I could feel it inside of me as I stood before them. My friends from years ago who’d hoped, loved, and withstood the pressure of the world by my side. Our paths might have gone in different ways, but I still loved them. So I prayed as I laid there before them, the black bug buried beneath the skin above my heart that they would see me for me. I somehow knew then that I was going to die, but I refused to accept it. I refused to go like Tracy.
Oh, my dear Tracy… He’d commented to me about a pain in his chest before I’d lost him, some number of months before, to be honest. When they found his body they commented on the state of his skin, as if he’d developed horrible blisters and zits that had popped some time before he died. As that man, Derringer injected me, I remembered Tracy and what he left behind.
A memory of a man I no longer was.
“Brandon?” Danielle’s voice slipped through the quiet restaurant as they gathered before me on the ground, our manager stopped in the hall beside me to vomit as I struggled to stand.
“It’s me, it’s really me, I promise. They did something to me. I don’t know what.”
I was being honest then, I didn’t know what happened. I knew that after the injection I saw Tracy’s face staring back at me. The needle tore through my skin as the man slipped it back beneath the complicated, broken flesh of his arm. He ran shortly after that. Pain overwhelmed me and I fell to the ground. Remaining still helped quell the overwhelming burning all over me. That’s when I started to understand. Something about the injection brought the bug to me. It clamped down on my chest and burrowed deep beneath my skin. I watched the thing tear a path through me with its horrible, jointed claws. It started in on my hip and crawled beneath me to my chest, right above my heart. A lump the size of my fist grew and throbbed before I’d reached Furlong’s.
My friends picked me up from the floor as Danielle called someone, I was lucky to have gotten out. A man stopped beside me inside the cave and left me for dead. I couldn’t see his face or the face of his companion, but I heard him say aloud that there was nothing he could do. I didn’t think much about it, I knew I wasn’t getting out of this.
I refused to give in completely, though. So I ran.
The system of tunnels was complicated to make my way through, I’d passed into halls with moaning bodies, each of them blistered as I was, covered in the pestering things that burrowed inside of me. I walked to Furlong’s with pure will alone, each step pounded hollow through my body until I could barely take it, and I stepped inside.
Danielle remained on the phone for some time while Liam and Jay propped me up onto one of the dining floor tables. The manager called the police, but we all knew they wouldn’t help when they arrived. I fell in and out of consciousness while they waited for whoever Danielle had called to arrive.
I woke periodically to see the boys beside me, checking me for wounds while I slept. When I woke they backed away.
I don’t know how long I was in that state before he showed up, the man with the voice I recognized in the tunnels. He introduced himself as Bryan and stood at my feet as he looked over me, inspecting the black insect that had taken up residence beside my heart. There was a cold silence in the room as he spoke.
“I’ve never seen anything like this before.”
I heard the distant ring of police sirens in the otherwise vacant air as my friends slumped in their seats and began crying. The manager had made his way out and looked as well, and I tried to join in on the casual investigation of my swollen body, but I found then that it was difficult for my neck to crane down. I could see the swollen lump in my chest out of my peripheral vision, but couldn’t lift my neck to truly see it. I tried to pull my hands to my head and lift and realized then that my body began to numb.
Bryan checked me over for other wounds, and likely found none besides the injection site. He commented on my smell as my body began to lock in place and refuse to move. All of me remained still before long but the bug.
They watched and I wondered if it were prudent to have warned them of what I saw. The great being within the antechamber of the tunnels, the singular eye that watched me. I saw it once more within my mind as I laid atop the restaurant table frozen in time. It looked down upon me from the sky, bile dripped from its twisted mouth and if it could have smiled, I’m sure it would have then.
Bryan commented to my friends and interrupted the gentle dream as he told them it would ease my suffering if they killed me then, as opposed to letting me become whatever it was that Derringer had been. It was as if in response that the voice came to me, it whispered so softly as I fought the pull of the dream.
“You are welcome with us.”
The words so simple, but they revealed so much. Of course, I was complete in them. I fought against my own muscle to turn my head and saw this new thing, a black fog that rolled across the room. A girl in her early twenties stood before me, shrouded in fog and dressed in thick grey cloth that wrapped around her, her right arm was dripping blood that fell onto the floor and vanished. She smiled and reached toward me as she spoke, gently also, but with a different kind of gentleness.
