FanStory.com
"Breach"


Chapter 1
Into the Dark

By Candace Nola

Warning: The author has noted that this contains the highest level of violence.
Warning: The author has noted that this contains the highest level of language.

I stood against the rough bark of the tree beside me, desperately trying to control my breathing. Twilight was swiftly giving way to darkness and the forest was heavy with dense gray fog and far reaching shadows. I could hear my heartbeat pounding as I tried to quiet my harsh breathing. My brain was working overtime trying to make sense of what I had just seen. There just wasn't any way to reconcile what I had seen with what I knew to be real.

The creature tearing apart my friends in the clearing was unlike anything I'd ever seen, in reality or in my nightmares. It towered eight feet in the air, on spindly black legs covered in coarse hair, with piercing red eyes looming over its sickly gray body. It roared from a gaping mouth so impossibly filled with razor sharp teeth, that they seemed to be stretching its mouth past the breaking point. Moving like a spider would, it skittered through the clearing, chasing my best friend as she screamed.

The lumps that covered the mass of its body appeared to be faces, skin the same sickly shade of gray as the creature. Writhing just under the flesh of the monster, eyes sunken and black, their mouths opened in horrific shrieks and screams of terror and agony. There were dozens of trapped faces, some clearly human while others were not. There were faces that looked like they had been pulled straight from the depths of hell; pointy eared gargoyles, turtle shaped heads with large fangs, animals that looked like mutated hybrids. What should have been a cacophony of sound, a horrific mix of agony and torture, was muted by the flesh of the creature into a low pathetic moaning sound. The agonized screaming of my best friend overpowered all other noise.

When I had entered the clearing a few minutes ago, returning from washing our dinner dishes in the nearby stream, I had stumbled directly into a scene ripped from nightmares. Unable to scream, unable to breathe, I stood frozen just at the edge of the clearing, barely aware of the wetness spreading down my legs as my bladder let go.

Blood and gore coated what had been our campsite. Two of my friends were scattered in pieces under the monsters legs, or rather, the pieces that remained, an arm, part of a leg, a foot, still twitching. My best friend, barely alive, continued to scream as the monsters jaw severed her torso from her legs. Blood sprayed the tent and still smoldering fire pit as the creature chewed her upper half, blood streaming down from its gnashing jaw while bits of tissue and ruined flesh spattered on the ground. My brain was screaming at me to move, to run, to get away and my legs finally got the message. I bolted for the trees, terror consuming my brain.

I had been running for what felt like an eternity and now I stood here, clutching a tree, trying to remain upright. Shaking violently, crying and gasping to breathe. All while trying to quiet my body at the same time. The monster would be behind me, stalking me through the trees. To hope differently would be foolish; the scent of my terror, my sweat and urine would be raw and potent in the air, it would have caught my scent by now.

Finally able to breathe slower and no longer gasping for air, I stood trembling. My heart was pounding against my chest, every beat like a sledgehammer against my rib cage. Every nerve in my body was on high alert; I felt every hint of air on my skin and ruffling through my hair, heard every sound around me. Leaves whispering to each other, insects chirping in the underbrush and in the distance branches were breaking; loudly being snapped in half as something big was careening through them.

I got moving again, away from the sound, deeper into the dark trying to be silent and unseen, but every step sounded like a thunderclap in the stillness of the woods. The animals and insects had fled or gone into hiding, keenly aware that a predator was close. The darkness hung heavy around me, the humid air making it hard to breathe quietly. My brain was in overdrive, trying to form several plans at once; Hide, escape, fight or flight, survive. I had no weapons, no tools, nothing but the clothes I wore, and a jacket. Overcome by sheer terror, I ran.

I could hear the monster pursuing me, branches and twigs snapping behind me. I could hear pebbles being kicked into the brush as its spindly legs skittered after me through the night. Terror fueled my flight, adrenaline dulling the pain in my leg muscles.

Ten minutes later, I jumped down a small bank and splashed across a narrow stream, hoping the creature was too far behind to hear the water splash against my boots. Scrambling up the bank on the other side, I used my hands to find purchase amongst the vines and slippery tree roots. Upright again, I kept going, trying to avoid trees and tripping over roots. Branches whipped at my arms and face as I ran, cutting into my arms that were raised in effort to protect myself from the stinging branches.

I came to a large patch of thorny vines and bushes, pausing to see how thick it was, how far it stretched. Quickly, I decided to try to go around it, and ran along the edge of it, following the growth to the end. Blindly trying to flee the monster that was coming, I continued running, dodging trees, roots and branches. Several minutes later I came to a thick stand of trees, all crowded tightly together, with barely room to crouch inside the middle of it. Large branches hung down, heavy with wet leaves. Several pine trees in the midst layered their large full branches onto the drooping branches of the trees around them.

I barely hesitated before deciding to try to crawl into the middle of the trees. I climbed over the roots and got one leg inside, and turned sideways to squeeze between two massive trunks. Once inside the first ring of trees, I repeated this process, until I was fully in the middle of the tightly woven copse of trees. I sank down to the leaf covered ground, leaning heavily against the tree at my back. Shakily, I tried to steady my breathing, forcing myself to calm down, trying desperately to listen for the sounds of pursuit.

I did not believe I was safe, but for now, I was hidden. The sheer size of the trees and the lack of space between them would make it impossible for the nightmare creature to reach me. I sat and wept silently with my head on my knees, arms wrapped around my legs. Long minutes passed and I pulled myself together, wiping my face on my jacket sleeve. I tried to listen for any sounds of the creature, but only heard insects chirping in the underbrush. I settled back against the tree and tried to make myself small and invisible, but my smell alone would give me away.

My clothes were soaked in sweat, urine and muddy stream water. The stench of fear and terror hung over me, like the smell of death at our campsite. The memory hit me like a punch to the stomach, my friends, reduced to pieces of bone and tissue. The blood seeping into the ground, pouring from the bloody maw of the monster, the hot coppery smell of blood and the stench of feces from their disemboweled bodies.

Ropes of intestines dangling from the tree branches, viscera strewn everywhere in the clearing, from their bodies being literally torn apart. But only body parts remained, no heads, remembering the faces trapped in the flesh of the monsters body, I shuddered violently and vomited into the dirt.

Would that be their fate? To forever be trapped in the flesh of that thing? Writhing and screaming in agony for eternity? What was the creature? Where the fuck did it come from? It couldn't be from this world, but if it wasn't, where the hell did it come from and how did it get here?

Author Notes Work in progress. All help welcomed. Edits and changes made 2/6/19


Chapter 2
Hidden

By Candace Nola

Warning: The author has noted that this contains the highest level of language.

Head pounding, exhaustion setting in and my body aching from running, I closed my eyes, and prepared to wait for morning and an end to this nightmare. After a long while, fatigue won over and I slept.

Sometime later, I jolted awake, immediately alert in spite of my exhaustion. The noise had been close by, the sudden sharp crack of a branch being snapped in half. Frozen in place, I did not move a muscle, did not exhale. I became acutely aware of something crawling on my skin, big and bristly, it scuttled across my hand and down my leg. Revulsion filled my brain, but I did not make a sound. I prayed that it would continue into the trees without biting or stinging me. Several more times, my skin crawled with various bugs and insects as they navigated around me to the trees beyond. The hairs were raised on the back of my neck, goosebumps covered my body but I remained silent and still.

The forest was silent all around me, except for the skittering sounds made by the creature hunting me. I could hear it scurrying to my left, ripping branches from tree trunks as it went. I could hear snorting and huffing as it sniffed the air, trying to track my scent. The low moaning of the trapped faces provided an eerie background noise to the hunt.

Frozen in place, my legs began to cramp and pins and needles jabbed me as my limbs fell asleep but I did not move. The slightest noise would bring the monster closer to the thicket where I was hiding. Right then the scuttling came closer, right outside of where I sat. Tears ran down my face, dripped from my jawline onto my coat, and ran down my neck. Sweat ran in rivers down my spine. I had never known fear like this, it paralyzed me to my core. My only coherent thought was "Don't move! Don't move! Don't move!" Over and over, on a loop in my brain, it was all I could think.

I could smell the monster outside; the stench emanating off of it was unbearable, a putrid mix of rot and decay. The odor filled my nostrils and I desperately swallowed back the sudden bile that had risen in my throat. Skittering sounds became louder as the legs of the thing began hunting around the thicket, scraping over roots and bark as it searched for me, trying to find an opening. I hunched over, trying to escape deeper into the tree trunk that I huddled against, impossibly trying to disappear.

An eternity passed, and the monster continued its frenzied scraping and skittering around the circle of trees. The snorting and huffing became louder, turning into deep guttural roars, as its legs tried to find a way to reach me, but the body was too large to slip between the closely woven trees.

Huddling miserably inside the safety of the trees, I cursed myself for having chosen to stop here. It could not reach me, but I also could not leave. I could not hope to leave the enclosure without alerting the monster to my attempts to flee. Weeping silently, I covered my mouth with the sleeve of my jacket. There was nothing more I could do, but wait. Wait and hope that it would grow tired and move on.

Relentlessly the creature hunted around the tree, growling it's displeasure while the moaning faces continued their cries. The sound was burrowing deep into my brain. The spindly legs were poking and prodding into any opening. It's black claws were tapping along the branches and trunks with hideous scraping sounds. An hour must have passed by before the noise lessened and the skittering slowed and became still. Only the soft wailing could be heard, although slightly further away. I had no idea if it had left the area or had settled down to wait me out.

I decided to focus on the voices, wailing in agony, soft but still very clear. I figured the monster had settled in to wait. Slowly, inch by inch, I straightened one leg out, then the other, letting the blood flow resume. The pins and needles were like needle pricks to my brain, each one stabbing deep into my leg muscles. I did not make a sound but exhaled very slowly, trying to focus on moving and regaining my circulation. My ass was numb and damp from the leaves and earth under me and I shifted side to side, to ease the pressure. I arched my back slowly, trying to ease the muscle pain and cramping, stretching my fear strained muscles the best I could in the tight space.

The incessant wailing was a steady drone of anguished cries that never wavered in volume, trying to be heard outside of the decaying body of the monster that had savagely torn them to pieces. If I had to describe what I thought Hell sounded like, this was it, at a dull roar.

I shifted into a crouch and slowly stood up, placing my hands on my knees, I took a couple breaths to steady myself. It had been hours since I had any food or water, and my head was pounding against my skull, overloaded from stress, fear and fatigue. The wailing was slowly driving me insane but as long as I could hear it, I could try to gauge what side of the trees the monster was on.

I was standing in the innermost part of the trees and had two more layers that I would need to squeeze thru before reaching the outside. I decided to try moving directly behind me, as the wailing seemed to be loudest in front of me. I slowly slid one leg out into the next ring of trees, finding my footing on a thick root. Grasping the branch closest to me, I angled my body through the opening and brought my other leg out.

Clinging tightly to the tree, I steadied myself and exhaled quietly; listening for the wailing sounds coming from the creature. It seemed a bit softer from this direction and I dared to hope that I was going to sneak away unnoticed.
Standing silently for several long minutes, I listened for any sound from the monster to indicate it had moved. I edged closer to the outer ring of trees, trying to see beyond the thicket that encircled me, the only thing between me and the nightmare. I could still hear the wailing, coming from the opposite side.

