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The Terror From Beyond the Void

The terror from beyond the void

Estimated reading time — 77 minutes

IT SKITTERED its way across the leaves, and I knelt down to get as close as I could. Eight legs, black body – it was one of the feared ones; a black widow. I knew that before I pulled up Nature’s Identity on my phone. But I needed to log it into the app to make it official. Without that digital tally mark, the proof simply wasn’t there. And I needed proof if I was going to top my wife.

I opened the app and placed my phone’s camera as close as I could to the jittery creature. It stopped on a dead leaf, almost like it was posing for the photo, and I was able to get a crystal clear image of it. Once I pressed the image capture button, my obvious assumption was confirmed:

Black Widow. Latrodectus mactans, to be exact. Venomous, dangerous, and a morbid method of killing and devouring its prey. I had never seen one before in person, so this wasn’t just a great Pennsylvanian camping find, but just a very satisfying find in general. I likened it to finding Mewtwo back in the day in my Pokemon Red game.


The spider remained still; I couldn’t tell if it felt threatened, or if it was trying to threaten me.

Bite me and I’ll squash you without remorse, I playfully thought.

I stood up, stepped away from the dreadful arachnid, and scrolled through the long list of animals, insects and plants I had captured in Nature’s Identity since our family camping trip had begun. I imagined what my wife’s list was looking like; we agreed to not share our final tally’s until the trip home. I was hoping it was a lot shorter than mine, but she and the twins had gone down to the creek, so there was no telling what critters she’d come across there.
I took a deep breath and exhaled, appreciating the wilderness my family and I had come to visit for the week. After a rough couple of years dealing with the likes of a pandemic and being forced to take a different job with a significant cut in pay, this week was exactly what we needed. Plus, within the next month, the twins would be heading across the country to attend California State University. This camping trip into the Pennsylvanian wilderness could end up being our last as a family for quite some time, and I wanted to make sure we enjoyed every second of it.

I hiked back to the cabin. It was an old log structure in a pine-needle-covered clearing with another identical cabin, vacant and waiting for the next family, sitting just behind a cluster of trees. Our camper was parked just outside of our dwelling. The twins decided they would sleep in the camper. They claimed it was so that Macie and I had our privacy, but truthfully I knew it was because that’s where the internet worked the best.

The privacy was nice though.

I took off my boots and placed them on the porch before walking in. The place was nice, as it should have been for a grand a week. It was smack dab in the middle of the five-star rated Timber Acres Camp Resort in the Allegheny Mountains. The cabin’s design was simple, yet elegant in its own way, decorated with the mounted heads of deer and bear, and hued in a cedar and oak color scheme. Burgundy area rugs made each section of the layout pop as if they were separate rooms, when in reality, it was one large space that included everything from a dining area, a kitchen and a living room. The bedrooms and bathroom, however, were separate.


I sat down on the couch and turned on the TV, waiting for Macie, Wes and Kevin to return from the creek. The TV was much nicer than the one we had back home in Ohio, but the reception left a lot to be desired. Channels buzzed occasionally with static and the volume dipped in and out. And the lack of Netflix or Hulu was a little frustrating as well.

Bad reception or not, I must have fallen asleep watching the glitchy images on screen, because I woke up to a loud crash behind me. The TV was off when I opened my eyes, and I turned around on the couch to see Macie on her hands and knees cleaning up a glass cup she had dropped in the kitchen area.

I hopped up quickly to help her.

“How was the creek?” I asked, picking up some of the larger shards of glass.

“It was beautiful,” she said. “The water was so clean you could see the little fish and water bugs so clearly.”

“Did you …log any of them?” I asked, curious and ornery.

Macie smirked. “I logged three new ones. A Fallfish, a Gerridae and, wait for it …”

I waited as Macie built up her own anticipation to tell me. I knew it must have been a good one. Finally, she said:

“A Northern Watersnake.”

My eyes widened. “Wow! Good haul!”

“Thanks!” Macie said, extremely proud of her finds. “What about you?”

“Nothing much, just a little …Black Widow Spider!”

Macie’s eyes widened next, but more out of concern. “Oh my God,” she said. “Those are so dangerous. You didn’t get too close, did you?”

“Of course I did. I needed that award-winning image. It’ll be a story to tell the boys back home,” I said.

Macie laughed. “What boys? If you’re talking about Noah Williams from down the street, he doesn’t count.”

“Oh, he definitely counts,” I said with a put-on defensive tone. “He counts more than Charlotte Moore does.”

“My blogger partner?”

“Yeah. Taking turns writing about gardening tips barely constitutes as friends. Doesn’t she live in Alaska? What are they gardening up there? Snow peas?”

I could tell by the way Macie just stared at me that I wasn’t making a compelling argument. She didn’t really consider Charlotte a friend, and I knew that. She was just another woman Macie had met online who shared gardening interests and they decided to create a blog together.

“At least we toss ideas back and forth with each other,” Macie said. “On the phone, text, email …how do you and Noah communicate? Aside from a wave or a head nod as you drive by each other?”

I had nothing.

Macie laughed. “Exactly,” she said.

After a quick knock, the front door opened and Wes and Kevin walked in.

“Neighbors have arrived!” Wes said, pushing his fists into the air like he had won the lottery.

“Quiet time is over,” Kevin said, seemingly disappointed by the new arrivals.

Sure, they were twins, but their personalities were vastly different. Wes was more of an outgoing personality, usually dressed in brighter clothing and impulsive. Kevin, on the other hand, cherished his alone time. He was a gamer who had acquired quite the following on his Youtube channel, K’s Kraze. So the personality that lacked in-person came out more online. Something about the person to person experience usually discomforted him. But I always believed that as long as I let them thrive with what they’re comfortable with, they’ll be alright out on their own. And that’s all I wanted; I wanted them to be alright.

I followed the twins out to the porch, Macie by my side. We stood there and watched another camper, a little smaller than ours, pull up the dirt trail and park next to the secondary cabin. The trees and shrubbery hindered a lot of what we, as a family, tried to watch, but I was certain that we would meet the other family sooner rather than later. We were already a couple of days into our trip, but we still had four days left. It would just be awkward if we didn’t at least get our introductions out of the way.

“Hopefully there are some girls in that camper,” Wes said, rubbing his hands together like a cartoon villain coming up with a plan for world domination. I could have sworn I even saw his tongue hanging out like a dog. Teenage hormones, I thought. I’d been there. But that still didn’t mean I was entirely comfortable with my boys experiencing them.

“Well, maybe we can all head over there and introduce ourselves in a bit. Let them get settled in first,” Macie said.

“I have to check Twitch,” Kevin said, hopping off the porch and heading for the camper.

Macie let out a heavy, not-so-subtle, sigh. “Can’t you go one hour without the internet?”

“I have people who depend on me, Mom,” Kevin said, looking back. “Believe it or not, there are people who are interested in what I do.”

His words stung Macie, as always. She and Kevin always butted heads when it came to his gamer persona. I seemed to understand it a bit more, having dabbled in countless games myself, but still tried to support both of them. Macie didn’t realize that there was such a strong career in gaming, especially live streaming gameplay like Kevin did. But Kevin also needed to understand that in the blink of an eye, the following he had built, as well as the advertisers and sponsors who dished out just enough money to make it a profitable venture, could all fall out from under him without a single warning. The next, best, up-and-coming gaming persona was always looming in the shadows of the internet.

I put my hand on Macie’s shoulder, letting her know to just let Kevin do what he needed to do. I could feel the tension in her muscles; she always took everything so hard.

Kevin disappeared into the camper.

“I’m gonna run some reconnaissance on the newbies,” Wes said. “I’ll have a full report in about ten or fifteen minutes.”

Wes jogged off to some of the heavier thicket that separated our cabin from the neighbors.
Macie seemed to relax as the twins left us. “Sometimes I wish those games didn’t exist,” she said.

I squeezed her shoulder. “I know. But he’s so passionate about it. We should try to support him. He’s making pretty good money from it.”

“Money isn’t everything, Ben,” she said. “He needs to be out there, with people. Otherwise, he’ll end up as just a rich recluse that has zero people skills and no personality.”

She turned away from me and walked back into the cabin. I just stood there, listening to the soft sounds of nature. The birds, the bugs, and the camper door from the neighbors slamming shut, followed by a girl screaming.

I RUSHED across the sea of dried pine needles and through the trees that split the property. Wes had already emerged from the brush to attend to the scream.

There was a teenage girl on the ground outside of the camper. Her parents hovered over her, trying to help her to her feet.

“Hey! Everything okay?” I called out just as Wes and I got to them at the same time.

“Yeah, I think she’s okay,” her father said, turning to us. The girl looked embarrassed, and I noticed a scrape on her leg.

“I’m fine,” the girl said, firmly, yet clearly embarrassed. “I just slipped when I came out.”

I watched her eyes shoot to Wes multiple times, but then away from him just as quickly. Surely that’s not how she wanted to make her entrance into Timber Acres.

Her father stepped away from his family and extended his hand to mine. “Duke Saunders,” he said with a smile. “This is my wife, Natalie, and my clumsy daughter, Hadley.”

Hadley’s scoff indicated that she didn’t appreciate her dad’s playful jab.

“Ben Nolan,” I said, shaking Duke’s firm grip back. “This is my son Wes. My other son, Kevin and my wife Macie are back on the property.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Ben,” Duke said, releasing my hand. He was more burly than I was for sure, but he seemed to give off that classic ‘big teddy bear’ trope.

“Hello, Ben,” Natalie said, standing by her daughter. I nodded and said hello back. Hadley gave nothing more than just a head nod and a half-smile; her eye contact was still elusive.

“How long have you guys been up here?” Natalie asked. “This place is beautiful.”

“Three days,” I said. “We leave in another four.”

“Well, maybe we’ll get to share a beer or two over the next four days, Ben,” Duke said.

“Why not three?” I joked. Everyone, except for Hadley, chuckled.

“I’ll get in on that,” Wes said. I put my hand up to shut his nonsense down.

“We’ll let you get settled in,” I said. “Let us know if you need anything. We have some Bactine if you need it for your leg, Hadley.”

“I’m fine, thanks,” she said quickly.

After the goodbyes, Wes and I departed back to our side of the trees.

“Was that enough reconnaissance for you?” I asked Wes, patting him on the back. He just laughed.

That night, we made good use out of the fire pit. Settled between the camper and cabin, the fire illuminated the darkness. It crackled and spit embers that gently floated away in every possible direction. The constant drone of the crickets and bugs that infested the wilderness was like white noise to my ears. It was relaxing, hypnotizing. I could have fallen asleep if I didn’t have a hot dog cooking on the end of a metal skewer.

I watched the collagen casing on the hot dog brown and bubble to perfection, and then pulled it out of the flames and trapped it inside of a bun.

Macie, Wes and Kevin were all doing the same, each of their hot dogs in various stages of brown to burnt. Hot dogs on an open fire were something we all could agree on, thankfully. Something about it was so American, so comforting. The perfect camping food; I’d love for someone to challenge that statement.

I watched Macie lean to the side and try to peer through the trees to where the Saunders’ cabin was. It was dark on their side of the property.

“I wonder what they’re up to?” she said. “Surely they must see our fire. You’d think they would come over and say hi to the rest of us.”

“Well, you weren’t the ones who saved that girl,” Wes said, taking a large bite of his hot dog right off the skewer.

“Please,” Kevin chimed in, “all you did was rush over there like a panting dog. You didn’t do anything. I saw you from our camper’s window.”

“That’s more than you did,” Wes snapped.

“I was busy.”

Wes scoffed.

“Maybe they just want their privacy,” I said. “They just got here. I’m sure we’ll catch them in the morning at some point.”

“But why is it so dark?” Macie insisted on keeping her speculation going.

“Some people sleep in the dark, Mom,” Wes said. “Most people, actually. All of them, I believe.”

“Ha-ha,” Macie mocked.

Kevin’s phone lit up on his lap, drawing all of our attention to it. He tried to cover it quickly, looking directly at Macie. She shook her head.

“You just can’t help yourself,” she said.

“I’m not in charge of when I get notifications!” Kevin snapped, louder than I would have liked him to. I tried to hush him down, but it was going to be useless. He stood up. “You know what Mom, if you don’t want me to be happy and enjoy what I love, that’s fine. But, please, don’t make me out to be the inconsiderate one here.”

Kevin sat his still smoking hot dog on the chair and retreated to the camper. He slammed the door shut behind him. I just looked at Macie, a little disappointed in her. It was almost like she was waiting, stalking every moment, for the time to strike him down. She didn’t waste a single second.

Wes remained silent across from me, eating his hot dog and taking a sip from his water bottle. Macie wouldn’t look at me; she knew she acted out of turn.

I opened the door to the camper and walked in. Kevin was sitting on the bed with his laptop open and his phone in his hand. He looked up, somehow startled by me coming in. When he realized it was me, he eased back up.

“Did Mom send you in here?” he asked.

“No,” I said, shaking my head. I looked around the interior of the camper that the boys had been held up in for the past three days. It looked just like I imagined it would; just like it would if I was a seventeen year old again. Clothes were piled up, candy wrappers strewn across the surfaces, an open bag of chips on Wes’ bed—I didn’t really think twice about any of it.

Above Kevin was a string of white Christmas lights that were glowing.

“Tis the season,” I said with a half-chuckle.

Kevin rolled his eyes. “It makes it feel like my office at home.”

