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The Unnatural Rivalry

the unnatural rivalry


Estimated reading time — 62 minutes

Candy, laughter, scares, ghosts and ghouls.

Halloween, easily my favorite holiday of the year. It has all the things I love most in life. Sweets, costumes, and the excuse to be someone else even if it is just for a night. Where fiction and reality can intertwine without it being weird.

I’m only thirteen, but it seems to me like a lot of people in my school want to pretend like they’re too old to trick or treat or something. It’s the cool thing now to go to Halloween parties and talk to girls or whatever they actually do. But for me, trick or treating will always hold a special place in my heart.

Luckily I had two friends who shared the same opinion on the matter. Carter and Aaron. I hadn’t known them all too long, only since the beginning of this current school year. But the three of us had gotten along pretty quick and decided that we’d all go out on the best night of the year together. None of us had cellphones yet, so we planned the whole thing at school during our lunch period.

I stood in the bathroom of my house, finishing painting on my fake blood that ran underneath my fangs. Wearing a cheaply made fabric cape and fangs, a little bit of makeup, and some contacts and I was a full-on vampire. It was more effort than most people my age put into their costumes anyway.

Carter, who was definitely the biggest of us three, had chosen to go as a brute zombie. His clothes all tethered and ripped, while also having fake bits of blood and bone painted on his exposed skin.

Then there was Aaron who so desperately wanted to go as a swamp monster. We practically begged the guy to dress up as a werewolf and complete the classic monster trio, but he refused.

“Dude, you can’t be serious, you look like you just jumped in a bucket of slime and then called it a day.” Carter teased. Snickering at Aaron as he revealed his look for the night to come.

“My mom spent three hours on this, I don’t wanna hear your complaining.” Aaron fires back, rolling his eyes at Carter.

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“Three hours?” Carter blares. “Was she blindfolded the whole time?”

“Alright alright, I’m gonna get a headache from you guys before this night even starts. Let’s just go out, get some candy and have fun.” I step in, continuing the work on my fake blood touch-up.

“I’m using a pillowcase.” Aaron chimes in. “Gonna fill this thing to the brim.”

“A pillowcase?” Carter replies quickly. “I’m taking a frickin garbage bag!”

We discussed for a few minutes more. Going on about the route we’d take and the types of candy we wanted to score. I myself was more of a chocolate guru. Hershey’s, Reese’s, Snickers, 3 Musketeers. I wanted it all.

Carter and Aaron mostly agreed with me, with the exception of Carter constantly reminding me that sour candy reigned supreme. Even over chocolate, but everyone has their preferences I guess. His opinion was still wrong though.

The three of us finish the remaining little touches on our costumes, grabbing our various candy bags and whatnot before finally walking out the front door to the house and setting off into the lively environment that was my street on Halloween.

It wasn’t actually dark quite yet, although the sun was beginning to dim as it set. Leaving that perfect, fall-evening breeze to accompany the low light. Beautiful colored leaves blowing every which way.

Our plan was to head over to the more upscale and snobby part of town. Most people there would just leave out multiple bowls of full-sized candy bars after a certain time when they didn’t feel like answering the door any longer. Which was all the more fortunate for us.

The only problem? Well, our area was poorly planned and structured quite strangely. Meaning that the shortest way to get to said snobby area was to cut through a near mile and a half long trail in the woods.

People in my town always told urban legends and tales of creatures, ghouls, and cryptids lurking in the woods. They definitely freaked me out as a small child for sure, but I was now old enough to understand it was all nothing more than a fiction that parents used to keep their young kids from running off and encountering something like a coyote.

But you see, most legends and stories always portray the non-human creatures as the bad guys. All the time with next to no exceptions, that’s where my town is different. Some claim to have seen creatures of the night throwing down like two drunk dads in a parking lot. The reasons they supposedly fight for are unknown.

Territory, food, dominance, and or just purely malice. All of them are not much more than one big conspiracy theory or tall tale. But what most people think is that while some of these beings are here to hunt, kill and maim us. The others are here to watch over us. To protect us from the ones who only want to cause us harm and pain.

As I said though, it’s nonsense. There were plenty of dangerous things in the woods without there being supernatural oddities and entities, some people just like to amp it up for the sake of excitement and fun. Which is entirely understandable.

“You’ll blend right in man,” Carter announces before bumping Aaron.

“Well… You’re not wrong.” I interject. Causing both Carter and I to snicker.

“Hey, you’re the one who’s going as a damn vampire, how creative. I’m pretty sure everyone and their mother thought of that one.” Aaron snaps at me from behind.

“Except my costume is the best out of all of them.” I deflect.

“I’m just saying that if we finish early we should go scare some of the little kids around the neighborhood,” Carter suggests with a proud smile.

“Yeah and then have their angry dads chasing after us?” I inquire rhetorically. “Use your head dude.”

“That’s part of the fun.” Carter fires back without much flair.

The three of us arrive at the entrance to the forest path. Standing there as nothing more than ants while the massive trees towered over us. Bushes, and all sorts of shrubbery making it nearly impossible to effectively see anywhere besides straight ahead. Especially as it got darker and darker outside by the minute.

Some of the trees were weirdly bent forward, almost like they were attempting to cover the path from sunlight. A phenomenon I didn’t remember being present last year.

I was a bit disappointed to see someone had taken it upon themselves to TP the front few trees a bit. As to why or how it made any sense? I don’t know. But it did get under my skin for some reason. Who the heck TP’s a forest?

“Jeez did a tornado run through here?” Aaron says, breaking the silence between the three of us as we stare in a shared feeling of unsettling awe.

“What’s with the toilet paper?” Carter quizzed. Taking one step forward.

“I.. I don’t know.” I reply, genuinely confused. “Let’s just keep going, we wanna be able to clean out the bowls before the other kids get there.”

“This seems kinda sketch not gonna lie,” Aaron interjects. “What was the point of TP-ing trees?”

“Like I said.” I huffed. “I don’t know, now come on let’s go.”

The three of us continue forward, beginning the path and taking short but deliberate strides. We didn’t let the strange unease ruin our excitement. But I would be lying if I said I wasn’t on edge. As to why? Well, that’s the mystery, I didn’t really have a legitimate reason. Toilet paper on trees isn’t really enough to justify this sort of emotion.

And although I’ve heard some horror stories of coyotes snatching up little kids, they were mostly cowards when it came to more normal-sized humans and the three of us were big enough to where I was confident we wouldn’t be bothered.

“Hey, so one question…” Carter declares. “For the both of you.”

“Yeah?” Aaron and I both reply simultaneously.

“You guys ever heard the story about the Ground Grabber?”

“Pffft!” Aaron immediately snorts in reverse, as if he were just blowing out a nose-full of liquid.

“Yeah, I won’t lie that’s a pretty stupid name.” I chime in. Failing to hold back a laugh of my own.

“You won’t think it’s stupid when you find out what he did.” Says Carter with a straight face. “My dad always told me that when he was a kid, he would always lurk in these very woods and around town.”

“Ooooh, spooky!” I tease sarcastically. “But that still doesn’t explain why it’s supposed to scare us… But it does explain why it’s failing.”

“Well maybe if you’d stop interrupting me I could keep going.” Carter snaps. “Anyway, they said he was a man who had been spliced with the DNA of multiple animals, mainly a groundhog. He was much taller and bigger than any man on the planet, strong and fast. My dad said people who messed with or disturbed the ground of natural areas like this would be hunted by him. He would follow them to their houses, to their place of work. No matter where they went he would find them and eventually get them. And then take them back to his tunnels underground, sometimes he’d dig his way into the sewers and kill maintenance workers. And those he didn’t would find the corpses of large alligators in the sewers as well, torn apart by something powerful and vicious.”

“Uhhh aren’t alligators pretty rare in this state?” Aaron interrupts. “I’ve only ever heard of one instance of there being alligators up here. Also, why would he dig his way into the sewers, sounds kinda stupid.”

“Because he’d be too big to fit in the manhole cover you dope! Now would you just have fun and enjoy the damn story? Jeez.”

“What? I can’t have fun AND point out your stupid logic? The Ground Grabber isn’t real man, your dad just didn’t want you digging holes in the backyard with his shovels.”

“Hey come at me all you want, but all I’m gonna say is you better stay on the path. Don’t litter and don’t start digging holes as you said.”

The two of them finish their bickering, we were just about halfway through the trail. The sun getting lower and lower by the second as I watch squirrels and rabbits scatter into the thick brush of the trees.

But as we walk along, Aaron suddenly freezes. Looking down to his right at something that clearly disturbed him. I hold up a hand and signal for Carter to hold up, attempting to get to the bottom of what it is that was bothering Aaron.

“Hey man, you alright?” I approach, trying to focus my gaze on whatever he was so fixated on. Failing to see what was holding him up at first.

“The hell?” Carter inquires, seemingly having spotted the same captivating sight before I had. Leaving me curious as to what it was.

But Aaron simply points a finger forward at the ground, just a few feet off the path. And I finally see what it is he was talking about.

Just right next to the edge of the path, sticking out from a bush was a shoe. It looked to be around a size thirteen, so I assumed it had belonged to a grown man. That in itself wasn’t too strange, loose shoes are more common than most people would realize. But what did get me was the thing next to it.

Less than a foot to the right of the shoe was a Jack O Lantern… Well, Lantern. It was turned on its side, a good chunk of its upper right area smashed to pieces and embedding the remaining plastic into the ground.

There was no blood, no corpse, or any other sign that someone was hurt. Perhaps it was a prank or decoration to scare kids who cut through here? It wasn’t like this was a secret route or anything. Plenty of people were aware of it.

“Okay, that’s kinda weird…” Aaron comments. Taking a step back while keeping his eyes fixated on the bush.

“Dude are you dumb? That’s obviously just a decoration. Did you forget what night it is?” Carter replies, although not sounding super confident about his claim.

“I’d probably just leave it alone,” I say, keeping my feet right where they were.

But Carter goes full throttle towards the bush, wanting to appear stronger in his conviction.

“Carter would ya just leave it alone,” Aaron calls out, trying to pull him back, only causing Carter to thrash forward out of his grip.

“What are you guys even scared for?” He teases further. “Especially you Garret.” He announces while pointing right at me. “Aren’t you always the one saying that monsters and ghosts are a bunch of BS?”

