In Our Image – Volume 1 Chapter 7

Author’s Note: Here it is, the last chapter of Volume 1! I hope you’ve enjoyed the story so far, and let me know what you think!

Volume 1 – Chapter 7

The thing came at me so fast that I didn’t even have time to react, but, luckily, it had terrible aim. Dashing past me, accomplishing nothing more than to force a cool breeze across my side, the figure shot free of the stone it had been hiding in, coming to rest behind me and my friends.

There was no way to tell what had happened–the shadow could have been anything–and I tried to tell myself that it was just a bat, or some other unlikely coincidence, but the attempt was short-lived. We had all seen the seemingly ever-expanding mist, we had each felt the rush of impossibly cool wind as the shadow passed us, we all had the same feeling deep in our souls.

This wasn’t a coincidence.

We froze for a moment, staring at the rubble that the headstone had left behind. Not daring to move, I glanced at my friends out of the corner of my eyes, trying my best to communicate “What should we do?” with nothing more than my gaze and the rhythm of my breathing.

If they understood the question, they had no answer. And neither did I.

Of course, there was no way Cat was going to stay immobile for much longer than thirty seconds and, with a shuffling of her feet, she turned around. She didn’t say anything, but when it comes to her, that’s enough.

The message was clear. There was something there, and it wasn’t good.

I’ll make it clear right now: I didn’t want to turn around, not at all. Honestly, if it had been up to me, I would have stayed staring at the chunks of stone through the mist until the thing, whatever it was, had left, and we could walk out of the cemetery unscathed.

But it wasn’t up to me. Cat had turned around and, for better or worse, I had to, as well. Taking a few breaths and trying to build up my courage–which I gave up pretty quickly–I stared at my feet as I shifted them, turning slowly to face the same direction as Cat.

Slowly, I raised my eyes.

Though I had no expectations, the creature still managed to exceed them all, possessing qualities I both never would have expected, and never would have believed.

It stood, or rather, floated, maybe twenty feet in front of us, staring directly at me and my friends with bulbous, pupil-less black eyes that seemed ready at any moment to burst forth from their sockets.

The eyes weren’t what got me, though–it was the face, or, at least, the lack thereof, that made me take a step back. Sitting atop a pair of broad, uneven gray shoulders and half of a torso was what looked like a normal human skull–heavily-cracked and several times too large, but a human skull nonetheless. Patches of ashen skin clung to the bone below the two formless eyes, and another hung loosely off of its jawbone, but it was otherwise bare.

Although the dark, heavy mist had made it difficult to see before, I had no trouble seeing this–it was as if the creature bent the fog to its will, using it to block our view of everything in our environment while simultaneously transforming itself into a yellowed beacon in the dark, attracting all of the attention.

Miller turned around at that point and, although he didn’t say anything, the widening of his eyes told me that he was just as horrified as I was. I tried to whisper to my friends, say anything to break through the deadly atmosphere, but the words just wouldn’t come, getting caught in the dryness of my throat.

But that was alright–Cat beat me to it, anyway.

“What is that?” she whispered hoarsely, never looking away from the spectre.

Miller found his voice before I could, mumbling quickly. “No idea. It seems like some kind of ghost.”

Finally, thankfully, I was able to speak. It came out softly, broken up by the occasional crackling, but understandable. “That’s one theory, but there’s a problem. Ghosts don’t exist.”

“Apparently this one does!” Cat said, too loudly. “Now, what d–”

She was cut off by a sound like metal crashing together as the creature opened up its jaws, raising its head into the air. The vibration made its way through my body, shaking me to my core.

Then, all of a sudden, the sound cut off, plunging the cemetery into near silence. The thick mist swirled around us, and my breath quickened, the escaping air booming like thunder as it fled from my lungs.

The ghost, as I had begun to think of it, leveled its head, making eye contact with me and my friends. Around its flickering, dark gray form, the air began to move, rising and falling in sporadic bursts and thinning the mist, forming a halo of lighter gray around the creature.

And, without warning, it sprang forward.

It covered the ground incredibly quickly, skimming over the cold earth like a fighter jet during take-off. Knowing it would reach us within seconds, I jumped to the side, out of the way of the approaching ghost and directly into Miller.

He didn’t see me coming in the slightest, and automatically threw up his hands to protect his face, but that didn’t stop me from barrelling straight into him. His elbow digging into my chest, we both rolled, sputtering, onto the uneven ground, coming to rest next to a cracked gravestone.

Rising onto shaky elbows, I looked backwards frantically, hoping to see that Cat had gotten out of the direct path of the ghost as well.

