Friday, October 14, 2011
The Demon of Dewey County by Alex Morgan - A horror story by yours truly for Halloween month!
The full moon lit up the night sky and fields giving the landscape an eerie glow. The headlights of the car illuminated little of the road ahead. Margaret shifted uncomfortably in the passenger’s seat as she looked out the window. Although she wasn’t cold, she hugged herself to keep out the chill she felt.
She and her husband Tim made this trip to his grandmother’s secluded, uninhabited farmhouse only two or three times a year to make sure it did not fall into disrepair. Earlier trips took place during the daytime hours but Tim had to work late and with traffic leaving the city clogging the highways, their arrival at Grandma’s house got pushed back to well after ten o’ clock.
From the driver’s seat, Tim seemed to sense her uneasiness. “You okay?”
Margaret hesitated before answering. “Yes. I’m fine.” She didn’t sound convincing to herself. She knew Tim wasn’t buying it either. But without knowing the source of her discomfort she couldn’t say anything, lest Tim scold her for being silly.
She heard the concern in his voice. “I guess I’m spooked about staying in your grandmother’s house tonight. It’s creepy enough during the daytime.”
Tim slowed to turn off the road into a driveway that consisted of well-worn tire tracks amongst the encroaching weeds and tall grasses.
Margaret’s ill-ease increased as the headlights shone forward into nothing. The moon hung in the sky directly in front of them, illuminating the drive in defiance of the ineffective headlamps from the car. She gasped as something scampered along a tree branch stretched overhead, across the driveway.
A cat? She thought, forcing down the sudden fear rising in her. That was way too big for a cat. Must be my imagination running away with me. Tim didn’t seem to have noticed, which gave her a little comfort. I need to calm down. Why am I so jumpy tonight?
Tim maneuvered a slight curve in the path and the two-story farmhouse loomed in front of them, lit dimly from the headlights. It sat dark with no signs of habitation, since nearly all of Grandma’s belongings were removed when she went into the nursing home in Oklahoma City several years ago. These visits with Tim were to ensure the roof hadn’t started leaking, pipes hadn’t burst or vandals hadn’t destroyed any of the property.
The stranger-than-fiction truth was that nobody wanted to go near the place, and no one lived around for a great distance. Dewey County sat in a rural area of northwest Oklahoma. The nearest town to the place was Taloga, nearly twenty miles away. People just didn’t come around here.
Tim killed the engine and they climbed out of car. With the moonlight, they could see their way to the porch without the flashlight Tim carried. Margaret slid next to him in step as if his closeness would put her mind at ease.
“That’s odd,” Tim muttered, stopping suddenly.
The uneasiness that rose in Margaret now rang in her ears. “What?”
“The front door’s open.” Tim sounded more confused than worried.
“Don’t go in!” Margaret hissed. She tugged on his arm toward the car. “Let’s call the police!”
“No, that’ll take too long.” He clicked on the flashlight with his free hand and trained the beam on the door jamb. The wood around the lock splintered where it had been forced. He stepped onto the porch dragging Margaret, who kept pulling in the opposite direction, with him. Tim pushed the door open wider, slowly, keeping the flashlight directed in front of him.
A putrid, rotting stench assaulted their nostrils and Margaret put a hand over her face to fight down the urge to vomit.
Tim staggered back, holding his nose. “What the hell?” Keeping a hand over his face he pushed the door open completely. He let out a yelp of surprise, jumping back. Holding her breath, she stepped behind Tim, peering over his shoulder.
On the floor at the bottom of a staircase, a body lay rotting and covered in maggots, a mass of putrid flesh. It had decomposed to the point it was unrecognizable. Margaret’s mind raced with thoughts trying to comprehend the horrible scene in front of her. How could a familiar setting so peaceful and serene in the light of day be so violated by a corpse? The disgusting sight brought another rush of bile and her hands dropped to clutch her stomach. She slipped to the floor and the room pitched before her eyes before everything went black.
