Elsewhere: Part II

timelapse photography of falls near trees
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Elsewhere

Part II

“Cerulean Creek”

Neil awoke before Leigh, so he took full advantage of the opportunity to study her delicate face. One of her blonde curls had fallen in front of her eyes as she slept, and he pushed aside the overwhelming urge to tuck it gently behind her ear. He noticed now that the silver stud she wore on her left nostril was in the shape of a tiny flower, which perfectly matched the studs in her ears. He then took notice of a small butterfly tattoo on her inner forearm and two odd-looking symbols on the other, which were significantly larger than the butterfly. He didn’t seem to recognize the symbols, and they didn’t appear to be Chinese hanzi or Japanese kanji, from what he knew of them anyway.

His phone slid off his knee and hit the wood floor with a loud thud, which startled Leigh awake. She instantly sat up and pulled the blanket up to her chin as if to hide herself.

“What the hell? Why are you staring at me, freak? How long have you been watching me?”

“I’m sorry,” he laughed. “I’ve only been out here for a minute or two. Did you sleep okay? I know this couch isn’t the most comfortable thing on the planet. It’s a hand-me-down from my aunt’s house. The love seat, too.”

“I slept alright. Not great. Weird dreams. Super fucking weird,” she said, relaxing a bit. She lowered the blanket and ran her fingers through her curls to tame them before using a black band she had around her wrist to tie them up into a messy bun on top of her head.

“Is that coffee?” she asked, eyes fixed on the mug Neil held between his hands. “I’d kill for some.”

“Stay put, I’ll fix you a cup,” Neil said as he stood and made his way to the kitchen. As he walked he called out loudly enough for her to hear, “Tell me about your dream. Every detail.”

“Well,” Leigh said as she adjusted in her seat on the sofa, “I’ll try to remember it all. We were back in that place. That weird forest place with the brook.”

Neil chuckled, poked his head out from around the wall so she could see him and said, “I’m not laughing at you, don’t worry. It’s just that back in Ohio we call them creeks, not brooks. Over the years, I’d given it the name “Cerulean Creek,” due to its color, of course.”

“I like that. It’s… pretty. You can keep calling it that,” she said.

“Anyway, sorry to interrupt you – please continue,” he said then ducked back into the kitchen.

“So, you and I were in the forest next to… Cerulean Creek,” she said, feeling the words for the first time as they exited her lips, “but we were being chased by something. We were running and then you vanished right in front of me. So there I was, totally alone and scared out of my mind, and then I saw a pinpoint of light in the distance,” she squinted, and outstretched her arm as if she could see it again. “It was coming toward me so quickly I hardly had time to think before it like, exploded, I guess would be the best word for it.”

Neil exited the kitchen and made his way back to her, fresh coffee in hand. He handed it to her gently, “It’s hot. Be careful.”

“Well I didn’t expect it to be cold, dummy,” she joked, flashing Neil a coy, but extremely attractive, Neil thought to himself, smile.

“Keep going,” he said, “don’t stop.”

She blew the on the surface of her coffee, then took a sip. She then lowered it to her lap and continued.

“There was no sound so it wasn’t like an actual explosion, but that’s really the best way I think I can describe it. Like what happened at the waterfall right before we showed back up at your place, only on a much larger scale.”

“That’s interesting,” Neil said. “Anything else?”

“Actually, I do remember something else,” Leigh said as she cocked her head slightly to one side as if trying to tune into an invisible frequency which was broadcasting the details of her dream. “While we were running… the trees… they were like… singing…”

“Singing?” Neil interrupted. “What were they singing?”

“Neil, I’m going to need you to hold your questions until the end, okay?” she joked, mocking what Neil had said to her the night before.

Neil laughed then zipped, locked, and threw away the key.

“There were no words, but it was definitely singing. It was a mixture of the sound they make as the wind blows through their leaves and as the birds sing their songs from the branches, but it was like all the sounds from all the trees in the forest were connected and formed a sort of… network… and with the sounds woven together they became a sort of perfect melody…” she stared off into a memory Neil couldn’t himself view, then snapped out of it to take another sip of her coffee.

“What did it sound like?” Neil asked. He had never been so genuinely interested in anything, or anyone, for that matter, in his entire life. She held his full attention in more ways than one.

She shot him a look that wordlessly called him an idiot, then said, “I can’t reproduce that sound, Neil. I don’t think it’s humanly possible. It was beautiful though. Unlike anything I had ever heard before. I remember in the dream when I heard the trees singing it felt as if they were telling us everything is going to be alright, and that they were helping us somehow.”

