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One Head Light
Author's note: This piece started off as a freak impulsed creation on a summer night that was expanded into a college assignment and then morphed into something greater. This is only an introduction to a mysterious and chilling tale.
ONE HEAD LIGHT
One headlight pierced through the night as the old station wagon crept down the dirt road. The vehicle jerked back and forth as Jeanne attempted to keep the wheel steady. Laurie bumped into Ben’s shoulder, nearly knocking a sketchbook out of his lap.
“Woah, that would have been a sad loss,” he breathed with wide eyes and picked the book up with two hands. He brought the cover to the tip of his nose and inhaled slightly. “Ah, this is the good stuff. Want a whiff?”
Laurie smiled, leaned against him and sniffed the cover. “It smells like skunk.”
Daryl snorted from the passenger seat. “Hey, hold off on that right now. This road is hell.”
“No worries, Man, I’m packing it up now.”
“Better not spill it,” Daryl warned before reaching across and gently stroking Jeanne’s white knuckles. She tore her gaze from the road and met his eyes for a brief moment. “You’re good,” he said.
She nodded and looked back at the road. “How much farther is this place? I can barely see a thing.”
“It shouldn’t be much longer. See that fallen tree? That means we’re close,” Daryl said and pointed at the open road.
“You said we were close two fallen trees ago,” Jeanne responded with a smirk.
Daryl mirrored her smirk. “Well now we’re closer.”
A sigh escaped her lips and her foot hesitated against the brakes. “How do we know this place isn’t going to be completely flooded after all that rain? If this car gets stuck out here, we’re going to be-”
Daryl chuckled and leaned back in his seat. “Everything is going to work out, okay?”
“But what if-”
“There it is! On the right. Turn, turn, turn!”
The vehicle progressed slowly down a narrow path overrun with tree roots and dead shrubbery.
Daryl waved his finger in front of her face, motioning towards a small opening between two trees. “Okay, pull up right there, perfect, beautiful.”
Jeanne exhaled heavily, cut the engine, and fell back into her seat. She looked at his eyes for a few seconds then gazed into the darkness beyond the windshield.
“Let the games begin!” Ben chimed and waved a lighter in the air and swayed back and forth.
Laurie giggled behind her hands. Jeanne didn’t stir. Daryl laughed and watched as Ben exhaled a cloud of smoke.
“That was huge!” Laurie exclaimed, clapping her hands together.
“Huge?” Ben repeated and leaned close to her. Whispering, he said “I can show you some huge, if you know what I mean.” Then, in a much louder tone he shouted, “Look at these feet!”
Laurie giggled and took the pipe from his hand. She put the piece to her lips and blinked up at him. “What now?”
Daryl suppressed a sigh and turned to Jeanne for several heart beats. She was still, her lips slightly parted and her eyes wide open. He had spent little time with her, but he recognized that the vacant staring seemed to be a habit. She just needs time to relax, he thought as the sound of Laurie’s frantic coughing broke through his bubble of silence.
“What a champ!” Ben cheered and took the pipe from her hand, passing it to Daryl. The boys exchanged a look and burst into a short fit of snickering.
Daryl took a hit as Jeanne sat up slowly. He exhaled and watched her before passing the pipe. She took it quickly, held it to her lips for a long time, longer than usual, and exhaled heavily. The smoke snaked from her lips and danced around her head in a thick cloud.
“How are you kids holdin’ up back there,” she muttered, turning around in her seat to face the back.
Ben took the pipe and grinned. “Everything is groovy, Jeanne-B. How’s the bridge treating you?”
“Fighting for control,” she chuckled and met Daryl’s gaze, dropping her head shortly after.
Ben nodded, “I hear you, I feel you. Fight it, Girl.”
“It’s not worth a struggle,” she said with a grin and straddled the seat to extend her hand to Laurie. “Nice to meet you, I’m Jeanne.”
She smiled and shook her hand. “Thanks for driving!”
Jeanne snickered and turned back around in her seat. “It’s my pleasure.”
Laurie frowned. “I’m not really feeling it.”
Ben exhaled and put the pipe in her hand, holding it there. “Just give it time, gotta give the green a chance to do its thing.”
Jeanne looked out the window. The car was parked in the middle of two trees and surrounded by woods on all sides. The darkness seemed to beckon her. Daryl tapped the pipe against her arm and raised his brows as she turned from the window and peered into his eyes, then down at the pipe. She took it gratefully as he put a lighter in her other hand and gently dragged his fingertips across her palm. She held the lighter and smoked the last of it.
“Want to wander?” She asked and kicked open her door without waiting for a response. Daryl opened his door shortly after.
“Wait, we’re getting out?” Laurie gasped.
“Well yeah,” Daryl said and clapped his hand against the headrest. “Why else would we have driven all the way out here?”
“I don’t know,” Laurie said, her voice dropping several octaves. “I just thought we were going for a ride. I’m not going out there! There’s probably like, bears or something.”
Daryl frowned and Jeanne could tell he was fighting the urge to roll his eyes. “So what, you want to stay here? By yourself?”
“Well,” Laurie began and looked at Ben.
“Oh? Yeah, girl!” Ben cheered and lounged across the seat, plopping his feet on her lap. “I’ll stay with her, Man. No worries.”
Daryl looked at Ben for a moment, shook his head, and closed the door. Jeanne came around to his side. “They aren’t coming?”
“Negative, down for the adventure?”
“Not going to be spooked, right?”
She chuckled. “Never.”
The two disappeared into the woods, their footsteps filling the silence.
“The swamp can be pretty creepy, especially with the full moon. Maybe we’ll see something freaky.”
“Like what?” Jeanne asked.
“I don’t know. Sasquatch or a monster?”
“Maybe if we’re lucky.”
She sneered and stared up at the treetops looming overhead. The stars twinkled behind the bare branches as a cold wind blew against her neck. She shuddered and a twig snapped a few feet in front of them. They came to an abrupt halt and stared into the darkness ahead.
“Human or creature?” Daryl asked after a moment.