Frustrated, I fire back immediately.

“Well duh, I never said it proved there’s a frickin’ monster. Maybe it’s the leftovers of a mugging, don’t tamper with potential evidence.”

“Nerd.” Carter shoots back bluntly.

“Hey, you’re the weirdo who made up the stupid Ground Grabber. Sometimes it takes a lot of brainpower to be stupid.” I ramble, my eyebrows lowering.

“I think that’s a paradox…” Aaron interjects softly.

“Shut up!” I erupt, turning my head to face him.

Carter begins to laugh as he continues getting up close to the busted Jack O Lantern. His loud chuckles echoing throughout the forest.

But all of our bickering comes to a screeching halt when a blood-curdling roar booms from the trees off the path. It sounded like it came from deep within the woods but simultaneously close enough to nearly shatter our eardrums right then and there.

The sheer bass of it was terrifying as if a large grizzly had given everything it had to scare off a predator. As to what that predator would be? Well, I’m no expert. Perhaps an even bigger grizzly?

“You uh… You guys heard that right?” Carter whispers as if he is afraid that someone or something will hear him.

“We did, and it’s our cue to leave.” Aaron snaps in a similarly quiet tone.

“That had to be a bear right? I mean they don’t usually come this close to neighborhoods do they?” Carter inquiries, beginning to walk forward.

“We’re leaving,” I command. “Now, forget the Lantern, forget the stupid shoe. We’re going, come on.”

“Okay I know I know it’s scary but you guys are telling me that you don’t wanna see what that was all about?” Said Carter as he stands back up.

“No, because I’m not an idiot like y-” Aaron begins before being suddenly cut off.

A branch snaps not too far from behind the bush. None of us actually see the cause of it, but the sound is all too familiar. But it came off like it was a rather large one, far from a simple twig or thin stick.

The three of us decide that was more than enough evidence for our case to leave and immediately take off, bolting down the path with all of our trick or treating gear in hand. I myself don’t look back, but I could practically sense Carter turning his head multiple times to get a peek at whatever wild animal may or may not have been on our tail. Although it was admittedly stupid to run because if it had been a dangerous predator, we would’ve only invited it to chase us. We were behaving like prey.

“That was a bear, that was definitely a frickin’ bear I don’t care what either of you say.” Carter declares with a not up for debate tone.

“Would you shut your mouth!” I bark in an angry whisper. “If he doesn’t already hear our footsteps he’ll definitely hear your big mouth yapping!”

I see the opening to a road. Only about another sixty yards of running and we’d be free from the clutches of these woods. I don’t think I necessarily heard anything chasing us, thank god. But that didn’t change this sense of impending doom going on in my head. As if we were on an inevitable path to our deaths.

Regardless though, we do make it to the other side of the path. Granted the three of us were wheezing and struggling to catch our breaths. It was still a far more desirable situation than being attacked by whatever bear or large predator was lurking in those trees. Just last week online I read about some woman’s husband getting taken by a bear.

The three of us continue to stand at the end of the path hunched over, rapidly inhaling and exhaling as we attempt to regain our ability to keep going as normal.

“Let… Let’s just hurry up and start trick or treating.” I say continuing to huff and puff.

“What, and just go on like nothing happened? Somebody might’ve gotten eaten by a frickin’ bear!” Aaron growls at me after standing upright.

“We don’t know that!” I countered. Even doubting my own words as I speak. “There wasn’t any blood, guts, or anything that proves a stupid bear attack!”

“That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen either,” Carter adds.

“Okay, and what do we do? Go to the cops on Halloween night and tell them we maybe think someone got eaten by a bear because there was a shoe and a broken lantern? They’re gonna think we’re messing with them, some kids trying to have fun wasting their time.” I posit angrily.

“Tell them about the roar.” Informs Aaron.

“Yeah because I’m sure that will really help. Can we just forget it? It’s not even that big of a deal.”

“Seemed like a big deal when you were the first one to bolt.” Carter steps in.

“Jesus Christ Carter, do you ever shut up? We haven’t even started yet and you’re already giving me a headache!” I return furiously.

I can’t help but give Carter a hellish glare. Staring him down like an angry mother would to her disobedient child. It was quickly becoming clear to me that perhaps our personalities weren’t as compatible as I had previously assumed. At least not in the heat of stress that is.

I grip my candy bag and take a couple of steps forward before looking back at my two distressed companions.

“I’m gonna go start getting some candy, you guys can sit here and continue to cry like babies about a stupid shoe and lantern, or you can come with me.” I pronounce softly.

“No, no absolutely not. I’m going to the police station up the road.” Aaron replies, putting his foot down firmly on the pavement.

“So you’re gonna walk another mile just for that?” I implore with rhetorical intentions.

“Yep.”

“Listen, that was sketchy stuff back there but dude I don’t feel like walking to the station,” Carter announces with hesitance. Taking a few steps away from Aaron.

“Dude what? Are you kidding? You’re the one that wanted to play detective moron back there! Getting your face all up in that bush so something could bite it off! Oh but now walking to the police station is out of the question for you? Figures. Quit being so lazy all the frickin’ time.”

I can tell Carter had an answer rising in his throat, but he stops himself. Holding back whatever it was he was originally planning to say in favor of not escalating this any further. I admired him for that, but I could tell it still hadn’t done very much. As his substitute answer was arguably worse.

“Fine. If you want to go to the station that bad then do it, but you’ll be doing it by yourself.”

Aaron’s eyes narrow, and with a long huff, he turns and begins to walk away. Letting us stare right at his back as he doesn’t even turn to see if we were following him.

Luckily the police station was easier to get to from where we were at. So he wouldn’t have to walk back through the path in the woods, just along the road, even though the woods were still on one side of it. The left side, just to be specific.

But you see, as cold as I pretended to be. I couldn’t just let him leave like that, walking by himself in the near pitch blackness of the now early nighttime sky with only streetlamps to light up his path. Not many of the homes down the street to our right had their lights on. Like I said, most of them leave the candy bowls outside and go to bed.

But do you wanna know what made it worse? What truly stopped my blood flow in its tracks?

I caught a glimpse of a bit of bright light in my peripheral vision. It was coming from the dense trees in the forest right to the left of the road. Only around a dozen feet or so from where Aaron was walking. He himself being unaware as he kept his eyes supposedly trained on the path directly in front of him.

I turn my head only slightly, trying to focus in on whatever the light actually was. Coming to find it was a bit more elevated, like the source of it was high up in one of the trees.

Once I begin to further comprehend, I see what was actually two lights, not just one. Both of them in the shape of a light bulb you’d find in someone’s house. Despite the fact they appeared separate, I could tell were both apart of one thing, one structure… One creature.

Both of those yellow light bulbs move suddenly and simultaneously, staring down right at Aaron as he walks along and follows him ever so slightly. Whatever this thing was, it was precise and intelligent. That much was clear.

I stand frozen, my instincts refusing to kick in. I don’t see what the rest of this mystery creature looks like, the lack of light doesn’t allow me. But all I know is that it was the furthest thing from both human and animal. All my doubts, all my skepticism, and all my conviction in logic were proven laughably wrong right there in that short little insignificant moment. There I stood like a fool while the universe made me eat my own words.

The two light bulbs only remain up in that specific tree for a few more seconds before suddenly dashing backward deeper into the woods, bouncing along tree by tree before soon disappearing. Soon leaving my line of sight as I stare dumbfounded, yet terrified.

“Are you good man?” Carter approaches, putting a hand on my shoulder and beginning to shake me.

“You saw it right! Please, please tell me you just saw that!” I exclaim, pointing my right index up at where I had laid eyes on the unsettling sight.

“What are you talking about?” He asks rather confused. An eyebrow on his face rising.

“No, I know you had to have seen that, up in the trees!”

Carter narrows his eyes, making his best attempt to catch a glimpse at whatever it was I had spotted. But unsurprisingly his expression stays static, finding no visual evidence of my claim.

“Alright if you’re trying to be a jerk to get back at me, it’s not funny dude. Maybe we should go catch up with Aaron and convince him to-.” Carter begins before being swiftly cut off by yours truly.

“Why would I do something like that? Did the past ten minutes just not happen to you or something? I know what I saw, it was some sort of animal, an animal that shouldn’t exist!”

“Dude you’re literally the one always saying stuff like that doesn’t exist! Remember? It’s nothing but stories and nonsense? Things that people make up to make sure their kids act right?”

My jaw moves as I prepare to blurt out my response, but instead, I stop. Letting out a slow, controlled exhale. My breath visible in the cool air of the night.

“I know. I know I’m a nonbeliever or whatever you call it. Shouldn’t that show you that I’m serious? I saw something in those trees, it was watching Aaron and who knows if it’s gonna follow him.”

Carter falls silent. Having trouble finding the words to form his response.

At this point, Aaron is out of sight, with the three of us being “too young to have cellphones” as our parents put it. We had no way to reach him other than to go after him physically.

And if that was our only choice, then that was just what we were gonna do.

“Alright enough, let’s go get him.” I proclaim. “But we need to keep an eye on each other’s backs. And once we get him, we’re going home, end of story. You guys can stay at my place for the rest of the night.”

“As much as he gets on my nerves, fine. Let’s go, but I’m just saying that if he gets on my nerves he’s sleeping in the basement. Period.”

When we set off, it had only been a few minutes or so since Aaron had begun his trek. But he had always been a fast walker. That, combined with the poor lighting of the road ahead led me to be unsurprised that I couldn’t see him.

I was still on edge, walking to the right of Carter in order to be further away from the woods, even if the distance was so terribly insignificant. I had gone from being the skeptic to the most paranoid and superstitious one of the group. Not that it was completely unprovoked by any means. Part of me wanted to rationalize it. Maybe someone was just messing with us the whole time, but that part with the light bulbs would be quite difficult to pull off. Especially with amateur equipment.

Carter and I get to where I had last seen Aaron before he exited the circle of pavement lit up by one of the streetlamps. We both glance around, seeing nothing in our field of view.

The both of us progress further, the street becoming more isolated and empty the more distance we cover. But even in the eerie silence, there was something that still caught my eye.

An open manhole cover right in the middle of the road.

“Carter,” I announce weakly before motioning him over with my hand.

