Two monstrous creatures glided into view, their elongated insectoid figures silhouetted in the bright moonlight. They stalked up to the bridge that spanned the dry, dusty creek bed and joined the women in the darkness. Carli and Renee melted behind a support beam.
Trapped, Carli's frantic mind whispered. The monsters had them for sure this time. She squeezed her eyes shut but couldn't block out the aliens' cricket speech. They chirped and chittered, grating against her ears. She wished she could be struck deaf. Sweat tickled its way down her spine.
Muscular Renee, who couldn't begin to approach the power of the spindly aliens, tensed beside her. The creatures came abreast of the hidden women, chirping ear-bleeding conversation right in front of them. Carli tried to shrink further back, mashing her backside into the ungiving, unsympathetic stone. Renee crushed against her.
A pebble slid from under Carli's foot and clinked in protest as it dislodged and rolled down the slope. Her mouth flew open to scream; surely the monsters heard the rock crash down. No whistle of sound escaped her locked, straining throat, but her heart was a bass drum of thunder booming through the night.
Her eyes screwed shut against the sight of the looming predators, Carli waited for the bristle-haired mantis arms of an alien to embrace her. She waited for its needle proboscis to slide into her flesh and secrete its paralyzing poison. She waited to sag helpless in the grip of the monster while it sipped the life from her veins. She waited to die a slow, fading death. Her heart pounded louder than ever, as if to beat as hard and fast as it could in its few remaining minutes.
The chittering aliens, intent on their conversation, stalked past. Disbelieving, Carli’s eyes flew open, and she watched them pass from under the bridge. Motes of moon-glittering dust danced in the wake of the monsters’ long, tapered legs.
She released the breath she'd been holding in a rush and sucked it in again as one alien swiveled its head around. It looked back at the bridge that hid the two women.
Carli's stomach lurched at the pale orb of the creature's face glowing in the moonlight. Wispy tufts of hair sprang in sparse bunches from its bullet-shaped head. The proboscis writhed like a blind worm where a nose and mouth would have been on a human. Its grayish flesh seemed stretched too tight over its skull; there were no wrinkles, not even creases on its face.
Its eyes shocked her the most; eyes cold in intent, but horribly human in appearance, almond shaped and ringed with black lashes.
The creatures’ naked torsos were long and smooth without benefit of hair, muscle tone, or even genitalia. Carli had no idea if skin or a harder shell covered their bones; happily she’d never been in contact with one. Odds were she’d someday lose that joy.
-- The Willow and the Stone, Chapter 1
I hate bugs. I don’t mind snakes. Rats, while not pleasant, don’t give me the willies. But insects, outside of butterflies and dragonflies, are a nightmare for me. It’s little wonder I went that route when I created the physical description of invading aliens of The Willow and the Stone. I mean, just look at bugs. They look like they should be from another planet, right? But the horror of my aliens is that they also have a passing resemblance to us. The marriage of insect and human could only result in something nasty. If you’ve ever seen the classic horror movie The Fly, you know what I’m talking about.
However, these aliens which call themselves the Old Ones can’t be summed up by their appearance alone. Based on equal parts Bible and Ancient Astronaut Theory, I dreamed up an even more insidious evil:
It stepped close to a wall, letting the illumination wash over it. Carli almost screamed. It was an alien, yet not quite. Her mind groped to understand what her eyes saw.
The skin was smooth and peachy-pink, unmarred by the usual bristled hair. It had elongated arms rather than praying mantis legs. She could even see fingers, though the digits were fused together to form tapering ends.
It was genderless like all aliens. It wore no clothing, so she couldn't miss the absence of genitalia. Still, its voice sounded masculine.
Strangest of all was its face, and not just because of the too-human brown eyes. One dagger fang in the upper gum kept its mouth from being toothless, but still the Old One possessed a mouth, not a writhing siphon.
This creature could only be an alien, but there was no mistaking it had once been human.
It flashed her a gummy smile. The single fang winked. "As you can see, I'm still in the process of Becoming."
"You — you were human?" she ventured. She fought the urge to run.
"Once I was a man. Handsome and successful before the Pyramids came but still puny. Now I am Becoming. I will have strength and power ... as an Old One I rule the world." It grinned down at her. "Go ahead. I know you have a million questions. Ask now while I'm in a good mood."
Carli swallowed her horror. This thing wants to talk? Maybe it’s still more human than monster. While it offered the chance, survival insisted she learn as much as possible. Her voice shook despite her resolve. "Were all the Old Ones once human?"
"All the ones now living. We predate humans though. Earth was our beginning too. We're even in the Bible."
Carli didn't dare voice her disbelief to the horrific creature, but it must have shown on her face. The Old One nodded affirmation. "Really. Listen to this: 'There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same Became mighty which were of old...' There you have it, right in the book of Genesis." It grimaced. "My father was a Baptist preacher. At one time I could've quoted you the entire Old Testament. He was avid about memorizing verses."
"The aliens – I mean, the Old Ones came from space, didn’t they?"
"They fled with the Great Flood and traveled for hundreds of years before finding a habitable planet. They took a few humans with them to breed for food and their own continuation. Transforming humans is our way of perpetuating the race."
-- The Willow and the Stone, Chapter 18
And you thought mosquitoes and cockroaches were bad. Just imagine a seven-foot praying mantis man eyeballing you as a tasty snack. Eek.