's 2015 Horror Write-off:

" Pressure "

Submitted by Ryan Oleynik

There is something rebellious about a campfire in the backwoods darkness. It's not just about burning a bunch of wood around the watching trees, though it does make you wonder what they are thinking. It's more about the light that comes from the flames. A defiant act against the darkness that has ruled unchallenged within the wilderness. For millions of years, the night reigned supreme, sending every critter to their dens and burrows. Then came man, and soon his fire. An alien light now rearing in the darkness, as man refused to dwell in the shadows. It tried to fight back, the creatures of night emerging to tear man apart and extinguish the blasphemous flame. Though it tried, man would not relent. From campfires, to torches, to lanterns and the wonderful light bulb. With each passing decade, we pushed the night further away. Now with cities that always burn bright, the darkness has been banished to the wilderness. Only there can one experience the true night. To see what it was like millions of years ago. So to light a fire in the middle of the woods is to defile one of the last refuges it has. Out here, you can feel its anger in the air. You can almost hear its loathing with each slight breeze. Waiting for the right moment for its vile creatures to charge in and tear the intruders apart. For the light to finally fade so it can rush in and consume its stolen territory. As a kid, staying in the woods at night terrified me, for the reasons I just stated. Now as an adult, though, that fear is long gone. Those beasts in the wild aren't all that frightening when you have a hunting rifle at your side. And for all those spooky noises and things that howl in the wind, there's beer.


            Alone in the backwoods darkness, it's a scary place. Add in your three hunting buddies and a couple cases of beer, then it's a party. Some may be content with going out to hunt at morning or night and then going home in between, but to us, half the fun is hunting camp. Swapping stories, cooking up brats, playing cards and drinking between it all. Just the four of us in the wood, finally able to hang out. At our age, get togethers like this were rare. Trying to get four different work schedules to line up for hunting camp was damn near impossible. We had been trying to do this for three years straight, and each time before, things fell through. This year, though, we finally got it to work. All four of us could get an extended weekend, and we were making every second count. Anytime we were at camp, we made sure it was paradise.


            We had the fire burning bright that night, using it to grill up some steaks for a late dinner. All four of us had been out in our tree stands since the afternoon, hunting for hogs. Every person has their favorite animal to hunt: deer, elk, bear, ducks, you name it. For us, we loved to hunt hogs. Wild boar or feral swine, whatever you wanted to call them, we shot them. There was something about it that made it so appealing. It could be that they're smarter than they look. They get a whiff of something wrong and they are gone. You put any kind of hunting pressure in the area and they will never come back. So in order to get them, we put our stands away from any kind of permanent trail. We soaked our clothes in scent killer, then smeared them with dirt and leaves, and finally, left them sealed in totes well away from the main camp. The bait we placed out by the stands was carefully picked to ensure that the hogs wouldn't find anything odd about it. Some would find these precautions annoying and tedious, but we loved it. We didn't want to just shoot some dumb animal that stands there staring at you like an idiot. If that's what we wanted, we would have just gone to a farm and shot a cow. No, the real thrill was to nail one of the clever ones. The smarter they were, the harder they were to shoot, making it all the sweeter to bag one. That's why we loved to hunt hogs. Well, that and the fact that freshly shot bacon tastes really damn good.


            So I was sitting around the campfire with my three hunting buddies, Eric, Blake and Jason. The four of us were cooking up dinner and shooting the shit. Eric was halfway through one of his ridiculous stories when we first heard it. It was a quiet pulsing, one that we didn't notice until Eric had paused during his tall tale. Though hushed, the tone seemed to rise and fall in a slow, steady pattern.  It was an incredibly low sound, almost like a vibration. I thought it was the sound of the ocean at first, the constant crashing of waves against a sandy shore. The problem was that we were in the middle of the woods in Georgia, so the beaches were a little far away. The story stopped dead when we realized something was amiss with the intruding sound.


            "Is someone's phone going off?" was the first question, which came from Blake. "I thought we agreed to keep them off."                       

"That's not a phone," corrected Jason, who was looking out in the dark forest. "It's coming from out there somewhere."                  


      "How can you tell? It sounds like it's coming from everywhere!" I had to agree with that. I couldn't pinpoint the source of it. No matter the direction I focused my ears, it all sounded the same. It felt like all four of us could have scattered into the woods and not one of us would ever get closer or further from the emitter.                   

     "God damn," Eric swore as he searched the darkness amongst the trees. "What on earth is that sound? Can't be the wind."                   


"Sounds like the ocean," I threw in, but it was more of a description than an explanation.                       

"It sounds more like someone breathing," Jason offered, not even trying to guess the origin. At first I wanted to deny that comparison, but then I realized the type of breathing he was actually talking about. It wasn't the sound of some man who was panting next to your ear. It was as if you were listening to yourself breathe. The dull sound in your head as you inhale and exhale. We weren't standing around some exhausted giant, we were inside its skull.       

                 "Maybe it's a plane passing by and the trees are making it sound weird." Blake suggested, trying to find some explanation. We quickly joined the bandwagon, trying to guess the source. Maybe it was some loud truck driving down the two-track. It could be a tornado siren from a faraway town. We kept voicing our guesses, but none of them satisfied our worried concerns. Even as we discussed it, the sound continued on, vibrating the air around us. I could feel goosebumps rising from my skin. It had started out so odd and puzzling, but now, as we tried to find its origins, it seemed to become haunting. The mystery of it gave it menace, like a lawn gnome thrown through your picture window. What was it? Where did it come from?  And what in the holy hell was it supposed to mean?             

           We were so focused on making theories, that we completely missed the fact that the sound had ended. At some point in our conversation, it must have faded out. If it had stopped abruptly, we would have noticed the sudden silence. We spent a few minutes switching our gazes from between the woods to each other. It was then we came upon a wordless agreement on what we should do about the mysterious noise: We shrugged our shoulders and went back to our food and drinks. The steaks were almost done, and that was much more important to us then some silly sound.          

    Within a few minutes, we were digging into our meals, famished from the long day of hunting. There was little conversation during the eating, as we were constantly filling our mouths with food. I have no doubt everyone had thoughts on the strange sound in the back of their minds, but dinner came first. That, and what else was there to say about it? We had guessed what it sounded like, theorized of where it came from, but in the end it meant nothing. Unless it was the theme of an ax-wielding psycho, it didn't seem to affect us any.       

      We finished our steaks and tossed the paper plates into the fire. Blake popped open the cooler to fish out some more beers for the crew. With the prospects of drinks, we returned to normal, restarting our conversations and jokes that had been interrupted. Eric finished his tale, which was met with groans when we realized it was all a build up to a real shitty pun. Honestly, we all should have seen it coming. There are no proper stories that involve friars selling flowers and a hitman named Stu. We all started giving him shit for the horrid tale, when another noise interrupted our party. It was not the low breathing sound. This time it was a scream.     

        The horrid roar barreled out of the wilderness and caused us all to jump out of our seats. It was as if the maker of the pulsing sound had just stumbled into some hard times. It was a loud howl, rising in volume before being abruptly cut short. It seemed like a cry coming from a man, but something was off with it. The howl was very deep, with a hollow, airy sound to it. It was a cry of misery more than agony. One that would come from someone who just learned that a loved one died. It rang through the air with its empty, haunting tone and then quickly ended, leaving a dying echo behind. Unlike the previous sound, our interest didn't disappear when the noise did. Where there was curiosity, there was now fear.        

