The woods are a great place to take care of darker urges...
Alec slithered around the trees and through the bushes with as much stealth as he had ever been able to muster in these situations, and, at five feet, seven inches tall, he could move through the camouflage of vegetation unnoticed if not for the noises he made as he brushed the branches and stalks of dried vegetation. The leaves, fading into a lighter green as they curled from summer’s aggressive heat, scraped against him, both tickling his skin and slapping at it as the limbs stretched with a natural elasticity before snapping back in the space he’d just left. The sun was just above the trees, certain to hover around the horizon soon enough. The light was fading as evening’s shadows advanced, filtering in as they danced with what few rays were left of the afternoon. He didn’t see the lake through the opaque brush, but he figured he was only steps from the water according to the sound and smell, the thick moisture filling his nostrils, the humidity of the creeping Oklahoma evening. The woods were serene as the nocturnal things began emerging from their burrows.
Every step was made in caution as he prowled further from his family and deeper into these woods. His wife and the twins back at the camp site wouldn’t worry about him nor wonder where he had disappeared to; he explained he was off to find cool rocks to add to his collection. It was a viable alibi, and he’d already picked up three smaller rocks to take back to show the kids and one larger rock to use out here.
He and Becka had traveled all over Oklahoma since the twins were born, and in those five years, they had seen almost every out-of-the-way camp ground the state could offer. They’d visited a few of the grounds twice, this place on the eastern side of the state having been one of those. There was something about these woods, a call beckoning him here as soon as Becka had brought up the idea of a vacation. The sinister voice directing Alec’s psyche was immediate as it expressed insidious interest, a growl from the pit of his emotions.
He was nearing his destination, following the curvature of the land eroded by the power of the lake lapping delicately onto the shore. He’d seen the other camp site, the one he was headed to now, as he’d entered this little historic park. The RV in the small clearing catching Alec’s eye was an older one, stickers covering nearly one end of the mobile unit. There was one sticker, however, grabbing his attention before the other stickers.
It was faded from exposure to nature and age, the edges folded into itself. The colors were there, a rainbow reflecting pride in being homosexual, but there was no denying it had been placed on the RV long ago.
There had been a man outside the camper in a pair of cut-off jeans, flip-flops, and over-sized, dramatic sunglasses with wire frames. His physique was not as Alec would have thought; instead of a clean-cut, thinner man with muscles, this was a normal-looking human being, equipped with his belly hanging over his shorts and pecs not quite firm. His hair was not neat and clean but long, greasy and grungy reflecting the rising new music genre. Even through the sunglasses, Alec’s spine shivered when the two made eye contact, the other man running his tongue over his lips as if he knew something to which Becka was oblivious.
Alec’s gaze remained on the camper, on the site, on the man’s skin as he flexed with the enviable litheness of youth as Alec rounded the curve in the road with his truck. The camper he pulled demanded he drive slow, but he wouldn’t object. He was marking the area on a map in his head. It would feel like an eternity until the sun went down.
Now, as he moved through the thorns of the brush and the branches of the younger, low-hanging trees, he felt as if the sun was disappearing much too quickly. He knew he was near the stickered camper, but he also knew he would have to march back through these woods alone and in the dark. His fingers tightened around the smooth, round rock he carried in his right hand, and his fears began exiting.
From up ahead, the sound of a small radio with excessive treble spit out a song, shaky and thin. The artists were singing about walking some distance to be the man who walked that very distance, and it was one Alec recognized immediately. Since the song had been released a few weeks before, radio had played it seemingly back to back. It was infuriating how the melody penetrated the mind and nestled in, resurfacing hours after hearing the damn song. And now it would serve as the soundtrack to this evening, to these actions, to his memories of traveling through the growth to fulfill some sort of primal desire, one he couldn’t explain but had felt off and on during his life.
His eyes caught glimpse of the clearing he was in search of long before his presence could have been noticed. At first he could only see the mobile camper, the chalky white texture creating a soft outline in the growing darkness. There was an artificial light pushing out from the window, curtains obscuring a clear view into the RV. They blew with a twitch, a soft whisper as the fabric flapped peacefully to a quiet breeze.
As Alec crept, he spied the other man standing close the river. He was staring out over the water, the sunglasses pushed back on his head as he looked upward into the sky, pink near the bottom and transforming to darker blue as the sky rose to its zenith. The sound of the water against the bank was almost meditative, but it was difficult to focus on the serenity while that damn song was playing through the air. It finally faded and was replaced by Melissa Etheridge, and Alec found it a much more pleasant song about a window, one to which he could do what needed to be done.
