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The Oddkids


One summer, when I was a boy, my parents sent me to stay with my grandparents for the break. Raised in the pacific northwest, a small town in eastern Mississippi might as well have been an entirely different country for all I was concerned. The instant we got out of the airport I was struck with the oppressive humidity, and I became convinced right then and there that my parents downright despised me.

Of course, the reality was much kinder than that. My grandparents were good folks, and thankfully I met a girl within a few days of arrival, and we became fast friends. Her name was Jessie. A local girl with long blonde hair and green eyes – the first pair I'd ever encountered. I was in love at first sight. Jessie was a year or two older than me, but that didn't matter much to us.

Jessie was the reason I got up every morning – not in a romantic sense, of course, but a very literal one. Sure, my grandparents were very hospitable, but they were old and southern, about as far removed from my narrow worldview as could be. They just had no idea how to entertain me, and I think Jessie was as much a relief to them as she was to me, taking me off their hands during the days and curtailing somewhat my boundless youthful energy.
The place where my grandparents lived was about a mile out from a place called Ashbury Wood, and it was a mile I walked daily. I would always meet Jessie on the path, heading my way. On rare occasions she would already be at my grandparents' house when I was leaving, and I never saw where she lived. It didn't matter much to me, though, because the woods were our real home.

Ashbury Wood wasn't particularly dense, but boy did it seem to go on forever. Jessie showed me a few paths around the woods, unofficial trails to interesting sites like clearings, hollowed-out trees, or even just a place where a funny-looking bush was growing. We told each other stories of our hometowns, imagining what life would be like if one of us lived where the other did. Whenever we fantasized about having her come live with me she would get a strange tone in her voice, but I never thought much of it.

While the woods were our home and playground, we still set limits for ourselves. If we went too long without seeing something Jessie recognized, we immediately turned around until we were in familiar territory again. She also set boundaries, significant features we shouldn't go past for one reason or another; decades later and the only one I can remember is the creek.


The creek itself was nothing to be concerned about. It was just a shallow stream of water that may have come up to my waist, with sloped banks on either side that were sheer but not insurmountable. The first time I discovered it, I immediately headed down into the water, just about ready to cross to the other side when Jessie cried out from behind me: "Stop!"

I whirled around on one foot as gracefully as a young boy can and looked up at her. She stood staring across the creek and out into the woods on the other side. Her hands were balled into fists and kept straight at her sides, and I remember being worried that she might begin crying. I climbed back up the side of the creek, coming up beside her.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

"We need to turn around." Jessie's voice was barely above a whisper. She looked terrified, and slowly peeled her gaze away from the trees and onto me. "We have to turn back."

Reluctantly, I agreed, but only because I could see how upset the situation was making her. Like I said, the water itself wasn't that deep or rapid, and it wasn't even that far into the woods. On the walk back I raised these points, but Jessie stayed quiet, leading me to a small clearing in the trees that we used as a sort of home base for our adventures. Sitting me down, Jessie stared into the grass for a long moment before she spoke.

"Two years ago I had a friend named Emma." Her hands were balled up in her lap, shaking. "We used to play in these woods, like you and me do. And one day, just like you and me, we found that creek."

I laughed; not because of the content of the story, but because I'd never heard someone pronounce it 'crick' before. Her head snapped up to look me in the eyes and I fell quiet.

“Standin' across from it was these kids who looked about our age, only... they weren't right. That time there was only two: one of them, his head just hung to the side like this." Jessie let her head flop to the left, hanging limp. "Another was real tiny, and his hands and head were even littler, like tinier than a baby's.

“Now, I'm not proud of this next part, but we weren't exactly sugar and spice to 'em, if you know what I mean.” I shook my head that I did not. She sighed. “We would call 'em names. Tease 'em, you know, because they was weird. Emma would throw sticks
sometimes, though she couldn't hit water if she fell out of a boat.”

The story paused as Jessie smiled to herself, remembering her friend fondly.

“Did they ever talk back?” I asked, bringing her back to reality.
“Nah,” she said, shaking her head. “Just stood there lookin' at us and makin' these weird squeaking noises. Emma and me, we started callin' em 'Oddkids.' 'Cause, you know, they were kids and they sure as shit were odd.” I blushed at such intense language, but Jessie didn't notice. “But no matter what we did to 'em, they never came across the creek. Always just stood on the other side, staring and squeaking. Wasn't always the two, neither. There was different ones, four or five in all, I think.”


