As we passed the last crest of the hike, we spotted Burnmoor Tarn, complete with an abandoned lodge, a tiny black spot in the endless gray. "Looks like a horror movie set," Johann commented. And a few minutes later, as if to confirm this analysis, we stumbled upon a dead sheep.
The sheep was black, lying on its side in the middle of the trail, sodden with the rain. And as we made our way around this disturbing object, another became visible. The second sheep was also directly on the trail, with its guts spilling into the mud. One dead sheep in the middle of the trail could be anything. But two? This smacked of human agency. Or the supernatural. A few other sheep lingered nearby, staring at us with big mournful eyes. What did they know?
We continued on, slightly creeped out, but making light of the situation. Then, as we carefully forded the rushing stream by the tarn, the hikers behind us reached the sheep. We saw them huddle around the area, taking pictures. "They just made a classic horror movie mistake!" I laughed nervously. "They’re in trouble now."
We continued past the abandoned lodge, the valley of Eskdale peeking through the mist and gloom ahead. I glanced back once in a while, noticing the four hikers behind us getting closer. And then, I looked back and they were gone. Swallowed by the marshes. I searched the open fields for them, but there was no sign. "What the hell happened to them?" I began to panic. "Maybe they went into the lodge." Johann shrugged. "Maybe." I wasn’t sure. Irrationality was beginning to take a hold of my brain.
Nevertheless, we continued down the trail, joking about panthers escaped from the zoo, the Hound of the Baskervilles, and scary Gothic murderers who would sacrifice us on the local stone circle. The rain picked up again and we slipped and squished our way down the last hill into the river valley. A road was reached. A farm was passed. The sounds of the hamlet of Boot filtered towards us through the rainfall. I made a last joke, mocking my own imagination. "This is when the travelers think they’re safe and then the axe-wielding maniac jumps out at them from the bushes." And then, at that very moment, as if to shut my blasphemous mouth, a terrible howl drifted from the wilderness behind.