13 Apr Thick Brush
“Thick Brush”Written by Mick Dark Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
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⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 29 minutes
My family cottage in rural Maine has remained unvisited for eight years. We used to use it about every summer for two to three weeks when we were kids. Somewhere between June to the start of September, typically at this mosquito-infested spot in this fairly wooded area. Typical rural Maine. Creepy as fuck. My brother, Eric, was 12 and I was 14 the last time we used it, I think, and then dad, who was a Civil Engineer for the Central Maine Power Company had started this new role that had him working on some pretty intensive and lengthy infrastructure projects across New England that picked up in the summer, starting a new fiber-optic implementation and overseeing some electrical grid stuff so we always planned on “next summer” and then “next summer” then the next and next. To be honest, my brother and I didn’t really miss it. It was nice to be away from the city but it also meant being away from friends and access to malls and other elements that made life more fun when you’re a teen. Once again, the place was creepy anyway.
The trees were unyieldingly dense making them nearly impenetrable, even to light as you couldn’t see any more than a dozen feet into it. Meaning that we didn’t bother. You would have to make a painful and foolhardy attempt to squeeze through that tight brush just to get a few feet inside and you’d cut yourself up pretty bad if you tried. The trees were partially naked and offered dagger-like branches that would rip your face apart if you ventured into the thick brush. We weren’t curious enough to want to see what was in the depths of those woods because we knew it would be just more trees but mostly it was the prospect of, potentially, being lost in it that made it a more unfavorable plan.
There was always a blackness within that brush that was a sad memory of our childhood. Always present and never explored.
Hunters didn’t use the area due to its impossible density. If they could get in and find deer, they’d never get it back out again, if a deer could survive in there. Besides…and this is really something I don’t hold much credence in – but I’m going to mention it anyway, most of the people that live in the area have either moved away anyway or avoid the bush because of its presumed mythos of bogeymen living within that I find hysterical. Bullshit stories of kids attempting to reclaim lost frisbees and baseballs and one man that claimed to have been lost in the bush while trying to finally salvage all of the golf balls that he had put into it. Later the man was found to have been living in Myrtle Beach with his mistress. Made the small local news only because of his missing persons status. Hilarious stuff but you still couldn’t get me to go into them. What’s the point? I don’t have enough Band-Aids or insurance.
After my parents retired, I was 18 and moved out on my own in Bangor for a short time and they moved to Florida. I left University and thought I’d go back when I was ready. My brother lived in Boston and thought I’d join him and now at 22, I had just moved in with my girlfriend Emma in the south end of Beantown into a one-bedroom place. Boston suited me. My bro was just 4 streets away in a small studio apartment. Winters were great because the pizza ovens downstairs kept us in free heat but the summers were unbearable. The mugginess that always persisted near the ocean combined with those same unrelenting pizza hearths pushed us into buying a dehumidifier and an air con unit that sat in the window, although, it did little to compete with the pep and cheese slices that flew out the shop below.
We had still owned the place up north in Maine. The cottage had been abandoned for years but once a year, a local community handyman named Edward that my dad paid 100 bucks to annually, mowed the grass around it and sprayed down the exterior to keep the bugs from nesting, cobwebs from forming and any other critters from calling it home. I suppose it was a general cleaning activity as well. Dad just couldn’t sell it. He had been pushing for a sale for the past 5 years while it’s been on the market. Nobody wanted it and at this point, he was nearly ready to give it away. It had two bedrooms – one that was larger for my parents with an old TV and one smaller, for my brother and I that looked out onto the front driveway and the little gulley that trickled across that entrance under a small wooden bridge we had to drive over, which was far better than the wall of forest that my parents had to endure as their one and only vista. There was nearly no reception for cell phones, and forget Wi-Fi. It was becoming ever increasingly swallowed up by nature and this was the year that my dad was going to explain to Edward that this summer, there was no need for him to go ahead with the cleaning of the property and that he’d let it just go. Unfortunately, Edward was not reachable. He lived alone and as dad told me, his phone rang and rang without an answer. Maybe he decided to take a holiday. Who knows? Met him a couple of times on a drive up with dad to deliver the cheques for the work. Seemed like a nice guy. Mid-30s and did a lot of odd jobs around town. Didn’t like working in these remote areas, he said, but money talks and dad paid him well enough.
