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The Pedestrian

A Nightwatch Tale

By Brannan K.Published 5 months ago Updated 5 months ago 24 min read
The Pedestrian
Photo by gbarkz on Unsplash

The forward floodlight cast the early morning darkness backwards. Remnants of shadows clutched the trunks of the tall pines just off the roadway. The snowfall was light, but seemed heavier and faster than it really was as the Durango sped along the winding mountain highway. The strobing red and blues added an eerie tinge to the world. Inside the cab, a small ding sounded; Clay glanced at the instrument cluster and saw the temperature outside had just dropped to 25-degrees Fahrenheit.

The 5.8-liter Hemi engine growled as he shot further north. He accelerated on the straights and slowed for the curves where he knew the ice accumulated. The switchbacks climbing the Rim above Strawberry flew by, sheer granite faces illuminated for brief seconds at a time. The snowfall made him feel like Han Solo piloting the Millennium Flacon through the stars. The highway and its features were second-nature to him. He'd driven them for over twenty years. It allowed him to brood freely while on auto-pilot.

Clay growled like the engine. It had been an hour past midnight when the phone rang, signaling the dreaded "call-out".

"...Hullo?" he muttered.

"Clay? It's Tracy in dispatch. We have a call-out for you." Her voice was too sweet and perky for the hour.

"Okay. What is it?"

"We have two reports of a shirtless pedestrian near the roadway, standing near a...the caller's stating...a large bonfire? State Route 87, milepost 285. First caller stated he looks like he is trying to keep warm and is worried about him catching hypothermia in the snow. But she wouldn't stop because she's elderly the man was holding a hatchet. Second caller stated a male ran out into the road shirtless, screaming, brandishing the hatchet, and tried to stop them. No vehicles seen in the area. We can't re-connect with either party for further."

Clay's eyes rolled in annoyance. What the fuck was somebody doing out there at that hour playing chicken in the snow? And why were people out driving around to see it? Couldn't they let him sleep? That area always had the weirdest calls, too; broken-down vehicles, hitchhikers, reports of things that never materialized when he got up there. Especially at this time of morning. It always ended in "No contact" and wasted time.

"Great! Where I won't have radio signal either."

"Yeeeeep. Let me know when you get closer, I'll set a thirty minute timer."

" Any Coconino County units available to assist?"

"I already asked, sir. They're all tied up on a family fight out in Happy Jack."

Clay sighed. "Roger that. I'll be on my way."

With that he had rolled out of bed and geared up. Melissa barely lifted her head off the pillow on the other side of the bed and whispered, "Be safe, come back to us."

He bent and kissed her forehead, caressing her swollen womb.

"I will, I love you two."

Clay rubbed the sleep from his eyes. Tired of the silence, he thumbed through his playlist on the LCD screen and selected something to elevate his mood. Distorted guitars, a heavy bass line, and double-kicking drums filled the cab. His speed increased with the melodic scales. A green sign entered his vision ahead; milepost 283. Tumbler's Bend lay ahead.

The upcoming curve was notorious for being ice-laden in the winter months and sent many unfamiliar travelers careening off the roadway. The road there cut through the mountain, nestled between two towering granite walls. This barred the sun and hid any standing water in blankets of shadow all day long. He looked at his speedometer; 75 miles per hour. He braked before entering the curve, slowing with guitar breakdown and guttural vocals.

The vehicle glided through the curve effortlessly, with not even a tremor of instability.

Nice, Clay mused to himself. The cymbals crashed and the now-clean vocals faded away. He began to accelerate out of the curve.

A flurry of movement caught his eye ahead to the left; a patch of brown jettisoned off the cliffside to his left, charging across the road. The massive buck had an eight-by-eight rack of antlers. Its eyes were wide with the animalistic desperation of pursued prey. Clouds of steam exhaled from its snout. A lengthy, tan feline shape pounced into the light, giving chase. As it cleared the hood of the vehicle, Clay gasped.

