“Got everything?” I asked Sumaya as she packed the last couple of items into the car.
“Yep, I think so.” Pulling a crumpled checklist from her pockets she ran her finger down it.
“All good” She confirmed.
“Cool.” Said Alex impatiently from the other side of the vehicle. He had wanted to leave an hour ago before the sun had begun to set, worried they would miss an opportunity.
It was Halloween night and it was well known that around human celebrations omnimorph behavior grew increasingly strange. Unusual sightings in the city were reported, places where omnimorphs normally never ventured. Strange visions of other worlds appeared to people and disappeared like fleeting dreams. Eerie light displays would move across the local escarpment, disappearing when approached.
Tonight, the three friends were determined to have an encounter. Last year they had stumbled onto an old ruin deep in the backwoods. Well off the beaten path, it was so overgrown they nearly missed it. This was their destination for tonight. Jacob jumped into the driver’s seat and the group rolled out of the driveway. Jacob suddenly hit the brakes.
“Shit.” He threw open the car door leaving it and his friends in the middle of the suburban street. The vehicle filled with exacerbated groans as Jacob ran towards the house.
“Camera!” He yelled throwing open the door.
“Christ.” Alex mumbled through clenched teeth, glancing back to see if any cars were coming.
Bursting out of the house Jacob hopped back in the vehicle, polaroid in hand.
“You know, we all have cellphones.”
“I know, but these use film, it captures the image differently…could come in handy. Both friends stared blankly at him. Jacob had a tendency to fixate on details.
“Alright,” He said “no more delays.”
Crisp autumn air filled the car as they rolled down the windows. It was a nice change.
Alex punched the coordinates of the closest intersection into the GPS. Getting lost on the way was the last thing they needed. The trio chatted as they drove into the night. But the drive was mostly filled with silent excitement. Each friend lost in their thoughts about what the ruins may hold. They drove until the city lights were an orange haze on the horizon and eventually disappeared entirely. The edge of the roads had gradually faded from endless farmer’s fields to thick forests of falling autumn leaves. Drawing closer to their destination there was a palpable sense of anxious tension. They all searched the darkness for the old fencepost that marked the area they had entered the year before, the headlights of the car now the only light for miles, except for the stars overhead. Jacob pumped the brakes and pulled the car off the road about 20 feet past the post. Clamoring out of the car the group quickly shuffled through their supplies.
“Backpacks, water, flashlight… okay I think we’re good to go” Said Sumaya.
The three friends approached the edge of the forest, becoming more aware of their heartbeat, their breathing, less aware of each other. In the blackness of the forest, starlight trickled through the sparse forest canopy. Alex flicked on his flashlight and marched into the bush. Stepping through the treeline always has an amazing effect on the senses. Suddenly the mind quieted and their awareness of the world around them was amplified. Every rustling leaf was heard, every moving shadow seen, eyes scanned the forest for anything out of place.
“Do you guys remember how far it was?” Asked Sumaya.
“I think last time we walked for about an hour.” Replied Jacob.
Sumaya pulled out her phone and set a timer for an hour and the three set off into the brush. Though there were no paths it was not too difficult of a journey, much of the foliage had died back as winter was approaching.
In hushed tones, the friends spoke of what they might find. Was the site still there? Would there be any omnimorphs? Would they even be able to find their way back? The chatter eased the tension and gradually they became less wary of their surroundings. Alex’s flashlight flickered, dying for a moment before springing back to life. The friends looked at one another and laughed nervously. Sumaya pulled out her phone and just stared in confusion.
“Woah.” She exclaimed. “That’s really weird, there’s no way we’ve been walking for 3 hours.”
Jacob pulled out his phone, confirming the time. He could hear his heart beating in his chest. “Where did we lose two and a half hours?” His question was met with blank stares and uncertain fidgeting. The flashlight flickered off again.
“Fuck” Alex muttered under his breath, tapping the flashlight in a vain attempt to get it working, hitting it harder to relieve some stress. As a last-ditch effort, he took the batteries out and put them back in, resulting in a quick sputter of life before permanently dying. In quick strobing succession, he laid his eyes on a shadow. A broken image he couldn’t quite make out but was enough to make his hands shake. Jacob was already digging through his rucksack, knowing he had packed a second light. Click. Nothing. Click. A branch snapped behind the group. All of them turned around, trying to squint through the darkness. Click. Another snapped, the shuffling of their own feet over autumn leaves masking the location of the sounds. Sumaya quickly fumbled for her phone. It flashed to life, but what they saw was difficult to process. The skin of the trees writhed like molten stone. The leaves that littered the forest floor filled the air around them and fell solely upwards like a light rain. Shadows moved where nothing stood and they found themselves inside of the ruins they’d been searching for.
