One Last Trip
From: Daniel [last name and email omitted]
Date: Wed, Dec 19, 2012 at 8:35 PM
Subject: RE: FWD: FWD: I need you to read this
To: [full name and email omitted]
You know, I think I’m going to move the city soon. I don’t know what city, just “the city”. The worst thing that can happen there is that you get mugged by some junkie looking for cash. And cities don’t have mountains.
I really did use to love the mountains. Any time we went to the beach or out west it was always a little sad to watch the land slowly get flatter and flatter. The opposite was just as true, I always felt better as we headed back home. We would just keep going higher and higher, over road-cuts where we could look down at the towns around us, and through artificial valleys where the peaks start to the swallow the sky. I loved watching the ground rise up around us as we drove.
We went back. Like I said the other day, both Jack and I knew that we would. We were just in too deep to let Julie go alone. Plus, what kind of person lets someone walk into something like that by themselves? A smart person, I guess. Not me, though. Or Jack. I like to think that we were a little smarter in our preparation, though. We would go back in the daylight this time, no more stumbling around in the dark with our vision limited to whatever circle of light we were casting in front of us. We planned to be out of there before nightfall, too. We didn’t want repeat of last time. None of us were dealing well with all the, you know, unfortunate things we’ve had to do over the course of the last several days. We talked about it occasionally, of course, tried to work through it, but all we ever did was try to use the same arguments over and over again to try and justify the things we did. Were they really people?
You know how in the dark sometimes it looks like things are moving at the edge of your vision? It’s been like that ever since we tried to escape “the shadow of God’s Teeth”. (That’s what Jack’s been calling it, he’s always been a bit dramatic.) It’s like something’s constantly trying to keep out of your line of sight. Jack and Julie have both mentioned that they’ve noticed it, but neither of them seemed convinced when I told them I thought we were being followed. They said that we had taken care of anyone that might have seen us that night and that clearly the mountain folk didn’t operate away from the Teeth. They think we’re all just paranoid. I wasn’t convinced. I’m still not.
Ultimately, though, nothing happened the entire time we’ve been gone. We mostly stayed holed up in our motel room watching TV and generally trying to lay low. We really only ever ventured out to eat, usually at the small diner across the street. I didn’t trust the waitress there. We never had any trouble with her, or anyone else actually, but I saw something terrible in her eyes. I swear it was that same distant, haunted look that I saw in the mountain folk out there in the woods. It was like she was always looking past you, or through you, at something in the distance. The few times we ventured farther into town, there were always a few people with that same look, some more than others, but I could always see it. I don’t know whether they just didn’t notice or if they didn’t want to worry anybody, but neither Jack nor Julie ever brought it up. We weren’t having any trouble, so I didn’t say anything either.
We went to bed early last night and left equally as early this morning. We arrived at Uncle Ray’s neighborhood a little before sun-up. We ended up parking a few streets away at a derelict gas station, trying to avoid as much attention as possible. We would try our best at remaining stealthy and unseen this time and to get out to that blasted village as quickly as possible. Julie was dead set on seeing that black canyon again. I was against all of this, but there was still a part of me that wanted to know more. I guess that’s sort of human nature; we’re always trying to know more, even when we shouldn’t.
Much to our surprise, we literally saw no one and nothing for the entire trip. No people. No animals. We made our way to the village completely unimpeded, even though the dry leaves and sticks and stuff destroyed any attempt at remaining stealthy. Finally we found it. Somehow it was worse in the daylight, though. As we approached the clearing the overwhelming smell of human waste hit us immediately. We made our way around the ramshackle village, peeking in the abandoned huts, kicking a few of the bones around, almost procrastinating our inevitable return to that abhorrent chasm. Then we realized what we hadn’t seen. Bodies. All the people…not people, subhumans, monsters, animals that we had killed were gone. Our immediate thought was that they were taken by scavengers, but there weren’t even any pieces, scraps of clothing, drag marks, nothing. Just gone. Someone knew. Someone knows. Something knows what happened. But here we were, returning to the scene of the crime, so to speak. We could either book it back to the truck and just keep running or do what we came to do. Well, it wouldn’t be much of a story if we ran, so, guns gripped tighter than ever, we headed towards the abyss.
It was nearly noon, many of the nearby trees had been cleared away so there was plenty of sunlight, but I’ll be damned if that canyon wasn’t as black as the first time we found it. The rock wasn’t just black, you can see black, light still hits things that are black, it was like it was empty. Where it and the surrounding dirt met, it was like the ground dropped off into empty space. Looking closer, however (Julie even got down on her hands and knees), we found that we could just barely make out a slight highlight along its edge. This reassured us, at least, that this was a physical thing, not just a terrible void in space. We were at a loss. We had brought along quite a lot of rope with some vague hope that maybe we could explore this…thing once we made it, but how could we explore something we couldn’t see. We weren’t that prepared. I don’t think anyone can be that prepared.
