There was a small military camp in the woods, fenced off, with signs warning of the danger of walking into a shooting practice while trespassing. From the fence, you couldn’t see anything of the camp, it was much further into the forest, but you could see a small hill there, where an underground bunker was located. It wasn’t locked. When it was needed people had to get in fast. With it behind the fence it could be assumed no one unwanted would enter.
We climbed the fence and entered it. It could hold about twenty people inside and was only meant to let people take refuge for a few days. There were more bunkers like these scattered within the woods.
Albert was the strongest of us and he turned the hatch wheel of the thick iron door as far as he could, so even he would be having trouble opening it again. No one would get out.
There were three steel tables in the middle of the room with wooden chairs to their sides. By the walls stood boards holding bottles and canned food, tools, plates and more. The artificial light left no shadowed corners, though it felt colder than the sunlight.
Being the last to enter, I stood by the door as Albert walked past me to sit down. Everyone else just stood within the room, wondering how it was going to happen. Smith put the canister of fuel on the table. Albert gave him the pistol. Albert shouldn’t be the one to hold it but Smith hesitated to take it.
Among us six was his wife Rebecca. She had been wearing a smile the whole trip here but hadn’t said a word yet. The words would come eventually, we knew, and it won’t be ones anyone wanted to hear.
They avoided looking at me. I think it’s because I was the youngest, though really I was not. I was about to finish school, tried to earn my own money by helping at the farm of uncle Johnson. That’s how I got caught up in this.
Johnson wasn’t my uncle, everyone in the village just called him that. He was old, his spine malformed from decades of work, leaving him unable to walk upright. Yet he never stopped shuffling around the farm, tending to the animals as best as he could. His smile was genuine but empty, a strange mixture between love and sorrow. Johnson wasn’t here and he would never learn of what happened on the fields in May. Just that there was an accident that burned down the crops. The charred corpse of the farmhand Michael. Devil knows what rode him to smoke in the middle of the fields but it somehow turned in to a full-blown conflagration. Accidents happen. As far as we were concerned, all this was still just an accident.
We all sat at the table. Nobody wanted to take charge of the situation. Nobody felt like the head of this. We all had just agreed that this was necessary and the time had come. Smith looked like he knew the responsibility would fall on him. His hands folded to a roof under his nose.
“I’ll do it.” I said. This shocked Smith and it almost loosened Becky’s tongue.
“I’ll take the gun.” I specified.
“You’re just a kid.” Smith protested.
“I’m nineteen. Albert can’t do it. You couldn’t.” I subtly nodded to his wife. “Same for her.”
I left out the other two tied on the floor. They obviously weren’t up for this.
Angela and Stephen? Stephan? Who knows. They were on a romantic evening walk that night. They got curious, got too close and they couldn’t outrun Albert.
Smith let out a long sigh and reached the gun over the table. I took it. It was heavy and warm. Wet with sweat.
The chamber held six bullets. Albert had brought an extra package of bullets should I miss.
“Should we pray before we do it?” Albert asked.
“It could only help.” Smith said.
I put the gun on the table and folded my hands for a silent prayer.
On that night in May, Michael stood by the side of the field, smoking. The corn was growing. It would be ripe for harvest in a few months. I was there too. He didn’t know I was. I didn’t like him, so I made sure he was not aware of me most of the time. He held a brown sac which usually held food for the cows but in that night, it did not. I only learned later that it contained stolen jewelry, all made of gold.
I noticed the violet glimmer first but Michael was the one to approach it. The crops were waist high and thin. Michael wandered towards the area of the field where his remains would be found in the morning. I wanted to see too but I didn’t want him to know I was there. I had quiet feet and a quiet breath.
The violet glow grew brighter until it turned into a color unbeknownst to us, still we could see it. At this point Michael was so fascinated he wouldn’t notice me standing right by him.
A rune was burned into the soil. No, it wasn’t really, it was more like, it was where the soil was, while not being anywhere near the soil. It was impossible to explain. It didn’t belong there. Its color did not belong here.
