Thought this up to entertain myself while I was hiking around at the state park near Vernonia around dusk. It’s trite and unimaginative, but I still scared the shit out of myself while I was fleshing it out. It’s amazing how much more frightening cliche’ horror tropes can be when you’re out in the woods by yourself.
Camera closes in on a dark, spare hallway, down which an orderly purposefully strides. Caption: “Criminally Insane Ward. Oregon State Mental Hospital. Salem.” He stops at a door at the end of the hall marked “Maximum Security Clearance Required.” Pulls out 3 keys, and proceeds to open 3 locks on the door. He pulls it open, and enters a dark room. The camera does not follow. Bloody-murder scream, followed by a figure lurching past in fast-motion. Too fast to catch any details of appearance. Screen goes black.
Caption over twilight rural street scene: “Jewell, Oregon. 2 hours later.” Camera closes in on a woman with her back against a farmhouse, shaking. Camera pans over to the source of her terror: an obviously inebriated indigent brandishing a broken bottle. Cops pull up, throw drunkard in car. Drunkard promptly lies down and starts snoring.
“You OK, Patti?”
“You betcha, Lee. Thanks for the rescue.”
“Any time. This is a crazy world we’re living in now. Any day now I expect the Mexicans to start taking over this whole, beautiful county.”
“Not if I have any say in it, Lee.” She smugly rubs a hand-gun shaped indentation in her jeans.
Cops laugh as they speed off down rural highway 102, back toward the Astoria prison. They do not recognize this drunkard, which is rare in a hamlet as tiny and remote as Jewell. There isn’t even a place to buy alcohol in Jewell, come to think of it. What is the world coming to? They laugh at his silly drunken ways some more from their side of the cage.
Suddenly, a voice on the CB.
“This is an all-points bulletin. As of 6 PM PST, Michael Varnall has escaped the Oregon State Mental Hospital. Varnall is ruthless and highly unstable. His crimes include the slow torture and slaughter of an entire elementary school student body. He can chew through police car cages, making cops who pick him up especially vulnerable. Local police have been unable to determine his path out of town. He could be anywhere within a 100-mile radius of the hospital at this time. Be on high alert. I repeat, high alert. If you see this man, do not try to apprehend him. Shoot to kill.”
The cops are sobered. They glance back at their snoring companion. Cop in the passenger seat picks up the CB, and quietly, nervously inquires if Varnall has a bushy beard (drunkard has a bushy beard). Camera closes in on a small piece of driftwood in the shape of a snail on the dashboard.
Cut to a small room filled with police officers. Caption: “Police HQ. Astoria, Oregon.” One officer is leaning over a CB radio, frantic.
“Yes, he has a bushy beard. A bushy, bushy beard. They couldn’t risk having razors that close to him. Sgt. Gilchrist, do you read? Sgt. Gilchrist! Do. you. read?”
There is no response. A look of horror on the team’s collective face.
Caption over black screen: “5 years later”. Camera closes in on a group of adolescents and 2 young adults circumscribing a campfire. Caption across bottom of screen: “Camp Adolescent Angst. Tillamook National Forest, Oregon” One of the young adults is telling a story, apparently in media res:
“Neither the two sargents nor their bearded passenger was ever seen again. Searchers couldn’t even find the car. On a night like tonight, you can’t help wondering if Varnall’s not still alive, out here roaming these woods. It’s said that this forest contains hundreds of hidden glens and dales. Nice place to hide. Good and dark. And full of SCRUMPTIOUS ADOLESCENTS!”
Adolescents look justifiably terrified, scrumptious. Girl with glasses screams and starts crying. Everyone heads off to bed.
Young adults are walking back to their cabin. YA 1 (the one who was telling the story around the campfire) tells YA 2 that he’s gonna run down to the lake to see if his frog traps are full.
“OK,” laughs YA 2 (flirtatiously?), “but if I find any frogs in my bed tomorrow morning, you’re a dead man.” He shoves him playfully.
He watches him jog off into the woods (longingly?), and ambles back to the cabin. Right before he opens the cabin door, he stops and stares back in the direction of the woods, curious. What is that clicking noise? Click-click-click-click-click. Huh, weird. He goes to bed.
Police HQ from Scene 3. Some familiar faces, some new. One of the new ones is Detective Jilda Culpepper, who is currently engaged in hushed conversation over a police report with her partner, Detective Vesuvius Fuddlebucket.
