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Caught In The Cycle

September 27, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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The blazing gold sun wanes in the sky over the still lake, its light rays coming down, touching the water and the land stretching beyond it. As the wondrous ball of light sinks into the horizon, bushy-tailed deer frolic through the grassy plains, running across the dirt roads that which continue through thick woods. Chirping can be heard by any living thing near as the local birds make their beds, preparing for the night.

Within the woods, upon a single branch growing from the very top of a dead tree, lands a small bird with white feathers, a brown tail and a black beak. Its dubious eyes watch as a bright pink paints the skyline, fading into orange. The little bird then looks nearby the shore, a rocky border between the land and lake. Standing near this is a short, aging, wooden cabin. It’s windows cracked, doorknob rusted, and the oak roof even missing a plank of wood. In a spirited fashion, the bird flutters down to the top of the roof, peering through the space where the missing plank is.

But like the woodland’s ground, the inside of this structure is one of the few places during the day where the sun’s rays do not touch, where all beings accustomed to the shadows dwell within. One of these very beings hides from the bright lights of day in the corner, waiting for the light leaking through the hole to diminish. This creature is nothing like anything that lives within the woods, or in the trees, or even anything in the lake. It cuddles in the corner, silent as possible, until it looks at the light.

The being crawls through the darkness and next to the light. It moves with such unnatural speed a breeze of wind follows behind. Growling with anticipation, it looks with such readiness at the hole.

And as soon as everything is void of light, the creature bursts through the door like a crazed rhino, with chips of wood flying in all directions. Coming to a halt in the middle of the dirt road, the remarkebly powerful creature gazes at the star-filled sky. Within the being, an excitement stirs. For this being, ever since it’s eternal life began, has not been driven by something as petty and meaningless to it like human endeavors, instead it is driven by its lust and hunger for blood. Searching for what it craves, it dashes through the tall grass and into the woods, leaving a cloud of dirt behind as it disappears in the darkness.

The shore should be near here…

The young biker wondered while he slowly rides upon the dirt roads, passing tree by tree, with a headlight to guide him through the night. His feet pedal with effort as he tightly grips the handle bars, bumping over tree roots, going faster along the narrow, dark path cutting through the woods. A cool night breeze brushes his smooth freckled face, making his long brown hair fly past his ears. A drop of sweat gradually travels down from his forehead through his burly beard, and drips to his neon green jacket. His calm chocolate brown eyes fixate onto the light shining on the trail.

But while the breeze stops, the beat of his heart, the pressure of his blood, and the adrenaline surge all become calm. His eyes wander to the starry night sky, a seemingly neverending blanket of blackness, with individual lights scattered everywhere.

His long hair falls in front of his eyes, causing him to take a hand off of his handle bar so he can sort it out. Still looking up instead of foward, the trail dips into a large hill and his eyes return to the road too late to react to the change. He and his bike in mid air together asfor a split second, everything becomes slower to the biker. The stars twinkle as the breeze starts again, gradually becoming a strong blow of wind. He and the bike fall 2 feet into the ground, the bike worsening it with it’s hard metal hitting his legs.

With a pounding, aching pain in his ankle, he stands back up, his feet planted loosely into the ground.

“Ugh! Idiot!” He exclaims with a flaming frustration in his voice, slapping his helmet instead of his forehead. With his annoyance growing inside of him, he doesn’t pay attention to the howling winds blowing through the woods suddenly calming down again. The area becomes dead silent, not a single living thing making a sound, as all he “hears” is his thoughts bouncing back and forth in his head. He bends down to put his bicycle back up while the intrusive thoughts grow rampant inside him.

I really should pay attention more…could’ve done some serious damage…

He seats upon the cushion, and places his uninjured foot onto the ground, with his possibly fractured one on the left pedal.

It feels like I should be back home by now…I mean, it’s just so dark and…

His brown eyes more comparable to the fur of a grizzly, he now attempts to focus on the trail once more, his head lamp out of place due to the aggravated slap. And as his eyes try to fixate, the darkness stretching ahead suddenly seems to surround him.

…who cares about the friggin’ time? I’ll do what I want now… im 19, and my parents…

A pulse of shock trembles his body as an odd bird-like growl is heard. His thoughts now silent, the silence surrounding him once the noise ceases, just like the darkness.

…Focus. Just focus on the trail. C’mon, you can do it.

Hoping that this is his last thought, he resumes his journey onto the trail. His eyes returned to a calm choclate brown, fixating onto the trail. As he speeds by the trees, in the distance he can see a landscape covered by grass, ending at a cliff by the lake’s shore.

Now more determined than before, he bolts towards his destination, his sweaty palms squezing the life out of the handle bars, and his feet pedaling so fast it he believes it could be equal to a race horse galloping. A trusty stead racing through the night, its golden mane flowing behind him like it’s underwater. This he would like to imagine as he races through the thick night, with a powerful passion burning inside.

He imagines himself as the horse again, this time with other horses thirty feet behind him. And as he speeds on the trail, the cold sweat going down his feet, one of the said horses seems to be closer than the others. So he rushes even more. He looks to his left, to see the “horse” bolting as fast as him through the woods. A dark silhouette, but seemingly not very horse-like. Almost human shaped.

The realization hits him. He stops dead like a broken down car, just ten feet from the grassy plains. The feeling creeps up to him, each individual hair standing up, his heart beating faster, yet for a different reason now. He leaves his bike lying in the dirt, to get possibly get a glimsp at the silhouette.

“Who’s there? WHY ARE YOU FOLLOWING ME?!” But instead of a response, the silhouette stands on all all fours, like a primitive man. A low pitched noise originates from the silhouette, followed by an inhuman hiss. Carefully, it places a foot foward, closing onto the young biker. Like a lion stalking a deer, it walks around a tree, it’s head pointed towards the frightened man.

“What the hell…” He whispers. “Is this some kinda prank?!”

Even faster than any of the horses he imagined, the silhouette charges at him. Acting between the split seconds, where everything slows down, he lunges to where his bike is, and attempts to pick it up. But he is quickly stopped once 5 razor claws dig through the flesh of his leg, sinking all the way down to the very bone.

He clenches the ground as he’s dragged by the leg, which the creature shows little effort in, while the biker struggles with every last strength his adrenaline can possibly grant. His heart like a wardrum and his sweat drenching him, he truly gives all his might against the being.

But resisting seems futile against the being. For it pulls with a certain mockery, like a child playing with it’s food. And just as his gullible human mind fully believes that this is the worse it could get, the creature leaps with immense power onto a tree, clinging to the wood with it’s claws. Carrying him into the treetops, where no one would think to look.

The leaves of the tree shake as his muffled screams draw attention to animals nearby. For the being, while it may seem feral and mindless, is rather tidy as it feasts. As only a single drop of blood manages to escape and runs down between the bark, splashing onto the fertile ground.

Moments later, the biker’s dying, deathly pale body lies on a sturdy tree branch, with the creature ontop of him. Moaning with his last breathes, he looks at the being with little life left in his eyes. The creature tilts its head in a judgmental manner.
Then, a low-pitched growl comes from the being’s mouth. But the growl seemingly resembles words, as if it’s saying

“You are perfect”

The world fades away into a darkness more powerful than the night sky. Fading into a playground. The biker walks by the swing set and with each step, the ground behind dissolves into nothingness. And as he looks behind his shoulder,one of the metal swings delivers a powerful blow to the back of his head, making him plummet into emptiness. Fallings and falling, as if it will never stop, but yet it does once he crash through roof of a burning home.

He falls to the basement, engulfed in flames, the fire eating away the structure into nothing. He yells in terror, but nothing comes out. Suddenly, something slimy slithers over his belly. A large cobra, and with it are many other species of snakes surrounding his feet. They wrap around his legs, pulling him down into the flames. One by one, they slither onto him,until everything but his eye is covered by snakes. The flames then slowly envelop him, the scorching heat burning the reptiles. A cobra lunging at him is the last of what he sees before it all fades into a whiteness.

Abruptly breathing, he awakens to a similair whiteness, whilst leaning on something hard and rough. The whiteness turns into an impossibly bright ball of light shining behind the leaves of trees in the woods, forcing him to cover his eyes with his arm. He slowly stands up, letting out a groan.

But, what comes from his vocal chords is far different from what he intended to come out. Instead, what did come out is a high-pitched screech. Suddenly, the whole woodlands erupts with noises of it’s inhabitants. Birds fluttering, chipmunks squeeking, deer walking, coyotes sniffing, all pounding his ear drums all at once.

The young man crawls deeper into the shade of the tree, covering his ears. Then, just like that, the scorching ball of light and the noises cease. He becames surrounded by a thick whiteish blue. He looks down at his hands, and sees dark brown claws where his fingernails use to be, and his complexion now a paler shade of what it use to be.

What the shit happened to me?!

As he gasps at his strange features, an oddly repetative sound smacks his ear drums. A singular heart beat, a heart beat that is getting closer. And closer. He turns his head to where it’s originating from, and he sees a woman holding a flashlight walking on the dirt trail.

He does not care for what she looks like, or who she is. He is only concerned about that attractive, repeating sound coming from her. With unexpected strength and speed, he lunges at the unsuspecting woman, pinning her to the ground.

