Estimated reading time — 12 minutes
Yarrow was in the garden planting garlic with her seven year old daughter Sophia when the old man appeared, ranting and raving, screaming bizarre premonitions and strange warnings, scaring the living shit out of both of them.
It was winter in Humboldt County, California, but it was one of those rare days when it was not pouring rain, when the sun managed to shine down and warm the earth for just a moment before it sunk beneath the towering Douglas firs and sequoias.
Yarrow was kneeling in the garden, her knees sunk into the damp, black earth, her long chestnut brown dreadlocks falling in a ring about her, as Sophia, her round little face etched in concentration, reached into a small woven basket and pulled out a clove of garlic, handing it to her mother.
“Are fairies real, mama?” Sophia asked as Yarrow pressed the clove into the dark, crumbly soil and reached up for another.
Yarrow laughed softly to herself.
“It’s not funny, Mama. Are fairies real or not?”
“Well, some people believe you can only see them if you believe in them, sweetie.”
“Well, I know the tooth fairy’s not real because I saw you put that dollar underneath my pillow.”
Yarrow chuckled as she sunk another clove into the ground, Sophia was growing up so fast.
Neither of them had noticed the old man approach, not until his shadow had fallen over them. At first Yarrow just thought it was Calendula, coming down from the cabin where he had been wiring some battered old solar panels he had managed to round up, and she smiled.
But when she looked up at the figure that loomed over them what she saw was the old man. He was dressed in a pair of dirty old overalls and his bloodshot eyes bulged out from beneath a battered John Deere hat, a long drop of tobacco stained drool dripping from his mouth.
“You all people gots to get!” he hollered with a shower of spittle, bending down close so that Yarrow could see that the whites of his eyes were jaundiced and yellow behind the maze of red veins. “You knows where you are? You got any idea what’s out there in them damn woods? They’re breeding them fucking things out there, for god’s sake! You don’t get out you gonna die! You’re all gonna die!”
The old man startled little Sophia so badly that she screamed and dropped her basket of garlic. Yarrow quickly scrambled to her feet, pulling the little girl protectively behind her and backed away from the old man who came at her waving his arms maniacally, stepping all over the garlic they had just planted.
“It’s a curse, that’s what it is! The injuns bred ‘em back in the old days and now they’re back. They’ll use ‘em on you, girl. Use ‘em to get back the land they lost. They’ll use ‘em on you and that’s no joke. For god’s sake, they’re breeding those damn things up there!”
“What are you doing here!” Yarrow screamed at him. “Get away from us!”
The old man looked around for a moment, startled. Then he spit a wad of tobacco juice onto the ground and started ranting again, this time a little calmer, but still not making any sense.
“You got nothing to fear from me, little missy. I ain’t gonna hurt you. I’m just here to warn you. It’s them damn things out in the woods you got to worry about. I’m telling you they are breeding them things! You all gots to get away. Now, while you still can!”
Calendula, having heard the commotion from all the way up at the cabin, came sprinting down the hill and burst into the garden, out of breath, his stubby blonde dreadlocks bobbing, his face screwed up into a grimace of concern. Althea, their golden retriever, raced along beside him, barking like mad.
“What the hell’s going on?”
The old man turned towards him. “You all got to get! Get while you still can!”
“No,” Calendula screamed, storming over. “You got to get! This is our land now and you’re on private property! Now get the hell out of here before I go and get my fucking shotgun!”
Althea danced around the old man’s feet, barking. When the old man went to swat at her she squatted down on her hind legs, bared her teeth and growled.
“I said, get the fuck out of here!” Calendula yelled as the old man kicked at the dog.
“I’m a going. I’m a going. Just keep that damn dog the hell away from me. I’m only here to warn you, but you stupid kids are obviously too damn dumb to listen.”
The old man stomped out of the garden and down the trail to the road, mumbling to himself loudly.
Calendula looked up at Yarrow who clutched Sophia to her.
“What was that all about?” he asked.
“Just a nice neighborly visit, I guess,” she said, and burst into laughter. “Well, I guess that’s one of the crazy redneck neighbors the real estate agent warned us about.”
