Heart hammering in my chest, I stared, frozen, waiting for it to move. The outline of a humanoid stood, motionless, staring back at me. I assumed it stared at me, because all I could make out was the faint disturbance of the winter woods and grey sky behind.
Had I spent too much time alone? What the hell was it? I kept waiting for my vision to clear, or my brain to figure out why it was a trick, but my heart wouldn’t calm down. My limbs felt ready for a marathon, and also glued into place. Was this a new technology the government was testing?
A bark of laughter escaped before I could suppress it. Paranoid thoughts were funny to me, even while I was the one thinking them. The outline didn’t move, still.
I waited to the count of ten to continue. “I can see you. Are you alright?”
Nothing. I had gathered a few armfuls of wood already. Fire be damned for the day, I’d make due with what I had. I turned back toward the cabin.
“Don’t go.” The sound was a million small voices in a chorus. Gooseflesh crept over my whole body. I didn’t think my heart could pound harder, but it did.
Facing it, I planted my feet. “What’s your name?” I studied it, at the same time mastering my fear.
“Most call me Legion. What’s yours?” The mouth opened as it spoke, but it sort of broke my brain because it was a mouth inside a mouth inside a mouth, as if each voice spoke through the receding mouths.
Part of me wanted to die, to run away until I died, knew I would never feel safe again. Part of me was fascinated, and had to understand. “My name is Jane.” I waited for it to speak again.
“Why do you speak to me?” There was a hint of inflection, curiosity, in the voices. Its form still wasn’t anymore visible. Maybe that part was good.
“I’m trying to understand what I’m seeing, and talking to you seemed like a decent way. How do most people react?” Conversation with the strong tension in the background of a predator playing with prey.
“Scream, run, charge, fight, lose.” Some of the words echoed strangely around the woods, as if whispered half a word after.
“You said most people call you a name. What do you call youself?” I chose my words carefully. I sensed naming it Legion would not be good for me.
“This is my first conversation. Until today I thought of myself as me.” I felt the urge to hug the creature, it’s loneliness was palpable.
“Pick a name for yourself. At least that’s what I would do.” I said. If this were a regular conversation, I would have shrugged.
“You pick a name for me, Jane.” The words were a command, and a dangerous one.
“I can do that. Do you want an idea for a name, or an average human name? I’m not sure if gender matters to you, does it? Special origins of words are a hobby of mine, any clues?”
The creature chuckled, and I almost dry heaved it so disturbed me. This thing was wrong, and I here I was trying to name it?
“Fine, no clues, then I will offer two names, and you can pick which you like best.” My brain tried to find the right words, to mollify this thing. Two names came to mind, and I couldn’t think of anything better. “Hydan or Damon.”
“Explain.” That word held everything I could imagine within.
I nodded. “Hydan is a root for hidden, Old English, Hide. You seem to be good at that. Damon is a famous actor’s last name that seemed to fit, maybe.”
“Fit how?” The creature took a step forward, and the outline shifted. The footstep was silent.
“I, uh, I’m not sure. Seemed like a nice last name.” I hedged.
I gasped as it moved in the blink of an eye right next to me. No heat came from it, and it was more difficult to see this close, but it breathed on my face. “I thought it was close enough to demon to pass off, but famous enough no one would mind much.” My own breath was ragged, and I was getting ready to run away. I knew it would do much good, since I saw how fast it moved. So I forced a deep breath.
“Clever girl. I like you. Honesty is also something I don’t get to face very often. I will visit again tomorrow. You will meet me, same time.” The creature vanished. I don’t know if it moved so quickly I couldn’t see it, or used magic, or if my brain had made the whole damned thing up.
I trudged back up to the cabin, and gathered a small handful of kindling. It looked exactly the same, but I no longer trusted my safety.
Picked my phone up, two bars, good enough. I called mom.
“Hey honey, aren’t you still camping?” Mom was her chipper self.
“Yeah, maybe I should come back in the morning?” My voice shook. I didn’t mean it to, and I tried to make it stop half way through the sentence. But there it was.
“Something happen?” I could tell I had her full attention.
“Maybe something did. I don’t know.” I replayed pieces of the strange conversation in my mind.
“Are you scared, should Dad come up tonight?”
“No. I don’t know. I don’t feel safe here anymore.”
“You met him?”
My blood ran icy. “Who?”
“Legion.” She in took breath after the name slipped out of her.
I heard Dad in the background cursing at Mom, why’d she have to say it outloud? He had been napping.
How much did she know? “I saw an outline in the woods.”
“Anything else make you feel unsafe?”
“What’s that word you used, Mom?”
“Rumor about the property.”
“Dad doesn’t want me to tell you anything.” I could hear Dad trying to get the phone away from her. “I saw it kill Tommy, my brother.”
