Ten minutes ago, Tom took a left off of the R445 dual carriageway, and found himself on an unknown back road that sloped down sharply at first but gradually levelled out after about a kilometre. There was a stark contrast between the two roads, and as paranoid as he knew it was, there was something oddly discomforting about travelling for nearly 100 miles on roads brightly lit by orange street lights, only to suddenly travel down one where the only lights provided were from the driver’s headlights and the cat’s eyes that were dotted along the middle of the road.
The car radio had finally lost signal, leaving Tom with the monotonous friction of the car tires on the unkept gravel the soundtrack for the rest of his journey. Keeping his eye on the road, he stretched out his left arm and began feeling around for the directions he had printed off from Google Maps, while steadily maintaining his right hand on the steering wheel. When his hand planted down on something slimy, he decided to pull over to have a more thorough look.
Tom brought his car to a slow stop. The headlights switched off and his soundtrack came to a halt, leaving him in eerie solitude in the dark, quiet countryside. The shadowy displays of the many thick, lush trees that shielded both sides of the road all disappeared out of sight from the windshield. He flicked on the compartment light just above him, making him feel secure again. He realised the oxymoron in that; feeling more secure from doing something that makes you easier to spot out alone in the middle of nowhere. He saw his sheet of directions buried under the many empty Red Bull cans and empty sandwich packets that littered the floor of his car, and picked them up. Just as he was studying the directions for the second time that night, his phone began to ring. It was his boss Mark.
“Hey, what’s up?”
“Tom. Hello, Tom?”
“Jesus fucking Christ, Tom, I’ve been trying to get through to you for the past fifteen minutes, where are you?”
“Signal’s gone man, I’m in the middle of nowhere. Whaddaya want anyway?”
“I’m just checking in to see if you are safe. You had me worried there Tom. I thought you had been found out, or worse, bailed on me.”
“Bailed on you? Whaddaya fuckin’ take me for? Oh, here’s an interestin’ question for ya, whadda you have to be worried about exactly? I’mma one here stickin’ my neck out, not you. Please, enlighten me to the exact risks that you’re taking here? Besides, it’s only a water spring. Quit actin’ like it’s fuckin’ Area 51 or some shit.”
“Fuck you. You speak to me in that manner one more time, I am cutting you down to 10%. Are we loud and clear on that?”
Mark had never threatened Tom before. It wasn’t that it was an empty threat though. Mark nearly always came well on his promises, Tom had just never heard him issue a bad one before. He just couldn’t take him seriously because he was such a square.
The first time that Tom had met him, he was sitting in his office and was wearing a chequered red and white shirt that was two sizes too big for him, along with this really short, horrific fluorescent green tie. Covering his face were wide, thick glasses that enlarged his beady little eyes to three times their size. He had badly receding hair that was greasily slicked back, with little curls that flicked up uncontrollably in different places.
However, the one thing that Tom will never forget from that moment was when he laid his eyes on the framed poster of Magnum P.I. just above his desk. That, and the very first thing he had ever said to him. I’m an Aquarius, before pointing to another framed poster of star constellations on the far wall. After that encounter, Mark earned the behind-his-back nickname of “Asquarius”, something which Tom was certain he was still unaware of. Tom imagined him to be the very last person that he’d be doing something this illegal with.
“Alright, alright, I’m sorry man, I’m jus’ a little on edge ‘bout this whole thing. Don’t worry ‘bout me though, you know you can coun’ on me. At the momen’ I’m just parked up on the side of the road, ‘bout maybe… five minutes from the spring. I think there’s… three right turns comin’ up… yeah, three. I’m just tryna find out which one it is.”
“Okay. I printed out directions a few days ago as well, now that I think of it. I don’t know where they are at the moment, but I’ll look them up on my phone anyway. As far as I can remember though, it was the first right.”
“Yeah man the firs’ one that sounds jus’ about right.” Tom flicked over the page. “Yeah, firs’ one.”
“Okay, you’re doing great so far Tom. I knew that I could rely on you. Remember, all you have to do is get in there, take a video, a few pictures, find whatever you can, and then just get out of there.”
