The Black Woods of Beaumont Chase

September 2, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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Daniel Warrington leapt to his feet. The fire roared and crackled in the hearth and the wind gusted outside and for a second he doubted whether he had really heard it – a second, heavier crash, like a great clap of thunder swiftly relieved him of such foolish notions. He rushed across the drawing room, his plush burgundy smoking jacket billowing out behind him, shoving aside an armchair in his haste, and emerged into the entrance hall to see the stout oak doors rattling in their frame. He snatched the Sharps model-1874 from its stand above the fireplace and dashed across the brilliant marble floor, feeding a new cartridge from the stash in the pocket of his smoking jacket into the chamber. Too late, he flung open the doors only to catch the briefest glimpse of an immense bulk retreating into the circle of trees.

He returned his attention to the doors – deep gouges in the wood, the lower panels splintered and dented. He slammed his fist against the doorframe in frustration, ignoring the hot lance of pain that pierced his hand.

Daniel Warrington had had enough.

This was the third incident of its kind to occur since his taking up residence in Nighthill Manor two months previous. Pausing only to pull on a pair of worn-leather boots and a demur brown scarf, he considered rousing his manservant, Dunwald Marsten, to accompany him, but decided against the idea. The old man was probably tucked up in bed by now – there was no reason to disturb him. Whatever it was that walked the woods of Beaumont Chase and menaced the Manor, Daniel Warrington would deal with it himself. After all, hadn’t he faced down enormous black bears during his months on the Continent; looked death in the sharp yellow eyes deep within Peruvian rainforests; slain a great white lion, King of the African plains, with nothing but a blade and his bare hands?

Determined and resolute, Daniel Warrington strode out to meet the night. The air was frozen and the skies empty. Before him at the clearing’s edge loomed the woods: a vast black wall of frostbitten limbs and flaking bark. The wind – at least, it was probably the wind – howled between the slender trunks and seethed in the clusters of tall dark pines. Pale icicles, thin and crooked like skeletal fingers, scintillated as Christmas baubles hung from a tree – a black, dead tree.

As he crossed the clearing, his hand fell to the LeMat belted at his hip. Deemed far too superfluous and unreliable for field use by the US Army, he had managed to procure one of the few remaining prototypes from a customs officer up in Birmingham. In addition to the revolver and the Sharps, he carried a long, thick knife with an elaborate deer-bone handle sheathed at his waist, a gift from an elderly knifemaker by the name of James Black several years previous – the blade had since tasted the blood of almost every animal that walked, crawled or swam upon the face of the earth.

Regretting not taking the time to change out of his smoking jacket, Daniel Warrington gritted his teeth and trudged on through the biting cold. Tracking the mysterious beast was proving to be exceedingly difficult. Having neglected in his haste to bring a lantern, it was all he could do to discern the sporadic trail of odd, hoof-like prints. Their distinctive cleft, although somewhat more pronounced, reminded him of the tracks of the curious black-and-white striped deer that ran freely across the African plains, with but a single difference; these were sunk far too deeply in the snow, incongruous with the weight of such an animal. Whatever the beast was, it was of a most prodigious size.

For minutes that dragged like hours he plodded onwards by the sickly light of the moon, the only sound that of fresh snow crunching beneath his boots. The wind nipped cruelly at his exposed face and hands, bringing with it a faint mist that flowed around him in shreds and tatters, snatching at his clothing with ghostly, insubstantial fingers. His every breath fogged the air with an ephemeral white cloud and seemed to draw the seeping chill ever deeper into his body.

Something moved in the outer darkness of his periphery; by the time he had levelled the Sharps it was gone – if it had ever been there at all. The darkness was enfolding now, a great all-encompassing blackness held at bay only by thin shafts of moonlight. A branch snapped to his right, and he whirled in time to see a dislodged clump of snow thud to the ground. Taking a deep breath, he once again levelled the Sharps. His mind was calm and still, a vast frozen lake in midwinter’s grasp. The weight of the stock in the hollow of his shoulder felt good. It felt right.

It had been far too long since he’d seen the spark of life fade from the eyes of a dying animal.

Slowly, cautiously now, he picked his way between peeling silver birches and over the fallen trunks of once magnificent oaks. Alert to even the smallest motion, he hunted in silence, pressing onwards into the woods, deeper than ever before.

Eventually the tracks halted at a great twisted snarl of brambles stretching taller than a man. There was no sign of his quarry passing through, and truly the tracks continued in no other direction. Fighting back disquiet at the idea of an animal so large capable of clearing such a barrier with a single leap, Daniel Warrington slung the Sharps over his back and unsheathed his knife.

He would need to act swiftly now.

-

Stumbling forth from a narrow tunnel of thorn and tangle, Daniel Warrington emerged into a misted clearing. Damp from the moisture in the air, lank locks of hair clung to his forehead. His face and hands were sliced in several places, and his smoking jacket was all but ruined. Dunwald Marsten would not be amused.

He straightened and unslung the Sharps, taking stock of his surroundings. The wall of brambles encircled the entire clearing, and it appeared he had forced his way through at one of the lowest points; in places the brambles grew around the overhanging branches of nearby trees, crawling along their drooping limbs like sinister barbed snakes. All across the clearing spires of rock jutted upwards from the mists, their twisted points scraping the caliginous skies. Small, trembling gouts of white had begun to spiral down, but Daniel Warrington barely noticed. His attention was elsewhere.

It was not often that Daniel Warrington found himself at a loss for words – now, he could barely remember to breathe.

Dominating the centre of the clearing and towering over its surroundings was a dark Cyclopean monolith of impossibly immense proportions. Plainly visible upon its surface were an array of nightmarish bas-reliefs, upon which the gibbous moon shone sickeningly. Thin tendrils of mist curled up and around the hideous obelisk, crashing against its sides like churning ethereal waves.

Mother Nature took a deep brief, and the night itself fell still.

Deep within the mists, something moved.

Clack. Clack. Clack.

He could feel it now – the beast’s eyes were upon him. The fine, downy hairs on the back of his neck stood erect, and his skin rippled with gooseflesh.

Clack. Clack. Clack.

The sound echoed hollowly across the clearing. He sighted down the barrel of the Sharps and willed his trembling hands to still. Shifting anxiously beneath the gaze of that loathsome monolith, he watched and waited.

Clack. Clack. Clack.

The stag shambled forth from the swirling mists. A blackened crown of jagged antlers twisting in all directions adorned its head; as the beast sauntered past the monolith, the tips of those dreadful antlers screeched across the black stone. The Sharps dropped from Daniel Warrington’s shaking hands, clattering away across the ground. The stag’s jaw lolled wide, revealing a maw bulging with pointed yellow teeth, akin to those of the sleek tiger-striped sharks of the west Pacific. Only now did he understand the truly monstrous proportions of the beast; its head stood fully twice the height of a man, above which loomed the terrible antlers. The monster’s snout glistened wetly in the waxing moonlight, and its tattered fur seemed to crawl and shift as though it were a living carpet of chitinous beetles. Patches of yellowing bone shone through its coat; fur and skin clung to its forelegs in patches, like moss to the trunk of a rotten tree. Dark rivulets of blood trickled from the hollows of the beast’s eyes; a pair of vast, empty holes in which green flames guttered and billowed.

The stag snorted, stamping its foot with a sharp crack like a gunshot, causing a murder of sleek black crows to take erupt in flight from a nearby tree. Coils of mist drifted lazily around the beast, never quite coming close enough to touch its slick black fur. Its hooves were bloodied bone, heavy enough to crush a man’s skull to dust beneath their tread. And then it spoke; a guttural, rasping sound abhorrent to the minds of men.

At this, some hidden string, pulled taunt in fear, finally snapped, and the LeMat leapt into Daniel Warrington’s hand as if it had been there all along. He flipped the lever on the end of the hammer up, causing the striker to fall upon the primer set directly below it. The stag let out a monstrous bellow, lowered its head and charged. Daniel Warrington took careful aim, drawing a bead atop the beast’s skull.

The stag roared; as did the LeMat. The blast of buckshot from the revolver’s secondary barrel disintegrated the top of the stag’s head. Something coiled and dark pulsated amidst the ruin of its skull, shifting and oozing against the splintered bone.

The beast hardly faltered.

Daniel Warrington could only stare, horrified, as the wound immediately began to heal, bone reforming before his very eyes – the skin, however, remained absent, and he at once understood the significance of the many bald patches speckling the creature’s hide. How many before him had tried and failed to slay this dark, majestic horror?

Razor-sharp antlers gored his stomach, and then he was tumbling across the frosted earth towards the monolith. He pressed a hand to his stomach, and felt what seemed to be a handful of snakes squirming against his palm. Blood seeped between his fingers.

Clack. Clack. Clack.

The stag towered over him now, whispering blasphemous insanities of the Old Gods which dwelt beneath the earth and deep down in the seas and in the dark, forgotten places of the world where the stars had never shone. Dreadful images began to form in his mind, of nameless monstrosities uncoiling beneath the earth and Polyphemus-like creatures emerging from the oceans.

The insignificance of man crashed down upon him – followed momentarily by the stag’s hoof, which fell with a sickening crunch, the splitting of a ripe melon.

Daniel Warrington thought no more.

-

Dunwald Marsten sat in the darkened library, reading by the guttering flame of a candle burnt nearly down to the stump – a leather-bound tome of substantial thickness, The Midwinter World. But the book was Midwinter World in name only – the cover concealed a far more sinister tome, one which had previously resided for many years under lock and key in a sub-basement of the British Museum – hidden by fools who possessed neither the strength of mind nor the courage to conquer the horrors bound within the book’s wafer thin pages.

From the walls of the room, glassy eyes reflected the candlelight, inch-long yellowing fangs frozen in snarls of anger and roars of defiance. It sundered Dunwald’s heart to see such beautiful, magnificent creatures murdered for the cruel sport of a single man. His gaze wandered to the umbrella stand in the far corner, fashioned from the foot of a majestic white rhino, and he felt the familiar fires of hatred flare up in his chest. That Warrington had the nerve, the gall to slaughter even a single one of Du’zu’s precious children grated on Dunwald’s very sense of being.

Well, it would not happen again. Yshmael would see to that.

Thin, wavering shafts of moonlight filtered through the picture window, picking out every scar and crag on Dunwald’s tanned, calloused hands – the hands of one who has spent a lifetime in the wilderness, wandering the secret untamed places of the earth.

The book at his fingertips remained dim and dark, the light itself refusing to touch such blasphemous pages. This suited Dunwald perfectly – some things were born only to dwell in darkness.

Dunwald drew the flickering candle closer, leant forward and continued to read.

…from the earth where groweth dark wood, into any time when the Rites are spoken, can the holder of the Knowledge summon The Walker, child of Great Du’zu, He who dwelleth in the vast Wilderness between the worlds and eateth the soul and flesh of Man, He that roams when the moon wanes yellow and is called Yshmael. Only in supplication to The Walker of the Worlds Between can one escape the Wrath of Du’zu…

Credit To – Tom Farr

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The Wicker House

August 30, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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Of course everyone claiming residence in Arthur’s Wake knows tales associated with the Wicker House. It seems that every small province plays host to some structure of ill repute which, as if by supernatural magnetism, draws rumor of ghosts and bogies, wrapping the timber and stone of its foundation in a shroud of darkness and horror. In Arthur’s Wake, the Wicker House fills this odious task.