I keep my eyes fixated on it, spotting no sort of safety equipment or sewer workers anywhere nearby. And it didn’t look like it was opened very elegantly either. From what I’ve heard, they aren’t very light.

For one, there were scratches along the actual cover itself, in three parallel but also slightly jagged lines. It was also a few feet away from the edge of the entrance, I looked in the hole. Nothing but the complete darkness of the sewer staring back up at me.

But you see, that in itself didn’t really give us much cause for concern, what did, however. Was a small piece of fabric also hanging from the street and dipping into the black pool of darkness leading to the sewer tunnel below.

It wasn’t any old piece of fabric though, the specific color and patterns on it belong to Aaron’s swamp monster costume. A piece of fabric that looked like it had been forcefully torn right from the rest of his outfit.

Panic set in not too long after. Carter attempted to be rational, playing it off as Aaron trying to get revenge on us. But that just wasn’t the kind of person he was, not in a situation like this. It was honestly even foolish of him to bring it up, considering just how genuinely upset Aaron was only minutes ago.

A sudden flashing of lights bursts into our eyes from further down the road, getting brighter and more potent as they approach closer. I hold my hand up in front of my eyes, the quick and drastic change in light causing me to blink rapidly. But the color scheme of said lights made it quite clear what the cause was.

A police squad car.

The vehicle rolls up next to both Carter and me. Slowing down bit by bit as the front doors are level with the two of us. The passenger window slowly lowering and allowing me to see the officer inside with a look of concern yet caution spread across his face.

But Carter doesn’t even pay the officer much mind, instead continuing to stare at the manhole and fabric, as if he was severely hypnotized.

The officer rolls down his window, leaning towards the passenger side in order to verbally announce his presence.

“Hey boys, I hope you’re out here havin’ yourselves a good Halloween and whatnot but uh… What are you doin’ near that manhole? Why is it even open?”

I turn slowly, careful to look the officer in his eyes to convey the intensity of my conviction.

“Our friend, he’s down there. Something took him! You’ve gotta help us, call for backup or something. I know it sounds like BS but there is something dangerous out here and it’s hurting people!”

The officer’s face lights up with what I can only assume was excitement. As if he was a James Bond fanatic who had just been offered some sort of elite espionage job.

“Well, I’ll be damned!” He chuckled before giving me an awkward wink, revealing a small portion of his teeth that were in desperate need of a long visit to the dentist. “Don’t worry I’ll play along, what we huntin’? Bigfoot? The creature from the black lagoon? Oh oh, I know. What about uhhh Dracula? Yeah Dracula, that’s a good one.”

“No no, no officer you’re not understanding!” I shout frustratedly. “This isn’t a joke or a game. Our friend is really down there!”

The officer only smirks in response, further provoking my blood to boil inside of me. I can just feel that he in no way believed me or was taking my words seriously.

But regardless, he parked his squad car on the grass and stepped out of the vehicle. Marching over to where we were while shining a blinding flashlight forward.

If he was only gonna sit here and take this as a game, then I figured that him tagging along with us would be better than no help at all. Plus, without his flashlight, there is no way we’d be able to traverse the sewers and find Aaron. Him also having a gun helped, but considering the level of intelligence he had demonstrated thus far, I wasn’t very confident he’d know how to use it any more than either Carter or I would. And that’s really saying something.

The last thing I wanted to do was even think about going down in there, but I couldn’t just leave Aaron behind like that, every second we wasted or spent up here decreased his chances of surviving whatever the hell it was that had taken him. While I held out hope that we’d perhaps be able to find him alive, reality didn’t seem too keen on being kind to people in these kinds of scenarios.

Carter was furious once he snapped out of his trance, prompting the officer to tell him to calm down and that he was playing his role a little too well. Once again, taking our genuine grief and worries as nothing more than what amounted to a joke.

But as I said, we needed him, regardless of his idiocy, he had the resources we did not. And after what I had seen looking down at Aaron from the trees earlier, there was no way I was gonna go down there without a baseball bat or a club or some sort of light source present.

Just to be on the safe side, I tell the officer I’m gonna reach over and grab a stick on the side of the road. He of course doesn’t seem to care much, going as far as to chuckle and say the sentence.

“Don’t think no twig ever took down Dracula.”

Yeah, this was our help. “What has the world come to in my short thirteen years of existence.” I think to myself.

But I couldn’t abandon Aaron, I couldn’t just leave him behind. Every logical and survival instinct within was telling me this was a terrible idea. And of course, it was, but who doesn’t put themselves in danger when those they care about are in jeopardy?

I haven’t known him long, but time wasn’t the only measure of a bond, not to mention I couldn’t let him leave this earth with our final interactions with each other being unfiltered hostility. I had said earlier that our personalities might not be as compatible as we assumed, but that was no excuse to leave someone to die.

Officer idiot points his flashlight down into the manhole, verbally exaggerating his own personal fear. A fear that was nothing more than an insensitive act.

“Alright, boys, who’s going first?” He smiles oddly politely.

“You!” I yell back immediately. “You seriously want two middle schoolers going down in there before you, an officer of the law?!”

“Okay partner, sheesh, don’t have too much fun.” He quips.

I look around in desperation, searching for any passing trick or treaters, parents, or any source of help besides this numbskull. But the universe didn’t seem to be feeling generous in that regard. All in all, I know what I should’ve done, I know that I should’ve tried much harder to find someone else and to get the hell out of there. Knock on doors, ask to use a phone. Something.

Officer idiot keeps a close eye on us while beginning to climb down the ladder, making me question his stance on how much of a joke he truly thought this was. Despite his outside appearance of acting like a complete clown, there was a part of me that felt unnerved by his stare, like he was making sure we didn’t try to run or get away in any capacity.

There’s an uncomfortable silence as he descends, Carter and I lean down over the hole to watch in an eerie awe. The darkness almost seems to swallow him up, the only thing stopping it being his flashlight which he finally turned on once reaching the bottom of the ladder.

This tunnel appeared quite large by sewer tunnel standards. From above I wasn’t able to get the full picture or grasp on its true size. But from what I could tell the officer had at least seven feet of space on either side of himself.

I was well aware of police having some powerful flashlights, but this thing only barely put a dent in the black void that was the sewer tunnel.
I can’t help but hold my breath while Carter does the opposite, I was still willing to go down there for the sake of Aaron, and even though I was just a dumb middle schooler, I was still in tune with my survival instincts.

If anything happened to the officer, if I heard so much as a yelp or whimper, a gasp, or see his eyes widen in terror, then all bets were off. But no, he seemed calm and collected. Using his flashlight to scan both in front and behind him.

“Oh yeah.” He snickered. “This is definitely a monster hideout if I’ve ever seen one.”

“Wait you’re a policeman and you’ve never been in a sewer before?” Questions Carter.

“I ain’t no dang sanitation worker.” Officer idiot snaps back.

He looks up at us from below, flashing Carter and I an awkward wink in an attempt to maintain his so-called character.

“Would you just hurry up!” I demand, my anger seething as I watch this buffoon continuously look around like a lost child in a store.

Carter goes for the ladder to start climbing, but I slightly push him out of the way, insisting that I go first. Seen as I felt responsible for this all coming to pass in the first place. I drop my empty candy bag to the side before beginning to descend.

I climb down, Officer idiot at least doing me the favor of shining the flashlight so I can see what I’m doing as I descend.

“Alright, Carter come on,” I say with a rushed tone. Motioning for him to follow.

But I don’t have to tell him twice, he begins. Climbing down the ladder with great haste and nearly slipping on the last couple steps.

I turn to look down the tunnel to our left, and along the walkway of concrete next to the stream of filthy sewage water sits yet another piece of Aaron’s swamp monster costume. A torn strip of it several inches long and a couple of inches wide.

The only difference from the last piece? Well, this time it had a coating of fresh blood on it.

And just as I’m about to scream, to project my shock and existential terror. I feel something suddenly press itself against the back of my head. Something hard and metallic.

And then… A click.

“The two of you won’t say another word. If you scream? Well then you can forget about even getting to live as long as originally planned. Live bait is always more effective.”

I stand as still as stone, slowly raising my hands into the air as I spot Carter doing the same in my peripheral vision. The both of us as silent as can be. His voice wasn’t much different, but he quickly dropped the whole intellectually inept act. Opting for a more severe and threatening tone.

I hear the officer… If you could still call him that. Activate his walkie-talkie disguised as a typical police radio for the first time. He holds it in one hand, keeping his pistol trained on me with the other.

“This is Agent Owen, I’ve secured us a bait package, Subject 16A is out currently tracking the main target. Said he’s having trouble picking up a scent. Need a status report on the rest of Team X-Zero’s location.”

There’s no response at first, so the officer tries again. Beginning to repeat his previous few sentences before being interrupted by another male voice on the other end. One that sounded quite annoyed.

“Yes, I heard you. Just give me a second. Jesus.”

“My apologies Director.” He replies with a much weaker tone than before.
But if only he knew that he would soon be given something to be much more sorry for.

Because less than a hundred feet down the tunnel, I spot a pair of glowing dots that suddenly pierce through the darkness. But not like the light bulb-shaped ones from earlier, no. These were different, other than obvious cosmetic contrast, they felt just as sinister. Just as evil. I had no doubt in my mind that they were focused on us. Staring us down like we were prey.

They were a bright, lime green. Circular in their shape and held steady.

“Is- is that…” I begin, only being cut off by my quickly rising fear levels. Every bone in my body feeling like it had turned into mush. My stomach churned, I felt just like a rabbit in the eyes of a fox.

A powerful and low growl erupts from just below the dots, which themselves were placed just over eight feet high. Establishing the freakish size and scale of this mostly concealed and unseen entity.

The officer, agent, mercenary. Whatever he was, takes his pistol off of the back of my head. His hands shaking as he points it into the occupied darkness. His breathing increases as his terror jumps to being on par with Carter and I’s.

Whatever training and conditioning he possessed all went out the window in that moment. Displaying that he was just as scared, and just as human as everyone else. Revealing the true nature that he was a coward.

Another growl emerges from the mysterious beast, but this one is far more unsettling than the first. It’s acknowledgment, acknowledgment of the fact that we were there. We were its goal and it had us just where it wanted us.

