Thursday, 27 September 2012
Tuesday, 25 September 2012
Sunday, 2 September 2012
Tom wandered aimlessly between the trees for several minutes. This was all wrong. That guy could be back at the dock bashing Cristophe's brains in. They hadn't found any decent leads. It was the middle of the night, and he was lost on a fucking mud bar in the middle of the New Orleans swamp.
"Fuck my life, really."
Tom couldn't see a damn thing, and he was pretty sure he'd lost the hillbilly for good. Nothing but trees and crickets. He thought to ignore a piece of battlefield advice he'd heard awhile back, and light a new cigarette, but then changed his mind. He was already wheezing from the exertion of chasing the half-naked hick.
Instead, for one reason or another, it occurred to him to call Margaret.
Tom leaned against a tree and fished into his pocket for his phone. The LED was black.
"Bullshit," Tom muttered. "Plugged this thing in this morning..."
Tom smacked the side of the device with a flat palm and jammed his thumb on the power button. He growled at it in irritation. Finally the screen lit up, almost blinding him. To his chagrin, the phone did not actually boot up, but instead shone a deep, flat yellow, one that hurt his eyes to look at.
"I can't even... what the fuck."
The device started to emit a buzzing, like the speakers were broken. It grew in volume and pitch. Tom slapped the phone shut, but the glow still stuck out from the sides of the gadget and it was screeching at him horribly.
Tom’s stomach turned over as it dawned on him what was happening. He tossed his cigarette to the ground and let it smolder in the wet grass.
Tom checked to see if he still had his handgun, and then that it was still loaded. Once he'd confirmed both, he tilted his head hesitantly towards the sky, and his fears were realized. The sky was still dark, but had taken on an ethereal glow from the light of a full yellow moon. The same color washed over the forest, which was shrouded in an ochre fog.
He'd crossed over. There was something in this swamp, and now he was playing by its rules.
Tom took a deep breath and recalled his training. He couldn't see more than twenty feet in front of himself, but it was still better than some situations he'd seen. He had to start moving. Either he'd leave its sphere of control, or whatever was here would show itself. Then again, he could be wandering in these ethereal woods for what, to him, would seem like days-- or years. The thought made his heart race, and it was too late to take a Xanax pill and force the creature into the real world.
Taking the first fearful steps, Tom started to walk. For every few feet he walked, the mist would shroud the place he'd come from. There was no light source, no house in the distance... no point of reference.
Tom fought down the urge to call his opponent out into view. He didn't know the rules here, yet. For now, gravity held and everything seemed more or less the same as it had before the shift, so continuing on seemed the best course of action.
Every pop of his joints and snap of twigs under his feet put him on edge. This place was silent. The crickets had vanished; there was no flow of swamp water. He nervously pulled back the hammer on his handgun and could've thought it was a crash of thunder. Tom looked up to the sky anxiously, past the canopy of leaves, only managing to stare for a few seconds. He tried in vain to find a point of navigation-- the North Star, or similar, but the sky here was alien, and the stars followed no recognizable pattern. Even had he found something, dark clouds were rolling in on a high wind. They shrouded the yellow orb of the moon, but did nothing to obscure its sick glow.
Then he really did hear thunder.
It startled him to feel the first spatter of rain against his head. It was a light drizzle at first, but as he continued to walk, it grew into a shower. He took solace in the fact that it seemed to stop there and didn't become a downpour. The soft swamp earth became softer. Mud caked Tom's sneakers.
Another rolling pound of thunder swayed the trees. Tom saw something lying on the ground in the distance. It looked like a body-- a skinless body, contorted and mutilated. It had to be George, he thought. He'd found his killer. No, that wasn't right-- the killer had found him.
Tom heard an awful shuffling sound up ahead. He ducked down behind a tree and did his best to obscure himself in the grass. Sweat was running into his eyes and coating his palms. He made sure he still had a good grip on his gun. When he saw what lumbered out of the yellow fog, his training kept him from dropping the firearm and running for his life-- but he still wanted to.
Tom could only describe its initial appearance as a massive, featherless bird. The more details he saw, the less it resembled one. Its whole flesh-colored form was lined with black pockmarks and angry red scars as if it had been terribly burned. It had one too many sets of skin-flap wings. It took pendulous steps on muscular legs, having muddy human hands in place of feet. Atop its pot-bellied body, at the end of a swan-like neck, there was a person’s head. From his vantage point Tom could see that its eyes were shut, burned forever closed by whatever calamity had ravaged the rest of its form. The human mouth was wide open, for out of it stuck the creature's 'beak'. It was a long, cone-like protrusion, as if it had simply been shoved through from the back of the neck.
The monster shuffled towards the body and didn't seem to notice Tom. It kept making shrill chittering sounds, as if trying to squawk through a blocked throat. Despite its shut eyes, it loomed over the skinless corpse, and situated itself. Tom had slowed his breathing as best he could, taking long, low breaths. Under better circumstances, he could hide in the darkness this way without making a sound, but his heart was pounding and he kept breathing loudly out of his nose. The claps of thunder overhead and the rain smattering the ground seemed to mask any noise he made, to his great relief, but he resisted getting too comfortable.
The creature opened its fleshy beak. It split four ways, each limp flap lined with shark-like teeth. The bird lowered its head and a slithering tongue slapped the corpse tentatively. Satisfied, the beak slid shut around the corpse's arm, and sucked loudly. Tom winced at the slurping and smacking sounds the monster made over its meal. The beak curled open again; George's arm had been sucked free of all but bone. The bird wrapped its mouth around another part of its meal and started slurping again.
Tom wanted no more to do with this. The sound of him standing up was drowned out by the thunder and rain, and the creature's messy feeding. He stood shakily upright, still clutching his weapon, and started to take long sidesteps away, never taking his eyes off the monstrous bird.
He made it some thirty feet, and felt like he might soon be in the clear. Stepping backwards, he felt his foot sink into the ground and lost his balance. He'd stepped into a hole in the mud, and submerged himself to the shin in muddy rainwater.
Tom immediately lambasted himself mentally for the slip in composure. He paid the price. The flesh-colored bird lifted its head up suddenly, probing its head around for the source of the sound. Tom aimed his pistol at it instinctively. After a few seconds it seemed to see him. It stared at him, if it could be said to do so, through its burnt-shut eyes, and lifted its body to protect its meal with its four wings. The rubbery beak spread open, and the creature screamed at him in a strangled, raspy screech, like a person choking on poison.
Tom resumed stepping back carefully, handgun pointed.
"I don't want your fucking food."
It screeched at him again and flared its wings out to the sides. The fat bird moved towards Tom on its hand-feet, crossing twice the distance he could in a single lumbering step. He felt his aim wavering in his shaky hand.
"I don't want it."
The thing kept walking towards him. He went for broke, and fired two warning shots into a tree. Wood splinters flew off the trunk to smack limply on the bird's pot belly. It stopped in its tracks and screamed at him. The monster spread its wings in a show of dominance.
Tom flipped the safety on his weapon and turned tail to run. He could hear the bird creature squawking at him angrily, and turned back to look after he'd cleared some distance. It had followed him half the way, but now seemed satisfied that he was not a threat to its food. The monster receded back into the fog, making thunderous thuds with each step. Eventually its cacophony of squawking, thumping and slurping faded away under the sounds of rain and thunder, and its pendulous form had disappeared into the mist.
Tom took the opportunity and bolted away. He didn't know where he was going, but it was away from that thing, and that was enough.