SHORT STORIES

A Walk in the Woods

My Dearest Sister Gwen,

I hope this letter finds you well. I know it has been awhile since I have written to you, but I have been so engrossed in my recent adventure that I have barely been able to do anything else. My current state of mind is in such fragility that I dare not walk outside after dusk anymore. I mostly keep to myself, only every now and again visiting with my colleague, Dr. Montgomery. You remember Henry, don’t you? In one of our meetings one evening over dinner he had suggested that writing about my experience would help me. I am still quite shaken up about what happened, so I am taking his suggestion to heart. Knowing how kind-hearted you are, and how you used to take care of us as kids, I have decided that I will entrust you with my harrowing tale.

As you know, I have been stricken with a very intense case of insomnia. After trying various methods of relief, nothing has seemed to help. Some two weeks ago now, I was up late going over my research notes when I decided that maybe a stroll might set my mind into a state of slumber. I finished my glass of brandy, grabbed my coat and hat—the autumn wind was blustering that night—and set off.

The walk down the road was quite innocuous. The glow from the lamp lights radiated warmth and the smell of the fall leaves hung in the air. I imagined that in each house I passed, the occupants were tightly wrapped in their blankets, deep in a peaceful sleep. This and the cool fresh air calmed my nerves some and allowed me to continue along into the night.

My walk eventually led me to the outskirts of the city and into the woods. I have such fond memories of us playing in those woods as children, I wondered at the time if traveling through them might rekindle those memories. I had no idea how wrong I was.

The sweet smell of the earth filled my nostrils as I strolled down the cobblestone path. Even though the new moon shed no light for me, the glow from the stars above was enough so that I could navigate the weather-beaten path unimpeded. As I walked; however, the rattling of the leafless tree limbs began to fill my heart with dread. Verily, as I continued down the path a dark gloom overcame me. Shadows within the trees began playing tricks on my mind. Looking back, I recall attributing this to my lack of sleep, so I attempted to not take the growing trepidation in my thoughts too seriously; but to no avail. Gwen, the fear that entered my mind become so intense, so intense that I doubt I can fully explain it here. Hastily, I turned back for home, yet when I began to turn I realized that the path behind me had gone! Nothing but the naked trees and fallen leaves lay behind me and ahead the cobblestone continued.

Surely, I had taken a wrong turn at some point, but I dare say again how I know these woods! I know every trail that lines them, every twist and turn. To my dismay, I had no other recourse but to continue, in hopes that something might spark my memory. Alas, I was lost.

It happened just as I had reached somewhat of an opening in the foliage cover. Not thirty feet ahead of me, I saw what appeared to be a large shadow moving toward me. My blood seemed to have left my body as I stood there frozen in terror. I told myself “Richard, you’re just getting yourself worked up again, there is nothing there.” I was about to carry on my way when the shadow’s movement became more pronounced. There was something there, I swear it! Indeed as I watched, the shadow made an abrupt turn in its movement and that is when I noticed it was not one shadow, but six! Six large shadows— some seven to eight feet tall— marched silently right past me.

It was now that my curiosity began to overcome my fear. They seemed to take no notice of me, and in retrospect, my dark coat and hat may have been enough to camouflage my presence. I decided, perhaps against my better judgement, that I would follow and see where they went. Maybe this was all my imagination and I would find myself alone once again? To my dismay, as they walked, the woods parted, leaving them unmolested to travel where they please. Clearly, this was something paranormal, something beyond the explanation of man or science.

I followed the shadows for some time until they reached a clearing. I hid behind a large bush just in time to witness their ritual. The six shadows arranged themselves into a circle. I watched as they stood there, motionless. As the eeriness of the situation began to wear upon my very soul, a burst of golden orange flame sprang forth from the center of the circle. It was then that the true form of the shadows came to light. Six cloaked, hooded figures stood around the burning fire. I should have run, I should have run right then and there and these horrible events would never have affected me. Instead, my feet stayed and I watched.

That is when I heard them speak or chant, it was ever so hard to tell. Gwen I cannot— and thankful that I cannot—  accurately describe the inhuman sounds than came forth. To this very day, their voices still haunt my dreams. It was deep, yet high, rough but smooth. I know this makes no sense but I swear I could not discern one from the other. Were they all talking at once, or was it one voice with the sound of many?

You must be thinking right now that these are just some cultists or some other sort of deity worshipping sect yet unknown to us normal civilized peoples, chanting some unintelligible incantation. Did I mention that the shadows were seven to eight feet tall? This was no illusion of the dark, these beings were monstrous in size. Even at the distance I stood, it was evident that their stature was even greater than I first suspected. Completely unimaginable!

I was transfixed, utterly mesmerized with what I was witnessing. I was pulled from my trance; however, when one turned toward me and spoke, in perfect English, “Child of this world, come to us.” What makes this even more remarkable, is that I didn’t hear this through the air, I heard it in my own head, as if its thoughts and my own were one in the same.

Without thinking, against all logic and human understanding, I slowly crept out from my current sanctuary and walked up to the beings. What madness drove me closer? What power did they have over me? As I approached, the beings all in unison knelt upon the ground; even on their knees they still were as tall as I am. Their cloaks were cloth, but I could not rightly tell what fabric or what color it was in the orange glow of the fire. I would be more descriptive, but at this point it is all inconsequential.