After the relentless humidity of the summer before, Emma was convinced that a cool, fresh country breeze would be a nice respite from the boiling surface of the sun that we currently inhabited. My brother was also convinced to come. It was so long since we had been to the cottage, we surely would not recognize it. Before it fell into complete ruin and collapsed to the ground, eventually joined into the forest, we thought we could have one last stay for old time’s sake. One last bonding moment with our childhood summer home. When the time came and our long weekend arrived, the three of us packed up our sleeping bags because beds or not, after 8 years, we weren’t getting into them and then packed up our generator, charging stations, our phones, lots of food and water and beer and then a Bluetooth speaker for some tunes. We packed into my 1992 Jeep Cherokee Laredo 5-Speed 4×4 gifted to me by my parents when they moved and then we started the 300-mile trek northwards. Our GPS would shit the bed about 50 miles before we reached the destination but we knew the way. It was one stretch of Golden Road into the deep rural part, after Millinocket and unless it was torn down, our names were there on the roadside, on a wooden sign with a smiling beaver next to The Hawkesburys, our family name. We drew this beaver as kids and to this day, it made no sense and why a hawk would not have been clever. We were stupid kids.
Golden Road was a wall of forest on both sides and it was clear to me why Stephen King would have had endless inspiration here in our home state. The furthest I had been and seen was New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, Canada on family vacations. Nova Scotia being especially beautiful even, admittedly, as kids. Maine was boring. It was home but it was just boring. I poured myself into reading and watching horror movies as a kid but wanted to get out as soon as I kid. I’m sure that I’ll someday make it to Europe or even better, Japan. Someday. Right now, this current excursion will bring us to a patch of thick brush, most likely seen through beer goggles. It’d be fun. Should be fun. The August temperatures were already more bearable than downtown Boston and the hate part of the love-hate relationship with Moon Slice downstairs. Great pizza, although, often hard to consider when soaking in our sheets from sweat in the middle of the night. “Michael, we gotta move. Please,” said my girlfriend, almost every night.
The roads were narrow and as windy as I remembered and my brother and Emma and I stopped at a small diner that seemed to be the last spot for food before we hit the cottage and our unfrozen burgers, pre-made sandwiches and tins of spaghetti. We needed to piss, collectively, anyway. Golden Rd Café, it was presumably designated. Café ….okay, sure. We unloaded from the car inside. It seemed familiar as the usual roadside stop when dad needed a coffee or mom needed to pee. Folks inside were not talkative. Well, not so hospitable to us. Not mean but just in their own world.
Nothing had changed, really, as I remembered the place. Same woman with the crusty grey bonnet behind the counter taking orders and same timber drivers sipping coffee and eating burgers. The diner’s ancient owner kept the run of the cash which mostly remained inactive so he just read a fishing magazine. A few locals took up some space but never spoke. We got a few stares once inside but we did our business and began to leave.
I stopped by the cooler and yanked out three cokes.
“Ya sure it’s just the sodas?” the relic of a cashier had asked.
“Yeah, that’s all, thanks.”
“That’s 12 dollahs, son.”
“Four per can? It’s a bit expensive, though, isn’t it?”
“It is what it is. Your problem, my boy, is that ya tighter than bark on a tree,” he responded with a raspy chuckle. “We let you use the washrooms, didn’t we?”
“Fine! Here!” I slapped down the cash onto the counter and grabbed a handful of mints from the tray. I wasn’t leaving this place being completely cheated.
“Well, we won’t be back,” I added with a bit of a disapproving look.
“No one ever comes back, son,” he replied from under his breath.
I squinted at him and grimaced at the old fart and walked away, clanging the brass doorbell above, as we exited. As we did, we noticed 8 or so taped up little posters of folks that had gone missing, right next to the door on the inside. I hadn’t seen them before but gave them a walk by glance, without any thought and then we left. The nosy diners inside stared us down during our departure to the car and as we drove off.
The trees smothering that road along our way was so damned claustrophobic that, at one point, it made me want to cut the weekend and head back. The pubs would be more fun than being in the middle of the forest in a broken-down cabin. However, I did promise dad that I’d provide him with an assessment of its current state to see if it’s worth fixing up and selling or lighting a match to. I already couldn’t wait to get back to Boston. It was a long trip and the thoughts of rustic fun, drinks and quiet were immediately quashed as I thought of the isolation, lack of signal and those creepy woods. Those dark, dense, forbidden woods. Well, what’s the worst that could happen?
We saw the old, rotting sign at the foot of our driveway. We drove up tire worn tracks that acted as our path up the bush-smothered hill towards the plateau where our cabin sat. As we approached it, the first thing that we noticed was the grass being half-cut, with one side of the front area up to my knees and the other side about ankle high. Shoddy work by Edward and I can only imagine that he wasn’t paid by dad for whatever reason and didn’t come back the next day to finish. Perhaps he had an emergency but the looks of the shorter grass, showed it to be at least two to three weeks old. The taller grass, god knows… maybe a year? First note into the ledger for dad’s assessment of the property. Not cutting that shit though. Not even if he asks me. That’s Edward’s job and he’s being paid for it. It’s pretty unprofessional to leave it like this, though. Can’t imagine that dad will keep him on now. Oh great, now I have to find another goddamn handyman in town. Ok, maybe I’ll just leave it for now.