The someone said Julie’s name.
They didn’t growl it, didn’t scream it, didn’t shout it desperately. They said it. Nicely.
I don’t think I have to tell how we jumped at that, especially Julie. We whipped around, expecting someone behind us. But there was nothing. And again someone said her name.
Yep, you guessed it. It was coming from that yawning ebony pit. Because of course it was.
And there he was, Uncle Ray, sitting right there on the other side, feet dangling into absolute darkness with his chin resting on closed fists. There he was. The man that started all of this looking right at us. A man who, according to his own account, was dead. Just sitting there, in a flannel button-up and jeans. But he was wrong, there was something off about him, especially his face. Just like the rocks, just like the pit itself, your eyes just didn’t want to look at it. At him.
Then they came out of nowhere. Dozens of mountain folk swarmed in from the surrounding forest, grabbing us, and forcing us to our knees.
Once we had been suitably restrained, the thing stood up, or rather Ray did. I know I go on and on about their eyes or their faces or whatever, but Ray’s voice trumped them all. It started out normal at first, but as he went on it…changed. It sounded like a thousand angry voices all saying the same thing and all being played on faulty tape decks with some not knowing whether they were fast forwarding or rewinding.
I can still hear him talking.
“You’re just in time, Julie,” His mouth moved, I heard the words, but my mind just wouldn’t make the connection, “I was afraid you weren’t going to make it. You know you’ve got an important role to play tonight.”
He smiled. It was a horrible, twisted facsimile of what any decent person would call one, but it was a smile all the same.
“And I see you brought friends. We really just needed you, but you know what they say, the more the merrier.” He paced as he spoke, hands resting casually in his pockets. “Your uncle was a nuisance, Julie, but you’re going to help us finish what he so rudely interrupted. I guess he was still useful in his own way, though.” He looked at his hand and flexed his fingers experimentally.
So there it was. This thing wasn’t Ray at all. It had looked like him, walked like him, even sounded like him at first, but it was all just some sort of grotesque disguise. I couldn’t see Julie’s reaction from where I was being held, but I could only imagine.
Now, I’m gonna stop right there and tell you that this next part is weird. I wouldn’t believe what I’m about to write and neither should you. I saw it just a few hours ago, and I still don’t believe it. But here goes.
Still infuriatingly casual, he began unbuttoning his shirt as the others began chanting. As he got to the lower buttons (and as the chanting got louder), we could all see that something was clearly not right. It wasn’t until he reached the last button and fully opened his shirt that we got a clear view. His chest was black. Not the same black as the rock we were kneeling on, but almost burnt, like charred wood. It was cracked, dry, with ash-flecked edges delicately glowing with embers. He stared at us, a slight smile on his face, as the affliction began to spread. Soon his entire body appeared to be consumed by some invisible inferno, burning him from the inside out, and yet his flannel shirt, jeans, and work boots remained untouched.
Scared out of my mind at what we had just witnessed, I wrenched my head around to look for any kind of chance to escape. To my horror I saw that some the mountain folk holding us were undergoing similar transformations, but to lesser degrees. A few hands, eyes, whole limbs on some, were being burned away by something I couldn’t see and still can’t understand.
Well I don’t know how he managed, but one second we were all being held down and the next Jack was upright with a pile of leveled mountain folk behind him. Taking his cue, Julie broke free of their grip as well and, wasting no time, grabbed me by the collar and we were all off like a shot.
I think the only thing that gave us a chance was the momentary surprise we caused. But we didn’t have time to think about how narrow our escape was or how close on our heels the mountain folk were. We were literally running for our lives, desperate to avoid the charred clutches of our pursuers. We ran and ran and just didn’t stop, dropping supplies and guns as we went, anything to gain a slight edge.
And suddenly we were out in the open. Man, adrenaline’s a crazy thing. We must have run nearly five miles straight, something I don’t think I could do again if I tried. We weren’t anywhere near where we’d parked, but once we hit roads, and subsequently civilization, we got our bearings as quickly as possible and made one last sprint to the truck.
There he was again. That “thing” that had been trying its best to look like Uncle Ray.
It was watching us from the tree line, still burning away at whatever might have been left of Julie’s uncle.
“You’ll be back, Julie,” He sounded so kind now, “We need you.” And with that he turned around strolled, practically sauntered, back into the woods.
We stopped by our respective houses, grabbed what we needed and drove. We drove as far west as we could drive in one sitting. And so he were are. In another motel room. In another little town. More scared than ever. But I have to say, I like these people’s eyes.
I think we’ll drive a for a while longer. Find somewhere nice and flat once the mountains have dropped off the horizon and maybe get a place to stay. Stick together for a while.
Maybe I’ll get a dog. Watch it run away for a few days.