“Both,” she said quietly and tossed a rock into the bushes. The silence that followed urged them forward. They walked down the path slowly. Her arm brushed against his and she glanced down to see that his hands were buried in his sweatshirt pocket. She looked up at him as he stared straight ahead, concentrating and deep in thought. They walked in silence for a few more steps and then a faint shriek caught their attention.
Daryl whipped around immediately. “That came from behind us.”
There was another shriek, louder this time.
“It’s coming from the car; I know it,” Jeanne whispered and bolted back down the path with Daryl following close behind. The shrieking was frequent now and getting louder as they neared the clearing.
“Jeanne, wait!” Daryl shouted and grabbed her arm. They paused a few feet away from the station wagon. The screams had ceased and the air was still. Jeanne took a hesitant step forward, and then hurried to the door. She reached for the handle just as a hand slammed against the glass from inside. She jumped back and watched as the sweaty palm slid down the glass. Then the sounds returned, only this time the shrieking had lowered to a loud moan.
Jeanne yanked open the door, nearly causing Laurie, currently half-dressed, to fall out of the car. Jeanne threw her hands into the air and took a step back before closing the door again.
Daryl opened the passenger side door, climbed inside, and punched Ben in the arm. “Bastard.”
“What did I do?”
Daryl raised his eyebrows at him and sat back in his seat.
“Sorry Laurie, looks like our time is getting cut short. Jeez, ever heard of knocking before you throw a door open on a brother?”
Jeanne got into the car and fished for her keys. Ben placed his hand on her shoulder and leaned over the seat. “Did you guys get to the swamp?”
Daryl snorted. “No, we heard Laurie screaming and thought you guys were being mauled by a bear. I guess we were half right.”
Ben stroked his beard and grinned at Laurie, who giggled and finished buttoning her pants.
Jeanne turned the key but the car wouldn’t start. “Oh no.”
Ben groaned. “Not the sound I want to hear right now, Jeanne dear.”
“Not here,” she whispered and tried the engine again. “Not like this.”
Ben leaned closer. “What’s the ish?”
“The ish is this pile of s*** on wheels has failed me again.” She leaned back and sighed loudly. “Looks like we’re stranded in the middle of the woods.”
“No, no, no, don’t talk like that, Jeanne,” Ben began and pressed his face between the two seats. “Have hope, try it again.”
She attempted two more times, both ending with the same result. “Maybe we could call for help.”
“That’s what I was doing, but I have no service,” Daryl said, frowning down at his phone.
“Me neither,” Jeanne sighed.
“Damn, I think I left my phone back at Mattress World.” Ben groaned.
“Do you have any jumper cables or anything in your trunk?” Laurie desperately asked.
“Yes, but we would need another car for them to work.” She sat back heavily in her seat and closed her eyes.
Daryl looked out the window. “There was a house back there. It couldn’t be more than a few miles, I can walk there.”
“Not alone.” Jeanne demanded with a shake of her head.
“I’ll be fine, I’ve done it before. Just honk if you need anything and I’ll run right back.”
Jeanne stared into his dark eyes for a long time. He stared back and flashed her a half smile. She averted her gaze and then waved him away. “Please just be careful.”
“You too. I’ll be right back.”
“See you soon, Buddy,” Ben said with a worried smile.
“Yeah,” he chuckled, closed the door, and ran back down the road.
Minutes felt like hours as the time crept by. Jeanne drummed her fingers against the steering wheel, staring at the road. Laurie’s head was in Ben’s lap and he ran his fingers through her hair, staring at Jeanne.
“How much do you dig him?”
She turned around and raised her eyebrows. “What?”
“I see those little glances you give him. You dig that boy.”
She laughed. “Because I look at him?”
“He’s one of the lucky few.”
She shrugged. “He’s interesting.”
Laurie sat up slightly. “What if he doesn’t come back?”
“He’s going to come back,” Jeanne grumbled.
“I’m just saying. It’s dangerous out there and he’s all alone.”
“Daryl is a survivalist. He knows how to take care of himself,” Ben responded calmly and returned his attention to Jeanne. “He’ll be back and probably with some chicken wings if we’re lucky. I’m starving.”
Jeanne stared blankly at Ben. For a moment, it was silent and then a sudden scratching at the trunk caught their attention.
“Christ, did you hear that?” Ben gasped and dropped to the floor.
“Is it Daryl?” Breathed Jeanne, as she pressed her face against the glass.
The scratching continued, followed by a loud squeal.
Ben’s eyes were bulging out of their sockets. “I don’t think so. Was that a goddamn pig? In the middle of the woods?”
“Nobody move.” Jeanne ordered and hugged the back of her seat. She felt her heart beat three times before the animal charged into the side of the car, flinging Laurie across the backseat. The squealing grew louder and the scratching became more frantic.
“It will pass,” Jeanne whispered into her arms and closed her eyes as the animal shook the car. “It will pass.”
Suddenly, the noises stopped and the sound of heavy breathing filled the silence.
“Is it gone?” Laurie whispered in a trembling voice, wiping fresh blood from her nose.
The passenger side door opened abruptly. Laurie screeched and raised her fists at Daryl who was standing a few inches away. He looked at Jeanne as he tried to catch his breath. “I heard you guys calling, what happened?”
“Get in here, you freak! We were just under attack!” Ben shouted.
Jeanne gawked at him. “We weren’t calling you.”
He climbed into the car and locked the door. “I heard my name. You were yelling. It was you. I heard your voice, Jeanne.”
“I didn’t call your name, Daryl.”
He frowned at her. “What do you mean you were attacked?”
“There was an animal outside,” Jeanne began slowly. “Then it disappeared right before you showed up.”
“Are you sure you didn’t call my name? It was as clear as day, I heard it.”
“No, Daryl. Nobody called you.” Ben said with a shake of his head. “We were all too busy counting what we thought were our last breaths. There’s a wild pig out there!”
“Did you find the house?” Jeanne asked with urgency.
He shook his head. “I was probably half-way there when I heard my name being called. I turned back immediately.”
She sighed. “We can’t risk leaving again. Not with that thing outside. We’re just going to have to stick it out till morning.”
“We don’t have any food or water or source of heat,” whined Laurie.
