Stitches in the Woods | A Short Story

“Needle and the thread
Gotta get you outta my head
Needle and the thread
Gonna wind up dead”
-Shawn Mendes, Stitches

The golden crack of light shining in between my dark blue curtains tells me it’s morning. Another day and night have passed. I’m still alive.

“Honey, you need to get out of bed.”

Mom is at the door again, her long brown hair pulled up into a butterfly clip at the top of her head. The concern in her voice makes me feel guilty but I can’t move. The heartache feels like marbles in my blood, pushing painfully through my veins to sit heavily within my chest. The pain is too much.

Chrissy left me for some boy she met at cheer camp. My beautiful, everything Chrissy. We were supposed to get married and move to New York after graduation so she could make it on Broadway and I could work at the New York Times. It’s been our plan for three years. This can’t be real.

“Honey, you need to eat something.”

Mom’s back with a thick stack of pancakes smothered in butter and maple syrup. Her green eyes look hopeful, but the smell makes my stomach lurch and I run into the bathroom and throw up in the sink. It’s strange how heartache can make your favorite food smell disgusting.

Mom tries to rub my back but I duck into my thick blue comforter and roll away from her. Chrissy deleted all of our pictures from her Instagram and replaced them with photos of her and Ryan kissing at the State Fair. They shared a corn dog and rode the Ferris wheel. I want to kill him.

Grabbing my phone I check to see if Chrissy has texted me back. She hasn’t. Scrolling through my hundreds of blue unread messages I’m embarrassed at how pathetic this all is. I’ve never felt more out of control and sad.

Her last text burns bright white on the screen: “I’m really sorry. I can’t keep texting you. It’s over.” Swiping right I look at the red delete icon but don’t press it. I toss my phone to the floor.

There’s nothing I can do but accept her decision despite every fiber of me screaming to keep fighting. What could I have done differently? If I’d bought her flowers more or visited her at camp would it have changed things? She was my forever and I lost her. Life doesn’t have meaning anymore.

“Honey, I’m taking you to grandma. She’ll know what to do.”

Pressing my forehead into the cold glass of the car window, I watch the blurry scenery change from scraggly buildings to tall slender trees. Grandma lives in a little one-room cabin deep in the woods near a small creek that empties into a large river a few miles from her place. My childhood was spent here—throwing rocks, breaking sticks, and climbing trees. It makes sense for mom to bring me here.

Laying on grandma’s plaid couch, covered in soft knitted blankets, I hear them talking about me. “Hasn’t eaten in days,” “won’t shower,” “worried” and “heartbroken.” The words drift through me without much meaning. Tears are flowing down my face but I don’t remember starting to cry. Have I ever stopped?

Grandma makes me drink a strong earthy tea with lots of honey. Mom’s car isn’t parked outside anymore and the golden light spiking through the trees is either the sunrise or the sunset. I drain my cup faster than I anticipated and she refills it again and again.

“You need to listen to me, Theo.”

She’s holding my face in her wrinkled hands and her small grey eyes are staring into mine. Rosemary and wool. Mint and mushrooms.

“Go into the woods—the spot near the creek where the trees form a circle. You must go alone and pray for love and hope to return to your body. After you pray, take a large drink of water from the stream.”

Her expression leaves little room for argument and she places my tattered blue converse and black hoodie beside me on the couch. Grandma has taken me to her holy spot many times but this will be the first time I’ve gone alone. She watches me get ready and then hugs me to her.

“When you return we’ll eat a big meal of fried chicken and potatoes. You will find yourself again, Theo. Trust me.”

Stories of my grandma’s healing abilities flow easily around family gatherings, like side dishes and desserts. I’ve heard drunk relatives call her a “witch” and sober ones call her “magic.” It’s hard to say what I believe but it doesn’t matter. She will not take no for an answer.

There’s a well-worn path leading from her house and into the woods. With how the birds are singing and diving through the trees, I decide it’s a little after sunrise. A huge black and blue bird with a spiky head, a blue jay, dives down in front of me three times causing me to have to stop and step around him. Stupid bird.

