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Consumption



Estimated reading time — 13 minutes

As I sit outside on my porch I stare off into the darkness, focusing my attention to the moon. On this night it was full, and seemingly shone brighter than the millions of stars that gleamed in the sky. I take a moment to admire the beauty that is the vast space beyond this world. Although it’s pitch black in the wilderness that surrounds my home, my eyes could faintly make out small nocturnal mammals moving about occasionally stopping to stuff their mouths with nuts and the occasional insect. I then turn my attention to the single lit candle sitting on the desk. The candle’s fragrance is like that of a lilac. The small orange flame would occasionally flicker as the light breeze seethed its way through the trees and bushes. I then peered at the book I held between tired, aching fingers. Oddly enough, listening to the chirps of crickets made reading a little easier, even after an entire day of chopping and sawing logs in nearly hundred degree weather.

As tired as I was I continued to read, but by the time I had gotten to its second chapter my eyes were beginning to feel heavy. I blew the candle out and placed my bookmark where I stopped. I stood up and scooted the chair until the cushioned seat was underneath the wooden table. With my book in hand I walk to the doorway and grab the knob. Just as I’m about to close the door I hear the crack of a thick branch snapping. I pause and turn to see what caused the noise. I stood there confused. Somehow I failed to notice a tree much larger than the ones that stood further along the river bank. It stood only a few yards from my doorstep. Almost menacingly, it towers over everything around it. The mass of thick, leafless branches jutted out in multiple directions. As the wind slowly picked up the tree would sway, but it’s movement seemed unnatural. It was almost as if it were trying to match the direction of the breeze. It’s bark was noticeably darker than normal, as if it’d been singed by flames.

Curious, I shut the door behind me and walked over to the tree. As I moved closer I widened my eyes to help them adjust to the pitch-black darkness surrounding the woods. I was about a foot away from the tree when I noticed my eyes still failed to make out any detail. Even with the aid of the moonlight all I saw was the silhouette of what appeared to be a very large tree. Upon closer inspection I quickly realized this was no ordinary tree. My face was probably a few inches away from the trunk at this point, even then I couldn’t make out one piece of bark. I decided to place my finger upon the trunk. I was taken aback once I found that it was warm. Very warm in fact, as if it was a living mammal. I almost removed my finger when my curiosity once again got the better of me. I slowly ran by finger down the trunk. “What is this?” I said out loud as quickly realized this was no normal tree. It consisted of some sort of moist, pulsating “flesh-like” material. It was like touching raw meat with the veins, arteries and blood left inside.

I quickly retracted my finger as the trunk began to ripple like water, a deep gurgle radiated from within. I then back peddled, keeping my eyes on the creature. The trunk suddenly leaned forward, and the mass of thick branches stretched out in my direction. I went into a full sprint, leapt onto my porch and slammed the door behind me. I sped down the corridor past my living room and snatched open my bedroom door. I grabbed my pump action shotgun from my closet, slammed the slugs into the barrel and bolted down the hall once more. Slowly, I pull the blind down so that my right eye can peek out the window. The creature was now flailing wildly as it’s root-like tentacles tore through the earth beneath, flinging dirt every which way. It sunk deeper and deeper until it was completely submerged. It then burrowed through the ground in the direction of the river bank. At this point it was out of sight. I heard a faint splash in the distance, afterward all that could be heard was the wisps of the night breeze. I snatch a chair from the dining room and place it in front of the window. Slamming my rear in the chair, I cock my gun and listen.

I’m sure I stayed up for most of the night. When I woke that morning, I sat in the chair and contemplated last night’s events. I take a deep breath and sighed, lowering my head as I pinched the bridge of my nose with my index finger and thumb. Was that real? I questioned myself. I stood from my chair and closed my eyes. Slowly peeling the blinds open, I take another deep breath and sharply exhale as I peer out the window. There was a gaping hole where the creature burrowed into the earth, followed by cracks that formed a trail through the woods. I let go of the blind and lean back into the chair. Should I call the police? No, they’d think I’m insane! A loud noise suddenly blared from down the hall, jolting me from my chair. I then recognized it as my phone’s ringtone. I grabbed my gun that I had dropped when I fell asleep, and made my way to my room. Just before the song reached it’s chorus I picked up my phone and answered without checking who it was. “Hello?”

“Hey Dave, you alright?” It was my younger brother, I could hear the concern in his voice.

