They sat at the table, the game board laid out before them lit by the numerous candles in the otherwise dark room. A storm raged outside, thunder echoing far and wide. With each clap, the earth shook, their domicile trembling as if afraid. A tumbler of scotch vibrated only a moment as a hand snatched it from the table before being brought to eager lips. Mordecai simply shook his head at his counterpart, Adam. Tapping the edge of his own glass, his brand being whiskey, he wasn't ready to partake in his beverage. He didn't want to show weakness or seem overeager. After all the game had not eve started. They each had their play style and since Mordecai was playing the role of survivor this time, he needed his wits about him. Adam, on the other hand, was the attacker and this was a role he was very good at. Knowing this, Mordecai desired to have the upper hand as this would not be an easy game.
"You better take it easy, Adam, you don't want to lose focus." Mordecai teased. There was another peel of thunder, booming overhead. At the same time the wind had shifted, causing the rain to tap furiously against the nearby windows.
"I'm not the one who is going to have trouble." Adam replied, his lips upturning into a wicked smile. Mordecai simply laughed as he picked up his deck of cards and began shuffling. Setting his tumbler down, Adam took up his own deck and began shuffling as well.
They said nothing to one another as they shuffled their cards until each were satisfied and set the decks back down to join the rest of the game board. The pieces were set, Mordecai in control of three tokens, and Adam in control of six. The unbalanced nature of this would be offset by the deck, Mordecai’s cards far more useful than Adam’s. Playing the aggressors didn't allow for the same creativity as the survivors. The aggressors could really only attack, never defend. That was their weakness and therefore that was what the survivors had to exploit. However strategy wasn't the only aspect of the game. Luck played an important role and that could turn the tide as they played.
"So, Mordecai, are you ready?" Adam asked. Mordecai simply nodded as he drew his own hand.
The pair drew six cards each. Adam, as aggressor, set his cards face down. Once set, he moved his markers in front of the cards, one per marker. The markers were small etched marble statuettes, no larger than a chess piece. They bore a vaguely humanoid shape, if the person were squatting and holding their knees but that was where the likeness ended. Smooth horns and sharp teeth could be seen carved into the dark marble adding to this inhuman creature. Behind those he placed four red, flat beads, 24 in total.
For Mordecai he placed his own tokens in front of him as well as taking his own beads, red, but instead of four they received eight. Both had 24 beads but the balance of bead to token ratio fell to the benefit of the survivors. Mordecai had his cards but he didn't place them on the board. As survivor he was free to look at his cards and strategize with how the cards were to be played. Adam acted blindly, but he did not. Yet one more benefit to being the survivor. Both had a twenty sided die at their disposal.
"So, brother," Adam said, "Are you ready?"
"You may have beaten me last time but I have the upper hand." Mordecai said, staring at his cards.
"False bravado is unbecoming of you." Adam teased. Taking a card, he flipped it up and smiled. Mordecai grimaced knowing that his could lead to any number of outcomes. Though random and unplanned, the aggressor’s deck played to the advantage of the player. "Looks like we're in for a Detour."
The road was closed. The tree had fallen clean across the road, blocking not only their lane but the one heading the opposite direction. The fell tree was enormous, perhaps an old growth but it seemed that old growth didn't mean undying. By the base of the tree and the exposed roots, it appeared that some massive wind, perhaps a tornado, had ripped it clean from the earth. The tornado that had torn through the area a day before must have been responsible, or at least that was what made sense. The devastation they witnessed during their drive was evident of that.
"So what now?" Terri asked tapping on the steering wheel as she contemplated what to do. Her foot ached, her legs sore, she was ready to get out of the car and would have been in town in less than twenty minutes if not for the tree. Her aunt was waiting for them, dinner on the table and dessert in the oven.
"I don't know," Mason said as he pulled out his cell phone. As expected, no bars. They were miles from anywhere, surrounded by nothing but wilderness. "And of course no service."
"Well this sucks." Carla sighed. She sat up, tossing her book aside. The makeshift bookmark, a receipt for the book itself, poked from the pages like a lolling tongue. "I really wanted some pie. I've been craving it since you said we were headed to Aunt Joe’s."
