PETRICHOR
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“Grandpa, can I have a story, please?”

The old man chuckled “Son, the only stories I got will scare the bones out of yer skin, y’sure?”

“Mmm hmm, I read scary stories all the time! I can handle it!”

“Do you now? Well, I might have something for you then, and if you promise you’ll hear me all the way through I might have a lil’ gift to give ya at the very end.”

“Really?!”

“Yes really, come pop a squat over ‘ere next to ol’ gramps, don’t be shy. There you go, now see this land has been in our family's hands for generations, we’re its protectors and for its protection it protects us in turn. But you gotta respect its boundaries, you’re wise to follow my advice and not go wanderin’ out there, especially at night. It’s about time you learn why you don’t test these woods."

"It was a chilly summer night, and Harry was stirred awake and then also drenched by a freak rainstorm that had passed. Now, Harry had come unprepared. The man was shuddering under his misused rain fly; it had come quick and had left quicker, but the damage had already been done. Using his tent’s rain fly as a blanket, what was he thinking? Was he just trying to compensate for the one in his car 10 miles in the other direction, or was it he just felt safer all wrapped up? It really didn’t matter whatever his reasoning was, it was time to move on. Layin’ still in wet clothes was a great way to get hypothermia and not much else. At the very least he had enough common sense to line the inside of his pack with a trash bag; though his genius had ended there.

Already starting to stink of mildew, Harry laid the contents of the pack out onto the one dry spot of the entire tent- where he slept. A t-shirt, a pair of socks, some MREs, his book, his rifle, a huntin’ knife, a water bottle, his small red lighter, and uh, where was the flashlight? He frantically patted the pack down. Nothin’, he was just using it that previous evening… and he had left it in the corner of the tent so he could find it if he needed to get up in the middle of the night… and sure enough there it was, sitting in a shallow pool of rainwater. He knew before he even picked it up, click click , nothin, he beat it on his hand a couple times, and yet the soaked bulb refused to shine. He could almost cry, but all he could manage was a sigh and a sad chuckle. He tried his small red lighter next, click click , and to his luck it actually worked, but as the dim light kept him company it grew hot,and uncomfortable in his hand. He’d have to go make a fire he thought, and fetch the wood by only the light of the moon. Harry sat still for a moment, then threw on the only spare shirt he had, grabbed his knife and his lighter, and shakily unzipped his tent to step out into the cool summer night.

Harry took a deep breath in, the earthy smell of petrichor snaking its way all the way to the back of his brain. In any other situation it would have been beautiful, moonbeams lazily filtered through the leaves and the residual twirling fog of the storm; but him standing in his drenched pants, shaking in his boots he couldn’t imagine a worse predicament to be in. Harry shifted his gaze upwards, the moon hung full and bright in the heavens just through the clearing he was standing in; a chill shot through his spine then not from the cold no, but he couldn’t help but think maybe it, the moon, was watching him. Uncaring, unflinching but oh so quietly and patiently observing. Not a gaze of malice he reckoned, but one of curiosity Harry thought to himself. As the paranoia welled within his chest he stifled it, wouldn't do him any good to have his mind wandering with these thoughts. And as Harry turned to fetch his tinder he just missed the giant in the sky blink its one lonely eye.”

The old man winked at his grandson, “You sure this isn’t too scary for you?”

The young boy shook his head, and grinned “It’s gonna take more than that gramps.”

“Well then,” Grandpa chuckled “See, Harry marched his shivering britches off to the edge of the clearing, makin' a B-line to an old sassafras tree he swore he saw the prior evenin’ and much to his surprise there it was, all wiley and thin branches pokin’ out this way and that with a healthy spread of old dry limbs around its base. Now, Harry wouldn’t have made a fire normally, this wasn’t his land after all- didn’t want to attract the property owner’s attention; people didn’t take too kindly to folks killing deer in their backyard, of course. But Harry could handle a grumpy old man over freezing to death. So he set to work gatherin’ an armload of the kindling, but as he stood up and turned around to make his way back to his tent he stood stunned. Where his tent had just been moments prior in the nice open clearing was now just a thicket of woods, Harry went pale ‘It- it was just right there I barely went five feet!’ he stammered aloud for the first time that night. He did a full spin of his surroundings, everything suddenly looking completely alien to him.

