Estimated reading time — 24 minutes
The window of opportunity was closing. Soon, he would return and likely bring his inanimate metallic friends with him.
Although Marty had sustained only a glancing blow, the perpetrator likely did not realize this among the haze and blur of unmitigated furor and bloodshed that had resulted in the death of one of his closest friends. Through the shock, the realization had not yet settled in. The adrenaline rocketing through his body blurred the edges of his perception, in both the physical world and the psychological.
But shock still weighed upon him, like a slingshot pulling him back. Marty still saw the world in odd colors and upside-down, as he lay there – his chest heaving raggedly. As the eyes of the once living human whom he’d spent the better part of his childhood knowing stared blankly back at him, Martin Hammond knew that he’d soon join the corpse if he didn’t move.
The silence was breached by a racket akin to a thud as he heard heavy boots following the slam of an enormous metal door, the entry of his fate unto death then approached.
Marty breathed, and as he prepared for the ultimate moment of his brief and miserable existence, the circumstances surrounding his current predicament fluttered before his consciousness.
The Hammonds were drawn to Braxton, West Virginia in late 2000 by the occupational pursuit of Mr. Hammonds’ brother – Paul. Jim Hammond, divorced and uncle to Martin and Benjamin Hammond, wasn’t about to let another family member go at it alone in a world like this.
“Off to disprove the existence of the non-existent,” said Paul triumphantly as he finished loading the SUV. Paul Hammond had been selected as one of only three special advisors to Joe Nickell of the paranormal investigation group Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, or CSICOP.
Jim merely sighed, he’d gotten used to the nonsensical blathering of his elder brother at a fresh young age. He’d made sure of it, because their father constantly threatened to whip the living s**t out of them whenever they made his eye twitch enough.
“How can you… nevermind,” he cut himself off. Jim knew this was ultimately futile in nature. Paul cocked his head and chuckled to himself a bit as he hoisted a large rack atop some other large pieces of equipment. “What’s the matter, Jimbo,” he inquired.
“Not getting bored on me are you?”
The place they were renting was a quaint little ranch house in the outskirts beyond the city limits, well within the proximity of where the Flatwoods Monster had been seen decades earlier. When they had set up the camera equipment to begin filming their documentary was when they heard the echoing racket of the gunshots.
Not used to rural culture and being surrounded by gun owners, Jim and Paul had reacted rather hysterically, with the latter screaming about freaking out over dying and Jim furiously gathering up the film gear.
“We’ll get out here early,” Paul had said. “Before anyone can think of doing this s**t in the middle of a documentary.” Jim didn’t protest, he himself was supportive of gun rights, but would prefer to not have to deal with it while he was accompanying his brother on another one of his paranormal adventures.
As they were preparing to finish packing and head home, Jim heard a booming voice erupt through the clearing along the edge of the tree line. “How goes it over there!?”
Jim and Paul jumped and turned, with the former a little more discreet about his surprise, but was nonetheless discovered by the older man. “Hope I didn’t scare you newcomers away. You’ns are new, yes?”
Jim and Paul exchanged glances. “Y-yes. We’re here doing a nature documentary, of sorts. Why? What’s the trouble?”
The man had walked the length of the clearing until he was a good hundred feet away before he stopped and squinted his eyes. Jim noted that the firearm he held in his left hand was a Nemo Omen Match 2, and put 2-and-2 together predicted almost exactly what the man was about to say next.
“Nothing much at all, just heard frantic panicking in the woods about a mile southeast of where I was huntin’ them hogs. Bastards been swarmin’ all over the country, only came to West Virginia here a few years ago.” The man looked thoughtfully into the forest as he idly fiddled with a wad of dipping tobacco folded into a glob in the southwest corner of his lip.
He spat out a gob of it.
“Well, again, apologies. Name’s Craig. Craig Mulligan.”
He waved and disappeared once more into the jungle.
“Well-built dude for being in his 50’s,” said Paul.
In a hurry.
“That was weird,” commented Paul on the drive back. Jim didn’t respond, as he puffed idly on a cigar and tried to get his mind off the odd old man by focusing on what he was going to unpack first.
Martin, being the elder brother, was put in charge of Ben – who was four years younger at the age of 12.
