It wakes you.
Not the moan of a withered hag or the fleeting voice of a dead man, but the low trill of wind slipping past your window. Air being pressed into a hushed breath.
The shadows meld themselves back into your bedroom.
You blink. The blurred, hazy object of your alarm clock focuses back to existence. 2:48 AM, the numbers decree.
You don’t want to be awake; you don’t even want to keep your eyes open. Yet, here you are.
Outside, the air stirs in utter turmoil, churning up to fifty miles an hour and beating against your home.
You’d known this was coming. In fact, you’d known it the moment you’d seen those thunderheads pulling in from the west, lightning forking within them.
From the storm’s downdraft came bursts of pine-laced wind, sharp and deceptively sweet. A destructive force careening from the Atlantic all the way through the Barrens—that large tract of wild, unbroken wilderness. You’ve often seen, in the distance, the tall, stalky pines of its dark woods, shivering in the gales. It’s been a gusty time for Jersey this year.
What was it you were dreaming about, anyway?
Who knows. The information is already lost to the senseless grumble of thoughts trying to piece the dream back together. Gone. Although an image of falling water still rests vividly in your mind.
Your bladder sends a signal to your brain, demanding relief.
Half-awake, you mechanically saunter down the short hall to the bathroom.
You flick the lights on—too bright!
You rub away the floaters and zig-zags from your eyes.
You yawn as your soles scrape over the cold tiles and then yawn again as you complete your natural business. Sweet release.
You flush and lift the faucet handle to wash your hands.
A sound . . .
Your gaze flicks toward the door. You listen again.
Silence, save for the occasional squeak and groan of the walls. Probably from the breeze battering them outside. Whatever it was, you are too tired to care.
Wakefulness spikes through you now, as this new sound resonates, crawling up from the dark of downstairs.
You pull a sharp inhale down your throat.
Your wet hands flinch soapy pellets over the counter-top
Stop. Breathe. Calm yourself.
It could have been anything, like a tree branch or some other debris that got swept up and propelled through the window. That’s it, you tell yourself, nodding, hoping.
A loud, powerful THUD bangs downstairs, and hope flees.
Now, muffled movement. A break in—A burglar!
Horror films you haven’t seen in years slide through your mind like celluloid movie reels.
Your reflection in the mirror turns goosey-white, contorted with fear.
The police, your thoughts propose. Call the police!
Your eyes trace the room for your phone. It’s still lying on your bed.
There’s still time! You can rush back there, barricade the door, and call the police from the closet. How long will it take them to get here? Doesn’t matter—just call them!
You grip the doorknob, ready to sprint straight to your room.
The thump-thump-thump on the stairs freezes your limbs. Something—something fast and large—bounds down your hallway, just beyond the door. Something so terrible, so lively, that even the deepest folds of your nightmares could never recreate this moment.
Vibrations roll by your toes.
Feet like heavy pegs tromp up to your bedroom door. It swings open, bashing clumsily against the wall at the forced entry.
You stand there, anchored to the cold tiles of the bathroom. Paralyzed by the shock of it all.
The short space to your room fills with thrashing sounds. Bedsheets being ripped and torn asunder. The box spring squeaking and jittering violently.
Your fingers, still welded to the doorknob, refuse to twist it an inch further. A few steps away, something of significant size and savagery guts your mattress.
The place you’d been just moments ago.
A cold wash starts at your chest and drips to your groin. Your breathing is now terse, as your heart pumps with a new and sudden weight.
Your mouth is dry, your throat rubber.
Focus. These are the impulses you must hold onto: The hot blood mounting up in your throat. The intensity dilating your pupils and lacing your eyes red. The lift in your gut from an absolute freefall.
These things, hard-wired into your system, will keep you alive tonight.
The thrashing stops. A rapid cackling, emerges. High, scratchy sounds grow louder as they echo down the hallway, expelling from a mouth you dare not imagine.
The cackles sputter into bleating—like a goat coughing up mucus.
Not the sound of a burglar.
Not. At. All.
The thing moves again. Its hammer feet pound in chaotic pacing, until it finally stops and settles on something.
Whump. Whump. Whump.
A succession of bangs on the closet door. Why?
Because it thinks that’s where you are.
But what is It, exactly?
You can’t stay here.
You need to leave before it finds you.
The cords in your hand tighten over the handle. You mentally prepare to enter the hallway.
In your periphery, your bleached reflection in the mirror verifies your struggle with that simple action. But still, the hope of escape eases the gritty feelings of leaving this small safe space.
