“What Happens When You Go Hiking” by Anonymous Author

Read the 4th place winning submission from our Scary Story Contest by Warrior Media!

Fourth+Place-+%22What+Happens+When+You+Go+Hiking%22+by+Anonymous+Author+%3A+Bekah+and+her+family+go+on+an+evening+hike.+Everything+seems+okay+until+her+family+begins+acting+strange...

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Fourth Place- “What Happens When You Go Hiking” by Anonymous Author : Bekah and her family go on an evening hike. Everything seems okay until her family begins acting strange…

Bekah slammed the door shut behind her as she jumped out of the car, breathing in the cool mountain air. Beyond where she stood in the parking lot, the forest was awash with orange and brown, and the breeze rustled the dying leaves. The trees cast long shadows in the fading light, partially hiding the trail leading away into the woods.

“Dad, you drive like you’re possessed!” Bekah glanced over at her dad, who was pulling backpacks out of the trunk of the minivan.

“I wasn’t the one who got us lost!” He said defensively, looking pointedly at Bekah’s mom.

Her mom shrugged. “This thing is useless.” She gestured with the upside-down map.

“Can we just go home now? This was supposed to be a day hike.” Tim, her younger brother, whined.

Bekah’s father squared his shoulders and shook his head. “The sun is starting to set, and we’re all tired. The best thing to do now is head to that town the park ranger mentioned. Hopefully, we can find a place to stay, or at least a better map.”

Bekah dragged her dirty blonde hair, a trait the whole family shared, into a ponytail. Then the teenager of the family grabbed the map from her mom, turning it right side up and studying it carefully. It showed a short walk through the forest, ending at a cluster of buildings.

“The town’s not too far. But how are we going to find it, especially at night?” She glanced nervously at the darkening woods. 

“I brought flashlights,” her dad said proudly. “So get on your jackets and gloves and let’s start down the trail.”

Bekah pulled on her red hoodie and a pair of gloves, then grabbed her pack. She was already shivering, but on the bright side, at least her feet were warm in her fleece-lined boots. While she waited for her parents, she watched the sun dip lower in the color-streaked sky. It was only a pinprick of light behind the distant mountains. Soon, it would disappear entirely.

Once the whole family was bundled up in their brightly colored coats and scarves, they proceeded to the start of the trail. It was marked only by a weathered wood post, stuck in the weeds and rocks. Beyond the marker, the forest began abruptly, the trees densely packed as soon as the parking lot ended. The wind howled, snatching at the family’s clothes and tugging at their hair. It made the few leaves still clinging to branches shiver, and scattered the piles already gathered along the trail.

 Despite the unrelenting breeze, the forest seemed… unnaturally still. No birds chirped in the trees, chased away by the freezing temperatures. There were none of the usual squirrels or rabbits, and even the insects had abandoned the woods. But Bekah was not about to complain about that. She accepted a flashlight from her dad and flashed it into the forest, lighting up the leaf-strewn trail. She followed her mom, dad, and Tim into the woods, trying to ignore the odd stillness ahead of them.

 

Minutes into their hike, Bekah couldn’t see farther than the beams of light provided by their flashlights, though even those seemed swallowed up by the darkness pressing in on all sides. She flicked her light up into the trees anxiously, the beam reflecting off the eyes of an owl above her, the only animal she’d spotted. It didn’t move, just stared down at her. She wasn’t quite sure if it was alive.

“Aren’t forests supposed to have noises? Like, crickets or something?” Bekah asked softly, feeling the need to whisper in the quiet around them, interrupted only by Tim stomping along behind her. 

“Maybe the crickets got too cold,” her mom suggested, pulling her scarf so tight Bekah was afraid she might accidentally strangle herself. “I know I’m cold. Are we there yet?”

“Obviously not,” Bekah rolled her eyes. “Tim, would you stop stomping like that? It’s so annoying!”

“It’s the only thing keeping my feet from freezing into boot-shaped chunks of ice!” Tim stomped louder and kicked a few rocks off the trail. 

“I think my ears are bleeding,” Bekah groaned.

“That’s just the cold wind, okay?” Her dad interrupted sternly.  “Let your brother scare off any bears.” 

Bekah just sighed and returned her attention to the forest. It was late fall, and the ground was littered with piles of dead leaves, which appeared varying shades of grey and brown in the low light. Bare branches reached for the sky like skeletal fingers, visible when she shined her flashlight upward. The whole forest was lifeless, from the dry grass along the trail to the broken branches scattered through the trees. The woods seemed off somehow, to Bekah. 

As she studied the forest, Bekah noticed something else was wrong. She wasn’t sure how to explain it, but she had a feeling that things had changed for the worse. She slowly realized what it was: the forest had gotten quieter. Extremely quiet. Only the sound of three pairs of boots tromping down the trail, and the low rustle of the wind.