“Brandon, I am so sorry you’ve met this fate.”
Her eyes reflected beneath the harsh fluorescent light, a pale grey hue beneath the sky-like blue as she met and embraced me. Her touch was warm and kind, and I cherished it.
The miracle she offered to me that day I could never repay, but I hoped to. She lifted me to my seat and helped me to stand. I was in awe of her strength, her calmness despite the visible wound. I wondered what had done such a horrible thing to her, but I dared not speak it. She had cured me. I stood freely, I moved freely, the pain of the thing inside of me had gone and with it, the vision of the translucent beast had gone too. My friends didn’t seem to notice her as she took me across the room and looked at me with a tear in her eye.
“I’m so sorry, Brandon.” She extended her bloody hand for me to take. “I wish I could have stopped this.”
“It’s alright,” I replied. “My friends will look after me.”
She grimaced and looked to them who sat with their arms folded, their heads bowed. Even Bryan, who stood with his arms behind his back and stared. The lump on my chest writhed still, beneath the skin of a body I no longer inhabited.
“This can’t be,” I muttered, I cried, I stared in disbelief as I looked across the room and saw myself, suspended in time. My eyes locked and looking back at me so far away.
“It’s time, Brandon.” The woman spoke sweetly into my ear as I stared. She made it seem as if I had no choice, but I watched as Bryan pressed his fingers to my neck and looked to my friends with a lost hope in his eyes.
“If I should go, will I come back?” I asked the woman, whose own eyes filled with tears.
“I don’t permit it.” She replied. “But I can’t stop you.”
I swallowed hard and watched as deep beneath my flesh, a sole, thin leg ruptured my skin and searched for a place to go.
“Bryan, Bryan, what is that?” Danielle pointed at the glossy black limb that tore through the cooling flesh of her friend.
“I suppose, that’s what we’re after.” He remarked and reached a hand out. She watched him as he pinched the end of the small insect’s leg and pull.
The leg gave way and ripped as Bryan pulled on it as a small gush of blood shot from it. Brandon’s body jerked as a scream tore itself from his lips. Bryan pulled his gun and aimed it at the body as he sidestepped to stand between the others. Danielle peeked around to his side as Brandon stood, his body spasmed as he sat up, his eyes open and unblinking as he swung his legs from the table.
“Why would you do that?” He spoke, his voice dry and rough. Bryan kept the gun aimed at the moving corpse.
“What are you?” Bryan spoke as if he’d seen it happen before. “How did you come back?”
The thing that was once Brandon grinned and swung its arm toward Bryan. Danielle watched as Bryan’s coat ruptured by his shoulder as a small mass of slime burst through and caught the fist.
“I’d reconsider that,” Bryan responded, and shot Brandon in the knee.
He screamed as the gunshot echoed in the room and fell to the tiled floor. She backed away with her friends, each of them watching carefully as Brandon’s crumpled body writhed as if something moved beneath his skin.
“I thought we might have been able to get along.” Brandon croaked from the floor.
She turned to look at her friends, and they shared a long, drawn-out moment together as Brandon stood, the sound of muffled chirping coming from beneath his skin. In a flash, Brandon reached forward, his arm warped and broken as something emerged from his flesh. A long, black needle shot from beneath the dead man’s forearm and out towards Bryan, who ducked and took another shot.
The bullet slammed into Brandon’s chest and sent him stumbling back a few feet.
“What are you?” Bryan repeated.
She remained against the wall as police sirens flashed outside, Lief, the manager of the restaurant, remained where he was standing as they approached. They shoved their way into the restaurant with guns drawn.
“Everyone freeze!” One of the officers shouted, his weapon drawn and pointed at Bryan.
“No can do.” The man replied.
Danielle watched as his overcoat seemed to move beneath his body. The gel that burst from his coat’s shoulder pulled beneath him.
“Drop the weapon.” The first officer began, his eyes glued onto Bryan.
“Point your weapon at him.” Bryan didn’t move, his gaze transfixed on Brandon, who remained on the restaurant booth where he’d been knocked back.
“I said,” The officer repeated as the sound of chirping grew louder. “Drop your weapon.”
