Science Fiction Thriller Suspense

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

Summer 1987

Somewhere in the trees a cicada started to buzz and Lauren knew that they were in the heat of the day. The light from the sun beat down hot and bright, casting stark black shadows underneath brilliant highlights on the leaves of the trees around them. They were walking on a trail through a small meadow towards the next stand of trees where the trail continued.

Jeff was walking through the tall grass ahead of her, a dark strip of sweat running down the back of his shirt behind his backpack, his sweat darkened hair hanging in curls down his neck. A small FM radio hung hung from his backpack and was playing the latest through its small, tinny speaker. 

Lauren could feel a cool, damp patch of sweat on the small of her own back and her thighs beginning to chafe. She wondered why they had started hiking for the secluded beach so late.

“Jeff, this had better be worth it.” she huffed from behind him. “It’s hotter than hell and I’m starting to chafe.”

“We’re almost there!” He called over his shoulder. “You’re gonna love it, it’s the best spot to swim on the whole lake.” He looked over his shoulder and smiled, raising an eyebrow. “It’s a great spot for skinny-dipping.” He said.

“Keep dreaming pal.” she snapped back. Jeff turned and laughed. “I wish we hadn’t started so late.” She added. 

“Well if someone hadn’t been up all night smoking grass maybe we would’ve woke up earlier.” He said looking back again.

“It was your idea to smoke it!” Lauren called back. Jeff laughed as Lauren rolled her eyes. “You’re such a dick.” she said with a half laugh. That made Jeff laugh harder. 

Lauren could feel the heat slowing her down, but Jeff kept up the pace he had started with; he never seemed to slow and seemed impossible to keep up with. “Can we slow down?” Lauren pleaded. It seemed like she was getting hotter by the second. The cicada stopped buzzing.

“No way! We’re almost there!” Jeff called back. The radio on his backpack began to sputter and crackle with static. 

In the time it had taken Jeff to reply, Lauren had become unbearably hot. She stopped and looked around. Something didn’t look right but she didn’t know what. They were about 70 yards away from the stand of trees and the sweet relief of the shade. Lauren felt as though she could feel her skin beginning to burn. The radio’s signal was gone and there was only static coming from its small speaker. 

Jeff had stopped too. Lauren squinted to look at him but couldn’t squint enough to see fully through the brightness. It dawned on her; it was getting brighter and hotter by the second. Her skin felt as if it were on fire. “Jeff…” she said. She could barely make him out.

“Something’s wrong.” Jeff said. There was something in his tone that made her panic. She thought she could feel her skin beginning to blister. The air was so hot she could feel it burning her lungs with every breath. 

“Jeff!” She cried.

“Run!” Jeff yelled as he took off in a sprint. Lauren started to run after him, every breath burning a little more than the last. She reached the trees just as she thought she could feel her skin beginning to melt. She collapsed on the ground next to Jeff, the shade overhead bringing immediate relief to her skin. She struggled to catch her breath in the heat. Jeff had his hands on his knees and was panting with exhaustion. She reached up and grabbed the water bottle out of the backpack and took a long drink, water dribbling down her chin and neck, before passing the bottle to Jeff. As he drank, a wet patch formed around the collar of his shirt. They both tried to look at the meadow they had come from but neither could bear the brightness. “What the fuck is happening? I thought my clothes were gonna catch fire.” Jeff said.

“ I don’t know, I’ve never experienced that before.” said Lauren. He noticed the static blaring from the radio and he turned the volume dial down until the radio powered off. “We’d better stay here until it goes back to normal.” He added. “And when it does go back to normal maybe we better go back.”

“OK.” Lauren said as she began to inspect her arms. They were bright red and she could see tiny purple capillaries underneath the burned skin. The burn had taken hold in the span of two minutes. She pressed a finger into her arm and watched the pale white spot it left turn quickly back to red. She asked for the water bottle back and took another long drink before leaning back on her hands. Her head pounded with the heat and the effort of their dash into the woods.

