The Tentacle

THE TENTACLE

a short story by Lesley Woodral
      Kiera awoke with a gasp, prepared to scream, but a grimy hand pressed over her mouth and a man’s voice whispered into her ear. “Don’t scream. If you scream, it’ll hear you. If it hears you, it’ll kill you.” The face above hers was draped in shadows, dim yellowish light creating a sickly halo around it, but she could see the gleam of terror in the man’s eyes. He crouched above where she lay, the concrete floor damp and cold beneath her. Her tee shirt was thin and sleeveless and the floor had already leached away most of her body heat. Her teeth wanted to chatter, but the man’s hand kept them from moving. His intense gaze drilled into her own as he said. “Nod if you understand.”

      She nodded, though she didn’t understand. Not at all. She just wanted his hand away from her mouth. The small dim room surrounding them stank with the meaty cloying odor of unwashed bodies and something else. Something dark and rotted and horrifyingly familiar. It was a smell that conjured images of roadkill left to decay and dry up in the sun. But, as bad as the rest of the room smelled, the man’s hand smelled worse.

      He watched her eyes for a long time before slowly pulling his hand away. “You have to stay as quiet as you can.” His whisper would have been inaudible if not for the tomblike quiet of their surroundings. He moved back, giving Kiera her first glimpse at her prison cell. 

      Four walls made of plain concrete blocks, unbroken and unyielding. A poured cement floor, broken and covered with a spiderweb of cracks that terminated in the center of the room in a hole that might have started its existence as a floor drain. But now it was something worse. The drain cap was long gone and the hole had caved in around its mouth, like the gaping maw of a toothless old man. The floor around the hole was covered in blood and bits of meat and bone and ragged strips of skin and ruined clothing. It was black in some places, where it had dried into a sticky foul smelling glaze.

      It was still wet in others.

      Besides the hole and the wire mesh covered light above it, there was only one other thing of interest in the cell. Leaning against the far wall was another man, filthy and more silent than the first. His lean face was covered in a wiry matted beard where it wasn’t covered in filth and he watched Kiera and her new friend with dark empty eyes. 

      The man beside her saw where she was looking and whispered. “I call him the nameless one.” He sat on the floor beside her and leaned his lips close to her ear. “He was here when I arrived. Along with two others.” He went quiet.

      “How long have you been here?” Kiera asked, her voice a hoarse whisper. Her throat was dry and the inside of her mouth tasted weird. 

      “I’m not sure.” He shook his head. As he spoke, his eyes kept darting back toward the bloody hole in the floor. He said. “No more than a day or two, or I’d already be dead.” At her confused look, he added. “There’s no food or water.”

      Kiera went cold inside and said in a silent whisper. “Where are we?”

      He didn’t answer right away. Across from them, the other man pushed up off of the floor and stood up against the wall. He wasn’t watching them. He was watching the hole in the floor as well. When the other man moved, her friend did as well. Gripping her by the hand, he pulled her up beside him and put his lips against her ear. He mouthed. “Don’t make a sound.”

      The cell went completely silent, except for their breathing, and none of them moved. Standing, she realized her shoes were gone. The floor was cold and wet underfoot, adding to her misery. After a long time of nothing happening, the other man eased back down to a squatting position and continued to stare at the hole.

      Her new friend leaned close and said. “He does that whenever he thinks it’s coming.”

      “Who is he?” Kiera watched the man and the gaping black maw in the center of the floor with equal intensity. The air in the cell was thick with tension and the stench of decay and human waste. She tore her gaze away and met the eyes of the man beside her. “Who are you?”

      “I’m Jimmy.” He nodded toward the other man and said. “He doesn’t talk, not that I’ve seen. I’ve been calling him the nameless one. He was here when I arrived.”

      “How did we get here?” She ran a hand through her hair and tried to work some spit into her mouth. She was getting used to the smell and that scared the hell out of her.

      Jimmy watched the hole as he spoke. In his own way, he was just as intense as the nameless one. “How much do you remember? Do you remember being taken?”

      Kiera searched her memory and could only shake her head. “I remember leaving home for work, but I don’t remember arriving. I was in the car and then I was here.” She pictured leaving her house for work. She worked full-time as a Barista in her hometown’s lone little coffee shop, as well as filling in as assistant manager when required. She also went to school, taking classes to be a Lab and X-ray Tech at the local Junior College and needed the extra income her Barista tips brought in. She could visualize getting in her car and taking the turn at the end of the street but then her memory hit a wall. She didn’t even know how much time had passed. Her phone was gone, as was her handbag and anything else she might have used to figure out where she was or what was going on. “How did I get here?” 

      Jimmy said. “You only just arrived. That’s how it happens.”

      “What do you mean?” 

      “There’s been two others since I got here.” Jimmy said, his face twisting. He shook his head and stopped talking. He was looking at the hole in the floor again. His face was writ with terror and traces of madness. He shook himself and said. “After one is taken, someone else is brought in to replace them. The light goes off and the door opens in the dark and somebody is dumped inside. Usually an hour or so after it takes someone.”

