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Reversion: The Inevitable Horror
by J. Thorn
Samuel pushed the twisted sheet from his shoulder and let the makeshift noose coil on the ground like a dead snake. He stepped out of the rope and looked up at the decaying branch overhead, shaking his head. His eyes darted about the empty forest as his heart raced.
He drew a breath, wincing at the pain in his throat as his lungs tried to pull in more oxygen. He smiled at the joy of being alive until the memory of his prison cell surfaced. Like a leaf at the mercy of the wind, the image of the bars floated from Samuel’s reach. Worry rushed back in as he struggled to find a connection, a reason for being here.
He stepped over the jagged rocks and closed his eyes. Silence. It could have been midsummer. It could have been the dead of winter. He could no longer tell and even if he could, Samuel struggled to remember what those seasons meant. The wind was still. The creek in the distance murmured like the whispers at a funeral procession. The insects, the animals–the creatures of the wood were silent. Again, Samuel fought to recall hearing any sound. A leather string holding an amulet lay on the ground at his feet and he picked it up. The charm was silver, three triple spirals connected and curling in on each other. He slid the leather string over his head until the amulet lay on his chest.
He walked in silence over branches sprawled on the ground and onto a rough path that wound itself farther into the forest. Samuel heard a slight rustle of leaves underneath his feet and yet his canvas sneakers did not make as much noise as they should have. The sun hung at an odd angle, tossing a bland shaft of light ahead, with most of the rays never reaching the ground. Samuel looked to the right and saw tattered, yellow caution tape dangling from the trunks of ancient oaks.
What is this?
The tape ran from trunk to trunk in tattered, random shreds like an abandoned crime scene. He reached out and tore a shred of tape from the tree while looking for the human remains that should have been there.
Samuel looked up into the canopy of branches, which hovered overhead like a worried mother. As far as he could see, ropes and nooses hung empty and cold. Piles of clothing, personal items, and other artifacts lay beneath some.
He tossed the scrap of tape to the ground and continued down the path, knocking aside a shoe, a sport coat, a backpack. He stopped and bent down to grab the backpack, the aching in his neck causing him to wince. The backpack was made of nylon, the zipper long gone and its teeth forever in a black grin. He reached into it, his fingers brushing against a few leaves that rustled inside. Nothing. He turned it over to reveal three characters embroidered on the front: BCD. He rubbed his head and stared at them until he recognized the letters of the alphabet, and a thin smile spread over his lips. He was not sure if those letters mattered anymore, and he could not recall why they ever would. Samuel dug through a few of the mounds beneath the hanging trees, shoving articles of clothing into the backpack.
He threw the only remaining strap over one shoulder and shuffled farther down the path on instinct. He kept the pack to store items that might keep him alive. The creek moved closer with each step, and he was happy to hear its meanderings. The natural noise brought a brief sense of normalcy, a memory from childhood: long summer days in a valley and a creek that cut a ragged line through the forest. Some days he would spend hours in solitude, overturning rocks in a search of salamanders. On other days, he would throw stones across the bank with his brothers in a friendly competition that would end when his mother’s voice echoed through the trees, calling them home for the evening meal.
He saw more items strewn across the path and kicked a pair of shoes to the side. So many shoes. He wondered why the shoes remained and the bodies did not.
Samuel looked down at his sneakers with Velcro instead of laces. A faded denim shirt hung open revealing a plain grey T-shirt underneath. His khakis sat loose on his hips. The guards did not care how well they fit the inmates.
The path curved as it approached the stream, turning right into a grove of high pines, their needles covering the ground. Samuel drew a deep breath through his nose, catching the faintest odor of pine, and it made him smile. He savored the distant aroma for as long as he could. It did not last.
He sat on the ground next to an abandoned, blue shopping bag and reached inside, pulled out the contents and arranged them in a circle over the pine needles. He remembered the names for most of them. Lighter. Pen. Nickel. A few he could not recognize, but his brain assured him he would. Samuel picked up the lighter with his right hand, pinched between a thumb and finger. Muscle memory snapped into place as his thumb struck down on the flint. The lighter sparked, and Samuel smiled. He could almost taste the burnt, woody smoke of a hand-rolled cigarette. He could almost feel the airy buzz with each puff of the tobacco. He struck the lighter again and again, but each time it failed to ignite, and each time it reminded him of the temporary satisfaction delivered by the nicotine. Another item returned to his expanding repertoire of old words as he opened a supple leather wallet.