* * *

The brightness and the heat subsided after a couple of minutes. But here was something different about the world around them; instead of returning to its normal bustling self with birds chirping, bees drifting lazily between flowers in the meadow and cicadas buzzing in the heat, the woods seemed eerily quiet and still, as if the fauna was afraid that the sun would look down in anger at them again.

Jeff and Lauren sat in the woods for ten minutes after the heat subsided, sharing the fears of the wildlife around them. Jeff stood up. “Seems normal now.” He said. “I wonder what the hell that was.” 

“I’m not sure.” replied Lauren. “But I don’t want it to happen again.”

“Whatever it was scrambled the radio signal. Before we head back I’m gonna see if I can get a station and maybe some news about it. That couldn’t have only happened to us right?” Jeff asked. Lauren shook her head. He grabbed the radio off of his backpack and walked to the edge of the trees. Lauren looked up into the sky. The once bright, white clouds backed by a brilliantly blue July sky seemed to be gathering and a breeze was blowing where the air was still and hot before.

“I think whatever that was messed with the weather too.” Lauren said as Jeff flicked the radio on. The speaker began to spill static. He started trying to tune the radio, first to the pop station, then rock and then country. The radio squealed and whistled between tunings, settling on static every time. 

“Damn.” He said as he turned the radio off. “It must’ve done something to the power grid or the relay towers too.”

“I think it was a solar flare. I don't know what else it could’ve been.” Lauren said.

“A what?” Jeff asked.

“A solar flare.” she repeated. “It’s a burst of electromagnetic radiation from the sun. We learned about them in my Astronomy class.”

“You need to know Astronomy to be a Meteorologist?” Jeff asked, helping Lauren to her feet.

“It’s an elective smart ass.” Lauren replied. “I don’t remember anyone saying it could raise the temperature on the ground 30 degrees in a minute and a half. But I do remember something about a solar flare causing fires and electrocuting telegraph operators in the 1800’s.” she said.

“Never heard of them.” Jeff said. 

Lauren looked at the sky. “The clouds are closing in and the wind is picking up. I think there might be a storm coming, and it’s probably gonna be a doozy. We’d better get back before we get struck by lightning.”

“I’m waiting on you, Ms. Pavelski.” Jeff replied. Lauren shot back an unimpressed look 

They set off across the meadow, back the way they came, their eyes on the sky. There was little blue showing now and the grey clouds were darkening quickly. The wind was starting to blow harder in gusts, making the grass bend and the leaves in the trees shake and dance. “Fuck.” Said Lauren. They were about halfway across the meadow. “There’s no way we’re gonna make it back before this storm hits. They weren’t even calling for any rain when I heard the weather this morning.” she said. “What are we gonna do?”

“I guess try to find a low lying area and wait it out.” Jeff said looking back. Lauren groaned when she saw the nervous look in his eyes.

Lauren felt a few fat rain drops on top of her head. She looked up into the dark and ominous sky, the wind blowing hard around her and groaned. “Dammit” said Jeff. “This is fucked.” At that moment there was a rumble of thunder. “I think I remember there being a little rock face not far into the woods that we can take shelter under.” Jeff said. The rain was starting to fall just as the clouds overhead thundered again. They both quickened their pace.

As they reached the edge of the trees there was a flash of lightning followed by a thunderclap. They began to weave their way through the path in the trees, stepping through showers of rain where the canopy overhead was less dense. The wind was blowing harder and the sound of the rain on the leaves was getting louder. Jeff said something up ahead. “What?!” Lauren yelled back.

Jeff turned to yell what he had said “I said that rock was ju-” Lightning flashed and thunder cracked simultaneously, shaking the ground underneath them. It made them jump. “That rock is just up here!” yelled Jeff over the storm. He took Lauren’s hand and began to pull her down the path. There was another flash and crash and the ground shook again, harder. The rain was breaking through the leaves overhead and soaking them. 

Through the wind and rain, Lauren could feel the vellus hair on her body stand on end and she could’ve sworn that the hair on her head was beginning to lift despite the weight of the water. The air around them began to crackle and she could hear static above the noise of the storm. 