“We can share body warmth,” Ben said with a grin and opened his arms.
“Woah, no way!” Laurie exclaimed and sat up. “I can’t stay here all night! There are rabid beasts out there that want to eat us!”
“It’s not like I’m crossing this off my bucket list, Laurie. I don’t know what else you expect us to do,” Jeanne sighed.
Laurie snorted. “Try the engine again!”
“I’ve tried it six times. I don’t want to make any more noise and attract unwanted attention.”
“So what, we’re just going to sit here and pray that we survive through the night?!”
“Exactly.” Daryl concluded and tossed a glass jar into Ben’s lap. “Might as well start packing.”
“Right on,” Ben chuckled and retrieved his sketchbook from the floor.
“This is ridiculous! This is suicide! This is-”
The sound of a cellphone ringing interrupted Laurie’s ramble. Every head turned to her as she slowly pulled out her phone.
Daryl scowled at her. “Why didn’t you f*ing tell us that your phone worked?”
“It wasn’t! I don’t recognize this number.”
“Then ignore it and call AAA!” Daryl snapped and exchanged a bewildered look with Jeanne.
Laurie gasped and held the phone away from her. “It just answered! By itself! I didn’t do anything!”
There was static on the other line but there was something else behind it, faint sounds of bubbling water, crackling, and clicking. The sounds continued to increase in volume, fighting against the static.
Jeanne and Daryl shared the same look of confusion as the sounds continued.
“What the hell,” Laurie whispered and ended the call.
“Why did you do that!” Daryl exclaimed and grabbed the phone from her hand.
“It was freaky!”
“They could have helped us,” Jeanne groaned and slumped back into her seat.
“Somebody is playing games, I mean it!” Laurie shouted and grabbed Ben’s hand.
Daryl pounded the phone against his hand and frowned at the screen. “What did you do to this thing? It’s completely dead now.”
Jeanne stared out the window and watched as shadows danced around the trees. Her head felt light and began to tingle as her vision started to blur. The voices inside the car faded into some distant realm.
“This is unbelievable,” Daryl muttered and tossed the phone over his shoulder. He looked at Jeanne lying still with her face against the window. He reached over and touched her thigh, but she didn’t move.
“Jeanne, are you alright?”
She opened the door and carefully climbed outside.
Slowly, she turned around and observed Daryl. Her face was pale and her eyes seemed to glow in the darkness. “Come with me.”
He quickly got out of the car and followed her to the back of the station wagon. He held her shoulders and looked at her carefully. “What’s up?”
She stared back but didn’t say anything.
“I’m sorry that I got you wound up in this mess. We’ll be okay, though. We’ll find that house first thing in the morning and then we can laugh over this and probably do it again.”
The glow of her eyes gradually dimmed. She blinked three times and smiled. “Everybody is f*ed.”
He released her shoulders and gently took her hand. His copper eyes burned into hers and they stayed like that for a while, not speaking, just looking, feeling the same worry and smelling the same stench of fear.
“You know, this isn’t too bad. With you here.”
She chuckled and kicked a stone a few feet in front of her. “Why did you bring me outside, Daryl?”
“You brought me, remember?” Daryl snickered but Jeanne could sense his discomfort.
She stared at him for a while. He put his hand beneath her chin, stroked her cheek with one finger, and then pulled her to him. Her lips met his just as a bright white light shined down on the car, blinding them. There was a loud electrical hum and wind swirled all around them. They both could hear Laurie’s scream against the noise. The light disappeared and left Jeanne and Daryl surrounded by darkness and silence again.
“Oh Lord,” Jeanne whispered and stumbled towards the car. All of the doors were wide open and a thick streak of blood was smeared across the backseat. “They’re gone.”
“What do you mean they’re gone? What was that light?”
“They aren’t here. Something took them.” Jeanne closed the door to the backseat and got behind the wheel again.
“Okay very funny, cut the s*** guys! I’m not playing!”
“Daryl, get in the car.”
“I mean it. This isn’t funny!”
“Get in the f*ing car, Daryl!”
He stared at the woods for a moment longer and then hurried to the car.
“Close that door.”
He grabbed the door and hesitated, staring down at the backseat. “There are eggs back here.”
“I know, get in the car!”
“You know?” He asked wildly and closed and locked the door before turning around to look at the two large brown eggs. They were silent for a while.
“Is that them…?”
Jeanne raised an eyebrow at him. “They’re gone.”
“You don’t know that.”
“Daryl,” she whispered.
“How? What happened? And why are these f*ing eggs in the backseat? Was the Easter Bunny shaking the car? What is going on, Jeanne?!”
“I wish I could explain.”
“Well what are we supposed to do now?”
“Watch the eggs. In case they hatch.”
“Hatch? No, no, no I’m not about to help birth some mutant chickens right now. Let’s throw them out before they hatch.”
“I don’t know if we should do that. It doesn’t feel right.”
“Jeanne, for all we know, these things could have killed Ben.”
“And Laurie. Oh God,” she whimpered and buried her face in her hands. He pulled her to him and rubbed her back softly.
“We need to get out of here. And we need to get rid of those eggs.”
“What are you going to do with them?”
“Just throw them outside. I won’t break them, okay? We can’t keep them in here. We don’t know what we’re dealing with.”
“I don’t know about this, just hurry. Don’t stay out there long.”
“I won’t,” he kissed her, then reached for one of the eggs. “It’ll be okay. We’re good. I’m just going to. S***-”
“What is it?”
He gulped and pulled his arms back. The egg sitting on Ben’s seat began to tremble and glow green. “That can’t be good.”
“Throw it out! Hurry!”
He grabbed the egg and dropped it immediately, howling in pain. “It burns!”
“It’s hatching. Open the door and kick it out!”
He threw himself over the seat, opened the door as a shard of the egg broke off, and punted it outside, where it bounced against the nearest tree and rolled under a bush. He slammed the door shut and locked it. They watched in silence as a bright white light blasted through the bush.
“What the hell is that?” He shouted with a grimace and shielded his eyes. “It’s the light that took Ben, isn’t it?”