      “What happens to them?” Her voice was a ghost of a whisper. She didn’t want to know, not really, but she had to hear the words. If she was going to die, she had to know how it was going to happen. No matter how terrified it made her.

      “It takes them.” He nodded toward the hole. “It comes up out of the hole and takes us, one at a time.”

      Kiera stared at the black and bloody opening and shuddered. “What is it?”

      As if in answer to her question, there was a sound from the center of the room and the nameless one stood up fast and plastered himself to the wall. Jimmy pulled her up with him and put a finger to his lips. His eyes were wide and terrified and he pressed her against the wall with his arm while doing the same himself. 

      In the center of the floor, something had emerged from the hole. At first, Kiera thought it was a snake, which was terrifying in its own right, but soon saw she was horribly mistaken. When she realized what it was, the sinking feeling of crawling dread that filled her belly was so much worse.

      It was a tentacle. 

      It moved slowly, teasing the edge of the hole before uncoiling and stretching out towards the concrete walls and the terrified prisoners. Kiera clenched her teeth to keep from screaming and stared at the tentacle as it stretched even further and touched the far wall, only a few feet from the nameless one.

      The nameless one stepped sideways, moving quickly but silently away from the tentacle as it coiled and twisted against the wall, its tip teasing and tracing the seams of the cinder block. He eased away from it, moving toward the next wall. The tentacle pulled back, dancing in the air for a moment before lashing out toward the wall to the right of Jimmy. Kiera didn’t need to be told that letting the tentacle touch her was the last thing she should let happen. She sidestepped away from it, keeping Jimmy between herself and the horrible questing thing as it hunted for its next victim. 

      The tentacle writhed and twisted, seeking fresh meat, and Kiera felt her gorge rise. It was a sleek black thing, the skin gleaming in the yellowish light from above. It was similar to an octopus’s arms, but without the suckers. Where they would’ve been there were jagged little barbs, almost like teeth or the edges of a plant. It lashed sideways, nearly touching her, and Kiera ducked beneath it and scuttled sideways. Jimmy went the other way hugging tight to the wall.

      The tentacle twisted and snapped out toward the next wall, moving faster and more aggressively around the tiny cell. Kiera ducked beneath it, terrified it would tangle in her hair, and crabwalked sideways.

      Strong hands suddenly grabbed her by the shoulders and she was face to face with the nameless one. He smiled, revealing teeth that were stained black with blood and vileness, and hissed into her face. “Dinnertime.” Then he shoved her into the tentacle.

      Kiera screamed even as the tentacle lashed around her arm, jerking her off her feet and toward the hole in the floor. The barbs hooked into the meat of her forearm, burning and tearing her flesh as it pulled her to her waiting doom. She screamed again and tried to fight it, using her free hand to claw at the slick black skin of the thing, but nothing she did seemed to affect it. 

      But then Jimmy was there, holding her tight and stabbing at it with something held tight in his fist. It took her a panicked moment to see that it was a shank made from a filthy shard of a human leg bone. He stabbed the tentacle over and over, at the same time holding Kiera as tightly as he could. The tentacle moved fast, jerking sideways, and tossed them both away as it released her arm, sending them crashing into the wall.

      Kiera’s arm was bleeding from a multitude of jagged little tears and burned as if on fire, but she was free. Jimmy wasn’t as lucky. The tentacle caught him around the waist and jerked him off his feet, slamming him into the far wall. His arm broke at a horrible angle and he screamed. Kiera tried to get to her feet but fell on her face and threw up. The room was spinning. Jimmy hammered at the tentacle with his free hand, his other arm pinned to his side by the monstrous fleshy thing as it coiled tighter around him. It jerked him into the air and slammed him into the ceiling before dragging him into the hole. His screams rose in pitch, becoming something that wasn’t even close to human, and the tentacle coiled up between his legs and slithered up his waist. 

      There was a second, just before it dragged him into the hole, when Jimmy’s terrified gaze locked onto Kiera’s and she saw straight into the hell that was waiting for her. Then, with a convulsive surge, the tentacle pulled back into the hole. Cloth and flesh tore with equal ease as it drug Jimmy into the darkness below. His right leg hung up and jerked upwards, the flesh and bone twisting and snapping as it tore loose at the hip. Blood geysered from the mutilated stump and Jimmy’s scream was cut off as the tip of the tentacle forced its way into his mouth, distending his jaw. More blood began pouring from his nose and the corners of his eyes. His skin became a deep purple as the blood was forced upwards by the crushing pressure. It began to split in places, blood hissing as it escaped bursting tissues. The concrete gave way in places as the tentacle gave one last horrible tug and Jimmy slipped from view. The last thing Kiera saw of her protector was his right eye being pushed out of its socket by the questing tip of the tentacle.

      Then he was gone.

      The only sound in the cell was Kiera’s panicked breathing as she pushed herself to her feet and stared at the blood soaked hole in the floor. The hole was bigger now. Across from her, the nameless one finally spoke. He said. “About time.” 

      Kiera said nothing. She bent and picked up the sharpened shard of bone that Jimmy had tried to use to protect her. It was part of a human leg bone and there was strips of cloth wound tight around the knob, making a crude handle. She leaned against the wall and stared at the nameless one.

