Briss stood there looking at the spot where the thing, monster whatever it was had just stood and stepped into the shadow. The horrific crunching sound replayed in her head. The image of blood spraying out of the mouth, the foot falling down and the led lighting up. It was like a horrid film that kept replaying in her head over and over again. The blood dripping down on the bitten off leg. The roasted flesh smell penetrating her nose, the incredible speed that massive monster had moved and the grin full of malice it had shown.
Something was tugging at her arm disrupting her thoughts. That foot… it had bounced off that monster. Something kept tugging at her and she looked at what was tugging at her. That woman had just been stuffed into the thing's mouth, her bloodied face had looked full of panic past those giant teeth. Someone said something to her what was that? And then that crunch. The screaming that had stopped suddenly. It had been a different crunch than when Matthew, was that his name? He had been bitten off as a human-sized snickers bar and had made a more wet crunch. That thing had eaten two people and had clearly enjoyed the shock those actions had caused.
There was that tugging sensation again and Briss looked at was tugging her. There were two hands shaking her. They stuck out of a blue parka that had some darker spots on it. The parka looked torn. Strange, she was sure it was new and shouldn’t look like that. Above it, a long face looked at her. The face had a few scuffs on it and the red hair had a couple of pine needles stuck in it. She knew that face. That was Heather, her friend. Heather was saying something. Briss frowned. Why did Heather look as if she had rolled over the forest floor?
Suddenly the world snapped back and Briss snapped out of her stupor.
“Briss! Snap out of it! Come on, react goddammit!”
Heather screamed in Briss’s face whilst shaking her.
“Okay okay, I’m back. What’s going on.”
Heather looked relieved and let go of Briss her shoulders. She eyed Briss with worry on her face.
“Are you’re back? You still look spaced out. You got me worried there.”
“I think I’ve got it under control. That monster is gone. First things first, what’s going on?”
Heather sighed and looked around the clearing where people in shock stood around with blank faces, probably just as hers had looked a moment ago. She could understand the worry Heather must have felt.
“This cursed darkness is still here. But somehow parts of the pyre and what it sets ablaze keeps it way. But when those branches go out the darkness comes closer.”
A look of worry flashed over Heather’s face and looked at the shadow edge to see if it wasn’t getting closer to them. Feeling assured the darkness was still a long way away Heather pointed to a pile covered with tablecloths.
“We put the bodies of the people who died there. We covered them with the cloths so we didn’t have to look at their burned or chewed up remains.”
Briss shuddered as she looked at the pile. The foot was there. She could see the green led lighting up the cloth in one corner. Nobody had turned it off apparently. She then looked around and saw the trees roaring with fire lighting up the area around them. They were in no danger of falling into the darkness soon.
“The wounded we put over there, and we’ve done our best to bandage their wounds and their burns.”
A group of people was sitting and lying together and the occasional groan rose up from the group. Two men were busy removing branches from two thick sticks. They then bent over to a woman who was sitting there cradling her arm. Briss saw how they asked something and the woman nodded. One of the men positioned himself behind the woman and held her tight in an embrace. The other man then took the woman's arm and started counting. At the count of two, the man suddenly jerked at the arm. A scream rose up and tore through the clearing. The hushed murmur that had penetrated the clearing stopped for a moment before it resumed. Then men then quickly started to bandage the arm of the woman with the splints and strips of cloth they have gotten from somewhere.
“Those guys over there have taken the tables apart and are will use the iron legs as clubs if that thing returns, for what good that will do, that thing was massive.”
Briss followed where Heather was pointing and saw a group of ten men standing around looking grim holding metal table legs and chatting with each other. A couple of them kept a constant watchful eye on the shadow edge whilst the others conferred.
Briss noticed nobody was near the shadow's edge but everybody was sort of together in the middle of it eying the shadows warily or just staring blankly ahead. The outermost groups were only 5 meters away from the shadow's edge and Briss saw the fire on a twig fading and the darkness claimed the spot as the embers died off and everything that was visible a moment ago was shrouded in thick darkness.
Briss wondered if that monster was still there, just beyond the shadow's edge, circling the camp ready to grab a new snack at a moments notice. Would it be able to see in this impenetrable darkness? It seemed so as for how readily it had stepped into it.
“We should extend the circle of light so we have a better warning if that thing returns. Right now that monster could step out of the shadow and grab someone in two steps.”
Briss looked at the scattered burning logs and twigs burning around her. She then looked at the tree burning behind her, a blazing beacon that sent sparks flying into the darkness before they vanished from view as if the world just stopped there.