I had a flickering one signal bar on my phone. It looked like my connection days were over. This is going to be weird. We always had this problem as kids which forced us to get outside or play boring board games with the family. It “built character”, dad said, to do away with electronic devices for a time. Learn to “appreciate nature”.
Well, put on your big boy pants, Michael. Large parts of the world have no connection either. I walked up the stairs to the front door. The stairs bent and creaked and I knew they had to be replaced or ripped apart with the rest of this death trap. My brother took a walk around the exterior of the cabin while I unlocked the padlock on the front door and stepped inside, Emma behind me holding her backpack.
The place was musty. Everything was in pristine condition in terms of tidiness but tidy and clean are two entirely different adjectives. Yes, it stunk. That was expected. There was a broken pane of glass in one of the bedrooms in the back, my parent’s room, closest to the forest. A square of glass clearly broken, perhaps by a bird flying into it or maybe a branch came down in a storm – I don’t know. Either way, it had clearly allowed in some vermin since there were small piles of shit on the floor that had ripened nicely. Ugh… it was foul. We had brought some cleaning supplies, luckily. We knew we’d need it and we certainly did. Emma and I picked up all of the feces from the floor and then used the old firmed-up mop in the bathroom with some floor cleaner and bleach and gave the whole place a good once over. It immediately changed the scent of the place. We laid our sleeping bags onto the beds’ mattresses and then, not having seen Eric in some time, I decided to go searching for him outside to see what he wanted to cook up later. I rounded the house, walking through small piles of dried-up branches, saw that thick brush close up. It was mean. A wall. Impassable. Impervious. A solid living wall of foliage, pointed branches ready to attack and slash up any would-be invaders. No wonder we never saw deer in this space. They would be warded off by the unwelcome thickness and sharpness of this ugliness.
“Eric, you dumbass, where are you?” No response.
I came around to the back of the house. Eric sat, silently, on an overturned rusty wheelbarrow staring into the tree line.
“What do you think about that?” he said, pointing with a stick aiming along his eye line, squinting, at a gas-powered lawnmower on its side, handle pushed into the bush and the rest sitting outside, grass encrusted blade facing them.
“Dude, I was hollering at you! Why didn’t you answer!?” I shouted.
“You think that’s Edward’s? I mean, it would have to be. Why is it sitting over there?” Eric added, with his occasional calm, detective-like curiosity, never breaking gaze with the object.
“I don’t know, man!” I replied, still coming down from my frustration at his refusal to respond to me while I was shouting, until the curiosity began to grip me also. “I don’t know. Was it broken and he had given up on it?”
“Sure, okay …but then why not put it back on his truck and leave with it? Why dump it on our property?” said Eric.
“Dude, maybe he got pissed and left, I don’t know! Christ!” I answered.
Eric stood up and shrugged his shoulders, calmly and walked past me while I continued to stare at this derelict lawnmower that had been abandoned. “Let’s get a beer,” he said as he went around the house, leaving me newly confused at this mystery.
“Strange. Really strange, actually.” I couldn’t understand the connection between the abandoned machine and the half-completed work although clearly there was one.
I moved back towards the front door around the house. To my left, inside that god-awful foliage, there was a sudden sharp movement that made me jump, a rustling of branches like a quick, sudden getaway inside. I turned and there was nothing. I detected residual vibration of a few leaves in one patch of brush but saw nothing. I know it was something. I didn’t imagine the sound within this calm and silent environment. Come to think of it, where were the birds?
I got inside, shut the door and made a beeline for the thermos full of ice. I splashed my hand into the bin, pulled out a can and opened it. I took a long swig, burped and saw that Emma was just behind me on her knees, emptying her backpack.
“Oh, shit, sorry,” I offered. She just giggled and shook her head like I was a 5-year-old that wet themselves in a TJ Maxx trolley. Eric was sitting on his single bed in our old room listening to tunes on his phone while rolling a joint. Hated that stink but I guess we’re in nature and when in nature, you smoke nature. I’ll stick to my beer, thanks.
After we set up, we started building a little fire in the open patch out front, on the cut grass part, of course with a nice little grouping of stones. We put together a nice little campfire and the moment we lit the fire, it almost immediately went dark. Sipping our beers and roasting some hotdogs on our cool little hot dog trident with a long handle. A real practical tool I picked up and was perfect for the three of us. The night was quiet, except for the crackle of the fire, the bubbling of the small gulley at the bottom of the driveway that led from one side of the bush to the other and, of course, our laughter. The hot dogs were perfect. As was the beer and the company. The stink of Eric’s weed muddied up the atmosphere but we decided to let him be. What’s with single guys and marijuana? He was pretty funny, to be fair. His usually intense demeanor was changed by his stoned mental state and that was a good thing. Maybe it took a lull to catch our breath from the laughter but when we arrived at a small space of silence, we heard something. It was a whirring sound. It seemed to come from behind the house. We just sat, in silence. Slightly put off and a bit frightened, to be honest. We were in the middle of nowhere and then this mechanical sound that was nearby made no sense at all. It was the most perplexing thing and we stood up and focused our ears.