As her screams echo through the crispy night air, the creature who was once a man bellows an unearthly roar, it’s eyes piercing the defenseless woman. It’s jaw stretches down to it’s collar bone, similar to a snake, as teeth comparable to a lioness unsheath from his gums.

And while her muffled screams continue throughout the darkness, a final shred of humanity deteriorates within the creature. Reduced to a instinctive thirst for blood, it feasts onto the woman with joy.

And as the being prowls the night, nature has once again completed a constant cycle. For man has crossed the unknown, and then the unknown hunts man. Then man becomes the unknown. A circle of death and bloodshed that has echoed throughout the centuries.

Credit: B. Jimmy

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The Myth of the Blood King

September 26, 2015 at 12:00 PM
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Ever since I was a young boy, I knew the myth of the one that everyone in this town feared. And while I may be 18 (heading out to college), I have heard little kids talking about him even to this day. And for good reason.

To this day, no one knows who he is, or even if he is truly real. All they know is… he’s a killer.

A few months before I was born, this town was said to be not only a tourist stop, but a destination. After his first attack, this didn’t stop, but after the fifth, people were too scared. Most of the business owners in this town were far more afraid, and moved away. And it was all because of him.

His supposed first victim came a month before my birth. An 11 year old boy wandered into the forest, and it was unknown what happened to him. Then, on September 11th (the same day I was born), he made himself public, killing two little girls in their sleep.

The bodies of the two girls were lying on the ground, and there were only two pieces of evidence that it was murder, one of which was the stab wounds in their necks (which were interestingly burnt as well. Almost as if someone had cut them with a laser). The other was a message scribbled on the wall:

‘Fear the Judgment of the Blood King’

Ever since that day, there was not a person in this town who didn’t know that name. I myself had done a little research, and found that this was not the first time that this name had appeared.

The first record of the Blood King came in the late 18th century. It told of a man with an insatiable will to destroy… who lived in this very town. And since then, there had been many other records of him, all of which were here.

This got me glad to leave this town. As I was packing my van, ready to head out, my mother came out and told me “Be careful out there.” And as we hugged for, like the fourth time that morning, she said “Visit if you can. I understand if you wouldn’t want to come back.”

After that was done, we said our goodbyes, and I headed out on my way. And of course I could take the normal route, but I figured that I would take the old dirt road. Not only would I get to see the forest I loved so much, but I would be able to skip traffic and get to a highway quicker. In short, I’d kill two birds with one stone.

Getting down the dirt road was not a hassle, but there was something about the road itself that was freaky. More often then not, there were tracks on the road, but whenever an attack would happen, I would notice something. There were human footprints, leading to somewhere.

As I reached the fork in the road, I noticed the sign, like I had many times before. It said on one side, ‘Path to the Highway’, and on the other, it just crudely said ‘Beware’. The path with ‘Beware’ pointing to it was something that had always been alluring to me, but I never got the chance to explore it…

Until now.

Turning down this road, I instantly regretted the decision. This part of the forest was dark, and disturbing, with a fog appearing the deeper in I went. It was almost as if the forest itself was telling me to turn back. And there was nothing I wanted more, but the trees were far too numerous. I’d have to keep going until I found a clearing or made it to the road or something.

Soon enough, the fog itself got thick enough to where I could literally see nothing, and it had also changed color somehow. The deeper I went, the fog became a deep shade of red, almost the same color as blood. It was at this point, I stopped my van, and got out. I could still make out the trees vaguely, and then I noticed something…

It looked like a person in the distance.

However, only a second after appearing, the silhouette faded. And I wanted to follow. As I did, the fog didn’t let up for a second, so I used the trees to find my way. Grabbing a tree, it came into focus, and noticed something carved into the tree itself.

It said ‘TURN BACK’. And this tree wasn’t the only one. As my trek continued, the trees said many other messages, such as ‘BEWARE’, ‘RUN AWAY’, and (most common) ‘FEAR HIM’.

Eventually, as using the trees proved to be useful to me, and I had made my way through the fog. Though I was nowhere near a road. The only road was the one that I came down… that was connected to a house.

It was a large house, but it was not in very good condition whatsoever. The color of the house itself was grey, but there were many red splotches all around it. Some of them in the shape of hand-prints. Though something told me it wasn’t just bad painting.

The closer I got to the house, I noticed the mysterious figure was nowhere to be found. Getting closer, and apparently having no common sense at all, I wanted to look inside, which is exactly what I did.

The inside of the house was far worse than the outside. There were bloody hand-prints virtually everywhere, and it was clear that some of them were fresh. There looked to be no one in the house, but that didn’t ease my nerves in the least.

Moving deeper in, I found a hallway. It was a long hallway, with no lights in it, and only a single window at the end of it. There was a staircase midway down the hall, but before that, I wanted to see out the window itself. Looking outside was a big mistake.

As I did, I noticed what looked like a graveyard, with a man standing out there. He was a pale, muscular man, looking to be in his late twenties (possibly early thirties). He had long greyish hair, was dressed in only a pair of tattered jeans, and was looked to have several scars on his body. With and appearance like that, I figured he wouldn’t like trespassers.

But seeing the man wasn’t what made it a mistake. It was the fact that he saw me!

I needed to hide desperately, so I headed up the stairs. It was either that or encounter the guy. So I went up them, and found myself in the attic. And so far, this was the creepiest part of the whole damn place.

There were many bones scattered everywhere. And following the theme of the house, there were many bloody hand-prints on the walls. Being sure not to make a sound, I came up, and found myself looking for a good place to hide. Though what I came across next stopped me dead in my tracks.

Looking at a wooden wall, I saw a satanic pentagram carved into it, and an inscription written in (you guessed it) blood.

And something was making me read it “For those who have listened to all of my strife,” I whispered to myself, “I have found a method for eternal life. Through death, my spirit will live on. But by then, my body is gone. When in my manor, their psyche shall shatter. And I will have control of them, their names now of no matter. Though this new me will follow a code. As strong and as true as am I. Those who enter this abode…”

“And displease the Blood King shall die!”

‘Do I dare look back,’ I thought to myself, practically sweating bullets. As I turned around slowly, the man was right there. Now I had a better look at the owner of that deep, dark voice. He looked the same as down in the graves, except now he was more in focus. His scars were also giving off a faint glow, and I got to see his creepiest attribute: His eyes.

They were pure black. No iris. No pupil. Just all black, all throughout his eyes. As I stared into them, I was 100% certain I would die. His attack of choice was a punch to the face, which knocked me directly out cold. The last thing I heard from him was “Be grateful I’m in a good mood today.”

A while later, I woke up back home, in my bed. As I asked my mother what happened, she simply said “We found you unconscious on the lawn. We assumed you were mugged.”

I got up to take a shower, and attempted to get the memories of that house out of my head. This proved impossible, once I looked at the mirror. On my right cheek, I had a small scar, that was glowing the same faint red as the man’s scars.

Returning to my room, I found a letter on my bed, that wasn’t there before. Hesitantly, I opened the letter, and read what it said:

‘Listen to me human. You got lucky today, to catch me in a good mood. I want you to know that as a master of Sorcery, I could have destroyed you at any moment, but I chose to go easy on you. I used said magic to return you to your home, to send you the letter you read right now, and to give you that scar. Consider that scar as me branding you. I will let you live, but if you return down that path, or so much as utter my name to others, it will be the end of you. Remember that.

Signed, The Blood King.’

As soon as I finished reading it, the paper burst into flames, and remained as a pile of dust on my floor. I was going to go and get my broom, but when I turned around, he was there again.

“Why are you here?” I asked, to which he responded, “I didn’t want you to doubt my powers.” Before snapping his fingers, and disappearing. I heard his voice faintly, saying “Remember that I can destroy you anytime I want. Challenge me, and you shall burn in the depths of Hell.”

After that day, I was never the same. I decided to leave town immediately (not even caring if there was traffic or not), and never returned. And for a reason that no one else could understand.

Many have heard the legend of the Blood King, but I have experienced it firsthand.

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A Lesson

September 26, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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Acknowledging the paranormal entity only gives it strength.

Acknowledging, in this sense, refers to admitting to yourself and those around you that there’s an entity bugging you. Entity is the species name for the beings I speak of, the things which mortals have named ghosts, demons, spirits, and so forth. I’ve seen it happen that an entity starts out with the usual tapping on walls, gusts of wind, staring at its chosen victim, stomping around in hallways to get the victim’s attention…the standard fare. Usually, a fledgling entity just stepping out into the mortal world has only enough power to make one victim notice it. However, once the victim starts telling their family or friends about these strange occurrences, starts thinking to themselves that maybe this isn’t just in their mind after all, that is when the entity grows.

Some entities choose to express this growth in sharing their disturbances with the initial victims housemates – if any – or guests. Some prefer to remain selective, and instead funnel their new power into gaining visibility to their chosen victim – usually just as shadows or in mirrors at this stage. Others choose to play the minimalist, and merely increase the frequency and severity of their chosen methods of disturbance. Regardless of the path the entity takes, this will usually continue for a decent length of time, and the more the victim acknowledges, the stronger the entity grows, until the victim triggers the second stage of development.