“You said anything lit from the original pyre helps to keep the darkness away right?”
“Well, it seems so.”
Heather sighed and made a non-committal shrug.
“I mean those trees caught fire when that thing rose from the ground sending me flying, and those light the area around it.”
Briss looked at the burning trees. The pine trees were roaring with a powerful inferno sending sparks flying up in the cold sky. The needles of the pine had all but burned away and the thin branches had curled up in the fire burning. Soon that fire would die down though as that tree didn’t have enough fuel to support a long burn.
“We need to gather and break off as many as possible sticks and wood within the light circle and make multiple firepits to keep things alight.”
Briss started gathering twigs and branches that had fallen to the ground in one hand.
“Can you go and ask those guys with the clubs to knock off branches from those pines? The sap should let them burn good enough.”
Heather quickly went over to the group of people who were still standing around on edge. Whilst Briss tugged on a large branch that was half hidden in the shadows. When she looked over her shoulder whilst tugging she saw the men nodding and heading over to the few pines that were within the light circle and they started attacking the trees.
One of them had moved to the tables started to hit the top of what once used to be a table that lied on the ground in order to break it up in smaller parts. The banging sound and the sudden activity drew the attention of other people and word started to spread and more people joined the wood gathering and fire building.
Briss broke the big stick she had dragged in the light and broke it in three parts. She now had three sticks roughly as long as her arm and thick as her wrist. Having gathered up the sticks she headed over to the pile of bodies and dropped the sticks on the ground.
Briss felt the cloth covering the bodies and came to the conclusion that she couldn’t tear it by hand. She tried biting a hole in it to be able to tear it from there but couldn’t get through the thick tablecloth fabric. It was good quality stuff.
Looking around for something that could help she noticed the spot where the cutlery and food and drinks of the table had been dumped. It looked like they had flipped the table with little regard for what was on it before they tore the legs off it. Everything was spread out haphazardly, but some of the food seemed to have survived the fall when the tables were flipped. The food had been in big heating pans with lids. The lids had flown away, but the contents had remained in the pans through sheer luck.
She went over to the food massacre that resembled what had happened in the clearing in miniature. After a short search avoiding mushy food that had spilled on the ground and the lifting of a few greasy pans briss found what she was looking for. She picked up a steak knife from the ground and wiped it against her hose to clear the dirt off. Her eye fell on the square pan that held chicken breasts and the fat they swam in.
She returned to the pile of dead bodies with the pan and the knife and put them down near the sticks. With the knife, she cut three long strips from the tablecloth and put them in the pan. The fat was quickly absorbed by the cloth and she grabbed the dripping thoroughly drenched strips and started wrapping them around the sticks. She picked up some very small sticks and stuck them between each layer of cloth and then tied it all up.
“I hope that this works, or that this fat will even burn”
Briss felt foolish making torches, but they would need something to light the wood piles the others had made and to be able to walk into the dark parts to gather more wood there.
When she was done constructing the torches she wiped her greasy hand on one of the tablecloths that covered the dead bodies. She could smell the blood mixed with the scent of cooked chicken and felt her stomach churn. She fought the feeling down and went over to the group of men with the clubs with the torches in hand.
“Hi guys, could I have a moment?”
One of them turned around to face her. It was John, the robe he wore over his winter coat was torn in several places and he had a few scuff marks on his hands but he seemed unscathed for the rest.
“I made a few torches to help with lighting the wood piles and to explore the area around here for more wood.”
“Thanks Briss. What do you think, is that thing is still around here, that it’s safe to explore around here?”
The darkness around the clearing was being pushed back by the fresh influx of wood to the already burning logs and twigs, but it felt so oppressing. As if the darkness wanted to conquer the light and squish it out. It was simply impossible to see anything through the darkness, a wall of darkness obscured everything.
“I really have no idea. For all I know, that thing could be standing ten centimeters into the darkness.”
Briss pointed to the treeline where the lights were strung up. A couple of the disco lights strung up were visibly illuminated by the burning pine trees. They still flashed in tempo to a piece of music they couldn’t hear. But where the string vanished into the darkness, no light from the disco lights was able to penetrate the darkness and illuminate the area around it.
“It seems only light from the original pyre can beat back this darkness, but any other source of light simply gets swallowed up.”
John nodded and eyed the clearing. He pointed at a dark spot at the other side of where the pyre had been.
“Over there was the DJ booth and the music is on autoplay and we should be hearing music, but no sound comes from the speakers in the darkness. It swallows light and sound, whatever this stuff is.”
