Fictober, Prompt 16 – “Listen. No, really listen.”, Original Fiction
Warnings: horror, implied monster, ambiguous ending. Midwest/north woods gothic.
I stuttered to a halt in the middle of the trail, looking warily to my left where the high, trilling call had sounded.
Of course, there were loons out on the lake at this time of year, making their way south for the winter. I just hadn’t realized how much more eerie the sound would be when I was out in the woods after sunset, and not safe inside the coziness of our cabin. We couldn’t see the lake from here, the trees were too thick, but it was nearby.
“Just a loon,” Lukas called back to me, still walking up ahead.
“I know,” I said, unable to shake the feeling of uneasiness as I continued, trotting a little to catch up to him. He had spent more time up here than I had, but even I knew what the loons sounded like by now.
We passed on through the increasing darkness. Lukas thought there might be some good owl-watching tonight, if we could find the right spot in the woods. That had sounded a lot more fun back in the cabin, where it had been warm near the fire.
Now, out here, with night falling around us and the temperatures slowly dropping, I was less sure about it. I shivered, and shivered more when the loon called again, long and wailing.
Another voice answered it this time, almost that same, wailing cry.
The hair stood up on the back of my neck and I stopped again. Lukas noticed right away that I had stopped and came back, grinning at me as he put his hands on my shoulders. I met his eyes, level with mine, and took a deep breath before returning his smile wryly.
“Didn’t think you were this given to jumping at shadows,” he joked, but his gaze was warm and understanding. I’d been much more used to the city before we met, and even now I was still getting used to the wilderness up here, not too many hours away.
I couldn’t help darting a quick look at the trees, where the dim shadows cast by thin starlight were indeed creeping. Nothing moved, though, just tree shadows. Nothing out of place.
“I’m fine,” I promised him.
“And we’re going to be fine,” he promised me in turn. “It can get a little creepy out here at night, especially if you aren’t used to it. We’ve gone out more during the day.”
We continued, staying closer together this time.
Off to the left, the loon called again.
Another call came to answer…from behind us.
I spun around, eyes wide, searching the shadows for any kind of movement.
“Hey,” Lukas said, pulling back a little when I jumped at his hand on my shoulder. “It’s okay. There’s just two loons, that’s all.”
“Are you sure?” I asked, voice low.
“Yeah, see,” he said, but I shook my head, more convinced than ever that whatever was making that second call was not a loon.
“Listen,” I told him, “no, really listen.”
He sighed, but stayed quiet.
I couldn’t pin down what was wrong about it. Something about the pitch, the length, the rise and fall of sound was just…it was close. It was so close to being a loon call, but it wasn’t.
Lukas was frowning slightly now, but then he sighed again and shook his head. “I still think it’s a second loon. Do you want to go back? I want this to be fun for both us, and if you’re not enjoying it, we don’t have to keep going.”
Loon call. (Off to the left, out over the lake, more distant now than it had been at first.)
Answering call. (Behind us, in the woods, just as near as it had been from the beginning: no closer, no farther.)
“No, it’s okay. I really would like to see an owl in action,” I told him, and was glad to find him smiling again.
“One owl,” he promised, “then we can head back and open a bottle of something, yeah?”
“Yeah,” I said. “That sounds good.”
We continued up the path. Really, I was probably just jumping at shadows. There were some wild animals out here, but we had lights for after we had found an owl and Lukas had a compass and knew where we were going. Everything was going to be fine, I told myself.
Answering call. (Was it closer this time?)
Everything was going to be fine.