“Your office? Your bedroom?”

“It’s my office,” he firmly reiterated. “Streaming is a job these days, Dad. I know you get that. I just don’t see why Mom doesn’t.”

“She’s a little old fashioned, I guess. She didn’t play games like you do, like I did.” I sat down on the bed with him and continued. “I played Metal Gear Solid, Jet Force Gemini, Goldeneye …you name it. I faked illness in school just to stay home and play Goldeneye. I would have killed for that to be a job back when I was younger. It’d have been the dream job for me and most of my friends. Now, times have changed and technology rules more than it ever has. You’re in a position to capitalize on that. Gaming, streaming — it is a job. And you seem to be doing extremely well. I’ve seen your bank balance, Kev. You could have moved out months ago and been alright.”

Kevin nodded with what I took as appreciation. “Why’s Mom gotta be like that?” he laughed.
“Have you seen her play a game? She’s a button masher.”

We shared another laugh, which was interrupted by the string of Christmas lights flickering. His laptop screen went black, and his phone shut off. The camper fell into darkness, the only light was the glow from the fire outside, coming through the recreational vehicles’ small porthole windows.

I looked around, hearing a soft buzzing noise. It sounded similar to a bug buzzing right up against my ear, but it was more of a static-infused charge.

Then it stopped.


“Must be the generator,” I said.

Kevin tapped the keys on the laptop furiously; he seemed to be on the edge of panicking. I stood up from the bed and peered out one of the small windows. I could see the firepit. Macie was on her feet, Wes remained seated. I glanced up at the cabin where we had left the lights on inside, but now the cabin sat in darkness.

“I’ll be right back,” I said to Kevin. I could hear him still tapping the keys aggressively as I opened the door and stepped back outside into the warm night.

“What’s wrong?” Macie called out, her voice echoing through the woods.

“Generator must have blown,” I said, walking past the two of them and toward the cabin. The generator was around back, so I used the glow of the fire as long as I could to get back there. But that’s where my vision became compromised. I pulled my phone out to use the flashlight the rest of the way, but it was off. I knew the battery hadn’t died, it was completely charged, but for some reason, it sat cold and dead in my hand.

The generator would have affected the electricity. The string of lights in the camper, the bulbs in the cabin—not the phones and wireless laptop. I stood there behind the cabin, in the dark, confused as to why everything had shut off. It didn’t make any sense.

I felt my way to the generator, but without a light, I couldn’t see what I was doing. I gave up and returned to the firepit where Kevin had rejoined the family.

“Can you fix it?” Macie asked, hopeful.

“I can’t even see it,” I said. “It might have to wait until morning.”

Wes tapped his phone, but it too was dead. I had Macie pull her phone out for good measure, but I already knew it wouldn’t work.

“What’s going on?” Wes asked.

I had no idea. I didn’t know what to say. “Maybe some kind of radio waves, or something interfering with the electronics?

No one responded to my theory. It probably didn’t make much sense, but I didn’t have a clue otherwise.

“What about the neighbors? The Saunders’?” Macie asked next.

Looking through the trees, I could see nothing but blackness. The glow from our fire only extended so far.

“They’ve been living in the stone age anyway,” Wes said. “They probably have no idea their power’s out if they don’t use it to begin with.

“Maybe I should go check on them,” I said.

“No,” Macie said, grabbing my sleeve. “It’s too dark. There are animals out there—black widows, remember?”

She was right. I didn’t want to get bit by one of those things. Or a snake. Or a bear. Or whatever else was lurking around these woods; the wilderness could eat you alive if it had the opportunity.

“Maybe everything will be back on in the morning,” I said. “I’ll check on them then.”

Using the fire to see our way back into the cabin and camper respectively, we retired to bed. I left the bedroom window open, allowing the fading glow to comfort us until it fizzled out into a rising stream of white smoke.

MORNING CAME too fast. I opened my eyes, still feeling exhausted. The room was alive with all of the features the darkness had hidden the night before. I rolled over and saw that Macie’s side of the bed was empty.

I walked out of the bedroom and into the open floorplan of the cabin. Macie sat at the kitchen table, reading a book and eating a bowl of dry cereal. The crunching of the shredded wheat seemed louder than it should have.

“No milk?” I asked, plopping down in the seat across from her. I didn’t smell any coffee either. “No coffee?

“Fridge is out. The milk went bad overnight,” she said, waspishly.

“The power is still out?”

I stood up and looked out the front window. The firepit was nothing but a heap of ashes and charred wood. The camper’s door was closed and the shades were still pulled on the windows, telling me that the twins were more than likely still asleep. A light fog drifted through the trees, blurring anything from view past the camper. I couldn’t tell if the Saunders’ had power, or were even awake.

“I’m going to check the generator,” I said. Macie didn’t respond, she only crunched on another spoonful of dry cereal.

Outside, the air was cool and damp. The bugs made themselves known out in the woods, as did something else scampering around not too far away. A squirrel, or a chipmunk perhaps.
I walked around to the back of the cabin to where the generator was. It was connected to the cabin with a heavy-duty extension cord. It was yellow and black with switches and knobs all over it. I had never actually had to use one before, and with most of the instructions faded from the sticker on it, I wasn’t exactly sure what to do. Now would have been the perfect time to pull up a YouTube video on generator repair, and pretend I knew how to do it when I victoriously strolled back inside.

“It’s no use,” a deep voice said behind me. Startled, I swung around to see Duke Saunders standing there. “Ours is dead too. Phones, TV, coffee—all of it. It’s like we were sent back to the stone age.”

“I know what you mean,” I said, thinking about Wes’ off-hand comment the previous night.

“What happened? Some kind of radio waves?” I still didn’t know if that was a thing or not.
Duke just stood there, breathing in deep, and taking in his surroundings. “I don’t know,” he exhaled. “It’s all so quiet up here.”

“We lost power last night while we were roasting hot dogs. Seemed dark over your way. Did you lose it sooner?”

“No. We turned in early. It was a long drive from Wisconsin.”

“Wisconsin, huh? Green Bay?”

Duke laughed. “No, we’re not the big city type. Burrows, actually. Small, quiet, uneventful. That’s the way we like it.”

“Never been out that way.”

“It’s a different world out there. Where is your clan from?”


“Ah, yes. The Buckeyes.”

I laughed. “Yeah, we have a major football problem.”

“Understandable. You have a team, we have a dairy farm.”

Duke and I both laughed, but then I remembered the problem still at hand: the power.
“So what are we going to do?” I asked.

Duke looked around. The wispy fog appeared as a spectral barrier that kept us confined to the camp, and kept others out.

“We journey into the fog,” Duke announced playfully in a deep, macho voice. “I think there are other cabins not far away. We passed some on our way up here yesterday.”

“Good call. Maybe they have power, or at least a generator that works.”

I told Macie that I’d be back, and then Duke and I ventured out into the woods. The fog was thick in some spots, light and wispy in others. The pine needles and dead leaves crunched under our boots as we searched for another cabin.

“What do you do for a living, Ben?” Duke asked, ahead of me by only a couple of steps.

“Public transportation,” I said. “I travel around Ohio, fixing city buses. It was a great job for so many years until the pandemic hit and not as many people were using public transports. They realized that they could get along just fine without me, so I was moved to a single garage in my hometown working on whatever they’d scarcely throw my way.”

I saw Duke nod his head. He didn’t respond verbally, probably out of respect. A lot of people had lost their jobs; a lot of people were demoted, their livelihoods bruised and sifted down to barebones. The world was in such a vulnerable state.

“What about you?”

“I work in digital marketing,” Duke said.

“So you were able to work from home during the pandemic?”

Duke nodded again. “Yup. Then I tore my meniscus earlier this year, and my boss just accepted the fact that they could get along just as well with me pumping out projects at home. I got hooked on oxycodone and Netflix after that surgery. I still enjoy both,” he winked with an ornery indication.

Even though I couldn’t get behind his oxycodone compulsion, I did enjoy binging things on Netflix.

I couldn’t help but notice how quiet nature was. I couldn’t hear a single bug, although our boots crunching across the forest floor could have just drowned them all out. The air was refreshingly cool; much appreciated before the day’s temperature would rise within the coming hours.

“Well,” I began, trying to generate small talk away from the job discussion, “This is something, huh? You would think having power and access to electronics would be the last thing you’d want while camping anyway. But here we are, trekking the wilderness in search of power.”

“The world has changed, Ben,” Duke said. “We, as humans, can’t live without technology anymore. It’s become such a crucial part of life. Without it, the world will crumble.”
Unfortunately, I agreed with him. Technology was a curse as well as the promise of our future.

Duke suddenly stopped walking. I stopped right behind him. He looked around the woods, trying to unnaturally penetrate the fog with his vision. I got the sense that he might have lost track of which direction he was leading us. I hadn’t seen any other cabins when we entered Timber Acres, so I was trusting his memory and assumed knowledge of others in the area.

“I can’t remember which way the road was,” Duke said, confirming my assumption. I focused hard in one direction, but then turned and looked the other way. Suddenly, a crack from above, like thunder ripping apart the atmosphere, shook the ground we stood on. I stumbled to one side and Duke to the other; he braced himself against the trunk of a large tree.

“What on earth was that?” Duke exclaimed as the ear-splitting crack faded just as quickly as it began.

“I don’t know,” I said. “It sounded like—”

Before I could finish my thought, we heard something else from above. We looked up through the canopy to see something burning across the morning sky like a fireball. A comet? A meteor? I didn’t know what it was. But a burning ball of flames leaving a smoking trail in its wake soared overhead, reverberating like a fighter jet, and disappeared out of sight.

“Jesus!” Duke yelled. “That thing is going to crash into—”

Duke couldn’t finish speaking before the flaming object crashed. The sound it made was explosive, like a bomb going off not far away. A shockwave of tremors spread across the forest floor, knocking Duke and I off our feet. The trees shook, the fog spinning and twirling around us. Once the violent shaking subsided, Duke and I exchanged glances, both of us on the ground. I could tell he was thinking the exact same thing:
What the hell?

We brushed ourselves off and rushed through the trees and fog, charging in the direction we both assumed the object had fallen. With the air becoming warmer the deeper we got, a soft buzzing returned to my ears, similar to when the lights had gone out the previous night, but more. It sounded like a swarm of angry bees, getting louder and louder, and then abruptly stopping.

When the sound stopped, we stopped. But not because of the change in sound, but because of what lay ahead of us. Through the drifting morning fog, we saw spotty areas of flames among the forest floor. The ground burned in one area, and then a few yards away were more flames. A couple of branches on the surrounding trees were also doused in flickering flames. The air smelled like the aftermath of a fireworks display and the smoke that spun up from the ground blended with the fog to create an ashy haze.

Duke and I found ourselves in the middle of a crash site.

THE SIGHT was bizarre. The hit-or-miss burning spots, the smoke—it had all come from whatever soared across the sky.

“Maybe it’s a small plane?” I said, throwing out an obvious observation.

Duke shook his head. “No. There’s no debris. No propellers or siding. Nothing.”

I wandered the scene, watchful as to where I stepped while trying to also take in as much of it as I could. I was looking for any sign of what had burned across the sky and crashed right here in Timber Acres. Then, up ahead, near a patch of thick, rising smoke, something caught my eye. The earth had been disturbed, pushed inward with a cracked and raised rim of dirt and soil encircling it.

I pointed to the crater. “It was a meteor,” I said. Duke joined my side and together we approached the smoldering cavity. Smoke rushed up from it, burning embers flickered in the disrupted dirt.

“Holy cow,” Duke whispered in astonishment. “I never imagined in a million years I would witness something like this.”

“Should we call the police? Or the park rangers?”

“With what? Nothing’s working.”

That’s right.

We leaned forward, breaking through a thin curtain of smoke to get a better look inside the crater. Where I assumed would be an obliterated meteor, was nothing. The impression in the soil was empty. I looked around, wondering if the pieces of it had just been launched in every direction. But nothing stood out. We were surrounded by lush wilderness, moss-covered mounds, fallen trees and thick shrubbery. There was nothing foreign around; no objects, natural or man-made.

Duke knelt down and climbed over the raised rim of the hole. I wasn’t sure if I should help him or just let him do it on his own. I decided on the latter and watched him slide down. It was deeper than it looked, the rim of the hole coming up to the middle of Duke’s thighs.
“See anything?” I asked, waving more of the smoke out of my way. Duke didn’t answer. He just carefully examined the mysterious anomaly.

A bird hollered from a nearby tree, making me jump and turn around quickly. I looked from one side to the other, finally settling on the rustling leaves from a tree branch dead ahead. A black bird crashed through the leaves and flew up through the canopy. Several others followed its lead, all fluttering from their own branches and then out of sight. They seemed spooked.

“I found something!” Duke shouted. I turned back around and dropped to my knees, looking down at him. He too, was on his knees, inspecting something in the dirt, in the dead center of the large hole in the earth.

“What is it?” I called down to him.

“Not sure. Some kind of oil, maybe?”

Oil? That didn’t really make sense unless it was from a small plane of some kind. Either that or maybe a fallen satellite.

“It’s green…” Duke added.

Green oil? Now that didn’t make sense at all. Duke then expressed a disgusted groan.

“God, it stinks too. Like old, wet grass, or something, baking in the sun.”

It was a perfect description of the odor. Only a moment after he described it, a soft breeze blew through the woods and carried the scent out of the crater, absorbing into my nostrils. It made me want to gag.

