Seven Miles From Mettler


Sunset approached slowly as if it crept in caution, knowing what lived on the other side of the mountain. Doran and Jeff didn't have this knowledge, so on they drove down the winding road, their jeep rambling over the ancient, cracked pavement.

That forever place was called “The Sawmill”, for reasons forgotten, which was unfortunate considering there was no sawmill to be found. There was nothing at all, for that matter, aside endless fields and the narrow zig-zag road that cut through them. One of the only attractions was the inspiring sunset that supposedly made you drop your liquor in awe. The comfort of drinking that liquor in complete seclusion was the other attraction. It was, at least, for those under the legal age.

“This is pretty weird,” Doran told his friend in the driver's seat. “It's like one of those places you see on TV all the time, but freak out over when you're actually there.”

“Great place to shoot a movie,” Jeff said.

“Everywhere is a great movie shoot for you.”

“Seriously, man, just look at the road.”

“I would,” said Doran, “but I can't.”

The weeds stood so tall that only the bit of road directly in front of them was visible. It would stretch on until the next sharp turn, which was usually near, then onto the next turn. The boys didn't know which direction they were headed until they were there.

“That's just it,” said Jeff. “The road is invisible, we've been driving for almost an hour, top speed. This is nowhere. The next turn could plunge us off a cliff for all we know.”

“A cliff, no way.”

“Or something else. Anything could sneak up on us out here, easily...”

Before another word was said the boys made a turn and were in front of an immense gateway, seemingly appearing before their eyes. In the wide expanse of fields, the boys stopped the car and thought in silence about how it eluded them until the moment they were facing it.

“I thought you said the Sawmill road kept going to a dead end, next to a river,” Doran said. “I thought you've been out here before.”

“I didn't say that,“ Jeff said. “I've heard other people tell me about it. One of them mentioned that they never reached the end. We crossed the river a while back, anyhow.”

He coasted the vehicle toward the ominous structure. Its eroded steel pipes reached to the sky, holding up a sign whose writing was lost through the elements. Perhaps it was written in another language, it was so eligible. What made the gateway truly eerie was the way it stood tall and completely alone. No fencing to help keep out trespassers, one could simply walk around the rusted giant.

“It's getting dark,” Doran said. “Let's split. I got finals.”

“Hold on a second,” Jeff quickly said, not taking his eyes off the peeling metal skin. “I've never heard about this gate. We might be the first ones to come out this far.”

“Someone had to put up this thing, someone might live on the other side.”

“Aren't you curious to know who? Who would live way out here? No farmland, no power lines, it's hours away from the nearest anything.”

“Some people like privacy,” Doran told him, disguising his fear with impatience. “We should respect that privacy, especially when it's this extreme.”

Jeff shut his jeep off, promptly exiting it. Doran removed his seat belt and stood up in the convertible. “You're nuts, man. Let's go before it's dark, there's no street lamps out here you know.”

Jeff walked to the gate, looking it up and down, touching the flakes of rust as if they were crystal. “Do you know what that makes in gas mileage, Doran?”

“Probably spit, the way it's geared.”

“Yes, and I wanna get my gas worth. I didn't fill up just to make a long distance U-turn.”

Reluctantly, Doran joined his friend at the gateway, leaving his passenger door swung open. They examined the steel of the gate, which sang to them in the cold wind. Jeff stepped onto the pipes and began to climb over.

“Just go around it,” Doran said, “you look ridiculous climbing over it like that when you don't need to.”

“It's no fun unless you feel like you're breaking a rule.”

Following his friend as he always did, Doran hopped onto the gate, swiftly making it to the other side before Jeff got to the top. He was always the more athletic of the pair.

“Show off,” Jeff told him.

“When you got it, don't hold it back. Whoa, wait a second!”

Jeff landed on the ground next to Doran and caught the sight that shocked him. On the other side of the gate, where the jeep was once parked only ten feet away, there was nothing. The boys felt a stunning panic run into them with a cJeff. There was nothing as far as they could see, and yet someone had managed to steal the car, no noise, no trace of them. With such efficiency, there had to have been several thieves. Possibly dozens, gangs of them.

“Jesus Christ, where'd my jeep go?” Jeff said with a tremble.

“Impossible. That's impossible. How could it be gone, it was there a second ago.”

“Who's out there?” Jeff yelled out, afraid of who might answer. “Who's here?” Quiet. The boys looked at the miles of nothing again and noticed the weeds, their ability to hide cities if they were made to.