"I know, she makes the best." Terri exclaimed.
"Yes, pie, alright, but what now?" Mason exclaimed in faux anger.
The trio peered out the window looking for any way around the tree but saw none. The road was impassible however to the left, was a path that led off the highway and into the woods. It was narrow, barely larger than their jeep. If not for the four wheel drive, it would have been impossible to navigate. Carla was the first to point it out and it took the other some time to find it as well due to the trees and bushes almost completely obscuring it.
"What about that path?" Carla said, tapping on the glass.
"Do you think that we can squeeze through there?" She asked. Mason leaned in closer, trying to get a better look.
"I don't know if it connects to the main road." He said. There was a certain feeling of helplessness when your main source of information is taken from you by method of simply being outside of cell service.
"Is there a map in here or something?" Terri asked. She leaned over to check the glove compartment but this simply made Mason laugh.
"Do you really think there's a map in there?" He said, "Do you even know how to read a map?"
Rifling through the compartment she saw nothing but the user manual, old mint containers, and a pair of scissors that she could not remember why they were there in the first place. Slamming it shut she huffed slightly. She opted to ignore Mason than give him the satisfaction of being right. Instead, she put the jeep in to drive and started turning the wheel. He was her boyfriend and she loved him but there were times he could really annoy her.
"Alright I say we go through there and see where it leads." Terri decided.
"We're going to get lost." Mason protested but Carla spoke up.
"Nuts to that. I want pie! You go, sis!" She exclaimed.
"For pie!" Terri cried.
"For pie!" Carla joined in. Mason took a moment to watch them, cheer and holler for something as simple as pie. Part of him wondered how he could have lived his life without Terri while another part wondered how he could fall in love with someone so crazy. In the end, the desire for pie won out and as Terri cut a hard left, she carefully threaded the opening as branches and limbs scraped at the exterior, sounding like nails against metal. It was as if nature itself were attempting to stop them, to save them from some unknown fate.
"Bad roll." Adam said with a laugh. He placed a new card from his deck in the now empty space below his token. Mordecai said nothing as he placed the card into the discard pile. The card depicted a line of footprints with words printed below it: Continue or Retry. His die roll had been terrible, rolling only a three. He needed a minimum of eleven in order to double back but now he had to push forward. He knew this would now pose more problems as the landscape would now change—as would the dangers.
"Don't worry about me." Mordecai said, drawing another card. He looked at it and postured slightly. The Blade was a useful card, held many possibilities, but he would have to hold onto it until later. Hopefully not losing it beforehand.
He placed another card on his discard pile. It contained the image was that of an old spoke wheel, something more akin to a wagon than that of modern vehicle. Below the picture was the phrase: Safe Travel. Mordecai smiled as he looked up at his brother. This didn't keep Adam from laughing though. He paused a moment, taking a sip from his tumbler and then he randomly flipped another card in front of another token.
"Darkness Falls." He said with relish. The card depicted what remained of a sun as clouds attempted to cover it.
"Surprise." Mordecai sniffed as he rolled his eyes. Adam loved the Darkness Falls card. His brother wasn't a cheater by any means but if Adam were to palm a card it would be that one. He simply loved throwing the survivor tokens into darkness; whether it be by raincloud or sunset, he would blot out the light one way or another.
"Oh you had to know it was coming?" He said.
"Of course, I just didn't think you would use it that fast." Mordecai said.
"Luck of the draw." He crowed but Mordecai didn't let this bother him. He simply focused on the game as he set a card down in front of one of his tokens, face down.
"You're move." He said, drawing another card into his hand. Adam considered this, laughed once more before taking another sip of his scotch. This behavior was not atypical, for most of their matches Mordecai always played it straight-faced a true gambler, and it often paid off. The only way to know who the winner would be was to continue the game.
Flipping a card from in front of one of his tokens, Adam said, "Dash." The card was that of a picture of two legs, frozen in midstride. Taking the token above that particular card, he moved it forward onto the grid that the cards, tokens, gems and dice all sat upon. "Do you counter?" Mordecai looked at his hand and offered a grim shake.
"Not this turn." He said, "Perhaps next time."
"Ooo, someone has a plan." Adam teased, taking another sip of his scotch. "What are you up to, Mordecai?"