Ben had unpacked the PlayStation and TV first, and was playing Gran Turismo and barely even noticed Marty enter the living room. “Ben! Ben!” He yelled this what must have been a dozen time before screaming at the top of his lungs, “BENJAMIN!”
Ben threw up his hands. “WHAT! I WAS TAKING A BREAK!”
“Uncle Jim said we were to go get help from the neighbors and have half of the stuff unpacked before they got back. That was almost three fucking hours ago!”
“Oh, shut the f**k up and come help.”
Marty and Ben walked across the street and along the road about a mile before coming to their nearest neighbor just out of view on the edge of a rocky knoll. The two-story farmhouse was decrepit, with rusty kitchen implements such as a stove, microwave and refrigerator lined up among a pile of other old tools and trinkets that looked to be decades in age.
Also among these aging lawn ornaments that appeared to spill out – or into – a crippled overhang garage partially collapsing in on itself, that was no longer viable for vehicular storage, were several old cars, station wagons, trucks and the parts indicative therein of other generations of a vehicle no longer in existence. Ben could also make out a moss-covered barn several miles away on a further ascendant hill. They could both tell that once upon a time there had been farm animals.
As they approached the stairs, they could hear a radio somewhere blaring “The Downward Spiral” by “Nine Inch Nails.” Marty only recognized it because he remembered getting the album when it came out as his first CD, which is father had ended up finding out about and throwing it in the trash in disgust.
Marty hesitated before knocking on the door.
The Hammond brothers exchanged glances as a tall, lanky form cracked the door and peeked through.
“The hail do you want?”
Marty nervously introduced Ben and himself.
“We’re your new neighbors, and we wanted to know if you had the time to help us unpack?”
The young man’s face had angular, avian features. A long pause slithered past as the several seconds it took for him to come to a decision involved his wide eyes rolling back and forth between the two younger children.
Finally, his face pulled back in a rather pained grimace. “I guess, don’t see why not, I’m Kevin –come in for a drink first, I’ve got company.”
He slammed the door, a frantic scratching at the chain commenced and the door snapped wide open into a darkly-lit foyer that emanated a stench of stale food and raw meat, which the hint of chemicals.
Marty immediately suspected that they were doing drugs.
Kevin motioned for them to follow him into an adjacent room, where two others – one large and rotund and another short and squat – were perched on various tumbledown furnishings.
“Marty, Ben – this is Lump,” he said referring to the larger figure, “and Scat.” The latter made a strange noise that sounded like a cross between a sneeze and sigh, and Lump merely listed the pool table as he reached around to scratch at his undesirables.
Neither of them seemed to particularly regard the Hammond brothers with anything more than a slight acknowledgment of their presence in the room.
Kevin left and they were alone with the lumbering behemoth and the schizoid for the longest eighty seconds of their life. When he returned, he had an armful of beers, two of which he gave to Marty and Ben.
“Uh, he’s not allowed yet.”
Ben protested loudly as Marty removed the beer from his hands.
“Aw, damn – I didn’t know. I won’t tell–”
The room silenced and Marty stuffed the beer into his backpack, cracking his own along with the other kids in the room.
“Cheers,” exclaimed Kevin. And the four of them chugged their alcoholic beverages.
By the time Marty was halfway through with his, the trio was on their second, and as they downed another swallow, Kevin motioned for them to follow him to the back.
They followed him through a narrow corridor and out a back door to what looked like a shooting range. Kevin requested they wait and left again. Marty was beginning to become impatient.
“This is all well and good, but we really need help unloading the trucks.”
When Kevin returned, he was holding three assault rifles.
“My pops got these when he was on tour in Vietnam, shootin’ up gooks if you know what I mean…” Kevin set his beer down and handed out the guns to Marty and Lump.
Marty gingerly and reluctantly took the firearm.
“What’s the matter,” he inquired tauntingly, “never shot one of them before?”
Martin felt as though he were approaching a panic attack as he struggled to simultaneously keep the gun steady and appear strong while trying to aim and actually hit the target. He could feel the tension in the room elevating as the seconds squeezed by so slowly he could almost hear them. Without thinking about it, it was almost as though he’d gone into auto-pilot, Marty pulled the trigger. The gun bounced into his shoulder, the weapon fired, the target was knocked down – but not broken.
