Fictober, Prompt 27 – “Can you wait for me?”
Warnings: monster, implied violent death, brief mention of blood. North woods horror.
I sighed as Matt threw his plate into the trash bag and started for the lake shore.
“Can you wait for me? We can go together if you just give me a minute to pack everything away,” I called after him.
“It’ll be dark soon, though!” he protested, turning to face me but still walking backwards towards the kayaks. “I want to watch the fish some more.”
“All right,” I told him, sighing again. “Just don’t go too far until I get there, okay?”
“Okay!” he agreed, off again immediately.
As I turned back to dinner clean-up, I realized that his life jacket was still sitting next to mine on the spare picnic table.
“Matt!” I called, “come get your li—”
He wasn’t there. The kayaks sat where they had been since we’d come back earlier in the afternoon, untouched.
“Matt?” I called again, uneasy. “Come back and grab your life jacket before you go.”
Unease growing, I put down the pot and started after him. He’d probably just gone into the woods to chase after some interesting plant he’d caught sight of, but usually he yelled for me when he found something exciting.
As I crossed the campsite, peering into the woods on either side, there was no sign of him. There had been no sound either, of someone moving through the leaves and underbrush. I increased my pace, hurrying all the way down to the lake shore, but he wasn’t there either. The kayaks were untouched, the paddles next to them.
Really worried now, I turned back. “MA—!”
He was standing behind me, watching me.
“Oh, Matt,” I said, heart pounding with surprise and relief. “Don’t do that to me! You’ve only got one aunt, you have to cut me some slack.”
He paused, but then smiled a little. “Okay. Sorry.”
“Not a big deal, buddy, just cut out the jump scares. You wanted to go look at the fish, right?” He paused again, then nodded. He was standing stiffly, I noticed.
“You’re okay, right? Didn’t trip on something in the woods?”
“Okay,” I told him. “Look, it’s fine if you’ve changed your mind about going back out on the lake. I can’t leave the dinner stuff sitting around, but once that’s cleaned up we can figure out what we’re going to do the rest of the evening.”
He nodded again in agreement, and followed me back toward the fire. He sat and watched as I put food away and scrubbed our few dishes, tying up the trash and raising everything up so the local wildlife couldn’t help themselves. Normally, I’d have ribbed him until he helped, but he was being unusually quiet, and I was worried that something was wrong. I could cut him a little slack for one meal; he would just have to do all the breakfast cleanup tomorrow.
When I was done, I sat across from him and we just stared at each other in silence for a long moment. His gaze was unusually intense, and something about it creeped me out. I shook the feeling off. Sometimes Matt had to think things through before he was ready to talk about them, and I wasn’t going to do anything to make him think he couldn’t talk to me.
“How about a walk in the woods?” I suggested to break the silence.
“Okay,” he agreed readily enough, and that made me feel better. With darkness coming on fast there might be some interesting nocturnal critters out, if we were quiet enough, and he would enjoy that. I got our flashlight and we set off, side by side up the path.
It was quiet under the thicker part of the trees, almost eerily so. There were some distant night noises, and the soft lap of tiny waves down along the lake shore. Matt didn’t seem inclined to talk, and of course we were trying not to scare things off.
My light caught on a flash of something bright colored in the brush to the side of the trail up ahead. It looked like part of a shoe. I frowned and motioned for him to stay back, waiting only until he nodded before hurrying ahead.
Some weird instinct had told me that I would find a body lying there.
It was Matt’s body, twisted strangely, his brown eyes staring lifeless at nothing.
My vision tunneled, focused on the blood staining his shirt and jacket.
A step in the leaves behind me pulled me back.
The light shook violently as I turned, syrup-slow, to look at the thing wearing my nephew’s skin.
It smiled a too-wide smile, and struck.