01 Feb Pretend By redbullreptar
Luke stepped out of the warm comfort of his best friend’s house into the cold winter air. The sun was quickly slipping beneath the horizon and the trees of the forest cast long twisted shadows across the yard. Luke said goodbye to his friend and thanked his mother for having him over, as their goodbyes drew to a close the front door swung shut, and a silence fell over Luke. He stared out across the lawn into the twilight forest that awaited him. It was only a fifteen-minute walk from his friend’s house to his own, and he had made that walk countless times before, but as he watched the night descend upon the world, something sinister began to fill the shadows.
Luke knew what was coming next. It didn’t happen often, but he knew tonight it would be coming for him. There was an acute sense of dread in the air, and he could almost feel its gaze watching him from the ever-lengthening shadows. Luke stepped off his friend’s porch and into the night.
Luke crossed the thirty yards from the porch to the beginning of the forest path with little incident, but as he entered the woods, he entered another realm. No longer did he live in the world of modern conveniences where a warm, bright home was only a short walk away. In its stead was a primeval existence where danger lurked in every shadow, and his only salvation was a night’s march away.
Luke had been walking for little over a minute when it began. Far in the distance standing between two trees, it was there standing motionless watching him. Its twisted figure lit by the dying rays of the sun. No sooner had Luke seen it, than it was gone, and with it vanished the last vestiges of daylight. The hunt was on.
Luke began to move faster but he had to hold himself back, knowing if he broke into a run, it would soon chase him down. This was not Luke’s first time seeing the thing, and after enough encounters he had learned the rules. He was not to run or scream or it would be angry. If it was angry, Luke received a deep gash on his arm or leg. Luke had been fortunate to never anger it further. Luke knew if he kept calm and walked home; the thing would not punish him. It would be terrifying but he would arrive home alive.
The first time he saw it, he had run home with his heart ready to rip itself out of his chest. He received a nasty cut down his leg for his troubles and he arrived home dirty, bloody, and trembling. He had stumbled into the house and sunk to the floor, shaking and crying. When he told his mother what had happened, she dismissed the whole thing as a product of his overactive imagination. She promised to get rid of the thorn bush that had scratched him and told him to calm down. Since then he had stopped telling his mom when he saw it, and when the thing cut him he hid it from her. Not only did his mother blame his imagination, but so did everyone else he tried to tell: His father, his brother, even his best friend blamed his overactive imagination. His father and brother had told him to stop playing pretend and act his age. Luke was alone with his twisted companion.
Luke continued onward, trying to contain his fear. Every second he fought the urge to scream and run for his life. Luke knew that it could appear at any moment. He might turn a corner and it would be in the middle of the path. He might glance to the side and see it behind the nearest tree, but no matter what he never saw it for long. Luke was not even sure what it looked like, as it never stayed in sight long enough for him to set its appearance into his memory, but although he rarely saw it, its presence never left. Whether it was noxious smells of filth and blood, ragged panting, or drooling Luke knew the thing was always close by.
The walk was stretching into an eternity for Luke. He felt as though he had left his friend’s house hours ago, and yet it seemed there were miles and miles left to walk until he was home. Luke began to pick up the pace a little, and as his step quickened, he heard a shuffling gait behind him begin to rustle the leaves. This was incredibly odd as he had never heard its footsteps before. They were close, but not so close that Luke was considering bolting. Oddly, these heavy footfalls made Luke feel better. He knew he couldn’t possibly be imagining them. He could hear leaves rustle and crunch beneath his pursuers’ feet. He could hear it physically impacting the world. Surely that couldn’t be his imagination.
Time dragged on, and Luke could hear the footsteps growing closer and closer. His already strained heart began to beat even faster. After a while, Luke could hear the footsteps directly behind him. The thing was just waiting for Luke to turn around and look at it, but he would not succumb. He knew as soon as he stopped or looked behind him, the thing would devour him. Just as Luke was ready to give in and run for it, the footsteps stopped. Luke was so surprised he faltered, and as he slowed, he felt the thing’s breath brush along his neck. As the acrid fumes swept around him, he almost fainted, but by some miracle he was able to keep his feet. Luke gathered his senses and kept on walking. Behind him, the thing let out a murderous shriek; as though it were angered Luke had not succumbed to its taunts.
