My daughter disappeared during our walk through the woods. Part 1.

Up until very recently, early every morning I would take my two-year-old, Rose, on a brisk walk around the area we live in. However, a few days ago our walks had to stop rather abruptly after some strange circumstances occurred. I’m writing about them here to ask for advice, because even though the logical part of me tells me that there is a rational explanation for everything that has terrified Rose and I over the last couple of days, my instincts are screaming that there is something more to all this. Let me give you some context.

Everyday, Rose wakes up so incredibly early that we can watch the sunrise together. It doesn’t matter what time of year it is, she seems to have some sort of super sense for the beginning of the day. I decided to start taking her out before breakfast a few weeks back, in an attempt to combat my own grogginess from such an early wake up and to gratify her morning buzz of energy. We both really enjoyed this special time together, even if, for half of it, we are walking in the dark. We enjoyed it up until a few days back, that is. That was when things got scary.

Before everything went wrong, she would toddle along beside me on our walks, chattering her babble that is still rather babyish but is finally beginning to turn into pre-school speech (basically, not yet understandable but sentences are beginning to form… in toddler language). She would squeal with excitement at the sight of squirrels and birds roaming freely whilst people without toddlers still slept. At that time of morning, no one is around. We had the whole walk to ourselves – too early even for dog walkers – and that suited us just fine.

Living in Derbyshire, we are incredibly lucky to have a vast array of terrains on our doorstep. In just a 20 minute walk, we get to go through streets, past a field and through some woods. If we simply make our way through a couple of roads from our home then we come to a large care home. One side of the care home hides a small entrance to a trail, and the other side is an entrance to a small wooded area. It’s all connected, so we can walk in one entrance and end up coming out of the other one.

We start our loop around at the trail, rather than the woods. Just a few steps onto it, we turn round a corner and there is a large, empty field on the left, with shin length grass. A waist high wire fence that thin shrubbery grows along separates the trail and the field. It is topped with thick, rusty barbed wire to keep that let’s us know the field is off bounds.To the right of the trail there are huge bushes of nettles and thorns and tall trees that hide the trail from the care home.

At the end of the thin, stoney path on the trail there is an entrance to the woods. The other side of the care home is just a two minute walk through this wooded area, which then brings us back onto the street and on our way back home. It’s an easy going, circular route.

On the first morning of unusual events, Rose was a little tired by the time we reached the trail, despite only being 8 minutes into our walk. She was whining to be picked up, but at two years old she’s a little too heavy for me to carry. Of course, I can if I need to, but I’d rather not – I want to encourage her to walk along on her own.

The trail is only wide enough for us to walk single file, rather than our usual hand in hand. Rose always takes the lead, but on this particular morning I walked in front of her, hoping she would follow a little faster. I tried to boost her energy by playing a game we regularly played when she was flailing. She would call out instructions for silly ways for me to walk and I would theatrically do as I was told.

“Run, mama!” She called. I ran forward five steps, pretending to gasp for breath. I heard her little feet thudding against the stone path as she followed, giggling.

“Stomp, mama!” She directed, and I accompanied my five stomps with a verbal, “Boom! Boom! Boom!”

She laughed through her own imitation of my booms, “Bom! Bom! Bom!”

“Giant, mama!” She requested next, and I took five huge steps and rumbled in a deep voice, “I am a giant walking with my giant baby!”

I waited for her response, but was greeted by silence. I was surprised when she didn’t respond, as giant impressions usually guarantee a side splitting laugh. I turned around, puzzled, only to be confronted by an empty trail behind me. My stomach dropped. Where was my daughter?

“Rose?” I called, widening my eyes to try and force my vision to stretch further along the trail. The sun had not yet risen, and my sight was limited. There was nothing there that I could see, only the fence separating the path from the field on one side and the tall bushes that hid the wooded area behind them, on the other.

I retraced our steps along the trail quickly, looking in the bushes to see if she had perhaps become distracted by something in them; maybe a bird, some berries… something that would interest a toddler more than giant steps with her mama. I found no trace. She wasn’t distracted by something close by.

My panic began to grow and I found myself extremely agitated by the lack of sun – it should have risen enough by that time, it should have granted me enough light so I could get my bearings. However, I was still in the dark. I tried to stay calm, but then I found my imagination running wild and I pictured someone sneaking up behind us as we played. Someone who might have snatched her away, covered her mouth with their hand to stop her crying out to me, and ran back the way we came. My terror grew.

