Hunting With My Father

November 4, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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“Relax, son. Close one eye and keep focused on your target.” My father spoke calmly from behind me. I tried to do as he said, letting my muscles relax. One eye closed, ending the double vision I had from having the rifle’s sight so close to my gaze.
“That’s good.” He continued. “Now, when you’re ready, hold your breath. Don’t hold it for too long or you’re gonna start shaking. Just enough. Then, slowly squeeze the trigger down. Like you’re milking a cow.”
I had to chuckle at that.
“Dad, I’ve never milked a cow before.” I spoke as I glanced up to him. He furrowed a brow and adjusted the baseball cap on his head.
“Well, that’s how my dad described it to me. You know what I mean.”
I smiled a bit and shook my head. It wasn’t the first time my dad described how to shoot to me. Or the second. Or even the third. He tended to repeat himself sometimes. I didn’t mind though. I looked back to the target through the sight and concentrated. I still took everything he said in. I relaxed, letting muscles loosen enough. I shut one eye, focusing on that bull’s-eye down at the end of the barrel. My breath held in my throat and, slowly, I squeezed the trigger down.
The rifle jumped in my hands, jerking heavily as it bounced back. My head jerked backward a bit, uneasy of the weapon as it leapt up. I was still a bit nervous since the last time I went to the range and the scope smacked me in my eye, bruising and cutting the brow.
I couldn’t see from where we stood at the shooting range station, but I felt good about the shot. My dad leaned in to the spotting scope we had set up and looked through it. A small nod and I saw a smile curl up on his lips.
“Not bad. Take a look.”
I rose up and shift to look through the scope myself. It took a bit of a moment to focus through it before I could see the small, black hole in the target down at the other end of the range. It wasn’t a bull’s-eye being just a bit high and to the left of the center.
My dad nodded and placed a hand on my shoulder.
“If that was a deer, it’d be a clean hit.” I smiled at his words and turned back to him.
“You think I actually have a shot at hitting something this weekend?” He shrugged his shoulders and then let out a breath.
“It’s possible.” He said. “We’ll sure as hell try. Now, see if you can actually hit the bull’s-eye this time.”
I chuckled and shook my head. And back to the station I went. I lift the rifle up and focused again. Maybe, with a bit of luck, we might come back with something on this hunting trip. That’d be a change.

* * *

I haven’t shot since that day at the rifle range. I wasn’t too worried though. Apparently, I was a pretty decent shot. No bull’s-eyes, but hey, close enough really. And I was getting used to the .300 short-mag Browning rifles my dad got for us to use. They packed a hell of a kick but with the padded stocks and a firm grips, you could keep them under control.

My dad had been planning this trip for a while and got the two Brownings specifically for it. The plan was that my dad, my Uncle John, and I John would head up to this out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere place where my dad used to deer hunt with his father and do the same for the weekend. To be honest, I wasn’t really big on the whole outdoors thing. It meant being too hot in the day, too cold at night, bugs everywhere, and a constant overwhelming feeling of needing a shower. However, I wanted to do it for my dad.

My father, Fred, wasn’t doing all that hot. Recently, he had cancer and a severe case of vasculitis. It really knocked him down a few notches. A couple of years ago, I remembered a strong and fearless man who could make someone back down with a hard stare. Now, he was immensely different. A lot a skinnier and he had the look of a man who had stared real death in the face. It rattled him. And made me realize that I may not have as much time as I thought with this man. Probably what my uncle was thinking as well.

John wasn’t my dad’s brother but my mom’s. He was a bit more the city type, like me. He taught at one of the local high schools and delved into a number of random hobbies. Lately, it had been photography. Even as we drove up, I could see that he had the fancy new Nikon DSLR camera set about his neck on the strap. We brought three guns with us: the two Brownings and my dad’s old .30-30 rifle, but we didn’t expect John to shoot anything unless it was with his camera. I figured the only real reason my dad brought along his .30-30 was because of the nostalgia rather than for all of us to shoot. It was the gun he used with his father and he kept it like it was brand new.

Even with the proper care and maintenance, it was still old. And the new Brownings were much more solid. He even got them setup with brand new scopes and shoulder straps. The works. If a deer came across our path, we’d have the gear to take it down.

We arrived at our hunting ground in the afternoon. It was a few hours from where we lived and then another hour driving along a dirt and gravel road. That was the most boring. The car couldn’t go more than fifteen miles per hour on the road with all the bumps and dips. Finally, we reached out spot which turned out to be a bit of a clearing in the middle of a large group of trees. I don’t remember the exact location just that it took quite a ways to get there.

We set our camp up, just a large single tent for the three of us, and unpacked some of our gear. John had made sure to grab some of that nice camping cook gear and my dad had pre-cooked some ribs and chicken that we’d just have to warm up. The first thing we did after setting up was eat.
“So, Fred,” John began as we munched on some ribs. “What are the odds of getting a deer out here?”
“As good as anyone else’s.” My dad shrugged. There was a bit of a pause before John spoke again.
“Let’s say we get a deer. Then what do we do then?” John quirked a brow as he focused on my dad. It seemed an innocent question but I knew where it was going. The question meant, if we got a deer, how did we plan on taking care of that heavy thing in the middle of the brush? Or, more specifically, how did my dad plan on taking care of it. John’s a good guy but he might’ve been overly concerned for my dad. My dad lost a lot of his strength in the hospital, but he wasn’t feeble yet. And Dad hated it when people thought he was.
“We’ll lug it up and carry it back here.” He spoke shortly, a bit of annoyance slipping into his voice. “David can handle it. Right son?” He asked me with a bit of a smile. I returned it with one of my own and nodded.
“Yeah, I can take care of it. I’m stronger than I look.” My dad’s smile grew and John shrugged his shoulders.
We finished soon after and the sun was starting to show the first signs of beginning to sink down toward the horizon.
“You know, we’ll have a couple of hours before it gets dark,” Dad said as he gazed up at the sky. “You want to take a bit of a walk and see if we get lucky?”
“Sure.” I replied quickly. “Why not?” John nodded in agreement and, soon, the three of us were trudging off into the trees.

Only Dad and I carried our guns, both of us wielding brand new Brownings. John was content just having his camera. Dad moved on through the thin path, leading the way as he seemed to recall memories of himself and his father. I trudged along behind him, my rifle slung about my shoulder. John had the rear, his hands lingering near his camera. Every once in a while, I’d hear a soft click as he’d shoot a picture of some of sort of eye-catching scenery while we walked.

We didn’t find much. No deer and, hell, we didn’t even see any animals except random birds and the hordes of bugs. I was starting to get tired and my legs began to hurt. It had been a long day and I wanted nothing more than to go sit down and relax a bit before conking out. The cold started to set in as the sun sunk lower, nipping at me even through my jacket. Dad pushed on before he stopped and bent down.

“Find something?” I asked as John and I both came up and looked down at the ground. My dad pointed out something in the soft dirt. A set of cloven tracks pressed on through the dirt, running along the path for a bit.
“Deer tracks.” He smiled a bit and rose, carefully moving to follow them along the path. “They go along here and then…” He trailed off as he furrowed a brow and crouched back down to the ground.
“Then?” I asked as John and I approached. Dad, once again, pointed to the ground. We could see what he was looking at. The prints suddenly shift and seemed to move toward the forest, off the path. But that’s not what was unusual. There were two more footprints in the dirt next to the deer’s and pointed in the direction the deer ran off in.
“That a bear?” John asked my dad while he focused on those two prints in the earth. I thought they might be from a bear myself but they looked…odd. My dad noticed it too. Bear prints have a distinct shape where the paw lands in the dirt with five toes though you might miss the little one depending on how the bear was moving. These prints had only three toes and an elongated print where the base of the paw fell. And the claw marks above those three toes dug deep into the ground. It almost seemed like if you gave a person three toes instead of five and threw on some thick, deadly claws that he’d make this footprint. And the size of them didn’t make me feel all that comfortable looking at them.
“Not the right shape.” Dad finally spoke as he stood. “And it’s not a mountain lion either. Hm…”
“Bigfoot?” I asked with a bit of a nervous chuckle. I tried to lighten the darkening mood.
“Well, they say he could be out here.” Dad remarked with a bit of a grin though I could tell he was only joking back with me to raise the mood as well. All three of us could feel it. An uneasiness that was starting to set in. A chill ran through me as I stared at those prints and not from the cold.
“Maybe we should call it a day. Before it gets too dark.” John suggested. Nobody argued. We turned and began to move back down the path. I kept a hand up on the shoulder strap of the rifle, ready to slip it off if I needed to. I noticed Dad was doing the same.

We didn’t say much when we got back. John started a fire before it got too dark and the three of us sat around it for a little while as night fell. It actually seemed rather peaceful. I could hear the light chirps of crickets in the woods and even the flutter of some night-time bird flying by. Light chat began to start up again and we found ourselves forgetting about those weird prints. John and my dad spoke about random things like the shows they watched on TV or the memories my dad had of this area. I sat back and just relaxed. Even though I was a city-boy, it was nice to get out with my family. I could tell my dad was enjoying himself. He seemed fuller, much more alive. Maybe the memories of good times were helping him recover. I hoped that making some more helped him too.

We went to bed not long after that. John put out the fire and the dark night fell over the camp, only the stars and moon shedding enough light for us to get comfortable in the tent.

As I drifted off to sleep in my sleeping bag I noticed one thing though. Maybe I was just too tired to really care or my mind forced me to ignore it but it seemed strange when the sounds of the forest seemed to stop. The crickets ended their song and the shifting of hidden, nocturnal animals ended. I could feel a familiar uneasiness building back up in my stomach as sleep claimed me. The same feeling I had when we all gazed upon those strangely shaped tracks with claws that seemed to sink deep into the earth below.

I woke up from a dreamless sleep to a smell that flew in and hit me right in my core.

Bacon.

I rose from my sleeping bag, slipped on a new set of clothes, and moved outside of the tent. John stood at the camping fryer he got, frying up a fresh batch of bacon while my dad double-checked the guns, making sure they were ready for today’s trek.

“Morning David!” John spoke with a grin as he held up the pan. “Almost done here. Got some eggs too.” Oh, bacon and eggs in the woods. I wasn’t complaining.

We ate breakfast happily, joking around a bit and fantasizing about all the different ways we were going to cook the deer we were sure to nab on this trip. Last night’s weirdness was completely forgotten.

After breakfast, we cleaned up and Dad handed me one of the Brownings.

“You ready for this son?” He asked with a bit of a smile. I nodded and took the rifle before slinging it over my shoulder.
“Oh yeah. Be good to get an early start this time too.”

Both father and son readied their weapons as John made sure that his camera was fully set for the day. He even snapped a photo of the two us, grinning at the camera. I felt good.

It had been a while since my father and I had gotten a chance to really do something together. The time in the hospital had been long and stressful. I still remember walking into his room, seeing him hooked up to all those machines with this look that screamed “help me” but I couldn’t do a damn thing. And before that, we’ve had a bit of a rough patch. Just stupid years of me being a dumb teenager leading up into being a dumb young adult. Now, I felt closer to him than ever. I felt like we were building up the family again. I’ll never forget that feeling.

Then we strode off into the wild, Dad on point and John taking up our rear. We moved along the path again, our eyes peeled for anything moving in the woods and ears listening for just the slightest sound.

Overall, it was a quiet morning that led into a quiet afternoon. We walked and moved, climbing over fallen trees that obscured the path or slipping through overgrown areas were the plants worked to reclaim areas that man and animal (mostly animal) trudged through. I admit, I was starting to get bored and tired. You can only walk so long and not see anything before you get a bit dispirited. Dad didn’t show any signs of exhaustion though. Even after getting out the hospital this soon, he moved like he had a purpose. I figured we’d eventually come across a tree a bit too large or an overgrown patch a bit too thick but he moved on through without a word of complaint.

It turned out to be worth it all.

We stopped as my dad held up a hand, both John and I halting in awkward poses as we immediately put our feet down mid-walk. In the distance, it took me a moment to see what he was looking at. It was hard to make out through the brush and trees, but I could see the light-brown form of…a deer! It stood off in the distance, through the trees, lightly grazing on something on the ground. And, with our luck, it was a buck! Two sets of large antlers rose from its head, tall and proud before they broke off into two branches a piece. A forked-horn my dad would call it.

It didn’t seem to see us yet.

My dad looked at me and gave me a grin as a hand motioned to the rifle on my shoulder.

“You want to take the shot son?” He whispered to me. My hand lingered on the rifle before I slipped it off. The gun felt heavy in my hands then, much heavier than at the range. The shot seemed so far. And the brush was all over.

“N-no,” I said as I shook my head, a bit of embarrassment flooding over me. “You do it Dad. I don’t know if I can hit it that far away.”
He hesitated and nodded as he turned back, unslinging his own rifle and raising it up. I was hoping he wouldn’t have been disappointed that I couldn’t take the shot. I…I just didn’t want to ruin this moment by missing. We finally come across a deer and I screw it up by failing at my shot. Dad would get it though. I knew it.

He looked about and I could almost see him silently cursing to himself. He was looking for a place to balance his rifle on. Right now, there wasn’t anywhere very convenient. You always want to make sure to steady your rifle. He drilled that fact into me. Shooting standing up with no rest was the worst way to do it. You only do it if you have to. And if you have to, at least remember everything else. You’ll need every advantage to hit something without any kind of rest.

