Seven Fingers

I always loved hiking.

Even as a child, I was torn towards the wilderness. While other girls wanted cute cloth and pretty dolls, all I wanted was to spend my days outside.

I guess it is due to the influence of my uncle, John. After my parents died, I came to live with him.

He was an ex-military man, a tough guy and knew nothing about children. In the end, John decided to teach me about the things he knew about most: the outdoors.

I grew to love that stuff. I learned about hiking, camping, climbing, how to make a fire and many other, similar things. I became quite the tomboy, as you can imagine.

Time passed and by now I am in my thirties. John has been dead for over a decade.

I’d love to tell you that I became some sort of free spirit who travels the world. It had been my dream ever since I was little, but unfortunately, my life took a different direction.

After high school and John’s death, I couldn’t afford to go to college. I started to work in an office to earn some money. Somehow this temporary position turned into a perpetual one. For more than ten years now I’ve been sorting through documents, typing out emails and, yes, making coffee.

Every once in a while though, when I’m on vacation, I tend to go out on a hiking trip. That’s what I did a few weeks ago too. I’d been looking forward to it for months.

I planned to visit a local mountain range, the forests around it and spend a couple of days hiking. Since it was summer by now, I decided to spend the nights camping in the wilderness.

The first day was terrific. It felt so good to finally leave the dusty office behind and breath fresh mountain air again. On this day I had decided to follow the common hiking tracks. I wanted to visit the most popular tourist spots in the area.

I met other people here and there, but since it wasn’t the holiday season yet, I was almost always alone on my long walks. In the evening, I put up camp in one of the many specifically marked bivouacs of the area.

For the second day, I had decided to venture into the forest. While following the hiking trails was recommended, I wanted to get the feeling of my childhood back.

For hours I made my way through shady forests and clearings. Every once in a while I crossed a hiking trail, but most of the day I stayed blissfully ignorant of civilization.

As it got later and day turned to night, I had not reached the camping area I’d set out for. I had planned out a rough route, but it seemed I’d ventured out a bit too far.

In the end, I decided to set up camp in a small clearing in the middle of the forest.

I put up my tent, set up a small, safe cooking fire and prepared a quick meal for myself. As the sun set I thought back to Uncle John and the times we’d spent together. I missed the old man.

Time passed and I soon found myself in darkness. It was time to sleep, I told myself and went into the tent.

I wasn’t worried about animal attacks. The only thing out here were deer, foxes, and badgers. There could be wild boars as well, but they were scarce and didn’t approach campsites. I crawled into my sleeping bag knowing I was safe. It didn’t take long for me to drift off.

I woke up in the middle of the night. There were noises outside. For a while I lay there, completely quiet, listening. I waited for the sounds to stop or for them to grow more distant. They didn’t. Instead, it sounded as if something was scavenging through my campsite. I heard more rustling, followed by the clang of the cooking pot.

Was this really a fox or a badger? It was not uncommon for them to sneak up to a campsite, but they rarely made enough noise to wake you up. At this point, I started to grow a bit anxious.

There was always the off-chance that you ran into some weirdo or a homeless person. I had heard my share of camping horror stories.

I carefully opened my sleeping bag. Then I went to the tent’s entrance. I moved the zipper down one centimeter at a time to make no noise.

I put my head outside and scanned the area. The campsite was in chaos. The forest floor was turned upside down. My chair was thrown aside. Even the remains of the camping fire were scattered and I couldn’t see the metal cooking pot. At first, there was no sign of an intruder, but then I noticed a large, dark silhouette at the end of the camping site. It was way too big to be a fox or a badger.

“Don’t tell me this is really a person.” I thought.

I was quick to put on some cloth and my shoes. Then I picked up Uncle John’s old hunting knife and pocketed it.

“It’s better to prepared Lina,” he’d always said to me.

After that, I pulled out a flashlight and went back to the opening of the tent.

For a second I only watched the silhouette, but then I turned on the flashlight and pointed it directly at it.

“Okay, who are you and what do you…” I broke up when I saw the true nature of the intruder.

It was a skinny hairless, white thing, a twisted humanoid creature. It was holding the metal cooking pot in arms that seemed to be too long. The moment I’d turned on the flashlight, the creature threw the pot aside. Its head jerked right into my direction.

For a second the creature only focused on me and I could see the twisted face. Its eyes were of a deep red color. Where the nose would have been was only a knotty heap of bone and skin. The worst was its mouth. It was half open. I could see an assortment of huge, misshapen teeth, between disgusting fleshly lips. Then the thing let out a short, high-pitched scream.

I saw the creatures mouth twist into a smile, and before I could react in any way, the thing rushed towards me on all fours.

My head was spinning. I was in a panic. What the hell was that thing? Something like that couldn’t be real. My flight or fight instinct chose flight, due to the surrealistic nature of the situation.

