Kiyo sprinted between the trees along the frayed gravel path. In the distance, a hefty crunch of leaves stomped out in some creature's wake was all the boy had to go off of. Its rapid aggressive charge between the thick wicket of the treeline was a near blur to the naked eye. But Kiyo had to push forward, there was no second-guessing himself. He had to find Daisuke.
“Daisuke!” Haphazard breaths squeezed their way out of Kiyo’s lungs. “Where are you?” He yelled through cupped hands, his face creased from anxious jitters that rippled across his body.
Branches broke beneath Kiyo’s every step, his pace increased in the life-or-death chase to catch up to the noise. Cutting through the wind, his gaze locked onto his surroundings. Only trees could be seen in the dreary atmosphere within the woods. The road beneath him wearing thin as it drew close to its end. The farthest any workers dared to go into the forest.
“Daisuke!” Kiyo shouted, voice growing hoarse.
Up ahead lay the deepest concern within the moment. The edge of the paved route; the track used to get back home to escape any imminent danger. Beyond it unknown and unmarked land.
He slowed down and came to a halt at the end of the pathway and tried to spot any hint of Daisuke’s presence. Nothing. A slight wave of exhaustion settled in as stress built into Kiyo’s chest. Spinning around he peered through every narrow gap between the trees yet only came up empty-handed. Unable to find his friend, he found himself completely alone in the forest.
“Daisuke! I’m over here!” Kiyo cried out at the top of his lungs. Cupping his hands over his mouth, he gave a last-ditch effort to draw Daisuke back. A way to calm his worries while not having to go any deeper, to stay away from his greatest fears. The unknown.
Silence. No response returned with the wind blowing through the wisps above, their sweet call too enticing to make out another’s voice. For most.
“Kiyo!” Daisuke called out in the distance, his voice wavered by desperation.
Kiyo jerked his head forward and stared into the mesh of trees. No carved route between them, only bits of vass alongside the sporadic tangles of roots. A difficult walk for the ordinary person alone, but the looming threat tipped the scale in favor of the forest. The creatures drooled from hunger, antsy to jump their prey within this enclosed space. A human death trap.
As his breaths grew quicker, the realization set in. Where he was and the infinite possibilities behind what could be lurking out there, waiting for the right moment to strike him down. Riddled with nervous shudders from head to toe, Kiyo stumbled back toward the path. It was his one chance of definite survival. But he couldn’t leave his friend behind. Could he?
Kiyo fell ever so still and stood there for a few moments, mind stuck debating what to do. He was too young to think rationally, too childish to contrive an actual plan of action. Yet through it all, the call of his friend was enough to tug at his heart. Fueled by a desire to take off and help Daisuke regardless of what lay beyond his sight.
Sucking in a few quick breaths, Kiyo pumped himself up. His body rejuvenated with a little confidence boost to muffle the stress within, the loud thumping in his head. Running low on time he made the decision, and so he ran.
Crunch-crunch-crunch! Crack! Snap!
Each step weighed down by purpose as he darted toward his loose idea of where his friend was. Fingers clenched tight into his palms, he grasped onto that single fleeting hope. A lonesome callout of distress. Daisuke’s voice freely carried along the wind.
Kiyo couldn’t lose his only friend, his only source of happiness.
“Kiyo!” Daisuke yelled back, his voice distant and washed out.
Kiyo could only bolt in that direction without hesitation; worry fresh on his brow. His hair flew back into the wind with each sudden charge toward Daisuke. Only stagnant as he briefly paused to call his friend's name.
Nothing. Silence filled the air as Kiyo spun around, but there was no movement in sight among the trees. Exhausted he slumped over against a rugged tree, hands keeping himself up as they propped onto his knees. He wheezed through the dire strain to regain his composure enough to continue running, to find his friend. That’s all that mattered at the moment.
Kiyo’s head flew back as he stared at the forest in front of him. A little thrown off by the scurry of wisps tossed into the air, he peered into the beeline footpath left in their wake. A clear route that trailed off between trees away from him. The tracks covered as the wisps swayed in the air back down to earth.
A few subtle clicks bounced off the trees into Kiyo’s ears, an unearthly noise that blocked out the blessed whistle of the wisps above. Kiyo scanned the area in front of him for any movement, for any living thing in the midst. But it was empty, lifeless.
