Storm-weathered and Fear-worn

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📅 Published on October 6, 2012

"Storm-weathered and Fear-worn"

Written by DeadAce

Estimated reading time — 6 minutes

Seven feet tall. Skin gray and pallid. Eyes of pure black. Breath fetid and rotting. The smell of decay upon its lips. Wings, paper-thin and laced with veins. Blood of putrid green.
That’s how I’ve always imagined it.
That’s how I see it still; that unnamable, unseen presence which pursued us like a tireless shadow.
It was real and yet it was not.
We had never heard it. We had never touched it. We never so much as glimpsed it.
But we felt it.
We felt the silent surge of darkness leaping from cloud to cloud.
It came with the weather. One moment, clear skies and calm. Peace. And the next, a storm. Fear. Panic. Chaos.
In seconds, thick clouds rolled in.
No wind.
No warning.
The skies opened up. Rain poured forth from heaven’s underbelly. The wind lilted unnaturally in the treetops, moaning and swaying in all directions. It was cold. Suddenly so very cold.
Thunder, deep and menacing, shook the earth and the air.
A spark of wicked light, for the briefest of seconds, bathed the sky in an unholy red-orange. The presence winked into existence.
I wish I could explain how we felt it. I wish I could understand. Maybe it was never real. It can’t have been.
And I pray that I’m right.

Being right would be so much simpler.

I try to reassure myself: At the excitable age of fifteen, trapped in the forest in the midst of a downpour, my imagination had escaped my control and created the nameless specter. It was nothing more than an illusion. I had just wanted some sort of adventure. It wasn’t a real entity. It couldn’t harm us.
After all, I had never seen the thing. I had never heard it.
I had just subconsciously craved excitement. Nothing more.
And still, I can’t escape my fear. As much as I comfort myself, I cannot shed that feeling: the feeling of eyes upon me.
My friend had come to visit that day. It was a rare and welcome occasion since, due to distance, we saw very little of each other. And that was what prompted our visit to the forest. It was a place of refuge. An escape. Although it was nearly time for him to depart, we made a journey to the thick swath of trees surrounding my house. It was childish logic: if we could distance ourselves from the house, he would have no need to leave.
I know those woods like my own child. I know their aches and pains. I know every curve of every path.

And I know when something is wrong.

It had started as nothing. We had lit a fire and were chatting casually.
And then the rain came. It was nothing odd. It was just rain. We hadn’t been expecting the storm, but in the never-ending summer heat it was welcome. It started off as a light shower, an innocent deluge of sustenance for the earth. We were content to let the fire extinguish itself as we lost ourselves in the spellbinding cadence of rain on leaves.
The rain was peaceful. And better yet, it was an excuse for my friend to remain in my company for more time.
The first roll of thunder. A menacing growl.
We joked that the sound had seemed almost…alive, like the voice of some great beast.

As far as I’m concerned, it was no joke.

After the first throb of thunder, the lilting lullaby of the rain began to accelerate. It began to darken. The rain came harder and faster. Soon the drops were so large that they stung on impact.
Concern welled up within me. Shelter. We needed shelter. I went to search for branches to build a canopy out of. As I stood, the sky burst into color. It was that first bolt of lightning. We both felt it immediately.

Why us? WHY US?!

Still, we needed to keep as dry as we could. I couldn’t let some “hunch” distract me from that fact. Fifty feet from the tree we were huddled against was a fallen tree. It was a perfect place to find what branches I would need. I left my friend behind. Being of the same wiry frame as I was, he had already begun to shiver with the unexpected cold. Though I was shivering too, I knew the forest well enough to fetch everything we needed.
I had an armful of branches when something in the woods changed. It’s not easy to describe to someone else what I mean by that. It’s like explaining the process of thinking. It was just…the atmosphere. Something was different. I could feel something nearby. Very nearby.
Despite the sound of the rain, I caught the ever-so-faint sigh of rustling leaves from the treetops above us, as if something had slid gently through the foliage. A clap of thunder echoed behind me, growing ever-closer.
These were not the sounds of the woods I knew so well.
My instincts told me to run.
I did.
Branches still in my hand, I rushed back to my friend, my body shaking not just with cold, but fear. With trembling fingers, I fumbled to construct a meek canopy for both of us, eventually failing and sinking into the mud with terrified resignation.

