Six Seriously Creepy Books For The Spooky Season

If you are looking for a creepy read for the spooky season, perhaps something slightly different to the usual witches, vampires, and ghosts, then look no further. These are six books I’ve read in 2022 that seriously creeped me out. Counting down from number six being the least creepy and number one the most, here are my top picks for the spooky season.

6. Fairy Tale by Stephen King

Blurb: Charlie Reade looks like a regular high school kid, great at baseball and football, a decent student. But he carries a heavy load. His mom was killed in a hit-and-run accident when he was seven, and grief drove his dad to drink. Charlie learned how to take care of himself – and his dad. Then, when Charlie is seventeen, he meets a dog named Radar and her ageing master, Howard Bowditch, a recluse in a big house at the top of a big hill, with a locked shed in the backyard. Sometimes strange sounds emerge from it.

Charlie starts doing jobs for Mr. Bowditch and loses his heart to Radar. Then, when Bowditch dies, he leaves Charlie a cassette tape telling a story no one would believe. What Bowditch knows, and has kept secret all his long life, is that inside the shed is a portal to another world.

King’s storytelling in Fairy Tale soars. This is a magnificent and terrifying tale about another world than ours, in which good is pitted against overwhelming evil, and a heroic boy – and his dog – must lead the battle.

My review: For me, this was classic King and for all the right reasons. A young protagonist, 17-year-old Charlie (not always your typical hero either, as he has a bit of a dark side) helps local grumpy old man Howard Bowditch when he falls and breaks his leg. After calling the ambulance, Charlie finds himself left with Radar, the man’s ageing German Shepherd to care for. The first chunk of the book is taken up with establishing these relationships and I really enjoyed this part. The unlikely pair become good friends as Charlie cares for the dog, the house, and eventually Mr Bowditch when he returns home. It soon becomes apparent, however, that Bowditch is hiding a dark secret in his padlocked shed. When he dies suddenly, he entrusts this secret to Charlie through some tapes he recorded and Charlie must then decide whether to go where Bowditch once went, essentially, in the shed and through a portal to another world. This part of the book actually slowed down a bit for me as we had so much detail on the other world for quite a long time. It really reminded me of The Talisman too, which is not a bad thing. Once Charlie runs into danger in the other world, it really picks up pace again and I found it hard to put down. The other world is slowly dying since a neglected son of the royal family discovered a well that gave him dark powers. He takes revenge on his family and the entire kingdom by killing, maiming and destroying and unleashing a disease that slowly turns people grey and seals up their eyes, noses and mouths. When Charlie is imprisoned by the creepy Night Soldiers who guard the new king, he finds himself in a horrific dungeon with other ‘wholes’ and will be forced to fight each one to the death. By this point I was truly hooked and I think the Night Soldiers in particular brought a truly creepy and eerie touch to the story. In many ways it is a classic good vs evil story, and also has many nods to familiar fairytales. A great read that (mostly) had me on the edge of my seat!

5. Sixteen Horses by Greg Buchanan

Blurb: Near the dying English seaside town of Ilmarsh, local police detective Alec Nichols discovers sixteen horses’ heads on a farm, each buried with a single eye facing the low winter sun. After forensic veterinarian Cooper Allen travels to the scene, the investigators soon uncover evidence of a chain of crimes in the community – disappearances, arson and mutilations – all culminating in the reveal of something deadly lurking in the ground itself.

In the dark days that follow, the town slips into panic and paranoia. Everything is not as it seems. Anyone could be a suspect. And as Cooper finds herself unable to leave town, Alec is stalked by an unseen threat. The two investigators race to uncover the truth behind these frightening and insidious mysteries – no matter the cost.

My review: Definitely not one for the faint-hearted and the depictions of animal cruelty are hard to read, but I truly enjoyed this unique and thrilling read. I don’t read psychological or crime thrillers too often because I often find while the plots are excellent, the characters are lacking, but I felt differently about this book. The two main characters, the detective investigating the horrific crime of sixteen dead horses heads placed in a circle on a rundown farm, and the forensic vet called in to assist him, were both really interesting in my opinion. They were both fairly unreliable and there were certainly parts of the book that made me suspect either of them of either being involved, or of knowing more than they were letting on. They were both dealing with past trauma in different ways and they were both a bit ‘odd’ and didn’t find it easy to fit in or get along with others. This made the whole thing quite interesting, I thought. As for the crime itself, it just gets darker and darker until you are peeling back the grimy layers of the rotting seaside town itself. The crime was far more complicated and the reasons behind it far more eerie and creepy than I had ever imagined. I just had to keep reading and digging. It definitely left me with a few questions and a lot to think about. I enjoyed the style of the writing too. I would definitely read more from this author. A thoroughly creepy, brooding read!

