Characters: Jack, Ianto, Owen, Tosh, Gwen.
Word Count: 2432
Summary: Jack is ready to dismiss reports of a tentacled monster in an area of woodland at the edge of the city, but Ianto persuades him that maybe Torchwood should check it out.
Written For: spook_me 2017, using Torchwood, Tentacle Monster, and this pic.
Disclaimer: Sadly, I don’t own Torchwood, or the characters. Think of the fun I could have with them…
“What’s going on?” Jack asked, coming down to the main Hub from his office and joining the rest of his team, who were clustered around Gwen’s workstation.
“The police have received several reports of a tentacled monster attacking hikers in Plymouth Great Wood,” Gwen told him.
Jack snorted. “There’s no such thing as tentacled monsters,” he said firmly. “Not outside of horror movies anyway. They’re just a myth.”
“Says the man with all the tentacle sex stories.” Ianto eyed his lover suspiciously, getting a slightly condescending smile and a headshake in response.
“Look, there are dozens of intelligent alien species with tentacles in this great universe of ours, but they’re not monsters, just people with a few additional, very flexible limbs. All of them are perfectly pleasant, peaceful, civilised beings. The fact is, you’re the only species who equate having tentacles to being monstrous, evil and dangerous; the reality is just the opposite.”
“But all these reports…” Gwen trailed off, waving one hand at her computer screen.
“The people who made them were either lying or hallucinating. Most likely they were high on drunk or drugs. That’s the most logical explanation.” As far as Jack was concerned, that was the end of the discussion and he turned away, intending to return to his office.
“We should check out the reports anyway,” Ianto said.
Jack kept walking and spoke over his shoulder, his tone mildly exasperated. “Why? I already told you; tentacled monsters aren’t real.”
“You also said that there are a lot of tentacled species and humans automatically think anything with tentacles is hostile, so what if whatever’s out there is one of those peaceful, civilised beings trying to get some help only to have everyone it approaches run away screaming?”
That possibility obviously hadn’t occurred to Torchwood Three’s leader and he stopped in his tracks, frowning. “Okay, good point, we should go rescue whoever it is; protecting aliens from humans is as much our job as protecting humans from aliens. I’ll get my coat.”
As soon as Jack disappeared into his office, Ianto turned to the others. “Better take our guns, just in case he’s wrong. No matter what he says, I’m pretty sure he doesn’t know every single alien species in the universe.”
“It’s only sensible,” Tosh replied. “Jack doesn’t even need to know.”
“Nothing wrong with taking a few precautions,” Owen agreed. Gwen just nodded and the four of them set about gearing up for the mission. You could never be too careful when it came to anything unknown that might prove to be alien. Even the peaceful ones sometimes reacted badly following an unplanned trip through the Rift. Finding yourself somewhere unfamiliar with no idea how you got there would be disorienting for anybody.
By the time Jack returned, slipping into his coat, the rest of the team were ready and waiting to follow him out to the SUV.
Plymouth Great Woods was a large area of natural woodland on the edge of the city, a favourite haunt for hikers, joggers, cyclists, riders, dog walkers, and anyone who just wanted to enjoy the beauty of nature without having to go too far afield. On a sunny summer’s day it would be glorious, filled with birdsong, the hum of insects, and the rustling of small animals in the undergrowth, but on an overcast and drizzly autumn day it seemed much less inviting. A pervasive sense of gloom mixed with the smell of fungi and rotting leaves seemed to hang over everything along with the heavy, grey clouds and even the rain seemed too weary and dispirited to do anything more than slowly drip from the leaden sky.
“Cheery place,” Owen grumbled.
“You’re not seeing it at its best,” Ianto replied. “Nowhere looks good on a day like this.” He pulled up his coat collar as he stepped from the car and slammed the door behind him, one of Torchwood’s ubiquitous scanners already in his left hand, leaving his right free to draw his gun if need be. “Which way?” That last was directed at Tosh.
“According to the police reports, the area where the attacks allegedly occurred is towards the far side of the woods, down near the river. We’ve got a fair walk ahead of us.”
