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Foreigner

by Caitlin 7 months ago in Horror · updated 7 months ago

These woods are home to many, but not to you

Photo by Rosie Sun on Unsplash

A branch snapped beneath her boot. She stopped, trying to balance on a wobbly heel as she slowly retracted her foot. The swirling clouds of each exhale were starting to come faster. She turned her head to the side, begging her useless vision to make sense of the darkness around her. She set her shoe down carefully on a different spot, sighing in relief when she heard no objection, and kept walking through the dense forest.

Jade kept telling herself to calm down. She had gotten lost on research trips before and this was no different. The darkness came quickly at this time of year and she tended to lose a general sense of time orientation when logging her findings. It was fine. She just needed to keep a cool head and make her way back to the parking lot like usual. Easy. Simple. No need to panic.

The good news was she was somewhat prepared.

A pack full of food, water, flint, a sleeping back, and a small tent was strapped tightly to her back and providing some semblance of comfort. If she had to, she’d be able to set up camp and get herself through the night until morning.

The bad news was she wasn’t that prepared.

The batteries on her flashlight were dead; she had no cell service. Not to mention it was the winter solstice and the temperature would be nearly freezing shortly.

She stopped walking and fumbled for the button on the side of her watch. The blueish glow lit up the background so she could read the digits. Half-past eight. It had been pitch-black for hours now. The slight sliver of white moon hung low in the sky but provided no help against the vast depth of trees surrounding her.

There was a small lake somewhere around here. Her mind conjured the image of a map from earlier; a near-perfectly round body of water with a forked trail, the left of which led to a car park. The lot would be unlit, but she could follow the drive out to the main roadway from there. If she could just find that lake, and get away from the blackness of these trees, this misery could be all over.

Jade pulled her phone out again, raising it high over her head.

“Shit,” she sighed. Zipping it back in her pocket, she marched on.

After another hour, the night was so dark it was humming. It was like an illusion sometimes. She would look out into the darkness, knowing what the trees should look like. There were hundreds. Thousands, she knew, spanning for miles and miles from every side of her. The colour of their bark was a warm earthy brown, like a medium roast coffee lying out in the sun. Their plentiful arms stretched high into the clear skies, much like one does when they first roll out of bed to greet the morning. They were lofty and welcoming earlier in the day, receiving her with open branches and smiling bark craftily designed upon their trunks.

Their kindness was over now. Their loftiness was looming; their welcomeness wicked and eery. Their warm bark was the colour of a blackened bruise over a swollen eye. They were busy playing tricks on her with their shadows, shapeshifting right in front of her. Their knots were gnarled and disfigured; branches clawed and reaching, trying to drag her into the inky blackness with them. The moon was the moon, until it was suddenly flashes of a ghostly figure following her through the dark. A rustle of leaves was a rustle of leaves, until it was a threat hissing past her ears.

The forest was telling her to go home, and she wasn’t listening.

Her breath spiralled in front of her as she continued down a slight embankment where the temperature dropped again. She rubbed her hands together to try to get some blood circulating.

There was another flicker in her periphery. It was just a small flash of light somewhere in the shadows, but her eyes didn’t stray from the path forward. It’s just the moon. It’s just the moon cutting through the branches, she reminded herself. She stopped again to check the time. Just past ten now. A chilling breeze slipped under her thick coat. A shiver slid down her spine. She shuddered, crossing her arms over her chest to try and contain her body heat.

Her nose was numb. Her fingers were starting to ache after hours exposed to the harsh temperature. Begrudgingly, she decided she needed to stop soon.

Stuffing her hands in her pockets, Jade squinted, trying to find a patch of flat ground that would be large enough to set up on. The wind whipped at her hair. Another glint of moonlight flashed to her right, but she was too focused on not tripping over any snagging roots to look. Brambles crunched and snapped as she stepped through the overgrowth. The sounds of scurrying surrounded her as a few small animals took off before she could trudge through their dwellings.

Then suddenly, as if there were a mute button somewhere, it all stopped.

She hadn’t realised how loud the forest had been before.

She waited for another sound; a rustle of a bird or the scampering of a mouse through the ivy. There was nothing, and she longed to hear the groaning forest again. She strained her ears to catch anything, but this wasn’t a natural silence.

A weight fell on her stomach. She swallowed thickly before letting out a slow, shaky breath.

It was menacing, ominous. Suddenly the threats from the trees earlier seemed merited, deliberate. She realised they weren’t threats at all: they were warnings.

You should have stopped earlier.

You should have left before sunset.

You shouldn’t be here.

