, we all call them Whispering Pines around here. The name isn’t important, but the rumors about the woods are. Rumors of strange happenings. David didn’t care about the rumors, he just liked to go for those night walks. To be alone with his thoughts I suppose, but then, the man died way before my time, so I couldn’t say his real motivations for sure. He was born in 1972.
He decided not to go to college, and opted instead to work at the local Laundromat. It was tedious work, but he made enough to afford a one-bedroom apartment in town, and moved out at eighteen. David made sure the apartment was within walking distance of Raft Pines.
When he turned twenty, in 1992, his parents packed up and moved to Florida. Which part, well, the man who told me this story never said, so I don’t know. What’s important is that when his parents left, without any family around to be with, David changed. An already reclusive man, when his folks left, he stopped talking to anyone. Stopped seeing anyone, save for the customers at the Laundromat.
In 1993, at the age of twenty-one, David left the laundry to work as a garbage man. From what I’ve heard he’d become rather strange. He left his apartment, and lived in Raft Pines. Just a tent, a sleeping bag, some blankets, and pots and pans were all he had to his name. When he wasn’t hauling other people’s trash into the back of a truck, he was in the Pines, as the locals like to say. I think that started from a folk song, and people from Chesterville just adopted it into their everyday vocabulary. In the pines, in the pines, where the sun don’t ever shine.
1993 was also when the first of the residents of Chesterville went missing. Old Mrs. Dormund was first to disappear, in April. Next came little Timmy Fredricks, a six year old boy, in May. Two more disappeared in June; a twenty year old girl, Danielle, and her boyfriend, Jim Vitelli, twenty-one.
By the time September rolled around, the citizens of Chesterville were damn scared. The police didn’t have any leads. The only thing they knew, was that all of the disappearances occurred within five miles of the Raft Pines conservation land, and its twenty mile expanse. Well, that’s the odd thing. No one has ever really gotten an accurate measurement of the area. You talk to some, they’ll tell you it’s a hundred miles, but that can’t be right. Chesterville is a small town, and doesn’t have one hundred miles for the whole town, let alone Raft Pines. So, the estimate is twenty miles.
One day in early October, a man who worked with David Arden, Tom Jester, thirty-five, went to the police station to report his co-worker had told him some odd things while they rode on the garbage truck. About how David said he had many new friends now, out in the woods with him. David explained how he’d always had lots of friends in the woods, but now he’d found a way to get more.
And so the story goes that Halloween night rolled around, All-Hallows-Eve, and five people went missing, all from the same street. This street, and this house contained two little girls, Wendy and Theresa Thurgood, both eleven, who disappeared as soon as the sun went down, and they left to go trick r’ treating. Three others, Bobby James, fifteen, from number 52, an old man, Thomas Winter, sixty-seven, from number 58, and a twenty-something who was house sitting for the Marshall’s in 59, Jenny Randal.
The police went into Whispering Pines, and they found the bodies, all stabbed to Hell. They followed a trail, of blood and viscera, and at the end of that trail they found Dave Arden, with blood on his hands, a bloody knife by his feet, and a lunatic’s smile on his face.
“So many more friends now,” he said, before Sherriff John Miller fired two rounds into his chest. BAM! (Jim stomped on the ground) BAM! (Jim stomped on the ground) and one final slug to David’s smiling face, BAM! (Jim stomped on the ground a final time.)
They buried David’s body, and his parents flew in from Florida for the funeral. They left as soon as they were finished being questioned by the police; they didn’t have much desire to stick around. And so the nightmare was over, and people figured that would be the end of the madness.
But they were wrong. People kept disappearing. More people than ever.
Two months later, a middle-aged couple hiking through Raft Pines went missing. The town of Chesterville assumed they’d gotten lost on their hike. Many people went missing hiking through Ol’ Whispering, as some of the older residents liked to call it. Still, some thought it strange to have another disappearance so soon after David Arden’s death. There was talk of one of them copy cat killers at work. But not many actually believed the talk. No, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas just got lost in the woods. It’d happened before, and it would happen again. A tragedy, but then, the local police told everyone not to go hiking after dark, and to make sure they had a cell phone on them at all times, and stuck to the paths.
Folks got more worried when in February, another boy, Freddy Lopez, fourteen, went missing, after he went out to go sledding down a hill half a mile from his house. A little more thought was put into the copycat killer notion. So, after the police searched for Freddy’s body, they searched for evidence of anyone living in the Pines. Not a trace could be found. Not so much as a footprint.
And so the years went by, and the people kept disappearing, always without any trace.
In 1994, a total of twelve, in 95, a total of ten, in 96 9. The numbers gradually went down as the years progressed. 5 in 97, 4 in 98, and only 3 in 99. By the time the year 2000 came, only one person went missing, a homeless man who’d drifted into Chesterville, from who knows where.
And then from 2001 until 2010, there were no disappearances at all. The police were thankful, as they’d called in the FBI, who left, unable to help the local police. People figured the terror was over, that they could stop locking their doors, and going into the house, as soon as the light died from the sky.
Only, starting in June of this year, the disappearances began again. Margaret Young, twenty-three, went missing, while out for a hike in the Pines. In September, a forty-something couple, the Lewis’, went missing from their backyard. A neighbor talked to them earlier in the afternoon, and confirms they were having one last bbq, as it was a hot day, and they weren’t sure how many more were left.
And that brings us to October. Five people have gone missing. Three of them from this street. It seems that history is repeating itself.
And some in our town have a theory. A wild theory, but a theory nonetheless. That David Arden’s soul doesn’t rest in the ground with his decomposed body. The first nations from this area talk about the Pines with reverence. They were the first to name them Whispering Pines. Because of all the whispers they heard among the trees; unexplained noises, as of footfalls, but when inspected, no tracks were to be found. No trace at all.
And so legend has it that David Arden’s does have his friends now. He has lots of them, to add to the spirits he talked with before he began his ruthless killing spree. Do you know, other than the bodies they found that Halloween night in 1993, they never found a single other body? Not one. Where did they go, I ask you? I guess we’ll never know.
You should be weary of being out after dark, if you live in Chesterville. Be cautious if you are near the Pines, where the sun never shines. Be afraid if you hear the crunch of dead leaves near you. For what you might assume to be some sort of animal; a coyote, a raccoon, or even a bear, might not be anything of the sort. It might be David Arden’s restless ghost, out to search for some new friends. And maybe on that day you’ll discover where the bodies go. Maybe on that night, you’ll discover what he gets up to with all his “friends.”
Out in the darkness, where his footfalls, and his friends, leave no trace, and the whispers come from everywhere, and nowhere.
Hold on, wait a second. I’m serious be quiet. Did you hear that? I thought I heard something rustling, among those trees over there. Maybe we should go back inside.
Where it’s safe.”