Estimated reading time — 11 minutes
It was late October when my father told me that I would be going out hunting with him. I was thirteen, and this would be the first time I was allowed to join my father on one of his expeditions. Recently, some of our cows disappeared from our farm. A few days ago, my father found one of them dead on the edge of the property. He said it was either wolves or coyotes, judging from the bite marks. Being so close to winter, my father and I knew that we couldn’t afford to lose any more cattle. We would have to trap and kill whatever it was that found our farm to be its new feeding trough.
The night we set out, I was caught up in a blend of excitement and nervous anticipation. Most of the other boys in our village had already been out hunting, and they often made rude jests to remind me that I was still a whelp.
Even though a trace of summer warmth still touched the autumn air, my father told me to wear my wool coat as he checked and loaded our rifles. When we were ready, he grabbed the oil lamp from the front deck and stepped down the stairs.
He turned and said, “No matter what, make sure you know where you’re pointing that thing. If I take a bullet from you, I’ll haunt you forever!”
I let out a nervous laugh, but the thought made my stomach do a small turn. Ever since my mother and older brother passed away, my father and I had only each other to look after. Without him, I’m not sure what I would do.
Earlier, my father had taken some scraps from hogs that had been butchered the day before and set traps out along the forest path leading to Silver Mountain. It was the path he was certain was carrying the scent of the farm into the forest. It was the best lead he had anyway.
We crossed the pasture until we reached the fence on the edge of the woods. The moon was nearly full, and its light made it easy to see in the dark despite the light layer of mist that blanketed the open field. My father cursed something about needing to cut the trees back farther as he climbed over the fence. He had to help me make it over, the rifle being a new kind of burden for me. We reached the overgrown path, still trodden down to plain dirt in the center.
The path was too narrow to walk side by side, so my father led the way, igniting the oil lamp with a match as soon as the tall pines above us fully occluded the moonlight. I almost wished he hadn’t lit the lamp. Somehow the new light only served to limit how far we could see between the pillars of pine trees that surrounded us.
There was a brushing noise as something nearby scuffled its way over leaves and pine needles. The sudden sound caused me to draw in a gasping breath. I whirled around, fumbling to point my rifle in the direction of the noise.
“Wait!” my father hissed at me. We paused for a second, but there was no other sound. I turned to give my father an anxious glance.
“It’s probably just a squirrel,” he said quietly. “Don’t be afraid. There’s nothing around at night that isn’t there during the day.”
I nodded to him and readjusted my grip on the rifle. He nodded back and kept moving.
There were a few other noises, the fluttering of wings and a stick snapping in the distance. As time went on, I found myself more calm and less afraid of the dark. This was what all the other boys had gone through, and I wasn’t going to let myself stay under their shadows. More than that, I wasn’t going to disappoint my father.
“We’re coming up on the first one,” my father whispered. He hunched his shoulders down and slowed his pace, walking heel to toe with each step. I matched his posture and kept close to him.
To the right was a small opening in the pine grove. There, my father had set up a snare trap around a pile of entrails. He paused to let me catch up until I was standing by his side. He then raised the lamp and stepped into the clearing.
The entrails were scattered and slightly chewed up. What was more interesting was that the trap had worked in catching something, but we wouldn’t know what it was.
“Something got caught alright,” my father sighed in frustration, “but something else got to it first.”
He pointed to some ivy leaves on the ground, coated in blood. The pine needles around the ivy were spread out in a way that showed that something had been dragged away. Judging by the size of it, it was either a large coyote or a small wolf.
My father began to shake his head and curse, but then suddenly a shrill cry of an animal in distress rang out farther down the path. My father’s head shot up. Without hesitation, he ran full speed back onto the path and deeper into the forest. I wanted to shout for him to wait, but the noise would startle any animals around us and I knew it would upset him.
Instead, I ran as fast as I could to keep up. Ahead of me, the dim yellow light from the lamp twinkled and faded as he disappeared behind trees and brush. The sounds in front of us were definitely coming from some kind of wild dog. There was growling, howling, and cries that echoed out amongst the blackened sentinels. I ran, trying not to let my labored breathing make too much noise.
I rounded a corner, and ahead of me I could see the light of my father’s lamp re-emerge into view. Just then, I heard a loud gunshot, followed by the most haunting sound I’ve ever heard. My father screamed in a way that I never thought a man could. There was more growling to accompany his terrified cries. I abandoned all notion of stealth as I sprinted towards the light. I screamed for my father between painful, fiery breaths.
