The breeze made me feel a little colder, so I put my hand closer to the fire to receive the warmth that we often associate with fire, but it wasn’t there. That’s when I examined the fire closely. It was a fire that was seemingly without fuel, nothing feeding it. It was just...there. Typical orange flames licked at the air, but there was no wood, nothing burning. The base of the fire seemed to stretch into the earth, a different purplish color. It was similar to a propane burn, but the initial reaction of the flames didn’t give a blue color, but instead a purple color—and no heat. I couldn’t see that deeply into the fire, but it seemed to go on eternally toward the center of the earth.
The flames looked as though they were dancing off into the sky, beautifully. I soon became transfixed with them, mesmerized by the intensity of the burn, or maybe not really a burn at all without heat. They moved and swayed and gave off a wonderfully alluring sensation. I was starting to forget about the possibly immediate danger of the snakes or even poor Perry, thoughts of her diminishing from my mind. Only the wonderful, dancing fire in its perpetually rhythmically moving state mattered. I don’t really know how long I stood there, just staring into those seductive, ethereal flames, but I was suddenly ripped from my hypnotic state by a grating sound.
A loud shriek jolted me back into my situation. It really more than startled me; it quite scared the shit out of me. A feeling of overwhelming sadness briefly took hold of me, as if my soul had been ripped out of my body when my attention was drawn away from the flames. It just as quickly dissipated as my thoughts cleared once more, or cleared as well as they could, and I became myself.
The screech happened again, it was jarringly unpleasant. My eyes drifted toward where the sound came from. I noticed a tree, barely in view of the flames. It was a massive thing, stretching up into the night like a skeletal hand from the grave, pale and leafless. It was much more than pale, it was a solid, deathly white, but not a natural white, like a sycamore. Branches mostly seemed to stretch vertically into the sky, odiously sticking out into the darkness of space.
It was large, too large to have really been able to grow in the wash. A tree that big would have roots that needed more room than the minimal layer of soil atop concrete than the wash provided. Even if there was enough earth to maintain its root system, it could never have been able to get to the height, as there was massive flooding every decade or so, that would have ripped out the tree long before it got to its current size.
Also, I seemed to have lost the concrete drainage ditch that I had started this little journey on. I hadn’t paid any attention before, but the clearing with the fire in the center, was at least three hundred yards or so in diameter. However, the wash that I was in earlier was maybe only one hundred feet across. Where did it go?
Again, the shriek occurred. This time it was almost familiar, like a bird, or more specifically, a bird of prey, perhaps an eagle. As I looked more closely at the tree, I noticed the eyes, dozens of them occasionally blinking, a yellowish tint, probably a reflection of the heatless flames. As I tried to look harder to make them out, I began to roughly see silhouettes, definitely bird shaped, with horns. Owls. Dozens of pairs of eyes dotted the sharply upwardly grown tree branches.
Owls and snakes and strange fires that don’t seem to need wood to burn, this was all in addition to strange plants that would have looked more at home in a science fiction movie that had an overabundance of CGI, and also the fact that the concrete wash had seemed to have completely disappeared. Where the fuck am I? Hell?
I don’t know what I thought at that point. Was I afraid? Yes, I suppose I was on some level, but it was all so surreal, there was too many highly strange things happening. I think that I was actually much more confused that I was scared.
Hundreds and hundreds of the strangely colored, thick serpents were surrounding the fire, all of them facing the flames, beady eyes looking at me with dull incomprehension, like stuffed toys. I had to make a decision. I didn’t want to stay there forever. I decided to walk toward the snakes, in the direction the little people had gone before.
As I neared the snakes, they just stayed where they were, looking up at me, eyes black. One of the owls shrieked again, causing my heart to jump in my chest. The snakes didn’t move at all, with the exception of slightly shifting here and there. I got closer, then closer, until I was probably within a mere foot of them.
Nothing. They made neither movements to retreat nor showed any signs of outright aggression, just kept looking at me. I continued moving closer, ten inches, eight, six inches...nothing. They remained nearly motionless. Four inches, then two, finally I slid my right foot to within a tiny fraction of an inch of the nearest snake. Dull, almost lifeless eyes greeted me.
A booming voice echoed throughout the area, loud and shocking, crushing the formidable silence with mighty blow of sound. I can’t remember the exact phonemes or syllables, but I can say that it wasn’t English, and it was probably a phrase. I can also say that in all probability it was not a human voice.
What’s odd, was that some of the snakes immediately started moving at that point, just those directly ahead of me. Soon enough, a path had cleared ahead of me, maybe with a width of about three feet. I looked around me, and behind. All of the other snakes remained where they were. The only ones that moved were ahead of me, opening up a snake-free path, the only way to go.