“How could it… How could it know? It wasn’t supposed to be here, not yet.” Agent Owen whispers under his breath. His bottom lip quivering as he does so.

I pleaded with my brain to allow me to yell or scream. I don’t know what this guy was talking about. Were him and his… Buddies, hunting this thing? Why? For what purpose? What was all really going on here?

Owen steps forward, his hand still shaking and the gun with it, but only for mere seconds. Because he suddenly stops. Dropping to his knees and strangely staring ahead, as if he were hypnotized. A deer in headlights as they say.

His grip loosens on the weapon, it dropping onto the walkaway and nearly falling into the flowing and putrid-smelling liquid sewage. But I don’t hesitate to take advantage of the situation, I quickly lunge over and grab the gun without a second thought. Surprisingly enough this doesn’t seem to bother the agent, he appeared to not care even one bit.

The hulking creature down the tunnel then lets out another earth-shaking exhale, its bass lower than the roar of an angry grizzly. It knew that it was in control, that it was the dominant one here and there was next to nothing we could do about it.

It would only be a matter of time before the inevitable took place, I motioned for Carter to begin climbing the ladder with me. Careful not to be too loud and provoke the beast any further.

But it seemed like that card was already off the table. I’m already halfway up the ladder with Carter just below me as Agent Owen snaps out of his trance, realizing his now terrifying circumstances.

He would definitely want his gun back, and there was no way I would be able to physically keep it from him. He was a grown man, probably with special combat and self-defense training, meaning I stood absolutely no chance.

Carter and I quickly speed up our climb as the cryptid down the tunnel began to charge, his steps heavy, sounding as if they were smashing through the very concrete itself. He was snarling with nothing but pure rage as he made his way forward, and despite my lack of ability to actually see him, I know just who he was headed for.

Agent Owen grabbed Carter and threw him off the ladder, latching onto the second to last step with his foot. Only to be suddenly yanked right into the darkness of the tunnel by a massive, brown, and hairy hand with fingers as big as most men’s hands.

He screams, a shriek of both terror and desperation. I can hear him trying to fight back against the beast, but it was pointless. All he could do was yell and plea for help as he was ragdolled and dragged down the tunnel, damning both Carter and I to hell as his voice grew quieter and more insignificant.

Carter gets back up onto the ladder, clearly traumatized by whatever it is he saw. While I was above the chaos, he had been down there and more than likely got a decent look at the bulk of the creature. All I saw was a mere glimpse of what that thing actually was. But even that was enough to last me for the rest of my life.

But Carter was a different story, I was worried he might have fallen into the same trance the agent did just moments before his supposed death. But it was simply trauma manifesting itself in the moment. I wouldn’t be surprised if he attempted to bleach his eyes when it was all said and done.

I urge and yell for him to get back onto the ladder before whatever it was came back for us next. Carter had gotten lucky, in all his fear and panic. Owen had thrown him to the far side of the ladder, making him the closest one in the vicinity to grab.

I don’t hear his cries any longer from down the tunnel, either that thing had taken him too far away or already killed him. Although both being true at the same time was highly plausible.

I get to the top of the ladder, throwing myself over the edge and onto the pavement of the road. I was just lucky there were no cars coming at the time. I grab my empty candy bag once again. My hands shaking as I reach out for it.

Carter soon joins me, the both of us taking admittedly more time than we should’ve to get out of the road. But could you truly blame us?

“What is this! What is this goddamn night!” Carter cries out, just before I see literal tears start to form in his eyes. “What w- was that down there?”

I focus my gaze on him, fighting to hold back tears of my own. But regardless I step closer to my severely distressed friend. Throwing my arms around him for a tight, but brief hug.

We were truly on our own now. No friends, no family to help. Not without a way to contact them at least. We couldn’t even trust the police anymore. Who knows how many more of them were disguised as one of those agents.

Carter and I break away from the hug with him still understandably trembling. All I could think of was to walk with Carter home and let him crash at my place for the night.

It felt not only wrong, but strange to walk away from where it had all happened. Believe me it was hard to accept the difficult truth, Aaron had suffered the same horrific fate as the agent. The only difference being that one of them actually deserved it.

I contemplated telling one of our parents, but our entire story sounded like nothing more than a legend cooked up by some kids to get attention. But at the very least, we’d have to tell Aaron’s parents he went missing, that we got split up and could not find him. It was the only plausible thing I could think of.

I’d have to stand there and lie, all because the truth would only make me seem like I was nothing more than a callous teenage prankster.

Carter and I would have to take the long way back. No way in hell were we gonna dare cutting through the woods, not after everything that had happened tonight.

Although we’d still be walking next to the woods, it wasn’t nearly as risky. I had no problem hogging up the bike lane on the road if it meant we wouldn’t meet a horrific fate.

“You need anything man?” I inquired, turning to Carter who refused to make any eye contact at the time. A few trick or treaters pass us by, concerned expressions on their faces. One even attempted to approach us before I wave him off. If only he knew what can of worms he’d be opening by getting involved with us.

“Can you be the one to tell his parents?” He responds, his voice hoarse and sour in its sound.

I try to respond, but he cuts me off. Deciding last minute to add in another bit of commentary.

“The thing, the thing in the sewer. What did it do to him? What did it do? D- does it want me too? The way it looked at me… I think it was hungry.”

I didn’t dare bother asking him the specifics of the creature’s appearance, now was just not the time. Even despite my burning curiosity to know what we were truly up against.

“You’re gonna be okay man. We’ll get through this. I promise we will. Right now let’s just get home. Okay?”

As we walked along, I had realized that I still possessed the handgun the now-deceased agent had dropped. Earlier I was careful to go ahead and put it in my candy bag for fear of someone seeing it. Being a thirteen-year-old who’s grown up with a mostly sheltered lifestyle, I had no previous experience with handling a firearm of any sort. So having one in my possession did have me a bit on edge. But as my dad always said, never treat it like a toy and you’ll be fine.

I couldn’t help but feel as if we had been followed. That something or someone was watching us. And now that I truly thought about it. I wasn’t regretting getting out of there as fast as possible, that agent’s co-workers would be arriving soon, as he called them on his radio and they’re probably suspicious after not hearing from him for the past several minutes.

What other institutions had they infiltrated or gotten into? The FBI, the CIA? Who knows what they truly had control of. All I knew is that from that day forward, I lost any bit of trust in authority. They more than likely had eyes and ears everywhere, and as technology develops… Their reach can only expand.

I could’ve sworn that something had been moving underneath my feet as Carter and I continued down the road. Now having trees on either side of us. We had gotten out of the main residential area of the upper-class neighborhood and as a result, were once again trapped in an eerie silence without the strangely comforting sounds of trick or treaters anywhere nearby.

Once again the feeling of something moving beneath my feet pops up. I can’t help but walk as if I were stepping on hot pavement. Wanting to keep my feet off the asphalt of the road for as long as I could.

Now while I looked a bit awkward as I did so, Carter would’ve usually gotten a kick out of something like this. But he was in no mood to laugh, the furthest thing from it. Still wasn’t his fault though.

But when I shifted my eyes just to check on him, I realized the second reason as to why he wasn’t laughing.

Because he too, was doing the same thing. Raising his feet up higher and creating more distance in between each of his steps along the road. Coming off like someone in a marching band.

“Y- you feel that too?” I urge Carter. To which he follows up by responding with a simple nod.

A terrible sinking feeling emerged in my stomach, like when you suddenly feel yourself falling from a great height in a dream only to snap awake at the last second before impacting the ground.

I look up ahead on the empty road, it wasn’t nearly as thin and vulnerable as the trail in the forest we had gone through earlier. But at this point, it didn’t feel much better. I felt just as exposed and as much like a prey item. But it was either this or directly through the woods themselves. On a much smaller, thinner trail. At least this way, it would be harder for anything to ambush us without being seen on either side of the road in each treeline.

And yet, through all of that. A sight that both brought me grand relief and awful dread emerged from far down the road.

The headlights of my dad’s truck. They grow bright as he cruises down the empty street, slowly heading towards us. I already know he would be furious, but I’d much rather deal with him than whatever was out there lurking in the shadows. And from everything that had gone down so far, this Halloween night had demonstrated that getting grounded was far better than getting eaten or taken by things that shouldn’t even exist.

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Carter and I can only watch as he slows the vehicle, coming to a complete stop and rolling down his window before sticking his head out with an intense and resentful glare.

I try to speak, to tell him that we needed to get out of there as fast as possible. But he holds a finger up, not in the mood to hear whatever it was I had to say to try and justify my disobedience.

“Get in the car and shut your mouth. I told you not to be coming over here boy, your ass is grass when we get home.”

I go quiet. Carter makes an effort to speak up for me once he saw I was in no position to make any demands.

“Aaron is gone, we don’t know where he is right now. He just got mad and stormed off on the two of us sir.” He lies. His tone unsure and underconfident.

Dad stops, raising an eyebrow and looking in between us once again. His steaming expression now joined by one of uncertainty. Although it did next to nothing to actually calm him down. I make a conscious effort to hide the bulge of the gun sitting in my candy bag. Praying the dark would obscure my dad’s ability to see it.

“Where the hell did you see him last? Did you call the police, tell the boy’s parents? Somethin’?”

“We don’t have phones Dad…” I began, only to trail off when I look to the left and spot the last thing I wanted to see on this night.

Those yellow light bulbs. There they sat about fifty meters deep into the treeline and around eight feet off the ground. This creature had to be just as tall, if not even more so than the thing in the sewers. Was it following us? Had it been watching us this entire time just waiting for the perfect moment to strike? Were they working together and attempting to corner us?

As if having to worry about one unnatural creature wasn’t bad enough.

“Spit it out!” Dad bellows, snapping me out of my fixed stare on those eyes. I of course try to point and nudge my dad to look at them too. But he was far too focused on Carter and I.

“We don’t know what happened, we were planning on telling his parents I swear Dad,” I shout back, careful to correct my tone afterward.

But dad refuses to reply, instead opting to motion Carter and I into the truck as he had done minutes earlier. But I wasn’t arguing, being out here was nothing more than a risk of being in unknowable levels of danger.

“We’re going to the police station to file a missing people’s report for your friend. I don’t wanna hear any ifs, ands, or buts about it.” Dad growled as I sat down in the passenger seat while Carter hesitantly puts his seatbelt on in the back.

