Estimated reading time — 7 minutes
“What in God’s name….” Everett exclaimed as he looked down by his feet. Another dead animal. The fifth one in two days and in the exact same spot as the one before. “Who keeps doing this shit? I swear, you move miles outside of any town and people seem to still be able to find you.” He grabbed his shovel from the shed, scooped up the animal and disposed of it out in the mire behind his house. “John, Clarice! Get out here or you’ll be late for school!” Everett yelled at the top of his lungs to his kids on the second floor. “Yes, papa!” Clarice chimed. No word from John. Everett marched upstairs to see what was going on. Clarice was doing her normal morning routine: fixing her hair, picking out her best uniform, brushing her teeth…..and yet, there was silence from John’s room. Everett went to open the door, but it wouldn’t budge. “That damn boy is going to be the death of me.” Everett reached above the door’s frame and grabbed the spare key to John’s room. Unlocking it, he proceeded to open the door. Everett let out a gasp in shock. “JOHN!” he cried, wondering why he was still asleep. “GET YOUR ASS UP, NOW! YOU WILL BE LATE.” John jumped out of bed and nearly out of his skin. “Sorry, papa. I must have slept through the alarm this morning,” he said. Everett put his palm to his face and slowly shook his head. “You have five minutes or you’re walking, you understand?” John shook his head accordingly and proceeded to quickly ready himself.
The sun had already started to beat down on Everett early that morning around 9:00 and slowly became brighter and hotter. Lunchtime rolled around and he strolled back up to the house from the cattle field to eat his normal lunch consisting of a bologna sandwich and potato salad. As he reached the door, he noticed something out of the corner of his eye that seemed off. As he looked down by his feet, he saw, yet again, another dead animal. In a fit of rage, he slammed his fists against the door, yelling and cursing as loud as he could. “Why? Why, why, why? I’m doing everything I can for my family. I just want peace!” He collapsed in the rocking chair on the back porch and wept. He felt as if he had reached a dead end. Just as he had begun to collect himself, an icy chill ran down his spine. He got the unnerving feeling of being watched. He slowly lifted his head from his hands, now wet from tears and snot, and looked around, left to right, left to right. Looking out for miles, he didn’t see anyone and decided to go inside and rest. He ate his sandwich and potato salad, as usual, and went to lay down on the couch.
About two hours passed when Everett bolt upright on the couch, sweating and shaking from the cold. Every hair on his body was standing straight up and all of his muscles were tense. He sat there in fear for a moment before he could move again, and slowly lifted himself off the couch. Everett had felt this feeling before when his wife came home before, but she wasn’t home this time. Not yet. Everett strolled to the bathroom and washed up before returning to the fields for a couple of hours. After collecting himself, he went back into the living room to collect his things and hurried out to the field so as not to get behind on his work for the day.
After heading into town and picking up his children from school, Everett stopped at the gas station to top off and get his kids a small snack. While waiting on their father to return, Clarice was daydreaming out of the window. She wanted to star in big Hollywood movies and give her family somewhere nice to live. As a matter of fact, she wanted all of them to be stars. She wanted everyone to have their own big house and swimming pool. It was hard to keep up with all the new ones ever since her father threw the television out, stating, “TV rots our brains, turns us into mind-controlled freaks.” Clarice thought otherwise, however, thinking it was a portal to other worlds, seeing vast lands and intriguing characters. She was completely enthralled with the television. Out of the corner of her eye, something seemed to break her daydreaming. She thought she had seen slight movement in the abandoned house across the street from the gas station. As she focused, she confirmed she had, in fact, seen movement. In the far right window, she could make out the shape of a person, standing there and staring right back at her. They seemed to be dirty, almost as if they were covered in mud. Clarice continued to stare from the window until her father returned and startled her with the opening of the car door. “What you staring at so hard, sweetie?” asked Everett. “Nothing, papa. Just thought I had seen something in that house over there. Must have been nothing,” and for a moment, she thought she was right. As she looked back, she didn’t see anything, or anyone, for that matter. Just an empty window in an empty house. As they began to pull out of the gas station, Clarice felt a slight touch on her ear that made her hair stand on end. She looked back at the house as they were driving off and saw the muddy figure once again, before the house faded in the distance.
