It was dark out. Families in the small and sparse towns of the prairies were likely in bed. Perhaps they were reading before drifting into the depths of sleep, or perhaps they were completing the last chores of the night before tucking in. But what they were doing is unimportant, for they are not the center of this story.
Several miles out of a small town named Torrington, a young man around twenty was regaining consciousness. His head was throbbing, as anyone’s would were they hit in the back of the head by a heavy branch. Groaning, he sat up, rubbing his aching head, stars still dancing in his vision as he looked around, trying to remember what had happened. He hissed in pain as his hand passed over a large bump on the back of his head.
Images of a man in black flashed through his head, but he couldn’t remember just who this man was. He could remember, however, that his name was Jonathan, and that he had been sent out to gather some firewood, since it would be, was, a cool night.
Jonathan stood up, moonlight revealing part of a physical appearance. He was tall and strong, muscular arms developed by years of hard work in the fields as the son of a farmer. His eyes were a dark brown, and the moonlight made his eyes covered in the shadow of his heavy brow. The short hair that was on his head was of a similar shade to his eyes. He had a sharp gaze, and a sharp, hawkish, face to match.
Still rubbing his head, he began to feel around on the ground, trying to find the lantern he had brought. Finding its familiar form, and cold metal, he picked it up, and, from his coat pocket took out a flint. He worked quickly in the dark, and soon, a small orange light glowed gently from the lantern. The light revealed more of his features. A scraggy beard and sideburns were growing in, giving his face an older look. He was wearing an old-looking, grimy white shirt and a brown pair of pants with a large black belt keeping them snugly on his waist. He was wearing black boots that were almost invisible in the dark of the night.
Standing up again, he began walking back to Torrington, leaving behind the firewood he had spent the afternoon gathering, figuring it was best just to head home, especially after being knocked unconscious. He had an anxious look on his face now, lips tight, skin paling, eyes flicking back and forth, looking in the dark for moving shadows, but seeing none. He was shaking slightly, from the cold, and the nervousness and fear that were beginning to gnaw at his insides as he took step after step along the path, the sound of dirt crunching beneath his feet being the only other sound other than the bugs and frogs in the forest.
Gripping the lantern tightly, he could feel his hand growing clammy from the chill of the night, and his own growing fear. The night was steadily growing more and more cold as he walked, and soon his breath was visible in the air, the steam rising and dispersing almost immediately into the night air. A cold sweat forming on his brow, Jonathan’s face began to glimmer in the orange light of the lantern as it slowly swung back and forth with each of his steps.
Suddenly, he stopped walking, and quickly swung around, the lantern making an orange blur in the air as it swung with him. His mouth hung open slightly. Any trace of confidence in his eyes was gone as he looked around fearfully. He knew, knew that he had heard the sounds of footsteps following behind him.
Crunch! Crunch! The sound of dirt being stepped on, but unlike his own steps, they were slower paced. Someone was following him! They were slow, though, he could be walking, and still outpace his follower.
Turning around slowly, he continued walking, a slightly faster pace now. In the distance, Jonathan could begin to see the street lamps of Torrington in the distance, light specks of orange and yellow light in the distance, signaling to him that he was slowly approaching safety. Empowered by this thought, he quickened his pace. He sharpened his ears, trying to pick up the sound of the footsteps. He froze. The footsteps were going faster. Only just. Swallowing a dry mouth, he began to walk faster, lantern swinging faster in time. His breathing quickened, the time between his breaths showing in the air lessening with each second.
Every few seconds, he would turn his head, looking for any sign of a figure behind him. No one could be seen behind him. Yet, the footsteps persisted. He knew they would hound him all the way to Torrington.
Sharpening his ears, he focused all his might on the sound of the footsteps. Once more, they had sped up, now they were at the speed he, himself, was walking. He quickened his pace once more, ignoring the aching in his legs from the quick pace he had been going at nonstop. Breaking into a light jog, he knew, knew, he had to quicken his pace. He had to, had to, escape his pursuer.
The lights! The lights! Why weren’t they getting any closer?! They weren’t any closer than before! Once more, Jonathan quickened his pace. He had to get back to his home, his small, one-room cabin, to his wife and two children. There, he could lock the door, the windows, do everything that would keep that pursuer, that monster, out. Then, at long last, he could curl up in the safety and warmth of his bed, next to those whom he loved.
But that was not the time to think about that. He had to get home first. Why weren’t those lights getting any closer?! He heard the footsteps speeding up again. Again!
Jonathan was running now, what else was there to do? He had to get away! There was nothing! Nothing else he could do but run! He heard the footsteps keep in pace with his own, and heard his heavy breathing. He had endurance, but running this distance would be exhausting for anyone. He had run for several minutes now. He hadn’t recalled going this far into the forest for firewood! Why weren’t those lights getting any closer?!
