Fight or Flight

The creature peered out of the shadows, its coarse hair dripping with a viscous ooze. Its  ears were pricked and pointed forward. Predator ears, she thought involuntarily. It had a low forehead and its eyes glinted as it looked toward her, reflecting a streetlight that suddenly flickered. Her breath caught in her throat, panic rising. Adrenaline was taking effect. Keep it together, she told herself, thinking of her early days of studying the effects of the neurotransmitter on rabbits, many of which had died of shock.

The creature moved its head from side to side in a feral motion, eyes wide. She thought of all of the animal attack stories she’d ever heard. Dogs. Bears. Wolves. Should she run or stand her ground? She couldn’t remember the advice, and she didn’t know if it would apply to this unknown creature, this city dweller, this mutant. The prickling sensation was coursing through her body. All of her own hairs were alert and at attention.

Stay calm, she told herself as she eyed the creature. Think. Its gaze never left her. It exuded a coiled energy. Her own muscles were tensed, awaiting a split second command. The streetlight flickered again and then went out. She began to move ever so slowly backward down the empty street toward light. The creature rose, and she realized it had been crouched over something. It was large, larger than any dog she knew of. Could it smell her fear?

On this busy Halloween Monday, she’d been forced to park a block away and walk to the lab. She rued staying so late. Not one to believe in the supernatural, she knew even a quiet neighborhood held its very real dangers. There was no otherworldly creature who struck fear in her quite like her fellow humans. Not until now.

She stole a glance behind her, looking for a place to run. The sleepy brownstones were dark, their  Jack-O-Lantern candles long since extinguished. Any parties had succumbed to the weeknight; the costumed revelers going home to get a few hours sleep before work or school. Joyous trick-or-treaters slept in candy-induced comas, face paint staining their pillows. Not a single late-night light illuminated the building’s face.

She looked back at the creature. It had its full attention on her now, eyes trained in laser precision, ears forward. She recognized the posture from her days in the field. She had seen it in wolves, in lions. The predator on alert. She was the prey.

She knew her bipedal body was no match for the spring of four muscular legs. The human brain had adapted to use thought and reasoning to survive. To hide, to create barriers, was the hominid protection. All of the barriers were closed to her now. If she could just get to her car.

There was a sticky sloosh as the creature started moving slowly forward through the thick puddle of ooze, each foot carefully placed in front of the other. Its head was low, shoulder blades alternating a slow up and down motion with each step. Her heart pounded in her chest. Another streetlight flickered.

She could see her car now. It was halfway down the block. Still backing up slowly, she pushed the panic button on her keys. Nothing. She must still be out of range. She picked up her pace, still backing up, always keeping her eye on the creature. It moved with her, slinking in the shadows, dripping, stalking.

Suddenly it stopped, alert, its attention drawn away from her. A small black cat darted across the road and into the creature’s path. In a flurry of fur and teeth and yowls, the creature and the cat became a violent ball of primal fury.

Now was her chance. She ran.

Grabbing her keys, she fumbled for the unlock button to the Prius. No time to look back now. A sudden silence told her all she needed to know. Grabbing the door handle, she yanked it open. She was just about to slide into the seat when the creature slammed into her, knocking her to the ground. Dazed, she found herself staring up at two soulless eyes at the other end of a blood-stained muzzle. Before she could scream, she felt sharp fangs lock around her throat. She pushed the panic button again.

The horn and lights of the Prius pulsed a bored and regimented alarm. Lights flicked on in the sleepy brownstones. As the minutes ticked by, doors opened and robed, middle-aged men and women peered out into the street.

One by one, people gathered around the open-doored, beeping car. They gasped and pointed. As if a giant sumi brush had come down from above, a dark red swath of viscous blood pointed back down the road toward the lab where, if one knew what to look for, a dark shape burdened with its prey was slinking back into the shadows.


In response to The Daily Post’s prompt: Eerie

Happy Halloween!