“What happened to Emma?” The direction the story was going was obvious, and I was eager to learn.

Jessie stayed quiet for a long while, staring into the ground and absently picking at the grass beneath her. “So at first we were afraid, right? The Oddkids weren't normal, and we would scare each other silly telling stories of how they eat people and like to run around naked together, just dumb stuff. But as time went on, we got less and less scared of 'em. It got to the point where we'd stand right on the other side of the creek and dare them to cross over, but they never would.

“One day, we're sitting there talking to ourselves, ignoring the weird-headed one like he's just another tree, and Emma said something about him being too chicken to cross. We both looked at him, and he just... walked off. Turned around and went deeper into the woods, 'til eventually we couldn't see him. And I teased Emma that he was daring her to follow him, that she was a chicken if she didn't go.”

I was listening with rapt attention at this point. To my young mind, this girl's tale of terror more closely resembled a great campfire story, made even better by the fact that it allegedly took place only a brisk walk away from where I sat.

“Together, the two of us crossed the creek, 'cause like you said it ain't that big, and we climbed up onto the other side and chased after him. We went maybe a quarter mile in before we start hearing that squeaking again, only up close it didn't sound like squeakin' anymore. It sounded like... chittering. They surrounded us faster than either of us expected, coming out of the trees like ghosts.

"I was frozen in fear. I couldn't move a muscle, just starin' at the Oddkids and wondering what was gonna happen. Then one of them, the limp-headed one, he grabbed Emma and she screamed and that just... it's like it woke me up. I tore out of there as fast as I could go, practically leaped the creek in a single jump, and ran all the way home. My lungs was on fire by the time I stopped and I was cryin' all over the place, people trying to get me to tell them what happened, but..." Her voice trailed off and I could see tears welling in her eyes.

"Did you?" I asked. She shook her head, blinking away the tears.
"I felt guilty," she admitted. "I felt guilty for leavin' her, and I just kept thinking that she'd come home, that she'd be right behind me and we'd cry about it and never ever go across that damn creek again."

"But she didn't."

Jessie shook her head again. "But she didn't," she repeated. "She didn't ever come back. Nobody ever went lookin' for her neither 'cause she was an orphan. I didn't say nothin' and so nobody even knew to look." Staring out into the woods in the direction of the creek, Jessie's voice cracked. "The Oddkids got her. I don't know what they did with her."


"I'm... uh, I'm sorry," I tried consoling her, unsure of what to say, but Jessie wasn't paying attention to me anymore. She stood up, brushed the dirt off her denim shorts, and started walking towards town. I got up and chased after her. "Wait!" I cried. "Where are you going?"

"Home."

"Home? But why?" The concept seemed alien to me – it was the middle of the day, who would want to stay indoors?

"I can't stay in these woods. Not today." She paused. “You should go home too. We'll meet up tomorrow morning."

"But-"

"But nothin'." She stopped and turned to face me. "Go home."

Jessie started to turn around again before something else occurred to her. "And don't ever, ever go across the creek, you hear me?" I nodded silently and she reached out, grabbing my shoulders and giving me a firm shake. "Say it," she demanded.
"I-I promise, no going across the creek," I said timidly. She stared into my eyes, as if searching my soul for a way to ensure my sincerity. Whether she found it or not, she eventually released me and headed off, leaving me standing alone in the woods with nothing on my hands but free time and my own thoughts. I looked back in the direction of the creek and the mysterious woods beyond. Were there really such a thing as Oddkids? I knew monsters didn't exist in Oregon, but here in Mississippi it felt like anything could be true. Plus, Jessie had told the story with such conviction that it felt disloyal to be skeptical.

I spent the rest of the day in the woods, wandering aimlessly. Part of me wanted to go back to the creek, but real or not, Jessie's story had scared the hell out of me. At one point I got just close enough that I could make the creek out through the trees, and I peered as hard as I could at the bank on the other side. I wanted to make out a pair of eyes staring back at me, or hear that chittering Jessie had talked about - heck, at that point I would have accepted a quick blur between the trees as concrete evidence - but despite my willingness to believe, nothing came forward to present itself. The opposite bank was devoid of life, and I didn't have the gall to investigate any closer.

