(Protagonist: You are Rick)
You'd heard it loud and clear, the screams. What was more, you could recognize the owner of the voice. Everything about it was filled with desperation and panic. It made you wish you were carrying your gun again, and as you looked in the direction the voice was coming from, for the faintest moment, you saw movement, something the size of a person going up.
And then an abrupt silence that chilled you to the bone.
You couldn't look away, you didn't dare, every inch of focus was on that area where you'd seen a hint of movement. But nothing happened. There was only silence. Only ever silence.
And it stretched on for so long that when you heard the sound of your own breathing you realized everyone had shut up. With a glance over your shoulder, you could tell everyone else had heard it, and just like you, everyone else was wide-eyed and unable to look away.
You knew what this meant, that panic was starting to settle in on the people there or soon would do so.
You couldn’t let the feeling settle in. "You!" Instantly you raised your voice, pointing at the largest male non-adult you could find. The man stiffened, it took you a moment to realize that, despite his clothes being tattered, he wasn't hurt.
"Help Ms Smith determine the state of those who're hurt, and carry anyone who's injured into the bus." Your finger then pointed at several other young men. "You, you, you, and you, help him." Quickly you then pointed at some of those that had seemed most lost or paralyzed. "All of you, start gathering the supplies, look for bags and backpacks, look for food and water." Then you pointed at the teachers. "You three, help me move the bodies away from the bus."
You gave orders and very abruptly the panic turned into a stumbling bumbling action. Just like that, the disaster from panicking was prevented. That didn't mean the doubts and fears were gone.
"What the hell was that?" One of the teachers spoke with a hushed voice as both of you began to gingerly move the corpse away. You could tell he wasn't happy about doing this and was struggling not to puke or cry, or both.
"I don't know," you replied. "But it was in the trees, I saw the movement for just a moment before..."
"Where the fuck are we?" The man was trembling as he spoke. "We shouldn't be too far away from civilization, what shit is going on?"
"I don't... I don't know," you muttered darkly. "I don't know either. All I'm sure of is that we can't panic."
"Johnathan." Ms Smith had approached you the moment you'd carefully dropped the body away from the bus. "We should cover them..." Her eyes were pained as she looked at the young girl's closed eyes. "It's the least we should do."
"What I'm more worried about is who's going to tell May the one who'd been screaming had been her elder brother," you stated with a chill in your voice that made Ms Smith pale. "But no, what's actually important is that we need to get out of here."
"Are you cra-!" The man quickly shut up when he realized he was raising his voice. All the other adults realized something was going down and approached. "Are you crazy?" He said in a lower tone.
"Do you have a better idea?" You replied. "We have limited food and water, and if you haven't noticed, there's no signal and not even a road nearby."
"We just fell slightly farther away from the road," he replied. "Look, if we bunker down and use the bus for cover, whatever..." A pause and a shudder. "Whatever it is that is out there won't be able to reach us." There was a certain tension in his shoulders as he spoke. "Help will come I'm sure, someone should have realized we're gone by now."
You glanced at Ms Smith and then the other adults, teachers and parents alike.
"I just want to keep Daniel safe," one of the parents said in a low voice. "I think we should stay and hold out."
Jaw tightening, you realized that it was the very same fear that was driving you to push to leave that was pushing them to stay put. Frustration blossomed within you as you took a moment to consider your next words.
"There are no roads nearby, we have no cell reception, we have limited supplies, and one of the kids just died because something out there killed him." You muttered the words darkly. "If someone does come for us, whatever that thing was will find us sooner. And that's ignoring the fact that we can't be found because there are no roads nearby and no traces that could lead us to one."
The man took a step back at that, and you pushed further.
"We don't have the medicine to do much more than disinfect a wound, and I doubt our food will hold out for more than a day." A low growl escaped your throat. "And that's without considering that this whole area is covered with blood, I'd rather not find out if there are bears or wolves nearby because the scent is sure to attract them."
The man gritted his teeth but said nothing, so you put on the finishing touches. "Regardless of all that, I think we can all agree that the further away we are from whatever that thing is, the better."
"I agree with him," Ms Smith spoke out before an uncomfortable silence set in. "Though I also think we shouldn't set out right now, there are some who're still wounded, and I'm not sure how long it'll take to get to somewhere safe, but I'd rather not spend the night away from the bus."
You regarded the female teacher and considered her words as you glanced towards the bus where most students were. You could tell they were talking with one another in hushed tones while shooting anxious glances all around.
"We stay the night, it'll probably start getting dark soon," you agreed with her. "That said, we should have everything ready to leave at first light tomorrow. That, and we have to see how we can reinforce the bus for the night."