Fighting back the fear that threatened to force me back inside the safety of the niche I had been hiding in, I lifted one foot up and out, placing it silently on the ground outside. Clutching the tree, I slowly edged my way around it, and brought my body out through the opening, followed by my right leg. I was shaking badly with fear, unable to see more than a few feet in front of me. I thought it would be dawn soon, but the forest had not yet begun to lighten. I had to move, I was vulnerable and exposed, in the dark, with no idea of where to go.

Steeling myself and prepared to run at any second, I took a step forward. Quiet as a mouse, I inched forward, stepping only on the balls of my feet, finding solid purchase with one foot before silently moving the next. My hands were outstretched, reaching out for the next tree, trying to feel my way through the dark forest. Step by step, I continued forward, barely breathing at all, every step silent, leg muscles tight from fear and from adrenaline, ready to bolt at the slightest sound.

I could not run, not yet; I had not put enough distance between myself and the monster. I could still hear the tortured faces, wailing out their distress. I inched along, steadily, silently, every sense on high alert. Suddenly something brushed my arms and I nearly screamed in terror, but my brain stopped the noise from erupting from my mouth just in time, recognizing that it was a tree branch. I moved my arms slowly, grasping the branch and feeling my way along it to the trunk. Stealthily, I eased around to the other side. My body was shaking from the forced slowness of my escape, fear still running rampant through my veins.

Sweat was pouring from my brow and I felt like I had gone a mile from my hiding spot, but the endless song of the wailing reminded me how close I still was to danger. I took a minute to lean against a tree, to breathe slowly and deeply, before I continued. Stepping away from the tree, I lifted my arms in my dance of the dark and stepped forward. "One more step, one more step, one more step" became a mantra in my brain. I focused only on my breathing and my silent footsteps. Left, pause, right, pause, listen, left, pause, right, pause, listen, I continued my trek.

Victory at last! I safely reached another tree. I felt around the width of the trunk, silently stepping along its roots as I navigated around to the other side. "Stop, listen, breathe, inhale and exhale, inhale and exhale," my brain was on autopilot. I merely carried out its commands. Five more times I carried out this process, find a tree, get around it (stop, listen, breathe), find a tree, get around it (stop, listen, breathe) and repeat.
I stopped to listen for a long minute after the fifth tree and heard nothing. I could no longer hear the incessant wailing, nor could I hear the normal forest sounds, so I knew that the predator lingered nearby. Still, relief flooded my brain and I allowed myself a moment to enjoy it. I was not out of the woods yet, literally, but I was gaining distance and soon could run.


Chapter 3
Dawn

By Candace Nola

Warning: The author has noted that this contains the highest level of violence.
Warning: The author has noted that this contains the highest level of language.

Dawn was finally penetrating the thick forest, shades of gray cast everything into shadows but I could now see where I was going. After reaching ten trees beyond my hiding spot, I had finally started a quiet jog from tree to tree, carefully making my way through the thick underbrush.
I no longer had any accurate idea of what direction I was heading from the campsite clearing and could only hope that I would find it again. My one and only half formed plan of hoping to reroute back to it anytime soon seemed impossible now. That sudden realization brought frustrated tears to my eyes, and overwhelming despair threatened me.

I was running on fumes but I made myself keep going. Always pausing at a tree large enough to hide behind and listen to the forest for 30 seconds, before darting to the next one. I hoped to find a stream soon, my thirst was making itself known, stronger every second. The gray light in the canopy above gradually lightened to an unhealthy yellow and gave a sickly glow to everything around me, but it was better than the dark. Sounds had resumed in the forest, the hum of insects and animals and plant life, reassuring me that for the moment I was safe from the monster of the night.

Now that I was able to see better and was no longer running through the forest in blind terror, I had time to observe my surroundings. The forest was thick, trees very tightly woven together in some areas and set much farther apart in others, but I could not name any of the trees that I saw. Some resembled pine trees, oak trees, birches and elms but the coloring was off. Some leaves appeared to be ovals and others were shaped more like circles. The leaves were unsightly shades of yellows, reds, purples, greens and browns. Streaks of red and mahogany seemed to drip down the trunks of some trees, while the pine type trees were black with silver blue needles.

The weird leaves underfoot did not crunch like normal dead leaves in fall, but seemed to whisper softly, gliding over each other with each step. The dirt was a rich black with an even layer of startlingly yellow moss growing on its surface. Instead of firm, hard packed earth, it felt spongy, like jogging on soft Astro turf instead of forest dirt. I could see thickets of thorny bushes that were a light grayish lavender with large white berries growing in tight clusters. Vines hung down from the branches above me, but they appeared supple, more smooth in appearance than a normal vine. Their colors ranged from deep scarlet to dark hunter green and black. I reached out to touch one, marveling at its silky texture; surprisingly it felt warm and seemed to pulse slightly at my touch. I dropped the vine quickly, revolted by the sensation and becoming more scared by the second.

I could not be in the same forest that I had camped in as a child, the same terrain that I had explored hundreds of times. This was alien, a landscape out of a very bad dream; a dream I very much wanted to wake up from. My head pounded and I gripped the bridge of my nose with my thumb and finger, hoping to ease the pressure somehow. None of this made sense to me.

This had to be a trick of my terrorized senses, a hallucination brought on by dehydration or a concussion. Maybe I had fallen and hit my head hard on a rock or fallen tree. I reached up to feel my head, fingers gently prodding at the sides and back of my skull, but I could feel nothing except the pounding in my skull.
I lifted my head again and looked slowly around, seeing but not quite believing.

It is a thickly wooded forest, but the colors and shapes are not quite the forest colors and shapes that I'm used to, and the textures are off. It's vastly different than the one that I knew surrounded Wooden Hollow retreat and campground. The same campground in which four friends had pitched a tent in, just two days ago.

Wooden Hollow was a favorite vacation spot for my family while I was growing up. Deep in Ohio by Lake Tomahawk, it was set back in a thickly wooded area, with a vast clearing leading to a large lake, a sandy beach spread out before it. Spaces were cleared out beneath the trees for camp sites, water and electric hook-ups near each with a fire pit and grill nearby. Picnic tables scattered through the trees, near hiking trails that wove all around the property, leading into the woods, to the lake, the fishing ponds and the recreation hall and play grounds. There were large covered pavilions for gatherings, parties, bingo nights and kids club activities.

The large lake was always my favorite spot and I spent hours jumping off of or laying on the giant wooden raft that was anchored in the middle of the blue water. The sunlight made the lake sparkle like a dark blue sapphire, every ripple twinkling like the precious gem. The raft had ladders on each side and had four thick chains underneath, which were anchored to the bottom of the lake. We spent hours diving off of it, following the submerged chains down to the murky water below; searching for pirate treasures or the Great White shark we pretended was near by.

As a younger child, I would wade in the shallows and sift through the sand; looking for the tiny jewel colored sea shells that the owners always sprinkled along the edge of the shoreline. I was so excited with every find and would run squealing to my mother who would patiently "oooh and ahhh" over each one.

Hours were also spent in the playground area, in the grassy meadow beside the lake. In the very middle sat a wooden jungle gym shaped like a castle, complete with flags, turrets and a drawbridge. Slides, ladders, poles and swaying bridges connected the sections and we spent entire afternoons here, slaying dragons and rescuing the kingdom.

We led hunting parties through the woods. We explored caves and streams, poked dead animals with sticks and called each other brave. We swung from the vines and climbed the trees. Summer friends, camp friends and best friends, we all played here. We made memories here and grew up here.

Wooden Hollow, this was not, I shook myself out of my reverie and looked around. I had continued lightly jogging from tree to tree while I was lost in my thoughts. I refocused my attention to the trees around me and listened to the forest once more.

The background noise of the forest remained, vibrant and thrumming at a low volume. I heard scurrying sounds of some small animals, branches making "shush, shush" sounds as they rubbed together, insects chirping and buzzing in the air. Thankfully, no sign of the giant spider monster but I knew I had to stay alert. Realizing I was no longer in a place I knew, the spider monster may not be my only worry.

Standing there, listening for any sound of danger, my hunger and thirst reared up and reminded me that I needed to find food and water. It had been almost a full day since I had eaten or drank. The need was overpowering as my brain suddenly focused on those most basic but most urgent demands. In my panicked flight from the monster, I had not been thinking about food or water.

Author Notes Chapters 3-4-5 added 2/6/19 were part of the original longer chapter two with edits and changes made. If you have been reading along since last week, go to chapter 6 for the newest chapter.


Chapter 4
Daybreak

By Candace Nola

Warning: The author has noted that this contains the highest level of language.

At last daybreak was penetrating the thick forest, murky yellow light cast everything into shadows but I could see where I was going. When I reached the tenth tree beyond my hiding spot, I had finally started a quiet jog from tree to tree, carefully making my way through the thick underbrush.
After the night spent inching from tree to tree in the dark, I no longer had any idea of what direction I was heading from the campsite. I had to hope that I would find it again. My one and only plan rerouting back to it anytime soon seemed impossible now. That sudden realization brought frustrated tears to my eyes, and despair threatened to overwhelm me.

Running on fumes but I kept going; pausing at trees large enough to hide behind and listen for sounds of pursuit, before darting to the next one. I hoped to find a stream soon, my thirst was making itself known, stronger every second. The murky light in the trees gradually lightened to an unhealthy yellow and gave a sickly glow to everything around me. Sounds had resumed in the forest around me, the hum of insects and animals and plant life reassuring me that for the moment I was safe from the monster of the night.

No longer running through the forest in blind terror, I observed my surroundings. The forest was thick, trees very tightly woven together in some areas and set much farther apart in others, but I could not name any of the trees that I saw. Some resembled pine trees, oak trees, birches and elms but the coloring was off. Some leaves appeared to be spiky ovals and others were shaped like raindrops. The leaves were unsightly shades of gray, greens and purples. Streaks of red seemed to drip down the trunks of some trees, while the pine type trees were black in color with silver blue needles.

The oddly shaped leaves on the ground did not crunch like normal dead leaves in fall, but seemed to whisper softly, gliding over each other with each step. The dirt was rich black in color with a layer of startlingly yellow moss growing on its surface. Instead of firm, hard packed earth, it felt spongy, like jogging on soft Astro turf. I could see thickets of thorny bushes that were a light gray lavender in color with large white berries growing in tight clusters. Vines hung down from the branches above me, but they appeared supple, more smooth in appearance than a normal vine. They ranged in color from deep scarlet to dark hunter green and black. I reached out to touch one, marveling at its silky texture; surprisingly it felt warm and seemed to pulse slightly at my touch. I dropped the vine quickly, revolted by the sensation, becoming more scared by the second.

I could not be in the same forest that I had camped in as a child, the same terrain that I had explored hundreds of times. This was alien, a landscape out of a very bad dream; a dream I very much wanted to wake up from. My head pounded and I gripped the bridge of my nose with my thumb and finger, hoping to ease the pressure somehow. None of this made sense to me.
This had to be a trick of my terrorized senses, a hallucination brought on by dehydration or a concussion. Maybe I had fallen and hit my head hard on a rock or fallen tree. I reached up to feel my head, fingers gently prodding at the sides and back of my skull, but I could feel nothing except the pounding in my skull.
I lifted my head again and looked slowly around, seeing but not quite believing. The colors and shapes are not the forest colors and shapes that I'm used to, even the textures are off. It's a forest but vastly different than the one that I knew surrounded Wooden Hollow retreat and campground. The same campground in which four friends had pitched a tent in, just two days ago.

