01 Feb The Portal in the Forest Part 1
I’d instinctually noticed something wrong with the neighborhood for several days before my brooding focus lifted long enough for me to truly grow curious.
Standing and walking out from the porch where I’d been sitting, I approached three children that were huddled around some sort of object.
“What do you have there?”
Immediately, the children dropped their object of interest and bolted.
I scanned the street, but nobody else was around at this time of day. The object they’d dropped was a book – and that was the odd thing. I’d recently seen children walking around with half-hidden books, magazines, and even newspapers. That might have been normal in my day, but modern children were obsessed with their phones and video games. Why were they all walking around with artifacts of the written word?
A Tale of Two Cities… I dusted it off, flipped it over, scanned the front and back… opened it up, nothing inside… flipped to the first page…
It was the worst of times, it was the best of times, it was the age of foolishness, it was the age of wisdom…
I frowned. It was technically correct, but the phrases were out of order. “Hey! Where did you get this?”
The darting children rounded a distant corner without more than giggles and screams.
Patience. I had it, they didn’t. I watched from the porch for the next several days, waiting for the right moment. It came without much fanfare: an older boy walked past with several of his friends in tow. None of them looked down the row of bushes in the yard that led to me; none of them were concerned by my presence.
I followed them nearly a block behind. They did look back at several points, confirming my suspicions about a neighborhood secret, but I casually evaded their worried scans. They turned into the old Dodson lot, now overgrown with heavy brush, and I followed them beyond into thicker Virginia woodlands that lay untouched past the edge of our suburb.
It sat right off the edge of an old trail, flanked by centennial trees. There was no weird device, no flaring energies, no fanfare at all – just an odd and highly irregular oval of blurred space. Beyond sat a suburban street lined by houses.
I actually wasn’t too surprised. I’d had several days to think and guess, and what else could it have been but a portal to another dimension? Neighborhood kids weren’t about to order books printed with strange malformations, but they would certainly trade around oddities from another universe. The boys ahead had disappeared into the vast breach, and I’d seen children acting oddly for weeks, so I assumed there was little threat from biological contamination. We’d have all been dead much sooner if there was any threat of that.
I hadn’t seen any suspicious activity at night. Best to be back by nightfall. The kids might have found out something about the behavior of the portal, and they’d probably spent weeks poking at it before daring to go through. There was every chance it disappeared at night, or… maybe it changed destinations, stranding anyone on the other side. I hadn’t heard of any missing children, so I guessed that they’d taken the appropriate precautions.
Peering beyond, I tried to notice anything out of the ordinary before crossing the threshold, but it looked like any other suburban town.
I stepped through, noting no unusual sensations. The bridge between dimensions seemed to be stable enough.
The moment I crossed, I realized that there was a problem: the portal back was a ten-foot-long jagged oval, and it was sitting in the middle of the street.
There was no commotion… no hub-bub… no one had noticed a portal to another universe hanging around and blocking traffic. That meant that this portal was new to this location, this suburb was newly built and empty or very old and abandoned, or… everyone here was already dead.
Straining my ears to listen to the absolute quiet, I gradually began leaning toward that most grim analysis.
The closest houses to the portal had broken windows. What time was it? A little past noon? The neighborhood kids had clearly begun systematically looting, but it was impossible to tell whether this was a new daily location, or whether the portal only went here.
And why had the portal been created at all? There seemed to be no significance on either end.
I heard the older kids smashing about in one of the nearby dwellings, so I chose a quick direction, and I soon came to houses that had not been broken into. Carefully eyeing the vector of the portal’s backwards emanation, I came to a split-level house that was unremarkable… except that a hole had been carved out of one wall of a size that matched the expanding cone of the rift.
A strong breeze at my back, I approached the repeatedly swaying front door. If it wasn’t already closed by the wind – yes, the wood near the knob had been ruptured by someone who had been very desperate to either escape or get inside. I stepped across the threshold… only to crunch across glass. After clearing several corners in the living room and kitchen beyond, I backed into a safe area and looked up. As I’d guessed, every light bulb that I could see had been purposely broken.
What the hell had happened in this house?
“I know you wrote it down,” I said to the still and silent darkness. “You always do.”
As if in response to my cynicism, the darkness offered up a book sitting quietly among shards of broken glass. Carefully picking it up and cleaning it off, I flipped through half of it, skipping past random illustrations and musings to find the most recent writings.
185 101 84 very slight change between
Moves no sooner than 45 seconds ✔
first appeared at 2 am? 1 am but slow
hide, break all light sources done
write down everything
[tear drop stain]-omething is outside our house. We’re sitting now. Nothing more can be done. All we can do now is wait.
We first noticed it somewhere around 1 AM in the morning. David came over right about that time, and he says he saw something weird with one of the neighbor’s houses, but he didn’t know what to make of it. Ryan and I were here housesitting, but did not notice anything strange until 2 AM. It began with an eerie sense of unease. We were in the basement watching a show on a laptop, playing cards~~?~~
David felt it too, and thought he heard something. We went to the windows. It was a very dark night. Clouds covered the moon. The back yard was lit only by two floodlights from the property across the way, and very thick fog rolled across the long expanses of grass and bushes. We saw a few lit panes in the house directly opposite ours, and, through other windows, we saw a few lights on in a neighbor’s house. Something seemed off about the shared back yards – something horribly and innately wrong – but it was impossible to say what.
We went around the house closing and locking every window and turning on every light. For awhile, it made us feel safe. We clung low, peering out between the blinds, each of us trying to figure out why the back yards terrified us so.