The white granite of the outlook tower appears through the trees for a moment but then becomes lost again in the thick branches of the forest. I used to love when grandma would take me there. We’d stand and look up at the tiny windows far above us and she’d tell me stories of how the villagers erected the tower in the 1800s as a way to keep watch for fires and invaders.

“The people of the hills looked out for one another back then. We were all connected…not like today when we’ve spread out like seeds sprinkled in the wind never looking back from where we came. The tower meant something. It still does to me.”

When I was younger I’d lay awake at night imagining how I could get through the bricked-up doorway to the treasure trove of gold and jewels waiting for me to claim it. I always thought when I got older I’d either tunnel underneath, scale the sides, or use a tightrope to walk from the trees to the windows at the top. Maybe I still will. It might be worth the risk to be rich and not have to think about college and all the work ahead of me in my life. I need a new plan anyway.

Following the sound of the creek, I find my way to the circle of tall pine trees. It’s a strange place and I feel my heart race when I arrive—as if it’s alive or filled with tiny eyes watching my every move. Standing in the exact center I look up to see the tops of the trees disappearing into a now blue sky dotted with fat white clouds. 

The heaviness of having lost Chrissy feels like it waited until I entered this spot to slam into me again. Stumbling back, a boulder of pain knocks me to my knees. I forgot about her for a moment and it’s confusing. It was nice to feel like myself and dream of the treasure in the tower, but also it felt disloyal to have forgotten how much I love her for even one second. Why is this happening to me? I feel crazy and wild. I scream.

“Why?”

The word echoes through the forest and turns me into a slobbery sobbing mess. Laying on my back I stare at the ring of trees and try to remember what grandma said to do but all I want to do is forget. The word sounds strange in my head like I’ve never heard it before, so I say it out loud.

“Forget.”

Yes. I want to forget. It’s all I’ve ever wanted in my life is to forget her name, the blue of her eyes, the way her arms feel around my waist. The taste of her lips. I want to be free of this pain of loss.

“I want to forget Chrissy. I want to forget everything.”

A rush of cold wind blows through the trees, lifting old leaves from the ground and swirling them around me. As I watch them dance in the air, an uneasy feeling begins at my toes and then travels like a shiver up to my head. I press my fingers into my temples and watch as fat, thick fog crawls along the forest floor until it reaches me. It seems alive, with fingers and toes, as it presses me hard into the ground. I try to scream but find no air in my lungs.

Rotting wood. Rancid water. Decay. This isn’t the spirit that helps grandma. Its icy breath stings the back of my neck and sends another wave of shivers through my body. With a low, hissing voice it whispers into my ear. Forget. The fog and the word seem to be one—pressing down on me and repeating itself over and over. Darkness comes and I feel my body sinking into the soft ground.

No. I don’t want this. With all my energy I move my arms through the leafy soil until I get them under me and I can press myself up into a push-up position. The foggy thing above me groans and sighs, but I press harder and harder. I get my knees up under me and scream.

“No!”

Pressing upward with a sharp jerk I manage to throw the thing off the back of me and jump to my feet. It repeats “forget, forget, forget” in a husky higher pitched voice, but I don’t turn and look at it. I don’t want to see what it looks like. With my arms out in front of me, I fall out of the fog and stumble a few steps until I regain my footing.

The forest beyond the circle has remained bright and silent. It’s the kind of stillness you feel inside you like a blanket and I lean into it as I run all the way back to grandma’s house. She’s waiting on the porch and I fall into her arms. A nightingale sings far off.

“It’s going to be okay.”

She’s made her famous fried chicken, thick potato wedges, and fresh bread which I gobble up in an instant. Grandma talks while I eat but I hear nothing she says. All I can think about is the word forget as if I’ve summoned it to live inside me now. Forget Chrissy. Forget the way she made you feel. Forget your plans. It’s like a chorus singing so loud I have to cover my ears.

“You okay?”

Nodding yes, I want to scream out no. There’s something happening inside me, but I don’t know how to describe it. Swirling, maybe? Coursing? That’s closer. Infecting…

“Lay down and rest.”

