Attack of the Froguanas! Chapter 2
Chapter 2: What Taylor Saw
"Jake, where are we going?"
Jake grinned at her from the driver's seat. "Thought we could go for a midnight stroll. Sound good, doll?"
Taylor rolled her eyes and giggled. Jake talked like such a cheeseball sometimes--well, most of the time--but she couldn't help but think it was kind of cute. "Sure, sounds great!"
They drove on for a while, getting farther away from the town all the time. The winding road they were on led into the countryside, where small old-fashioned farms were carved out from the dense forest that covered the Salmon Run Hills. The sounds of night insects outside the car blended with the rumble of the engine and the Lana del Rey song that played softly on the radio. "I've got my red dress on tonight, summertime sadness…"
They reached the edge of Sharman's Farm, where Old Man Sharman had raised alpacas for as long as anyone could remember. Jake pulled the Pontiac over onto the shoulder, switching off the engine but leaving the Lana intact. Turning to face Taylor, Jake stared at her with hooded eyes.
After a long silence, Taylor prompted her date, "What's the matter with you? I thought we were going for a walk."
Jake shook his head slowly, a smile lighting up his dark eyes. "Why walk? It's not like we're gonna see much. Anyway," he murmured, reaching across the gearshift and brushing Taylor's hair away from her face, "I don't think there's anything outside the car more beautiful than what's inside the car."
Taylor blushed and looked down, fidgeting with the hem of her shirt. "Thanks."
"I was talking about me, of course," Jake joshed, and Taylor burst out laughing. "I mean, you're stunning too, but…"
The rest of his sentence was cut off as Taylor leaned across and kissed him.
The stars sparkled overhead, their light dimmed by a soft blanket of clouds. A breeze set the branches rustling in the nearby forest. The outside world was dark and drowsy, and the gleaming blue car on the side of the road was undisturbed, leaving the two young lovers completely and blissfully alone inside it.
Eventually, Jake and Taylor clambered into the backseat. Taylor's eyes glittered with laughter when she saw that her lip gloss was smeared all over Jake's mouth. He pulled her into his arms again as Lana continued to croon on the radio. "In the land of gods and monsters, I was an angel…"
Something heavy slammed against the window right above their heads. The glass didn't break, but Jake and Taylor sprang apart with dual cries of shock. Frozen in place, their clothes and hair disheveled, they waited for the noise to come again, or for an angry face to appear in the window.
When neither happened, Taylor whispered to Jake, "Did we imagine it, do you think?"
"I don't think so…" Jake peered out the window into the darkness. "I don't see anything."
"The lights are on in the house." Taylor pointed to the rectangles of gold that shone in the distance. "Maybe Old Man Sharman saw us and he's trying to scare us away."
"Well, I'll go see if he's out there. See if I can talk sense into the coot." Jake squared his shoulders and climbed out of the car, wiping his glossy mouth as he did. "Wait here, honey. I'll straighten this out."
Taylor sat framed in the open car door, watching as Jake stood uncertainly in the middle of the road. "Mr. Sharman?" he called, his tone suddenly respectful. "Is that you? Mr. Sharman?"
Something rustled from the direction of the nearby forest. The tree-line was just over a stone's throw away. Jake spun around, and then began walking toward the trees, still calling for the Old Man.
The hair on the back of Taylor's neck prickled. She was suddenly enveloped by a sense of creeping dread. All was wrong! "Jake!" she hissed. "Don't go in there! I don't think--"
Jake waved a hand at her. "He's just trying to freak us out, baby. Gimme a second here."
"But--" she began, but Jake had disappeared into the forest.
Taylor leaped out of the car, torn. She had to get Jake out of there--why, she didn't know--but she didn't want to go anywhere near that forest. She started for the farmhouse, thinking that she might ask the Old Man for help--but what if that was him in the forest after all?
She was still dithering when she heard Jake's voice from inside the dark mass of the forest. "It's alright, Tay! I've found him! Listen, Mr.--"
Taylor didn't even have time to breathe a sigh of relief. Jake's voice was suddenly twisted into a high-pitched scream. Before she even knew what she was doing, Taylor was running through the trees, yelling frantically for Jake.
