“I don’t go to Barrow Woods. Don’t go anywhere near them.” Jeff took another swig from his pint. I watched as the beer sloshed against his mouth and some of it trickled out from the sides of his mouth and down his chin. Jeff wiped it with the back of his hand and then plunged his fingers into a bag of pork scratching and crunched away noisily.
“Go on, Jeff!” I implored him, “It’ll be a laugh!” I wanted him to come with us on the camping trip I had planned to celebrate the end of our time in Badgers Crossing. Our A-Levels had been completed and we had been working throughout the summer and it was almost time to pack up for university. I wanted to the gang to head off for a night in the woods where we would have a big campfire and drink beer until the sun rose.
“No chance.” Jeff shook his head, “I’m not going and I don’t think you should either.” He placed his empty pint glass on the bar and signalled to the barman that he wanted another. He ordered a further drink for me too.
“Why not?” I asked, “You’re always up for a laugh.”
“A laugh, yes. But there’s nothing to laugh about in Barrow Woods. Pick somewhere else.”
“There’s nowhere else as spooky as Barrow Woods!” I told him.
“That’s the problem.” Jeff replied, and then told me his tale…
I was seven years old when my mum and dad moved to Badger’s Crossing. Dad had got a job at the PLANUS laboratories developing some artificial intelligence system and we had rented a detached bungalow on the very edge of Barrow Woods until the sale of our house in the town centre went through. I remember as we drove up to the cottage through the fields. It was an early autumn evening and the light was low casting a golden glow over the fields of long grass. The woods were dark and dense and I couldn’t wait for the next day to explore them, imagining the adventures I would have played at being Robin Hood. The excitement was unbearable as the car bumped down the hard-packed earth track to the small bungalow. The car radio was playing a popular Peter Gabriel song with an eerie opening and lyrics about opening windows and doors and leaving a mark, or something. There were no other houses nearby and I secretly hoped we could stay there forever.
The bungalow was a small, two bedroomed affair with a kitchen/diner and a separate living room. A bathroom was situated at the back of the house and the frosted glass window looked out towards Barrow Woods. I ran around the bungalow, taking in as much as I could whilst Dad was outside, crawling on his hands and knees in the crawlspace beneath the building with his torch in hand.
“What you doing, Dad?” I asked.
“Trying to turn on the gas supply.” Came the muffled response, “Uurgh!!!”
“What is it? What’s wrong?” I cried in alarm, responding to my dad’s exclamation of horror.
“Yuck!” He replied, “Looks like some animal has been using our crawlspace for its dining room.”
Dad emerged from the crawlspace carrying the carcass of a fox. It looked as if it had been torn to shreds and had clearly been partially devoured. It also looked and smelled fairly recent.
“I’ll get a lock put on the crawlspace hatch so it doesn’t blow open in the wind. We don’t want any more surprises like that.” Dad said, getting to his feet and walking towards the wood. I jogged along beside him.
“What do you suppose killed the fox, Dad?” I asked.
“Oh, it could be anything,” he replied, “Nothing to worry about.”
We walked through the tree line and my dad stopped to hurl the carcass into a deep patch of ferns before turning back towards the bungalow.
“You don’t think it could be a bear do you?” I asked him.
“No,” he laughed, “Not in this country!” He kicked the crawlspace hatch shut as we passed it and climbed up the three wooden steps onto the veranda and into the house.
The next day Dad was up early to go to work and Mum set about unpacking only what we needed. I ate my breakfast cereal in a hurry and unpacked my toy bow and arrow and asked my mum if I could play out.
“Yes, but don’t go far,” she told me, “Stay within earshot.”
I did as promised and played in the fields around the bungalow. It was still warm and my mum had a window open in the kitchen and the radio playing. As I played I heard “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?” by Culture Club drifting in the air, the latest number one. I sung along with it as I took aim with my bow and launched an arrow with a rubber sucker towards an old wooden fence post, thick with lichen. I watched as the arrow disappeared past the fence post and, caught by a gust of wind, sail into the tree line. I swore quietly, not wanting my mum to hear. I shouldn’t really go into the woods on my own.
I had a quick look over my shoulder. No sign of Mum so I risked it and ran into the trees to find my arrow. It took a few minutes but I soon found it, resting on a rotting branch. I was amazed at how perfectly balanced it was. It was almost as if someone had placed it there. As I bent to retrieve it I caught a whiff of the most awful smell imaginable. It smelt of turd and urine and rotting meat and I felt sick. I grabbed my arrow and ran, desperate for fresh air. I thought to myself that I must have fired my arrow close to where my dad had thrown the fox carcass.
