Estimated reading time — 6 minutes
I used to go out for walks along the canal next to my flat; waving to the canal boats, and watching the swans. I used to hear children; laughing in playground across the canal from my sitting room. I used to buy lunch for the vagrant that lived under the bridge. I used to call him “Hobo Baggins”. He used to refuse to tell me his real name, incase *They* found him and took him back to run “some funky science on him and hatch aliens out his belly”. Yes, he used to be one of those, but friendly enough.
It’s quiet now. There haven’t been swans here for a two years. The canal boats have been abandoned, marked with a red council notice stuck on the doors, and you rarely see anyone passing through.
After the swans, the town started getting covered in missing posters: dogs and cats mostly, a horse once. They never stayed up for long, not after the owners found the body parts; dumped around the bins after the bags had been ripped open. I remember back then, I’d find foxes’ tails out the back of my flat. The fox calls at night stopped soon after that. Cruel as it sounds, I was a little glad at the time; those calls were creepy. I’d do anything hear them again now.
The police started investigating those in connection to the swans. They couldn’t conclude what attacked them. The bits of animal that were left were usually too small to discern any teeth or claws marks from, according to the newspapers. People in town were too scared to leave at night, convinced something had escaped a zoo. The police debated introducing a curfew. I saw a lot of animal control guys around. Then I didn’t.
One evening, about a year ago now, I started thinking about it. There had always been roadkill around town. You’d often see a discarded squirrel carcass when walking through the park; bird feathers scattered around hedgerows; the remains of a duck stuck in the reeds. The authorities only noticed a predator when the swans were all gone. Before, that was probably just people’s cats, right? Or the foxes? I don’t think so anymore. I think, whatever it was, it needed bigger prey.
Bigger prey. I called the police the day after to report Hobo Baggins missing when I didn’t see him on my usual walk along the canal. They said they couldn’t do anything; he could have just moved on to somewhere else. Who would blame him? I didn’t even have a real name to report anyway.
Months went on by, and the nights got quieter and quieter. There’s no sounds of birds to wake you at dawn. There isn’t even drunkards stumbling about after a night out. Most of the pubs and restaurants have shut down; people just don’t feel safe leaving home anymore. The police are still “investigating”, but I never see them out of street any more than anyone else.
It’s a pretty lonely town to walk around in the last few weeks. A lot of people have moved out of town. The only ones who stay can’t afford to leave, like me. I would if I could, but I’m barely covering the bills as it is. You only see people out during the day, and they usually drive. By sundown, there’s no one on the streets, all the curtains are closed and people keep their lights off. They put their bins as far from the house as they can without blocking the paths or the road.
By morning, the bags will be ripped to shreds. Anything edible in them will be gone, and anything inedible is chewed up and unidentifiable. The streets are full of crap people have thrown out into the street; the council have stopped sending bin men. I’ve phoned them but the only response I get is that “This service is suspended due to department restructuring. Sorry for the inconvenience”
Last week, I got two phone calls.. Any other place, any other time they would have been a godsend. Instead, they just add to the growing dread shadowing the town. The first was my boss. “Don’t bother coming in anymore. We’re shutting the shop. I’ll try and get your last payslip to you as soon as I can.” He paused, “I- I’ll try and get you some redundancy pay too, make up to three months pay. Use it to get out of town.” I never got that money.
The second call was from my landlord. He just left a voicemail: “Hey, it’s [NAME REDACTED]. I’ve cancelled your direct debit, don’t give me money anymore. I feel bad taking it, just get out of town.” We all know that’s what we should do. Maybe if I had ever gotten that money from my boss I could have gotten away, not that I had anywhere to go. In hindsight, maybe just walking out of here would have been better than staying.
I took my last walk along the canal on Tuesday. As I approached the bridge, I noticed something in the water. A ribcage. Practically picked clean. It looked like it had been floating there a while too. I hoped it didn’t belong to who I was thinking, but I knew. You just know sometimes.
