Colorado Encounter

Out here in Colorado, there are all sorts of mysterious sightings — UFOs, Bigfoot, a blue mustang with devilish red eyes, etc. However, nothing was as terrifying as what I recently witnessed.

Last week, a lot of snow fell in Aurora, where I live. I needed to make a late-night stop at King Soopers (a grocery store), but I didn’t want to risk getting into a car accident; so, I decided to walk. It was really windy. I was the only person outside, aside from a few passing cars and a snowplow. When I was roughly a block away from King Soopers, I heard an odd sound. I assumed it was the wind blowing around some objects. But then, behind a bush, a large, shadowy figure emerged, with dangling claws and pointy ears. I had never seen anything like it.

I attempted to head in the other direction; however, as soon as I turned around, I slipped and fell on the sidewalk. Immediately, I heard the creature rushing through the snow, toward me. I got up, but I was tackled right away. I was now looking at the face of this thing, and it’s an image that will haunt me forever. I felt like I was staring into the eyes of pure evil. Its teeth were razor sharp. I thought my life was about to end.

Somehow, someway, I was able to free one of my arms and grab my keys in my pocket. I bunched all of them together and stabbed the creature in the neck. It screamed loudly and ran off into the darkness. I never saw it again.

I thought about filing a report with the police, but they would never believe me. They would think I was crazy, and in turn, possibly arrest me. I didn’t tell anybody about what happened. Could this have just been a vivid nightmare? Could it have been The Mandela Effect?

I browsed online to see if anybody experienced anything similar, and I came across this website. Reading the stories of other encounters made me realize that I wasn’t alone. We couldn’t all be going through The Mandela Effect, right? If not, could we be in a parallel universe? I heard a story of an FBI agent who proposed the idea after investigating, what he surmised to be, a case involving The Mandela Effect, which apparently, was also known as The Mengele Effect.

Anyway, whatever it was, I will never forget it, and I hope to never go through that, ever again.

Harriet-Something-Or-Other

Ghouli derives from the word ghoul (defined as: an evil spirit or phantom; robs graves and feeds on dead bodies), but this is a misnomer. Especially when people tack on the little cutesy “i” on the end, like it could be a pet kept in a cage or kennel. Bunny. Puppy. Ghouli.

NO.

It is not a phantom that feeds on the dead.

It is not a furry friend for cuddles at night.

And this is how I know. Exactly one week ago, I was walking through my local graveyard at midnight—you know, enjoying the general ambiance of shadowy reverence and hoping to stumble upon a ghost—when I tripped on something. This happens often on my cemetery excursions, so I didn’t think much of it. I picked myself right up and continued strolling with my flashlight in hand. But then I tripped again. And this time, I saw what had caused me to fall.

Sunken into the ground were huge, clawed footprints. Massive claws upon two cleft toes, plus a third nub in the back. I’d never seen anything like it before! Curiosity, not fear, consumed me, and I followed the path of the footprints across the graveyard, over the wrought-iron fence, and into the surrounding woods.

Naturally, I thought I followed some kind of two-legged humanoid beast, perhaps a werewolf or a vampire. This was my chance to see something supernatural with my very own eyes, and my heart raced with life-affirming anticipation. However. The trail ended in a clearing, and the only thing there, silhouetted in silvery moonlight, was none other than my middle-aged neighbor from down the street. Harriet-Something-Or-Other.

She didn’t see me, of course, because I had the good sense to hide behind some foliage. Harriet hurried away, and I emerged to inspect her footprints. Only average, run-of-the-mill human tracks. Strange that she was barefoot, but not strange enough to pique my interest further at the time. Werewolves and vampires I was willing to hunt, but a neighbor? No, thank you.

And that’s when the disappearances began to happen. Every night since then, someone from our neighborhood has vanished from their home. Gone without a trace. The only clues are the same clawed footprints from the graveyard scattered about the lawns.