They glanced at one another with a certain degree of uncertainty. "I'll think of something," you muttered, leading the way back towards the bus.
You noticed the teenagers become quiet and watch you intently, but one of them looked at you in a slightly less confused and expectant way.
Ignoring the feeling, you sought May, finding the girl curled up in a ball next to some of the more heavily injured people inside the toppled bus. "We're going to be leaving tomorrow," you declared. "Get everything ready, we will need to find a road or town or something, or at least get some coverage so we can call for help."
"Do you really think it's possible?" The redhead asked with an almost absolute aloofness to him. "It seems to me we're not in Kansas anymore, Mr Toto."
"Once you've got things ready to move in the morning, we're going to see what we can do to reinforce the bus," you declared, ignoring the redhead in favour of talking to everyone else. "We're going to want to tear out the seats and use them to block the windows and door. We don't have much time so start on that."
The young man noted your attitude and merely scoffed, leaning his back against the bus as he kept listening to music. You weren't too sure, but you really hoped he wasn't the sort that would cause problems at the worst of times. "We're also going to set up a watch, groups of two or three." This time your words caused a stir amongst those present. "Never far from the bus, and always within the visual range of at least one other group. Any volunteers?"
Silence fell on the group. Everyone was looking at each other as if waiting for the first one to raise their hand. Much to your surprise, the redhead was the first to do so. "I'm in," he said, and at his words, the muscular young man from earlier followed.
After this four more volunteered for the position, all the adult males except one (and yourself). It was then that you noticed many eyes on you. "I proposed this, of course, I'll be in the watch," you stated cooly before anyone could raise objections. Still, you would've rather had at least six more volunteers- as it was you were rather short-staffed. You could make it so there would only be one look-out group of three per shift for the two shifts, but it felt riskier.
"We're short on people," you stated with a slight frown, turning towards the students and ignoring the only adult male who hadn't volunteered for the time being. "We need six more at least."
The pressure of your gaze made the students freeze slightly as they looked at each other. It took them a bit to gather the courage for it, but eventually five guys and one of the older girls volunteered as well. "Good, now let's get to work."
With that, everyone was divided into two groups: the wounded and those who were treating them, and everyone else.
As you worked to detach the seats so as to try and use them to reinforce the windows, you couldn't stop yourself from glancing towards those who were injured. Though there were dozens of people with minor wounds such as shallow cuts and scratches, the ones you were looking at were worse off- a handful of broken bones, and one of them couldn't stop softly wailing while clutching his abdomen.
For four of them, you had doubts whether they'd make it through the night. Much to Alice's chagrin, there wasn't anything you could use to help them. One of the students had quietly commented that the one clutching his stomach likely had an internal haemorrhage since his abdomen was rock-solid.
But he didn't know how it could be cured, and without professional help, within the next hours, he had little doubt his fellow student was going to die.
The other three were in varying degrees of paleness and inertness. One had a tourniquet on his arm since everything below the elbow had been crushed to a bleeding pulp. Two of them had very deep gashes that had been bleeding until not that long ago. Not wanting to keep thinking about negative things, your attention shifted towards the young May and... Your mood took a hit for the worse. The student was hugging her knees, eyes bloodshot, quietly looking towards nothing at all even while everyone else around her kept doing things.
You quietly pointed Alice towards the young student, and the teacher went to attempt to help the poor girl with... poor results. Well, not bad, but not good either. Though May conceded Ms Smith's presence, she didn’t really react to her words of encouragement. Not being one that was well-versed in these kinds of things, you opted to focus on work.
Things soon start to settle down once the forest starts to darken. The tension starts to rise but no one speaks it. Those who aren't on guard duty head into the bus, and those who'd agreed to take the second shift to stay near the bus' entrance for greater ease of movement without disturbing the others.
"We'd probably be better off if we had a fire." The strong-man student muttered under his breath as you glanced at the other four. The red-head was there too you noted. "Groups of two, right?" He asked with a neutral expression.
"Groups of three, only two groups. Let's avoid looking for firewood." You declared as you began to remove your bloodied clothes to change them for new ones. "We stick to the bus and whatever weapons we can find we use, I think our only option is to take the walking sticks." At the sight of you removing the bloodied clothes, most of those present were looking at you strangely.
"The corpses and the blood will attract predators sooner or later." You declared. "I'd wash my hands too, but we don't have water to spare."
