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Roderick stared out of the church window, looking at the rays of sun projected through the few trees surrounding the humble one story structure. “It’s too beautiful to stay inside today,” he thought. He turned to his mother and the other survivors and grinned. “Lets go out while there’s still a couple hours of sun.” He was unsurprised to see the children grow excited while the adults fidgeted nervously, trying to think of a reason not to. “Don’t worry, we chose this place for a reason. We have a clear view of the road and there aren’t enough structures to hide anything, remember?” With that, they agreed and stepped outside.
How long had it been? Over two years, but the exact day was undeterminable since no one kept a calendar. A few scouts were chosen from the adults to watch the roads and surrounding houses that sparsely littered the surroundings while the children played on the playground, having momentarily forgotten their fears. Still, they stuck together in a small, safe clump. Roderick leaned back on the nearest tree and tried to recall exactly what day the gate to Hell had opened.
All at once it came flooding back to him: April 16, 2019. A sinkhole had opened up in Guatemala and a team of four amateur spelunkers decided to take a tour of the insides. What they found sparked international amazement: artifacts and cave art. Not just that, but bones and what appeared to be sacrificial alters. All the signs of life had been there, but underground in a cave that had been concealed until a random part of the surrounding area had fallen through. Linguists, journalists, professional spelunkers, archeologists, and local anthropologists specializing in Aztec and Mayan culture showed up to finish exploring the caves and decipher the art and artifacts left behind. As is with most scientific discoveries, the fervor died down until every one of the five spelunkers who had attempted to reach the last corners of the vast cave disappeared. More spelunkers were sent in, as it was assumed they were simply lost. They weren’t found after a week and all had assumed they perished in the never ending darkness. After that no one was allowed in the unexplored portions, but after the second week three of the missing spelunkers appeared at the mouth of the sinkhole, squinting and silent. They were taken to the hospital and interrogated on the whereabouts of the others, but none of them would ever speak. No signs of malnourishment or physical harm, their psyches seemed fine besides the silence and the fact that they always turned their room lights off when the nurses and doctors left: it was chalked up to trauma. After that, more people would go missing in the sinkhole, but portions of them would return again after two weeks; silent and squinting. Some of them seemed to hate the light altogether, but others handled it better. After release from the hospital, their behavior became quite strange and the sinkhole was closed off entirely after survivors were found to be taking anyone they knew into the caves at night and disappearing for two weeks. It was how they spread, how they left the cave. They didn’t close the cave fast enough and the creatures had successfully infiltrated our world with their populations and began breeding and spreading worldwide. What little humans were left were forced into hiding, especially nighttime when even the sensitive ones could roam free. It was a tricky situation, for some humans-mostly children and the elderly-were eaten while others-mostly the young, able bodied- were used for their skin. A perfect disguise. Some people even speculated that they must have established a breeding farm of humans, otherwise how else could they sustain their growing numbers and need for food and the skin that protected them from the sun? Other questions never got answered. How were they able to seal the skin so well? How were they able to perform tasks that humans did, such as driving and dressing themselves? Roderick personally assumed that they were able to take their hosts memories and motor skills, which was why they young and elderly never showed up as skin suits. No one actually knew, though; it was an unprecedented evil that no one could have expected.
As Roderick remembered all of the horrors, a new horror appeared: an SUV, approaching from behind the church. The scouts saw it too. They started grabbing the kids. They were lucky, since it was approaching from the rear they had time to hide. Now only dozens of meters away, only Roderick was left outside, running to the door. Sally had other plans, however, and struggled to go in. “My doll! She was crying and screaming, all the other children knew better, but she was only two and didn’t understand the creatures. No one had told her that their sensitive cave-dweller eyes also yielded them sensitive ears. Having no other choice, Roderick turned and grabbed the doll and threw it into the doorway. “Still have that throwing arm from football” he mused, but it was too late for him and the others knew it. They shut themselves in the church as he watched the SUV close the last few kilometers until it was stopped next to him. Inside, a sheriff was staring at him, and lifted a walkie-talkie. Roderick thought, “maybe he isn’t one of them,” but as soon as it began speaking he knew. Clicks and gurgles. Despite gaining everything from their hosts, the creatures never caught on to the nuances of the human dialect; their lack of ability to speak other than clicks and a few throat noises was the only thing that made them identifiable. Roderick knew what he had to do, so he ran. Parallel to the church and perpendicular to the road, he hoped the creature would follow him and therefore wouldn’t search the church, assuming he hadn’t heard Sally’s cries. There were only a few trees around the church, but it was enough that the creature would have to pursue him on foot. He ran for blocks, but being cooped up had left Roderick out of shape and the creature was gaining. He knew he would have no choice but to hide and hope that the house he chose didn’t contain sleeping creatures. With his legs and lungs burning, he made a sharp right and hopped a fence, sneaking into the house through the unlocked back door and praying the thing would hope he kept running.
He opened a bedroom door without a click and there they were- sleeping creatures, clinging to the walls with their stubby fingers and toes. They were grey and papery looking, with ear holes instead of ears. Only slightly smaller than the typical human woman, and there were a lot of them. He quietly walked away and luckily for him the second room was empty, but it was already dark and they would wake soon. They couldn’t smell for shit, so as long as he remained hidden and silent he would be okay. The empty room wasn’t truly empty, instead it contained dozens of items of clothing piled up, which he buried himself under to wait out the night. Roderick heard footsteps and thought “fuck, how did he find me here?” He weighed his options: stay and hope the thing was there to socialize with other creatures, or run for his life. Again. He opted for the former, knowing he was out of energy and outnumbered. He had a nervous stomach, and the churning of its contents gave him away. He knew their ears were good, but he didn’t know they could hear gasses forming in a person from rooms away. The last thing he remembered was the sheriff approaching him from small gap in between shirts, then he was jerked out, fighting and clawing, and attracting the now awake horde into the room with him. In the fight the sheriff scratched him too, and one of the grey monsters spit on his wound and it began to suture itself without even a scar remaining. “So that’s how they seal them back up.”
Two weeks later, Roderick stood squinting in front of the church that he had left the other survivors in.
Credit: Jason Ackle