Size: 9.00 x 6.00 in
Bobby Gene is a man who stands out even among his people. Guided by the knowledge of his heritage as a backwoods shaman and more perceptive than many, he's grown to be a valuable asset to those he knows. While he isn't surprised to be the first to know when the woods around him begin to show clues that something isn't right, he doesn't expect just how much these omens and signs will prove to foretell something far more sinister to come. Soon strange dreams and inexplicable encounters have him questioning everything he knows- and then the people who live in his woodland Appalachian community begin to disappear. It's his job to protect and guide the others, what will he do when he's the only thing between them and the end of life as they know it?
Publisher: Independently Published
It started with a certain feeling on waking up. A weight to the air like there was something with him, maybe somewhere nearby. The weight of some presence and the equal weight of eyes on him from somewhere outside gave him pause. He waited for some change in the location he’d picked up on, a shift of motion that might tell him more about this presence if he listened hard enough. He stayed flat in his bed for a long moment and then carefully slid up for a better range of vision, his arms propped him into a half-sitting position with his palms planted just beyond his hips. His body rigid, he fought exhaustion to determine what had disturbed him enough to pop out of a dead sleep.READ MORE
His head felt wrong too, like cotton wool had been packed between his brain and the hollows of his skull. It could’ve been sleep clinging to him but that didn’t feel right either. Bobby Gene sniffed a little, trying to figure out if he was sick and find his faculties. He didn’t look out of the windows- that seemed foolish and somehow risky at the moment. What if there really was something there and looking at it made it come at him? Couldn’t it just be a deer?
Nothing had changed. Not even that presence. Maybe he should go back to bed? He was drowsy enough that he might just slip off if he waited long enough. He breathed in and out in slow patterns as he listened for a few more seconds, and then the breaths expanded out, becoming more even as his mind started to drift. His eyelids slipped closed soon after and he drifted off in micro doses of sleep for several minutes but he remained aware of that presence even through his tiredness and darted awake every time he came close to drifting deeper. Instead of changing, the feeling persisted exactly as it was.
Alarmed, but still tired, he paused to evaluate the situation again. He didn’t look through the windows, could barely get his head to stay up through his drowsiness, but it was clear enough by the light that came through the windows from outside and the numerals of the alarm clock that he’d woken up very early in the morning, before true dawn. His eyes wouldn’t focus enough for him to register the actual time but he could see the AM clearly enough. It was still dark, the pale edges of morning light just a ghost hinting at daylight, and nothing beyond the feeling of being watched felt dangerous, so he rolled over to face away from the windows of his room and let himself go back to sleep. He told himself that maybe it was bleed over from some dream, something from a nightmare or another intangible thing between sleep and wakefulness that felt real. Then he let his eyes drift closed and went back to sleep.
For a couple of days, he even believed that was all it was until it happened again.
On that night his body had shot him straight up into a sitting position in the middle of a dead sleep because-because what? He hadn’t been sure. He ran the back of his hand over his right eye, trying to rub the sleep away from the edges of his mind so he could figure out what had woken him up. This time it clicked faster, the sensation of eyes on him stronger and the feeling of something nearby striking him harder because it was…at the foot of his bed? He jerked his eyes open, pulled his head up from his chest with slow movements, and caught something with the edge of his eye. The ghost of a form, nothing he could nail down, maybe a glimmer of white and black with a vague body shape. It wasn’t much, but it was enough that he opened his eyes wide to see if it was real, fluttered his eyelids and then pushed them as wide open as they’d go to see. There was nothing there when he did- nothing he could see in that moment anyway. He sat straight up in his bed all the same, his body and mind wide awake now that he’d been pushed into consciousness by that vague edge of something tangible.
He flipped on the lamp by his bed and tossed his feet out and onto the floor. Then Bobby Gene stood and made himself walk across the width of the room to look at the area between his bed and the door, checked under the bed with his body bent nearly in half with his palms on his knees, and even, after a long internal battle between rational and irrational thought, jerked his head up to scan the area outside of his window with his whole body alive with alarm and an almost painful alertness.