Jeff looked behind him to the ongoing road, heading into the nearby mountains. The weeds weren't so cloaking on that side of the gate. It looked the safer of the two worlds.

“What are we gonna do?” Doran asked nervously. “We're gonna get jumped in about ten seconds.”

“We go up there, to the Jeffs.”

“What's up there?”

“Something's gotta be up there, this gate can't be here for nothing.”

“It's older than God!” Doran shrilled, still expecting a hand to grab his ankles. “I ain’t going up there, that could be where the gangs are.” The fear in Doran's voice was pure, untouched now.

“Those mountains are closer than anything out here,” Jeff told him, “and I'm betting someone lives up there. I'm going up. You can play in the weeds if you want.” He started down the road, walking backwards at first, keeping an eye open for anything. Doran felt the cold wind slide across him, growing closer to pain the farther away his friend was. He knew Jeff had the right idea, and followed as he always did.

The boys unfortunately failed to notice another disappearance, however. Along with the absence of the vehicle, was the absence of its tire tracks.

*****

The pavement crackled away as they walked toward the mountains, until there was nothing but dirt under their feet. The road became a path, and the path became lost in the thick woods that greeted them past the first large rise. At that point, the gateway was beyond sight, as was any part of the Sawmill. They were in a forest, the front yard of whoever erected the gate.

“How are we gonna get back?” Doran asked. “There's no way we're finding the road again. Every inch of these Jeffs is covered with foot-high grass.”

“We'll find it,” Jeff said. “I know where we are.”

“What, were you a boy scout?”

“That tree with the mark on it that looks like a Coke bottle. We'll look for that, and the road starts up nearby.”
“That tree must have been hours ago, man. There's millions of trees, same towering size, same color and shape.”

“I'll find it,” Jeff said, his tone frustrated with his friend's lack of confidence in him.

“In the meantime, what are we looking for?”

“Anything. Just keep your eyes open, those guys that swiped the jeep might be up here.”

“Or we might find their hideout,” Doran said with an expression of fright, as he stopped and pointed ahead of them. There was a small cabin, sitting in the woods as if it were hiding from the rest of the world. “Let's turn back.”

“Listen to you, man. 'Hideout'. And you think I watch too many movies. It's sunset, now. In a few minutes, these trees will plunge us into blackness. We have to see if someone's home, fast.”

“You're crazy.”

“This was the point of us hiking up here.”

Doran stood silently as Jeff approached the cabin's door. Upon closer view, he noticed the door was ajar, perhaps inviting.

“Don't go in,” Doran pleaded in a whisper. He knew it would be his last attempt to persuade Jeff to become either a coward or sensible. His friend ignored the plea. “At least wait for me.”

Together, the boys entered the old cabin. The only thing that looked older than the exterior was the interior, by many years and many cobwebs. The inside also looked smaller than the outside which wasn't as surprising to them, the cabin being wide and shallow.

The darkness of the single room was cut by the opening of the door, letting in the sunset, brightening the room with a fading light. Jeff remembered what he said about the sunset, and felt hurried to find someone or something.

“Is there a phone in here?” he asked, still whispering. Doran scanned the log walls for anything. He nodded no.

“There's nothing in here,” Doran said. “Nada. This must be a storage shed or something, it's so small.”

“Well, what's that in the corner?”

Jeff bent down and picked up a small tin box. Inside it he saw what looked like fruit, but unlike anything he'd seen. It was ripe, whatever it was, and he was tempted to eat it.

“What are those?” Doran asked him. “Mutant apples?”

“Food. Probably rotten.” Jeff's voice hinted to hunger, and his companion shared the feeling. Quickly, Doran grabbed one of the fruits, examined it, and took a bite.

“Get rid of that!” Jeff snapped, slapping the odd shape from his friend's hand. But the first swallow was done, and Doran was assured that the food was harmless.

“Tastes a bit sour,” Doran said, “but still good. Dung would be good about now.”

Joining in the careless abandon, Jeff bit into another piece. They ate slowly at first, as though the speed at which they dined would affect any poisons present. After a minute, they sped their meal until the tin box was empty, resembling the rest of the one-room cabin.

During their feast, the sun sneaked out of sight, leaving the boys alone in the dark cabin, barely able to see one another. Standing in the open doorway helped, however, as the moon was full that evening, looking more dominant of the night through the silhouettes of the giant trees.