“No, that light was brighter,” she whispered as the light faded and the darkness settled once again.
The forest was silent. Jeanne and Daryl eyed the bush where the egg had hatched from inside the car and waited.
“We need to get out of here, Jeanne.”
“The only other place to go is out there. We’re safer here,” she said quietly. “For now.”
He chuckled nervously and shook his head. “We’re next.”
“Don’t think that. We just have to keep our guard up and not get-”
A high-pitched squealing cut her off as it pierced the night. They shared a look of panic and covered their ears.
“Jesus! It sounds like a f*ing slaughterhouse out there!”
Jeanne carefully put her face against the window and peered outside. “It sounds like its right next to us.”
The car suddenly jolted forward as the creature rammed itself against the trunk. Daryl fell forward, smacking his face off of the dashboard while Jeanne bit down on her tongue. The creature continued to ram into the vehicle, pushing it forward each time.
“It’s going to pin us against that tree,” Jeanne coughed, spitting out a mouthful of blood.
Daryl sat up slowly in his seat, rubbing his forehead, just as a second creature rammed into the passenger side door. It squealed, louder than the first one, and threw itself at the window. Its white fleshy body squished against the glass and pulsed while it squealed and hissed violently behind a mouth full of three-inch fangs. It stuck to the window for a while and then slowly crawled onto the hood of the car.
“It’s a f*ing worm,” Daryl said in awe as its fleshy body climbed onto the roof, leaving a trail of vibrant green slime on the windshield. They listened as the worm settled on the roof and the egg in the backseat began to crack.
“S***, Daryl, its hatching.”
He jumped into the backseat as the egg began to vibrate and glow brighter.
“What are you waiting for? Throw it out!”
“So it can hatch and join the party? I don’t think so. We need to destroy it,” he said and retrieved a baseball bat from the trunk.
“Fine, do it quickly then!”
Daryl watched as a shard fell from the shell and raised the bat. Just as he was about to crush the egg, one of the worms crashed through the window behind him, sending shards of glass crashing over him. The worm squealed as Daryl fell off of the seat. He scrambled back to his knees and watched as the worm struggled to free itself from the window, its body too fat to fit through the frame. It writhed against the broken glass, which cut into its skin and made it ooze bright blue blood. Daryl started smacking the worm with the bat, making it squeal louder and thrash harder. The worm howled in pain with each blow to the head while Jeanne watched in horror from the front seat. As Daryl raised the bat over his head for one last swing, the worm threw its head up and lunged with its mouth wide open, knocking Daryl onto his back and crushing the egg beneath him. He grabbed the bat again and shoved it down the worm’s throat as the egg oozed a warm, green liquid which soaked through his pants. The worm continued to writhe against the glass while it gagged on the bat before finally growing still.
Daryl rolled off of the egg, turning his back to the worm, and examined the mound of green sludge and broken egg shell. “Gross, it looks like mashed potatoes.”
The worm abruptly shot its head up and lunged through the window, squealing and latching onto Daryl’s shoulder. Its fangs sank into the skin, burning him. He howled in pain and pulled away from the worm, losing a chunk of flesh in the process. He opened the door and fell to the ground as blood emptied from the wound. Jeanne threw open her door and ran to him.
“Come on, we have to go!” She urged and pulled him to his feet.
He staggered a few steps and then grabbed her hand and ran into the woods. “Should we hide?”
Jeanne jumped over a tree root and shook her head. “No, we need to get to the swamp. They don’t like water.”
“What makes you think that?” He asked as he struggled to match her pace.
“I don’t know,” she said. “It’s just a feeling.”
“Well, that feeling better not get us killed. It should be right through those trees,” he muttered, wincing with each step.
“We can stay there till morning. Maybe by then they will have left. Maybe they’re nocturnal or something.”
“Did you see that?” Daryl asked, slowing his pace to a hesitant walk and pointing over the treetops. “All of those lights?”
“We’ve got to keep moving, come on. What lights?”
He slowed to a stop and listened to the woods. A gust of wind chilled his skin and a flurry of leaves danced around his feet. They circled playfully and then scattered in separate directions.
“You hear that?” He whispered, gawking at the treetops.
“I don’t hear anything,” she said irritably and walked back to him.
“Exactly,” he turned his head and examined the darkness. “Not a creature is stirring tonight.”
“But we aren’t alone.”
He looked into her eyes and saw something lingering in her stare. Her eyes were darker than usual, clouded and tired. She watched him stare, knowing that he had noticed and hoping that he wouldn’t ask her about it.
She took his hand and stepped forward, but he wouldn’t budge. Instead he stared back at the treetops. “Please, Daryl. We have to keep moving. We don’t know what’s hunting us.”
Something rustled through the leaves a couple feet away. They sprinted down the path, hand in hand, as their assailant followed. It was running through the woods beside them, leaping over bushes and maneuvering gracefully through the trees.
“It’s gaining on us!” Daryl shouted and grabbed his burning shoulder. The sleeve of his shirt was completely drenched in blood and the wound felt as if it had grown twice the size since he had last looked at it beside the car.
“Can you see it?”
“No, I can only hear it. Wait.” He paused and slowed to a stop. He cautiously looked around. The air was still this time, no gust of wind, no playful leaves. Just the quiet and the dark. “I think it’s gone.”
Jeanne watched as a shadow emerged behind Daryl. It was too dark to distinguish who or what was stalking them, but she could tell it was slowly approaching. “Daryl, we need to-”
“Daryl!” The shadow cried in a deep voice.
He whipped around and stared wildly at the approaching shadow. “That was Ben’s voice. Ben! Ben, is that you buddy?!”
The shadow was only a few feet away now, leaving them no time or chance to escape.
“Jeanne!” It cried in a higher-pitched voice this time.
“Daryl, that’s not Ben. We need to get to the swamp. On the count of three, we’ll run. One, two,”
“Woah, it’s a deer.”
Ben pointed a finger as the shadow approached them, its outline resembling that of a large deer. It stopped a few feet away and cocked its head at them, scraping one hoof against the dirt. “Maybe it’s here to help us.”