Nothing but brittle dead wood trees filled his view, the forest's edge far out of sight. He was lost. Fear set in as he found himself unable to spot the path, to see his friend, to get out. Panic twisted in his stomach into knots, chest pounding from the stress he put off.
Eyes broadened and lips quivering, Kiyo pressed back against the tree to spot whatever was near him. The creature was still out of sight, but Kiyo could feel it. Hairs raised on end, goosebumps popped up across his paled skin. All he could do was wait for the creature to appear, to come to him. It was only a matter of time.
“Daisuke?” Kiyo muttered sluggishly, face paler than usual.
Without warning a flurry of footsteps ran up from behind, Kiyo was too stricken with fear to look as he shook against the tree. But he had to. Head slowly turning over his right shoulder, his chin brushed against his tattered overshirt as he peeked at the presence behind him. There was nothing there, an empty lane of trees all he could see.
A sudden presence dropped from above, feet planted into the mesh of roots. Kiyo jumped forward from the burst of noise, face reeled back in terror.
“Gotcha!” Daisuke shouted amusedly, delight tugging at the corners of his lips.
Kiyo’s heart nearly burst from his chest at the yell from behind. Petrified, he stumbled forward onto all fours. Beneath his impact, a pile of wisp leaves and gravel scattered out across the ground. His palms were torn open from the serrated bits of rock he fell upon, blood wiped off on his tight sun-dried leather leggings.
“Your face, I can’t believe it!” Daisuke blurted out to his heart’s content.
He bent forward and clutched at his stomach, unable to contain his laughter. Kiyo rolled onto his back and glared at Daisuke between the loose golden fray in his hair. Still recovering from the momentary trauma, he remained stunned in confusion. His face was left colorless from the fear that overwhelmed him.
Wiping the sweaty grin off his face, Daisuke stretched out his arm down toward Kiyo.
“Did you really not see me?”
Kiyo batted away Daisuke’s hand and thrust himself upright. A little sniffle of fright snuck out of his nose, with it a dribble of mucus.
“No. I did,” Kiyo groaned as he cleaned off the bits of grime stuck to his skin.
“No, you didn’t. I watched you run all the way here,” Daisuke said adamantly, joy still present in his cheeks.
Daisuke brushed his hands through his hair and rinsed out all of the little clumps of sweat. The golden tips of his bangs glistened in the heavenly sunlight. Kiyo faltered back amidst his weariness into a tree, too exhausted to think it all through, and stared aimlessly into the canopy.
The crispy yellow wisps flowed back and forth alongside the swift breeze that blew over the forest. It was a brief distraction from the overwhelming dread biting at Kiyo’s ruptured mind. Teeth chattering relentlessly, he clamped his lips shut and huffed out his anxiety through his nose. But he couldn’t shake the various noises that echoed around him, each more frightening than the last.
Not sure if it was just in his head or nearby in the real world, Kiyo curled his legs into his chest. All the shifts in pitches were too much to keep up with against the beating of his heart. The immense anxiety within, flashbacks of home sent aches through his head.
But still, it all could’ve been due to Daisuke’s inability to be quiet.
“Anyway. Kiyo, we’re here! In the woods!” Daisuke exclaimed with wide open arms. Kiyo just nodded silently, his mind still encapsulated by the natural setting overhead.
“How much farther do you think we could get? I bet we can see one of those flesh things now. They have to be close.”
“I don’t know.” Kiyo moaned in disdain, his headache only swelling.
“Oh come on. Guess at least. Like, I bet there’s one less than an eighth of a turn away. At least.”
“Look over there. I swear I saw something. Look, look!” Daisuke said joyfully with a firm point.
“Can we go home?” Kiyo moaned as he slumped down to the base of the tree.
“What?” Daisuke uttered, face crinkled in bewilderment by Kiyo’s abrupt request.
Turning around slowly, Daisuke peered down at Kiyo, eyes stretched wide in disbelief. Kiyo rubbed his head back against the tree, the desire to rid himself of the forest-only building.
“But . . . we just got here?” Daisuke waned pitifully.
“It looks like it might rain,” Kiyo pointed out with a loose lanky gesture toward the sky.
Daisuke followed Kiyo’s pointer finger up to the now cloudy heavens above, the pleasant atmosphere now turned bitter. The earlier clear blue skies were overrun with brutal ash-gray storm clouds lined with a rancid pinkish glow. It was an acid rain storm.