Scant days after arriving in town, while taking the time to familiarize myself with the local watering hole and its residents, I became introduced to the well known superstitions surrounding the Wicker House. As a man of science, I knew any truths to be found in these outlandish stories were likely embellished to points unrecognizable. Nothing was first hand; all experiences were from a friend who knew a fellow who may have seen something. It is the provincial mind which transforms wild dogs into wolves that walk like men and interprets astronomical phenomena as harbingers of certain doom. Still, my curiosity sufficiently piqued, I endeavored to better inform myself upon the subject through more objective means. To my great surprise, while failing to confirm the more supernatural claims of the tales, the town records in the basement of the local library did provide aspect to a most sinister reality all their own.

The house was built in 1920 by the millionaire Tomas Wicker who, in addition to being both a successful oil prospector and fishing magnate, was by all accounts completely insane. No one knows what first drew Wicker to Arthur’s Wake. Some speculate this as the first outward sign of his impending madness. What is known was that the foundations of the house which would come to assume his name were poured almost immediately upon his arrival.

The structure was supremely modest for a man of Wicker’s means, rising a mere two stories in height and composed of scarcely a dozen rooms plus cellar and attic for storage. The house was built on Blackwood Drive, a major tributary of the town’s main street, and close to the industrial center, such as it was. The plot itself consisted of about a quarter acre, the yard home to a few blossoming trees and a small garden, the whole of which was surrounded by a high wrought iron fence accessed by a similar gate. The posts of this formidable perimeter were topped by wicked spikes to discourage would-be trespassers. Construction concluded rapidly and the autumn of 1920 saw Wicker take up residence in the house accompanied by a maid, groundsman, and his wife.

The lady of the house quickly became the subject of gossip among the townsfolk. During the construction Wicker had boarded his wife in parts unknown. None could recall when she arrived at the house; one day she was simply there. As the groundskeeper cared for the exterior yard and garden and the maid handled all domestic chores including trips to market, the lady was herself never seen to exit the house. Due to this complete lack of socialization, the townsfolk did not learn so much about the woman as her Christian name. The servants themselves shed no light upon the subject. The man hailed from a remote part of the Dark Continent and the woman appeared to be a mixed-breed, vaguely of the Orient. Wicker had acquired the service of each while abroad for business dealings and neither spoke a word of English. Naturally, the Lady Wicker was the object of most persistent rumor.

Early speculation was she suffered from some exotic malady which left her drawn and bedridden. These theories were repudiated by those few who would occasionally spy her from the street. In each case she was seen exclusively at night, staring forlornly through the second story window of what was assumed to be her bedchamber, lit only by candlelight from within and to all appearances the picture of health. Additionally, there was little chance the typically damp and sunless climate of the Wake would be prescribed to improve one’s constitution by even the most inept of physicians. As common folk are wont to do, with a logical explanation absent more fantastic theories were crafted. Some began to speculate the woman was a witch, others an enslaved angel won by Wicker whilst dicing with Satan. What all who observed her agreed upon was her singular beauty.

I gleaned much of this information from archives of the local paper, especially one curiosity piece which was accompanied by a photograph of the lady in question. The scene was just as I had heard described, the single lonely prisoner peering through the window and across that terrible iron fence into the darkness of the night. The photograph was muddled due to the quality of the prehistoric equipment and the lack of natural light, effectively obscuring the lady’s features. Indeed it was difficult to distinguish whether the blurred form was in fact human, though it did project an impression of unmistakable femininity. And yet, even through that grayish haze I could perceive a certain piercing, almost hypnotic quality of her eyes.

Wicker himself was something of a mystery though considerably less so than his bride. An attractive man, tall, dark haired and well featured, many a young woman found herself unequivocally jealous of the seldom observed Lady Wicker. Though often away for long periods on business excursions, at home Wicker would frequent the only drinking establishment in the Wake, an illicit locale consistently ignored by the well-bribed police force charged with upholding Prohibition. Although he had no one in town that might be explicitly named ‘friend’ Wicker was known to purchase drinks for the house on his occasions of patronage and was as such engaged in conversation by no few number of fellow revelers.
It never took long for Wicker’s tongue to be sufficiently loosened at which time he would regale his latest passel of hangers-on with fantastic stories of his journeys abroad; forbidden hoodoo rights in the Caribbean, strange tribal sacrifices in the heart of Africa, dead men who walked in Eastern Europe, and countless others, each one stranger and blacker than the last. Though Wicker never spoke of his wife directly, these tales only served to expound upon the rumors of her origins.

Things progressed much in this way for some five years. Wicker would travel and carouse upon his return. The servants went about their business without comment or complaint. The townsfolk gossiped. The lady remained a shut-in. The horror occurred without warning.
The events that took place on the eve of Samhain, nineteen hundred and twenty-five have gone down in the history of Arthur’s Wake as unembellished fact. Among the town records I discovered the report of the patrolmen dispatched to respond to the disturbance at the Wicker House. I will summarize its contents directly.

Tomas Wicker returned from his latest trip abroad on the thirty-first of October. Having stopped briefly at home, he arrived at the aforementioned drinking establishment in a clearly agitated state. The always impeccably dressed Wicker was sloppily garbed, one shirt tail hanging out of his trousers, shoes scuffed beyond repair. It was obvious he had not recently bathed or shaved, his well-groomed hair was mussed, and his eyes were bloodshot and wild. Approaching the bar he apprehended an entire bottle of liquor, took several long swallows without use of a glass, and ignored all attempts of other patrons to engage him in conversation. Taking a final drink from the bottle he placed his wallet and the entirety of its contents on the bar, smashed the now almost empty receptacle upon the ground and exited with the astonished eyes of all present following him. That this entire portion of the episode occurred within a completely illegal establishment is not lost on me, although it apparently was on the investigating patrolmen. As I have said, they were well bribed.

That no mortal eye remains which observed what happened next is surely proof of a merciful God. The two patrolmen who first came upon the scene were summoned by terrified reports of shrill cries and demonic cackles. Long-term veterans and hard men both they were nevertheless ill prepared for what they would soon find at the Wicker House. Armed with a lantern and clubs in hand the men carefully approached the dwelling now ominously quiet.

The great iron gate was open askew as was the oaken door at the top of the steps leading to the interior of the house. Receiving no response to their shouted inquiries, the patrolmen cautiously entered the foyer and proceeded to search the ground floor. They found the first horror in the kitchen. The maid had been tied with thick hemp rope to a large table, limbs spread and secured to each of the four legs. She was naked, the butcher knife which had been used to slit her throat permanently sheathed in her heart. Glistening blood dripped from the cruel altar, slowly pooling on the floor while tell-tale splatters painted the walls like macabre decoration. The patrolmen shared a glance of mutual, unbelieving dread, tightened their grips upon their clubs and continued to search the premises in complete, terrified silence.

Having determined the cellar empty through a brief yet understandably taut examination, they exited the back door to the yard and discovered the groundsman’s body. A thick wooden stake had been erected in the center of the garden and crossed by a perpendicular beam. The man hung naked, suspended from the crossbeam by spikes harshly driven through his wrists and ankles in a grotesque simulacrum of Christ’s crucifixion. He had been disemboweled, ropey innards pouring out of his belly dripping blood and excrement.

Horrified, the patrolmen reluctantly agreed that a premature conclusion of their search to summon reinforcements would provide a very dangerous murderer a chance at escape. The men reentered the house and agonizingly proceeded up the winding stair to the second floor. Systematically they searched each room, uncovering nothing until only one remained; the bedchamber of the elusive Lady Wicker.

Eyes wide, heart pounding wildly the lead man slowly eased the latch. Raising their clubs the men burst through the door and stopped dumbfounded. The room was completely dark and empty, devoid of trappings or furniture of any kind. By the thin beam of their lantern light the men saw that strange occult symbols had been scrawled on every surface of the room though those on the far wall had been somehow marred. Of the murderous Tomas Wicker or his mysterious wife there was no sign.

A noise from above alerted the men to their quarry’s location. Returning to the hall, they spied a trap door operated by a string which, when pulled, revealed a ladder leading up into the lightless storage space of the attic. The two patrolmen stared at the entrance yawning black and wide as the maw of some infernal creature, beckoning fools to wander to their doom. Unable to decide who would proceed first, the men threw evens. The unlucky loser took the lantern and ascended the ladder.

He stopped halfway through the aperture, lantern held high to better diffuse its light and ready to beat a hasty retreat to the relative safety of the hallway below. The attic was in a state of disorder, strange souvenirs of Wicker’s trips abroad stacked haphazardly throughout. The constable slowly played his beam about, gradually revealing each disjointed mound of clutter. At last the light fell upon the attic’s far corner revealing the huddled gibbering mass of the man they sought.

Or what had been the man. Indeed whatever reason serves to separate man from beast had, sensing it was no longer a suitable dwelling place, fled the form of Tomas Wicker. The handsome features were gone, replaced by deeply sunken cheeks and a hideous grin. As the patrolman stared terrified, he could see the creature was covered in the blood of his victims left below. Hands about his knees, Wicker slowly rocked, babbling to himself.

Joined by his fellow, the constables steadily advanced. Arms outstretched they readied to seize the thing that had been Tomas Wicker when his mad eyes shifted upon them and the muttering stopped. In a moment of seeming clarity he whispered, “She’s gone,” before emitting a maniacal howl and leaping to his feet. Taken aback, the patrolmen hesitated, affording the lunatic room to bound past them to the window and hurl himself through the glass. His desperate shriek gave way to a sickening thud.

The men rushed to the broken window. Far below by the light of the moon they saw the body of Tomas Wicker jerk spastically, impaled by the wicked spikes atop the iron wall. By the time the patrolmen descended from the attic, the hideous motion had mercifully stopped.

The remainder of the report is, compared to the extraordinary events that had thus far taken place, remarkably mundane. Determining that the murderer was indeed dead the patrolmen called for reinforcements. The house was searched in detail and much speculation was made regarding the fantastic totems and fetishes populating every nook and cranny. All who set foot on the premises were in unanimous agreement that Tomas Wicker was unequivocally mad. Most confounding of all, there was no sign to what fate befell the mysterious Lady Wicker. Taking the lunatic’s final utterance as related by the patrolmen, the investigators deduced that the lady, tired of being regularly abandoned, had fled to parts unknown during Wicker’s latest trip abroad. Upon his return the shock had been enough to push the man into a murderous rage. Since virtually nothing was known of the woman, neither whence she came nor even her proper name, no search was mounted and the case dismissed.

It is from this point that the tale departs from the realm of logical reason to instead delve into the twisted byways of urban legend. About a month after the death of Tomas Wicker was when the disappearances began, the investigation of which ultimately lead to my arrival in Arthur’s Wake.

Parents would put their children to bed at night and find them gone the next morning. Exhaustive searches of the Wake uncovered nothing. Strangers new to the town were accosted, imprisoned and, in one instance, lynched by a frightened mob. Some questionable “evidence” was found on the man’s body after the fact, and the police happily declared the case closed with the suspect too dead to proclaim his innocence. That the pattern of disappearances has continued for more than sixty years would suggest they were mistaken.

