Don’t Go to the Stone Chair – By Ethanismusic22
I almost died on the first kayaking trip of my life. It was late June. My boyfriend and I had decided to take a vacation to a rental looking out over a local river.
“I’m gonna try and tip it forward while you just ease it down, okay?” I said, trying to glance around the wide kayak to find my boyfriend, Aaron.
His gray eyes met mine. “Got it.”
My muscles strained as I pushed the heavy boat over the lip of the stone wall. When it started teetering forward, Aaron did his part, guiding it down into the water, and it entered with a soft splash.
“Phew.” I breathed out, wiping my brow under the hot sun and glad I hadn’t bothered with makeup today. “We did it.” I honestly didn’t expect that to work.
Like always, Aaron was letting me take the lead despite the fact that this was my first time kayaking. I had no idea what I was doing but I held the boat steady for him anyway as he hopped in, then I gingerly hoisted myself in. The boat rocked precariously and my knuckles went white gripping the sides.
“Hey, relax, monkey. We’re supposed to be on vacation,” Aaron said. Monkey had always been his pet name for me though I can’t remember why or when it had started.
I flashed him a wane smile, trying to keep the nervousness from my face. “I am relaxed! See?” I stretched my arms back and yawned obnoxiously.
He just rolled his eyes.
We pushed off from the deck with our oars and drifted out into the river. Behind us, our hillside house rose up above the treetops. It was a strange looking place, square with a front room of only windows. I blushed recalling some of the things Aaron had done to me in that glass room.
The wide, shallow river opened up before us, its clear waters shimmering in the late morning sun. Trees lined the edges like a natural, green fence meant to keep this place’s beauty from the rest of the world. A cool breeze blew across us, making the warm day much more bearable as we paddled forward.
Aaron broke the silence after we had rowed up the river for a while. “You’re awfully quiet, you doing okay?”
You see, I had planned this trip for more than just R&R and alone time with Aaron. I had something to tell him, a secret really. I was pregnant and… I didn’t want to keep it.
The words died on my lips even as I thought them. “Just taking in the sights,” I said instead, hating my cowardice. I will tell him eventually, I thought. And he’ll be devastated, another voice said.
The answer seemed to satisfy him for now. “Do you remember the directions our hosts left? I didn’t ever get to see the paper,” Aaron asked.
“Left from the house to go upstream, cross underneath a bridge then take the tributary on the right until you can’t go any further. The stone chair will be on the left a ways into the woods,” I said as I closed my eyes to picture the words better.
“That’ll be the bridge then,” he said, pointing past me to a worn, stone structure arching over the river. “Looks really old.”
I nodded as I studied our surroundings. That’s odd. No other kayaks, jet skis, or motor boats passed by. There wasn’t another boat to be seen,. No one milled about on the countless riverside docks or in the windows of the accompanying houses.
“Where is everyone?” I asked.
Aaron glanced around as if realizing how deserted it was for the first time. He stroked his beard in thought. I loved when he did that. It made my heart flutter.
“Hm… well… it’s a weekday, right?” he asked.
It was Thursday.
“Maybe everyone is just at school and work,” he finished.
“Yeah… that makes sense,” I said, though a trembling sense of dread crept through my stomach like a spider on its web.
I fell silent again, focusing on the rhythm of my oar as it swung side to side, slicing into the water. The exercise felt good. I had been lying around with Aaron far too much since we got here, though I admit, I was getting a whole, different kind of exercise the last two days. Normally, I would work out every weekday morning but this was vacation and I was trying to let myself relax and sleep in.
A blue jay flew overhead and landed inside a nest, dropping bits of food from its mouth, presumably feeding baby birds, then took off deeper into the forest. I would be that bird soon, a mother, if I didn’t do something about it. I had a tiny human growing inside me. With every breath, every pump of my blood, its cells expanded and grew. Living so long as I continued to give it nourishment…
Aaron’s voice cut through my spiraling thoughts. “If you’re nearly as good at being my wife as you are at rowing, I’m a lucky man indeed.”
I looked down at my hands, unmoving with white knuckles gripped around the oar’s shaft, betraying my deeper thoughts. Red crept up my cheeks as I processed what he had said. His wife?
I stammered, trying to cover again. “And… and here I was thinking I was a lucky woman for what a fantastic teacher you are. Need I remind you I’ve never done this before?” I said, rolling my eyes.
“Here,” Aaron said, wrapping his arms around me and placing his hands over mine. “Like this.” He moved my hands in a gyrating motion, alternating which oar head dipped into the cool water. The feeling sent a warm tingle up my arm into my chest and my heart took off beating.
