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Ties That Bind

Ties that bind


Estimated reading time โ€” 14 minutes

People kept going missing from my town over the last couple of years. Their mangled remains were all that were ever found of them (if anything was found at all), and many thought that some sort of large predator was to blame. I guess that in the end, they weren’t far off, but they may never know the whole truth… at least, I hope not.

They erected a bulletin board at the edge of the woods and covered it with missing posters. Even though the passage of time had seen fit to erase them (much like the beast), the images still served a purpose. Not only as a grim reminder of our vulnerability & mortality, but also as a warning of the danger that lurked beyond.

However, the potential danger of entering the woods did nothing to deter many of our residents. They refused to live their lives in fear. Many of them were experienced woodsmen, so I can’t say that I blame them for being confident, even if it was foolish. They believed that taking precautions and being armed would save them, no matter how nonsensical the sentiment was in contrast to the piling cases. In my experience, pride and arrogance rarely serve as anything more than a fast track to disaster.

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A few days ago, my best friend informed me that he would be going into the woods because he needed to retrieve his trail cameras. He had to work until late in the evening, so there was only a short window to get them before night set in. Although he protested, I refused to let him go alone as I couldn’t bear the thought of him becoming the next victim. I didn’t have any family left, and the one that remained I never got to see; my father had disappeared many years ago, and my mother & grandparents were all long dead. I was closer to him than anyone else in this world.

Though we should have made haste in collecting the cameras, we allowed time to slip away from us. The evening was spent drinking beer, goofing around, and getting distracted by even the most trivial things that we’d stumble upon along the trails. We let our worries fade away and focused on having fun, as we always did… but there’s nothing more that I regret in this life than not rushing to get the job done before nightfall, as we planned.

“This one wuz smashed ta pieces too, just like the rest. Only a few more left to check,” Rick said to me as we walked back to our ATVs.
“Didn’t know ya had so many, bro hahaha,” I replied, crushing a beer can.
“I like ta know wuts goin’ on out hyur. Been hopin’ ta git a pic of wutever it is ‘at’s been takin’ our folks, too.”
“Maybe one of the remainin’ cams’ll-“

I stopped short; I heard something large moving through the woods.

“Matt, you hear tha-?” Rick started.
“Shhhh,” I interrupted, then whispered, “Turn yer light out and git down.”
“Okay. Ima hunker down by muh four-willer,” Rick replied, then crouched down beside his ATV.

We both turned off our lights and continued to listen. The sound grew closer & closer until it was almost right on top of us. We remained silent & motionless and tried to peer through the dense brush surrounding us although our eyes hadn’t yet fully adjusted to the dark. All of a sudden, we were overwhelmed by a putrid scent, stronger than any I had ever smelled. It was eerily reminiscent of a corpse, but altogether different and much more intense. I looked over at Rick to find that he was holding his nose. He then shot me a disgusted, yet puzzled, look.

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The noises ceased. I placed my hand upon my holster, undid the buckle, and slowly drew my .45 loaded with hollow points. Rick reached up and grabbed his shotgun from the rack on his ATV; both of us were ready to defend ourselves and each other. Tensions were high as we continued to scan our immediate area. Everything remained still for a time… until a hulking mass burst out of the foliage and went straight for Rick.

“SHI-!” was all that he managed to yell before it tackled him. The force from the blow sent his ATV rolling off into the brush. This initial assault was promptly followed by the sounds of ripping flesh & cracking bones. “RICKKK!” I screamed, then opened fire in the direction of the hulking silhouette… but my efforts were in vain. It paid no attention to me nor my barrage of bullets, and they seemed to have no effect on it. I needed to load a new magazine, but when I attempted to retrieve it from my belt I… dropped it. I clicked my flashlight back on so that I could find the magazine swiftly, but made the mistake of having it pointed toward Rick when the beam came to life.

He lay on the ground, motionless. His arms were separated from his body, his abdomen was flayed open, and his intestines & organs were strewn about. Enormous chunks of flesh were missing from him, appearing as if they had been bitten off. My stomach turned in revulsion, and feelings of anger & sorrow began to consume me… but they were quickly replaced by paralyzing fear when I brought the beam of light upward toward his attacker.

It was humanoid, albeit nothing more than a cruel mockery of the human form. The beast was much taller than any man or ape could ever hope to be. It was hairless, lanky, and its gray skin was stretched tightly over the bones beneath; its appearance resembled that of a skeleton covered in a thin layer of flesh. It looked back at me over its shoulder, then dropped a chunk of meat before turning to face me. Its eyes were solid white and sunken way back into the depths of its skull. The lips were tattered as if it had chewed them off, and its mouth was filled with razor-sharp teeth. It sniffed the air, then stared back at me with those hideous white eyes. The creature tilted its head from side to side as it studied me, a look of perplexity beginning to show on its face. Then it pounced…

… and that’s the last thing I remember before I woke up here in the hospital.

