Running for his life through the woods, Eric glanced back to see the wreckage of his truck ignite into a ball of fire. He pressed on, knowing he was exposed and the danger was closing in on him.
During the day, the trees were colorful with fall beauty. But in the night, the yellow, orange, and red leaves were coated with an unsettling blackness.
Rabid growls chased him. In the distance, he spotted a lifeline—a lonely cabin with the lights on.
The fire crackled and popped when the pressure of another log dropped onto the pile. Chad stabbed at the blaze with a cast-iron poker to guide the wood toward the back.
A few feet away, nuzzled under a blanket on the couch, was Chad's best friend, Deron. A black and white movie played on the cabin's old box TV. Deron and his girlfriend Amber held hands while watching the outdated film.
Chad finished stoking the fire and traveled across the room to the fridge to get a beer. He shouted to the others, "This place ain't gettin' any warmer." He grabbed his leather jacket from the back of the chair and threw it on, hoping it would warm him up.
"I think it's comfortable," Amber answered. "It's so lovely to get away from the city for a few days. This was a perfect idea." She said as she leaned in to press her lips against her boyfriend.
He puckered to receive her gesture. After their kiss, Deron stood from the couch; digging into his pockets, he collected his cigarettes and lighter. He stuck the filter in his mouth as he strolled toward the door. The wooden panel sprung open with intensity before his palm could meet the knob.
Terror filled the college students' faces when a bloody man with a shotgun entered their lodge.
The unexpected guest quickly slammed the door closed. Deron stepped back, stumbling into Amber, who moved closer for security. Chad grabbed a kitchen knife and held the blade up for the stranger to see.
Eric stood with a small yet muscular frame, spiky dark brown hair, and icy blue eyes. A gash outside of Eric's left eyebrow trickled blood around his eye and down his cheek. Another cut on his forehead dripped down the bridge of his nose.
"Listen and listen good," his firmness captured the room. The kids trembled, staring at the stranger's thermal that lacked a sleeve. Eric's arm bled from his shoulder down.
"Were you attacked by an animal?" Amber asks.
"Yeah, are you okay, mister?" Deron added.
"We don't have much time. Something bad is coming, and it will be here any minute." His eyes prowled around the cabin. To the right of him was the kitchen. One window resided there and another off to the left in the living room by the fireplace.
"Do you have any guns here? Anything we can use to protect ourselves?" His demands struck the kids off-balance.
"We don't have anything, sir. We swear."
Eric dropped his arm to allow his gun to hang by his side and approached Deron.
"If you and your friends don't want to die, then I need you all to get ready for the fight of your life." He took a breath and continued. "We need to board this place up fast."
A long hall led back to a bedroom between the kitchen and living room. In the center of the hall was a door to the basement. He peered to the living room to see the TV and couch against the back wall. To the right of the floral sofa, he saw a staircase leading to the cabin's loft.
"Is anyone up there?" he questioned, acknowledging the steps that led up to the partially hidden area.
"No, it's only us," Chad answered, still holding the knife in front of him.
Eric grabbed the kitchen table and flipped it on its side to press against the window.
"We need tools. What do you have here?"
Amber rushed to the cupboards below the sink. She remembered the caddy of tools the owner of the cabin mentioned. She removed the old, dingy tray that featured a hammer, screwdrivers, a crescent wrench, and a jar of nails.
"Perfect," the burley gun holder commented.
"What the hell happened to you," Deron asked.
"Look, about twenty minutes ago, I was having a normal day in a boring life, and I thought everything was hunky-dory. I got into my truck and took a drive to my uncle's house to wish him a happy birthday." A pause followed as Eric paced the room. "I got out there and found his front door open. I enter his place and see the mess, and like your friend, I grabbed a kitchen knife to protect myself. I found my uncle ripped to shreds on his bedroom floor, surrounded by blood and bullet shells. The air lingered with the scent of gunpowder. I say to myself. A bear must have gotten into his house. But then I heard it. And let me tell you, these things are big, mean, and ugly."
"What things? What was it?" Amber insisted on knowing.
"They are some kind of mix-breed. They aren't much larger than humans, but they're skinless. These things are bare muscles with a sticky layer of blood coating their frame. Whatever they are, I think they recently ripped their flesh off. They are from the worst nightmare you could ever imagine. They have long black claws and sharp, jagged teeth.
The kids looked at the stranger in disbelief. What are you saying? Monsters did it?"
Eric snapped his head to face Chad. "Purgatory's gates are open. And this place is the next stop on their list. I tangoed with one of those things, and let me tell you," he paused for dramatic effect. "They don't go down without a fight. I don't know what it was, but it got some damn good shots on me before I jammed this 12 gauge down its throat."
"How did you get here?" Deron asks
"I thought I was in the clear. I got to my truck and took off, and started on my way to the police station.
They came from the trees. I took another one out, but I lost control, and my bumper met a tree in a hurry."