Calendula shook his head and started laughing along with her.
“What did he say to you?” Calendula asked, running his hand through his beard.
“He said, They are breeding those things out there.”
“What did he mean?”
“I don’t know. He’s obviously crazy. It was scary but I think he’s harmless.”
“I told you we needed a shotgun.”
“Oh, Calendula, we don’t need a shotgun. You said you were getting that thing for the bears anyway, not crazy old men.”
“Whatever it takes to protect my girls,” he said with a big grin and sauntered over and wrapped his arms around his wife and child, his little family. He squeezed them and held them close, kissed his wife’s face, the smell of her hair and sweat flooding his senses.
“What’s a redneck?” Sophia asked, and they all burst into laughter.
They had managed to buy this forty acres of rugged, forest covered hills four months ago with an inheritance Yarrow had received from her Aunt Sophia, whom they had named their daughter after.
Sophia was Yarrow’s favorite aunt and Yarrow had held her hand and watched her wither away to nothing on that dingy hospital bed in Sacramento, listening patiently as she rambled on- why do you do that to your hair? You had such pretty hair. Why do you call yourself that silly name? Your name is Megan, a beautiful name. That was your grandmother’s name.
I know, Aunty, she had spoken softly back, Yarrow is only my forest name- you can call me Megan. She had whispered in her ear, trying not to notice how skinny her dear Aunt had become, how much hair she had lost, please, call me Megan.
It was a terribly hard time for Yarrow. Sophia had been like a mother to her, but now, at least, she had something beautiful to hold on to- she had this land- and they were going to make it a paradise.
Yarrow and Calendula were both certified permaculture designers and they had quickly set out to turn the forty acre hillside into an organic farm.
The plan was to eventually get some goats which they would then use to clear sections of land for gardens of lavender, Echinacea, chamomile, lemon balm and mint. Medicinal herbs that didn’t need irrigation and were deer resistant. With the goat milk they would make cheese and soap to sell at the farmer’s market. They wanted to dig a pond for water storage and raise up some Cray fish and tilapia in it, get a couple of ducks gracing its surface to provide meat and eggs. They would run their gray water through a marsh of edible cat tails. Turn the rundown little cabin, just a hunting shack really, into a functioning ecological green home with solar panels and micro-hydro, an attached, south facing cold frame to heat their house in the winter and sprout their vegetable seeds in in the spring.
It would be a paradise, a dream, a utopia; but, it was a lot of hard work. More than they had ever anticipated, and for the moment most of those projects had fallen by the wayside. They had spent nearly all winter just cutting enough firewood to keep their tiny little cabin warm, getting out when they could, on rare days like this when the sun broke through those seemingly ever present black clouds that filled the sky, to plant Jerusalem artichokes, fava beans, kale and onions.
But Calendula had built his chicken coop/greenhouse and packed it with a dozen Rhode Island reds. It was his pride and joy and a symbol to him of the permaculture ethic of capturing and recycling energies in a circular pattern: the chickens heated the greenhouse and supplied it with manure for fertilizer, and the greenhouse provided fresh greens, chard and kale, for the chickens to eat. A symbiotic relationship.
Just this week the chickens had finally started to lay eggs and he was ecstatic. Now he was planning on letting the really broody one (he called her Bonny), the one who pecked at him when he tried to reach into her nest and pluck an egg up from under her, hatch her brood. Things were working on this little dream of a farm, even if it was going slow.
So far, he’d only had one real problem, when some chickens had squeezed through the chicken wire that separated them from the plants and had demolished the kale and about 20 tiny marijuana starts they had hoped to grow and make a few bucks off of in the fall. But one little set back when you sit on the doorstep of a utopia is nothing.
They awoke at dawn the next morning, Sophia somehow ending up in their bed sometime in the middle of the night. After they drank their coffee, ate their eggs, and smoked a big fat joint, Yarrow and Calendula went down the hill to the garden, Sophia between them, holding on to their hands and swinging.
“Oh, no,” Calendula muttered as he turned the corner. The chicken coop was destroyed: lumber and chicken wire strewn across the garden, chicken carcasses scattered about, mauled and ripped up. Clumps of bloody feathers lay everywhere amongst the debris of the greenhouse: limp kale and chard starts, their white roots exposed to the air.