Green oil didn’t exactly answer the question as to what had crashed, though. “Did it spill out from something?”

Duke shook his head. “I don’t think so,” he said. “I don’t see a single sign of—”

A forceful, wet slapping noise stung my ears as Duke yanked his hand back away from the oil. He stumbled backward and fell into the rounded wall of the crater.

“Damn!” he shouted, holding his arm.

“What happened?” I frantically asked, standing back up and circling the hole to get closer to him.

“Damn thing came out of the oil like some ungodly tongue and slapped my arm!” Duke winced. “Burns like hell!”

Duke removed his hand and I saw the skin on his arm was already bright red, worse than any sunburn I had ever seen. He cringed and put his hand back over it.

“Help me up,” he begged.

I reached down and helped him out of the hole. When I got him to his feet, I could see his breathing had picked up considerably. He was shaking uncontrollably and his face was turning pale. Duke looked sick.

“Sit down,” I instructed. I didn’t have to work hard to get him to comply. He went down willingly, possibly even unable to control it.

His head bobbed around like he was losing consciousness and his eyes began to roll into the back of his head. I tapped him on the face, panic starting to set in.

“Duke! Stay with me. I’ll get help, just—” I stood up and looked around frenetically. “Help!” I called out. I heard my voice echo through the woods, getting softer and softer with each iteration. “Someone! Macie! Wes! Kevin!”

It was useless. I wasn’t sure how far away we were from the camp. I couldn’t be sure anyone was even outside to hear me.

I looked back down at Duke. He was flat on his back, his arms stretched out on either side of him. The arm that had gotten ‘slapped’, in his words, had surrendered its redness to a goopy, green pustule-like state. It spread before my eyes, from his forearm, to up and under the short sleeve of his shirt. It returned to view as it spread around his neck.

I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing. I didn’t know what to do or what to say. The infection was spreading on his body like a paper towel would quickly soak up a water spill. His other arm, his legs and face met the same fate within seconds. The physical form of Duke’s body seemed to pulsate and then deteriorate into a sloppy, gelatinous, green mess right before my eyes.

I backed away, looking at my hands to make sure nothing had spread onto me. They seemed fine, aside from the uncontrollable nerves shaking throughout them. I continued to back up, stumbling over clusters of sticks and rocks, keeping my eye on the green mass that was a man only moments earlier.

Another wet, slapping thud rang in my ears. Movement beyond Duke’s decimated body caught my eye. Something emerged from the crater. It was a hand; human-like, but green. It had smacked the raised rim of the hole as if something was trying to climb out. Not only was the hand green, but it was covered in a mossy texture, strands of grass and splintered pieces of tree branches emerging from it.

A second hand rose up and smacked the earth. I stopped, frozen with fear. Whatever it was then lifted itself into view. It was horrible; a creature not of this earth. Green, covered with moss and dripping dark fluids, it climbed out of the crater and onto its stomach. It used its hands to crawl toward me, reaching out and moaning mournfully as it dragged itself. Its eyes burned white, its face featureless from where I stood. I started to back up again, afraid my time had come just as it had for Duke. And in this way? What a cruel universe.

The creature continued to crawl on its stomach, picking up speed like it was learning a new skill. Just as I was about to turn and make a run for it, the otherworldly creature smacked both hands down into the slurry that Duke had become. A gaping, toothless mouth opened just beneath its white eyes, and it started to consume Duke in a messy, stomaching churning display.
I ran.

THROUGH THE WOODS, I ran like a madman, forgetting to catch my breath and refusing to turn around. I hopped over fallen trees and ducked under the bushy branches, calling out for my family. Every few yards, I’d call again, until I finally heard a response. It was Wes.

“Dad?” he called back. I followed his voice until I reached the clearing where our camp was. He was standing by the fire pit, a look of concern on his face when he saw me rush in.

“Dad?” he said again and I skidded to a stop in the dirt beside him. I was hunched over, trying to catch my breath, when I heard the door to the camper open. And then the front door to the cabin. Macie and Kevin joined my side as I continued to huff and puff.

“Ben, what’s wrong?” Macie asked.

“Duke,” I managed to get out first. “Duke’s dead.”

“What?” Macie exclaimed, her eyes wide in disbelief. Wes and Kevin remained silent.

“Something crashed in the woods. It fell from the sky. We were checking out the crater it made and then something …infected Duke. He changed. Then it crawled out from the dirt and ate him.”

Macie was speechless.

“What crawled out of the dirt?” Kevin asked.

I shook my head. I didn’t know what to say, or how to even describe it. “I’ve never seen anything like it in my life.”

“An animal?” Wes shyly asked.

I slowly shook my head. I knew I had laid out a lot on my family, but I couldn’t even comprehend it myself.

“We need to get out of here,” I said. “Pack up your stuff. I’ll go tell Natalie and Hadley, and we’ll make sure they get help. But I’m not staying here another minute with that thing crawling around out there.”

“What was it, Dad?” Kevin fearfully insisted.

I just looked into his eyes. “I don’t know. But it’s dangerous.”

“It fell from the sky?” Macie asked, just as confused as I was.

“Just pack your stuff! We’re leaving here in ten minutes.”

Kevin and Wes rushed off to grab things they had laying around. Macie hesitated leaving my side.

“Macie, please,” I begged, my voice cracking. She finally agreed and rushed back into the cabin. The fog had lifted enough to where I could see the Saunders’ camp through the trees.
I rushed to their cabin and pounded on the front door. Hadley was the one to open it. Seeing me in a panicked state, she immediately called for her mom.

“Something happened,” I said to Hadley. Natalie appeared behind her, keeping her morning robe pulled together in front of her.

“Ben? What’s wrong?” Natalie asked.

I swallowed and let the news spill. There was no easy way to say it. “Something happened to Duke. He didn’t make it.”

Natalie’s face contorted. “What are you talking about?”

While Natalie displayed confusion, Hadley went straight to fear. She gasped and put her hands over her mouth.

“He didn’t make it,” I repeated. My subconscious was working overtime to avoid telling them exactly what happened. The truth was ridiculous, unusual—surreal. But it was the truth. “He got an infection that spread across his entire body within seconds.”

Natalie shook her head, refusing to accept my words. “What kind of infection? Where is he?”
I felt a pain in the pit of my stomach. The infection was only how it started. It wasn’t even the worst part; the part I had yet to tell them.

“Something fell from the sky. It infected Duke, and then something came out of the ground and …”

“And what?!” Hadley screamed, her wide eyes peering over the hands that were still glued to her face.

“Ate him,” I concluded.

Hadley was speechless. Natalie went pale.

“Duke said there were houses on the road you guys took to get up here, right?” I asked, trying to encourage the next phase. Neither of them answered.

“We’re going to get help and send them back here,” I tried to assure them.

Still, neither of them spoke. Natalie began to sway, brushing up against her daughter. Hadley finally removed her hands from her face and held onto her mom.

“I’ll send them immediately,” I said, turning around and hopping back down the porch steps.

“Wait,” Natalie said with a quiver in her voice.

I stopped and faced her.

“Did you do something to my husband?” she asked, firm and accusingly.

I shook my head.

“If you did something to him, if you hurt him,” she continued with a sinister growl, “I swear to God you’ll pay for it.”

“I swear to you, I didn’t do anything. There’s something out there in those woods that I can’t explain. We all need to get out of here.”

I turned around and started to run back to camp. I could hear Natalie and Hadley start breaking down as I pushed through the trees. Macie was pulling her suitcase out the front door of our cabin and the boys were securing the luggage compartment doors on the camper.

“Is that everything?” I called out to Macie.

She yanked the suitcase up and grabbed it with both hands. “Your bag is still in there,” she said. “Honey, what is going on?”

“I don’t know,” I said, blowing past her and into the cabin. In the bedroom, I grabbed my Nike duffle bag sitting on the floor next to the bed. I threw it over my shoulders and heard the familiar wail from the thing in the woods. I stopped and my blood ran cold. I waited to hear it again. When it moaned a second time, sounding louder, I knew it had tracked me back here.

I pounced to the window that looked out into the clearing where the fire pit and camper were. The boys were helping Macie load the suitcase when the wailing had begun. Now, all three of them had stopped, looking around like they couldn’t tell where it was coming from, or what it even was. But I knew what it was. I knew what it could do. And we needed to leave before it entered our camp.

I raced back outside and hurried everyone into the camper. The boys went into the back, and I helped Macie up the passenger side steps. I climbed in the driver’s side and stuffed my bag between the seats. I pulled the keys from my pocket and stabbed them into the ignition.
“What was that noise?” Macie asked.

“The thing that killed Duke. It’s coming.”

I bit my lip and turned the key.


My heart sank and I released my bottom lip from the grip of my teeth. I turned the key again.

Nothing. There was nothing. It wouldn’t even turn over. No struggle, no rattling, no clicking—nothing!

“Ben?” Macie stuttered.

I tried a third time, and then a fourth. After the fifth attempt, I ripped the keys out of the ignition and angrily slammed them onto the dashboard. Macie didn’t say anything. I knew I was scaring her, but I was scared too. I was the only one who saw what was out there.
Why won’t this damn thing start, I thought. It was dead; completely inanimate. Not a single light on the dash lit up. The phones were out, the lights, the generator. All of the strange pieces of the puzzle came together when I thought that maybe whatever soared through the sky and crashed could have affected all of the electronics in some way. Technology, in our small, terrifying neck of the woods, was dead.

“THAT DOESN’T make any sense,” Wes said, as the four of us gathered outside the camper.

“How could something take out every single electronic device?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know. But that is the only thing I can think of. Either that or it’s the biggest coincidence in history.”

“But wouldn’t it have knocked out the power when it crashed?” Macie said. “Our power went out last night. You said it crashed this morning.”

She had a point, but I didn’t have an answer.

“It’s like an EMP,” Kevin said. We all looked at him.

“What’s that?” Wes asked.

“It’s an electromagnetic pulse,” Kevin said. “Haven’t you ever played Call of Duty? It’s a surge of energy that wipes out an electronic network. With the network down, we can’t use any of the things that were affected.”

As we all let Kevin’s words sink in, Wes was the first to speak again. “So, something completely trashed our technology so we can’t use it. Then what? What happens next?”

“Dad said something fell from the sky,” Kevin said. “That something killed Duke.”

“We’re under attack?” Macie shivered.

“Terrorists?” Wes panicked.

I looked at Wes and shook my head. “No. Whatever crashed and killed Duke wasn’t human at all. It’s like it came from—”

I abruptly stopped talking. I felt silly for where my thoughts were taking that sentence. But, there was no other explanation. Macie was able to conclude what I was thinking and rapidly shook her head with a panicked smile.

“No, no, no,” she said. “There’s no way that’s possible.”

Wes looked up into the blue sky above us, the remaining fog dissipating in the bushy canopy. Kevin did as well.

“Something from beyond our world,” Kevin hauntingly whispered.

I looked over, through the trees, at the Saunders’ campsite. I could see Hadley frantically rushing around. Her movements were aimless. She’d race to their camper, then back to the cabin. She ran down the steps and around to the side. I had a bad feeling that something else was wrong.

I rushed through the trees and into their camp, Kevin right behind me. Wes and Macie remained by our camper.

“Hadley!” I called out. She came back around from the side of the cabin. “What’s wrong?”

She had been crying, was shaking and hysterical. “Mom’s gone!” she screamed.

“Where did she go?” I asked.

Hadley screamed again and I put my hands on both of her arms, trying to prevent her from hyperventilating. She finally focused on me.

“Where’s your mom?” I repeated.

“In the woods. She went to look for Dad.”

I breathed deeply through my nose, equal parts afraid and frustrated that Natalie ventured out into the woods with that thing out there.

“She took my dad’s gun,” Hadley added.

I looked at Kevin. “Stay with Hadley,” I said. “Take her over to Mom and Wes.”

“What are you doing?” Kevin asked.

“I have to go find Natalie before something happens to her.”

I didn’t have a keen sense of direction once I entered the woods. I was going on memory alone from when Duke led me out into the thicket. But even then, there was no guarantee that Natalie had even gone the same way. She didn’t know where we had gone to begin with.

“Natalie!” I called out, my voice bouncing from one tree to the next until it fell silent. The buzzing of bugs was loud, and the birds that beautifully sang high in the trees tried their best to give me a false sense of comfort.

“Natalie!” I called again.

Then, I heard something. I stopped and listened. Something was crunching in the leaves nearby. Then, a yelp.

I stood defensively, moving my head back and forth, trying to focus on the source of the cry I had heard. My overactive brain finally settled and registered what the yelp was from—an animal. A deer, more than likely. It was the same sound I had heard deer express once they had been shot. My father was a hunter and took me out on many different trips when I was a boy. The haunting sounds of animals dying were something that stuck with you long after. And here I was again, listening to the fatal, final cry from a deer. The only thing was, I didn’t hear a gunshot first.

I saw rustling up ahead; the bushes and low branches shook back and forth. Cautiously, I approached it, keeping my eyes peeled and my mind alert. Stepping around the bushes, I saw the deer. Or, what was left of it.

It was on its side; a green, scabby substance actively crawling over every inch of its body. Pustules within the textured shell of the invasive infection popped and bled a dark liquid.
That thing was near. It had to be. It touched the deer in some way, turning it into an edible source of sustenance for itself.