My dad ended up moving to sit down on his rear in the dirt, his knees rising up. That way wasn’t as good as finding a rest for your gun, but you can use your knees to steady both your back elbow and your front as you aimed.

The deer’s head rose and began to look about. Our welcome was thinning with it.

Dad aimed down the sight and I heard him take in a short breath, not daring to let it out. His finger slowly fell upon the trigger.
BANG!

The shot rang out and I saw the buck jerk and stumble in the distance. It staggered for a moment and then burst off in a sprint through the trees, away from us. My dad rose and lift his head, looking after it. John and I finally made our moves and stepped up to him.

“You get it Fred?” John asked as he looked off in the distance. “I don’t think you got it.”
“Oh, I got it.” Dad said with a confident smirk on his face. “I got him.” He looked to me and I smiled back. The deer seemed like it was hit, but I couldn’t tell. I’d rather think my dad got him than missed.
“Should we go after it?” I spoke as I looked off to the spot the deer had been in.
“Oh yeah.” Dad replied as he began to push on, rifle slung back over his shoulder. “It can’t have gone far.”
And so, through the brush we went, the three of us searching for the wounded deer. When we came across the spot it had lingered in, the result was clear. A fresh patch of blood had covered a nearby tree and splashed the dirt on the ground. My dad just grinned and sent an “I told you so” look over to my uncle before he took a few steps. Sure enough, in the direction the deer ran off in, another splash of blood had stained the earth.
“Got him.” My dad said with a triumphant pump of a fist. “Now, let’s get him back. He’s not going to be too far I bet.”

The blood trail led on for a good distance. At times, there were sections where I lost the trail completely. I couldn’t tell if we took a wrong turn or if the deer had maybe stopped bleeding. My dad kept right on it and, sure enough, we’d find a new splash of brownish-red that mixed in with the dirt. The trail led straight to a large overgrown set of brush that appeared trampled and squished, like something hard fell upon it. A large pool of blood lay splattered over those plants and sunk into the earth below them. It seemed like the clear idea was that the deer had staggered here and then collapsed onto this brush.

But no deer.

Only the blood and torn up plants indicated that something heavy and bleeding had fallen here. My dad once again adjusted the ball cap on his head and moved up to investigate.

“That’s weird. Looks like he should be right here.” He commented as he ran a hand along one of the bloody leaves of the plant. “I don’t think he could’ve got up after falling with a hit like that.”

John and I stepped forward to look as well. It did seem like something had fallen here. It had to have been the deer. What else was recently wounded and bleeding?

John was the first to notice something strange. He had moved around the back of the brush and found an area behind it trampled to the ground. Blood streaked along the leaves and the ground below before moving off into the woods.

Like something was being dragged.

John waved my dad over, who took a look with a thoughtful gaze.
“You think something took off with it?” John questioned.
“Maybe, but this quick? Doesn’t seem possible.” Dad sighed and shook his head. I stood back, both curious and nervous, the memory of a certain set of footprints coming back into my head.

“Let’s take a look.” John suggested after a moment. “It shouldn’t be too far.” Curiosity must’ve got the best of all of us and we began to walk in the direction of the blood streaks. These were very different from the splotches we saw on the way here. Instead of the more circular splatters, each bit of the blood trail rolled along the earth in a curving line before stopping, only to resume again a few feet onward.
I didn’t notice the chirping of birds and animals stop. Or the cease in the buzzing of insects. I did notice the fain
t sound of something squishy being and torn. My dad must’ve heard it too and he slipped the rifle off of his shoulder as we all hunkered down and moved as silently on as we could.

I was the first to see it and, dear god, I was thankful for the brush. Otherwise I might’ve seen all of it head-on in the daylight.

In the distance, through the trees, appeared to be a creature crouched down over something. It was hard to make out through the brush and the distance, but I could distinctly see brownish-black fur or skin and a muzzle. All three of us stopped and watched it in awe and silence. As I looked closer, I thought I could see that the fur only seemed to be in patches on it and there looked to be blood starting to coat areas of it. It leaned over and bit down into something on the ground which…was the deer! I could see a bit of those forked antlers sticking up. I also saw what I thought was a hand raise up, large scythes of claws gleaming on a three-fingered hand before it lowered to dig down and tear more into the meat.

I felt sick. Like I was going to through up. This…thing made those tracks earlier. I knew it. Dad was looking off in quiet shock while John seemed to finger his camera, debating whether or not to take a picture.

It was then that the creature snapped its head up and I caught my first look at gleaming, blood-shot red eyes.
It stared directly at us.

A screech then emitted from it, high pitched and grating, like the vibration of the sound was causing part of its inner throat to tear apart. It then launched itself in our direction, still screeching that ghastly sound.

My dad rose to his feet and angled the gun, standing as he yelled something to John and me. I assumed it was run because John turned and took off. I rose and held my ground as dad fired off a shot that I knew would miss. Through those trees and with a moving target, he’d be lucky to hit it with a rest but standing? No chance. The shot did cause the thing to veer off and into the trees toward our right side. That’s when my dad turned and began to run himself. I bolted off with him, my heart jumping into my throat as I ran.

I could hear the trees crashing on our right side, then our left. Could it switch that quickly? That screech emitted once again and, this time, I felt like the terrified deer running through the woods as impending death loomed over me.

I don’t know how long Dad and I ran for but enough that I felt my legs start to cramp up and my breath to wheeze. Dad wasn’t looking too hot either. He stumbled and gulped in ragged gasps of air. His recent issues must’ve been finally catching up. Still, he pushed on. And I did with him. I never left his side. Even as he slowed. Like hell was I going to leave him while that thing was chasing us. I could tell he wanted me to push forward. To leave him and escape on my own.

My mind went to a joke my dad used to tell of two campers and one brings running shoes. The other asks why he brought running shoes and if he expected to outrun a bear. His friend answers, “No, I just have to outrun you.” Well this wasn’t a joke.

I don’t know how we managed it, but soon the two of us burst into our campsite, gasping and wheezing for air. Dad coughed and moved over to the car, leaning against it with an arm up. He coughed and spat as I bent over and gasped. I looked up to see him still coughing and lurching and I felt my stomach twist. He wasn’t doing well. Slowly, I came over and put a hand on his shoulder.

“Dad?” I asked quietly. “Are you OK?”
“Yeah,” He spoke in a ragged voice in between coughs. “Just, I’m OK. Are you OK?” Heh, still worried about me when he was the one that looked like he would cough up a lung.
“I’m all right.” I reassured him before I lift my head. That’s when I realized something as I looked about our solitary campsite.

John was nowhere in sight.

I stepped away from dad, my eyes looking around the camp. It looked untouched, just the way we left it this morning. But John wasn’t here. I looked back to Dad, who seemed to finally recover and push himself away from the car.

“John’s not here.” I told him as I looked around. My dad cursed and his gaze wandered back toward the woods. Where that creature had been. My eyes followed him and I swallowed down some of the bacon and eggs that tried to come back up. “You think he’s out there? You think that thing-“
“We’ll find him.” My dad cut me off as he drew in a breath. “Get some fresh water ready for us and some food. Make sure you got ammo.” He commanded. I didn’t question him. I moved and refilled our canteens with water and stuffed some of the quick snack foods we brought with us into small bags. I double-checked my ammunition and found my clip still full. I hadn’t fired a shot. Dad moved to the car and pulled out a box of .300 short-mag rounds before setting it on the hood. The clip in his rifle came out and he replaced the two shots he fired swiftly before oddly hesitating as he went to slip the clip back in. Instead, he turned to me and extended the clip out.

“Here, son. That’ll give you an extra one.” He said firmly as I gave him an odd look.

“Dad, what about you?” I asked as I lift my hand to take the full clip from him. He turned back toward the car and reached in again, soon slipping out his old .30-30 rifle. Without a second thought, he began to load it with ammo from an old and beat-up .30-30 box he had brought with him. I shook my head and came up next to him.

“No, dad. That gun’s old. And we’re going to need power if we come across that thing. We have short magnum Dad. The thirty-thirty-“
“-is my gun.” He replied quickly and curtly. “It’s reliable. I used this gun for 30 years and it still shoots like it’s brand new. I know it and it’ll be plenty. Besides, you got the short mag.” After loading the rounds he turned and put a hand on my shoulder. “We can take care of it. Now, are you ready?”

I looked away from him and to those woods. Those same woods which, before this moment, did not seem so dark or ominous. Even in the daylight the trees seemed to suck up the light like a vampire, leaving shadows where a sickening, patchy-furred monster might be waiting to creep up on us and tear us a part.

“We’re going after John?” I asked as I kept my gaze focused on that forest, trying to pierce the darkness and hoping I didn’t find two bloodshot eyes staring back at me.
“We’re going to get him back.”
A deep breath and I nodded before slipping the extra clip into my pocket. My hands went to unsling the rifle from my shoulder and I finally looked back to my father.
“Ok,” I spoke, my voice coming out much quieter than I meant it to. “Let’s go.”

Our search began in late afternoon while the sun seemed like it was in a losing battle of staying high in the sky. Journeying back into those woods while that…thing was still out there terrified me like hell. I had already witnessed it tearing apart that deer and now John was missing. I secretly hoped he just got lost on the way back and we’d find him trying to get back to the path. I hated to think I was hoping he was just lost but the alternative meant that monster…

I forced those thoughts from my head and gripped my rifle tightly. My eyes wandered over to Dad as we moved. He stepped swiftly and carefully, eyes looking about him. Every once in a while, he stopped and would just listen before moving on. I was glad he had that hunting experience. It would really help us now. Still, I could tell he was nervous. The hands that gripped his trusty gun were gripping too tightly and shaking just a bit. Oh dad, I had that same fear in me too.

The sky grew darker and still we searched. Thankfully, the most I heard and saw were bugs and small animals scurrying around. No creature yet. That didn’t mean it wasn’t still out there, watching and waiting.

Suddenly, I saw dad stop and bend down near a large tree. I moved after him carefully and as quietly as I could. He reached down and picked up what looked to be the mangled remains of a DSLR camera. It looked crushed, the body smashed in and the lens broken off. Worst thing was I could see the smears of blood that coated the camera and the neck-hanger.

I couldn’t hold back anymore. I turned and retched. My body fell over as I let loose what remained of bacon and eggs in my stomach all over the forest ground. My Dad didn’t say anything. He just looked down and sighed. He knew. We both knew.

As I knelt on the ground, trying to recover, I saw my dad rise to his feet and step off through the trees. A few long breaths and I pulled myself up after composing myself before sprinting after him. He walked for a ways, every once in a while glancing down toward the ground and then looking up. I didn’t dare look. I knew what he was following. I just…didn’t want to believe it.

It wasn’t long before the smell hit me. The coppery scent of fresh blood stung at my nostrils and I held my breath. No, no this wasn’t it. We’re going to find a deer. A bear. A…well anything. Not this though. Not this. I tried to calm myself down. I just…lied to myself.
We soon found John. My dad tracked the blood smears I refused to look at to a large one splattered against a big tree. He was slumped over in the branches, hanging down as drops of blood fell down to the base of the tree, mixing with wood and dirt. I only could look for a moment before I had to turn away, but it was enough to see the gouge marks running along his arm that hung limply over the branch, swaying in the light wind and the bits of flesh and intestine that threatened to spill out with just the slightest movement.

My dad grimaced and curled his lip. He just stared up and I could see moisture building in his eyes. He looked form the tree and over to me and I knew what was going through his head. John’s dead. My uncle and his brother-in-law is dead. And the two of us were still stuck here with the killer. I was in danger. I knew what he was seeing in his head. Dad saw me, hung up in that tree, blood dripping along a lifeless body. He turned away quickly and reached a hand to grab my shoulder.

“We’re leaving.” He said so quickly and quietly it took me a moment to understand. Already, he began to drag me through the trees back toward camp. I moved along listlessly, in a daze at the recent events. It was getting to be too much. One of us was already dead and we could very well join him soon. I bit back tears and moved faster. I wanted out. I wanted home. I wanted away from this sickening thing!

Darkness swiftly poured in. I didn’t realize how long we were searching and how quickly night fell upon this area. As the darkness fell, our pace increased. Soon, it almost felt like we were running again back to camp.

My thoughts wandered back to this afternoon. I nearly choked as the fresh memory of that creature screeching and barreling after us rose up in my head. I could almost hear it out there, running along with us through the trees, ready to pounce and rip us to shreds.

I let out a sigh of relief when my dad and I slipped back into that camp clearing. He didn’t hesitate. He took one last look around for John and then moved for the car.

“What about our stuff?” I asked as I came up behind him, motioning to our gear. We still had our tent, the cooking supplies, the food, and everything else we took just lying about.
“We don’t need it.” Dad said as he threw open the car door. “It’s all replac-“
That screech, that fucking screech cut him off. From the side of the car, I saw it. It burst out and reared up. I only saw it up close for a second but it felt like more. I seemed to have enough time to see every detail. The reason why its brownish-black fur looked to be in patches seemed to be because there were parts of its black skin that looked diseased and rotted. It was tall and scrawny, overly scrawny with bones that jut out in a way that made them seem like they’d tear through thin skin at any moment. It had a canine-like muzzle with jaws that opened into thick and sharp, yellowed fangs. It was reared up on thin, back-legs that ended in elongated three-toed feet equipped with three long claws that dug into the earth where it stood.