“I don’t mean to burst any bubbles by saying what I’m about to say, but the thing is I’ve been to that place hundreds of times over the years and I don’t think I’ve ever once heard the trees sing, nor have I heard anything that even resembled -” he stopped himself.

“Actually, one time I did hear something,” he remembered. “It was the first time I was there. The time I got stuck there for days. The second night, I was sitting on the rock crying, feeling sorry for myself, and I thought I heard someone singing my name. The roar of the waterfall nearly drowned it out completely, but I was sure I had heard it. Then it happened again the night after, and repeated itself until the day I finally went back home.”

“How do you forget something like that?” Leigh asked.

“Well it hasn’t happened since, and I was only fifteen. It’s been a long while,” he replied.

“So maybe my dream is trying to tell us something, Neil,” Leigh realized.

“I think maybe you’re right, but I don’t know what.”

“I have a much bigger, much more important question though,” Leigh said as she stared into Neil’s eyes.

“What?” Neil said, his heart racing.

“What sort of food do you keep in this bachelor pad? I’m starving.”

Neil picked up the small accent pillow that had been supporting his back as he sat, and playfully threw it at her as he stood.

“Hey, man! Hot coffee in hand!” she laughed.

*

Tuesday morning came quickly, and Leigh locked her apartment door behind her then walked back down the pathway to her car. She climbed in, shut the door, then reached for her seat belt.

“Everything okay in there?” Neil asked from the passenger’s seat.

“Yep. Roddy’s been holding down the fort. I think he’s actually really enjoying the fact that I haven’t been home in days, although he sure had a lot of questions,” she said, glancing into her rear-view mirror as she backed down the driveway.

“What did you say?”

“Well I explained to him that we had shadow beings and soulless women to tend to, so he should mind his own fucking business,” she said sarcastically.

“What did you really say?”

“I told him it’s work shit, and to mind his own fucking business,” she said with a smirk.

“That one I believe,” Neil smirked back. “I called in sick to work again while you were in there. Told them I couldn’t seem to shake this flu, and that I needed another week off. They weren’t happy, but sure as hell didn’t want me coming in and getting them all sick. I told my dad I was going on a hiking trip, so I’m good for the weekend, too.”

“Let’s go over the plan again, cool? I want to make sure we both have it down. I don’t want anything bad to happen to you. I just found you, for Christ’s sake,” she said casually, which caught Neil off guard.

Although Leigh hadn’t left his duplex in a week, she had continued to sleep in a separate room. Things hadn’t really progressed to any other level other than the friend zone, although they both been flirting progressively heavier with each passing day. They were focused on the deadline, which was now just hours away, and that stark reality was beginning to hit them both like a sack of bricks.

“We have a plan?” Neil asked.

“Well, yeah, I mean sorta kinda… right? You said we’d tie her up so she couldn’t hurt you, then take her with us to Cerulean Creek,” she said.

“That’s hardly a plan,” Neil replied.

“Well, it’s what we’ve got so far, so let’s figure it out. How are we going to get her to let us tie her up? I don’t see her being a willing participant if these shadow beings did, in fact, eat her soul… and what if your theory about one of them actually living inside of her is correct? What if that bastard takes the reigns and she tries to kill you in your own home?”

“I thought you were convinced that wouldn’t happen. That’s the whole reason I even agreed to this, LeighAnne. Now you’re second guessing yourself? Great. Just great. All confidence I had in this just flew out the window,” Neil said, now noticeably agitated.

“I’m just being logical, Neil. Don’t get your panties in a twist.”

“Easy for you to say, she wants me dead, not you.”

“Fair enough, but I’m just trying to work this out with you so we aren’t caught off guard. It’s the smart thing to do,” Leigh said, “and besides, she’s known where you live for at least a year and she hasn’t once tried to kill you. I think that’s enough evidence to prove she’s not going to try tonight.”

“I think what little of a plan we do have at this point is going to have to suffice. This is an… odd situation. Plans rarely work in odd situations. We’ll have to just play it by ear,” he said.

“Fine.”

Leigh pulled up to the curb in front of Neil’s duplex and parked behind his car under the tree. She concealed a smile as she realized this was the first time she hadn’t had to park her car far enough away so that she could watch him through binoculars without being seen. What a strange turn of events. Had she time traveled back to her former self just a week or so ago, she would have never believed the story that she had now become a part of.