“No dad, we can’t go to the police!” I foolishly protest. How would I make this argument sound logical without the full truth? Either way, I was going to come off as insane.

“I said no objections!” He snaps, aggressively gripping the steering wheel while beginning to turn around.

“You don’t understand, the police, we can’t trust them, these people they- they-.”

“Not another word Garret!” He shouts, putting his foot on the accelerator after we had fully turned around.

We drive down the road, Carter tearing up once again and choking back the need to cry. I look back at him, sympathetically begging for him to hold it in, just for now at least. Just until we were out of this car.

“Do you know how worried your mom and I were? There’s a reason we tell you not to walk through those damn woods! You could’ve been snatched up by some weirdo or made dinner by a bear that was lookin’ for a meal!”

“Dad, please just listen. Please, I’m trying to tell you that we cannot go to the police! We can’t, we-.”

Dad cuts me off by suddenly slamming his foot on the brake pedal, yelling his lungs out in a panicked burst of adrenaline as something in front of the car supposedly caught him completely off guard.

I dart my eyes to the windshield, morbidly curious to see whatever it was that had grabbed hold of his attention so abruptly. And whatever it was, it was enough to leave him sitting there speechless, terrified even. And not many things scared my Dad nowadays. After years of hunting dangerous animals and competing in combat sports when he was younger, he had been more than a little hardened.

But it soon became clear what he was so worked up over. Because his shock and unfiltered look of horror was nothing in comparison to both mine and Carter’s.

First off, we had come to the end of the street, just only around a hundred feet from being able to turn onto one of the main roads and get out of this more isolated route. We were a little over a mile away from the neighborhood Dad had picked us up in. We were actually a decent distance from pretty much anyone, but nothing remote by any means.

Up ahead was where the three-way intersection for us to turn on was located, and it was still there. I know it was. And usually, we would see it immediately.

But it’s hard to do so when there’s a nearly twelve-foot-tall mound of dirt sitting right at the end of the road. Stretching all the way across the entire twenty-five-foot width of the street. Meaning our path forward was completely cut off.

However, that wasn’t the thing that truly made my dad look like his heart was gonna stop.

In the front of the dirt sat an obviously large pit. Its depth at least a dozen feet, but something told me that was far from accurate.

Everything was quiet, not peaceful but chillingly silent. Nothing but the sound of the truck’s engine among the audio deprivation of the night. How had this pit been dug so fast? Clearly, this wasn’t the work of any human machinery or engineering.

You see, I don’t know what was truly worse, the unsettling silence or the deep and pained groaning coming for the pit. As if a lonely old man was taking his final few long and drawn-out breaths. No family or friends around to comfort him.

The groans slowly grow louder as my dad begins to snap out of his trance of terror. His look of horror transforming into one of seething rage. Even more so than before, which was definitely saying something.

“These damn kids and their stupid Halloween pranks!” He hollers, shaking a fist at the windshield before sticking his head out of the window.

“Hey! You idiots think it’s funny to block the road? How many of you hooligans did it take to dig this so quick huh?”

“We should turn around…” Carter suggests rather weakly. He himself just as unsure as I was when it came to figuring what to tell Dad.

No laughs, giggles, or any chuckles of mischief make themselves known. Only more of the groaning, the same groaning that only became more clear and audible as the source moved closer to the top of the pit.

Speaking of which, the sound which I had originally perceived as only one deeply raspy groan had split into two distinct noises of their own. The original one possessing a bit more bass while having a scratchy element to it. The other being a bit lighter as if coming from a sleepy child.

I feel myself slightly jolt in my seat as a severely disfigured human hand emerges over the edge of the pit, the fingers of which embed themselves into the concrete. Cracking the pavement and splitting chunks of it as cracks were sent up to even the car. Whoever this hand belonged to had definitely seen better days, bits of flesh torn from the wrist and palm while dirt and even what appeared to be a certain type of weed or plant was growing in the webbing between the ring and pinkie finger.

“We’re leaving. Now.” Dad declared with not even a sliver of hesitance. He immediately puts the truck into reverse. Backing up and shifting the vehicle in order to do a full turn around.

I can only sit there shaking and shivering like a mouse whose hole had just been discovered in someone’s home. Perspiration emerging on my forehead as I felt my hands involuntary reach for something to grip onto.

The truck sat perpendicular on the street as my dad prepared to do a hard left and get us the heck out of there. My passenger side window faced the pit, allowing me to see the not one, but two entities emerging from it.

On the left stood a man now fully revealed and on his feet. If you could even still call him a “man” anyway. The horrific process or ritual his body had gone through surely took his humanity from him.

He was dressed in somewhat casual clothing. Clothing that was mostly torn and battered from all the damage he had seemingly sustained. If you recall me earlier describing the gruesome wounds and natural growth stemming from his hand, well that same description also applied to the rest of his body.

His face, an exposed part of chest, shoulders, and legs were all covered in raw and disgusting tears of the skin. Dirt also forming around his various body parts and one of his eyeballs even had a maple leaf growing out of it, even pieces of his eyeballs and inner fleshy workings spread around it. The man’s appearance was body horror at its most extreme.

This was not the work of just some makeup or elaborate Halloween costume design. It was definitely real, oh so horrifically real. And here we were, caught up right in the middle of this living nightmare.

It was a gross understatement to say I was inches away from vomiting onto my own lap right then and there. To see someone so mutilated and utterly destroyed was not something I thought I’d ever have to experience, especially at this age.

And yet despite all of the grotesque and deeply disturbing features. There was one that stood out the most to me, one that wasn’t very unusual at all in the grand scheme of things.

The man was only wearing one shoe. Or what was left of it, the front part torn open and exposing his toes that had bits of grass growing out from underneath both the big and middle toenails.

But I could make out the branding and design of the remnants of the shoe itself. The general size, color scheme, and logos matching that of the shoe Aaron, Carter, and I all found while cutting through the woods earlier on. The shoe that had been right next to the smashed-up Jack O Lantern lamp.

The only thing that could be worse than seeing the victim of a tragedy I could’ve prevented was the figure standing next to him. Someone who I thought I’d never see again.

Aaron.

He was in a much less transformed state, but that still didn’t change the fact his hair was turning shamrock green, the flesh on his arms had changed into a texture and color similar to that of tree bark.

His eyes were lifeless, nothing but two snow-white abysses that stared straight into my soul. I could tell he was too far gone, no longer the person I knew him as.

And it was all my fault. Everything that he was and had become, was the result of my foolishness and inaction. It was like having my biggest and most grave mistakes staring right at me, tormenting me for my moronic behavior.

“No. God no,” I mutter, my bottom lip quivering in both despair and adrenaline.

Even my shock was minuscule in comparison to Carter’s. He simply sat in the back repeating the phrase “this is just a bad dream” as Dad practically yanked the steering wheel for us to turn left.

The truck makes a sharp shift to the left, shooting down the road and back down the way we came, dad wasting no time and putting the accelerator pedal right to the floor.

“What is this, what is this night!” Carter cries out from the backseat.

“We just need to leave, we need to take care of ourselves. Whatever that was, we ain’t gonna be seeing it much longer. I’m gonna get us outta this mess I promise.” Dad assures the both of us.

He couldn’t just drive around the dirt, the treeline was far too thick on both sides. We’d end up crashing and allowing whatever those two had turned into to get to us with no chance of escape.

We continue flying down the street, whipping right past all the trees and bushes on either side of the road. I could see both Aaron and the man quickly becoming smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror, giving me great, but only brief relief.

We hadn’t gone far, less than a quarter of a mile or so. Yet, I thought that would be it, I thought that would be the end of this nightmare. And it definitely seemed like it, that is until my Dad slammed on the breaks once again. This time resulting in a much more disastrous outcome.

“Jesus!” He curses, rapidly turning and jerking the steering wheel while trying to desperately come to a stop.

The truck suddenly and violently turns to the side and skids, our seatbelts being the only thing keeping us all from suffering horrible head and bodily injuries.

But that still doesn’t stop my shoulder from slamming up into the window as the vehicle collides with the structure my dad had failed to avoid.

I can practically feel a bruise forming as grit my teeth and groan as a result of the following pain. From what I could tell, Carter was just on the edge of passing out from all the psychological stress he had endured up to this point.

My dad, on the other hand, his angry, confident facade had now completed faded. Instead being replaced by existential dread. I had never seen him like this before, not even in our darkest times as a family.

The truck suddenly shifts, as if about to tip over. I look outside to see that we were halfway inside another identical ditch to the one just a few hundred feet away. Blocking this end of the road as well with another behemoth wall of dirt sitting right behind it.

We were trapped.

“Stop! Stop don’t move!” I scream with a desperate pitch. Holding both my hands up to Carter and Dad. But even such a gesture like that causes the truck to move once again. Slightly tipping to the right and almost falling into the pit below.

Dad attempts to go forward and turn left, but it does little to help the overall predicament. So I do everything I can to shift my mass to the left, going against my previous conviction. I tell Carter to do the same to which he obeys after a bit of rapid blinking. Quickly moving over in the backseats once he fully regains his consciousness.

It surprisingly seems to work, The truck’s tilting slows and becomes much more gradual, gaining more traction on where the road had been cut off. Us slamming into a section of the dirt actually ended up being a blessing in disguise, as some of it had slid forward into the depth of the pit and allowed the truck to be pushed further left and thus, away from the edge of the pit.

“Out now!” Dad commands the both of us. Opening his door and snarling at Carter to do the same. I climb across the seats like a startled raccoon, nearly hitting my chin on the steering wheel as I pull myself out of the vehicle. I take great care to grab the candy bag and retrieve the gun from it, as I felt it would be needed sooner than I had hoped. I was planning on handing it to Dad if it really came down to it.

Once again, there were far too many trees and shrubbery for us to drive around the mound of dirt. So we had no choice but to get out of there on foot.

We begin to run, abandoning the very vehicle my dad had owned for nearly two decades. It was practically one of his children, but in this moment of life and death stakes, it was nothing to him.

The three of us round the corner of the dirt mound, Dad beginning to wheeze only a few meters into the sprint. His age had certainly caught up with him, and despite all his physical activity and fitness training in his younger years, his knack for smoking a pack a day in recent years wasn’t doing him any favors.

