This story is by Lyle McNeal and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
We thought that two of our children were playing a joke on us. Our two youngest children had been out playing at the edge of the yard and the woods. The youngest came rushing into the house and the middle child was no where to be seen. She told a tale of a great beast, three times bigger than our house, grabbing Frank and taking him into the woods. My husband, Danny, took the seemingly terrified child out to show him where the abduction happened.
At the edge of the woods Danny saw a few drops of blood on the ground. He turned to get more information from the child and the monster appeared out of nowhere, knocking my mate to the side like he was nothing more than a dry leaf. A gray stripped blur grabbed our baby in its maul and disappeared into the shadows of the woods. Danny came rushing back alone; his breathe ragged, his eyes wide in shock and fear. He didn’t have to say anything; my heart shattered again and my body went numb.Our grandparents had told us of monsters. Some would plummet from the sky, grabbing you with their sharp claws and fly away with you. Others would break in to your house, tearing in to it and eating whole families. Then there were those that would stalk you from the shadows and then streak out and grab you. We never saw any of these in many years and we have let our guard down. We hadn’t told our children those tales because we no longer believed them.
We spent the night crying and trying to come to terms with the loss of two of our children. We didn’t go any where the next day, afraid of what was out there, hunting us, waiting for us. It slowly dawned on us that we hadn’t seen or heard anything from any of our neighbors recently. We never really got to know any of them, and with being in the country they weren’t very close physically either. Our eldest, Francine, wanted to check on them but we forbade her from leaving. She had always been hardheaded and we suspected that she was attracted to their son. It must have been early evening when she snuck out; we were too deep in our own grief to notice her leaving. The next morning when she didn’t come to breakfast we checked her bed to find it empty.
I begged Danny not to go out. I couldn’t lose another loved one. He wanted to know, he needed to know what had happened to his little girl. The three hours that passed while he was gone were the longest of my life.
He rushed in, checking behind him. He thought that he had been followed by…something, but he couldn’t see anything. He curled into me and cried hard and long. Between his sobs he told me that he had found her hand and a pool of blood outside the neighbor’s. He recognized the scar she got when she sliced it deep on a tin can.
We both cried until our tears ran dry.
Danny told me what took him so long to return.
Knowing it wasn’t safe out in the open he had gone inside and found it empty, like a model home with everything in place. He had decided to risk it and head down to the Carlton’s and found it empty as well, but with a more lived-in feel. He used the Anderson’s as a safe place to stop on his way back. It was filled with an eerie dead silence.
Afraid that quick movements would give away his presence, he cautiously made his way towards home. About halfway back, the hair on his arms and back rose. The air thickened with dread. He could feel he was being watched. His nerves left him and he sprinted back home.
Afraid to venture out, we stayed at home. With just the two of us our food lasted longer, but we never kept much around. The food dwindled and then it was gone.
Danny had told me that he had seen plenty of food at the Andersons’. He tried to convince me that it would be safe for him to get it and bring it back. I begged him with all of my heart not to go. He felt that he needed to provide for me and was swayed by neither my protests nor my tears. I kissed him as he left, knowing that I would never see him again. When he was out of sight I went to our bed and cried myself to sleep.
That was three days ago. I have watched as the sun has passed across our door each day, hoping that he would return, but only falling into a deeper depression. My stomach protests every hour now and I know that soon I’ll either need to search for food, or die. The grief has weakened me as much as the lack of nourishment.
Evening approaches. I know that I must leave now, as in the morning I won’t be able to make it to the Andersons’. I carefully approach the doorway and search for signs of movement. The still air is heavy and I start to sweat. I wish it was from the humidity, but it is from fear of what is out there. I take a deep breath and step out into the evening sun. The warmth of it feels nice after having been in the house for so many days. I dart from one piece of cover to the next. A large clump of grass here and the base of a tree there; stopping each time to try to sense if anything is out here with me. My blood runs cold and I freeze when the high pitch screech of a hawk in the distance startles me. My body quakes and I run as fast as I can.
I’m sitting at the base of a big tree, my legs aching and my lungs burning. I can see the Andersons’ doorway. I have one last sprint and then I’ll be safe. I’ll have food. I’ll have water. I notice that it is very still and very quiet. It is almost as if the world is paused. My heavy breathing sounds like a gale as the pounding of my heart echos in my ears. Dread is a wet blanket that lays over me. I shake it off and look at my destination. I will make it. I have to make it.
I take off as fast as I can. There is darkness. I’m knocked to the side. My world tumbles. I never looked for danger and now it has found me. The door seems to shrink from me, but I don’t pay attention to the distance. As soon as I come to rest I get back to my feet and continue my sprint. I have to make it or I will be dead. I get half the distance covered and again I’m bowled over. Pain blooms in my mind as I feel a snapping in my side. It takes a bit longer to get back to my feet. I’m slower now. Whatever it is, it’s too large for me to fight, so I run, winded and in pain.
I can feel it watching me. The distance to the door is shrinking way too slow. I think I’m going to make it. The evening sun streaming into their home looks like heaven. I’m only a few feet away. I scream in pain as I’m thrown backwards. Hot blood wells from a gash across my forehead and a gouge across my right shoulder. Fear steals the sound from my throat as the slit-eyed monster pounces on me.
Fluffy purrs and prances back to her human, the lifeless mouse hanging from her mouth. She hopes that this present receives a better reception than the last couple. This one will be left on the porch step and not on the human’s pillow.