's 2017 Horror Write-off:

Brothers in Rust pt. 2

Submitted by Kira M.

Without more than a few hours of rest we both decided it'd be best to pop a couple of my homemade pep pills. Amphetamine is an incredibly efficient and simple drug to make, much easier than something like acid. It was one of the first drugs I ever learned to make, and it's as valuable as gold nowadays. We walked through the woods till we found Queer Creek (that's its actual name) a stream famous for precisely two things: producing some of the finest sharpening stones in the world and having a funny name. 

We filled our canteens and added the iodine, enjoying the sunrise cut through the morning dew. A squirrel scampered up a tree, knocking a few leafs off on its way. It was 5:30 and the birds were making it known to the world at large that they were awake. We nibbled on some jerky before stretching out and continuing at a leisurely pace down the bank of the creek. Jay rolled a cigarette and lit it, letting it sit and bob in the corner of his mouth when he talked.

"If I remember rightly, we should be getting close to South Bloomingville. It's a pre-test town (existed before the test) and isn't very big if I recall. I know it's got a tavern, but from what've heard the whole town is just one big thieves den. Probably best to get through without stopping. You got your revolver loaded and shit?" 

"Yeah, got it ready. You think we'll actually come into trouble enough to use them though?" I asked.

Jay took a long drag from his cigarette. "It's definitely not outta the realm of possibility. They're a small, isolated town and there's a Rift not too far from it. So I can't exactly blame them if they're on edge."

We followed the creek till we eventually found an old roadway. It was weathered and full of potholes, resembling a gigantic puzzle with all the cracks along its surface. Weeds and even a few trees had triumphed over the man made structure and claimed their rightful positions in the cracking pavement. Finally, we saw the first evidence of a town in the way of a large green sign that said 'South Bloom- GO AWAY' on the roadside. At least their upfront about it I thought...

As we kept walking we passed several houses, some dilapidated while others looked occupied. Out of a white two story house I saw one of the blinds move back as if someone was looking out. A loud bell sounded off in the distance. "Looks like we're noticed..." Jay whispered. He put the magazine into the AK and pulled the slide back. Then from two house a few hundred yards ahead, a group of a dozen or so people emerged and stood in the road. Some had ancient looking guns that were more rust than weapon, while others had crossbows or machetes. 

A man who clearly fancied himself the leader stood in front of his army, holding quite a new looking shotgun. He wore a white tee shirt and ragged blue jeans, and a scuffed up pair of boots. He had a face like a moccasin with a handlebar mustache, skin brown from age and field work in the sun. As we walked closer he cocked the shotgun, but didn't point it at us. We stopped.

"Y'all heard me cock the gun. And yah stopped. I like tah get my message cross without a big speech. Now, y'all need to identify who you are, what faction you're from or whatever. We don't like government shits or their scientists coming through here none, we don't like bandits or slavers and definitely no Others or rift walkers. Answer good, and we'll let you live and let you keep your clothes at least. Talk bad and you'll end up in the pit with the rest of the riffraff. So. Tell us your names..." His voice was like a gruff piece of sandpaper who'd smoked three packs a day for 40 years. 

"Our na-" Jay had started to speak but I held my hand out in front of his chest to silence him. He looked down at me in confusion, and then I stepped forward.


The word ricocheted across every single surface in the stillness. The gruff man flared his eyes at me. A house close to us had its top floor shutters swung open, and a woman sat a hunting rifle with a large scope on the window sill and pointed it at me. I heard the bolt clack as a bullet was chambered. She sat there smoking a cigarette, waiting. 

"Now I'mma give you one more chance here. What. The fuck. Are your names..." the old man growled.

"And I said no. If your threat was serious you'd have killed us already, but you ain't serious. You figured you'd shake down a couple of outsiders for valuables and shit, then send them on their way. I can sympathize. Gotta survive some how out here...But. That ain't happening today. What will happen is you're all going to move aside and go back into your houses, then make some coffee and go about your day as if none of this happened. We are literally just passing through. With the world the way it is these days, you should be a lot kinder to other humans; we're a dying breed, yah know?" Jay looked down at me like he'd seen a ghost.

