Her legs gave out immediately and she fell on her butt. She took off her backpack and lay sprawled out on the ground, her chest expanding and retracting violently as she sucked in the fresh air. Her breath produced thick smoke as the temperature dropped least ten degrees in ten seconds, she looked toward the sun and saw it was going down the same way Bobby had when he’d first walked through the woods. She tried to will herself to her feet, but her body wouldn’t go anywhere until it was good and ready. Come on body, let’s not start this shit, she thought.
She took four more slow, deep breaths then sat up. She watched the sun go down in that fast-forward way you see in movies. She stood up, picked up her backpack and slung it on her back and then she felt a chill that didn’t come from the temperature. No, this was a different chill. A chill one only knew as dread. A chill that told you not to look back if you knew what was good for you. A chill that told you your death was imminent if you didn’t act quickly.
A deep whoosh! came from Sherry’s right and time slowed down. She shifted her gaze and, no sooner than her eyes locked onto the giant ax heading toward her head, instinctively ducked. The ax flew over her head and the force it was thrown with produced a cutting wind that traveled and chopped down a tree twenty feet from her. She looked back and saw nothing but a giant, black hand reaching for her and she parried right then started running again.
The freshly chopped tree fell in the direction she was running, and she kicked it into second gear, hoping she’d be able to make it before the creature grabbed her. She heard nothing behind her, only the tree falling, snapping leaves, and flapping wings as birds flew away in fear. She was just under the tree, the force of gravity had started to work its magic, then another cutting wind split the tree vertically in half, so the pieces fell on either side of her.
She looked back to see if the creature was still behind her. It wasn’t. When she looked forward the creature was standing right in front of her and she skidded to a stop, almost falling on her ass as she tried to turn back. Another creature was standing where the hand had tried to grab her. She looked left and one was there, she looked right and another one appeared.
She was surrounded.
The sun was gone, and the moon shined bright in the sky. The faces and features of the creatures became silhouettes. The last things Sherry saw were the twinkling stars and radiant moonlight when they grabbed her.
She couldn’t scream.
Bobby was sitting by the bonfire he made when Sherry was grabbed; although she didn’t scream, Bobby had a feeling that something had taken place. He looked into woods and could see nothing despite the light the fire provided. He’d just finished cutting up wood and threw it into the fire when another feeling came over him. A feeling he’s used to instilling in other people but not used to feeling himself. A feeling that someone’s watching him, someone dangerous. Someone deadly.
Bobby flipped his knife blade down and concealed it then listened into the silent night. He heard nothing but leaves rustling and the cool, faint breeze. He closed his eyes and listened more deeply into the night, the feeling he’s being watched refusing to leave him. If you wanna watch all night that’s fine with me, Bobby thought, I can wait.
He kept his eyes closed and his ears open and he heard faint footsteps approaching from both sides, mostly on the left. The moon still shone its light on the path he’d walked (and Kalip was still walking). The footsteps faded but that didn’t fool Bobby, he’d been trained in stealth and knew when someone was trying to conceal themselves. That’s when another feeling came over him, a feeling that it wasn’t someone but something watching him.
A deep, muffled sound took place of the footsteps. At first, the sound was distant and non-threatening but gradually got closer and closer. It grew louder and deeper then changed somewhat, lightening up and developing a sharp, slicing quality to it. In an instant, Bobby ducked and the tree he’d been leaning against fell backward and hit the ground with a loud thud that reverberated throughout the woods, owls and other nocturnal creatures stirred and flew away.
Bobby opened his eyes and parried left as quickly as he ducked when another slicing wind scissored past him and cut through another tree some hundred feet behind him. Bobby looked up and a large, dusty, ghostly black hand extended from the dark and tried to grab him. He parried right then lay flat on his belly when another slicing wind flew just over his head. He rolled and got up then ran toward the moonlight. Another slicing wind came at him and he army-rolled and continued running without losing stride. He ran the same way Sherry ran. Using the moonlight as his guide, Bobby managed to sidestep trees and avoid loose branches and sticks on the ground.
The sounds of crunching leaves, slicing winds, and soft thuds filled the night. The moonlit path was only a hundred–maybe two hundred–feet away but the faster Bobby ran the farther away it seemed to get. The stomping sound Sherry heard was the same sound that made its way to Bobby’s eardrums. The cracking leaves mixed with the stomping produced that same terrible rhythm that led to Sherry’s demise.
Crunch, crunch, STOMP! crunch, crunch, STOMP! crunch, crunch, STOMP!
