Annelise found herself in the middle of the forest. Unlike in all her other dreams before, though, she got the feeling that Dianna and Athena were somewhere nearby. She looked around for them, but they were nowhere in sight. Then again, the night was so dark that she could barely see anything.
She turned this way and that, unable to remember which way she’d entered and which way she’d been headed. Everything looked the same to her. She was completely and utterly lost.
Her thoughts turned to her nearby friends. She thought about looking for them, but didn’t. Something inside of her told her that she didn’t need to look for them because they weren’t lost, like she was. They were found. No, what she needed to do before anything else was find herself.
And then, like before, she felt it.
POUND. POUND. POUND.
It was stronger than ever, seemingly reverberating through her entire torso, even into her ribcage.
And suddenly, she could feel which way it was coming from. She knew which way she was supposed to go.
Slowly, resolutely, she started forward again, toward the pound. Her journey was about to come to an end. She was about to come to the source at last. At that thought, her heart boomed nervously inside of her chest alongside the pounding that was reverberating through her entire body.
Annelise emerged from her dream quietly, without a start, or even a moan. She still wasn’t fully awake, though. She didn’t even bother to open her eyes. All she wanted was to just go back to sleep. So, rolling over onto her side, that was just what she did.
Annelise found herself in a long hallway. The blank walls, floor, and ceiling were bathed in a thin, red light. She could see everything around her, though the red light wasn’t comforting, or even illuminating like yellow sunlight. Instead, it felt ominous.
Then, in the distance, on the far side of the hallway, a flash of another red light caught her attention. She looked, and was able to clearly see an EXIT sign hanging over a door there.
The moment she saw the exit, though, Annelise was filled with dread. Suddenly, she felt like something was coming for her, something that she couldn’t let catch her.
Feeling like a mouse being pursued by a cat, Annelise took off towards the exit sign as fast as her feet could go. She ran and she ran, without ever getting out of breath or growing weary. Slowly, the exit sign became bigger as she got closer, but still the thing behind her was coming. And still, she had a long way to go.
Then, to her horror, she started to slow down. It wasn’t that she was willingly slowing down; she was moving her legs with the same urgency she had before. No, it was the floor that was slowing her down.
Instead of being hard, solid as it had before, the floor was now soft and warm. Her bare feet were sticking to it, each step taking more and more effort as she pulled her feet off of it with a sickening squelching sound.
The thing behind her, meanwhile, was still coming, and unlike her, the change in the floor hadn’t slowed it down in the least.
She needed to make it to that exit, and fast.
She continued trudging forward until finally, a mere ten feet from the exit, she couldn’t lift her feet anymore. She was stuck. Utterly, and helplessly stuck.
And still, the thing behind her was coming.
She tried desperately to free her feet, never giving up, but it was no use. They wouldn’t budge.
And still, the thing behind her was coming.
Annelise screamed for help, and she screamed in fear. But it didn’t do any good. The thing was still coming, and there was nothing she could do about it.
Then, at last, it caught her.
Annelise woke up, shaking in her sleeping bag. It was alright, though. It had only been a dream.
Telling herself that over and over, trying to calm down, Annelise wiped the sweat from her brow and tried to sit up.
To her horror, she found that she couldn’t move her legs.
Her mind returning to her nightmare, Annelise let out a terrified scream as she pushed herself up to look at her legs. When she saw why she couldn’t use them, she screamed even louder.
Down at her legs, all the way up to her knees, was a large, bulbous, white, viscous creature. She didn’t know what it was, but she knew what it was doing. It was trying to eat her.
“Why are you scream-” Athena began groggily before looking over at Annelise and letting out a scream of her own, jumping to her feet.
With that, everyone else woke up as well. As soon as they noticed the white, Jello like things, they all screamed too.
Dianna and Xander, who were the only two other than Athena who weren’t being eaten, jumped up to see the field around them full of the same white blobs that were slowly overtaking Annelise, Percy, and Tyler.
“Please help!” Annelise yelled to her friends.
Tyler and Percy were also calling out for help, their voices thick with fear.
Athena rushed over to help Annelise, while Xander helped Percy, and Dianna Tyler.
“We need to get out of here quick, guys!” Athena called out as she pulled on Annelise’s arms. “Those things are closing in quick!”
“Do we need to get out of here quick? Here I wanted to have a midnight picnic!” Dianna yelled back sarcastically.
With a suction noise, Xander succeeded in pulling Percy free. He slid out of his sleeping bag like a snake shedding its skin.