But the three of us were all suddenly stopped right in our tracks. As the truck had been suddenly and violently launched right in front of us. Smashing right into the trunk of a tree and causing the engine to be immediately destroyed, smoke rising from the disfigured and banged up hood.

I stumble and fall backward, the ear-shattering sound of the collision causing me to complain in a wave of painful ringing. Only for it to be amplified when it was followed by a deep, triumphant, guttural roar. A roar with a magnitude so great, it threatened to throw the trees around us right from their roots.

Carter, Dad, and I all look over to the right. All of our eyes going wide as we backed up. It took me a second to get back to my feet and grab the candy bag wrapped around the gun. My initial instinct being to freeze and then bolt.

The beast… It was the creature from the sewers, the one that had taken both Aaron and Agent Owen. How did I know? Well, I recognized those eyes, those bright green, piercing, sinister eyes. The ones that had sent Agent Owen into a trance in the tunnel. And there was a good chance I’d be next.

The beast was as tall as I had previously predicted. Somewhere in the eight-foot range, he was bipedal, standing upon two massive webbed feet. His basic body structure resembled that of a human with four limbs if you didn’t count his neck and head, but he was the furthest thing from any actual Homosapien I knew.

He was extremely bulky, looking as if he could’ve been Hulk Hogan’s big brother. His skin wasn’t skin at all, at least. Not on the left half of his body, which was covered in chocolate brown fur. Like that of a beaver.

The fur on his left half ran from head to toe, even his so-called fingers were covered in it. His face was an amalgamation of what looked to be multiple different animals.

His nose was long, sticking at least a few inches out from his body from between those green glowing eyes. His mouth was in the shape of a rectangle, filled to the brim with jagged teeth as sharp as surgical knives.

And on top of that were two long, slimy and discolored tongues emerging from opposite sides of his jaws. Both of them dripping with whatever bacteria-induced fluid this thing probably called saliva.

“Which one of you shall I start with first?” The beast inquires proudly in his chilling voice. It’s bass like that of a large drum, along with being scratchy and somewhat distorted. As if two of him were speaking at once. Creating an echo effect.

I suddenly feel a strange texture grip itself onto my back and shoulders. Something had both grabbed and restrained me, causing me to drop the bag and letting the gun fall out. The same could be said for Carter minus the gun part, he had his arms forcefully put behind his back by the transformed version of Aaron. Who appeared to possess great strength, while Carter was definitely much larger than him when he was still a normal kid, this… Version of Aaron had no struggle at all with keeping him where he wanted him. Whatever The Ground Grabber had transformed him into, it was clear he retained no shred of his former humanity.

And yet despite all this, Dad was still free. Speaking of which, he took the opportunity to dive for the gun that I had dropped, causing an outcry from me. Having a bad feeling it wouldn’t end well.

“Dad don’t!” I shout, attempting to wriggle myself out of the grasp of the transformed man. The weeds growing from his hands uncomfortably brushing up against my forearms as he held my arms behind my back.

“I don’t know what corner of hell you crawled out of!” Dad shouts in a futile attempt to be assertive with this massive entity. “But you’re going back!”

He holds up the weapon, pointing the barrel right at the head of the monster, and fires two different shots just as the beast raises his right hand. The rounds tearing through his flesh and going just below his knuckles and causing him to roar out in pain. A small but still present bit of graphite black blood dripping from the new tiny holes within the creature’s hand.

“Stop! Just stop!” Carter shouts. That desperation in his eyes from earlier now reappearing.

But Dad continues to shoot, up until the beast retaliates against the assault. Spreading his fingers apart and proceeding to pull his arm back before coming down with a backhand against Dad. The hit collides, sending his body flying over a dozen feet before violently slamming into a tree. Nothing but the sounds of his bones shattering and his joints being turned into mush as the flesh on his back peeled away as what remained of his corpse fell off the trunk of the tree. And even through all that, the gun itself was unharmed.

As much as I didn’t wanna accept it in the slightest, I knew there was no way he could have survived such a powerful blow. I could only watch as he finished peeling away from the tree, his skin and tissue stuck between both his back and the trunk while he fell forward onto the ground just in front of the tree. It had a similar visual outcome to that of peeling one piece of bread away from a freshly made grilled cheese sandwich. But he barely had time to scream or make any auditory expressions of his pain. The sheer physical force and trauma of the hit killing him near instantly.

“Dad!!!” I howled like a dying dog, tears forming in my eyes. If I hadn’t still been restrained I would’ve fallen to my knees right then and there. Left to lay on the ground as I screamed in agony from the fresh wound of seeing this monstrosity brutally murder my own father in front of me.

The worst of it all? I had no time to cry, to mourn, or process the heart-shattering reality of what had just taken place. And as the creature moved toward me, I assumed I would be joining my Dad and sharing his fate very soon.

“In the tunnels weren’t you?” The Ground Grabber growls as I strain my neck to look up at his hulking figure, his smile awkward due to the almost alien shape of his mouth. “I’m grateful I saved you two for last, you will both make fine editions to my lineup. Far better and more intelligent than the ones covered in the pine.”

He shows off his jagged teeth as his smile widens, slowly reaching out to me with his hairy hand.

“This is it.” I thought. This right here would be the end of me, the end of my short, thirteen-year life. Every achievement, failure, and lesson I learned would ultimately be worthless as death was coming right for me and I was powerless to stop it.

And it was until more gunfire suddenly erupted from further down the street. It was louder, far more rapid in nature. It was definitely more than just one bullet flying at a time. These shots had to be coming from something automatic. Far more powerful than the pistol I had retrieved from Agent Owen.

The beast suddenly pulls his hand and arm away. Roaring in agony as a few of the bullets manage to land within his forearm. I dart my eyes to the right, spotting a group of four heavily armed and geared up men and women.

They were covered shoulder to toe in black body armor, firm boots on their feet, and advanced-looking visors over their eyes. In their hands, they held heavily loaded assault rifles. Long magazines sticking out from the bottom and high-tech scopes on the tops. They didn’t look like soldiers, nothing that I’ve seen from the United States military unless they got an outfit change. But something told me otherwise, I just couldn’t put my finger on it.

One of the men and one of the women stop to reload their weapon as the other two open fire on The Ground Grabber. He quickly dashes backward in the fury of bullets flying near him, picking up Dad’s damaged truck and holding it in front of him as a sort of shield. But even then it only just about does its job, the bullets effortlessly tearing through the metal of the vehicle. These rounds were dangerously powerful and made the handgun look like a water pistol.

So instead The Ground Grabber takes a different approach, pulling the truck back and launching it at the four agents as they continue to fire on him. Causing all of them to either yell, quickly move out of the way, or both.

I was expecting to see blood, to hear the sound of bones being crushed by four thousand pounds of damaged metal, and to hear the agonizing scream of the unfortunate target who it had hit.

But the thing is, the pickup truck never landed, it never hit anyone. I kept my eyes closed in order to avoid actually looking at the gruesome result. But no sound of the impact ever came.

Because it was caught en route.

“Hold your fire!” One of the agents commands the others as they all look up at their unlikely savior.

I thought my eyes were deceiving me, that everything that had happened throughout this night was nothing more than the product of a nightmare. I wanted to wake up, to be able to hold my dad and go to school as usual. But no. The universe was not that kind.

I get a good look at the creature who had caught the truck and saved those agents from certain doom. And once again, the reality of it all hits me like a bus, on top of the million emotions running through my brain. Everything from crippling grief to seething anger.

He was inhumanly tall on two legs, reaching the eight feet mark just like The Ground Grabber. But they greatly differed in bulk, while The Ground Grabber possessed biceps that would make The Incredible Hulk himself blush, this being was rather skinny with not much muscle mass to be seen. And yet, it didn’t hold him back whatsoever in the strength department.

His skin was hairless and a midnight blue shade, he almost blended in with the night. But those eyes, oh I recognized those eyes.

Two, glowing yellow light bulbs sitting right on the front of his face. Above that mouth filled with freakishly sharp teeth. But he didn’t show his with a sinister grin, rather he gritted them together in a face that screamed he was more than pissed off.

He held the vehicle with both his hands, hands that were outfitted with chillingly long fingernails. Fingernails that not only had a bit of dried blood on them but also pierced the very metal of the truck he was holding.

“Finally, what were you doing out in the dang woods freak?!” One of the agents standing behind him grills rather forcefully. Showing next to no gratitude for what the creature had done to save his life.

“There were others.” The tall blue figure responds as he tosses the truck over to the side and into the treeline. Not even looking back at the agent as he says it.

I feel the deformed man tighten his grip around me, Aaron doing the same on Carter. Causing the both of us to whimper before Carter yells out.

“Whoever you guys are, just please kill these things already!”

And just as he finishes his outburst, another figure crawls out from the pit nearest to us. Once again, the entity definitely had remnants of being human, but the skin on its hand was torn, ripped, and messily stripped off.

Its arm was even worse, with dirt falling from some of the open wounds and plants growing out of the remaining bits of intact flesh. But as I see the torn fabric in a dark blue color covering some of the upper forearm and above. I begin to quickly realize who this was. Or who they once were.

Agent Owen.

He effortlessly leaps over the edge of the pit, landing firmly on his feet in the road. There’s a silence, with the neighborhood and closest people being about a mile away, it seemed like help was not coming anytime soon. But I’m not sure what anyone besides the military or a freakin’ swat team would do in this situation regardless.

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Agent Owen’s fake police officer outfit had been ripped to shreds. His face was so… Dead, monstrous even. He immediately glanced at The Ground Grabber with his now sunken eyes, a sinister look of acknowledgment. As if he were about to take great pleasure in what was soon to happen.

“Owen! What did he do to you!” An agent desperately inquires from behind the tall blue beast.

“Oh my god.” Another adds, lowering her weapon in disbelief.

The Ground Grabber then waves his left hand, signaling for Owen to go forward. He of course obeys, beginning to charge at his former comrades in an inhumanly fast sprint. Closing the few dozen feet of distance in seconds.

When he was still alive, I had heard him say something about a “Subject 16A.” on his radio. The blue creature, he must’ve been it.