I hesitantly responded, “Uh – yeah, I’m…fine.”

“Are you sure? You sound really shaky.” In my mind I ran through everything that happened only mere hours ago.

“Yeah, Rich, I just had a bad nightmare, that’s all. I’m a little shaken up.”

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“Well uh, I think I’m about to make your morning a little worse.”

“How so?”

“Your shift started an hour ago.” I swear at myself repeatedly before immediately hanging up the phone and hurriedly gathered myself for work. As I finally got into my truck, I took one last glance at the hole in front of my house. I then speed off down the dirt road in the direction of town.

After promptly getting my ass chewed out by my boss the moment I stepped into the building, I trudged over to my desk and unceremoniously plopped into my chair. I then slide on my headset and lean back into my chair with my arms crossed in front of my chest. I look over at the small clock placed inconveniently on the opposite side of where my desk was. I squint my eyes to help them focus. Though I could barely make it out, I saw the hour hand on the number 8 and minute hand on the number 9. My brother wasn’t kidding, I was over an hour late for my shift. I shake my head, ashamed at myself. I’d been working that job for several months and not once have I been any later than a few seconds after 7:30 am, my scheduled clock in time. I then began staring off into space, patiently waiting for my first call. I suddenly hear a faint, “psst!” noise a few tables ahead of me. I looked forward and scanned the cubicles in the room. I hear it again, this time a bit to my left. It was my younger brother, Richard. He waved, and I waved back

He then gave me a thumbs up and mouthed the words, “You good?” I nodded in response. He then mouthed, “Talk at lunch?” I nodded once again. He gave me another thumbs up and slid back down behind his cubicle wall. Through my headset I hear other fellow employees receive either prank calls or legitimate minor emergencies. After some time I glance at the clock on the further side of there room. After some squinting I gritted my teeth with irritation, it was 9:30 am. These days drag on, and it seems the more I focus on the clock the longer the days become. Out of pure boredom I begin to nod off.

Some time passes before I’m awoken by the sound of my cubical finally receiving a call. I quickly sat up, repositioning my headset and microphone. “911, what is your emergency?” A few seconds pass, no response. I repeat myself, this time a bit more bass in my voice. “911, what is your emergency?”

The shaking voice of an elderly man whispered, “There’s…something in my house. It killed my dog!”

“Sir, what is your address?”

“131673 Cameron Way.” I typed the information on my computer screen as fast as I could.

“OK, are you still in the house, sir?”

“Yes, I’m hiding in the hallway closet.”

“OK good, please try to remain calm and as quiet as possible. Did you see what attacked your pet?” He gave no response. I typed the rest of the information into my computer and sent it to the nearest police station. “I have units heading your way now. Are you able to stay on the phone until they arrive?”

“How long will they take?”

“Judging from your location, approximately 10 to 15 minutes.” The elderly man let out a frustrated whimper. “Everything will be alright, just stay hidden and don’t make any noise.”

“O-OK.”

“Do you have any idea how long ago this took place?”

“No, I just got off of work at 9:00 and came home around 9:15. I saw my front door in pieces on my living room carpet. I ran inside to see what was going on.” After he said this I was tempted to reprimand him for making such a stupid decision. “There was blood splattered on the walls and smeared into the carpet, and clumps of white fur all over the place. Then I noticed a trail of blood with these big, weirdly shaped bloody footprints beside it that led to the kitchen. I made an idiot move and followed it. There was blood pooling on the tile and splattered all over my cabinets, counter-tops and sink. That’s when I saw this…thing.”

“Thing?”

“I don’t know what is. It has to be at least seven, eight feet tall. Hell, maybe ten! It looked like some kind of giant, black spider with tentacles protruding from it’s back. But get this, it stood upright, like a human! It was built like a tank too. Each leg was about as thick as a grown man is tall. I didn’t get a good look at its torso, it was hunched over. It’s back looked like a giant tortoise’s shell. It was split open, and I could see what looked like hundreds of pink, fleshy tentacles flailing around underneath. Right at its gigantic feet was my poor Lab, Nancy. She was bleeding from her temple and had deep gashes all over her body. Chunks of flesh and fur were missing too! Her stomach was ripped wide open, and that damn thing was eating her intestines! Piece by piece! Taking its time, as if it were enjoying every morsel!” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Is this the same thing I saw last night?

