The Theory of "Red Fascism" (1)
There's a supposition that some countries which start as Stalinist may later morph into fascism. I won't address here the full version of the "Red fascist" theory, which claims that all "communist" (Stalinist) regimes are by definition fascist, as that's an unhistorical simplification which is tied to the simplistic theory that fascism just means authoritarianism. I won't address it with detail, but I will only say that if fascism really means simply authoritarianism, then Mussolini didn't have to call it fascism. The goal of this research is to determine the possibility of a transition from Stalinism to fascism, starting from the premise that they're not the same in all cases. EUROPE The USSR, 1929-1953
The first such case in both time and importance is, obviously, the state which spawned Stalinism: the USSR. To imply that Leninism is somehow fascist makes no sense, as the 1917 October Revolution was a purely leftist one, as opposed to the fascist Conservative Revolution. Lenin started a period of social progressivism, internationalism and generally reforms after he won the Civil War, which is opposed to fascism. In fact, Leninism ("Bolshevism") was a boogeyman among the European right at the time, and Italian Fascists used the "red peril" as a successful appeal to the conservative establishment.
However, after the death of Lenin, in the USSR started a power struggle which ended with the victory of the "Centrists", led by Joseph Stalin. Despite that position, they moved sharply to the right after winning. While the Right Opposition was concerned mostly with economics, Stalinists started espousing conservative positions one after another. This received the name of "Soviet Thermidor", referring to the moderate period of the French Revolution after 1795. As early as 1929, Leon Trotsky wrote
The expulsion of the Opposition from the Party, the arrests and the deportations constituted extremely important consecutive moments of the entire process [the Thermidor]. They signified that the Party was growing weaker and weaker and consequently that the power of resistance of the Soviet proletariat was also declining.
After the political reaction (bureaucratism) came the social reaction. Homosexuality was banned in 1934 and abortion followed two years later. The policy of korenizatsiya
also was ended, which led to a surge of nationalism. As described
by Trotskyist Denzil Dean Harber:
Thus, family life is being remodelled on ‘traditional’ lines; higher education is reserved for the children of the privileged strata; the army is reconstructed upon a hierarchical basis with the deliberate creation of a privileged officer caste divorced from the mass of the population; anti-religious propaganda is replaced by an alliance between the Stalinist bureaucracy and the Russian Orthodox Church.
This whole reactionary movement has been accompanied by, and, as it were, knit together by, a monstrous growth of nationalism, which now—so far as official Stalinist propaganda is concerned—equals that of any of the Imperialist states engaged in the present war.
This led to claims that there appeared, in fact, a new form of fascism. Accusations of this kind became especially common after the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, highly exploited by liberals, but were also directed against Stalinism by far-left critics like left-communists -- most prominently Otto Ruehle -- and anarchists. However, instead of them we will turn to Nikolay Berdyaev, a Russian religious philosopher and former Legal Marxist, who, despite his background as a metaphysician, offered a relatively sane definition of fascism:
Stalin is a ruler of the Eastern Asiatic type. Stalinism, that is to say communism of the constructive period, is being imperceptibly transformed into a peculiar sort of Russian fascism. All the characteristics of fascism are inherent in it, a totalitarian state, state capitalism, nationalism, 'leaderism', and a militarized youth. -- The Origins of Russian Communism, page 146
This definition, let me repeat, is surprisingly rational as compared to the moralistic anti-statism of a Ruehle or a Voline and the clamorous conspiracy theories of some right-wing critics, yet still has its faults. First of all, the USSR wasn't state capitalist. According to James Burnham,
The term “state capitalism” seems to be due to a misunderstanding ... When the state owns only a part, and a minor part, of the economy, with the rest of the economy remaining capitalist private enterprise, we might correctly speak of ‘state capitalism’ in connection with that minor state-owned part: since, as we have seen the economy remains in its balance capitalist and even the state-owned part may be directed primarily to the benefit of the capitalist part. But the “capitalism” in “state capitalism” is derived not from the state-controlled part. When the latter disappears, or becomes negligible, then the capitalism has disappeared. There is no paradox in saying that 10 times 10% state capitalism, far from equalling 100% capitalism, equals 0% capitalism. The multiplication is of state, not of capitalism. Though the mathematics would be much more complex, it would be nearer an analogy to say that, just as 10% state capitalist economy equals only 90% capitalist economy, so 100% (or even 80% or 70%) state economy would have eliminated capitalism altogether. -- The Managerial Revolution, page 114
This is a point also made by Trotsky and others before Burnham. State capìtalism isn't when the State engages in "capitalist" exploitation, but when it intervenes to a degree in a market
economy. Norway, for instance, would be a better example of state capitalism than any Stalinist regime. In other words, state capitalism is actually just a mixed economy. The other critique of state capitalism is that, even if we were to define it as a State turned basically into a corporation and exploiting workers, the USSR wouldn't be an example of such a system, as the bureaucracy didn't own the means of production privately. Trotsky speaks
of an unstable bureaucracy which would like to restore bourgeois property relations, yet is unable to do so due to the pressure of the proletariat. Even if such a "state capitalist" society in this sense ever emerged, it would be a ridiculous clumsy system that wouldn't last long due to contradictions between the capitalist owners and would probably become an easy objective for a revolution of some kind, either one of producers irritated by the great inequality this would create or one of consumers protesting against such an extreme form of monopolism and cronyism.
