Part 6: The Morning
By the time her mother arrived at her room, Kaelyn had calmed herself. She knew – knew – that if she let her mother see the markings, she would be dooming them both. If her mother was not already involved, that is… from what she had seen, she knew that she could no longer trust anyone at all. Even if she was… clean, though, her mother would not be able to help herself; she would search out the source of the harm to her daughter, and in so doing would bring the wrath of the stars down upon them.
So she pulled the sheets up around herself, combed most of the debris from her hair, and readied herself to feign waking as her mother burst into the room.
“Kaelyn? Sweetie?” Margaret Greene’s concern was clear in her voice as she came into the room. Leaning over the bed, she reached out to touch Kaelyn’s shoulder as the girl writhed under her covers. With a start, she jerked away from the touch and blinked her eyes open in confusion, slowly calming herself.
“Oh… mom.” She took a deep breath, looking around as the last of her befuddlement faded from her eyes. It was a masterful performance, and she hated herself for every moment of it. “What happened? You look worried.”
“You were screaming, honey.” Her mother sat on the bed and slipped her arm around Kaelyn’s shoulders, kissing the top of her head. “Dreams again?”
The girl just nodded, her eyes avoiding Margaret’s and instead searching the corners of the room, desperate for something to prove that everything she knew to be true was not. She didn’t find it. “They just keep coming, mom. I hate it.” I hate lying to you, I hate that the world is just images on darkened glass, she thought, wishing she could say it without destroying her mother as she herself was being consumed.
“Do you want to stay home from school today? You look so tired. I’ll call them for you.” Her eyes filling with gratitude and finally turning to the older woman’s, Kaelyn nodded emphatically. She leapt at the chance because she knew that she needed all the time she could get to come up with a plan, and to act. They would be coming for her as soon as they worked out who it was who had interrupted their… ritual. The memory of it made her go pale, so much so that her mother noticed.
“Ok, honey. You just rest. I’ll bring you breakfast in a bit.” Margaret kissed her daughter’s forehead and stood, closing the door behind her as she left the room. She paused for a moment… It was strange, she thought, how she had smelled of mud and the forest and something acrid. She shook her head to clear it. Must be her imagination, her worry searching for something to latch on to, she decided.
Part 7: The Town
As soon as her mother was out of the room, Kaelyn was up, hurrying into the shower to clean the evidence of her experience and her flight through the woods away. Even under the hot water, she shivered as she examined the bruise on her ankle – angry and deep purple, its edges smooth and clear as testament to the focused power in those hideous tendrils. The crusted slime was stubborn, frothing strangely in the water when the soap touched it and releasing a noxious scent, like bleach and rot commingled. Eventually, though, it was gone, and she stood under the water until it ran cold, trying to rid herself of the chills it had evoked in her.
She would have to do something. The first step would be to finally do what she had been warned against. She would have to take the scope up the mountain and, at last, turn it upon their sleepy little town… though already she was starting to suspect what it would reveal.
At last, the cold water forced her out of the shower and she dressed in her outdoors clothes, hooked the scope’s battered metal case to her pack, slipping it over her shoulders, and headed out – climbing carefully out of the window with an agility that demonstrated just how many times she had done so.
The hike up to the mountaintop clearing she and Papa Greene had done all of their stargazing from, and which had an excellent view of the town over a cliff’s edge, was dissonantly beautiful. She had rarely made the walk during the day, before, and the way that the bright early-fall sunlight filtered through the trees made her smile despite her mission. There were birds alive in the trees, calling to each other as they prepared for their flights to their winter roosts, and the freshly-fallen leaves rustled constantly with small creatures working urgently to build up their stores of food for the coming cold. She even found herself humming, once, but when she realized that she was humming a tune her grandfather used to whistle on their hikes it seemed to cast a shadow across the scene and she proceeded on the rest of the way in silence.