“We’re being followed.”

Those were my friend’s words. It was all he needed to say to confirm my fear.
We huddled as close as we could for warmth. Something was very near. A shiver ran down my back. Eyes. There were eyes on me.
The rain shifted, and with it a surging peal of thunder erupted from the sky. I held my breath. The thunder was close. It was practically on top of us. The rain continued to come. We were utterly soaked now, and shivering for our lives.
A hot breeze slid behind us on the other side of our tree, a disconcerting contrast to the frigid rain. Something was not right about the eddy of air. I inhaled and found my nostrils filled with a nauseating miasma. It was the awful stench of decay.
I gagged and the breeze stopped. Cold terror surged through my body. I could not stop the thought that my gagging had drawn the breeze to a halt.
Without knowing why, I dug my fingernails into the soft earth beneath me. I didn’t dare look at my friend.
The breeze whispered past us again, travelling in the opposite direction, lightly kissing my face, warming me with the sickly sweet aura of death. I shivered again, a tremor that encompassed my entire body. Something was searching for us. Something wanted us, and I dreaded to think what it would do if it found us.

Don’t move. Don’t move. Don’t breath. Don’t blink.

We remained motionless until our bodies ached, until I fell nearly unconscious. It was so cold, so frightfully cold. The hot current of fetid air swept all around us, filling my nostrils, causing my eyes to water. It drew closer and closer, and still I found my limbs frozen with the cold of the storm, petrified with fear. I wanted to utter a silent prayer, but I could not bring myself to do it, for fear that even that small motion would lead to our discovery.
A miracle: the breeze left.
The thunder crackled overhead once more and then after what seemed like an eternity, it rolled away to the east, away from us. The awful stench evaporated almost instantly. We had avoided the terrible thing that lurked within that repulsive current of air.
The rain began to warm again and then it slowed to a gentle shower once more. Something within me told me that now was the time to run.
I eyed my friend and we silently agreed to flee.
We stumbled away on weak, cold legs, our hearts throbbing and our minds racing.

Never rely on miracles.

We had made it halfway back to the house, the object that we had marked as our safe-haven, when the wind once again turned cold. And then, from the distance like some great stampede of terror came the resounding boom of thunder, roiling toward us within the clouds overhead. It had come back. It had found us.
It had found us.
We wasted no time on thoughts. Pouring our entire beings into our flight from that awful thing, we fled to the house as fast as our frigid legs would allow. The thunder was soon right over us again. I could feel the heat of that horrid wind biting at the back of my neck. Fleeing seemed almost pointless. But the house…the house was so close.

Two hundred feet. My legs churning the soil underfoot, digging into the wet earth.

One hundred feet. A blazing explosion of red lightning.

Fifty feet. The thunder stopped. My friend is falling behind.

Twenty feet. The thunder is ahead of us now, bursting with primal excitement. My friend is barely keeping up. God, oh god.

Ten feet. The door. The door. Almost. Thunder circling us. My legs. My lungs.

Please, god, please.

The house. Sweet safety.
We’re safe.
We’re home.
I collapse in a muddy heap on the floor. My lungs are burning but I am alive. I am safe.
My mother enters. It’s time…he needs to go home.
I’m about to object, but when I look outside, the storm clouds are almost completely gone. They have dissipated, dissolved as if they never existed.
He leaves. It’s a solemn parting. We both know what happened. We both know that fear, that awful fear.

I’m safe now, if you could call it that.

I’ve never returned to those woods. They are no longer my sanctuary. Though they may not house that thing that pursued us, they hold the memories of it and that alone is too much.
Another storm came by. I tried to confront my fear. What had happened was all in our heads. It was safe, I kept repeating. It had been almost a month since the woods.
It was 2am.
I heard the thunder.
My eyes snapped open to see the window of my bedroom.
Red lightning. On the boulder in our yard, a…a…
My mind was only sleep-addled.
For if I had seen, if I had truly seen, that gnarled black figure perched on the boulder, waiting to take me from this world, then I could not bear to ever leave this place.

I am no longer safe.
My days are numbered. And my curtains are drawn.

Credit: DeadAce

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