This story is by Michael Munson and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Fueled by excitement, David tossed the shovel aside hoisting the box up from the hole. His small hands were shaking as he wiped the remaining dirt and clay off the box and noticed strange symbols and letters etched on its top. Using the pocketknife his grandfather had given him, he pried open the lid and found mildewed cloth wrapped with twine. Something was very heavy and had the shape and feel of a book. David’s grandfather had fallen gravely ill last year. Before he died, David overheard him mumbling to himself about a box buried in the backyard, “by the oak tree,” of which there were three, and this was dig number five.
David clapped the dirt and dust off his hands and slapped his dusty jeans. Wiping the sweat from his brow, he sat on a small log and began to unwrap the object. The sound of lawnmowers and kids playing nearby buzzed in the background as he unfolded the last of the yellowed cloth to find what appeared to be a gift wrapped in paper. A gift?
He carefully removed the flaky paper and found a large leather-bound book inside. Its cover was thick and brown and had a mixture of similar symbols and images on both front and back. He began to thumb through the book and found they were all blank off-white pages. He heard the screen door slam as his mother called out his name. He stood up with a startle. He had completely lost track of time. “Coming Mom,” he replied.
Something at his feet caught his eye as he noticed a small piece of paper had fallen from the book. He reached down and nearly screamed when he read the words. “Happy Birthday David. Use this book wisely.”A sudden chill in the air snapped him into reality as he tried to comprehend what he had just found. “This is impossible,” he said aloud. He knew it wasn’t his grandfather’s handwriting. “Who wrote the note then?” he asked himself. He grabbed the backpack at his feet, wrapped the book in the paper and cloth, and shoved it in the bag. – Heading out of the woods, near the house David had lived in within the small town of Old Brookville, New York.
His blue Keds got wet as he ran across the grass his father had watered hours earlier. It was a warm summer’s day. June 2nd, 1976 to be exact. In two days he would turn 11. “Shoes off, and wash your hands. Dinner is in five minutes,” his mother screamed as the screen door slammed behind him. The smell of roasted chicken wafted in the air and he heard his mother chatting on the phone. He ran up the stairs two at a time, and threw the backpack on his bed, washed his hands suddenly realizing that he’d been digging in the backyard for hours. It was then he felt another chill up his spine.
Dinner was delicious as usual and the family watched TV together – his two favorites ‘Happy Days’ and ‘Laverne and Shirley’. Feeling exhausted, he kissed his parent’s goodnight, climbed into his pajamas, and jumped under the covers. His brother James was away at camp, so he had the room and bunk bed to himself. He pulled out the book, unwrapped it, and stared at the note. Again, he couldn’t fathom what was going on and why the heck the pages were blank. Was someone playing a joke on him? He closed his eyes.
David awoke groggily the next morning to the sound of rain. The forecast had called for sun and he was annoyed that his plans to play baseball wouldn’t happen. The sky looked bruised and gray. He placed the book under his pillow and trotted downstairs. His parents were drinking coffee at the table and he poured himself a bowl of Alpha-bits cereal. After breakfast, his mom said she was going shopping, and his father was going to work in the basement repairing one of the kitchen chairs.
David went to his room, pulled out the book he had dug up yesterday, along with some colored pencils and sat on the floor, to do some drawing. He was actually a very good artist. Considered the best in his class and often drew when he was feeling down. He cracked open the book and did a sketch of the baseball field up the street, along with big fluffy white clouds, blue skies, and an extra-large sun. David drew a scene of him scoring a home-run, with the bases loaded of course! All his friends were cheering, and in the background, he drew Jimmy Scanlon, a bully who made fun of David all the time, with a big frown on his face. Jimmy pushed David around a lot and David was convinced Jimmy had stolen his favorite baseball mitt. Thunder and lightning crackled outside his window.
He closed the book and decided to jump in the shower. Minutes later, when he got out and opened the shower curtain he saw a bright shaft of sunlight on the tile floor. He wiped the steam from the window and was shocked to see, not only a beautiful day but not a sign that it had rained. “What the heck?” He shrugged, threw on some clothes and asked his dad if he could call his friends to play ball.
When he got outside he not only felt the warmest sun on his face, but everything seemed brighter, bigger, and well, just better. Just for a second, felt the same strange chill he felt yesterday. He met his buddies at the playing field at the local rec center and after choosing players and teams, which included Jimmy Scanlon, they had a good warm-up. When it came to David’s turn, bases were loaded. The baseball bat felt amazing in his hands as if part of his body. Jimmy’s friend, and an even bigger jerk, Matthew Waterbury was pitching.
Matthew was known for his incredible pitching skills. David watched almost in slow-motion as if time had stood still. His vision was laser-like as the ball came towards him, and the sound of the bat hitting the ball was deafening. It seemed to disappear into the clouds and he hit a home run! Everybody went crazy. The looks on Jimmy and Matthews faces were priceless too. David actually hit two more home runs that afternoon.
After the game David went to use the restroom at the rec center. As he turned the corner, a fist came from nowhere and landed hard in the middle of David’s stomach, knocking the wind out of him. As he crumbled to the floor, -Jimmy stood there above him laughing and then walked away. David stood up almost losing his breakfast and stumbled back to the baseball field. He told no one what happened and walked home, feeling a bit sick but elated from the game.
That night, the whole family was there in preparation for David’s birthday tomorrow. His brother was back from camp and his older sister, who went to college upstate, stayed the night. They had dinner outside on the deck and had a great time. While everyone sat chatting around the fireplace, David started drawing. When his mother asked where he got the sketchbook, he fibbed and said a friend gave it to him as an early birthday present. Besides, he had wrapped the book in paper like he did with his school textbooks.
David’s stomach was still a bit tender from the punch and he couldn’t help but bubble with anger. He thought about Jimmy and Matthew and how much he hated them. The town had a myth about a creature that lived in the woods, something like sasquatch but ten times scarier. Several people had gone missing over the years and body parts had been found in the woods, with no answers or clues to the murders. David began to draw the creature like he’d done a million times before. Only this time it made his skin crawl. It resembled a tree, but had human features, with long muscular limbs and jagged, razor-sharp teeth. Its fingers were long, sharp like tentacles, and its skin was covered in needle-sharp thorns and fur.
The next day was June 4th, -David’s birthday. He awoke to voices coming from the hallway. Both his parents and his sister were startled when David opened the door. “Honey, something horrible happened last night. Two older boys named Jimmy and Matthew were found murdered. Their bodies were found in the woods behind their homes.” David felt a wave of nausea and he ran to the bathroom. He vomited, looked up and saw a new note was taped to the mirror. “Happy Birthday David. Remember, use the book wisely.” The book was opened on the floor to the drawing from last night. The chill took his breath away.
“Oh God, I’m the monster?” David asked himself.