"NOW I'M WARNING YOU--" I cut the old man off

"No, you've ALREADY WARNED US. You look like a sensible man, seen some shit in your age. But I'm telling you right now to shut your fucking mouth and move outta the way. It's too late. I've called your bluff. I've been around guns long enough to know what it sounds like when a shotgun is cocked without a shell. The lady in the window has a bolt action rifle, but she's only got one ancient bullet and about a 75% chance it misfires. For fucks sake, three guys in the back just have sticks shaped like guns. Sure, those crossbows will probably fire, and they'll probably hit me. But do you think you can reload faster than I can get you? I'll be slower with a bolt in my chest but my revolver won't be. And if you kill me, then you've got this lumbering maniac with a machine gun I call my brother to deal with. And he actually *enjoys* killing and fighting. So, your move..."

The old man narrowed his eyes at me and scowled, then did something I hadn't been expecting: he smiled. Then he started to laugh. He laughed till tears ran down his cheeks. The crowd behind him was smiling now too. He motioned for everyone to put their weapons down, and they obliged, and collectively burst out laughing.

"You, ha ha, you're a crazy son of a bitch, you know that? Ha ha, you're the only person in 32 years to stand up for yourselves and to call the bluff. I can't remember the last time we had a laugh like that. That was some wicked shit mind games, son. I bet you're a hell'va card player, ain't yah?"

"No sir, don't play cards. I prefer dice." 

"Hah, fair enough, wild-man. You're alright in my book, and you're welcome here anytime you need a place outta the rain or to lay low. Y'all need anything?" The old man smiled and put a hand on my shoulder.

"Well sir, if you had a map or even some good directions that'd help us out. Jay, can you think of anything?" Jay shook his head, still stunned at what'd just happened and how we could've been full of holes had I been wrong.

"Yeah, I think we've even got a post-test map with the zones marked on it. Glen, go grab the map outta the control room will yah?" I man shuffled off and into a small brick building, and emerged with a thick piece of folded paper. He handed it to me and I glanced over it before stuffing it in my pocket. 

"So where you two headed?" The man asked conversationally.

"Three Locks Cemetery, in Ross county. Family reunion." Jay said.

"Sho, that's a long ass way. You fellas will basically just take this road, 56, for quite a while. You'll know what to do I reckon. You boys be safe now. There's always a few bandit camps but I figure you'll give them more problems than they'll give you ha ha. Oh, what's your name anyway? Just so we know who the legend will be about?"

"Kay Hertz, sir."

"Nice to have met you, Kay. I'm Gus. You be safe out there."

And with that, we set off down 56, the 10 o'clock sun beating down overhead. Cicadas were already starting their familiar sizzling song; bees and other pollinators swirled around the orange day lilies that burst from roadside ditches, while some rabbits quietly munched on anything that seemed even remotely leafy. Clover fields and wild flowers are on both sides of the road as the farming crops had long ago died and succumbed to natures embrace. Somewhere above, a red tailed hawk called out. We walked in silence for a few miles before Jay finally spoke up, but he almost didn't need too; both of us were aware of what was going to be said, because it's inevitable that I will receive a lecture from my younger brother when I do something he doesn't approve of. 

"That was stupid, what you did back there was fucking stupid..."

"I know. And I'm well aware of my stupidity. But it worked."

"And what if it hadn't? Don't you ever stop to think about shit?" Jay asked.

The question made me stop for a moment. It's a fact that sometimes you need to be standing still to take full advantage of your brain power. Jay halted as well, making the various bits and pieces dangling from his huge backpack jingle like a wind chime. Sometimes I wish I could stop my mind from working the way it does, because at the moment it was like a lathe milling the perfect response; a mixture of honesty, sarcasm and condescension whittled down to the purest form. Half the time my insults are wasted on Jay because he is too dim, and insulting someone isn't exactly fun when you have to explain to the person why they should be insulted. After some deep introspection I found my reasoning.

"Well, if it hadn't worked I suppose we'd be dead. So no need to worry about it because if you're dead then there ain't a problem. And I think about lots of things, just not usually while I'm doing something. As soon as we saw the town's sign, I started to think stuff. It's usually more of a feeling, intuition I believe they call it. Like, from the sign alone I knew they were hostile; we both knew that. I also thought if they're so hostile towards strangers why don't they have a checkpoint or a roadblock, or anything other than a nasty sign to keep people out? Because they want travelers to come through so they can either rob them or get some coin outta them. They're desperate for stuff, it's like reverse psychology saying 'go away!' cause then yah wonder 'hm, what've they got that they don't want me to have?'. So yeah, I think about stuff that I could do, but never while I'm doing it. Question yourself too much and you'll never know who or what to trust. Just gotta roll them dice sometimes." 

