The Halloween Project 2019 Story 1: The Unwelcome Guest
The shadow, quick, low to the ground, and extremely angled, snapped in the corner of Morgan’s eye. A turn of head and torso brought him around and upright but it was already gone.
Standing still and peering hard, he scanned the 10 acre field of high grasses that bordered the distance from his old farmhouse to the dense forest of oak, maple and sassafras. One large boulder that marked the southwest corner of the field stood high above the grasses. It’s flat top as if waiting for a monument to be placed there. Beyond the forest was simply more: forest and trees, the occasional low-lying wetland swamp, and miles stretching in a slow rising to the hills, far beyond. Thick, mapped yet uncharted, people-less. It was exactly what Morgan craved. Since his wife’s death eight years earlier with no children to force connections Morgan needed the silence. It afforded the peace to follow his hobby, woodworking, and his profession, novelist. He went into town only when needed, spoke to people when necessary and followed his own clock, nocturnal.
Morgan turned back to the house. Every day he took this walk, usually late in the afternoon, sun just hanging on the skyline. He took different paths, sometimes depending on the season, but often not. He possessed a keen sense of direction and finding himself lost never occurred.
It burst again on his left, faster still, grass rustling as if parted by the wind, 20 maybe 30 yards off. He saw an arched back, hyena like, but long; much, much longer. It was gone. Morgan stood still, no weapon at hand, although he owned a 22 back at the farm. Target practice mainly, and once an old mangy raccoon that proved to be rabid when the authorities came to retrieve it. His heart picked up apace, but he never felt truly afraid. Interested? Not really. Perhaps intrigued.
It was a week later when he saw it, or half saw, it once again. He had walked to the far end of the field and ventured just a short distance into the forest. Autumn had arrived, spectacularly beautiful, and totally early for the first of October. The forest always called him, but the siren was both intimate and demanding. And there it was. Fast again, sleek and then stopping with its head turned directly at Morgan. Some low scrub obscured its midsection, but it was like nothing he had ever seen. Hindquarters were long and knobby, legs askew with what appeared to be an extra joint, segmented into a bony, almost elongated insect like pair of legs perhaps with hooves. At the front he could only see its narrow face, two sharp set eyes and long fangs, doglike. No, wolflike. And it was long, very long. Eight feet, perhaps nine. Like nothing that he had seen or imagined. And if he was correct, drooling. Blood.
It watched him, unmoving, for 30 extremely extended seconds, then flashed off with a speed that Morgan could not comprehend. He turned immediately and walked, almost jogging, to the farmhouse. He waited for the sound of a fast pursuit but none came. That heart that had feigned intrigue was now frightened.
Behind a securely locked door he snapped his cell phone open and called the county’s Animal Control Agency. He knew the agent ever since the raccoon incident.
“Hello, Bob Greenish, here. How can I help you?
“Hi Bob, Morgan Slane. I have a problem out here.”
“Morgan, nice to hear your voice. No more crazy raccoons I hope. How is everything out there on Lonely Planet. And what’s the problem?”
“It’s been fine out here, until now. There’s some kind of an animal out in my field or maybe in the forest. I’m not even sure how to describe it. I think it may be some kind of genetic defect or something.”
“Alright, slow down and describe it to me,” Bob followed.
“Well, that’s the damn problem. I’ve seen it twice now. This second time pretty damn clear at least it’s front and rear. Its head resembled a greyhound but with fangs, narrow muzzle, beady, dark eyes. But its rear legs were the worst. It’s like it had too many joints.”
“Too many joints?” Morgan could hear the doubtful puzzlement in Bob’s voice.
“I know it sounds crazy, but that’s not the worst. It was fairly low to the ground and really, really long. Maybe eight feet long. And no tail. I think it had just eaten something because it appeared to be dripping blood from its muzzle.”
“Morgan, in all honesty, are you certain. The light can play tricks, especially at dusk, in the forest. And I have to ask, you’re not maybe smoking a little something for inspiration now that we legalized it here in the state.”
“Bob, no I’m serious. And the thing is…monstrous is the only word I can think of.”