I called the police. I already knew what I would hear. The officer on the end of the phone made an incident report, told me that I couldn’t know who it belonged to, not to jump to conclusions, an officer will investigate… I knew no one would. We both sounded exhausted, worn down, weighed down by the knowledge that nothing could be done. We went through the motions, trying to maintain a sense of normality. He wouldn’t even tell me his real name.
I was talking to my neighbour yesterday, an older gentleman. He was living here when I first moved in. He’s on the same boat as me; no friends, no family, nowhere to go. He tried to convince me to leave. “Pretty girl like you could get themselves far away from here. Don’t need no money when you look like that.” I scoffed. There’s no one left here to take me anywhere.
“It’s getting closer to the houses.” I said to him, as we stared out our first floor windows over the canal.
“Yeah. You hear those sounds it makes? I ain’t heard sounds like that from no fox or badger.” He continued to stare out the window, slowly shaking his head.
“Nah. They don’t sound like that.” I looked down out the window. The trees along the canal bank had scratches on them and broken branches, like something big had been climbing up there. “Did you see the window on the ground floor?”
“Yup.” It had been ripped from the frame. The brickwork underneath had been gouged out, leaving a big gap in the wall. The inside of that flat had been trashed; smashed furniture, blood, hair, chunks of meat and bone all over the front room.
“Who lived there again?”
His hands trembled as he spoke, “That Dad who looked after his little girl. Remember? I walked her to school once when he was ill.”
I said nothing in response.
“George,” My neighbour said, “I called it George.” He gestured to the scratch marks outside.
I was going to ask why, but why bother, “What else.”
Last night was the worst night. The cries and howls I heard were like nothing I had ever heard. I had left my window open but the blind shut, it was just too warm to sleep. Just as I was drifting off, I heard heavy footfalls, and a snorting sound. I froze, terrified. I could feel my eyelids peeling back into my skull, and my whole chest felt cold with fear. My legs and arms retracted into the foetal position, then I just waited with my back to the window.
After several minutes, the whole room shook, as a heavy thud hit the wall behind me. A growl reverberated through me as the scraping started. It rapidly became more pronounced, more vicious. The scraping, snarling, scratching; I went through the motions of reassuring myself. It’s the wind, it’s the trees, it’s the rain; It’s anything except what it sounds like. “This is it,” I thought. “This is my night.” I really thought it was going to get in.
Eventually I must have fallen asleep. When I woke the next morning, I hoped that it might have all been a dream, a nightmare. I went out to check on my neighbour. His door was locked up and he wasn’t answering. I went outside to see if I could see him through a window. Then I saw them, outside my window. I saw where the scratches had come from. Big foot long scars under my window. Under my window on the first floor. There big prints in the flowerbed. Not that they looked like anything I had seen before.
I’m scared this time. Not just creeped out, not just worried. Really scared this time. I called the police again. I didn’t even get an officer, just an automated message.
“[LOCATION REDACTED] Police Station is unable to process calls at this time. We advise residents to stay with family or friends away from [LOCATION REDACTED] if possible while we investigate these events. If this is not possible, please remain indoors and barricade your home. Avoid unnecessary journeys. Under no circumstances leave your home at night. Do not investigate any strange noises or events. Keep calm; we are investigating.”
Are you fuck.
You know, I’m glad I haven’t seen it. I’m glad it’s only been scratches ,and noises ,and footprints in the flower beds. What if I saw it and it couldn’t be unseen? I’m used to living with fear now, I don’t want to live with nightmares.
Whatever it is, it’s getting bigger. How does something get that big without anyone seeing it?
So here I am. I’m sure this is my last day here, and while I still have a means to communicate to the outside world, I’m telling you all of this. All of what happened here. About how easy it was for me to stick my head in the sand and hope it all wasn’t happening, until I pulled my head up and realised I was trapped. So here is the last thing anyone will hear me say, a warning:
If you hear of a quiet town, famous for it’s beautiful canals and swans, don’t go: all the swans are gone.
Credit To – Kerrima