People started calling it Ghouli. Look out for the ghouli. The ghouli’s out to get you. Crap like that, but then I remembered Harriet. And I realized that ghoulis aren’t the things we should be afraid of.

The monsters are inside us—sleeping until the moment something awakens them.

We are the monsters: our neighbors, our friends.

You and me.

And Harriet.

She, I can take care of.
Tonight. I will do my part and end this madness, but what will you do? How will you fight the monsters that lurk next door?

Thirsty

It was dark. She didn’t like that, had never liked it. Sensations came to her one by one, slowly because they were unfamiliar. She realized she was lying on cold metal, on her back. She never slept on her back. The muscles in her shoulders ached and her limbs felt stiff. There wasn’t a source of light to be seen, no thin glowing line at the bottom of her bedroom door at home, no street lights spilling into the windows.

Maybe, she thought, something’s wrong with me. Maybe Mom and Dad took me to the hospital and I’m on the operating table. She shivered with a cold delight, excited at the prospect of her being whisked away in the middle of the night by doctors. But why didn’t she remember it? And what could be wrong with her? She felt fine, as far as she could tell.

Maybe it was a dream. But she had never had a dream this vivid before. The feeling of being in a dream was very special, very distinct—your senses never coordinate exactly as they should, your body’s response is never so exact. Instinctively, she knew she was awake, but she didn’t know why she wasn’t panicked or scared.

Maybe, Ghouli had brought her here. She had been toying with the idea for months now that Ghouli wasn’t a monster, at least not in the sense most people viewed monsters. Ghouli was terrifying, yes, with razor sharp teeth and legs like a spider’s, but during their last encounter she’d gotten the impression that Ghouli didn’t want to hurt her.

Ghouli—it had a name now. A quick Google search and she’d found the website with all the scary pictures and posts she didn’t understand. The only thing she could comprehend on that website was the drawing of the monster. That drawing was how she knew she wasn’t crazy, and she liked that the thing she’d seen out of the corner of her eye for her whole life had a name. Ghouli. Ghouli. She mouthed it to herself, and was surprised to find that her mouth was dry and her tongue felt heavy. Overwhelming thirst overtook her, and she sat up, the bones in her back popping and cracking as she adjusted her position. How long had she been lying there? The question came and went in a fleeting instant, overtaken by one thought: I’m thirsty. I need water.

For the first time, she felt afraid. Clearing her throat, she called out in a shaky voice.

“Hello? Hello? Is anyone there?”

No answer.

“Hello? Can someone hear me? I’m thirsty! Please, can I get some water?”

No answer.

Tiny bolts of fear rippled through her stomach and she slid off the cold metal surface, which, running her hands over it, she noticed had the shape of a very large tray. She still couldn’t see anything; it was pitch black. Maybe I’m underground, she thought. Maybe I’m in a cave. Maybe this is Ghouli’s lair and it wants to… to see me. Eat me? No, it didn’t do that last time. Or the time before that. All it did was watch her. The first few years she’d seen Ghouli, she’d been so afraid she could barely get through the day without screaming hysterically. But after a while that faded and she’d come to regard Ghouli as a kind of silent companion. None of the other girls or boys wanted to play with her or talk to her, and her parents were busy. But Ghouli was there often, in the corners, watching. She liked that it didn’t speak and she told it everything.

That’s not to say she completely trusted Ghouli. She was still aware of its sharp teeth and monstrous face. But they didn’t scare her anymore.

She wished she could see her surroundings. Her feet were bare, and the floor felt like it was made out of linoleum. School floor, she thought disappointedly. Maybe she wasn’t in a cave after all. Maybe she was in a school or office of some sort. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

A sudden noise—a jolt and a rattle, only a few feet away—startled her so badly that she screamed. She heard jiggling and realized that there must be a door somewhere, and someone—or something—was trying to get in. Her heart beating wildly, she backed up as far away from the noise as she could get, but ended up ramming backwards into the metal tray-table.

