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Chapter 1 - Prey

* * * * *

The sound of crickets. A hooting owl. The cool breeze against his skin. Sore limbs from laying on a hard wood and metal park bench for too long. Sean awoke, slowly, to find himself yet again in the odd, but strangely familiar circumstance. His pale blue eyes opened and peered up at the shimmering kaleidoscope of stars in the night sky.

'No. Not again. Please, not this again...'

He righted himself on the bench, grunting as stiff muscles flexed. His sneakers hit the pavement as he shifted into a sitting position. Sean's trim body hunched forward as the grogginess wore off. He held up his hands and glided his palms over his face, rubbing his eyes before smoothing his fingers through his short, brown hair.

He took stock of himself. Black cargo pants. Plain white t-shirt. Blue jean jacket. No keys, no wallet, nothing in any of his pockets. No indication of how he got there or why he was in this place. Just a vague feeling, a pull, towards the town that existed just below the ridge he was sitting near. Just like last time. Just like every time it happened.

How many times had it been now? Three? Four? It was hard to remember. Each time had been the same, more or less. He felt drawn towards the town. Even if he hadn't been, going there was the rational thing to do. Anyone in this bizarre situation would immediately seek out help.

And yet, there was more than just the pull. There was also a great sense of foreboding. A feeling rooted deep within him that he didn't want to go there. His mind and his gut went to war each time. Reason against instinct. Instinct won every time, so far.

Sean looked over the back of the bench toward the road not far away. A solitary street light illuminated the “lookout point.” It blinked in and out of existence periodically, casting the area in darkness before re-illuminating the lonely scene. The road led in two directions. One way towards the town below and another up into the forests and mountains. As far as he could remember, he'd always taken the latter path.

He couldn't recall ever seeing a single car. Not in the many times he'd walked up into the wildness to... what? Darkness? Isolation? Death? The memories grew blurry after the first few miles. Would he do it again? Was he really so afraid of the mysterious town? Why?


Sean jumped, startled by the sudden visitation of a raven on a nearby tree branch. His gaze darted to the ominous creature. Its beady black eyes stared back at him. The raven's neck contorted in various angles as it studied him from its perch. He couldn't escape the feeling that it was mocking his indecision.

“Yeah, fuck you too” he spat at the mischievous bird.

He stood, lifting his arms in the air and letting the blood flow freely to his limbs. He sucked in cool air through his nostrils, breathing out loudly and steeling his resolve. No, he wasn't going to walk alone into the wilderness again. He would head for the town this time. Sean ignored the voice in the back of his head beginning him to reconsider.

Below the ridge he could see a billboard in the distance. He couldn't read it from here, but its bright lights stood out clearly. Beyond that were just a few scattered lights in the town proper. It seemed odd there weren't more, but maybe it was a small town. At least it indicated there were others there. Perhaps he could get some information and at least begin to figure out what the hell was going on.

Sean left the slowly failing street light and the old park bench behind. His feathered critic cawed and took flight, leaving a gently swinging branch in its wake. He headed down the road and into the chirping blackness. His dark path was mitigated only by the subtle glow of the moon. Regardless of what happened, he hoped he never woke up in this place again.

* * * * *

The closer he got to the town, the more the clouds seemed to roll in. It was overcast now and the faint light of the moon and stars was all but gone. Thankfully, Sean was coming up on the massive billboard and entering the outskirts. With any luck it wouldn't be too much farther to civilization.

The features of the giant, well-lit advert were clear to him now. It pictured an idyllic middle class nuclear family. A mother in a sun dress, a father in a vest and trousers and two plucky children enjoying a picnic in the park. There were sturdy green trees and a bright yellow sun in the background.

'WELCOME TO CHRYSALIS!' it said proudly in big letters above the family. Below the picnic scene it read: 'The life of your dreams awaits!'

'Chrysalis... Why is that familiar?'

Sean's walk slowed to a stop and he studied the billboard.

'That's right! This was Mom's home town, wasn't it? I grew up here!'

Perhaps 'growing up' was the wrong term. They'd lived here when he was a toddler, well before Sean was capable of retaining consistent memories. His recollections of the place were brief and scattered. He remembered a little of what his folks first apartment looked like. He was pretty sure they'd taken him to the park portrayed in the motif. He had loose memories of the place. Warm memories. Some of the only good memories of the family before his parents split.

Something about the billboard put him at ease. Sean wore a smile as he resumed his journey. The nagging voice in his mind quieted considerably while the picture of marital bliss and whimsical Americana remained in view. Even once it was behind him, it offered a slight comfort that his worries had been for nothing.

The next fifteen minutes passed without incident as he walked nearly a mile and the outline of buildings took shape on the horizon. The air warmed and a light fog began to roll in. The first building he encountered was the town hall, lying on the outer perimeter of the village. It was the only building in sight that had lights glowing by its door frame.

As he proceeded up the walkway to the sturdy municipal build

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Written by James Bondage
Cargado April 7, 2021
Notes A wayward soul awakens near a town that's as mysterious as it is depraved.
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