     "What in God's name was that?!" asked Eric desperately, visibly shaken by the horrible noise. I couldn't exactly blame him, as the scream sent shivers down my own spine. The four of us were familiar with the Georgia wilderness, and we had all spent a fair share of nights there. As grown men with guns and experience in the outdoors, we shouldn't be scared of anything. That miserable howl, thought, was nothing we had heard before. The worst part of it all was that it sounded close to our camp. It sounded like the screamer was just north of our camp, hidden in the darkened woods.          

   "Maybe someone is pulling a prank on us," suggested Blake, but his voice betrayed his doubt in the idea. "You know, trying to scare us and make us look like fools."       

      "This is not some kind of prank," I answered, though I knew Blake already didn't believe his own suggestion. "And besides, we have guns. Who would be stupid enough to try and scare us? That's a recipe for getting shot if I ever heard one." Unfortunately, with that possibility gone, that meant that the scream was real. Something out there had let out the howl. Which meant that we were going to have to do something about it.           

  "Probably was just a bobcat."         

    "That is not a bobcat and you know it!" fired back Eric, his eyes still darting around the darkened trees, no doubt expecting someone or something to come hurtling out. "That didn't sound like any animal I have ever heard!"           

  "So you think it was a person? Who on earth is out wandering in the woods at this time?"            

"Well we are here, aren't we?" countered Jason, doing his best to keep a level head. "It could be another hunter in trouble, or a hiker that got lost." Then he added in the part that no one liked. "We should probably check it out." Blake let out a nervous laugh, while Eric stared at him like he transformed into a werewolf. I didn't like the idea either, but sadly Jason was right. If someone was hurt, we should be there to help. Eric didn't see that logic though.           

  "You can't be serious! I'm not going out there!"           

  "If someone is hurt, we can't just leave them out there," reasoned Jason. "There isn't a police station or hospital for miles around here, so it is our responsibility to help." He was right again. We were in the middle of nowhere. The closest town was twenty miles away, and that was just a little cow town that existed to sell beer to hunters and gas to travelers passing through. They had one sheriff, and maybe a couple of first aid kits.           

  "I agree with Jason," I piped up, backing up his idea. "We should at least check it out. Even if it turns out to be some wild animal, least we can do is put it out of its misery." Jason gave me a thankful nod, while Blake threw up his arms in the universal sign of  'okay, whatever.' Eric wasn't still fully convinced, but I knew he would follow the three of us if we left.          

   "It came from that way, right?"           

  "Yep, not too far from here." The four of us got up and walked to the edge of the forest, scoping out our next move. Beyond the light of our fire, there was a wall of black. Flashlights would be a must.           

  "Well if we are going," added Eric, clearly displeased with the whole debacle, "We should bring our guns."           

  "Are you kidding? We are going out in the woods at night to investigate some screaming thing. Of course we're bringing our fucking guns!"


So there we were, trudging through the Georgia backwoods. All four of us had beer in our guts and guns in our arms. All of this just to investigate some weird howling sound that came from the darkness. This was the type of stuff people would laugh at when they saw "Drunk Hunter Shot Searching for Angry Bigfoot" on the front pages. Though we were all buzzed with a couple beers, that didn't mean we were stupid. We made sure our safeties were on and that all our guns were pointing away from each other. Nothing better than someone tripping and blowing someone else's brains out. So we had the accidental shooting thing taken care of, but the tripping was not so easily fixed. All we had were flashlights, and they did little to make a clear path. Tree roots, rocks and underbrush made every step a hazard. All of our lights were pointed down at our feet, none of us willing to end up with a face full of dirt. With that, we couldn't see a thing in front of us. We just picked the general direction of the noise and walked.          

   "This is really dumb, guys," whined Eric as he stumbled over a tree root. "We can't see a thing out here and we have no idea where we are going. We are going to get lost out here."       

      "Aw quit your whining," said Blake, as he stopped to swing his flashlight around to his surroundings. "Camp is right behind us, and we have the fire going."       

      "But it has been awhile since we heard it," continued Eric, not ready to give up on giving up. "For all we knew it could have already left."          

   "We should still check," Jason interjected, not willing to let someone suffer for our cowardice. "Just cause they're silent doesn't mean they are gone. He could just be conserving his strength, or maybe he's unconscious."           

  "Shouldn't he have seen our lights? We are making a lot of-" Eric didn't have a chance to finish, as the anguished howl rang through the air again. All four of us shuddered to a stop and began to frantically search the woods with our lights. It was louder this time around, but that was because we were closer to the source. Like the first time, it lasted only a few seconds before cutting off.         

    "He's this way!" yelled Blake, pinpointing the direction it came from. He rushed to the front of our line, either ready to help or wanting to get this done as fast as possible. Despite hearing this sound for a second time, it was just as chilling. Such misery in that noise. As I played it over and over again in my head, something seemed off. Which was pretty obvious with the whole situation, but something stuck out to me. There was something about that sound. I kept my mouth closed, though, as stating my concerns would just get a round of 'duhs' from the guys. As the echoes died away, we rushed the best we could to the source. We were definitely getting close by the sounds of it. We just wanted to find the screamer and get it all over with.   

          After a few minutes of hiking, we at last came to a stop. All of us had come to the unspoken conclusion that this was the spot. From years of hunting, we had experience with gauging distances and reading sounds. If our instincts were true, the source would be only a few feet from here. We took to the four cardinal directions and searched around the nearby trees. From the silence, I could tell nobody was finding anything. The same was for me, with my light only landing on dirt, twigs and roots. We quickly huddled together to share our findings, which was jack shit.        

     "It should be around here," said Jason, confident that his senses weren't wrong. "They have to be around here somewhere."        

    "Yeah, well they aren't," pointed out Blake, which was hard to argue with. "Unless they want to help us out by giving us another scream, I don't think we are going to find them."     

        "Why do we want to find them?" asked a bewildered Eric. "If this was someone in trouble they should have seen our lights or heard us. Something is wrong here." At last, Eric had a point. It was clear that the person in distress was awake and moving, which meant they should have noticed us. So if they were in trouble, why avoid us? Speaking of lights, where was his? How was this person even moving in the pitch black? He would be making a ruckus with no lights, and our ears should have picked up on it.        

     "Maybe we should check for a few minutes, see if he is hiding or laying around here." Jason noted Eric's displeased look. "And if we find nothing after that, we'll say 'fuck it' and go back to camp." No one argued that. We were already here, tramping through the woods, so what was the harm of a few more minutes? We gave each other a quick nod of agreement and turned to continue our search. We didn't get a chance to break the circle when the howl came for a third time. This time, though, it was right in front of us.       

      The moment that wail burst out, all lights rushed to the source. The sound was louder than the last, and the loudest it could ever get. From the volume, it had to have been a few feet in front of us. Our lights, though, fell upon nothing. All four of us stared in fear as we looked at screaming air. There was no throat or lungs to see, but the howl was very real. Just like the others, it ended within seconds. It was then it clicked in my head. When the wailing came to an end, I realized what had been off about it. It wasn't because something was different.      