      He smiled at her, the dim yellowish light making his stained teeth look black with rot, and said. “We don’t have to be as quiet after it’s eaten. Usually takes a day or so before it gets peckish again. So we have some time.” He took a step toward her, his filthy hands opening and closing at his sides. “It’ll go easier if you don’t fight back. You might even enjoy it.” He took another step toward her.

      Kiera took a step back and shook her head. “Are you fucking kidding me? It’s bad enough that we’re going to get eaten by that thing, but now you’re going to get all rapey on me?” She tightened her grip on the bone dagger and said. “You best stay back, or you’re going to wish it had gotten you instead of Jimmy.”

      He chuckled. And took another step. “You might as well just give in and go with it. We’re both dead either way. When it comes back, I’m just going to feed you to it. That’s if it doesn’t grab you first.” He put a filthy finger against the side of his nose and said. “But suppose you fight back and kill me before I ravage you? Or it grabs me instead?” They circled the hole in the floor, leaving bloody tracks as they tracked through the blood that was everywhere. It even hung in the air, the coppery taste thick and cloying in the back of her throat. His smile was positively evil. “You’re still dead. Maybe not the next time it comes. Or the time after that. But it will get you eventually. It gets everyone eventually.”

      He took a sudden sideways step, moving closer to the hole, and forced her to stop her slow retreat. He stared at her, his sick and deranged eyes crawling over her skin. Behind him, she noticed furtive movement at the edge of the broken hole. He caught the direction of her glance and his smile went crooked. He said. “Nice try. But I’m not that stupid.”

      The tentacle lashed around the nameless one’s ankles and jerked his feet out from underneath him, slamming him to the concrete floor. He thrashed and fought even as it drug him across the bloody floor and into the hole. It was bigger now, but it still tore at the man’s flesh as he was pulled down. He caught the edge of the hole before dropping out of sight and held on a long time before the concrete crumbled even more and he dropped out of sight.

      She thought that he would scream but there was no sound in the cell but her panicked breathing. She bent at the waist and retched as quietly as she could. Her whole body felt loose and hot and she trembled as she wiped at her mouth and stared at the hole in the floor. Long seconds passed before she got her breathing under control and minutes before she could make herself move. 

      Moving as quietly as she could, she went to the door and checked it all over. But there was no way of opening it from the inside of the cell. Choking back the blind panic that threatened to curl her up in a ball on the floor, Kiera quietly paced the tiny cell, her eyes continuously pulled to the waiting hole as she ran through a million scenarios in her head. All of them ending bloody, but only a few ending with her alive. 

      When she felt like she had to either go through with the worst of her plans or use the jagged shank in her shaking fist to tear open her own throat, Kiera moved toward the hole. Crouching before she got too close, she tested the floor to see if it seemed stable and couldn’t see any difference between the concrete’s strength or texture. Her breath was coming in short little gasps and she had to stop and calm herself down before sliding into a sitting position and scooting around until her legs dangled into the hole below.

      She let them hang that way for a long time, closing her eyes as she prepared for the grasp of the tentacle and the horrible tug down into oblivion. And for a second, that’s exactly what she felt, the soft brush of something on her leg. Her heart tried to pound its way out of her chest and she very nearly used the bone dagger on herself, before her panicked brain let her register what it was. It was wind. There was a soft breeze moving from the open hole, the air fetid but otherwise normal beneath a layer of old decay and damp stone.

      Closing her eyes, Kiera steeled herself for what came next. Rolling over onto her stomach, she eased her hips down into the hole. There was a panicky second where she thought the opening was still too narrow, but eventually she lay half in the hole. Her legs dangled below and she kicked her feet, trying find some kind of purchase, but found only air. She eased further down, praying her feet would find the ground soon, but they only found empty air instead. Holding herself with her elbows, she tried to swing her body with her legs and the concrete gave away under her and she fell silently into the darkness.

      It was a short fall and she didn’t have time to scream before hitting a hard slope, tearing her pants as she tumbled to the ground and collapsed onto her back. She hurt all over and she could feel blood oozing from a gash on her leg but she didn’t think anything was broken. Her breath had a hollow sound to it that said she was in a big open chamber, larger than the cell above. Muddy light filtered down through the hole above in a bloody orange cone, casting ugly shadows on the parts of the walls that were just barely visible. 

      As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she could make out more of the chamber and she couldn’t quite grasp what she saw. The chamber was large and rounded, the rock floor covered with irregular mounds of rock and debris and it was sticky beneath her bare feet. Kiera crept forward and stared at her bleak surroundings. There was a soft greenish glow coming from the back of the chamber and she moved toward it.

      As she got closer, she saw that the glow was coming from the walls themselves, or from the film of greenish scum growing along the walls edges. Bioluminescence, a $5 word from one of her school textbooks came to mind. She touched it and it came away on her fingertips, making them glow. Like the inside of a lightning bug.

      There were also figures carved into the wall, ancient looking hieroglyphs and pictograms. Kiera took a moment to look the markings over before moving further into the monster’s lair. There was an archway, through which a sickly green light flickered fitfully and a strange mewling noise drifted. She held tight to her makeshift weapon and stepped through the doorway and into hell itself. 