4. I’m Thinking Of Ending Things by Iain Reid

Blurb: Jake and his girlfriend are on a drive to visit his parents at their remote farm. After dinner at the family home, things begin to get worryingly strange. And when he leaves her stranded in a snowstorm at an abandoned high school later that night, what follows is a chilling exploration of psychological frailty and the limitations of reality.

Iain Reid’s intense, suspenseful debut novel will have readers’ nerves jangling. A series of tiny clues sprinkled through the relentlessly paced narrative culminate in a haunting twist on the final page.

Reminiscent of Michael Faber’s Under the Skin, Stephen King’s Misery and the novels of José Saramago, I’m Thinking of Ending Things is an astonishing and highly original literary thriller that grabs you from the start—and never lets go.

My review: I definitely advise reading the book first with this one! It’s a very strange and creepy read told from the point of view of a young woman on a road trip with her fairly new boyfriend, Jake. They are driving through heavy snow to meet his parents who still live on the farm he grew up on. On the drive, the narrator is thinking about ending their relationship. Once they arrive and meet the parents, things get very strange indeed. It’s hard to describe without giving away spoilers, but this book really keeps you reading as you just want to try and figure out what is going on. The narrator is somewhat unreliable – is she seeing and hearing things that are not there? Is something wrong with Jake? Or is it his parents? Altogether, what happens during and after their visit is increasingly odd, creepy and eventually, genuinely terrifying. I watched the Netflix movie after and thought they left loads out. The movie makes very little sense, whereas the book leaves you wondering, but explains a lot more! A truly creepy read from start to finish.

3. The Watchers by A.M. Shine

Blurb: This forest isn’t charted on any map. Every car breaks down at its treeline. Mina’s is no different. Left stranded, she is forced into the dark woodland only to find a woman shouting, urging Mina to run to a concrete bunker. As the door slams behind her, the building is besieged by screams.

Mina finds herself in a room with a wall of glass, and an electric light that activates at nightfall, when the Watchers come above ground. These creatures emerge to observe their captive humans and terrible things happen to anyone who doesn’t reach the bunker in time.

Afraid and trapped among strangers, Mina is desperate for answers. Who are the Watchers and why are these creatures keeping them imprisoned, keen to watch their every move?

My review: Genuinely one of the creepiest books I’ve read in a while. I was on edge the entire time reading this. From the broken down car in the middle of the woods, to the lady screaming to run to the house, to the mysterious and horrific ‘watchers’ who come out at night everything about this book stands your hairs on end. Mina is a great character too – I was rooting for the whole time. Inside the house she is surprised to meet three other people who all seem to have met a similar fate to her in these unmapped, unknown woods. Mina and the others are watched by the creatures on the outside, who seem keen on learning about them and also scream and scratch and claw to get in. In daylight, they are safe, but the forest is too vast to escape in the hours of light they have. It’s an impossible and claustrophobic situation, made even worse by the fraying, tense relationships between the people trapped together. This book is a beautiful read, expertly capturing the hopelessness of captivity, fear of the unknown, defeatism and heroism these people go through. The plot thickens the further you go and there are some breathtaking twists at the end. This was a 5 star read for me and I can’t wait to read more from this author.

2. Starve Acre by Andrew Michael Hurley

Blurb: The worst thing possible has happened. Richard and Juliette Willoughby’s son, Ewan, has died suddenly at the age of five. Starve Acre, their house by the moors, was to be full of life, but is now a haunted place.

Juliette, convinced Ewan still lives there in some form, seeks the help of the Beacons, a seemingly benevolent group of occultists. Richard, to try and keep the boy out of his mind, has turned his attention to the field opposite the house, where he patiently digs the barren dirt in search of a legendary oak tree.

Starve Acre is a devastating new novel by the author of the prize-winning bestseller The Loney. It is a novel about the way in which grief splits the world in two and how, in searching for hope, we can so easily unearth horror.

My review: I enjoyed The Loney so was quite sure I would enjoy this, and it was just as good. Again, the author expertly uses the environment and the weather to increase tension, foreboding and mystery in the prose, making the location almost as much a character as the people. This story follows a couple who have inherited a house and a bit of land known as Starve Acre, from his family. The village is a strange place they can’t quite fit into and their young son Ewan seems to make enemies everywhere he goes. His mother begins to get quite concerned about his behaviour and they even consult doctors to determine if something is psychologically wrong with their son. The story tells this past narrative adjacent to the present one, where Ewan is dead, and the couple are grieving in different ways. Ewan’s mother is sure Ewan is still around and invites local spiritualists known as the Beacons into her home to convince her husband Ewan is still with them. Meanwhile, he has been digging up the field to find the roots of an infamous old oak tree known to have been the village hanging tree. Instead, he finds the skeleton of a hare which he cleans up and lays out inside the house. What happens next is fascinating, magical, mysterious and disturbing all at once. The story gets darker and sadder as events unfold. We learn what happened to Ewan leading up to his death and we witness the gradual decline of his grieving parents. More than that, we soon learn that the earth itself has secrets in this place and something dark and chilling has been restored to life. I absolutely loved this book and could not put it down. It truly has one of the most disturbing last paragraphs you will ever read!
  1. Winterset Hollow by Jonathan Durham

Blurb: Everyone has wanted their favorite book to be real, if only for a moment. Everyone has wished to meet their favorite characters, if only for a day. But be careful in that wish, for even a history laid in ink can be repaid in flesh and blood, and reality is far deadlier than fiction . . . especially on Addington Isle.