       "It's the same," I blurted out when the pieces fell in place. Everyone looked in my direction. "The howl, it's the exact same. Pitch, tone, length, it's all the same," I clarified to them. Their confusion turned to pondering, as they replayed the noise in their own heads. There could be no debate, I knew it was true. Every part of that sound was a direct copy of the others. For a scream or a cry of anguish, that was impossible. I am not sure any human alive could replicate a sound like that perfectly each time. Not any person you would find out here.   

          "What the hell is going on?" asked Jason, as he stared at the empty space. His question was not meant to be answered by us, but God wasn't speaking up. No one wanted to speak, in case the sound would hide the approach of a stalker. Everything was wrong. Nothing was making sense. Drumming pulses that come from everywhere, and a copied scream coming from nowhere. Our huddle closed even tighter and our guns pointed outwards into the surrounding darkness. I was surprised no one fired a shot, as we were all terrified. Even I was panicking, seeing false things dancing in the shadows. Only seconds had passed since the last scream, but it felt like everything had slowed down. Time crawling by as a mockery, so that we could see our murderer leap towards us with no power to stop it. Like a horror movie kill in slow-motion. Even with four guns, we felt powerless. We could only wait in terror, using our guns more like children using a blankie to keep away monsters.        

       Something struck as we huddled around each other. It happened so fast, that I still am unsure what happened. One second we were circled up like musk ox, the next we were running like frightened deer. Something had attacked us where we stood, but it did not come from the ground. Something fell upon us from the sky, even though that still doesn't fit what happened. It was not a hard object, like brick or a body. It was the heavens themselves that struck us. It was like the air had compressed itself on top of us, a giant cushion of pressurized air slamming down on us. There was nothing to see, nothing to fight back against. It smashed down on us like a flyswatter, and we insects scattered. Already scared out of our minds, we didn't have the wits to think, just to run. I don't know which direction I ran in, I just found myself tearing through the darkness like a wild animal. I lost my flashlight in the flight, and I am sure I dropped my gun when the attacked happen. I was blind and panicking, and I was sure the others were doing the same.        

     At last I finally forced myself to stop. I braced myself against a tree and tried to collect both my breath and thoughts. I was now lost in the Georgia woods, with no light and no idea where I even was. I tried to look at my surroundings, but could only see a few feet. Thankfully my eyes had adapted to the dark, but it only helped so much. My first move was to find the path I had just bulldozed through the woods. By following that, I could find my way back to where our circle had been. Perhaps there or along the way I could find my flashlight, and thus make travel a lot easier. It would also make the hike a lot less terrifying. With my nerves frazzled, every shadow seemed to dance with malice. I had to get my wits together and think straight. If I allowed fear to take over again, I would lose my trail and my only form of orientation. Best to just focus on the path and walk.         

    A sudden chill through my body caused me to pause in my trek. I could feel goosebumps rising from my skin as a shiver shook my bones. There was no arguing that I was scared, but this sudden sense of dread seemed to come from out of nowhere. My brief stop brought silence back to the forest, as my boots ceased stomping around. Not all was quiet, though, as I noticed a deep sound slow building in volume. I recognized it immediately, and instantly knew why I had suddenly felt those chills. It was the sound from the campfire, that internal breathing. It must have started while I was busy focusing on my walking. Thankfully my body was able to alert me, picking up the vibrations before my ears could even hear the sound. The problem was that I had no idea what I was supposed to do. The noise was starting to rise in volume, and I was still frozen in my tracks. My mind couldn't come up with a solution, so my legs refused to budge until they had orders. I could only stand and sweat as it became louder. This time, I could put a direction to the sound. It seemed to be coming from the wilderness in front of me, and it was getting closer. No longer was it some curiosity, now it had a presence. One that would be fitting for a steamroller. If I stood frozen there like a scared mouse, it would slowly roll over me and crush every bone in my body. Call it crazy, but something in my mind just knew it. So I did the best thing I could come up with. I hid. In my defense, I really suck at improv.     

        There was a partially uprooted tree near the trail, the victim of some violent storm. Instead of crashing to the ground, it was caught in the branches of a fellow brother. Lodged in the neighboring tree, it lifted up the roots and dirt in a forty-five degree angle, creating a small wedge of a cave. Without a second thought, I threw myself into the opening, jamming my body past the mud and tangled roots. The little hole barely fit me but, with adrenaline pumping, I found a way. The bottom was wet and muddy, but I embraced it over dealing with whatever was out there. I curled up in my little hidey hole, but made sure to keep my eyes focused on the outside world. I didn't know what I would see in the night, but I wanted to at least try.      

      As the noise reached full volume, my eyes caught movement. The sparse vegetation that littered the forest floor was starting to sag. Limbs and leaves were slowly bending downward, as if an invisible hand was pushing them down. It wasn't just a few weeds either, all the plants in front of my hole were being pressed. Despite all this activity, there was nothing out there. Unless all the beer I had drank was really screwing with me. It wouldn't be the first time alcohol made me see and do some crazy things. Though last I recalled, at its worst it just made me see everything as a public urinal.                    


A few of the weeds to my right began to spring back up, the mysterious pressure having left them. The others continued to bow, with some threatening to snap at their stalks. The freed ones had little time to rejoice, as they suddenly were pushed back downwards. This time a couple plants on the left part of the opening rose from their falling position, and something just seemed to click in my mind. How I reached such a conclusion, I have no idea. I just pictured something searching through the weeds, like an invisible spotlight. No light, no eyes, just blind groping in the darkness. Feeling the world with layers of pressure, trying to find something. Something like me.            

As if my thoughts summoned it, something began to press down on me in my hole. It reached only the front part of my curled form, pushing on my arms and legs. The tree above me began to creak, and the ceiling of roots began to sink on top of me. Forget mystery noises and strange feelings, it was possible I was going to be crushed by this very real tree. It was hard to act on that fear, though, with the odd sensation that took over my limbs. It was as if the air was thickening into water, growing so heavy it would make your lungs sag with each breath. Where it touched my body, I felt my skin and flesh slowly depress. It was like a fat kid sitting on a popup book and I was a character trapped inside. I didn't know what to do, so I remained perfectly still. I didn't dare move a muscle, even has the pressure moved around my limbs. If I moved, I feared that it would see me and it would crush me under this tree. In my mind, I just pictured I was in my tree stand hunting pigs. The hogs were close by, and I had to remain still so I could get a shot in. Just like all the hunts I had been on before. Just be perfectly still.            

My method must have done something, as the pressure vanished from the hiding place. The air returned to its rightful state, and at last I could breathe easy. Looking outside, I found the vegetation upright and gently blowing in the breeze. The pulsing sound was fading away into the night, until all that was left was the natural sounds of the outdoors. Whatever had been through here was now gone. Even with that, I wasn't getting out of my hole yet. There was no telling if it would come back for another round. It could even be banking on my flight, creating a false sense of security so that I would make a dumb move. Let me run, thinking I was safe, and then swoop in and take me away. Now I was apparently giving this weird sensation thoughts and motivations. Now there was no doubt I was crazy.            

After a few minutes had passed with no sign of the thing returning, I finally crawled from my muddy fortress. I scanned the woods for any movement, and then quickly set back on my original path. I had to find the others, warn them of...something. I wasn't sure what I would tell them, but they at least they already knew that something was going on out here. After the sounds and scare, I am sure they would be pretty open minded. They would also probably agree with my idea of packing up camp and burning rubber out of here. I am a fan of the outdoors and all that, but right now a bed and breakfast sounded like paradise.            

