Horror in the Woods of Santa Cruz

In 1909 a man disappeared within the forests of Santa Cruz, California. In 2014, a group of hikers found his journal and submitted it to the police. Its contents were well-preserved, with its owner's name, "James Booth," written in neat script on the inner cover. Unable to connect it to any existing missing persons cases, they released its contents to the public in the hopes that somebody somewhere might know more. A typewritten reproduction of the journal's fading script is provided below:   

Entry 1, December 9th, 1909

President Roosevelt wants Roland and I to explore the woods surrounding Santa Cruz. This mission is ranked difficulty level "S," meaning there's a higher chance for failure than usual. I'll be updating this journal as part of the standard contingency procedure.  

Entry 2, December 10th, 1909

We made camp near the edge of the forest. Nothing extraordinary so far, just a few deer. Roland said he saw a bobcat, but I didn't see anything. It's been raining for several days.   

Entry 3, December 11th, 1909

Roland shot and killed a bobcat. He never misses with his Winchester repeater. I prefer my Colt revolver, but to each his own. We are getting deeper into the forest now and have begun searching for our target. Roland's eyes look icier than usual. He says he isn't afraid, but I don't believe him.

Entry 4, December 12th, 1909

Still no activity. Our orders were to explore and report on what we found. They don't expect us to neutralize the target, but we will make an attempt if given the opportunity. Our superiors were intentionally vague about what our target is, other than emphasizing the danger it poses to the surrounding community. Roland and I are always given the difficult missions...

Entry 5, December 13th, 1909

The days grow shorter. It feels like we are going in circles.

Entry 6, December 14th, 1909

It is unseasonably cold, at least for what we expected of this region. Luckily Roland had the foresight to pack heavier clothes, else we would have had to retreat into town. We built a small encampment nestled against a hillside, and take turns scanning our surroundings for movement. Nothing yet. 

Entry 7, December 15th, 1909

Roland woke up with a rash on his right arm. He scratches at it every few minutes. I made a poultice out of some local herbs, but it isn't helping. Later we found a small hut nestled between two trees. It's abandoned; webs lace it top to bottom. We thought it would make for suitable shelter, but the inside was too cold to bear (for no readily explainable reason).

Entry 8, December 16th, 1909

Found another hut. This one doesn't look abandoned. Nonetheless, Roland took it apart for firewood. 

 Entry 9, December 17th, 1909

Roland's rash is getting worse. May have to send him back into town to get it looked at, but I'd prefer not to work this case alone. So far still no sign of the target. 

 Entry 10, December 18th, 1909

Roland collapsed today while scouting the edges of our camp. His rash is getting worse, and I think he has a fever. Made him some soup using water from a nearby stream, herbs, and some squirrel meat. He ate slowly, but some life returned to his eyes.

Entry 11, December 19th, 1909

Roland is gone. I found a note saying "gone back to town to get medicine, will return by the 25th." However, it doesn't look like Roland's handwriting.

Entry 12, December 20th, 1909 

I forged deeper into the forest, making sure to make my trail conspicuous for Roland. Thought I saw some figures in the shadows, but found no evidence of Roland or anything else. The nights are getting darker. 

Entry 13, December 21st, 1909

A beautiful day. The sun shined through the pine trees, and I managed to bring down a deer with my revolver. Around dusk I thought I saw Roland off in the distance, moving through the brush. I shouted after him, but he didn't reply. I decided to stay up deep into the night to see if Roland would find my camp, but he never arrived. 

Entry 14, December 22nd, 1909

I woke up drenched in sweat. In my dream, a shadowy figure with glowing eyes stared down at me, a grin on its face. It felt real. Was this my target? I decided to fortify my camp, setting traps along the perimeter. Beyond those I constructed a barrier of dry leaves and twigs carefully placed along obvious approach routes. I'll know if something is coming. 

Entry 15, December 23rd, 1909

I barely slept. Usually I am not one to be afraid of anything, but fear of seeing what I saw the previous night kept me up. There is no movement along the perimeter of the camp; the forest is silent. 

Entry 16, December 24th, 1909

I remain in my fortified camp, only leaving to gather firewood. I plan to wait here until tomorrow to see if Roland returns. 

Entry 17, December 25th, 1909

Christmas. Roland doesn't show.  

Entry 18, December 26th, 1909

I left camp to search for Roland. After several hours of combing the forest, I found his body. He's pinned to a tree, a branch protruding from his chest, his lifeless eyes peering out into the expanse of redwoods. He gripped his rifle tightly, finger on the trigger. I burned his body per standard procedures and took his rifle. As I was about to leave, I noticed a red "X" drawn on the tree where Roland was once pinned. This must have been the work of my target. 

Entry 19, December 27th, 1909

I followed a trail leading from the scene of Roland's demise. It led me to a dark, inky sector of the woods. Black streams flow through the hills, and several still, reflective ponds dot the landscape. I found more of the webbed huts we came across when we began our journey. I made camp in an easily defensible position, against a rocky outcrop atop a shallow cliff's edge, looking out onto a grassy meadow. If anyone comes for me, I'll be ready. 

Entry 20, December 28th, 1909

Nobody came in the night. With Roland dead and my situation growing worse by the day, I decided to call in backup. We were provided with rudimentary flares in the case of severe emergency. They are meant to alert our men stationed in Santa Cruz that our mission has gone terribly wrong. I used a flare. I am unsure if I made the right decision, if this target is beyond the capabilities of Roland and I, then these rescuers might be going to their deaths.

