Part V: Hellscape
Jennaleigh ran through the woods, darkness all around her. She didn’t know why she was running or what she was running from, but she was afraid. She ran and ran through a sea of infinite trees, until she came upon a cloaked figure, obscured by a black hood. She came to a halt before the figure, catching her breathe as she approached.
“What do you want from me?” Jennaleigh asked the silhouette.
“Your life,” replied the shade. “Your misery, your pain and your sorrow.”
Jennaleigh heard a shuffling behind her and turned her gaze over her shoulder. There standing illuminated by a beam of moonlight against the dark, was Charlie. His teeth were glowing as he grinned. His aura was threatening; sinister.
“Jenna, come home. I’ll be good. I’ll give you my heart,” spoke Charlie, softly as he reached out a closed hand in front of him. He opened it slowly, revealing a beating heart. Blood dripped from his hand forming a crimson puddle in the snow, and he laughed.
Jennaleigh was stunned, she couldn’t speak. Another, familiar voice rang out.
“Hey baby, it’s okay,” Jennaleigh’s mother stood near Charlie in the darkness. “Take his heart. We can talk about Jason, about how I wish he were here instead of you. Go on, take the heart, you deserve it.” Jennaleigh’s mother spoke with a perpetual smile.
“Mom? I…I don’t wanna. I don’t…” Jenna said, forcing words out from within her. She looked back at her Mother, who now held Charlie’s heart in her hand, eating it as she stood there. She was drenched in his blood from head to toe.
“Come on, sweetie. Take it,” her mother held out the heart and offered it to her daughter.
Jennaleigh shook her head in disgust.
“Take it. Take it. Take it. Take it! Take it! TAKE IT! TAKE IT YOU B***H! TAKE IT!” she screamed at the top of her lungs.
Jennaleigh sprang up from her makeshift bed, beads of sweat dripping down her face.
“What the f**k was that?” she asked herself, sickened by the vivid horror of the dream.
She looked around the cave and saw a faint, flickering light close by. She stood up, grabbed her jacket, slung it over her shoulders and walked toward it.
It was the faint glow of a small campfire. The flames danced and the logs crackled melodically, though without discernible rhythm.
Nahele sat on a long hollowed-out log, sharpening long sticks with a carved knife made out of bone. His silhouette was cast ominous over the cave wall behind him.
“Mind if I sit?” Jennaleigh asked him.
“If you wish it, so be it,” responded Nahele without moving his eyes from the fire.
Jennaleigh sat on the cave floor beside the fire. The heat felt good on her cold shins. As she silently sat by the fire, she scoured the dark cave she was in. Its ceiling was tall, taller than she ever imagined a cave’s ceiling could be. Its surface was smooth, almost un-naturally so. There were no jagged rocks or unsightly malformations, apart from the striking redish-brown color of the stone which Jennaleigh thought was odd. It was like a calming hellscape; a quiet inferno. Further back in the cave was the mother and her child, holding each other sleeping. The sight of them filled Jennaleigh with a longing; her prior feelings of loneliness seemed amplified in her current situation, something she hadn’t realized or come to terms with with everything that was going on. The weight of it all felt overwhelming, like a weighted blanket of sorrow and anger hanging over her. She noticed Charles laying on his back, a little ways behind the mother and child, snoring away as if nothing was wrong, as if he hadn’t attacked Jennaleigh just a few hours earlier.
The panic was starting to hit Jennaleigh in waves as the reality of the situation began to settle in. She rubbed her arms and shivered, more from her thoughts than the cold.
“Take a deep breathe, it’ll pass,” spoke Nahele, startled Jennaleigh with his unexpected and rapid crescendo from silence to spoken word.
“I’m fine. I’m… I’m fine,” she tried convincing herself as well as him.
“If that were true, I’d be more worried,” Nahele replied.
Jennaleigh looked at the intense man across the fire; he was poking the wood in the fire now with a long stick, causing sparks to shoot up and into the air.
“So, lived here long?” Jennaleigh spoke, voice shaking after a beat of silence.
Nahele looked up at her with piercing eyes.
