The Hidden — NOW ON AMAZON! – 2019

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An unseen terror stalks mankind – preying upon the weak, the lost and the outcasts that society will not miss.   Lottery winners Nate and Zelda Malone thought their luck and fortune had forever changed.  It has… Fate has chosen them for an extremely dangerous new path and an encounter that will forever haunt them.  

This terrifying collaboration by T.D. Barton and myself is a unique ‘werewolf’ origin story that takes place in the 90s.  Fans of Stranger Things and Stephen King’s IT will love this nostalgic but intense horror tale!!  

If you have the courage, step now into a dizzying, heart-pounding tale of terror that you will never forget – if you survive the telling. 

CLICK HERE FOR AMAZON!

Items In the Forge Update — Derek Barton – 2019

 

Iron Forge

 

Hey there!  I wanted to send out a quick update of items I’m working on currently and what you can expect to see from me in the future!

THE BLEEDING CROWN AUDIOBOOK will be available by the end of March or the first week of April!  Laura Richcreek continues the saga and lends her incredible voice talents to bring the story alive. Literally over thirty different creature voices alone had to be crafted for the novel. Keep an eye out for free download giveaways!!

ELUDE PART THREE is finally written and going through a thorough wave of editing by my editors, Nesa Miller and Ted Barton.  It will be produced by the end of March. This is the thrilling conclusion to the suspenseful Elude Series!

THE HIDDEN has also come to a stunning end and the last chapters will be published on this site in the next couple weeks!  This horror origin story written with my father, T.D. Barton, will be available on both Amazon and Kindle by the middle of this year.

SWIMMING IN THE ASHES is still in the first draft process (over 26,000 words so far). I am going to delve into the book’s outline as I want to flesh out a few of the plot points I didn’t fully define yet before I continue with the writing.  As I have proclaimed before, I am a “hard-nosed plotter” and I want to be sure I haven’t messed any events up!

EVADE will be a new Crime/Horror story I want to write which delves deeper into horror than the crime genre. Like ELUDE, it will also have ties to my Horror/Suspense novella IN FOUR DAYS. This time the story revolves around when the police find themselves on the receiving end of a high-speed car chase!

AFTER WYVERNSHIELD… I have been developing an idea and I hope to bring you another three-book series this time focusing on characters living in the wondrous lands of Aberrisc! How were their lives impacted by the events depicted in CONSEQUENCES WITHIN CHAOS, THE BLEEDING CROWN and SWIMMING IN THE ASHES?  What has happened with the dark reign of the Quietus Dominion after the Ebon Queen Chroyanne?

AN UNTITLED NEW WEB SAGA in the works once THE HIDDEN has officially wrapped up.  This will be an ongoing “Parallel Universe” story with a fascinating look at what happens when you meet the “other you”!

Yes, all this and I still have a full-time day job and a family with three children to help take care of!

Thanks to everyone who has supported and continues to help with my work, given me great ideas and feedback, and kept my spirits high through this epic journey!

 

 

 

What’s your story? — Derek Barton – 2019

nw 2019

With lots of willpower and a dash of good luck, I will be completing the two series, Wyvernshield and Elude, this year. So, with that said, I am deciding on future projects.

Are you ready for a new world to explore?

I have a simple 7 question survey that takes literally 2 minutes to complete.  Can you help me out and share your thoughts?  I am very interested in YOU!

CLICK HERE TO TAKE IT — THANKS!

 

 

From Start to Finish: 2018 — Derek Barton – 2018

NYE

As everyone who happens to read these blogs know, I have been using Bi-Monthly goals to keep me focused, motivated and productive.  Now since November, I have been a little non-plussed, to be honest with you. With very little book sales and only a few friends coming to book shows, it has made me question what to do next or what changes I can make to reach a bigger audience.  I am not planning on giving up, just looking for new steps to take.

While I am still researching the internet and watching YouTube videos on marketing, I don’t have any new answers…yet, but in the meantime, I thought I would look back and see just what I have done this year and if I am happy or not with 2018.

Complete Works

Works In Progress — Status as of January 2017

CONSEQUENCES WITHIN CHAOS AUDIOBOOK – This was still in the works, finalizing edits and mastering the audio quality.  The final version was released and published on Audible.com on June 25.  This was a fantastic first experience with audiobook production and I couldn’t be happier with the talent and skill my voice actress, Laura Richcreek-Morrison.  She has been currently working on The Bleeding Crown!  Voice actors like Laura and Charles Pendleton for my horror stories have taken my work to a whole new level!

THE BLEEDING CROWN – Four of my bi-monthly goals for January & February were to complete the 2nd waves of edit for the main body of work, complete the subplots for the manuscript (about 25,000 words), set up a marketing campaign (ads, etc) and start working on the book cover.  All was finalized and the completed book was published on June 26th.  (Side note:  I didn’t realize June had been so full this year! ha).  While sales have not been as plentiful, it has gotten a decent amount of 5 Star Reviews on Amazon.  I personally cherish the book as my favorite child so far (Elude is close second though!).  I have written almost 30,000 so far on the follow-up, Swimming In The Ashes (working title).  That might be out by the end of 2019, but no guarantees.

IN FOUR DAYS AUDIOBOOK – In April, I connected with Charles Pendleton and we agreed to work together on my modern paranormal/horror story.  He did a great job on it and we have seen some success with the sales on Audible.  It was released in August. Charles is also already working with me on the Elude series so stay tuned for that!

ELUDE PT #1 & PT #2 – In January I was still working on the first wave of edits for Part One!  As of August 31, it has been completed and published on Amazon and Kindle.  Part Two was published on October 19th.  I am working through the final Part Three and hope to have it published by February 2019.

THE HIDDEN – Released Chapter 7 on January 2nd.  Just this month released Chapter 23. This series looks to be wrapping up in a couple months as a complete web saga.  We, my father and I, will be working to get this put together and finalized for print within the upcoming year.  I have been developing several book cover ideas to start with.

Now to see some stats on the site’s growth:

BLOG COUNTS:

  • 2016 — 14 Monthly blogs completed
  • 2017 — 37 Monthly blogs completed
  • 2018 — 43 Monthly blogs completed (including this one)

NEW WEB SUBSCRIBERS:

  • 2016 — 7
  • 2017 — 17
  • 2018 — 24

VISITORS & COUNTRIES VIEWED IN:

  • 2016 — 204  & Countries — 8
  • 2017 — 809  & Countries — 31
  • 2018 — 895  & Countries — 39

4,239 Views in the three years!

TOP FIVE MOST VIEWED POSTS:

  1. Elude #1 with 72 views
  2. Steps on a New Path (Chapter One Blog for The Hidden) with 67 views
  3. Elude #2 with 47 views
  4. Audiobook Review of Stephen King’s “The Outsider” with 45 views
  5. Elude #3 with 43 views

New Additions to the Site were my Audible book reviews posts and my book giveaways which has been very successful.

So, overall a lot of work still hadn’t been published until the fall of this year — three books and two audiobook versions.  I hope to have two more audiobook versions out and possibly two more novels.  I have also had ideas percolating in the back of my mind for a new horror web saga for this site and a whole new trio of novels starting in Aberissc this time!  What I am saying is that there is a lot more work to be done and coming. 🙂

I also had a chance to get out and meet a few of you that were local at the book-signings in October, November and December.  That was a lot of fun and I do hope to continue this in the coming year.  On January 19th, come see me at:

1-19-19 SS

While I didn’t get everything done that I wanted to and I am still trying to find the right balance to get writing, work and fitness goals accomplished, I do see that the platform is actually growing.  Also, I should be fully recovered from my back injuries from the accident in August by mid-2019, so that should also help with my fitness.

Thanks especially to all that do support me and have taken an interest in my work.  I hope to keep bringing a smile to your face as you do mine!

The Hidden — Chapter 16: ESCAPE! — T.D. Barton & Derek Barton — 2018

TH 16

CHAPTER SIXTEEN:  ESCAPE!

Thirst tormented Zelda. Her throat felt filled with broken glass which ground together with each swallow.  Her tongue was like a fat sausage, stuffed in her mouth and growing hourly.  It had been a long time since she had drunk anything.  What she would give for a cold beer right now! Her tongue came out to gingerly trace her cracked and swollen lips. The last thing she could remember having was the wine in the clearing, beneath the trees.

Nate had held her in his strong arms and whispered words of love. As she relived these tender moments, her mind lingered upon her dead husband.  Their life was coming together in ways she hadn’t previously been able to hope for.  They’d had money and love and freedom to enjoy both.  Now, Nate was dead — possibly devoured — and she was a captive of hideous creatures, bent upon killing her as well.

How could God let this happen? Everything was finally coming right for them and suddenly their world was torn apart and stomped on.  Defiled by these ugly, stinking monstrosities, from beyond the realm of reality.

She asked herself what she had done to deserve this. How much suffering was one person supposed to endure? Had God, in his heaven decided to rescind the rules of nature simply to destroy their happiness? For what reason?

They’d been poor for a long, long time, and each of them had had their dreams go sour, like fruit left to rot in the summer sun.  In the crotch of a tree, perhaps? Rotting in the sun with the flies buzzing and the ants crawling… to survive — to succeed in spite of everything life had thrown at them. Their marriage had suffered, and they had put off having children, hoping for a better day, while they both struggled with their own private burdens.

Finally, there had come the lottery. Oh, blessed day! For three brief months, they had lived the life everyone dreams of — nearly unlimited wealth and time to devote to themselves and romance. Like children with new toys, they had reveled in the sheer luxury of life without limits. It had all culminated in that one glorious afternoon in the summer sun, beneath the trees of the clearing. For that one brief, fragile moment they were truly as one, giving and receiving love equally between themselves. At last their lives had turned around and it looked as though there was going to be a beautiful future after all.

Then, as though God had deserted them, casting them from the garden of Eden into the depths of hell, everything had come crashing down upon them. Indeed, she felt like Eve, being punished for her sin of tempting her Adam with the fruit of life. But the fruit in the tree was not the fruit of life, it was the fruit of death — death and horrifying, unholy nightmare.

Everything had turned topsy-turvy, starting from the moment she had pointed out the “hornets’ nest”. She wished she’d kept her mouth shut, and not said anything to Nate about it. She had the unshakable suspicion that somehow, if she hadn’t pointed out that gruesome mass of rotting flesh in the tree, things would be entirely different now. How long ago was that? Here beneath the ground, it could be day or night. There was no way to tell. She’d slept once since her capture. How long had she been out?

The only gauge she had of passing time was her increasing thirst, and the desire for rest. Apparently some amount of time had passed. Her inner biological clock was telling her it was time to sleep again. How ironic that was! On the one hand, she was in greater danger than she had ever been in her life — there were monsters, both real and imagined, lurking in the darkness all around her. Her senses should be tuned to the danger lying around every bend of this hell-hole.

There was every chance that, at any given moment, they would be found out and ripped to shreds by a horrible creature, deep beneath the ground and far from the light of day. Failing that, they may plunge into another bottomless abyss like the one that had just missed claiming their lives earlier. Or they may fall prey to any number of sightless, slimy denizens of the dark which may share this labyrinth of tunnels and chambers. For that matter, they might just wind up lost and wandering until they died of exposure or exhaustion.

And yet the cold and dampness of the cave made her want to curl up somewhere in a ball and drift off to peaceful, luxurious slumber. What a relief it would be to close her eyes and just shut down, escaping all of this tribulation, and releasing her mind to be cradled in the warm, soothing embrace of Morpheus — to float in sweet nihilistic repose. Her lids grew heavy with the thought, and her pace began to slacken noticeably.

Susie noticed. She tapped Zelda on the back, sharply, and whispered, “Stay awake, Zelda. We have to get out of here!”

Zelda turned and sat down, in the middle of the tunnel. “Sorry, honey,” she said, her voice husky and thick. “I’m kinda tired. Could we stop awhile?”

Susie brought her mouth close to Zelda’s ear so as to make as little noise as possible. “NO!” she hissed. “We’ve got to keep moving.” She grabbed Zelda’s face in her hands and shook her. When this failed to elicit a response, she clutched a handful of her hair and pulled hard.

Zelda winced with pain, and it brought her around somewhat, but her thoughts still drifted slowly, like a pearl in molasses. Dimly she was aware that she was approaching the first stages of hypothermia, the cold and dampness having taken their toll.

Susie didn’t know the name for it, but she could tell that Zelda was cold. Grimly, she pulled the sweat-shirt back over her head and tried to slip it over Zelda’s. “This’ll help,” she told her. When Zelda realized what she was trying to do, she snapped out of it and stopped her. “No sweetheart, I’m not that bad yet. But if I do drift off, you’ve got to promise you’ll leave me here and go on by yourself. She snuggled the sweater back over Susie’s shoulders and they huddled together for awhile, transferring body heat. Zelda’s tortured body cried out for a drink, but she didn’t dare try any of the water that puddled on the floor of the cave for fear of contamination.

“How’re you holding up?” she asked Susie.

“Okay, I guess. I’m pretty tired.”

“Me too, honey. But we’re gonna make it. It can’t be much farther now, I wouldn’t think. I noticed the floor’s gradually started sloping up. Maybe it’ll take us to the surface pretty soon.” With that, she dragged herself up onto her hands and knees, resumed crawling down the length of the tunnel, with Susie, ever vigilant, right behind. Her legs felt like dead logs trailing along behind her and her arms were numb with cold. She willed them to continue and placed one in front of the other over and over again doggedly, inching slowly along. After a time, Zelda stopped short, and Susie collided with her rear end.