“Don’t move!” I heard a woman growl behind me. I knew it was Natalie. I turned around and saw the barrel of Duke’s shotgun pointed directly at me, level with my chest. I slowly put my hands up. She could see the fear in my face; I was sure it echoed the look on hers.

“Don’t shoot,” I said.

“Where is he? Where’s Duke?”

She didn’t understand.

“Duke’s gone,” I reiterated.

“You said he was dead. Where’s his body? What did you do to him?”

“I didn’t do anything! That thing that crawled out of the earth—it ate him. He’s gone, Natalie. Completely.”

Natalie’s face scrunched up; her lip quivering. She adjusted her sweaty grip on the shotgun, keeping it aimed at my chest the entire time.

I slowly moved out of the way, bringing the deer into her line of sight. She looked down, as did I. Its body was nothing but a gooey, green mass, pulsating up and down as if it were still breathing.

Natalie’s eyes went wide. “What is that?”

“It was a deer. This is what it does. This is what happened to Duke!”

She shook her head. “No, not Duke. Not Duke!”

“We’re not safe here, Natalie. We need to leave,” I said, trying to remain calm for her sake as well as my own. I reached out slowly, pushing the barrel of the gun away from me. “Let’s go,” I said.

Suddenly, the ground beneath me moved, making me stumble and fall. The dirt under my feet rose and then depleted as if it were taking a deep breath. The ground sank into itself, making way for the familiar green, vulgar hand to emerge from its pit. It slapped down onto the dirt before the second hand appeared. The creature pulled itself out of the sinkhole and lay in front of us. It looked up, its white eyes glowing and its mouth opening to release its horrible wail.

It dragged itself toward us. Natalie screamed and dropped the gun, slowly backing up into the closest tree. I managed to grab the gun and aim it at the creature. It picked up speed, just as it had done before, so I acted fast. I pulled the trigger and watched its earthy form explode at the shoulder. Its body seemed to regenerate before my eyes, angering the creature into a rapid crawl. Its eyes dipped and its mouth unhinged, wailing horribly as it scurried at us like it was stuck in fast-forward.

I turned and ran, grabbing Natalie’s arm in the process. Together, we barely escaped. The cry from the otherworldly beast had abruptly stopped behind us; I assumed it had forwent our pursuit in favor of feasting yet again on its latest sufferer.

WE ALL GATHERED back at our camp. The boys, Macie and Hadley were in the back of the camper when I arrived with Natalie. She was shook, barely with it after witnessing the unexplainable terror in the woods. Macie tried to comfort her by sitting next to her and cuffing her own hands around one of hers. It was a trick she used on me when I felt overwhelmed or upset, and it always worked. I hoped it would work for Natalie too.

“A deer?” Kevin asked. “So it’s not picky with what it eats.”

“Doesn’t appear that way,” I said. “Definitely a meat-eater. Which means we’re all in danger if we can’t find a way to get out of here.”

“The campers won’t start. The phones don’t work,” Wes said. “We have to walk.”

Natalie came out of her haze momentarily to grit her teeth at Wes. “We’re not walking. Not with that thing out there.”

Wes threw his arms in the air. “Then what?” he said, loudly. “We certainly can’t fly or burrow our way out.”

Natalie chose not to respond, but instead looked away from Wes. I couldn’t help but notice how she hadn’t removed her hand from within my wifes. It must have been working to a certain extent for her too. I always believed my wife to be a magical force on this earth, creating a happiness within me that I never thought possible. Whomever she touched, always felt safe, comfortable and understood.

“It’s not a carnivore,” Kevin said out of nowhere. We all turned to him. “You said it turned Mr. Saunders and that deer into some sort of green substance before it ate them?”

“Yeah,” I said, suddenly realizing what Kevin was getting at. “It reminded me of that stuff we logged into Nature’s Identity last year.” I turned to Macie. “What was that weird green stuff we found in the yard?”

Macie thought for a moment. “Star jelly,” she said with a smirk, remembering how baffled we both were after first seeing it. It was a strange gelatinous substance that couldn’t be completely explained by science. Theories ranged everywhere from some sort of space residue to regurgitated frogs. The spectrum of possibilities was endless. But that is what it reminded me of; what had become of Duke and the deer—an unexplained, gelatinous mass, vacant of any hint of its original form.

“Walking is the only option,” I finally agreed with Wes. “Natalie, Duke mentioned cabins on your way up. Is that true?”

Natalie had fallen back into her own grieving thoughts. She was upset and unresponsive. Hadley spoke up instead.

“There were two,” she said, dryly. “Down the hill a bit.”

“Were they occupied?”

“Maybe. I think I saw one car, but I don’t remember which cabin it was parked by.”

“Okay,” I said. I grabbed Duke’s shotgun and stood up. Kevin stood up as well.


“I’m coming with you,” he said. I nodded and then turned to Wes.

“Keep everyone safe,” I said to him. He gave a half nod in response, and Kevin and I left the camper.

Kevin was fairly quiet as we began to walk down the dirt road opposite of the one we came up on. We stayed close to each other, never straying more than a couple feet at any given time. I kept my ears peeled and my eyes open. The birds continued to sing in the trees. A squirrel leapt out of a bush and scurried across the road ahead of us. I could feel Kevin’s nerves. His silence gave them away.

“I’m going to make sure we all get out of here alive,” I told him.

He nodded. “I feel bad for Hadley and Natalie. I can’t imagine losing you, Dad.”

“I’m not going anywhere. We’ll make it through this. It’s one of those bizarre left turns life likes to throw at you when it doesn’t think you’ve suffered enough yet.”

“It’s quite the unbelievable left turn,” Kevin said, trying to make his growing discomfort sound like just a passing joke.

“That it is.”

We continued for about five minutes, the road we traveled becoming steeper and harder on our legs and balance. A sudden rustling in the trees made us both stop and put up our guard. When any movement had failed to show itself, we continued on.

Another handful of minutes passed and we hit a somewhat sharp turn in the dirt road. Around the bend, we saw it. A cabin with a white car sitting out in front of it.

“I was starting to think we went the wrong way,” I admitted. Relief flushed through me and I’d hoped to God that whomever was occupying that cabin had a working phone, computer or car.

As Kevin and I picked up our pace, I felt a sudden head rush. There was a soft ringing in my ears, reminiscent of buzzing bugs. It was fairly quiet, but noticeable. I tried to shake it off, but that’s when I felt slight pressure form on my temples. My ears popped and my head felt heavy. The pressure on my head was uncomfortable and made my stomach turn. The buzzing sound grew louder and each step I took was heavier than the last. My muscles felt like they were tightening up, and finally I just stopped, crumbling to my knees.

The droning buzz in my ears was so loud that I barely heard Kevin drop down right next to me. I looked over, a painful grimace on my face, and saw he was holding both sides of his head. He felt it too. I reached over and put my hand on his back, startling him. He jumped up and shouted something to me, but I couldn’t understand what he had said.

I struggled to stand, my body feeling like it was magnetically drawn to the ground. Once I was upright, I felt something warm in my shorts pocket. I reached it and grabbed my phone; it burned my hand as I yanked it out of my pocket and instinctively threw it. In mid air, right in front of us, it exploded into a silent shower of sparks; the charred carcass of the device dropping to the dirt.

Beyond the mid-air destruction, I saw movement up ahead. A man had emerged from the cabin. He was waving his arms wildly as if to warn us of something. I fought the throbbing pressure ravaging my headspace and squinted to see if I could notice the man trying to say anything. He was shouting, it appeared, but over the ear-splitting buzzing, I couldn’t hear him. He stopped a good distance away, not far from where his car sat, and put both hands up like he was a policeman trying to abruptly stop traffic.

I tapped on Kevin again and pointed at the man. Together, we studied the strangers’ frantic gestures, trying to figure out what he was trying to tell us. I tried to lift my foot again to take another step forward, but I couldn’t. An overwhelming force was keeping me from moving any further. Kevin slapped me on the arm to direct my attention back to the man. I looked ahead to see him patting thin air with his raised hands, like he was slapping an invisible wall. He then transitioned the hand movements into making a giant square shape with his fingers, followed by presenting his property like a showman.

Square property? Invisible wall? What was this man trying to say? Kevin reached and tugged my arm again, motioning for us to fall back or retreat. As we turned around, it was like fighting against restraints. The pressure that surrounded us was unreal; it was wearing on the body and made it hard to move. We struggled, but were able to make a couple of successful—although slow—steps back. When the third step came easier, the pressure began to subside. A few more steps and the constant buzzing sound started to fade.

By the time we reached the bend in the dirt road, we were walking normally and the droning sound was nothing but a lingering afterthought.

“What. Was. That.” My heart was pounding after the experience. It was something surreal; something not of the ordinary world. Like an out of body experience, or some kind of paranormal confrontation.

Kevin looked back down the road, still seeing the man near the cabin. He wasn’t waving anymore, but just standing there with his arms crossed. There wasn’t anything physically blocking the road, but the unknown force that prevented us from crossing on to the other property clearly argued that fact.

“What was he trying to say?” I asked, hoping Kevin picked up on something that I hadn’t. Square property and invisible wall didn’t make much sense. Kevin usually had a keen eye for puzzles and such, so a sudden game of charades in the wilderness might not have been that far-fetched for him to decipher.

“An invisible wall,” Kevin said to my surprise. “Squared off,” he added with the same finger gestures as the man had.

We were thinking along the same lines. Either that meant something more to Kevin, or we were both stuck with the same vague interpretations. He thought for a moment longer while I watched the man casually turn around and walk back to his cabin.

“A forcefield,” Kevin concluded. His eyes rapidly darted back and forth as he continued to finalize his theory. “Squared off, like a grid, maybe. That buzzing sound could have been static, or radio waves, from some unknown electronic source that’s powering the grid.”

Kevin looked at me, my full attention on his words. “That thing that fell from the sky,” he said, “it didn’t kill our electronics first. It just rerouted all the energy to form this grid. That guy is trapped in one. I bet we are too.”

“But why?”

“It’s hunting us,” Kevin said, seemingly very sure of himself. “We’re like rats in a cage just waiting to be consumed. But for a ritual, a survival tactic, for sport or dominance—I don’t know why.”

I looked back down the road. The man had entered his cabin and closed the door. If he was stuck within some sort of enclosed space, and we were too—

—how far did this “hunting grid” stretch?

KEVIN AND I ARRIVED back at the camp and explained what we had seen and the theory that we had come up with.

“This is like something out of a bad science fiction movie,” Wes said, burying his head in his hands.

He was right, though. I’d seen countless films where something from space had crashed-landed on earth, only to cause bloodshed until it’s finally destroyed. Now that the unbelievable plot of a bad movie was reality, I wondered if that would be our only way out in the end.

“So what do we do? We can’t leave. We can’t call for help,” Hadley spoke dryly. Grief was still present in her voice, but being young and ambitious, she had pulled herself together more than her mother had. Natalie stood against the wall, staring out the window and into the woods. Part of her was probably hoping Duke would emerge, damaged, but alive. I knew that wasn’t going to happen, and had already explained to everyone what I saw. But they were welcome to absorb that information and deal with it however they chose.

“We have to kill it,” Kevin said. “That’s the only way we survive it.”

“How do we know that will free us from this enclosure?” Hadley challenged him. “We might be able to kill it, but there is no guarantee the forcefield falls afterward.”

Kevin seemed unsure. Either he didn’t appreciate the challenge from someone else, or he knew she was right. And if her point was sound, that meant we needed to think of a plan B as well.

“Are you guys sure you saw all of this right?” Macie asked. She seemed hesitant to believe a word we said, holding onto a strand of hope that all of this was just a giant misunderstanding. Natalie turned away from the window as if she wanted the same answer Macie seeked.

“I’m positive,” I said. Natalie faced the window again. My wife just stared at me, trying to understand and accept the facts Kevin and I had laid out. I wasn’t stupid—I knew the facts were implausible. But from what I had witnessed, they were in no way impossible. I just had to make sure Macie and Natalie were both on the same page as everyone else.

“I have to pee,” Hadley said. I pointed to the back of the camper where a tall, narrow door led to a cassette toilet. She stood up and walked by all of us, closing the door and sliding the lock into place behind her.

“I don’t want you to scare my poor Hadley anymore,” Natalie quietly growled, continuing her idle stare out the window.

Macie and I exchanged a confused glance. Kevin and Wes also looked at each other.
“I’m sorry,” I said softly. “What are you talking about?”

Natalie snapped her head to the side and glared into my eyes with hers. They burned with anger. “I know you killed Duke,” she whimpered, keeping her eyes low. “I know your’re trying to scare us, trying to psychologically torture us. I’ve listened to enough true crime podcasts to know a kidnapping when I see one.”

I laughed out loud from the shock of the absurd accusation. “Excuse me?”

“Just let us go,” she pleaded, her anger lifting. A sense of sorrow came next. “Don’t hurt us.”
As I stood there, holding her dead husband’s shotgun, understanding that I was expecting a lot from everyone by just asking them to take my word for everything, I still couldn’t help but feel unfairly accused.

“I don’t want to hurt anyone,” I insisted. “And I haven’t.” Kevin stood up from his seat and stood by my side. “I want the rest of us to get out of here alive. There is something out there. I saw it. You saw it. Are you just going to pretend like you didn’t?”

Natalie was visibly shaken. I knew she saw it too. Why she couldn’t accept it, was beyond me.

