Living Shadows

There's a common past-time (if one may call it that) of talking about shapes you see in clouds. I always thought it was funny that no one does the same with shapes they see in the forest at night. At least I did before one camping trip.

It was a trip into the remote woods of Canada where an isolated hot spring bubbled. It seemed like fate that we were going. At first no one was interested in traveling so far, but then there came the odd coincidences. Several of us had dreams of sitting in hot springs, and as we told each other we remarked at how the similar our dreams were. They weren't even very happy dreams; many of them had creepy endings, and like many successful bad ideas, the trip took place more because people continued to talk of the idea rather than people being for the idea itself. We were four friends and the drive up to the campground should have been long and happy, but as we came close to the secluded area the sickness of the woods became apparent. We saw large branches, broken, stripped, and gnawed on the ground, flayed out in odd patterns, like the remnants of a some violent ritual. The trees grew larger, and more twisted as we continued, giving glimpses of what might have been animal trails, except for the fact that they extended higher than what should have been natural; as if some furious grizzly bear had trundled upright as it tore its way through the foliage.

Then there were the eyes staring out of the night just meters ahead on the hill. The eyes belonged (so we thought) to a dark shape which refused to be illuminated by our headlights for the beams were too gently inclined to show the top of the hill with full force. Nevertheless, we inched our car forward trying to see the rest of the figure and watched as the eyes stared and bobbed slowly as if riding on an alien gait. I watched with both fear and fascination for I was oddly drawn to them. I thought it must have been curiosity at the time.

Finally the tension became too much and our driver lost nerve. He put the car in reverse and backed down the hill so quickly I feared that the dips in the old road would cause us to bounce out of control. It took some time for us to regain our nerves, but once we did we took a different route and finally found ourselves in the forest of our intent. There we timidly set up camp muttering to each other about possible explanations for the figure which served only to remind us of the eyes and their alien nature but no voiced their fear. As camping goes, if there is an unknown that frightens you, you can't admit it, and in a way, you sometimes really aren't afraid because it is a fearful fascination rather than a simple fear. And though this was clearly different, no one wanted to talk about it.

I had then woken up alone in the hot springs. I heard movement behind me and kept trying to turn around but couldn't. It was then that I felt the rush of inhuman breath on my back. Then I really did wake up, and realized it was a dream and that it was still night.

I now watch the shadows of trees flicker like ghosts through my tent in the moonlight, and lie on my back waiting as the minutes drip by like water from a leaky needle. There is no more sleep. The shadows, the pine scent, the cold, enclose upon me as if the forest is giving me a hateful hug to prevent escape.

I unzip the tent flap and slip outside, the wraith-like trees and shadows hover and flicker gently around me like a sorcerer's simulation. I step carefully out of our circle of tents into the woods. Despite the night's events I want to see the moon and I carry my backpack on my head to protect my glasses from the light drizzle of rain. There's a clearing nearby and I slowly make my way towards it walking as if the earth is sleeping and would be awakened with too sudden or too heavy a step. I hear a crack of wood and brush of leaves. There's a figure standing in front of me, in the bushes, maybe twenty yards away. My nerves, already tensed, give me an electric shock and I jump backwards and crouch by a tree.

The figure is too tall and abnormal to be human. I can see two long black stick-like arms jutting upwards towards the sky. I scream and run back into our group of tents, back into my circle of equally nervous and sleepless friends, back into an ensuing chaos. They yell at me, asking what has happened. "It's the walking thing we saw on the hill!" Some grab sticks as weapons and begin to bang them together and yell as others pile wood on our fire. There are rustlings coming from the clearing, but I can't discern the type. I then see a glow by the clearing and hear hideous screeching that is barely discernible above the racket we are making as we yell and bang our sticks at the shadows, trying to prove that we are too alive to die.

However, my attention is drawn to the glow, and through the dense shades of trees and mazes of sticks I see the flicker of flames and I stop and strain my ears at their source. The screechings we heard are human voices and I calm my friends and get them to approach the clearing slowly with some trepidation. Outside the foreign glow we stare at what looks like our mirror image of a minute past. It is another party of campers just as scared as we were, and we offer to camp together for safety.

Soon both our group's mistakes become apparent. My backpack's canteens had looked like eyes in the night and the abnormal figure I saw had been one of their campers. He was on a tree stump holding two sticks to the sky to frighten whatever creature I supposedly was. We laugh at human fears and share stories and finally sleep overtakes me again and as the sun rises I slip into an unnaturally deep stupor.

I awake in the darkness. I am standing in a cave, but not a natural cave. The rocks are two smooth. They are ornate and curved! Crafted! By who? The bubbling of water is nearby. The hot springs! But how did I get here? I look over a ledge and see lights in a massive spiral staircase of smooth rocks made in a subtle blend of natural cave with vast alien architecture descending into the earth. There are people walking downwards. They are walking in a rhythm. But before I can think of what this means I see the dark and tall creatures standing above them. Their bodies refuse to be lit. I would compare them to black holes, but these have no definite shape, not even the fading and bending of light around the event-horizon does these creature's shapes justice. And merely looking at their formless forms causes the skin to craw. They are like living shadows from the underworld, taking people back to their graves. They have invaded our dreams! They must have, ever since we went camping together we have been too cocky to admit our fear at the strange shapes in the forest, but our fascination with them continued, and drove us to get away from civilization. It was their plan all along! I see the people walking in rhythm like zombies, zombies of sleep, and remember dreams that led up to this. All the times where I couldn't see an adversary, when my eyes refused to perceive an object of my fears, it was them! And I suddenly know that soon they will come for me on my little ledge as they will come for the hundreds of others perched in confusion on ledges around this great dark cavern.

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