Let me tell you a story...
The ramshackle structure sat in the middle of what was once rolling green fields dotted with red poppies. Spruce trees were scattered in clusters, not quite a forest but a pleasant wooded refuge. Before, it had smelled sweet, like the penny candy store the girl’s visited every Wednesday with their nanny Kate. Before, they took holidays in a quaint cabin on this very countryside, lavender bushes growing next to the doorway helping them dream peacefully as the aroma floated in on the night breeze. That was before. Before the Gish army declared war. Before they unleashed a powerful bomb in the center of Drewry that leveled most of the country with an icy blue halo of frost. Before the soldiers had taken them. Before their parents, King and Queen Newsom had been put to death, hung with barbaric glory like a theatrical production in the center of the kingdom.
Now, Elizabeth, Penelope, and Anne sat secluded in what was no more than an oversized shed. The interior walls were cheap wood hastily nailed together, unfinished and warping due to the wet and cold. A distinct smell of rot was constantly present reminding them of the corpses that decayed in the street after the attack on Drewry. People went from looking like mannequins discarded in the street to zombie Halloween decorations to sticky pools of puss and piles of gray bone. Something about the bomb sped up their decomposition, even nuclear winter couldn’t slow it down.
Nuclear winter meant it was nearly impossible to go outside, unless you were a Gish, they were accustomed to the frozen tundra. They came and went as they pleased wrapped in layers of down and scarves, trampling through the ice and snow. Ash rained down from the sky like black snowflakes. The girls were trapped inside the shack. They stayed stuck to the orange and yellow flowered couch as near to the eternally burning fire as they could be. They were chained there, but they wouldn’t have moved if they could, except to use the restroom. There was a peeling oak coffee table which they used to eat the one meal a day that the soldiers served them. A coffee colored leather arm chair sat at the head of the room where the commander liked to ominously eye them; taunt them. They still wore the frilly lace and crinoline dresses they had donned when they were captured. Elizabeth, the eldest at fourteen, wore blue, Penelope, twelve, wore yellow, and Anne, only nine, wore pink. Each of them had long, chocolaty brown hair which was usually well cared for and tied in a bow. Now, though, their heads were stringy and matted; hair wild like children from before civilization.
Heavy boots stomped across the worn and broken wood floors. Two Gishian soldiers in gray uniforms with blue bands around their biceps appeared in the meager kitchen area. They placed long rifles on the floor against the wall and adjusted their black leather belts from which a long knife and a pistol hung. They were always armed. One began brewing a pot of coffee in a rusty silver percolator.
“Zat’s not enough grounds. Arh! Vill be veak, like you,” the tall bald one, Aleksandr, complained.
“Commander zays rations are in short zupply. Next time you make und deal vith his pitching,” answered the blonde, Bruno.
The girls watched quietly with somber expressions as the two mumbled back and forth about the cold and being tired and how they wished they were on the front lines instead of stuck here in the wilderness.
The coffee bubbled loudly in the percolator like tiny bullets being shot on a battlefield, and when it stopped, Aleksandr poured a cup for his comrade and himself. No sugar or cream; not even the Gish had luxury in the wasteland.
Penelope nudged Elizabeth quietly and stared at her from the corner of her eye. Elizabeth nodded almost imperceptibly.
“Excuse me sirs,” Elizabeth spoke in a voice like a mouse, “may we use the restroom?”
The two men in the kitchen were laughing loudly and slurping their coffee with the manners one might expect from a sow. After waiting in silence for a long moment with no reply Elizabeth tried again.
“Excuse me, will you let us use the restroom or shall we go on the couch again?”
Aleksandr huffed dramatically and slammed his cup on the counter. He marched to the couch removing the keyring from his belt.
“You do zat akain und I’ll make you uze your pretty little lips to hoover it up,” he spit into Elizabeth’s face.
“If you would simply pay attention to us we wouldn’t have to do such horrible things,” she said.
The girls had used the couch as a restroom once before, but it wasn’t because they were being ignored and could no longer hold it. They had soiled both themselves and the couch with the hope that it would force the Gish to unchain them in order to allow them to clean up. Once unchained they would make a break for the door and run into the darkness of night, hiding among the trees, the snow, the ash, and pray for a safe escape. What the three sisters hadn’t planned was the utter cruelty of the commander. He allowed them to stew in their own wet, never offering the opportunity to clean themselves. Never removing them from the couch. As a result, their dresses were stained and the whole room smelled like an outhouse. The girls had small sores on their thighs that they attempted to clean with the icy water that dripped from the bathroom faucet.
Aleksandr unlocked Elizabeth and she rubbed the bright pink indentations that encircled her wrists and ankles. Then, he moved to kneel in front of Penelope. He had just pushed the key into the lock when the commander appeared in the doorway, his gray beard glinting with melting frost.
“Tsk tsk tsk,” he wagged his finger, “one at a time girls. You know zee rulez.”
Penelope sighed deeply as Aleksandr stood quickly to salute his senior officer with his left hand stiff, like a blade across his chest. Elizabeth stood waiting, defeated, for permission to be excused.
“Vat are you vaiting for, instruczions? Go! No funny buziness!” The commander shouted. “You,” he turned to Aleksandr, “how many timez do I have to tell you one at a time? Zey get to be a vorze headache ven zey zink zey’re zmart.”
“Apologies commanter,” Aleksandr bowed.
“Go. Make yourzelf uzeful now,” the commander grunted.
Aleksandr scurried off with his head down into the tiny kitchen where he and Bruno picked up their rifles and exited leaving the commander alone with the girls.
Commander Lipsitz was a tall slender man. He had a gray beard and eyebrows, but his hair was black as a raven. It was a jarring contrast when he removed his hat and sat down in his favorite leather chair. He hunched over and rubbed his hands together, blowing his hot breath on them to warm them from the cold. He sat back, the hard leather squeaking and protesting as he dug himself in and found a comfortable position with one leg crossed over the other.
“Von’t be long now mein little princessez. Zoon, zee var vill be over.” He said casually smiling and raising his eyebrows at Penelope and Anne.
“You’re going to surrender, then?” Penelope said.
Commander Lipsitz laughed, “Funny girl. You don’t know. You have been gone too long. Your kingdom iz in ruinz. Your people are freesing, schtarving, dezperate.”
“They will never surrender,” Elizabeth said from the doorway.
“Elizabeth,” he addressed her without looking. “Come und zit. Redo your shackles. Be a good girl. I vas chust telling your zisters, zee people of Drevry are zo desperate zat I hear zey have taken to eating zeir pets! Doggies und kitties are dinner now. Isn’t zat nice, Annie? Vould you like to eat a kitty? I could get you one for dinner.”
Annie’s face remained emotionless, but a single tear trickled down her cheek. She wiped it away quickly before the commander had a chance to take notice.
“If you don’t like kitties,” the commander went on, “zere is also a rumor zat zome farmers on zee countryside turned cannibal und ate a beggar who schowed up seeking schelter. Perzonally, I hear human meat is schringy.”
“That is quite enough!” Elizabeth shouted.
The commander leaned up in his chair, pulled back his arm, and slapped her hard across the face. It felt like hot pin pricks across the surface of her skin and she could feel her blood rush to the surface.
“Hey!” Penelope yelled trying to reach for her sister, but she was ultimately unable due to her restraints.
“Mind your manners,” Commander Lipsitz smiled. “Zee good news: zee Head of State has agreed to zurrender in exchange for aid und your zafe return.” He raised his eyebrows, leaned in with a smile and clapped. Then, he regained his serious demeanor, “Ve vill accept zese conditions, but zey vill get nothing. Zee surviving leaders vill be executed, your people vill be placed in vork camps, und you vill be dead before ve reach zee boarder. Isn’t it lovely ven zings vork out?”