You are a fearless fool.

The darkness was one thing, but the unnatural blanket of quiet made her feel like something wasn’t quite right. Her bones were vibrating on some new frequency of fear, like they knew something she didn’t. Another shiver ran down her spine, but she didn’t cross her arms this time. She didn’t move. The only sounds she could hear were her trembling, rapid breaths and the heartbeat pounding in her ears.

A full two minutes passed but it felt like two hours. She had to do something.

Another flicker of silver invaded her peripheral vision and this time she craned her neck to try to catch the shifting moonlight.

She didn’t see anything. Couldn’t see anything. There was no light coming down from the leaves here, only shadows. She waited, watching. Another minute of quiet, shaky breaths as she scanned through the pillars of black trees, her muscles trembling. She swore there had been a brightness. A flash of light. Something.

She took a deep breath, and, despite her cautious conscious telling her not to, took a step forward.

The snap of branches beneath her boot sounded off like a gunshot in the eery reticence. Another step, like a cracking whip. She moved faster. She just needed to set up her tent. It was probably nothing. She just needed her tent. Another step. Another. She winced as she crashed sightlessly through the unsettling woodland.

She finally made her way into a small clearing. There were some rocks littering the space and thorny vines, but it would have to do. She dropped to one knee and swung her bag off her back, frantically pulling it open with numb, shaking fingers. Hot breaths were blowing out so fast she briefly worried she might hyperventilate.

Jade managed to pull two of the rods together and just found the first sleeve of the tent before she heard a loud snap in front of her. She froze, her breath caught in her throat. Dread bled across her skin, urging every hair stand on end. She drew her eyes up towards the source of the noise.

Everything was still. A thin layer of fog could be seen glowing faraway in the distance, like an unobtainable Eden capturing the only light nearby. The sound was loud - echoing, still - like a large branch had snapped in two. Definitely louder than what a small animal should make. She quietly lowered the tent rod to the ground. Her numb fingertips dragged across the frosty soil until she found a jagged, shapeless rock. It was like holding an ice cube, but she gripped it tightly and stood deliberately.

She clenched her jaw despite feeling like her knees were going to give out. Chills erupted down her neck arms; it wasn't because of the cold this time. For the first time this evening, she let her paranoia take over her logical rationalisations. Something felt wrong. She couldn’t explain it, but she knew she was being observed by something. Someone.

“Hello?” she called, her voice much smaller than she wanted it to be.

Her unseeing eyes searched desperately through the trees again. The rock was digging into her palm as her hand shook by her hip. There was a rustle to her left and she whipped her head to the side, eyes wide and panicked. Her shallow breaths weren’t quiet enough and she strained to hear over the blood thrashing in her ears.

Another flash of silver to her right and a gust of wind blew past her. She jumped back with a shriek and cricked her neck trying to get a look at it. Her throat was dry. Something—whatever was here—was watching her, toying with her. She gripped the rock tighter as her head frantically tried to scan her surroundings.

“W-Who’s there?” she called into the vast silence.

Nothing. Not a whisper or a flutter of a leaf. She was alone, the forest a vacuum of senses again. The absence of sound pressed down against her shoulders as terror pooled like lead in her belly.

She gripped the rock and continued searching until she landed upon the shadows between two joined trees, just outside of the clearing. It could have been a trick of the lack of light, but she thought there was perhaps some sort of shape that wasn’t exactly right; a dimension that shouldn’t be there. She squinted, unsure of what she was truly seeing, when the shadow moved.

A sudden clap of lightning and rolling thunder ripped open the sky above. A heavenly white light poured onto the darkness of the woods for a split second.

It wasn’t long—not nearly long enough—but it was enough to confirm what she was dreading. A few heavy drops of rain pelted the top of her head as she fearfully observed the gap between the two trees.

The gap that was completely black again now, but where she had just seen a pair of bright blue eyes looking directly at her.

_________________________________________________

Another flash of lightning lit up the forest floor. She could barely register that the eyes were gone before she was plunged into darkness once again.

She whipped her head around, trying to see; trying to make sense of anything. It was darker than before now, having been unfairly exposed to the bright light for a mere moment.

The prickly feeling on the back of her neck was still there. She felt a weight on her; eyes and ears tracking her every move. Somehow, she knew that whatever was watching her—no, whoever was watching her—knew exactly where she was despite the pitch blackness.

The rain was hitting her jacket, slapping audibly against the synthetic material. It was so unlike it hitting the soil, where the impact was soft and absorbing. Just another reminder that she was obvious: a target. This isn’t her home and she isn’t welcome. Someone was making sure of that.

