Avid Hunter

Jordan Smith

Jordan Smith lives in the Pacific Northwest, a setting he enjoys using as an inspiration for horror stories that take place in the wilderness. The tedium of his day job allows his imagination to break free of banality and explore concepts in writing that would otherwise not exist in the real world. He is also a skilled visual artist.

 

I used to be an avid hunter. I loved the stalking and killing of wild game. And I only had one rule: only one bullet for the kill.

That all changed after my encounter this last season. I don’t think I will ever hunt again or go alone into the woods. In fact, the sheer revulsion I now have to trees has sent me off to find work in the big city. I don’t even like looking at uncooked food anymore.

I’ll tell the tale once and only once. Nobody would believe me, not even you. I just want someone else to know about it before I eventually pass from this earth.

***

The Winema National Forest spread on every side of me. The lush green treeline sloped gently down on my right side and then sloped back up to Mt. Harriman, which formed the highest point in my current visual landscape. It was a small mountain covered in pine trees that formed a broad triangular curve, and it now blocked my view of snow-capped Mount McLoughlin. I had been out to the Mountain Lakes Wilderness area of the forest before and I knew that a mile or so down into that sloping treeline would be Varney Creek, which would run flush with the road for many miles to come.

About six miles into traversing the dirt road, I abruptly stopped the truck.

I looked behind the vehicle through the rear window, then back out the passenger window, and then to my left. Satisfied, I geared the truck into reverse and drove the vehicle backwards about ten feet before pulling off the dirt road into a sparse grassy area, surrounded by a dozen pine trees, that was wide enough to drive down.

When I found a small opening between the trees, I stopped the truck and got out. I grabbed my .30-06 Springfield rifle from the gun rack in the rear window and then shouldered my backpack, which was nestled in the passenger seat between the food cooler and two jugs of water I had brought with me. I then pocketed a few bullets, locked the truck, and began walking southeast into the woods.

The cool, misty outline of the sun rising on the horizon contrasted wonderfully with the high desert environment and the plentiful pine trees that grew in large, bountiful forests that surrounded the whole region. It was a perfect place for white-tailed deer during the rut that is mating season, which meant that buck deer would be out and about looking for mates.

It was quiet and serene. I had driven out there early in the morning because I just couldn’t fathom being there in the dark like many of my compatriot hunters. The innocuous sounds of nature were busied in their fettered machinations of distant bird sounds and, every now and again, the noise of a loose pine cone dropping to earth, but I saw and heard not a single deer for the first two hours of walking. So I kept on.

I had already chambered and cocked the single bullet in my rifle and was ready for anything, just not what I found during the third hour of my walk.

The smell hit me first. It was blood. I figured maybe a black bear or some coyotes had gotten themselves a deer kill or maybe another hunter was out here. The smell was getting stronger now and I stepped through some brambles to my left when I saw a large black and white lump near a tree.

It was a dead cow lying on its side. I just then remembered it was open range out here and small herds would still be grazing until their owners corralled them for the winter. The black and white fur of the animal was drenched in blood, though. An odd sight, so I went around it to get a better look because its posterior was facing me.

As I walked around the corpse, I saw something horrific. The entire abdominal region of the animal was split open, revealing a large gaping hole, and its ribs were protruding from bits of flesh, but there was not one bit of viscera inside its abdominal region. Stomach, intestines, everything that I would normally expect was gone. The corpse had been gutted. Pretty clean, too. Perhaps it had just died for whatever reason and the scavengers out here had had their very own smorgasbord. I shrugged off the episode and began walking again.

It was only ten minutes later that I smelled the unmistakable odor of blood again. As I passed through a couple of pine trees barring my path, I saw another cow corpse next to some small boulders that protruded from a little patch of grass just a few feet away. It was in the same condition as the other corpse, but it looked fresher, with a stronger blood smell.

The abdominal region was split open and a gaping hole exposed its now bloody vertebrae and rib cage. The grass the cow was lying in was soaked in blood all around. I walked slowly over to it, too engrossed with what I was seeing to take in my surroundings. I bent down to get a closer look into its eviscerated abdomen and flicked my hand at some flies that were buzzing over me as well as the body. It was gutted as cleanly as the other bovine and seemingly freshly killed.

This was weird. I didn’t see what could have killed the cow, as the rest of the body looked pretty much unmolested. Was it disease? Sickness? Other than having been eviscerated, it look pretty healthy. I didn’t see any bullet marks either. I pulled out my cell phone to take a picture, just to show some of my friends later on, when I heard the unmistakable sound of a branch snapping over to my right. As quickly as I had taken out the phone, I dropped it back into my pants pocket and readied my rifle.

I began walking in the direction of the sound I had just heard. I expected a black bear or something to jump out from the thicket of trees I was now in. I surveyed all around my frontal visual landscape down the rifle barrel, but nothing stirred. I kept walking through some bushes, and not twenty feet from the dead cow I saw the corpse of a white-tailed deer; it too was eviscerated, with a gutted abdomen.

I bent down closer and confirmed that it was a female due to its lack of antlers and its body shape. Its tongue lolled out of its mouth and its glossy black eyes stared into oblivion. The abdominal region was just as cleanly gutted as those of the other two corpses and it was also lying in a pool of blood. Flies buzzed around the body. It was pretty fresh as well. No signs of decomposition. I was curious before, now I was beginning to get scared.