Communicating with an entity increases its power.

Once the victim inevitably tries to communicate with whatever’s “haunting” them, the entity enters stage two of development. Again, many choose different paths, but the most common are communicating back to the victim, and taking true physical form. Now, what most mortals are unaware of is that an entity does not come preset with a personality. Its personality is created by its victim, through its victims thoughts, fears, and method of communication. For example, if the victim is merely curious and asks the entity what it is and such, the entity’s personality will not become as violent as one whose victim starts by asserting dominance and demanding it leave them alone.

A mortal who is intrigued by the paranormal might find their entity to be friendly, curious about the workings of the mortal world, or even just lonely. Those lucky few victims get to live longer and die more pleasantly, but make no mistake, they still die. The far more common brand of mortal, the ones who either fear the paranormal (be it an open or secret fear) or simply hate everything which is different from them, will more likely find their entity to take on an antagonistic personality at this point. Those ones always die horribly.

Regardless of the personality an entity comes to possess, it will always kill its victim. Some grow strong enough to physically kill them. Others manipulate their victim and force them to kill themselves in one way or another. Still others will terrorize their victim until the victim grows distressed enough to kill themselves without the entity’s direct influence. All this, of course, is assuming the victim isn’t foolish enough to bring about the entity’s third and final stage of development.

Attempting to banish (or summon) an entity will only make it angry.

Forcing an entity to come or go will trigger its final stage of development, which often results in numerous deaths rather than just that of its chosen victim. This is the most common way for an entity to gain notoriety and “make it big” in the mortal world. You can surely understand how the attempt to banish would enrage an entity, as it would at least upset most mortals too. Summoning, however, is equally dangerous. You see, we entities are not meant to fully exist in your mortal world. We are meant to be forever “trapped” between your world and the one adjacent, so that we can exist in at least two different worlds at once. Stronger entities can even split their essence, stretching themselves out to many other worlds. Attempting to summon us and confine us solely to your world is an act we deem selfish, and often distracts us from whatever else we were doing at the time, so yes, of course we get upset with that.

Some “hauntings” begin this way as you know, with some foolish mortal trying to summon something. The rare times the mortal gets what they want, the result is a quick yet painful death. The times where the particular entity being summoned does not exist, however, are far more common and are cues for us…managers, you might call us, to send a fledgling entity to the new victim. Those fledglings are special, as they are gifted with personalities from the start.

You may wonder why I’m bothering explain all this to you. Well, thanks to mortals’ growing interest in the paranormal, and attempts to understand it, we’ve found a new way of repopulating our numbers. We’ve had to, what with the increase in volume of fledglings being sent out to you. And so, there are the lucky individuals whom we seek out to transform into entities. We choose ones who appeal to us, which of course means something different to each entity. Some choose heroic mortals. Some choose those easily persuaded. Others choose…you know what, that part doesn’t matter. Don’t worry, it won’t hurt a bit. Just hold still now…

Credit: LadyMidnight

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Beckoning From The Deep

September 25, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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A few days ago, I uprooted my entire existence and relocated to the Southwest Cape of Stewart Island, New Zealand. Initially, I had intended this trip as an escape, to be shared with my wife as we lived out the rest of our days in beach-dwelling bliss. Yet, as we aged, I began fostering a general disdain for the direction that society seemed to have chosen for itself. I simply grew weary of the unceasing, perpetually fruitless debates over issues like race, homosexuality, political agendas, abortion, and the like. As far as I was concerned, people could do as they wished, as long as they weren’t harming anyone else- simple minded and a bit naïve, perhaps, but my stance nonetheless.

With my frustration mounting, my wife and I began planning the move in our late thirties, hopefully with two full decades ahead of us to get our affairs properly aligned to allow for such an exodus. But, the train derailed as I reached 43, and she was diagnosed with an untreatable brain tumor. Two years later, I was alone and wanted nothing more than to expedite my exit from mainstream civilization.

I sold our house and our cars, the latter being more painful as I prized my ’69 Stingray convertible. Nonetheless, the profit from its sale was necessary to procure adequate funding for my relocation (disappearing is no cheap venture), and it brought me an odd sense of closure in regards to that chapter of my life. The crippling depression from the loss of my wife remained, but I felt little remorse for the loss of our lifestyle.

The outdoors had always been a passion of mine, since my earliest memory. Fishing, kayaking, game hunting, cross country hiking, and anything else without a ceiling over it had always been my forte. My spirit yearned for a climate requiring a survivalist mentality, and I had every intention of spending the rest of my days in just such an environment.

Thus, my research led me to Stewart Island, the southern-most portion of New Zealand. The mild climate, sparse population, immediate access to open water, and dense forestry completed my checklist. The prospect of dangerous wildlife or poisonous vegetation brought me no qualms, after all, there aren’t even any terrain dwelling snakes on the island.

What few locals were present on Stewart Island were nice enough upon my arrival, having harbored a few tourists here and there for the more accessible beaches. I did draw a few laughs from the older residence when I told them where I planned to go, and encountered one old man that simply shook his head and walked away when I mentioned the Southwest Cape’s eastern shore. But, I could not be discouraged, there was no turning back.

My final stop was at the local supply depot in Oban. There, I purchased a map, two books on native flora and fauna, a leather bound journal, ink, a canteen, an axe with a thirty six inch handle, a hunting knife, thirty feet of braided paracord, a small fishing kit, waterproof matches, a compass, and a Swiss Gear pack to place it all in. I told myself that if I had forgotten anything, I didn’t need it, or would be able to construct it for myself. Either way, I would either make due or die, and although I wouldn’t describe myself at the time to be suicidal, death didn’t seem such a horrible alternative.

The hike to the Southwest Cape took me almost three days, the journey made longer because of the mud from recent rains. Sleep was difficult the first night, as it had been some time since I had slept on the ground, and the reality of my endeavor finally began to sink in. While experienced within the natural world, a slight anxiety came over me upon the realization that I may have bitten off more than I could chew, and I had no fallback option. Juxtaposed with this thought was a comfort in knowing that my newfound worry indicated resurgence in my will to live. Eventually, my psyche balanced these two notions, and I did manage to sleep a few hours, awaking with renewed confidence in the face of the rising sun.

Days two and three were largely uneventful, save for a brief but violent thunderstorm and a confrontational encounter with what may have been a brushtail opossum. Despite the critter’s sincere efforts, I found myself on the coastline midday of the third. Authentic peril would not rear its head until that evening.

My efforts in constructing camp that day concluded with the completion of a water collection basin that I devised from several broad ferns and a species of bamboo that I knew had been introduced to the area centuries before. Previously, I had created a small hut of the same bamboo and ferns to serve as my shelter until I ventured to build something more ambitious, along with a moderate fire and a few limb lines for fishing. Resigning myself to relaxation for the remainder of the day, I took off my clothes and my boots and braved the somewhat murky but refreshing surf.

Initially, I was met with intrigue in regards to the gradient at which the water deepened. Approximately 100 meters from shore, I found myself only knee deep and I could feel the soft, white sands beneath my soles. In hind sight, perhaps the lack of aquatic life in the area should have been an indicator of something amiss, but I was still planted firmly in the euphoria of my self-engineered renaissance.

I stood for perhaps another thirty seconds, merely observing my surroundings, and then took a step forward. From there, I cannot convey the alarm that I experienced when I was suddenly and completely submerged.

I am ashamed to say that my instinctual reaction was panic. I had not seen any darkening of the water to indicate such a drastic depth change, and yet there I was. I kicked frantically for the surface and found it soon enough, gasping for breath. As I regained my composure, I cursed my neglect for not bringing goggles or a snorkel, for who knew what sort of wonder-laden reef I may have stumbled upon. Regardless, my decision to re-submerge was met by terror surpassed only by events that would occur later.

I exhaled just enough oxygen to go under and stabilize at approximately three meters. I thought that maybe the water somehow became more buoyant at this point, but disregarded the feeling as my imagination. I decided to open my eyes, despite the salinized water. I peered down.

Deep below me, in a black, abysmal hole that can only be described as a void was a pair of white-washed eyes, visible only because of their apparent uncanny ability to reflect such finite amounts of light. The pupils were entirely black, with no rings of color, and appeared to be transfixed upon me. I was stricken with fright, yet unable to save myself from my impending doom. Entranced, I continued to stare downward, waiting for the appearance of some gaping hole of a mouth to inhale me into the terrible unknown of its insides.

But, the moment never came. I received, whether it was from some sort of telepathy or my own intuition, the distinct feeling that this mammoth creature wished to harm me in ways that man had never known, but something was holding it back. I could not fathom what could possibly be restraining the beast, its size surely rivaling that of a submarine or battleship.

My chest burning for air brought me back from my fearful marveling, and I tried desperately to swim to the surface, yet I still could not move. I remember only the taste of salt and stagnant water as I drifted into merciful unconsciousness, a strange pang of relief echoing in my thoughts.

I awoke on the beach on what seemed to be the next morning, face up with a strand of kelp around my midsection and a feeling not unlike a hangover. I jolted upward, infuriating my headache, but deeming it more important to scan the water for the creature. I spied nothing but the crashing waves and scattered fragments of driftwood. I collapsed back onto the sand and gazed into the overcast sky, edging on delirium, and only capable of thinking of the eyes. Oh God, the eyes.

