New Year, New Fear
Paige stood in the middle of the long dirt road with her backside toward her grandparent’s farm. She crossed her arms and gazed upward to observe the darkening mass hovering overhead. Trepidation filled her. Storm clouds had formed a menacing hand with extended fingers that threatened to swoop down and grab ahold of her small, nineteen-year-old body.
Less than a week into the new year, the arrival of a third storm proved a rough season lay ahead. A sense of doom swelled in the pit of Paige’s stomach. She recalled a recent nightmare that left her feeling raw and haunted. She dreamt that a superstorm brought more than strong winds and heavy rains. It had ushered in something menacing. Was her nightmare becoming a reality?
Focusing upward, Paige squinted to sharpen her vision. Small, dark objects began dropping from the inky clouds. Her heart skipped a beat. The mysterious black items continued to fall, coating the distant ground and hillsides with blackness. She waited in silence, unsure of what it meant or what would happen.
Grandma Nonnie rocked back and forth on the porch, unaware of the descending black rain. She hummed away and secured the thick, beige shawl around her body to ward off the chill. Nonnie smiled with pride and gazed at her granddaughter, who stood just outside the farm’s entrance.
Paige kept a watchful eye on the forbidding sky, distant hillsides, and surrounding farmland. The murky hand-like clouds continued to release a peculiar substance. Heading through the unusual rainfall was a flock of birds. They instantly changed their near-perfect v-shaped flying formation. Some soared into the air and flew away from the dark clouds while others plummeted to the ground. Dead.
What the hell? Paige wondered.
She looked to her right and saw her grandfather, working on his old truck. He hadn’t yet noticed the oddity before them. His grimy hands held onto the gasoline tank as he poured fuel into the faded red vehicle. Paige rolled her eyes when she realized he hadn’t bothered removing the burning pipe from his lips before using gasoline. Typical Grandpa, she thought.
She turned her attention back toward the incoming storm and gasped. The dark, fallen objects moved left and right on the ground, flitting about. They were alive—and advancing upon them.
“Grandpa!” she screamed as she sprinted toward him.
Grandpa Joe looked up. “What’s the matter?” he asked through his pipe-wielding lips. His eyes shifted from his racing granddaughter to the blackness in motion behind her. He froze, then muttered, “Jesus!”
Unsure of what was coming at her, Paige ran as fast as she could toward her grandfather. She dared a glance over her shoulder and regretted doing so; the charging creatures were bugs—bugs, unlike anything she had ever seen. They resembled upside-down spiders with short, thick legs facing upward. Their hairy leg-like attachments flailed grotesquely, and their apple-sized bodies glided across the ground as if on mini wheels.
Grandpa Joe let out a harsh breath and dropped the gasoline tank, spilling cupfuls onto the surrounding ground.
“Come on! Hurry, Paige! Get on top of my truck!” he shouted and pointed his finger at his old Chevy.
Paige jumped onto her grandfather’s truck, unsure of its height—if it was high enough to keep her out of harm’s way.
Grandpa Joe looked at the pursuing spider-creatures and realized they weren’t of this planet. His jaw dropped, and the pipe fell from his lips. It landed on the gasoline saturated ground and ignited a path that started at his feet and burned toward the Chevy’s rear tire.
The revolting creatures halted their progression and filled the air with loud squeals. They did not like the fire. After a short pause, they moved backward several feet. Some lost interest and hurried away, heading in a different direction.
“Jesus!” Grandpa Joe’s eyes widened as he studied the hideous creatures. “What in tarnation are those damn things?”
“Grandpa!” Paige shouted, pulling Grandpa Joe from his moment of bewilderment.
“They’re moving toward Grandma!”
Grandpa Joe grabbed a lighter from his pocket and picked up the gasoline container. He dashed toward the porch—tank and lighter in hand. His stomach sank, and his lower lip quivered when he realized it was too late.
More than a dozen of the hairy creatures had climbed up his wife’s legs and busied themselves by gnawing away at her flesh. Nonnie’s screams became stifled when one of the critters climbed inside her mouth. Joe dropped to his knees.
“We’ve gotta go, Grandpa!”
Paige jumped down from the truck and hurried to grab her grandfather’s arm. She forced him to his feet, and they headed toward the barn.
“We’ve gotta get some flamethrowers!” Paige yelled as she peered over her shoulder to see if any creatures followed. They were safe for the moment.