“So you just let me come up here alone?”
“Well sweety, you wanted a secluded place, and Legion isn’t there all the time. Now that he’s made himself known, you should come home.” Dad yelled something about not going up there now.
“How did it kill Tommy?”
Mom walked into the small pantry, a closet off the kitchen, and the door closed behind her. “Tommy was drunk, and cursing mad at just being dumped. Prom was coming up and he just paid for the tux, car rental all that. No matter what I said to him, he was determined to be mad. I left him by the fire pit one night, only I heard a funny noise. I turned around in time to see many mouths extend over Tommy’s head. Then the mouths were gone, and Tommy’s head was never found.”
“Why do you call it that name?”
“My mom told me that’s what its called. It’s been on that property for a long long time. Maybe I should have warned you, but you’ve already been up there more than a month. I thought… you were safe. What did you see, sweety?”
Something about her question set off warnings in me. I couldn’t share what happened with anyone.
“You can’t tell me?” Her voice was calming, and I couldn’t pinpoint what was different.
I didn’t say anything.
“Jane, dear, tell me yes or no. Did you speak to it?” Mom whispered the question.
My whispered response escaped before I could stop it. “Yes.”
We both hung on the line, silent. I wasn’t sure what was going on.
“Whatever happens, I love you Jane. Dad won’t be able to come pick you up tomorrow. Love you.” She hung up.
Mom hung up on me. I stood in shock. Mom had never hung up on me. What the fuck was going on.
I threw open the cabin door and took in a big gulp of air to yell ‘Damon’ but I saw the shape of him at the edge of the LED bulb at the front door. In a normal tone, I said, “Damon?”
“Is that name better, or do you like Hydan?”
“Damon is good.”
“My mom remembers something.”
“I took your uncle’s life. It’s true.”
“What do you want?”
It sobbed. A sound profound enough to make me step toward it. “After all this time, perfecting the hunt, perfecting the predator, all I find I lack is a friend.”
My heart continued to pump, thumping in my chest. I steeled myself. “Tell me there is a way that you can give a bond, that you will never harm me, and I will be our friend.”
The creature’s outline went out of focus, and it rushed me. It’s many voices yelled different responses at me, varied from ‘Oh Please?’ to ‘Never, I will suck your bones dry.’ to ‘Promise you’ll never harm us.’ It’s claw wrapped around my throat, no pressure but a clear threat. It’s breath on my cheek, it ruffled my hair.
”No friendship can exist under physical threat of harm.”
“How would you know?” It challenged me.
“Let me go and I’ll explain.” I was under it’s control, if it wanted to kill me, obviously it could. This was the moment, and I waited for it to remove its claw, the points were on my skin.
Without a word, it retreated to the edge of the light again.
“Good. I’m here to avoid a person who crossed that line. I know a shit ton about boundaries in relationships. I will never be hit or physically harmed again. What I need from you is some sort of word, promise, bond that you will not threaten physical harm, or perform physical harm on me. If we can establish that trust, we can go from there. Right now, what you just did, was threatening. I can’t be friends with someone who threatens me. We both have to agree on these boundaries.”
“You want to shackle me.”
“No I want you to decide what is important. How badly do you want a friend?”
“You’re using friendship as a club, bludgeoning me with it.”
“Don’t play like that either. Do you agree to not harm or threaten me? Yes or no.”
It remained silent for a long time. “What happens if I threaten you, like I just did.”
“I walk away, don’t talk to you anymore. If you allow me to walk away, at that point.”
“I don’t kill friends.” It sounded hurt.
“How do you know?”
“I had one, long ago. It died of age.”
“How did you build trust together?”
“We agreed on terms, true. I agree to you request that I not threaten or harm your body. Do you agree not tl leave the property without telling me?”
“I’m being clear, you know I have to get supplies, pay bills and stuff, right?”
“Yes, you leave roughly once a week. I can feel the tires on the earth roads.”
“I’m not to ask permission, simply notify you.”
“That is a good boundary. I agree.”
“We have a friendship.”
“We have the beginnings of a friendship. I thought you said your first conversation was with me.”
“You had a friend long ago.”
“Oh, I wasn’t in this form then. Still larval.”
I nodded. “There will be many negotiations between us. Rules we both need to agree and follow. Like this is my cabin, my home. I request you don’t enter without my permission. Where is your home space, so that I know not to enter without permission?”
“Cave, roughly a mile upriver, rose bush at entrance.”
“I know it, and will respect your space. Will you respect mine?”
“I’m tired, and need sleep. I’m going inside, and hope we can talk more tomorrow.”
The multitude of voices sing-songed the farewell. “Goodbye, friend.”