I took off my orange cap, stripped off my orange nylon vest, and then dropped my backpack at my feet, careful that none of my stuff would get bloodied next to the deer. I couldn’t think of what could possibly do this to these animals. It had to be another hunter, but, like the other two corpses, I still didn’t see any bullet wounds. I pulled out a camouflaged balaclava I had in my backpack and slipped it over my head. Maybe this way I would be harder to spot. I readied my rifle again and mentally marked this location for later, when I would get the chance to come back for my stuff. Whoever was out here wasn’t playing fair and I wanted to know who it was and why they were doing this. Desperate to fulfill my now mounting curiosity, I again readied my rifle and decided to slowly walk on, deeper into the woods.

It hadn’t been more than twenty minutes of walk time before I smelled the unmistakable musty reek of pennies. I walked between two close-together pine trees and saw two more deer, but this time they were both male, with well-developed sets of antlers. They too were gutted and lying in pools of blood. I stood there at the spot between the trees, trying to take this all in. I didn’t bother to walk over to the bodies but instead raised my rifle and looked through the mounted scope, confirming that they were just like the other corpses behind me. Each one had been neatly disemboweled, leaving no trace of viscera at all.

I held my breath and listened as best I could to my surroundings. A few birds chirped here and there and a gentle breeze could be heard swooshing the tops of the Douglas Fir trees above me. Nothing out of the ordinary, so I raised my rifle and looked into the scope, this time behind the corpses of the deer and off into the trees a hundred yards out. It all looked as normal as it was supposed to be and the grey bark of the woods only broke up into the greenery of the foliage, with not an animal in sight.

I let out my breath. This was getting stranger by the minute. I was about to call it quits and head back for my backpack and vest when I heard a loud snap like a tree branch breaking in half, followed by two distant thuds as if some cattle were beginning to move over tufts of grass. Snapping my rifle back up so I could see through the scope, I caught the movement of something. It was about a hundred yards out.  I briefly glimpsed its red coloring before it moved deeper into the woods between some trees. Perhaps I had found the culprit.

I began to run in that direction. Perhaps this was another stupid thing to do, but hindsight is twenty-twenty. I weaved around a couple of Douglas Firs and skipped over some bramble. My boots made obviously perceptible thuds as they bounded over the landscape. Twigs snapped and pine cones crunched audibly enough that whoever was out there was bound to hear me. I didn’t care now, I was ready for a fight if need be. As I jumped over a small outcropping of rocks, I noticed another dead cow with brown fur over to my right and another dead white-tailed deer farther ahead of me, draped over a boulder. Both were fresh and both were gutted just like the other bodies I had found. Was this a trail of some kind? A crumb trail leading to what? I shuddered at the thought of that. I didn’t bother to stop and look at those dead animals. I just kept running.

The trees were getting thicker now, not spaced out and in loose clumps like they mostly had been when I had first entered the forest. The space between them shortened and I found myself almost constantly slamming my shoulders against the bark, scraping them in the process. The sun was pretty high in the sky as far as I could tell, but it was getting dense enough that the pine trees were shielding me from direct sunlight and covering everything in shade.

I almost tripped over myself when I brushed up against another tree. I decided to stop running and began sucking in air as if I just got done Olympic diving. I leaned my right arm again the tree and braced against falling as I bent over and kept gasping hard to catch my breath. The woods were very dense now and I panned around my surroundings to see if anything was out of the ordinary.

Sweat was trickling down my eyes, so I wiped it clean with my right shirt sleeve. I didn’t notice anything unusual except the coppery smell of blood. This time the odor was so strong I almost retched when I took in a large noseful of air. I waited a moment and heard something in the distance. It was bestial, like a dog or something chewing with slight grunts and breathing sounds. I decided to make my way toward the noise. It was dead ahead of me and this time the trees were so packed together I couldn’t see anything except other trees between them, just as I had noticed through the rifle scope a hundred yards back.

My breathing was labored as I squeezed through the trees. By this time my imagination was in full swing and I remembered those documentaries about flying saucers and cattle mutilations. I half-expected some kind of small, almond-eyed fetus-looking being to zap me unconscious and beam me up to their UFO. It was a ridiculous thought and it almost made me hesitate to continue. But that dog-like noise was just a few feet away now and I was dying to find out what exactly was going on. I raised my rifle in my off hand and went forward. After I zig-zagged between four or five trees, audibly breaking some lower branches and snapping some small twigs in the process, I ended up in a small clearing, and what I saw therein confirmed my imaginings that this undertaking was not done by anything human or animal.

The entire area was bathed in shade, and it had to have been at least a hundred feet wide. Surrounding the internal circumference of the clearing were corpses of animals. With a cursory look around, I made out at least twenty bodies. They were strewn about in no discernable order, forming a rough circle inside the clearing. There were white-tailed deer, at least one or two elk, and more than a dozen cows of all ages and sexes, and all of these animals were neatly disemboweled, with the dirt and grass around them soaked red with blood.

I kept hearing the noise as before with the slight grunts and chomping I would expect from a dog brusquely mawing on a chew toy, so I looked directly ahead of me toward the noise and then immediately wished I hadn’t.

What I noticed then made me question my own sanity.

In the middle of the scene and shrouded in the shade of the neighboring pine trees towered a massive pillar of writhing guts and viscera. It was circular in diameter but capped off with a flattish surface. The thing had to have been at least ten feet tall. Intestines, hearts, stomachs, livers, lungs, and bladders, as well as everything I would expect to be inside the abdominal region of those animals, was right here forming an impossibility, contradicting everything I knew about the natural world.