As the sky dimmed I reluctantly began the long walk home, unaccompanied for the first time all summer. I considered Jessie's story of the Oddkids, and almost started to get a little angry with her. Of course they didn't exist! She made them up just to mess with me, and threw in another girl, conveniently orphaned, to drive home the scare. I shook my head and laughed, thinking about how gullible I had been.

Later at dinner, I ate with the ferocity of an animal. I hadn't realized how hungry I'd become, alone in the woods all day thinking, and the chicken my grandmother cooked was the most delicious thing I'd ever eaten. It was only on my third drumstick that I stopped long enough to ask them a question.

"Did you guys ever hear of anyone going missing in the woods?" I asked between bites, interrupting the regular mealtime silence. 


They looked at one another quizzically, as if searching their collective memory.

"No, I don't think so," my grandmother eventually said.


"Don't ring any bells," her husband agreed. "Why do you ask?"


I shook my head, taking another bite to buy myself some time to think of an answer. "Just something I heard some kids talking about," I told them. "Some jerks were trying to scare Jessie and me by saying a girl named Emma went missing."

Suddenly, my grandmother's eyes lit up with recognition. "You know, I didn't hear nothin' about that, but I do recall that girl being terrified of those woods." She nodded thoughtfully over a spoonful of corn. "Yeah, it was a couple years back that the girl come tearin' outta the woods like the Devil himself is on her heels, screamin' and cryin'. I didn't nose my way into it on account of her father askin' people if they would leave his daughter alone, but I overheard that the girl weren't right for a couple weeks, just sittin' in her room and not talkin' to nobody." She clucked her tongue and took another bite of corn. "Lord only knows what happened to that girl, but it shook her somethin' fierce."

I suddenly felt a sick terror in my stomach, like the feeling you get watching a recording of yourself only to see something terrifying looming just out of your sight, something you never knew was there. Did this mean the Oddkids were real? Had they been watching me as I stepped into the creek?

"So you never found out what happened?" I hesitantly asked, unsure if I wanted the answer. Grandma just shook her head, and the three of us continued eating in silence. Grandpa brought up a baseball game he'd seen on TV earlier that day and I feigned interest as well as I could, but I wasn't all there. My mind was back in the woods at that creek, inspecting every square inch of my memory for a sign of something... else.

Sleep didn't come easy that night, and when it did it was wrought with nightmares. Thoughts of the Oddkids crawled through my mind, bringing me back to the creek. Looking deeper into the woods, I saw dozens of pairs of eyes staring back at me, slowly bobbing back and forth as though they were advancing towards me. My dream-self was paralyzed, helpless to do anything but watch as the monsters came out of the shadows. The one Jessie had described, with his head sagging to the side, lead the plodding advance. As a group, the Oddkids crawled down into the creek, dragging broken limbs and torn flesh behind them, each of them chittering off-tempo with the others to create a horrible cacophony of noise that filled my ears and bore into my soul, staring into the hungry eyes of the limp-headed leader as he reached out to drag me down!

I awoke screaming. The noise still rang in my ears and, coupled with my panic, caused me to flail against my blankets as though they were trying to engulf me. I fell onto the floor with a hard thud, finally coming to rest. My grandfather burst into the room and my grandmother was close behind him.
 
 
 


"Are you okay!?" he bellowed, still full of adrenaline even though he was beginning to realize there was no threat. Embarrassed, I kicked the sheets off of me and stood up.

"Yeah, just a bad dream," I muttered. As I came to my senses, I realized the noise I had been hearing was the sound of cicadas filling the room, broadcasting their mating calls to the world. Laughing off their overzealous response, my grandparents led me downstairs to breakfast, which I accepted readily.

That morning, I walked all the way to the woods without running into Jessie. I stood at the edge of the path looking back down the road, trying to make out her figure, but nobody was there. Sighing, I walked all the way back to my house, then down to the woods again. There was no sign of her.

My adolescent mind filled once more with nightmarish imagery, but I did my best to stay grounded in reality. She was the last person who would have gone across the creek, and if the Oddkids ever ventured out of the woods, surely people around town would talk about them, right?

Armed with these rationalizations I decided to head to our favorite clearing and wait for her. She wasn't there when I arrived - part of me had expected her to be waiting in the grass, ready to laugh in my face when she learned how I'd walked up and down the path two more times before thinking to check our spot - and as an hour slowly ticked by, I began to wonder if something bad really had happened to her. But, if something had, what was I going to do about it? I had no idea where she lived, and she was the only kid I knew in the area.