Wooden Hollow was a favorite vacation spot for my family while I was growing up. Deep in Ohio by Lake Tomahawk, it was set back in a thickly wooded area, with a vast clearing leading to a large lake, a sandy beach spread out before it. Spaces were cleared out beneath the trees for camp sites, water and electric hook-ups near each with a fire pit and grill nearby. Picnic tables scattered through the trees, near hiking trails that wove all around the property, leading into the woods, to the lake, the fishing ponds and the recreation hall and play grounds. There were large covered pavilions for gatherings, parties, bingo nights and kids club activities.

The large lake was always my favorite spot and I spent hours jumping off of or laying on the giant wooden raft that was anchored in the middle of the blue water. Sunlight made the lake sparkle like a dark blue sapphire, every ripple twinkling like the precious gem. The raft had ladders on each side and had four thick chains underneath, anchored to the bottom of the lake. We spent hours diving off of it, following the submerged chains down to the murky water below; searching for pirate treasures or the Great White shark we pretended was near by.

As a younger child, I would wade in the shallows and sift through the sand; looking for the tiny jewel colored sea shells that the owners always sprinkled along the edge of the shoreline. I was so excited with every find and would run squealing to my mother who would patiently "oooh and ahhh" over each one.
Hours were also spent in the playground area, in the grassy meadow beside the lake. In the very middle sat a wooden jungle gym shaped like a castle, complete with flags, turrets and a drawbridge. Slides, ladders, poles and swaying bridges connected the sections and we spent entire afternoons here, slaying dragons and rescuing the kingdom. We led hunting parties through the woods. We explored caves and streams, poked dead animals with sticks and called each other brave. We swung from the vines and climbed the trees. Summer friends, camp friends and best friends, we all played here. We made memories here and grew up here.

Wooden Hollow, this was not, I shook myself out of my reverie and looked around. I had continued lightly jogging from tree to tree while I was lost in my thoughts. I refocused my attention to the trees around me and listened to the forest once more. The background noise of the forest remained, vibrant and thrumming at a low volume. I heard scurrying sounds of some small animals, branches making "shush, shush" sounds as they rubbed together, insects chirping and buzzing in the air. Thankfully, no sign of the giant spider like monster, but I knew I had to stay alert. Realizing I was no longer in a place I knew, the spider monster may not be my only worry.
Standing there, listening for any sound of danger, my hunger and thirst reared up and reminded me that I needed to find food and water. It had been almost a full day since I had eaten or drank. The need was overpowering as my brain suddenly focused on those most basic but most urgent demands. In my panicked flight from the monster, I had not been listening for sounds of water.

I knew there was water because I had crossed a stream during the night. Immediately the thought followed that while I knew there was water here, was it drinkable? Images of me writhing in agony on the forest floor from tainted water popped in my brain. I pushed that thought away because I knew that when I found water, I would drink it. I had to, in order to survive.

Standing still, sinking slightly into the sponge like ground, I strained my ears, hoping to hear sounds of water, but I heard none. I leveled my gaze on the trees in an attempt to see a clearing or a wide path through the trees that might indicate a water source. There seemed to be more light coming from my left side, possibly indicating thinner trees over there, it was the best option I had, so I set off in that direction.

Walking freely now, I was able to move faster between the trees. I stayed alert as I moved, my eyes were constantly moving left and right, looking for any sudden movement, any sign of water or a way out of the forest. A buzzing sound caught my attention and looking up towards the sound, my eyes widened in shock. There was a fly buzzing and flitting around my head, but this was not any type of fly that I had ever seen.

Dark orange in coloring, with a tiny wrinkled body, humanoid in shape with intelligent green eyes and large black wings that looked like they were woven from delicate lace. It was about an inch long and seemed quite curious about me. The tiny head was tilted to one side and green eyes looked at me, perhaps waiting to see if I was friend or foe. It hovered in the air just in front of me, tiny arms folded in front of it as its wings beat the air around it. Several long seconds passed before it flitted away. I could only stare after it in shock. My brain screamed "WATER!" at me and I got moving again, angling towards the patch of bright sunlight.

As I walked, I started to see more of the flying insects flitting between trees and settling into leaves. Each one looked like the first, same orange color, tiny humanoid features with a wrinkled up body. They almost looked like tiny old men with wings and big eyes. Mentally, I named them "Jackflies" short for jack o'lanterns due to the odd pumpkin coloring. "Hey Jack! You like that?" I asked the one closest to me. The sound of my voice made it flit off into the trees, wings buzzing angrily at me. "Guess not", I mumbled to myself, chuckling a little at its angry little face.
Twenty minutes passed and I reached the sunlight drenched patch of forest. The trees were much thinner here, widely spaced out with large fern type plants growing near their roots. The ferns were a dark blue color with some gray spots on them. Very large spiky fronds seemingly grew out from every angle, but the result was a perfect arch of fronds situated at the base of these narrow, pale gray trees that dotted the area.
Scanning the area in all directions, I hoped to see or to hear water but none appeared. I was feeling dizzy and light-headed, more stumbling than walking now. My feet hurt from the blisters rubbing against the sides of my hiking boots and I dreaded taking them off. My lips and throat were dry and scratchy, as if I had swallowed several cups of sand and the thick humid air was doing nothing to help ease my thirst or fatigue.
I decided to continue heading towards the open area of the forest, not quite a meadow but the trees and bushes were much more sparse in this section. The sky above seemed to be yellow in color, like the swirling dust of a sandstorm, but glowing from within. I could not see a sun, but the sky was yellow and the air was warmer here and much more pleasant than the dank air inside the suffocating forest.

Several long minutes passed and I had stumbled my way across the mossy open area and now approached a denser section of trees, shadowy and gloomy from the lack of light penetrating through them. I crossed into the gloom and within seconds found myself ankle deep in muddy earth. "Water!", I half shouted the word out, much to the dismay of several Jackflies perched nearby. They flitted angrily away as I looked around trying to decide which direction would lead me to the source of the water. I decided to head to the right as I could see water lying just over the tops of the leaves and moss. Relief had flooded my system and I jogged along at a renewed pace, muddy water splashing up my legs as I went.
I had gone the length of a football field before I came to a root formation where water was trickling down over the top of the small hill it made. I dropped to the muddy ground and cupped my hands under the tiny stream. It felt cool and looked clear and for now that was good enough for me. I leaned down to my cupped hands and drank, the water tasted sweet and pure. Nothing had ever tasted this good. The trickle was slow and I waited patiently for the water to fill my cupped hands. I drank for several minutes hoping that it would not make me sick.

Thirst slaked, I straightened up and looked around, still on my knees in the mud. Jackflies were buzzing around and I could see other oddly shaped winged insects (creatures?) flying around. Long dragon fly type insects with gossamer wings darted low to the ground, jabbing elongated heads into the muddied earth, I assumed looking for grubs or slurping at the water. Their tails were longer than a normal dragonfly and their heads were misshapen, longer and larger than normal. Their bodies were bright reds, purples and blues with large wings that seemed to shimmer in the gloom. They looked like snakes with wings to me and I shuddered.

I stooped back down to the trickling water and drank until I felt sloshy inside. I was beginning to feel better and so far, my body was not rejecting the water. I stood up and wiped the dirt from my jeans. I was hesitant to leave the water but I knew I had to. I had to find a way out of here, find someone that could tell me where I was or how I got here. I needed to get home.

A sudden sob rose in my throat as the image of the eviscerated bodies of my friends back at the clearing flashed through my mind. Home, would never be the same. A few tears escaped from my eyes and I brushed them away. I wet my hands again and scrubbed at my face, wiping it with the hem of my shirt. There would be time to grieve later.

Suddenly, I saw a flash of movement out of the corner of my eye and quickly turned towards it. A large rabbit shaped animal was bounding between the trees. It's strong legs leaped easily over fallen trees and branches. The fur was a deep auburn color that shimmered red when the light hit it. The ears were rounded and floppy, much like a beagle. It paused by a small tree, turning this way and that, deciding where to go.

Something about it's face unsettled me, very similar to a rabbit but something was off. The mouth seemed to be too large under the whiskered nose, much too wide. It caught sight of me, opened its mouth, bared it's teeth in a rictus grin and bounded away. My own mouth dropped open in surprise; it had teeth like a dog, large vicious canines on display.

I quickly decided to head the opposite direction, away from the rabbit-dog, and turned back to the sunny area of the forest, hoping to follow the clearing to some type of road or houses. Something other than this sickly forest. Hoping to find some berries or small fruits that were edible, I set off to the clearing. I remembered that the forest around Wooden Hollow was always teeming with berries and had some apple and walnut trees on the edges. This was not my beloved Wooden Hollow, but I could still hope to find something edible.

I set off back towards the bright patch of yellow sky. My stomach was pleasantly sloshy but hunger still rumbled underneath. I was still aware that the water could make me sick and the wrong food would only complicate matters. I had no idea if anything I found here would be harmful or not. I knew there were plenty of poisonous berries and plants that grew in Wooden Hollow, I figured the same would be true in this world. I just needed to be very cautious in selecting something to try.

Some berries and plants were deadly just from a single bite and judging from the hostile gloomy world in which I found myself, I would bet my last dollar that deadly things ran rampant here. Shit, I would give my last dollar for a burger right now. Saliva rushed to my mouth at the mere thought of it. I pushed the thought away as my hunger pains become more insistent.

I reached the section of gray trees and blue ferns and turned to my right, trying to walk parallel to the stream I had found. As far as I could see, this open swath reached out towards the horizon in front of me. I prayed to whatever gods that might be listening, that it led somewhere. There were small thickets of the thorny lavender bushes out here with heavy clusters of the white berries dangling from them.

I saw several dark green bushes, heavy with deep red and bright purple fruits. My stomach growled deeply and I wondered if any of these might be edible. I changed my direction a bit and headed towards the closest lavender bush. As I approached it, I saw the berries were smooth and round, much like a cranberry; some were a dull white color while others gleamed with a pearlescent shine.

I picked one of each off the bush, wondering which to try. I figured the color and texture of each indicated varying degrees of ripeness, but I had no clue which was which. Using my thumbnail, I split the flesh of the dull, firm berry and held it to my nose. I sniffed it and the scent was distinctly sour, tart like an unripened Granny Smith apple. The inside was a light green texture, slightly sticky.

I pierced the skin of the pearlescent berry in my other hand, this one was softer with a deep purple flesh inside. Sniffing it, sweetness filled my nose and saliva filled my mouth. My choice made, I popped the berry into my mouth and chewed it. The juice was sweet and the texture of it was like a grape. I quickly picked more of the pearl colored berries from the bush and ate them. I started picking more and putting them in my pockets of my jacket.

Thrusting my hand into my right pocket, I felt something hard in the deep pocket. With a sudden realization, I dropped the berries and grabbed for it. My fingers found the hilt of it and pulled it out. My camping knife had survived my panicked dash through the forest the night before, secured by the deepness of the jacket pocket. I pulled the blade from its sheath, and marveled at my good fortune. I took this knife on every outdoor excursion, having received it from my dad on my fourteenth birthday.

The six inch blade was serrated and sharp, the hilt smooth and balanced. My fingers gripped it, like an old friend I had not seen in years and I grinned. "Come at me now, you creepy fucker," I said to myself, sounding braver than I truly felt. While it was not a sword or a gun, it was better than no defense at all. I secured it back in its sheath, tucked it back in my pocket and continued filling my other pocket with the berries, eating some as I went.