Underneath the giant cat dangled human legs. Calf-high fur boots were torn and bloodied. Scraps of skin dangled. In slow-motion, the cat's face turned while in the air. Their eyes met. The feral face was contorted in a predator's gleeful scream. Clay screamed back in horror; the eyes were too deep-set, and the pupils were rounded and on fire. Lips curled back in a snarl, exposing bits of flesh that clung to jagged and rotted teeth that were far too square.

Newton's laws of motion carried them apart but Clay had already braced and slammed the brakes. His blood ran cold as he felt the inertial shift as tires lost traction. The vehicle began to rotate at speed.

"No, no, no!" he yelled and fought the wheel.

The vehicle slid off the asphalt, passing through a gap between the tapered end of the rock-face and a guardrail meant to separate the road from a steep drop-off. Clay watched in horror as the Durango rolled backwards down the steep embankment. The edge of the roadway lurched further and further away. The rear of the Durango smashed into a boulder and the front end pitched upwards. Clay didn't have time to think as the vehicle cartwheeled backwards into the darkness and all went black.


Clay's head swam as he fought back to consciousness. The first sensation he felt was the gripping cold; the second was the vertigo-like feeling of being suspended upside down. The high-beams were still on, illuminating a rocky precipice a few meters in front of the windshield. Clay's first instinct was to panic, but he fought it down. He had years of training and experience in high-stress environments. He reminded himself 'the man who loses his head, loses his life.' It helped, somewhat.

"Fuck," he exclaimed, "What a shit-show!" He needed to get it together, and quick. Melissa and his unborn son became fixed in the forefront of his mind.

Clay began a mantra and forced slow, immense breaths deep into his lungs; "One, two, three deep breaths. One, two, three deep breaths." The combat breathing technique worked to help ground him in the moment and orient himself. He checked each quadrant of his body for wounds that the adrenaline may hide. Moving his hands slowly and methodically ensured he didn't miss anything. The only obvious wound was a large knot on his forehead with a slick of dried blood. There was more blood on the steering wheel. Otherwise, no wet spots, no bulges, no bones outside the body.

That's a good start.

The encounter with the mountain lion and the deer wormed back into his memory and his heart skipped a beat.

Wait, was that a lion? The face, those eyes...and was it carrying a body? Mountain lions were known to carry an entire deer up a tree; their strength was unbelievable.

"No, no! You hit your head, Clay! You're misremembering," he chided himself. "Stop...focus...WIN. What's important now?"

He needed to radio for help and get the fuck out of the SUV before it rolled any further down the hill. Then he could orient himself further and begin to self-rescue. He needed to step it up if he didn't want to go hypothermic.

Clay grabbed the radio mic where it dangled in front of his face. He keyed the transmitter and heard a loud POP! as the fuse for the radio blew. There was a whirring sound and the high-beams flickered before shutting off completely.

"This just keeps getting better," he groaned.

Clay let the mic hang and reached for his flashlight. The 4,000-lumen flashlight whitewashed the inside of the cab, blinding him temporarily. Stretching an arm above his head, he braced himself against the roof. He used his free hand to unclip his seatbelt, sliding down the seat until his shoulders thudded against the roof. Playing some variation of Twister, he rolled and kicked the driver window out. He grabbed his Gore-Tex gloves, beanie, and heavy jacket from the passenger-seat area before slithering out of the shattered window.

The snow was falling heavier now. Clay gingerly stood and tested his balance, keeping one hand on the vehicle. "Good as new, I'd say." Outside the car, the cold started to creep into Clay's bones. He donned the jacket, beanie, and gloves. His Garmin watch shone green digits; 0247 hours. Clay couldn't remember what time the crash occurred. He had no idea how long he had been unconscious.

He shined his flashlight up the slope; the topside and roadway were far out of view, hidden by the falling snow. The fresh flakes already obscured most of the vehicle's trail as it traced down the mountainside. From what he could tell, the face appeared almost vertical. Trunks of towering pines jutted out at odd angles. The pit behind him opened into blackness; there was no telling how deep or wide the chasm was. He turned around and around, searching for a better path.