“There’s a hole here,” Zelda warned. “Probably another of those wells.” With care, she skirted the opening, drawing her child shadow behind.

Susie could feel a cool draft of air rising from the well to wash her face, and she could imagine the inky depths that must lie below them. How eerie it was to consider the miles of dark empty spaces lying here beneath the surface of the world, hidden for countless eons from the light of day, and the prying eyes of man. What strange, uncanny creatures could be spawning in this lightless void, undiscovered and undisturbed — until now.

Thinking this, she drew even more closely against Zelda, and she wished for the thousandth time to be able to see again. She had been in the dark for so long, she’d begun to wonder if she had lost the sense of sight altogether. At any rate, she knew now what it must be like for a sightless person to live in darkness from day to day, unable to view colors or light or even the simple pleasures a typical day might present for inspection. How odd it would be to know that you would never see again — never witness the beauty of a sunrise or the color of a fine spring morning! Susie decided that, of all the senses, she would miss sight the most.

They had traveled only a few more yards when Zelda stopped again. “I think I see light up ahead”, she said mildly. Her voice sounded dull and stilted — as though she were unsure of herself and afraid to be overly optimistic.

Suddenly she gave a stifled little squeal of delight and this time, when she spoke, her voice sounded much more excited.  “I do! I see light up ahead! It’s got to be an entrance, Susie. Honey, look! Do you see it?”

Susie strained her eyes ahead, trying to pierce the dimness, and still she saw nothing. Perhaps it was true, she’d been held from the light for too long, and she’d lost her sight. “Where? I…” She stammered, partially from uncertainty and partially from the effect of the low temperatures. “I don’t see anything.”

“There ahead, you must see it!”

Slowly, Susie became aware of a dim shadow floating ethereally in the murky darkness. It seemed to be suspended in air — a filmy blue shape that pulsed and swayed in the tunnel ahead of them like a ghostly splotch on the wall of a tomb. Susie rubbed her eyes. She blinked rapidly several times, and at last she began to see the shadow take shape.

It was slowly falling into focus as dim light, shining through an opening which itself must lie around another bend; or perhaps, up a hill and out of sight from their present position. There was definitely light, however, and Susie was drawn to it like nothing before in her life. A man, dying of thirst in the middle of an arid desert, coming suddenly upon an oasis, complete with a deep blue pool of cool water would not be attracted the way Susie was to this light. If Zelda hadn’t been between her and the light, Susie would have scrambled as fast as her legs would carry her toward it, recklessly ignoring any danger of discovery or pitfall that may lie in her path.

Zelda felt the same way. She was just as anxious as Susie to return to the world of light, but she possessed the coolness of mind to realize they weren’t out of the woods yet, so to speak. She grabbed Susie and held her back, whispering for her to be cautious and go slow. “We’ve got to approach the entrance carefully, honey. Who knows what may be waiting for us there?”

Susie relaxed with only the slightest of whimpers, and fell back into position behind her. Once she was sure the child was in control again, Zelda continued crawling slowly down the corridor, and toward the light.

The urge to rush ahead, casting caution to the wind and fleeing these ghostly haunts was almost overpowering; but Zelda forced herself to stop every few steps and listen. Both of them strained their ears to hear the slightest whisper of movement either before or behind them, before moving on. As they approached the light, they could see it was definitely an opening as suddenly the bottom part of the hole cleared the ceiling of the tunnel and came into their line of sight.

A bright, sparkling ray of light struck them both simultaneously and their hearts leaped with the prospect of returning to the world of the living. The size of the opening seemed to grow as they neared it and Zelda could see they would soon be within sprinting distance of freedom. How she longed to feel the sun upon her face again! And the prospect of clean fresh air wafting gently amongst the forest green was as alluring as anything she had ever dreamed of in her life. To feel the soft carpeting of forest plants beneath her feet, rather than hard, cold limestone, would be haven to her senses. The irregular patch of sunlight revealed a bright blue sky with scrappy pieces of white, fluffy clouds, and, although it hurt her eyes to look at it, Zelda thought it was about the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. She could feel Susie urging her on from behind, but she insisted on approaching slowly, and with care. Her heart pounded loudly in her chest, partially from the fear of detection, partially from the anticipation of success.

A smile stretched broadly across Zelda’s face and she turned to look at the child. To her amazement, she could make out Susie’s features. It was the first time she had ever seen the little girl and her eyes drank in the sight lovingly. Susie’s hair stood out in a tattered mass, and her face was streaked with grime and dried blood. Still, Zelda thought she was a lovely child, and tears brimmed her eyes with the sight of her. The sweat-shirt bagged loosely around her slim neck and shoulders, and draped down far enough to form a skirt about her hips. Her bright blue eyes sparkled with life and hope as she gazed back at Zelda, and the bright, shining light of the opening glistened back at her from their depths. She too was smiling happily and Zelda clasped her behind the neck and squeezed gently.

“We’re gonna make it, kiddo,” she whispered with joy. “I told ya, didn’t I?”

Susie nodded and rubbed her eyes with both fists, trying to adjust to the light. Then, as Zelda watched her, beaming ecstatically, she suddenly vanished, like a candle, snuffed out by the wind. One moment she was there, smiling innocently in the light of the opening, and the next moment she was gone. When Zelda swiveled her head around, she was horrified to see the opening had disappeared. Before them lay only darkness — eternal, impenetrable, damnable darkness. Again they were plunged into the inky blackness of the void.

Unthinking, Zelda cried out and raced ahead, arms outstretched to reclaim the sparkling prize. Her bare knees scraped on the limestone floor of the tunnel, abrading skin and flesh, but she didn’t even notice the pain, in her headlong rush for the door. She hadn’t taken three steps, however, before an ear-splitting roar erupted, point blank in front of her, and she felt hot breath and mucous spray in her face.

With a scream, she fell backwards and lay, cowering on the floor. She could hear the creature shuffling toward her in the darkness, and it terrified her to know that, while it could see her, she had no way of even knowing what the instrument of her impending death looked like. There was no defense against something which you could not see, could not even remotely hope to overpower, and had no chance of out-running. All she could hope to accomplish was to slow it down while Susie made good her escape.

With this in mind, she raised her head and shouted, “Run, Susie, Run! Go back down the tunnel, honey, I’m right behind you!” She was gratified to hear Susie’s footsteps, scurrying down the tunnel and fading in the darkness just before the creature was upon her. A smashing blow to the back of her head sent her face-first into the hard tunnel wall and the heavy body of the beast came crashing down on top of her.

As the creature rolled her over on her back, she felt its sharp talons raking her skin and smelled the foul odor of its gaping mouth drooling above her. But all this was driven from her consciousness by a terrified shriek from Susie, knifing through the gloom and echoing off the walls. In spite of her desperate situation, the moment she became aware that Susie was in trouble, she began to fight back. She drew back and drove her fist hard into the face of the attacker, feeling its moist muzzle make contact with her knuckles. It was like punching a leather bag full of bricks. The tender flesh there gave way and, for just a moment, the beast pulled back in surprise. Making the most of this moment, Zelda scrambled up and began crawling as fast as she could down the tunnel. “Susie! Susie!” she screamed.

She wasn’t able to get far, though, before the guard was on her again, and this time it spoke, Going somewhere, Meat? The voice literally shrieked in her mind. It was coarse and mean, dripping with contempt. I don’t think so. I think you’re dead.

Its huge paws found Zelda again and pinned her down. She could smell its hot, rank breath filling the air, and she could imagine its dripping yellow fangs jutting from sneering black lips, poised above her. Drool splashed in huge warm droplets upon her neck and chest and she cringed, awaiting the killing blow…….

 

 

This is the Final Installment Chapter of THE HIDDEN Web Series.  The complete story (Chapters 1 through 28) is now on sale at Amazon & Kindle!

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The Hidden — Chapter 15: CHIRKAH! — T.D. Barton & Derek Barton – 2018

TH chap 15

 

CHAPTER FIFTEEN:   CHIRKAH!

 

An ice-cold dagger of steel ripped a jagged course through Nate’s guts. His eyes spread wide as he struggled to deal with the roiling of his insides.  He felt his hands shaking and the trembling seemed to travel from the tips his fingers, coursing up his veins and through his veins until it burst out onto the surface of his skin.  Slowly he sank back against the trunk of the tree. Knitting his brows, he looked back at the beast and tried to comprehend what it had just told him.

“What in the hell do you mean by ‘breeding stock’? If one of you hairy bastards has hurt her –” His voice choked with emotion and he fell silent. His loathing of the creatures had just reached a new level, far surpassing anything he’d ever thought himself capable. The hatred threatened to overtake him completely and he felt his face warming from its effect. Just what he planned to do in retaliation, he hadn’t the vaguest notion, but the thought of one of these things touching her –that way– made him furious. So angry was he, if pressed, he would probably attempt taking on the whole pack bare-handed, despite the overwhelming odds. His eyes blazed back into Chirkah’s red glare.

“Just tell me where she is”, he demanded.

It would do you no good to know her whereabouts, Nate Malone. The voice insinuated itself inside his head, and Chirkah’s eyes narrowed perceptibly as he “spoke”.  I assure you there would be no chance of succor. Should you come down from your haven among the branches, you would be overpowered in seconds. But perhaps this would be for the better. After all, you can’t remain up there indefinitely. You must come down sometime, so why not do it now and avoid all the suffering? Before long, thirst will set your tongue ablaze and then, together with hunger, it will drive you down to us. When this happens, we will NOT be kind. The Kophet-kut are nothing if not patient. We will wait. However, we do not enjoy being toyed with; nor do we take kindly to anyone reducing our ranks by three of our fellows.

He gazed slowly about at the grisly-looking group.  There are many of my followers who would gladly exact vengeance upon you, and believe me, we know ways of inflicting injuries that kill slowly and with great pain.

Nate looked too. The horrid creatures sat around in various positions of repose. He shivered at the thought of those cruel mouths stripping his flesh from his bones. He had witnessed first-hand their capacity for ferocity as they mercilessly punished one of their own for a minor infraction of the pecking order. He could only imagine how they would deal with someone they hated.

On the other hand, should you come down now, I promise to do my best to see that your death is a quick and –relatively– painless one. Chirkah grinned again, showing teeth. The uniquely human gesture looked oddly out of place upon his savage countenance.

Nate shook his head and passed his hand over his tired eyes. His head felt stuffed with cotton, and he wanted to vomit. Listening to Chirkah’s insolent voice droning on was somehow repugnant to his very core. It gave him an odd, repulsive feeling that was the mental equivalent of having a dry wooden tongue depressor shoved to the back of your mouth, or maybe, to chewing tinfoil. He shuddered and looked back down.

“Explain to me what you mean when you say Zelda’s being held as breeding stock.” he said, striving to make his voice sound calm.”

That bothers you, does it Nate Malone? Chirkah’s tongue reached out casually and gathered in a lady-bug beetle which was trundling slowly across his cheek. Munching thoughtfully, he let his gaze meander, in a lazy arc, across the bean field beyond the edge of the woods.

Out there, the sun was blazing down, drying the plants and hurrying them along toward harvest.  Here, beneath a canopy of leaves, the shade was cool and, under different circumstances, Nate would have found it soothing. He settled back down on the tree branch, waiting impatiently for Chirkah to resume.

At last, the chieftain of the Kophet-kur looked back up at him.

In your human folk-lore, there are many things which you fear. Each generation passes along stories of beasts and goblins which await the unsuspecting victim somewhere… out there. Even you, Nate Malone must be intelligent enough to realize that these legends must have some basis in fact. Somewhere along the line, someone saw SOMETHING that inspired the telling of the tale. That tale is, in turn, twisted and exaggerated a bit more by each teller until it reaches mythic proportions. Is this not true?

“Make your point, dog breath.” Nate snarled.

Chirkah paused, glaring maliciously. When this failed to have an effect, however, he continued. My… POINT, as you put it, is simply this: Have you ever heard of werewolves, Nate Malone? Shapeshifters? Lycanthropes? Of course, you have, and you’ve always considered them to be fiction — fabrications of active imaginations, is this so?

Nate refused to answer, staring icily into the deep caverns that were Chirkah’s eyes.

Well, as I’ve said, there is some basis for truth in these stories, which have been handed down for centuries. Yes, Nate, there ARE werewolves living among you. They are the spies for the Kophet-kur. They circulate among the humans, leading outwardly normal little human lives, working and playing along with the rest of the stupid, unsuspecting creatures. They hold respectable positions in your society, working as bankers and doctors and lawyers and so forth, and never once do they give any sign of being anything other than typical human trash… Except during the full of the moon.

Chirkah turned his muzzle to the sky, his eyes clamped shut, and, after a short time, Nate began to feel dizzy. It came upon him gradually, as a ship, slowly gliding into a dock to tie up. He sandwiched his head in his hands, pressing so hard his face began to distort. Chirkah’s telepathic hold was increasing. Nate felt his own will fall away, and he had the disquieting feeling that something huge and filthy was peering into the farther-most intimate corners of his mind. The voice inside Nate’s head rang like a bell, resounding in echoes that grew and grew, threatening to split his skull, as Chirkah launched into a singsong chant. The sound rose and fell like waves thundering on a desolate, rock-strewn shore.

 

“THE MOON IS OUR BEACON,

IT GUIDES THE KOPHET-KUR.

(We sing, for the moon is our pilot.)

SING US HOME, OUR FATHERS!

WE AWAIT YOUR COMING

(We sing, for the moon is the way.)