A three-clawed hand rose and smacked my dad in the chin, causing him to be flung back and to the ground. The .30-30 rifle fell away from his grasp and landed in the soft dirt a few feet away from him. The creature then turned to me, those blood-red eyes focusing on mine as I looked up into its gaze. My mouth hung open in shock as it snarled down to me, sickly black-colored drool oozing from its jaws. I at least remembered my rifle and brought it up to point the barrel at it. The creature’s arm shot out, hand grasping around the barrel and, with strength I didn’t think that scrawny form could have, wretched it out of my grasp and chucked it away from me. I backed up and was about to turn and run when it leapt.

I felt a heavy form crash over me, sending my back down into hard dirt. I could smell it as it tackled and held me down, a stench of rotting flesh and dried blood assaulting my nostrils. I’m going to die now. God, I’m dead. That’s all I could think as I saw it raise a clawed hand up.

A loud sound echoed suddenly, the sound of something hard smacking into flesh and the creature stumbled off of me. I took that moment to turn and crawl away, panting heavily before I risked looking back. I saw my dad standing there, both hands clutched together in front of him after he apparently sent a hard haymaker into the back of the creature. Hell, I didn’t know he had that strength left in him!

The monster already recovered and rose back up, this time hissing and screeching at my father. My dad glanced at me and my breath caught in my throat. He wasn’t hoping to beat it. He just wanted to distract it. Get it away from me.

My dad was going to let it kill him. To save me.

The creature rose and struck out with those claws at Dad. It struck him in his arms, leaving three gashes as my father fell backward to the ground.
I needed to move. I needed to get up. I needed to run. He was going to sacrifice himself for me and all I could do was sit and stare as it happened. I pushed myself up with my arms, eyes locked on the scene before me.

My hand brushed against something metal. I looked down to see my father’s .30-30 lying next to me.
The creature stepped forward and fell over my father, looming over him and pinning him to the ground.
I yanked up the gun and readied it in my arms.

If you can help it son, always find something to balance your gun on. Don’t ever shoot it just holding it unless you have to.

I adjusted my position, sitting down and raising my knees to rest the gun on them, like my dad did when shooting that deer.

Dad yelled something at me. I thought it was run but I couldn’t hear it over the sound of the creature hissing.

Relax, son. Close one eye and keep focused on your target.

I rolled my shoulders, forcing my muscles to relax and closed an eye, letting the sight focus in on the drooling head of that monster.

The monster opened its mouth and screeched in my dad’s face, drool oozing out and over my father as my dad shut his eyes and turned away.

Now, when you’re ready, hold your breath. Don’t hold it for too long or you’re gonna start shaking. Just enough.

I held took in a breath and held it, the gun steadying in my hands as my breathing halted for the moment.

The creature’s arm rose, claws lift and readied to flay into my father. This was it. I’d have one chance. If I missed, my dad would die.
Then, slowly squeeze the trigger down. Like you’re milking a cow.

My finger slowly squeezed down on the trigger as I tried my best to imagine what milking a cow must be like.

The creature’s clawed-hand fell downward.

BAM!

The shot rang out and I could hear a sick crunching noise mixed with that of a splatter. The creature howled and lurched off of my dad, its over-sized hands grasping its head in pain. I could see what I thought was blood pouring out of the side of its deformed skull. It jerked around, stumbling on its feet before it turned and snarled at me.

Then it turned and took off, running back into the woods. I sat there in silence, panting as sweat poured down my face. Soon, my eyes moved back to my dad. He was lying there, not moving. Swiftly, I rose and slid down next to him.

“Dad?” I cried out to him. “Dad! Come on!”

He blinked and stared up at me before his arms rose and wrapped around me in a tight hug. I hugged him back and closed my eyes. We were OK. Both of us were OK.

Soon, my father let go and pushed himself up to his feet. He glanced back toward the woods as a hand rose to wipe some of that foul-smelling drool away from his face.

“I…I…” He began with a slight stammer before he lift a hand and placed it on my shoulder. “I taught you good.” He spoke and I couldn’t help but let out a small chuckle.

We didn’t waste any time. The two of us got into that car and drove. Neither of us said anything until the car pulled out of that winding, bumpy road and onto solid highway nearly an hour later. I was the first to speak.
“What do you think it was?” I asked quietly as my head turned toward him.
“I don’t know.” Was the only reply I got.
“What are we going to say about John?”
“The truth. He was attacked by…an animal. We shot it but we think it got away.” He sighed and hung his head. I knew he felt responsible for John. It wasn’t his fault though. That thing. It was that thing’s fault. And nobody would believe it if we said a monster got him. So, an animal. It had to be an animal.

We were silent for a bit longer before I spoke in a quiet, nervous tone.

“What if that thing comes back?” I asked as my eyes focused on my father. “What if it follows u? Comes after us again?”
My dad did something surprising. He smirked. He smirked and shook his head.
“I’m not scared if it does.” That surprised me. I gave him an odd look, like he had finally gone crazy.
“Dad, that thing took a bullet to the face and you’re not scared of it?”
“Son,” He began as he glanced to me, a confident look on his face. “You shot that thing in the head and it howled and ran away. That means it was hurt. Means it was scared of getting hurt more. And if it’s scared of getting hurt more,” And that grin on his face grew wider. “that means we could kill it.”

Credit To – David

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Standing Water

November 3, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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My family was doing pretty well until about a decade ago. My dad developed a bit of a problem with the ponies, a problem that certain businessmen decided needed to be solved with his death. Without his job and with him having bet his life insurance away a long time ago, my uneducated mother just couldn’t handle this present job market. My sister and I both dropped out of high school and started working two jobs, and after moving into the shoddiest apartment complex this side of Cabrini-Green, we’d finally been doing a little better. We might have been able to save up for a real house in a couple more years, too. It’s just a shame that that was the year that our turn came to be visited.

Among the many things that the social worker that got us into this place didn’t tell us about was that the pipes are pretty bad. Every couple of years, terrible clogs would effect toilets, bathtubs, and sinks. They would resist any attempt by supers and professional plumbers to deal with them and sometimes flood entire floors of apartments in the middle of a winter’s night. Then at some point, all fixtures would unclog as mysteriously as they clogged and the cycle would begin anew.

The saddest thing about this was that the clogs always seem to leave at least one person dead. Mrs. Lincoln, this cool old lady who seems to have lived in these apartments since the dawn of time, told me all about it.

“Mind you my memory’s not what it was, child. But as far as I can remember there’s been at least one death of a baby or a toddler, usually several, every year of these clogs. Now, some of these are just the usual deaths that happen to the little ones when there’s standing water around. The poor little thing will see his reflection in the water or something and get all curious and fall in and drown. But some of them were different,” at this her cheery brow collapsed.

“Different how?” I said.

“1960 was the first really bad year,” she said after some hesitation. “That was the summer that we lost the two McGee toddlers and little Sandy Dugan. Poor Mrs. McGee. She lived in the apartment right below me. She was a delicate little thing, couldn’t hurt a fly. I still remember the night that she found her two little ones drowned in the clogged tub,” Mrs. Lincoln paused to wipe her tears. “I didn’t know her really well, but I could tell from the screaming those last few nights that the kids were keeping her up.”

At this point I noticed that Mrs. Lincoln had gone from sadness to shaking a bit and looking over her shoulder. “What’s wrong, Mrs. Lincoln? Are you ok?”

She smiled, “Bless you, honey. The world needs more of your type. I just wish that you weren’t stuck in this damn pit. It’s no place for a child with her whole life ahead of her.”

“Thanks. We’re gonna be ok,” I said. “My sister and I are determined to get out of here somehow.”

“I can barely remember a time when I had your spunk,” Mrs. Lincoln said. “Just promise me you’ll never compromise on doing what’s right. That’s what’s been my downfall.”

“Ok, I promise,” I said.

“I don’t know exactly what happened over the next few days other than the screams. I only know what I’d been able to gather from old gossips. What I can tell you is that the McGee toddlers had been having terrible nightmares in the days leading up to their mother finding them in the tub. They would wake her up screaming and caterwauling saying that there were voices beckoning to them from the water. They were scared of something they called “The Dead Sailor.” Mrs. Lincoln shivered and crossed herself.

“They said that he had gotten their daddy (Mr. McGee was a dockworker who had died in a warehouse collapse years before) and that he was coming to hurt them. Several times Mrs. McGee had woken up to just barely pull one of them back from the clogged tub and then, one night…” Mrs. Lincoln began to sob.

“It’s ok,” I said, hugging her.

“Their deaths cast a cloud over the entire complex but the city in those days barely even bothered to send the cops out,” she said. “They would have ruled it a simple accident or at most hauled Mrs. McGee off to the asylum. But then poor little Sandy Dugan from the other side of the complex turned up dead too. The strange part was that she didn’t even drown, though. She had been having the same nightmares of an old dead sailor calling her to the water. But her parents said she was afraid to go near the clogs because she said that something was “growing” there that was threatening her.”

“Like mold or mosquitos or something?” I said.

“I don’t know. All I know is that the night that she died, poor little Sandy screamed and swatted the air as though something was attacking her.

“Can’t you see them? Can’t you see them?” she would say to her parents as they tried to calm her down. Then, one night the poor little thing just collapsed and died. They said she died of a brain aneurysm. It was the only time that we ever heard from a coroner that I can recall, actually.”

Mrs. Lincoln was exhausted at this point so I thanked her, finished my tea, and left. I met my sister Lindsay at the bus stop. She’d been trying to find any information she could on the clogs and deaths at the public library. Her expression as she got off the bus told me everything I needed to know about what she’d found.

“Seen a ghost?” I said. Lindsay shot me that glance that only she could do signifying something between, “Ha ha” and ” Go die in a fire.”

“Yeah, that might be a good way to sum it up,” she said as she rolled her eyes, thrusting a latte into my hands and started walking.

“There’s been over twenty deaths, most of them under four, over the past forty years,” Lindsay said as we walked back to the complex “All of them were accompanied by eerily similar nightmares and hallucinations involving demonic insects, voices, and a ghostly figure that all the accounts identify as ‘the Dead Sailor.’ I was able to find a few tacked on, sweeping statements about toxic mold and mass hysteria or whatever. It really seems to me, though, that the city government’s been trying to cover up the whole thing so that their little ghetto doesn’t look so bad to the state.”

“Mrs. Lincoln told me they never even got official explanations for most of the deaths,” I said.

“Yeah. There have been some independent investigations, though,” Lindsay said. “In 1967, the residents got together enough money to hire an independent law firm to prepare a class action suit. The law firm sent in a team of contractors lead by a man named Paul Niemann to figure out what could possibly be causing these clogs and hallucinations. What they found was disturbing.”

Lindsay paused for a second only to be interrupted by a scream. Mr. Parker, one of the residents, burst onto the balcony of his third story apartment, “Oh God, my son’s drowned!”

Without thinking, we dashed up the stairs and tried to fight through the quickly gathered crowd of neighbors. “How did it happen?” I asked.

“I swear to God I only left him in the living room for a second. I just had to check the oven. The bathroom door was locked, I-I-I know it was.” Mr. Parker said.

“Please, make way,” said Mrs. Yi, the nurse.

The two year-old was floating facedown in the half-full bathtub. The room was ice cold and there was this indescribable sense of what I can only call stillness. From the glimpse that I caught of it, the boy’s face seemed more than wrinkled or blue with oxygen deprivation. It seemed ancient as though the water had somehow aged him. There were flecks of green around the eyes and cheeks that almost looked like algae.

As Mrs. Yi and Mr. Parker left to meet the police, Lindsay drew closer to the bathroom door to examine the lock. It was forced open in a way that a two year-old could not have done. The space around the doorknob was covered with a watery film.

What really caught Lindsay’s eye, though, was a tiny mark above the wrenched doorknob. It was like a three-pronged fork with the tines going in diagonal directions. The right tine was bent and looked like it was about to snap off. The “fork” was surrounded by jagged lines that resembled barbed wire.

“I saw that mark today in my research at the library,” she said. “It showed up on a lot of the drowning victims over the years, including the McGee children.”

“It almost looks like a trident or some other nautical emblem,” maybe it fits in with the whole “Dead Sailor” thing,” I said. “So, did you find anything on what that could possibly mean? I mean, twenty unrelated children almost all of them reporting the same thing before they died can’t be a coincidence. Think we’re dealing with some kind of serial killer?”

“I was about to get to that when we saw Mr. Parker,” Lindsay said. “Paul Neimann’s team of contractors began their investigation by digging into the sealed off subbasement underneath Mrs. McGee’s apartment. The foundation was unusually wet, even considering the mold and water damage you might expect from the clog. Even so, one of the men reported that it was so cold in that subbasement that the contractors had to come back with heavy winter coats in the middle of August.

The ground in the subbasement was even worse. Neimann figured that the low bid construction company that erected the building had neglected to tell anyone that they were building on either a barely drained marsh or a piece of ground below the water table and that was the cause of the flooding. It still didn’t explain how these clogs and overflows could be so prevalent above the ground floor.

It seems like the mayor’s office was eager to take focus away from its shabby housing during an election year, though, so the death certificates were sloppily churned out. The McGee toddlers had slipped and drowned in the clogged tub. The construction company was found negligent and Neimann Contracting would be in-charge of overhauling the foundations of the buildings.”