Bekah spun around, swinging her flashlight frantically behind her, where Tim had been walking only moments before. At least she thought it had only been a moment? She couldn’t quite recall when she’d stopped hearing his stomping footsteps. 

“Mom, Dad? Where’s Tim? He was just behind me, I swear!” Bekah hurried to catch up to where her parents were stopped ahead of her on the trail.

“Mom? Dad?” She repeated, a little nervous when they didn’t respond.

Bekah shook her mom’s arm, trying to get her attention. Her parents stared ahead blankly, eyes wide and empty, arms hanging limply at their sides. Bekah shone her flashlight in their eyes, but they remained unblinking, their silence matching the forest around them.

“Not funny guys. What’s going on?” 

Bekah waved a hand in front of their faces, which seemed to help at first. Her parents seemed to come out of a trance, shaking themselves awake. But then they tilted their heads to the side as they studied Bekah in perfect synchrony. Then they moved as one, lunging forward. Bekah dodged their arms, stepping back off the trail, into the forest. 

“Really not funny! Tim, are you recording this? Guys-” She cut off with a yell, as her mom grabbed her wrist.

“Let go!” Bekah screamed, yanking desperately at her mom’s arm.

She twisted her wrist sharply, pulling free of her mom’s iron grip. Bekah stumbled away, heart racing in her chest. Her parents followed, closing in on her, staring at her like she was a complete stranger. Panicked, Bekah decided to run for the safety of the town. She turned and raced down the trail. 

 

Bekah didn’t dare stop running until her lungs felt like they would give out. As she slowed, she swung the flashlight around, searching for any hint of movement in the trees. She tried to remember the map, but her mind was jumbled with panic and her breaths felt fast and frantic. 

“Please, please, please…” she mumbled, twisting in a circle, searching for a sign of civilization in any direction.

In the distance, the faint glow of lights caught her eye, and she halted. Then Bekah heard the rumble of a car engine, which was enough to get her running again, faster, until she at last stumbled out of the woods. She emerged onto a dirt road, which lead to a small collection of buildings hardly big enough to be called a town. She let out a shaky breath as she stepped towards them. 

Bekah squinted as her eyes adjusted to the lights coming from storefronts and streetlights. At this time of night, the windows of the weathered houses were mostly dark, but some places were still open. She walked towards the closest: an old gas station, with a lone gas pump out front. Bekah pushed open the door, wincing when it squeaked loudly on ancient hinges. The dim fluorescent lighting inside revealed rows of candy and chips, apparently sold at every gas station, even the ones in the middle of creepy forests. 

“Hey there! Can I help ya?” Behind the counter, an old man stood wearing a plaid jacket, organizing the stacks of gum on display. 

“Yes!” Bekah gave him a relieved smile, happy to see someone acting normal.

“Name’s George. Haven’t seen you ‘round. Must be a hiker,” the man returned her smile, the wrinkles around his eyes creasing. 

“Yep,” she confirmed. “But… the hike didn’t go as planned…” 

“Ya shouldn’t be hiking out there alone,” George warned. “Those woods are dangerous, ‘specially at night.”

“Do you know what’s out there? Um… I think I saw something weird.” Bekah fidgeted nervously, then lowered her voice. “I think something happened to my family.”

The old man squinted suspiciously at her, leaning over the counter. “Are ya sure? Did they just have a bad day or somethin’?” 

“No!” Bekah insisted. “I don’t know what it was! It- it was like they were…possessed or something. Or maybe I’m going crazy.”

“You’re not.” George sighed. “Now, ya might think I’m crazy, tellin’ ya this, but a witch lives in those woods.”

Bekah stared at him open-mouthed for a moment. A day ago, even an hour ago, she hadn’t believed in witches. Or haunted forests. But after what she’d just seen, she was a little more open-minded.

“I believe you. But… what do I do now?” Her voice trembled. “My parents got possessed! And I bet my brother did too!” 

“Well, they’re not possessed, really. Ya came to the right place! My grandma once escaped from that witch. She was hypnotized with a spell and walked to the witch’s cabin, where she was forced to drink a magic potion that was supposed to put her under the witch‘s spell forever.”

Bekah’s eyes widened in fear. “She can do that?”

“Yes, but don’t ya worry!” George reached under the counter to pull out a small bottle. “Grandma was safe because she drank a potion of her own. It’s a secret family recipe now, and it’s kept this town secure.”

“So… if my family drinks it, they’ll be back to normal?” Bekah asked hopefully.

George shrugged. “It hasn’t been tested… but it should do the trick.”

“Can I have it? I’ll go find my family and give it to them!”

“Alright, but it’ll be dangerous. You drink some too, so you’ll be safe from the witch.” He slid the small bottle across the counter. “And since I’ve had some, I’ll be fine too. You’ll need some help out there.” 

“Are you sure? There’s a lot that could go wrong,” Bekah said, accepting the bottle. 