“I wish it were that easy, but thanks anyway. Tell me ‘swell, why am I not ‘llowed to use a proper camera?”
“The video has to look amateur. Use your phone only Tom, nothing professional. Just capture the footage for me, bring me your phone, and then I will do the rest.”
“Okay, okay thanks. Seeya.”
“Wait, Tom, one more thing, if I may.” When you didn’t want to hear it, Tom’s voice seemed more intimidating than annoying, with Tom expecting the latter. “Do not fuck this up for me.” The hang-up click was the most supportive thing Tom had heard all night.
“Alright, seeya. Fuckin’ asshole,” he uttered, not before checking the phone to make sure he was gone.
Tom slid his phone back into the pocket of his trousers, stretching the denim as wide as it would go with his thumb and index finger. He turned around to walk back to his car having mindlessly wandered a few feet forward while on the phone to Mark. He fixed his gaze on the compartment light still emanating brightly from his car, each step shifting his vision of the light up and down in the vast pitch black surroundings, almost like he was approaching the light at the end of the tunnel. Another oxymoron, Tom thought to himself. The hardest part of his unwanted assignment still lingered ahead of him.
Tom re-entered the car, leaving the light above him on. From the cup holder, he picked up the sample bottle of water he brought with him and drank the last gulp of it, leaving only a dribble in the bottle. He watched that same dribble slide down the inside edge and break into smaller drops when it hit the bottom. He sloshed the water around in his mouth for a few seconds before swallowing it, shuddering at the overwhelmingly dull taste it left in his mouth. Like death itself is descending my throat, he thought to himself, like water with the same taste but one that doesn’t refresh. Like it was spiced with the driest clay from an old cemetery. Having it sit in the warm car with the lid open hasn’t done it many favours.
“Ballintully Sport,” Tom read the label quietly to himself. It was such an unbelievably generic name for bottled water, but what else was to be expected from a supermarket brand. Tom always had this stuff in his press back home, and many of his colleagues had brought this same water to work with them everyday. It was an odd morning though when nearly everyone there, including himself, had all noticed and then complained about, at nearly the exact same time, just how badly the bottled water had suddenly tasted. “Bottled at source at the Ballintully Springs,” he continued whispering.
Tom pinched the cold, jagged metal of his car key, using it to drag his whole set across the dashboard. The keyrings made a strange warping sound when they slid down the curved edge, then briefly jingled while they were dangling mid-air before eventually steadying. Just as he was about to flick the compartment light off again and set out on the rest of his journey, a loud rustling from the bushes caught him off guard and locked every muscle in his body. The horrid taste of the spoiled water returned.
Tom kept the switch locked between his thumb and index finger, and turned his head so slowly he could feel the muscles in his neck loosen again. As he was lifting his hand back down from the light, the mysterious rustling returned, only this time it was louder and longer. The source of the sound shuffled around and changed in volume, like whatever it was was thrashing around in a struggle. Tom jammed the key into the ignition when the sound got closer for the third time, and turned the key when it eventually quietened down again.
Tom’s roaring engine breathed life into the vastly quiet countryside around him, and almost as quickly as his engine had filled that void, a thin, high-pitch screeching burst from out of the bushes, so loud that it punctured the sound barrier of his car, forcing Tom to quickly grasp both of his ears from the pain and fright. Tom shrieked from the pain, fixing his eyes on the shaking empty Red Bull cans which he could feel clattering around at his feet.
Realising that the unexpected screech had sent Tom into an immobile reflex stance, he shot back into action, twisted the key planted in the ignition and smacked both hands down on the steering wheel. He clasped desperately for the gearstick, and slammed his foot down hard on the accelerator. When his beaming headlights lit up the country road that accelerated towards him soon after, and the intolerable wailing quickly dissolved into silence, relief washed through Tom’s quivering body like cobwebs hosed from between the gaps of a steel gate.