I had the strangest idea, before it even happened, that there was something wrong with the lights outside. I watched the two flood lights far off and to the left, and then I watched the lit window directly opposite us that seemed to be weirdly bulging and changing shape as I stared. Was it just a trick of the light? The crossbar seemed to be moving up and up and up until… there was no way I was imagining it…
We knew for sure when our neighbor two houses down came out to let out his dog. We heard it barking, and we rushed to the side windows, watching from total darkness. Ryan slid the window open just enough to shout go inside! It’s not safe!, even though we didn’t know for sure…
A third floodlight came on abruptly three houses down; an angled and bright light that usually lit up many of our backyards. The back porch light our unaware neighbor had turned on…. suddenly went dark. A strangled cry rang out, the dog squealed in horrible pain, and we slammed our window shut in terror.
There was something out there.
Ryan suggested that it was some large and fast-moving creature that had been lurking between us and the third floodlight.
David peered out the window, offering no ideas.
I sat in a corner, trying not to hyperventilate. We’d been afraid, definitely, but there’d been no proof until… until…
“There!” David whispered. “It moved again!”
We practically planted our faces against the glass. Our hapless neighbor’s porch light was back on, and… the middle floodlight across the way was out. Darkness dominated the space between our backyards.
“What’s it shaped like?” Ryan asked, confused.
David just shook his head as he peered intently at the night.
To block out that high-set floodlight, the thing out there either had to be very tall, or… very close…
Gasping, I pulled them both down just as the windows began to rattle.
We hid in the corner beneath the windows, not daring to move until the rattling stopped.
Eventually, David peeked.
As he did so, screams rang out from the house opposite ours. We peeked, too, and we saw that the weirdly morphing window had gone dark. All the other lights outside were on at full strength.
“It’s… jumping from light to light…” David breathed, looking rather sick. We watched intently as his guess proved true: one light came on, another went out, and our neighbors within that light screamed in pain and terror… and went silent.
“Turn off all the lights,” I whispered, my heart pounding. “We have to break all our lights.”
David stayed at the window and brought out his cellphone to call the police. Ryan and I hurried through the house, smashing light bulbs with shaking hands.
“I’m so sorry,” Ryan said quietly as we met up back in the kitchen, now cloaked in darkness. “I just wanted to hang out with you, and then… this…”
I touched his arm. “It’s crazy, I know, but it’s not your fault. There’s stories, always stories…”
I remember our words, because… screams came from the basement, and we rushed through the house –
Pitch black radiated from a rectangle on the floor, darker even than the non-light of the basement at night. I realized our mistake at the same moment that I saw half of David lying in silhouette on the floor: with all our other lights broken, the entity had jumped to the glow of his cellphone. An expanding rectangular cone of utter darkness lined the space from the phone on the floor to the ceiling.
Ryan and I froze, not daring to move. What was this thing? Could it see? Could it think? Was it aware of us at all?
Time wore on, and every muscle in my still body began to burn to its limit. If we made no sound, if we made no move, would we survive?
As I felt myself about to break, light flashed by our windows.
“Police!” someone shouted. “If there’s anybody back here, identify yourselves and step out!”
A few moments later, the void was gone from our basement, and bloodcurdling screams echoed outside. A loud gunshot followed.
Ryan and I plugged up all the windows with blankets and pillows as best we could, then huddled in the basement.
I thought to peer out with just my eye exposed and watch the thing leap from light to light in search of more victims. Forty-five seconds. It never jumps sooner than forty-five seconds since the last. It barely missed Mr. Jeffers, our neighbor, who I can see hiding in the basement next to ours. If it could have jumped sooner and gotten him, it would have…
It revels in the play of light and dark outside. That is its strength: it needs light, but, without darkness, it has no place to hide.
We just have to get to morning, and everything will be alright…
The half of David that was outside the cone of blackness… is starting to smell…
No… no, it couldn’t
I can see the sky lightening, but… it couldn’t…
It couldn’t jump to the Sun, could it?
We’re going to try to get it to jump to a cellphone again, then trap it in the laundry room – no windows, no escape
I’m so sorry
Sorry for what? I would never know. I dropped the journal, as the rest of it was blank.
Moving further into the house, wary of unwarranted darkness, I quietly descended the steps into the basement. All the high and narrow windows within sat plugged by pillows and blankets, except for one.
Half of a rotting corpse lay decaying in one corner. Covering my mouth and nose with my shirt, I moved further in.
There it was: a single door, shut, with no other means of access. That must have been the laundry room.
I opened the door carefully, even though I knew the entity was already gone. A single rotting hand lay within, holding a dead cellphone. Grey cinder blocks formed the walls – a small beam of light filtered through a crack in the foundation. That was how the thing had escaped.
“Ah, you never really had a chance…”
I took a towel from the dryer and threw it over the remaining hand, the best burial these people would ever get.
I left the house without another word, and proceeded back toward the rift. Had the darkness entity somehow bored through the wall and opened the portal? Perhaps that was how it had arrived here in the first place… but if it had come to our world, it’d only entered straight into a cloud-covered forest at night, found itself without a light source, and evaporated on the spot. A miscalculation in the most ironic degree…
Or so I assumed, since neighborhood children were playing with the rift instead of being annihilated.
Or, perhaps, the rift on this side had gone somewhere else at the time. It was impossible to say, at least until tomorrow.
I didn’t normally entertain such grim thoughts, but I couldn’t help but wonder, as I stepped back into my own universe, what it must have been like for the people on this world to look up and see their Sun turning black… only to find themselves disintegrating a moment later. Friends, family, neighbors, all screaming in terror and confusion…
And the rest of the world, slowly rotating into a lethal sunrise with nothing but silence to warn them…
Curious. I thought I’d dropped this journal back at the house… shrugging, I tucked it under one arm and began walking home, my thoughts bitter and brooding. Hopefully, tomorrow, the portal will go somewhere new… and I’ll have something to occupy my time.