“I take it that those plans never came through,” I said. “But what does this have to do with some alleged dead sailor?”

“You’re right that the foundation overhauls never happened,” Lindsay said, “but the reason was that Neimann and his men (or the children of the few who weren’t childless) wound up dead. One by one each of them died in a water related accident. Neimann’s head assistant careened off the road into a bog. His brother, Jerome drowned in his own toilet.

“Neimann himself slipped and fell off the dock while taking a trip to the lake with his wife. She said that he had been under a lot of stress, jumping at shadows ever since the court ruling. The day of his death he just got this wild, distant look in his eyes and just sort of went limp. She said it was almost a combination of a jump and a fall like he lost his will to live all at once. And just like the dead children, each of them had the same mark on an arm or a shoulder.”

Mr. Parker had to fight through an unusual amount of red tape to even recover his son’s body for burial. We didn’t even find out for a few weeks that the death was ruled an accident.

Things actually quieted down for the next couple of months. Lindsay continued her research down at the library, but things were slow going as she kept encountering holes in the records. I kept interviewing Mrs. Lincoln and the other elderly residents as often as I could. Slowly we began to fill in the details of the other deaths as much as possible.

Turns out, the area had had a prominent death even before the housing complex was built. In 1951, a World War II Navy veteran by the name of Honus Moon cornered the area’s river barge traffic with the blessing of the local crime families. Local businessmen called him the Dead-Eyed Sailor because of his expressionless manner.

They also knew that if he wanted your contract or your boat, you could only kiss it good-bye. He intimidated rivals with violence, with kidnapping, and even by spreading rumors of black magic. Eventually, Moon put enough barge captains and warehouse owners at the bottom of the lake, that he actually caught our fine police department’s attention beyond his ability to bribe them.

The police didn’t guess just how deeply Moon’s mob connections went, though. Thus for almost a full two days in July the wharfs were alight with machine gun fine.

The officer who led the team that finally gunned Moon down testified that his last words were the following. “If my soul is kept in running waters, then you have beaten me and all your debts are forgiven. But if the stagnant waters touch me, then I shall return to claim your children as my payment. Remember my sign.” Moon then rushed the police, pulling something from his coat pocket.

When the smoke cleared he had not a gun but only his hand, badly self-mutilated in a vice. It was crushed and twisted into a gnarled, three-fingered mark with the right finger nearly snapped in half.

Lindsay could not find any information on what happened to the body after the autopsy. The only relative to come forward was a grown-up niece from the other side of the state who called herself Lorna Coe. The next mention of Honus Moon the Dead-Eyed Sailor in the record is when his gnarled hand turns up in a marshy field- the same field that our apartments now stand on.

While Lindsay took our siblings to the park (other than Bobby, who had the chicken pox and was with mom that day), I decided to pay a visit to Mrs. Lincoln to ask her why she didn’t mention Moon or if she ever met Lorna Coe. What I would find at her apartment, robs me of sleep to this day.

Her front door was open and I could hear the sound of screams even as I approached from the stairwell. Mrs. Yi, Mr. Parker, and my mother were kicking and shoving against Mrs. Lincoln’s bathroom door begging for her to come out.

“Please! Leave my baby alone!” My mother said. I asked her what was happening. Mrs. Yi had to answer through my mother’s sobbing.

“Mrs. Lincoln has gone insane!” she said. “She’s trying to drown your little brother, Bobby!”

I joined Mr. Parker in trying to bash the door in. “Mrs. Lincoln! Why are you doing this?” I said.

“I’m so sorry, Holly. I had to lie to you, dear. I didn’t know what he’d do,” Mrs. Lincoln said. “Your little sisters and brothers are in my uncle’s sights. The sailor’s coming for them because you were too close. I see it in my dreams. I won’t stand by and play the pragmatist with people’s lives anymore. God forgive me.”

I could hear the thrashing and muffled screams of my brother. “Bobby, hang on! I’m coming to get you.” With a burst of strength like I’d never felt before, I charged through the bathroom door. Mr. Parker ran in and wrenched my half-drowned brother away from Mrs. Lincoln.

She was delirious and on the verge of a stroke. Screaming and crying, “No! You must let me save the child!” The bathroom was covered in images of saints and votive candles and good luck charms. A replica of the three-pronged sign was messily scrolled on the mirror in a wet, dark slime.

“He’s coming! No one can stop him! I thought I could distract him by half drowning the boy and buy you some time! Please, God forgive me,” said Mrs. Lincoln.

As Mrs. Yi and my mother tried to revive Bobby, and Mr. Parker struggled to restrain Mrs. Lincoln, I shouted into the phone. “Lindsay, keep them from the pond. It’s Bobby…” I was greeted only by the distant screams of children and the furious sound of splashes.

As I entered the park, Lindsay was struggling with some unseen force that seemed to be biting her all over. Our brother, Chuck and sisters Sarah and Autumn were in various stages of crying or shambling forward towards the pond. Three feet into the water stood Honus Moon himself, or at least the thing he had become.

He was sopping wet and covered in filth and algae and bullet wounds from which an unnatural amount of blood gushed yet seemed to disappear as soon as it touched the water. Thanks to my dad’s fascination with Naval history, I could just barely make out Midshipman’s insignias on his collar. His face looked like a chainsaw sculpture and was dyed greenish-brown like that of a mummy. He had no expression on his face but I didn’t need one to see his hate as he beckoned to the children with his crushed hand.

“”Suffer the little children,” eh, little wench?” Moon said. “This is what happens when you meddle in the affairs of grown ups.”

I tried to pull my little brother Chuck back but he was moving forward as if drawn by gravity. Thousands of invisible insects jabbed into my flesh and broke against my face like a hot wind, their amplified buzz assaulting my ears. Lindsay managed to fight her way out to the water and grab onto Autumn just as her head dipped below the water. Moon had only to shoot her a glance and Lindsay was brushed back as though caught in a rip tide.

Tossing Chuck behind me, I took a running dive into the pond for Autumn but she fought me as though Moon were somehow augmenting her strength. As I fought against Autumn with all my might, the “insects” surged into my back from above the water. In the moment that I was able to stick my head up with Autumn in my arms, I saw Moon fling a large rock and hit Lindsay in the side of the head. That moment of distraction was all that Moon needed to draw Autumn and me toward him like a whirlpool.

“It’s over, children, you’re coming with me,” said Moon chuckling. “We mustn’t have any more lose ends, now.”

My hands recoiled under the pain of the insects and Autumn slipped from my grasp. I was about to grab hold of Chuck as he floated by when my head struck a rock of its own.

I recovered from my daze just in time to notice that I’d drifted toward the small damn of stacked rocks that separated the pond from the creek that flowed into the park. I remembered Moon’s words about flowing water. Maybe that would be the solution! I grabbed onto the rocks as tight as I could. For what seemed like days, I fought against the slippery surfaces and the fiery stings of the insects all over my body.

“I see what you mean to do and it won’t work,” Moon said. “Though I have to give you credit for ingenuity,” my back cracked under the force of a thrown rock just as his voice reached crescendo.

I knew that my only chance was to break the dam. I thought about Lindsay and our sisters and brother, I thought about my mom and dad. I thought about poor Mrs. Lincoln and all the years of despair she’d had to live with. I thought about Bobby and hoped to God they were able to revive him. I had to do this. Just one more rock and then…

I awoke in the ambulance. Mr. Parker had shown up at some point and did… something that resulted in his death and likely saved little Sarah’s life. Chuck drowned in the pond and Autumn is nowhere to be found, though. Lindsey recovered from the rock, but she has some minor brain damage and no memory of seeing Moon or anything that happened at the park. I’m a bit jealous of her, to be honest. Bobby, at least, did eventually come back to us, though. Thank God.

As far as I can tell, bursting the dam did drive off Moon, but last we heard the clogs are still occurring in the apartment complex. I haven’t heard of any deaths, though.

It’s been a few years since we’ve lived in the complex, now. Between Lindsey and my scholarships, we’ve managed to get pretty good new careers going for ourselves as insurance investigators. However, neither of us can stand to go anywhere near a body of water.

I will beat this phobia, though. When I do, I’m going to go back to those damn apartments and I’m going to find Autumn no matter what it takes- even if that means just bringing back a body to mom. When I do go back, Honus Moon is going to pay with whatever’s left of his soul.

Credit To – Cosmo Fish

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Purified

November 2, 2013 at 12:00 PM
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“Hell is other people.” –Jean Paul Sartre, No Exit

Things had gone terribly wrong. I wasn’t one to ever really be concerned with history—I had failed it three times in college—but even I knew things had gone terribly wrong. If anyone survived any of this, it would be up to them to decide what the cause was, record it in the annals of history, and try to avoid the mistakes of the past, but that wasn’t my job. My job was to survive, and it didn’t matter whether I blamed the sun for entering some strange new cycle and turning most of the world into barely livable desert, blamed the government for embroiling all of us in so many conflicts that there weren’t allies and enemies as much as it was a coliseum free-for-all, or blamed science for creating so many biological weapons that were used with no regard for the outcomes. It just didn’t matter, because most of the humans that could be blamed were dead, and there was no use blaming the dead. I considered blaming God, but I wasn’t sure if he existed any more. If he did, then this must be the apocalypse and I was fairly certain there was no way I was ever going to meet him. If he didn’t, then I would just be blaming the dead yet again, and it’s no use blaming someone who can’t ever atone for their crimes.

Things had gone terribly wrong, but I was alive, and for today, that was enough. When it wasn’t any more, ammo was easy to find, and I already had all the guns I needed to fix that scenario. Until then, we got by. You see, I had been camping with a few others, mostly just to see another human face when I woke up in the morning. There was me, Wolf, the Rev, and Chickadee. I know those weren’t their real names, but it didn’t really matter anymore what names were, since there usually weren’t enough people to share it with anyways. Besides, keeping nicknames made it a lot easier to pull a corpse from a tent and chuck it into a deep hole without burying yourself down there with it each time. There had been more of us at one time, but for a lot of those folks, being alive just wasn’t enough anymore. They all found an out some way, be it through guns or just disappearing one night into the wasteland, they got out when they needed. The four of us got along pretty well, but we didn’t get along much. The camp was pretty quiet most of the time, unless one of them things wandered close, but they didn’t really bother us often.

They were nasty looking creatures though. I had always wondered if those zombie theories were true, and in the end, they weren’t. Something else did take over once we humans moved on, but our corpses hadn’t passed Darwin’s survival test, so they didn’t come back as shambling and stupider versions of ourselves. I’m not sure where the things came from, but they were there and they were dangerous. They could rip a person apart in just a matter of minutes, and those bodies definitely never got back up. Maybe they were the next step of evolution. All I knew is that they were ugly to look at, and overall pretty bright creatures despite their appearance. They walked and looked like humans, but their limbs were a little longer, with sharper claws and teeth like our animal counterparts. Their skin was solid black, which probably helped out with them living in a newly desert world. It looked cracked, charred almost, but I never really got close enough to tell you much. For the most part, they were solitary, but you could hear them talking at night, hissing and spitting in some language I didn’t try to understand. It gave me chills to hear it, and so I hated the days I got stuck with night watch, knowing they were talking about us just beyond the firelight. Made it so my nightmares became the only kind of dreams I knew.

But, like I said, they mostly left us alone for a long time. Left us to try and build some sort of community with the four of us, but none of us were very good at that. Our trained isolation is probably what saved us in the beginning, and maybe it is what will doom all of us in the end. I told you I don’t know history, and I certainly don’t know the future.

Chickadee was a smart woman, nice to look at. Before the end of the world, I probably wouldn’t even have noticed her, but in this desert sand, her blond hair and blue eyes turned her into a goddess of limitless beauty. We slept together a few times, but it was mostly going through the motions and neither of us really seemed driven to make it a normal occurrence. It was nice to have some comfort when the booze wasn’t enough, but something about the new emptiness and the constant sense of doom made even sex bland and undesirable. She was smart, and we talked a bit. Mostly she talked and I nodded. The sound of her voice was a pleasant break from the silence otherwise. I had always lived in the country, but this quiet was a different kind. It was absolute. For me, it was an adjustment, but for her, a born and bred city-dweller, it was almost unbearable. She talked about that a lot. Not too sure about who she was before everything, but she was with us after it all went to hell, and we looked out for her. Her sister had been one of the first to take their out, and I was sure for a while Chickadee would follow along, but she stuck it out, seemingly growing more resolved to fight through day by day. I never saw her breakdown, though I heard her some nights crying softly in her tent. I think she was probably the strongest one of all of us.

Wolf was a different story altogether. I assumed I wouldn’t like him when we first met, and I was right. Alcohol was all of our friend, but Wolf was involved in a tempestuous affair with it. I’m not sure I ever knew him fully sober, especially not after we had to leave the city and start our lives out in this wasteland. He was impulsive and loud, two traits which should have gotten him killed, but at this point I was certain nature just wanted to keep the least desirable parts of our species alive to ensure it died out quickly. At the same time, he was very protective of all of us. I think he took it personally when someone escorted themselves out of this world; he definitely took it harder than the rest of us. You could measure his grief by the empty bottles by his tent each night. He talked a lot, said very little, but if anyone really wanted a community from our ragtag band, it was him. He wasn’t made for this world, but he was alive, and that was enough each day.

