Dim the lanterns and gather close. The heat from the fire might just be enough to keep the chills from running down your spine…
This is a story about a man named George who didn’t believe in anything unless he saw it with his own two eyes. In fact, he was part of a whole online group that made it their mission to debunk urban legends. Their latest preoccupation was a rumour about an ancient curse in a forest out west. George, an experienced camper, knew it was his time to shine: He was going to spend an entire week camping in various parts of the forest to prove the curse was not real. The forum was alive with excitement. He promised to update them when he returned.
The first two days were uneventful. He travelled quickly and easily through the terrain — covering enough ground each day that he was completely exhausted by nighttime.
By the third day, he had ventured far enough from the beaten path that his trek became much tougher. He came to a rock escarpment and had two choices: Climb up towards more forest, or down into a valley. George flipped a coin, then started upwards.
This part of the forest was more dense than he expected. The trees formed a thick canopy over his head, breaking the harsh glow of sunlight into a thousand little diamonds between the leaves. It was beautiful, and George was thankful for the protection from the sun, but he was tired, and anxious to find a good place to set up camp.
Just before sunset, he came across a huge clearing and breathed a sigh of relief. Surveying the space, he spotted a hearth surrounded by six square stones. They were strangely symmetrical, as though man-made, but just imperfect enough to be natural.
Stranger still were the six wooden dolls sitting on them.
They were small, painted to look like campers, as if made by a shoddy workman who only seemed to pay attention to the eyes. While the dolls themselves were crudely constructed, the eyes were detailed… almost lifelike.
Although the sight was unnerving, George thought it was probably the work of a local prankster to scare gullible campers and further the rumours of a curse. He took the dolls off the stones and threw them in his backpack to take home as souvenirs of his trip — the forum would get a kick out of them.
It was dark by the time he finished setting up camp, and he fell asleep as soon as he closed his eyes.
The next morning, George walked out of his tent to stretch. His muscles were sore from the climb and the difficult trek. He reached up, his fingers extending towards the sky. Then as he bent to touch his toes, his eyes landed on the stones and the hearth — more specifically, on the dolls perched exactly where they had been the day before, like they had somehow crawled out of his backpack and climbed onto the stones all on their own.
George was intrigued. He knew there must be an explanation, and he was determined to find it. He shoved the dolls back into his bag and decided to stay at the same campsite for one more night. This time, though, he would stay awake to see what happened. In the meantime, he was not going to let this get in the way of adventure.
By the time he was back in his tent, the exhaustion of a 10 mile day started setting in. His heart was full from the beauty he had seen: Remarkable rock formations, trees tall enough to touch the stars, birds in every colour of the spectrum...
He checked that the dolls were still in his bag, then settled in for the night. He propped himself up against his backpack on the far side, facing the entrance of the tent. This way the dolls were secure: If anyone was going to move them, they’d have to go through him first. He was feeling pretty happy with his idea, as his eyelids grew heavier, and heavier...
George woke up with a start. It was morning. He looked at this backpack. Seemed normal. He was confident the dolls were still inside But, sure enough, when he stepped out of the tent, they were back on the stone circle, like they hadn’t ever moved. He didn’t understand how that could have happened. Paranoia crept in. Had he been sleepwalking? Was someone watching him?
Hands trembling, he made a small fire and tossed the dolls in. As the flames engulfed them, he stared into their eyes and could swear they were welling up with tears. He watched, transfixed, until they burned to ash.Then he watched some more.
The dolls were on his mind that whole day. He did not leave the campsite. In fact, after he sat on one of the stones, he did not leave the circle at all. He stared into the hearth, trying to make sense of what had happened. There had to be a logical explanation, but he couldn’t think of one. For the first time in his adult life, George was terrified.
The sun made way for the moon, and George remained on the stone; stiff, tired. He hadn’t moved, hadn’t looked away from the hearth at all.
A green spark flickered in the centre of the pit. It was quick. He was sure he was dreaming. The night around him was dark, still, quiet. Another spark lit up. George could feel the hair stand on the back of his neck. He watched as the spark coiled and danced, growing long tendrils of flame, throwing sickening colours across his pale face.
The emerald fire spread until it was as big as the hearth, creeping along the edges, until it finally spilled over, licking at his ankles. He tried to move his legs, tried to kick it off, but his body was so stiff.
The flames wrapped around George’s body, moving up until he was completely shrouded in green. They didn’t burn the way fire should. They burned like frostbite. He tried to scream as they crept down his throat and into his lungs, but there was no sound. He felt them consume the blood in his veins. He tried to scream again, to call out, but the fire drowned it out, drowned him wholly.
He was never heard from again.
Months later, two hikers journeyed through the same forest, following whispers about an ancient curse and disappearing campers. They came upon a hearth surrounded by square stones. Nothing about the scene was out of the ordinary except for a single wooden doll sitting on one of them.