Tim and Margaret sat with his grandmother Eileen in her room at the nursing home. She sat in an old worn-out recliner, wrapped in several blankets to keep away the perpetual chill in her bones. When told of the break-in, Eileen reacted with horror even before she learned of the condition of the intruder and retreated inside of her mind. Family members, friends, doctors and even the agents of the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation had tried to talk with her, but she remained close-lipped, staring into space. Soon she stopped taking food and the nursing home resorted to inserting an IV to administer sustenance and nutrients.
Tim and Margaret visited her on a regular basis, trying to bring her out of her seemingly vegetative state. After many days, she began to show signs of recognition and response. Then nursing home staff called to say that she had recovered from her self-imposed catatonic state.
She appeared to have finally dealt with the shock and came back to lucidity. But the fear remained.
They perched on uncomfortable, plastic chairs provided by the nursing home. A few other items gave the sparsely decorated room a more familiar feel; framed photographs of family and friends on the bureau beside the small television set; pictures hand-drawn with crayons from grand-children and great-grandchildren taped to the walls; a faded prayer embossed on varnished wood propped up on the nightstand next to an array of pill bottles.
“From what the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation determined from the level of decomposition, the guy must’ve busted in about two or three weeks before we found him. He fell down the stairs and broke his neck,” Tim recited to his grandmother.
Eileen nodded but didn’t respond. Tim glanced at Margaret, who shrugged. “I know this must be a shock to you, Grandma, but nothing was taking from the house. It appears he went up to the attic and was running back…”
“No!” Eileen shouted with sudden terror in her features.
“Grandma!” Tim’s voice edged with annoyance and fear cut through his grandmother’s hysteria.
Eileen fixed her eyes on her grandson with a piercing stare. “You must seal up the attic again.” Her words trembled as she spoke, but Tim harbored no doubt that this was not the babblings of a delirious old woman. Eileen was terrified.
“Grandma, what’s up there?” Tim asked. “As long as I remember that door to the attic has been boarded shut. Mom even said she was never allowed in there growing up.”
“I can’t tell you, dear, but you must go back there and close it back up at once!” She grabbed his hands in hers, which felt like ice to Tim.
“Why? It’s empty, the police said. They think something must’ve scared the intruder because there are footprints in the dust on each step going up there and in the attic. Coming back down he was taking them two or three at a time, when he slipped and fell breaking his neck.”
Tears formed in Eileen’s eyes. She turned to Margaret and asked her for a stack of newspapers from Taloga on a small table near the bed.
As Margaret collected them and stretched her arm out to hand them to Eileen, she looked down at the top one and froze, the color draining from her face. Tim stood up and walked over to her, looking over her shoulder. Together, they read stories of cattle mutilations that got closer and closer to the town. Then farmers and their families were slaughtered in their homes, their bodies ripped to shreds as if by a wild animal. The inhabitants of Taloga lived in fear of an unknown being bent on killing, which happened every night for over a month.
“The killings started about the time the OSBI think the intruder broke into your house, grandma.” Seeing that his grandmother was on the verge of breaking down, Tim knelt beside her chair and hugged her. When she seemed to pull herself together, he released her and sat back on his heels.
“What’s in the attic, grandma?”
Eileen pulled the blankets up around her to fend off the sudden chill she felt as her memories threatened to overwhelm her again.
“I was about twelve when my brothers and sisters and I were playing in the creek that ran next to our farm one day, something we very rarely got to do. We heard a strange cry from somewhere downstream, a sound we had never heard before. We couldn’t figure out what it was or where it was coming from, but we weren’t scared.
“Later that evening, my older sister Esther realized she was missing a shoe and thought she dropped it by the creek. I went with her with a lantern to find it. When we got there, we heard…” Eileen shivered under the blankets. After a few seconds, she resumed her story. “We heard the same strange noise again, but it was much closer then. We saw something glowing in the brush near where we had been swimming that day. Esther and I were so frightened that we ran all the way back to the house without looking for her shoe.
“Mother and Father were so angry that we didn’t come back with her shoe, they told her to just go bare foot until she found it. They didn’t believe us about the glowing light or the strange sound. Nor did they seem to care that Esther and I were so terrified we were crying. Our brothers and other sisters just laughed at us and called us scaredy-cats, even though they knew about the sound. They had heard it, too.”