I could feel my body regaining some of its energy as I ate and this made me hopeful that the berries were not toxic. Walking over to the green bush, I plucked two of the fruits from it, one red and one purple, both firm and gleaming in the light. These were shaped like swan gourds that were popular in the fall, rounded and wider at the bottom with a skinny neck-like upper half, where it grew out from the bush. I plucked two more and added them to the bounty in my pocket. Thirst was setting in again and I realized that I would need to trek into the darker woods again to find my stream, I hoped it had not trickled to an end during my walk.

I started back towards the tree-line of the woods, passing once again from the bright yellow light of the open sky to the gloomy yellow haze of the forest. I headed straight in, hoping to stumble upon the swampy earth and its water source within a few minutes. I had been so disoriented when I discovered it the first time that I could not be sure of how long I had walked into the gloom before stepping in the muddy water.

Fear, hunger, thirst and fatigue clouded my mind then but rational thought was returning now and I was more alert. Cautiously , I looked around as I went, making sure that nothing horrific stalked me as I went. My senses had returned to high alert, and I reminded myself that I was still in unknown territory. I slid my hand into my right pocket, grasping the handle of my knife, just as a precaution. I continued through the woods, trying not to swat angrily at the Jack-flies that had reappeared upon my entry back into the gloom.

I remembered the angry scrunched up face of the tiny creature the first time I had startled it. I vaguely wondered if they were all "Jacks" or were there female versions flitting about. I instantly thought "Jill" and an unladylike snort erupted from me. "Jack and Jill flies!", the thought struck me as funny and I laughed out loud into the gloom. Immediately the tiny winged men "Tsk tsk'd" me and flitted away. I chuckled to myself and watched them buzz away.

Returning my attention to the mossy ground, I scanned it quickly again, looking for the sheen of water on the leaves or for signs of muddy earth. I kept moving forward, randomly popping berries into my mouth, savoring the sweetness of the juice. I crested a small hill and relief flooded my brain. Running through the small valley below, was a small stream, trickling through small rocks and root formations.

I made my way down the small embankment and over to the stream. Wider than it was deep, it flowed around some rocks and in between interlaced roots and vines, creating small waterfalls as it flowed over the roots. I looked up and down the stream, looking for any signs of dead animals that could be tainting the water supply but I saw none. The air smelled clear as well, just heavy with smell of the woods and thick with humidity.

I dropped to my knees by the edge of a root formation and cupped my hands under the trickle. Bending over, I sucked the water up greedily and reached my hands down for more. Several times, I bent and drank from my hands before splashing my face again and wiping it clean with my shirt. I sat back on my haunches and looked around. Jack-flies and the nasty looking dragonflies flitted overhead,occasionally darting into the water for a drink. I watched one tiny creature settle on the edge of a rock and dip its tiny hands into the water, which it then proceeded to rub over its face and arms, much like I had done, before buzzing off again.

I was astonished by this and looked around the stream and saw more of the little man flies, several were nearby, sitting on small rocks and splashing the water on their bodies. I had no idea if they were bathing themselves in the cool stream or drinking it by absorbing the water through their skin. Either way, I was fascinated by their mannerisms, which closely mimicked my own.

This place grew stranger and scarier by the minute. The forest had darkened a bit and shadows were now cast about the thick woods. I wanted to go home, despair sank into the pit of my stomach and dread settled on my shoulders like a cloak. It was nearing dusk and I would be alone in the woods, alone for the long night. Visions of the skittering spider creature flashed in my head and goosebumps covered my skin.

I stood up, I needed to find shelter for the night and I was running out of time. I took a minute to stretch, trying to ease some of the pain in my back, legs and shoulders. Looking to my right I could still see the edge of the forest, warm yellow light glowing softly. I still had some time before dusk but the late afternoon light would not last forever. I decided to walk along the stream, keeping it on my left and the tree-line in sight on my right.

A few minutes passed while I walked and suddenly the forest noises dropped off into stillness. Something was wrong. I stopped in my tracks and listened, my right hand automatically gripping the knife. Off in the distance, I could hear rustling noises, scraping sounds against tree trunks, and several angry growls followed by a high pitched wailing. My blood ran cold and I hoped that whatever was out there was not headed in my direction. The wailing grew louder and more desperate before it was suddenly silenced. A loud angry snarl echoed in the silence followed by a harsh scraping sound against rough bark.

I took several steps to my right, and leaned heavily against a tall black tree. It had branches that seemed to reach directly up to the sky, strange red circular leaves whispering against one another in the slight breeze. Fear had crept back into my brain and I needed to settle myself before I started off again. I could hear the Jack-flies buzzing again, slowly, the forest resumed breathing and so did I.

I decided to continue on my path, hoping that whatever creature had won the battle, was long gone by now. Pulling my knife from my pocket, I unsheathed it and held it ready at my side. I kept walking, looking to my right to make sure I could see the warm glow of daylight, looking to my left and all around to make sure that nothing scary had discovered my presence. I walked slowly, the blisters on my feet were rubbing painfully against my boots.

Fifteen minutes passed, and the gloom grew darker. The air had a new sent to it, something cloying and metallic in it. I tried breathing through my mouth but realized I could taste it, bitterly invading my mouth and throat. I covered my mouth and nose with my jacket sleeve and tried to breathe through the fabric, letting it filter some of the smell out. The ground here looked disturbed, fresh branches were strewn around, the ends still seeping sap from being ripped from the trees, leaves were bunched up at the foot of trees like something had ran through the area. I realized that I had reached the area where I heard the animals fighting.

I looked around the area, looking for either animal. I knew one had to be close by, dead or dying. I walked ahead, seeing fresh scratches on the bark of nearby trees, deep angry grooves cut through the gray and black tree bark. Several feet ahead, I could see a dark mound laying in the dirt, not moving and covered in a shaggy gray fur that reminded me of the coat of the bearded collie. Its tail was long and curled between its back paws. The head was box shaped, with a muscular jaw and long pointed ears like a wild hare.

A silvery substance was seeping out of the defeated animal as it lay on the ground. Three large cuts ran across its torso, it had been clawed open in one vicious swipe. The animal was clearly dead but small movements could be seen, like the rippling of its fur near the ground, a large paw twitching slightly, covered in the silvery substance. Stepping closer, I realized the substance was coating the animal, not just leeching into the dark mossy ground that it lay upon. It flowed freely out of the open wounds now, running in several directions, covering the animal in a thin layer.

As I watched, a thin rivulet turned in one fluid motion and began flowing towards the upper body and the head. It spread out as it went, coating the animal completely. I realized now that the substance had to be its blood but was somehow alive, apart from the body and moving at will, as if guided by some imprinted directive. I was fascinated by this process and continued to watch. Soon, the animal was covered from head to tail with silver, and it began to expand slowly, like a balloon filling with air. Several minutes later, it had expanded into an oval shaped mass and glittered in the gloomy light. If I didn't know better, I would think it was an oddly shaped silver rock.

Still intrigued, I picked up a long stick from the ground, not willing to touch it with my hand, I gently poked at the silver mound. It was hard, rock hard and the stick merely glanced off its surface. I tapped it along the edge and top, and those areas were hardened as well. I had no idea what to make of what I had just witnessed, nothing like this occurred at home, in my world. Science would have noted it, headlines would have shouted about it and it would have become common knowledge throughout the world. I warily glanced around the gloomy yellow woods, hoping that whatever clawed this animal apart was long gone. I set off again, along the edge of the tree line, between the dark woods and the sparser wooded "meadow" to my right.

Author Notes All feedback welcomed. Rough draft of Chapter two.


Chapter 4
Jack Flies

By Candace Nola

Warning: The author has noted that this contains the highest level of violence.
Warning: The author has noted that this contains the highest level of language.

I knew there was water because I had crossed a stream during the night. Immediately the thought followed that while I knew there was water here, was it drinkable? Thousands of memories of stories of bad water filled my mind. Images of my body writhing in agony on the forest floor from tainted water popped in my brain. I pushed that thought away because I knew that when I found water, I would drink it. I had to, in order to survive.

Standing still, sinking slightly into the moss covered earth, I strained my ears, hoping to hear sounds of water, but I heard none. I leveled my gaze on the trees, trying to see a clearing or a wide path through the trees that might indicate a water source. There seemed to be more light coming from my left side, possibly indicating thinner trees over there, it was the best option I had, so I set off in that direction.

Walking freely now, I was able to move faster between the trees. I stayed alert as I moved, my eyes were constantly moving left and right, looking for any sudden movement, any sign of water or a way out of the forest. A buzzing sound caught my attention and as I looked up towards the sound, my eyes widened in shock. There was a fly buzzing and flitting around my head, but this was not any type of fly that I had ever seen.

Dark orange in coloring, with a tiny wrinkled body, humanoid in shape with intelligent green eyes and large black wings that looked like they were woven from delicate lace. It was about an inch long and seemed quite curious about me. The tiny head was tilted to one side and green eyes looked at me, perhaps waiting to see if I was friend or foe. It hovered in the air just in front of me, tiny arms folded in front of it as its wings beat the air around it. It reminded me of a fat Buddha statue, in miniature. Several long seconds passed before it flitted away. I could only stare after it in shock.

My brain screamed "WATER!" at me and I got moving again, angling towards the patch of yellow light. As I walked, I started to see more of the flying insects flitting between trees and settling into leaves. Each one looked like the first, same orange color, tiny humanoid features with a wrinkled up body. They almost looked like tiny old men with wings and big eyes. Mentally, I named them "Jackflies" short for jack o'lanterns due to the odd pumpkin coloring. "Hey Jack! You like that?" I asked the one closest to me. The sound of my voice made it flit off into the trees, wings buzzing angrily at me. "Guess not", I mumbled to myself, chuckling a little at its angry little face.

Long minutes passed and I reached the murky yellow patch of forest. The trees were much thinner here, widely spaced out with large fern type plants growing near their roots. The ferns were a dark blue color with some gray spots on them. Very large spiky fronds seemed to grow out from every angle, but the result was a perfect arch of fronds situated at the base of these narrow, pale gray trees that dotted the area.

Scanning the area in all directions, I hoped to see or to hear water but none appeared. I was feeling dizzy and light-headed, more stumbling than walking now. My feet hurt from walking, I could feel blisters rubbing against the sides of my hiking boots and I dreaded taking them off. My lips and throat were dry and scratchy, as if I had swallowed several cups of sand and the thick humid air was doing nothing to help ease my thirst or fatigue.

I decided to continue heading across the open expanse of forest, not quite a meadow but the trees and bushes were much more sparse in this section. The sky above was a murky yellow, like the swirling dust of a sandstorm, but glowing from within. I could not see a sun, but the sky was yellow and the air was warmer here and much more pleasant than the suffocating air inside the dark forest.

Several long minutes passed and I had stumbled my way across the mossy open area and was approaching a denser section of trees, gloomy from the lack of light penetrating through them. I crossed into the gloom and within seconds found myself ankle deep in muddy earth. "Water!", I half shouted the word out, much to the dismay of several Jackflies perched nearby. They flitted angrily away as I looked around trying to decide which direction would lead me to the source of the water. I decided to head to the right as I could see water lying just over the tops of the leaves and moss. Relief had flooded my system and I jogged along at a renewed pace, muddy water splashing up my legs as I went.