“ROSE!” I shouted. “Get here, NOW!”

I ran the risk of my angry voice making her cry in fear, but it did not matter. It was sure to bring her out of any hiding places. Yet, no toddler emerged. Just as I was about to run to the beginning of the trail, back the way we came, I heard a wail of pain and terror and I knew beyond any doubt that it was Rose. Her scream came from the field. I snapped my head around towards the sound, but I couldn’t see far into the grass due to the darkness.

I put my hand onto the closest wooden post that held the wire fence – and barbed wire – in place, and put my muddy boot onto the spiky metal, hoisting myself up. In my haste I stumbled down, landing in the field on my hands and knees into the overgrown grass. I scrambled up, eager to get to my baby.

Though I felt sick with anxiety that Rose was in pain and scared, I also felt relief that at least she was nearby. There hadn’t been a stranger creeping behind us, ready to snatch her away when I wasn’t paying enough attention. Thank goodness.

“Rose?” I called. “Where are you? Shout for mama and I will come and get you!”

She didn’t respond, but at that moment the sun began to rise and the field became illuminated enough for me to see. I turned my head and scoured the field until I saw a glimpse of blue – her jacket – quite far away in the distance. It was opposite the opening to the woods, where we had been heading, but a long way into the field. I was extremely surprised that she had managed to get so far in such a small amount of time, but toddlers surprise their parents every day. Thankful that I had not left the trail in search for her, I ran towards the blue, calling her name as I dashed along.

As I approached, lungs burning, I saw that she was standing in front of an old, single storey building of some sort, which the grass did not grow around. There were gaps in the rounded, dark grey bricks that served as windows and a doorway. I had never noticed the building before, but I am not a particularly observant person and my attention would have been on the entrance to the wooded area at this part of our walk – not on the field.

15 metres away, maybe less, I slowed to a jog and I saw that Rose’s back was to me. She was facing the doorway that led into the dark unknown of the unlit, clearly unused, building.

“Rose!” I called, my breath short. “How did you get out here?”

She didn’t turn around at the sound of my voice, she just stood perfectly still, seemingly staring into the building. I wondered if she was intrigued by it, itching to go in and explore. I sprinted the last few metres to her, in case she darted in – it could have broken glass in, amongst other dangers, which could be very risky for a wobbly two-year-old.

Even when I reached her, she still didn’t move, neither towards me or towards the building. She was only a few steps away from the entrance, yet remained frozen like a statue. I placed my hands gently on her little shoulders, not wanting to startle her from her daydream. It didn’t work – she jumped out of her skin, turning to me.

There were tears flowing down her cheeks, though she did not sob aloud. Her eyes were wide and I saw a fear in them that I had never seen her express before. She held her arms up as a request to be picked up. I immediately lifted her into my arms and she cuddled her face into my neck. She was ice cold, and trembling.

“Are you ok?” I asked her, my throat choking with sadness at her little face, so scared, so alone. I wiped her tears away. How could I be so stupid as to let her wander off?

“Yes.” She replied, sadly. “Home now, please.”

I couldn’t see any marks on her and she seemed herself physically. I started to step towards the building with Rose still in my arms, as I wanted to have a glance inside to assess if it was dangerous. There was a chance she had entered and hurt herself while I searched for her. I had heard her scream in pain.

A strange scent hit my nose as I stepped closer to the doorway. It was a herb-like sort of smell, with a hint of burning. It didn’t smell like food cooking, though. I can’t explain why, but the smell made my stomach turn. There was something awful about it.

When I took another step towards the entrance, Rose gripped me tightly, digging her little finger nails into my arms. I looked at her and saw that she was as pale as a ghost.

“No!” She cried. “Home now, please! Home, now!”

I tried to explain, “I just want to have a quick look inside, Rosie, it won’t -”

“NO! NO, NO, NO!” She screamed.

She was becoming hysterical, so I quickly backed up, turned around and headed back over the field towards the trail. As we got further away from the building her hysteria faded until she was only whimpering quietly into my chest.

Once we were safely back on the trail, about to make our way through the wooded area, I asked if she wanted to walk. She shook her head determinedly, clinging to me, clearly still spooked. I carried her home.

Once we got back, she wouldn’t touch her breakfast. It was very unlike her, but after half an hour of cuddles and then some time playing with her building blocks she was back to normal. I wish I could have asked her what had happened and got a sensible answer, but she’s two. Toddlers are notoriously hard to communicate with.

