Darkness settled in the heart of a great continent, of an enigma, and germinated in the fears of those who stood watching, feeding it like a great deluge. And, from this darkness sprouted a colossus of foliage, a forest. It was daunting,consuming rivers and villages and people and the collective imagination all alike until it became a legend. Beasts rummaged the sparseness at the far edges for their food. Locals held that the great monsters were either guarding the secrets within or, worse yet, running from even greater beasts. Locals denigrated into prey, empires into feeding grounds, and men into beasts.
Oddly enough, it was not by a vicious lashing out from the forest, seeking to rectify some worldly wrong or ennui fulfilling destruction. Rather, the men opted to enter. They wanted to confront the darkness with the assumed virtue of their character and saw this as the greatest feat they could champion. They vanished in swarms, they were slain in swathes and the survivors held their breaths so as not to steal from their champion’s untainted air. The air within was always oppressed with spores, infiltrating their skins and ravaging their minds. Most never made it past the first patch of shrubbery grimacing at them before the trees. Eventually, the people fled and the forest still kept growing,attracting more and more champions to tempt their mettle and blare the integrity of their manhood.
On a bitter night in December, four men huddled outside the parameter of the forest in a small decrepit building. The stone foundation cracked under years of spore artillery that drilled it for insanity and the walls crumbled around holes where great beasts ensnared their food. The tributaries of victims’ faded blood stained the pale faces of the walls that were once a home. There were other similar buildings behind it, cowering in the snow, but they too were abandoned and forlorn. All their walls were cloudy mirrors of a morgue reflecting death onto its residents, capturing the apathy of inevitability.
One of the men, short with a stretched face, drew his rifle and watched the forest.Snow dripped onto his swirling brown hair, making its way before his teal eyes and onto the ground, again and again. His eyes never strayed from the white obscurity, and neither did the black eye of his rifle. The tallest of the group, a portly man, stood and strode towards the window, rotting boards running tracks along its width. His clothes seemed unsuited to the venture that the company was about to undertake. He sported an Armani striped suit with insipid dress pants. These pants were not withered or strained of their color by years of wear, but rather they were being worn for the first time right there, and so they were purchased in such dreary color. They were so utterly depressing.
“Ben.” The tall man cricked his head down to the shorter vigil demanding his attention.“Do you have any idea when the snow is going to clear up? We don’t necessarily happen to have too many supplies to keep us fed in here. The last place with food was a few miles back. I could go back, but I’d have no way of bringing enough back in this storm.”
Ben turned to the other two men. One of them, his hair bursting with ethnic pride and rolling over like chocolate tsunamis, was writing quietly in his journals.The other, a childish look sprawled on his face as he swigged a bottle of Jack Daniels, sat nursing his M16 rifle. Ben sneered and launched blame at him. “If maybe Tyler didn’t waste space with all his booze!”
The curly haired man chuckled as Tyler blurted, “Hey! Middle of the daggum winter,freeze your booty off! I was just thinking about keeping us warm. Or did y’all want to freeze to death?!” The freckles on his face fell back into their playful dispersal as his face calmed into its cherubic demeanor. “How about you, Ben?Not like you brought anything.”
“I do believe I paid for all of this,” announced Ben, shooting his head back to meet Tyler’s taunt. “You’re drinking on my money. I’m going to make you work for it, you know.” The curly haired man glanced up shortly. He made this timid observation as his emerald eyes scanned Ben and his face, his lazy coldness of expression, and returned quickly to his notebook. While Tyler and Ben bickered further over the supplies, Luke, the shorter vigil, was over at the window being immaculate in his duty and the writer balled up around his thoughts.Eventually, the pettifoggery became loud and the writer slammed shut his notebook, but the force made no audience. He wasn’t noticed until he coughed,shedding his heavy leather coat.