Neil dumped the contents of the bag they had purchased at the local hardware store earlier that morning on the coffee table, and both he and Leigh took a seat on the floor beside it.

Fifty feet of half inch diamond braided poly rope. Neil, of course, had picked it out solely because it was blue, to which Leigh had rolled her eyes. It was likely much more than they’d need, but seeing as how neither of them had ever tied anybody up before, they’d mutually decided it’d suffice.

They stared at the rope as if it were a foreign object for several moments before Leigh finally broke the deafening silence.

“What are we doing for lunch?”

“I’m starting to think that food is the only thing you think about when you aren’t sleeping or stalking innocent, albeit incredibly good looking book binders,” he joked.

“You wouldn’t be wrong,” she replied.

“Good. It’s one of the many reasons I like you,” he said. He wanted to reach over the table and kiss her, but held back, just as he had many other times this week.

She kicked him hard, though playfully, under the table, and he threw a wooden drink coaster at her.

“I’d be careful with all this rope laying around, you know. I could tie you up and no one would ever know what happened to you,” she joked.

“Don’t threaten me with a good time,” he replied.

“All jokes aside-”

“Who said I was joking?” he interrupted.

She rolled her eyes, then continued, “Do you even know how to tie a knot? I mean other than the ones you tie in your shoelaces? Will you be able to tie a knot solid enough to keep her from breaking free?”

“I was kind of hoping the woman who stalked me for eight months then broke into my apartment would have that kind of skill stashed away in her arsenal,” he replied.

“Unfortunately, I do not. So grab your phone because we need to google this shit, and google it fast. We need to practice before she gets here. We need to be pros by the time she rings your doorbell.”

“I don’t have a doorbell,” he said.

“Okay, before she knocks at your door. Who the hell doesn’t have a doorbell?”

Leigh crawled over to Neil’s side of the coffee table and sat beside him so that she’d have a better view of his phone screen as he googled, “How to tie someone up.”

“I’ve seen episodes of Dateline where this sort of search can come back to bite you in the ass, you know,” she said jokingly.

Neil looked at her and smirked, only then realizing their close proximity, and again fought every testosterone-driven instinct he had in his body to not kiss her. He quickly focused again on his phone.

“Who the hell knew there were so many ways to tie a damn knot,” he said, trying, albeit unsuccessfully, to affix his mind back into its proper place instead of what her lips might feel like on his. He could smell her hair. It had hints of lavender and vanilla and was absolutely intoxicating.

Over the next few hours, Neil practiced making knots on the blue ropes, while Leigh walked down the road to a small market, purchased two bags full of groceries, then made a large meal that wasn’t quite early enough to be lunch, but not quite late enough to be dinner. “Linner,” she had called it, consisted of Leigh’s infamous homemade chicken piccata with linguine; a meal she had thoughtfully chosen to prepare for him this day because lurking in the back shadows of her mind she was very well aware it could be their last.

After their meal, Neil continued to practice his newly acquired knot tying capabilities, and Leigh sat close by on the sofa reading every metaphysical article should could find regarding these shadow beings. She was overwhelmed with the sheer volume of personal accounts she was able to find and read about, and even came upon some supposed photographic proof of their existence. Some photos were clearly ridiculous and totally explainable, but a few others she had a hard time finding an explanation for.

What was fascinating though, was that many people had reported seeing a shadow man in a tall hat, and nearly every time he showed up in a personal account the author also mentioned seeing smaller shadow beings accompanying him at some point. Like a hunter with his pack of hunting dogs, Leigh thought.

Many theories existed for who these beings were and why they come here to the earthly dimension, but of course none could be proven factual because the fact was that we simply do not know.

What she found to be common throughout all the theories however, was that they were not good. In fact, they seemed to be the very antithesis of good. People reported horrific nightmares accompanying sightings of the shadow entities, not unlike what Neil had experienced as a child. Dreams of murder, suicide, genocide, homicide, and every gory detail that comes along with these atrocities. Some accounts had even claimed to have heard whispers in their ears urging them to do things like harm their loved ones or themselves.

Arguably the most troubling, Leigh found an alarming number of accounts where people had reported seeing these entities over a period of time before actually committing the atrocities. One man had reported seeing a shadow man come to his bedroom every night for three solid years who would tell him to murder his family. One day he woke up covered in the innocent blood of his wife and three young children, but claimed he couldn’t remember committing the heinous act. He later hung himself with a sheet in his jail cell as he awaited trial.

