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.