      The first thing she saw was the tentacle, the fat glistening length of it curled up in the center of the chamber. It was unmoving, having spent itself with its recent hunting, but it twitched and quivered on the floor as she entered the chamber. Light came from more of the bioluminescent scum that covered the walls and the ceiling, painting the horrible tableau before her in a greenish tint that lent the scene a nightmarish and comic book quality. 

      The tentacle wasn’t alone. There were others, though none were as thick or terrifying as the first. Most were desiccated and unmoving, as dead and dried up as an old snake skin. There were mounds of detris and debris all about the shadowy chamber. When she bent to examine the nearest pile, she found a loose pile of bones and torn clothing. A fractured skull, bits of dried skin still clinging to it. She shuddered. 

      There was a slurping crunching sound from the back of the chamber and when Kiera moved closer she was finally offered her first look at the monster the tentacle was attached to. It rested on a massive stone alter, its corpulent bulk wet and glistening with a brackish slime that oozed from infected looking pores covering its surface. It had 8 tentacles in all, like an octopus, but only the one had any life to it. There was a thick stench of putrefaction wafting off of it in waves, making her eyes water and her stomach clench in anticipation of vomit. 

      The bone dagger in her fist felt painfully inadequate as she moved closer. She stepped over and around bones and bits of dead tentacle as she made her silent way toward her enemy. There was no easy exit from the chamber, not that she could find, and she knew that if the beast regained its strength it would get her eventually. 

      Tearing her mind away from thoughts of her possible fate at the mercy of the tentacle, Kiera took a deep breath, and crept up on the twitching mass before her. She was close, breathing shallowly through her mouth, when the great beast gave a rumbling shudder, then heaved up, revealing its terrible face. Kiera choked on the scream that wanted to tear itself from her suddenly paralyzed throat and clutched her feeble weapon tight in her fist.

      There was an eye, huge and mad, rolling wildly in its runny infected socket. The lid was thick and rubbery, cracked in places, and weeping more of that green slime. But for its size and inhuman coloring, the eye might’ve been human, the hate and madness in its gaze at once familiar and alien. Below the ghastly eye was a mouth, wet and black and ringed with row after row of teeth. The teeth weren’t sharp, as she had pictured in her fractured mind, but flat and cow-like.

      The Nameless One hung from the beast’s working mouth, his mouth opened in a silent scream as it slowly devoured him. The teeth rippled and chewed and wet sucking sounds followed as the bearded man slipped another half an inch down its gullet. It had devoured him up to the shoulders and his face was black with compressed blood, his eyes burst from their sockets, and his beard was matted with the shredded remains of his insides.

      The enormous eye rolled in her direction and Kiera could hear the beast inside of her head. Its poisonous whisper slipping through her mind like so many slithering and invisible tentacles. She comes, oh yes.. So sweet, the taste.. The blood sings.. More crunching and slurping and The Nameless One slipped further into oblivion. 

      Behind her, Kiera sensed movement. She turned just as the tentacle lurched to drunken life, whipping towards her like a giant’s arm. She ducked and threw herself to the broken floor, scattering bones and wet pieces of past victims. The tentacle slammed into the walls, shaking the chamber around them, and the beast chewed faster, hungry for its next meal. Kiera didn’t have much time. 

      Swallowing her fear, she launched herself at the beast. Clambering onto the altar, she avoided the tentacle as it whipped past once more, slamming the opposite wall. Its voice howled inside of her head. She comes, the wicked girl.. Her fear tastes sweet.. She brings it to us, she does.. Soon now.. She ignored its cries as she tangled her fingers in The Nameless One’s beard and used it to pull herself up onto the heaving monster. The tentacle went wild, thrashing around the chamber, smashing through piles of bones and decaying body parts.

      Gasping for breath, holding on for her life, Kiera brought the bone knife up and screamed as she plunged it into that great waiting eye. It exploded, covering her in viscous gore, and her arm plunged into the recesses of its mind. The pulsing wetness was hot and gripped her arm, sucking at it as she pulled free and stabbed it again and again. She kept screaming as she dug her way inside, hunting for its terrible mind. Its screams became unbearable, tearing at her consciousness and threatening to obliterate her sanity.     

      Kiera kept digging with the bone dagger while using her free hand to claw her way deeper inside of the evil until, finally, the terrible wailing came to a sudden stop. The thing stopped heaving around her and shuddered into a slow lurching stillness.

      Then silence.
      Conrad The Believer woke up from a dream of screams and blood, with a sense of destiny fulfilled. The dream quickly faded as he knelt at his bedside altar and genuflected to his god. After his morning prayers, he dressed himself and put a pot of coffee on before heading down to the basement.

      Sometimes, Conrad is lonely. He’s the last, he knows, and being the last of anything is lonely. He remembers the day his father became one with god. He stopped Conrad outside the sacrificial door and bade him not to enter. He remembers his father’s voice, still so strong and commanding as he made his goodbyes before entering the chamber and sacrificing himself to the old god. “It is down to you, my son. May the old one give you strength.” 