Tears ran down her cheeks. She was vaguely aware of the growing looks of concern on Tim’s and Margaret’s faces.
“That was the night of the first cattle killing. One of ours. The next night it was one of our neighbor’s cows. People thought it was a coyote or a wolf maybe, but the carnage was too brutal for either of those animals. Something was killed every night. Even men who stayed out in their fields at night to protect their herds were slaughtered without so much as a shot being fired. Esther and I tried to tell anyone who might listen about the strange noise and the light but they dismissed us. Father and Mother started believing us because they heard it and saw it, too. People from all over the area searched for it but could never find even a trace of it.
“The killings kept on for over month. We were all terrified. The one night we woke up to my sister Amelia screaming and screaming…” Eileen broke down in sobs, weeping into a handkerchief she pulled form the depths of the blanket. Tim and Margaret rushed over to her, putting their arms around her. It took several minutes for her to calm down and suppress the shudders.
“Grandma, you don’t need to tell us anymore,” Tim said, with pleading in his tone. “This is obviously too much for you to--”
She held up a hand. “No, it’s all right, dear. I have to tell you this.” She took a deep breath and suppressed another round of sobs. “We ran to her room. Father was there first with a shotgun. He kicked open the door. Whatever it was must have come through the window and was attacking her.” Tears flowed again. “It came at us when Father kicked the door open. He shot it at point blank range with both barrels. It staggered back but I don’t think it was hurt. Father shouted for us to get out for the room. He had to reload. The creature jumped on him and knocked him back into the hallway. Mother started being it with a broom so we all attacked it, hitting it with whatever we could find. I think I beat it with an umbrella. It released Father and ran up the stairs into the attic. We chased it and shut the door, trapping it inside.
“Father was badly hurt but he lived. Amelia was…” Eileen chocked. “Amelia was dead. She had been ripped to shreds. Blood everywhere.” She heard Margaret sniffle and felt Tim shudder with his arms still around her shoulders.
“Our neighbors and people from everywhere came to help us. They waited to ambush it when it left the attic. Nobody wanted to go in there, fearing what would happen to them if they did. It was a very small room. We opened the door at night so it could get out and we could kill it but it never did. We finally boarded the door shut. There weren’t any windows up there so it couldn’t leave that way. Everyone hoped it would starve to death.”
The worst of her tale behind her, Eileen relaxed slightly and the tears abated. “As strong as it seemed to be, it must not have been strong enough to break through a door. We thought that it did finally starve or died from the gun shot until…” She left the sentence hanging as she turned to stare at Tim.
“Until the burglar unwittingly set it loose,” he finished her sentence in a voice just above a whisper.
“It must’ve gone dormant or have been hibernating all these years and then woke again when the attic door was opened.” Eileen had regained her composure with her story told.
“Why haven’t you told anybody, even Mom about this, Grandma?”
“Really, dear. Do you think you would’ve believed me if I told you there was a vicious demon hiding in our attic?” She gave him a small smile.
“Couldn’t you have moved away or destroyed the house while it was trapped inside?” Margaret spoke up at last. “Why stay there?”
Eileen turned her watery eyes to her. “Sweetie, this was in the last years of the Dust Bowl. We had no money to move. To leave home or destroy it would most certainly mean starving to death. The creature was trapped inside and couldn’t get out, so we had to deal with it and continue with life. There were no easy solutions back then. Only very hard choices.”
For the second time that month, Margaret found herself on the way back to Eileen’s house after dark. She and Tim hadn’t said a word since leaving the nursing home. They stopped at a hardware store on Interstate Forty before leaving Oklahoma City, but she stayed in the car. Neither had anything to say after the horrible revelation from the old lady. Tim drove recklessly. He seemed to have forgotten about everything other than returning to the farmhouse.
The full moon sat just above the horizon when they turned into the dirt driveway as it had just four weeks ago.
“A blue moon,” Margaret muttered. “It should be romantic.” She shook her head at the irony. Nothing stirred in the trees overhead this time. She closed her eyes in fear at the recollection of the cat she saw in the trees a month ago. The realization of what it may have been gripped her heart with fingers of ice.
