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Short Story 45

Discussion in 'Off Topic' started by inayat, Apr 27, 2022.

  1. inayat

    inayat Head Game Master Moderator

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    The circle of forest is just that. A circle. About 750m in diameter, it’s not particularly big. It is ringed by two metres of grassless rock, and then beyond that is the wilderness. Moss and fern and cliff and weeds. The trees and plants that grow inside the circle are thick, and strange.

    It’s raining this evening. I sit in my little hut with a mug of warm tea as the rain batters and clatters against the roof. It leaks through in one corner and drips quickly down into a bucket I’ve placed there. My rifle rests against my leg.

    My hut has a direct view to the centrepiece of the forest. A dark, cave-like hole in the middle of a clearing, descending down and into the unknown. I tried to go through it once, but my head began to pound the deeper I went down. To the point of agony, actually, and I was forced to retreat. I don’t go down there anymore. Not much point to it.

    My colleague joins me tonight. He sips from a mug of his own. “Ahh”, he says, with a pleasant smile. “Delicious. Nothing like a warm mug on a cold day”.

    “Mhm”, I reply, scratching my beard.

    “What do you think might be coming up tonight?” he asks.

    “Who could tell. Nothing, hopefully”.

    “It’s been a while since the last one”, he murmurs. “We’re overdue a visitor”.

    “Yes, yes I suppose we are”, I sigh.



    ‘Visitor’ is darkly comical way to refer to the things that clamber out of the hole. Coined because of how crushingly lonely it can get at this particular station. I’ve been here for three months now. Another three to go.

    But of course, I have Robby here with me tonight. Someone to talk to. I’ve missed him.

    The rain splashes through the leaves and into the undergrowth, and I take a final sip before setting the mug down onto the wooden little table with a low thunk. I rise to my feet.

    “Right. Let’s head a little closer shall we?”

    “Urgh”, he mutters, glancing out the doorway. “Into the rain?”

    “You know it brother”.

    He sighs. “Fine. Are we splitting up or sticking together this time?”

    It’s a no-brainer.

    “We’ll stick together”, I tell him. I clap him on the shoulder and gesture for the man to head outside. “You know how I get lonely”.

    He chuckles.

    “Right you are, man”. And out he goes, rifle in hand. I hoist up my own and out I go, the water splashing against my hood and my shoulders as we push through the undergrowth and a little closer towards the hole.

    The reason for this little pursuit outdoors is the rain itself. It is, unfortunately, obscuring our view, and whilst on a clear day I might be content to just sit in the hut and wait for one of the sensors to trigger, I also don’t fully trust the sensors’ effectiveness in such weather. So out we go.

    The ferns brush up against my camo-clad legs as we approach the clearing, and we take our positions beside the best look-out trees. Robby is a little off, though.

    “Hey”, I say to him, above the rush of the rain. He looks at me. “Wake up man, you can be seen from there! Back up a little”.

    He chuckles and rubs his head. “Of course. Right you are”.

    We settle down and we wait, and we watch, as water pools and puddles around the hole in the ground ahead. It’s surrounded by tumbled rock and stone, though I couldn’t say where from. There isn’t another rock of such size in the whole circle of forest. Perhaps someone moved them there, long, long ago.



    It’s another twenty minutes before anything stirs from the hole. Robby and I just spend the time shooting the shit.

    “…I just think you’d be so much happier if you quit this business, man”, Robby says to me. “Being isolated for such long periods of time.. It’s not healthy. How long you got left?”

    “Three months”, I tell him.

    “So six months total... Half a year in such a place as this…” Robby shakes his head. “You need to be around people. Humans are social creatures”.

    “Perhaps”, I grunt. Robby opens his mouth to say more, but I cut him off with a quick gesture, pointing to the hole. We both creep a little lower in our positions and watch as a shadow begins to shamble its way from the depths of the hole. The thing is covered in slime and chatters as it appears. Armored, brown and disgusting. Two tiny, beady eyes peer out as its antennae twitch and circle around. Its rows upon rows of sharp legs clatter over the rock and slice down into the wet grass and the mud.

