Monday, February 22, 2016

This Is It

This is merely a formality.

For well over a year, no, longer than that, it has been apparent to me that this blog has become a stagnant mire, a wavering shade of its former self, dead. This is simply the send-off.

Since its inception, it would be safe to say that my life has changed drastically. As has my writing. I have gone from a city-dwelling college kid to a small town factory worker, and I think this has greatly altered not only my general outlook on life, but also my writing style.

Yes, I have been writing, though hardly at all.

So yes, though I will be saying goodbye to this blog (officially), Demolishing the Block is not gone.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

House Call

Beyond the undulating pavement of the paved hill before her, Amalia saw the rise of a metal spire pulling free from the earth. It was the first sign of civilization she’d seen for some twenty miles along the two-lane highway apart from the scattered country houses situated between the vast rows of still-growing corn stalks. As her jeep made its way up and over the shallow hills, she watched, with strained eyes, for the descending numbers stamped onto tiny green signs indicating each tiny country road that flashed past her peripheral vision. Between roads seven hundred and six, an even smaller pathway supposedly existed, unpaved and unused.

A five-minute phone call brought Amalia down this road, a man’s voice soft and stumbling but direct. How he found her she did not know, but he was a client not only willing to pay for her services but able to wire an advance within the hour.

“What’s the job?” She had asked, dazed with the heavy hold of sleep, slanted gray-blue light filling her apartment with long-thrown shadows.

“A hunt,” the man on the other end spoke haltingly, “a demon hunt, to be precise. I was told that you specialized in such matters..”

“Who told you?”

There was no answer.

“Was it a man named Randolph Barnes?”

“Your father spoke very highly of your abilities, Amalia…”

Passing the seven hundred road, a break in the steel roadside guardrails suddenly appeared, opening into the mouth of a thin dirt road leading seemingly nowhere. Amalia turned blindly down the avenue, hoping that she had correctly interpreted the ordered collection of landmarks dictated to her as directions. In the distance, a row of tightly huddled trees stood at road’s end, wavering towers in an otherwise featureless plain of green pasture. She killed the jeep’s engine, having driven as far as she could. Through a dust-coated windshield she saw, just past where the road died, hidden behind the line of planted oaks, the looming shape of an old farmhouse.

           As soon as her boots hit the rocky soil, Amalia began to feel a familiar upheaval swell from her bowels up into her throat. The closer she came to the house, the more intense the dizzying nausea grew. Still, she pushed forward, steadying a spinning head with a heavy-callused resistance to the effects of the energy left behind by the long-since dead. Making her way up the porch steps, towards the indistinct figure waiting above, Amalia blinked heavily to bring the scene into focus, pushing downward with great force her body’s remaining urging to dispel digesting liquid.

“It’s good to finally meet you, Miss Barnes.” The man waiting for her upon the porch greeted her with a smile and an offered hand. “I’m Pastor Jeffrey Krusen, we spoke on the phone, I’ve worked with your father in the past on-”

    “Thought you said this was a hunt, not a haunting.” Amalia heard the voice of a much older woman come from inside of her, flat and weighted. She realized, standing atop the three-step porch, that she had become winded during the short climb. Before her, the young-seeming pastor stood – in truth he was more than a decade her senior – with arm outstretched, smile fading and red-faced in the cool whipping wind of the spring morning.

           “It’s nothing of the sort, Miss Barnes.” Pastor Jeffery was forced to take a step back as the young women forced her way across the porch, pressing herself against the closed front door.

“No, of course not. He would’ve come himself if he thought it was.”

“Miss Barnes..."

       “Please don’t call me by my father’s name.” 

Amalia proceeded inside the house, instantly hit with a fresh wave of internal upheaval. She hid outward reaction within long, ponderous strides across the rotting wood plank floor. Whoever the woman was, she had died inside the house, very near to where Amalia stood. The raw energy of the violence emanated from beneath her feet, rising into the air and throughout the house as if through a steam vent.

           “It’s as I told you.” The pastor followed Amalia into the darkened foyer.

           “A demon, you said.” She forced air loudly through her nose and pursed lips.

           “A creature, it was only the description of the witnesses that labeled the thing demon.”