A bolt of lightning struck the tree 20 feet in front of them. The force of the strike knocked them backwards, the shape of the bolt burned purple on their retinas. They both sat up and stared at the tree, mouths agape. It was split in two, each side blackened and smoking. There was a hole in the ground where the lightning had passed through the tree, exposing desiccated roots. There was even a line on the halved tree that was glowing red with heat. “Jeff…” Lauren whimpered. Jeff pulled his eyes away from the smoking, bisected tree.

“Are you all right?” He asked. Lauren nodded numbly. “OK come on!” he said, pulling her up. They started back down the path again when Jeff slowed to a stop as lightning and thunder struck again.

“Why are we stopping?!” Lauren cried.

“Look at the tree.” Jeff said absently. Lauren looked. The red line of heat that they had seen glowing on the tree wasn’t on the tree at all, but was suspended in midair and getting larger. “What the fuck is happening?!” cried Jeff. The line was casting a dim, red glow on Jeff’s terrified face.

“I don’t know.” Lauren said. “But I think we should leave.” She began to pull Jeff down the path but he was frozen in place. The line was now six feet long and getting wider. It was glowing so brightly that it was casting red light on the trees around them. “Jeff, we have to go!” She screamed at him. “For fuck’s sake Jeff LET’S GO!” she screamed, pulling him harder. He shook himself and began to follow her, his eyes wide with fear.

 They started down the path, the red glow blanketing the woods around them as if they were in a photo lab dark room. Leaves and dirt from the forest floor were flying past them. Lauren felt as if every step was getting harder to take, like she was walking through mud. She noticed that the wind had changed direction; instead of blowing at their backs, it was coming towards them.

She tried to take another step but couldn’t. She felt like a coin being pulled across a table by a magnet and the pull was getting stronger. They fell backwards from the force. They started to be dragged across the ground, the woods around them bathed in red, the trees creaking and bending towards the growing light. They slammed into a tree and struggled to their feet, Jeff against the tree and Lauren pressed against Jeff’s back. “It’s trying to pull us in!” Jeff yelled. 

They heard cracking as branches snapped from the trees around them. The wind was roaring loudly; Lauren was screaming and could hear and feel Jeff screaming too. The cracking around them grew louder and deeper and Lauren watched through squinted eyes as trees began to break and be ripped from the ground. The tree they were being pressed against was pitching towards the light. Lauren could feel the tree straining and creaking through Jeff’s body and she knew it too would be ripped from the ground at any second. Lauren heard Jeff try to say something but couldn’t make it out.

The tree split at the trunk and was propelled forward, Jeff and Lauren hurtling after it. Lauren managed to get a look at the light as she flew towards it. It was now a massive red orb glowing so brightly it burned her eyes like the sun had earlier. It seemed to be swallowing the entire forest. As they got closer, she began to feel like she was being pulled apart, like every fibre in her body was being stretched to its breaking point. Her last thought before colliding with the orb was that they were going through the gate of Hell.

* * *

Lauren could hear howling wind and what sounded like sobbing. She was laying on her back and her head throbbed with pain. She opened her eyes and saw dark, swirling clouds overhead. Clouds like she had never seen before. She sat up and her body ached. She touched her head where the pain was strongest and felt that her hair was heavy, matted and sticky.  Blood she thought.

 She looked around. There were trees, branches and leaves strewn all around her. Otherwise, the landscape was near barren. In the gloom she could make out small plants and shrubs like those found in the Arctic tundra. She got unsteadily to her feet and felt dizzy and weak from her head injury. “LAUREN!” She heard from behind her. She turned to see Jeff laying on the ground. It was his sobbing she had heard. “I thought you were dead!” he cried.

“Jeff…” She said dazedly. “Oh my God, JEFF!” She began to make her way towards him through the debris. 

“Lauren please help me!” He cried.

“Oh my God your leg!” She gasped. One of his legs was crushed beneath a large tree like the one they had tried to hide behind. “I’m stuck and I can’t feel my leg.” He sobbed. Lauren could see the bottom of his leg sticking out from underneath the tree, purple, swollen and bloody. She was sure it would have to be amputated. She turned and vomited, making Jeff cry harder.