"HELLO?!" Came a cry from the forest, nearly causing my heart to burst out of my chest.

"HELLO?!" It took me a second to recognize it, but I realized it was Jason's voice. I wanted to call out to him, but after the strange encounter, I preferred to keep a low profile. Instead, I just followed his voice, and his footsteps. He was tearing through the woods with reckless abandon, moving about as subtle as a freight train. I hurried to his shouts, waiting to get closer before calling out to him. I didn't have to wait long, as my own steps betrayed my presence.            

"WHO’S THERE?!" shouted Jason, his movements coming to a halt. He must have heard me and thought I was some creature coming for his throat. I didn't want to shout out, lest I catch unwanted attention. "I HAVE A GUN! I'M WARNING YOU!" Well, shit. Taking precautions is useless when you get your head blown off. It wasn't like I could bank on poor aim, Jason was a crack shot. Even in the dark, he could hear my movements and fire from there. If I had to take my chances between him and the noise, I was going to worry about the very real bullets he had. 

            "Jason!" I called out, trying to be both loud and quiet at the same time. "Jason, it's me!"            

"John?" came the puzzled reply, as if he couldn't believe any of us were alive. "Is that you?"            

"Of course it's me, now don't shoot me!" I heard his walking resume, so it was safe to assume he lowered his weapon.            

"Oh thank God. I thought I wasn't going to find you guys!" At last we got close enough to see each other in the dark. From what I could see, he was a mess. His clothes were torn and he was covered in dirt. There was something on his face that I couldn't make out.            

"Christ, what happened to you?" So Jason had been scanning me as well, and apparently I looked just as bad.            

"I hid under a tree. It was kind of wet." Jason let out an involuntary laugh, and I had to chuckle at it too.            

"Well at least you ran under the tree, I ran into one." He motioned to his face, which must have gotten busted up from the impact. Now it was my turn to laugh at him. "Well in my defense, I lost my flashlight. Which looks like you did as well."            

"At least you had the good sense to keep your gun. I lost mine." I showed my empty hands as proof. Jason gave me a pat on the shoulder, more to show that he was happy to see me.            

"We should find the others," he said as he looked around the darkness. "Hopefully they didn't run too far. Speaking of which, do you have any idea what the hell is going on? All I remember is something hitting us and then I was out of there."            

"I still have no idea," I replied, but I knew I had to tell him about my experience. "But I ran into something out there. I couldn't see anything, but it felt like the air was compressed. Like there was some sort of presence." I didn't need a flashlight to know that Jason was giving me a funny look. Despite his face, Jason did not oppose my words.            

"Well something strange is going on around here," he finally said, not debating my claims. "We need to get the others and get out of here quick."            

"I won't argue with that, but I suggest we do it quietly."


It took us a while to find our way back to a noticeable path, since I had strayed from mine to meet with Jason. We tried to find it, but we got turned around a couple of times before we found the torn up path. We trudged along the trail, hoping to find signs of anything we could recognize. Along the way we found my flashlight, or at least the remains of it. Either I had dropped it on a rock, or stepped on it during my flight. Regardless, the bulb was broken and the glass cracked. I took it with us anyway, as I could fix it later and I also didn't want to litter. A little while down the path we stumbled upon my gun, which thankfully was in much better condition than the flashlight. It was a little scuffed up, but it was still in working condition. Not like I had anything to shoot at though.            

"These are our tracks!" called out Jason as he squatted to check the earth. "Where we were hit! This is where we circled up." I moved over to his position, and I could see what he was talking about. A circle of prints, and then a split into four different directions. In the middle, all the vegetation had been smashed flat to the ground, as if a steamroller passed through. No doubt this was our starting point. This discovery was good, as we could get back to camp from here. Jason let out a cheer, and I was suddenly blinded by a burning sun.            

"Found one of our flashlights! It still works!" I was just as excited as he was, but with the light frying my eyes, I wouldn't be angry if he turned it off. After I regained my sight, I found Jason searching the rest of the area for any other dropped gear. I saw him fish another gun out of the vegetation, meaning I thankfully wasn't the only one who lost their weapon. While he did that, I started looking for signs that would tell me what direction camp was. Where there was a warm fire, cold beer, good food and a truck that had four wheel drive and could hit 120mph. Good fortune finally shined upon me as I spotted a light in the distance. Our campfire. Then the fire started moving, and I realized I was looking at a flashlight, but it wasn't Jason's.            

"Who is that? Eric? John?" came a voice from behind the flashlight. "God, please tell me it's you guys." It was Blake, who must have seen our light and came running.            

"It's John and me, Blake!" yelled out Jason, both to answer his question and to make sure he didn't start opening fire.            

"Hot damn!" He cheered as he approached, glad to see some familiar faces. "Thankfully I had my flashlight, but I lost my trail. I saw your light in the distance and came running." At last he made it to us, stepping into the light. It looked like he hadn't fared too well either. His hunting clothes were all messed up, and broken off vegetation stuck out of every crack and crevice.            

"You hide in a pine tree or something?" asked Jason as he ran his flashlight up and down his body. This made Blake crack a smile as he started to pluck the twigs and leaves off.            

"No," he admitted, as dumped a handful of leaves out of his hood. "I took a tumble. Flashlight doesn't do jack when you aren't paying attention to where you are going. Came upon a sudden decline, which turned into a rapid descent." He rubbed his sore rear to back up his tale. "If you don't mind, can we get back to camp? I kind of woke up in a pile of poison ivy." That was all the excuse I needed, but we were still missing something.            

"You didn't happen to see Eric anywhere, did you?" I asked Blake, though I already knew he probably didn't know anything. Blake's look confirmed my suspicion.            

"You two were the first guys I saw since the whole....whatever the hell that was that nailed us." All we could give him was a shrug of our shoulders. I told him of my experience and his response was about what I expected. Just a look of confusion and an increased desire to get out of here. The problem was that we hadn't found Eric. There was no way we were going to leave him out here.            

"Shouldn't he have been back here by now?" asked Jason as we stood around pondering our next move.            

"Yeah, but he was already scared stiff before we got out here." said Blake, as he checked the other gun we found. It wasn't his rifle, which meant that his was lost out there in the woods. He showed no desire in going out there to find it, at least not until daylight. Eric must have lost his grip when we were struck and fled without bothering to pick it up. For now Blake was content holding onto it, especially after he found out it was still loaded.            

"Meaning?" I asked for clarification. Blake briefly looked up from his gun inspection.

             "Meaning that he was the jumpiest out of all of us. I bet you he ran twice as far and twice as fast as us when shit went down. It also means that he might be hiding rather than traveling. Which means we need to go get him." That was the truth, we had to find him. With all three of us here, that meant Eric wouldn't have the luck to randomly bump into one of us like I did. I could also bet that he lost his flashlight as well. So our choice was made for us, we were going to try and follow Eric's trail. We could only hope that the path would be easy to follow, and pray that Eric was okay. We also threw in a quick prayer that we wouldn't run into whatever the hell was out there. 