The other problem is nationalism: we have referred in this exact work that Stalin supported nationalism instead of proletarian internationalism. However, Stalin wasn't a nationalist in the fascist sense, nor even, most likely, a sincere nationalist at all, as we shall see. In 1944, he claimed
The strength of Soviet patriotism lies in the fact that it is based not on racial or nationalistic prejudices, but on the peoples’ profound loyalty and devotion to their Soviet Motherland, on the fraternal partnership of the working people of all the nationalities in our country. Soviet patriotism harmoniously combines the national traditions of the peoples and the common vital interests of all the working people of the Soviet Union. Far from dividing them, Soviet patriotism welds all the nations and peoples of our country into a single fraternal family.
The "elder brother" of that "family", the "leading people
" were, of course, the Russians. This paternalistic form of nationalism, despite many mentions of "the working people", was very similar to the state ideology of the old Russian Empire, later continued in exile by the Eurasianists. This form of nationalism was neither revolutionary nor palingenetic (to use Roger Griffin's definition of fascism), but a way to canalise popular support for the regime, together with and partly substituting the fading façade of Marxism. Just like the entire live of the bureaucracy, it was "contradictory, equivocal and undignified", to use Trotsky's words. A proof of this would be that even pro-Soviet nationalists like Nikolai Ustryalov, the founder of the National-Bolshevik movement in Russia, or the "Left-Eurasianists" Sergei Efron and D.S. Mirsky were executed by Stalin. It is also considered that this nationalism mostly faded away after WWII, leaving the USSR above suspicion of fascism.
A possible classification of Stalinism in the USSR, which the author used to defend, is authoritarian conservatism. This term is used by many historians of fascism to refer to right-wing dictatorships similar to fascism, yet more moderate in many aspects. Ideologically, Stalinism -- especially neo-Stalinism as espoused by various conservative groups in modern Russia, among them NOD
-- seems to be really similar to it, including support of conservative nationalism rather than ethnic nationalism, some Christian traditionalism, mixed economy, etc. However, it isn't correct to evaluate Stalinism from the point of view of bourgeois societies. Stalinism isn't an ideology as such, as nowhere can we find a sincere "manifesto of Stalinism" without Marxist camouflage. It works, rather, as a "parasite" on Marxism, and thus, practically, we may say that Stalinism is at all times crypto-Stalinism. This is why they deny that such a thing exists, say that Stalin just developed Marxism and Leninism, etc. In my other essays, I already pointed to many contradictions that refute this supposition, so I don't see the need of repeating it here. It will be enough to conclude that Stalinism is neither conservative nor progressive -- in the most common sense of the word -- neither right nor left and yes, non-fascist.
This one would be a strange element in the list, provided that Tito's rule is often considered more benevolent than those of other leaders of the Eastern Bloc. However, Yugoslavia had a sort of mixed economy, which was called either "market socialism" or "state capitalism" (the exact difference isn't important for us here), together with a clearly authoritarian political system, though less so than many surrounding state. For some people, this alone would be enough to consider it a form of fascism. For instance, according to the veteran historian of fascism and neoconservative publicist Michael A. Ledeen ("Beijing Embraces Classical Fascism
", 1/5/2008), the PRC's adherence to fascism is proved by the fact that the CPC is"keeping a firm grip on political power while permitting relatively free areas of economic enterprise". Moreover, Yugoslavia's ideology had a nationalist element in the form of Pan-Slavism, which, let us remember, was invented by nineteenth century Russian reactionary ideologues as a way to support the elites of the old Russian Empire.
Despite this, Tito was rarely accused of fascism even during the harsh debates of the Cold War, and that's for a reason. First of all, leaving aside the discussion if modern China is really fascist, this state capitalist system isn't similar to the Yugoslavian economy. China, whatever it calls itself, presently has a system of what can rightfully be called state capitalism, with the State engaging in partnership with big business in a market framework. Now, Chinese central and local SOEs account for around 40 percent of the total number of enterprises.