Tom reconnected with his surroundings after a few seconds, having succumbed to the surrealism of what he had been through. He only realised then just how dangerously fast he was actually travelling. He lowered his speed and tried to steady his focus, something he found difficult with his heart pounding into his ribcage and his ears ringing themselves numb. He continued down the road, his thoughts so occupied with what he had just heard that he nearly missed the first right for the springs. He hit the brakes suddenly, bringing the car to a burning, screeching stop.
He turned right and continued down this road for a few minutes, his speed varying by how deep he had drifted off into his own thoughts. After a while, he came to an entrance; it was a gap in the hedges, which consisted of a small, trapezoidal patch of large grey pebbles that separated a small, wooden fence away from the road. He drove onto the pebbles, his rubber tyres popping and crackling them noisily under the weight of the car.
Tom turned on the headlights to get a better view of the field behind the fence. Why didn’t I bring a torch? he thought to himself. Initially, the field looked very basic, just like a regular acre of grass for raising cattle. This can’t be it, he thought to himself, where’s the valley? Tom approached the fence with caution. His headlights reflected a small plastic sign that was attached to the fence with black cable ties. “THIS PREMISES IS PROTECTED BY KENNEDY SECURITY,” it read. When Tom reached the fence, he spotted a small valley that sloped down about a couple of hundred metres to his far left. Ballintully Springs. He was now certain that he had found them.
Tom pulled his phone out from his pocket and rang Mark.
“Hello Tom,” Mark answered after two rings.
“Hey, I found it.”
“Good. Now, remember our arrangement. You get in there, pictures and video, then you find whatever you can and you get out. And please, try to be as quick as you possibly can. However, having said that,” Tom noted a threatening change in his tone, “you are not to come back to me empty-handed. If you do, you are done. Not just with this assignment, but with this company too. It’s as simple as that.”
“Are ya serious? You’re puttin’ way too much pressure on me here, man.”
Mark paused for a second, then let out an impatient sigh. “Alright, Tom, you listen to me, and you listen to me closely. I am really, really fucking serious about this,” Mark hissed, “and I’m starting to think that you can’t quite understand just how serious I am.” Mark was beginning to really frighten him. The sudden venom in his tone had completely whitewashed Tom’s preconceptions about him.
“Alright, alright please, just calm down, man.”
"You do not tell me what to do he-"
“I wasn’t tellin’ I was jus-"
“You do not tell me what to do,” he repeated, roaring into the crackling phone, “and you definitely do not fucking interrupt me when I am fucking talking to you. You’d be doing very well to know where you stand with me, you ambitionless, dead-end, slacking imbecile. I will spell this out for you just one more time, and you better make goddamn sure that you let me drill this right into that thick fucking skull of yours.
“I am the one who is giving the orders here. I am the one who tells you what to do. You do not tell me what to do. In fact, you don’t even tell anybody in my company what to do. It’s me to you. You stumble in late to work, you look like something a rat dragged out of the ditch, and you half your day away twiddling your thumbs, contributing nothing but speculative drivel to this paper.
“If this was any other way, I still wouldn’t be the slacker who is way out on some lonely back road carrying out every order that is barked at them on the phone. If we had switched roles, it wouldn’t even be three minutes before I would be all over you like a white rook on a black pawn. You know what, Tom? I will gladly sit here and listen to whatever reasons you can come up with to try and whisker yourself out of this one. Go on. Please. Entertain me here.”
If Tom was not convinced that Mark could hear him shaking over the phone, he would have thought he was as silent as this night was cold.
A long, wordless few seconds passed before Mark spoke again. “That’s what I thought. You do not tell me what to do here, Tom. You are the one who works for me. It isn’t the other way round, and it never will be.”
Tom remained speechless. He could almost feel Mark’s heavy, wet breathing coming through the speakers and sprinkling his right ear. He brought his phone down parallel to his chest and held it tightly in his hand, feeling a dizzying mix of blind rage and confusion. Slowly, he lifted the phone back up closely to his ear.
“What is your obsession with this?” he asked softly, trying his best to compose himself.
“Don’t you get it at all, Tom?” he replied, sounding more condescending than angry this time. “The foul-tasting water and how all those people are getting sick from it. The weeks and weeks and eventually months of investigations only for them to come up with nothing, not even a trace. All that hard work that has been put in only for them to find no detrimental cause. People out there have been doing all this hard work, but they’ve been doing it all wrong.”
