Dang, nothing but horror stories so far. Maybe it's because we're so close to Halloween.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
I glanced down at my watch and groaned inwardly. 7:15. I was really in for it now. There were two things which Doctor Abrams absolutely would not tolerate: tardiness and an unkempt appearance. Given that I had only gotten out of bed ten minutes ago, I already had one strike against me. Unless I could make it to the Institute in the next fifteen minutes, I was as good as fired. I bolted the remainder of my cereal, dashed out the door, and made a beeline for my car.
I slammed the door, turned the key, and stepped on the accelerator. The tires squealed, leaving a thick black mark on the asphalt as I left the parking lot, but I was beyond caring. Tires could be replaced; my job couldn't. Not in this economy, at least. I checked my watch again. 7:18. I swore. Twelve minutes to drive ten miles. Actually, if I couldn't find a good parking space at the Institute, it was closer to eight minutes. I hoped the police were still asleep.
I drove like a madman. Horns blared at me in angry protest as I weaved in and out of traffic. A motorcycle swerved onto the shoulder, narrowly avoiding a collision. I hadn't even seen him; the morning fog had rendered him all but invisible. For what seemed like the hundredth time, I silently prayed that the police were occupied elsewhere. I looked at my watch again. 7:26. I was almost there. With any luck, I just might- NO! I slammed on the brakes, fishtailed into the right lane, and came to a screeching halt.
The road was closed. The road was closed! Why the hell was the road closed!? Why today, of all days!? Three men in reflective jackets were standing in a deep sinkhole, working on... something. An orange sign nearby proclaimed: "DETOUR." It pointed to the left, indicating an unfamiliar single-lane road. No. NO! I punched the steering wheel in frustration. The Institute was right there! If not for the fog, I would be able to see the buildings through the treeline!
I took a deep, calming breath. It didn't help. Doctor Abrams was not the kind of man who gave second chances. Just last week, he had warned me that I was "definitely not indispensable." He would fire me without hesitation. All he needed was an excuse. I stared out the windshield in despair, first at the slow-moving line of cars before me, then at the treeline to the right. The thin, sparsely-populated treelilne. Without even realizing it at first, I made a decision. I turned right.
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
I tore through the undergrowth, my car's wheels spinning wildly on fallen leaves and loose earth. Trees, vines, and panicked animals flew past me on either side. I was ruining the landscaping, but at least I'd be on time! If anyone saw me... I chuckled grimly. In this fog? Not likely. I could barely see the trees in time to avoid them! If I hadn't found such a straight path, I'd really be in trouble.
I checked my watch. 7:27. I sighed, finally allowing myself to relax. I was going to make it. The parking lot would be just beyond the trees. I'd have to walk a bit farther than I liked, but I would make it. I smiled contentedly. I was going to make it. I yawned and switched on the cruise control. I was going to make it. I leaned back and closed my eyes. I was going to make it. Within moments, I was fast asleep.
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I woke up to the sound of a sputtering engine. I blinked my eyes blearily and looked at the gasoline indicator. The needle was sitting on empty. How did that happen? I thought I had filled the tank just last night. I checked my watch. 7:27. At least I wasn't late. I still had three minutes to get to the Institute. The last thing I wanted was to be late.
The car slowly rolled to a stop. I opened the door and got out. I breathed deeply, admiring the trees and the crisp, clean-smelling air. The fog was thicker than ever, hiding a good deal of the wood from view. That annoyed me, but I couldn't bring myself to care. After all, the trees weren't important. My job was. I started walking.
I walked at a leisurely pace, taking in the beauty of my surroundings. The trees - well, the ones that I could see - stood tall and majestic, their branches swaying gently in the breeze. The fallen leaves crunched beneath my feet as I walked, their sound almost blasphemous in the otherwise perfect silence. Absently, I checked my watch. 7:27. Plenty of time.
I leaned against a nearby tree, relaxing for a moment. My thoughts began to wander. Why did I care so much about being on time, anyway? Doctor, uh... doctor... that guy I worked for. He wouldn't mind if I was a little bit late. Abrams! That was his name. I smiled, happy to have solved the puzzle. Yeah, Abrams. Like the tank. I chuckled. Wouldn't he hate it if I told him everyone at the office called him "Drill Sergeant" behind his back?
I took the one less traveled by,
I started. What was I thinking?? Abrams would mind if I was ONE SECOND late! He'd berate me if my tie was crooked! He'd treat it as a personal insult if I tried to call out sick! That's why everyone called him "Drill Sergeant!" I staggered away from the tree and stared at my watch in disbelief. 7:27. What was going on!?
Someone giggled. I whirled, trying to spot whoever it was, but all I saw was fog. Everything farther than five feet away was a shapeless form in a solid mass of white. The trees swayed in the wind, the whispering of the branches growing steadily louder. Except that there was no wind. The fog hung still and lifeless in the air, clinging stubbornly to the ground and trees like a spider web.
Someone giggled, closer this time. I shuddered, a chill running up my spine. How were the trees moving without any wind? There hadn't been any wind for what seemed like hours. I swallowed, realization finally dawning. Maybe it had
been hours. I looked back at my watch. The second hand was as still as a corpse.
I ran. Suddenly, the woods were alive with laughter. All around me, unfamiliar voices laughed as I ran. Some were high-pitched giggles; some were deep, rumbling guffaws. All were quite clearly laughing at me. I ran faster. The path narrowed as I ran, branches reaching out to snag my clothes. The laughter grew louder. I gasped for breath. How much farther could the parking lot be!?
The world pitched sideways. I crashed to the ground, landing amongst dry branches and decaying leaves. I had tripped on an upraised root. I watched in shock as the root slid back down, burying itself in the soil. I struggled to rise, but found myself unable to move. I was held in place by thick branches which grew tighter every time I moved.
I looked up helplessly. Dim shapes moved in the fog just beyond my vision. The laughter grew louder. Slowly, the shapes resolved themselves into vaguely humanoid figures. I struggled against the branches, only to have the breath choked out of me as they constricted even further. The shapes came closer. Pinpricks of red light shone from the creatures' heads, close to where their eyes should have been. I gasped for breath. The figures came closer. The fog rolled away, revealing them in all their grotesque splendor. I screamed.
And that has made all the difference.