THE FATHERS GAVE US LIFE

AND NOW THEY GIVE US HOPE

(We sing, for the moon is our comfort.)

YOU COME, OH BELOVED!

WE WAIT… WE HEAR… WE FOLLOW.”

(We sing.)

 

Along with the ringing voice of Chirkah, Nate could discern a chorus of other voices overlapping each other in a hideous chaotic, mélange of sound, layered one atop another, in similar repetitive chants. The chorus built inside him, reverberating from the sides of his skull until it spilled out in an incredible crescendo of sound. It seemed to surround him, carrying him aloft and hurling him among the uppermost branches of the trees. In his mind, he looked down from a great height and all he could see was forest below. Frantically searching for some kind of stability, he looked to the horizon where sat an enormous glowing ball of fire. At first Nate’s bewildered mind associated it with the sunset, but in a second he could see that it was something entirely different.

The vocal chorus became a drumming, low pitched buzz which emanated from the glowing orb, and it began to rotate slowly, casting brilliant white-hot shafts of light haphazardly around it. These beams of light reflected off of everything they touched, doubling and trebling in quantity and intensity as they bounced and played across the scenery. Suddenly the ball of light rose into the air and shot off into the sky. Nate could feel the heat from it baking his face, singeing the hair of his brows. As it hurtled past him, he thought he could see faces – smooth, lightly glowing faces with barely discernible features – staring out at him from various places about the sphere. The faces left him cold and empty inside, and he felt a longing to cry out to them to come back. His hands reached out involuntarily, and his mind screamed “We need you! Don’t leave!” In that instant, he felt an intense, aching loneliness that threatened to consume him from the inside, leaving nothing but a dried husk to blow lightly before the wind. The sense of loss was overwhelming.

As he stared after the departing sphere, the sky became darker and darker, until it reached the ebony blackness of midnight. The sphere continued to recede into this blackness until he became aware that he was looking at the moon, shining at him from a blank, starless nigh-time sky. The moon was comforting to him, easing the hollow void within, and he found he couldn’t pull his eyes away. He needed — was absolutely compelled to keep his mind trained upon it, because it was sending him signals — some kind of message. He couldn’t make out what the message was. It didn’t seem to be coming at him in the form of words, but rather in feelings — emotions. It was telling him something he absolutely needed to know to survive, and it was oh, so soothing! The message was filled with hope and promise and triumphant, exhilarating, lustful faith. He wanted to slobber at the mouth. He wanted to strip off all his clothing and go running naked through the woods. He wanted to howl. His throat fairly burst with the desire to open up and let all of his exuberance come rushing out in a long, loud, soul-quenching bellow of lusty defiance. Laughing out loud, he opened his mouth and howled. Again he let the sound rush from his gaping throat. And then again. Each howl was louder than the one preceding it and it felt wonderful. It was a totally liberating rush of confidence and a sense of well-being he had never before experienced. He continued to wail, letting the sound of his own voice buoy him up and cleanse his spirit.

When he opened his eyes, the sun was shining and the branch was again beneath him. Looking below, he saw that all the creatures were gathered around the base of the tree, and, like Chirkah, they were watching him closely.

The moon is our pilot, Chirkah was softly saying. He sounded tired, like someone who had just quit a trance state and was not yet in full possession of his faculties. It guides us through the night. When we hunt, the moon is by our side, helping us to keep our feet on the track. When we kill, it gives us strength, and when we hide, the moon tells us where to go and what to do.

Suddenly he snapped out of it and became focused once again.

The Fathers, when they left, gave us the moon as a guidepost, it is their means of staying in touch. The telepathic ability exists in all species bearing their seed, which includes most of the remaining creatures on this earth. There had to be a way to monitor their progress here, and so, from somewhere… out there, they send a constant signal, guiding us in all that we do. The Kophet-kur retain the greatest capacity to perceive these signals, and in turn, we attempt to return our thoughts to them. The moon is the ‘transmitter’ — the mirror upon whose reflective surface the signals are bounced and magnified. And these signals have a profound effect over all the earth: birds migrate from one pole to another, navigating in blind ignorance, in response to the effect of the moon’s influence. Dogs howl, insects, responding to the call of instinct, hurl themselves into any light that resembles the moon. The animals of the sea are drawn to the surface when the moon casts its illumination upon the waters. Indeed the very tides of the ocean are influenced by the pull of the moon. Even your own human race exhibits very erratic behavior during the times of its fullness when its power is greatest. All of these things, your scientists have searched for explanations to, but the secret is there — shining in the night sky!

Nate sensed an amount of sincerity in what Chirkah was telling him. For the first time since he’d begun this conference with the devil, Nate began to believe what he was being told. It was incredible and more than a little unsettling to think that the human race, indeed, nearly every manner of creature on earth was the product of some bizarre genetic experiment by alien creatures from another planet. It undermined all that he had ever believed in and left him feeling unstable and somehow up-rooted. His mind seemed to be floating in a deep void where everything was backward and opposite. He struggled to gain control — to shrug it off as impossible. However, the evidence that something highly unusual had occurred sat below him staring hungrily up into the tree. And, what Chirkah was saying explained many things, among them the strange effect the moon had upon the earth and its inhabitants. Here also was a possible explanation for the reports of such strange creatures as Bigfoot and the Yeti of the Himalayas; perhaps even the Loch-Ness monster sightings.

And now, Chirkah was offering an explanation to the centuries-old myths about werewolves. Could there be actual creatures who were able to assume human form part of the time, and then become something similar to these misshapen horrors when the moon was exerting its mysterious influence upon them? How could he exercise logic and reason when for the past few hours he’d been having a conversation with a monster? Everything he’d ever believed to be true in a rational, sane world was now put to question. WERE there such things as monsters? Did humans evolve naturally from apes — or were we the product of creation by a divine being? Perhaps all the stories of creation in the Bible were the result of simple, uncivilized minds attempting to explain the unexplainable. Is there a God in heaven, or does our creator traverse the skies in a miraculous ship built of strange, alien metals from another planet — another galaxy, far from our own?

Below him, Chirkah, savage, brutal king of the monsters, sat staring up at Nate as though he were aware of the conflict troubling his mind, and was waiting to regain his attention. Nate swallowed hard and felt something click in his throat. Dimly, he became aware of the first stirrings of thirst. Chirkah had been right about this, he COULD use something to drink. But more importantly, at this point, he still wanted to know about Zelda.

“So what has all this got to do with my wife?” he asked, cautiously. Slowly, Chirkah nodded, in a sage-like manner.

When the fathers left us, they made a promise to return someday; and when they do, they will select the most successful of their progeny to continue the experiments. They will teach the winning species the ways of their planet and give them absolute domain over all the remaining creatures on this one. Eventually, the chosen species will evolve into beings closely approximating the fathers. This is the way their genetic code works. After millennia, the Kophet-kur are beginning to look less like our lupine ancestors, and more like the fathers — just as humans are distancing themselves more and more from the apes which bore them. At the time of their return, the fathers will further advance this process, so that their favorites can only be guessed at, but one thing is certain: the Kophet-kur do not wish to come in second. For you see, it is a race — the Kophet-kur MUST gain the technology which has so advanced your species, thus making us the most successful. At the same time, humans are beginning to become aware of their own latent telepathic abilities, and may someday soon stumble over the secrets which, until now, are possessed only by the Kophet-kur. We CANNOT allow this to happen. To do so would be to lose all that we have dreamed of and waited so patiently for since the dark beginnings of time.

 Chirkah paused for a moment, seemingly gathering his thoughts before continuing.

This is why we take prisoners. The women of your species carry the recessive gene needed to serve our purposes. Therefore, we capture only females. Besides, the male of your species could not be forced to copulate. The bitches, however… his narrative trailed off and he nodded to one of his rank and file — an apparently pre-arranged gesture that sent this lieutenant bounding off into the brush. In a moment, however, he returned to the clearing with something that made Nate’s hair rise on his scalp and he snapped to attention, every nerve twitching.

Walking docilely before the beast, head hanging and shoulders sagging, was a human female — at least what was left of one. The woman was of indeterminate age — she could have been fourteen of forty – with matted, bedraggled brown hair hanging in her face. Mud and blood smeared every square inch of skin that was exposed, and the ragged shift she wore was so filthy he could not make out the color, even on a sunny day such as this. The woman walked, barefoot, with the air of someone who had grown accustomed to constant torture and abuse, long since abandoning all attempts at escape or hope of rescue.

She stumbled once, and the creature escorting her nipped savagely at her heel, opening up yet another wound, and bringing Nate to his feet on the branch once more. His heart went out to the poor wretch and he called to her.

“Hey!” he cried. “Hey, you! Up here… in the tree. I’m up here!” But the prisoner paid him no attention. Nate couldn’t tell whether it was because she was in a state of shock and simply beyond hearing or because she was afraid of the retribution such insolent behavior might bring from her captors. Still, he felt he should try to offer some comfort. “Don’t worry, I’ll find a way to get you out of here!” This sounded silly, considering the circumstances, even to him. Apparently, his audience agreed; for suddenly, in his mind, he heard gales of malicious laughter and, looking at the creatures sprawled about the clearing, he saw several with their tongues hanging out and their black mouths split in wide canine grins. Even Chirkah guffawed heartily at this, before giving another telepathic signal to the creature acting as guard to the helpless prisoner.

Without warning, the beast raised up and slapped the woman brutally on the side of the head, sending her sprawling. She lay on the ground, obviously stunned for a moment and then staggered to her hands and knees, where she did a most peculiar thing. Reaching stiffly around behind, she gathered up the hem of her skirt and pulled it up, exposing her bruised and battered buttocks to the air. There she waited patiently while the brute came up behind her and slowly sniffed. Nate felt his gorge rising and tried, unsuccessfully, to pull his eyes away.

The creature rose and placed his forepaws on the back of the poor wretch, digging his claws in carelessly as he went, apparently unconcerned about what damage they may do to her. From his belly protruded an enormous, pink-tipped erection which dipped and swayed as he shifted from foot to foot. The monster absolutely dwarfed the poor woman, and Nate was sure she would die should the beast carry out its obvious intentions.

As the huge, hairy creature entered her, she turned her head slowly around to look at Nate, and her hair fell from her eyes. There was horror in those eyes — a livid, unspeakable, screaming horror that would haunt Nate’s dreams forever. She made not a sound, and her face remained a stone mask of expressionless sorrow. But there was one thing more in her eyes, and when Nate saw it he wished her dead. At that moment he knew that, if he had his gun back, he would spend his last bullet not in defense of his own life, but in the merciful cessation of hers. For glistening in her eyes he saw tears — silent tears — which spilled over and coursed down her grimy cheeks and told him that she was not in shock, but rather in full possession of her senses. She was experiencing the dreadful pain and humiliating degradation of this rape by a beast so despicably evil as to defy logic.

With her gaze, she begged him to end her suffering. Her eyes pleaded with him to put an end to this nightmare — if rescue were impossible, then killing her would suffice to remove the agony she was enduring. His hand came to his mouth and he gnawed helplessly on one knuckle as he watched the monster ruthlessly battering the woman and occasionally reaching down with its dripping snout and nipping her cruelly on the neck and shoulders, sending rivulets of blood coursing down her back.

A trickle of drool inched its way down Nate’s wrist and his eyes bulged in desperation. There was nothing he could do. Obviously, this was not the first time the woman had been so used, and should he try to affect her rescue, he would be torn to shreds before he ever reached her side. There would be no point in trying, of that he was as certain as he was of his own name. He must think of Zelda. Perhaps there was still a chance to rescue her, although his hopes were rapidly fading. Still, as long as there was breath left in his body, there was always hope for a miracle. There may yet be some way of reaching her — some chance, some avenue of escape that had not yet presented itself. He could not afford to throw away her only hope by wasting his life in a useless act of kamikaze-like suicide.

And yet it clawed relentlessly into his guts that he was standing here, letting this pitiful woman be victimized sadistically and was doing absolutely nothing. The wretched creature was communicating as well telepathically as Chirkah had ever done. Nate could hear her screaming in his own mind, beseeching him to act — to do something to end this nightmare. He felt his face blush beneath her imploring eyes, and at last, he averted his gaze. Live or die, he didn’t think he would ever be able to forgive himself for his own inadequacy in this situation.

You should be watching this, Nate Malone. The insidious voice of Chirkah cut into his thoughts. You see, THIS is what we capture female humans for. The bitch you see here has born many of our children. Some remain here with us, and some have been sent out into your society, to retrieve the knowledge we so desperately require. We hope to someday have enough slaves to begin building — forges to produce metal, mills to refine and shape it. We will have mining operations, staffed by our slave-children assistants to stock us with the materials we need to make gunpowder and other weapons which we may use to overthrow the humans from their oh-so-precarious perch of power.

The woman cried out softly and Nate looked back just long enough to see fresh blood speckling the insides of her thighs.

I’m sure you have wondered, Nate Malone, how we have come to know so much about you and your civilization. The answer is simple: our spies bring us the information. In our lairs, deep beneath the ground, we have set up schools where the Kophet-kur and their half-breed ‘werewolf’ children are taught what we will need to know to conquer the world and make it our own.

Chirkah turned to look over his shoulder at the rapist. At long last, he had become still, but he remained mounted above the woman and Nate was forced to recall seeing dogs that became stuck together after mating, due to a swelling that occurs in the male’s organ. As children, this had been the source of many humorous stories and jokes. Now, however, there was nothing funny about it at all.