“Yes. Many moons have passed since I’ve been here. Many nights have come and gone, though now it’s hard to remember them all.”
“So, where even are we?” asked Jennaleigh, fearfully.
“As I said, this land is not a natural one. It was created by Ee’umboweh for my people long ago,” Nahele said.
“Created? What do you mean? This is f*****g crazy. How do you…” Jennaleigh’s voice broke up before continuing, “how do you expect someone to believe this s**t? This is insane.”
“I know it must seem strange and… frightening to you,” Nahele said calmly.
“Strange and frightening? There’s a f*****g… monster chasing us!” Jennaleigh said louder than intended. She turned around and saw the little girl, Fiona moving around in her sleep. She looked back at Nahele and spoke with a noticeably softer volume.
“Sorry, I’m just… trying to wrap my head around this.”
“I understand,” Nahele said blankly.
“So… why did you save us from that thing exactly?” Jennaleigh asked.
Nahele looked down at his hands which were grasping a long braid of hair that had been separated from its place of origin.
“Long ago my son was taken from me. He was chosen to be an offering to Ee’umboweh, and he accepted this ‘honor’. I however, did not. The day came for my son to fulfill his duty, but I could not accept a life without him. I tried to convince him to leave with me, but he would not go. He was honor-bound to do his duty; death for his people. They held me down so that I could not follow my son, and I never saw him again. They exiled me from the village for forsaking my son’s duty, and I have not returned since. I went to the place where my son had gone, and this braid was all that was left. I swore I’d have revenge, and I devoted myself to this revenge. I saved you because I wish to deny the beast what it desires most; the mark of its craving, which you posses.”
Jennaleigh had forgotten that about the mark; the disgusting, jagged thing in her front pocket. She removed it and examined it once more; it was lined with teeth from bottom to top, teeth that were elongated and serrated like small saws atop a spike that gazing upon felt like an affront to your senses. It wasn’t human, Jennaleigh knew, and there was no way that this could grow inside someone without killing them.
“So, this ‘mark’ is why it’s after us? So if we don’t have it it won’t attack?” Jennaleigh asked, curiosity radiating.
“You’ve held it in your hand; seared its essence into you. Its energy has imbedded itself and entered your soul. You cannot escape its grasp. You are trapped here.”
Jennaleigh’s heart sank. She felt the beads of sweat drip from her forehead and her hands began to shake.
The word she knew intimately. The very reason she found herself in this hellish situation to begin with. It was almost funny, the irony of it all.
“Trapped. So, there’s no way out then? Out of these woods and back to where we were?” Jennaleigh asked, coasting on auto-pilot, out-of body.
“As long as Ee’umboweh rules under the moon, so a part of this land you will be,” Nahele said, sincerity in his usually stony eyes.
“And the others? Is there a way out for them?” Jennaleigh asked, selflessly.
“If there is, I do not know of it,” said Nahele.
“Is there anyone here who might?” Jennaleigh replied, anxiously.
“Well… there may be one. An outsider, like myself. A woman who knows the history of this plane, who has communed with The Giving Sorrow. An elder from before.”
“I’ll tell then others. We need to find a way to get them back. We need to keep that little girl safe,” said Jennaleigh, urgency her guiding force.
Nahele raised his hand up. “Tomorrow, First, let them sleep. Rest, too. You will need it.”
Jennaleigh nodded in agreement. She turned, began to walk away and back towards her make-shift bed, then stopped in her tracks for a moment before turning back to Nahele.
“I thought you said people were born with the mark inside of them?” Jennaleigh asked aloud.
“This is true.” said Nahele, unassuming.
“Well, then how did this find it’s way into our buses’ tire?” Jennaleigh asked holding up the mark.
“Someone died to bring you here. No doubt an agent of Ee’umboweh, and no friend of yours. There are many in this plane.”
Jennaleigh stood for a reflective moment before raising her hands and continuing towards her bed. She felt the unease rise in her, then hit powerfully and unexpectedly, like a giant wave crashing onto a beach. She lied down and closed her eyes and thought of her brothers face as she covered herself with her jacket and gave into sleep.