Winterset Hollow follows a group of friends to the place that inspired their favorite book—a timeless tale about a tribe of animals preparing for their yearly end-of-summer festival. But after a series of shocking discoveries, they find that much of what the world believes to be fiction is actually fact, and that the truth behind their beloved story is darker and more dangerous than they ever imagined. It’s Barley Day . . . and you’re invited to the hunt.

Winterset Hollow is as thrilling as it is terrifying and as smart as it is surprising. A uniquely original story filled with properly unexpected twists and turns, Winterset Hollow delivers complex, indelible characters and pulse- pounding action as it storms toward an unforgettable climax that will leave you reeling. How do you celebrate Barley Day? You run, friend. You run.

My review: Wow, I absolutely loved this book, despite how much it scared me and put me on edge! I just could not put it down! Eamon, the main character had an unusual upbringing, brought up in a cabin in the woods with his strange/crazy father. When his dad went out and never came back, Eamon was eventually rescued and placed into foster care. While in care, he received a copy of a book called Winterset Hollow by an author called Edward Addington. He grew to love the book which relayed the adventures of a group of talking animals living in a place called Winterset Hollow. Years later, his best friend Caroline, who is also a huge fan of the book, and her boyfriend Mark are about to board a ferry to visit the island where the author lived in a mansion until his death. There is a whole group of excited fans on the boat, looking forward to taking photos and capturing the atmosphere of the book that means so much to them. However, once they arrive, strange things start happening. Its hard to write a review without giving too much away, but lets just say, the trio find themselves inside the mansion being entertained by the very characters they have grown up reading about. It seems like a dream come true. But they do say you should never meet your heroes, and it turns out, these particular animals are enraged and traumatised, and hellbent on revenge… This really is a case of the tables being turned on mankind, who have systematically hunted, chased and tortured animals for fun for many decades. There are some simply brilliant twists towards the end, and the author does a fantastic job of evoking sympathy and empathy for the murderous animals, as well as for the trio of friends who have found themselves in a truly nightmarish situation. This story will stay with me for a very long time. It’s haunting, thought-provoking, eerie and actually quite terrifying. It’s also very fast-paced when it gets going and I found it hard to take a break from. An excellent read for anyone who likes unusual horror stories!

And there you have it – six seriously creepy reads which are perfect for the spooky season!

What is the creepiest book you have ever read???

October Writing Challenge: The Shrieking Stream

Every month I ask my Facebook author page followers to give me writing prompts. It can be anything from a visual prompt, to a song title or lyric, overheard conversation, a piece of flash fiction, or a poem. This month however, I have taken my prompt from suggestions made by some of the young people who attend my writing clubs. A few weeks ago I gave them a challenge. They were given lots of words and had to make creepy story titles from them. ‘Ancient Stream Drowns Shrieking Person’ really caught my imagination! I should add, that I normally post my writing prompt challenges at the end of the month, and this post should have been about creepy book recommendations. However, I still have two books to read that I want to mention, so I decided to do the posts the other way around. Therefore, next week, please expect a book recommendation post and for today, here is my October writing challenge response. This was supposed to be flash fiction, but as you can see, it grew and grew! Tell me what you think. It’s a first draft, so needs a little work at some point!

Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay

The Shrieking Stream

Of all the haunted places that fill this green and quiet county, The Shrieking Stream is next on my list and as luck will have it, I arrive in its vicinity the day before All Hallows Eve. If that isn’t perfect, I don’t know what is.

I pull up outside The Green Gate Inn in the tiny village of Brackenhurst at midday and I am shown to my room by the elderly proprietor Mrs Pence. She is a thin grey-haired lady, slightly stooped and with an air of distain about her. She welcomes me, of course, and smiles patiently as I explain that her B&B has come highly recommended by some backpacking friends of mine. She shows me my room which is situated on the third floor of the eighteenth-century inn she runs with her husband and informs me that lunch will be served in the dining room at one o’clock sharp. I thank her and say I will be glad to have some. It has been a long journey and it won’t take me long to unpack and get settled. She smiles her thin smile, while her eyes remain as cold as the pale October day beyond the windows.

Once alone, I unpack my two bags. One, a simple backpack contains enough clothes and toiletries to last two days and two nights, which is how long I have booked the room for, and the second, a suitcase on wheels, contains my recording equipment and laptop. I unpack this first and spread it out across the neat wooden desk that is tucked under one of the tiny windows. A quick glance at the street below confirms my first thoughts on arrival; Brackenhurst is one of those forgotten rural villages, lost in time. There is minimal traffic and the pedestrians all have a lost and lonely look about them.