This is why human females are so important to us, Chirkah continued. And so valuable. It is not that we ENJOY mating with humans more than our own kind – well, perhaps there are SOME of us who do… Chirkah indicated with a nod the creature who had just performed the exhibition, and his little jibe was greeted with more cruel laughter from his constituents. They sounded to Nate like a bunch of dirty old men at a club smoker where strippers had been brought in to perform. Only these dirty old men had fangs. The rapist now sat beside the prostrate body of the woman, one leg in the air, grooming himself. The woman’s dress was still hiked up around her waist and she made no effort to correct this immodesty.

For most of us, it is a means toward an end — an end to your domination of the earth and a beginning of ours.

Nate refused to acknowledge his little play on words.

Occasionally, we capture female children and we raise them and nourish them carefully, taking as many children as possible from them until they are used-up and worthless to us.  He nodded to the woman again. This one is old and will probably bear no more children. Therefore, she is no longer of any value.

He paused long enough to pass a silent command to the rapist who reached out with a stiffened paw and flipped the exhausted woman over on her back. With one of its hooked talons it opened her abdomen from breastbone to pubic mound in a movement so swift and yet so casual as to take Nate quite by surprise. The woman was surprised too as she jerked to a sitting position and looked down to see her entrails spilling out onto the ground between her legs. She looked up, startled, and found Nate’s eyes. Just before she died, he saw a flicker of relief sweep across her face and then she collapsed, with a thud, to the trampled grass on the forest floor.

“You son-of-a—-” Nate’s curse was drowned out by the sound of trampling feet as the entire pack jumped up and rushed to throw themselves on the woman’s body. Snarling and quarreling viciously, they tore off great chunks of flesh while each vied for the best positions around the feast. Here and there, one would try to sneak off with an entire limb, but this would only result in attracting the attention of others who would then break off from the main group to investigate. Soon, there were three or four small groups of grunting, choking, slobbering beasts gorging themselves on the fresh bloody remains.

Chirkah sat, observing these proceedings, and then, almost as an afterthought, rose and slowly walked over to the scene of the carnage. As he approached, his stance became stiff-legged, and the hair on his back and shoulders stood up straight. The others made way whenever he came near, and a little path was opened for him as he neared the body. Straddling the bloody mass, he glared back at Nate, and his red-rimmed little pig eyes blazed with malevolence. With haughty grandeur, he claimed the prize as his own, and none dared defy his authority. His lips curled back to expose yellow, crooked teeth. Three-inch-long fangs flanked his chin. Each was as sharp as a dagger and curved slightly between the tip and the brown-stained base. His gums flashed a brilliant pink as he opened wide his mouth and plunged it into the corpse. With a deep, satisfied grunt he buried his muzzle and began to feed slowly and deliberately. Chirkah’s crooked spine bent and the muscles in his back bunched as he hunkered down over his royal dinner. The others either stood or squatted near-by, licking their paws, or moved over to join one of the other groups. Chirkah was left to his own.

Nate didn’t observe much of this. From the time Chirkah put his head down to feed, he averted his eyes. The woman had died bravely, and with as much dignity as her situation would allow, and Nate was determined to exact revenge upon her persecutors. Chirkah had been wrong about one thing, of that Nate was certain. This was not a race, it was a war. There wasn’t room on this planet for both human beings and Kophet-kur — one of them must go.

Nate was emotionally exhausted. His mind reeled with conflicting passions. Fear, revulsion, hatred, worry, his thoughts ran the gamut, and he was certain he couldn’t take much more. Soon the excitement swirling around inside him would overwhelm him completely and he would fly into a fit of hysteria. Or, perhaps he would just swell up and burst, exploding in a dozen different directions. He would splatter the foliage about with himself, leaving a bloody lump on the branch to mark his passing. He struggled to regain control, concentrating upon his breathing, willing it to slow down. At last his frazzled nerves began to calm, and he was able to think again. It scared him, though to think how close he had been to total collapse — shut down all systems and say good-night, Natey Boy’s had enough. With a trembling sigh, he shook these thoughts aside and began looking about the branches, searching for a way out.

His escape had now become a more important issue than just his own survival. The survival of the entire human race might well depend on his returning to tell the authorities what he’d seen here. He couldn’t be certain that Zelda was still alive. Chirkah could just be leading him to attempt a rescue. But, until he had proof to the contrary, he was going to have to play along. He had to assume she was being held somewhere near here — probably in one of the underground lairs, Chirkah had spoken of. His eyes searched for a branch near enough to allow him to move to another tree. If he could work his way from tree to tree, he might be able to search the woods for an entrance to this lair. He couldn’t imagine how he was to affect a rescue once he’d found it, but at least searching was better than just sitting here watching these bastards enjoying their blood-bath. Perhaps, after gorging themselves, the creatures would become sleepy and he could slip away into the forest. Or maybe he could come down from the tree and make his way back home for help. The only trouble with this second plan was that he knew he could never leave without taking Zelda with him.

“Well,” he muttered aloud, his eyes searching the foliage around him. “We’ll just have to come up with a plan when the time comes. One step at a time, Natey Boy, one step at a time.”

A branch the size of his forearm passed within a yard or so from the one just above his head. It appeared to be just what he was looking for, an avenue into the neighboring tree. It would be a bit dicey, but he had to try for it. He cast an apprehensive glance back at the creatures. They were too caught up in their grisly repast to notice his absence. Slowly he inched farther out on his supporting branch, easing his way along while clinging to the branch over his head. As he moved away from the trunk, the limb below his feet began to grow smaller and to sag a bit with his weight. This was not going to be easy. Nate silently wished he’d spent more time in the park as a child, climbing trees.

Now both branches were sagging and swaying in the breeze and sweat stood out on his brow. His intended, however, was growing nearer and soon he would reach a place where he might feasibly make an attempt. As he gazed longingly at the branch, trying to gauge its size and how much weight it might support, a white hot pain shot up from his right hand. Looking up, he saw a large black ant, nearly an inch long clinging to the knuckle of his index finger. The thing thrashed and wiggled as it buried its needle-like pincers in his tender flesh. With a sharp exclamation, he drew his hand from the branch and smashed it against his side, simultaneously obliterating his attacker and sending the branches providing his precarious support pitching wildly in opposite directions. In seconds he lost his footing entirely and was left hanging breathlessly by one hand, from the overhead branch. The branch yawed and swayed, sending a loud cra-a-ack! reverberating through the woods. Smaller, dead branches around him were shaken loose and fell noisily to the ground below.

Nate breathed a silent prayer that the branch wouldn’t break, as he swung there, scrabbling frantically to regain his hold with the other hand. He caught on just as another, somewhat louder crack tingled its way along the branch. Looking down, he found himself staring directly into the blood-splattered face of Chirkah, chief of the Kophet-kur, who was licking his lips and grinning broadly. Nate gasped great gulps of air as his fingers burrowed into the bark, and his legs kicked wildly in mid-air. Again Chirkah’s Machiavellian voice rang in Nate’s mind: Why don’t you just let go and COME DOWN, NATE MALONE, COME ON DOWN!

Once more, Chirkah was trying to use his telepathic powers to shock Nate into letting go. Nate closed his eyes and held on, trying to concentrate on how stupid Chirkah sounded. Like Bob Barker on ‘The Price is Right’, he thought. He smiled at this and felt himself relax a little. If the limb in his hands would hold on for just a little longer, he would be able to regain his footing and move back to safety. But his thoughts were cut short as another resounding crack rent the air and he felt the branch he was clutching let go.

 

 

The Hidden — Chapter 14: THE TUNNEL — T.D. Barton & Derek Barton – 2018

TH -- Chap 14

 

 

CHAPTER FOURTEEN:  THE TUNNEL

The tunnel walls were cold and slick with moisture and it was like crawling down a drain pipe. Water filtered in through the porous limestone, pooling on the floor, dripping from the ceiling and making ghostly plunking sounds which echoed through the eerie darkness. Trickling down through the soil above, the water carried acid which it had leeched from decaying organic materials.  This acid combined with limestone to form calcium carbonate which created a coating of minerals and odd formations along the rock walls.

Susie shivered with cold and fear in the murky depths of the tunnel. She kept one hand on Zelda’s back as they inched their way in silence through the dark. Every now and then, Zelda would come to an abrupt stop.  Susie would hold her breath and listen to her sliding her hands across the tunnel walls and floor before continuing. She was obviously checking for more wells or pits like the one Susie had dropped into before.

Susie was glad to have found this new friend. She had spent weeks alone here with the hideous beasts, and the closeness of an adult human was very soothing to her sensibilities. In truth, she would have liked Zelda instantly, under any circumstances. There seemed to be a bond that formed between them the minute they first embraced — Susie was in need of a mother figure to care for and nurture her, and Zelda was just as desperately in need of a child. Each filled the void so obviously present in the other.

In her heart, Susie wished her own mother could be more like Zelda. This woman actually listened and if she had been her mother, she would never have allowed Doug to abuse and humiliate her. Susie would never have been forced to do those things, and she never would’ve had to run away.  Thus, she wouldn’t have been captured, wouldn’t be here now, crawling like some kind of earth-worm through a dark hole in the ground. In the short time they’d been together, she had become Susie’s hero; and she was sure in her heart that somehow, the woman would make things all right again.

Zelda stopped once again and Susie huddled up close behind her, trying to draw strength and warmth. No matter what, she was never going to let herself be separated from this woman — of that she was certain.

“There’s another tunnel leading off from here,” Zelda whispered. Her voice, soft as a sigh, went scampering on down the branch tunnel ahead of them and was lost somewhere in the distance.

She felt the little girl clinging tightly to her and silently wished for guidance. This area was honey-combed with tunnels, each leading in different directions and each one mysterious as the next.

Here in the pitchy darkness of the cave, Zelda shut her eyes tight, trying not to recall those claustrophobic feelings, and once more, she wished she had some sort of beam to pierce this lightless world, if only for an instant.

 

***

 

Susie’s legs and arms were growing cold; her knees were bleeding from her previous fall. She had never tried to find a way out before, knowing, as she did, that the creatures could watch her — even in the dark. You could never be certain that one of the disgusting things wasn’t standing inches away in the inky blackness, its ghastly fangs dripping, as it glared hungrily your way. But now that she had placed her trust in Zelda.  She was willing to trail along behind, clutching feverishly at her clothing and occasionally casting a blind glance to the rear and listening for sounds of pursuit.

Zelda seemed to be following the main tunnel, ignoring those that connected and ran off at angles from it. They continued on, not even whispering unless they had to, for what seemed like hours.

Susie wasn’t suffering the claustrophobic effects that Zelda was, due to her smaller size. However, she wasn’t dressed as warmly, and the cool temperatures of these subterranean passages were chilling her badly. Shaking violently, she reached up and felt her matted, tangle of hair.  She remembered how her mother had kept it brushed and tied with ribbons, the golden curls cascading down in shiny layers about her shoulders.

“Rapunzel.” her mother had called her, as she sat before the big dresser in her parent’s bedroom. The beautiful brush her mother saved for just this task made soft snicking sounds as she brought it slowly through Susie’s hair and chanted “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair… that I may climb the golden stair…”

A sob forced its way into her throat, like a bubble rising in a pond, but she stifled it, not wishing to let her new friend know she was scared and homesick.

They had stopped to briefly examine the entrance to another tunnel and were moving past it when a deep, guttural sound, like the grunt of a huge boar hog, echoed down the corridor from behind them. The source was probably distant, but the magnifying effect of the stone conduit encasing them made it sound terrifyingly near. It filled the air and lay close about them, raising the hackles on their necks. Susie clung tightly to Zelda, and the woman reached around to squeeze her protectively with one arm.

Susie felt Zelda pushing her back into the mouth of the connecting tunnel and she crawled backward, still holding on to the fabric of Zelda’s shirt. When she was safely inside, the woman eased herself in beside her, clamping a hand lightly over Susie’s mouth, warning her to be still.

The warmth of Zelda’s body, wrapped defensively about her was marvelous; and Susie hoped they could stay like this for awhile. She stretched, languidly, in the dark straightening her legs out behind her. It was then that her foot struck something warm and rough… and bristly with hair! There was movement behind them. Something huge and smelly was stirring just inches away, in the cramped space of the tunnel. Judging from the sound, it must have been nearly wedged against each side, filling the tunnel complete with its grotesque body.

A scream of rage split the air, and Susie felt her bladder let go.

Zelda clamped her hands over her ears and prayed for a mercifully quick death. The creature was right up against them in the tunnel, and there would be no hope for escape.

Then, to her amazement, she heard a voice, deep and evil-sounding, splitting the darkness.

What do you want here? the voice said, and dimly she became aware that there was no accompanying echo.  The voice seemed to be inside her head, rather than penetrating her hands to ring in her ears. She grimaced at the feeling it left behind, as though she had been violated by something filthy.

SPEAK OR DIE! came the horrid sound.

Then Zelda heard another voice, softer and so much more innocent — the voice of a fairy, or perhaps an angel. It wafted sweetly in her mind, sweeping away the grime left by that other.

We mean no harm, mother, the soft voice soothed. We are just passing through on our way to do a chore.

Zelda recognized the second voice as Susie’s, but the odd, flat sound of it, when it should be reverberating in this hollow cavern, made it sound as though it were coming from inside her head rather than from outside. She guessed it was an acoustical quirk of some kind, perhaps brought on by the close proximity of the beast’s huge body, stuffed into the cramped space of this tube.

The first voice countered, LIAR! You wish to kill my babies! Do not try or I will kill YOU!

