Ryan Hunter

He hiked on a carpet of brown needles and sparse ferns at the feet of the
ancient trees. The towering evergreens permitted the passing of only small
beams of light to the forest floor. Dan stopped and looked skyward. Much of
his field of view was obscured by monstrous pines but the parts that were
not, showed no signs of any clouds. He continued to walk through the
multitude of brilliant westbound sun rays. Each one that crossed his course
hit him in the face, forcing him to shut his right eye, and squint his left
until he had passed through it.
Dan repeatedly checked the compass hanging around his neck, to be sure of
his direction. North.

Dan loved it there. It was his favorite place. It was his place. He owned a
small, one bedroom apartment in the city, but his heart wasn't there. In the
forest he was without hassles, without worries, but most of all... without
cares. In the wilderness he answered to no one, and the sun and trees were
the rulers. That's why he had decided to lengthen his hiking and camping
expedition this summer by two days and forty miles. This time he was going
to be gone for six days. Three heading north, and three heading back south.
Today was day three. The day that he would explore some of the places in
this part of the wild that he had never been, and so far it was beautiful.

When the rays began to attack him from directly above, Dan decided to eat
lunch. He found shade under a tall, bushy tree; dropped his backpack; and
began rooting through its contents for one of the many peanut-butter
sandwiches that he had packed, and a blanket on which to sit.
He grabbed a large, green, felt blanket, (one that he also used to cover
himself at night) unfolded it, whipped it completely open and laid it onto
the ground. He then sat down, and returned his attention to finding a meal.
Dan split the seal of his sandwich bag, and began to eat.

Dan sat up. He sighed and rubbed his eyes tiredly with the palms of his
hands. He jerked his hands from his face and his eyebrows jumped in shock.
"What the...?" he asked himself. He had fallen asleep, but how? It was
bright outside, and he hadn't felt tired at all that day. Dan put his
sandwich bag into his backpack, threw away his sandwich, which was now dry
and wrapped in a quilt of dirt and pine needles, and looked at his watch. It
read 3:05 p.m., but the sun looked awfully low for 3 o'clock in the
afternoon. It looked, judging by the sun's position, to be about 7:00 p.m.
"Gotta get a new battery." Dan looked at his compass and headed north.
A few moments later Dan returned his attention to the compass to make sure
he was still heading north. When he looked up, his bowels sank. The trees
had changed from a symphony of deep green and brown, to a sickly morbid
black. Dan spun around to look at the trees behind him. They too were
grotesque and unnatural. Dan turned back to see if perhaps the trees to the
north had returned to their color. They hadn't. He whipped himself around
again in hopes that the southern trees would be green. He kept turning,
hoping that what he saw would be what it was supposed to be. The exact
opposite happened. As he continued to spin the world spun against him,
faster and faster, and his field of view warped and twisted before his eyes
as the blackness spread from the trees to the sky and crept at him along the

He sat up and looked around. The trees' natural color had been revived.
Dan took a deep breath, shook his head and caught his bearings. He stood
up, looked at his compass and continued on his course; thinking that what he
had seen was a figment of his imagination.

Dan stopped as he watched a huge cloud pour over the sky. The immense
blackness moved faster than any cloud Dan had ever seen. He stood gawking as
an incredible feeling washed over him. It was partly fear, but that wasn't
the largest part of it. No, the largest part was amazement. Dan didn't move,
he just watched it swell and roll as it covered the sky. It was almost right
overhead now, and still cruising.
Dan's concentration on the mass was broken by the sound of wind and rain.
He looked straight north, and saw the trees hunched over in the gust. He
could actually watch the rain come closer as the storm hurled itself at him.
The storm was not a hundred yards off when Dan decided to seek what shelter
he might be able to find under one of the trees which had once seemed so
massive and strong, but which was now dwarfed by the inland typhoon.
He felt the wind as it howled through the trees and lashed him across the
face. Each of the hundreds of raindrops that hit him unleashed an immense
stinging pain where it hit, unclothed or otherwise. Dan rolled himself
around to the other side of the tree, but it did no good. The elements came
at him from both directions, and the trees provided almost no shelter.
The wind and rain however, were not the worst part of it. The worst part
was the cold. Dan could already feel parts of him stiffen in the paralyzing
temperature, as his body began to seize up. Dan held onto a large branch of
the tree as the lightening boomed all around him. He worked tirelessly to
remove his backpack to try get out his blanket.
After about five minutes of fidgeting he finally got his bag off his back
and opened it.
He dug through his sack for his blanket. He couldn't find it. He searched
throughout his entire backpack for it again, but without success.
Then he thought back to his afternoon nap. He had forgotten it. He was
angry. Angry at himself for being so stupid, but even more so he felt
helpless. He was caught in the middle of a gale with nothing but the small
sweatshirt and shorts he was wearing and about two dozen peanut butter
sandwiches. He couldn't go back to get his blanket. It was what, eight,
maybe nine miles back? That was of course if it hadn't blown away, which it
probably had, or at least would have by the time he got to it. What was he
going to do? What could he do? Not much. About the only thing was to sit
tight and wait out the storm, but he would likely die of hypothermia long
before the storm would pass. Dan cursed himself for not bringing the
supplies that he now so desperately needed.
He probably wouldn't live through this, and he knew it, and it scared him.