Then over the sound of a motor, there came the sudden sound of a man screaming. It was close and despite nearly pissing our pants collectively, we grabbed one another in fear. I was a bit drunk but not that drunk. Eric was seizing up from the fear and smoke-induced paranoia. Emma whispered that she was afraid and that she wanted to go in the cabin. I told her to go ahead and grabbed Eric’s arm and told him that we had to investigate. Eric initially asked me to go by myself as he was frozen in space but then agreed, reluctantly, to come. The scream was quick but terrifying and it didn’t persist, although the whirring continued. We walked, with a flashlight towards the back of the house, stepping carefully around an old hose and scraps of metal and piles of branches.
The buzzing continued as we got closer and as we shined our flashlight across the area across the tree line, there was the lawnmower, as we left it earlier. It was running.
How the hell could this thing be on!? I wondered.
A predicted and slow “What the fuuuuuuuck” drifted out of Eric. The thing was rattling all over the place, blade shaking and spinning faster and faster until it became a blur….then shockingly, this nightmare blade flew off the mower and spun into the bush.
“Holy shit! What the absolute fuck was that!?” I screamed. I heard a loud shriek and saw Emma in my parents’ window behind us watching this nightmare. I turned back towards this abandoned, unattended blade-ejecting lawnmower that actually needed a goddamned cord pulled to start up, slowly died down, sputtered a few times and stopped. That was enough for us. We bolted into the cabin and locked up. I insisted on closing the curtains across the cabin. Only from a sense of being totally freaked out. I didn’t have to convince Emma or Eric of this. We sat and played Uno on the floor for a little while until Captain Pothead started to get sleepy and we all decided to call it a night. Can’t say that we were relaxed but hoped that a good night’s sleep would make us forget or dilute the memory of our possessed lawnmower’s assassination attempt. Both doors were shut and we got into our sleeping bag for two and cuddled up.
We opened the windows to get some cool air. The biggest selling point of this trip. Even with the windows opened, outside there was a complete and utter silence. No crickets, owls, even wind through the trees. Complete vacuum outside. The silence was soon shattered by Eric’s incessant snoring in the next room. That guy sounded like a caged warthog after a night of puffing. It was annoying but we persevered and put the sleeping bag over our heads and started to sleep. Emma was out in minutes with her own little not-so-feminine snore but took me a while longer. Not sure when I drifted off but I did. The air was nice. The calm was welcome.
We awoke in surreal shock. Emma let out a whimper. “Oh my god!” she squealed.
The mower had started up again. It was running at full speed but more of a hum without the blade attached. I heard Eric in the other room shout “you have got to be kidding me!”
I burst into Eric’s room where he was peering out the window. I grabbed his arm and he nearly collapsed from shock.
“Sorry!” I said.
We both looked out at this mower just kicking off in the vague luminescence of the moonlight. Half in shadow, buzzing and humming. It made no sense. In the midst of its midnight activity, abruptly, somehow it was yanked into the bush!! We screamed in unison, like little girls. What could have snapped that into the brush like that?! It was fading into the distance, the din of the motor. While we were gazing into the isolated area of the sound….without warning a second hiss came from our right as we saw something come at us with incredible speed, we moved just in time to see this object break through the glass and frame of our window with a loud smash, just above our heads. It was the blade of the lawnmower and it had almost decapitated us as it stuck into my brother’s bedroom wall. We ran out of the room and ran about the cabin screaming and panicking, closing the windows quickly as if that would do anything. We calmed down and ran across the making sure all the windows were shut, not that a large chunk of metal would be stopped, clearly.
We made the instant decision to not be a victim to whatever nutter through that blade through our window. We packed up our important shit, left the sleeping bags and ran for the car, searching the area with flashlights and wide-open eyes, feverishly, heavy breathing and out of our minds with fear. We jumped into the car, I turned the key and reversed down the driveway as fast as I could and in the glow of the reverse lights, I saw something large coming closer behind us as we moved towards it and by reflex to avoid it, I spun the wheel and the car plummeted off the small wooden bridge into the gully. The tires spun and the car was going nowhere. It was stuck. It was immovable. We jumped out, out of breath and confused from everything in the past 10 minutes followed up by whatever it was that I saw that shocked me off the path.