           “Bunch of drunken country teenagers, correct?” Amalia kicked at a crushed beer can in her path. A half dozen of crumpled aluminum containers littered the floor, strewn into an unordered spread radiating outward from a circular arrangement of white wax candles at the room’s center.
The small foyer of the farmhouse closed in as the two moved further away from daylight. Its walls were without ornamentation, each identical to the others save for the straight-cut doorways appearing as narrow black slits along the wall furthest from the door. Along the north end of the room, a long and gradually-rising staircase crept upward to a thin, banistered hallway overlooking the lower story.
           “Miss…Amalia, regardless of what they called it, I do believe something…’not of this earth’, for lack of a better phrase, was indeed seen within these walls less than a week ago.”

           “Where, exactly?” Amalia ignited the bright white beams of a hand-held flashlight.

           “Down below, in the cellar.”

           The entrance to the cellar stood just beyond the foyer, down a short hall. As they descended the creaking steps into the closed, dust-filled air, Amalia could feel the terror of the murdered woman plastered upon the stone walls. Between stuttered moments of consciousness, Amalia began to experience the cold plunging of steel into her abdomen, the suffocating taste of black dirt filling her mouth and airways. Near the bottom of the long cellar stairway, she stumbled, missing a step. She yelled at the pastor when he spun around to steady her, taking hold of her arm.

           “I’m fine!”

Amalia pushed past the pastor, jumping down onto the hard-packed earth of the cellar floor. She cast the bright white light in slow crossing passes, exposing several more discarded metal-glinting beer cans, along with a few cloth-covered bureaus and dining chairs pushed against the walls. Amalia stopped at the center of the underground room, her breathing coming and going in heavy loud heaves.

“She’s buried here.”

“Who?” The pastor asked from the darkness behind Amalia.

“Girl -- can’t say what she looks like but she was stabbed a bunch, put in the earth
and left for dead. She suffocated before she could bleed out.”
Standing beside Amalia, staring at the otherwise unremarkable patch of sandy-brown ground before them, Pastor Jeffery was unable to say anything for a time. Amalia’s heaving gradually decreased, softened, her eyes closed tightly as if in concentration, until eventually she was silent.
“How long ago?” The question broke the unmoving quiet.

“Years, a lot of them, I don’t know. I ain’t an expert.”

“No, but you are indeed a medium.”

“Not by choice.” Amalia walked toward the far end of the cellar. Her light began to pick up the scattered bits of upturned earth that eventually formed the base of a four-foot high dirt hill pushed up against the stone wall. Beside the hill lay a deep slanting hole, the light unable to find a bottom in the blackness. Crouching down, she grabbed up a small amount of the sand-filled soil, inhaling deeply as she held the sample to her nose.

It smelled distinctly of animal blood to her...goat blood to be exact. Beneath this rested the distant scent of human remains, moldy and long since decayed. The hole itself was reminiscent of those built by the long claws of moles, assuming that the mole in question was man-sized. Shining her light down the burrow, Amalia could see that the passage extended quite a ways out of sight. For a quick moment, she had to resist the urge to jump down into the hole to explore its many avenues.
“Are you suggesting that the being responsible for this attack was this...buried woman?” The pastor asked, still staring at the spot of disturbed ground.

“Never said that, just a thing that also happened here.”

“So you’re certain that the two events are unrelated?”

Amalia stood, turning to shine light toward the pastor. Her face held an expression that contained something that almost appeared to be a small smile.

“Whoever this woman was, whatever remains of her, aside from bones, is only an echo, electricity in the air undetectable by most. From what you’ve described and from the size, shape, and smell of this hole, this is most likely something very terrestrial, blood and bone.”

“Really now? You’re sure?” Jeffery bent down, feeling the sticky soft earth. “It’s cold.”
Amalia laughed.

“If you were expecting the ground to be warm with traces of hell fire, I’m sorry to disappoint you. This very terrestrial creature most likely hasn’t been back since that night, probably won’t be back. If the creature is what I think it is, there’s a good chance that it was caught off guard by finding its burrow chambers invaded, scared even.”

“So you know what we’re dealing with?” The pastor rubbed his palms, clearing it of dirt. His posture sank as he rose, exhaling deeply.
“I have an idea. There aren't a lot of animals able to burrow like this. If you wanted to, you could easily fall into this hole.”

“What is it?”

“It’s strange, something very out of place in this part of the country. I’d have to talk to the witnesses, have to be sure.”