The voice had a definite female lilt to it, despite its deep baritone gruffness. Zelda could smell the heavy, unmistakable odor of animal placenta, and it became apparent what they had stumbled across. These must be the lairs, where the females crawled off to birth their young. Even as the thought filled her mind, Zelda heard soft mewling sounds coming from somewhere in the murkiness before her.

She also knew, from her experience with farm animals, just how dangerous a mother can be when protecting her young. A female hog will bite the leg off a man if he approaches her piglets at the wrong time, presenting what she perceives to be a threat to them. And hogs are domesticated animals, nothing like these horrid brutes. Who could tell what this creature might do? Desperate, she decided to try her hand at calming it.

“NO, NO! WE WILL NOT HARM YOUR YOUNG!” Her voice echoed down the corridors in both directions, and she reflexively lowered it some more. “We only wish to pass by, unharmed.”

There was a long pause in the blackness as she felt the creature sizing her up. Finally, she smelled its hot breath on her face, thick with the aroma of grooming her new-born pups, and the voice slowly and menacingly asked, Who are you… MEAT?

Zelda wasn’t thrilled with the idea of being referred to as meat, and she searched for the correct answer.

The angel-soft voice of her child companion filled the void.  She is Zelda — and she is reserved as the vessel of Chirkah. I would be careful if I were you. Chirkah would not like his plans altered by a female. There was an audible gasp in the tunnel, sounding like the sucking sound a drain makes when it clears, and the creature grunted.

Zelda could feel it backing away somewhat, and she could breathe again. Susie continued, All we wish is to continue our assigned task. We are small and weak females and mean no harm to you or your young, mother. Go back to sleep and forget this nonsense.

What is this… task you speak of? Are you certain you are not seeking to leave us? Tell me what chore you are performing, down here in the birthing chambers.

We were sent, by Dirdrah, to gather rags for the slaves. They are cold and the vessels must be kept warm. But, being stupid blind humans, we have lost our way in the dark — 

A snarl interrupted Susie’s tale and Zelda felt warm spittle fly in her face. Again the beast loomed over them and pressed close.

Dirdrah is dead! Even I know that. She was killed by the meat who hangs in the trees. What kind of lies are these?

Susie pressed closer to Zelda’s side. I’m sorry, I must have gotten mixed up, she lied. I thought it was Dirdrah who sent us, but it must’ve been another. I cannot SEE you! It is hard for me to tell which is which.

You cannot see with your eyes, perhaps… The harsh voice trailed off, leaving Zelda to guess at its meaning. GO! Continue on your way, but do not enter the birthing chambers again. They are for Kophet-kur — not for Meat like you. Be gone and let me sleep.

With a sigh of relief, Zelda grabbed Susie and made for the entrance to the chamber. But Susie pulled back, playing her advantage as only a child would have the courage to do.

Please, mother, her voice was soft, supplicating. Could you tell us the way out of here and back to the main entrance to the caves?

The creature had obviously dismissed them as any kind of threat and now when she spoke, she sounded bored and sleepy.  Return the way you came, until you reach the end of this tunnel. Be careful not to plunge into the well which lies at its mouth, though. Climb up the shaft and you will be in a small chamber which we use to house slaves. This chamber opens on the main sleeping room. Cross the floor, being careful not to awaken any of those sleeping there, and you will find an opening which then leads up to the main doorway.  A yawn escaped the beast and Zelda could hear her moving around, settling back down to her slumber.

But Mother, is there no way to get there by continuing on this way? Susie pressed.

The female snorted loudly. Of course not! This way leads deep into the forest to smaller openings. Do not continue, on for if a guard were to catch you back there, he would assume you were trying to escape and kill you immediately. Even you are intelligent enough to realize there is no escape from the Kophet-kur — and especially not that way. Now leave me. I must rest after my labors.

Susie and Zelda crawled back out into the main tunnel and held their breath, waiting. Soon they could hear her measured breathing, punctuated with light snoring sounds and they knew the beast had dropped off to sleep again. They moved on down the tunnel a few feet and then Zelda stopped.

“I don’t believe you talked us out of that mess!” she whispered. “And then you had the gall to ask the way out!”

Susie giggled, conspiratorially. “Which way should we go now?”

“Are you kidding? If you think I’m going back the way we came…” Zelda didn’t bother to finish. “We’ve got to be careful not to wake any more of these things, and we’ve got to listen very closely to avoid running into any guards. Why didn’t you tell me the damn things could talk?”

“I did.” Susie protested.

“Yeah, but I didn’t think you meant they could actually talk! That was creepy as hell! I didn’t like it one bit. Do you know what she meant by that ‘kofat… whatever’ she was talking about?”

“They call themselves the Kophet-kur. I don’t like talking to them either, but I have learned how to deal with it. Most of them are pretty stupid. Others aren’t, but all of them are sly — very sly — and dangerous. If we do meet a guard, better let me do the talking.”

“Hey that’s fine with me, honey. After the way you handled that tub of lard back there, I trust you completely. Shall we?”

“Y-you first,” Susie said, her teeth chattering in the cold.

“Aw, sweetie! You’re freezing, aren’t you?” Zelda drew her close and brushed her hair back.

“I wet my pants back there when that monster growled at us,” Susie admitted, her face burning with shame. “I was cold before, but now its even worse.”

Zelda removed her sweat-shirt, pulling it over her head and bumping her elbow on the ceiling in the process. The cold air of the cavern slapped against her, raising goosebumps on her bare skin and she felt her nipples harden beneath her flimsy bra.

“Here, baby,” she cooed. “Put this on.”

“But Zelda –”

“Don’t argue now, I’ll be all right. Put it on.”

Reluctantly, Susie slipped into the warm sweat-shirt. Instantly, her body began to feel better, and the shivering subsided. “Thanks,” she said, and she meant it. She wrapped her arms around the woman and fell in love. It seemed to her that no one had ever treated her so kindly, sacrificing their own comfort and well-being for hers. Paradoxically, here in this pitch-dark cave full of monsters, she felt safer than she had ever been in her life. Through tears, she reached up and kissed Zelda’s cheek.

“Let’s go, honey,” Zelda smiled, returning the girl’s hug. “We’re headin’ out the back door.”

The Hidden — Chapter 13: THE KOPHET-KUR — T.D. Barton & Derek Barton – 2018

TH 13

 

CHAPTER THIRTEEN:  THE KOPHET-KUR

 

Perhaps a dozen of the creatures were arrayed around the base of the tree as Nate looked for the owner of the dream-voice.  He was struck by their resemblance to large, extremely ugly dogs.  They lounged around casually; some sitting on their haunches, others sprawled on the ground, their tongues lolling out as their sides bounced rapidly with their panting.  A couple of them even threw their legs up and bent to groom themselves with long pink tongues.  But as Nate watched, they scrambled to their feet and an air of excitement swept the pack. Nate strained to see what was stirring them up so.

A massive, sway-backed creature was making his way amongst them.  Nate couldn’t help but notice that this particular creature seemed much older than those around him.  His face was even more grotesquely wrinkled, and the bags beneath his eyes drooped low, exposing large red crescents under each. The muzzle area, ebony black in the rest of the tribe, was liberally sprinkled with bright gray and white whiskers, as was the sparse hair sprouting in patches from his scaly skin.

Each of the pack members, in turn, trotted up to him and simpered alongside, cowering and whining. The creature seemed oblivious to these acts of homage. His attention was focused on Nate as he approached the tree.

In spite of the creature’s age, Nate was forced to admire the regal bearing with which he carried himself.   The others he had seen, snarled and pranced around frothing like lunatics — this one seemed to project patience and a cool, calculated intelligence that was nonetheless laced with a dark malice. Hatred burned from the core of his eyes, and an evil seething haughtiness that made Nate realize that he had more to fear from this one than all the others combined.

As it approached the tree, the ancient one’s path was inadvertently blocked by one of the creatures.  He had been so involved with grooming himself that he apparently hadn’t noticed the other’s approach. The gray one stopped a foot or two shy of the poor fool and stood waiting, never taking his eyes from Nate. Without warning three of the big fellow’s lackeys pounced upon the unsuspecting beast and ripped at it mercilessly with their horrid fangs.

Nate had never seen such abject brutality. It was chilling to see these beasts roaring and screaming viciously as the victim tried to defend himself against their savage attacks. The here-to-fore quiet clearing erupted in a violent explosion of movement and sound.  Splashes of blood and patches of hair joined pieces of skin and tissue flying through the air and staining the ground around them. Their sharp claws tore open the earth and tossed up great clots of soil and grass.

Two of the attackers challenged the offender face to face while a third circled around to flank attack at its rear. While he was busy warding off the snapping teeth of the two in front, he was unable to avoid the assault from behind. Soon he was born to the ground by the third which clung to his back, locking its jaws on the nape of his neck and clawing savagely with his hind legs.

The other two were on him, swarming like a pride of lions at a kill. The fight was over in seconds. There was no chance of running away in defeat, the creature could only lie motionless, meekly surrendering and offering no resistance as they punished him cruelly and left him bleeding in a heap. As the big gray stood serenely taking this all in, the vanquished crawled painfully over to him and licked his muzzle before dragging himself out of the way.

After the bizarre ritual was completed, the big one crossed over to the base of the tree.  Now directly below Nate’s perch, he rested on his haunches and peered up at him, cocking his head in a quizzical sort of way.

“Come down.” He commanded — the voice was straight from Nate’s nightmare. “Come down, Nate Malone. We want to be done with this.”

Nate was thunderstruck. This… thing was speaking to him. Or was it? He couldn’t be sure — his head felt strangely light, his thoughts fuzzy, as though his brain had suddenly turned to cotton.  He focused his eyes on the creature’s yellow-fanged mouth.

“Say that again?” he asked aloud.

A sly, sinister chuckle slithered its way through his mind, like dry leaves blowing across a grave.

“I said, come DOWN!”

Nate grasped the branch on both sides of himself and prepared to leap to a clear patch of ground. Why was I in this damn tree in the first place? After all, I am not a bird?  I belong on the ground with… with…

At the last second, he stopped himself, scrambling back against the trunk in a panic. Below him, a barely audible sigh of disappointment could be heard from the pack of brutes.  Again that snide, humorless laugh echoed in his head, leaving muddy footprints across his thoughts.

“That was close, wasn’t it Nate? This shouldn’t take long after all.” The creature was definitely speaking to him, but…

“Your mouth doesn’t move,” Nate said in a daze. “You’re talking to me, I swear I can hear it but –”

The voice interrupted in a mocking tone. “But my mouth doesn’t move. That’s right! Oh, if you only knew how stupid you look saying that!”

Nate FELT stupid. In fact, he had never been so moronically ignorant in his entire life.   Blood rushed into his cheeks as he blushed over his utter stupidity.  How could he possibly have said such an asinine thing?

The beast studied him for a moment longer and then, with the tone one reserves for the slowest of learners, he said, “Telepathy. Surely you’ve at least HEARD of it. Do you even partially understand the concept? I… CAN… SPEAK… DIRECTLY… TO… YOUR… MIND… WITHOUT… MOVING… MY… LIPS… OR… MAKING… A… SOUND… Get it?”

Nate’s lower lip trembled with humiliation and fear. “Are you some kind of… of devil?” He asked quietly.

This time the laughter literally roared through his mind. Staring at the creature’s mouth, he detected a trace of a grin tugging at its corners, but it quickly faded and a hard cold light appeared within the beast’s eyes.

When he spoke again, the voice was formal and defiant. “We are the Kophet-kur!   A race as old and powerful as your own and, as you have abundantly proven, just as mortal. We have lived alongside you for lo these many ages and we will be long after your cursed kind has been wiped from the face of the earth.” This last remark brought a chorus of grunts and excited snarls from the creatures around him.

He continued, reciting his litany like a politician stumping for office.  The beast was no longer talking to him, but to the group of followers gathered round about the tree. “Many eons have passed since the seed of the sky were born, and WE have not bastardized ourselves like the tiny humans. WE have kept ourselves pure, waiting for the return, when we will shine! And no mere human will stop us. Oh, it is true that for now, we hide, but someday soon, we will return to the greatness our Fathers promised. On that day, all other seed will become MEAT! That is the promise of Chirkah! THAT is the destiny of the Kophetkur!”

Without the beast’s telepathic powers totally concentrated on him, Nate regained more of his old self — more in control. He would be more careful in the future not to let himself be mesmerized by this creature, whatever it was.

“I hate to interrupt when you’re on a roll,” he taunted, “But could you explain what all that means to me? Why that’s important?  Remember, I’m kinda slow.”

After a pause, in which the creature glared at him fiercely for his interruption and then seemed to relax somewhat, containing its rage with difficulty, it continued on in a more conversational tone. “Certainly. Ask any question, I will be glad to oblige with an answer. Since you obviously won’t be leaving here alive, I feel free to withhold nothing you might wish to know.” The voice was filled with a terrible coldness that threatened to leave Nate shivering.

“All right.” Nate leaned forward. “To begin with, what the hell are you… things? And where did you come from?”

The creature’s voice took on that air of “patient suffering while dealing with a lower intelligence” again.  “As I stated before, we are the Kophet-kur. I am the leader, the one you might call the ‘alpha male’. I am called Chirkah. We live here in the forest and in your fields. Mostly we hunt deer and other animals, but occasionally, as you have seen, our lust for the hunt becomes such that we cannot resist the sweetest meat of all.” Nate noticed a bit of drool forming on the creature’s lips.