"Just roll the dice, huh? Oh yes, let's think happy thoughts and we'll be alright, just leave everything up to chance! Don't plan or think things out, trust your gut. Dad would've definitely done that." Jay scoffed. 

"I ain't Dad! Dad never left anything to chance, didn't let anything naturally happen. Look where order got him. He was too afraid of chaos... Why're you so sour and worked up over this? It worked, didn't it? You're still alive; or if you are dead you certainly bitch more than a corpse ought too. Are you upset that you didn't die or just pissed that it worked and you can't take credit for it?!" I yelled. I hadn't even noticed that we'd been walking his entire time. We're only a 100 yards away from our next road, 176.

"You need to stop with this order and chaos shit. Chaos and randomly telling people to shoot you isn't a plan, Kay. I wish you'd take this a bit more seriously is all. I mean, not only are we trekking through the wilderness but we're also representing Nonsense as a whole. These random strangers might come back into our lives someday, I want to make sure that our village has a future in these parts." He sighed and took a long swig from his canteen, then fished a dog-end from his pocket. 

It was noon and the sun hung high directly overhead with the kind of heat that makes you appreciative for trees, or at least the cool shade they can provide. We sat down on some rocks for a rest underneath an Elm tree that was wider than it was tall, waiting for the heat to die down. I'd been resting my eyes for only thirty minutes at most when I became aware of some kind buzzing sound. It grew louder and louder until it drifted away. It's a weird noise, like a whole beehive singing in a continuous key... My eyes shot open in horror.

"Dirt bikes... a lot of them." I muttered. My hands started trembling.

Jay grabbed the rifle and shotgun, loaded both and began to look furiously at the pine barrens surrounding us and the huge oak tree. A hundred yards separated our spot from the thick green pines and ferns that signaled the edge of what used to be Tar Hollow State park. We hunkered down against the rocks and stayed still. The only ones around here that use dirt bikes are the In-between. They're a small army of humans who willingly travel in-between Earth and the Rifts for financial gain and for 'fun'. After too much time in the Rifts people start to go insane. They're also heavily armed and backed by the government as 'rift researchers.'Researchers who happen to have grenade launchers and machine guns. They're state sanctioned murderers and loonies. 

"We're dead... that's it... we can't survive this... can we?" I asked Jay sheepishly. 

"Yeah, this is probably the end of the line." Jay said somberly.

-mow it ezent yuh cow word-

"Did you say something, Jay?" He shook his head no.

-eym bark ear yoz dipshit but me yawn-

We both heard the voice that last time around... Now our attention was centered on the burlap sack containing the gauntlet. I reached back and carefully untied it from my pack and dumped it onto the rocks in one swift motion. The thorny black glove made a clank as it landed on the stones, followed by an 'ouch'.

"Oh, uh sorry. I didn't realize you could feel stuff. Or talk for that matter. Are you alive or something like that?" I asked it while realizing I was talking to a gauntlet. 

"That was a force of habit. Didn't feel anything but some things are hard to shake off even when you don't have a body anymore. And I ain't alive, least not in your traditional sense. More sentient I suppose." Said the gauntlet who didn't have a mouth but most certainly could talk. The wails of the dirt bikes drifted closer and then further away again. They seem to be searching for something like a pack of hounds.

"And you're a magic glove right? Guy who sold it to Kay said it was magical and they had to cut some poor guy's arm off. Rift magic is dangerous." Jay said to reaffirm his own beliefs.

"Guys on dirt bikes are dangerous too, at least for other humans. And seriously, magic? Is that what you people really think about this stuff? Was there ever magical things around before the Rifts began, magic pew pew wizards a fighting from the tops of towers and such?" The glove said sarcastically.

"Well no, not exactly. In the old days people believed in magic stuff like unicorns and witches, but usually the unicorns turned out to be rhinoceros or whales with a big tooth for a face. Typically they just burned weird old women with too many cats who they said were witches. I've got lots of books on magic, demons, alchemy and stuff like that actually." I said cheerfully.

"So what you're saying is people used to believe in magic when they didn't understand something. Then a few hundred years pass and something new starts appearing and suddenly there's magic again?" Asked the glove.