“That will be no easy feat.” The man stiffened as he moved away from the burrow entrance. “Most of them have denied even being here, at this house, on that night…”

“Most but not all?”

“One was injured, Willem Laninga, son of the property owner. He received long gouges along the length of his left forearm. Five distinct blood-red lines, from what I’ve seen. He will be the most forthcoming, I believe, but only out of the earshot of his father. It was at his insistence that I began investigating his story. And it was on his account and this...hole...that led me to seek your assistance.”

“Those cuts will tell me more than he can.” Amalia made for the cellar stairway, long strides bouncing the white light all across the room, casting pointed, rising shadow figures as she moved.

“Amalia,” the pastor spoke loudly in the closed air, the woman turning at the sound of his voice with darkness in her look, “if you can, please keep this business of the buried woman to yourself. There are many important forces within the town that would not take well to the outbreak of such talk.”

The woman smiled, the light held under her face shadowing ever feature. “You’re paying me to catch and kill a monster. That’s what I intend to do, nothing more.”

Friday, July 4, 2014

Fracturing the Block

At this point, exposing hairline cracks in the damn thing is an exceptional victory for me. Though, actually, it's not necessarily writer's block that confounds my efforts - and maybe it never has been - but a self-destructive compulsion towards dismissing all produced work that falls short of the impossibly high altitudes required of perfection.

Perfection, pfft.

Relative perfection in art is perhaps achievable but I am intentionally setting myself up for dismal failure using such a delusional criteria for my own work. At the same time, should we not be aiming for perfection so that, when we inevitably fall far short, the flawed end product is as close to the shining twinkling ideal as humanly possible?

Somewhere there's a balance.

Still, I have something. A tangible thing more tangible than anything I've had in...god, two years? Three? I can honestly say that the last decent thing I wrote and finished was "Bone Den", a story based off a flash fiction written based off a black and white photo posted on Google+. And that fucking thing was the catalyst for the immensely fractured and innumerably revised, scrapped, and revisioned "Lamont" project.

Still not as bad as my planned zombie epic...that idea first bloomed back when zombies hadn't yet oversaturated public interest like so much artery-clogging lard. If I had to take a guess...2004?

God, ten years...

It took a supposed EF-1 tornado descending upon the town and a resulting 24-hour power outage to really force me to take a long hard look at (by scented candle) all the bits I have been scribbling together over the last two years and figure a way that they could be formed into a cohesive, interesting narrative. By the time the lights and the microwave and the fridge all kicked back on, I had banged up a very rough but sizeable chunk of a first chapter of a novel.

That chunk has since been refined a bit and is nearing a satisfying dramatic cut.

I feel like I've written this post before, maybe twice. And if I have, I have almost certainly deleted any evidence of their existence, embarrassed by my lack of the progress that was previously proudly proclaimed.

Oh well, it doesn't matter. This time, I have a thing, and I like it. Maybe no one else will, but I do.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

My Two Jobs

Today, standing dramatically before a metaphorical expanse of water (in reality a series of seemingly unending mechanized moving belts carrying in-transited commercial product), I realized something important. I realized that for the past eight or so months, I have had only one job.

Now, this is not at all a bad thing, in general terms. I am extremely grateful for the job I have. It has acted as a life preserver in the sea that is the harsh reality of expensive American living.However, this generous, income-giving job has somewhat obscured what I have long believed to be my other, equally important job - writing.

Writing has become a hobby. It's something I do casually on my days off, a form of unwinding, a fun activity to de-stress from the work week. And there's nothing wrong with that. Unless of course, one is serious about the pursuit of achieving authordom.

And I decide, while peering out at the imaginary rolling waves of this calm, nonexistent lake, that the despite the importance and necessity and time consumption of my income-based job, that I do indeed wish to someday achieve, for myself, the title of author. And not simply for the sake of having such a title, but because I enjoy the craft of literature and enjoy sharing it with others and what better way to share it than to become published to some sort of degree as an author.

