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My parents were hectic for a while. I was too drained, both emotionally and physically, to process the horrific scene. My mom called the police and demanded a cop car be sent to investigate, and my father placed a towel over the grisly scene as we waited for the police.
I was tempted to remind them of the thing I’d seen down in the ravine, but part of me knew they weren’t looking for monsters. They were looking for a psycho, a home invader and mutilator. My dad had grabbed the pistol again, as if the perpetrator would return. I didn’t protest. His presence made me feel better as I made my way out of the house and sat at the edge of the ravine.
Back in the house, I could hear my mom alternating between shouts and sobs, with quieter reassurances from my dad cropping up. I glared pointedly at the vast greenery below, searching for the creature. Nothing but swaying trees and ivy looked back, defying my probing gaze. As I sat there, my anger gradually subsided into pangs of fear. What was going to happen now?
The answer came in the form of a sleek blue-and-black Dodge Challenger pulling down our driveway. I watched passively as a pair of cops exited. One was a short, burly man with wispy blond hair and a thick mustache. The other was a black woman with her hair tied in a severe ponytail, but she smiled kindly at me.
“Hey, hun, we’re here to talk to your parents, are they inside?” She asked.
“Thank you. I’m Officer Dempsey, by the way, and this is Officer Wilkes.”
I nodded again. “I’m Aiden.”
“Nice to meet you, Aiden.” Officer Wilkes said, smiling. His mustache curled up against his nose, which almost made me laugh. “Well we’re gonna make sure everything’s safe, so you don’t have to be scared of anything. Fulton County’s best are on the case!”
I rolled my eyes at the cheesy words, but managed a half-hearted grin.
Officer Dempsey seemed to share my exasperation as she elbowed her partner and nodded for them to head inside. I watched them go knocking on the garage door, and then introduce themselves to my father. His eyes were dark as he gingerly shook their hands with his injured arm, explaining how my mom was still hysterical. They nodded understandingly and disappeared within. My dad stayed at the door for a moment, looking at me and then at the green void beyond. Even from across our driveway I could see something in his eyes had changed. He was beginning to believe me.
The officers did their best to act professional—asking questions and taking notes, Officer Dempsey consoling my mother while Wilkes confided in my dad. But it was difficult for them to treat the horrific scene pinned on our refrigerator with anything other than shock. That type of cruelty, particularly to an animal, was almost unheard of in this area. Though, as Officer Wilkes put it, “There’s a first for everything.”
After the police talked to my parents, they sat down at the table with me and asked me a series of questions.
“Aiden,” Officer Dempsey said in a gentle tone, “We understand you were the one to last see Dyson?”
I nodded. “He disappeared.” Technically it was true, but I knew going into the grisly details would only earn me more pity.
Dempsey nodded. “What was he doing when you last saw him?”
Being eaten, I thought. “He was fetching a ball.”
Dempsey jotted down notes and Wilkes rubbed his mustache. “And you and your dad hunt, right?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I fidgeted. “Pheasant and quail mostly. Game birds.”
“Good times,” Wilkes chuckled. “I hunt deer myself.”
“That’s wonderful,” Dempsey intervened, “But let’s go back to this…unfortunate incident. Wilkes would you mind taking care of the tail? I think we’ve gotten all the information we need, and no one wants to see it anymore.”
The officer nodded and stood, donning gloves and grabbing an evidence bag. My mom and dad were sitting in the living room, which lay adjacent to the kitchen. I could see the red in my mom’s eyes and the rings under my dads as he rubbed her back. Wilkes asked for their permission to clean up the crime scene, before bagging the limp yellow tail and washing away the blood.
I watched him wash away the evidence as Dempsey asked me a couple more questions. Was I distraught? Do I know who might’ve done this? Had I seen anything peculiar? And, finally, did I feel all right?
