Scott sipped his coffee as he read the newspaper, his day of work finally over and children tucked into bed for the night. Sitting at his heavy kitchen table with a mug in one hand, and the paper in the other, Scott just read the articles in no particular order. The family dog, Jake, lifted his head high into the air and sniffed before letting out a short and stiff bark.
“Hush, you!” Scott said, smacking the dog on the head with his partially rolled up newspaper. “Bud and Sarah are asleep!”
But Jake didn’t go silent, instead choosing to stand up from his place by Scott’s chair and walk through the kitchen to the bottom of the stairs, where he looked up and let out three low barks, growling at something.
Thinking it was odd, Scott put down his paper and moved toward Jake was standing and looked at the darkened hallway at the top of the stairs. A lone painting of a young woman hung in a circular frame from the wall, glimmering in the darkness though it was partially obscured by something.
Then Scott saw the eyes.
Eyes as large as tennis balls opened up, rolling madly from somewhere in the darkness to reveal strange eyes, their iris’s in the shape of a strange W. Jake growled, his fur standing up along his back, as the creature made itself known. Scott, startled for a moment, slapped his thigh and pointed up the stairs.
“Go, go get him, Jake!” Scott said as he dashed back into the kitchen, pulling down his rifle from above the refrigerator. Loading it quickly, he ran back to the stairs, where he heard yelping and growling, gnashing of teeth, and an odd clicking noise similar to a cicada in the summers eve.
As he reached the bottom of the stairs, a bloody corpse landed in front of him, the headless Labrador retriever twitching as it’s three remaining legs moved slightly, as if still trying to fight. Looking up quickly, Scott didn’t see anything at the top of the stairs. Running up them, he slipped and slide along the wet, blood-soaked carpet as he tried to find purchase to make his way to the landing.
Pulling himself up, he stared down the hall, panting from the exertion it took to climb the stairs with all of the gore littering the path. All four doors were closed; the master bedroom, Bud’s room, Sarah’s room and the secondary bathroom. Reaching over to flick on the light, he heard a crack of glass overhead and jumped, just in time to dodge the broken light bulb from falling on his head.
“This isn’t good,” he muttered, taking hold of his rifle as he began slowly moving to the closest door, the bathroom. Bracing the rifle against his shoulder, he moved closer and opened the plain white door, turning the brass handle slowly.
Looking inside, all he saw was the wide mirror over the sink and the toilet and bathtub. Looking closer, the countertop appeared to be coated in a greasy substance that stank of old dirt; was this from the creature? A light chittering noise came from behind him, causing him to spin in place.
Standing in a long nightshirt and boxer shorts was Bud. The short nine-year-old boy stared at his father dispassionately before eyeing the rifle. “Dad, why do you have the gun down?”
“Go back to your room and lock the door,” Scott ordered his son, looking towards his daughter’s door in worry. He looked back at his confused child and stamped his foot. “Now!”
Bud stepped backwards, before turning and unlocking his door before stepping into the room. Scott barely registered that his son was safe and went over to his daughters door, looking for any signs of the greasy substance from the bathroom.
Stopping at the door, covered in bumper stickers and peace signs, he twisted the lock on the doorknob and opened the door, slinking into the room. Padding softly, he walked past her closet and into the room proper, before reaching up to the ceiling fan and pulling once on the cord to turn on the light.
His teenage daughter, dressed in big tee shirt and bicycle shorts, was sprawled out atop the covers, snoring away as she dreamed of boys and cars. Scott breathed a sigh of relief, aiming his rifle away from the bed. He turned the light off and moved back towards the door before he heard something.
“H-help me!” A faint whisper came, almost from the very air itself.
Scott looked around fruitlessly, moving back to pull on the cord once more to be able to see.
What he saw was a young child, bloody and raw. The side of its face drooped, stitched crudely back into place after being peeled off; the young girl was missing her left hand, as well as most of her left leg though she seemed to stand just fine. Teeth marks were visible all over her body, the blood soaked bandages that served as clothing doing very little to hide her grievous wounds.
“Who are you? What do you want?” Scott asked, a little too loudly from the snort Sarah gave, pulling a pillow over her head.
“Kill it. Kill it and we’ll all be free!” The young girl said in a chilling tone, her obsidian eyes boring into Scotts.
“Kill what?” Scott asked, squatting down to look at her.
She just looked away, down the small path leading into the room. In ran Jake, his head dangling from a strand of flesh serving as a neck, his missing leg seemingly not necessary for the animal to bound and leap like it was doing. Scott stood appalled! He’d just seen his dog, dead and on the floor.
“We’re ghosts, deal with it,” the little girl snapped, shaking her head. “Look you don’t have much time! It’s going to kill one of your children and make them like us. You have a son, have you checked your son?”
“Yeah, I saw him in the hallway, I… sent him back…” Scott said, his memory of the event coming back in full force.
“You sent him back?” The child-ghost repeated, glaring at him as best she could.