Thunder boomed into their ears and sent a jolt of perturbation throughout their bodies. Daisuke let out a short grunt of heated air from his mouth. Disappointment flooded his face as they continued to gaze into the fragmented sky, plans dashed by an overcast storm front.
“See?” Kiyo butt in relaying the obvious.
“Yeah, I’m gonna go look a little more.”
“What do you-” Kiyo couldn’t even finish as Daisuke turned around with slight vigor in his step. The early rinse of amusement by the new land around them drowned out Kiyo’s words. Each of them was a downer in Daisuke’s eyes.
“Don’t run off again,” Kiyo called out.
Crunch! Crunch! Snap! Crunch!
It was useless as Daisuke chose to ignore him, his body drifting between the tree line, gone within minutes.
Daisuke’s footsteps munched through the vass, and step by step he ran off. Deeper into the woods to explore it all. Kiyo hung his head over his lap and sighed, mentally and physically worn thin. Mind left hanging on a string.
“Daisuke!” Kiyo yelled sickly.
The burning in his chest only intensified as he watched his friend fade into the thicket, gone in the blink of an eye. Body weaving between trees he disappeared deeper between the splintered dead woods.
“Daisuke . . .”
No response. Only the mild crunch of wisps echoed back with every step. Kiyo left to clutch onto his ribs as frantic streaks of pain swelled across his body. He gasped for air as he clung to life. His vision blurred, face beat red by the fever consuming him from an unknown illustrious agony.
He toppled onto his side, face cushioned by the jagged gravel. Kiyo stared at Daisuke’s maroon blood-wrapped skinned hide as he merged with the horizon. A muddled blurb vanished between the trees, just gone.
Anguish settled in as Kiyo silently wept, no sound accompanying his tears as they streamed across his face. He was isolated and yearning for the torture to end. To have his friend come back.
But it only grew worse.
The flurry of emotions within him gained traction, and a sharp sting pulsated across his skin. It jolted into his ears, hands clenched onto them as he sprawled around on the ground. Gravel and wisps dispersed into the air.
Like an abrasive heartbeat berating his eardrum, his brain became inflamed by the irritable noise. He gritted his teeth to brace the misery, but one thought overrode it all. His eyes peeled open, pools of water rushing in from his eyelids. Looking for an answer. Where’s Daisuke?
The collision vibrated throughout the forest, loud enough to snap Kiyo out of his daze. He slowly propped himself on his elbows, dragging his right arm across his face to wipe off the dried tears. A little whimper hiccuped out of his mouth as he glanced toward the sound, toward where Daisuke ran to.
“Daisuke?” Kiyo mumbled under his breath. His right hand swabbed at the mucus leaking from his nose rubbed raw.
Whooooiiiiiiiiish! Snap! Whiiiiiiiiish! Crack! Thump! Whiiiiiiiiish!
A little red wad appeared on the brim of Kiyo’s vision. Barely able to make it out through the tears. Branches broke in the object's wake, each little snap echoed back to Kiyo. Legs dug into the coarse earth, Kiyo pushed his body back into the tree. He perched his chin up to get a better view of the thing gliding through the woods toward him in the distance. Or the person.
Is that Daisuke? Kiyo questioned as he became able to recognize the maroon garment from afar.
“You back already?” Kiyo called out.
No one responded, but the mass continued to drift in closer. Squinting his eyes, Kiyo could hardly perceive if that was Daisuke. The speed of the red blob alone was too fast for him to keep up with; a flying blur.
“Daisuke?” Kiyo tried to grasp his friend's attention, hands waving above his head. The longer the silence dwelled, the more paranoia seeped into Kiyo’s mind. He shifted his hands back behind him as he prepared to dart off. Terrified of what it could be.
A tepid breeze was all that grazed Kiyo’s ears. He watched the red blob draw near, pale edges visible beneath the garment rippled by the wind. Four loose limbs dangled freely in the wind with it. The body was limp and tattered as it unraveled to reveal itself. Daisuke.
But he wasn’t slowing down.
Kiyo’s nails clawed into the wood, palms littered with splinters, he thrust himself forward off the tree. With a narrow gaze, Kiyo anticipated Daisuke’s arrival, but it was far sooner than he realized. Petrified as he waited, uneasiness began to settle in, but it was all only for a couple of seconds. In a blink of an eye and his friend arrived.