He inched forward, leering. The other man removed the sunglasses from his head and ran his hand through his long, black hair, shaking his fingers as he reached the end, near his shoulders. He was younger by about fifteen years, Alec surmised as the other man turned and faced his home for the weekend, walking away from the water. When he passed, Alec could see the bottom of the man’s ass hanging from the shorts, the crease where the bottom of his cheek fused with the top of his leg. The sound of the flip-flops slapped over the sound of the tiny treble song as the walked to the camper and then opened the door and climbed in, the RV shaking gently side to side with each step.
Alec stepped to the edge of the clearing, and if the other man had been out by the water, Alec would have been seen. There was nobody else outside. Alec hoped the man was here alone. He readied himself for the instance someone might exit the camper, but as he moved from the cover of the woods into the treeless area beside the water, he could see evidence of nobody else. He crept around the truck, to the other side of the RV, and moved into the brush on that side, slinking along the tree line as he hovered, monitoring the site.
He was feeling the sensations he had felt in the summer of ‘91, when he was on these grounds last, when he had hunted a man close to this same spot. His hands were sweating.
The sun was completely gone, its light racing after it. Night was walking into these woods, filling in the spaces with thick, summery darkness. Out in the distance somewhere, Alec heard an owl hoot, or maybe it was an evening dove cooing. Regardless, he imagined a dragon, ugly and vicious as it hunched down in the darkness, waiting to jump out and eat him. He was sure it was one of the stories he’d heard about this area while gassing up the truck at the little store in town, the one where too many old men sat around with their dogs while they pontificated upon the bullshit myths of the locals. All these small towns in Oklahoma laid claim to some unnamed tribe with its own set of spiritual characters. It seemed easier in the dark to believe in such monsters.
On this side was another window in the camper, and the curtains were pushed out of the way. Every now and again as the breeze wafted through the RV, the curtains would make an appearance, but Alec had an otherwise perfect view into the temporary domicile. He could see the lamp now, and then a figure stepped into the light, the same one Alec was investigating.
The natural light was exiting almost completely now, draining from the landscape. He crossed with less caution now, nearing the window so he could see what was happening inside. The other man was pulling his shorts down, removing them from his body as he sat on the bed. Once free, he laid back on the small bed, and Alec could see all the other man had to offer. After a moment, the man sat up and rubbed his face vigorously before inhaling and standing to his feet. He reached above the window and pulled down a mass of fabric. He placed it on the table before stopping to cock his head as he stared through the other window. While the man watched, Alec made his way just a little closer.
He snuck up to the edifice, pushing his back against it. He slipped around to the front of the vehicle, between the camper and the truck. He could feel the RV shake as the man inside moved around. Alec pressed around the front of the RV until he came to the side with the door. He rounded the corner to enter the camper.
“See something you like?” the other man asked as he stepped down the steps.
Alec froze, his hunting instincts depleted as his presence was exposed. The other man continued down the steps until his bare feet made contact with soft grass, the screen door closing behind him. He was no longer naked; instead he had on the same pair of shorts he had donned earlier. Alec tried to recover.
“I just, um, I was just hiking, and I-“
“At dark, you were out hiking?” the younger man asked, his drawl prolonging the syllables as they flowed from between his lips as if microwaved butter. “You don’t seem to have any water or rations on you. Your shoes aren’t made for hiking so much as playing basketball. Wanna try again?”
“Look, I was just with my family for the weekend, and I saw your sticker when we pulled in,” Alec said, nodding at the decorative end of the RV. “I didn’t figure they’d mind if I had my own fireworks celebration without them.” He smiled, hoping it translated into something less creepy than what he was feeling.
“Then what were you planning to do with that rock?” the other guy asked as he nodded his head toward Alec’s hand. With a moment of hesitation, Alec’s fingers relaxed and the rock fell the ground with a full and earthy thump!.
“Protection from whatever might be lurking in the woods,” Alec replied, maintaining his smile. “You never know who might be out here. Or what they might be after.”
“It does take all kinds,” the man answered. “My name is David.”
“I’m John,” Alec introduced. “It’s nice to meet you.” They stood in silence as David crossed his arms.
“Your family doesn’t know you’re here?” David asked, an eyebrow raising an arch on his forehead. He stepped toward Alec, closing the gap between them.
Alec stepped back.
“No, and I’m not completely comfortable with this yet,” Alec explained. “This is all new to me.”
“What? Sex?” David uncrossed his arms and was suddenly close to Alec, his skin touching Alec’s shirt in the breeze. David smelled good, like lavender, vanilla, and marijuana, but Alec would not allow his legs to weaken. David moved closer still, his lips almost brushing Alec’s ear as he whispered. “Or do you mean sex with a man?”
“That one,” Alec whispered back, chills dominating the skin on his arms.
