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Jin At Akel Dama


Now’s the only time for second thoughts, Jin realized as she stared into the forest ten yards ahead. It was late in the afternoon and the pale, but radiant sun was hidden behind the tallest trees. The few beams of light that broke through the bark were bright enough to cause Jin to squint whenever she looked upwards. Unfortunately, they didn’t provide any relief from the cold, bitter conditions. The weather channel had reported temperatures to be in the low twenties for the next few days. Snowfall was to be expected overnight.

Jin wasn’t sure whether it was the weather, or the appearance of the forest, that was causing her to tremble slightly. She wasn’t the type to get scared easily. Reporters and journalists constantly found themselves in dire situations. They had to be able to stay calm under most circumstances. Whatever it takes to get the story. There was something about the feel of this place, though… Don’t let Mrs. Kopec’s stories get to you. The majority of the oak trees that made up the forest were leaning to the right, some of them closer to the ground than others. The density of the trees and plants made it nearly impossible to see more than thirty feet into the wooded area. It would undoubtedly be a hassle to walk through. Jin frowned.

Both Amy and Mrs. Kopec had advised against it, but she felt compelled to explore every mystery that Selah contained. Right now the red “x” marked on the map was her only concern. Even if it wasn’t related to Christmas, she had to find out what it was all about. Although Mrs. Kopec had tried to discourage her from going by telling her of the risks - her interest had only increased.

“Why on Earth would you want to go there?!” Mrs. Kopec had asked, her bewilderment obvious through both her voice and facial expression. She glanced back and forth between Jin and the map laid out across the kitchen table. “And who gave you this map?”

“A kind woman I spoke to earlier,” Jin replied. She was surprised by the sharpness in Mrs. Kopec’s voice. “What’s there?”

“I don’t think you should concern yourself with that, young woman,” Mrs. Kopec replied. “I’m surprised that anyone was willing to talk to you about that… place. They’re usually so tight-lipped when it comes to our community.”

“I need answers. And I need to know why this place is marked with an X. I want to see it.”

Mrs. Kopec sighed and rested one hand on the table. “I suppose you’re going to go there regardless of what I want.”

Jin didn’t reply. The determination on her face was enough of an answer.

“When you get to be my age you tend to just listen to what people say,” Mrs. Kopec told her. “And when our family moved here my husband was explicitly warned to stay out of the forest. Unless we wanted to visit the elder woman who lives there… we were to steer clear.”

“You never found out why?”

“Well,” Mrs. Kopec grimaced. “I went out to the park one morning and there were a couple of other women there. The park is, maybe two miles away from the forest. So it was brought up and I asked what was wrong there. They said that the grounds were cursed in a certain area… a hollow, I believe they called it. And supposedly people have disappeared there in the past.”

“No history behind it?”

“Not really, just a collection of stories. I honestly don’t remember too many of them. I never had any intentions of going there after my husband was warned. I’m not a curious woman. The main point of everything that I heard, was that it was haunted. And that those who have come back were cursed for having gone in too far.”

“Cursed, how?”

“Some disappeared later, some committed suicide,” Mrs. Kopec told her, grimly. “The others just disappeared inside of their houses and never come out. They won’t answer the door and they move about… wrong.”

The warning would have been enough to convince any other human being to stay away. Not this one. Jin took in a deep breath and stepped off the curb to head towards the forest. She glanced around for something to serve as an entrance but there was none. The entire outskirt of the forest was covered in either thick foliage or thorn bushes. It was almost as if nature was giving her a final chance to leave. One that she was now thinking might be wise to take… then again, I have at least a couple of hours before nightfall. According to the map, she would probably be able to reach her destination within fifteen or twenty minutes. It’ll be worth it.

Jin found a slight clearing between a thorn bush and a tree. She placed her back against the tree and sucked her stomach in. Then, she gingerly inched her way through the narrow space. Two thorns caught onto her coat but she wasn’t moving fast enough for them to penetrate her skin. She carefully grabbed the stem with her thumb and index finger, and pulled it away from her. Two more small steps and she was in the forest.