This is good though. This is just what we need. I turn on my camera and microphone and start recording.

Hey there freaky folks, how are you all doing today? Well, just a quick update from me before I grab some lunch. I just arrived in the tiny village of Brackenhurst, home to The Shrieking Stream, a place supposedly so haunted by the lives it has taken over the centuries, that at night, you can hear the lost souls shrieking from under the water. Sounds spooky, right? Well, I’m here to investigate, record and share with you, my lovely followers. After lunch I’m going to try and find the stream, which is said to be quite well hidden in the local woods known as Green Gate Woods. I should also mention that the extremely ancient inn I am spending the night in is called The Green Gate and I’ve got to say, it has a sinister vibe, people. Even the landlady scared me a little bit! Just kidding. I’ll be back later to update you all and to let you know if I found the stream! Of course, to hear it scream, you’ve got to go there at night and I’m planning on doing that tomorrow, Halloween night. Okay freaky folks, thanks for following as ever. Don’t forget to like, share and subscribe and above all else, stay freaky!

I end the recording and press share. Within seconds I’ve received a barrage of likes and reactions, and a smattering of comments. My followers are desperate to see photos and videos of The Shrieking Stream and so am I.

When I finish unpacking, I grab my wallet and leave my room. I bump right into Mrs Pence and almost scream. It shocks me so much; I lean over my knees with one hand pressed to my chest. She merely steps back and observes me quizzically with her arms hanging at her sides.

‘I’m sorry,’ I sputter, although really it ought to be her apologising, after all, what was she doing right outside my door like that? ‘I didn’t see you there.’ I straighten up and offer a weak smile. ‘You scared me!’

‘I can see that,’ she replies in her soft, yet monotone voice. ‘I thought I heard voices. It is just you here? I only have a booking for one.’

‘Oh!’ I nod and wave a hand. Of course, that makes sense. She heard me chatting and thought I had a friend in there. ‘That was me talking. I was recording my podcast.’

‘Podcast?’ she repeats the word as if it offends her.

‘Yeah, you know, like videos you make and share online? I’ve got followers all over the world.’

Mrs Pence’s eyes narrow ever so slightly and I notice for the first time that they are a pale grey, almost the same shade as her wrinkled skin. She turns away from me without another word and makes her way slowly and carefully down the stairs.

I shake it off. I’m starving. I follow her down and join the other diners for lunch. There are a young couple who are obviously enjoying a romantic break together. An older man with thinning hair, dressed entirely in waterproofs, who spends the entire lunchtime poring over what look like very old maps. Two women, possibly in their fifties, who are giggling as they eat their way through large slices of cake. And me. I order a ploughman’s and when it arrives, it brings a smile to my face. A large hunk of granary bread, thick slices of dark pink ham, wedges of apple, two huge, pickled onions, some chutney, cheese and a large tomato. I eat it all and wash it down with two mugs of tea, before deciding I better get a move on.

Today’s mission is finding the stream. Tomorrow night, I will venture out after dark and record everything that happens. I return to my room for my waterproof coat and boots as it has just started to rain. In the porch, I zip up my coat and double check the map I’ve downloaded on to my phone. An exhalation of breath behind makes me jump again. I whirl around and there is an old man standing there. He is wearing loose brown slacks that wrinkle around his knees and a heavy overcoat, the colour of dark chocolate. Grubby slippers poke out from the bottoms of his trouser legs. There are several keys jangling on a lanyard he wears around his neck.

‘Going to be a downpour,’ he warns me, pointing past me to the dark skies above the village.

‘Oh, that’s okay,’ I tell him, patting my chest. ‘Got my waterproofs on.’ I hold out my phone and show him the vague map which was the best Google maps had to offer. ‘Just checking, is this is the right way to go? I’d like to explore the Green Gate Woods.’

The man does not look at the phone, instead he recoils from it as if it upsets him. He even waves a hand at it, almost knocking it from my fingers. I frown and slip it into my front pocket.

‘Long trek that way,’ he nods to the right of the inn. ‘Turn left. Cattle grid. Keep going. Road turns to mud. Another cattle grid.’ He gives a little shrug of his shoulders and exhales again as if he is finding just standing here particularly taxing. ‘Bit further on. Should see the sign on your right. You’re there.’

‘And the famous stream?’ I ask him. ‘Is that easy to find once you’re in the woods?’

The old man lowers his head like a child in trouble. He exhales once more, this time the breath filling out his cheeks and pushing out his lips as he shakes his head once. He slips his hands into his pockets, shakes his head again and then very slowly, turns away from me and shuffles back towards the dining room.