"Exactly, the magical stuff came back into the world and--" I stopped Jay.

"No. There never was magic and there ain't none now. It's all just stuff we don't understand. At least not yet, but I'm working on that. Magical is another way of shrugging your shoulders and saying it's beyond your comprehension. I think. Unless you really are magic, in which case I got a list of wishes ready." 

"Smart lad. Guess spending all your time reading them books wasn't all misspent, except for the fat gut you gained. You should take a walk now and again." 

"Thanks, I will definitely consider taking the advice of a chatty piece of hand armor. What the hell are you then?"

"I'm a magical gauntlet of course. Before that I was a part of a highly advanced and artificially intelligent suit of battle armor. That was a few thousand years ago though, and I've gained some more personality than what I started with. I heard that there's a helmet that used to be my head still knocking around somewhere in India. Like I said though, I've been apart from the whole for so long now that where basically not even related anymore. So are you going to put me on?"

"Not that we don't believe your story and all, but we heard you eat people's arms or something like that." Jay said cautiously.

"Oh, you mean the last guy? Yeah I plunged a shit ton of spikes in his arm and wouldn't let go, even twisted them around occasionally to put a hurt on him. He was a dick head though, he just walked right up and put me on. He didn't ask and he definitely didn't need me. Let's put it this way; anyone can put me on but not everyone can use me. If I don't like you or if you're not in need of my powers, I ain't got no use in talking to you much less letting you wear me comfortably. I might be a glove but that doesn't mean I don't value my time and want to be worn by some ass who doesn't need my powers." The dirt bikes rumbled closer than the last few times and sped away again.

"Okay, so who's a good candidate, can they take you off again and what's the powers that you keep mentioning. Times a factor. We're kinda in the process of about to be killed by lunatics, so just brief us please." I said while nervously watching the pine trees.

"Right. I like a coward or people that can't fight for themselves physically. Makes me feel useful when I help the weaklings. Other than that fat pork belly you're actually a perfect candidate; you reek of something that's more at home hiding under a rotting log than out in the sunlight. Your physical weakness is palpable. Powers included magic and more powerful magic, it's hard to explain since the physics are quite complex and you don't have a chalkboard. And yeah, you can take me off whenever you want if you're worthy. Someone's looking at you through binoculars by the way. Gonna put me on then?" If the glove had a mouth it would surely be plastered with a maniacal toothy grin. Jay raised the assault rifle and looked around, then at me rather worryingly. He was sweating, and his eyes confirmed that he now saw the threat approaching us. I sighed and nodded, then thought of a short prayer to say to anything that might have cared to hear that sort of thing. It was a small prayer that consisted of exactly two words; words uttered by cowards and heroes alike when faced with insurmountable odds and nothing left to loose except their lives.


And with those Godly words I grabbed the gauntlet and quickly thrust my arm into it. Somehow it weighed less and the whole thing contracted till form fitting but not snug. The gauntlet moaned. 

"Oooh, yeah! I like it rough! Now tell me I'm big as a thimble and spit on me till I rust!" 

"Wait are you getting off on this? Is this sexual for you?!" 

"Fuck yeah it is! You have not any idea how great it feels to be penetrated and used for what you were built for!" Said the gauntlet who I now suspect might be able to sexually assault someone just by sitting quietly in the next room. 

Eight people on dirt bikes skidded to a stop in between a group of pine trees a hundred fifty yards away at best. There was some indistinct shouting and cackling of men, followed by the familiar sound of rifles being loaded and cocked. Some of the men wore camouflage while others had outfits that seemed to be cobbled together almost exclusively from non matching items. A few of them were wearing masks or had Mohawks, not that they need to try to be anymore intimidating since all of them shouldered AR15 rifles pointed at us. They broke off into three groups: four men walked directly towards us while two went left and two went right, ensuring that we were flanked from each side.

