3: The Invisible Creek
At the very base of Tree Horn Ridge runs a cool mountain creek, nearly completely obscured by the lush bright green ferns which grow so well on the shadowed forest floor. The bottom of the ridge is part of no well-trimmed hiking trail, and as such very few humans have wandered to the very base of the rugged ridge to marvel at the sound of the unseen creek. A few game trails cut in and out and around and through the pines and brambles, but the angles are so great and the terrain is so chaotic and uneven men couldn’t easy follow them. Other than the game trails only a single overgrown path crosses the ridge bottom, and it is only easily visible in a few places where it hasn’t been swallowed by hungry nature and time.
“It’s a desolate enough place without bolting state, Danny Boy.” Cliff persuaded his younger brother who wanted nothing more than to hit the fucking skids, and find a new town.
Of course, looking at the ten-to-twenty years he was facing for unknowingly toting a backpack half full of tweek to a good buddy of Cliff’s, who just so happened to be a freshly turned Tri-County-Drug-Task-Force-snitch, gave Danny a different perspective than his older brother. Cliff caught wind of the entire situation before Danny, and rather than worry his little bro, he simply went about planning their new life on the run.
Danny didn’t take it so well, and after narrowly avoiding the two Hoo-Doo County Sheriff’s deputies asking for him at the front counter of the Fat Cam’s Burgers where he worked, he was ready to drop everything and run the hell away on foot for all he cared. He couldn’t leave without telling his brother the cops were looking for him, and telling his girlfriend Elizabeth he would have take off for at least a little while. Well, Cliff already knew, and he and his own crazy-ass girlfriend, Trisha, were waiting with bodies humming with crystal meth and supplies already packed for Danny’s run from Old Mother Justice. And Elizabeth refused to allow Danny to leave without her. Cliff was honking the van’s horn and shouting out the window for him to hurry up. Elizabeth was crying and not letting go of the hug she pleaded for. Despite being a year away from graduation, Danny knew she could in no way fathom how serious the shit was for him at the moment. He had been watching Cliff and his friends for long enough to know things could, and often did, go bad. Elizabeth had watched a few episodes of Breaking Bad. Nonetheless, she wouldn’t let go of him until he swore she could come along. She grabbed her bags and Cliff had them out of St. Jim’s and shimming down the dangerous mountainside down to the creek at bottom with two hours.
And now, the four had been camped out at the bottom very base of Tree Horn Ridge for a very paranoid but uneventful three days and the sound of a pick-up crashing clear up on the forest road above sent Cliff scampering uphill with his 30.06. In Cliff’s sudden absence Trisha is rubbing her fingers in the pale sweaty crevice between her pert breasts in their bikini top cradle and ripping Danny’s tee-shirt and jeans away with her eyes. Danny does his best to avoid her blatant ‘fuck-me-eyes’ by casting his own obvious glances over the fern-covered creek to the tent where Elizabeth still restlessly sleeps, and then to the path his crazed brother took when he scampered towards the sounds invading their solitude. Danny’s boyish good looks are a stark contrast to his older brother’s hard-edged features and Trisha is intrigued.
“How you doing, Danny Boy?” Trisha speaks in the sexiest voice she can muster after howling in passion all night with Cliff. Cigarette, whiskey and razorblade whispers.
“Doing pretty shitty, Trisha.” Danny answers, struggling to keep his eyes off his brother’s girlfriend and her nipples visibly stiffening behind the sheer fabric of her bikini top.
For as long as Danny can remember Cliff has been a little off. Despite Cliff being three years older, he was held back two times- so through high school he was only one grade above Danny. The younger brother watched his elder sibling relentlessly bully and torment the entire rest of the school seemingly at random. Danny has watched Cliff slam kids’ heads in their lockers; something Cliff called ‘slamming stupid’. Cliff has all kinds of colorful terms for his favorite physical assaults; stomping someone when they are down is ‘putting the boots to ‘em’ and low-blows to unsuspecting scrotums are ‘baby-killers’. Danny knows Cliff has tortured and killed animals, but he keeps his knowledge of such quiet from his brother because once Cliff found meth his mind started warping at a much sharper rate, and Danny didn’t want to see where that could be going.
