There are ghost stories around the woods near your home. Stories about people walking in and never coming out, those who did coming back empty, lifeless, like they were a shell of the person they once were. One time you even heard a guy at a party talking about a man that lived in there that was some kind of murderer, others adding onto his story that the person was a soul sucking demon.
You blamed the bad liquor for how stupid the stories were. Those woods were empty, and you knew that thanks to your lovely, brainless dog who loved to zip right into those trees the moment you opened your gate. You’ve chased him out of those woods so many times, if you were to believe a murderer lived in there, you would’ve seen them by now!
Or, maybe you just never got deep enough in.
Today, instead of chasing him in, you decided to take your dog for your normal walk through the walking trail of the forest. It was a nice enough day, just cool enough to need a jacket but wouldn’t freeze without it. Your dog happily sniffed the trail as you walked, stopping to mark his territory on every other tree the two of you passed.
The trees grew denser at some point, the little bit of sun being blocked out by the green hanging above you. Wild animals that never came near your home started appearing, spooked away by your dog’s barking and excited rushing at them, despite his leash. You wrapped your sweater a bit tighter around you, thinking that at the next clearing you’d take a break and turn back home. But before you could find a clearing, suddenly your dog stopped in his tracks, looking to the left of the path and growling. He never growled, not even at squirrels or the mail person, so of course you had to see what would upset him so much-
A man. There was a man standing in the thick brush that lined the path, about a yard away. At least you think it was a man, the shadows were so heavy- Nope, it was moving forward towards you, that was a person.
For a moment you were frozen, fight and flight at war as you couldn’t decide whether to pick up your dog and run or let him go and attack the man. Instead, you stood perfectly still as he approached, and you could slowly make out details. A large coat, dirty at the bottom from brushing the ground. A.. bandage around his eyes, dark brown spots on the already old looking fabric that made your stomach twist. His hair was greased back, with a single section of it seemingly dyed gold, as light caught it before much else. He managed to get to the point where he was only a foot away from you, still off the path and in the foliage, before he finally spoke.
“Are you lost?” His voice was low, like he thought someone else could hear, and after his question he began to mutter something so quiet you couldn’t make it out even in the near silence of the woods. When you didn’t answer, he asked it again, but so much weirder this time. “The man in the trench coat asked the young woman a question, and is slowly growing impatient with her lack of a response. The man asked once more, ‘Are you lost?’ in hopes she would finally reply to him.”
“I’m not lost,” you quickly sputtered out, and the flight part of your brain won out as you leaned down to pick up your snarling pup. How did he know you were a lady if you couldn’t see? How did he even know you were there besides the growling of your pet? “I was just about to leave.”
“The man asks that you don’t leave; it’s been many months since he’s last seen someone pass through his woods.” He stepped out from the green, and you felt your throat tighten a bit. He was tall, and that was definitely blood on the bandages, you could see it smeared on his cheeks beneath the cloth. “The.. man asks the woman to identify herself. He asks for her name.”
“I- what?” You could only think about how crazy that was, telling some random man with blood on his face your name! You held your dog a little tighter, like he could protect you from the strange man that was taking up so much space on the narrow trail. “No- n, no, who are you ?”
He just… looked at you, as much as one could without the use of their eyes (did he have eyes? Were they still under that cloth but damaged? Why was he bleeding from them??). Then, lifted a hand to his chest, simply touching the fabric with his palm. “The man before you tells you his name.. Not a name, a title. He tells you he goes by The Host, and that’s all you must know. Now, you will tell the Host your name.”
You wanted to protest, that he was too vague, you didn’t want to talk to him, you wanted to run home. But you could feel his words gripping your jaw, prying open your mouth and pushing out your name from your throat. It was forced and made you feel.. Disgusting, used. Like someone had you on a string, pulling the word from your lungs like a thrashing fish on a hook. Like you were a puppet-
You didn’t let it continue, pulling away from the man- the Host - and ran down the path, as fast as your lungs would allow. You didn’t stop running until your legs and chest burned, the trees thinned and the path widened.. You dropped to the ground to take in cold gasps of breath, your dog tumbling out of your arms and onto the ground, running to the gate to be let into your yard. Just a few more feet.. You pulled yourself up and walked to the fence, unlatching the gate and walking up to the house.
You told yourself you’d never go back into those woods again, you’d never have to see that man again, and you followed that promise.