He walked over to the shadow's edge and held his improvised club a bit tighter eyed it warily, trying to see or hear anything in the darkness. When he felt confident nothing was coming out to grab him he stuck his club in the darkness and it was as if it simply stopped existing where it touched the shadow. There was no gradual fade going to darkness, it simply stopped existing.
“See, it’s absolute dark, but outside obscuring everything it doesn’t seem to be a physical thing, it just obscures everything in it.”
Pulling the club back out of the darkness John took a few steps back away from the shadow edge and showed the table leg club to Briss.
“See? No residue, no etching, not a mark. I can’t explain what is going on here but it freaks me the hell out. Especially knowing that that thing is still out there and could jump back at any moment and kill someone else.”
“Let’s light this torch and see if we can beat back that darkness with it.”
Briss held up one of the torches to John.
“If that works we might want to check on those first responders you said were there down the path.”
John’s face blanched and he stopped reaching out to the torch Briss had offered him.
“I totally forgot about them! If they are stuck in the darkness it must be terrifying!”
Briss nodded and put the torch back with the others she was holding.
“I gather, or what about the possibility of that thing might pay them a visit?”
“Let me get a few people so we can have a party to check it out. We might have more strength in numbers. You light that torch and see if that works.”
She watched John storming off to gather a couple of people with clubs. She took one of the torches and stuck the rest upright in the ground. Checking the torch if the cloth would hold and not snap free, she approached one of the fires. Holding the cloth of the torch above the flames the torch took a bit to catch flame. But when it started burning it burned with a steady flame but a lot of smoke came from the top of the torch. When Briss waved it around strongly the fire diminished but didn’t stop burning. It was a shame she didn’t know how long the torch would burn for, but hopefully for a long time. The strips of cloth she had used had made for a big clump at the top with the small sticks sticking out at the top.
The torch smoked heavily spreading a smell of burned fat and roast chicken, but that didn’t matter much to her. Briss approached the shadow's edge with the torch and saw how the shadow edge reluctantly gave way to the torchlight. She moved forward until she stood where the shadow’s edge had been. A half circle of roughly four meters stretched before her before cutting off into the darkness abruptly. As she was looking around in the newly illuminated area she noticed a huge footprint in the soil. The monster must have passed there as he was leaving them. It had circled a part of the camp it seemed. She took a couple of steps forward and saw the edge of another huge footprint appear. She took another few steps forward, keeping her ears open to catch the monster returning if that was even possible. She saw another footstep appear and it seemed to lead straight away from the clearing. Relaxing a bit in the knowledge that the monster probably had gone away after circling the clearing she turned around to return to the others.
Her heart jumped in her throat when all she saw was darkness around her. The clearing was gone and everything was darkness around her. She couldn’t even see the tops of the trees in the torchlight. A dome of darkness was around her pressing in on her small light source. It felt as if it was threatening to take the light from her, everything from her and it seemed to push down on the torchlight, diminishing it.
Feeling a panic well up in her she looked around for any trace of the clearing but all she saw were the trees surrounding her. She tried to keep her cool and not to panic but that became harder and harder with every passing moment as she looked for clues where the clearing could be in this darkness.
What if she would never find it again in this forest. What if the monster returned and ate her like those others, nobody would hear or know! She would die alone in the darkness between the teeth of that horrible monster! Or the torch would die off and she would be stuck here to wander the darkness, possibly falling off an edge that would break something and nobody would find her in this darkness! Panic and doom scenarios raced through her head, one more horrible than the other.
Then her eyes fell on the footprint she had walked into whilst looking for the way back and she slapped her forehead. She started laughing hysterically and tears streamed down her face as she doubled over unable to control the laughter.
When the laughing finally died down she wiped the tears from her face with the back of her hand and lifted her torch. The darkness receded a bit above her giving her a bit more breathing room.
Trembling but feeling a bit more confident now she had a direction to Briss followed the footsteps, carefully making sure a footstep was always in a light circle as she moved forward away from where the footsteps led.
After only twenty steps she saw a slit of light appear in front of her and as she took another step forward the light slit broadened showing the clearing. A few quick steps she was back in the clearings light circle and she let out a sigh of relief and fell down on her knees.
She rammed the torch in the ground and then started trembling all over. She couldn’t control it. Her arms, legs, chest everything just trembled. A hand touched her shoulder and she let out a yelp.
“Hey, everything all right?”
John had put his hand on her shoulder and rubbed it gently. He had knelt beside her and was trying to comfort her. Briss relaxed a bit knowing that she wasn’t alone.
“Give me a moment to gather myself. That was not fun.”
