"Did you hear that?"
Doug slammed down his sixth Coors Light of the evening and chucked it into the woods. "Stop being such a pussy Julie. Well, don't stop entirely, that's one of the things I like about you but---"
"---Shhhh! Shut up, I'm serious. I heard something moving back there just behind those trees. You guys can't hear that? It sounds like something's trying to dig its way out of the ground!"
"Leave the stories to Sean, honey, he's much better at them than you are. Want another beer, Sean?"
Sean sat at the edge of the fire, gazing in the direction Julie was pointing. His skin tingled with a crawling sensation as his ears tugged toward the sound, stroking his goatee nervously with his index finger. He remembered that sound. It was a sound that had taunted him since he was a little boy, always lingering just beneath his feet. His mind flashed back to those days, when he would wake up screaming in the middle of the night, his fingers shaking as he pointed to the place where it hid. Trying to lead his mother's ears by her eyes to that sound that used to come up from under the floorboards. The deep sound of digging, scratching, something breathing; something living. "It's just the mice dear," his mother would say gently. "It's one of the few down sides of living in the country. You'll get used to it." He never could though. Sometimes he heard breathing, deep rattling breaths, as if something was choking on it's own saliva as it imagined crunching through his young tender bones.
"YO! Ass hat! Do you want another beer or not?"
Sean jerked from his trance, a seething feeling racing through his chest like the blood through his veins. Why the hell am I out here with this moron? Sean glanced around the fire, watching Nat strum gently on his guitar, watching Seth pull long drags off his blunt, fixated on the light of the fire, watching Julie dance. God, how he loved to see Julie dance. Her body moving fluidly, and from time to time, she would raise her arms over her head seductively. As her shirt rose slightly, he could catch a glimpse of her sun and moon tattoo and the belly button ring dividing the two. How did a guy like Doug ever land a girl like her? Doug was the kind of guy that would have spent his time dunking Sean's head in the toilet in high school. Besides, he knew why he was really out here. He made another sideways glance at Julie. Quickly he turned back to Doug. If he looked too closely, he might end up staring at the fly of Doug's Tommy jeans while his head got dipped in the toilet after all.
"Yeah go ahead and toss me one, ball sack." Ball sack? Where did that come from? He hated this kind of macho bullshit, but if you were going to hang with Doug, you had to be one of the boys. Doug tossed Sean a beer as he poured his down his throat, and reached for another. Damn, he was hitting them hard tonight. Good thing no one was driving back to Boulder. He didn't think he could handle it either. Sean cracked open the can, waited for Doug to turn his back, and poured some on the ground.
"You can't drink that piss either huh?"
Sean turned around sharply to see Seth standing behind him, eyes glazed, a child like goofy grin on his face.
"Don't worry man, I do the same thing." He said, pulling a long drag off his jay. "Who needs that shit when I got god's private stash right here?"
Sean grinned back, snatching the jay from his fingers, as he slipped the other hand casually into the breast pocked of his padded vest.
"It's not all bad, try a shot of this."
Seth took a small sip off his flask, then a longer pull.
"Holy shit man, what is this?"
"Tequila rose. It's a strawberry crème, expensive shit."
"Thanks for sharing earlier, bitch." Seth took another pull.
"Nah, this doesn't mix too well with Coors Light, besides I'm allergic to beer." Sean said
"How the fuck can you be allergic to beer?" Seth said.
"Don't know, I just always have been. I found out when I was sixteen. I was camping with my cousins, throwing a few back, and I started puffing up like a blowfish and puking my guts out. Told my parents it was a spider bite."
"Doug, I'm really getting scared, I hear something out there, it sounds like a bear!" Julie said.
Doug turned towards Julie, his muscles tight, his eyes blazing. Sean saw it from time to time in Doug. It was a look his father used to make right before he put his fist through a window or threw Sean into the wall. With Doug it always disappeared as quickly as it had made its presence known, masking itself behind that good-natured grin. For a moment a flash appeared before Sean's eyes and he could see Doug in a dingy Wife-Beater T-shirt yelling at his wife to bring him another beer and getting ready to go have a talk with his son, his knuckles white. The little boy would be in his room, pretending to his homework, but really waiting for his fathers blows to come down on him. Sean shook his head, tapping his fingers on the side with his right hand. He had always had little flashes like this. Little glimpses of things he could not know were true, but painted a picture clearly in front of his eyes.
