It was a cold November night. Alex's car had broken down, and he was completely lost. His phone was dead, and his SatNav couldn't get a connection. The only road map he had was from 1982, but after a lot of squinting at the creased paper he could make out a red phone, the symbol for an emergency phone box. It was the best chance he had. Alex grabbed a torch from his glovebox and headed into the night.
Eventually he reached the box. To his dismay it was strung up with yellow tape. The words "DO NOT USE" were printed up and down the tape. Alex cursed under his breath, and reached into his pocket for the road map. But it wasn't there. He must have dropped it. As if the situation couldn't get any worse, Alex's torch flickered and shut off. More aimless wandering was his only chance to find someone who could help him.
Without the comforting yellow light of his torch, the maze of muddy C-roads and endless fields became unsettling and ominous. Every rustle of barley felt like some beast hunting him, and the distant baying of unknown farm animals carried on the wind, and sent shivers down his spine. After at least 20 minutes of tense walking, Alex felt the rusty metal of a road sign in front of him. Of course, without his torch he had no chance of reading it. Angry and tired, Alex ran in the opposite direction, but slipped in a muddy puddle and fell forwards. His torch hit the ground with a crack, and flickered back to life. Hands stinging from the fall, he quickly picked up his only light source, and turned to read the sign. The words filled him with horror.
"YOU ARE IN PRIVATE PROPERTY. TRESPASSERS WILL BE SHOT ON SIGHT."
With his heart in his mouth, Alex felt a great sense of terror looming over him. The imminent threat was no longer just a subject of his primal fears, now it was real, and taking the form of an angry landowner with a shotgun. No matter who it was, he knew they wouldn't take kindly to an intruder on their land. He would have to be quiet if he wanted to get out of here alive.
The next part of his journey was spent low to the ground, quietly creeping through the field of wheat he found himself in. He had removed one of the batteries of his torch, and so the warm glow from before was reduced to a small, flickering cone of light. Just enough to see by, but not enough that he would be spotted. Just for a second, Alex stood up to get his bearings. There was a farm to his right, and only about 50 metres away too. He knew it was stupid and dangerous and maybe the worst thing to do in his situation, but he decided to head for the farm. He knew there was a large chance of being shot, but the farm would be almost 100% likely to have tools for vehicle repair. There were three visible shapes in the darkness, a farmhouse, a large barn, and a long, tunnel-shaped building, possibly a shed.
As Alex came closer to the farm, he heard strange sounds, seemingly coming from the sky. Undulating, warbling sounds, like something out of a cheap sci-fi movie. It was most likely just the sounds of farm animals, distorted by the wind. He also noticed there were no lights on in the farmhouse, except one, in the attic window. Alex could make out the shadow of a man, but it was nearly completely still. His first thought was that it might be a mannequin, but this was dispersed when its head twitched. Alex felt a sense of uncanny fear, but also curiosity. Why would anyone be standing stiff in their attic at one o' clock in the morning?
Eventually, the field of wheat stopped, and fertile soil gave way to the cracked concrete of a farmyard. There was a large object obscured by tarp to Alex's right, and a gravel driveway to his left. The farmhouse was also to his left, surrounded by a small, unkempt hedge, presumably acting as the perimeter to a garden. While the strange man in the attic unsettled Alex, it was also his only chance to get home, and stealing tools would land him in even more trouble than he was already in. With as much courage as he could muster, he walked over to the farmhouse, and rang the doorbell.
The light from upstairs suddenly switched off. Alex fumbled with his torch as loud footsteps thudded through the house, like someone running, no, stampeding, through the rooms. This was coupled with the sound of crashing, like furniture was being thrown about. Whoever lived here sounded a bit too eager to answer the door. Adrenaline surging through his veins, Alex ran away from the door and to the the other side of the house, pressing his body up against the wall. Just as he began to calm down, he heard the front door slam open. In that moment, it felt like everything went silent. The only sounds were heavy footsteps on gravel, and strange, whistling breaths. Both of these sounds slowly grew quieter, as the source of the sounds grew more distant, until they were completely inaudible. Alex took a giant breath, and wiped the sweat from his brow. Something just wasn't right about that man, but it seemed like he had gone towards the farmyard. This gave Alex a chance to sneak inside the farmhouse, and maybe find something that could help him get home.
The farmhouse door had been left open. Alex quickly looked to his right, to make sure he wasn't being observed. The man from before was just barely visible, standing in the farmyard with his back to the house. He wore basic farmer attire, a check shirt and waterproof work trousers, but there was something indescribably off about him. His fingers were too long. His back was too hunched. He was standing in some kind of predatory stance, like a bear poised to attack. Alex quickly ducked inside the house before he was seen.
