Ugh I hate camping, why are we even here? I could be sunning myself on a beach right now Emily thought as she slapped the buzzing little shit circling her head, she glared at her mother- giggling like a schoolgirl and slapping Gregg’s arm at something so fucking hilarious he said. If looks could kill, Gregg would be a smoking pillar of ash right now.
Gillian and Gregg had been dating six months, after her husband died, she never thought she’d be happy again but Gregg had brushed all of those thoughts under the carpet, he’d swept her off her feet. Now, six months after they first laid eyes on each other, she was completely, head over heels in love.
Her daughter however, hated him. With a passion. It wasn’t just the fact that Gregg wasn’t her father, she didn’t feel like he was replacing him. No one could ever replace the marvellous Robert Browman. Emily had been her daddy’s little princess and her bond with him transcended life and death. In fact when her mother first told her she had been seeing someone, Emily was over the moon, her mum had been a wreck when she lost her husband of 19 years. She’d sunk so low into depression, it felt, to Emily like she had lost both of her parents. Seeing her mum emerge from that black hole made Emily ecstatic.
Until she met him.
There was something wrong with Gregg, she couldn’t quite put her finger on it but it was definitely there, even if she was the only one that could sense it. He reminded her of a ventriloquist dummy, he had the impression of a fake plastic surface with nothing underneath. Sure he looked human and talked like a human but there was an essential spark missing from his, cold, dead eyes.
Emily cringed as her mum leaned in to kiss him. He’s probably brought us to the middle of nowhere to kill us and bury us in this stupid woodland, it probably hasn’t been populated since the dinosaurs. Emily thought, slapping another buzzing shit against her bare sweaty thigh. No, he’s probably going to eat us she thought, seeing the painted smile on his face as he turned to her.
“Would you like some more bug spray darlin’?” Gregg asked her in a monotonous tone.
Emily did, she really did but she’d rather get bitten to death then take anything from him.
“No, thank you” she replied matching his flat tone. “I think I’ll just go for a walk” she added, concentrating hard on not letting her anger leak into her voice, she abruptly stood up and started off into the woods.
“Don’t go too far honey” Her mum called after her, “you don’t want to get lost out here”
“I’ll be fine mum” Emily replied through gritted teeth stomping off through the swampy underbrush.
When Gregg sat Gill and Emily down at breakfast one morning and explained he had arranged a little holiday so they could all get to know each other better, Emily envisioned a tropical paradise. Laying on white sandy beaches and swimming in turquoise blue seas, sipping cocktails by the pool in the evening and extravagant, foreign meals in a formal dining room before retiring to a completely kitted out hotel room with all the new mod cons and a huge queen size bed. This was her last summer living at home after all, she was off to university in September.
What she actually got was mud, trees and a boggy, stinky pond. Warm bottled water and cold cans of beans. A too hot, cramped tent and a single blow up mattress. It was her idea of hell. Literally. She thought only half joking to herself he’s killed me already and I’m in actual hell.
Emily cursed her strappy sandals as she stomped through the jungle. Complete waste of money, he could have warned me he was taking us here. She thought staring mournfully at the mud caked into the pretty butterfly pattern down the side. Sighing in frustration she flopped down onto a comfy looking carpet of moss under a huge old tree, flapping her floaty turquoise t-shirt to get some air and opened her mystery novel to where she had left it and immersed herself into the world of ‘who dunnit’.
He’s so handsome! Gill thought as she ran a hair through Gregg’s curls. So funny too! She thought as she burst out into another fit of giggles. I feel 16 again! Not in my wildest dreams did I think someone like Gregg would come along. 6”2, thick, blond hair, with ice blue eyes, he’s mostly in shape, just about starting to show that middle age spread but who isn’t at our age? Gregg did indeed look like a good catch, on the surface… where did that thought come from? Gill pushed that little niggle to the back of her mind and went back to admiring her gorgeous boyfriend.
“I have to admit, I have an ulterior motive getting you two out here together” Gregg said in that flat tone, to Gill’s ears however it sounded honey sweet and deep like smooth dark chocolate. Just the sound of that voice so close to her made her flush, it was so hard for Gill to concentrate on what he was saying when he looked at her like that.
She shook her head clear and leaned back a little for some fresh air, “I’m sorry, what was that?” She asked in a reproachful giggle.
“I said, I have an ulterior motive” Gregg repeated patiently.
“Oh?” Gill ran through all the possibilities in her mind, taking several long slow seconds to think them through but in the end, the answer was obvious wasn’t it? At least to her it was, he was going to propose!!!! Gill tried to smooth down her hair back into its messy bun but the humidity wouldn’t allow it and it popped straight back out. She couldn’t hide her excitement and started slightly bouncing on her camping chair.
