There was no hut, really. Maybe there used to be, or maybe it was just a story- the local folklore built it up over the years. Something like that. Whatever it may have or may have not been in the past doesn't really matter to the story- but suffice it to say it was place people hung out at. The first time I went there there was nothing but the outline of a house marked by a few stones dug into the ground with some logs they'd dragged into arranged in a loose semi-circle around the bonfire. That's what people do when there's nothing else to do: they make bonfires and hang out in the woods.
Doesn't mean it wasn't a thing, though. Hanging out at the witches' hut, meeting up at the witches' hut, party on Friday at the witches' hut- these were a part of life. And there was something to that, I realize. Being the kids who hung out at the witches' hut, Part of our identity in some way. Certainly nothing I though about or recognized at the time, but there was something to that.
There were some great stories, too. The time Eddie got so shit-faced he tried to make out with the birch tree. The epic showdown between Ben and the log that scratched him which he proceeded to hack to pieces with his hatchet until it caught in the wood and he started cursing a blue streak at the new injury. But my favorite by far was the monster.
Of course I don't believe in monsters anymore than I believe in witches. I like horror movies and I can't get enough of demonic enemies but when it comes to real life that stuff ends when you leave the movie theater. Or so I thought, until that night.
I was walking to the witches' hut, of course. It was particularly dark- dark moon or new moon or something like that. Not a light in the sky, just my cell phone. It wasn't scary, though- I could walk there with my eyes closed and not miss step. But I heard something behind me.
Thinking it was Eddie or Ben or maybe Sarah I turned around, but nothing. I waited for a sec, just to see. Nobody came. So I kept walking.
Then the breathing- like somebody barely able to breath through really stuffed up nostrils, like when you got a really bad cold and it takes effort just to inhale. And something else, too. A kind-of guttural 'uh' sound. Nothing too overt, just there, just behind me.
Now I knew that somebody was messing with me. Eddie and I were going to a midnight showing later and he must've been practicing. I knew what to do- I hopped off the trail to the left to go around the back, past the main clearing and in through the overgrown passage. It was my fail safe if somebody was was following that shouldn't have been following- be a druggie looking to rob me or just some asshole looking to sneak up. I even started laughing thinking about the sound Eddie would make when he took a gut full of brick.
I rounded the large tree, pulled the rope I'd set up there and let the brick fly. I heard it release and then I heard the sound I'd been looking for- direct hit, no doubt about it. I turned around ready to laugh my ass off and stopped dead- nothing. No one there, no collapsed form on the ground, no Eddie holding his gut and cursing- nothing.
I wasn't freaked out. I wasn't. You'd think I woulda been but I wasn't- just figured it was me making shit up in my own head or something. Like real life was too boring without playing a trick on myself. I couldn't organize it- where that sound had come from and why I was so sure I'd heard the brick hit. But whatever- the mind plays tricks on you, that's what they say.
And I could already seen the blaze from the bonfire so I kept going, no worse for wear, just kinda puzzled, really. Until Eddie teared into the clearing a couple of minutes later.
Now Eddie doesn't believe in anything- anything. And he is NOT the kind of guy that gets spooked. That's why he sometimes goes overboard on the practical jokes- he legit doesn't get why it might be too far. But when he came running full tilt into that clearing looking like he'd seen a ghost I was worried. And when he described hearing that same sound- like somebody breathing who couldn't really breath- I damned near shit myself.
Now, he claims that it tried to grab him- that he felt claws or something. I think he might've just said that last part because Sarah was already all over him, saying she was scarred and so worried for him. I kept waiting to see a knowing grin or something- some indication that he was doing it to get laid. But he never let up- just spent the whole damned night staring into the fire looking somebody sucked the color out of his body. He didn't even want any beer- Eddie always wants beer. He wants beer when he'd in the middle of drinking it. But he just sat there with the bottle in hand, staring into the fire like his life depended on it.
We didn't leave till the sun came up, and honestly I was ok with that. If Eddie was spooked, I was spooked. No arguing with that. And when they cut down all those tress and started doing construction on another housing development I don't even think he was all that disappointed- he never felt like hanging out there anymore, anyway. He said it was because it was lame and we were stupid for doing the same damned thing every Friday night. But I knew, even though he'd swear on his mother it wasn't. I knew it was because of the monster.