“You do know I’m talking about the Ballintully scandal, right?” he asked mockingly. “You know, the case you’re currently working on?”
“Of course,” Tom replied, progressively finding it harder to suppress his temper.
“Hey, what do you know, you actually got something right.” Mark paused for a moment after he said that. Tom remained silent.
“Think about it, Tom. All those investigations that were conducted at the filtering plant, all for nothing. The answer has been floating around in front of everyone this whole time, but they have all been too busy with wondering ‘why not’ instead of reaching out, grasping it, and finding out ‘what is’.”
“Mark, I mean no disrespect to ya here, but ya just tellin’ me stuff I already know. I wanna know what the deal is with you.”
“Tom, why is it that when this began, the immediate assumption was that the company is at fault. What about the actual source of their water? Why has nobody thought that maybe, just maybe, the source of the water, the Ballintully springs, are what the problem is? It’s fascinating the extent to which people have just conveniently ignored it.”
“I say convenient because it plays right into our hands, but I’m not going to risk us letting this go unnoticed any longer. Eventually, we are going to be beaten to it. We have the opportunity here to grasp onto something that will make us big. We’re going to break this scandal right open, Tom, and the public will be in disbelief at how blind they’ve been. Think about it, Tom. It’ll be hailed as a landmark moment in journalism history. And the two of us will be at the centre of it all.”
“Over some scandal at a mineral water company?”
“I know that it doesn’t sound like a big deal, and to be quite honest, it really shouldn’t be, but the media, the public, the mystery surrounding it and the failure to find any concrete evidence to support just what is going on, all of that together has blown this story way out of the proportions it should have never been in in the first place. When we reveal that the answer was so simple all along, and that nobody up until us had even thought to look a little more closely at all the details, it’ll be talked about for weeks, months on end.
“People will remember this story for years to come, but most importantly, they’ll remember us. The ones who revealed it overnight and the ones who brought a common sense approach to an overcomplicated incident. The ones who actually decided to try to get the full story instead of all the rest who just went along with milking a cash cow dry. We have a chance to make that history, to make big names of ourselves. You should not deny yourself of that, Tom, and I will be hung out and left to dry before I let you even try to deny me that as well.”
“I’m beginnin’ to understand,” Tom lied. “I’m sorry, Mark, I shoulda known better. Although, man, there’s somethin’ I gotta tell ya ‘bout.”
“What is it, Tom?”
“Jus’ a few minutes ago there, somethin’ real messed up happened. Jus’ as I was ‘bout to drive off after our las’ call, I heard this real loud rustlin’ comin’ from the bushes. Then when I was ‘bout to drive ‘way, there was this real loud screechin’. It shook the whole car man, everythin’ on the ground just started shakin’. It messed with me big time, man, I was pretty shook up ‘bout it.”
“Are you sure that it wasn’t just a badger or something? Often when something happens out of the blue to someone, their mind risks exaggerating the events.”
“I’m tellin’ ya Mark, the whole car just started shakin’. How can that be jus’ a badger?”
“I don’t know, Tom, this really isn’t any of my concern, and it shouldn’t be any of yours either. You are wasting valuable time here worrying about these little things and you’re wasting mine as well. I need you to focus for me here Tom, and I need you to make sure that there’s a sensible head screwed on tight between those two shoulders of yours. Can you do that for me?”
“Ya know I can, am jus’ worried s’all.”
“Okay, good. Is there anything else, or can I go now?”
“Jus’ one more thing.”
“Try to make it snappy.”
“All ‘em things you said ‘bout me there, if you really believe ‘em, then why you got me doin’ this for you? Why you trustin’ me to do this for you if you think I’m jus’ some pathetic slacker?”
Mark remained silent for a brief moment. “Tom, you’re a really clever young man, and I can see that in you where as many others can’t. I rejected many wonderful, hard-working journalists the opportunity to work for me because I chose you. And I chose you because I have realised your potential. I have put faith in you at times when other managers have called you hopeless. They said that I was making a mistake putting any faith in you. Please Tom, prove to them that all that faith I put in you was justified.
