Genre: Horror Warning: Upsetting Content
The Cathartic Trail through Bakers Park was a favourite among hikers. It tested their limits with hills, cliffs and gorges to get through but the view at the end and sense of achievement was incomparable. Several thousand hikers a year took the chance, most returning, some never did. No bodies were found, despite extensive searches. This only made the adventurous more determined to pit themselves against the Trail despite the warnings.
Bill and Ben were brothers and Rob their cousin. Or wayward cousin as they referred to him. He was an only child so spent most of his time with them, they were like brothers.
‘Got everything?’ the boys checked their gear. Loads of water, dehydrated food, fire starting kits and sub-zero temperature sleeping bags. They were ready.
‘Try and keep up’ Ben started up the path leaving the stragglers behind. Bill and Rob had been reading the info board. Printed across the top in big red letters it said: DO NOT LEAVE THE PATH! There were several photos with “missing” printed across them. But the boys barely noticed the warning.
‘Wait for us!’ They were in high spirits and jostled each other up the path.
‘Sixty-nine!’ Rob shouted. It was their code to tackle one or the other. Rob and Bill ran at Ben. He was thrown down and onto his back with a ‘woof!’ The boys took off down the path chased by Ben who was still struggling to catch his breath and threaten castration at the same time.
The day was still cool and perfect. They couldn’t know that soon they would be fighting for their lives.
The path led deep into the forest area, the trees made a corridor of cool green and insects welcomed the travelers. By midday they were a quarter of the way to their destination and going strong. A dip in an icy natural pool refreshed their spirits and they ate lunch in the shade.
‘Looks like rain’ Rob said.
‘Scared you’ll melt?’ Ben said. They laughed.
‘Worried you’ll get scared’ Rob said. The bank of black clouds looked far away but was moving fast. It would be a pity to spend the night getting drenched, the boys hoped it would blow over.
No such luck. By 4pm lightening lit their way and turned their world white as water streamed down their faces. They couldn’t see more than 3 feet in front of them.
‘We will have to find shelter, this is horrible.’ Bill said.
‘I agree’ said Ben. ‘There’s a hill off to our left away from the path. Maybe there’s a cave. At least somewhere dry then we can start a fire.’ They were shivering and had to find shelter for the night. There would be no rest in this storm.
Making a mental note of the direction beck to the path, they searched for a dry spot and had almost given up hope when Ben shouted to them to come. He had found a cave. Relief joined the rain washing over them. They had to get out of this the lightening was bad and to be walking around in a forest in this was plain stupid.
The cave was well hidden and they wouldn’t have seen it at all if the lightening hadn’t hit right outside the opening. They ran in, shaking off their packs and wiping water out of their eyes.
‘Damm I’m glad you found this Ben. Thanks.’ They stacked their packs at the back of the cave and lit a fire close to the door out of the wet. The crackling warmed them and they slowly came back to life. They ate supper watching the rain.
‘This better stop soon, I don’t want to hike through this tomorrow. The weather said there was rain but didn’t predict this storm’ Bill said.
Rob nodded. ‘I… did you hear that?’ He paused looking to the back of the cave. They listened. The heavy blanket of black showed nothing, not even the light from the fire shone off the rocks. It was as though the dark inhaled it.
‘Wooooo…’ Ben said scaring them all. Laughter.
‘It’s nothing you chicken shit!’ he said.
Bill held up his phone, no signal which wasn’t surprising. There was iron in the hills and it messed with the signals.
‘I’m going to hit the sack if we can’t do much else.’ They agreed and settled down in the flickering campfire, grateful to be dry. Rob added a dry log he found in the cave and the fire became their lullaby.
Hours later, Ben woke up smelling an appalling stench. He opened his eyes but the cave was dark. He turned to pick up his phone when something hit him on the head. He managed to say ‘Yii…’ then was out.
Rob screamed waking Bill. Again it was cut short and two hits later all 3 men lay unconscious on the cave floor.
Rob woke up with something scratching his back, he was groggy and his head hurt like a mother. He was being dragged! The scratching came from the stones he was dragged over as they shredded his shirt. He tried to kick and screamed again, a boot to the side of his head shut him up. As he faded into black he smelt a stench it made him gag, he would find the source all too soon.
‘Rob? Rob? Are you ok?’
‘Ben?’ he stopped trying to sit up as waves of pain and nausea washed over him. He put his head between his knees and gagged, willing himself not to be sick.
“Bill? Ben? What the hell’s going on? Where are we?’
The stench hit them first. Death and decay assaulted their senses. In the dim light they could barely make out a stone room with what looked like a large table in the middle. Above it hung instruments and Rob squinted at them trying to establish what they were. They looked like they came from a torture house or historical abattoir. Hooks, chains, huge and small axes and knives of various sizes and shapes hung suspended. Every one of them was black, caked with dirt and blood.
Staring Rob slowly realized the black was moving. The instruments were so filthy and covered in flies that he had thought they were black. This time he couldn’t stop himself vomiting.