The Ground Grabber then signals for Aaron and the one shoe man to come forward and join Agent Owen in his attack on the agents. Making his control over them clear. The agents scatter and begin to fire their weapons as I feel the grip on my arms completely loosened, both me and Carter now free to move as we please.

The Ground Grabber and 16A both begin to run at each other. With 16A oddly dropping down in a quadrupedal fashion and charging forward on all fours. Despite his seemingly bipedal body and bone structure, he appeared to somehow traverse the distance even faster when moving in this particular fashion.

The gunfire from the agents continues as Aaron, the one shoe man, and Agent Owen all converge on them, dashing to the sides, jumping into the air, and doing everything in their power to be as elusive and hard to hit as possible. And unlike The Ground Grabber, the few bullets that did hit them did not cause them any physical pain despite Aaron having one of his fingers shot right off. They did damage, but it wasn’t slowing them down at the same time. I assumed they probably required a headshot to die, and if that was the case, it would be extremely difficult to put them down due to their rapid, elusive, and well-thought-out movements.

Once 16A and The Ground Grabber are within around ten feet of each other, 16A jumps up off the ground and pounces onto the front of his bulky opponent, only for this move to backfire as Ground Grabber wraps his arms around 16A’s back and proceeds to body slam him right into the road. Cracking the pavement as a result. 16A fires back by lifting The Ground Grabber off himself and throwing him to the side. The Grabber colliding with my dad’s destroyed pickup truck and bending the metal as he does so.

I turn my head away from the spectacle of these two massive-sized titans duking it out and over in the direction of my dad’s corpse. Nothing could’ve prepared me for the aftermath of The Ground Grabber’s attack on him. I had watched plenty of horror films, many of them being movies about zombies. I had seen plenty of fake and scripted gore in my short life at the time and it never truly bothered me. But seeing it in person was a far different story.

For one, it was the mangled corpse of my own father, the man who had raised me, clothed me, fed me, and bathed me. The man who I had spent hours with up late at night with conversations about where my life would go and how he would be there to support me along the way. My first house, my first car, my first girlfriend. He always told me how he’d be there for all of it.

But it was all gone now, all those potential moments, laughs, and time to strengthen the bond between father and son just wiped from the face of the earth.

I wanted him to die old in his bed with me, my mother, and my older brother standing next to him. He deserved to leave this earth at peace, surrounded by his loved ones. But no, instead he was murdered, murdered by a hideous, disgusting monster.

I dart my eyes between both the remains of my dad and the gun, my heartbreak forming into a boiling pot of rage. Deep-seated anger at this thing that had taken him from me.

“What are you doing man! We gotta go!” Carter howls, yanking me by the arm. Barking at me repeatedly to get my butt moving and get out of there.

The gunfire from the agents still continues as they attempt to kill their dangerously quick assailants. Subject 16A and the Ground Grabber continue their scrap not too far away. 16A quickly running up a tree on all fours and then proceeding to pounce down on The Ground Grabber from above, violently tackling him before lifting him up and slamming him clean through the trunk of one of the trees.

He goes in for another attack, swinging with his right hand and slashing The Ground Grabber with his right claw along the left half of his body. Drawing that grotesquely colored blood as a result and causing the now further wounded beast to throw an uncoordinated blow to 16A’s chest as he wailed from the sting of the laceration. The resulting punch launching 16A several feet backward before he too collides with a tree trunk.

But I look away and back at the gun as Carter continues to practically holler at me like a banshee.

“They let us go! Come on man! We have to get out of here or we’ll die! I can’t let another friend of mine die!”

I don’t respond, not verbally anyway. I can’t muster up the emotional strength to speak to another human being, the only emotion on my mind was vengeance.

With tears forming in my eyes, I reach down and pick the gun up. Doing everything I can to avoid looking at all the peeled and raw flesh on the back of Dad’s corpse.

The pistol feels lighter in my hand than the first time I held it. Probably due to the intense rush of adrenaline that was flowing through me. I felt every possible emotion at once. But it was all driving me, driving me to point the weapon right at The Ground Grabber as he and 16A continued their scrap.

The Agents far behind still on the road were yet again having trouble hitting The Grabber’s disciples, transformed Aaron even got within a dangerously close distance of one of the agents without being shot in the head. Taking advantage of the golden opportunity as she ran out of bullets and attempted to quickly reload her rifle. Jumping up and biting her right in the jugular.

Even through the body armor she was wearing his rotted teeth sank deep into the woman’s flesh as she cried out with her gurgled scream, just before Aaron pulled back with his jaw still clamped down and ripped all the inner workings from her throat right out.

A spray of blood followed as she collapsed, no longer able to scream as Aaron stood above her dying figure and spit whatever was left within his mouth out. In his expression, there was not a single bit of regret or sympathy for what he had just done. Fresh blood and strips of flesh staining his disfigured lips.

The agent to her left however gets grabbed by the former Agent Owen, his hand wrapping around his throat and lifting him into the air before throwing him several feet backward, displaying his newly inhuman strength.

“I feel… Complete.” He announces as he walks toward his former comrade. “You should let him take you, it’s better in the end.” He follows up, curling his lips into a sinister grin.

“Go to hell. This ain’t the Owen I know. I know you’re still in there and you can fight it. But I’ve got a job to do” The agent replies with a violent cough, just before I see him reach into his utility belt and retrieve a grenade.

Owen pounces on him, presumably to tear him limb from limb in an agonizing death. But the agent was rather smart and resourceful, he held his grenade firmly in his hand just after pulling the pin off.

Owen completes his leap, now landing on top of the man and lunging downward with his mouth wide open and deformed teeth bared. It was clear he was going to meet the same fate as his female colleague, at least until he shoved his hand inside Owen’s mouth. The same hand holding the soon-to-explode grenade.

The agent lets out a bloodcurdling shriek as Owen clamps down on his hand, presumably disconnecting his fingers from their appropriate tendons and muscles. The sounds of bones crunching even being heard in between sections of gunfire and cries of desperation. As well as the roaring and snarling of both The Ground Grabber and Subject 16A. But the grenade soon explodes, killing both the resurrected version of Owen and the agent along with him.

Carter full-on wraps his arms around me, breaking me out of my mindless stare at all the chaos that was going on. Attempting to drag me away, I had noticed my gun was no longer even pointed at The Ground Grabber, as he and 16A kept up their fight and moved out of the path of where my barrel was pointed.

“Stop! Garret stop! Don’t do it! Don’t!” Carter orders, his grip tightening around my waist.

I throw my left elbow back into his chest, causing him to groan as I walk forward and aim my gun back at The Ground Grabber, who was currently holding 16A up against a tree with one hand wrapped around his throat. 16A struggled and kicked to get out, attempting to slash and lacerate him with his claws but to no avail.

“You are nothing.” The Ground Grabber growls with a cocky smile filled with teeth, following up his sentence by delivering a violent left hook to 16A’s jaw with his monumental-sized fist. A bit of blood falls upon his knuckles as a result, dark blue in color, the same tint as 16A’s skin. “Nothing but another fool in the long line of beings who have challenged me and failed. My children will kill your armed friends, but fortunately for you, you’ll be long dead before they fini-.”

The Ground Grabber is quickly cut off, suddenly dropping 16A onto the ground with a loud, cracking thud, as he had smashed through a branch on his way down.

He looks over at me, the barrel of my gun smoking and me standing there gritting my teeth, instantly regretting my decision. He puts his hand over his hairy upper left thigh where the bullet had penetrated, his signature black ooze of blood leaking, accompanied by his pained growls. I attempt to take a second shot, only for the gun to tragically click.

No ammo left…

“No! No!” Carter whines, backing up like a puppy whose owner had just come home and seen damaged furniture.

I do the same, only to hear the sudden and swift sound of Carter turning and high tailing out of there. I didn’t blame him, if I was gonna die, he didn’t wanna go down with me. But my mind had been so cluttered with the thought of revenge that I forgot the true danger and threat of what was in front of me.

In all honesty, I had tried to aim for his head, but my lack of both gun experience and upper body strength had sealed my now incoming fate.

The Grabber makes a fist, raising it high in the air as I attempted to back up, only to trip and fall like the clumsy, desperate, and young idiot I was. With my butt on the ground, I could only watch as he got ready to turn me into nothing but a pile of gore.

“Now, you will join your father, you irritating little nuisance!” He snarls.

And then it starts to come down, I close my eyes. Preparing for the only nanoseconds of pain before I was wiped from the face of the earth.

But it never came, instead, I reopened my eyes only to see 16A himself standing right in front of me. His left claw holding up The Ground Grabber’s right fist.

“Go, before you die.” 16A snarls without looking back, his battered and bruised body not holding him back from continuing the fight.

I immediately crawl in reverse, twigs and branches poking my hands while also tearing apart the cape of my costume.

16A shoves back against The Ground Grabber, lunging forward and slashing him three times in the face with his claws, blood gets drawn and The Grabber goes blind in one eye as it had been completely scratched out. Cursing 16A for what he had just done.

The Ground Grabber reaches up and wraps his large hands around 16A’s head. Attempting squeeze with enough force to crush his skull, only for 16A to counter this attack by throwing a punch hard enough to somewhat bury The Ground Grabber’s head into the very dirt it was previously resting on.

After this fails to get him out of the tight grip, he throws another powerful blow, and then another. Until I could visibly see his opponent’s blood on his knuckles and trickling down his claws.

But The Ground Grabber had enough, violently throwing his neck forward and headbutting 16A, sending him several feet both into the air and flying backwards.

I roll over to the side, saving myself from being crushed by the weight of this massive creature, despite how thin he was, I knew he still had to be at least two and a half times my mass due to his monstrous height.

16A quickly recovers turning and leaping onto a tree to begin running up it, presumably to perform a similar attack from above like he had earlier. But instead, he was caught by The Ground Grabber, who bashed him with the full weight of his much heavier body and then picked him up over his head before slamming him onto the ground right at his feet.

Before 16A could maneuver out of the way or get back up, The Ground Grabber stomped his left foot onto his chest, sending him an inch or two into the dirt as payback for the blows 16A had delivered upon him earlier.

I could hear an uncomfortable cracking in 16A’s chest as his foot made contact, even 16A snarled and bared his teeth, trying to hide how much agony it had truly caused him.