A woman in Nebraska claimed her mother used to see shadow beings on their property and inside their home. Her father would dismiss her mother’s claims and tell her she’s crazy, or that her imagination could rival that of her grandchildren. The husband found his beloved wife hanging from the beams in their barn one morning, with a letter beneath her dangling feet that simply said, “They’re real.”

The most heartbreaking account was that of a young woman in Louisiana right after Hurricane Katrina had hit in 2005. She delivered twins in her apartment alone, then strangled each with their own umbilical cord. She then drew herself a bath, lit candles, and climbed inside with her two dead infants, where she proceeded to slit her wrists and bleed out. Her landlord found her a month later, after showing up to ask why the rent was late. Beside the tub on the tiled bathroom floor she had written in her own blood, “I saved us.” Later it was revealed that she had authored blog in which she had written detailed accounts of shadow beings visiting her since she was a child. In her final blog she had written, “An angel came to me in a dream last night. She stood among odd looking trees and a brook that ran bluer than any ocean I’ve ever seen. Her lips never parted but she spoke to me and told me I’d be safe here. I awoke and can only assume the place she spoke of is heaven, and she had come to me this night to tell me how to save myself and my babies. I will listen.”

Leigh shivered.

“I think you should read this,” she said to Neil. He stopped mid-knot as Leigh threw him her phone with the article pulled up on its screen.

“Holy hell,” he said somberly.

Just then, someone knocked twice on Neil’s front door.

Neil and Leigh looked at each other with wide eyes. Neil looked at Leigh’s phone again and said, “10:38. She’s late.”

“Game on, I guess,” said Leigh nervously.

Neil walked to his front door while Leigh followed closely behind. Neil opened the door slowly, cautiously, but not before looking back at Leigh to shoot her his infamous half-smirk in failed attempt to tell her everything will be alright.

Standing on the other side of the door was a petite woman with short black hair. She wore a modern grey suit and skirt with black, pointed-toe heels, and lipstick the shade of an expensive glass of cabernet sauvignon. Sunglasses covered her eyes, although the sun had set hours before, and she lowered them once the door stood open.

“Nice to meet you,” she said to Neil, a flirtatious smile creeping across her wine-colored lips, “again, I should say.”

She let herself into Neil’s humble dwelling, removing her shoes at the door, then carrying them to the love seat in his living room, where she took as seat as if she had done the same many times before. She sat the shoes on the floor beside her, then crossed one leg over the other before glancing over her shoulder at Leigh and Neil who still stood silently at the open door. Leigh reached behind Neil to push the door shut, then nudged him to snap him back into the present moment.

“I’d say make yourself comfortable, but it looks as though you’ve already done so,” Neil said as he made his way over to the couch. Leigh sat beside him.

“Well we don’t have much time for formalities, do we Neil? In about -” she brought her wrist closer to her face to check the time, “well, now we have less than twenty minutes – you’ll be taking me back to that place. You will be taking me back, won’t you Neil?”

“Yes, but first I have a few questions I’m going to need answers for before we go anywhere,” he replied confidently. Leigh felt a little less confident now in the presence of this perfectly put together woman, so she kept her mouth shut and her eyes locked onto her intimidating former employer.

“Well, you’d better get to it. Time’s a tickin’, as they say,” she said.

“You need to let me tie you up,” he said.

“Not going to happen, and that wasn’t a question,” she replied.

“How do I know you won’t try to kill me?” he asked.

“The short answer to that is I haven’t killed you in ten years, so why would I try now? The longer answer is that you don’t know whether or now I will try to kill you, Neil. All I can tell you is that right now I’m in full control of my own body and mind, and I have no desire to harm you as long as I am the one in control,” she said.

“Which is precisely why I need to tie you up. What if you lose that control, can the shadow things take over? Can they make you do things you don’t want to?”

“They have and they likely will at some point, but I can hear their thoughts and know when it’s about to happen. Right now, Neil,” she said, then looked at Leigh for the first time that night, “LeighAnne, you are both safe because I’m in control, and my desire to fix… myself… will hold them back for now. Got it?”

“How do we know they won’t take over and kill Neil the second we cross over into the other place?” Leigh finally said, “We’re tying you up and that’s that.”

“We’re losing time,” the woman said, frustrated. “How do we leave, Neil? How is it that you get from here to there so easily? Do tell.”

Neil looked at Leigh as if to say she had a point. Leigh looked down at her phone, pushing the side button to illuminate the screen.

