I committed a horrible crime in a forest. I need to confess.

Trigger warning: Child abuse

I am consumed with fear. I committed a horrific crime in a forest near my house. I thought I could live with it but keeping this dark secret to myself might drive me crazy. If I tell anybody in real life then I will go to prison for long time. Yet if I continue to let it consume me then I will lose my mind. Can I share it with you? I need to confess.

My life was good. It was fulfilling, interesting, happy. Then, last weekend, everything changed. For 10 years, I have been taking the same three walking routes around a small forest that is local to me. Every Saturday, I drive the 4 miles from my home to Heartshill Hayes. I park up in the car park, make my way past the cafe and playground, then I take 1 of the 3 possible routes. I always go alone. In fact, I do pretty much everything on my own. I am not a lonely person… I am just an independent introvert.

I woke up early on this particular Saturday morning. I worked in bed for a little while, fixing some bugs, then I browsed the news. A high-up police officer telling the country that the PM had made too many cuts. A missing 5-year-old in London, her picture reminding me of my niece, who was a similar age. A warning that a large storm would be hitting us that night. I didn’t pay much attention to that one – England’s ‘large’ storms often only resulted in a few knocked over wheelie-bins.

I ate a small breakfast, had a quick shower then drove to Heartshill Hayes. As I stepped out of my car I registered that it was a surprisingly nice day. The sun was not blocked by our typical grey clouds and there was only a gentle breeze blowing towards the forest. All the same, I opened up my car boot and pulled out my waterproof jacket, putting it on but leaving it unzipped. In Britain you should always assume it will rain.

I made my way past the cafe, waving to the man who owned it on my way. He was clearing the outdoor tables of empty plates and drained glasses. He was a lovely older man who always had a smile for me. It felt as though he was family, in ways, after seeing him most Saturdays for 10 years.

“Nice day for it, eh Kelly?” He called out to me as I passed.

I smiled at him and waved. “You alright David?” I called back. “It’s a lovely one! Keep me a jacket potato back, will you? Thanks!”

I kept my pace as I walked by, knowing I would chat to him properly when I had finished my walk and went in for lunch. I made my way past the playground. The mixed sounds of children laughing, singing, and shouting, their parents calling to them or chatting amongst themselves comforted me. It was full of life and joy.

I decided to go on the walk that takes you right around the edge of the forest. It’s the longest route, taking 1 hour 35 minutes at a moderate pace. I usually preferred the inner walks that cut through the forest, as walking along the edge meant the scenery was fields and houses on one side and sparse trees on the other. The inner walks surrounded you with forest and made you feel you were right at the heart of it. However, I wanted to take advantage of the sun shine and take a longer walk. The longer walk around the edge cuts across the far Eastern corner of the forest. You see, the Eastern corner is inaccessible to the public so the path has to cut it out, rather than go around. The trees are too thick there to allow a path through and the shrubbery is too overgrown to allow those who try and go off-track to make their own.

Though I adore the sound of the forest, that day I decided to listen to some music. I put in my earphones and walked peacefully along. There weren’t many people around – I only saw a couple of dog walkers. This was normal, regardless of the weather, as the longer route was not as popular as the inner routes. I looked out at the distant housing estates past the fields, thinking how wonderful it was for the children there who lived so close to this stunning forest. When their parents felt confident enough to allow them to go exploring away from their watchful eyes the kids would get so much from having this stunning forest to set alive their imaginations. It was like something from an Enid Blyton novel.

The forest was a very important place to me. I had experienced a wonderful life, so far, but it had had its ups and downs. Every weekend I had walked through these woods, gathering my thoughts, planning my next move in life. I felt like I had been through so much in this forest, like I had shared so much with it. I had been more open with myself here than I could ever be with anybody. Most of the major decisions in my life were made here and the backlash from my mistakes had been felt here, too. The forest had witnessed me go through tragedies, it had helped me work through worries, it had accompanied me in finding meaning in horrible situations. Now, as I walked through, I was at a wonderful part of my life, and I felt happy that I could share such positive emotions with the forest that had been there for me during the hard times.

I know that sounds silly but I was attached to the place. The trees that stood tall next to me, always there, always watching, always guiding… they felt like family.

