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A Story From the BlackGuard

April 14, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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Ah, Cyrus. From what I recall of him, he was quite the knowledgeable man, but had a most horrid sense of humor.

You see, the story I am about to tell you is rather… Confidential. Amongst the Mire we are known as Regiment 9. Throughout Regiment 9 we are known as the ‘BlackGuards’. But in the small circle of men and women who actually make up the organization, we call ourselves ‘the exterminators’. Led by the aforementioned Commander, Cyrus Fiendel, we were essentially tasked with getting rid of all the pests that Emperor Dravis didn’t want to deal with.

“Vampires and Werewolves are but fiction!” You cry in disbelief. Oh, but they are not, my friends! For we, the BlackGuard, are the ones who keep them from your eyes! Throughout all of training I was told it was a most important task, keeping these beasts and terrible creatures contained to Ares and not to touch the enigmatic planet known as ‘Earth’. But throughout the years, they got through. Those times were especially difficult, considering a team had to be sent to the planet itself in order to get rid of them.

Much to your dissatisfaction, I’m certain, I was not given the honor of partaking in a Hunt. Instead, I will tell you of the time we encountered a most ferocious beast of the night. A Shapeshifter!

It was but two short months after I had joined the Guard, and situated in the capital of Nation 9, it was a rather high class of living compared to the peasants below that Emperor Dravis had created. Not to speak of politics, because I tend to ramble, but our new Emperor was hardly an apt ruler. Many were dissatisfied with the state the Mire was in, and I have the distinct feeling Cyrus was one of them, as the first words he spoke to us that day were…
“Gentlemen, and women, the Emperor once again requires us to take out his trash!”
We all stood in a line in the hotel lobby, which had been cleared of all others not too long ago. Our obsidian uniforms certainly must have looked quite intimidating, covering our bodies from head to toe and lined with all manner of different pockets, many of which contained a vast assortment of weaponry. These uniforms were primarily created from hardened leather, strong enough to block shrapnel and perhaps a glancing blow from a blade while still allowing us the mobility that was so desperately needed. A little uncomfortable to be worn at first, but you grew used to them with time.
Cyrus wore much different attire. He had a particular fondness for dark clothing, bearing a inky black cloak with odd brownish crimson stripes up and down the torn up thing. Many of us theorized they were from the blood of his enemies, victory marks if you will. Indeed, it sounded a most sound assumption based on his reputation and appearance.

Our commander was immortal, you see. Not unkillable, no, but if he was left be for long enough, age could never claim him. For years and years he had the same dark red eyes and needly black hair that covered his head. The eyes tended to bore into you even with a passing glance. There was most definitely a difference between standard red eyes and those Cyrus had, but none of us could really explain it. Besides this, the man had a flair for the formal. Black dress pants, black dress shoes, and pale white skin to conflict it all. Quite an eccentric looking person, and to top it all off he was just shy of five foot ten, by the looks of it. Perhaps twenty five years of age was visible on him.

His tone was a harsh and authoritative one, quite fitting for someone in his position. None of us dared to disobey him.
“Right here in our capital lurks what is known as a ‘shapeshifter.’ We assume that it intends to reach the Scrye, and your duty and mine is to find and stop it!”
The Scrye, if you were unaware, was the entrance to Earth. An odd rift in time and space that had created a link between our worlds. There were many Scrye on Ares, and perhaps more on Earth, but cities tended to be built around them in order to make the implementation of Earthly technology a smoother process.

Typically, our missions tended to send us into the plains of Nation 3, or the tropics of Nation 5. But tonight, it was happening in my own home Nation! It made me feel a little patriotic, I admit. I was not about to let any nefarious beast tarnish the honor of my homelands!
“The creature was last seen at the Ferego hotel just across from here. Your mission will be to observe the scene, and track down the creature. I advise you all keep on your toes, as intel suggests it is very capable of taking different forms.” Cyrus continued, pacing up and down the polished marble below. “I will also warn you that the scene in question is quite disturbing. I trust you are prepared to see such a thing, however. With that in mind, you are now free to operate within proper protocol limits. If you wish to speak with me, I will be having a chat with the owner of the Ferego. Dismissed.”
We all raised an obedient salute and scattered after this. My hand immediately fell to my flintlock. Not just an ordinary Anti-Cambria flintlock, I will say, but an exquisite work of Imperial craftsmanship. It was furnished a dull grey from polished Golenwood, and bore golden steel at the muzzle, trigger and hammer areas. The weapon fired silver ammunition, as opposed to the standard ice, fire, acid and regular shot of Regimental flintlocks. Quite effective against monsters, I must say. We were also issued brilliant sabres, also bearing a thin coating of silver above the steel. The handle contained a spiraling golden grip and rounded handguard. Both of these weapons were designed more to fell creatures as opposed to a fellow man, but we were also issued a selection of grenades and knives just in case we ran into some pesky humans on the way.

In our missions, we most often utilized our knowledge of the Cambrian language to win the day. Enlisting in the BlackGuard meant going through extensive courses to learn the essential words, but they ended up being about as helpful as advertised. A burst of speed, a blast of fire, or a protective barrier were often far more useful than the pistol or sabre.

But even with all this in our arsenal, what we faced that night was far more terrifying and dangerous than we could ever have imagined. While most monsters were primal and animalistic, shapeshifters were by far the most intelligent… And deadly.

People soon began making their way out the automatic doors at the entrance. This also included me, of course, reassured by the flintlock my left hand grasped. It was quite muggy that evening, hardly hot in any sense, but certainly a most humid climate. Nation 9 is a semi-tropical one, you see, and this kind of weather I had come to expect from the outdoors. Palmettos and palm trees had been planted outside to provide a greater sense of that tropical atmosphere to those who vacationed here in their spare time, planted in rich brown soil. I always thought that many places on Earth looked quite the same, but we have our differences, of course.

For one, I could hardly imagine a night sky without two glowing moons! Something would just feel rather empty about that, wouldn’t you agree? Anyways, moving on with my story. I had gotten to know a few people on the BlackGuard quite well, and one of these included a rather chubby fellow with a bald head named ‘Sledge’. Or at least nicknamed that, since nobody actually knew his real name. Sledge was a blunt person in a conversation, but had a sort of charisma about him that made his rashness quite bearable. I had originally met the man during training, and we became fast friends after this, me and him, and I soon discerned that he was from a family of bakers in the countryside who had sent him to the BlackGuard in order to rake in the extra money needed to survive out there.

He never really complained about it, and from what I saw he enjoyed killing monsters. It may sound quite sadistic indeed, but I assure you that there is a sort of primitive joy to destroying the things you had nightmares of. The BlackGuard tended to thrive on this joy as a means of morale. And it worked, for the most part. Sledge began walking in sync with me on the pavement, keeping his face in front of him as he spoke.
“I’d say it’s best to stay together,” the man began in his deep voice, “shapeshifters are not to be trifled with one by one.”
I nodded in agreement, eyes gazing past the small street and taking in a most marvelous looking establishment.

A warm glow came from within the multitude of windows, and the building itself had been made from a mixture of golden decorations and marble. A most lavish hotel, especially compared to the one we had stayed in! The Regimental army lurked on the outside, and had set up a sort of blockade around all corners of the building. They held muskets, flintlocks and sabres and all seemed to be on edge for whatever reason. I suppose their bright blue uniforms would make them easier targets to prey upon, though. Cyrus was lingering back from now, but he was known to get wherever he wanted to go quite quickly, so I did not fret.

“It’s a real mess in there, folks.” A man in a black cap told us, scratching behind his neck uncomfortably. He was the unit leader, so both me and Sledge thought it appropriate to begin our investigation with him.
“Who was the one who was murdered?”
I asked, trying to sound as official as possible.
“A politician named Lauren Welsche. She had been travelling about the Nation for some time now, campaigning for a tax reduction for the lower class.”
I had pulled out a small notebook and clicked my pen open. Once the information had been recorded, I moved on.
“Cause of death?”
“Probably either from being torn apart or impalement through the left eye. Take your pick.”
A little fear arose in me as I jotted this down, I must say. I thanked the man and walked past the barricade of soldiers who were present, along with Sledge, who had remained silent during the previous conversation.

From my previous briefing, I knew that everyone staying in the inn was forced to stay there for the investigation. A smart move in most cases, but with a shapeshifter on the loose? A little dangerous. I drew my sword with a metallic ring, and kept it at my side close at hand, just in case. And not because I was scared, I might add! The doors were rotating this time, and not the electric ones in the other hotel. They were coated in golden metal that I’m quite certain was not actual gold, and had a window-like portion on them as well. As the two of us passed through them, we both stopped to take in the beauty of the lobby before us. The carpet was a crimson red, and the walls made from the finest lavender materials I had seen in a long time. A miniature waterfall was mounted a little further in, and poured an endless supply of the liquid while being attached to what I now refer to as the ‘east wall’. There was plenty of black leather furniture, such as couches and seats, that sat towards the west hall, opposite a small fireplace.

Directly in front of us was the booking section, complete with a dark marble bar table and wooden key slots. A paranoid looking man with sweat running down his face stood behind this, and seemed to be infinitely more comfortable when he saw us walking towards him. Other members of the Guard were also questioning people outside, or spreading out through the lobby, but Sledge and I were the first ones to reach the man at the counter.
“Thank the Lord and Lady!” He exclaimed in what a resident of Earth may call a ‘French’ accent.
“You’re safe now, my good man. I will need you to answer a few questions, however.”
I responded casually, to be met by vigorous nods.
“Yes, sir. Whatever it is you want to ask me?”
“First off, where did the killing take place?”
“Room 135,” he responded in a suddenly subdued manner, “I saw the thing…”
“What did it look like?”

The worker looked from left to right quickly, as if he was afraid of being watched, but soon spoke.
“It is a horrible creature… White skin! Very white! But paler than normal white. Its eyes were massive, and completely black.”
“Anything else?”
He nodded again.
“More than six feet tall. Thin. It had a backbone that acted as a tail, and three taloned claws! The teeth were needles, sirs, but covered in blood. You must kill it!”
He plead desperately. Sledge and I looked to each other briefly, and I’m quite sure we both had the same look of slight worry on our faces. Regardless, we had both fought other creatures and for all we knew, this one was just another target.
“Trust me,” Sledge started, “we’ll kill it dead.”

The trip to room 135 was an uneventful one. The hallways had the same red velvet carpet and lavender walls, with lamps lighting the way through them. Oddly enough, the air had quite a musty smell to it that made me cringe in displeasure.
“How could such a well kept place smell so vile?”
I thought out loud.
“I’d say because someone was murdered, but yeah. It has a pretty ‘oldish’ scent to it.”
Sledge agreed in a monotone. Thankfully, the death had occurred upon the first floor, so we were able to steer clear of the elevator. When dealing with a shapeshifter, they would probably be quite dangerous locations.
The room was appropriately marked by a dark red splatter of crimson that had bled into the similar colored carpet… No pun intended there. Mahogany door was ajar, and the trail of blood led into the room in question. The two of us only hesitated long enough to ready our weapons, and entered the room using our training methods.

One of us stayed towards the back with a drawn flintlock while one either bashed down the door or simply entered, a sabre in hand. This all was done smoothly, and with two people was easy to execute. The blood continued aways, and led to a sprawled out corpse of a middle aged woman. A look of terror was across her face, and blood took up a good portion of it now… Leaking from her left eye. The room around her looked pretty standard, and as lavish as one could imagine a lavish room to appear. Blood had been thrown everywhere, so clearly this beast didn’t like making messy kills.
“Multiple chest punctures. She probably was still alive when the eye was hit, though.”
Sledge observed, coming from behind me and stooping over the lifeless body. I quickly prepared my Cambrian knowledge and uttered a spell to aid the investigation.
“Spei-Luk.”
Two words was strong enough a combination to get the job done. ‘Spei’ meaning ‘see’ and ‘Luk’ meaning ‘all’. I put my palm out before me, and a yellow tinted, dusty wave fell across the body like fog from a fog machine rolling over terrain. As the dust cleared, a few choice bits glowed a bright red. I felt a little chill as some of my life energy left me in exchange for the spell, but two words was a trifling matter.