Terrors notwithstanding, she and Tim had a terrible and dangerous task ahead of them: Reseal the attic and trap the demon that had resided there for decades.
Tim left the headlights on high beams as they pulled up to the house and jumped out of the car.
“Do you think we’re in time?” Margaret asked in a low whisper.
“The newspaper reports said the killings took place after midnight, and it’s only ten-thirty, so we should be okay. Let’s hope it’s still asleep.” He grabbed some small boards, a bag of nails and a hammer from the trunk. The door of the house stood open. Gathering up his bravery, Tim mounted the porch and flipped on the light switch inside the doorway. He breathed a sigh of relief as the overhead light came on, bathing the room in a welcoming glow, but Margaret felt no warmth. She ignored the stain from the body on the floorboards that the bio-cleanup crew couldn’t remove. Margaret ran through the house turning on all the lights while Tim disappeared into the cellar.
“Where are you going?” she shrieked.
“The gas line is down here. I have an idea how to destroy that thing,” he called from the darkness.
When he emerged a few minutes later, they ran up the stairs to the second floor. Looking down the corridor, they saw the door to the attic stood wide open, revealing only blackness beyond.
Margaret felt an icy chill that emanated from the opening, one that permeated her body as it had that night a month ago. She noticed a putrid stench, unlike the odor of the decaying corpse but still nauseating and overpowering.
The eagerness in their bolt up the stairs evaporated at the foreboding sight. They crept forward listening for any sound, any indication the demon was aware of their presence. The house sat deathly quiet. Margaret held her breath as they reached the opening. Tim grabbed the door knob.
The lights went out plunging them into pitch black darkness. Margaret gasped in shock. She felt Tim put his hand on her arm.
“Margaret!” he shouted in alarm.
A hissing noise snapped their attention to the top of the stairs in the attic. A hideous, skeletal figure with a skull displaying a protruding jaw and jagged teeth descended the wooden stairs with the appearance of floating instead of stepping down. An eerie dim glow shrouded the demon, bathing its emaciated body in an ethereal light. Its skin stretched over the rib cage narrowing to an impossibly thin waist and then clung to a deformed pelvis. From there, the light faded where the legs would have been.
The creature, with red eyes shining evilly from the dark, reached out with bony claws for Margaret’s neck.
Tim grabbed the door and slammed it against the demon’s arm, who howled in pain as its limb got pinched in the threshold. He seized Margaret’s arm, jolting her out of her frozen state and yanked her back down the hallway. He turned the flashlight on, its beam bobbing up and down in a frantic motion as they ran. The demon hissed furiously behind them in pursuit.
Tim and Margaret bolted down the stairs. The car headlights shone through the open front door, illuminating their path out of the house.
Tim pulled the door shut behind them and held it closed, dropping the wood and flashlight on the porch. The demon shrieked behind it, tugging on the doorknob.
“Margaret! Nail it shut! Hurry!” he shouted.
She scooped up the boards and secured one across the door as fast as she could. With one in place, Tim let go and helped her with the rest. Soon the door was sealed shut and the demon howled in rage behind it.
“Is that it? We just leave it in there?” Margaret’s voice shook with fear.
Tim nodded. “Grandma said it can’t get out,” he said in a tone as shaky as hers. “That’s how they kept it trapped in the attic all these years.”
“But there aren’t any windows in the attic! It can probably break these,” she shrieked pointing at the front windows.
“Then get in the car!” Tim ordered and Margaret obeyed without hesitation. She gasped as the demon glared out of a window at them, its red eyes glowing with hatred. Its claws scratched at the glass. The headlights formed strange shadows on the walls behind it. Margaret feared the window would break, releasing it once more.
“What do we do now?” She panted in terror.
“While I was in the cellar, I opened a gas valve and lit…”
His sentence was cut off when the house erupted in a huge orange fireball. Margaret screamed at the explosion. Even in the car, she felt the heat of the blast. Splinters and debris pounded the windows and roof of the vehicle. It rocked violently from the shock from the detonation.
The fireball faded, leaving a raging inferno in its place. As smoke rose from the ruined building, a faint shriek rose with the ashes and faded to silence in the night.