“If you’re planning to kill us, why don’t you just do it now? Why keep us alive,” Penelope asked.
“I don’t like you today yellow one. You know vy you live. I’ll be happy enough to spill your blood ven zee time comes.”
There was quiet for a long while between the three princesses and the commander. The fire glowed and crackled like rubies and oranges being blown in a tornado by a hot southern wind. Yet, the room was still cold enough to see their breath. Cold enough that their skin popped up with tiny little bumps protesting the frigid air, begging for warmth, that refused to go away no matter how much they scrubbed at them. No matter how close the girls tried to huddle together.
Aleksandr had brought them tiny bowls of cold porridge, and although they detested it, they forced it down willing it to fill their bellies. It was sticky and thick like glue. It had no flavor, but it was better than what the people of Drewry were suffering through.
The girls leaned in on each other against the back of the couch. The thing was so old the padding that once propped up the back was useless, and the springs inside must have rusted and stuck in a locked position. As soon as they leaned back, they sunk in. Elizabeth and Anne rested their heads on Penelope’s shoulders. Their eyes were closed, but they didn’t sleep. They listened silently to the activity around them.
There was an order to the evening. Aleksandr and Bruno cooked dinner. When everyone finished the girls were to go to sleep. The men drank coffee and smoked rolled cigarettes. This filled the dwelling with thick musky smoke. It never really cleared out because they couldn’t open a window. Instead, it eventually just settled so that everything was covered in a fine layer of yellow grime. Eventually, the soldiers would tire. The underlings left their belts on the counter and went to a tiny room across from the bathroom to sleep on cots. Commander Lipsitz slept in the armchair in long white underwear with his feet propped up on the coffee table.
The commander had been noisily snoring for over an hour when Elizabeth opened her eyes. She looked around the room illuminated only by the amber glow of the fire. The flames pranced across the sleeping commanders face, but he was still as ice. She poked Penelope and Anne.
Penelope quietly reached under her legs and removed the keyring that Aleksandr had been using to let them visit the restroom. When he had been interrupted by Lipsitz he left it in the lock and Penelope carefully removed it before he had a chance to notice. He had spent the rest of the day cursing and looking for the ring; it never occurred to them to search the princesses.
Anne lifted her head and reached her cuffed wrists over to Penelope. She carefully unlatched all of their locks and the girls were suddenly free to move around. Anne stayed near Commander Lipsitz. She had little interest in fighting or exploring. She just wanted to make a quick exit with her sisters and find the way home. Elizabeth and Penelope, however, crept into the kitchen. They pulled out drawers and inspected dining ware. What they found grew the fire within their angry souls. The Gish had stolen their mother’s prize tea service as well as her silver. They whispered for Anne and started stuffing spoons, butter knives, and forks into their dresses. Their minds longed only for something of their mother’s to keep close to their hearts. In their haste the silver clinked and clattered, causing a much greater commotion than they realized.
Aleksandr appeared in the doorway of the tiny kitchen rubbing his sleepy eyes.
“Stop vith zee noise. I’m trying to sleep,” he mumbled.
When he caught sight of the three girls his slate gray eyes popped open and he ran for them. Elizabeth and Penelope hurled themselves toward the discarded belts that rested on the counter. Elizabeth grasped a long, serrated silver knife, and Penelope a pistol. Anne ran into the small living area.
“Stay back,” Elizabeth warned.
“I’ll shoot if I have to,” Penelope said.
Aleksandr put his hands up but didn’t look at all phased. He began taking slow steady steps toward the girls.
“Stop. Stay back,” Elizabeth said.
He smiled and lunged, but Elizabeth was not willing to give up her freedom. She lunged too and dug the blade into Aleksandr’s soft, fleshy belly. To be sure the job was finished she twisted the knife and he let out a long, loud grunt.
Elizabeth removed the knife, dripping with blood and wiped it on her dress. Aleksandr fell to the ground with a thud. They needed to go now, before the others came. It was too late.
Elizabeth saw a bright flash of light, a reflection on silver, and then Penelope screamed and dropped to the ground; shiny crimson, like nail polish, spilling from her neck.
“Now ve’er even,” Bruno’s voice said in her ear. “Go be good girl und zit back down.”
“No,” Elizabeth said backing against the counter.
She looked for Anne. She was still in the living area. She cried silently, a single tear on her cheek, but the commander was gone. Elizabeth felt something thick and rough wrap around her neck. She reached up with her free hand; a dish towel. It tugged her pulling her backward so that her back arched and she was pressed against the counter. The commander’s face hovered over hers. She waved the knife in the air.
“Naughty, naughty girls,” he smiled. “You can cooperate, or vee can kill you tonight. No schkin off my back. Either vay you die eventually.”
“Kill me now,” Elizabeth said. “I’d rather die fighting.”
“Ok zen,” Commander Lipsitz shrugged.
Elizabeth kept swinging the knife in the air, she kept fighting for breath. She could hear Anne choking and sobbing in the living area. Elizabeth made contact with Bruno slicing his face, which was just enough distraction. She grabbed the second gun out of the other belt on the counter and choked out Anne’s name and tossed it.
“Run Anne. Keep the forks!”
Those were Elizabeth’s last words before Commander Lipsitz tightened the towel causing the blood vessels in her eyes to pop, her airway to collapse, and her oxygen to run out.
Anne fled through the door with the pistol she didn’t know how to use and a dress full of silver forks that stuck frozen against her skin. She trudged through the snow, in the black of night, in the wintery tundra. Smoldering ashes falling from the sky clung to her, gathering on her dress and hair, a reminder that death was rampant everywhere. She attempted to hide among the trees. Attempted to cover her footsteps.
The Gish would come for her any minute. Come to kill her like her parents, like her sisters. Anne was the last of her species. The last of original humanity; who once truly understood what it meant to live with freedom and peace and brotherhood. It was up to her to teach the others. It was up to her to rebirth the world.
#HumpdayHorror #Fantasy #NuclearWinter Copyright Kira McKinney
*Based on a true story*
“Bis-Mil-Lah! Nooooooo we will…”
“Turn it down, moron,” Christin shouted over my operatic singing.
“Let him go,” I sang in a high-pitched falsetto that could have woken the dead.
“Dude, I said turn it down.” She barked and turned the knob on the car stereo eliminating Freddy Mercury’s perfectly toned voice.
“That’s the best part.”
“So, we can restart it later.”
“What’s the big deal, anyway?” I huffed from the passenger seat.
“Uh, I’m pretty sure we aren’t supposed to be up here this late. We probably shouldn’t draw attention to ourselves.”
“Seriously? Look around. Do you see any other cars?” I waved my hand at the windshield and looked out all the windows of the old rusted out ’86 Ford Escort we affectionately called “The Beast”.
“Still. Rangers patrol up here. We don’t need a fine or anything. I’m sure we needed to come up here at 11:30 at night, anyway. We could have watched a movie.”
“Yeah, cuz that was working out,” I argued in the dim light of The Beast’s interior. “We argued for like an hour and couldn’t decide on one. It’s Saturday, we were bored. Ghost hunting at Lost Boys seemed like a viable cure for teenage boredom.”
“We’ve been here a million times, Kim.”
“Maybe something will happen on the million and first.”
“Let’s go,” I urged opening the car door.
As the door protested, heavy against my efforts, headlights shined directly into the passenger window; blinding me. I hesitated. Then, I quickly pulled my leg back inside the car and slammed the door, locking it behind me. Christin locked her door as well.