"Now if l told you that, it would spoil the fun." He replied. Staring down at his hand, he fought back a smile. The card: Deus Ex Machina, practically glowed in his hand.
"What was that?" Terri cried as she slammed against the brakes. The car came to a quick stop as she didn't want to travel too quickly in the dense forest. The moment she found herself surrounded on all sides by trees, she immediately was worried about hitting something like a deer or wolf. Peering through the windows she, Carla, and Mason all looked around the Jeep but saw nothing.
"I didn't see anything." Mason said.
"What did you see?" Carla asked. She felt the urge to roll down the window, but a nagging doubt stayed her hand. Anything could have been in the woods and that glass was the only thing keeping whatever it was, out.
"I... I thought… It looked like a large... thing." Terri said. Even as she spoke she recognized at how ridiculous she sounded. They were in the woods full of animals. It was possible it could have been a deer, a wolf, a deer being chased by a wolf.
Immediately she started to laugh, the fear slipping from her mind. With a shake of the head she started to drive forward once again. Hearing her laughter, Mason couldn't help but allow his own anxiety shrink back. The last thing he needed was to worry about Terri and Carla's safety.
Absently he touched his pocket and felt his pocket knife. For an instant, he had thought that it was left at home, forgotten in their mad rush to get on the road before the storm came rolling overhead. Of course as they now roll through the forest, trying to find their way around the fallen tree, he was grateful he had it.
"Well that was no fun." Adam said, setting his Dash card in the discard pile. Mordecai said nothing, only offered a faint smile as he set aside his own card: Embolden. The picture was that of a shield with lines sketched around it. Adam drew and set a new card down on his playing field. "Alright, let's see how you like it when I toss another player into the mix." Sliding another of his tokens on to the grid, he flipped another card over.
Mordecai, maintaining his ever calm exterior, silently cursed to himself as his brother revealed the Stop card. This would immediately override his Safe Passage and throw the Survivors into a completely different world. They were safe where they were, but now they would be at the mercy of Mother Nature and the things that lurked in the darkness, things conjured by Adam.
They didn't notice they had a flat until the entire jeep began listing to one side before stopping altogether. Carla had heard her sister curse before but never something so vulgar and lengthy. Mason on the other hand was quite familiar and jumped out of the jeep to check the wheel. Even in the dimming light, he could see the large jagged branch that protruded from the tire.
“Damn it." Mason sighed. The doors opened and he was quickly joined by Carla and Terri. Both looked down and saw the limp rubber that was barely clinging to the rim.
"Oh come on!" Terri cried.
"We're not getting pie are we?" Carla asked. Both looked at her and she offered the largest smile she could muster. Glancing at one another, they could only shake their heads and laugh.
"Well, we're not getting pie on this tire, that's for sure." Mason said. "You have a spare right?"
As he asked the question, a memory slipped through her mind, like frames in a slide show. She did have a spare. It was a new one, in fact, purchased after some immature teenagers slashed tires all the way down her street. Lucky for her they stopped at one but it was still a major nuisance. She had used her old spare, a worn out hunk of rubber until a new tire could be purchased. Once she bought the new one she decided to purchase a new spare, just in case. So there was a new spare tire, ready to be used. However it was sitting in her parent's garage, waiting to be attached to the rear mount on her jeep.
"Technically yes." She said, but the smile she offered was forced.
"Seriously?" Mason shouted. He didn't mean to yell so loudly but he did not enjoy the prospect of not only having to walk through the woods back to the road but during a rainstorm. The shift in the wind and the damp smell in the air was evidence of an oncoming storm.
"So what now?" Carla asked giving the jeep a light kick. In that exact moment there was a flash of lighting followed by a deafening clap of thunder overhead, making them all jump.
"We hurry back to the road and see if we can flag somebody down before we get soaked." Mason suggested. Carla groaned, clearly not pleased with that response.
"Why not just stay here? I mean Aunt Joe has to know we are on our way. If we don't get there soon, she might come out here to look for us?"
"They might not know we came through that pass in the trees." Terri said, "I hate to say it but walking might be the best option." Mason nodded, in clear agreement. Carla, though not keen on the idea of hiking through the forest, didn't fight the idea too much. She knew they were right. They were in the middle of nowhere with no way of communicating with anyone.
