Friday, March 20, 2015
THE TRIBE (Revised Version)
By Daniel Skye
The wind ushered in a cacophony of cries from the encompassing wildlife. The forest was teeming with feral, undomesticated animals that had yet to be acclimated to the harsh winter temperatures.
The boys all huddled around the fire pit that Roland Everett had dug and filled with dry leaves and fallen branches, rubbing their tiny hands together for warmth. Three hours had passed since Roland and the boys had sought shelter in Greenkill National Forest.
Roland had banged his knee up something awful in the accident, but he always prepared for the worst. Stashed in the back of his wrecked Volkswagen van was an emergency kitbag with medical supplies, flares, flashlights, batteries, bottled water, and dried fruit. The bag also came equipped with two pop-up tents and ponchos in case they found themselves caught in the rain.
And there was an assortment of tools Roland kept handy–wrenches, screwdrivers, ratchets, pliers–that were utterly useless in this situation. No wrench was going to repair the damage to the front end.
The bag wasn’t something Roland had packed specifically for the trip. He always kept supplies in the back of his van. Better safe than sorry was Roland’s motto. The van was a second generation Volkswagen model from the seventies. One of those big blue-and-white numbers about the size of a miniature school bus. It was constantly breaking down on Roland and giving him grief. Hence the supplies. He never knew when or where he’d end up stranded when he was driving around in that heap.
But this time around, Roland wasn’t so lucky. Instead of stalling or breaking down on him, the brakes on the van failed and Roland lost control of the vehicle and crashed into a utility pole.
None of the boys were harmed in the accident. Kenny Fisher had spilled his Dr. Pepper all over the backseat and Jamie Strode was a little shaken up over it, but none of them were hurt. Just Roland. But he used an Ace bandage he took from the kitbag to wrap his knee as best as he could. And then he examined the map, discovering that Greenkill was just a quarter mile east from the crash site.
“That’ll be a good place to hold up for the night,” Roland told the boys with the darkness approaching rapidly. “I can set up the tents and get a fire going. At least we’ll be warm and dry for the evening. And in the morning, I’ll walk to the nearest town and get help.”
“Why don’t you just call for help?” Jamie Strode had asked.
Roland was embarrassed to admit he didn’t have minutes on his cell phone. He had one of those prepaid jobs and he spent his last few hundred on the concert tickets because he wanted to show his brother a good time. So he had neglected to buy minutes for his phone.
“Does anyone else have a cell phone?” Roland asked and was astonished when none of the boys came forward. All Jamie said in response was, “I don’t have a phone.”
“Yeah, his parents didn’t feel like wasting the money on him,” Tim Johnstone laughed.
These boys were Roland’s responsibility, and with no way to call for help, he just needed to keep them warm and safe for the night and then this nightmare would be over.
“Alright,” Roland said, getting out of the van. “Let’s get moving. It’s getting late.” He tried not to show any signs of pain, but his knee was throbbing and he could barely put any weight on it.
“What if someone drives by and sees the van here?” Roland’s brother, Robert, had asked. “Shouldn’t we leave a note?”
Rob was always thinking. At an age where the boys were maturing and were interested more in girls and sports than academics, Rob was the egghead of the group.
He flourished in all his classes, and scored brownie points with the teachers here and there by bringing them gifts and doing extra work that wasn’t even assigned to him. An attendee of the seventh grade, Rob was already reading at a tenth grade level and often surprised his brother with bits of knowledge even Roland failed to possess.
“This area is pretty deserted, pal,” Roland told his brother. “But you’re right; I’ll leave a note just in case someone passes through and sees the wreckage.”
Roland scribbled a note on a blank page from one of Rob’s notebooks and pinned it down with the windshield wiper. Even on a trip upstate to see his first rock concert, Rob had brought his books along to work on his weekend homework assignments.
If his parents found out what had happened, they’d probably be mortified. So on their quarter mile walk to the forest, Roland begged them not to say anything. “Promise me you’ll tell your parents we made it to the concert and everything was all right.”
“What do we get if we cover for you?” Tim Johnstone asked. He was a gutsy little punk that Roland loved to hate. “Will you let us have some of your beer?”
“In your dreams, puke-face.”
“Fine, I’ll tell my parents you gave us beer anyway,” Tim threatened.
“This is going to be a long night,” Roland muttered. He let the boys walk ahead of him a bit as he hobbled along. His leg wasn’t broken, but he found it difficult to bend his knee or put his full weight on it. And the kitbag only slowed him down further.
With no car, no phone, and no help for miles in either direction, they’d surely miss the concert. But that wasn’t Roland’s primary concern. His concern was being stuck with these hell raisers for the night.
* * *
Greenkill Forest stretched on for miles and miles, but with Roland’s bad knee, they didn’t stray too far from the main road.
“I’m hungry,” Tim moaned, already getting on Roland’s nerves.
“Me too,” Kenny joined in. “Where’s the nearest McDonald’s?”
“Not close enough,” Roland said as he opened the kitbag and tossed Tim a Ziploc bag.
“What the heck are these?” Tim asked.
“Apricots,” Roland told him.
“They look like dried up scraps of puke,” Tim said, sticking out his tongue to accentuate his disgust.
“Well, it’s all I got so you’ll have to share.”
Once Roland dug the pit (he dug it by hand) and got the fire going, he gathered around with the four boys and asked them, “Who wants to hear an old campfire story my grandfather used to tell me?” This was Roland’s grand scheme to get the boys off his back. He was going to scare the wits out of them and he wouldn’t hear a peep for the rest of the night.
“Is it scary?” Jamie Strode asked, his timidity showing.
“Scaredy-cat,” Tim teased Jamie.
“Am not!” Jamie said defiantly.