Briss felt the trembling die down a bit now she wasn’t alone anymore and had someone to talk to. She looked up and saw that John wasn’t alone but that he had gathered four people with clubs that stood behind him. They looked worried at Briss and she tried to smile back but she felt the smile falter as she thought back at the terrifying feeling of loneliness that had taken over her in the darkness.
“We saw you coming out of the darkness. What happened there?”
Briss shook her head and tried to get up but her legs still trembled too much to get up alone. John stretched out his hand which she gladly accepted and felt him pulling her up effortlessly. He was stronger than he looked she thought.
“I went to see if the torch would work against the shadow. It does. We have a light radius of four meters.”
She said methodically, trying to sort out the thoughts in her head.
“Well, that’s good news.”
Flashes of relief came over the faces of the group. They had probably thought they would have to cross through the darkness to get to the emergency services helpers. That they still had signed on for the search party spoke a lot about their character.
“Then I saw a footprint of that monster just on the edge and simply followed it out of curiosity. It leads away from the clearing, I think the monster has left us behind and has gone somewhere else.”
The group started to murmur among themselves and started to stand up a bit more straight knowing the danger was most likely to be gone. John nodded and Briss bent over and brushed some dirt from her hose.
“But when I felt confident that the monster had moved away from us I turned around and I couldn’t see the clearing anymore.”
“What do you mean you couldn’t see the clearing anymore?”
“Exactly as I had said. I was roughly twenty-five steps away from the clearing and I couldn’t see it anymore. It was pure darkness around me. I didn’t even know which direction the clearing was.”
“How did you find your way back then?”
“I followed the monster’s footsteps back. Without those to follow back I wouldn’t have made it back I’m sure. I was totally lost.”
John looked thoughtful and peered into the darkness.
“We need to make sure that we stick to the path then when we go on the mission then.”
“But what will we do when we get pushed off the path like if that monster shows up anyways? We can’t be sure it didn’t double back to us.”
Someone in the group had asked the question and John’s brows snapped together.
“Good question Oliver. I honestly don’t know. Anyone have an idea?”
“I suppose we don’t have any string?”
Someone from the group suggested. Oliver shook his head and looked at John who also shook his head.
“Not that I know of. I don’t go around carrying balls of yarn at parties.”
“What about the cordon tape we used on the sides of the clearing?”
Someone pointed to where John had pointed where the DJ booth should be.
“We had three rolls left over when we were done marking out the area.”
“That would work. Andrew, can you go with Briss to retrieve them? We’ll feed the fires so they won’t go out when we’re gone and inform the remaining guards.”
The same person who had made the suggestion for the tape nodded and walked over to Briss and held out his hand.
“Hi, I’m Andrew McLaughlin. I’m not certain we’ve met before yet.”
Briss took his hand and shook it. She then bent over and pulled the torch from the ground and faced Andrew. She hadn’t seen him before. Perhaps in passing in the university, but not that she could remember having talked to him.
“No, I don’t think so either. I’m Briss Mortimer Shall we go get the tape?”
Andrew nodded and they made their way to the other side of the clearing. A couple of people approached them asking them if they knew more about what was going on. They had to deny that they knew what was going on. But when Briss mentioned that the monster had apparently left the clearing behind relief appeared on faces and a glimmer of hope started to return in the eyes of the people they spoke to.
They reached the other side of the clearing where the DJ booth should be and stared into the darkness ahead of them. A more energetic murmur was in their back, a stark contrast to the hushed scared murmur that had been there before.
“Are you ready Andrew?”
Andrew swallowed and looked nervously into the darkness whilst gripping his club. Briss eyed him. He looked as if he worked out regularly. He had a lean frame but moved around with the confidence of someone who knows what his body was capable of.
He had a slim face with thin lips, and his lush blonde hair framed the top of his head in a way that Donald Trump would be jealous. He held his club in front of his chest in both hands and looked away from the shadow to Briss. She saw fear but also resolve in his blue eyes.
“No, but let’s go anyways.”
Briss took a few steps forward and the light penetrates the darkness in front of her. Andrew followed at her side and scanned the newly illuminated area for any dangers. He then nodded and Briss moved forward again. The clearing vanished behind them and all they could see was what the torch illuminated. Briss saw Andrew look back and then around and heard him swallow.
“Are you alright Andrew?”
Andrew looked at her pale-faced and lips pressed tightly together but nodded resolutely. Now she wasn’t alone she didn’t feel as scared as before. She made sure to drag her feet over the ground, leaving clear marks she could follow back.