“Daryl,” Jeanne whispered and stared wildly at the animal. “Deer can’t speak.”
There was rustling in the bushes behind them as a second deer emerged, followed by another on the right, and another further down the path. Jeanne and Daryl watched as more deer crept from the shadows and circled around them. The deer standing in front took another step forward, leaving only a few inches between them. Its eyes examined Daryl and Jeanne carefully and then suddenly became white. The deer grew still, and just as Jeanne was about to attempt an escape, its white eyes began to glow.
Daryl turned his head away and watched as each deer’s eyes lit up. He bit down on his lip, squeezed his eyes shut, and turned back to Jeanne, who was gawking at the deer in front of them. He grabbed her face and turned it towards him. “Don’t look at them. Look at me. Just keep looking at me.”
She stared blankly at him, her lips slightly parted and the color draining from her face. The deer watched them for a while like predators stalking their prey. They were flies caught in the center of a spider web, and their time was running out.
A sudden beam of light shot from the deer’s eyes, pierced through the darkness, and landed on Jeanne’s forehead. The bright white light felt warm on her skin and tingled the longer it stayed. A second beam of light found Daryl, and soon all of the deer were shooting beams of light at them. The entire path lit up and they could see the deer clearly for a second. Unfamiliar voices of all tones muttered incoherently around them. Then, just as quickly as it appeared, the lights and the deer vanished and they were alone again in the darkness.
They looked at each other for a long time until Jeanne pulled away. “Can we please go now?”
“Jeanne,” he began quietly. “I have something to tell you.”
“You can tell me when we get to the swamp,” she said sternly and grabbed his good arm, pulling him forward. “Quickly, before they return.”
The treetops rustled overhead. Jeanne focused on the activity. The branches trembled and leaves showered over them as a face emerged from between the branches. Its white eyes were the only visible feature in the darkness.
Jeanne gasped. “Quick, run!”
“Hey stop! Hold on,” the head called after them in a deep voice and slowly sank from the tree, revealing a heavily coated chest. The figure hung upside down with its feet hooked on a branch and swayed gently back and forth with its arms folded across its chest. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
Daryl stopped running and turned around. “Yeah, and why would we believe that?”
The figure shrugged. “Fool, you know what you just did? Obeyed me. Why not take my word, too?”
“Daryl!” Jeanne snapped and motioned towards him to follow.
“Calm yourself, Sweet Cheeks,” the figure said. “If I was going to kill you I would have done it already. Or I would just leave you for the others, but they’ve kept you alive for this long. They must like you. The name’s Jungle Jim.”
“What do you want?” Jeanne asked bitterly.
“Answers,” Jungle Jim chuckled and peeled a black layer from its face. “Look, I’m human, just like you. No tricks.” His pale face glowed in the darkness and he tossed a ski mask at her. “Hold on to that, it will keep you warm and camouflaged.”
“We don’t need your help,” she barked and tossed the mask to Daryl.
“Of course you don’t need it… if you’re suicidal. You need my help, you just don’t trust me. I get it; people are always holding themselves back because of trust. It’s fear and everybody fears something.” Jungle Jim swayed back and forth and then heaved himself on top of the branch. He perched there like an animal. “It’s dangerous on the Earth. They’re listening. They can hear your footsteps. They sense the vibration. They know where you’re going and they’ll meet you there. You folks are playing a dangerous game, fighting with forces that you don’t stand a chance against.”
“You mean mutant worms and possessed deer?” Daryl snorted.
“That’s all you’ve encountered?” He laughed wildly at this. “No wonder you’re still alive.”
Jeanne took a step forward. “If it’s so dangerous, then what are you doing here? How have you survived?”
Jungle Jim chuckled and drummed his gloved fingers against the bark. “Curiosity drives humans to do crazy things. I’ve been waiting for this day to come for years. For them to come. They have a great plan. I know all about it. They’ve spoken to me.”
“The greys,” he whispered and started to laugh. “They came to me in a dream, or at least, I think it was a dream.”
“What do they want?”
He laughed louder at this. “It’s all part of the new world order. The great plan.”
She shook her head and tugged at Daryl’s arm. “Come on, it’s not safe here. This guy is insane.”
“I prefer the term lunatic, actually. Listen to the lady, Mate. She knows what she’s doing. Don’t you?”
“We need to find water,” she said seriously.
He flashed her a smile, revealing a single row of rotten teeth. “You’re smarter than you look. You better hurry then.”
“Come on,” she urged and ran down the remainder of the path.
“They’re watching!” Jungle Jim hollered after them. “Beware the eyes!”
They cut through the trees, disappearing from his sight. Past the trees was a small clearing that led them deeper into the forest. They walked through the open field quietly. Daryl surveyed the trees in the distance while Jeanne scanned the sky. The stars were brighter than usual, and when she got distracted by a slight rustle of leaves behind them or the occasional hoot of an owl, the stars seemed to have changed whenever she looked back. The moon was nowhere to be found.
“Do you think they can really hear our footsteps?” Daryl whispered.
“I guess we’re going to find out.”
They reached the edge of the clearing and gawked at the blackness waiting behind the trees. Daryl pointed ahead. “It’s in there. It’s going to be risky, so be careful.”
She gave him a look of disbelief and stepped slowly into the shadows. They proceeded gradually, holding tree trunks for support and gently stepping forward a few inches at a time. The treetops loomed over them and masked them from the skies. They were swallowed in the heart of the forest.
“There it is, just ahead. I can see it,” Daryl sighed after a while and groaned. His shoulder no longer burned, but it felt as if his bones were made of glass. Each step he took resulted in agonizing pain.
Jeanne hurried past him and stumbled down a slope to the edge of the swamp. She paused and looked around wildly. “This isn’t it!”
“Sure it is,” Daryl gasped in pain and slowly made his way down the slope to her. “Listen, Jeanne, I really need to tell you something, okay?”
“There’s no water,” she whispered and stepped down onto the dry earth. “It dried up.”
“Impossible. With all of the rain we had last week it should be overflowing with water!”
“I don’t know what to do,” Jeanne whispered and collapsed in the dirt. There was a rustle in the bushes behind Daryl, followed by a high pitched squealing. Jeanne buried her head in her knees. “It’s over.”