Honestly, I felt very little. Scared, but that was almost normal now. Uneasy, a little saddened, but also hopeful because now there was proof other than the word of a ten-year-old. The police said they were going to everything in their power to locate the sicko, reasoning he must’ve also been the reason behind our dog’s initial disappearance.
Ivy Cascades and the surrounding residences had a relatively tame past, with only a couple burglaries transpiring in the last decade. So something like a dead dog’s tail nailed to a refrigerator would be thoroughly investigated. One reassurance they made did catch my attention as the officers packed their stuff up and gave parting statements to my parents: they would be searching our ravine.
They wouldn’t find anything of course. I’d come to realize whatever tore apart our dog was too smart to be found. Perhaps the police would find something though.
For the rest of the day, I helped my parents with prepping the house. My mom kicked into high gear for distracting herself via efficiency. She scarcely talked to me or my dad, and focused on chores instead.
My dad was a little calmer. He was doing the “mulling things over in his mind” thing, trying to make sense of the sick prank and who may be responsible. Though neither of them said it, I knew my parents were rethinking what I’d told them. Now their hesitance to explore the circumstances of Dyson’s disappearance hinged on fear, rather than doubt. That made me feel better, because we were all on the same page and the police were investigating.
A couple hours later the officers returned, sweaty and worn out. My mom poured them some lemonade as they explained their findings.
“It’s incredibly difficult terrain,” Dempsey said, wiping her forehead. “I enjoy hiking from time to time, but this stuff is another beast. I can see why you’d think your dog just up and vanished.”
My dad nodded. “And the home invader?”
Dempsey shook her head, but it was Wilkes who answered. “No leads there, though we’ll need to expand our search area a bit to see if there’s been any other cases like this. Perhaps suspicious persons, similar crimes, pet disappearances.”
“And what about us?” My mom asked. She looked ashen. Her dark hair was limp with dust, and she wore a paint-stained sweatshirt over worn-out maternity pants. “Will one of you stay here? Like on a patrol?”
The officers looked to one another hesitantly. “We’ll send an officer around tonight.” Dempsey finished her lemonade and stood. “His name will be Officer Dunn. Buzz-cut, beard, tall and built like a line-backer, in case you want to check him out.”
My mom nodded, looking much more comfortable. I watched as my dad placed a hand on her shoulder, which she took and held to her cheek. They both seemed disoriented. “Thank you,” said my mom. “That’ll be fine.”
Wilkes and Dempsey stood together, getting ready to go. As they did, Wilkes called me over and said, “You’re a huntin’ man, right?” I nodded. “Well I almost forgot, but I have a little switchblade I’d love for you to have. Perfect for skinning ducks, pheasants, and most any type of bird.” He looked to my dad. “Mind if I give it to him?”
My dad said it was fine, and the officers lead us out to the police car, where he dug around for a moment, before snagging a small, well-worn blade. “I kept it sharp for many of my hunting years,” Wilkes said proudly, “You could castrate a fly with that thing.”
I took it, looking confused. “What does “castrate” mean?” I asked, thumbing the blade.
Wilkes suddenly coughed and rubbed his moustache, while Dempsey laughed form inside the car. “Er…your dad will explain it to you someday. Just take care of it and you’ll be fine, hear me?”
I nodded slowly, folding it in and out again as I walked slowly back to the garage. It took me a couple moments to realize my dad was still talking with Wilkes. I watched the officer rummage around again, before handing him something round and green in a bag. My dad took it, looked at it for a moment, and then shoved it in his pocket. He spoke with the officer a moment longer.
All I could make out was “Found it…ivy…nothing else…didn’t want the Missus to hear…I’m sorry…” Then Officer Wilkes shook my dad’s hand and slipped into the car. As the officers pulled away, my dad slowly walked back toward me, his eyes dull and distracted. He kept fiddling with whatever Wilkes had given him, but I didn’t have to ask why as I watched my father headed inside. I’d glimpsed the green object plenty of times, pulled it and tugged it about when it was attached to Dyson’s neck. It was his collar.