“Damn it. Damn it. What the fuck!” Calendula shouted, stomping about, kicking the scattered boards, searching amongst the debris for maybe one living chicken- let it be Bonny.
“Calm down, Calendula,” Yarrow hissed, scooping Sophia up into her arms. “You’re scaring Sophia.” She soothed the little girl, stroking her hair and whispering. “It’s okay. It’s okay.”
“But our chickens, Momma. The poor little chickens.”
“Oh, sweetie, it’s okay. That’s just life on a farm. We’ll get new chickens.”
Calendula picked up a two by four that had been snapped in half. “What could have done this?”
“Some kind of animal. A bear?”
“Yeah, maybe. But I didn’t even hear Althea barking, she usually doesn’t let any animals near here. Where is…” he circled around the devastated chicken coop and saw the dog. She lay on her back amongst a clump of chicken wire and greenhouse plastic, her belly ripped open and her guts spilled out.
Calendula gripped himself, fighting back a flood of rising tears and bile.
“Yarrow, take Sophia up to the cabin. I’ll meet you up there in a while. I got some work to do.”
Yarrow swooped up Sophia, pressed her head against her shoulder, and looked to Calendula, her eyes widening in horror, mouthing the words, “Not Althea?”
Calendula nodded grimly back at her.
As Yarrow shuffled away back to the cabin, Calendula got a shovel and started digging a grave.
He pulled the old dog by its hind legs to the pit, real tears now coursing down his cheeks. Althea was ten years old; he’d had her before he’d even met Yarrow, before Sophia had been born. Now she was gone. He dumped the old dog’s body into the pit, flinching at the thump that the body made when it hit the bottom, and slowly started filling the hole with dirt as the shadows grew long and darkness fell. A thick fog leaked out from the forest and the land grew cold; he could see his breath as he headed back up to the cabin.
As he reached the summit of the hill that his little cabin sat perched on, he thought he caught something move from the corner of his eye. Something tall, dark and ape like, swinging long arms as it sunk into the woods. But when he blinked it was gone and there was nothing there but trees and shadows. Had he seen something? No. Just paranoid. He was just being paranoid.
They ate dinner in near silence that night. Yarrow tried to make conversation, saying how now they could get some runner ducks and finally try experimenting with bogs like they’d always wanted to. Calendula smiled and said how great that’d be. But a melancholy mood hung heavy in the dim light of the small cabin, the fire crackling in their little, black woodstove and throwing strange orange shadows against the walls. Luckily Sophia was tired and fell right asleep, Yarrow sitting beside her, stroking her long dark hair for a long time while Calendula sat alone in the dark, thinking of his old dog and, with tears in his eyes, listening to the sound of rain on the roof.
Yarrow finally came out from Sophia’s little bedroom, sat beside her husband and ran her hands through his short, blonde dreadlocks.
“It will be alright, sweetie,” she said.
“I know it will, honey. I know it.”
They kissed briefly, then sat back and drank organic pinot noir out of mason jars till their heads spun. Their mouths were stained dark and purple and they stared in silence at the rain splashing down against the window. Then they stumbled to their little bed and passed out.
At first he thought it was an earthquake.
The cabin shook violently as the scream like sound of wood splintering filled the small space. His head pounding with an early hangover, Calendula leapt out of bed and ran to the kitchen as their small propane refrigerator went crashing against the wall. The rain had stopped, the clouds blown away, and the full moon shone its light into the rustic kitchen, illuminating it perfectly.
What Calendula saw froze him in his tracks. His mouth went dry and cold as all the blood drained from his face. There, bending over the sprawled refrigerator, picking through the tofu and tempeh, was a huge, fur covered creature. It was not a bear. It had a tall forehead, and a hairless face. The creature looked up at him and roared, its mouth unbelievably huge and filled with glistening, square teeth.
“Momma!” Sophia cried out from her tiny bedroom.
“My baby!” Yarrow hollered, pushing Calendula aside and darting into Sophia’s room.
