An Account by Kent Blackburn
I saw a circle of stones in the forest.
I stopped, putting out my arm to stop my companion as well. While I stared at the forest floor, she danced around my arm.
"Stop that," I told her sternly.
Cordelia stopped, the tips of her pointed shoes a near inch from the circle of stones. Her skirts swished with movement, as if they wanted her to continue forward.
"Do not step into the circle," I warned her.
Her dark eyes peered at me from beneath her veil. "And why would that be, Mr. Blackburn?"
I rolled my eyes and tapped my fingers on my cane. "Cordelia," I chastised lightly. She never did abide by my instructions, one of which was that there was no need to address me as 'Mr.', for I found formalities quite tiresome.
I stared deeply into the circle of stones, pondering the meaning of their appearance here, of all places. Bird calls echoed from deeper in the trees.
"The time, Miss Green?" I said abruptly, noting that the forest had gone quite silent.
Cordelia sighed and took her timepiece out of her skirt pocket. With one gloved hand she lifted her veil, and with the other rose the timepiece to her eyes. "Just a hair past eleven, sir," she said, tapping the face.
I stood motionless save for the tightening of my lips and the slightest crease of my brow. "Indeed, indeed. Strange, isn't it?" I adjusted my top hat and looked over at my companion then, the smallest of smiles on my face.
Cordelia raised a brow in return, then swept her eyes to the stone circle. "So it is what I believe it to be?" I did not miss the gleam in her eye.
I chuckled then, and lifted my cane. "Yes, Miss Green. A conjuring circle."
Here We Go Again
Finding a circle of stones in woods isn't exactly new for me. Being a forest ranger, you see a lot of weird things. Usually the circles are made by teenagers trying to "summon the devil" and stuff.
But this. This is different.
These aren't small stones; these are ten-feet-tall, aligned in a perfect circle, and have ‘doorways’ on the north and south sides. There are 16 stones around the circle, each carved with an intricate pattern. Why? How should I know. I'm just an underpaid government employee.
I run my finger along the grooves, noticing that the cuts on all the rocks are completely smooth. No bumps or imperfections at all. No way drunk teenagers made this one.
But on the northern 'gateway', there is a hand-print indentation on the left stone. I'm a curious individual, and somewhat stupid, so I obviously put my hand on it, just to see if anything would happen.
With my (bad) luck, something did happen.
The air around was harshly sucked into the gateway, whooshing loudly past my ears. I stagger backwards to avoid being sucked into the small rift forming in the gateway. Through the rift, a glowing hand, almost made of light, desperately reaches out. I grab the hand (Have I mentioned I'm stupid?) and try to pull the being through. The rift widens and starts to shoot out purple-and-blue sparks as the creature finally escapes the rift. The portal closes behind it in a burst of air that throws me to the ground.
The being wasn't really made of light, that faded after the portal closed. In fact, they look like a human. I glance up at the being.
They look like me. Just. Like. Me.
My jaw dropped. This definitely isn’t a ‘normal’ stone circle.
"Damn, I'm too old for this shit," I mumbled to myself, still laying on the ground, with my back still hurting from my earlier fall.
I remember the being, "Hey, buddy," I try to break the silence, "Uh, how's it going?" Wow, not awkward at all.
The other me cocks his head, confused.
I scramble to stand, "I meant," I begin, "What's your name? And, uh, what's the portal for?"
The other me just smiles, the ends of his mouth turning up so high it looks almost painful. From those ends, the skin begins to tear, lengthen the smile to the eye-level. One of his hands reaches to grab his upper lip and pulls the skin over the top of his head like it was a hood. (Ew) From under the 'skin hood' emerges a dark and foreboding abomination, it's sparkling white teeth a sharp contrast from the dark void of its body. It steps out of the 'flesh molt', which falls unceremoniously with a squelch, and steps towards me with a grin much larger than the demented one it formerly had on ‘my’ face.
"Aw shit," I bemoaned, pulling my sword from the standard-forest-ranger scabbard and readying it for battle, "Here we go again."
We hadn’t visited my grandparents house in three years. They live by a huge lake surrounded by a thick lush forest. My parents used to drop my brother and I off there every summer. It was our home away from home.
My brother and I had returned just last night. My grandmother welcomed us with open arms. The smell of her lavender hair and warm hug brought back so many good memories. She had her summer lemon cookies wrapped up nicely on the kitchen table in the blue cellophane she always uses. It was late when we arrived. Midnight. We could tell she was tired, but she always waited up for us. We were just as exhausted from the drive. Both my brother and I headed up the stairs to our rooms. We listened as my grandmother made her way to her bedroom and settled in. No sooner I hit the sheets, I was snoring.
Tiny bird voices singing and a warm soft streak of sunlight that snuck through the blinds woke me up this morning. It was early. I could feel it. I reached for my phone. It was 5:30 am. I rarely get up this early, but I had too much on my mind. I decided to get up. If I take my walk now, before breakfast, I’ll be able to take it alone. I hopped up, grabbed my scrunched jeans that laid in a heap on the floor and reached for my t-shirt. Quietly, I tiptoed down the stairs and slipped out the back door.
I could feel them coming on, but I held it in. I started to reach the edge of the woods. I took a deep breath and continued on my journey. There they were. The circle of stones.
My grandmother had talked bout how beautiful it was, but I just didn’t have the strength to see it until now. The circle of stones was surrounded by serendipitous plants full of flowers. It was like its own secret special place and that’s what my grandfather would have wanted. I’m so glad she chose this serene place for his ashes. I sat there for a long time reminiscing in my head. I pulled one hand out of my pocket and wiped the tears off my face. I took a deep breath and took one last look. It was time to head back. I’m not sure if I’ll come back to the stones again. It’s too hard.
I made it back to the house. Everyone was awake and, in the kitchen, talking and laughing. My brother could see it in my face, but he shrugged it off. I pulled up a chair. My grandmother gracefully touched my back and said she had just the thing. She poured me a glass of her fresh market milk that we loved so much. I took a huge bite out of my first lemon cookie and smiled. This was still one of my favorite places in the entire world.
I failed a class and for the first time in my life. I had options. Retake the class, take the class somewhere else or simply quit. A word I wasn’t familiar with. Quit? Just stop? It took my legs right out from under me. Me, quit? I’ve always pushed though, endeavored.
So, I started talking to people and I heard something that changed my life.
Imagine you’re in a forest, you’ve lost your way and there’s no paths in sight. Stop. Breathe. Sit down. Listen, think, and dream. When you’re ready, stand up and make your own path.
The world went quiet, too quiet.
For hundreds of years, humanity had been relying more and more on technology. They used it to learn, to entertain, and even to live in many cases. Gone were the days of the computers and the smart phones. Most humans had been receiving implants since 2200 to improve their senses, live longer, and avoid diseases entirely. It seemed like society was on the way to perfection and nothing could go wrong.
Until it did.
No-one knows who was truly responsible, but somehow every electronic device in the world was disabled immediately. Over 75% of the population died immediately, another 20% suffered first. The remaining population suddenly was missing eyes, limbs, and the ability to process information at the speed of light.
With no way to communicate the others and realize what was going on, several survivors went insane. Most of the world’s population died in just a few minutes and the rest wished that they had.
In the end, there were less than 5,000 humans left alive in the world that were still somewhat sane. Most of them were spread out and unable to communicate with each other. For a long while it was unsure whether or not the species would go extinct entirely.
They might have, if it wasn’t for the simple fact that they were human. They could be traumatized, they could be separated by millions of miles, but there was a similar trait that all humans shared.
They were survivors, and as long as one of them were alive, they’d fight to the end to live.