“Not bad…,” Kevin said.
He nodded his head, finishing off his beer. “I’ll tell you what,” he said, approaching. “Since you exceeded expectations,” he began, turning to his simian friends. “I’ll let you in on a little secret, seeing how you’s up here lookin’ for that … thing.”
Marty regarded him suspiciously. “How’d you know we were up here looking for it?”
Kevin shrugged. “Why the hell would anyone else come to such a got-damned s**t-hole?”
When the duo got back, Paul scolded his children. Ben got an attitude, and they were sent to their rooms.
“It just doesn’t make any sense, they could get help from the neighbors.”
“Go easy on them, it sounds like they had a bit of a bad experience with the locals just like we did. And besides, the neighbors haven’t even been home. No cars in the driveway, nothing.”
“We’ve been here exactly twelve hours, not even a full day. How much weirder could this place get over a week?”
They would come to find – lots.
The next day, after struggling to get to sleep for hours due to the neighbors’ barking dog that they’d left behind, Jim awoke early to loud talking and what sounded like another confrontation between his brother and his unruly nephews.
“I’ve been telling you to get that cursing problem under control, Benjamin. I don’t like it, and your brother sure isn’t helping.”
“Why does everything gotta be my fault?!”
“Cuz you’re a stupid ass!”
That retort from his younger sibling started the hollering that brought Jim into full consciousness. He arrived in the kitchen as Paul was chasing them outside.
“STAY OUT THERE! ALL DAY! FIND SOMETHING TO DO!”
“Not a good time,” added Jim as he got his coffee and gazed at the radio, turning it up.
A transmission regarding a body found in the next town over drifted through into the room.
By the time they’d arrived the last of the cleanup crew were leaving. They had found a woman in her mid-20s, her skin bloated suggesting exposure, and no sign of any activity.
“They’re about ninety-percent certain it was a suicide, but that isn’t going to stop the local and tourist nuts from starting some hullabaloo about it being a ‘Flatwoods Monster,’ or whatever.” They asked if they could see the body, but the man explained that it was already being flown to Charleston and that they’d have to come back tomorrow or the next day once they’d decontaminated the area.
“This whole thing smells wrong, there’s something about that body in Gassaway. Those… I dunno? ‘Decontamination’? That guy in the woods, I mean what the f**k is ‘really’ going on here?”
Paul cocked an eyebrow at his younger sibling. “Who are you and what have you done with Jimbo?”
Jim groaned. “What I’m saying is there isn’t some monster out in the woods killing people, there’s some sort of criminal activity going on and it could be a real danger.”
“Relax. People out here are eccentric in the way they do things, particular parts of rural flyover country like this. Who knows the weird things we could find.”
They exchanged glances.
Going back after a few hours, the Hammond brothers found little evidence of a human (or otherwise) disturbance.
“I haven’t seen any footprints or what have you,” Jim said after about an hour of searching the vicinity.
“This thing isn’t bigfoot, Jimbo. Who knows how it moves around. We’ve got to find something, I mean – imagine how explosive this piece could be if we got actual footage of a real fucking cryptid.”
“Yeah, but – I mean, it’s not air. Obviously, if it can physically kill someone it would have to leave some physical evidence of its existence.”
That is when he heard his brother yelling.
“JIM! LOOK! COME SEE!”
He booked it through the woods and almost fell face first into the abnormally large clearing that had suddenly popped into existence. Paul simply stood there shaking his head, his mouth gaping.
What was so strange about it was not only its size, but the fact that all of the trees surrounding the clearing were slightly slanted, and the small clutch of trees that remained at its exact center. They even measured it to be sure.
“This is huge.”
Both literally and figuratively.
They had decided to move in permanently, but the ritual of going to bed late each night to the neighbors’ barking dog became regular. A week went by with no owners to coax their dog to behave, an exercise in futility the Hammonds would come to find out coming from anyone else.
Finally, after six days of having been moved in, their neighbors returned. The elderly couple introduced themselves as Caroline and Mickey Anderson.
“But you can call me Carol,” she said.