It was about the length of a football field before I came to a root formation where water was trickling down over the small hill it made. I dropped to the muddy ground and cupped my hands under the tiny stream. It felt cool and looked clear and for now that was good enough for me. I leaned down to my cupped hands and drank, the water tasted sweet and pure. Nothing had ever tasted this good. The trickle was slow and I waited patiently for the water to fill my cupped hands. I drank for several minutes hoping that it would not make me sick. Filling my cupped hands once more, I splashed water on my face and used my shirt hem to wipe some of the dirt and sweat off of my face and neck.

Refreshed and thirst slaked, I straightened up and looked around, still on my knees in the mud. Jackflies were buzzing around and I could see other odd winged insects (creatures?) flying around. Long dragon fly type insects with gossamer wings darted low to the ground, jabbing elongated heads into the muddied earth, I assumed looking for grubs or slurping at the water. Their tails were longer than a normal dragonfly and their heads were misshapen, longer and larger than normal. Their bodies were bright reds, purples and blues with large wings that seemed to shimmer in the gloom. They looked like snakes with wings to me and I shuddered.

I stooped back down to the trickling water and drank until I felt sloshy inside. I was beginning to feel better and so far, my body was not rejecting the water. I stood up and wiped the dirt from my jeans. I was hesitant to leave the water but I knew I had to. I had to find a way out of here, find someone that could tell me where I was or how I got here. I needed to get home.

A sudden sob rose in my throat as the image of the eviscerated bodies of my friends at the clearing flashed through my mind. Home, would never be the same. How would I ever be able to explain what had happened to them? How would I be able to face their families or my own? A few tears escaped from my eyes and I brushed them away. I wet my hands again and scrubbed at my face, wiping it with the hem of my shirt. The coolness of it was welcomed against my flushed skin.

Suddenly, I saw a flash of movement out of the corner of my eye and quickly turned towards it. A large rabbit shaped animal was bounding between the trees. It's strong legs leapt easily over fallen trees and branches. The fur was a deep auburn color that shimmered when the light hit it. The ears were more rounded and floppy, with spots of tan and white, much like a beagle. It paused by a small tree, turning this way and that, deciding where to go.

Something about it's face unsettled me, very similar to a rabbit but something was off. The mouth seemed to be too large under the narrow whiskered nose, much too wide. It caught sight of me, opened its mouth, bared it's teeth in a rictus grin and bounded away. My own mouth dropped open in surprise; it had teeth like a dog, large vicious canines on display.

I quickly decided to head the opposite direction, away from the rabbit-dog, and turned back to the sunny area of the forest, hoping to follow the clearing to some type of road or houses.

Something other than this sickly dark forest. Along the way, I hoped to find some berries or small fruits that were edible. I remembered that the forest around Wooden Hollow was always teeming with berries and had some apple and walnut trees on the edges. This was not my beloved Wooden Hollow, but I could still hope to find something edible.

Author Notes Thanks to Linda for the artwork!


Chapter 5
Hunger Pains

By Candace Nola

Warning: The author has noted that this contains the highest level of violence.
Warning: The author has noted that this contains the highest level of language.

I set off back towards the murky patch of dust yellow sky. My stomach was pleasantly sloshy but hunger still rumbled underneath. I was very aware that the water could make me sick and the wrong food would only complicate matters. I had no idea if anything I found here would be harmful or not. I knew there were plenty of poisonous berries and plants that grew in Wooden Hollow, I figured the same would be true in this world. I just needed to be very cautious in selecting something to try. Judging from the hostile gloomy world in which I found myself, I would bet my last dollar that deadly things ran rampant here.

Shit, I would give my left leg for a burger right now. Visions of sandwiches piled high with meat, fries and coleslaw from Primante's or Peppis Bar-B-Que chicken hoagie with Cajun fries, fish sandwiches from Wholeys, all flashed in my mind. Saliva rushed to my mouth at the mere thought of my favorite Pittsburgh foods. I pushed the thoughts away as my hunger pains become more insistent.

I reached the section of gray trees and blue ferns and turned to my right, trying to walk parallel to the stream I had found. As far as I could see, this open swath reached out towards the horizon in front of me. I prayed to whatever gods that might be listening, that it led somewhere. There were small thickets of the thorny lavender bushes out here with heavy clusters of the white berries dangling from them.

I saw several dark green bushes,heavy with deep red and bright purple fruits. My stomach growled deeply and I wondered if any of these might be edible. I changed my direction a bit and headed towards the closest lavender bush. As I approached it, I saw the berries were smooth and round, much like a cranberry; some were a dull white color while others gleamed with a pearlescent shine.

I picked one of each off the bush, wondering which to try. I figured the color and texture of each indicated varying degrees of ripeness, but I had no clue which was which. Using my thumbnail, I split the flesh of the dull, firm berry and held it to my nose. I sniffed it and the scent was distinctly sour, tart like an unripened Granny Smith apple. The inside was a light green texture, slightly sticky.

I pierced the skin of the pearlescent berry in my other hand, this one was softer with a deep purple flesh inside. Sniffing it, sweetness filled my nose and saliva filled my mouth. My choice made, I popped the berry into my mouth and chewed it. The juice was sweet and the texture of it was like a grape. I quickly picked more of the pearl colored berries from the bush and ate them. I started picking clusters of them and put them in my jacket pockets.

Thrusting my hand into my right pocket, I felt something hard in the deep pocket. With a sudden realization, I dropped the berries and grabbed for it. My fingers found the hilt of it and pulled it out. My camping knife had survived my panicked dash through the forest the night before, secured by the deepness of the jacket pocket. Pulling the blade from its sheath, I marveled at my good fortune. I took this knife on every outdoor excursion, having received it from my dad on my fourteenth birthday.

The six inch blade was serrated and sharp, the hilt smooth and balanced. My fingers gripped it, like an old friend I had not seen in years and I grinned. "Come at me now, you creepy fucker," I said to myself, sounding braver than I truly felt. While it was definitely not an assault rifle, it was much better than no defense at all. Securing it back in its sheath, I tucked it back in my jacket and continued filling my other pocket with the berries, eating some as I went.

I could feel my body regaining some of its energy as I ate and this made me hopeful that the berries were not toxic. Walking over to the Dark green bush, I plucked two of the fruits from it, one red and one purple, both firm and gleaming in the light. These were shaped like swan gourds that were popular in the fall, rounded and wider at the bottom with a skinny neck-like upper half, where it grew out from the bush. I plucked two more and added them to the bounty in my pocket. Thirst was setting in again and I realized that I would need to trek into the darker woods again to find my stream; I hoped it had not trickled to an end during my walk.

Starting back over towards the edge of the woods, I passed through the murky light of the open sky to the sickly yellow haze of the forest. I headed straight in, hoping to stumble upon the swampy earth and its water source within a few minutes. I had been so disoriented when I discovered it the first time that I could not be sure of how long I had walked into the gloom before stepping in the muddy water.

Fear, hunger, thirst and fatigue had clouded my mind but rational thought was returning now and I was more alert. Cautiously , I looked around as I went, to make sure that nothing horrific was stalking me as I went. My senses had returned to high alert, and I reminded myself that I was still in very unknown territory. I slid my hand into my right pocket, grasping the handle of my knife, just as a precaution. I continued through the woods, trying not to swat angrily at the Jack-flies that had reappeared upon my entry back into the gloom.

I remembered the angry scrunched up face of the tiny creature the first time I had startled it. I vaguely wondered if they were all "Jacks" or were there female versions flitting about. I instantly thought "Jill" and an unladylike snort erupted from me. "Jack and Jill flies!", the thought struck me as funny and I laughed out loud into the gloom. Immediately the tiny winged men "Tsk tsk'd" me and flitted away. I chuckled to myself and watched them buzz away.

Returning my attention to the mossy ground, I scanned it quickly again, looking for the sheen of water on the leaves or for signs of muddy earth. I kept moving forward, randomly popping berries into my mouth, savoring the sweetness of the juice. I crested a small hill and relief flooded my brain. Running through the small valley below, was the small stream, trickling through small rocks and root formations.

I made my way down the small embankment and over to the stream. More wide than it was deep, it flowed around some rocks and in between interlaced roots and vines, creating small waterfalls as it flowed over the roots. I looked up and down the stream, looking for any signs of dead animals that could be tainting the water supply but I saw none. The air smelled clear as well, just heavy with earthen woodsy scents and thick with humidity.

I dropped to my knees by the edge of a root formation and cupped my hands under the trickle. Bending over, I sucked the water up greedily and reached my hands down for more. Several times, I bent and drank from my hands before splashing my face again and wiping it clean with my shirt. I sat back on my haunches and looked around. Jack-flies and the nasty looking dragonflies flitted overhead,occasionally darting into the water for a drink. I watched one tiny creature settle on the edge of a rock and dip its tiny hands into the water, which it then proceeded to rub over its face and arms, much like I had done, before buzzing off again.

I was astonished by this and looked around the stream and saw more of the little man flies, several were nearby, sitting on small rocks and splashing the water on their bodies. I had no idea if they were bathing themselves in the cool stream or drinking it by absorbing the water through their skin. Either way, I was fascinated by their mannerisms, which closely mimicked my own.

This place grew stranger and scarier by the minute. The forest had darkened a bit and shadows were now cast about the thick woods. I wanted to go home, despair sank into the pit of my stomach and dread settled on my shoulders like a cloak. It was nearing dusk and I would be alone in the woods, alone for the long night. Visions of the skittering spider creature flashed in my head and goosebumps covered my skin.

Resolved, I stood up, I needed to find shelter for the night and I was running out of time. I took a minute to stretch, trying to ease some of the pain in my back, legs and shoulders. Looking to my right I could still see the edge of the forest, warm yellow light glowing softly. I still had some time before dusk but the late afternoon light would not last forever. I decided to walk along the stream, keeping it on my left and the tree-line in sight on my right.

Author Notes This is part 5 of my novel Breach. A lone survivor of a brutal attack flees into a breach between realities.


Chapter 6
Night Comes

By Candace Nola

Warning: The author has noted that this contains the highest level of violence.
Warning: The author has noted that this contains the highest level of language.

Time passed while I walked, suddenly the forest noises dropped off into stillness. Something was wrong. Stopping in my tracks, I listened intently, hand automatically gripping the knife. In the distance, I could hear rustling and scraping sounds against tree trunks, and several angry growls followed by a high pitched wailing. My blood ran cold and I hoped that whatever was out there was not headed in my direction. The wailing grew loud and desperate before it was suddenly silenced. An angry snarl echoed in the silence followed by a harsh thump against a tree.

Suddenly weak, I leaned heavily against a tall black tree. The skeletal branches reached directly up to the sky, strange red circular leaves whispering against one another in the slight breeze. Fear crept back into my brain. I tried to steady myself before I started off again. I could hear the Jack-flies begin buzzing, slowly the forest resumed breathing and so did I.

Deciding to continue on my path, I hoped that whatever had won the battle was long gone. Pulling my knife from my pocket, I unsheathed it and held it ready at my side. I kept looking to the forest edge to make sure I could see the hazy glow of daylight. I kept looking all around to make sure that nothing was stalking me through the trees. I walked slowly, from blisters on my feet rubbing painfully against my boots.

