Lynn Miclea: Sacrifice


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Sacrifice

Lynn Miclea 

The crisp, cool, fresh air invigorated Derek as he hiked through Briar Oaks Woods. He enjoyed hiking and he loved trees, and autumn, when the leaves turned beautiful shades of red, orange, and gold, was the most spectacular time of year to hike.

After an hour of hiking, he headed back down the main trail and stopped for a couple of minutes to rest and drink water. As he was about to put his backpack back on and continue walking, a chill ran up his spine. Something felt off, but he wasn’t sure what.

It seemed a bit darker than it should for this time of day. Still mid-afternoon, it seemed like dusk was falling too early. It should not be this dark or cloudy so early. He shrugged it off and resumed walking down the dirt path. A cold wind suddenly blew through the trees, rustling the leaves. There were no storms predicted, and the change in temperature made no sense. He looked around, a tinge of worry running through his mind.

Whispers seemed to float in the air and a terrifying eeriness penetrated into his bones. As he listened, a strange howl sounded, raising goosebumps on his arms. Were there animals in these woods? Nervously looking around, he saw nothing. As he turned to go back, he heard leaves crunching behind him.

Quickly spinning around, muscles tense, he surveyed the area. Nothing moved or seemed out of place. The hair on the back of his neck stood up. Something was definitely wrong.

Whatever it was, he didn’t like it. He walked a little faster, wanting to get out of the woods as fast as possible. As he walked, a dark gray cloud floated on the path and veered into the trees, seeming to move deliberately. How was that possible? Maybe he was just seeing things because he was spooked.

He hurried down the path, glancing into the woods around him as he went.

A strange wail sounded, followed by a sob. It sounded human. He turned toward the sound and peered through the trees. Then it sounded again — clearly a woman’s cry.

Without thinking, he left the path and hiked through the trees toward the sound. Another sob reached him — a frantic, terrified cry.

“Hello?” he called out. “Is someone there?”

“Yes, yes,” a woman’s voice answered, sounding desperate. “Please help me.”

“I’m coming,” he answered, picking up his pace.

After another minute, he noticed a flutter of white cloth in front of a tree, and he moved forward. Suddenly, his eyes widened and he gasped. A woman in a white blouse and jeans was tied to a large tree, and he rushed forward to help her.

“What happened? Are you okay?”

The young woman sobbed and choked. “Please … please … cut me loose. They are trying to kill me.”

Derek checked the rope at the back of the tree and worked at untying her. “Who are they? Why do they want to kill you?”

Her voice hitched. “Two men. They are offering me as a sacrifice.”

“What?” He finished untying the rope and pulled it away, releasing her. “I’m Derek. What is your name?” He looked at her face and felt a rush of concern. “Are you injured?”

She rubbed her skin where the rope had held her, and then her hand rose to her reddened cheek. “I’m Anna. One of them slapped me when I tried to get away. But I’m okay. We need to get out of here. They will be back.”

“Can you walk okay?” She nodded and he motioned with his arm. “Good, follow me.”

He led the way back to the dirt path, glancing back every few seconds to make sure she was following. “Just a couple miles down this way and we’ll get to the parking lot.” He glanced at her as they walked down the trail. “You are shaking.”

Anna breathed rapidly and choked on her words. “There is something eerie in these woods. I don’t know what it is, but there is something bizarre and strange here. And these guys are involved with it. They are conducting some kind of business with … something alien … something evil.” She swallowed hard and then continued. “I saw …” She gasped and grabbed his arm.

“What?” Derek looked around. Menacing dark gray misty clouds seemed to congeal among the trees, dipping down to the ground. The clouds appeared to be looking at them as though the clouds were alive and sentient. Derek shivered as a sharp prickle of fear ran up his spine. “Are those …”

She answered quickly. “Yes. Those are them. There are many of them. The two men thought if they offered me as a sacrifice to those things, they would be left alone.”

Derek stared at her. “What? They were offering you as a sacrifice to these … these strange creatures?”

“Yes,” she whispered.

“Why?”

“They had equipment the creatures wanted. And I think the creatures wanted the men as well. They thought if they tied me to a tree and put the equipment at my feet, the creatures would take me along with the equipment instead of them. That was their plan, anyway.”

Derek felt his chest constrict. “We need to get out of here.” He looked around. The sky had darkened and an icy cold wind blew down the dirt path. The howling and whispers increased. He took her hand and they walked faster.

Men’s voices drifted to them from farther down the path.

“That’s them,” Anna whispered.

Derek led her off the trail, and they hid behind a tree and waited.

Two large men walked past them, about ten feet from where Derek and Anna were hidden. They stayed hidden in place and waited another minute. Then they quietly stepped back to the main path and hurried forward.