Fed up of playing with my bow and arrow, I went back inside. Mum hadn’t noticed that I had snuck into the woods and made me a sandwich which I ate with relish whilst reading my Eagle comic, flicking straight to the Doomlord story.
After lunch, the man from BT came to install the telephone line and he disappeared into the crawlspace under the bungalow. When he reappeared he told my mum that the crawlspace should be locked. I didn’t hear everything he said but I heard the words “footprints”, “intruder” and “safe”. Mum told him that Dad was getting a lock on his way home from work and not to worry. After he had left Mum carried on with getting the house sorted out.
Dad came home early, carrying a lock and I sat and watched as he fitted it to the crawlspace hatch. The sun was dipping beyond the horizon and everything was getting darker.
“Dad,” I said, “The phone man said something about intruders. What did he mean?”
“I’m sure it’s nothing,” Dad said, looking at me, “I suspect he was worried that people might get in under the house and try and break in. But this lock will stop anyone getting in.”
Feeling relieved I went back inside where Mum had prepared dinner. I wolfed down my bangers and mash hungrily before watching a couple of hours of television and then going to bed. As I settled into bed I thought I heard a rattling beneath my window. I strained to hear anything further but there was nothing. In my mind’s eye, I pictured the layout of the house. Beneath my window was the crawlspace hatch. I pulled my duvet over my head and screwed my eyes up tight.
I woke the next morning feeling tired. I had had a restless night filled with dreams of intruders and bears and Doomlord. Mum and Dad were up and I found out that Dad was working a late shift at the laboratory so Mum could take me in the car to town and buy my uniform for Oldbrook Primary School. We bumped down the track and onto the Broccton Road into town, parking near the clock tower. The town of Badger’s Crossing had a small shopping area and my mum led me to a haberdashery shop called “Zips N Snips” to buy my school uniform. As we went in she got chatting to the old lady who worked behind the counter, explaining that she needed to buy my school uniform. The gossiped like grownups do and I pottered about, not really listening. Mum was saying about the bungalow and how cheap the rent was and the woman asked how long we were staying there for.
“Only until the house sale goes through,” Mum told her, “A week or two at most.”
“Oh that’s good,” the Old Lady said in relief, and then added quickly, “It’s probably best for the boy if he’s nearer the school and children his own age.”
We got back home in time for lunch and Dad took the car to work. Mum insisted on sewing name tapes into my school uniform and I watched television, waiting patiently for the children’s shows to come on. In time I was rewarded and just as “Willow the Wisp” was ending, Mum announced that dinner was ready. Fish fingers, chips and peas were placed in front of me and I tucked in happily. Just as I had finished, the telephone rang and Mum went to answer it. The phone was in the kitchen and we had a fancy push-button phone on a long coiled wire so Mum could talk and walk around the kitchen. She had planned to take it with her to the new house.
“Oh hi, Mandy!” Mum said down the phone. It was my Aunt Mandy. That meant she would be on the phone for ages so I slipped out of the kitchen and made my way down the hallway to the living room. As I walked down the hallway I noticed that the chain on the front door was on. I remembered what the phone man had said about intruders and felt reassured. But only for a moment.
The doorknob began to turn. Only very slowly, but it squeaked as it did. I froze. I could hear Mum still talking on the phone in the kitchen, laughing loudly. The doorknob turned a bit more and I thought for a moment that maybe Dad had come home from work early. There was a clunk as the latch freed and the door began to open. It moved extremely slowly and I stood rooted to the spot as it began to open wider and then was stopped by the chain.
Dad will knock in a minute, I thought, for someone to undo the chain. But no knock came. What did happen next shocked me. I watched as a grubby, hairy hand slid through the gap and moved up to the chain. Filthy fingers grabbed the chain and started pulling at it.
“Nooo!” I whined and launched myself at the door, trying to slam it shut. I threw my seven-year-old body at the door trying to push it close and I was assaulted by the same disgusting smell that I had encountered the day before in the woods. Whoever was on the other side of the door was too heavy for me and I couldn’t get the door to shut. I heard the fingers tugging at the chain, scrabbling to free it and I fought as hard as I could to close it.
“Mum! Mum!” I shouted, but she didn’t respond. I didn’t know if she couldn’t hear me or thought I was messing around, but I was panicking like mad. I slammed my body against the door but it had no effect. I screamed for my mum several times, feeling as if I was in a bubble where no one could hear me. Then I heard my mum say to Aunt Mandy:
“Jeff’s done something. I’ll call you back.” She hung up and then called out to me: “Jeff? What’s going on?”