“OW!” she yelped, and if on cue, she heard the door bang open, although it was still so dark she couldn’t see anything. Shaking, she tried to feel if there was anything underneath the table. Feeling nothing, she crouched down and slid herself underneath it.

Then a soft green glow filled the room. It started out incredibly dim at first, making her wonder if she was seeing things, and then grew brighter. Trembling, she poked her head out from underneath the table and gasped.

She was in a morgue. The tray she’d been lying on was the place they cut up dead bodies to see how they’d died. What was that word? Autopsy. She felt sick, like someone had punched her in the gut with a stone fist. She saw the drawers where she knew they kept refrigerated dead bodies and wondered how many dead people were with her in this room right now.

Her gaze snapped to the doorway, and at once she felt an overwhelming sense of relief. There it was, the six-legged, slimy-jawed, spiderlike creature that had haunted her since her earliest memories.

“Ghouli,” she said in wonderment. “Ghouli, where am I? Why am I here?”

The monster extended a long, black claw and pointed to the table. “You should not be up,” it hissed, in a voice spun by spiderwebs and dripping with dust. “Go back to your bed.”

“That’s not my bed!” she protested. “This isn’t my room! You’ve seen my room a hundred times, Ghouli! You know what it looks like.”

“Go baaaack,” hissed the monster.

“But why? Why, Ghouli? I want to go home. I want to see my parents. I’m thirsty.” She felt a lump in her throat, and finally felt like she was in danger. “Please let me go, Ghouli. I know you’re nice. I know you don’t really want to hurt me.”

Ghouli approached. Its deerlike legs exuded power with each step, though they made no sound or vibration. It stopped once it stood directly over her, and opened its jaws. Its breath was putrid and its mouth was dripping with mucus. She trembled and began to cry.

“Ghouli, please,” she wailed. “Don’t hurt me. Don’t kill me.”

But the monster never touched her. “I cannot kill you. You are dead,” it rasped. “Get back to your table, dead girl.”

Three months later, her parents found her cold, lifeless little body, stiff and pale, in the woods near their house. There was not a scratch on her. Her eyes were closed and a smile was frozen on her face forever. She was only eight years old.

How To Disappear Completely (Chapter 1 of 3)

Ghouli looks through a mirror above the fireplace, through a living room and beyond into the kitchen where the family eats. A father, a mother, a daughter, a furry thing lapping scraps at her feet. Forks and knives clang against ceramic plates. Ghouli is hungry too. The furry thing has stubby little legs, low to the floor. It run-waddles to the fireplace. It can’t see itself (nor Ghouli) in the mirror high above, but it barks anyway. How does it sense Ghouli’s presence – the smell? Ghouli can only smile for so long before it requires a new texture to gnaw between its teeth. All appendages raise in unison to punch through the mirror. SMASH!

At the same time, the father accidentally knocks and spills his beverage across dining room table… the mirror cracks at the impact, but does not shatter. A commotion at the table, everyone distracted. But, the daughter spins to stare at Ghouli, only the daughter.

Oh, that pretty face! Ghouli likes a pretty face.

A peak further out the mirror, a piece of broken glass falls to the carpet. Ghouli’s ectoplasm drips in globs onto the mantle. Too loud, the yapping is too loud. That furry thing is too loud. It must be quiet, Ghouli must be unseen. Eyes unflinching Ghouli stretches one slimy appendage. So close, Ghouli is so close. Just one bite so fast, so quick, Ghouli could have the fuzzy thing.

Buzz buzz.

What is that? With one slick move Ghouli retracts its arm. Instead it wraps around some kind of rectangular animal, bright and shiny.

Content with its catch, Ghouli sucks itself back into the mirror, coveting its treasure.