‘Bill what is this place? What the hell?’ Ben said. He realized they were all tied to rings set deep in the wall, they tried to pull against the iron shackles. They wouldn’t give an inch. Ben looked at the other men and wondered if he looked as terrified as they did.
The outer door banged open. At last they got the chance to face their captors. 3 men stepped inside. The last one was so big he had to bend and turn to get into the room, seeming to fill it immediately.
‘Who…who are you? Why do you have us tied up like dogs?’ Bill tried to sound strong and aggressive but his voice wavered.
‘We need food’ the big one stated simply. His voice was loud and scratchy but they didn’t notice, they were focused on what he had said.
‘We aren’t food!’ Rob stepped forward as far as the chains would allow. ‘We are people you asshole.’
‘He goes first’ the leader said.
‘You can’t eat us. You sick cannibals.’ They stared shocked at their captives.
‘We don’t eat humans, what do you think we are?’ He walked out laughing, leaving the two smaller men to deal with them.
‘But he said we are food?’ Ben asked confused.
‘Yes for the pigs. We eat the pigs, but they must eat too. They need meat to grow strong, then we eat them.’ He said matter-of-factly. The man’s little pig eyes shone with anticipation, his greasy hair flopped into his face and he pushed it back with a dirt-encrusted finger.
He picked up a knife and sharpened it on a well-used stone on the table. The “skreeee” grated through the terrified men.
‘Ding search them’ one man said. Ding? The men wondered. Pig-eyes or Ding as he was called, hung the sharpened knife back up and contemplated the other knives hanging above the table. He selected one. It made a zing sound as it pulled away.
‘Hold on, hold on’ Bill held out his hands as Ding advanced toward Rob. ‘We have money we can pay you. Our bags are full of equipment if you can just let us go.’ All 3 pulled against their restraints, they didn’t budge.
Ben carried on pleading as Ding advanced slowly towards Rob. All 3 men realized the horrible smell was coming from him, he had stunk out the cave they slept in. He must have been waiting in the shadows for them to fall asleep before capturing them.
‘Please, we are sorry we … trespassed or whatever we did but you cannot eat us. Or… or feed us to pigs.’ Ben stopped as Ding expertly stuck the knife into Rob’s chest and pulled down. Blood gushed from his chest and Ding stood back. ‘Don wanna get full of blood’ he grinned.
Ben and Bill screamed, it echoed hollowly against the walls. Rob paled, turned to his friends and tried to speak. A river of red ran from his mouth drowning his words. His eyes dulled and he fell, knees then chest hit the ground with a solid thump, his hands pulled out behind him, as if about to dive into a pool. Shocked the brothers hugged each other and cried.
‘It’s a nightmare. We’ll wake up and Rob will be fine, won’t we?’ Bill pleaded.
‘Think Ben, bloody think. What the hell…’ he turned and vomited. Ding looked at him with disgust. ‘I’m not cleaning that up’ he said bizarrely. The cave was a shithole the vomit wasn’t the problem. Ben aimed a kick at Ding but missed as he stepped back looking surprised.
The huge man walked back in.
‘Wanna do a tour?’ he asked the brothers. They shared a look.
‘Don’t be chicken I wanna show you what we got here. You’ll see we aren’t barbarians.’ Ding clucked, tucked his arms in and hopped from one foot to the other. Bill wondered if they thought murdering Rob was barbaric. They nodded hoping for some miracle or opportunity to escape.
‘Ding finish up here’ the big man indicated when he went to follow.
‘Yes King.’ Ding drew a filthy thumb across his neck behind King’s back, where both men could see.
With their hands tied behind their backs King clamped a meaty hand on each shoulder and led them out of ducking to pass through the door. The light caught them off-guard and for a few seconds they were blinded. The sound of snorting, scratching and talking assaulted their senses.
Blinking in the light they were shocked to find themselves in a large cave with an open ceiling flooded with light.
‘You were expecting something else? A hovel?’ King laughed.
Ben nodded battling to keep it together ‘all we have seen is the slaughter cave so…’
King snorted. ‘We have families here we grow vegetables and keep animals.’ He said it with pride and both brothers tried to understand how someone could butcher a human being and then smile about pigs and corn.
The tour took the men through huge caverns and past areas where dirty families sat. They stared at the men who were desperately trying to find an escape but King held on. He showed them the children filthy but happily playing with chickens, using sticks and stones for toys. Most of the women showed interest and the brothers felt like walking slabs of meat. Some of the children didn’t look right. A withered hand, a little girl with a squint and two of the boys had club feet.
‘This is the pig pen.’ King said with obvious self-importance. It was fenced and reinforced. The pigs inside were quiet, watching the men. It was eerie. Bill passed close to the fence, suddenly a huge male turned and stuck his head through, missing castrating Ben by inches. The pig screamed in frustration, both men fell back.
‘What’s wrong with them?’ Bill asked pale and shaking.