I began sweating profusely and shaking. I then lowered my rifle and took a few steps toward the thing. I honestly didn’t know what to do at that point. Should I run? Curiosity killed the cat, but I didn’t have nine lives to spare. Stupidly, I decided not to make a mad dash away from the clearing; instead, I became so bewitched by what I was staring at that I just needed to look at it for a little longer. Maybe I was losing my mind.

The mass of the thing was not quivering or shifting its dimension around as far as I could tell, but certain parts of the thing moved. Pieces of it seemed to suck back into its greater volume from some boundary-specific surface level that I could not discern, or go internally posterior the same way. The best description would liken the pillar to a mass of squirming snakes where one snake would slither into the folds and coils of another as the mass of the clump of them shifted to accommodate the change. It wasn’t like this over the entire pillar but here and there it did occur.

The thing about the pillar that stood out in my mind was that none of the innards that made up its bulk were at all rotted or showed any signs of decay or wear. It was as if embalming fluid were saturated within each distinct piece that made up its entire mass. It didn’t smell like it, though. Its smelled mostly like a butcher shop: like wet metal. I decided to start walking around the girth of the thing, and as I did so I then snapped out of my previous enthrallment and realized I was moving toward the animalistic noises that must be coming from the other side of that blasphemy. I took another couple of steps and was greeted with the originator of those bestial sounds.

What I visually beheld then was in some ways more terrifying than the pillar of entrails that now loomed menacingly over my right shoulder. It was a crudely characterized sacrilege of the human form and its gait stopped abruptly as our faces met each other not a few feet apart. The body of the thing was obviously human except for its complete lack of skin, and what I mean to say is that where the skin should have been it looked as if it were flayed, exposing raw, red muscle. The feet were like a human’s but the toes terminated in long black metallic-looking claws, as did the fingers of the thing, as best as I could tell, because it was clutching a large mass of intestines and other viscera. Even as I shakingly looked the creature up and down with my eyes, some of the intestinal mass that it carried fell to the dirt and clumps of grass with an audible plop in between its legs.

The face was human but lacked ears, and it too looked flayed, as did the rest of the skull. In place of eyes were dark pits that lacked the requisite organs for sight, and in place of a nose was simply the inverted V shape that I would expect on an exposed human skull. The teeth were not what I would expect if this monstrosity were human, as they were like the claws on its feet and hands and they were black as obsidian. As I stood there regarding it for those brief moments until it gently opened its maw and made a small growl. After that I raised my rifle toward its chest and fired.

The next few moments were a confusing cacophony of movements and bestial howls and bodily contortions that I had been unaware I was able to make, but apparently I was capable of doing so under the most dire of life-and-death situations. I don’t remember much of the time that immediately followed the gunshot, but I do seem to recall the thing swiping at me with its left claw as it reeled back from the bullet impact while I dropped the rifle and twisted my torso while simultaneously tripping over my legs and bounding back up to evade my grotesque attacker after I fell to the ground.

As I steadied myself for the inevitable sprint to safety, I took a quick look back and noticed the beast clutching at its chest with both clawed hands and its head raised in apparent agony as it let out a roar the likes of which I have never heard an animal make before or since. It was the last time I saw the thing as I bolted between the trees. The echos of that inhuman howl could be heard bounding around the forest like a demonic orchestra.

I kept running and dared not look back again. I weaved dangerously around the first few yards of densely packed trees, not caring if I painfully scraped shoulders or legs across sharp protrusions of bark. I just then remembered I had left my rifle on the ground back in the clearing and figured if a shot from that caliber wouldn’t kill it then I wasn’t going to stick around to find out what would. As I bounded over rocks and tufts of grass and weaved around trees, following a loose approximation of the route I had taken to reach that location, I seemed to have a sort of epiphany about the situation and what I had seen: I remembered the thing loosely dropping to the ground the entrails it had been cradling as it grabbed its chest after I shot it. I came to the conclusion that the creature must be building that pillar of entrails. But for what? And how was that possible? And what was that thing?

Images were now burned forever into my psyche. A twisted red mass of writhing viscera and that skinless, eyeless head pushing its way between intestines just to stare at me with uncaring verve seemed to stick out in my memories, which were part daydream now that I was running hard and fast. I think I was getting a runner’s high: my legs burned and my vision was blurred, but I was feeling oh so euphoric. I dared not stop now. The truck was close. It had to be.

I tripped over some branches that were wedged between the brambles of some small bushes and fell flat on my chest. This momentary reprieve from running was welcoming and I turned over onto my backside in anticipation of raising myself off the ground, but those few seconds were so blissful that I almost didn’t move again. I just kept panting like a heat-stroked dog and closed my eyes as rivulets of sweat poured over my face. I could have just passed into sleep at that point and nobody would have been the wiser.

It may have been a minute or so before I was snapped back to mental attention as that damnable roar that I had previously heard that grotesquery emit happened again. It was distant, but it only reaffirmed the fear that I wasn’t willing to entertain: the creature was still alive and this time it must be searching for me. The sound was like that of a jet fighter burning its afterburner mixed with a growl that a bear might make, and it echoed off the trees. That was all the motivation I needed, so I quickly jolted upright, turned, and began running again.

Bits of bark, grass, and leaves fell from my clothing as I sprinted as best I could over the same terrain that was more of a hindrance than a help to my escape. I think I saw some of those initial disemboweled cow and deer corpses as I ran, but I wasn’t willing to slow down to visually assert that; the heady aroma of copper was all I needed to remind me how far I had came since I had bolted into the woods. The truck was closer now. I figured it was about three hours of leisurely walking at this point from the vehicle. If I kept running maybe I could get back in less than an hour.