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Grim Reaper

Old Bob peeled himself from his recliner. Cable news droned in the background as he shuffled to the door. He peered out the side window, opening the curtain just enough for him to see out, but not enough for those outside to notice. There were three costumed children at his door – a superhero with his cape dangling dangerously close to the lit jack-o-lantern, some kind of homemade wild animal, and a very short grim reaper with a realistic looking scythe. He looked in his bowl–only two pieces of candy left. He grimaced and grabbed and apple from the table, then opened the door.

“Trick or treat,” the children sang out.

Old Bob looked them over, then gave candy to the superhero and the animal, then dropped the apple into the bag of the grim reaper. Fascinating costume, he thought of the grim reaper as he turned back to the news. That one deserves some kind of award.

Just as he had settled in to his recliner, the door sounded again. Shoot! Forgot to turn off the light. He shuffled back to the window and peeked out. There were four kids this time, and the grim reaper was back. He opened the door.

“Sorry kids, just ran out of candy,” he explained. Dismal groans ensued. He turned off the porch light as they walked away. The grim reaper stayed on the sidewalk, watching him. He scowled. Damn ungrateful kids, he thought.

He returned to his recliner. As the news droned on, he started to doze.

He awoke to a thwack! He was suddenly wide awake. Thwack! Thwack! 

He pulled himself once again out of his recliner and headed toward the door. He yanked it open just as an egg went sailing past his head and landed on the wall behind him, yolk oozing down. His temper flared. “You damn kids better get out of here,” he yelled into the darkness.

Thwack! Another egg landed on the doorjamb above his hand, splattering him with eggy goo.

“That’s it,” he cried. “I’m calling the police.” Let them deal with the little hooligans.

He turned to reach for his phone, but was surprised to see the short grim reaper in his foyer. The figure stood still, not even seeming to breathe. Old Bob didn’t know much about kids, but this seemed odd, even to him. All the kids he’d ever seen were somewhere on the fidgety scale, but not this one.

“What are you doing in here?” he demanded. “How did you get in my house?”

The reaper just stood there.

Thwack! Thwack!

“I’ll let the police deal with you, too,” Old Bob said, reaching for his phone. The small reaper slowly pulled out an hourglass. Bob looked at the sand that had almost run out.

“Funny,” he said, but he had started feeling very heavy all of a sudden. As he dialed, his breath caught in his chest. He brought his hand up, panicking. He stared at the reaper, who was slowly walking toward him. He went down on his knees. He looked into the hood of the reaper. “Can’t…breathe…” he managed to say before crumpling to the floor.

“911…What’s your emergency?”

The last thing Old Bob saw was an incredibly lifelike skull and the metallic glint of a raised scythe.

The news droned on in the background as the police investigated the scene.

“Looks like the old guy died of a heart attack,” the paramedic said, then paused. “But I just don’t understand this strange cut on his chest.”


Luminis Kanto / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Taking liberties with the prompt this morning. Happy Halloween!

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Trick or Trick.” Let’s imagine it’s Halloween, and you just ran out of candy. If the neighborhood kids (or anyone else, really) were to truly scare you, what trick would they have to subject you to?

They Come in the Night

As the darkness receded, each small gremlin sheathed his knife, folded himself up, and pulled the small pumpkin he carried over his head.

The children looked outside. Pumpkins galore! They filled the house with the globular gourds.

As they fell asleep that night, they thought they heard tiny footsteps on the stairs.

©Suman at Desibuckets Photo provided by Grammar Ghoul Press

Hiding in Plain Sight

Jack and Jenny peered from their tent as the procession shuffled past.

“What’s going on?”

“Samhain Festival.”

“Look at the one over there.”

“Which one?”

“With the horns. Shh, he’s looking this way.”

“So?”

“Those aren’t boots. They’re hooves.”

Scary Monsters on the March at the Perchant Pagan Festival in Germany, by Philipp Guelland, Photo provided by Grammar Ghoul Press

Marie

“Honey, where’d you get that doll?”

They were on their way to preschool when Miranda glanced in the rear-view mirror of the minivan to see her daughter playing with an odd, old doll, a doll that looked like it had been rejected by a child long ago.