When Cliff suggested Danny flee, his tone was mobster persuasive and Danny knew it was far more a demand than brotherly tip. In the three long days they have been here Cliff has been acting as if his mental nut has been going back and forth between too tight and too loose. One minute Cliff would be staring vacantly into the forest, his lips moving silently while drool pools at the corners. The next minute he would be boisterous and fun, but something sinister rings in the echo of his laughter. And the next minute his mood sours like grave-rot, and his ramblings take stranger turns which complement the murderous glow in his eyes. Danny in no way wants to push or test his brother at the moment.
Trisha, who could possibly be even more insane than Cliff, seems not to care in the very slightest. “Oh, come on, baby boy, this ain’t that bad at all.”
“Yeah, Trisha, it is. I’m totally fucked.” His voice cracks, betraying the fear he has been choking on for the past three days. “And that’s if Cliff doesn’t lose his last two marbles down here. I mean why here? This place has a nasty feel to it, don’t it?”
Trisha slowly, dramatically, inhales a deep breath. “It’s quiet out here Danny. And beautiful. I’ve been wet since we set our packs down.”
Danny ignores her last few words, and focuses on her first claim. “The shit it is, Trisha that clear-cut up there is crawling with grasshoppers, and the little bastards haven’t shut the hell up yet. Elizabeth and I haven’t slept for shit the past few nights, I’ll tell ya that.”
Danny winces when the chirping uphill intensifies as if taking cue from his words. His fingertips rub the black circles under his bloodshot eyes, and then try to massage the stress headache from his temples. “And I know Cliff doesn’t like Elizabeth. That makes us both more than a little nervous. Ya know?”
Something flashes in Trisha’s eyes, a realization she keeps silent from Danny. Her sultry and mischievous smile confirms his thought and makes him more nervous than enticed. She moves towards him, her eyebrows raising as she undresses him with her eyes and making no effort to hide the fact she is tickling her nipples through her top. “I think you are overreacting, Danny.”
Danny’s eyes go wide with disbelief of Trisha’s nerve. “Bullshit, Trisha. You know we can’t hide down here for much longer, much less forever. Sooner than later the cops will get them cuffs on me and we all know it.” Though he admits so much out loud his voice lowers to a whisper for the confession. “And, again, that’s if Cliff doesn’t kill us all before we can leave.”
He finally looks back to her, and realizes as he watches her right hand unashamedly reached up under her top and working her left breast, that she doesn’t care what he is saying in the slightest. Her eyes aren’t even on his face, but rather his crotch and she nibbles on her bottom lip as she openly stares. Acting completely on its own accord, Danny’s penis swells at the attention directed at it despite Danny’s terror. Danny blushes, and then spins half around in panic when he hears Elizabeth stirring in their tent across the creek. Before Danny can react to anything at all, Trisha steps uncomfortably close, rubbing against his throb and backing him into the tree behind him.
Danny clears his throat and reminds Trisha about his brother, her boyfriend, the crazy bastard scampering up the rugged mountainside, “I’m talking about Cliff, Trisha. When you two ain’t making love or whatever, he is ranting and raving about this Corn Eater character, where the creepy hell did that come from? I think he might be going all deep end and shit. Ya know? Should we be worried?”
Trisha licks her lips, and holds her finger to her chin as if she if really concentrating and trying to maintain a level of cuteness which she never really possessed. “Not sure, Danny, can’t think past this throbbing I got below. But, I can tell you, me and Cliff ain’t ever ‘made love’. It ain’t nice, it ain’t pretty. Hell, Cliff calls it ‘scrogging’.”
Danny was using the term to be polite, after hearing them indeed engage in very rough and very loud acts of mutual stimulation that he couldn’t in his right mind call actual coitus. Both Cliff and Trisha seemed to enjoy not only grunting and screaming as loud as possible but giving graphic and commanding play by play that only served to mortify the inexperienced lovers in the next tent over. Danny’s semi-erect prick flexes further at the memory of the things he’d listened to over the past three nights.
“Uh, okay. What about this Corn Eater guy? Is that some dude Cliff knows from jail? Is it, like, some hip new cartoon character I’ve been missing because it’s senior year and all? And I’ve been studying my ass off until now so I could get into a decent school. And I am in love with my girlfriend and not ready to go to prison for someone else’s bullshit. Damn it, Trisha, are you listening to me at all?”
