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The Woods are Dark is the second novel by Richard Laymon. It was first published in 1981 and paired with Out Are the Lights in volume 2 of the Richard Laymon Collection.

Summary

In the woods are six dead trees. The Killing Trees. That's where they take them. People like Neala and her friend Sherri and the Dills family. Innocent travellers on vacation on the back roads of California. Seized and bound, stripped of their valuables and shackled to the Trees. To wait. In the woods. In the dark...

Plot

Neala and Sherri are on vacation throughout rural America. They stop in a backwater town known as Barlow for a meal, but are accosted by the locals, who abduct them and take them to the edge of the woods. They are tied to one of several dead trees know as "The Killing Trees".

18-year old Cordelia Dills is also on vacation with her parents Landers and Ruth and her boyfriend Ben. They stop at a motel for the night, but all four are kidnapped by the motel owners and taken to the killing trees as well.

One of the kidnappers, named John Robbins, has developed an attraction to Neala and begins to feel bad about what he has done. Thinking fast, he decides to rescue her, along with his sister Peg and niece Jenny, who have been suffering abuse from Peg's violent second husband. Robbins goes on ahead, promising to come back for Peg and Jenny. Both Peg and Jenny are then attacked by Peg's husband Hank, who calls the police to keep them from leaving. Jenny manages to deceive the police officer who arrives and is forced to kill him while peg shoots Hank. The two make their escape.

Robbins manages to free both Neala and Sherri. He consider leaving the other family to their fate, but Neala is able to convince him otherwise. The seven of them are about to make their escape when they are ambushed on all sides by a mob of naked savages that the locals call "The Krulls". They run further into the forest, hoping to hide from the krulls, but Ruth is taken and Landers chases after her. Cordelia and Ben get lost in the confusion while Robbins, Neala and Sherri find a cabin to hide in. The front of the cabin is adorned with numerous pikes, each with a severed head resting atop of it. The three quickly realize that the krulls are not the only thing they have to worry about...

Cordelia and Ben find themselves being chased by a tall, dark figure with a machete. He hacks through a krull, before killing Ben, making it clear that he's not their ally. Cordelia hides for the rest of the night. The next morning, Cordelia is discovered by a group of teenage krulls who surprisingly speak English. They offer Cordelia a place in their tribe, provided that she goes though an initiation. The boys strip her naked and take turns raping her. One of the krull girls tells Cordelia to endure all of it or they'll kill her. Seeing no other way out, Cordelia is forced to let the boys have their way with her. One of the girls grows jealous of Cordelia and tries to fight her. Cordelia is forced to kill the girl. The others then take her to their village.

At the cabin, Robbins and Neala grow closer. They eventually admit their feelings for each other and make love. Sherri sees all of this and lashes out at Neala. At first, Neala believes that Sherri was jealous of her, but then Sherri reveals that she was jealous of Robbins. Neala is taken aback at the though that her best friend had been hiding these feeling from her for so long.

Peg and Jenny hide out at the house of Peg's secret lover, Art. Art tries to keep things quiet, but their cover is blown when the sherriff and two locals trace Peg and Jenny to his place. Art is beaten to death with a hammer while Peg and Jenny are tied to the killing trees. Eventually, a group of krulls approaches them. Peg recognizes one as the former mayor of Barlow. He strips Peg and rapes her, while a group of teenage krulls, both male and female, have their way with Jenny.

Cordelia meets with the krull leader. He tells her that the krulls were descendant of Vikings that went native and have been living off the people of Barlow for centuries. As their health and numbers are dwindling due to inbreeding, Cordelia is welcome among their tribe, provided she mates with all the men and gives them children. The leader tells Cordelia to bring them Sherri and Neala for similar reasons as a test of her loyalty. Cordelia says yes, but the leader senses insincerity in her voice and punishes her by having his deformed attendant bite off one of her fingers.

As the krulls gather outside the cabin, Robbins and Neala notice that they're afraid of the heads and refuse to get too close to them. At that moment, Cordelia walks among the heads, shocking all of them that the krulls might have thought this through. Cordelia stops cold when she sees the head of her boyfriend Ben mounted on a pike and collapses. Robbins rushes her inside. Cordelia tells the group that the krulls want Sherri and Neala in their tribe. When they refuse the offer, she resorts to violence but is incapacitated. Neala tries escaping through the back with the shotgun in the hopes of getting help, but Sherri knocks her out and takes the rifle, not wanting to lose Neala any further than she already has. Neala wakes up to the sound of a gunshot and it's assumed that Sherri wound up killing herself.

At the krull's camp, Peg and Jenny are held prisoner alongside Landers, who reveals that the krulls murdered his wife and force-fed him parts of her. He also reveals that the krulls are more than just savages. They're servants to some unknown terror hiding in a nearby pit. Landers is eventually carved up and has his remains thrown into the pit.

That night, the krull-killer returns to the cabin. Robbins manages to deceive and kill him, recognizing the figure as a former local. The mayor-krull sees them post the krull-killer's head outside the cabin and offers them a place in their tribe. Robbins tells him to go to hell, at which point the mayor reveals that he has Peg and Jenny hostage. Seeing no other option, Robbins decides to go with them, taking Neala and Cordelia.

When they get to the camp, Robbins, Neala and Cordelia attack the krulls. Cordelia is killed in the commotion, while Robbins cuts down Peg and Jenny. With Neala in tow, they manage to make their way back to Robbin's van and leave Barlow and the forests forever, but not before getting a glimpse at the abomination that emerged from the pit...

Trivia

  • The Krulls would inspire the gang of thrill-killers in Endless Night. It is unknown whether the events were written down by one of the survivors similar to the Beast House series or if the story is just a piece of in-universe fiction.
  • The original version had an additional 50 pages worth of material that was cut for either being too long or too horrifying. Most of the cut material follows Lander's descent into madness.
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