The Man in the Storm

Prison is never a nice place. Especially not for new guys like me. This is not important right now though. I am only allowed to use the computer and access the internet for so long. What is important though is how got here.

You see, a month ago I was a regular guy.

I’d finally finished my engineering degree. Before I was going to join the workforce though, I had decided to go on a well-earned vacation. One of my favorite things to do was hiking or being more precise backpacking. During my semester breaks, I traveled through vast areas of Germany and parts of Western Europe.

I was a typical loner, always had been. It was only natural that I enjoyed spending my time alone in the wilderness.

I planned to spend spring and summer backpacking one last time. There were a few areas I wanted to see in Germany, and I’d planned on making my way up to Denmark and then Scandinavia. I’d never been there yet.

On a Friday night a few weeks ago I was out wandering. I loved the darkness of the night, the solitude of the late hours and the stars above.

As I walked on, my mind drifted to a topic that had been on my mind for quite some time now.

“Was a career in engineering really the right choice for me?” I asked myself.

I only noticed the upcoming thunderstorm when it was already too late. At first, it was just a small drizzle, but within minutes it was pouring.

I had stopped to set up camp, but by then the storm had already gotten too bad. There was no way I’d make it.

I dashed to a nearby forest, to sit out the worst there. If I was lucky, I might even find a place that would shelter me enough to set up the tent.

When I was only a few dozen meters away from the forest, I noticed a small wooden shack. It was a tiny little thing, constructed to serve as a resting place for wanderers. I wasn’t too fond of this tiny, dark place. Standing out in the rain though, it took me only a few things to overcome my wariness.

As I stepped into the entrance, I noticed a small light inside. I carefully took a glance inside and saw a man sitting near a small cooking fire.

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

“Hey, either get in or get the hell out of here, but don’t just stand there. That’s creepy as hell.”

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

I went in and sat down in the corner right next to the entrance. You never know what will happen, I told myself. I went through my belongings to see if I’d lost anything in my attempt at setting up camp.

“So what are you doing here? We’re probably the only people outside at this hour.”

“Well, nothing much, I am hiking, backpacking so to say. I forgot the time, and the storm surprised me. Didn’t even have the chance to set up camp.”

At that my new acquaintance started to laugh.

“Guess we are both unlucky then. I was out hunting for deer, but as soon as the damned storm started, there was no hope of shooting anything. With it pouring like this, there’d be no way I’d make it home. I was better off sitting it out here.”

I gave him a friendly smile and nodded. I didn’t like that. Sure, the guy was friendly enough, but sitting in a dark shack with an absolute stranger hardly feels right. It is unnerving.

After some time, he seemed to notice my demeanor and the way I was glancing at him every once in a while.

“Come on now. I might be a hunter, but I am not some psychopath killer or something.”

I looked up in surprise and shook my head.

“No, I didn’t mean-”

“Relax, name’s Tom. I am just pulling your leg.”

“Eric.” I introduced myself.

“Seriously though, I can’t blame you. It’s dark, in the middle of the night and there is a freaking thunderstorm outside. You scared the living hell out of me, appearing out of nowhere like that!”

Now I couldn’t help but start laughing.

“You are one to talk, sitting there in the back like this! Why do you think I was afraid to get in?”

Now we both laughed for a bit.

“How long you think this storm is going to last?” I asked.

He shrugged. “It’s a pretty typical one for the area. I’d say an hour or two at the most.”

“You from around here?”

He nodded.

“Yeah, I live down in the village,” he gave a little nod to his left, “can’t wait to get home, it’s way too late.”

We continued the awkward small talk for a bit. After a while, Tom took out a piece of meat from his backpack. Then he proceeded the slice a small part of it away with a long knife. I’d not seen it before, and I inched back a bit, against the wooden wall of the shack. I watched as he pierced the slice and started roasting it on the small cooking fire.

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

I watched as he turned the meat from side to side, roasting it.

By now he’d noticed me watching and soon held out the knife to me.

“You that hungry, man?” he asked laughing again.

“Nah, I am fine, it was just-”

“No need to be shy, there is more than enough. This little one was quite fat.”