As I approached the Eastern corner the path started to cut across so that I would be taken past the inaccessible area. When I got to the part of the walk where I was surrounded by trees on either side the wind picked up rather quickly. Just a short gust, at first, then nothing. Then, a few seconds later, a stronger gust that lasted a little longer. It wasn’t strong enough to alter my pace or stance but it had a chill to it. I paused and zipped up my jacket, putting my hood up for good measure.

I pulled out my earphones, wanting to be aware of my surroundings if the weather was taking a bad turn. As I shoved them into my pocket I heard an almighty crack from directly above me. I looked up, startled, and saw a huge branch plunging towards me. I flinched, covering my head with my arms. I closed my eyes and braced for impact, as my heart rate sped up and adrenaline started running through my body. It was too late to get out of the way.

When I heard a crash and a crunch in front of me, I opened my eyes. The branch had fallen to the ground, only just missing me. It was just steps away from where I stood. It was half a meter thick and as long as the width of the path! It was a bit too close for comfort… If that had hit me I would have been seriously injured. The wind was picking up, a low howl rushing past me. I found that it was pushing me sideways towards the Eastern corner. I climbed over the fallen branch and hopped down, carrying on with my walk. I was a little on edge but tried not to get too worked up. I was now walking against the wind and having to put effort into keeping a steady direction I realised that the storm that wasn’t supposed to be here for another 12 hours was announcing its early arrival, and it was trying to push me off the path.

I had only taken a handful of steps when there was another booming crunch from above me, and – again! – a huge chunk of tree landed just a step or two in front of me. Shaken, I glanced up at the sparse trees on the inner side of the forest. They were swaying precariously, and I realised with surprise that this was actually rather dangerous. It was also highly unusual. The park rangers had always kept on top of loose branches and so danger was kept to a minimum. That in itself told me that we were in for a storm that might do a bit more than knock over a few wheelie bins.

I was not going to take the risk of being walloped on the head, so I decided to cut through the thick Eastern side of the forest. These old trees were strong and fierce, unlike their younger brothers and sisters. It wouldn’t be an easy route but I knew from having lived around here for so long that if I made my way through the dense shrubs and trees then I would arrive at a field. From there, I could walk in safety back through the fields I had passed, back towards the cafe. I stepped into the thick, unknown area of the forest and found myself relieved that its density seemed to protect me from the wind.

As I climbed over thick roots and pushed past rough and unruly bushes, I felt like there had been a change in atmosphere. Was it the weather, I wondered to myself, that was giving me such a feeling of unease? The peace I had felt not ten minutes before had been replaced by a sense of trepidation.

Suddenly I felt myself forcefully shoved from behind. Had it not been for that low howl, and the icy touch of the wind rushing past my cheeks, I would have thought a person had ran up and pushed me. Instead I knew that it was the weather and I became nervous by how strong the gale seemed. Yet the branches did not sway, and the bushes did not rustle. It was as though a channel of wind had followed me through the path I had forged, urging me forward, pushing only me along.

I stumbled my way through, the mysterious wind forcing me to pick up speed. I was starting to get quite scared. How serious was this storm? It was different to anything I had ever experienced. Was this some sort of freak weather attack? Was I in danger? I felt myself start to panic, so I put all my body weight into pushing back against the gale and I stood still. I needed to gather my thoughts, calm down and make sure that the route I was taking was optimal.

I felt the wind battering against my back but stood firm. I kept my stance stubbornly, refusing to be bullied by a sharp breeze. Then my entire surroundings changed.

Firstly, what little light had managed to make its way through the compressed trees all but disappeared and I was suddenly stood in the middle of unknown territory in the dark. Moments later, the wind roared fiercely all around me. The thick tree trunks that I could just about make out started to lean forward, further into the Eastern corner. I could no longer hold myself still and I began moving deeper in with them. No longer was there a channel of wind pushing me. Instead there was an overwhelming force hurling me along. The next thing I knew I was running – and not through choice.

I was terrified. It wasn’t just the sudden storm, it was the emotion in the air. There was a rage surrounding me, a darkness that chilled me. People say that houses carry memories, that you can walk into a home where something evil happened a decade ago and you can still feel that evil. I was surrounded by anger so strong that I felt scared for my life. Why was the forest so angry? What was going on?

