Tyler Hauth

The August Selected Writer is Tyler Hauth

Please feel free to email Tyler at: tylerhauthor@gmail.com


by Tyler Hauth

Michael stops at the top of the ridge and considers the interminable blanket of orange and green treetops. His dog Gus comes up next to him and sticks out his big tongue, licking the air, and Michael can almost taste the forest. A blaze of maple, the heady pitch of the pines, blackberries and moss, tall grass, tepid ponds, wet bark.

He pets the dog, tugging on his perked ear and letting his mind work at the troubled time he finds himself in. A gust comes over the trees and he watches the leaves jostle against each other like boys wrestling for no reason other than to feel their limbs tangle. He breathes again and tastes a danger that was old a million years ago on the back of the breeze.

He shudders at the impossibility of all these trees. They harbor secrets older than civilization. The wind blowing through the hickories and hawthorns is the same wind that blew when the only men in the Americas were brown and the birds that roost in the boughs of the pines and the bear that den in the craggy rocks are similar to the ones that denned and roosted then, too.

It’s hard for him to believe that the city of Dent is just a few hours behind him. Dent is an island; fly a plane over Main Street and you might miss it amidst the mountains that keep it prisoner. For a wild moment, his mind plays a cruel trick and he wonders if the city really is there. Maybe he’s just a wild boy of twelve that lives out in the woods and dreams of having a family and friends and a house. Maybe he eats bugs for dinner and roadkill for dessert, maybe…

He clutches the handle of his hatchet and shakes the terrible thoughts away. If Dent was gone, he’d go to the closest town over. It’s at least an hour drive through winding backcountry roads, and most of those seem to be flooded out or blocked by fallen timber more than half the time you try to drive down them—but he wouldn’t be driving, would he?

No, he’s just a kid. He’d hike there, and maybe it would take an extra day, and he’d be real tired and have to sleep out in the woods, but he’d get there and then he’d tell them a wild story about how he used to live in a little city called Dent and how it had a one man police force and how every summer for as long as anyone could remember two boys went missing from Dent and no one in the damn world seemed to care but he was trying to put a stop to it but then when it came time to go home he found that the entire city was gone and—

But no, none of that is real. He’s here, looking out at the woods he grew up in, breathing in the horror that looms in and around them. Yes, Michael thinks no one knows the Ozarks better than him. He follows Grandpa’s rules to keep safe, which aren’t even Grandpa’s rules according to Dad, no, they were his Grandpa’s rules, and Michael thinks probably someone taught him the rules, too.

The first and most important rule is to never walk in the woods alone. The woods around Dent are a dangerous place. There are animals older than the mountains and older than the streams, and they know the danger in the woods. But it’s not them you need to be afraid of. It’s… (hungry).

The second rule is the most important and most troubling, because it hinges on a terrible fact. There’s something in the 1,900 square miles of national forest which borders Dent that preys on kids and grinds its teeth on young white bones and drinks blood and eats sweet meat like Michael’s dad eats sausage for breakfast. Someone older and more mature than Michael might call it an animal or a predator, but he knows the truth.

It’s a monster, and it’s been around since before God made the green Earth.

The problem is that adults don’t like to think there’s something they don’t know about, and so they blame everything on things they do know about. He hacks a path through a dense bit of brush and moss. That’s another one of the troubles. The forest is thick enough to hide the truth. The streams and lakes that pool and run around the base of the plateaus are deep and swift. Michael couldn’t swim deep down in those lakes and look around at the caves and rocks and muck. How far down do they go? What’s in them?

It’s convenient, really, all the ways a kid could go missing. It keeps people from thinking too hard about it. It keeps them from really considering just how often it happens. Just how long it’s been going on.

Twice a year for a hundred years (which is as far back as Michael can track it), like a sick kind of holiday.

He knows kids aren’t falling in rivers and getting swept into deep lakes. He knows they aren’t tumbling off cliffs or getting lost.

They’re being consumed.

The woods around Dent have a power that pulls at curious minds. The Ozarks are a dream, a fantasy of untapped potential and unlimited possibility. But they’re also an iron trap that can snap and break a leg and hold you fast and never let you go. They’re wolf jaws that crave fawn blood and tear live flesh right off the screaming neck of—

Now summer’s almost over and no one has gone missing. With every day that passes toward the start of school the danger mounts. The shadows grow longer, the trees are taller and the rivers run swifter and deeper. The wind blows through the restless woods and screeches against the mountains and bits of old moss and dirt that haven’t stirred for a hundred years go airborne and they talk about what the trees looked like and felt like a century ago.