That night, sleep eluded me once more. Not in a restless or dramatic fashion, but in a crueler way, where you know you sleep will come eventually, but not for what will seem like hours. So I watched the shadows play on my ceiling. My bed lay facing the window, which offered a panoramic view of our endless backyard.
Patterns of leaves and branches as dark as oil danced across my vision, bobbing randomly and never resting. It took me a long time, longer than it should have, but I eventually came to a realization that one of those shadows wasn’t actually moving. It was thick and stood still as a rock. I guess I just thought it was a tree trunk, but even those swayed ever so lightly. This one stood still.
My blood ran cold. Only my eyes moved, tracking the shadows as I began to trace other details on my ceiling—arms branching from the figure’s shoulders just above my room, a long, long waist stretching across room where it dead ended at the window. Trembling I lowered my gaze to the window itself and peered hard into the night. I wished I hadn’t.
There it was, leering at me from trees. It was tall, twisted, and it peered into my bedroom with a face as dark as oil and crusted with dead leaves. It had black lips pulled back over stunted and discolored teeth, with gaping wounds spread over its face. Stringy hair attached to a grey-brown scalp fluttered in the wind as it finally saw me looking back. That made it smile, showing me an oily-black tongue behind its rotting teeth. It pressed its face against the glass and put one deformed hand the size of a car tire against my window.
There was something limp in its hand. The monstrosity slid whatever it was holding over my window, and it left behind a greasy trail of blood, pus, and whatever else it was oozing. Then I saw the flecks of yellow fur and groaned. Dyson.
The thing was using my dog’s carcass as a toy. Slowly spelling out crude words on my window in festering bile. P…L…A…Y.
This thing still wanted to play. It slopped my poor dog against the window with so much force I thought the glass might break, but instead a shower of foul meat splattered over the word. Then the thing pressed its face to the glass once more, looking at me with a disgusting grin.
I looked at its face, taking in the massive lesions crawling with maggots along its cheeks, the jagged, stumpy teeth, and the eyes, which were little more than muddy pits. Swallowing the lump in my throat, I sat up slowly and shook my head.
“N-no,” I croaked. “I won’t play.” Saying those words felt utterly ridiculous, especially to a twenty-foot forest monster that could very easily have plucked me from my bed.
The creature’s misshapen features contorted into childish disappointment. It almost seemed to pout as it retreated slowly from my window and disappeared from sight. The last thing I saw in its muddy eyes was a glare I’d often seen at school when I was younger. When some kid annoyed me to play with them and they’d go silent when I refused. And they always got their revenge in some underhanded way.
I stayed where I was for a long time; slowly watching the ribbons of meat slide down my window like I did with rain drops in my car. “Play” was still smeared there, a gristly echo of my denial to the creature. Part of me was beginning to wonder what would happen if I did end up giving into its demands. What if I sought it out and entertained its demands? Another notion sent a jolt through me. What if it had wanted to play with Dyson? And my dog refused out of loyalty to me. He already had someone to play with and the creature didn’t like that. And now I too had refused it.
I closed my eyes and began sobbing into my pillow. Then the screams started.
I jolted upright in my bed for what felt like the umpteenth time, wide-awake. It was coming from my parents’ room. I scrambled out of my bed and ran down the hall, where the screaming grew louder. My heart pulsed with each wail, and it wasn’t the terrified scream my mom had let out earlier that day. This one was full of pain.
I threw open their door and saw something out of hell. The creature had smashed open my parents’ window, covering the floor and bed with glass. It’s upper body loomed inside the bedroom, curled up against the ceiling and hunched over their bed. I see thick layers of moss, algae, and scabby chunks of flesh dripping from its frame. My mom struggled furiously at the hand it had around her waist, but she got nowhere. My dad had been thrown from the bed in the melee and he struggled for his pistol, but the creature slammed him across the room against the far wall.