It didn't take her long to find him. He was writhing on the pine needle-strewn ground, screaming in apparent agony. He was trying to scramble to his feet, but something huge and dark was sitting on his stomach, snarling over his left thigh. As Taylor ran toward her boyfriend, the thing--whatever it was--fixed her with a savage gaze from one of its yellow eyes.
Somewhere through her blind terror, Taylor wondered at how the creature was able to look in her direction while still concentrating on tearing Jake to pieces. She stopped wondering at once when the thing crawled off of Jake and began shambling toward her with surprising speed. Taylor heard a scream which might have been hers, and tried to back away, but she tripped and fell hard.
Her head spinning from the force of her fall, Taylor screwed her eyes shut and waited for the thing to pounce on her. When it didn't, she opened her eyes to see the creature's long, dripping incisors inches away from her face. Looking past the maw in front of her, she could just see Jake laying on the creature's tail, grabbing on for all he was worth.
All conscious thought had fled from Taylor's mind; all she could do was act on instinct. Reaching past the thing's deadly-looking teeth, she shoved her fists hard into its yellow eyes. With an ear-splitting wail, it recoiled from her. Scrambling to her feet, she saw the thing shambling away, still snarling and whining with pain.
With her breath coming in desperate gasps, Taylor looked down at her feet. Jake was barely breathing, his face screwed up in agony. His shirt was torn to shreds, and his torso gleamed wetly in the moonlight.
"Jake…" She kneeled down next to him, shaking his arm urgently. "Jake, we've gotta. Go. Before that. Thing. Comes back."
Jake moaned weakly, but allowed her to help him up to a sitting position. When he tried to stand, however, he collapsed with a groan that nearly made Taylor's heart stop.
"Jake, it's gonna--"
"I can't, Tay. I can't. Walk. I can't…"
Taylor looked at his left leg, the one the creature had been chewing. There was a significant chunk of skin missing, and the foot was twisted at a sickening angle. Taylor fought off her rising nausea and grabbed Jake around the waist. "Come on, baby, put your weight on me. We've gotta go right now…"
Slowly, carefully, she maneuvered Jake onto his one good leg. Taylor vaguely heard herself murmuring encouragements under her breath as they made their clumsy way out of the forest. Come on baby, come on honey, you can do it, we're almost there, we're so close, please baby, that's it, you've got it…
Her thoughts were returning slowly, and they were all prayers. Please let us make it, please let us get out of here, please, please don't let that thing come back, please please…
Taylor blinked at the wooden door that was suddenly in front of her. Reaching out, she knocked on the wood so hard that she could feel lightning bolts of pain shooting through her knuckles. She didn't stop knocking until the shocked face of Old Man Sharman appeared in the place where the door had been.
"What on Earth--" the Old Man began, before taking in the reality of the sight before him. "Oh, my God! What happened?"
It took some time for Taylor to get the point across. The words kept coming out in the wrong order. Finally, she managed: My boyfriend. Jake. Went into the woods. We got attacked. By…something. He needs a hospital. Can I use your phone?
Old Man Sharman took Taylor's place as Jake's prop. The injured boy didn't seem to notice the change. Taylor darted across the room, seized the telephone, dialed three numbers. "Nine-one-one, what is your emergency?"
Taylor's words tumbled out of her mouth, which she noticed was still vaguely numb from Jake's kisses. When the dispatcher told her that an ambulance was on its way to her location, the man on the phone asked her a question. Probably trying to calm her down. Taylor opened her mouth to answer him, but she happened to glance over at Jake and her words died away.
He was lying on the floor next to a kneeling Old Man Sharman, who was propping up his head with a cushion. His stomach was slashed to ribbons, and blood seeped weakly from his many cuts. His left leg barely hung onto the rest of his body, and he was completely soaked in sticky, scarlet blood.
Looking down at herself, Taylor could see that Jake's blood was smeared all over her clothes. Her favorite sparkly top, her brand-new denim shorts…even the shoes she had borrowed from her sister were spotted with dark red.
"Jessie's shoes…" she murmured as the world spun around her.
"What was that, ma'am?" the dispatcher asked.
That question was the last thing Taylor heard before her world turned completely black.