“We’re part of a traveling evangelical fundraising organization, so we’re almost always on the road,” explained Mickey as the Hammonds were invited in. The walls were adorned with paintings and photos of their family. The boy they were told was their son, Howard. Jim and Paul were shown Mickey’s souvenirs from the Vietnam War, which he’d served in as a cook.
“I haven’t lost my spark, y’all come on over sometime and I’ll make dinner. We’re in town until the eighteenth.”
“We’ll most certainly do that, say – you wouldn’t have anything around the house to keep my boys busy over the Summer would you?”
They exchanged expressions. “Perhaps. In the meantime, we’ve been really needing a house-sitter to look after the place and that mutt Bruiser in the back while we’re gone.”
And so it became a regular thing for Martin and Benjamin Hammond to watch the house when the Andersons were away.
One evening, while Jim and Paul were away on a filming expedition, Martin and Ben decided to go further into the woods than they had ever ventured before.
“I’ve gotta poo!”
Marty sighed. “It was you who wanted to come along, don’t complain now that we’re almost halfway there.”
They had been hiking for about an hour straight, up along a stream until the mountainside had begun to dip down into a depression or valley.
Kevin had informed them that there was a beast, in that part of the woods, that could be observed at sundown. He’d explained to the Hammond kids that this particular monstrosity was far more dangerous and terrifying than any “Flatwoods monster”.
“But I don’t know how much longer I can hold it!”
By now the sun was getting dim, and the dusk evening light had begun to turn to twilight. Another ten minutes went by as they descended further into the valley, and as soon as Martin saw it he immediately hushed his brother.
A bright glow was emanating out from between the trees. Benjamin’s urge to go number two immediately vanished.
“What is it,” rasped Ben.
“I think its the monster.”
The dark crimson ribbons raced down Craig Mulligan’s forearms as he peeled the deer’s severed skin away with nothing more than raw strength alone. He’d been hunting and spying in these woods for thirty years, and he knew Braxton County like the back of his hands.
But although he was a bonafide local, he mostly kept to himself save for his nephews and a few chance encounters with brain-dead tourists. ‘Corporate sheep’, they mostly were – and most of the residents within a hundred-square-mile radius were acerebral rednecks with the IQ of a cane toad and the spine of a wet paper bag.
The moronic fools still drank from a tap, instead of coming out here – like he – to collect purified rainwater. The mercury and fluoride that they were putting into the taps closer to town were eating people’s brains, and he noticed the steady drop in brainpower with each passing year.
People were getting dumber, and easier to manipulate.
Not to mention more dangerous.
He had to always maintain a minimum safe distance from those who had not yet freed themselves from the control grid. And he’d been failing in that objective as of late.
As Craig cleaned the carcass, he mused over his latest encounter with the Hammond sheep in town a few days ago. They’d been asking him about those clearings in the woods, and the dead bodies. Craig had pretended he didn’t know what they were talking about, he couldn’t let them get in the way of his mission.
A branch snapped outside.
Craig immediately stopped what he was doing, grabbed his rifle, and slipped outside.
Ben was about to complain again when Martin stopped him. He held up a finger and there was immediately following a loud ‘slam’. A sound very similar to a door slapping against the wooden frame of a small building.
The duo booked it through the woods.
They ran until their ankles ground and ached, they ran until their throats felt like two pieces of sandpaper scraping together, they ran until a thick sticky layer of sweat coated their bodies and their clothing clung to their skin like wet towels.
They collapsed onto the soft wet ground of the recently-fallen night, their chests heaving. They didn’t know what it was that had spotted them, but it was certainly not going to stop them. They knew that as their father and uncle emerged from the house onto the back deck and inquired with concern where they had been, that they would spend the rest of their days at that property looking over their shoulders and peering out of windows from behind drawn shades wondering – when was he going to make his move?
Craig heard the hurried scampering in the woods just beyond the soft yellow glow of his lantern. He held his rifle close along with its fire, deciding it was a mongoose or another one of the hogs.
Nevertheless, he kept his guard up. If it was the latter, he was going to need every bit of firepower he could get his hands on. As he finished with his kill, another thought snaked its way into the annals of his consciousness – was it the kids?