At this point, whatever was on the other side of the door must have heard my mum and it pulled its hand away and moved away from the door. The door slammed shut and I sat with my back against it, eyes wide in horror and crying, unable to speak.
“What’s going on?” she asked me.
I tried to respond, but no words would come out. I pointed to the door and managed to gasp one word: “Intruder”.
Mum went to open the door, her fingers on the chain ready to slip it from its catch.
“No, mum!” I cried, “Don’t! Out there… an intruder!”
She looked at me, sat on the floor, crying. A look of annoyance yet a glimmer of worry.
“Don’t be silly,” she said, “There’s nothing out there.”
Her hand moved to the outside light switch and she flicked it on and then she peered out of the peephole in the door. She looked annoyed and then went as white as a sheet.
“I CAN SEE YOU! GET AWAY FROM THE HOUSE! I’M NOT GOING TO OPEN THE DOOR!” Mum yelled at the closed door, “Jeff, get my keys!”
I ran into the kitchen and grabbed the house keys from the table and ran back to my mum. She locked the door and then ran to the back door and made sure that was locked too before grabbing the phone. She ran into the hallway, stretching the cord as far as it could.
“I’M CALLING THE POLICE!” She shouted at the door. I was stood between her and the front door and could hear the occasional muffled thump against the door as someone or something leaned against it. The doorknob turned and that thumping noise again. Mum was pressing 999 on the phone and desperately trying to hold it together as she spoke to the operator in a panicked tone, trying so hard to explain what was going on and where we were. The call ended and my mum dropped the phone and grabbed me, holding me tight. I was terrified. There was something out there, trying to get in. I wailed loudly and then we heard the sound of something sliding up the outside of the door and tramp across the veranda and down the steps. Mum rushed to the peephole and peered out. She ran back to me and held me tight.
“It’s gone, Jeff. I saw it go.”
The police arrived very quickly and sent a Police dog out to search for the intruder. The Police dog handler picked up a scent that led into the woods but later said that he had found nothing. The lock on the crawlspace hatch had been pulled loose but still held, but it was clear that someone had been trying to pull it off. Dad left work early, having been contacted by the Police and we stayed the night in a hotel in the town. In fact, we stayed in that hotel until the house sale went through a couple of weeks later. I never went back to the bungalow. Mum and Dad went back only to collect our belongings and never went near it again.
I drained my pint and looked at Jeff, astonished.
“So what was the intruder?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” Jeff said, “But I’m not going into Barrow Woods. Ever.”
We drive our cars down a hard packed earth track to a large field. There is a large flat area of land where it looks like a building once stood and it makes the perfect spot to park our cars. As we are getting our backpacks on, Robert and Paul comment about the low sun and how it bathes everything in a gold glow. Paul wishes that Jeff could have come but I tell them he had something else on and couldn’t make it. With our packs on we push on through the long grass, passing a line of lichen covered fence posts and into the trees. We only have a couple of hours of daylight left at best so we need to find a place to set up our camp. As we push on through the trees I notice a smell of excrement, urine and rotting meat and hope that it won’t ruin our trip.
© Robert Johns 2018
Here’s what Robert has to say about his story:
The inspiration for this story came, mostly, from the famous 1972 horror docudrama – The Legend of Boggy Creek – which both thrilled and terrified me as a child. I particularly remembered the parts of the film where the Fouke monster laid siege to the house which was based on the experiences of Elizabeth and Bobby Ford in Fouke, Arkansas. If you haven’t seen the film, you really should. It comes across as a bit dated now, but it still entertains me.
The Legend of Boggy Creek was my first introduction into Cryptozoology and I have had something of an interest ever since, conducting numerous field trips in search of Alien Big Cats and the like. I also wrote a story about a strange woodland creature in my Penny Dreadfuls series. Entitled: “Blueberries” it was the result of some reports I had received when conducting an investigation into strange creatures on Cannock Chase in Staffordshire. It was enough to dissuade one of my friends from going onto the Chase again!
Do I believe in Bigfoot and his kind? To quote Fox Mulder from the X Files: “I want to believe”, but I think that rather than the existence of missing links or undiscovered simians in the UK (the existence of Bigfoot in the US is a different matter), I think we are more likely to encounter a feral human rather than an actual “monster”. That’s what I wanted the Intruder in this story to be – a feral human, a lot like the “Jersey Devil” in the X-Files episode of the same name Although, you don’t really get much contact with him (or her?) in the story maybe they’re still out there in Barrow Woods.