Almost unconsciously, I began to head towards the creek. I had only promised I wouldn't cross it, after all, and if she was so concerned about my whereabouts she should have let me know where she was going to be. Besides, if she had been able to outpace the Oddkids when they were right beside her, I would be able to get away long before they got close.

My legs were filled with a giddy, nervous energy as I kept walking, sometimes at a quick pace and others at barely a shuffle. Once the creek itself was in view I began to move from tree to tree, using them like cover from whatever might lurk on the other side of the creek. I inched closer, cautious to not disturb even a single twig in my approach.


Finally I was only a few yards from the near bank of the creek. I crouched down and quietly got to my hands and knees, closing the last stretch on all fours and keeping a close watch on the trees ahead of me. I hissed out Jessie's name in a low voice, straining my ears into the woods to catch anything of interest, but nothing happened. It was just another ordinary day and I was just some weird little boy whispering into the forest.

I was just about to turn around when a brief flash of movement caught my eye. I hadn't noticed it before because I was scanning the ground, but turning my eyes up I saw a silhouette of something I couldn't quite make out. It swayed gently in the breeze as though it was suspended from the branches. The leaves broke up the distant form, which must have been several dozens of feet away, and I immediately forgot my promise to Jessie; I had to know what that thing was. Just as I was about to swing my legs down the bank of the creek, a call startled me to my feet in an instant.

“What are you doing?” Jessie was standing a ways behind me, clinging onto a tree as though she might fall without its support. Though her tone was one of anger, her face was ghost-white. She beckoned me towards her, clearly unwilling to go closer to the creek than she was. I twisted my body around, raising an arm to point at the thing I had seen in the treetops, but I couldn't relocate it.

“I... I saw something,” I said, scanning the leaves for the swaying form.

“And with any luck, it didn't see you!” she hissed, stamping her foot in the dirt. I shook my head, my boyish curiosity trumping her obvious fear.

“Don't be such a scaredy-cat,” I said, crouching down to see if I could find the figure in the branches. Briefly, I wondered if it had moved, but that seemed impossible. Whatever it was, it wasn't animate. “I'm going across.”

“No!” Jessie screamed, lunging towards me. I was already startled by her cry, and mid-turn she collided into me at full force, sending us both tumbling down the bank and into the creek. We yelled and flailed as we fell, both of us landing on my back. The muddy water babbled over us and I scooted away, pulling myself onto the far bank of the creek. Jessie followed, more out of a desire to get out of the water than anything.

“Nice going," I said sarcastically. The water was actually a little refreshing in the summertime heat, but we knew that before long we'd be drowning in humidity, our damp clothes suffocating what little comfort sweating brought. I crawled up onto the opposite side of the creek, once again raising my eyes to the branches to find what I'd seen.

“Please, please can we go?” Jessie was at my side, clutching my arm despite the fact that I was a good half a foot shorter than she was. “We really need to go, please!”


“Come on, just a little bit further!” Wonder and excitement had overtaken all other emotions in my mind. Before, when the creek was just a memory, it was easy to picture a world of monsters lurking just across the way. Now that I was here, in the light of day, I felt empowered. I could see that there weren't monsters, so obviously I was safe.

I'm lucky to be alive.

Tugging Jessie forward, I walked to the spot where I had seen the thing hanging from the trees, but now it was nowhere to be found. From where I was standing I could still make out the creek, and I tried to imagine myself crouched low on the other side, looking up into the branches. The wind blew lazily through the leaves, shaking them this way and that, but nothing unnatural hung from the canopy.

“I saw something right here,” I said aloud, justifying my persistence to Jessie. I did feel bad for dragging her somewhere she obviously didn't want to be, and I thought if I'd had something to show for it, maybe she would have understood. Instead here I was, staring up into the trees like an idiot with a terrified girl clinging to my side. Her eyes darted back and forth across the treeline, as if waiting for something to suddenly appear and attack us.

Unwilling to leave empty-handed, I coaxed us slowly forward. As we pressed on, the woods around us seemed to get quieter, as if we were entering some sort of dead zone in the forest, a place where even the birds and critters refused to go. Jessie's nails dug into my arm but she stayed right by my side, no longer making any noise except a small whimper with every exhalation.

