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The Woods: Chapter 4: Insanity Excerpt
The loud clanging of the clock woke me just as the sun was going down. My head was pounding with the ringing sound. I rolled out of the bed and hit the floor with a loud thump. My skin felt itchy, like thousands of tiny pins were sticking into me. I rubbed at my arm and headed to the kitchen to scrounge up something to eat. My nose picked up a weird smell, like musk, and I followed the scent to the front door. It was blowing in through the hole, which I hadn’t bothered patching up. I stepped outside.
My first thought was, I’ve been attacked again. The second was Gotta get out. Out there, I belong out there . . . The next moment something was crawling over my skin. I had to get out there, had to follow the smell, had to reach the untamed forest. I catapulted myself over the porch railing and ran full-speed towards the woods. I’d barely reached the first trees when it really hit me.
I shuddered in the moonlight, tearing at my burning skin with my own fingernails. My deep-throated screaming echoed around the hills and river. My head was pounding like someone was driving nails into my skull, but still I tried to think, to figure out what was happening. The moonlight seemed almost to turn my blood to ice, inducing a burning cold, like dry ice, that coursed through my bloodstream and pulled my mind abruptly from any real thought but the pain. I sank to my knees, gasping for breath. My entire body felt as if it was being razed and rebuilt from the inside out. I stared at my skin in complete horror as it stretched and ruptured, being pulled apart by the vast thing that was struggling to break from the confines of my body. There was something dark pushing up, through my skin. The thing bruised me, leaving huge purple-green splotches on my skin until it finally broke though. I threw my head back, my hair brushing against heels of my shoes as I bent backwards. My chest seized up, keeping me from breathing normally. It felt as if my heart was bursting within me, growing larger and larger and beating faster and faster, until it exploded. I grasped my head with my hands, pulling at my face as if it was a mask aflame that was seared to my skull. As I cried out, I was thrown forwards suddenly, violently, by my own convulsions. A loud, blood-curdling howling filled my ears. My eardrums felt like they were going to burst at the unearthly noise. I thrust my fingers deep into the soil, curling them around the cold dirt. My entire arm was warping, changing as I watched. My fingers shrank back, or else my palm grew larger, into a huge paw, the human skin shifting and tearing off, leaving behind a gray colored, fur-covered body. My old crew shirt stretched at the seams, the stitches pulling apart as I grew. With a loud ripping sound, my sweatshirt pulled completely apart. My arms grew longer and more muscular, the bones moving and changing shape to match that of a . . . wolf. All over, long, silvery hair was showing under the thinly stretched or torn skin. I let out a bellowing howl that echoed more loudly than any of the others, rebounding like an entire pack of wolves. With the final echo, all pain stopped. I bowed my head, panting loudly. I closed my eyes, and when I opened them, the whole scene looked completely different, from the perfectly shaped hills and winding river, to the trees of which I could see the outline of every leaf and pine needle. I blinked twice, clearing my vision. Even the moon, that horrible accursed moon, looked brighter and closer. Suddenly something moved in my peripheral vision. I got to my feet – all four of them – and turned to face the source of the movement.
A graceful-looking deer stood beside me, eyes frozen wide as it noticed me standing there. I sunk my head close to the ground, nearly touching my jaw to the snow. The doe’s heart beat furiously inside her fragile chest. I let out a strange bark and the doe bounded away, its small hooves leaving barely an imprint in the snow. As soon as it moved an irrepressible urge to chase it down overcame me. I shot after it, barely considering what had just happened. Nothing was more natural than me noticing this creature and going after it. I could hear the doe’s blood pumping through her veins as she fled me.
Just like I’d fled . . .
Out of nowhere, I ran into and was surrounded by a herd of at least fifteen deer, all running after the first one, having been alerted to my presence. They crowded close around me, jostling each other for a position farther from me. I snapped at the flanks of the hindmost deer, a large buck that was trying to turn and fight me off with his impressive antlers. He was unable to run and fight, though, and soon tripped over the slower deer in front of him, bringing them both down. They bleated loudly as they were left behind, tangled and unable to rise, by the rest of the herd. I bore down upon them, my mouth wide open to devour. The smaller of the two, a half grown fawn, managed to untangle its legs but couldn’t run. I saw that its skinny hind legs were both broken, smashed when the buck fell on them. I swooped upon the adult, easily tearing his abdomen open with my dagger-like teeth. He made one more feeble swipe with his antlers before his head fell to the snowy ground, mouth still open with his last moan.
The vivid red blood spilled out onto the snow, staining its perfect whiteness. The heat of it produced steam that coiled and twisted up into the air like a snake. My eyes moved from the curling patterns to the little deer just a few yards away.
I watched the fawn give up on its attempt to run. He folded his front legs under his belly gracefully and gaze at me with wide, dark brown eyes. Eyes like the girl’s, like Leah’s. Gentle eyes, with an innocent expression.
My lip curled back from my teeth defensively. Suddenly, I felt as if I was being watched.
I left the buck lying there and stalked towards the helpless fawn. The long lashes fringing his eyes reminded me even more of the girl. He blinked slowly as I stood, towering over him.
With a sudden flurry of movement, I lurched forward and snapped his neck cleanly in two. Painless and bloodless. There was no new stain in the snow from this creature’s death. I turned back to the first deer, forcing my eyes away from the young one’s staring gaze.
The buck’s blood was already beginning to congeal in the freezing air. The thick fur of my coat kept the cold out well, but I could feel the arctic wind biting into my nose and eyes. It didn’t seem to hurt, though. It was more of a sensation than a pain. I could feel it, but not feel it, somehow. I pawed at the animal’s innards, exposing the parts of it that were still hot. I buried my head nearly to my eyes inside the buck’s torn-open belly, feeding off of the steaming entrails. Overhead, the moon slipped behind the thin clouds, turning into an eerie glowing orb that dangled high above the gory scene.
An hour later I’d consumed far more than I thought my stomach could handle. They lay, bloody carcasses in the snow, which was slowly beginning to cover them as it blew across the fields. My hulking shadow followed me down to the river, mimicking every strange movement of this body. The black creature moving beside me gave the impression of being disconnected, not a part of me, so hard was it to believe that I had changed in such a way.
But I knew I had. I’d torn myself apart releasing this new, powerful monster. I’d killed in this body, this night, under the full moon.
I had to accept it, but I didn’t want to.
I stared at my face in the river. Two golden eyes stared back at me like topaz gems in the middle of a light gray face. The reflection rippled slightly as the water flowed, but was steady enough for me to study the visage peering out of the water. The eyes were ringed with a darker gray that darkened to black at the muzzle. Blood stained the area around the mouth and the long teeth that were visible under the lifted, snarling lip. I shut my mouth quickly; the teeth were hidden. I whimpered quietly. The animal in the improvised mirror did the same, its mouth opening just a bit to let the sound escape.
I tilted my head back and howled mournfully at the moon, my tormentor. The howl carried all through the valley. In the distance, someone’s porch light flicked on, just a pinprick of light in the darkness. I listened hard to the old man that stuck his head out of the door and called out. I couldn’t hear the exact words from this distance – I was over two miles away – but it sounded like he was asking if anyone was out there.
It was no one that he would want to have answering.
I looked back to the reflection. The creature’s body was huge, blotting out a portion of the sky behind it. It had the shape of a wolf, but the musculature was a bit too defined and the teeth were too large and sharp, and the face showed more expression. With every new little discovery I made the eyes grew more sad, horrified, and defiant. I turned away from the image and lay down in the snow. I rubbed my face against the cold wetness, using those large paws to clean the blood off of my face. A screech owl soared overhead, hooting loudly.