Don’t Ever Pick Up Road Kill
Written by Kerry L. Marzock
It was darker than thick molasses as I guided my car cautiously along a very narrow, windy Manor Road. A thick forest of trees surrounded me as I kept my eyes riveted on the pavement ahead. What made it even more foreboding was a thick, lathery fog that caused it to seem like I was driving through a handful of Redi-whip. It clung hungrily against the ground, making driving more than a bit precarious. The whites of my strained knuckles wrapped nervously around the steering wheel made that fact clearly evident. A swirling veil of grayish-white danced an evil waltz along the road and through the dense woods, creeping over the broad hood of my old Caddy towards the windshield. Not known for always making the right decision, I could’ve taken the wider, somewhat straighter Barren Hill Road to Ridge Avenue. But no, instead I chose the roller coaster-like route not thinking I would be stuck in this soup. Yet here I was, like it or not, praying I didn’t suddenly come face to face with a startled deer, those large black eyes shocked that death might be seconds away.
Sure, it was rather misty down along River Road which ran right alongside the Schuylkill River. However, the dense fog didn’t really start until I began climbing the hill towards the golf course. This eerie road had a history of weird stories, the most notorious being the one where Philadelphia’s infamous Elmo Smith abducted a young girl in the early 1960’s from Ridge Avenue and brought her here for an evening of rape and murder. If my facts were correct, he was the last prisoner to be executed in Pennsylvania back on April 2, 1962. Up until 1913 the preferred method of execution had been slipping a rope around your neck with the Keystone state being the first to abolish public hangings. However, inside the walls of county jails and prisons like Eastern State Penitentiary where good old Elmo had resided, ‘private hangings’ were still conducted. Strapped to an electric chair, he was charged with enough juicy current to grant him the final thrill of a lifetime. He was also the last individual to be executed in Pennsylvania.
Suddenly, an icy chill ran up and down my spine as I realized it was nearing midnight on April 1st. Oh my God, why in the world did I come this way? Even though Barren Hill Road was probably treacherous as well, it still would’ve been much better than creeping along this insane route. Then I remembered reading a horror novel titled “Raven’s Way” by some weird Philadelphia writer that had a chapter where a young girl was killed by a werewolf along this very road after striking a deer and crashing into a ravine. Quickly my knuckles got whiter, hazel eyes got larger, and a frantic heart began to beat even faster.
Sliding the window down on the driver’s side, I stuck my head out in order to get a little clearer view of the road. It was pretty obvious that I would not have to worry about hitting an oncoming car head on because nobody in their right mind could be as stupid as I was. All the high beams did was blind me as the bright light exploded against the swirling fog. Low beams were not much help either. However, what I found to be really kind of weird was that I caught quick glimpses of a full moon through cracks in the fog bank. Shaking my head, I figured that was quite appropriate on this horrifying night as my gaze searched anxiously ahead for the next hairpin turn.
So there I was, driving along a road that was dangerous at best in any inclement weather, creeping along at a meager five miles an hour. Suddenly, there was a hard jolt along the right side of the car, like I had struck, or run over something large. I slammed on the brakes and came to a jarring halt. Thankfully, I had the forethought to have my seat belt on, but that didn’t stop me from jamming my right wrist against the steering wheel. The pain wasn’t enough though to remove my tightly clutched fingers.
I sat stunned for several seconds that seemed like hours, afraid to even breathe. The first thing that struck me was how damn quiet it was, all but for that strange pounding sound in my ears. Then I exhaled loudly, realizing it was my own frantic heart thudding inside my chest. Sitting back, I unlatched the seat belt and kept the engine running with headlights still shining brightly. In fact, I quickly put the high beams on as well. More light the better I decided.
Slowly opening the door, I nervously allowed my left foot to sink into the fog, anxiously reaching for purchase on the damp pavement. Once road surface was felt I pushed my reluctant body out of the seat and stood somewhat erect on shaky legs, my back against the car, heart still pounding in fear.
Okay I thought to myself, just think clearly and try to calm down. Maybe it was just a thick, fallen branch, or possibly a large rock. That had to be it I felt, especially since there were lots of trees along this road. I remembered having to steer around many branches torn from trees after severe storms along this road. But…..I had to know for sure because sometimes I’m just overly inquisitive to a fault.
Keeping my right hand touching the fender I started shuffling towards the front of my powder blue, 1994 Cadillac Deville which I appropriately called Killer Deville. Maneuvering along the hood my hand suddenly struck that good old Cadillac emblem. This jolted me somewhat out of my fright-induced state. All I had to do was remember to breathe or I would end up passing out from lack of oxygen. I continually kept berating myself for being so stupid. Here I was standing openly in dense fog nearing midnight along a deserted road with horrible thoughts dancing inside my head, thoughts of evil ogres and ugly monsters.
I took a few more tentative steps until I arrived at the other fender. Very slowly I extended my neck, cocking my head to look down at the ground. The thick fog swirled around me, making it difficult to see anything clearly. Then there was a slight opening in the soup. There was something large and brown underneath the read of the car. My heart sunk as I realized that most likely I had run over a deer which had evidently been lying already dead upon the road. Just fantastic! Sometimes if I didn’t have bad luck, I wouldn’t have any at all. Now I had to either back the car up whereby I would run over it again and then steer around the carcass, or drive forward letting the back tire bounce over the body. Either way, it was going to be horrible. However, I realized that I couldn’t stay here. Lord only knows what kind of creepy things could be out there staring at me right now, ready to rip and tear my body apart. Well, that thought now had me really frightened.
I began carefully guiding myself back along the fenders and hood towards the wide open, welcoming front door of the car. Suddenly, a loud screech from what sounded like an owl broke the silence. I screamed which then, of course, echoed through the woods making it even worse. Sweet Jesus, I didn’t think I could make that loud of a sound. My heart continued to thud out of control inside my chest as a few tears broke free to trickle down my cheeks.
Knowing that I had to get out of this predicament quickly, I scrambled like a bug toward the front door of the car and then jumped inside. The slamming of the door startled me even more as I again clutched the steering wheel very tightly. The blood in my knuckles completely disappeared so they were bone white once more.
Shoving the car into first gear, I touched the gas pedal, much harder than I really wanted to. The caddy burst forward as the rear tire lurched over the dead carcass. It was road kill anyway so I figured somebody else could lay claim to it later if they wished to. My daddy had always told me never stop to pick up road kill, even if I happened to be the unfortunate one to hit something. Still, I had heard stories about goofballs picking up dead animals for their hides, antlers, and yes, even a good meal now and then. Nope, that was definitely not for me.
My body violently shook back and forth in the seat from the jolt primarily because I had forgotten to latch up my seat belt. I kept going forward, however. Nothing was going to stop me now from getting free from this nightmare. What the hell, that deer was deader than a door nail anyway. It wasn’t like I struck and killed it. Besides, I sorely needed to get home where I could pour myself a very large glass of wine, maybe even two or three. For all I knew I’d be hearing wolf howls any minute and that would just about give me a freaking heart attack.
A little saner thinking caused me to slow down so I wouldn’t go careening off the road like that girl in the novel. It was good I did so because not more than twenty yards or so down the road, right in the middle of my lane, stood a young man with really, really red hair. I yelled loudly and slammed my foot on the brake pedal. Without the seat belt clutching my shoulders my chin struck the steering wheel hard enough to bring tears of pain to my eyes. I fell back into the seat and then angrily threw the door open.
Jumping out of the car with the headlights illuminating the strange young man standing in the roadway, I yelled at the top of my lungs, “What the hell are you doing? Do you feel like getting yourself killed or something? Are you crazy, or what?”
Obviously I sounded quite insane myself so I waited impatiently for a response. None came, not even a smile, or perchance an angry glare. He just stared back at me with a very haunted, vacant look. Maybe he was hurt I suddenly thought.
“Hey, are you okay? Sorry I yelled, but you scared the crap out of me. I already ran over a dead deer right down there so I sure as hell didn’t need to smash into you,” I scolded him in a much lower, more normal voice than was reasonably expected.
Continuing to not get a sensible response other than a blank, nobody’s home, stare, I leaned forward and insisted, “Hey, hello, I’m talking to you, anybody home?”
He turned his eyes to stare at me and that was when I saw that his shirt was torn and muddy, along with his trousers and shoes. I didn’t at first glance see any blood, but that sure as hell didn’t mean he wasn’t hurt. I moved cautiously away from the car and very tentatively walked towards him. However, when I got to about three feet away from where he stood I did see scratches and blood upon his face and arms.
“Oh my God, you’re hurt, what happened?” I asked quietly, afraid to startle him. “Did you wreck someplace? Can you talk at all? Can I call somebody on my cell?”
He tried to crack a thin, broken smile. It didn’t work since it resembled more like some evil, deranged grin. At least it was a physical response nonetheless. “Yeah…I’m okay…I think. At least…I’m walking anyway…so I guess…I’m alive…right?”