. Thus, according to Burnham's formula, China is 40% state capitalist and 60% capitalist. On the other hand, Ernest Mandel wrote
the following on Yugoslavia:
On the 21st November 1944, all the companies and wealth of the Germans and their collaborators were confiscated and from that day on the nationalizations already included 82% of Yugoslav industry.
We already see the difference in quantity, but there's also difference in quality. There were no big businessmen like Jack Ma in today's China and the companies were at least supposed to be controlled by the workers, which is distinct from both fascist corporatism and Chinese state capitalism due to the existence of capitalist bosses in the two latter systems. In conclusion, Yugoslavia wasn't state capitalist, but later a more decentralised variant of Stalinism. To quote Max Shachtman:
Stalinism in Yugoslavia differs from Stalinism in the other “people’s democracies” only in that it is in a more favorable and more advanced position...The bureaucracy, typically Stalinist, has gone some distance in this respect, primarily by statifying production, eliminating the bourgeoisie as an economic force and by super-exploitation of forced labor. But this has not brought the country or the bureaucracy very far – certainly not far enough.
As of nationalism, Yugoslav nationalism (officially called "socialist patriotism") wasn't either reactionary (like Imperial Russian Pan-Slavism) or revolutionary (like fascist nationalism), but rather a complementary source of legitimation for the bureaucracy. It should also be remarked that Yugoslavia wasn't very conservative for its time, as seen, for instance, in the fact that homosexuality was legalised in half of the republics in 1974. Romania (1965-1989)
Nicolae Ceaușescu achieved power in Romania in 1965, succeeding Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej. Though at first a liberal leader, he returned to a tougher Stalinist course after visiting China and North Korea in 1971. His ideological innovations were seen in his speech known as the July Theses,
where influences from both Juche (self-sufficiency and autarky) and Maoism (the concept of "cultural revolution", which he tried to carry out in Romania on a smaller scale) were notable. Apart from tigher censorship, natalist policies such as a ban on abortions and an ubiquitous cult of personality, he introduced an increasingly nationalist ideology, continuing Gheorghiu-Dej's efforts to create an independent socialism. Though all spheres of political life were affected (one of the official youth organisations was called Șoimii Patriei
or "Falcons of the Fatherland", while immoral public behavior was called "less than patriotic"), it particularly touched that of historiography, where the old concept of "protochronism", a trend to accentuate alleged past greatness and ancient origins in the time of the Dacians, was surprisingly reintroduced, returning to late nineteenth century nationalist historiography and breaking with Marxist historical science represented by Mihail Roller -- not unlike what took place in the USSR after the death of M.N. Pokrovsky. However, national history wasn't completely cleansed of Marxism, and there were attempts to describe Romanians as a proletarian people, citing that, supposedly, in the 270s only the patricians left Roman Dacia, leaving the plebeians, from whom Romanians were thought to have descended. There also was a description of Romans as "imperialists" opposed to the Dacian "national liberation movement", inspired by twentieth century socialist rhetorics. This led to a form of proletarian nationalism which considered Romanians inherently anti-imperialist.
The issue is that this had a parallel in early fascist thought. Enrico Corradini, the head of the proto-fascist Italian Nationalist Association (ANI in Italian), outlined a theory of proletarian nationalism in "Nationalism and Proletarian Nations", an essay included in his 1914 book "Il Nazionalismo Italiano
For the right analogy, for the sake of true effectiveness and clarity; for the sake of showing how much nationalism responds to the spirit of our time, I call proletarian those nations which, like Italy, are in a state of dependence. Thus the proletariat, according to socialism, was and is still, in a state of dependence on the bourgeois class.