She swallowed thickly as her thoughts raced in time to keep up with her frantic heart. Another roll of thunder of thunder sounded to her left, but the forest stayed drenched in darkness. Methods of survival bounced around her head.

Run. Scream. Fight. Run.

Something.

She was a target. The heaviness of eyes on her was somehow getting more stifling, like it was getting closer. The frequency in her bones hit an all-time high and suddenly she was sprinting flat-out through the darkness. Dark shapes were flying past her as she dodged the trees, her breath coming in even, steady spurts.

There was no more room for thoughts, just movements.

Move.

Away.

Away.

Get away.

Rain shattered the still silence as thunder rolled above her once again. She had no idea how she wasn’t running into anything, but some dormant level of consciousness had taken over for her. She was operating on pure instinct now. Adrenaline filling every capillary as she pushed her legs to move faster than they ever had before.

She had no other option.

She tore over trails she couldn’t see with lungs that couldn’t fill. I’m not going to die here, Jade promised herself.

Another flash of silver to her right. She forced herself not to look despite her confusion. Her lungs ached with each painful pull as acid seeped into her muscles. She switched directions, pivoting nimbly to head away from the flashes of silver following her.

The trail began to narrow, and the forest wasn’t on her side. Her boots started to sink into the muddying earth, like a thick paste trying to latch her down. A branch came too quickly to see and sliced her cheek before she could duck. Roots snagged at her toes as she stumbled farther into the thicket. She was off the trail now. A glisten through the trees caught her attention. The lake.

Get to the lake. Get to the lake.

Another crack of lightning lit up the sky once and she gasped as ice filled her veins. The reality before her was illuminated for just a moment, but once again, it was just enough.

Darkness again. It was all so black. So, fucking dark she wanted to scream to wake the emptiness; to laugh at the devised misery of it all. Rain slapped against her coat. Now that she wasn’t moving, she realised how loud the wind was howling through the trees, throwing itself around in a stormy rage.

Her hair was whipping wet and angry across her face. Her thighs were shaking, but it was over. There was a pale figure twenty yards away. Undiscernible, but definitely a human figure standing in front of her between the trees.

The brunette exhaled a ragged breath, and the hazy white cloud wound in front of her in the freezing air for a moment. They kept coming closer between the trees as the exhale dissolved, and suddenly the outline was visible once more. A head. A set of shoulders. She blinked again.

This can’t be real.

She scrunched her eyes for a second and strained to see through the vapour. She could taste the mineral in her mouth as the rain raced down her cheeks and across her parted lips.

A woman was silhouetted against the distant, gleaming lake, naked as the day she came, slowly—almost lazily—walking towards her. It was dark and the shadows were confusing, but the closer she came the more certain Jade was that this couldn’t be real.

The woman a goddess. Impossible. Ethereal. She was tall, and as pale as the moon that abandoned her earlier. Her silver-blonde hair seemed to glow in the looming darkness.

Jade couldn’t move if she wanted to. Something unearthly was tickling at the skirts of her skin and gluing her feet to the soil.

Another flash of light blew out across the forest floor, causing her to blink in reaction to the onslaught of light. The woman was closer now. Less than half the distance in that split second. Close enough to touch.

Time was slowing the closer she came. Everything prickled. A warmth was spreading in her chest. Her body began to thaw after hours of shivering.

The woman’s eyes were on her, glowing. It was the strangest, most iridescent blue she had ever seen. So bright against the darkness that it couldn’t naturally be feasible. This…can’t…be real, she thought drunkenly.

The naked woman ticked her head to the side and eyes raked over her face. The strange feeling kept washing over. Her brain felt foggy and unresponsive the warmer she felt. It was ridiculous. Stupid, even, but the only thing Jade could think about was if the woman was cold and needed her jacket.

Her face. Her eyes, hair, skin. It was too beautiful to look away, and the small smile was pulling at the naked woman’s mouth made her stomach flip. She felt the woman’s thumb and forefinger lightly pinch her chin. Her head was gently pushed to the right. Left. Right again. Her eyes never left that unearthly blue. A breath of vanilla and flowers filled the space between them.

The stranger said something in a language she'd never heard before. It was quiet, like a statement to herself, but Jade thought it sounded like music.

“What?” Jade asked. Her voice sounded distant, as though she was trying to speak underwater.

Blue eyes dropped to her lips and back up, and sharp white teeth flashed in a blinding smile for a moment before a scream filled the silent forest. A thud.

The rock she'd been holding fell beside mud-caked boots.

Horror

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Caitlin

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