“Well…… Aren’t you going to ask me, tell me I mean.. What it is?” Gill practically squealed.
Gregg stared into her eyes, “you’ll find out soon enough, my love” He said. “Would you like some more bug spray?”
That’s when Gill noticed how itchy she was, bright red sores coated her arms and legs. “Ouch” she said, scratching at the lumps on her left arm. “How didn’t I notice this?” She mused aloud. I guess I was a little distracted… She added silently to herself. Oh god, look at the state of me, he’s definitely not going to propose to me like this! I look like a scaly lizard monster!
“Don’t worry Gilly, I’ve got some cream in the tent, I’ll be right back” Gregg reassured her with a kiss. He doesn’t look totally repulsed. Gill thought but soon all thoughts went out of her head as the itching rapidly grew unbearable. Gill scratched and scraped at her skin leaving bright red lines through the already sore flesh. The sores started leaking a bright green lumpy pus, it smelt like rotten flesh, Gill started to panic, he can’t see this, he can’t be near me right now, not if I still want him to propose, maybe if I walk back the way we drove I can find the cute store we passed a few miles back, surely the locals will know how to help.
Gill staggered to her feet, trying to remain silent but the itching was so bad and her skin felt like it was on fire she couldn’t help but moan with the movement. Slamming her hand over her mouth she waddled off into the woodland hoping she was going in the right direction, leaving puddles of green and red behind her.
Gregg watched silently from the shadows in the tent, a slight look of satisfaction on his wooden face.
He smiled when he heard the screams.
Gill looked down at herself in horror, all the red sores had opened and black stringy creatures were crawling out, gooey little octopus freaks with with double rows of sharp teeth eating their way out of her.
It was the last thing Gill ever saw.
Emily woke up with a start. Was that screaming I heard? Emily looked around her and remembered where she was, it was getting dark and the gloomy forest gave her the creeps. She thought back to the scream and wondered if it was real or imagined, looking at the cover on the book in her lap, she decided it was imagined. A dark creepy forest on my own with a murder mystery, good way to freak yourself out Em, well done. Still she knew she had to find her way back to camp, her mum was probably having kittens worrying about her. Emily briefly wondered where the expression ‘having kittens’ came from but brushed it off as she made her way back in the direction of camp.
The walk was slow going, the forest got darker and more ominous, with every step Emily took she grew more and more fearful, she had this strong impression something wasn’t right. She kept hearing her father’s voice in her head, trust your gut baby girl, if something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Emily fingered the chain hanging from her neck; the small silver locket her dad had got her, a picture of him and a baby Em laughing inside. Her dad spoke to her again- don’t go back baby, there is nothing good for you there… This he had told Emily after her first boyfriend had cheated on her by holding hands with another girl when they were 9, she was thinking about letting him stay her boyfriend. Emily smiled to herself and wiped at the tears in the corners of her eyes. Ssshhh now, you need to be quiet, her father counselled her.
Emily had a strong feeling something or possibly someone was trying to give her a message though she had no idea why. She obeyed the disconnected voice of her dad, and slowed her pace to a tip-toe through the last few bits of shrubbery, she slipped into the shadows behind one of the trees lining the miniscule clearing they had made camp in. At first she couldn’t see or hear anything out of the ordinary, there was a fire burning in the stone pit Gregg had built in the middle, it was happily cracking and snapping away, even though it was still far too hot for a fire, at least it drove away some of the shadows, it was starting to get really dark.
This turned out in her favour, after a few perplexing seconds of Emily crouching in the dark, wondering what she was looking out for, she saw Gregg. He was dragging something heavy into the clearing, grunting a little, at first Emily had no idea what she was looking at, then she noticed her mums long red hair, she’d never met anyone else with that exact hair colour. She stifled a gasp as more details leaped into focus. There were huge holes in her mother’s skin, not cuts or wounds… Just holes. Her skin was mottled grey with a green slime all over her. Even as she noticed these details, her mind rejected the overall picture. Her brain repelled the idea of her mother being dragged through the woods looking like week old roadkill with a bad cold.
Stay strong honeybunch, you know what to do, her father said again, she couldn’t remember exactly when he’d said this to her, he’d given her so much priceless advice over the years. Emily shook her head, keeping her hand over her mouth so she wouldn’t puke right there and then she slowly started creeping backwards. After the first few steps Emily gained confidence in her ability to make it out of there, until she stepped on a twig. Gregg’s head snapped around, like a cat, he zoned in on Emily, shaking in fear within the shadows of the trees.
