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Beyond Hell

By ShackleSoul All Rights Reserved ©


Part One

10:54 PM
You are crammed into the middle of the Ford pickup’s back seat, flanked by your friends Cole and Ridley. Lazily lolling your head around to stay awake, you briefly wonder why there are streetlights in your field of vision this far from the city. Momentarily you realize the bright specks of light are actually stars, which because of background glare never look this bright back in town. As you continue attempting to shake the encroaching vestiges of sleep from your eyes, you bring your head to rest with your sightline pointe directly in front of you. You can see the approaching road through the windshield, and the remaining two members of you party in their seats: Wesley, who is driving, and Jason riding shotgun.

Speaking of shotguns, you know that the ever paranoid-but-prepared Jason is the only one of your group who is armed. It is a fair bit less drastic than a shotgun though. Simply a battered, old, but serviceable enough Bul Cherokee pistol he bought at a pawn shop specifically for this occasion.

Seriously, you’re just going to spend three days and nights in the bogs a few miles outside town. It’s supposed to be fun, for crying out loud, a mutual dare to celebrate the five of you accumulating three credits apiece so far in your various college courses. Four of you will sleep in the huge tent you brought and one of you in the backseat of the pickup itself. You’ll play cards, tell ghost stories, hell, maybe if you’re lucky one of you will find a bog body. Just to add to the experience of being off the grid, none of you are bringing anything like cellphones or PDAs or the like. You don’t feel uncomfortable being the only girl among the group, your friends are good guys. Unlike some idiots back at college who will remain nameless. Well, now it’s your chance to get away from them for a little.

Because, after all, you’re only doing this for a little fun.

12:14 PM
“You guys smell something? Anyone? Is it just me?” Wesley asks as he leans on the truck door before taking a drag on his cigarette.

“Shut up and give us a hand with the tent. Just because you’re sleeping in your truck doesn’t mean you don’t have to help out. And of course it smells like shit here, we’re in a frick-fracketing bog” you gently point out to him. While you speak you are attempting to guide a support peg through a hole you swear is too small for it.

Your group had chosen this patch of land as campground based on the close proximity of a marsh for firewood and kindling, as well as seeming as solid a piece of ground to pitch a tent as any. You aren’t going to pitch the tent directly on the bog, after all. This is sort of an island of earth before the soil gets swallowed up by the bog proper.

After what seems like an hour of exhausting assembly and Wesley being a dick by not helping, the tent is more or less properly assembled. You, Cole, Ridley, and Jason pile inside and promptly fall asleep without even having rolled out your sleeping bags. Wesley stays up a bit longer than the rest of you, tossing and turning in the back of the cab before he succumbs to slumber too.

1:09 AM
At a certain point of your REM sleep, what had been a relatively mundane dream morphs into something else, becoming much more vivid in the process. You are standing alone in a marsh in very different clothes. The clothes seem much older than what you had been wearing, not in regards to being tattered but just seeming to come from an older time period and setting. What strikes you as most odd, however, is that this is a recognizably different bog from the one you had been in previously. In fact, you don’t see anything resembling the truck or the tent anywhere. Then you notice that the sun is plainly visible and you remember that this is just a dream.

As you are turning around, soaking in the details of this lucid dream, you stop and startle a bit when a man who wasn’t there earlier now stands to your side. He must have been fast indeed to have snuck there while you had your back turned for only a few seconds. But, of course, this is a dream, and it has no bearing on reality.

The man seems to be a fairly plain Caucasian in his early to mid-twenties. He is wearing a white set of robes that is stainless except where it makes contact with the bog’s mud. In those places it is tarnished and greyed. Eventually you realize the stain is subtly spreading, corroding and eating away at his fine white robes. With some nausea you look at his feet and shins where the cloth is completely decayed and see that it seems to be eating into his flesh as well.

“Leave. Now, before he and the children take you to-“

The man is abruptly cut off in horrific fashion when dozens of child-sized hands, all bearing visible signs of decay, erupt from the bog and envelop his torn flesh. They tear at his skin even as they drag his thrashing body down into the mire. You are paralyzed with shock and can do nothing but watch as his kicking and flailing grows increasingly desperate until it ceases entirely.