His nephews had told him that two strange kids – one a teen the other a preteen, his younger sibling – had come to visit the other day. And they had walked.
He then put two-and-two together.
On his second encounter with the Hammond Brothers, Paul had mentioned he had two kids.
“Ben’s a firecracker, they really both are, but damn are they brilliant,” he’d said.
He then remembered the Andersons, his neighbors, saying that while they were on vacation they had gotten house sitters.
“Our new neighbors are really a Godsend, Craig,” Carol had said yesterday at the market.
He slammed his gun against the wall. Nobody was supposed to know about this outpost – nobody! He knew that the Virginia government was working with D.C. authorities to construct biometric assessment sites along the interior of the state. He knew! But NOW, being SO CLOSE to catching a radioactive hog and thus possessing physical evidence of government weapons testing in his backyard. LITERALLY.
HIS BACK YARD.
And now, after decades of rigorous studying.
He was about to have his life’s work undone by a couple of children.
It wasn’t by that tourist woman a week ago.
Nor by her boyfriend a week before that.
They’ll just think it was the Flatwoods Monster.
They always do.
For the next two weeks, while the Andersons were away, Marty and Benjamin Hammond spent their days cooped up in either their house or the Andersons’, peeking out from behind blinds and curtains as if they were schizophrenics. While doing so, Martin noticed the concrete dome in their backyard, a bit of a way back towards the trees where it was barely noticeable. The Andersons returned on the sixth of December, just as they’d said, but by then he’d forgotten he’d seen it.
A day later, there was another victim.
His wife was virtually inconsolable, and she spent the next several days cooped up in her own home with no contact with the outside world. Not even with her new neighbors.
The next day – the 12th of December – it had begun to snow heavily, and Carol announced she was going to stay with his family to make funeral arrangements.
“It was respiratory failure,” she said, “which doesn’t make sense because he never smoked and always had the strongest of voices, he would sing while preparing meals for the soldiers. Did he ever tell you that? He had one of the most beautiful singing voices.”
“He did once,” Paul said. “Not intentionally. Uh,” Paul laughed through a few tears. “I think he might have been singing in the shower one night.”
This got the first laugh out of Caroline that they’d experienced in the past several months. Certainly, this was followed by more bouts of sobbing.
Before departing, she inquired whether Marty and Ben could still watch the house while she was away. “So sorry for all of the chaos lately.”
“Its no trouble,” Martin announced as if on impulse.
Ben elbowed him in the hip.
She smiled and gave them all a hug and a kiss on the cheek.
“Scat!” shouted Kevin.
The gangly dirt stain of a human being dropped the glue bottle and snapped his pointed nose in Kevin’s general direction.
“I TOLD you to get the STUFF about AN HOUR AGO!”
As Scat disappeared down a downtrodden corridor, Kevin felt the wet breath of Lump precipitating upon his right shoulder. He sighed.
“Is the CAR started yet?”
Kevin pinched the bridge of his nose and then looked up into the vacant gaze of Lump. As usual, there was no sign of comprehension in his pupils.
“I’ll take that as a no?”
“Car,” Lump half-stated, half-inquired. Kevin stared at him in bewilderment for a good two minutes straight, before exhaling profusely and shoving Lump out of the way.
“Goddammit,” screamed Kevin, his voice rising. “If I MUST do everything MY SELF, I FUCKING WILL!!!”
By the time Kevin got the car started, Lump was slithering into the back seat and Scat was convulsing as he made his way out of the front door, and out onto the porch. Down the front steps. Into the passenger seat.
As Kevin was handed his AA-12, and Lump his SAW, he went over the plan that Uncle Craig had given them.
The trio had been playing cards and smoking dope when they heard the door groan open followed by the rumble of heavy footfalls. Uncle was home. They hurried to hide the evidence of their chaos, and be upright and cleaning guns by the time he got to the top of the stairs. They succeeded – for the most part.
Scat was stacking clips and sidearms while Lump carried in crates of ammo. Kevin polished and lined along the near wall their supply of long rifles, and he was sure they had gotten away with it before he heard Uncle make a suspicious sound.
He stopped immediately and turned around. They all did.
