Damp lingers in the air. Its foul stench is dank and putrid. The rich, green forest remains shrouded in an enduring, early morning fog. The mist veils the tranquil mesh of rich browns and greens.
Light dew blankets the sporadic patches of grass, part scorched, part lush. Raindrops slide down overhanging branches, dripping below. A murder of carrion crows, obscured by thick trunks and leaves, caw away. They break the all-too-brief serenity.
The crows perch over a stream within the trees. A trickle cuts its way through the deep-set roots of Dutch elms, willows and other mischievous, dangling trees. Glimmers of sunlight sneak through the natural, green canopy. They reflect within the minuscule current. Fallen leaves float down the stream and disappear behind distant trees, where the stream takes a sharp bend.
A flash skips through the trees, nearly six-feet tall, head-to-toe in black. Whatever it is, it moves fast. The movement disturbs the crows, and they disperse, squawking at the disruption.
Again, the shrouded figure bolts through the tree line. Two figures appear. The second is much lighter with smears of red all over, about five hundred yards behind the first. The lighter figure is chasing the darker figure.
Quiet descends once more within the forest. All animal noises have stopped. Through the tree line, another double flash of rapid movement. The second blur appears to be quicker, and thus gaining. Heavy breathing is evident.
The darker figure is a plain-featured woman in her early forties. Her square jaw is clenched in a grimace.
A terrified look is etched across her sweat-drenched face. She wipes a black-gloved hand across her brow and through her cropped, short, dark hair. Scanning the path behind her, she looks for something, struggling to catch her breath.
‘God damn it, why the fuck did I even come out here?’ asks Josceline Blackwood of herself. She didn’t even want to be on this assignment, she knew it was suicide, but what other choice did she have.
She dare not risk the wrath of Darkmore or Doctor Zhirkov. Especially Doctor Zhirkov. They all knew how that would turn out. How it had turned out for others. No, she knew she had to come. She also knew it would be her death sentence.
Josceline presses on as best as she can, exhaustion was starting to set in. She knew full well she only had one bullet left. Was a solitary bullet even enough for these creatures? These things?
Pausing for the briefest of seconds, she looks out into the thick forest, masked in fog. ‘Christ the thing could be twenty yards away and I wouldn’t know.’
A flash of light skin tones covered in patchy red weaves through the trees. Josceline’s eyes bulge with fear.
With a heavy sigh, she sets off again, panting profusely and struggling for breath. The grass is getting thicker in every direction, making it more and more difficult to escape. In a desperate ploy to throw it off her scent, even for a moment, she unzips her black jacket and flings it into the long grass.
The black t-shirt beneath is slick and stuck tight to her boyish chest. Still she sprints forward. Her body is at its absolute limits. I can’t take much more of this. The grass continues to thicken the deeper Josceline ventures into the forest. Her pace slows. Hacking, bounding, frantic she tries to move as fast as her fatigued body will carry her. It’s close to ending. Her boot catches against a thickset rock concealed by the treacherous grass; she crashes into the dirt with a violent thump.
On hands and knees, she scrambles further forward, struggling to get back to her feet, she yelps in agony when pushing off from her left leg.
Tentative removing of her boot and sock reveals her left ankle has a bone protruding out of the skin. She has snapped her ankle. It’s a bad break. ‘Ah shit!’ she wails in a fit of pain. Blood seeps down into the sandy-brown dirt, reddening the land with ominous portentousness.
Josceline attempts to prop herself onto a large rock, sighing resigned at the sound of rustling grass. The crunching of grass continues as Josceline begins to accept her fate. A low grumble like a dog but closer to a deep moaning emanates from the grass, relentless, lingering.
As the disconcerting noise gets closer and closer, Josceline’s courage departs. She scrambles back in search of the nearest rock, having a panic attack in the process. No longer does she notice the blood stained ankle dragging. It leaves a trail of blood in its wake. Tears begin to fill her eyes and she whimpers as she leans back against the harsh jagged rock.
She freezes, all colour draining from her face. The rustling sound has stopped; the deep moaning noise is right in front of her. The creature has caught up to her and stares with desire.
It is worse than she could ever have imagined. Worse than Doctor Zhirkov had warned it might be. He hadn’t come close to the grotesque horror that awaited them. The deep moaning gives way to a gluttonous lapping, the creature is gorging on the bloodied dirt. The licking sound continues as the monstrosity works its way along the blood trail. As the abomination crawls, it consumes.
Josceline raises her revolver and aims straight at the creature’s head. She fires her final shot and the bullet pierces straight through skin, cheekbone, muscle, and right out through the neck. She missed her chance. In a final attempt at survival, she grabs a nearby fallen branch and tries to whack the creature away.
She misses and manages one final blood-curdling scream as the ravenous animal leaps forward and tears her throat out. The forest returns to silence.