“Is it a park Ranger?” I asked as my eyes tried to readjust to the darkness of the woods.
“I don’t think so,” Christin answered. “Looks like a Pontiac.”
“Who the hell comes up to Blue Knob at midnight on a Saturday?” I grumped.
We looked at each other and then stared at the dark interior of the white car parked perpendicular to us. Their front end looked directly into my passenger window. For ten or more minutes there was an intense stand-off. We could see movement inside but had no idea who might be in it. Was it a couple there to park? Someone else ghost hunting? A madman looking for stupid kids wondering around the isolated woods in the middle of the night?
“Maybe we should leave.” Christin said.
“No. Just wait.”
“Kim, I don’t think they’re leaving.”
“They’re either going to leave or get out.” I said.
The inhabitants of the other car surrendered first. The driver’s side door swung open, followed by the passenger door. Two guys, about our age and a short, brown-haired girl climbed out of the car. They stretched, walked to the front of their car, and then smiled and waved at us.
I smiled at Christin, “Ghost hunters.”
We climbed out of the Escort and met at the front of the maroon car. The three from the Pontiac walked casually over to greet us.
“Hey,” the driver said. “I’m Dave. That’s Mike and Angie.”
Dave wasn’t so bad. He was tall, lean and muscular; dressed nice. Mike and Angie were typical hippie wanna-be types. The scent of pungent patchouli wafted right off them and into my nose.
“I’m Kim.” I said and outstretched my hand.
“Ghost hunting?” Dave asked flashing a toothy white grin.
“Yeah. Boring Saturday, so we figured why not.”
“Same with us,” Angie said.
“You guys ever been up here before?” Dave asked.
“Yeah, more than is probably considered normal.” Christin said.
“Do you have flashlights?” Mike asked looking at our empty hands.
“Nah,” I said, “we know the way. It isn’t too far in.”
“We haven’t been here before.” Dave said. “Do you mind if we come with? We have flashlights.”
“Sure. That’s cool.” I said.
The five of us gathered in a group. The boys turned on the flashlights and shined their yellow orbs into the small opening that led into the thick woods. It was mid-autumn. The forest floor of the Central Pennsylvania Alleghenies was littered with the decaying flesh of red, orange, and yellow leaves as they began to rot and turn brown. Most of the maples and oaks were bare, but some still clung to their foliage; a desperate attempt to fend off the coming winter. Had it been daylight, the woods would have been beautiful, in the blackness of night they looked like a cemetery. A chilly wind whipped at our backs, flinging the girl’s hair in a tornado, scented by mildew and moss.
“Brrrr,” Angie protested, “it’s colder than I thought.”
“It’s always colder up here,” I said. “It’s this way.”
I started walking toward the light beaming into the trees. The thin dirt path was partially covered by leaves, but I knew the way to the Lost Boys monument by heart. Our hunting party crunched over fallen acorns and trampled through piles of sticky damp leaves, secretly hoping no snakes were hiding inside. A small arched wooden foot bridge over a trickling stream creaked as we crossed over it. It was a strange decoration in the middle of rarely traveled woods. The path twisted and turned, bent up over small hills and down naturally made steps. Christin twisted her ankle for the fiftieth time on the exposed roots that created the steps.
“I’m okay!” She called out as she limped on.
I chuckled to myself. Without fail, she did it nearly every time. Finally, a tall limestone monument came into view. It was shiny, light gray, and carved with an inscription.
“That’s it guys,” I said.
“Oh, cool,” Dave said and ran over to it with his flash light.
“Hey,” I said to Christin, “what’s with the fence?”
“I don’t know. Must be new.”
“Dedicated to the memory of James and Gregory Connor who were lost to all who loved them October 18, 1859.” Dave said.
“What’s with the fence?” Mike asked.
“I don’t know,” I said. “A lot of people come up here ghost hunting. Probably some jerks vandalized it or something.”
“So, how does the legend work?” Angie asked.
“It’s nothing really,” Christin answered. “Like, if you’re quiet you’re supposed to be able to hear them laugh or something. People say they have seen shadow figures here.”
“Really?” Dave asked. “Shadow figures?”
“Yeah, the kids.” I answered.
“Not if they see shadow figures. Not according to legend.” Dave said.
“What?” I laughed. “They got lost is the woods and died from exposure. Standard horrible death stuff. It isn’t supernatural.”
“That’s the authority’s story,” Dave said. “My great-great grandmother was their neighbor. She said the story the cops told the papers was wrong.”
“Because she witnessed it?” I laughed.
“No, because she was a witch, a medium. She helped with the investigation.”
I rolled my eyes.
“Do you want to hear the story or not?” Dave condescended.
“Alright, hot shot,” I said finding a suitable spot on the ground to get comfortable. “Tell me what really happened.”
“Ok, so, it was about this time of year, October 1859. The Connor family had a wood cabin about two miles from here.”
* * *
The early morning rays of autumn passed through the multi-colored leaves that clung to the trees, holding on to the remnants of life, and filtered through the windows like a ruby fire. It danced on the modest walls of the Connor family’s wood cabin home and created a rainbow prism on the breakfast table as it passed through Mary’s old crystal flower vase at its center. The vase sat empty now, a tombstone the Connor boys could reminisce over daily since Mary’s passing two years earlier. It was only the flu, but in cold winters, pneumonia was quick to call Death to your door.
“Papa, can’t we come hunting with you?” Gregory pleaded over his eggs.
Gregory, seven, was the younger of the Connor boys and had felt a deep sense of loss and abandonment when Mary passed away. Jacob was nine and had assumed the role of caretaker when their father had to be gone. The pair were seldom seen apart.
“Not this time, Gregory.” Marcus, their father, explained. “I won’t be gone long. Two days, maybe. Just long enough to stock up on meat for a few weeks.”
“I could help hunt. I’m a good shot now.” Jacob said.
“I can keep Gregory quiet.” Jacob added.
“I’ll stay very quiet.”
“No boys. Not this time. I need you to watch the house, cut firewood, feed the chickens and keep their coupe warm.” Marcus said.
“Yes sir,” the boys answered.
After breakfast Jacob gathered the dishes to wash in the steel basin in the small kitchen area. Marcus loaded the dusty potbelly stove with fresh firewood, and Gregory sat in a rocking chair drawing in the sun.
“Now boys, don’t stray far from home while I’m gone.” Marcus instructed.
“Yes Papa,” Jacob said.
“Gregory,” he called as he pulled on his jacket and swung his rifle over his shoulder. “Did you hear me? Don’t wonder into the woods. There are bears out there looking for a last meal before hibernation.”
“Yes sir,” Gregory muttered not looking up from his drawing.
Marcus walked over to the window where Gregory sat and kissed his sandy blonde hair. His eyes drifted down to the dark drawing speckled with flakes of charcoal. Gregory had drawn a bizarre shadow with long claws and sharp fangs hovering over a frightened deer. Marcus pulled back.
“What’ve you drawn my boy?”
“The shadow man that lives in the woods. I see him sometimes when I get firewood at dusk.”
Marcus ruffed the hair on Gregory’s head and stomped across the rotting wooden floor to where Jacob stood over the wash basin in the kitchen.
“Keep an eye on your brother. I won’t be gone long.”
“Yes sir.” Jacob answered.
“You’ll be able to come soon. Right now, your brother needs you here. He’s still young up here,” he pointed to his head, “and in here,” Marcus pointed to his heart.
“I’ll keep him busy.”
“And watch he doesn’t wander off. His imagination.”
Jacob nodded. Marcus patted his back and looked over the open living area one last time. Then, he grabbed the rest of his equipment and left through the creaky red front door.