What the hell? I smile though. That’s one for the podcast later! There are a lot of ‘characters’ here, that’s for sure. I get going. The skies have darkened and as I step outside, I am pelted with light rain. I pull up my hood and walk right, following the narrow road away from the inn. He was right about it being a long trek. I walk for half an hour before I see a crossroads and can turn left, as he advised.

On the way I pass old fashioned shops that are crammed together as if they are huddling against the weather. If buildings could have faces, these would all look like that old man, I decide. They would all be sighing and looking down in a weary, fatalistic manner. I make myself smile imagining the shops with eyebrows above their small windows, and downturned moustaches above their front doors. There is a dressmaker, a bakery, a grocery, a post office, a pet shop, a butchers, a toy shop, a hairdressers and a book shop and after that, I walk past the occasional house or cottage. They all appear the same; small and squat, whitewashed or grey, some with thatch that has seen better days, some with tiles that look fed up of clinging on. Most have small front gardens and plots of land behind them. I catch glimpses of wet bedraggled washing hanging on lines, cats at the window looking out, the occasional swing set or trampoline, and vehicles that just seem to be sat in mud. I take out my phone and start taking pictures. This place has a vibe to it, all right.

I come to the first cattle grid and cross over. After that, the road does indeed turn to mud. Further on, I cross the second cattle grid. I don’t see any cattle or anything else, as it happens. The skies are quiet. There is no birdsong. No cars, no people. I keep walking, enjoying myself immensely, because this is going to make a fantastic episode later. I will probably prerecord this one so that I can edit in the creepy photos as well as any footage I get.

Another twenty minutes later I finally see the sign to Green Gate woods. It is an old-fashioned wooden sign covered in wet moss and lichens. I take some photos and move on. It soon becomes apparent that the woods are huge. I get a bit nervous. The road has turned into a path and even that is getting narrower. Evidently, not many others have been this way for a while. Perhaps visiting The Shrieking Stream is not top of the list for locals or tourists. Brambles snake out from either side, occasionally catching and clawing at my waterproofs. I hear the odd tear and swear under my breath. My boots are covered in mud and the ground is uneven, causing me to reach out for whatever I can, branches, tall grasses, even the brambles, to help keep me upright. I take more photos because this is turning into quite a journey and my followers are going to want to enjoy every moment of this.

The things I do for fame and glory, I grin to myself and keep moving. It seems to me that although the rain has all but halted, the sky has continued to darken. I stop and look around. The trees are incredibly dense here. It takes my breath away for a moment because they are so tall, so foreboding and so watchful, I can’t help feeling awed. I identify a mixture of silver birch, oak, sycamore, hazel and ash. There are others I don’t know the names of but most have started to change colour and the air around me is full of floating leaves. They drift down like colourful snowfall, each landing in the mud to rot and become part of it.

I feel a little tense now. For some reason, the falling leaves standing out against the dark sky makes me feel, I don’t know, watched, maybe. It’s silent. That’s another thing. Despite the size of these woods and the abundance of mature trees, there are no birds, no squirrels, nothing scuttling or scurrying away. The only sound is my footsteps as I push on through the thick mud.

Now I am starting to feel silly and annoyed with myself. Another half an hour passes and the path is almost gone. I am weaving my way between tree trunks, using them now to stay on my feet as the thick mud and dead leaves suck at my boots, trying to hold me still. How am I supposed to find the stream if there is no path to follow? No sign?

Since it is no longer raining, I take out my phone and check the map. The red line wriggles through the village like I did, lurches left like I did and then keeps wriggling. Left, right, on a bit, left, right, right, right, left. It makes me feel dizzy. I can’t follow that and anyway, I have no idea where I am to attempt to follow the line.

All right, this is ridiculous. I make the decision there and then to turn around and head back. I am exhausted from wading through mud and fighting with brambles. I will make my way back and see if I can get hold of some better maps. I turn around and take two steps and that is when I hear it.

It sounds like someone calling out; maybe a name, maybe something else. It’s far away and faint, but it drifts up above the trees and ends in an ‘ee’ sound. It sounds like someone calling a cat, for some reason. It reminds me of my neighbour back home. Every night after dark, she opens her back door and calls for her cat.

I resist the urge to shout back by biting my lips. It might not be anything. I might have imagined it, or it might have been a bird, or something. Then I remember the stream… It couldn’t be, could it? I laugh at myself. I tell myself now is not the time to chicken out. I did come here to see a shrieking stream and maybe that is just what I have found. I look around me, frowning at each possible direction.

The ground looks drier to the left, so I head that way. It’s still wet, especially where the leaves are lying in thick drifts, but the ground is rising and falling in small hillocks which feel soft and spongy underfoot. Nearly every tree trunk is covered in old moss and fungi of various kinds. This place has the feel of something very ancient…

I hear another noise. This time I freeze and my heart thuds stupidly against my ribcage as I try not to breathe too loud. It wasn’t the same noise. It was more like a hoot, like an owl would make. And there is another one. Hoo-hoo, hoo-hoo. I relax. Just an owl. It’s a relief to know there is something alive in these damn woods after all.

