Part III: Into the Woods
Jennaleigh pulled out her phone after what seemed like forever. The time read 5:23 AM. It had been over an hour and still a blanket of darkness covered the sky above them. The past hour since the soldier headed for the road had been filled with bickering between Clara and the old man regarding their situation, who’s named happened to be Charles (a not-so-funny coincidence), and the hushed sound of the mother, who’s name was Maria, reading to her young daughter, Fiona. Jennaleigh could see the wisps of air coming from the collective mouths of all those who spoke; all the heat had escaped through the shattered windows of the bus and had been replaced by the same bone-chilling cold as could be found outside.
Jennaleigh thought about what she had seen in the woods. She couldn’t shake the image of that giant, unearthly silhouette moving through the trees, and no matter how much she tried to rationalize what she had seen, the feeling it had left her with wouldn’t dissipate. She wondered if the soldier had seen anyone. It had been over an hour after all, shouldn’t she have been back by now? ‘Oh God, what if something happened?’ thought Jennaleigh as she felt the dulled serrations of the ‘thing’ inside her pocket. Before she could continue her thought, a voice rang through the bus. It belonged to the old man, Charles.
“It’s been over and hour now, shouldn’t G.I. Jane be back by now?” he asked aloud to no one in particular.
“Maybe someone should go and see. The sun’s gotta be coming up pretty soon,” said the mother, Maria in her light Mexican accent; one that Jennaleigh could finally decipher, and one the woman’s daughter oddly didn’t share.
“Maybe we should all go, just to stick together. It’s not like it’s any warmer on the bus now,” chimed in Jennaleigh.
“That sounds fair to me, everyone okay with coming?” asked Clara to the remaining occupants.
“Not much of a choice now,” Charles barked. “Gotta figure out what’s going on with this damn soldier. Just my luck she hitched a ride and ditched.”
“Don’t even say that. C’mon, Fiona. Get up baby,” said Maria softly. She gently shook awake her sleeping child.
“Okay then. Just stick together everyone. It’s pretty dark out still,” said Clara.
The occupants made their way’s to the front of the bus and stood in a single file line, waiting for Clara to open the sliding doors. Jennaleigh pulled out her phone, ‘NO SERVICE’ still flashed across the top of the screen. She toggled on the phone’s flashlight and noticed that her battery was on 13%.
“Alrighty people, just stay together ‘til we reach the road. Let’s go,” said Clara, herding the pack.
The group stepped off of the bus and into the snow; the wind had slightly lessened, but the snow was falling even harder now and with more volume. Within seconds Jennaleigh’s long, auburn hair was covered by a thin layer of snow and her hands felt slow and out-of-order juxtaposed to their normal functionality.
The group stood outside of the bus doors, arms across their bodies; a choir a chattering jawlines moving up and down as they stood in the snow, waiting direction.
“Alright everyone, to the road we go,” instructed Clarabelle.
The group began moving in the same direction that the soldier had. Jennaleigh walked in the back of the group; strangely where she felt most comfortable and stared at the tree-line with watchful and cautious eyes. She saw nothing out of the ordinary, but she couldn’t rid herself of the feeling of dread that was creeping up within her. She felt something… something dark and terrible as she peered at the woods and a part of her knew that they were not alone and that these circumstances were not coincidental. Jennaleigh glanced at the group ahead of her; she had inadvertently fallen slightly behind without noticing. She sped up her walk and caught up with the group, who had suddenly stopped and were standing still in a half circle formation, looking at something on the ground. Jennaleigh made her way around the left edge of the circle beside Maria and her daughter, Fiona, and saw at last what everyone was looking at. The flashlight that the soldier had been wielding was laying in the snow, still on but flickering; the glass covering had cracked. The flickering light made visible a small pool of blood; a brilliant crimson red that stood out from the bright, white snow. Jennaleigh looked in horror, first at the scene before her, and then at Clara, who’s eyes met Jennaleigh’s with an unspoken realization that Jennaleigh immediately understood, for she felt the same disbelief and guilt within her.
“Oh, my God. Is that blood?!” sang out Maria, hysteria rising in her voice, pointing at the illuminated crimson puddle.
“No s**t it’s blood!” yelled Charles.
“Oh, my God… Oh, my God…” Maria’s labor-like breathing was starting back up.
“Now hold on a minute folks,” began Clara, two hands up in a, ‘wait-a-minute’ pose (which seemed to be her default in trying times, Jennaleigh had observed). “Let’s not jump to any conclusions. She said that she was hurt on the bus, remember?”
“Yeah but if this was from the crash, why wasn’t there a trail leading to this spot? It seems like it started here,” said Jennaleigh, anger welling in her at the drivers attempt to rationalize everything, when there was another clear possibility; that whoever stopped the bus with the ‘thing’ in Jennaleigh’s pocket had been responsible for this scene before them as well. Concealing this any longer made no sense to Jennaleigh. Clara looked in Jennaleigh’s eyes, begging for a reprieve to that which she was about to reveal.
“Listen guys, I…”
Charles’ voice interrupted her; he had broken the half circle formation and was looking around the area surrounding them.
“Wait… where is the road?”
Jennaleigh looked around frantically. The road was nowhere in sight.
‘Impossible. It has to be around here,’ Jennaleigh thought. Before she could give it further consideration, she heard something behind her in the near distance.
A low, unearthly buzzing growl came from the direction of the bus. The hair’s on Jennaleigh’s arms stood up as she looked around the group, who hadn’t seemed to have heard it yet.
“Did anyone else hear that?” asked Jennaleigh in a fearful whisper.
“Listen, I’m concentrating on the missing f*****g road, seems like more of a priority than whatever you’re going on about!” Charles asked, grumpily.
Just then, another growl began, this time louder and seemingly closer. A great, bellowing lament that sounded as mournful as it did malicious. As if a thousand flying insects had circled a lion or a tiger and had synchronized sounds to produce something almost incomprehensibly terrifying. Such a sound that could freeze you in terror as your imagination swirled, trying in vain to assign something… anything to this monstrous noise you were hearing. The group all exchanged looks, silent as their individual expressions of horror began to take over their faces.
An unfamiliar voice broke the reflective silence.
“Quick! Into the woods we must go! It has awoken.”