“I’m not going to beat around the bush here, though. You lack motivation, you lack ambition, and to be blunt, you are really fucking lazy. You lack confidence, and you lack willpower. But, Tom, I have seen what you are capable of. I clearly remember when you showed me your dissertation during your induction, and I clearly remember you showing me all the research that you put into it. I realised then that you have something really special, that you have mountains of potential, potential to be a groundbreaking journalist.
“But most of all, why you are there tonight, out on the field working for me? You are discreet, and you know when and when not to show your hand, and for an assignment that is this confidential, you are the only one that I can trust.”
Tom’s mouth was hanging open when he was greeted with the hang-up tone for the second time that night, and remained open when he mindlessly listened to it for nearly two minutes. Mark’s words repeated in his head, and he stood still for a few seconds trying to piece together what he was saying.
Despite all the praise Mark heaped on him towards the end of the call, Tom still hung onto his outburst, finding himself beginning to distrust him. No matter how much he tried to be on the same page as Mark, he just could not see the logic behind his thinking. Why do I have to trespass on a property for some evidence? Why not just open up an inquiry, or release this information to the public? Surely that way he can still get the recognition he so desperately craves? In Tom’s head, none of it simply clicked into place.
Tom climbed the wooden fence, wary not to get any of the rips in his jeans caught in the wires. He remembered at the beginning of the night he had Mark pinned as this quivering, spineless no-neck who he thought he could have no problem coercing. In just less than an hour, the roles had reversed entirely. “Like something a rat dragged out of the ditch,” the words stingingly replayed in Tom’s mind when his feet hit the grass.
The dew seeped through Tom’s shoes and socks, and his feet became damper and damper with each passing step across the field. After nearly three minutes of walking, his steps began coming down harder and faster, meaning he was beginning his descent down the hill. He stopped for a moment to observe his surroundings. He looked at the ripples in the barely-visible pond reflecting the cloudy night sky. He took his phone back out of his pocket one more time, opened the camera, and activated the flash for a clear view.
The flash lit up his entire side of the slope, so bright at the top you could see the individual droplets of dew on each blade of grass, but faded down the hill into a dim glow which just about reached the shore of the pond. It’s brighter than I thought. Much brighter, Tom thought to himself.
Tom resumed his walking, trying not to slip, something he found difficult wearing canvas shoes while going downhill on cold, wet grass. The shoreline slowly started to become more visible. Tom looked at the repeated process of the thin seeps of water oozing out from the pond as he trundled down the slope, one foot in front of the other. It moistened the pebbly, young sand, before receding back for a moment, and then oozing back to the shore again. When Tom could see a few feet across the pond, and felt the scrunch of the grass and the crack of the tiny pebbles under both halves of his left foot, he opened up the video recorder.
Tom stood still, knowing that when he had to move, he would have to creep along the shore slowly and quietly. He concentrated his senses on the silent, rippling pond for a while, anticipating some form of sound or movement that he hoped he could trace. The ripples were heavy, and travelled south-west for unexpected lengths before they perished out in shallower water. That’s when something hit him. The night was mute, and the cool air was absent of even the lightest of breezes. A fish or a water beetle couldn’t make that, Tom figured, so what’s causing it?
Tom kept directing the shining light across the pond, like a searchlight travelling through a midnight sky. He kept it still for a moment, studying the ripples as they crossed through the light before disappearing back into the surrounding shadows from which they emerged. He sidestepped slowly to the right, trying to move silently, hoping that it wasn’t a creature causing the ripples, or at least one that wouldn’t get spooked if it heard the slightest of sounds coming from a far-off distance.
Tom meticulously controlled every muscle in his body, making sure not to make any sound that could scare away whatever it was causing the rippling. He sidestepped with total focus, doing so for what felt like a couple of seconds. He looked at the ground around his feet for any obstacles, and then back at this phone. When he looked at the time at the top of his screen, he noticed that three minutes had already passed.
