She knows she shouldn’t be here.
Fog hangs between the trees disguising branches as arms ready to snatch her into the night. A twig cracks, she freezes. With the wind it is impossible to tell whether the crack came from under her own boot or if there is something else out here with her. Straining her ears she waits.
The trees creak in the wind, the rain pitter patters against her anorak, the trees rustle together. She breathes out, a plume of white breath fogging her glasses and continues picking her way across the woods’ floor.
She knows it will happen tonight. She can sense it in her gut.
The feeling drove her from her bed and out through the window, over the garden gate and into the woods, her only light the near complete moon. A gust of wind swirled the fog through the trees, crashing into her trying to conceal the secrets of the forest. It found the freshly torn hole in her new coat. Her mum would raise hell for her ruining a new coat, but it did not matter.
None of it mattered as her gut twisted trying to crawl into her throat. Tonight would be the night she would get her proof. After tonight she would never be in trouble again.
Everybody would see. The name calling, the finger pointing, the decorations superglued to her locker, all of it would stop. Tonight would be the night she was right and the rest of the world was wrong.
Her finger trembles on the trigger. Not from the cold though. All she has to do is press the button at the right time and she will have her proof. After all these years they will all believe her. After tonight everyone will know the beast of Layman’s Way is real.
This is stupid. She is never going to find the beast by following the path. Camera raised, her feet leave the path into the sodden undergrowth, brambles clinging to her jeans, she treks up the slope trying to limit the soft sharp pants of her breath.
The trees thin until she emerges into a perfectly round clearing, so round it can only be man made, but with no evidence of how. This is the sort of place you only find if you are lost or you know what you are looking for. Maybe the monster designed this?
Paws drumming against soggy leaves makes her lose the thought. She raises the camera, the viewfinder becomes an extension of her eyes as she scans the undergrowth on the opposite side of the clearing. It’s murky with shadows and the wind tricks her making her dart the camera back and forth looking for any sign of actual movement.
Another twig snaps, but she is standing still. Digging her heels into the mud she tries to stop her knees from quivering, not for fear of the monster but rather pure excitement. This is it. She is going to get her proof
The monster bursts into the clearing. A surge of black and white fury. A guttural growling rolls through her like someone took a cat stuffed it in a bag and swung it around their head. She drops the camera. It bashes into her chest, painfully glancing off her left boob, but she can’t even bring herself to wince to focus on the creature before her.
It’s a badger.
The heaviness which forms in her chest is suffocating, like someone filled it with lead and threw her in the ocean. She’s so stupid. Slowly, she bends to get the camera wiping the mud off the lens. Her sister is going to kill her, this camera was brand new a couple of hours ago.
Why did she come out tonight? Maybe everyone is right, there is nothing for her to find in the woods. After all that all she got for her blog was a picture of a stinking badger. She checks the photo, maybe she could pass it off as something more to justify to her mum why she had to sneak out, why she had to follow her gut.
No. It’s a blurred picture, but it’s obviously a badger. Great.
Now there is nothing stopping her mum from ripping her a new one when she sees the rip in her new coat. The badger stares at her, like he doesn’t know what a disappointment he has been, when will it run away and stop mocking her?
Why isn’t it running away?
She frowns. Badgers always run.
The loud wet breathing of an animal panting starts behind her. A rumbling growl shakes her bones. Louder than the sound the badger made, more primal, it makes the hairs on her arms stand on end. Turning slowly, she faces the monster. A pair of yellow eyes stare at her. They are too big to be a badger. Much too big.
The growling grows to crescendo as her finger slams into the button, like lighting the flash electrifies the woods. A wrinkled grey nose accompanies those bloody yellow eyes. The eyes which come closer and closer and closer.
“I knew you were real!”
The eyes come closer. With the next flash the camera illuminates a pointed canine the size of her finger. Canines designed to tear her flesh off the bone, claws to hold her down, a tongue to lap up her blood. She gulps and whispers,
“I knew you were real.”
The monster comes closer. Stepping backwards her knee whacks into something, her scream barely audible over the tremendous growl of the beast. Head landing in the mush of leaves the camera flung from her hands.
Yellow teeth snap at her, a whiff of rancid breath, it's not just a wolf. It makes a wolf look like a Border Collie. This is much, much bigger. Her own scream rings in her ear.
Finding her feet, she runs. Blood rushing too loudly in her ears to tell if it is following her. She doesn’t stop running until she has reached home hauling herself into her bedroom window and her lungs burn. She’s never run that far or fast in her life. It’s only when she is under the duvet, still in her mud soaked jeans, teeth chattering but not from the cold does she realise she is no longer holding the camera.
But none of that matters though.
She was right.