By Ricky Pitaniello

It looked like fog . . . but it wasn't.

A thin sea of it gave the impression of mist, but the burning sensation in your lungs that accompanied breathing gave away its true identity. White smoke is what filled the air. Thicker columns of it twisted up into the gray sky. Some formed a dome on their summit, which made them look like giant toadstools. Others held star-shaped clouds up top and resembled a palm tree. A forest of these things stood, sprouting from the carpet of smoke covering the hills.

Wendy shivered from the still, chilly air. Glancing around, she realized that she had absolutely no idea what this place was. The ground was blotted out completely, but felt like wet grass. Distant booms and whistles reached her ears. She called out, "Hello?" several times, but didn't receive an answer-just an echo. Shivering again, she began to trek on in hopes of finding someone or something.

She found the latter.

The booming sounds grew louder, and soon she could see flashes of colored light up ahead in the distance. Getting closer, they started to look like fireworks. It was hard to tell as she stopped for a second to look, however, due to the smoke formations blotting most of the sky out. She began walking again, moving through them as if either she was a ghost or they were ghosts.

It turned out that they actually were fireworks. It also turned out that some were being set off on the ground too. Through breaks in the "trees," flashes popped up here and there on distant hills. The lighters appeared as vague shadows prancing around them. She couldn't see who they were. She moved closer and noticed that some of the larger patches of light burned steadily, a smear of brightness with a surrounding halo that faded away slowly. Sort of like animal eyes shimmering in the night, and yet far, far too big.

A hill suddenly reared up in front of her, blocking most of this out of sight. Where the top ended and the sky began she couldn't tell, everything running together in a huge gray blur. The figures she saw a few seconds ago were no longer in view, though occasionally pops of color would flare up in the sky, reminding her of where some of the hills were. But these were too infrequent to be of much use to her as she started climbing up the rise, waving her arms in the hope of pushing some of the smoke away from her, looking like a lost blind man.

A shrill whistle startled her so much that she almost tripped and fell back down the hill. From a distance, it hadn't sounded so bad. But up close it resembled an animal screaming its death cry. The sound appeared again and again, while Wendy covered her ears desperately trying to block it out. She soon gave up and moved on.

When she reached the top of the hill, she didn't know it. Taking a next tragic step caused her to tumble down the other side. She briefly saw more lights and more figures before the fall. Then her vision was reduced to a rapidly changing series of swirling gray shapes and colored patches of light with brief flashes of darkness in between. She barely noticed any of this because of the pain rushing forth to claim her every time she hit the ground. Finally, the hill ended and a small valley began. Lying on her stomach with her face below the snowy carpet, she closed her eyes.

They sprang open again as another shrill whistle played in her ears and across the landscape. She rolled over and was half-blinded by a flame shooting up into the air. It left a thick trail of smoke behind then exploded in a brilliant flash of green light, leaving a star of smoke behind. Her watery eyes saw the fireworks on the ground a bit more clearly now too. They were little cardboard cylinders, which sprayed out fountains of bright sparks and sometimes produced that painful whistle. The surrounding "fog" got bathed in orange light, along with the figures prancing about. As her vision finally cleared, she let out a scream worse than the ones put forth by any firework.

Whatever those things that danced around her were, they weren't human. Red skin stretched over their bones, and dark blue veins wrapped themselves around their bodies. An ear to ear grin was spread over every one of their shriveled faces with a very long, thin, pink tongue hanging out between two rows of yellow fangs and flapping around like a kite tail. Their beady black eyes reflected the orange light of candles they carried, which were used to light the never-ending supply of fireworks. They pranced sideways as they grabbed more out of a huge, moldy, leather bag.

Wendy got up and turned around, but screamed again seeing that they dotted that hillside too, some moving around bonfires, others around more fireworks and more bags. Then she started gasping for breath, and took a few steps backwards. Her shoe came down on something, which let out a crack. She looked behind her and saw a charred corpse. It looked human. It also looked like she had just crushed its skull.

Too frightened to scream, she started stumbling along. Another corpse caught her foot, and she fell to the ground once again. She came face to face with another charred figure. Empty eye sockets--burnt closed--stared into hers, and blackened teeth grinned. Another few seconds passed. Then that grin opened and gently bit a piece of her cheek off.

She jumped up so quickly that she lost her balance and fell down again. The burnt body got up with her, and lurched its way towards a free meal. The latter sprung back up and started running. She got only a few feet before she began to scream hysterically. More corpses were rising from the smoky carpet and shuffling towards her.

The demons dotting the hillsides didn't seem to notice and continued lighting their fireworks, which filled the air with booms and screeches.

The throng of bodies got closer and her screams became even louder. Finally, one of them grabbed her shoulders and the world disappeared.

"Happy Birthday!" her boyfriend shouted. He let go of her shoulders after giving her a quick kiss, then began dancing around on the beach holding a sparkler, one of the many fireworks leftover from the Forth of July. The glow reflected off his eyes, and a grin lit up his face as his feet dug small pits in the weak ground. A bonfire in the near distance lit up the surrounding sand, drying a circle into the damp mass and making the light mist glow in a very thin halo.

She stood dazed for the next few seconds. Then she picked up a bottle of lighter fluid that was next to the barbecue grill, walked up to her boyfriend, and returned the kiss. He stopped dancing and kissed back. While they did this, she raised the bottle, twisted the top off, and emptied its contents over both their heads. He began pulling away, but she grabbed the back of his head with one hand and held it in place while she continued the kiss. Her other hand reached for the sparkler and lit the two of them on fire.

She kept on kissing him as he struggled frantically. Before she died, her eyes opened and reflected the orange glow, which surrounded them.

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