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Silence reigned over the dark yard. The ravine seemed to suck in any natural light, leaving Wilkes with only his flashlight to guide him. He carried a pump-action shotgun in his other hand, well aware of the powers at play.
The only reason he was here in the first place had been thanks to a staccato call from Dempsey and the other officer staying in the residence that night. There’d been a garbled cry for help on his phone, followed by cries, then a voice, slimy and quiet, moaned, “Plaaaaaay,” before everything went silent. That voice sent rods of dread into Wilkes’ gut, making his insides churn. He’d heard it before, far too many times for any sane person.
When they’d received the call of a homicide in the residence a couple weeks prior, Wilkes knew immediately what the cause was. Yet he’d been too afraid to say anything. The creature, whatever the abomination was, had gotten to him before that, eager to play.
As Wilkes swept his flashlight into the garage, he briefly caught glimpse of Aidan’s father slumped over the kitchen table. Gulping, the police officer made his way into the home, half expecting to see the monster looming beyond the window, peering in. Immediately, Wilkes could tell man was dead – the massive wound in his head and spread of blood over the table left no doubt. Still, Wilkes could not help but feel a slight disappointment, both in himself and the ruined man before him.
He’d hoped the father might better protect the boy, seeming more resilient where he himself crumpled into self-pity. A coil of guilt squeezed Wilkes’ chest, reminding him that he’d been partially responsible for the father’s demise. That voice, like living oil, still stuck in his mind, writhing and burning. It had compelled him to cremate the mother, to weaken this family’s resolve to the point of breaking.
Staggering back out of the house after a moment, Wilkes walked back to the edge of the ravine, where an unnatural darkness yawned before him. The cold, diamond-shaped leaves of the ivy seemed to pull at him, compelling him to join them in that abyss. In spite of his cowering mindset, Wilkes knew what he had to do. He shouldered his shotgun, gripped his flashlight, and leapt down the side of the hill, sliding over the thick curtains of ivy and chasing after the monster who stole the boy in the night.
As he descended into the unnatural netherworld of the Ivy Cascades ravine-network, visions wheeled through Wilkes’ mind. He recalled the first time he’d slipped down this ravine, searching for the family’s dog. Missing pets were the norm in these bigger neighborhoods, with the majority of the cases stemming from an animal that has simply wandered too far.
He and Dempsey had split up to cover more ground, each taking one side of the tremendous rift. As he searched along his side – the slope nearest to the home – he’d stumbled upon the sewer opening the kid told him about.
It certainly had the potential for swallowing up a dog, especially a hunting dog. New and exotic smells to explore, fresh territory to mark. But when Wilkes stepped up to the opening, he sensed something else lingered in there. A gust of wind sucked at his back, the air filling with a rotting stench that seemed to try and pull him into this cavernous opening. He wished that had been the end of it, that he’d turned around and gone back, claiming to find nothing. Instead, he ventured in further.
Inside the sewer tunnel, the smell only worsened. A fog of bile and rotting meats billowed over him, but he had to ensure the family’s dog hadn’t gotten stuck. When he went to place a hand on the side of the sewer wall, he found a disgusting substance crumble under it. Even in the faint light of his flashlight, he had known then it wasn’t rust. Rather it was blood, layers upon layers of it, coating the walls of the sewer as if an animal had covered them from years of messy, rabid eating.
Stumbling in a couple more steps, Wilkes remembered coming across the first promising clue to the poor dog’s whereabouts: a tuft of yellow fur rubbed into the mesh of blood. But no body. And all around him, the tunnel continued to breath, pulling him in and drafting him out. He remembered exploring just a little further in, wanting to be absolutely certain. That had been the final mistake.
Thirty yards or so back into the tunnel, Wilkes found the same dirt wall the father mentioned from their venture. At a glance, the officer found the description perfectly accurate, but then another gust of wind blew against him, trying to suck him down. Shining his flashlight to the side of the tunnel, Wilkes noted a faint opening to the side of the tunnel – a diverging sewer perhaps. It was buried behind the wall of dirt and roots, but the draughts of stagnant odors were endless. Wilkes needed to investigate further.
He remembered pointing his light into the opening, feeling the tunnel’s breath raise the hairs along his neck. When he leaned in closer, to see what lurked beyond, a massive, yellowed eye appeared in the beam of his light. He yelled out, stumbling back against the crumbly walls, the eye watching him. Then it disappeared for a moment, taking the gusts with it.
