This story is by M.J. Patrick and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
In the distance, a rooster welcomed the morning for the umpteenth time. Sunbeams pierced the silver-dollar-sized knotholes, lighting the inside of the wooden structure. Despite the cracked lens, my wristwatch kept time; it was 5 o’clock. Neil and I had spent over fourteen hours in a foul-smelling henhouse. Imprisoned.
Sleeping on straw had aggravated Neil’s asthma. His ragged breathing slammed daggers of regret into my heart. His allergies had swollen his eyes nearly shut. Guilt’s fingers weighed on my shoulders.
It’s all my fault. My fault that we’re trapped. My fault that Neil’s near death. My fault that our thirtieth wedding anniversary could be our last. All because of a hand-painted sign that read, Eggs for Sale.
“I’m so sorry,” comes out between hiccups and crying. Hugging my body didn’t stop the shakes. “If only we had done what we’ve always done. I’d say let’s get eggs, and you’d say who buys eggs from strangers, and then we’d drive past.”
Neil paused from digging our escape tunnel with his bare hands and sat back on his heels. “I need you to focus on getting out of here.” His swollen lip and the angry gash above his eye made it hard to recognize the wonderful man I married. “Keep trying the door.”
My eyes burned holes through his back. He’d assigned me an impossible task. “I have, over a billion times! I’m hot and tired and miserable. One more shove won’t change anything.”
“Push and pull it a billion more times.”
Neil’s calm manner fueled my annoyance. Angry words bubbled to the tip of my tongue, but then I noticed his arms were peppered with deep punctures. I grabbed his hands. “Are those bite marks?”
“Don’t you remember anything?” Neil jerked them out of my grasp.
Shocked by his attitude, I blurted, “We were driving on a dirt road between cornfields.”
“Right. What about meeting the egg lady? Or her children?” Neil removed his shoe and used it as a trowel in spite of his coughing fits.
He emphasized the word children and an involuntary shudder rattled my teeth. I ignored his questions. “This time, we won’t be taken by surprise. The two of us can overpower the old ninny, lock her up, and call the police.”
“We tried that yesterday. Look at me.” Neil stopped digging long enough to point at his wounds. “Look at yourself. You’re bleeding, limping, and forgetful. That punch you landed should’ve broken that lady’s jaw. She seemed old but had the strength of a silverback gorilla.”
Why couldn’t I remember? I rubbed my head for concussion causing bumps or lumps.
A sudden stream of light added another layer of brightness to the interior. An eyehole revealed the occupant of the large farmhouse was no longer asleep. The second story window leaked light from around closed curtains. A shadowy figure flung the draperies aside.
One glimpse of the woman and the horror of the midnight hours flooded my mind. I dropped to the ground cowering behind the wooden door lined with chicken wire. Frantic, I clawed at the opening. The dry wood soaked up the bloody marks left by my raw fingers.
Fresh sobs shook me as nightmarish memories of wriggling, and writhing snake-like-things fought to worm their way into my mouth, nose, and ears.
An anguished cry escaped from within the pit of my soul. Neil had grappled these monsters to protect me, he sacrificed himself for me. First, he intercepted the creature after me, swallowing it whole. Same with the second when it changed its affection from him to me.
“Sherrie.” Neil’s stern voice penetrated the fog of despair. “Come here.” Still on his knees, a shoe in his left hand, he held out his arms for an embrace.
I collapsed into him, hoping to gain his courage. Neil hugged me, buried his head into my neck in a long goodbye way. My mind flipped through an album of our darkest moments, a miscarriage, a loss of a career, a bankruptcy. We’d managed to survive all of it, together, as a couple.
The creatures churned within Neil’s torso. Unbelievable, the egg lady’s children were alive. Their muscular bodies pushed against my ribs. My heart sank. There’s no way Neil could live through this ordeal. “Sweetheart, you’ve got to go to the hospital. I’ll dig.”