“Let’s go down by the water,” David whispered.
Alec led the way, keeping his focus on breathing and the strength in his arms. He no longer held the rock, the tool he planned to use on this man. His mind raced. He wanted to have sex with this man, wanted to feel his skin and taste his sweat as they moved together, heaving toward a release Alec’s mind and body were needing, but...
But he wasn’t a fag, and he needed to prove it.
He didn’t need to turn around to know David was right behind him as they made their way to the bank of the lake. Once there, David pushed up against him, and they were kissing, their lips moving and meshing together, smashing into each other with a flicker Alec recognized. This spark was volatile, one promising a fire he couldn’t control, and if he was to subdue the beast within him, if he was to keep the blaze from obliterating his world, he would need to restrain his emotions and actions.
He pulled from David, pushed the kid back some and giving himself space, to keep his mind from fogging over with a primal lust he had never been able to influence. His pants were tighter than they had been when he came upon this campsite, and he was afraid it would keep the blood from his brain.
“I know you want it,” David accused. He was panting, they both were, Alec noticed, and now was the perfect time. The muscles in his shoulder twitched, and just before he could bring his arm out to strike David, Alec watched as David moved with surprising speed, hitting the side of Alec’s head. Two more blows to his head brought blackness to the edge of his vision, a darkness more solid than the night shadows materializing around him. David hit him again, and Alec felt only the pressure against the side of his head as his vision faded completely, and he felt himself falling.
He was uncomfortable as he drifted up toward consciousness like a spelunker crazed for sunlight. He snapped to, involuntarily inhaling deeply. He felt too much at once, the bruising of his ego and his muscles. The inside of his head was sluggish, his thoughts bumping into each other with cumbersome movements as he tried to make sense of where he was. There was the tickle on his skin of delicately blowing grass, and there was dirt stuck to his face. When he opened his eyes, everything was blurred, balls of light shining into the darkness and causing his brain to feel slicing pain. After a moment of blinking and squinting, the light floated into itself, swirling together until he realized he was on the ground at the site he had been hunting. He was down by the water looking up at the front of the camper.
He was on the ground, his shoulder pushed into the earth. He tried to stand but was somehow tied, his legs bound together to his wrists. He wriggled, using his energy to writhe around and free himself, but he only caused more exhaustion. Whatever was holding him would not be loosening anytime soon.
The screen door to the RV squeaked, and Alec looked up to see a figure moving down the steps, David enveloped by a hooded robe of thick material, dark and velvet as he stepped down and away from the RV.
“You think I don’t know who you are?” David asked, his voice somehow different. There was a shadow infused with his tone, one that caused a terror in Alec’s heart as it carried across the space with what seemed like no effort. Alec began growling, tried to say anything making sense in this moment as he protested, but all he could manage was a frustrated scream.
“Do you remember this campsite?” David asked. “I know you do. You’ve been hearing my voice for weeks now, haven’t you, begging you to come here?”
Alec looked up in fear. He was sure he knew where this conversation was headed.
“Yeah, you’ve been here before,” David continued. “I know because we were here when you visited two years ago. We’ve been here since the beginning.”
The robe moved, a spasm, and it fell to the ground as David rushed from its hood like smoke. Only, David didn’t walk, and David wasn’t David.
The thing slid from the robe, slithered from it as it raised up. And then the thing was upon him with lightning speed. Alec expected to see the face of a snake, a viper of some sort with serpent eyes and poison on its fangs, but that’s not what he saw.
He could almost peer through the figure, a form of what seemed like a shadow. It had little green slits for eyes and long, pointy ears Alec momentarily mistook as horns. When it opened its mouth to speak, it flashed rows of gnarly points, and the odor of its breath overwhelmed Alec’s senses, causing the man to panic and struggle. The David-thing was almost pressing against the him, the icy fingers of its breath caressing his cheek. Alec sat up to move away from it.
“Can you remember what your last visit to this land was like?” the thing that was David hissed. It pointed to a spot down by the water. The dirt was glowing a bright red, soil that seemed to be on fire even though Alec could feel no heat nor smell any smoke. There was a humming as the piece of land became brighter, a dull throb that seemed to penetrate Alec’s brain causing more pressure than he thought he could handle.
“There is where you spilled the blood of our ambassador,” the thing hissed. “He was the last of our people, the two-spirited person of a tribe forgotten. He kept harmony between the spirits and the people who came here to exploit the land for their recreational uses. You killed him.”
Alec turned away from the glow, tried to turn away from the sound, the rising noise of drum beats, the pressing hum that spoke the land’s truth.
“He wasn’t special!” Alec snapped. “He was just another fag the world could live without!”