Trisha leans forward, pressing her warm body against Danny’s pulsing nervousness. “Yeah, I guess maybe he is getting crazier. The last time he fucked me up the ass he choked me out. I had a headache when I woke up but it was pretty cool. Some people would call that crazy.”
Across the creek the sound of the zipper on Danny’s tent is muffled by the grasshoppers’ song above as Elizabeth crawls out into the morning. As she emerges, before she even looks for her campmates, Elizabeth’s voice whines at the daybreak. “Where are you guys? Why are the grasshoppers sooooo loud? What’s going on guys?”
Trisha watches the younger-plainer-safer- girl slink from the tent flap, and grabs Danny’s growing erection through his jeans as she leans close enough to kiss. “Do you want to screw me, Danny? Do you want to strangle me?”
A man’s terrified scream silences the grasshoppers’ song for a brief instant before it erupts tenfold again. Danny’s legs go numb with irrational fear just as Trisha gives his unit a firm enough tug his jaw drops in shocked response. She takes full advantage by leaning forward and cramming her tongue down his throat.
Elizabeth finally notices them and her shriek is furious and pained, “Danny! What are you doing?”
At the same moment, Cliff’s voice shouts down at them as he crashes down the impossible grade like a madman, his heels kicking pebbles and dust on them all, “Grasshoppers! Holy faking shit, guys, grasshoppers bigger than me and you! Grasshoppers, guys!”
Danny doesn’t know who he should turn and apologize to first; he only knows he needs to get the hell away from Trisha. He puts his plan into action without fully thinking it through. With a frustrated grunt he shoves Trisha away while her lustful tongue still probes his mouth.
Too late all around.
“You’re going to die, little bro!” Cliff, who watched the whole exchange from a slightly elevated position, shouts as he holds the 30.06 to his shoulder while sliding down the terrain recklessly fast. Cliff is silhouetted against the morning sun and the trees, but his lines blur at the sheer number of grasshoppers snapping through the air around him. Behind Cliff, and showing far less respect for the narrow game-trails, are several dog-sized and bear-sized black grasshoppers chasing after him. “You are a dead man, Danny!”
Danny feels as if he is suddenly caught in a chaotic whirlwind of emotion and insanity crushing in on him from every direction. He feels Trisha’s fury and her relentless lust clawing at his crotch and throat. He feels Cliff’s pure kill-crazy rage like a rain of nails on his back. And he feels Elizabeth’s harrowing confusion and sudden sorrow like calamitous nausea stuck in his throat. Despite Trisha being the closest and Cliff being the most dangerous Danny turns to his heartbroken girlfriend first.
When Danny turns his back on him, Cliff bristles with indignation and steadies his rifle best he can while still sliding down the steep tree-covered ridge side. Cliff sees the back of Danny’s head through the scope, but the instant before he squeezes the trigger a large black grasshopper clips his shoulder; knocking him off balance and tearing away scraps of his camouflage jacket and the flesh underneath with its rear legs as it careens past him. The bullet meant for Danny goes up and over him, crossing the creek to sink into Elizabeth’s forehead. The bullet explodes out the back of her head, flinging chunks of splattered brain and broken bits of skull against the nylon tent with a wet thwack. Danny cries out his own agonies as she falls back onto their tent with a look of betrayal on her face under the little black smoking hole in the middle of her forehead.
Between the big hopper crashing into him and the recoil of the high-powered rifle Cliff loses the last little bit of control he has over his slide. Gravity takes him, slamming him face first into the mountainside before flinging him off the sheer cliff face he had scampered up twenty minutes before to fall the last thirty feet and land flat on his back with a crack Danny feels in the arches of his feet.
Trisha abandons her arrogant, aggressive demeanor and screams as thousands of grasshoppers swarm them from the clear-cut above. The air is suddenly crowded with grasshoppers of all sizes. The black and purple monsters flutter and jump alongside their common cousins, hissing as they charge. The smallest of these attack the screaming Trisha as if drawn by her fearful wails. Sleek black hoppers eight inches and longer land on her and tangle up in her hair chewing at her scalp, while others sink their sharp appendages into her flesh to secure them a feeding spot they can’t easily be removed from.