There he was, his eyes piercing like a falcon, dead straight on one of the foilies that Lump had left laying out. Kevin knew it was Lump by the way he stood straight upward and his features grew beat red.
Uncle’s eyes darted back and forth between Lump and the paraphernalia. He nodded at it. Lump looked back and forth between it and Uncle.
“Pick it up.”
Lump edged toward the incriminating evidence and slowly raised it in one large hand.
Uncle curled his finger.
Lump carried it over to Uncle, who slapped it out of his hand and – with one forceful grip – wrapped his muscular fingers around Lump’s fat and shoved him against the wall. Swiftly. With little effort.
“Where… is… it…”
They were beaten with chemical-coated belts which left agonizing deep blisters and burns across their backs. When they’d given in and been beaten into submission, Uncle had them assembled in the dining room.
When he entered, he had; both rifles strapped to his back, three belts of ammunition, a belt of grenades – half flash-bang and half fragmentation – a grenade launcher, a submachine gun, and a flamethrower.
He rattled as he walked slowly across the room, the equipment clattering against one another upon his armored body. “The bankers are going to collapse the economy, WE ALL KNOW IT! They know it, we know it, everybody knows it.” He looked them over as he paced. “When that happens, we are going to have to corner the gun market. Weapons WILL become the new currency. If we’re going to survive we have to make sure we stomp them all out quick.”
He smacked his hands together as he spoke. “The end of civilization as we know it is upon us, we’re going to have to weed out the weak ones if we are going to make it for ourselves. So…”
He immediately stopped pacing and whirled around on his heel to face the boys. Lump flinched as he did so, fearing further reprisal.
“Here’s what’s going to happen.”
Before departing, Carol had informed the boys that her son Howard would be arriving later that evening to gather Mickey’s things.
“It probably won’t be until after sunset,” she had said to Martin.
By the time night had fallen, he was reading a Goosebumps when he noticed Ben looking out the window again.
“I told you,” he said. “Its been almost a month. Whoever, or whatever, it probably forgot all about us. They probably didn’t even see us.”
Ben looked over to Marty, sighed, and returned to the window.
“Why don’t you watch a movie like normal twelve-year-olds?”
Ben ignored him.
A half hour later, Ben shrieked.
“I… I,” he stammered uncontrollably. “Someone’s outside!”
Marty rushed over to the window but did not see anything.
“There was someone there! I swear!”
Marty frowned at Benjamin, closed the curtain, and went back to his book. For another little while, Benjamin was completely silent, which disturbed Martin.
He put the book down on his chest and looked over at Ben with a sigh. Martin frowned harder when he realized Ben was staring at the floor with wide eyes.
“Ben… you really did see someone… didn’t you?”
Martin got goosebumps for real when Ben began nodding slowly and then started to sob.
The back door was unlocked.
The dog started barking earlier than usual.
Jim didn’t think much of it, at first. Paul had run into town to get groceries and beer, so Jim had the house to himself with the kids housesitting.
However, the dog started whimpering, and his hairs on the back of his neck and arms stood on end.
When he heard a howl, followed by a yelp, Jim knew something was wrong.
He locked up the house, grabbed a flashlight and exited through the back door, standing on the back porch and shining the beam down into their backyards. First his own, then the Andersons’.
“Hello?” Something wasn’t right. That guy they kept running into. The clearing in the woods. The people dying. His brother’s kids acting strangely.
No, it wasn’t just one something, but several somethings.
When Bruiser started yelping, Marty and Ben darted to the back door, only to find it wide open.
They were too late.
Someone was in the house.
“And outside,” added Ben.
They turned to leave and almost literally ran into the looming figure of Lump. He replied with nothing more than a crooked smile of rotting yellowed teeth.
Footsteps clambered through the back entrance, and they turned to see Kevin, followed by Scat. They all carried various firearms, Kevin a large strange-looking shotgun. Scat a rifle. And Lump carried a gigantic, scary machine gun.
“Are we late?”
Kevin delivered the weapon’s back end to Martin’s face, and he was consumed by darkness.
Jim slowly nudged the front door open, finding it unlocked. He didn’t think much of it at first as he entered the house, but as he made his way into the dining room, he felt himself looking over his shoulder.