The Rev was a thin, quiet man who assured all of us that this was God’s judgment on us all. When you asked, he would discuss his past sins and how this was his chance for penance, to bring souls back to the Lord. We didn’t do too much listening to him, but that didn’t stop him from proselytizing. The Rev always wanted my soul. He was a killjoy, arguing against our alcohol and celebrations. There wasn’t much to celebrate, but every time we tried, he reminded us that we were punished sinners. He didn’t like when I told him his God was probably dead, too busy decaying to worry about the pitiful lives of us forgotten sinners. He pointed to the wasteland around us as evidence something divine was present and cleaning up the mess of the world. That certainly wasn’t a God I wanted anything to do with, but the Rev clung to him, even going so far as to leave camp every week or so for solitary prayer, proclaiming his Lord’s protection over him. I guess it worked for him, but I didn’t trust the Rev. Not a bit. He was always a secretive sort, and he was adamant that his precious holy water, kept in a flask at his side, could not be used by anyone. We all nearly died of dehydration before we got camp set up, and the Rev refused to part with a drop. For a while I thought we all might kill him just to get that little bit of water, but fortunately we found a well before it came to that. It all makes a little more sense now.

So that was what was left of our group of survivors. There had never been many of us, maybe ten at the most at any time, but now being down to just four, it sure felt lonely. Loneliness is the new human condition, I suppose, and maybe that’s for the best seeing as how we messed everything up in the end. The days and nights of our lives were pretty much monotonous motion from one posture to the next, nothing significant to mark the change in day besides a new division of watches. It seemed foolish having the watches in some sense, cause those things out in the desert really seemed to leave us alone for some reason, but fears of what could happen kept us alert. No one wanted to be responsible for a shredded pile of what used to be a friend.

There was one time they got really close, and I was sure it was over. It had been a week or two since we set up camp—I can’t remember how long exactly since there was no real way to identify one day from another. We always heard them sniffing and prowling around the camp at night, but this time it was broad daylight and they were circling. There were three of them, looking dry and hungry. All those whispers and hisses started up again, though I couldn’t tell if their mouths were moving to be honest. For some reason, I had the distinct feeling they were not. They looked like humans, but now they were almost crawling, loping around on their hands and feet as they circled the camp. They were pockets of midnight on the brilliant plains, pitch black from head to foot, eyes included. We were all alert, watching, waiting. The Rev was praying. We waited, feeling our hearts begin to sink as they began to tighten their circle, moving in on us, the cornered prey. Wolf and I pulled out the supply of guns we were hoarding and began loading up, resolved to at least go down fighting. We never got our chance, though, because the Rev had abruptly stopped his mumbling recitation to walk towards those nasty things. They stopped, looking at him, expectant in a way. I knew they were going to lunge, rip his throat out before a bullet could reach them, but instead they waited.

“Be gone!” cried the Rev, his words flying back to us on a stiff breeze, bringing with it a rotten smell from those things. “This camp is under the protection of my Lord, and none shall oppose him any longer!”

I thought for sure the Rev had found another out, walking straight out to those damned things. But instead those creatures stood and walked away with just a few lingering hisses in the wind. They didn’t go far, but they went far enough away that we couldn’t smell them any longer and they had turned into tiny black specks on the perimeter of our camp. I have to admit, I began to think I should start listening to the Rev a little bit more.

Chickadee felt the same way, only she was a lot more trusting of the Rev than I was. That night, she spent the whole evening talking to him about his faith, his God, his Lord. The more I heard it, the less I thought his miracle was in fact miraculous and more it seemed just lucky. It was the most ridiculous information I had heard, about how his God decided to start anew on this world, replace those who had defied him with creatures of his own design. How he, the Rev, was a prophet to bring humanity into the fold once again, allow it to thrive in this new existence under the comfort of the Lord. How his past improprieties and disloyalties had been burned away in redemptive fire, just as the world had been scrubbed clean by the desiccating rays of our new sun. How he would save us all.

Chickadee fell for it instantly. She had never mistrusted him, and I felt betrayed to see this woman cast aside my arguments. I had always thought she was the strongest, and what if she was right? I didn’t feel too sure in my own mind to hear the way she talked. I thought I was missing out big on what could be the only redemption from this hell. But at the same time, I couldn’t buy it, not from him. There was some sneaky, glassy look in the Rev’s eyes that held me back, kept me from buying in. Some form of snake oil was being sold, and I didn’t want to be swindled out of the only thing I had left, a soul all my own, with no claim from God or man.

Chickadee wanted to be one of the redeemed, and so Wolf and I figured the rev would be forced to part with some of his precious holy water to consecrate her, but apparently that wasn’t the case. This holy rite was some secretive ordeal, meaning the Rev and Chickadee would have to step out just beyond the visual perimeter of our camp, some place where they would not be seen by our unbelieving eyes, in order to perform this rite. Wolf and I argued with them, but there was something about Chickadee which made her hard to refuse. She was dead set on it.

We let them go on the condition Chickadee took a weapon in case any of those things got to close. Wolf and I watched them walk away, Chickadee with all the decorum of a new convert, her eyes watery with tears and smiling for the first time in a while. Maybe this religion stuff wasn’t all bad, I thought.

All that came back was the Rev, one of those things shot dead by Chickadee’s gun, and some bloodied hair and clothes that were the only salvageable remains. The Rev told us they had snuck up on them, tightened the noose until one grabbed her. He got the gun, he said, and was able to take a shot. The others fled after one of them fell. We never heard the gunshot, so they must have been out a lot farther than the Rev initially said.

Religion must be all bad. Things had gone terribly wrong, again, and this time it was the Rev’s fault.

I could have been angry with the Rev, but he looked about as broken hearted and terrified as any person could. I was numb. Wolf added another collection of bottles outside his tent. I missed the soft sobs from her tent at night. It made it too quiet again. Our Chickadee was gone, and now the country silence turned unbearable for me.

Our little community tore apart a little more. Now we were nothing but a group of three who happened to share the same space. It seemed like watch shifts began to be the entirety of my existence. If I wasn’t being haunted on the perimeter by my own mind, I was sleeping and living through some new daily nightmare. Talk by the fire grew quiet, and more and more I began to feel like a ghost pacing the same forgotten route day after day, searching for that light to enter.

I wasn’t surprised when a shot shattered my watch one night. It came from the tents, which was no shock. The silence and isolation had become suffocating, and I had begun to wonder if it was enough to just be alive anymore. It seems someone must have agreed with me. I was shocked to return to camp and find Wolf’s tent spattered with blood and viscera. The mostly empty bottles on the floor were not surprising, and probably helped explain what had happened. Alcohol can provide some healing, but it eventually burns you out from the inside, leaving nothing there to stand against its will. I guess either Wolf or the booze needed his out.

Now it was the Rev and I. I was ready to pack up and leave, take my chances in the field, but the Rev was adamant that we should not split. He kept saying he couldn’t let me leave without protecting my soul from the horrors out there. Horrors was a pretty good word for those things, but I still wasn’t ready to trade in my soul for his peace of mind. And so he followed me as I packed up and set out to find something better than a ghost town in this desolate world.

After a week or so of travel, the Rev started to look bad. His skin looked dry and red, burned deeply by the sun. His eyes were sunken, his hair beginning to dry and fall out. He looked sickly and frail, and I was certain it would only be a matter of days before I was alone in this world again. Just being alive wasn’t enough for me anymore, but I couldn’t leave him alone.

His proselytizing grew more and more passionate as his body grew weaker and weaker. Even when his throat was dry and his voice cracking in the desert heat until blood tinged his lips he continued to preach his gospel, promising freedom through purifying fire, just as our world had been so purified by the blazing sun. I began to feel guilty holding out on him. While I didn’t believe, there was also the thought that it was unnecessarily cruel of me to refuse a dying man’s wish. Besides, if I didn’t believe in God, no rite the Rev could perform would convince me otherwise. Maybe it would hurry him along into death, finally being at peace with his life’s work, and leave me to my own way out.

When I agreed, I saw light flicker back into his eyes, and it left me unsettled. The smile and gleam in his eyes seemed hungry and crazy, almost animalistic in its wild fury. I wanted to back out, but I reminded myself that he was dying fast, and it wouldn’t hurt me to give in to one silly fantasy. He had me kneel out in the sand and put his feeble hands on my shoulders. He said a lot of words, words that I thought would have been Latin, but sounded more like those hisses and whispers the Horrors used to call across the desert. Suddenly stronger than I thought, he pulled me to my feet until we were eye to eye, facing one another just a step apart.

His eyes were mesmerizing to me, because as he spoke, they seemed to open up. He had always had dark eyes, and now they seemed to be pits spiraling into his skull and beyond. At the bottom of his impossibly deep eyes, I began to notice flames simmering down there, steadily roaring to life. As they grew closer, I began to feel the heat on my shoulders were his hands dug into my body. I began to feel flames licking along my body, ripping away whatever human was left of me, “purifying me” as the Rev had promised, into one of those things, those Horrors. As I watched his face, unable to change my gaze, only able to scream into the nothingness of wilderness, I saw his skin begin to rejuvenate, flesh turning young and soft again. He began to look as I remembered him from the first few weeks of our journey.

I didn’t know what was happening at first, I only knew that the burning in my body pushed me to the brink of consciousness with its pain before it began to fade away. I felt detached from my body, just a floating soul left without a home. I could see myself, a charred husk shaped into one of the Horrors by some dark design I did not begin to understand, and I could see the Rev as a smiling creature who was nothing more than a demon in human clothing. I had been taken in and the wolf had raided the hen house.

I got it now. I knew who his Lord was, and I knew that he certainly was god of this God-forsaken world.

Now free of my body, I began to wonder what came next. Where would that bright light be? Would I find heaven waiting after trudging along this hell? Just as my freedom began to sink in as an uplifting reality, I heard the whisper-hiss of the Rev speaking something terrible. I could feel it as terrible even if I couldn’t understand the words. I saw him open that flask of what we had assumed was holy water, watched him lift it to the lips of my hollowed body and let that thing drink. And then I felt something dragging me back down, ripping me from my escape and caging me. As some new spirit flowed from the flask into the creature, my own being filled the flask. I got to keep the one thing I had left, but only because that was the only thing left of me. Just a collection of thoughts and feelings without anything to tether me, I was a caged soul, still my own, but unable to do a thing about it. Unknowingly, I had traded my soul—and along with it everything I am—to the Devil.

It’s a daily living hell. I don’t get my out anymore. I’m alive for today, and tomorrow I will be as well, cause I don’t have my bullet savior. I’m not what I was, I have nothing left but my own thoughts, and most days that isn’t enough. It isn’t enough to be alive and thinking when I see the terrible things done with what was my body. It’s eternal reflection on the Horrors and all that I have done. It’s a private hell made up by my own self-loathing. Now it’s just a matter of waiting until this prison rips away whatever humanity I have left and the Rev pours me out to fill up one of those Horrors.

Guess those things get us all in the end. Sure not how I pictured going out, but things have gone terribly wrong, so why should this be any different?

Credit To – Katherine C.

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The Crimson Grin

October 31, 2013 at 12:00 PM
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Amy felt as though she could float forever. The water was warm and soothing; she stretched out her arms and allowed it to embrace her fully, drifting serenely on the surface like a toned, bikini-clad starfish. Her hair, shoulder length and darker than the Halloween night which peeked in through the skylight like an inquisitive child, billowed out behind her; she closed her eyes, letting her head sink back into the gently roiling water.

After what could have been hours, but was more like minutes, a monotonous voice announced via the poolside speakers that the pools would be closing in thirty minutes, please exit the pools. To Amy the voice sounded muffled and distorted, but she knew the announcement by heart; she swam two, maybe three times a week at the minimum.

Five minutes later, Amy was padding along the corridor leading to the ladies changing area, the tiles icy cold against the warmth of her feet. There had been other people in the pools earlier in the evening, but the last of them, a teenage couple who had frolicked in the shallow end, had left at least forty minutes before her. She passed the on-duty lifeguard, Roger or Steve or whatever his name was, at a junction in the corridors. He was heading right, towards the main entrance; she left, towards the changing area. He smiled at her as their paths crossed, but made no attempt to conceal the way his eyes ran appraisingly over her, lingering on her breasts – smaller than most, but this didn’t bother Amy – before sliding down to her flat stomach and toned legs. She turned her face away, focusing on the floor-length poster to her left – an advertisement for a circus that would be stopping in town over the weekend, its glossy surface flush with figures garbed in all manner of vibrant colours – until the sound of his footsteps had diminished, and the echoes had faded away into nothingness. With a rueful shake of her head, Amy slipped around the corner into the changing area.

The room was a large rectangle, with a bank of lockers running down the centre and the individual cubicles on either side of them. Amy headed to the right – she’d read somewhere that when lost, you subconsciously picked the direction of your dominant hand, and wondered if the same could be said for picking lockers – and unclipped a stubby looking key with a fat square head from where it hung around her neck. Number thirteen; unlucky for some, lucky for others. Amy belonged to the latter group; born on the thirteenth of August, it had always been her lucky number. She opened her locker, picking up the neatly folded stack of clothes with one hand, grabbing the straps of her rucksack with the other. This done, she headed to the closest cubicle, which happened to be the family sized one.

