The silence killed. Out there in the woods, in a thirty five dollar all weather tent. The four cornered sunken egg shape, of a green on gray nylon fabric, keeping him safe from the elements. It rained hard for the first couple of days. But he came prepared, so tied a tarp as an overhead lean to. The water drained safely Into a small makeshift gutter he dug around the circumference of the tent. The rain would come to last the whole week, and they came complete with thunder storms. At various times during the day the crackle of lightning ripped through the sky line as if it were an appendage of a God, and its super charged varicose veins wanted to spill their life blood right upon the ants populating the ground.

Inside his tent he used his light to illuminate the darkness. He stretched his legs out. The joints in his ankles popping as he rotated them. The act of stretching was uncomfortable but it was the only way to maintain his flexibility out there in the wilderness. ‘Live by the stretch,’ he remembered some hollowed voice from the past illuminate the dark fuzz that was the inside of his head. He loved it out here in the woods, something about the combination of being alone, and away from the rest of the world put him at ease. It put a peace within him that radiated outwardly, no doubt effecting everything around him.

There was a moment when the sounds of moderately heavy rain repetitiously patting against the tarp, became the only sound he could make out. Looking out the modest window, made from a thin plastic, he could make a fire out from within the distance. The camp area would no doubt be lively with activity from the soldiers either getting off or going onto duty. He was off tonight, and therefore would take the opportunity to get into some leisurely reading. There weren’t many things he could carry on his person except essential items. But one of the things on the list was reading material. That, and his portable music player. Those two items were, in his eyes, essential to keeping his sanity out there in the wilderness. As he stretched out in a near full split he was able to put a pair of black ear buds snugly into his ears. There was a bit of an art to maintaining the secrecy of the items he possessed. He made sure the shadow cast from the light couldn’t be seen from behind the mask of rain. The elements were shielding his insubordination, and that was good. Pressing play on the button the melodic tunes of a progressively alternative band came to mind. Kathryne had introduced him to the band. If he remembered correctly, she said that whenever she listened to them it sounded they were on, ‘ an elevator on its way to hell. ‘ The music was melodic, but gripping, it wanted to take the listener to another place, and no matter where that other place was It wasn’t going to be good. He smiled to himself, and closed his eyes. Perhaps to dream vivid thoughts of Kathryne’s body beneath his own.

He opened his eyes, and the rain stopped. He looked at his watch, the digital piece lit when he touched it. The thing read 0200, but seemed not to be operating correctly. It was night time that much was certain. A small chill ran through his body, and he exhaled a fine clear mist. The feeling was off, the mere act reminding him of how a musician would tune an instrument before a big show. From out the window he confirmed that the fire was up. It looked a little smaller than it normally did but he attributed it some idiot not doing his job correctly. He rolled out of the sleeping system as droplets of condensation from collecting at the seams of the tent fell to the floor. He put on his boots. The slight grogginess he felt wore off when he took a quick swig of water. His music player died out, and he nearly tripped over the headphones as he finished prepping to leave the tent. He took a hold of his rifle, and placed it over the back of his shoulder. The improvised sling bit into his shoulder and neck further. The sling purposefully settling into the comfortable outline it had worked into his body already. The red marks were a splendor. Some ointment would some relief, he would have to remind himself later.

In the dark he turned on his head lamp, the light was dull. It flickered in and out. He flicked it a couple of times. Figured he’d replace the battery in the morning. Outside the tent he felt that same strange tuning sensation. He had been in the woods long enough to understand that during the latest parts of the night everything seemed to slow down, and the dew settled onto the vegetation making the air dense which in turn masked, and muffled sound.

The problem was that he could not hear anything. The woods were deathly silent. A place teeming with all manner of interesting life was eerily mute. Towards the lantern of the fire he went, breaking brush along the way. The trees swayed with a surreal, almost alien quality. A small breeze blew passed him, and through it, he could have swore that he heard someone moan.

He turned around but saw nothing. The headlamp he wore cast a ray of flickeringly dim light that illuminated the darkness before fizzling out. He thought he caught a glimpse of small bubbles of condensation from the settling of dew. Or the eyes of spiders as they so often shown eerily at night.

Disregarding what he thought he heard, he turned around, and kept moving towards the small pavilion where the fire pit was. When he got there, he nearly tripped over the beginning of a rock wall. The Colonel wanted it as a last stand in case anything ever happened. He looked up quickly to see if anyone had seen him. When he saw there had been no reaction, he sighed, and crudely focused to the faces of the men sitting before him. They were docile, the lateness of dusk was plainly evident.

” You know you guys can go to sleep right?” He said, thinking nothing of it. Truthfully, he figured since he’d be up for a while longer that he’d continue to stoke the fire. Perhaps even start to boil water for the cooks, who were always prompt in there timing.

Not one single person budged from around the fire. He snapped his fingers. ” Hello, guys???” They didn’t even react to it. ‘Guess maybe they’re really tired,’ he thought to himself.

He was in the process of grabbing pieces of wood from underneath a blue tarp right next to the fire, when a muffled mumbling sound broke the silence of his work. It was one of the soldiers across from him. He could not make the face out in the gloom. The figure swayed in the shadows of the flame, as he sat on the bench, leaning against a support beam that held the pavilion upright.

” Ymir, you came from the woods?”

“Why yes, yes I did,” he heard himself say in a facetious manner.

” why did you come? You shouldn’t go back out there, ” he heard the soldier say.’That doesn’t sound right.’ Something was wrong, he couldn’t quite put his finger on it. He was going to get to the bottom of it.