And continuing by analogy, I add that the nationalism wants to be for the whole nation what socialism was for the proletariat alone. What was socialism to the proletariat ? An attempt of redemption, in part, and within the limits of the possible, successful. And what does nationalism want to be for the nation? An attempt of redemption, and God will that it succeeds fully. -- p. 34
The economist, political scientist and constitutional jurist Franz Neumann described in his great book "Behemoth
" this proletarian nationalism as a variety of "social imperialism", a tool of the ruling classes to direct class struggle to outside adventures instead of against the exploiters:
The new doctrine was first fully developed by the Italian Enrico Corradini, the founder of the Nationalist party, which had the greatest influence upon Italian Fascism. The Nationalist party and its Blue Shirts were taken over en bloc by the Fascist party, which then changed its name to the National Fascist party. The Nationalists were only a small minority, but they had more highly trained men than the Fascists, and their theories were accepted by the new party. Luigi Federzoni, Alfredo Rocco, Scipio Sighele, R. Forges-Davanzati all derive from the Nationalist party. Corradini, a high-school teacher, developed the first consistent theory of a social imperialism based entirely on the incorporation of the masses. The theory is, in itself, a hodge-podge of various elements, especially of French ‘integral nationalism’ and of revolutionary, syndicalism. The argument is simple. Italy is a great proletarian country. Between Italy and the surrounding states there is the same relation as between the working classes and the satiated bourgeoisie. Italy is imprisoned in the Mediterranean without industrial resources and without a colonial empire. Her nationalism must therefore be social, and Corradini even coined the term socialismo nazionale. He went beyond the mere assertion of a need for war and for heroism. He incorporated into his own work the doctrines of Georges Sorel and transformed them into means of ensnaring the working classes. -- Part I: The Political Pattern of National Socialism , Chapter VI: The Theory of Racial Imperialism, 4: Nationalist Forerunners of Social Imperialism, pages 160-161
Thus, it isn't hard to see that Corradini meant something very different from the Romanian ideology. For him, proletarian nationalism is a metaphor, an extrapolation of social conditions to interational relations. For protochronist historians and their ideological guides, Romania was literally
a nation composed primarily of proletarians in the sociological sense of the word.
Another term frequently used to refer to Ceaușescu's rule, though never used by the rulers themselves, is "National Communism". Curiously, a fascistic group called "National Communist French Party", led by former Radical François-Antoine Clementi (more known as Pierre Clementi), operated during the 1930s. It had to drop all references to communism to be allowed to function under the German occupation in 1940, after which date it extensively collaborated. However, this coincidence is fortuitous, as that party used the word to refer to the national community and was even less committed to Marxism than Stalinists.
In conclusion, we can't describe any European Stalinist regime as fascist. After some time, we will proceed to analyse various regimes in Asia, that is, China (under Mao), North Korea and Cambodia (under Pol Pot). We also may shortly discuss a number of "red-brown" parties elsewhere in another occassion.
submitted by Konstantin-V
Best Laid Plans
Walter opened his mailbox and rifled through the letters inside.
Bill, bill, trash, thank you letter from a client, and the telltale yellow envelope of a submission.
Walter could almost hear the desperation through the envelope.
He turned it over as he climbed the stairs and froze as he read a familiar name on the front. It was familiar, even though he hadn't read it in over half a decade. The letters were the same neat, orderly block they had always been. He had always joked that they looked like a high school student's hand when he submitted that first college application. Reece had always smiled at this, but even then, Walter had thought he saw some barely contained monster hidden under that smile. This one didn't like being made fun of, never had and never would, and someday he was going to rip someone's throat out over it.
Marcus Reece, Stragview Prison, 641 Stragview Lane, NC 65641
Walter climbed the stairs and opened the door to his office. He'd been in the same office since he'd first opened. The door was mostly glass, his name on the frosted glass in the same block letters he had made fun of Marcus for. It told the world that this was the office of Walter York, Professional Literary Agent. Walter had always thought it looked a little like a detective's office in some old movie, and he liked it that way. His desk, completing the look, was a big heavy oak number that faced the door. He had a squeaky swivel chair behind it, and as he sat down, he could hear the springs in the seat squeal in protest. Too many business lunches at Mama Pestos Italiano, he thought, as he split the top of the envelope and let the white sheets of paper fall to his desk.
He looked down at them with some apprehension.
Reece had been his client for nearly a decade before they took him off to the crossbar hotel. He was a talented writer of murder mysteries, but Walter had suspected that some of his subjects were a little closer to reality than fiction. The murders six years ago, the Flanery twins and then the Gretta Street Whores, had tipped him to the idea that Reece might be doing a little extracurricular study. Reece had been submitting manuscripts for his Writer Detective Novels for years, and Walter had come to suspect they were a bit too good, a little too on the nose. The police hadn't really taken notice, but after the third novel, Walter had begun to read the papers a little closer. Each of the cases that WriteDetective Lelan Macey solved lined up pretty well with a murder in town. After the third prostitute, Walter had gone to the police with Reece's latest notes for Red Boulevard, the fifth installment in the series. The story had talked about five victims, and the killer was only up to three. They had nabbed Reece in time, he had the girl in his apartment for christ's sake, and Walter had actually been a witness at Reece's trial.
Sitting across from that serpent, his eyes cold and unreadable, had been a special kind of hell.
Walter reached for the papers. They had been stapled at the corner but didn't look too long. Maybe some short stories? A novelette? Reece could be a prolific writer when he chose to. He had been in prison for six years... perhaps he was hoping to sell some of these stories for a little commissary money? Walter had heard that Reece's family had disowned him after the trial. With his accounts frozen after the murders, money must be getting tight.