A minute later, a man’s voice shouted. “Hey, where is she?”

“I don’t know,” another man’s voice answered. “How could she have gotten away?”

“Someone must have untied her. She couldn’t have done it herself. I tied it good and tight.”

“C’mon. She can’t be far. Let’s find her.”

A strange howling pierced the air and Derek shivered.

Large, ominous gray clouds floated in between the trees, moved into their path, looked up and down the trail, and then moved on.

Anna whimpered.

“Hey!” one of the men behind them shouted, sounding closer. “She probably went this way. Wait — there she is! She’s down here. Hey, girl, you’re not getting away. We’re gonna —” His words were cut off by a rush of wind and dark clouds rushing down the path toward him. Then he shouted again. “No! Don’t! We have what you asked for!”

Derek pulled Anna off the path and they scooted behind another tree, peering back into the dim light, straining to see.

The other man shouted. “What the —”

The whispers and howling grew louder, and eerie wails echoed through the trees.

Anna sucked in a breath and grabbed Derek’s arm.

Large dark gray clouds moved quickly down the trail toward the men’s voices.

One of the men shouted. “No, no, we had a girl for you. You don’t want us.” Then he yelped and screamed.

The other man called out. “No! We’ll get the girl back! And we have your equipment! Stop!”

Derek pulled Anna back onto the trail and they ran down the dirt path toward the parking lot. She suddenly grabbed him as she tripped on a loose rock, and he reached out and steadied her. Then he glanced around, took her hand, and they raced down the path together.

Within ten minutes they reached the parking lot, and they turned around and peered down the dirt trail behind them.

A huge, foreboding, smoky-black cloud hovered over the trees, and the bodies of the two men, limp and lifeless, floated up toward the cloud.

Anna stared. “That’s them.” Then she added, “That would have been me.” Her voice was weak and raspy.

Derek squeezed her hand. “I don’t like any of this, and I don’t trust those creatures. We need to leave. My car’s over there.” He pointed to a silver Ford Expedition.

She nodded and they rushed to the SUV. Stopping at the vehicle, they turned and looked back. The two men drifted higher, their bodies limp, until they disappeared into the ominous, dark cloud hovering above the trees.

Derek unlocked the doors and they quickly climbed into the vehicle. As they looked around, a few remaining dark clouds scooted along the path and among the trees.

Derek nervously looked up into the sky. “Whatever that is, it wanted those two men. But there are more creatures still here.”

Anna nodded, her face pale. “There was a third man, too. A man with a strange accent who helped those two — he grabbed me and threw me into their car.”

“Who are they?” he asked.

“I’m not sure. I was walking home from the corner market and they … one of them grabbed me and threw me into a vehicle. That one there.” She pointed to a dented beige Chevy Blazer. “Then the two men got in and drove me here and talked about giving some machine to some creatures and sacrificing me. They said the entity would leave them alone if they offered me as a sacrifice instead. I didn’t understand what they meant.”

“It sounds like the entity wanted that machine and also the two men.”

“Yes. And they somehow thought the entity would take me instead of them.”

Derek started the Expedition and drove out of the parking lot. “And if you were still tied to the tree and the entity took the men, you would have been left there to die.”

Anna shuddered. “You’re right.”

“Can I drive you back home? Will you be okay?”

She shook her head. “No. I can’t go home yet. I don’t want to be alone right now. I’m sorry. Can we just go somewhere where there are people? I need to calm down.”

“How about a coffee shop? Can I get you something to eat?”

Anna gave a weak smile. “I’m not sure I could eat right now, but that would be nice. Thank you.”

As he pulled onto the main road, he turned on the radio and heard an urgent message being broadcast. “… repeat, do not go into Briar Oaks Woods. Two dangerous men are on the loose who broke into a science lab and stole top-secret equipment. They may be turning it over to someone and the police are investigating. We must get this equipment back, and these men were last seen going into the woods. They may be armed and should be considered armed and dangerous. There has been suspicious activity reported in this area, and we ask everyone to avoid those woods. If you see those men or anything suspicious, do not engage. Please contact the police. Repeat: keep a distance, do not engage, and contact the police. We now return you to your regular programming …” Derek turned off the radio.

He glanced at Anna. “I bet those are the same men.”

She nodded. “I think so. The men had mentioned some kind of equipment. None of it made sense to me.”

“We need to tell the police what you know.”

She stared out the side window and then looked at Derek. “I think you’re right. But first, please, I really need to just sit for a bit and calm down. I’m really freaked out right now. Then we can go to the police. Is that okay?”

“Sure, we can do that.” He turned onto a wider road leading back to town.

As he drove, a vibration rattled the car and a loud humming filled the air. Derek looked up and pointed at the sky. “Look.”