I have been unable to identify the first to claim seeing a strange light emitted from the long abandoned window of the Lady Wicker’s bedchamber, nor the one who swore he heard the sound of children playing as he hurriedly passed the accursed house. I do know that the tales have spread and grown to the point they are not so easily dismissed. Shortly, I will ascertain any truth to them that may be.

Slender tendrils of fog quest hungrily between my feet like living things as I approach the ruins of the Wicker House. Pushing through the rusted iron gate, a trick of the moonlight suggests a soft glow emanating from the second story window as if from a candle lit within and, were it not impossible, the visage of a beautiful woman stares down and smiles at me approvingly. My hand tightens on the knob as children’s laughter reaches my ears. I open the door.

Credit To – Shadowswimmer77

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Green Valley Alarms

August 16, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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I took the last drag of my cigarette and inhaled a deep breath, savoring the carcinogen-filled smoke inside my lungs before I drew it out again. I looked down at the smoldering butt in my hand and took a gander up at the green trees that surrounded my back yard. Modest, all-consuming green trees which everybody here claim are what make this little town so damn pleasant. More like smothering if you ask me, I’ve always been more of a city boy myself. Whereas most people around here find the streets of Los Angeles overbearing and nauseating, I’d gladly give up those pretty, green trees for apartment buildings and taco stands. There’s something mysterious about the mountains, something lonely, something desolate, and every once in a while things happen out there that just aint right.

Let me tell you a little something about where I used to live. “Green Valley,” it‘s called. And believe me, there is no false advertising in the name. The little mountain town in the heart of Southern California is greener than an over-enthusiastic Irishman on St. Paddy’s day and covered with a heavy layer of wild shrubs, foliage, and modest-sized trees. There are only 2 real streets in the town (by real I mean frequently traveled on by the town’s residents and commuters). First, there’s “San Francisquito Canyon Road,” which weaves down through the mountains for about 20 miles and puts you right at the edge of Valencia. Then there’s “Spunky Canyon Road,” which most of the other streets in the town branch off of as it connects up the neighborhoods. Commuters traveling between the Antelope Valley and the Santa Clarita Valley drive up and down San Francisquito Canyon every day which also provides a quick way for families and teenagers to get to Magic Mountain from Palmdale or Lancaster, if they don’t feel like taking the freeway. Given it’s heavy traffic at times, winding curves, razor-sharp corners, and drivers who fly down the damn thing like they’re practicing for the Daytona 500, it’s seen it’s fair share of accidents over the years.

Now, one thing I always found quite interesting is that, years ago, someone thought it would be a good idea to have a loud, booming alarm system set up in the Green Valley fire station that alerts the locals when there’s an accident in the canyon. Given that there is no cell phone reception anywhere, the alarm provides a means of communication to the residents when San Fran is blocked off due to a car crash. It’s not a bad idea and I never would have had a problem with it, except…there is just something really off-putting about this alarm. I always thought it sounded like the type you would hear at a government facility when they’ve discovered that a nuclear bomb is about to be dropped and blow the whole fucking country to smithereens, or that some deadly, flesh-eating virus has escaped from a laboratory and is quickly seeping into the air of our neighborhoods. Which aren’t the loveliest thoughts when you’re laying in bed at 10:00 at night in your underwear and you hear this loud, belligerent siren suddenly rattle through the streets and penetrate you to the very core. It’s just…disturbing.

But anyways, that’s not too important at the moment. What’s important is that on this day, on this evening, I had just smoked my last cigarette down to the filter and I was in dire need of more to carry my nicotine fix throughout the night. This meant that I had to make a run to the little gas station on the corner of Spunky and San Fran where the canyon meets the main residential area of the town. I had just disposed of the cigarette butt in the trash can and was walking back to my front door when I heard the alarm pierce through my ears. It stopped me in my tracks. That familiar, low yell of the siren rang in my head and I instantly felt a wave of compassion for the sorry saps who had just crashed their car in the canyon. I had hoped it wasn’t as bad as the one I saw a few months ago on my way home from work in which a small sedan going about 90mph, had a head on with an SUV about 30 feet behind me while I watched the carnage from the rear view mirror of my truck. “Poor bastards,” I said out loud as I continued my strut inside to grab the truck keys. Then something struck me and I paused, mouth agape and listening attentively…There’s something slightly off about this one. I couldn’t really tell for sure but it didn‘t seem to be coming from the fire station, it was too distant; and what’s even stranger is that there was this unsteadiness to it. It was dying down a little and then coming on strong again in waves and changing in pitch too. The dynamics were totally off. It had a beckoning, sorrowful longing to it like a wild animal with his leg caught in a hunter‘s trap. I wasn‘t just hearing it, I was feeling it too; my insides felt like they were being grabbed and pulled towards my legs like silly putty. I was getting more uneasy by the second.

“Of course it was weird,” I thought, but I had other, more pressing priorities at hand than sitting around pondering the peculiarities of this alarm. My nicotine craving struck again and I was suddenly in the truck cruising down the road towards the corner store to get to those sweet, sweet Newport menthol-smokes. I turned on my headlights as I navigated the small stretch of asphalt that leads to the gas station about a mile from my cozy, little 2 bedroom house. It was summer time and the clock on the dash told me it was 8:30pm. Summer days are pretty long out here and the sky was at that stage right between dusk and twilight where everything I passed had a subdued glow about it. The road was not yet a complete mass of darkness without my headlights, but it was close. I saw silhouettes of bushes, hypnotically flailing side to side in the distance as I approached the gas station.

When I pulled in the thought gradually crept into my mind over the next few seconds that I was staring at an empty establishment. There were no cars at the pumps or even the familiar employee trucks in the parking lot. It wasn’t that business was just slow or anything, I mean the place was totally abandoned. Where the hell was everybody? “And what the fuck,” I thought, as my eyes caught the dim OPEN sign in the window who’s lights were not flashing in their usual neon red; “the place is closed?“ It’s the one night the bastards decide to close early and I happened to have just burned my last cig of the carton. Damn, just my luck. I pulled up in the parking lot and parked my truck so I could think about my next move. I saw the metal gate behind the big double doors then looked over to the empty chairs still lingering out front where Frank and Tom shoot the shit every day on their cigarette breaks. Call me what you will, but I was not about to go the whole night without that sweet taste of tobacco; so I walked over to the two chairs in hopes that Frank, or Tom had left some butts for me to scrounge up and hold me over until morning.

I was in luck! They had left their ashtray right between the chairs and there was even a half smoked stogie still burning, emitting broken coils of smoke like tiny ghosts dancing in the moonlight…I must have just missed them. I gained some amusement at the thought of them on their first break tomorrow trying to figure out how in the hell thirty cigarette butts apparently just jumped up and disappeared from the tray. Then I remembered that Frank still hasn’t returned my power drill I let him borrow two and a half weeks ago (“just for the afternoon,” he had told me) and my amusement turned to out-loud laughter. “Ha! Let that bastard think it over.” Frank was a good guy but he had a reputation of holding onto other people’s things for a little longer than he should.

I turned and walked back to the truck a little shamefully, feeling like a grimy, cigarette-butt scrounging bum and gazed at the Canyon road…Not a single damn car, that accident must have been pretty bad to block the whole road like that. There wasn’t a single vehicle driving the streets. I looked back at the two chairs then to the road again; that’s when I first noticed the feeling. Something just wasn’t right about all this. In my 2 years of living in this little hole in the mountains I had never seen the corner store close early. And given that Frank or Tom’s cigarette was still lit in the tray, they must have rushed out of here in a real hurry. Feelings aside, the day had been uneventful up until this point and I was bent on knowing what the hell was going on so I decided to take a drive down the canyon a little ways and see if I could take a peek at that accident. It sounds morbid, I know, and the last thing I wanted to do was get in the way of an ambulance or a cop if someone was seriously hurt but I was putting it together in my mind and figured the emptiness of the gas station and the alarm going off may be connected in some way, plus the dull day had stirred up a sense of adventure in me that was not subsiding so I lit a re-burn and took off down the road. Danger is the heart of adventure.

I was just about to give up and head back when I saw it. It was dark now and a tiny little light was shining a ways down the canyon on what appeared to be the side of the road. There were still no damn cars which had begun to give me a slight case of the jitters and the creeps all at once that manifested into my hands which were now slightly tremoring as I gripped the wheel of my Ford with white knuckles. My mouth was drier than a barrel of hay. A wave of panic shot through me as I started to worry I might actually be having a mild seizure, a ridiculous notion. I had never had one before and I was pretty sure the symptoms didn’t match up even in the slightest. I pushed the thought to the back of my mind and continued accelerating towards the glowing anomaly down the way which was approaching faster than I had anticipated, swerving and slowing to accommodate the sharp bends in the now dark mountain road. I thought for sure I would have seen somebody by now but there was…nothing. No ambulances, no cop cars, no angry commuters coming up through the road, speeding and pissed off for getting held up by a car crash on their way home from work. It was beyond strange for this usually bustling canyon and my better judgment was telling me to just go home to my blood hound who was waiting for his 2 scoops of doggy chow and forget all about this damn excursion…but I just couldn’t. When I set my mind to something, I follow through and have a mighty hard time dismissing it. So as stubborn as I could allow myself to be, I pressed on. And in God’s name and all the creatures in the world do I wish now that I hadn’t.

The small light was becoming ever more apparent as I approached it slowly on my right side. There was something so mesmerizing about it, yet sinister like a shimmering lighthouse guiding lost ships towards some hidden, rocky shore. I was a defenseless fly drifting closer and closer to a fluorescent bug zapper, right before he gets torched and turned into a thousand specks of ash blown away by the steady, warm Summer wind. I began to make out the shape of a car in the darkness. That’s what it was alright, it was a car, with the interior light still on and the driver’s side door swung wide open. I pulled up in front of it on the side of the road with my headlights glaring down, turned the ignition, removed the key, and sat in the deep silence; silence which after a moment was broken by the sound of an owl emitting a large hoot up in the trees somewhere. My mind raced as a million thoughts rushed through me at once. The most prominent one being that this must be the car that triggered the accident alarm earlier and it had been in some kind of wreck; but if that were the case, then where the hell were the ambulances and the cop cars that I had nervously expected and the crowd of people that usually linger around an accident to gossip and make sure everything‘s alright? There is no way they kept driving by this peculiar looking scene without offering some kind of help. People have their downfalls, but they are nonetheless eager to help out their fellow man when in dire straights. And we’re a curious breed, no doubt curious, which is what left me so baffled as I stared out my windshield. It’s coming.