      Their house had always been there, since before the town laid its first cobblestones and when only the natives wandered North America. It started out as a cave, before becoming a temple. And for as long any could remember, the old god resided there, protected by the faithful. 

      Conrad’s family was of Scandinavian descent, exploring North America long before the Spaniards and Puritans arrived. Paddling longboats up and down the wild rivers and through the untamed wildernesses. They had stumbled upon the god and his primitive followers and joined the silent brotherhood. At one time, the church had numbered in the thousands, but now it was only Conrad.

      He was all alone now.

      It was just him and his god.

      At the doorway to the sacrificial chamber, he picked up the pair of night vision goggles from the small table next to the door. Once they were on and activated, he turned off the outer light and opened the small window in the center of the heavy door.

      At first he didn’t understand what he was seeing. The chamber was empty. There was no sign of what should have been at least two occupants. He’d expected at least one to have been taken, possibly the girl, more likely the bearded one. His luck couldn’t last forever, could it? But there being nobody left was completely unexpected. 

      Then he noticed the tentacle, lying on the floor. It was just inside the hole, which was bigger than before and surrounded by a lake of blood and meat. He stared through the window for a long time and still it refused to move. It didn’t even twitch.

      “Oh no.” He said, opening the door in a panic and moving into the chamber. He didn’t notice the figure standing in the corner, out of sight of the sliding window in the door. Kneeling, he reached out with a trembling finger and touched its cold wet flesh. His body hummed with excitement as he did something that nobody in his family had ever done. Not and survived to tell about it. 

      He touched god.

      He didn’t react when a rough fist caught his hair and yanked his head back, baring his throat. This felt right to him, this final sacrifice. It was something that had to be done before his god could carry him onward to his final reward. 

      

      Kiera drove the splinter of bone into the side of the kneeling man’s neck then tore it out to stab again. She did it fast, driving it in deep once, twice, three times before tearing it free and planting a boot in the center of the man’s back and kicking him forward into the hole. The inside of the chamber glowed from the scum she had smeared around the walls and the hole in the floor, giving her enough light to leave by. She took her bone knife with her, the believer’s blood covering her up to her elbow, and she walked out of darkness.

NAUGHTY OR NICE 

NAUGHTY OR NICEby Lesley Woodral

      Kelher pushed her Panama hat onto the back of her head and scratched a nonexistent itch to buy time before saying. “So, you’re saying something came down the chimney, snuck upstairs, and killed the Mohab family while they slept?”
      “I didn’t say ‘something’.” The interviewee gave the oddly dressed blogger a sideways look before going on. “I said Santa. Santa went down Sasha Mohab’s chimney and killed the whole damn family. Kids n all.”

      Kelher said nothing in reply. They stood outside a modest brick home, in an affluent neighborhood residing in a small Oklahoma town called Matheson. The interviewee was a middle aged former marine named Horwitzer. 

      The interviewer was a smallish woman dressed in a cheap suit and a Panama hat that sat on top of her frizzy red hair like a crashing UFO. The suit was far too white to be considered a smart choice during a winter that had already produced a ton of mud and slush. It squelched underfoot as she held her phone in one hand and scratched her nose with the other, trying to think of a way to ask her next question that wouldn’t get her yelled at. Or worse, knocked into the mud.

      Kelher braced herself for the oncoming storm and asked. “Is there anybody else that could corroborate your story, Mr Horwitzer? Another neighbor? Maybe a drinking buddy?”

      The former marine, now a bus driver, turned a narrowed eye in her direction and stopped working long enough to spit and say. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

      Kelher took a hurried step back to avoid the glob of brownish spit, inadvertently stepping into a slippery slop of muddy slush. Shaking mud from her foot and the hem of her pants, she kept her head down to avoid showing him her blazing red cheeks. She said. “Is it possible you just imagined it?”

      Horwitzer was up on a ladder, hanging Christmas lights, so she figured she could get away if he came at her. But her suit would be a filthy mess if it came to that and she had one more stop before calling it a day. She didn’t have time to go home and change if the interview went sour, so she was already planning her escape route.

      But Howitzer didn’t attack her. He shook his head and chuckled. “What paper did you say you worked for again?”
      Kelher left Howitzer to his lights, climbing into her rust bucket car with a tired sigh. Her feet were cold and the backs of her legs felt damp from the splash back from the trek through the man’s muddy yard.
      Who in this day and age didn’t have a sidewalk or other path to their front door? 

      After a couple of failed attempts, the car clattered to life and she jammed it in gear, crawling up onto the road and leaving the man’s house behind. 
      Horwitzer put the weird redhead out of his mind and soon lost himself in the rhythm of his work. It was hypnotic, climbing up and down the ladder, hanging row after row of lights, and soon all thoughts of murderous Holiday elves were gone, replaced by the welcome tiredness of a good day’s work. There was a 6 pack in his fridge and a football game recorded to his DVR waiting for him to finish up.
      Hanging the last strand of imported Italian twinkle lights, the former marine checked and double checked the outside power outlets before plugging the lights in and stepping back to get his first good look at the house. 