Knives Out (Encounter II)

The second encounter was not a dream. It was as real as you or me. In the kitchen, I found the two biggest, sharpest knives, and fled. But there was no escaping Ghouli. It was like a heat-seeking missile of monster death, and it was only interested in my flesh. Somehow it crossed the boundary that protects us from our fears and inner-most thoughts, the ones that torture us in our sleep. I don’t know how it made the leap to our world, and why it was only interested in me. But IRL, I was all alone, as if the world had emptied out while I slept, and I was being stalked. I knew it immediately, before ever I saw it. It was the smell, that musky, stomach-turning stench of spoiled flesh and fermenting trash. I learned in Biology that humans have evolved to innately fear the smell of death for our own safety…

I didn’t survive my last encounter with Ghouli—that is, it killed me, but I suddenly awoke. The problem with nightmares, of course, is that you don’t know when you’re in one. If you did, it wouldn’t be scary, after all. But what happens when your demons follow you when you’re awake?

Ghouli had the upper hand last time; I was trapped in its world, and there was no escape. This time, we’re on my turf. In my home. And I’m armed.

I tore down the stairs to the basement, where I knew it would have trouble finding me in the dark. I bounded down the stairs, making as much noise as possible, luring it to follow. With the lights out, the only illumination was from the kitchen upstairs. I crouched behind boxes, with a view of the steps, and let my eyes adjust. (I know, you’re thinking bad idea; but trust me, I had a plan.)

Soon enough, I heard it moving above me—scraping its clawed feet into the kitchen, then finding the door to the stairs. Backlit, it crept into the threshold, not ready to move any further. Its six spider-arms and sharp fangs silhouetted against the dark. It paused. And listened. I knew from our last encounter that its vision was bad, and as long as I didn’t move, or make noise, it would have a hard time locating me. But it knew where I went.

After getting its bearings, it began descending the stairs. Although I picked the venue, I was starting to realize how confined the basement was. And the darkness wasn’t giving me any comfort, either. I realized how tightly I was gripping the knives and shifted my fingers slightly to keep the blood flowing.

One-by-one, Ghouli descended the stairs. It was cautious, but determined to find me. My eyes had adjusted to the dark, but its eyes might have, too. I sized-up my opponent, figuring out where it was most vulnerable. It had a tough exterior, like an exoskeleton. Aiming for the heart—if it had one—was probably not going to work. Either the eyes or its limbs seemed like the best bet. But that meant getting up close, giving Ghouli the advantage, with all those spider-arms.

At the bottom of the stairs, it took time to reassess where I was. The smell before was merely disgusting, now it was overpowering. I shrank back a little behind the boxes between us. Knives at the ready.

Ghouli finally makes its way deeper into the dark of the basement. It passed out of view, headed to the back corner. I knew, eventually, it would have to backtrack and pass in front of me, where I would attack. I just had to hold my ground.

While out of sight, I also lost sense of where it was as everything grew very quiet. I didn’t dare move for fear of making a sound, which would give away my position. I just stayed there, crouched and at the ready, a blade in each hand.

After awhile, I started to feel restless. What was taking it so long? Wasn’t it still looking for me?

I took a deep breath and reminded myself to hold tight. There was no need to rush this. I had the upper hand. All I had to do was wait. I had the benefit of surprise. I just needed patience.

But why the hell was it so quiet for so long???

I took a little peek—carefully—just around the corner of the boxes. But saw nothing. Finding a little more nerve, and against my better judgement, I leaned forward a little… And still saw nothing.

WTF??? Where did it go? I knew better than to make a move, but now I felt like it had the upper hand on me. All my advantage was gone if I didn’t know where it was. Now I was having second thoughts. I knew I couldn’t blindly attack in the dark. But I couldn’t stay here forever, either. I had a bad feeling about this.

My best bet was to make a break for the stairs, and maybe lock it in the basement. But the stairs meant a long, open dash into the light. It would be on me immediately.

But still… what other option did I have? Every moment I sat there, the risk was growing.

TOO QUIET!

Okay, keep it together. I’ll just make for the stairs, slow and low, and at the first hint of movement behind me, mad dash! No stopping until the door is shut behind me!

My heart was racing. Should I leave the knives? No, I might need them. Can’t believe I’m going to do this—Where is it???