Nat stopped strumming his guitar, and stared into the woods. The trees were tight in the area they had chosen to camp. He glanced past Doug's massive tent, past Seth's small pup tent, pushing his glasses back up his nose with his pudgy fingers.
"She may be right Doug, I hear something out there too. What the fuck is that?"
"Damn it, fat ass, don't encourage her! Julie, I told you, there isn't anything out in the fucking woods." A wolfish grin crossed his lips. "Why don't you come and sit next to me by the fire. I'm sure I can chase those chills away."
She glanced back at him, and for a moment, Sean swore he saw the same kind of disgust and loathing in her eyes that he was sure crossed his face from time to time. In an instant, it was gone though, and back came bouncing, happy Julie skipping over to sit in Doug's open arms. Sometimes he wondered if these flashes he saw were nothing more than his imagination. No one else ever seemed to notice. When he was younger he tried asking others if they saw similar things, but they never did. Seth and he had been friends for years, and he had tried asking him about it once. A nervous look crossed his face, and Sean tried to pass it off as a joke. It was moments like these, that he wondered if he really was crazy. When he was eleven, his mother had taken him to see a shrink to figure out why he had not outgrown the idea of the monster under his bed. "I keep telling him it's the mice doctor, but he just won't listen to me. He says that he hears other sounds, and sometimes he thinks he sees red eyes glowing over his bed in the middle of the night."
The doctor had spent about two weeks examining Sean, and then called both his parents in for a meeting. When they walked into the therapist's office, he calmly explained that nothing was wrong with him other than an overly active imagination. "I think we have a lot that we could help you to with though, have you thought about medication?" Sean was waiting outside during this little chat, and remembered the doctor coming out a few minutes later with a tissue crushed against his noise, wailing for the receptionist to call the police. His father spent six months in jail for it. While they were the happiest six months Sean could remember, he decided to keep the scratching under the floor to himself after that. What good could come from worrying his poor mother to death? A gentle hand on his leg woke him from his trance.
"Are you ok Sean? You seem upset." Julie was staring into his eyes with concern, but there was more to it than that. Something just below the surface. A flicker of devilish flirtation.
"I'm fine Julie." Panic struck him as he searched around the campfire for Doug. He glanced around the fire looking for Seth. He saw him sitting next to Nat, lighting another blunt and giving him a thumbs up.
"You looked far away just then. What were you thinking about?"
He wanted so desperately to say completely casually, "I was thinking about this," throw his arms around her and kiss her. He wanted to be that guy sometimes, the one who could pull a move like that and care less if it didn't work out. But instead he simply muttered, "Nothing important."
"You heard it to didn't you? You heard what I was talking about. That awful sound in the woods"
He knew he had heard it, could still feel it in fact. Something clawing beneath the earth. The sound seemed to be underneath him now, the scratching. His flesh began prickling with cold sweat, as he struggled to slow his breathing. He tried to distract his mind from it. The clearing gave a perfect view of the night stars. They were so much brighter here than they were in Vermont, especially when you were this deep in the Rockies. Sometimes he felt if he could find a tree high enough he could reach up and touch the heavens. He glanced over at Julie, happy to have her staring at the same stars with him. She put an arm around his shoulder, leaning in close to his ear. He could feel her breath tickling his inner ear as she whispered:
"You could have me if you want me."
"What the fuck is this?"
Doug stood staring at them, slightly weak on his feet. The wood he was carrying back for the fire slipped from his fingers and tumbled to the ground. All accept one log. It was about four inches thick, and a foot and a half long. Sean watched it closely as his eyes locked on the knuckles, each growing whiter with tension with every passing second. Sean's heart leapt into his throat, and did the first thing that came to mind. He drank half his beer in two large sips and vomited behind the rock they had been sitting on. He shot Julie a desperate glance, and she seemed to get the idea.
"Damn it Sean, I told you to slow down." She glanced back at Doug. "I think he had one too many, he's been looking a little green for the last twenty minutes. What did you think was going on?"