Bobby’s breathing became laborious and his heart beat in his chest like a prisoner begging for food. Bobby hadn’t had to run this hard in five years and he thought the days he had to run to catch a target were over, never did he think that one day he’d be the target running for his life. Never in a billion years.
The moonlit path got closer and the slicing wind and the stomping sounds faded. Unlike Sherry, who intuitively knew better, Bobby had begun to think he was getting away. The moonlit path was just within reach, Bobby’s mind began to ease up and he began to slow down, assuming his safety was at hand.
The large, charcoal black hand extended from the woods, grabbed Bobby whole, and pulled him back in. The last thing he saw was the moonlit path getting farther away from him. The only sounds that filled the night were light footsteps and nocturnal creatures moving around and finding a place to sleep.
Like Sherry, Bobby couldn’t scream.
Kalip lay sprawled out looking toward the moon and stars thinking about Jasmine, his eyes so entranced they reflected the night sky. It was quiet. His ears, mind, heart, and soul paid no attention to the footsteps and slicing winds and light, cracking sounds that had come and gone. He was numb. Jasmine was gone.
His mind frozen as if placed in a freezer for two hundred years, his body had given up trying to tell him he needed to keep moving some time ago and his urge, his inclination to survive, had drained to none. Kalip breathed in and out and produced smoke in the clear, autumn night. The moon and stars embraced like distant lovers that’d finally found each other and it made him think about Jasmine all the more, cold tears fell alongside his temples and hit the ground making a light, flat sound. A cool, soft breeze induced goosebumps across his arms and neck, but he just lay there as if it were a summer day.
Kalip didn’t hear the faint footsteps or light, stomping sounds coming his way. He also didn’t hear the slicing wind that cut through the tree just three hundred feet away from him. He just lay there looking at the moonlight when shadowy creatures surrounded him. First one, then two, then three, then four. He had no idea this was happening. He was too heartbroken, too grief-stricken, too shocked, and too weak to move on. The only thought that raced through the circuits of his mind was how he had nothing to live for, that if he died right now, he wouldn’t care. Well, it was probably good he felt that way because that was at that moment, he got his wish. A large, deathly black hand emerged from the shadows and grabbed Kalip whole just as casually as you’d grab something from the kitchen counter and pulled him into the darkness.
Kalip didn’t know what happened and probably didn’t care.
But. . .
Unlike Bobby and Sherry who couldn’t scream. . .
Kalip simply didn’t.
The light from the campfire rose high amongst the trees, mixing with the moonlight’s white radiance. Four creatures sat around the fire eating and throwing the bones in to preserve the flame. They didn’t talk. They ate greedily and pulled more from large black bags that sat between them around the fire. The sounds of smacking and ripping skin filled the night along with crickets, light winds, and nocturnal creatures hunting. At the far end, by the oak tree with three slashes where Sherry found her backpack about ten to twenty feet away were the heads of Bobby, Sherry, Kalip, and Jasmine mounted on sticks facing the night sky. The expressions on their faces varying from stupid surprise to disturbing calm.
Bobby had a shocked expression with his mouth agape and eyes wide, blood trickled down his forehead and dried up at eyebrow level. His eyes were white, opaque and lifeless; his skin was an ashy brown and his afro blew like dying grass in the soft breeze.
Sherry’s face had a frightful expression. Her forehead had creases and her jaws stretched open wide enough that the corners of her lips started to tear; blood ran like tears down her empty eye sockets and dried around her chin. Flies buzzed in, through, and out of her sockets, laying eggs and using her unoccupied head for shelter.
Kalip’s face was relaxed and impassive with slight traces of a smile, the left corner of his mouth turned upward giving him a shifty and deceptive look. Blood oozed from his skull and dried along his cheek, chin, and neck; a star shot through the sky in the reflection of his lifeless eyes, and the moon shined brilliantly, giving his ghost white and ashy skin an oddly shiny look.
And Jasmine, the light of Kalip’s former existence, looked the worst of all; her face epitomized terror. Her mouth was agape, her hair like dead weeds in the winter, cuts, and scars on her cheeks, forehead, and neck; her eyes, which used to light Kalip’s heart on fire with passion, were now a dull and ghostly white.
The moon’s reflection camouflaged with her eyes as they stared impassively into the sky. The last sounds to fill the night were a wolf’s howl and the ripping and tearing of flesh as the creatures continued to eat their remains by the fire then disappeared into the shadows to wait for their next meal.
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