Newcomer: Chapter 8
A Serial Flash Fiction Novel
By: Mike White
Copyright 2016 Mike White
Shakespir Edition, License Notes
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It was dark.
And Cali was alone.
At first, the darkness made her feel that absolute, sucking panic of going back to the way things had been before. It had come on so suddenly that she had actually thought she was back, that everything had been taken away, that it had been a selfish dream.
But, the problem was that she could still feel her legs. And, she felt such relief and joy when she put her hand below her knee that it was hard to even express it. There was some cloying moisture in the air, she could feel it on her skin, enveloping.
Bizarrely, sometimes when she jumped she could feel sunlight on the back of her neck. In fact, sometimes when she moved her arms really fast, even though they were in the area of the fog still, she could feel sunlight on them too.
Maybe she needed to cut off the black fog somehow? She risked running in the dark a few times, but couldn’t get out of it. Then she covered herself tightly with her hoodie to see if getting the fog off it would matter. It seemed counterintuitive, but she wasn’t like other people. She could feel the fog on her skin, not just around her.
It was like it was seeping in.
Distance, she thought. Barriers.
She opened her eyes a few times to check if the darkness was still there.
It always was.
Oddly enough, it was often much harder for her to navigate with her eyes open under these conditions. When she closed them, as she continued walking slowly forward, she could make out the world much better.
Combine the instincts of the past with the memory of the present, She thought.
She heard some small animal moving through the underbrush fifty feet to her right, and for a moment she was concerned it was another one of those imp things. What if it could see her in the darkness but she couldn’t see it?
A second went by.
There it was, moving again! She tensed, though she had no idea what she was going to do if it made it here and turned out to be what she feared.
Slowly she bent down, reaching out with her hands. Hadn’t she stepped on something earlier, something smooth and-
Cali’s hand closed on a stone, and she hefted it.
A chance, then, at least, she thought.
Then, the animal moved in the opposite direction, away from Cali, and she breathed out a sigh, spreading her senses out again to try to find something else that might help her situation as she walked.
That was when she heard the feral scream that sounded like a car accident, screeching metal on metal, coming from not far behind her-
To hell with this, Cali thought, and she tore up grass and dirt underneath her as she dug into the ground sprinting away from the noise.
The feel of the air and the sounds of crowing birds, the way they sounded free and clear in the air with not even the hint of a reverb told her that she was in an open field.
So it’s only mostly likely I’m going to face plant into a tree or a building instead of all but certain, she thought.
Still, there was something thrilling about it, and she found herself laughing as she ran, forgetting that she was likely being pursued by a monster for about 5 seconds before it sunk in again.
Something about the sound of her own laughing changed then, and she immediately pulled up short.
Listen, listen, listen-she thought.
Another scream, just like the first, but more distant. It must have moved away, which was reassuring, but it was far quieter now than it had been, which was not at all.
How fast is this thing that it can cover that much distance that quickly?
Is this what was causing the black fog?
She really had to find the others.
Cali continued walking forward, and listening for what had changed.
It had been such a pretty crazy few days; Cali could barely believe it had been a week since she had woken up in the woods with no memory of how she’d gotten there. And now they were running away from demons and she still wasn’t completely clear on why.
This was supposed to be just a regular patrol, to make sure that no one was threatening the village again.
Now Cali could only barely remember where her new home even was.
She knew the general direction, but she was currently walking directly away from it.
Where were the rest of her friends? Were they even still around? Had they fled? Did something else happen to them?
Further thoughts in this direction were interrupted by a single, distinct sound.
It was very faint, but unmistakable, and what it meant was also unmistakable.
The sound of a water droplet hitting stone and then echoing in that way also tended to mean one thing.
Cali hurried in that direction, letting every step she took, her thin shoes against the ground, inform her next step. Shallow roots meant a plant or possible a bush, so step high. Deep roots that changed the angle of her step meant a tree, so go around.
And- when she hit a solid rock ground where it had been all dirt before, she knew that she had come across the cave.
Bingo, that’s what she needed.
Taking off at a run, Cali ran into the cave, reaching out her hand to grab a large leafy plan that she felt hitting her face and let her momentum carry the whole thing off by the roots.
After she was in the cave, the dripping water she had heard before actually hitting her in the shoulder, she whirled around and began waving the stiff leaf at the black fog that was following her.
Like it’s alive, like it’s hunting me, She thought. Whatever they were fighting, she was getting that sense from these things a lot.
Fortunately, the leaf she had was pretty stiff, and when she waved it up and down hard enough, it created a bit of a breeze that blew some of the smoke back.
