There was a slight chill in the New England air as I close the door to my car. I look around glumly at the leafless trees and gleaming snow. Winter would leave late this year. Crunching through the snow, I make my way across the bright yellow police tape and up the front steps of the old house, named Olde Home.
Battered and bruised, Olde Home has seen its best days years ago, in a happier time, when people who loved it still lived within. Those days have passed and now the house is just like the trees and grass: fading. The old door hangs limply on its hinges, cracked open by some prior policeman to stop it from slamming back and forth on its frame. The handle is a polished brass, easily the prettiest thing on the front of the house. Above the door, a small plaque hangs, saying "Enter and ye shall be Received." At one time these words must have been gaily painted, but only through their having been cut into the word do they survive now. Above the words, the sagging roof of a porch sits, still defying gravity, yet slowly losing its personal war. Countless birds have nested within its gables and beams, and countless more have hatched from them. The floorboards of the porch are worn more from weather than use, a sad testimony to the history of the house. The rest of the building is in similar shape; its windows dusty and thick, their shutters missing or broken; the siding is nothing more than warped and crumbling planks of wood, each ready for that one gust of wind that would shatter it.
It is into this house that I steadily walk, tensing myself for the image I would meet inside. With nods to each passing officer, I find the scene of the crime. The main room, which served as living room and dining room, is a place of carnage. Four bodies dotted the room in positions that defy human physiology. Limbs at curious angles to torsos, and heads lying in grotesque positions. Blood has been smeared across the walls in horrifying patterns; some are handprints, others are patterns that make the eyes waters and the mind refuse to understand. Patterns that should not have been made. Shaking my head clear of the images, I approach the officer in charge.
"What happened?" I ask.
The officer coughs nervously and looks into his notebook. "W-well," he says, "it looks like four victims- a family of father, mother, two children- attacked by some sort of animal. It looks like every one of them has had their neck broken and internal organs removed. Also, most of the other bones in the bodies look to be broken as well. We won't know for certain until the post-mortem."
I look from one body to another, trying to think of the order in which they were mutilated. "An animal?" I ask the officer. "There must have been another person here to draw those pictures on the walls. Have you checked for footprints and signs of break-in?"
The officer shudders as his eyes flick to the walls. "Yeah…" he says distantly. "You should see out back."
With the officer leading the way, I follow him out of the room, through the remains of the back door, and onto a small patio behind the house. The officer points to the ground just beyond the concrete. Wordlessly, I kneel beside the tracks in the snow and felt my heart race faster and faster the closer my eyes found themselves to the tracks.
In the snow there is a trail, easy to see and follow, but something within me wants to run away from these tracks. They are not ordinary. Whatever had left the house had left a path, about two feet wide running through the yard and into the surrounding woods. This path is not from feet or hooves, but is almost as if something had shoveled the snow away- almost like the snow had been melted. Within the track I could plainly see fading grass, while a complete blanket of thick snow covers the rest of the yard. Nowhere is there any other disturbance in the snow, no flake out of place, except for this small path.
"Where does this go?" I ask. The officer shruggs.
"We didn't really feel… inclined to follow it, sir. This whole thing makes me feel uneasy, sir."
I nod in agreement. This was true. Having seen dozens of murders of every kind, this one tugged at my mind like none other. Something here was making me scared. But scared of what? A killer? Hardly. I have faced down many killers. There is something else about this murder that made me seriously consider just walking away and leaving this to someone else.
"You got a gun?" I ask of the officer. He nods. "Good, get another guy and follow me. We're going to find this thing and kill it."
Looking frightened out of his mind, the officer wordlessly picks another cop and together we move along the unnatural path into the woods.
The first thing I notice once in the fold of the trees was the deadness. No animals are moving or making noises, not even the birds. Somewhere a wind chime sounds in the soft breeze, filling the woods with the ghostly sound of tiny bells. The path seemed to lead deep into the woods, twisting and bending like a lost snake, but not once doubling back on itself or changing size. It remains one constant, smooth path of brown through a ground of white.
Silently, we follow the path deeper and deeper into the woods, our eyes and ears alert for the smallest sound. My footsteps seem to drown out every other sound around me. Every crunch of snow, every footfall on grass fills my world. The rustle of my clothes as I move seem like rushes of noise to my ears, deafening me.
After traveling deeper into the woods for what seemed like hours, we finally come to a sight that causes all of us stop dead in out tracks. Before us the woods continues its sprawl in all directions, however these woods are markedly different from those we have just passed; these woods are not merely hibernating for the winter, they are dead. The grass grows crisp and brown in bunches, along a mostly barren, earthen ground. The trees grow in twisted and tormented ways, their branches no more than twigs reaching to the sun, which now seemed oddly red in the sky, despite sunset not being for many hours by my watch. Nothing stirred in these woods, neither breeze nor animal. Slowly, we continue forward, huddling closer together than we had before entering this new, strange forest. Each of us had drawn his pistol and each wears an expression of fear and panic that grows steadily in each of us with each step we take. My own fear has grown enough to nearly cause me to bolt back the way I had come, yet something in the back of my mind was pushing me onward. I have to kill the animal. I have to go further.
