Dwayne looked down at his hands through the smoke and the flame and the heat. The nails were cracked and brown and aged, but they had served their
purpose. It had almost been merciful - their wounds had been so terrible. But it wasn’t mercy, it was gluttony. Their blood had called out to Dwayne
as it spat itself onto the damp forest floor. Their cries of anguish and defeat and loss had sung to him across the glades, beckoning him from his
long resting place. His ears bore witness to their story. There had been a great battle. Those from Low had fought those from High and had been
overcome with violence. In their shame and their cowardice and their agony they had limped into the forests, hoping that the dense trees and the
rumour of the alligators and the snakes would prevent those from High from following - and this it had done.
Those from Low had rested, tending to their ragged wounds and their crippled pride, believing themselves to be safe, thinking they had found a haven.
But when the darkness fell they heard the cries from the black depths of the swamp and their own eerie battle cry seemed impotent, like the mewing of
a helpless infant calling for its mother in the long dark of the night. Those from Low had not slept and they were guarded and ready and
battle-hardened and it had mattered not at all. Dwayne entered their bloodied camp and poured forth his rage and his bitterness and his hate, and he
tore them to pieces. Their clothes were swept up by the fire in the midst of their camp and danced about like ashes on the wind. Dwayne’s eyes
watched as those from Low thrashed and split and gave forth their inner secrets. His ears were privy to their prayers, hope choking and gurgling in
their throats when they realised that their God would not save them.
When it was over, Dwayne was sated. He looked down at the broken flag of those who had been from Low and noted, with some small sense of satisfaction,
the way their blood mixed and bled into the mud of the forest floor. Dwayne looked down at his hands through the smoke and the flame and … and his
hands were not his. They belonged to a smaller creature. Dwayne was not his name. It had called to him and crept upon him, but it was not him. Dwayne
– a smaller creature. Not from Now. Dwayne was from somewhere that wasn’t Now. He was from the Nearly Now and he was not alone, not lonely. Dwayne
cried out and it heard him and it knew it would not be alone, not be lonely for long. It would soon be the Now again.
Dwayne cried out in the dark. His scream sounded like the end of the world in the small, enclosed space of the tent. Rusty sat bolt upright,
Dwayne’s scream dragging him out of sleep into total waking.
“What? What is it? Bro, what’s wrong?” Rusty pleaded as Dwayne kept screaming. He felt helpless and alone as his friend shook and screamed his
throat raw. Rusty reached out and grabbed Dwayne by the arms and twisted him so that they were face to face.
“Dwayne, DWAYNE! Listen to me!”
Dwayne stopped screaming. He looked at Rusty and tears began to form at the corners of his eyes.
“What’s wrong? What … what happened? Did a snake … ?”
“I was … lonely” Dwayne said in a small voice.
“You were lonely? You were screaming bloody murder, buddy. You … lonely? Jesus Christ, Dwayne. Did … did you have a nightmare or something,
“I was lonely and then I was hungry and then I was angry and then I was lonely again and then .. then I … I … Oh, no. It knows … it knows”.
Dwayne’s voice had descended into a burbling squeak and tears ran freely down his face in two small torrents.
“What? Who knows what, Dwayne? You’re … you’re scaring me, buddy, talk to me”.
From outside the tent, a strange sound. Rusty heard it, but paid it no heed as he struggled with his friends sudden madness and his own inner fear.
“That’s it, pal, we’re getting you out of here. I’m gonna get dressed and get the stuff ready, okay? And then we’re gonna walk out of here,
buddy. You’re gonna be okay, it’s … everything’s gonna be okay”.
Across the tent flap, a shadow – wicked spines casting a black silhouette against the rugged material, powerful arms that hung too low, tipped with
wicked talons, a stringy, ragged mane that fell down a sloped back. From somewhere came the smell of long-ago gunpowder. From the door-flap of the
tent came a high-pitched voice, like someone sucking helium through a straw:
“Not lonely … Now”.
Rusty slowly turned. Dwayne began to whimper and rocked back and forth like an infant.
“What the hell is …”
As the tent exploded around them, Dwayne’s legs came to life, even though he had not consciously willed them to do so. He felt something slide
across his face and then his face was wet and his eyes began to sting. He heard Rusty calling his name again and again. He felt something hard hit him
in the side and heard a sound like someone stepping on brittle twigs. His side began to hurt. His legs began to run and even though it made the pain
in his side worse, Dwayne found himself unable to stop running. His legs were driven on by something older than conscious thought, by instincts that
held sway since before writing and religion and civilisation, when men had huddled together in the darkness, terrified of the things that hunted
Twigs and branches cut his face and his arms. His side felt as though he had been skewered with fire. His legs burned and began to feel rubbery. As he
ran, Dwayne heard a high-pitched wail from somewhere behind him. He couldn’t hear Rusty anymore, which was good. He felt bad that he had left his
friend alone in the darkness. He hoped he wouldn’t be lonely.
Forgive me if it goes against your ideas for the story or the theme you had in mind. You set the bar extremely high and it was difficult to meet your
standards. I hope you enjoy it, though. You really gave me an open slate when it came to telling the story of what had happened to this poor guy and
my imagination kind of ran away with me, as it often does when I have genuine talent to work with. Let me know what you thought.
[edit on 8/8/05 by Jeremiah25]