I tentatively stepped forward, once, twice, three times. The snakes made no move toward me, so I picked up my momentum and began walking at a quicker pace. I had no idea how long I had stared into the fire, fixated, but still, in the back of my mind, I thought I might have a chance to catch up with the little people.
As I left the glow of the fire, I had to rely on the light from Perry’s telephone again. Soon, I was out of the mass of snakes, and things started clearing up again, only dry dirt greeted my flashlight on the ground ahead. I must have walked for a good ten or twelve minutes before I heard it, the sound of far off water, moving water. It was a beautiful sound, normal to me. You know I like to go camping, and I there’s nothing I love more than pine trees and rivers, nature at its best.
The nature around me was not so... natural, or at least not natural in the traditional sense, in what most people think of when they hear the word, “nature.” Rocks and dirt were what greeted the light and I couldn’t see very far out of the ring of light. There were no more plants to be seen, at least in my limited view. Since the snakes had seemed to have disappeared, there was not trail to follow. I just followed the sound of running water instead.
It didn’t even occur to me that I shouldn’t hear the turbulent water of a river in the Santa Clarita area. Bouquet Canyon Creek should not have been anywhere near my location, and it was probably dry due to the lack of rain and the severe heat that hadn’t abated when summer left. Of course, I had seen so much other weirdness at that point, it was all par for the course, I suppose.
As I drew closer to the river, the sound of the flowing water increased. As it got louder, and louder, I noticed another fire. It wasn’t as big as the previous one, but still it lit the area, seeming to sprout from a hole that was seemingly much less than a foot in diameter, probably only about four or five inches, but the flames seemed to shoot up about two feet into the air in almost a perfect circle..
Some movement caught my eye, off to the right of the fire was a figure, a large figure. It began moving toward me. I couldn’t make it out very clearly, as it got closer, I realized that it must be a huge guy, at least eight feet tall. His (its) movements were slow, and he took his time getting closer. He seemed humanoid, but even in the darkness, before he got closer to the flames, I could tell something was off, arms seemed to stretch down to his knees, and his head seemed awkwardly large for his body.
When he got close enough to the light, that’s when it happened. It was then that I was scared for the first time that night, truly horrified. His body was incredibly thin, too thin to seemingly be physically possible. His skin had a sickly yellow pallor to it, and things seemed to be writhing beneath it causing it to be constantly moving. Several times something red and seemingly tentacle-like burst through the skin, causing a thick off-white fluid to leak out, yet the tentacle would go back beneath the skin immediately and the area seemed to instantly heal.
What was the most horrendous, was the creature’s face. Huge eyes dominated its head, taking up the entire upper half of its face. It was bald and had no discernible nose. Its mouth seemed to be just a hole in its face, no lips to speak of at all, with jagged black teeth evident when it opened the gaping depression in its countenance. The eyes were the strangest thing. No pupils, no irises at all were there, like some blind cave fish that had evolved over time to have no use for sight. They were just large round orbs that protruded more than slightly from its head. They were a greyish, milky color and they seemed to drip a pus-like substance from them every couple seconds.
You know, I was a bit of a brawler when I was younger. In my late twenties I decided that it was better to avoid fighting as the temperament of youth faded. I always had my pride though, even when avoiding physical confrontations, I had my pride. Buying a beer for someone, giving them a compliment, attempting to agree with people, or calm them down when they were angered all being ways that I could keep my pride without fighting. Even when I woke up that morning, I refused to run or look weak in a confrontation, damn pride.
That all flew out the fucking window when I saw the monster. At that point I don’t think that I actually had any control of myself whatsoever. Even if I wanted to keep my pride, and I suddenly didn’t, I’m not sure I would have been able to do anything differently. I involuntarily screamed. That might have been the first time I have ever screamed in fright throughout my entire life.
No pride. No shame. I screamed like a ten-year-old girl, my voice almost breaking immediately upon utterance.
The thing continued toward me. I have no idea what it could have been thinking. Such unusual features could not easily be read. Its eyes seemed to shift and its teeth gnashed. Such an unusual and entirely alien face prevented me from reading it. Perhaps it meant that it was going to eat me, or maybe it was saying hello. You can’t easily read the faces of the damned.
I didn’t really give much of a shit what it was attempting to convey. I only wanted out of there, but I couldn’t leave. I couldn’t run away. I could only scream like a terrified infant at the monstrosity that was making its way toward me.
I really wanted to move, trust me, but I just couldn’t. I don’t know if it was the same... power... that had seemed to have hypnotized me earlier with the dance or the or the flames, or if it was just uncontrollable fear. Whatever was happening, I wanted to flee, to get the hell out of there, but I couldn’t move.
The monster resumed its slow lurching movements toward me, getting closer and closer.