The first thing I noticed was a silver locket that was being clutched in the woman’s right hand. I quickly removed it and opened it up, knowing fingerprints of a shapeshifter were hardly useful.
“Seems like she was a married woman,” I sighed with a frown upon my face, “why would a shapeshifter be after her?”
“Its goal is to reach the Scrye,” replied Sledge, “at least that was what we were told. This woman must have been preventing it from getting there.”
The picture of her husband was a little blurry, and in black and white. I put the locket in my pocket and moved to the next glowing object, which was a piece of paper a few feet away. I began reading it, and quickly found the ink was faded, and paper even more so. Astonishingly, it appeared about a hundred years old.
“By sight the curse is given. By blindness removed.”
Cryptic to say the least, and neither Sledge nor I knew quite what to think of it.
“Keep searching for clues, I’ll take those two to the investigator in the meantime and see if we can get some more info.”
He said.
“That would be a most terrible idea,” I started, shaking my head, “We need to be together at all times when dealing with something like this.”
“Before I enter, the first thing I’ll say will be ‘Mayflower’. That way you’ll know it’s me.”

Looking back, I should have stopped him. But at the time, I felt that his plan was simple and effective. But there were things you just couldn’t account for, I suppose. I handed over the two artifacts and resumed my search. My eyes fell upon a purse, also glowing red, and upon opening it up I found there was only one item inside. A flintlock pistol of poor design, with wood that was rough to the touch and partially rusted metal components. I turned the weapon over in my hands, and looked through the purse again only to find nothing. Was the gun loaded? I pulled back the metal slider on the side and found an odd bullet lodged within the chamber. Most flintlock bullets were color coded, red being incendiary, whitish blue being ice, green being acid, and black a regular bullet. This one was a transparent yellow color in everywhere but the rear, which was still yellow but not see through. Upon closer inspection, an orange tinted liquid bubbled within the upper end incessantly. What could that possibly be?

Needless to say, I also pocketed this and just as I was about to do likewise with the pistol I heard the familiar voice of Sledge just outside.
“Mayflower.”
I opened the door, half expecting to see some kind of beast, but to my relief all I saw was the face of my comrade. “Found anything else?”
“Yeah. This crappy pistol and a-.”
“-Say no more, I’ll take this back to the investigator and you can tell me the rest when I get back.”
He snatched the weapon from my hands quite quickly, and I couldn’t help but think it rude that he would do such a thing. I made my displeasure known with a sour face, but Sledge tended to do these kinds of things regularly so it was hardly an unnatural occurrence.

As Sledge left, the door slammed shut behind him rather violently. Was he angry at me or something? I sure hoped not, and tried thinking of what I could have possibly done in order to upset him like this. But no sooner had these thoughts entered my head, when I heard his voice once again just thirty seconds later.
“Mayflower.”
I opened the door, and allowed him in again. Sledge sighed, and leaned against the wall beside the door frame.
“They’re analyzing the locket and note. It’ll be about a half hour. People are splitting into groups now, and we’re in charge of collecting clues I guess.”
He didn’t sound put off at all, and I raised a suspicious eyebrow.
“You forgot to take this bullet with you.”
I spoke, holding it out to him between my thumb and pointer finger.
“Where did you find that?”
My look of bewilderment only increased.
“… The gun.”
“What gun?”

A chill ran down my spine.

Needless to say, we both were quite rattled by what had happened. My blood ran cold, and I fished for any excuse possible to get out of the room.
“Let’s uh… Let’s talk to the man in the lobby again.”
Sledge readily agreed, and we departed within the minute. We both had weapons drawn as we made our way through the hallway, and only relaxed when we re-entered it and found Cyrus speaking with a thin man in a suit and tie towards the center area. We were unsure of whether or not to interrupt their conversation, but eventually decided to do so upon finding an opportunity.
“-And they expect me to give them money for a murder?! It is preposterous!”
The hotel manager exclaimed, voice tinged with annoyance.
“Shouldn’t be necessary. If our investigation doesn’t turn anything else up, no payment will be required.”
Cyrus replied formally. I chose the brief pause after this to speak.
“We have investigated the murder, sir.”
The commander turned his whole body to look at us, face looking quite unamused.
“… And?”
Those two ruby orbs were like lasers. I quickly evaded making eye contact and replied.
“Well… I believe we found the shapeshifter, sir.”
“… And?”
“He took something. A flintlock sir.”
“How?”
“Well, Sledge here was bringing some evidence in and…”
“-Very well, resume your investigation, Mr. Cedric.”
He interrupted, face briefly lightening up and turning back to the manager to resume his talk. Both Sledge and I slowly turned to look at each other, and we both appeared petrified to be going back in so soon.

Cyrus clearly knew what was going on, and since this was a training mission he wouldn’t provide assistance unless absolutely necessary… Even if it meant our lives. A few other members of the Guard were skulking about the lobby, and I began wondering if I should just try and do as they were without attempting to find the shapeshifter that had so recently paid me a visit.
“So what now?”
Asked Sledge, face returning to its normally firm and tough looking one. I rightly didn’t know, but decided talking with the worker from before would be a decent idea.
I stated my plan to my companion, and we were off. But when we approached the counter, we found nobody there. Leaving where you were told to be during a BlackGuard investigation is a most terrible offence, and it also raised the question of how the good commander had not noticed his departure.

“Our options appear to be quite limited,” I began with concern written upon my countenance, “from now on we mustn’t leave each other!”
Perhaps I was stating the obvious, but I didn’t want to risk having another encounter with the creature again while it posed as my friend. That was for certain. At least we knew the general area the thing was in, and that was closeby.
“How’s about we search for that worker. I think he knows more than he told us.”
Sledge suggested with a shrug. Not having any other ideas in mind, I obliged and soon we were skulking through the hallways once again. I found it a little odd that out of the twenty Guardsmen who had been on this mission, I hadn’t been seeing too many of them around. But I assumed that was because they were searching the other floors, which was quite a logical conclusion. In about a half hour I was also thinking of seeing the results of the testing on the items I had found previously, hoping they would give us some more valuable hints later down the road.

As Sledge and I approached a staircase that led to the second floor, both of us stopped upon hearing an odd noise… A hollow noise that seemed to be coming from the very walls themselves. It was a rough scratching sound that paused every couple of seconds and then resumed in an almost methodical way. It only took place for about twenty seconds before ceasing permanently.
“What the devil…”
I muttered. The two of us quickly turned our attention to this new development, and began looking into finding a way to where the sound was coming from. From what I had gathered, it was a little ways into the wall and perhaps occurring from below… The basement, of course!

Our short trip took us down a hallway opposite the staircase, and soon we came upon a thin wooden door with a plaque reading ‘basement’ next to it. The door was locked, but I soon fixed this with a quick uttering.
“Linkil-Brik.”
I spoke, hand upon the doorknob. There was a click, and the knob turned without protest afterwards. Out of the two of us, Sledge was stronger in a physical sense, but I was more able to use Cambria. Another chill ran down me upon the use of the spell, but I ignored it and began walking down a flight of stairs. Our weapons were drawn similarly to how they were before as we descended into a murky abyss, and I couldn’t spy a light nearby. This forced me to utter yet another two words.
“Illi-Obsid.”
There was a brief flash, and the room was lit as it would be if proper lights had been installed apart from the solitary bulb that hung towards the center. I stumbled a little, the chill growing greater. My palms were beginning to get that feeling one experiences when awaking after sleeping on their arm.
“You okay?”
“Yeah.”
I answered, adjusting myself and hoping I wouldn’t have to utilize any more Words tonight.

Our surroundings were all comprised of thick concrete. A dull grey, including the debris laden ground beneath me. It was far colder down here as well, and I’m quite sure it wasn’t because I had used three spells tonight. To our surprise, we weren’t alone here either.
“… Hello.”
The voice of an old woman rang out. Sledge and I traced the source to a figure standing stiffly just below the lightbulb at the room’s center.
“Hello. We are looking for the source of a scratching noise, madam.”
I replied before Sledge had his opportunity to make an insult in the form of a question. She looked us over, an unsettling grin on her wrinkly, warty face.
“Scratching? Back room. Is in back room hehe.”
Her hand pointed to her right and another door located there. We were both quite suspicious of this seemingly random old lady as we approached the door she told us of.
“Maintenance room… Do not touch!”
We nodded, keeping our eyes on her as Sledge opened the door. The old woman grunted and walked towards one on the opposite wall as if nothing happened.

The first thing I remember from entering this room was the unholy smell. It was vile, rank and frankly disgusting. In fact, it had a similar odor to the musty smell from before. Except stronger…
“Holy shit…”
Mused Sledge, staring at something on the floor blankly. I hesitated to gaze at whatever it was, but curiosity got the better of me. My eyes widened as the corpse of the accented man from before appeared on the ground. A similar look of fear was on his face, left eye once again being punctured and bearing nearly identical wounds when compared to the previous victim. So that explained where he had gone off to, at least, but the small amount of fear inside me was beginning to build upon itself.

The kill looked fresh, probably occurring just ten minutes prior to our arrival, and it was likely that the scratching noise was his body being dragged there by someone… Or something. I was about to begin searching the room for further clues, when a deafening crack sounded from above. It was followed by muffled screams and the shuffling of feet.

More shots rang out, and before we knew it Sledge and I were sprinting towards the staircase and past the oblivious old woman who was still fumbling at the door. We both flew out the door and down the hallway, turning left to find a most terrible sight before us. Bodies had been thrown across the ground haphazardly. All impaled in the chest multiple times, and all bearing a puncture through their left eyes. Blood stained the floor and walls, and it appeared nobody was alive within the area. We both cringed upon looking at the scene, and we quickly came to the conclusion that a patrol had encountered the beast… And ended up being dispatched. Their flintlocks were either scattered around or still in their crimson stained hands. More fear on their faces.

But I suppose the most frightening detail there was amongst this carnage was the fact both of our names had been scrawled messily upon the floor, in a dark red.

We knew too much, despite knowing hardly anything at all.

Both Sledge and I knew that we had a lot to deduce if we were to make it through this alive.

First, and perhaps most obvious, was that we had to watch our backs to stop from being ambushed by this creature… Which was probably keeping us alive either for its amusement or some other reason that I couldn’t quite put a finger on. A few other members of the Guard arrived about a minute later, and looked upon the scene with the same fear we had upon our faces when we discovered it. Cyrus was called in, and he showed no signs of realizing that three people had just been brutally killed, walking past them and standing before me with crossed arms.
“Your names are on the ground…”
He stated plainly. Everyone around us was watching in anticipation for what would happen next. I nodded at the commander.
“We don’t know why, sir. We were in the basement when we heard this terrible ruckus, and ran upstairs to investigate!”
“Yes, and I was in the lobby having a lovely conversation about fine wine when I heard the terrible ruckus. I want to know why you think your names are on the ground right now in blood.”
“Like I said, sir,” I started with a lost shake of my head, “We do not know.”

Cyrus scoffed and turned around, hands upon his hips and face awash with frustration.
“Someone get the bodies outside, we’ll have to make the arrangements concerning the burial after this mission concludes. And you two wait for the evidence you found to be analyzed outside. Hopefully this thing will stop killing my men if you aren’t near it.”
A bit too much to expect, but we didn’t complain. As we walked back towards the lobby, faces ghostly white, I pondered that this shapeshifter was moving and attacking with frightening speed. As if it had something planned out ahead of time. Adding to our apprehension was the fact it could take the form of anyone and impersonate them with ease. That woman in the basement was suspicious, but must not have been the monster if she was trying to open a door as we went to investigate. We could never know for sure where it was.

Outside, more and more soldiers were beginning to show up. As if an army was inside that building we had just been in. The man with the black cap from before was the one Sledge had gone too, according to what he told me on the way out, and we approached him without hesitation.
“Have you found out anything else about the items?”
Sledge asked.
“As a matter of fact, yes. There was a note inside the locket, and that old piece of paper actually originated from Nation 4.”
I asked to see the note they had found, and was led to a small plastic table that a young looking woman sat behind, staring through a microscope and observing the ancient paper with the cryptic message. Beside the scope was a thin bit of parchment beside the locket, and I promptly picked it up. The writing was messy, but I was able to tell what the words said.
“Bullet to break the curse. If I fail, shoot it with bullet. It watches from the dark. Good luck.”

With this new information, I removed the yellow projectile from my pocket and looked it over again. I knew what had to be done, and also took out my flintlock.
“What are you doing?!”
Asked Sledge. I could tell he knew what I was doing, but was just surprised that I was willing to believe what was on the note.
“We’re killing this thing. And this bullet must be the reason we’re not dead yet.”
It had been afraid of the bullet it had forgotten to take with the gun. This was why it had not killed us. Why it had not killed me in the room of the crime scene was still unknown to me, but I now knew that I had a huge advantage.