“So he just… disappeared into the forest? No blood or evidence of a struggle or anything?” asks Jilda Culpepper.
“That’s what this guy is saying, Pepper, yeah. The last time he sees him, he’s heading down to the lake. He wakes up the next morning and…nothing. Searchers have been looking for 2 days. Can’t even find any footprints.”
“You know, Fuds, this sounds awfully similar to –”
“I know,” he cuts her off, looking somber. “Gilchrist and Loverson were two of the best on the force. This office has never really gotten over that loss. I mean, how the hell do you manage to vanish so thoroughly and not even leave the car behind?”
“But…Varnall can’t still be out there. Not after all of this time. The state troopers combed over those woods. They would have found him if he were still hiding somewhere out there. And even if he’d managed to escape the police, how could he have survived all of those winters?”
“Pepper, all I know is they never found Varnall’s body. When the state troopers caught him that first time, they found him in a snow bank they think he’d been hiding in for 3 weeks without food or water. They were never able to get that many facts about his pre-elementary-school-slaughtering life. Very murky past. Couldn’t even find a birth certificate.”
“What are you saying, Fuds?”
“I’m saying it’s impossible for us to know what this man can and cannot withstand, and if camp counselors are disappearing in the same woods we lost the most dangerous man in the state in 5 years ago, Occam’s Razor says I don’t need to do a whole lot more speculation.”
“OK, Fuds. Well, let’s head out there, then.”
“Whoa, Pepper. I don’t know if you’re the best man for this case.”
“Fuds, I grew up out in these woods. I was a forest ranger for three years before I enrolled at the academy. These woods can’t keep secrets from me.” (Spoiler alert: Yeah, this bitch dies. That’s what you get for saying whimsical shit like “These woods can’t keep secrets from me,” and thinking it makes you cool. Let this be a lesson to all.)
Shot of dark, ominous woods. Caption: “Somewhere in the Tillamook State Forest”. We see Detectives Culpepper and Fuddlebucket, looking noticeably more haggard than in the previous scene. They have hiking packs on their backs and police flashlights in their hands.
“Fuds, we’ve been out here 6 days. We’ve covered every corner of this forest. There’s nothing here.”
“Pepper, this forest is bounded by major highways on all sides. If Varnall had made it out of here — hell, if YA 1 made it out of here — we would have had witnesses. He’s got to be out here.”
“Alright. Let’s pitch our tents for the night at least. I hear a stream over past that ridge. I’m gonna run down there and fill up my canteen.”
Fuddlebucket starts assembling the tent. At first, he doesn’t notice a low, indecipherable noise over the rustle of tent components. But then he drops the tent. The noise has gotten louder. What is that….clicking sound? He grabs his flashlight, heads off in the direction of the clicking. But the clicking’s getting softer, farther away. We hear the aforementioned stream as he approaches it.
He hears a rustling in the brush behind him. The rustling stops, then heads away, rapidly. Fuddlebucket turns, pursues it. He is too slow to see anything emerge from the brush; he just catches the shadow as he sprints onward toward the assailant. The rustling comes once again to an abrupt stop, and then is suddenly gets louder, as though it is approaching. Rapidly. Detective Fuddlebucket looks justifiably terrified, scrumptious.
He points his gun, shines his flashlight. Into the floodlit plain protrudes a sharp…what? An antler; it’s an elk. A large bull, missing his left antler. Fuddlebucket sighs, lowers the gun.
He quickly raises it again when he realizes the elk is agitated. Stamping its hoof. Bowing its head. Preparing to charge. Fuddlebucket prepares to shoot, but is suddenly distracted by the clicking noise. He looks over his right shoulder, where it seems to be coming from. Camera follows his glance.
We here a thud, followed by a groan of pain. Camera shakes and then goes black.
Astoria Police HQ, yet again. It is an especially dark grey day. Office looks more depressing than ever. Caption at the bottom of the screen: “2 years later.”
Camera hones in on an older, gruffer Detective Vesuvius Fuddlebucket. He appears to be writing a report. He does not seem to be taking any joy in the task. Camera pans down to show us that he is sitting in a wheelchair with a colostomy bag at his side.
A much younger man comes bounding into the room. Fuddlebucket doesn’t even look up.