The monstrous creature leapt over the refrigerator and Calendula had just enough time to think to himself, the shotgun is under the bed and the shells are in the closet (Yarrow refused to allow him to keep a loaded gun around) when the beast gripped his shoulders in its massive, ape like hands and pulled him forward, sinking its teeth into Calendula’s neck. It pulled its giant head back, the torn jugular vein in Calendula’s neck releasing a shower of black blood that rained down over the kitchen. The creature then grabbed Calendula by the face and with a quick tug snapped his spinal cord and ripped his head completely off his shoulders. Howling an awful, bestial scream, the creature violently threw Calendula’s head into one corner of the tiny cabin and his decapitated body into another.
Yarrow screamed and the monster turned toward her, howling.
“Stay away from my baby!” she hollered, and the huge beast grabbed her by one arm and began pounding her against the wall. It beat her against the wall even after her screams had stopped and her body went limp, violently thrashing her until her arm dislodged and her body fell down, crumpled on the cabin floor.
The creature stared curiously at the severed arm, lifting it up and down so that Yarrow’s hand flip-flopped back and forth, when suddenly flash light beams and voices filled the room.
“Well, goddamn it. Just look at this fucking mess. I told you to double check the goddamn lock on that cage!”
“Sorry, Pa, sorry.”
A big man wearing a Caterpillar cap and a tan Carhart jacket, a thick coil of rope hanging over one shoulder, stomped through the door. “Just look at this god awful mess.” The big man stepped up to the creature. “What the fuck you think you’re doing?” he shouted at the beast. “Look what you did!”
The creature looked sheepishly down at its feet.
“Bad!” the man yelled. “Bad! Bad, boy!” and he began beating at the now whimpering and huddled creature. He pulled the coil of rope off his shoulder and looped it around the creature’s neck, handing the line to the teenage boy behind him.
“Now, Joey, get this damn varmint loaded up in the truck.”
As the creature meekly scurried past him, head hung down, the man kicked it hard on the rear. “Goddamn stupid fucking Sasquatches.”
He then started peering around the room with his flashlight. “What a mess,” he muttered under his breath. “What a goddamn mess.”
He stepped into Sophia’s room and shined his light under the bed.
“Well, looks like we got a live one here, boys!” He reached under the bed with his huge mitt of a hand and grabbed Sophia who began screaming and thrashing.
“Grand pop, bring me that burlap sack!” the big man screamed as he pulled the kicking, struggling little girl from under the bed. “Damn, ain’t she a feisty one,” he grumbled as he hit her solidly over the head with his flashlight and she went limp in his arms.
The old man came shuffling into the room with a large, burlap sack in his arms, mumbling, “I tried to tell ‘em. Get going, I said. Did they listen? Do they ever fucking listen to an old man like me? No. Never. Goddamn stupid fucking kids.”
“Give me that,” the big man scowled, roughly pulling the sack from the old man’s hands. “Go wait in the truck, Grandpa.”
The old man shuffled away, mumbling incoherently.
The big man bent down and scooped the little girl up into the sack.
When Sophia awoke she was in a cage, laying on a mound of filthy straw. Her head ached terribly. She gazed hazily about, her eyes blurry and crossed. All around her were cages similar to her own. In each was a large, hairy creature with a bald face. In the cage immediately next to hers, a creature cradled a tiny, fur covered infant to her sagging, hair covered tit. The baby looked over its shoulder at Sophia with big, white rimmed eyes as it suckled noisily, a thin trickle of milk running down its lips and into the downy fur of its chin.
“Awake, huh? Are ‘ya hungry?” the big man asked as he strolled over with a bowl of slop in his hands. He slid the bowl into the cage. Behind him was an old, hunched over woman and a young girl not much older than Sophia dressed in a ragged princess dress with a sparkling tiara perched atop her head.
“Well, look at her,” the old woman cooed, poking Sophia through the bars with her finger. “Ain’t she just adorable.”
“Can we keep her, Daddy? Can we?” the little girl pleaded.
“Well, I suppose, if you promise to feed her and clean her cage you can keep her,” the big man said.
“Oh, I promise,” said the little girl. “I promise.”
Credit To – Humboldt Lycanthrope