Grandpa kept several flamethrowers on hand in case they were needed to control a wildfire that threatened his farmland. They were also used to help clear land for crops. He never expected to require them for keeping deadly, foreign creatures at bay.
Paige, aware that her grandfather’s robotic way of talking and moving was caused by the shock and trauma, kept encouraging him while frantically searching for the necessary flamethrowers inside the barn.
After a short search, they located the life-saving torches. Paige readied two flamethrowers, one for each of them. She gathered several more, placing them inside a couple of backpacks, and they tossed them over their shoulders. With flamethrowers secured in the palms of their hands, they took a deep breath. With caution, they stepped out from the barn, making their way toward the main house.
“Remember, continuous shooting will only get about a minute of burn,” Grandpa Joe said.
“I remember everything you taught me about how to use them, Grandpa.” Paige boasted. “Using it sporadically, I’ll get as much as 5 to 10 minutes of burn time.”
Grandpa Joe smiled and nodded. The two walked side-by-side with the burning ends held close to the ground.
Upon stepping out from the barn, dozens of hairy creatures scurried toward them. The spray of flames forced them to halt and squeal. Paige and Grandpa Joe moved their flamethrowers back-and-forth, side-to-side, releasing frequent, short bursts of fire to keep the hideous things at bay.
Thousands of ravenous gliding critters continued toward the distant mountains, leaving the farm. But countless others hung back and squirmed throughout the wheat fields. They rolled and glided about, making their way up and down large rocks and dirt piles without effort. Their thick leg-like attachments continued to flail and dance above their large, round bodies. Paige and Grandpa’s surroundings became a concert; the air became filled with loud squeals from the mysterious creatures as well as high-pitched squeaks from the mice they caught and ate.
When they arrived at the porch, Paige hurried to grab Grandma Nonnie’s bloodied clothing and tossed it underneath the porch so Grandpa Joe wouldn’t have to see it. Nothing else remained: no flesh nor bones.
Grandpa pointed to the numerous stacks of firewood. “Let’s surround the house with logs of wood. Light each piece as we go.”
Paige shook her head in acknowledgment. They made quick work of it, creating a complete burning circle around the small, single-story house. Additional logs were added all along the burning barrier, and Grandpa tossed in chunks of charcoal as well.
“That should burn for a while,” Grandpa Joe said as he wiped the sweat from his brow.
Paige looked at the remaining piles of firewood and bags of charcoal. For the first time ever, she appreciated her grandfather’s over-the-top preparation; he had far more stacks of wood and bags of coal than most people. They’d be safe—at least until it all burned away.
They sat down on the porch, near grandma’s broken rocking chair, and watched as the hairy, black critters circulated the farmland—particularly the house. Though they hadn’t realized at what point it happened, they became aware that the power was out, and cell phone reception no longer worked.
What are those things? Was this happening elsewhere? Are critters invading nearby cities? Faraway cities? The two pondered in silence.
Dozens of spiders began forming in one area, right before their eyes. The hideous beasts worked together and locked appendages, allowing additional creatures to roll on top of them. They repeated their antics until the spider-stack was above the fire line.
Paige and Grandpa realized what the resourceful critters were doing, and readied their flamethrowers. What they didn’t know was that the menacing bugs possessed intelligence. The climbing act they had performed in front of them was simply a distraction technique.
Unbeknownst to Grandpa and Paige, the nefarious things built two spider-stacks on the opposite side of the house. They breached the burning barrier and made their way toward the front. Half went left, half went right, creating the perfect trap. With sights locked, they glided toward their food source.
Grandpa Joe and Paige lit their torches and burned the creatures that tried to breach the barrier before them. Grandpa kicked the burnt remnants out of their circle, pleased with their moment of success.
The vile critters came around from the back, gliding toward the humans. They sneaked up behind them in silence, with ease. After targeting the two tall food sources, dozens of creatures rolled right up their ankle-height boots and latched onto their calves. A single bite into the juicy flesh was all it took to immobilize their meals.
Grandpa Joe and Paige dropped to the ground, releasing blood-curdling screams into the air. A few hairy critters climbed inside their opened mouths, rendering the two of them silent.
Dozens of mysterious creatures devoured their bodies before moving onward in search of another food source.
Paige bolted awake and sprang out of bed. In a cold sweat, she stood, raw and haunted from the realistic nightmare.