My hand removed the whitish blue ice bullet from the chamber and replaced it with the yellow one, closing the chamber and cocking the hammer.
“Let’s go, before someone else dies.”
We walked into that hotel again feeling much more confident, and I had to refrain from leaking a smile as my boots took root on the scarlet carpet within the revolving doors again. I had deduced something else from the note we had found, and I think it answered the question regarding how it could get around so fast. It was the vents. The scratching noise we had heard from within the walls was from the vents, and not the basement all along. It lurked in the shadows, watching and waiting for an opportunity to strike. Just thinking about it made me feel uncomfortable, as it was probably watching our every move from within the vents ever since we had arrived.

The manager was standing towards the center of the room, back to us. We approached him and spoke out without any delay.
“Hello, sir.”
He jerked, and turned to face us with a sour expression.
“What do you want?”
“I would greatly appreciate it if you could turn up the heat in the ventilation system… By a lot.”

We quickly explained our reasoning and watched as he moved to a panel on the western lobby wall. He quickly input a combination, and tapped a small screen a few times and soon the whole building rumbled for a moment as the heating systems came to life. My nerves returned to me upon realizing that the shapeshifter would be forced to leave its home and wander the hallways in just minutes. When that happened one of two things would take place.

Either it took on the form of someone else and kept to the shadows, or it went in guns ablazing… At us.

We spent the time making sure all are weapons and gear were ready, and I removed a test tube filled with blue liquid from a coat pocket and downed it. The substance tasted foul, but I felt an invigorating surge of strength just a minute later. This state-of-the-art liquid could restore one’s Cambria in seconds, and I wanted to be ready if push came to shove. Which I knew it would.
“If we don’t leave here alive, I want you to know that your potato salad sucks ass.”
Sledge grumbled. I chuckled a little at the comment.
“Never was much of a cook, but you never were much of a thinking man.”
“Fair enough.”
The manager began walking towards the doorway after a while, stating that he wasn’t about to die in his own establishment. I couldn’t blame him for doing so, and I just hoped my plan would be enough to kill the monster.

The five minutes after that were excruciatingly long, but soon there was an unearthly roar from the distance and a fearsome thumping taking place from inside the walls. We readied our weapons, but that was when the worst possible thing happened.

Every light in the entire building went out, and we became engulfed in pitch black.

We knew we had reached a big turning point when the lights went out. There was no going back from here.

Cyrus would probably be quite angry at us for causing this to happen so suddenly, but it was a gambit we were willing to take to make sure this nightmare was ended before it began. Little did we know, we were in the epicenter of it already.

There was a faint shuffling in the west hall, and I knew it would be best to start our hunt there.
“Lumi.”
An orb of orange light shined above our heads when I cast the spell. It may have made us a more noticeable target, but we would need visibility to be good if we were to stand a chance of killing the creature. We pressed on, beginning to sweat both from nerves and the heat beginning to spill into the area from the ventilation. My eyes darted all around me as we walked, and every shadow no matter how big or small, looked like a figure at first glance. Nothing really happened until we reached the staircase and heard heavy footfalls from just above us on the second floor… Thump… Thump… Thump… And they stopped. The stairs went up aways and then turned so that they continued facing the opposite direction. For all we knew, the shapeshifter would be awaiting us as soon as we turned to reach the second floor.
“We should have brought some Regimentals in,” whispered Sledge, “they’d make good distractions.”
“I don’t want any more people to die. And if we wait any longer, it will adjust.”
Sledge sighed, shaking his head.
“Let’s go. Put a bullet in that thing, and I’ll distract it.”
I took a deep breath, closing my eyes and clearing my mind of fear. To kill the beast now would leave a lot of unanswered questions, but I didn’t care. It was time to press what little advantage we had.

“You go first. I’ll be right behind you.”
Sledge nodded, and with little hesitation dashed up the stairs, sabre drawn. As promised, I followed behind him with my flintlock and as soon as we crested the second flight of stairs we saw someone standing there. Completely motionless. It was the woman from the basement, dressed in tattered rags and bearing a look of surprise on her face.
“Shoot her!”
Demanded Sledge, but I did no such thing.
“Wait, Sledge!”
My ally came to a halt, blade just about to dig into the woman’s flesh. To his surprise, she seemed more frightened than anything.
“How did you get here? Why are you here?”
I asked, keeping my gun aimed at her all the while. My blood was pumping fiercely now as I stared her down, watching for the slightest movement.
“I am the janitor,” she replied nervously, “what is it you want?”
“Why should I believe you?”
“What do you mean?”

I didn’t know what to do. Judging by the ruse the shapeshifter pulled before, it was safe to assume it could emulate natural activity very well. But if I killed this woman and she wasn’t the creature I’d have innocent blood on my hands. It wasn’t a risk I was willing to take.
“We’re looking for a shapeshifter,” I started, voice calming a little, “have you seen anything, or anyone suspicious lately?”
“The nice man who works the front desk just came by and said hello. But apart from that, nothing.”
“Where did he go?!”
She appeared flustered but pointed to a room just a little ways ahead. My heart rate increased as we approached the door, hoping against hope she wasn’t the Shapeshifter. If she was, there would be no surviving this…

I suppose the fact I’m writing this account is proof enough she was not the creature. But when we kicked the door in, what we saw in the room confirmed what the old woman said.
“Sirs, what are you doing here?”
Spoke the accented man we had met within the very same hour. He was standing there as if it was completely normal, not a scratch on him. Both Sledge and I were terrified at how… Human it looked. Every single detail, from the trim suit to his olive green eyes were the exact same.
“Shoot it.”
Whispered Sledge, who stood in front of me with a drawn sabre. Hands shaking, I slowly raised my pistol and took aim. The thing must have known we had discovered the body, because its face contorted into a look of unspeakable malice and evil. A frown stretched across its face, mouth stretched to impossible proportions. The eyes faded to ones that were completely black, reflecting the light of the orb above us within them. It was hellish, and horrible to look at, but before I pulled the trigger I noticed what it was standing in front of.

Behind it was an open suitcase. Within it was the flintlock it had taken from earlier, and what appeared to be some kind of official paper.

I couldn’t get a good look at it, because the creature suddenly threw itself towards Sledge at impossible speeds. Incredibly, my friend managed to bring his blade to bear upon its torso sideways on. An odd sort of steam flew out from the cut and the thing let out a terrible screech as the area was enveloped by the gas. I couldn’t see anything, and I was hardly prepared to waste my shot now.
“Run, Sledge!”
We needed to get to a better position. Fighting this monster here would be suicide. I bolted out of the room, and was thankfully followed by my comrade. Both of us began sprinting down the hallway and past the now quite horrified old woman. There was a roar from the room we fled from, and when I looked behind me I could see it flying towards us. It looked much more different than the thing we had seen in the last room. It was just like the man at the front desk said it looked like, standing far taller than either Sledge or I. Its body was thin, with the ribs sticking out of its completely pale flesh and its eyes were huge voids that invoked some sort of primitive fear within my very being.
It was more a mess of bones and skin than anything, with a head that reminded me of an oversized lizard’s, and needles protruding from both the top and bottom portions of its mouth. Not even its hands or feet were normal, and took the form of claws and talons. Savage things that looked to be capable of shredding humans like paper.

It was pursuing us, and being sure to make itself a much more difficult target to hit, leaping from wall to ceiling and back to the floor again, hardly ever stopping to maneuver like a human would. It hit the floor with a resounding thump, the walls with a hollow crash and the ceiling with a thump, all the while deftly maneuvering to each with sporadic leaps and bounds. I kept my pistol facing in its direction, and I’m quite sure it knew I had the special round loaded. Even so, it didn’t show the slightest sign of relenting in its pursuit. Sledge reached an elevator and started hitting the down button as hard as he could over and over again, occasionally glancing back to see the thing almost upon us. I stopped along with him, and drew my sabre, an idea coming to me.

As soon as I brought up my weapon, the thing attacked with a pounce, swatting my sword aside with just one of its claws and forcing me to use all the strength I could muster to keep its teeth from tearing into my face. I dodged back and regained a defensive stance, while Sledge took note of this and came at it from the side with his own blade. This probably saved my life, as the Shapeshifter was forced to divert its attention in order to shift its whole body in an instant to knock the weapon away with its claw. And as soon as my comrade was unable to guard his midsection, it lunged in and delivered a slash with its exposed talons that was enough to tear clean through the hardened leather of his uniform and open three jagged cuts across his torso.

Thankfully they weren’t too deep, as the armor at least padded him from the blow. Even so, Sledge was thrown against a nearby wall, bleeding profusely. All of this had taken place as I raised my pistol to bear and took aim. I wasn’t lucky enough to have a clean shot, however, as the beast was sure to see me coming. It leapt into the air before I could fire and used the ceiling itself as a bounce pad to propel itself towards me at a seemingly impossible angle. Both its claws flashed in what light was present, and I did the only thing I could think of doing and threw my palm in its direction.
“Glaun-Siek-Ki!”
I shouted, calling upon a condensed bolt of lightning that instantaneously struck the shapeshifter in its mouth with a sound of thunder appropriate to its small size. This bolt shone with a brilliant blue, with miniature threads of energy coursing around it. My opponent was thrown off guard by the flash and I was able to jump back as it hit the ground, steam filling the air once again. Its scream was even louder this time, ringing throughout my very being in an unearthly and hellish manner. I resisted the urge to cover my ears, and slowly backed away down the hall with my pistol drawn. But knowing my plan would fail if I fled, my decision quickly shifted to a more aggressive one as I threw out my palm once again.
“Whik-Bli-Tren!”
A gigantic blast of focused air dispersed all the steam and threw the shapeshifter a good ways down the hall before it could even recover. Wisps of grey still hung about, but were also starting to fade. The sound of the spell was similar to what could be heard if a hundred whips were cracked at once and the area was shaken with the its raw power.

But there was no time to waste, and I hastily grabbed Sledge and threw both myself and he into the elevator, which had opened a few seconds prior. I am happy to say that the face of the monster didn’t appear before us as the doors closed. I found it a little ironic that the thing Sledge said would be dangerous to enter ended up saving our lives that night, as we heard footsteps running towards us as we descended.
I removed another tube containing the Cambria revitalization substance and poured it down my throat, nearly gagging on it in my struggle to breathe after my brief fight. I also removed a tube containing red liquid and poured it over my friend’s wound. The substance hissed when it made contact with his blood, but the torn sinews and flesh began mending themselves at an alarming rate. This was a regenerator, which could repair damaged tissue with incredible speed.

The elevator halted, and sweaty and tired, we both stumbled into the hallway on the first floor. The heat from the ventilation was beginning to become more curse than blessing, and slowed our pace to a walk. A fellow member of the Blackguard saw us as we entered the lobby and looked as if he was looking upon ghosts.
“I didn’t think anyone survived!”
He exclaimed. I raised an eyebrow and halted.
“What are you talking about?”
“Well, from what I heard the Shapeshifter killed just about everybody when we first spread out. Cyrus is pretty upset.”
“Then what are you doing here?”
The boy looked to be more afraid than we were.
“I’m lookin’ for survivors.”
I nodded and turned my attention to a weary Sledge, whose face was covered in his own blood. He was in no condition to fight, and I told him to go with the young soldier. The man reluctantly agreed, but I wasn’t about to let the shapeshifter off so easily.
“What are you doing?!”
The boy called out to me as I walked back into the hallway I had just emerged from.
“My job.”
I replied nonchalantly.
Everything around me sounded like the creature, from the sounds of the air conditioning system to the creaking of the floor underneath my feet. I turned down another shadowy corner and towards the staircase I had ascended just a few minutes ago. I hadn’t felt so afraid in a long time, being completely alone and knowing that thing could pounce on me at any second. I knew my two spells from earlier hadn’t killed it, that was for sure. The only reassuring thing to make me feel even a little bit safe was my flintlock loaded with the enigmatic bullet, which I pointed around in sporadic motions as to be ready for an attack.
I began walking up the stairs to get to where I had last seen the thing, and began thinking of a spell powerful enough to make it hold still. Most likely a combination of four words, and a four word spell was often enough to knock people out cold from their usage. I had trained heavily with the Language, however, and was confident in my ability to hang on long enough to squeeze off a shot.

My footsteps sounded louder than ever, making a clunking noise as my boots hit the ground. Upon reaching the second floor once again, the heating was worse than ever. Even so, I had an orb of orange illumination still overhead. I could see into the darkness well enough.