“We should bunk here for tonight,” Jeff said. “We can figure out this mess in the morning.”

“I don't wanna stay here. What if the gang comes back?”

“A gang that lives on a shoebox of fruit.”

“Someone else will come back, then.”

“Good. That's what I'm hoping.”

A part of the doorway's frame near Jeff's head suddenly blew apart with a piercing crunch that seemed to echo across the trees. Wood shards flew into the air, and the boys immediately dropped to the ground. Another part of the cabin near the door blew apart. This time it wasn't so unexpected, and they could hear things better. Someone was shooting at them. From the looks of the holes in the wall, a shotgun did the work.

“Jesus Christ!” Doran yelled, drowned out by the constant gunfire. “It's them! Godammit, I told you!” He was screaming obscenities into the dirt as he covered his head with his forearms, shrapnel scratching his neck.

“Let's go!” Jeff shouted. “This way! Now!” Jeff grabbed at his friend's hair and nearly dragged him crawling into a bush. Once under the cloaking leaves, the firing ceased. The abrupt quiet was too much for Doran.

“Leave us alone!” he cried, giving his cover away, triggering the rain of bullets to begin again.

The boys ran through the woods, crouched, constantly looking over their shoulders for the unknown stalkers. Though it was deathly black, they used every remnant of the trees as guides across the terrain. They made good speed and accuracy in their panic-driven race, until Jeff made the mistake of pausing for breath.

Instantly, he was shot, falling to the grass in a slow, dooming blur. Pain streaked through him, though he didn't know exactly where he was hit.

Another dead-aim shot landed in the same place. Jeff extended his leg into a sliver of moonlight, and saw that the wound was in one of his thighs. Despite his going into shock, he felt lucky that the powerful gun didn't clean his leg directly off.

“Jeff! Dammit, man!” Doran yelled from what sounded very far away. To the ailing Jeff, however, everything was growing more distant, more faded.

Doran ran back to him, scooping up the young man in his arms. The athletic boy easily lifted Jeff, and looked around to see if anyone was near. With a turn of his head, his eyes were perfectly aligned with both barrels of a shotgun, protruding from the night, inches away. One pull of the trigger would do it.

*****

“Doran,” Jeff moaned as he woke, not expecting sunlight. “Doran, what's going on?” He gathered the strength to sit up, hand was terrified to find himself in the cabin. The dim lighting of the room was the same as he remembered, and at first he thought he was having a nightmare. But rather than being light from the sunset, it was from the morning.

“Finally awake?” Doran said as he sat nearby, still a little spooked himself.

“What happened? Why are we here? The last thing I remember is...” He whipped off the blanket that was over his lower body and saw his severe wound. It looked as though his leg was mummified, wrapped amply with green strips of cloth. Things came back to him. “Why didn't they kill us?”

“He,” Doran said. “He didn't kill us, for his own reasons. I don't know.”

Jeff, still confused, moved his leg, and was surprised at its condition. After the blood he saw the night before, he thought he was a candidate for amputation. “What reasons?” he asked, becoming more angry as he fully awoke.

“I don't know, the guy doesn't talk. He...”

Just then, an old man walked in, carrying a pail and a shotgun. Although it was clearly a weapon, Jeff noticed that the gun was odd in its shape, its design.

“I thought you were another,” the old man said. “I brought you water. You better drink. It was a long walk.”

“Doran,” Jeff said, “tell me what's going on.”

His friend kept still and quiet, as the old man sat the pail of water next to Jeff. “I,” the old man started, “am Otim. I thought you were another. This is why I shot you.”

“You could've killed me,” Jeff said, realizing his words as he said them.

“If I wanted your death, I would have it,” Otim told the boys, with no emotion. Jeff remembered the two shots hitting the same inch of skin on his moving leg. The old man's skill was without question. “I didn't think about who you were,” Otim continued, “until after I felled you. And when I saw this other, holding you, I saw Ralin for a moment.”

The boys tried to hide their confusion, still afraid of the cloaked, dark figure of a man.

“I was mistaken,” he continued, “but I still shouldn't have opened gun. No matter what the trees say.” Upon that, he exited the cabin, leaving the boys alone.

Jeff turned to Doran in confusion, hoping that whatever his friend was going to tell him would be positive news. “Tell me,” he said to Doran. “Start at the moment I blacked out.”

“I was deep in the forest, far away from both you and Otim,” he said, a quiet, contained manner about him. “I thought you were right behind me. Imagine my shock when I heard you screaming in the distance.”