As strange as it was that time had just seemingly glided by, what had really worried Tom was how his battery had plummeted from 57% to 23% since he left his car. He dismissed his worry though, and looked back to the lake having made sure there was nothing ahead of him that could make a sound if he suddenly hit off it. He focused on the light, noticing that the ripples now crossed into the light at faster speeds, and were starting to become more circular. I’m getting closer, Tom thought.
Tom suddenly hesitated when he caught a glimpse of a much fainter light at the far right corner of his eye. He could feel his eyes shifting right, right through to the back of his skull. Keeping the camera light fixed in its current position, he watched the mysterious glow shift deep under the surface for around a minute. There were hundreds of tiny, faded white particles, all fizzing upwards quickly before burning out, but the ball of light itself was fixed in a single position, and remained on a continuous path, rising slightly up and trickling to the right very slowly.
Tom moved the camera light around, searching for the area of surface that the ball of light was moving under. He discovered a small circular section where the water bubbled and lightly splashed up like a miniature geezer, and saw the ripples emitting outwards from around it. He watched it, dumbfounded by how silent it was. He tried listening to it intently, but all he discovered was that the silence of the midnight countryside had all of a sudden become more uncomfortably haunting. He placed both hands on his phone, trying to keep them both steady, charily following the ball of light as it very slowly made its way across the pond.
He tapped the video record button on the screen of his phone just as the dimmer part of the camera light edged itself into the dense forestry of the right-sided bank. The ball of light became taller, and the top of it ceased to fizz upwards, becoming brighter and more consistent. It was like watching the reflection of the moon gliding across the pond in fast-forward. The glow kept edging closer to the surface, approximately at the same rate that it was edging to the right-sided bank. Tom felt a hard lump develop in the bottom of his throat, as he continued watching the fizzing lights from the bottom, watching them evolve into a solid figure as they approached the surface. A feeling of morbidity struck him when they began to resemble something that was vaguely humanoid.
“What the fuck…” Tom whispered to himself, the sound of his words augmented by the dead silence of the vast springs. His vision became directionless and unfocused, and his phone began shaking between the tight grasp of his two hands, causing the camera light to violently pulse around on the pond’s surface. He breathed heavily in disbelief when he began to make out what looked like long, thick, shaggy dreadlocks that swayed slowly up and down below the inexplicably rapidly bubbling water.
The humanoid light stopped just before the bank of the pond. It remained there, perfectly still, its only movements being its bending body from the ripples, only seen through Tom’s eyes. Tom desperately wanted to run, but the risk of triggering Mark’s temper again with incomplete footage frightened him more than the mysterious glow from the pond. He felt like a caged mouse. Tom watched it remain stagnant, managing to control his hands so the light could remain more still. He kept the camera focused on it as still as he could, hoping it would soon dissolve, fizzle out, or all the particles would collapse to the bottom of the lake and simply disappear. He had hoped that if he came back with something like that, it would be sufficient enough for Mark to piece together a story.
The light suddenly shot upwards out of the water, without even so much as a hum, the momentum sending thousands of tiny drops up into the air and spreading them out all around like debris from a blast. Tom, startled by the unexpected movement, tried focusing on it again after flinching, still feeling shaken up. When the drops of water all came falling down again, they fell back into the lake without making a sound. Tom froze when he fully analyzed the light. At first, his unadjusted eyes only saw a faint glow shaped like a cylinder. When his eyes attuned after the shock caught him off-guard, he was finally able to make it out.
He made out the bumpy, long, thin feet that pointed straight down making its long, thin legs look like stilts. Then he saw its long, torn dress, and followed that up to its wirey, cadaverous arms that dangled from the weight of its pusillanimous hands that bore long, sharp, jagged fingernails. Up and up he followed it to its shaggy, clumpy, waving hair that crowned a head that hung at such a low angle it looked like the top of its spine had been slowly bent and then suddenly snapped, flinging her head so quickly forward that it opened cracks in the soft decayed flesh on the unkempt skin of her neck like a rubber that had been stretched outwards from a child trying to push the two ends of it together.