He was about to call out Martin and Benjamin’s names but stopped himself. There was someone here who wasn’t Martin or Benjamin, and he knew that if that hunch was right, he would not only be endangering himself but also his nephews.
Jim made his way into the back hallway, seeing the back door ajar, and immediately knowing he was correct. He backed into the kitchen and fumbled for a knife. He found his hand enveloping a large steak knife, and gripped it tightly.
Right around this time, he noticed a black figure ‘standing’ near the front door.
As he realized this was a person, he also saw he was holding a weapon.
Before the first syllable could exit the interloper’s face, Jim had careened to the floor behind the heavy oak desk as the rounds from what must have been an automatic shotgun ripped through the lacquered facade. The desk was just dense enough to shield him from the fatal effects of the weaponry.
“Go ahead! Try to move, I DARE YA!”
A moment of silence passed. It must have only been a minute but it felt like several hours. He heard the young man saying something to another individual, and realized he may be distracted, and that this may be his only chance to get out of there.
He ran headlong into the inner hallway, rounds exploding behind him. Jim dove through the open doorway of a closet. But before he could get the door closed, it was ripped apart by shotgun and machine gun fire. The slab of wood was reduced to splinters and separated from its frame, and Jim realized he was reflected to the aggressors in the mirror. He immediately acted dead, slumping over to feign unconsciousness.
To his benefit, the boys smiled to one another and made their way past him. As they stepped over his limp body, he began to sweat. Just one twitch or spasm and they would check his pulse, and he would be a goner.
But, again with a stroke of luck, they merely stepped over him. The smaller one spat on him, the saliva clinging to his jacket, eliciting a chuckle from the boy as he descended into a dark alcove. As they disappeared from view, Jim realized he was laying on the landing of a set of stairs leading down into the basement.
That was where his nephews were.
Jim waited a few minutes and then followed them down.
Howard Anderson found, to his expectation, that the front door was not only unlocked but open.
Once his hands met the unlocked mechanism, he reached to his hip for the M1911 handgun he’d brought along just for this specific situation.
He knew the Mulligans. He knew what they were capable of.
This is exactly what he’d feared.
They killed his father, and now they were trying to kill kids.
With his handgun at arm’s length, he entered what he at that moment considered a warzone.
It didn’t hit him until he saw the dead bodies of the adult in his thirties and the two sixteen-year-olds, one of whom was quite large. He correctly assumed to be the dead bodies of James and Martin Hammond and Lemoine “Lump” Nelson.
The perpetrators were not physically there, but Hal could tell from the structural and burn damage that they had used heavy weaponry.
There was a trail of destruction, culminating in a massive shoot out in the main room, leading from the basement. He followed it into said room.
But there was another room.
As he followed the burns and dried blood, he found there was a secret room adjacent to the basement. This room possessed advanced military and scientific technology the likes of which he had never before seen.
Jim had dodged the attempt at knocking him out, and wrenched the AA-12 assault shotgun from Kevin Nelson’s grip and knocked out Scat, possibly breaking his neck. He then swung on Kevin, who grabbed the weapon but was quickly overpowered. Jim delivered the most powerful right hook that he could muster, knocking Kevin to the floor. He was soon assailed by Lump, who narrowly missed him as he scrambled up the stairs with Benjamin still tied up, kicking the behemoth in the face repeatedly. Once he got to the landing, he ripped Ben’s tape off, and he immediately began gasping for air and words.
“Ben, where is your brother?”
It is there he found Martin tied up. He quickly untied the young Hammonds and turned to them. “Look, I need you to run.”
Ben started crying, and Martin, in turn, started to sob as well.
“Look, I can hold them off, but only for some time! You need to RUN! NOW!”
He gave them a shove and they began to cry harder.
As he was about to urge them on further, a massive hand grappled his throat and hoisted him across the room, slamming him through a wall. Jim prepared to retaliate, only to be slammed through yet another wall, and then another wall. The boys screamed as dark blood began to cascade from their uncle’s head.
“Run,” he managed weakly. And as the Goliath was about to finish him off, the skinny arms of Martin Hammond wrapped around Lump’s throat and he began to hammer away at Lump with a blunt object that looked like a hammer. Lump roared in agony and flung Martin across the living room. Lump and Martin then dove for the machine gun lying by the stairs. Wrestling with it, the gun went off several times, tearing crevices through the ceiling and walls.