Jacob cleaned the breakfast dishes and emptied the water from the basin behind the cabin. Then, he and Gregory went to work chopping wood and piling it next to the front door. The halved sections of maple, oak, and birch were stacked high. Gregory carried arm-fulls as he scaled the mountain of wood halfway up the side of the dwelling and placed them neatly on top. When Jacob’s arms felt like rubber and he could no longer wield the axe they sat on tree stumps around the fire pit next to the house to rest.
“I could’ve helped hunt,” Jacob lamented.
“I could’ve kept quiet.”
“You’re never quiet. That’s why we couldn’t go.”
“Yes I am. I’m plenty quiet when I draw.”
“I could kill squirrels and rabbits with my .22.”
“I could carry them,” Gregory said beaming. “We could surprise Papa. We could hunt around the house while he’s gone, for stew meat.”
“He said not to go in the woods.”
“We don’t have to. Just around the house here.”
“It could help out,” Jacob said. “Ok. I’ll get my gun.”
Jacob ran into the house and into the bedroom he and his brother shared. The afternoon sun left the room abandoned, dark as a well. Jacob held his hands in front of him to prevent a banged knee on a bedpost, found his way to his bed, and dug through the treasures he had stowed underneath until he located the pine case that held his rifle. His eyes had adjusted to the dark and he took a moment to inspect the shadow of his gun. Then, he retrieved the pouch of bullets from the pine box. Jacob’s head jerked at an unexpected scraping sound. It was ominous and his skin electrified when he heard it. The noise was like the thick claws of a giant animal tearing apart the dense flesh of an oak tree. Frozen, stared into the closet where the sound originated, but saw nothing. Only a vast emptiness peered back at him. Jacob squinted, certain he recognized movement, and out of the nothing appeared two glowing red eyes. Jacob screamed and ran for the door, slamming his hip into Gregory’s bed post on the way out. When he reached the fire pit the late afternoon sun stung his eyes and he choked on the cold autumn air.
“What happened, Jacob?”
“Nothing. I thought I saw…” he struggled through gasps. “I thought I saw something.”
“Like a spider?”
“No, a…it isn’t important.” Jacob shook off his fear and steadied himself. “Are you ready?”
“Uh huh,” Gregory nodded. “I have the varmint bag,” he swung a canvas bag that was on his shoulder.
“Ok let’s go. Be quiet.”
* * *
As the sun began to disappear behind the trees the color of the October sky transitioned from blue to orange to pink on the horizon. The woods grew dark and long shadows cast by the trees looked like the men on stilts from traveling carnivals. The boys kicked through piles of mottled brown and yellow leaves thick and damp with dew that never got the opportunity to dry in the shade. They had travelled further from home than they realized, never stopping to check their route, searching for prey that hadn’t yet settled in for winter’s long slumber.
“I’m getting tired,” Gregory whined.
“Just a little longer. One little rabbit isn’t going to get us out of trouble for hunting.”
“We can say it was by the house.”
“We’re already out. We might as well keep looking.” Jacob scolded. “Be quiet. You’re going to scare them away.”
The boys trudged along on their path until they came to a clear stream that trickled casually over smooth stones. Abruptly, they stopped and eyed each other suspiciously.
“Where did that come from?” Jacob said.
“What do you mean?”
“There’s no crick near the house.”
“How far did we go?” Gregory panicked.
The two stood at the edge of the water and attempted to look at their surroundings, but the sun had nearly set and all they were left with were the dim remnants of a pink sailor’s sky. There was nothing for them to see except the stream, the leaves, and the trees.
“Don’t panic,” Jacob said. “We’ll just walk back the way we came.”
“Ok,” Gregory answered.
“Walk fast now,” Jacob said picking up his pace. “We couldn’t have gone far.”
They picked up speed but stopped suddenly when they heard a crunchy grinding noise echo through the trees. Jacob’s ears perked up. He knew that sound. The same unsettling claws against timber noise that had startled him back in his bedroom.
“What was that?” Jacob whispered.
“Jacob,” Gregory choked. “Arglath, he-he doesn’t like people in the woods at night.”
“What,” Jacob said. “What are you talking about?”
“The shadow man. He won’t like this.”
“Stop it, Gregory.”
The forest was soon gray, lit only by the iridescent glow of the waning gibbous moon. The barren trees had slowly become skeletal with the onset of night. The forest, some wicked place harboring nightmares instead of the vibrant world of fantasy it represented in the warm glow of the sun. The Connor boys carried fear and longing in their bellies as they realized they were lost and traveling in circles. Their breath came out in white puffs of fine wet mist as the temperature dropped. They fought the cold by trudging through the moonlight, pleading to the night for survival.
“Hello,” Jacob yelled. “Anybody. Can anybody hear me?” His voice was cracking and hoarse.
“It’s no use, Jacob. I don’t think we’re near home. No one can hear us.”
“Maybe there are other hunters out here. We have to try.”
“You’ve been yelling for an hour.”
“Help!” Jacob screeched.
A rustle in the bushes caught both of the boys’ attention. Jacob pushed Gregory behind him and held him there with his arm. He peered into the darkness seeking the thing that created the noise but saw no animal or man.
“Hello, who’s there?” Jacob asked the darkness.
He was greeted with silence.
“Maybe an animal.”
“Hello,” Jacob asked again.
“Stay here,” Jacob instructed. “I’m going to look.”
“No, I’m coming.”
“Uh uh. No.”
“Fine. Be quiet.”
The boys took careful footsteps toward the small bush that had emitted the noise. The leaves under their boots crunched and shuffled. Gregory stepped on an acorn that cracked loudly.
“Shhhh,” Jacob scolded.
There was nearly no moonlight seeping onto the bush. Jacob closed his eyes as he came closer to it, hoping they would adjust to the tarry darkness faster. When he opened them, he was nearly on top of the thing. He reached out and pushed away the branches. Through the leaves and thin twigs, he could see light colored fur wet and shiny with dark liquid. He dug deeper into the bush and found a leg.
“Here, help me,” he said to Gregory as he stooped on the ground.
“Grab this,” he instructed.
The two boys tugged, and from the bush they pulled a young doe. She had a gaping wound on her neck and she was drenched in blood. Her eyes were open and set in a wide stare as if she had been terrified before she had been murdered. The light from the moon reflected in her honey brown irises, lifeless.
“What happened to her?”
“Probably a mountain lion.”
“We would have heard that,” Gregory protested.
“Not if it happened a while ago.”
“That looks fresh.”
Jacob hesitated, “I don’t know.”
“There,” cried Gregory. “It’s Arglath.”
Jacob looked up at Gregory and followed his gaze into the woods. Just beyond the bush were a pair of glowing red eyes staring at them menacingly. They were attached to a figure that was larger than any man could naturally stand. Enormous and threatening it was blacker than the night, and yet, transparent enough to see the trees beyond. The shadow man was real.
The boys stood cemented to the earth as Arglath floated soundlessly toward them.
“What does he want?” Jacob asked.
“He doesn’t like people in the woods at night.”
“What will he do?”
“The…the deer.” Gregory stuttered
Arglath bared down upon them. Denser now like coal smoke and soot intermingling. A tuft of haze reached out revealing razor-like claws that tried to snatch the boys. They dove to escape Arglath’s clutches. Another arm reached out gripping for their bodies, seeking the tender flesh it could shred.
“Run!” Jacob screamed.
Gregory took off through the woods. Jacob could run faster but let Gregory stay ahead so he would be the first claimed by Arglath. The cold night air pricked their cheeks, burned their lungs as they gasped for breath. They slipped on wet leaves decaying on the ground as the shadow man nipped at their heels; stabbed at their backs and tugged on their boots licking his lips in anticipation.