“It’s psychological torture,” she insisted. “You must have slipped me some kind of hallucinogen. Please, just let us go.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. She was there when it came out of the earth. It chased us. We ran. How could she not accept the truth of what she also witnessed? Grief was really doing a number on her. And as frustrating as her accusations were, nothing had changed as far as I was concerned. It was still out there, getting closer to the camp, and we all had to come together to figure out how we were going to fight back.

“Look, Natalie,” I said, “I am sorry for your loss. Duke seemed like a great guy, a good father and husband. But I didn’t kill him. I didn’t slip you or your daughter any kind of drugs. You saw the deer out there. You saw what it was covered in, and you saw that thing come out of the ground.”

Natalie swallowed and then returned her gaze out the window. Her silence said it all—she did know the truth. She just didn’t want to accept it. Putting the blame elsewhere, away from something unexplainable, was how she was trying to cope. But to make her feel as if she still had a choice in the matter, to erase any lingering fragment of distrust she had towards my family and I, I gave her an out.

“You can leave,” I said. Her eyes returned to me quickly. “I don’t want you to feel like a prisoner. But just know that any hope for us to survive and figure this out, comes from us all sticking together. If you feel like you would fare better on your own, you can leave. And you’re welcome to come back if you change your mind.”

“Ben,” Macie said with a cracking voice, trying to deter me from my offer. I put my hand up to her to assure her I knew what I was doing. This is how I would get Natalie’s trust back.
Natalie’s eyes aimlessly wandered around the camper, back out the window, and eventually settled back on me.

“Thanks,” she said, grateful. “I’m taking Hadley back to our cabin until help arrives.”
I gawked at her, confused and surprised by her choice. I took a deep breath and let it back out in a frustrated sigh.

Natalie walked past me with determination and knocked on the bathroom door. “Hadley, when you’re done, we’re heading back to our cabin.”

There was no response from Hadley on the other side of the door. Natalie dropped her brow and knocked again. “Hadley? Are you okay?”

Hadley didn’t say anything. The camper sat in a daunting silence. I looked at Macie; we both quietly agreed something was wrong. I approached the bathroom door, pushing myself in front of Natalie.

“Hadley?” I called out, knocking twice on the narrow door. “Are you okay?” I tried pulling on the door handle, but Natalie pushed my hand off of it protectively.

“What are you doing?” she asked, afraid I was going to storm in on her daughter using the restroom.

“Something’s wrong,” I said. I felt my heart rate start to escalate, along with my level of anxiety. I pounded on the door again. “Hadley?”

Natalie finally realized I was only trying to help. She nodded, giving me her approval to get the door open. I pulled on the handle, but the sliding lock was holding it in place. I knew the door was weaker than a regular one. It was made mostly of plastic, as was the locking mechanism. A strong use of force would definitely get it open.

“Hadley? We’re coming in,” I shouted. I grabbed the handle with both hands and shook it with force. The door rattled violently until I heard a loud crack—the lock had snapped. The door flew outward, swaying open on its hinges, and we all set our sights on a nightmarish scene.

Hadley was still sitting on the toilet, her pants around her ankles, but the rapidly spreading infection had swallowed her entire bottom half. It climbed up her abdomen, covered her arms and then crawled around her neck to where her head was leaning back. Her mouth was agape and her eyes were wide open, darting fearfully back and forth as if they were the last parts of her that were still ‘Hadley’.

The scabby, green infection ravaged her entire face next, completely erasing ‘Hadley’ from existence. Natalie screamed, slapping her hands on either side of her head. I could hear Macie shriek from the other side of the camper, and Wes and Kevin erupted into a furious panic.

The infection began to ooze its signature dark fluid, and I watched Hadley soften and liquify before my eyes, oozing down, in and around, the toilet. The inside of the toilet began to pop and gurgle with what Hadley had become, and then the alien substance rose up, excessively flowing over the rim and pooling onto the floor.

“Everyone get out!” I screamed, placing myself between everyone else and the abomination taking form in front of me. As it grew, it shaped into what it looked like in the woods. Brutish, intimidating, and horrific—it mutated into its final form. Standing before me, it inhaled Hadley’s remaining matter from around its mouth, digesting it loudly before dropping to its knees. It desperately reached out for me, dark slime dripping from its fingertips. Its eyes glowed white, and its mouth drooped, emitting another mournful cry.
I fired the shotgun, splattering its green genetics onto the back wall. I slammed the door shut, knowing it wouldn’t lock, but trying to buy myself just an extra fraction of a second to escape. I rushed through the empty camper and out the door, closing it behind me.

Everyone else had gathered by the firepit.

“What is that?!” Macie yelled, finally seeing the otherworldly being for herself. Kevin and Wes were speechless, antsy and confused. Natalie had dropped to her knees and screamed out in pain and grief, inconsolable.

“We have to—” before I could finish my sentence, the door to the camper blew out and crashed into the dirt and pine needles beside us. The earthly terror emerged from the camper, using both arms to pull itself through the frame of the doorway. It jumped, landing on the ground and sending more dirt spiraling into the air like an apocalyptic dust storm. Now it stood bipedally, breathing heavily and dripping with dark fluids and globular matter.
It took a hulking step toward us. I froze, studying the creature from head to toe. It had meshed with the earth when it crash-landed from beyond. Its body was made up of dirt, branches, moss and leaves; it was reminiscent of the swamp monsters that graced the covers of old pulp horror magazines. Pulsating pustules inflated, and then deflated, all over its body. Some popped, spilling more liquid; others continued to freakishly pant.

It’s mouth drooped again, forming a large, sad-looking cavity in the center of its face. It wailed once again, taking another step toward us. Each step was faster than the last. It was learning, eager and determined. It fanned its arms at us, still in full stride, sending multiple globs off of its body and in our direction. One landed next to me and I leaped away from it, having seen what happens when it makes contact with another living thing.

Another one splashed down in front of me, and another behind me. With a loud splat, it made contact with someone.

“No!” Kevin screamed.

I SPUN AROUND faster than any human should be capable of at the terrified cries from my son. I saw Kevin standing there, mouth wide open in shock and staring at Macie. My eyes flew to her next. She was looking down, paralyzed by fear. I saw what she saw. The jelly-like glob had landed on her bare foot. She immediately shook it off and into the dirt. But it was too late. Her foot swelled before our eyes, turning bright red.

Macie! I screamed, however, in my head. My physical form had stopped responding, but my inner self flew into panic. I didn’t know what to do. I’d seen how the infection spreads, how fast it spreads, and what it does to its host.

Kevin rushed to her side, Wes backed up, losing his balance to a fainting spell. He dropped to the ground and Natalie screamed like a banshee.

Once I snapped out of my inner panic, I rushed to my wife’s side. She had dropped to the ground as well, and we watched her swollen red foot turn green, crusty and hard. The infection had begun, crawling up her leg like an army of bugs.

The horrid cry from the beast erupted right behind us. I turned around, only barely catching a glimpse of the otherworldly terror as it rushed us, flinging more of its gelatinous, biological weapon. A large, goopy mass hit Natalie on the side of the face, entering her mouth and violating her open eyes. She reached up and tried to wipe the foreign substance off, but it became sticky like tar. It snapped back into place and began its annihilation of Natalie’s body. From head to toe, it worked fast; possibly due to the fact it had entered multiple cavities on her body at once to infect the bloodstream. A brief look back to Macie and I could see hers was working slower, but had already engulfed her shin and half of her calf. My wife’s head limpidly fell backward and she lost consciousness.

Natalie’s screams had stopped. I looked back to see her head collapse under the weight of her gluey, altered state. She melted inch by inch until she was nothing but a pulpy, green heap bubbling in the dirt. The creature finally moved from its idle stance, flattened itself on the ground and began to instinctively consume her.

“Dad, we have to amputate her leg!” I heard Kevin holler. His voice sounded so far away; my attention was glued to the repugnant feasting taking place only feet away. The gurgling, slapping wet sounds loudly cursed my ear drums.

“Dad!” Kevin screamed again. My attention snapped away from the hypnotic act taking place, landing on Kevin. Fear and panic had consumed him. But he held onto a glimmer of level-headedness that I hadn’t. “We need to amputate Mom’s leg! Fast!”

I looked down at Macie’s leg. The prying infection was up to her knee, methodically eating away at her skin.

Cut off its line of travel, save the rest of her, I thought. I wasn’t a medical expert by any stretch of the imagination, but it made sense. In my hand was a shotgun—I certainly wasn’t going to shoot her leg off.

“Dad!” Kevin screamed. It wasn’t until then that I realized I hadn’t verbally answered him.
“There’s a hatchet behind the front seat of the camper,” I blandly said with emotional fatigue prevalent in my voice. “Get it.”

Kevin ran for the camper, and I looked over my shoulder at the alien creature continuing to loudly devour Natalie Saunders. I looked to Wes; he was laid out next to the fire pit. If we didn’t act quick, that thing would certainly move on to him next.

I looked back down at Macie’s infection. It had wrapped completely around her knee and was beginning to climb up her lower thigh. Goopy masses from her calf started to drip into the dirt underneath her.

“Kevin!” I shouted, hoping he was on his way back. I heard the camper door slam shut and then Kevin’s footsteps clamoring across the dry undergrowth. He stopped next to me and handed me the sheathed hatchet. I ripped it from its case and gripped it tightly in my right hand. I wasn’t sure where to place my other hand to counterbalance the impending, dreaded act—I couldn’t have her infected limb touch me in any way.

“Straddle her!” I yelled at Kevin. He hesitated, trying to get his mind where mine was. I looked over my shoulder and saw the creature gobbling up the last, slimy bits of Natalie.

“Now!” I commanded my son.

Kevin quickly climbed on top of her, sitting down on her midsection, and held her arms down and against the dirt. I kneeled on her other leg and raised the hatchet.

A throaty groan came from the creature behind me. I didn’t look back. I bit my lip until it bled, and slammed the hatchet down into her mid-thigh. She screamed herself out of unconsciousness, trying to thrash her body around. Kevin held her down, and I put more pressure on her leg. I raised the hatchet and slammed it down again and again until her infected limb was fully detached. Blood spilled everywhere, creating a soupy mixture with the dirt and leaves. Macie fell out of alertness again, her head hitting the ground.

“Dad—” Kevin whispered.

I trembled uncontrollably, praying that I had made the right decision. My world felt numb and fuzzy. My stomach hurt and my temples throbbed fiercely. I felt warm, but shivered with anxiety.

“Dad—” Kevin whispers again. My eyes drifted from the blurry visual of Macie’s amputated leg, to my son. He was looking behind me. He was looking to where Natalie Saunders was being consumed by the surreal abomination from beyond. I slowly turned around, still shaking and unable to verbally respond.

Natalie was gone; only dark green spatters of her remained. The creature was gone too; a muddy, green puddle sat stagnantly where it just had been. I wasn’t sure what I was looking at anymore. I wasn’t sure what I had seen, or what was even there.

“It sunk into the ground,” Kevin quietly trembled. “I saw it.”

The universe had given us a chance to rebound. I felt normalcy come back to all of my senses. My vision was clear, my hearing wasn’t muffled, and my instinctual motivation to protect my family came back with a vengeance.

“We need to cauterize her leg,” I said.

WE LEFT A FIRE burning outside on the off-chance it would keep the otherworldly predator at bay. We didn’t have any kind of evidence to support that theory, but it was a hope, and it was all we had. Another run-in with it was guaranteed to be just as devastating as the others were.

Macie lay in the bedroom. We kept the door closed to limit any noise from the rest of the cabin. She didn’t wake up while we cauterized her leg, and I couldn’t have been happier about that. However, I knew that once she did wake up, she would be in an excruciating amount of pain. Our first aid kit only supplied us with a small bottle of ibuprofen, instant cold packs, hydrocortisone cream and hand sanitizer. None of that would scratch the surface of what Macie was bound to wake up to.

Kevin sat across from me at the kitchen table. Wes sat quietly on the couch. He had barely said a word since regaining consciousness, and remained drowsy and mournful. Kevin and Wes seemed to have swapped identities once the terror started. Wes, someone who was always first up to bat, had taken a backseat. Kevin, the more reserved, non-confrontational one, had stepped up to the plate instead. It’s amazing how tragedy and unconventional events unravel someone’s true self. Some rise to the occasion, some slink away. In this scenario, I understood and respected both of my son’s actions.

After sitting in silence for the better part of an hour, trying to wrap our heads around everything that had happened and everything we still had to overcome, Kevin’s whisper was the first to pierce the tense atmosphere inside the cabin:

“Where do you think it comes from?”

I quietly cleared my throat and leaned my elbows on the table. “Space,” I said. “That’s the only possible answer.”

The look on Kevin’s face was one of astonishment and anxious intrigue. Fear was there too, but now that he had time to process what was happening, new, curious thoughts plagued his mind.

“I never imagined in a million years that we would be alive to see this kind of event,” he whispered, almost hauntingly. “This is unbelievable. I can’t—I can’t believe this is real.”
I sat back in my chair, letting Kevin’s last three words, “this is real”, replay in my head. I was right there with him. I couldn’t believe it either. But the fact that my wife was laying in the next room, suffering, was undoubtedly real. My stomach turned every time I thought about her waking up to see one of her legs gone. She didn’t know that it was now nothing more than a pulpy, green glob outside in the dirt; a meal for the otherworldly terror that was getting colder by the minute. Where had it gone?

“If we’re trapped in this invisible cell,” Wes’ voice cracked from the couch, “how do we get out?”