She had done no more than step through the door when she felt the floor slip from beneath her feet, and her last image was of the washed-out orange fluorescent above rising away from her, before something cracked the back of her head and everything turned to blackness.

Amy is sitting at a long wooden table, over which is draped a tatty red and white check cloth. The table is pine, the cloth a thrift store purchase; this table is where she spent the hours when afternoon turns to evening every weekday for the first sixteen years of her life. It is her mother’s. The kitchen, too, is as she remembers: yellow and red checkerboard-style tiling on the walls, drab green drapes at the window and a sparkling white work surface. Before she has time to take in any further details – not that she needs to, every inch of this room is etched into her memory, and she could build a perfect replica given the time and materials – a subtle movement off to her left in the phone alcove catches her eye.

Amy whips her head around and there, sat on the cheap plastic stool, the one that tilts to one side because the legs are uneven, is a little girl in a black dress, with ringlets the colour of late harvest wheat dangling down to the small of her back. Because it is her back that Amy can see; the girl is facing the wall, assuming the position of her mother, who would spend hours at a time yattering away on the phone to Amy’s aunts. But the girl is too short to reach the phone, so the cherry red handset hangs on the wall above her head like an unreachable plastic bauble.

The girl giggles, and the sound is unnatural and distorted, like an electronic laugh machine with a failing battery. Amy finds herself unable to tear her gaze away from the swooping contours of the girl’s shoulders and upper arms. There is something about them; they are so pale, and the way the light seems to glance off them is so-

‘’Smiler’s coming,’’ the girl rasps, and turns around on the stool. Now Amy can see that the girl is not a girl at all, merely something confined to the shape of a girl. Skilfully concealed joints wink in and out of existence with every movement of her limbs, and the skin that Amy thought of as flawless is smooth, emotionless plastic. All except her eyes; one of them is missing, leaving a yawning black socket in its absence. The other is a burning scarlet beacon, flaring with hellish intensity. The girl that is not a girl grins; it is a hideous, unnerving sight.

‘’Smiler’s coming, little Amy,’’ she says again, and this time she sounds more human, more urgent, as though she is learning how to use her vocal cords for the first time. ‘’He’s here now, little Amy, and you need to go before he finds you.’’ Her eye is fixed on Amy, an insidious headlight searching her soul.

Before he finds you. Those last words hang in the air for several seconds, and then the golden-haired girl’s gaze flicks to the doorway at the end of the room, and back to Amy. The girl that is something else presses a single three-jointed digit to her lips in a gesture universal to all. Now Amy is staring at the doorway, a rectangle of Stygian blackness cut in the wall, unable to tear her gaze away.

From the darkness comes a high-pitched peal of laughter that slices through the silence like a scythe, the sound of ten-thousand lunatics howling in the depths of a nineteenth century asylum. Something is materialising, floating in the gloom; something wide, something crimson. A shock of purple begins to coalesce above it, below which two silver orbs glint like dollars. The crimson things smack together, a sloppy wet sound like a slug slithering across a pane of glass. The girl that is not a girl is screaming now, screaming in the darkness, and as the thing in the doorway moves forward, there is a hideous tearing sound, and Amy wills herself to wake up, wake up, for God’s sake wake-

-up, everything is up above her, and for a few seconds Amy had no idea where she was. The floor beneath her felt hard and unforgiving; the base of her skull as though it had had a railway spike hammered through it. Darkness clung to everything around her, and her body felt stiff and cold.

I’m dead, she thought, I’m dead, I am, and now I’m lying on a slab waiting for somebody to slice me open, to see which cogs in this particular human machine have stopped turning.

It was the smell that finally brought her round: the strong, acrid odour of chlorine. Then everything was flooding back to her; the swimming; the lecherous lifeguard; the sudden descent into darkness. With her spine screaming bloody murder, Amy pushed herself into a kneeling position. She sent one tentative hand to the back of her head, and was relieved to find that she was not bleeding. There was, however, a lump that felt about the size of Mt Vesuvius.

‘’Goddammit,’’ she muttered, ‘’what the hell happened anyway?’’

There was a pale oval on the floor to her left; when she picked it up, her fingers sunk into it like a piece of rotten cheese.

‘’Soap, slipped on the goddamn soap.’’ For some reason, this made her laugh, and she had to knuckle a fist and cram it in her mouth before a giggling fit overcame her. Abruptly, she became aware of the fact that her towel had fallen away and she was completely naked. Not that it really mattered; there was nobody left in the pools or the changing area to see her.

As she pulled on her clothes – a pair of slim fashionably ripped jeans and a sleeveless white top – a second, somewhat more urgent concern began to gestate in her mind: why were the lights off? Just how long had she been out of it, anyway? Surely it wasn’t possible that she could have been locked in; wasn’t there a security guard that checked the building first? She finished lacing her sneakers, tied her hair back in a loose ponytail and hobbled towards the exit like a woman twice her age.

Amy was just about to turn the corner, marvelling at how easily she was walking after taking such a fall, when she realised why: she’d forgotten her rucksack. It was still on the bench in the family cubicle. She pivoted, not wanting to waste any time in case the staff had somehow managed to lock her in, and was as at the corner of the locker bank before she froze, her heart leaping to somewhere in the back of her throat.

There was someone standing in the cubicle doorway.

Whoever it was had their back to Amy, and didn’t seem to have noticed her. She briefly entertained the notion that it was a security guard, come to check that everybody was gone. But security guards didn’t creep around in the dark, and they most certainly didn’t wear such odd clothes. An oversized striped shirt with a wide frilled collar; voluminous pants that billowed outwards at the ankles; shoes longer than-

The figure disappeared into the cubicle as silently as it had appeared; Amy stood where she was, paralyzed with fear and indecision. It would be back any second, the thing that definitely wasn’t a security guard, but what should she do? Break for the door, and risk having it come at her unawares from behind, or hide and wait for it to move on? She was trying to pull herself in two different directions when the voice spoke up inside her head.

‘’Smiler’s coming, little Amy.’’

Amy didn’t know what the hell that meant, or why she recognised the voice, artificial yet somehow childlike, but the ominous implication of the message was impossible to miss. She darted around the side of the lockers, moving as swiftly as her complaining back allowed whilst trying to remain silent. Amy pressed herself against the cold metal lockers and waited.

She didn’t have to wait long before she heard it: a wet flapping moving away to her left; something like the beat of dying wings against concrete; something like a fish out of water. Or a pair of outsized feet, slapping against a damp floor. Without hesitation, Amy slipped into the closest cubicle, eased the door shut – God, don’t let the hinges squeal – and pulled her feet up onto the bench, curling into the foetal position. Wonders abound, this went someway to soothing her aching spine.

Smiler. The word had seared itself across her mind, a scorching brand. Amy could only sit in the darkness and wait, as those sinister footsteps flip-flopped down the row of cubicles. They were close now; almost right beside her. Then they were moving past, towards the changing area exit. Something like relief started to bloom in her chest, but a terrifying thought crushed it as a child would an insignificant bug. The door to her cubicle was the only one that was closed.

As if her sudden realisation were the catalyst, the footsteps stopped dead. She heard the faint rasp of metal, and oh God, it knew, it was-

‘’Hey! Hey, you turn the hell around, now!’’ Amy recognised the voice instantly: Mr Gurang, the ex-army instructor who managed the gym. A scar-covered beast of a man, with muscles that constantly threatened to burst out of the tight tee-shirts he so often wore. She had heard some of the men refer to him as ‘Nepal’s answer to the Hulk’.

Seconds later, the screaming began, and the last threads of Amy’s resolve snapped; she lurched up from the bench and yanked the door open.

The thing – Smiler – was hunched over Mr Gurang’s sprawled body; the Nepalese man was thrashing like a wild horse, but Smiler held him firmly by the throat with the gloved hand Amy could see. The other, although obviously in motion of some kind, was obscured by the bulk of its body. Gurang’s feet drummed frantically against the floor before falling still. Smiler turned its puffy, makeup streaked face towards her; its cheeks sagged like malleable dough beneath a pair of glinting silver eyes that winked from the gloom like beacons amidst thick fog. Something was hanging from its hand in thick loops and coils, and only after Amy had followed its twisting, convoluted course did she realise that Smiler was holding Mr Gurang’s intestines; the cavernous rent in the Nepalese man’s stomach yawned like a bloody mouth. The painted balloon undulating before her in the darkness seemed all at once to tear itself in half; Smiler’s face ripped wide in a demented rictus grin, exposing pointed teeth more numerous than those of a Tiger shark, a deathly pale sky dominated by a wicked crescent of blood.

Amy stumbled backwards, her bare feet scrabbling for purchase on the slick floor, and ran. She bolted from the changing area with only one goal in mind: to put as much distance between her and the thing with the face like a swollen, liquid-filled balloon as humanly possible. Smiler’s footsteps echoed down the dour brown corridor, slapping along with a hideous quickness that Amy would have thought impossible coming from something wearing such large shoes. There was something green glowing at the end of the corridor; Amy recognised it immediately, mentally scolded herself for not thinking of it sooner, and bulleted towards the fire exit, ignoring the screaming muscles in her back.

Those flat, sodden footsteps sounded like they were practically on top of her, and she didn’t dare to glance over her shoulder for fear that they were. Rancid breath filled her nostrils, the stench of a charnel pit overflowing with decaying corpses. The running figure on the fire-exit sign was visible now, she was that close. Would the door open, or was it secured somehow? Did the fire alarms need to be activated before the locks were released? The closest alarm was back at-

Amy’s thoughts were pushed from her mind like a derailed freight train as she slammed into the door release bar with every ounce of force she could muster. Then two things happened at once; the fire doors were spilling open and Amy was spilling out of them; something was tearing at her hair, grasping at the errant locks streaming behind her. There was a strange noise, something like a snapping rip, or a ripping snap, and Amy was tumbling forward onto a carpet of dewy grass. She righted herself in a fluid motion the equal of any seasoned runner, and, without a notion as to why – perhaps she had realised that if he were still pursuing her, Smiler would have fallen upon her by now – Amy whipped around to face the open doors.

He was there, snarling and salivating on the threshold, inches away from the point where darkness became light, pacing like a caged bear. Beneath the pale mansion of the moon towering in the sky above the purple-haired clown hissed venomously like an exotic tarantula, tossing a handful of wiry black snakes out onto the concrete. Amy stared down at her torn hair extensions with an expression of mute horror; that close, it had been that close. When she looked up again the clown was gone.

One year and several hundred hours of therapy later, and Amy is storming through the house, with a bottle of wine in one hand and her mobile in the other, searching for her purse; she needs the car keys to get to Maria’s Halloween party, but more importantly, she needs the cocaine that is hidden in the bag’s lining. She has turned her bedroom upside down, ransacked the kitchen and searched every inch of the living room, all to no avail. Now she is getting frantic; her hands are shaking; her head is throbbing like a blackened tooth and her heart is palpitating like a wild thing. She is in the hall, resigned to a continuous hunt for her fix, when a floorboard beneath the stairs creaks, breaking the silence as easily as one would a cheap wooden plank. Amy freezes mid-step, and turns slowly to face the cupboard door, which is now creaking open inch by painstaking inch.

Time has slowed to a crawl; the door is open wide now and the cupboard looms before her like an open grave. She can make out the vague suggestion of a voluminous bulk standing motionless in the cramped space.

They regard each other that way for several seconds. A deranged giggling; the flash of steel; the shattering of glass. Amy gazes upwards at Smiler, the blood spilling from her stomach pooling with the red from the smashed bottle, shards of glass digging cruel fingers into her spine. The clown’s grin is beyond unnatural now; it is tooth-shattering, bone-snapping in its enormity.
The repulsive feel of Smiler’s lips against the wound on her stomach; the soft pricking as rows of shark-like teeth are laid against her bare flesh.

The clown with the painted face chomps down, its flabby cheeks quivering, and Amy begins to scream.

Credit To – Tom Farr

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Fangs

October 31, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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Dustin hit the sidewalk hard, his plastic vampire teeth popping out of his mouth and skittering across the cement. He could see them come to rest just on the edge of the street lamp’s light, a fanged disembodied smile dribbled with his saliva and a few specks of blood.

He’d kept his head from cracking against the ground by getting his arm in the way, but the wind was knocked out of him and he took sobbing, shuddering gulps of air. He could hear the ugly voices of the teenagers above him, but couldn’t make out their words before the pounding of their sneakers on the sidewalk receded into the dark, taking his hopes for a fun Halloween night with them.

Wincing, Dustin slowly pushed himself up so he was sitting, and crawled over to the cool grass of the nearby lawn, crunching dead leaves as he went. His palms stung, but the scrapes on them weren’t too bad as far as he could tell. The shock and cruelty of the sudden attack hurt even worse, and as he got his back against the lone sycamore in the yard and gingerly licked the skin of his palms, he felt something loose in his mouth and spat a tooth into his hand. Only then did he really start to cry.

Of course no one had seen this happen – the house before him was all dark, and this side of the street was empty, though in the distance he could hear the voices of other kids out trick-or-treating. If Chris had actually bothered to meet him like they’d planned, instead of going and getting a fever, he would have had a friend to back him up. The orange bag that had his candy and the flashlight his mother had given him was nowhere to be seen, probably snatched by his attackers after they had ambushed him.

