display | more...

Hesian had built his cabin out in the poor dirt, where they said nothing would grow. That week he had three mouths to feed, including his own. Now he had two, including his own.

He was a burly man, of ill-luck in the city, wide enough that photographs never seemed to capture all of him, too wide at the shoulders, maybe. His hair had been red, but now was white, and he lit his cigars with a funny little tap of his match that had no business lighting anything, it was so quick, never-the-less, it always worked and he puffed away at the panatelas he always bought from the general store whenever he was in town.

Now, his cabin was out in the poor dirt, backed up against a ridgeline seeming to spite the vast plain of dead sickle-grass that swept away from it and didn’t stop until it reached the nearest town. They called it a prairie, but it seldom fit the word. “Blasted heath” might have been more correct, had any of the locals known the phrase.

Hesian lived out there with his daughter Fran. Little Fran, as she was known, for her mother had been Big Fran. Big Fran was gone two years hence, and Little Fran, who barely remembered her mother now was old enough to look like her: a child with high German cheekbones, and who-- if given enough nutrition-- would fill out and resemble a stocky German woman.

They barely had enough food to get by, and because of that, the resemblance to her mother was tertiary at best.

Now, on the plain, the wind came down to stir the grass, and little Fran, going about her chores noticed something out in the grass. She finished coating the new front door in pineseed oil and trotted around the house to where Hesian was mending the chicken coop.

“Daddy?”

“What little one?”

“There are eyes out in the grass.”

“Eyes, what do you mean?”

“Big eyes. They’re watching the house.”

The big man’s own eyes barely widened, but he put his tools down and walked about the house, holding his daughter’s hand. The infinite prairie stretched far away, so flat that the grass created a curtain between it and the rest of the world.

“Where?” Hesian asked.

“It was right there,” she said, pointing.

There was nothing there now. Hesian walked to the place. Something had evidently been there. Sickle-grass can grow up to a tall man’s shoulder, and its edges are as sharp as a razor. But here, a hollowed out place between the grass suggested that something had flattened it down, sitting long enough to have broken the yellow stalks.

“A man or woman?” Hesian asked.

The little girl shook her head.

“I don’t know, daddy. It didn’t look like a person.”

“What then? An animal?”

Little Fran thought. Animals were the small things like the chickens, or snakes. This thing was much larger, and had eyes almost like a man’s, except they’d been yellow. So, it had to have been…

“I guess a man,” she said, “but with hair all over, and a tail that flicked back and forth, and these yellow eyes. I mostly saw the eyes.”

Hesian thought, and then said, “Go inside little one. We’ll see if the old telephone works, and we’ll see if somebody from the city will come down.”

The two went inside. The cabin, rustic shack, whatever you wanted to call it, was cramped on the inside, with only two rooms; Hesian’s bedroom, and little Fran’s room that doubled as kitchen, living room, and storage. The whole place smelled a bit like rancid human sweat. The flooring was pulped sickle-grass. The roof was dried sickle-grass. The walls were imported wood from a near mystical land called Canada. They’d cost Big Fran’s savings, but that had been better than getting killed in the city.

The telephone was an old push-button thing, originally shiny black, but so stained that it looked more a chalky white with occasional black spots. Hesian picked up the receiver and hit a few buttons.

“No,” he said, setting the receiver back down. “Long dead.”

“What killed it?” Fran asked.

“I don’t know,” he said. He went to the cabin’s only window and looked out. The grass stirred, but that was just the wind. “Tonight, I’ll sleep out here.”

“Does that mean I get the bed?”

“Yes, little one.”

“Oh!” she said. She lacked the vocabulary for a more exciting word. Her face lit up, none-the-less, a bright spot in the dingy cabin, like light reflected on a wall.

“And I’ll have the gun,” he said.

“Are the eyes a bad thing?” she asked.

“Decent people say hello,” he replied. “Sulking in the grass?” he shook his head. “I think that means trouble.”