“Well, unless you’re some kind of crazed zombie or something, I would certainly think so,” I shot back nervously. “So what the hell happened? Where is your car?” I inquired, glancing around more than a little apprehensively, seeing nothing.
He motioned robot-like with a thumb over his left shoulder. “Back there someplace…off the road. I think I hit…a deer.”
I started laughing. The sound bounced through the thick, fog-enshrouded woods. “Yeah well, I also hit the darn thing, but it was thankfully dead already. Do you need a ride, can I take you someplace? Call the police, a tow truck, maybe your family?”
“A ride…would be great. I live close by…just off Ridge. My father can come back…with me to look…at the car,” he replied in a somewhat droning, very unemotional tone. “If you don’t mind…that is. My name is…Keith…by the way.”
“Mine is Sheila and no, I don’t mind at all. In fact, I’d welcome the company driving along this road tonight. But, you honestly look like hell. Are you sure you’re not hurt? It’s no problem at all to run you down to the hospital.”
He shook his head slowly, like it was very stiff, and moved his hand in slow motion up to touch his forehead. “No…I’m okay I think…just some numbness. Can we leave…now?”
“Sure, do you need help getting into the car,” I asked him a little reluctantly.
“No…I’ll be fine,” as he shuffled forward, sliding his feet along the damp pavement, not lifting them even a fraction of an inch. He just sort of stared into nothingness almost, like what he was looking at really wasn’t there.
I slipped back into the car beside him and slammed the door closed. The noise made us both nearly jump out of our clothes. Putting the car into drive I slowly started forward, wondering what next might lunge out at me. I could only pray it wasn’t that horrible werewolf from that really exciting, scary novel I had read a few months back.
I noticed as I drove very cautiously through the fog that he sat very stiff and eerily quiet. Suddenly, feeling extremely nervous, I saw him turn his head to glance out the window. With a loud gasp of shock I could see that nearly half the back of his head was missing and could clearly see a blob of gray matter through the cracked skull.
That was when he turned to face me. The strange grin I had seen earlier when he was standing in the road was more than just evil and his eyes belonged to somebody who was very much dead. Oh shit, I realized right then and there, I was in deep trouble.
With my loud screams careening through the foggy night, the zombie boy with flaming red hair reached hungrily for me. I knew in a split second I was going to die and all I could remember in that instant was my father telling me on more than one occasion.
“Honey, whatever you do when driving, don’t ever pick up road kill.”
EDGES OF REALITY
lies thick and dense,
whispering in voices dark,
slithering with evil as blood drips to mix
with tears, deepening sense of dread.
What lies beyond our reality?
Edges torn and dead,
hope lost within
When fog becomes so thick and dense you’re barely able to see your quivering hand extended, is there an ending to it? As it swirls mysteriously like a serpent around your shivering body, lapping eerily against your startled face, might it just be deadly silence, or is that a perceptible hiss you hear, a faint crackle like a balled-up piece of plastic wrap slowly expanding to spring open like a wild flower in early morn?
If you chose the first option then you’re probably safe. Proceed slowly, just be very careful, extremely wary of unseen obstacles that could possibly injure or severely maim. However, the murderous hiss or crackling sound might possibly be an entirely different story altogether, perhaps that lurking nightmare which haunts the midnight hours. Perhaps you could just turn around and travel back the way you came if you knew what way that was, the fog being so thick now that any sense of direction is completely lost. Having spun around so many times already attempting to decide which way to travel, the entry point into this vast sea of cool, dense, haunting mist is long forgotten. Bravely you could simply plunge straight ahead, but then will this terrifying, electrically charged grayish morass ever end?
Or…at the edge of this ragged piece of reality might the flimsy fabric of what we knew to be, the stale breath of what once had been, the fragile existence which at one time could’ve been a footstep upon our lives…could this be another parallel where dreams are but nightmares and the edges of reality a portal which we dare not cross?
It is that for sure, but not in the way you may have first intended. Reality is only what we perceive it to be, yet possessing jagged cracks and deadly slashes to frightening depths unforeseen. In fact, as you struggle through such a threatening fog, then life as previously known may very well be lost forever. A nightmare has been placed into motion, the likes of which one could never have imagined even after reading all those scary fairy tales of monsters, goblins, and green-eyed ogres as a wild-eyed child. Call it being in the wrong place at the wrong time, curiosity killed the cat, or as Euripides once said, ‘No one can confidently say that he will still be living tomorrow’. We can only ponder what lies beyond the edges of our current perception. But be aware without a shadow of a doubt that the world is not always what it appears to be
The fog continues to slither across the ground and reach skyward blotting out any hope of sunlight, the rhythmic flow of clouds that mimic our breathing, a border between heaven and hell. It floats and dances as if it lives with a maniacal purpose. Unnatural, it issues a nightmarish hint that something sinister, or possibly a separate and demonic world, may actually border upon these edges of reality, lurking as terrifying evil within. It is tattered sanity ripped by bloody claws from creatures we dare not conjure up. Perhaps another existence that runs parallel to our own, a place where nightmares become reality, that intuition can be classified as bad luck, where good fortune is nothing more than a hovering death sentence. In other words, not a sunny, idealistic place you’d wish to find yourself for very long.
However, this is exactly the place where Jason Manning found himself, standing utterly still beside the smaller and curvier figure of Kimberly Miller. They both listened intently to the mysterious sounds twirling about them, no idea what they could be, or even from what direction they might be coming from. The hi-speed, ultra-expensive bikes they had been riding now lay broken and discarded after colliding with each other at the intersection of Shawmont and Umbria in the Roxborough section of Philadelphia.
As Jason sped around the sharp, right hand turn which he had maneuvered so many times before, he found himself suddenly immersed in a fog so thick he had no idea what lay ahead of him. It was both startling and terrifying. Sadly, what stood directly in his path was poor Kimberly who sat confused in a mental fog of her own upon her thin bicycle seat, too frightened to turn around and go back the way she had ridden. That is, if she knew what way that was, which she absolutely did not.
Jason’s front tire smashed into the front of her bike in a clattering sound of metal. He flew over the handlebars, disappearing into the grayish murk. She fell heavily to the pavement with a loud thud beneath what remained of her broken bike. Not knowing who or what had struck her, she quickly realized that she was not badly hurt, just more stunned than anything. Grabbing the bike with her gloved hands she lifted and then pushed up with her feet to send the bike reeling into the dense fog in front of her.
Standing upright she started tenderly feeling her arms and legs. Nothing appeared to be broken thankfully although her right hip and the back of her head was slowly beginning to ache, not to mention a quick moment of dizziness. Kimberly then spun half way around when something that sounded like a painful moan appeared from the frightening morass behind her. She listened intently until the same moan came again, like a groan of obvious discomfort.
“Who’s there? Are you hurt?” she inquired, her voice quivering, more a whisper than an actual verbal question, her throat completely dry with water bottle discarded where the broken bike now lay.
Mostly silence was her answer, just that damn hissing sound like a snake issuing a warning not to come any nearer. She took a tentative step forward anyway and then stopped, a pounding in her head nothing more than the frightened beating of her heart.
Slightly louder, she asked, “Where are you? I can’t see a damn thing in this creepy stuff.”
After a few seconds a low groan appeared and then a strained voice. “I think in front…of you. I seem…to be lying up…against the guard…rail.”
“And where the hell is that? I have no idea where anything is right now,” she inquired, voice bordering on the hysterical.
More silence, longer this time so she immediately became worried that he had passed out, or maybe even worse. Was she now alone? She took a few more uneven, shuffling steps forward and then quickly stopped.
“Hey…can you still hear me? Please tell me you can hear my voice,” she spoke into a fog that pressed against her lips, voice strained nearly to the point of breaking.
“I’m okay…just come straight forward…I think I see your shadow.”
Kimberly began inching ahead and then bravely took two longer strides, her right foot making contact with something soft.
“Ouch…damn…you stepped…on my ankle,” Jason said, looking straight up as she stood over him. “I’m down here…on the ground.”
She dropped her gaze to see his sprawled form through the swirling fog, bending quickly and then seeing him a little more clearly. Realizing he was lying at a most unnatural angle against the curb and guardrail, she reached forward as gently as possible and attempted to arrange him more into a somewhat comfortable resting position.
“Whoa…hold it, damn…okay, that’s enough,” he responded in a panting voice, acute pain in his left knee beginning to become much more prominent, reaching deep down behind the kneecap like it was about to be yanked out by some unseen hand.
“How badly are you hurt?” she inquired, obviously concerned and then moved back slightly. As she did so, however, the thought struck her that she was actually kneeling in what could possibly be the middle of a car lane on what was normally a busy Shawmont Avenue. This being early Sunday morning, traffic was thankfully sparse. She slid forward, praying that a car did not come careening out of nowhere to wipe her out before she had any chance to say good-bye to her loved ones.
“Christ, I’m not sure. My left knee is hurting really bad right now, I think it’s bleeding, but I don’t think it’s broke,” he answered, pulling his hand closer to his face and seeing that he was correct, his gloved fingers covered with blood.