In the distant recesses of the hall, where this light didn’t reach, I heard a screech that was followed by thumping. It was coming right towards me, but at a pace that was horrifyingly quick. Thump thump thump thump thump, all in rapid succession until, at the very edge of my light, I saw it again. It was clawing itself towards me on all fours with a savage look on what I suppose could be called its face. The thing was running so fast that I barely had time to even say my spell.
“Glaun-Siek-Ki-Zah!”
It was similar to what I had used before, but with ‘zah’ which meant ‘amplified’, the pure power was enough to engulf the entire area in an incredible surge of electricity that coursed through the entire building from a huge stream of energy that struck my target in the torso area, and continued coursing through its body in a brilliant blue. The blast was so powerful that the hall lights began flickering overhead at random intervals, and all the while the Shapeshifter slowly continued stomping forward with lightning flowing through it. Its abnormal skeleton flashed when the lights were out as it continued its gradual pace towards me with bared teeth. I was still directing lightning in its direction with my palm, knowing it was the only thing preventing it from closing the last few feet and tearing me apart.

My body began growing numb as I continued the spell for longer and longer, the deafening crackle of it making my ears ring. The lights overhead shattered, throwing shards of glass all over the area from being overloaded, and even so the shapeshifter stomped forwards with pure rage in its eyes. At last, I poured almost all of my life energy into one final burst of electricity that flew down the entire length of the corridor and scorched the walls and floor a pitch black. The building shuddered in protest, but with the last of my strength I raised my pistol to face the creature and fired.
By now all the lights, including the one from my spell, had been cut. And the little spark from the hammer igniting the flintlock charge was the only thing that allowed me to see the momentary look of defeat in the monster’s eyes as a streak of orange plunged directly into its head. The bullet hit with a ‘thwip’ and was followed by a hiss as the wound glowed a cherry red within my opponent’s skull. At first I recoiled in horror as it clutched its face, alive but in agony. But then it let out a cry of pain as something within the bullet ignited and embers began spreading around its face in odd, diagonal patterns. They appeared a dark orange and bits of burned flesh were gently floating to the ground from its face as the fire spread more and more, until the entire head of the creature was burning.

It began speaking in a number of tongues, all different voices. All shouting screams of agony and pain in a horrible mixture. Some sounded accented, and I even recognized one as the voice of the worker who greeted us at the desk. The creature was clutching its whole face with both talons and stumbled into a wall with a thud, still screaming louder and louder. Numb all over, I used the opposite wall as a support and removed a ice bullet from my coat, and loaded my flintlock again. I let loose another shot, which was tinted a light blue, and struck the torso. Since its Cambrian energy had been diminished so much, it couldn’t stop the spread of icy crystals that began to form around its body as it retched. They began forming in chunks, and within a period of five seconds, they had spread across the entire body like a contagious disease, freezing the thing solid.

The mystery bullet had drained its Cambrian energy, making it open to attack. The edges of my vision were blurring, but I managed to load a standard high impact round and raise my gun once again, closing my right eye and aiming the little sights at the neck. I squeezed the trigger and what followed was what one would hear if a window had shattered, as the bullet hit the ice and caused the entire neck area to fracture. What remained of the beast now were hundreds of chunks of partially frozen flesh upon the ground.

Not feeling too keen on blacking out, I drank my last Cambria restorative and nearly vomited from the buildup of the liquid. The reason we were limited to three was to prevent an overdose, which could be deadly. The numbness subsided and, marveling at the completely obliterated hallway in front of me for a moment, I turned around and made my way downstairs.

I slept well that night, waking the following morning to a slew of different information that changed my perspective on my escapade greatly.

From what investigators had deduced, the creature had indeed been using the vents to pick of members of the Guard one by one. Its talons apparently could extend long enough to the length of blades, which allowed it to cut apart people with ease and explained the gouged out eyes. The woman who claimed to be the manager had been innocent after all, and I breathed a sigh of relief upon being told this. But what began making the whole situation make sense was that the woman who had been murdered that night was carrying access papers to the Scrye. Clearly, the creature had been stalking her for some time and just as she was about to escape she was killed.

Oddly enough, the suitcase we claimed to have seen on the second floor was never recovered, leading to an investigation that essentially turned up nothing. Out of the many who had entered the building that night, just five emerged. Including me, Cyrus, Sledge and the boy who we met in the lobby after our brief fight. I am happy to inform you that Sledge and I were given promotions for our work, and that we continue to serve in the Guard to this day.

But as I walk through the Imperial courts amongst a lavish surroundings of a party, I can’t help but feel disturbed at how, according to a Scrye guard, a Mrs. Lauren Welsche was seen entering the rift the same night, only after stating both of our names with a sly smile on her face.

Credit To – hexo67

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The Run

April 13, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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Let me begin by saying that I absolutely hate running. It’s not so much the grueling, physical aspect but it is just so boring to me. It’s a pointless activity, unless you do it for sport or you’re trying to lose weight or something like that.

A lot of people have been asking what exactly happened to me. It’s been quite a number of months now but what I remember from this experience is honestly pretty fresh and vivid in my mind, given the circumstances. Sorry it’s so long, but you people wanted details. You can choose to believe me or not, but this is what happened.

It was about halfway through the track season of my junior year and I was just ready for it be over. Like I said earlier, I hate running. My intentions at the start of the season were to drop a few pounds and hang out with friends but I had already lost almost 15 pounds and most of my friends at this point.

The first week that track began, my two closest friends along with the girl I loved and two of her friends were in the car on the highway when they had a head on collision with a drunk driver. Her two friends both survived, along with my best friend who I hear is just now able to walk again. My other good friend and my girlfriend (we’ll call her Nicole) weren’t as lucky. This might sound selfish or heartless, but dammit, I wish her friends were taken instead of her. I refuse to go into detail about their deaths, but that’s all you need to know for now.

After they passed away, I was completely devastated, as you would expect. Nicole and I were very serious, or as serious as a high school relationship could be. We had been together for a little over two years and there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that I would marry her after we graduated. I was utterly in love with her.

I never sunk to a state of insanity but I entered a massive state of depression and I pretty much cut off all communication with any of my other friends and even my friend that was in the hospital from the crash. I feel horrible for never visiting him but I just didn’t want to accept what had happened. I still don’t.

I don’t want you to think I’m insane, because I’m not. Obviously I’m sane enough to write this and I’m sane enough to come to the realization that I was depressed, which is normal behavior for what I experienced. The way things happened are confusing and the way that I present this story is the best way I know how to, showing you all exactly what was running through my mind.

I swear to God I’m not insane.

—————————–

The rain was beating heavily against the already muddy ground, transforming the dirt path into a massive slide. I had to be careful with every step as I stomped down the momentarily steep slope. My feet were sliding in every direction with each forward motion. It was what seemed to be a horrible day for a run. But not for me. I only enjoyed running when it was in the rain. It was exhilarating.

I was stumbling quite uncontrollably down the trail, following the rest of the runners I was with. My momentum combined with inertia and the poor weather created an unstoppable force that couldn’t be slowed down. Unless, of course, I were to trip and face-plant into the mud.

I did.

I lay motionless for a few moments before I realized that I needed to get up and keep close to the group. These woods were incredibly dense and the trail parted many different ways more than once throughout. This was certainly not an ideal time to be lost. My focus instantly switched from getting all the mud off my face to catching up with the rest of the runners. I ran distance and on this day in particular, we were running through the massive forrest and trail system right behind our school. We technically weren’t permitted to run back there, but it was our only option when we need to run a lot of hills in our workout. Nothing could really go wrong, anyway.

I sprinted forward for a minute or so when I came to a part where the trail continued to go straight or you could make a sharp left.

Of course, I thought, there had to be a turn right now.

I stopped and thought which way I would go if I were a group of teenage boys, so I chose to go straight.

I picked up my sprint again and held it for no longer than 90 seconds before I had to catch my breath. I slowed down enough to breathe but my survival instincts told me I needed to find my group. I couldn’t figure out why they hadn’t turned around to come back and look for me. They had to have noticed I was gone by now. They weren’t leaving me on purpose, were they? No, I told myself they weren’t. That’s insane, they wouldn’t do that.

The rain was pouring harder and harder as I frantically searched for my team. Time was passing and I knew the run would be over soon. I kept searching long after I knew they were gone and there was no hope of finding them. I had lost track of time and I didn’t bring a watch or phone or anything. I couldn’t use the sun to judge the time because I had no idea where it was hidden behind the ominous clouds. I wasn’t familiar with these trails at all and the panic really set in when I realized how lost I was.

I continued running for what seemed like hours on end. Brutal exhaustion possessed my body by now and the temperature seemed to drop at least 20 degrees. I had to get out of here. The trail was never-ending, I swear to God I ran down that trail for 20 miles.

Haven’t I been here already?

This is the 4th time I’ve seen that tree.

I’m starving. I need rest.

It’s at least 10. My mom is gonna kill me.

This is the 5th time I’ve seen that fucking tree.

Why is no one searching for me?

My legs couldn’t take anymore. I had to stop. I collapsed into the soft, yet freezing embrace of the mud. In that moment, I was ready to die. I was losing my mind. There was no way that someone hadn’t come searching for me already. How had I not found the edge of the forrest by now?

I had given myself to nature. If I had died right there, I would have been just fine. As I was drifting in and out of consciousness, I heard a noise that was getting increasingly louder. Not louder, exactly, but closer.

Someone is coming for me! They found me!

“Hey, I’m over here! Help me, I’m right here!” I mustered up enough energy to yell.

I quickly realized that no one was there. No one was going to help me. It was just a dog. It was a big dog. Seriously, it was the biggest fucking dog I had ever seen in my entire life. You know those terrifying dogs that are as big as horses? This was bigger than those.

The dog’s incessant barking was muffled by the rain pounding in my ear, which had made me numb to most noise at this point. I knew that I was in danger as I heard the barking draw nearer and nearer. I jumped to my feet as the dog approached me, ready to fight for my life. To my surprise, the dog simply stopped about 10 feet from me and began barking even more rapidly. It didn’t appear to want to attack me but I knew that this was a very clear and present danger. I needed to make my move.

I knew I didn’t have nearly enough energy to out-run this horse/dog creature, so I scanned the ground for any sort of tree limb or weapon. The ground was pretty clear other than the inch-thick mud covering all of the green grass and the dirt path. I was standing in the middle of a forrest and there weren’t any sticks on the ground. This just was not my day. I looked up and the rain drilled into my eyeballs as I stared into the night sky. The moon was almost full and it illuminated the area surprisingly well through the looming trees overhead.

I wiped my eyes clear of the rain and faced the dog. Its blurred visage began creeping towards me slowly and I knew I had to attack. I lunged at it with whatever force I had within me and elbowed it right in the neck. I gave it a couple of quick blows to the head and jumped off to begin running away. It barked and whimpered furiously from behind me as I headed deeper into the forrest.

My running continued for a few minutes but I had no energy. I hadn’t eaten in about 8 hours and I knew it must have been close to midnight by now. The running had taken its toll on my body and I needed rest. I would have done anything to be home in bed. Fortunately, the rain was calming down quite significantly at this point. There was only a slight drizzle coming from the calm sky.

I came to a clearing in the forrest.

I haven’t been here before, I thought.

The clearing was empty except for a big tree stump in the middle. There were no trees inside of the massive, empty circle of land but trees surrounded the whole area. The moonlight reflected perfectly through the sky onto the stump in the very center. Words can’t explain how beautiful this sight was; it was truly a majestic scene. It was exactly how you would imagine, like something in a movie. I walked towards the center slowly but I stopped because I knew I must be hallucinating. There was no way this was real, it was all too perfect. I heard something shuffle around in the trees.

A bright red bird emerged and landed delicately on the tree stump.

I felt a lump in my throat. Instantly, memories came flooding back to me.

—————————–

“Oh, so you’re saying you could beat me?”

“I know I could beat you. Don’t you remember that time on New Years? We didn’t get to finish the game but I was beating you so bad!”

“Oh, whatever! That doesn’t count, I hardly even remember it. I was too occupied by your drunk grandmother!”

“Don’t bring that sweet lady into this. I don’t wanna hear your excuses.”

We were always bickering about stupid stuff. It was never entirely serious and the conversation always contained laughter and playful flirtation. That’s what I loved about Nicole: she could take a joke. I could say something slightly insulting to her and she would return with something twice as mean. She was even more sarcastic than myself, which is difficult to find.
The air was fresh and the sun had just begun to set. It was the end to a perfect day together at the park where we had a picnic and made each other play on the children’s playground that was much too small for teenagers. There was a big hill that overlooked the entire area and that’s where we were to watch the sunset. A single, large oak tree rested above us as we hoarded its shade.