The light flickered out. Their hands frantically grasped at the darkness trying to find one another. A new sound echoed through the night. Seeming to come from everywhere at once. Stone scraping on stone. Instinctually the trio pressed closer together, fear and uncertainly freezing them in a state of indecision. As their eyes adjusted, they could make out the vague silhouette of enormous objects moving around them. Beyond the objects small lights began to appear in the distance, gradually moving closer to the ruins. Jacob stared at them, watching the different colors move and shift. A cold chill ran through his body when he realized what he was looking at: eyes. Uncountable sets of eyes leering at them through the inky darkness. The realization seemed to dawn on the group all at once and they shared the unsettling sense of being watched with unknown intent. Jacob desperately needed to see what was happening around them. Were they in danger? What moved around them with such noise? Sumaya leaned closer to him.
“Use your camera.” She said in a hushed tone. “The flash might still work.”
The words hit him like a ton of bricks. How had he not remembered the camera? He slowly knelt down to pulled the polaroid from his backpack, never taking his eyes from the bizarre watchers. Holding the camera close to him he prayed it still held a charge. He hit the button and the flash exploded, illuminating the scene before them. Massive stones moved together and interlocked, some hovering 30 feet above them. The ruins were rebuilding themselves, and omnimorphs had gathered at its edges for whatever came next. Paralyzed with fear the three friends waited. The sound grew quieter over time becoming a trickling of small pebbles, as if even the small chips and scratches were mending themselves, before disappearing entirely. The forest was silent.
There was no wind, no rustling, it was as if time itself stood still. Gradually movement began again. Each omnimorph moved slowly to the middle of the ruins and a subtle light began to shine from atop a strange column that they now surrounded. The structure was unusual, appearing almost totem-like, with ornate pieces fixed perfectly atop one another. Its light source was suspended above it and was like nothing they had ever seen, Its appearance was that of a crystal, similar to rose quartz, but it behaved exactly as fire would. Pieces would detach and evaporate into nothing, like a burning ember, but the central crystalline structure appeared inexhaustible. A strange, barely audible, sound began around the beings as they approached the flame, like the beating wings of a hummingbird. Each omnimorph in turn reaching into their clothing to retrieve an object wrapped in a strange cloth, a fabric that seemed to shift with living colors. In unison, the omnimorphs gently maneuvered their items into the crystalline fire. The substance roared with gratitude, increasing in size. The humming grew louder and runes appeared on the pillars that began to pulse with life. The friends held each other close, not daring to move or draw attention to themselves. Every piece of the structure now shook and vibrated, totally synchronized with the ritual happening at its center. As the movement appeared to reach its crescendo, there was a sudden shift in energy at its center and the crystal began to be absorbed through thin ephemeral strands into the masks of the omnimorphs. The pulsing and humming began to slow, and the crystal slowly disappeared into the masks until there was nothing left. The light disappeared. The stars disappeared and the three friends felt as if the world was pulled from beneath their feet.
Alex’s flashlight, now strapped to the side of his pack, flickered to life once again, illuminating the area behind them. Still huddled together they barely had the courage to look up. Jacob finally resolved to look around after a long pause. The omnimorphs were gone…in fact, the ruins were nowhere to be found either. As they began to examine their surroundings a little more closely, it dawned on them that they were back at the fencepost where they had entered, no more than 20 feet from their car. With enormous relief, they sprinted to the vehicle, grateful to be out of the woods and back to safety. They sped home with a sense of urgency that was unfamiliar, this time Alex insisted on driving.
“We’ll get home faster” He said.
About halfway back to the city, Jacob realized he had snapped a photo of everything that had happened and had managed to slip the polaroid into his jacket pocket. Curious, he pulled the photo out to see what he had captured. A chill ran down his spine. The image depicted not the forest scene he had taken but his home, and standing inside at his window was the looming figure of an omnimorph, staring out with the same glowing eye he had seen at the ruins.
“Maybe I’ll stay at one of your places tonight”