Bright light darkened to shadow suddenly and I glanced up. Dark, arched stone passed overhead as we steered through bridge supports, smoothed by years of erosion and covered in graffiti. Most of it was names, though one caught my eye, ‘Feed the Mountain’. What the hell did that mean?
I cleared my throat as I spotted a gap in the trees to our right.
“That’s our turn, right?” I asked. Not that I needed to ask so far ahead, it wasn’t like we were moving that fast. It helped to shoot for the same point though.
Aaron shrugged and helped me angle the boat towards the opening. Sometimes, I wish he would be a little more confident and just take control for once!
The surroundings quickly transitioned into marshlands as we entered the tributary, the waterway narrowing around us and the trees seeming to grow closer as if reaching out to us. We dodged a couple large rocks jutting out of the water along with some fallen trees. When I finally looked back up from the obstacles, my breath froze in my lungs.
There were people out here.
Not just one or two people standing on a dock or sitting in a yard. No, there were at least ten to twenty people outside each house we passed. Others stood scattered throughout the forest in between the bite size segments of civilization.
All of them just stared at us wordlessly, mouths either hard lines or opened in some kind of eternal scream.
I gathered my courage and hollered over to them. “Good morning!”
Those closest to us, in front of a modest looking home with a hammock, said nothing, though their bulging eyes focused on me with the greeting. The next group we saw standing in the woods shrank back beyond sight as we passed.
“What the fuck…” Aaron cursed under his breath.
I gulped, white knuckling the oar again, though this time it was due to our situation not the baby. My secret was starting to seem unimportant compared to this creep show.
“Maybe… we should turn back?” I asked Aaron, craning my head back. I still couldn’t see his face.
He was silent for a long moment before speaking. “It’s probably just some locals playing tricks, monkey. I’ve got to see this stone chair. We’ve come this far. C’mon, let’s just go a little further,” he pleaded.
“Okay,” I said. “Just a little further. Until we see the dead end.”
We carried on that way without further incident. After the faces shrank back into the woods, we didn’t encounter any other signs of humanity other than an occasional rusted out car or beached canoe hidden halfway in the tree line.
All was quiet. You’ll hate me for saying this cliche, but it was too quiet. I could feel the panic building in the back of my mind like a silent scream being held at bay by lips pursed shut.
I took solace in two things. One, rowing felt easier here, there was no downstream current. The only movement in the water came in the form of ripples off our paddles. And two, I had Aaron with me. Though he wasn’t particularly imposing, I knew he would defend me should the need arise. If he could make up his mind to do so, that is.
Finally, after what seemed like hours, the water started to become shallower and rocky. We steered around what we could and pushed on farther than we probably should have. I winced each time stone scraped the bottom of our boat, wondering how much it took to sink a kayak.
Deciding we couldn’t any further, Aaron jumped out of the boat and guided me to the left shore. The ground rose steeply from the dirt and sand shoals into overgrown woods that hung out over the stream.
Aaron left me there while he climbed the steep terrain, looking for a path then hollered for me to follow a short time later. It was nice to see him taking the lead if only for a moment. I guess that’s what excitement does to a man.
Dodging anything remotely resembling poison ivy, I made my way up to him. A clear path went left and right from where he waited, paralleling the stream.
We eventually decided on the left path as it seemed to curve further into the forest, which the instructions had said to do. I still had this unexplainable feeling of dread while we followed the dirt trail, unmarked other than the break in the weeds and trees, but Aaron was obsessed with finding the stone chair.
“We’ve come this far,” he kept saying, “We might as well walk ‘til we find it.”
Just as I was about try and convince him to turn back again, something in the woods changed. It was suddenly much darker and almost chilly. The trees became less tightly packed, leaving more space between them. Leaving more space in for something hanging from each tree’s branches…
Whatever it was looked like pale, translucent cocoons, swaying in the breeze. I could almost make out what was inside. I drew closer for a better view, my heart pounding in my ears, sweat dripping down my neck…
They weren’t cocoons. They were fetuses. Human fetuses. One on each tree. Babies taken from the womb before birth, all at differing stages of development. Some looked as young as only a few months, while others were near full grown. Each fetus hung by its umbilical cord tied in a savage, sickening manner to the tree branch.
I fell to my knees, bile rising in the back of my throat as I dry heaved towards the ground. A hand touched my back and I heard a gulping, gasping sound behind me. I turned back, searching through tears that I hadn’t felt form. Aaron slouched forward, his mouth agape, his face twisted in horror as he observed the grisly scene before him.
Somehow, he found his voice. “What kind of… monster could do something like this?” He gulped again like he was trying not to vomit. “That’s it, babe. We’re getting out of here. Fuck the stone chair.”
