(This post the first in a series. Go here to see a list of all the posts in this series.)
I stopped and peered into the trees. It was the third time I thought I had seen something moving. The orange of the sunset was visible now that the clouds were breaking up. The trees were black against it. I saw a group of people passing between the trunks. Whether in actuality or by a trick of light, the half dozen figures seemed impossibly slender. I moved to follow them. I kept quiet as I closed the distance. The shape of their heads was wrong, too flat. And they had horns. Or were wearing tiaras I supposed.
Any number of vagrants and thieves bedded down in these woods and while I knew of the danger I was putting myself in, I was unable to stop. I at least needed to see what was wrong with their heads.
They had stopped now. Three of them were facing something or someone I could not see. The rest hung back. I paused and looked around, checking the ground for sleepers. Nothing. I started circling to try to see why they had stopped.
I was close enough now to see why the silhouettes of their faces had seemed wrong. They were wearing masks. I continued and finally the object of the attention of the front three became visible. At first I thought it was someone skinny like they were kneeling or sitting, but then I realized it was a young girl standing. I recognized her and felt fear pimple my skin.
The tall figures were dropping to their knees in front of her. My eyes left the girl to watch them. The front three sank first, then the four behind them. What the hell. I stared. Then I felt her eyes on me. The weight of them was painful. I gasped and squeezed tears from my eyes.
Her mouth moved, but I could not hear what she was saying. Two of the masked figures rose and came after me. I was riveted by the weight of her gaze, so I am not sure I could have moved had I wanted, but the sight of them running toward me sealed my doom. No human ever moved that way. No human has ever been so lithe. When they had turned and were running straight at me, they were difficult to see. Difficult enough and fast enough that I was still straining my eyes when they reached and grabbed me.
My mind was not coping, so I was dead weight, but they brought me to her effortlessly. Despite that my feet did not touch the ground I hardly felt the pressure of their hands holding me. They dropped me a few feet from her.
“Staring at me again. The first time made you puke blood. So much for learning from mistakes.”
I did not understand how anyone could bear to be near her. Maybe these masked people were different somehow. But her mom? Her brother? The clerk who had wrung them up at the video store? Why did bile not rise in their throats at the sight of her as it did in mine? I swallowed and swallowed and swallowed.
“Sick and confused. Less sick than before, but definitely more confused.”
She stepped toward me. The masked figures stepped back, though the one with the white mask hesitated. The hesitation earned a glance from the girl. As she bent to touch me I tried to scramble away. The effort cost me my control of my vomiting. My stomach was on fire. My body convulsed and flooded my mouth and nose with bile, blood and chewed food. My ears popped. My stomach was on fire. I sobbed and rolled away from the puke. Small fingers, wet with blood and vile touched my forehead. If I had been able, I would have felt even more disgusted. It might have killed me though.
I awoke with a yell and the bitter taste of stomach acid in my mouth.
(To read the next installment, click here.)