16A pierces his claws into the flesh of The Ground Grabber’s ankle, which works against him only slightly. Sure, The Ground Grabber definitely reacts the way you’d expect, lifting his foot and howling, but only for a brief moment before slamming it right back down. Making 16A desperately reach for something to grab to strike him with.

There the both of them were, battered, bloody, and heavily bruised. But the display was clear, the creature who was on my side all along, the one who set out to protect me. Had lost the fight.

“After your death, the rest of this town will follow suit, and soon after, this planet. Goodbye blue one, you too weren’t strong enough.”

The Ground Grabber raises his foot high above 16A’s head, presumably getting ready to smash his skull in. It looked like the end for him, that this would be it. And I would be next.

I got up and turned around to run, knowing that as soon as he finished off 16A, it would be my turn to meet a grisly fate, except I wouldn’t have a fighting chance without any significant weapon. And even then I had no idea what I was actually doing, I only really knew how to turn off the safety and pull triggers.

But just as I think all hope is lost, just as I wait to hear the sound of 16A’s skull being smashed into the dirt. A final short burst of gunfire crackles through the air, along with a loud, frustrated, and triumphant battle cry. Which was then soon followed by a ground-shaking thud.

I turn to see what had just taken place, not wanting to get my hopes up yet still being optimistic as to what would appear as a result of those sounds. But nothing could’ve left me more relieved than what I had laid eyes upon.

16A was still alive, albeit still with significant bruises and wounds. But for the most part, he seemed fine, he was able to slowly rise off the ground, granted he struggled here and there as he did so.

To his right was The Ground Grabber, who was now a corpse. His head a pile of brown and black mush from taking so many powerful gunshots to it. I felt my stomach churn as 16A bent over and began to quite literally feast on his deceased mass, ripping and tearing flesh along with muscle right off with his razor sharp teeth and claws. Slicing off chunks of skin and meat before inserting them into his mouth as he crunched and chewed loudly. Not a care in the world about who saw him doing so. Or at least… that’s what it looked like.

The Ground Grabber’s brains were definitely spilled, his oddly discolored and strangely shaped brain that is. Resembling more of an oversized piece of charcoal rather than anything close to the human brain structure.

But as to who had actually put an end to this wicked life form? Well, it was the last remaining agent. The one lucky woman of the four who hadn’t fallen victim to either The Ground Grabber or his transformed and rabid killers.

She dropped to her knees, letting out a heavy breath as her rifle fell to her side onto the street. 16A had seemed grateful for her action, although it seemed any emotional intimacy with humans appeared somewhat difficult for him.

“I did it for the bonus, not you. So don’t get all hyper.” She said rather harshly. Despite the fact, 16A had barely even said a word. He goes back to chowing down regardless. Everything that had happened, it was all finally over. At least physically anyway. I couldn’t imagine all the years of intense therapy it was going to take to un-scar my mind from all of this.

Regardless, he was dead. And so were his resurrected puppets. But plenty of blood was shed in the process. All three of the other agents were dead, one woman and two men. My friend Aaron was still gone from this earth. But part of me saw it as a good thing, a much more merciful fate than being trapped as a mindless slave for some other being.

The female agent grabs what appears to be a walkie-talkie, pressing a button on the side before speaking into it.

“This is Agent Amanda, the threat has been terminated. Three casualties on my location. I repeat, only both I and Subject 16A remain alive.”

A few seconds of silence pass, before a somewhat familiar male voice, responds.

“Sending a chopper your way with a recovery team, are there any witnesses? Have you terminated them?”

“Terminated?” I repeated to myself.

Oh no.

Before I can even think about turning around, I hear the agent shout my way.

“Stop!” She commands. Looking down the scope on her rifle after picking it back up, forcing me to put my hands up and stop dead in the tracks I hadn’t even gotten the chance to create.

I look at 16A, hoping he would be able to convince her otherwise. But he only holds his side after standing back up, still a bit of his own blood on his claws. He does make eye contact with me, however, his gaze being one of almost pity. Would he even know what that is?

“He should be able to go.” He surprisingly speaks up. His bassy voice contrasting with the agent’s lighter but firm one.

“You don’t make the rules freak!” She shouts.

She then approaches me after getting back to her feet, still making sure her weapon was trained on me. But she takes one hand off, reaching into her utility belt and pulling out some small vile of a strange, white liquid, popping off the cap as she got within reach of me.

She reaches out with her hand while holding the vile, putting the top of it just underneath my nose. Forcing me to inhale whatever fumes it was putting out. Fumes that caused me to become dizzy, my eyelids heavy as my muscles turned into glass. As if it was some strange variant of chloroform, which it probably was in all honesty.

Nonetheless, I blacked out. Only to awaken some unknown amount of hours or days later, strapped to some sort of a chair in what looked to be a highly sterilized interrogation room.

The walls and ceilings were a pristine white, but it was more than just about them being clean. It felt cold, lifeless, distant. No sort of color or personality present whatsoever. As if someone had sucked all the life out of this building if there was any to begin with.

My eyes still felt heavy as I attempted to get my bearings, wondering where exactly they had taken me. I honestly expected myself to be dead. Seen as they said something about terminating witnesses.

“Garret?” A voice I know all too well speaks, interrupting the deafening silence.

I turn, shocked to see Carter sitting to my right, tied up in a chair just as I was. The difference being he now possessed both a black eye and a bottom lip with dried blood on it.

“What did they do to you?” I ask with great concern. Still somewhat bitter about how he had abandoned me. I still didn’t entirely blame him, but it hurt nonetheless.

“M- more of them came.” He told me weakly. “Got me before I even made it home, I tried to fight back but it was stupid. They’re trained and grown, I was on the ground in like two seconds.”

I paused, not knowing what kind of response I could’ve possibly given that would make this situation any better. Truth be told I wasn’t the best at handling stress. This was just an entirely different ballgame.

But I never got the chance to even finish thinking about what it was I was going to say, as a door had opened and three people had entered the room.

The one in the middle was a woman of both average height and build, her outfit of choice being a lab coat and a plain shirt underneath. So I assumed her to be a scientist of some sort. She definitely seemed like she had quite a bit of authority just by her confident stare and the way she walked.

She was probably in her late thirties or so. Her long blonde hair was in a ponytail with glasses that sat upon her face. In her hand, she held a binder, filled to the brim with all sorts of papers and documents.

The man to her right was on the taller side, but not freakishly large by any means. He was clearly older, definitely between forty-five to fifty. He wore a pristine grey suit. Dressed with the grace of a CEO, not a single wrinkle in it could be found.

And finally, to the left was the female agent who had captured me in the first place after everything that had gone down. She appeared to be finishing up a conversation with the man in the suit.

“We’ll have our hands on all witnesses soon Director. The tech department is combing through both the surface level and deep web for any traces of footage or civilian documentation regarding the mission assets. Anyone that threatens to expose things they shouldn’t know about will be taken care of. I can assure you.”

“Glad to hear it, now please leave the room. Doctor West and I have things to discuss with these two.” He replies with an unenthusiastic frown.

The agent obeys, turning around and pulling the handle to the same door the three of them had entered in through. A silence befalling the room until it once again closes and she exits.

“Hello, boys.” Doctor West greets coldly. Like a teacher talking to a student he despised.

“If you let us go we won’t tell the cops or anything we promise!” Carter spats.

The Director and Doctor West have next to no reaction to Carter’s words. Instead, The Director steps forward, confidence in his eyes.

“It wouldn’t matter if you did. I mean, you two of all people should know that. Do you know why?”

“Because you have agents in the police force,” I reply, attempting to display confidence of my own.

“No, that’s only a small part. You see, the police answer to us. Calling or telling them would be of no use to you. We are kind of like the police, except we enforce the laws of what should… And shouldn’t be here on this planet.” Doctor West goes on, opening up her binder and staring into it as she monologues.

“You boys saw things you weren’t supposed to, talked to people you weren’t supposed to. Normally we would just kill you and be done with it. Witnesses make things messy for us. And our jobs are already hard enough when we hunt down the beings and entities that should’ve never existed in the first place.” The Director adds.

“You don’t do it because you care about humanity, you do it for profit I bet!” I erupt. “My dad is dead because you guys suck at your jobs!”

“Your dad is dead because he made a foolish mistake. Hopefully, you’ll be smarter.” Doctor West cuts in. No regret in the callousness of what she just announced.

I feel my blood boil as she says it, every burning nerve in my body telling me to strangle her right then and there if I physically could. But there I sat, powerless to react in any way other than yelling and kicking.

“You see, we’d like to offer you boys to join us. Clearly, your curiosity and determination to stick your noses where they don’t belong could be useful if conditioned and trained properly. However, the alternative is I call one of my agents in here to come put a bullet in each of your heads.” Announces The Director with a stern, unforgiving tone.

“Work for you? First, off we’re only thirteen, second. Why would we want to do that? So we can be sent in to kill these things that will tear us apart like those other agents?” I grill rather forcefully.

“You don’t.” Doctor West replies. “But it’s your only option. You will be paid and given benefits, and we won’t send you out on any missions until you’re at least eighteen. Can’t have two emotional teenage boys out there anyway, but just know you will never have contact with the outside world or your families again.”

“No! Our friend got turned into one of those things and died because of you guys!” Carter bellows.

“Is that your final answer?” Doctor West inquires.

Carter then suddenly closes his mouth, realizing the gravity of the situation and choosing his next words carefully.

But both The Director and Doctor West shoot each other a glance of mutual annoyance at our indecision and inaction. Coming to the conclusion that it was best to leave the two of us alone for the time being.

“Come on Ted.” West nags. “Let them think about it. If they don’t have an answer by the time we come back… Well, they know what’ll happen.”

Ted, The Director, whatever his name was nods in agreement. Although still looking painfully annoyed himself as well.

“I’ll give you boys some time to really consider what kind of decision you’re making here. Hopefully, you choose correctly, if not. Then say farewell to each other before your termination. If it’s a yes, however… Well, then I guess I’ll have to get you guys started on your training and formally welcome you.”

“A welcome that wouldn’t be warm at all.” I thought to myself.

“Welcome us to what? What is this all truly?” Carter asks in a rather rhetorical manner. But Ted still answers him regardless.

“A welcome… To The Agency…”

Credit : mrmills45

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