Once the initial grogginess began to wane I tried to sit up, but was immediately overwhelmed by a searing pain that ran diagonally across my chest. My head began to pound intensely, and my abdomen felt like it was going to burst. I clenched my teeth and took in a sharp breath before I surrendered and laid back down. “Hey, now. Take ‘er easy there, Matt.”
“D- Dad?” I responded, fighting the urge to sit up.
“Yeah, son. It’s me. Long time no see. Let me sit ya up,” he said before I heard him get up and make his way over to me. He then grabbed the control for the hospital bed.
“Where’ve ya been all this time?!” I asked as my upper half was elevated.
“It’s a long story… we’ll git there,” he replied, then laid the control back down and returned to his seat in the far corner of the room.

I hadn’t seen him for many years, and time hadn’t been kind to him. The skin that I could see was covered in various types of scars. He had a shaggy beard, his hair had turned grey, and he had massive bags under his eyes. His appearance gave the impression that he hadn’t slept in ages; he looked like a man who had seen & been through more than his fair share.

“Wut… wut happened? Is… Rick… Rick!” I exclaimed as memories of the incident began to spring forth.
“He’s gone, son, and yer lucky to be alive.”
My eyes began to well up with tears, “Rick, no… that thang… there was some kinda creature, Dad! It killed-“
“Shhh, easy now. It’s alright, boy. There was nuthin’ you coulda done. That thang is no natural beast.”
“Well…” I began, “…what kinda beast is it?”
“Patience, son. We’ll git to everythang in time Let’s start from the attack.”
“Okay, then… How did I end up here?” I asked him.
“It slaughtered yer friend, then started on you,” he leaned back in the chair and crossed his ankle over his knee, “that’s when I showed up to the rescue. Yer lucky I got there when I did.”
I was taken aback, “you saved me?!”
“Yup.”

We sat in silence for a moment staring at each other, neither knowing what to say. Then I finally spoke up, “wut made ya come back? How’d ya know where to look?” I asked.
“I know I’m not exactly an easy man to get ahold of…” he said in a flat tone, masking his sarcasm.
“Pfft, that’s an understatement,” I interrupted, my words carrying just a touch of aggravation.
He ignored my commentary, “…but I finally caught wind that somethin’ has been happenin’ to the people here fer quite some time. I had an inklin’ of wut it was right away, and rushed to git here.”

My father stared at me for a moment, then got out of the chair and walked towards the door of my hospital room. He slowly leaned his head through the doorway, looked left & right to see if the coast was clear, then quietly shut the door. Dad then promptly turned the deadbolt into place before returning to his seat. “Anyway, I got ta town and started collectin’ information. That’s when I learned that you two dummies went up on the trail. I knew nuthin’ good wuz gonna come of it, so I took off after ya’ll. Got to ya just in time.”
“So you saw it?”
“Yup… but it ain’t the first time.”

I was puzzled by this. My father was always mysterious & cryptic (the few times that I did get to see him growing up), but for him to know that a creature like that exists and do nor say anything about it? It didn’t add up.

“I hit it several times with my .45 and didn’t phase it. What did ya do to get it off me?” I asked him.
“Simple. I shooed it off with a torch, and then hit it with a big ol’ molotov fer good measure,” he replied smugly, “now, that ain’t enuff ta kill it fer gud, mind ya, but it was enuff to drive it away so that I could pull ya outta them woods, and git ya some help.”
“Then I guess I shud thank ya,” I said, lowering my head to the side before looking back at him, “so, thanks… but still, wut is that thing? And where did it come from?”
“I cain’t tell ya wut it’s called, sayin’ it draws ’em. Talkin’ ’bout it is bad enuff by itself…” he answered before dropping his head for a moment, then looked back up at me with a solemn look on his face, “…but I think it’s time you knew.”

My father then began to tell me the truth behind everything, the profound reality of his life’s story.

. . .

I was just a young boy, maybe eight or nine, when my parents told me the good news; I was going to be a big brother.

They left me with my grandmother while they went to their ultrasound appointment. My parents were bursting at the seams with joy when they came to pick me up. They then gave me the best news of my young life; My mother was carrying twins. I can’t even begin to describe the glee that I felt at that moment. The prospect of finally having not only one, but two younger siblings, filled me with unbridled excitement. I couldn’t wait to meet them, teach them, protect them.

