In his sleep he could tell himself, “It's a dream Pedro.” But, this was no dream and sleep was the last thing on his mind at this moment.
It had started a few days ago, a family trip to the mountains just before Christmas. All week his wife and family had been looking forward to it.
“When are we going?” cried Juan and Janina, his two little ones.
“Soon,” replied Mary his lovely wife, “as soon as daddy returns from work and has had something to eat, it's a long trip and there are few places to rest.”
Rest, when was the last time he had done that. His sleep haunted by the sights he saw on his return to camp that night. His waking hours were spent running from demons that chased him endlessly. There was never anytime to stop and think of rest, survival was his aim; there had to somebody around.
A quiet, secluded respite before the holiday rush had turned into a living nightmare. Not even in his writing could he have thought of what had happened, but he had seen it.
What he had seen defied description, yet the truth was staring at him like a blinding light of terror, “These things don't happen in this age,” he kept telling himself over and over, “this is a civilised land.”
Looking back over the weekend, there had been signs but they were ignored. Now it was too late. Too late for forgiveness; for peace; all there was now was retribution and horror.
Before they had left that last gas station and the owner had told them “Watch out for night spirits! And don't forget to leave them so food.”
“What does the man mean?” asked Juan.
“It's nothing to worry about, my little ones. Just old folks stories of things that you feel but never see,” Pedro had told them as he tried to stop them worrying. The look he got from his wife was more serious.
“In that case, why did the man warn us dad?” Janina asked.
“These folks don't like to be disturbed, love. They make up all kinds of stories to scare people away. But, it doesn't work on me.”
Again his wife looked at him as if saying “That is what you tell them. But do you believe it?”
“What did he mean about the food, dad?” asked Janina.
“The legend says that if we leave them food, they will leave us alone,” Mary replied before her husband could pour scorn on the fable.
“And that's all it is, some silly story to scare the people off. The most likely reason for the story is that they have something to hide,” Pedro commented as the family looked to him.
Pedro drove his car up the winding mountain road; the pine trees were looking splendid with the wintery frost on the needles. The road was barely driveable now, the rains and snow turning what had been hard core into a slushy mess. Twice he lost traction and slid back a few yards, before regaining grip.
“Pedro, why not turn back. The road is too dangerous now,” Mary pleaded as the children held each other in terror, “can't you see what you're doing to the children!”
“If I do that, they will think I believed that old man at the station.”
“No, we won't daddy!” cried the children.
Looking out of her window, Mary said “Better that, than end up down there dead!”
Pedro tried to keep the car going, but with the mud gripping the wheels it was hopeless, for every yard they gained, they lost three. The end came when the car hit a rock and the front left tyre was ripped off.
“That's it!” he said, “We walk from here. It isn't far to the campsite.”
“You ARE joking, of course!” Mary screamed at him, “I'm tired, the kids are scared and it's too dark to see the path.”
“What about me? I am tired too after driving up here.”
“Don't tempt me, Pedro,” she cried as she turned to look at her husband, “you get us out here in the winter, miles from God knows where. We have no idea where we are.”
“That is the pleasure, love. Being alone in the wilderness, and besides I know where we are.”
“Well, you try telling that to them!” Mary said as she went to cuddle the children, now even more scared, hearing their parents arguing. “It looks as if we have no choice in the matter now doesn't it!”
Taking the lead with the flashlight, Pedro set off. In daylight, he could have found the site easily but now with the moon casting eerie shadows across the paths and strange sounds coming from the nearby trees, he was beginning to doubt the idea of this weekend. It had been meant as a way for him to reconnect with what had been so good about his writing. Pedro’s writing had always been able to capture the feel of nature. But, recently he had last that element in his writing and this trip was to try and find that feeling again. Now, it looked like the dream was going to turn into his nightmare.
Tired and with clothes soaked by the constant winter drizzle, Mary and the children were getting niggled.
“Okay, explorer genius. WHERE is this site?” Mary chided Pedro.
“Remember, last time I was here it was daylight and the road to the site was clearly visible,” Pedro replied.
“So, you are lost! Great, that’s all we need; lost; cold and hungry. Thank you for a wonderful start, love.”
“Give it a rest, Mary,” Pedro called into the encroaching darkness. “I thought it would do us good to get out of the city.”
“A great idea, if it was May to September, but here we are two weeks into November!”
Pedro started shaking his head violently and screaming “NO!”
Mary asked him “What’s wrong now?”
“I’ve been hearing voices for the last ten minutes and they’re getting too loud now.”
Mary said with total resignation, “Well, as we have to find that camp, we may as well keep walking.”
Twenty minutes of back breaking up hill climb later, they finally made camp. Being out of season, there was nothing provided. Carrying his machete, Pedro went to try and find some game to kill.
All the family could see was the light moving in the trees, hidden by the thick trunks of the pines. When he returned, Pedro was met by the horrid sight of his family tied up and skinned, their bodies still running with blood. From this moment, Pedro could only remember running.
He was out of breath when he finally sat on the fallen tree trunk, “I can’t go on. If you want me, come and take me,” he muttered.
For the first time in hours, he had time to think. Then wished he hadn’t.
He had questions and the answers were plain to see, but terrible to think about.
“What is the chicken taste in my mouth? Why am I covered in blood?”
Looking as the machete in his lap, there was no denying the evidence. The broken blade; the bone fragments and tissue stuck to it. All this left Pedro with only one conclusion to make as he set off back to the car, with the hope of finding the gas station again.
After taking another wrong turn and being totally disorientated he came across a group of wrecked cars. Their roofs covered in what appeared at first glance to be animal skins, but was it?