Okay, calm down. The sooner I do this, the sooner it’s over. But I’m not ready. Pull it together…

I made a deal with myself. I’ll go on three. I have to. It’s the only way.

One…

Two…

Three!

Breaking cover, I charged for the stairs, fast as my feet would let me, when—

“J!”

The concerned voice—I knew it immediately: B!

I stopped. Turned. And there she was. Those gentle eyes that first drew me to her across the lunch room. She looked worried, but not afraid.

“What are you doing here?!” I asked, breathless, confused.

Seriously, what was she doing here???

“We have to get out of here!” I yelled.

I dropped the knives and took her hand. She just stood there, shaking her head.

“You don’t get it,” she said.

“We have to go!!!” I repeated, and tried to pull her toward the stairs. But I couldn’t move her. How was she so strong? I turned back—for the scare of my life—

I wasn’t holding B’s hand. It wasn’t her at all. It was Ghouli! It mind-tricked me. And I knew in that moment it had me beat. It latched onto me with one of its strong spider-arms, and it pulled me in with its five others. Pulling and pulling. No. No. No… But there was nothing I could do as it —

Encounter I

In my nightmare, a shadow creature with spider-like arms, razor teeth, and mucous oozing from its ferocious jaw, at least six-feet tall, smells like excrement and rotten guts. For its size, it was fast, like a cockroach fleeing light. I needed to make it until dawn, that daylight, somehow, would save me from the monster. But could I last that long?

I call it Ghouli. A fearsome beast that feeds on flesh.

When I first saw it, I was in a primeval forest. The Ghouli was gnawing at the bone of something large… and vaguely human, working to extract every last bit of sinewy meat, like it was famished. I froze, instinctively. A chill down my spine. Primal fear, like I’ve never experienced. (There are many threats to us in daily life, but being eaten isn’t one of them.) Slowly… very slowly… I backed away, when—

CRACK

The snapping twig under-foot alerted the creature immediately—I froze again, as it turned, fully alert. Its eyesight must be pretty poor because it looked right at me, but didn’t react. I couldn’t breath. Carefully, quietly, it began to creep in my direction, senses heightened. I was exposed and vulnerable. My heart roaring in my chest, legs dying to run! But it must not have seen me, or it would have already pounced. My only hope: act invisible, and do not move.

As it neared, I trembled. In that long, drawn-out moment, which felt like an eternity, several thoughts flashed at once: What was this thing? What was I doing here? Where was I going?

My feet frozen, it continued moving closer, seemingly unaware of my presence right in front of him. (Him? Her? It?) But if it couldn’t see me, it sure was heading in the right direction. In moments, it would be on me. The putrid smell grew worse, making me want to gag. I had to move.

With everything I had, I turned and ran! Ran for my life. Feet barely touching ground—

The beast right on me— fast AF! Breathing down my neck!—

I cornered a few trees, ducking and dodging branches whipping my face—

The beast struggled to keep up. It was good in the straight, but couldn’t maneuver so well—

I didn’t know where I was going, just trying to distance myself from it. I came upon a deep ravine with a river below, blocking my path. I ran along it and dove back into the woods. The beast was losing ground, and maybe my trail. I charged ahead, exploding into a clearing. Surrounded on three sides by a wall of rock. In the center of the clearing, an enormous mound of discarded bones, picked clean. Rotting.

Behind me, the sound of the beast crashing through the woods. Closer and closer…

No time to act, I dove into the bone pile, burrowing into it, the only chance to get out of sight. Lungs heaving. I tried to calm down as the beast burst into the clearing and stopped.

Did it lose track of me?

Absolutely still, I watched as it paced the area, not sure which way to go. It called out in a primal, unsettling shriek, as if announcing defeat. I stayed rooted, afraid to move an inch. The beast called out again, a sense of futility in its godawful wail. Strangely, this gave me hope. Maybe it was admitting defeat and would soon head away.