The simple truth is that Michael wants to penetrate the Ozarks secrets. He wants to pull the cover off the magicians table and show the whole damn town what’s under it. Because the time’s coming for another set of boys to disappear, boys just like him, maybe a few years older or younger, but boys who just want to walk in the woods and feel the bark of the oak trees under their palms and scratch chigger bites the day after while they lie in bed and dream about all the things they’ve seen. 

The key is that the boys are always alone when they disappear, and the two that go are always gone before it’s time for school to start. Michael found a clever workaround for the problem of being alone: Gus. And Gus isn’t the only thing, either. He has an old hatchet that was Grandpa’s before it was his, and at twelve, a dog and an axe seem like enough even if there is something out in the woods that’s taking boys. Gus is like a charm that works to counteract the evil, kind of like how he works to counteract cats and skunks and old ladies that want to yell at you for riding your bike too fast across their lawns.

He started exploring the mountains by following his compasses needle south and chasing Gus through the deep brush where the last men to walk had been native men (and surely they knew not to walk there). There weren’t any trails to follow except the ones deer made, so largely he and Gus made their own. That meant thorns and rocks, blood and scabs, spider webs that stretched like bridges and angry blue jays that dove and pecked and chirped.

They trampled brush and sang songs. Michael grabbed pieces of bark off 200-year-old oak trees just to hold the skin in his sweaty palms. They made the kind of trail that only a boy and his dog might have made. Michael thought some of the things they stepped on probably hadn’t ever been stepped on before. At least not by anything that walked on two feet.

They chipped away at the woods like archaeologists. The pressure mounted as autumn neared. 

And suddenly it was the last Friday of summer and Michael knew that today was going to be the day that he discovered the truth about Dent. There was a hint of promise in the air, kind of like the thing (he had no name for it) that built as Christmas grew steadily closer and then erupted as the sun came through the frosted window on Christmas morning and lit up the little drops of water coalesced on the outside of the glass and dripping down the ice. Yes, Michael thought today was a bit like Christmas morning. Something big was going to happen and all he had to do was hold steady.

He woke at dawn and told his folks he was going to work on his motorcycle at the shop.

Explaining to his mom why it was all right for him to learn how to fix a motorcycle when he wasn’t even old enough to drive it on the street was nearly as daunting as venturing into the mountains alone. But the pretense served well enough so far. It would hold for another day.

Just one more day, that’s all he needs.

Because next week, school will be back in session and that means the curse will be lifted until next summer.

That means something is going to happen.

And he barely has time left to figure out how to put a stop to it.


By noon, Michael is dripping sweat and covered in fat black Arkansas ticks. The trees weave in the wind like Grandma’s needle, concealing secrets only they know, hiding before his curious gaze. He watches them anyway. He calls out, telling them he’s coming to see what’s under their branches whether they like it or not. Gus barks.

It gets gradually cooler as he fights deeper into the reserve, cooler and darker and somehow quieter even through the ruckus of wind rattling the plums and cherries that crowd around the oak and maple. Gus drops his head and plows forward. He scrambles against bare rock and claws through rich dirt and Michael follows dutifully, thinking that four legs are better than two not for the first time.

The breeze grows stronger as they climb. It smells like wildflower and pine pitch and fresh rain.

They both stop to take in that summer smell. “We can go for another hour or two,” he tells Gus absently.

He sinks into silence as they continue. Here where the trees and plateaus and mountains loom over you and seem to press with a real and verifiable pressure the deeper you get, silence is easy. He’s infiltrating the mountains in an effort to learn their secrets, and it occurs to him that these secrets might not be things that are meant to be known. He can feel them when he stands at the edge of a clearing and looks into the shadows, and especially when he stands at the top of a ridge and looks down at the tight treetops that hug one another so close they’re like a roof.

What’s beneath them?

They go further. Gus helps break a trail, always south, and Michael hacks at thorns and vines and little saplings crying for life with his hatchet, both to mark their way and to make it easier the next time they come. He imagines himself like Lewis (or Clark—Michael doesn’t care much which) making his way across America and wonders if they had any dogs with them. None of his teachers ever said they did, but he learned a long time ago that people don’t give dogs the credit they deserve.

