The Man in the Storm

Prison is no pleasant place, especially not for new guys like me. That’s not important though. I’m only allowed to use the computer and access the internet for so long. What’s important is how I ended up here. It’s a story that needs telling.

Until a month ago, I was a regular guy.

I’d finally graduated from university with a diploma in engineering. Before I would join the workforce, I went on a well-earned vacation. One of my favorite activities was hiking, or, to be more precise, backpacking. During many of my semester breaks, I’d explored vast areas of Germany and parts of Western Europe.

I’m a typical loner, always have been, so I enjoy time alone in the wilderness.

I’d planned to spend spring and summer backpacking one last time. There were a few areas in Germany I hadn’t seen yet, and after that, I’d planned to make my way up to Denmark and Scandinavia.

On a Friday night, a few weeks ago, I had a chance encounter that should change my life forever.

I often traveled in the late evening and sometimes even at night. There’s something about the solitude of these late hours and having the stars above you. It’s quiet, relaxing, and most of all humbling.

As I walked on, my thoughts drifted to a topic that had been on my mind for a while now.

“Was a career in engineering what I wanted to do?”

I only noticed the thunderstorm when it was already too late. At first, it was only a drizzle, but within minutes it became a downpour.

I stopped to set up camp, but the storm had become way too bad. There was no way I’d be able to put up the tent.

Instead, I dashed for a nearby forest, to sit out the worst there. If I’d be lucky, I might even find a couple of trees that would shelter me enough to set up the tent.

When I was only a few dozen meters from the forest, I noticed a small wooden shack. It was a tiny thing, most likely constructed as a resting place for wanderers.

I didn’t like the look of this tiny, gloomy place at all, but being drenched in the rain was even worse.

As I stepped up to the small entrance, I noticed a light inside. When I peeked inside I saw a man sitting at a small cooking fire.

Before I could say a word or come up with a greeting, he noticed me.

“Hey, don’t stand there like this. Either get in or get the hell out of here.”

“Oh, yeah,” I said stepping inside, “sorry about that.”

With that, I took a seat opposite him but made sure I was right next to the exit. I was always the cautious type.

“So what brings you here at a time like this? We’re probably the only people still out.”

“Nothing much, I’m hiking, or, well, backpacking. Forgot the time and was surprised by the storm. Didn’t even get the chance to set up camp.”

At this, my new acquaintance laughed.

“Guess we’re both unlucky. I was out hunting when the storm surprised me as well. With it pouring like this, there was no way I’d make it home. So I decided to sit out the worst here.”

I gave him a friendly smile and nodded. Still, I didn’t like this situation at all. Sure, this guy seemed friendly enough, but sitting in a dark shack with a stranger didn’t feel right. It was unnerving.

After some time, he seemed to notice my demeanor and the anxious glances I took at him every once in a while.

“Come on now, I’m a hunter, not some psychopath or a serial killer.”

I looked up in surprise and shook my head.

“No, I didn’t mean to-“

“Relax, the name’s Thomas, I’m pulling your leg.”

“Eric,” I introduced myself.

“Honestly though, I can’t blame you. It’s creepy out here. Middle of the night, this small place here, the freaking thunderstorm, it doesn’t feel right. You scared the living hell out of me, appearing out of nowhere.”

I couldn’t help but laugh myself.

“Look who’s talking. You sitting there in the back like that. Why do you think I was afraid to step in?”

Now we were both chuckling.

“How long you think the storm will last?” I asked.

Thomas shrugged. “Storms like this are common this time of year, so I’d say an hour or two at the most.”

“Ah, you’re from around here, right?”

He nodded.

“I live down in the village,” he said and gave a brief nod to his left. “Can’t wait to get home. It’s way too late.”

While we continued our awkward small talk, Thomas pulled a piece of meat from his backpack. He sliced off a small piece of it with a long hunting knife. I inched back against the wooden wall of the shack when I saw it. I watched as he pierced the small piece and roasted it over the small flame of the cooking fire.

“Rabbit,” he said when he noticed me staring at him. “Real good, real tasty.”

I watched as he turned the meat from one side to the next. Fat juices were dripping from it and I felt my mouth watering.

“You hungry?” he asked when he noticed me watching him.

“Nah, I’m fine, it was just-“

“No need to be shy, there’s more than enough. It was quite the big one I caught today. Got no plates though, so you’ll have to do with the knife.”

As he held it out towards me, I noticed something was wrong with his hands. They looked dark or dirty. I was about to say something, but then kept my mouth shut.

Instead, I took the knife from him. I hadn’t admitted it, but I was starving. I blew on the steaming meat for a bit before I took a bite.

It tasted weird. I’d tried rabbit, and this here tasted different. To be honest, it tasted like nothing I’d ever eaten before.