“I sent him back to his room. His locked room. He couldn’t have gotten out of there to see me!”
Scott pushed past the two spirits, blasting them to waves of vapor as he stomped towards the door to the room where his son slept. Grabbing the handle, he turned the lock and tried to open it, but the door wouldn’t budge. It was as if something massive was on the other side, holding the door from opening into the room.
Scott rammed it once with his shoulder, then again. The door opened slowly, about an inch, enough for light to filter into the room and reveal all of the furniture was stacked up against the door. Standing in the middle of the room was his son, staring at him. He almost breathed a sigh of relief until he noticed his son was also lying at the feet of the other. Bud, the standing one, smiled a wide grin.
“Too late, sad fate!” The boy sang before dropping to his knees, hammering into the nine-year old’s chest; somehow he remained unconscious throughout the sudden drop, as well as when his arm was lifted.
The creature that had taken on the form of his son was twisted, joints popping and stretching beneath the pale skin. The clothes over his frame tore and fell away, revealing a sickly the normal flesh tones a child should have slowly becoming a sickening grey. The boy cried out as its mouth unhinged, beetles falling from his lower jaw in a shower over Bud’s sleeping form. Massive wood roaches and centipedes crawled out from the dark orifice as it stretched and grew, the creature’s size forcing it to hunch over in the tiny room.
Scott, all the while, was hammering his shoulder into the door, inching it open slowly. By now Sarah had awoken and come out to see what the noise was. She couldn’t see the creature (her father was in the way) but she could hear the clicking mandibles of the roaches and the snapping of bones as the creature fully realized itself, a hunched over creature with wet arms and legs long and thin, holding up a sickly torso that held up a head almost as big on a bony neck. A massive, toothless maw was visible in the sliver of light, along with the rolling eyes Scott had seen earlier. Reaching out with one massive hand, it pushed the door closed, jamming furniture up against it with one mighty shove.
Desperate, Scott used his rifle and blasted at the hinges, blowing the supports for the door down and pulling it off the wrecked metal and letting it fall to the wayside. In the room, the creature was now over Bud, lifting a bloody arm out of the swirling mass of roaches to drop into its jawless maw. Sarah shrieked at the sight of the creature and Scott took aim; he fired once, blasting a hole in the creature’s underdeveloped torso, out of which soil began to leak.
The creature seemed to take offense to that and lashed out with an arm, slamming into Scott before he could fire off another shot, pinning him against the far wall of the hallway. Sarah moved and beat on the greasy flesh relentlessly, though her blow merely slid along the creature’s slippery hide. It loomed over Bud for a moment more before lifting his frame, swollen and bleeding and naked, toes and fingers missing (along with an arm) and depositing him in the churning mass of roaches in its bucket-like maw, bugs spilling over the edge as if the maw was a hot tub, the chattering beetles forming almost a liquid mass of revulsion and hunger.
The creature’s eyes, which had been focused on Bud’s bite-covered body, now focused on Scott and Sarah. Sarah shrieked as it shuffled, it’s long legs and great height forcing it to squat as it walked. One arm still held Scott pinned to the wall. Moving closer, it clenched its hand until bones snapped from within Scott’s ribs, his arms flailing between the fingers as his legs dangled uselessly below. The rifle fell from his hand to the ground, a couple dozen black beetles wandering around it as if lost.
It brought Scott close enough to one of its eyes to where he could see his reflection in them. Slowly, as if it wasn’t accustomed to doing so, it spoke.
“Welcome… to Worley… Woods.” It rasped before issuing a dry chuckle. Scott coughed up blood, his eyes rolling into the back of his head as he slowly drowned in his own fluids. The creature tossed him aside onto the late Bud’s bed as if he were a ragdoll, before turning towards the closed window.
Three new holes appeared on the creature’s upper back, one going through to pierce the bucket mouth, a glistening new hole spilling a vile looking brackish fluid like a pierced sink. The wounds on the body seeped more dirt, which came out in great clods, crumpling into nothingness on the ground as it paused to look over its shoulder with one unblinking eye.
Sarah stood, shaking, gun at the ready. Scott moaned from the bed, clutching at his ribs with his one good arm as he puked up blood and bile. The creature stared at Sarah for several tense seconds.
“That… is all… you can do… then?” The creature asked before issuing a dry chuckle, like rough bark rubbing against a chalkboard.
“Give me back my brother!” Sarah demanded, aiming the rifle right at the creature’s protuberant eye.
It turned its head and with one large hand planted on a delicate wrist, it punched through the window, heedless of the glass slivers now stuck in its greasy skin. “No… he is… ours now.”
Sarah pulled the trigger and then held out the rifle when it didn’t shoot. She had never learned how to use one and emulated how her father had when they all went shooting in the back fields of their home. Now it seemed she was out of bullets. Making a snap decision, she dropped the rifle and ran to her room.