“What the fuck, Michael?! What’s wrong with you!?” yelled Eric.
“I saw something on the road. We were going to hit it. I just tried to move around it but we went off.”
We had just tried to push the car out of the shallow gulley but it was deep into the mud underneath. Eric and I kept pushing while Emma accelerated and when she stopped and we gasped out of hopelessness in the silence. We were ready to go again, when we heard movement within the trees. Something large enough to make enough noise within the brush to scare the absolute piss out of us. We stood up to listen, brandishing a tire iron with white knuckled fists. Eric and I turned our heads towards the sound. Emma hadn’t heart it in the car but was terrified by our obvious jolt of concern. We knew that this would take far longer than we could afford with whatever the fuck was happening right now and we immediately decided to make a run back for the cabin and lock down and take care of this car in the morning. We were at our absolute limits of stress and now this shit is going sideways in the brush and there are things moving.
I moved around the car, jumping over the gulley that the tire found itself embedded in, as my brother and Emma went around the other way around. As I glanced further down into the dark path to the road amidst the trees, I saw something. Something on the dirt driveway. Whatever I had seen in the ambiance of the taillights that freaked me out and into the ditch, was human-sized and laying there in a black mass on the road and not moving. It looked like it was a small cow or a sheep on its side, laying in the faint moonlight. I slowly approached it. Emma had the flashlight and was halfway to the cabin when she saw me and she agitatedly whispered to me what the actual fuck I was doing.
“there is something on the drive….something laying here on the drive. I think it’s a dead animal. Bring the flashlight” I asked.
Emma ran down and threw them into the dirt near me. “Christ, Emma! Really?”
She gave an unapologetic glance and charged back up to a safe space watching me. Eric came to join me.
“What do you think it is? Eric blurted.
“No idea,” I said as we both advanced cautiously. “Let’s do this quick!” We shone the light onto the object.
Edward, the part-time custodian of our property was laying, pale and bloated. Eyes bloodshot and fully open in terror, mouth wide to match. His tongue was missing and he was swollen up like a ready to burst jiffy pop. Emma saw from afar in the flashlight and loudly gasped behind us. She rushed into the cabin and slammed the door.
“That’s Edward, Eric! Dad’s handyman dude. I met him a couple of times and that’s him, I’m sure of it! I don’t understand any of this!” I told Eric in a panicky whisper.
We continued to investigate this bizarre cadaver, our breath started to come back to us. We thought that poking it with a stick would seem quite disrespectful.
Edward’s corpse was rancid and pale and not a drop of blood anywhere on OR around his remains. He stunk. Christ, it was awful. No blood but he was dried up and rotting and unnaturally bloated.
We had to notify the police but we had no vehicle and no service here. No phone, no wifi. This was an absolute clusterfuck. Something was here, watching us, I had no doubt. We heard something nearby in the brush. We had a blade fired at us through the window, now this fucking dude. We had a solid 60 or so miles to the nearest public place, which was the Golden Café. It was pitch dark.
“Eric, we can’t stay here. We need to get inside and wait until daybreak, get the car out if we can and get the hell out of here!” I insisted. “Agreed! Who would do this??” he added. “animals don’t leave bodies intact and why is…” He stopped as we heard something from below us. We both looked down and his stomach began to move, and we jumped back immediately, but whether it was morbid curiosity or being frozen in fear, we couldn’t stop staring. It was a clicking sound from Edward.
Edward’s inflated leathery gut start to tear apart and out of it came what looked like a dark moving appendage reaching out of it, the size of a baby’s hand but white and long thin fingers. Grasping and closing and opening like it was feeling the light from the flashlight. Then grabbed the sides of Edward’s puffy flesh and violently ripping apart the abdomen like tearing a plastic bag. Then incredibly, two smaller pairs of claw-like hands moving out of the bloodless remains and back in and then out again grabbing at the fatty skin of Edward’s belly. That was it. Fuck this!
We both instantly tore back into the cottage and secured the door. We placed the armchair against the front door and moved a bureau over the back door and made sure every window was closed and without anything proper to cover the empty, broken window, we just shoved a blanket over it, balling it up and placing it within the smashed open part. We reconvened in the living room and had the lights out and we must have sat there for 45 minutes without a sound, eventually laying on the floor and listening and listening and listening. More vague movement behind the brush and then clicking sounds that we knew were not any bird or vermin that we were aware of. The clicking surrounded the house. There was no longer any sound but that damned high-pitched clicking just never ended.
“Jesus, what the fuck is that!?” screamed Eric. “I don’t know. Those things crawling out of Edward? “what things?” shouted Emma. “like lizards or some pale little things coming out of the body” I tried to reassure her and unfortunately that pathetic story was in no way believable. The clicking continued and the solutions went into overdrive. Eric thought of using a broom and tire iron to rush them and Emma thought daylight was the best solution and to wait it out, like in real life shit stops when the sun comes out. I was getting tired of the little bastards but agreed to wait until it became untenable.