As the house began to collapse under the weight of the damage wrought forth by the heavy weaponry, and in the last throes of his consciousness, Jim noticed a voice from his periphery. The voice of an old man.
“Shoot him, Kevin!”
He then noticed the boy in name was standing nearby, holding a large weapon at attention.
The large boy and the small one continued to tussle.
There was a bang.
A dull thump.
Jim looked over to see Lump, his throat slit, gargling for life. And his nephew. His beautiful nephew. A hole in his head.
“Oh, for f**k’s sake I said ‘shoot him’ not ‘KILL him,’ GIVE ME THAT!”
Craig Mulligan strode up to Kevin and snatched the AA-12 out of his hands, before noticing Jim was awake and aware of what was happening. Not to mention alive.
“Oh, this one’s alive. I can fix that, comrades.”
Hal heard gunshots near the woods outside after activating a tape recording which sounded suspiciously like radio waves from a government transmitter. He stepped gingerly over the dead bodies and made his way to the back door, before seeing a dull red glow on the horizon followed by bright flashes of light.
He couldn’t fathom what could be going on, but with dead bodies, strange government technology and this – he suspected, and feared, the worst.
Hal stepped carefully beyond the threshold of the back doorway and gazed at the horizon, his mouth ajar in awe. The woods had been practically lit up like firey Christmas trees, the flames dancing and fidgeting in the dull glow.
Ben thought he’d run as far and as hard as he could that one day, out in the woods, with his now-dead brother – but that was incorrect.
For it was THIS day he ran so far and so long.
The man-beast shouted in tongues he couldn’t understand, as explosions and horrific blinding flashes of light pursued him.
It was the Flatwoods Monster. The Monster looked like a Man at Day, but at Night… He, or It, became something else. He didn’t dare look back, look over his shoulder, because – deep down – he knew he would see those eyes.
Those firey Red Suns for eyes.
“TRADEMARK SECURITY,” it shouted, followed by more ignominious tongues.
Ben didn’t know where he was going, but he pressed on, harder and faster with each passing step. He felt like he wasn’t going fast enough.
But what really made him pick up the pace was the presence of more gunshots, more shouting, and more bright lights – red and blue – upon the horizon, beyond the flames of hell.
Ben began to sob uncontrollably and he ran at speeds he didn’t know he was capable of.
He ran for hours.
He ran for days.
He ran even when he KNEW he needn’t any longer.
But still, it seemed not enough.
Craig Mulligan made sure to smack Kevin around a good bit before going after the little cretin. He knew the truth, the Hammonds were flesh-body clones. Decoys. GROWN, rather than born, these alien-human hybrids were intent on infiltrating human society, including the most entrenched and devout of their species to precipitate societal collapse along with their economic allies in the banking system.
He wasn’t fooled, they WANTED him to think they were merely children. That wasn’t getting by Craig! No, sir!
Kevin looked at him in confusion and terror.
“No, siree, they are NOT,” he held up a finger. “-putting one of those GOD-DAMNED THINGS inside of ME!”
He grabbed Kevin and yanked him upward until their noses touched.
“Do you hear me?”
He began laughing hysterically.
“Oh, yes! The day has finally COME! I am going to KILL ME the ULTIMATE PREY…” he dropped Kevin and raised his hands into the air, before grabbing his flamethrower and sprinting off into the woods.
Every time it seemed he was closing in on the creature, it seemed to get further away. He tried disorienting it with flashbang grenades and even resorted to frags, but the featureless mold-green corridors stretched on endlessly.
He could hear the spitting and cooing of alien languages ricochet within the hallways of his psyche, the vibration he felt sliding across the fractal supersymmetry within his own consciousness, intermingling with it.
He screamed, tearing out large clutches of hair until his skull bled. He began spewing napalm and flame across the forest, smacking his head against the strange metal until he saw white.
He twirled around.
The hallways had gone white.
He heard gunshots.
The thing had shot him.
He felt warm blood seeping through.
It was here, in this form.
He felt the light.
They had come.
He was home.
He was free.
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