It didn’t matter how I mentally calculated the time it would take to get back to the truck. I was simply rationalizing and giving myself an excuse for the hope that I could make it back before that creature came upon me. I was so terrified at what my fate would be if it got ahold of me. I could just imagine one of its clawed hands lifting me off my feet with my throat in its grip while I chokingly gurgled a grievance. Those eyeless sockets would stare at me as its free hand slowly reached into my belly and pulled out a handful of intestines while I could only helplessly cling onto its clasping clawed hand and watch in horror as my innards spilled to the forest floor below my dangling feet.

I shook off the thought.

I was panting hard again, so I stopped running for a moment. How long had it been? Ten minutes? Twenty? Time had just kind of flowed together since I had smelled the stench of blood back in the clearning. I didn’t even bother to pull out my phone to check the time. I just wanted to get back before the sun set. Not that it would matter; I hadn’t been keeping track of time since my arrival. Besides, the truck was close enough that there was no way in hell it could take all the hours of the remaining day to reach it.

I threw off my sweaty camouflaged balaclava and dropped it in on the pine needle-littered ground. I thought about throwing off my shirt as well but decided against it. The woods never look familiar when you go into a new location, especially when returning in the opposite direction, and a new thought occurred to me that I might be trapped out there in the evening with that thing chasing me. The last thing I wanted to do was freeze to death, and a shirt would at least provide some protection from the elements. I then used both of my hands to wring the sweat from my hair and wiped off the perspiration from my hands onto my pants, gasping in air as I did so. I took a quick look behind me. It was clear, no sign of the creature. It was time to move again.

The rest of the way back I switched off from running to jogging for a few minutes, then back to running again. It was a decent cycle of locomotion that kept me from passing out from exhaustion. The truck was near. I just had to make it back. But the thought kept occurring that I wouldn’t make it and would have to make another mad dash into unfamiliar wilderness and end up out in the middle of nowhere in the night and possibly freezing to death. I wouldn’t let that happen. I just had to reach the truck and, with it, my own personal salvation from this episode of lunacy.

More time elapsed, but only the sounds of the wilderness broke up the momentary noises of my feet plodding against bark and pine needles. I was sure the truck would be just emerging behind a tree ahead of me somewhere, playing peekaboo with my hopes. It couldn’t have been more than the final hundred yards of the monotonous cycle of jog, run, jog when I finally spied the red Toyota just as I had left it in the small grassy area between some Douglas firs. I stopped for a moment and almost pinched myself to see if I was dreaming. It was really there and almost beckoning me with its finality to this whole mess.

I walked the rest of the way to the truck, paranoidly looking behind me every now and again. I was so tired from all of this running. When I reached it I took out my keys and fumbled at the lock, then swung the door wide open. I plopped down into the driver’s seat and slammed the door shut. I looked to my right and noticed the food cooler and two jugs of water in the passenger’s seat. I grabbed up one of the water jugs and twisted the cap off and began gulping down mouthfuls, not caring if half of what I tried to swallow never made it to my mouth. Then I began pouring the water over my face and head, basking in the somewhat lukewarm waterfall that drenched me from head to toe. It felt good.

The moment of tranquility was interrupted as I spied something moving out of the corner of my left eye. I turned my head in that direction and saw something out there in the woods through the truck window. It was occluded by the trees and I could barely make it out at this distance. It was only when I saw the dull red coloration weaving in and out from behind the tree trunks that I knew I was fucked: the thing had found me and was making for the vehicle.

I blunderingly threw the almost empty jug of water aside and reached for the keys in my pocket. They weren’t there. I began to hear a repetitious thud thud thud and realized the beast was running in my direction. Focus now, freedom was almost mine. The keys! Where did I… ? I found them on the passenger’s seat, where I had haphazardly dropped them when I had grabbed up the water jug. I almost drunkenly slipped the key into the ignition and turned it. The engine belched to life and I was almost home free.

I then stepped on the clutch and pulled the stick shift into reverse. The thud thud thud of that creature was getting louder. I staved off the urge to look out the driver’s window before I slammed my foot down on the gas pedal. The truck spun its wheels in place for a moment and I started careening backward with a billow of dirt and grass enveloping the vehicle. I needed to make sure I could clear the trees that formed the opening to this grassy clearing and not end up with the tailgate or rear bumper smashed into one of the firs. The thudding of the beast could still be heard over the engine and I just caught a quick look at the thing as the truck went backwards and I looked over my shoulder to make sure I could get through the tree gap.

If seeing a flayed caricature of a human being wasn’t enough to drive you insane, then seeing one with a gaping, toothed mouth, eyeless sockets, clawed hands, and masculine physique bearing down on you in a dead sprint should. The truck barely made it to the opening where the trees parted and the dirt road was just behind them when the creature smashed its clawed fist into the window and pulled me out of the vehicle. The motion was quick and done in such a fluid manner that the truck was still briefly driving itself in reverse as my foot was pulled off the gas pedal. I didn’t even have time to try and fight back as its left hand opened in one quick moment from being a fist to jamming its talons into my shoulder with outstretched fingers and yanking me out and onto the ground.