The pistol flew toward me and clashed to my feet while my father lay stunned. His left arm had been shredded by the monster’s claws, leaving it in bits of broken bone held together by shreds of muscle. He peered up at the monster, his eyes glassy, before he croaked softly and toppled sideways, the shock knocking him unconscious.
The creature cackled in glee at his first victory. Then he turned his attentions to my mother, who still struggled and kicked. She only stopped when the creature looked her full in the eye and opened his rotting mouth.
The thing gurgled in a hideous breath “We play.”
My mom looked utterly confused as the thing squeezed her waist, shattering her hipbones and making her scream again. “N-noooo,” she moaned. “Nooooo.” Blood bubbled from her lips as she finally saw me cowering in the corner. “Get out,” she croaked, tears streaming from her eyes as she hung limp. “Get away, please.”
I only shook my head, my dad’s pistol now in my hands. The creature, thinking my mom was telling it to be gone, let loose a blistering screech. “Plaaaaaaaaay!” It screamed, and began beating her in against the floor as a child would a doll. Each blow made me wince as I crept forward. My mom hung from the creatures blackened hand, her skull cracked and one of her arms twisted in a bad way.
Quietly, I approached the creature, hot tears flooding my throat. “A-all right,” I sobbed, pulling back the hammer, “We’ll play.”
The creature smiled again, bearing its ugly teeth. It rose my mom up to me and I lifted the pistol in return. “See? We both have toys,” I choked out. Then I pulled the trigger.
BLAM! The first slug tore through his front tooth and blasted out of the back of his skull like a rotten pumpkin. Thick, oily liquid splattered over the room.
BLAM! The second round punched a hole in the creature’s face before he even knew about the first. Another splatter of brain matter and skull exploded from his head, causing him to screech and drop my broken mother.
BLAM! The third sheered off what I thought may have been its ear. It was hard to recall through the tears. I stepped over my mom as the creature struggled to retreat from the window.
“CHEEEEEEAT! YOU CHEAT!” It bellowed, weeping yellowish tears and covering its shattered face.
I made it to the window and finally saw the creature fully. Its legs were thin and scaly, like a chicken’s. Bony, black talons served as feet as the monstrosity backed toward the ravine. I fired again, dislodging a chunk of the thing’s hand with the powerful slug. “You wanted to play,” I seethed, leveling the gun, “I’m playing.”
I fired the final shot just as the creature leapt into the ravine, disappearing in seconds. A satisfying screech filled the air as it disappeared. I imagined that twisted underworld at the bottom of the ravine and could see why no one would find such a massive creature down there. This thing was part of the ravine. I could only hope I’d damaged it enough to kill it, but strongly doubted it.
Staggering back, I dropped the gun and slumped to my knees next to my mom. She lay face down on the floor, her hair thick with blood as I gently brushed it aside, sobbing. As soon as I moved her, I knew she was dead. The force of those blows against the floor had cracked her skull apart and concussed her over and over. I kissed her once and turned to my dad.
At the very least my father was breathing. Though his left arm had been sliced to ribbons, there appeared to be little damage done to any other part of his body. I did as he showed me and wrapped a bunch of sheets around his arm while he stirred. He winced in pain as I tried to prop him up. He looked blearily across the room and focused gauntly on my mom. A couple tears leaked from his eyes as he began to lose consciousness again. “I’m sorry,” he whispered.
I finished tying his bandage to the best of my ability and went to call 911. The operator responded within seconds and I reported the gristly scene to her through a combination of breathless sobs and chokes. Once I’d given her our address, I slumped against the wall where my dad dozed and watched the window. A thought tugged at the back of my skull as I waited. Something didn’t fit in all of this. I rose to my feet and slipped from my parent’s room to go to the front door. From there I looked up our driveway and confirmed my suspicions.
There was no patrol car in sight. The policeman Wilkes and Dempsey had promised never came.
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