Stranger in the Woods by Alyson Tait

Betty leaned back in the driver seat of her company limo, listening as distant coyotes and muffled city sounds mingled with her music. The local campground parking lot was convenient to most locations she drove to but still didn’t get her away from the noise.

As she considered killing time elsewhere, there came a faint shuffling sound, like soft footsteps sneaking up to her limo.

She shook her head, trying not to listen to a small, anxious voice in the pit of her stomach. It was the middle of fall—too cold to camp or hike, even for most adventurous types. As she twisted the radio dial, someone knocked on the passenger window.

Betty screamed, hands slapping against the center console. The violent rapping repeated, and she could see a person’s outline but the darkness hid their features.

She chewed on her lip, deciding if she should drive away, but they knocked again, urgently. Each smack rattled the glass, quickening Betty’s pulse. Against her better judgment, she lowered the window halfway, her breaths coming quick and shallow. Outside was a pale, gaunt woman with tears streaming down her face.

“Please let me in!” the woman screeched as she leaned into the vehicle. “Before he catches me.”

Betty looked around, but she didn’t hear or see anyone else. Nearby street lamps offered small circles of illumination—they showed no bodies nor any looming shadows. “Who?” she asked. The word hung in the air as the frightened woman pulled at the handle.

“Can I explain in the car? I swear to God he’ll kill us both.” She wore a short-sleeved shirt with a torn collar, dark pants, no purse, and no apparent weapons.

Betty’s finger hovered over the lock button, doubts swirling and reciting all the unknowns of the unfolding situation, but the woman’s wide eyes were overwhelming.

“Please!” Fear dripped from her voice.

The doubt drained. Betty wouldn’t be able to live with herself if she simply drove away.

The locks clicked, and the woman opened the door, threw herself inside, then slammed the door shut. “Get us out of here,” she barked desperately. She sat at the edge of her seat.

Before the vehicle moved, Betty took one more glance at the desperate woman, noticing a few dried leaves in her hair and mud caking her bare feet.

Clenching her jaw, Betty put the car in drive. She figured they needed a hospital by the looks of her bloody cheek. “Alright, I’m going!”

The woman slunk into her seat, focused on the side-view mirror.

“What happened to you?” Betty asked on the main highway into the city. Scenarios ran through her mind: a bear attack, a lovers’ quarrel, too much to drink, or maybe a mishap while trying to pee in the woods.

In the rearview, nothing appeared—not a single other car or animal or man.

“He cut into our tent,” the woman mumbled.

Betty nearly veered onto the shoulder. “Excuse me? Who the heck cuts people’s tents?”

“I don’t know!” the stranger’s voice cracked. “He walked in through a gash he’d cut.”

Betty glanced at the passenger seat. “Are you saying a stranger attacked you? Inside your tent?”

“Yeah.” The woman’s voice sounded far away, tired. Disconnected from the panic she’d displayed.

When Betty stole a look, the woman was staring out her window, shoulders leaning inward.

Betty mulled over the snippet of the story.

 The thought of a man roaming where she spent most of her time…

A shudder ran down her spine.

She focused on driving as they moved away from the campsite. She wanted to let the woman rest before telling her story again to the doctors who’d then call the cops. The poor soul would have to relive it multiple times—Betty didn’t think she needed to add to the list.

She knew well enough how that felt.

Silence grew heavy after a while, and by the time Betty pulled into the hospital parking lot, there was an itch between her shoulder blades. She wondered if she should’ve kept the woman talking—what if she slipped into shock?

Betty couldn’t say she knew what shock would even look like, but after a brush with near-death, it seemed likely. 

Instead, however, she kept her eyes glued to the road, avoiding even the rearview mirror towards the end of the drive. Her jaw clenched, and goosebumps caressed her skin when she looked over, nervous about what she’d see.

The seat was empty.

She wondered if she’d somehow missed the woman crawling to the back to lie down. However, instead of being comforted by looking at the backseat, she yelped. Betty got out and searched every crevice of her car. She looked under the seats and inside her trunk, but those produced no sign of the woman.

Betty felt foolish and panicked. She needed to know how she’d lost a full-grown adult. In her addled thoughts, she wondered if she’d missed a door opening and rushed inside the hospital.

Betty accosted the security guards and asked the front receptionist a couple dozen questions about visitors and patients that night.

No one saw anything.

Nothing made sense.

Weeks passed before Betty gave up her active search for the strange woman. After that, she found herself pulled to the campsite to search for frightened strangers needing a ride into the city. A voice in her head wondered if she’d dreamed the whole thing, and another wondered about supernatural explanations.

Neither gave her peace. She became determined to find the woman or the man who’d been chasing her.

She refused to believe no one had seen them, but the locals refused to speak to her after a few relentless weeks. It became challenging to relax in her quiet apartment. Every time the wind picked up, she swore someone knocked on her bedroom windows.

As time passed, Betty could often be found sat in her limo, the passenger window rolled down.

She ignored phone calls and kept her music down low if not entirely silent, desperately listening for soft footsteps outside.

If the woman appeared again, or any woman at all, she wanted to be there to find out the truth.


Alyson lives in Maryland where she got married, had her daughter, and began her writing journey. She has appeared in (mac)ro(mic), Wrongdoing Magazine,Twin Pies Lit, and Pyre Magazine,and HAD — among others. You can find her on Amazon, and Twitter @rudexvirus1


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