A hand latched around her arm and yanked her to her feet. “You aren’t giving up. We’ve made it this far, we can do this.” Daryl stared into her eyes and watched as they clouded with another foreign emotion. “Damn, you’re beautiful.”
“Is that what you wanted to tell me?” She whispered and watched as the worm burst through the bush and crawled down the slope towards them. It had doubled in size since the last time she had seen it.
“No,” he said with a frown and grabbed her face, turning it towards his. “Don’t look at it.”
“It’ll tear us apart.”
He shrugged and winced in pain. “I’m used to it.”
The worm hissed and squealed as it rushed to the swamp’s edge where they patiently waited for it.
“Don’t look, Jeanne,” he said as the worm lunged in his direction. A small gasp escaped his lips and his eyes closed. Jeanne watched in horror as the worm opened its mouth and aimed for Daryl’s chest. Suddenly, a beam of white light shot between them and landed on the worm, enveloping it in a circle of dazzling light, and freezing it in air. The worm’s eyes moved rapidly but the rest of its body was immobilized. Daryl opened his eyes to watch the worm hover over their heads.
A vociferous chuckle answered his query as a tall figure casually approached them from behind. “Sorry about that, it’s still transitioning. You know how babies can get, always wanting to put things in their mouths.”
Daryl turned his head slightly in time to get slapped across the face by the figure. He turned back, clutching his stinging cheek. “Careful there, Kid. One look at me and those eyes will burn right out of their sockets.”
The figure stood a few inches away and stared proudly at the worm hovering over them. “They grow up so fast. It had a brother. I don’t reckon you two have seen it around? Perhaps you have. Does this look familiar?” He jabbed Daryl in the back with one long finger and dangled a bloody baseball bat in front of his face.
He grimaced. “What do you want from us?”
“What do I want from you?” The figure released a hearty laugh and swayed the bat back and forth. “Nothing.”
There was a moment of silence before the light surrounding the worm vanished. The worm crashed to the ground and lunged at Daryl. It opened its mouth, wider this time, and chomped down on his leg. Daryl fell to the ground with it and screamed in agony as the worm tore the flesh from his shin and shattered the bone in one munch.
“Daryl!” Jeanne cried.
The figure shot a beam of light from his finger and aimed it at the worm again. Daryl’s breath escaped in short, frantic gasps as he examined what was left of his leg.
“You see,” the figure began in a stern voice. “That is the problem with you humans; you always think you have something to give. You think you are special and wise and no other being can ever compare to you and your so-called achievements. You humor yourself into thinking that we are here to take from you. You are all fools, you have nothing to give. We desire nothing from you.”
The figure frowned at the back of Daryl’s head and released the worm again. It swallowed Daryl’s arm in one bite and then tore the flesh away from his neck. Blood squirted from the wound and landed on Jeanne’s right cheek.
“Enough! Make it stop! Please make it stop!” Jeanne screamed and whipped around to face the figure. It looked like a massive grey man. He loomed over them and had two large black eyes that met her gaze.
The figure laughed at Jeanne and waited for her eyes to sizzle, but they remained perfectly intact. The smile faded from his grey face and he stared at her in awe. “You…you are one of them.”
She pointed at Daryl. “Stop it! Now!”
The grey man shot a beam of light at the worm and made it vanish completely. He stared at her in dismay as she ran to the wounded boy’s side and dropped to her knees. Tears poured from her eyes as she stared at the bloody nub where his arm used to be. Her gaze settled on the blood draining from his neck. She removed her jacket and held it against the wound, placing her free hand on his cheek.
Daryl opened his eyes slightly, but she could see the light fading from them. His white lips trembled as he struggled to raise his remaining hand. She silenced him and held it tightly.
“You’re good. Everything is going to work out, okay?”
“Jeanne,” he whispered in a hoarse voice.
“Shh, just relax. I’m here.”
He coughed loudly and blood dribbled down his chin. “I like you.”
She exhaled and chuckled. “I like you too.”
“I never told you.”
“I knew you did.”
“I have for a while.”
“I know you have.”
“How do you know?” he croaked and shuddered. “You always know.”
She smiled and gently pressed her lips against his. She stayed there until she felt him sigh and release a final breath that snaked into her mouth, down her throat, and hid within her lungs.
It was silent for a while. Not a creature stirred, the wind was still, and the squealing was now just a painful memory. The grey man approached Jeanne from behind and held out a large hand with long fingers. She turned her head after a moment and looked at it. Finally, she took his hand and he helped her to her feet.
“How long have you known?” He asked.
She turned away from him but allowed her hand to remain in his grip. It provided her with a certain type of comfort and warmth. It was an unfamiliar feeling, but it felt good.
“Did he know?”
She shook her head and stared at Daryl’s mutilated and lifeless body.
The grey man turned her around, placed a long finger beneath her chin, and tilted her head up. His black eyes stared into hers. “He would have just dragged you down. He’s human. You are greater than that.”
The longer she stared into his eyes, the less black they became. She watched as a thin line of gold circled around the edge, followed by a line of red, then green, and blue, until finally in its core, she could see white and in that whiteness she saw Daryl climb out of his body and turn to her. He waved and she tried to wave back but her body seemed far away. He stared at her for a while, and she stared back until he turned his head to the sky. His figure dissolved into a ball of brilliant white light and then floated towards the stars. She watched his departure and desperately wanted to follow, but something was keeping her grounded.
The grey man smiled and placed his hands on her shoulders. She did not react to his touch but continued to stare. “There are others like you. They are here on Earth. You will find them and they will know you when they see you.”
He brushed the black hair from her face and caressed her cheek with two fingers while the tips began to glow.
“Your visions led you here, am I right?”
She nodded slightly, though her motives that night were unclear.
“You knew this would happen.”
“No, not at first,” she whispered. “I never would have let this happen if I had known before it started.”
“It was your destiny, Jeanne. It was going to happen, no matter what. We need you.”
She frowned up at him. “Why me? Why my friends?”