Daisuke’s body slammed into a tree to the left of Kiyo, his back taking the brunt of the hit as he bent around the tree. A gruesome cry flew out of his lungs from the impact, Daisuke’s body crumpling to the ground. His skin was bloodied and shredded.
Kiyo jumped to his feet, shoving the sweltering stress quelled within him beneath the dire concern swarming his mind. Gaze locked onto his friend folded around the tree, Daisuke’s torn clothes unveiled deep gashes across his chest. Blood oozed out onto the cold ground. The golden yellow vass stained a vile dark red.
Overcome with dread, Kiyo lunged down and sat Daisuke against the tree. His hands hovered over the wounds, revolting tooth marks ingrained in his flesh as if Daisuke was chewed alive. It couldn’t be, right?
Kiyo flinched back as Daisuke lifted his head up. A toothy grin shone as he gazed past Kiyo toward where he came flying in from. Face lit up in exuberant unnatural glee, Daisuke smiled through his blood-stained teeth.
“I found one,” Daisuke coughed up with a spurt of blood flowing through his words.
Thump! Thump! Thump! Thump!
Within seconds, a frigid shudder rode up Kiyo’s spine as he noticed the noise, the footsteps thundering toward them. He glanced over his shoulder down the line of trees Daisuke came from. His eyes broadened at the creature bombarding through the woods knocking trees aside: a teratoma in the flesh.
It was barreling right toward them.
The monstrous creature stood nine feet tall, its malleable flesh covered in a thick coat of gravel and tree bark; natural camouflage to hide within the area. Its arms swung forward and clutched onto trees, propelling its lanky and heinous mass through the woods. Serrated bones made up its hands and feet, logs crushed to mere splints with every tree it grappled onto. Teeth dotted the being’s body randomly, little clumps of pearly white bones slicked with saliva. The teratomas’ murderous intent was all one felt when eye to eye with the foul creature. Kiyo stranded right in its path, Daisuke cradled in his arms.
Its mouth gaped open from its chest cavity, and razor-sharp fangs gnashed at the wind as massive clumps of drool gushed out onto the ground. The bloodshot pupils bulged out of its grimy eye sockets, loose divots encompassing its eyeballs.
Eyes locked onto its prey, the teratoma bombarded through the woods, nothing stomping it from relishing in the feast that was Daisuke, not even Kiyo.
Pure terror rang out in Kiyo’s mind as Daisuke sat in an idle pleasant trance, mesmerized by the monster bent on eating him. On replenishing itself off of Daisuke’s flesh, his mass was the key to quenching the hunger of the weakened clusters of tumors scattered across the scarred teratoma’s body. Nothing more than a captured prey in the teratoma’s beastly eyes.
Thump! Thump! Thump! Thump!
Low on time, Kiyo’s breaths fell short as he glanced from the teratoma back to Daisuke. Only a single plan was on his mind as he slung Daisuke onto his shoulders: running. Taking off from the creature, he could only blindly run toward where he thought the path was, feet stomping as fast as they could, hoping someone would be there to help them.
“Help!” Kiyo cried out, his pain-stricken tone accentuated by the scrunches of horror that gripped his face.
Daisuke blissfully giggled at the monster as it closed in on them, still absorbed in the pure illusion brought on by his scars, by his curious nature.
“Kiyo, look. It’s so—big. I never thought they’d be that tall.” Daisuke said casually with a shaky point back toward the beast.
Daisuke’s wounds opened as they ran onward, his blood trickling down onto Kiyo. The cool liquid stained Kiyo’s leather cover, but that was the last thing on his mind. A subtle detail that only heightened his desire to get out, to save his friend.
Peril rained down on them as a branch flew overhead, an aggressive attempt by the teratoma to slow them down, to corner his targets. Discordant sounds screeched out behind the two boys, the beast growing tired of the chase. The noise was only an amplifier of the fright within Kiyo. Face struck with fear.
“No-no-no-no-no!” Kiyo screamed as he tucked his head in against Daisuke and picked up the pace.
But there was no point as the creature gained on them, a grievous roar bellowed out from its swollen throat. Trees knocked over and sent flying toward them, Kiyo weaved between the chaos in a zig-zag pattern, trying to outmaneuver the perfect man-killer.