My personal curiosity was at an all-time high as I stepped out of the truck and approached the car. I left the headlights on to provide me with some illumination. It appeared to be in decent shape until I circled around to the driver’s side. There was a monstrous sized dent in the door that stretched all the way to the front fender. The window was smashed out, but no glass on the ground as far as I could see; and no driver anywhere to be found. It was a puzzling scene. I stepped back to observe the damaged vehicle a little better and that’s when it hit me again…the feeling. It came on stronger now and I began to tremble harder. I shouldn’t be here. Something was horribly wrong and I knew it. And not just in a “someone got hurt,” kind of way; this was different. I even felt it in the air; there was an oppressive musk that weighed on me making me feel like my legs would give out at the slightest movement. I looked up at the trees, even they were different; they appeared to be cowering back away from this wrecked hunk of metal in front of me as if they themselves were terrified of this intruder in their quiet little home. “That has to be my imagination,” I thought. I felt like I was trapped in some dreamlike landscape and any moment I was going to wake up in my bed submerged in a pool of sweat. No, not a dream, a god damn nightmare. “Where the hell is the driver?” I couldn’t help but wonder.

I leaned against the side of the car with the door still open and began to rationalize the best I could. As I looked down, thoughts moving and circling around in my mind, something caught my eye. There was a trickle of blood in the dirt by my right foot. I looked up further and there was more blood, and more. It was a trail leading away from the car so I followed it with my eyes until it was out of the car light’s reach and taken out of sight by the night. A chilling realization crept into my mind; whoever was driving the car had gotten out and ran into the forest. The next thing I knew I was grabbing the flashlight from my center console and aiming its beam at the blood trail leading from the side of the road into the trees. Whoever it was that had been in this vehicle was badly hurt. I walked a little to get a better view and saw a break where a small beaten path was winding up through the trees and into the mountain. That must be where he ran off to.

The questions that had dominantly plagued my mind since the gas station had become secondary when I realized this person is probably in need of some serious help. I was getting a hold of myself a little better now and that rational part of my brain that had been temporarily hijacked was starting to make its way back. Even so, the mixed emotions I had at that moment could have torn me in two, but I knew deep down that if there was someone dying out there and I had to hear later on the evening news that this man or woman had bled out in the mountains of my little town, I would have never forgiven myself. Arguing with that other half of me had suddenly become fruitless, now was the time to act. Even though every bone in my body was telling me to just go back home and call 911 or maybe wait here for a moment for the ambulances that would eventually arrive, I didn’t. Flashlight in hand, I headed up the trail.

I immediately saw more blood as I headed up the winding path. The beam from the flashlight illuminated the way as I stepped over fallen, dead branches and leaves. The drops weren’t huge but they were enough to know that whoever was bleeding had taken a serious injury back in that car and was out there cut to all hell. I entertained the thought at this point of at least turning around and snatching my .45 pistol from my house and rushing back here quickly just in case I run into some kind of trouble up there but I was just too far and I didn’t want to risk getting to the victim after it was too late. I had remembered reading somewhere in a magazine or journal that a person will die when they have lost 40-60 percent of the blood in their body and by the looks of it, my missing man was getting there, fast. I stared at the quarter-moon sky, which hadn’t been providing me with jack-shit as far as moon light goes, then back down again and continued on. The drops began to get bigger as I progressed up the trail. I paused to take a look at a peculiar looking one that seemed to have a chunk of something white and slimy stuck to it. After a good few minutes of brisk walking I noticed that they weren’t only getting bigger now but also thicker and more pronounced. I was reminded of my own mortality as I followed these crimson puddles of dense fluid that leaked out of this broken human being and sat coagulating and festering in the cold earth, or maybe out of something else, it’s easy to forget how fragile our bodies really are when you’ve never really had an accident. They suddenly veered off the trail and I caught one with my flashlight on a branch about as high as my head. Then I heard something…

I couldn’t quite make it out but it sounded like the low chatter of someone’s voice. I looked through the trees where the blood on the high branch was dripping from and I could vaguely see an area that had been trampled through. The voice definitely came from that direction. I climbed in through a small opening the size of a crouched man and began to cautiously follow this trampled wonder through the trees. My senses were wild, heightened to the point of animalistic intensity in the cool darkness. I saw more blood on the branches and then stepped in a small pool of it. I shined the flashlight down and observed more of that white, slimy crap that I saw earlier. It looked gut wrenching. If I had stared any longer I would have been at risk of losing my dinner. I felt stomach acid arise in my esophagus and slowly make its way back down again. “What the hell was it?” I thought to myself as I crouched to get a better examination of the shimmering white pieces against their dark, scarlet background. They looked something like chunks of peeled grapes, if peeled grapes were white. My concentration was interrupted when the chatter started again, only this time it was much closer and almost directly in front of me. It sounded like some one mumbling to themselves and I knew it had to be my man (or woman, although I thought this was unlikely by now). I flared with bursts of excitement as I headed closer to the sound, rushing through the trees branches and low bushes as I continued on the trail. They were cutting me up something fierce, but I didn’t care because at that moment I saw an opening amidst the branches. I made my way through it and fell to my knees with a hard thud as I tripped over a stray branch that caught my shoe just right.

Sharp needles dug into my palms as I hit the ground. “Ouch!” I said out loud in much more than a whisper. The flashlight slipped and launched a good couple feet away from me during the fall. I winced a little and returned to my feet, brushing the leaves and dirt off of my clothes. It was at this point that the environment had my full visual attention as I studied my surroundings with a deep, penetrating gaze. My mouth suddenly dropped. I was in a clearing, at least it appeared to be a clearing until I shined the flashlight down to my feet. My eyes accompanied my mouth and grew from astonishment. I had been walking on top of smashed bushes. All around me in almost a perfect circle 20 feet in diameter these bushes had been collapsed and laid down to create a perfect surface to walk on. It was utterly bewildering. I shined the light around some more with my continual countenance of pure awe which was now permanently attached. “This doesn’t just happen in the middle of a group of trees, someone made this.” I thought. Every bush had been pressed in exactly the same fashion as the next and snapped at the same height to create this perfect platform of shrubs.

I barely had time to wonder when I heard it, that mumbling again. It startled me this time. A shudder went through me like a bolt of lightning and I frantically pointed the flashlight in the direction of the noise. The blood drained from my face and I went completely cold. By the edge of this platform on the opposite side of where I was standing there stood someone with their back towards me. It was indeed, a man. He was wearing a collared shirt with the sleeves rolled up and black slacks. His arms were at his sides and I saw a trickle of blood running down his right one. His head was faced downwards and he remained perfectly still like a statue.

“Sir!” I called out. “Sir, are you alright?”
No response.
“I saw your car down there, were you in an accident? Are you hurt?”
Still no response.

I did nothing for a moment. I just stared at him waiting for some kind of communication, but I got none. Then it hit me again, hard. There was a pressure that rushed inside my head which felt like a million bees swirling around my brain. It was pressing on my shoulder blades, weighing me down almost to the point of collapse. Every part of me was screaming, pleading to get out of there. I was a hair away from bolting the other direction as fast as I could to my truck. Go! Run! “What the hell am I doing here?” the thought returned. I took another look at him. It was all wrong, just plain wrong. But I had to hold on a little longer, now was not the time for another internal argument. I brushed it off the best I could and began to walk forward towards him slowly, eyeing his frozen limbs with great caution. I heard the branches crunch beneath my feet.

“I…I’m bleeding.” he spoke. His voice was calm, soft but with a hint of something else. I have never heard anything like it.
“Yeah, you are. Looks like you’re hurting pretty bad, too. Why don’t you let me walk you down to my truck, it’s just down the road. We gotta get you to the hospital.” I pleaded with the man for any excuse to get away from this creep show.
“They…they got me.”
“Wh..who got you? Is that why you’re bleeding? Did someone a..attack y..you?” My voice was quivering and I was shaking all over. I could barely articulate my words.
“They think they can have this place but…”
“but…” He was heaving in deep breaths.
“but they’re wrong…”
“This one’s mine!!!” His voice deepened to something atrocious as he yelled.

The force of his scream flung me backwards and I fell on my ass dropping the flashlight. I got to my knees and began to fumble around like a frantic lunatic in hopes of recovering it. The bleeding man turned around slowly, walked closer to me, and leaned down a bit. I found, curled my fingers around, and immediately shined the flashlight in his face all in one fluent motion. I surprised myself with how fast my movements were which gave me a small sense of control amidst the chaos. And then as quickly as it came, the brief joy I felt had fled…what I saw paralyzed me to the spot. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t even breathe. There was the handle of a small knife sticking out of his eye socket which had been lodged into his head through his left eyeball. There were slimy chunks of white stuck to his cheek. He was peering at me through his one good eye. I was trying so hard to keep my thoughts together which had now become a jumbled blur. I was floating in the night sky. “There is no way he could still be alive after a wound like that, the blade must be halfway through his brain,” I thought. He gazed at me for a split second and with a raspy, low voice he leaned in closer and lividly shrieked “You’re all going to die!”

Just then his head starting jerking in short, rapid movements from side to side, impossibly fast. An inaudible gibberish began to come from his mouth which sounded like the mumbling I had heard earlier. In between a burst of jerks, he grinned forcefully to reveal a repulsive set of rotten teeth. His eye rolled back and his head was moving faster. The incoherent mumbling got louder and louder.

Before I knew it, my paralysis subsided and I was on my feet sprinting as fast as I could move while taking in heavy, deep breaths. I got back to the trail at lightning speed and took one look back to see if he was behind me. What I saw then, I will never forget. A beam of light appeared out of thin air and began to consume his body as he continued to go through his bizarre, terrifying episode. He stuck his legs in first, they disappeared and he began to lower his arms into it. Half of his torso and head were still sticking out while convulsing and spewing his incoherent babble. He roared and exhaled a stream of green vomit which flung around him in a circle as his head was spinning and splattered onto the collapsed bushes. I didn’t stop to watch any longer, I booked it as fast as my legs would go; down the trail to the side of the road I went until I saw my headlights. I jumped feet first into the truck, fumbled with putting the key in the ignition, heard the roar of those sweet six cylinders, jerked it into gear and with dirt roosting from my tires I was out of there.

It’s all over.

…..

The next morning I took a little trip to the gas station. Frank was sitting out front in his usual smoking chair puffing on a Marlboro red. He moved his gaze from the cement walkway as I saw the logo of his faded trucker hat with the two criss-crossed assault rifles ironed on the front jerk up towards me. He squirmed in his seat a little bit as I approached then forced a stupid smile. I parked my feet directly in front of him and stared into his aging, wrinkled face. I should have expected his loud-mouth to start gabbing before I could get a word in but somehow it still surprised and irritated me.

“Billy, how you doing brother,” his mouth moved as anxiously as he did in that aluminum chair he probably took from an outdoor furniture set. “Hey listen, I’m gonna need that drill for a little bit longer. You see, me and the wife are fixing up the barn and I thought I’d put some more shelves in. Say, what do you make of this? I could have sworn there were a whole mess of cigarette butts in this ash…”

“Where the hell were you last night?” I interrupted him. I was in no mood for his rambling, not today.
“Wha.. what are you talking bout?” He said, perturbed by my interruption.

“Last night, why did you close up the store so damn early?”
“Oh, well…some funny things was happening and me and Tom thought it best to just call it quits for the night.” He looked troubled when he spoke, with a slight wave of bewilderment and irritation. like I was trying to force some taboo topic from his mouth that he had thought he’d never have to actually bring up in conversation.
“Funny things?” I said. I was all nerves.

