The Skin-walker in the Woods

Let me just preface this by saying that I am not a person who automatically jumps to paranormal conclusions. I grew up in a household that functions based on logic and reasonable decisions, probably more for my dad’s sake than my own, as he had no idea how to deal with a short, perpetually-angry teenage girl. So admitting to myself that what I saw was real – and not a figment of my imagination – is something that took me months of internal searching and anxiety attacks to finally achieve.

This encounter happened in November of my junior year, during the first weekend of white-tail season. In my family, deer season is only surpassed by Christmas and birthdays in terms of excitement. My dad, younger brother, and I begin preparing ourselves for the hunt months in advance, tracking buck movements with game cameras, making maps to plot where our stands should go, and making sure that my uncle moves his cattle to the correct pasture during the season so that deer movement is not altered. It’s been broken down to a science, and I had been learning since the age of six. To be honest, I thought that there was nothing those woods could throw at me that I hadn’t seen before. Mountain lions? No problem. Coyotes? I’ve probably killed close to a hundred.

But I was wrong. Very, very wrong.

This part of the story may seem tedious, but for you to understand where I’m coming from, it’s required. The stand that I was hunting from that season sat nearly a mile away from the farmhouse on the property where we hunt, deep into a patch of trees. To reach it, I had to walk through a big pasture at the north end of the property, around an electric fence line that was usually live. Once I had walked about half of the way through the field, there was an opening through the old barbed-wire fence, which still stands as an extra precaution against loose cattle, that leads down a fairly steep hill. My stand was about halfway down this hill, placed about thirty feet up in an oak that stood in the middle of a small open patch. At the bottom of this incline – what we call a holler – was an old logging road that deer like to use as a go-between from their bedding area to a food plot growing a bit further north. It’s kind of hard to get to, as there are lots of fallen trees and big rocks to go around, but once you’re there, it’s prime hunting material.

That evening had started like any other. As this was my first solo hunt, I had been really excited to get up into the stand early, determined that I was going to kill the biggest buck possible and make my dad and brother look like wimps. With that in mind, I donned my gear and made the long trek out to my stand around 1:30 that afternoon. Everything seemed like I was going to get really lucky. The air was crisp and cold – my hands had gone numb within the first five minutes of leaving the house – and the deer were moving. In the first two or so hours, I had seen at least seven does and one fairly decent eight-point buck. But he had been young and not quite as large as I was hoping for, so I let him walk.

Looking back on that day, I keep cursing myself for not taking my shot.

Around 4:30 that evening, the sky began to get dark, and I knew that I was about to lose shooting light. There hadn’t been any deer traveling my direction for a while – they tended to make a giant circle throughout the day, so my stand usually got more traffic in the mornings – but I decided to stay until there was absolutely no safe way to take a shot. That was a mistake I will regret for the rest of my life.

As the light faded, I began to grow uneasy. Normally, the squirrels and woodpeckers that lived in this section of the timber would assault me, chattering and shrieking and generally being annoying little shits. But this evening there was nothing. Absolutely nothing. I couldn’t even hear leaves falling from the branches overhead, and it was making me anxious. There was no way that the woods should’ve been this quiet, simply because the ground was so covered in leaves and other foliage that moving even slightest bit would have caused them to crackle. Every nerve in my body was on edge. I checked my cellphone for the time. 5:05 – I had about another twenty minutes until total dark, even though the sun had technically already set. I decided to stay put, as I had my high-powered flashlight in order to find my way back.

That was when I heard the footsteps making their way up the logging trail below me. Now, keep in mind I have been hunting since I was six years old. I know the difference between something that moves on four legs and something that moves on two. I could even tell you the difference between animals based on the sounds they make through the woods. And this thing, whatever it was, most definitely was not moving on four legs. Every hair on the back of my neck stood on end, and I instinctively clicked the safety off of my rifle. Everyone hunting on that property knew exactly where the others would be and what time they were to be back at the house for supper. It made no fucking sense for anyone to be clomping around my stand, in the line of fire, at a time where they knew I would not be home.

I waited for a few seconds, completely still. I didn’t even breathe because I was scared someone might hear me in the unnatural silence. Then a set of antlers popped out from behind a thick cluster of baby cedars. My body refused to relax, even though my mind let out a sigh of relief at the familiar sight. Then I realized something that sent me in a mode of utter panic.

The antlers, massive and twisted with thick branching tines, were too far off the ground for it to be a buck. White-tail deer are capable of standing – and even walking – on their back legs for short periods of time. I’ve seen this many times, especially during the rut when males are trying to mark their territory. But something about those antlers were just. . . .off. It’s difficult to explain. But they had to have been at least ten to eleven feet off of the ground, even at an incline, based upon their position in contrast to the trees. My blood froze when it finally stepped out from behind the thick brush and on to the trail leading towards my stand.