Jumping through a thicket of brush, I emerged into another clearing illuminated by the lamp, which was overturned onto the ground. The oil had leaked out and caught fire on the forest floor. My father was laying on his chest. Even in the light, the thing I saw hunched over him seemed like a creature made purely of shadow.
Without hesitation, I quickly raised my rifle. Lining my sights up with the center of the creature’s body, I pulled the trigger. The resulting muzzle flash illuminated the animal for an instant. The only thing I recall seeing were enormous claws and a mouthful of bloody, razor sharp teeth. That was all I saw. The thing moved so quickly that I didn’t know which direction it had gone. I know that my bullet had made contact, however, as the monster let out a painful wail unlike anything I would ever hear in nature.
It was as if the animal had two sets of vocal chords. One was that of a dog, the other… more human sounding. The double octave cry was incredibly loud, echoing throughout the entire forest. I was frozen in that moment, overwhelmed by what had just happened.
The fire which had been started by the overturned lamp had spread among the pine needles and leaves, emerging into a large blaze. The light shone on my father, who was now kicking and screaming on the ground; rolling and convulsing in a newfound agony. He was tearing at his shirt as if it too had caught fire. Beneath his collar, I saw a large bite wound that stretched across his shoulder from his upper back to just above his breast. Each fang had left a wide gouge that leaked blood as well as a thick yellow pus. Even though it had literally only been seconds since he had been bitten, the wound took on the look of a long-untreated infection.
His breathing became hoarse, and in between his agonized screams, I thought I could hear him trying to say my name. I rushed to his side, trying to find the words to calm him down, but I could only repeat, “Oh God, oh God, oh God…” over and over again.
I tried to grab him by the arm in a panicked attempt to get him back to his feet. I knew I wouldn’t be able to drag or carry him out of the forest. I could not let him die. Just as my fingers closed around his arm, I felt his other hand hit my chest, throwing me away from him and onto my back. Immediately after, I heard a loud snap followed by another terrifying wail of pain. I sat up to see my father lying on his back with his chest arched up high. His arms were raised up over and behind his head. It looked like he was being stabbed in the center of his back. There was another snap as he contorted the opposite direction.
The growing light from the spreading fire illuminated a sight that would stay with me until the day I died. My father’s back was not only breaking, it was stretching. He tried to reach behind himself in a desperate attempt to alleviate his torture somehow, and when he did, his arm snapped itself backwards at the elbow. There was this awful crunching sound as the bones in his arms broke themselves in multiple places. I saw that with each break, his appendages gained a few inches in length. That sound was accompanied by a tearing, pressured stretching noise as his skin and fleshed strained to keep up with the unnatural growth of his bones. His shoulders buckled together first before snapping about an extra six to ten inches apart. And his face… his face imploded as an invisible force suddenly broke all the bones of his skull, pushing his nose and mouth inward. His anguished, wild screaming was suddenly cut off as he continued to writhe upon the forest floor.
In his sudden silence, I realized that I had been screaming in horror the entire time. I fought to get back to my feet, realizing I had dropped my rifle. I looked my father in the eyes, weeping at the ungodly torment I could see in his own gaze. There was a popping noise and his face suddenly elongated to resemble a snout like a horse… or a dog. He choked and coughed, gagging on something apparently. Then, in a spew of bloody vomit, he spat out all of his teeth. The next time he screamed, I could see deadly-sharp points emerging from the bloody sockets in his jaws. His scream was… his scream was different now, accompanied by the sound of something inhuman, something wild.
Suddenly, I realized with a new kind of horror that the sound coming from him was the same double-octave scream-growl I heard coming from the beast I had just shot.
The skin around his eyes grew black, and that darkness spread over his face, leaking through the skin of his neck and spreading over his shoulders. Patches of thick, shining black hairs emerged from his flesh. In an instant, the thing I was screaming at resembled nothing of the man who raised me, the gentle person who taught me to fish, to ride a horse, and to skip stones.
His screams became less human and more animalistic, and the remaining ember of my sanity chimed one rational thought into my brain; the most unthinkable notion imaginable. I scanned the ground at my feet, and found the rifle I had come with. Tears streaked my face as I pulled the bolt back and then pushed a bullet into the chamber. Sobbing, I raised the rifle and lined the sights up to the spot between his eyes.
I didn’t blink when I pulled the trigger.
