The old couple, Isabella and Jacob, seemed sad to give the hut away. We were eating apples while they told us how they had both grown up at the hut and were sad to see it become a holiday home, but that they were now too old to live that far from civilization. They said that a new generation should live in the hut. With a smile Isabella took the apple cores while we signed the contract.
Our first trip to the village was somewhat confusing. It was a Monday, shortly before noon, but the streets were empty. It took us a while to find the small mom-and-pop-store with a bright red “Open” sign; the shop looked as if it could have come right out of a 1950s Hollywood movie.
It was my idea to buy the hut in the mountains. Joanne said that she wasn’t happy about the lack of telephone and electricity, but of course that was part of the reason we chose the hut in the first place: To have a retreat, once a year, to be away from the stress of constant emails, calls, texts and the seductive power of the internet and our regular social commitments that others would call “social life.” All we really wanted was a place at which to be alone.
If it would have been for her we would have taken a hut somewhere at an isolated beach – but in the end she gave in to my argument that, if it would have been for her, we would have long wasted the money on trips to supposedly-romantic-but-actually-horribly stressful Paris or nice-looking-but-horribly-smelling Venice. Joanne often called me a pragmatists or unromantic or robot, or sometimes worse, but in reality she wanted the remote-hut-retreat as much as I did. She just wanted a beach attached.
A small bell announced our entry into the shop.
“Coming,” called a male voice from the back of the store.
Joanne was browsing through the badly stocked shelves when the heavy feet descended the stairs.
“Oh, tourists,” said the old man. “Welcome!”
“No,” I said. “We just bought a hut in the mountains.”
His eyes widened?
“One of those huts?” He asked.
“Oh, nothing,” he said. “So you’re not here for that.”
“Here for what?”
“There’s a pest up in the mountains. Just make sure to kill them young.”
The old man’s eyes moved across the room, to Joanne, to his shelves, finally back to me.
“What pest?” I repeated.
“Foxes,” he said. “they live in holes in the ground. Just make sure to kill them young!”
“Okay,” I said.
“Good,” he said.
Joanne brought bread and cheese to the till and together we chose a few of the wine bottle behind the shelf.
We said goodbye. The old man just stared at us.
“Keep the doors locked,” he said.
I pulled the door shut behind us.
“Not that one,” he said. “I mean at the hut.”
Back at the hut we felt more comfortable. Around us was mostly flat grass, no signs of foxholes, and the nearest forest was at least a ten minute walk away.
We spent the day moving the trash the old couple had left in one corner – mostly blankets, children’s clothes, a stack of old bibles and fifty year old school books.
On Tuesday we went for our first hike, a relaxing walk through the fresh air to reward ourselves for our efforts. We stayed on the soft grass and only ventured for a short time into the forest. Still we saw plenty of wildlife – rabbits, squirrels, birds and on our way back two foxes. The forest seemed bleak, devoid of life, compared to the rabbits and many molehills that poked through the grass.
At night we had dinner, locked the hut and went on our three hour drive back home.
We came back two weeks later to fix the hut up and clean out the remaining trash. I was surprised by the number and size of the mole hills that had spread around our hut – particularly as the shopkeeper had warned us about the high number of foxes.
Joanne suggested that we should flatten some of the molehills to make sure that they wouldn’t somehow dig through the thick wooden boards that formed the floor of the hut. I jumped on three of the hills and decided that our time would be better spent unloading the car and having lunch.
After lunch we wanted to go for another hike, but the sun was gone and we decided to deep-clean the house instead. Only by the evening we got back outside, when we were piling old furniture behind the hut.
Joanne pointed out that the molehills were back, larger than before. I shrugged it off, but Joanne was concerned.
“Tim, do you think those aren’t moles? Maybe those are fox holes?” Joanne asked.
“Doubt that.” I said.
“Please put something on top,” she said.
I jumped back on the hills and flattened them again. They felt harder this time. Then I stacked the old furniture on top of the former hills.
“No way for them to get back out,” I said.
I was wrong.
In the morning two of the piles of furniture were pushed to the side and large, open holes were in the ground were the hills had been before. I shoveled soil into the holes.
By noon, while taking pictures of the hut and the beautiful surroundings, I found the first two dead rabbits, not even thirty steps away from our hut. I showed the mauled carcasses to Joanne.
“Those foxes must be huge,” she said.
In the evening, while getting wine from the car, I found the head of another rabbit right behind the car. The soil in the two large holes was still untouched.
At night we heard noises outside. They sounded like shuffling feet; then like whining or quiet howling. Finally, for about twenty seconds, something loudly scratched against the outer wall of the hut
I went out with a broom to shoo the foxes away, Joanne followed right behind me. But despite the flat grass around the hut we couldn’t see any foxes – only the remains of another two dead rabbits.
“Maybe they are back in their holes,” I said.
“Probably,” Joanne said. “Either way, they can’t get inside.”
During the night we heard some more scratching sounds, but they were always only momentary and short. We looked out of the windows and still didn’t see any signs of foxes. We didn’t go out again.
The next day, Sunday, the weather was beautiful and we went for long hikes each in the morning and the afternoon. We saw two or three foxes and plenty of other animals, even some deer. During our lunch break everything was normal – no noise, no more dead animals.
In the evening, when the sun began to set, things were different. On our way back home we heard a high-pitched howling from the forest to our right. Joanne thought it sounded like a crying child.