Inside, it was unbearably hot and humid. Moisture pooled on the floor, and the stink of rotting food filled the entire house. The carpet was old and dank, and the wallpaper was peeling. Some walls had holes in them, others were plastered with a strange, papery material, like a wasp's nest. This first room was too grossly infested to tell what it was meant to be, but the next one was clearly a kitchen. The fridge was open and the lights inside were flickering. The contents were even more horrific than the smell. Every shelf of the fridge was overflowing with rancid meat, oozing orange liquid onto the floor. Alex tried not to gag, and moved onto the next room, possibly a dining room. The carpet was wet with some unknown fluid, and the walls were plastered with decaying wallpaper and more of that strange paper substance. There was a small TV in the corner. The screen was cracked, revealing smoking, crackling wires, but the speakers were still intact, and blasting white noise. In the opposite corner, there was another door, but it was blocked by a pile of trash. Among the detritus Alex spotted a lighter, which to his relief, was functioning. He pocketed the object, just as he heard footsteps coming from the kitchen. The farmer was back.
Alex frantically looked for a hiding spot as the farmer came into the dining room. His appearance made Alex's skin crawl. His face-skin was baggy and stretched, like it didn't quite fit. His eyes appeared sunken, and he was hunched over with his arms limp by his side, like a zombie. In the moment he saw Alex, it let out a loud bellow like a cow. Just before it began to advance towards him, Alex, in a moment of fight-or-flight, threw his lighter at the man. It hit the wall behind and bounced off, landing on the already damaged TV. The resulting explosion sent burning scrap in all directions, and one of these pieces landed on the farmer, who let out a scream and began crawling up the wall like some kind of nightmare insect. Somehow he made it onto the ceiling, and continued spasmodically crawling, still screaming and still alight. Alex was terrified for his life, back up against the wall as the farmer ran in circles on the ceiling and eventually fell back down to the floor with a crash, waving his legs in the air like a beetle and still screaming as its skin burned.
Alex sprinted back through the kitchen and straight out of the front door, slamming it behind him and throwing a bin in front of it in a panicked effort to barricade the door. After this, he ran back towards the farmyard, and into the tunnel shed, where he vomited. It may have been out of stress, or it may have been the old house's smell of rotten flesh, but whatever the cause, Alex felt slightly better afterwards, and while in this state of mind, decided to search the shed for a weapon. He found a shotgun in a pool of blood and bone chunks, along with a couple of shells. He also found a can of petrol, and wished he had his lighter. Then he would have a chance to burn this entire place to the ground. But looking back at the farmhouse, he might have had his work cut out for him, since it was almost completely engulfed in flame. Hopefully the nightmarish farmer was dead, and anything else lurking inside its walls. The undulating noise from before sounded louder and more distressed, but Alex still had no clue what was making it. There was one more place left for him to explore. The barn. He loaded a shell into his shotgun and headed straight for it.
Inside, it was like some kind of maze. Walls had been constructed haphazardly out of junk and the paper substance, and the undulating sound was getting louder, seemingly emanating from the center of the barn. While trying to reach whatever was in the center, Alex stumbled upon a large gash in a piece of corrugated iron. He shone his torch inside, which revealed, to his horror, a human body, wrapped in the paper substance like some kind of giant spider's web. On the wall behind him were two drawings. One was of a barn with lots of small triangular shapes above, and the second was of a human face, but crossed out. There was writing under both drawings. Under the first, 'THEY CAME FROM THE SKY". Under the second, "THEY STOLE MY FACE." Everything was becoming clearer, but Alex still wasn't quite sure of anything. As he crawled back out of the alcove, he looked up and saw a new horror.
A gaunt woman was perched in the top corner of the barn like a spider. She wasn't moving, just crouched there, watching him. She had the same strange features as the farmer, long fingers and skin that didn't quite fit. How long had she been observing him? Alex raised his shotgun. Just as he was about to fire, she started crawling down the barn wall with the same uncanny speed as the farmer. Clearly they were the same... breed, but Alex didn't care about what they were. He just wanted to stay alive. His first shot missed, but his second one hit her right in the face. Her twitching body fell from the wall and landed on a cultivator, the rusty spikes acting like a bed of nails. Thick, yellow blood sprayed out in all directions, but the body kept moving, arms and legs flailing as they sunk deeper into the spikes with every movement. Alex tried to stay calm and kept walking through the maze.