I didn’t have an answer for that, and Kevin’s silence seemed to say the same for him.

Wes stood up. “How do we get out?” he repeated, more anxious this time. “Are you guys sure we can’t just force our way through that …barrier?”

“The pressure was too much, Wes,” Kevin said. “We couldn’t move.”

“What about that guy on the other side, then?” Wes asked. “Is there any way to communicate with him? Or get to him? Maybe he’ll be able to help.”

“There’s no way,” I said, dejected that I couldn’t supply my son with hope of any kind. “We couldn’t hear, we couldn’t move.”

Wes just stood there, a blank, emotionless look on his face. Slowly, he sat back down on the couch, spirits crushed.

“Our only option now is to hang on as long as we can,” I said, “and hope that this whole thing either ends, or help comes from outside the border. This kind of thing can’t happen without it being detected by the military or government.”

Wes turned to face us, a glimmer of hope returning in his look. “So, the military could already be on top of this? Help might actually be coming?”

I nodded. It was plausible that the military was aware and managing the situation. But, it was also just as plausible that they had no idea, or were also trapped within the grid. The invasion could have been more precise than we realized, more widespread. Maybe it wasn’t just local to Timber Acres Camp Resort; what if it was endless. My heart began to palpate faster as thoughts of the possible severity of the situation crept in.

“If we can’t escape, then we have to kill that thing. Everything dies. Why would it be any different?” Kevin said.

I remembered shooting it back in the woods and in the camper; the shotgun blasts had no effect. Its mossy formation wasn’t just unbothered, it regenerated almost immediately. Not a squeal or scream; not a single indication of pain. It either didn’t feel pain, nor did the form it had taken—coarse, lewd and sheltered within our own planet’s natural elements.

“I shot it twice—nothing. We need to figure out its weakness. Otherwise, we don’t stand a chance,” I said.

Wes stood up again and walked to the window that looked out front.

“Where did it go?” he asked.

I stood up and joined his side, placing a comforting arm on his shoulder. I looked out the window as well. The fire continued to burn in the center of the camp. I looked to the dark spot in the dirt where Natalie Saunders was eaten; where the creature had sunk into the earth.

“I don’t know where it went,” I admitted, once again sorrowful that I couldn’t supply an answer. “Whatever fell from the sky, adapted in using nature to thrive and hide. It’s using nature as its host.”

“It has to be some kind of parasite, or spore,” Kevin said, joining us at the window. As the three of us looked out at the silent campground, I realized that maybe, just maybe, our plan worked, and the fire had indeed kept the monster away.

A painful cry shattered the world around us. Macie was waking up. We rushed into the bedroom. Macie was awake, thrashing and panicking. Her screams were loud and dreadful.
“Where’s my leg!” she screamed. “Oh God!”

“Shh!” I motioned, dropping to her side. I understood her pain and confusion, but we couldn’t afford for her screams to lure the creature out of hiding.

I put one hand on her forehead and the other over her mouth. Her eyes widened, confused. “Shh!” I urgently expressed again. “Macie, calm down.”

“It hurts so bad!” she shrieked, muffled under my hand. I pulled that hand away and focused on her forehead. She was burning up, sweating and pale. She needed medicine, and not just the ibuprofen in the first aid kit.

She jerked the amputated leg, trying to move it, and pain shot through her body. She winced and then let out another brutal scream.

“It hurts!” she pleaded, looking to me for help. I didn’t know what to do. Kevin and Wes were at her side as well, continuously trying to calm and quiet her.

“She needs help!” Kevin shouted. “She needs something to stop the pain.”

“Oxycodone,” I uttered, remembering Duke’s post-surgery compulsion—Oxycodone and Netflix. I still enjoy both, he had said.

“I think Duke has Oxycodone at his camp,” I said, standing to my feet. It was going to be a lot stronger than what the ibuprofen would be able to help Macie with.

“I’ll go get it,” Kevin said, standing up.

“No!” I said. “I couldn’t live with myself if something happened to you out there. I’ll find it. Keep your mom comfortable and quiet. Get her a cold rag, more blankets and pillows—anything to keep her from losing consciousness again.”

“Dad?” Wes said, tears forming in his eyes.

“I’ll be fine. I promise. I love you guys.”

I grabbed the shotgun from the floor and made my way out of the cabin.

I STOOD ON the porch, the scent of the cedar boards beneath me wafting up into my nostrils. I could smell nature all around; leafy scents, dirt, dampness in the trees and bushes that surrounded the camp. Odors that would normally make me feel comforted or refreshed. Now, they all reminded me of the horrible invader that hid, stalked, and killed in these woods.

My fingers twinged around the barrel and handle of Duke’s shotgun. I was nervous not knowing where the mysterious creature was, or what it was doing or planning. Was it full after it devoured three grown people? Was it ‘hibernating’? Waiting for its hunger to return? Were there others like it? Either within our confines or in the ones that border ours?
I stepped off the porch and into the shaded property. A string of clouds had slid in front of the sun, casting the aesthetic of twilight over the camp. I crept across the dirt and past the fire pit. I briefly made eye contact with the jelly-like remains of Macie’s leg, and then even briefer eye contact with the dark, moist soil where Natalie once lay. Ahead of me, a row of trees—their leaves rustling in the breeze—divided our camp from the Saunders’. I cut through the overgrowth and into their lot, the gun still tight in my grip.

I unlatched the door to their camper first. I knew that was where Hadley was set up, just like the twins had taken our camper. And assuming Duke’s appetite for Oxycodone was secretive, he may have hidden the drug away from his wife. The camper made sense for that, as long as the drug was in a safe place.

I pulled the door open and walked in. It was a lot cleaner than ours, neatly decorated and smelled like a mixture of fruit and flowers, presumably from a lotion or body spray.

I started with the cabinets. When I didn’t find anything, I opened all the drawers and checked under the furniture. Near the rear of the camper, beside Hadley’s disheveled bed, was the narrow door to the restroom. I closed my eyes as thoughts of Hadley’s demise came flooding back. Echoing screams and unnatural sounds filled my head until I willed them all away. I opened my eyes again, proceeded through the camper and pulled the door open. I aimed the gun, half expecting to see another grotesque display sitting on the toilet.
But there was no one; nothing unusual at all. I leaned in and looked into the toilet. That thing must have come up from the tank and pipes from under the vehicle, I thought. It moves in a most unusual way.

Since it had infiltrated our planet using earthy elements to take on a pliant guise, I couldn’t help but wonder what its true form looked like. The best I had to go by was the green, oily substance Duke described in the crater. If it was a liquid-based organism—which was mind-boggling to think about—it would have easily been able to come up through the pipes and toilet tank.

Suddenly, something scratched the outside of the camper. I jerked my head in the direction of the sound, hearing it claw across the side of the vehicle, and then abruptly stop. I felt flush again. I swallowed hard and took a deep, shaky breath. My fingers wrapped tightly around the gun until my hands hurt.

Another scratch; I felt my heart throbbing in the sides of my head. I began to feel light-headed, wishing this dream—this nightmare—would just end. I turned and quietly made my way back through the camper, cautiously peering out the open door.

Birds were chirping. Leaves rustled. A light breeze carried the damp odor from the woods. I stepped out and down the metal steps, trying to keep my eyes focused in every direction at once. A squirrel scampered across the ground and perched itself on a rock. It had something in its mouth; nuts or berries, probably. It stood tall, alert, and chewed furiously on its afternoon snack. Watching it eat made me feel hungry. I hadn’t eaten since the morning. My stomach growled, and the squirrel froze.

There’s no way that squirrel heard my stomach, I thought. It crouched down on all fours, ceased chewing, and remained as still as a statue. It had heard something, but my hungry stomach couldn’t have been what it was. There was something else close by; a predator. I looked, along with the squirrel, but nothing jumped out to me. Nature was still.

The squirrel pounced from its perch and scampered a few yards before coming to an abrupt stop in front of some thick shrubbery. It was inspecting something in the leaves. I squinted, trying to see what it was, but before I had time to focus, the squirrel jerked itself away and started to thrash around, squealing in torment. It rolled onto its back, where I was able to see its underside was covered in the dreadful, green substance.

It’s here, I thought as I watched the substance spread to engulf the entirety of the poor animal. The squirrel fell still, and its vanquished body softened into a sludgy residue.
The shrubbery behind the dead animal parted, and the otherworldly monstrosity emerged, crawling out and smashing its hands down into the squirrel. It brought its hands to its mouth and hastily ingurgitated the remains.

I couldn’t move. If I did, it would notice me and then attack. It would aimlessly throw its goopy genetics until I was struck, infected, and then eaten. I was a couple yards away from the Saunders’ camper, and even further from the cabin.

The monster finished its meal and then pulled itself across the ground with its hands. Its legs were dragging behind, but still using their strength to help it along. I noticed it was coming my way, and getting quicker.

It already saw me! How ignorant of me to assume I was smarter than this thing. It picked up speed, crawling freakishly fast in my direction. I aimed the gun and fired a shot that went astray. I fired again, clipping the creature’s left arm. Chunks of it splattered on the ground, but the blast didn’t do anything to slow it down. If anything, it only made it faster, angrier.
I turned and ran, with every bit of energy I had, to the Saunders’ cabin. I flew up the porch steps and through the front door, slamming it shut behind me. I locked it, immediately feeling stupid for just assuming that would keep it out. I backed up through the interior, keeping the gun trained at the front door. I stopped when my back hit a wall, and waited.
But nothing happened.

I waited a few moments more, expecting the creature to barge through the door like it had come out of our camper. But, nothing.

All was calm and quiet; the only sound was of my heavy breathing. I slowly walked back through the room and prudently looked out the window to the right of the door. I could see the porch, the area where I was chased, and the camper.


It had stopped its pursuit for some reason, and vanished. A scratching sound made me grip the gun tighter and look at the camper. I saw it from an odd angle, where a broken tree branch was scraping against the side of the vehicle.

That explains the clawing sounds, I thought.

I studied the area in front of the cabin more closely, trying to see if the creature was just blending in with the wilderness, but my eyes were having a hard time focusing and distinguishing what was what.

I backed away from the window, took a deep breath and thought of my family: Kevin, Wes, Macie. Oxycodone—that’s why I was here. I continued my search for the drug in the cabin. I came up empty in the bathroom, the bedrooms, the drawers and cabinets. I then found Duke’s duffle bag on the closet floor. I scoured it, unzipping every possible pouch and compartment. Nothing.

At the bottom of the bag a small tear. I put my fingers in it, feeling around inside the lining. My fingers grazed a plastic bag and my eyes widened with excitement. I pulled the bag out, seeing a handful of small, white pills inside.


I HAD THE DRUGS, but wasn’t certain I could leave the confines of the cabin safely. I looked out the front windows, the bedroom windows, and even cracked open the back door, but lingering dread was quick to force me to close it again. I had no idea if it was safe to leave or not, and every moment that went by with me not knowing, was another painful eternity for my wife.

Ultimately, I didn’t have a choice; Macie needed help. I opened the front door, gun in hand and pills safely in my pocket. I left the door open, so as to not make any unnecessary noise closing it. I knew better than to assume I wouldn’t be chased, but anything I could do to give myself a head start was required at this point.

Cautiously, but determined to not waste anymore time, I stepped off the porch and swiftly made my way through the camp. I crossed through the overgrown divide of the properties and back into ours.

I heard one of my boys scream:
“Dad! Dad, where are you!?”


It was Wes; frantic and crying.

I ran the rest of the way, disregarding the creature that lurked nearby, and up to the cabin where Wes stood at the door. He was a mess, crying and overthrown with panic.

“I’m here! I’m here! What’s wrong?” I insisted.

“Mom—” was all he could mutter.

I ran into the cabin as Wes, seemingly routed by whatever had caused his frantic state, dropped to his hands and knees in the doorway.

I turned the corner into the bedroom. Kevin was pressed up against the wall, keeping a monitory distance from Macie. I looked at her next; her skin was green and flaky, and her expressionless glare was aimed straight up at the ceiling. She was still breathing, but taking jumpy, spasm-like breaths.

“Macie?” I cringed, setting the gun down against the wall and fishing out the pills from my pocket. I looked up to Kevin, who seemed in shock. “What happened?” I hastily asked.
He shook his head, not completely sure. “The infection must have—it must have been in her bloodstream. It didn’t even matter that we cut off her leg.”

I went to open her mouth with my fingers to help her swallow the pills, but stopped when I realized I would have to physically touch her. Kevin noticed my conundrum and grabbed the TV remote from the bedside table.

“Use this,” he said, handing me the remote.

I accepted it, and placed it on Macie’s bottom lip to separate them. With a couple pills in my other hand, I pressed the remote down on her lip. The pressure, although gentle, caused the remote to sink into her face. Dark green fluid rose up from the expanding pocket, and I ripped the remote away quickly.

Kevin gasped and I stumbled backwards as her entire face gave way, sinking into itself to create a goopy, mucky mess on the pillow. The rest of her body followed: a chain reaction of ghastly deliquesce from head to toe.

As my wife dissolved into an unidentifiable secretion, my knees weakened; my vision became blurry, a loud ringing erupted in my ears.

“Mom!” Kevin cried out.

His heartfelt cry reminded me that my boys needed me now more than ever. I didn’t have time to mourn or panic. I needed to get my kids to safety. We had to survive this.