I almost ripped open the entrance of the tent, jumped outside and ran into the forest. I had to get away from that creature.

I had no idea where I was going. The only thing my brain screamed at me was to get away from the horror I had seen.

As I ran, I was still holding the flashlight. For a moment I turned around to illuminate the forest behind me and there the creature was. It was so fast, I thought. It wasn’t even running, but it seemed to be jumping from tree to tree as it came closer and closer.

Right at that moment, my world turned upside down. I tumbled over the root of a tree and crashed hard to the ground. For a moment all the air was pressed out of my lungs. I lay there, panting and as I pushed myself back up, I felt a hand close around my ankle.

When I turned around, I saw the creature’s disgusting whitish face looking down at me. A mocking smile was showing on its face. In pure panic and rage, I started kicking at the creature. A moment later my hard boot connected with its face.

I heard it scream up in pain and felt the grip on my leg loosen. Moments later I was up and running again.

I ran past trees and fought myself through the thick underbrush. Then I saw something different in front of me.

In the moonlit night, I noticed it was stone. At first, I thought I’d reached one of the mountain cliffs, but it was much too smooth for that. It was a wall, no, a building I finally realized. It must be an old ruin in the forest.

I stumbled forward and saw an entrance right in front of me. In mere moments I went inside and hid in one of the corners of the entry room. As quick as I could I turned off the flashlight I was still holding.

I sat there in the darkness, breathless and shaking, trying to calm down.

“It is okay Lina, it won’t find you here, it is going to be okay.”

I did repeat this mantra over and over again in my mind, forcing myself to breathe slowly.

Minute after minute passed. There was no sound other than my now quiet breathing.

Once I had finally calmed down enough to get up, I heard noises from outside again. Footsteps, right in front of the building. They were hard, heavy and rustled through the leaves on the forest ground.

“Oh please god no,” I said out loud and quickly put a hand over my mouth.

That thing must be back. It was right outside. I am trapped! Right at that moment, I noticed a doorway to my left that led to another room.

As quietly as I could, I started to sneak towards the doorway and the second room.

Quietly, I told myself. Don’t make a noise. I could hear the creature. It must be shuffling around outside in front of the building.

I finally stepped through the doorway. Oh god please let there be another way out, please let there be another way…

Right at that moment, I stepped on something. It felt soft and strange and as I looked down, I saw a sort of small creature below my feet. In the dark, I could make out a pair of empty eyes staring up at me.

I screamed up and in a new surge of panic, I kicked the thing away. My mind conjured up nightmarish visions of twisted, white offspring. For a second I feared that I’d found my way straight into the creature’s nest.

I pulled out the flashlight again and turned it on, only to see that it was an old, half-rotten stuffed animal. I looked around the room and in utter perplexity, I saw that there was at least a dozen of them. All old and dirty, scattered across the floor. There were other things too, old furniture and rotten cloth.

Right then I realized what I’d done. Lina, you freaking idiot, that creature must have heard your scream.

And as if to answer the thought, I heard footsteps that soon came closer. Why is there no window, I cursed as I frantically moved the flashlight over the walls. Then I stopped as I saw something new.

Pictures.

It was pictures of women, brunet women. They covered almost an entire wall.

There were dozens of them. Small pictures, big pictures, some in black and white, others in color.

“What the fuck is this!? What is this place?” I asked myself and wondered if the thing had come after me due to my brunet hair.

Right at that moment, I heard a noise. As I turned, I already knew what I’d see: the twisted, white abomination standing in the doorway.

I saw how the disgusting mouth changed into a smile as the red eyes focused on me. It had found me.

I stumbled back but bumped into the wall behind me. The creature giggled, then opened its mouth as if to say something.

“No, get away from me,” I pressed out from between my lips.

The thing took the first step towards me. This time I heard something.

“…ther,” it said.

I looked around again, but there was no way out. I pushed myself along the wall, trying to somehow get away. All the while the mocking smile and the red eyes followed me along.

“…other,” it said again.

What the hell was going on? I saw how it spread out his arms, trying to block my only way of escape, the doorway. Finally, as it said it once more, I understood what it was saying:

“Another.”

Oh god. I realized it. Another. I looked at all the pictures on the wall. Another woman. Another victim. I had found my way into the lair of this twisted, women hunting abomination. And now it had another one, me.

It said it twice more, before it stumbled towards me, throwing itself at me with outspread arms.

“No! Get the fuck away from me!” I screamed out loud.

Right before the thing was on top of me, I let go of the flashlight and ripped out the hunting knife.

There was the sickening sound of tearing flesh, followed by the wailing of the creature. Then my hands were flooded with a warm, sticky liquid.

In my frantic panic, I retracted the knife, before I stabbed the creature twice more.

The things wailing grew louder and louder before it fell back and crashed to the floor, flailing its arms around.

For a few more seconds I stood there, shaking, then the bloody knife fell from my hands and I ran.