Moving a little closer, she asked, “Do you want to try and stand up? I’m not sure this is the best place for either of us to be quite frankly.”
Jason started pushing himself up with the aid of the guardrail. “You’re probably right. Can you give me a hand?”
Kimberly gently grabbed his arm and then realized she needed to be more firm. Shortly he was standing as well, wincing in pain as he attempted to put pressure on his leg, but now standing nonetheless.
He reached for his waist and unsnapped the thin belt that held a water bottle and small, wallet-size leather pouch which held his ID, cell phone, and a little cash. Pulling the water bottle free he handed it to Kimberly who accepted it greedily. She was thirsty but knew she couldn’t be a glutton, taking a few quick sips and then one more. Reaching down, Jason encircled his leg just above the knee with the belt, tugged tight so that it acted as a tourniquet, and then tried a few tentative steps. Not bad he thought, knowing he needed to stop the steady flow of blood till he at least got some medical attention.
“Feel okay?” she asked him, getting more nervous by the minute.
“Yeah, I think so. Christ, what a mess this is, huh?” Pausing slightly, he then asked, “I don’t know your name, mine’s Jason.”
She laughed, trying not to allow the sharp concern to show. “Not really the way I would’ve chosen to meet you Jason, but what’s done is done. My name is Kimberly, Kim for short. So you didn’t see me sitting on the bike before you slammed into me?”
Maneuvering slightly, he chuckled. “Yeah right, as if you could see anything in this slop. So why did you stop in the middle of the road?”
“Hey, watch it buster. I was near the curb on the turn, not in the middle of the street…er, at least l thought I was.”
Taking a few tiny steps, his lips pressed together in a grimace of pain, he replied, “I was just kidding Kim. I’m sorry I messed up your bike. Are you hurt at all?”
Reaching behind and rubbing her right hip, more towards the ass end, she reported, “Just my pride I think, though my head hit fairly hard. Thankfully I was still wearing my helmet. So what should we do now?”
Taking her arm and then placing a hand on her shoulder, he took another step forward, more like a shuffling jump. “I think there’s a house across the street. I’ve ridden past this spot so many times I know there are a few homes along here. Unless my depth perception is so screwed up, we just need to get off this road. Are you ready?”
“Yeah, I guess so though quite frankly I’m really kind of scared. Hey, isn’t that the house that belongs to some female police detective? I think she’s the one that was attacked by some savage beast last year?”
He limped forward with the help of her arm to balance upon. “I’m not sure really, but there has been so many strange killings in this city over the last six months that I’d just about believe anything.”
Holding onto each other, they took baby steps and shuffled across the pavement, completely unable to see their feet lost in the swirling fog below. The annoying hiss continued and was now accompanied by a low sound that, to Jason at least, appeared to possibly be a growl. Feeling the pressure of Kimberly’s fingers on his arm, he knew that she heard it as well.
Suddenly her left foot struck something hard and with her momentum going forward she began reeling towards the ground. Trying to still keep hold of Jason’s arm and fearful of losing contact with possibly the only other human being within this mess, Kim’s body spun around as her grip was torn loose. Her back and head struck the sidewalk hard, air violently slammed out of her lungs. She gasped for precious oxygen.
The low growl Jason had heard a few seconds ago now had turned into something very menacing. Several sharp, loud barks followed the growls and then a reddish blur materialized in the fog. Lying on her back, still somewhat stunned at the surprising fall, Kim looked up to see the head of a snarling animal with teeth barred. She screamed and rolled to her right, at the same time raising her arms to protect her head and face.
Seeing the body of the dog erupt through the fog Jason struck out with both hands, hoping to make enough contact to propel the animal’s momentum away from Kimberly. Neither impact happened as the dog let out a loud yelp and quickly disappeared back into the thick soup from which it had leaped. Jason glanced down and could make out Kim’s body so he bent painfully to grab hold of her left arm. Tugging hard, he slid her body away off the sidewalk and back out onto the street. Trying to forget about the throbbing pain which now pounded against his knee, he lowered his body to the ground and pulled Kimberly towards him.
His heart was pounding so loud in his chest that he had completely forgotten about the angry dog. Apparently it was the large, reddish-brown mutt that lived in the house with the detective. Thankfully, a chain had stopped the beast’s momentum and saved Kimberly from any possible injuries.
“What the hell was that?” she whispered softly, her voice so dry that it came out more like a croak.
With a nervous laugh, Jason replied, “That damn dog from the house you said the detective lives in, the one that barks at everybody who walks or rides by. Christ, we can be glad it was attached to that chain.”
Kimberly had raised herself now to a rather unstable sitting position as she touched the back of her head, nearly at the same place she had bounced upon when her bike was slammed into. Rotating her neck slowly, she realized this was turning out to be a real nightmare of what had started out as a nice, promising Sunday morning ride.
“Are you able to stand up? We can’t stay here in case some stupid driver attempts to maneuver through this crap,” he asked.
“Sure, I think so. My heart is still pounding inside my chest, but I’m not hurt. Damn dog scared the hell out of me. Better take my arm. You look ready to fall over.”
Quickly standing they held onto each other again, like desperately hugging life vests in a broiling sea. Backing slowly away from the sidewalk their eyes continued to squint as they stared ahead in case the dog had broken free. The sharp barking continued and echoed within the fog, making it sound like a pack of dogs were wildly yapping. Stopping suddenly, Kimberly glanced towards Jason.
“Which way do we go? Somehow we have to get out of this before we get hurt a lot more than we are now,” she asked, adding a nervous chuckle at the end.
There was a pause before Jason answered. “The fog has to be just lying low in this valley and the house is still in front of us. That would mean if we turn right and start walking in that direction, then we’ll be heading up hill hopefully to where the edge of this damn stuff starts to break up.”
Just then he groaned in pain as he put too much pressure on his injured knee.
Kim held on tight. “Come on Jason, we can do this. Hey, didn’t I see a cell phone in your pack when you put the belt around your leg?”
Jason moaned again, this time not in pain. “Yeah, damn it, I think I left the pack on the pavement when you helped me up and we moved forward. We need to go back to the railing and then feel around on the ground until we find it.”
They turned slowly until they felt certain that if they walked forward they would eventually slam into the guardrail, or the curb. It took about a minute but they did just that, hitting the curb first and then falling into the railing like a couple of Keystone Kops. Jason swore an oath as his knee hit something before he squatted toward the pavement.
“You stay here, I’ll start moving my hands over the street until I find it,” Kimberly ordered, trying to sound brave, but not succeeding very well.
It actually didn’t take long to find as she made a gleeful exclamation of triumph. She leaned behind her, grabbed the guardrail and started walking towards Jason.
“I found it, am I near you?”
“You’re practically right on top of me neighbor,” he joked in reply.
Seeing her body materialize through this cloud that hugged the earth, he reached for the phone and flipped it open. The green light on the screen looked strange and surreal within the fog. Thinking of Todd, his normal biking buddy with the exception of today, he dialed the number and held the phone to his ear.
There was nothing, no dial tone at all. It was deader than a doornail. Flipping the phone closed in disgust and grabbing it tightly like he wanted to squeeze the life out of it, he leaned his back against the rail and sighed.
“We couldn’t be that lucky I guess. Phone’s dead, nothing at all,” he told Kim.
“That’s great!! What the hell is this stuff? It seems to be more than just some normal fog bank,” she replied, rubbing the back of her hand across her eyes which suddenly appeared wet, either from tears or thick humidity that glistened upon her face.
“I don’t know Kim, but let’s go, we need to get out of whatever it is,” he replied.
They both stood with the aid of each other and turned to the right, which meant they would be heading up hill. If Jason’s memory served him correctly, there were four other houses on the left and nothing but a steep hill to the right covered with trees. This led to a curve in the road to the right and then there would be another straight away until a slight turn to the left. He prayed they wouldn’t have to go too far before finding the edge of this sea of unearthly whiteness.
Moving slowly, but steadily, they suddenly stopped when another ominous growl appeared from the fog. This sound was definitely not the dog for it resonated deeper and was far more menacing. Jason felt a chill of fright race up and down his spine.
“What the hell is that?” Kimberly whispered, holding onto his left arm so tight that he began to wince.
“Lord only knows, but you have to stop squeezing my arm or it’s going to go numb,” he replied in a whisper of his own.
The sound was coming closer it seemed, the deep growls interspersed with loud grunts. Jason knew it was some type of animal for sure, but what the hell could it be? Unless it was a really huge dog, he sure as hell didn’t want to find out, but felt that was going to be inevitable. Terrifying murders had been going on for months now in Philly.
Moving quickly to his right, even though he still couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of him, he knelt on his good knee and reached off the road searching for anything he might use as a weapon. After a few seconds his hand touched what appeared to be a thick log. Grabbing it tightly he pulled and found it to be about three feet long. Standing up and suppressing a groan of pain he positioned himself somewhat in front of Kimberly and held the log in both hands.
“Not sure if this will do any good, but if whatever’s out there comes at us, I’ll swing as hard as I can and you just run. Get the hell away from whatever it is.”