“What about this guy? Why was he shooting at us?”

“Otim shot at us because he thought we were from the 'village board'. I don't know what that means and I don't know anything more than you do. He didn't say another word until you woke up just now.”

“Did you sleep?”

“I think so, but I tried not to. Not with that guy around.”

Doran dipped his hands into the pail of water for a drink. Jeff followed suit, feeling a little better about it after seeing his friend's limited trust in the old man.

“There's no phones, no running water, no electricity. He's a hermit. Amish, if I didn't know different.”

“How do you mean?” Jeff asked.

“When I asked him about a phone, he didn't know what I was talking about. I described one to him, and he actually thought I was lying or crazy.”

“Maybe he's crazy,” Jeff said. “Senile. He took pot shots at us for no sane reason. Man, this is screwed. Let's leave right now. Let's find this village.”

“It sounds weird. I mean, he wanted us dead, thinking we were villagers.”

“Like I said, he's crazy. He's willing to murder people, a whole village. They're his enemies, not ours. Maybe they've got a phone.”

Otim returned with two large bowls of berries. He set them down, and walked back to the doorway. “You can leave when you wish,” he said, facing the trees. “Keep the cloth.”

“Thanks,” Jeff said with reservation, realizing that this insane man saved his life, after endangering it. Still, he felt his gratuity belated. “This is some amazing stuff you put on me. It's gotta be banned from the Olympics. I bet I could run.”

“Then run home,” Otim said flatly, leaving the cabin. “No time for visitors. I patched you because I killed you. That's as far as I jump.”

“You won't help us?” Jeff gathered the courage to ask. “Please, anything you could do.”

Otim didn't respond, still facing away from them, walking further into the woods. Jeff was somewhat relieved that the man refused to assist them. He was scared of him, despite the cool and cautious manner Doran was taking.

“Let's go now,” Jeff whispered, “before he switches personalities again.” Doran didn't feel as repelled as Jeff did. Perhaps, he thought, if he were the one that was shot, he would feel quite different.

His leg still stiff, Jeff rose to his feet. Doran helped him across the wooden room once, from which he crossed the room on his own. Satisfied with his partial mobility, he and Doran headed out the door, found their bearings, and began to hike up the mountain beyond the cabin.

Otim watched them leave and thought about Ralin, about what occurred on his night. It was usually the old man's way to leave folks at their own business, even though he knew what usually happened. He could always rely on his stone heart to help him forget the others. But with these two boys, it was somehow different. This would prove unfortunate for some, as he tried to forget.

*****

The village blended with its surrounding trees, seen only in contrast to the boulders that sat near the entrance of the clearing. Jeff didn't expect to see odd shaped barrel structures and townsfolk in pilgrim outfits. The villagers also didn't expect the boys, though their expressions weren't as welcoming as Jeff's.

“It's like being in a theme park,” Doran commented under his breath, eyeing the villagers as they walked cautiously by. There was a careful, almost fearful way about them.

“They haven't shot at us yet, so that's a good sign,” Jeff said. He evaluated each of the townsfolk for first contact, deciding that no one person was any more prepared for conversation than another. He randomly chose a small girl. “Is there a phone we can use? Is there police around here?”

Immediately, the girl ran across the narrow street to her mother. The two of them ducked through the swinging doors of a nearby building. From a distance, the boys heard the woman telling others about them, her tone not flattering.

Doran couldn't take his sight off the wide water tank in the middle of the town. There was a towering wishing well crane over it, and several rows off tools hanging from ropes. It looked as though it could be used for practical purposes. But the more the tension escalated, the less practical it seemed.

Jeff walked into the building the woman retreated to. Doran remained outside, as if to play the role of a lookout for a crime ring. It wasn't completely unwarranted.

“Excuse me,” Jeff said as he entered the crowded room. The large numbers surprised him, as they weren't all readily seen from outside. “My friend and I need a phone. Please, can you help us.” The folks in the establishment looked equally as puzzled as Otim did earlier, perhaps more so. Their curiosity, however, seemed different. “A phone, please, anything. A policeman. Also, there was a man that shot at us.”

Before another syllable was spoken, a man dressed in a blue peacoat emerged from behind the chef's counter. Running a short wooden club across the granite top, he fixed his eyes on Jeff, and Doran at the entrance. From the air of the room, it was clear that this man was a pillar of the community. A leader. Law enforcement, perhaps.

