Mr. Michael Squid has honored us with three stories to wet our taste buds on his work. Sit back and enjoy the first of the three…
The Place Where Reality Broke
It started with a strange text from Bill, my good friend and fellow Gunnison, Colorado native. Every Sunday, he’d send me a text reading “Pool?” and we’d meet up at a little dive bar to shoot a few games. It was essentially just an excuse to get loaded and gripe about our jobs, but I was fine with that. This Sunday he texted me as per usual, but something was clearly up.
“Can I stop by?” the text read. This was odd. He’d only ever been by my place a few times to give me a ride when my car was being fixed.
“I guess, what for?” I responded, but he didn’t reply back. About five minutes later I heard my gravel driveway crunch under the tires of his truck. He’s a ten-minute drive down Owl Creek from me, so it was clear he must’ve been either idling nearby or driving over when he’d texted. I slipped on my boots and flannel and headed out into the fresh mountain air to greet him.
Bill is a 30-year-old with a barrel chest and a frizzy, copper beard. He’s a burly guy who never backs down in an argument and I never saw him scared. Not until he stepped out of his vehicle and watched me with round, nervous eyes.
“Took your sweet time driving over here,” I tried to joke, but it fell flat. Bill approached with an intense, distracted gaze I’d never before seen on his usually jovial face. I only then noticed his tattooed hands were trembling at his sides, shaking like he was wrought with Parkinson’s.
“I need you to see something. Something in the woods. I feel like I’m losing my goddamn mind.” Bill’s face was pale and creased with worry behind that burly beard.
My stomach squirmed. Had he done something bad? Had he hurt someone?
“Bill, what’s going on. Talk to me.”
“Just… come with me and tell me you see what I see when we get there?” He rubbed his jacketed elbows as if it was cold, but it was a sunny 68°. Only a few streaked clouds trailed across the sprawling Colorado sky.
“Sure thing, I can do that Bill. Are you in some kind of trouble?” I had to ask.
“No, nothing like that. Just come and take a look at something. Please.” Bill turned back to his truck. I begrudgingly followed over and climbed in, smelling the bitter stink of cigarettes and spilled whiskey. Bill pulled a Winston from the pack and lit up. I’d never seen him smoke before, not once. As soon as I shut the heavy door with a clunk, he put the truck in drive.
The pines sped by in a blur as he drove, his gaze fixed ahead. The cigarette was clamped tightly in his lips, burning down as he gazed ahead with a thousand-yard stare. I expected him to tell me what this was all about, but he just drove silently as anxiety bubbled up in my gut. Before long, he turned on to 133 and kept driving deeper into the middle of nowhere.
“Where are we going man?” I was nervous by that point, a little scared even.
“Just up ahead.” The scrub gave way to spruces which grew in dense clusters. Soon, Bill turned off the road and we jostled around like rag dolls within the shaking vehicle. Bill parked on the shoulder, switched the car off and yanked up the e-brake. He hopped out of the truck and I followed, compelled by the curiosity of what this was all about.
“Follow me.” His voice was atonal and cold.
“Look, you’re just kind of worrying me,” I responded, but Bill just hiked down into the swaying trees. I followed close behind through the thicket, crunching pine cones with my boots, and I listened. It was ominously quiet, not a bird chirped. Then Bill spoke.
“I was out here hunting. Tagged an eight-point buck, right? I followed it down here,” he said, leading me through low-hanging branches that clawed at my flannel. I began to worry that he’d accidentally shot someone. Still, I held that thought inside as I followed his steady march down through the slope of trees.
“It starts here” Bill raised his eyebrows as he turned to face me.
“What does?” I asked, but then noticed it. The tangy smell of ozone filled my nostrils and I felt a subtle vibration in my bones. With each step, green pine needles on the trees seemed denser and more oddly patterned.
Bill reached a calloused hand down to the forest floor, picking up a pine cone from the scattered debris of dead leaves and coiling pine needles. He locked eyes with me to make sure I was watching, and then he lobbed the pine cone underhand across the clearing.
It coasted and slowed in mid-air to a complete stop. Four and a half feet off the ground.
I tilted my head as if it might help to process the impossible sight. It didn’t.
“You see that too?” Bill’s voice was dripping with eagerness. “Tell me you see it too.”
“I see it. How—” I asked in a whisper. I walked towards the pine cone that hovered effortlessly in the air as if reality itself had been paused. It was impossible, beautiful and surreal. It scared the hell out of me. I lifted a hand up and felt the hairs on my arm stand up. It was a lovely day in an Aspen forest clearing, but the air was cold and dense.
I reached my index finger slowly out to the pine cone, feeling a tingle in my nerves and a bassy rumble from within my bones. With a tiny tap of my finger, the woody thing skidded through the air, coasting a few inches forward before slowing once again to a stop.
“I thought I was going crazy,” Bill explained, and he smiled the unnerving grin of a madman. His smile dropped instantly, however, once the agonized cry burst out of the shadows ahead. It sounded like an animal’s scream. Pained and bleating, the cry echoed from the spears of pines that led further down into the ravine.
“The buck. Jesus, it’s still alive.” Bill’s head shook slowly from side to side as he continued carefully down into the shadows of the path. I followed, but couldn’t help but stop to marvel at the levitating pine cone as I walked past. My mind scrambled to understand how gravity didn’t apply to it. It was magical, unlike anything I’d ever witnessed. I tapped it with my finger once again, watching it coast impossibly through the air before slowing once again to a complete stop. When I looked back up to Bill, he’d vanished into the trees ahead.