I keep going left and the land rises slowly. I wonder if I am on a slope, or small hill. I think it would be good to get to higher ground if there is any. I might be able to see my way out if I can get higher, so with fresh energy, I push on, grabbing trees and hauling myself through them, kicking my way through the sludgy rainbow of dead leaves on the ground.

The noise comes again. Not the owl noise. The one that ends in ‘ee’. It’s closer this time which makes the hair on the back of my neck stand on end, only because I don’t know what it is and we all know that not knowing is worse than knowing. It drifts up again and peters out over the treetops, but I was right the first time. It’s a human voice, and they are calling something or someone whose name ends in ‘ee.’ Maybe a dogwalker has lost their dog?

‘Hello!’ I shout back and then instantly regret it. Silence hits me like a wall. If it was quiet before, then this is something new. It feels like the woods have frozen around me. My eyes widen in their sockets as a shiver twists up my spine. Not a single dried leaf flutters from the treetops. I feel like I have broken something.

I can’t stop the panic now. I am not a baby. I am someone who travels the country looking for scary stories, but I have never felt like this before: like the woods are watching me; like they are holding their breath while they examine me. I can almost imagine lips of gnarled wood rising into silent snarls as they prepare to devour me. I keep moving to higher ground and I take out my phone, desperate for a signal. I’ve been lost for a long time now and it is nearly dark. My watch says that is impossible because it is half past three, but the world around me says otherwise. But I don’t have a signal. I try anyway, finding the number for the inn and trying that first as someone there might just be able to direct me out of here. But it won’t connect. It just ends the call every time I try.

The silence drags on, forbidding me to move. Just breathing feels like I am breaking the rules here. But I can’t stay still and I can’t stay here. I press on, trying to breathe, trying to calm down, reminding myself that I packed a flask of tea and a packet of biscuits and a first aid kit, just in case. I’ll get higher and then I’ll be able to figure this out.

Looking up I can see a ridge lined with smaller, thinner trees. If I have been slowly clambering up a hillside, then this must be the top I am now approaching. I breathe out in relief and keep going, grabbing at trunks and branches as my body slows in weariness. I am almost at the top and grateful to find drier, crisper land underfoot when I hear the scream.

This time there is no doubt about it. It is a wail of utter despair that bursts out of the trees ahead and rushes past me, making me stumble and drop to one knee. It lingers, drawing out into a strangled gasp before it fades to nothing. It occurs to me for the first time that perhaps someone is playing a joke on me. Locals, maybe, fed up with people like me trampling all over their stories.

‘Who’s there?’ I yell, cupping my hands around my mouth.

No one answers me but another scream cuts through the trees, hitting me with a blast of icy air that leaves me staggering again, almost losing my footing entirely. I right myself and cringe as it sails over my head. This one is louder, more agonised, like someone is having their insides ripped out of their body. It peters out, but in horrible little breathless gasps of pain.

I want to run, but I don’t. I do what I should have done minutes ago. I take out my phone and start recording, at first turning the camera on myself to exclaim; shit is getting real here, freaky folks! I’m lost in the woods, no kidding, slightly shitting myself actually, haha, Green Gate woods, no kidding, Brackenhurst, if you never hear from me again, hah! That’s where I am, but I am seriously lost, guys. Seriously. And I keep hearing weird noises, like screams or someone calling someone else. I’m gonna keep recording so you can hear it too. I’m climbing a hill now so I can see better, I hope. Nearly there. Okay. Let’s take a look.

I turn the camera around and sweep the area with it recording. I am on a narrow ridge, not much of a hill but I can at least look down on the way I came. I can see the wandering trail I made through the trees and I can see how the land is much wetter and thicker below.

What is really weird though, I say to my audience, is how dark it is. I get its October and I’m in thick, thick woods, but my watch, unless its wrong, says half three, guys. And look, how dark is that? Almost full dark, right? Yeah, freaky folk, I’m about to be well and truly lost in the dark in the woods! This was not the plan. But finding the stream was so I’m gonna at least try and do that. Okay. Holy shit! Did you hear that?

My hand is trembling as I turn the camera on myself again. My eyes are so wide they ache in the sockets. Another scream has filled the air around me. It seems to come from everywhere, even me. I jumped about a foot in the air when it started. It sounds ferocious, I think, like the noise an animal might make when caught in a trap. There is rage in that scream and my head is starting to hurt.

There is another one, but this one is closer to the voice I thought I heard earlier. It ends in ‘eeee’ again, and I can’t help thinking there is a question mark to it.

‘Who’s there?’ I shout back, desperate for it to be a person, desperate for it to be someone looking for me, or a local playing a prank.

‘Ooooooeeeee?’

Shit, they’re not saying Toby, are they?

‘I’m here!’ I yell back, hurrying along the ridge, turning in circles, squinting through the trees to see. ‘I’m Toby, I’m here!’

