Bobby Maxwell woke up on a bed of leaves under the steel gray sky and tall oak trees with chipped bark and broken branches surrounding him. He sat up and rubbed the back of his head then cracked his neck. The wind was soft but cool to the touch of his skin as he stood up and surveyed the area. He tried to move his arm to reach in his pocket and his shoulder hurt like a motherfucker. It was dislocated. Damn, he thought as he grabbed his shoulder and popped it back into place without hesitation. He moved it around to see if he got it right, he did.
He reached into his breast pocket and found his swiss army knife. He flipped it open and waved it around in coordinated motions, testing his reflexes and muscle memory to ensure his equilibrium was intact. It was. He put the swiss knife back in his pocket and zipped up his light brown leather jacket to the neck then looked around some more. He listened to the soft, cool breeze and heard strange, unnatural sounds in the distance.
Sure, there were animals in the woods like wolves and bears but, if he was where he thought he was, that could only be true to a certain point. Those animals have been driven out if anything and the only animals that would be in these woods were deer, right? He started walking west, his black military grade boots crushing the leaves with every step. The smell of fresh air and drying rain soothed him, somewhat. He inhaled and exhaled deeply, and his brain seemed to wake up, his senses became sharper as he walked along and got a better feel for the environment.
He walked for what seemed like days. Nothing but tall trees with falling leaves, a soft breeze, and cloudy skies. He could see mountains in the distance and thought that strange. There weren’t mountains in Mississippi, at least, he didn’t think so (he’d only been to Mississippi once and saw grasses, the river, and some towns). Something’s off here, he thought, there are no mountains in Mississippi. In normal circumstances, Bobby would’ve been right, but these weren’t normal circumstances. Bobby knew this, and Bobby didn’t like it; he wasn’t afraid either, no, not in the slightest. He’d seen worse. Much worse. You didn’t exactly become a top mercenary by being a soft-hearted pussy, did you? Hell no. Ridiculous.
Bobby had been on a mission to eliminate a target at the Empire State Building, some millionaire that owed the Russians money but refused to pay up like he couldn’t be touched. The name of the target’s irrelevant to Bobby then as it was at this moment, but it did raise a fundamental question, How the fuck did I get over here? Yes, that was the question. The only one that mattered. Another question occurred to Bobby as he observed his surroundings and the day quickly turned into night.
The sun seemed to go down at Mach speed, the movement of the sun resembling those scenes in the movies that fast-forward through the seasons. The trajectory of the wind changed and became a hard, aggressive, Chicago-winter type of breeze. The breeze that snuffed you like a schoolyard bully and showed you who was really Billy Badass. The wind blew Bobby off his feet and he landed on his back, cracking it a little bit (which actually did him some good). He remained on the ground for a few moments and stretched–making moaning and groaning sound similar to sexuality.
When he finished stretching, he got up and let the blood circulation in his body correct itself before making a move. The fuck is going on out here? Yes, another good question, but it was hardly one that mattered. What Bobby had to concern himself with was why the hell did the sun set so quickly and where did that Andre-the-giant ass breeze come from. Also, where exactly was he? Mississippi? California? Upstate New York? What kind of a fucked up, low-budget, horror movie was he in right now? He didn’t know, but he had to find out before something happened. And something was going to happen soon. Very soon.
It was night in the blink of an eye. The full moon shining directly over Bobby’s head with stunning clarity. Bobby didn’t have the greatest vision, but it was sharp enough to get the job done; in this case, even a blind person could see the moon because it looked like it was in HD. One could almost see the craters it was so crystal clear. The stars gleamed in the night sky like diamonds on display. If you looked at them long enough, you’d think they were dancing in the sky, swaying to a harmonic, celestial rhythm only they and God knew about.
The California-like mountains looked like an impressionist artists’ painting, trees blending perfectly in the forefront. Bobby walked on with only the sounds of crunching leaves to guide him. The night was dead silent, and Bobby didn’t like that. He wasn’t afraid of it though; his heart went right on beating in its normal rhythm. Bobby took a deep breath and smoke came out when he exhaled. The temperature dropped rapidly, and his hands were the first to freeze; he placed them in his pocket and remembered he’d taken gloves with him in case he couldn’t catch the target at a distance and had to do the job up close and personal.