‘They’re hungry.’ King said. ‘Ding? Ding give the pigs some food.’ He walked out carrying an arm, both men screamed but he slung it over the fence. The pigs went wild, ripping into each other with such violence, the brothers stood in shocked silence. These hogs had been taught humans were food. It was remarkable and horrifying. The rest of the clan didn’t bat an eye.
King carried on the tour with obvious pride until Ben couldn’t stand it anymore. ‘What the hell’s wrong with you? You just killed our friend now you want to show us your family. Why not kill one of them to feed to the pigs.’ Ben shouted. The talking stopped, leaving only the snuffling animal noises as they pulled on the last pieces of Rob’s arm.
‘What’s he on about King?’ a toothless old woman asked. They hadn’t noticed her sitting in the shade, shelling peas. Her dress was stained and her oily hair pulled back into a bun. She exuded authority.
‘Nothing ma – he’s joking.’ King squeezed Ben’s shoulder dropping him to his knees with the pain.
Bill shouted out ‘He told Ding to kill our friend. He cut him up in the cave. He too ended on his knees as a meaty hand crushed his shoulder.
‘He’s lying ma.’ King sounded desperate as shrewd eyes looked from them to her son.
‘Go look in the cave behind us’ Bill pleaded exhaling in agony as he waited for his bones to be crushed. The old woman put down the peas and walked towards them. No-one said a word.
‘You better not be lying to me boy’ she cuffed King’s ear turning it bright red and headed off. King let the brothers go indicating they must stay. They lay on the ground facing each other, hope glimmered in their eyes, their crushed shoulders singing in pain.
‘Follow my lead and be ready’ Ben said. Bill nodded.
The old woman opened the door and walked in followed by a pleading King. They heard a sharp slap and he cried out.
‘Ma we don’t have enough food for the pigs and us. If we don’t give them meat we starve.’ Again they heard a slap amazed at the inexplicable situation they found themselves in. Such a huge man bullied by his mother, if it wasn’t so terrifying it would be funny.
‘Let them loose and pray boy that they can’t find their way back here.’
‘I can’t do it they will tell everyone and …’ another slap and King shut up.
The old woman said ‘we are not cannibals or hillbillies, get rid of them and I DON’T mean forever. Send them away we cannot do this. Its not what the Bible says.’
He walked back to the men with murder in his eyes and 2 red cheeks. He cut their restraints.
‘Don’t get any ideas, I’m happy to kill you right here’ King said, they believed him.
‘If we let you go are you ever coming back here?’ King peered into their faces, they could smell his breath he was so close.
‘Never’ both men shook their heads hard, trying not to gag.
‘Swear on the Bible.’ Trembling hands were laid on the Bible and promises made that neither would keep. Obviously the clan believed it to be the law, pity they never read the commandment “Thou shalt not kill.”
‘Come I will show you the path.’ King said loudly starting in the direction of a side tunnel.
‘This is all for mother’s benefit. You’ll be fed to the pigs she just won’t know. Let you go?’ King laughed and snorted, turning his back to the boys.
‘Sixty-nine now!’ Both men jumped at King pushing their aching shoulders into him and flipping him into the pig pen.
‘I’LL KILL YOU!’ King screamed. But it was too late. The huge male that tried to eat Ben was first. He nipped off King’s nose pulling most of the skin off his face with it. King screamed, gurgled and tried to stand up. His family rushed to the fence but no-one would go in, they just stared. Only mother screamed. Each pig came away with a bite, King was so huge they would feast on his bones for days.
Ben and Bill ran in the direction King had started to take. Winding tunnels led the hysterical men out to fresh air. They held hands, terrified of losing each other, only stopping when they were well away from the hill. They were amazed they were alive. Finding the path was a priority and they followed it at a trot, adrenaline giving them stamina. Finally they could see the end of the trail, a few huts and cars beckoned to them.
They ran screaming into the clearing scaring everyone. Within an hour they had eaten, drank, cleaned up and were waiting for the police. Both men were in shock but managed to give them a clear description of what had happened. They could see their disbelief but knew that if they could find the hill, the evidence would support their story.
Exhausted but determined not to let Rob’s body be used for fodder and to bring these animals to justice, they led the group. Police and the men were crammed onto several quad bikes. After several false turns they spotted the hill, found the cave and the tunnel that led through it.
The “Pig Clan” as the papers would call them never resisted. They were shocked that the men had broken their Bible sworn promise not to return or tell.
The entire clan was arrested and the strange children were put into care while the investigation went on. In a small pocket behind the slaughter cave, police struck gold. Backpacks, cell phones, wallets and other identification means were found for all the missing hikers, plus 17 they didn’t even know had died in the park.
The Pig Clan had been catching hikers and feeding them to their pigs for years, not even bones remained.
Pig Clan was a blot on the beautiful forest but the Cathartic Trail became the most popular tour-guided trail and brought in thousands of visitors to the park. The most popular trail? Why Cathartic of course!