He turned to the first page and read a salutation to him specifically.
Hello Walter, I've got a story for you. Maybe you can turn it into a few bucks like you used to. The best part about this story is that it's entirely true.
Walter raised an eyebrow at that, but flipped the page and began the story.
Best Laid Plans
This one’s for you Walt, may you get precisely what's coming to you.
Walter grunted, not much caring for the salutation, but continuing to read.
The escape plan was the easiest part of the plan it turned out.
I had found some rubes that were willing to help me pull it off, a mentally damaged laundry orderly and a couple of muscle-bound idiots to do my heavy lifting, and we made plans. I let these three mouth breathers think they were helping me lay the groundwork. Honestly, I had already concocted most of the plan myself before I even brought them in. The plan was simple, I paid the White Nationalist to start trouble in the yard. This may sound like something that would take some time and money, but you'd be surprised how prison economics works. My helpers paid them in canteen items and hygiene supplies totaling about thirty dollars. Thirty dollars paid for twelve men to start a disturbance that would allow four men to escape.
So the next time you feel safe, Walter, just imagine what they might do for some of my well-guarded book royalties.
Walter shuddered. Reece had, if anything, become more unhinged in prison. He turned the page and hope for news that this little escape attempt hadn't gone off, but he already knew better. Reece had often boasted that he possessed a genius-level IQ and a white-hot determination. Walter wanted neither of those things focused his way.
I prepared for my escape as best I could. The Library at Stragview is limited in the things that inmates often want. They desire books with "hot parts" in them and simulated fantasies of things that often landed them in prison in the first place. Of that, there is little, but of knowledge, there is much. I found old histories of the prison, reports on past escape attempts, many escapes, but few ever enter society after they escape. A little interest in the maintenance crew's work got me the information I had been seeking. There was a length of fence that doesn't work well, the voltage is barely above a crackle, and it was on the recreational yard no less.
Our plan was set.
The fight went off without a hitch. The White Nationalists picked a fight with a group of black gang members; there are several different gangs, so don't ask me to elaborate. In the ruckus, we made our escape. We threw laundry over the barbed wire and wrapped our hands in clothes to avoid what little voltage there was. The four of us made it over the fence and were in the woods before they could properly get a response team together.
Well, almost all.
That brain dead laundry man hit his knees when he heard the first shotgun go off. The rest didn't care a fig; we were showing our heels and making for the woods. The treeline was like a whole other world. We went from a barren, open field of loose dirt to a thick and virile forest with only a few steps. As we made the tree line, it was like crossing some unknown barrier into a sylvan realm.
In a way, that was exactly what we were doing.
Walter looked up from the pages. He cocked his head like a dog hearing the distant sound of thunder. Had he heard a noise? It seemed like he had heard the squeak of a floorboard. Maybe the squeak of the bathroom door opening? He turned his head sharply but saw that the door to the bathroom was still closed. He was hearing things clearly; there was no one here but him.
He went back to the tale.
The woods of Stragview are unique, you know? When measured from the air, they are a mile from the nearest road and two miles from the nearest highway. For those exploring them on foot, however, it is very different. Old reports I found state that the woods seem to extend on for days when they feel like it or shorten when they feel like it. Three different survey teams measured them, and each team came up with a different distance. The woods have been home to occult rituals, human sacrifice, and a thriving coven of European witches that were burned in their homes by the church in 1824. Many people have gone missing in those woods, and it's not uncommon for abandoned cars to be found by the road that borders it. Stragview woods is an extraordinary place, and I did my homework before delving into it.
The three of us headed into the woods, not knowing what was waiting for us. My two companions talked about everything from the cars they would steal to the woman they would find, but I mostly stuck to myself. I had needed them to escape, a group of inmates would create the chaos that I needed to be free, but now they were just dead weight. They had brought little by way of provisions, but I had stocked up before leaving. I had a mesh bag tied to my side full of water and trail bars and anything else I could get that didn't need to be cooked or warmed up. If I rationed, I figured I could last for weeks on what I had, but if I let them know about these, they would soon be gone.
It was clear that I needed to leave.
Walter snapped his head up and looked over at the bathroom door. It was still closed, but he was sure he had heard a door open. He glanced over to the large wardrobe where he often kept his coats on wet days and found the door swung open just a bit. He started to get up and close it again but thought better of it even before he had risen. The story had made him jumpy, that was all, and he wasn't going to go and close a door, so some make-believe boogie man couldn't get out and get him. He was a grown man, and he refused to let such fears rule him. He turned back to the paper and folded the page over as he read.
