Angela walked in the cave again.
"Look!" Brent cradled a skull gray with age. Todd talked about disturbing grave sites, but Angela focused on the strange grooves inside the eye cavities. Then she was alone, reaching down for a round eye-sized marble, one of hundreds beneath her feet, grinding together. On one side of the marble she saw a round discoloration—a blue iris with a jet black pupil. Deep within it something swirled…
Angela jerked awake, alarm systems going off in every fiber of her body. She peered into absolute darkness beyond the confines of their two-man tent, struggling to see what had awakened her from a disturbed sleep.
"Genny, wake up." Angela urgently nudged the mound of nylon next to her.
"What?" Genny's voice slurred. "Jeez, Angela, is Todd's story still freaking you out?"
"It's not that. Something's wrong."
Genny struggled wearily up, sleeping bag sliding down as she peered out the mesh door.
"I can't see anything. You're dreaming."
"That's what I mean. Where's the fire?"
"So the guys let it go out. Serves 'em right. I told them they'd freeze sleeping in the open, but no, they're manly men." Genny flopped back down, pulling the nylon up closer to her chin.
"Come on, Angela," she coaxed. "Don't let Todd scare you. It'll make his Halloween and he'll be impossible tomorrow. "
"I hated that story."
"Well, yah." Genny's voice lowered in a poor dramatic imitation of Todd. "A cursed witch in the Smoky Mountains eating the souls of travelers…"
"There's no such thing."
"I know. It's just a silly campfire horror story."
A sound, crystal clear in the stillness, froze them both.
"'S weird." Genny's voice sharpened. "It sounds—like marbles grinding together. Must be some nocturnal bug. A cicada maybe."
"I've never heard one sound like that before." Tears stung Angela's eyes as her scalp prickled. "It's right outside."
"Todd?" Genny called out tentatively. "Todd, I'm going to kill you. Knock it off."
Beyond the mesh door four eyes appeared, glowing with an internal light that cast no shadow. Angela strangled a scream. One seemed to detach itself from the rest, rising slowly then winking out. The girls heard a moist slurping.
"Give me the flashlight!" Genny whispered like dry leaves.
"No. Maybe they haven't seen us."
"'Course they have. Don't freeze up on me—give it!" Genny pawed across as Angela scooted frantically toward the back of the tent. As the light snapped on the sucking stopped and with a rip the fabric of the tent parted.
Genny swung the light wildly. Angela watched it flicker past a dark face, black hair stiffly askew. Around its neck was hung a string of eyes, some dark but three still glowing. One hand, with impossibly long finger nails, stretched through the tattered tent toward Genny's sleeping bag while the other popped a darkened eye from its mouth. Genny screamed, a harsh, desperate sound, while flailing backwards, hands scrabbling for a grip as taloned fingers clamped around her foot slid her out of the tent. The light brightened the fire pit, shadow of the cave beyond. Bits of sleeping bags were scattered around, down littering stained dirt like fluffy snow. Todd's still face lit up, deep shadows where his eyes should be. Across him like a carelessly discarded toy lay Brent.
Genny's scream silenced. Angela watched as the dark man touched Genny's face, nearly a caress. His hand hovered over Genny's wide eyes, her back arching as she lifted her head. His fingernails closed together, a hideous spider in the flashlight's glow, and Genny's eyes began to glow a brilliant yellow. With a moist tear he forced his nails into her sockets and pulled…
Angela turned to the back of the tent, frantically clawing at the fabric.
"Please, please," she whispered, and renewed her efforts as a rip started just below the mesh window at the back. She had her hand almost through when the shadows behind her changed. Sweating profusely she turned her head, just a little.
There were five eyes glowing now. The figure fingered the dark eyes and she heard that distinctive grinding. It then plucked one of the glowing eyes, stretched out a black tongue and gently deposited the eye there. The eye lit up the inside of its mouth with the glow, enabling her to see pointed teeth and lips turned upward in demonic joy. Then the lips closed and she heard slurping, hard and insistent, and the soul hidden within was pulled into final darkness.
Her mind detached, muscles loosened, and she vaguely heard herself whispering "no" over and over. A hand clamped around her foot and began to pull while Angela stared at the glowing eyes, mesmerized. Deep within them something swirled...
Jennifer Alldredge is a member of the Knoxville Writer's Guild and Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. She has one non-fiction book, Japan 1945—Images from the Trunk (published 1995), and has a fiction story appearing in the KWG Christmas Collection.