The noise increased. These things, whatever they were, were banging against the sides of the cabin. I was worried that they’d get into the open window. I decided to check on the back window. If they were scrambling around the cabin, the little pieces of shit could get in through that broken window easily.
As I stood up and explained to the others that I was going to have a look at the bedroom to make sure the window was sealed, a blinding light shone into the cabin from every possible direction. Through the windows, under the door, and even through the tiny spaces between the wood planks. I was floored. I dropped to the floor covering my eyes. I could see nothing. We all groaned and cursed in confusion and I could only assume that they were covering up also. What was this?? What was happening?
The clicking had stopped and as we writhed on the floor, eyes burning, we heard a penetrative droning sound, like a mechanical hum. Our eyes, now our ears were ready to explode.
The light died. Went black. We were stunned. Immediately, I pulled Emma up while still blinded. “Emma, you ok?” I asked. She was whimpering and responded, “Where is Eric?”
I slowly opened my eyes and saw that her eyes were squinted and, in the dimly lit front room, that we were alone. Eric was gone. My brother was gone!
“ERIC!? Eric, where are you!?” I screamed.
Emma joined in the frenzied screaming and searching. I tore off into the other rooms. The doors were still shut and blockaded as we had left them. Eric wasn’t in the cabin. I checked the closets, under the bed, everywhere…he was really gone! He couldn’t have gotten out of the cabin. Not with everything locked down. Every door and window. Every passage in or out was shut down by us.
I was having no more of this shit! I pulled the furniture barricade from the front door and ripped the door open. The world outside was unpopulated and black. Maybe my eyes hadn’t adjusted yet from that blinding luminescence from moments before. I called out to Eric in every direction.
“Eric! Eric! Eric! Where are you!? Eric!”
From beyond the brush to my right. It was Eric’s voice.
In distress but not hysterical. Was it my imagination? My ears were a bit fucked up from that pulsating tone but I know Eric’s voice. It was distant but it was coming from the woods beyond. Why would he run out? Why would he run out into that shit? How the fuck did he get out of the cabin? I grabbed one of the flashlights from the cabin floor and I rushed toward the tree line and stopped short of it. Pitch dark, thin, sharp branches scratching my face as I pushed my head into the bush to listen. Eric moaning my name. It was him but it wasn’t Eric. He never sounded like this in all the years I’ve known him. Emma stood at the door calling to me. I couldn’t see her well. My eyes still dim from the sudden flash of light that still pulses through my head accompanied by that reverberating drone that shook the cabin. I sent the flashlight beam towards her and she covered her eyes like it pained her.
“I can’t find Eric. I don’t know where he is, Emma! Please go back inside and shut the door. I need to look around some more. She agreed, sobbing and went back inside. I heard the door shut and lock. I trained my light on the trees ahead but couldn’t penetrate any more than four or five feet due to the compactness of these damned trees. Grey, withered, spikey and unwelcoming. We never went beyond. It was so goddamned inhospitable and couldn’t understand how mother nature would create a space where no living thing could enter. A rabbit would be skewered after the first hop. I still tried to squeeze in a little. This was always possible but not without putting branches into your skin and risking your eyes. I pushed forward slightly, wincing from the sharp poking. It mostly hurt my scalp. Like the trees were going for my head from the top, pushing down.
Then, I saw a light, vaguely, from inside the thick bush as I pointed my flashlight down to my feet to see where I was stepping. I immediately switched off my flashlight to get a better view. I felt like I was seeing it but I wasn’t at the same time but I know it was there. It seemed far but I know I saw it. I pushed forward, squealing with pain. My face was being scratched to hell and felt there was probably no way I wasn’t leaving here without a bloodied face. What was that light?
“ERIC!” I called.
Then my name again in a low moan.
“Eric, is that you!? Eric, I’m trying to come to you! Where are you!? Can you see my light?? Eric, answer me!” Nothing. Silence. That fleeting, roaming light in the distance that was almost undetectable, were it not for the pitch dark and all of my senses on overdrive, and was now gone. I continued to call out for Eric and then the sudden realization that I was embedded in the blackness of the trees, alone, me screaming out while we were being assaulted by machinery and played with. I needed to find my bro. I knew I couldn’t let this go but there was a point that, even though I had lost all my sense of threat from whoever it was that was stalking us, my brother was worth every risk. Then I felt that I needed another approach since the screaming wasn’t working.