“I can’t go anymore,” Gregory cried.
“Keep running,” Jacob commanded.
“I’m so tired.”
Gregory was slowing. Jacob by his side now, put a hand on his back urging him on. Arglath lurched, claws outstretched, and the boys felt themselves lifted from the ground as their legs fought to keep moving against the dirt. They screamed and bellowed; pleaded for mercy from the shadow man, the demon in the woods. He showed them none. He opened his gnarled evil jaws and sucked the life from Jacob, and then from Gregory; leaving their bodies to become one with his woods.
* * *
“Two days later Dad comes home and the whole town looks for them, great-grandma gets involved, she is the one that led them to the bodies. She had a dream about the deer or something. Anyway, that’s how it happened.” Dave said.
“Yeeaah, ok.” I chucked. “Crazy shadow demon haunts the woods at night. Spooky. Are you guys ready?”
“I am if you are,” Mike said
“Totally. Bad vibes up here.” Angie said
We started the hike back to our cars separated in our original groups. The three newcomers in front with their flashlights, Christin and I in the rear.
“Nothing as usual,” Christin huffed.
“Whatever, fun story this time.”
I ran face first into Dave’s back crushing my nose, which sent a painful shock into my eyes. I saw flickering buttery stars for several seconds.
“Hey, what are you guys doing.” I complained as I rubbed my face.
Everyone was silent, breathing heavily. I noticed Dave was shaking. I put my hands on his shoulders and moved him to the side so I could see what the problem was. The dull yellow from the flash lights scurried in the air like confused mice. Then, I saw them. Two red eyes in the darkness.
#LostBoys #HumpdayHorror #KiraMcKinney Copyright Kira McKinney
“What the hell are you doing?!”
I heard him struggle against the leather straps holding him to the shiny silver table I used to dissect my specimens. He shouldn’t have woken up at all. I must have miscalculated his weight.
“What the hell are you doing!” I leaned in smiling, mocking him. The ends of my long blonde curls brushed his cheeks, his neck, and lips.
He spat at my hair, unable to brush it away. His hands and feet were bound to the table so tightly I could see the leather cutting into his skin.
“Shit, Monica, I thought this was a hook-up. What the hell kind of freaky shit is this?” He wailed and whined like a child. Pleading, but with a measure of hope that I was into some kind of sick role-play.
“Stop bawling. It’s pathetic,” I snapped and grabbed the anesthesia mask, forcing it over his mouth and nose. “Now, breathe like a good boy and it will be over before you know it.”
He hyperventilated at first, then his breathing slowed and his eyes rolled back toward his forehead. I closed his eyelids and reached for my glistening freshly opened scalpel.
* * *
I sat in Dr. O’Leary’s waiting room listening to the soothing sounds of whatever rainforest cd she had playing over her sound system. Soft echoes of birds and frogs chirped under rain falling through thick leaves. I hated them. I squirmed in the pink leather chair and it squeaked under my dark jeans. I rubbed at my arms, covered in goosebumps, because the office was always freezing. The clock on the wall began to tick louder and louder. One minute, then two, passed by like lifetimes. I curled and stretched the fingers on my left hand, forgetting. A shock of searing pain radiated up my forearm and I winced automatically. With my palm outstretched, I examined the white gauze bandages wrapped delicately around the base of my index and middle fingers. Like an apparition revealing itself, a pool of scarlet blood appeared on the fabric. I gazed at it as it grew larger, hoping I hadn’t done any major damage.
“Monica,” Dr. O’Leary said with her bright voice from the doorway.
My head shot up with a forced smile plastered across my lips, and I curled the fingers on my bandaged hand to conceal the fresh blood. I hoisted my little leather satchel onto my shoulder and stood up.
“Hi, Dr. O’Leary.” I mumbled as I walked through the door and down the hallway to her office.
Dr. O’Leary’s office was painted a comforting shade of periwinkle, a therapist’s calming tactic. She had an overstuffed slate gray couch and two matching chairs in a little sitting area complimented by convenient end tables adorned with brightly colored boxes of Kleenex. In the back of her office was a vintage mahogany desk with an open laptop computer, over which hung several shelves of psychology books. I never tired of studying the various degrees that hung like trophies on the wall.
“How are you feeling today, Monica?” She asked as she took her usual seat in one of the armchairs.
“The usual, I guess.” I said as I sat with my arms folded across me on the couch.
“Still feeling a little lost, then?”
“I guess,” I shrugged. I stared right through her thinking about the warm sensation of the blood at the base of my fingers.
“Have you tried any of my recommendations? The local theatre just had auditions. Did you go?”
“Monica, are you with me today?” She pressed, “Did you audition for the local theatre? Have you attempted to make any new friends? Go on a date, maybe?”
“Yes. I mean, no. I mean, I didn’t audition. I did have a date. It didn’t work out.”
“Well, I’m disappointed you didn’t audition. From what you’ve told me acting and theatre were always a big part of what made you, you. But going on a date is a big step. Why didn’t it work out?”
“Oh, well. He wasn’t a very good match.” I said waiving my hand in the air.
“What happened to your hand?” Dr. O’Leary asked.
“Kitchen accident,” I said pulling my hand back, “I can be such klutz.”
“I see. So, what else is going on?”
“I don’t know doctor. I just feel so restless. Since the accident, I feel like the whole world looks and sounds and feels different. I can’t wrap my head around it, ya know? Like, if I could somehow switch out my eyes for new ones, my tongue for someone else’s, my heart for one that was never damaged…”
“Monica, everyone experiences loss. You nearly died in a car accident that wasn’t your fault. You couldn’t stop that man from drunk driving. You had no way of preventing what happened to you. You survived, though. We just need to get you living again.”
“Living a brand-new life…” I murmured.
* * *
I stood over the white porcelain sink in my bathroom. The cold black and white tile under my feet kept me grounded as I unraveled the gauze around my index and middle finger and searing pain shot through my left hand. The once blanched gauze was now crimson and heavy. I tossed it into the wastebasket. Tiny droplets of blood fell from my new fingers and landed with tiny splashes in the sink. I had torn my stitches. The flesh at the base of my fingers was stretched and splitting. Red muscle beneath it bulged as if it were attempting an escape. I sighed in frustration and opened the medicine cabinet above the sink where I kept my small medical kit. I sat it on the faucet and removed the suturing materials. Carefully, I cut through my already angry flesh and reattached the two new fingers I had harvested from Jake a few days ago. I smiled as I recalled how easily I had found a man with such dainty hands. Still, I needed to take care that these new fingers of mine took. I didn’t want to have to hunt down another feminine-handed fellow.
Freshly sutured and wrapped, I would be sure to be gentler with my hand until my fingers healed. I plopped down on my couch cradling my phone in my right hand. I logged into my Winker app to check out any potential matches.
The thing about Winker was that no one on it was really looking for love, and everyone on it was looking for a quick hook-up. Married men used it to cheat on their wives, with women or with men, men and women used it to explore their sexuality, and everyone used it to get laid when they were having a dry spell or when they just didn’t feel like putting real effort into an actual relationship. The script generally went something like; converse via chat for a period of time, exchange scandalous photos, arrange a time, hook-up, never speak again. Except in my case, the script changed to harvest, bury the body, go on with your life. What I looked for wasn’t a good personality, or great looks; all I really cared about was whether or not the part I was harvesting could pass as my own. If my doctor couldn’t fix me, I would fix myself. Replace the eyes I couldn’t bare to look at the world through, replace the fingers that had touched the faces of everyone who hurt me…you get the idea.