After an eternity of contemplation, I found the motivation to rise and attempt to carry on. I could find no rational explanation short of some strange hallucination, but could recall nothing that would have caused it. Throughout the day, my intellect continued to pull me towards the multitudes of legends and unsolved mysteries of the unexplored sea- unknown sounds captured on tape, megaladon sharks, Jules Verne novels, the Bermuda Triangle, and others similar. Nothing I could fathom satisfied me, and I despaired, with no discernible reason as to why I did not abandon my supposed slice of paradise, and a dull anxiety that persisted for the remainder of the day.

I cut my fishing lines, simultaneously knowing that they would yield nothing while also fearing what may be present at their ends. It was then that I realized I had witnessed not a single marine life form. My fire had smoldered to ashes, so I replenished it, gathering driftwood from the beach and dried foliage from the tree line, all the while keeping a wary eye on the water, awaiting the appalling eyes that resided below the surface. On that day, they made no appearance.

There should be no surprise that I did not sleep well that night, having exhausted my wildlife manual and illuminating no form of insect or animal otherwise that could have induced my experience. By morning, however, my distress began to dissipate, as my mind exhausted itself and simply relegated its time to other things- food, for example.

At some point after dawn, I made the decision to hike somewhat inland and try my hand at trapping, as fishing seemed foolish and I felt the need to get away from the shore for a time. I endeavored to create six traps, all sling rigs and camouflaged with the litter of the forest. It was during my search for animal sign that I discovered the Emma.

The schooner, with its name etched in fading stain on its stern, was approximately five hundred meters inland, lying capsized on its deck, with several varieties of vine and runners growing around the masts, which had been forced through the bottom of the hull, and stood erect, as if the ship had been dropped on its top from a great height.

The hull itself was perhaps twenty meters, large enough for a dozen crew at the most. Curiously enough, there were immense circular patterns rasped into the ship’s surface, as if a gargantuan plecostomus had scraped a meal of algae from the vessel while it was still afloat. Summarily, I decided that I could adapt and renovate the craft into my permanent residence, its location away from the waterline suddenly appealing. I finished setting my traps at a distance and began my new project immediately.

The labor was invigorating. I was so excited about my fortune in finding the Emma that I nearly forgot about my encounter, thinking of it only occasionally and partially settling on dehydration as a likely culprit. Using my axe, I cut an entry to the hull and began clearing what little, sun starved growth there was, along with eradicating any unwanted inhabitants. I battled briefly with the notion that I might find human remains, or even lost treasures, but discovered neither. My only finding was an old leather volume, coming apart at the spine. It was apparent that the tome had been either sunken or rained on, as indicated by the illegible remains of water diluted ink on the pages. The only decipherable items were two in number- a single date, March 21st, 1925, and the phrase “It calls me…” near the bottom of the last used page. I presumed at the time it was a sailor referring to the call of their personified ocean.

Finally satisfied with the day’s accomplishments, I checked my traps (another bushtail opossum and something resembling a kiwi) and trudged back to the shoreline camp site. I had actually managed to wholly put the day before out of mind, until I looked to the eastern horizon.

In the sun’s late glow, I stared yet again at it, this time with its eyes and a portion of its massive head breaching the surface. The eyes maintained their washed out quality, despite reflecting the incoming sunset, and now with some reference I could see the thing was much larger still than I had originally estimated. Its scalp appeared cephalopodan in nature, with a wet, olive green hue and likely a layer of some sort of plasmatic coating. Just beneath the water’s now churning surface, I could distinguish at least eight serpentine masses, seeming to extend from the head, writhing together with some form of lateral undulation. As before, I could not move.

Sometime during this, I fell to my knees, not out of dumbfounded dread but some instinctual need to kneel, as if before royalty. I don’t recall being explicitly told to do so, but I felt it an intelligent thing to do for the sake of my continuing to be. As I reached the ground, however, I again lost consciousness as the nightmare began to emerge, its mouth opening to reveal concentric rings of teeth and emitting a bellowing groan, akin to a great horn signaling battle.

I awoke this time where I had fallen, with a mouthful of sand and that hung-over feeling. There was a full moon, evocative of the thing’s pale gaze.

I was forced then to accept what I had seen as real. Upon awakening, I reluctantly went down to the water to rinse my mouth of the sand, but found it rancid, congealed with a layer of briny foam and the smell of decaying shellfish. There were great divides in the sand, as if something had been dragged. I returned to my collection basin, and then noticed the collapsed trees and trampled undergrowth. A horrible notion struck me, and I ran back to the Emma, only to find it absent. I then thought for the first time that I had overstayed my welcome on Stewart Island.

Quickly, I gathered what was left of my supplies back at the shoreline and began hiking northeast towards Oban at dawn, any hope of salvaging my adventure firmly severed. I would gladly resume my yuppie life in the States if it meant never having another encounter with the behemoth. For the first hour or two, I made excellent time, motivated by my panic, and perhaps sufficient to cut a day from the duration of my hike. But I hadn’t truly rested for days, and it began to take its toll. Sometime around noon, I leaned against a tree to rest. I despised stopping, yet slept almost instantly, my mind and body finally giving into fatigue.

As I slept, I experienced what can only be described as a prophecy. I stood back in the water where I had fallen under, my back to the shore. I watched the black water as it progressed from fine bubbling to roiling. I could sense that I should wade towards land, but was unable to turn around. At last, I could see the eyes, still entrancing. As they rose to the surface, I again could smell the spoiled crustacean odor, and as the thing’s head breached, I tried to scream, but could only gasp, as I fell forward into the acrid turmoil of the monster’s lair.

Submerged, I opened my eyes and viewed the creature’s arms and torso. It appeared oddly humanoid, but covered in scales and barnacles. Massive crabs skittered about on its skin, having made their homes in the various marine flora present there. It extended down into nothing, but continued to rise, its legs yet visible, as it became apparent that I could not comprehend the monstrosity’s true size. I turned my attention to coming up for air and broke the surface.

I awoke screaming and chilled, and with that my recount has come to an end. As I turn about and realize that somehow, I am back at my campsite, a quote from an author who escapes me at the moment comes to mind- “The most merciful thing in the world…is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.” My waking cognizance suddenly comprehends the totality of what has transpired, and is driving me mad. Somehow, what I have done here has awoken something that has been dormant for time immeasurable, and like me, it tires of the world as it is. It beckons me to help it escape. As I walk out to its cursed pit, I understand that the world is ready for harvest, and I cannot purge its call emanating from the cavernous depths.

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I Drove Out to the Desert

September 24, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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I was driving out to the desert. The panorama of distant rock, endless sand, and occasional cactus slowly blurring in my peripheral vision. Sparse cloud cover traversed the sky overhead, providing brief interludes of shade over deceptively large patches of the arid wasteland. I found my exit, an unremarkable dirt path most motorists would overlook. It led seemingly to nowhere, out into the emptiness devoid of civilization. To those in the know, however, it was a familiar avenue. The indicators were clear to me as I passed them. First the wooden signs with crude pictures of mountains carved on them, then an outcropping of small boulders with a giant arrow pointing East painted onto it. I turned my four-wheel drive on and took a sharp left past my silent navigators. As I penetrated deeper into the wilderness, my radio began to cut out, its signal fading to static.

In my trunk were the necessities: water, rope, carabiner hooks, chalk, and harness. I had everything I needed to make it up the sheer rock face. After about ten miles, I arrived the base of the towering mesa. It loomed over me and the surrounding terrain. At almost three thousand feet high, it dominated most of the adjacent landscape, its beckoning cliffs and peaks threatening to swallow everything that approached. Even the clouds struggled to graze the roof of my imposing adversary.

All that remained was to locate the starting point of the climbing route. Hundreds, maybe thousands of climbers before me had attempted to conquer Black Mountain. Some were victorious, most gave it an admirable effort. It wasn’t the most difficult climb in the world, but the heat made for a formidable obstacle. Lucky for me, clouds were gathering above, shedding precious shade as I inched closer to the base of the mesa. I spotted the stone circle and stopped my car, stepping out into the elements from my air conditioned haven. A slight breeze carried the dry, stale air over me as I walked to the trunk and equipped my physical burdens. With a loud clank I closed the hatch and ensured my car was locked properly. It was unlikely I would be robbed out here, but safety is key in the desert. As my feet shuffled to the small stone circle, the clinking of my gear echoed slightly against the rock face, reflecting the emptiness of my situation.

I’m glad no one’s here, I thought to myself. I peered down at the circle of rocks, taking in their fake petroglyphs left my previous climbers. Written in chalk, paint, or who knows what, some left them as a simple guide post to the start of the climb, others as a “I was here” type of graffiti. This sort of childish obsession never interested me, but it was interesting to see what images were left. There were even some new ones I hadn’t noticed before. Maybe this route was getting more popular than I expected.