“I won’t leave you Jason, we’re in this together,” she replied with false bravado.
“Kim, don’t be stupid,” he hissed back. “One of us has to get out of this crap.”
Just then a loud roar erupted from the fog as Jason saw a huge shadowy form coming straight towards them. Holy shit, he thought, this was sure as hell not the bike ride he had in mind when he left his center city townhouse this morning on his normally enjoyable weekend trek to Valley Forge National Park.
“Kimberly, get down,” he yelled, raising the log and preparing for the concussion with some huge beast-like figure rushing dangerously in their direction.
When it was no more than about three feet away from Jason the fog seemed to swirl away from pressure of the oncoming huge body. He stared wide-eyed at the immense head of some monstrous wolf-like beast. The creature stood nearly seven feet tall on two legs as it roared again and swung a terrifying hand towards Jason, long three-inch claws at the end of each finger.
Realizing that he was going to die, he got the courage to just swing the log as hard as he could like he was batting cleanup for his college baseball team. If he was going to die, then he definitely was going to give the beast something to remember him by. The log struck the massively furred arm with a loud thud. It also broke with an equally loud crack. But the blow was enough to stop the wolfish monster for a few seconds anyway, enough for Jason to move backwards as fast as he could scramble on one good leg.
Kim was slightly behind him, more frightened than she had ever been in her life. Their legs got entangled and they started to fall. As they did, there was a large reddish blur to their left, accompanied by another loud growl, but not from the monster. Jason was able to see the dog from down the street hurtling towards the creature, two feet of chain still hanging from its collar.
Monster and dog collided with each other, the momentum from the flying canine catapulting both animals backwards into the fog. Jason and Kimberly were now sprawled on the pavement. They began to scramble like crabs to their left toward hopefully the other side of the road. From the fog came sounds of a frightening battle, but with the size of that beast, Jason didn’t hold out much hope for the brave, but somewhat stupid, dog.
Suddenly the noise stopped and there was utter silence.
“What do we do?” Kim whispered next to his face. “Whatever the hell that beast was, that poor dog didn’t have a chance even as brave as it was.”
“You’re asking me what to do? At this point, all we can hope for is that the dog was powerful enough to kill that creature or scare it off,” he whispered back. “Otherwise we’re dead for sure.”
They crouched and waited for about a minute and still heard no sounds.
“Come on, we have to keep climbing up this hill. I can see a little further now so I’m hoping we’re close to coming out of it,” he said, grabbing her hand tightly.
All they could do was shuffle one foot in front of the other and pray that they weren’t attacked. Jason wasn’t sure what had happened, but the wolf-beast or the dog, had disappeared at least for the moment.
But it seemed that they couldn’t be lucky enough to escape danger for the fog they found themselves immersed in was not anything this world normally was used to. As they struggled forward a loud, deafening screech crashed through the air behind them. Jason and Kimberly stopped, placing shaking hands over their ears. The screeching stopped and was then replaced with a loud flapping noise, like the sound of huge wings fracturing the air.
The two frightened bikers turned just in time to see a horrifying creature flying through the fog directly towards them. The face was almost human, but ugly as a bat out of hell. The wing span stretched four feet on both sides of a thick, muscular body. Two legs hung down with huge claws that reached for Kimberly as it whooshed forward.
“Get down,” Jason yelled loudly, attempting to propel himself between her and the flying beast.
However, the right wing slapped him on the side with enough force to knock him painfully to the left, stunned from the severe concussion. Before he struck the ground and became lost completely in the fog, Jason saw the terrifying claws sink into Kimberly’s shoulder and back. Continuing to flap the huge wings, the creature rose into the thick mist clutching tightly to its struggling human prey. Her screams echoed through the fog as Jason landed hard on the ground, rolling over several times until he came to a slamming stop against the curb.
He wasn’t sure how long he remained unconscious, could’ve been seconds, minutes, or an hour. Voices were coming from someplace, but he couldn’t make out anything that made sense. Not sure if he wanted to open his eyes, all he could remember was some hairy creature and flying beast. Had it been some form of horrible nightmare? Then he remembered Kimberly and his eyes flew open in panic.
“Hey, are you okay?” came a strange voice from above and behind him. “Don’t move in case you have any broken bones or internal injuries.”
He moved anyway, the hell with the voice from whomever it was coming from.
“Did you see it?” he asked in a loud, hysterical voice. “The creature, did you see it flying away into the fog?”
“Alright sir, just lie down and relax, I think you’ve had some kind of nasty head injury,” came another voice.
Jason glanced up and saw the figure of a man dressed in a police uniform.
“I’m okay damn it,” Jason shot back, “the fog…there was this monstrous bird-thing that grabbed hold of Kimberly and flew away.”
Silence filled the air. “Sorry buddy, there was no fog, no flying creatures, no maiden being carried away into the air. Were you hit by a car? Where’s your bike?”
Suddenly a large red dog appeared from the trees behind where Jason lay with what appeared to blood on its fur. It came up and began licking his face.
“Is this your dog?” questioned the cop. “It seems to me that you were riding a bike and crashed down the hill somewhere.”
Pushing the dog away, Jason sat up. “Not mine, it’s from the house down at the bottom of the hill. It broke loose from a chain and attacked some monstrous wolf thing that was attacking us.”
“Okay, now listen, I thought you said it was some beast flying in the air?” asked the cop, his voice bordering on a laugh. “This is Philadelphia, not the jungle.”
“The wolf attacked us lower down the hill in the fog. That dog stopped the creature and we continued climbing up the hill hoping to break clear. Then this flying thing came soaring through the air and grabbed Kimberly, took her away,” Jason said, his voice rising and then falling away.
“So where is this Kimberly anyway? Were you riding together and both crashed?” asked the officer.
Angry, Jason pushed away and started to stand on his own. “Haven’t you been listening to me? I told you that she was carried away, you have to save her.”
Just then a siren came from up the hill. Jason glanced to his right and saw the flashing light of an ambulance approaching them.
“Look officer, we need to find Kimberly before it’s too late, if it isn’t already,” Jason said, his voice nearing the breaking point.
“We’ll find her sir, don’t worry. For now, you need to go to the hospital and get those injuries taken care of. Do you have any ID?”
Jason reached for the small pack that had been on his belt, but it wasn’t there. “Christ, my ID is with my cell phone. There should be a small, black pouch lying on the road someplace. My name is Jason Manning. Her name is Kimberly, but I never got her last name.”
“Okay, just relax, we’ll find it and search for her. Now, I need you to let me help you over to the ambulance,” the officer said, helping Jason limp towards the vehicle.
After lying down on the stretcher, Jason grabbed hold of the police officer’s hand and squeezed tight. ”Please, you have to find her, she might be dead already,” Jason hissed loudly. “The creature flew into the fog and disappeared. I blacked out and didn’t see exactly what direction it went.”
“Okay Mr. Manning, I promise, we’ll find her,” the cop replied, attempting to hide his disbelief. “I’ll see you down at the hospital and get a full statement.”
A few minutes later the ambulance turned around and roared back up the hill towards Ridge Avenue, lights flashing and siren blaring. Off to the side of the road sat the large red dog staring at the rear of the emergency vehicle and then glanced warily towards the other side of the road. She stood, turned and started trotting down the hill with her head continuing to stare at the woods on the other side of the street.
Officer Jennings turned around also as a squad car came to a stop beside him. “Hey Mike, find anything down there?”
“Yeah, two bikes pretty mangled at the bottom of the hill. We found this small black pouch with a cell phone, some money and ID for a Jason Manning. Inside another pack attached to the handlebars of the other bike was the ID for a Kimberly Miller. Did the ambulance take both of them away?”
Jennings stood and turned towards the woods as he heard a very loud screech from some type of large bird. “No, you wouldn’t believe what that guy was ranting on and on about, but I do think something terrible has happened. Call the precinct and get more help out here. Oh, was it foggy down here this morning?”
“Not at all, I drove up Shawmont not more than an hour ago and it was fine.”
“Yeah, I thought so,” Officer Jennings mumbled, walking over to the sidewalk and then stared nervously into the thick, ominous woods.
Another loud screech and then he swore that something large moved away high up in the tree line. Actually, he wasn’t really sure of anything now, just that his eyesight only went so far. It appeared that whatever lurked menacingly at the edge of his vision was something he couldn’t be certain of. Scratching his head, he wondered what terrible occurrence had really happened on Shawmont Avenue, fog or not.
But then, as Jason Manning and Kimberly Miller had tragically come to discover, those fragmented edges of our reality may never truly appear what they seem to be, especially since monsters and living shadows did surely exist outside of nightmares.
GOBLINS IN THE BASEMENT
Written by Kerry L. Marzock
I could still hear those dreaded words my father said to me after dinner was over and we were just finishing up my favorite desert of hot apple pie with vanilla ice cream, washed down with a cold glass of milk. Yummy!!
“Kerry,” my father said, placing his large, rough, mechanic’s hand on my slim shoulder, “please go down in the basement and make sure the back door is locked.”
