2019 Summer Short Story Competition: When night falls in the woods

By Wong Lok-hei, 15, Hoi Ping Chamber of Commerce Secondary School

A father and son go camping in the woods, but something sinister is lurking

By Wong Lok-hei, 15, Hoi Ping Chamber of Commerce Secondary School |

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This story was written by Wong Lok-hei, Hoi Ping Chamber of Commerce Secondary School.

Each week during the holidays, we will publish a story from one of the finalists of our 2019 Summer Short Story Competition. Our favourite entries will be compiled into a book, which each finalist will receive a copy of. The winning entry will appear in Young Post on August 31.

The bus stops at Tai Mei Tuk Bus Terminal. You turn to your left to wake up your six-year-old son.

“Jason, we’re here,” you say gently.

“Ugh … just let me sleep for one more minute, Dad,” your son mutters before closing his eyes once again.

“If you keep sleeping, the campsite will be full and we won’t have a spot to set up our tent!” you say, hoping this tactic may scare him into getting up.

“Okay! Fine! I’ll wake up now,” he replies.

You hold his small hand in your own and walk towards the bus exit, taking careful steps up each curb to avoid falling over.

The walk to the country trail at Wu Kau Tang is uneventful, with the occasional breeze giving you a brief window of relief from the blazing Hong Kong summer heat. Surprisingly, there is no traffic on the road – there is usually a car or two, even in a rural area like this. You think it must be a good sign: fewer cars on the road means fewer people at the campsite.

After walking for half an hour along Bride’s Pool Road, you arrive at an empty car park in Wu Kau Tang.

Your destination today isn’t the village, but the Sam A Chung campsite a couple of kilometres ahead; still, you stop to admire the traditional village from a distance, which is more than 400 years old (according to the internet, anyway). Some houses look dilapidated, while others have been more recently refurbished. Birds are chirping in the distance, making the village seem all the more idyllic.

“Dad, can we just go already? It’s just an old village,” your son complains.

You sigh and nod reluctantly, a little peeved.

At the side of the car park, there is a wooden post, indicating the trail to the Sam A Chung campsite. As you trek along the concrete path, which gradually turns into a dirt one, you take in the relaxing atmosphere and the surrounding trees and plants. You can see the famous Tiu Tang Long peak from afar, which towers above all the others.

After around an hour of walking, you finally arrive at your destination. Your shoulders feel strained from carrying all the camping supplies up the steep path. The campsite is quiet, and it doesn’t seem like anyone is here today. There is a picturesque view of Yan Chau Tong and the landforms nearby. The red rocks on the coast are especially eye-catching and unique.

You then begin checking out the facilities at the campsite, and realise a major problem.

There is no water source nearby.

You chose to not bring water earlier because you thought it would be “too heavy” to carry. Now, the only water source available is a stream which is quite far away. This means that when you inevitably need water, you’ll have to either leave your tent unguarded or leave your son behind to guard the tent while you go alone.

For the time being, you ignore the problem and pitch the tent near a fire pit while your son takes the camping gear out of the backpack. By the time you both finish, evening is already descending over the campsite. You check your watch and it reads 5.47pm.

“It’s dinner time, Jason! Are you ready for some food?” you ask.

“Yay! Peanut butter sandwich time!” your son chants excitedly.

You pull out two lunchboxes, one for your son and one for yourself. Your son’s box has two sandwiches in it, one with peanut butter and one with jam. Yours has chicken salad inside.

By the time dinner is over, the sun has set and the campsite is getting steadily darker. You start a fire in the fire pit and the overwhelming darkness subsides slightly.

“Dad, I’m thirsty. I want to drink some water,” your

son says.

“Okay. You stay here and wait for me while I go and collect some water from a stream. If you see anything suspicious, hide in the tent and wait for me to come back,” you tell your son, patting him affectionately on the shoulder.

You rummage through your backpack to retrieve a flashlight and an empty water bottle before heading out. Holding the flashlight in one hand, you carefully walk down the concrete steps. Without the crackling of the fire, the country park is unusually silent and still. You can’t even hear the birds chirping.

As you walk further away from the campsite, the silence becomes more and more overwhelming. You can almost hear your heart hammering in your chest.

Shuffling. You can clearly hear it in the silence. It is worrying, but you reassure yourself that it is just your mind playing tricks on you, and keep descending the stairs.

At last, after what seems like an eternity, you arrive at the stream. You lower the bottle into the water and fill it up as quickly as possible. When it is full, you turn around and head back the way you came. When you reach the stairs, you hear it again. A shuffling sound. This time it sounds like it is coming from the direction of the campsite.