Jeff was prepared to explain everything to the man in the peacoat, but found himself hesitating. No one reacted when he mentioned that he and Doran had been shot at. No one attempted to answer any pleas for a phone or help of any kind. Just the opposite, the townsfolk seem preoccupied with the more mundane things, such as the boys' appearance, their clothing, the way they entered the village.

He thought about these things, noting that there was no actual entrance to the village. He and Doran clawed their way through heavy brush before finding the clearing.

Requesting the man's help, and that of the rest of the village, was suddenly a risk rather than the obvious choice. But it was the boys' only one.

“Where are you two from?” the tall young man in the peacoat asked quietly. The others in the room waited for an answer.

“Our car was stolen down the road, by the gate. We're stuck out here, we need a phone.”

“Someone stole something from you,” the man said, “by a gate.”

“Our car was stolen,” Jeff said slowly, as if his words would make more sense that way. “By the gate on the road up here.” He read the faces in the room. The concept of a road seemed as alien to them as a car.

Jeff had read about communities like this, people isolating themselves from the rest of the world, to a point where everything else seems bizarre. Religious communities, where their way of life revolves solely around worship. And this.

“Is there another village nearby?” he asked politely, trying to hide his piling fear. He didn't know what to expect, but pictured Satan and sacrifice. “We can get help somewhere else.” The man in the peacoat stood emotionless, staring at the unusual boy.

Jeff began to piece together in his head who the car thieves were, and why Otim shot first and spoke later. “Doran, let's move on now. These people don't need us bothering them.” His words were not received. As he turned to the door, he was frightened by the absence of his friend. He could mask his fears no longer, as was shown on his face. But before another thought was formed, hands clutched him from every angle, carrying him away, screaming.

*****

The room was obviously intended as a jail cell, judging from the bars on the door's window, which seemed to be a universal trait. The walls, however, were not stone or metal, but rather a stucco-type substance that did the job just as well. There were occasionally small holes through the walls, showing that the cell was an independent structure, trees all around it. Doran sat on the ground near the rear of the cell, trying desperately to break through a weak spot in the stucco. Jeff stood at the door window, listening to the villagers' night meeting at the large well at the center of town.

“They're here for the same reason the others were here,” a villager said. “The trees have been crossed, there's no talk to have.”

“Indeed,” said another, “they will leave to bring more, and soon the numbers will be out of balance. The trees have told us what to do.”

“Yes, but how?” asked another. The villagers talked in groups, making it hard for Jeff to understand what they were saying.

“I will decide how to clean the village,” the man in the peacoat said, his voice silencing the rest of them. “The water will clean the bodies before they are set afire. We shant have them lingering in smoke over our sleeping homes. The trees have shown us this.”

Jeff gripped the window bars as he continued to listen. He would listen only a minute longer before joining Doran in his seemingly endless task. In that minute, however, another voice cut through the mobs of people.

“The trees have told me different,” Otim said to the group. “The trees have told me that to end their lives is an injustice. An act only to quench paranoia.”

“An injustice,” the leader said, “such as that of your son?” The crowd began to talk of the ancient incident, as to lose any faith in the old man.

“Ralin's death was an injustice,” Otim said, “and I still dispute the village for its decision.”

“Which is why you are still banished,” the leader said, somewhat proudly.

“But that is not what my challenge is based upon. I say to let the new ones leave. They will die alone in these trees if that is what the trees wish.”

“That is what they wish,” the leader said, “I assure you. Knowing this, I see no reason to lengthen their lives any further. That, to me, would be an injustice.”

“I think I can get through!” Doran said, almost too loud. Jeff heard his friend, but paid closer attention to their only defender.

“I will not let this happen,” Otim said, walking to the steps of the well. “Once is more than this village deserves.”

Jeff heard the crowd shouting, their voices growing louder, shifting across the town's clearing. Piercing through the mob was Otim's scream, as he was tied to the well's long boom. Lowered over the water, the old man was submerged repeatedly, held under the surface each time far too long for any elderly person to endure. Still, he strived to live, and Jeff took it as an effort to make extra time for Doran to pound his way out of the cell.

Jeff ran to the hole in the wall next to his friend, breaking off pieces off the stucco as he had been doing. Though Doran was the strong one, Jeff's fear fueled him to almost match their efforts.

“There, right there,” Doran said, “we've got it.”

“Did you hear any of what they were saying?”

“Believe me, I didn't miss a drop.”