“Well, yeah. You see the power went out in the whole place about a quarter past 8. Couldn’t see a damn thing. Have no idea why, either. Tom checked all the breakers and they seemed to be in order.”
“So why didn’t you just pull out the generator?” I said. “People need their gas and smokes.” My mind was running and I was caressing the corner of my flannel shirt between my thumb and forefinger. He could tell things weren’t well in Billy Town. My face was ghostly pale, I knew from the glimpse I had caught of myself in the bathroom mirror before heading out, and black circles were starting to form under my eyes from the restless forty-five minutes of sleep I had gotten.
“Well, that’s just it,” he said. “Hadn’t been a car come up that road for nearly an hour. Usually that time of night is busier than hell with the folks commuting from work and what not.”
I met his stare while still caressing my shirt…
“You feelin alright Billy? You aint lookin your freshest this morning.” He said sounding genuinely concerned. “Looks like you had a meeting with the devil himself.” he followed his words with a nervous chuckle but didn’t take his eyes off of me.
My heart began to jump a little and I felt the shakes coming on. “I…I’m fine.” I said “Just…never mind. I’m gonna go grab a pack of smokes.” I suddenly realized I wasn’t in the mood for this.
“Well hold on now Billy, there’s something else too if you really wanna know.“ He said as he grabbed hold of my arm during my attempt to escape.
“Something else?” I managed to sound a little more enthused.
“Nah, forget it.” he said.
“Frank, what are you talking about?” I had to know now. Whatever it was it couldn’t do much more damage to my already fractured state of mind this morning.
He eyed me up and down with a look on his face that said you know what kid, fuck it, just go grab your cigarettes. I don‘t think you can handle what I have to say considering you look like you’re gonna go running behind those bushes like a scared puppy dog if so much as a loud car drives by. But after a long while he came out with it and when he was finished, the comfort of those bushes didn’t sound like a bad idea.
“Well, me and Tom just had this funny feeling,” he began. “You know how sometimes you just get a feeling, Billy? Like when you know something aint right? It was just this funny feeling that me and Tom both kept gettin…like….”
“Like what?” I asked, already knowing the answer.

“We couldn’t tell ya really, and looking back on it sounds kinda ridiculous now. But well…it was like we just shouldn’t be there.”
I gazed at him, flabbergasted. I couldn’t believe it.
“It didn‘t have something to do with that alarm going off, did it?” I asked with a hint of hopefulness in my voice.

“Alarm? What alarm? Hasn’t been an accident in the canyon for nearly 3 weeks.”

…..

I moved to Los Angeles 6 months after the whole thing and quit smoking. After my conversation with Fred I bought my cigarettes in a dazed panic and rushed back to the safety of my home where I locked all the doors and windows, drew the curtains, and dozed off into a few hours of dreamless sleep. I had anxiety issues for a few weeks and had to take some time off work. About five days into my vacation, a Jehovah’s Witness came to the door and I nearly had a heart attack; I guess they got the idea to start soliciting to the smaller towns in Los Angeles County which I can safely say they won’t be doing again, well at least the kid who came to my door won’t be. I’m sure he’ll door knocking in more populated areas from now on considering how fast he booked it out of here when he heard the cock of my 12 gauge shotgun letting him know I‘m not in the business to be opening my door to strangers; poor bastard made it to the end of my drive way in about two seconds flat. I kept thinking anybody and everybody was that…thing, in disguise. I turned my phone off and permanently moved my shotgun to the nook by the front door as well as kept my .45 pistol tucked into my pants while I pranced nervously around the house, checking the windows every five minutes. It sounds stupid now but I thought for sure it was going to come looking for me and I sure as hell wasn’t going to take any chances.

After about a month, I realized I was turning into a paranoid, reclusive, wreck and I hated myself for it so I decided to face my fear and take a drive down the canyon to that little spot where I had first seen the car. I parked the truck near it and got out to gather whatever information I could find. I wasn’t just facing my fears, I was looking for answers and by God did I have a lot of questions. Some tire tracks were vaguely visible in the dirt where my original meeting with the car had been but there’s no way they could have belonged to my truck or the busted up sedan, our tracks were long gone by then, blown away in the summer’s wind. The blood was gone too. I took a walk up the trail again, re-tracing my steps from that night. I never found the bush platform or the opening in the trees, or the “man” anywhere, it’s like he was never even there. That’s not to say it didn’t happen, I know what I saw. There was something on the road that night, I knew it and everybody else knew it. That’s why there wasn’t any cars because just like Frank, the people who usually travel that road had enough sense to stay away from it and take the freeway home. Some call it intuition; we all have those built-in alarms that draw us towards great and beautiful things as well as steer us clear from danger. They knew there was something evil in that canyon, some abomination. That’s what it was, an abomination. What I think, is that…thing, was calling someone or something that night to take it back home because it knew it had been bested and, god knows why, but for some reason I was susceptible to its call. I chose to ignore my instincts and it almost cost me my life. Anyways…I can’t do anything about it now but carry on living and learn from my mistakes. I have no reason to fear it for I know it’s gone far away from here. But you know, sometimes on the darkest of nights as I stare out my third floor apartment window at the late night city traffic, I get this funny feeling it wont be gone for long. And you know what? If it does happen to return and our paths do happen to cross again, I’ll be ready, and this time I won’t choose to ignore my inner alarms.

Green Valley Alarms 1

Green Valley Alarms 2

Green Valley Alarms 3

Green Valley Alarms 4

Credit To – Ryan Berg

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Walburton Park

August 13, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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Curtis held on to an unfulfilled joy for exploring.

The prospect of discovering new places always enthralled him, and often, whether he was just lazing around at home, slacking off during a lecture, or just hanging out on a sober night with his friends, he would often daydream of travelling the world to diverge himself in the vast cultures of many countries.

Unfortunately, he was unemployed and was still living in his home town after 21 years. Also, he came from a lower-middle class family who couldn’t afford many luxuries, especially in this lousy economy, and after all the CVs he had sent out, and all the interviews he had stressed himself through, he just couldn’t seem to get a full or part-time job, no matter what. He didn’t have the resources to travel to places abroad. He couldn’t even drive, so his options were limited even in his own local area.

His impatience and unrest to break free from the small town to explore the world was rapidly beginning to catch up with him, so he did his best to satisfy this need by walking the dog everyday. He would go to pathways and nature walks he had never walked before, explore forests and lakes that were well out beyond civilizations’ way, and climb up steep hills in the countryside and gaze around at square miles of fields, forests, and hills. If he was walking the dog through his local neighbourhood, he would even go into housing estates he had never been to before, just for a change of scenery; to see what the houses there looked like. He even had a peculiar habit of estimating the demographics of estates he visited, based on the type of houses they lived in and the cars they drove.

Today, he decided he would walk the dog by the nearby pond. Recently, he had been frequently going to a forest a few miles out, and he hadn’t walked the dog by that lake for around a fortnight now. The surroundings of the forest were starting to become all too familiar to him now, and seeing as Spring had just arrived, the scenery would not be changing anytime soon. The thirst for a change of scenery was really beginning to tickle his throat.

So he grabbed the leash, strapped it on to Sylvester (who heard the sounds of the leash being removed from the drawer, and in his usual response, ran eccentrically into the kitchen), and headed out to the nearby pond on an unusually scorching April afternoon. He walked by the row of identical houses that he lived on, imagining taking breathtaking pictures of giant castles in Germany. After that, he walked through tufts of grass and straws of chickweed at the rusty, abandoned railway road, dreaming of drinking bourbon in a red barn with people he just met in one of the rural states of The USA. Finally, before he crossed the road to the park where the pond was, he envisioned touring through the Southern French countryside, embracing the sweet smells of France’s wine country; he envisioned relaxing to the sound of oars splashing the water, while slowly sailing through the rippling canals of Venice; and he envisioned gazing up at the empowering pyramids of Ancient Egypt with the desert sun roasting his milk-pale skin and bleaching his brown curly hair.

Yet when he reached the lake, it only made him depressed that he would most likely not be visiting these countries anytime soon, and frustrated at the fact that after all the painstaking job-searching he had done, that he was still unemployed and lacked the resources to satisfy his travel-hungry mind. Trying to ignore his annoyance and to just enjoy the beautiful, sunny day, he approached the section of the path which started down a short but steep hill, and which diverged into a left path and a right path in the shape of a bident. From here, he could gaze at the rippling pond, sapphire in the flourishing sun; at the flat plains which surrounded it, deceivingly emerald on this bright April; and at the fancy new private hospital which had only been recently built. Looking at the colourful, sharp design of the hospital, his attention caught the entrance to a small housing estate which was located right beside it.

It was not that Curtis had never noticed this housing estate before, he had just never thought to journey into it. Walking by it all these months, he had only ever noticed two things about it; he had always seen its large green area just past the entrance, which had a single sycamore tree sprouting out from the middle; and the centre road, which all other lanes in the estate emerged from like branches from that tree. The main road of the estate had also been a hill, although its steepness had been rather more subtle than the sharp drop of the hill which he was standing on right now.

Curtis wondered whether the houses all looked different, or if they all looked the same. Perhaps there were sections to this estate, where the houses all looked the same in their own individual section, but the design of these housing sections were all unique. He wondered what brand of cars the neighbourhood in general owned, what their gardens looked like, and perhaps he could get to glance into the inside of their houses. Gathering all this information, he could try guess what kind of people lived in this estate. He yanked Sylvester’s leash, and trotted down the left path of the steep hill.

He crossed a small stone bridge over one of the stream which fed into the pond, took the path around the large, circular plain surrounding the pond, and started walking on the footpath beside the road. He continued walking until he was directly opposite of the entrance, waited for the two oncoming cars on either side of the road to pass, and jogged quickly across the road when the second car had driven by. Imitating Curtis, Sylvester sprinted ahead of him in a sudden burst of excitement.

“Walburton Park” was etched into a sparkling, light-grey boulder in all-capitals, which sat on a small patch of grass on the corner of the road. There were three houses on either side of the road at the entrance, and all six of them were small, white, two storey houses. After the houses was a cross roads. Down both the left turn and right turn, there were seven medium-sized, two-storey, redbrick houses on either side of the streets, totalling 34 houses at the entrance. The road continued on to a t-junction at the very back of the estate, and there, the right street was about equal length to the two streets at the entrance, and the left street was much longer than the rest of them.

The houses on of both these streets were nearly twice as big as the houses at the entrance. All houses were on one side, while the other side was a field separated by a line of old, large oak trees. They all had two main parts to them; one part was a white two-storey, while the other was a brown dormer bungalow. There were four of these houses on the right street, and another ten down on the left street. Before that, there were two green areas in between the crossroads and the houses at the t-junction. One was the clean-kept, well-maintained green area with the large sycamore tree spurting out from the middle that Curtis had always seen, whereas the other was a shaggy, overgrown green area with a swing-set and a slide, surrounded by three grey concrete walls. Curtis had never noticed this area before, despite all the times he had walked by this estate.