Worry turns to dread as you realise what this means. You run up the stairs, the sound of your shoes pounding against the concrete echoes through the silence. With each step, the campsite is getting closer, until you can see the familiar wooden railing under the beam of the flashlight.

Too late.

Your son is nowhere to be seen. The fire has gone out and the tent has been ripped open. You are instantly filled with an uncontrollable sense of anger and anguish. You must find your son – and whoever has taken him is going to pay.

Hurrying back to the torn tent, you salvage the backpack from the wreck and quickly plan your next course of action.

You start by looking around for any clues that might indicate where the intruder has gone.

But before you can even search the perimeter, an inhuman, ear-piercing screech comes from the woods on your left. You quickly turn off your flashlight and crouch inside the ruins of the tent to avoid detection.

Shuffling. You know whatever this creature is, it is hostile and definitely not human.

If you make any noise, you think, you will be in real danger.

“Dad? I’m here!”

It is your son. You feel a wave of relief wash over you as he calls out to you. Just as you are about to respond, your instincts suddenly tell you something is seriously wrong.

How can your son sound so calm right after that terrifying screech?

You stay crouching, unsure what to do. You decide to watch what happens before doing anything irrational.

The creature is trying to lure you out by mimicking your son’s voice. It calls again and again, while moving ever closer to your hiding spot. You can hear its shuffling steps; they resonate in the stillness of the night. Every step makes you tremble.

A pair of legs, just like your son’s short and slender ones, stops outside your broken tent. The only thing wrong is the rotting, putrid smell coming off this being, confirming your suspicion it is not human. It stands still as if it is sniffing you out, like a bear. You don’t move an inch, survival instincts kicking in.

After what feels like forever, the creature begins to retreat into the woods, the sound of footsteps gradually getting quieter, until they disappear completely. You let a few more moments pass, before breathing a quiet sigh of relief. You cautiously peer out of the tent and scan your surroundings. The coast is clear.

You take out your phone, hoping to call for help, but there is no signal out in the woods. It is up to you to save your son.

No longer in imminent danger, you begin your search once more. Shining your flashlight around, you try to determine which direction the creature came from. You see some marks in the ground which could be its prints. You decide to follow them. The woods are dense and overrun with foliage, making it difficult to navigate your way through. Your flashlight cannot penetrate through the leaves and bushes in your path. The creature could easily launch a surprise attack. You can only hear leaves rustling in an otherwise quiet forest.

The atmosphere is suffocating.

After pushing your way through the thick bushes for what feels like an eternity, you see a glimpse of a run-down, abandoned two-storey cottage in the distance. It is covered in leaves, the windows are shattered, and one wall is crumbling. Clearly no one has lived here for decades.

You walk up to the cottage. Both the iron gate and wooden door are already open. When you enter, you can see dust in the air. You shine your flashlight around, revealing a dank room covered in cobwebs and dust-covered furniture.

Footsteps. They sound like they come from upstairs. You don’t dare call out – the sound could be coming either from your boy, or the creature. It is better to look for a way upstairs first.

At the corner of the house, you find a stairwell leading up to the second floor. You hesitate for a moment, going over in your head what to do if the creature really is upstairs.

Then, you begin climbing the stairs, treading carefully, making as little sound as you can. When you reach the second floor, you see a filthy bed on the far side of the room, near a broken window. On the bed, there lies your child. He is completely unscathed and still sleeping soundly. Flooded with relief and joy, you rush towards him and lift him into your arms. At last, you have found your son.

Without a second thought, you hurry down the stairs and outside, holding your son tightly in your arms. It is time to go back to the campsite, head home and forget all about what happened tonight.

By the time you arrive at the campsite, it is already dawn. Your son is still sleeping, so you gently lay him down on a nearby bench and start packing. Discarding the remains of the tent, you pack everything else into the backpack and begin to descend the concrete stairs.

The walk back towards the car park is long and tiring. By the time you finally get there, you are exhausted from having to carry both your son and your backpack. Your final destination is the Tai Mei Tuk Bus Terminal, still another half an hour away.

Just as you arrive there, a bus pulls into the stop. You feel another wave of relief wash over you. You climb aboard the mostly empty bus, head up to the top floor, place your backpack below your feet, and your sleeping son next to you.

Your son wakes up a few minutes later, and taps on your shoulder. You turn to look at him and a putrid smell hits your nose again. He opens his mouth and lets out a familiar screech. It is at this moment you realise something.

You have made a grave mistake.

Edited by Charlotte Ames-Ettridge