I carefully backed out of the 2 or 3 short steps forward I had taken into that blackened, craggy wooded torture chamber and took a breath of cold air standing in the safety of the open ground. Watching the mist of my breath, in its short journey, exit my mouth, captured by vague moonlight. I stood, defeated so far, in this patch of unmowed grass, wondering about my brother. Not where he was as much as what made him leave us and how through a barricaded-up cabin?
It didn’t matter. I was at an impasse. I needed to just hope that he would know to come back and find his way back. His wails, though.
They were disconcerting. I had to tend to Emma. I couldn’t leave her alone. I’ll burn all this shit down soon enough. This evil, piece of shit brush. Good for nothing. I gave one last look, peering as deeply as possible into the murkiness of that wood. Splashes of cold grey against the gloom of black nothingness. Nothingness where my brother was, if I could believe the distant sounds. I needed to give it time. Time for soothing Emma, explaining to her anything that I understand of this moment. The groundskeeper jiffy popping creepy crawlies, the clicking around the cabin, the pulsating, acoustic drone and that dazzling, bright light beyond anything I’d experienced. Like forcing a sunbed bulb into my eyes. How could I string any of this together? How could I connect it to my brother’s disappearance? The vanishing of him, before our tightly closed eyes.
I knocked on the door, Emma peered through the curtained glass slat in the door, unlocked it and let me in. I hugged her and asked her if she was ok. She let out a whimper and immediately pushed me to provide news on Eric. I had none, I told her. I didn’t want to tell her that I thought I heard his voice because this would open the discussion to too many questions. Too many questions that I couldn’t even attempt to answer. We sat for an hour, chatting silently about the night, turning in circles creating even more confusion and then both decided, without ever speaking it, that we wouldn’t discuss the insanity of the evening anymore and went on about moving to a new apartment when we get back, getting a puppy and other unrelated items. However, in the back and front and sides of my brain was Eric. My only brother. We came here as three and we are leaving as three. I had no way of contacting authorities and I was terrified for him to not be here if he returns, in case we decided to hoof it in the dark down the narrow country road. Those typical Maine country roads that are loomed over with trees, extra dark and, yeah, creepy as fuck. Somehow Maine inherited most of America’s creepiness. Perhaps it’s psychosomatic and we can just thank Stephen King for this.
At some point we had drifted off on the old dusty couch, leaning into each other. Both snoring lightly when a sharp sound woke me up. Emma remained dozed off. The fatigue of the night had hit her hardest. I maintained my position with Emma leaning into my shoulder. My neck was aching from the bent position it was in with no support but my eyes were snapped wide open. Upon recollection, the noise was a noise. I couldn’t define it because like most noises that wake you….they are only recognized or defined once recurring. It didn’t recur. I stayed silent in the dark cabin, lit by only a small Coleman lamp in the corner of the room. I then saw the slightest shadow move across the drawn curtain. It moved slowly and without sound. It was tall. Very tall. Tall and very thin. My heart was pounding. I absolutely did not want to wake Emma now. If she saw this, she would shriek loud enough to bring the cabin down. It moved past that front window and then after a few seconds, silently, the towering figure moved across the side window but this time, it stopped and pivoted to face straight on or away from me. I couldn’t tell. I was screaming inside. I was horrified and never felt a fear like this in my life. This was not my brother; otherwise, I would have called out. This was something that I would have difficulty explaining as human. It could be but based on the silhouette that remained poised in front of our side cabin window, besides being tall and ultra-thing, the thing had no fucking ears. Its head was longer than any human’s should be and I couldn’t see arms if it had any. What was most bizarre was its movement. It had seemed to walk but there was complete silence. How, in this complete stillness of night – no wind, no crickets, not frogs, nothing – does this thing remain silent? We had collected, dead brush and other junk all around the cabin. Once again, I had no answers and was terrified even more due to this.
The thing eventually moved away from the window. When it did, I woke Emma up and took her into the bedroom, laid her down, covered her up and laid next to her on top of the quilt. I didn’t want to be stuck under a tight quilt, waiting for the sun to come.
I laid with her and closed my eyes and then heard the front door rattle. Someone was trying to open it. Again, Emma was out like a light and I slowly got up and walked as quietly as I could to the front room. I stopped and listened. If it was Eric, he would give zero fucks about shouting his presence to the world. It was definitely not Eric and unless Edward had somehow shoved his guts back into himself and had himself a particularly effective genius of a doctor, this was not him either. Jesus, not like somebody knocked. No, open up….no police or announcement of any kind. Just someone trying to invite themselves in. Not a friend of mine. That’s for sure. The doorknob rattled but not direct turning. The whole door was being shaken. Someone wanted in and apparently was ignorant of the mechanics of a door.