“Come on!” I yelled. I picked up the gun as Kevin shimmied around the bed, unable to let his eyes off of the nightmare unfolding before him. As I turned to the doorway, something squeaked under my boot; it was wet and slippery. I looked down. Green splotches, embedded by the tread of my boots, were left in the wake of where I had hastily entered the room. With my eyes, I followed them through the doorway, until they disappeared around the corner.

I must have stepped in some of it outside. It was the creature’s tactic to use this stuff to stop its prey dead. It engulfed the squirrel, the deer, the entire Saunders family, now my Macie — but only when it made contact with their skin …

My boot was keeping the unstable substance from causing its catastrophic manipulation of my body. That was the key—protect our bodies.

I had momentarily drowned out Kevin’s screams for “Mom!”, but they fired back with a vengeance as my son collapsed to the floor in a crying fit.

“Watch what you’re touching!” I screamed at him, knowing the tacky, green goo was now present in the cabin. He seemed confused; his eyes were red and tears were actively falling from them. He looked at me, and it was only then that I realized that Wes hadn’t rushed into the room after hearing the screams and chaos.

“Wes?” I whispered, looking back through the bedroom door and into the eerily silent living quarters of the cabin. I cautiously stepped through the threshold and turned the corner.
Wes remained on his hands and knees, in the same exact spot where he had dropped to when I rushed in. Only now, the trail of green muck that my boots left went straight into his space, and out the front door. His hands were on the wooden floor, palms both down, stuck in the slimy filth. It had climbed his arms and was wrapping around his shoulders when I laid eyes on him.

My eyes widened and I let out an audible gasp. He cracked his head toward me, absorbing the sight of his own frightened father, before the infection took over the entirety of his face. The upper portion of his body broke away, splattering to the floor. His torso and legs went next.

I was speechless as I zombie-walked toward him. I could hear myself moaning sickly; groaning in utter disbelief. I cocked my head, once again hoping it was all a dream. As I inched closer to the bubbling, gurgling mass on the floor, I was stunned by the creature’s sudden appearance. It was just out of view, out on the porch, and lunged itself on top of Wes, slurping up his remains in a noisy, sloppy manner. I stumbled backward and fell to the ground. I aimed the shotgun and fired a shot. It blew a chunk off the creature’s side. I fired again; another wet clump splattered against the wall.

All at once, the wounds I had inflicted on it regenerated, stringing themselves back together with roots and a natural, bodily adhesive. I fired again, missing this time completely. When I tried pulling the trigger one final time, the weapon only clicked. My heart sank. I clicked the trigger again and again, and then threw the gun to the side. All the while, the creature paid me no mind. All it did was feed on my son. When it was finished, it would no doubt try to claim me and Kevin, as well as devour Macie where she lay.

Two of us were gone. I couldn’t let it take Kevin and I. Scrambling to my feet, I checked my hands to make sure they hadn’t come into contact with any of the green substance. They hadn’t, so I raced into the bedroom and pulled Kevin out. I refused to look at the bed; the putrid odor in the room reminded me enough of what lay on it.

Rushing through the cabin, I grabbed the bloodstained hatchet off the counter. Kevin and I burst out the back door and into the thickness of woods behind the cabin.

“Where are we going?” Kevin insisted. “Where’s Wes?”

“Gone,” I muttered, choking back all of my emotions. “Keep moving,” I desperately urged.
We crashed through the wild brush and maneuvered through the trees—I was leading the way, but I didn’t have an end game. Getting as far away from the creature as possible was the extent of my plan.

WE FELT THE PRESSURE again; the buzzing, the headaches—we had come close to another side of the invisible barrier that kept us trapped like animals in a zoo.

We stopped our retreat; the barrier was our daunting reminder that there was nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. All we could do was elude the threat. For how long we were capable of doing that, though, was a question that I didn’t want to face the answer to.

We took cover several yards away from where the pressure began its hold. In a close grouping of trees, we sat with our backs against their thick bases. We mourned for Wes and Macie, son and wife, brother and mom.

“I don’t understand,” Kevin whispered. “I don’t understand what’s happening here.”

As a father, I wanted to answer Kevin’s question badly. I wanted to comfort him and explain everything that was going on. I wanted to give him a logical reason why his mother and brother had fallen victim to the otherworldly predator. I wanted to tell him that it was all a dream and that everything was going to be ok in the end.

But I couldn’t tell him any of that.

I didn’t know what was going on either. I didn’t know why my wife and son had to die. Why the Saunders’ had to die. I had been wishing all day that what we were experiencing was a dream, but now I was forced to face the fact that it certainly wasn’t, and in the end, nothing was going to be ok.

I started thinking about the creature, about what it looked like and what it was doing. It had crashed onto our planet, taken a form reminiscent of the elements that surrounded it, turned us into an edible sustenance, and fed on us. All while keeping us confined to, in a wide scope, a small, manageable area.

What if this was happening in more places than just Timber Acres? What if it was more widespread? Was it the entire region? The entire state? North America? The world …?

With our electronics down, we had no idea what was happening on the outside. I wondered about the man in the other cabin, and how he was faring through all of this. Was he alone? Did he have a family with him? What was his story?

And if this was a widespread event, did these creatures look the same everywhere? Or did they use whatever natural elements that surrounded them upon landing as their guise?
The endless parade of questions were giving me an all new kind of headache, but at least it waved the mournful thoughts for a short time. I couldn’t be certain Kevin had that luxury though. Sitting across from me, he looked sad and confused. No longer was the hopeful, “take charge” Kevin present; a somber, defeated Kevin had taken his place. And even though I was feeling the same way, I couldn’t let our last moments feel like that to him. I needed to be the hope that he had lost.

I stood to my feet, the hatchet firmly in my grip. Kevin looked up, his eyes lit with worry that something was happening.

“Let’s talk this out. Why would an enemy army use an EMP?” I asked him, already knowing the answer.


“Like in your game, Call of Duty. Why would you use an EMP?”

Kevin thought for a minute, and I was thankful his mind was finally off in a new direction. “To block the enemy’s ability to use technology so they can’t see an attack coming.”

“Exactly. This thing, this terror, from elsewhere, severed our ability to see the attack coming. We can’t communicate, we can’t find out how big this thing is. We’re either a test, or part of a larger invasion.”

“Or just a mass genocide,” Kevin said. I cocked my head and scrunched my brow. He continued:

“That thing has shown no sign of wanting to communicate with us. It simply turns people into something it can eat. There’s no reason, no remorse—its pure animalistic instinct. What if we, as a planet, are just another stop on this thing—or its species’—line of travel?”

Kevin’s hope was gone. Even though I understood his doom and gloom, I was hoping he would have joined me in steering away from it. If there was any chance of our survival, it wasn’t going to stem from surrendering to the threat. We needed to think; there had to be more. There had to be something we weren’t considering.

Then, a thought:

“The energy,” I began, “from all of our technology. That ‘EMP’ didn’t necessarily wipe it all out. It simply rerouted it. It’s still here,” I said, thinking about the pressure, headaches and the ear-splitting static buzz.

Kevin finally perked up, a glimmer of hope sparkling in his, now very active, eyes. “It pushed all of the electromagnetic energy out of the way,” he said. “Because that was a threat to it.”

“We can use the energy against it. Maybe even kill it,” I said with another smirk.
Kevin shot to his feet and looked around.

“All of the attacks have been a good distance from the edges of our grid,” he said. “It won’t come near the energy. We need to lure it here. That’s our chance at killing it.”

WE FINALLY HAD a plan. Lure the creature as close to the electro-magnetic wall as we could, and cross our fingers that there was somehow a reaction strong enough to kill it. If we were right about our latest theory, our technology had been eliminated so it wouldn’t be a threat to the creature itself; not just so we couldn’t use it. And if that was the case, then this creature was no more of a danger to us than a black widow spider.

Bite me and I’ll squash you without remorse, I remembered my thoughts from the previous day. Come to think of it, the black widow also had a morbid—and eerily similar—method of killing and eating its prey; liquify and then devour.

Hope had been restored. A chance of getting out alive lingered, although it still felt far off. We still needed to find out exactly how to lure it close enough. That’s where any doubt remained.

“If it was smart enough to reroute the energy, don’t you think it’ll be smart enough to stay away from it?” Kevin asked, his concern genuine.

I thought for a moment, understanding what he was saying. However, I also saw how the creature acted when feeding. “It’s so focused when it’s eating,” I said. “It’s like nothing else matters. Remember when it was eating Natalie? Your brother had passed out, your mom was screaming. You were able to retrieve the hatchet and we did what we needed to do. All while it just fed.”

Kevin nodded, gulping back the sour taste of the horrific memories I had regurgitated.
“If we can get it eating something, or chasing something, close enough to the border, maybe its focus would be so locked on that it wouldn’t even think about the energy field.”

Kevin nodded again. “Yeah,” he muttered. “That might work.”

Next order of business was to find the bait.

We waited quietly, still, for the next fifteen minutes. We were watching the woods, listening for any sign of life. A scampering squirrel, a curious deer—anything. But with only a hatchet in our possession, and nothing else, our work was cut out for us. Spotting the bait was one thing, but sneaking up on it was a completely different challenge. Not to mention holding it to one spot and trying to get the creature to show up.

Failure was already creeping into the back of my mind; a heavy sense of overwhelming defeat. We were out of our element, and the more I thought about that aspect, devastation began to ravage my thoughts. I looked over to Kevin, who was still propped up against the tree. He was zoned out, but I had a feeling it wasn’t because he was trying to listen or watch for wildlife. He felt it too—the defeat.

After watching so many people be killed by the invasive horror, what truly made us think we had a chance? I began to accept the reality of the situation.

Then, a noise.

It wasn’t the rustling of the trees or bushes. It wasn’t the innocent squeak of a rodent. It was a sound similar to the one I had heard while in the woods with Duke. It was a deafening crack, like the loudest thunder imaginable, coming from above in the clear blue sky. Kevin and I looked up.

Another crack tore through the air, reverberating through our bones and shaking the ground beneath us. In the sky, above the green canopy, we witnessed another fireball soaring through the air. Behind it, only seconds later, was another one.

Another thunderous crack led to the appearance of a third and then a forth. It sounded like a flyover at a baseball game. The sky was now littered with dozens of fireballs slicing through its aquamarine hue.

I knew what the outcome was of just one of them crashing. It had taken the lives of five people. But seeing the endless hail of terrors from beyond our world—failure, defeat and surrender is all my mind could conjure.

We didn’t stand a chance.

Humanity didn’t stand a chance.

Kevin and I sat in silence. Once the gut-churning display in the sky had passed, we expected to hear and feel more crashes. But we didn’t. Kevin said, “Why would we? We couldn’t hear the man from the other cabin. We can’t hear anything beyond our enclosure.”

I understood his point, but was wondering why we didn’t feel anything beneath us. No shaking, no rumbles. Unless the crashes were far away. And that would have meant that the invasion was much more widespread than just the Timber Acres Camp Resort. More widespread than the Allegheny Mountains.

I thought about our home back in Ohio. I thought about our neighbors, friends, our family—did they know what was happening? Was it happening to them as well?

A headache crept in and lingered as the impossible thoughts just kept coming. It was driving me mad. No communication, no knowledge of what was going on—no hope for survival.
My legs were antsy and my nerves jittered just beneath my skin. I stood up to stretch and whet my bodies need to move. I cracked my neck to one side, getting it to pop loudly. I cracked it to the other side with the same results. I twisted the top half of my body to get my back to crack next, and something caught my eye.

People, I thought. “People!”

Kevin shot to his feet and rushed up beside me. I pointed through the trees, in the direction where the invisible wall had been arranged. There were two people; two teenage girls. They had seen us too and were waving their arms frantically.

There was no sound coming from them. Being on the other side of the invisible wall, there was no chance for us to communicate with them. The sudden excitement of seeing other living people dwindled after I remembered this.

“Maybe we can motion to them, like that guy at the cabin did with us. They look scared,” Kevin said.

We moved closer to the two girls, cautiously taking our steps. We knew we wouldn’t be able to get too close, but if we were able to at least try a charades-like communication with them, then maybe we could comfort them.

I didn’t know what they knew. I didn’t know if there were more people in their group or if they had lost friends or family as well. What had they seen and experienced? Damn, I have never wanted to talk to people more in my life than I did now.

The faint sound of buzzing and a tingle in our heads told Kevin and I we had gotten close enough. We stopped in the middle of a small clearing, surrounded by bushes and wilting flowers. We had the girls’ attention. Being closer, we saw they were dirty from head to toe; their clothes wet and torn, dried blood in several spots.

I waved to them. They looked at each other and then back at us with hesitant waves. One of them tried speaking, shouting. I shook my head mournfully and motioned that we couldn’t hear them. They seemed to understand, and the shouting might have been a desperate attempt to interfere with the expected outcome.

Kevin stood anxiously by as I traced the large invisible box with my hands, and then pointed to us. I then air-traced another one and pointed at them. They nodded, already knowing that fact.

Then, something spooked them. They started looking around, frightened, and holding onto one another. Kevin and I scanned the area, but couldn’t see what they saw, or hear what they heard. One of the girls screamed and shimmed away from the other. She started to run, but stopped. The other girl slowly backed up.

I couldn’t see anything.

“What’s going on?” Kevin trembled.

“I don’t know.”

The bushes behind the girls, between where they stood and we did, started to move. Their backs were against the movement.

“Hey!” I instinctively shouted, momentarily forgetting they couldn’t hear me.