Danny tries to run across the creek to reach Elizabeth, but several dog-sized hoppers leap at him from all directions making the fifteen-foot journey impossible. Danny ducks the giant grasshoppers as they soar through the air clicking and flashing their brilliant purple wings, but Trisha is too distracted with those in her hair and those already feasting on her. A hopper Danny narrowly avoids cuts back sharp the opposite way and bounces off of Trisha’s ribs with enough force to knock her into the fern-covered creek unable to scream with the shards of broken rib stabbed through her lung meat.
Danny hears Cliff still screaming death-threats at him over the clacking and hissing of the swarm, but also the roar of a few colossal hoppers crashing recklessly through the trees. The sheer number of grasshoppers stirs the dirt from the forest floor, and these new massive black grasshoppers knock trees from their path as they lumber down the ridge-side. Danny finally reaches the creek bed, and he nearly vomits when he spreads the ferns apart looking for the creek. He finds it, first try, and the chunks of meat floating in the cool clear mountain water and the small brown normal grasshoppers nibbling at it unnerve him so much he nearly falls face-first into the creek himself when his weak legs threaten to give up.
Danny looks back at his brother and sees Cliff crawling in his direction, dragging his useless legs behind him to flop in awkward positions with his pained progress. The live trees and half-decayed logs flung out of the way of the advancing giants rain down from above. Danny is amazed as several crash to the forest floor around Cliff in shocking explosions of earth and wood, but none slow his furious crawl.
“I saved you, Danny! Ia!”
Danny hops the crimson creek and steps quickly to his dead girlfriend on their crumpled tent.
“I’m gonna offer you up to him, Danny! Ia! Ia!”
A single six-inch black hopper sits on Elizabeth’s forehead directly above the wound, its mandibles clicking rapidly and dripping a pinkish froth. It flutters its legs and Danny marvels at the brilliant purple glimmer.
“Danny! Noob bartok cythh! IA! IA! IA! Danny!”
Cliff is moving quickly away from the base of the cliff where he landed, and screaming with such force his eyeballs bulge in their sockets, veins throughout his neck and face swell and his face reddens.
“He’ll let me in his shack when I bring him your flesh, you ungrateful little shit! Ia, Danny! Ia! Ia! Ia!”
The madness screeching in Cliff’s voice finally pulls Danny’s tear-rimmed eyes away from Elizabeth to his furious brother. Danny regards Cliff briefly but movement on the overhang above and draws Danny’s eyes. One of the giants, easily the size of a pickup truck balances on the edge of the precipice where Cliff fell from, hissing down at the brothers. Cliff smiles dementedly up at Danny, but as he opens his mouth to say something the giant lets go and drops its weight down onto Cliff’s sprawled form smashing his legs to pulp and forcing unidentifiable innards out his mouth before it bounces high above a ducking Danny. It lands with a thunderous crash next to Elizabeth and begins digging at the hillside. Danny’s eyes dart back and forth between the hopper burrowing into the dirt next to his dead girlfriend and his dying brother as cub-sized hoppers attack him. Cliff can’t scream in pain through the organs being forced out his gullet, but he moans long and loud as the hoppers eat him alive, a strip of flesh at a time.
With the giant grasshopper distracted and most of the other mutants feasting on either Cliff or Trisha’s corpses, Danny chuckles silently and scampers up the hillside opposite Tree Horn Ridge. As he escapes Danny looks back over his shoulders to survey the bedlam below. The hoppers have torn the flattened remains of his brother into no less than three separate chunks they nibble at. Others trample down a swath around Trisha’s fast-disappearing corpse. And the largest of the bunch, its mottled black exoskeleton a pitch of black so dark Danny sees terrible cosmos swirling as it moves, is digging a hole in the hillside next to his lost love. He exhales sharply and resumes his escape.
Before he reaches the apex of the small hill a cat-sized hopper latches on to the back of his leg. Its feet dig into his muscles, and its mandibles tear at Danny’s meaty thigh severing his femoral artery during its frenzied attack. Danny staggers as his world darkens. A second hopper, twice the size of the first lands on his back and sinks its mandibles into the back of Danny’s neck; killing him before he can scream. Danny’s dead body flops back the way he fled and he tumbles all the way back to the invisible creek with the two hoppers still clutched tight to his fresh corpse.
Down the overgrown path through the camp something malevolent stirs, and feeling it the grasshoppers sing while they eat.
Next 'episode' Friday March 21, 2014.
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