Dustin sobbed bitterly, knees pulled up to his chest, hating himself for crying. Ten-year-olds weren’t supposed to cry. It made him look stupid, not just because the tears were probably smearing his white face paint. It had taken ages to convince his parents to let him trick-or-treat on his own, proved to them through his chores and homework in the weeks leading up to the 31st that he was responsible enough. He’d even bought all the stuff for his costume, and felt dashing stalking the cool Missouri night as Count Dracula, Lord of the Vampires. What would his mom and dad say when he came home, disheveled and bruised and without any Halloween sweets? If he was even allowed to go out next year at all, it would be with one of them breathing down his neck.

Caught up in his sadness, he barely registered the approaching steps on the grass until a small voice said “Hey Count. You dropped these.”

Looking up, Dustin saw a small witch standing in front of him, a broom held in one hand and his vampire teeth in the other. She looked to be about six or seven, short brown hair poking out from around her pointy purple hat and an earnest look on her face as she held out his teeth.

Dustin blinked at her stupidly. The girl cocked her head to one side like a curious dog. “Don’t you want ‘em back?” she asked.

“Yeah,” Dustin muttered automatically. “Thanks.” He wiped his nose on his cape with one hand as he took the teeth, feeling awkward that this little girl could see him brought so low.

“You’re welcome,” the girl replied. “Are you gonna be OK?”

Dustin’s gut writhed at this, still in turmoil. “No,” he said. He wanted the girl to leave him alone. He still held his missing tooth, and was aware that his mouth tasted like blood. He tried to spit out the side of his mouth, like he’d seen some of the other kids do, but it dripped pathetically down his chin instead.

The witch’s brow furrowed thoughtfully as she seemed to study him. Then she laughed. “It’s fine! I’ll use a magic spell!” She then promptly bopped Dustin on the head with the bristly end of her broom.

“Hey!” Dustin yelled, but the girl just giggled. Tangled a bit in his cape, Dustin stumbled and stood up. “What was that for?”

The girl was all smiles, resting her broom on one shoulder. “Plish plish!” she said. “You’re all better! You’re welcome again, Mr. Count!”

Dustin glowered at the little witch, and for one dark moment felt like pushing her over and taking whatever candy she might have, just to vent – just to make someone else feel as bad as he did. But the thought quickly shamed him, and as his anger cooled he felt tears sliding down his face again. Sniffling, he walked past her and started to escape down the sidewalk.

“Hey! Wait!” the girl called after him. “Don’t you wanna get back at those meanies that stole your candy?”

Dustin stopped, a little surprised. He turned around to stare at the girl. “You saw?”

She nodded. “I was down the street. Those three big kids knocked you down and took your candy, but I can help you get ‘em back.”

Great, so someone had seen, and it was this little crazy girl. “Who are you?” Dustin asked.

“Macy Grant,” the witch replied. Again she looked earnest.

The name sounded familiar to Dustin; he guessed they probably went to the same elementary school. “Where’s your parents, Macy?”

Macy shrugged dismissively. “Plish. I don’t need ‘em. They wanted to come with me, but I sent ‘em home after I met Sal.”

Dustin found this hard to believe, but Macy spoke with a conviction and impressed Dustin, that she actually could have told her parents to let her wander around at night alone, weird as that was. From where she stood looking at him, she had an aura of authority about her, though it could have been the way her profile was thrown into silhouette by the streetlight behind her, making her shadow long and pointy on the ground, like a powerful sorceress.

So Dustin asked “Who’s Sal?”

Now Macy was smiling, and Dustin wasn’t sure he liked the smile. “Sal’s the October Man,” she said brightly. “He can help you. Let me take you to him.”

October Man? Dustin had never heard of anyone like that and assumed it was some sort of nickname of Macy’s. He wasn’t certain he liked the idea of following a little girl to meet a stranger, but as he realized how sincere Macy looked in seemingly every expression, considered that he had nothing else to do but go home and face disappointment, and noticed that his mouth had curiously stopped bleeding…

“Alright,” Dustin said, real tooth clenched in one hand and vampire teeth in the other. “Lead the way.”

Dustin followed behind Macy on a zigzag route through the neighborhood, every so often crossing a road or turning down some lane or another. They passed houses where jack-o’-lanterns grinned fiendishly from porches and through windows, plastic skeletons and ghouls hung from balcony railings, and tombstones were propped on front lawns. Gangs of kids dressed in all manner of costumes paraded by, yet Macy never stopped to join them begging for candy. She skipped along, tapping the handle of her broomstick on the sidewalk, chanting her strange “plish plish” noise in a singsong voice, like some sort of mantra.

Silently, Dustin kept pace, half-aware of the night’s revelry going on around him, replaying the ambush in his mind: how they’d first shouted at him from across the street when he’d turned down Shenandoah Lane to Mr. Narbourn’s house (who always gave out the big candy bars). Two boys and a girl, maybe a grade or two higher than him, dressed in leather jackets and sporting pale makeup and messy hair. The stockier boy was smoking a cigarette, and the stench of it had drifted across to Dustin. “What are you, some sort of gaypire?” the smoker hissed through his own vampire teeth.

The other boy, tall and with long black hair, nudged the girl with his elbow and made her giggle. “Get with the times, homo!” he yelled.

Dustin had done his best to ignore them, simply shrugging them off, but they must have been lying in wait for him on his way back up the street. They’d jumped him from behind a hedge on the corner house’s lawn, one of them stepping on the back of Dustin’s cape while another pushed him over, all the while shrieking and laughing.

“We’re here!”

Macy’s cry shook Dustin from his thoughts. They had turned yet again, and Dustin saw that they were now on Carolton Road, a sparse area on the edge of the neighborhood. Their side of the street had a few small houses, but the other bordered a dense patch of boggy woodland that was avoided by the local kids. Macy took Dustin by the arm and tugged expectantly, leading him across the street to the sidewalk before the opaque tree line.

They walked parallel to it for a minute or two, Dustin listening apprehensively to the night-sounds coming from the trees – the insect stirrings and tiny rustlings, and the deep croak of bullfrog. There were all kinds of rumors about the woods near Carolton; stupid stories from school about the forest being full of quicksand, or that a crazy man lived there and snatched kids who walked past at night. He thought the other kids were dumb, just making stuff up to scare their friends…But looking at the black, formless expanse of trees beyond the few and far-between pools of fluorescent streetlamp light, Dustin couldn’t help but feel a small twinge of unease shoot along his spine.

“Where are we going?” he asked Macy, his voice squeaking more than he wanted it to.

If Macy noticed, she didn’t react, though she suddenly stopped and sniffed the air, her head tilting this way and that, her hat’s point flopping from side to side as she did. Dustin did the same, smelled wet grass and damp earth and perhaps the faintest whiff of pumpkin smoke. Macy let go of Dustin’s arm and dug into a hidden pocket on her witch’s gown, producing a small flashlight that she flicked on.

“This way,” she said. She turned and trudged down the small hill between the sidewalk and the woods, and Dustin noticed a thin line of well-trodden dirt that marked a trail. He stopped, heart beating a little faster, and watched Macy reach the edge of the woods before turning back to him. “Don’t chicken out, Count! Sal’s really nice, I promise!”

Dustin teetered on the sidewalk’s edge, curiosity the only thing keeping him from leaving the whole creepy scene behind. “Does he…live in the woods?”

“Nope,” replied Macy. “I think he’s from really far away. I only just met him tonight.”

“Where?”

“Here.” She pointed with her broom down the road. “My house is just down there. I saw him when we left at sunset, and he gave me a gift.”

Before Dustin could ask, the streetlight closest to him sputtered and died, leaving him in darkness. Jumping at the sudden change, Dustin found his feet carrying him down to the wilderness edge, where Macy stood like some Halloween buoy at the edge of an unknown sea. “Here,” she said, and handed him the flashlight. She then gently took him by the hand. “Nothing’s gonna happen. I’ll lead, and you light the way. Team work.”

Dustin cast a look over his shoulder, back to the faint orange aurora that was the neighborhood. He didn’t want to go, really; getting his candy back was not worth wandering into a spooky wood and meeting a stranger. But something else stirred in his mind – thoughts of the jeering faces of the teenagers as they’d pushed him down, hurt him, made him miserable – and he felt angry again, even defiant. He pointed the light ahead, and Macy nodded.

The black swallowed them almost immediately as they entered the woods, and if there was any trace of the neighborhood they left behind, it was quickly snuffed by the oppressive trees. Dustin felt the comforting fire in his gut weaken as they went along, his flashlight throwing wild shadows out from bushes, trunks, and gnarled branches they passed. He tried to keep an eye on his feet, out of a sudden fear of possible quicksand, but the trail was dry and a little dusty, almost hidden under a thick carpet of decaying leaves. He had a hundred questions but felt weirdly apprehensive about voicing them here; something about the night felt both foreboding and special, and that to disturb it would be wrong.

Macy, for her part, would often pause for a second to sniff loudly, like she was trying to pick up a scent, and then would march on, her hand never leaving his.

The trail weaved its way through the woods for another minute until they came to a small clearing. The skeletal canopy here was not so thick, and Dustin could see the sky awash with a billion stars. A huge oak stump sat at the middle of the clearing, its top oddly smooth and even, and Macy giggled as she clambered up on it, taking her flashlight back from Dustin and switching it off.

The night rushed in, not as completely black as it had been earlier, but more weighty somehow, more charged and substantial than Dustin had ever felt.

“This is it!” she said. “Sal’s around here somewhere. We just gotta wait for him to show up.” So saying, she held her broom aloft and swayed it in a circle over her head, as if giving a signal. “Sal Win, Sal Win, we wanna see you!”

Sal Win? Dustin pushed the broom back down, suddenly nervous. “Jeez, what are you doing?” He cast an eye toward the woods. “What if the wrong person hears us?”

Macy fixed him with a condescending look. “Are you embarrassed? I’m almost eight, you know!”

“I didn’t know, and what does that matter? I don’t even know who Sal is.”

“I told you,” said Macy patiently, like she was talking to a kindergartener. “He’s the October Man.”

Dustin groaned. “I don’t even know what that means!”

“You’ll see,” replied Macy firmly, staring straight into the dark trees. “He’ll be here soon.” She started spinning the broom above her head again, slowly and rhythmically. “Candlelit Octobers past, may your servant stand steadfast.”

For a minute there was awkward silence, Dustin shifting nervously from foot to foot while Macy kept her gaze on the forest, spinning the broom. The only sounds were the chirping of crickets and the occasional distant hoot of an owl – not even a sound of a passing car or the voice of a trick-or-treater came to break the ambiance. It felt like they were a million miles away from anything. The moon hung overhead like a cold, half-lidded eye, and a light breeze kicked up that shook the vacant limbs of the trees, making them hiss and whisper.

Macy suddenly grabbed Dustin’s arm and pointed toward the undergrowth. “Look! There he is!”

Dustin started and looked, at first discerning nothing. The darkness was like a solid wall, impenetrable and thick. Then he saw a flicker of orange move between the trees, a fluttering light that soon was lost, only to reappear a few seconds later. With a mounting sense of dread Dustin noticed that the light was getting a little closer every time it bobbed out of his sight, each time growing larger as it slid back into view. Suddenly Dustin could see that the light had shape – a flashing pair of eyes in the dark, and a wicked smile.

Dustin wanted to bolt, but Macy still held his arm. “Don’t panic!” she whispered. “It’s just a pumpkin, see? Sal’s just got a pumpkin.”

It was true; on a second look, Dustin could see the classic candlelit shape of the eye and mouth, the pumpkin sneer he’d seen on so many doorsteps. The pumpkin was now coming out of the woods, held under the arm of…someone?

“Plish plish!” cried Macy happily. “Hi, Sal!”

Somehow the shape that emerged from the woods was darker to his eye, even against the inky quality of the trees. It stopped right at the edge of the clearing, a tall shadow that Dustin was sure towered over him. He took a step back, feeling terrified but also mystified by this figure. It remained where it was, and seemed to shift and billow in the breeze – Dustin guessed it was wearing a cape not unlike his.

Macy nudged him. “Don’t be rude,” she whispered. “Introduce yourself!”

Dustin’s mind had locked up, and he was sweating up a storm. Nevertheless, swallowing, he stammered “Are you Sal? The…the October Man?”

The figure made no sound, no motion in reply, but Dustin felt a nod more than he saw it, and thought it was enough. This reassured him more than it should have, and Dustin pulled his cape up to cover the bottom of his face. “I am…Dracula,” he said in his best Bela Lugosi voice, wondering immediately why he’d chosen to do that, or why it felt so right.

Again there was no reply. Macy laughed and tapped her broom on the stump, making a knocking sound. “Oh, he liked that! I can tell!”

She could? Dustin looked between her and the October Man, confused.

Macy gave Sal a surprisingly genteel curtsy. “Sal, the Count here needs your help. Some other vampires stole his candy.”

Hearing Macy say it like that, Dustin felt a fresh bout of embarrassment. His problem seemed stupid in the presence of Sal, who made the bullies seem petty with his presence alone. Sal was a living shadow, a patch of pure October made manifest, a little bit of every All Hallows Eve that had ever been all molded together. Dustin began to worry that there was something wrong with his eyes, if they hadn’t adjusted to the dark yet.

