The search continued deep into the afternoon. When they finally stopped for a break, Ted could feel a blister forming on his right heel. He freed his foot from the boot and realized the shoe was coming apart at the soul. He hadn’t felt the mud enter the boot yet but the dampness had made its way to the inside, making Ted’s sock wet. The constant friction of the materials rubbing against one another was sure to cause a blister and Ted felt it starting.
“Great, I got a sliver in my finger,” Cid complained. He plopped down in front of a tree and started chugging his water. Angie sat down on a log near Ray, both of them going for their water bottles and protein bars. That’s when Ted noticed the awkward silence.
“You guys hear anything?” Ted asked. Everyone stopped what they were doing to look around their makeshift campsite for signs of trouble. Cid was the only one to continue eating, staring at his finger.
“I hear water where there shouldn’t be any,’ Ray commented.
“No,” Ted shook his head. “I mean there aren’t any birds chirping or crickets or flies or anything.”
“Well, I got bug spray on,” Cid said.
“Yeah,” glared at him. “But I mean there aren’t even bugs around right now making noises; it’s like the whole forest just went quiet.”
Each member of the group made eye contact with the other. Aside from hearing the running water that Ray had mentioned, there weren’t any signs of life.
“What’s with the water?” Angie asked Ray.
“Well there aren’t any rivers or creeks noted on the map here, so we shouldn’t be hearing running water,” Ray replied. “At the very least, water is an attention-grabber so I suggest we check it out.”
The group stayed quiet, Cid munching on a protein bar, Angie noticing how little bottled water was left, and Ted squeezing the dampness out of his sock. Ray gave a deep sigh, stood up and stretched, and started walking around a large set of bushes.
“Where are you going?” Angie called after him.
“I won’t be gone long and I’m not going far; I’m just checking out the water sound,” he called back. Angie visibly slumped back, dissatisfied that the man couldn’t sit still for long. It wasn’t good for him not to be resting now and again. He needed the breaks just as much as the rest of them and she couldn’t tell if it was his dedication or curiosity energizing him.
Ted could sense Angie was frustrated with Ray, and he threw a granola bar that landed directly in her lap. She glared back at him while he grinned like a dumbass, proud of himself for at least trying to make her smile.
Ted stood and followed Ray; it would give Angie some comfort knowing Ted was there with him. He passed through the bushes, opening up to a small clearing surrounded by dense foliage. There was a very small creek running down the side of the mountain and it stopped directly in the center of the clearing where a hole appeared. It was just large enough for a grown man to slip through. Ted knelt on his hands and knees to stick his head through the hole, flashlight in hand.
“Careful there, Ted,” Ray commented. The earth was still damp and it left room for the mud to give way at any moment. There wasn’t much that Ted could see; the hole opened up to a large cave where the creek water ran down into what appeared to be a shallow pool.
“Might be a cave system,” Ted said.
“Hey, check this out,” Ray said behind him. Ted lifted his head and followed Ray’s voice. To the left of him, Ray was standing with his back facing Ted. As Ted stood, he realized Ray was standing over something, something big. He thought it was a dirty boulder at first but as he made his way closer, he made out the silhouette of a deer. Its stomach was swollen and exposed. All of its organs were laying scattered on the ground around teh body, but the weirdest part was the skin and bones. Much of the skin had been peeled away, like the raccoon, and many of the bones were missing, including the deer’s head; the ribs and spine appeared to be the target as they were composed of most of the missing bones.
From behind the thick bushes came Angie followed by Cid who was busy swatting at the mosquitoes buzzing around his head.
“What did you find?” Angie was perky. She must have eaten.
“A dead deer, in a state much like that of the raccoon we found earlier,” Ray replied. Angie and Cid walked up behind Ted and peered over his shoulder at the spectacle before him.
This was a violent attack. Something killed this deer, ripped it to shreds, and left. There was no sign of the attacker, no hint of a predator around. Ted found himself staring through the trees, wondering if those white, cloudy eyes would be staring back at him.
“Are those handprints?” Cid asked, pointing to the ground around the neck of the headless deer. Ted stopped staring into the thicket long enough to glance at where Cid was pointing. Sure enough, huge handprints were embedded deep into the mud in several places around the deer’s neck stump. Large, bare feet accompanied them throughout the tracks. Ted couldn’t help but notice there were traces of white fur sticking out of the mud around the prints.
“Ok, that’s not weird or anything,” Cid said, backing away from the remains. He made his way towards the hole in the ground but was stopped by Ted.
“Don’t move! There’s a hole behind you!” Ted pointed.
Cid froze and slowly turned around to see the opening in the earth not five feet from him. The water trickled down into the gaping mouth, echoing in the chamber below. Ted walked up to him and gently pulled his arm away from the hole, but as he did, he lost his footing.
While the party was distracted by Ted tripping over himself in the mud, a loud roaring came piercing through the woods and hurt every member’s ears. Everyone ducked and held their ears in protest. Whatever it was, it was nearby and it was big. Cid’s eyes grew wide, the bags under his eyes becoming more significant. Ray found himself holding onto his heart rather tightly and had to consciously relax his fingers to release his grip. The roar lasted for several seconds, leaving a ringing in Ted’s ears just like before.
“Now can we head back?” Cid asked.