While Curtis was walking down the street observing the ten large white and brown houses, something odd occurred to him. As nice as this estate was, it was eerily quiet, and from what he had seen so far, was totally deserted. Of course there was nothing wrong with these quiet estates. In fact, if Curtis had noticed groups of hyper children playing around here, he would more likely have shied away from coming here in the first place. However, Curtis had not seen a single soul. No children out playing around the sycamore tree or on the swings, no middle-aged people sitting on their sofas watching television, or even any senior citizens out gardening, basking in the glorious sunshine. The quiet wasn’t just attributed by the absence of people out and about though; Curtis couldn’t even hear any cars driving on the main road he had crossed to get here, or on the road which he knew was beyond the fields and rows of tall oak trees. He didn’t hear the trees sway in the wind or even hear any birds tweeting. All he could hear was his own footsteps and the ringing of Sylvester’s collar as he trotted alongside him.

Curtis reached the end of the cul-de-sac, turned around, and decided to have a look at the four houses down at the other side of the estate. While walking, he looked up at the trees, swaying silently in the brisk spring wind. He noticed that grey clouds were beginning to quickly accumulate from what he guessed was a west-south-west direction. He checked the time on his phone. It was 15:30 exactly. He decided that he had enough time to have a look around the remaining streets of the housing estate, before making his way back home before four o’clock.

When Curtis reached the top of the right street, it looked as if the four houses here were exactly the same as the ten he had just observed. This street was slightly curved however, so he continued walking just to make sure that he wasn’t going to miss anything. Slowly, the hidden remnants of the last two houses emerged from behind the front two houses, and to his disappointment, Curtis found that they were in fact just the same as all twelve other houses at the back of this estate. This anti-climax, however, was short-lived, as almost immediately Curtis had noticed a sharp right turn just after the last house. Quickening his pace, he observed that this newfound section was identical to the two streets of two-storey redbrick houses at the entrance of the estate. Curtis looked back at his phone. 15:41. He walked forward, looking at the Volvo parked in the driveway of the first house on the right…

…and was then halted unexpectedly. Dazed for a very brief moment, he turned around to find Sylvester sitting down, all four of his paws pressed into the concrete.

Curtis jerked on the leash twice more, urging Sylvester to walk on with him. “C’mon boy! C’mon! C’mon Silver, c’mon!”

Sylvester continued to sit stubbornly, staring solemnly at Curtis with those wide, watery brown eyes. Curtis stared at him, defeated. Had Sylvester been a Chihuahua, a Jack Russell, or even a King Charles, he could have dragged him down the street easily enough, but he was a well-fed, sturdy Weimaraner, who Curtis knew would have put up a tough fight. Curtis whipped the leash up in the air feebly, then Sylvester sprang to a stand with his ears pricked, and followed Curtis away from the street of the hidden fourteen houses.

Curtis led Sylvester to what looked like a young Ash tree, growing amidst the old, looming oak trees. He tied the leash around it, and bent down to rub Sylvester reassuringly. Sylvester tried to lick at his face and sprang at Curtis, as he walked down the street away from him, but was jerked back by the tight knot which secured him to the tree.

Trying his best to avoid the guilt from Sylvester’s puppy eyes, Curtis walked along the middle of road, glancing at all the redbrick houses without looking back. All houses appeared in good condition on the outside, although a few had messy, unkept gardens. Curtis counted six of these gardens, five of which had at least one children’s toy recklessly skewed about somewhere. It reminded Curtis of the discomforting, empty, overgrown green area with the cheap slide and swing-set near the entrance of the estate. The remaining gardens had their edges and corners blemished with haphazard bunches of flowers, their colours vividly clashing, yet relievingly soothing to the eye. Their lawns were flatly even and fresh spring green, and one or two had a few rusty coloured tiles matching their redbrick house, just as a cherry on the icing.

Curtis reached the end of the cul-de-sac, marked by a mossy, grey concrete wall with long green grass at its bottom corner that towered at what Curtis assumed was at least 15ft tall. Following it up to the top, Curtis noticed that the sky was completely overcast with thick, light grey altostratus clouds. Fearing the small risk of rain, Curtis decided it was best to head home straight after this, also deciding to observe the types of cars on his way out. Looking around at a few Volkswagens and Hondas, and remembering that one Volvo at the very first house on the right (which was now the very last on the left), Curtis looked for the car at the house directly opposing that one. While doing so, the same eerie thought from before struck him from out-of-nowhere.

While it was weird enough to have absolutely no human activity on one stretch of housing in this estate, it was getting all too unnerving now for him that there was no people on this street either. Again there were no children playing, elderly gardening, and not even anyone sitting in their front rooms, from what Curtis could remember.

While approaching the left turn back onto the street at the back of the estate, Curtis noticed something stark that made him halt and recoil in swift panic.

Sylvester was gone.

Curt’s muscles intensified, he was breathing heavily, immediately sprinting, profusely panicking and cursing himself for leaving the dog all by himself. “SILVER. HERE BOY. COME HERE SILVER.” he said loudly and desperately while running at a sharp pace. He whistled thrice, and loudly called for him again. “HERE, SILVER SILVER SILVER. C’MON BOY.” He was approaching the turn when he began to shout for him, straining the muscles in his dry throat. “SILVER. SILVER. SIL-‘’

His shouting was brought to a halt, as sudden confusion washed away Curt’s fretting. He should have been running on the road between the oak trees and the large brown and white houses. However, unease was tingling down Curt’s spine, as he looked around at the redbrick houses, standing only a few feet away from the tall, mossy, grey concrete wall which marked the end of the street he had just turned away from.

Curtis was anxious, wondering how he had just unexpectedly hallucinated or daydreamed that whole fiasco. But as he looked back up to the top of the street, Curtis saw once more that Sylvester was nowhere to be found. Curtis sprinted again, his thoughts a little more collected and his worries pushed aside briefly. As he approached the turn for the second time, Curtis noticed that the leash was also missing, signalling to him that someone had found Sylvester and took–

He looked around at the redbrick houses, standing only a few feet away from the tall, mossy, grey concrete wall which marked the end of the street he had just turned away from.

Curtis was frightened. He had definitely not hallucinated that. ‘If I had, why would I be panting so much?’ he thought to himself. He sprinted once more, faster than the previous two times. He was fatigued, but he kept himself motivated by that thrive to break free from the seemingly-infinite maze. He was thinking to himself again. ‘Perhaps if I just try to glimpse at the white paint of the house around the co–

He looked around at the redbrick houses, standing only a few feet away from the tall, mossy, grey concrete wall which marked the end of the street he had just turned away from.

He was dreaming. He trembled fiercely and glanced around frantically, feeling like he was going to go blind if he stared at one thing for more than three seconds. His energy was absent from all the running, but he kept walking, doing-so rapidly while swirling his vision around in circles, his only motivation fear and despair. The Ash tree that Sylvester was tied to jumped back and lurched toward him every few seconds, like his rapidly beating pulse. His shaky legs attempted to pick up a jog once more. Trying to glimpse for one of the white houses again, he peered intensely through any gaps, blotches appearing quickly in his central vision while his outer vision blurred. When he couldn’t find even a hint of white housing in any gap anywhere on this street, Curtis clutched his head into his hand, flailing his legs into a chaotic run towards the left-turn, only hanging onto a thread of hope th–

He looked around at the redbrick houses, standing only a few feet away from the tall, mossy, grey concrete wall which marked the end of the street he had just turned away from.

Curtis lay down on the cold concrete in the shape of a foetus, burying his face into the warm, dark depths of his palms, his emotions latent on his pale, blank face apart from the wordless tears which gushed from his hazel eyes. He unintentionally scratched his brown curly hair against the harsh surface of the road, refusing to look at any of his surroundings. Curtis was surrounded by unchanging scenery, and total, maddening silence. There was not a single soul to share or polarize his never-ending suffering.

Hundreds. Hundreds of dead arms slowly materialized from beneath the nucleated evergreen trees where Curtis had submerged himself into. Rotting flesh, crusty and glistening, the colour of mixed pale grey and deep blue. From all floors on the houses; behind the numerous windows in all the large, white and brown houses, bodies of pale grey and faces of deep blue, with large circular black eyes, thin, stitched lips, and noseless faces, scratched softly at the window, sometimes drumming all five fingers on the glass. You couldn’t hear the sound, but the vibration left an echo in your chest, an echo so dense it was like a protected kick from a startled horse. Their vacant eyes spoke the messages that the muscles of their stitched mouths struggled to.

Sylvester snarled at the slow-moving arms, and barked viciously at the dead eyed children emerging from the sewer. Sylvester whined for Curtis to return, and with every passing minute, the sky turned an even deeper orange.

Sylvester pulled full force away from the black, dying tree. Each leaf that fell onto his back was scorching him. The deceased children swayed from side to side, slowly moving in on helpless Sylvester. Not a sound could be heard from anywhere, as Sylvester violently shook the leash which had bound him. Sylvester snarled and barked viciously once more, in a futile effort to intimidate the emotionless, dead children still swaying slowly toward him.

Sylvester turned away from them and then towards the tree. He walked backwards, until the leash was at its very-most strained. Then, he shook his head rapidly from side to side, tightening the grip of all four paws that were submerged into the muck. Slowly, the leash began to slide over his neck, the nylon scraping painfully at the back of his ears. The ball in his throat became rapidly swollen as he struggled to breath with the collar wrapped so tightly around it. The heavy friction made the collar slip past his ears extremely slowly, awfully anxious about the emotionless, dead children swaying toward him painfully slowly.

His vision blurred when his head jerked back violently and when the air flooded back into his lungs. The moment he released himself, a pale grey arm swung toward him and their rust-coloured, razor-sharp nails dug past his thin silver coat and into the soft tender flesh just above his hip. Sylvester yelped, then snarled and barked mercilessly at the noseless, stitched mouth, void-eyed, dead child, sinking his teeth into their ice-cold flesh. The child stalled and pulled away, with just enough time for Sylvester to dash away from them.

He galloped left, down the subtly steep hill. The orange sky swirled like a gyroscope right above him, but Sylvester never looked back once. He galloped towards the entrance, where a slit of light shone blindingly bright in the dead centre. Surrounding the blinding light, was nothing but total darkness. The pale grey, deep blue bodies of men, women, and children hung, gloomy and still, from the thickest branch of the withering, black, dying sycamore tree. Sylvester stopped to snarl and bark at the dissolving children sitting on the swings, and the eyeless men and women drumming their fingers on the windows from the small white houses at the entrance.

Sylvester continued running and running and running, running towards the blindingly bright light, until it was that, that was all he could see. At that moment, the entire world seemed to shift entirely onto one side, while Sylvester could see nothing but blindingly bright lights, hear absolutely nothing, and floated in the air, feeling gravity pull him to the left.

Sylvester landed onto his side, a sharp pain throbbing just above his hip, and a dull burning sensation all over his back. He barked a few times while his vision spun around dizzily in his mind. A few seconds later, after he rubbed at his eyes with both his front paws, Sylvester looked around him curiously, readying his teeth to snarl. Families of smiling adults and playful children were walking around the lakes with their noses and eyes in tact, and their mouths unstitched. Cars were driving on the roads and the sounds of birds tweeting and ducks quacking still echoed through the beautiful, sunny April afternoon. Sylvester loosened his jaw, and started to pant.