      It was a fine start. The lights were all burning brightly and twinkling the way they were supposed to. He didn’t notice any burned out bulbs or anything else out of whack, so he declared it a job well done and set about putting away the ladder and his tools before going inside.

      It was only while he was in his outbuilding, hanging the extendable ladder on its wall brackets, that he found his thoughts returning to the odd blogger and her questions. 

      He hadn’t had anything against the Mohab family, but he wasn’t that broke up about their passing either. They had been ‘OK’ neighbors, pretty much keeping to themselves, and he never had reason to complain. But the same could also be said about himself.

      He never wished any ill against them, but what happened was beyond bizarre. He hadn’t lied or exaggerated at all when he talked to the redhead. He told it like he saw it. 

      Around 4 in the am, he heard a noise outside and, being something of a light sleeper due to what his doctor called a mild case of ptsd(nothing mild about that shit at all, as far as he was concerned.), he went outside and investigated.

      It was dark out, but in the moonlight he had no trouble making out the big red suited intruder up on top of the Mohab’s house. He considered calling out and taking care of it himself, but decided calling the cops was a better idea. They’d catch the inept cat burglar in the act and it would make an interesting story in the local paper.

      He went inside to grab his phone and when he came back out, the intruder had already pushed himself half into the Mohab’s chimney. 

      Dumb bastard is gonna get stuck. He thought wryly. Cops’ll have to rescue him before they arrest him. 

      He watched the big red shape vanish into the chimney and felt a stirring of unease. Maybe he should’ve walked over and woke up the Mohabs, let them know someone was coming down their chimney? 

      But the police were on their way. And the guy wasn’t going anywhere, Horwitzer would see to that. If he tried to make a break for it, the former marine was reasonably confident he could catch him.

      But nobody came back out. Not out of the chimney or the front door. It was quiet outside, and Horwitzer thought he would hear it if the sucker tried to leave from the back.

      The police got there fast, less than 3 minutes after his call, and parked out in the street with their flashers on but sans sirens. It was a quiet neighborhood after all, no sense terrifying the natives.

      There were two deputies in the car, one old and one young. Both were new to the force. Most of Matheson’s police force was new, the old crew having been wiped out years previously, during what most people in town called the dark times.

      Only the new chief and a handful of veterans remained from the original force. 

      Horwitzer approached the deputies and identified himself. He described what had woken him and what he saw on the Mohab’s roof. Both officers looked dubious, but Horwitzer was known around town as levelheaded and his former service counted for a lot with the local police.

      The deputies walked up to the front door, telling Horwitzer to wait at the curb, and rang the bell. After a long wait and ringing the bell multiple times, they tried the door and found it unlocked. Opening it, one of the deputies called out to anybody inside. “Matheson Police Department. You’re door is unlocked. If you can hear us, we are coming inside. If you’re armed, put down your weapon and place your hands where we can see them.”

      Horwitzer watched them disappear into the house and was left waiting for a long time before anything else happened. That something else was the arrival of at least a half dozen more police cars, an ambulance, and the chief of police in his own personal vehicle.

      Horwitzer spent the next few hours going over everything he saw and heard over and over and over again, first at the scene, then down at the police station. He told the story until his eyelids felt like sandpaper and the inside of his mouth felt like leather from cup after cup of police station coffee.

      They were very clear that he wasn’t a suspect, but they did make sure he knew his rights. Horwitzer waved his right to silence and told him he didn’t need an attorney because he hadn’t done anything wrong.

      They didn’t come right out and tell him what happened to the Mohabs, but enough slipped between the lines to paint a vivid picture.

      The entire family; husband, wife, and 3 children, were torn to pieces in their beds.

      Horwitzer shook himself and finished putting away his tools, banishing all thoughts of dead children and killer Santas.
      Kelher got home late, tired and irritable from a long day of nothing. The second interview had gone worse than the first. The Matheson Police force had a bit of a problem with the idea of a free and unbiased press. At least that was the case in Kelher’s experience.
      She pulled herself from her beat up little car and leaned against it for a moment, gathering herself before the long trek to her apartment. Home was a one bedroom in an income based complex on the south end of Matheson, a place that used to be nice but after decades of hard use was beginning to show cracks around the edges and through the foundations.

      It was dark and cold and her favorite suit was more brown than white now, but Kelher tried to look on the bright side. At least it wasn’t raining.

      Conjured by her thoughts, thunder rolled to the north and fat droplets began to slap the windshield of her car. Cursing, Kelher held her hat to the top of her head and hustled across the grass and around the big L shaped building to the stairs. The open stairwell offered shelter from the rain, if not the icy wind, and she stopped running.

      Her phone rang as she reached her apartment door and she wrestled it out of her pocket as she unlocked her door and went inside. Bumping the door closed with her hip, she answered without looking to see who was calling.

      “Kelher here?”

      “You need to get here as soon as you can.” A man’s voice said, harsh and hurried. It was tough to understand, his breathing was so loud against her ear, and it took her a moment to figure out who was talking.

      “Mr Horwitzer? Is that you?” She winced as his voice exploded into the phone.