You turn the knob fully now. The door opens, thankfully without a creak.
You move quietly down the hall, light on the balls of your feet. The walls groan again as another draft clambers over them. The windows flash. The lightning is so close you can hear the crackling particles.
You peer back toward your bedroom, to make sure its attention hasn’t left the closet.
WHUMP. Another pound against it signals back, much louder out here.
You continue, each measured step as slow as possible. Just one sound, one small little thump in the carpet. That’s all it will take to alert something truly horrible.
As you draw closer to the stairs, a sullen urgency pushes you to move just a little faster. You have the screaming urge to run, to barrel down the stairs and leap out the front door in nothing but your underwear. But you resist.
Judging by how quickly it had closed the gap from the stairs to your bed, you have no difficulty guessing who would win in the mad scramble. Not without a head start at least.
A terrible crash reverberates behind you. The closet has been freed from its hinges.
Heavy feet start moving again—It’s coming!
You kick off from your heels and practically vault the rest of the way. You round the stairs and take the first few steps.
The grandfather clock that you had kept in the entry way has toppled flat on its face and now blocks the front doorway. No, not toppled. Pushed.
Chunks of glass riddle the floor from the broken window in the living room.
You could push the clock out of the way, open the door just enough to slide through and get out, but there’s no time.
Deranged chatters move down the hallway behind you. It’s closing in fast.
Your bare soles clap down the stairs. You reach the bottom and wind around to the living room.
Pain jolts up your leg. A sharp bit of glass has pricked into your foot. The shard crunches and embeds itself deeper into the nerve.
Desperate, you fall toward the coffee table and roll beneath it.
Heavy stomps now bang all the way down to the bottom step.
You put a hand over your mouth. You squeeze your eyes shut.
Another sickish bleat croaks out of the thing.
It wanders the room. Wind whips through the broken window, kicking up the drapes. The steps are loud, like the hard heel of a dress shoe, as it clack-clacks against hardwood.
Different scents now trace your nose. A scent you can almost recognize. Something sharp and green, like being outside. It’s that yule-ish scent of pine needles again, now blended with a thick, manurey musk. The smell of the dark woods.
Each hard step sends tremors through you.
Don’t even take a breath.
Don’t think of what it will do if it finds you. How vivid those thoughts teeming with horrors are.
How quickly your screams will be silenced by teeth. How great the amount of blood that will pool out of your newly opened flesh, ripped and tattered like your bedsheets.
Do. Not. Look.
But, of course, you look.
Your eyes negotiate with the surrounding darkness. You immediately regret looking.
The deep sting of your foot no longer reaches you.
The shock numbs the bulking fear welling up in your chest.
Long black legs canter near you. Tiered with fur, they are like the legs of a winter-skinny deer capped with bony, cloven hooves. Behind them snakes a forked, leathery tail.
A mouth you cannot see clicks its cuspids.
The thing whoops loudly and then cackles like a hyena.
No, your thoughts murmur, like the devil.
The bony feet circle around and vanish into the black gap of the kitchen.
A chair scoots as though brushed involuntarily. A clatter of things clang into the floor—pots and pans falling from their racks.
You cautiously adjust your placement beneath the table. The pain in your sole sharpens again. Are you bleeding? Will it be able to smell the blood? To taste it lingering in the air?
No, if that were the case, it would have found you by now—a vision you don’t feed for very long.
Perhaps you can wait it out—stay hidden until it gives up and moves on.
A vain hope.
It heard you run down the stairs. It knows you’re still here somewhere.
You allow yourself to swallow, feeling unhinged by it all. This isn’t your house anymore, it is somewhere else, some dark side of some distant planet you don’t belong on. A place where something—something with hooves—is stalking the halls. Looking for you.
The back door, maybe? No. You recall how the rollers were starting to stick and squeak lately. Far too loud. And even if you did manage to squeeze through in time . . .
The thought of having to outrun the thing fills you with immense dread.
You look to the broken window. The frame is spiked with shards waiting to slice through an artery. Not to mention all the scattered fragments your feet would surely find again. Running would be impossible then.
An idea suddenly clicks: The car keys! You’d left them on the kitchen counter! They should still be there, mockingly close. If you can just reach them and sneak into the garage, you can get out of here.
That, you reflect, sounds like a good plan.
The thing migrates from the kitchen and click-clacks down the hall. Its cloven feet thump down more stairs—The basement. It must think you’ve gone there. That will buy you some time. Not very much, though.
Out you go from the coffee table. You breathe softly, small jitters rattling your lungs.