All that was missing was Curtis.

Credit To – CrashingCymbal

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They Came From the East

August 8, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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“They came from the east”, he said. A pot of malt ersatz coffee stood steaming on the table between us. We both took it black.

“Fearsome warriors on horseback they were, a fierce barbarian horde, the most lethal mercenary tribe to plunder and pillage Europe for centuries. They fought for the Russian Czars against the Poles you know, and then for the King of Sweden against the Russians. They fought the Turks and the Persians in turn. They fought Napoleon. They fought for anyone who promised them a country of their own. They were the Cossacks and they were feared by all.”

“I was 23 when they came to our valley”, he said. “Of course, everything was different then, it was 60 years ago after all.”

I looked out the window, the crags of the Dolomite mountains looming over the valley below us, shadowy in the twilight. Their house was perched by the steep edge of the tree-line, one of ten clustered around a small church. Barring indoor plumbing and electricity, time already seemed to have stood still. A city girl meeting her boyfriend’s parents for the first time, I had been startled by a sheep peering into the bathroom window that morning.

“I was one of the only boys left in Lienz. At the beginning all my friends volunteered, and I was eager to fight too, of course. But the army didn’t take me because of a goiter. Years later, it was different. They were rounding up everyone they could get their hands on, boys of twelve, thirteen. Grandfathers. I would’ve been drafted except for a tractor accident on my father’s farm.” I looked at his blunt carpenters hands folded on the checked tablecloth, and I wondered if his father had been equally capable … and practical-minded enough to manufacture a minor glitch in his machinery when called for.

“The fighting was all but over, the war had really been lost years ago. Now everyone left alive was fleeing west, trying to outrun the Soviets and reach the Allied zones. American was best, of course, but we all trusted the British too. At the time.”

What did you know? I wondered, and when? What of your neighbours? Did you believe the propaganda in the papers, on the radio? Did your priest preach of sacred duty to the fatherland? Did your mayor hang the swastika with pride? Growing up in Austria, you are taught to respect your elders, but whenever I see someone of that generation I always ask myself – what did you do to survive? Or rather, what did you not?

“Stalin had it in for the Cossacks especially. They’d been vicious in battle against the resistance partisans and they hated the Soviets. It was 1945 when they fled from Yugoslavia. They fought their way through to the British, who put them in an internment camp here on the river Drau. Enemy combatants, you see. Prisoners of war who surrendered voluntarily.”

What did they look like, the men? I asked. “Men? There were entire families. Husbands and fathers on horseback with their women and children trundling behind them in carts. Old and young alike. Defeated they were, but proud too. They’d been beaten before, and regrouped. And they were safe now, under Churchill. Or so they thought.”

Yalta, I remembered. The treaty, a betrayal to some, the salvation of Europe to others. Churchill, Stalin, and Roosevelt – men with moustaches, waistcoats and cigars, divvying up a continent with rulers. Most refugees who had fled the east were granted safe haven. The Cossacks, with their democratically elected leaders and their nomadic freedom, were not.

“They settled in happily enough here, for the most part. Made friends with the villagers, helped with the harvest. They were waiting to see where Churchill would resettle them. Perhaps they would have been happy to stay. They certainly didn’t bother us. But they were to be sent back to Russia to face execution. Cattle cars came to the train station, this time sent by the British. Soldiers encircled the valley, the internment camp, trying to round them up. We could hear them all the way up the mountain. The screaming. Men. Women. Horses. Mothers threw their babies into the river to drown and jumped in after them. Men cut their wrists as the soldiers dragged them toward the train tracks, trails of blood wending behind them.”

And you heard this? I ask, you saw? “Yes. Yes.”

A long silence. We gaze out the window to the mountains beyond, as if listening for echoes. “Those they caught were sent to the Soviet Union, where they were shot. The Communists executed men, women and children alike. But some, some managed to escape deportation. They hid in haylofts, scrambled up cliff faces to abandoned sheep sheds. The mountain farmers helped to shelter them if they could.”

Did any of you shelter anyone in the years before, I wondered. Other refugees, perhaps the very partisans hunted by the Cossacks and the Nazis? There had been only one Jewish family in the town of Lienz before the war, or so I’d read, and not one of them survived.

“But most of them” he continued, “ran away and hid in caves. The British spent months clambering about the mountains, searching for the ones that got away.” He chuckled briefly. “Those caves, some of them were crevasses, narrow slits between rock-faces. Some were no bigger than holes. Tricky to climb into, but even more difficult to get out again. Kossakenloecher – Cossack holes – we call them to this day. When we talk about them at all.”

He paused. I wished for a cigarette. “Because some of the holes aren’t empty. We had archaeologists here last summer, searching for remnants. A medal here, a belt buckle there. But they didn’t get very far, didn’t climb high enough, or stay the night.”

Another silence, more tense this time. Do you mean to say there are still bones? I asked. “Bones… it’s not their bones I worry about.” he replied, and crossed himself reflexively. “Some nights, when the stars are out and the moon is low, you hear the river screaming. And some nights, even closer, you hear the rocks scream back.”

He makes eye contact for the first time in what feels like forever. “We put you in the guest room” he says, “it has a balcony. It’s looking to be a lovely clear night.” I dutifully assure him that it is a lovely room, careful not to to mention I’ve taken down the various crosses and icons hung from the walls, a constant reminder of my status as godless-city-girl-evil-influence-on-beloved-son.

He grunts assent and, rising from his chair, bids me goodnight. “I’d lock the windows and doors before turning in if I were you.”

Credit To – cinekat

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The Junkyard

August 5, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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It was late into July when we decided to visit a place from our past. This would be one of the final nights we would all spend together as friends. There were five of us and we were soon to be going our separate ways. Cooper and I would be starting our college degrees in the fall, him across the state in East Tennessee, and I in Missouri. Lawrence and Amanda were a package deal. They were juniors and had been dating on and off since elementary school, for all the good that did them. They were often times arguing, but always seemed to make up one way or another. Finally, there was Hannah. She was two years younger than us, and the first week of August she was moving across the country. Her father was a software developer and after decades of struggling he was offered a job by some promising start-up company in Silicon Valley.

The week before Hannah was supposed to move she asked us to go out to the field and forest right off Old Union Road. It was a strange request coming from Hannah. She was never the one to suggest we hang out there, but she was always happy to accompany us, and considering the accident she had in the forest nearby, it was stranger still. Perhaps it was for the sake of nostalgia. We had grown up in those woods, playing in that field; there was no way we’d pass up one last chance to be kids together. We arrived at sunset. I parked my car at the top of the hill not far off the road. The field sloped down gradually until it ended at the edge of the thick forest. We spread out our blankets and laid out to stare at the heavens above us. After a couple hours, a lull in our conversation allowed my mind to wander. I turned my head and my eyes caught sight of the trees through the twilight. I began thinking about what lay beyond that tree line.

The initial outset of the forest was dense. A small path designed for a four-wheeler or Mule cut along the surface and followed the tree line. There was no see-able path deeper into the forest without traveling by foot. Many large trees had collapsed either near or across the path from time to time. The caretakers of the land would often drive through and clear the path, moving the large trees to the side. Over the years the build up of fallen debris had created a barrier re-enforced by gnarled branches, saplings, and bramble bushes. It wasn’t worth the effort trying to get a motorized vehicle over the mound, so we always traveled by foot once we got as deep as the path would allow. Besides, we knew it was pointless, as not much farther in was a narrow creek that cut deep into the earth. The easiest way across was a well-timed jump. Otherwise, it was a laborious descent down into ankle deep water and a messy climb out.

The trees of the forest become sparse once further in. That’s when you knew you were almost there. The small trees gave way to ancient oaks and pines that towered over the forest. The shrubs and bushes were mostly gone, and the ground was covered in moss, vines, and dead leaves. Barely visible was a large ridge in the distance at least 25 feet high. Originally a railroad lay on the top of that ridge and cut through these woods, ending in town, but that was many decades ago. Now the track was all but gone. A few ties were left behind, but the metal had been recycled into scrap, or so we thought.

The railroad wasn’t the most interesting part of the forest, however. It was what was at the base of the ridge, a small junkyard, or more appropriately, a dump spot. It wasn’t uncommon to find these places around the more rural parts of the county. You see, the railroad eventually intersected a road many more miles down to the east. The ridge was just wide enough for a truck to travel down, and although it was a very slow drive, it was much faster than driving across the county to the landfill. To the west, the track eventually ended in overgrowth deep into the forest.

The ridge sloped down at a near sheer drop. Some small trees sprouted up from out of the side, but nothing of any substantial growth. The only tree of any size that grew in the junkyard was at the bottom and dead center amongst the morass. The maple was still pretty young by the standards of the trees around it, but it’s bark was strangely dark, much darker than any other tree I had ever seen in the forest.

At the base, all manner of garbage could be found, anything ranging from soda cans to an entire washing machine that was half embedded in the dirt. Radiating out from the ridge, the junkyard formed a semicircle. It occurred to me that the structure of the junkyard was planned. At one point many summers ago we had found the intersection and followed it all the way in. From up above, the uncanniness of the semicircle could be seen. That same adventure ended with Hannah falling down a lesser part of the incline and spending a few weeks in the hospital. It wouldn’t be the last time we visited that place, but an unease about the junkyard would always remain etched into our minds.

Well all knew these woods well. We spent hours upon hours hanging out at the junkyard, just being naïve juveniles, until, of course, Hannah’s fall. We never really went back to the rubble. She had become frightened of the area, and most times it was enough just getting her past the creek. I remember it had been a couple years since I had seen the familiar rubble, but I caught a glimpse of it one late afternoon while we were trekking through. A pang of nostalgia struck me. Hannah urged us to turn back, so we complied.

Someone shifting on the blanket brought me back into the present. My eyes broke from the trees and returned to the stars. There we were, five of us laying out in the field. The forest was not far in front of us, and behind us, the nearest house was almost too far away to see except a small prick of light cutting across the tall grass. Faintly off in the distance I heard the familiar sounds of coyotes barking and howling deep in the woods. It was always an unsettling sound to me, but this time was even stranger. The cacophony continued for quite some time. After about twenty minutes I noticed something else was permeating the sounds of the coyotes, something slightly higher pitched and reminiscent of a bird. Kyuu, kyukuku, kyuuk, followed by a series of clicking noises. I seemed to be the only one that heard it at first. The coyote calls continued for a few more minutes, and then the strange sound happened again.

“What the hell was that?” asked Hannah.

I quickly replied, “I heard it, too, but earlier. I think it’s been happening since the coyotes started.”

“I think it’s some kind of bird,” said Lawrence unconvincingly. Through the darkness I could see his eyes shining, apprehension scrawled across his face. “Well, I think it’s time we when back and put on a movie. I’m bored,” but his voice betrayed him and cracked on the last word.

As we shuffled to stand and gathered the blankets, we heard a rushing sound in the tall grass behind us. Something had cut across between us and the car. Was it a coyote? I had never come face-to-face with a wild animal, especially a scavenger desperate enough to attack 5 of us. That’s when I heard the rushing coming from a different angle. It cut across our path again and all I could see was the tall grass waving in the moonlight. We were all frozen in fear. Had it been the same animal, or another? Almost in answer, the rustling happened again, but this time from two different points; they came to a halt in front of us. We were still at least 50 yards away from the car. The a pack of coyotes had circled around the field and cut us off. There was no way we could make it.