I tried to turn my head to look behind me, but I didn’t have the strength. How I didn’t trip over the hidden tree roots, or how the bushes didn’t tear my clothes, I do not know. It was like I was being marched forward aggressively. I had to keep my eyes closed most of the way as the wind stung them, and so I stumbled blindly onward.

After a few minutes the wind suddenly dropped, and it was like it had never even been there. I collapsed to the ground, tears running down my face. I felt overwhelmed, exhausted, and I had no idea where I was. As I wiped my eyes I looked up. A small amount of light had returned. Ahead of me I saw a wooden shed. The colour of the wood suggested it was newly built. I hadn’t seen anything like this in the other areas of the forest. I wondered what it could be… A storage shed for the rangers, perhaps? But how did they get here? Why put it in an inaccessible area?

I pulled myself up, shook myself down and walked towards it. There was a huge tree looming over the shed, one of the tallest I had ever seen in Heartshill Hayes. It was magnificent. I decided to take shelter inside the shed. I planned on making a phone call to the cafe. I would ask David to send help. I felt silly, but I wasn’t taking any risks.

As I made my way, I was shocked to see that the trunks were still leaning towards the shed. It was almost as though they were all pointing to it! The wind must have been so strong that it had really damaged them. Why had it dropped so suddenly? Was I in ‘the eye of the storm’, like in the movies? Did that mean that it would return soon, stronger than before?

I pulled open the shed door and a rotten stench hit me immediately. I heaved and quickly covered my mouth and nose with my hands as my mind processed the scent. Faeces. Urine. Sex. Blood. What the fuck was this?

I couldn’t see what was inside the shed as it was too dark. So I turned the torch on my phone on and shone it around, leaving one hand covering my face. Tools hung from nails on the wooden walls, a jacket was dumped on a hand made work station. I couldn’t see the source of the stench, so I shone the light on the floor and looked there instead. Sure enough, there was something in the corner.

I took a step further in. The stench, stronger now, made its way through my hand into my nostrils, making my stomach turn. There was something lying there motionless on the floor. Whatever it was had a sheet draped clumsily over it. My mind began to race and my blood ran cold. Was that a small foot poking out from the bottom of the sheet? No… Surely not. It was too small to be a body, wasn’t it? It wasn’t long enough. My eyes must be playing tricks on me, I thought. It was too small. Too small, surely. Unless… But it couldn’t be, could it? Please, no.

I stepped closer, my heart hammering, my mind realising that I already knew what this was but needing my eyes to confirm it before I could accept the horror of what was before me. I shone my phone up along the small form until I found a face emerging from the other end of the sheet. A precious, beautiful, tiny little face. A face I had seen on the news just hours before. A face that reminded me of my niece.

Her skin was waxen, her eyes were glazed. I shook my head maniacally, sobs escaping my from deep within me. “Get up. Please!” I begged out loud. I pulled the sheet off her… I don’t really know why. Maybe I hoped that she would jump up, laughing, playing some childish prank. She didn’t jump up though. She was limp. As I pulled the sheet away, I saw that there were loads of small bruises covered her naked little body. She was dead, and it was clear that she had died horribly.

I started to scream. I ran out of the shed and threw up just outside it. I wiped the bile away from my mouth and sunk to the floor, closing my eyes. The face of that perfect little child was there looking right at me. I screamed for a long time then. It was only when I stopped to breathe that I heard a low howl. I realised that the wind was picking up again.

I urgently tried to decide what to do. Run further forward, hope to find the field, get to the cafe, alert David to the horror in the forest? But how could I leave her here, all alone? I couldn’t bear it. I wanted to hold her. I wanted to protect her. Yet, I couldn’t force myself to go back into that shed… to that stench… to that sight.

I was sobbing again as I tried to type ‘999’ into my phone, my trembling hands making it impossible. Then I heard rustling ahead. I almost didn’t look, thinking it would just be the wind, but I sensed a presence. Someone was watching me.

I snapped my head up and there, just a little ahead of me in the distance, was a park ranger. He was just stood there staring right at me. I thought he was probably wondering what the hell I was doing all the way out here. His green shirt and trousers brought me the immediate comfort that an authoritative uniform brings in times of distress.