Then he was on the ground, something heavy upon his back. He tried to struggle, tried to shake off the pursuer on his back. In vain, he tried to stand, but his head was forced back down to the ground. He twisted on the ground to look up at his opponent.
It was a hideous creature, pale in the moonlight, in a humanoid form. It grunted as it reached for Jonathan’s neck. Jonathan guarded his neck with his arms, pushing up with his legs into the belly of the creature to kick the creature off of him. It let out a horrible grunt, followed by several harsh barking sounds as it recoiled backward off of Jonathan.
Taking advantage of this, Jonathan turned and quickly began to dash home. He heard the footsteps start up again, but they were slower than before. The creature was injured and would be unable to run at its full speed. And at last the lights were growing closer! Soon he would be home again!
Several long minutes passed as the deadly chase continued. Jonathan’s legs were aching, and felt as if they were about to give out from under him. But he refused to stop. He had to continue running for his life. Almost there! He could already see the lit lamp outside of his lonely home on the outskirts of the town. It was a small light, but the orange flickering of it was calming, and gave Jonathan the strength to run further.
He burst through the door and quickly slammed it behind him, locking the bolt into place. His wife and children sat up in their beds, looking at Jonathan with a bewildered look on their face. As Jonathan was closing the window shutters and locking them, his wife got out of the bed and approached him.
“Dear? Whatever is the matter at such a late time of night?” she asked, a hint of fear in her voice, concern in her eyes as she looked at her exhausted husband, who had just slumped down into his chair next to the fireplace. He rested his head in his hands, the light from the fire making dancing shadows on the log walls. The room had a homey feel to it. A well-worn, red rug was placed near the fireplace, sewn and sewn again throughout the years of ownership. Several heavy wood furniture pieces, a table, several chairs, nightstands, and wardrobes, sat around the room, the faded tarnish reflecting the light of the flames in the mantle.
Jonathan, still heavily panting, managed to breathe out loud, “Something was-” A loud banging against the door, making it rattle and shake violently on its hinges, interrupted him. Turning his head, a fearful look on his face, he stared at the door, as it continued to be battered on from outside. But the rattling soon slowed until, at last, it came to a complete stop. He stared at the door for several long moments, face tense, waiting to see if the door would be battered again.
At last, though, he decided it was over. He sighed, closing his eyes, and covering them with it hands, slumping back into his chair. Speaking aloud, he spoke is a relieved voice, “Dearest, it seems that the beast from beyond has left.”
No calming response was said in his wife’s soothing voice. No gripping child’s hand gripping him in fear of the beast returning.
His eyes opened, and he found himself in a horrible rendition of his own home. Charred lumps were scattered around the room. Three of them, two smaller than one. He knew immediately what they were, looking around in a blind panic. Blood was splattered in messy written words on the walls, glistening in the moonlight, the fire out. Though there were many words, only two were visible, lit by a streak of moonlight through a hole in the roof, “KEEP OUT.”
Stumbling backwards, he fell over his own feet. He could hear the growls of the creature outside. The locks were weakened with rust. They would not hold against another barrage. His face shaking with fright, he turned over, crawling towards the wardrobe, hoping to hide from the loathsome creature outside. He saw a blood-stained axe on the ground, reached for it, and then scrambled into the wardrobe, closing the doors behind him.
There he stood for what seemed like hours, he had at last managed to regain his breath, and looked through the crack of the doors to see if anything was outside. At last, he had to rest, and turned to sit down in the wardrobe.
The doors opened. And his wife, god bless, was standing there, unharmed, though a bewildered look on her face. Looking past her figure, he could see the room beyond. It, too, had returned to normal. He had returned. Standing, he stepped out of the wardrobe, and hugged her tightly, sobbing on her shoulder in a mixture of relief and fear, dropping the axe to the ground with a clunk.
Unable to stop loving her husband, his wife placed a gentle hand on his back, rubbing in small circles to sooth her agitated husband. Through his sobs, he managed to say, “Dearest, never leave me. Please.”
“Of course, Jonathan, I will never leave your-” her voice cut off immediately, and he felt her form vanish from him, causing him to stumble forward. It was no longer night. It was sunrise. Sickening streaks of reds and oranges spilled into the room, revealing at last what the messages in blood had wrote. “THOSE YOU LOVE DO NOT LOVE YOU.” “BETRAYED.” “KILL.”