If one good thing came from our panicked running, it was that it left very obvious trails. Eric's flight had created almost a tunnel in the vegetation, as he barreled through the woods. With three hunters in the group, following it was pretty easy. That didn't mean, though, that he would stick to this path. After slowing down from the initial scare, he could have started wandering. Hopefully not, but we needed to prepare for the worse. Already it seemed like too much time had passed. We had been following the trail for a while, I figured we should have found him by now. I had hoped that he had the same common sense as I did, for him just to turn around and walk back. It was starting to look like that wasn't the case.            

"Christ, did he run to Alabama?" asked Jason as we continued to trudge through the woods. "We should have found him by now. Or at least found something."            

"Well, we have to find him," I answered, with really nothing else to say. I mean that was pretty much it. He was lost out here, so we had to find him. No question about it. I wasn't about to leave him out here. Especially with whatever the hell was going on. So we kept walking, kept looking. Minutes keep ticking by, and we were starting to worry that something had gone wrong. Then our trail flared out in front of us, finally revealing something new to us. Unfortunately it didn't do much to raise our spirits.            

"Holy shit," whispered Blake as he looked upon the scene. "It looks like there was one hell of a fight here." A large circular area was torn up in front of us, leaf litter scattered, vegetation snapped or flattened. The soil on the ground was disturbed, having been kicked up by the violent activity. Something had gone down here, and unfortunately  the evidence was pointing towards a fight. We could pretend that this was the work of an animal, like a feral hog, but we couldn't afford to do that. This clearly involved Eric, the question: was he the attacker or the victim?            

"I'm not seeing any blood," called out Jason as he searched the scene with his flashlight. There was one good bit of news so far. No obvious signs of blood, but that didn't mean that this battle went down without injuries.            

"Anyone see any signs of departure?" I asked, as I looked for footprints leaving the scene.            

"Nothing over here," replied Blake, as he walked around the perimeter.            

"Same here," came Jason's answer, even though he was looking at the center of the area. I was about to give the same reply, when my eye caught something moving in the darkness. I spun around and moved to raise my gun. Before I could get it into the firing position, something barreled into me, seizing me in a vice grip. The attacker's body forced my gun downward, and I yanked my hand away so I wouldn't accidentally fire a round. The collision knocked me backwards, and the two of us fell to the ground. With the creature latched onto my body, I couldn't see a thing. My instincts kicked in and I started thrashing against the being atop of me. 

            "Oh shit! It's Eric!" shouted out Blake as him and Jason rushed to me. "John, it's Eric! It's Eric, man!" It took me a second to realize what they were even saying, which translated into me punching Eric a couple of times. Blake and Jason tried to pry him off me, and ended up lifting the two of us up. Eric had me in a bear hug he absolutely refused to break. I swear he was going to crush my ribcage. At last they were able to pull us apart, each one of them grabbing a guy and yanking us like a wishbone. With the two of us separated, I was finally able to get a look at Eric. I thought the three of us had looked bad before, but Eric looked like he lost a couple of years.            

His face was drained of all color, his skin almost looked like marble. Even with me gone from his grip, his arms were still locked in a hug. His whole body shivered and he looked like he was on the verge of collapse. Blake was the only reason he didn't crumple to the ground. His clothes were torn, almost shredded, with him even missing an entire arm sleeve. His eyes were the worst part. They were aimed at me, but they were not looking at me. The whole world may have well been invisible, as he was looking at nothing. Staring out into the void, with a look of pure terror on his face.            

"Eric, Eric!" I tried to snap him out of it, give a human voice to respond to, but he remained in his shocked state. "What happened, man? Are you okay?" Still no response, just that empty stare. My first thought was that he was injured, that he was in shock from some grievous wound. While Blake held him, we quickly looked him over for any obvious damage. Despite his torn clothes and ghastly look, he was not harmed. There were a few scratches, but that was more from thorns and vegetation than any violent attack. There were some bruises from my punches, but we didn't count those. Some of us had worse injuries than he did, especially since Jason ran face first into a tree.            

"Alright, we got him, can we go now?" asked Blake after we finished our search. He wanted out of these woods and back to camp. Partly for the safety of camp, and partly so he could get his ivy soaked clothes off. I could see he was already starting to itch around his neck.            

"Yeah," agreed Jason, as he gave one last look at our paralyzed friend. "We can go now. Grab everything and let's get the hell out of here." I was happy to oblige. We turned back on the path we followed in and hauled our asses out of there. Jason took the lead with one flashlight, while I lit Blake's path as he carried Eric. Even after minutes had passed since he found us, Eric was still unresponsive. Blake almost had to drag him along. We eventually found the scene of the initial attack, and Jason spotted the path that connected back to camp. It took us awhile, mainly because we had to haul Eric, but we made it back to our camp without incident.


The campfire had died while we were gone, but we had no intentions of relighting it. We dumped Eric in a camp chair and quickly got to work tearing down camp. We were not spending the night here, not after all that had passed. Jason and I started packing up the tents, while Blake tried to rinse his body of the poison ivy and switch to some clean clothes. Though we moved with haste, we did make time to down a beer or two. We had definitely earned it.                       

We must have had that camp torn down in record time. Probably because we stuffed anything and everything into whatever containers we could find. In some cases we just flung crap in the back of the truck without care. Once everything was in the truck in some way, we grabbed Eric and hopped inside. The second our doors were closed, we were out of there. Dirt went flying as we screamed down the two-track, blasting through any branches that hung over the trail. No one cared how fast Jason was driving, as long as it got us out of these woods as fast as possible.

Eventually we reached a real road and we pointed our truck to the nearest town. It wasn't much of a town, but it was civilization. As long as there were beds, showers and four walls, it worked for us. Right now, anything that wasn't the woods was fine with us. The fact the town had a bar too was a plus.


It was about ten o'clock when we finally pulled into town. Though calling it a "town" was giving the place too much credit. It was essentially a cruddy road that was lined with family-run businesses that looked like they were built decades ago. Almost every house was some rundown cabin, and the people looked the part. As we rolled down main street, we spotted the town's biggest attraction, the bar. The place looked like it was hopping, filled with both locals and hunters. From the way we all stared at the place as we drove by, it looked like we had been lost in the desert for weeks and this was the only place with water. We would definitely be visiting the bar tonight. First, we needed to get a place to say. We learned that there was cheap motel at the end of town, some place built when this place saw more tourists. Now it was meant for hunters who didn't want to camp out in the woods. Hours ago we would have called those hunters pansies, but now they seemed like the smartest people in the world.            

Thankfully they still had rooms, and we happily took two. Our first order of business was to clean up and gather our wits. Blake shot straight to the showers, but the poison ivy had already set in on our drive here. He must have forgot to change out of one of his shirts, as he ended up with a rash around his neck from the collar. Jason cleaned up his face and checked for any serious damage. It looked like nothing was broken, just pretty sore. I lucked out when it came to injuries, as I was just filthy. A nice hot shower fixed that. Eric had no wounds, well, not physically. On the drive here, he was starting to function a little more, but he still looked lost and horrified. He was starting to walk on his own, but he was always looking around like he was being stalked. Even around us, sealed inside a motel room, he was extremely jumpy. You couldn't even touch him without him jumping out of his skin. We still couldn't get him to tell us what had happened out there, what he had seen, and what went down in that torn up area. I hoped that when we hit up the bar, the alcohol would loosen him up some. I know we could sure use it.            

