They all said the nights would be the worst–all of them said it, Paul, Jess, Mel, Mike, LT, all of them. Being the only girl, they didn’t have to try and scare me any more than I already was. I was only there by accident anyway; I wasn’t like them. I wasn’t one of the damned like they were. It’d been curiosity, that was all, and who hasn’t ever been curious? Looked a little too deeply into the wrong dark corner of the world and fallen through one of the holes. And now was my first night here, and I was in a small gray one-room cabin with five tough-looking guys I didn’t know, wondering what was going to happen to me next.
There wasn’t any food. “We’re always hungry. There’s never anything to eat. You’ll get used to it,” LT said. He was probably my favorite. He was the skinniest, the cleanest, and the youngest, maybe twenty, and so I felt safest with him. I don’t know why. I was only sixteen, but I tried not to think about that because it only ever seemed more and more unfair.
LT started putting logs in the fire. I didn’t know why, because it had been hot all day. “It gets cold once it gets dark.”
The others were all playing some kind of card game I didn’t know. I almost asked if someone could teach me, but it seemed like such a mistake once I saw how the big fat one named Jess was looking at me. So I went and sat in a corner until someone told me not to get too close to the walls.
“You’ll want to be as far from outside as possible, missy,” Mel said. “They can dig their claws through the slats. Where the wind can reach, so can they.”
LT took his place at the table once the fire was going. There wasn’t a place for me, so I stood slightly away from the table, trying to seem like I had something else to do other than stand there and feel lost and afraid.
There was no getting out of this place. Whatever gate I’d fallen through was gone when I looked behind me. I’d been up high in the mountains, lost in the corkscrews of dark green stone. But then I got out of there when I started noticing all the chest-sized spiders, black with bright yellow lines down their bodies. I’d bolted down out of the mountains, and that’s when they caught me in one of their traps. They’d been looking for food.
“We’re always looking for food,” Jess had said. His reaction was hard to read. I couldn’t tell if he was happy to see a human in the trap or not. Any minute, I expected him to come at me with his knife and decide I was going to be dinner, but the others seemed to have some honor at least, and they kept him in check.
So night came, and I ended up sitting with my back to where they were all playing cards and laughing at the table in the center of the room. I was about to fall asleep just sitting there, lulled into a comfortable doze by the passing of time, when the call of the outsiders cut through the silence and everyone dropped their cards and stood up.
Then everyone got real quiet, LT looked at me with his finger to his lips to make sure I understood. Yeah, I knew they were scared, all right, but I was annoyed by this whole operation and I was still half-asleep and so my terror and disorientation seemed farther away.
The outsiders’ whining trill was haunting. It seemed to be coming from all sides of the cottage as well as from above. Whatever they were, they knew where we were, and they were coming.
My name is Esther Reed, and I was sixteen the night I stood up off the floor of that cottage, went past all those terrified men to the door, threw it open, and yelled, “Who’s out there, huh? Come on and show yourself!” and then cringed as I felt the wind intensify as Hell itself tightened and rushed forward.
The ones that came that night were tall. They were not friendly. It was the first mistake I made there. I only wish it had also been the last. You can always tell the fresh meat by its audacity; after awhile living here, you learn the value of cowardice.