“You’re too heavy with all your bulging muscles!” Dianna said to Tyler, futilely pulling on his massive body. “I need help!”
“I do too!” Athena yelled, having no better luck freeing Annelise.
Xander ran over to help Athena free Annelise, while Percy went to help Dianna free Tyler.
With Percy and Xander helping, Annelise and Tyler were soon delivered from both the mouths of the oozy white creatures, and their sleeping bags.
“Now let’s go!” Tyler said, booking it back to the vehicles.
“At least carry something!” Athena yelled at him as she and the others grabbed all the stuff they brought out other than the three sleeping bags the unwelcome, voracious intruders were slowly devouring.
Tyler, however, just kept running.
When they had everything, they turned and hurried back to the vehicles. Everyone other than Annelise, that is.
When he noticed Annelise hanging back, Xander returned to her.
“What’s the problem?” He asked hurriedly, eager to get out of there.
“Nothing,” Annelise said as she removed her camera from its case and turned it on. “I just don’t know what these things are, and don’t want to leave without at least a few pictures.”
“Seriously?” Athena yelled at her from back at the van, seeing what she was doing.
“Hurry up before you get eaten!” Dianna roared.
“These things move at the same pace as ladybugs! Just give me a minute!” Annelise yelled back as she raised her camera and snapped a picture, the flash lighting up the night.
“She’s crazy! We should just leave her!” Tyler said.
“Shut up before I feed you to them!” Athena snapped at him.
“We’re not leaving Annie!” Dianna declared.
“Let’s get ready then to go so we don’t have to wait around here when they do come,” Percy suggested.
Realizing the wisdom in his words, they loaded their stuff into the van and Athena started the vehicle.
Annelise, meanwhile, was oblivious to everything but the creatures and her camera, until Xander spoke again.
“How many pictures are you going to take?” He asked after what felt like an eternity standing there with the creatures creeping ever closer.
Annelise, having forgotten that he was there, jumped slightly.
“Just one more,” she answered.
Quickly, she put her camera in panorama setting and took one long picture of the entire field, covered in the white ooze monsters, her friends safely in the vehicles in the distance, and Xander standing next to her.
“Done,” she then told him.
“Then let’s go,” he said, picking up the stuff at their feet with one hand and grabbing Annelise’s hand with the other as they started running away.
Unlike in Annelise’s dream, the running wasn’t effortless. She was soon out of breath and her side hurt. But at least her feet weren’t sticking to the field.
Finally, to everyone’s relief, Annelise and Xander leapt into the van.
“Now can we go?” Tyler asked frantically.
Athena shifted the van into drive, but then paused.
“Someone has to get in the car,” she said.
“Screw that! Let’s just get out of here!” Tyler yelled.
“I am not having that car crash into the back of my van!” Athena growled.
“I’ll do it,” Xander volunteered, jumping out of the van and hurrying back to the car. When he was behind the wheel and gave her a thumbs up, Athena started driving.
“What the hell were those things?” Dianna asked as they sped away.
“I don’t know. Do you, Anne?” Athena asked.
Annelise, however, wasn’t listening. She was busy looking down at her right hand, the one Xander had grabbed. She rubbed her thumb across the bottom of her fingers and the top of her palm. It was almost as if she could still feel his hand squeezing hers.
“Anne!” Athena said louder to get her attention.
“What?” Annelise asked, snapping out of her trancelike state.
“Do you know what those things were?”
“No. That’s part of why I stopped to take pictures. I want to find out,” she said.
“We’re lucky you didn’t get us all killed,” Tyler grumbled.
Rolling her eyes and resisting the urge to remind him that he’d run away like a coward, Annelise turned and looked out the window.
Back in the car, all alone, meanwhile, Xander was glancing around at the now empty fields around them as well. He was steering the car with his right hand, while his left was clenched gently, as if he still had Annelise’s hand in his own. And while he liked being alone, away from all the yelling, and the questions, and the dumb comments from Tyler, he also couldn’t help but regret that Annelise wasn’t sitting next to him.
Three hours later, they pulled into a small town. None of them knew, or cared what it was called. All they cared about was getting some sleep.
Just as Athena was about to fall asleep at the wheel, mercifully, they came across a motel. They were all so tired that going to the front desk to get rooms was torture, but a few minutes later, keys in hand, the two groups entered their respective rooms, collapsed onto the beds, and fell asleep almost immediately.