“Of course there is! But you’re never too old to help out.” He pulled on a knit cap over his grey hair and grabbed a flashlight from the cabinet behind him.

Bekah carefully unscrewed the lid of the potion and had a sip. It tasted a little like soda, to her surprise. 

“I thought potions were supposed to taste bad,” she said. 

George laughed. “Alright, let’s get goin’. The faster we get there, the better.”

 

The forest was as dark and silent as before, the air just as chilly. But as they walked through the woods, flashlights on, Bekah felt her confidence grow. She could do this, get her family back home safe. But she wanted a solid plan, just to be sure.

“Okay, what should we do when we get there?” Bekah asked George. “After all, you know more about this whole witch thing that I do.”

He glanced over at her. “I say ya distract the witch when we go in. Ya seem like you would be good at that.  Then I find your family and give them the potion. I bet they’ll be inside.”

“Sure,” she agreed. “Maybe the witch would like someone to talk to if she puts all the people she meets under a spell.” 

George looked doubtful. “If ya say so.” 

 

The cabin looked a bit too ordinary for a witch, in Bekah’s opinion. Smoke rose from the chimney, and the path leading to the house was tidy, lacking the weeds that grew elsewhere in the forest. The warm light spilling from the windows made their flashlights unnecessary as they approached the porch cautiously. Bekah went up the stairs first, cringing at the groan of the wood under her feet. 

She hesitated at the door, her heart pounding frantically once again. The porch swing creaked as the wind howled through the trees, and Bekah decided to knock, just to get out of the cold. She raised her gloved fist and rapped gingerly on the door. Then a bit louder, when no one responded. 

Bekah quickly dropped her hand as the door swung open, revealing an old lady with greying hair, pulled back from her wrinkled face in a bun. She didn’t look much like a witch to Bekah, especially wrapped up in a cozy knit shawl.

“Oh, come in, come in!” The old woman invited them in with a smile. “I have a warm fire, and would love some new company!” 

“Told you she was lonely,” Bekah murmured over her shoulder to George as she entered the house. 

 

The large room was inviting and warm, in contrast with the howling wind outside, which cut off as the door shut. A warm fire flickered in the fireplace, and big armchairs crowded around it. The old lady set down a half-knitted project on the table before turning to them.

“Make yourselves comfortable,” she said. “I’ll go grab some hot chocolate from the kitchen to warm you up!” 

Bekah watched her leave the room, before quickly handing George the potion bottle. “Hurry! Go down those stairs and look for my family. I’ll stall her!” 

George nodded, watching her silently for a moment, and then disappeared down the wooden steps. Not a moment later, the old lady returned to the room, carrying a tray with mugs on it.

“Oh! Thanks!” Bekah took a mug and sat down opposite from the old lady, who frowned.

“Where’d your friend go?” She asked. 

“Umm… the bathroom!” Bekah blurted, changing the conversation as fast as possible. “So… why are you living out here all by yourself?” 

The witch laughed. “I’m not alone, dear! Why don’t you try the hot chocolate? It’s my special recipe!” 

Bekah raised an eyebrow at the witch, guessing it was probably the potion George had mentioned, the one to put her under the witch’s spell. Luckily for Bekah, she’d had some of her own potion earlier. So she just shrugged and took a sip from the mug, hopefully giving George more time. The drink was warm but didn’t really taste like hot chocolate. She tried to keep from making a face at the bitter flavor, not wanting to hurt the witch’s feelings. 

“Hmm… It’s definitely a different taste,” she said politely.

“Potions aren’t supposed to taste good, dear!” The witch chuckled triumphantly.

“That’s what I told George!” Bekah agreed, setting down the mug, wondering if he’d found her family yet. 

“Well, he already knows that,” the witch rolled her eyes.

Bekah froze, panic spreading through her. “Wait, you know George?” 

“Of course! He usually brings hikers! It’s why I leave the town alone!” The witch gave her a sinister grin. “How are you feeling, now? Ready to join your family?”

The old lady snapped her fingers, and Bekah’s parents shuffled into the room, followed by Tim, but she was frozen to her chair in fear. Then more people appeared: a young girl with a yellow backpack, a biker still wearing his helmet, a woman wearing a park ranger’s uniform. Lots of different people filled the room, crowding the space. Though they were each unique, they were all clearly connected. They moved as one, and stared unblinkingly at the same point in the distance, eyes wide and unfocused. 

“Mom! Dad! Tim!” Bekah, with a sudden burst of energy, shot out of her chair, reaching for her family.

She hardly made it a step, stumbling over her feet, which had become extremely heavy. The room tipped sideways and she felt the eyes of everyone gathered focus on her, waiting. She noticed George in one corner, but he alone wouldn’t meet her stare. 

“No…” she whispered desperately, feeling her knees hit the floor, but her body felt miles away. The last thing Bekah saw was the witch’s gentle smile before the world went dark.