I was covered in glass bits now. Nothing serious as far as wounds go, but I did seem to get the wind knocked out of me. The dull, hollow pain seared up my backside and I gasped for air as the abomination loomed over me. I writhed weakly for an instant, raising my arms like someone ready to shelter himself from an expected blow. The creature didn’t move and seemed almost content, like a curious child regarding a new experience. Confused as to its expression and now-stoic concentration, I lowered my guard. It was only a few seconds later that it rapidly reached its hand down, grabbed my face in its palm, and slammed the back of my skull against the ground. Stars spurted into my vision and everything went black.

I weaved in and out of consciousness after the blow to my head. I dimly recall an upside-down view of the truck, which now pressed its rear bumper against one of the trees at the entrance of the small grassy area. The engine was no longer running and the truck receded out of my blurred vision, which came and went as it I was dragged along the ground.

The creature had my left leg in its firm grasp. It wasn’t really painful, but I felt its claw tips tear into my flesh. My pant leg must be torn and bloody, but I didn’t really have the energy to attempt to arch myself forward to look or even attempt to struggle. My head was throbbing and I had a headache. I felt so helpless as the abomination pulled my body against the ground. My shirt almost pulled itself up over my chest as its fabric gave way to the motion of grass, dirt, leaves, and pine needles, exposing my soft belly and my backside, which was now being scraped across the forest undergrowth with abandon.

I felt weak and tired as it pulled me through the undergrowth. I don’t know how far it hauled me. I don’t even know how long it had been since it had slammed my head against the ground. I didn’t have the energy to physically protest. I just looked up into the sky between the tops of the trees and visually followed a couple of chirping birds flying across the panorama. After that I passed out.

I had a dream about being smothered. Not my whole body, just my arms and legs. I think my wife was there and our son as well. I had a vague sensation of movement forward and then falling. Trees were laughing at me. I saw birds flying in space. Mother?

Thats all I remembered. I don’t know exactly how long I was unconscious.

I awoke to the sounds of drum beats and the crackle of fire. I took a deep breath and it smelled of blood mixed with burning wood. I slowly opened my eyes and raised my head. My vision was blurred, but I pressed my eyelids together and then blinked a couple of times and subsumed the environment I was now realizing that I was standing in a vertical position.

The sun was setting, making most of the milieu of the trees surrounding me little better than green silhouettes. I looked around. There was indeed a fire billowing over to my right, at least a hundred feet away. The tall inferno reached fifty feet or more up toward the forest canopy, and a dozen or more people were sitting around it. They were the ones beating the drums. I saw their arms rise and fall in unison as the dull whoomph whoomph staccato of the drum beats echoed throughout the forest. I looked a little to my left and realized I was again facing that accursed pillar of entrails.

I was obviously in the clearing again. The firelight enveloped much of the area in a yellow glow. The corpses of those cows and deer were just as I had seen them a few hours before. The disemboweled abdomens of those animals glistened in the light and it looked like maybe a few more cows had been added to the body count since I had first discovered this location.

The pillar of entrails shimmered in the light as well. The assorted viscera appeared moist in the failing evening sunlight. I could just make out the movement of some intestines as it slid over portions of what could have been lungs or a liver. In fact, I was almost directly in front of the thing and it was about an arm’s length away. I almost wanted to reach out and touch the thing, just to confirm that it was real and I wasn’t dreaming.

I tried to move but couldn’t. I was tied up with my hands behind my back. Some kind of rope cord or something bound my wrists. My feet were tied up as well. I then went to lick my dry lips and realized I was gagged. There must be a piece of cloth in my mouth. I was strapped to some kind of stretcher or cot with a rope around my waist binding me to this thing. Somehow they were able to prop it up with me on it.

All I could do was wait and see what fate had in store for me.

The incessant drum beats wouldn’t stop, and the air was full of that constant repetitive whoomph noise. I looked over in the direction of the bonfire and the seated circle of individuals were seemingly the same individuals I had seen moments before. Nobody left the circle of drummers or came to relieve their comrades. I looked closer and noticed that each individual in the circle was wearing a black hooded cloak and their faces were obscured by shadow and flame. A few more seconds went by before I noticed some unusual movement near the leftmost seated drummers in the circle. It was a figure coming from behind the drummers furthest from my perception. The figure gently glided over the ground with very little apparent gait motion. It was hooded as well. In fact, I think it was wearing a robe. The dark recess were the face should have been was occluded in shadow, as the hood overhung the face, so I couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman at that distance. It walked around the perimeter of the drummers and just kept moving.

The figure walked forward. It was heading in my direction. I then heard a snort and a sort of slavering wet sound like a tongue licking up water from a bowel. It must be that damn abomination. I quickly looked around but didn’t see it. I turned my attention back to the robed figure. It was closer now. My first conjecture was right: it was wearing a robe and it was black as the night sky. The figure gently glided in my direction. As it came closer I noticed it was holding something in its right hand.

The robed figure came just within a foot or two and stopped abruptly. It raised its left hand slowly with its palm outstretched. Someone out in the woods near here must have seen that this was a hand signal, as the drummers simultaneously stopped drumming. I looked in the direction of the seated drummers and noticed a dozen seated heads staring at me from under dark hoods, hands lowered near their drums. The robed figure gently lowered its raised hand and then pulled back its hood with the same hand he had just raised a moment before.

I was now staring into the face of an elderly man.

His hair was grey and reached shoulder length. His eyes were a shade of blue and his chin tapered to a point, as did his nose, which evoked images of some old crone. He was clean-shaven and, besides wrinkles around his eyes and mouth, his skin was relatively smooth. He stared at me a moment, then delicately smiled.