“It’s 10:49, Neil. If we’re going to tie her up we need to do it now,” Leigh said.

Neil dropped his gaze from Leigh down to his lap, rubbing the back of his head with his palm.

“Fuck. Alright, listen. I won’t tie you up, but if you try anything I swear to God -”

“Like I said,” the woman interrupted, “I won’t as long as I’m in control. I have other plans.”

“Speaking of,” Leigh said, “how do you plan to go about all this? I hope you’ve done your research.”

“Don’t you worry about me, Miss McAddams. I can take care of myself. You two lovebirds should only worry about yourselves tonight. Just get me there, Neil. Get me there, and then you can come back home and go about your lives.”

“What’s your name?” Neil asked, which quite obviously took the put-together-as-tightly-as-a-finished-jigsaw-puzzle woman completely off guard.

“I thought we were skipping the formalities tonight, Neil. We have bigger issues at hand,” she said, nearly shouting in frustration by this point.

“It’s just a name,” Neil said calmly. “We met when we were just kids, you and me. I saw you in that place and I’ve wondered ever since not only how you’ve been, but even just what your name could be. Since I was a kid I’ve always wanted just a simple name to put with the memory I had of a girl that came to the place that I had thought only I could go. It’s just a name.”

The woman seemed to be touched, in what was left of the soul she had inside of her anyway, by Neil’s words. Touched by the fact that he had thought of her all these years. He had never forgotten her.

“Lauren,” she replied, and underneath the spoken name Leigh had sensed for the first time that evening that she might have good left within her after all. The name fell from the woman’s lips hiding within it an innocent child who had experienced absolute horror and been helplessly at its mercy ever since. For the first time, Leigh felt a deep sense of sympathy for this woman. Lauren was a child once, and that child had encountered unspeakable, terrifying things. Her soul had been unjustly ripped from her body at a time in her life when most girls her age would only just be getting their drivers licenses. Her story was a tragic one, and Leigh needed to remind herself of that.

“Nice to meet you, Lauren,” Leigh said with a sympathetic smile.

Lauren did not expect such a display of kindness, and it showed. Her eyes grew wide and Leigh thought she saw a small tear begin to well up in the corner of her eye. Lauren quickly put an end to the dramatic moment by saying, “Oh I suppose we’re all friends now that you know my name? Please. I didn’t come here to make friends, I came here to… well it’s none of your business, so let’s just get on with it.”

“You came here to save your soul, Lauren, and what you need right now more than anything else in the world, is a friend. You need someone to help you. You aren’t going at this alone,” Leigh said empathetically.

Neil, shocked by Leigh’s sudden change of attitude, couldn’t decide which woman to keep his eyes on, so instead he picked up his phone and looked at the time. 10:57.

“He’ll be here soon. We need to hold hands. I think that’s how I was able to get you over with me last time, Leigh. Lauren, you need to hold hands with LeighAnne and I, okay?” Neil said.

“Who’s coming? Who is this “he” you’re referring to? I wasn’t expecting others, Neil, this wasn’t part of the -”

“The shadow man,” Neil interrupted.

Lauren’s demeanor shifted. She went from owning the room and everything in it to being a small, vulnerable, terrified child in a matter of a fraction of second.

“No. No, not him. No. Why is he coming? No, I have to go. I can’t do this,” she mumbled as she stood from her chair, ready to bolt out the front door without her heels.

He is who brings me over, Lauren. I can’t do it without him,” Neil explained.

“Never mind then. Screw this. I can’t do it. Not with him, I can’t,” she said as she reached for the front door. Neil grabbed her by the hand.

“I saw them knock you down. I saw them on top of you. I watched the whole thing,” Neil stared into her eyes, his own beginning to fill with tears. “I yelled for you to come to me on the rock. I tried to help you, Lauren. Do you remember that?”

A tear fell from her eye and rolled down her cheek. She stared into Neil’s big, brown eyes and said, “I do remember you. I remember seeing you standing on the rock, but no sound came from your mouth. All I could hear were the shadow monsters, their screams piercing my ears and bursting my ear drums until they bled. It felt as if they were tearing my organs from my body. The pain was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. The world around me went black, but when I awoke I was in my own bed, in my own bedroom, and life seemed to just… return to normal. I told myself a million times it was just a bad dream, and I believed that… until one day a few years later when I visited a hole in the wall diner. The moment I saw you standing at the host stand, I blacked out. All the memories that I had worked so hard to forget forever came flooding back, and when I came to…” she paused, “three weeks had passed.”