Dan began to consider his options. Option number one: he could turn around
and head back the way he came. However this would do him no good since the
thunderheads had covered the sky as far away as Dan could see, and showed no
signs of dissipating. Option number two: he could sit and wait out the storm
(this he had already deemed as useless because hypothermia had probably
already begun to set in). Option number three: he could climb maybe ten
yards up into the tree and wait out the storm. This would help better
shelter him from the wind, and the lateral rain. He decided to go with
option number three.
As Dan began to climb, a fourth and most appealing option, presented
itself. In the distance (about a mile or two to the north) there was a
building that could provide the shelter he needed. This choice was much less
risky than the other three. Dan would be able to make it there in twenty or
twenty-five minutes if he scampered quickly. He would also be able to keep a
little bit warmer by running, instead of freezing to death where he sat.
Dan tossed his bag over his back and began to make a run for it. He ran
quickly with deep regular breaths. Each one chilling his lungs. His legs
felt cold, but he continued. Dan dodged swaying branches and jumped roots,
always keeping the sanctuary in his sight.
After about twelve minutes, Dan started to get really cold. He remembered a
method of detecting the oncoming of severe hypothermia that he had learned
in elementary school. If you had a hard time touching your thumb to your
pinkie finger: hypothermia had begun. If you couldn't touch them, then you
had better get real warm real quick. Dan could hardly move any of his
fingers, much less touch the two farthest together. He knew if he didn't get
into the shelter within a few minutes, that he was going to die. He began to
run faster.
Dan's whole body felt cold, inside and out. He was stiff all over, and his
lungs were heavy with mucous. He could hardly breathe without coughing, and
he constantly spat out large masses of phlegm. He kept up his pace as well
as he could; pushing himself all of the time; knowing that his situation was
this: either probably die trying, or die.
He shivered.
Dan stopped. He felt hopelessness wash over him as he looked at the icy
swamp before his eyes. The bog reached as far to either side as he could
see, and there was no way around it without consuming a lot of time; time
that he didn't have.
He couldn't tell how deep it was because the ground was a dark brown. There
were hundreds of ice chunks floating in the water. Each one laughed at and
taunted him.
After a short moment of thinking, Dan decided to try to cross it. He
submersed his right foot and shivered violently. He followed with his left
foot. He took a third step over an unforeseen foot-and-a-half drop and fell
face first into the unforgiving ice bath. He jumped up, gasping for cold
air. The wind chilled him to the marrow of his bones, and the ground
squashed under his feet, despite the temperature of the water, forcing him
to take short, tiring steps.
When Dan got ten yards into the bog, the water reached his waste. He was
half submerged and colder than ever.
His surroundings began to jump, swell and contract erratically. He was
losing the ability to think coherently and concentrate on his goal.
There was only another twenty meters to the other side of the swamp, and
maybe another hundred and fifty to the building.
Dan stumbled out of the marsh, coughing, wheezing and shaking. He wanted to
give up. He wanted to just roll over and die, but he kept going.

After another few minutes, Dan reached the building. In the front was a
great big doorless entrance. He pulled himself inside and absorbed the
warmth it threw at him. Dan walked a little bit further into the structure,
laid down, and vibrated rampantly, trying to generate what little extra heat
he could. He shook himself from his pack, went into fetal position and trembled.

A few hours later; Dan found the strength (and warmth) to stand up and
explore. His skin felt warm but he was still shivering, trying to warm his
insides. He examined his dully illuminated surroundings.
The first thing he thought was why anyone would build a fortress (well,
what looked like a fortress anyway) here? It wasn't in any strategic
location like a hill or mountain. It wasn't built like a castle either. It
was made of old, lichen-covered stone blocks, like many other castles, but
it had no outer wall, just the outside of the actual complex. Come to think
of it, there were no inner walls either. The inside of the castle was one
big open space.
"What could this have been built for?" Dan's voice echoed back at him from
the darkness. The structure made no architectural sense as far as Dan could
Another thing that Dan noticed was that the building was large. Very large,
in fact. It looked to Dan as if the nearest wall (except of course for the
one through which he had entered) was at least a kilometer and a half away.
He took a look at the walls. They were covered in twenty-foot long
tapestries. On each tapestry was a picture of a creature. Most of the ones
he saw were large and reptilian. Some were serpent-like, some walked on all
fours, but most stood erect, and were built bigger than bears. Many looked
to be eight or nine feet tall, with spines that swelled visibly under their
hunched backs.
Dan took three paces further into the fortress and stepped on something
that felt velvety. He looked down to see what he was standing on. He
recoiled when he saw what it was. It was a carpet. About the same size as
the tapestries. However the creature on this one was quite different from
those on the walls. It was a large white goat. It stood with its mouth
closed. There were no attributes that made it unusual, just the same, Dan
decided to walk around it.

Dan was engrossed in the tapestries that hung from the walls. He had walked
at least five hundred meters into the castle, and had not noticed the breathing.

