What's truly scary about the woods is not the animals, or the thick endless trees, or the pure inky darkness, or the sound of snapping branches. All those things belong there and are even beautiful. What's scary about the woods is the possible people in them.
Yesterday afternoon my writing buddy Erin and I left our creekside fortress to go exploring. We followed a logging road up deep into the woods. Then we noticed on the road a couple of folded-over rectangles of carpet like damp flat burritos on the path. We paused to look into the woods. It was incredibly dark: huge stumps, blankets of heavy moss, dense trees tilting into each other. Everything seemed on the verge of collapse. Another carpet lay there just off the road, at the base of a tree. Then I realized it wasn't a carpet, but skin.
The first thing my eye landed on was the cloven hoof. Then we saw the animal's head, muzzle-skin cut or eaten away to reveal skull and teeth, but forehead and eyes and ears still completely intact (as in, fairly fresh). It took a little bit to figure out what it was: an elk calf.
The remains were sad but not scary in and of themselves. They were just the animal.
Then we saw the many crumpled and bloody latex gloves scattered around it, and how precisely the hide had been cut and peeled back, and the discarded orange pop bottle.
Then Erin pointed out a deflated rainbow-colored child's raft dumped aside the road just opposite it.
Then the Twin Peaks effect kicked in. I am not the first to note that there's a reason David Lynch set his scariest tale in the Pacific Northwest.
I think it's time to turn back now, I said, and broke into an attempted-casual jog back toward the main road.
On the extremely swift walk home we constructed narratives around the scene, speculating. Were they bad people or starving people? Several people working quickly or one working messily? Killed it or just gutted it there? When? We got all forensic and adrenalized. But after I got off the phone with the poaching authorities my hands were shaking.