Time passed, and the gloom grew darker. The air had a new scent to it, something cloying and metallic in it. I tried breathing through my mouth but realized I could taste it, bitterly invading my mouth and throat. Covering my mouth and nose with my jacket sleeve, I tried to breathe through the fabric, letting it filter some of the smell out. The ground here was disturbed, fresh branches and leaves strewn like something big had run through. I realized I had reached the spot where the animals were fighting.

Looking around the area for the creatures, I walked ahead, seeing fresh scratches on the bark of nearby trees, deep angry grooves cut through the gray and black tree bark. Further ahead, I could see a dark mound laying in the dirt, covered in a shaggy gray fur that reminded me of the coat of the bearded collie. Its tail was long and curled between its back paws. The head was box shaped, with a muscular jaw and long pointed ears like a wild hare.

A silvery substance was seeping out of the dead animal as it lay on the ground. Large cuts ran across its torso, like it had been clawed open in one vicious swipe. The animal was dead but I could see small movements, the rippling of its fur near the ground, a large paw twitching slightly, covered in the silvery substance. Stepping closer, I realized the substance was coating the animal, not just leeching into the dark mossy ground that it lay upon. It flowed freely out of the open wounds covering the animal in a thin layer.

As I watched, a thin rivulet turned in one fluid motion and began flowing towards the upper body and the head. Spreading out as it went, it covered the animal completely. I realized now that the substance had to be blood but was somehow alive, apart from the body and moving at will, guided by some imprinted directive. Fascinated by this process, I continued to watch. Soon, the animal was covered from head to tail with silver, and it began to expand slowly, like a balloon filling with air. Several minutes later, it had expanded into an oval shaped mass and glittered in the gloomy light. If I didn't know better, I would think it was just an odd silver rock. Suddenly a light bulb went off in my head, the silver rocks scattered everywhere, they weren't rocks at all. They were the corpses of dead animals, all covered in the silver substance that they bled. Goosebumps coated my arms, I had seen dozens of the silver rocks in the last day.

Still fascinated by what I saw, I picked up a long stick from the ground, not willing to touch it with my hand, I gently poked at the silver mound. It was hard, like a typical rock and the stick glanced off its surface. I had no idea what to make of what I had just witnessed, nothing like this occurred in my world. Science would have noted it, headlines would have shouted it and it would have become common knowledge throughout the world. I warily glanced around the gloomy yellow woods, hoping that whatever clawed this animal apart was long gone. I set off again, along the edge of the tree line, between the dark woods and the sparser wooded "meadow" to my right.

As twilight approached I began to see more winged insects flying around, Jack-flies and the dragon flies that looked more like flying snakes, but now I could see glowing round orbs flitting about in the murky shadows and deep burgundy colored insects fluttering higher up in the branches. The Jack-flies seemed to flock towards these new insects, tiny orange bodies flitting up through the trees to meet the burgundy ones.

A large tree had fallen across the stream, I climbed onto it to take a break and to rest my aching feet. Watching from my perch on top of the tree, the bugs flitted around through the branches, swirling around each other as they descended back down to the ground. Several landed on the edge of my tree and sat peering at me with their large eyes. I stared back, quietly waiting to see what they might do. The Jack-Fly nearest me raised its tiny arm toward its burgundy companion, gesturing in my direction. The tiny wings buzzed gently in the air as it gestured and then hovered in the air, coming towards me.

The green eyes gazed curiously at me, then looked back at its companions, tiny arms waving at them. A burgundy creature began hovering in the air and I could see it had the same humanoid shape and wrinkly body like the Jack-Fly. The eyes were a deep purple though, ringed in black. It flitted closer to me, then away, hovering in the distance peering at me. The Jack-Fly "Tsk'd Tsk'd" at it, several times, gesturing again at me. Slowly, the burgundy insect flew closer and settled a few inches from me on the log. I stared at it, fascinated. The way it looked at me was far too intelligent for a random insect, somehow I felt exposed.

Looking at it, I saw fine reddish hair covering the crown of its head and tiny ears formed perfect arches right in the middle. It's torso was wrinkly like the Jack flies but there were two gently defined breast shapes on its upper torso. The black wings beat the air as it flitted upwards and away towards the Jack-Fly. Suddenly realizing that this was the female version of it, "Jill-Fly" popped out of my mouth, followed by a small giggle. So there were "Jack and Jill flies" in this strange world. Shaking my head in amazement, I continued watching the group of small creatures as they flitted up into the trees.

Dangling my legs over the side of the tree trunk, I ate a few of the pearl berries from my pocket. I was down to one cluster of the berries and the strange gourd fruits I had picked, but had not yet eaten. I did not want to mix foods until I knew for certain that it was safe. So far the berries seemed to be fine. I would try a gourd fruit tomorrow and hope for the best. Discovery by trial and error was the only option that I had.

Sliding off the tree, I stretched, I needed to find shelter before nightfall. Knife in hand, Jack and Jill flies flitting overhead amongst the glowing orbs I had yet to see up close, I set off through the gloom. Walking was painful and I could barely manage more than a hobbling gait. Fatigue had begun to severely weaken me; the horror of the previous night and day had drained me, physically and mentally. I needed to sit down, I needed to sleep and I needed to find a way out of here. I walked on with one eye on the forest edge and the other on the inner gloom.

The music of twilight was thrumming through the forest as I walked; scurrying, chattering of small birds or animals, hints of running water and the low "tsk, tsk, tsk" noise the Jacks and Jills made. None of these sounds were threatening, though some sounded close by. I had not seen many animals yet, but I assumed, they were more afraid of me, than I was of them. I had begun trusting the instincts of the insects and animals around me and knew when they went silent, so would I.

As twilight deepened the shadows, I suddenly found myself facing a sudden steep drop off, just through a line of the black and silver needled trees. I clutched the tree closest to me as a sudden wave of vertigo hit me. I closed my eyes and clung to the tree until it passed, breathing deeply through my nose. When I could open my eyes again, I slowly took several steps back from the drop. It was much harder to see in the falling dusk and I could not see how far the drop was or what was beyond it. I would find shelter in this area and find a way down in the morning.

Turning back towards the stream on my left, I scanned the area for anyplace that might provide some safety against the creatures of the night. Deeper into the trees, I saw several large rock formations and decided to check them out. I limped over to the one nearest the stream. Four large rocks stood close together in a rough circle. I stepped inside for a closer look, there was room to lie down but the rocks were not tall enough to provide adequate protection against the spider creature and the openings were too wide. I would be too exposed here. Stepping back out, I walked over to the other group of rocks, that were set a bit deeper in the woods.

This set had four large boulders with tall narrow trees growing in between them. The rocks were roughly five foot tall or more and the tree growth made the openings much more narrow. Not quite room to lie down in, but I could lean against the trees and get comfortable enough to sleep for a while. There were more of the strange vines hanging down from these trees but not low enough to touch me. They deeply disturbed me, but for now, sleep and shelter was more important. I decided to settle in here for the night.

Author Notes Continuation from Breach.


Chapter 7
Vines!

By Candace Nola

Warning: The author has noted that this contains the highest level of violence.
Warning: The author has noted that this contains the highest level of language.

Sometime later, my eyes shot open, there was something heavy and tight across my chest and the buzzing of the Jack flies all around me. "tsk, tsk, tsk, tsk" was being uttered in frantic tones by the little creatures as their tiny wings beat at my face. Scared, I went to brush them away and sit up but found that my arms were pinned to my sides. Looking down, I saw that the vines had made their way down from the trees and had wrapped around my chest and arms, pinning me to the tree. In a panic, I started moving from side to side, struggling to break free but the vines were too thick. I could feel them pulsing against my skin, heat poured off of them as they constricted further.

Suddenly, I remembered my knife! Feeling in the dirt by my right side, I searched for the knife handle. I hoped desperately that it was within my reach, as I could only move my hands a few inches back and forth. Finally, my fingers brushed against the hilt of it and I wrapped one finger around it and pulled it towards me. When I was able to grasp it, I awkwardly turned the blade upwards and began sawing at the closest vine. Immediately, the pulsing intensified and the vine tightened, I sawed frantically at it, mumbling and swearing to myself. "Come on damnit! fucking creepy ass vine, Cut! Damnit! Cut", the panic in my voice alarmed me and I hacked away at the vine faster.

Feeling the first vine snap and break free, I was able to raise my hand a few more inches. Quickly, I started hacking and sawing at the next vine. A sticky brown fluid was starting to cover my fingers and it burned like acid. "Motherfuck!", I shouted, trying to wipe my hand off in the dirt. Jack and Jills were fluttering around me, dropping tiny bits of moss on my fingers. The stinging dulled quickly and I kept cutting, arching my back against the tree and trying to loosen the vines. "Thank you, Thank you ", I sobbed in a half whisper to the little beings as the fluid continued to coat my hands but now had no effect. The second vine snapped and then the third.

Almost instantly, two vines wrapped around my neck and slammed me back against the tree; I choked out a cry as my air supply was cut off. My hands immediately went to my throat trying to tear the vines free. I was able to work my fingers under one vine and grabbed my knife again. Yanking outward on the vine with my left hand, I sawed with my right. I was acutely aware of how close I was to cutting my neck but that was the least of my worries. I tried to breathe through my nose while I cut the vine, trying to keep air in my lungs. The brown substance had coated most of my chest and forearms and I was vaguely aware of the burning sensation, followed by a dull numbness as the Jack and Jill's continued to sprinkle the yellow moss on me.

Tears were coursing down my cheeks as I broke through the first vine and started on the second. I kept pulling outward, straining away from the tree with my whole body as I cut. I could not let another vine trap me. Finally I was through the vine and stumbled away in a half crouch. I grabbed my knife, jacket and boots and ran to the stream. My upper body was stinging from the brown substance. I plunged my arms into the shallow stream, rubbing them hard, trying to get it off. I ripped my shirt off and tossed it into the stream as well. I splashed water on my neck and chest and pulled up handfuls of the spongy yellow moss to rub at it. Sobbing, I finished wiping my torso down, mostly tears of relief as the pain was numbed by the moss.

Still trembling from shock and fear, I grabbed my soggy shirt and began rubbing it down with moss. It was hard to see in the dark but I tried to rub the entire shirt down. Turning it inside out, I rinsed it thoroughly with my hands to make sure the substance was gone. I could hear the Jack flies buzzing nearby as I stood up.

Twisting my shirt tightly in my hands, I wrung it out, three times before putting the damp t-shirt back on. I stood there on the bank, still shaking with fear. It was the middle of the night, I had been attacked by creepy fucking plant life and now was standing here, crying and soaked through. Now what?", I asked the Jacks and Jills but only got buzzing in reply.

I wanted to curl up in a ball right there by the stream and cry. Despair and terror had drained all of my remaining energy. Remembering the first rock formation, I figured that it would have to do for the rest of the night. It wouldn't be wise to try to walk anywhere in the pitch black of the forest, knowing a cliff was near by. Wiping my face, I started slowly towards it, hoping my night vision and my memory was enough to guide me back. I set off with the insects close overhead, their soft buzzing comforting to my terrorized mind.