The unspeakable monster my father had become immediately fell still. My entire being was numb. I felt myself collapse as I sobbed like a child. There was no way to reach any small precipice of understanding what had just happened. I stared at the corpse in front of me, uncaring of the blaze which was now reaching its way up the pine trees and throughout the forest floor. I felt as though I wanted the fire to consume me, to take us both from this dark nightmare.
Then suddenly, I heard a howl from beyond the inferno. It was a sound from the deepest circle of hell. Before it ended, a chorus of double-voiced roars joined in. The noise pierced through my body, electrifying my spine. I wasn’t thinking. Instead, I channeled my actions through an unquestionable instinct to get as far away from the source of that hellish orchestra as I possibly could.
I turned and bolted in the direction of the farm. Terror had seized every inch of my body, and I sprinted with an adrenaline-fueled frenzy towards the safety of the village. The light of the fire quickly died away as I tore through the forest, jumping over roots and large rocks. I had no idea if I was on the path or not. I simply ran.
There was a point as I ran through the murky blackness of the forest that I realized I could hear more than my own panicked footsteps. A rapidly loudening rustle could be heard as something was chasing me. Given how quickly it was growing louder, I knew it was moving incredibly fast. In the darkness, I could still see my father’s horrified, agonized eyes looking into mine, and I begged God not to let that happen to me. I ran faster than I ever thought possible; my whole body numb to the fire of any exhaustion.
Behind me, the rustling had obtained a new attribute—a fervent, ravenous growl. I knew I was close to reaching the edge of my father’s property as I saw traces of moonlight reaching its way through the thinning canopy. In the growing light, I dared to look over my shoulder. Behind me, only several yards away, I could see the roiling figure of another dark beast as it charged after me on all fours. Behind it, two more were in pursuit.
I didn’t look back again. I was so sure that any second, I would feel the weight of a beast fall upon my shoulders. I would feel its claws first and then those awful teeth. Immediately after, the burning, the snapping bones and stretching flesh. Agony, terror, and then whatever hell would follow.
The edge of the forest came upon me faster than I could keep up with, and I ran full on into the fence. My torso flipped over the top of it, and I landed hard on my face and stomach. In any other circumstance, the fall would have left me breathless and incapacitated on the ground, but the adrenaline had me pushing my way back to my feet. Just then, I was ripped back as the beast had finally caught me. It snarled as it tore into my back. I wailed, but realized there was no pain. That’s when I noticed it hadn’t bitten into me, but into the thick wool coat my father had insisted I wear. I dropped the rifle I didn’t even know I was still carrying and rolled out of the jacket in a single turning motion.
Once free, I sprinted with a new top speed, fueled by a tiny flicker of hope. At some point, probably when I heard the chorus of howls ring out from the forest, the cattle had managed to break free from their pen. They ran in large circles around the pasture, panicked and trying to find some means of shelter. I ran through the stampeding cows towards my father’s house.
Behind me, I heard the distressed moaning of livestock being pounced upon by the hellhounds.
I glanced back to see that the beasts pursuing me had opted for easier, meatier prey. I wasted no time in putting more and more distance between them and myself. I ran right past my house, determined to reach the safety of the village, to the company and protection of other human beings.
My father’s farm was just outside of the small neighborhood. I ran, my legs and chest on fire with tears soaking my face, up and over the hill. The light of the village was my salvation, and I raced in that direction until I crested the hill beyond my father’s farm, the one that overlooked the village. When I saw the source of light ahead of me, my feet skidded to a stop on their own, and I fell to my knees.
Fire. Nearly the entire village was engulfed in flames. Even from the distance I was from those once beautiful little streets, I could see the figures of men and women frantically scrambling as they fled from larger, more menacing silhouettes. Screams of terror and anguish rose up with the smoke and fire, mixed with a growing number of ungodly howls and roars. The longer I watched, the fewer people I saw. More and more beasts, my former neighbors, darted back and forth among the flames.
Howling from behind me prompted my feet to move once more. I ran closer to the village, not knowing where else to go. I ran until I came across the small culvert just outside of town. Throwing myself off to the side, I fell into the stony river with a painfully shallow splash. Wasting no time, I crawled into the small opening of the culvert, hiding myself there under the road.
Above me, I could hear the sound of the beasts’ paws rapidly pummeling down as they raced to join the slaughter down the road. Exhausted, terrified, and shivering, I sat in a catatonic horror as I listened to the visceral chaos of my entire world being savagely torn apart by the fangs and claws of absolute nightmares. The terrified screaming of friends and neighbors devolved into agonized wailing which over time was completely replaced by an unprecedented number of double-voiced howls.
Credit: Spencer G. Jackson
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