I wrote this a while ago. It’s the basis for a science-fiction series set in rural Galway/Mayo.
A chill wind blew like an ill omen through the man’s hair, sending a shiver down his spine as he glanced at the thickening fog. It was already too close to being pea soup, and he couldn’t tell if the sun had set or not. There was something unnatural about the fog, making the rifle in his hands feel heavier than it should have; it should have been an extension of his hands, but he was fumbling with it like a novice as he peered around constantly, his heart thumping so loudly that it must have been audible down in Galway town.
He glanced over his shoulder, and was relieved to see the other two men with him. Big beefy Sam, with the lower part of his freckled face hidden behind a black scarf, his pale blue eyes staring around him; and small skinny Brendan, his bald scalp just visible under his hood and his flinty brown eyes not giving away much of anything. Both men had agreed to accompany Donal when he had left the village to search for his nephew and niece – reluctantly.
“What in God’s name did they come out here for?” Sam asked, crossing himself. Like many of the humans left in Connemara, he was quite superstitious, and had slowed them down by refusing to leave without a few prayers first.
“You know damn well why,” Brendan growled irritably, “just keep looking!”
Donal grunted, and continued looking for tracks or traps. His unease rose as he saw that the trail led, with no attempt to hide it, into the bogs. He took a deep breath, steeling himself, and followed it, cursing whatever had taken their mother’s life and their minds with it. What attracted them out here? If I get back with them – when I get back with them – I’ll have them brought to Galway. If Catriona doesn’t want them to go, then tough luck, he thought.
Are you sure you’re going to get back? the thought echoed mockingly into his head, causing him to stop in surprise. Had he thought that? Come on, be positive, you will get back.
He stopped suddenly, eyes peering at a shape in the distance. It seemed to be huddled over, like a monster crouching over it’s prey, but when he blinked it vanished like a mirage. The other two men looked as well, but saw nothing and traded puzzled glances with each other. Both knew from personal experience how easy it was to ‘see’ something in the mist.
Another shape! Brendan’s head whipped around to his left, spotting something in the mist. He nearly fired, but recognised the shape as a rock. All three men stiffened and whirled as they heard a splash behind them that sounded suspiciously like something moving into the water.
Over here! The words echoed mockingly in their heads, deep and guttural, startling them. They stared around themselves, asking themselves what could have sent that into their heads, because they couldn’t have thought that!
How about you try running? You might get back alive! it boomed again inside their minds. Brendan lost his nerve and took off, screaming and nearly dropping his shotgun as he vanished into the fog. Behind him, Donal and Sam were too frozen in surprise to realise that he had fled further into the swamp, and simply stood there, listening.
“Aaagh! No, please, don’t k-” they heard him scream, but the words degenerated into a terrifying bubbling scream. Donal lifted his rifle and fired a single shot into the air in the direction of the noise. We’re armed, you cunt! he thought with a mixture of defiance and fear.
A .303 won’t help you, the thought-voice continued mockingly, if you cannot see us! I feel your fear, human…you do not know what you mess with!
“John? Bridget?” Donal called out, trying to show some authority, but his voice came out quavering with fear. This has to be one of their tricks!
No it isn’t. If you seek them, then follow your companion. But you were warned, the thought-voice finished, and vanished from their heads as abruptly as it had come. Both men looked at each other, shivering in weak-kneed, jaw-chattering terror. The twins had claimed to hear voices that others did not, which was the main reason everyone took them to be crazy. But had they genuinely heard something? Was this the reason they had gone mad? There was only one way to find out, and that was to penetrate the fog and look for them and Brendan. Donal rooted around in his pack for some tinder and flint, trying to get the lantern going. It took five attempts for his hands to steady enough, but when the dried grass finally caught flame, the candle inside the lamp gave a warm yellow glow for five yards. It wasn’t much, but it raised their morale, for all of twenty yards.
Brendan lay in a puddle of what looked like brackish water, but on close inspection it turned out to be blood from his slit throat. His eyes stared upwards in lifeless shock, hands still clasping the cross around his neck, his loaded shotgun by his side. Both men crossed themselves, almost frozen in terror of the invisible, faceless thing that had taken his life. But even as he began praying for Brendan, Sam halted, noticing something odd about the cut. Overriding his disgust, he looked closer, and discovered that the cut was too neat to be an animal, but he refused to accept the alternative, that a man had done it.