      “He’s here, damn it!” There was a crash and the sound of shattering glass and he growled more to himself than to her. “Son of a bitch came in through the window. I got him once, I know. Call the cops and get here soon as you can.” There was a noise and the sound of his voice changed, became hushed and more understandable. “I told you I knew what I saw! You and the cops both!” He chuckled and there was another crash. “Bastard’s not giving up. Get here quick and I’ll give you the first interview.” There was another crash and the line went dead.

      Kelher was already halfway back to her car, jogging quickly through the rain. She shoved her phone into her pocket as she slung open the door, tossed herself behind the wheel, and somehow started the car on the first try.

      All thoughts of calling the police had slipped her mind as she put the car in gear and squealed out of the parking lot.
      Horwitzer’s house was a bright and shining light when Kelher parked at the curb and got out. The rain had turned into a mist and the temperature had dropped enough that she could see her breath as she walked across the grass. 
      She couldn’t help but admire the way Horwitzer’s Christmas lights had turned out. The twinkling golden lights looked awesome, giving the night a peaceful holiday glow that was spoiled only by the cold rain misting her cheeks and the shattered front window. A long burgundy curtain billowed from the shattered window, slapping at the side of the house. 

      The inside of the house was dark, made even more so because of the lights outside, and she couldn’t make anything out through the shattered opening.

      She went to the front door and tried the knob. The door opened onto a front hall and from somewhere inside the dark house, she heard Christmas music playing softly. 

      Never in her life had she been so disturbed by DO YOU HEAR WHAT I HEAR. 

      She tried the switch by the front door and nothing happened. But there had to be power, otherwise the display outside wouldn’t have worked. Using the flashlight on her phone, she peered into the house, listening and watching for any sign of movement. Of life.

      There was nothing except the music.

      The hall floor was littered with shattered furniture and glass and within her first few steps into the house, she saw that the rest of the house was just as destroyed. It was as if a gang of hoodlums ransacked the place. Nothing had been spared. Every stick of furniture. Every appliance. Everything was smashed and scattered. The lighting fixtures were torn loose from their moorings and dangled dangerously overhead, all the bulbs broken.

      There were even gaping holes in the walls, large enough that it was easy to picture a couch being picked up and tossed through them.

      Or a man.

      No sign of Horwitzer though.

      Kelher stepped lightly through the destruction but couldn’t avoid the glass crunching beneath her sneakers. She used her phone to light her path, at the same time running the camera to record everything before her. Her reporter’s instincts had kicked in before she had even gotten out of her car. She was recording everything.

      The music got louder the further she moved into the house, leading her down the hall. Past shattered doors leading into a small bedroom, a bathroom, and a hall closet. Until she reached what must have been the master suite.

      She stood just outside the broken bedroom door, listening to Christmas music and staring at the deep gouges in the door frame. A piece of the door was still attached to the warped and twisted upper hinge. 

      It was as if an animal had been let loose in Horwitzer’s house.

      The song changed to OH HOLY NIGHT and Kelher felt a sudden chill work its way down her spine. 

      Something began to growl in the room before her, beyond the phone light’s reach. It was a deep rumbling growl, so low and powerful that she could feel it in her chest. Once, as a child, her parents took her to the Tulsa Zoo and she got to visit the lion’s paddock. One of the big domesticated beasts was lying close to the heavy glass, close enough to count his teeth, and she’d put her hand against the glass despite the signs warning her against that very thing. It had been purring loud enough to feel through the glass.

      This was like that, but a hundred times worse. Because this time there was no glass. 

      Kelher took a slow backward step and the growling stopped. 

      She froze, her heart stopping inside her chest, and from the darkness came a deep and horrible voice. 

      “Naughty girl.” It said, dark and rumbling like heavy rocks crunching together. She’d never heard a voice like it in her life and likely never would again.

      Kelher ran. Turning on her heel, she rushed down the hall, ignoring the rising tide of darkness that clattered and thumped after her, smashing more of the house as it followed. 

      She had no idea how close it was to catching up as she dashed out of the front door and slipped on the front lawn. Sliding a few yards and gaining her feet as if it had been a planned move, she scrambled to her car and flung herself inside before daring to look at the house and what was pursuing.

      And she saw nothing. The yard was empty. The front door was open and the burgundy curtain still blew in the wind but there was no monster chasing her.

     She was breathing hard. Her heart slammed a mile a minute inside her chest. Her phone was still throwing off white light and recording everything. She kept the house in sight, watching for any sort of movement, as she stopped recording long enough to call the police. 

      She thought she sounded quite calm as she told the dispatcher where she was and what she’d found. 

      It was hours before she finally stumbled through her front door and fell into the ratty recliner where she did most of her writing. Hours of interrogation by the police with nothing concrete or even remotely informative to come out of it and all she could think about was the opening of the article she was about to write.

      Kicking off her muddy shoes, she stood and went to the kitchen. Tossing her coat onto the counter, she set her phone beside it and started playing the recording back. She fixed herself a drink and went back to the living room, grabbing the phone as she went by, and sat back down.

      From the phone’s speakers, she heard that horrible voice croak once more. 

      “Naughty girl.”