After another five or ten minutes of walking, we came across a rocky outcropping jutting out of the ground, and a small hole leading down. Intrigued as I was by the promise of more adventure, something else caught our attention: a strange doll layed propped against the mouth of the cave, facing us. Its elongated forehead drooped slightly over its face, making the upper right side of its head concave. Its eyes were small and beady and black, shining in the midday sun, and tufts of hair had been placed into its scalp in a disorganized manner. It was garbed only in small denim overalls covering grungy cloth skin. Before I could even draw breath to comment on it, Jessie was fiercely tugging me away.

“That's it! That's one of them!” She was practically screaming, raw terror coming through in her voice, but her reaction was scaring me more than the object itself – that was an Oddkid? An oversized doll?

“Calm down!” I said, tugging back against her. “It can't be! Look at it, it's not breathing! It's just a doll!” Wrenching my arm out of her grip, Jessie fell face-first in the dirt, but was on her feet a second later. I heard her starting to run and turned to tell her that she didn't have to get any closer if she was scared, that I would go examine it alone.


As I stared in her direction, however, my voice caught in my throat. Standing where Jessie and I had been not twenty seconds ago was another doll, only this one was different. It was cleaner and more well-made, as if whoever had made the one by the cave had learned from their mistakes. This girl doll was standing beside a tree, watching us with those same all-black eyes, short brown hair matted with dirt and clumped to her head haphazardly. A tattered red dress clung desperately to her right shoulder, and beneath it the cloth skin looked much cleaner than the other's, much more... real.

Before I could say a word, Jessie broke the silence. I expected her to shriek, but instead what came out of her mouth was barely above a whisper.

“Emma?”

The girl doll took a step forward, and my terror levels shot up to their limits. I glanced backwards to see the other doll was pulling itself to its feet, awkwardly shambling towards us. Any doubt I had in Jessie's story evaporated in an instant. The Oddkids were real, and they were right in front of me. Without another moment's hesitation I grabbed Jessie's wrist, suddenly becoming the one desperate to get us out.

“Come on! Come on, let's go!” I yelled at her, but she didn't even seem to hear me. She instead began to walk towards the girl doll, towards... Emma, I guessed, though I couldn't see how that could ever have been Jessie's friend. I kept pulling at her arm even as the thing behind her got closer. Jessie was focused exclusively on the other girl, blocking out the whole rest of the world. The doll reached out to Jessie, and she raised her own hand out as well.

“Jes-!” I began to say, but I was interrupted by a heavy object falling directly onto my best friend, sending her crumpling into the dirt. On top of her was a small, human-like figure, with the head and hands proportionally much smaller than they should have been. Finally observing one up-close, I realized their skin wasn't just dirty cloth; it was rotten, mottled flesh.

I scrambled backwards as the little creature gripped Jessie by the hair, tugging her head up painfully. Jessie screamed and clawed at the ground, trying to shove the thing off of her, but the creature she'd called Emma sagged to its knees, clamped a hand over her mouth, then turned its head to look at me.

Energy surged to my legs and I shot upright. I was in full panic mode, operating on a primal instinct to flee, but just as I started to run I collided into a solid force that knocked me back down to the ground. Another one of those things stood before me, his head flopping awkwardly to the left just as Jessie had demonstrated. The one I had seen slumped by the cave came into my view, holding a large rock in its hands. Before I could roll out of the way the weight came down on my head, sending a splitting pain through my skull. My vision went white and a deafening ringing filled my ears, but I stayed conscious throughout.


I could faintly feel things tugging at me, pulling me across the ground as I struggled just to regain my senses. The blinding white slowly faded to an impenetrable black, and the ringing dulled to formless shuffling and the Oddkids' strange chitters echoing off the walls of the cave. I did my best to stay limp as I was dragged across rough stone, tearing into my shirt and cutting my flesh. I'm certain I whimpered in pain, but the Oddkids didn't react to it, hauling me further into their lair.

Eventually the motion came to an end. I was propped against a rough stone wall, and even in the darkness I could tell that one of them was just in front of my face, quietly muttering to itself in those strange, arrhythmic noises. Its coarse fingers grabbed my hands and it began stretching a strong, thin fabric around my wrists, binding them together. It wrapped for what felt like ages, until it finally seemed satisfied that my hands weren't going anywhere, then moved on to my ankles to do the same.