As I scrolled through my gallery of potential matches I discarded all the ones that didn’t meet my requirements; zooming in and examining their eyes with a microscopic lens. Too green, too many golden flecks, too dull and gray. Then, Lucas appeared. Brown hair, an innocent smile, perfect sky-blue eyes with a few green sparkles around the iris. I leaned my head from side-to-side and cracked the vertebrae in my neck, stretched out my new index finger and pushed the hot pink “connect” button on my screen.
I was in the kitchen working on using my new fingers to separate coffee filters, admiring how well my stitches were healing, when my phone emitted a high-pitched ding. I placed the filter in the machine, filled it with grounds, and pushed the brew button. Then, I walked to the couch and propped my feet on the coffee table while I checked my phone. Lucas.
Hey gorgeous. Can’t wait
to get our groove on
Can’t wait to finally meet you
and look into those beautiful
blue eyes of yours.
Oh, you’ll get to see
a lot more than those.
Sure you don’t want a
Let’s keep it a surprise.
Your place at 9?
See you then, handsome.
Men were always so easy. These guys would bend over backward for a pretty girl and the promise of an easy hook-up. I, personally, hated the song and dance process of getting them to my house, but it had to be done here. This was where my work room was, where my tools were, where it was safest. My house was on a little dirt road in the country. My closest neighbors were five acres away. It was quiet, peaceful, and the deer in the back didn’t ask questions.
I stood in my bedroom admiring myself in the antique full-length mirror that stood on the floor. I had put on a tight black dress that hugged my curves, accentuated my petite waist and gave the illusion my bust was larger than the universe had gifted me. My long hair hung in curls that transitioned from chestnut brown to honey blonde where it ended at my breasts. I wore only a hint of makeup except the lipstick that would match Lucas’ dripping blood. Nude heels completed my ensemble, forcing the perception that my already long legs were like the Empire State building. I tilted my head and practiced a few dimwitted smiles in the mirror; giggled stupidly. Lucas would disarm himself immediately, and if he didn’t, I had extra help.
Just before nine o’clock my doorbell chimed, and I scurried to the front door, took a deep breath, plastered a grin across my face, and flung the door open. Lucas stood there in the dim light with a bouquet of daisies in his hand. He was a little taller than I had expected, slightly more muscular too. His arms and chest pulled at the tight black t-shirt he was wearing, and his jeans hugged his thighs telling me he definitely hit the gym regularly.
“Lucas,” I said grinning.
“Hi, Monica. Wow! You look great. Way better than your picture.”
He was clearly a smooth one. I stepped to the side and waved my arm, motioning for him to come in.
“It’s great to finally meet you.” I said.
“I have really been looking forward to tonight,” he stepped in and hugged me tight.
I pulled back a little too quickly, which made him seem uncomfortable. I tried to recover.
“Don’t want to smash these,” I said taking the flowers from his hand. “They’re so pretty.” His sky-blue eyes glittered in the light from my entrance way. It was so peculiar staring into them, like looking into a mirror. “Perfect,” I breathed.
“Sorry, I said perfect. The flowers are perfect. Let me go put them in water. Why don’t you get comfortable on the couch? Do you want a drink?”
“That would be great,” he said rubbing his neck, “I’d love a beer.”
“I make a mean whisky and Coke. Fresh out of beer.”
I went to the kitchen and ran water into a circular glass vase for the daisies. I held them gingerly with my new working fingers, the stitches still in place, and cut with my good right hand. Then, I made Lucas his drink. I always offered my male guests whiskey because its bitterness masked the taste of the Rohypnol that I used to subdue them and transport them to my basement. The drug worked quickly, so once they were eagerly compliant they were happy to follow me wherever I asked. Lucas was pretty big, I threw in a little extra. I didn’t want him waking up like Jake had. That seemed cruel.
“One whiskey and Coke,” I chimed as I walked around the couch and sat next to Lucas.
“Hey, thanks doll,” he raised his glass for a toast. “To an adventurous evening?” He lifted an eyebrow.
“To an adventurous evening,” I clinked my wineglass.
Fifteen minutes later Lucas’ head dangled from the back of my couch and his arms hung limp at his sides. I had clearly given him too much Rohypnol. He should have been awake, but groggy. Now, I’d have to figure out a way to transport his giant frame to my basement.
I went to my hallway closet and dug out an old sheet I didn’t mind parting with. It was pink paisley, kind of adding insult to injury for poor Lucas, good thing he’d never see it. I laid it out on the living room floor and heaved and rolled his unconscious body onto it. Leaving my heels in the living room, bare feet made for better traction, I pulled Lucas like an ox pulls a cart to my basement door. I opened it and studied the wooden staircase. I could’ve laid down some flat pieces of wood to build a makeshift ramp, but why eat up the time? My good friend, Lucas, wouldn’t feel a quick tumble down a few or ten steps. So, I grabbed the end of the sheet, shimmied him to the edge, and stood to the side as he rolled like a log down the stair case. Once he was in my makeshift operating room, I just had to get him on my work table. That took a strong back on my part, but I got him positioned and strapped in. I placed the anesthesia mask I bought online over his face as a precautionary measure.
When I harvest, it doesn’t matter much how I treat the donor, but I need to be sanitary for my own sake. After all, I am the recipient.
I pulled on a pair of latex gloves and sanitized everything in the room. Threw them out. Replaced them. Then, retrieved a fresh set of tools for the procedure.
With the utmost care I scooped Lucas’ eye from the orbital bone and muscles holding it in place, leaving the optic nerve intact so that I could fuse it with my own. I held it like a fragile piece of ancient glass in my palm as the nerves dangled dripping blood from my palm into the cavernous hole in Lucas’ face. I placed the beautiful piece of him into a cooler to preserve it for my own operation. Increasing the amount of anesthesia Lucas sucked into his lungs would let him die slowly, painlessly.
When his heart stopped, I rolled him into a wheelbarrow and took him out the backdoor and deep into my pasture. The moon was brilliant; an iridescent white globe that lit the countryside. I could see deer leap across the meadow as I trudged along. Near some high weeds, I had dug a makeshift grave; ready to receive my donor. I dumped him in and filled the hole.
“Thanks, Lucas. Sorry about the whole killing you thing. I’ll take good care of it.” I said in memorial. “Oh well, time for surgery.”
* * *
“I’m concerned that we haven’t seen each other in two months,” Dr. O’Leary half scolded.
“I know,” I said, “I have just been so busy.”
“Journaling.” I lied.
“I went on another date. I have also been going hiking a lot, and gardening.”
“How did the date go?”
“He was nice, but I don’t think I’ll see him again.” I stifled a smile.
“He reminded me of my brother.”
“You’re an only child.”
“If I had a brother, I mean.”
“We’re coming up on the five-year anniversary of your accident. How do you feel about that?” Dr. O’Leary asked, her pencil hovering over her legal pad.
“Ok, I guess. I think I’m starting to see things from a new perspective.” I blinked my eyes. The transplanted right one had taken wonderfully. It healed quickly, and I was left with only a mild blurriness as the optic nerve continued to fuse. Soon, I would see the world differently. Through the lens of someone who hadn’t suffered as horrifically as I had.
“Do you think you’re ready to forgive him?”
“No.” I grimaced. “I’ll never forgive him. My heart will never feel anything but hate for that awful man. He should have suffered the way I did. The way I still do.”
“Alright, Monica. I see we aren’t there yet. If you never get there, that’s ok. Someday, forgiveness might set you free, though. Think about it when you’re ready.” She looked at her watch. “I think we’re good for today. Let’s see you back in two weeks.”