And I decide that the only way to achieve this dream, this title, is to discard the idea of writing-as-hobby. Because yes, I enjoy writing and story-crafting very much as one does a hobby, and it is indeed something I am quite passionate about and that I find fun (most of the time...) but in order to achieve anything from it, ultimately, it must be treated as a job - hard work, real work, same as any other job.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Bone Den

Joe held up the bottom half of an elongated jaw bone. “Think this one’s a dog…” he said, examining it in the sunlight.
“What kills a dog?” Evan asked, standing clear from the pile of discarded animal remains that Joe had been wading through.
“Dunno, a bear?”
“Ain’t no bears in Indiana.”
“How the fuck do you know?”
Joe picked his way further into the immense collection, pushing aside the dry brush that had been obscuring the strewn-about graveyard. Unwilling to follow, Evan turned back to the path the two boys had taken through the marsh – thin fading line of disturbed forest twisting away from sight.
“C’mon man, don’t puss out on me.” Joe was invisible within the leaves now, sound of sneakers kicking around the hollowed bones echoing beneath the oaks.
Taking care where he stepped, Evan entered into the bush after Joe. And though he tried not to see the things over which he walked, every downward glance led the boy to identify a different creature. Rabbit, squirrel, possum, deer – the parts and pieces of these he had learned on hunting trips through the marsh with his father. Evan had seen too many dead forest dwellers to find this discovery of Joe’s as exhilarating as he did. But then, Joe had never gone hunting before, had no father to take him.
“You gotta see this shit, even better than it was yesterday!” Joe yelled out. As Evan drew closer, a putrid smell overtook him, smell of rotting meat. Pushing through the brush, Evan caught sight of Joe’s back, red t-shirt dark with sweat underneath the shiny plastic stock of his air rifle, crouching over what looked to be a large deer carcass. Coming closer, Evan saw the antlers of a full-grown buck, much of its muscled bulk ripped clean from bones to leave a large gory gouge across the animal’s side and haunch – maggot-swarmed flesh turned grey, sweet-smelling in the heat.
“Wanna poke at it?” Joe asked, handing Evan a broken-off tree branch, its end slathered in glistening black blood. Evan took the stick and absent-mindedly prodded at the killed beast, listening to the soft writhing of the feeding larvae as he swirled the insides of their meal-home.
“Ain’t you worried that the thing that killed it might be near?” Evan asked the other boy, who had taken up a new and sharper branch and was digging it deep into one of the buck’s eyeholes, examining the thick oozing that the puncture produced.
“Nah…” Joe had pushed the stick far enough into the animal’s head that it had almost certainly penetrated brain matter. The boy proceeded to spin the dry end around between thumb and forefinger, as if attempting to scramble the contents of the buck’s head – “Probably coyotes or something.”
Evan looked at the mass of the creature, at the severity of the wounds, noting that the neck lay untouched – “Coyotes didn’t do this.”
It had been fun before, riding down old Morris road, racing one another on hand-me-down BMX bikes, swerving in and out of the paths of oncoming pickups. An adventure, Joe had said, though to where he wouldn’t say, smirking from behind the black mesh of the screen door as Evan’s mother fried Saturday morning bacon behind them. Should have known Joe would take him to something gruesome – the boy had taken to naming the split-open cats and raccoons found along the highway, remarking upon their bloated progress. Now, the smell of death fully entrenched within his nose, Evan wished to God that they were back on Morris road, laughing under the warm blue and white sky.
Something stirred – a crack of dead wood and a rustling of dry vegetation. Evan stretched neck and eyes toward a dark figure moving indistinctly, obscured behind a scattered mass of trees.
“Joe.” Evan’s voice was a whisper, hardly audible over the insect songs hanging overhead. Evan kicked at the other boy’s back with outstretched, muddy shoe. Joe, engrossed in the pale matter he had excavated, jumped at the touch, standing quick and spinning with hands balled up.
“A thing’s out there, don’t know what it is.”
“If you don’t know, why the fuck you scared?”