“HERE!” I shouted out on autopilot, my desperation overpowering any logical suspicion I should have had. “PLEASE HELP! THERE’S A LITTLE GIRL, SHE’S… I NEED HELP! QUICKLY!”

He started to walk towards me at a leisurely pace, a small smile on his face. I felt infuriated but I supposed that he simply did not understand the gravity of the situation. He probably thought he was just attending to an everyday accident, like someone had gone off-track and hurt themselves.

As he got closer I realised I recognised him. I had seen him around Heartshill Hayes before, though only recently; he was a new member of staff. I had said hello to him a couple of times in passing but certainly didn’t know him. He was memorable, though, because he was very, very tall – especially compared to me. I stood at 5 foot 3 inches, he must have been at least 6 foot 3.

“HURRY!” I shouted again, my voice breaking with distress.

It wasn’t until he got closer that I realised there was something wrong. That smile wasn’t a ‘What can I help you with?’ smile. It was a snarl. Unfortunately, when I realised there was a vicious intention it was too late. He was suddenly towering over me before I registered the danger he posed, before I saw the evil in the depths of his eyes. Before any of it registered his hands were around my neck. Then they were squeezing the life out of me.

As his hands gripped my throat I started to see light spots. I knew that it was likely that I was about to die. I tried to smack him with my arms but he was tall… much taller than me. His arms were long, too… I couldn’t reach him. I could only claw aimlessly at his solid triceps. He wasn’t a big built man; he was slim but he was still very strong. Or was I weak? Either way, I didn’t stand a chance.

Then that atmospheric rage surrounded me again. The wind screamed suddenly and heaved against us. A huge branch was suddenly waving around next to me, just within reach. My brain was starved of oxygen, I couldn’t think straight, I couldn’t even tell my arm to move so that I could grab at it. However, with another gust it was blown closer to me. It was nudging urgently against my hand.

The maniac throttling me was too focused on my impending death to notice anything. I put everything I had into opening my hand out to grab the branch, but I was so weak I could not close my grip around it. That didn’t appear to matter, though.

As if the branch had a mind of its own, as soon as my hand touched it it flew towards the man’s head, bashing his skull with a satisfying thud. His body plunged to the floor and I was dragged down with him. We both collapsed against the ground, his hand loose now, and my body automatically sucking in lung fulls of oxygen gratefully.

I rolled my head to the side and glanced at the maniac. I saw that his eyes were as lifeless as the little girl’s whose life he had stolen. The branch hung loosely to my side, dangling above me, and was still attached to the tree that towered over the shed. I took it in my hands and pulled myself up. I was shocked by its girth and weight but, with a strength I did not know I had, I lifted it high above me. I took that branch and I bashed him in the head with it, over and over again. I did it so many times that his skull collapsed. When I was spent I collapsed back onto the ground, satisfied that his own mother would not be able to recognise him.

I lay still on the floor catching my breath and sobbing once more. After what felt like forever but was probably only a few minutes, I felt something lifting me gently to my feet. There were thin branches under each of my arms that were guiding me up. In my confused state I allowed myself to be guided back into the forest, all thought of the field having left my mind.

As I walked along through the Eastern corner I felt raindrops starting to make their way through the trees above me. Within the blink of an eye there was a sudden downpour and I was drenched through. Though not uncommon in Derbyshire it was certainly odd that the rain was getting through with such ease in this thick part of the forest. It was as if my own personal waterfall poured over me.

I looked down at my rain jacket and watched with satisfying disgust as the monster’s blood was washed away onto the forest floor beneath my feet, seeping into the soil. As it washed away I continued forward. Branches brushed lightly against my back like a loved one guiding me to safety, urging me to keep walking. Before long I had made it back onto the forest path and I left whatever insanity I had entered in the Eastern part of the forest behind. The atmosphere of rage that had surrounded me seemed to have gone and there was peace once more. I did the only thing I could think to do – I continued on my walk and thought about what the fuck I needed to do to get myself out of this situation.

I accepted that I was now a murderer. I hadn’t just killed the man in self-defence, I had totally battered him. And yes, he deserved it. It seemed rather obvious that it was him who had done… that, to the little girl. But what I had done still made me a murderer.