She was starting to become discouraged already. If getting in was that much of a hassle, then she couldn’t imagine how difficult the rest of her journey would be. Her worries were momentarily put to rest when she spotted a trail leading straight ahead. It was only obscured every twenty yards or so. Even then, none of the foliage was nearly as thick as it had been at the entrance. Jin made her way over to the trail and walked along it.

Nearly twenty minutes later she was wishing that she owned a machete. She would have progressed much further by now if she didn’t have to occasionally stray from the path to advance. The shrubbery was just too thick to do otherwise. It also seemed that the deeper she went, the trees became more twisted and deformed. This, along with their almost unnaturally pale color, caused some of them to resemble the skeletons of large animals.

The entire town of Selah was like something out of a dream, but the forest was even more surreal. The neighboring towns and cities were heavily populated by animals. Thus far, besides the occasional bird, Jin hadn’t seen any. Maybe they think the forest is as weird as I do. Not that the rest of the town was especially busy, but the forest became quieter and quieter with every step. By now, she couldn’t hear anything except for her feet stepping on dry leaves and twigs.

A square block of wood appeared posted to a tree twenty yards ahead. Could this be what I’m looking for? If not, Jin was just about ready to call it a day. It had to be close to four o’ clock and the sun would be setting within an hour or so. God only knew how long it would take to find her way out. She wasn’t scared, not really, but there was no way she would be caught out here after dark. The lack of animals and the silence were sure signs that this wasn’t a friendly environment.

Once she was near enough, Jin saw that there were two words engraved into the square piece of wood. She stepped directly in front of it and tilted her head to get a clear look; the tree it was posted on, like all of the others, was leaning to one side. Hm? Jin narrowed her eyes in confusion. It wasn’t in English… or any other of the seven languages that she had become proficient in.


The hell does that mean? Is it Arabic? Maybe Hebrew? Latin? For that matter, it could be graffiti. Considering how uptight all of the adults were, the teenagers would need an outlet. Even if it was something as lackluster as venturing out into the forest and carving gibberish. Everyone else was afraid of the X so the younger citizens probably took advantage of the location. That was if they weren’t also intimidated by its reputation. Then again, it could simply be something that people like Bill used to keep everyone else in line. Jin had a feeling she would be crossing paths with him again before she left Selah.

Upon stepping past the tree, Jin groaned when she realized that the trail had ended. Her heart started to sink until she saw that she didn’t need it. Fifteen feet ahead the forest turned into a spacious clearing. She eased her way through the remaining trees and shrubbery while observing Akel Dama. That’s what I’m calling it until someone does tell me that it’s baby language. Jin stepped on something soft and her foot went right through it. She heard a crunch, along with a wet squishing sound. Gross.

Gingerly, she lifted her foot and felt something clinging to it even through the shoe. Jeez… would it kill you to keep walking and ignore that? No, it wouldn’t. Nevertheless, Jin lowered her eyes to the ground before her feet. A raccoon lied there, long dead, with its lifeless eyes staring straight ahead. Its mouth was open slightly, revealing its nearly razor sharp teeth. Jin had stepped right onto its stomach, which was evident by the shoe print embedded in its fur and entrails; some of which had spilled out onto the ground.

Jin felt her stomach churning in disgust and turned her attention to her shoe. Immediately, she tore her eyes away and focused them on the trail ahead. Then she rubbed the outside edge of her foot along the dirt before stepping over the raccoon. There had been another chunk of the animal’s insides attached to her foot. She tried to push the image from her mind as she continued towards the clearing. Unfortunately, she hadn’t gone two steps when her foot landed on something solid. The crunch was louder this time, and sounded like an explosion in her ears.

Grimacing, Jin once again looked down and almost shrieked. She had stepped on the now broken skeleton of a small animal, either a squirrel or a chipmunk. There wasn’t any gore left behind this time but it was still equally revolting. What is this? Jin raised her foot and placed it directly in front of the remains, afraid to step on anything else. As she brought the other foot up to join it, she returned her gaze to her surroundings and gasped in horror.

The entire outskirt of the clearing was littered with animal remains. They were all in various stages of decay. Some had rotted away ages ago and others appeared to be perfectly fine. There were a few other raccoons, probably a hundred squirrels and chipmunks, several rats, and dozens of other creatures. They were spread out along the outside of the clearing. Some had made it inside but apparently didn’t get too far.