Evan wanted to answer that he was scared because he knew the stories about the marsh, about the monsters lurking through its trees, about a witch living at its darkest center. But he knew Joe would sneer at his fears and his stories, laugh and spit and shove him down to the dirt. Another crack and Evan looked in time to see the distant white flash of a doe’s tail. He watched it bound away, leaping legs only visible for seconds until the spotted animal disappeared among the mesh of tree trunks.
“Just a deer,” Evan’s chest collapsed, his breath resumed.
But Joe was already moving deeper through the dead, again vanishing behind shivering branches. Not wanting to be alone, afraid of the marsh’s stillness, Evan pushed after his friend. Evan pushed through rough scratching wood, lines of red scraped across bare arms and legs, hot dripping of blood sliding down wet skin. After long minutes of painful searching, he found an exclaiming and excited Joe, standing in a small clearing before mounds of disturbed dirt. Past the boy, past his pointing and yelling, lay a black hole reaching down beneath the earth.
“Goddamn, what you think dug this?”
Evan couldn’t answer, the hole was like nothing he had seen before – the first thought was that it seemed to be an oversized rabbit burrow, large enough to fit his entire height without him hardly having to stoop. No animal he knew of was so large and able to dig so extensively. Peering further into the void, Evan’s foot banged against a hard object, long and heavy – a bone – causing him to curse, pain shooting through his foot and up his leg. The bone was larger than the others; it reminded Evan of a horse skeleton he had seen dug up on his grandfather’s ranch, long and bleached limbs stretching out amongst the dirt, straight toothy smile seeming sinister. “See that pasture,”, said grandpa, pointing out to the rolling green and yellow past the wood plank fence, “holds ‘bout two dozen more of ‘em. All them get put down sooner or later,” he told Evan, eyes distant.
The two boys stood in silence before the entrance to the underground passage for some moments. A cold draft blew up from its depths, carrying with it a faint, rhythmic groaning.
“Some animal down there,” Evan spoke with throat running dry.
“Sounds big,” said Joe, sharp grin on his face, “gonna shoot it.” He pulled his rifle around, pointing the steel tube down the hole, his shirt lifting to reveal the stubby hilt of a knife stuck down the waist of his jeans. Evan had seen the blade before, buried at the bottom of Joe’s dresser drawer, beneath his black Sunday slacks. It had been his father’s from the army, that’s what Joe said, metal shining in the slanted sunlight falling through the bedroom blinds – the fearsome blade was nearly as long as Evan’s forearm when he held it.
“Gonna shoot it and skin it.”
“You ain’t.”
“Comin’ with?”
“Hell no.”
Joe turned his back on Evan, placing a firm foot down the oversized rabbit hole. For a moment, Evan felt a sensation of warm liquid trickling down his wrists, inside of them, an urge to shove the other, much smaller boy – to send him tumbling headlong down the dirt passage. Always so dismissive, beg and plead to come play ‘cause no likes little short legs Joe, always running his mouth, starting fights, see him come down the street on the seat of his bike with blood smeared between his mouth and nose. Just push and be done with it, push him hard so he can’t catch himself in time, so his soft head breaks on hard-packed earth and bleeds quiet and broken down in the dark where not a thing can hear him except the hungry beast sleeping out of sight. Evan put a hand out, fingers grazing the stuck wet shoulder of Joe’s shirt.
“You ain’t keeping me.” Joe spoke without turning, without seeing the stiff spring-loaded arms set to throw one hundred pounds of force against his unsecured frame. “Go on and tell mommy, I’ll be back up with a trophy before anyone comes lookin’!”
And without another word, Joe was down the hole, hands held against curved walls as he slid his sneakers along the decline. And then, the trickle, the racing, sweating desire to see a body broken, broke as suddenly as Joe’s departure. Evan moved to the edge of the disturbed dirt, peering down to see the shape of Joe dissipating into the colorless void.
For minutes there was nothing to see and nothing to hear but the soft noise of sneakers scraping across semi-moist earth. Left with only the earthen gash and warm serenity of the wavering marsh, Evan was filled with an ever-pulling urge to return to the road, to leave Joe and the scene as it if it had never been found or experienced.