Danielle followed the new sound of chirping to the officer, who began to warp before them, his skin bulged and inflated as long black carapace plates emerged from beneath his skin that crawled and wrapped around his flesh. As the black chitin covered his body and bent to match the profile of the officer, she watched in disbelief as hair sprouted from the top of its head, flesh emerged as if it had been contained within the black shell itself and surrounded the officer, it grew and stretched around the figure before it compressed and when it had finished she watched in disbelief as the officer’s appearance changed entirely and became a perfect match of her therapist, Dr. Derringer.
“Good.” Bryan scoffed and jumped backward as the officer fired a shot.
Danielle watched Bryan dive away from the man’s aim as another span of gel reached from within his clothing, and the bullet slammed into it. Chunks of slime flew away from the point of impact, and she heard Bryan shout in pain as the bullet fell to the floor.
“You use us.” The officer spoke, his voice intertwined with that of Dr. Derringer.
“He uses me because I offer.” A voice called from somewhere else as Bryan stood and trained his gun on the man. The voice was much higher pitched, but it sounded so familiar to her.
“I am not you.” The second, higher-pitched voice continued. Then, the fog of familiarity cleared. It was Bryan’s partner.
She shot a look at Liam and Jay, hoping they would have an idea to get out, but both of them were drawn to Brandon’s body as he began to stand, the flesh around him went slack as he worked his way to his feet, as if the blow of the gunshot loosened it from his flesh.
Bryan spoke with a continued, calm demeanor as he watched the other officers begin to change as well. Their faces shifting with the black chitin that emerged from beneath their skin. “You kids need to run.”
Danielle looked at him, and back to the officer. “Run where Bryan? They’re all armed.”
“They won’t shoot you.” He smirked. “They want you alive.”
Brandon growled as he moved towards her, his eyes oozed puss and blood.
She didn’t waste time to consider the possibility, getting shot in the restaurant would have been a better fate than whatever had happened to Brandon, so she took Jay’s hand and stood to run. She slammed her shoulder into Brandon’s side as he reached for them and knocked him back as Liam sprinted towards the back door. They burst through it and out to the patio and kept running until they found their cars in the parking lot. They paused to watch the scene as she noticed in the back of one of the cruisers around the building, her friend Annice was pounding on the window.
Gunshots erupted inside the restaurant.
Her knuckles were covered in blood from slamming her fist against the glass. Her voice had gone long before the officers arrived at Furlong’s, but Annice knew someone had to have heard her. Annice screamed, her throat burned from the effort, and she laid back. The officer’s who’d come to investigate the man she’d shot had arrived and accused her of killing him with malicious intent, she fought back, but could barely withstand them as they cuffed her and dragged her to the cruiser. When her mother tried to stop them, one of them turned back and…
Her stomach churned at the thought. One of the officers unhinged his jaw and bit her mother’s neck. Blood flowed from the wound as her mother fell limp onto the lawn, and they forced her into the cruiser. She wiped tears from her eyes with her good hand as the memory replayed over and over. She didn’t move her other hand, her thumb dislocated to slip from the handcuffs before they got the call to report to a hostage situation at Arni Furlong’s. She laid back as gunshots echoed through the neighborhood, the windows of the restaurant cracked and shattered beside her as bullets flew over the car. She looked toward the parking lot on the other side of the car and saw three figures moving toward her.
“Help me!” She screamed as they passed around the large windows of the restaurant and stopped at the door. One of them was a woman, who opened the back door of the cruiser.
“Annice!” Danielle’s voice came through the opening as she scrambled out of the backseat. “What happened?”
“No time.” Annice choked the words out and began running as more gunshots went off from behind her. She heard the footsteps of the others as she ran back to the parking lot and cradled her hand to her chest. When the others had caught up, they piled into a car, one of the boys, with short hair and a single thin braid down the side of his head waved for her to enter.
“Come on, your hand looks hurt.” He helped her into the car as they backed out and peeled away from the parking space.
As the other boy, a Mexican man with long curly hair drove them out, Danielle turned to face her.
“What happened, Annice? How did you get there?”
She swallowed hard. “It’s a long story. I killed someone who was trying to break into my room, I think he was one of those… things.”
