John and I trudged through the woods. This particular job was an annoying one. As we were isolated out in the middle of nowhere, dealing with the situation meant a long trek through wilderness and limited equipment when we arrived. Working our way through the woods in silence I looked around. There seemed to be nothing at all wrong with the area, yet if John had been sent out on this job then it was clearly serious. John had been working for ofToss, or the Office of Terribly Occult Strange Stuff, for a great many years. He was very experienced and if he had been sent on a job, it meant something big needed removing.
Suddenly, through a break in the trees, I saw an amazing sight.
"Wow, look at that mountain!"
"What? Where? Oh, that. It's nothing special," said John in a bored tone of voice. "Just some mountain".
“Yeah but... look at it! It's amazing!" Standing there, staring at the huge, grey mass of rock in front of me, I felt full of awe and amazement. The mountain stretched up into the sky, reflected majestically in the lake at its feet. However, John's voice cut into my thoughts.
"It's just a mountain. I suppose there is something a bit odd about it, but nothing much. It's just the sort of thing you usually see on posters when employers are trying to make their staff feel suitably inspired. They get dull after a while. To be honest, if you've seen one mountain then you've seen them all."
I sighed, "Yeah... suppose you're right. Besides, we do need to get a move on. Why don't we head towards that lake? We might be able to get a better look at the area from there."
“Good idea," said John, setting off again. "So, tell me, when did you start working for ofToss, Mike?"
"A few years back. I was working as a temp and some new manager there hired me. Well, obviously the nature of the place means that once they have staff they can't let them go very easily. As it was, they let me stay on because me leaving the job would have caused too much paperwork."
"I remember hearing something about that actually. Jimmy, his name was. Dozy sod. He took on about five temps and we had to give them all permanent jobs. He got a real bollocking for it." John turned to me and laughed, "Still, it worked out well for you, didn't it?"
"Certainly," I nodded, "its a good job and the hours are really good as well."
"The hours are good? Really? Most of us are worked off our feet!"
"Oh, I used to be rushed to the point of insanity as well, but just lately it got really easy for me. It's this new regional system they put in. Obviously all of the staff are in London so that manager, Jimmy, he decided to assign us all to random places in the country and we'd only do the paperwork from those areas. I ended up getting a few bits of London, Milton Keynes and a large area of northern Scotland."
John shook his head and sighed, "What a stupid system. Still, its turned out good for you. I can hardly imagine Milton Keynes having much paranormal activity. Then again, northern Scotland would be a nightmare! I mean, things get weird up there."
"It's fairly dull actually. The area I have has more sheep than people, and sheep don't really bother reporting unusual activity. Still, I suppose someone will fix the mess at some point and I'll be back to having to work agai..." I stopped as John suddenly waved a hand in my face. Holding a finger to his lips, he pointed into a clearing which could just be seen through the trees. In the clearing was a creepy sight.
I could see a group of woodland animals all sitting together - a deer was stood in the middle with a group of rabbits next to it, along with a fox and many other small creatures. The animals all seemed to be standing in a group, perfectly happy. There was even an owl standing on a twig just above them.
"But... that's impossible!" I whispered to John, "Why aren't they attacking each other?"
"You think that is the impossible bit? Look at some of the animals a bit more closely."
I looked back to the group as me and John slowly, quietly moved towards the clearing. When we were fairly close we ducked behind some bushes and looked out through the leaves. I watched the animals for a few moments before I realised what John was pointing at. The rabbits were wearing scarves and bobble hats. One of them was holding a book and looking around to the rest as if reading from it. Even the owl was wearing glasses. It was scary. I couldn't quite place it in my head, but there was definitely something creepy about this scene. It was impossible, unreal. It couldn't be happening and yet there it was.
I turned to John. "Is this what we've been sent out for? The animals acting oddly?"
"No, this isn't the main anomaly. It's just a part of it. I think I know what this is but... we'll have to get to the lake first. I can't be sure yet."
"Ok,” I said as we backed away from the clearing and began walking towards the lake. "So, what do you think it is then?"
"It's hard to say..." muttered John. "I have an idea, but I can't be sure. That lake, it looked big the last time we saw it, right?"
"Yes, it was huge," I said, frowning at him, "Why? Does it matter?"
"We'll see when we get there."
We walked on towards the lake. I didn't know what we were coming up against but from the way John was talking it sounded like we might be in for some trouble. This was by far the most serious field operation I had ever been on. I'd only been doing field work for a few months and already I was working on a job with John Connor, the most experienced field worker we had.