“Hello,” he said. His voice was a soothing baritone pitch. “My name is Nebro.”

I just stared at him and squinted a bit. If I could have said anything with any amount of coherency at that point it probably would have been a simple “Fuck you.”

“I see you’ve woken up.” He looked me up and down. I could only shift portions of my bound body in uncomfortable grievance in response.

“I’ll bet you’re wondering what this is about,” he said as he pointed to the pillar of entrails with his left hand. “Its the future.”

I tried to say, “I don’t understand,” but it came out muffled and incoherent, as my tongue could barely move with the gag in my mouth.

Nebro raised his left palm up a bit in a placating gesture and then gently shushed me.

“No need to speak now,” he said. “I’ll explain everything.”

Nebro then took a few steps toward the pillar of entrails. His left hand made a sweeping gesture as he looked at it; then he turned his hooded head back to me.

“This is the future,” he said. “This is the resurrection and the life. This is the true resurrection, my friend. Remember the words of the Christian Saviour:  ‘Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.’ You won’t have to wait for the ‘last day,’ we can give life everlasting here and now.”

I shuddered at the cryptic ambiguity of those words. His followers, or whatever they were, were still sitting immobile around the pyre. They didn’t move an inch and just gave blank stares back at us from under their hoods.

Nebro took a few steps toward me and stopped. His face again became adorned with a delicate smile. I noticed most of his teeth were stained yellow as he spoke again.

“Salvation lies within that monolith. A new birth and a new beginning await you. We’ve tried it before and, as promised by Yaldabaoth, it worked. His spirit dwells within this monolith and is ready to receive another recipient.”

Nebro then reached around my head, loosened the gag, and threw it behind me into the woods somewhere. I coughed a bit and worked my tongue around, trying to moisten it with saliva.

“What the hell are you talking about?” was the first thing that spewed out of my mouth.

“Resurrection!” he almost shouted. “This is the resurrection and the life. The maker of man is Yaldabaoth and the giver of life everlasting is Yaldabaoth.”

“What the fuck is Yaldabaoth?” Was my only response. I was curious despite also being terrified.

“He was the chief of creation. The head of seven tasked with making this world and the cosmos. At the end he will be taken back to the pleroma, the fullness of the divinity of God. So will mankind as each human has a piece of God’s spirit in him. This is the only way to break the cycle. This is the resurrection. The true resurrection.”

Nebro then disappeared behind me. I heard him fumbling around and noticed the rope around my waist go slack and fall to the ground. The slavering sound then resumed. Startled at the noise in the relatively quiet atmosphere, I looked a little to my left and saw the abomination slowly walk from behind the pillar of entrails and stop. Its glossy, flayed body glistened in the light of the fire and its face stared back at me with those dark pits instead of eyes.

“What the fuck is that thing?” I said, hoping for a response.

Nebro must have untied the rope around my ankles, as I felt the bonds there go slack as well.

“That is the first fruit of the resurrection,” he said from behind me. Nebro then reappeared in front of me. He looked me up and down with some element of satisfaction in his face. Then he smiled and looked at the abomination.

“This is how we will beat the end,” he said. The abomination then took a step forward. Its mouth opened and closed a few times. Its black dagger-like teeth dripped with saliva. I noticed just then for the first time that the creature did not have any genitals; the crotch area seemed to have some sort of smooth cartilaginous surface instead.

“This is the form of the resurrection. This is what you will become in a day’s time.” Nebro then looked back to me and took a step closer.

“In this form you shall never perish. You will never need to eat or sleep and you will serve Yaldabaoth with his spirit that will dwell within you. When the end comes and this world is reduced to ash and cinders, you will forever wander the wasteland in this form with your brethren. You will also be able to make more of the monoliths and they will be the same in form and function as well. This is how we will prepare for the end.

“The first monolith took a great deal of sacrifice to make. Many humans gave their lives in its creation. After the first, it was only a small matter to use dumb beasts to make this one. This one gave the first fruit its beginning as well.”

Nebro then walked over to the abomination and gently caressed its skinless head. The creature slightly craned its head towards Nebro as if it were a pet grateful for being patted.

“You will enter this monolith alive,” said Nebro. He took a few steps toward me and stopped. I could smell the smoke of the fire and hear its crackle as the light cast Nebro in an unhealthy glow.

“Once you have entered into it, the process will begin. The indwelling of Yaldabaoth’s spirit will forever change you. Most of your humanity will be sloughed off and the transformation will be irreversible.” Nebro then stepped behind me again. He was now scrabbling around with the binding on my hands.

“I DON’T WANT TO DIE!” I shouted. The echo of my scream bounded throughout the forest.

“You won’t die,” calmly replied Nebro, “You will be transformed. You will take the form of the resurrection body.”

The bonds at my hands were undone now. I achingly pulled my arms from behind the stretcher or whatever it was they had tied me to. Nebro reappeared at my right side as I stretched my arms out, trying to rub away the soreness in my muscles.

“Don’t try to run,” said Nebro. He pointed to the abomination. “The first fruit here can outrun you. I also need you conscious for the process to begin. It would be inconvenient if we had to kill you.”

I nervously looked around. How could I get out of this? The abomination was slavering as it stared at me. Its clawed hands menacingly closed and opened again while they rested at its side. The drummers around the fire were now slowly standing up, and many who must have been around the other side of the flame began filtering into view. Nebro just stared at me.

“Why me?” I asked. “Why do I have to suffer this?”