It was certainly an odd morning, but it wasn’t beyond the realms of reality. My toddler had wandered off, somehow scurrying through a gap in the shrubbery and wire fence that I hadn’t noticed (she certainly couldn’t have climbed over the barbs that topped it), and she had discovered an old, stone building that I had not noticed before as it wasn’t in a place I’d ever looked. Toddlers often become hysterical over silly things, so her reaction didn’t strike me as particularly weird. However, things were about to get much stranger.

That night, when I undressed her ready for a warm bubble bath I noticed that her shoulders had five dark marks on that didn’t wipe off. They were bruises. Each one was topped with a small red cut into her skin, as though someone had dug their fingernails into her. To be bruised and cut she would have had to have been grabbed quite forcefully. When I had touched her shoulders, as she stood outside the building, I certainly had not put enough pressure on them to cause marks.

I discussed the whole thing at length with my partner that evening, once Rose was sleeping soundly in bed. Rationality told us that in my fear I had grabbed her a lot harder than I realised. I didn’t feel entirely comfortable with this explanation, but it was the only thing that made sense. We agreed that during any outings in the future she must always stay in direct sight if she wasn’t holding hands. I chastised myself for leaving her wandering behind me and he comforted me by telling me it was an easy mistake to make, but one not to make again. It could be dangerous.

The next morning, I wondered if Rose would be too scared at the memory of the previous morning’s events to want to go on our walk. However, she bounced out of bed buzzing like a little bee, running into our bedroom for a cuddle before asking for “morning walks”. We waved Dada off as he left early for a swim and the gym before work, and off we went.

As we walked up the trail in the dark (I needn’t mention that Rose was safely in front of me, but I will), I glanced across the field in the direction of the building. I couldn’t even make out an outline in the gloom. The sun had not yet risen. We approached the entrance to the woods just as our surroundings began to brighten, and sure enough, the building was there.

Before we followed the trail into the wooded area, I found myself leaning towards the building. I felt an unusual pull to it. I can’t really explain it, it almost felt hypnotic. It was as though there was a gentle gravitational tug. Rose tugged me away, though, gently steering me towards the woods so we could get to the path towards home.

I knew from experience that in just a couple of minutes we would see the care home. I quickly forgot about the building now it was behind us, and onto the next part of our walk we went. The woods were darker than usual, despite the fact the sun was rising, and I figured it was a sign of a miserable, cloudy day ahead.

A few steps into the woods, I felt Rose’s grip on my hand tighten. Before I had the chance to ask her what the matter was, a fierce wind spun up out of nowhere. The leaves that coated the floor rustled and stirred and the trees swayed. It was such an abrupt change from the still air that both Rose and I startled.

While the wind was making me slightly unsteady on my feet, the smell hit me. The sudden gale had brought that strange scent that I had smelt the morning before by the building. This time, though, it was much more rotten. It was so strong, so vile, that it made me physically gag.

I breathed through my mouth and smiled down at Rose, wanting to comfort her and show her that the wind was nothing to be afraid of, even though it made me unsteady, and that the smell was something to simply ignore, even though it nearly made me sick. I wanted to make her feel safe, even though I felt on edge. She stared up at me, her eyes wide, a sense of urgency in them. Her lips were moving quickly but I couldn’t hear what she was saying over the wind. Her eyebrows furrowed and I felt her start to tremble. She was terrified.

The wind died down suddenly, leaving as fast as it had arrived. Everything went quiet, even the birds in the trees. I expected Rose to calm, but instead she still looked horrified. She was whispering something to me. I couldn’t hear her so I crouched down next to her, my arm around her back.

“What’s that, darling? Can you speak up a little?”

“Run, mama.” She spoke in a more serious tone than I’ve ever heard her use. “She does not like mama. Mama, run… now.”

I cannot describe the chill that ran through me at Rose’s whispers. Every hair on my body stood straight, my breath hitched in my chest and I froze. Then I heard the most horrific noise I have ever heard.

It was a shriek, a scream, a bellow full of rage, and it was not human. I can’t tell you what it was because I’ve never heard anything like it, but it was coming from behind me and travelling quickly, growing louder as it got closer. I looked behind me but there was nothing there, apart from the building standing ominously in the distance. The roar grew more furious with every millisecond that passed. I quickly scooped Rose into my arms and I ran like I had never run in my life.