“Help us! Someone!”
It was hopeless. Kiyo’s cries fell upon the forest’s ears, small critters scurried out of their way but no one able to save them was in his sights. He peered from right to left, but only the dense cluster of trees encompassed his vision.
The trap in action.
The teratoma's right arm swiped forward at Daisuke, its injured prey. Kiyo caught sight of the bony hand and ducked to the side to dodge it. The serrated fingers missed Daisuke and plunged into Kiyo’s back, his white robe torn open as blood splattered out into the air.
A weak puff of air burst from Kiyo’s lips as he toppled onto the earth. Daisuke launched ahead by the impact, rolling against the gravel into a splinted stump out in the open.
No. Get up. I need to get up. Kiyo thought to himself as he pressed his palms against the roughened earth.
But he was too slow, the teratoma’s pace descending to a crawl as it stomped toward them. Overhead the monster stepped past Kiyo and honed in on the markings it had left behind, Daisuke’s ripped flesh. Wrapping its talon-like claws around Daisuke’s right leg, its saw-toothed fingers pierced the skin. It lifted him into the air and toyed with its prey as it slammed Daisuke into a tree over and over. Globs of scarlet blood rained down upon the lifeless gritty earth. Kiyo was helpless to do a thing as he watched from behind, mouth gaping open as horror choked out his throat.
Finished toying around with Daisuke, a mushy sponge tongue poked out of the teratoma’s mouth and latched onto Daisuke’s exposed wounds. The grisly texture pricked the boy’s ruptured body and caused it to sizzle. The atrocious stench of burnt flesh filled the air as the creature harvested Daisuke’s skin. Its body drenched in abnormal radiation sucked away at the gleam of radiance embedded within Daisuke’s tender mass. Each lick dug past the numbness of his withered soul, his mind yanked back down to earth.
“Aaagh! Aaagh!” Daisuke cried out in agony, no longer able to dwell in a painless state.
Head lifted above the mound of wisps in front of him, Kiyo reeled back with wide eyes as the monster started to consume his friend. As it took its time to revere in the kill. Daisuke’s supple flesh was a prime meal to nourish its own decaying body.
“Stop it!” Kiyo spat out as he carelessly stumbled over toward the beast.
He punched at its skin, yet only cut his own from the loose clumps of teeth that dotted the creature’s skin-like hair. Knuckles thrashed open, Kiyo fell to his knees and clutched his right fist to ease the pain. The monster paused its absorption and took notice of the small boy knelt at its side. Enjoyment paused to deal with his next course.
Dink! Plunk! Snap!
With a cock back of its right back leg, it punted Kiyo back into a tree, a powerful enough thrust to shake off a few limbs.
Dazed, Kiyo propped himself onto his knees and stared at the travesty in front of his eyes. His scrunched face recoiled in pure disgusted terror, unable to comprehend it. His friend munched away ever so slowly, yet he was helpless to stop it. To save him.
In a moment's notice, Kiyo sputtered for breath and balled his fists. Blood dripped from his forehead onto the earth below, his body worn out by the beast. But he had to do something.
Kiyo darted forward and picked up a loose limb that had fallen onto the ground from the teratoma’s destructive charge.
Split in two, he grasped one in each hand and rushed at the creature. Emotions concealed behind the curtain of golden hair that swung in his face, he used all of his remaining strength as he hurled himself at the teratoma.
Kiyo dodged a haphazard swipe from the creature and went in for the attack. His eyes locked in on his two points of impact.
He plunged the first stick into the creature's chest and the other through its tongue. The sensitive monster jerked back at the surprise spike of pain from such a feeble creature it considered nothing more than food, stunned by the small boy's sudden movement.
Sent into a frenzy, the teratoma backed off, releasing Daisuke onto the earth head first. Upon hitting the ground, the collision knocked him unconscious as Kiyo rushed in between Daisuke and the beast, hands fanned out toward Daisuke.
Kiyo knew what he had to do as the teratoma circled back and stared him down. Muscles tense and fingers clenched tight into his palms, Kiyo stared through the scarlet streams that drizzled over his eyes. His body reduced to nothing more than a small barrier of protection.
He was Daisuke’s last line of defense, the one who would have to save them both.