"We can't waste any more time." He looked at Deron, "nail the table to the window." Then he faced Chad, "lock the backdoor and get to the bedroom and cover the windows with anything you can find."
The team split up, "help me move this," Eric said to Amber. They tugged at the couch, flipping it up to cover the window.
"This isn't enough," Eric muttered to himself.
Chad returned. "I put the bed in front of it. There wasn't much else I could do."
"Why don't we get out of here?" Deron asks, "My car is sitting right outside."
"Listen, our options are not great. In fact, you could say there is no good solution here whatsoever. We either stay inside and fight, or we go outside and die sooner."
The kids' looked at him with trepidation.
"My name is Eric Ridge. I don't know why this is happening, but you kids can think of me as the random hero who is going to save your lives. Now, you need to do exactly as I say, or else we aren't getting out of this alive. Grab something to protect yourselves and prepare for war."
Deron gave Amber the hammer. Chad grabbed two fire pokers and tossed one to Deron. The group all stood guard in the living room.
Eric stood in the front like a barrier to protect his petrified warriors.
A grinding scratch echoed through the cabin, reminding them of nails being scratched on a chalkboard. Everyone's attention split as they attempted to locate the sound.
"The storm doors!" Chad said, exasperated.
The group could hear rumbling below.
Eric lowered the muzzle of his gun to the floor. He tracked the noise in the basement.
The floorboards tore open.
A ravenous claw penetrated its way to the surface.
A bellow of agony ejected from Chad's lungs as the claw sank into his calf. He felt paralyzed by the pressure. Eric aimed at the cedar and squeezed the trigger.
The creature roared in pain and released the young man sending him plummeting to the ground. Amber and Deron hurried to collect their friend.
The basement door burst from its hinges, one of the skinless monsters entered the hall. Eric cocked his gun, lined up, and blew a hole through the center of the demon-like man.
The glass shattered, the fighters glanced to see the couch sliding from the window. Deron hurled his body into the cushions to keep the enemies at bay.
Growling climbed from the basement. Eric fired into the blackness of the doorway and then shot again through the wall next to the door.
The noise from within goes quiet until a loud thump replaces the growls. The headless corpse of the monster drops onto the floor.
The front door caves in, two more join the party.
Chad bashed the cast-iron poker into the monster's temple.
Eric beelined to the other one. "Sorry, but you weren't invited, Uggs," He informed as he blew the intruder out the door. A cruel pain quickly followed his statement as claws sliced vertically across the hero's back.
Chad dove in to take another shot at his competitor, the beast countered and grabbed hold of him. Its hooks sank into the fighter's shoulders. Chad stared into the blank olive size yellow eyes of the monster.
The blood-covered beast opened its mouth to reveal its black fangs. Chad screamed and squirmed. Amber drove the hammer's claw into the back of the creature's neck. It hissed from the assault. Chad broke free and rammed his weapon into its gut.
Eric used his gun as a bar to slam the wild thing against the wall. It dislocated its jaw to flash more rows of teeth. "What in the hel-" He was overpowered and shoved to the floor.
The creature raced for the random hero's body. A thwack filled the room. The monster slammed to the floorboards. A hand reached down to help Eric. Deron pulled the warrior to his feet.
Reaching down, Eric reclaimed his weapon. He twirled the 12 gauge and slaughtered his foe.
The back door crumbled. Two more devils travel in. The basement stairs creak as another one begins to ascend.
"We need to retreat!" Eric ordered, glancing to the loft. He grabbed the spare bullets from his pocket to reload.
Deron grabbed Amber and hurried with her to the stairs. Chad limped behind, dragging his damaged leg. Eric followed last. Another unwanted visitor stepped in the front door. Four of the creatures were now on the ground level. They were peering up at the loft with ooze drooling from their mouths, ready for dinner.
"How many more are there!" Amber cried.
The roof creaked above them.
"I'd say plenty," Eric answered. Claws spiked through the ceiling.
"Ya know, this really isn't how I expected to die." Eric shot a warning through the rafters while casually conversing.
A skinless fiend dropped in to join the group. The roof above them was now exposed and welcomed more to join. Eric shot but missed. The monster dodged and swiped its claws across Deron's face, slashing down his left eye. Another thunderous boom went off in the small area. This time the random hero nailed the beast dead in the chest.
Another creature peered through the hole down onto the fighters. Eric raised the barrel high and claimed its life. The corpse dropped by his boots.
One hustled up the stairs; it received a new hole through its torso upon reaching the landing.
Another one came from the rafters. Chad jammed his fire iron through the monster's throat. Gasping and choking, the beast slashed blindly. It bumped its face into the barrel of the gun, and Eric put it out of its misery.
More of the creatures broke through different sections of the ceiling. Clunking feet hit the steps as more climbed for the loft.
Eric glanced at the kids. "Sorry to add to the bad news, but I'm almost out of bullets."
All hope left the kids' faces as the monsters got closer.
Eric grinned, "I gotta give myself credit. I called it when I said this probably wouldn't end well."