With that three others quickly moved to do as you had and took of the blood-stained clothes to switch to the spare they had brought over for the trip. The two students that had caught your eye had paired with one of the adults and moved to stand near the front of the bus while you and the other two adults took to the rear. You'd made sure to keep one another within visual range.
A listless quiet settled in and everyone merely stood to watch in silence, ears perked at every noise the woods made... and there were a lot of sounds. Branches often creaked with the wind, and sometimes even snapped. There were the sound of howls so far off in the distance you'd almost convinced yourself you'd imagined them, and every now and then some random irrecognizable sound could be heard.
It wasn't until nearing midnight that one of the teachers that was with you had abruptly stiffened, one hand clutching your shoulder as his eyes widened like dinner plates.
Immediately alert, you followed his gaze, it was looking towards where the corpses had been piled but not directly at them. But rather above. Following the tree trunk of the tree nearest to the corpses, barely illuminated by what little moonlight made its way through the branches, you saw something that your eyes refused to believe was real.
It was a woman, no, a monster, a bat? It was a bizarre mix, one you'd only seen in stories. The creature was paying you little attention, instead focused on the corpses as she was very slowly crawling down the trunk as if she were a spider or a lizard. Sit still and wait and see if it'll go away
Making a shushing motion towards the other teacher, you step ahead but only slightly. The others haven't noticed the monster but realize you're looking in its direction.
Shock and panic, they become tense. With a gulp, you decide to see if you could draw the strange woman's attention. So with a deep breath, you let out a hum, short... and immediately almost choke with a cough. That certainly drew the creature's attention.
Her bat-like ear twitched and she turned her head in your direction, but in regards to reactions, she appeared to have none, instead refocusing on the corpses a moment later. There's only a moment of hesitation before she drops from the tree, something that seems easy for her, but for you seeing the dozen meter drop startles you into taking a step back... even when she was still well over twenty meters away.
The monster completely ignores you after that point as she grabs the nearest corpse and bites its neck and starts sucking, the wet sound barely audible from where you stood.
You hear gasps behind you from the other teachers, and a quick confirmation tells you the other group is in a similar state of shock.
A wave of courage and curiosity you didn't know you had surged through you as you gesture at one of the teachers. "Stay behind me, keep the stick at hand." You warn him.
The look he gives you is of absolute incredulity. But you're certain of your intent and take the first steps, letting out a half-uncertain hum. The monster's eyes are upon you the very instant you move, but she otherwise doesn't react, remaining with her mouth on the dead human's neck and sucking at the blood.
Patiently you keep approaching, one step at a time, never stopping with your hum, and trying very hard not to look threatening. What was it that you planned to do? You weren't too sure once you got to 'get closer'. Bit by bit you move, and all the while she just keeps watching and licking, the sound becoming louder as you got closer. You noticed she had used her fangs to tear deep gashes on the corpse's neck to be able to better drain the blood. Though there was clearly some complications since the corpse had died quite some hours ago and the blood had started to congeal.
You came to a halt about ten feet away, waiting for some sort of reaction that wasn't coming. Now that you were closer you'd begun to notice there was more to the monster's appearance than the bat-like traits... perhaps you'd pay more attention to the lack of clothing if not because she had the whole of her mouth and neck drenched in the blood of the young girl's corpse. The hum died in your throat while watching her eat and as she watched you from beside the corpse. You can practically hear the hyperventilating teacher behind you.
You were too nervous when you decided to start humming again, which degraded to another cough, to which the monster-woman's ears perked as she looked at you, but only for a moment before returning to her... meal. The nauseating feeling in your stomach appeared to be far lesser than that of the teacher behind you, you could almost hear him dry-heaving. A thought occurs to you to see if you've got any sweets to offer... but a quick check confirms your bad smoking habit was what you'd find in your pockets rather than a sweet snack. Maybe you'd ask someone to give you a granola bar to carry around or something, you'd never been much for snacks anyways.
Regardless, you remained still where you were, watching as she watched back, neither making a move all the while she continued eating. The minutes stretched for long. Apparently, she sated her hunger, because at some point she'd stopped eating and began to very slowly crawl back and away from the corpse, brown eyes never leaving yours as she was making sure to keep her movements measured and cautious.
"Hello?" You mutter to her, and she stops as you do so. Paused on her movements as much as you were stopped in wonderment at the situation, a fleeting thought crossed your mind. A crazy thought that frankly, you weren't too sure you should follow. But that you do.
A heavy gulp followed as you brought out the small swiss knife and pulled out the blade. A wince followed as you nicked your palm deeply enough for blood to flow. The teacher behind you was gaping with incredulity. You don't blame him. "Here, fresh is better, no?"