I nodded my agreement as I gathered myself and stood on shaky legs. My head was spinning and I could feel the baby inside of me. It wasn’t moving yet but I was somehow aware of every bit of its existence. It was the first time I had felt connected to it, to him, I should say.
Aaron took my hand and we turned our backs on the forest of unborn children. We walked for what felt like miles, yet still we didn’t hear running water.
“I think we’re lost,” I admitted. I have a terrible sense of direction. Aaron had been letting me guide us for some reason.
“Let’s just keep walking,” Aaron said, “We’ll find our way back.”
As we walked, I studied his face. He was shaken, that was clear, but his eyes were still that deep blue-gray I loved. He needs to know. He deserves to know.
“Aaron, if something happens… I have something to tell you…” I trailed off, unsure how to start.
Just as he opened his mouth, we entered a clearing. In the very center, a stone chair waited. It was smaller than I had expected, covered in lichen and algae. But the chair wasn’t the only thing we found.
Old stone pillars, older than that bridge even, flanked the clearing in a ring, reminding me of those famous stones in England… Stonehenge, was it?
Beyond the stone chair, there was a wooden table covered in an odd mix of items. Candles, flowers, and an assortment of wicked-looking metal tools were among a few of the things I could spot from where we stood gawking.
“We found it!” Aaron exclaimed, his voice giddy as he ran forward and plopped down in the chair. Does he not see all that creepy shit on the table!?
He glanced back at me as he tested out the stone chair, patting its arms. “So what was it you had to tell me?”
“You dare desecrate this holy place?” I jumped as an angry voice boomed out from the treeline.
All of a sudden, figures stepped out from the shadows in unison, taking their places beside each stone. I backed away automatically as I took in their appearance.
They wore masks in front of their faces that seemed to be made of real animal faces, just with parts carved out for mouths and eyes. I saw deer, bears, foxes, even dogs and cats. Each mask appeared to be reinforced by pieces of rusting scrap metal. Their clothing differed from person to person but it oddly appeared to be quite normal. Swim trunks, tank-tops, and flannel were among a few things I saw.
They’re just fucking with us… aren’t they?
Aaron jumped up when he heard the voice, his eyes wary as he circled from person to person, realizing he was surrounded.
“Ah, our benefactors have brought us another willing sacrifice. Wonderful,” the angry voice said sounding all too formal like a pompous ass. It belonged to a man who glided up to the wooden table, fingering the instruments there. He was dressed even stranger than the rest, in something between a doctor’s scrubs and a robe.
“Ha ha, very funny,” I said, faking a laugh, “I know this is some trick you play on tourists, right? Have the owners send us out here to a spot only locals know about, dress up all creepy, scare us, have a good laugh at our expense while we wet ourselves.”
Aaron’s eyes widened and he shook his head. It seemed he didn’t think they were joking.
I swallowed hard as I took another step back.
“You may go, young man,” the robed man said to Aaron. “The Mountain only accepts the blood of the unborn and of the unwilling mother.”
Realization washed over Aaron’s face as the words sunk in and he stared at me. His eyes went from the wide, green-gray of shock, to a deep blue of love, then finally, to a hard gray anger.
“Take me instead,” he said, putting himself in between me and the circling cultists.
The man laughed as if something was funny about that. “It seems he hasn’t grasped the reality of the situation,” the robed man said, making a swift motion.
Before I could react, arms grabbed me from behind while two others rushed towards Aaron. He managed to clock the first one hard, putting him on the ground then dodged out of the way of the other, using his momentum to shove him headfirst into the corner of the wooden table. The men went down in boneless heaps. More men came forward too quickly for Aaron to react and pinned him back into the chair.
“Aaron! No–” My cry ended abruptly as someone stuffed a rag into my mouth.
The two men strained to keep Aaron still as the robed man selected a serrated knife from the table, tested it by slicing a thin line of red across his thumb then walked around the table.
He sighed. “You aren’t who we wanted today, but you will be a wonderful addition to the faces of the Mountain,” he said, guiding the serrated knife from Aaron’s waist up the center of his chest to his neck. The razor-sharp blade parted the flesh like butter and the gash weeped blood, staining his bathing suit crimson. It didn’t appear deep enough to be life-threatening but I screamed a muffled cry nonetheless.
“Your ears, so the Mountain may hear its people,” the man said, flicking the knife at the sides of Aaron’s head. His ears parted from his body in a spray of blood. Aaron let out a heart-wrenching roar of pain.
“Your eyes, so that the Mountain may continue to monitor its bounty.” The cultist scraped the knife at his big, beautiful eyes, scooping them out one after the other. Veins popped out of Aaron’s neck and his face grew beet red as his body processed the agony, unable to even produce sound.
