It Walks Among Us

It Walks Among Us

By: James G. Boswell –

“Emily, stay away from that disgusting thing,” Sophie said as her friend tiptoed towards the mangy fox. Emily ignored her and continued to edge closer. The creature sat motionless at the far end of the desert campsite and stared at her as she approached.

“It probably has rabies. I bet that’s why it’s acting weird.”

Emily said, “Poor baby, you look like you’re starving,” then took some beef jerky and her folding knife out of her backpack. She sliced off a small chunk and held the meat under the animal’s nose, but it responded with a small, high-pitched growl. Emily frowned and put her things away, then reached out to pet it.

“Emily do not touch it. I swear there must be something wrong with it.”

When Emily’s hand got close to the fox’s head, its whole body shifted a few inches away in an instant, so fast that Emily jumped back in surprise and fell over.

Sophie laughed and said, “See? I told you to leave it alone. Did it nip at you?”

Emily looked dumbfounded for a moment as she sat on the ground. Then she stood up and said. “Whatever. When will your friends get here?”

“Hey Em, grab us some beer, would you?” Sophie said.

Emily reached into the cooler next to where she sat and took out beers for herself, Sophie, and the three women who were with them by the campfire. One had dreadlocks and wore a tie-dye shirt, another had on a purple blouse, and the other a dirty black dress. She held the beers out and Sophie and the first two people each took one, but the last person ignored her.

Emily shrugged, returned the last beer to the cooler, and sat back down next to Sophie. Then, she sipped her own beer as she watched their shadows dance across the wall of the nearby cabin and upon the cactuses that surrounded them. Sophie’s gold cross necklace glinted in the firelight.

Sophie said, “One time, when Emily and I were in tenth grade biology class together, she thought the teacher had left the room and so she made a loud comment about what a drunk he was. He overheard her and said, ‘Emily, you know you shouldn’t say bad things about people behind their back.’ He was so angry he turned bright red. Then, he gave her detention for the rest of the month.”

They all laughed except the woman in the black dress who stared into the campfire with a blank expression.

Emily shrugged and said, “I was just saying what everybody was thinking. The guy smelled like booze all the time.”

Sophie looked at the woman with dreadlocks and said, “Hey Sara, did you and Chloe bring any weed?”

She and the woman in purple shook their heads.

Sara said, “No, we were hoping maybe you guys did.”

Sophie and Emily both shook their heads as well.

Sara nodded to indicate the woman in the black dress and said, “What about your friend here?”

Sophie and Emily exchanged confused looks, and Emily said, “Our friend? We thought she was with you two. She showed up at the campsite right when you did.”

Chloe said, “No, we thought she was your friend. We don’t know who she is.”

They all looked at the woman in the black dress as she continued to gaze into the fire, oblivious to their conversation. After several moments of awkward silence, Sophie said, “Uh, hey, who are you?”

The woman didn’t respond.

Sophie furrowed her brow and said, “Hey, I asked you a question,” but the woman ignored her again.

Sophie stood up and began to walk over to her. Emily said, “Sophie, don’t…”

Sophie hovered over the woman with her arms out and said, “Are you deaf or something? I asked you a question. Who are you, and what are you doing here?”

The woman remained unmoving as she let forth as a deep, animal-like growl.

Sara said, “What the hell was that?”

“Did you just snarl at me, you little psychopath?”

Chloe said, “Um, maybe you should…”

Sophie tried to shove the woman, but her body shifted away in a split second, and she then stood three feet from where she’d just been sitting. Sara, Chloe, and Emily gasped in horror as Sophie fell to the ground and began to writhe and moan in agony.

Emily said, “Stop, leave her alone!” and stood up to charge at the woman, but Sara and Chloe grabbed her before she could. Then they dragged her inside the cabin. Sophie screamed as Sara slammed and locked the door behind them.

Emily said, “We’ve got to go back out there and help her.”

Chloe said, “I don’t think that would be a very good idea.”

“But she’s my best friend.”

“Emily, we have no idea who or what that thing is. You saw how fast she was, right? And how she was able to hurt Sophie without touching her?”