"Should we just leave our stuff then?" Terri asked.
"Grab your purse and stuff like that, but we can always come back for the bags." Mason said. Terri and Carla nodded, grabbing only their barest essentials. Together they returned the way they came, following the trail that they jeep had cut into the mud. They didn’t get far before the sky darkened, a grim portent of what awaited them.
Setting the card on the discard pile, Mordecai knew that Adam would have the upper hand. His: Dead End card, its skull and crossbones staring with grim determination, stopped their progress. If he had another turn he could have played another Safe Passage card and potentially gotten them to the road once more. Unfortunately, his luck had turned slightly.
With the survivors being on foot and trudging through the forest without the protection of their vehicle, the aggressors could strike at any moment. He still had a card to help him, but it was a last ditch effort. He had to allow the game to be played out. There were still moves to be made, but Adam was already moving his tokens onto the field. It seemed once they abandoned the car then he felt confident to put his players in the game. Fortunate for him, once they were in play, there was no taking it back. He simply had to outwit and outplay his brother.
The sound was that of something moving in the distance. With the storm that had passed the day before, many of the leaves had been ripped from their perches and scattered to the forest floor. With each step they took, the leaves crunched and shifted. This was not what they heard and it was simple to trace their movements. When they stopped and still heard leaves rustling, they knew it wasn't any of them. The sound reminded Terri of her dog back home and the way it would run around the yard during the fall. The leaves that had fallen made a distinct shuffling noise.
"What is that?" Terri asked. They stood rooted to the earth listening. The light roar of thunder rumbled over head as lightning flashed in the distance. The earth shook, rumbling as the thunder struck.
"I..." Mason started but as he spoke there was a quick breeze passing behind him and he was met with a hot pain that ripped through his side. He shouted in pain, gripping his waist. There was a sharp sting as his fingers pressed against it.
"What... oh my god!" Terri cried. His shirt was torn and blood flowed through his fingers like some crimson waterfall. He bit his lip, fighting against the pain that continued to throb as his heart hastened its beat.
"What...?" Carla started but her words were cut short they were met with another breeze and the sound of rushing feet. At the same time the sound of ripping fabric filled the small void between them followed by a high pitched shriek.
Mason's own pain was forced from his mind, the moment he heard the scream. Both he and Terri turned to see her sister collapsed to the ground. Blood was already pooling in the dirt around her, the blood slowly being swallowed by the earth. Her bright yellow shirt was now a dark red, the fabric around her injury shorn. Terri screamed and fell to her sister's side while Mason frantically looked around them. He ignored his own pain as best he could, his adrenaline doing much of that heavy lifting. Until he finally crashed from it, he could ignore the pain.
"Who’s out there?" Mason screamed but his voice was overpowered by a crack of thunder. It was as the thunder faded that he swore he heard the sound of light, but wicked, laughter.
"Mason, she won't stop bleeding." Terri cried through broken sobs. She had taken off her blouse, revealing a sweat soaked undershirt, and pressed it against Carla's injury. The blood soaked through the thin fabric, the makeshift compress barely helping.
"Is it bad?" Carla asked. Within that short period her complexion turned pale, her words were strained. She was in pain and there was nothing they could do to stop it.
"It's okay." Terri told her, the words clipped and lacking any conviction. "It'll be okay."
"We have to get back to the road." Mason said to no one and to both of them. His attention was on the area, the entire forest that surrounded them. The laughter he heard earlier continued to echo, the sound becoming more of a keening wail. It made his stomach churn and twist into tight, unyielding knots.
"Mason, I can't stop the bleeding." Terri said once more with a voice that sounded more distant, as if spoken by another.
His gaze drifted back to Terri, her shirt now a dark, shining crimson. Her fingers were covered with Carla's blood and by the growing pool on the ground there was no sign that it was stopping. Whatever had attacked her, harmed her badly. Watching this, his mind was awash with thoughts and fears, he found it was impossible to focus. One moment he was wondering what was in the forest and then the next he was certain that Carla would die. Then he hoped she would live before his mind drifted to the dull pain that still lingered in his own side. He wanted to help, wanted to save Terri's little sister, the girl that perhaps one day he could call his sister as well, but he couldn't. He could not focus. He could not stop the thoughts as they continued to drown out Terri's cries for help.