Doug's face softened, as he reevaluated the situation in his drunken state. Sean watched him as a confused wary look slowly replacing the rage. Sean was a bit wary, but no longer felt threatened. Doug's ego could never take losing a girl to someone like him, someone he could only see as inferior. After all, Sean didn't have money, he didn't drive a Miata, and his father didn't take him to trips in the Bahamas in the winter. Finally that good-natured grin spread across his face. Sean glanced at Julie's and watched the tension slip from her shoulders. Doug walked over and slapped Sean on the back, forcing up the last few drops of vomit.
"Feeling a little better killer? I thought you looked a little spaced out for a while."
"Yeah, I'll be fine." Sean had never been more thankful for his allergy in his life.
"Good to hear it. Hey! Why don't you tell us one of your stories! Tell the one you wrote in class. That one freaked the shit out of me!"
Julie and Sean sat on opposite ends of the fire, as Doug ran to retrieve the wood he had dropped, tossing it in casually. Seth passed the blunt to Sean and said. "Watch your ass man." Nat put his guitar down and sat with the rest of the group. He seemed nervous. He kept looking away from Sean, not wanting to catch his gaze.
As the fire rose to meet Doug's eyes, Sean could still see a hint of anger flickering in them. The fire grew, and began to cast an errie light on the thick forest. The trees were encased in shadow, and the air grew thick with smoke. Doug sat next to Julie glaring at Sean. He pulled her close, and kissing her violently. Sean felt that twinge of rage rise in himself, but glanced away. He leaned closer to them. He might not be able to do a lot of things in this world, but he could tell a damn good campfire story. He took a large puff of the blunt, allowing a freakish grin to cross his lips as the smoke seeped between his teeth. It felt like the expression of a madman, but it came so naturally when he told a story like this.
|"For as long as I can remember something has been hunting me. I would wake up covered in sweat, gasping for air, unable to remember what pursued me so viciously in my dreams. I could hear it though. Each night I could hear it. There was a creature that lived under the floor, no one believed me, but I swear it's true. At night I could hear it scratching at the floor. It's nails dragging on the underside of the hardwood, muffled, but still clear to my young ears. I imagined long shining claws that ached to rip through the floor and tear at my flesh. I could hear the gentle drip of it drooling as it snarled softly. Sometimes I would wake up in the morning, and there would be a wet spot on the floor. My mother always thought I just didn't make it to the bathroom, but she didn't know what it really was."|
Julie giggled a little at this part. They locked eyes for a moment, but he quickly looked away. He could feel Doug's stare, watching him closely. Doug put his arm around her, and pulled her close to his side. He glanced over at Nat and Seth. Seth still had that same stoned grin on his face, but Nat could not look him in the eyes. Sean was always pleased when he was able to do this. He had gotten at least one of them.
"So anyway, for years I had this same nightmare, until one night, I woke up from my nightmare, and realized my nightmare had decided to come with me. My walls were no longer the walls of my room. They were dog kennels, and in each one I could see these pit bull like dogs snarling and snapping at the bars. Each of the cages were made of barbed wire, but they kept gnawing at them, blood dripping from their lips as they tried to tear through the cage. I heard the rusty creak of my closet door opening and out something my eyes would not accept. It stood on its hind legs, and had an upper body like a man, but everything else was far from human. It had a thick well-cut chest, and arms with bulging muscles. It's hands stretched out towards me, and I stared in silent horror at the half hand, half paw that was stretching towards me. At the end of each finger was a long black nail about two inches long. Its face was more like a dog than a man, and it had blood red eyes that seemed to swirl with a hint of white light just in the center. He stood there, teeth bared through his protruding snout, staring at me, drool dripping in frothy white mounds from his mouth."
"Quit fucking around Sean, this isn't funny." Julie's fingers were slicing into Doug's arm, leaving white crescent moon shapes when she moved them. Sean could feel his heart pounding, his fingers curled as he continued on as the words poured from his lips, unable to stop.
"He pointed his long claw at me, and then shot both his arms out to his sides. The other creatures that surrounded all sides of me stopped gnawing at their cages and laid down. He grinned slightly, tilting his head as a dog often does when he's mildly interested in something his master has for him to play with. A low growl came from his chest as he started moving slowly towards my bed. He reached out and slashed at my chest, leaving three long scratches across the front of it."