The only sounds now were our heavy breathing and the crackling of pine straw being trodden. We're outnumbered 1:4 and based on their flanking tactic they're trained military plus their weapons are better by a mile. Jay had brought one of his AK-47s as his rifle purely because they're obscenely reliable to a fault and require so little upkeep. This one in particular was his favorite out of the five he owned, separated easily from the rest by the many intricate patterns that he'd burnt into the stock with a soldering iron. He even had a name for it: Keepson. As in 'it's covered inside and out with mud but it keeps on firing.' The thing even fired underwater, full of sand or when frozen solid. We joked that if the bastard was completely stripped down and taken apart that if you pulled the trigger expecting it to fire it probably would. It was also not very accurate from more than 350 yards; considering that the sights consisted of two pieces of vaguely shaped metal the likelihood of hitting anything past 200 yards that wasn't the 1st prize winner at the world's largest cow competition was placed near slim to fucking none. It's not as if scopes or better sights don't exist for the AK-47 because they do. But the probability of finding one is ranked somewhere between meeting a leprechaun and marrying said leprechaun. In other words it ain't gonna happen unless you've put your dick inside a leprechaun. 

The advancing armada of bloodthirsty loonies however has AR-15 rifles, some of them even have the fancy rail systems with lasers, flashlights and grenade launchers. Not too mention the huge scopes that'd make an astronomer jealous. In other words we're up shit creek on a boat made of shit without our shit paddle and now being circled by turd crocodiles. Shit. Suddenly a calm voice cut through the thick quiet.

"Hey, what's the most sensitive part on a human? I should know this but it has been a few hundred years. 531 years to be exact." Said the voice.

"What? The most sensitive part, like, you mean like where it'd hurt most to be hit?" I whispered.

"Yeah, on a human body."

"Well, for men it'd probably be the dick. I don't know about women but I can't imagine it's much different."

"Right, right, the dick. Okay. Um, could you remind me where that is exactly, like on the body?" It's tone suggested it was embarrassed to ask.

"You know the legs? Two things that you walk around on? It's at the top and between those on their front, the side with the face. Why do you ask that??" I hissed.

"Oh, no reason. I hope you brought a clean shirt though."

Everything happened so suddenly after that point it's literally just a blur. 

What actually happened was this: the air in front of me grew wavy like heat rising from asphalt on a summer day. Then it felt as if my fingers had grown about three inches in length and infinitely more sharp. Then my entire right arm moved of its own accord and plunged itself into the distorted air and disappeared completely from the elbow down. There was a sensation of having eight hands all connected to the same arm, which really reminded me of a tree for some reason, and suddenly my eight new hands and their forty fingers were moving around. I could best described it as if your fingers were trying to vigorously tickle someone and feeling the ripeness of a melon by squeezing it both at the same time. I couldn't figure out what I was touching through the thick black metal of the gauntlet, but the texture and way it moved reminded me of putting a gloved hand into a mound of raw hamburger meat. Then I heard the screaming.

I've heard a lot of screaming and different types of screams in my lifetime. There is truly a huge gamut of screams that arise from different places and emotions. The type of screaming I heard that day was completely new; it was made from terror, surprise and mostly sheer agony. The thing I don't understand is how eight people made the same scream in the same key and pitch like a choir. Of course maybe that's just the best way to verbally express that your whole groin has just been reduced to very chunky red applesauce with bits of pants and curly hairs mixed in it. 

We both stood there under the Elm tree in awe and fear of whatever the hell I had just put on my arm. The ebony glove dripped blood and there where chunks of flesh still stuck in some of joints and points of articulation...

"I... I don't want you to ever do something like that again... not like that." I whispered to the gauntlet.

"You're the one who decided to put me on. And I apologize. I will not do anything else like that, unless you command or will it. Please forgive me, master."

"Don't call me that! From now on you just stay quiet and don't do anything unless asked too, got it? Please." 

"Th-that thing ripped them apart like tissue paper... It turned their dicks into slush... Christ. What else can you do, glove?" Jay asked as if he were about to pass out. Not an easy feat for someone who's been in more battles and shootouts than men twice his age. The gloves blue sigils flashed for a moment and it was suddenly clean and shiny. The claws and spikes retracted, all except for the spines joining the plates together. It looked like an awful black caterpillar, the kind with spikes and horns that scream 'DO NOT TOUCH' through simple visual willpower and yet somehow manage to be beautiful at the same time.

"I can do many, many things. Things that you wouldn't even want to imagine... However I am nowhere near as powerful as that spade. It's energy is a hundred times more intense than mine. Its shape is deceiving. I would bet it weighs hundreds of pounds with all the folded space it has around it. Hidden in plan sight, a weapon more powerful than most could dream off. I am but a plaything compared to the monster that dwells in that tool... Need sleep. Talk to me later..." The glove went limp around my arm. There was no way to be sure but it felt like it wasn't aware anymore.