A second roaring came through the woods, closer this time. Ted couldn’t identify it, but it had the same screeching and the same deep bellow the last time. The ground rumbled with the sound of falling timber and Ted lost his footing and slipped into the cavern below. He landed in the shallow pool of water, hitting his shoulder against the rocky surface. His head was saved from any damage, but Ted’s arm shot pain from his fingers up through his neck. The water was freezing and the shock of hitting it along with the rocks sent Ted into a sensory overload. He lost his hearing for a moment, but it returned with the screaming coming from Angie as she watched Ray become empaled.
Something big, humanoid, and covered in white fur ran at Ray with inhuman speed from the bushes. It wasn’t until it actually reached him that Angie and Cid could see what had happened. The thing was huge, it towered over them all, and it beheld thick antlers atop its head. When it reached Ray, it squatted and then lifted its head up under him so that the inside of his jawbone was caught on one of the thickest antlers the creature adorned.
The creature raised Ray into the air, releasing a screeching roar in the process. It violently shook its head from side to side, causing Ray’s jawbone to dislocate from his skull. Ray’s body went flying towards the dense woods, his body landing against a tree. Blood gurgled from the open maw that was now Ray’s mouth, and his tongue dangled and drooled. The man was still alive, coughing and drawing in his own blood for air. His body jerked back and forth, spasming from the pain. What could be considered moaning accompanied the blood bubbles popping out of Ray’s open throat, until finally he stopped moving and the bubbles stopped popping.
Cid and Angie both began to run back from the direction they came when the beast stopped roaring and instead starting running on its hands like an ape towards them. Cid was closer and therefore became the natural target.
The beast rushed him, grabbing at his body with both of its lumbering arms. It forced Cid to the forest floor where it revealed a mouth that took up half the size of its head and had multiple rows of short but sharp teeth. Its mouth came down right above Cid’s hip, the soft flesh giving out to the saw-like jaws. The creature ripped a literal chunk out of Cid’s side, Cid screaming in pain from the damaged organs. He looked down at his side to see the monster swallowing the chunk of his body that it had bitten off. He would not be home to feed his cat tonight and the realization that something was standing over him, eating him, made Cid cry.
The half-eaten organs fell out of the hole in Cid’s side, a dark pool of blood forming around his body. The creature reached into the hole it had created in Cid and gripped firmly on one of Cid’s ribs, making Cid scream in agony before losing consciousness. The beast ripped outed a rib from Cid’s side, letting out a triumphant roar in the process.
Angie held her hands over her mouth while she hid in the bushes, tears streaming down her face. Ray and Cid were dead and something was coming after her. She turned to grab her pack when she realized she left it behind when she ran. Anything she could have used to defend herself was in that pack, and it was now nestled between her and a violent creature not known to science.
She took to a deep breath to stop herself from crying. She had to get this monster away from the hole Ted fell into, but she had nothing with which to defend herself. She grabbed at everything around her, looking for a sturdy branch or log she could use, but most of the brush around her was thorny thicket.
From her left flank, she heard the rustling of the bushes. Whatever it was, it wasn’t quiet but it was fast; she had to move. What if the creature already knew where she was? The shaking of the bushes stayed to her left, so she decided she hadn’t been found out and that now was the time to act.
Angie gently pushed the bush branches aside, making an opening big enough for herself to slip through relatively unharmed. The noise to her left came to a stop as she started to move through the bushes. She froze, heard a grunting, and then the shuffling of the bushes continued. She took a deep breath, then made her way through the thicket opening. Before her lied a wall of tall grass and marshland. Angie had little choice but to take refuge within the weeds.
From behind her, the creature roared. Angie picked up her pace. If she could make it to the cars in one piece, she could get help for Ted. There wasn’t anything she could do for Ted at this rate; she had nothing to defend herself let alone protect someone else.
She could hear the creature making its wasy through the grass but soon the sounds faded. Angie hoped that meant she was free of the beast. She paused to catch her breath. Surrounded by the tall grass, the plantlife itched at her skin, trying to comfort her in a blanket of weeds. Angie wanted nothing more than to be home under real blankets, hiding from the things that go bump in the night. In this case, things that roar and kill your coworkers. She thought of her kids, her husband Greg; there was a chance she would never see them again.
The rustling of the weeds picked up again. Angie held her breath, hoping a bird would jump in the air and fly by, but nothing came. Instead, the movement through the weeds came closer to her. She took a step back, her shoe getting caught in the mud momentarily. What would Greg do if he were here? She took another step backwards and the noise mimicked her. When she stopped, so did the movement. The moments felt like hours as the sweat beaded down her face. It wasn’t a hot day, her heart was just racing incredibly fast.
Another step, another rustled of the grass and weeds.
“Fuck this,” Angie said to herself as she turn to run. From within the tall grass came the monstrous beast, stalking its prey and finally pouncing. It brought Angie down to the ground in one pounce. She could feel the scream building up in her throat but didn’t get the chance to do so. The last thing she thought of before she died was the face of her husband, Greg. The beast opened its gapping mouth with rows of teeth and brought it down on Angie’s face, ripping her skull in half in the process; it sawed back and forth as it tore Angie’s face from her head.
The white ape-man sat atop his latest victim, chewing her teeth as though chewing on ice cubes. The crunch of the breaking bones between the monster’s maw echoed throughout the woods which were silent otherwise.
Final chapter – Part III: https://night-write.com/2022/08/02/from-bones-to-bones-part-iii-iii/