But then I noticed something that crushed my soul. As the beast cried out again, I saw movement around the perimeter of the clearing. Dark, obscure shapes on the ground began to stir, slowly waking and rising to their feet.

Other beasts, just like Ghouli. A dozen, at least. Surrounding me. An encampment of six-armed creatures, drooling, with fangs. The original one gestured toward the bone heap in which I hid—or thought I had. The others turned, as one, in my direction. Knowing. Hungry. Howling. So much awful howling, it drowned out my thoughts! Then they began to make their way closer. If this was a dream, it was time to wake up. This was a dream. It had to be a dream…

Because you don’t die in your dreams, right?

Right???

The monsters moved closer, there was no escaping this time—

There was no way out.

Here Be M_NST_RS

The Sore Points cover that song, she forgets the title, but cranks it up anyway:

On a map of the world
He stands alone
With his dreams and his demons 

hic sunt dracones

hic sunt dracones. They don’t teach Latin at her school, but thank you, internet. It means, “here be dragons”, a warning on the maps of ancient mariners for uncharted territories.

The music pulses, dust flies past the windows of their jeep as the sun beats down on its cherry red paint. She climbs higher and higher into the peaks of the Mackenzie Mountains in Canada, but the true destination is between the twisting hills: The Valley of Headless Men.

“What do you think we’re going to find up here?” her travelling companion asks in his comforting baritone. They’ve been travelling for days. She contemplates her answer before a wicked grin creases her lips.

“Dragons.” She whispers ominously. The pair break out into a bout of laughter. They’ve been doing this for ages now. Philippe and Melisande, French anthropology students from Paris. Or as the community likes to call them, Le Chasseurs de Monstres, backpacking around the globe in search of the profound and extraordinary.

“Peut être” (maybe) Philippe replies, scanning the sprawling hills of the mountainside. The expanse arrests her heart. The car rumbles as she pulls the Jeep onto an outcropping of the peak. Legend tells of evil spirits that claim these lands as home. Another speaks of the mysterious Naha tribe that once resided here, with their brutal custom that gave the valley its name.

Clambering out of the car, the pair make there way to the trunk. Flinging it open they sit on the ledge and stare at the scenery for a moment. The air is heavy with the scent of rain but there are no clouds in sight. Just stillness.

“Do you find anything odd about this place?” Melisande breaks the silence, grabbing her mountain pack from the car. She secures it onto her back and swings her leg up to tie her hiking boot. The wind whips past her ear and she could have sworn she heard a weep.

“Everything about this place is odd. Where is everything? There are no sheep, no goats, deer, squirrels, not even crickets. Nothing.”

“According to the two tribes we interviewed, apparently ‘supernatural creatures’ prowl the hills at night. Maybe they ate all the woodland creatures.”

“Supernatural. We both know that there’s no such thing, just the unexplained and uninformed.” She nods in agreement and the two of them start their descent into the valley. Rocks slip and slide past, but they are sure footed and never falter.

The grass at the bottom of the peak is so green it appears iridescent in the midday sun. Philippe picks up a nearby stone. Turning it this way and that, the stone glitters like a jewel.

“What do you think it is?” He asks handing it to Melisande. She takes it gently into her palm.

“I don’t know.” She replies looking out at the empty grove. Another light catches her eye. Handing off the rock she trudges off towards the direction of the shimmer. Philippe catches up quickly and together they stop at the sight of the unusual glittering.

A cave marked by six giant blocks of the same mysterious rock as the one Philippe found, two appear to have been broken and toppled. They shimmer and glow like shells on a beach. The blocks are all stacked into the wall of the mountain like a doorway. Archaic runes are etched into the columns. Melisande traces the pattern with her hand feeling a hum coming from the stone.

“Burial ground?” She inquires.

“Have you seen these markings before?” He asks moving his hand over the stone. “Pre-Latin. What do you think? Are we talking Norse Gods here or — ?

A shudder vibrates through his arm and he jumps away.

“Did you feel that?” he breathes.