Nicole was leaned up against me, resting softly as our breathing patterns seemed to match to each other. A rustle was heard in the tree above us and a flash of red darted towards the ground a couple feet from us.

“Ooo, don’t scare it!” Nicole said in a somewhat hushed tone. “Look how beautiful it is!”

It was a little red bird with black wings and tail.

“It’s a scarlet tanager!” she exclaimed.

I couldn’t help but let out a laugh. “Why do you even know that? You nerd!” I replied playfully.

She hit me. I guess I deserved that. She laughed too, though, reassuring me that her feelings weren’t hurt.

“Shut up! You know I got put in that nature class this year on accident,” she said defensively. “It’s a beautiful creature and I’ve actually found a new appreciation for nature recently.”

“Gosh, Nicole, sorry! I never knew you were such a hippie.”

She laughed even harder at that one and hit me again. I love that girl.

—————————–

I snapped back into reality and my moment of happiness was instantly washed away. I had been stuck in the forrest for hours now with no sign of help. The tanager flew away and I was only left with the memory. I was destroyed, physically and emotionally.

I saw something on the other side of the clearing.

It was barely moving between some trees, slowly. My first thought was that it was just an animal and I almost shrugged it off, but it seemed to be wearing some sort of robe. I walked even closer and I stopped beside the tree stump and I began to make out the image of a person. They were wearing what appeared to be a white dress and I was taken back by why someone was in the forrest wearing a dress. My heart jumped at the sight of another human being though and I began to rush forward.

I stopped dead in my tracks when I realized it was Nicole. She turned around and her long brown hair glistened down over the white of her dress. I recognized those bright green eyes instantly. She stared at me for a second and smiled but then she started walking away. I couldn’t let her get away.

My bewilderment and excitement turned my dead energy into pure adrenaline. My only goal was to catch up to her. I wanted to hold her and never let her go. I used whatever energy remained to sprint back into the trees after her. Why was she running away? Didn’t she want to be with me, too? Maybe she hated me.

Maybe she hated me.

No, she couldn’t hate me.

She loves me.

She loves me, right?

“Nicole!” I yelled as I ran. She didn’t stop.

I couldn’t give up. She couldn’t get away. She was so fast. She was outrunning me. She was barely in my sight enough for me to continue following her. My legs were just about to give out when I could feel my body ready to collapse again. Maybe I was already dead. I died long ago when I fell down and this was my Hell. I was trapped here forever.

I could see something bright in the distance. It was shining through the trees and around Nicole’s body until I couldn’t see her anymore because the lights were making me so dizzy. I was running as fast as I could until I broke through that last line of trees.

Cop cars. Bright lights. Dark figures.

There were 3 police cars and a couple other cars along with an ambulance scattered around the lot. I recognized the place as my school parking lot. I was on the very edge where it met part of the forrest.

“There he is!” someone yelled.

My vision was still slightly blurred as I tried to make out their faces. It was my mom! My mom and two other police officers were rushing toward me.

“My baby! My baby! I’m so glad you’re safe!” my mom muttered through tears as she embraced me. Her embrace was the only thing keeping me from hitting the ground. One of the police officers called into his radio that they found me and the search was off.

“Let’s get you to the paramedics,” the taller officer said.

They helped me over to the back of the ambulance where another officer was standing. He had bandages and bruises on his face.

“Well look who it is,” he said to me in a sarcastic tone. “You sure knocked me good.”

“What do you mean?” I managed to ask.

“You got a couple good hits on my face when I found you out there yesterday. Almost knocked me clear out.”

My heart skipped a beat.

Yesterday? I thought. My mind was racing.

“I never saw anyone out there. I didn’t hit anyone.”

“Yeah, I found you and told you to come with me but you attacked me. I didn’t mean to scare ya, I was just tryna bring you to safety,” he told me.

The dog! I must have been hallucinating.

“What did you mean by yesterday? I was only lost for a couple hours. During practice, I was running with the rest of the team out there when I got separated” I told them, confused.

My mom and the officers all looked at each other, bewildered. My mom spoke up.

“Sweetheart, you were missing for over 2 days. The track season ended last month… You weren’t running with anyone.”

2 days?! There’s no way I was gone for that long. I know the track season wasn’t over, I even talked to the guys before we ran.

My heart was beating very frantically and as I understand, I had a really bad panic attack and my body shut down. I was starving and exhausted from apparently being without food and rest for 2 days. I passed out.

The next morning, I woke up in my own bed. My sight was still blurry and it took a moment to readjust. I looked at the clock and it made out 11 something through my blurry vision. After my eyes focused, I glanced over at my windowsill, refreshed to see some sunlight.

A red tanager was looking at me through my window.