Darkness came on sudden in those latter days. As the shadows fell, they ate their gruel in silence, and when it was fully dark, he read her a story out of the Bible-- the only book he had. The story of Daniel and the Lions.

“Dad, what are lions?”

“They’re a type of big cat, I suppose,” he said.

“What’s a cat?”

“A kind of animal,” he said. “They have them in the city. Maybe one day I’ll show you.”

“Are they scary?”

“No, they’re… cute. They purr when they’re happy, a kind of motor sound, and they eat mice.”

“But the mice are cute too.”

“Yes, but do you remember how the mice got into our rice, and they ate it all? People keep cats around to hunt mice, so the mice don’t eat their food.”

“And a big cat would eat big mice?”

“I suppose,” he said. “I suppose they would.”

The girl went to bed, and the father sat by the window, looking out at nothing. The moon would rise later, but right now it was darker than eyes could see. Still, having nothing to see, his mind drew all kinds of figures out of that ink, and he had trouble erasing the images.

When the moon did rise, and the sickle-grass shone like pearly ghosts surrounding the cabin, he dozed. There were no dreams that far out from civilization, though sometimes Big Fran came to him with impossibly fatty food made with shortening and sugar. But the world’s watch does not stop a tick for any man, and he was awakened from shortbread by a loud noise outside and the sound of chickens screaming.

Yelling, he grabbed his gun (nothing as fancy as a rifle, this was a small revolver he had managed to nick while leaving the city), and slammed open the door.

The moon hung above almost impossibly large. The wind ran through the sickle-grass in contorted sighs. The chickens were silent.

They’d been slaughtered. Every single one was dead; their pen pulled apart as if with a giant can opener. The chicken wire had been peeled aside, and the wooden frame that anchored it all in place had been shattered. Blood and features scintillated like pure silver in the moonlight. And yes, as he looked up from the destruction, and toward the grass, he saw the eyes.

Colorless under the moon, the shape that looked out from the grass held its own darkness. Something about it made it hard to tell apart from the waving grass stalks, but its eyes gleamed in the light, huge and silver, in an impossibly large head.

The gun fired, and the eyes vanished. Hesian stood alone, surrounded by dead birds.

In the morning, with the wind still up, and the sky overcast, they picked up the splinters and shards and feathers and bones.

“Why?” little Fran asked. “Why hurt the chickens?”

“I don’t know,” Hesian said. “You said it was a man? Are you sure?”

“No,” she said. “It’s too large to be an animal.”

He frowned at that.

“There used to be big animals,” he said, “but our ancestors killed them all. There were crocodiles, and elephants, and--”

“Lions?”

“Yes, and lions,” he said.

The work was slow, and when shadows began to length once again, he sent her inside and went stacking the broken frame and any extra wood he could find in a pile twenty feet from the door, about halfway to the grass. He then lit it on fire, and retreated into the cabin.

He watched from the window until the fire had burned out, and then he drifted off to sleep.

A hour later, he woke with no clear idea as to why. The moon was up again, and the grass moved eerily back and forth, the whole tableau silent. Except…

Yes. There was something. He normally kept the door of the cabin unlocked, but since Fran had seen the eyes, he had thrown the simple bolt every night. And yes, that’s where the sound was. On the door, as if somebody was stealthily testing the knob and then the door would catch on the bolt with a small tap.

Hesian moved to the door as silently as he dared, and put his hand on it. Yes. Something was pushing from the other side. He could feel the weight shift the door. The door moved less than a millimeter as pressure was applied to the other side. The knob jiggled slightly, and the bolt kept the door from opening.

“HEY!” Hesian yelled. “WHO’S THERE? I HAVE A GUN!”

No answer, but the pressure on the door vanished.

Hesian grabbed his gun, and after taking three deep breaths to steady himself, threw the bolt and strode outside. There was nothing. The grass stirred as if a storm was coming, but nothing else moved.