And still the October Man said nothing, did nothing but crinkle and twitch like an autumn leaf yet clinging to its branch, though the breeze had long died away. The candlelight in the pumpkin sputtered rapidly, the face silently laughing.

“Sal wants to know what you want,” said Macy. She too was taller than Dustin from her stump perch, and was staring adamantly at him. “He can give it you, but you have to tell him what you want.”

Dustin thought, and remembered – the harsh words, the laughter, being totally incapable to defend himself. Recalling it all made him sick, the little spark of anger in him flaring, fastening, growing.

“You want to get ‘em back, yeah?” Macy danced anxiously on her stump podium. “Get ‘em good, yeah? Make ‘em pay, those meanies! Shake ‘em up!”

He wanted to get even, that was for sure…but he wanted to do more: he wanted to hurt them back, make them feel weak and helpless like he’d felt. He wanted to ruin their twisted Halloween…no, all their Halloweens from here on in.

“Revenge,” was what Dustin finally whispered.

The October Man seemed to ripple at the word, his jack-o’-lantern the only light in the deep blackness.

Dustin now felt his heart pounding with both fear and anticipation, and knew he wanted it. He glanced over at Macy, who grinned a very witch-like grin and nodded.

“Beget to him,” she said to Sal in a strange voice, “what he is to us. I beseech thee, Sal Win!”

The shadow moved forward.

Heart hammering in his ribcage, torn between dread and desire, Dustin popped his plastic fangs back in his mouth. The October Man grew larger, spread his cloak out, wider and wider around him until Dustin was surrounded by his darkness.

Hunger. Rage. Renewal.

Stalk, creep, smell. Darkness engulfs, darkness hides and protects. Moving through, moving with, flowing with the tendrils of night.

The Dead whisper, their words gossamer: “There! Hear!”

Hissst…Voices. Vile sounds, ugly curses. The Dead guide, pockets of void in the All Hallows air. The Living suspect nothing, deserve nothing.

Observe: the trees are their prison, the undergrowth their barrier. The stench of one is unbearable – smoldering plant, burning paper. His smell keeps him from the others…Move swift, silent.

Teeth.

Closer, closer…Time enough. The light. Put it out. Wrap them in darkness, smother them in shadow.

Trick, or treat?

There. Treats. A feast of thieves! But…No. A Trick instead.

Fear, perfect fear. Exquisite. Light is gone, night is here. Let them catch a glimpse.

Jaws. Claws. Blood. Jaws claws blood jawsclawsblood jawsclawsbloodjawsclawsbloodbloodblood…

Listen.

The Children of the Night.

What sweet music they make.

Dustin stirred and opened his eyes, feeling groggy. As his vision cleared, he saw he was staring up at the night sky again, though not the patchwork of stars he remembered from the woods. Groaning, he sat up and recognized the low stone wall that surrounded his own front lawn, and realized he’d been lying on the grass.

His stomach lurched painfully before he could take everything in, and he knew he was going to be sick. Panicking, he jumped up and stumbled to his own front door, his cape getting in the way. He felt the bile rising as he pushed it open and careened down the front hall, past the open living room where his mom and dad were looking up from their couch with surprise, and into the bathroom at the far end. He made it just in time.

Dustin was in agony, as anyone would be, until the last heave left him. Shivering and shaking, he looked into the toilet at what he had brought up, and vomited again. He’d eaten too much Halloween candy before, but this…There was something wrong with him, with the bile: it was too thick, too red.

Dustin had flushed the toilet at least three times before he was done, quaking all over and worried he might fire away again, worried that someone might see him. Confused and upset, he practically crawled to the door, trying to think, to remember, to get some sense of what had happened to him.

Macy was standing in the hall talking to his parents. “Nothing to worry about,” she was saying, in a calm and rational tone, as if his parents were younger than her. “Dustin just has a tummy ache, ‘cause he at too much candy. You can go back to whatever you were doing now. Dustin just needs a break.”

Dustin gaped, first at Macy, and then at how his parents reacted: they nodded, shrugged their shoulders, and thanked Macy before returning to the couch to resume watching The Haunting. Smiling sadly, Macy looked at Dustin and waved before skipping back out the open front door and into the night.

Dustin would have followed her if he could – too many questions were knocking around in his skull – but he was feeling weak and disoriented, and maybe a bit scared of Macy too. Even so, he went to the door and peered outside. It was late by now, the street littered with fallen leaves and candy wrappers. His orange bag, which he didn’t remember getting back, was sitting on his front lawn. Macy was already at the far end of the street, and Dustin thought he saw something move near her – a glimpse of a billowing shadow and an orange glow – but it was soon lost from view along with Macy, her “plish plish plish” fading into the evening.

Dustin crawled into bed without shedding his costume, nor receiving a goodnight kiss from his mom. His sleep was restless, nightmarish visions and remembrances flashing across his mind that both repulsed and darkly delighted him. Feelings of both relief and misery washed over him when he awoke, knowing that Halloween was over, and that it would never feel the same again.

The next morning brought little change. Since it was Saturday, no one bothered him about staying in bed, but Dustin felt tired and haggard, and had no appetite. He barely remembered what had happened the night before, barely acknowledged the hushed conversation between his parents at the kitchen table that three local teenagers had gone missing last night, and the police were combing the area for them. But something dawned on Dustin as he stepped into the bathroom to brush his teeth.

Checking the mirror, he ran his tongue over his teeth – hadn’t he lost a tooth the night before? And why was that one tooth now pointier and sharper than he remembered?

Credit To – CrackedMack

The author also produces a podcast called “Midnight Marinara” – if you’re curious, please visit any of the following links:
Midnight Marinara Homepage
Midnight Marinara @ YouTube
Midnight Marinara @ SoundCloud

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Kalhuzacan

October 30, 2013 at 12:00 PM
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It was probably nothing, he thought, suppressing a shiver of fear; just next doors cat jumping down from the bureau, or the broom falling over in the kitchen. After all, everybody knows that in the dead of night, even the smallest sound pierces the veil of silence and encroaching dreams like the report of a gunshot. Even better, it had just been the house settling. That was something his mother often said, and for a few seconds it went some way to quelling his current trepidation: if she’d told him that then surely it must be true. His mother wouldn’t-

THUMP

-there it was again. It couldn’t possibly have been his imagination this time, not now that he was wide awake, and it was most definitely not the ‘house settling’. Cold, mind-numbing terror seeped into every bone of his body and the marrow in his bones turned to ice as the realization hit home; there was something in Nate Griffin’s closet.

Was that a faint scratching now; the sound of curled, yellowing fingernails dragging themselves softly across the panels of white, varnished wood? A twisted pincer scraping the wall as it gently eased the door open?

Pulling himself into the foetal position beneath the warmth and safety of his duvet, he held his breath and waited with wide eyes and baited breath, heart beating a frantic tattoo against his ribcage, for something to break the silence.

Something did.

A low rasping sound coming from that small walk-in closet; shallow panting broken intermittently by a heavy wet slapping- a forked tongue running itself across decaying lips perhaps? The pulsating suckers of some thick, slime covered tentacle dislodging themselves as their owner moved stealthily towards him? His heart felt like it could burst forth from his chest at any moment; like the monster in that Ridley Scott flick he’d seen last Thursday. Tears had begun to wet his cheeks as he tried to push the thought of whatever lurked back there in the darkness out of his head.

Playingfootballkissinglucyshepherdridingdownthehillonashinynewbikedinosaursdragonscartoons-

It was no good, whenever the terrified nine-year-old conjured an image in his mind it seemed to hold for no more than a few seconds before melting and reforming into those slatted lacquered doors; one of them stands slightly ajar and two red orbs smoulder in the shadows, burning like dying coals in the Stygian darkness.

The closet door creaked open, the sound seeming endless in the stillness of the night. What possessed Nate to do what he did next, I doubt if even he could say. In an act of unbridled courage he threw back the covers and sat bolt upright, staring fixedly at the yawning black void behind the doors, both of which stood wide open, a beam of moonlight filtering through the window pooling upon the floor in front of them, managing to illuminate the doorway and the foot of his bed, but little else.

For several seconds he could make out nothing whatsoever and his heart fluttered wildly in his chest, the fickle flames of relief beginning to spark and kindle somewhere deep within him. It HAD all been his imagination, there was nothing back there in the closet except for his clothes, the petrol-fuelled remote-control car he’d gotten for his birthday and a couple of baseball bats. Maybe there were even a few comic books laying around down there; he’d check in the morning to see if there were any he hadn’t read in a while.

And of course, the doors had swung open because his father hadn’t gotten around to fixing the loose catch that held them closed. Now dreams of sweet little Lucy Shepherd beckoned- two beautiful emeralds brimming with warmth staring up at him, golden pigtails sparkling in the late-summer sun. Realising he had subconsciously been holding his breath in anticipation, Nate let it out in a deep sigh of relief, still staring intently at the open closet, which seemed much less terrifying now that it was bathed in the warm glow of rational thought.

Nate felt his bladder let go as the gaunt black shape stepped out of the yawning abyss and into the pallid glow of the moon.

For a few seconds it seemed to be made completely of darkness; he quickly realised that the thing was wearing a monk-like black robe that swathed it in a veritable sea of inky cloth. Its left hand reached out from beneath these tumultuous folds to grasp the door frame; a twisted claw with fingers like gnarled branches- each of them ending in a ragged nail the colour of curdled milk that curled back on itself innumerable times.

Its right arm hung limply at its side, appearing at first to end in a strange malformed stump that extended downwards out of a voluminous sleeve. Only when his bleary eyes were fully focused on processing what he was seeing, did Nate realise that what he had initially taken for a stump or a disfigured limb had in actual fact been neither: the right sleeve had been torn away just below the elbow; it was the chitinous, segmented leg of a large spider that protruded from the robe- a many sectioned limb that ended in a malicious looking point, it twitched evilly in the pale light of the moon, making his skin break out in goosebumps and his breath catch in his throat. He had watched a program with his father a few weeks ago about Australian wildlife, and that hideous appendage would not have looked out of place had it been attached to the bulbous body of a jet-black funnel-web spider. Instead, it was a part of the hideous night-gaunt that had emerged from the depths of his closet.

Until now the things head had hung solemnly downwards, and as if responding to some unheard signal it lifted it to look directly at him. Imagining two glowing red eyes had been almost the furthest thing from the truth; these were milky white and bulged like the caps of some hideous mushroom, with small yellow specks swirling placidly across their engorged surface. There were at least twelve of them, spread across what he presumed must be the things face, enshrouded somewhere beneath the darkness of its hood, and they were distributed in clusters of three and four. They reminded him of Mr Armstrong, the old blind clerk that worked down at the pharmacy. Nate had once seen him without the dark glasses that he otherwise wore constantly; his eyes had been glazed orbs of ivory, appearing to see all yet in actuality seeing nothing as they searched listlessly back and forth behind the counter. But Nate knew with gut-wrenching certainty that these seemingly blind eyes saw him all too clearly.

The things nose was little more than a vestigial slit, below which he could make out the barest suggestion of a mouth, the lower plate distended in a disgusting manner, and rows of glistening, pointed teeth that stared out at him eagerly in unrestrained anticipation. Its tongue lolled out and Nate made a small sound that would perhaps have been a scream had it not died in his throat almost immediately. Unnaturally long, the things tongue stretched out to almost a foot before being snapped back. But in those brief seconds, Nate saw all he needed to; numerous eyes, both blinking and lidless, dotted its surface, some large and some small, all rolling madly in the throes of dementia and insanity.

Suddenly it was standing at the foot of his bed, as if it had moved silently and with obscene speed in less time than it would take to blink- and maybe it had. The thick, oppressive odour that seemed to roll from the thing in waves was enough to make him retch, although his brain had now lapsed into such a state of terror that it was incapable of inducing even such rudimentary functions; a disgusting amalgamation of rotted flesh and disused furniture grown stagnant with mould and damp in some long forgotten cellar. There was something else, layered beneath those scents, that took a fraction of a second longer to place: the pleasant smell of warm rain falling gently on a summers eve.

Moving slowly and with careful deliberation the claw-hand reached for his ankle before stopping, fully outstretched, the pallid cadaver-like flesh dull and lifeless. Nate tried to pull his legs up and away but found that they had transmuted themselves to lead, now nothing more than deadweight. The thing moved its spider-like limb back-and-forth slowly in the air, as if tasting it; scenting the heart stopping terror of a nine-year-old boy.

The thing from the closet seemed to hesitate for a moment, as if contemplating some irrecoverably difficult decision. The spider-appendage began to flail madly; convulsing hideously beneath the moons funereal gaze. Like a darting viper the claw-hand shot forwards, those ancient, rotten fingers wrapping around Nate’s ankle like a vice, cold and clammy against his bare skin- the filthy nails biting cruelly into his flesh.

The things snakelike tongue slithered from the depths of its cavernous maw, and an eye of bleeding crimson inches from the tip blinked rapidly; a purple iris undulated like smoke drifting across water; a dead black pupil stared impassively, devoid of all emotion.

The spider in the moonlight hissed venomously and darted forwards.

Nate finally managed to scream. But as hundreds of razor sharp teeth descended upon him and a coarse, bristled limb was forced down his throat, it was too little too late.

Beneath a frozen moon an aeons old cycle continued, and Kalhuzacan fed once more.

Credit To – Tom Farr

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