How many times had he felt like this? Lately, it seemed to be more and more. Mark's feet wore a path in the floor. He wasn't nervous. What did he have to fear? It was a feeling-an escalating sensation that he was ready to claw his way out of his own skin. As days went on it only got worse. A quickening heart rate and a growing angst were surfacing just below his conscious level of thought. Just below the skin it raced like razors through flesh.
He spent increasing hours in the woods, just wandering at first to pass away the small hours. Then as time ticked forward something changed. His senses seemed to heighten...the smells, sounds, and sights around him became more vivid. Every detail sharpened like the edge of a blade. It was all there; the chase of the quarry seemed the only thrill that excited him. He was alone, but not still.
Silence gave way to dreams, and dreams gave way to visions. Even in his sleep his spirit roamed the forest. But it was different somehow, more feral and savage. The moon rose high over the trees as ashen grey turned to blood red.
Mark woke-up suddenly, his heart pounding feverishly. Startled, he pulled on some clothes and was out the door. He had taken care not to raise the family. There was not enough time to answer question or give good reasons. Mark had felt an urge that predated civilization...an impetus soon primal that words would truly never describe but barely show the sign of meaning. Into the dark woods he went.
Every step took him closer to the calling. Silent, serene, and dreadfully he walked deeper into that ebon night. The distant sound of howling wolves rang like music in his ears. Their cries were as old as the stars...as old as what drew him into that utter abyssal black. And still he walked onward.
From the woods behind his house he exited, crossing a wide clearing and into a field. Soon enough he stopped, as if the fear had shaken the thrall from his mind momentarily. He peered into that unhallowed place, the Bleek Woods, where he had sworn he would never go. For a century that dense forest had been the local urban legend. Stories of witches, evil spirits, and gruesome murders had vexed the area. There was a look of madness there. No one went into those trees and ever told of it.
As it haunted the hearts, it haunted the soul. Mark was horrified even by the mere sight of it, as its branches scratched at the heavens. And still, he continued on.
His feet carried him forward. Soon he was again in the trees, but now something was fiercely different. The wind stirred violently, assaulting Mark with a cold, unnatural touch that chilled him to the soul. Limbs and leaves rustled in a creaking echo. The stiffening gale began to shriek, howling like a madman at the moon. This was a lunatic's endeavor. Mark could feel the unholy staring deep within and through him.
The sky was afire. The aurora borealis rippled in iridescent waves over his head as the shadows moved like specters about him. It all seemed like some twisted psychedelic nightmare being stirred into reality. What Hell was this?
Echoing voices swam around and in him. At first sounding like many, but then centering into one, demonic whispering that tormented Mark's mind. It said, "I am here. Waiting for you in this darkness, I will have you. I will have your soul, and then I will destroy your body. Struggle all you will, and it will give me pleasure all the more." Then there was a cackling laugh.
The shadows tore at him, as the spiritual assault began. Ripping and clenching, the fearsome thing clawed at him with formless rage. "You are mine!" the voice shrieked...it was a woman's voice. It was torturous and shrill--the voice of a very old woman screaming at him from the darkness. "I will have your soul."
Awash in the black, Mark weathered the abuse silently. Still the sky was burning overhead, drowning the stars in torrents of glowing, frenzied light. Mark growled under his breath as the pain wrenched his body in agony.
His eyes were almost shut, clenched tightly in defense. In the distance he could see the glimmer of red eyes. At first two, and then several pairs, running low amongst the shadows. They were coming towards him rapidly. What dole awaited him next?
The pack of wolves came charging through the trees. Each baring his teeth, growling fiercely, took position for the siege. They encircled Mark, arching their backs and tensing every muscle. Their growls sounded like a war engine storming the ramparts of the night.
Mark's body seized by pain and succumbing to the preternatural battering, fell limply to the ground. His mind fazed in and out of consciousness. What was to happen next he would not clearly remember.
The pack had surrounded him, facing outward against the seizing darkness. They had formed a rampart around his broken form. Teeth glared and their eyes burned with primordial rage...no one or nothing would pass their line. Fear would not enter here.
The shrieks gathered into the one voice. It said, "Be gone. He is mine, you have no power to challenge me here. Every shadow is my minion in these woods. I will destroy you all!"
The wolves did not flinch. The pack mind shared no terror, and death was a human dread. Their only answer was the mixed cacophony of moon mad howls and growling ferocity.
The shadows whipped and struck at the pack. Their fangs tore at the ethereal beasts, not giving them a single free inch not stained with night drawn blood. The branches shook as orange, red, and yellow leaves fell beneath a graceless sky. The darkness was racing to the underworld, and the fiend's time would soon be done.
Her frenzy increased as the end of her wretched power came nigh. The sun was cracking on the horizon. The night was giving way to sun swimming cerulean day. Sunlight broke the horizon, as day was reborn like the phoenix rising from its charnel ashes. Rising from the underworld it rampaged across the sky as the red bled into the blue. With a purging howl daylight rushed through the woods, as the ethereal cast of the shadows there changed to a sepia shade of peaceful tranquility.
The thing was gone now. The wolves' demeanor relaxed, as the alpha male approached Mark's crumpled body. Prodding him gently with his nose, he stirred him softly trying to awaken him. Mark groaned quietly as he first moved.
The alpha snapped, biting Mark's arm. The blood flowed as the pain charged his nerves. Then the pack was gone. Far from sight they ran on quiet foot, leaving him to make his way to safety. He struggled to his feet. Holding his arm tightly, he staggered towards the edge of the woods and to the road.