Dani nodded. “Well, we just found out that our friend was one of them.” She motioned to the driver.
“Jay, get us to a hospital for her.”
“Tell me,” Danielle continued. “Does your chest hurt?”
She paused, she hadn’t thought about it in a long time. When she’d first arrived, she developed a small bump on her chest. The sudden resurgence of the memory hit her full force. It was some thirty days after she’d been taken to the caves that she puked, she couldn’t see it in the darkness, but it tasted vile. Like blood and seafood. So much had happened since she’d been imprisoned she’d pushed the memory out of her.
“I used to, a long time ago.”
The three others shared a look as Jay pulled onto the main road toward the hospital.
“What do you mean, used to?” The other man asked her, while he wrapped her wounded hand in a tight cloth.
“I mean, they injected me with something a month or so after they took me, and I puked it out.” She reached to her chest with her free hand and pulled at her collar to reveal her bare chest and a large circular scar that marked it. “See?”
Danielle and Liam looked hard at the scar for a while before they shared a look.
“Did you ever feel, strange?” Liam asked, tying a knot in the bandage as he released her hand.
“Strange like, not yourself?”
She shook her head. “No, I’m not one of them. I can’t prove it and I know that, but trust me. I’m not.”
Danielle turned back to face the road and nodded. “We’ll take you to the hospital, but we have to know for sure.”
She scoffed. “How are you going to know?”
“I haven’t answered that yet, Annice.” Danielle’s reply came cold in the night.
“This didn’t go as planned.” Vidten choked out a laugh as he stretched away from Bryan’s body and formed a small shield around his vital organs. He swiveled and twisted, blocking the three officers from slipping long needles into his partner. Bryan danced around the room between a hail of gunfire and swipes as the officer’s bodies molded and reshaped into new forms. Some with long limbs, others with sharp needles that emerged from their arms.
“We are the perfect ones.” One of the officers muttered as he sent a low jab. Vidten blocked it and wrapped himself around the wrist, then he spun his own body with as much force as he could. A sharp crack echoed through his body as the officer grunted and stepped back, a small black chitinous band grew immediately over the wrist and he continued to attack. He could feel the deep breaths that Bryan took as he tried to stay on top of the three monsters, and he was starting to grow weary.
“Bryan, you have to end it.”
“How?” The hunter shot back, firing a bullet at the nearest officer. The officer stumbled and a new piece of chitin grew over the gunshot. “I’m out of tools.”
Vidten glanced around the room and found a small golden statue in a case. A small pig with a chicken riding it. He didn’t care to read the inscription beneath, not that he could read human languages anyway. He stretched out and across the room as he gently pushed on Bryan’s chest, silently guiding him as they’d trained one another to do, and he spanned across the room to the glass case where he broke it and wrapped what little of himself he could around the golden statue.
“Found you a tool.” He tossed the statue down and caught it with another mass of his slimy body before he deposited it into Bryan’s coat pocket. “Make those gold bombs again.”
Bryan reached into his pocket as he ducked a swipe from the nearest creature and felt the gold.
“I’ll never regret letting you come with me, even if you don’t understand how to be human.” He grinned and pulled his hand from his pocket to reveal three long golden spikes.
Bryan gripped the spikes in his hand as the monsters paused to look at them briefly before they continued their assault. He ducked beneath the first and spun with his heel out into the second as Brandon’s body managed to stand a final time.
“They’re slow when they’re first born.” He quipped to his slime companion.
Vidten collapsed around his chest once more. “Think we should just get him too?”
Bryan shook his head. “I want to see what happens.”
He spun around the first officer, who had taken the appearance of an old friend, Anton Derringer, and jammed the golden spike deep into his neck. He ducked and swung his hand out toward the second, driving it into his chest beside the pulsating black lump. For the final officer, he wrapped his hand around the man’s split jaw and drove the spike up through it into his skull. Then he jumped back.
“You know how this ends, right?” Bryan knelt as the three officers paused to tear the spikes from their bodies. None of them responded.
“You know, when the world was born, it was given thirteen steps unto the method of creation.” He watched as the first officer clutched the spike and began to pull. “To save you the long story, the thirteenth link in this chain is destruction.” He knelt and sketched a small circle onto the wood beneath him. He filled in the circle with interconnected lines, and glyphs, and at the center of it all drew a small circle with a dot in the center.
