“There is no pain like the pain of transformation.”― Leigh Bardugo, The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic
Saturday mornings after chores, we usually pick out a scary movie or maybe a science-fiction classic to watch. But for a period, it was Supernatural; a series, at that time, I’d never heard of before but had been on for more than ten years. Binge-watching bounty indeed. On the show, Sam and Dean, the Winchester brothers hunted and killed all kinds of ghosts, demons, and paranormal thingies. The show draws on myth and urban legend as the basis for the story-lines. I enjoyed it as much as Alpha and Beta [my then 14-year-old twin daughters, not their real names]. One Saturday I was working on story notes while they watched it.
I looked over at Alpha. “Yeah, honey.” It’s funny with twins. They often ask questions they seem to have reached consensus on through some nonverbal means of communication. I looked up from my notepad to see them glance at each other and then nod their head like, ‘Go ahead ask him.’
“What is it, girls?”
“Do you believe in…” Alpha used the remote-control to point at the TV and pause the show, “ghosts and demons?”
I put my mechanical pencil down. [I handwrite story and scene notes with a Staedtler Graphite 771 or a Faber Castell Pearwood E-motion.] And sat the lap desk on the Ottoman by my chair. I turned so I could see them both. “You know about what happened to me in Italy?” [Which I’ve told of as the basis for another story.]
Alpha nodded her head. Beta asked me, “But what about when you were a kid?”
“I can tell you about a boy and what happened to him. Want to hear it?” They nodded, so I told them:
He was always happiest outside and on his own. His family was just above the poverty line and lived in the country on thirty acres of land — about two-thirds of it forest, the rest pasture and a pond. It seemed all he did was work; there were always things to fix or repair when everything’s held together with baling wire, tape and a prayer it lasts until money came in. When he had free time, usually late in the day, he would take a book and disappear into the farthest corner of the woods. He’d bring a canteen of water (sometimes, but rarely, a can of Coke), a bag of beef jerky and a flashlight to read by once the sun started going down.
One autumn day he was in the back corner, where his family’s land ended, and it sloped toward the road leading to what he and his friends called The Point but was Grey’s Landing on the lake.
The sun was setting, and through clear patches, he saw the moon rising low in the sky behind the trees. Their tops rustled and moved in the crisp, fresh wind that bent them away from the direction of home. He shined his light on his watch. Seeing the time, he rose from the knee-high stump he’d been sitting on and headed that way along the path. As he stood, stretching and brushing off the seat of his pants, behind him, he heard baying. An ululation that speared the night [I had to stop to explain to Alpha and Beta what that word meant]; strong enough to beat through the wind’s gasp that flowed around tree trunks and through leaves to reach him.
He was halfway out of the woods when he heard a second, closer howl. Just under it was the sound of gnashing teeth; a chattering of fangs. He moved faster. It had been a dry season; sticks and branches snapped and cracked as he made his way. Ahead a wail flowed down to him followed by a third howl behind him. Whatever they were, he realized they were working together. He angled to his left off the trail hoping to lose them, now running fast, stumbling over roots, falling and scrambling up to run again. Dodging some, but hitting many limbs that didn’t break. They tore long gashes in his face and neck, his forearms and hands became scuffed, scored and cut trying to protect his face. Blood flowed in streaks. Gasping, he gripped a tree for a moment’s pause, hanging onto it to catch his breath. At the caterwaul behind him [had to stop and explain that too] of beasts close on the scent of their prey, he let go and ran.
Clouds were building, and the wind picked up as he broke through onto the crest where trees ended, and the pits began. Broad swaths of excavation and deep gouges made in the pasture; the source of fill-dirt his father sold to local construction companies. He had to go down into and through them before the climb back up for the open stretch to his home.
He sprinted as never before, his lungs straining and heart pounding louder than the wind. He slowed to listen, but there had not been any more cries. Off the upward slope where it plateaued, he passed the set of pear trees atop the rise overlooking the pond. Only 1000 yards down then up again to his home where it sat on the next hill. His thigh muscles twitched and jumped, and his gait became choppy. The impact of his feet as he planted them; a flat-footed, jarring jolt with each stride and a near-puke feeling in his throat. Leaden arms he could barely lift, he spat to the side then looked up and saw the house back-lit by the last remnants of sundown. He could make it.
Halfway there he felt it almost on him. The snarl so close he smelled rank rotted-meat breath. He looked over his shoulder. Its yellow eyes widened, and long teeth glinted in the moonlight as a taloned hand thick with coarse black hair reached for him. It dug into flesh and turned him. Spun to the ground, a spray of saliva hit his face as the howl climbed to a shriek. He rolled and got to his feet his shirt ripped from his back. In his hand was the WWII era bayonet he always carried with him into the woods. Just then a sheet of rain swept over them–.
My daughters’ eyes had widened as I told the story. They became larger still when I stopped talking. I waited for it.
“Dad…” They finally blinked. “What happens next? Did the boy die?”
I didn’t say anything and pulled my t-shirt down showing them my right shoulder and the scar that ran across it. “He got away.”
As a father, over the years, I’ve learned to keep my girls on their toes.
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