The blood-curdling shriek of a mountain lion sounded from afar. It traveled an unknown distance through the dark and embedded itself deep in Clay's chest. Had it come from up high, towards the road? Or out of the void behind him? Was it a trick of the storm, whistling through the crags and out of the abyss? The wailing rose and fell in pitch, repeating some sort of primal call.

The wind gusted for a long moment and Clay lost the sound. He dropped into a crouch and pointed his flashlight back up the slope, drawing his sidearm. There was no telling how close the cry was. He searched back and forth with the light.

"It was a fucking lion. Welp, not going up that way," Clay muttered. He checked his duty-belt; his two spare mags were still there. "And if you come down here, I have 55 hollow-points for your furry ass! God damn it, I hate cats!" he yelled into the shadows, challenging the beast.

Clay racked his memory of the terrain in the area; if he paralleled the slope and travelled north - keeping the gorge to his left - he should be able to follow it until it wrapped around into a draw in about a half-mile. He could climb up that draw back to where he thought it should intersect the road and flag down some help. Maybe. That was his best shot, and he needed to get moving.

Cinching up his jacket, Clay began trudging into the darkness. He held his flashlight in one hand and pistol in the other. The wreckage of his vehicle faded into swirls of white nothing behind him.


This isn't right. It feels like I'm descending.

Clay had been forging through the snow for too long and had not yet come across the highway. He felt he had done well tracking the escarpment north, keeping the mountain to his right and the precipice to his left. The real problem was that the shelf he followed hadn't begun to wrap eastward yet.

And now the cold was setting in. Constant motion had kept him somewhat-warm for a time. His energy stores were pulling double-time fighting off the saturating cold and keeping his legs moving.

He kept hearing a howl on the wind, but wrote it off as a trick of his nerves and the weather. Regardless, he never went more than twenty feet without checking his six. But now, Clay thought he had detected a slight decline under his feet. He might be traveling further downward.

A sudden gust of wind parted the veils of white in front of him and he saw a flicker of orange in the distance. He couldn't believe it! Somebody had a campfire going out in this storm? On the side of a mountain? There was no way it could be real.

He rubbed the inside of his shirt collar against his eyes, but the glow persisted. He looked down at his watch again. His bewilderment increased; it read 0257 hours. That couldn't be right. He felt like he had been walking for hours. Time couldn't be moving slower, could it?

Maybe I hit my head harder than I thought.

At that moment, Clay became incredibly aware of the tingling in his toes and hands. Extremities were always the first to go. He raised his eyes toward the fire. Best guess through the dark put it about a quarter-mile away. He needed the salvation of those flames if he was going to survive. Clay pressed onward.

He seemed to walk again for hours. His tunnel-vision alternated between the fire, his feet carefully picking out his next steps, and the darkness behind him. Time, distance, and space felt distorted. The fire seemed to get no closer. Clay sensed something about the place was not right.

Clay couldn't remember when the shivering began. The slope to his right finally started to curve gently east. Clay's heart beat faster, feeling he was hitting a mark in his favor. He quickened his pace and rounded the bend.

Wooden end-posts and lengths of tightly-corded fiber, suspending makeshift planks broke into view. It was a rope bridge. And the fire was almost directly opposite him. The bridge seemed to lead across the chasm to it, planks disappearing in its direction.

Some hunter's private bridge? It looks ancient. There's no way that thing is stable.

Clay looked at the bridge, then across the void to the fire. He looked back to the slope, where it continued to curve away into the darkness. The highway could be close at this point, but he had no way of knowing. What he did know, was that even if managed to find the highway, it was still the early hours of the morning. There would be little to no traffic for ages, especially in this weather.

Hell, they may have even shut the road down at this point. Then what, I freeze on the shoulder of the highway instead of down here?

A fresh set of convulsions wracked his body. Clay knew what he had to do, and he hated it. He hesitated and looked back toward the curving shelf. Dread stabbed through him and his breath caught in his chest.

A set of fiery, orange eyes glinted back at him from the fringes of the shadows; the lion. Clay whipped the flashlight up and hit it directly with the beam.