"Confusion," Adam crowed, "One of my favorites. I think it's only second to Assassination." Mordecai grimaced slightly as he stared at the card. The image depicted an indiscernible figure in the middle of a fog. His token was suffering the effects of this card and it would take a roll of fifteen or higher to clear it out this turn or if Adam chooses to attack once more. Glancing down at the table, his "Ambush Card" had done remarkable damage. One token was badly injured. It only had three beads left while the others had six and eight.
Taking up the die, he shook it in a closed hand, feeling the cool marble shift around his palm as it rolled about. With a deep breath, he released the die and it clattered against the wooden surface, producing a light knocking sound. He watched it eagerly, seeing numbers tumble and shift, first landing on two then ten then twenty. His heart raced, the thudding rivaling that of the storm that raged outside. With a gasp, the die landed on eighteen and for the first time since the game began, he broke into a smile.
"I dispel Confusion." Mordecai told his brother. Adam scowled playfully, removing the card from the field.
"Perhaps your luck is changing." He noted as he set the card on the discard pile.
"I still have players on the field. That's all I can ask for." Mordecai said. Taking a card from his hand, he set it face up. "Plus, with my Reflex card, I think my players will be fine." The card depicted a hand frozen in action, the finger closing around a flying arrow. It was a useful weapon against Ambush, especially when used in conjunction with a weapon card, such as a Knife. Removing yet another card from his hand he placed it in front of the token with eight beads.
"Knife?" Adam said, surprised. "Very nice, brother." That smile widened once more as they both realized that the game was about to get more interesting.
"Mason!" Terri cried once more, her voice snapping him from his daze. The world came rushing back, the roar of the thunder, the light tap of falling rain as it dropped upon them in torrents, the cries of Terri and Carla, and the terrible laughter that haunted the forest. They all returned with vivid, terrible clarity.
"Yeah ... right." Mason managed shaking off whatever had taken hold of him. It was an odd sensation to both be present but completely unaware at the same time. It was as if something had turned the dial of world down with him knowing, only realizing it after Terri intervened.
"Mason, what are we going to do?" Terri cried, her voice carrying over the rain. Both rain and tears ran freely down her cheeks, her cheeks flushed, her eyes red. Carla, though conscious, was clearly drifting away from them; her destination unknown. She could barely move her head, the rest of her body seemingly detached from a brain that too was slowly fading.
"Here," Mason said as he reached into his pocket. He removed a small three inch knife, flicking the blade out. The black metal appeared inky under the dim light of the sky. Lighting flashed overhead illuminating the forest for a moment causing him to pause only a second as he caught sight of some tableau he could not comprehend. Though brief he thought he could see three figures hunched in the shadows. They appeared black, their bodies smooth, sexless, and corded with thick muscles. Their faces were covered with black hair but all that he could make out were bright red eyes. There was another flash of light, a roll of thunder following it and the beasts were gone. Mason shook off the scene that he witnessed, assuming it was simply his eyes playing tricks on him as he handed Terri the knife. "Take this, I'll take Carla."
"What?" Terri asked, "I... I don't know how to use a knife." She said, "I mean not like you're wanting me to. I don’t… I can’t..." She stammered but Mason grabbed her by the arm, forcefully but careful not to harm her. He stepped close to her closing the gap between them.
"Can you carry Carla?" He said, having to shout over the driving rain. Terri looked down at her sister and simply shook her head. "I can but the I can’t carry the knife. I can’t do both. Either you carry her, or you defend us." The obvious hesitance in her demeanor made him flush with anger, but he held his tongue. He knew what that she was scared for so many reasons, and he was as well but they had to get moving. Whatever was in the forest was hunting them and were not likely not stop until they were dead. With one more roaring cry, he tightened his grip on her arm and screamed, "Please!"
"Alright." Terri said, reluctantly accepting the blade. It was lighter than she had anticipated and she held the blade pointing upward. Mason saw this and took her hand, gently this time and unfurled her fingers. She didn’t argue, simply allowed him to reposition the knife so that the blade pointed downward as he closed her fingers around the handles once more.