My heart leaped in my chest and my throat tightened up as well. Little trickles of fear began to speed up and down my spine like they were in a relay race. I glanced with very apparent concern towards my mother. All she did was smile and pat the back of my quivering hand lovingly. She knew I hated the cellar, especially at night when the goblins were awake.
Great, this was just great! Now my entire night would be spent huddling under the covers afraid to close my eyes, if I survived my passage through the basement that is. Didn’t they have any idea what lived down there? Couldn’t they see IT, or hear that horrible hissing and terrifying roar? Haven’t they seen how thick the darkness was in the rear room where the back door was located? The place where I had to go in order to see if it was locked?
After the dishes were cleared, washed and dried, then put away, my parents retired to the living room in order to read the newspaper and watch their evening television programs. However, I on the other hand, stood quaking in front of the door leading to the basement, that gate into darkness where ghosts, goblins, monsters and demons dwelled. I tried to swallow, but a large lump lodged right in the middle of my throat and wouldn’t go anywhere. Taking a deep breath I reached very tentatively for the door knob, a voice deep inside me saying ‘Do not do it, you know what’s down there’.
The cold knob squeaked and turned as the door cracked open an inch, then two and three. It stopped abruptly as I peeked apprehensively around the edge into a black, frightening void. It smelled dank and musty, somehow evil, potentially dangerous, and yet my father’s words continued to echo in my head, “Make sure the back door is locked.”
Very lightly touching the door with nervous, sweaty fingertips I pulled so that it slowly opened all the way, squeaking like a door would in any of my favorite horror movies. The bright, glaring light from the kitchen seemed to thud heavily against a thick, impregnable darkness. There was simply nothing else to do but reach up high and flick the light switch on, which I did very quickly.
One solitary, little light bulb hung at the bottom of the staircase, illuminating twelve narrow steps straight down to where I absolutely did not want to enter. But I had to because I could not let my dad know that I was scared, even though he clearly knew I was. But honestly, couldn’t he hear the haunting voice that was whispering and hissing to me, scraping down my spine?
I don’t think I took one single breath until I reached the soiled carpet lying at the bottom of the steps. My father used it to wipe the grease and oil from the bottom of his work shoes that now stood silently against the wall. I stared at them, imaging they might start walking towards me any moment. My mom wouldn’t let him come upstairs to track in the grime from the service station he worked at so there they were, pointed right at me. I didn’t move, just apprehensively listening to a thick, sickening silence that became broken every few seconds by a hiss and a growl, a gurgle, and a vicious snarl.
Yet I attempted unsuccessfully to reason with my fear. The faster I checked the lock on the back door, then the faster I would get back upstairs to the safety of my bedroom, hopefully alive and still in one piece. So I turned and surveyed the area beyond the ragged fringes of the lone light bulb above my head. The next ceiling light with a long piece of string hanging down was by two wash tubs along the far wall. It seemed like a long, horrifying mile away. It was only fourteen steps, but the longest of my life. I knew that number simply because I had counted them before. In fact, I knew every step in this basement because most of the time I ran with my soft brown eyes closed.
In the corner stood a monstrous shadow with a very long neck and two bright orange eyes that glared menacingly into the darkness. It hissed at me as I ran, my left eye closed and the right one slightly open. I leaped as high as I could and reached for the string, yanking down on it hard. Nothing happened as it slipped out of my grasp and danced crazily in the air, shadows dancing against the slightly illuminated window like a writhing serpent.
Oh man, it just didn’t pay to be short. So I jumped higher, grabbed the string and yanked again, even harder this time. Thankfully the light glowed above the wash tubs, but not behind me where I most needed it to fall. There was darkness where light from the two bulbs ended. Something was in that void, it had to be. I wouldn’t turn around though, no way Jose! My heart pounded with stark terror inside my tiny chest. From the far corner of the room, in the darkness where the evil, orange eyes glowed, came hisses and crackles, sounds from the ogre’s terrifying mouth.
I turned slightly to my left and stared into the extremely dark, back room, heavy fear weighing down my shoulders like it did every single time I ventured into the cellar at night. That was where the basement door was and the one, solitary light bulb in that room hung forlornly in the middle of the ceiling, very far to the left of the open doorway. Too far for me to venture into I can tell you that, because I knew for a fact that goblins huddled back there, leering and laughing at me. It was obvious they wanted a taste of this sweet morsel of a child. Oh dad, why do you do this to me?
So my goal was the back door, pure and simple, which was straight ahead of me. I had no choice in the matter. If I ran back upstairs and told my dad it was locked and it wasn’t, then I would literally be in deep trouble. So I ran, pretty fast I thought, but then why in the world did it feel like I was going in slow motion, feet stuck in molasses?
The murderous, blazing yellow eyes glowed wickedly to my left. Suddenly, there was a loud roar and I yelped. Actually, it was more like a cross between a fearful whine and a terrified screech. But I kept running anyway, eyes tightly closed, only intent on one goal. Reaching that door and then flying back upstairs to the safety of my bedroom where demons were not supposed to come, even though I had to jump into bed to avoid that clawed hand which always reached out for my feet. Didn’t my parents know about the creature that lived there as well?
I counted the steps, only four more to go, when I ran smack into the white, flowing form of a ghost. I flailed wildly with small arms, beating it senseless, my throat unable to issue a sound other than a cowardly whimper. The ghost fluttered and fell to the side as I lunged forward, banging my right knee painfully on the door.
I frantically reached for the lock. Of course it was securely closed and a quick, but fleeting, moment of anger passed over me. My father knew it was locked, I was sure of it. And yet, he still had asked me to come down here. Not funny dad, not funny at all.
I turned in the darkness and saw the white shadow of the ghost lying crumpled on the floor. Evidently I had knocked that white sheet out cold. Mom would be mad, but I was absolutely not going to pick it up. Commanding my feet to move, I raced back into the larger part of the basement and lunged at the light bulb above the wash tubs. As I did so the monster from the corner roared loudly and spit at me.
The light went out, now bathing me in more darkness. There were only fourteen steps to the light bulb at the bottom of the staircase. Running faster than I ever had before, I think I covered the distance in record time. Reaching my destination safely I turned and suddenly slipped on the greasy throw rug at the bottom of the staircase. Down I went, striking my knees hard on the cold cement.
I winced but the pain only spurred me on as I began to crawl and scramble up the steps to the safe sanctuary of the light in the kitchen. Sliding onto the tile floor, I grabbed the door and slammed it shut, falling backwards against the white, wooden slab.
“Honey, are you all right?” came the concerned voice of my mother.
“Yes mommy,” I squeaked, because quite frankly, that’s all the voice I had left.
As I tried to get my heart rate back to normal, I realized that the light at the bottom of the steps was still on and I needed to turn it off. Standing up, my back against the door, I spun quickly and turned the squeaky doorknob. Allowing the door to swing open about two inches, I reached up and flicked off the switch, then slammed the door shut with a bang. However, before the door closed I clearly saw two, large, terrifying orange eyes glowering up at me from the bottom of the steps, hissing in anger that it had lost a juicy young morsel. ME!!!
Three minutes later I walked into the living room with both knees still shaking and my young, supposedly healthy heart, still crashing and booming inside my chest.
My father looked up and smiled. “Hey sweetie, was the back door locked?”
“Yes daddy, it was locked,” I replied, clearly emphasizing the word ‘locked’, yet trying not to let him notice my fear or frustration. I wanted to yell at him that he knew it was locked too.
“How about the furnace, was the fire still burning strong?” he inquired, staring at his newspaper, a mischievous grin on his face.
“Uh, yeah, I guess so, but I didn’t really look though,” I mumbled, wondering if really knew about the monster that lived within that big old furnace.
“Oh honey, you didn’t knock down any of the sheets I had hanging up in the back room did you?” mother inquired.
I looked over at her and hesitated before answering. “No mom, they’re fine. Goodnight, I’m going upstairs to read for awhile. I love you both so much.”
Early in the morning, I would sneak down when it was a little lighter and put the sheet back on the line. After my parents gave me hugs and kisses, I stumbled quickly upstairs. Lying in bed underneath two heavy blankets, I shut my eyes tightly and tried to sleep.
Yeah right, locked basement doors, fiery coal furnaces, white sheets hung on the clothesline, my parents were simply clueless. They just had absolutely no conception of what was hovering in our basement, waiting to devour young children. Heck, all they had to do was open the door, stare down into the darkness, and see those huge, hateful, yellowish-orange eyes glaring up, hissing loudly with their desire for me. Didn’t they know that the furnace was where the monster lived? Had they no idea that the ghosts and goblins used the sheets as hiding places?
As I drifted off to sleep, actually slipping into another nightmare, it was quite evident to me that adults, especially parents in general, were simply quite unable to see the truth even if that glowering, snarling face of the monster looked them squarely in the eyes. Like it did to me, every single time I ventured down into that dark, dank, horrifying basement where the demons and goblins dwelled.
