I rolled over, my shoulders slipping out of my comfy sleeping bag and touching the cool fabric of the tent floor. The sudden temperature drop stirred me from my dreams and I tried to readjust myself so I could catch a few more minutes of sleep. The sun was starting to rise though and morning light filled the tent with an amber glow.
Sitting up, I took a deep breath and yawned. I coughed, choking as I inhaled dry air. It smelled like smoke. I unzipped my sleeping bag and jumped out. Had I forgotten to drown my campfire last night? I reached over to where my girlfriend Zoe was sleeping. “Get up! I think there’s a fire!”
Zoe didn’t respond. I grabbed her bag and shook it, suddenly realizing it was empty. I breathed a sigh of relief. She was probably starting a morning campfire so we could cook something up for breakfast.
I kneeled by the tent door and opened it just a tiny crack and a gust of smoke poured in. I coughed again and rubbed my eyes, then peeked outside. The clearing we had chosen for our campsite was buried under a thick cloud of acrid fumes. The light of the rising sun was an angry red color, marred by the gathering smoke. “Babe!” I called out. “Babe, are you okay?”
Not bothering to put on any clothes, I stumbled outside the tent. If there was a fire, I had to find Zoe and get the hell out of here. The cold morning air nipped at my half-naked body and goosebumps covered the surface of my skin. “Babe!” My eyes were starting to grow blurry from the smoke, but I could make out a shape. It was tumbling through the grey clouds of ash at a terrifying pace. “Zoe! Is that you?”
The shape didn’t reply. It just barrelled towards me with a singular intent.
“Babe?” I asked with uncertainty. There were no sounds, except the ones I made. It suddenly occurred to me that for all the smoke, I should at least hear the crackling of flames, or the popping sound of trees burning, but there was nothing. The shape that approached made no sound either, but moved as quiet as the breeze.
“Zoe, if that’s you, please say something!” I said.
The shape broke through the treeline without a sound and into the clearing. It looked like Zoe, but it wasn’t her. It was composed entirely of black ash and grey smoke. Glowing red embers peered at me and wispy strands of smoke jutted out from the top of its head, suggesting the shape of hair.
I backed away from the thing and towards my tent. “Zoe?”
Empty, scarlet eyes stared back at me. A dreadful emptiness surrounded me and then a burning hot sensation crawled over my skin as the thing stretched out a thick smokey limb and grabbed my arm. It opened its mouth and a burning orange light crawled from its throat. A thick voice whispered, “She’s with the shadows now.”