    I feel a swell of revulsion rise up in my stomach, but it’s okay. These types are always the easiest. I raise my rifle, Robby does likewise, and the abomination is riddled with quick holes; its shell and flesh bursting out into the undergrowth as it screeches in fury.

    I suppress a gag.

    “Disgusting…” Robby mutters. “Where the hell do these things even come from?”

    I don’t bother responding. It’s a question we’ve asked each other countless times over the years.



    …I have my theories.



    From amidst the ruin of the centipede-like creature, and out from the hole, comes a deer. It raises its head and sniffs the air.

    …I raise the rifle.

    …And the deer bolts. Bouncing and speeding away over the undergrowth.

    “Fuck!” I shout, hesitating as I look between the deer and my colleague. I point at him. “Watch the damned hole! I’ll be back!”

    Yeah, chance would be a fine thing. But the deer is the priority for now.



    I take off between the trees after it, I raise the gun and fire, exploding a branch as I do so.

    The deer still hops speedily away. They aren’t usually this fast, these things.



    I stumble after it, leaping over ferns and bushes, and the deer makes the mistake of turning sideways to try and ac away from me. I take the opportunity to raise the rifle to my shoulder, firing again, with a better chance of hitting, and this time I strike.

    Black fluid bursts from the deer’s side and a strangled, decidedly non-deer like noises escapes its throat as it crashes down to the ground with a rustle of ferns.



    I wipe the rain and sweat from my forehead and turn instantly back, chest rising and falling as I hastily return to the clearing.

    I approach from the opposite side this time, and I raise a hand to Robby, but… just as I expected, the man isn’t looking. His interest is elsewhere, staring off into the woods. He rises to his feet.

    “Robby!” I shout at him, and he swivels to look at me. “Were you watching the hole?”

    The man does not respond, and movement at the clearing’s edge catches both our attentions.

    An anxious looking man with a backpack and waterproof trousers shuffles out from between the trees, a crumpled map in one hand. “Uh… hello…” he says, looking between Robby and I.

    I raise my rifle at once, and Robby does likewise. I begin making my way around the clearing’s edge towards my colleague, barrel of the weapon fixed carefully on the stranger.

    “Wha- hey!” he says in alarm, putting up his hands. “I don’t understand, you guys are rangers, right? I- I’m not a poacher, or anything like that!” he forces out an awkward laugh. “I’m just lost, honestly. Literally. I’m literally lost”.

    “Where are you from?” I ask him.

    “I’m- I’m sorry?” the man replies, adjusting his glasses. “I didn’t realize I had an accent?” A poor attempt at a joke. Another weak laugh.

    “Tell me where you’re from right now or I’ll blow your head off”, I tell the stranger plainly as I reach my position beside Robby. “Speak clearly”.

    “I’m- I’m from- Obdebrand”, the man mutters.

    “What?” I reply, jerking the rifle. “I said speak CLEARLY”.

    “Ob- Obdebrand!” the man replies, raising his voice, the terror in his face quite evident.

    “That isn’t a real place”, I tell him. “What country”.

    “I- I don’t-”

    “What damned country?”

    “THIS country, obviously! Please, this isn’t funny, just let me go, alright! I’ll find my own way! Please!”

    I exchange a look with Robby.

    “Tell me the name of ANY country, hiker. That’s all I want to know”.

    The man shakes where he stands as the rain pours down through the trees, he stutters and mutters, and eventually he manages to speak, though his words are a string of nonsense.

    I take quick aim and pull the trigger, and a hole appears in the centre of the man’s forehead. He drops like a brick as black fluid bursts and spurts from his face, his skin twitching and crawling as a massive, insect-like leg bursts from his rib-cage.



    I spit onto the ground.



    “Jesus…” Robby murmurs.

    I consider chiding the man for allowing the creature through, but… there’s no point, really. So I let it go.



    The corpse twitches in the grass beneath the rain.



    “Obdebrand…” Robby repeats. “Do you think it’s a real place? Or did he just make it up? A random combination of sounds?”

    “Who can say, man”, I reply, shrugging. “…Your guess is as good as mine”.

    Robby says nothing further.

    We sit side by side and watch the hole for another thirty minutes. We are quieter this time, but still, it’s nice just to have his company.



    The rain falls.