Sean slowly reached down, pulling up his shirt off to expose his chest, barely aware he was doing it. His fingers traced the middle scar stretching both sides of his chest. He could feel his heart tingle as he slithered his finger across it slowly. Julie jumped up from the fire, and ran from the camp screaming. She vanished into the woods, shoving branches from her face. Doug started rolling on the ground laughing.
"Holy shit dude, I thought you had just painted those on for class, I didn't know they were real. You freaked the shit out of her!"
Sean started sprinting into the woods. He could still hear Doug laughing madly back at the camp. The running churned his stomach, and he started to feel ill again, the beer sloshing around, burning the lining of his stomach. He pushed hard though, flying past trees and brush, hopping bushes in desperate pursuit. He found her, huddled under a tree, gasping for air. When she saw him, she started to scream.
"St-stay away from me Sean. I don't know what's wrong with you, but stay away!"
"Julie, what's wrong? It was just a story. I didn't mean to freak you out, I was just fucking around.""
She stared at him with total disbelief. Her eyes grew wide, and her mouth seemed to clap open and shut, her body shaking. Suddenly her lungs found air again and she was screaming at him pushing her way against the tree. He glanced down at his shaking palms and could see them changing. Brown fur was sprouting from his arms, and his fingers seemed stubbier, rounder. He winced in pain as he felt a black claw pop through the top of each fingertip. He could feel his teeth turning into sharp points, and he caressed each blade like tip with his tongue. His feet seemed to be getting smaller, and his chest began tearing through his shirt as it expanded. His heart pounded with an entirely new rhythm, each beat crying for her blood. Drool ran down his chin as he allowed his tongue to roll in his mouth, moving slowly towards her. His mouth was still enough his own that he could form words.
"You said I could have you if I want you Julie. Don't you remember saying that?"
As his teeth sank into her throat and the screams turned to a low gurgle he threw his head back and released a triumphant screech.
"What the fuck are you doing with my girl ass hat Fu-fu-fucking SHIT!"
"He grinned at Doug, and tilted his head coyly. The grin that had spread across his lips so easily at the camp touched his lips again as he grabbed Doug, and pulled him deep into the darkest part of the forest. His feet thumped rhythmically on the ground as he dragged him into a small cave, his den. He pushed aside bones as he tossed him to the back. Doug started to scream again, and he slipped a claw slowly into his chest, popping his lung. Finally the screaming stopped and desperate gasps escaped his lips. He grinned down at him. Doug's eyes grew wide, as Sean pulled back his claw, releasing another roar. He slashed across his throat, and kneeled beside him until he stopped breathing.
He ran back to the car screeching a maddening sound. He found Nat behind the wheel, who apparently, had forgotten that Doug had the keys. He lunged at the windshield, pounding with his powerful hind legs, he remembered hearing Nat's final scream before the world went black.
Suddenly his eyes flashed open, and he found himself in his dorm dripping with cold sweat. He breathed heavily as he took in his surroundings, realizing that he was safe in his bed. He kicked his blankets off him, and shoved his hair back. He laid back down, still breathing heavily, trying to bring his heart back to normal.
What a fucked up dream! Why am I always having these god damn night terrors? Probably too much late night beer and pizza, I should really cut that shit out.
He walked slowly too the bathroom to take a piss when he glanced at himself in the mirror. A thin trail of blood was running from his lip.
"Hmm, must of bit my lip while I was sleeping. What a fucked up nightmare."
He started to crawl back into bed, when the door to the dorm flew open. His friend Trey from down the hall was standing there frantic.
"Dude, you gotta get up! Something's happened to Doug and Julie. They found his car in the woods and the seats are covered in blood! They think Seth is ok, but they found these huge scratch marks across his chest. Fucking stoner can't remember a goddamn thing. "
Had Trey been able to see a little more clearly he might have seen the flicker of red shining in Sean's eyes.
"That's terrible Trey, why don't we go for a walk and see what's happening. I know a short cut through the woods."
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© 2004 Laurie Delaney, all rights reserved
appears here by permission