The air in the room seemed to grow thinner, and the hum began to fill the room slowly.

“He’s here,” Neil warned ominously, taking Lauren’s hands in his. Leigh ran over to them and joined.

Lauren continued, her tone growing louder as she spoke so he could hear her over the hum as it increased in its intensity.

“He stole my body from me for three weeks, Neil. Three weeks that I have zero recollection whatsoever of any place I might have gone, or anything I might have done.”

Tears now fell freely from her face, which she quickly wiped away  with the back of her hand and replaced with a deep, stifling anger.

“After that, he’d speak to me inside my head. He told me my body was no longer my own, and that he had taken it so that he could get to you,” she was now yelling over the piercing noise enveloping the room in which they stood. “He wants to take control of you, Neil, like he did me. He said you are powerful.”

Neil watched as Lauren’s eyes fixed onto something behind him. There in the living room where they had been seated just seconds earlier, the shadow man now stood. He was every bit of seven feet tall and five feet wide. His silhouette, blacker and deeper than infinite space itself, was lined by what could only be described as thin paper burning away at its edges. He was vibrating so intensely that the very atoms around him shook and made the air around him appear as heat does when escaping from the hood of a hot car on a mid-summer day. Just as the ominous being began to glide toward them, Leigh thought she heard, but only for a brief moment, the trees singing their song once again. The bright flash of light exploded around them and cut the tree-song short, and the three now stood at the banks of Cerulean Creek.

Lauren held her hands to her ears attempting to block out the painful ringing. Leigh took hold of her hands comfortingly and thought, “It’s okay. We’re here.”

Lauren looked around, astonished, but before she could speak Neil said, or rather thought, to Leigh and Lauren, “Remember, no speaking out loud. They’ll hear you if you do, and they’ll find us before we make it to the rock.” 

Lauren looked helplessly baffled. Leigh, still holding her hands within her own, explained, “We can speak through thought in this place. Just think it, and we can hear it. Try it.”

Lauren remained silent for a moment, then Leigh and Neil both heard her say, or rather think, “I’m scared.

“Don’t be. We’re with you this time. We’ll get you to the rock,” Leigh thought to her.

Neil led the way as the three made their way along the creek’s edge. Leigh stopped suddenly, and Neil asked, “What is it? What’s wrong?”

“I hear it, Neil. Can you hear it?”

“Hear what?”

Leigh closed her eyes and listened. It was the trees. She could hear the trees singing just as they had in her dream. It was very light, almost like a whisper, but she could hear it nonetheless.

“The trees,” she said simply.

“We have to keep moving,” Neil replied, and they continued along the water’s edge until finally the sound of the waterfall could be heard in the distance. They picked up their pace.

Just as the waterfall came into view, Lauren said, “It’s just as beautiful as I remember.”

Suddenly they heard movement from behind the trees.

“The shadow beings… they heard her,” Neil said.

“We have to make it to the rock,” Neil said aloud as he began to run while motioning for them to follow. “We’ll be safe there!”

He stopped dead in his tracks and held his arms out to stop them as well. It only took a moment for the women to notice the cause of his sudden halt.

Standing on the shoreline near the edge of the waterfall stood the shadow man and about fifty of his little shadow minions. The number increased with each passing moment as others joined from the nearby forest.

“We have to go in the water,” Neil said, “right now!”

Neil ran into the rushing water, followed by Leigh, then Lauren. The water was much deeper in this part of the creek versus near the base of the waterfall where it had only been calf-deep. As the shadow beings drew nearer from behind, they walked deeper out into the water, which was now up to the base of their rib cages.

“As long as we stay in the water, we should be safe,” Neil said loudly over the sound of the rushing water and frenzied shadow beasts.

The trio pushed their way through the rushing waters one step at a time until the rock was just a stone’s throw away.

“Almost there!” Leigh said, before glancing back at Lauren, whom she now realized had stopped several feet back and was now standing completely still, eyes fixed upon the creatures on the creek’s edge mere feet away.

“Lauren!” Leigh shouted trying to get her attention.

Lauren didn’t flinch.

“Lauren, no!” Neil shouted as well.

Lauren stood still, seemingly transfixed by the shadow beasts. She took a step toward them.

“Lauren, no!” both Neil and Leigh shouted in unison. “Lauren, we’re almost there! We’re safe here! Lauren, don’t leave the water!”

Lauren took another slow step toward the ravenous beasts, who were becoming increasingly agitated as Lauren drew nearer.