“You get more power like that. You have a better grip and more range of motion with it.” He told her as he moved toward Carla. Taking off his t-shirt, he held it by the collar and with a quick jerk, tore the fabric, ripping the front of his shirt apart. Then he knelt next to Carla and carefully slid one of end of his shirt under her, Carla moaning slightly as he did so, and fed it out the other side. Bringing up both ends he tied knot around the bloodied compress.
"Alright, I'll carry her and you lead the way. You stab anything that that comes at us. Okay?" Mason said. Terri nodded, though the gesture lacked any real conviction. He slipped his hand under Carla's head and legs and taking only a moment to gather himself, he hoisted her into his arms. But it was in that instant he realized just how light she was. Rather he had never seen how frail she was. There was so much blood, more seeming to ooze from the compress with each passing second, sliding down his stomach like some ghoulish waterfall. Her complexion was growing more ashen with each passing moment and he knew he they had to escape as quickly as possible. Monsters or no, they had to make it back to the road.
"Okay." Terri said meekly. She tightened her grip on the blade and with a deep breath forced herself into action.
She started walking, Mason taking this as a cue to follow. With Mason now caring for Carla, Terri had to focus on the forest and all of the sounds that came from it. When they first started their trek back to the road it had been relatively quiet. The windows had been rolled down, the world around them flowing through to them and once she even remarked just how peaceful it was. Perhaps even serene, but now with the storm continuing to rage, the wind whipping up the trees, she swore she could hear more than just the falling rain. Amid the blustering wind, he falling rain, the shifting branches and leaves, she could hear laughter, a terrible laughter. It was the first time she heard the sound and now that she heard it she wondered how she missed it before. It was a harsh, evil sound that sent a deep shiver throughout not only her body but her soul as well. She gripped the knife even tighter, unwilling to let it slip from her fingers.
Together they had moved only a few dozen feet before there was another shuffle of leaves and the sound of movement. Terri, her nerves frayed, her body humming with energy shifted her weight and lashed out with only instinct and adrenaline guiding her. She didn't even see what she was aiming at, her awareness only on where Mason and Carla were. With a snap of her elbow the blade struck something solid, catching the blade for only a moment before it slipped through with an oddly satisfying ease. Terri shrieked, realizing what she had done but this was not a cry of fear but one of triumph. Mason was right. Holding the knife like that gave far more leverage and power.
"Oh my god." Mason cried, but his awe was more from shock than terror. Terri turned to face him but saw that he was not staring at her but instead his eyes had been cast to the ground. She glanced down and trembled, as she caught sight of the thing that lay dead at her feet.
Under the constant flashing light of lighting, the pulsing never ceasing, they could now see the creature with gruesome clarity. The monster was tall and slender. The body wasn’t as smooth as Mason had first thought. The front of its body, the chest and stomach were bare but the rest of it was covered with dark, coarse hair. Though thin in appearance, there was obvious definition in it arms and legs, revealing tight muscles. At the end of its thing fingers were talons, something more akin to a hawk than man. Its head was covered in that same wiry hair but the space where one red eye once was, there was now a ragged hole.
"What is it?" Terri asked.
"I don't know, but let’s just get the hell out of here." Mason said. He repositioned Carla, receiving only a meek whimper in response. Terri nodded, once more tightening her grip. She didn't know what the thing was and frankly didn't care. All that mattered was getting out of that forest alive and in one piece.
"Now that was an impressive roll." Adam said, clapping for his brother. Mordecai said nothing, simply sat and waited for Adam to make his move. The token had been removed from the field, the beads back into bowl they were taken from. The aggressors were down a member, and while the survivors still had three in their group, only one could actually attack. Mordecai had lucked out, receiving a critical roll when he did. He was able to remove an enemy token from the field with a single hit, but he may not be so lucky with the rest. If he could just get the survivors back to the road, the aggressors wouldn't follow. This game would end and he would be the victor.