My phone dinged later that night. It was unexpected. I hadn’t attempted to match with anyone as my eye continued to heal. I checked my Winked app and saw a message from Todd Reading.
Hey sexy. I hesitated messaging,
you’re way out of my league,
but those eyes!
Those eyes indeed. Ok, I’d play along.
Haha. Thanks. You aren’t so
What are you wearing?
I shook my head and laughed under my breath. Oh, Todd. Let’s dance. I was sure he could donate something.
* * *
September 26th, the five-year anniversary of my near fatal accident. I prepared in my bedroom for a date with Todd Reading, who just happened to find me on Winked. He seemed like a pretty decent guy on paper. He volunteered at a no-kill animal shelter, he had four dogs of his own, he even distributed care packages to the homeless once a month. I was reluctant to harvest from someone that active in the community, honestly, but I had decided Todd would be my last. The final piece to the puzzle, if you will.
He arrived right on time, nine o’clock, just like the others. He laughed and smiled as I winked at him with my right eye. I didn’t do it intentionally, I was still trying to get the damn thing to cooperate, but I played if off and ushered him inside.
“Can I get you a drink?”
“Just a soda would be great.”
“I make a mean whiskey and Coke.”
“I don’t drink.” He said a little embarrassed.
Weird. I hoped he had enough manners not to complain about a strange tasting Coke.
I went into the kitchen and opened two glass bottles, dumping the Rohypnol into Todd’s. Then sat next to him on the couch. He took a sip and contorted his face. I smiled and quickly tried to distract him.
“Cheers to meeting new people!”
“Cheers to that,” he said and took another sip.
I reached out and tipped the bottle back forcing him to drink more. I got about half the bottle in him before he put it down.
“So, what made you want to work with animals?” I asked.
“I have always just really loved them. Dogs especially,” he said. “They can really be your best friend when you’ve got no one else, ya know?”
I was in the kitchen getting a bowl of tortilla chips and spicy salsa.
“Yeah, I’m allergic.”
“That sucks,” he said.
I brought the chips and salsa in and sat them in front of him. Then, I gave him a coy smile as if to say, “here eat,” and he did. Between the salt and the heat, he drank the rest of the Coke.
Within 30 minutes Todd was feeling pretty good. I stood up and smiled at him wiggling my finger in a “come hither” motion. He stood up, leaned right, left, fell over, caught himself on the couch, straightened up, and started stumbling like Frankenstein after me.
“Come on, Toddy. I have a surprise down here.” I cooed.
“In the basement?” He slurred.
“Mmmmm hmmmmm. Come on.”
He followed me down the stairs and gaped around the room with wide-eyed wonder like a kid in a candy store. He was delirious, confused, and suddenly found himself in the middle of an O.R. with a girl he met online.
“Lie down on this table, Todd. You look tired.”
“Why?” He asked suspiciously.
“It’s a fun game I like to play. You want to have fun, don’t you?”
“Yesh.” He stumbled and hopped onto the table.
I strapped his arms and legs down with the leather cuffs and made sure they were totally secure. Todd wasn’t going anywhere.
“What now?” He asked.
“Now, Todd, I have a question for you.”
“What’s that?” He giggled.
“Look at my face, Todd. Do I look familiar to you?”
“Yeah, you’re Monica.”
“Guess again, pumpkin.” I said in a sickly-sweet voice.
“Maybe I’d look more familiar if I was covered in blood. Would that help? If I was in a car bleeding to death? Maybe if I was on a stretcher?” I was nose-to-nose with him now. Breathing my hot breath right into his eyes. “Any of this ringing a bell, Todd!”
“Holy shit,” he breathed.
“Holy shit! Holy shit, indeed! How about that? What a small world. You almost killed me, and then you tried to screw me!”
“I didn’t know.”
“Now, you do.” I breathed deep and sighed. “And I finally get to make you hurt like I did.”
“Monica, I did my time for that, please.” He pleaded through thick sticky saliva and a tongue that wasn’t working quite right.
“Three years. The justice system is broken, Todd. I’m going to fix it.”
I went to my cabinet and picked out an old rusty scalpel that I kept from a collection of antique medical equipment I purchased from an estate sale. I held it in the bright white overhead light above the table where Todd attempted to fight, fruitlessly. He wouldn’t get the benefit of anesthesia, I couldn’t be anesthetized for the rest of my life. He screamed and begged when he saw the red-orange rust that dulled the silver blade. It no longer shined for the deep tarnish that ate away at its body. He knew it wouldn’t be pleasant.
“Probably grit your teeth for this,” I whispered in Todd’s ear.
I walked around the stainless-steel table and placed the blade in the center of Todd’s chest pressing it into his skin. He whimpered and cried, tears streaming down his reddened cheeks when the dull blade punctured his skin. When I drug it down he screamed like a banshee. He passed out as I burrowed my ungloved hands deep inside his chest, blood streaming down his body, the table, and onto the floor. When I held his beating heart in my hands, I held redemption. My suffering was finally over.
#HumpdayHorror #StressCracks #KiraMcKinney Copyright KiraMcKinney
Thunder crashed as gray clouds churned and swirled just above the high turret where Anna Beth sat in a rocking chair observing. Lightning struck like a bull-whip a mile away illuminating her pale face. Anna Beth’s eyes grew wide as she attempted to decipher the landscape beyond her grand Victorian home. She stood, large leather-bound journal in her arms, and walked to one of the tall windows that surrounded her. Her lithe womanly frame moved deftly, her bustled dress weaving with the delicate sway of her hips. She used her ruffled sleeve to wipe away condensation as a hard, cold rain beat down upon the glass with deafening thumps. Another crash and quick bolt of lightning lit up the evergreens across the dirt road and, off in the distance, the odd limestone rock formations that taunted her. Each streak of lightning hit the rock with precision, like an arrow seeking a target. Anna Beth referred to the large book she clutched in her shaking hands. Twenty-four years. It had been twenty-four years since her father was murdered. The thing would be awake soon.
Anna Beth awoke to an overcast morning and an aching back as she lifted her head from the rigid wood of her rocking chair. She had fallen asleep keeping watch in the turret. She stood gingerly, stretching her limbs and moving her neck from side to side. She adjusted the pins holding her long chestnut brown curls in place. Still holding the leather-bound book, she descended the spiral staircase and went to her bedroom where she locked it in her father’s old metal safe. She didn’t bother changing out of yesterday’s dress, and instead, made her way downstairs for coffee.
“Good morning Miss.”
Nellie, Anna Beth’s house keeper, was in the kitchen rattling breakfast dishes. She had her back turned to Anna Beth but heard her black buttoned boots on the hardwood steps. Nellie had been taking care of Anna Beth’s family for decades. She had been caretaker when her father, George, was a child and when he inherited the house Nellie stayed on. Nellie was plump with gray hair that she kept in a neat bun. She donned a frilly white apron and a simple navy-blue dress which was always covered in flour.
“Good morning Ms. Nellie.”
“My goodness, Miss, you look a fright if you don’t mind my saying so. Did the storms keep you awake again last night?”
“I’m afraid so.”
Anna Beth breezed past Nellie and headed for the coffee sitting in a decanter on the counter. She had just reached for a mug when Nellie shooed her away.
“Now, now you go sit. I’ll get this. You look like the walking dead.”
“Thank you, Nellie.”
“You know,” Nellie talked into the cream and sugar as she mixed Anna Beth’s coffee. “You have been terribly afraid of thunder storms since, oh, I guess you were about sixteen.”
“Yes, they just make me very anxious. I suppose it’s the horrible noise and the way it rattles the house.”