At least, you willingly didn’t go back to those woods.
‘The woman woke up in the dead of night, heart pounding and head foggy with confusion. She couldn’t recall what her dream had been about, other than she knew something that was very insistent. She needed to see the man in the woods again.’
You jerked up in bed so fast you felt dizzy, and a voice was taking up all the space in your head. It felt like something was in your skull, pushing on all sides. Your legs felt like a layer of lead covered your bones, but they still swung over the edge of the bed easily, moving you without you wanting them to. Like something was forcing them to go with such urgency.
‘She feverishly moved to change, but her need was far too much, making her simply throw a coat over her pajamas and slip on the first shoes she came across.’
You winced as you pulled on the uncomfortable flats that were still scattered over your floor from the last time you went out, pulling a hoodie over your sleep clothes and starting for the door. You felt hot all over, a gross sick kind of hot, all while the you still left in your mind was screaming to stop, to go back to bed, why can’t I stop moving?!
‘She walked into the cold air and felt it her heated skin cool from the breeze ruffling her hair. The woman turned towards the cluster of trees and began to walk towards it, heart pounding in excitement to see the mysterious man again.’
Why, why did you actually feel the thrill run through you like it was replacing your blood? A cold shiver ran down your spine, but it wasn’t from the air. You pushed open the gate and walked towards the path, breath fogging up your vision with every pant.
‘She couldn’t wait. She needed to see him, now.’
Your feet started to go faster without your permission, hands holding your jacket closer to your chest.
‘She had to go faster.’
You were jogging, so uncomfortable in the too small flats.
‘She needed him.’
Your lungs burned as you were suddenly running, your whole body feeling like it was controlled by someone else. Every step felt like a force grabbing your limbs, pushing and pulling them along the path. Your cheeks stung from the cold air whipping over your face, until you suddenly stopped. Your body flew forward and you hit the ground with a hard thud, dirt and rocks scratching at your cheek and arm. For a moment, you thought you'd have a break, pushing yourself up onto one elbow and panting. And then the pressure came back.
‘She looked up towards the trees around her, dark and shadows surround her, except for one lone light shining between the trees. It was him . It had to be, there was no doubt about it. Who else would live this deep in the forest, so far from the world but the man that drew her in like lead to a magnet?’
It felt like ropes were suddenly looped around your whole being, pulling every piece of you from the ground and towards the light. Thorns dragged along your legs as you pushed through the brush, hanging branches scraped your cheeks and tore at your hair. You wanted so badly to go home, sleep off this dream and wake up.. The bushes cleared and you were on flat ground, in front of an odd cabin, with one light shining through the muck on the window.
The door opened. It didn’t look like anyone touched it, but you moved towards the door anyway. There was no voice telling you, but you still felt the pressure in your head.. Were you doing this by yourself? You tried to stop, but your legs kept going. No, you still weren’t in control.
The small room was dimly lit, it seemed the only light source was your beckoning candle. There was a badly put together living room, the couch torn across the cushions and tv’s screen busted in, and a kitchen that looked like it hadn’t seen a dollop of soap in years. There were tools on the coffee table, a hammer and a screwdriver surrounded by screws. The latter looked rusted..
And stood so the light from the dying flame just barely illuminated him, was the man. The Host.
His lips pulled back in a.. Smile? A smirk? You couldn’t tell, it looked merely like he was baring his teeth at you as he stepped forward, hands out. His palms were red and slick with blood (who’s blood? His? A victim’s?), and if you weren’t being held so still by whatever force was holding your body, you would’ve run. “You came,” he sighed, sounding so relieved, so happy.
The two words rang through your head, and you finally moved of your own will to cover your ears as they bounced through your skull, adding to the pounding headache the pressure had begun. Your knees buckled and you were on the ground, dirt burying itself into the fabric of your sleep pants.
Sleep, god you just wanted to sleep now, so so badly. You just wanted this to be over, to wake up from this bad dream..
A hand gently held your chin and moved it up. You could feel the smear of blood on your skin, tears slipping down your face as it was tipped up to look at the man. Was the blood from his eyes? Is that why he had them covered? You were so confused, scared, just simply paralyzed with fear..