He looked up to see Brandon approaching, his fists covered in slowly moving chitin plates as he swung back to strike. Bryan ducked and shoved his shoulder upwards, catching Brandon’s elbow and knocking him off balance.
“Destruction is my part of the chain.” He pressed his hand, with a bit of gold still from the statue in his palm, on top of the small circle and spoke a quick chant. The air around them grew thin as he held his breath, and pulled from outside of the restaurant. A gust of wind blew into the dining floor and sucked directly into the small lump of gold in his hand as it began to glow red with heat. The three officers screamed in pain as they clawed for the gold that began melting into their open wounds. Quickly, Bryan breathed out the air and sent the blast of heat from within his palm out with it as fire burst from the tile around him, and the molten gold cooled in a matter of seconds. The monsters howled in agony as he stood, Brandon collapsed beside him and the officers frozen in place.
“How do you do that?” Vidten asked, pulling himself away from Bryan’s chest and up onto his shoulder.
“To be honest, I still don’t know.” Bryan shrugged and stepped towards one of the officers, who struggled to break the chitinous plates away from the gold that bled between them and hardened.
“You hurt her.” It muttered as it struggled to free itself.
“Hurt who?” Bryan cocked an eyebrow. “That thing in the center of your little maze?”
The officer grimaced.
“You hurt my friend and countless innocents. Let’s call it fair.”
He kicked the officer’s knee and sent him crashing to the ground as he stepped toward the window.
A heavy thud slammed onto the ground as the monster landed.
“Do you know what he means?”
“No clue. We need some assistance.” He replied, and slipped his phone from his pocket.
Danielle and Jay had taken Annice into the hospital, but something wasn’t sitting right with Liam. He asked to remain outside while they went in. He remained in the car while they departed, and stared out towards the north of town. As he waited a handful of people parked and entered or left the hospital doors. He took in the great expanse of the night sky and watched the city from the hilltop hospital on the edge of town.
“Why us?” He asked gently into the night sky.
He was unsurprised when he received no answer, but somehow the lack of immediate response dragged his heart further down. He waited in the passenger seat of Jay’s car as he listened to the calm sounds of his home. The distant car honked every so often, but beyond that, the rural part of Nevada was nearly all but silent. He remained there for a while, pulling from the absence of busy noise what joy he could until he heard something else emerge in the night.
A chorus of distant screams, that rose all over the city. One by one the sound of unified screaming echoed off of the landscape from God’s Knuckle to the hospital, and it screamed over the city to him. He sat up, then stood from the car as the screams grew louder, an agitated chirping noise rocked the night time behind the screams. Others in the parking lot stopped and turned to the north, where the noise had begun. He watched alongside them until the night time sky revealed something he’d never seen.
Above God’s Knuckle, on the other side of town, just to the east of the grove they’d camped in he saw a shimmer in the night sky. Something hung above the mountain, bulbous and round. He only saw it for a moment, but that moment burned into him as the thing in the sky revealed itself. A giant ring of nearly translucent blue flesh appeared in the sky as if it had always been there. A couple beside him screamed and ran as the thing appeared, but he could only watch as the thing, covered in eyes, spun in the night sky above the field where he’d been just nights before. It spun, and from somewhere beneath it, he saw a light emerge from the ground and shoot into the sky. He continued to stare, transfixed by the creation as his mind swelled with words he did not know, but somehow still understood.
“You have failed me.” The voice boomed inside of him, and as if it had never happened at all, the eye filled creature vanished from sight and the chorus of screaming came to an abrupt stop.
He continued staring into the space above the mountain, a distant tingle in his spine.
Annice jerked out of the hospital bed and felt a pounding inside of her head. Something spoke to her, but she couldn’t understand the words. She looked around the room and saw only Danielle sitting beside her, her hands in her lap as she slowly nodded off. Outside she heard panic and screams. She hopped from the bed, her hand in a tight brace thanks to the doctors. She looked out the window and saw a bright flash of light from the north side of the city, and in an instant, it was gone.
With it, left the voice, and the dark feeling of dread that had manifested within her since her arrival in the caves.
Then, she began to vomit.