Gregg dropped her mum, just dropped her like a sack of mouldy potatoes, he even kicked her! Tried to hide her behind him. “Come here Em, I’ve got something to show you” he said holding out his hand. Emily shook her head, taking another tentative step backwards, careful hon, you don’t want it to sting you now, do you? Emily’s father cautioned her. “Come here now, Emily, your mother and I want to tell you something” Gregg tried again, irritation colouring his voice.
Emily took another small step back, “I forgot my book” she lied “I’ll just be right back” she tried to keep the fear from shaking her voice but didn’t quite succeed.
“It’s too late now anyway Em, you might as well come here and face it” Gregg advanced on her, taking one large step.
Emily shook her head in denial, no it couldn’t be too late, not for her, not for her mother, she had to get help. Emily turned on her heel and sprinted into the night. It wasn’t easy going, Emily tripped and fell more times than she could count but was instantly back up and running, not caring if she got scratches and grazes. She weaved through the dense trees with just moonlight to show her the way, fear honing her precision and spurring her on. Her father, her lovable goofy father, in her mind cheering her, every step she ran.
Gregg grabbed a torch and raced into trees after her, his eyes whipping around wildly searching for any sign of her. Where the fuck as she gone?!
Luckily for Emily, Gregg was slow and lumbered loudly through the woods, the light slashing through the darkness only showcased his exact position. Emily however used to run cross country in school, it was a completely different experience in this ancient grove in the pitch black of course but her old stride came back to her with surprising ease.
Gregg tripped over a tree root and cursed loudly as he fell on the ground, the impact hard enough to snap his teeth together and rattle his bones. Think, think think Gregg demanded of himself, he wouldn’t allow this little bitch to get away and ruin everything. Then it came to him, he heard her trip over and fall just as hard as he had, he wouldn’t try to spot her, he would follow the sound of her thudding footsteps on the mulchy ground. Gregg picked himself back up and loped after Emily.
Something had changed, Emily could feel it in the air, her dad’s voice wasn’t being very optimistic either. Emily, you know you can do better he said with reproach. She shook her head, she could do better, she put that extra ounce of energy she had held in reserve into her legs and momentarily surged forward but it was too late. Gregg suddenly grabbed hold of her hair that was streaming out behind her, he wrapped it around his fist and pulled her off of her feet against his chest.
“What did you do to her?!” Emily screamed into his face, she was sobbing now, great heaving sobs, shaking her apart. “What did we ever do to you?!” She screamed again. Gregg just snarled and pulled her tighter against him, he was winded and panting heavily in her ears. Don’t give up Em, just one more try, you can do it, you’ll see, her dad, still egging her on gave her hope, if he hadn’t given up, neither would she.
Emily snapped her head back into Greggs stupid nose, she heard and felt it crack, at the same time she stamped the heel of her pretty butterfly sandals onto his foot. Gregg let her go in a roar of hatred and pain. Emily didn’t waste a second and was soon off running again before he could even get his breath back.
Gregg was getting desperate now, he needed to catch Emily and needed to do it now before anyone else heard her, they were getting closer and closer to the small village they’d driven through. He put everything he had into racing after her, tearing through the trees as fast as he could, he didn’t have the torch now, he’d dropped it some time during the scuffle but he had learned how to get around the trees now.
Minute after minute, Emily’s strength was fading and Greggs desperation was increasing. She could hear him gaining on her now, she had no more tricks up her sleeve, she had almost lost all hope, she could feel him gaining on her, she had this horrible fear that his reaching hands were only inches from the back of her neck. Emily screamed as she put the last of her strength into one final push, she was scraping the very bottom of her reserves now, running on empty.
Without warning Emily was suddenly blinded by bright, white lights, stabbing into her eyes, she heard a screech and the honk of a horn as the lights swerved around her. She’d made it to the road. Thank you daddy, thank you so much for helping me, she thought earnestly. Shielding her eyes, she turned to follow the blurry shape of the car as it skidded past her, there was a dull thud and the sound of something rolling over the metal body of the car before it came to a sudden stop. Emily ran over and saw Gregg, dead on the floor in the middle of the tire, scorch lines.
She sat right there in the middle of the road and looked into his lifeless eyes for the last time before breaking out into soul wrenching sobs, she held herself and let it all out in howling wails. She had made it, she was safe.
A middle aged woman got out the car and ran over to Emily, she was trying to ask her about what had happened, trying to see the wounds on her hands and knees, Emily wasn’t paying attention. All she could think was thank you daddy, thank god I’m safe, the nightmare is finally over.
That’s when the itching started.