“You’re afraid of me.” It was a statement, not a question, as he squeezed your jaw some. “You shouldn’t be. I don’t want to hurt you.” He was.. Talking in first person, and somehow it made you more tense than when he spoke like a narrator the day before. Or, earlier in the day. How did time move so slowly that it was still the day you’d met him? “You.. have no idea how I’ve thought of you since our encounter. It’s been only hours since we met, but you.. I needed to see you again. To keep you..”
That shook you out of your stupor, shoving off the ground and away from him. “Get the hell away from me, don’t touch me!” You pulled away and walked backwards towards the door, not wanting to take your eyes off him.
He seemed almost hurt looking when you were trying to leave, before his lips twisted into a dirty scowl. “I wanted to let you come to me easily.. Why do you have to make this hard?”
There was a scraping and your head snapped to follow it, seeing that his hand was wrapped around the handle of a metal baseball bat, the end bouncing off the floor and dragging across it as he brought it forward. “The woman was frozen in place, unable to move an inch from her spot against the door. So close to escape, but only able to cower as he approached, a well worn bat-” he swung the bat up so the other end landed in his opposite hand, hitting the blood soaked skin with a hard thud. “-in hand. She felt fear coil around her heart, making the muscle begin pounding to escape the feeling.”
You felt it, the pressure, and everything he said was happening. You couldn’t move, even felt like you couldn’t blink at that point. Perfectly frozen watching him stalk towards you with the bat, rambling under his breath. Your heart pounded in your chest, a deafening drumming in your head to add to the pressure building up, pushing at the inside of your skull like it wanted to escape. You watched as he lifted the bat, lips pulling back to once more bare his teeth like a wolf about to strike-
He wasn’t talking, and through your fear you tried to move your hand.
It moved easily now, though stiff.
It’s his words.
Before he could swing the bat down on your head, causing who knows what damage, you ran to his right, ducking under his arm and behind him. The Host paused, bat still in the air. For a moment, you didn’t know if he knew what had happened, until the bat came swinging around, and you had to scramble to avoid it going for your head.
“Stop moving!” he hissed between his teeth, but it wasn’t that same voice that somehow forced your movements. You scrambled onto the floor, where he seemed to have trouble figuring out where you were. Maybe, maybe if you moved to the door like this, he couldn’t get you..
You moved to stand, panic filling you like a glass of water as he turned to you, grinning so big you swore his cheeks would split open. “You’re a fun game of chase, my dear, but I’m growing tired of you fighting.”
He stepped forward and you went back, shaking when the backs of your knees hit the coffee table. You heard the screws roll across the surface, and amongst your dread, you had one clear thought.
You moved faster than him, the bat rushed over your head as you ducked down and grabbed the screw driver, holding it out towards him at first, like a threat. And then.. You turned the tip towards yourself, hand shaking so the candle light glint over it’s metal shaft.
“What are you doing..?” he asked slowly, lowering the bat and giving you what you could only assume to be a confused.. Possibly concerned look. But you were focused on the tool in your hand. It was.. Crazy, your thoughts were scattered and fueled with fear, but one thing was clear in your mind.
He can’t control me unless I hear him.
Before he could reach you, you had both hands around the handle of the screwdriver and drove it into your right ear. The pain was immediate, a blinding pain that made your eyes wet and tears roll down your face. You yanked the tool out of your ear, feeling the gush of blood running down the side of your head. But before you could let the pain stop you, before the Host could react and grab you to stop, the already bloody tool was being forced into your other ear, doubling the pain and making you finally cave.
You hit the ground and the tool clattered to the ground, but you didn’t hear it. All you heard was ringing, your own blood rushing through your ears and the hard pounding of your heart. You saw your blood splatter onto the dirty wooden floor, around your hands. Felt the hot streaks go into your hair and soak into your coat, you might just bleed out here, but it was okay. He couldn’t force you to do anything now. He, he couldn’t control you like a puppet anymore! You started giggling, boiling up to full on laughter as you put a bloody hand on your face.
The Host.. well, he moved slowly, kneeling in front of you. Your blood stained his coat, and his hand held your chin, pulling it up once more. You expected fear, concern, maybe even disgust on his face from watching you mutilate yourself in that way. What you didn’t expect was that smile, just as big, just as discomforting as before. Your blood felt cold, what was left in your system, as he.. Covered your ears, soaking the red up with his sleeves. You heard only ringing, only ringing and your heart’s pounding.
And then, a voice, deep in your head.
‘She had done the Host a beautiful favor. The only voice she would ever hear now, would be his.’