The scratching all around the cabin was much louder now, echoing off of the wooden walls inside. Curious sounding clicks, squeaks, and trills rode the cold air through the space between the front door and its frame – sounds that could be considered cute if you didn’t know the source. Alien oscillations that started as high pitched squeals and descended to the low drones of a monk continued to echo outside, reverberating off of the Appalachians. The trees silently watched as more creatures jumped through their canopies toward the cabin, a skittering flood of claws and teeth. The moon broke through the clouds, shining sporadically onto grey skin with patchy white fur.
Forlorn, forgotten by nature. These strange monsters sounded sad when they howled.
Maybe it was because they were hungry.
The mountain man cowered on the floor, covering his ears and weeping openly. The door rocked on its hinges, straining against the wooden bar holding it in place. Filling the air was the sound of horror, and an overwhelming sensation of inevitable death flooded the cabin. R.J. stood with the rifle, smiling at it all. It was his dream, of course, and he could be as heroic here as he was pitiful in the real world. The only thing holding him back was his fear of failure. In a dream, especially one where he is lucid enough to take action against the darkness, he could be everything he wasn’t.
His bones creaked and his back ached terribly, but he ignored it all because he was the hero now. A real man. Robert James, hero-man for hire. His blood was electric in his veins, pulsing with a heat that shielded R.J. from the cold tendrils of foul air seeping into the cabin.
“If only my wife could see me now” he thought with a wry grin.
The door was rhythmically rocking in and out now, and each window was shattered one by one while Robert was thinking how pleased he was with himself. The heavy wooden shutters now strained against their metal latches with the force of the wild itself pushing inward. This wilderness – the darkness – was hungry for Robert. The bloodlust was palpable now, the strange sounds seeping into his ears and echoing within his skull.
They were desperate.
The thick wooden bar over the door was cracking, bit by bit. Little clicks and pops were impossible to hear over the clamoring of the creatures, but Robert could see the splits growing larger. Any minute now they would be coming through, and Robert raised the rifle with his elbows in tight, just like his father taught him in the forest as a boy.
“Keep your elbows down. You look goofy.”
“Feet shoulder width apart, knees bent slightly. Look down the sight, breathe in, and fire as you exhale, son.”
As the door began to give, Robert smiled as he thought of his father. He was a good man, and Robert was sorry to have disappointed his memory with his failures in life. R.J.’s hands grew tight on the rifle as he flicked his eyes to the quivering mass of fear on the ground that was the mountain man.
“HEY! They’re coming through now. Get something to protect yourself and the boy. I can’t stop them all, and you want your son to live, don’t you?!”
But the boy had lost too much blood, he saw now. His pale face with his ice blue eyes stared blankly at the ceiling, the hole where his arm was only slowly dripping now. The fear had made the child’s heart beat faster, pushing the blood out of his body. Something that kept him alive had doomed him. The man looked up weakly from his dead son’s corpse.
“First… My wife… now… my boy…. I… can’t do this anymore…I’m sorry, stranger…”
He pushed himself up, wiping some of the snot from his face on his khaki jacket with too many pockets. The blood from the slashes on his back steadily flowed into it, turning it dark. He leaned over and closed his son’s eyes as tears streamed silently down his bearded face. Eyes slowly turned to Robert, and then to the door. He began to shuffle slowly toward it.
“What are you doing, don’t you want to live to bury the boy?! Get something heavy to swing! We can beat them.”
“You don’t understand, stranger. There’s always more. And besides, the ground is too hard this time of year to bury anything. Even if it wasn’t, they would dig him up just like they dug my Sherry up. They didn’t even eat her… they… strung her up outside the cabin… She was everywhere… My god, why did we move here? What was I trying to prove…? I’m so…sorry…”
His back was to the door as he whispered this – to no one in particular – staring through R.J. the whole time with those glassy eyes. The same eyes that his son had. The door finally tore like wet paper, and the creatures clamored into the cabin. The first slammed on the man with a force that knocked him to the ground, but he did not cry out or fight back, he just looked up toward the couch where his dead son rested. The creature crouched on him, and the light gave Robert a good look as he raised the gun to fire.
Large round eyes, like orbs. Round head hung low and looking at him, it snarled and showed a large mouth that curved around its head, and layers of teeth. Its backbone stretched its skin in jagged growths. Elongated hands stuck out of its forearms, with three fingers that would better be described as short swords. Robert noticed, as he squeezed the trigger, that it was silently smiling at him.
It flew backward as it took the bullet between its ribs, a quick SKREEEEEE as it hit the ground. The monster had cut the mountain man’s torso in half before it had fallen, and it took his upper body with him. The distinct smell of pennies blended with the putrid odor of the other creatures that darted into the cabin.
He shot again, again, and again. 3 more fell as they flew through the air toward him, the three blasts sounding more like a volley than independent shots. His body had turned quickly to execute the motion and his momentum was too great — the blood washing over the floor so slick that it seemingly swept his feet from underneath him.
What kind of dream is this?
His head cracked on the side of a table, knocking him unconscious.
Robert James woke with a start, the light driving daggers into his skull.
I must have taken too many pills. Ugh. Now I have to go —
He was in a bed. With bright white sheets. A room with overpowering white walls and floors. He quickly moved to the window, large and solitary on the wall with thick glass. Looking outside, he was confused and awed.
The earth hung above the moon’s horizon in the sky outside. A grey landscape dotted with white buildings stretched out in front of him. A dome dominated the area to off to his left, seemingly the center of this complex. R.J. chuckled nervously through clenched teeth, noticing his jaw hurt from the tenseness.
What a dream, what a dream. Amazing what the mind is capable of.
A ship suddenly filled the sky, coming seemingly from nowhere. A klaxon cried out from the silence, and scared the shit out of Robert. He jumped and then broke out laughing so hard that he didn’t notice his tears. But maybe he was laughing so hard that he cried.
That happens sometimes, right?
The ship’s underbelly opened up, one large hatch surrounded by turrets that popped out of their protective plating. As shadows poured out of the glowing hole in the sky, red lines streaked silently into their targets. The ground rumbled, and as he backed away from the overwhelming scene a portion of an exploded building broke through where he once stood, causing a significant gape through which Robert was pulled into the chaos.
He could not, and clutched at his throat as he flew into darkness. Small waves of force buffeted him around like he was floating in a current as silent explosions went off around him.
As he hung there, he could not shake the thought that somewhere on that beautiful orb hanging in the sky, in the forests of the Appalachians, ancient beings lived as if they belonged. And they hungered there, lonely in the darkness.
And more of them came with each passing moon.
There was always more darkness.