As Alex neared the center, he started seeing writing on the wall, like the drawings in the alcove. Such phrases as 'IT ATE MY SON' and 'I WANT MY FACE BACK' were smeared in blood along the wall. The undulating was getting loud now. Alex knew he was close, and picked up the pace. Suddenly, he tripped on something and fell to the ground. He picked himself up and scanned the ground with his torch for what had made him fall, when he saw a metal handle sticking out of the barn floor. After a lot of pulling, Alex managed to open a hatch, and climbed down into a crawlspace beneath the barn.
Somebody had made a hideout here. There were a few bottles of murky water and a Bunsen burner in the corner. A plank of wood was being used as a desk, covered with spills of ink and a sheaf of papers. Alex picked them up and began to read.
"If you're reading this, i'm already dead."
Alex couldn't see a body, but he continued to read. The paper soon devolved into mad ramblings about alien life and shape shifting, 'genetic memory' and 'biological DNA thieves'. There was repeated descriptions of a 'hive mind' where genes were supposedly stored. The message concluded with a final sentence in shaky handwriting.
"Destroy the hive mind, or they will tear us to pieces, one by one."
He knew what he had to do. The final page was a hand-drawn map of the barn, with an X drawn on the center. Alex pocketed the map and left the crawlspace. With a new-found route, it didn't take him long to reach the central room. What he saw was almost indescribable.
A giant ball of flesh, suspended from the ceiling by mucus-like strands. The ball was covered with pores of all sizes. Some emitted a strange green light, others acted as primitive mouths, and were responsible for the undulating sound. At various points on the ball's surface, human limbs protruded from the structure. Arms, legs, even faces were visible, twitching at random. A human torso protruded from the bottom, its spine bent upwards. The torso's arms were long and crooked, while its head was giant and pulsating. This was the hive mind, and Alex knew he had to kill it.
His first shotgun blast hit the thing in the 'back', although being a ball meant that a front or back was hard to distinguish. Chunks of meat flew in all directions, and the hive mind spun around to face him, black eyes trained on Alex. It let out an ear-piercing screech that echoed around the barn and made Alex keel over for a split second, but he was up again a few moments later when the hive mind began clawing at him with its thin arms. Luckily, he was just out of reach. As the echoes subsided, more screeches were audible. Alex realized what the thing had done. It had called for help.
Suddenly, the far wall was broken down, sending metal scrap and paper substance everywhere. Four figures began to approach Alex. The farmer from before stood in front, his skin blackened and burnt. Behind him was two children, crouched like apes, and another man with bulging muscles and a sagging face. Alex loaded another round into his shotgun and fired as the farmer began to advance. His head splattered on the figures behind him as his body fell to the ground and curled up like a dead spider. One of the children scampered into the shadows while the other leapt at him, screaming. It clamped onto his head and dug in, drawing blood. Alex ripped it off, but it took part of his scalp with it. Blood running down his face, Alex killed it with one clean shot. As he looked up, he saw the other man on all fours like a pig, preparing to charge. Alex didn't have time to aim, and his panicked shot hit the man in the leg. Squealing and grunting, he fell forwards into a pitchfork, which almost completely ripped his face off. A black, tar-like substance dripped onto the floor, and when the man stood back up, a second face was visible in the gash where his skin once was. Alex aimed for the heart and left a gaping hole in the thing's chest.
Now for the hive mind. As wretched as it was, Alex felt slightly bad killing it. It looked frail, helpless even. Alex managed to push past this, but when the time came to shoot, he realized he was out of ammo. As he looked down to search his pockets, it sliced at his stomach and tore out a large strip of flesh. Alex screamed and keeled over, clutching his wound. He pushed himself away from the hive mind, cursing as his vision began to blur slightly. Not every battle can be won, he thought, and crawled his way to the barn's exit. It was just light enough to make out the farmyard.
As he was about to leave, the barn once again filled with an ear-splitting scream. The hive mind, calling for reinforcements. Alex looked to the field as dozens of figures rose up out of the wheat, and began a slow march towards the barn. He had crawled through that very field just an hour ago. As he looked back to the hive mind, something moved out of the corner of his eye. The other child. He had left one still alive. He barely had time to scream as it rushed him and dug its claws deep into his wound, fishing around inside of him. Eventually it grabbed hold of an organ and pulled down, and then everything went black.
The two policemen stood by the abandoned car, taking pictures of the scene. A road map lay on the ground. Snap. Muddy footprints leading into private property. Snap. One of the men looked towards the abandoned Windshaw Farm, and then down the road where the car had come from. A spike strip was just visible under some leaves. He walked over to the other policeman.
"How many more travelers do we have to give those things before they leave us alone for good?"