The moon shines fully through the big cabin windows and once the blankets are on me I drift instantly off to sleep. Cool blasts of air wake me and I pull the blankets tighter and look around the room. Fog, with the same horrible smell as before, creeps in around the cracks of the front door. Grandma’s asleep in her chair by the fire, her knitting still on her lap. I’m dreaming. I have to be dreaming.

Pressing my eyes tight together I tell myself to wake up, but I feel the slimy thing climbing on top of me. It soaks my blankets. A sharp fingernail traces my cheek. Its breath feels like ice.

“Forget,” it hisses in my ear.

Its strong slimy hands grab my shoulders and with a jerk, it flips me onto my stomach. The weight of it feels crushing as it climbs onto my back and I manage to turn my face slightly to the left so I can suck in tiny gulps of air. There’s searing, burning pain along the back of my head. Dark hot liquid seeps into the pillow around me and onto the couch. I can’t scream. I can’t move. Something sharp stabs into my head over and over, but the feelings are too intense and I remember nothing else. Forget.

When I wake up grandma has made pancakes and I eat them without touching the spot on the back of my head that pounds and throbs. It’s nothing. I’m sure it’s nothing. She smiles and we drink tea. I’m going to be okay. It’s all over now.

“It’s remarkable. I can’t believe how much better you look. Your cheeks are pink and you actually smiled when you saw me. Grandma’s healing powers have done it again!”

Mom’s laughing and pulling me to her. She’s warm and smells like lavender and the pink cream she puts on her face at night. I want her to hold me for a long time but I push away dramatically and give her a smile. I’m fine, mom. Don’t you worry about your boy. I’m good.

Sleep comes quickly when we return home but it’s not peaceful. I wake to the fog pouring in from around my bedroom window and the horrible rotting smell. Don’t look. You are having a bad dream. It flips me, sits on my back, and I’m helpless to whatever it’s doing to the back of my head. Hot liquid. Burning pain. The sound of snipping like metal scissors. Why did I go into the woods? Why didn’t I tell grandma what happened? It feels so real, but it can’t be. This can’t be happening.

I wake up on the floor, sweating and in pain. Running my hand down the back of my head I find something there. It feels like the stitches I had when I cut open my knee hiking in the woods last year, only much bigger. Running into the bathroom I grab my dad’s shaving mirror and angle it so I can look at the back of my head. Stitches, fat and uneven, run down the back of my head. I touch the sharp tips of the red thread and scream.

Dropping the mirror to the ground I scream. Mom rushes to my side. She’s in her plaid nightgown and brown fuzzy slippers. Rubbing her eyes she looks from me to the shattered mirror on the floor.

“What happened? Are you okay?”

“Mom, did I have surgery?”

“What?”

“Did I have surgery or something? On my head.”

“You are worrying me. No. You didn’t have surgery. What’s wrong?”

Turning around I show her my head and she says nothing. I touch the stiff stitches in a line from the top of my head to the base of my neck. They are there. I can feel them.

“What am I supposed to be looking at?”

She’s staring at me now with tears in her eyes. I can tell by the fear on her face she can’t see them. Maybe they aren’t there. It’s part of the dream or hallucination or something. It’s not real. None of this is real. I shrug and try to smile.

“Must have been a bad dream, mom. I’m okay.”

She says I look terrible and asks me if I’m worried about seeing Chrissy on the first day of school. When I tell her I don’t know that name, her face falls. She puts her hand on my forehead.

“I’m not sick. It was a bad dream. I’m okay mom.”

The next few nights are some version of the same—fog, blood, sharp sounds, and pain when I wake up. I avoid touching the back of my head anymore and take handfuls of Motrin every few hours. Whatever is happening with me, it’s nothing. Probably brought on by stress. Forget. Forget. Forget.

Rockford Academy starts on Monday. My first few classes are fine but something strange happens at lunch. A beautiful blonde cheerleader with bright blue eyes comes up to me and says we need to talk. When I tell her I don’t know her, she gets angry and throws my lunch tray on the ground.

“What do you mean you don’t know me?”

