In the Woods
by Eric S. Brown
“Roger that,” Mike answered through the comm. unit attached to his helmet. “We’re headed to base camp now.”
Ken shot Mike a wary look. Mike’s only response was a slight shrug of his shoulders as he lifted his M-16 and walked passed Ken and Tate, crashing into the brush of the forest as he lead the way. Ken followed after him with Tate bringing up the rear guard.
Ken was pissed about their lack of support. He knew the mission was strictly “Recon” but if they happened to run into whatever was out here that had caused all contact with the base in these woods, they would be on their own. It was no different than usual in their line of work but this time Ken felt differently about it.
There had been nearly three dozen Marines stationed in the camp along with some sort of civilian expert and two CIA operatives. Just what the hell the group had been doing out here to begin with wasn’t considered “need to know” for someone like himself. They had found eight of the Marines so far scattered across the valley, or at least what was left of them. The only words Ken could think of to describe the Marines’ remains were “gooey spots on the ground.” The bodies, if they could truly be called that, looked as if they been through some kind of giant blender.
Up ahead, Mike came to a stop and held up his hand. After a second, he motioned Ken forward to join him. They stood at the edge of the camp proper. Mike’s face was green as he fought to keep his breakfast inside of him. The stench was terrible. The whole floor of the clearing, even the remnants of the tents the poor souls had been using, was covered with decaying entrails and bits of what once had been the men themselves. Ken gagged a bit himself then shook it off as he had been conditioned to by the years of countless wars and “police actions” he had served in.
“What the hell happened here?” he heard Mike ask in a barely audible whisper. Mike suddenly went white and started hammering on his helmet’s comm. unit with his fist.
“What is it?” Ken asked.
“I’ve just lost Command. The channel just went dead.”
“Fuck’m! That’s what they get for only sending three under-equipped men with no backup to check this shit out. Let’s get the hell out of here and tell them what we’ve found before you get them back and they give us some more dumb-ass orders,” Ken urged.
“Uh, guys,” Tate said coming up behind them, “Who the hell is that?”
Ken and Mike turned together to see a lone, blood-smeared man, totally naked, sitting in the center of the sea of human parts that passed for a camp. The man stood up, seemingly unconscious of his appearance, and began to walk towards their position at the edge of the camp.
“Oh shit,” Ken moaned. The last thing they needed was some crazy-ass survivor to haul back through the woods to the pick-up point with them. Then Ken noticed something wasn’t quite right around the man. As he drew closer to them, Ken stared at the green glow surrounding the man’s eyes. But that wasn’t the only strange thing about him. Twigs appeared to be growing out his flesh, and his hair wasn’t hair at all but rather weeds of some sort sprouting where his hair should have been.
“Are you all right?” Mike called out at him as he continued walking towards them. “It’s okay. We’re here to take you home.”
“I am home,” the man answered in a slow voice that seemed to linger in the air.
Mike glanced at Ken in desperation, hoping for a suggestion as to what they should do. Ken shook his head as if saying “no” and leveled his M-16 at the naked man. He opened fire on full auto. His bullets stuck the man like they were hitting a tree rather than a human. Bits of the man’s flesh chipped off like bark flying through the air as dark sap like substance oozed from the wounds.
But the man didn’t seem to notice. The glow around his eyes intensified as Ken screamed. Pain shot through the soldier’s chest as if something were growing inside of him. Ken dropped to his knees just before his body exploded and a mass of limbs and roots sprang out giving birth to a young tree on the spot where he’d fell.
“Oh God,” Mike yelled as shot thundered in the night once more as Tate charged the man, firing as he ran. Mike dropped his own weapon and took off running as fast as he could away from the camp.
Unlike Ken and Tate, his rank had allowed him to be briefed to a degree about just what was going on out here in the North Carolina mountains. The military or whoever was in charge of this operation had been trying to harness the Gaia spirit of the Earth itself to use as a weapon. It looked like they had succeeded. Only, “Mother Nature” wasn’t a woman at all and he was pissed about being called into physical form.
Mike heard Tate screaming behind him as he continued in his flight just before wooden spikes shot out of two large trees he was passing between and impaled him from both sides. “God forgive us for what we have awakened,” was Mike’s last thought as blood seeped up out of his mouth and his eyes fell closed.
Copyright © 2005 by Eric S. Brown