“We have to find her,” said Joanne.
“Are you sure that’s a child?” I asked.
“Can’t you hear it? That’s definitely a child.”
We walked into the forest and from side to side. The howling slowly got louder.
“We must be close,” Joanne said.
“You’re right,” I said.
By that point even I was sure that it was a child.
We saw a small clearing. Just when we got close to it the crying stopped.
The clearing was empty.
“We want to help you,” called Joanne out. “We won’t hurt you.”
“We have sweets,” I added.
Joanne threw me a deadly glance, then quickly turned around.
Joanne ran towards a moving bush. I was close behind her.
“Don’t be scared,” Joanne shouted.
She reached into the bush and pulled the leaves apart. Then she tumbled backwards and stepped behind me.
“Tim, there’s loads of blood,” she said.
I carefully glanced into the bush. The remains of four or five dead rabbits were scattered on the floor and a large puddle of blood between them.
“I don’t think there’s a child here,” I said.
“Are you sure?”
“We can’t leave her here, with that thing.” Joanne said.
“It wasn’t a child,” I said. “No way that was a child.”
Joanne begged me to please look around the bush. Together we slowly stepped around the thick underwood and called out a few more times for the child. When there was no response we quickly headed back out of the forest and towards our hut.
There were two dead rabbits in front of our hut. Their bodies were still whole, only a bloody gap was in their necks.
At night we heard the scratching again. Then another howling sound that sounded close to a crying child.
“This is insane,” Joanne said. “I want to go home.”
I promised her we would leave the next day.
Around 7am we woke up from the sound of crying children. Only it wasn’t one child this time, it were two.
Joanne pulled the blanket over her head.
“We have to leave,” she said. “I can’t take this.”
“What foxes make such noise?” I asked.
When I stepped towards the window I got my answer. Two children of about six or seven years cowered a few steps away from our hut on the cold grass. They were both naked.
When we got out of the hut the little girl ran a few steps away. The boy kept cowering in the same place, his eyes focused on me.
“Where are your parents?” Joanne asked.
The little boy shook his head. He got up.
“Did you get lost?”
The little boy shook his head again. The girl stepped closer.
I stayed a few steps behind as not to scare the children away. The girl looked at me suspiciously. The boy took a step towards Joanne.
Joanne kneeled down and offered the boy a blanket. The boy touched the blanket; then looked at Joanne. The little girl too stepped towards Joanne.
“What’s your name?” Joanne asked.
“Tim,” said the boy.
“Hello Tim,” said Joanne. “That’s funny, my husband has the same name.”
The girl stepped closer and touched Joanne’s arm.
Joanne turned to the girl and handed her a blanket.
“And what’s your name?”
“Joanne,” said the girl.
“I’m also called Joanne,” said Joanne.
“I know,” said the girl.
“But what’s your name?” asked Joanne.
“Joanne,” said the girl.
The boy walked around Joanne and towards me.
“Oh, then we all have the same names,” said Joanne.
“I have your name,” said the girl.
The boy grinned and stretched his hand towards me. Instinctively I took a step back.
“You,” said the boy.
“What about me,” I asked.
“You tried to kill me,” said the boy.
Joanne got up and walked towards the boy and me.
“What?” I asked.
“What did you do?” Joanne shouted.
The boy turned towards her.
“He tried to kill me,” said the boy. “And he tried to kill Joanne too.”
I took another step backwards; Joanne stepped between the boy, stared at me until I took another step back, and finally kneeled down.
“Do you know what ‘killing’ means?”
“Yes,” said the boy.
“And you think my husband tried to kill you?”
“You asked him to kill me,” said the boy.
“Why do you think that?”
“And you asked him to put things on us.”
Joanne got up.
The girl stepped next to the boy.
“You did,” the girl said. “We heard you.”
“And then he jumped on us,” said the boy.
Joanne stepped backwards, next to me.
“That’s why we ran away,” said the girl.
Joanne pulled on my arms
“You mean you were in those holes?” I asked.
“You put us there,” said the boy.
“We didn’t put you anywhere,” I said.
“Then someone planted us for you,” said the boy.
“Planted you?” asked Joanne.
“Of course,” said the girl. “We were planted for you.”
The boy turned to the girl.
“I’m hungry,” he said.
“Me too,” said the girl.
They both jumped forward at once. I was able to push the girl off, but the boy threw Joanne onto the floor and bit her shoulder. I pulled his body off Joanne; he bit my arm before I was able to push him away.
I pulled Joanne up and kicked towards the girl while Joanne ran to the car. The boy again jumped towards me. I stumbled backwards, the girl jumped from the side on my leg. I punched the girl off my leg; the boy jumped and tried to grab my legs; I grabbed his arm and swung him away.
Joanne stopped the car a few meters away; I ran towards her with the boy right behind me. I pulled the door open; the boy screamed and tried to bite my leg; I jumped on the back seat; Joanne drove.
The children ran after the car until we shook them off.
All that was three years ago. This year we finally dared to go back. We thought we would maybe be able to sell the place. We thought they had left.
Instead, already from the distance, we saw them living there: a teenage girl with the same brown hair and the same wide smile as Joanne, and a teenage boy that looks just like me.
They waved when they saw us coming. We turned away.
This is my story, originally I published it on Reddit.