Moving on from the new-age vandalism, I proceeded to the cliff face. In front of me was a large crag, ideal for shimmying up with just my hands. It was a kind start to the climb, and I had a long way to go. For the first leg I hadn’t needed any clips to secure my fall, my hands finding the holds from muscle memory. Eventually, however, after a brief rest on a small cliff, the real climb began. Most beginners stopped here, calling it quits and discarding unnecessary gear. It was frowned upon by most of the community, but there wasn’t much you could do to stop it. I felt a strange pang of anger and resentment against whomever littered this place. This example of nature’s terrible cataclysm was something to be shared and respected, not used as a dumping ground. Up here, far above the cities and streets, the people and traffic, the work and responsibilities, I gazed out to the horizon. Up here, away from all the business of my mother’s estate, I sought peace. Up here, I wouldn’t have to deal with the fallout from breaking up with Joel. No friends to harangue or “comfort” me. Just the wild air sweeping across the desert, and some asshole had to ruin it with their garbage.

Fuck it, I said in my head. “FUCK YOU!!!” I screamed to the vast expanse before me. Clouds covered the mesa again, as if cooling me and my temper, the wind cooing against my face. I closed my eyes and tried to breathe.

I was suddenly startled by a sharp noise behind me. I quickly turned around to see small rocks falling from above the next leg of the climb. I quickly scanned the area for signs of life, or worse, disintegration. I’ve known climbers to be attacked by mountain goats, coyotes, stray bee hives, even mountain lions, but the number one killer is unstable rock formations. Time wears away at everything, even the monolith I was perched upon. One loose hold and you plummet to your death with little to no warning. Determined to conquer the route, I pressed on. I’m not going to die like that, I promised in my head.

I saw no trace of animal life nearby, so I pressed on. The climb was slow compared to my start. Fewer obvious places for me to make a safe grip meant for more and more clips to be driven into the rock face. Thankfully, there were well-established directions evidenced from previous climbers. After an hour of strenuous ascending, I could tell I was reaching the next flat portion and rest stop. My hands, calloused and chalky, dug into the harsh rock, and with my weakening strength I lifted myself ever upward. Finally, as the sun began to creepy back out from the clouds, I found the cliff edge. Then, I found bones.

Bleached from the sun but in sickly arrangement, a grotesque mixture of human and animal skeletons were splayed out in front of me. Bile began to rise in my throat. Determined to refrain from further dehydrating myself, I held the vomit down. I’m no forensic technician, but I could identify human, lion, and coyote skulls. Sinew still hung from some of the bones, nearby tracks indicated it was all dragged from some other location on the mesa. Whatever did this had killed recently, and had gathered it all together in a macabre spectacle, a trophy to its ability, a warning to the world.

I looked up the trail to the next ascent, the last leg of the climb until my journey was over. I looked to the left to an old goat trail that curves along the face of the mesa, where the dirt tracks had come from. For anyone finishing the climb, it was a simple descent back the way you came to get back down. It was impossible to climb three thousand feet and make it back down in time to return home the same day. This may be my last time, but I can make sure others don’t perish here in the future, I decided. I downed more water, held a moment of silence for the slaughtered, and began travelling along the goat path.

Mountain goats can walk incredible edges. We humans have to make do with shuffling carefully and placing fail-safes so we don’t fall to our deaths. I did what any experienced tracker would do, I followed the signs of life. To my dismay, they were mostly omens of death; more bones discarded here or there, droppings, tufts of fur and horn, teeth from human and beast alike. I made my way horizontally across the mesa for a grueling amount of time, until suddenly my hand met with too little friction. The fingers slipped abruptly from the hold, hanging uselessly on my side and bringing my body swinging. All at once an entire half of my body was dangling in the hot air, my view forced to gaze at the treacherous depths below. Dust, dirt, and rocks fell before me in a slow tumble, bouncing and shattering off the cliffs. I had trained for this and reminded myself, This is not how I die. Gaining my second wind, I swung back to face the wall and found a stronger hold. I glanced at my hand, finding a black substance coating my fingers. Resolved to make it to a rest stop and study the peculiar pigment, I continued on. Within fifteen minutes, I had found what I was searching for. A short drop into a flat patch of rock would be my salvation. I steadied myself again, slowly and carefully moving into position to properly descend. First I set my legs, pointing my heels back to the wide world. I set my right hand in a good crag. Finally, I curled by left hand onto a hold. I counted down in my head and swung slightly out with each number, Three….two…one-. My hand slips again.

The fall is quick and the injury quicker. My right ankle meets the ground at an unsafe angle, twisting and fracturing, breaking the bones and cutting deep into my body. I gasp for the air that had been forced of my lungs form the impact. Grabbing for my wounded foot, I feel a substance on my hand. At my fury I see more black substance. Furious, I scream in frustration and pain. The scream echoes in to the nearby cave.

A cave? The goats, it’s here! My mind races as I peer over at the foreboding cave leading into the bowels of the mesa. I quickly take out what little I brought with me. I wash off the blood, bandage up what I can with the basic climbers tape I had, and begin limping towards the cavern. My flashlight provide a scant amount of light, but it illuminates at least one mystery.

Coal. The black substance is coal. Native Americans used the coal centuries ago. Mining operations almost began here but they were shut down as being environmentally unstable. I limped further in the body of the mesa, my grunts and footsteps echoing in to the otherwise silent tunnel. As I progressed, I began to make out drawings. In a larger chamber where the outside light had completely faded, I was alone with the glyphs of someone unknown entity. Harsh black outlines in coal were everywhere. On every surface save the ground were depictions of animals, humans, monsters of disgusting scenes of violence and murder. I began to tremble, What have I found? What could do this and not get caught? I began to feel faint, and sat down. I expected to meet with more horrible skeletal remains, but felt only the cool rock on my skin. Whatever lived here was long gone. There was no fire pit, no remains, no droppings, nothing. My vision began to blur, I was bleeding from my wound profusely. The tape was meant to bandage hands, not fix broken bones. I reminded myself why I had come up here. I recalled why I packed so little. I never wanted to come back down.

Was it the mesa scolding me? Chiding me for planning to end my life on its sacred person? I doubt it cared. Nothing in life seemed to care anymore. After drinking the last of my water, I threw the canteen to the darkness ahead. It clanged and made a cacophonous sound reverberate off the hard walls of my makeshift tomb. Resigning myself to fate, I thought on my departed mother, my friends, family, co-workers, even Joel. “Fuck me, I guess.” I stated to the cave. I slumped further down the wall, feeling the pain numb from lack of blood. I closed my eyes and waited for the end.

Seconds later, I jolted awake from the sound of the clanging of my canteen. Accompanying it was the howl, or growl of some unseen force. I was too weak to grab my flashlight, too weak to cry out. I whimpered every so softly, straining to see in the pitch black darkness. I heard it draw closer, cold air sweeping over my body. Oh how I wish I was out in the sun again. Otherworldly footsteps echoed in the chamber, gathering speed as it gained distance on my hapless body. As I felt it stand above me, it roared in what sounded like three voices at once.

It grabbed my injured ankle, once numbed pain resurfacing and tearing through my body. I sobbed with what little strength I had left as it started dragging me towards the outside. As the last vestiges of adrenaline faded from my system, I began to drift off once more, each ping of pain less than the last. My dying thoughts filled with regret and remorse as my assailant ferried me to the horrible death pit where it left the other pitiful skeletons. I knew I would die before I saw light again. As I left from this world I could only muster, I didn’t want to die this way.

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September 22, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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Part One