“You sicken me.” he challenged it, only slightly aware of the temptation to fall into the odd, archaic speech patterns of his tormentor.

“Now, now! Is that any way to talk to your cousin? We are closer than you think, my dear friend. And you are not so far removed from cannibalism yourself.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You ask where we come from, the Kophet-kur. I will tell you, but you may find it hard to believe. Eons ago the world was filled with many species, but this was before the Kophet-kur and before humans… and before others, too.

“Away up in the skies… far off in the blackness that lies like an eternal night away beyond the moon, there lived a race of beings such as you or I have never seen.” His voice had become dream-like, and a certain reverence set in.

“These beings were vastly intelligent. Their intellect, in fact, knew no bounds — it was far beyond anything you could ever begin to comprehend. They were superb. Their civilization and the wonders they could perform far outstripped the puny technological advances you humans have achieved. For in addition to technology, they also possessed wisdom, the one thing your race is most noticeably lacking. Not only did The Fathers, which is the only name we know them by, control their world, they also cherished, and lovingly nurtured it.”

His voice grew harsh with scorn.

“You stupid humans take and take and take from our world, stripping away the land and the forests. You defile the water and the air without a single consideration as to what damage will be done to the hunting grounds of the animals that share this planet with you. The vast herds which flourished before you came to be, you wiped out in the space of a single day. The mighty forests, home to countless myriads of creatures, you devastated and trampled to the ground. You have RAPED and SODOMIZED our land till there is nothing left to be proud of, nothing to be inspired by.” He leveled Nate with a fiery glare, dripping with contempt. “For this we HATE you.”

Nate shifted uncomfortably beneath his condemning gaze. After what seemed minutes, Chirkah took a breath and continued his narrative.

“The Fathers, in light of their triumphs, soon began looking to spread themselves to other worlds, illuminating the darkness wherever they might find it. To that end, they built enormous ships that could carry them swiftly about the skies, and return them safely to their own world. Eventually, their quest for other worlds to conquer brought them here, where they found a world of vast beauty and unbelievable wealth. They resolved to have it and to build a utopia that would outshine even their own golden planet.”

“But when they attempted to colonize this lovely new world, they were saddened to discover it held an atmosphere that was poisonous to their kind.  Alas, they could never set foot upon it. Determined, however, to have this jewel of their own, they hit upon a plan of extended colonization. Perhaps they could never live here — but their children would. Through a means we do not yet understand, they began taking species from the earth to inseminate. These creatures were brought, in pairs to the ship, to determine their mating procedures. Then our Fathers simply substituted their own seed, creating every conceivable variety of hybrid. Their hope was that one of these species would flourish, carrying enough of their genetic material to assume a similar form to theirs. Someday then, after this species had established itself, they would return to further increase their genetic strain, thereby breeding themselves into compatibility with the hostile environment.”

Nate was, of course, skeptical but, as Chirkah spoke, he found himself remembering Sunday-school stories of Noah and his ark. “In pairs, they were brought unto the ark… and a new world was born unto the earth.” A cold, hollow feeling was growing in the pit of his stomach.

“Most of the experiments failed miserably, as was to be expected,” Chirkah’s harsh voice was saying. “But some were resounding successes. The large mammals were, of a certainty closer to the fathers in intelligence, and as you might think, it was among these that the greatest achievements were made. Today few of these hybrid lines exist. Some were lost to natural extinction, others were obliterated by the most widely flourishing of these experiments, the hybrid created from the seeding of the great apes — man.

“However, an equally intelligent, if not so prosperous race of creatures was the result of the Father’s combining with wolves. The Kophet-kur which means in our tongue, Children of the Sky, received the telepathic abilities and intelligence of The Fathers, but we were cheated of the one thing that might have assured our dominance of this world. We lacked opposable thumbs.

“Without the dexterity required, we couldn’t build things the way you humans have. We were unable to harness the power of nature or build tools and machines and vast cities, crowding out the wild places. Thus we have been forced to hide in our caves, scavenging off the land left over after you humans, in your blind ignorance have trampled over it. We have been relegated to the wild, forgotten places of the world, living on the edge of human society — hiding in your shadow.”

Chirkah took a shuddering breath and shifted positions. His black tongue dangled from his mouth as he yawned broadly. Nate noticed that many of his fellow creatures were dozing peacefully in the warm afternoon sun.

“There are others that remain, but mankind has driven them to the remotest of places where they dwell, as secretive and unobtrusive as the Kophet-kur. Trust me when I tell you that there are things hiding deep within your forests, oceans, and lakes that you would rather not know about.

Nate finally interrupted. “Do you feel better?  You had a lot to get off your chest there.  However, I’m curious. If your race is so goddammed intelligent, why haven’t any of these other beasts spoken to me? So far, all they’ve tried to do is rip me to shreds. Why not establish some lines of communication here?”

“Although we all possess the gift of telepathy, there are those, such as myself who are more proficient in its use than others, just as there are those of your kind who are more adept in the use of language. But this is not the reason for our silence up to this point. The Kophet-kur are a very secretive species. We find this necessary to ensure our survival in a world dominated by your kind. The original humans were very much aware of our presence. You will find references to our kind in the folklore of many primitive species, including the ones you refer to as ‘Indians’. Long ago, we watched your kind systematically obliterate this group of humans, and it was then we decided to withdraw even deeper into hiding. For we realized that, if you could bring this kind of mass destruction upon those of your own kind, there could be no room on this planet for the two of us. The ‘Indians’ were willing to share the forests and live peacefully alongside the Kophet-kur. We shared a mutual respect and a working understanding of each other’s ways.

But with them went the knowledge of our existence, and any attempts to co-exist with humans. We have worked very hard over the years to remain an enigma. Our most sacred of laws concern the preservation of our status as unknown entities in your world. To break the code of silence and communicate with a human being is strictly forbidden except under the most extreme of circumstances. A hunter is allowed to partake of human game only when he is certain that doing so will not endanger our continued seclusion.

When my son, Dzhankah, confronted you, he knew he was breaking our most holy of ordinances. He also knew he could not let you escape, bringing others of your kind to rain death and destruction down upon our heads. He acted bravely, if somewhat fool-heartedly, and as a result, he is dead.”

“For THAT, you will pay the ultimate price. But there will be time for that later. The reason I have broken our silence is that I wished to converse with one who has managed to cut down so many of our brothers. But now I see that you have used up all your weapons. We have pulled the teeth of the serpent, and we have him up a tree, both literally and figuratively, do we not?” He sounded very pleased with himself.

Nate ignored his jibes. “I don’t believe you could hide out all these years without being discovered.”

“How do the deer hide from the hunter? Humans are not that difficult to fool, you know. Nor are you very observant. A human, in the wild, can practically trip over a fawn, camouflaged by its dappled coat, hiding in plain sight amidst a patch of sunlight. When was the last time you saw a fox, Nate Malone?”

Nate reflected. “I guess I can’t recall ever seeing one in the wild.”

“And would you be surprised to learn there are dozens of them living and breeding in the immediate vicinity? Besides, when humans see a fox it runs. But when a human sees one of us… THEY run.  Or they at least try.” Chirkah paused to let this sink in.

“These creatures I speak of are just dumb animals, barely possessing the intelligence needed to procure food, secure housing and pro-create. The Kophet-kur, on the other hand, command an intelligence SUPERIOR to your own. Do you really think it would be that difficult to conceal ourselves from you? Our telepathic abilities allow us to sense whenever a human is near, and take evasive action. We cannot read your minds, as we do each others’, to do so requires advanced telepathic powers in both parties; and, while humans do possess small vestiges of this ability, it is poorly developed. You experience ‘deja-vu’ and ‘extra sensory perception’ and so forth. Humans have no idea of the vast power that could be theirs, if only they knew how to harness it.”

“So you’re telling me that, overall these centuries, I am the only man who has ever seen you?” Nate shook his head skeptically.

Chirkah snorted with disdain. “Of course not! MANY have seen, few have lived to tell… and none have been believed. Do not deceive yourself, Nate Malone, your fate is sealed as is that of your woman.”

Nate’s heart leaped into his throat. He jumped to his feet on the branch, nearly toppling from his perch in the process. A couple of the beasts looked up and one actually rose to all-fours.

“Zelda!” he gasped. “You know where Zelda is? She’s alive?” Nate had just about abandoned all hope of this possibility.

Chirkah stretched languidly and sprawled out in the tall grass, his right paw crossed casually over his left. For the first time since engaging in this conversation, his gaze left Nate and wandered off into the distance. “Certainly. We don’t often KILL women. Although you’re lucky to have killed Pulkah.” With a nod, he indicated the corpse lying at the base of the tree. The ax still jutted from its skull, and it swarmed with large, iridescent green flies. “He would most definitely have taken out the death of his mate, Dirdrah on your woman.”

Nate began to tremble. Anxiously, he shifted back and forth on the branch, wanting very much to take some kind of action, but uncertain just what he could do. He looked somewhat like a child, straining to control his bladder while he waited for the bell to signal recess.

Chirkah looked back up at him. “Don’t carry on so, Nate. There’s really nothing you can do to help her. Her fate is as sealed as your own. You really should learn to accept things over which you have no control.”

“What have you done with her, you son-of-a-BITCH?” Nate screamed.

“I myself have done nothing with her. But she is being kept for a purpose. You see, we, meaning the Kophet-kur, learned very well from The Fathers. Their techniques of conquering through breeding programs seemed to make sense.

“Therefore, long ago we launched a campaign to gain the technology that keeps you humans in control of this planet. Obviously, we could not develop it ourselves and were we to gain knowledge of its intricacies, we would not be able to avail ourselves of it due to our lack of manual dexterity, as I pointed out earlier. So, our only chance lies in espionage – spies, if you will. We needed someone sympathetic to our cause to steal your secrets and put them to work for us. This symbiotic relationship could only be achieved by a cross-pollenization of our two species. This hybrid would be a go-between — able to travel freely in your society, and gather the information we need, then bringing that information back to us and physically helping us implement it within our own society. Clever, don’t you think?”

Nate shook his head slowly. “I don’t understand…”

Wry amusement edged Chirkah’s voice as it echoed deep within Nate’s mind. He sounded like a teenager divulging the facts of life to a younger brother.

“You ARE thick! Don’t you see what I’m telling you? Your woman is being held as breeding stock.  She will be saved for my seed.”  That menacing, icy laughter roared and filled his mind once again.

 

 

 

The Hidden — Chapter 12: IN THE HOLE — T.D. Barton & Derek Barton – 2018

TH 12 #2

CHAPTER TWELVE:  IN THE HOLE

The limestone was cold and damp to the touch.  Zelda shivered as she groped her way around the pitch-black room. It was as if she was the subject of a sensory-deprivation experiment. Total darkness was drawn across her eyes like a thick, black curtain.  Except for the dismal, echoey plinking of water somewhere far-off in the cavern, there was no sound at all.

The one sense that was alive, brilliantly functioning and totally aware, was her sense of touch. Her fingertips traced the damp, crumbly surface of the floor around her, and the low ceiling above. In spite of the thick crust of dirt and limestone dust coating them, they sent back information about every nuance, each irregularity of the stone.  She had been hesitant, at first, tentatively sending her hand out to scout before her; but, as she progressed, she moved with ever-growing sureness, searching out the perimeters of her confinement.

She and Susie had sat and talked for hours it seemed. Susie told her about the Monsters, then about the bridge and the path in the woods. She even spoke of “The Fort”, although she hadn’t mentioned what went on there. Susie was well on the way to blotting the memories of the abuse from her mind.

Susie wouldn’t discuss her abuse with Zelda or even allow herself to think about them. For the past few weeks, she had been alone, dealing with circumstances as they arose. The limited contact she’d had with other prisoners had not been very productive. Most of them seemed under a spell of some kind. They wandered around, rather listless and slow — like zombies from one of those old horror films.

Whenever she tried speaking with one of them, they either ignored her completely or grunted out one-word answers and brushed her aside. In some ways, they had been more terrifying than the creatures.

But Zelda was different — she was alert and active.  Now that there was an adult in the picture, Susie would let her take over and she would follow. It was a great relief to her, knowing that whatever situation occurred, she could let her make the decision as to what their response was to be. It wasn’t a question of trust. Other than exhibiting sympathy for her plight, Zelda had done nothing to actually earn her trust. Susie was tired, on the verge of complete exhaustion.

Life had thrown her a lot of curves lately and her entire being had grown weary of coping. Her heart felt like an old and worn shoe. She ached to let someone else decide what to do and when to do it. In the meantime, she would drift along with the flow, content to allow events to take care of themselves.

Zelda, on the other hand, had benefited somewhat from her ordeal. For so long now she had let other people run her life. Her mother had made all the major decisions of her childhood: Which school to attend, what to pursue as a career, where to live. These and dozens of others in a long chain stretched back as far as she could remember. And then, after she married Nate, she had allowed him to take over, even going so far as to let him tell her what kind of car they should drive and where they should buy a house. All her life she had been a follower. But now, she was totally on her own with nobody to decide for her. In addition, she had little Susie depending on her. Suddenly, she was thrust into the role of leadership, and it suited her well. Having realized this, with some small feeling of satisfaction, she resolved to see them out of this conflict and to return the child to her mother safe and sound. She sat in the dark, trying to decide on a course of action.

Obviously, there was no way they could fight their way out. Susie said there were many of these brutes and they had no weapons. It was also apparent that they couldn’t sneak out past them if, as the child informed her, they could see in the dark. She turned her head, blindly scanning the darkness, and listened to the water dripping somewhere, far-off. Perhaps there was a way out of this cave that wouldn’t bring them in direct contact with their captors.