As I walked through the familiar scene the sun was once again shining. My damp hair dried, and my mind no longer raced with fear. I almost felt ‘normal’ as I walked along. That was when I made the decision to carry on as if nothing had even happened. I would have my lunch at the cafe and chat with David as I normally did. Then I would get in my car and take a left at the exit, appearing to go home. But I would drive past my house, get onto the motorway and go as far away as I could in a few hours. Once I had reached the destination… any destination… I would place an anonymous phone call to the police, alerting them to the bodies in the woods. That little girl’s parents had a right to know where their child was, and that beast needed to be exposed to the world. After my anonymous call I would return home, shower, wash my clothes, put them away, and get on with my life.

In theory it seemed simple enough. I accepted that it was likely that I would be questioned at some point by the police. After all they would know a time of death and would want to question everyone who had been in Heartshill Hayes during that time. But would they really suspect me? Could a 5 foot 3 inch, 135lb woman really have lifted a branch that big, that heavy, and repeatedly bashed a 6 foot 3 man (who was throttling her!) in the head with it? Actually, that’s a serious question… Could I have done that? Did adrenaline make me superhuman for a moment, or was the forest seeking revenge for the evil it had played unwilling host to? Did the forest need someone it could trust to act on its behalf?

I was aware that the vomit could lead forensics directly to me. Yet I had a feeling that the sudden downpour might have done away with that, like it did the blood. If the forest trusted me then I had to trust it back.

There were other problems with my plan though. When I tried to speak to ensure I would not sound too shaken when David inevitably asked about my week, I found that my voice was gone. I had been strangled to within an inch of my life – of course I wouldn’t be able to speak! I touched my neck tentatively and winced in pain. I couldn’t see them but I was sure there would be bruises there. In the shape of hand prints.

I was anxious. David knew me well, and he would call the police immediately if I rolled up looking like I had just been attacked. I plodded along, scared all over again.

As I approached the cafe and the playground, though, there came a saving grace. The sky darkened once more and out of nowhere huge black clouds appeared. Rain lashed down and a flash of lightning was followed by an instantaneous rumble of thunder. I saw parents ushering their children quickly from the park and running to their warm, dry cars. I saw David in the distance, quickly dragging the outside tables inside the cafe. I saw my chance. I jogged past the park and, keeping a safe distance, I continued past the cafe. My jacket was zipped up high and my hood was covering most of my face and – more importantly – my neck. I was mere metres away from David, who I waved enthusiastically at whilst running past. He waved back then got on with dragging in the tables. He didn’t even bother to try and call out to me as it was clear that the rain was too loud. It seemed accepted that I wouldn’t be stopping to having lunch… what with the weather being so awful. I got into my car, drove away and I executed the rest of my plan.

And now, here I am. I used an anonymous email account I already had set up (call me paranoid) and I accessed it via my mobile on a VPN. Then I emailed the police my tip. I have avoided the news since, even though I have found it very hard to. I want to know that the police took my tip seriously and I want to know that the little girl’s body has been taken away from the shed in the woods. But at the same time I don’t want to know that forensics are all over the scene, trying to piece together what happened. I am scared all of the time. I am constantly on edge.

Luckily, I work from home on my laptop so I don’t need to face co-workers or even call in sick. Though my work has dropped in quality I still manage to crawl through my hours each day.

I have wondered if David will be suspicious when I don’t turn up on Saturdays, especially after it being my ritual for so long. However I have reasoned that not many people will want to go to the place where a little child was murdered. Of course, if the police haven’t taken my tip seriously and the bodies still lie unknown of in the woods then maybe David will report me a missing. No one has knocked on my door looking for me yet, though, which comforts me. I know that lots of staff have upped and left Heartshill Hayes in the past, so I’m not too concerned that they would report that park ranger as missing. They would just assume he has left. Somehow I doubt he has loved ones who would miss him.

And they would have arrested me by now if they had any hint that I was at the scene, surely?

I know what I did was right but that doesn’t stop me being crippled with the fear of being caught. And it’s such a heavy secret to hold. Perhaps one day I will be able to walk through the forest again and share my thoughts and fears silently with the trees. For now, though, I remain a recluse, too afraid of being punished and of being labelled a murderer. I had to confess to someone, though, so I did it here. I hope you don’t mind sharing the burden with me.

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