Samuel removed the paper sticking out from its fold. As with the pine needles, he caught a faint whiff of the earthy, organic scent of the rawhide.
He looked up and noticed the sun had dropped closer to the horizon, as if touching the tops of the trees to ignite them. Darkness crept closer, surrounding the far edges of his vision. Samuel’s toes became numb from the cold and he realized his exposure could kill him.
With the chill of the approaching night, the undoing of the universe tightened its stranglehold on this place, slowly crushing the life from it. Each universe exists infinitely close to one other much like grains of sand on a beach. The collection of universes is known as the multiverse. In this place, the reversion started on the edges where sounds disappeared and colors dulled, draining it all of rich, sensory perceptions. The physical world began to fold in upon itself and threatened to swallow everything into the eternal void. Not every universe was cursed with a reversion that held souls in transition, but this one was.
Using the reversion as his tool, Deva snatched those in need of salvation and dropped them into a dying world to find the path to redemption and release from the cycle: Should the soul fail to make a lifetime of wrongs right, it would reawaken in another place, in another reversion. Spirit demands a resolution for all souls and Deva orchestrates it. Deva, the gatekeeper of the reversion, spent eons keeping the great cycle intact and would do so for as long as Spirit required it.
The night came silently, stealing the remaining light from the forest and replacing it with an insufferable coldness. Samuel shuddered. He could no longer control the muscle spasms that racked his body and occupied his mind. The yellow tape, the shoes, the hunger. None if it mattered while his brain searched for a solution to the numbing cold brought by the night.
After walking for hours in no particular direction, he again relied on instinct, gathering branches and leaning them against a tree to provide the most basic shelter. With twigs and dried leaves, he created a mound of kindling. He stood and yawned before looking out into the expansive forest. He had no measure of his progress and thought it was possible he hiked in a long, meandering circle.
Samuel reached into his pocket, where he had stowed the mysterious artifacts. His hand found the lighter, which he pulled out. Again he wrapped his thumb and finger around the igniter, although the dropping temperature made it more difficult for him to strike the flint. He tried again, once, twice. On the third strike, the lighter coughed forth a weak flame. It flickered over the pinhole at the top of the metal. Samuel felt the brief burst of warmth and, before he could place his left hand over the top, the flame died. He shook the lighter and struck the flint again. The green flame returned, and Samuel pushed the tiny lever on the front of the lighter until the flame rose slightly higher than before. He smiled and reached back into his pocket, removing scraps of paper from the wallet and holding them over the flame. At first, the paper did nothing but curl and twist from the heat. But after a few moments, the flame leapt from the lighter. He dropped the lit paper on to the mound of leaves. Curls of grey smoke floated upward, stinging his eyes and burning his nose, and Samuel cried from the smoke. He could smell it. He was alive.
Within moments, the confined space between three pine trees blazed with yellow and green flames. Samuel was standing closer to the bonfire than he should, staring at the odd colors. His instinct told him to stand back, and yet the heat did not burn him. He shoved the lighter into his pocket and scurried past the fire, gathering pine needles, dried twigs and branches. He knew this fuel was needed to keep the fire going, to keep him alive. In a matter of moments, units of time Samuel could no longer measure, he sat basking in the glow of a roaring bonfire. He felt its warmth and closed his eyes. His stomach growled, protesting the hunger brought on by the activity.
Samuel laid his head on the empty backpack and curled his feet closer to the fire. He felt warm and safe and still alone, until the howl pierced the air.
His mind reeled as instinct took over. He stripped his clothes to the ground to rid himself of his human scent. He could not remember how he knew, but he recognized the howl of the alpha male. He knew the pack was coming. He knew if he did not hide from their sight and sense of smell, he would die.