    “I gotta take a piss, man”, Robby says, breaking the silence. He clambers to his feet.

    “Hey, well don’t go too far. Just piss right there”.

    “Eh?”

    “I need you alert and active my man, just piss right there”.

    Robby hesitates, and gives me a look before shaking his head. “…Alright man. I’ll try not to turn around too fast. Wouldn’t want to hit you with my dick and knock you out”.

    I chuckle as he relieves himself against the tree, a chuckle which is quickly lost as a horde of shadowy beings begin scampering out of the hole.

    “Action, Robby!” I tell him, “quick, stay alert!”

    The shadowy beings quickly take shape through the rain. They are all exact copies of myself. They don’t make a break for the exit, they run to ME.

    Fuck!

    “SOLDIER!” one of the copies shouts into my face, grabbing me by the shoulders. “Jesus, thank GOD! You’re alive! Right, come with us, immediately! There’s still time to get you to safety!”

    I shove him away and raise the rifle. My copy stares at the barrel, then at me, and then swears and throws out his hands. “Again!? For fuck’s SAKE! Why does he keep doing this?” He turns to another of my copies and gives him a light shove in the chest. “Why won’t he just come back? What are we doing wrong?”

    I choose not to partake in this little piece of theater. I take aim and fire, bursting a hole in my copy’s neck.

    …Initially, the blood is red, which is rather worrying, but it quickly runs black as he falls gasping to the floor. The other copies of myself all retreat in panic. There are five more of them.

    “Robby!” one of them shouts, gesturing to my colleague. “TELL HIM TO COME BACK ALREADY! WE CAN’T KEEP DOING THIS!”

    Robby stutters and mutters, and I fire. The copy’s head bursts open. Down he goes.

    Two of the surviving copies attempt a hasty escape. Back to the hole, which I find interesting, but not interesting enough to spare them. Down they go, one after the other.

    BANG.

    BANG.

    Two left now. They look at each other, and the closest holds out a hand to me. “Listen”, he says carefully as I reload. “I know this seems impossible, and scary-”

    He’s right. I’m fucking terrified, though I’m doing my best not to show it. These things really are getting creative.

    "-but you have to trust us on this. Or at least hear us out, please. Do you have any idea how long you’ve been gone?”

    The other copy shouts in anger. “He’s not going to listen, it’s just like last time!”

    The closest copy stares right into my eyes. “I don’t care what the others say”, he tells me. “I will never leave you behind. I swore it once, and it’s a promise I intend to-”

    BANG.

    I blow the imposter to kingdom come. His comrade panics and slips on the wet grass as he tries to run, and I gun him down. His lifeless body thuds to the ground, his skin twitching in various and unsettling places. As if being pressed or stretched from the inside. I put a couple of bonus bullets in him for good measure.



    Robby looks over to me, and studies my face.



    “…Are you good, man?” he asks, after a moment.



    “…Yeah”, I reply, lying. “Yep”.



    I stare at the faces of my copies. Corpses, now. I try not to dwell on it. I glance over to Robby.

    Perhaps I’ve let this little charade go on for too long…

    Robby pales and stares right past me at the hole. I turn to follow his gaze.

    Three figures clamber out, one waving a white flag. “WAIT!” one calls above the roar of the rain… I squint through it for a better look. “DON’T SHOOT!”

    …It’s me, again. Another copy. Though this one is at least two decades older. A copy of Robby is with him, similarly aged. A girl in her thirties walks with them, a fearful expression on her face and her hands raised. It’s my daughter. A sick copy, at the least, and aged up like the others.

    I throw my hands out, exasperated. “What do you WANT?”

    “Listen to me, you fool!” my elder copy shouts back. “This is the real me. The real YOU. And this is the real ROBBY. The REAL Robby!” he puts a hand on the copy of Robby’s shoulder, and his other on my daughter’s. She stares at me, wide-eyed.

    “He looks so young…” she says. She calls over. “Dad! It’s me! Do you remember? Please tell me you remember! Remember the trip we took to the beach? You took us to the coast on my tenth birthday. We saw dolphins!” she reaches up to her neck and lifts a necklace with a smooth little shiny pebble attached. “You let me keep this pebble, we had it turned into a necklace!”