He immediately wished he hadn't.

The lion was towering on its hind legs, slightly bent at the knees. A torn leather tunic wrapped its torso. A torn cloth covered its genitals. Its jowls spread in a menacing grin. The brows were deep-set, and its paws were elongated and misshapen. The claws looked sharpened and fidgeted. They were free-moving like fingers. A hatchet was tied near the pelvis in a beaten scabbard.

"What the fuck are you!?" Clay shouted.

The beast sniffed the air rapidly, chest heaving. Lifting its head into the wind, its tongue lolled out and slathered its jowls with fresh saliva. It tasted Clay's fear.

It took one upright step forward before dropping to all fours and ambling towards him. The monster was only fifteen yards away at best. Its grotesque movement reminded Clay of a bear-crawl in physical education class.

Clay raised the pistol in his right hand and sent a volley of nine-millimeter rounds at the creature. The dexterity of his gloved hand and half-frozen fingers sent most of the rounds hissing into the drift of snow behind it. The concussions reverberated through the darkness louder than any gunshots he had ever heard. The creature paused and sunk lower, like a compressed spring waiting to uncoil. Clay fired another volley as he stumbled toward the bridge.

The creature loosed a manic cry as it recoiled and spun. Dark, viscous blood - almost like mud - slopped onto the snow. Clay pressed the attack and sent the final rounds from the magazine whizzing towards the beast as it sped back into the darkness. Infernal howls emanated ceaselessly from beyond the light.

"Tell your friends how it feels, bitch!" he yelled after the monster.

He dumped the empty magazine and snatched a replacement from his belt. Fumbling between the nerves and the cold, he nearly dropped it. He stumbled onto the bridge, still terrified. His amygdala had decided on both options for him; fight and flight.

Clay clenched at the ropes as the planks rocked back and forth like an amusement park ride. He vaguely noticed the cords looked like animal furs bound and woven tightly. The planks were crudely cut and shaped. A rhythmic, pounding sound entered his ears as he reached the halfway point and the glow of the fire grew nearer.

Drums? Is that drums? Or my heartbeat?

An ancient chanting joined the echoing of the drums. The tempo quickened. Voices lifted until the chorus of a long-forgotten people filled the chasm around him. It was as if a war-party prepared for battle and hastened him forward. His blood pumped quicker and his heart thudded along in his chest. Clay scrambled across the bridge as quickly as he could perform the balancing act on the rickety mess.

As his foot stepped off the last plank and found the solid ground, the snowfall in front of him miraculously cleared. The wind died completely on this side of the bridge. The only sounds were the continuing accompaniment of the war-party and their drums, though they were nowhere in sight. Clay lifted his gaze toward the fire and screamed at what he saw.

His overturned Durango sat at the bottom of the slope in front of him. It rested in the same position he had left it, but now it was engulfed in towering flames. A man's body lay sprawled in the snow outside the driver window. It was dressed in a State Trooper's uniform. It was Clay! In disbelief, he looked down at his watch again; 0247 hours.

"What's happening to me?!" he cried. "This isn't real! He's not real! I'm right here!"

Clay stumbled forward, gasping for air as it caught in his lungs. The night's events flashed through his mind like a slot-machine; the tumblers stopped on Melissa and his son.

All bearing was lost as Clay tried to make sense of the Hell he had found himself in.


Bent forms materialized out of the darkness to the left of the inferno. One in the shape of a lion; the two new shapes resembled a bear and a wolf. All three bore a horrid resemblance to some kind of humanoid, and all had the fiery orange eyes. The bear dragged the lifeless body of the huge buck behind it, leaving a bloody trail in the snow.

Clay tried to yell to himself where he lay limp and unaware next to the blazing heap. His voice was a painful lump in his throat. Any attempt to raise his pistol or move any part of his body was futile. He was a frozen witness to the nightmare about to unfold. The Corps and years of crime fighting had never prepared him for this. Panic consumed his soul as he watched, wide-eyed.

Oh my God, oh my God! GET UP! WAKE UP!