The path we follow has long since disappeared along with the snow and we press on forward blindly in the hopes of finding our prey. All the while, our fear continues to mount, for some reason the hairs on the back of my neck stick up, along with those on the back of my hand. My scalp tingles. I am sure that my comrades feel similarly. We must be close to the animal, but still there is no sign of life of any kind around us, only dead flora below our feet and a dead sun above our heads.
Suddenly I hear a thump as something heavy hits the ground behind me. Heart racing and ears humming from this loud noise, I spin and aim my pistol automatically. My companion has dropped his gun and is shacking bodily. His face has turned pale and his eyes bloodshot.
"I- I- I can't go any further," he says softly, the words forming slowly in his mouth. "We should turn around."
I shake my head and look to the other officer, noticing his face is just as pale as the other's. "We have to find and kill this whatever killed those people," I say, surprised at how quiet my voice is to my ears. He shakes his head violently.
"No, sir! We can't go on! We have to turn back!"
As one, the other officer and I place our fingers to our lips and hiss at him to stay quiet, but he continues to ramble. "This place is evil! We should never have come this far! We are all going to die because of this thing! I don't want to die!"
I reach out to grab the man by the shoulder to calm him, but he squirms out of my reach, turns and runs the way we came, screaming at the top of his lungs.
Together, my other companion and I look at each other, as if gauging the determination of the other, and continue on our hunt. We have to continue. We have to go deeper into the forest. We have to find the creature.
We continue in silence as we had before, but now my ears sting from the noise of our conversation and my hands and feet become sluggish to respond how I want them to. My feet drag on the forest floor, and my hands shake uncontrollably, causing me several times to lose a good grip on the pistol. I wipe my brow with my sleeve and find it covered with sweat. I look to the other officer. He looks as terrible as I can only assume I look.
Before long we find ourselves before a large wall of bracken in a small hollow. Beyond this wall we can faintly hear a soft thrumming which both excites me and fills my blood with terror. What we may find on the other side could be the creature that killed the family and who knows how many other people before, and it could kill us. The thrumming seems to cause my shaking to turn into near-spasms so violent that I can hardly stand or hold my pistol. I can see distant shapes out of the corners of my eyes, causing me, in my nervous state, to turn my head this way and that to catch sight of them, only to see the empty forest around us. Again I look to my companion. He seems to be having the same problems as I, which both comforts and disturbs me.
Taking a deep breath in vain attempt to steady myself, I move forward into the bracken. The sharp twigs and thistles nip and cut my limbs and face as I move forward and I seem lost in the dense growth for what feels like many minutes, with nothing in sight but more and more dead bracken. From somewhere to my left, I hear a muffled cry but I ignore it, feeling the need to push on forward no matter what overcoming my normal sense of concern for my companion and my sense of caution. I push on, nearly running, throwing caution aside, arms at my face to protect it from the plants.
Finally I break out of the wall and fall face first into a shallow pool of rank water. I lay still in shock at the coldness of the liquid on my face, my mind swimming with strange ideas and thoughts, thoughts I neither bid nor understand; thoughts of dead things and things that cannot ever be and things that should never be. Things that bring tears into my eyes with their beauty and things that freeze my blood with horror. I push myself from the pool gasping breathlessly, blind from the water rushing down over my eyes. I sit back and am stunned when my head eyes clear: before me is a small cave at the bottom of the hollow, surrounded by black mud and stale water, the wall of bracken surrounding the hollow on all sides and locking it away form the outside world. Above, the sun still shines reddly along with the red sky, yet none of the light seems to touch the ground around me, instead stopping some feet from the ground, almost as if the ground itself were emitting another light which cancelled out the sunlight.
I stand and promptly fall down. The thrumming has increased such that it can now be felt through the ground and hurts my ears. Somehow, I know that this is all caused by whatever is within the cave, the same thing that killed the family in Olde Home. I shakily stand and make my way toward the cave, the fear and trembling mounting more and more with each step I take; the darkness surrounding the cave seeming to grow more and more solid. With each step the cave seems to simultaneously come closer and go farther away, my mind tumbles over itself trying to get a handle on the sights around me. Finally I reach the mouth of the cave and look in, fearing what I may see, and am amazed at what is before me. The walls arc around me like cables and wires and metal; the metallic floor writhes as if alive and the whole thing pulses rhythmically with a deep pounding coming from somewhere deep within the ground. My head erupts in pain with each beat of the sound, and my limbs have gone numb from the spasms; eyes water still from the pool as well as from some mounting pressure behind them.
My pistol long forgotten and lost, I make my way forward despite my pains deeper into the biomechanical mouth of the cave, leaving all light and safety behind me without hesitation. I am drawn into the cave further and further, deeper and deeper, down and down I go, down into the depths of hell for all I know, down into the rank and pulsating bowels of the earth for some unknown reason and to some unknown fate.