“It’s in there,” Kevin said, pointing to the rustling bushes. From within the bushes’ large leaves, the creature appeared, rising up from the earth. It was covered in wet moss, an expanse of erect pine needles, and released a wispy steam as it peeled away from the soil.
“Behind you!” I shouted. I knew it was a useless effort, but it was only human instinct to warn others of imminent danger. Kevin joined in, echoing my useless cries. Just as we obviously predicted, our warnings landed on deaf ears. The creature, looming behind them — and exceeding their height by more than a couple of feet — lashed one of its arms through the air. Kevin and I watched a dark, stringy liquid slither through the empty space between it and the girls, like an airborne, striking viper. Its venom would instantly infect; the girls would have only minutes left to live, if that.

The liquid splashed onto one of their backs, spooking them both into spinning around. Their eyes landed on the skulking beast; their emotions exploding with wide-eyes and gaping mouths. They screamed loudly; I could tell without even hearing it. The horror and dread in their faces — they knew it was over for them.

The girl that was splattered, I saw the infection wrap around her neck and spread all over her face and head within seconds. She dropped to the ground, her head leading the way like an anchor. The other girl fell to her knees, trying to shake her friend, or whoever it was to her, back into a state of awareness. But her desperate and ignorant attempts only resulted with the instant transmission of the alien infection. It rapidly scaled her arms and she shot to her feet, stumbling backwards and holding her vile appendages out in front of her. Her eyes couldn’t have been any wider; I felt like I could hear her screams.

All the while, the creature continued to loiter, unnaturally hunched, waiting for its meal to take an edible form. I felt like Kevin and I were loitering too, watching the teen girls like they were helpless mice being fed to a hungry snake.

“Look,” Kevin whispered in a soft, trembling voice. He took a couple of wobbly steps backward; his instinct telling him to distance himself from the horror. I followed his gaze to the girl already dead on the forest floor. Her body had become the revolting, green slop that the creature craved. Only then did it break its idle stance, lowering itself to the ground and crawling to her like a wounded soldier.

It began to feed.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the second teen girl collapse. She was completely covered in the unsightly, puke-green husk. As the creature continued to hungrily feed on the other one, my eyes refused to leave the distorting, melting metamorphosis of the second girl. She changed from a gruff solid to a pulpy liquid in under a minute. My stomach turned. Vomit teased the back of my throat and I felt faint.

I took a couple of steps backward, wobbling just like Kevin had. My knees were feeble, my breaths short and shallow.

“We need to…to…” I couldn’t find the words. Probably because there was nothing we could do. There was nowhere to go. No one to call. We were trapped and marked for death.
I turned around to check on Kevin, and was immediately struck by a spark of fright in the back of my neck. It shot down my spine, numbing my legs and making me lose all feeling in my face. Kevin stood before me, wrapped in the grimy, green cocoon. The sight was a shock to my system — I was convinced it was a fever dream; it couldn’t possibly be real. His head then began to slope to the side, turning into a gooey mess. As he collapsed at an angle, splashing down into the dirt and leaves, another one of the alien terrors rose up from behind him. It took two, long strides towards Kevin’s melting form before stooping down to its knees and shoveling the mess into its mouth.

This time, I did vomit. It exploded from me like a geyser, hitting the ground only feet from where the feeding was happening. I collapsed to my knees, violently throwing up more. During a brief lull, I turned my head around to where the teen girls had been killed. The creature on that side of the invisible wall was just standing up from the first girl and making its way to the second.

The appalling squelching noises from only feet away grabbed my attention again. Vomit dripped from my mouth as I turned my head back around. The creature just continued to eat. I gawked at it, confused and terrified. The loss and grief I felt from losing my entire family suddenly faded. I was focused on the wet, slurping noises. The creature didn’t know any better; it was just doing what its instincts demanded. I started to wonder if there was even an endgame for their invasion. Maybe it wasn’t a devious extermination of our species; maybe it was just a pit-stop, a place to eat, before moving on. They didn’t seem like a vicious, violence-for-the-sake-of-violence, species. They were acting out of primal needs.
Another loud crack from above made me look up. Through the treetops, more fireballs entered the atmosphere, soaring through the sky like jets. I wondered where they were going. I wondered what poor souls were going to be trapped by them, cut off from the rest of the human race, afraid and unable to understand what was happening. To be this cut off from knowledge and information was a beast all on its own. We, as humans, had created a world—a way of life—that we took for granted.

The squelching noises had stopped. I took notice of the silence. I looked back at the creature. It had finished and was now only inches from me, on its hands and knees, gawking at me with its luminescent white eyes and gaping, toothless mouth. I closed my eyes, expecting to get tagged by its bodily liquid at any moment. It let out a shrieking bellow; its hot, rotten breath gusting against my face.

But instead of the wet splash of its liquid against me, I felt a jolt of electricity through my body. It rattled my spine and shot upward, striking the back of my head with a force so powerful that I blacked out.

MACIE WORE THE most beautiful dress. Her eyes sparkled like the diamonds on her wedding band. Her smile—pure with joy—brought to life millions of butterflies in my chest and stomach. She stood on the edge of the waterfront, next to me, as the photographer snapped the next photo.

The shimmering lake behind us, the afternoon sun bright in the sky, and the paddle-boarder way out in the distance that we didn’t see at first, but relentlessly joked about after—it was my favorite picture from our big day. A week later we found out that there were two other souls in that photo, hidden behind the bouquet of roses that Macie held in front of her stomach.

I opened my eyes and the happy memories—an unfortunate dream—vanished in a flash.
I was somewhere so dark that I couldn’t see my own hand when I tried to raise it up in front of my face. It was hot, like a sauna, and my throat was dry and scratchy. My breathing rattled my chest, and all I could think of was how just the tiniest sip of water would feel like heaven.

My breathing picked up; I felt like I could hear it echoing in whatever room—or place—I was in. There was a soft drip coming from somewhere, which also echoed.

The whole of the ambiance reminded me of a cave. The air was muggy, damp. The drip relaxed me a bit, knowing there was water somewhere nearby. I was on my rear, so I climbed to my feet. Putting my hands against the ground, my assumption of being in a cave of some kind only gained traction. The ground was hard like stone, surprisingly cool—unlike the rest of the environment—and covered in a soft, fuzzy glaze. Moss, perhaps.

A small glimmer of light caught my eye as I stood up, but disappeared just as quickly. I wasn’t able to see where it came from, and I wasn’t able to tell if it was a natural light, or something purposeful.

“Hello?” I called out flatly. My voice echoed through the cave-like structure, eventually disappearing from existence. My call didn’t receive an answer. It was met with absolutely nothing; only the warmth in the air, and the constant, teasing drip nearby.

I didn’t remember how I got here, wherever I was. I just remembered…

I just remembered Kevin, and what happened to him. I felt a shock in my body before everything went dark. I was missing time, but I didn’t know how much time. I didn’t hear the birds or a rustling of the trees and bushes in the wind—not anymore. I knew I had been taken from Timber Acres. But where was the concerning question that swelled with anxiety in my mind.

“Hello?” I called again, a little louder, irritating the dryness in my throat to the point of a coughing fit. I tried to clear my throat afterwards and then waited to hopefully hear a response.

To my left, another light quickly flashed. It was green, I was almost certain of it. But before I could turn my head completely to face it, it was gone.

“Who is that?” I called out. I took a couple steps in the direction of where the light was, but stopped when I remembered that I didn’t know what my surroundings were like. I could have stepped off a ledge for all I knew.

“Shh,” a voice slipped through the air, chilling me with its unexpectedness. I froze in place, looking around with my eyes, only seeing blackness.

“They’ll hear you,” the voice whispered. Even though it was only a whisper, I could tell it was a man, and he wasn’t too far away from me.

“Where are you?” I whispered back, slightly louder than he.

There was silence for a moment, and then the man whispered again. “I don’t know where they took us. I don’t know where we are right now. I just know that the last person that was too loud, was eaten.”

Another chill.

“And it didn’t sound pretty,” he added. “I’m trying to spare you that same fate.”

I tried to swallow, but my throat felt like sandpaper. “It’s so hot in here,” I said to the man. He didn’t respond. “My name is Ben. I was camping with my family at the Timber Acres Camp Resort.”

“Let me guess,” the whispering man began, “they’re all gone and now it’s just you.”

By that, I knew the man had suffered a similar fate with people he cared for as well. I nodded, catching myself in the middle of remembering that he couldn’t see me.

“Yes,” I said.

The man took a moment to respond. “Same here. That’s what they do. They single out one from a group to take.”

“To take for what?”

I heard the man take a deep breath and wheeze it out through his nose. “I don’t know. The last person—the woman who was eaten—was the last of her clan too.”

My mind began to flicker through different scenarios. Why would these things need people? A food supply would be the most obvious, but they could have done that already. Breeding? Trophies?

“Where are we?” I asked a little louder, my voice teasing a frustration with the constant whispering.

“I already said I don’t know. I know as much as you do. You were trapped down there, right? Some sort of invisible wall kept you and your family in?”

I nodded again. “Yeah. They used the radio waves and frequencies from our electronics to create some sort of barrier.”

The man went quiet, and then chuckled. “They’re smart,” he whispered back. “I didn’t even realize that’s what they had done. I guess you might know more than I do.”

Another quick flash of light next to me made me snap my head and focus. I could still see the remnants of light fading into blackness, but still couldn’t figure out where it had come from, or what it even was. These lights were gone just as quick as a bulb on an old flash camera.

Something the man said suddenly hit me. “What did you mean, ‘down there’?”
He went silent again.

“You asked if we were trapped ‘down there’,” I clarified. “What did you mean by that?”

“I don’t think …” the man began, but trailed off. Silence again, before he continued. “I don’t think we’re on Earth anymore…”

I felt the breath leave my body. “What do you mean?” I asked loudly, frustrated by everything — the whispering, the confusion, our unknown whereabouts; the terror that had consumed my family.

“Shh!” the man snapped with a hiss. “They’re going to hear you!”

Part of me didn’t even care. That part wanted them to hear me, wanted to move whatever this was along. I wanted answers.

My breathing picked up and I started to move. I took a step in one direction, and then stopped to step in another. They were careful steps at first; I felt the ground with the tip of my boot before I took each one. Not knowing where I was, or what was around me, was disorientating and trippy. My mind began to create surroundings, even though I knew they weren’t right.

I felt my heart racing. Each breath was deeper and louder than the last. I heard the man shushing me again, but I ignored him. I needed to get out of here. I needed water, I needed light. I needed to get home to my family. This wasn’t where I was supposed to be. None of this was supposed to be happening.

“Help!” I shouted.

The man shushed me again.

“Help!” I screamed louder. My voice echoed through the darkness that commanded the scene.

There was another flash of light from one side. I spun to face it, but then caught a second flash from my other side.

“Where are you!?” I angrily shouted. “Where am I!?”

I spun in circles, hoping to catch one of the flashes in action; hoping to get just enough of a glimpse as to where to go to confront it, or who was behind it. That light was a menace, a tease of something that I desperately wanted to see. In darkness, light is desired.

I coughed dryly, cleared my throat until I tasted blood. I felt hot. Sweat poured from me. I needed water, and I was getting desperate. That tempting drip, coming from somewhere close, was calling me.

“Help me!” I called out again. The other man in the vicinity had stopped shushing me, stopped telling me to be quiet. He was trying to protect himself now, from whatever he claimed happened to the woman that made too much noise.

But my mind was too manic for reason or logic. My heart raced like it had been pumped full of adrenaline. Every inhale, every exhale—I received nothing but pain in return. I wanted to cry, but tears wouldn’t form, they couldn’t. I took a step, and then another. I felt like running, but I didn’t know which way.

“Are you still there?” I called out to the man. He didn’t answer. I took another few steps and then stopped. “Talk to me. Please!”

I heard noises; wet and squelchy. Something large and damp was shuffling around in the dark. Sticky sounds accompanied it, like tar snapping under heavy footsteps.

“Is that you?” I called out to the unseen man.

No response.

“Answer me, dammit!” I screamed. “Where am I? Why am I here!?”

The wet noises continued, growing louder and closer.

“Why am I here!? Why am I here!?”

I took another step.


My eyes widened; I had stepped in something. My boot sunk into it like it was mud, only thinner—like slush.

The drips, I thought. The water!

My desperation reigned. I dropped to my knees and dipped my hands down into the soft, wetness beneath my boots. It was cold at first, but then stung like a thousand angry hornets. I screamed in pain, shooting back up to my feet. All the feeling in my hands was lost; the assault of pain climbed my forearms. A strong, stomach-churning odor invaded my senses, and my thoughts went straight to the invasive terror that stalked our camp—I had put my hands directly into the same slimy grot that ended up infecting everyone.

The breath escaped my body for the final time. My world and mind spun uncontrollably, like a plane going down. I could feel it spreading up my biceps, crawl across my chest and seamlessly spill down the rest of my body like a curtain call. I was completely numb. My legs, now jelly-like, collapsed under the weight of my torso. I landed on my back, splashing down into my own muddled remains. Another green flash from above briefly displayed a silhouette of the terror that loomed over me. I could hear it gurgling, wheezing. Its eyes, pulsating a blinding white energy, ignited in the dark. My neck burned, my jaw cracked and collapsed. My eyes filled with something gooey and thick.

A garbled shriek—

Credit: Scott Donnelly


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