As it happened, an opportunity presented itself sooner than I thought. The large of the two men, I never bothered to learn his name, but I think it was something with a C, decided that it was getting dark, and he wanted to stop. His friend agreed but kept walking. I told them they could do what they like, but that I wasn't stopping. They argued a little, but, in the end, I went my way, and they stayed put. I heard them collecting sticks, making ready to sleep rough, but I just kept going.
I had a goal in mind, you see, and I knew something they didn't. I had read that it was highly inadvisable to stay in the woods after dark. People usually don't go missing unless they go into the woods at night. I knew that as long as I could make it out of the forest before nightfall, I would be safe. I had underestimated the sunset, though, and soon I found myself alone in the woods at dusk.
That's when things began to change.
I had heard the noises as we passed through the woods, they were loud enough to be from a bear, but there was never anything there when I checked. I had seen my fellow escapees glancing around as well, but if they noticed anything I didn't, they kept it to themselves. Now that I was on my own, the steps sounded thunderous. I didn't look back, I didn't want them to think I was afraid of them, but they trailed me as I went. I could hear them, two or three maybe, crunching along behind me in the dark, and despite my best efforts, I began to run. I heard them take off. Their feet tore up the underbrush as they chased me, and it became clear that I couldn't outrun them. I did the only thing I could think to do and jumped, catching the branch of a tree. As I pulled myself up, I felt the air next to my foot being swiped at violently.
I climbed nearly halfway up before looking back and immediately wished I hadn't.
Below the tree paced something out of a nightmare. Two of them slunk around the base of the tree, smooth black bodies that looked like panthers, but their heads were bullet-shaped and devoid of eyes. They skulked around the base, jumping at me but never quite making it. They seemed equipped for climbing, their claws looked huge in the dying sun, but they either could not or would not climb the tree. As the sun set, a third and a fourth came up, slobber dripping from their oddly shaped mouths as they stalked me. The latest addition to their little band was bigger than the other three, probably five feet tall on all fours, and seemed possessed of a brain. The sun had set now, leaving the five of us in darkness, and I had begun to wonder how I could stay up here without falling when the tree shuddered violently.
I looked down to find that this giant nightmare thing was ramming his shoulder into the tree.
The other three were quick to take up the task. They all started slamming into the tree, and I was lucky that I had picked the largest oak by chance. The sturdy old tree held on, its roots dug deep, but I could hear it groaning under the assault nonetheless. I wondered if the other two could hear it. Would they hear the tree when it finally fell? I doubted it. I had been walking for almost an hour after they'd stopped. They would likely never know my fate if they happened to make it out, as I would never know theirs.
I think all of us turned at once when the fire suddenly started.
It was closer than I would have thought, less than a mile away, and the effect on the creatures was immediate. They stopped hitting my tree and took off after the fire. The small pack moved like bullets from a gun, and I could see other dark shapes making their way towards the light as well. Someone had just rung the dinner bell, and it was about to go very badly for them.
I was not about to waste this opportunity.
Walter jumped as a sound like claws scampered over his floor. He looked around wildly. The sound had been too big for a rat. Rats? In his five thousand dollar a month office? Not likely. The shadows outside were growing long, the afternoon was marching on, but the story was so weird...he just had to finish.
I dropped from the tree and ran. I ran like my life depended on it, it may have, but I didn't see any more of the creatures that night. If my co escapists were the cause of their distraction, then I thank them for their sacrifice. I was not planning on doing the same for them. I ran without direction, keeping myself mostly north, I thought, and as the sun began to lighten the sky, I stumbled and fell against the roots of a large tree. The ground was spongy, not wet but soft, and as I watched, I could swear it was sending out feelers towards me. I was up then, climbing a nearby tree and lying back as safely as I could.
I remember dozing off just as the sun came up, and when I awoke, it was almost noon.
I did what I had to do on that first real day in the woods. I ate, I drank, and I tried to orient myself so as not to become lost. As I walked, I looked for something I could use to defend myself after nightfall. A stick, a tree limb, rocks, anything I might use to hold back these creatures once the sun went down. I had no clue what had become of my companions, but I wasn't in a big hurry to share their fate.
Even in the daylight, I quickly learned that anything on the ground was unusable. The rocks I found had a chalky look to them and crumbled when I picked them up. Any of the sticks or logs I investigated were rotten and soupy, falling apart the second they were picked up. I finally skinned a branch from a tree, and after some work, it would do as a walking stick, but little else. It seemed that what came from the tree's was fine, but whatever came in contact with the ground was somehow tainted. For that reason, the walking stick became more of a carrying stick after about a mile of freeing it from the ground every few minutes. The end was caked with muck when I finally started carrying it, and the soil that clung to it looked very unhealthy.