    “Thing are about to change”, my copy says to me, walking ever closer. “Things beyond your understanding, and the truths of this hole barely scratch the surface. It’s a passage; I think you’ve realized this. A passage to places beyond and between. Sometimes to other planes, yes, but the tunnels run deep- they loop back around”. He slams his hands to his chest. “I’m babbling, I appreciate that this might not make any sense to you… but we are from the SAME loop… The same path, looped back AROUND!”

    I take a deep breath. I look this madman in the eyes. With the scent of the rain-washed pine and the drift of rifle smoke in my nose, I take aim, and I fire.

    BANG.

    My so-called future self drops to the ground. My ‘daughter’ screams, and the elder copy of Robby drops to his knees at the corpse. “No… NO!” he cries, and I take him out as well.

    The copy of my daughter is the hardest. Shaking where she stands, she turns to stare at me, defiant. Daring me to shoot in cold silence.

    “It doesn’t have to be this way”, she says, her voice wavering.

    I chew my tongue, and then I call her bluff.



    BANG.



    Down she goes.

    …Just another leaking corpse.



    Robby stares at the ruined bodies.

    The trees rustle in the rain as the blasts of the rifle ring in our ears.



    He looks to me.

    “How do you do it..?” he murmurs. “How the fuck do you it?”

    I rub a sleeve across my eyes.

    Do not allow anything to escape”, I tell him. “It’s a rule for a reason”.

    “You do it so easily...” he says quietly, the disgust in his voice quite clear.

    “Is that what you think?” I ask him. I turn to face him, my jaw set as the rain leaks from my chin. “Tell me, ‘Robby’. Tell me if what I am doing is wrong. Should I be letting these things and these abominations out into the world? And where do they come from, exactly? If where they’re coming from is so great then why leave at all? If there’s something WORSE that’s pushing them away then that’s all the more incentive to just keep shooting. I don’t know which one of these horrors is the ‘worst’, so, better safe than sorry”.

    “What if they have something important to tell us?” he asks me.

    “Important? Fuck ‘em. It’s all tricks and lies. The second I let my guard down, I am lost. And, speaking of which…”



    I raise the rifle and point it at his head. He backs away.



    “Wait… hold on…” he laughs anxiously, then stops when he realizes that I am not kidding around. “You’ve gone mad”, he says simply. “You’ve lost yourself in your head. It’s ME. It’s ROBBY”.

    “If the things that come out of the ground are benevolent, then why do they all LIE, ‘Robby’? Why do they lie?”

    “I- I don’t know what you’re talking about”.

    “Oh, I think you do, my friend”. I cock the rifle. “I’ve enjoyed your company tonight, I really have. You were a strong imitation, I’ll give you that. But you’ve missed a crucial piece of information. You always miss SOMETHING. Robby is DEAD. Long dead. Died two years ago. He died defending the people of this place from an abomination that rose out of that yonder hole. So I’ll be seeing you, now”.



    Robby’s face contorts into shock and surprise. “Please-” he begins, and I put a bullet through his forehead with a loud bang.

    He crumples. Down he goes. Just like the rest of them. That terrible black fluid pouring out and over the grass. Oversized, yet still only half-formed insect legs burst from his shoulders and neck, twitching in the rain.

    I lift my face to the sky and take a slow, deep breath.



    When ‘Robby’ first appeared to me this evening from through the trees, I was too surprised to react. It was a potentially fatal mistake, but for one reason or another the copy did not use his rifle to shoot me. If he was going to use it to kill me, he could have done so in that very first instant.

    He didn’t. So after that, I just played along. Keeping an eye on him.



    As I said, it gets real lonely up here, and I miss that man a great deal.



    The rain’s letting up a little now. I watch as black sludge begins bubbling up from the hole’s entrance, and I return to my hut, sitting down with a sigh in my chair as water drips from the branches, and into the bucket beside me.

    The corpses will have melted away by morning. There won’t be any more ‘visitors’ tonight. The black sludge means that the tunnel needs time to ‘recharge’.

    I reach for my mug and take a slow sip of cold, miserable tea.



    Three months down. Three more to go.
     
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