The being that knelt closest to me, I presume the one that spoke, slowly pulled down its hood. Two eyes of black obsidian looked back upon me. The reflection of the fire flickered in its eyes, almost giving them a life of their own. Its eyes were in sharp contrast to its pale, gaunt, and smooth skin. It appeared humanoid in nature, if you were to ignore the unsettling size. It had no mouth, yes you read that correctly, these beings lacked a mouth, and each had a line or seam—I couldn’t tell which—that ran sagittal along its face. Their communication had to be some form of telepathy. I turned and found that all the others had removed their hoods as well and were looking at me, boring holes into me even with their stare. The lack of one of the most prominent of human facial traits made them even more ominous looking. 

At this point, they or it began speaking to me once again. I will try my best to recount our conversation without omitting any vital detail.

It said to me “Ask, and we shall answer.”

“Ask what?” I replied, trying to hide the fear in my voice.

“Anything you desire.”

I thought for a moment and the only logical question that came to mind was “Who are you?”

“We are the first beings that were created after this universe began to cool and take its present form. We have watched as gases coalesced to become stars, we were there when the stars coalesced into galaxies, and we observed when the rock and dust coalesced into worlds. In your language, we refer to ourselves as the First-born. We were at the beginning, and we will be at the end.”

Imagine it Gwen, I was amongst beings that were outside of this world, outside of our time even! I spoke to them at great length about how the universe was formed, as you know that this is my predominant field of study. No more studying star charts! No more rummaging around old scientific journals of some tidbit of information! All I had to do was ask! It was brilliant; they answered everything! I would have loved to see mother’s face when I walked right up to her in the middle of mass and proclaimed that I knew for a fact that there was no God! But I digress.

Finally, I asked the most poignant question of the night.

“Why are you here?” After some pause, they answered.

“We travel great distances through space to find worlds that will sustain us. Worlds rich in life are few and far between. This place you call Earth will be our new haven, then when we are finished, we will leave and continue our journey.”

“Finished what?” stammered my reply.

“The six you see before you are the last of our kind. While we may not perish from natural means, we are still mortal, over millions upon millions of years of travel, our numbers have indeed fallen. We need a young species so that we may assimilate into their culture, procreate, then inevitably destroy it when we have used up all their resources. Our children will be as we are; all knowing and all powerful. Take heart in that your species is not the first, nor will you be the last.” The indifference in its voice was troubling indeed. I wasn’t even able to ask why they were telling me this when something dreadfully incredible happened. Each disrobed and let the cloth fall to the ground in a soft thud. Based on their physiques, I imagined some to be male and others female. Similar to the statues of old antiquity did they appear that I half believed I stood before the gods of ancient Rome. However, as the artists of the Renaissance crafted their sculpture to show the beauty and perfection of the human form, these creatures displayed a sort of mockery to it with the immensity of their features, the wiriness of their sinew, and the way their skin seemed barely able to cover. It was a ghastly sight! Remember that line I told you about on their faces? It was indeed a seam because as I watched in horror, each one placed its fingers into that seam, and slowly ripped apart their skin. I couldn’t help but stare in terror as they tore at their bodies, throwing whole chunks of themselves into the fire. With each toss, the fire spat and hissed in protest. I realized that this was some sort of exoskeleton that they were removing, much like a cicada shedding its shell.

Do you know what I saw underneath? I know that you won’t believe me, I hope that you do however. Underneath their skin, when all was cast into the fire, was a person. To my left, where one of those abominable creatures knelt, stood a fully-grown woman, dare I say beautiful, and fully nude. As I looked around the circle, men and women crawled out of their cocoons with varying skin tones and ethnicities. One looked as if he had come from the plains of Africa while another looked as if she had come from the mountains of Asia. The fire began to die as they each walked silently into the woods. Only the one that had spoken with me remained.

She looked Scandinavian maybe, though it was hard to tell in the dying light. With the sweetest voice I had ever heard, she said, “thank you, for letting us use you. Do not be troubled, it will be over soon.” With that, she leaned in and gently kissed my right cheek. I barely registered her lips; light and soft as flower petals the kiss seemed to me. Then she walked away from me into the woods, the fire’s last ember burnt out, and I was alone.

Gwen, this all must seem so foreign, but you must listen to me, you must heed my warning! The First-born are out there. They look just like us, but they will doom us all if they continue with their way of existence! I think I have found a way in which we can tell if someone is one of us, or if they are one of them. I won’t go into it now, but I just need to test it. I need to find the girl, I could recognize her at least and I could test it on her. But as of now none of my colleagues believe me. You believe me, right? Please be careful, don’t trust anyone. Please I beg you! Be careful!

Sincerely your dearest brother,

Richard

. . .

 

Dear Richard,

It is good to hear from you again, though it seems that you do not recall the dozen or so other letters you have written me. I have spoken with your doctor, Henry Montgomery, and he tells me that your mental state has yet to improve. He thinks that your constant obsession with your story and these “First-born” as you call them, is making your condition worse. The last time we spoke you didn’t even seem concerned at all when I told you our mother had unexpectedly died. That was a few years back now.

I am so very sorry to say that this will be my last letter to you. Your constant incoherent ramblings are not you, they are not my Richard. They wear upon me every time I read them and I’m afraid I can’t take it anymore. I have asked Dr. Montgomery to stop your letters from making it into the post. However, I will tell you that I will be alright; please don’t worry about me. I met a nice man a few months back. He isn’t from around here, not sure where really, but he is very handsome and very much in love with me. In fact, we ran off and got married! On top of that, I know that this is oh so sudden, but we’re going to have a baby! Can you believe it? Of course not, what am I saying, you are too deep into your own madness to have any idea of what is going on around you. This is another reason why I can’t visit or correspond with you anymore. I hope someday to be able to talk to you again.

 

All my love,

 

Gwen