‘Oooooobeeeee!’

Toby? Yes, Toby, I’m sure of it. Someone is calling my name. Someone is looking for me!

You hear that? I say to the camera as I keep moving. Toby! Shit guys, someone is out here calling my name. Please say you can hear that too! And how dark is it now, seriously? Look! I can barely see my feet or my hands in front of my face. I’m gonna call back.

‘I’m here!’ I yell again and that’s when I see a bright light twisting through the trees below on the other side of the ridge. I stop and gasp. No, not a light, it’s water! I move towards it. Yes, as I get closer, I can see it is water. The surface is shining back at me as it ripples through the thick ferns and gorse and heather down there.

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

Italk to my camera again. Look guys, I think I found the stream! Or a stream, at least. Oh my God, could this be it? The Shrieking Stream? They say you can hear it in the village at night and I believe it, and I’m sure you do too now. Shit!

Another scream slices through the darkness, making me drop my phone in panic. I drop to my knees and search for it frantically, sinking my fingers into claggy earth and leaf mulch until I find the hard rectangle and see it’s camera light blinking back at me. The scream was horrible: a gargled, gurgled, helpless sound; despair and defeat and dread all mixed together.

I grab the phone and walk briskly down to the stream. At last, I have found it. I stand on the banks which are brown and littered with pine needles and cones, and smothered in thick white fungi, and moss and lichen in various shades of green. I hear a splash and my head snaps up. I look left and right. The woods have been swallowed by darkness so I use the phone as a torch, sweeping it this way and that, recording the curve of the stream, which is not more than a few feet deep by the looks of it.

So this is what’s been making all that noise, I tell my followers, I give you, The Shrieking Stream, and you better be grateful guys, because this is genuinely the most scared I have ever been doing this shit, and I’ve still got to find my way out of here.

‘Toby! Toby Barnes!’

My head whips around and I see a figure coming towards me from the left. He or she appears to be wading in the stream. I stare in a mixture of hope, dread and utter confusion, because nothing about this makes any sense…

As it comes closer, I can see the shape of a man, with thinning hair and glasses on, and waterproof clothing, and boots that come up to his thighs. Wading boots.

‘Are you? Are you the…’ I’m not sure, but I think it might be the man who was in the dining room earlier, the man with all the maps. I breathe out in relief because maybe he has come to save me, he has come to help me with his maps! My shoulders relax and I lift the camera so my followers can see my rescuer making his way down the stream.

‘Toby! Toby Barnes!’

‘Yes, that’s me!’

The man doesn’t seem to hear me though. He keeps coming, splashing through the stream which seems eerily still around him. I get that feeling again, that the woods are holding their breath and their secrets and something is about to happen. My scalp tightens and my bowels loosen and then it does, it happens.

The man’s arms fly upwards like he’s taking part in a Mexican wave. His eyes widen and the glasses fly off. His mouth gapes and a whoosh of startled air escapes his lungs. He starts sinking, rapidly; the water is suddenly over his knees, then his waist, then up to his shoulders. It all happens so quickly, I barely have time to react, but I stuff my phone in my pocket and race towards him, thinking he must have slipped or something.

He screams.

It’s a piercing shriek that makes my blood run cold and my guts curl up, but by the time I reach him, it is too late. He is gone. I plunge my hands into the stream and there is nothing there.

‘Shit!’ I sit back, breathing hard, my eyes flicking wildly over the surface of the stream. I lean forward, try again, wave my hand around in the water but there is nothing. There should at least be his hand, or his head, or…

The water bubbles further down the stream. I stand back, wary now of its wet edges, and stare in horror as something begins to emerge. Surrounded by rippling circles growing, I see pale fingers begin to rise. I scrabble for my phone and film it. Because this can’t be real. I must be asleep, dreaming, back at the inn. Or I fell and hit my head and I’m hallucinating or something. I want to say something, to my followers, but I can’t talk. My tongue is a useless lump of meat and my body has turned to stone.

I just stare in horror and hold the phone as the fingers lift through the water. They are pale and bloated, the skin sagging and wrinkled around the knuckles. I start to move back, slowly at first, my heels digging into the mud in front of me, pushing me away. The hands give way to slender wrists, followed by thin arms. The sleeves of whatever she was wearing have rumpled down to her shoulders, and I know it is a ‘she’ because her head breaks the water at the same time, her grey hair flattened on her bony skull, her eye sockets empty and her mouth a hole filled with wriggling maggots. She opens her mouth and screams.

I drop the phone and cover my ears.

It seems to go on forever. The treetops are shaking. The earth vibrates and growls beneath me. I move with it, shaken from side to side, until I manage to reach out and grab the trunk of the nearest tree. I pull myself to my feet, reach down and pick the phone up again. It’s still recording. I leave it running and place it in my pocket.

When I look back at the stream the woman, who I am certain was Mrs Pence from the inn, has gone, only a few ripples letting me know she was ever there. I have to go. I have to get out of here.

