Monday, October 15, 2018

Original Short Story: Ravenous by The Aspiring Author Blog Contributors

Sitting down after his long day at work, George Thanatos wanted nothing more than to sit by the fire, smoke his pipe, and sip brandy as he read the newspaper. He let his body sink into the antique club chair that had been in his family for generations. Its worn leather felt like home, and as his slippers warmed his feet, he was finally beginning to feel the familiar, relaxing, end-of-the-day calm he so enjoyed.
         “Did you remember to take out the trash? They come by in the morning you know,” his wife bellowed from the kitchen.
          George sighed. When he was younger he might have picked a fight about this, with his hard-earned enjoyment being postponed. Instead, he made his way to the kitchen where his wife gave him a curt smile and busied herself washing the dishes. Without a word, he took the trash bag out of the can, tied the strings, and carried it out to the garage.
          Cold air flooded the garage as the automatic door slowly made its way up the pulleys. The smell of fresh rain hit him and he sighed once again, going back inside to grab his raincoat and boots.
          “Don’t forget to put out all the junk by the side of the house. I did some yard work today and they’ll take all the branches and stuff with the trash,” his wife reminded him on his way back out. “I don’t want that raccoon digging and making a mess. Go on, now.”
          The thought of his cigar and brandy kept him from griping as he threw his hood up and entered the night air.
          While maneuvering the trash cans toward the curb, he noticed a streetlamp down the way flickering in the rain. The hair on his arms stood up against the cold and he shivered, glancing around to confirm that he was alone.
          The branches his wife had mentioned were stacked in a tidy pile by the far side of the house. He bent over and began picking them up, cursing that he’d forgotten a flashlight. While carrying his final load, a sudden movement tickled his peripheral vision. Turning around in a circle, he searched for the raccoon that had been dining on their trash for the last few weeks. He hoped that throwing a nice sharp stick its way would teach it a lesson, but the night was quiet except for the steady patter of rain falling around him.
         George held still, listening for whatever had skulked into the shadows at the back of the yard. He could feel his heart pounding and cursed under his breath, annoyed with his childish fear.
         “Hogwash,” he said loud enough to build his courage.
          As he walked back toward the curb with his load, a growl rolled out of the darkness and brushed against his eardrums with a snarl.
          George dropped the branches. All he could hear was his heart beating inside his skull, isolating him in the dark. He swallowed hard and willed himself to turn around.
          As his eyes pierced the shadows, searching for the source of the growl, a small black Volkswagen stopped along the curb in front of his house. The back-passenger side door of the car swung open. George glanced over his shoulder to see a pair of large red shoes emerge from within, followed by a short, plump clown in a ruffled white shirt. The clown was waving at him, calling, “Yoo-hoo!”
          George’s eyes widened at the clown’s striped blue and red pants, held up with silvery, glittering red suspenders. A crown of short orange curls fell around its head and bounced as it started to leap about. Two clowns soon followed, then another, and then several more came after, bounding out of the tiny black vehicle, all covered in white face and adorned in bright colors. As they waited for more companions to emerge from the back of the Volkswagen, a clown wearing a purple and green polka dotted skirt twirled around the others, collapsing down in a series of somersaults.
          George just stared. He didn’t know what to make of it. How in the world did they all fit into that tiny car? And who were they?
          Suddenly, a clown jumped up right in front of him. He held out a large bag and asked, “Where do we go to do tricks and get treats?”
          “Over there,” George managed to utter. He pointed to the house across the street where a group of children dressed as Disney characters stood waiting with their Halloween bags open.
          “Well, you should know! It’s Halloween after all…” a clown in a white and lavender striped blouse and lime green pants said as it rolled out of the car.
           The clowns stood together and stared at the group of Disney characters across the street and yelled, “Trick or treat!”
           With gleeful delight, they ran across the street to join the children on the porch, doing backflips and cartwheels along the way. In unison, they stopped at the top of the porch and held out their matching red Halloween bags.
           “I sure hope they have enough treats,” George muttered as more clowns emerged from the car.