The bear drug the buck fully into the firelight and laid it next to the other Clay's unconscious body. It hunched over the corpse, grabbing the antlers with one twisted hand. It drew a slender, shining blade from a leather sheath on his waist with the other. The bear began feverishly hacking and sawing the buck's neck. The cracking and splitting noises were somehow louder than the ongoing ensemble.

The wolf began tracing strange symbols around the scene. The lion strode confidently toward where Clay stood entrapped on the fringe of firelight, watching. It stopped within inches of Clay's face an offered a gruesome smile. It bared the sharp, yellowed teeth again. Clay smelled death and decay on its breath. Multiple bullet wounds appeared half-healed on its torso. It retreated a step and began outlining similar shapes around him. Clay realized they were preparing some sort of ritual.

The bear finished the decapitation with a resounding SNAP! It pulled the head off the body and grabbed what was left of the spinal-cord, yanking it out effortlessly. The bear continued working on the skull, scooping brain-matter and tissue out of the cranial cavity. When it was finished, only a husk of the buck's head was left; drapes of skin slicked with blood, matted fur, and robust antlers were all that remained.

The bear approached Clay where he stood frozen, the barbaric helmet tucked under one arm. It muttered a string of unintelligible words in a forgotten language. The tone was dark and ominous, and the bear's voice rasped with an unnatural growl. It dipped a hand into the skull and painted Clay's face and chest with blood and viscera, continuing its incantations.

Clay was trembling and screaming on the inside, but only his frantic eyes evidenced it. The bear paused and looked deep into them. The pupils were rimmed with dancing flames; the center was darker and deeper than the abyss behind him.

The bear lifted the buck-helmet and placed it snuggly over Clay's head. Clay felt the cold ooze of something awful on his scalp. His body felt an icy chill run through it. His vision was partially obstructed, like he wore a cheap Halloween mask. The lion stood adjacent to them and surveyed Clay up and down. It inclined its head in some acknowledgement to the bear.

They each grabbed hold of one of Clay's arms and wrenched him free of his frozen prison. Their strength was super-human as they drug him towards where the wolf stood over his limp clone. They threw him onto his knees feet from himself. He felt sharp claws dig through the back of the buck-mask and into his scalp. His head was jerked back and his gaze was forced upon the wolf and the macabre show.

The wolf's elongated maw split wide, lips curling back. The human tone was blasphemous as more incantations spilled forth. It crouched down and drew a slender blade in kind to the bear's. It grabbed the back of the unconscious-Clay's head and pulled it off the snow. Bits of skin tore loose and stuck to the icy ground. Clay felt the pain mirrored upon him.

It pressed the knife to lifeless-Clay's neck. All three chanted in-sync with one another as the drums peaked and the wind howled. The flames from the fire grew as tall as the pines around them.

Clay's vision blackened and he felt a shift as a strange power took hold. Time seemed to stop and he felt as if he were floating, falling through the void itself. The sensation was momentary. Sudden gravity struck him as he slammed back to earth. His eyes snapped back open.

Some ghoulish transfer of consciousness had occurred. He found himself on the ground now, knife pressed against his neck. He stared back up at himself wearing the buck-head helmet. The Clay standing over him had a menacing grin and fire in his eyes. The knife began to draw across his neck.

This is it. This is the end.


His name rang out from the darkness. The knife stopped where it had begun to dig into his neck. Hope surged within him. The creatures shrunk and stepped backwards, alarmed. The pressure of the knife lessened. Clay seized the moment.

Summoning what strength he had left, he rolled onto his back and grabbed the wolf's wrist. He wrenched the knife away from his throat. Catching the beast off guard, they tumbled into the snow. A limb slammed into his ribs like a freight train and he felt a crack. A flurry of blows peppered him. Clay fought to disengage; he would lose a grappling match with these brick-like muscles.

He kicked as hard as he could into the torso of the wolf, pushing off its body and sliding backwards. His hands scrabbled to draw his sidearm, fighting the retention system. He pulled it free as the creature gained its feet. Clay screamed and emptied the magazine as the monsters disappeared into the darkness, sprinting like Olympic athletes. Howls of enraged defeat echoed.