Surely he thought to himself surely he’s just mistaken, thinking his eyes were just playing tricks on him; so like any reasonable man he picked the direction he thought he came from and started walkin’ five feet…. Ten feet… Fifteen feet… He calculated in his mind still nothin’. Harry was startin’ to panic now, he felt like the moon watching gleefully almost from high above, like this was some kind of cruel comedy. He had no choice though, so he kept walkin', maybe he just veered off in the wrong direction a little, yeah that’s it he thought as he started going off to the right…”

Grandpa took a long sip from his mug and coughed a little. “Harry really was in the thick of it,” he continued, “probably wasn’t thinkin too straight in that panicked mind of his so in his haze of aimless, fearful, wandering that he barely registered when he stumbled into the clearing. Not his clearing mind you, no no no, but a clearing like any you might find in these here woods. At this point whatever mess he’d gotten himself into was definitely not worth whatever deerskins or antlers or what have you he’d be walkin’ out of here with. Wet, tired, thirsty, Harry just stood there panting a bit before looking up and around at his surroundings. It was a flat little area, illuminated by the tall and shining moon up above, short stubby grass grazed his ankles as he stood in the quiet night, perfectly serene.

Scannin' the tree line in front of him he had to do a double take. A tall, thin, shadow of a man dancing he thought? No, couldn’t be, the movements were stiff and jerking this way and that, erratic, looked like it was tryin’ to swat some angry bee away; of course now he was sure that whatever stood on that other side of the trees was just the moonlight playin’ tricks. He was certain of that, so why did he just stand there frozen as this spazzin' thing slowly came to a still, and why did it feel like whatever light tricks were about were lookin’ directly at him, and why, why was it walkin’ slowly towards him! Harry broke his stupor, trick or not Harry wasn’t stickin’ in that clearing for much longer.”

“W-what happened next grandpa?”

“So, Harry darted back into the woods from where he came. Even the most headstrong guys can’t help but feel like runnin’ sometimes, light tricks or not. Of course, our Harry ain’t the most headstrong of guys. He made it all of a few yards before his foot caught on a tree root, tumblin' onto the wet and muddy forest floor he reached out to catch himself only to hear the crack of one of his fingers breaking against some unseen object. He screamed then, as his finger dangled loosely from his hand, only to continue screamin' as he scrambled to turn around and see that odd slender twitching figure behind him. In his absolute terror the poor guy whipped out his knife and his small red lighter, not like they’d do him any good though.” Grandpa laughed heartily.

“He whips out his knife and his lighter and starts yellin', ‘Get away! Get away!’ as the shadowy thing takes one impossibly long step after another towards him. ‘I’ll gut you!’ Harry’s voice cracked, waving his big ol’ knife around. It was at that moment that the thing came into view of Harry’s dim light. Now it wasn’t just obscured by the darkness, it was darkness Harry thought. Blacker than the space between the stars, blacker than the bottom of the oceans, so impossibly dark that it seemed to lose all dimension within our reality, flat almost. It wasn’t the moonbeams playing tricks on him, that thing was playing tricks on the moonbeams! ‘Y-you you’ Harry sputtered but his flight got the better of him before he could finish what he was saying, as he fumbled the knife in his hands and sprinted off in the other direction, but before he could make it to the next tree he felt the hot, yes hot, searin' hot hand of that thing that was not from this place wrap its fingers around. His. Neck.” The old man enunciated with seeming delight, with a joy in his eyes that the grandson had never seen from his grandpa.

“He felt the fingers squeeze as the long spindly arm effortlessly lifted his writhing body from the ground. The thing turned him around then, its featureless flat face staring directly into his. Harry, struggling to breathe, his neck slowly cooking from the heat of the thing threw the small red lighter which he still held at the beast.” the old man could barely contain his laughter. “It caught it effortlessly, and like a clamp slowly crushed Harry’s windpipe, getting hotter and hotter and HOTTER as it did charrin' the skin and now exposed muscle. Harry couldn’t even produce a scream as he saw the thing that now was definitely not the moon blink its one lonely eye.” Grandpa was cackling at this point. “You should’ve seen his face!”

The grandson sat in stunned silence as his grandpa’s laughter died down. His eyes finally met his grandfather’s as he smiled.

“Well, you made it all the way through didn't ya? Sorry, I got a little carried away at the end there son.” He said standing up, “Well I promised you a gift didn’t I? C’mon!”

The grandson shakily stood, doing as his grandpa asked as he followed him blindly out the backdoor “We'll be back soon honey!” the old man shouted to his wife, who only returned a short chuckle from the other room. Deep, deep into the woods they went until they got to a clearing, the moon hanging heavy overhead. Short grass brushed the boy’s ankles as his grandfather reached into his pants pocket and pulled something out and handed it to him “Consider it part of your inheritance Ezra." The boy shook as he held the small red lighter.

The moon blinked.

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