“Bill?” I called out, carefully stepping down the slope into the shadowy copse of trees. With each step deeper within, things seemed to change.
That sharp ozone smell grew in intensity and the temperature dropped. Goosebumps covered my arms and my breaths manifested in visible puffs of vapor.
“Bill!” I shouted into the darkness and took another step down the hill. The green pine needles shifted in color ahead to a brilliant tint. With each steady footfall of my boots, that color intensified and the branches of needles seemed to warp and shift in shape. Branches furled into themselves like fiddlehead ferns, rolling into themselves in a spiraling fractal pattern. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen. Then I tried to call out to Bill, but my voice came out wrong.
The sound was rearranged and minced into some strange string of vowels and consonants that were alien, like a sample stretched, looped and divided into itself via computer software. Then, in the void of black shadows dividing the twisted masses that no longer looked like trees, I saw movement. A single shaft of light pierced the canopy of spiralled leaves, giving a glimpse of something within the darkness ahead.
Its body was a dense cluster of pink, fractalized limbs. Arms sprouted smaller arms and jittery fingers which searched blindly. It was a collage of parts growing from each other ad infinitum, sprouting smaller and smaller versions of themselves. Arms, feet, fingers, toes in clustered coils of flesh. In the center of the sculptural horror of parts was that awful face.
A meaty tentacle of quivering mouths filled with twisting patterns of teeth spilled forth from vulgar slices in the meat of the head. Then the toothy spirals of mouths screamed an awful sound. It was that same choppy squall from before, but it was more apparent then, seeing the shapes of human features that grew endless smaller echoes of themselves. My racing mind finally grasped what exactly I was looking at. It was Bill.
I watched in horror, stumbling back on my heels away from the area that had warped my friend into that thing. Then time itself seemed to step backwards. Bill and I were meters back, and I was once again following him inside the cluster of pines.
That howl—Bill’s howl— rang out from deeper within the trees once again. Bill turned slightly to face me as he repeated those words once again.
“The buck. Jesus, it’s still alive.” Bill’s head shook slowly from side to side as he continued down into the shadows of the path down.
“STOP! Bill, don’t move!” I shouted, and Bill turned to face me, worry and sadness twisting his anguished face. “Come here, hurry” I pleaded, but it was no use.
Faster than I could blink, I was staring at the melange of flailing limbs clustered together in that abstract horror. I scrambled backwards, my feet staggering and tripping as the incline seemed to shift and warp with every rapid jump back and forth in time.
My legs struggled to keep up with each new position they’d find themselves in, causing me to stumble and nearly fall. I knew I would tumble deeper into that anomaly if I lost my footing, so I used my arms to help stabilize myself, digging my fingers into the loose topsoil. I realized Bill had likely fallen deeper within that anomalous area sometime before that first jump in time occurred. My heart raced as that horrible pained howl gurgled from within. Another jump backwards. Bill’s voice repeated.
“The buck. Jesus, it’s still—”
His voice was quickly cut off by that shrill screaming as everything leaped forward. I stared at the hideous thing and scrambled away. The jumps were getting exponentially quicker. Everything was collapsing into a tightening pattern of smaller moments. Time itself was dividing into a repeating fractal.
“The buck. Je—”
Soon there was only that shrill, pained screaming. I ran back, stumbling as I fled, eager to escape a similar fate, but not before getting a look at what had become of him.
Fingers sprouted smaller nubs that spiralled out ad infinitum. Fleshy fern-like coils sprouted from his shoulders, knuckles and jaw. His wide eyes pleaded for mercy: his flesh was bent and jagged, and his skull erupted with smaller bulging formations that streamed glistening red trails. Snapped bones jutted through his skin in web-like patterns that curled inward, and his muscles spasmed from the pain, unable to function. The grisly, surreal form of my mutilated friend then screamed a sound I will struggle to forget as long as I live. I ran. I abandoned him and I ran.
I eventually made it back to Bill’s truck and scrambled inside. I cried into his steering wheel, trying to figure out a way to get him out of there, but I knew he was beyond saving. Bill was gone.
Bill always kept a key in the sun visor. I fumbled around and found it, plunging it into the ignition with a shaky hand as tears blurred my vision. I cursed and punched the wheel, but nothing could be done. “I’m sorry,” I said aloud to my helpless friend, then I drove away from that godforsaken place.
I spent the next few days replaying those nightmarish events in my head and scouring the web for anything to help me understand them. I only found articles referencing a mild earthquake and subsequent landslides we experienced a few years back, something I’d thought little about at the time. One such article read as follows:
Posted: 5:51 AM, Nov 11, 2016 Updated: 8:10 AM, Nov 11, 2016
MONTROSE, Colo. — An earthquake hit on the north side of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison area early Friday morning. The earthquake hit between the gorge and Green Mountain NW, directly east of Olathe, according to coordinates released by the United State Geological Survey. The earthquake struck at 1:28 a.m. The quake was centered about 2.1 km underground.
Something long-buried was unearthed in that earthquake. Something that was buried deep for a reason.
Mr. Michael Squid will drag you deep into a well of unfiltered nightmares. Horror without seatbelts or breaks that will make you think and make you terrified.
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