“Why not,”

” I don’t know… I-I can’t remember. All I know is that you can’t go back out there. I have to go, they’re coming!” The man was desperate, in a feral way, it was as if a large predator had cornered him. There was nothing of the sort out here. Ymir watched the man about face sharply to step away from the fire. He followed after the guy to make sure he got to his tent safely.

The moment he stepped into the wood line, right as he passed the kitchen, the oddest thing happened. In the darkness he must’ve lost track of the guy because one moment the soldier was within 50 meters of him, and the next he was gone. The woods seemed to grow infinitely darker. A macabre sense of foreboding, and dread gave the air a weighted feel. In the darkness he almost got turned around but instead chose to keep walking straight, hoping to find the soldier’s tent. The lack of illumination from the sky was as if the very forest canopy of the forest decided to enclose over top of him. He was starting to get a little impatient, especially at the point where he realized, he’d been walking for ten minutes and still no sign of the soldier or the tents. He stopped suddenly to look down at his wrist watch once more. It was blinking, and so with the express purpose of hopefully saving what little night vision he had, he turned it off. When he looked up there was something peculiar about the natural drift of the land, he thought for sure he’d been careful to avoid his own drifting. Sometimes, he had a tendency to veer to the left when he wasn’t paying attention. The woods were starting to look the same.’No way in hell I missed the tents.’

Another five minutes worth of walk, and he noticed a fire flicker to life in the distance. ‘ That wasn’t there before, or was it?’ He walked towards the dim light, crunching pine cones, and sifting through spider webs. After passing a small pile of familiar rocks he was back at the same pavilion, and fire pit as before.

‘What the fuck,’ He mouthed noiselessly. He stepped over the bench, to look around and see who was there. The same people, and their serene faces. Something of note he picked up upon. The faces of some of the men changed. In particular, a man with tattoos snaking down the spiral of his left arm. The man held his hands in front of his face. The others in his vicinity didn’t seem to take notice.”Hey,” he said to the tattooed man. He recognized him from the combat drills they worked on a couple of days back, right when the rain started. His name was Colyott or something to that effect. No answer. No one moved a muscle, no one budged from their strange slumber.

He called out again, ” Hey dude, ” this time to a dark skinned soldier sitting across the way. When he turned around to see if tattoo had awoken, the man’s hands were removed from his face. He wore the expression of a rictus. His mouth open wide, eyes profusely spilling tears that came to drain down his cheeks. The man looked at him and said hysterically, ” I can’t remember why I’m here. I keep going back into the woods and something is out there i can feel it. It wants me to keep going back out there, but every time I go back i end up here and I remember less. Help me I can’t even remember who I am anymore! ” The man pleaded with him, tried to grab him. He shoved him off.

” Shut up I’m trying to think. ” He said, and then took a seat next to the other soldier. He hadn’t come to. So Ymir faced outward towards the wood line. That deep sense of foreboding came back as immediately as he turned toward the darkness.

“There’s something out here in the woods with us,” glancing to the soldier he’d gone back to covering his face. The man next to him finally opened his eyes, took one look at Ymir and then ran into the wood line ranting and raving. When he turned back to the soldier his face was uncovered. His eyes had puffed into bulbous nodes that hissed, and popped. Ymir almost fell out of the bench, scrabbling away from it.

” What the fuck?!” the thing that was once Colyott convulsed, spewing gouts of blood into, and around the fire. The fire hissed and smoked. Colyott’s chest lurched forward, and two hands pierced their way through the bone and muscle around his solarplexus. The man’s chest cavity opened from the inside, and displayed its contents for Ymir to see. He couldn’t look away, it was as if the creature wore Colyott’s body not unlike a wolf would wear a sheep’s wool. The connective tissues and muscle that comprised his face had sloughed off, and hit the ground with a flopping squish.

“In darkness you are powerless against us.” A deep bass of a rumble emitted from its thinly drawn lips. The thing stood to its full height, easily taller than he who was roughly 6’3″. ‘This thing is huge’. He jumped back even further from the ghastly thing, It had the appearance of a human. but there was something off about it, like how a tick would seem when comparative to a spider. it was an organism humanoid in nature, but it was as if it had been living inside of Colyott’s body. Its skin was translucent and pale. Its eyes a milky white that reflected off the fire with an intensity probably would have scared most men. Its long arms reached for Ymir as it inched ever closer to him, gnashing its teeth as the rest of Colyott’s tattooed skin peeled away from this newly emergent body.

He was backed into the woods, and was set to turn around when he noticed that there were more than just this one. Tall pale ghouls in the darkness, eyes gleaming in the twilight, teeth impossibly long gnashing… forever gnashing. He hoped to God this was a dream. It had to be a dream.

‘Not sure I’ll be making it home,’ but it didn’t mean that he wouldn’t try. Nearly fallen. He pulled up, arms straining with the weight of his endeavor. He yanked a large rock free with all his might. He took it with both hands, hefting its weight. Then he launched it with all the force he could muster against the nearest creature. It struck true, right in the creature’s face. He came over to the strange creature with its face sunken in from the jagged rock. Flaps of skin hung from it, this twisted imitation of a human. That thing used to be his friend. His comrade.

It would be at that moment that he heard the chittering hiss of the creature’s comrades. He couldn’t see them, but he knew they were out there, and they were ready for a fight. But was he???

About Ousia
Ymir Cruz used to be a member of an elite group of soldiers tasked with defending the Western realm of CUSP from paranormal threats. But when a Coup takes the life of the country’s monarch, a man hunt ensues. Wanted dead or alive Ymir leaves to uncover the only truth he has ever known. What follows is a series of events that could very well unravel the very fabric of reality. Will he be strong enough to discern what’s artificial and what is real?

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