“Fuds! You’ve got a – ”
“How many times have I asked you not to call me Fuds, Jeremy?” He sounds resigned instead of angry.
“Oh, yeah. Sorry, Detective. But you’ve got a call. It’s Salem.”
Fuddlebucket looks nonplussed, picks up phone and presses the hold button.
“This is Fuddlebucket.”
“Detective, this is Captain Leroy Oxendyne, with the state force.”
“The news I have for you….well, you’re not gonna believe it.”
“Oh, yeah? You’d be surprised just how much I’m able to believe these days.”
Brown ignores melodramatic bullshit. “We understand you were deeply involved with the Michael Varnall situation. I wanted you to know that we just got done examining his remains at the state autopsy lab.”
Fuddlebucket is silent for a beat, then asks that one question he’s been waiting, dreading to ask for two years.
“Did you find any of the…of the victims with him?” The pause betrays the fact that he’s really only asking about one of the victims.
“Fuddlebucket, we didn’t even find him. He arrived on a military plane this morning from China. Surprised the hell out of us. We waited to call you until we’d positively ID’d the DNA sample.”
Oxendyne’s prediction has proven sound; Detective Fuddlebucket cannot believe what he has just heard.
“What the hell was he doing in China?”
“Nothing. He was in North Korea.”
Silence is Fuddlebucket’s response.
“He was born there, it turns out. You may recall that the state was never able to gather very many records on him. His father was stationed over there during the Korean war. Met a North Korean woman, it seems, and decided he’d rather stay in Pyongyang than leave her behind at the end of the war. The mother died when Varnall was an infant, and his father brought him back here. But you don’t lose your Korean citizenship when you naturalize over here. Apparently, Varnall thought they’d protect him from the feds if he went back there.”
“Hid on a cargo ship bound for North China. Must’ve thought he’d jump off and swim for it when the ship rounded the Korean peninsula. The crew caught him, though, and held him till they got to China. He told them he wanted to go back to North Korea, so that’s where they sent him. Bad move on his part.”
“But…why didn’t they tell us? All this time!”
“Thought he was a spy, it seems. Asked the Chinese not to say anything, either. Threw him in a detention center and tortured him for information. He apparently made up all this complete bullshit about US intelligence so they’d stop, but they’re actually pretty fond of torture for torture’s sake over there.”
“Well, but so was he.”
“Mmm. Listen, Fuddlebucket. We talked to the shipping company that operated that cargo boat. The boat he was on left Portland at 7:15 PM on March 3, 2004.”
“But, that’s the same night he escaped. Less than 2 hours…. [prolonged pause] Michael Varnall was never in the Tillamook State Forest.” Fuddlebucket is staring at his hands in his lap to keep from feinting.
“That would be appear to be the case. The boat would have already left port by the time your two officers radioed in that call.”
The camera cuts to another office, similar in style to the one we have just seen Fuddlebucket in. The camera pans across the floor to a gentleman seated in a chair. We cannot see his face.
“[Slow, deep exhale] Four people disappeared out there. Just gone. We scoured those fucking woods. What the hell happened?” Fuddlebucket’s tinny, distant voice tells us that we are now hearing him from the other end of the conversation.
The camera pans further up the gentleman’s body. When it reaches chest level, it swirls around so that our view is of his desk. The camera pans slowly across it. We see his name plate: “Captain L. Oxendyne.” We see the empty phone cradle, the cord pulled taut and extending out of view. We see what is apparently Michael Varnall’s autopsy report on the computer screen. The camera does not stop as it passes over a driftwood snail.
“It’s the woods, Fuds. You’ve just gotta accept that you’re not always gonna know what’s happening out there.” As he says this, the camera swirls away from the desk, pans up to man’s face, slowly revealing the bearded drunkard of yore — sans beard, sans booze. His expression is wise, somber. He hangs up the phone, walks over to the window. He stares intently out of it, as though focusing on something far off in the distance.
Camera launches out from the office, and rapidly plunges down the streets of Salem, and off deep into the woods. It speeds hastily around trees, over rivers, begins to follow an elk, a bull with one antler, prancing swiftly, nimbly between the trees. We become aware of a low noise gradually building in intensity, as though the elk were speeding toward its source. The screech of a discordant violin? The ominous beat of a bass drum? The brassy flare of a horn?
No. It is a clicking noise. Click-click-click-click-click.
Screen fades to black. Caption: “Based on a true story.”