She asked herself what Nate would do in a similar situation, and she was struck by the realization of just how much she’d admired him. Why couldn’t I have told him that once when he was still alive?

Cold, heartless grief threatened to flood her mind, driving out all productive reasoning. She felt the need to break down, letting her thoughts drown in tears — to bathe in their cleansing depths like a weary traveler at a cool oasis pool. Perhaps, if she simply closed her eyes and cried herself to sleep, she might awaken to find this had all been a horrible nightmare. Bitterly, she cast these thoughts aside.

But Susie needs me… A voice inside  — that hidden voice of power which she had started taping into — spoke to her.

No time for self-pity, she admonished herself. She had to get a grip on herself and keep it together if they were ever going to escape.

“Susie, have you got any idea how big this cave is?” Her voice, although a mere whisper, echoed softly, doubling back to swirl like wraiths in the darkness about them.

“I don’t know exactly.” Susie sounded tired, sleepy. “That room out there is big… real big. That’s where they sleep. It’s kind of like the main hall or something. And there are tunnels going all over.  When they first brought me in kept me penned up in rooms all over the place. But, after a while I guess they realized I couldn’t really get away, so I’ve pretty much been able to go wherever I wanted and they more or less leave me alone.”

Zelda was hopeful. “That’s good. Maybe we can use that to our advantage.”

“Problem is, though, it’s so darn dark down here I can’t really see anything. It doesn’t much matter where I go, it all looks the same.”

“I see. Well, you and I are getting out of here, kid! To start with, let’s see if we can’t get an idea how big this room we’re in is. We know it’s not very tall…” Zelda said as she gingerly touched the knot on her head.  “Tell you what: You work THIS side of the doorway…”

Taking Susie’s hand, she guided it to the wall in front of them, groping around until she felt the opening. She slapped the crumbly limestone and positioned Susie in front of it, facing the wall. Running her own hand along the top of the doorway, she crawled on hands and knees over to the opposite side.

“And I’ll go… this way.” So saying, she began sliding her hands along the wall in front of her, advancing to the left and moving up and down the wall so as to judge its height. She felt her spirits lifting a bit.  It was good to be moving. As long as she kept doing something or taking action, she stayed ahead of those poisonous thoughts — the ones that threatened to wash over her and pull her down in a whirlpool of self-doubt and utterly black grief, much darker even than the lightless void she now explored. With every step she crawled, she made a mental note. She could hear Susie, sidling along opposite her and quietly making little slapping sounds as her tiny hands connected with the hard surface of the cave wall. Apparently, it was larger than she would have guessed as her steps added up and the sounds Susie made began retreating from her.

Suddenly, her world was illuminated in a blinding flash and she sat back hard on her haunches. Her first response was startled, unreasoning anger; and then it slowly sank into her consciousness that she had collided with another wall, running at right angles to the one she had been following. Something warm slithered down her face and she reached up to feel blood, slick and moist, between her fingers. She hissed softly through clenched teeth.

Pulling herself back up to a crawling position, she quietly called across to Susie to be careful. “Okay.” Whispered the child, her voice sounding tiny and lost in the pitch black.

Following the new wall, she continued on, noticing that the ceiling was getting a bit higher as she went. Soon she was able to rise up into a crouching position, giving her protesting knees a break. But, as she moved on, it started to go back down again and she was forced to resume crawling. To her, this indicated that the room must have a slightly domed ceiling, tapering down to the floor in the back. Her theory was soon proven by her searching hands. If she were any judge, the room seemed to be about twenty feet across, and maybe five feet high at its peak.

A sudden, cold ball of apprehension erupted in the pit of her stomach as Zelda became aware of the silence around her. Susie was no longer slapping the wall. This thought barely had time to sink in before a sharp cry, emanating from somewhere across the room let her know her little friend was in trouble. The cry was followed by a scuffling noise and what sounded like rocks sliding and falling in a well.

“Susie!” She called, afraid to raise her voice too much, lest she call attention to herself. There was no answer at first, and then the child’s quavering voice drifted eerily out of the darkness: “Uhh-Zelda!… Helllp!… UH!… Mph!… I’m gonna fall!” She sounded like she was calling from the bottom of a barrel.

Her heart hammered. “Hold on, kiddo! I’m coming. Damn!” she cursed the dark. Throwing her hands straight out before her, she waved them frantically around, feeling her way across the middle of the room. She tried to direct herself to the point where she had heard Susie’s voice, but it had been so distant — so strangely muffled. Scrambling as quickly as she could, she charged across the chamber until, unexpectedly, the floor disappeared beneath her. A startled bleat escaped her throat as she pitched headfirst into thin air. Then, with a bone-jarring force, her out-stretched arms struck another wall and stopped her fall.

Gasping and panting heavily, she took stock of her situation for a moment. Apparently, there was a hole in the floor, a sort of rock cistern into which her upper body had fallen. Undoubtedly, the rest of her would have followed, had her hands not connected with a small outcropping on the other side. So now she lay, with her hands on one side of the well and her lower thighs, right above the knees resting on the opposite rim. Her head was about a foot lower than her legs. This was an extremely uncomfortable, if not dangerous position to be in. But, at that moment, Zelda wasn’t so much worried about her own safety as that of her new friend. After a moment she took a deep breath and called.

“Susie!” she grunted into the hole below her. “Are you down there?”

The child’s voice floated up to her from somewhere below. “I — I’m here… unh… down here! I’m scared, Zelda. I think I’m gonna fall some more.”

The child sounded like she was going to cry, and right now, Zelda needed her to be brave. “Sh-h-h! Honey, don’t cry. I’m going to get you. Just hold on now.” She tried to sound calm and confident, hoping it would rub off on Susie. In truth, she hadn’t the slightest idea how she was going to reach her. Susie sounded like she was about six feet below Zelda’s current position, as she was becoming pretty good at judging distances in the dark.

Perhaps there was a way to reach her, but the first obstacle she had to overcome was her awkward position at the lip of the well. She tried to take her left hand loose to reach up and pull herself from the well, but her remaining hand couldn’t find a secure enough purchase to hold her weight.  She began to slip into the hole. Frantically she spread her legs farther apart and shoved her hand back into the rough limestone wall, cutting it a bit, but stopping her fall. So, it was painfully apparent that she couldn’t move her hands.

As if proving the point, Zelda felt a huge insect, probably a millipede, crawling endlessly up her bare leg. She didn’t dare thrash around to shake it off, for fear she would lose her grip and plummet, head-first into the chasm. All she could do was grit her teeth and wait for it to traverse her body and move on. The thing was only about four inches long, but, in her helpless position there in the depths of the darkened cave, it loomed much, much larger. She could feel its tiny legs, tickling their way with agonizing slowness across the surface of her skin.  An image of its slick, shiny, segmented body played with cruel clarity upon her mind’s eye.

She knew that there were creatures that lived in caves that, deprived of light for their entire lives developed differently from normal species. Their bodies were pale and colorless, and they grubbed around, sightless, feeling their way with long, hair-like antennae, waving in the eternal darkness. God only knew what weird variety of creepy-crawly thing had been hiding in this hole and was even now slithering its way along the length of her bare calf. Beads of sweat broke out upon her upper lip, and her muscles locked in rigid tension. Her mind reeled with revulsion, and she fought back the giddiness that threatened to overcome her.

When it and the insect had passed, she began to slowly and carefully ease her way, one inch at a time, alternating hands, up the wall. She could hear Susie sobbing beneath her; and when she could get her breath, she sent encouragement down to her. But the process was agonizingly slow, and she began to pray that her strength would hold out. The skin on the palms of her hands burned and stung from being scraped and ground into the rough stone, and her arms trembled with exertion. A warm, numbing sensation began slowly creeping up from her wrists, and Zelda was sure that when it reached her shoulders she would just buckle and plunge into the pit below. Her teeth clamped down hard on her lower lip, and small, mewling squeaks squeezed their way out of her throat.

At last, just when she felt her arms were going to break off at the elbow, she reached an angle where she was able to push herself back out of the hole and roll over onto the flat surface of the cave floor. She lay in the dark, panting for a moment and then she returned to her rescue efforts, realizing there was no time to waste. Scooting back over to the hole, she called down, “Honey, are you still with me?”

“I’m h-here.” came the tremulous voice.

“Sweetie, tell me about your position… Where are you? Can you stand up?” Blood had rushed to Zelda’s head, making her ears sing, but some feeling was rapidly returning to her arms.  Her skin prickled with pins and needles.

“I’m up against the wall, and there’s like a… a ledge, or whatever.  I’m standing on it. But Zelda, I’m scared! How’re you gonna get me?”

There was a note of quiet desperation in Susie’s small voice, and she didn’t like it. What it said was, “I’m scared, yes… but, more than that, I’m on the verge of panic. At any moment, I may try something desperate and stupid that will send me sprawling into space with a shrill cry that will haunt you until the day you die. As long as you live, you will hear it in your dreams and it will drag you screaming and sweating from your sleep to ponder why you couldn’t have done something — ANYTHING to save me!” She had time to consider this for just a moment and then she shook it off.

“Okay, now be a brave girl. Susie, don’t look up, I’m going to drop a rock into the hole so we can see how deep it is. Hang on now and flatten yourself against the wall, okay? Okay!”

She dropped a small pebble into the void and waited for the sound of its fall to come echoing up to her. After a few seconds of silence, all she heard was Susie’s voice. “I don’t think there IS any bottom. This one’s just like the one they throw the bones in, only it’s out by the entrance where there’s enough light to see it. Don’t fall, Zelda.”

The cavern room felt suddenly claustrophobic. What a horrible way that would be to die, falling endlessly until the air ran out and you suffocated, or until you picked up enough speed that a brush against the wall shattered your skull… She pictured herself tumbling over and over, plummeting toward the center of the earth. The walls were whizzing by at enormous speed and abrading pieces of her body away bit by bit as she fell until there was nothing left but an irregular-shaped bloody chunk.

Vertigo gripped her and she shook her head, trying to clear out the nightmarish images. Sucking in a deep gulp of the cool air, she called again: “Susie, are you wearing a belt?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Good. Take it off, and toss it as hard as you can straight up in the air.” She waited, listening closely to the sound of Susie’s movements in the dark.

“Here it comes.”

The belt flew through the air and hit Zelda.  The metal buckle raising a small welt where it struck the corner of her eye. She was able to snatch at it before it tumbled back into the hole.  She rolled over and worked on her back, connecting it with her own belt, which she had removed while waiting for Susie. This gave her about a six-foot extension on her arm-span. She lowered the belt into the hole and leaned in as far as she dared.

“Susie,” she whispered. “I’m lowering the belt to you, do you  feel it?” Nothing. She must be lower than Zelda had thought. Removing her sweat-shirt, she tied one sleeve through one of the belt buckles and lowered her “rope” back into the hole.  Still, it came up short.

“Sweetheart, take off your shirt.”

There was no movement below her.

“Honey, are you still there?” she asked, anxiously. Panic gripped her voice and made it squeak.

Susie didn’t answer, she was hearing voices in her head: “TAKE YOUR SHIRT OFF, SUZE… C’MON… TAKE IT OFF… WILL YOU DO ME NEXT?  WILL YA… TAKE YOUR CLOTHES OFF FIRST!” The voices swarmed around her like little demons, echoing and resounding, bouncing off the walls and piercing her skull to float achingly inside. They dug their claws into her brain and scratched at the back of her eyeballs. She felt as though she were going to vomit, and she shut her eyes tightly, forcing the demons to go away.

Snatching off her tee-shirt, she tossed it high into the air. “Here comes!”

Zelda breathed a sigh of relief and joined the shirt with the other. This time when she swung the flimsy ladder into the hole she was rewarded with an answering tug on the other end. Bracing herself, she coaxed Susie off the ledge and began slowly drawing her up to safety.

Then, just as she was about to reach down and grab the little girl’s arm, Susie stopped. “Zelda,” she whispered. “There’s a tunnel here.”

She leaned down into the hole once more, and this time she connected with Susie. Grabbing her beneath the arms, she hauled her on out, where she held the shivering child tightly in her arms. After a few moments, the trembling abated, and she could tell the child was overcoming her fright.

“Here,” Zelda said, untying the tee-shirts and belts. “Put this back on before you catch your death.”

When they were dressed again and had rested a minute, Susie showed her the tunnel, running horizontally away from the shaft of the well, which it joined at a spot about three feet beneath the floor they were lying on. The two of them were reaching into the hole, flailing their arms in the darkness.

Facing Susie, she said, “Sweetheart, this could be a way out. Are you up to risking it?”

Silently in the dark, Susie nodded, and Zelda sensed it.

“Atta girl. What’ve we got to lose? We’ve pretty much outgrown this room anyway, right?”

With a reluctant sigh, she turned to the task of lowering them both safely into the tunnel.

Above them, in the doorway to the room they were quitting, a large bristle-haired creature sat watching them with eyes that pierced the cave’s eternal night. After a moment, it grunted once, low and menacingly.  It shuffled into the room where it poked its head in the hole and stared after them down the tunnel.

 

The Hidden — Chapter 11: OUT ON A LIMB — T.D. Barton & Derek Barton – 2018

TH 11a

 

CHAPTER ELEVEN:  OUT ON A LIMB

Nate’s body was protesting loudly. His legs were cramping and his back, especially between his shoulder blades, ached dully, no matter which way he arranged himself on the branch. The sun had traveled past its zenith, and still, the creature in the bean field had not relaxed its silent vigil.