“Well maybe your first insight was correct. I’ve actually seen some crazy things in my time. A sheep with a fifth leg, and some poor dogs with…well, messed up. That could be what this is, a birth defect of some sort, but how it lived so long, who knows. Maybe a coyote, or a wolf come down from the hills. Maybe even a whitetail deer that got the bad shake of the gene pool.”
“No Bob,” Morgan replied, “It’s none of those. I know enough about animals that it’s none of those.”
“O.K. here’s what I’m going to suggest you do. If you go outside, and I’m sure you will, I know how much you love those walks, take two things: your 22 and a camera. If you see it again, try to get a picture. If it seems threatening fire a warning shot over its head, but if it gets too close don’t hesitate to shoot it. I’ll be out day after tomorrow and we’ll take a walk around, see what we can find. Maybe some scat droppings or the path it takes. Could be it’s not settled in to one area and just moving through. See you on Thursday.”
And the call ended. Morgan poured himself a good portion of Jameson’s, looked out the window into the moonlit night and wondered what the hell he had seen in the forest. Sleep did not come easy.
His walk the next day took place in the brightness of a sky scattered with clouds. 22 rifle and camera slung over each shoulder. No animal crossed his path save for the infrequent squirrel and a bunch of cackling crows that seemed wired up by the cool autumn breezes. Until he came upon the deer. It had been gutted, its spine snapped in a grotesque position. Most of its internal organs were gone or splattered across the forest floor. Its head a grimace of blood and gore. Morgan snatched the gun from his shoulder and turned quickly back toward the farm. With his heart a triphammer as he crossed most of the way across the field he glanced to the southwest, and there over a hundred yards away the creature was on the top of the boulder peering directly at him. Standing up on its hind legs. It flashed into movement, a leathery bolt of lightning headed directly toward him. He raced the last 25 yards to the farmhouse, threw the door open and bolted it just as quickly. Jumping to the window he saw nothing.
The telephone call to Bob Greenish proved uneventful. He would be coming along tomorrow. He’d bring his shotgun. They’d get to the bottom of this situation.
He ineffectually tried to cheer Morgan, “This is not a problem, Morgan. Over the years I’ve had to take care of an ornery black bear, a bobcat that was eating chickens and even dogs, and any number of sick and crazy coyotes. Whatever it is, I’m interested to find out. And take care of it.”
The next day, wary with every step, they made their way to where the deer carcass had been. All that was left was the head, mangled, destroyed. The dead deer had been dragged off into the forest.
“Let’s track it just a bit. This is getting very interesting,” Bob stated.
“No, let’s not. Let’s just…” before Morgan could finish his thought the creature flashed at blinding speed, leaping with precision and a quickness that could not be reckoned with, bursting from the thicket, it’s long, long face and fangs opened in a gaping attack. It took Bob’s head from his neck and crushed it, facial bones snapping in repeated cracks and pops. Morgan screamed, grabbed the 22 of his shoulder and lowered it. The creature looked up from Bob’s headless torso and shook his own head back and forth as if to say, “No.” Morgan fired off four shots in quick succession but the beast moved fast and faster, gone with Bob’s head snatched from the ground. Morgan turned and ran. It never followed.
Back at the farmhouse Morgan called Animal Control but no one answered. He then dialed the State Trooper barracks in Winstall.
“There’s been a murder, I mean a killing, a death! By an animal!”
“What exactly is the nature of your emergency, sir?”
“Bob Greenish has been killed by an animal on the edge of my property! It took his head off.”
“Bob Greenish, sir? Are you referring to Bob Greenish of Animal Control?”
“Yes, he’s been killed!”
“You saw the accident, sir? I’m sorry, the attack?”
Morgan heard a repeated thumping. A measured cadence of heavyset pounds on his front porch. They had mounted the steps and crossed the dozen feet to the door. Clutching the phone Morgan moved as silently as possible to the curtained window by the door. A strangled whisper, just short of a scream, hissed into the phone.
“It’s at my door! It’s at my door! It’s standing on its hindlegs and its…”
He peered up through the window and the creature was looking down on him from eyes at least eight feet in the air. It ears were pinned back flat. The black eyes sharpened. It’s mouth agape, teeth red. It extended an appendage, perhaps an arm. Reached out toward the house. A little further.
And the doorbell rang.