Once that was done the thing shuffled away, the noise of its movements getting gradually fainter before disappearing altogether. Meaning to breathe a sigh of relief, I instead let out a choked sob, finally letting myself express the terror I'd felt through the whole ordeal. I'm not ashamed to admit that I sat in that cave and cried, certain I'd never see my parents or grandparents ever again.

Only when I heard more movement coming my way did I make any effort to quiet myself. I did my best to control my breathing, sucking in breaths through shuddering gasps and letting them out slowly through my nose. I tried to picture what the noises were; slowly, I put together that someone else was being dragged down the same rough path I had been.

They were bringing Jessie back here, too.

For a brief moment, I felt hope. As selfish as it is to admit, at the very least I took comfort in knowing that I wouldn't have to suffer alone. Part of me even entertained the notion that perhaps together Jessie and I could escape this cave and never, ever come back to these awful woods again.

Of course, the reality of this plan had many obstacles. The cave was utterly dark, something that didn't seem to affect the Oddkids one bit. For all I knew there was one sitting in the room with me, silently watching and waiting for me to make a move so it could pounce on me again and finish the job. On top of that, they easily outnumbered us. The odds were stacked against us in every conceivable way.

Jessie noisily entered the room in which I was kept, and her muffled screaming gave me a sense of the dimensions of the room. It seemed smaller than I expected, likely only a little bigger than my own bedroom. Still, it was plenty big for storing the two of us.

Just as I was wondering if they would leave Jessie and me alone together, the room was filled with a soft blue luminescence. One of the Oddkids - I couldn't tell which with their back turned to me - was brushing their fingers against a strange kind of moss on the far wall, and the agitation sparked a chain reaction across the entire plant. Tendrils of blue light arced over the wall in a brilliant pattern, the illumination branching off itself like a snowflake before finally filling in, covering the cave wall in the most beautiful display I'd ever seen.


And there, in front of the glowing moss, was Jessie. She had been laid out on an obviously man-made dirt platform, and her struggles stilled as puffs of spores from the glowing moss fell onto her. The Oddkid stood over her, observing for a moment, before bending forward over her.

In my life I had never heard the sound of flesh tearing, but the very first time was unmistakable. I jerked at the noise, as if it had been my own skin, and my heart beat so fast I worried that it would give me away. I screwed my eyes shut and just listened as the Oddkid did God-knows-what to my helpless friend only a few feet from my face. Mustering up what courage I could, I began to work the bonds around my wrists against a jagged rock, working just slow enough to not make too much noise.

The ripping noise soon gave way to gurgles and wet squishing, but I didn't allow myself to picture it. Instead I thought about my grandparents, about seeing their warm smiles one more time. I thought about the airplane that would take me out of Mississippi, and I thought of every excuse I would ever use for the rest of my life to keep from getting on another plane back. I had to survive this. I had to.

Sure enough, the ropes came free with enough effort. Once they were weak enough I managed to pull them apart with brute strength, the fibers tearing away from each other with a soft sound, something that was almost pleasing contrasted against the disturbing noises coming from across the room.

I groped around in the near-dark, my fingers moving from rock to rock until I found something loose enough - and big enough - that I felt comfortable with it. I now stared directly at the Oddkid, its back still turned as it performed its macabre ritual on my friend. Sawing the rock across the ropes around my ankles, I worked my nerve up to what I was going to have to do next. Armed with a rock, I was going to attack the Oddkid, knocking them out with one good blow. Fair play, I thought to myself. Next I would grab Jessie and hoist her over my shoulder - she was taller than me, sure, but I wasn't a weak kid. After that, we would sneak out of the cave somehow, then sprint back to my Grandparents' house and be safe.

The wraps across my ankles fell away, and I slowly stretched my legs out before getting them underneath me. The Oddkid was still oblivious to me, and part of me hated that. Here I was, about to bash in its skull with a rock, and it didn't even consider me enough of a threat to turn around and check on me.

"Hey," I whispered, the rock clutched tight in my fist as I held it out to the side behind my head. The Oddkid finally swiveled around and I stared into its soulless black eyes one last time before bringing the weapon across.

