A Gentle Sleep

Crickets crawled among the pine needles. Their orchestra creating a drone throughout the forest. Greg dozed on the chair in front of the fire, its tongues slowly flickering lower. It was odd that the tent behind the clothesline is so quiet. Greg would think that Yen and Josh would sneak in a quickie considering he wanted to stay up for the night. In fact, he should at least hear the movement of cloth and garment if those two were still up. Greg’s eyes fluttered. The smell of ash and something imperceptible tickled his nose. Greg supposes he won’t be going to sleep so easily tonight. Maybe he should at least check to see that their side of the tent is closed. A hazy shape hangs just in front of Greg’s face.

A long curl of smoke drifted away from Greg’s face up into the trees. It joined itself with a writhing mass high in the branches. Sitting up he noticed several tendrils coming down from the smoke cloud and going behind him. Greg stands up from his chair turning to peek beyond the clothesline.

“Yen? Josh? You guys up?” said Greg.

The smoke was flowing into the tent from underneath the rainfly. No sound was made in the tent. Greg starts to walk toward the tent.
“Where are you going Vigilant One?”

Greg whirled around. He didn’t see any outlines in the fire light, yet the voice sounded close. Greg didn’t remember any other campers out this far. They did reserve the campsite farthest out, after all. Though it might be better to be closer to the Ranger cabins next time.

“Hey, uh I’ll be with ya in a moment. I need to check on my friends,”

“There’ll be no need for that, Vigilant One. Their breath is already mine.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean!? Where are you?” Greg shouted.

“I am above you in every way, you bag of skin.”

Greg glances upward. The smoke cloud had descended to about a foot above his head. Looking backward the smoke curls and wafts away from the tent. While before the tendrils were wispy and translucent, they look almost fatter and opaque. The voice spoke once again this time clearly coming from the center of the cloud right above the fire.

“The flames grow smaller, yet I see no tinder. It is not morning’s light yet. Do not tell me you wish to become like those fools in that leafless wigwum. I will tell you this, Vigilant One: if you let this fire die before morn’s light then so shall you.”

Grabbing onto the emergency bucket Greg shouted, “And what if I just wash it, huh?! This is like your life force or whatever right? Nothing wants to die not even some weird demon thing from my head.”
A brief pause. Then laughter, all around the campsite. Curtains of smoke came down near the edges of the site. The firelight cast a glow on the roiling grey air. Greg would have to run through a heavy layer just to get closer to one of the roads. He’s not even sure if he would be able to see the ground if he ran.

“Please do so Vigilant One. What is a couple of years slumber to an existence like me? Snuff that flame out and I get your breath. You can not run. I already inhabit part of that bag you call a body. I will follow you wherever you go. Your pitiable settlements can not hold me out. You are mine either way, Vigilant One. Die here or live on. Your choice.”

“THIS ISN’T EVEN REAL! A stupid cloud can’t do these things! This is only a nightmare I’m in that chair right there asleep dreaming about this crap because of some poor digestion from some sausage.”

“If you are so sure of that then throw that water onto the sparks ashes.”

A moment passes then another. Then another. Thirty minutes pass before Greg’s tense body throws the bucket down the hillside away from the fire. The tongues of fire lick low. Greg sobs.

“Get the wood, bag. The fire grows low and the night is long. Cedar if you can, Vigilant One.”

3

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