“Got no plates, so you got to make do with the knife.”

Finally, though, I took it. I hadn’t admitted it, but I was quite hungry. I blew on the steaming meat for a bit before I took a bite. It tasted weird. I hadn’t tasted anything like it before. I’d eaten rabbit, but never one like that.

“You sure this rabbit was alright? Tasted kind of funny.”

The guy smiled and nodded.

“Yeah, like I said it was quite the one. To be honest with you, fresh meat always tastes different.”

“Well, I guess you are right,” I said after a while.

For a bit, I sat there, the knife in my hand and looked at the junk of meat the guy had taken out. Then I took another bite. It still tasted strange.

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

Tom shrugged.

“Oh well, suit yourself. You ever been hunting?”

“Nope, never. Why?”

“Just wondering. It’s too bad though. You know, it is amazing. Almost exhilarating. Waiting for your prey, following it, hunting it, exhausting it and then, you finally take it down. There is something special about it. It feels like I am a different person like I am truly alive, you know?”

I had no real idea what he was going on about. I nodded, but I felt a bit awkward. By now I couldn’t help but find this guy a bit weird. The way he’d talked about hunting. The way his eyes had been wide open and the way he’d smiled. I felt a bit of my initial fear coming back. At that moment I regretted returning the knife to him.

I cringed a bit when Tom suddenly got up, but instead of jumping me, he went to the entrance of the shack.

“Well would you know it, it has pretty much stopped.”

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

“Guess I better get going. Need to catch at least some sleep before work. Sorry, I guess I have to leave you to yourself.”

“All good, no worries.”

With that, Tom gathered his few things together, took care of the small cooking fire, waved at me once and went on his way.

Right after he’d left, I took out my camping lamp and turned it on. I wasn’t going to sit there in the dark.

As he walked away, I listened to his footsteps. For quite a while I heard his footsteps. After a while, he was too far away to hear anything.

Or he had stopped.

“Don’t start to think about weird things,” I told myself. “He was just a normal guy. Maybe a bit weird, but harmless.”

As I sat inside the shack, I told myself to stay awake. I put the lamp right next to me and positioned myself so that I could see the entrance to the shack.

I thought about setting up camp, but I knew that everything outside must be muddy and I was better off in here.

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

I woke up when a hand touched my shoulder.

I jerked awake, for a moment confused about my whereabouts. While I put together that I was still inside the shack, I finally noticed the two people standing in front of me. It took me a while, but I could soon make out that they were police officers.

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

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

“I, well, I spent the night here due to the storm, officer. What’s going on?”

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

“Is it him?” another officer asked.

The one next to me shrugged.

“Says he stayed here due to the storm. Could be a coincidence.”

“Yeah right, what a coincidence indeed.” the officer who’d been outside said, giving me a suspicious look.

“What the hell is even going on?” I finally asked.

“A young woman from a nearby village went missing yesterday. Her family called us last evening. After the storm, we decided to do a quick search through the area. Turns out she was right there.”

I looked around, but there was no young woman. There was only the two officers and me here.

The officer noticed me looking around. “She was behind the shack, dead, stabbed many times with a long knife. Can you tell us anything about that?”

That’s when the world started to spin. My legs gave way as I remembered Tom from last night.

Then something clicked inside my mind. A long knife?

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

At this moment everything went down fast. One of the cops pulled his gun and told me to stay right where I was. Then the other one handcuffed me, and I was put in the police car. I told them about Tom.

As I told them the story, I remembered one more thing. It had been dark in the shack, and I’d wondered about the look of Tom’s hands. He had been wearing gloves the entire time. There was no doubt why he’d handed me the knife. He had got me.

When I remembered the meat, I gagged. My suspicions were later proven to be true. Parts of the girl had been found inside the shack, as well as the remains of Tom’s cooking fire.

The newspapers called it a disgusting deed, the cannibalistic murder of a young woman. I don’t know how often I told them the whole story. My attorney told me he believes me, but he said that unfortunately, there was no way to prove it. They found nothing. If my story was true, that guy, Tom, or whatever his name was, had been meticulous.

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