What were you doing?
It was the thought in your head, why weren't you attacking or screaming or running from this half-human-half-monster abomination? You honestly couldn't really answer.
And then she sniffed the air and her eyes lit up with sparked curiosity. Carefully she took a tentative step towards you, and upon seeing that you didn't react, she took another. Until she was so close you held your breath in anticipation. Now that she was this close, you realized she was rather short, perhaps no more than meter and a half in height.
It was somehow cute. Leaning forward, she stretched out her tongue towards your hand, and you felt slight surprise at noticing just how long it was. After the first taste, her hands grasped your wounded one and all too suddenly she was licking it with enthusiasm, cleaning your palm and fingers and coating them in her saliva. "Zuuuu..." She mumbled as she did this. A flush covered her face as she panted after a minute or so of this, her eyes raising to look up at you once more.
Until one of her ears twitched, and suddenly she turned her head away to peer towards the dark forest. Quickly she stepped away from you and spread her wings.
She gave you one long look before, against all sense of logic, she took to the air, vanishing into the darkness of the trees. You're left with your hand tingling slightly and a sense of disbelief and awe at what had just taken place.
"Rick." The other teacher drew your attention, you realized he was looking at the treeline. "I think I saw something move."
Looking in the same direction, you had to squint, though you didn't see anything. Had the darkness tricked the other teacher?
"Slowly back away." You declared, holding on to the stick and frowning towards the darkness but completely unsure what to expect or even what you were trying to look for. No sooner had you raised the stick in preparation you heard a rumbling growl from the darkness.
The other teacher broke into a full run but you held your position while backing more slowly, ensuring the corpses were between you and whatever was making that noise. The growling was getting closer, you felt your nerves becoming frayed as voices were furiously whispering behind you, that of the other sentries becoming agitated and probably preparing for either a fight or a hasty retreat into the bus.
Most likely the second.
Then you saw her, yes, HER, even with the deep glare and rising growl, even with the strange traits you could spot throughout her body, there was not a shadow of a doubt about the femininity of the creature that stepped into the ray of moonlight and came into view.
There was something in your brain that was screaming at you about how dangerous this creature was, that despite her looks she could kill you with just a swipe of her claws. And the point was clearly proven as she slashed at the nearest corpse. You almost puked as all the clothes and the gut had been ripped in the single slash, bits of ribs poking out into the night air as the stench of blood and gore became many times worse.
The female monster looked at the body and then at you. You began to prepare for your next step backwards when she let out a long hiss that froze you on the spot. Emerald glare not leaving you, she used her paw-hand to rip out an arm from the corpse as if it were the easiest thing ever. And began to eat it.
For the longest second, you considered running or to keep backing away, but you weren't sure if that was a good option either. If there was one thing you were sure of, it was that you didn't stand a chance against her. Running wouldn't do you any good and you'd die if you tried to threaten her. What was the only thing you could do besides remaining on the spot completely frozen? After a moment of consideration, you sat on the floor.
The initial hiss she threw your way when you began to move was cut off once it was clear you were sitting down. The woman blinked mid-bite, tilted her head, and a grin appeared on her lips as she quickly cleaned the flesh from the forearm and then the remainder of the arm. The nausea was real, and you had trouble fighting it, but managed.
The woman took another couple bites out of the remainder of the corpse before she sat down and began to lick her bloodied paw-hands clean, eyes flashing in your direction every so often.
Looking at her, your eyes wandered to the ears, the fur, and then the tail, and for the longest moment, you couldn't stop yourself from remembering little Loki back at home. The little brown cat was part-demon, but it wouldn't be home without it.
Waiting for her to look your way, and then you... tilted your head. She did the same, imitating the gesture, and switching to the other side as you did so. You couldn't stop yourself from smiling slightly, the woman returning the expression just as readily as she, on all fours, began to approach. Her tail was lashing in the air as the smile spread further, you could only swallow.
A purring sound escaped her as she got closer, she stood up.
Fuck, she was taller than you by maybe a dozen centimetres or so, not to mention she was clearly fit, built for combat, you could only gulp once more as you did your best not to show your nervousness too obviously.
"Purrrrr." She muttered, her clawed hand reaching out to swat at your shirt, the look in her face smug but curious and interested.
What you hadn't expected was that that gesture was enough to rip the shirt and leave shallow cuts on your skin underneath. You flinched but stood your ground as she began to walk around you, purring, sniffing you, her eyes shining keenly, the smell of raw meat and blood reaching your nostrils sharply.
She had her attention upon you, and you weren't all too sure what that meant.