“I think.” Tyler took another sip of his Jack Daniels, bracing himself for his artistic friend, and Ben’s face attempted to form a look of annoyance. The writer continued after a brief pause, getting their attention. “I think that,Ben, this whole thing is pointless. This whole expedition is a fruitless endeavor to satisfy some financial gain on your end. I’m more than willing to bet on that. And Tyler, you may have made an already ridiculous trip even more so. I mean, why did you bring all that booze and guns.”
Tyler began with the backlash, “Oh! And so you want to have your booty eaten?! Is that what you want? Big scary monsters to come and getya!” He was very animated, quite past irritatingly so, in this. His arms would demonstrate the meaning of each word, as though making it easier to digest for himself.
“You didn’t even bring a gun.”
“I don’t want to kill anything.”
Ben compounded the attack, beside himself with disbelief at his friend’s sensitivity. “Oh my god! What a woman. And what, do you expect for the animals in this forest to just let you walk on up just because you don’t want to hurt them?” There was a moment where he seemed to want an answer, but immediately snapped back, “So stupid. Why did we even bring you, Gabe?”
“I ask myself the same question,” He returned to his writing, slipping his mind through the pen onto fabricated worlds woven tenderly with his penmanship. Tyler demanded that Gabe take some whiskey, nearly forcing the pen to dislodge from his fingers with a shot glass. “It will make you warmer and help you unwind.You’re being very quiet. It’s kinda weird.” The free hand crumpled with arthritic motion into a nervous fist, his repressed breath hiding the vicious contortions that his fingers made to the whipping cracks of his outraged bones.Tyler tried again with a whiny threat backing his efforts, but Gabe said, “No thank you. I feel sick.”
“Well,you’re gonna be even more sick if you don’t drink some. Cawm on!” Gabe’s right pupil shot to the upright corner of his socket and his iris bubbled vexations at Tyler. Ben, noticing the intensity of his eyes, pulled the shot glass away from Gabe and took a swig, straining his throat to down the foul liquor. “Ben!That was for Gabe! He’s gonna have to drink some soon.” A wild look possessed Tyler’s eyes. “Gonna get him drunk.” Gabe lifted himself from the abrasive aura Tyler forced about and sauntered to the far side of the room, away from the fire and away from the other men, to be alone. Peace seemed to elude him in even the farthest ruins of man’s great dominion.
“I’m not your exhibition,” he said under his breath as he took again to the confines of his composite notebook, one of many complete collections of his thoughts and stories.
Luke,listening in on the entire squabble, interjected his consideration, “Hey Tyler. Maybe we shouldn’t be getting drunk right now. I’ve been watching the storm fora while, and it looks like there may be something moving out there. We can drink after.” This postulation was entirely guesswork, as Luke could not hear or see anything over the roaring hush of the snowstorm. The forest was encased perfectly in a lifeless frigidity, an aloof contempt for outsiders to even dare venture within.
But,somehow, Luke still managed to make an auspicious observation and marked the sly shiver of suspense in the snow, stealing its way to the hideout. If atmosphere could have goosebumps, they would punctuate the air with arrhythmic heartbeats and the unearthly quiet blanketed by Death’s tundra hush as panicked men stood on the pinprick line of a second’s blur between life and oblivion.Luke, after holding the entire building silent for a moment, peeked through the pale of crisscrossed nail boards with only the backing of a small fire in-between Ben and Tyler. Finally, he let the fear set in. “Tyler! Ben! Gabe!There’s something out there!”
“Well,you’re fucked, Gabe.” Tyler joked as he clutched the clasp of his M16, holding the stout barrel close to his mouth so as to coo intimacy with his darling manhood. “Should have brought a gun. Now it looks like you’re going to get killed. Sorry, man.” Tyler shed himself of his beige overcoat to reveal a camo detailed flak jacket hugging his sunken chest. Sunken, as in, his sternum was actually missing and there was a depression gaping down his chest. His heart was so vulnerable, yet so unaffected.