As Otim took his last breath at the village center, the boys made their way out the narrow hole, into the forest. They both knew the villagers would most likely hunt them down the moment they discovered what happened. All they could do was run as far as they could back to the gate, catering to Jeff's injured leg, hoping that the head start was enough.

“We've got no choice, start looking for the road,” Jeff said.

“What are we gonna do when we get back there?”

“Pray, for one thing. Other than that, we'll see when we do it.” Jeff did a poor job of explaining the situation to Doran, which was adequate. They both knew there was no other way.

During the night, they tried to advance through the mountain woods, only to find themselves passing the same trees, the same groups of berries, even approaching the village again. It seemed the small commune was surrounded by rockface from nearly all sides. If there was any way past the village, it entailed scaling the steep walls of rock, which Jeff was in no condition for.

“Otim's cabin was just a few miles back that way,” Doran said, trying to piece things together. “So the road should be right around there.”

“No, it was further.”

“Look, the Coke bottle! This is it, right here.”

Below their feet was where the wild grass began to scatter across hardpan dirt, and remnants of the road stretched until the narrow path began. The moment they took their first step, the sound of dogs barking was heard in the distance, sending a striking cJeff through them. The villagers were catching up.

“Come on, man,” Doran said, the fear showing in his voice. “We gotta run now.”

“I'm not running, you know I can't.”

“I promise, I won't tell them that.”

Doran grabbed his friend's arm, tugging him along. It was an act he normally would never attempt on the usually dominant Jeff, but one that neither boy argued at the time. Jeff strained with his steps, but made considerable progress and speed. He found a new confidence on the downJeff area, as the path led from the footJeffs. The hope disappeared as the path leveled toward the gate, revealing again the extent of his disadvantage.

“I can hear them,” Doran said, “they're getting closer.”

The boys turned around expecting to see nothing, as they had seen for the length of time they ran down the road. This time they were greeted by the terrifying sight of a mob, carrying long wooden poles and tools, being led by teams of dogs.

At the head of the group, near the dogs, was the leader in the peacoat. He wore a calm expression, quite a contrast to the hostile, blood-hungry men that made up his pack. At the rear of the group, nailed to a log carried by several men, was Otim's mutilated body. Apparently, the drowning was only a prelude to the ritual that claimed his life.

The majestic gate loomed on the horizon. It was hard to tell how far away it was, because of its immense size. The only thought in the boys' minds was to run.

Louder grew the villagers' screaming, letting the boys know how fast they were approaching. The dogs' barking was the loudest noise, sharply rising and falling in volume, making Doran run faster with every peak. Soon, he was ahead of his crippled friend, as he was before. The lead, however, was much greater this time.

Jeff felt the wound in his leg swell with heat, and he expected to fall at any moment. He struggled as far as he could, but at the end of an extensive surge of pain, he succumbed to his leg and collapsed to the ground.

Doran also knew his friend's destiny to fall, and heard it happen with an almost timed feeling. Still, it was no less horrific to hear.

He whipped around, prepared to run back to him. But by the time the thought formed in his mind, the dogs had reached their target.

Doran didn't know what to do, and looked at the waiting gate. The dogs made the decision for him, as half of them left the fallen boy for their new goal. Doran immediately continued to run, making no effort to meter his speed as before.

Farther down the road, he saw the presence of barbed fencing, stretching from both sides of the gate into a distance of eternity It only added to the barrage of fear and helplessness flowing over him.

The young man lunged at the metal gate, making it shake briefly, hanging on to it in complete exhaustion. The villagers were as loud as if they stood next to him, screaming in what sounded like another language. It was a jumbled pile of hate, superseded only by the enveloping roar of the dogs.

As Doran wobbled on the top of the gate, the demon pack jumped forward, latching onto his pants. They viciously destroyed denim like paper, losing their grip, and falling off him along with the shreds of fabric. His ears were filled with the oncoming chaos, and he was tempted to surrender to their foreseen fate.

About to faint in the beating sun and fatigue, he fell over the gate onto the other side.

Quiet. He waited for something to reach him. A dog, a blade, but there was nothing. The villagers were gone, the dogs were gone. Jeff was nowhere to be seen.

Lying flat against the dirt, Doran looked about him, lost in a search for answers. His eyes quickly caught something that what one would normally consider salvation, though he felt no comfort in its presence. Just confusion and despair.

Only a few feet from where he layed in the dirt, the Jeep stared at him, the warmth its engine still strong, its passenger door open as he left it.

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