            He counted each one as they appeared. When the twenty-seventh clown exited the car, it slammed the door shut and joined its companions in a game of leapfrog, following the collection of Disney characters to the next house.
As the merry gang proceeded on its way, George noticed three of the clowns suddenly start walking in a different direction. His curiosity stirred. Briefly glancing back at his cozy den window, he debated his next move. The brandy could wait.
            He took off in a slow jog to follow the trio. Their destination was the ancient, eyesore of a house on the next street over. George settled himself behind some bushes in the front yard as the door creaked open. He’d speculated for years at who lived in this mausoleum masquerading as a Victorian mansion.
          Through the opening of the door, George glimpsed a dark figure backlit by flickering light. The figure leaned forward, ensuring that no one but the clowns was in sight. The rain fell heavier now, and the clouds transformed the sky into a patchwork of black and charcoal grey.
          As George squinted through the streaks of cold rain blurring his vision, the moon broke through the clouds just enough to reveal what appeared to be a man wearing a cloak. The man waved the clowns inside. After they entered, the man looked once more to ensure they were alone. A flash of lightning tore across the sky, and in that moment of illumination, George saw the man in full and questioned if it was a man at all.
          Patches of long, wispy hair blew over the figure’s lumpy forehead. What he presumed to be a nose was more like a snout with elongated nostrils stretching upward and back. None of this disturbed him more than what took the place of a mouth. The creature—as George was now sure that what filled the doorway could not be human—had a pincer-shaped mandible that cracked open horizontally, revealing razor-sharp teeth. George’s feet were frozen in place, but the rest of his body was awash in icy tremors. The chill that penetrated his bones gave way to the warmth that filled his pants and ran down his legs. Just before the creature retreated into the house, it stopped and cocked its head in George’s direction while sniffing the air.
          George scrambled backward and fell, but the creature gave no pursuit. Instead, it stepped inside, closing the door behind it. Returning to his senses, George stood covered in mud from a puddle of piss and rain. Everything inside him told him to go home. Now. Clean up and bury the night in a bottle of brandy. Despite this, his feet betrayed him and drove him closer to the house.
          The windows were darkened by heavy curtains, save for a small patch of light flickering from a tear in the fabric. Through this, he could now see a fire dancing behind the hearth. In the foreground, the clowns stood excitedly around a table adorned with an elegant, lace tablecloth, topped with crystal cake stands and silver platters covered with treats. Rather than fill their bags, the clowns ate ravenously of the fare that laid before them. All the while, the creature stood to the side, patiently observing their gluttony till suddenly, one by one, the clowns started to collapse.
          When the last clown had fallen, the creature pushed the table aside to reveal an opening in the floorboards. One by one, the creature dragged the clowns to the opening. They were met by a jagged, insect-like leg that protruded from below and stabbed into them before pulling them under.
          Before George could turn to flee the horror, a serrated claw burst through a basement window and swept his feet. George’s head struck hard against a rock in the violent and sudden fall, rendering him halfway unconscious as he was pulled through broken glass and into the basement.
          When he blinked his eyes open, his vision was doubled and blurred. The world tilted around him and he moaned in pain, slowly raising his fingertips to the wound on the back of his head. His hair was sticky with blood and filth.
          As his vision cleared, he saw that the underground den looked more like a cave. The air was thick and musty. The walls appeared to be made of stone and the floor was damp. The wooden floorboards overhead stood in stark contrast as the only sign of manmade construction.
          George frantically searched for the beast, scanning what he could see of the lair, but the creature was nowhere in sight. Whether from the cold damp or from sheer terror, he began to tremble, uncertain of what was coming next. As he pushed his body off the floor to stand, he heard a crack beneath his palm and immediately stopped moving, afraid to alert one of his captors.
          When nothing happened for several moments, he lifted his hand to see what had made the noise. His fear only intensified as he realized what it was.
          Human teeth of different sizes and shapes. The light was dim, but the view was unmistakable. The pit of his stomach began to churn as he realized his fate. Whatever this beast was, it enjoyed the taste of human flesh.