I stood back on the other side of the room. I was half-hidden behind the wall of the door frame, peering out, terrified and confused. Then, as it stopped, I heard impossibly fast movement around both sides of the cabin, clearly towards the back. I turned my attention to the rear of the cabin, listening intently. I moved to the back of the cabin which remained silent after the initial swoosh on each side. I remained silent for at least 2 minutes, begging God for no incident. Nothing that would wake up Emma screaming. Whatever it was, was just behind her where she slept. On the other side of the wall, the window. Still silence. I crept into the room and she was still there, curled up in a fetal position in bed, hugging a pillow. I was unprepared for what came next.
An odd sound came from the distance. Beyond the cabin in the back. A faint pulsating noise, much like the ones we heard when we lost Eric to wherever the fuck he went. I sat, quietly beside her, hand on her hip making sure I was connected to her for whatever else was about to happen. Amidst the sound of this slowly growing acoustic droning, I heard the movement of equipment, like creaking and metal on metal which I had assumed was the mower back, since it was coming from that direction. Then, a massive shriek and a loud slam against the wall of the cabin, which felt like it was enough to bring down the wall, like the remainder of the mower had been thrown. This very moment, culminated in Emma waking with a paralyzing scream. Confused and crying, I grabbed her and held her. The reverberating tone was now much higher and increasing in volume. I looked her in the eye and said “Emma, we have to go. I am sorry. We are not safe here. Someone is trying to get in. We have to run!”
She continued sobbing while slipping on her running shoes. I gave her one last look and we tore off out of the cabin. We pulled the door open and made a beeline towards the dirty driveway down the hill towards the main road. I still had one flashlight. We were using it to navigate our way. As we reached the edge of the gully, I turned back to take in whatever I could from the chaos that was enveloping us. A giant black shadow hovered in the sky beyond the cabin, creating an oblong, sharp, silhouette against the night sky. Lights, sporadically across it, bluish-green that were nearly perceptible without a squint and focus. The lights were rhythmic in their movements and there was little doubt that this object in the sky, at least 1000 feet or more in length was the source of our trauma and most certainly the source of the blinding lights and disorientating sound. Then inhuman figures, tall and thin moved from out of the thick brush and stepping towards us. I gasped and as Emma tried to stop to turn to look, also, I told her to just keep running and get to the main road. I don’t know what our plan was after that but we had to move.
My flashlight beam caught the stain of Edward’s recent resting spot on the road but no cadaver. We ran past it and down the long driveway. The pitch of that tone increased and the warble of it had ramped up its frequency. My flashlight started sputtering its beam which added to our stress. We hit the main road and pushed East, where we had come from, gasping and running hard. Either direction at this t-junction was equally as viable for escape. We just ran. We were nearly out of breath, losing our gas quickly about a half-mile down the dark road when a blinding light came out of nowhere and knocked us to the ground. The sound that accompanied it, was deafening. I felt Emma hit the ground with me, while I reached out to her in the fall, feeling the cloth of my flannel shirt that she had been wearing. We were out of breath and laying on the road. At least I assumed we were. That radiating sensory overload began to drift away.
I felt my consciousness evaporating and before I lost it, I felt the sensation that I was being touched. Lifted.
I immediately snapped back the moment that I heard Emma utter a scream of what must have been pain-induced. My eyes felt as if they were glued shut but with every ounce of strength I could muster, I cracked open one eye with incredible difficulty. My head was locked in place. My vision went in and out of blurriness, my eyes frantically moving around the room which was very dim and entirely black in some places. Seeing clearly, then blurry and then clear again. I shifted my gaze as much as I could to my left. I saw Emma lying next to me being force-fed through a tube, what seemed like small, fleshy eggs in a clear sticky, saliva-like liquid.
Unable to scream, I looked past her, pushing myself to dissipate the blur for clarity on my surroundings. Laying on something past Emma was my brother Eric, chest open, face frozen in fear. As I moved my view to the opposite side of me, as much as I was able, this long inhuman figure, again.
It entered my space in a blurry, long, threatening silhouette as I felt faint, nearly unconscious. Barely able to keep my eyes open.
A tear welled in my eye and down the side of my face as I sobbed, muted unable to produce anything audible, and without warning, I watched as a large transparent cannula was positioned over me, then pushed into my mouth, ripping down my throat.
With unbearable pain, I felt it digging down into my stomach without any pause. Like I was a piece of meat. I tried to scream but no sound came from me. The pain was beyond imagination.
Then, slowly, I entered into a blackness with only the sound of clicking moving from this alien pipe, muted as it entered me. Entered my stomach. A last image of Edward’s body passed through me as I mentally and emotionally rejected this moment. Then, there was no place for disbelief. The pain subsided as I entered a final blackness.
Blackness, like the depths of the thick brush of our childhood.
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None AvailableMick Dark Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
🔔 More stories from author: Mick DarkPublisher's Notes: N/A Author's Notes: N/A
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