A mass of dark gray clouds rose in the air, hovered, and churned around the largest smoky-black cloud. A few dark clouds then lowered, returned to the ground, and rushed into the woods, as though searching.

Derek stared. “Did you see that?”

“They’re not done,” she whispered.

“I wonder if they got the science equipment.”

“Maybe that’s what they’re looking for. It was in the back of their SUV. I remember them talking about going back to get it for the creatures when they were tying me to the tree. They were going to place the equipment at my feet to draw the creatures to me. Or maybe they’re looking for that third man, but he wasn’t in the woods.”

Sirens pierced the air and flashing lights approached on the road. Derek pulled to the side and stopped. As they waited, five police vehicles sped by, rushing toward the woods.

After the vehicles passed, he resumed driving toward town. “We need to tell the police what you know as soon as possible. Especially while they are there and can investigate.”

Anna let out a long breath. “You’re right. This is important. Let’s go back. Then afterward we can go sit somewhere so I can unwind.”

Derek turned the SUV around and headed back to the woods. “That’s smart. Let’s first go talk to the police. Then I’ll take you anywhere you want and you can get a good meal.”

Anna reached over and squeezed his arm. “Thank you for helping me. Both then and now.”

“My pleasure.” Derek sped up and hurried after the cops.

As Derek pulled into the parking lot at Briar Oaks Woods, the police quickly approached his vehicle. One of the officers waved at him to stop. “This area is closed. You can’t stay here.”

“I know,” Derek answered. “But she was here —”

“Sorry, sir, you need to leave now. We are doing an official investigation here, and we —”

A loud howling and strange whispers cut him off, and he glanced back at the source of the noise.

A large dark cloud hovered over the officers, and it seemed to focus on one of the men.

“Hey! What do you want with me?” one officer shouted while staring at the cloud. His voice twanged and had a strange inflection. “No! I was not part of that. You don’t want me! Get away from me!” The officer glared at the large dark gray cloud which hovered over him as the other officers backed up and some drew their weapons.

“I know him,” Anna whispered with intensity. “That’s the third man who had grabbed me and threw me into the vehicle. I recognize that voice. It’s him.”

Derek glanced at her. “Which cop?”

“The one talking to the creature. I know that voice — I’m sure of it. He’s a bad guy.”

Without hesitation, Anna opened the car door and jumped out, staring at the cop. Derek opened the driver’s door, got out, and joined her.

The cop with the accent turned to Anna and his eyes opened wide. “You!” he shouted at her. “How … how … you should be …”

The cloud above the cop darkened menacingly and hovered lower, almost touching him.

As they watched, the cop looked up and yelled frantically at the cloud. “No! You don’t understand! I was not involved. You’re making a mistake. It’s the other two —” His body suddenly went limp and was lifted up into the dark cloud. The other officers got behind their squad cars for cover and watched. Some had their hands on their weapons, and a few had their weapons drawn, but no one wanted to fire and risk injuring their fellow officer.

As the cop disappeared inside the gray cloud, the cloud churned and a low moaning sound reverberated in the area. The cloud then rose over the trees, taking the cop with it.

The howling intensified and then died out, as a flurry of smaller dark clouds rushed back and forth on the ground, spun around the parking lot, and then lifted into the air.

Derek stared at the sky and watched as the smaller clouds merged into one large smoky-black cloud which churned and bubbled. With a loud whine, it suddenly congealed into a more solid mass that lifted higher and hovered there, as though watching and waiting.

Anna slowly approached the cops.

One of the cops turned to them. “Hey, you two need to leave. Now. This is a crime scene.”

Anna spoke up. “I know what happened here. I was kidnapped and brought here by the two men. This is their vehicle.” She pointed to the Chevy Blazer. “I can help you.”

The police officer walked up to her, asked her what she knew, and started taking notes.

As Derek looked up into the sky, the smoky-black cloud rose along with a few other dark clouds. They drifted up and merged into one larger darker cloud that had been waiting. It then rose higher in the sky and wobbled.

Derek glanced at Anna, who was now talking animatedly to three of the police officers.

He jumped and his heart thudded as a loud boom sounded, and he looked up and watched as the smoky cloud fractured into more than fifty smaller dark clouds, which quickly spread across the sky in a regimented and deliberate manner. They seemed driven, as if they knew what they were doing.

He shivered as he realized this was not yet over. In fact, it might be just the beginning.

—————————————–

Copyright © 2021 Lynn Miclea. All Rights Reserved.

Please visit Lynn’s blog and follow her at – https://lynnpuff.wordpress.com/
Please also visit Lynn’s website for more information on her books – https://www.lynnmiclea.com/
And please visit her Amazon author page at – https://www.amazon.com/Lynn-Miclea/e/B00SIA8AW4

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