I ran until my lungs were burning up in my chest. I can’t say how long it took me to finally calm down.

After that, it must have taken me another hour before I stumbled upon a hiking track.

When it finally dawned, I heard noises ahead. I hastened my pace and soon ran into a group of hikers. When they saw me they gasped and started to back away. They only stopped when I called out to them and pleaded for help.

I don’t remember what I said. I must have been rambling on and on.

In the end, they called the police. Two officer, named Siegert and Schneider arrived soon after.

I told them my story, but I could see the expression on their faces. They didn’t believe me.

Finally, though, the two of them agreed to follow me to my camping site. After that, we searched for the ruin, where I’d stabbed the creature. It took no more than ten minutes to find it.

Keeping a safe distance, I followed them back inside the old house. The first room was completely empty. Then we went into the second one.

“What the hell…” Siegert whispered as he saw the room.

As I looked down at the creature now, it seemed much more human. Its body, while somewhat disfigured and white as a sheet, was almost completely normal. It wasn’t the giant, hulking monstrosity I had thought it was, but only barely above average height.

As the officers finally turned it around, I could see the face once more. It was still as disfigured as I’d remembered it.

I looked at the rest of the creature. Something was wrong with one of his hands I noticed. I started to count the fingers: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven.

“Seven,” I said out loud.

Officer Schneider turned towards me. He was an older man, almost twice my age.

“Oh, the fingers,” I started and pointed at the hand, “there’s seven of them on this hand.”

As I said it he walked over towards me and looked down as well.

“Could it be?” he whispered.

Then he turned to me again.

“Miss Brandt, I might have heard more about this… creature. Always thought it was nothing but an urban legend though.”

“What are you talking about?”

The man looked at the creature once more, sighed and then told me the story he’d heard.

Back in the day, he started, a family lived out here in this very house.

They were an older couple, quite reclusive. The two of them, even though they were at an advanced age, had two children a boy and a girl. As the rumors go, the two siblings developed a deep bond and once they got older, this bond turned into love.

The boy was soon sent off to live with relatives while the girl, Maria, stayed with her parents.

As time went on, talk about the reclusive family started to spread. One story said that the harsh treatment of the son was because Maria had gotten pregnant.

It was never proven of course, but an old and confused midwife added to the story. She insisted that she once helped deliver a particularly disfigured, albino child. It was born from a forbidden love and cursed by God, she said.

As the years passed Maria’s parents grew old and died, leaving the young woman to live in the forest by herself.

By that time she had started to work at a workshop in a village nearby. Many of her co-workers urged her to move into the village as well, but she refused.

Many said it was due to her lifestyle, but others believed the actual reason was the rumored disfigured child.

None of these rumors could ever be proven. Only a few years after her parents, Marie died too, during an accident at the workshop.

She was buried next to her parents.

In the end, the small, old house in the forest was abandoned. Maria’s brother had all but vanished and she had no other relatives.

In the years to come, many of the rumors persisted, especially those surrounding Maria. Kids playing in the forest talked about a wailing coming from the abandoned building. Hikers and campers spoke about white shades or ghosts that they had seen in the middle of the night.

Many people in the area thought it was Maria’s ghost haunting her old home in the forest.

Seeing those seven fingers, Schneider said, reminded him of all those old stories. There had been one more thing the old midwife had said. The disfigured, albino child had been born with seven fingers on one of his hands.

As I stood there, I realized what he was saying. That creature that had come after me must have been Maria’s child. After his mother’s death two decades ago, that twisted child must have continued to live out here.

In the end, the police ruled that I had acted in self-defense. After two decades of living out here, Maria’s child must have been in a dangerous, almost feral state. They also believed that the child must have been severely mentally handicapped. He must have thought of me as someone stumbling into his territory. For that reason he’d attacked me.

At least that is what everyone thought. It was yesterday that I finally found out the truth about all this.

After the whole thing was over, I’d reached out to Schneider and asked him, if he could find a picture of Maria. I can’t say why, but I guess I wanted to see a picture of the poor woman whose story I’d heard that day.

Yesterday a letter arrived. Inside was a short note by Schneider and a picture of a young woman. She wasn’t exactly pretty, but she had this happy, friendly smile and long brunet hair.

Brunet hair, I thought, like all the women in those pictures and like me too. At that moment it dawned on me. When I’d seen them, I had thought those pictures were his victims, but the police had assured me it wasn’t the case.

After his mother had vanished, the child must have gathered all of them. In his mind, after all those years, those brunet women must have looked to him like his mother.

That’s what he’d said that night. He hadn’t said other or another like I’d thought. What he had said was mother.

After two long, lonely decades, a brunet woman had stumbled into his home. He must have thought his mother had finally returned home to him.

That’s why he’d been smiling and giggling. That was the reason for the outspread arms.

That poor unlucky soul. In his mind his mother had finally returned home and then she’d brutally stabbed him to death.