Road would be East, he thought, had to be, ran north to south straight up and down. The sun was high, gleaming spots breaking through the leaves, almost centered above but still leaning to one side of the sky. Still morning, it had to be, it was morning when they left. Couldn’t have been more than two hours since leaving his mother’s sun-warmed kitchen, they’d come this way plenty of times before and made it back to town before lunch.

Wasn’t the first time they’d come deep into the marsh neither – though never quite so far as to be completely separate from the sounds of passing trucks as they were now. Joe liked to come out and shoot at tiny furry creatures with his rifle – holes though their necks or bellies, gruesome mix of hair and blood. Joe would smear mud beneath and around his eyes, holding the gun at his hip, stalking between the trees like an Indian or a soldier hunting through the jungle. It scared Evan when Joe would fall so deeply into his roles, at times turning his thin-squished gaze and half-raised gun towards the other boy, as if wondering how well those little round pellets would punch through people skin.

Evan came, though, for the peace of the marsh, the quiet sensation of falling backwards from the often glaring, intruding presence of other folks, a place that he could never reach by himself, lacking the nerve and know-how. And Joe would always ask Evan first because he knew no one else would ever go with him. But this was no longer quiet separation and they were no longer two boys playing war or explorer in the woods. Evan stood alone above the hole, his fingers still tingling from the pressure to act violently, head only now unclogging of flesh-tattered imagery. If they were playing at a game, he didn’t like it.

“Joe!” Evan shouted down the burrow, “Joe, I’m gonna go home!”

The thought, the too vivid image of Joe lying bloodied at the far end of a dark tunnel brought a feeling of upward rejection to Evan’s throat, of skin-dripping dizziness. No, he didn’t love Joe or even like him much, but to want his painful demise was beyond anything Evan could ever wish, to hurt anyone was beyond him, at least he thought it was.

“Joe!” No answer in voice or scuffle but squinting into the deep, two small glints of reflected sun gazed out of the murk. Evan peered down further, neck craned down as he tried to discern the source of the lights. A noise, something like the gargling of thick liquid down the throat, rose upward from the hole, the glints growing larger. The gurgling was joined by movement of earth, vibrations beneath the boy’s feet. One final glimpse down the pit revealed to Evan the outline of a long and skeletal head swiftly carrying up its sun-glinting eyeballs.

Evan ran through the bones, out of them, into no specific direction. He had forgotten the position of the sun, forgotten the road, his bike, and the way home. Evan had forgotten Joe. There was only running, escape from a terror he hardly knew the shape of. Evan ran through tree branch and bush, over mud and swampy ground, the lazy ripple of the nearby river following his strides.

If the monster had risen from its den to give chase, Evan could not hear it over his own ragged breathing. He ran until his legs were alit with fire, until his lungs felt as if they had shriveled, no longer able to hold any amount of air. When, at last, he gave in to the demands of his body and stopped moving, Evan collapsed upon hard dirt and roots, vomiting his mangled breakfast and yellow liquid between his hands.

When Evan regained his breath and could bring himself to stand, he found himself lost. Above, the light sat straight upward with no leaning bias – in no left or right or turned-around stare could even the faintest hint of road or field or house be seen. But the creature, if it had ever been so at all, was not after the boy – his ears fought to detect the smallest scrap of that horrible gurgling through the buzz of the marsh.

Evan paced, unsure of what to do, back and forth steps an attempt to calm the boy’s frenzied thoughts – what he saw did not exist in science, he knew of any and all creatures that could dwell inside the marsh and that, that was not one. And Joe, what about Joe? Whatever it was that came surging up from the burrow, certainly Joe would not have hesitated to let loose a rifle round in either attack or defense – or at the very least, in warning.

But there hadn’t even been a yell echoed up the decline, only the gurgles and the rough shoving of dirt. And when that awful rising skull-thing touched the daylight, the thought of his friend’s safety was the furthest from his head, it made Evan cold to think that.

Friend was a word Evan used lightly in regards to Joe, but the boys had known one another since they were babies, living on the same street, front doors separated by less than a dozen grassy steps – such close proximity forced friendship onto the two young boys. Especially since no one else much liked the other boy – always talking, never standing still, but Evan never had the heart, no, the spine, to say no to Joe, even he grew a whole bunch taller than the other boy last summer. He wouldn’t have even gone with Joe had his mother not shoved Evan out the door – “don’t waste another beautiful day inside with your video games,” she said, high voice bringing red to his cheeks as he hurried out the door, half-chewed eggs being swallowed down. Knew Joe had nothing good to show him, knew it from the look on his face, little sneer, hell, Evan had half-expected him to pull a prank or flat-out try to scare him…

He stopped his pacing, stopped dead, embarrassment again in his face and cold drops forming on his forehead. Of course, no such monster existed, of course it had been Joe wearing a mask, come climbing up the hole with a thing in his mouth to enhance his monstrous grunts and growls.