After we had finished tidying ourselves up, we all took a stroll down to the bar. Eric was walking under his own power, but he made sure to position himself between us, and was always looking over his shoulder. He shivered constantly, as if there was an icy breeze. We all kept an eye on him, worried that one random thing would trigger him into bolting. For the rest of us, we were still a little rattled, but being in town was making us feel better. On the sidewalk were other hunters, going to and from the bar. We would exchange hellos and questions on their hunting success. Just running into fellow enthusiasts were enough to bring up our mood, and the local atmosphere was great. At first I had pegged this place as some deadbeat town, but it was starting to grow on me. I had grown up in a little cow town myself, before moving into the city for work. Now being here, with the streetlights, old storefronts and cheerful locals, it reminded me of home. Jason seemed to be enjoying himself, walking with a smile on his face. Blake did as well, despite the constant itching on his neck. Here, surrounded by civilization, we finally felt safe.            

We stepped into the bar and were immediately greeted by the warmth and smell of beer. The place was filled with patrons, the air saturated with chatter. In here, it was impossible to tell the hunters and locals apart, as camo and flannel was the only style. It didn't really matter though, as everyone was drinking, talking and having a good time. We scored a table for the four of us and didn't waste time getting our orders in. Despite the fact we had eaten not too long ago, I ordered some food as well. Though Eric claimed he wasn't hungry, I got him a burger just in case. He did, at least, have the courage to tell the waitress what he wanted to drink. We didn't talk while we waited for our drinks, we just sat and soaked in the cheery atmosphere. Enjoying the feeling of company and civilization. Soon the waitress returned with our drinks, and we got to work on them. I watched Eric as he partook in his own beverage. With each sip he seemed to gain some more strength. Seeing this change, I thought it was a good time to try to get some answers.            

"Eric, I know this might be a bit difficult for you," I began, not wanting to sound demanding. "But do you think you could tell us what happened to you out there?" A look of dread passed across his face the moment I asked the question. I feared that he would return to his paranoid state, but despite the initial fear, he chose to finally speak of the incident.            

"Honest to God, guys," he said, a mixture of hesitancy and embarrassment in his voice. "I don't know what happened at first. When we were all huddled together, and that..." His tale halted for a second, as if saying the next word would summon the devil himself. "That...thing.... hit us, I pretty much blacked out. All I can remember is getting hit, and then all of a sudden I was in the middle of nowhere. I had no flashlight, no gun. Everything was black, and I had no idea where I was. I tried to get my bearings, but every step just seemed to take me further away." He paused for a moment, and I could see great hesitation on his face. Whatever was coming next was something he didn't want to talk about. I wouldn't blame him if he chose not to, but he committed himself to finishing the story.

"Then suddenly the noise came, that one we heard around the campfire. That bizarre breathing sound, just getting louder and louder, like an approaching semi." For a moment, that noise returned in my mind, sounding just like it had when it hunted me in the woods. No wonder Eric didn't want to talk about it, just hearing him mention it was enough to give me chills.            

"I-I didn't know what t-to do," he stuttered, as his composure started to weaken. "It just kept getting louder and louder. I started to run, just in any direction I could.  to follow me. I don't know how or why, but the sound seemed to chase after me. It bore down on me as I stumbled through the woods, before it landed right on top of me." His face was losing its color once again, and his hands shook his glass of beer. "It knocked me down on the ground, and then it did...something. It felt like I was stuck in a trash compactor, with something heavy just pressing down on me. I tried to fight it. I punched and kicked at it, but it was like fighting air. I don't know what it was trying to do, but I fought it every second. I tried crawling away, but it kept dragging me around, running me through every damn bush in the forest." Well that explained the signs of a struggle. I couldn't imagine what it must have been like, to be attacked by nothing. If you had asked me if this story was true a couple of hours ago, I would have called bullshit. After tonight, though, I believed every word. It hadn't attacked me like it did Eric, but that presence I felt was totally capable of it.            

"What happened then?" asked Jason, with a mixture of curiosity and horror. This was creeping him out as well. I couldn't get a read on Blake because he was busy itching the rash on his neck. I bet he was just scratching so that we wouldn't see he was getting freaked out.            

"Well, it just kind of left," he said anticlimactically, giving us a weak shrug. "I think I pissed it off or something, because it let me go and went away. The sound died off somewhere in the distance, as if it was going after something else instead." My thoughts went immediately to my encounter. Perhaps Eric had put up too much of a fight, and it changed its sights towards easier prey. Even so, why would something like that just drop its prey like that? Sure Eric was flailing about, but didn't every animal that was caught in a trap? Hard to believe that such a powerful force would call it quits after a little resistance. Then again, Eric might have been leaving some stuff out of the story. In the state that we found him, I am betting something else had happened as well.            

"Sounds pretty freaky," admitted Blake, as he took another swig and gave his collar another scratch. "But that is over with. What matters now is that we are all here with a roof above our heads and beers in our hands!" Everyone broke into a smile and we clinked our glasses together in victory. The waitress came by and dropped off the food we order and we dug in. I was pleased to see Eric taking a few bites from the burger I got him. It seemed like telling the story took some weight off his shoulders. With nothing else to say for the moment, we turned our full attention to our meals. Though we did not talk, the people around us made more than enough noise to fill in for the silence. Everything seemed to finally be working out for us, and perhaps this weekend would end on a positive note.            

This naive thought of mine was shattered when Eric flew to his feet in an instant, sending his chair crashing to the ground. All three of us jumped at the flash of movement, nearly knocking our own seats over. The look of insanity had returned to his eyes, as he swung his head widely around, looking for some unseen thing.            

"Christ, Eric," complained Blake as he began to stand. "What has gotten into you?" Eric snared him by the shirt collar and came face to face with him.            

"Do you feel that?" he demanded, though there was no threat in his voice, more of a desperation. "Do you feel it?" I was about to open my mouth to ask for clarification, but something else answered me. I felt the hairs on my body stand up on end, goose bumps rising from my flesh. I knew that feeling all too well.            

"It's back," Eric said in horror, releasing Blake from his grip. "Oh God it's back." As if Eric's words were a cue, my ears started to pick up that familiar, terrible sound. The deep pulse was starting to fill up the room, slowly overtaking the random chatter of the other people. As it began to grow in volume, conversations started to die off, as others started to hear it as well. Looks of confusion appeared on many faces, and I could hear some folk asking each other for explanations.            

"IT'S BACK! IT'S BACK!" screamed Eric, clutching at his ears, trying to block out the sound. He tore out of the bar in a mad dash, leaving us standing around like a bunch of idiots. Finally our brains got the message to our legs and we hauled ass after him, knocking past confused customers. We found him right outside of the bar, standing in the middle of the road. His ears were still covered in his hands, but he looked skyward, as if the sound was coming from a plane. Out here, without the layer of talking and eating, the sound was much louder. I was almost ready to cover my own ears, but I had to hear what Eric was yelling. He just kept shouting that it was back, like it was some ax murderer who had risen from the grave. There was no doubt at this point that Eric had snapped, he had lost his mind. He just stood there shrieking, spinning around as he scoured the sky with his eyes. Another voice joined the cacophony, and I turned to find Blake on his knees. Jason was beside him, trying to help his friend.            

