A piece of flash fiction I wrote last year.
Claire looked out her kitchen window and uttered a cry of shock and anger. Wiping her hands on a dish towel she sped across the room and threw open the back door.
“What are you kids doing digging in my yard?” she snapped.
Three tow-headed children whirled around from the small hole in the ground with a mound of fresh dirt around it. All had sheepish looks at being caught but they didn’t move from their spot.
“Sorry, Miss Babione,” the tallest of the three, a young boy of six replied. “We’re looking for buried treasure.”
Claire bit her lip to keep a smile from belying her words. The neighbor children usually were never any problem but this behavior needed to stop before it got out of hand. She was about to reprimand them again when he held up a small object caked with dirt.
“Maybe it’s a piece of gold from a pirate ship,” the middle child said. The youngest child, not more than three, merely grinned and Claire couldn’t help a little laugh. She figured he was just following his older siblings, not wanting to be left out of any adventure.
She took the object from the child and scrutinized it. “I hate to disappoint you but I don’t think that many pirates came this far in from the sea.” She looked at their downcast faces. “I tell you what. I’ll try to clean this up for you. If you will fill the hole back in, I won’t tell your mother.”
All three faces beamed.
“Thank you, Miss Babione.”
Claire returned to her kitchen, hoping she hadn’t made a mistake by abetting them in their adventure hunt and began washing the dirt off the children’s treasure. As she worked, she watched the kids fill in the hole and then return to their own yard. Layers of dirt fell off and ran down the drain. Soon Claire began to make out features on the strange object. What she thought would be nothing more than a metal slug or an old pop bottle cap, started to look like a coin. She held it up to the light coming in the window but couldn’t make it out.
It must’ve been buried so long, whatever was imprinted on it has been worn away, she thought. She took it outside and held it in the sun.
It flashed brightly in her eyes, filling her vision with a blinding light. Then her world went black.
“Claire? Are you okay?”
She awoke to find a woman kneeling over her. “Petunia? What happened?”
“I don’t know,” she replied. “I heard what sounded like a sonic boom. Our whole house shook. I came to check on you and found you lying here on your back.” She helped Claire to her feet.
Claire remembered the reaction of the coin when exposed to the sunlight, but decided not to say anything.
“Have my kids been digging in your yard, too?” Petunia’s hands rested on her hips and her chin jutted out. She looked to where the three children extracted the coin a short while ago.
“It’s all right, Petunia,” Claire said. “They filled it back in, so no harm, no foul.”
Her neighbor didn’t look placated. After staying a few minutes to ensure Claire was fine, she returned to her house.
Claire picked up the coin where it rolled underneath the kitchen table and peered at it intently.
It looks like a dog’s face or a wolf’s face, but I can’t be sure, she said to herself. She went back inside depositing the coin on the table. She set about finishing her chores, fixing supper and getting ready for the next day. The coin was forgotten as she climbed into bed several hours later.
A sound outside her bedroom window jarred her out of her slumber. Claire lay listening. In the distance, she heard a howl, lonesome and plaintive. She jumped as a branch bumped against the house as the wind picked up. The howl was followed by a second and a third. Each seemed closer than the one before. Soon a chorus of howls sounded as if they were just beyond the fence.
Claire lay in fear. She wanted to look out her window but was too afraid of what she might see. The howling continued for what seemed like hours to her but slowly drifted off as dawn approached.
Grateful for the light but missing her sleep, Claire rose and prepared for work, an unpleasant task usually made even more onerous with her lack of slumber. As she opened her front door to leave, she screamed as a man stood on her porch. The old-fashioned style of his suit did not bother her near as much as his fleshy face and thick jowls. His brown eyes seemed to pierce her soul. He reminded her of a bulldog, but without the comical friendliness.
“Miss Babione, I fear you have something that doesn’t belong to you,” he said flatly.
How does he know my name? Who is he? I’ve never seen him before. Alarmed, she blurted out, “I don’t have anything. I don’t know what you’re talking about. Now please go away!” She slammed the door, leaning back against it and slumped to the floor, covering her face in her hands.
“It’s not a coin, Miss Babione,” the man shouted through the door. “It’s a talisman. You must return it to where you found it. You’re in grave danger.”
Claire sat on the floor, hand over her mouth, trying to choke down the panic rising in her. It took several long minutes to calm down. When she managed to stand, she opened the door a crack and peeked out. The bulldog-faced man was nowhere in sight.
Slightly relieved, she fled to her car and drove to work. Claire hoped the regiment of her routine duties would take her mind off of the talisman, the strange man and last night’s howling.
But her thoughts kept returning to the macabre happenings. She couldn’t focus on finishing the simplest task. Shortly after lunch, she excused herself, feigning sickness and returned home.
Even among familiar and comfortable surroundings, Claire felt no better. She watched television without paying attention, curled up on the couch. As the sun moved lower in the sky, she dozed off.
A loud howl, very close by, woke her up with a start. She hadn’t turned on the lights before she fell asleep so her house was dark, except for the blue light from the TV screen. She had muted the sound before dozing off. Everything sat in a tomb-like silence.
Another sound frightened her even more. She heard a low growl outside the window. A full moon lit the world outside changing her yard into an alien landscape. She gasped as several dark shadows approached the house from the back fence.
More growling and sniffing sounded outside the back door and other windows. Claire sat petrified, too frightened to move. A pair of glowing eyes peered at her over the bottom sill of a window. Then another. The howling, snarling and growling escalated in volume.
Her heart pounded so fast and hard she was feared her chest would burst open. She couldn’t breathe as terror clutched her throat.
They were in the front yard now and the side of the house. Her mind reeled trying to comprehend the horror but not a single, coherent thought came to her. The floor pitched to one side as if the house had been lifted by a corner.
The door handles began to rattle as if something outside was attempting to enter. Her heart leapt at the sound and she slipped into unconsciousness.
Claire jumped awake to bright sunlight beaming through the windows. The horrors of the night before seemed to have vanished.
With trepidation, she rose from the couch, muscles stiff from hours of crouching. She cracked open the back door. The outside of it had been shredded as if by dozens of claws. The ground around the house was dug up as if something tried to tunnel underneath the foundation.
She grabbed the talisman off the table and ran out into the yard. She buried it in the hole made by the neighbor children.
Claire ran back to the house as fast as she could.
(c) 2010 by Alex Morgan