“Goddamnit Joe!” yelled Evan out into the woods, all fear dissolved. “You got me you damn asshole!” He forced a laugh, balling his fists and tensing his body as he expected the small boy to jump out at him, screaming, for the final scare. At first, the marsh responded with only its continuous buzzing and rippling. It wasn’t long, though, before the droning was disturbed by the faint rustling of light footfalls upon snapping twigs. Evan spun to see the shape of a person approaching through the trees.

“C’mon out you sonofabitch, you ain’t scarin’ me again!” Evan’s shouts went unreturned, the figure advancing without growing any more distinct. It was then that Evan realized, with a dropping smile, that the dark form approaching was far too tall to be Joe in disguise – taller than the snapped-in-half tree trunk that had half-fallen to hang suspended above the path, the thing stooping low on the spot that Evan had easily run through upright.

He did not shout again at the thing, watching as it effortlessly moved through the marsh without hurry, seeming to roll forward as if it were a pillar of black smoke. Evan then found himself moving almost as silently between the oaks, pain removed from lungs and legs. He could scarcely feel his feet touching down against the ground, only focused on increasing the speed by which the green leaves passed through his sight. He ran for minutes, no thoughts aside from an unwillingness to meet the being chasing after him, whose presence he could surely detect only a handful of yards behind – hot humidity enveloping the back of his neck.

In front of him, the trees began to reveal the straight, solid lines of a structure – a squat building of cut logs. There was no door nor open window that he could see, so Evan cut sharply around a corner of the small cabin. Frantically, the boy scanned the new wall for a way inside but again, Evan encountered only an impossible wall of even-laid tree bodies. Just behind, Evan could hear that bloody-throat gurgling coming from around the corner of the cabin. At last though, around yet another corner, Evan found his break, door-sized opening in the monotonous exterior, dirt path leading inside and wooden threshold overgrown with weeds, marsh overtaking the interior.

Eyes adjusting poorly to the loss of direct light, Evan felt at the frame for a door to shut, finding heavy wood hanging from rusted hinges. He slammed it shut with a screech and a scrape – all was black and still. The only lock to hold the door in place was a heavy bolt, grinding into place with dusty resistance. No sooner was the door secure when it buckled and jumped, assaulted from the opposite side by something large and strong. Evan placed the whole of his weight against the rotted, hollow-seeming wood, bouncing with each bang, the whole of the construct splintering and jangling behind him as if it would fall apart at any second.

But, with a final crack and a dying-away gurgle, the monster seemed to vanish. Evan was left heaving, wet back against the worn-smooth grain as the marsh sounds returned to prominence. As his vision adjusted to the dank interior, frightening shapes revealed themselves to Evan – gnarled horns and fang-filled jaws, black eyes of the dead. He was inside the trophy-lined walls of a hunters’ cabin.

His heart rate dropping from its heightened pounding, Evan began to feel somewhat safe. Perhaps that old door was stronger than it looked or the creature weaker than its size dictated. Cautiously, the boy crawled away from the door, keeping low to stay out of sight of the grime-covered windows – as if the monster didn’t already know his location (but why didn’t it attempt an entrance through the breakable glass…?) Still, with small hope, Evan searched the one-room shack for a means of communicating to the outside – a phone would be too much to wish for, but maybe a battery-powered radio could be found among the stuffed corpses.

Bucks made up the majority of the kills mounted up on the walls, though other, more exotic fauna were interspersed throughout the rabble. Evan picked out wolves and wild mountain cats, the large, far-spreading stiff wingspans of elegant birds of prey. At the far-end of the room, he made out the head of a roaring grizzly bear.

The place smacked of familiarity. Though Evan was sure he had never before stepped foot where he stood. It brought to mind a story, one told to a smaller Evan – shrouded under baseball-stitched blankets while Cal, his older brother, whispered down from the upper bunk after the strip of yellow light beneath their parent’s bedroom door went black. A story of a hunter who lived alone deep in the marsh, a skilled archer and marksman, taxidermist of great renown, leaving behind the posed, still-life corpses of his kills.

“They say the man grew tired of hunting only beasts,” Calvin would say, voice full of trembling huskiness, slanted eyes dark in the dim bedroom – “they say he turned to hunting people, found humans much more fun to hunt.” And the older brother’s voice would drop lower, his face drawing closer, lines lengthening and features sinking into his face. “But soon he found the greatest prey of all – the things that people would protect more than anything else…”

“Their kids?”

