Prompt: There’s a tradition in the West Virginia FBI department. New recruits must spend one night alone in the woods around Point Pleasant. Unfortunately, this means you.
“At least they gave me a sleeping bag,” I grumbled, unrolling the bag near the crackling fire and my backpack. The evening sky was darkening, and the evergreens surrounding the little clearing I found slowly turned to looming silhouettes. I sat on the sleeping bag and took a protein bar from my backpack, unwrapping its foil and taking a bite. As night came, the sound of insects humming rose, becoming nearly a high-pitched whine. Soon it was all I could hear, even over the snapping kindling.
I finished my bar and tucked the wrapper back into my pack, took our earplugs, then got into the sleeping bag. I put the earplugs in. Might as well try to go to sleep early to get this all this over with. I closed my eyes, rolled over, and gradually drifted off.
It was pitch black when my eyes opened. A cold sweat coated my face. I quickly rolled over to find the fire nothing but faintly glowing embers. I didn’t notice right away, but as the clutches of sleep drifted from my mind, I could hear the insect humming again. Overwhelmingly louder now. I reached for my ears, finding the earplugs gone. I searched the darkness wide-eyed, but I could only make out the faint, dark outlines of the trees, the underbrush, the dying fire. Someone’s messing with me, I thought.
Slowly I sat up, peering into the dark woods.
“Anyone there?” I said lowly at first and, after receiving no reply, I shouted: “I know someone’s out there! Real funny, guys!”
The humming became louder and louder, increasing in pitch, becoming one noise made from hundreds of others. I clenched my teeth and put my hands over my ears. Someone is doing this — they have a radio or something. Assholes.
“Stop!” I shouted. “Stop, its hurting my ears!”
The humming immediately stopped. It took a moment for the ringing in my ears to quiet, and a palpable silence fell over the woods. No humming, no chirping, no twigs or leaves crunching or breaking; not even the wind blew. A section of the ground darkened, as though someone was standing over me from behind.
“Real funny, guys,” I said, turning in my sleeping bag, “you really had me—”
Round, large, glowing red eyes set in deep hollows within a writhing face, connected to a blurring, moving, narrow body that stretched to or hung from the stars; enormous wings, thinly dangling by sinewy oily strands, dripping with a liquid that hissed when it touched earth. An even darker place opened beneath the glowing red hollows and there were stars, hundreds, thousands of them appearing in the nothingness.
Something warm touched my forehead and a wave of warmth washed over me. My jaw slackened, my eyes widened. Its teeming, pustule coated hands cupped my chin and pulled me towards the nothingness. Stars exploded, blinding white tendrils shooting across the place inside. I started to smile, my eyes started to burn. Words slithered into my mind like a snake through grass, told things long forgotten. The darkness overcame me as my body shuddered.
Someone said something in the distance. I felt pressure on my arm.
“Hey!” I heard again from somewhere in the darkness. “Tommy, wake up!”
I jerked awake, my arms and legs spasming on something cold and hard. Henry, my boss, stood in front of me, wearing his FBI work suit. He put out his hand. “It’s cool, everything’s fine.”
The inside of my mouth tasted awful. “I— uh,” I coughed, then continued: “Where am I?”
Henry looked east, west, then back to me. “On the ground, in the parking lot of the library.”
I rubbed my stinging eyes, sat up, my back groaning. He was right. The squat, gray building was a couple feet away from where I laid. I looked down and instantly noticed I had no clothes on but my boxers, and my skin was coated in some sort of grease. “Shit!” I spat, standing up, almost falling from the numbness in my legs.
“Notice that too? I was about to ask where your clothes went.” He waved his hand in front of his nose. “And you stink, like a bunch of bugs died. Anyway, doesn’t matter. I brought you some clothes. Here,” he took me by the arm, “we’ll grab those first and get you inside the library’s bathroom. Then after you can explain to me how this happened.”
I used wet wipes and hot water to clean off the oiliness from my skin and the clumping grease in my hair. I went to clean my eyes, in hopes of getting rid of the stinging, and noticed in my reflection a red ring around my sclera… My pupils were darker, too, wider, as though they were overcoming the iris— I hissed as something burned on my back. I straightened, turned my back to the mirror and looked over my shoulders—
What the hell are those?
Small buddings, like a flower’s, rose from my shoulder blades. They were thinly connected by fleshy covered webbing and, when I moved my arms, they trembled. Images of the night before flashed through my mind like strobing lights: the creature from the sky, the humming, the hollow red eyes, the stars inside.
I faced the mirror again, and opened my mouth wide.
Inside were tiny pinpricks of light.
Read my previous prompt, “The House Before the World Tree.”
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