Credit To – Eli Lucas

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The Grove

April 12, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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I was always a the type of guy that enjoyed a good mystery. Mysteries like UFO sightings or those TV shows about paranormal investigators that stay a night in a haunted house always sparked my imagination as a child and on into adulthood. Some of those shows kept me awake at night, but that was all part of the fun. I never bought too much into crazy theories, but I do pay attention to anything that really makes you question what really goes on.
One documentary in particular set my mind racing. It was one of those History Channel shows that explore various mysteries over the course of the hour. This episode talked about the Bohemian Grove.
For those of you who don’t know, the Bohemian Grove is a camping ground in the Redwood Forests of California that hosts a two-week retreat in the middle of July for the world’s most powerful men. It is here that they may form a sort of think tank. This has led to some believing that the two-week getaway is actually a meeting for the New World Order.
I don’t particularly subscribe to the whole NWO theory, in fact it is one of my least favorite conspiracy theories. However, Bohemian Grove was only a few hours drive from my home in Red Bluff so I somehow resolved that a trip down to the Redwoods would be some good fun. I figured June was almost over so if I head down in a few weeks I might even be lucky enough to see some VIPs.
I called up some buddies of mine and asked if they would be down to do a little backpacking and if they knew what the Grove was. They told me that they had heard of it and a change of scenery would be good. So over the next couple of weeks we threw together some equipment and gear for the trip and headed on down.
My friends, Taylor and Joe, read just as far into the Bohemian Grove as I had so we were on the same page as far as what to expect when we got there. As such, we decided the best time to get to the Grove was a little after dark, so as to avoid any sort of security that, undoubtedly, be present.
According to our map, the best way into the Grove was to follow Smith Creek east from Russian River, and then fork due south. The trip itself would take almost a full day of just trucking through the hike, but we wanted to take our time and enjoy being away from Red Bluff. So instead, we’d go halfway and camp a night. That way, we could hike the rest during the day and roll into the Grove after sunset.
After a few hours, some restroom stops, and lunch, we’d arrived at Monte Rio where we’d found a pretty isolated spot to park the car. As we unloaded our gear, we took in the cool, moist air that the shade of the Redwoods provided for us. It was a sunny day and the clouds were sparse. The birds were chirping and singing high in the trees. The day began as the most peaceful display of nature I had ever known.
We heard the dancing waters of Russian River, locked down the car, and headed towards our starting point. It was then, among the tallest living things in the world, that I knew this place went beyond a simple meeting place for the elite. It was even beyond a force of hidden agendas and conspiracy. This place was mystical. The very air tasted purified like spring water and smelled of rich soil. Perhaps it was the age of the forest that made it that way, an aged man that settled in for his twilight years.
Our first day went great. The weather had been perfect all day. Even navigating our rather nonexistent trail proved a fun challenge. Once the sun started sinking, we set up camp and ate some of the rations we had packed. Since we were in no hurry to burn the forest down, we didn’t even bother with a fire. It was only an hour or two after nightfall that we had all settled in to our tents.
The forest’s nocturnal denizens were not as peaceful as their daytime counterparts. I was awoken by my tent rattling and bouncing around. I heard the flutter of wings and the panicked squeaks of some small creature that failed to take refuge under my tent. I figured I had to take a piss so I might as well see what the commotion was. I emerged from the tent with my headlamp and saw nothing, initially. So I walked a good twenty feet from the campsite and began to relieve myself when I looked up to see a pair of intensely glowing yellow eyes. I jumped in fright as whatever it was had caught me at an inconvenient moment. My eyes adjusted to reveal that it was a good-sized owl perched on a boulder. As I finished emptying myself while still in eye-lock with this creature, it did something I had not expected. The owl flew down from the boulder and onto the ground directly in front of me. There was something menacing, even insidious, in its gaze. Not once did it break eye contact. That is, until it let out a chilling screech I had only ever heard from a barn owl and flew off into the night.
The screech seemed to trigger the rest of the forest into action. Mice scurried along the ground. A family of deer high-tailed it to the north. I could hear a large pack of coyotes baying in the distance as if on the hunt. Needless to say, I hurried back to my tent and did not sleep very well. I could still feel that owl watching us from somewhere above.
The forest had calmed down after about ten minutes, but I had not. It was that look. The look of hatred I had never seen in an animal before. There was just something so un-animal about it, nearing a semblance of expression. The look of a man drunk with hate. A killer through the eyes of the victim. Something purely dark.
Right when I had began to doze off, I heard something that guaranteed I wasn’t going to sleep that night. It began soft, almost in the realm of hallucination. The sobbing of a child. It grew louder. Then it took on the form of a baby’s pained screams. I wasn’t the only one that heard suspicious noises this time.
“Hey, Taylor.” It was Joe speaking in a half whisper.
“Yeah, I hear it,” Taylor replied with a shaky voice.
“Man, what the fuck is that?”
“I don’t know, man, but it’s freakin’ me the hell out.”
“Why does it sound like a baby crying?” I chimed in equally as frightened.
“It sounds like it’s moving,” Joe said a bit louder. And indeed the sound was getting louder.
“How does a baby end up miles away from any road by itself?” Taylor asked as if to dismiss it as a dream. His question was something we had all secretly known and held from our minds in denial. A denial that I’d break with two words.
“It doesn’t,” I said.
The veil of panic set in as the wailing reached its climax. The deafening sound came from all angles at once. I clasped my hands over my ears, but still the cries burrowed through. I began to feel dizzy. The very ground seemed to spin at the sound of the child’s pain and despair. My head was pounding and my vision began to blur.
“Oh, I’m gonna fucking puke,” I heard from one of the other tents. I could no longer recognize their voices over all the commotion.
The cries slowly began to taper off. They eventually faded back into a plausible hallucination and on into silence. I emerged from my tent to find Joe kneeling over a puddle of vomit and coughing out the last drops. Taylor was already out as well, disoriented by the screams. I checked my watch to see if it was even worth trying to salvage a few hours of sleep. 3:23 a.m. It was probably enough time to try.
“What’s going on out here, man?” Taylor asked as an open question.
“This…is a…pretty sick joke…if that’s what you…brought us out here for,” Joe coughed out at me followed by a gaseous burp and a slight recovery.
“You think I wanted to do that to myself, too?” I retorted.
“That wasn’t any of us,” Taylor began, “None of us brought anything that could make noise like that, much less would any of us want to listen to that ourselves. Our best idea would be to try to go back to sleep and talk about it in the daylight where our minds won’t play so many tricks on us.”
We all agreed. Taylor had, in fact, always been the wisest and most level-headed of the three of us. But this truth was something we couldn’t consciously believe. Our minds couldn’t grasp it, like it had heard some strain of hideously vulgar language.
Before I retired back to my tent, I chanced a look up at the forest ceiling. I saw my headlamp’s beam climb the giant’s trunk and into the sky. It was here that I saw the clear night, the moon’s crescent glow among the stars. Along with a pair of intense, yellow eyes. A skulking stalker; waiting and watching.
I know I dreamed that night. For the life of me, I can’t remember what it was. I know I woke up terrified, instantly remembering and reliving the past night. I do remember that it was one of those nightmares you can’t willingly wake up from. It was the kind that even if your thoughts reject everything you see, you still can’t revive from sleep. A prison inside the only place that knows exactly what you fear.
I rolled out of my tent at around eight o’clock. It was an extremely foggy morning. I knew this particular ecosystem was renown for fog, but this was far beyond my imagining. The forest itself was calm, thankfully, but in a way that was eerily so. There were no birds singing in the early morning. No deer or elk roamed the woods. In fact, it was totally still. And totally silent. But I took this as a pleasant change of pace compared to the prior, hellish night.
Joe was the second to wake up and open his tent. He had the same restless look in his eyes that I imagine I also had in mine. He got a couple packs of trail mix out of his pack and threw one my way. My failed attempt to catch the snack was trailed by our first talk of the day.
“I don’t want to talk about anything until we start walking,” Joe stated as a matter of fact.
“I second that notion,” I replied, looking around the forest suspiciously.
“And I third,” said a voice in Taylor’s tent. It had startled Joe and I before we figured out Taylor had awoken and begun packing.
It didn’t take long to take down the campsite. Breaking down tents and stuffing sleeping bags was something we’d done many times before. But none of us spoke a word while we did it. It was an appropriate reflection of the forest’s own silence. I left out the map and a compass to finish orienteering to the Grove; the three of us donned our packs; and without much more than a glance at each other, we continued south. Figuring we had come all this way already, we trudged headlong into the unknown we had caught a brief glimpse of a few hours earlier.
The sun was high in the sky as the fog cleared and evaporated. It was soothing to hear birds chirping once again and to smell the same purity in the air as the day before. We still had several miles left until the Grove, so we might as well enjoy it.
“At least it turned out to be an alright day.” Taylor was the first to speak.
“Yeah, but what about last night?” Joe asked with a slightly worried tone.
“What about it?” I asked rhetorically, begging to not relive it in memory.
“That cry, dude,” Joe began, “I’ve never been that scared in my life. How did it get out here? Like you said, it couldn’t have made it out here on its own. Something had to carry it, or someone. Whatever it was didn’t seem to be in a huge hurry to shut it up. Furthermore, that cry got loud. Like it walked straight through camp.” Joe’s perceived paranoia was scratching at the walls of questions we all had but knew we couldn’t bear the answer to.
“I saw something when I got out of my tent last night.” Taylor had chimed in now, and he had captured our full attention. “Before the cries completely vanished, I saw two lights fading into the woods. They were bouncing as if carried by someone walking very slowly through the woods. They were as small as candles and burned as bright, as well. I didn’t want to say anything then to alarm you guys further.”
“Which way were they going?” I asked and immediately regretted doing so.
Taylor paused a moment and I could see him working it out in his head. His eyes shot down to his feet to watch his step and then back up to the woods. “I- I don’t know,” he stated after hesitation.
But I knew. I knew he had remembered which way his tent was facing. I knew he had remembered which way he was looking relative to his tent. It was the type of thing he had typically taken note of. I knew he knew exactly which way they had gone. And I knew we must be following them.
“Aside from all this crazy-talk,” Joe said to try to shrug off the conversation, “What are we gonna do tonight when we actually get to Bohemian Grove?”
“Well,” I had thought this part out well, “We all have binoculars, right?”
They nodded in agreement
“I was thinking we’d post up on a nearby clearing. It needs to be somewhere we won’t have our view limited by the trees and a place high enough to have a good view of whatever’s going on. I looked at the satellite pictures of the areas around the Grove and our path should lead us somewhere that may work for us. Don’t know what we’ll see, but we oughtta at least see some VIPs and some of the facilities.”
“I just hope this whole trip wasn’t for a bad view of a place we know nothing about,” said Joe begrudgingly.
We took great comfort in the remaining daylight, even partially recovered from the terror of the night. As twilight set in and we came upon our clearing, the daylight had already become sorely missed. We set our packs down in front of us and used them to prop up our chests, making the extended use of binoculars a bit more comfortable.
I peered through the scopes to see only distant Redwoods still visible in the fading twilight. As I panned around I began seeing cabins and tents. They were small, almost miserly shacks. Not a place I’d expect to see visiting dignitaries. I lowered my binoculars to see what my cohorts were looking at.
“Some hive for the rich and wealthy,” said Taylor who had apparently seen and thought the same as I had.
“What’s that?” Joe lowered his binoculars and pointed toward a small body of water.
I raised mine back up in the direction of the water. It almost looked like an amphitheater. A small pond giving rise to stone steps filled my sight. I followed the stairs up to what appeared to be a two-tiered stone stage separated by another set of steps arranged in a semi-circle. At the center of the semi-circle was what appeared to be a stone fire pit of some sort with a strangely shaped monolith behind it, towering over the amphitheater.
As I stared at this strange sight I had ascertained what the monolith was. It was a statue of a large, winged creature. An owl, to be certain. My mind raced back to the vicious owl at the campsite. I tried to dismiss it by thinking it a bizarre coincidence. But the whole thing made me feel uneasy.
“Looks like a kind of theater,” said Taylor. “That’s probably gonna be what we wanna watch tonight.”
We all agreed and used the day’s last light to set up our tents. Thankfully, our tents blended well with the environment. This would help us avoid being discovered by the security that was surely present with such high-profile individuals about. No lights were to be used all night and we rarely spoke above a whisper. Our dinners consisted of beef jerky and peanuts, a true backpacker’s delicacy. It seemed that the purple glow of twilight gave way to utter darkness in mere minutes and the nightly silence followed.
The moon hung in the sky as a resolute watcher of the night as the stars joined in with us as secret audiences of Bohemian Grove. The three of us posted back up on our packs with our binoculars glued to our faces. The Grove was dimly lit by candles and lanterns posted along the roads. This was our first sign of actual life down there. We could see vague forms and figures migrating toward the amphitheater. Taylor had chosen the right spot to watch.
It was hard to tell what these figures were wearing in the dim. The only thought that came to my mind was the robes worn by a choir. Except these robes were mostly black, broken up by some blues, grays, dark greens, and only two reds from what I could tell. Their faces were all shielded by hoods. The vast majority of black robes gathered on the north side of the small pond, closest to us, and a faint hum of conversation permeated the crowd of about fifty. All colored robes took places on the stone stage and carried candles. I chanced a look over at Taylor to see what he may be thinking. All I could see was a lump forming in his throat. I peered back down the scopes.
One of the blue robes stood center stage. He held what appeared to be an unlit torch aloft. The buzz of talk among the audience silenced. At first it was difficult to discern what the figure was saying. Eventually, my ears had tuned in to the man’s baritone voice.
“…on this, the first night of this year’s encampment, we welcome all into our domain of shared wisdom and brotherhood. I will be the Old Guard residing over tonight’s communion and, indeed, Bohemian Grove itself. Let us begin with a word of prayer to Moloch.” The man lowered the torch and raised his right hand toward the owl monolith. The crowd and the bystanders on stage mimicked the action. “Greatest Moloch, we humble servants of your way ask for close guidance these next few weeks to carry us through the rest of the year before we convene here once again to bask in your sight and take shelter in your mighty wings. We seek the wisdom and knowledge to best lead our people into your divine talons so they may be carried on the winds of enlightenment.”
The crowd followed by speaking a verse in the form of a chant. I couldn’t distinguish but a single word from it but it was no longer than a short sentence beginning with the word “Wisdom” and fading into indistinguishable babble. Owls had often been associated with knowledge and wisdom in many cultures so it made sense to ask this “Moloch” for such a thing.
The blue-robed man continued, “It is not out of charity we ask these things. We have prepared for you a seed that would surely grow as mighty as these trees you have made your dwelling in. Please watch, dear Moloch, as we prepare for you our offering.” He lowered his hand back to his side and lifted the torch back up.
The crowds lowered their hands as four grey robes flanked the blue with candles pointed forward. They raised their small fires to ignite the torch into a blaze of its own. Once lit, the four returned the candles to chest-level and retreated to their spots.
“The lighting of the torch symbolizes the four Songbirds that fly the Void,” the blue robe continued, “singing their Unheard Lullaby to Camazotz. Moloch is the Songbird of Knowledge. As such, he is tasked with remembering the song should the other three forget or the song end.” The man turned and walked toward the stone fire pit and lit the kindling inside.
The fire began small and smoky, but eventually was able to outshine all other lights when coupled with the reflection made by the pond. I, nearly blinded by the inferno, took my eyes out of their respective lenses and looked to my two friends.
“So this is what they do when we don’t see them on TV,” whispered Joe mockingly. He and Taylor were still peering through their binoculars so I raised mine back up to my head.
The blue-robed man spoke again. “This ceremony is called the Cremation of Care, and it is our longest held tradition.” For the rest of this “ritual” he spoke exclusively in an undefined language. It sounded like it may have been close to Hebrew, but I was no linguist. He spoke quickly in his almost-haunting beretone voice. Every few sentences, he would stop to allow the crowd to respond with a chant in the same twisted language.
“I don’t feel too good about this,” whispered Taylor.
“Yeah, man,” I spoke in hushed, shaky tones, “Everything about this feels wrong…wait, what are the two red ones doing?”
The two red-robed figures standing on either side of the owl turned and walked slowly, as if calculating every step, behind the monolith. Moments later, they returned carrying either side of a dresser-drawer sized wicker basket. Its contents were obscured by our angle. The two continued their snail-paced walk to the front of the the fire pit. They set the basket down and returned to their posts.
The blue robe continued his obscured sermon and turned to point at the two red robes. His rant had carried on, but this was not what held our attention. The two figures in red raised their hands to the sides of the hoods. They slowly and simultaneously lowered them to reveal a hideous sight. Two pale bald heads emerged from the hoods, each lacking eyebrows and facial hair as well. Perhaps the strangest of things were their eyes, each with heavy cataracts that gave the irises a ghostly appearance that was enhanced by a slight jaundice. Theses men had been stricken blind.
“We…we need to leave,” said Taylor slightly above a whisper.
But Joe and I were nearly entranced. We would be witnesses to something the world did not know of. It was this ability to wield forbidden knowledge that held our attention stronger than the sheer terror.
“Guys,” Taylor was speaking at conversation volume now, “You don’t get it, guys. We need to leave. Now. Before we see something that will drive us insane.”
“Taylor,” Joe began speaking as loud as Taylor now, “You’re freaking out about nothing. These guys are harmless.”
“Well you can keep your head up your ass, but I refuse to sit and watch any longer.”
“Both of you keep it down,” I whispered loudly. They ceased their bickering. I knew Taylor may have figured something out, but I could not stop watching what was unfolding below. “Nobody’s making you stay, Taylor. If you don’t wanna watch go in your fuckin’ tent.”
Taylor stared at me for a second with a look of shock in his eyes before walking back to his tent. I couldn’t be bothered by his cautionary advice. What I was seeing took greater precedence.
As I once again donned my binoculars I could see the blue robe walk over to the basket at the foot of the fire pit. He was still speaking in tongues as he pulled a bread loaf-sized clump of rags out of it. But the rags started to unfurl. He cradled the remainder in his left arm. With his right hand he reached into the clump and raised, as though unsheathing a sword, an infant child and held it high in the air by its leg. He paraded the now-wailing child around the stage like brandishing a trophy.
Chills shot through my whole body. Bumps formed on my arms. My heart was a racing engine. Whatever was about to happen could only be a sinister act. An act of dark obsession and evil motives. My stomach churned as the same ear-piercing cry of the baby in the forest shot out from the Grove. Had this been the same baby? Had the two figures in red robes carried it right through our camp, blind to their surroundings? What about that damned owl? We were in the midst of no mere sermon, but of an unholy communion. A sacrificial rite.
I froze. Unblinking. Unable to react to what I was seeing. Unable to run. Taylor had been right, yet again. I could hear him beginning to cry in his tent, not capable of leaving the friends that defied him. A cold sweat began rolling down my forehead.
The man in the blue robe put his left hand on the child’s forehead and recited, loudly and clearly, words from some arcane ritual written in the mutilated Jewish tongue. He removed his left hand and walked toward the fire. He reached the baby over the blaze and released it. The child was devoured by the charring depths of the sacrificial furnace. Some monstrous, sickening deed had been done in the name of this malign deity. The cries grew in intensity, reaching a new level of agony and suffering. The blaze shot up, reaching the height of the monolith before being completely extinguished in an instant. A silence hung in the air that suggested the poor child now knew a sleep it was far too young to meet.
My eyes adjusted to the dark after moments. Candles and lanterns were now the primary light. The forest seemed to shiver after what it had seen. The moon abandoned its nightly watch and the stars turned their backs.
“The seed is fed to the fire, as the ancient rite goes,” said the blue robe bowing to the owl statue. “Hear us and reply, Lord Moloch. Share the wisdom of ages.”
I could hear what sounded like distant thunder rolling through the forest. Once it passed overhead, it was followed by a cold wind. If my bones had not already been chilled the wind would have surely done it. My eyes suddenly started burning fiercely. With no explanation as to what had caused it, I glanced toward Joe. He had gone pale and looked sickly. He was crying blood. Thinking I might have been doing the same, I rubbed my eyes and looked at my hands. They were a dark shade of crimson.
“We gotta get the fuck outta here,” said Joe on the verge of vomiting.
“Tell Taylor he was right. I’ll start breaking down the tents.”
We packed the camp up in mere seconds, though at the time it felt like a grim eternity. The wind picked up as we left our precipice. The sky was now shrouded in cloud and it was not long before rain was falling. Whatever monster the Grove had been calling to had definitely answered. With our headlamps on and our hearts in a panic, we set off in a dead run through the forest.
The wind was causing the trees to sway and flex. It cut in between them, making a ghastly moaning noise. Taylor led the way with Joe and I trailing closely behind. Lightning flashed, giving us a brief, lighted glimpse of the forest. The thunder clapped in the distance and began growing louder. It felt like that thunder was chasing us. As it rolled overhead, our headlamps began to flicker. The flickering was mild at first, dimming and occasionally blinking. This progressed until the lamp was nothing more than a paperweight with a head strap.
Once my light went out, I ripped it off my head and tossed it aside. This run was miserable. Every breath filled my lungs with freezing air. I could not tell if my eyes burned because the rain or the blood that still trailed from them. I could feel the weight of my pack dig in to the muddy ground with every step.
With a flash of lightning, I could see something falling onto Taylor. The impact took him to the ground. Immediately following, Joe tripped over Taylor with me nearly going over as well. I saw Joe roll over in the dirt and recover to his feet. Taylor fell on his side and was shielding his face with his arm. Another flash of lightning revealed what Taylor was shielding his face from. I knew what it was in that very instant by the tell-tale sign of a pair of burning, yellow eyes.
The owl tore at Taylor’s flesh with its talons. It nabbed at his eyes with its beak. Though Taylor flailed around in a desperate act to escape, the nocturnal bird did not let up its onslaught.
“Oh God! Please, God, help me!” Taylor screamed in terror.
I dropped my pack and delivered a swift kick to the owl’s chest. It landed about three feet away on its side. I waited a moment to see if the owl would get back up. It sat lifeless on the ground for a moment before recovering to its feet. Its sulfurous gaze cut through to my very soul and ailed my already weary body. With a hideous shriek and a flutter of wings, the owl flew off into the wicked night.
Taylor had been knocked unconscious. He had deep lacerations all over his arms, prompting heavy blood flow. His eyes were swollen shut. Deep purple bruises covered his face. Aside from still breathing, he looked dead.
Joe and I broke out our first-aid kits and went to work. We applied disinfectant and heavy gauze to his carved-up forearms and hands and tied tourniquets to his upper arms to slow the blood loss.
“We need to get this guy to a hospital,” said Joe, still a bit rattled by the assault.
I nodded. We strapped Taylor’s pack to his chest to keep his weight forward and his possibly concussed head resting on the bag’s frame. Together, Joe and I scooped him up and slung each of Taylor’s bloody arms around our necks and began dragging him out of the accursed forest. No matter how our bodies had already been battered, we now had a life in our hands. The life of a friend. Adrenaline took hold and we summoned the strength to trudge on with our northerly route.
Minutes of walking passed. Followed by what seemed several hours. The sky began to brighten as the rain let up. As if to signal some small salvation, we heard the running waters of Smith Creek. Our weary bodies saw the light at the end of the tunnel and began to shut down. Our legs quaked with the fatigue delivered by every step. All we needed to do now was follow the creek west and to the car.
The familiar sounds of the morning birds filled the air. They sounded so joyous, so blissful, so unaware of the atrocity that occurred. The sin that dejected nature and broke the order, the very substance that defines conscience and sanity. Or perhaps these creatures lived in an ignorant awareness to the annual unholy sacrament in the heart of the forest. An odd sort of pact with this Moloch, for animals, too, fall prey to their own curiosity. Curiosity is, after all, what led us to this strange part of the world. It was out of curiosity that we witnessed that foul enterprise at the Grove. By curiosity’s cruel hand, we were now dragging our dear, nearly-dead friend out of such a cursed land, a wicked garden. It is as if we are all just marionettes, with our innermost questions stringing us along, being manipulated by a prime mover. A blight that rests within all of our hearts and minds. Uncurable and unceasing.
It was around seven o’clock in the morning that we cleared the forest and loaded our gear back into the car. Taylor was lain across the backseat with Joe keeping him from rolling around. Once all was secured, I began driving down to a nearby hospital in Sebastopol.
“What are we gonna say to the doctors?” asked Joe.
“The truth. He was attacked by a wild animal.”
“Wild, huh? I saw how it paused to stare you down after you kicked it, which, by the way, shoulda killed that thing. That bastard had a mind of its own.”
“I know, man,” I said nervously, “I’m trying to forget about all that.”
“Forget? I hate to say it, but I don’t think that’s happening. This is something we have to carry with us to our grave.”
“Well, Joe, if you’ll excuse me, I’m tryin’ to make sure our friend doesn’t get there too long before we do.” I was tired, impatient, and angry. But most of all, still scared shitless of even thinking about everything.
“I’m sorry, dude…You- You just keep driving.”
I was relieved to have some silence for a bit to concentrate on the road. Driving always eased my troubled mind. But then Joe broke the silence, yet again.
“You know…”
“Know what?” I said with a sigh.
“We could help Taylor in another way.”
“Oh, yeah? How’s that?”
“Doesn’t knowing what we know feel like a burden to you?”
“I guess…”
“And we wouldn’t want to burden a friend, would we?”
“What are you getting at?”
“I’m saying we could end his suffering before it starts…save Taylor from a lifetime of fear and paranoia.”
“Are you out of your fucking mind?!” I asked demandingly. I had pieced together what he was playing at.
“C’mon, man. For all we know, he’s in a coma he’ll never wake up from. Would you torture a friend like that? Make him relive the past nights in his mind over and over again in an endless nightmare?”
“I won’t make a judgement call on another man’s life. I won’t play God. And if you so much as look at him funny, you’ll find yourself walking your ass back to Red Bluff.”
He paused a moment and whispered, “It’d be easy. Just one twist. End the poor bastard’s life.”
I pulled over and stopped the car. As I turned to the back seat I saw Joe’s face. He was weeping gravely. The man had lost his mind like Taylor said he would.
“What, man?” Joe sniveled. “Can’t you see that it’s gonna be the end of all of us, anyway? We’ll never get away from it. No matter how long or how far we run, it’ll find us.”
“Look around, Joe,” I said calmly, “What’s coming after us?”
“Right now? Not a thing. But in days, months, even years? He’ll find us. He’ll be the end of us. He’ll hunt us down in our thoughts. In our nightmares. He may come knocking at night, when all evil roams free. He may even find you in broad daylight, when you once again find safety in your daily routines. But he’s coming for us all. Can’t you hear him? He’s whispering in my head. Telling me to end it all. He says you’ll hear him, too. You’ll look into his eyes again.”
His face had gone pale. Tears soaked his face as more welled up in his eyes. His hands shook uncontrollably, like he was being electrocuted. He had either abandoned his sanity or it was lost within him. But what he said terrified me. What he said shook me to my core. He was right. This wasn’t something that could be outlived.
“Look, man, you’re not yourself right now. We’re going to the hospital. Bottom line. Just don’t touch Taylor and don’t say another word. We’ll be there in fifteen.” I turned back around and put the car in drive. Daylight was no sanctuary anymore.
Upon reaching the hospital, Taylor was rushed to the emergency room. Joe and I sat in the waiting room for an eternity. He did nothing but shiver and whisper to himself the entire time. Growing tired of it, I told Joe I was going to the bathroom. Instead of going, though, I spoke to the lady at the front desk and explained Joe’s ruptured sanity as post-traumatic stress. Within moments of a phone call to the psych ward, Joe was confronted by two burly, male nurses and escorted away.
That was the last I saw of Joe. In days to come, his seemingly sudden mental collapse would earn him titles such as schizophrenic, epileptic, and amnestic, among others. I kept tabs on him, but never visited.
After they took Joe away, I sat alone in the waiting room. For two days, I’d attempt to read books or magazines, but my worries would take me away from whatever I was reading. I’d sleep in the chairs, only to be awoken from a nightmare by the lady at the desk offering me a cup of pudding or something. I never felt well enough to eat, but I always muscled down what she gave me.
On that third day, a nurse came out and escorted me to Taylor’s hospital room. His door was closed, but a television monitor outside showed him fast asleep.
“We had to drain the blood out of his swollen eyes,” the nurse began, “after that, it was all a matter of getting stitches to those gashes. One hundred eighty three, to be precise. No concussion. No comatose. He’s just asleep now. Did you want to go inside and see him?”
Just as she asked this Taylor began to stir on the monitor. He looked up to the camera. I did not want to see him anymore.
“No, thanks. I’ll let him get his sleep and contact his family for his insurance,” I spoke these words very briefly. The nurse looked confused as I turned a expeditiously left the hospital to drive back to Red Bluff.
Taylor looked great. His color had come back and, aside from light bruising around his eyes and a map of stitches on each arm, appeared ready to be released. There was just one thing that bothered me. One thing that sent shivers down my spine. Staring through me from that monitor were a set of abhorrent, yellow eyes.

