I was ten when it happened. My tenth birthday. I was in the woods with my uncle and father and they were making sure I knew how to shoot. Before I could hunt deer, I had to show them I could hunt bottles. By that, I mean I had to hit ten bottles from ten feet away, using ten bullets. It wasn’t much a test. I could’ve done that when I was seven. My guess was they just wanted to do something special with the number ten. I would’ve preferred ten cakes.
Thanks to my well-placed shots, the first three bottles exploded in glittering, green shards. Against the sullen backdrop of the sun-punctured gray sky and the forest still recovering from last year’s fire, it looked hauntingly pretty.
Even though I’d worn my ear protection, I felt discomfort in both my ears. It wasn’t the normal ringing I’d encountered before, though. It was a painful buzzing, like flies were trapped by my eardrums.
I looked over and saw my dad and uncle both rubbing the area around their ears. They’d taken out their plugs and looked uncomfortable and confused. I pulled off my own and asked what was going on. Dad shook his head and said he didn’t know.
“Mother of f**k!,” my uncle exclaimed, prompting a burst of giggles from me and a slap upside his head from my dad. But then we saw what had caused his outburst.
The seven remaining bottles were floating. They stood, motionless, three feet above the rocks where they’d been placed. The buzzing intensified and the three of us cringed. It was like a colony of bees had descended on the quiet forest.
“Let’s go,” Dad said, grabbing my hand, and we started walking back the way we came.
Then the world ended.
My father and uncle were hoisted into the air. I shrieked. Their eyes grew wide with fright and they held their rifles in deathgrips while pointing them in every direction in a futile attempt to threaten whatever was assailing them. I remember how my dad looked right before it happened. The instant before.
A one of the levitating bottles flew with impossible speed. It struck my dad in his open mouth and shattered. Glass stuck inside his devastated gums, tongue, and cheeks. My uncle, now screaming, was met with the same hideous assault. Both wailed around the glass impaling the soft tissue of their mouths while I tugged at my dad’s leg, trying to pull him back to Earth.
30 years later, their screams haunt me more than the sight of their blood. But blood poured. Blood gushed. In a haze of uncomprehending horror, I watched as the shards extracted themselves from the mouths of the men and began to carve. Lips were amputated. Cheeks were excised. Flesh dropped to the forest floor. The buzzing in my ears reached an unbearable level, and with a sharp cracking sound, everything went silent.
Deaf, I huddled against a large tree and sobbed. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the violence. In a noiseless, surreal nightmare, I saw the glass carve their gums down to the roots of their teeth. Their heads jerked forward in a powerful movement and teeth exploded out of their skulls and into the sky. I followed their trajectory and saw, for the first time, a patch of dull, green light behind the gathering clouds.
I looked back at my father and uncle. They’d stopped moving their arms and legs and trunks. The violent forward motion had to have broken their necks. My uncle’s eyes gaped and darted in every direction, but Dad’s were on me. They expressed pain, but something else, too. It was comfort. Even in the bloodbath, he wanted me to know it would be okay.
It wasn’t okay.
The green light intensified and I saw the outline of something – that’s still the only word I can use – something – in the sky. The first thing that came to mind was Medusa’s head. It had a spherical center and countless, serpentine spires jutting from it at every conceivable angle. Liquid patches of light traveled between the spires, and as it descended, I felt the buzz which had deafened me vibrating my hair and fat.
It reached the treeline. It was the size of a house. My dad and uncle had their eyes on it as their ruined mouths wept. The spires stopped mere feet away from the three of us. A sliver of green shone on the two men, and they began to shake wildly.
If they hadn’t been paralyzed from the tooth extraction, the shaking would’ve ensured it. They flopped like electrocuted ragdolls pinned to a corkboard; arms, legs, hips, backs – all contorting in ways that would splinter and pulverize their bones. My father’s knees bent forward, hyperextending until his toes were touching his hips. My uncle’s lower jaw swept back and forth. There was no conceivable way they were still alive.
With a sense of resignation, I realized I couldn’t move. I was pinned in my position, helpless to do anything but stare at the carnage. I assumed I would be next.
The green light flashed red. The tattered clothing on my relatives split and fell to the ground. The glass, which had dropped to the ground after finishing with their mouths, took to the air again. It sliced through their bodies in long, deep incisions. The red light intensified, and I watched as their splintered, fragmented bones were hurled from their bodies toward the liquid light on the spire-studded object. In a final, hideous act, their eyes dropped from their boneless sockets and pulped brain matter followed them.
Two motionless bags of flesh hung in the silent forest.
If I passed out at that point, it wasn’t for long.
My eyes opened to the sight of the husks of my uncle and father being prodded by one spire each. Skin flopped back and forth. Any remaining blood rained onto the floor of the abattoir nouveau below them. The light had shifted from red to something else I’d never seen before. It was as if they were trapped in a beam of shadow; it wasn’t perfectly black, but dark gray.
Black fluid began to drip out of their skin. It puddled in the mess of blood and organs on the ground. Their flesh wounds began to close. The dripping slowed, then stopped. The bodies started to regain their original shape.
My despondent resignation grew teeth as fresh fear suffused my small body. The skins were full again. The arms and legs moved, as if they were being tested. Eyes sprouted from the empty sockets and teeth filled their mouths. After a couple minutes, they looked exactly like they had before they’d been murdered.
Everything blurred after this.
I remember them slowly descending to the ground. I remember their mouths moving as if they were talking to me, but in my deafness, I heard nothing. I remember trying to run, but being stopped; stopped and held against the chest of the thing who looked like my father. The twinkle of concern in his eyes was gone.
I was carried through the forest to our house. I remember Mom starting at the sight of my nude father and uncle entering, but then I lost consciousness. When I woke up, I was in my bed. It was the day after my birthday.
As I said above, it’s been 30 years. I am still deaf. Everything continued as if nothing had happened, other than a freak accident due to a combination of a misfiring shell and my shrugging off of my hearing protection right beforehand. I even told Mom about it all, and she just stroked my hair and told me it must’ve been a terrible nightmare.
There was no warmth in her eyes.
My mother, my father, and my uncle still live on the same street. I live across town. I don’t see them very often. They express great sadness at this and message frequently, but I can’t forget what I know happened – what I know wasn’t a dream.
Over the years, there have been clues. Every so often there’d be a newspaper article about strange lights in the sky or messes of blood and organs found in the forest. They’re things that are always explained away by auroras or animal attacks. Weird stuff, but not anything that’ll make people think more than twice.
Five years ago, I was on my way to the supermarket on my bicycle when my chain fell off. I pulled over onto the sidewalk to fix it. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw another cyclist crossing the street. Then a car made an illegal turn and the cyclist had to swerve out of the way. He fell onto the ground. I looked up and realized it was Dad. He was picking himself up. A small gash had appeared on his elbow. Greasy, black liquid trickled down his arm.
He saw me and smiled. Then he looked at his arm and sighed. He lifted the bike back onto its wheels, walked up to me, and signed, “your mother and I miss you.” He hopped on the bike and rode away.
I just stared at tiny black drops on the pavement.