Entry 21, December 29th, 1909

I managed to sleep for a couple of hours. My thoughts are muddled. No sign of rescuers yet. I remain in my camp against the cliffside.

Entry 22, December 30th, 1909

I dreamt of the horrific figure once more. It grinned at me in a...loving manner. I tried to draw my pistol but my hands were paralyzed. I woke up just as it reached out to touch me, blood dripping from ashen claw like appendages. 

Entry 23, December 31st, 1909

New Year's Eve. On the edge of the meadow my camp overlooks, I saw several figures. They stood there, motionless. I fired my pistol in the air as a warning, but they remained still. I fired at them, and they remained still. 

Entry 24, January 1st, 1910

The figures are gone. Hours later I heard rustling in the trees, but to my joy the three figures who emerged wore military uniforms. Their leader, a Sergeant in rank by the looks of it, briefed me. He warned Washington D.C. that the flares were used, and said that more help is on the way. When I asked him why we couldn't leave now, he stared at me blankly. "It's a miracle we were able to get to you, the forests are infested, all we can do now is hold out as long as we can."

Entry 25, January 2nd, 1910

The Sergeant's men established a perimeter to our camp, setting up trenches, barriers, and makeshift pillboxes. I told the Sergeant my story, to which he replied with a grimace and several sympathetic nods. When I asked him what his men are preparing for, he shook his head and said, "those who call this forest home." He refused to answer more questions, clearly shaken by the ordeal of getting to me. To pass the time, I cleaned my revolver and Roland's repeater. 

Entry 26, January 3rd, 1910

I woke up to gunshots. The Sergeant's men had fired several rounds into the forest. I joined them, but I couldn't see what they were shooting at. One of them even threw a grenade. Desperation colored their faces. When I asked what they saw, they shook their heads and refused to reply. Later, the Sergeant asked me about a red X that suddenly appeared on one of the boulders near camp. I had no explanation, and neither did he. 

Entry 27, January 4th, 1910

Several pale figures emerged from the forest. They were people, but they looked rabid, their clothes tattered. They walked, arm's entwined and in a parallel line towards our camp. They moved at a deliberate pace, never speeding up, even when we opened fire. I took down at least six. My comrades killed the rest. Their ashen, sinewy bodies quickly moldered within the meadow, infecting it.

Entry 28, January 5th, 1910

The bodies disappeared overnight. Our food supplies were running low, so I decided to form a small hunting party composed of myself and one of the Sergeant's men. We didn't go far, always keeping camp within sight. We collected several squirrels and a raccoon, which helped to sustain us in the cold.  

Entry 29, January 6th, 1910

Had nightmares again. It was the same shadowy figure, overlooking our camp. When I awoke, there was nothing there. The other three men had the same dream. We decided to break camp. On the move as I write this, have to concentrate.

Entry 30, January 7th, 1910

We made camp after several hours of traveling towards the direction of town. We should have found an exit by now. 

Entry 31, January 8th, 1910

We left camp, moving swiftly. We found the site of Roland's death. The red X is still there. I noticed tracks in the dirt, circling the tree. There were people here within the past few days.

Entry 32, January 9th, 1910

One of the Sergeant's men developed the same rash that afflicted Roland. I told the Sergeant, and he lowered his head in dismay. He then pulled his pistol out and shot the man in the back of the head. We burned the body and continued on. 

Entry 33, January 10th, 1910

The shadowy figure is real. It appeared on the edge of our camp, its face contorted and ghastly. The eyes glowed red and its mouth curved inward, its face looking much like a crimson X foregrounding a portrait of nothingness. Its teeth were jagged, and blood seeped from its claw-like hands. If it had legs, we couldn't tell, it was too dark. We ran into the night, and kept running until we found a small abandoned shack. It has two shattered windows, each facing the inky expanse of redwoods. We stationed ourselves at the windows and waited.

Entry 34, January 11th, 1910

Today the shadowy figure emerged from the forest and stood about twenty feet from the shack. It continued to grin. We tried shooting at it, but it only caused it to recoil slightly. Otherwise it looked unharmed. It took one step forward. Then it waited, and took another step, making deliberate and drawn out movements. Its eyes were locked on mine. It continued making deliberate steps, stopping about five feet from the shack. It outstretched its arms, like a priest would do in church, and looked up to the sky. Then, it waited.

Entry 35, January 12th, 1910

We watched the figure for hours, but it didn't move. Our eyes grew tired. Decided to take turns watching, I slept a few hours, then watched, then slept. The figure never moved, but there's activity in the woods. It appeared to be summoning the ashen forest dwellers we encountered earlier. They encircled the house. 

Entry 36, January 13th, 1910

Last night I passed out. When I awoke, I saw the Sergeant and his man lying on the rotted, moss covered floor. A disgusting mixture of blood, gore, and mucus decorated their bodies. I prodded them. No response. I looked out the windows. The figure, and its minions, were gone. That's when I noticed the blood on my hands. Had I killed these men? The thought, strangely enough, did not disturb me in the least. I grinned, slightly, as I pondered what could have led to this absurd turn of events. Then I remembered my dream. The figure, it spoke to me. I still remember the words. We are one. And we are. I feel complete. Satisfied.

Here the entries stop for several decades. On the final page of the timeworn journal, the date "August 1965" is illegibly scrawled several times in red. There is one other line below that, itself nearly illegible. According to our best graphologists, it reads "They are building a school here. Good."