Jin carefully stepped through them, silently thanking the heavens that she hadn’t smelled them yet. Considering the stench often attributed to a single dead animal, it was surprising that she wasn’t throwing up her insides yet. Either the air was so brisk that the odor had no time to circulate, or she had a cold that she was unaware of. The only smell drifting into her nostrils was one similar to burning wood. That must have been what happened here… a fire. Otherwise there was no explanation for the way that it looked.

The entire clearing was devoid of grass or any other type of greenery. Towards the center of it, the ground appeared to be charred and was black in color; opposed to the brown of the dirt around it. Certainly a fire wouldn’t have claimed such a finely woven space, though. The clearing was almost a perfect circle. That, and a fire had not been responsible for the deaths of the animals. It was something else.

Jin started towards the center of the clearing thirty feet away. A cold sensation settled on her back and caused her to shudder uncomfortably. The heavy coat she was wearing had been enough to shield her from the frigid temperature thus far. Why is it failing now? The cold faded as she continued but remained, along with a slight pressure, midway down her back. It was a heavy feeling… one that she had never experienced before. Almost as if someone with icy hands was pressing on her back; sending a vibration out from the point of contact. One that reverberated throughout her entire body as she moved closer to the clearing.

What is this all about? Someone whispered directly behind her left ear and Jin spun around. Only the forest and the deceased animals were in view. Whatever it was had been close enough for her to have felt its breath on the back of her head. Making a face, Jin turned to pay attention to where she was going, shaking her head. My imagination? Yet, Jin had never really been troubled by an overactive imagination. She was generally quite calm and rational. Maybe it was the wind. Maybe you should leave. No. This is what I came here for.

Only fifteen more feet and she would find out what had brought her out here in the first place. What had kept so many other people away from here. And also, what had kept them from even talking about it. Almost as if the mere mention of it would bring on some terrible fate. What are you thinking? In the center of the clearing was a hole, roughly five feet in diameter. The outside of it was charred and from where she was, Jin couldn’t see what it led to.

A blast of cold air hit her upper torso and head from behind, bringing another chilling sensation with it. When the wind had faded, the pressure on her back spread to the base of her skull. It remained in both areas and caused concentrated vibrations in them. Is someone watching me? Jin wondered where that thought had come from at first but she had never felt this before. The coldness pressing against her mid-back and the back of her head was terrifying for some reason. Only the one focused on her head didn’t feel like a hand. It was… different. She could almost feel a pair of eyes glaring at her from somewhere in the forest.

Jin glanced over her shoulder to assure herself that she was alone. Once again she confirmed it and turned back to the hole, which was two feet away. Jin came to a halt here, not wanting to get any closer. The odor of burning wood was immediately carried up into her nostrils. She almost gagged on it and brought a hand up to cover her face. It did little to stop the effects of the tainted air, which seemed to burn in her lungs. Jin leaned forward and peered into the hole.

Blackness returned her stare from the opening in the ground. The weakening sun wasn’t able to penetrate the void. If she didn’t know any better, Jin would have thought it was actually a black surface. She had never seen a darkness so thick, anywhere. It appeared to be a wall of some sort, a force. Although it was foreboding she somehow felt drawn to it. She imagined hands reaching up from the depth, beckoning for her to come closer.

The emotions that swarmed over her momentarily kept her from doing so. They definitely weren’t her own - nor had she ever felt anything similar in intensity. Despair. Unbelievable pain and anguish. Feelings so powerful that they nearly overwhelmed her. Why am I feeling this? It’s almost like they’re becoming my own emotions… like I’m becoming… Jin started to lean forward even more when she heard a raspy, yet audible whisper, “Jin.”

She immediately jumped back, startled. Another lingering inspection of her environment followed, but provided no explanation for the voice. None but the one that she didn’t want to believe. It came from in there… Her heart was pounding painfully against the ribcage protecting it. She clutched her chest with her left hand and took a deep breath, trying to calm herself down.