They continued like this until they found power cables lying on the ground. They checked for which direction to follow them and then followed the cables to where the DJ booth should be. It slowly appeared out of the darkness as they approached. First one edge, of the booth and then an entire side. They moved forward to the back end of the DJ booth where the DJ should be.
Something flew at them from underneath the DJ booth as they passed one edge. Andrew moved to hit the thing that flew at them but held back at the last moment as he recognized it.
“Oh thank god! I thought I had gone blind and deaf!”
In front of them stood a very pale and wide-eyed person who was staring intently at the torch as if it was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.
“You’re the DJ right?”
Andrew lowered his club and took on a more relaxed pose, but kept an eye on the shadows.
“Yes, I was just planning in the tunes and doing my usual stuff when the world just faded away. The music was gone and all light too. I couldn’t even see my laptop screen!”
The man clapped in his hands and a grin appeared on his face.
“I tried clapping, but I couldn’t even hear it. No matter how hard I clapped my hands I couldn’t hear it. I tried shouting but I couldn’t even hear my own shouts. I thought I had gone blind and deaf.”
He pointed at the booth behind him.
“First I waited and hoped someone would notice me shouting and they would get me to a hospital. But nobody noticed. So I ripped the cables from my laptop hoping the music quitting would attract attention. But nobody came. So I sat down at my booth and just waited.”
The DJ’s eyes reflected the fear, loneliness, and confusion he must have felt. Briss had felt the shadow pressing around her, trying to attack her flame, but this man had been locked in the shadow but no other sense left than his touch. She shuddered at the thought.
“We have a fully illuminated clearing behind us where people are sort of safe. We’ve had some issues there that will be explained later. We came here to get the cordon lint we left here earlier. We’ll return to the clearing after we retrieved it.”
Andrew moved forward and Briss followed. The DJ nodded and fell into step. They found the cordon lint quickly, picked it up and returned to the clearing with the DJ following in tow. Andrew kept a watchful eye out at the shadows and the DJ carried the boxes with the cordon lint. They made it back without any issues and the DJ was handed over to a group of people who had gathered to watch out for their return.
A couple of cheers rose up as the DJ was proof that the shadow was not filled with deadly monsters and that people outside the light circle were probably safe. That drew more people who came to investigate the source of the mirth.
Briss and Andrew took the lint from the DJ and left the group of people and rejoined John and his party.
“How long will that torch last?”
John asked when they had rejoined the party.
“I have no clue how long a torch will last or how long will last that is made from cloth and cooked animal fat, I’m surprised it held this long.”
“It should last roughly an hour to two hours.”
Briss turned to face Oliver with her eyebrows raised.
“What, I’ve built a couple of torches in the past. None like these mind you. But they should last a while.”
“And you didn’t think to mention it before that you could build torches?”
Oliver looked around sheepishly at the people staring at him. To his rescue came John who put his arm around Oliver.
“We all sometimes forget things. No worries. We’re burning torches here, we should go and start our rescue mission.”
John picked up the two torches that were still stuck in the ground. He took off his leather belt and wrapped it around the torches so they were securely tied and then closed the belt around Briss her waist.
“Briss will go in the middle holding the torch up. We will surround Briss keeping our eyes on the darkness around us and our clubs ready to attack.”
He then took one of the cordon tape rolls from the box and handed it to Oliver.
“You’ll go in the back and make sure that this rolls off properly and secure it at branches along the way.”
John turned and faced the rest of the group.
Grim nods were what he got back from the group and they moved as one to the spot where the path to the emergency services should be.
Cheers rose up from the people gathered in the clearing and they started to walk a bit straighter as the cheering got louder.
“Go get them!”
“You guys are heroes!”
They arrived at the spot where they would enter the darkness and held for a moment so Oliver could tie the cordon lint to a tree. They then cast a look back at the cheering crowd who looked at them with hopeful eyes. Then they reluctantly faced the darkness and marched as one head-on into the shadow that parted for the light of the torch. The darkness closed behind them and they were gone.
Support "When hell freezes over"
I decided to try my hand at writing the story I had rolling around in my head for twenty years. English isn't my native language so some obvious errors might occur in my story but I hope that the readers will be forgiving.
If not, nobody forces you to read my mangled English. I recommend you read the wandering inn instead if my English bothers you. :-)
Attribution: The cave picture in the book cover is made by Stanislav Sedov and is licensed under CC-BY-SA-2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/ This picture was modified from the original with an overlaid moon and sea picture to be found at https://www.flickr.com/photos/ssedov/26342569905 The photographer has no affiliation to Tschallacka nor can be held accountable for the use of this picture the way as it is here.