Michael knelt down and opened the sac. I didn't know why he did it. He carefully placed the gold on the symbol and it would melt into a black liquid. I took steps back into the field. I didn’t want to disturb what was taking place.
The liquid seemed sentient. It snaked up to Michael’s knees and it didn’t look like it touched the ground. It was like it was spilled over a perfectly even surface that wasn’t actually there. Michael bent down like an obedient dog and licked up the liquid with a delirious smile. He then stood up and looked at the moon. I did too. It was full.
Albert trampled down the young stalks as he approached Michael. I could tell he had seen the glow too. He was not concerned with the stolen gold anymore. Michael noticed him but did nothing. His smile vanished and he started holding his stomach, hunched over like the old Johnson. His groaning voice was cut off and he clawed at his stomach, as if he desperately tried to dig something out of it. He collapsed and gave off random burst of laughter, in between of which his face got blank and emotionless, as if his body couldn't yet decide whether he was dead or not. He may have already died earlier, but we couldn’t tell. Albert took out his gun.
“What’s going on here?” Smith and Becky from the wood mill at the other side of the field appeared between the stalks. Michael stood up, only for each of his bones to be disconnecting from each other. He collapsed but got up again like a puppet on strings. His skull shifted within the sack of skin around his head, his face no longer recognizable, his chin poking out between his lips, the gristle of his nose holding his left eyelid open. Albert shot. Black fluid shot out of Michael’s head, much more than had been molten out of the gold. It sprayed almost across the entire field and from further away we heard two unknown shrieks of surprise.
The rune had disappeared. Only the pale moon light reflected off the slick liquid dripping from our bodies. As our skin drank up, we understood. We understood what would happen. How long did we have? Long enough as it would turn out. Albert dashed towards the couple at the edge of the field. Becky cried into Smith's shoulder.
We finished our prayer. Albert shoved the tables to the entrance and Smith spilled the gasoline over the smooth metal floor. The tied couple became even more hysteric. It was on me to kill them, so that they would not suffer when the fire burned us all and the liquid in us.
We stood in a circle. The two bound and gagged tried to wriggle away, so I shot them first. The first bullet only tore out Stephan's front row of teeth. At least when he screamed, his head stood still. The remaining three were petrified. Then I aimed at Albert. Without him, our fate in here was already sealed.
“Thomas…” he said. I shot him in the face.
Finally Becky screamed. I shot her in the legs. She collapsed on the floor. Smith’s eyes widened with rage.
“What are you doing?”
I was out of bullets, so I slammed the gun into his forehead as he charged across the room. He crashed into the tables behind me, dazed but conscious. I had enough time to reload the gun and shot him in the mouth. Becky had crawled into a corner, unable to escape. I took out a black marker and drew a circle on the floor. Then I drew the rune into its middle. Becky tried hard to comprehend what I was doing. The black marker turned into the unknown color. It drank the blood once it touched it.
I decided to help her understand.
“How many weeks, Becky?”
She looked puzzled.
“And how many weeks since that night in May?”
It dawned on her. She stroked over her stomach, then looked at me.
“The birth of a human is messy, but theirs… well, you see.” I shot her in the head. The child would survive long enough without her. I dragged her body on top of the rune. I discarded the gun and took the matchbox. The room heated up within moments. I could feel my skin peel away as the liquid evaporated from it and it strained to coil around my body. I ripped the dry skin off my arms to reveal the smooth darkness beneath. I used these claws to dig into Becky’s stomach. Only darkness inside, but the dark didn't look black anymore. A voice from it reached out to me.
Its language was like the color. Indescribable, but I understood. I answered. My voice no longer sounded like mine but it sounded more like mine than it ever did. She gracefully rose from the black. A dark fog that took shape, skin black as mine. Her eyes had the same color as the rune.
She said my name. It was no longer Thomas. It was never Thomas.
I touched her hand, but her hand touched something else. She smiled and her mouth did too.
She spoke in my old language but it was not her mouth the sound came from: “I’m glad I could be born along with you.”
I cried dark tears. She held my new body as I let out the tears that had been dammed up in my damned body. As I shed it away, I also finally shed the tears. My prayer had been answered. I chose the right god, that night in May.