“It then slowly turned around and it’s red, beady eyes met mine. One of its tentacles wrapped around Nancy’s mangled body and held it in front of its large beak-like mouth. It’s throat started to expand and the beak, split open into a maw of huge sharp teeth and a bunch tongues. It then shoved my girl into its mouth and swallowed her whole! I could see her going down its throat and its stomach expanding into this thick, fleshy, veiny sack.”

“My God…” I quietly whispered.

“It lunged at me, but I had my pepper spray ready. I sprayed it right down its throat and it reared back. That howl it let out was ungodly, like a bunch of voices shouting angrily in unison. I ran past the kitchen and down the hall into this closet. I heard it dash down the opposite end of the hall before I called. I think it’s in my bedroom still. Do you know how close the uni-” he suddenly quieted.

“Sir, is everything alright?” I asked. He promptly shushed me.

“It’s coming this way!” I listened closely. I could hear what sounded like many hissing and clicking noises, followed by multiple heavy thuds. The noise grew as the creature drew closer to the old man’s hiding place. My heart began to race. The noise grew painstakingly closer with each moment that passed. The deafening screams of the old man cause my heart to nearly skip a beat. I snatched off my headset and slammed them onto my desk. The commotion caught the attention of everyone else in the room. What followed left us all in shock and horror. The moist sounds of flesh being violently ripped apart mixed with blood curdling screams shook me to the core. The noise seemed to go on for an eternity until it settled down to a nauseating drone of bones slowly being crushed. The old man’s voice could still be heard, quietly groaning in grievous agony. He then went silent, and the line died.

The next few daunting hours dragged along. I took every call as I normally did, quickly and efficiently. Between said calls fellow employees would check up on me to see if I was okay. In our building we treat each other like family. Taking serious calls often takes it’s mental toll on us dispatchers, especially since we have no further details of these incidents after we hang up the line. So, as you can imagine, I greatly appreciated everyone taking time between their own calls to reassure me. I was on my last call right before lunch when I noticed Richard waiting patiently beside my cubicle, he was clearly concerned. Once I finished I turned off my headset and leaned back in the chair. I let out a big sigh and mutter, “Dear Lord…”

“You alright?”

“…Yeah” I tried to come up with a different reply, but I was scatterbrained by this point.

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Dave checked his wrist watch, “Come on, it’s about time for lunch. We can talk in the break room.“

We get our lunch and place our trays in the break room down the hall from the call area. The break room is somewhat of a sanctuary for a lot of us here. There are plenty of things to take our minds off of a rough call we may have gotten. On opposite sides of the door are two wooden shelves about six feet in height. The one on the right hand side has board games stacked on all five rows. The left has stress balls, a few card decks, marbles and jacks, and for some reason a few cans of Silly Putty. On the last two bottom rows are numerous books of various genres. In each corner of the room are large multicolored bean bags. These are my favorite items in this room, you practically melt the moment you settle yourself on one of these things. Richard closes the door and seats himself crossed from me on one of the few plastic tables in the middle of the room. For a moment we both dig into our Styrofoam containers of steaming mashed potato lathered in brown gravy, barbecue chicken cutlets, green beans and small helping of yams.

“So…,” Richard starts as he stuffs his mouth with a cutlet, “That was quite the call.” I stop eating and put my fork down. I slightly shake my head as I struggle to find a decent response. “Are you feeling okay? I’m mostly asking because of our phone call earlier.”

“Oh, sorry about that, I -,”

“…What is it?” He questions. I want to tell him, but I hesitate once more. I know what I saw was real, especially now that someone was likely killed by the same creature. After a bit more convincing I finally gave in.

“If I tell you this, no matter how insane this sounds to you, you won’t think I’m crazy?”

“I’ve been working in this field for almost a decade now. I’ve heard a lot of things, prolly’ heard it all.” With that, I begin.

For the sake of timing I give him a quick rundown of the previous night’s events. The tree creature, how it disguised itself as a tree, and how it tried to attack me.

“I probably sat in front of my window for nearly the entire night until I finally passed out.” I then began telling him about the call from earlier. Being as specific as possible, I gave him the exact description of the creature the now deceased elderly man gave me over the line.

“Wait a moment,” he abruptly cut me off, “I thought you said that tree creature had no distinguishable features.”

“It was mimicking a tree.”