“Are you sure you weren’t reflecting in a mirror?” came the response, a tickle in Alec’s ear as the stench of dead breath fingered his skin. “In our people, I was what they called The Long Man, the guardian of the land against those who seek to cause harm to life.”
Now there was an orb of green light in the woods just beyond the line of trees. It grew to the size of a basketball, and Alec could see the face lit up behind the ball of light. He blinked a few times before his brain accepted he was looking at something with a human body and the head of a turtle. Now, down by the water but still within the woods was a purple light growing, the body of a man with the face of a skunk.
Alec turned his head around as he watched different orbs growing, coming into life, each emanating a different color of bright light. There was an eagle-headed person holding red, a wolf with orange, a bear with blue, and a bobcat with yellow. Alec immediately recognized the symbols of the people the Long Man had spoken about, mythological creatures personified.
They all moved inward to the clearing. Alec screamed as loud as he’d ever screamed in his life.
“They won’t hear you,” the Long Man said. “There’s nobody else here.”
“My wife and kids-“
“They were taken care of,” the Long Man answered.
As the animal-human hybrids stepped closer, Alec could make out their eyes as they glowed red. Their mouths weren’t open, but he assumed they shared similar sets of teeth as the Long Man. His heart was beating harder than he could ever remember in the past, and he shook his head to rid himself of the images, to delete those who were coming for him.
When they were standing near him shoulder to shoulder, Alec could smell them, the earthy stench of moist soil and leaves, an odor of compost and packed death. They huddled together, and before he realized what they were doing, they had already melded together to create something else. It stood motionless, backlit by the light from RV as Alec tried to form the image in his head.
“Sit back,” the Long Man whispered as it snaked its way to the thing, and with no hesitation, it was in the figure, and now the outline of what they had created was moving. It angled its head sharply from one way to the other, stretching and finding comfort in the body.
It turned, and Alec’s testicles were pulled up into his body.
The forest spirits had integrated into one being, a seven foot tall insect, a mantid. Alec had seen the small ones his entire life, but he had never before been afraid of one.
It turned to look at him, peering with one eye before inspecting with the other. It positioned its head so that both eyes could fixate on Alec. It moved its top legs, claws serving as pinchers as they trembled and clicked with anticipation. Alec was sure those claws were made of something more stiff than what had been given to normal-sized mantids, and his biggest fear now was he would find out what they were for.
It reached out with one of its pinchers, and with a slight jerk upward, Alec’s Aerosmith t-shirt became fabric hanging from either shoulder as the torn edges of the split blew in the light summer breeze of the thick Oklahoma night.
The mantid locked Alec’s head in a loose vice by draping its claw around Alec’s shoulder as it looked down into the man’s eyes.
There was no escape as Alec watched his life in the thing’s eyes, watching himself in various camp sites as he took the life of another gay man. He saw the face of each of his victims. By the time their eyes reflected their horror, as they tried to fight and get away, it was too late. He’d already woven a web of trust around them, and they had allowed themselves to be caught like unassuming flies landing in the thin strings. In five years, he’d forgotten about some of those along the way, some of those men whom he could have seen himself loving had he been anyone else. If he could find another life, one not forced on him by parents and religion, he could have discovered the love for which he longed. But he wouldn’t allow himself to love any of those he killed; they were merely representations, reflections, as the Long Man had pointed out.
And then, with a sound Alec couldn’t identify, he felt himself flung to the ground, rolling down toward the water with a scary speed. He tried to wriggle, but the force was too much, the momentum was dragging his body to the edge of the river. Just before the edge, his head hit a rock and bounced him into the air, landing inches from the water lapping up on the shore. He was scared as he heard the giant mantid behind him, scuffling around. Alec breathed in, but the air never found the fullness at the bottom of his lungs as he gasped like a fish on land. He tried to lift his head up, but he couldn’t find the strength. He could hear the mantid behind him, stepping closer.
And then something splashed into the river, landing a foot or so out. In the light coming from the RV, dim and frustrating from this distance, Alec stared at the object, his fear reaching heights from which he knew he could never recover.
He was staring at his own body.
His mind was crazy now, and nerves in his body began to understand they had been detached from the greater circuitry of what Alec had been. He closed his eyes as he heard the sound of a song, one familiar and overplayed. Now in the safety of his mind, he was in a desert. He walked to the song calling out for him, wanted to be that man who walked the distance, but he felt his legs ripped out from under him, lifted into the sky as he hung upside down. The earth moved away quickly, and as he screamed, he remained on the trajectory. It was only seconds before the entirety of Earth was now before him, his body pulling backwards as he flew within half a mile of the moon. He continued to float away, watching until the stars blinked more slowly, more dimly. They twinkled once...twice more...and...then...