The cold air bit into his back as the paltry fire warmed his front. He took inventory of the clothing he stuffed into his backpack, counting three shirts of various sizes, two pairs of shorts and one pair of athletic pants. He ran to the pile and put the athletic pants on, followed by a pair of shorts. He picked up the T-shirt he had worn and took a whiff. He could smell his own body odor, but it did not carry the musky, organic, overpowering scent it normally would have, but he didn’t have time to figure out why. The air felt heavy and diluted and Samuel wondered if there was something wrong with his senses or if it was this place. Nevertheless, it was closest to his body’s scent and would have to do. He hoped to confuse the alpha male long enough to escape. He set the undershirt aside and pulled the clothing over his head until he stood dressed, with only a pair of shorts and a T-shirt left on the ground. Samuel felt his movement restricted in several layers of clothing worn by other people and realized if the alpha male was not disoriented by the mixing of scents, he would be easy prey.
He ran to one of the pine trees standing guard over his haven, unable to find a single knotted branch or knob that would serve him. He knew the clearing would soon be attacked by a pack of wild wolves, and he ran from one tree to another until he found what he needed, grabbing the stained T-shirt and wrapping the neck-hole around a thin branch while using another twig to create a crude cross on which the T-shirt rested, mimicking a human with arms outstretched. He then snatched the shorts from the ground and wrapped them over a piece of peeling bark so they hung beneath the T-shirt. The clothes on the tree sat higher than an average human, but he did not think the wolves would discern that detail in the heat of the hunt.
Samuel heard the soft crunch of the forest underbrush. He looked back and forth at the trees and over the fire, spotting one low-hanging branch within his grasp. His fingers fell a few inches short of the bark, and when he heard the low, earthy growls, he realized he had seconds to make a decision. Samuel jumped and grabbed the branch with both hands while swinging his legs as high as he could. Several objects fell from his pockets and clattered in a pile beneath the tree. As he glanced down, Samuel saw the first set of yellow eyes materialize from the dark recesses beyond the fire. He squinted and heaved upward until he sat on the branch with his feet dangling five feet from the ground. The alpha male came first.
It smelled the burning wood long before its eyes found the origin of the flame. The creature nuzzled its nose deep into dank fur and flicked its ears twice before turning its muzzle toward the sky, letting loose with a growl that sounded more human than beast. Within moments, the rest of the pack surrounded the alpha male. Sets of yellow eyes darted back and forth through the hulking, black trunks. They seemed to disappear and reappear as though floating through the night.
One has found flame.
The pack settled and circled around the leader. With his fur rankled, he bared his pointy teeth at the slightly younger, more aggressive males.
My kill, then your carcass.
Although not the egalitarian split most of the creatures desired, it was the way.
The alpha male trotted across a felled tree, the trunk resting on a rocky outcrop jutting twenty feet high. He approached the zenith and stopped, catching the scent of fire, smoke and humans. While he did not share the same sense of time and space as other mammals, the wolf registered surprise. He had not expected man to still be here, and if he was, he had not expected man to enter his domain.
The rest of the pack reared up behind the leader, letting loose with several rounds of howling, barking and gnashing. Several of the larger, older creatures snapped at the females. The leader called for blood. The hunt was on.
The alpha male leapt from the trunk, his sinewy frame propelled through the trees as if by an otherworldly force. The creature sprinted, and the pack followed at the respected distance. The alpha male would not find a challenger this night—the first blood would belong to him. The pack undulated, a brown, grey and silver mass weaving through the trees and toward the fire springing up from the forest floor. Some of the cubs whimpered and ran beneath their mothers, for they had yet to witness the power of flame.
The alpha male crested a slight rise and slowed his descent toward the valley, scanning the horizon to see the thin, white line of Brother Moon. The creature stopped, his tongue flicking across his frozen muzzle. He lifted his head up and howled again.
The top arch of the moon poked above the tree line, but would rise no farther. The alpha male knew. He mourned the loss of the sky god hanging over the valley and illuminating the kills. Brother Moon held his gaze low like an insolent child, a bit lower each cycle.