The scream chased us through the woods, and I could feel it physically at my heels. I don’t know how you feel a sound, but I felt it as sure as I felt Rose clutching me. It had a presence. I am sure that the memory of that sound will turn every dream into a nightmare for the rest of my nights – it has so far.

I ran through the woods as though my life depended on it, and I felt like it truly did. I didn’t know what was chasing us, but something inside me told me that if it caught us then I wouldn’t be leaving the woods. The two minute walk should have been a thirty second sprint, but those thirty seconds seemed to go on forever.

Eventually, I made it to the clearing on the other end of the care home. As soon as my feet were over the threshold from woods to pavement, everything stopped. The scream faded. The presence disappeared. I felt it all end.

Rose stroked my cheek gently, then wriggled so much I had to put her down. Off she started toddling towards home, as if nothing had happened. I glanced back towards the woods, and all was as it should have been. Still, quiet, peaceful. Everything was perfectly normal, apart from my shaking legs and ringing ears.

As soon as we got home, I tried to talk to Rose about what had happened. However, the ability to form sentences, like when she had whispered to me in the woods, had faded back to toddler babble. I left her watching some television and made myself a strong coffee, adding a double whiskey to calm my nerves. I was deeply shaken and my ears were still ringing. In fact, they burned with the pain of it.

I spent an hour trying to make sense of it all. I couldn’t. I eventually rang my partner, who I knew would be arriving at the office he worked at. I told him the full story, careful not to miss a detail. His response only served to infuriate me, though. It was a typical psychologist’s analysis.

Obviously, he told me, the previous day’s walk had scared me more than I realised and the fear was manifesting in an incredibly vivid and imaginative way.

“But what about Rose telling me to run?” I quizzed. “She can barely pull three words together, yet she specifically told me to get out of there because ‘she’ doesn’t like me! What the fuck?!”

“Calm down,” he urged. “That’s not half as unusual as you seem to think. Rose’s speech is improving every day, she is learning so much. She often asks you to run… it’s one of your games, right?”

He waited for an answer. I didn’t respond.

“Exactly,” he continued, ignoring the fact I had neither confirmed nor denied it. “The rest of it was probably her blurting out some speech and your mind finding a pattern in it that matched your fear. Your fear, that she was reacting to.”

I was not impressed. “Well, what about the shrieking?” I snapped. “My ears were ringing afterwards. They are hurting me, right now! I haven’t imagined a physical pain!”

He chuckled, “The wind makes really unusual noises, and it was obviously loud enough to scare you. A particularly loud and sudden gust of wind could easily cause a backlash to your hearing.”

Making no effort to hide the anger in my voice, I barked, “If you’re not prepared to take this seriously then there is no point in continuing this conversation.”

I hung up the phone, stung and embarrassed. I immediately felt guilty. He was only trying to explain everything logically, and he was right. Right?

I don’t know what happened on either mornings, but I do know that I was – am – petrified by all of it. The logical part of me sides with my partner and tells me that I had a scare and I reacted to it in a pretty ridiculous way. However, my instincts tell me otherwise.

Needless to say, I’ve stopped our morning walks for now and I’m not taking Rose to the trail anytime soon. However, I am going to go alone. I know that probably sounds crazy – or maybe I just sound crazy. Why would I go back to somewhere that clearly terrifies me? Well, I can’t allow such a potentially absurd fear to seep into my two-year-old. She’ll be terrified of all sorts if I allow my fear to win. So I need to get my head around it. I need to get back to normal.

As soon as I get time to go alone, I will return to the trail. I’ll find the gap in the fence that Rose must have crawled through. I will cross the field and check out that building. I’ll walk through the woods. If I can’t rationalise all of this in my mind, I will seek the physical answers I need in order to move on.

The reason I’m writing this here is to indulge, just a little, in my instinctive side. It is screaming at me, but I can’t quite hear what it’s saying. I can’t be talked out of my plan – I will be returning (in firm daylight) sometime soon. I know it’s silly of me to seek advice in a forum that regularly deals with the supernatural, but that thing that chased us through the woods was malevolent and I don’t feel can be explained away by me simply being a wimp.

I can’t talk to my partner about this side of my fears, and surely it’s sensible to be prepared for any turn of events, so I need to seek help elsewhere. Though I won’t be talked out of returning to the building, I’m not opposed to taking advice. So, is there anything that you, if you were in my position, would do to be prepared for anything… untoward… that I might encounter? What would you do, in this situation?

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