Bryan heard the voice. It sent a shiver down his spine. The way it spoke in thousands of languages, some he could pick out, none of them native to the world Brandon had once lived in. He watched the young man fall to his knees and beg for forgiveness with pleas that, alongside the officers, came in unison. A bright light burst from the other side of the city, but he remained focused on the four men within his reach. Each of whom slowly fell to silence as the light vanished from the sky.
“What do you think that was?” Vidten pulled himself free from Bryan completely and hung on a nearby pillar, his stone suspended in his body, rotating as he scanned around the room.
“I think, that by dumb luck, our plan worked.”
“What was our plan?” The slime laughed. “I thought you were guessing.”
“I was.” Bryan joined in the laughter as the four bodies before him all fell short of breath and stopped moving completely.
Jay returned to the hospital room to find Danielle leaning over Annice, holding her hair back as she spilled her stomach onto the teal linoleum.
“Doctor! I need help!” He shouted out into the hall and saw a nurse drop what she was doing to approach. She passed by him and into the room as Annice finished vomiting and made her way back to the bed.
Jay shrugged as Danielle answered for him. “I was falling asleep, but she got up and looked outside.
There was this bright flash of light and then she just started puking. I don’t know.
He looked down at the stuff that had erupted from her and grimaced at the thick dark liquid that seeped across the floor, like motor oil and seafoam the dark grey bile bubbled on the ground.
“Is that normal?” He asked as the nurse paged a doctor. Annice began to convulse.
“What’s happening?” Danielle shouted.
“Get back.” The nurse replied, putting her hand to Annice’s neck. “You two need to go.”
They obeyed as a small group of other hospital employees arrived at the door. They took a seat in the hall, their eyes wide as they waited for words to come to them. Eventually, they did.
“Did Bryan make it out, you think?” Danielle gripped his hand tight but didn’t shift her gaze away from the wall before her.
Jay didn’t say anything else after that, he just stared, letting his mind disjoint from reality for a while as nurses and doctors began shuffling around the hospital. To one side, he heard two women speaking to one another as they returned to the desk from their break.
“Do you think this is it?”
“What do you mean, this is it?” The second woman, much taller, took a seat at the computer desk while her friend pulled a clipboard from a small rack.
The tall woman laughed and rolled her eyes. Jay shifted his attention to them, the wall before them losing his interest.
“I think it’s always been the end, honey.”
“But really. You know, that girl over there,” She gestured to Annice’s room. “Was one of the girls that were taken. We have a couple of other patients here that say they were taken too and they’re all puking up that gray stuff too.”
“Midge, you think everything is a sign of the end times.” The tall woman laughed. “They probably just ate something bad from the cafeteria.”
The other woman, much shorter, and balding, shook her head. “No, I think this might be it.”
Jay noticed on her chest, there was a small bandage that covered a small lump. He froze as she looked at him.
“I guess this is goodbye.”
Then, the woman melted before his eyes into a puddle of gray sludge just like what left Annice.
Six Months Later
Bryan and Vidten returned to Dorley, NV sometime later, the events of those who had fallen ill the night the light flashed had been attributed as nothing more than a freak accident. Each of them, Annice included, recovered with no ill effects. The religious leaders of the city gathered together and established that, as God’s Knuckle always had provided, this was another in a long line of miracles. Some argued that it was a warning to depart from sin, others suggested that it was a glimpse of god in the flesh but nonetheless, the city had returned to normal activity relatively quickly.
When he’d returned, he found that there were a handful of folks like Annice who’d survived the strange encounter with the skinshifters, and each one of them reported a vile sickness on the night of the bright light in the sky. He heard through the grapevine before his return that Liam had gone on after the night about a massive creature in the sky, but his family, devout religious folk, and even his friends condemned him for perpetuating such things. He was later institutionalized for what he’d proclaimed had been true.
Bryan returned to the town and found their mental asylum, and made it a point to visit the young man so sure of the world beyond.
“What’s your name again?”
“Dr. Derringer Jr.” Bryan replied and flashed a copy of a fake ID he’d made. “I’m here to see one of your patients.”
The woman looked him up and down. “Which one?”
The woman checked a small schedule behind her desk and nodded. “Fine, come through.”