The sensation was nothing like I expected. Instead of a solid blow and a resonating crack, my hand squelched through its blotchy skin with little resistance. I stood there, stunned and staring into its remaining eye as its face hung loosely around my wrist. Soft scratches made their way across my hand and I jerked it back, the force of my fist pulling out of its head tearing another gouge through the skin-that-was-not-skin.


Looking down at my hand, I saw the single most horrific thing I have ever seen in my life. Instead of brains, blood and gore covering my hand, there were bugs. Centipedes, spiders, ants and more, too numerous to count, swarmed over my skin. The bag of flesh before me slumped to its knees before keeling over, its occupants surging out of the hole in its neck.

I lost it. I screamed at the top of my lungs and beat my arm against the wall of the cave, shluffing off the vermin in sheets. Through the chaos I called out Jessie's name, forgetting at the time that I had already expected her to be unconscious at best. Her head tilted to the side and she raised herself up onto her elbows, staring at me. My heart swelled, thinking for a moment that if nothing else, at least we would get out of this alive.

When the azure glow of the moss reflected off Jessie's all-black eyes, I ran.

Through the darkness I ran, heedless of the frantic chittering that echoed off the stone all around me. I ran into every single twist and turn in those tight tunnels, still struggling to scrape all the bugs off my arm. With every passing moment I expected to feel the Oddkids' hands wrap around my legs, drag me back to that room, and do to me what they'd done to Jessie. Turn me into one of them.

Finally I saw a thin shaft of light at the end of the darkness. I scrambled out of the cave and into the open woods, the full moon giving me plenty of illumination to find my way. Through the entire sprint I tore at the flesh of my arm with my fingernails, scraping off the remains of the Oddkid as they wriggled and crawled across me.

The entire run is mostly a blur now. I didn't stop once, didn't even peek behind me for fear of seeing those things one more time. When I burst into my grandparents' house, the two of them were both awake, sitting up in the living room waiting for me. I must have told a tale with a single look, because their stern expressions melted upon seeing my eyes and they stayed up with me the rest of the night. Sitting on the couch and wrapped in a blanket, I just stared out the window at the dusty road that led from the house, praying that I wouldn't see Jessie walking down it.
The next day, after I'd slept and eaten, my grandparents tried to coax out of me what happened. I didn't know what to tell them.
Eventually, I told them I'd just fallen asleep in the woods and had a nightmare, freaked myself out and ran home crying. They hugged me and laughed gently, and my grandpa said I should call ahead the next time I'm going to worry them half to death. I smiled and Jessie's face appeared in my mind's eye.

I didn't let myself be alone for the rest of the vacation. This meant staying indoors for the most part, something I was more than fine with. When word got out that Jessie hadn't been home in a few days and people started searching, my grandparents asked me if I knew anything about it. I wanted to tell them about the Oddkids - I should have said something, I know that now. But, like the scared child I was, I just said I didn't and they left it at that. Three weeks later I got on a plane and went home, and for the first time since the cave I felt like I could breathe again. I no longer had the threat of the Oddkids looming over me, just waiting for a moment's lapse in readiness so they could pounce.


I'd like to say that I don't know what happened to Jessie, that her fate remains a mystery, but that would be the coward's way out. Jessie died because of me. Because of my hubris, my curiosity and my stupid thirst for adventure, Jessie lost her life. This is something I think about every day, even some thirty years later, and it hurts just as much as the very first time I realized it.

Thousands of miles and a couple decades now lay between me and the worst summer of my life, but it isn't perspective that's prompted me to finally write out my tale. My daughter Maggie has been getting excited about collecting bugs, and as uneasy as it may make me, I'm not the kind to stop her. What really unsettles me about it is how her bugs act; every time she brings me one of her little jars, the bugs inside... watch me. I know how crazy this sounds, I know bugs don't 'see' like you and I, but... it's like they want me to know that they know I'm there.

I went into my daughter's room a few days ago when she was out at school and picked up her ant farm to see what would happen. I expected them to freeze, to turn and look at me, but instead they went into a frenzy. Every last ant swarmed the side of the container, crawling over each other and climbing against the plastic that separated them from my right hand. The hand the bugs were on for minutes as I stumbled blindly through that cave, frantically clawing them off. I watched, horrified, as the ants literally tore each other apart to be the one closest to my hand.


What did the Oddkids do to me?


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by reddit user StealMyPants via: reddit.com/r/NoSleep        

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