Terri and Mason moved as quickly as they could but the sky was darkening even further. Black clouds rolled in, consuming the gray canopy. The wind was picking up even more violently, a terrible storm gaining momentum. They would have to make it the road as soon as possible. There was no way that Carla could survive if they were trapped by the storm. With the sky darkening, the little light left from the sky was taken from them. The lightning was powerful but inconsistent. It was far too dangerous to travel like that. So while Terri gripped the knife with one hand, the held her phone up in the other, the brilliant light cutting through the darkness revealing fallen leaves and mud. The rain was dropping even heavier now, the already large drop giving way to fat, swollen balls that slapped with surprising force causing the lightest of stings as it struck bare skin.
"How far is it?" Mason shouted as he limped along the trail. The creatures, whatever they may be, had stuck out several more times and with terrible eagerness. Most of the times he and Terri were able to avoid them but that last time, one raked its claws against the back of his leg as it moved from one side to the next. The cuts were shallow but painful. He struggled to keep his grip on Carla, who had stopped speaking altogether. Holding her Mason thought only the worst, but unwilling to say anything Terri. She had to focus, had to keep them safe. Even if Carla was gone, he wasn't going to leave her to be ripped apart by the things in the dark.
"It can't be that far," Terri cried over the falling rain, "We didn't go that far or that fast. It has to…" Her words were cut short by another rustle.
Terri, turned and once more, allowing her body to move from pure reflex, made a swipe at where she thought the thing was coming from. However while the creature that burst through the foliage, met Terri’s blade, another burst from the opposite side and as the knife slid through the one creature's neck, the second slashed Terri's back, ripping deep furrows into her flesh. She shrieked in agony as she fell to the mud, the knife slipping from her fingers.
"Terri!" Mason shouted. The creature that slashed her turned and hissed, revealing sharp, jagged teeth. Mason fueled by pure rage brought his foot up and kicked the creature in the face. There were a sickening snap as several teeth were knocked free from its mouth, but Mason didn't care. The moment the creature was in the mud, he brought his foot down with all his might, crushing the creature's face. Its skull collapsed under the force, its body twitching only a moment before going still.
Mason fell to his knees, careful not to drop Carla, but instead hastily setting her down in the dirt. She made no sound, didn't move and it was until he let her go that he realized just how cold she was.
"Mason..." Terri whimpered as she held out a trembling hand. Blood gushed from the gouges in her back, the openings revealing muscle and sinew. Unlike Mason’s on injury, this was not something that could simply be ignored.
"Terri!" He cried once more, limping quickly to her side. Clutching her hand, he squeezed it, expecting her to do the same, but her grip wasn’t there.
"Mason... I..." Her voice trailed off as her gaze slid from him to nothingness. Overhead there was a crack of thunder that shook the entire forest.
"Terri..." Mason whispered. "Don't... please don't go." He cried. Hot tears streamed down his cheeks joining the cold rain that fell even harder upon them. A deep, powerful throbbing sensation erupted in his skull as if it were going to burst under the force. He wanted to scream, to cry, to stay with the family he would never have but his brief mourning was interrupted by that same keening laughter that had followed them since they left the jeep.
He released Terri's hand, carefully placing upon the ground and took up the knife that was dropped. It was soiled, the blade thick with dark blood. A deep fury flared to life within him. Never before had he experienced such rage. Those things had taken two people he cared for, loved, and now he was all that was left. He didn't know how many there were, three less now, but he didn’t care. This was no longer a matter of survival, it was a matter of revenge. Taking a deep breath, he allowed his anger to flood through him, touch every neuron, axon, and dendrite. He wanted the rage, wanted the hate. These monsters had robbed him of those he loved, and now he was ready to even the score.
"You can't win this." Adam said as he took another sip of his scotch. "My darkness card give my tokens the advantage on any rolls. You may have reflexes and a weapon but since I played this card, things are looking up.” He pointed at the Reinforcements Card, a card that depicted vaguely human shapes in the center. The two tokens that had been removed were once again placed on the field, each with their full bead count. “I have all five tokens once more and they are at full health. Not to mention the storm that that is brewing thanks to the darkness card. If my tokens don't kill him, the storm will."
"You're not immune to the storm either." Mordecai noted, "The game would end as a draw if it continues for too much longer." Adam looked at him, postured and then flipped a card.