Sheriff Harper got the report a few hours later. Old man Helsing had found Mark Colridge wandering along Moreau Road aimlessly. Battered and bruised, he had loaded the young man into his truck and had broken every speed limit to get him to Doc Gallagher's office. The Doctor had patched him up as much as he could for the trip to the hospital. It was a thirty-mile trip to the emergency room in Jefferson. But they got him there, and he was stable.
The three days he spent in intensive care he slept. The dreams were vivid and horrific. He saw the living shadows hanging from the trees, and the crone's face. Her pale, dead eyes haunted him. Those colorless irises stared deeply into him, into his very soul. There they found darkness, but no fear. The terror had been purged from his essence, leaving only a pure heart of darkness.
Dan, Mark's father, came to see him in the hospital. He sat down slowly, his old bones creaking like rusty hinges. The fact was that he really wasn't an old man, just a well-worn one. His fingers interlocked as he brought his hands together. "You are blessed," he said in a deep, almost raspy voice. "God was looking out for you."
"I know," Mark said. It wasn't that Mark disagreed, because he didn't. He knew God was there when he was in the Bleek Woods. ...There had been strange angels sent to protect him. He believed that; he knew that.
The Sheriff walked through the door then. The door was ajar slightly as the sterile noise of the halls flooded in like soft, white noise. "They're referring to you as Lazarus around here." He laughed loudly. "Seems they've never seen one heal as fast as you have with that severe of injuries. Scratches, scrapes, a severe bite wound, and best as they could figure at the time, massive internal trauma. They swore that you had risen." His fingers fumbled with his hat in his hands.
He had been to the darkness, and stared deep within.
"We're going to set traps along the edge of the woods. Don't you worry, we'll get those wolves."
The hair stood up on the back of Mark's neck. "DON'T!" he said in an aggravated tone. "Those wolves saved me. I owe them my life."
The Sheriff clearly didn't understand, and Mark could never tell him all of the story. Not at least without landing a private suite in the madhouse. "They saved me..." His mind raced for any reasonable explanation. "There was a grizzly." It was weak, very weak, but it would have to do.
"That's too small a bite for a bear," the Sheriff replied. He wasn't convinced yet. Not nearly convinced.
"This bite was the only thing that got me up and out of those woods. My anger gave me strength. It kept me from dying there." He raised his arm into the air, showing row after row after row of stitches. "These scars will be my crown." But they were so much more.
Days would pass before Mark returned home. His shattered body mended quickly, but even when the healing had finished he was different. Eyes once as bright as day had now taken a darker hue, as if cast in storm clouds and the tumult of its thunderous dirge. Behind those orbs the lightning would flash with a graceless fury. The windows of the soul now stared upon a starker view.
The shadows of a man's soul often reveal more than any dream that he has ever had. Mark often found comfort in the night now. He had never met even the most mundane criteria necessary to be considered remotely normal by anyone's standards. But still he felt sane somehow. He bore no ready guilt or self-doubt. What he was never troubled him. And even now as a new creature he felt no wondering or hazy logic.
Soon after his return home, Mark began to have a hunger to prowl the woods for hours at a time. It was at these times that he truly felt free. As he ran in the woods he could feel the surety within his spirit grow. Little by little his old self passed away, and a new self began to emerge. This nature that began to thrive within him was of a wilder sort than that he had previously known. It hungered for the forest, the night, and the hunt. He longed for it; there was no resisting what he was.
The sun would set, and into the outer darkness he would disappear for days at a time. It was like he no longer thought like a man. Running through the brush he chased his quarry until they surrendered their will unto his. Rabbits and squirrels gave the best chase, and they were his preferred hunt because of it.
The hunt had never been about the kill. These were all the subtle changes, like growth, that came upon him. Play was the way to sharpen the skills, because the art of death had no means of practice. The beast had become a part of him, but even before there was something wild within.
He could smell the cool night air, the dry dead leaves, the scent of animals, and the fragrance of blooming plants. This barrage of aromas grabbed his attention with a mesmerizing awe. All of his senses were alive with tangible assaults. He could hear the rabbit's heartbeat as it hid beneath the fallen leaves. The wolves howled in the distance like the lunatic's song. Mark could sense them now and always.
In these moments he felt truly alive, at one with wildness within his deepest nature. He could tell the change had come. He could feel it crawling just under his skin...
Fall had almost passed away. Late one night he left the house, and took his fateful journey again. The stories, the legends, of the Bleek Woods scurried bravely through his thoughts but they did not slow his step. The memories of that night flooded his consciousness, and he felt no fear. There could be no terror in the heart that's full. The darkness had made a kingdom there, and it strode from every void and expanse.
There was no room for even a lurking fear. The beast had changed him, and now he looked upon the world with new eyes of old. And still the night engulfed him.
Mark came to the edge of the Bleek Woods and glared deep into it. Unto the utter shadows he peered, and he saw nothingness. But he knew that she was there waiting for him. Formless and wicked, she had only time to lose in the lingering. So she waited, unto eternity.
He spit at the darkness there, and raised his fist in defiance. Yelling, he said, "You and I, wretched hag, shall meet again. And next time I will have bigger teeth to bite you with, sharper eyes to see you with, and a fiercer heart to hate you with. I no longer fear you. These woods may be yours, but the night is mine. Next time, things will be different...very different." He closed his eyes.
Then there was a howling through the forest. His tongue washed against sharp fangs. Raising his hands towards a blood red moon, claws scratched at the sky. Mark opened savage black eyes that glimmered in the light of the stars. Heart pounding tirelessly, his blood was now awake.
Under a funereal moon he had been reborn. The wind spoke to his blood, carrying the discordance of the primordial past. And as unto his birth was oblivion, and he and the night were one.
Copyright, © 2000 A.D.
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created by Bill Vogel III.
October 31, 2001 A.D.