“I’m sorry.” She said weakly, wiping her mouth. She ran over to him and fell to her knees and held him, stroking his hair. “I’m going to try and get you out of here.” She said shakily. “Where are we?” 

“I don’t know!” He sobbed. “But I want to go home. Please take me home! Please take me home!” He repeated over and over. He was in shock.

“Oh God.” Lauren said, standing up and stepping over the tree. “OK. Try to relax. Let me see if I can move this tree.” She knew she couldn’t. 

Movement in the distance caught her eye and she whipped her head to look. There was a creature moving on all fours from left to right ahead of them, only there was something strange about the way it moved. “There’s something over there.” Lauren said.

“I want my Mom. Please take me home! Please take me home!” Jeff blubbered.

The creature began to sprint towards them at ferocious speed, without breaking stride. Lauren realized it had looked unnatural before because it had been moving sideways like a crab. The creature was closing the gap at an immense pace, clouds of dust rising behind it.

Lauren screamed and leapt over the tree to where Jeff was. She stumbled around him and bent down, wrapping her arms under his to pull. His words melted into screams, sharp and shrill like blasts on a whistle. She was pulling as hard as she could to no avail. Jeff’s body was ripped from Lauren’s arms accompanied by what sounded like someone tearing a wet shirt in half. She fell backwards. 

Lauren watched as the creature rose up and placed its front legs on the tree. It had reached them in total silence. Hulking, grey and leathery, it stared at them with yellow, demonic eyes. It was like no Earthly creature Lauren had ever seen. “IS THAT MY LEG?!” Jeff screamed. Jeff’s severed leg was hanging out of its mouth. The creature bit down and they could hear the bones splintering in its teeth. Lauren felt her bladder let go, warm urine pooling beneath her.

The creature discarded Jeff’s leg and dropped its body, preparing to pounce. The creature leapt in what seemed like slow motion. Its hips and shoulders jutted at strange angles. Its large yellow eyes rolled back in its head, like a shark. Its enormous mouth was open, revealing rows and rows of sharp, bloody teeth. As the creature flew through the air, Lauren covered her face but it was no use. The creature was upon them.

May 06, 2023 03:43

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


Mary Bendickson
19:27 May 06, 2023

Whew! You've been at Reedsy for a while but only two stories. Did you delete some? Just read your shortlisted winner now this looks like another. Congrats.


C. Charles
20:20 May 06, 2023

Thank you so much! Being shortlisted twice in a row would be a great feeling. I’ve flirted with writing fiction since high school. I signed up for Reedsy in 2021 to take an honest crack at it but couldn’t find a narrative voice I liked and was nervous to turn in a stinker so I never took the plunge. The feedback I’ve gotten so far has been really relieving and validating. Thanks again for taking the time to read!


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
M.L. Chatten
13:33 May 06, 2023

I love the intensity and build-up of this one! Kept me on the edge of my seat until the end, and the conclusion did not disappoint. I love the way you describe the scenes while also leaving just enough to let the imagination of the reader take over. Well done!


C. Charles
17:16 May 06, 2023

Thank you! It’s good to hear that the urgency and intensity came across. Too much description makes it less scary! It’s always better when the reader can project their own fears into what they’re reading. Thanks for commenting!


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
12:41 May 06, 2023

Wow. I’ll leave a real comment when I get a minute, but yeah—terrifying!


15:10 May 06, 2023

I was in the gym waiting for my class to start when I read this and I’m certain everyone seeing my face thought I was nuts. I grimaced at this: “what sounded like someone tearing a wet shirt in half” so dramatically. You have really created a gripping atmosphere, and couple’s starting point is really engaging. Very powerful writing!


C. Charles
17:21 May 06, 2023

Thanks for reading! “Terrifying” is such a satisfying compliment. I’ve never really written sci-fi or horror before but it was really fun to write! I wish I could say I thought of the “wet shirt” description on my own but it came from my Uncle. He told me a story once about how he tore his bicep and that was how he described the sound. It’s so visceral and always stuck with me.


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
RBE | Illustration — We made a writing app for you | 2023-02

We made a writing app for you

Yes, you! Write. Format. Export for ebook and print. 100% free, always.