Within a few minutes, I had found the rocks and grudgingly stepped into the small enclosure they made. The Jack and Jill's hovered for a minute before settling onto the rocks and ground around me, while the glowing fireflies twinkled overhead like tiny stars. I followed them and laid down in the small space, grateful for the sponge like moss, and curled my knees up to my chest. I curled up on the leaves, drew my knees to my chest, rocking myself. Sobs wracked my body and pain filled my mind. The three people closest to me all died a grisly death, my best friend Stacie, her boyfriend Kyle, and the love of my life, Jason. I was alone and I could not fathom my life without them. With my knife in hand, and silent tears running down my face, I drifted off to an uneasy sleep.

Author Notes Part 7 of Breach. The second night in the forest.


Chapter 8
Swarmed!

By Candace Nola

Warning: The author has noted that this contains the highest level of violence.
Warning: The author has noted that this contains the highest level of language.

As I walked towards the gray horizon, small forest creatures darted between trees and bushes, winged animals flew overhead in the yellow haze, all made a variety of sounds as they passed, chattering,whistling and loud cawing. A little chipmunk size creature ran past on two legs, it had no hair or fur and the face resembled a possum. Fur covered creatures with elongated bodies like snakes scurried up tree trunks with centipede legs and rat looking faces. I saw several large moths of a hideously mutated sort, spiky horns on their heads, talons for legs, ghastly skeletal bodies and red eyes. Worms with legs slid upright over bushes and impossibly bright flowers followed their path with open mouths in their centers, and unblinking eyes.

Each thing struck new fear deep in my soul. I felt like I was living inside a nightmare, what I was seeing could not be found anywhere in the world that I knew. This place was torn from horror novels and nightmares of children or the insane. Mentally, I was drained from trying to place the creatures into categories that were familiar to me. I kept walking while keeping the bizarre creatures in sight and listening for the warning sounds of my faithful flies. They did not seem bothered so I continued walking ahead. The distant sky had turned a dark gray and seemed to be swirling with movement, I could not tell if it was raindrops or dust.

Drawing closer to swirling gray, I began to feel the air blowing around me; the Jack and Jill's started "Tsk, Tsk'ing" and flitted towards the tree line. Watching them go, I did not understand why the wind would upset them. I stood for a moment trying to decide if I should follow but it was a moment too late. Suddenly I was engulfed in the blackness, which was swarming with thousands of winged ants. Hitting my body like a tornado, they swirled around me, into my clothes, my hair, my mouth. Screaming, I dropped to the ground, rolling in agony as thousands of them bit and stung wherever they found flesh.

The swarm swirled around me for several minutes as I tried to shield my face with my hands. And then just as suddenly, they were gone, like a desert sandstorm. I was curled up in the fetal position on the ground, sobbing in agony. My skin was on fire, small bites leaked streams of blood; hundreds of them covered my body. My skin crawled with the sensation of a thousand bugs on me and I sat up, violently ripping my clothes off and rubbing at my skin.

Rubbing furiously at my body with my shirt, I knocked the giant ants off my skin. I flung my bra off and checked the tender flesh there and the undersides of my breasts for any remaining ants. Patted down my crotch and rear to be sure none had found a way there. Bite marks covered my stomach, the tops of my breasts and my neck. My legs from the knees down were red with blood and swollen skin. Both arms were covered, down to my hands and fingers and my face felt like acid had been dumped on it. Trembling from fear and pain, I gathered my clothes and headed towards the tree line and the stream beyond. Several Jill's had returned to me, bits of moss in their outstretched hands. They sprinkled it on my body as I hobbled towards the woods, sobbing as I went.

Within minutes, I could barely see, my eyes almost swollen shut. Stumbling through the haze of the forest, I found the stream. I dropped my clothes and laid down in the water, inhaling sharply as it hit the angry bites. Turning gingerly from side to side, I covered my body and both sides of my face in the mud from the shallow stream. My body felt like lava was running through my veins, my face felt raw and blistered. I could hear the flies buzzing around me right before I blacked out.

I woke up screaming, gasping for air. Terror clung to me like a damp blanket. I had been dreaming of monsters and fleeing into the night. Pieces of the dream still clouded my mind. My friends had been slaughtered and I was alone. My brain recalled the blood splattered scene and I recoiled deep within. Grief overwhelmed me and sobs burst from my throat as gore filled images shot through my soul. Howls of pain, anger, grief and loss ripped my heart opened and were borne forth into the gloom. I cried out my pain from the depths of my soul. I could hear the worrying "Tsk Tsk " of the Jack flies but I could not find my way out of my own despair to acknowledge them. Darkness claimed me and I succumbed.

I awoke sometime later, sitting up stiffly and startling the flies that had been perched nearby. My eyes were still swollen and my entire body ached, but no longer burned. Gently moving my head, I looked down to see I was covered in mud and yellow moss. My faithful friends had been busy while I was out and had literally covered me with the bright yellow moss. The bleeding had stopped and I could feel small swollen lumps along my arms, face and legs. I felt hideous and was positive I looked worse, but my relief at being alive, after the ant attack and after lying here passed out for who knew how long, was enormous. An image of the grinning dog-bit curiously sniffing at my prone body popped in my head and I shuddered. I definitely did not want to think about that.

Maneuvering into a crouch, I wet my hands, gently patted my face down and drank several times from my cupped hands. My lips and throat felt swollen and tight. My skin felt feverish and itchy under the moss but I did not rub it off. Standing, I stepped onto the stream bank and grabbed my shirt. I pulled it on over my moss covered body and put my jacket on. My legs were too raw for my jeans so I slung them over my shoulder. I checked my pockets for my knife and fruit, finding that while I had lost some of the fruit, my knife was secure. I had dropped my sticks in my panic during the attack. I began to retrace my path to find my few supplies.

Moving slowly and clutching tree trunks as I went, I made my way back into the meadow and tried to determine where I had been standing when the swarm hit. Several bushes looked familiar to me, a bit to the right of me but further back. Heading that direction, looking for signs of my attack, such as flattened grass where I had rolled or the scattered fruit and berries. I reached the area and looked around, dejected to not see anything I was looking for. I circled the bushes and a nearby tree before deciding to walk in a zig zag pattern so I could scan more of the area and hopefully find more fruit bushes.

The Jill flies seemed distraught, hovering very close to me as I walked. One was perched on my arm and was wringing her little hands like she was in distress. I offered her a berry from my pocket and she nibbled at it as I held it. Several others came near and fed from it too, all peering at me with big worried eyes. "It's okay, little friends, I'm okay, thank you for saving me." I spoke softly to them, my voice, a raspy whisper due to the strain of my screams. I held out another berry and waited while they ate, looking around the meadow. Spotting a gourd bush a few yards away, I headed towards it.

Halfway there, my bare feet stepped on something round and soft, it squished under my toes and I squealed, lifting my foot to see what it was. There was a pearl berry squashed on the ground, and juice clung to my foot. Wiping my foot on the leaves, I looked around for more fruit. Turning to my left, I saw a few more scattered berries and then a deep red gourd. This must be close to where I was swarmed by the swarming ants. My skin crawled at the recent memory and I rubbed at my arms. I started to gather the fruit, following the trail to where I had lain rolling in the grass. My sticks were there, thrown near a tall gray tree. Grabbing them, I looked for more fruit and started back to the gourd bush. Filling my pockets again seemed like a good idea.

My legs were still sore from ant bites but having pants on seemed like a good idea. With full pockets, I made my way over to a log, I set my boots down and pulled my jeans on. Sitting, I bent down to put on my socks and boots, then I tucked my knife securely into my boot. Standing up again, I grabbed my homemade spears and started walking along the tree line, towards the horizon. Gray rock shown in the distance and I knew I was nearing the cliff that I had almost went over the night before.

The Jacks and Jill's flew overhead, darting in and out of the trees and bushes. Moths and snake flies buzzed by and munkpossums were scrabbling about in the underbrush. The dusty air was humid and thick, sweat streamed down my face. Using my spears as walking poles, I continued my journey, although I had no real idea of where I needed to go.

Sometime later, I was standing at the edge of the meadow which dropped off into what resembled a huge meteor crash field. Craters dotted the black terrain, like massive asteroids had crashed here and broke apart, forming hundreds of jagged peaks, cliffs and mountains. The rock face looked smooth as glass and varied from charcoal black to stormy gray. Smoke billowed out from fissures in the ground. The tall peaks looked like crystal shards waiting to impale some lost soul. This rocky terrain stretched as far as I could see and dozens of winged creatures flew over it, some landing on the crystal peaks, other settling onto the rocky ground. Large spike covered boulders sat near the bottoms of the cliffs. I thought the forest behind me was a nightmare but now I was staring directly into Hell.

Author Notes Part 8 in the book Breach.


Chapter 9
Death Match

By Candace Nola

Warning: The author has noted that this contains the highest level of violence.
Warning: The author has noted that this contains the highest level of language.

The hours slowly passed as I waited for dawn; time seemed to be funny here, longer somehow, or maybe my mind was just playing with my senses. With no way to tell time, I was unable to say for sure. The Jack Flies were quietly perched beside me so I closed my eyes. If they were peaceful then for now, I could rest.

Sleeping fitfully, nightmares filled my mind and haunted my soul. A sound broke the night, broke straight through to my dream and my eyes snapped open. I woke abruptly, blood cold in my veins. A shrill cry had broken the silence; it reached all the way into my nightmare and pulled me out, cold and afraid.

Panic set in as I leapt to my feet, I knew that sound! Frenzied "Tsk'ing" filled the air warning as the Jack flies lifted in flight. The banshee and its demon were shrieking in the night, echoing off the rocks. It was here and it was hunting.

A chaotic rush of creatures flew past us, a frenzy of wings and legs whisking them away into the dark. Joining them, I fled, barely able to see their shadowy shapes as they flew ahead of us.

Fleeing through the pitch black, I ran blindly, sending pebbles and rocks flying underfoot. I could hear the demons paws bounding through the trees, seconds behind me. It bellowed a roar that blasted the back of my neck with heat and spittle. White noise blared in my ears, panic overruled all other sound, all other senses. One false move and I would die. Adrenaline shot through my veins, giving me strength and speed I never thought possible. I hurtled through the night.

My right shoulder slammed into a rock, sending me careening to one side, stumbling, I almost went down, my left arm dragged the rocky ground and I pushed myself upright, maintaining my flight. Jaws snapped at the edge of my jacket! A split second longer and it would have me.

"Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!" hurtled from my mouth, a mantra of the living, keeping me alive, keeping me flying. The banshee dove at us, again and again, shrieking as it chased us through the night.
I barreled through the darkness; the Jack and Jill's surrounding me in a buzzing cocoon, in an effort to guide me.

We flew past rocks, past other animals, and leapt over crevices. The demon was snapping at my heels. I could barely find purchase on the smooth crystallized rock, but I pushed on. My jacket scraped against boulders, my pockets thumped against my legs, full of small fruits and berries. I clutched my knife in my right hand in a death grip, my only defense at this moment.

Stumbling in a crater, my ankle rolled and I went down, screaming insanely as I fell. Time slowed down, stood still. I could see the edges of the jagged ravine I was sliding down, could see the tiny wings of the flies in full detail. I could see the hackles of the beast, just behind me, raised. Saliva dripped, drop by drop, from its roaring mouth. The fangs snapping shut inches in front of my face. My heartbeat thudding in my ears and slamming against my chest.

The banshee flew at me, screeching, a flurry of foul gray rags and mist. I slashed out with my knife, screaming, catching the demon's outstretched leg and sending it flying to the left.