IF ONLY FROGS COULD SMILE
Written by Kerry L. Marzock
March 15, 2008
A solitary tear meandered lazily down her right cheek where it gently merged with one from the other side. Together they converged as one into a larger bead that balanced precariously on the tip of the young woman’s exquisitely sculpted chin. Glancing down at the pond, she stared wistfully at the beautiful face floating upon what seemed like an endless sheet of glass, a mirror without end, an eternity free of sadness. Wondering if she would ever again touch the warmth of such an eternity, she took the tip of her right index finger and wiped at the wetness in the corner of her eye. Then she gently guided a few wayward strands of glistening auburn hair that had fallen in front of her face to lie neatly behind her right ear.
The quivering tear broke free, spinning and twirling toward the pearly surface of the water. She knelt upon the lush park grass and softly spread her butter-cream colored skirt with dainty red roses gracing the hemline. Her stoic, emotionless face of beauty was intent only upon seeing a reflection of the tear hovering in mid-air like a magical crystal sphere, suspended as if in the slowest of motions. But fell it did nonetheless, pointed towards a placid pond of shining water, its’ sole purpose to shatter the lovely early spring stillness that surrounded her. It was simply a pleasant moment in time, one that did not come often for her anymore. After all, happiness had been tragically stolen from her on a day much like this sunny afternoon exactly one year before.
The tear violently struck the water, sending shock waves of concentric circles across the small pond, cracking the exquisite beauty of her face. It distorted a vision of loveliness into a caricature of horror. Using the same index finger, she touched the ugly, livid-white scar that knifed glaringly down the right side of her face from just above the brow to underneath the chin. Physical pain had fortunately disappeared six months ago, replaced with nothing more than an icy cold numbness spread across her otherwise smooth and faultless skin. However, the emotional pain of loneliness and loss would apparently linger forever, sharp pangs of despair part of each lonely, agonizing day.
As the rocking water began to stretch out and become placid once again, she tried to smile and then quickly stopped. Stupid girl, she thought, trying to actually have a split second of frivolity, a breath of time when her torment might perhaps flee. Smiling did nothing more than turn the white scar into a fractured lightning bolt, the tortuous pain of seeking forgiveness knifing down her face and neck, pointed towards her anxiously beating heart which was now and forever constantly broken.
Remembering that fateful afternoon was merely one troubled aspect of her daily, zombie-like existence, one she wished that she could forget, but seemingly doomed to live out the curse which had befallen her. As she closed her eyes trying to forget, but realizing the absurdity of that wish, the sound of croaking frogs echoed inside her thundering mind, the roaring sound always appearing when the nightmare began.
It had been early evening like this one, a blush-red sun sinking slowly behind the western horizon. She and Christian, her fiancée, had attended an all day pool party at her friend Deanna’s lavish home. She really had had a good time, at least until the beer and whiskey chasers had begun to take their toll on Christian. Extremely handsome at slightly over six feet, his rugged good looks was the envy of all her friends, especially when he slipped off his shirt and stood upon the diving board, his sculpted arms and stomach glistening under a bright sun. She felt her cheeks become pink as she noticed how the tight fitting swim trunks he wore left absolutely nothing to the female imagination. Hearing startled gasps of desire from many of the other envious young women around the pool was more than just a little satisfying, especially since Christian could’ve had his choice of girls, but had chosen her.
So handsome, personable, charming, and financially very successful, he had it all and she had him, most of the time wrapped around her pretty little finger. Sadly, the one thing he lacked however was the ability to control his drinking and no matter how hard she had tried to slow him down, it had just gotten worse. Now she sat pushing back in the car seat, holding on tightly to the door handle with one hand and seat belt with the other. Christian swung the steering wheel hard to the left as they careened onto Seventh Avenue, the vehicle hurtling down the semi-busy street past Long Acre Park on their right side. Fortunately it was Sunday evening so any rush hour traffic was not in harm’s way.
“Chris, please slow down. You’re driving like a madman, somebody is going to get hurt,” she uttered loudly, strain and fear etched clearly in her voice.
He laughed, a high-pitched, keening sound, much like a madman would. “Lighten up baby, have a little fun. I can always control this car.”
“Christian, you’re drunk. Pull over and I’ll drive home, please!”
His head swiveled and he stared at her, a crazed look of anger and mistrust. “Katie my dear, drunk is in the eye of the beholder and I’m beholden to nobody. Just sit there, look beautiful, and be quiet.”
She was stunned for at no time had he ever spoken to her like this, drunk or sober. For some reason he was like somebody she had never known before. The thought struck her that maybe there was more to his condition than just booze.
Suddenly, a movement caught her attention and she looked forward. A scream began to build which erupted from her throat.
“Chris, watch out, there’s someone crossing the street. You’re going to hit them,” she yelled shrilly.
He turned his head back to the pavement and saw a woman with a small boy holding her hand halfway across the intersection. The red light glared back at him like an accusing eye.
Chris shouted something unintelligible and yanked the car to the right. With less than ten feet to spare, Katherine saw the terrified look on the mother’s face as she tried to protect her son from what appeared to be certain injury.
The out of control vehicle jarringly struck the curb and lurched onto a large, square cement area erected in front of the pillared entranceway to the park. Since Christian had still not applied the brakes the car sped forward doing nearly fifty miles an hour.
Katherine screamed but the screeching sound of metal striking the stone pillar on her side drowned it out. The entire time, which literally was only seconds, Chris attempted to regain control of his BMW, but it was no use. His drunken condition left reflexes and mental capacity nothing but mush. Their lives were now at the mercy of fate.
When the car had slammed violently against the stone pillar, Katherine’s body lurched up and forward even though she was wearing a seat belt. The top of her head struck the metal strip around the windshield causing an immediate burst of stars and a flashing stab of pain. Stunned, she fell back onto the seat, feeling like nothing but a rag doll that was now bleeding profusely from a deep gash across the upper part of her forehead.
The car now hurtled down a wide sidewalk which abruptly turned right with a log fence standing impassively in front of them. They smashed into the fence sending fractured pieces of wood flying in every direction. Ahead was nothing but grass and Long Acre Pond. Christian was now completely dazed and so rubber-armed that steering the BMW was impossible so thinking enough to press down on the brake pedal was out of the question. Fortunately his foot was not on the gas so the car had at least slowed somewhat.
The entire time, people who had come to the park to spend a nice spring Sunday afternoon were yelling and screaming, scurrying for safety. The car was like it had been shot forward on a pinball machine, glancing off trash cans and picnic tables.
Through a glaze of blood that now dripped in front of Katherine’s eyes, she saw a very frail looking, old woman carrying several shopping bags suddenly appear on the grass not more than twenty feet away. The old crone with the long straggly gray hair, hooked nose, pointed chin and beady, green eyes stared at the vehicle hurtling towards her. She was far too old to move out of the way quickly enough.
Katherine’s screams seemed to awaken Christian’s senses and he tried desperately to swerve the car to the right. It was too late to avoid hitting her, but at least it was not head on. Still, her fragile body was thrown up and onto the hood near the driver side fender, then struck the windshield with extreme force. The old lady’s bags were tossed into the air with all of her worldly belongings spraying in all directions.
In what seemed like a sudden stopping of motion, Katherine looked through the broken windshield and could’ve sworn she saw an evil looking smile with yellow, rotted teeth upon the bag lady’s face. Her body rolled off the hood of the car, dumped like her trash bags onto the park grass. The BMW now headed straight for a large oak tree near the edge of the pond.
The vehicle slammed into the tree at the corner of the right fender, sheering the entire side of the car completely off. Katherine sat stunned and exposed, but still strapped to the seat. Christian on the other hand had not been wearing his seat belt and as the car tilted violently to the left, he was thrown through the windshield towards the grass and the calm water of Long Pond.
The car now balanced precariously on the driver’s side and slid slowly to a stop close to the water’s edge. Even though the seat belt was still strapped tightly across her chest and shoulder, Katherine had slid somewhat and now hung suspended with the ground at her feet. Completely dazed and numb, she looked through the open, jagged windshield like it was a movie screen. She could see the ugly old crone lying in a heap on the grass, but struggling to sit up. Katherine also saw Christian’s body, bent and bloody, lying partially submerged in the water. It was a scene of pure insanity from a tragic movie running in slow motion.
The old hag raised her bloody face and pointed toward Christian who lay at the edge of the pond with only his head, right arm and shoulder out of the water. The noise of the crash had nearly deafened Katherine so all she could see was the old woman pointing towards her fiancée and mouthing some words that sounded like a chant.
Suddenly there was a bright burst of light above the water, temporarily blinding Katherine. At the same time her hearing seemed to return completely and she heard the breaking of glass. Glancing up she fearfully saw a large piece of what was left of the passenger door window break free and fall towards her. The very last thing she felt before being carried off to blessed oblivion was the edge of the glass slicing and tearing down the right side of her face. Then thankfully there was only darkness.