“I’m sorry but I’ve never seen you before.”

“Are you serious?”

“I’m sorry.”

“Asshole.”

Her friends give me dirty looks and surround her as she walks away. I have no idea what happened but when I look at my best friend he’s shaking his head so hard that his long, blonde hair covers his eyes.

“Damn dude,” Henry says. “That was harsh bro. Chrissy seems really hurt.”

“I don’t know her.”

“Fine, fine. If that’s how you want to play it but you are coming across like a jerk. You’ve been good friends since grade school. Maybe you could be cool, you know? Be her friend?”

Without thinking I touch the spot on my head and shiver as I feel the sharp points of the stitches poke my fingers. It’s still there. I want to tell Henry about my time in the woods, about the nightmares and the fog, but I don’t want to risk him not believing me. I don’t have a lot of friends and I want to try and be normal again. We eat our lunch and talk about music. We make plans to hang out together on the weekend and maybe see a movie.

I’m a senior and classwork counts now. I’ve got the school newspaper, marching band, trigonometry, English, history, and debate. There’s no time to worry about anything else. Forget. Forget. Forget.

On Friday another strange thing happens. A boy in a Nirvana t-shirt sits beside me at lunch. He runs his hand through his long, blonde hair and makes fun of my colorful socks. I try and ignore him, but he punches me on the arm and ruffles my hair. I don’t like anyone touching my head, so I try and move away from him. He follows me and asks what movie we are going to see this weekend.

“I’m sorry, but do I know you?”

“What the hell, bro!”

“I’m sorry, but I really don’t know you.”

“Henry. Your best friend. Why are you being so weird? You’ve been so fucked up since the whole Chrissy thing. I’ve tried to be cool but this is going too far.”

“I’m sorry, but I don’t know you and I don’t know any Chrissy.”

“Fuck you, Theo.”

He punches me on the arm and walks away. Something about the exchange makes me cry. I run into the bathroom and text my mom to come to get me. She said Henry had already texted her and she thought it was time I saw a doctor. I agreed.

Doctor Brandywine has been my pediatrician since I was a baby. He dresses in colorful Hawaiin shirts and always calls me “my man.” He and my mom discuss possible underlying conditions, headaches, memory loss, and insomnia. It feels like I’m no longer able to follow their conversation and I worry the dreams are killing me. Forget. Forget. Forget.

The doctor and then the psychiatrist find nothing wrong with me but they whisper things like “depression” and “break up” and “not like himself.” They start me on medication but it just makes me sleep more. I get dizzy spells and I pass out. My pillow’s covered in blood only I can see.

The nightmares continue and I think maybe I should talk about them but I fear they will grill me on the details and I don’t have them. It’s all fog and invisible stitches. Pain and clicking sounds. Nobody will believe me.

Maybe I’m having one of those existential crisis things I’ve read about—a separation of fantasy and reality. They change my meds. I get worse. More people yell at me. I stop going to school and I blackout and lose time. Food tastes terrible.

I’m driving in the car with a woman who is crying softly. Her brown hair has fallen out of a colorful butterfly clip and her green eyes are swollen and red. She touches my hand.

“Get better, son,” she says.

I don’t know her. There are voices and I’m aware I’m crying but then the fog comes again. And the pain.

“Tell me what happened in the woods.”

I’m laying on grandma’s couch and she’s sitting in a rocking chair beside me knitting something with bright orange string. My hand goes up to the place on the back of my head and I shiver. Watching her sharp silver knitting needles I focus on the small clicking sound. 

“You can tell me anything, Theo. I believe you.”

Grandma’s unblinking eyes meet mine. Shivering, I speak as fast and low as I can, afraid I’ll fall asleep again or not be able to fully form the words. Grandma keeps knitting but she leans closer. Her rocking chair creaks.

“When I went into the woods something happened. A thing heard me saying I wanted to forget and it sort of attacked me…crawled inside me. It…it started to come to me in dreams. When I’m asleep I feel it…but I can’t see it…”

I close my eyes and the image of a creature comes to me for the first time—a hulking, hunched nightmarish form wet and horrible. Tears flow along with tidal waves of fear. Grandma places her knitting in a wicker basket beside her rocker and leans forward.