As I walked, I kept the sun to my right, trying to make my way towards true north as much as possible. The maps I had seen led me to believe that if I kept heading north, I would find the edge of I 85 and be safely out of the woods. The longer I traveled, however, the less sure I became of this plan. The sun sometimes seemed to my left, sometimes to my right, and other times right overhead. Though my feet took me in a straight line, the sun told me that I might be walking in circles.
As night began to creep up again, I knew I would have to settle somewhere until dawn.
As dusk descended, all I had found were scraggy pines and small warped little trees that looked like Halloween decorations. I had wandered into some kind of pine barren, and my stomach fell when I realized I would not be spending my night in a tree. As the last fingers of the sun disappeared behind the hill, I could already feel the pursuers' eyes upon me. I turned suddenly, and the moonlight cast the pack in shadowy form. There were more of them tonight, ten or twelve as best I could figure, and they loped like hunting cats as they ran my back trail.
I started running again, but I might as well have stood still.
The pine barren stretched on and on, and I was a sitting duck among the scraggy pines. I could hear them behind me, tearing up the ground with the clawed feet as they came. They moved easily, seeming to eat up the distance between us at a horrifying pace, while my own feet seemed to be sucked by a nonexistent muck. I moved as though in a nightmare, my feet stumbling and unreliable, but as I tried to flee, I could see salvation ahead of me.
In the middle of barrens was a big dead tree that was tall enough and broad enough to keep me safe.
I would never make it, I knew. I was too far away, they were too close now, but I had to try. I stumbled towards it, tripping and falling on my face as the ground seemed to guess my intentions. It sucked at me, trying to drag me down, and I winced as I cut my hand on a jagged rock that poked out amidst the soil. I scrambled up, my hand bleeding freely, and started running for the tree. The ground grabbed at me as I ran, and I expected to be pounced on any minute. I tripped, lashing my injured hand out at a nearby pine and wincing as I left a flash of red across the trunk.
When my hands hit the trunk of the giant old tree, I could have kissed it. Instead, I dared to turn and see why I hadn't been mauled to death. To my real surprise, they were all gathered around the tree I had splashed with my blood. They sniffed at it, doglike, and as the moonlight sent pale fingers over their heads, I realized the bullet shape was unbroken by eyes. They were blind, depending on smell and sound to hunt, and I suppose I had undoubtedly been making enough sound to catch their attention.
They turned back when I started climbing the tree, but by the time they were to me, I was already up in the blacked limbs.
The big one, the alpha thing, stalked around the base, but no amount of ramming would bring this tree down.
I went to sleep with them gathered around the base of the tree.
I woke up with the dawn and found myself alone again.
A car horn made Walter nearly fall out of his chair. The evening shadows were creeping in on him, and he wondered when it had gotten so late? Hadn't it been around lunchtime when he'd started reading? The light from the streetlamps cast odd shadows through the windows, the sun just beginning to slip below the edge, and his office was starting to feel a lot like that forest by night. He hefted the pages, not many left now.
Hopefully, Reece would make a strong finish so he could get home.
I started that day in the forest in much the same way I had the one before it. I ate, I drank, and I began to orient myself in the right direction. I had bandaged my hand as best I could and used some water to clean the wound. My shirt was now a little shorter, and my hand throbbed sullenly as I looked at the tree that had saved my life.
What were the odds that I'd find another tree before nightfall?
I bent and caught a handful of earth. The pine barrens were covered in an arid, rocky soil that wasn't as lush as the wet, black soil I had come through. As something wormed against my palm, I dropped it again, shaking my hands to free them from the dirt. A plan had come to mind, and I started immediately.
I dug into the dirt in front of the tree. I dug deep and wide, keeping an eye on the soil that I descending into, and by noon I had a hole that was nearly six feet deep. I started digging around it, making a pit around the base of the tree. The work was slow, my hands were my only tools, but when the sun began to set, and I pulled my tired body up the tree, I had a small pit dug. I lay in my tree that night, listening to them skulk about and look for me, making as little noise as possible. They made enough noise for the both of us, agitated mrowls and throaty yowls that were punctuated by loud smacks and deeper roars from the big brute that lead them. I would have been scared if they had been able to get me, but I lay there instead, intrigued.
The next day, I dug again.
The next four days passed in a tired blur. I woke, I ate, I dug, I slept. By the fourth day, I had an eight-foot deep pit that ran around the whole tree. It wasn't much, I had been able to climb back out thanks to roots and rocks, but I doubted the creatures would have it so easy when they got stuck. I lay in the tree that night and smiled as they skulked, sniffed, and took notice of the pit. The yowls were more frequent now, and they were answered by the larger alpha with the same level of hostility. I didn't have to know what was said to know what it meant. The creatures weren't stupid, it seemed. Maybe there was some decent over the loss of a human in their woods. Perhaps some confusion about the appearance of the pit. It didn't really matter anyway.