He pulled me closer, collapsing my lungs. “She’s coming. Listen to me and don’t argue. I’m going to tell her to let you go home. I can’t go with you.”
“No, no, no.” My heart leaped in my throat, along with thousands of unspoken protests. I struggled against Neil for him to release his hold. “She won’t agree to that. She knows I’d bring the police.”
“Haven’t you noticed you keep forgetting? It’s happened twice.” His breath hot against my neck and ear. “Don’t fight me.”
“People will ask about you. What am I supposed to tell them?” I succeeded in prying loose to look at him. I swallow down my disgust at his alien-like features. It wasn’t asthma or allergies killing Neil. He was mutating, but into what? “We have to get those things out of you.”
“It’s too late.”
“You said, not to give up.”
“I haven’t. You’re going home.”
The crunch of gravel silenced our conversation. Dread filled my empty stomach.
“Morning. Thanks for providing homes for my children.” A voice with a southern accent sent shivers along my spine. “After a week they’ll burst from your empty shells walking and talking just like you. World domination without war.”
“Who’s taking over the world?” I asked.
“The Shining Ones.” It’s Neil’s voice but with a strange accent.
“Hold on. Something’s not right.” The egg lady’s keys jingled, and the door screeched on rusty hinges.
Blinded by the bright sun, I blinked to clear my vision not wanting to lose sight of the creature who had wrangled Neil and me into submission — kicking and biting and snarling. Fearful of the person behind me who used to be my husband.
The woman’s façade was the spitting image of a little white-haired old lady, with her hair swept up into a bun, wire-framed glasses at the end of her nose. Her aura conjured up images of baked apple pies, and quilting circles, and Sunday school teachers.
“What have you done?” The woman’s features disappeared, and a being with no visible ears or nose appeared. Bronze and golden scales replaced wrinkled skin, and blue eyes changed to black liquid ones that didn’t blink.
A talking reptile held us captive. Maybe the same kind of snake that tricked Eve?
“Send Sherrie home, unharmed.” Neil cut the last word short with a swift intake as if in pain.
“You’re an abomination. I’ll deal with you later if you don’t die first.” The snake slipped the woman’s mask back in place.
Hens clucked, scratched, and bobbed around me, reminding me of my childhood days spent with my grandparents. Had the chickens always been here?
The nice lady entered the henhouse and handed me an egg carton. “Sherrie, these are for you.”
“How much do I owe you?” I fumbled for my purse. It wasn’t on my shoulder.
“You’ve paid. Time to leave.” The woman offered her hand to help me stand.
My fingers briefly touched hers and then fell to my side. I couldn’t leave without Neil. “I’ve seemed to have misplaced my husband.”
“He’s waiting in the car.”
No, that can’t be right. Neil wouldn’t leave without a word. One of his shoes laid on the ground. A groan and a thud of a body hitting the ground set my heart on fire. “Neil.”
I moved to his side and cradled his head in my lap. He teetered between human and alien, between life and death. “Oh, Neil. We can’t let our life together end like this. Not like this.”
“Leave before I change my mind. I have a ferocious appetite. Sherrie pie for dessert.” The woman’s thin lips formed a cruel smile.
A low murmur from Neil and I leaned in close to listen. “Three became one because your husband offered his body.”
“Are you Neil?”
“No. Yes. Three brains melded into one. It was like eating from the tree of knowledge. I remember our life together. My love for you hasn’t changed. We could be together forever and live here.”
“In the chicken coop?” A poor attempt at humor but my Neil would appreciate a corny joke.
“That’s my girl.” Neil chuckled. “Heck no, the farmhouse. We’ll kick out the old ninny. You’ll have all the eggs you ever wanted.”
The woman hissed, and her forked tongue seemed to taste the air.
“How?” My heart beat wildly with fear or joy I couldn’t tell.
“Kiss me, you’ll see.”
Without hesitation, I put my lips on his. Thirty years ago, we vowed from this day forward, for better, for worse.
My lips parted but not by Neil’s tongue. A Shining One slithered down my throat.