“Feel what?” she asks, removing her hand from the doorway. He wrings his hands trying to escape the feeling and re-composes himself. “Nothing.”

“Should we go inside?”

“Ladies first.” Philippe smiles with a dip from the waist.

“Then after you.”

He chuckles, grabbing her hand so that they enter the unknown together. It doesn’t take long for the darkness to consume the light. Philippe takes a flashlight attached to his belt and the cave is bathed in light. The team stares in awe at the tunnel. They wander on, each step echoing off the walls of the tunnel, until they come to a fork in the path.

“Left or right?” asks Philippe. Melisande stands before the right tunnel as a tendril of dust swirls at her feet, beckoning her forward.

“Right.” She states, already moving deeper into the unknown. Her hands drag against the walls of the cave, taking in the curves and edges. It’s cool and she fends off a shiver. Turning a corner the walls of the cave expand out into a massive room. The light from the flashlight refracts off of the stone in blinding streams.

“Shut it off.” Melisande says moving towards the centre of the room. Her partner quickly extinguishes the light and shoves it back into his belt. The stones’ luminous glow lights the cave, revealing floor to ceiling runes, and on one wall, a mural.

Painted on the wall in gruesome streaks of red so dark it could be black is an image of… a creature. Multi-limbed and arms spread wide, its hands the size of dinner plates, while its finger-claws splayed wide, beckoning. The head is forward, eyes trained on the viewer, its hackles raised. Protruding from its mouth row upon row of razor sharp teeth, as its lips are peeled back in a snarl.

Finally, Phillippe speaks. “Tell me you know what we’re looking at?”

“The runes could be an old tribe language. And that,” Mel explains pointing to the creature. “I have never seen anything like that, but looking at this room it appears that they might have worshipped it.” She moves away from the mural in hope that a larger viewing range might shed some light on the mystery.

In one swift move… crunch. She falls to her knees, they vibrate with the impact as her hand comes away red. Pain explodes from her ankle as a stream of French expletives pour from her mouth.

“Mel, are you okay!?” Philippe worries. Dropping to his knees, he pulls the flashlight out again, illuminating his friend. A gash the size of an industrial nail blooms across her hand but when he catches sight of the thing that made her fall, his blood freezes.

“I’m fine.” She replies. Rising on one leg she cradles her mutilated hand and yanks the bandana around her neck to stanch the bleeding. Drip, Drip, Drip. She follows the blood to where she had fallen. Right next to her foot print lays an ivory white skull so clean it could have been fake. A hole the size of a fist is embedded in its temple. She follows Phillippe’s gaze. Spiralling from the broken skull are hundreds of others, embedded in the ground swirling to the edges of the cave room.

“Well, now we know where all the heads went.”

“I’m all for exploring this place, but maybe we should take a look at that ankle first.” Philippe says taking her arm and supporting her weight. She nods taking his hand. Hobbling back towards the entrance, they both take their first lung full of clean air. The sun has dipped below the horizon leaving a haze of reds and violets.

“We can’t make it back up that mountain.” Philippe states, helping to set Mel down in the grass.

“I guess we’ll have to set up camp here then.”

The night is silent except for the crackle of flames. Melisande sits in the grass, sketch book in hand as she tries to recall the cave room with the mural. Her ankle is wrapped in gauze along with her hand. Thankfully it isn’t broken and tomorrow they should be able to explore more.

“So what can we deduce about this… creature?” She asks pointing at her sketch. Philippe circles the fire with a bowl of soup. He flips open a small field notebook from his pocket and begins to read.

“Other tribes thought something cursed and resided over the land. There are accounts from indigenous people saying that the devil lives in the valley, killing those who dare to enter it.”

“Like a carnivorous animal, not the literal devil.”

“Obviously there was something, because that skull shrine exists.”

“Is that what it is?”

“Well I have no other way to describe it and it has all of the general markers.” He explains, handing her a bowl of soup. It’s warmth eases the muscles in her shoulders.

SNAP!