The words passed through his mind in a mass frenzy as more and more entered through his eyes and spreading the insanity that had fueled the hand that had written them. Jonathan thrashed his head violently, shutting his eyes tight, covering his ears, and stumbled around blindly, knocking over any remaining furniture in his way, anything to keep the vision of those horrible messages from his mind.
Then his eyes opened, bloodshot and wide. A guttural rasping sound could be heard, growing louder and louder. No, not louder, closer! The door collapsed with a violent thud, and demonic forms started to crawl and lurch their way into the room.
Three hideous creatures, non-existent skin that revealed all the red muscle and organs that would normally be hidden from view. Sharp claws were on their hands, dark red flakes on them, undoubtedly dried blood. Yellowed eyes were deep in their sockets on the fleshless heads of the creatures, black slits looking around, looking for the source of the sound. The creatures focused on Jonathan, the slits of pupils grew impossibly thin as their glare clawed through him.
Stumbling backward, Jonathan’s head banged against the wardrobe. Looking for something, anything, to be used for a weapon, he spotted the dropped axe, glinting with a blood-red sheen in the light of the morning. Grabbing it, he stood up, and faced the creatures.
“You monsters! You have killed my family! You will not kill me!” he roared, rushing towards the creatures, swinging the axe down, aiming at the head of one of the creatures.
The creatures tried to lunge back, but the smallest was hit, his head crushed instantly, and its body fell in a slump on the floor, unknown fluids spilling onto the floor from its crushed skull in a small stream. The other creatures hissed, but were visibly frightened.
Giving a smirk at how even horrendous creatures such as these knew fear, Jonathan took satisfaction that he could be the one to inspire such fear in whatever rotted tissue they could call a heart. He lunged for the next one, the largest, bringing the axe down with a mighty thump.
This creature, too, fell instantly, dead, on the ground. The already-bloody axe was now once again covered with fresh, wet, blood, dripping onto the floor from the point.
The middle creature was now running towards the door, but Jonathan was able to outrun the creature, swing his axe into its side, slowing it down. He then swung the axe down, delivering the final blow that finished off the last of the creatures.
Able to rest at last, Jonathan sank to his knees, a twisted smile on his face, showing teeth that had grown inexplicably sharp. He gave a maniacal, raucous laugh, looking at the destroyed ceiling above him. It started flashing, between its ruinous form and its correct perfect form.
“The beasts’ curse must be falling with their deaths,” said, in a triumphant voice. He could return to his loving wife and children at long last. At last he could embrace them again. His clothes were soiled from the blood of the creatures, so he would have to bathe himself in the river just outside of town.
At last, the switching between ceilings stopped, and he looked down, speaking aloud, “Dearest, I have-“
He had to pause. There was nothing else he could do. He had returned, but the scenario was not what it should be. His family was on the ground, spattered blood on the floor. Those damnable creatures! They had killed his family! He had to honor his lost family. Dipping his hands in the still-warm blood, he wrote messages of honor on the walls.
With that, he kicked the axe across the floor, next to the wardrobe, and walked outside. In the distance, he could see the back of a figure walking away. Even from this distance, he could recognize those clothes. The very same he was wearing now! One of the creatures had begun to impersonate him! He had to end that creature, to stop it from spreading the chaos that the three which had killed his family had caused.
Looking around, he grabbed a heavy stick that was near an old tree. Feeling its weight, it felt strong and heavy to take out the creature that had taken his shape. He began to follow after the creature into the forest. It was whistling a disgustingly cheerful song. How dare such a beast whistle such a song that was entirely different from it to such a degree that it almost seemed sacred to Jonathan.
The creature stopped in a clearing, around five minutes away from Torrington. It looked around, and then walked over to a bush, picking up several branches on the ground.
Jonathan clenched his jaw tightly. He had to strike now, while it was focused on something else. He snuck through the brush silently until he was just behind the creature. He lifted the branch, and swung down.
Naturally, the creature collapsed in a heap. Unconscious? Jonathan doubted it. He would need to move the body so no one would be able to find it. Taking the lantern that had fallen on the ground, he attached it to his belt, then started dragging the body deep into the forest. Miles away from Torrington, he at last put the body on the ground. Placing the lantern on the ground near the body, Jonathan decided that it would best to watch until morning to make sure that the creature was indeed dead.
Silently, he slipped into the brush again, ready to wait until the morning comes.
Hours passed, and at last the creature sat up. Its head was throbbing, as anyone’s would were they hit in the back of the head by a heavy branch. Groaning, it sat up, rubbing its aching head, stars still dancing in its vision as he looked around, trying to remember what had happened. It hissed in pain as its hand passed over a large bump on the back of its head.
From behind a tree, Jonathan’s slit pupils shrank as they focused on the creature in the clearing.