Dan stopped, and his ears perked as he heard a strange noise. He turned
toward the entrance where the sound appeared to originate and pulled his
right ear forward, so as to hear it better. He wasn't sure what the sound
was, so he began to approach it. A chill ravaged his spine as he realized
what it was.
"M-A-A-A-A-A-A." At that instant he knew. He saw two small red eyes and a
gleaming set of teeth about ten feet off of the ground. They were four
hundred yards away. Then three hundred-fifty. The gap was closing quickly.
Dan heard the clack-clack-clack of its hooves as it gained on him. He tried
to think of what to do. There was only one thing to do right now. That was
run. He took off as fast as he could away from it. Deeper into the castle.
The adrenaline was so abundant in Dan's blood that he didn't even realize
which way he was running. Where he wanted to go, was back out the way he
came. Storm or no storm.
Dan eventually was able to make a large loop and head back toward the door
through which he had entered. As he ran toward it he noticed something. The
tapestries were empty.
He heard breathing coming from in front and behind, and saw silhouetted
figures moving around in the nearly nonexistent light. Dan was running right
for them.

Dan could go almost no further, and he couldn't turn around backwards. He
could turn to his right and perhaps prolong his life for a few moments, but
that would do no go in the long run. What he needed was a way out.
Something above him caught his eye. He glanced up and looked at it. It was
the moon. His moon. The fortress had no roof!!! Dan was filled with joy.
Just then he heard the disfigurements start to breathe more quickly and
realized that the ones behind him were gaining, and quickly. His only chance
was to climb out. Dan looked to his left and saw an unguarded side wall. He
felt a wave of relief, and cut sharply toward his left. He heard dozens,
maybe even hundreds of feet behind him, and smelled their putrid breaths.
Once he had gotten high enough on the wall to be out of their reach, he
would be safe. The monsters looked much too stout and bulky to be able to
climb. The largest concern now was to be able to get high enough on the wall
before they could get to him from on the ground. He would definitely lose a
lot of speed going up, and might just lose enough for one of them to catch
up to him.
The wall wasn't quite a hundred yards away when Dan put on his last burst
of energy in hopes that he might get a large enough lead on them. The
distance from the wall was closing fast. 75 yards. 70... 50... 30... 20...
10... 5... 3... 2... 1... He jumped.
Dan redirected his forward momentum and went up. He jumped higher than he
ever had in his entire life. It was an almost perfect jump. He grabbed the
wall, and slipped. Adrenaline and fear ran through his veins, and he
somehow managed to catch the wall five inches below where he first slipped.
He heard his throat click as he swallowed and scrambled up as fast as he
could, hoping that he wouldn't grab a loose stone. He didn't.

When he was half way up the forty-foot wall, Dan didn't hear anything
climbing up behind him, so he paused, turned his head and looked back. There
were hundreds of them. The monsters filled the entire near half of the
building. Each one looked much more grotesque in real life than it did on
its tapestry, and from what Dan could see, not one of them was smaller than
the goat.
All of them sat motionless and silent. Dan experienced an immense feeling
of relief. That was of course, until one of the tapestries not far from him
began to move.
Dan saw the tapestry flail, and he began to scamper as fast as he could up
the perfect incline. He half-watched the wall hanging, and half watched what
he was doing.
Out of the tapestry came what looked like a spider. It was brown with a
slender build and only four legs. Each leg had two long claws, with which it
As the spider emerged from its tapestry, Dan could hear it climbing. Each
time it stepped it created an audible scratch as it searched for a foothold.
Dan could also hear the thing's four chelicerae moving in unison toward and
away from the center as it made a poor attempt at trying to suck up the
excess slime that continuously dripped from its mouth.
Dan began to climb faster and faster, but the sucking noise came closer and
closer. The top wasn't far now, maybe ten feet, but the spider wasn't far
either, and it was gaining... fast.
Dan swung his right hand over the top of the wall to freedom. Then his
left. His right foot came almost immediately after. This was the most
glorious moment of his life, until he realized that he didn't get his left
foot out in time.

The spider bit down hard and ripped Dan's foot off just above the ankle.
Dan screamed in immense agony and pulled his last leg over the wall to safety.

He began to climb down the wall on the other side, but it was near
impossible in the cold, and with only one foot. Dan was tired, and cold
again. He tried to keep hope as long as he could. But his energy and
patience were running out.
Dan somehow had managed to descend twenty-five feet.
He was fifteen feet above the ground when he slipped.

Dan laid face up on the ground, half of his ribs broken, all of his hope
gone, and hail beginning to sting him. He thought about where he had been.
He had gone right off the edge of the world as he knew it. He had been in a
hole in the earth. A place that houses the monsters that people think are
hiding in the shadows or around corners. He realized why the castle had been
built, and it now made perfect sense to him. He figured that the last ten to
twelve miles of bush had been neutral ground, a place where they both had
power, but where the monsters couldn't go.
The creatures were smart. They had pushed him to the castle with the storm
they created, but Dan had outsmarted them. He had survived them. He had
beaten them.

Dan closed his eyes.