And as soon as she did that, she could sense sunlight again, just outside the cave, and reflecting on the entrance all around her. So, she kept it up.
How am I going to keep out smoke? She thought. But, the more she blew that smoke back, the more she could feel sunlight, so she opened her eyes, and saw the cave for the first time.
“Hello, Cave,” She said, feeling whimsical.
Her body was still half covered in the fog, and the there was a flickering sensation like someone was closing a dark window in front of her as she tried to get the fog off.
Fortunately, Mr. Cave was helping her out as there were moss covered vines in front of each side of the cave entrance, with only a little gap in the middle.
After a little work, she managed to get another big leafy plant free from just outside, and wedge it under a wrong on top of the cave’s roof, bending it by the stem and getting it to hang down over the gap.
Then, Cali hopped back inside again, pushing past the vines and getting a little judicious work done with her fan frond inside Mr. Cave to get the smoke off. It also took some serious dancing around too, which was fine.
It was good to use her legs; she liked the feel of it on the cave floor on her feet, something new.
Fog still filtered in through the fronds and vines, but it was much reduced. Plus, she could actually see in between the vines and actually through the fog now that there wasn’t any on her.
Now that was really weird.
Time to sit down and catch my breath, she thought. A lot of the cave was rocky, but she found some dirt spots that were more comfortable and stretched out a bit.
It’s nice here, at Mr. Cave, She thought.
Weeks of talking to crows had made Cali a natural at thinking of all animals and inanimate objects as potential conscious beings.
So, what exactly did she do now? Cali was worried about her new friends, and still trying to understand what shape the world was in now, since it seemed to be changing so rapidly. Still, she was happier than she had any right to be considering the number of demons that had chased or threatened her recently. What was it up to now? Double digits surely.
It felt like it was right in the middle of Cali feeling calm and secure for the first time since the fog had appeared d that she heard that screeching noise again, and she nearly jumped out of her skin.
Still, it wasn’t like it was coming from right outside of the cave, so there was that.
It was a full 5 minutes after this point that Cali saw Faraday running across the open field, clearly panicking.
He was in that black fog, and he was running and stumbling over and over again, hitting every rock in the entire field it looked like.
I never thought I’d be happy to have been Hospital Girl, once, Cali thought.
He was a strange man, but Cali didn’t really want to see him beaten up by a demon.
“Faraday, come on, this way! Follow my voice!”
The man with the glasses and the rumpled black hair got all bug-eyed when he heard Cali’s voice, and began running in her direction across the field. Cali was surprised by just how clearly she could see him now that the fog was falling off her and deciding it was too annoying to come back, or so it seemed to her anyway.
When he was about half way across the clearing, covered in fog and stumbling like he was hobbled, there was that car-scream sound again, and Cali could see what she initially thought of as more fog filtering up through the trees behind him.
Then she saw that it looked humanoid, with the various circular blobs looking like a head, shoulders, hands-
One of those hands stretched out towards Faraday across the field.
“RUN!” Cali screamed and Faraday did, trusting her utterly and sprinting blind across the grass towards her position.
There was a torso visible now as the figure drifted forward out of the trees and stretched out that hand. She could see what almost looked like a skirt as well the way it spread out far and wide, and little clusters fell off it, spreading out into the field and into the forest.
We were probably both hit by one of those, Cali thought.
They had been so dense around the cave that Cali had initially thought it was just a solid wall, but now she saw how they dissipated and filtered up to the creature’s main body as it stretched out that hand further and further, eating up ground in seconds that Faraday had taken twice as long to traverse.
Cali watched in horror as one of the “fingers” from the creature reached the blob around Faraday, and suddenly the darkness became twice as thick. His progress slowed, but he was close now. Still not going to make it, Cali thought.
Pulling her hoodie as tight as it would go, as tight as it was with the paralyzing demon, Cali ran out towards Faraday, operating on sound once again to guide her when all of her other senses failed.
In less time than she figured it would take, Cali danced out past the rocky outcroppings in front of the cave on the right and headed straight to where Faraday was coming in, since his was getting a bit crooked in his running panic.
She cracked open an eye as she heard herself drawing closer to him, it was enough to see his too-big shirt with some video game character on the front billowing in front of his he ran with his arms wind milling out to the side in wild, blind panic.
It was also enough to see that hand descending behind the smokey finger that was enveloping Faraday, coming down on him like a giant trying to swat down a fly.
This afforded her a front row seat to the giant black fog creature throwing back its head and screaming again. All of the little smoky globules shivered for a moment, a kind of black glow emanating from them when it did that, and Cali tucked that little bit away for later too.
