A Thing Greatly Feared, Chapter 3

English: Woodland at Night Very very dark nigh...

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Wade spent the night at Hank’s house, which was a few miles east of town, and Hank had him home the next morning in time to get ready for church. Hank went into Darrell’s house and sat at the kitchen table with a glass of juice and a doughnut, and he and his brother talked generalities, small stuff … until Wade was out of the room and in the shower.

“I don’t suppose you’ve heard the news yet?” said Darrell.

“You know I hardly ever listen to the news.”

“Not the ‘news’ news – I mean the news in town.”

“No.”

“One of Clyde Pullen’s horses got torn to pieces.”

“What?”

“Yeah. Destroyed.”

“When?”

“Sometime last night. Clyde went out this morning to feed his horses – just before sunrise, as usual – and he walked into his barn and found one of them lying dead in its stall. He said if it hadn’t’ve been one of his own horses in his own stall, he wouldn’t’ve been able to tell it was a horse, it was so torn up.”

“Sooo, they figure it was a bear?”

“What else could it be?”

Hank remembered the orange eyes he saw the night before; a chill passed through his torso and all the way down to his feet.

“Well how’d it get in?” said Hank, struggling to recover. “Don’t he lock his barn door?”

“Clyde hasn’t locked his barn door in fifteen years; he did for a while after your experience, but after a few years went by with no more reports of attacks, he figured the coast was clear. He figured right until last night.”

* * *

A week went by with no more news on the attack at Clyde’s and with no more attacks anywhere else, although the rumor mill was turning for all it was worth: the bear was rabid, or mutated, or incredibly addicted to man-flesh, depending on who you were talking to. Dusk hit as Sunday began drawing to a close, and soon night fell – a starless, moonless, black night. Sara Kremshaw had just finished correcting some schoolwork after a weekend of isolation at home, clicked off the house lights and walked out onto the covered porch of her log cabin for a little respite in the dark before turning in for the night. A hint of coolness was in the air, and it livened her, body and soul, as she looked up at the blank firmament. She sat in a chair next to the door – her favorite seat in the world; during the day she could see from there a vast range of hills, and on brighter nights elegant silhouettes. Tonight she couldn’t even make out the edge of her backyard, a line of trees and bushes perhaps a hundred feet away. She liked nights like this, though; they reminded her of games of kick-the-can that she and her siblings and friends played at night as children. She smiled in the dark.

Kitch.

A sound from the bushes, something rustling the old leaves on the ground.

Oo, I bet it’s a deer.

Like a burglar she rose from her chair and crept to the front of the porch. She reached overhead to the crossbeam, where she kept a flashlight stashed in the shelter of the eave. She held the flashlight in one hand, ready to snap it on at just the right moment, but she had to wait – she hadn’t been able to pinpoint a location from that first, faint sound.

Kitch.

Straight ahead and just to the right.

Kitch, kitch.

It was a bit louder now, almost at the edge of her backyard.

Her nose wrinkled at the sudden onset of a putrid stench, something she’d never smelled before. She brushed the matter aside.

As soon as it steps into the clear

Sara knew that she’d better hit the target with the first flick of the light, or else the deer might be gone in an instant. If she could catch its eyes, though, she’d be able to hold it in place for several seconds and get a good close look at it.

Kitch, kitch

It’s at the edge now.

Kitch, muff, muff.

It’s on the lawn. Now!

Click. The flashlight came to life. Sara’s aim was dead on. There, smack in the middle of the lightbeam–

What?!

The creature was looking straight at her. Eyes. Orange eyes. That’s all she could see. She knew there was a body there – there had to be, right? – but those eyes seemed to reach out and grab her and pull her close, filling her field of vision. She couldn’t move. In fact, she felt as though she didn’t have a body, so focused were her own eyes on those of the creature.

Grearrlf.

She spun around, barged through the door, slammed it behind her and clicked off the flashlight, afraid that the creature would follow it to her. She locked the door – knob and deadbolt – and pressed herself against the wall next to it, trying like mad to catch her breath – not least of all because the sounds of her breathing and the blood pounding in her ears drowned out all others, and she feared losing all traces of the creature’s whereabouts. At last she worked up the courage to lean over and peek out the door window, though she figured it wasn’t much use because of how dark it was. With one finger she lifted the curtain. She had to will her face into position close to the window. Her effort, though, proved fruitless as expected.

She sighed heavily as she leaned back against the wall.

I’ve gotta do it.

She rolled the flashlight around in her hand, fingering the grip and the on switch. After a minute she held it steady, then turned towards the door, standing not in front of the window but to one side of it. She pushed the curtain aside, brought the flashlight up and held it against the window, in the direction of where the creature had been, and flicked it on.

Nothing there except what should have been. She slowly scanned the rest of her backyard – as much of it as she could see from that vantage point, anyway. Everything was fine – a  lawn, a few fallen branches, her old lawn chair. She lowered the flashlight and shut it off, panting.

Just go to bed, she thought, reaching to set the flashlight on the kitchen counter.

Reawwwwww!

Her arm froze in midreach; what color was left drained from her face. For half a minute she held that pose, till her body began shaking with the tension, and then – with the same sudden resolve she’d shown on the porch – she made a blind dash for her bedroom, paying no mind to the kitchen chair and doorpost she ran into along the way. She jumped under the covers of her bed, still clutching the flashlight. An image burst into her mind then: herself, alone, lost in the dark night on an open plain, not even a single object near her or in the distance. And a terrifying presence bearing down on her. She couldn’t see it – not in the usual, physical way of seeing things – but it was there, she knew it: a face of sorts, moving close. A searing pain then wracked her –

not her body, but her very self, threatening to blow her up from the inside, shattering her into a thousand tiny shards.

She remained motionless in her bed, still clutching the flashlight, and when the sun rose the next morning, it found her in the same position, never having shut her eyes even once.

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