Times were hard. Money was scarce, but we were all ecstatic nonetheless. I wish I could say that my mother had a smooth pregnancy, but she was sick all the time, barely ate anything, and rarely ever acted like herself. Her doctor feared that the lack of nutrients would harm the twins… I wish we had known how right he was.

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As time went on she became more irritable, more angry towards everyone. We didn’t know whether it was the hunger, the pregnancy, or her sickness… all we knew was that something was terribly wrong. Regardless, we tried our best to care for her and make her happy.

One day, they came back from an ultrasound appointment in tears. They told me to go into the other room so that they could speak with my grandmother in private about the situation… but I, being a kid, made it my mission to find out what the adults were talking about. I crept across Grandma’s shag carpet, careful to not make a sound until I was finally within earshot of their conversation…

Mom had lost one of the twins.

The ultrasound showed that only one of them remained in her womb. She said that there was no bleeding nor signs of a miscarriage, and that her doctor said the gestational sack may have been absorbed by her body, or perhaps by the remaining twin… although she was further along in her pregnancy than when this phenomenon typically occurs. I remember crying about the loss, but I was still happy that one of them was okay, and that I’d still get to be a big brother soon. I retreated into my play area and fiddled with my toys as I quietly sobbed to myself. When they were finished going over the sensitive information, my parents came to find me and gave me the edited version; although one twin “didn’t make it,” my remaining sibling would be a little brother.

The closer that mom got to her due date, the more her condition worsened. She progressively ate less and became more belligerent. Losing one of the twins didn’t help much either, and neither Dad nor I knew how to console her, nor what to do for her. Sometimes even the smallest thing could set her off, so we walked on eggshells and minded our Ps & Qs. My old man and I spent a lot of time out back in the shed, where he taught me how to tinker with, clean, and repair various things. I cherish the time we spent together during those days… Other than the day you were born, they are by far my favorite memories.

One day while we were out in the shed, we heard bloodcurdling wails of agony emanating from our house. My father and I looked at each other in confusion for a split second, then our eyes widened as we simultaneously realized that it was my mother. We dropped everything and took off sprinting towards the house, both of us calling for her.

My father was the first to reach the back door, throwing it open with such force that I thought it would smash through the kitchen wall. We tore through the house toward their bedroom, knocking over the furniture in our path in a mad scramble to reach her. Upon arriving at the bedroom door, my father grabbed ahold of the knob and put his shoulder into it, nearly ripping it from the hinges… and neither of us could believe what we saw.

My mother lay sprawled across the bed, motionless. Her abdomen was split open, appearing as if something had forced its way out from the inside. The room had been overtaken by the stench of decay as if something dead had been festering in the room for weeks. Crouched inside of the gaping hole… was my baby brother.

Although he looked nothing like a human infant, I knew right away that it was him. His skin was grey like the flesh of a corpse, tightly stretched over a lanky skeleton. He was hunched over, rummaging through my mother’s flesh & organs as he took bites from various chunks… my brother then realized that we were there, watching him in horrified disbelief.

He stood up and turned around to look at us with those ungodly, pasty-white eyes, and a mouth full of razor-sharp teeth that were littered with pieces of my mother. He turned his head upward and sniffed the air a few times before returning his gaze to us. The sight chilled us both to the core and admittedly caused me to wet my pants. My father came to his senses much quicker than I did and promptly reached for the baseball bat that leaned against their dresser.

My little brother fell forward. He threw his gangly hands outward to catch himself, then entered into a doubled-over position as he arched his back. His spine began to pop and grow rapidly, followed by the rest of his skeleton. The skin pulled over his bones stretched ever tighter to accommodate the growth, and we watched in disbelief as he doubled in size right before our very eyes. Once the process had finished, he looked up at us and emitted an ear-splitting screech, which sounded like a combination of a scream and a hiss.

My father drew back the bat, fully prepared to strike… but before he could, my little brother leaped down to the floor and then launched himself through the closed window, smashing it into oblivion. My father held his stance in shock for a few moments before he crept over to the window, checking to see if the coast was clear, “looks like it’s gone… you aight, boy?” he asked me, then dropped the bat and embraced me for the last time, “come sit outside, I gotta call the law.”

When the police arrived and saw the scene they immediately arrested my father. They blamed him for my mother’s death and claimed that he had disemboweled her before doing “god knows what” with my little brother. They wouldn’t listen to anything he nor I had to say about the matter. They ruled him criminally insane and sent him to a mental hospital to live out the rest of his days… which wasn’t very long. Unable to cope with what he had seen, on top of being blamed for the death of the love of his life, he was crushed by the weight and eventually committed suicide. They found short a note scrawled in blood on the walls of his room, which read, “Forgive me, son. I love you.”

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. . .

