Surrounded by fellow campers, I pitched my brand new crimson five-sided bivouac: the design, according to the Craigslist seller, based on some ancient Babylonian necro-curse!
Here I was: my first Lakeside Metal and Hardcore open-air concert. I’d been revved up about this since getting the ticket months earlier.
The tent up, I crawled inside, admired that new-nylon smell, unrolled my sleeping bag, lay down… and frowned: the stitching–it formed a pentangle, as promised–but upside-down. And there, in the middle, those dye-blotches: they looked like some horrible leering face.
Hey, I’m a fully paid-up Goth, but I wasn‘t sure I liked this…
The next thing was the light disappearing from all round the sides, leaving just that face lit up, grinning at me.
Then the tent seemed to spin like a fairground ride, the exact same as that time I was ill. Well, okay, not ill, it was self-induced, but you get my drift…
Anyways, giddy, I unzipped the flap and dove outside for air–only to find all these silver-barked trees with hardly any gap between them suddenly forming an impassable circle around my tent. They were so tight against each other, I could only just see the other campers.
‘Hey!’ I yelled. ‘You in the blue shirt! Here! In the trees!’
No one turned round.
‘Can anyone hear me?’
Still nobody looked. I was going to have to climb out.
I picked a tree and tried to scale it, but my boots kept slipping, and there wasn’t enough gap between the trunks to get a proper hand grip, you know?
And then, as if responding, the trunks started healing together, forming a corrugated surface, tightening round my fingers like when you get them jammed in a bowling ball’s holes. I was lucky–I just about yanked my hand loose. Another second, I wouldn’t be here telling you this. Trust me!
Anyway, no gaps meant zero light, except from the circle of sky at the top. I pulled my rucksack out the tent and got out my torch.
Good job, too: the tent, and the ground below it, immediately collapsed inwards.
Well, I was gawping. But what REALLY made my flesh creep was, from a distance, but growing louder and louder, these voices, chanting ugly-sounding syllables.
The tent fluttered down, revealing a red hole. Not red like glowing coal — red like an inflamed throat, glistening with mucus, twitching like it was waiting to swallow something. I had a funny feeling that something was me…
Autumn leaves began showering down, engulfing me, piling between me and the tree-tunnel, forcing me inwards. As you’d imagine, I shovelled frantically, pushing them into the now gulping throat. Meanwhile, the lip of earth I stood on began crumbling away, growing thinner and thinner.
My mind was racing: what did craigslist say? A necro-curse? Necros, Greek for death? I figured we were talking black magic, here. I mean, I’d known what it meant, but I’d thought it was just a laugh.
Anyway, the protection from black magic is salt, right? And one thing I ALWAYS travel with is salt. I sweat a lot, so…
From my rucksack I pulled out my canister (I like to be prepared!), poured out a handful and sprinkled.
The throat immediately ceased swallowing.
Then it expelled rain-like moisture.
‘Makes you spit, huh?’
I removed the lid and shook. For a moment, all activity ceased. Then the throat shrank. Then expanded, and a foul stink filled the air. Made me retch, it did.
Suddenly, slurry belted upwards, carrying me with it, all the way to the top. Not exactly what I planned, but I wasn’t complaining: I grabbed the rim of the tree-tunnel, and, scrabbling and hauling, I heaved myself up onto the edge.
Earth-stomach juices burned into me as I looked down what, from this height, appeared to be a thirty metres tree trunk chimney stack too wide to hug.
I again tried shouting.
Still no response, as if I didn’t exist.
What I did next, I had no choice, and I apologise to whoever: I swung over the lip, dropped my rucksack, picked a nearby big tent, and leapt.
I could only hope no one was inside. Or if they were, that they’d be uninjured.
The tent hurtled up to meet me.
The cushion of air inside helped, but it wasn’t perfect. My impact smashed someone’s guitar. And you know something? — still nobody looked round.
Pain jabbing my kidneys, I sat up and started to drag myself away–I couldn’t afford to replace a marquee like that, we were talking big bucks–and that was when the creaking started.
I looked round.
Cracks appeared in the tree-tunnel, and that sore-throat scarlet shone through.Now I was really scared.
The cracks widened, the trees opened, and there it was: a silhouetted figure, maybe two metres tall.
You know they say adrenalin gives you superhuman strength? It’s true. I got up, and, still clutching the salt, ran–for the lake. In one of those flashes I get sometimes, I figured lake plus hot-looking monster equals bad combination, and I was right, because when I turned round, knee deep in water, there it was, hesitating at the edge, a trail of scorched grass footprints behind it leading back to the tree-chimney.
It glowed like an ember; a heat haze rose from it.
I splashed at it: steam hissed off it. It roared its displeasure; words filled my head like music.
‘The necro-curse: you are MINE!’
Suddenly, I had a plan…
I wetted the salt, soaked myself, then splashed like fury.
The creature raised its arms, and roared. I rushed out, and plastered the soggy saltover its eyes. I embraced it, pulled, and we toppled into the lake.
The creature writhed, shrieking. Water boiled. I was scalded, but wouldn’t let go: I knew the consequences.
Eventually it twitched, stilled, then dissolved. I stood up, panting, burned.
‘You okay, pal?’ someone asked.
I nodded. I was visible again!
That chimney, however, had vanished. Footprints too. Completely.