You pause a moment to brush a few fingers across your foot to get the glass out. It works some, but you’ll need tweezers to get the rest of those evil bits.
In the kitchen, you glance about for your keys. Some pans and a dirty skillet litter the floor. The spice rack has toppled, and a feathery art piece of garlic powder has formed on the porcelain. You move forward toward the counter with cautious steps.
From the lower level, a muted crash rises up. Something else has been shoved forcefully over.
You spot the keys. You stretch out your blood-speckled fingers and curl around them, carefully lifting them so as to not let them jingle in your grip.
Another thought dawns on you, and leads your hand next to the cutlery drawer. Sharp metal things rattle inside as you open it, much too loud for comfort. But you find and grab the sharpest knife there, so the noise is well worth it. A calculated risk.
Having both the keys and knife in your hands offers a small dose of victory, but you still need make it down the hall, past the basement stairwell, and to the garage.
You peer down the corridor and hug the wall as you walk it.
You pass by the basement quickly, imagining—just for a moment—something ready to screech its way out of the pitch.
But in just a few paces, you’ve reached the doorway to the garage.
You grasp the doorknob and pull the door open.
A new sound reaches you from behind—a wet, acknowledging grunt.
You turn. From out of the unseen stairwell, a long, muscular neck twists toward you.
Its hooves scrape into the hall.
The house flashes with another strobe of lightning, giving feature to its tall, amorphous shape.
Its Jagged horns extend outward, coiled back in a goatish curl. Leathery skin hangs down from its thick-haired body, hitting its backside in wrinkled folds. Eyes the color of muddy water. Eyes that have finally found you.
And reaching out of the mottled fur—a skinless, horsey face composed of yellowed, still-living bone.
It clicks its teeth again. Sharp. Waiting.
Your hand does not move from the door handle; it clenches almost as tightly as the other hand does around the knife. Both trembling. The blade is no more than a paper clip compared to the thing before you, twitching its talons.
One of your feet is already out the door, squeezed into the small crack of the garage, but there was never going to be a clean escape. It would never allow such a thing.
The fear now settles into your legs, grasping the inside of them. It seeps into your joints, turning them into mulch. Thoughts cease altogether.
In the next instant, you force yourself to move as everything else moves in rapid order.
The door pulling open.
Hooves beating closer.
A high, shrillish cackle.
You squeeze into the garage, chased by hot, bestial breath brushing up your neck and down your shoulder.
You move to sweep the door closed, but three hellish claws slip through the gap. They hook into the thin wood, propping the entry open against their leathery skin.
It moves on the other end, tugging angrily at the panel.
You pull against it, with every cord, every tendon, burning in your forearm. You jam the keyring into your mouth while the other hand struggles to keep hold of the knife.
The thing yips loudly on the other end. Its thick stench clings to your face. It is strong, and as the pressure from its grasp continues to climb, you know that it is winning.
In one quick motion, you plunge the knife deep into the webbing of its talons.
A horrible sound, much like the yowl of a grey, dying cat, brays from the other side of the door. Dark, crimson blood runs down the steel and drips off in red tears. The claws retract, taking the handle with them as the door finally closes.
You climb inside your car, unwilling to take another breath until the keys finally find the slot.
The engine rouses to life, and all the symbols on the dash light up in green and amber.
You yank the gear stick into reverse and nearly back the trunk straight into the garage door, thankfully catching yourself and clicking the opener just above your head.
The door pulls open with a squeal of rollers and hinges.
Even before the metal sheet comes to a stop overhead, you back out and slope down the street.
Hands still shaking, you simultaneously switch the gear to drive and slam a hurt foot over the gas pedal.
The car peels down the road, revving higher and higher until your house and street are out of sight completely.
You look to the rearview, partially anticipating to see it back there, standing tall and upright beneath a street lamp. But there is nothing.
You’ve done it. You’ve escaped.
Your wide, veiny eyes find the road again, as a spasm of wind nearly knocks you off course. It doesn’t matter where you are going, not right now anyway. All that matters is getting as far away as possible.
A thin laugh shivers out of you, perhaps jovial, perhaps just a little bit manic.
You slow down a little, finally allowing some calmness to penetrate through the panic.
The wind still howls and sweeps over your vehicle, but as it quiets, a different sound rises behind it—like two heavy tarps flapping about.
You look at the side mirrors and again at the rearview. Did you just see something?
A THUD sounds on the roof.
You take another breath and depress the accelerator.
Credit : Michael Paige
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