I turn and start to scramble away, back towards the ridge. I don’t look back when I hear the two women screaming. The two women who were enjoying their cake just hours ago. I recognise their voices, and I can hear nothing but horror and useless fear in their screams, which are high-pitched and jagged, hurting my brain.

I run on. I think I won’t make it. I don’t let myself think that. I push thoughts away. Blind panic now, blind. Pure instinct. Survival mode. I mutter to myself as I run.

Run, run, run, just fucking run, don’t look back, don’t, don’t just run, run, keep running, oh God, just run, run, don’t listen, don’t look back, just run!

I am hurtling down the other side of the ridge when the young couple reach for me. They appear together, holding hands, on the other side of a large fallen trunk I am scrambling over. I run right into them and start choking on the smell of rotting flesh. Their mouths are open and screaming. The screams hurt my bones and my heart judders. I think, I am going to die here. I turn my head away as they both snatch at my clothes, for I have already seen the swollen, waterlogged skin hanging from his face, and the missing jawbone on hers, and the wet, hanging hair, tangled with leaves and sticks and pine needles.

I don’t think I’ll get away but I do.

I run, faster and faster and faster. The screaming follows me. It never stops. I run on and on, stumbling and falling, rising and skidding, grabbing and snatching, barely breathing. I am running on empty now, every part of my body on fire with fear and adrenaline and exhaustion.

I don’t think I’ll make it but somehow, I do.

Somehow, I stumble out onto what can only be a narrow, mud choked path. The path I was on before. I can see my own footsteps in the mud and I laugh in joy and relief and start to follow them. The sky is lighter again. I can see a few clouds.

I pull out my phone and talk breathlessly into it.

Guys, guys, I hope you got all that. As soon as I get a signal I’m gonna upload the whole thing to my channel, fuck editing, I can’t believe what just happened, I have to show you now!

I cry when I see the sign to Green Gate Woods. I lean against it and sob. I am drenched in sweat and covered in thick mud that is starting to drop of in chunks. I can now feel the pain of countless scratches, scrapes and bumps. I start to wonder if any of it happened. I see the young couple rearing up behind the log and almost vomit. No, it was real. I will never forget the ripe, sour smell of their rotting organs.

I stumble on. Every part of me aches. As soon as I see I have a signal, I pause and log into my podcast channel. In less than a minute I have uploaded my entire recording with the title, This just happened right now!! Oh My God!!

That should be enough drama to get my followers excited. I think I will edit it all together later though, with the photos I took on the way here, and maybe I’ll try and get some interviews too from the villagers.

My phone is back in my pocket and I am trudging towards the first cattle grid when I spot the old man from the inn. How strange, I think. What’s he doing out here in his slippers? He’s standing on the other side of the grid looking just the way he did in the hallway of the inn before he turned and shambled away. His shoulders are hunched, his keys are hanging, his hands are in his pockets and his head is low. He exhales sadly as I approach.

I expect him to say something about the state of me. I am covered in mud and twigs and leaves. I must look awful. He must know something bad has happened to me. I am shaking now too, as the memories hit me one by one. I don’t want to think about any of them right now, but I can’t seem to shake them away.

Did I dream it all?

The videos on my phone would suggest otherwise.

‘Hello?’ I call out warily as I get closer.

He doesn’t answer. He just looks sad, his lower lip jutting out as his hands sink even lower in the pockets.

‘Hello?’ I ask again. ‘Are you all right? What are you doing out here?’ I glance again at his grubby slippers. When I look back at his face, I see something awful.

His skin is grey and wet. Bubbles have filled his mouth and are expanding and then popping between his sagging grey lips. His eyes have lost all colour. The eyeballs seem to swim in grey liquid before rolling away into his head. The skin on his nose is flaky and as I stare in horror, a chunk slips away and hits the ground between his slippers.

A foul smell meets my nostrils and as he lifts his hands from his pockets, I see dirty stream water running from his arms down to his wrists. It spatters against the ground, quickly forming puddles.

He opens his mouth and I fear a scream. I start to lift my hands in anticipation, to press them over my ears.

‘What?’ I yell at him then, staggering backwards. ‘What are you trying to tell me?’

He lifts his awful swollen hand and points right at me. ‘One of us now.’

‘What? What?’ I shake my head, keep walking backwards. ‘No, I’m not. Leave me alone. Get away!’

He laughs and more stream water pours out of his mouth, revealing grey rotten stumps for teeth. A small silver fish wriggles through them and drops to the ground where it writhes and gasps. I stare in horror and his mouth stretches wider. I expect a scream but again, it doesn’t come.

‘We are all dead here…’ he gurgles as more filthy water fills his mouth. He starts to choke then, choke on the water and on the wet leaves and pine needles and he twists his head, as if trying to escape it, and then finally, his lips part and the skin tears open, revealing the bone of his jaw and he shrieks.