“Did you drink from the stream?”

The stream. It takes me a minute to remember what she’s talking about. Then it hits me.

“No…I got scared and ran from the woods without drinking the water. Should I have?”

Grandma nods, stands, and paces back and forth in front of me in maroon and grey wool socks with slow shuffling steps. Tiny rainbows from the crystal prisms hanging in the windows dance across the dusty wooden floor. Her breath sounds even and calm.

“Theo, what does this thing do?”

“I don’t know…I guess it hurts me…my head…there’s stitches…but only I feel them.”

Grandma sits beside me on the couch. She grabs my hands in hers and I can feel she’s shaking…or maybe it’s me. The sunlight from the window behind her makes her white hair glow around her face. She’s beautiful.

Reaching up I feel the bumpy sharp ends of the stitches forming a jagged line down the back of my head. I’m scared the creature will hurt grandma but she peels up my hand and runs hers along the same spot anyway. Her touch is gentle. There are tears in her eyes when she jerks her hand away.

“You feel them, don’t you? You believe me?”

“I do.”

For a moment I’m happy someone believes me but it transforms in an instant into suffocating fear. If grandma feels the stitches then it’s all real. That horrible thing has been cutting open my head each night. I don’t know what to do with this terror, so I bury my head into her chest and sob.

“Theo. There’s no time for crying. You need to be strong.”

She rises and I follow her into the kitchen wiping my eyes and nose on my sleeves. Pulling down tiny bottles of herbs from shelves around the kitchen I watch her mix them in a pestle, grinding them and adding them to a little wooden bowl. She pulls out a glass jar full of water and fills the big black tea kettle.

“Water from the stream of life.”

When she sets the kettle onto the stove I feel suddenly light-headed and lay down on the floor. Her voice calls to me from far away but I can’t call back. I’m drifting off and it’s coming for me.

The fog enters from every crack in the cabin wetting everything it touches. There’s an awareness I didn’t have before and I’m able to see myself lying helpless on the floor. I can’t do anything but watch as an enormous wet creature slithers across the floor to me making a horrible sucking sound.

It’s got damp dark skin covered with tiny red dots of blood I only see when it’s really close to me. Its long, thin fingers end at hooked nails as sharp as knives. There are hollow places where eyes and a nose should be and it makes a terrible, deep groan when it’s close. It’s got no lips and endless rows of sharp pointy teeth. I hate it.

Using its sharp nails, I feel it snip the red stitches along the back of my head and then pry back the skin to reveal a grotesque scene. Inside my head, on my brain, are stitches etched like embroidery. It’s a word and it looks to have been stitched over and over. It’s thick and red.

Using one of its horrible nails it slices open its frog-skinned arm and pulls out a long, thin cord of red blood. Pulling a tooth from its mouth with a sickening pop it threads a tiny black hole at the base and begins to stitch over the word, adding another layer. The word shines wet with fresh blood pouring onto the floor around me. Forget. Forget. Forget.

Opening my eyes I find I’m laying on a floor with an old woman standing over me with flowing grey hair spilling around her face. She gives me her hand and helps me to my feet. Rosemary and wool. Mint and mushrooms.

“It’s okay, Theo. It’s all going to be okay.”

“Do I know you?”

She hands me a thick clay mug full of dark brown tea which smells like fresh dirt with a hint of honey. It feels warm in my hands and I realize I’m shivering and damp. The woman’s eyes are kind and she leads me to a plaid couch.

“Drink it all, Theo.”

It’s bitter, hot, and burns as I swallow it. She watches me from a rocking chair while knitting a pair of bright orange socks with two sharp silver needles. There’s a flickering fire in the hearth giving off a strong cedar smell. I’m dizzy and I fall to my side on the couch and drop the cup onto the floor.

Pain hits my stomach and with a horrifying gasp I realize she’s poisoned me. It’s too late. Shaking violently a sharp stab of pain slams into the back of my head. No. I don’t want to die! She keeps rocking and knitting. Why isn’t she helping me? It feels as if I’m being torn into two from the back of my head. I scream and she’s by my side.