Frenzied yells sprang up from nearby. "CLAY, CLAY HANG ON! WE'RE COMING!"

Beams of light converged through the darkness, swarming over him. A throng of rescuers lowered themselves down the slope from above, ropes tied to technical climbing belts. Their bright orange garb identified them as volunteers from Tonto Rim Search and Rescue. They had the best rope team in the county and frequently rescued lost and injured hikers in the area.

Clay slumped back and lay in the snow. His breathing grew shallow. Energy stores exhausted, He fought to stay conscious. Familiar faces hovered over him and shined lights in his eyes. Hands clutched at his body and his sidearm. Their voices sounded underwater and he couldn't make out the words.

Come back to us, we love you.

He strained to see if any of them had the fire in their eyes. He wouldn't release his hold on the pistol until he was sure. It was finally pried from his grip. The drumbeat slowly faded and he drifted into limbo.


Clay awoke to the sanitized smell and stale air of a hospital room. A machine beeped to his right. He opened his eyes and looked around. He was propped up on a bed, alone, monitors hooked up to his arms and chest. He felt a tingling pain in his toes and fingers. From what he could see, they were all still there. His ribs were wrapped tightly in bandages and it hurt to move his core too much.

The whiteboard on the wall read "Intensive Care Unit, Room 7. Date: December 14th, 2017". He couldn't remember what day the call-out was. He groped for his watch and phone on the bedside table. The watch still read 0247 hours.

It must have just stopped working after the crash.

The door swung open and Melissa rushed in, followed by a host of nurses and men in uniform. She dove forward and half-climbed onto the bed. She wrapped him in her arms and greeted him with a kiss. "I love you" flowed from their mouths repeatedly as the rest of the company gave them their time. Clay pressed his hand against her womb and felt for the heartbeat of his son. A sigh of relief poured out. He kept his hand there and shut his eyes for a time. The embrace reluctantly ended and Clay looked about the men and women gathered about him.

"How long was I out?"

"Two days. You've been asleep for two days. I thought you were never going to wake up!" Melissa crooned.

A doctor in the corner looked down at a notepad and started scribbling. A detective standing next to him followed suit. The nurses began to check monitors and readings. One hovered over him to adjust the blood-pressure cuff on his bicep and pulse monitor on his fingertip.

"Did you find them? Any of them? Did anybody else get hurt?" Clay asked.

Melissa shifted uneasily but held his gaze. The detectives and nurses exchanged worried glances. A broad-shouldered detective with graying hair stepped forward and cleared his throat.

"Clay, first of all, I'm glad you're okay. I'm Detective Swarzbach from the Sensitive Investigations Unit."

"Can't it wait?" Melissa objected, eyes flashing dangerously.

"We just need to get an initial statement. Just a few moments worth, ma'am. If he's up to it, I mean." Swarzbach replied.

Clay nodded his consent. He spent the next ten or so minutes giving an account of all the events as he remembered them; every detail, no matter how ridiculous. All the while, the company nodded, took notes, and gave placating acknowledgements. Clay could see the incredulous looks on their faces come and go. He began to trail off towards the end of the tale. He began to feel angry at their sheepish looks.

"What's the matter? What did you guys figure out? Tell me, what did you find?!" Clay pleaded.

On some unspoken signal, everyone but Swarzbach and Melissa left the room. They shared a concerned glance.

"Honey," Melissa started, "You hit your head really, really hard. Your skull was nearly fractured and the doctor said your brain activity was 'irregular' during the CT -scan".

"What do you mean, what are you getting at?"

Swarzbach intervened, dealing the blow Melissa did not have the strength to. "Clay, the rescue team said you were screaming and in a frenzy when they found you. That you were shooting into the darkness, yelling at things that weren't there. They said afterwards, you collapsed and were in and out of conscious. You kept screaming about animals that were like people. Shapeshifters, you kept saying. You were talking about how even the mountain would change under their feet."

Clay blanched, blood leaving his face.