"What do we do with the bandits?" 

"Nothing. We search and loot them. Take one of their rifles and all their ammo. See if they got anything else good." Jay seemed to have mentally gotten over it. He was still trembling though as he looted the corpses. From the looks of it, they all bled out in a matter of seconds.

"Should we take the dirt bikes? It'd be a lot faster..." I said.

"No. Even if we gathered up all the fuel we can, it'll eventually just run out and I don't know anything about bikes. Plus we're going straight through the Dread Shores, not exactly a place where you want to draw attention to yourself by making a ton of noise." 

"True. It seems a shame to just leave them though. Man it'd be great if those cellphone things still worked. We could call someone at Nonsense and have'm pick these up." I said.

"Naw. Look down here at the fender, see that little metal pipe with the wire hanging off it? I bet you these things have tracking devices on them. If we took them it'd mean the government would come looking for them. Whoa... look at what's on that bike over there." 

I looked over at what Jay was pointing at and we walked over to the bike. It was like a long tube with a gigantic scope attached and some blocky metal thing. "Do you know what this is?" Jay asked while caressing the tube. 

I shook my head.

"It's a Stinger missile. Designed to takeout planes, helicopters and trucks or whatever. It kills machinery. Not people. I'm sure that people have been killed by them, probably from their planes suddenly making the switch from flying to falling but it... why would they need something like this? This is weird." Jay mumbled while running his hand over the tube. 

"Should we take it?" 

"Not unless you want to carry it, the things weigh over thirty pounds and we're already carrying too much." Said Jay. We started walking in the direction of the Dread Shores / Tar Hollow while Jay took one last longing look at the missile launcher. I took the amulet I'd bought from the merchant out of its box and put it on. It was heavy and the pendent seemed unnaturally cold. Jay looked over at me and rolled his eyes while holding his new rifle, saying he didn't believe that the amulet worked with his facial expression. We walked down route 176. It was a little after 3pm now. This would only be Jay's second time near a Rift, and the Dread Shores are nothing to mess around with. Kay on the other hand had been here so often that he'd built a small cottage near this very same Rift. Unfortunately it burnt down a year ago.

---------------into the Shores--------

There are many different places that the Rifts can lead too. Sometimes they're very similar to Earth and aren't at all dangerous. Sometimes Rifts are so dangerous that walls and fences are built around them if they're stable; Rifts can open and close at anytime or place but the majority of them are stable enough to become permanent fixtures or navigation points. The most common place the Rifts will open to is the Dread Shores. They're called that because after the Test, the first explorers thought that they led to some river or lake due to the sand and the noises. Once they figured out that it wasn't water making the sounds, they ran, and everyone dreaded not only the environment there but the things that come out of it. That was the most common variation of how the Dread Shores earned their name, but it was probably something of a half truth like most of those old stories.

The changes are so gradual that unless you know what you're looking for you probably wouldn't notice until you'd walked right into the Dread Shores. They're tiny changes that just build up with each foot of ground you cover. First there's no birdsong or any birds to sing them. Next there's no insect sounds or insects to make them. The animals are always the best judge for the boundaries of the Shores. After that the temperature becomes a pleasant 63 degrees regardless of summer or winter. Then the wind disappears till the atmosphere is completely still like the air in a cave. That's exactly how the air and temperature feel, like some gigantic cavern. Then the ground shifts from dirt and grass to jet black sand with huge boulders randomly dotting the Shores; honestly a better name would be the desert plains because it's extremely flat and filled with sand. Finally there's the sky. There is no sun here and no moon, no clouds and no stars. It never rains or snows here. Yet there's light. Not much, just enough to read a book by, but light without any real source. The only thing punctuating the inky sky is something like the northern lights that constantly shift and swirl around, mixing like glowing watercolor paints in the darkness.

Of course it isn't completely devoid of life, even plants and animals manage to live in the regular desert. Yet the Dread Shores make oneself question what we classically consider to be alive because this place redefines what life is. There are enough undiscovered types of plants here to make a botanist foam at the mouth. Like most things here the plants are bizarre and many are dangerous in unconventional ways. There are fields of Bloody Maiden grass, named after Dr. Jennifer Maiden. The grass has a nasty habit of of draining the blood from anything that walks through it. There's the necrotizing lotus, a black and purple flower that only grows on those on the verge of death or who have an open wound or ulcer where it can grow. I suspect it's actually some type of fungus since it seems to spread by spores alone. 