The fog thickened again, coming unnaturally between the two men and obscuring them from each other, just as the lantern blew out. Just as he was about to relight the lamp, Donal held splashes behind him, and whirled, fingering the rifle with such shaky hands that had he fired at anything, he would have missed even at point-blank range. Behind him, he heard a crack that was most likely Sam stepping on a branch. Or is it? He glanced over his shoulder at the tall, dark shape that appeared where Sam had been. Is it Sam? There’s something wrong with it!
Then the fog rolled away, and his eyes bulged as he found himself looking into the face of pure evil. The monster stood over seven foot tall, with razor sharp claws, leaf-like scales and a bush covering most of it’s body. All that, however, paled in comparison with the bloodied tentacles around the toothless mouth that puckered in a snarl of rage, and the red eyes that radiated malevolence like the Devil’s lamps. At it’s feet lay Sam, blood flowing from his torn-apart throat, his head rolling drunkenly as though his neck had been broken.
The monster gestured towards the corpse, and roared at Donal, spraying him with blood and spittle, one claw pointing between his eyes. Leave! it thundered inside his head, the ominous command providing his legs with the impulse to start running in the other direction. The rifle fell from his hands as he ran across the bog, forgetting everything but his own skin, expecting to feel the thing’s claws wrap around his throat and the tentacles dig into his skin.
He had covered what felt like only twenty yards, but was probably more, when he heard something that stopped him dead in his tracks with disbelief. He listened more carefully, not sure that the monster wasn’t still messing with his head, but the sound came again. It was a child giggling. Slowly, he made his way forward, the fog slowly giving away. Hope and fear mingled in his head as he made out the two shapes squatting in the mist ahead of him.
When he got close enough to see them, his face sagged and his knees weakened. John and Bridget were sitting on a log, lost in their own world. Both had fresh scars on their mother’s hollow cheekbones, and their brown eyes were unfocussed. Bridget had a sad, listless smile on her face, the same one he’d seen when, after being locked in their room for misbehaving, she’d calmed down and continued her conversations with thin air. John had a completely vacant look on his face, and was so inattentive that he wouldn’t have noticed if a gun had being placed between his eyes.
As always, Donal felt guilty about the times he or others had beaten the children for being silly – it clearly hadn’t helped them. But the consensus had been that it had been partly deserved, when one considered their heretical thoughts – one of which was that creatures like the one he’d run into were not evil. How could they believe that, without having their minds poisoned?
Donal stepped closer, and the hair rose on the back of his neck, telling him that he wasn’t alone. He looked over his shoulder and nearly screamed as he saw the shape of the…creature coming up behind him. Whimpering, he scrambled closer to the children, knowing that he had to get them out.
And stopped in shock as a voice from behind them – an actual human voice, taut and angry – ordered him to hold it right there. At this point, he simply stopped trying to understand what was going on and obeyed, hoping it would be over soon. He didn’t know the voice of the man, but the face had been posted everywhere, with warnings to watch out for him: the notorious mercenary and infidel Red Eyes, whose name was spoken in hushed whispers and, rumour had it, had been to Mweelrea itself!
Only the man’s face was visible under the bush he appeared to be wearing, but it wasn’t any comfort. The eyes, normally covered by a pair of black spectacles, were as frighteningly red as the beast’s. An ugly but precise scar marred the man’s left cheek, curving in a S-shape up from his mouth; it looked more like a branding or part of a rite of some sort that an accident. The man’s hands clutched an automatic rifle of some sort, with the magazine hanging behind the trigger, a telescopic sight mounted on the top, and a bulbous extension mounted on the end of the barrel. It was pointed at Donal, who realised with a sour taste rising in his throat that the man was going to kill him.
I am sorry, Oisin, the thought echoed inside his head. Intuition made him look over his shoulder, and he froze as the animal approached him, but the thinking part of his brain realised that the animal was apologising to Red Eyes! But why? Donal thought frantically, are they working together?
Yes we are. Oisin is…ah, what is the term? the creature thought at him, scratching it’s head. The red eyes now looked vaguely embarrassed rather than malignant, unable to remember the word.
“I’m his boss, if you like. Anyway, Biss, you did screw up – although considering how bad the fog is, I’m not that surprised. John, Bridget, turn away and cover your ears,” the scavenger told the twins in a surprisingly gentle voice, but his face was anything but as he aimed the rifle.
“Why?” Donal croaked. The man paused, considering the question.
“You’ve hurt the kids enough,” he answered tiredly, just as he squeezed the trigger.