He grinned and with the glowing fingertips closed her eyes and then pressed them to her forehead. He sighed with relief as he absorbed her visions. They leaked from her head and pulsed through his veins, where he would soon store them in his mind.
“You already know the answer, Jeanne.”
“There is no answer. There is no reason.”
“You were chosen. You’re not the only one. You have a greater calling, a chance to be a part of something much larger, a contribution to a study that will benefit you more than a petty relationship with a human. You’ve known this day would come, Jeanne. You mustn’t pretend to be a victim when you volunteered.”
“I didn’t choose this. I didn’t choose to be the way I am.”
“No psychic chooses to be psychic. You don’t get to control what you see or when you see it. You just see it, Jeanne. You saw this encounter when you were a kid, you remember.”
She gulped and looked up at the sky. The moon had emerged from behind the clouds and shined down on them. “I was thirteen. I didn’t understand.”
“You’re not supposed to.”
“I didn’t want this to happen.”
“Everybody makes sacrifices, Jeanne-B.” He pulled her into a tight embrace and whispered against her ear. “What you see, is real. What you desire, you will receive. You have the power, Jeanne.”
He pulled away and gazed at her. She stared into the whiteness again. This time, Daryl was gone. She watched as the stars aligned in the sky and the planets’ orbit came to a halt. Balls of fire rained from the heavens and fell to Earth, showering the inhabitants in specks of acid, drowning them as their flesh sizzled and burned into nothing. Cities were graveyards, previously plagued with foreign viruses. The country had been torn apart and burned to nothing. The oceans had consumed almost every continent. Everything was falling apart in order to come together.
She blinked and, forcing a whisper, said, “The end is near, isn’t it?”
He frowned down at her and his eyes continued to stare. The mesmerizing whiteness beckoned her back. He spoke to her, though his lips did not move.
She stared back for a while and then, with a nod, she managed to raise her arms. She reached up and slid her fingers inside his pants, and slowly tugged. The metallic material slid down his thin grey legs and dropped around his ankles. He pulled her closer and she wrapped her arms around his body, and then sank gently to her knees.
“Remember,” he began, sliding a finger beneath her chin and tilting her head up. “What you have is all you need. The mind is all, and with it you can do anything. We’re on your side, Jeanne.”
She gawked up at him and waited for her chin to be released. A deep voice in her head urged her to proceed. She lowered her head and inched closer, pressing her cold lips against his crotch.
“That’s it,” he sighed. “Just relax. It has to be done; you can’t speak of what has happened here tonight. Don’t worry about this in the morning. Close your eyes, Jeanne.”
Jeanne awoke to sunlight pouring through the open window. She sat up slowly in bed and shivered as the brisk autumn air nipped her skin. It was early and nobody seemed to be awake in the house. Her head pounded and it felt as if somebody had filled it with sand. Carefully, she got to her feet and wobbled, trying to regain her balance. She closed the window and stared down at the station wagon in the driveway as a wave of relief coursed through her body.
She smiled and tried to laugh but no sound came out. She cleared her throat and tried to thank God but the words wouldn’t come.
Something is wrong.
She backed away from the window and hurried into the bathroom. She stared at her reflection and opened her mouth. She examined her throat and moved her lips but not a sound could be heard. She opened her mouth wider and tried to scream, but it was silent.
It’s gone. It’s real. He took it.
She gawked at her reflection. Her brown eyes had turned grey overnight and she looked paler than usual. Her hair was neatly combed and she was dressed in pajamas.
This can’t be. I’ve lost it. Everything is lost.
Her grey eyes stung as three tears slid down her cheek.
Remember what you have. A deep voice said within her head.
I have nothing. You have left me with nothing!
Look closer. The voice urged.
She listened to the voice and slowly settled her gaze on a point between her eyes. She examined the spot for a long time and the longer she stared, the brighter a small white light glowed beneath the skin.
Embrace your third eye. With it, you can travel to dimensions where a voice becomes just a useless habit. With it, you can see. You can communicate with your mind, Jeanne.
She sighed heavily and turned away from the mirror. Outside, the skies were grey, promising a future storm. She watched as three birds sat on a tree branch and sang to each other. The chirps faded into silence as the birds turned to look at her.
The back gate creaked open behind her and a pair of boots smacked against the pavement. The footsteps grew louder as the visitor approached. Jeanne listened to the sound but continued to gaze at the birds.
The footsteps stopped and she could feel the hot breath against her neck.
A hearty laugh replaced the morning hush and the birds scattered in separate directions.
“On a scale of one to infinity how foolish did you feel when the swamp was dried up, Sweet Cheeks?”
A chill ran up her spine as Jungle Jim snickered and kissed the back of her neck. She stumbled forward then turned to face him.
“Right,” he chuckled and put his hands up. “You’re angry.”
Jeanne scowled and clenched her fists. The tips of her fingers faintly began to tingle.
“So what happened? Where’d you go? I saw your friend walk by the tree but you were gone. Alone somewhere, right?”
Her eyes widened and she opened her mouth, silence replacing what should have been a gasp. She crossed and uncrossed her arms in front of her, motioning for him to stop.
“Was it something I said?” He tilted his head to the right, the left, then right again.
The friend! What friend?!
“Ding-dong, anybody in there?” He chirped and tapped her forehead with two dirty fingers. He lowered his fingers to her eyes and snapped three times. “Wake up.”
She swatted him away and mouthed friend.
“Muscle aches? Cat got your tongue? What’s wrong with you, are you possessed?”
She stomped her feet, threw her hands in the air, and stormed across the yard to the tallest maple sitting on the border of the woods. She grabbed the rope ladder and stared up at the tree house. Only a few nights ago, she was laying in the grass watching Daryl descend down the ladder. He would drop halfway down and land next to her head, later amused by the failure of his scare tactic.
“Cool,” Daryl had said to her with a grin.
Jeanne closed her eyes.
“Not cool, Sweet Cheeks. It wasn’t a joke, you could be!” Jungle Jim clapped his hand on her shoulder and shook her.
She brushed him off and shook her head, barely opening her eyes.
“Just speak. Let me know you’re in there.”