To my surprise, it was the exact opposite–she was standing still, knees bent, eyes locked with the beast. For whatever reason, she wasn’t moving. She was going to try and face this thing head on.

“Cat–” I began, but it was too late. The ghost was less than five feet away, and was only moments away from making contact with her.

I looked on with fear, waiting for her to be thrown backwards, or worse, but Cat never allowed it to get to that point. Waiting until the creature was within inches of her face, its unhinged jaws level with her steady gaze, she lowered her center of gravity, and jumped forward, onto the ground.

The ghost sailed directly over her, launching forward with the momentum of a train loose from its tracks, and I expected that, with that amount of force, it would go quite a ways away before stopping, giving us time to escape.

Of course, we weren’t so lucky. Before even reaching the tree next to its original home, the ghost pulled backwards with all of its strength, coming to an abrupt stop and making a sound like a rat scurrying across a stone floor.

I wondered why, instead of continuing forward and then swinging around to maintain its momentum, the spirit had tried so desperately to stop in mid-flight. However, I wasn’t allowed to consider the problem for very long, as the sound of Cat hollering pulled me straight out of my thoughts.

While I had been looking away, she had gotten back onto her feet and began running–but, rather than running away from the ghost, as you would expect, she was running towards it, hands clutched together above her head in a large fist.

What are you thinking? I wondered, digging my fingers into the dirt. There was no way a direct attack was going to have any effect on that thing–and even if it did, where would that get us? We needed to get away, not engage an angry ghost.

But there was no way for me to tell her that, and I was forced to simply lay in the dirt and watch as she sprinted at the disoriented ghost’s back, reaching it in seconds, and slammed her fists into the center of its spine.

Her hands didn’t phase through it: that was the first surprise.

The second was that, rather than just giving it a shock or just making it angry, it actually hurt the ghost, sending it falling onto the ground, shaking slightly.

Cat then made her first sensible move of the night: she ran. Feet pounding on the ground, she made it to us in no time, and Miller and I stood up to greet her.

“What was that about?” I asked. She looked at me with a small smile.

“I got it down, didn’t I?” she said, in between breaths. “Now what do we do?”

“We should probably get out of here,” I said, already moving towards the exit. “Preferably before that thing gets up.”

“Wait, that might not be a good idea,” Miller spoke, for the first time in what felt like forever.

“What are you talking about?” I asked, a little irritated at the time we were losing. “Are you saying we should kill it? Because I don’t think it’s exactly possible to kill a ghost.”

“No, we don’t need to kill it. Just stop it,” he said, completely serious. “From what I can tell, that ghost is out for blood. We can’t just leave it here to hurt other people visiting the cemetery.”

I squeezed the bridge of my nose. He was right–of course, he was right–but that didn’t mean I was exactly jumping to get near the ghost again. “Okay, how do you suggest we stop it, then?”

“We just need to get it back in its grave, right?” Cat said, surprising me. “It stopped before it got to it before, almost like it was afraid. I bet if it gets too close, it’ll have to go back in.”

Her theory made me pause–I had noticed the ghost stop abruptly before it got to its original grave, but could it really be so easy to get rid of it.

“That might work,” Miller said, looking towards the ghost thoughtfully. It was stirring, breaking its way out of the stupor caused by Cat’s attack. We had to act soon. “It’s our best bet, at least.”

“Okay, let’s do it, then,” I said, trying to push the uneasy feeling rising in my gut down. “What’s the plan of attack?”

“Simple,” Cat said, slamming her fist into her left palm. “One of us distracts the ghost in front of the grave, while the other two get behind it and push it in. It’s foolproof!”

Although I wasn’t entirely sure her plan was that airtight. While Miller and I did go over a few specifics regarding exactly how we would go about her plan, neither him nor I voiced any better suggestions. Besides, the ghost, which had been fumbling around on the ground for the majority of the conversation, had finally regained its composure, and had righted itself, returning to its position floating a few inches above the ground.

While it’s pretty difficult to pull of an angry look when most of your face is a comically-large human skull, somehow, the ghost did it.

The ghost stared at the three of us for a moment, and we stared back. Then, as if angered even further by our insolence, it began to bellow, throwing its head back and rattling the few leaves of a nearby tree.

Impossibly, Cat bellowed louder. “Go!”

We broke into a run, Cat and Miller veering to the left while I headed right. In the few seconds we had had to go over strategy, it had been decided that I would act as the decoy. This decision was based almost entirely on the fact that I was weaker than Cat, which made her necessary to do the pushing, while being just barely more physically fit than Miller, giving me a better chance of getting away in time.