“It’s almost over. You are doing really well.”

She pulls me to an upright position with surprisingly strong arms and holds a large wooden bowl in front of me as the spasms in my stomach turn more violent. Bright red strings mixed with blood erupt from inside me and she pulls at them. I gag and choke. It lasts for several minutes and when it’s over I fall back onto my side.

“You did it, Theo. It’s gone now. It won’t come back.”

Grandma tosses the contents of the bowl into the fire and I watch it burn and sizzle. She places a pair of newly knitted orange socks on my feet and hands me a cup of clear water. It tastes wonderful and I drink it all. Chrissy. Theo. Mom. I remember.

“You will be okay now.”

She kisses my head and pulls me close. The water makes me feel warm and safe. Chrissy may have left me, but it doesn’t mean my life has to end. I have people who love me and I’m going to be okay.

Author’s note: I’m on a road trip with my teenage daughter this week and she challenged me to write something scary. We came up with the idea together while driving across Oregon but I pretty clearly need practice in writing suspense and horror. Let me know what you think and thanks for supporting me and my writing.


Short Story Challenge | Week 29

Each week the short stories are based on a prompt from the book “Write the Story” by Piccadilly, Inc. This week’s prompt was to write about an unexpected visitor shaking things up. We had to include tightrope, nightingale, underline, risk, academy, existential, outlook, Friday, gobble, and grill.


Write With Us

Prompt: Parents solve a problem together

Include: rhinoceros, umbrella, announcement, petal, feather, fruit, placement, sketch, wobble, boil


My 52-Week Challenge Journey

32 thoughts on “Stitches in the Woods | A Short Story

    • Thanks, Priscilla! I think to be truly scary I’d need to lean further into the idea of losing memories and what that means…it could be scarier if I went a bit deeper.

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  1. Bridgette, this might be one of my absolute favorite stories from you! I was captivated by the voice of the story and really excited to go along for the ride. I did not expect anything spooky in the woods! It was really cool to see you take this turn in your writing. The monster was definitely creepy and the forgetfulness of the main character was so unique!
    It all built to a really great ending and message for the audience.
    Thanks for a wonderful read 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

      • I see. I haven’t seen Stranger Things, although I hear good things about it. And it’s funny the story I told should come up today… just yesterday I was finishing this week’s episode of DLTDGB, and I chose the name of Emily’s boyfriend because of the story in my earlier comment. That name is on my list of stock douchebag names. (Interestingly enough, though, I had a recurring character by that same first name in season 2 who was not at all a douchebag… I forget why I chose it for that character.)

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Your monster is fascinating. I really liked the description of the teeth and tendons writing the word forget again and again. I think this monster could be an amazing centerpiece of a story.

    I think certain names have to be used carefully as pop culture often connects them with a time and place. Using “Chrissy” and having her as a cheerleader… all I can picture is poor Eddie crying “Chrissy, wake up, I don’t like this”, as she floats in the sky and her limbs start to break.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! I purposely used the cheerleader Chrissy as a nod to the show. I also used Theo as a nod to my favorite character in the latest season of You. I know it’s not advised to do in something commercial, but I think it worked here.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The two things I like best about this: the entire thing could be seen as a take on depression itself and how it takes over and empties you out. Also, I see a variation on a theme here- be careful what you wish for, careful dealing with fiddlers, read the fine print, etc., etc. Grandma’s place is described as being her holy place, but thing is if one kind of magic is there, who’s to say that there aren’t other kinds of magic lurking? You have to be so careful what you say in a spot like that, because you don’t know what’s listening, and you might not like how they go about fulfilling your wishes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! Yes, all of those themes are there, plus my never-ending fascination with memory. “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” remains a big influence on me and recently I enjoyed the show “Severance”—both dealing with erasing or losing memories to try and heal from traumatic memories. It’s one thing to heal from something, it’s another thing entirely to wish it erase it as if it didn’t happen. Lessons are learned from our mistakes and our pain, which is another theme I return to often.

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