“I never chose you,” said Nebro. “The first fruit did. If you hadn’t wandered into our business, you’d probably be home now or doing whatever it is that gives your life meaning. Since you saw this monolith and actually had the audacity to shoot at our first fruit, we must take it upon ourselves to dispose of this problem.”

I scrambled over thoughts in my head. How can I save myself? Could I talk my way out of this? I may as well try.

“Nobody would believe me. Who in the hell would believe a story about a pillar of guts made from animals? Maybe you should let me go.”

“No,” was the stern reply. “It’s rather opportune for us to use you. It saves us the time to search out someone else. We had already planned on kidnapping one of the local hunters if we could easily get one. You just kind of fell into our lap. Rather convenient, don’t you think?”

“Yeah. Convenient,” I sarcastically retorted.

Nebro walked over to my side, grabbed my right arm with his left hand, and opened the book he was holding in his right by pressing the bottom of it flush with his stomach and using his forefingers to open its pages to where a bound leather bookmark had been placed.

“I’ll walk you into the monolith,” he said, and then began perusing the pages in the book, which was now open. I took a step forward as he slightly pulled me. If I didn’t think of something now, I was a dead man.

“For many, when they hear, will be fainthearted, but you understand in the way I can tell you,” said Nebro as he looked over the book’s writings and parroted it back to me.

“Your father is not my Father, but my Father has become a father to you.” Nebro pulled me another step forward.

The abomination never took its stare away from me. I looked it over briefly. I saw the bullet hole still in its muscular chest where I had shot at it earlier. Its toothed maw drooped open like that of a panting dog. Saliva dripped down its chin and fell to the earth below. I watched the drool in fascination and terror. As more gooey droplets fell to earth, I visually followed them down to the ground. Behind where they trickled to the ground, I saw a faint metallic sheen between the beast’s legs. I squinted and tried to discern what I was seeing: a long metallic tube?

My rifle!

The gun was where had I dropped it before. Maybe they had forgotten about it. Regardless of why it was still there, this rifle was the means to my salvation. I only previously loaded it with one bullet, though, and it was capable of holding six and another one chambered.

Nebro pulled me another step forward.

“Darkness was wind in the waters, and Darkness had a mind wrapped in restless fire. Between them was Spirit, a quiet, humble light,” said Nebro, almost chanting.

I needed to grab the gun and chamber a round in it. If I could get a clear shot at the thing, maybe it would die. A chest shot obviously hadn’t done anything. Maybe a shot to the head? Nebro said this thing was incapable of dying, but it was worth a try.

I carefully put my left hand in my left pants pocket and felt around. Nebro wouldn’t notice anything suspicious if he was still looking in his book. I did feel the two bullets I had put in my pocket that morning, palmed one of them, and then pulled my hand back out with the bullet carefully cupped and concealed from the view of the abomination. I was hoping it wouldn’t notice, and its lack of any reaction to my motions confirmed this. Though, without eyes, I wondered how it could see to begin with.

Nebro took in a breath and was about to start speaking again when I took that brief interval to make my move. I jerked my arm away from him and then made a fist and smashed it into his face as hard as I could. Nebro gurgled something and simultaneously dropped his book and reached his now-free hand to grasp his face.

I then took a large step and lunged underneath the abomination, between the thing’s flayed legs. I hit the ground with a heavy thud. The creature’s center of gravity shifted as I pushed upward as hard as I could. Its right arm reached out for me but was too slow on the draw as it fell onto its side. I grabbed the rifle and frenziedly steadied myself while attempting to run. The abomination began to get off of the ground as I bounded away.

“GET HIM!” I heard Nebro scream from behind me.

I was holding the gun in reverse with my left hand, awkwardly gripping the end of the barrel, and the bullet in my right hand, groping just behind the scope. I heard the familiar thudding sound of the beast pouncing after me. I realized in a second’s time that I probably wouldn’t have enough time to chamber the bullet I had in my hand. I figured I had only one shot at stopping the abomination. I spun around as fast as I could and used the rifle as a club.

The salivating abomination was only a step away from me when I connected the stock of the rifle with its face. A few of its pointed teeth flew out of its mouth with the impact, and its head turned to its right while its tongue lolled out the side of its mouth. I pulled the rifle away from its face and began to reel it back for a second strike.

The abomination didn’t fall like I thought it would with my first blow. It merely readjusted its composure in the seconds in which I prepared to hit it again. Time seemed to slow down as I began to swing the gun toward its face again. As the gun arced downward, the beast’s right arm swung wide with its hand now a fist. I saw the clawed hand and the red, exposed muscle come at my torso.

My gun was mid arc when the creature’s fist impacted my stomach. My gun didn’t even connect with the beast and I found myself falling backward in agony. My left hand was no longer holding the gun, but I kept hold of it with my right as I fell backward. I thought I would fall to the ground, but a disappointing thunk against the back of my head and back confirmed that a tree was directly behind me. I must not have initially noticed the tree as I ran and turned to swing on the monster with my rifle due to the pandemonium.

My vision blurred as the phosphene erupted stars in my visual acuity for a few seconds. I quickly shook off the sensation even though it was painful. The gun was still in my right hand but lying on the ground now, and I still had the bullet in my left hand between my forefinger and index finger.

“Bring him to me,” commanded Nebro from out of sight. He must be where I had left him when I had hit his face.

I blinked a few times and looked up. The abomination was standing a few feet away. It took a step closer. Its exposed red muscle fibers, tendons, and cartilage seemed almost moist as the not too distant bonfire light twinkled in the background.