 The pair turn towards the sound. Emerging from the bushes, a tall man with a large brimmed hat and overcoat stalks towards them.

“Hullo there,” he rasps. “I don’t get many visitors around these parts.”

“We’re on business.” Phillippe answers lightly. The Tall Man smiles back.

“Business. What kind of business?”

“We’re… budding anthropologists. We were told that there could be some interesting cultural landmarks nearby.”

“Anthropologists,” he repeats. “What a fascinating field of study. You know I came across some palaeontologists last spring. Lovely people.” Mel notices the long scar from his eye to his throat.

“How long have you lived here?” Phillippe asks.

“A very long time. My family has been on this land for centuries.” He replies, taking a seat on the other side of the fire.

“Part of the Naha tribe, then?”

He laughs. “No, that tribe disappeared a long time ago. Just me.”

“What happened to them?”

“The tribe? They just disappeared. One day there and gone the next. See, they thought they could control it.” He explains.

“Control what?” Mel asks intrigued.

“The beast. They revered the devil of the valley as a god. They worshipped it.”

“You mean the creature in the cave?” She asks for clarification.

“Ghouli, some called it. Shadow of the night.”

“But it’s a myth, right?” Philippe puzzles.

A grin crimps the sides of his cheeks at the idea. “Of course Ghouli is real. The Naha tribe thought that by giving it travellers, it would be enough. But it’s never enough.”

The fire now stripped to its embers and all that’s left for light is its glow, and the stars. A shiver shakes Mel’s body. She tries to rise on her bad ankle but slips on the rock.

“You said it’s never enough,” she pauses. “Present tense.” Mel says on her feet. The Tall Man rises as well.

“Smart girl. I knew it the first time I smelled you in that cave.” His nostrils flare as if he’s trying to remember the scent.

“We need to go.” She whispers to Philippe, slowly backing away.

“Ghouli cannot be tamed.” he starts, licking his lips. Gradually, the whites of his eyes turn to black. “Ghouli is hungry. Always hungry. Sheep are too wool-laden for Ghouli! Squirrels are too small. Ghouli misses the tribe, how delicious they were.”

Grabbing Mel, Philippe yanks her towards the direction of the jeep but before the second step, The Tall Man is in front of them. Before their eyes, his teeth once blunt and human explode from his mouth to become jagged peaks designed to rip flesh from bone. The sound of their racing hearts is deafening. Ghouli savours it. The rip of clothes echo through the night as The Tall Man disappears and in his place, the beast from the mural.

“I can see into your mind. How scared you are.” Ghouli circles. “Le Chasseurs de Monstres.” The equivalent of a laugh rocks Ghouli’s body as saliva flings in every direction. The acrid stench of Ghouli’s breath would knock out anyone but the fear has already paralyzed the pair.

“Real monsters have no hunters.” Ghouli whispers as two slimy appendages burst from its back like wings and wrap around the neck of Philippe. Philippe gasps, grasping at the “arms” only for a split second before it throws him to the ground with a thud and crack of a broken neck. Melisande can only gape in utter shock from the sight of her fallen friend.

Ghouli bends to examine his first meal. He takes a bite. Blood spurts showering the grass. Ghouli turns, a head tilt and red toothy grin. Like a path of breadcrumbs the dripping blood marks the path Ghouli makes towards her as she tries to make her escape, slipping over rocks, cutting her legs and hands. The iron scent in the air is now as strong as Ghouli’s stench.

“You should have read the sign before entering my home.” Ghouli snarls, lips receding to show its many rows of teeth.

“What sign?!” Mel cries in hysterics. She glances at the entrance to the cave, reminded of the swirling patterns of the runes. Ghouli leans into her savouring the hunt, its face centimetres from her nose, its eyes tearing through her mind. A claw clasps around her neck and she chokes.

“You know what it says — ” Ghouli starts, taking her injured hand to it’s tongue for a taste.

She does know. “Here be Monsters.”

And the valley was plunged into silence once more.