“And your hands, so that the Mountain may continue to feel the growth of its kingdom,” the robed man concluded, raising his hand high and hacking once, twice, three times until Aaron’s hands fell to the ground. Aaron’s head lolled as he fainted from the pain. I felt my body shuddering in great gasps as I tried to process the scene, sobs moaning from beneath the dirty cloth in my mouth, my heart shattering into a million pieces.
Then, something strange happened. Time seemed to slow as Aaron’s entire body… solidified. As if someone had poured concrete over him, he took on a gray, rough cast, seeming to turn to stone. Only the parts of him that had been sacrificed remained flesh and blood.
The robed man turned to me and approached without another glance to Aaron, letting the knife drop beside his stone corpse. With one hand forward, he touched me, pressed his palm to my stomach. I felt something jolt through me like a brief electric shock before he moved it away and returned to the table to retrieve an instrument resembling rusty, crude forceps.
He is going to take my baby. The realization hit me like a gunshot to the gut. He brutally killed the love of my life and now he’s going to take my baby.
Something inside of me tripped, some internal, maternal instinct. I lost all thoughts of not keeping the baby. All that mattered was keeping him alive, whatever the cost.
As they dragged me forward, I searched desperately for a way out. Then, I saw it. The knife that the head cultist had dropped, lying just out of reach.
I faked a sob then lolled to the side as if fainting, putting all my body weight in that direction. Just as I had hoped, the cultist holding me wasn’t ready for the change and he nearly let me fall to the ground. My hands brushed the dirt and my fingers clasped the sharp edges of the knife. I brought it back around with me as I pretended to regain my strength and drove it with all my strength towards the arm of the cultist holding me.
The dagger sank deep into his arm and he yelped in pain, dropping me hard to the ground. I didn’t waste time. I jumped to my feet and took off in the opposite direction of the stone chair. I could hear them somewhere behind me, yelling and coordinating. I think I may have heard a dog howl or maybe it had been a wolf. I didn’t stop to consider it.
Eventually, I heard the blessed sound of running water and its proximity only spurred me on faster. Somehow, I ended up right where we had left the boat. Splashing into the water, I pushed with all my might to free the boat from the sand and jumped in, paddling with all the energy I had left.
The current was intense. Where there had been no movement in the water before, the stream now roared against me as if Mother Nature herself didn’t want me to escape. I managed a little headway but kept running aground on rocks. We should have never come this far in. I banished the thought as quickly as it came. It wouldn’t help me now.
The yelling drew closer and closer as I kept getting stuck. They couldn’t have been more than a couple hundred feet away as I jumped from the boat. There is no way in the hell that these psychopaths are going to get my baby.
“She’s over here!” Cries came from close behind me. Too close.
I flailed and splashed through the water to the opposite shore, abandoning the kayak to the mercy of the intense current. The forest closed in around me as I run as fast I could manage. The trees started to blend together into a blur of brown and green and I knew I was getting myself hopelessly lost. But I didn’t care. All that mattered was keeping my baby alive.
Then, I spotted something propped up against a tree. No, it can’t be…
It was. A walkie-talkie, almost looking like a baby monitor. I snatched it up, punching at the buttons.
“Oh, thank god,” I said to no one, then clicked it on. “Hello! Hello?” I tried a few channels that way. Finally, I heard the static of a reply. I adjusted the dial so I could hear it more clearly.
It wasn’t someone that could help me.
It was just a baby crying, over and over, inconsolable, like I was listening to a baby monitor from the living room of my house. I threw the cursed thing to the dirt and took off running.
I don’t know how long I ran or how far. All I know is that the next time I became aware of what I was doing or where I was, there was a great flash of light, making me shield my eyes. Then, there was a horn blaring. Car doors opening and slamming shut. I collapsed to the dark asphalt near a double yellow street line. I had made it… somehow, to safety. I faded into unconsciousness.
The kind family of eight that found me drove me to a local hospital where I was treated for a mild case of dehydration, hypothermia, and shock though not even the police could manage to get the whole story out of me.
Last night, I had the baby, my baby… Aaron’s baby. The horrific experience in the woods forced me to reevaluate my priorities in life and I’d be damned if I wasn’t going to hold onto the last piece of Aaron I had left with a white knuckled grip.
Aaron had died protecting me and our baby. He had died taking the lead, at the most important time he could have stepped up. He was a true father.
The baby was born at 9:09 pm, weighing 8 pounds and 6 ounces. I gave him my father’s middle name, Bernard, but the rest of him was Aaron as it should be. Aaron Bernard Coté, my reason to keep on living.
Now that Aaron is here, I finally feel safe enough to safe enough to tell my story, to warn you. If an AirBnb gives you directions to a stone chair, or anywhere for that matter, trust me. Some adventures are not worth taking.