Eventually they find themselves on a rabbit trail and he hews an X into a tree, knocking the bark off to expose the bright, live wood beneath it. The wind’s blowing through the kaleidoscope of leaves overhead and creating a roar of branch and frond and needle that drowns out the sound of their steps. It sweeps through the tree trunks, reaching down and onto the untouched ground. It pulls dust off old rocks and pollen off flowers.

The wind tells secrets and Michael listens while the Ozark Mountains swallow him whole.

A young buck with a rich coat of velvet on its antlers appears in a clearing a good stone’s throw beneath them. Gus freezes and points, like all good dogs do when they notice something that can breathe and bleed out in the woods, and Michael follows Gus’s nose and drinks in the sight of the fledgling deer. It’s a big bodied specimen, the kind of deer that flirts with you all summer long and then disappears come hunting season.

It inhales and turns its head. Michael can almost smell the foreign scent that fills its nose. It’ll be a scent heavy with human and dog. A scent rich with intruders that don’t belong. It takes another breath and thinks about what it tastes and smells. Michael watches it wistfully, wishing he could fill himself with the spirit of the woods like animals could, wishing he could taste the bark and breathe the flowers, wishing he could—

A gunshot ruptures the afternoon and Gus hits the ground. For a wild moment, Michael thinks he’s hit. Then the deer staggers. He grunts in surprise and is both relieved and bewildered to see a red spot blooming just before the deer’s shoulder. The blood spreads like ink on a tablecloth. 

It takes a step, almost thoughtfully. It drops its head, as if to study a spot on the ground. Michael thinks it looks like its praying. Then it falls.

“Stay,” he hisses at Gus. His blood is thick old oil that was left in a machine for thirty years and his heart is an ancient engine that can’t pump through the sludge and now his gears are bogging down and getting fouled up. He can feel his pulse beating in his temple, hear his breath coming out in sharp, quick gasps even though he knows he needs to be quiet and calm.

He scans the tree line for any sign of movement. He strains his ears to pick up anything beneath the wind. The ridge is only a bowshot away. It’s so close Michael heard the sound of the deer’s body hitting the ground. But who shot it?

A man moves out of the shadows and comes to stand in the clearing and Michael’s heart stills. He has a rifle over his shoulder, what looks like a .308, and an old cap on his head. His clothes are dirty and messed up, his jeans are torn and it doesn’t look like he’s wearing shoes. Under the hat, he’s bald, and Michael can’t tell if he looks so old because of having no hair or because of the unkempt white beard on his face.

The man turns and says something. The words are lost in the wind. He curses himself for not having better ears—and then a boy walks into the clearing and his mind stops working for a few seconds.

Does he know that boy? They’re probably just a year or two older than him. But he’s also bald and shoeless. What would he have shaved his head like that for? And it looks like he hasn’t washed his clothes in years.

The old man and the boy stand over the deer. Their mouths don’t move. They stare at it, as if confused about how it ended up there. Then the old man’s lips part and the boy looks up from the deer and says something in return. The wind has shifted and it’s carrying their words away from him. He wants to sneak closer to hear what they’re saying, but he’s also rooted to the spot in fear. He thinks if he could just close the distance by half he’d be able to pick up on the conversation.

The old man turns again and calls something out into the trees.

He has just enough time to wonder before the trees shimmer with an impossible flurry of movement. A hundred bodies emerge from the gloom, slinking out of the trees like fog off the hot ground on a cool morning. The shock of seeing so many peculiar people so far away from Dent makes his heart well up in his throat. He feels like he’s going to choke on his blood and he has to put a hand over his mouth to keep from screaming.

When his mind slows, he realizes there’s not so many people as he first thought. He counts twenty figures. Some of them, like the first boy that came, seem to be kids. But others are clearly older—although none look quite so old as the man with the rifle. And all of them are dressed in old, tattered clothes and have bald heads.

Two of the boys are struggling with something at the tree line and Michael strains his eyes to see. They wrestle it into the open and Gus whines slightly. It’s a dead black bear, hung on a big green branch. They bring it next to the deer and then step back. 

The old man raises one of his arms and calls attention to himself. He takes off his cap and everyone turns to look at him. This time his voice carries far enough for Michael to hear his words clearly. “We pay this sacrifice so that we may worship.”