The pack scampered behind the alpha male and waited. The creatures paced about with deep growls as they too gazed at the fire in the center of the valley, cursing the unnatural flame and drooling at the prospect of tearing its creator apart.
The alpha male dropped low, ears up. He moved methodically through the trees until the faint aroma of burning pine reached his nose. They had not lost the scent. Not yet. The others followed with growling bellies and cautious optimism. The feast would be the first in a long while. Mothers would push their cubs back from the killing spot and toss them the battered entrails left after the surge.
The alpha male continued to lead. The crackling of the burning wood became louder but muffled in the heavy air. He listened for the guttural tone of a human voice, but did not hear it, and he sniffed the air again, this time detecting the source of the scent.
More than one?
The younger, more aggressive males became excited by the thought of full bellies. The wolves nudged each other, even going so far as to bare teeth to preserve the attack order. After the alpha male had eaten, a battle would ensue for the bloody remains.
The alpha male spun with his hackles raised. He growled and bared pointy, yellow teeth at his pack. They would fear him or be consumed by him. At least that was how it had always been. The others cowered, especially the females and the cubs. A few of the more mature males skittered to the side but did not retreat. They sized up the alpha male, sensing they too might someday lead the pack. Someday.
He reared his head and howled. The rest of the pack imitated the alpha male until the sound consumed the dead of the night. He raced from his lead position toward the fire, with the pack following, dashing between trunks, through the remains of yellow tape and over lonely shoes with decayed laces. He sprinted over forgotten bones and rotted canvas tents. He kicked the artifacts of the world to the side, where they tumbled into silent obscurity.
The fire grew as the alpha male led his pack to the fight. It had been a long time since human blood was spilled in the valley and the alpha male basked in the anticipation. Although his eyes had lost range and focus, he was able to detect the human form against the tree on the far side of the fire. The yellow and green flames distorted the shape, but not enough to confuse the alpha male. The wolves snapped at each other’s tails as they followed the leader to the kill zone. Females, cubs and old wolves became lost in the instinctual euphoria of the kill.
He flew from the path, dashed around a fallen limb and turned straight for his prey. The alpha male’s eyes lit, his snout pulsing with the chemicals of the predominant human scent, no longer uncertain of their numbers. He made one final lunge to the right of the fire and skidded to a halt in the dry dirt at the base of the tree. His head twitched back and forth at the shirt and shorts tacked there. He did not need to communicate his disgust and disappointment to the pack. His belly growled in protest of the ruse.
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About the Author:
Want a story that’s rooted in a fundamental aspect of being human?
I believe reading dark fiction can be healing. My overriding mission is to connect with you through my art, and I hope to inspire you to do the same. I’m a word architect and driven visionary. I’m obsessed with heavy metal, horror films and technology. And I admire strong people who are not afraid to speak their mind.
I grew up in an Irish Catholic, working class family and was the first to go to college. I didn’t have expensive toys, so I used my own imagination for entertainment. And then I abused alcohol for entertainment. I spent the first thirty years of my life convincing myself I wasn’t an addict and the last ten worrying about all the potential threats the substances hid from me.
Anxiety and depression are always hiding in the corner, waiting to jump me when I start to feel happiness.
I had to break through family programming and accept the role of the black sheep. In my 30s I started writing horror and formed a heavy metal band while my family rolled their eyes, sighed and waited for the “phase” to end.
I spent years paralyzing myself with self-loathing and criticism, keeping my creativity smothered and hidden from the rest of the world. I worked a job I hated because that’s what Irish Catholic fathers do. They don’t express themselves, they pay the damn mortgage. I may have left my guilt and faith behind long ago, but the scars remain.
My creativity is my release, my therapy and my place to work through it all. I haven’t had a drink in a long time, but the anxiety and depression are always lurking. Writing novels and songs keeps it at bay. I scream over anxiety with my microphone and I turn my guitar up loud enough to drown out the whispers of self-doubt.
I hope to leave a legacy of art that will continue to entertain and enrich lives long after I’m gone. I want others to see that you don’t have to conform to the mainstream to be fulfilled.
Don’t be afraid of the dark. Embrace it.