As she emerged into the open space at the top of the trail and stood there looking out, first at the mountainous horizon and then down at the innocent-looking town below her, it seemed as if the world drew in an expectant breath and held it in suspense. The sound of the birds became muffled to her ears as she carefully erected the tripod with the speed that implied long muscle-memory. The breeze that had been rustling the trees died as she fitted the scope to the mount on top of the stand, and as she put her eye to the eyepiece the sun slipped behind a cloud, as if to hide itself from what was about to happen.
Carefully and deliberately she pointed the scope down, down from the sky she spent so many hours gazing at longingly with her grandfather, and she did what he had warned her against at last. She aimed her sight at the church in the center of the town. Carefully, almost tentatively she adjusted the focus until it was revealed in sharp and cutting clarity. And when her mind finally registered what her eyes were feeding it, it was
as if the stillness was broken all at once – her breath whooshed out of a soft, strangled cry of fear and revulsion and as if to echo it a freezing wind blew across her open space.
There was the church, its white-painted siding and its dark shingles stark in the daytime. Rising above it was the bell-tower and its steeple, towering high above the rest of the buildings in the town. And writhing, twisting, twining all around it – up along those bright, white walls, slipping across the shingles, and curling sinuously around the arches of the bell-tower – was a mass of squirming, seeking, sucking tendrils. Matte and black, seeming to suck the light in rather than reflect it, they curled up from the lower windows and streamed out of the basement as they bifurcated and branched and split like the veins of some monstrously alien beast to cover the building. At first she thought they glistened, as if they were coated in slime, but as she stared longer she came to realize that she was seeing lights within them, like lost stars long since dead in the night sky but shining still from within the abomination.
She wanted to scream, to run from the scope and down the mountain and to forget she had ever seen it, but now that she had begun it was as if her body had a mind of its own. She shifted her focus and began to look at the streets of her town, the place she had called home for the last eight years, and to look at the people and places she once thought familiar. They went about their business as if they were totally ignorant of the horrors amongst them – which they were, which she had been until so very recently – but here and there were those who were… different.
The man who owned the grocery store stood on the street corner smoking a cigarette and, as he sucked in the tobacco, she could clearly see that one of his arms truly ended in that same pair of twining tendrils as the rector’s had in her dream.
Over there, the chief of police was getting out of his shining, freshly-washed car in the lot of the station – but no amount of washing could cleanse the burning, star-white light that filled his eyes.
Peering out of the windows of a house near hers, one of her neighbors – she vaguely remembered that he was a professor at a nearby university – seemed to be laughing in the sunlight, but the spray of curling, seeking tentacles that sat where his mouth should be lent him an utterly alien appearance.
And the more she looked the more she saw them – prominent figures, important ones in the town, everywhere and totally unnoticed. And the longer she looked, the more something began to tingle the back of her mind, an alarm that she couldn’t quite understand, until finally it hit her like a revelation and then she gave in to her desire to flee, packing away her scope and tripod and running home as fast as she could, heedless of the steep path in her panic.
What had spurred her into motion was the realization that every single pair of eyes was turning to look directly at her perch on the mountain.
Part 8: The Plan
She didn’t have much time before they found her; she knew that. But she had a plan already; it had been percolating in the back of her mind throughout the day and, when things were thrown into sharp relief by her revelation on the mountain, she decided to put it into action.
First, she stopped in the shed in the back yard of her house where they kept the pool supplies. Gathering what she needed took little time; she had paid attention in chemistry class, and was the one mostly responsible for the maintenance of the pool anyway, so it was easy enough. Next to the kitchen and the cleaning supplies kept beneath the sink. Last, to the garage, where they kept an extra gas can for the lawnmower as well as several other important tools.
Quickly packing her materials into her backpack, she froze when there was a knock at the door. Hearing her parents moving to answer it, she hurriedly took her newly gathered supplies as well as everything she thought she might need, and made her way out the window.
As she crept away, she saw two cars in the driveway – the police car with the ‘Chief of Police’ blazon and the sedan owned by the rector of the church. She paused, fearing for her parents, but then forced herself to continue on. She knew there was nothing else she could do against them, and she had to do something.