          George sprung to his feet, looking for a way out. Gazing up, he found the window he was pulled through, only to realize that it was too high for him to reach. He needed something to boost him.
          The clowns.
          George hadn't thought about the clowns since seeing them dragged through the floorboards. They might be able to help each other out. He would just have to find them first. It couldn’t be too hard to find a few bodies in this cave, now could it?
          Keeping his back against the wall, he tried to brace himself for the search. A shiver racked his spine. Something was watching. Was it the beast here below or the creature that cared for it from above?
          As his eyes adjusted more to the dim light, he noticed the floor was scattered with teeth and bones. They were small, like that of children.
          The more he wandered, the more he could see of his surroundings by the flickering light that streaked through the floorboards above. The cave extended beyond the walls of the house, the darkness cloaking the fullness of its dimensions.
          Finally, George saw the sparkly suspenders from one of the clowns laying several feet before him. Without hesitation, he darted toward it to see if it was alive. Checking for a pulse, he realized the clown makeup hid a lithe young man, likely in his late teens. The clown car was probably a college prank—a genius idea born of energetic youth from one of the fraternities at the local university.
          The young man appeared unconscious from whatever he’d eaten at the creature’s banquet table. Frantically, George slapped his face, hoping for a sign of life. From the shadows, a prickly voice said, “He won't be much use to you now. He’s already been tasted.”
          Scrambling away from the voice, George dragged the body with him back toward the window.
          The shadow cackled till it was racked with a hacking cough. “Run, little man, if you must. Scamper back to your wall, but there isn’t any use. You’ll still die afraid, covered in your own blood and piss. They all do.”
          “Who are you?” George stammered.
          “I am the first.”
          “The first what?” George’s eyes were wide with fright as he searched the darkness for the source of the laughter, seeing only bones and blood and filth.
          “Oh, young one,” the voice sighed in condescension. “That is the wrong question. Your first question was better.”
          “What are you?” George asked. The boy in his arms moaned and rolled onto his side, curling around his stomach in distress. “What did he eat?”
          “That was two questions,” the voice replied. “The first of which is the best one yet. Shall I answer you?”
          “What did he eat?” George demanded.
          “An herb. A mushroom. A sweet that he shouldn’t have tried. Greedy, greedy boy.”
          The boy’s body seized, and his back arched up off the floor as if on command. Bloody spittle foamed at his mouth, making him choke and gag. As the boy gasped for air, a feather wisp of light flowed from his nostrils towards the shadows.
          The shadow groaned in ecstasy and sighed, “So young. So fresh. First taste of erotic flesh. I just love college boys, don’t you?”
          A sliver of pale flesh emerged from the darkness as the boy’s breathing slowed. His body stilled, and George suddenly felt very much alone. Tears stung at his eyes and he shoved them away with the back of his hand.
          “Is he dying?” George asked, his voice breaking, betraying his grief.
          “No,” the voice replied. “He’s dead.”
          “Why?” George whispered.
          “I ate his youth, dined on his love, devoured his hopes and dreams. Killing him was a kindness.” The voice was different now; husky and rich where it had been weak and quivering. A long, sensuous curve of a female leg appeared from the shadows. “You wouldn’t have liked him. He was a twit. All bravado and ambition without any talent. The world is better off. As I said, killing him was a kindness.”
          The voice grew near as the rest of her body slipped into the light. She stood before him, naked. Her long legs stepped carefully through the wrack and ruin of skeletal remains that carpeted the floor. Her pale skin glowed in the flickering light from overhead. Long, dark curls caressed her shoulders as she moved nearer one languid step at a time.
          George was in awe of her. This creature of beauty and destruction.
          “Please,” he murmured.
          She gave him a gentle smile and knelt before him, straddling his lap to cradle his head against her breasts.
          “Shhh,” she soothed. “Ask me your question?”
          “Who are you?” he whimpered.
          “I’ve already told you, child. I am the first.”
          “What are you?” he gasped in veneration.
          She cupped his face in her hands and turned it up to regard him. “Hungry.”