I quickly brought the rifle close to my chest. The grotesquerie took a another step closer and began to reach down as I clumsily began chambering the bullet into the rifle’s action. As I finished the motions and cocked the gun, the beast grabbed the barrel of the rifle in its left hand and grabbed my left arm with its right. I was almost hoisted off of the ground as it did this.

It was trying to pry the gun away from me. I resisted as best I could and used my left hand to grip the barrel right under where its clawed hand grabbed it. It was difficult, as the beast was very strong. Its salivating mouth gaped open, exposing what had to be more than a dozen dagger-like teeth that were as black as the night sky.

I used all of my strength to push the rifle toward its face. Its right-hand claws dug into my arm and I could feel the skin and muscle there painfully tear open as its grip tightened. I pushed as hard as I could with my right hand and pulled with my left. I could feel my face swell as my blood pressure seemed to rise; sweat was streaming down my face. It took all the effort I had to get the barrel close to the thing’s neck.

When the gun was as close as possible to its intended target, I heaved with all of my might and was able to kick off the tree that was behind me with my left leg for added leverage, forcing the gun barrel right up against the abomination’s neck. In the moment when the barrel was now flush to where a carotid artery was on a live person, I pulled the trigger.

A sharp and loud crack echoed throughout the forest. The skinless, exposed cranium of the monster exploded in the back of its skull. Large chunks of brain matter, bone, and viscous goo erupted like a volcano and flung themselves into the darkness as the bullet passed out the other side.

The beast made a gurgling sound and its eyeless sockets stared back at me, lifeless. Its tongue lolled out and drool oozed off its jaw. Its arms fell limp as its claws slid off both my left arm and the rifle barrel. The beast then fell backward to the ground as a slight, lifeless thump reverberated in the ground around me.

The abomination was dead. Its flayed caricature of a human being lay there as inert as the trees around me.

I stood there panting heavily and wiped the sweat off my forehead with my left sleeve.

“NO!”

It was Nebro’s scream. I had almost forgotten about him. The situation began to sink in and I realized I wasn’t out of trouble yet.

He appeared from around the entrail pillar with what appeared to be a look of sadness across his face. He stood there for a moment, looking down at the abomination and then back at me. I quickly grabbed the other bullet from my left pocket and began to chamber it into the rifle as fast as I could. As I did this, Nebro reached into his robe and pulled a large dagger from some unseen pocket in his clothing. He then raised the weapon in his right hand.

I cocked the rifle and pointed the barrel at Nebro. He either didn’t notice or didn’t seem to care, because in another second he ran at me. I pulled the trigger and another loud crack echoed throughout the forest.

Nebro fell face first onto the ground and the dagger fell a few feet from his body.

Satisfied with Nebro’s death, I walked over his body and began to walk toward the bonfire. If the dozen or so drummers had weapons and decided to rush me, I would probably end up a dead man. I had no more bullets, so I could try to bluff. It was worth as shot.

When the drummers appeared in my view, they all stared at me from under their hoods for a moment. I gently raised the rifle. They scattered, each one running in different directions into the woods.

With them out of the way, I needed a way to finish this.

There must be something around there that they had used to start the fire. I searched a few minutes near the discarded drums and found a blue kerosene container next to some backpacks and water coolers. More rummaging through the backpacks yielded a box of matches.

I doused the pillar in kerosine at the base and then lit it with one of the matches I found. Flames leapt up around it and many intestinal portions of its bulk began writhing and moving and shifting positions around its mass, moreso then I had seen happen previously.

I did the same with the abomination, then lit it up as well. Then I moved on to Nebro, and his flaming corpse added to the illumination of the area, along with the bonfire and the flaming pillar. The whole area lit up as bright as day in the night sky, with twinkling stars looking down on me from the heavens. It was a surreal sight to behold. It felt like I was witnessing the apocalypse in person.

Both physically and mentally exhausted, I then ambled over to where the vacant drums lay, rifled around the scattered and abandoned items left by the fled drummers, and found a blanket and curled up to sleep next to the flaming pyre.

When I awoke in the morning, the bonfire was little more than smoldering heaps of woodstuff and detritus and the pillar of entrails was a large, unrecognizable lump, like thousands of charcoal bits piled together. I walked over to the abomination and the corpse of Nebro. They were both little more than heaps of ash and bone forming black silhouettes on the ground. I slowly ambled around the area for the next ten minutes until I was satisfied that there was nothing left for me to do but leave that place.

I walked over some of the corpses of the animals as I left. The eviscerated deer and cow bodies were covered in morning dew and their expressionless faces could only hint at the horror they had endured. They seemed to stare at me as I turned my back on the area, making my way to the truck and freedom.

I don’t remember much about the hike back, only that I trekked with the blanket I had slept with draped around myself.

 

***

I never did get a chance to snap a photo on my phone. I have absolutely no proof of what I saw. You don’t have to believe me and I’m not asking you to.

I can’t stomach looking at clumps of trees anymore, especially when they bathe everything in shade. I’m afraid of what they hide.

Raw meat and hamburger make me ill to look at, which is why I don’t prepare food anymore. I only order out nowadays and never go to barbecues even when I’m invited.

I suppose everyone thinks I’ve become a bit eccentric, but after all that, I would think that even you would lose a bit of yourself out there in the woods.

Besides, the urban jungle of the big city has yet to smell of a butcher’s shop.

Yet.

 

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