The coming weeks and months were nothing more than a blurred nightmare. It was a tortured period of pain and numbness, both physical and mental. Katherine found out later from her mother that she had been in the hospital for just shy of eight weeks. During much of that time, especially early on, she had been in a coma, some of which was medically induced by pain medication. There were several operations to not only repair a few broken bones, but suture together her badly lacerated face and scalp. She had mercifully stopped looking into a mirror because the ugly caricature staring back resembled nothing else but the bride of Frankenstein.
She also over the coming months became aware of what had taken place, especially after she had blacked out. The old woman had surprisingly survived her extensive injuries, but after a few weeks of being hospitalized she disappeared one night to the chagrin of a confused medical staff. However, the surprising and mysterious part of the whole story still caused everybody, law enforcement in particular, to scratch their heads in disbelief.
Katherine had not been much help to them other than flashing moments of memory. Christian lying nearly submerged in the water, the old crone lifting her arm and uttering some words that could not be heard clearly, a blinding flash of light before the broken glass tore down the side of her face and carried her away to an ongoing nightmare.
From what her mother revealed, Christian’s body was never found. The police had spent days dredging the pond along with the aid of divers, but to no avail. It was as if he had vanished into thin air and nobody could explain why, especially since the old woman had disappeared as well. All that was found in the pond were fish and a surprising number of croaking frogs.
Now exactly one year later Katherine sat against the same oak tree which Christian’s BMW had so violently struck. She stared across the smooth water of Long Acre Pond feeling emotionless, drained of her spirit with so many questions remaining unanswered. The most important question of all was still what had happened to Christian’s body?
A sudden sound brought her out of the trance she had fallen into. She unconsciously touched the ugly scar on the side of her face as it immediately began to tingle like it was alive. She had already been through two surgical attempts to remove the scar and regain some semblance of a normal life. But when the bandages were removed, the grotesque scar remained, leaving the surgeons completely baffled. She had refused a third attempt, realizing that it was some type of curse.
The sound appeared again and she noticed that a large frog had come to the water’s edge and now sat with fat body spread on a flat, smooth rock. It croaked softly several times and then moved off the rock and onto the grass a few feet closer to her.
Katherine attempted to smile and then quickly stopped because the scar seemed to suddenly burn.
“So Mr. Frog, can you tell me what happened one year ago today? Do you know where my Christian disappeared to? Are you in fact my Prince Charming?”
Nothing! Silence! Then a ‘ribbit’ and the frog with the large, black, bulging eyes jumped closer, almost to her feet.
Katherine sighed and chuckled softly. “Well, even if you knew what happened, how could you tell me? Oh why do I continue to torture myself so much about this? What’s done is done and my life has sunken to where I now talk to frogs hoping for answers. I am so pathetic, physically and emotionally.”
She began to rise and then was startled when the frog leaped upon her skirt, several loud ‘ribbits’ making it appear like the small green creature was actually trying to keep her from leaving and surprisingly trying to say something.
Katherine stared at the frog in amazement. “Well, this is not only confusing, but somewhat comical, though smiling for me is absolutely out of the question. But maybe you can smile, is that possible?”
Silence and then three more ‘ribbits’ as the frog moved even closer up her lap.
“Wait a minute, what’s going on here?” Katherine inquired. “My life has been a nightmare this past year. Now suddenly it seems like a dream, a stupid fairy tale. So am I supposed to kiss you? Why in the world would you want somebody as ugly as me to kiss you?”
Ribbit! Ribbit! Ribbit!
“Well, I suppose it wouldn’t hurt since nobody else has asked for a kiss recently. Oh come here,” she said, turning over both hands with palms up.
The frog leaped onto her hands and she was surprised at how heavy it was. She brought the frog slowly up to her face and prayed that nobody in the park was looking her way.
“Alright Mr. Frog, Prince ‘whatever your name is’, please allow me to try and put a smile on your lips.”
She brought the small creature forward and kissed it on top of the head instead, not wanting to risk the frog sticking out a long, flickering tongue at the same time. That would be carrying this charade a little too far, not to escape the fact it would be rather disgusting. After all, just kissing the frog anywhere should be enough she felt.
However, whether it was a charade or a dream, a shower of yellow sparkles and bright light appeared. It temporarily blinded her, almost painfully, yet covered her in a soft blanket of pearly white mist. Katherine felt warm and tingly, like little bursts of electrical current were racing across her skin and through her veins.
When the tingling stopped she realized her eyes had been tightly closed so she slowly opened them. Her hands were still spread, palms facing the sky, but the frog was gone and only the placid pond was in front of her.
“Strange, very strange,” she murmured. “This is all way too weird, but it seems that again there is a disappearance.”
“I agree, very strange and very weird,” appeared a strong, masculine voice behind her. “Hello Kate.”
Startled, she leaped to her feet and spun quickly around. In a state of shock, Katherine began backing up towards the water’s edge.
“Be careful Katie, you’ll fall back into the water,” Christian said softly, not wanting to frighten her more than she was, extending a hand towards her.
“It’s not possible,” she muttered, “This is a dream, more of my nightmare. It’s not fair.”
He took several slow steps forward so as not to startle her more and took her left hand in his. Skin, warmth, reality, perchance not a dream after all she thought.
“How can this be? Where have you been Chris? I thought you were dead, your body had disappeared.”
He smiled and chuckled softly, a sound she had not heard in so long.
“You wouldn’t believe me right now even if I told you Katherine,” he replied. “But, I’m back now and it was your kiss, those sweet lips that made it happen. I’ve missed you terribly and love you so much.”
She backed away and moved her right hand up to cover the scar on her cheek.
“No, please go away Christian. I’m ugly, deformed. No man could ever want me again,” she said, tears streaming down her face.
He moved quickly, putting his strong hands on her shoulders. She thought he was so handsome standing there in what appeared to be the very same clothes he had been wearing the day of the accident.
“My dearest Katherine, you are as exquisitely beautiful now as the first day we met. I’ve missed you terribly.”
“No, you’re just saying that because you don’t want to hurt me. This cursed scar is ugly and I should leave. Please release me Christian and let me go. Find happiness with someone else,” she pleaded tearfully, struggling to get free of his firm, but soft, grip.
“What scar?” he asked. “Katherine, look down into the water. Sweetheart, there is no scar. You are as radiantly beautiful today as you always were.”
She glanced down and saw her reflection staring back with smooth and flawless skin, her cheek devoid of ugliness. It was her face before that tragic day.
Katherine looked up at his handsome face and smiled beautifully. “How is this possible? I haven’t smiled in a year.”
He lovingly stroked the smoothness of her right cheek. “Believe me, I haven’t smiled either. Some things are just unexplainable, but whatever happened it was apparently because of the old lady I hit that day. I have so missed your smile and I’m so deeply sorry for the pain I’ve caused you. Can you ever forgive me?”
Holding his hand tightly they started walking away from the pond. She placed her head against his chest and sighed heavily, but a sigh of pure contentment.
“I thought I would never find happiness again and had begun to realize that possibly only frogs could smile. Of course I forgive you Christian, I love you so much,” she said softly.
He squeezed her shoulders and kissed the top of her forehead which was also now free of that nasty looking scar which she always kept hidden beneath her bangs.
“Well my dearest Katherine, you at least made one very lucky frog smile today, that’s for sure,” he replied.
As they strolled away from the pond, locked tightly together arm in arm, the only sound in the air beside that of chirping song birds and the beat of their own hearts was the symphony of croaking frogs.
Across the park, on the other side of the pond, behind some trees stared two small, beady green eyes set above the flash of yellow, rotted teeth. The old woman smiled and moved forward toting her large bags for it was time to feed the frogs again.
IN THE SHADOW OF A BEAST
By Kerry L. Marzock
As my fingertips angrily struck the keys I could see the strangest of shadows dancing across the bookshelf to my right. It seemed to oddly resemble a very long, narrow hand, somewhat other than human, possessing sharp claws where fingernails should’ve rightfully been. It’s quite ironic how the mind can play deranged games with one’s incredible imagination, especially when that person has not slept in nearly forty-eight hours. Existing on nothing but large mugs of very strong black coffee and surfing upon waves of insomnia that would not allow me to sleep I continued to pound away at the keyboard hour after interminable hour. There was just an insane, driving force to finish this latest novel. In fact, I had never in my life poured out the words so fast, or written in such graphic, terrifying detail. However, what frightened me the most was the nagging feeling that I was not alone in creating this nightmarish tale. I shuddered to think who I was collaborating with.
I was also completely aware without even opening the front door to the porch and staring up at the nighttime sky that a full moon hung high. The persistent itching underneath my skin, like I was being devoured on the inside by marauding termites, clearly heralded the moon’s call to me. Just like last month and the month before. Muscles throughout my body had begun humming so loud it became unbearable, to the point where at times I covered my ears with shaking hands. Quite frankly it didn’t help because the noise was coming from within, a symphonic crescendo building towards a deafening clash of cymbals and kettle drums.