“Behind you, girl” a cracked, raspy croak of a voice hisses in your ear.

You turn around and scream, your scream carrying over into real life when you wake up. You had bolted upright, and the adrenaline surging through your veins heightens your senses as you look around. A few of your friends in the tent stir slightly before returning to their slumber. They always were heavy sleepers. As you lie back down you try to push away the sight that met you when you turned around. But curiously, you find yourself unable to remember it at all, even when you purposely try to.

3:36 AM
Just when you had managed to fall back asleep after that ordeal, you are awoken again, this time with the rest of the tent. A chorus of voices is singing something you can just barely make out at first, but soon it becomes an omnipresent din. It seems to be coming from numerous people circling the tent, to judge from the splashing of shoes and boots in the marsh. Although they are in a falsetto they sound as though they have been rendered hoarse through some means, and many of them sound so off-key it is as though they are screaming. You find yourself unable to focus on anything but what they are singing.

“-ound and round, twist and turn,
Children of the Horned One fall,
Round and round, twist and turn,
We feed ourselves so we may be culled.

In this day and in this night,
Goddess of moon, Goddess be bright,
May the Horned One kiss me when I sleep,
May he visit máthair and athair when they weep.

Round and round, twist and turn,
Children of the Horned One fall,
Round and round, twist and turn,
We feed ourselves so we may be culled."

And then, just as abruptly as the cacophony began, it ceases. The splashing of feet, the voices, everything, simply absent. You share a terrorized look with the other occupants before Jason begins frantically rummaging through his backpack.

“Jason, you’re not… I mean, you don’t think we’re in-“ Ridley begins before Jason cuts him off in a rapid-fire string of stream of consciousness.

“Trouble, danger, neck-deep shit? Take your pick, yeah yeah, take your pick, we’re just, we’re all just sorry sorry lemme calm down.” As Jason is speaking his twitchy fingers locate the pistol and he begins inspecting the magazine to check if it is fully loaded.

“It might be easier for you to calm down if you put the gun back in your bag” Cole points out.

“Are you insane?!” Jason screams, a touch ironically no doubt. “This gun is the only thing keeping me from capping myself in the head right now!”

“And that…made no sense. Look, I’m gonna go check on it” Cole says as he grabs his flashlight. While he unzips the canvas door to the tent you grab his arm.

“Hey, I’m coming with you” you say.

“Any particular reason, (y/n)? Or are you just tired of living too?” he sighs. Cole always was a bit of a joker.

“No reason” you lie. Secretly you can’t help but think there might be a connection between this and the dream you had.

“GUYS! GUYS!” Wesley screams as he runs towards you two from the direction of the truck, arms flailing like an idiot.

“What?! What is it?! Damn, man, you freaking trying to give me a heart attack?” Cole says.

“No, it’s, it’s just like…fuck. Our tires, someone slashed them!”

“WHAT?!” you and Cole scream simultaneously. On the increasingly off chance this is all a prank, it’s beginning to feel a bit sick.

“They must’ve been whisper-quiet because I barely even heard them!” Wesley moans. “By the time I scrambled outta the cab I was too late. With slashed tires there’s no way the truck would make it out of a swamp like this.”

“Did you see them?” you ask.

“No” he sighs. “They must have been fucking fast and wearing camouflage or something, but whatever the cause I didn’t see them.”

“Uh, guys? I think you need to see this. Now” you hear Jason call. The three of you head over to the source of his voice to find him standing next to a shaken-looking Ridley. He throws a soggy brown object down in front of you.

“Me and Ridley left the tent to go find you guys. I found this embedded in the floor of the marsh when I tripped and landed next to it” Jason says. “Are we officially fucked now?”

As Cole’s flashlight beam falls upon the object, the rest of you gasp, except for Wesley who retches. It is plain to see that it is a badly-weathered child’s rainboot with part of a decaying shin still inside.

Continue Reading Next Chapter
1. Part One
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