They were thin, black leather gloves but they’d have to do. He zipped down his jacket and reached into his inside pocket, pulled out the gloves and put them on, then zipped up his jacket in a hurry. Bobby hated to be cold. The temperature dropped even more, and Bobby’s breath became thick like cigarette smoke when he exhaled. Hell naw, Bobby thought, I can’t do the cold. He walked on a bit faster and the temperature seemed to drop in rhythm with his stride, every step being another five degrees or so.
Bobby heard a low, hollow sound behind him. He glanced but didn’t look back. Fuck that, best to keep it moving and mind your business. Bobby did exactly that. The sound grew louder and closer, Bobby started jogging to keep the blood pumping and the fluids warm. At least, that’s what he told himself. The fear was there, lying dormant and waiting to erupt.
In seven years of being a mercenary, Bobby had all but eliminated fear. If you’d asked Bobby what he was afraid of before this low-budget horror movie bullshit, he would’ve told you not a damn thing. He was as stoic as they come, or so he thought. That learned stoicism and experience killing people in the night with darkness as an eternal ally and mystic lover wasn’t going to help. Not one bit. This was a different darkness, a darkness that took no sides had no friends, and didn’t play favorites. This darkness was the all-consuming kind. The kind that took angels and demons indiscriminately with no semblance of remorse.
The moon shined as intensely as the sun at high-noon and created a path. A gleaming, glistening, white path. The sound grew louder and closer still, Bobby watched the path manifest before him and figured yellow brick road/white path of the moon just get me the fuck out these woods and ran toward it. When he stepped in the path the sounds stopped and his body immediately began to warm. He looked around and saw that the woods had become pitch black and the only light was moonlight. On his right, he watched various creatures move through the night with deadly stealth and quickness, wolves and foxes he thought.
On his left, he watched something shaped like a bear move confidently through the trees. Deer trying to escape the foreign creature but not being fast enough. Bobby watched as the creature grabbed the deer and take a massive bite out of it, antlers and all. The only thing left of the creature was…well, there wasn’t much left after three seconds because the deer was consumed in two more bites. Bobby turned his head and pretended he didn’t see what he just saw. His mind drew a blank as rationalization abandoned him and intuition had been given free rein, and the first order of intuition was to stay on the path no matter what. Bobby did exactly that.
He stayed on the fucking path.
The frigid and aggressive wind slapped Kalip and Jasmine out of a dreamless sleep. They sat up and looked around with bewildered expressions, nothing but darkness and the moonlight shining a path to the right of them. The raspy, hollow sound was the first thing they heard after they got over their disorientation.
“What was that?” Jasmine asked, fear in her voice.
“I don’t know,” Kalip looked around, “an even better question is, where are we?” He shivered, “and why the hell is it so cold?”
Kalip and Jasmine were wearing summer clothes, not the best idea in these strange and terrifying parts. Jasmine was wearing a pink tank-top, blue jeans, and converse sneakers; Kalip was wearing a shirt that said IF YOU GET ME DRUNK MISS LADY YOU MIGHT GET LUCKY with blue Levi jeans, a black leather belt, and green and gray Nike Air Max sneakers. They felt around for each other and held hands then tried to make their way to the moonlight, too scared and cold for much conversation.
The walk to the path was filled with bumps and bruises, Kalip kept bumping into trees while trying to use the moonlight as a guide. One tree he just flat out smacked into and damn near broke his nose. Jasmine giggled and Kalip playfully threatened to leave her. She slapped him on the shoulder with her free hand and told him not to say that.
He shrugged and they moved on.
The light got closer and their eyes adjusted to where the trees were because Kalip didn’t want his nose broken and Jasmine wanted to get the hell out of the dark as soon as possible. Twigs snapped under their feet and for some time was the only sound they heard…until the raspy, whispery sound came from behind them.
“What was that?” Jasmine whispers as she breathed thick smoke.
“I don’t wanna find out,” Kalip replies. “Look, we’re almost to the light.”
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