"Ta-da!" He exclaimed. The Shelter Card. Mordecai only narrowed his gaze slightly as he understood what his brother meant. The aggressor tokens would be immune to the storm as long as it remained on the field. With Mordecai's current hand there was no way to dispel the Darkness card. At least not before his last token was removed and he lost the game.
The game was reaching its end. The survivors did well and even almost made it all the way back to the road. If not for that single bad roll, he could have won. However it seemed that Adam was persistent. There was no way to win he was vastly out-numbered but of course there was still a chance for a draw. Pulling the card from his hand, Mordecai set it face up on the field: Dues Ex Machina. On the card was the depiction of a series of interlocked cogs.
"Oh come on!" Adam cried. Mordecai only smiled. This was what he was hoping for. If he couldn't win, then his brother wouldn't either. The card rarely ever showed up in their games, perhaps only a dozen times out of the literal hundreds of games they had played. It was as if the card itself waited for the opportune game, willing to aid those that truly needed it. "Do you really want to end the game in a draw... again?"
"You may enjoy winning," Mordecai said, "And while I do as well, I find particular amusement in simply knowing that you didn't. That is tantamount to victory in my estimation."
"Don't play that card." Adam whined. Mordecai's smile only grew wider. "Dues Ex Machina."
Mason stared at the two creatures that slipped through the shadows. Their red eyes glowed angrily, their kin having been destroyed by him and Terri. They wanted him dead as much as he wanted them dead. The storm had reached a fever pitch, the wind whipping wildly through the trees. Thunder exploded overhead like a barrage of cannon fire, the lightning cast terrible shadows upon the ground as it lit up the world. Knife in hand, prepared for a fight, Mason dared the creatures to make the first move. They were fast, dangerous, but he would not go down without a fight. He was prepared to spend his last breath opening them up from belly to chin.
Taking a deep, collected breath, Mason unleashed a furious roar and charged at the creatures, the things howling in return. They dashed towards him, running on all fours, their claws cutting into the mud and leaves. Teeth bared, fury driving, Mason and the creatures closed the distance in seconds. Ten feet, five feet, three feet. Rearing his blade back Mason...
Awoke. The sun shone down upon him, the heat warm but not overbearing. Immediately he could see why his cat loved laying in beams. There was something comforting about it. Terri lay against him, her face pressed against his chest, the scent of her shampoo drifting into his nose which brought a light smile to his face. Tightening his grip around her, ever so slightly, he desired to hold her that much tighter, especially after his dream. The notion of loser Terri, even in a dream, left him feeling lost, if not broken. A stray tear rolled down the side of his face, a remnant of his dream.
Through the closed door he could hear Terri's Aunt Joe and Carla moving around the kitchen, no doubt baking yet another pie to replace the one they devoured the previous day when they arrived. The drive had been uneventful aside from the tree that had fallen on the road but fortunately they were able to squeeze through around it and move on. They had dinner and that much proclaimed pie before watching movies until the early morning.
He couldn't explain what caused that dream but truthfully he didn't care. He was fine, Terri was fine and Carla was fine. Everything was right with his world that was all that mattered. Bringing Terri in even closer, stealing another whiff of her hair, Mason simply enjoyed the moment.
"You're a jerk." Adam moaned as he removed his tokens from the game board. One by one he placed the ruby red beads back into his bowl.
"You're just a sore loser." Mordecai told him, collecting his cards.
"Technically I didn't lose. You ruined the game."
"Frankly, dear brother, this is my victory. Your complaining is like sweet nectar." Mordecai said. He set his deck down and took up his glass of whiskey, and for the first time sipped it with relish.
The game board had been cleared, the tokens removed and the beads replaced. The cards had been collected, shuffled and placed to the side for a future game. The storm outside the walls, had quieted during the game before fading to silence. Through the windows, pin pricks of starlight appeared in the ebony background revealing only swirling galaxies and nebulas around them. It was calm and the night was still young.
"So, brother," Mordecai said with a telling smile, "Care for another game?" As sour and sore Adam was for being robbed his victory he could help but grin as the prospect of actually winning a game was brought up. Grabbing up his tumbler of scotch, rather what was left of it, he raised it forward.