"There was nothing out there, Clay. We found no blood. No deer carcass or head. No bodies. We found no prints, human or otherwise, that indicate you even left the area after you crawled out of the vehicle. Certainly, nobody got to you before the rescue team. All we found were casings and your empty magazines."

He paused. "You shot every round, Clay. I have no doubt you thought you were in danger. We think the knock to your head and the hypothermia sent you over the proverbial edge. You almost died, Clay. You were dying. People's minds do crazy things in those situations. And nobody blames you. You survived. That's all that matters."

Clay shook his head vigorously. "No, no that's not right. It happened, I KNOW it happened."

Melissa began to silently cry next to Clay. She reached out a hand and grasped his tightly.

"Listen, take all the rest you need. We won't bother you again. I'm so sorry to do it in the first place, but you understand it's procedural. We had to get it out of the way. You let us know when you're ready, and we will come and go over some more things with you. Everything is going to be okay."

With that, Swarzbach bowed out of the room, leaving Clay and Melissa in uneasy silence.

Over the rest of the afternoon, Clay sat in silence, his mind racing. Melissa knew better than to broach the topic. She simply comforted him with her presence and held his hand. Medical staff filtered in and out; asking routine questions, checking levels, and bringing Clay dinner. The plate was a large steak with a caesar salad and baked potatoes. Clay scowled at the meat. He knew he should feel like devouring the meat, but he felt more like leafy-greens and vegetables. Things that grew out of the earth. He asked for a bowl of mixed vegetables to start. Melissa gave him a sideways look.

Later, Clay broke the silence, speaking with Melissa about what she had done the last two days. He wondered how they had gotten him out of there. He recounted it again, eager to make Melissa understand. He knew it was real. Eventually, energy left him, and sleep took him away.

He awoke with a start and was greeted by the pain in his ribs as he sat up. Melissa was curled up in a chair next to him, asleep. He looked up at the clock on the wall and his heart began to race; 0247 hours. He grimaced, pulling himself out of bed. He crept to the door to the hall and opened it. Poking his head out, he scanned left and right. All was quiet. He shut the door and gingerly stepped over to the window.

Clay opened the blinds and looked outside. The room had a view of the hospital courtyard. A light snow fell, illuminated by the rustic yellow campus lighting. In the middle of the campus, a helipad sat adjacent to a large grassy swath. Shoots of green poked up through the dusting of white.

A massive bull-elk with antlers wider than a truck-bed grazed on the decrepit greenery. Clay stared at it suspiciously. The elk stopped mid-chew and lifted its head, turning it to stare Clay directly in the eye. The eyes glinted bright orange and rippled with flame. Clay's scream woke the entire hospital.


Author's Note:

Northern Arizona is historically home to many indigenous peoples. Chief among their legends and mythos are those of the skinwalkers or shapeshifters; malevolent, half-human beasts who take on whatever form suits them best. Reports of encounters with said creatures abound in rural areas of Arizona. The census-designated area of Pine, Arizona - near the setting of this story - was originally home to the Salado and Mogollon peoples from the 11th to 15th century. Apache tribes later settled the area, followed by Mormon pioneers in the late 1800s.


About the Creator

Brannan K.

****Vivid prose and thrills****

Favorite Reads:

Terry Brooks - The Shannara Trilogy

J.R.R.Tolkien - Lord of the Rings

James Rollins - Ice Hunt

Ernest Hemingway - The Sun Also Rises

Cormac McCarthy - Blood Meridian

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Comments (3)

  • Yusuf Alam4 months ago

    🔥🔥🔥🔥👌👌👌Brannan You nailed it! 💪 Great job, seriously! 👌 https://vocal.media/authors/yusuf-alam

  • Colt Henderson5 months ago

    I loved the descriptions! It flowed very well and had me interested. Great work.

  • Caroline Craven5 months ago

    Wow! I thought this was fab. I couldn’t stop reading. This would make such a brilliant film. Drove from Tucson to the Grand Canyon so could picture some of the landscape. Great writing.

Brannan K.Written by Brannan K.

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