Richard sighed, “OK, continue.” I quickly finished and waited for his response. For what felt like an eternity, he stared down at his food tray. He finally managed to look me in the eyes, “Listen, I haven’t seen a monster under my bed since we first got into our double digits. Nor have I seen any hiding in my closet.” He stopped for a moment and returned his gaze to his food tray. I tried to think of an explanation, but held my tongue to avoid possibly embarrassing myself any further. “If what you are saying is true…,” Richard paused, reached into his right pants pocket and pulled out his phone, “…that would explain this.” He typed and swiped for a moment. He then placed his phone onto the table and slid it in my direction. I caught it and examined the screen. It showed a snapshot of the first page of an online article. The picture above the title was a photo taken at night. A large circular object hidden within the clouds. Numerous lights could be seen shining brightly. The title read, “An Alien in Mayberry?” I glanced at the date above the picture which reads, “April 4th, 2045.”

“I see this was written last month.”

“Right, now swipe right.” I swiped and was met with another article. The picture was of a large barn house. The title of this article read, “Farmer Finds Livestock Slaughtered and Half-Eaten.” It was also written in the same month as the previous article. “Have you heard about the tons of disappearances Mayberry has had within the last two weeks?”

“Yeah, they’ve been on the news everyday since they’ve started. As a matter of fact – ,” I pause, reflecting on a recent host of missing reports, “Didn’t five or six more people go missing within the last few days?” Rich slowly nodded.

“A buddy of mine, Michael, is a forensics scientist. He and a few others were tasked to perform a necropsy on the animals that were killed on that farm. After taking the cadavers to the lab, they began to set up their area. That’s when Micheal spotted what appeared to be a black porcupine spike caught in between the molars in the back of a pig’s mouth. As he tried to grab a hold of it with his tweezers he said it twitched. He went for it again, thinking his eyes were playing tricks on him. When his tweezers grabbed the tip of the spike it borrowed into the flesh.”

“What was it?”

“Pretty sure it was a gift from your tree friend. He and his team placed the cadavers in a freezer in the room, taking a blood sample before sealing them in their steel tombs. Under the microscope they found that there were two cell types in the tissue. The first were regular red blood cells from the animals. The second were these black, oval-shaped microorganisms with stretching pseudopods. They wrapped around the red blood cells and completely enveloped them. Get this though…, ” Richard abruptly stopped and pulled out his phone once more. He held the phone up to my face, playing a video capture from a microscope. The black organisms he mentioned consumed the red blood cells and immediately began rounding out its shape. The black color of the cells brightened to a vibrant red and the pseudopods retracted into their membranes.

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I stared in complete disbelief at what I was watching. “It’s assimilating, and perfectly mimicking the cells!” My brother slowly nodded his head. “How is that even possible?”

“His team asked the same question. They also found that it can do the same with plant life, this would explain why that tree attacked you.” I leaned back into my chair and rubbed my forehead.

I let out a deep sigh, “Do they know about the creature the old guy was talking about?”

“All they know about it are supposed sightings of it.” For a while we sat, allowing the unwelcome drone of awkward silence to fill the room. Richard’s phone suddenly rings. He takes a look at his screen before quickly answering. “Hello, Richard Dodson speaking.”

“Rich, It got out!” A frantic voice huffed on the other line. The sound of an alarm could be heard blaring in the background.

“Michael, what happened?”

“The animals we put away in the freezers fucking reanimated somehow, busted out and attacked us. I got away, but I think the other three weren’t so lucky.”

“Where are you right now?”

“I’m in the lunchroom, just down the hall from our operation room. The exit isn’t too far from here. I just have to – ,” He suddenly silenced, breathing heavily.

“Mike, what is it? Mike, answer me!”

Michael suddenly whispered, “Oh, my God! It fused their bodies together! It looks like a fleshy slug covered in spider legs and teeth!” The foreboding thought of listening to another man’s dying moments made my stomach churn.

“Okay, you need to hide and stay out of sight! Can you get into the kitchen?” There was no answer, “Mike can you hear me?” There was another round of dreadful silence. With mortifying anticipation we impatiently waited for any kind of response.

“Oh!” Michael suddenly shrieked. The cacophony of tables and chairs being thrown about and slammed caused Richard and I to jolt. The commotion lasted only a moment before the call abruptly ended.

Credit : UnhingedUser

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