"Oh god it hurts!" Blake bellowed, as his hands tore at his neck. "It burns, it burns so much! Make it stop! Make it stop!" For a moment I was trapped between two choices. Run forward to try and help Eric, or go back to see what was wrong with Blake. I never got to make the choice, because my eyes found another source of worry. Down the road, way back behind Eric, the air was changing. It looked like what you see rising up from the road on a hot day. It was like it was thickening, changing to flowing water. Street lights within it began to bend downwards, as its presence bore down with an unseen weight. This time, with the light, I could see it coming, the translucent wall bearing down on us. It wasn't after us, though, it was coming for Eric. Whatever had happened in that woods, it had done something to Eric, and now it was coming to collect. I wanted to rush forward and pull Eric away from it, throw him in a car and drive as fast as I could, but my body refused. My feet were cemented in fear, and nothing was going to move them. Behind me Blake still cried in pain, and Jason was trying to do something about it.            

Before I knew it, the wall of warped air moved over Eric as he twirled and screeched. Then it kept going. It passed over me, pounding me with that familiar pressure that weighed on me like a lead suit. For a single moment, I thought that it had turned its sights on me, and that I was the target, but then it passed by me as well, the weight disappearing as the invisible spotlight moved on. I turned to see it move on, and it was then that my mind made the connection. The realization was right on time, as the swirling air stopped dead on Blake. Jason scrambled out of the affected area, abandoning our friend who stood at the center. Blake, however, was oblivious to it all, as he continued to rip at the collar of his shirt. He jumped to his feet and  ripped the neck of his shirt off in his frenzy, and I nearly vomited at what I saw.            

The red rash that had circled his neck had swollen into round, crimson pustules. These vile tumors weren't alone though. Black, angular pieces seemed to be ripping from the flesh on his neck, as if someone had embedded shards of obsidian into his skin. As he ripped at his neck with his fingers, the black chunks seemed to push farther and farther out, like his body was trying to force them out. His nails popped some of the bulging zits, sending streams of clear fluid down his neck. It looked like he was wearing a necklace of red pearls and black diamonds, organic jewelry forming from his own body. The air around him seemed to grow thicker, as it forced Blake back onto his hands and knees. The sound had grown deafening at this point, and I was forced to cover my ears. All I could hear was that horrid pulsing and nothing else. I could only see Blake's mouth rip open into muted screams and shrieks. Jason stood beside me, saying something that I couldn't hear. Even the crowds of people pouring from the bar were silent to me, as they pointed and shouted at the odd spectacle in the street. I could only stare at my suffering friend, too scared to do anything to aid him.            

The overpowering sound started to rise rapidly in pitch, making the noise even more painful. The alien concert rose to a climax, sending Blake into another spasm. He whipped his head skyward, just as the noise reached the peak of its climb. From his neck slid out thick hairs, shooting from his flesh like stingers on a jellyfish. They were thick and barbed, like the hairs you would find on an insect. These black thorns shot out from his agonizing necklace, and then everything went black. I didn't pass out, it was just that all the lights in the town suddenly went out. I could hear the bulbs in every street lamp burst, plunging us into darkness. Even the surrounding buildings went out, as if someone at the power station had just pulled the plug. As the lights vanished, so did noise, cutting itself off like a powered down radio. We were just left alone in the dark, with people shouting and wondering what was going on. Eric had gone quiet, but I couldn't see what he was doing now. My eyes had yet to adapt to the dark. Blake was done screaming as well, he was just sobbing now.  The frantic scratching at his neck must have ceased too by the sounds of it, now it just seemed like he was on the ground weeping.            

"Oh God, I'm so sorry," he wept in the darkness. "I'm so sorry. I didn't know, I had no idea. Oh God, I'm so sorry." He just kept blubbering these vague apologies, as if he already knew what was coming next. I looked around, trying to get my eyes to pick out things in the dark. Remembering that Eric had been looking at the sky, I brought my gaze upwards. It took me a second to realize what was wrong, but when I did, it sent a chill through my body. The stars were gone, as was the moon. The sky was pitch black, as if the stars had blown out the same time the lights had. That, or something was blotting them out. Something massive in the sky, cutting off the last bit of natural light we had. I couldn't even fathom what could possibly do such a thing, it was all in a scale my mind couldn't grasp. I could only just stand around like everyone else, waiting for what would come next.            

It was just a few seconds before light returned to the town, but it didn't come from bulbs or stars. It seemed to emanate from the air itself, like we were on a TV that was having its brightness turned up. I couldn't spot a possible source of it, it was just like the sound, being everywhere but nowhere. At last I could see everyone, people from the bar standing outside the building or stumbling around in the streets. Eric gazing upward with his mouth unhinged, hypnotized by the blackness above. Jason standing beside me looking around himself in terror and confusion. Blake still on all fours, continuing his weeping and apologies. For me, I was just like Jason, standing there frozen like a terrified child. Then the screams started.            

The shriek came from further downtown, from where I couldn't see. It was sharp and abrupt, as if a hand clamped down on their mouths. This wasn't like the false howl we had heard in the woods, it was human. The short scream caught our attention, as did the second and third. Each one was coming from a different place and a different throat, but every one of them ended just as quick. The people around the bar started to panic, some rushing inside, while others scattered into the streets. I saw some hunters go for their guns, and it was one of them that I saw go first. 

            He was a large, bearded man, the type you would picture when someone said "hunter." He was rushing over to his truck that was parked across the street from the bar. I saw strapped to the back was a gun rack, with rifles and shotguns locked onto it. He made it to his truck and climbed onto the bed. As he fumbled for his keys to unlock the weapons, it took him. I didn't get a good look at it, as it happened so fast and was so bizarre. The air behind him thickened and churned for a moment, and then peeled open. Something lurched from the shroud, seizing him by the back of the neck. He let out a short yelp of surprise, before he was yanked backwards and was gone. It lasted all about a second, it was almost like a magic trick. The only thing left of him was his hat, which had flown off when he was pulled back. It flopped to the ground well after he had been sucked away. If not for that hat, I wouldn't have believed that there had been someone there to begin with. The sudden vanishing brought a slew of shouts and swears, which quickly turned to shrieks as it began to happen again, and again.            

One man booking down the street was lifted into the air as a disfigured arm reached from nowhere and pulled him up by his head. He was just suddenly jerked upward and gone, like a marionette being violently pulled from a puppet show. One lady across the street backed herself up against the wall of a store, keeping focused on the danger ahead. The reality behind her flared open like a Venus flytrap and snapped shut around her. I got a brief glimpse of something within those jaws, just before it swallowed her whole. The silhouette of some bizarre being. A bloated body standing upon stilt-like legs. The arms and head I couldn't make out before it took the woman into the void. The town was soon filled with screams of terror and frantic people trying to escape. Things reached out from nowhere and stole men in mid-stride. Even people who locked themselves in their cars were not safe. Someone tried starting their car to get away, but they were hauled into their windshield by hands like fishing nets. I watched as something leaned out from the air to snare Eric in its hands.            