Nate felt helpless.

If he had just himself to consider, he would wait the bastard out — no matter how long it took. But the thing that drove him to distraction was his concern for Zelda. He kept telling himself that she was alive, which meant she was out there somewhere waiting for him to save her.  She had always depended on him, and now she must be wondering why he hadn’t come looking for her.

Restlessly, he stood up and stretched his back for about the thousandth time that day. As soon as he moved, the beast below him clambered to its feet, all attention focused on him.

“You’re burning for it aren’t you, pal?” he growled at his tormentor. Reaching up, he climbed higher in the tree. He let his legs hang down and limbered up their screaming muscles by pedaling in mid-air. This was followed by a few old-fashioned chin-ups on the branch above his head. Stopping for a moment, he gazed up at the sun and sighed. There was nothing else to do, if he were to have any hope of finding Zelda, he was going to have to climb down from this tree. He slipped the gun from its holster, broke it open and took stock of its chambers. His count had been accurate — two bullets remained.

He’d purchased the weapon while they still lived in Chicago. The man behind the counter at the gun shop insisted he buy a “wheel gun” rather than an automatic, due to its simplicity and dependability. At the time, his main consideration had actually been the price.

“Yessir,” the man had told him, with a glint in his eye. “This here revolver will shoot, reload and shoot again faster than you can pull the trigger — just slicker’n cat shit on linoleum. And, statistically speaking, a .357 will break up a fight faster than any other handgun. It’ll stop a man quicker than anything else you’re apt to lay your hands on. If you’re buying a gun for protection… well, you got the right one, baby. Uh… HUH!” His laugh had been just a little too practiced and forced to sound sincere, but Nate bought the gun anyway. There had been a rash of crime in their neighborhood, and when a gunman held up the store which he worked in, he’d decided it was time to own one.

He had taken a course to learn to shoot, and he’d discovered he was pretty much a natural marksman. The man at the pistol range said it was because he aimed with his head instead of his eyes, making the gun a natural extension of his arm. At the time, he’d tried to get Nate to sign up for target shooting competitions, but he wasn’t interested. Never before had he been more grateful for this talent than now, when he planned to put it to the test.

It was Go Time!

Having made up his mind, he moved smoothly and decisively. First, he grasped the branch on which he stood with both hands. Swinging down quickly to hang beneath it, he dropped to the next lower branch, and then on to the ground. Before his feet even touched the earth, the monster was up and charging toward him. Nate landed in a squatting position. Straightening up, he slid the revolver from its sheath and leveled it at the beast. The creature skidded to a stop as if it were on a short tether. Pawing the ground in frustration, it growled and hissed threateningly.

Nate was impressed. “You learn pretty quickly, don’t you, Brutus?” His voice was low, but it carried to the creature’s ears, as was evidenced by its answering snarl of rage.

“Now, now! Don’t get cocky.” He brandished the gun menacingly and moved along the fence row toward the forest. He figured this was his only choice of directions, the timber at least offering some form of retreat should the creature overcome its fear of the weapon.

The monster in the field followed, paralleling his course, but staying just out of range for a safe shot. Nate made it to the next grove of trees and leaned up against the bole of a large shag-bark hickory. It looked as though it had been there since God was a little boy, its branches large and gnarled with time. A vine the size of Nate’s wrist ran down the side of the tree which he took note of, should he need quick access to the lowest branch.

Patiently waiting for an opening, it sat down, eyeing him and following his every move.  Just as Nate lowered the gun to rest his arm, the thing was on its feet and advancing. Quickly, he raised the gun again and the creature retreated again to a safe distance.  He heaved a sigh and started for the next grove of trees.

This game of cat and mouse continued for some distance down the fence row, as he made his way from one stand of trees to the next. At one point a red-tailed hawk screamed high above them, soaring in slow, looping circles as it rode the air currents above the field. When he looked back down, the creature had closed the distance by several paces and was advancing stealthily.

“You sneaky son-of-a-bitch!” He yelled, startled by how quickly it had moved. He brought his left hand up to join his right in its grasp on the gun.  The ugly beast leaped to safety. Unnerved a bit, he continued on, keeping a careful watch on his pursuer. It was when he was almost in reach of his goal that all hell broke loose.

As he had passed the final trees in the fence row and was within fifty yards of the woods another beast, which appeared to be the size of a grizzly, leaped up out of the tall grass to his left and took a swipe at him. He flinched, ducking his head, and the mighty paw passed within inches of his scalp. Uttering a curse, he thrust the muzzle of the gun into the face of the slavering giant and pulled the trigger. Its face erupted like an exploding melon and the beast toppled over backward, twitching like a beheaded rooster, prepared for Sunday dinner.

Nate twisted in time to see the one that had been following him was closing fast. But, worse than this, he saw two more approaching from the other side. It didn’t take a mathematician to figure out he couldn’t split his one remaining cartridge three ways, so he did the only thing he could think of. He ran for his life again.

Heart pounding and feet flying, he raced for the woods and he had a pretty good start on all three of these beasts, but he’d seen how fast they could move. All the same, fear was a marvelous equalizer when it came to a footrace. He was closing fast on the forest, and there was a veritable mother–lode of trees to choose from. An enormous white ash stood out against the backdrop of forest tangle, its branches raw and gleaming in the sun like exposed bones. It was a giant, holding back the verdant green press of the wood with its shoulders and reaching out friendly arms to welcome him.

Snapping a fast glance over his own shoulder, he saw that he was going to make it.  He began to look for a low-hanging branch to carry him to safety.

Suddenly, he saw something that almost made him lose his footing and stop. Loping out of the forest on a collision course with him was another of these pug-ugly bastards.

Jesus wept! he thought. I’ve stepped in it this time… It’s a whole freaking nest of ‘em!

Without breaking stride, however, he aimed the gun dead-center of the newcomer’s broad chest. It was snarling viciously, its tongue trailing along the left side of its mouth, sending little droplets of slobber in its wake. Forcing himself to wait until the last possible minute, Nate squeezed the trigger and was gratified to see the beast go down in a heap, rolling over and over in the dirt.

Leaping high in the air, he tried to vault over the fallen body, aiming to sprint the last few yards to safety.  But, at the last second, as it rolled on the ground, one of its hoary legs flopped up, catching the toe of his boot. To his dismay, he found himself sailing through the air and diving head-first into the hard dry ground at the edge of the forest.

Rolling to his feet and spitting out a mouthful of dirt, he looked to see how much time his spill had cost him.  There wasn’t much doubt now, it was going to take a miracle to come out of this one, for all of the beasts were almost upon him. His old friend from the bean field lead the pack.

He charged into the brush at the treeline’s edge. Looking frantically about, he spied a large branch and made a dive for it. As he hurtled through the air, he heard the closest of these hell-hounds crashing through the undergrowth behind him. A sharp, raking pain in the calf of his leg flared as he wrapped his arms around the tree limb. He bent and peered down into the enraged face of the creature.  It was standing on its hind legs with its claws buried in his leg, and it was pulling.

Frantically, he struggled to hold on, but it felt as though the horrid thing was about to twist his leg from its socket like a child ripping the wings from a fly.  He knew his gun was useless, but he slipped it from its holster anyway, hoping to bluff the creature. In vain he thrust it directly in its ugly, upturned face, but it took no notice, continuing to drag his leg irresistibly toward its snapping jaws.

He then threw the empty gun at the rock-hard skull of the creature, but again it didn’t react or even flinch.  Scrambling he found the camping ax on his belt.  Raising it high above his head with one arm, he clung desperately to the tree with the other. When he brought it down, the blade buried itself between the beast’s evil beady eyes, and great gushing streamers of blood sprayed in every direction. Nate was splattered heavily with it as it ran warm and sticky, into his eyes and he could taste its saltiness in the corners of his mouth.

The creature, who had been snarling and gibbering, exhaled sharply and fell away. Its claws snagged briefly in the fabric of Nate’s jeans, giving him one final tug before the weight of it pulled them free and it thudded to the ground.  With his strength ebbing, he made one last wrenching effort and drew his legs up just as the other creatures reached his tree.

There was no silent vigil for these two. They leaped and snapped their frothing jaws at him, exhibiting no fear whatsoever.

And why should they?  Nate asked himself, as he gaped at them in exhaustion from his perch. I’m unarmed now — no gun, no bullets, not even an ax.

He looked down at the corpse beneath the tree. The handle of the ax protruded from its head, making it look like some grotesque unicorn.  He leaned back carefully against the trunk of the tree, trying to get his breath back. Below him the two monsters went on snarling, snapping and raking their claws through the bark, ripping off huge chunks in the process.

“This was a great idea, Natey Boy.” he chided himself miserably. “Just great.”

 

***

 

 

While Nate waited in his tree-top sanctuary, he dozed, his two keepers having settled down to keep their guard. After snarling and carrying on fiercely for a while, they fell to sniffing about the body of the one he had adorned with his ax, much the same way this beast had carried on with its mate before. Occasionally one or the other would cast a reproachful glare up into the tree and snarl. Eventually, though, they both lay down to rest.

While he slept, Nate dreamed of Zelda. In his dreams, they were laughing and loving in the yard behind the house. Both of them were nude, and he had a garden hose, spraying Zelda as she laughed, gleefully, and tried to fend him off. She looked radiant. As the light from the westering sky fell upon her face, it became a smoothly glowing sun and her hair was its corona, leaping and flashing in a magnificent aura, shining just for him. The water clung to her skin in tiny droplets, beading up on her breasts. Her skin was awash with goose bumps and her nipples stood out tautly proud against the cool air. He reached out and ran the back of his hand across her cheek, feeling its cool, satiny softness, and he longed to wrap her in his arms. He let the hose fall to the ground and stretched out his arms to her, but she was gone.

He looked for her. “Zel, where are you?” he cried. “Help me, Honey, I can’t find you!”

Turning, he saw her sitting in a tree. She had a picnic basket in her hands and a ridiculously quaint checkerboard tablecloth which was spread over a branch. She was wearing a pale yellow sundress with a broad-brimmed hat, decorated with flowers. Her skin, deeply tanned, contrasted nicely with the bright colors of her outfit, and one strap on her dress kept falling down over her shoulder.  She was alluring, as only love could see her.

Then he was in the tree at her side, the bark rough and course against his bare legs. She laughed, coquettishly and leaned against him for a moment. He was as happy as he could ever remember being. He looked at her and said with disbelief, “You’re not dead, I knew that.”

On impulse, he looked down and saw there were dogs — big dogs, they had gorilla faces, and they were staring… staring… and their eyes were hot. He could feel the heat from them.

Zelda laughed at his remark and reached into the basket. It was one of those old-fashioned creels, with a lid on either end, hinged in the middle. She pulled out a small parcel, wrapped in wax paper. He hadn’t seen wax paper since he was a kid… nobody used wax paper anymore. He told her so, but she paid no attention. She was busy unwrapping his food.

Suddenly he was ravenous. His stomach felt cavernously empty, and his mouth watered at the very thought of food. He realized he hadn’t eaten all day, and this was just what he needed.  Taking the appetizer eagerly in his hands, he thanked her and prepared his mouth for a treat.

Just then one of the dogs below shouted “Come down here,  Meat! Come down! We are sick of waiting to rip you to shreds and lick the blood from your bones.”

He looked to see the gorilla dogs, staring up at him and wagging stubby tails. Fierce, dagger-like teeth stretched beyond their thick lips, and a wild, anxious look filled their eyes.

The sandwich in his hands squirmed nastily, like something alive and slimy. Removing the top slice of bread — His mind screamed NOOOOOO!!!… DON’T LOOK AT IT!! — he saw that the sandwich meat was a decaying face. The face had been peeled from a rotting corpse head. It draped over the bread like a grotesque rubber mask for Halloween — a death mask. Flies squirmed darkly in the sockets of its eyes and its stiff black tongue protruded from purplish swollen lips. As he gasped in horror, he could feel the spinal cord, like a piece of cold, wet string, curling across the back of his hand and tickling his bare leg.

Nate screamed in revulsion while Zelda laughed, hysterically. When he looked, he saw that her neck was broken and her head hung crazily at an impossible angle to her body.

“You didn’t REALLY think they’d let me live, did you?” Her mocking voice echoed hollowly, sounding as though it came from a cave somewhere deep underground. The last of her words were garbled as blackened blood flowed from her mouth.  He shrunk away from her on the limb. Out into space, he sailed, his arms scrabbling desperately for a purchase on the tree, as the gorilla-dogs snarled triumphantly: “YES, That’s it! Come on down so we can eat you! Come on down Natey Boy!”

Lurching violently, he was yanked into wakefulness by a strange sense of vertigo. When he opened his eyes he realized that he WAS falling. In his sleep, he had leaned too far and was toppling from his perch to a horrid fate below.

Clumsily, he jammed his hands into the side of the tree, and at the last second, averted disaster. He shook his head savagely, trying to clear away the cobwebs. What a ghastly nightmare that had been! Of course, his waking hours had all been nightmare lately, so what more could he expect?

The voices of those devil-dogs in his dream had been so eerily real he could almost hear them still… “Come down, Meat! Nate, come on down.” Suddenly he snapped completely awake and his skin began to crawl as he realized that he DID still hear them. Someone was talking to him from down there… and the voice was that of his dream. With a shudder of fear and a sense of unspeakable loathing, he lowered his eyes to the ground below.

“We are sick of waiting! Come down, Natey Boy. Come down.”