I won’t say I agreed with the reasoning, but it’s not like I had a choice.

Five seconds later, I was standing in position, about five feet behind the grave, staring at the ghost while attempting to control the rate of my breathing.

The plan was, as Cat said, simple–the ghost was already near its grave, and so all I had to do was keep its attention long enough for Cat and Miller to push it back into it. Easy enough, in theory, but actually pulling it off is a different story.

Rather than looking at either me or my friends, the ghost continued to stare vacantly at the spot we had just been standing, as if it was groggy on sleep medication, which wasn’t the best for us. From that position, it would easily be able to spot Cat and Miller as they approached from the side, which would make our whole plan pointless.

Of course, that’s where I came in. I took a shaky breath, forcing the breath downwards in an attempt to calm my nerves. Then, when I caught sight of Miller and Cat on the opposite side of the gray figure, I called out.

“Hey! Over here!” It probably wasn’t as loud as it should have been, but I tried, even going so far as to cup my hands over my mouth to amplify the sound.

Whether you could call it luck, I’m not sure, but whatever the force of the universe that was at play, it caused the ghost to shift its ethereal body to face me. Glancing at me with liquid eyes, I noticed a twitch rise in its jaw, the cracked bone shifting back and forth as it prepared to do I-don’t-know-what.

Just looking at the ghost in that state was bad enough, but my job didn’t end there. I knew from watching Cat that this thing had no qualms about attacking a sitting duck, so if I was going to avoid getting brutalized by the undead, I had to move.

My feet didn’t seem to want to work in accordance with my brain, but I pushed forward despite the subconscious resistance, running towards the ghost and wondering–not for the first time–what in the world I was doing.

For a minute the creature just stood there, maybe wondering how stupid a single human could be, but that didn’t last long, and within moments the mist had begun swirling once again, forming a fast-spinning vortex around its flickering form.

Based on the events leading up to its attack on Cat, I could only believe that it was about to charge. I clenched my teeth, digging my fingernails into my palm, and planted my feet firmly on the ground. If I’m being honest with myself, there was no possible way for me to pull off anything similar to what Cat had accomplished with the ghost, but if I was lucky, maybe I’d at least be able to survive attack with slightly less gruesome injuries.

The ghost roared a final time, the black spheres in the center of its face bulging ever-grotesquely, and the mist around its body dispersed. It was charging, and I took a sharp breath.

Cat got to it first, literally leaping onto the ghost’s back as it was seeking to charge at me. Under her weight, the ghoul sank towards the ground, the bottom of it’s cut-off torso hovering mere inches from the mist clinging to the soil. I watched in awe as Cat held onto the creature writhing in her grip, the only features visible through the thick mist being her bright hair and the void-filled eyes of her mount.

I firmly believe, to this day, that her actions the–excuse the pun–nail in the coffin for the ghost. Everything that came afterwards were simply theatrics.

While I looked on, both relieved at not being charged and dumbfounded that Cat had jumped the creature, Miller walked up in front of the struggling shade, grabbed it by the collar–that is, if ghost’s even have collars–and pulled it downwards, towards its eternal resting place. It hit the ground with a dull thud and, finally gaining control of my legs, I ran over.

Cat and Miller were both staring at the ground, almost solemnly, and I wondered why they continued to stare at the ghost, rather than get out of there. Looking down, however, the answer became clear.

On the ground, lying on its back in front of the rubble of a grave, was the image of a man–a flickering, dark, translucent image of a man, but a man nonetheless. He was frail, clothed in nothing but flowing gray rags, and his straight face gave off an aura of calm that radiated around the entire cemetery, draping the night in a veil of comfortable silence.

His eyes were closed, almost as if he were sleeping, and in that state the ghost sunk back into the ground, taking the mist with it and returning to the cemetery the soft light of early morning.

Finally, it was over, and somehow we were alright.

“So, he was just an old man the whole time, huh?” Cat said, quietly.

“That’s what it looks like,” I said, my voice equally soft.

None of us wanted to shatter the tranquil state of the cemetery and, without speaking, Cat walked forward, kneeled down, and began to carefully pick out pieces of stone from the rubble of the ghost’s headstone.

Miller and I watched in silence as she slowly constructed a square out of irregular pieces of stone, placing it directly over the grave of the old man.

“Sorry for disturbing you,” she said. “I hope you can rest well for a while, now.”

And with that she stood, turning to us and parting her lips in a small smile.

Miller and I blinked, not sure how to respond at first. Eventually, however, Miller decided to break the silence.

“Maybe it’s best that we get out of here.”