Heart pounding, Wilkes began to scoot back frantically towards the sewer’s opening, but not before a long, grotesque hand reached out of the abyss and wrapped around his waist. Breathless and trapped, Wilkes realized the wall of dirt was actually a door of sorts, fashioned from mud and sticks and bone, fitted to the sewer. The thing that had him now was intelligent, capable of building things and hiding from others. Its grotesque features bore into his as it crawled out through the door completely.
“Plaaaay,” it moaned, drenching the officer in foul breath. It held something limp in its other hand, something yellow and ragged, flopping about like a rag doll.
Wilkes’ blood turned to ice. The dog.
“Plaaaay,” it moaned again. “Dog no fun no more. Play with me.” As if to prove its point, the monster dropped the lab’s carcass on the ground, causing Wilkes’ to yell out.
“NO, YOU FUCKING ANIMAL! NO!” Fury had tinged Wilkes’ voice, even as he remained entrapped in the thing’s long, scabby claws. “How could you do that to a dog? H-how?”
The creature looked confused for a moment, tilting its massive, lopsided head. Then it grinned sickeningly. “Dog no want to play. I make him stay.”
Wilkes began to realize what had happened. When the dog had retrieved the ball beside the sewer opening, time and time again, the creature had watched, enraptured by this friendly animal. But when the lab refused to entertain it, and instead went back up the hill to his loyal owner, the creature grew angry.
The monster’s hand had tightened around Wilkes’ waist, anger beginning to cloud its features. “You bring me play now. Better than dog.”
The officer shook his head and struggled. “No fucking way.”
The monster squeezed his waist, threatening to crush his hips and rib cage. “You bring me play. Or I take everything from you. Your love ones. They can play too.”
Wilkes went quiet, wheezing in the monster’s fetid hand. In a tight spot, the officer could only look back at those hideous features, imagining his doom. Eventually, he ended up agreeing with the creature’s terms – to bring it Aidan or lose everything he held dear. When he first returned to the surface, he knew he’d appear insane if he went on about the creature. Only Aidan had seen it, and no one believed kids about these things.
At some point, while in his own home, he’d tried to tell his wife about his encounter. But a scratching sound at their door interrupted him. When he answered, he found a pile of bones on the stoop, with a message in blood scrawled on the pavement: Trees watching. A hot gust of foul air had blown against the officer, as if to reinforce the point, and up in the foliage of the surrounding forest, he could just make out the ugly creature, hanging amid the canopy, grinning back.
Each night, the creature whispered to him through the trees. Dark, ominous threats promising malice and ‘special time’ for his loved ones if he failed. Those whispered had urged him to cancel the patrol car at the last moment, to deny any strange claims made by the family he was investigating, to cremate the mother and destroy the will of the father. All of it, every last thing to lead an innocent kid into the malicious grips of an abomination.
And now, as Wilkes slipped down the ravine to follow Aidan into the sewer, the officer finally surmounted the courage to tell that creature one last thing: No.
As the officer entered the netherworld below the uppermost canopy of trees, the atmosphere darkened into a murky, almost oily light. It was as if everything were lit with heavy, lead lanterns, casting a muted light that distilled any coloration into base greys, browns, and dull greens. Still, Wilkes had no trouble finding the sewer.
The gaping maw of the tunnel, smothered in ivy and ripe with foul scents, loomed before him as he rounded its lip. From deep within the sewer, Wilkes could hear the cackles of the creature and the low groans of Aidan. At least the kid was alive. Taking a deep breath, Wilkes clicked on his flashlight and entered the tunnel.
He almost dropped the light when he saw the boy pinned up near the ceiling, dangling in one of the monster’s hands. Aidan’s face was bone-white as the creature slid a claw deep within his stomach, worming it around slowly and torturously. Wilkes almost puked as the creature crooned, “Soft. Warm. Not kill you. Just play. Play with insides a little. Like teddy bear.”
Aidan groaned again, feeling hot pincers of pain split through his skull. He briefly took notice of Wilkes, before his head slumped forward, passing out. The creature stemmed any blood-loss with his fingers and filthy leaves, but dropped them when Wilkes yelled out, “YOU SADISTIC FUCK!”
The ruse worked as the creature whipped its head around, only to receive a face full of 12-gauge steel-shot. Screeching, it dropped Aidan to the floor, who moaned again and clutched his belly. Blood seeped through the ragged leaves.
The creature tripped over his long legs, hunched in the tunnel and clawed at his face. Wilkes pumped and fired, again and again, tearing the monstrosity’s grim features into fresh gashes of green and black bile. It wriggled and writhed, cowering under the bombardment as the officer slowly approached, his flashlight dangling and his shots illuminating the tunnel.