“So, yer sayin’ that the thang I saw is…” I started before my father cut me off.
“That’s right, Matt. It’s yer uncle…” my father replied, “…I’ve spent my whole life learnin’ about ’em, and thangs like ’em, ever since. All the time I’ve been away, I’ve been… huntin’.”
“…huntin’?” I asked, both confused and curious.”
“Yup. Yer uncle vanished from this area after the incident yer papaw & I witnessed… but now he’s returned. My mind has been consumed with the desire to find ’em and put ’em down since that day. After many years, and more than my fair share of experience, I finally know how.”

Now all of the visible wear & tear on his flesh made sense. “I see… but why didn’t ya tell me any of this sooner? Why did ya let me continue to believe that papaw was a lunatic who murdered mamaw, and that ya had turned yer back on me? And where did ya learn how to fight these… things?”
“I wanted to protect ya. I felt ya were better off hatin’ yer papaw & me than knowin’ what’s really out there… but now I ain’t got much choice,” he responded, before addressing the rest of my inquiry, “yer uncle ain’t the only kinda abomination out there runnin’ ’round. I’ve been a lil’ bit of everywhur, talkin’ to folks who know the truth. Folks who learnt from their predecessors, and pass on the knowledge to people like me. It’s a rabbit hole that goes back fer millennia.”
“Well, in that case… why haven’t you taken care of my “uncle” yet?
My father looked away for a moment, then leaned forward in the chair. He interlocked his fingers and brought them to his lips in contemplation, “Well, to be perfectly honest, son…” he dropped his head, “…I cudn’t do it.”

I became irate, disgusted with his response, “wut do ya mean ya ‘cudn’t do it?’ Look at everythang he’s done!”
“I know, boy. I know that I should be more than capable, and willing… but in the end, he’s still my baby brother. I’ve loved ’em since before he was even born… and fer some strange reason that I cain’t explain, I guess that fact alone was enuff to prevent me from finishin’ the job.”
“Yer unbelievable!” I barked at him, “So what then, yer just gonna let ’em continue to stalk our woods and kill people?!”
Dad looked down at the floor in silence for a while before eventually bringing his gaze back to me, “…of course not, because I’m gonna teach you how ta kill ’em. Once ya’ve seen somethin’ like ‘at, there ain’t no goin’ back ta normal life, anyways. I’m gonna teach ya everythang I know.”
“Ya cain’t be serious. Me?”
“Why else would I be here explainin’ everythang to ya? If yer friend Rick wuzn’t enough of a reason ta git riled up, now ya have uhnother.”

I didn’t know how to respond. In all honesty, my feeling of irritation towards Dad, and his reluctance to end this when he had the chance, nearly made me refuse and lash out at him in spite… but I then began to weigh those emotions against how I felt about all of the pain & devastation my “uncle” had wrought.

My anger quickly turned into determination. He was absolutely right; I wanted to… no, I had to kill this beast. “I’ll do it… but not fer you, old man. Fer mamaw & papaw, and fer Rick. Fer every other life that bastard has cut short.”
My father cracked a smile and chuckled a little. He tried to hide the pride on his face as he spoke, “That’s my boy. We’ve got some time before yer healed up enuff to start the physical trainin’, so we may as well start with the basics.”

He reached down beside the chair and retrieved an old weathered backpack. He pulled open the zipper, reached inside, and brought forth two thick, leather-bound books. One was fresh, while the other was visibly tattered & worn. “This…” he started, then got up out of the chair and walked over to me, “…is everythang I’ve seen, everythang I know. It’s ours to share…” he handed me the old one, then held up the fresh one, “…and this’n is yers. Here’s a pen, start whenever you git the notion.”
“Dad, I-“
My father cut me off, “Start readin’. There are plenty of thangs in there you need to know before we move on.”
“…okay. Thanks, Dad,” I replied solemnly.
My father turned away and headed for the door to my hospital room, opened it, then looked back at me before exiting, “I’m gonna leave ya to it fer a lil bit. I’ll be back with somethin’ ta eat…” he lowered his head and turned back to the doorway, “…and I’m sorry fer everythang. I hope ya can understand and fergive me… sorry ’bout yer mother.”

He stepped through the doorway and left before I could say a word. I flipped the cover of my father’s book and began to read. This handwritten journal went into detail about his many horrific experiences with a plethora of beasts… which, until now, I had believed to exist only in nightmares. It was also rife with descriptions & statistics, abilities, weaknesses, and recounted how he had not only managed to track but also slay, a great number of them. This information instilled a newfound respect for my father within me, an appreciation for him that I never imagined I’d have in all my life.

My father is a hardcore, seasoned hunter… and soon, I will be too.

Credit: Caleb M. Foster

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