John looked down at his wrist watch. The thick darkness forced him to use the dim illumination from his flashlight. He took the tool from the back pocket of his jeans; the cold steel burnt his hand, and he fumbled madly, searching in the darkness using only his fingers to find the button that switched the beam on. Click. He jerked his head away- the sudden burst of bright light blinded him. John had clearly forgotten about the fresh batteries that his wife put in, knowing it would be a long and dangerous trek.
As his vision returned, he tried to focus the light onto his wrist. The task proved nearly impossible as fear had begun to grip him; his hand was shaking uncontrollably as if receiving small electric shocks. Was that a hand on the One!? Could it already have passed midnight? His mind began to race madly. If it had already passed midnight–?
“They… they’re out here with me,” he whispered to himself. The cold air raced out of his mouth, desperate to escape the dark abyss John was caught in. A faint crunch muttered behind him. The flashlight spun wildly, peering cautiously along a beaten dirt path. Brush and leaves loomed over John, casting out the light- or keeping the darkness in? Barely able to stand straight, he squatted close to the murky ground and followed the beam of light to where the sound had come from.
Shadows and darkness hid from the flashlight’s beam; there was nothing natural about what lurked beyond the light. Leaves hissed. John could see a small shape on the floor but the illumination of the flashlight cast a large shadow – he couldn’t tell where the shadow ended and the object began.
Should he go and investigate? No. It’s nothing, just a twig, a leaf. Trees groaned, stirring the darkness, luring him. He felt the reluctance in his feet as he took his first leery step. He could feel his body writhing in agony as an unnatural force uprooted him, coaxing him into its snare. Another step. His heart thudded loud against his chest, a raucous, harsh drum played against a silent, musing choir. Another step. He was out of place, a shining beacon of light that illuminated the underworld to his presence. Another step. His breathing had caught pace with the thundering crescendo of the drum. Another step. His vision faltered; the light appeared to flicker and shift before John’s eyes, as if the darkness was beginning to consume his life line, the edge of light had developed an unnatural slither as if it was moving, no longer constant.
A piercing screech scored viciously, forcing him to flit around. A gasp escaped his cold, dry lips as he stumbled back, somehow managing to steady his weary carcass. An impenetrable wall of thick leaves and moss had fixed itself where John was once standing, blocking his path back and leaving him trapped. The cold steel of the flashlight tumbled out of his hands and onto the dirt with a loud thud. His jaw trembled, no longer from bitter cold, but from fear. As the flashlight rolled at John’s feet, it cast a pale, dim light over the natural barrier. Fearsome humanoid shadows were etched into the darkness that hid behind the leaves and branches, resembling a door to the underworld, clawed with the faces and bodies of the damned.
The howls of the wind morphed as it entered the tunnel of fear, churned into shrieks of the deceased. Thud thud thud John’s heart panted madly, wildly, pumping warm, fresh fear around his arteries and filtering life and light away, back through the veins. His pupils dilated, struggling to see in the blackness; this was no ordinary dark, it was tangible, real. Vicious. A loud crack ripped through his body as the glass of the flashlight shattered, leaving the light to die out. His eyes strained, desperate to find some light, some hope. He staggered backwards.
One more step.
He felt it, a shot of electricity down his spine, rooting him to the spot. No wind, no rush on his neck. The thud of his drum’s reduced to an echo, his voice faded and distant. The warmth of his blood seeped into the soil at his feet. His eyes contracted suddenly and painfully. As if in one moment, all the pain and suffering of life had stabbed him viciously in the chest.
Two syllables ushered by a body of cold, raspy voices, all as one.