Yet another day of doing absolutely nothing, thought Austin to himself. Even though he was more than used to his boring summers, he couldn’t help but wish he could go somewhere else in the world. All of his friends went to other states or on cruises for their summers, but he was always left behind because both of his parents worked year-round.
They didn’t seem to see a point in taking vacations, apparently. Every year, he had to spend summer with his weird aunt, Eloise. She was his mother’s sister, and everyone in their family called her an eccentric.
Regardless, she was the only one of their family members who lived close enough to babysit Austin. He was only 14 years old, so his parents didn’t feel ready to leave him to his own devices.
But Austin had to admit that, even though he hated his small country bumpkin town, and he hated that his parents felt he needed someone to watch him, he loved spending time with Eloise. She always told him some of the best stories. Ever. There was never a dull moment with that woman.
As a matter of fact, Austin was, at that very moment, getting ready to go to her house. His father was getting ready for another 9 to 5, and his mother had already left. Austin himself was in the kitchen, eating a bowl of instant oatmeal and just staring out the double doors that led to his back yard. He had always thought it was weird that his yard was open, only bordered by a large wooded area. That area was shared amongst 4 or 5 other properties, stretching far into the distance. It was just miles of trees.
He had always wondered why his parents never built a fence around their property, but he had never really felt the need to ask. Either way, Austin just stared into the distance, not really looking at anything in particular.
As he stared and ate in silence, something, a slight movement just out of his line of vision, cause him to stop mid-bite. Slowly, he lowered his spoon and looked in the direction of the movement. At first he didn’t see anything, but just as he was about to go back to eating, he saw it.
Or rather, he saw him. There, just beyond the first line of trees, Austin could see a strange-looking man. The man was just… standing there. Austin scrambled out of his seat, his throat seeming to close. He was unable to make a sound for the longest time.
As he smashed himself against the far wall, he was finally able to expel a shrill scream, one loud enough to alert the whole town. He heard his father yell, but it was muffled in his ears. Austin watched in horror as the man in the woods looked directly in his direction and then scrambled deeper into the trees.
Austin had gone pale. There was something severely wrong with that man, but the young boy couldn’t really put his finger on what it was. Time seemed to have slowed because it felt like forever before his father actually made it to the kitchen. He was frantic.
“Austin what happened? Are you okay? Why are you screaming?” He yelled, scared.
Austin could only stammer about the “man in the woods”. He wasn’t sure why he was so scared, as the man hadn’t seemed particularly threatening (aside from him being on their property of course). He had seemed almost… confused?
“Austin, I need you to calm down and tell me what happened. Why did you scream? What was it?” His dad sounded more worried now. “Austin, I don’t know what happened, but I need to. You are gonna have to snap out of it and talk to me, please!”
Austin took a deep breath, his voice still unsteady, “I don’t know what I saw. It looked like a man out there, but it all happened so fast. I didn’t get a good look at him. He was dressed kind of funny…” Some details were coming to Austin now. “The man was wearing white sweats. Like, fresh-snow white. They looked brand new. And he was bald I think. I didn’t see any hair.”
Austin’s dad was already dialing the police. Everything after that seemed to drag on forever. The cops came by to see if the man was still in the area, and they took a statement from Austin. There wasn’t much else they could do, so after a while, Austin had ended up with Eloise.
As soon as he got there, he told her what had happened, and while he did so, she was dancing serenely on his front lawn. She only stopped when he described the man, specifically when he told her that there had been something weird about the man’s face. Her face snapped from its serene trance-like state to a stony, serious one.
“What do you mean he had a weird face? What was wrong with it?”
“Umm… I’m not really sure. He was so far away, so I didn’t get a good enough look. But I do know there was something weird about it.
Puzzled, Eloise walked into her house. When she returned, the had a thick, tattered looking book in her hand. She was thumbing through it quickly, and Austin just stared at her. He was used to her ending conversations to look at weird things all the time, so he was just waiting to see where she would steer the conversation now.
Once she found what she was looking for, she wordlessly flipped the book over to show Austin. He merely glanced at it before looking back at her face. Her eyes burned into him, as if she was telling him to look closely at it.
What she held in front of him was a detailed sketch of a grotesque looking humanoid. It was shaped like a human, and it wore the same white sweats as the man from this morning. But all Austin could look at was the humanoid’s face.
Its face looked emaciated and thin, almost as if they had never had a good meal their entire life. It’s eyes were overly large and colored a really dark color. Where its irises should have been, there were just solid black pools of darkness. But what really stood out was that the humanoid lacked a mouth and a nose. It was just a shapeless, pale blob of a head with dark eyes. Austin’s eyes wandered over the rest of the… thing’s… body, and he saw that its hands were elongated and menacing. The fingers were too long, and as thin as a spider’s legs. The hands looked almost skeletal.
Austin looked up at Eloise questioningly, wondering what she was showing him.
“Austin, does this look like what you saw earlier today? Did the man look anything like this?” Eloise didn’t even seem like herself anymore. This was a completely different person.
“I mean… I guess he might have looked like this. But I can’t really be sure. The sweats are the same, but he was too far away to make out any specific features…”
“Austin, sit down. I need to tell you about this picture. I know that you and everyone else think that I am a weird person, but this,” she gestured towards the sketch, “this is one of the main reasons that I live the way that I do. I used to be just like your mother when I was younger, except I stayed here in this town while she got out and traveled while she was in college. I spent my time as an adult exploring every inch of this small town. And I don’t just mean the parts that everyone knows about.
“Back then, I would travel the back roads and abandoned properties with the love of my life, Ryan.”
Austin was taken aback. He had never heard of Ryan before today. He didn’t think that Eloise was capable of romantic relationships.
“Yes, I know you’ve never heard of him, but there’s a reason for that. One day, Ryan and I found this old, dirt road that goes out past that small cemetery on Rosehill Road. It looked like a driveway, and it had been hidden poorly with old, dead branches. Well, we drove out on that road one evening. What we saw out there scared us so badly, and we sped all the way back to his house that night.”
“Wait, what did you see, Aunt El?”
“We swore that we would never talk about what we saw. Especially after…” Eloise’s voice broke slightly. It took her a moment to regain her composure. “A few days later, Ryan went missing. I was out of town visiting your mom, trying to forget about what we saw out there… and when I got back, he was gone. I thought I would never see him again… until…” Again she gestured at the sketch.
“Austin, I decided to drive back out there, to that place… it took me months before I could work up the courage to do it… but when I reached the path hidden by those tree branches… Austin I never even got out of the car. I looked into the branches and leaves and I saw that. I saw that thing in my sketch. I saw its eyes looking at me, I saw its fingers, its misshapen body… it looked so grotesquely inhuman… but I knew it was him. I knew it was my Ryan. I knew he was telling me to go away…” Now she was bawling. Between heaving sobs, Austin made out, “I… never… saw him… again!”