“Why the fuck didn’t we park the other side of the woods then?” Owen grouched.
“Because we’d have an even longer walk then, across fields, the railway line, and the Ely River before we even got to the woods. Coming from this direction, at least we have footpaths to follow,” Tosh explained. “Also, there’s nowhere to park along Cardiff Road. This is just the most convenient place to start from.” She pointed to a signpost directing them to a nearby footpath.
“Come along, boys and girls, sooner we rescue whoever’s out here, the sooner we can be back in the dry.” With a swirl of coat, Jack spun on his heel and set off down the path and into the trees.
Gwen glanced around apprehensively as they trekked ever deeper into the woods. “This couldn’t be something to do with the Fae, could it?” she asked nervously. Even though their encounter with the ancient creatures had been well over a year ago, it had been unnerving enough to have a lasting effect on all of them.
“Doubtful,” Jack said. “These trees are old, but nowhere near as ancient as those in Roundstone Woods. The Fae inhabit areas of primal forest, places that have barely been touched in Millennia, whereas this is managed woodland. Too many people come here.”
“Good to know.” Gwen relaxed a bit, reassured, but still kept close behind Jack and Tosh, who were leading the way, using Tosh’s PDA to guide them along the maze of paths to the area they were interested in. It was a walk of several miles through the damply dripping trees, and they trudged along in silence except for the pattering of rain on leaves and the muffled sound of their footsteps. Talking just seemed like too much of an effort and none of them had anything much to say anyway.
In all, four attacks, involving six people and a dog, had been reported in an area measuring approximately half a mile each way. All had taken place early in the morning or in the evening near dusk, and by the time they reached the right place it was still only early afternoon. Nevertheless, they were there so they diligently searched the whole area and beyond, because that was what they’d walked all that way to do in the first place, but neither their instruments nor their eyes detected anything that shouldn’t be there.
“Well this was a giant waste of time and energy,” Owen groused as rainwater dripped from the branches overhead and down the back of his neck, making him shudder “Can we go back now?”
“Might as well; doesn’t look like we’re going to find anything.” Jack almost sounded disappointed.
“There has to be something here though,” Gwen protested as they turned and headed back through the woods towards where they’d parked the SUV. “Six people have seen it; they can’t all have been mistaken.”
“In the half-light of early morning or dusk it’s easy to think you see something that’s not there,” Jack said. “All it takes is a bit of wind blowing branches about and a tree can look like a monster, especially if there’s mist about to blur everything.”
“I suppose you’re right,” Gwen sighed. “I read the reports though, and the people who made them all seemed so sure of what they’d seen, something big and dark, with clawed hands and masses of tentacles whipping around, trying to grab them.”
“Maybe we should come back at dusk,” Ianto suggested. “Just to be thorough. Might be that whatever we’re looking for is inactive during the day and only comes out at night.”
“Possible,” Jack agreed. “There’s no shortage of nocturnal species. Alright, we’ll do that, but if nothing turns up tonight, that’s it. We can’t waste too much time chasing shadows and non-existent monsters, not when we have the real kind to deal with. Who’s in?”
“Count me out,” Owen said firmly. “I’ve got better things to do with my evenings than traipse about in the dark and mud looking for something that isn’t there.”
“I promised Rhys I’d be home at a decent time tonight,” Gwen piped up. “We’re supposed to be going out to dinner, he booked the restaurant and everything.”
“And I should probably stay home and rest my leg. Sorry,” Tosh said sheepishly. She’d tripped on a root while they were searching and twisted her ankle. Owen had bandaged it, but it ached and walking wasn’t helping. She really wanted to get her weight off it, and maybe put ice on it to bring the swelling down.
“Looks like it’s just you and me then.” Jack grinned at Ianto. “We can make a date of it; a romantic stroll through the woods at sunset. Maybe we could even pick up fish and chips on the way. It’ll be nice.”
Ianto nodded. “Why not? Sounds good, and at least the rain has stopped.” The persistent drizzle had petered out about the time they’d called off the search and started back, and the sky was clearing at last, letting through some welcome late afternoon sunlight, although the trees were still dripping and there were puddles and muddy patches everywhere. “Might be a good idea to change into something more appropriate before we come back out though,” he added. “It’ll likely be colder once the sun goes down, especially if there’s a mist again.”