There were no discernable hands or fingers, it was a mass of woven together tendrils and hooks. Like arms made of tree branches, a mass of limbs and appendages coming together onto Eric like an iron maiden. He didn't scream as it grabbed him, he only let out a startled gasp before he was gone. I couldn't even comprehend that he was gone, it had happened too fast. There was no way that  that was the last time I would see him. Surely this was some magic trick, or some joke. He couldn't be gone, he just couldn't.                                                      

  I turned to Jason, half expecting him to shout "We got you! It was all a joke!" His face proved to me that it was all just a desperate fantasy, an attempt to hide away from the horror. He stood stiff as a board, forcing himself not to move. He must have remembered my story about the encounter and hoped the same would work here. Blake wasn't taking that advice, as he was crawling on the ground, squealing how sorry he was, how he had no idea it had done this to him. The obscene ring around his neck was now spreading, sending crimson down his veins. Something was happening to him, as he wept and begged for forgiveness. His flesh was changing, his body slowly morphing. Whatever sickness that was injected into him was not content staying in one spot. The crowd that had been around the mouth of the bar was now gone, having either fled, ran into the bar or been consumed by the night air. Seized by a foolish thought, I ran to the doors of the bar, seeking cover inside. When I pulled at the handle, though, the door remained closed. Through the window I could see all the people inside, hiding under tables and arming themselves with whatever utensils they could find. I continued to pull at the door, begging for them to let me in. Some looked at me sympathetically, while some shouted for me to get away. Not one moved to unlock the door. They were safe, they weren't going to risk their own hides for someone else's. It was because they were looking at me, that I was the first one to see their safe haven breached.            

Behind the crowd, back by the bathrooms, reality grew blurry and muddled. It swirled together like multiple paints being mixed together. Like a curtain, it peeled back to open a hole in the air, allowing them to step out. Through the window, I could at last see the source of our troubles. Five of them emerged from the hole, but there were two kinds of them. Three of them I recognized from the silhouette I had glimpsed before. Their legs were like sticks, so thin they looked ready to snap at each step. The legs alone stood as tall as a man, with a swollen body perched on top. It wasn't inflated like a balloon, it was more lumpy, like a sack stuffed to bursting with potatoes. The head seemed almost nonexistent, a mound growing from the top of the body. From my distance, I couldn't see if it had eyes, but I could see the mouth. The whole head seemed dedicated to that orifice, which was built like a fleshy flower. Meaty folds unfurling to create a gaping hole. A pair of arms jutted awkwardly from the front of the body, just two stiff stubs. There were openings at the ends of the stubs, which spat out the net-like arms. The woven flesh reached out and snagged people in its hooks, where they squirmed like impaled worms.            

The second beings stood lower than the stilt walkers, just barely higher than a man. Their lower bodies had no legs or feet, they instead sat on cones of flesh. It was like they wore dresses made of skin, and they slid across the ground with an obscene grace. The upper bodies were made of some rock-like material, as if chiseled from cement. There was the semblance of a torso, but it lacked a head or arms. Instead, strange, hollow protrusions jutted out from all sides, like it was made up of a dozen urns randomly fused together. From the openings shot out human arms, but each had too many elbows. They popped out of the main body like the tongue of a chameleon, grabbing anything they could get their hands on. The groping hands latched onto the people in the bar and reeled them into its stony body. The trapped souls flailed and fought against their attacker, but the blows did nothing to the creatures. The five entities moved through the bar, grabbing as many people as their twisted appendages could hold, and then they stepped back into nothingness. The fortress that the customers had made was instantly turned into a prison, locking them in with the monsters. I hadn't counted how many people had barricaded themselves inside, but they were taken within seconds. All that was left was the pieces of a short, fierce battle, but no signs of the deceased.              

I staggered away from the door, sickened by what I had seen. I turned to what friends I had left, and found that only Blake and I remained. Perhaps Jason had tried to flee and was scooped up by the entities. Maybe he didn't even have a chance to run. Another one of my best friends was now gone, and I didn't even see it happen. I looked to Blake, as if he could tell me what happened. What I saw was not Blake, but some horrid thing that had taken his place.            

"Oh God, I am so sorry," it continued to weep and squeal as it feebly crawled towards me. It crawled on all fours, as its limbs were too bent and frail to support the body on their own. It wore the remains of Blake's clothes, which were nothing but ribbons of torn cloth. The being itself looked like someone tried to fuse a man and a pig, but the result would have disgusted both species. The body of it was swollen like an overstuffed sausage, the skin on it taut, yet somehow wrinkled. Red veins ran under the skin, creating a crimson spider web throughout the body. The neck was completely consumed by the black shards and hairs, creating an obsidian collar for this vile pet. The face was pulled forward into a snout, but enough of humanity remained for me to see Blake trapped inside. It shrieked and cried from its lipless mouth, its tongue hanging limply from the side. Its human eyes begged for both forgiveness and mercy, pleading for me to have the kindness to kill him. I couldn't bring myself to even get close to it. I backed away from it in disgust, keeping my distance as it tried to reach me. One arm stretched out to me, begging for my help. The gesture caused it to collapse onto the ground, the other three limbs giving out. At that moment I ran, just to escape from the nightmare. It was my last move, as the air before me churned in the sickeningly familiar way. A hand lashed out from the void and grabbed me by the neck. Before I could even scream, I was pulled into the swirling air and was immersed in darkness. 


I woke up suddenly to the blinding light of day, an alien sight after such a terrible night. I had no idea how long I had been out. It could have been hours or even days. I found myself in the middle of the bar, laying curled up on the floor. At first I was going to chalk it up to a night of heavy drinking and bad dreams, but a look at my surroundings told different. Tables and chairs were scattered and broken, shattered glass littered the floor. The evidence of the struggle that had happened last night. The dozens of people who were dragged away into nothingness by things I couldn't even comprehend. As I lay there, I listened, straining my ears to find a familiar, natural sound. The day was silent, not a tick of a clock or the chirp of a bird. No cars ran down the streets, no voices hung in the air. It was all deathly silent. I felt like I had been trapped inside of a war photo, seeing only destruction and hearing none of the cries. The lack of sound made me feel naked and exposed, like the eye of God was peering through me. I crawled behind the bar and wedged myself in the corner. I tried to believe that I was safe, that the horrible night was at last over. I knew that I was wrong, and the daylight did nothing to comfort me.            

Time passed as I huddled in that ruined bar. How many hours or days, I have no clue. Eventually someone broke down the door to the bar, bashing down the barricade that had doomed so many. Voices identified themselves as police officers, and they demanded to know if anyone was inside. I didn't respond, I just wished that they would leave me in my useless shelter. Someone must have eventually wandered into the town after that night and found it drained of all life. A call to the authorities, and then they were here, searching for answers. The only one they got was me. I did not help them though, I shrieked at them as they tried to talk to me. I screamed and thrashed as they tried to pull me from my corner. They kept asking me what happened, and where everyone was, but I just yelled at them to leave me alone. To leave me here to die. It took half a dozen officers to restrain me, and they strapped me to a gurney. I fought against the restraints every second I could, even as they loaded me into the ambulance. The attendants tried to calm me, but I just screamed to be released. To be left alone in this ghost town, and to never be heard from again.            

Eventually they had to sedate me, so that they could take me back to some hospital in Atlanta. They hoped that they could get some answers there. To figure out why almost every soul in that town disappeared without a trace. Why one man was found alive amongst all the chaos, with a bizarre rash around his neck. Why he kept screaming that he was the Judas pig, over and over. They didn't understand then, but they would soon enough.            

Oh God, I am so sorry.