Soon we reached the lake. Deep forest seemed to crown all around the waters edge and the looming mountain reached up high into the sky, rising above us with a near-perfect reflection in the eerily still, flat water of the lake. The view was both amazing and also slightly unreal .There was something odd which I couldn't put my finger on. Every time I tried to think about it the presence of the mountain just seemed to numb my brain.
"Ok, stop gawping and keep alert" snapped John, "Also, keep an eye on the water. I'm trying to see if there is any activity in it." While I was looking at the mountain he had moved right up to the edge of the water where he knelt down and began squinting along the surface. I walked forward a little and he waved me away while hissing "Keep away from the water! I can't see anything... damn mountain has one hell of a reflection. I can't see a thing."
I wondered away a little as John moved on to picking up stones and hitting them with a small teaspoon. I idly picked up a couple of stones and threw one into the eerily still water. Ripples started moving out from the splash as John looked up at me.
"Why did you do that? Really, why?" He snatched the second stone out of my hand and dropped it on the ground. "I'm here trying to carefully examine the lake for any paranormal activity and you go and start chucking stones! I mean, how the hell does that help? How the hell does it do anything other than scare stuff away? You could well have just completely messed up this entire operation for today you complete and total f..." John was cut off in mid-sentence as the stone hit him in the cheek, knocking his head around. "Ow! What the hell was that?" he shouted, turning to face the lake.
"Hello, man. You want to join us? We having a wonderful party!" What appeared to be a lobster with a jamaican accent had popped its head out of the water and was pulling itself onto a rock out in the lake. "It is always better under the sea!"
I stood there gob-smacked while John let out a torrent of expletives, finishing up with, "You aren't even in the sodding sea! It's a lake!" He then picked up the stone and let fly with it, catching the lobster sharply on the head. There was a loud cracking sound as the lobster tumbled backwards into the water with a splash. "Ok, we must be near the centre. That was a lobster and this is an inland lake. You couldn't possibly get lobsters in there."
"A talking lobster just came out and invited us to join its party and the only thing you find odd is that this isn't its natural habitat?"
"With areas like this a talking lobster is pretty usual, but if one has turned up in a lake then it means we are very near the centre. Keep an eye on the sky above the forest and look for smoke. That's where the centre will be.”
"The centre of the anomaly is on fire?" This sounded dangerous. "If they sent you then it must be big... what is it? Hole in time? Gateway to hell?"
"Don't be stupid. We just had a Little Mermaid reference. Do you really think a gateway to hell would take the form of the Little Mermaid?". There was a pause for a moment, and then John snapped, "Don't be thick, of course it wouldn't! I know hell is evil and stuff but the Little Mermaid doesn't really fit into Satan's style. For a start our lobster friend back there would have cooked...shame, really."
We continued scanning the sky for a moment and then I saw it, a small column of smoke rising above the forest. The sort you would get from a wood fire. I pointed John towards it and he immediately started running. I followed him as we headed back deep into the forest. Trees passed us by as John went ahead, his head turning this way and that as we looked for the fire. Now we were back in the forest we couldn't see the smoke anymore and had to keep an eye out for anything unusual which might lead us towards it.
After a short while John slowed down and indicated to me to stop. Pointed ahead was yet another clearing. However, in this one was a cottage. It was made of what appeared to be ginger bread. I blinked and it was still there.
Turning to John, I opened my mouth and began to speak but he waved a hand in my face.
"Keep it down!" he whispered. "We need to be careful. These places can be dangerous".
"What on earth is going on, John? Why is there a house made out of cake?"
"It is the lair of a very rare type of creature. Nobody has bothered naming them yet. They are always surrounded by anomalies and they can be very dangerous. I was a little bit suspicious when we first saw that mountain but it was far too soon to be sure."
"What's so special about that mountain?"
"Think about it. We're not too far from Barnsley. I know the Pennines can be impressive, but don't you think that view might be a bit out of their league. I mean, compared to that thing most of the hills here are barely hillocks."
"Ok, fair point... so what is this place?"
"Basically, this is a place where reality isn't compulsory. In that cottage will be a creature which hunts using holes in reality. People and animals get lured into dangerous situations by entities summoned by the creature. The entities then bring the prey back here. That's how it lives. If we had gone near to those cheerful woodland animals they'd probably have gored us to death, and the Sebastian tribute act was hoping we'd drown ourselves."
"Ok, so the traps didn't work. We have brains. The creature didn't lure us to painful and embarrassing deaths. Now we can just storm in and bash its skull in, right?"
"Woah, slow down. We need to be careful. They take on disguises and sometimes keep a real person or two around as a decoy. You head on in the front door. Try to keep the creature distracted. You should be safe as long as you make sure you have an easy exit and don't eat anything. I'll find another way in and take out the creature."