The creature, great thorny horns curling from its head, gave another raspy chuckle as it tore out a section of the wall on the second floor, dust and drywall flying everywhere as ravaged the house. With another slam from its meaty paw, it pushed out the rest of the side of the wall, sending it plummeting below.
As the creature squatted even further to jump down to the ground, it failed to notice one teenage girl run from behind it and jump onto its back, one fist going into a dirty holy, while the other clutched a sharpened hatchet. It leapt, traveling some fifteen feet from its standing position, slamming into the ground with a runners gallop as it began to tromp off into the woods, heedless of the diminutive frame on its back.
That is until she swung the hatchet, landing it solidly into the creatures spindle neck. Green fluid gushed from the wound as if the creature had arteries that could be cut. It howled as it turned while it ran, slowing to a stop, its long arms slowly reaching back behind it to try and reach her. She walked along the narrow back, the greasy thing staining her skin with abrasive ooze that smelled of rotting plant life. One great four-fingered hand grabbed at her arm where she held the frame, but it suffered a similar fate when the hatchet lopped off one of its long, spidery fingers, which showered her with dirt as it flailed the limb over her brutally. Between being hammered by the colossal fist and struggling to maintain her grip, she struck the spindle neck once more, in the same spot. The creature roared an unthinkable sound, something akin to a hundred trees falling at once in an avalanche of timber.
From within the holes bleeding earth centipedes began to wriggle out, climbing along the goose-pimpled grey turkey flesh that comprised the creature’s body. Kicking them away with her sneakers (which she’d hastily slipped on before grabbing her hatchet she used during the winter for firewood), Sarah gasped for air. Her limbs were on fire, her legs and arms scratched by the bristles on the monster’s greasy flesh. Hoisting herself up once more, she raised the hatchet high and brought it down for a third swing, sinking it deep in the neck of the awful beast.
“Wait… wait and… listen to my plea…” It rasped, holding up its spidery arms in defeat. Sarah held the handle, before twisting the blade in deeper, eliciting a low groan from the monster.
“And what,” Sarah called out, blowing a strand of sweat and grease-stained hair from her face, “is your plea? Will you give me back my brother?”
“That I… cannot do… he is already… dead.” The creature slowly said in its deep voice of rough lumber rubbing against lumber. “But… I can save… your father… and vow to never return to your… town again…”
“How can you save my father?” She asked, gripping the hilt of her axe with as much determination as she could.
“Leave the… blade within me… and I will… give you a seed… for your father… to eat.” The monstrous being rumbled. “It will heal… all wounds… given time…”
“Wounds you inflicted!” Sarah cried, tugging slightly on the handle to steady herself. “I think you’ll have to do better than that!”
“Gold! You humans… value gold, right?” The creature said hastily.
“I know where… there is gold twice… your weight… if you release me… it will be on your lawn before dawn…”
“No deal, you take me to it now and carry it back with me on your shoulders here, and then I’ll let you go.” Sarah declared.
And so that is what happened, the creature marched all night deep into the Worley Woods, past strange looking wolves and terrifyingly large bats, until they came to a rocky outcropping that looked… empty. A hole in the ground was obviously once occupied by a tree, and a scattering of bark in all directions made Sarah wonder. But the monster, true to its word, gently reached into the hole and lifted out an old World War One era footlocker, covered in grime and worms. Then the two of them marched back, slowly picking up speed as dawn approached. As the beast carried her into her backyard, she ordered it to put the seed on top of the chest and place both in the torn open edifice that was her little brothers room.
“I can still… smell a beating heart… in there…” The creature grumbled as Sarah dropped from its back and ran towards the back door. “I could kill you now… but I will honor my word. As long as you shall live… I will not hunt here again.”
“Just let that axe in your neck serve as a reminder,” Sarah said, doing her best to put on a brave front. She ached badly, and had multiple bites on her ankles from the centipedes, not to mention scrapes from the creature itself!
It reached up and ran one crooked finger down the back of the blade. “I will… and remember… to stay out of the Wood.”
“Deal!” Sarah said, running inside, past the kitchen and towards the stairs. She panicked when she saw Jake’s headless body. But told herself it was just a dead dog, and that her father needed attention more than it. As she ran and climbed into the room the monster had torn out of, she saw it hundreds of yards in the distance, slowly making its way into thicker trees. Hearing a moan from the couch, she raced over to the trunk and lifted the seed up, examining it before wiping off some dirt. It was the size of her thumb…
“Shit, I don’t know if he’s supposed to eat it or…” She muttered, looking back towards the rising sun as if it would have the answer. “It did say eat it, so I guess chewing it is okay.”
She walked over to her father, who was a blood-caked nightmare, skin torn and hinging loose over his muscle, his shirt mere ribbons and jeans stiff from dried blood. He cracked an eye open to look at Sarah before coughing.
“Y-you’re alright! I-I thought I saw you…” He began to ramble before Sarah shoved the seed into his mouth.
“Here Dad, eat this while I call EMS. Just lay back and relax.”
The nightmare was over.