Ben stood in his suit and summoned his dragunov sniper from a small cluster of equipment resting before the fire. He took a few moments to polish the scope glass, making his weapon’s sight near immaculate, and motioned towards the window where he set the fearsome weapon in position on the bottom board, ready to discharge. Luke, reeling back to the equipment cache, noticed Gabe still sitting calmly in the dark corner of the room, streaming lucid thoughts in the chaos. He tossed him a pistol, taking Gabe by surprise, and returned to the window with a sniper very similar to Ben’s.
Now, everyone posted himself at the window, eying every flake of snow for the slightest disruption of this unbroken visage. That is, aside from Gabe, a passive spectator to an unfolding calamity foreshadowed with a great uproar of proliferation. The three hoped that their enemy in the whiteness would unveil itself by making a mistake, by slipping up somehow. Every neuron and nerve in their bodies pressed themselves thousand fold in scrutinizing something they could only hope, beyond all rationale, to occur. “I wouldn’t go through the front,” they heard Gabe state from his depressing little corner, “I would probably go around. Granted, that Luke actually saw something.” The advice was so stale and flat, devoid of melodic orchestration, that it offended the men.
“Hey Gabe, why don’t you pick up that gun and help us out here instead of being a whiny little bitch, huh? Let go your stupid nonsense about not liking guns and just be a man.” Tyler drew his attention away from the window when he erupted in frustration at Gabe’s condescension. Tyler, in doing so, distracted Ben, who then released his eye from the scope’s spell to snag the boyish man back into position. Luke, panicked under a single moment of abandonment, fired several rounds into the storm. Bullets ejaculated wildly from the window. They cracked like thunder, splitting the sanity of the men like the cork pulp of the trees the bullets struck. Ben, without even having the dragunov secure, began firing into the storm as well. Tyler, also captured by fever pitch panic, shouted belligerently in hot-bloodedness, lifting his weapon and pulling the trigger so that it would spray his short-circuiting adrenaline also into the storm. Each person had used up a round by the time they finally calmed. Sobered, they no longer saw the movement of a great beast, but rather the emptiness of their target, the vast whiteness that ate all their bullets.
“We should leave.”
Gabe again, voicing his unwanted input, exasperated Tyler. “No! Fuck you! That was all your fault, and you know it! Stop being a weird jackass and come help us.” Tyler infused his fear, a sensation foreign to him, into anger and poured it on Gabe, gutting him with repressed invectives.
“Whoa.Tyler. Calm yourself.” Luke tried to soothe the tension. He motioned to Tyler to shut his mouth, his face exaggerated with gestures trying to mitigate their emotions, playing diplomacy with complete counterparts. “Gabe,” he continued unassumingly, “maybe you should get up and help. We could have died because you..”
“Weird?”Gabe arose from his sanctum of reclusion, and he stared the three down with a miserable disbelief. “Is that what you guys think?” His words were soft so that when they began breaking no one would hear it.
“Oh god, Gabe. Now is not the time for this.”
“Kindly explain to me then, when and in what forum should be the proper time for this discourse. Tell me what it is you need to tell me! That I’m so odd to you‘normal’ simpletons?!” Ben, flustered with his friend’s antics, dislodged his dragunov from its perch and retreated back to the fire. He didn’t voice his mind nor did he encroach on Gabe. Ben glared at him, shook his head in astonishment, and retreated from Gabe’s heat. Tyler also disassociated himself with the curly-haired writer and reunited himself with the Jack Daniels bottle,holding it close as though it were the only thing he could understand anymore.Luke was about to continue pleading when, suddenly, a distant tremor made small murmurs in the room.
Gabe,paying full attention to the situation outside the window this whole time,slammed shut his notebook and bolted for the door. “Guys! We need to hightail it now!” The door was hole-ridden, cleaves of black decay and mold formed valleys down the wooden frame, and so Gabe was able to flatten it with a single kick. The other three gawked at him, confused what triggered such a paroxysm.Then, the whisper of a roar and the muffled footsteps of malice crept into their senses. It was coming. And, whatever it was, it was enormous.