      There was a huff of putrid breath on the back of Kelher’s neck and the words came again, this time against the side of her face. “Naughty girl.”

      

December 25, 2016

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A WHITE TRASH WRITER

By Lesley Woodral, certified white trash

The day begins as it always does. With coffee. Lots and lots of coffee. The coffee washes down the antacids and allergy medication. You’re not supposed to take them on an empty stomach, but at 4am I’m not thinking much about breakfast. 

All I want is another 10 minutes of sleep. Just one more tap of the snooze button. But the day job is what’s paying the bills (barely) and the points are on the upside of soon to be unemployed, so the coffee and pills are breakfast enough.

It’s cold outside, which is better than hot, but not by much. My prehistoric vehicle starts after some automotive acrobatics and I get to wait for it to warm up while plugging in the iPod and putting it on shuffle.

The fog on the windows is gone before I hit the road, but only just, so every sodium light I drive under turns the windshield into a wall of white. Dangerous, but what’s a guy to do. The wiper motor went out and there is no extra funds for a repair that probably costs more than the vehicle is worth.

After a 20 minute drive, I make it to work alive. It shouldn’t feel like an accomplishment, but it always does. The dread doesn’t usually hit me until I see the half empty parking lot. By the time the engine is off, any semblance of happiness or hope for the future is squashed by the sure knowledge of the drudgery to follow.

I’m not saying I hate my day job (I do), but anything that stands in the way of being home and comfortable and writing my chunky ass off isn’t looked upon fondly. The only thing that helps is the people I work with (most of them) who are some of the best in the world.

I love my people.

9 hours later (If I don’t wig out and leave early, which happens more often than I like to admit), I’m off work and on the way to pick the kids up from school.

Throughout the workday, I sneak in writing time. On breaks and during my lunch break, I try to hammer out a few hundred words. I use my phone for first drafts now.

My process has evolved with technology. It used to be notebooks, compulsively bought anytime an idea came, filled with my manic scribblings. First drafts were always done long hand, followed by a second pass on the computer. 

But that changed with the coming of smart phones and writing apps. Now, the first draft is on the phone. Then everything goes to Word on my laptop, where the real mechanic work begins.

We writers have our superstitions. I still use notebooks for broad plotting and design work. I’ll probably never stop with that. There’s something about the feel of the paper beneath your hands.

After retrieving the kiddos and getting home, there’s housework and snuggles with my lady love, then more writing (if I’m able to resist the siren call of social media). Homework, dinner, playing with the kids and kitties, and maybe some time on a video game or two. 

And writing. Always writing. Probably, I’m wasting time that would be better spent worrying about my 401k or taking the kids on camping trips or long vacations. 

Sometimes, when it’s late or when I’m sitting at work, dreading the day to come, I silently berate myself for being a fool. For selfishly wanting to put pen to paper and make up stories, instead of moving up the corporate ladder and improving my family’s lives.

I know I’m not alone and I’m not sure if that helps or makes it worse. 

But stopping is not an option. The words won’t be stopped, no more than I can shut off my brain with the flick of a switch. 

Sometime in the evening, usually far earlier than my wife likes, I pass out. Perhaps, I dream. Perhaps not.

When I wake, the circle begins anew. Maybe I can stop the loop? Maybe I can’t? And maybe I don’t really want it to stop. 

#amwriting

#writerslife

Kitten Farms & The Beast In The Closet

Why do we write? It’s a question that pops into my head anytime I pause and think about this thing that we do, day in and day out. By we, I mean writers and other creatives. Sitting at our computers or on our couches or in our cars during our lunch breaks from our day job, typing away on whatever screen we have available, we must look crazy to the rest of the world.

Maybe we are a little crazy? It takes being a bit crazy to want to spend your spare time inside of your own head, worrying about the made up problems of characters and places that don’t exist, except for in our imaginations. Why else would we do it?

Time is the most precious thing human beings have. Spending it inside our own heads must seem like a terrible waste to the rest of the world. We could be out bungee jumping or building custom cars or building houses for the homeless, but here we sit. Writing. Or, even worse, thinking about writing. Because, let’s face it, even when we’re not writing, we’re writing. 

And, in the end, that’s why we do it. We do it because we’re hard wired with weird and fantastic imaginative powers that the rest of the population can only look at with a sort of mystified confusion. There must be something wrong with us, because how else do we think up people and places that only exist in the pages we create?

They don’t know that those people and places keep on existing even after the lights are off. That we lie in bed, worrying about our imaginary friends and the imaginary problems we’ve created for them.

But maybe it’s just me? Maybe I’m just an aberration in a world of normal people? Maybe there is a normal me, lurking in the shadows of my own imagination, just waiting for the stories to end so he can come out into the light? A me who likes mowing grass and working on cars? Who likes watching ball games on tv and can look at a closed closet door without imagining something waiting on the other side? Something large and hungry, with its twisted knob of ear pressed to the wood, listening to my heartbeat?

And maybe I just think too much? I can’t think I’m the only one out here whose creative brain doesn’t have an off switch. Because, if that’s the case, I might as well give up and buy a chicken farm. Or maybe a kitten farm? 😉

#amwriting #writersproblems #writerslife