There was still enough light to see, and I slowly focused my gaze on the creature still moving up the trail. It was tall, at least nine feet, and the best way I can think of to describe it was humanoid. It’s legs were, in fact, shaped like a white-tailed deer’s hind legs. The knee joints pointed backwards, and they ended in dainty hooves that looked like they would never be able to support the thing. But there was no hair to be found on that thing, whatever it was. Every inch of it was covered in this disgusting scabby-gray skin, and the legs were attached to what looked like an emaciated human chest. Even in the relative darkness, I could see its ribs through the thin epidermis. It’s arms hung long and bony, almost to its knees, and they ended in these gnarled claws that were caked with filth.

But its eyes were the thing that got me, resting in a face that was both human and not. They were milky white and filmy, almost like it was blind. But I knew it could see, because the damned thing was staring right at me.

My heart was pounding so violently I thought it was going to burst out of my chest. I could barely keep myself from sobbing out loud. I have been in the woods all of my life and I had never seen anything like that before. The thing opened its mouth and let out this weird, gurgling howl sound that made every inch of my body go rigid with fear. I couldn’t move. All I could think was “Holy fuck I’m going to die today! This thing is going to fucking kill me!” I was shaking and crying, and my nose was running from a combination of extreme cold and fear.

The thing took another step towards me. I don’t know how I managed it, but I’m pretty sure instinct took over at this point, that primal need to preserve your life at all costs. I raised my rifle and lined up the thing in my sights. Fifty yards off by my guess, in an open patch between the trees, no obstruction. It felt like I had been watching this thing for hours, but – as there was still at least enough light to make out features – it had probably only been for a few minutes. I swallowed and put my finger in the trigger guard, willing my body to stop fucking shaking. My dad only let my brother and I have three bullets in order to show us the importance of making each shot count and kill.

This shot fucking counted.

It took another step forward just as I lined up my cross-hairs on the left side of its bony chest, and I squeezed the trigger. The gunshot reverberated through my body where my .264 magnum was cradled to my shoulder. But I didn’t hear the shot. I couldn’t hear anything. That was the first and God-willing only time I’ve ever heard true silence.

The light was still dying, and it was going fast, so I could barely make out the thing with any sort of clarity anymore. I kept the scope trained on it so I could make sure that I had actually hit the fucking thing. I had. There was a hole in its chest, and blood was running over its ribs.

But it didn’t. fucking move.

The thing just stood there and stared at me, head cocked to the side in this gross parody of a confused dog. I don’t know if it was confused about what it was supposed to do or pissed off that I shot it. Whatever the case, I thought that this fucking thing was about to tear me limb from limb. I started crying harder, so hard that I couldn’t hardly see through the tears anymore, absolutely certain that I was going to die. But nothing happened. The creature stared at me for a long-ass moment with those fucking white, filmy eyes, its claws moving gently at its sides, before it let out this long, blood-curdling shriek. It was unearthly and so loud in the silence that I thought I might go deaf, and I almost pissed myself for terror.

But then the thing just turned around and walked off back the way it came, down the logging trail. I could see the massive hole in its back where my bullet had punched through, but it didn’t seem to be affected. I sat in my stand until it was pitch black out, unable to move, shaking and sobbing. My dad and brother kept texting me, message after message lighting up my screen. But I just couldn’t move. What if it came back? What if it was just circling around and waiting for me to climb down?

There were a thousand possibilities and scenarios, but I only had one realistic choice. I had to climb down. I couldn’t risk my family getting attacked by whatever that thing was just because I was scared and couldn’t find the courage to climb down my fucking ladder.

I shit you not, I have never gotten down from a tree stand so quickly before. Every piece of gear, clothing, and my rifle were on the ground in about a minute, followed by about twelve seconds of ladder climbing, and I was sprinting out of that holler in six layers of thermal wear in about a minute. My gun was loaded and off safety the entire time. Stupid, I know, but I just could not shake the feeling that whatever that thing was would come back. It was lucky that the electric fence wasn’t live, because I plowed through that fucking thing like a renegade steam-roller. My uncle was pissed, but by that point, I couldn’t give two shits.

I got back to the house in about four minutes, out of breath and crying, but I never told anyone about what happened. No one would have believed me, simply because there was no proof. I had no video, no pictures, nothing but my memories and the missing cartridge in my rifle. It took me months of therapy to get over my crippling anxiety attacks, even longer to be able look at the woods again without hyperventilating. My family is convinced that it was a combination of a nightmare that I had in my stand with a bunch of other shit that was going on in my life at the time. I’ll probably never tell them the true reason.

I finally managed to go hunting for the first time since this happened this last season. But I will never go back to that stand, and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to walk through the woods alone again. I’m still not even sure as to what that thing was. The best I could come up with was a skin-walker or wendigo, which doesn’t make any sense as I live in the Missouri Ozarks, and all the tribes that have these legends live in other parts of the United States.

Please, for the love of God, don’t think that you are safe in the trees just because you have a rifle. There are things living in those trees that don’t abide by our laws. They don’t give a fuck if you’ve got a gun. They own the woods, the land, and you simply have the privilege of hunting on it. Take care that they don’t revoke it.

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