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Spirits of The Caribbean – Vwayaje O Diab

April 11, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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If you are familiar with the tiny island of Trinidad, the southernmost isle of the Caribbean, you may be aware that it is rich in folklore and tradition. You may know of tales passed on through generations, told under flambeau since the days before independence, of magic, bewitchment, and even of wicked sprites that dwell in the forests. However, should you ask your grandparents whether these tales are true or mere fancies, they are sure to warn you of one thing; there is real evil in the world, and real evil in the isles, that was long forgotten when the lights of the towns went up and the forests were burnt away. And they will tell you, should you see this evil, you must never acknowledge it, for it will follow you and bring ill-will, suffering, or death himself to your doorstep. One of these tales is that of Vwayaje O Diab; an entity believed to be the devil himself, who rides through villages under the black of the Caribbean night atop an old cart drawn by black mares, who searches for the tired souls of weary travelers and night vagabonds to carry them away to a hell that lay beyond the borders of the trees. As the elder generations pass away and old tales like this one are erased from the consciousness of society, the malevolence that has manifested itself from centuries of blood spilled and evil practiced on our isles will not soon let us, the generation of technology and education, forget its presence. If you are of this particular generation, there are still places where you can experience the wickedness of the old bush firsthand, and some of them are much closer than you may like to believe.

Should you be acquainted as well with the life of a college student in the tiny island of Trinidad, you may know, among the standard tales of partying and excess, many stories of late night study sessions at one of the local university libraries. There is a library that is situated at the lonely end of a local hospital. For those unaware, a college faculty is resident at this particular health facility, and the library is open at night to accommodate ambitious students who wish to study in peace. Many students follow this routine religiously, and if you are a student of this particular faculty, you may have spent a night or a few studying here. If you are adventurous, however, and you want to prove your grandparents either right or wrong, I encourage you to go to this place to start your journey.

If you decide to stay at the library, know that you are in no immediate danger, as many students frequent the place regularly. However, if you seek to perform the following acts as described, it may require you putting yourself in danger; not the kind of danger that can be avoided by a security patrol, rather the kind that requires a strong will to emerge from without hurt. You will notice many buses making hourly stops to shuttle tired students to their respective homes. The shuttles usually make pre-designated pickups during early hours of the morning as requested by library staff, and the last scheduled shuttle usually arrives at around three in the morning. This shuttle is perfectly safe to enter, however it is not the reason you are here on this particular night. You must remain in the library until the shuttle has left. You will now see that there are people who have stayed with you. Among the others, the ones who remain, some will seem especially foreign to you; in a sense that, although you may be familiar with their faces from the library, neither you nor anyone you ask will be able to recall seeing them around campus, nor can you remember ever speaking with any of them before. After a half an hour had passed, you may see two or three patrons rise and proceed to leave. Should you also exit the library, you will see that another shuttle has arrived and a couple persons are now boarding. Now you may choose to partially board the final bus while keeping one leg firmly planted on the ground behind you. You will see many more persons seated than have entered. None of these persons will be particularly familiar, and will not try to engage you in conversation. The driver will not acknowledge you nor inquire about your destination. You must not fully enter this bus; it is a trick manifested by an evil presence to cause you to relinquish your life. Each being on this bus is a patient from the nearby hospital, considered to be on death’s call, and the driver is Vwayaje O Diab. Exit, and return to the library and stay here for at least the break of four in the morning. On your drive home, do not look into your rearview mirror while on the road. A red hue will radiate from behind your vehicle, resembling lights of an emergency vehicle. You must ignore this, as well as any other anomalies you experience. The devil has seen you and will try to follow you to your family and loved ones and take them for his own.