“You sure this rabbit was all right? It tastes kinda funny.”

Thomas smiled and nodded.

“It’s because the meat’s fresh. Caught it earlier this evening, only a couple hours back. Fresh meat always tastes different.”

I sat there for a bit, staring at the knife in my hand before I tried another bite. It still tasted as strange as before.

“Don’t know, might not be my thing,” I said and returned the knife to him.

Thomas shrugged.

“Suit yourself. You ever been hunting yourself?”

“No, never. Why?”

“Just wondering. It’s a shame, really. Hunting’s amazing, almost exhilarating. Waiting for your prey, following it, exhausting it, and then taking it down. There’s something special about it. You know, it almost feels like I’m a different person, like I’m truly alive.”

I nodded but felt awkward. Somehow, what he’d just said didn’t sit right with me. It wasn’t so much his words, but his acting. He’d leaned forward, staring at me with wide eyes and a twisted grin on his face. I couldn’t help but shudder a little. For a moment my initial apprehension came back, and I regretted having returned the knife.

I tensed up when Thomas got up, but instead of jumping me, he stepped to the entrance of the shack and looked outside.

“Well what do you know, it’s stopped.”

As I listened, I realized he was right. The noise of the pouring rain outside had almost subsided.

“Guess I better get going. Need to catch at least some sleep before work tomorrow. Sorry, but I must leave you here by yourself.”

“All good, no worries.”

With that Thomas gathered his things, took care of the small cooking fire, and after a quick wink, he went on his way.

The moment he’d left, I took a long, deep breath and felt myself relaxing a little. Freaking hell, this entire encounter was creepy.

I took out my camping lamp and turned it on. I would not sit here in the dark like that all on my own.

As Thomas walked away, I listened to the sound of his footsteps. For a while, I could make them out before they grew more distant. Eventually, I couldn’t make them out anymore. Guess he’s gone for good, I thought.

Or he’s stopped somewhere nearby.

“Shit, don’t start to think about weird stuff,” I told myself. “He’s just a normal guy. Maybe a bit weird, but harmless.”

Still, I told myself to stay awake. You never knew. So I put the small lamp right next to me and positioned myself so I could see the shack’s entrance.

I thought about setting up camp somewhere else, but after the downpour, everything would be wet and muddy. As much as I hated it, I was best off staying right here.

While I sat there and watched the entrance, I felt myself drifting off to sleep. I don’t know how late or early it was when I finally dozed off.

I was woken up by a hand touching my shoulder.

I jerked awake and for a moment I was confused about my whereabouts. While I put together that I was still inside the shack, I found myself face to face with two police officers.

“Found someone inside, he was asleep,” the female one called out to someone outside.

“Care to explain what you’re doing here, young man?” the other one asked.

“I spent the night here because of the storm, officer. What’s going on?”

“Let’s go outside,” he said, leading me by the arm. The female officer stayed inside to have a look through my things.

“You think it was him?” another officer asked.

The one next to me shrugged.

“Says he stayed here because of the storm. Might be nothing but a coincidence.”

“Would be one hell of a coincidence,” the officer who’d been outside said, giving me a suspicious look.

“What’s going on here?” I finally asked.

“A young woman from a nearby village went missing last afternoon. Her family called us last evening. After the storm, we searched the area, in case she’d gotten herself hurt. Turns out she was right here.”

I looked around, but I saw no one here expect the police officers.

“She’s right behind the shack, dead. Stabbed half a dozen times with a knife. Care to tell us what you know about that?”

That’s when my world started spinning. My legs gave way as I remembered Thomas last night, the way he acted, the way he’d talked about hunting.

Then something clicked inside of my mind. A knife?

And with her loud voice, the female officer announced that she’d found precisely that inside the shack.

At this moment everything went down too fast. I was accused, handcuffed, and shoved into the back of the police car.

As we drove off, I told them all about Thomas and what had happened last night.

Then I recalled one more thing. It had been dark in the shack, but I’d wondered about his hands. I’d thought they’d been dark or dirty, but he must’ve been wearing gloves. And that’s when I realized why he’d handed me the knife.

He’d got me. He’d got me good.

When I remembered the meat, I gagged and almost threw up right inside the police car. They later proved my suspicions. They had found part of the girl inside the shack and in the remains of Thomas’s cooking fire.

The local news called it an utterly disgusting deed and a cannibalistic murder. I don’t know how often I told them the entire story, how often I pleaded with them, but they didn’t listen. Even my attorney, who believed my story, told me there was no way to prove any of it. They’d found no hint of anyone else having been there.

Thomas, or whatever his name was, must’ve prepared for this murder meticulously.

And with me stumbling right into his mess, he’d found the perfect scapegoat.

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