The whole company scattered to organize their equipment and supplies, commanding one another for separate things. “Leave it! It’s almost here!” Gabe couldn’t contain his fleeing anxiety much longer. They ran to and fro, their feet treading on the fumes of spent brains and tendon cogs caught in a bad recalibration. The boards on the window began quivering and then would fall at random moments, clattering with the thud of a sinking coffin nail. Dust from the ceiling suffocated the room. Tyler was ready with a fully secured bag strapped across his back. He held his rifle out the window, waiting to disperse with pleasantries in the form of metal vitriol.
Yet, the beast did not show. The windows stopped shaking. The dust stopped swarming.The tremors stopped hardening the air. The company all stood armed. Their guns were glaring towards the window, fully ajar now. Gabe was still at the door, ready to make a dead sprint for the forest. The cabin was dead quiet.
There was a crack! “The floor!” The planks snapped open as a mighty maw burst into the room, a long and leathery cylinder of razor sharp blades for teeth. A multitude of thin arms followed, hooking onto the surrounding floor. Each appendage, there was somewhere in the range of a hundred or so, was a wiry piece of flesh attached to a brilliant curving talon, almost smiling with grim intent. A swarm of arms flailed crazily, slashing through the building’s pillars and decaying infrastructure. One of the stray strikes slashed Tyler across his flak jacket, but the material absorbed the blow and he called for one great volley. “Shoot it Nyyooooow!” They emptied magazines of flickering lights and angry glances onto this abomination that was inching into the room,zeroing in on helpless prey. The bullets splattered to the side, unable to penetrate the gnashing mouth of this still mysterious creature, clattering with apologies. When their guns coughed with empty rounds, the gang decided perhaps it was best to evacuate with their lives intact, save Tyler who drew his ravenous knife from the belt loop right beside his crotch. This razor weapon screamed across the room as Tyler hacked at the beast’s army of arms, taking and delivering blows, leaving behind him a dripping portrait of red and black.
Gabe made the declaration, “I’m leaving now! Feel free to stay behind if you want.”With that said he shed his coat and raced towards the forest, his legs pounding in a hydraulic machination that blurred in his speed.
Luke emptied another clip into the beast before accepting its futility and followed suit. Ben, never really one to run, simply slipped out the doorway and continued disarming the sea of gnarled arms as Tyler approached the maw and sunk his knife into the rough skin. Nothing came from it. The arms were now all directed towards Tyler, focused in a listless hovering, their talons gleaming with hunger of their prey caught in their grisly reflection. Ben, slipping a pistol from beside him into his suit pocket, looked back and saw Tyler moments away from being eviscerated by the beast. He drew his dragnuov and managed one miraculous shot and struck within the beast’s mouth, hitting the soft gummy flesh housing the rows of fangs. The beast shrieked and the arms flailed wildly again. Tyler retreated, wantonly thanking God for his survival, and Ben covered his escape with another few rounds that pounded into the creature’s weak spot.The frenzy of dark bony arms finished the last of the ramparts holding the ceiling above it, and the whole thing began collapsing. Stone and wooden shafts descended upon the beast, crushing the frightened creature with a deafening bellow. The thunderous applause of clattering foundation enveloped the area,plumes of dust and smoke billowing out like vengeful spirits. Ben and Tyler emerged outside, barely escaping the gluttony of the dust.
Down the landscape, well into the white abyss, they heard Luke’s voice calling for them. They couldn’t hear much, picking out only the words “warm” and “Gabe”. They marched inwards with a paranoia of what other monstrosities may lay waiting for them in the storm. Both of them quickly came to realize that their equipment had been lost in the building’s collapse when Tyler asked Ben for ammunition rounds. They were stranded with no food and limited rounds. They could only curse Gabe’s name under their freezing breaths, curious as to where he was.
Pt. 2 To Be Released 12/19