Have you ever taken a picture and wondered how you missed something obvious and distracting in the background? It’s always been a peeve of mine and I take great care to choose my shots so this couldn’t possibly happen. That is, I thought it couldn’t happen. After last night…I’m not so sure anymore.
It was like any other night; I was out with my dog, Mabel, in the local park, snapping pictures with my camera in the dim glowing light of the moon and stars. After about a half hour of shooting, we came to a large twisted tree in the center of a ring of waist-high boulders. The branches were bare and hung about seven and a half feet above the grass. With a smile, I stepped into the circle of stone and started taking pictures of the tree when, after a few moments, my camera beeped signaling low battery. “That’s odd…” I murmured to myself as Mabel snuffled around the base of the tree, “I could have sworn that I had at least another three hours before this thing died.”
Out of nowhere, Mabel let out a yelp like she was in pain. I rushed over to her to find that she was alright but she kept looking towards the tree like she did when I vacuumed the apartment. When I stood, my eye was drawn to a shape carved into the trunk. It was a fleur-de-lis; I recognized it easily from my days as a Boy Scout. The symbol had always fascinated me, so, on a whim one day I did some research on it. While mostly used for the nobility of France, some sources claimed it to be the mark of a condemned man. The lily was branded into the left shoulder forever marking the man as set to hang. I don’t know how long I stared at the carving, but the unmistakable sound of a footstep to my left broke my trance causing me to whip my head around, looking for the owner. “Who’s there?” I called out, my voice echoing softly.
There was no response. Mabel looked up at me whining, and I placed a hand on her head reassuringly. She nosed at my hand and tugged on the leash. I gave a small sigh, “Alright,” I said with a hint of disappointment at the wasted night. We started away from the tree, back towards the car. When we reached the boulders, there was a soft thump and a sickening cracking sound from behind me. My whole body tensed, that sounded nothing like a branch breaking. I turned slowly terrified of what I would see. There was nothing there. I took a step or two towards the tree again, morbid curiosity getting the better of me. Mabel tugged again on her leash but I wasn’t paying attention. My eyes scanned the darkness around me, looking for whatever had caused the noise. Then I saw something that still fills me with fear and terror just thinking about it. Huddled at the base of the tree was the black hooded figure of a man who was assuredly not there before. His bruised and beaten face was contorted into a sadistic smile, chilling me to the bone. His gaze was directed down at a noose cradled in his arms like it was his first born child. “W...Who are you?” I asked in barely a squeak, my heart catching in my throat.
The man looked up at me and his smile grew wider to the point that I could see every one of his broken, chipped and crooked teeth. My heart was pounding and Mabel was cowering behind my legs. He simply stared at me, his blood-stained smile never fading. I took a step back, then another. As I reached the boulders again and turned, running, I heard an evil and insane laugh from behind me. Mabel and I jumped into the car and drove home as fast as the car could go.
When we got home, I fed Mabel and sat at the computer, staring at the camera in my trembling hands. It took me a few moments before I found the courage to check my camera for the pictures from that night. Strangely, the camera showed full battery when I turned it on. Only six photos were on the card. I almost growled in anger, at least a hundred pictures were gone forever. I let out a huff and transferred the contents of the card onto my computer. Mabel came over and rested her head on my lap as I pulled up the pictures. All six showed the tree, except there was something that wasn’t there before. Hanging from a branch, was a man, at his feet was a chair that had been kicked out from under them. On closer examination, I realized something that made my heart stop and my face turn a ghostly pale. The man hanging in the tree was me.