Below the peaks of the Catskill Mountains you will occasionally find an ancient and gnarled apple tree. Such a tree is a reliable landmark; signaling that an early American farmhouse sits, or once sat, nearby. Sometimes only a single shoot of the old tree remains, yet the ancient life persists year to year. It was into such a house, with such a tree, that Peter Rudkowski chose to pour the last of his retirement savings.
The house in question was a money pit, and if it were not for the moss covering the many holes in the roof it would have all the warm trappings of an open casket. Peter knew this, but 40 years of home building had made him sure of himself; and his old sinew and bones still obeyed the will of their master. Moreover, Peter wanted the work to occupy his mind against his new, and unwelcome, title of, “widower.” “Well, Flint,” said Peter to his ten year old collie, “ What do you think of the new home?”
The dog looked out lazily from the open truck window and then sulked back into his seat. “I’m sorry, boy,” he said to the dog, “ I know it’s a hell of a place, but I’ll make it home.” Peter spent the next few hours setting up his tools inside the house in preparation for all the work that lay before him. The inside of the house had seen patchy craftsmanship within the last sixty years and no previous owner seemed to have put much work in before abandoning the building. The creaky old oak door to the home seemed to Peter as good a place to start as any, but his attention on the door suddenly made him aware of deep scratches set into its surface. Some of the scratches looked quite old, and deeply set into the door, while others seemed no more than a year old, or less. Each scratch was about half an inch apart and occurred in sets of four, which ran almost the entire length of the door.
Peter thought to himself that the previous owner must have had a very large and unruly dog. He looked outside appreciatively towards Flint, who was now laying beneath the shade of his truck; and the contrast between the scratches made Peter feel lucky to have such a fine mannered dog. “Well, the door can wait.” he said to himself, and looked for something more immediate to fix. In the next room he noticed a very unpleasant musty smell and a scent that he could only describe as smelling like hundreds of mummified mice. He followed the odor into an adjacent room at the back of the house. An old heavy door, hanging on by one hinge, blocked the entrance to the room. Peter pushed the door open; revealing a dark closed room with a large open hearth . The smell itself seemed to be coming from within the chimney, and a puddle of black liquid accumulated on the brick floor beneath the flue. The silence was suddenly broken by an ear splitting bark from Flint. Peter jumped involuntarily at the sudden sound of his dog next to him. “ God, Flint! Don’t do that”. Meanwhile, Flint continued to bark into the room; in the general direction of the hearth. “ Easy, Flint! Easy, boy!. A raccoon or something must have died in the chimney.” Flint did not seem to hear him, so Peter grabbed Flint’s collar and started to drag him away from the smell, but stopped when he noticed Flint’s voice fall to a low growl. Peter looked down and saw the fur on Flint’s neck raised, with his ears pinned back against his head to reveal the full intensity of his eyes which shone over the rows of brandished teeth. “Steady , boy, you know me.” Flint’s eyes flashed between the open hearth and his owner, and with a whimper he fled from the room. A worried Peter quickly wedged the door to the room shut and followed Flint outside. “Come Flint.” he said to the dog who slunk up to his owner and buried his head into Peter’s hands . Flint was shaking from head to toe and Peter comforted him by scratching his ear and saying, “Oh Flint, everything is okay. Don’t leave me like that, you know I can’t lose you too.”
For next few hours Peter cleared away vines and bramble from around the house and grounds of the property. Under the bramble Peter found many small bones from birds or squirrel, who may have once made the old building their home.
The night was approaching fast, and the twilight seemed to give the home an uncomfortable air. The woods around the home too grew still and pensive. “Come on boy,” said peter to Flint, “we will sleep in the Truck tonight. Things will seem more happy in the morning.” As the sun set below the horizon man, and mans best friend finished supper and prepared to sleep through a cold night. Perhaps out of habit Peter locked the doors and slowly faded into sleep. At around 3:00 AM Peter was awoken by a soft whimper from Flint. He was about to call out to calm the dog when he heard faint scratching. It seemed to come in long strokes that must have dug into whatever was being raked. Peter looked at flint with half opened eyes and saw that Flint was looking towards the house while softly growling. The house door was ajar and it swung slowly back and forth with a sight vibration. Something dark and narrow appeared to be standing in the partially open doorway. Peter’s breathing grew shallow as his eyes adjusted to what he was seeing. The figure began to crawl like a stalking spider slowly out the door and towards the truck, with it’s fingers feeling across the ground slowly, and silently. Peter, now frantic, searched for his keys, but was horror stricken when he realized he had left them inside the hose within his toolbox. He looked back to spot the figure again, but it had vanished. However Flint’s growling grew louder, and the faint sound of nails tapping against metal could be heard from under the car. “It’s looking for a way in!” Said Peter to himself. And at that moment the handles ( on both sides of the truck) began to flap violently back and forth. Flint was now growling and barking ferociously and the figure’s tapping made its way slowly up the passenger side door. When it reached the window the tapping slowed, but each tap grew harder and deeper.
“It’s going to smash the window!” Peter said to himself and lunged for the flashlight in the passenger seat. As the figure rose to the side of the truck Peter turned on the flashlight and shown it upon the figure. The creature was horribly thin and clad all in black rags. He only saw its face in a blink , but he could make out large hollow eye sockets under it’s veil. The light caused the creature to retreat at terrific speed, but not before smashing the window. When the glass shattered Flint rushed past his owner faster than Peter could react. His heart sank as the dog dove out the window with teeth flaring in pursuit of the creature. Peter jumped out of his car flailing the weakening flashlight beam to spot the hideous thing. By chance his beam strayed on to the roof with the dying rays just catching a bare narrow leg, or perhaps even bone, disappear into he top of the chimney. Flint ran growling into the house with Peter desperately grabbing for his collar, but in vain. The inside of the hose was pitch black and Peter saw that the light from the flashlight begin to flicker and fade. With the last of the light he recovered the keys in his toolbox and the only other light he could find: a set of old road flares. From the next room Peter could hear Flint scratching and growling at the door . Peter immediately cracked a road flare and the whole room lit up with red light.
In the next room Flint had managed to get past the door and was now in the room with the creature from the chimney. With all his might Peter shoved the door open just as the road flare went out. There was the sound of frantic scraping, the soft whimper of a dog, and what sounded like wet lips smacking together rapidly. “FLINT!” screamed Peter as he cracked the last flare. In the red light Peter saw a ghastly thin hand, twice the length of a humans; and with nails which curved down like scythe blades. In one grasp the thing’s hand curved around the opening of the hearth and in the other it held the throat of Flint. “NO!” screamed Peter as he dove towards Flint and managing to find a hold on his dogs collar. The creature’s fingers darted and quickly wrapped around Peters right shoulder; causing terrible pain. Peter looked into the hearth and could see the foul smelling black liquid begin to drip into new pools. With the last of the strength in his ensnared arm Peter thrust the flare up the flue and with an ear piercing wail the creature, in flames ,darted up the chimney and away into the wood . Using his good arm Peter cradled Flint and ran to the Truck. Peter could feel him breathing, and a soft lick on his arm let him know Flint was still there.
As Peter turned the truck around heading for the nearest town the headlight beams fell for a moment on the old apple tree. From one of the dead branches there hung a piece of the creatures tattered and smoldering black cloth.
Credit : S.M Christian
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