Then there are the trees. The famous living metal trees that the shovel is made from. They look like Japanese maple trees except they have an unnerving habit of uprooting and moving around. They're especially fond of following people who become lost and disoriented here. They don't attempt to hurt people or anything like that, they just seem to genuinely enjoy following people around like a puppy. It has leafs made of an unknown metal, and they're exceptionally sharp. A bundle of them is worth a small fortune because they never become dull and are sharp and strong enough to slice through tungsten. 

I suddenly become aware that Jay is now the one following me. I've never seen him so afraid and anxious. I'm usually the one doing the cowering. But I know this place well and I'm actually quite comfortable. I'd almost say I love it here, everything is so different and you truly feel like an astronaut visiting an alien world. There's so much beauty and unique things just crawling around, sometimes literally. 

I stop suddenly and Jay bumps into me. "Why'd you stop?" I point directly ahead of us. "You can't see it, but we're about thirty feet or so from the entrance. Looks normal in front of us, but close your eyes tightly and you'll see something. Jay took a breath and closed his eyes for several seconds, then he stumbled backwards.

"Did you see it?" I grinned.

"W-what is that? It's like a light show or something, all those patterns and flashes. Reminds me of the visions you have when you take them spirit mushrooms."

"I'm not entirely sure, but I believe it's similar to something I've read about called 'Cosmic Ray Visual Phenomena'. I found lots of reports in books about space travel, apparently astronauts experience it. There's not any real explanation for it, but they think it has something to do with the interaction between cosmic rays and high levels of ionizing radiation. The boundaries between our world and the Rifts emit spectacularly high levels of radioactivity, but it's mostly contained into a narrow strip about twenty feet wide surrounding the edges. We're not in the zone yet, but I want you to hold on to my hand, and we're going to run as fast as we can. Do not stop for any reason. Got it?" Jay nodded and grabbed my hand tightly.

"Take a few deep breaths and when I say go, you hold your breath and we run. Okay?" I could see a single bead of sweat rolling down Jay's nose. 

"...Okay, GO GO GO!" And we sprinted like a couple of foxes caught in a hen house. The entire time Jay's hand was clinched on to mine as the startling flashes of light and odd shapes poured into our eyes. Finally we breached the barrier and we stopped, panting for breath. 

The sand crunches underneath our feet as we finally reach the point where our world disappears and is replaced by the Shores. Jay turns around nervously and lets out a small whimper when he realizes that you can't even see the world we came from; if you were to walk back the way we came you'd end up back in the woods, but right now your eyes lie and tell you there's nothing but black sand stretching out forever. That's why a compass is vital here. We entered through the eastern side and need to head westward. North and south are just more Dread Shore land, and you can only enter or exit from the east or west. Nobody's figured out why, but I think it's because this place is folded like a piece of paper but in space. We continue walking till we're about two miles deep into the Shores; just 35 more miles or so. 

"Hold on for a minute, I just want to get my bearings right." Says Jay. We stop beside a towering black boulder with green crystals as big as your fist crusting its surface. I break a couple off and put them inside my pack. Jay drinks from his canteen and hands it to me, and I take a swig of water. Jay still looks around nervously like he's the world's least confident thief, knowing he isn't supposed to be here. 

"How can you be so relaxed here? Aren't you scared even a little bit?"

"Eh, not really. There's nothing to be scared of right now. It's actually really peaceful once you get used to all the weird stuff. I think people just get afraid because there's something inherently different about this place, like there's no wind or sunlight and it just feels wrong. Aliss used to bring me here all the time though, she showed me how wonderful this place can be. And she was never afraid of this place or anywhere really." 

"That's because Aliss was the scariest thing wherever she went." Jay said. It made us both laugh, because Aliss was super scary to everyone and everything. If you weren't afraid of her, you were either stupid or hadn't met her. 

"I miss her sometimes, she was the closest thing we had to a mom. I wish I'd have known that one day I would cherish the memory of her calling us 'worthless little shits' before she'd tuck us in and read her stories to us." I said with a sigh. 

We both laughed and shared a cigarette together while fondly remembering the sour old witch who'd call you a bastard before asking what you wanted for breakfast. She was harsh and mean, but so is life.