I can’t, you f*ing idiot.
Her eyebrows ruffled into a scowl as she shook her head.
He blinked twice and released a short chuckle. His voice suddenly echoed in her head. 'Jeanne, you gotta say my name first. It’s like asking permission to be heard. As the connection builds, permission won’t be necessary. Just focus on me and I’ll listen.'
She exhaled heavily and slumped against the tree. 'Jungle Jim. What do you want?'
'Jeanne, I just wanted to find you. See if you were still alive.'
'Jungle Jim.' She rolled her eyes. 'Why do you care?'
'Jeanne, it’s my job to care. Your voice is gone. You must have seen a grey. Did it speak? '
'Yeah he spoke.'
He stared at her for a while and she focused on the chirping birds that were flying overhead. As one sang, the other veered off and flew to a nearby tree branch. Soon another followed, and then the other bird joined. They seemed to communicate clearly with one another.
She looked back at him. His eyes were foggy and he tilted his head to one side again.
'Jungle Jim, he spoke to me. After he killed my friends. Who did you see running past the tree?'
'Jeanne, it’s not a he. There are no he’s or she’s with the greys. They just are.'
'Jungle Jim, trust me he was a he.'
'Jeanne, they’re genderless. That doesn’t mean they can’t make things appear differently, though.'
'Jungle Jim! That doesn’t make any sense. Whatever! Who did you see!'
'Jeanne. Tall fellow. Shaggy hair. Both on his head and his face.'
Ben! Jeanne’s stomach fluttered with excitement and hope. 'Jungle Jim, that’s my friend Ben. I thought they took him or killed him! He vanished in the light.'
'Jeanne, was he replaced with an egg?'
'Jungle Jim, exactly. How did you know that? How do I know you’re not responsible for all of this, that you aren’t here to kill me too?' Jeanne grabbed the rope ladder and started climbing towards the tree house.
'Jeanne! Jeanne! Jeanne! He latched onto her ankle. I’m not here to hurt you. I’m here to work with you, okay! I’ve been searching for the others and now I finally found you! I’m not going to let you go.' His grip tightened. 'We need each other. We need to work together. Now you need to trust me, okay?'
'Jeanne, do you trust me?'
She glared at him.
'Jeanne, please. I’m being real with you. Do you trust me?'
A heavy sigh slipped through her lips. 'Jungle Jim, yes, whatever, okay. I trust you. Now go away.' Her frown remained as she yanked her leg from his grip and continued up the ladder. He watched her body disappear through a hole in the bottom of the house. He looked around the yard, then at the three birds. They stared back at him and watched as he climbed up the ladder.
The walls of the tree house were covered in graffiti with doodles and cheap posters sporadically pasted. A pile of newspapers occupied one corner and a table with a peculiar shaped vase on it, in the middle.
Jungle Jim watched her sit in front of the only window. He did the same. 'Your friend is not who you think he is. They took him, used him and rearranged him. Then they released him, which is strange, even for them. He’s not who he was.'
Jeanne glowered at the blue sky. 'But he’s alive.'
'Well, partially. He’s kind of a zombie. The body remains but the mind, the personality, his overall identity is gone.'
'Same thing must have happened to Laurie then.'
'Some girl Ben wanted to get with. I didn’t know her all that well.'
'Ah, well that’s good. They treat females a little differently. More experiments.'
Jeanne could feel the color drain from her face and she suddenly felt ill.
'Are you feeling alright, Sweet Cheeks?' He pulled her towards him, resting her head in his lap. He slowly began rubbing her temples which sent faint electric waves coursing through her body.
'Would you stop calling me that? How do you even know my name, anyway?'
He chuckled. 'It was all over my dreams. On bulletin boards, painted on the walls of buildings, written in lipstick on the mirror, carved into the earth, written in the sky, everywhere I turn; it’s Jeanne, Jeanne, Jeanne. Lucky guess.
Jungle Jim looked down at her and she closed her eyes.
'How about you?' He inquired. 'Any strange dreams?'
'Not from what I can remember.'
'You’re lying.' He laughed.
She shook her head. 'It’s the only one I’ve had for a long time. It’s just me and the darkness. I walk but I get nowhere. It’s like I’m walking on air and there’s no beginning and no end. And I’m always alone. But there are so many sounds. Somebody is always humming the tune to Mary Had A Little Lamb. And somebody is always crying. Somebody yells, an animal growls, something is beaten, ringing, clicking, beeping, water dropping. They all just mix together and it plays on repeat all night.'
Jungle Jim pondered this for a while. 'Have you ever thought of digging a hole?'
'No, what would be the purpose of that?'
'People used to think you could dig a hole to China.'
'Jeanne rolled her eyes. People also used to think the world was flat.'
'You’re telling me it’s not?'
'What does it matter? She sat up slowly. You still have yet to tell me what you want from me.'
'I have told you. I need your company. Jeanne, our mission is to find the others. That’s what the Big Guys want. They know we’re powerful and we’re useful, especially by the mass. If we work for them, they’ll spare us once they dominate.'
Jeanne frowned. 'So you want me to help you help them.'
'No, I need you to help me destroy them.'
Her eyebrows lifted. 'Okay, now you’ve really lost me.'
'You were already lost to begin with. I can’t talk about it for long. They’ll tune in eventually. They can’t be trusted. It is my duty to protect the world from the great plan.'
'So you’re going to try and save the human race.'
He snorted at this. 'I don’t give a hoot about them; they should have rotted decades ago. I’m talking about us, Jeanne. The others. We are the true humans! Your friends, they were just rats, only looking to consume just like the rest of them. They don’t matter. They are weak. When we all unite, our power will be incredible. We can fight back. We can claim the planet as our own and be free!'
'My friends were not rats. And I am not protecting anything or going anywhere with you.'
'Oh Jeanne-Dear, you don’t have a choice.' He thought with a smile before covering her eyes with one hand and grabbing her by the throat with the other. She struggled against his weight but her limbs quickly grew numb. He felt her body relax and then scooped her into his arms, closed his eyes, and in an instant, flashed from the tree house to a rundown apartment on the outskirts of town.