Later that evening, after the kids had finished their homework, ate a sizable helping of dinner, and bathed their sweaty bottoms, Everett tucked them in and read them each a quick story before bed, as he did every night. He turned off their lights, shut their doors, and poured himself a nice glass of whiskey. As he sat on the couch, he pondered the events that took place that day, wracking his brain trying to discern some possible answer as to why dead animals keep appearing in the same spot. His mind raced and raced and raced some more before he finally downed his whiskey, brushed his teeth, and turned in for the night. Everett lie awake in bed for what seemed like hours, unable to drift off to sleep. After finally finding a comfortable spot, it finally seemed as if Everett would get some decent sleep…maybe.
Upon falling into a deep sleep, Everett had a vivid dream of Margret, his wife. Oh, how he longed for her to return home from her trip. She was on a business trip for work that has lasted almost a week now, and for Everett, it seemed like an eternity. Being a CEO was hard work, but being the husband of a CEO was even harder, especially with two kids. He wanted nothing more than to hold her again, especially with the events that had been taking place. Before the animals, it was simple things, such as flowers and bark. Then, it just evolved from there. Who knows what would be next? Everett stirred and even smiled as he dreamed of seeing his beautiful wife again, but that was all disturbed when, from downstairs, came loud thuds, as if someone were running through the house. Everett jumped out of bed and grabbed his .44 magnum from the dresser. “Who’s there?” he called out. “John, Clarice, if either of you have woken me up, I promise you’ll be grounded a month!” Silence. No, not even that. Dead silence. The thuds ceased almost instantly and there was not a sound except for the pounding of Everett’s heart in his chest. As he neared the staircase, he heard doors crack from behind him, simultaneously hearing, “What’s wrong, papa? Is everything OK? We heard you yelling.” Everett looked back, wide-eyed with fear, and slowly turned his gaze back towards the staircase. After a moment of silence, he whispered, “Kids, get back in your rooms and lock the doors. Someone may be inside.” They did not hesitate to quickly run back to their rooms and lock their doors. Everett sighed, wiped the sweat form his brow, and quietly went down the stairs.
Upon reaching the bottom of the stair case, he stopped, and listened. Nothing. Not even the wind outside was howling that night. Dead silence. His heart began racing faster and faster as he looked around the first floor. Nothing. As he made his way into the kitchen, a noise emanated from underneath his boot, a soft squish, as if he had stepped on a juicy tomato. He looked down and noticed mud. He started scanning from the living room to the kitchen, noticing tracks leading from the hardwood of the living room, to the tiles of the kitchen, and straight out of the gaping back door, straight into the mire.
Everett grabbed his flashlight and, with his trusted .44 magnum in-hand, made his way out the back door. He flicked on the flashlight and vigorously began searching. After an hour, Everett had found nothing. Not a single trace of anything or anyone. Angry, scared and tired, Everett headed back to the house. A foul odor had begun to circulate, growing stronger as he neared the house. Fearing another dead animal was at his door, maybe something bigger in size this time, Everett hurried his pace to a quick stride. He tilted his head slightly down to catch his footwork as he headed up the back porch steps, careful so as not to trip, and that’s when he saw it.
While bringing his head back to its normal resting position, a pair of feet by the door caught his eye. A pair of muddy, grey feet. His gaze shifted from the feet, to the nightgown, to the person in the nightgown. A woman. A woman who’s eyes were gouged, who’s lips had curled back into a skeletal smile, who’s nose and ears writhed with maggots and dripped with mud. A woman who wore the ring set Everett had bought her for the day of their wedding.
Everett awoke in a cold sweat, trembling in fear. He began to weep as he reached for the bottle of whiskey he kept on the bedside table and the sleeping pills beside that. He downed a handful of pills and two big gulps of whiskey. He got up to go to the bathroom and heard a slight rustle, then a small thud on the floor. It was a note addressed to him from Margret. It seems to have fallen from behind her pillow. “For My Husband,” Everett read, with a little heart drawn behind it. Everett smiled as he opened it.
“For my loving husband,
I’m so sorry. I have failed you and our children. You have loved me unconditionally over the years, but I cannot go on living this way, though, with your habitual alcohol and drug consumption, along with your schizophrenia. It’s unbearable at this point, topped with the stress of just everyday things. I’ve noticed over the years how much worse it’s become, while at the same time, I admit I’ve grown distant. I told you I had a business trip in order to just get away. It was wrong of me, but I had to do this. By the time you read this, I will be gone. For how long is up to you. If you need me, you can find me out back, rotting in the mire.
CREDIT : D.W. Tindell