Leigh rushed toward Lauren as she continued to walk another step closer to the shoreline. Two more and she’d be at the mercy of the malicious beasts. Leigh dove into the water’s current and let it carry her quickly to Lauren, then grabbed her by the arm and yanked her backward. Lauren fell backward into the water, and when she emerged, she seemed to have finally snapped out of whatever spell the repugnant beings had placed over her.

Lauren began to sob, and hugged Leigh tightly.

“Oh my god, LeighAnne, oh my god… thank you so much for saving me,” she cried. “I couldn’t move. I tried. I tried to follow you but they took over. I fought them. I tried to force my body to go in the opposite direction, but they were so strong, LeighAnne. Too strong,” she cried and buried her head into Leigh’s shoulder.

Leigh stroked the back of her head and said, “It’s okay. We’ve got you now. We won’t let them get to you.” A promise Leigh now realized she might not be strong enough to keep.

Once they reached the rock, they climbed atop and sat, resting their weary legs. Leigh hugged Lauren tightly as she trembled violently from an overwhelming concoction of adrenaline mixed with fear of forever losing control of her mind and body at the hands of the shadow creatures.

“I want to go back home,” Lauren said weakly.

“I know, but we’ve made it this far, Lauren. There’s hope for you here,” Leigh reassured her.

Lauren closed her eyes while Neil and Leigh kept their eyes fixed on the ominous shadow man.

“Why do you suppose he told Lauren you were powerful,” Leigh asked Neil.

“Hell if I know,” Neil said.

Lauren sat up and looked as if she were trying desperately to quickly pull herself together. She wiped her eyes with the back of her trembling hands, adjusted her sopping wet shirt, pushed her hair back behind her ears and cleared her voice before saying, “He thinks you know how to get in and out of here. He thinks you could get him back into his dimension. He wants out. He’s trapped here. He figured out how to come into our world somehow, but he can’t figure out how to get back to his and he’s pissed.”

Leigh and Neil looked at each other, stunned by this new revelation.

“He told you all this?” Neil asked.

“Not exactly, but I know it’s true. I can feel him inside me sometimes, and when he’s around me I can read his thoughts. His mind. It’s like I’m tapped in,” Lauren said.

“Can you read his thoughts right now?” Leigh asked.

“If I focus,” she answered, lowering her eyes to the stone beneath her.

“What’s he thinking right now?” Leigh asked her.

Lauren stared at the shadow man for a moment. Leigh placed her hand on Lauren’s to keep her from slipping back into the trance he had held her in just minutes before. Lauren looked down at Leigh’s hand on hers, then back up at her face. Her eyes, once a vibrant shade of green had become solid black. She stared at Leigh through nefarious eyes that were not her own, as a venomous smile crept across her lips.

“Lauren, fight him. Don’t let him take you. Lauren, listen to me, listen to my voice,” Leigh pleaded.

Neil grabbed Leigh and pulled her backward toward the opposite edge of the rock.

Simpleminded and shortsighted,” Lauren said through a voice that was not her own; a voice that could only be described as a collection of voices, their tones ranging from the highest end of the vocal spectrum to the deepest, spoken simultaneously through hijacked vocal chords.

“Lauren, don’t let him do this to you,” cried Leigh.

“Lauren, you have to fight this,” said Neil.

“She’s already lost this battle, Neil,” the shadow man said using Lauren’s stolen tongue. “She lost it long ago on these very shores, while you watched and did nothing.”

“Leave her alone, you fuck!” Leigh cried furiously.

They watched in horror as Lauren, or rather the entity within Lauren, picked up an apple sized stone from the brook below, and proceeded to bash in its own head once, then twice, then while seeming to feed off the horror of its witnesses, it began to laugh while it continued to smash the rock into Lauren’s skull. Thick blood and grey matter  fell from the battered body, exposing bits of jagged bone protruding near what was once Lauren’s eye socket.

Leigh screamed and sobbed as Neil tried to cover her face to shield her from the horrific scene playing out before them. The bashing continued as the creature within laughed a hideous cackle, choking and gurgling as thick blood rushed down into the throat of what was once a beautiful woman. It said, “Do you understand now?” followed by another round of malevolent laughter.

“I can’t help you get back to your world!” Neil shouted at it. “I don’t know why you think I can, but I can’t! I don’t even know how I get to and from this world!”

The being stopped, held the murder weapon in its outstretched hand for a moment while it contemplated Neil’s words, then threw the bloodied stone into the flowing water beside it.