“I agree,” I said, and Cat nodded as well. Without another word, we began to walk back towards the entrance.

We only made it four steps before the next weird thing happened. It started with a warm feeling in my gut that spread quickly throughout my body, flowing into my fingertips, to the crown of my head, and through to my toes.

I stopped in my tracks, took a deep breath. Behind me, I could have sworn I heard someone whisper.

At my side, Cat had also stopped, and had gently placed her hand over her stomach. She looked at me, caught the look in my eyes, and then, slowly, turned around.

Her eyes widened, and I turned to see what she was looking at.

It wasn’t at all what I had expected–just like with the ghost–but in this case it was more general surprise than a quick spike of fear that met me when I turned.

Directly in front of us, floating about five feet above the ground, was a small ball of light, only slightly larger than a ping-pong ball. Bobbing up and down gently, it sent off pulses of iridescent light, flashes of colors everywhere from green to purple to orange.

I couldn’t take my eyes off of it.

Cat and I stared at the sphere for what felt like forever before Miller appeared at our sides, eyes narrowed. None of us spoke, each caught in the conflicting intensity and gentleness of the light it sent forth.

“What is it?” Cat asked, eventually, barely moving her mouth as she asked the question.

I thought about it for some time, trying for a moment to explain the existence of the ball of light before abandoning the idea completely. There was no way to explain this–if I really thought about it, I would say it was scientifically impossible, something you could never expect to see occurring in nature.

But, still, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d seen that light somewhere before.

Cat , of course, broke me out of my trance.

“I’m going to touch it,” she declared, straightening her back and striding forward, hand outstretched, eyes wide.

I shook my head quickly. “On a list of bad ideas, I think I’d place that at the top. Do you know how hot that thing probably is?”

She didn’t listen, and I determined that I would have to stop her from making a terrible decision myself. Moving forward, I tried to reach out and stop her, but she reached the orb of pure light before I could.

Her hand was outstretched, palm sideways, pointer finger extended slightly, as she looked at the light curiously, almost reverently. Then, so quickly that I don’t think even she expected it, her finger brushed up against the sphere, and it disappeared in an outward explosion of light.

For a moment, time stopped, as if my consciousness had been thrown outside of the walls of reality. My eyes filled with light, my senses merged, and it felt to me as if every moment from the creation of the universe to its end had condensed, wrapped itself up into a single point and then dissolved itself into my very being. Into my soul.  

It felt like an eternity but, eventually, the light faded from my eyes, and I saw Cat against the backdrop of the cemetery, which now looked exactly as it had when we had first entered. She was staring blankly at the ground, blinking slowly.

I looked down myself, saw my hands. For a moment, I found it hard to believe that they were my own, but the sensation quickly passed. I looked back at my friend.

“Did you feel that, too?”

Cat simply nodded, looking at me, brown eyes filled with wonder.

That was when Miller ran up, stepping between us and looking back and forth, eyes wide with concern, his mouth slightly agape.

“Are you two okay? How are you feeling?”

“I’m fine,” Cat said, and I nodded in agreement. And, really, I was–aside from a lingering feeling of warmth in my chest, I felt completely normal.

“You’re sure?” he said, arching his eyebrows. “That s–that…light didn’t do anything to you?”

“We’re fine, Miller!” Cat replied, walking up behind him and throwing an arm across his shoulders. “What are you so worried about?”

“N-nothing,” he said, throwing her arm off. “It’s just that the blast caught you two right in the face. I wanted to make sure you weren’t blind or anything.”

“How sweet,” Cat purred, tapping Miller’s cheek. “It’s good to know that you care about us so much.”

“Oh, whatever,” Miller said, his face flushed. “How about we just get out of here? We don’t want to waste the whole day in this cemetery.”

Cat’s face brightened. “Sure thing. I’ve got tons of ideas about what we could do next!”

She then began rattling off a list of activities that we “just had to do,” walking side by side with Miller towards the exit. I followed slightly behind, glancing at the square of stones Cat had arranged on the cold earth.

The ghost, the light….both were things I would have never believed possible, and yet, in the same day, I’d seen both of them with my own eyes. Two absolutely impossible events occurring, one after the other.

And I had a feeling they weren’t going to be the last.

But I pushed the thought aside. Someday, someday soon, we would have to face the reality brought on by those events, but not today.

Today I was going to have fun with my friends.

A few feet in front of me, Cat and Miller turned around, Miller with his hands in his pockets, Cat with both waving wildly in the air above her head, her mouth wide in a smile. She called out.

“You coming, Asher?”

I smiled, and moved forward. “Yeah.”   

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