Suddenly a sharp, stabbing pain pierced my stomach and shot like a hot flame up my spine. I cried out in anguish, bending over towards the desk, my hands and fingers clutching for keys that weren’t there, curling into what resembled the paws of some wretched beast. The tips of claws broke through the skin of my fingers and began to extend outward, curving at the ends and scratching at the keyboard, as if the beast wanted to type a bloody, monstrous paragraph.
Through what lost shreds of humanity I still precariously clung to, I recalled that horrendous night three or four months ago. Maybe longer, possibly shorter, I couldn’t tell anymore because time simply was not what it used to be. As my heels clicked briskly along the lonely sidewalk edging the northern side of Rittenhouse Square I was rather somewhat apprehensive and more than a little nervous. Fortunately enough I had found a parking place relatively close to the bar where I had met several close friends for a late dinner and cocktails.
However, the stark headlines from the Philadelphia Inquirer over the past few months still cried out to me and other Philadelphians with stories of savage murders occurring, mostly around the full moon. I glanced up to see that big yellow orb suspended right above me. I swallowed hard and grasped the strap of my purse tighter. Looking at my watch I took note that it was nearly midnight. Picking up the pace and getting to the car in one piece was now my only desire. In my nervous hand, perspiring even on this frigid evening, was clutched a canister of mace and I would not hesitate in the least to use it. I might not be the most aggressive individual, but if my life was in extreme danger I would fight like a hellcat. If I was fast enough that is.
But I wasn’t! Whatever the devilish creature was that sprung from the bushes, it hurtled towards me with blinding speed. The roar was totally deafening and I screamed loud enough to wake the dead. I don’t know which was louder, but it didn’t matter as the beast struck my side, violently slamming me to the pavement. I felt razor sharp claws rake my left shoulder and fangs that should not have belonged to any living creature sink deeply into my right arm. The pain was immediate and intense, but I was actually more stunned with the suddenness of the attack. I pushed and struggled as best I could against the massive weight that seemed to be crushing the air from my lungs. I was unable to scream for lack of oxygen, so I gasped and whimpered with what breath remained. I felt that in seconds I would be dead anyway.
And then, as fast as it had started, it ended just as abruptly. The monstrous body covered with stinking, matted fur and possessing wretched, fetid breath that had pounced upon me so savagely was suddenly gone. Its’ roar and my screams still echoed against high-rise buildings surrounding the square as I lay sprawled on the sidewalk, dazed and fighting desperately to hold onto sanity. Several streams of blood flowed from my shoulder and arm, staining the white pavement red.
After two days in the hospital, the doctor signed me out expressing some medical disbelief that I could heal so quickly. I couldn’t explain it either because I had seen the ugly wounds on my body and was extremely worried about infections and rabies. Yet even while I was lying in the emergency room the pain miraculously began to disappear. The police questioned me a few times while I floated in and out of consciousness. They stared at me with raised eyebrows as if my story was preposterous. A monster indeed! They said it must have been a very large dog, but I knew otherwise. Unless this mutt came straight from Hell, it was much more powerful and vicious than any old domestic fido could’ve been. Smiling, I thought of a gigantic poodle with slobbering fangs and murderous claws.
However, now my fractured life had become cruelly ruled by a cycle of full moons that coincidentally appeared about every 29.5 days. The closer it got to D-Day, the more anxious and paranoid I became. It wasn’t the form of anxiety that I longed for either, as if you were waiting impatiently for a hot lover to come into your arms. Oh no, this was more like a storm of insidious fear, the type of which I had never experienced before. Added to the fact that I clearly lost any memory of what happened on those frightful nights. The pain, the terror, the deep urgency from which the moon’s clutches enveloped me pushed any threads of sanity to the farthest and darkest edges of my once normal existence. Any semblance of humanity disappeared completely and was evilly replaced by the sinister, voracious, feral mind of a wild and uncontrollable beast.
More pain pierced and jabbed at my bones and muscles, skin seeming to be ripped apart like paper-mache’. What I feared the most was hidden underneath. In a gut-wrenching jolt my spine cracked and bent, popping loudly as the vertebrae altered to where it was no longer human in form. I lifted my head towards the ceiling and moaned, or whined, not actually sure what came out. Sounds were no longer what I remembered them as being for my ears seemed longer now, much more sensitive and alert to danger, as well as prey. I could hear the terrified heartbeats of little animals and sensed their sweet, delicious fear.
I opened my eyes only to strangely gaze through varied shades of gray with intermittent flashes of brilliant color. What I saw sent icy chills up and down my altering spine. Fingertips of shadow slithered like a serpent over the keyboard, caressing the dark brown, wooden surface of the desk. Startled, I noted that they were elongated and sharp, like claws of a creature ~ the fanged and furry beast I write about ~ the beast that always has and will forever haunt my fractured dreams. It had been those dreams and imagination that created my stories. Now, I wasn’t quite so sure if it was that alone. Glancing through red, sleep-depraved eyes I saw long, red hairs upon my hands springing from every pore in my skin.
Through the pain and torment of shifting shape I tasted salty liquid upon my long, flickering tongue. I made a mewling sound as I realized it was tears, maybe all that was left of my humanity. Standing precariously upon bent legs I violently shoved the chair out from underneath me and glanced to my right. Now upon the bookshelf was the unmistakable shadow of a beast, possibly a wolf, its’ muzzle long and narrow, ears somewhat rounded but coming to a point, curved fangs showing clearly as the mouth snapped open and closed.
The rear window in the den was open, a chilly evening air spilling into the room with a host of interesting sounds and tantalizing scents calling out to the beast. As the creature’s paws alit upon the ground, the city streets of Philadelphia were soon filled with the howling of a wild and feral animal. Most individuals hearing the haunting lament from a distance swore it had to be a dog. And yet, it clearly sounded like a wolf, but they simply did not exist in the City of Brotherly Love. At least, that’s what any normal person would think. If they were too close to the howling, then they could very well find out the hard way, staring up at the moon with disbelieving eyes.
At some point the next morning I awoke, stretching my painful limbs and moaning quite loudly. Blessed sleep had come at last, but at what expense? Strangely I found myself lying on the floor atop a round throw rug, a plush white robe tightly hugging my quivering body. Standing slowly I began to stagger somewhat to the kitchen where I poured whatever coffee was left in the bottom of the pot into an unwashed mug from the kitchen sink. The coffee was cold, but I didn’t care. I just needed caffeine and lots of it.
Wiping my mouth with the back of my hand, I shuffled to the front door and squinted as the light pierced deep behind my eyes. I quickly reached for the newspaper and rushed back inside the darker confines of the living room. Too frightened to actually look at the headlines yet, I moved slowly back to the kitchen in order to brew a large pot of coffee. As I listened to the steady percolating sound of the coffee machine, I glanced down at my feet where I saw blood splattered across the toes and ankles. Lifting my hands I detected long red hairs still clinging to my skin and my nails were much longer and sharper than I remembered them being. Moving to the farther wall I nervously stared into a small mirror. Opening my mouth I glimpsed teeth that were not fangs, but still longer and sharper than normal for a human.
Pain rolled through my stomach and I doubled over at the waist. This time though the agony was not from altering joints, but instead the sickening realization of what I possibly had become. Even more terrifying was what had I done in order to have blood on my feet and as I quickly noted other places as well? Before the pain subsided I was on my knees and retching uncontrollably into a trash can. I vomited until my stomach muscles were tied in knots and nothing else came out.
Standing slowly, teetering on very shaky legs, I staggered blindly into the living room where I had left the Inquirer. Fearing the worst, I spread the paper on the coffee table and stared, my eyes widening and a sobbing sound escaping my chest and parched throat. Startled, horrified and utterly sickened, the headlines screamed at me: “Young Couple Slain in Fairmount Park. Witnesses swear they saw a large, wolf-like creature.” I placed my head in my hands and whispered, “Oh dear God, please forgive me for what sins I may have committed.” Then I happened to glance at the corner of the newspaper and noticed that the date was from two days ago. I must’ve been unconscious for up to a full day, maybe more.
Tripping and stumbling towards the desk ~ seemingly my only safe haven ~ I brought up the latest manuscript I had been writing. I waited with bitter disquietude, fearful of what I would see. Suddenly, the stark manuscript appeared and with a breaking heart I read of murder, death and mayhem in Fairmount Park. The title of the manuscript read “In the Shadow of a Beast”.
Closing my eyelids to the burning realization that I could in fact be the creature responsible for these deaths, I began to shake and moan. I prayed that I would fall asleep and never awake, no more words of death to be typed or read ever again.
But deep inside me was the voice of a wolf, a voracious monster. “Open your eyes and write about us, about me, about the urge to kill and run as the beast.” The voice was low, guttural, seeming to come from inside me and yet not.
I lifted my arms and let my fingertips begin striking the keyboard for I had a novel to finish. Perhaps it would be completed before the next full moon. If not, then death would be the final chapter.
(or just the beginning)
Quick Links :
Scrolls of Sorrow
Silence of the Leaves
Poetry From My Special Friends
Raindrops and Heartache
Kiss of the Black Rose
A Sleep of Dreams