Credit To – Obeah6611

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A Hanging Lantern

April 10, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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It’s not often that I tell this story, and I don’t much like telling it either, but it seems to get a little easier every time I do. The memories that I have of that night don’t even seem real to me. To this day I can’t wrap my head around how such a thing could have happened to me. I never saw it coming. I mean, how could I be in one place, then suddenly be in another? It happened faster than a lighting strike and it happened faster than a finger snap.

The best I can compare it to? A night void of dreams. It was the kind of slumber where a person stares out of a window at an evening purple sky, blinks, and then finds the window sharply illuminated by the morning sun. The comforts of a familiar bedroom are not in my recollection. Rather, I remember sitting on a bar stool and staring into a glass with anticipation. The bartender returned with my change and I guzzled the first drink of the night.

As the bitter perfume of hops coursed its way out of my nostrils, I peered into the emptying glass. Through the frothy bottom, I saw the clock bordered in a green neon light. Its red L.E.D. digits gave me the time, 9:24 P.M. The time isn’t really important, it’s just the last thing I remembered before the transition.

As the last of the liquid flowed down my throat, I closed my eyes. Upon reopening them, the smoky environment of run-down bar changed to a clear, star-lit sky. The ambient sound of hushed talk and sporadic laughter gave way to a symphony of crickets chirping and Tiger Frogs croaking. As I stared up at the sky, the leaves of a Weeping Willow danced amongst the stars with a gentle night breeze calling the steps.

Blades of long grass tickled my arms and neck as I lied motionless in a silent hysteria; pondering how I managed to get there. I tilted my head to the left and saw a grove a trees in the distance. Before them was a house left in ruin from years of abandonment. The small amount of light from the sky only hinted at its features. It leaned unnaturally at its foundation with a door and set of windows following in parallel with the slant.

I then looked away from it and lifted my head upwards, touching my chin to my collar bone. Past my feet there stood a pond in the distance. The moon’s light reflected off it like a mirror in the stillness of the water. Another Weeping Willow was set at the shoreline with a dim, amber, and scintillate glow of light at its base. In many respects, the way the waxy leaves hung over the light reminded me of a lamp shade. I remembered thinking that some answers to my whereabouts could have been revealed if I ventured towards it, and that is exactly what I would end up doing.

I stood up and immediately a sharp pain throbbed in my right ankle. How I became injured is still a mystery to me as it is to anyone else. Yet still, I limped forward to the light. I had become aware that the place I awoke from was on a hill and my destination was a sharp descent down an embankment, but I clenched my teeth and moved despite the pain.

Eventually, I made it to the embankment and found the source of the light. A simple lantern was affixed to one of the sagging branches of the willow and bobbed up and down in the breeze. I dropped to the ground in a sitting position with my injured limb outstretched in the air. With slow cautious motions, I shuffled myself down the steep slope and again rested at the base of the tree. I was still utterly confused with the situation, yet, there was a glimmer of truth that beckoned in the distance. This truth was a flashing red light in the sky. I recognized it as the water tower of my home town. I thought a great deal about it. If I only followed it, I would find my way back home, but it only appeared as a dim sequence of flashes that indicated it to be miles away. At the same rate. I would eventually come across a road and maybe I could hitchhike my way back.

My thoughts hatched together a plan to tough out the pain and get back to civilization, but first I had to address a need. The gratuitous amount of alcohol I assumed I drank earlier left me with a parched throat. I then gazed at the body of water that welcomed me so invitingly, at least in my mind. I proceeded to crawl on my knees to the pond. The water felt cool as my hands and legs began to submerge below the surface and without hesitation, I cupped a handful and slurped it into my mouth. It tasted horrible as pond water usually does, yet, it did not deter me from collecting a bellyful of it.

After I was satisfied with my consumption, I dipped my hands back into the water and rested them in the muddy depths. It was then I felt a sturdy stick at my fingertips. I could’ve used such a thing as a rudimentary cane considering the painful extent of my mysterious injury. Wrapping my fingers around it, I lifted the wood above the surface and froze in terror.

There resting the slanted branch was face staring lifelessly at mine. Its blackened skin was shriveled against its skull and its long disheveled hair dripped water back into the pond. Its mouth was agape with a patch of algae hanging from the darkened hole flanked with a set of brown teeth. Its chest arched upwards with the pressure of the tree limb compressing against its back. Strained rib bones jutted out through the front of the skin and a sickening sound filled the air as the leathery mass began to stretch under its own weight, like rope under tension. I slowly lowered the stick back into the water with liquid refilling the wide and empty eye sockets of the corpse.

The thought of small decayed particles of flesh floating in the water may have unnerved me, but the reality of that same water being my stomach absolutely disgusted me. I backpedaled out of the pond and vomited shortly after. With shock, I shivered with my back resting against the willow. I’m not sure how long I stared out into the water thinking. Maybe it was a minute? Maybe it was an hour? Perhaps it was most of the night?

At some point, I managed to collect myself once more. Priorities began to develop in my mind of what to do next. The second was to find a way back home. The third was to call the local constabulary and show them the pond. The first did not occur to me until I finally stood once more with my hand resting against the tree. That priority, was to run like the dickens.

Despite the pain it caused, I quickly sprinted away from that place. Every sound of the night was amplified as blood rushed to my eardrums. A rabbit retreating into the bushes or a twig snapping below my feet made me shriek in terror as I panted, sweated, and cried. I’m not even sure how long or how far I ran, but I know a legged-it through a line of trees, two fields of corn, and a quarter section of wheat. Eventually I emerged from one of the fields and found a lonely stretch of blacktop. There I rested alongside the road and wept uncontrollably in the fetal position. My lungs were on fire, my legs ached, and my ankle felt as if it had been put through a wood chipper.

My salvation came as a pair of headlights in the distance. I may not have been able to get to my feet once more, but I waved my arms around in the air like a maniac until they drew close and stopped by me. One of my neighbors just so happened to be passing by and gladly gave me a ride back to town. He asked a lot of questions, most of which I couldn’t answer, and a great many I still cannot. I had no idea how my ankle was sprained. I had no recollection as to how I got there. I couldn’t even fathom how the police eventually found 12 dead bodies in that forsaken swamp. I don’t even know how I could be alive. Maybe I’m just lucky?

There is still one detail that haunts me to this day. It’s not the bodies or the fact I awoke in the middle of nowhere; It’s that hanging lantern. I know it’s all painfully obvious in hindsight, but this thing so simple and innocent held a much more sinister meaning with its presence. I knew one thing for certain. I sure as hell was not the one who put it there. Somewhere in the darkness, someone was with me.

Credit To – G. Preeb

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The Lonely Stars

April 9, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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NOTE: This pasta was submitted in dual forms: text and video. I’ve embedded the video below – if it’s not displaying for you, please click the link below the embed space to visit the video’s page on YouTube.

The full text of the story is posted below the embedded video, for those of you who prefer to read rather than listen.

The Lonely Stars ~ By Shadowswimmer77 ~ Sir Ayme

“Houston, come in. This is UN Space Station Libra. Come in, Houston.”

No reply, just like every other time. I throw the receiver in disgust, the weightless environment causing it to float mockingly in front of my face at the end of its retention strap. I’m bathed in the soft red glow of emergency lights that serve to illuminate every inch of my tiny cell. I take a deep breath to calm my nerves before returning to fiddle at the maintenance panel. I’ve been in here for two weeks now.

Libra was designed as the successor to the International Space Station. Typically there is a minimum two crew on board at any one time. I was supposed to be out of here three weeks ago with the British and Chinese astronauts who came up with me, but unfortunately the replacements had some mechanical complications, and then nasty weather delayed the Moscow launch another week. Even so, they should have been here days ago.

–“You sure you’ll be all right up here by yourself, mate?”

–“Sure. Somebody’s gotta keep the lights on. Besides, the Russkies will be here soon. Just have a drink for me when you get landside, yeah?”

–“I expect I’ll have two. Godspeed.”

I was ready to spend seven to ten days by myself on the station, waiting for the Russians to get their act together and get me my ride home. I’d done some time in an isolation chamber during my training, so I knew how to handle being stuck in a confined space with myself; the trick is to not listen to the voices. The station itself isn’t roomy, but it has five different modular compartments, more than enough space for one person to not feel enclosed. Even better, every module except for the emergency cell has specially reinforced portholes giving magnificent views of the earth far below. It was photos of this breathtaking panorama that had first driven me into the NASA program almost twenty years ago, so what better way to spend a week then by gazing at the world in all its glory? Since our planned experiments were complete, other than basic maintenance that’s exactly what I spent the first several days doing. I could lose myself for hours watching the blue water and brown land fly by underneath, the sun rising and setting every time I completed an orbit. Then came the event.

Five days into my lonely vigil I’d been roughly woken by a blaring alarm; Houston was trying to reach me, and they needed me now.

–“What’s going on, Houston?”

–“Weird readings, Libra. Satellites register some sort of anomaly we’re just now picking up. Don’t know if it’s solar flares, some kind of field left behind by a passing comet, or something else. We’ll be moving into the area within the hour. There’s no telling how the systems are going to respond. Better button up in the emergency cell until we’re through”

–“How long will that be?”

–“Don’t know…we’ll be in touch.”

It was good advice. Alarms started sounding almost exactly sixty minutes later and abruptly whole sections of the station’s instrument panels started shutting down. I was able to keep track of everything that was going on from the master controls in the emergency cell, so I knew exactly when power to the station completely cut out. There was a tense five to ten seconds before the emergency batteries kicked in. Then with a soft whine, they powered up the red lights I’d been basking in ever since.

I pause my work at the maintenance panel. For the thousandth time I take out the photo of my wife and daughter. They’re both smiling, holding each other close.

–Are you going to space again, daddy?

–Yes, honey, but not for too long this time.

–I don’t want you to go.

–Don’t worry, I’ll be back before you know it.

The emergency batteries are designed to provide minimum function, pretty much just life support and basic communications. Theoretically they’ll last long enough that I’ll have to be more concerned with running out of food and recycled water before worrying if they’re going to run dry. But I’m blind and deaf in here. The communications are rudimentary, designed to run on almost no power, so it’s small wonder I haven’t been able to reach Houston. I have to do something. I can’t even see outside since the emergency cell was designed specifically without any kind of view port. The walls are starting to close in, and in a cell this small there’s not much room to shrink. At least the voices haven’t started yet. Like I said, the trick is to avoid them, but in here there’s nowhere to run, nothing to distract my mind.

The main system is powered by exterior solar panels. The system had been tested and retested to automatically restart in the event of a catastrophic failure, but when it actually counted, something stopped the reset. After a day or two, I decided to take matters into my own hands and popped the cover of the maintenance panel. After two weeks I’ve gotten exactly zero response for my efforts.

As I put the photo of my family back in my pocket, the fear and unfairness of it all momentarily get the better of me. Dammit, I was supposed to be home weeks ago! In frustration I hit the panel as hard as I can with my open hand. Amazingly, that does the trick.

With a click and a whir, the red lights shift to white and the instrument panels begin powering up to their fully operational state. Ecstatic, I throw myself across the cell to the communication array.

“Houston, Houston, come in. This is space station Libra.”

I try the line for twenty minutes. Still no response. What the hell is going on? A gnawing pit is growing in the base of my stomach. While the system was down, I could make excuses for the radio silence, use them to keep the panicky feeling to a dull roar. But now…

I have to get out of this stupid cell. I may not be able to talk to the people down there, but at least I can watch them. If I imagine hard enough maybe I’ll see my little girl, looking to the sky to see if she can spy the station as it passes overhead. I unseal the airlock and move to the next module. I chuckle to myself; maybe I’ll be able to see my replacements’ shuttle. I peer through the view port. Then, frantically, I move from module to module looking through each porthole in turn, the pit growing deeper with each passing moment.

–She doesn’t want you to go.

–She’s a kid. Of course she doesn’t want me to go.

–I don’t want you to go either.

–I know. But?

–But I know you will anyway. And I won’t stop you.

–I love you, babe.

–I love you too.

–Always…

–…and forever.

It takes the station’s computer two hours to identify our position. Finally it finds enough known stars to triangulate where we are; exactly where we should be, two weeks after the last measurements were taken. The rest of the universe, though, is a little off, ahead of itself by about fifteen hundred years. In my gut, I’d already known that though. I’d known when I looked through the view port and didn’t see the big, beautiful earth shining below me, just the dark, empty blackness of space filled by only a few, lonely stars. In that moment everything became clear. I knew I could never go back.

Credit To – Shadowswimmer77

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