The camera began violently bouncing around again. Tom tried to reason with himself but her outward intrusion drained all the logic out of his mind. The only thoughts Tom could muster were the racing thoughts of the light’s physical appearance. He watched the glowing being levitate through the footage he was capturing on camera. Like her, Tom was frozen still, and was trying for the second time that night, for different reasons, his very best not to make a sound. The being remained completely still, levitating above the pond, with gradually less and less drips still mutely tapping into the pond as the seconds dragged slowly by.
Tom continued to watch the motionless being through the recording video, peculiarly curious as to when it would finally start moving again, but terrified by the thought that it was going to start hovering towards him. He felt a shrill breeze caress his skin, feeling the stimulation of goosebumps prickle all down his arms and then all over his torso. His face and neck, the only parts of skin unsheltered by his clothing, felt like they had been sprayed lightly with water from a bottle and then swiftly frozen over. He continued to gaze at her on the screen of his phone, but the being only remained still, hovering in its fixed position above the water, its head slumped down into its chest, her crown pointing towards the dense cluster of trees on the right bank.
Tom tilted his head up slightly and tapped the top of his phone to check its battery life. That’s when he noticed there was a pale, inward crescent of light sheltering the peak of his vision. A sensation of doom fully consumed him. He looked back down at the camera, seeing the bright white woman was still floating above the water in the same position just off the bank. Even through this tense ordeal, he felt an ironic slight relief. When he lifted his head fully and looked up, the brightly lit face of a young, decomposed woman met with him face-to-face.
Tom screamed, stumbled a few feet back while scrambling the phone between his hands, before dropping it onto the sand a few feet to his right. He crawled backwards as quickly as he could, overcome with debilitating fear and uncertainty, trying to alter his brain into an approach where he could ostracize these endangering feelings. He grappled the sand with his shaking hands, trying to push himself onto his feet, but lost balance and fell flat on his back again. When he attempted this for the second time, she had edged closer to him and made further eye-contact. He accidentally studied her being, seeing her warped neck that caused her head to jut forward like a preying snake; her scarred, gaunt cheeks; her vacant, lidless eyes; and her inverted, sideways mouth. Everything bright white, all outlined in thin black lines.
Tom found his balance again as the woman’s vacant eyes slowly began to shade themselves to orange, and her inverted lips cracked open sideways, revealing her oversized, triangular teeth. She levitated on the ground a few metres away, towering over and quickly approaching him, keeping her fiery orange gaze fixed on Tom’s transfixed eyes. He could feel them burning an invisible thin line right through his eyes, piercing his delicate skull, and shooting right through to the centre of his head. Tom came to his senses, turning around and leaving his phone on the shore, and began sprinting back up the hill. He felt the heat return to his body when he ran further away from her, like warm currents of life that refuelled his icy veins.
Seconds after Tom had started running the woman let out a long, screeching wail that Tom felt vibrating in his bones, left a sharp ringing in his ears, and gave him such a morbid feeling of death that his insides felt like a rotting core of an apple.
Tom tried his hardest to ignore her wailing, taking tremendous strides up the hill and pushing himself to his limits to keep a lengthy distance away from her. He was unable to hear the sound of his feet hitting the wet grass through the ringing that clogged up both his ears. Within a couple of seconds, his hearing had been rendered useless, leaving him unable to tell if she was still wailing or even still following him. Just before he reached the top, he could feel the goosebumps prickle up again on his back. He turned his cold neck back around, keeping the rest of his body racing forward, and he saw her enraged face, her fiery eyes staring right into his back, feeling them stare right into his soul and turning it into black, powdery ash.
Tom reached the top of the hill, his body becoming colder and colder as he sprinted aimlessly in the pitch black looking for the fence he had climbed at the beginning of the night. Something is different, Tom managed to think logically through the storm of his panic-stricken mind. Though he was full of doubt, he continued to sprint, his body becoming heavy with fatigue, his lungs unable to keep up with the demand of his survival instinct. His entire body shivered from the freezing sensation that encapsulated him. He kept his speed up, and when he squinted his eyes as painfully as he could, struggling to cope with the pressure of the being rapidly catching up with him, he finally managed to locate the fence straight ahead of him.
