BY SR HUGHES
She sees them on the fringes of the wilderness, where derelict neighborhoods blur into the trees. Where vines pull at wrecked facades like lover’s limbs, murmuring come back to the earth with us, come back to the earth and sleep, where branches breach broken windows seeking sunbeam alms, where new life sprouts out of old. She sees them there, right on the edges, at the places where civilization falls, where nature rises.
They adorn themselves in bone. They hood themselves in buck’s skulls, cow’s skulls, bull’s skulls, wolf’s skulls. They wear necklaces of teeth, phalanges, tarsals. Their fingers gleam in ivory rings, claw-tipped, leather-skinned. They might be human. They might not be human.
She sees them sifting. They pick through the carcasses of downtrodden houses, through the ruins of recession. They scavenge wrecked cars and collapsed garages. They rummage through garbage-strewn overgrowth, through litter, through trash, through the left-behinds, the forgotten, the discarded.
They garb themselves in bloodcloth, bright red. Cloaks and shawls and capes and sometimes just stained hoodies, all crimson, all claret, all scarlet and carmine. They wear the shade as uniform, or perhaps as vestment.
Their limbs are long and thin. Their bodies, attenuated, elongate. Their skin is sundark, moonkissed, leathered and tough. Sometimes they peer up at her window with skullsockets, with black holes gaping in bone.
She does not see their eyes. She does not see anything behind their skull masks.
Perhaps there’s nothing there to see.
But when she gazes into those pits, into those gaps in the bone, she shivers. She feels seen, watched, and known. She feels chosen. She thinks what it might be like to be chosen, to be seen and watched and known. She wonders what it’s like to be noticed, to be picked. She fingers a crucifix necklace, the body of a chosen person nailhung on a cross. She doesn’t want to be chosen. She doesn’t want to be noticed. She doesn’t want to be seen or watched or known.
Today, they’ve gathered. They hold ranks at the treeline, crouched in brush, waiting.
She locks the doors. She turns off the lights.
She sees them.
She is seen.
S. R. Hughes is a Queens-based writer of dark contemporary fantasy, horror, and other Weird fictions. He's been previously published in Sanitarium Magazine and The Wild Hunt (as Spencer Rhys Hughes). He's also been featured on several podcasts, and wrote the first season of The Hollow podcast. He does not venture into the wilderness. Twitter @thershughes