A few of the boys set about making a fire. They build it with the lazy practice of boys that have built a thousand fires and probably will build a thousand more. It quickly becomes a big thing, with a spout of flame that licks 15 or 20 feet into the sky. The clearing smells of burning wood and smoke.

The congregation turns to the trees they came from. Michael studies their backs, then the trees.

Nothing happens. It seems like they’re waiting on something—or someone. A horrible feeling bubbles up in his belly that what they’re waiting on isn’t a good thing, that what they worship isn’t a good thing, and he actually gets the courage to move. The overwhelming sense that something is about to happen blots out all the curiosity that’s driven him this far in the first place.

He starts to get to his feet and freezes. The trees are moving.

He thinks he sees something in their shadows, hiding in the dark like a rat in a cellar. He squints and Gus lifts his nose. They see it together, hulking close to the ground. Or is it looming thinly at the very top of the branches? Michael thinks for no particular reason that it may be grunting. He thinks it may be breathing out of a mouth that has a thousand teeth and dripping drool down an ancient chin.

Grandpa says the strong hand that reaches from the grave is the hand you want on the wheel and Michael feels that hand now clawing from fresh tilled earth and trying to pull him down into the muck and suffocate him. The terror tries to pull him into the tomb it climbed out of and he fights it off by grabbing at Gus’s neck and squeezing his eyes tight.

The trees stop moving and Michael notes how quiet it is with a chill. The wind must have gotten trapped in a valley. The branches are still as glass, and the leaves are like carpet. The congregation of bald worshippers are silent. He settles back into position carefully and listens harder; there are no birds singing, no insects buzzing. Gus is behind him and he doesn’t seem like he wants to be in front.

He takes a deep breath to calm his mind and he smells an animal smell, an old barn smell, a broken shotgun smell; a smell like a coffin in a funeral parlor where Grandpa rested like an old scarecrow. There’s something other than the bald men and the fire and the dead bear and deer.

Gus crawls next to Michael on his belly. He sticks his nose just past Michael’s knee, but doesn’t dare go even an inch further. He licks the dirt and tastes iron and nitrogen and sulfur. He sniffs and smells the deer and blood and all the other things beyond them… but…

Gus whines.

Michael turns to him, puts a hand on his head and pets him. His ears aren’t perked anymore. His head is down; his tail is tucked between his legs. He follows his gaze and looks over the bald heads in the clearing.

He feels a wild flash of fear, he feels the dread from before come roiling back in like a semi-truck, it comes like an avalanche of snow off the peak of a mountain, it comes like a trailer full of cement that has no breaks and is tumbling down from a big height.

The trees move again. He looks around him and sees the branches over his own head are still as dirt. No, he thinks madly. Branches crack. A groan comes from the woods, as if all the world is collectively sighing. The ground moans.

A gargantuan, primeval figure shape and for a few seconds Michael can’t register what he’s seeing. Then his mind absorbs it and he feels himself go insane like a punch to the gut.

The barefoot worshippers collapse. They bury their faces into the grass and lie perfectly still.

They don’t make noise or cry out.

A tattered green dress of moss and vine drag the ground as the atavistic dread emerges. The sound of it moving, creaking forward, is the only thing in all the world. Every animal in all the Ozarks pauses. The wind itself in every corner of the state, in every corner of the country, holds its breath.

God looks down from his spot in heaven and his lips part in fascination.

Michael has no name for what he sees, but one comes unbidden into his mind anyway. Malice, he thinks, and feels himself go senseless as the word thunders in his mind and echoes there like a grenade in a cave.

The monster scans the glade. Long, skittering legs click and rub together in a kind of frenzy. It stands very still.

It raises its round, grotesque face and looks into the trees. Its burning eyes search. They scan the foliage. They narrow, slow, and fall on Michael like spotlights.

Its mouth parts; its eyes blaze.

It screams, and the last sane thoughts run hot like blood from his mind.

Tyler Hauth writes short stories and novels. He writes the same things that he reads: speculative horror, magical realism, science fiction, and fantasy. His stories generally include imagery that invokes a sense of dread by calling on elements of the supernatural or fantastic.

He has a bachelor's in English and Creative Writing and is attending Emerson College’s Creative Writing MFA program in the Fall of 2020. You can find several of his most well known stories at tylerhauth.com, where he also maintains a blog.
Some of his favorite authors include Haruki Murakami, George Martin, Stephen King, E.A. Poe, Washington Irving, and Jack London.