Barely a second passed before it was up and on me, straddling me as I crashed sideways into its body. Massive roars filled my face, fetid breath gagging me as I gasped for air. I threw my arms up across my face, knife blade slashing across its jaw. It roared with rage but did not move, it's powerful jaw clamped down on my left arm, teeth tearing into my flesh and I howled in pain as agony flashed through my body and overwhelmed me. The sound of my bones breaking filled my ears.

Driven by pain and desperation, I slashed at it, over and over with my knife. The demon was thrashing my body against the rocks, my arm crushed in its mouth. Incoherent screams spewed from my mouth as buzzing filled the air.

The Jack flies swarmed it, tearing into its flesh but the beast was too strong for them. It ignored their ferocious attacks and slammed me against the rocks. I could not give in, would not let go. I stabbed at it, again and again. The blade cut deep with sickening squelches, blood coated my hand, red and silver rivulets flowed over the black ground.

My head crashed into a rock, my vision blurred; pain blossomed in my brain like fireworks exploding into the air. Screaming, I furiously kept hacking at the beast with my blade. Kicking and flailing wildly, I tore my crushed arm free. The black beast pounced, slamming me to the ground, jaws snapping at my face. Saliva coated my skin as it issued a violent roar, my blade, the only thing between it and my throat.

My body went rigid, incomprehensible fear coating every pore. We breathed as one, monster and prey, bloodied, battered, rage fueling our veins. We were locked in a death match, my blade at its throat. Its paws pinning me to the ground. It roared again and again, as my body shook violently beneath it. Buzzing filled the air again, as my faithful flies changed tactics and swarmed the face of the beast, blinding it. The banshee swirled violently around us, shrieking its rage. The sound made my blood run cold and froze my soul.

Seizing the opportunity, I slashed up and across its throat, tearing through fur, flesh and muscle. Blood spewed forth from the gash. Voicing all of my pain, fury and despair into that moment, summoning all the energy that I had left, I slashed at its throat, again and again. Finally, the beast slumped to the side, howling, blind and bleeding silver. Weakly, I struggled to a sitting position, half under the beast and blind fury took over. I stabbed it again. I slashed at its bloody carcass over and over, until I could no longer lift my arm.

Collapsing onto the ground, covered in the silver blood of the beast and deep scarlet of my own; I lay there shaking with pain, fear and blood loss. My legs were pinned under the beast. Pain flooded my body as adrenaline waned. I unleashed a primal howl of fury, grief and terror. As everything went black, the banshee filled my vision, still shrieking with rage.

Author Notes Rough draft. Revisions will be made based on suggestions. Appreciate all advice.


Chapter 10
Silver

By Candace Nola

Warning: The author has noted that this contains the highest level of language.

When my eyes finally opened again, it was not clear if I was alive or dead. I was floating in a crystal chamber carved from black stone, a blanket of yellow moss spread over me. All around me I saw black crystal rock formations jutting up from the cavern floor and down from the ceiling, glistening from within like a fire burned deep in its core. I tried to sit or stand but realized I could not. I was suspended in a fluid of some sort that held me in place. Immediately, I panicked and began to struggle, but the fluid only flowed and rippled languidly with my movements.

After a fruitless struggle, my panic subsided and I looked around again and saw the Jack and Jill's peering at me from the walls of the chamber. Slowly I realized that I was indeed still alive. Then I noticed that I could feel no pain; my body should have been in agony. My left arm had been nearly severed, my face had been battered and scraped on hard rocks. My torso had been clawed by the shadow demon as it pinned me to the ground. I marveled at this. "Where am I?" I said to my fly friends, not expecting an answer.

Almost immediately a calmness spread through my mind. I felt tranquil and serene floating there in the chamber. "Where am I?," I asked again. I spoke softly, almost reverently, and instantly the word "Safe", flashed in my mind. I looked around the cavern but saw no one but the Jack and Jill's sitting serenely above me. "How did I get here?", I asked. Again, an image flashed, robed figures with shimmering arms and hands lifting me from the ground, bloodied and bruised. Other images followed, walking through the volcanic terrain, slender figures holding me gently between them, the cavern entrance, the black sky, the flies following.

"You saved me? Brought me here?" I asked these questions slowly, like I was marveling at something. "Yes", was spoken into my mind once again. Followed by that feeling of calmness and comfort. "Safe, Rest now" entered my thought stream. "How are you doing this? Why can't I hear you speaking? What are you ?" I felt calm, but my confused mind fired these questions off, anxiously needing to know. "Safe, Rest now, all will be explained." A sudden wave of exhaustion spread through my body like a warm blanket and I succumbed.

Time passed as I floated in the chamber. During moments of clarity, I recalled being fed a warm liquid, sipping cool water, recalled the moss blanket being removed and replaced. The entire time, I drifted in a sea of clouds, warmed by the sun, and at peace with myself. The only darkness I saw was when I opened my eyes.

I could not tell how long I floated there, drifting in and out of consciousness. When I opened my eyes next, the flies were there, keeping watch. Looking around slowly, my eyes adjusted to the darkness. "Hello?", my weak voice echoed in the silence. "You are awake," flashed in my head. "How long have I been here?", I asked. "Two moons," came the reply. "Two moons? I don't know what that means." "12 of your days," was the immediate response.

The voice spoke in my head again, "You have been healing in a life chamber. You were badly wounded when we found you. One of your companions found us. Jack Flies, I believe you call them." I could feel the humor that accompanied this sentence. " I didn't know what else to call them." I said sheepishly. The being laughed inside my head, a tinkling sound like crystal wind chimes on a breezy day. " They are very fond of Jack and Jill now", it replied.

"Why can't I see you?" I asked. "We did not want to frighten you further," came the simple response. "Perhaps you are ready to see one of us now?" A small tinge of fear crept up my spine and before it could settle there, calmness replaced it. "No need to be afraid. You are safe." The voice was serene, reassuring. As I began nodding my ascent, a light began to glow in the cavern. Just a small glow to the left of my chamber as if a low spotlight came on. I turned my head towards it, not knowing what to expect.

A figure stepped into the light, in a golden cloak, very tall with very delicate hands, that reached up to its hood and removed it. It revealed a very tall neck that flowed into an oblong shape. The head seemed to droop off of the tall thin neck, like a spoon that had been bent backwards. It was silver, almost luminescent. Wide almond shaped eyes, gazed intently at me, identical pools of gray ringed by silver lashes. Silver hair coated the head and hung down nearly hiding the long neck. A small hole sat in the center of its face, I assumed it was the nose. And the mouth, I paused, looking closer. There was not a mouth that I could see. I stared at the being for long moments. Calmly, I held its gaze, although I knew that my calmness was from the being controlling my emotions.

"How many of you are there?" I asked. "We are many," it replied, lifting one long thin arm and pointing to the far side of the cavern. There under a softly glowing light, stood more of them. As one, they lifted their hoods, their bobbing heads all gazing at me. Each one was identical to the next, in every way, right down to the length of the silver hair. Each stood very tall, with those oblong bobbing spoon heads all turned towards me. Their movement was fluid, like the shimmering liquid that encased me. Hands and fingers appeared as needed, then flowed back into the silver slivers of arms. I knew how freaked out I would be, if the being next to me was not manipulating my emotions. The word "Safe" appeared in my mind, slowly flashing several times.

"Stop that", I said and the flashing word disappeared. "I'm not afraid, you can let go now." I told the one closest to me. Bobbing at me, it complied and my emotions came back in a rush. I did feel some fear, but mostly confusion, and shock. The beings were clearly very different from humans but not scary, rather they seemed wondrous, almost magical somehow. In my mind, I pictured them like the magical elves or fairies of my childhood stories. I heard the melodious tinkling of wind chimes in my head and knew I had amused them.

"Not exactly like your fairies but close enough", it bobbed at me while this thought popped in my head. "How can I hear you in my mind? How is that possible?" The answer came quickly, " telepathic images". It showed me pictures of what it meant and my jaw dropped open. "Are you reading my mind?", I asked it. The being bobbed again, " it is more like reading the pictures in your mind that allow us to communicate with you."

"Can you speak? Out loud, I mean, like me?" I stared at the beings across from me, again the tinkling in my mind. The answer flashed in my head, "yes, but it would cause you great pain. Our vocals are meant as a defense, not as communication." I contemplated that for a moment, confused, but then images of exploding glass and rock entered my mind, blood pouring from the eyes and ears of the monsters that ran from it. "Oh, I see, so no talking then. Got it."

The being bobbed closer, head drooping low over my face, it's gray eyes were intense. "You do not need to speak at all, your thoughts are enough." My mouth opened in a silent "O" as my eyebrows raised and I thought for a long moment. Then, concentrating, I pictured my injuries from the shadow demon and then pictured the moss blanket and the chamber of liquid, trying to ask how they healed me. Images of the chamber of silver fluid appeared in my mind. As the beings placed me gently inside, it rippled and began covering my extremeties on its own. I gasped out loud, suddenly making the connection. The life chamber, the silver blood, the fluid that sustained them. This is why the silver rocks were formed around the dead animals.

The being bobbed closed by, eyes shining bright in the gloom. "Yes, that is how." Images of the weird silver rocks throughout the forest appeared in my head. The animals that I thought were dead, were actually being healed, suspended in their own life force, their blood. The being bobbed again, warm glow spread through my body, it felt like I was laying in a sunbeam. It was pleased. "Correct, little one, we live and we die, but death is not forever here, the blood suspends us, heals us and reveals us anew."

"Anew", gave me pause. "Are they revealed as the same or are they changed? Would I be changed? Was I mutating? Was I turning to a creature from the..." thoughts swirled in my head. The calmness flooded me again. "Calm, little one, you are safe. You are not changing, but you are connected to us now. This is why you can hear us in your mind and how we can hear you. With part of our life force now sustaining you, you carry that ability now."

I frowned. I tried to imagine my next question but grew frustrated and spoke instead. "So, I can read minds now? Everyone's? Human? Monster? Everything?" I began to panic again, and calmness flooded me. "Stop that!" I told it, my brows furrowed in concentration. "I'm just...just processing. Thinking about things, just leave me be for a moment." The being stepped away, quietly observing. I thought for long moments. I was mildly freaked out, but who wouldn't be? Mind reading? telepathic imagery? This could turn out okay, couldn't it? It could help me survive here and in the grander scheme of things, it was a small price to pay for being alive. I gave an awkward suspended shrug, feeling the liquid silver ripple around me and turned my gaze back to the being, accepting this outcome as graciously as I could.

Looking towards my hosts again, I called forth a smile and tried to relax. I thought of expressing gratitude, of thanking them and felt the warm sensation spread throughout my body again. They were pleased. The one to my left, stepped closer, peering at me. I could sense the smile or humor it was feeling, but a sense of excitement was there too. "What ?" I asked it curiously. An image of the Jack and Jill's flooded my mind, buzzing and gesturing and my confused expression. Understanding dawned on me and I looked over at the small group of flies with wide eyes. I grinned at them, suddenly overjoyed.

Immediately, my mind was flooded with their feelings. I felt their concern and relief that I was okay. I thanked them verbally and mentally, thrilled I could communicate with them. My faithful friends had been looking out for me all this time. A Jill stepped closer and hovered down to my arm, her tiny hand settled on my flesh and joy, relief, concern and compassion flooded my mind. It felt like a hug from my mother, and I wept.

Author Notes This is the next part of Breach. A shortened piece of chapter ten, after the demon attack.


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