The wind howled like a the forgotten cries of a madman as it came whipping down from the high mountains, flushing the valley with the bitter cold that all winter’s bring. Herds of Blackhorned Elk huddled together, eyes keeping vigilant against the creatures that stalked the night, and the creatures that would try and stalk the young they had encircled within their ranks. Their great horns, easily wide enough to handle even the largest of bears or the nimblest of wolves, were covered in thin sheets of frost, icicles dangling from their shaggy coats which provided them some measure of protection from the primordial cold that seemed to seep through Wetterstein Mountains every winter’s night.
The largest of the elk, a male that stood twice as tall as a man, raised his head as, over the shrieking winds, he heard the movements of the beast that the herd had come to fear; a beast they had always feared. He snorted loudly, drawing the other males’ attention, shifting his horns slightly to motion into the darkness around them. The woods were heavy with snow and ice, but the hoof-carved paths were still passable to those long of leg, and strong of spirit. Unlike the strange fire-walkers of the stone forests dotting the mountains, the Great Elk could see fairly well in the dark. Sitting at just the edge of his vision, was the horror that had stalked his herd for the past three nights.
A tall, hairless beast that stood not on four legs but two, like the fire-walkers. But unlike the frail little creatures, this being’s arms reached the ground as it stood, stooped over a snow covered boulder, watching the herd as a hungry wolf might. But this creature was far more dangerous than any wolf that the Great Elk had ever encountered; it moved with an almost unfathomable speed, sometimes using its gangly arms to grip a low branch and swing forward as it would chase you down. Other times it would stalk you for days, leaving naught a trace of its existence save for the faint smell of the rotting flesh caught between its thin, black teeth in its vertical, flat maw that split the center of its head down the middle.
The herd had been unable to sleep or rest due to this creature’s relentless pursuit, doggedly keeping pace with their own, always allowing its presence to be felt. The last time the herd had relaxed, it had claimed two calves, one in each massive hand, before stalking off into the darkness. The tortured cries of the calf’s had lasted all night, and the Great Elk had been forced numerous times to keep the cows from going out into the darkness to try and save them.
He knew a trap when he saw one.
Just as dawn had broken this morning the calves had finally fallen silent and upon further investigation, the herd had been most distraught to find both hanging from the trees a scant few yards from where they had been standing all night, pinned to the thick branches by their own splintered ribs, chests left wide open and organs, now laying in rime-laden pools beneath them. Large sections of their backs and legs were missing, torn free by the beasts’ horrible maw though a good deal of glistening meat still sat frozen on the twin corpses, untouched by the strange creature.
Now it sat there, leaning back on the corded muscles of its haunches, watching the herds every movement with six yellow slated eyes positioned around the creatures bizarre mouth. It was slowly scooping snow into its right hand, a wide and cruel tool ending in three barbed talons, letting the wet mess slide through into a messy pile at its hooves. The Great Elk could smell the rotting meat of its own, knowing that the smell was coming from the beasts own breath. It was taunting him…
Well, it would taunt him no longer!
The Great Elk burst into a sprint, head lowered in preparation of ramming the creature with its sharpened horns. Three young bucks were right beside him, running headlong in a straight formation that they had used a number of times to trample wolves that had proven too brave or hungry for their own good. A small tree shattered into splinters as the elk’s left horn caught it, severing it at shoulder height and sending it crashing down into the deeper recesses of the forest. Several more joined it as several tons of solid muscle quickly closed in on the strange monster, which had yet to even acknowledge the charging menace closing in upon it.
And then it was upon them, leaping over their sharpened horns and hardened skulls, slashing at the flanks of two of the brave young bucks that had charged along with him. The talons ignored their frozen shell of fur and thickened hide, tearing deep gashes open with but the barest of ease, the air now taking on the sickening scent of copper and fear. The young buck didn’t even have a chance to shriek in pain, as the beast was immediately upon it, gripping his horns and twisting violently about, snapping his neck like so many dry twigs beneath a hoof. As he twisted the dislocated skull of the cool corpse about, he rammed it into the chest of another young elk, causing the sharpened bits of horn to rend through his surprised brethren in a most horrid manner, a crimson spray of freezing mist rising up and painting the grey monster’s face with spattered traces of fur and meat.
The Great Elk watched in horror as the beast dispatched the last of his younger comrades, breaking its back with a mighty leap from the connected corpses of his younger brethren. The buck yelped in agony in sync with the sound of his upper spin snapping, just before his head was torn free from cords of thickened muscle and sinew, only to be tossed aside carelessly as the monster casually stepped down from the collapsing body, staring balefully with all six yellow slits into to the eyes of the Great Elk.
And for the first time in countless seasons, the greatest elk in the herd felt fear. And as he tried desperately to gore the offending monster as it somehow appeared beside him, he howled in anguish and frustration as he felt his front two legs snap, dropping him suddenly to the sloshy red snow with a sickening thud. Kicking and bucking in vain, all he could do was wail and cry, doing his best to let the herd know he’d failed in his charge, failed to keep them safe, and that they needed to run before they too became the creature’s next meal.
As the warmth of life slowly gave way to the chill of winter, the cold snow pressed around the Great Elk’s muzzle stained red with his own blood, he could hear the crunching of the snow as the monster slowly padded its way around his body, until the great hooves stopped in his direct line of vision. The pain was intense, and from his vantage point on the ground he could only see one of his severed legs and up to the first joint of the creatures pale, muscled leg, but the Great Elk could sense the predatory eyes wandering over his body, wondering where next would be the best to cut into, where the Great Elk had the juiciest selections of savory flesh he could sample.
The Great Elk was to die and he knew it, because he’d been too sure of himself and his own strength. His younger brethren too had fallen prey to their own confidence; foolishly rushing the monster that had proven too strong for them, proven it was as cunning as any wolf and as strong as any bear. Their pride had led to their, and by extension the herds, destruction, this the Great Elk knew…
And then the Great Elk knew nothing.

Part Two

The Beast snarled as he pulled his hoof noisily from the crushed mess that had once been the strange animal’s skull, enjoying the sucking noise that came along with the sensation of the creatures grey matter sticking messily to his sharpened hooves. He’d wandered into this valley weeks ago and been overjoyed at the fact that it was so full of life, despite the freezing conditions of the season. Everywhere he went he could find animals to hunt, from the great horned deer like these to the gigantic black-furred bears that seemed to dwell in every sizable cave worth noting. He’d even had the chance to stalk some creatures similar to the Hell Hounds back home, great grey-furred creatures made of nothing but toughened sinew and fang.
He snarled as he yanked one of the great antlers free of the fractured mess, shaking it a few times to free it of the hanging flesh and fur still connected to it. A worthy trophy for his growing collection! On his third night in this strange mountain chain he’d located a suitable lair, a large cave (of course inhabited by a pair of unimpressive bears that had quickly become the beginning of a large pile of semi-tanned furs that the Beast was now using as a bed) that had several smaller chambers leading deeper into the mountainside. It’d become a new shrine to pain and pride, two of the greater sins that the Beast thrived upon; he’d been slowly creating an arsenal of primitive torture devices, carved from the harvested bones of his kills, as well as numerous small tables and chairs that would serve him well in future endeavors, when he finally worked up the courage to try and raid one of the human settlements dotting the numerous valleys in the surrounding area.
The Beast grinned at the thought of his future victims, lazily lapping at the sizzling hot spittle leaking from his mouth with a sinuous tongue. But no, he decided, pulling back to the here and now. Now was not the time to daydream, not with dawn approaching. He’d made do the past few days by burrowing into large snow banks, to avoid the harsh rays of the sun. With terrible thoughts of torture and pain echoing throughout his dirty mind, the Beast grabbed hold of one of the deer’s remaining legs, slinging the heavy beast over his shoulder and onto his sloped back: home was but a few minutes away if he were able to travel through the trees, and dragging the beast back would most definitely leave a suspicious trail that he wanted to avoid.
For now.
While the Beast didn’t fear humans (he feared nothing!) he knew revealing his presence now could lead to complications for further hunts, further games of sport. And the Beast would not have any of that. He hadn’t seen a human that he was allowed to harm in over a decade, and while in the long term his slight sojourn into this valley might be viewed as treasonous, a fresh supply of fear and pain were too much for the Beast to simply ignore and walk away… or worse, fall back and report their location! Then his brethren would come, swallowing up the whole lot of them like a swarm of locust over a budding crop of wheat.
And that simply wouldn’t do. No, he would take his time here and sup on the unspoiled Eden for as long as possible. If push came to shove, he would do as all his kind did and merely lie, and offer whatever survivors remained to his Lord in exchange for mercy. For now, he had a good enough reason to remain within the valley, away from the rest of his Clan.
The Beast grunted as it leaped into the air, one clawed hand clamped over his heavy burden while the other sought purchase on a frost-coated branch. His hooves dug into the bark of the trunk with the ease of fire through wax, and he steadily scaled the tall tree until reaching a branch sturdy enough to hold him aloft.
Down below, he could see the rest of the herd of deer moving in to sniff at the corpses of their heroes, looking about in wonder at what had felled their greatest with such ease. Their fear wafted high and thick, filling the Beast with a sense of ease that nothing else could sate. He lingered for a few moments longer, allowing their fear to fill his gullet, satiating a great thirst he had been harboring for days now. The two younglings had served well enough for an evening’s worth of entertainment, but their fear had vanished far too quickly, instead replaced by a sense of morbid confusion that all animals seemed to get when being tortured.
They just didn’t understand, the poor things…
They had served well enough the slaking the lust for fear just long enough for the Beast to hunt another night, their pain giving him more than enough to feed off of for the time being.
A sharp crack echoed through the silent woods, causing the Beast to whip his head about to look for the source of the noise, spreading out his senses in hopes of catching a new source of fun that he could bring home with him. Dozens of small rodents and birds were close by, hiding within their hollow burrows in the ground and in the trees, and the deer were milling about below, not sure what they should do now that their alpha had been slain… but nothing else. Strange, the Beast thought as his eyes scanned the forest floor. What made that noise then?
The answer came in the form of a three-foot arrow snapping through the air, piercing straight through the meaty corpse of the deer on his back and through into his own chest cavity. Humans! The Beast howled to the sky, letting go of the deer and allowing it to slide from his back. He had no need of it now if he had humans to hunt!
Sadly, this was not a great idea (which the Beast quickly realized) as the great weight of the deer, which had been so carefully balanced on his back during his ascent into the trees, was now drifting backwards at an alarming rate. This wouldn’t be a problem if the damned arrow that had just struck him hadn’t pinned the animal to his back as well. The Beast flailed its arms about, wind milling them in hopes of gaining balance, but to no avail; he toppled backwards and began his second great fall from the sky (though this one was far less dramatic, if the Beast took but a moment to ponder upon it).
He landed roughly in the midst of the grieving herd, landing hard atop the corpse of one of the smaller horned deer with a pained grunt as the dead creatures horns dug into his side rather painfully. Belly down, the Beast could only grunt again as three more arrows embedded themselves in his back, further pinning the dead weight of his latest trophy to him in a most undignified manner. Growling, he pushed himself onto his hooves and stood high, spreading his arms out wide and letting loose a bellowing roar. If the humans thought their meager arrows were of any consequence to him, they were sorely mistaken.
His eyes could see them now, there dark silhouettes concealed by the trees that they stood by. Each wore a solid white smock over boiled leather jerkins, their faces covered by white leather masks topped with wide-brimmed hats and ending in long, hooked noses. The Beast grew more excited as he took in the sight before him.
He had stumbled upon a secluded set of valleys that just so happened to house his mortal enemies, humanities last true hope at reclaiming their world… oh the delicious irony! The Beast let loose a deep laugh, swatting at his knees as he fought to contain his mirth.
“You win little birds…” He shouted to them in Aramaic, already noting with general unease the tingling in his back where the first arrow had pierced him. His prize package had absorbed the brunt of the arrows damage, as well as the majority of the poison that the arrowhead was drenched in. The following three arrows, while all having a similar issue, would be more than enough to subdue him. The more he moved, the faster it would spread. “Come on out and claim your prize!”
Their response was another round of arrows into his chest, this time from the front and without having to pass through any other material other than the Beast’s hardened hide itself. He hissed in pleasure as the arrows sank deep into the thickly corded muscle of his upper torso, the pain quickly ebbing away as the poison quickly spread, numbing all of his nerves at a rapid rate.
“Have you no questions for me, little birds? I’ve heard tales of how you like to question us before killing, in hopes of learning our ways.” He continued, dropping to one knee as he lost control of the leg. “I would think you all have earned but a simple answer from me, for my lack of thought and carelessness.”
They remained as silent as the grave as they watched him collapse into the snow, remaining still until the Beasts breathing became heavy and labored.
“No questions then?” He gasped, still shouting out to any who would listen. “Then do what would have saved your people centuries ago and seal the deal! Your sin of pride will be, and has been, your downfall… as surely as it has been mine.”
Three more cracks echoed through the snow-laden woods, the last of the herd of black-horned deer scattering as the Beast’s vision darkened.
And then the Beast knew nothing.