“That’s my Ianto; always thinking of everything,” Jack smiled.
“Someone has to,” Ianto teased, drawing a good-natured growl from his lover.
As evening settled over the surrounding countryside, late sunlight and lengthening shadows leant an ethereal quality to the woods that they hadn’t possessed in the drizzling rain earlier. Ianto and Jack made their way along the paths, munching fish and chips as they walked. Following Ianto’s earlier suggestion, they’d changed out of their damp clothes and were now dressed in jeans, warm jackets, and in Ianto’s case, sturdier footwear than he’d had on earlier, so they’d look like anyone else out for an evening hike and not draw unwanted attention to themselves. Jack’s usual getup, especially the coat, wasn’t exactly inconspicuous and there were times it made more sense to blend in. They passed a handful of dog walkers and several lone joggers who puffed their way past without so much as giving them a second glance, so obviously their cunning disguises were working.
Both men had scanners in their pockets, along with powerful torches for when it got too dark to see, but for now there was still a good forty-five minutes of daylight left, plenty of time to get back to the area in question and take another quick look around before they needed to resort to artificial illumination. Despite the purpose of their outing, neither of them was in any particular hurry. Now that the rain had stopped the birds were singing their serenade to the sunset, making the walk much more pleasant than in had been that afternoon. Everywhere seemed peaceful and not the least bit threatening. Finishing the last of his chips, Ianto wiped his fingers on the paper, screwed up the packaging from his dinner and shoved it in the carrier bag he’d brought with him for that purpose. Jack handed over the wrapping from his meal and Ianto bunged that in the bag as well, to be taken back to the Hub and disposed of properly. He despised people who dropped litter just because they couldn’t be bothered to carry their rubbish to the nearest bin.
Turning off the main path, they continued along narrower trails, retracing their steps from earlier, the route they’d taken still clear in both their heads. Deeper among the trees, where the shadows clung more thickly, it was harder to see clearly but not so dark that they were straining their eyes. It just meant they needed to walk a bit more carefully to avoid tripping, or getting caught on brambles or low branches. Ianto found some late blackberries, almost out of reach above their heads, but with the aid of a fallen branch he managed to pull the thorny stems low enough that they could harvest and eat the fruit, staining their mouths and fingers purple in the process. They made a refreshing dessert after the slightly greasy first course, but the delay meant that the sun was almost below the horizon before they reached their destination.
Earlier, there’d been no birdsong or animal sounds because everything had been sheltering from the rain. Now though, the sudden absence of the background noises they’d grown accustomed to as they walked was very noticeable; this part of the woods was unnaturally quiet.
Ianto hooked his bag of rubbish over his arm and pulled out his scanner, then after a brief hesitation, drew his gun. “Better safe than sorry,” he murmured to Jack. “We don’t know if there might be Weevils this far out.”
Jack didn’t argue, drawing his own gun, but taking out his torch instead of his scanner and flicking it onto its lowest setting, which for the time being was enough to combat the deepening dusk.
Where earlier everyone had spread out to search on their own, now Jack and Ianto stuck close together, searching methodically. Some way off, they could faintly make out the sounds of starlings settling in to roost for the night, but none of the noisy birds came anywhere near this particular section of the woods. A deathly hush spread around them, like an invisible blanket, making even their own movements sound oddly muffled. Ianto gradually became aware of a crawling sensation as the hairs rose on the back of his neck, adding to the eerie feeling that they were being watched. The whole atmosphere of the place had altered and the air of menace increased with every passing second.
Tendrils of mist began to form in the open spaces among the tree trunks. There was very little in the way of undergrowth around here, as if the canopy of interlaced tree branches high above them didn’t let in sufficient light for many plants to grow. There were clumps of ferns here and there, in the dampest places, and a few straggly shrubs, but even what little grass there was seemed to be barely clinging to life. Funny how Ianto hadn’t really noticed that earlier…
TBC in Part 2