acob lands in a crouch, knee deep in ferns and bromeliads, shoulder to shoulder with bamboo. Wet leaves brush against his arms and legs as he turns in a circle. There is no path here but he's familiar with the trees. He is sure he’s been here before.
Dark clouds roll in overhead, faster than in real life, and the forest grows dim under their ominous bellies. Panic swells in his chest. Jacob launches himself into the forest. He darts through the trees, casting frantic looks over his shoulder.
Up ahead, the forest opens and Jacob watches a car climb a gravel roadway. It is his mother’s. The faded blue Toyota Celica is unmistakable. From the driver's seat, she emerges but she is not the woman Jacob remembers arguing with that morning. He has never seen this Lillian Lau, a strong soldier of a woman in a long sleeved black t-shirt and military pants. The hilt of a knife glints from a sheath on her leg. Her jet-black hair is swept up into a ponytail and her almond eyes are deadly serious. She is staring in the opposite direction, frowning at a particularly dark stretch of forest. She reaches across her body and draws a gun from a holster under her arm.
"Jacob?" She turns toward him. Her face pales. Her eyes grow wide with terror. "Run, Jacob! RUN!" she yells and that's when he notices it behind her. At first he can't actually see it but he can feel it. He can smell it—sulfur and something sweet. And although he doesn't know exactly what it is, he hates it with every fiber of his being.
"Behind you," he calls out. She moves to the front of the car and points her gun at the darkness that emerges from the trees, flowing forward like oil in water. It is a horrific abomination—scaly black skin, enormous leathery wings and yellow eyes that lock on his mother. It's the sight of its talons that makes him run faster.
Crack. Crack. Bullets fly from the gun but the creature melts into the thick ripple it was when it oozed from the woods. It shifts right and his mom's eyes track it until it disappears again. Without lowering her gun, she feels for the knife on her leg. Jacob reaches the car.
"GET. IN. NOW," she commands.
He obeys, sliding in behind the steering wheel. That's when he realizes the car is still running. The keys dangle from the ignition.
Never taking her eyes off the woods, she backs toward the passenger side door. He thinks she will crawl in next to him and they will escape whatever this is.
Lightning-quick talons rip across her chest. Jacob screams as blood sprays the window… his mother's blood. Somehow, she is able to sink the knife into the shoulder of the beast before she drops. The creature backs away from her body with an ethereal howl that makes Jacob's hair stand on end.
It rears back in pain, placing itself in front of the vehicle. On instinct, Jacob slams the Toyota into drive and pounds on the accelerator. The hood crumples accordion style as he collides with the thing. He sees a flash of blood on glass...his blood.
And then there is nothing but the tunnel, the light, and the man in the green mask.