Sara said, “Chloe’s right. I think we should wait here until daylight and then make a break for it. The door’s locked, all our stuff is in here, and our cars are parked on the other side of the campsite. We’ll wait until that thing goes away, and then we’ll grab Sophie and get the hell out of here.”

Tears rolled down Emily’s flushed cheeks and a vein throbbed on her forehead as her face bunched up in frustration. Then, she sat on the mattress of one of the wireframe beds, put her face in her hands, and cried.

Emily awoke to a strange noise. She sat up on the lumpy mattress as she looked around with confusion and saw through the windows that it was still dark outside. Sara and Chloe were draped against the sofa on the other side of the room, asleep.

She heard the sound again and strained to listen. It was like a rapid scratching noise, as though someone was brushing a plastic comb over a chalkboard at the speed of a hummingbird’s wings in flight. The noise continued for a few more seconds and then stopped.

Someone pounded hard on the cabin door. The sound made Emily jump and startled Sara and Chloe awake. Sophie’s voice came from outside and said, “Hey, it’s me. Open up!”

They looked at each other with surprise and Emily rushed over to the door, but Chloe blocked her.

“What are you doing?” Emily said. “That’s Sophie.”

“Hold on, something feels wrong.”

“Please let me in. I’m scared!”

Sara said, “There’s something weird about the way she sounds.”

“She’s probably hurt. We need to let her in, now!”

Emily shoved Chloe out of the way and opened the door, then Sophie hurried inside and slammed it behind her. She pressed her body against the door as she wheezed and trembled, and Emily noticed that she was no longer wearing her gold cross necklace.

Emily said, “Sophie, are you…”

“I’m alright,” Sophie said. “I managed to run away and hide in the desert. That woman, that… thing, went looking for me and I doubled back. I don’t know where it is now. We’ve got to get out of here.”

Emily couldn’t help but notice the strange inflection in Sophie’s voice. It warbled between being too high and too low as if she was doing an impression of herself.

“What are you all waiting for?” Sophie said, “We need to get out of here.” As she spoke, her voice’s bizarre intonation became more pronounced, and her wheezing intensified.

Emily took a few cautious steps towards Sophie with her hand outstretched. Just as she was about to touch her shoulder, Sophie let out a deep, threatening growl that sounded like rocks grinding against each other. Her body shifted three feet to the side instantaneously, and Emily screeched in pain.

Emily’s hand shook as she put it up to her face and felt a warm wetness. When she looked at it, she saw that it was covered in blood. Sara and Chloe saw that claw marks ran from her forehead to her chin.

Sophie’s wheezing intensified into hyperventilation, and her body began to twitch and jerk as she doubled over on all fours. With a sick popping sound, her knee joints bent backwards like those of an animal, and her neck cracked as she wrenched her head up. A canine snout extended from her face, and terrible mandibles grew from her gaping maw.

“I am Sophie,” she said in deep, inhuman voice.

Emily shrieked, threw the door open, and ran out into the darkness with Chloe close behind. They made it about fifty yards away then stopped and looked back.

“Where’s Sara?” Chloe said.

They heard Sara scream from inside the cabin, and then the sound dissipated into a wet, gurgling noise. Emily and Chloe turned and bolted past the edge of the campsite and into the moonlit desert. Cactuses scratched against their arms and faces, and rocks tripped them up as they fled.

Emily ran until she was out of breath and then halted. She looked around and said, “Chloe?” but did not receive a reply.

“Chloe, where are you?” she said, but no one answered.

She crept through the darkness until she stumbled over an unseen stone and fell flat on her face. When she looked up, she saw in the moonlight that she was at the edge of a clearing with several dirt mounds inside of it. They were organized into rows and columns and covered by brush and logs. Some of the mounds appeared to have been disturbed at some point and the debris that once covered them was now scattered throughout the clearing.

As her eyes adjusted, she was able to perceive several other mounds off to the side that weren’t organized in the same pattern and didn’t appear to be covered with detritus. As she approached this set of mounds, she saw yet another group of shapes nearby. This one consisted of a single mound and three large piles of dirt next to three shallow, body-sized holes in the ground. She looked at the covered mound and saw something shine in the moonlight. She picked it up and realized that it was Sophie’s gold cross necklace, then let out a quiet sob.