The storm came, and with it wind and rain. The sickle-grass sucked up all moisture, but the clearing around the cabin always became a sticky mess. They were obliged to stay inside around a small coalfire. The beating rain, and whistling wind shook the cabin, and he tried to comfort little Fran with a nursery rhyme he remembered from his own childhood.

Pussycat, Pussycat, where have you been?
I’ve been to London to visit the Queen

There was a loud bang, and they both jumped. It sounded as if something had fallen outside. He grumbled. He grabbed his gun. Then he threw on an old jacket, moth-eaten and bare.

“I’ll be back,” he told Fran. “It sounds like we lost something.” He shut the door behind him, and walked around the cabin. The rain fell thickly, in sheets. He was obliged to wipe water out of his eyes every few feet. His jacket whipped around him. The sickle-grass stood nearly sideways with the wind.

At one point in time, he had intended to set up a storage shed in the back, and had stacked up wood for that purpose. Year after year, he had re-recruited himself to the project, but with the death of Big Fran, he never got around it, instead keeping to his chickens, and occasionally buying supplies from the few people who came out this way.

The wind had snapped the cord tying the wood together, and this is what had caused the wood to fall and clatter over itself cumulating in a bang.

“I’ll fix it after the storm,” he said.

He walked around the front, and seeing that he had left the door open, grumbled to himself: “You’re slipping, Hesian, and Fran isn’t old enough to take care of you. One day, maybe, one day. But right now you can’t keep--”

And here he stopped. The living room, bedroom, kitchen had always been cluttered. Clothes on the floor, junk piled high, rude bugs in the walls, clothes, bedding, ceiling, even in their hair. But what he came back too: It looked like the whole room had been rotated in a tumbler. The chair by the window was knocked over, their little coal fire scattered and extinguished, and the bits of scrap and debris that littered the corners had been flung everywhere.

No Fran.

He tore into the cabin and searched the living room and backroom. It look two seconds. He flung himself outside and bellowed her name to the sky. Nothing. The rain fell, the wind blew, and even with all the noise, a bubble of silence grew in his mind both louder than the rain and softer than the entire world. And bowing his head, like a man praying, he saw in the muddy ground, paw prints; four toes, a large pad, almost as big as his own hand.

He retreated into the cabin, but kept the door open wide. He kept his gun trained on the door. He stayed like that until the storm cleared. Until the day came. Until the day left. Until hunger rattled his head with dizziness and cramped his stomach down to the size of a walnut. Until darkness fell and the moon blazed upon the grass’s ceaseless motion. Until the eyes came out of the grass, and came toward the door.

He kept his gun leveled at those eyes and waited until it crossed into the cabin. It could have been a housecat but for its size, a tortoiseshell beast as large as he was, padding on soft paws that made no sound. Button nose, wide eyes, shining whiskers.

It made bird noises at him, as it stepped through the threshold, its ears active and scanning.

He fired the gun, and the beast screamed and retreated. He followed.

It went for the grass and vanished into the ever-shifting reeds. Blood spackled the ground, and splashed on the yellow-brown grass. He followed. Cuts appeared on his arms, his face, his hands. Anywhere that wasn’t protected by clothes. The grass was sharp, each blade a cutting edge; and still he followed.

Then, the grass disappeared abruptly and he was in a clearing of flattened grass, and the beast crouched at the corner near an overturned, rusted out truck. The make and model had been forgotten to time, and this was where the beast turned, blood oozing from its shoulder, to fight the man.

It yowled.

He screamed.

The gun repeated its rhyme.

And then it was over. No more cat.

But, there wasn’t much of him after that. He supposed, in a vague way, that he ought to check the truck. Maybe there’d be kittens, mini-monsters to dispatch. He didn’t have much heart for that, and so, he got the last of his awful panatelas, smoked them all back to back, before disappearing into the grass.

The cabin still stands, I’m told, but nobody lives there now.


Send More Paramedics: The 2020 Halloween Horrorquest

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.