“Are too!” Tim fired back. Roland remembered this escalating game from when he was a kid. And listening to the two boys bicker back and forth, he realized then just how annoying this so-called game could be.
“Knock it off you two and listen to my story,” Roland told them, his scruffy face illuminated behind orange flames. Roland was twenty-three and though he was only ten years older than most of them, the boys usually listened to him. Maybe it was his size or his tattoos that intimidated them. Or maybe it was the fact that he was–as Robert often boasted–cool.
Roland had that aura about him. That innate coolness that some people are just born with. It was one thing to have that quality when he was in high school, but it didn’t do much for him in the real world except impress his brother and his little friends.
Roland continued with his story until he was interrupted again. “The Grukins were an ancient tribe of nomadic creatures who used–”
“Nomadic?” Jamie repeated the word.
“It means they moved around, never stayed in one place,” Rob explained.
“That’s right,” Roland said. “The Grukins were bred by an ancient, mysterious race for one purpose and one purpose only–To hunt. And the Grukins used to prowl through the forests, hunting and stalking their prey. What did the Grukins hunt, you ask?
“Why humans, of course. You see, Grukins, like vampires, survive on the blood of the living. They engulf their prey and drain them of their essence, their energy, their life-force, and leave you as a hollow, empty shell devoid of any blood, bones, or organs. They especially love the blood of children. They can smell your fear from a mile away.”
These alleged facts sent shivers down Jamie’s spine. Even Kenny Fisher was looking a little pale. And Kenny was the only one of the group who seemed to have any backbone at his age. Tim talked tough, but Roland could see he was no different than the others.
“What did the Grukins look like?” Jamie couldn’t help but ask.
“Nobody knows for sure,” Roland told them beside the fire. “Nobody ever lived to speak of their encounters. But the legends vary. Some claims the Grukins are as tall as a house. Other people say they’re smaller, predatory creatures with the skin of lizards of snakes. Some say they’ve been around since the dinosaurs roamed the Earth. One thing’s for sure…they only come out to hunt when it’s dark.”
“Bull crap,” Tim Johnstone called him out. “You probably just made that story up on the spot.”
“Fine, don’t believe the legends,” Roland said. “Find out for yourself. Go wander the forest and see if you make it back in one piece.”
Tim gulped. “I think I’ll pass.”
“That’s what I thought, smart ass” Roland grinned.
* * *
With that chilling tale, Roland let the fire burn out and pitched their tents. With only two tents at their disposal, Roland let the boys share one and took the other, smaller tent for himself. He insisted he wanted to give them their space to talk, joke, play games. But really it was just an excuse to be alone in his tent and smoke pot and drink cheap malt liquor he had originally bought for the concert.
An hour passed before Roland heard the scratching on his tent. He opened it up to see Jamie Strode standing there with a frightened glint in his eyes.
“I’m scared and the boys keep making fun of me,” Jamie told him. “Can I sleep in here with you, please?”
“All right,” Roland sighed. Jamie got in and Roland sealed the tent again.
* * *
“My brother is the coolest,” Rob boasted in the boys’ separate tent. “I know we didn’t get to go to the concert, but at least we got to hang out with him and hear his stories. Isn’t he awesome?” Tim and Kenny had grown weary of Rob’s vaunting, but they were too exhausted to demur.
As they dozed off, Rob decided to let sleeping dogs lie and abandoned them to join Jamie in his brother’s tent.
Roland unzipped the tent when he heard Robert’s calls and closed it up again once Rob was inside with them.
“Great,” Roland muttered. “What did I do to these kids with that story?”
“What’s that smell in here?” Rob inquired as he tried to make himself comfortable in the cramped tent.
“It’s incenses,” Roland lied to cover up for the odor of pot.
“It smells like marijuana,” Jamie pointed out. “My brother got caught smoking it in our garage last year. I know what it smells like.”
“I’ll give you both five bucks if you promise not to tell,” Roland said, biting his upper lip.
“Make it ten,” Rob said.
Roland and Robert Everett: The egghead and the pothead.
“Why you little–” Roland’s sentence was cut off by a strange din that emanated from beyond their tent.
“What was that?” Jamie asked.
“Nothing,” Roland assured him. “Probably just Tim and Kenny messing with us. Either that or the wind.”
“Maybe it’s a Grukin,” Jamie said, shuddering.
“It’s not a Grukin!” Roland said emphatically.
As the din grew louder, Roland and the boys heard the unmistakable screams. First it was just Tim, but then Kenny’s voice could be heard wailing over his. The screams were enough curdle the blood, and they were masked by an even more terrifying sound. The spine-chilling shriek of a Grukin.
The tribe had lived on…and the survivors were extremely famished.
“You two stay put,” Roland said, unzipping the tent. “When I’m gone, you close this tent back up and no matter what you hear, you don’t come until I say so. Got it?”
“Got it,” Rob and Jamie said in unison. Rob zipped the tent back up when Roland climbed out and glanced at Jamie, twitching.
Roland had taken one of the flashlights from his bag and the light beamed across the tent that housed Kenny and Tim. But the tent was ripped open and Tim and Kenny were gone. Not a trace of them remained.
Roland heard movement in the brush and as he spun around, the flashlight spotted a pair of yellow eyes staring back at him from the brush. Then there was another set of piercing yellow eyes. Then another, and another.
They lurched forward, one at a time. Short and stout, these creatures were similar in both size and feature to gargoyles. But these were not the architectural gargoyles seen perched on rooftops. These were not carved out of stone. These grotesque figures were flesh and blood…and claws and fangs.
Their grey lifeless texture seemed to deflect the moonlight as they crept forward, always clinging to the shadows. They were everywhere, and they had him surrounded.
The last thing Roland Everett heard was the sound of his own screams.