“You’re lying,” it said through as it choked on the blood now filling its throat and lungs.

“I’m not. I swear I’m not. I don’t come here by choice, you fucking prick. In fact, up until tonight I had assumed you are the one that brings me here,” he said.

The battered body gurgled and coughed, trying to clear its throat to speak, though it had damaged its host far too badly and in doing so had rendered itself silent. In an act of what seemed to be frustration and anger, it threw what was left of its host body’s head back and let out a hellacious scream which released it from within the host body. A black mass resembling a dense swarm of black flies flew from Lauren’s battered body to the shadow man on the shore, where it then became a part of his void. Lauren’s battered body slumped, then fell into the cerulean water below, and as it did Leigh witnessed what looked like a pinhead-sized ball of light fly from the water’s surface over and into the waterfall before disappearing completely.

“Did you see that?” she asked Neil, but his gaze was affixed to the shadow man so she knew he likely hadn’t.

“I know now it’s not you that’s bringing me here,” Neil shouted across the water. “But I still don’t know who is.”

Just then, Leigh heard the trees song growing louder than the roar of the small waterfall. She looked at Neil, who could now, as she could see by his expression, hear it loud and clear.

“You hear it now, don’t you?” she asked. “That’s the trees. That’s the singing I was telling you about!”

“It’s… it’s beautiful,” he stuttered, and it was. It was both mesmerizing and hypnotizing, as if the sound the trees produced spoke directly to each individual cell of his body. He felt every hair stand on end, and he had never felt more at peace than he did while the song rode the air around him. The exquisite sound permeated his soul and cleared his mind of anything that had ever occupied a negative space within it. He felt as if he could breathe more deeply than ever before, understand more clearly than ever before, and in this hyper-awake state he knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that no matter what happened, everything would be okay.

The waterfall began to emit a strange light from within, and the shadow creatures on both sides of the creek responded by fleeing into the trees. The hum of the shadow man could now be heard, and its intensity heightened in an apparent attempt to overcome that of the trees song. Leigh and Neil held their palms to their ears in an attempt to muffle it, but it grew louder and louder until both had blood trickling down the sides of their faces. Leigh began to scream due to the excruciating pain, and Neil let go of his own to help cover hers in a final act of chivalry. He held her tight and watched as the light of the waterfall grew in intensity until an explosion of light, just as Leigh had foreseen in her dream, quickly ended their time in the in-between dimension and brought them safely to the familiar floor of Neil’s living room.

Neil crawled over to Leigh and held her tight as she wept.

“Ssshh, it’s okay. We’re home now. We’re safe. It’s okay, Leigh. We’re home,” he repeated, holding her tightly while rocking he, and kissing the top of her head.

“Lauren…” she now sobbed, completely inconsolable and ravaged by emotion. “She was so damn close…”

“We don’t know that. We just don’t know that, Leigh. Maybe she was already gone when we were just teenagers. We just don’t know Leigh, and it’s not your fault. It’s not anyone’s fault,” he said attempting to not only console her, but himself as well.

“It’s not fair,” she cried. “Poor Lauren. She never stood a chance.”

After several minutes, Neil finally stood and walked to the kitchen to go make a pot of coffee, per Leigh’s request. Leigh sat on the carpet, numb, trying to wrap her mind around the events that just transpired.

After a few moments, Neil returned with two mugs in hand, and sat them on the table beside her. He walked around the back of Leigh and lowered himself to the ground to sit, wrapping his arms around her and pulling her to his chest. He kissed her head again, then twice more.

“I just don’t get it,” Leigh said.

“Which part,” Neil replied.

“Why?” she asked. “Why would he let her go back there just to kill her? It doesn’t make any sense.”

“Well, if I had to guess I’d say that was likely not part his plan. He needed her to explain to me why he needed me,” he said.

Leigh sat with this for a moment and closed her eyes while Neil held her, taking solace in the comfort it provided. Eyes closed and head buried in his chest she said, “I think I saw her soul leave her body.”

“You what?” Neil asked.

“When her body fell into the water… I watched as a tiny ball of light flew from it toward the waterfall. It disappeared into the waterfall. I think it was her soul… or what was left of it, anyway.”

Neil said nothing, and instead just held her tighter and pressed his lips to her forehead.

{To Be Continued…}

Click here to read Elsewhere, Part III: “Ginny”

 

 

Published by limitless.stimulus

Short Story Author

One thought on “Elsewhere: Part II

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