She made her way to a thick grove of trees in the forest where she had a small hollow shaped in the center, hard to see until you were inside it. She had often taken refuge there in the days after they moved here, when she was feeling lonely and when the bullies at school were on the hunt for the ‘new kid’. Inside, she measured and mixed and even lit a small fire to finish her preparation. It was just getting dark by the time she had finished her work.
Taking the sealed plastic bucket that held what she had made as well as the metal gas can in hand, she made her way much more carefully through the woods towards town. She knew that, as the sun set on Monday, most of the people in town would be heading home, eager to finish their workday, and so she should be able to make it to her destination without being stopped. She knew she would have to work fast once she got there, and that it was likely those searching for her would be present, but she couldn’t think of any alternative. Something needed to be done.
After a nerve-shattering hour of careful movement through town, including several near misses when she ducked into an alley just in time to avoid searchers she recognized from her observation through the scope as being… changed, she arrived at the church. As she expected, there were a half-dozen people gathered out front, and it seemed that they were talking about the search for her both with each other and on their phones.
Moving cautiously around the back of the building, she stood on her toes and peered
through one of the windows looking into the main chamber; it seemed empty. They were using the offices at the front to organize their search, and it seemed that they had left the inside of the building unwatched. Perfect. She pushed the window open – thanking whatever powers still supported her that it wasn’t locked – and slipped inside. This was the easy part; she left the can of gas with a small bottle duct-taped to its side beneath the podium in the transept and then she slipped back out of the window.
Easy part done, she thought to herself, and then she took a deep breath and steeled her nerves as she approached one of the basement windows. This one should open on to the large chamber where the noxious pool she had seen was; however, it was blocked, boards nailed over the opening from inside. She sighed and then, with a sharp kick, shattered the glass. She heard shouts from the front of the church, and knew she didn’t have much time. Taking a prybar from her backpack, she worked hurriedly to force the planking away from the window.
It was agonizingly slow work, and she was terrified that any moment she would be caught. The window she was working on was shielded by bushes, and the searchers were moving carefully, so she had a little time, but at best it was only a few minutes. She let out a breath of relief as the panel popped free at last and tumbled into the chamber, but the breath became a squeak of terror that she barely contained as she saw the creature that lurked in that pool, half-submerged and just bobbing lightly in the thick, viscous fluid. It breathed slowly, those luminous, globular eyes closed as it rested.
She took the plastic bucket and quickly used a screwdriver to punch a few holes in its lid; immediately, the chemical smell of chlorine oozed out of the spaces. Holding her breath, she reached back and then slung the bucket into the window with all of her strength, watching with grim satisfaction as it landed in the pool and immediately sank. The creature blinked its eyes open and looked around curiously as the liquid calmed, and then a small stream of bubbles started to appear where it had vanished.
The creature’s eyes fixed on hers as she watched and it let out a bubbling roar of rage that she should intrude a second time, but just as it started to move sinuously to the edge there was a low thump and a huge bubble formed. When it ruptured, the gas that belched forth burned her eyes and stung her nose, but the effect it had on the creature was far more dramatic – its scaly flesh almost seemed to melt, running like softened wax as it thrashed in agony, seeking solace in its pool; but the liquid there had been changed by her attack, and it only hastened its dissolution.
Kaelyn didn’t remain to watch; as soon as she knew it would work she set off at a run, keeping to the deepening shadows as she fled the center of town for the woods. As she ran she pulled out her cellphone, flipping it open and dialing the number that would connect to the small circuit board taped to the gas can in the church. It rang once and then cut off, and she threw the phone away, satisfied. Hopefully the results of that would keep the searchers busy for long enough that she could make her way through the woods to the highway…
And from there, who knows. She’d find her way, she hoped. She had the scope, and she knew they existed now. She would find someone else like her – someone who had seen, someone who knew. There had to be someone out there who could help her fight them…