With a pathetic moan, the creature cried out. “Nooooo. No fair. Stop. Not plaaaaay. Stoooop. It burns!” Wilkes walked right up to it for a final time lowered the gun to its jaw, and splattered its brains all over the sewer floor just as the creature swiped at his neck.
The monstrosity bucked and kicked feebly, thrashing in the sewer and clutching its ruined face while Wilkes dropped to his knees, breathing heavily. His hands were at his throat, struggling to hold the sloppy gash in place, but he knew the injury was severe. Slowly, he crawled over to Aidan, who’d gradually come around during the melee. The blood flow from his stomach had staunched for the time being, though it burned fiercely, and he looked at Wilkes slouched beside him.
“Wilkes,” I groaned, clutching my waist, “Your throat.”
The officer grimaced, holding onto his neck. His moustache was steeped in blood, but he managed to etch out a couple final words. “G-get out.”
I could barely hear him, over the pain-choked throws of the monster, but I understood. He wouldn’t last any longer than the creature. I began to rise up against the wall, using the curve to aid me. My insides churned, but nothing, hopefully, had been punctured. As I rose, I gave the officer one final squeeze of his hand as he slowly lay back.
Just as I almost stood though, another hand encircled my other ankle. It was covered in crusty, discolored gore, and held onto my ankle like a vise. Then the creature’s head, ruined and cratered, entered the glow of Wilkes’ flashlight. One large, blood-shot eye gazed up at me, pleading, full of pain. Through ruined jaws, it quaked. “P-please…play.”
I stared back at it, fumbling in my pocket with my one free hand, and then, with a scream, I buried Wilkes’ folding knife into its eye, all the way through the sludge. It croaked one final time, just as Wilkes sighed, his eyes going glassy. I leaned in, teeth grit together, grinding the knife in. “You killed my dog, you fucking shit stain. No one will ever play with you.”
I left the knife buried in its ruined skull, just to be sure. Then, straightening, I took hold of my wounded gut, and very slowly, stumbled out into the night. Getting back up to the top of the driveway took a long time. It was agonizing and endless, but I eventually crested the ivy ravine. My insides burned from being shifted around and were very likely infected. But, living in the moment, there were far greater worries. I wanted to be gone from that place for good. To wash it from my mind and move on.
With a pained grunt, I ventured into the house for the final time and called the police.
Those series of events took a long time to recover from. It’s been over ten years, I’m 21 now, living on my own, well the fuck away from Georgia, and in pretty good condition. It took awhile to come back from the damage that creepy fuck did to my guts, but fortunately, he didn’t tear anything. I guess he really was just playing.
Emotionally, I was a fucking wreck. Equal parts trauma and grief plagued me for years, before the graces of therapy resolved my issues. I got a foster home, wonderful surrogate parents in Nowhere, USA – no trees, no ravines, no fucking ivy. There were few other relatives on either of my parent’s sides, so their losses were attended mostly by myself, close friends, and one or two long-distance relations.
As far as the details of the case went, any evidence of the monster dissolved back into the forest. The police found zilch when it came to that fucker, but I could hardly care. My dad, the death of Wilkes, and the disappearance of the two officers staying with us that night, were all ruled freak homicide by an unknown assailant. Of course I was investigated, but it quickly became evident that I probably wasn’t able to make two full grown officers disappear on my own. Or kill my own father for that matter.
Wilkes…Wilkes disappeared too. I’m not sure whether the forest sucked him into their depths or something else took him, but no word of his whereabouts ever made it out of that ravine. Growing up, I struggled between hate and admiration for the man who’d both condemned my family to the clutches of this monster and sacrificed everything for me in the end. Either way, I ultimately felt sorry we were unable to find him, though searchers did locate the shotgun and folding knife in the sewer. I tossed the knife in the fire.
A top-to-bottom analysis was done of that tunnel, by the way. And the investigators only found dirt in there. No crusty blood, no false door, no hidden opening capable of housing a massive cretin. Just an old, abandoned sewer. I guess the ravine reclaimed it…or shifted it.
The more I thought about that uncanny underworld buried between the suburbs of Ivy Cascades, the more I began to suspect the entire landscape lived and breathed. An ancient, malicious force breeding creations as evil as hell and resisting against the slow encroachment of urban development.
Whatever transpired in that neighborhood though, it no longer concerned me. I’d escaped, survived, recovered. Now, living in a nondescript home off Buttfuck Boulevard in a speck of a town, I spent my days working quietly, keeping to myself, and taking care of my new lab.
I named him Dyson. He never roamed beyond my sight, never spent a second away from me, and never, ever went beyond my reach just so he could plaaay.
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