Luke was more frightened than ever but he refused to give into the thing. Luke shoved his hands into his pockets, stared at his shoes, and picked up the pace. Luke kept on this way for several minutes, and for several minutes, all was quiet. Luke began to hope that tonight’s nightmare was over. As he raised his head to check his surroundings his eyes fell upon the feet of his pursuer. It was standing there in the middle of the path, waiting for him. Luke refused to look. He stared at its vile feet refusing to meet its demonic gaze. Its feet were sick and disfigured, with yellow cracked talons protruding from them. The largest one was curved like a raptor’s, and stained with blood. The skin was a sickly pale yellow, and covered in pockmarks and warts. The arch of the foot was inhuman and twisted almost like a coiled spring. Luke was almost sick but again he found a way to keep himself under control.
Almost as soon as Luke had taken in the thing’s sick feet, they were gone. Luke could take no more; he broke into a run. He knew the thing would be furious, but he longer cared. He just wanted the terror to end. As he ran, he heard the thing stomping behind him. Its footfalls were thunderous and it let out a bloody shriek. Luke could hear the fury in its cry, and it drove him to run ever faster. Luke could tell he was close to home. If he could hold out for thirty more seconds, he could make it out of the woods. The thing’s footfalls drew ever closer, and Luke was almost ready to give up. His legs were moving slower and slower by the second, his lungs were burning with each breath, and his face was growing cold, as though his blood were seeping out of it. Luke caught sight of the edge of the woods, and with one maniacal last burst of energy, kept going. He heard the thing closing in, its screams grew frenzied as it prepared to kill, but just as Luke began to feel the thing’s claws sink into his shoulders, he burst beyond the tree line, and onto his own lawn.
Luke stumbled to his porch, wheezing the whole way. He dragged himself on to the steps, and collapsed, trembling as adrenaline coursed through his exhausted body. Luke lay there in silence trying to recover from his horrid experience when, from the woods, Luke heard a rabid snuffling. He raised his head, dreading what he might see. From out of the woods emerged the thing. Luke had no idea what to do. The thing always disappeared when he left the woods. The thing had broken its own rules, and Luke was too exhausted to do anything but watch it draw closer to him.
As it came closer he began to see it in ever greater detail as it stepped into his porch light. The thing was hideous beyond belief. It was disgusting and unnatural. It had one huge red eye in the middle of its face. Below it was a crooked gash of a mouth that hung open, revealing a veritable hacksaw of black and bloody teeth. It had no nose or ears and its head was covered in limp spikes. Its shoulders were uneven as one arm was gimpy and the shoulder twisted. The arm was withered and hung by the creature’s side. Its other arm was massive and had claws matching those on its feet. The claws extended down to the ground and dragged as it marched forward. Its spine was twisted, and it seemed a miracle that the thing could even walk.
Luke stared in horror as it approached. He knew he was facing his death. He was too physically and mentally exhausted to do anything but stare into the disfigured face of death, but extraordinarily as the thing drew within five feet of him it stopped. It stopped and stared at him. Luke did not know for how long they made eye contact but after a while, the thing simply turned and ran off into the woods far faster than Luke ever thought its twisted frame could move.
Luke lay there for some time until he could muster the energy to stumble into his home. When he returned his mother’s only remark was that he was late, and he should know better than to make her worry like that. Luke numbly stumbled into his room and collapsed. He did not sleep soundly that night, nor would he for many nights to come, but he thanked God he had survived. He didn’t know what had made the thing turn back. Maybe it had some sort of twisted sense of honor that stopped it from killing a defenseless boy, or maybe it just wanted to preserve him for another night of sport. Luke didn’t know and Luke didn’t care. He was just thankful to be alive.
That same night, another young boy returned home late. He scrabbled through the dirt with his cracked and yellowed claws into the entrance of his home. As he lumbered into the dank cavern that was his home the boy’s mother demanded to know where he had been. The boy was out of breath and sweating from his earlier exertions. He could barely get out a response to his mother. He told her that he had seen the thing again. His mother told him to stop playing pretend and go to bed. He protested that he had gotten close to it this time, looked at it, and even touched it. He told her how hideous it was with its smooth pink skin, and its squashed face with its two beady eyes, but it didn’t seem dangerous. He didn’t know why it always ignored him when he tried to be friendly, and tonight, it had run away again. He felt bad because it often cut itself on all the thorns along the path when it ran. His mother told him to shut down his overactive imagination and stop telling her such ridiculous stories. He grumbled as he shuffled into his room and lay down in his bed of worms to go to sleep. He would get the thing to talk to him one day. He just had to keep on trying. The thing often walked through his yard at night. He would just say hi to it again in a week.