The night air in the Scottish Highlands was always bitingly cold, even more so in fall. Richard Butler glared up at the gathering dark clouds and the ever-present threat of rainfall as he made his way through the makeshift camp.
His path over the uneven and damp ground was illuminated by a number of portable floodlights, the low rumble of their generators drowning out any natural noise. He hated these sorts of research expeditions, out in the wilderness.
They were constantly beset by the whims of Mother Nature, especially in the temperamental weather of Scotland. But with the type of find they had uncovered the Association would want an experienced crew looking into it.
Pulling his dark coat tighter, the dark-haired researcher quickened his pace in the direction of one of the larger dark green tents that made up the camp, a large metal contraption with a small satellite atop it.
Just outside of the opening, the satellite declared the tent the research team’s communication hub. Noise to his left caused Richard to freeze, a shiver running up his spine that had nothing to do with the chilly night air.
Turning toward the noise, the dark-haired man stared warily out into the darkness just outside of the floodlight’s illumination, brow furrowed as he tried to focus on exactly where the sound had come from.
Heart thundering in his chest and breath beginning to fog in front of his face, the researcher’s brow furrowed while his eyes narrowed in concentration.
There, in the deepest part of the shadows, there was definitely movement and if he strained his ears, rapid scraping, almost like something was chittering.
A sudden weight on his shoulder startled a terrified yell from the researcher. As he spun to regard his assailant, he came face to face with a grinning redhead, another researcher within the Association.
“Osborne,” he growled as the ginger-haired man chuckled and slapped Richard’s shoulder again, a jovial light in his brown eyes.
“Sorry, sorry,” the man laughed, throwing an arm around his fellow researcher’s shoulders and turning the pair back toward the communication tent.
“I just couldn’t resist. What’s got you so spooked, anyway?” he continued, curiosity only barely tingeing the question.
Glancing back over his shoulder toward the shadows lining the path, Richard tried to spot the movement again. Failing, he shrugged the other man’s arm off before declaring emphatically, “Everything!”
He gestured at the scattering of large tents around the pair and the ring of floodlights surrounding them, his gaze penetrating further into the woods and mountainside that were just barely illuminated by the light.
Beyond them in the distance and looming over the entire camp was the eerie silhouette of a surprisingly intact ancient castle.
“We’ve been here for weeks now!” Richard went on.
He gestured wildly around him as he turned wide almost manic eyes to the redheaded researcher, “and ever since they brought in the new guy I can’t shake the feeling that I’m being watched everywhere I go.
“And don’t think I haven’t noticed how jumpy some of the workmen have been getting in the caves. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard that some have been injured and some have even disappeared!”
One hand grasping his dark slightly messy hair, the researcher shook his head weakly, his shoulders slumping as the energy that had animated him just a few short seconds earlier suddenly left. Wearily he turned back to his friend.
“I haven’t seen hide nor hair of Morriss or MacBride for two days now, and when I radioed it in all I got was a ‘don’t worry.’”
Richard watched as Osborne crossed his arms over his chest, the redhead’s jovial nature replaced with a somber frown as he stared into the darkness, focusing on something that wasn’t there and seemingly lost in thought.
“Yeah, it’s had me worried as well. He isn’t even part of the Association. Last I heard someone pulled some strings to bring him in. Real suspicious if you ask me. MacBride disappeared after he—”
Before he could finish, the lights all around the camp began to flicker, slowly at first then more quickly. The two men looked at them, confused.
Other researchers and workmen stopped what they were doing, some even leaving tents to investigate the strange happening.
Then Richard heard the chittering noise from earlier, steadily getting louder, seemingly coming from all around, increasing in pitch until a high piercing whine filled the air, forcing many to flinch and cover their ears.
The smell of chemical smoke drew Richard’s eyes to the perimeter of the camp, where he saw a shadowy figure stooped over one of the main generators.
Suddenly all the lights shut off, dropping the entire area into pitch black darkness. Even the light of the moon was hidden, cloaked by the dark clouds above.
In the sudden darkness all sound seemed to stop. The chittering whine vanished for a moment, leaving only the sound of the heavy breathing of the researcher and his thundering heart beating in his ears.
As quickly as it disappeared the chittering was back, louder and more insistent, almost a screech. It pierced the darkness and left Richard’s ears ringing and an ache behind his eyes.
A panicked yell could just be heard over the ear-splitting sound. It was followed quickly by others. Men stumbled about in the darkness as the chittering scream seemed to close in from all sides.
For a moment Richard thought he heard a voice calling for help from the communication tent, but it was quickly drowned by the resonating shriek.
Disoriented and terrified, the researcher reached out for the friend at his side only to find the redhead no longer there. It was then that he felt it, something skittering across his boot, then up his leg.
It was not just one thing either, but hundreds—perhaps thousands. Tiny needles poked and dug into his legs as the things made their way up his body. All around him the chittering shriek continued.
As the crawling needles reached his neck Richard opened his mouth to scream, only to be choked into silence by something skittering over and into his mouth.
When the lights flickered back into existence, the camp was empty; the only sounds the rumble of electric generators and the static of a radio transceiver swinging by its cable in the communications tent.
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