Part Three

The last three arrows we had fired into the demon had pierced its skull and neck, one going through the upper part of its mouth, another piercing one of its many eyes, the last embedding itself in its neck. I’d have to lecture Jonathan about his aim later, as the neck shot was virtually useless in any instance but this.
I motioned for Jonathan to move forward with me, using prepared hand signs to tell Samuel to keep guard. He nodded once before notching another arrow in his longbow, aiming straight at the great demons back while Jonathan and I moved forward. The beast had been bellowing in its last few seconds of life though for the life of me I haven’t a clue what it was saying. The elders back home say they all speak the language of God, referring to it as the Old Tongue… I don’t really know about any of that though. I never cared for any of that spiritual talk… if these creatures were truly fallen angels, the remains of some great race of creatures that an all-powerful being created to serve him, I doubt that we would stand any kind of chance against them.
As we approach the demons prone form, I stop every few feet to look at the small gem dangling from my wrist, hoping against hope that it would continue to diminish in brightness. Rosary Beads, as we like to call them, glow in the presence of evil (so the Elders say). I don’t know about all of that, but they sure as hell light up if any demon comes within fifty miles of us. Not the best security system in the world as they can’t really tell us where the intruding demon is, or if it’s one or a thousand of them; just that there is a demon within fifty miles, the light growing brighter the closer you get to them.
Despite their rather glaring fault in detection, they did have one added benefit that I find particularly helpful: they don’t shine around dead demons. And my Rosary is growing dimmer by the second.
Jonathan slides a bit over some ice-slickened path, stumbling forward clumsily into my shoulder. I glare at him and shove him back. “Dumb bastard! Stay back and be prepared for anything… I know this is your first night on patrol, but that’s no excuse to be so damned stupid!”
Jonathan’s face is just as covered as mine, but after years of staring into similar masks I can sense the sneer behind the hood. “The demon’s dead, no need to be so paranoid Ivan. What’s it gonna do, come back to life?”
“…just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” I quoted from memory, watching the demon’s corpse slowly gather small flecks of falling snow over its pale hide. “You’ll find that anything we call a demon can surprise you. Better safe than sorry, you know?”
Jonathan remained silent as we stopped a few yards from the corpse. The Rosary dangling from my wrist had finally grown dull, now merely a darkened red opal dangling from a silver chain in place of the small crimson sun that had been glowing for the past few days. I heaved a sigh of relief, waving the all clear sign to Samuel, as well as an order to break camp in the boughs of one of the many Silver Fir’s around us; we deserved a rest after this hunt, and a day of sleep followed by a night under the stars worry free as we returned to the Nest would indeed be a fine gift.
“Hey,” Jonathan piped up, having approached the abominations corpse, kicking it idly with the tip of his boot. “Why’d it take the deer with it?”
I merely shrug as I pull my bow over my shoulder and begin to rebind the Rosary chain around my wrist. “Trophy probably. They tend to gather little trinkets, or parts, from the things they kill.”
“Why?” Jonathan asked, kneeling over the corpse, poking at it errantly with a heavy-hilted dagger. “Don’t they just exist to kill, to reap the souls of His children?”
I fight back a sigh and enjoy the confines of my own hood as I roll my eyes at the little fanatic. I may be a Raven, but I’m hardly a believer in everything the old texts claim; Hell, I sometimes even doubt whether or not He really exists, what with the way the world has fallen into such disarray.
“They live to hunt yes, but they have lives outside of that,” I answer after a few moments of watching the snow fall about, drifting through the pitch black lazily around us. “Most take up art, actually.”
“Art?” Jonathan asked with surprise, struggling to lift the dead demons heavy three-clawed hand.
“Well, what they call art at least,” I mutter with a shrug, still watching the snow fall, eyes wandering the horizon, in search of… something. “They derive sustenance from pain in the way we do from dry bread, but each demon hungers for something else, something far more sinister. They hunger for the emotional aspects of at least one of the Seven Sins.”
“Like envy and lust?” Jonathan asked with a hint of disgust, dropping the claw to the ground as if it had suddenly become something toxic.
Well, more toxic.
I shrug again. “Those are far rarer from what I’ve read; most feed off of things like anger or fear, things that they can easily instill in victims that they take captive.”
“I didn’t know demons took captives,” Jonathan said with a low whistle, shuffling around the body to look at the creatures ruined head. “Cor, this thing is hideous.”
“Yeah, they tend to be a little disturbing to look at.” I dryly comment as I walk past him, smacking him upside the head. “Just retrieve the arrows and sever the head; don’t need this thing pulling a resurrection on us. Plus proof of a slain demon, easy sixty crowns for that.”
“That’s twenty a piece!” Jonathan exclaimed before pulling out his dagger once more, taking a firm grip of one of the arrows lodged in the skull to gain better access to the creature’s neck and began sawing. “So you think he has some captives?”
“What?” I say, turning from the horizon to look at him, not really understanding the question.
“Captives. You said they sometimes take captives.” Jonathan explained, nodding his head to the great elk carcass harpooned to the demons back. “And that they don’t eat meat, right? That’s why he’d bring this back, to feed captives.”
“No, they never keep captives long… oh God, he must have someone with him!” I realize suddenly, all plans of a relaxing trip back home now banished from my mind. “Look him over; does he have any markings, like tattoos or anything?”
“Um… yeah, one right here on the back of his claw, burnt into his skin. Why, what’s that mean?” Jonathan said, looking at the prone hand in question, the strange diamond shaped sigil burned into the grey hide standing stark against the white snow and the blackened, simmering blood that was seeping from the demons corpse as he was sawing into thick sinew and tendon.
Jonathan launched back several feet as one of our special arrows rocketed from the darkness, ramming into, and through, his chest just beneath his right clavicle with a sickening squelching noise akin to the bursting of a rotting pumpkin. He hit the ground rolling, limbs slack and eyes wide as the life ebbed from them forever.
I roll to the left as another arrow soars past me, crashing through the underbrush behind me. As I roll up into a low crouch, I pull a long edged dagger and a small handheld crossbow; tools ill-advised for use against demons or the undead, but perfect for fighting a human.
“Samuel!” I shout, my voice echoing through the woods as if to mock me, the only response being a sudden torrent of wind and snow whipping through the trees, further obscuring my vision.
“Samuel is mine now, Raven.” A voice silky replies from the darkness, up close to where I’d left the younger man, a deep husky voice that could only belong to a woman. “Though I must thank you, I had wondered what I was going to end up calling him. It suits him.”
“Witch!” I hiss, cursing my arrogance and blatant laziness during the hunt. I could hear my old master in my head now, lecturing me to always check a demon for a mark, to see if it had a mortal servant or worse, a mortal master. If scarred, then they own man. If burned, than man own them.
“Come now little bird, you know you’ve lost; come out and meet the maker you so blindly follow, see if he has a reward for his favorite pet parakeet waiting for him in the afterlife.” The witch haughtily laughs, her voice coming from seemingly everywhere at once. Another arrow whizzes past me, forcing me to seek cover behind a tree.
She’d either enthralled Samuel or worse, killed him and reanimated him; either way he was a lost cause now. The only thing I could worry about was making sure this witch died before dawn… we had only stumbled upon the demon by luck, luck fueled by an old artifact that had given us a heads up. All of the other Ravens would now think the threat was gone and merely wait for me to return, or assume the mission had killed me and my men.
We really don’t have a long life expectancy, so it wouldn’t really be a farfetched idea.
But to leave a Witch roaming free? That was totally unacceptable.
With the mad woman cackling from all directions, I did my best to try and think of a way to kill her, hopefully without getting myself killed in the process. Each of my crossbow bolts was essentially a hollow wooden syringe full of an opium concentrate, while my dagger was coated in silver blessed by a priest on all-hallows eve, smeared with a putty-like mixture of salt, lemon juice and alcohol. Really either weapon would do, assuming I could actually land a blow on her. Sadly, my skills against Witches are hardly up to par.
That was what that fool Jonathan had been brought aboard for, due to his propensity for White Magic; now he was worthless to me, just another cold corpse laying in a freezing pool of his own fluids, due to my own arrogance.
A sudden smile graces my features as I stare at Jonathan’s corpse, a crazy idea coming to mind. Hell, I think morbidly, it’s worth a shot.