Cal smiled, teeth gleaming in the nightlight glow. “No one has ever found his hunting cabin, but there are some that say if it ever was found, they would find rows and rows of tiny skeletons lined up inside that dirt-dug cellar.” And he would stop, voice trailing off, sensing the fear streaming off his little brother though Evan tried his best to uphold a brave face.

So, without another thought toward the creature skulking outside, Evan moved further into the cabin, away from the dim brown sheen dripping out of the caked-over window panes. He moved to where a cellar door would be if there was one, the end of the building shrouded underneath a flailing dankness.

“What happened to the man? Is he still alive?”

“They say he died a long time ago – but no one really knows…” curved teeth in the half-light.

Evan’s foot pushed against something wooden, something metal scraping the smooth worn flooring. Mindlessly, he groped for the object, unable to take his eyes off the rippling dark. Soft wood feeling uneven and infested with moisture, thin enough to wrap small boy hands around but heavy, smell of blood and Evan saw the orange-crusted wood-cutting ax head floating off the floor.

He pushed the blade forward, pushing aside the unseeableness of that last corner. No door, only a wall same as the other three. But Evan’s foot then dug into yielding ground, slipping off the edge of splintered sharp floor boards. No door, but a passageway leading down below the surface. Light only penetrated its upper layers, the rest funneling into static-filled nothingness – bright spots playing against Evan’s straining vision as he fought to find shape down the hole.

Hole too similar to the one Joe vanished down, similar except more than dirt lined its deep sides. Much like the piles that had brought the boys so far into the marsh, bones decorated the earthen tunnel – wide enough to fall into – and spilled upwards onto the battered wood flooring where dark splatters haloed the most concentrated collections.

Seeing that decline brought new sickness to Evan’s throat, pooling spit inside his cheeks. He thought of Joe, thought of his sweat-plastered back disappearing down that hole. Evan remembered the feeling of desire for blood, desire to see Joe grow tiny and crumple. Foolishly, he opened his mouth to call for his friend, stopping just short of ejecting out a voice, short inhale of air.

Evan heard the gurgles before seeing the pale glimmers bouncing up from the depths. It emerged before Evan could tell his legs to run, not that they could carry the boy fast or far enough. Relax and stay still, your life was short and without pleasure, be happy to see it end, be happy that it will be with little pain – just be still. The thing arisen from the hole was nearly as tall as the cabin itself, long thin body standing upright, supported by legs of exposed bone and burnt-black muscle. In basic appearance, the monster was human with similarly-structured arms and a head – bulbous like the cracked thing lying empty at Evan’s feet. But its flesh seemed to hang off the bones – too long, too spindly, insectoid legs – in strips, black as the lightless hole the thing had crawled out of, the skin appearing as a raggedy jacket hanging off the sharp frame.
Like the rest of its body, the monster’s head was essentially human, yet too long as if placed in a clamp and squeezed then pulled to stretch it into an irregular shape, eyeballs empty of life, glittering colorless. Unable to move save for tightening his arm, raising the heavy ax defensively, reflexively, to head height, Evan watched as the monster unhinged its lower jaw from the rest of its skull, revealing yet another deep and dark recess, framed by the bony and pointed protrusions that formed its teeth – large and wide enough for a man’s head, certainly a boy’s.
Without noise, without advancing time, the thing had moved, appearing in front of Evan. The boy’s arm burned with strain from holding the heavy tool. He stared into the unheaving ribs of the naked beast, searching for signs of fleshy innards, fresh glistening meat – Joe, you’re in there ain’t you, all chewed up and ate…
And then that unhinged jaw was lowered to eye-level, perfect view down the sightless gullet, stench of long-spoiled meat and warm blood rolling out. Its bone-lips moved further apart, jagged pale shards pointed out, dangling still-stuck pink stringy bits.
Time raced while not moving at all, bubbling throat juices popping around Evan’s ears. He did not want to run. Over soon, stay so still, what life do you have worth running for, surviving is too difficult, drop the heavy load and let your arms lay free and still and the pain will end so swiftly. But Evan did not want to die, though he felt death hurtling toward him, felt his own body plummeting forward through a curved and narrow tunnel towards an impossibly tiny dead end. The end was hot and humid, pressure of near-future pain just above his soft, hairy head. It would be easy to be still.
Down came the ax.