This was an excuse that Anna Beth used every time Nellie brought up her fear of thunder storms. The truth was that in 1896, when Anna Beth was sixteen, she had found her father’s safe. It took her several weeks, but she finally figured the combination and that was when she found the family journal. It dated back generations, and generation after generation the oldest child of the family had been killed by the thing every twenty-four years.
It always began the same way; a week of storms. Thunder and lightning every night brewed in the inky black sky. The lightning glowed with a radiance that seemed impossible, otherworldly. Every bolt, without fail, struck the rock formations just one mile from their home. The family referred to them as “electric rocks”. They called to the tiny particles that swirled and vibrated in the air. The rocks acted like magnets to these wild, alien specs and when they roused them and gathered all of their energy, they awoke a terrible thing. It would rise from the recesses of the rocks to feed on the blood of her family, and then return to slumber until a new generation was born. It had last fed on her father. Anna Beth was an only child, it would come for her now.
“Well, I suppose. It may let up soon. Then, you can get some peace.”
“One more night I think.” Anna Beth gave a half smile into her coffee.
Anna Beth had spent the years she was aware of the thing preparing for the day it would return. She had never taken a husband for fear that she would die, and her future children would be motherless. For fear that her first born would suffer the same fate as the rest of the Eldridge family. She lived a solitary life. Her own mother, Naomi, passed when she was fourteen, leaving her and the family estate in the care of Nellie until she was seventeen. Instead of finding love, Anna Beth read the family journal discovering what she could about the thing. Some of her great-grandfathers had, apparently, tried to kill it with knives and arrows. Those were ineffective. One man attempted using a musket, but a plain bullet only wounded it according to the sons who witnessed the slaughter. Her grandfather, Edward, tried copper bullets. Her father’s written account claimed that the strike from those caused the thing’s flesh to burn and ooze a putrid green slime. Anna Beth developed a plan of her own.
In her room, a decadent octagonal shaped space draped in lush velvety blue and gold, she placed in her corset two copper letter openers she’d purchased from a small store in town. She also filled a six-shot revolver with copper bullets, which she had spent several years perfecting, and placed it in the waistband of her skirt. She then waited for the storms to begin.
As the sky darkened, Anna Beth could hear the rumble commence, like a growl deep in the throat of a hungry wolf. It would be a matter of time before the electricity surged from the wailing clouds and the thing rose from its slumber. She tucked her long curls into a tight chignon at the nape of her neck, buttoned a black jacket snug against her heaving chest, and raced down the wooden staircase unsure she would return.
“Miss Anna Beth, where are you going? It’s about to let loose a tidal wave out there!”
“I have to go, Nellie. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
“But Miss, now what could be so important in weather like this?”
“An urgent matter, Miss Nellie. I really must go.”
Anna Beth wouldn’t drag Nellie into her family trauma. She arranged for Nellie to take possession of the house should she not make it through the night.
Anna Beth rushed to her most faithful horse, a painted named Zephyr, and charged him into the evergreens that served as the barrier between her home and electric rocks. The rain began to whip at her face, stinging her eyes as she tried to peer into the darkness of the forest. The needles of the trees stuck through her jacket puncturing her arms and tore through the delicate flesh of her ghostly white hands as they clutched Zephyr’s reigns. There was little worn path; no one traveled to the rocks. The storm grew stronger with each passing minute. Lightning struck ever closer and with more wildness than it had on preceding nights. When Anna Beth arrived near the opening of the forest, she dismounted her horse and tied him to a broken tree out of sight. She walked the rest of the way to the rocks, her long skirt gathering mud and rainwater, increasingly heavy and difficult to maneuver.
A thick brilliant vein of lightning hit the rocks twenty feet ahead of Anna Beth. Deafening thunder rang in her ears. When it was gone, the rocks shimmered and glowed as if they were being lit internally by the beacon from a light house. From every crack, pinhole, or gaping wound in the rock brilliant white light poured and ignited the atmosphere. Anna Beth took a deep breath and approached the glowing rocks; her boots crunching on needles and twigs as she stepped. Gingerly, she placed a boot onto the glowing limestone and then another. The air was silent. The dark menacing clouds roiled above her, but the storm ceased. She moved nimbly down the rock formation and into a small crevice that lead into a dark desolate cave. Her pupils dilated as she tried to make out a movement inside.
It lurched from the blackness. A long granite tentacle, smooth and shiny, with pink suction cups on the underside. The limb thrashed in the air reaching, feeling for something to grasp. Then, came another. The same as the first. It slithered next to Anna Beth’s feet and she recognized a large raised scar on its thick body. Perhaps, a memory from her grandfather’s self-defense. Four more tentacles followed, swinging and wiggling in the air, performing a lethal ballet as the thing rose from the dead. When they finished they gripped the walls of the cavern and tensed, pulling the body of the thing from the darkness.
Anna Beth ran for cover behind the large rocks and peered out to see the monster that intended to devour her. It dragged itself from the darkness into the light of the rocks revealing its wretched form. Six tentacles writhed around a massive body comprised of a single bloodshot purple eye. Beneath the eye were pincers on short skinny arms that fed a mouth filled with yellowed fangs as sharp as razor wire. The thing blinked and gnashed its teeth, extended its claws clasping and unclasping. Anna Beth gasped and shook with horror at the sight of it releasing a soft whimper into the silent air. The thing heard her.
Its eye shifted in Anna Beth’s direction, and she quickly removed her letter openers from her corset. She watched as gray tentacles creeped over the limestone toward where she stood. They reached her and slowly touched the hem of her dress. Then her boot, her ankle. When she could bare the examination no longer, Anna Beth struck, digging the blades of the copper knives into the thing’s wicked arms with unfettered ferocity. Thick green ooze spurted and bubbled from the wounds, spraying Anna Beth with gruesome globs of puss. The thing wailed and drew back its injured limbs but charged with its remaining healthy ones. It nipped and gnawed at her, attempting to remove her arm or leg; rob her of her ability to fight. Anna Beth stabbed and slashed at the tentacles releasing streams of the green goo. It covered her black boots as she ran and dodged the monster. It drenched her coat as she rolled across the wet shiny rocks to avoid being snatched or carved.
Soon, she had punctured nearly all of them. She was bruised, and blood dripped from her cheek down her long slender neck. Two holes she had previously missed, above the thing’s jaws, contracted as it sniffed at her blood. Thick saliva dripped from its mouth in hunger. It limped and lumbered for her, aching for the meal it had waited twenty-four years to consume. Anna Beth ran, jumping and dodging the predator, as she pulled the revolver from her waistband. She stood only a few feet away from the rabid, hungry jaws of the thing and she fired into its starving expectant mouth. Once, twice, until the chambers were empty. Each bullet that made contact creating a crater of light in the heart of the thing. A loud eruption began in the belly of the beast, like a volcano preparing for explosion. The monster lit like fireworks and expelled, like a geyser, green goo soaking Anna Beth in its extermination. The thing wilted and died, turning to dust, as the rain resumed and washed its carcass away with the mud.
The lights at electric rocks flickered and died. Anna Beth looked through the dissipating rain into the sky where the clouds were beginning to separate. There, in the blackness, twinkled an odd green sphere unlike anything she had ever witnessed in the heavens. She swallowed hard and blinked through the dirt, the sweat, and the rain as it wavered and disappeared.
#HumpdayHorror #CentralPA #AltoonaPA #ElectricRocks #KiraMcKinney
Copyright Kira McKinney
Welcome to my blog. Sit back and enjoy a short story, a poem, or some flash fiction--whatever I have recently cooked up. I will post a new piece as often as possible. Check back once a week to see what's new.