Part Four

Jotelf grinned with unholy abandon as she twisted the mind of her newest consort with but a simple gesture of her hand, ordering him to ready his bow for another volley. The coming snow flurries from the high mountains was making it more of a chore than necessary, but Jotelf was more than willing to savor her victory over the supposed protectors of mankind.
The demon they’d slain had been an utter beast to control, and an even bigger pain to command, so while she was truly annoyed at the loss of the asset, she was relieved at the same time
Ensnaring the demon had been a labor of love almost, leaving captured children out in vulnerable areas around a region well known for Demonic activity. Whether a rift to Hell existed somewhere in those hills or it was merely a tribe of demons that had escaped the abyss, Jotelf didn’t care. She could remember slowly coaxing the demon away from its pack before slamming it with some of her most offensive spells, crackling waves of lightning and great mounds of animated earth ripped free from the ground used as battering rams. She’d had to kill three other demons that had been close by before crippling the one she ended up Branding that day.
Now without the constant drain upon her magical reserves, she could begin tooling about with other branches of magic that had always interested her, especially now that she had a whole mountain range of virtually defenseless test subjects, thanks to her efforts well-spent getting into the mountain range.
Floating mere inches above the thick frosting of snow coating the forest floor, Jotelf’s lack of protective wear more than compensated by her own twisted magics, she floated forward to gaze down the slope where her demon had fallen. Just before she was about to call out another taunt to her trapped prey, she gasped in shock and awe as she saw him jogging up the hill, a long spear held in one hand and a curved knife in the other.
“My oh my, you are a stout one aren’t you!” She cried with glee, thinking of all the wonderful games she could play with him. Tugging at Samuel’s strings, she smiled as she mentally ordered him to fire at will, but to try not to kill him outright.
Samuel loosed his arrow; the javelin sized projectile connecting solidly with the lone Raven’s shoulder, causing him to stumble momentarily. His face, if not masked by those ridiculous hoods they all insisted on wearing, was blinded by the coming storm, the twisting winds roiling about them as if it were some behemoths heart beating, the howling winds too loud to even hear the Raven’s scream as the serrated arrowhead pierced his shoulder.
As Samuel cocked another arrow, Jotelf chose to end this charade once and for all, summoning forth her own internal energies into the physical realm, a tortured shriek filling the air as a crackling crimson orb began to form mere inches from her breast. She knew this spell well, having grown quite fond of it due to its propensity to causing widespread damage due to its explosive nature, and its propensity to cause the wounds of those that survived the blast to rapidly become infected.
“Goodbye little bird, I wish I could say you were worth the effort, but I do ever so much hate lying.” She muttered to herself as she swatted the crackling orb towards the advancing form of her enemy, his spear and dagger held low as he tromped up the hill sluggishly. The orb lazily hovered before her before darting forward, bobbing to and fro like a firefly trying to escape the clutches of a hungry bat.
Her aim was off by a few inches, the static orb striking him solidly in the chest rather than near his head. The effect was roughly the same, with a piercing cry and a low keening wail the orb burst like an overripe melon, great arcs of crimson energy lashing out with a razors edge. A font to blood sprayed from the gaping wound where his chest once was, scattered pieces of twisted leather and bits of bone exploding forth from the point of contact, throwing the insolent man back, his weapons falling from hands that were likely now dead.
The howls of the damned filled her ears, a private moment between her and her unholy patron that occurred whenever she tapped into her infernal powers. She’d long ago traded her humanity for something far greater, giving her once meaningless life as a nameless serf a sense of purpose. She shivered with untold lust as the gentle caress of her lord swept across her voluptuous features, down and over her curves like the hands of a lover. He was excited, she could tell.
Excited about receiving a new soul to sup upon. The foolish archer she’d ensnared in her enchantments would remain with her for the time being, as these cretins had actually managed to dispatch her personal guard and she was in need of a new one. But her newly disemboweled Raven now dying in the snow?
Meat for her Master.
Whispering the forbidden words of power, she stalked closer to the steaming corpse before her, once again gathering her mystical energies to serve her sadistic desires; the soul of the recently departed lingered for a time, and for one with the right knowledge, and the right skills, said soul could be bound into service to a Witch of significant enough power, to be used however she wished.
Her power was more than enough to ensnare the loosened soul of this cocky warrior, and a new soul for her infernal master would promise her a night of passion that she would not soon forget. The very thought of it brought a fluttering to her stomach and sudden warmth to her core… licking her lips sensually, she kneeled by the corpse, smiling at the work her spell had done.
The man’s armor had spared him the indignity of being blown to pieces though only just. All of his ribs were charred, with great scores of lines running along them as if someone had taken a knife to them. His insides were merely a cesspool of liquefied organ, a steaming caldron of human waste that was bubbling from the sudden heat of her fiery orb. Muttering the incantation slowly, she dipped a hand into her robe and pulled a crystal vial, dipping it into the impromptu soup she had made from her victim.
Dawn was quickly approaching, and she had yet to have anything to eat thanks largely in part to the pesky birds swooping in on her hunter. While perhaps not the most wholesome of foods she had eaten, she was no stranger to the flesh of man, and found herself on occasion quite hungry in a way that only a roasted spit of seared man-flesh could sate.
She finished her spell, waiting to feel the euphoric praise of her Lord wash over her once more… but found herself flacking her desired reward. I know I cast the spell right, I’ve done it a hundred times! She thought desperately. While completely loyal to her Lord, she knew he was not one to be trifled with, and would be expecting a soul from her soon. While the hours of passion his corporeal presence could offer her was well worth any risk, the punishments he often doled out were not. The only way the spell would fail would be if he’d already moved on… but I just killed him!
Bursting from the bubbling stew of bile and sinew, three small wooden bolts launched themselves out of her victim’s chest and into her own, forming a tight trio of thin needle-tipped crossbow bolts. Before her shocked eyes, small clockwork mechanisms at the end of each bolt began to whiz and whir, cogs spinning as the needles pumped something into her chest… something bad.
Desperately she tore at the syringes, but her vision was already swimming from whatever was hidden within the darts. Vaguely, she could see a blood-soaked arm rise from her freshest kills chest, followed by another holding a small crossbow. Crawling from the gaping chest wound was the third Raven, his hood no longer covering his startlingly striking features. A thick Slavic nose sat above a closely cropped goatee, a long loosely bound ponytail dangling wetly behind him. His eyes, an artic grey, gazed into hers as he gave her a small smile.
“Looks like pride won the day once more, eh Witch?” He said with a deep baritone. “Had you just killed Samuel instead of revealing yourself like that, you could have easily taken us all out. But instead, you’re now our captive.”
Desperately struggling against the drugs pumping through her veins, Jotelf stumbled back drunkenly, leaning heavily against a warped tree as she took deep rasping breaths. Her mind’s eye was swimming and unfocused, so weakened by her condition she could hardly even strum the thread of magic connecting her to Samuel, who could easily resist her siren’s calls now that they lacked her normal strength of will.
“You taught me a valuable lesson Witch, and for that I’m going to spare your life.” The man continued on, slowly easing himself from the corpse of his fallen friend. “The way I figure it, Sammy and I should take you to see what you came all this way to see, turn you over to the Elders so they can decide what to do with you. Between your pet’s head and you yourself, Sam and I have probably racked up an easy two-hundred crowns.”
“Just… l-like a crow…” She slurs, struggling to keep her eyes open, to remain focused. “P-p-pick on the dead… like your friend there.”
A look of sorrow briefly flashes across his features before being covered up. The man shrugs, stepping out of the torso fully now. He must have been walking behind him the whole time, using his friend’s cold corpse as a puppet. “Jonathan was a good man; a man who helped rid the world of evil. His wife and unborn child will be receiving a cut of what would rightfully be his, of that I can assure you.”
“I… know… this…” She gasps her vision growing dimmer by the second. “By the end of this… I’ll have you on your back, screaming… for mercy.”
And she did know that… at least before she faded into the darkness and then knew nothing.

Credit To – Nicholas Paschall

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