“Mrs. Devo gave it to me. She said it was her special friend. She wanted me to have it.” The little girl turned to her doll and said, “Isn’t that right, Marie?”

“Who is Mrs. Devo?” Miranda asked.

“You know, Mrs. Devo,” replied the girl. “The one in the house next to us.”

Miranda racked her brain. A young man had recently moved in to the old, ivy-covered house next door. She had met him briefly, a young professional, aloof but friendly enough. He had just moved from Louisiana. What was his name? Jean… something French… Devereaux?

“Mr. Devereaux?” she asked her daughter as they pulled up to the school.

“No, not Mister Devo. Missus Devo,” Abigail responded.

Mr. Devereaux had not mentioned a wife.

“Honey, let’s leave her in the car, okay?”

The girl pouted and held the doll out of Miranda’s reach.

Miranda tried again. “I don’t think they allow toys at school,” she said.

“It’s my sharing day. I’m gonna share her.”

Miranda frowned, but relented. She watched Abigail skip into the cheery children’s center, hugging her new possession.

Miranda was cleaning her daughter’s room when her cell phone started buzzing. The voice on the other line was panicked.

“Mrs. Leewald? You need to come pick up your daughter. There’s been an accident. Don’t worry. Your child is fine. Her teacher tripped and fell. She is being transported to the hospital as we speak.”

“I’ll be right there,” she said, ending the conversation as she hurried out the door.

The principal was waiting outside the school with the small group of children. Abigail looked somber.

“What happened to Miss Marshall?” Miranda asked her.

“She took Marie away,” Abigail said. “Marie didn’t like it. She said she would get her, and she did,” She hugged her doll tightly.

“Honey, dolls can’t make things happen. They’re just plastic. They’re not real,” Miranda said.

“Marie says she’s real,” Abigail said, twirling her fingers through the dolls mangy curls. “She says the other dolls aren’t, but she is,”

Miranda gave her daughter a worried glance. The girl gazed lovingly at the doll. That doll belongs in the trash heap, thought Miranda, though the burn pile might be better.

Miranda made lunch while Abigail swung outside with the doll. Miranda stopped to watch from the window. The doll’s eyes seemed to be looking at her. I must be going crazy, she thought. Just then, the knife she was holding slipped out of her hand and plunged into the floorboards millimeters from her foot. She looked down, shock registering through her body. Coincidence? She thought of Miss Marshall.

Abigail had left the swing and was squatting by the fence. A strange humming came from that direction. It stopped when Miranda approached.

“Honey, it’s lunchtime,” Miranda said.

Abigail looked up with a dreamy, otherworldly look. She smiled wryly, sending shivers up Miranda’s spine.

“Honey, what were you doing out here?” she asked.

Abigail just averted her eyes, the smile glued to her face.

“Abby? Abigail?”

The doll was still clutched in the girl’s arms. This had to end.

She led Abigail into the house and sat her in front of her sandwich.

“I’ll be right back,” she said, as she gathered newspapers and headed outside. Soon she had a roaring fire going in the fire pit. As she made her way back to the house, she saw Abigail standing in the doorway. Miranda reached for the doll, but Abigail flinched and bolted. Miranda lunged for one of the doll’s legs, grabbed it and yanked the doll free.

A shriek filled the air. It came from all around her, reverberating off the house next door. She quickly threw the doll on the fire. Abigail’s mouth was wide open, the sound coming out unlike anything Miranda had ever heard before. As the fire engulfed the doll, the screaming subsided into sobs.

Miranda went to her daughter.

“Come now,” she said, stroking Abigail’s hair. “I’ll buy you a new doll.”

Sobs eventually gave way to sniffles. Finally, Abigail nodded.

As they walked out the front door, Abigail suddenly brightened.

“Look, Mommy!” she said, pointing.

Miranda’s heart lurched. There, leaning against a potted plant, sat Marie.

Photo courtesy of Grammar Ghoul Press