A buzzer rang as the door before him swung open. He entered with a briefcase and a familiar cool sensation around his chest. He passed by the receptionist who continued about her business as he made his way through the small facility and arrived at Liam’s door. He knocked a few times before he pressed on the handle and pushed it open. Inside Liam leaned against the wall beside his bed, his eyes bloodshot and wide as he scribbled on a small notebook with a dull crayon.
The man looked up and grinned wide. “Are you my new therapist?”
Bryan chuckled as Vidten squirmed down his chest and into his pant leg. “No, I won’t be your new therapist. I cam to talk to you about what you saw the night of the flash in the sky.”
Liam’s face darkened. “Look around you, Dr.” He gestured to a collection of sketches he’d taped up to the wall. Each of them depicting a large ring covered in eyes that hung above God’s Knuckle. “I think you know what I’ve seen.”
Bryan nodded. “What do you think it was?”
“An angel,” Liam suggested. “Maybe an alien, pretending to be an angel. You know, the wheel covered in eyes?”
Bryan nodded as Vidten pulled away from his leg and slid beneath the bed, carefully, slowly. “I’ve heard, yes.”
Liam flipped the sketch around to depict something else, something that Bryan recognized. It was the spiral mouthed creature from the antechamber of the tunnel system.
“I think this is its messenger.”
“Where did you see that?” Bryan glanced over his shoulder.
“I see it in dreams now.” Liam tossed the sketchpad onto the bed. “Bryan nobody here believes me.”
The hunter looked over the man, disheveled and dressed in plain white clothing. Beside his bedframe, he parked a pair of white slippers that were stained brown on the bottom.
“I wanted to ask you if you believe in things beyond what we can see?” Bryan continued, ignoring the prior comment. He saw Vitden slowly creep up the wall behind the bed frame as Liam swung his hands in a declaration.
“How can you not? After an experience like that?”
“Indeed.” Bryan cleared his throat. “Liam, I want you to know that what you saw was entirely real. There is nothing about what you saw in the sky that night that is fake. It exists, somewhere.”
Liam’s eyes widened as Bryan continued.
“However, you can’t freely speak of it as you have, you see, you end up in places like this.”
Liam nodded and swallowed hard. “Are you going to break me out?” He whispered.
Bryan let out a quick chuckle and nodded. “Not in so many words. I’ve wanted to make you an offer. If you’re interested, you have a standing invitation to come to help me and my colleagues in what we do.” He pulled a small card from beneath his white coat and tossed it onto the bed.
Liam picked it up and quietly read the words.
“The Yhordric Bridge?” He cocked his eyebrow at Bryan. “What is this? Are you the Men in Black?”
Bryan laughed. “That isn’t me, I’m part of something much greater, but The Bridge has taken quite the interest in you. They need a replacement for Dr. Derringer, and I think you will be the best candidate.”
“How do I know you’re being serious?” Liam tossed the card down.
He obeyed and leaned forward, then rotated his shoulders to see a large pile of slime stuck to the wall, with a small stone floating in the center of it.
“Heya, kid,” Vidten spoke and contorted his body into the shape of a smiling face.
Liam shouted and Vidten fell from the wall to the bed.
“Keep that, don’t take the drugs, and when you get out of here give me a call.” Bryan stood and Vidten slid across the sheets and reached up to Bryan’s arm before he slipped himself around his chest. “By the way, even if you know it’s real, sometimes it’s better not to talk about it.”
Bryan winked and turned to leave.
Liam stared at the card in silence as the door closed.
After his short walk and awkward goodbye to the receptionist, Bryan climbed back into his car as Vidten slipped off and sat in the passenger seat while they made their way up to the north end of the town and back to the grove.
“What are you looking for?” Vidten squished himself into the seat, a new habit he’d picked up since having to pass through Bryan’s clothing to protect him.
“I hope you don’t stain the seats.” Bryan began. “I’m looking for the tunnel system, to see what is left.”
Vidten emerged from the cushion a bit. “I’m not going to stain anything. I’m trying to learn how to do it through fine fabrics. Besides, it feels kind of good.” He snickered.
“I said don’t stain anything.”