Once again, there was nothing, not beyond the trees and plants that were always there. Nevertheless, he couldn’t sleep after that. Bobby Gene knew it as he stood there and stared out of his bedroom window in nothing but his boxer shorts and a tank top as if it was somehow imperative that he saw something. Nothing became apparent no matter how much he looked, not even with his eyes squinted just so as he sometimes did when looking at things in the woods. So he made himself walk away, slipped into the bathroom to relieve himself and quietly flush, and then went into the kitchen. He made some coffee and drank it black as he waited for the morning to catch up with him as he sipped. The job he had later that morning hadn’t gotten his best energy or focus but he managed.
It went on like that for a while. Odd feelings and strange impressions in the night. Interrupted sleep woke him at odd hours, nearly always between two and six in the morning, and left him tired enough that he might be half dreaming though he was awake. It had minimal effect on his work as a guide and all-around woodsman for hire- at least from the outside- but he felt the lack of good rest and its benefits while all of this went on. The lack of sleep and sudden alertness in the night made him ask himself if he was simply tackling another bout of hyper-vigilance, but if that was the case, then why? Hadn’t he done a great deal of work to get over what he’d been through? He certainly hadn’t felt those triggers for a long time and he’d been doing well with breathing and taking time for himself for a while now. Hadn’t he left his father’s death in the past? Wasn’t his abuser too old and incapacitated to hurt him now? Weren’t he and Andy relatively adjusted adults despite those things? Wasn’t he pretty well settled with the idea Z was out of the picture and it had nothing to do with him no matter what his mind told him?
A part of him was angry at the intrusion, particularly if it was all just his mind playing tricks or pulling up old traumas again, and the irritability sometimes showed as he interacted with his clients. He’d even begun to ask himself if maybe he needed to head back to therapy for an evaluation or some further work so he could get back to just living, but doing that meant approaching some things he wasn’t ready to yet and he hated to waste time and money on anything that felt like it wasn’t necessary. It would also have meant having to establish a whole new relationship with a brand new counselor when he was already under more stress than he could manage well. Forming new bonds felt like asking to be screwed over and he remembered well how hard it had been to find a counselor that matched with his needs and work/life schedule. The what ifs were already driving him up a tree.
He could hear what Zee, his ever-changing and currently out-of-the-picture lover would say every time he went over the subject of counseling and his current mental health crisis. You’re just being avoidant, Bobby Gene, you need someone to help you and you don’t like giving up the reigns. You always have to feel like you’re in control of everything or you get flooded with the idea you’ve failed. Worse, Zee’s phrase just kept rolling through his head all day and night.
It takes an expert on the subject to know it when he sees it, he responded one day. It didn’t make any sense- this was in his own head, after all- but he immediately felt mean for doing it. He could picture Zee’s face, warm brown skin with a full mouth gone tight with frustration and bright shining chocolate brown eyes filled with equal parts hurt and anger, and then the image of him walking away as he had several times now, full of indignant pride as he looked back over his shoulder with sharp reproach.
Not that Bobby Gene wasn’t right about Zee’s avoidant nature. Zee was, after all, one of his most recent stressors, but he was also something he was still looking for out of the corners of his eyes. Sure, we’re over it. Tell yourself another one, Bobby Gene. How many times had he looked at his own hand and missed the way their hands looked as they threaded their fingers together? His warm honey and Zee’s more like the shells of the paler acorns under the oak tree in his yard, both of them shades of the many colors that made up the mountains their families came from and edging toward the middle of their thirties with great doubts about those very origins. How many times had he woken up since things had gotten strange and wished that Zee was there to tell him he was wrong and there was nothing there or that he could tell him he wasn’t crazy because he saw and felt these things too?
All of it made his head spin, grief and loss mingled with the anxieties of these strange perceptions and his need to avoid confronting the whole mess unless it was necessary. Bobby Gene had always been somewhat anxious, but this was him with his anxiety on overdrive, his PTSD fueling the fire with all of its feedback.
Maybe it was some sort of way to punish himself for Zee not being back yet? Except that couldn’t really be it, could it? The more he went out into the woods with those feelings the more it became clear that it was something far more real than delusions or some other mental bug could explain. Sometimes he’d turn to find branches had bounced back into place too far back to have been from him. On another day he might have heard the sharp crack of a branch as it broke somewhere nearby, or swear that he’d caught the edges of a figure as it stood just beyond his sight. It all had him tense, particularly after the day a few rocks rolled down from a small incline as if they’d been deliberately kicked down for him to see, followed by a rush of movement somewhere above where he stood.