Tomorrow, they would know why I had dug it.
On the fifth day, I checked my rations and decided I had another week's worth if I cut down to two meals a day. Tonight would be the night I made my move. I spent the day searching for rocks among the pine barren. As luck or fate would have it, I found the very one that had cut me. It was still red with my blood, the tip stained and wet, and I didn't even bother picking it up.
I just sliced my hand again and went back to the tree.
I had preparations to make.
Walter snapped his eyes up from the page. The lights outside his window were cars now, and the clock on the wall told him it was eight o'clock. Something had moved in here, a big black shape had moved between his desk and the coffee table, but Walter couldn't see it, and now it appeared to be gone. He shook his head, the story was making him jumpy and turned back to finish.
I waited until the big brute, and his pack came up to the pit that night before I made my move. Their heads followed me as I dropped into the hole, and the big lug almost looked surprised, no small trick without eyes. After four nights of waiting, I knew that this would be just what that big dummy was waiting for. He had to kill me, had to assert his dominance, and when he jumped into the pit after me, none of the pack went with him.
I could have laughed from my treetop perch as he savaged the bloody rags I had thrown into the hole. I had taken my thick coat and my uniform pants and smeared the blood from my hand all over them. I had put the shoes into the legs, filling the jacket with sticks and pine cones to give it weight, and then thrown the whole mess in just to lure him into the pit. He realized this a little too late, his roar sending a tremor through my gleeful facade.
When he jumped at the wall of the pit, I thought for sure that he might make it out. His claws scrabbled at the lip of the pit, stones, and dirt cascading down into his eyeless face. He jumped a few more times to similar results, but when I yelled at him from the top of the tree, he cast that smooth, eerie face towards me and seemed to listen. They all did. The whole pack of nightmare creatures looked up at me, and I felt their regard.
It was unpleasant at the time.
"I have captured you, you are defeated by my hand. I have proven myself stronger, and when the light returns, you will die."
I felt a little foolish, standing up there and shouting at them, but the effect on the pack was unexpected.
I had expected them to leave.
I had expected that I might be left alone from now on.
I did not expect them to drop to their midnight knees and bow to me on the arid floor of that pine barren.
I did not expect to be accepted by these horrors as one of their own.
I left with them that night, their leader resigned to his death.
I left their equal.
"You read so slow, you know that?"
Walter jumped, looking at the couch across from his desk where a man sat with his feet on the end table. He was smoking a cigarette, the red winking in the dark, and illuminating his face in impish detail. His eyes were sunken, his hair was longer, and he was possessed of a gauntness that is usually reserved for mental patients. He was dressed in cast-off clothes, his white tennis shoes leaving mud on Walter's end table, and his free hand was rested on the head of a huge black dog.
No, not a dog.
His fingers were scratching at the chitinous flesh of a nightmare creature that Walter had only recently become familiar with.
"Don't worry," Reece said, getting up and putting his cigarette out on the surface of the faux mahogany end table, "we won't take up much of your time, Walter. I came all the way to settle a debt, and I don't expect my new friend will take very long at all to see the books are balanced."
Walter shuddered, pushing away from the desk and hitting the wall behind him with a clatter.
"Marcus, let's talk about this. This doesn't have to end in…"
"You know what I learned in Prison Walter?" Reece asked, not expecting an answer, "I learned that when someone snitches on a friend, that friend cuts them from ear to ear. He doesn't cut them deep enough to kill them, not if he's very careful so that the other inmates know that this is a man who can't be trusted."
Walter spun out of the chair and came up hard against the filing cabinet in the corner. Reece was between him and the door, and he would never get the window open quick enough for it to be viable. Where would he go if he could anyway? He was on the twelfth floor, and the son of a bitch landlord had neglected to provide his tenants a fire escape for their four grand a month in rent.
The pavement might be better than what Reece had in mind, though.
The air coming from the creature's nostrils turned him around.
It was hot and acrid against his face.
It smelled like rotted meat and mildew.
It smelled like the grave.
As it opened its mouth, he could see a mouth full of hugely sharp teeth, and the smell was forgotten as he soiled himself.
"My new friend isn't quite that careful, but I'm sure your death will send a message nonetheless," Reece said, his smile never extending to those lizard eyes of his.
Walters's last moments of life were spent looking into the bear trap mouth full of steak knife teeth and smelling his own excrement.
He did not die well.
submitted by Erutious