Then she felt a ball of dread growing deep in the pit of her stomach. Jin’s knees started to buckle and she shrieked as she lost her balance. She fell towards the bottomless pit, which rushed up anxiously to meet her. At the last second, she managed to turn her body and land beside it. Rolling away, Jin sprang up to her feet and began to move towards the way she had come from. She had to move gingerly because her entire body was trembling. I don’t want to end up falling again… not this close to the hole.

Tearing her eyes away from it, Jin turned to leave but was stopped in her tracks. A thick, brown object was lying across her path. It appeared to be a fallen log of some sort and was three feet high off of the ground. The entire thing stretched from one end of the clearing to the other where it disappeared in the forest. Where the hell did this come from? She didn’t want to touch it. But if it’s the only way out, I’m climbing over it. She took a step forward when she noticed that the log had a peculiar look to it.

There appeared to be a pattern made up of diamonds in the bark. Her initial thought was that someone had etched a diamond or two into a tree. Then she observed that the entire length of it was covered with the same pattern. At that exact moment, she heard an almost deafening inhalation that grew louder as it continued. It reminded her of someone slithering with their mouth; breathing in while holding their tongue between their teeth. There was also a pitch to it that sounded like a flying vehicle preparing to take off; growing louder and louder with each second. God, I hope it’s not breathing. If it was coming from respiration, it wasn’t human. It was a lot bigger. Jin was about to cover her ears when the sound stopped, and was followed by a far more quiet exhale. The sound repeated itself. This time she thought it sounded like a…hiss. No.

The pattern, and the hissing was coming from the object lying in front of her. It wasn’t a log it was a - Jin clamped her hand over her mouth to keep from screaming. Snake. She had to bite into the glove to trap any sounds from coming between her lips. To her horror, her whimpering soon became audible. In her ears, it seemed even louder than the animal’s breathing. She hoped that it was her imagination as she glanced to each side. Where is the head?

Jin searched around for it without moving more than her head and neck. Regardless of how it had gotten there so fast, the creature had to have seen her. So then why hadn’t it attacked her yet? Locating its head was probably a lost cause. She wouldn’t be able to outrun something so massive, and snakes were known for moving quickly when they wanted to. I can’t give up, though. I have to try. Tears began to run down Jin’s face and onto the glove covering the bottom half of it. She took a step back.

A twig snapped from the forest to her left and she turned. She saw it immediately. The head of the serpent was hidden behind a grove of bushes but she could see its eyes. They were both twice the size of her head and as black as the hole behind her. Except for the center of them. The narrow, black vertically shaped pupils were lined by a fading white color. Jin was paralyzed with fear. She wasn’t even able to lower her hand from her face as the eyes held her captive.

Although it only added to her terror, she was glad that she couldn’t move. She had a feeling that if she even blinked, it would attack her. As huge as the body was, she knew she would go down its throat without a problem. She had seen snakes on television not even one-fourth the size of this one swallow dogs and other animals whole. She had heard the stories about them doing the same to fully grown men. The creature seemed to be telling her that it would do the same to her.

The snake blinked once, deliberately. When its eyes closed for that brief moment, the trance was lifted. Jin turned and jumped up over the snake’s body. She didn’t have enough momentum to carry her over it and she ended up stepping on it with one foot. It wriggled underneath her and she screamed as she crashed to the ground. The snake hissed more violently as it crashed through the forest around Jin. She staggered up to her feet, still screaming, and charged forward.

She ran as fast as she could. Her legs were unsteady and the fear coursing through her entire body was immense. You have to try! Jin ignored the sounds of the smaller animals’ bodies breaking under her feet. She tried to listen out for the snake so that she could tell how close it was. Maybe if she tried to run evasively she would buy herself more time. Glancing over her shoulder, Jin half expected to see the snake’s open mouth only inches away, ready to take her in.

The clearing was empty; the snake gone. She could still hear the hissing, which sounded as if it was coming from all around her. Man, where the hell is it? Jin turned her eyes ahead of herself to watch where she was going. It didn’t matter where it was, she could only concern herself with escaping. She would have to run until one of two things happened. Either she would reach the edge of the forest… or she would be swallowed alive.


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