Some weird urge suddenly came to me. I felt exposed, I needed to get out of that field “The forest,” I croaked in a whisper. My chest was tight and I could feel the familiar pangs of heart palpitations incurred by my anxiety. I hadn’t blinked since the second rush. As my eyes flashed closed, I heard the rustle in front of us move forward and come to a stop. I was taken off guard and stumbled backwards. One of the girls let out a short cry. The sudden movement must have startled the animals in the grass as everything around us began moving and rustling. The dread set in completely now. We were surrounded in a wide arc with the forest as our only retreat.

I quickly stood back up when suddenly everything stopped, the light breeze ceased, the grass slowed…The silence enveloped us, and for a moment I thought I had gone deaf, but I was reassured by the sound of blood pumping through my ears.

Kyuu, kyukuku, kyuuk! The shrill cry pierced the silence. It was right in front of us. The animals in the grass were making these noises. Another responded from our left, and then another clicked multiple times from our right.

“Go,” I said exasperatedly. Lawrence spun and sprinted for the forest line, and we were all following close behind. As we approached the black towering trees I could hear the quick footfalls of an animal running parallel to me. I could even hear it’s labored breathing as it raced across the field with us. I lost control of my voice and I let out a guttural scream just as we entered into the darkness of the forest.

We passed through the first line of trees and ran perpendicularly across the Mule trail. My shin slammed into something hard and I felt myself falling. I crashed into a pile of logs and debris that were built up on the side of the path. The wind was forced out of my lungs and I clawed at the bark trying to drag myself over. Something warm wrapped around my wrist and arm and pulled hard. I slid over trees and rolled down the other side.

It was Cooper. He had pulled me over and I could barely make out his face but he had his index finger to his mouth. The other 3 had disappeared deeper into the woods. I heard something stirring back behind us at the tree line. I quietly rolled over and laid on my stomach to see over the barrier. Black four-legged figures paced back and forth in the moonlight. They had stopped at the treeline. Long fur hung off the creatures, but something was odd about the way it moved. There wasn’t a strong wind that night, but the fur moved back and forth like tendrils. These things that were hunting us were not coyotes.

“Where are the others?” I whispered, barely audibly. Cooper grabbed my shoulder and motioned for us to keep moving into the woods. I turned back to look at the creatures at the tree line. One slowly entered into the shadow of the canopy. It was wheezing and panting in strange uneven breaths. It kind of hopped forward and stopped on the Mule trail. My eyes got bigger as more of the animals entered the forest. Cooper tugged at my shoulder and I began pulling myself up. I placed my hand on a branch and I immediately knew it was dry and brittle, but before I could stop myself from applying my weight I felt the branch give way. A loud crack echoed briefly and the creatures chortled their strange sound and rushed into the woods.

We were sprinting again. It wasn’t much farther before we hit the creek, and I knew in this darkness and at this speed I was sure to miss the jump. Falling in would give the creatures enough time to catch up to us. Cooper was only a few feet ahead and very quickly I saw him leap. I estimated and leaped as well. The ground didn’t come up to meet me. Instead, I continued to fall.

I landed and my feet sank into mud up to my knees. The summer heat had mostly dried the creek up; all that was left was a soft sludge along the bottom. I looked around and Cooper was down there with me. He was laying prostrate. I didn’t have time to check if he was alive or dead. I laid in the mud as the rustling of the animals behind us grew louder. They were right on top of us. We were dead. We were dead, and no one knew it. How long would we be missing before anyone came looking? Would they even find our bodies?

The first creature to arrive at the bank leaped over and continued running. Then two or three more. Or was it four? How many of these things were there? As their panting and rustling dissipated I reached out for Cooper. His head was facing the opposite direction and I couldn’t make out if he was breathing in the darkness. My legs were still stuck and he was outside of my grasp. I stretch and writhed in the mud.

When my finger brushed his arm he recoiled violently. His head spun around to meet my own. He grabbed my arm once again and pulled. I could feel my legs coming free, but the suction of the mud ripped the shoes from my feet.

“Are they gone?” he asked. I had to lean down and nearly place my ear against his lips to hear his words. There was a quiver in his voice that made it difficult to completely understand him. “We have to go back and get help.”

“What about the others?” but my question was only met with horrified eyes waiting for the only thing he wanted to hear: a confirmation that we would leave the forest, that we would be safe. I couldn’t do that for him. Despite the overwhelming desire to flee, I couldn’t leave my friends in this hell. It would be nearly two hours before we could get help out here. I shook my head, not really convinced I was making the right choice.

A short whimper escaped Cooper’s lips and he stood. The forest had grown unnervingly quiet. I hoisted myself up and stood where the mud wouldn’t suck me down again. Cooper turned towards the bank in the direction of the car. “I’m sorry. God, I’m sorry.” He whispered and began climbing using twisted roots as steps. I did the same, but only on the opposite side.

“Cooper. You cannot leave us here. Get to the car, lock the doors, wait for us. Do not leave us,” I said as loud as I dare in hopes that I wouldn’t attract unwanted attention. Cooper did not respond.

Once we had both climbed out of the ditch I looked around towards the tree line. Only a few slivers of moonlight on the field could be seen if I looked at just the right angle. We were a ways in, but it was deeper still to the junkyard. Calm momentarily crept over me as once again memories of past summers flashed through my mind’s eye. If my friends had gone anywhere, it was there. Cooper had his back to me, but I knew exactly what he was doing: calculating the fastest way out of the forest.

A human shriek cut through the forest, and like a gun shot at a race, Cooper bolted away from me. But it was a short lived escape. He made it only about five feet before he stopped and made a choking sound like he had been hit in the throat. His hands shot up to his neck, grabbing at something I couldn’t see in the darkness. His head jerked up and he was quickly lifted into the trees with his arms flailing and his legs kicking. The scream that issued from him sounded like it was being pushed through his clenched jaws.

Kyuu, kyukukukukuku! It came from above and multiple other calls responded followed by a sea of clicking.

The creatures were in the limbs of the trees.

How had it grabbed Cooper and pulled him up and so high? They were medium sized animals, nothing larger than a Labrador and yet Cooper was gone, pulled into the blackness like a doll. His scream suddenly ended and I could hear the sound of liquid drizzling down into the branches and grass like rain running off a clogged gutter.

I twisted around and sprinted through the dense trees, small saplings tearing at my face and brambles attempting to snag me and bring me to the ground. Every time I brushed against a larger limb I pulled away, afraid that dark unseen hands were reaching out to grab me and pull me into the branches. Tears were streaming down my face and my chest was tighter than it ever had been before. It was like some enormous rubber band had been wrapped around me, and with each passing second it squeezed just a bit tighter. My breath was coming in short bursts and I could feel my vision becoming hazy. Of all the times to have a panic attack, this was both the worst and most fitting moment.

I pressed on for what seemed to be far too long. I should have reached the junkyard by now. I was exhausted. Pain from running had begun to form in my lower abdomen and my speed was decreasing. I could feel my steps becoming sloppy, but finally I noticed the forest had become thinner. A bramble wrapped across my ankle succeeded in tripping me up. I stumbled forward and fell to my knees. My hands came down hard on a rock and something sharp. I knew immediately I was bleeding.

I was still hyperventilating and my vision was blurred from the tears. My hearing was diminished by the rushing of blood through my ears. I couldn’t make out if any of the monsters had resumed their chase. My hands probed the rock, it was smooth, incredibly smooth except for a patch that felt like sandpaper that flaked off as my fingers ran over it. I quickly wiped my eyes and brought my face down low. It was a half buried washing machine, partly rusted, but mostly still covered in smooth white painted metal.

My breathing began to come under control. That’s when I heard the sobbing. I stood up quickly, reeling from being lightheaded, but I pushed through the rubble and into the semicircle. I tried to speak, but only a croaked moan came out.

Hannah screamed through her sobs. My eyes locked on her. She was sitting in the middle of the rubble with someone laying beside her. “Hannah? Oh, my god, thank god. Are you alright?” She didn’t respond. She only continued to cry. When I reached her it was like she hadn’t noticed me. She was holding Lawrence in her arms. His eyes were closed. I reached out and placed my hand on her shoulder. She jerked, released Lawrence and flailed. Her arms and hands struck my face, my chest, my arms. I bit back the pain and pulled her into an embrace.

“He’s dead. He died only a few minutes ago. Amanda was pulled down by the dogs. But they aren’t dogs, are they? Are they?!” She was still hysterical, but at least she was also coherent.
“No. I don’t know what they are.” Her face raised up and our eyes met. The moonlight danced off her tears.
“Their fur, it moves like hair underwater. And their hooks–”
“Hooks?” I hadn’t noticed any hooks on the creatures when I saw them at the treeline.

“The ones in the trees. They have these long arms that reach down, and their hands are large hooks, like what you hang meat on.” She began to tremble violently. “As we ran, Amanda fell behind. She doesn’t know these woods like we do. She called to us but I was too afraid to look back.” Hannah was crying harder now. “I heard her scream and then those things, I knew they had gotten her. It was only a few more feet before Lawrence caught his side on something, just under his armpit. He was pulled into the air and flipped sideways. He fell and I grabbed him. I don’t know why I stopped for him, but I saw it.”

Chills ran down my body. My arms and legs pricked up in goosebumps. I couldn’t look away from Hannah. She had regained some composer, but her eyes were hard. “Wha-” I began, but was cut off.

“It was covered in that black wavy fur. As it climbed down I could see its arms were incredibly long and where its hands should be were two hooks. It got so close to us. I couldn’t tell where it’s head ended and it’s body began. And it’s eyes. There were so many, like a spider, glossy red in the light.”

I couldn’t bring myself to say anything. My mind kept replaying the moment Cooper died. How his head snapped back and that terrible scream he loosed. One of the creature must have caught him in the throat or under his jaw. It was almost like these things were fishing for their prey.

“We managed to make it here,” Hannah continued. “Lawrence was still alive for awhile. He was bleeding so much. I—I couldn’t stop it. There was so much. All he kept asking me was if Amanda and I were fine. Oh, god, Patrick, what is going on?!” Her eyes finally broke from mine and she stared down at Lawrence, who I could see was pale from blood loss. The moon shining down gave him an ethereal quality.

I didn’t have the answers. I doubt anyone did. I suddenly became painfully aware of the silence that had been present since my arrival to the dump. “Have you heard them since you came inside the junkyard?” Hannah didn’t respond. “God dammit, Hannah! Have you heard them!?” Her head snapped back to mine and for a moment all there was in the forest, in this entire universe, was her face.

Kyuu, kyukuku, kyuuk!

The pain of my heart skipping pierced through my chest. For the first time since I had arrived I noticed Hannah had been leaning against the one tree in the center of junkyard. It was the maple with the darkest bark in the forest, and the animal call had come from directly above us. The rapid clicking of the creature filled my ears as I slowly looked up and met it’s glossy red eyes staring back at me.

Credit To – B.P. Gee

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