A scraping sound emanated from somewhere nearby and something entered the clearing, so she crawled into one of the holes to hide. The scraping sound got closer and closer until it was right next to where she lay. She heard what sounded like someone rolling something into the hole next to her, and then she heard the same rapid scratching noise as before when she was back in the cabin, but much louder.

The head of the mangy fox she’d seen the previous afternoon poked over the edge of the hole and peered down her, and she closed her eyes and pretended to be dead. She heard it sniff at her face and felt its wet nose on her skin, and it licked her still-bleeding claw wound with its slimy tongue. Then, it sniffed once more and withdrew.

The scratching noise began again, and a cascade of dirt began to fall over her. She barely had time to cover her face with her arms to create a small air pocket before the soil encased her body.

She waited there for what seemed like hours, breathing slow to conserve air. Then, she ran out of oxygen and held her breath until her lungs burned. When she could stand it no more, she thrust her arms out and sat up from the shallow grave.

She took a deep breath and coughed as dust swirled around her and daylight burned her eyes. She saw that someone had filled the hole beside her with dirt as well, and that a few dreadlocks poked out from underneath it. The other hole remained empty.

Emily stepped out of the hole and brushed herself off, then spotted the cabin a few hundred yards away. She crouched low and jogged toward it while glancing around for any sign of Chloe or the mangy fox. Once there, she peaked through the cabin window with trepidation but saw only an empty room. She opened the door, cringing as the hinges squeaked, and slid inside to grab her backpack.

She took out her car keys and her folding knife, then sprinted for her car at the edge of the campsite. However, before she could get there, Sara stepped out from behind rocky outcrop. Her tie-dye shirt was torn and bloodied and her face had scratches all over it. Her dreadlocked hair looked like someone had chopped it up.

“Emily, wait! You’ve got to help me,” she said.

“Stay back!” Emily said as she jabbed her knife towards Sara in a threatening motion. “The real Sara is dead. I saw her hair sticking out of the ground at that crazy burial site.”

“Burial site? No, Emily, please listen to me. When the monster attacked me in the cabin, the fear and the stress caused me to have a seizure and black out. I’m epileptic.”

Emily glared at Sara with an expression of disgust and disbelief, but she continued, “I woke up later and it was still dark out and everyone was gone. Someone had cut my hair, but I wasn’t hurt otherwise. Then, I sprinted into the desert to hide and got scratched and cut up by cactuses as I ran.”

“Why wouldn’t you just grab your car keys and drive away?”

“I don’t know. I was scared and I wasn’t thinking straight.”

“I don’t believe you.”

Sara took a few steps toward Emily and said, “Please, help me.”

Emily slashed her knife in the air and said, “Stay back!”

Sara’s voice wavered as she said, “No, please just listen to me,” and took another step forward.

Emily shouted and charged at Sara, plunging her knife into her stomach. Sara grunted and staggered backward. She touched the wound, then held her hand up and saw that it dripped with blood. She looked at Emily in shock before she crumpled to the ground. Emily ran the rest of the way to her car and then jumped inside, turned on the ignition, and gunned the motor.

A few miles down the road, Chloe sat up from the back seat. Her voice quivered with apprehension as she said, “Is it safe?”

Emily jumped and said, “Whoa, you scared me! I didn’t know you were hiding back there.” Then she exhaled with relief and said, “I’m glad you’re alright. Yes, we’re safe. We got away.”

“Is it safe?” Chloe said again, but this time her tone was flat and emotionless.

“Yes, I said we’re safe. The thing attacked me, but I stabbed it in the stomach with my knife and I think it’s dead. Either way, we’re ok.” She then looked in the rearview mirror and saw that Chloe was staring off in the distance with a blank look on her face.

Chloe said once more, “Is it safe?” and her voice warbled between being too high and too low.

Emily said, “Yes, I said it was safe. We’re going to be fine.” Then she heard a low, rumbling growl from the back seat behind her.

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