"Ok," I nodded, and then began to walk towards the cottage. I looked around briefly, but John had already disappeared into the undergrowth. I cautiously walked up to the cottage and tried to glance in at one of the windows. Unfortunately they seemed to be made out of a sugar glaze and everything inside was to obscured. Taking a deep breath I knocked on the door.
It was a hot day and so my hand had gone through the partially-melted marsh-mallow. I was just about to lick some off my knuckles when I heard a hissing sound to the side of me. I looked around and saw John, crouching behind a bush, licking his knuckle and theatrically dying. I mouthed "Right, gotcha!" at him and then wiped my hand on my coat. Looking around the door, I saw a chocolate knocker on the floor, where it had landed after falling from the rapidly melting door. I racked my brains and, when no other options presented themselves, I cleared my throat loudly.
"Who's there?" came a frail, high-pitched voice from inside.
"Stop playing silly buggers. Is there anybody in?"
"How would you react were I to say no?"
"No need to be rude" I muttered, getting annoyed.
"And there's no need to call me a silly bugger. Now don't touch the door, I'll let you in."
There was a bit of a shuffling sound from inside the house and then the door began to open. Behind it was a frail looking old woman. She was bent over, with white hair and a kindly, wrinkled face.
"Hello, dear. Would you care to step inside? I'm sorry, but Mr Riley is busy at the moment. He owns this place really. He looks after me very well, but I'm not allowed outside. Says he keeps me for the company and there'd be no point if I was off gallivanting around all over the place. Not that I mind, I stopped going to the bingo after Gladys started seeing the caller. They've been messing about with it since then, interfering. I knows they have because Little Jimmy who runs the off-license, twenty-three stone he weighs, very kind man, he says they haven't bought anything from him since they got together yet she has a bottle of whiskey every week."
I stood there, nodding, letting the talk wash over me as I glanced around. There were two doors to rooms in the back and a loud thumping noise came from one of them. This so called' Mr Riley' was probably in there, getting ready to finish me off.
"Ummm...I'm sorry, what's your name?" I asked the old woman, keeping a close eye on the door the entire time.
"Mrs Applesmith... Are you quite ok, dear?"
"Ah, yes. Tell me, do you want to go outside for a moment?"
"Oh. I'm not so sure about that, dear. Mr Riley would be ever so annoyed."
"Yes, yes, I know. But its only for a few seconds. There is something I need to show you." I turned my back on the doors as I got behind the old woman, trying to move her out of the door. I heard a door slam open behind me and a yell. Turning around quickly I saw John bearing down on me holding a hammer. He whirled it around in a huge over-head swing and brought it firmly down on Mrs Applesmith's head. The hammer flattened itself out into a wide, flared shape... but not before making Mrs Applesmith's skull burst open like a watermellon. Blood and peculiar juice splattered out over the walls and small fragments of skull and... squishy stuff spattered over my coat.
What had happened had barely registered in my mind when John burst out, "Are you really such an idiot? She was obviously the creature. It was the most transparent disguise ever known!"
Dumbfouded, I stared down at the body. It looked human enough, but when I thought about it, it was clearly a disguise. You only ever find kindly old women like that in stories, afterall.
"Ok, but now its dealt with, right?"
"Maybe. Hard to tell. I might not have killed it."
"Might not have killed it?! Look at the head! Half of it isn't there!"
"Is its brain in its head? Who knows. Now, you hold this hammer and I'll just finish things off".
I grabbed the hammer and looked at the head of it, flared out as if it was from a cartoon. It seemed to be made out of toffee... the sooner I got away from this place the better. It was making my brain ache.
"Ok, I'll drop a fire-bomb. It'll start an instant fire and that should take care of the creature if it is still alive. Lets head out.”
When we had gotten a little away from the cottage he threw the bomb into the door and a blast of fire flared through the entire cottage. Fire blossomed out of the windows and caught onto the walls.
The moment the fire ripped through the cottage a loud, unearthly screach came from inside. Part of the wall of the cottage suddenly exploded outwards and a large, heavily built man came tearing out at full pelt. He was giving out a high-pitched shriek. As he came towards us, his body started changing shape. He dropped to his knees, falling fowards as his arms melted down to reveal tentacles within and his face warped, changing to resemble an insect. With one last, mournful wail the creature fell forward and was still.
Licking my lips, I looked at John.
"John... do you ever get more than one creature?"
"So.... if that was the creature... who was the old woman...?"
"Never mention this ever again."
There was a small pat sound as a blob of brain fell from the head of the hammer.
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