Tom continued sprinting, panting heavily, bargaining in his own mind with whatever higher force may exist that he wouldn’t run out of steam before he reached the fence. It continued coming closer and closer to him though, his car parked just behind it, and for a moment it had looked like Tom’s desperate begging had paid off. Something still isn’t right, he repeated to himself in concern, but what is it? He continued sprinting on though, both rows of teeth clattering off one another, making use of all of the energy he had to reach his car. He eventually approached the fence, hopping onto the second ledge with both of his feet, jumping right over it, and landing hard on the other side, sending shots of pain right up both of his legs. He limped as quickly as he could away from the fence and scrambled his hand around in his pocket in search of his car keys, turning around to keep a look out for her while doing so. He saw her floating motionlessly behind the fence, eyeing his every move, the look of contempt engraved onto her face.
Tom didn’t pause to think why she had stopped following him, or why she wasn’t hovering over the fence after him. All he knew was that once he was in his car and out of there, he would be safe, and he would never have to look back at this event ever again. He clicked the open button twice on his keys to get into his car.
He planted his palm on the window and tried again. No response.
He jammed the key into the hole, opening the car manually. He opened the door, jumped onto the seat, and shoved the key into the ignition, staring out the windshield while doing so, as she started to burn through his head again with her fiery orange eyes. When he twisted the keys, the car made no response.
C’mon, c’mon, c’mon the fuck, the thought sped through Tom’s frantic mind.
He tried it again. No response. He kept trying and trying and trying, but got the same result every time. The engine wouldn’t even start and then fail. Every attempt that he made had only left him responseless.
Tom tried hard to organise his thoughts. Why is the engine fail-.
He froze. When he was running back across the field, he had noticed something was off. The field was dark. Way too dark.
The headlights of the car weren’t on. He left them on when he climbed the fence for the first time that night and then trudged through the cold, wet field.
He had left the lights on, and the battery of the car had now gone dead. In a desperate attempt of a quick escape, he had abandoned his phone on the shore.
He stared at the steering wheel in horror and disbelief. Mark’s words reiterated in his mind, “you ambitionless, dead-end, slacking imbecile.” As if their minds were synchronised, she rose above the fence and into the air, then levitated forward until she was out of sight from the windshield and her glow emanated to just above the bonnet. She thumped on the roof of the car. She thumped again. And then again.
With the fourth thump there was an ear-wrenching, splitting noise, and her shining white hand and long, sharp fingernails broke through the steel roof of the car. Her other hand then followed, and using them both, she bent the steel back in twisted, jagged lines like they were soft strings of cheese. Tom stared up at her glowing orange eyes, her inverted mouth opening sideways, revealing those gruesome, long, sharp teeth. A string of saliva dripped from her mouth and onto Tom’s cheek, instantly freezing and stinging him. Her hollow cheeks sank inwards as she breathed out a freezing cold breeze from between her jagged fangs. Tom’s eyes filled up uncontrollably with tears, as she let out one final, earth-shattering wail. The car began to shake, and Tom quickly became deaf within a few seconds.
Tom stared into those burning, empty, orange eyes as she pulled herself back up towards the night sky, her bright white hands remained clutching on to the edges of the jagged hole she ripped open. Her arms stretched back elastically to impossible lengths. Tom shifted his head lightly to the side, and saw drops of blood fall onto the seat from what he presumed was one of his ringing ears. His boiling hot tears stung his face as badly as her cold saliva had, but when he tried to lift his hands to wipe them away, he found his muscles had been frozen solid. When he felt nothing for a few seconds more, he slowly rolled his neck to the left and looked back up at her, and as quickly as he had caught sight of her one more time, she had left out an earth-shattering, unheard scream. She sped down, still screaming with her sideways mouth, as she flew towards him at momentous speed.
The last thing Tom felt was her cold screech painfully peeling back the skin on his face, and his quickly fading vision seeing her sharp, jagged teeth, protruding out from her mouth, as she blurrily soared towards him.
Written by CrashingCymbal
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