Vidten continued pressing himself through the cushion of the car as they made their way to the grove. When he found the mouth of the cave, Vidten slipped around him and he slid his gun from its holster as he made his way towards the mouth of the cave. He passed through into the darkness and found the door still wide open, but the insides of the tunnels ransacked and destroyed. Where boxes hadn’t been rummaged through, parts of the cave system had collapsed entirely. He moved through a few of the rooms until he reached the altar room where he’d first seen the unusual creature and found it empty.
“Maybe it was an angel?” Vidten peeked through his sleeve and surveyed the room alongside him as they watched.
“I doubt it. Agharthans aren’t so forward.” Bryan shined a light onto the altar and found resting atop it, three spikes made of gold and stone. He smirked.
“I don’t know if our plan worked the way we wanted it to or not, but at least it left.”
He holstered his gun and turned back to the entrance when he felt a sudden gust of wind. The burst of air blasted into him as he whipped his gun out and aimed it into the darkness beyond his flashlight, and saw a figure approaching.
The humanoid body stepped into the light and cast a long shadow behind it as it moved. Its skin glowed, sparkling like the night time sky as it paused before him. It wore white robes and golden bracers and stood with five pairs of gray feathered wings that shrouded its body. Its face remained out of the light where it paused. Bryan waited and stared.
“Witch Hunter.” Its voice boomed into the tunnels and vibrated the very rock beneath his feet. “You have done well to send this thing back to its home, but I fear you are no match for its power.”
He cocked an eyebrow. “I don’t think I’m supposed to believe you, no offense.”
The figure’s voice thundered over his. “I did not permit you to speak. I am Metatron, Servant of Syzal. This thing which you have found is unlike anything you’ve known, and I advise you to halt your pursuit. I am under strict orders at this time to keep your world safe from it, and I will not be meddled with.” The figure did not move.
“Some job you’ve been doing,” Vidten called out from beneath Bryan’s vest.
“Silence your pet, human.” The wings that covered the beings body spread wide as he spoke.
“Vidten,” Bryan began. “Don’t upset the temperamental monster.”
Bryan felt his flashlight grow white-hot in his hands as the glass plate and bulb shattered. He dropped it and plunged the hallway into darkness. The figure down the hall opened six eyes and revealed a blinding light that emerged from them.
“Do not take me for a petty beast, human. They are to you what you are to us.” Its voice scathed him, the force of its words themselves tore into his overcoat. Vidten screamed in pain as the light landed on him and he sunk deep beneath Bryan’s clothing.
“I am the Guardian of the Worlds, and you have seen something that should never have been.”
Metatron closed his eyes, and the burning light vanished, leaving Bryan blinded in the darkness.
“So what should I do?”
“What you have always done, child.” Metatron’s voice suddenly shifted from fury to gentleness as he replied. “Protect the innocent.”
Bryan opened his mouth to reply, but in a blink, the creature vanished and left him in the solitary darkness of the tunnels. He groaned and placed his hand against the stone. He pulled the air from around him and lit the wall on fire as he began moving back towards the mouth of the caves in dim light, and Vidten remained quiet.
It wasn’t until they emerged into the sunlight that either of them spoke.
“Do you think it was what it said it was?” The slime asked as he slid into the passenger seat.
“I think we don’t have a choice but believe it… for now.” Bryan climbed into his seat and turned the ignition when he noticed a small piece of stone on the dashboard before him.
“Seek the young illusionist.” Was inscribed on the stone.
“What the hell is this?” He showed it to Vidten, who jiggled, emulating a shrug.
“I guess it’s what to do next.”
Bryan tossed the stone into the back seat of the car and grinned. “The Forge is going to be pissed if I keep giving myself jobs like this.”
Vidten laughed alongside him in the passenger seat as they drove away from the grove and made their way finally, out of Dorley, NV.
There will be no end to the screaming.
Thank you, for coming to hear a new story from the Otherwhere. This is only the beginning. I hope to see you back over the next few days until the end of this year. These are not only retellings of a world long ago. They are a recorded history, a warning for all of us. I am merely the vessel they are speaking through. I hope you share these warnings with as many as you can. The time is not long now. Do not be afraid of the shadows.
I’d love to hear from you on Social Media if you have it, and I hope that you’ve enjoyed thus far. I’ll be back with more.
See you soon.