The important thing is that the creature was hesitating for a moment.
Keep only a crack open from her drawn hood, Cali managed to see that she was close to the panicking Faraday, and she took full advantage of that billowing shirt by grabbing it suddenly.
“It’s me!” She told the blinking man, who was looking this way and that in the fog, clearly blind and terrified.
“Come this way right now!”
She jerked on his shirt like he was an errant puppy dog. It took a few more tugs, but he finally got the idea and began running in the new direction, right towards the cave.
They ran over the field at an angle, and the cave was real close now. He was away from the main finger, but now the fog about him was particular dense, and it was glowing real bad as they ran, whereas Cali felt mostly free of the weird gas.
It’s like it anticipated we would get away, Cali thought. So what is it doing, is this thing actually planning something?
The demon continued to roar, really irritating Cali, right, and also terrifying her.
It sounded like one car smashing into another, over and over. She threw a few glances back over her shoulder at Faraday, and then kept her slit-eyed vision on the cave in front of her.
This is how she didn’t notice the extra globules of smoke until it was almost too late.
They lost their shape as they streamed over the top of the cave, and fro the sides, slowly joining together in the middle, towards where they were running, and spreading out at the sides, cutting out any other means of escape.
This fog looked different than the rest, every time the demon let out another scream as it slowly advanced form behind them, reaching out with both hands now, the new fog in front of them crackled with chain lightning. It jumped from each section of the fog, faster and faster, the closer they got to one another.
“Inside, inside right now! Cali screamed as her footsteps clattered over the rock at the beginning of the cave. She grabbed faradays ridiculous billowing shirt again and dragged him in between frond, moss, and crackling smoke alike, spilling both of them through the entrance and into the soft dirt right behind the entrance, just in time to see the fog cover the entrance blacker than black, bits of lightning playing across it.
Faraday’s eyes darted back and forth wildly as he looked around the room, unable to really understand what had happened to him. He had also been carrying a pack, like Cali, but his looked more mundane. It didn’t buzz, and looked made of simple brown leather instead.
Interesting things were spilled out of it, books and the like. Some Cali recognized, and some she didn’t.
She couldn’t read the words from the books, maps or other papers from here, but she did recognize something from the old world-
“A flashlight!” She said immediately, while Faraday dully blinked, trying to get his mind to restart.
The smoky fog from before was falling off him now, helped along with a bit of frond-waving from Cali.
After Faraday was starting to look like he was fully a person instead of a smoky mess himself, Cali threw back her hood and dropped the frond. She wanted to try out that flashlight, if only to hold something familiar, but she needed to check on their friends outside the cave first.
Still mostly free of smoke herself, she could see through the smoke outside a bit, between lightning flashes anyway.
Before long, she caught sight of the demon in the distance.
The figure looked confused, as if it had lost sight of both of them, and it was dissipating back down into the trees, a hunter thwarted, for now.
The lightning smoke stayed near the cave though.
Strangely, the smoke was following an unusual pattern Cali couldn’t make any sense of.
The lightning strikes between parts of the smoke were getting faster and faster right until the pieces combined.
Then they stopped altogether.
And it was just black.
It was subtle, but the more she watched, the less the cloud looked translucent as it had before without the smoke on her skin.
Was it a smoke, cloud, fog?
Yes, all three, Cali thought. And none of them. There was a prickling on the skin when it was on you, but the exact shape and color of it defied description.
She looked down on herself again to make sure that there was no smoke there, but there wasn’t. The rest of it seemed to have dissipated, including from Faraday, who was still shaking his head back and forth like he was coming out of a particularly weird dream.
But it was getting pitch black out there, she could see less and less of the cave opening with every passing second.
This made no sense, there had to be some pattern to this she was missing. But what was it?
And that’s when the smoke start billowing right through the vines and everything else like they weren’t there.
Thanks for reading!
Check out my other stuff, a lot of it in the “newcomer world” category will fill in a lot of blanks for this story eventually.
From the World of ‘Reality Zero’
‘World Shard’ Series
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The Serial Flash Fiction Novel: Newcomer is about Cali, a woman who finds herself in a capsule in the middle of the forest with no memory of how she got there, and only spotted memories of her life beforehand. She is radically different now, physically, and the world seems to have changed around her too. Just where is she? Is any of it real? Or are her memories of her previous life false, instead? Can they both be real? How is that possible? Newcomer describes a world that spans time and involves a war between two distinct ideologies.People who witness the events call it a "war in heaven," though the accuracy of this description remains to be seen. There are many other stories occupy the same world, but many of them take place in different places and time. They will all connect in the end.