©2022 Michael Raven
Once again, I am taking the opportunity Anne’s new prompt for the week offers me to continue adding to this horror novel I have lingering around my head. Will I complete it? It’d be nice. If I keep using her prompts, it might even finally get into a final first(ish) draft form. The prompt: “Use vivid, realistic detail to make the reader believe the unbelievable.”
Anyway, here is a scene from my poor, very early draft of a longer tale I am calling Knives in the Side of the Dawn. The working title comes from the Doors song “When the Music’s Over” and is planned as a full-length horror novel that takes place in the Minnesota north woods. Winter is a city girl looking to telecommute and get back to nature, so she buys a house with a history from a family with skeletons in their closet (as well as a few open secrets). This takes place shortly after the earlier scene.
She started to leave the ramshackle remains of the cabin behind, slip through the worm-eaten grey door sitting uneven on its hinges, anything to make sure she was not there when whatever utter those spine-shivering howls came by and found this, as she knew it must. With her hand on the patina-stained brass doorknob to pish the rickety door open to jog, no, run along the trails, with the hope her internal compass would guide her out of these creepy woods where the phone’s GPS had failed.
Already, it was too late.
She started to step over the threshold and stopped. Near where she had fallen earlier and had set off the beartraps lining the trail she had followed to this place, something lean and filled with obtuse angles all pointing several wrong directions at once hunched over the spot where her fall had disturbed the unruly undergrowth and last autumn’s umber-stained and black-spotted leaves. From the threshold, she could hear the snuffling and heavy sounds of the hulk breathing in the scent of her passing — a wet, phlegmy sound full of something sick and decaying, reminding her of when she held her grandmother’s hand as the old dame passed away from emphysema, that rattlebone clatter of liquid-filled lungs.
“Shit,” she said under her breath. Winter hadn’t meant to say anything, but the word slipped out and whatever was there on the trail turned arthritically slow towards the sound of her voice, although it had not had the volume even of a mosquito buzzing in one’s ear.
Winter slipped back into the shadows of the cabin’s interior, ignoring the old, inelastic webs clinging and tugging gossamer to her hair and clothes. Her subconscious had noticed what she now recalled, now that she was desperate to not be found — there was a panty or closet in the one-room cabin. She glided, a living wraith, past the remains of an old makeshift dining table with dishes that may have at one time held something someone had intended to eat, but had now dried to desiccated and petrified black pucks. She slid past this abandoned setting for two and into the open panty, frantically thumbing on the screen of her phone for illumination as she heard the shuffling of dried leaves and the bonecrack of deadwood breaking and growing closer outside.
The pantry floor was scattered with scat and the walls covered in lichen and more of the billowing remains of cobwebs unused to the movement of air that followed her. She closed the old door, something that might have trouble keeping raccoons out, much less whatever made up what she had seen on the trail, but she had no other choices. Winter had run out of choices.
She was about to turn off her smartphone screen, when Winter noticed one of the eye and hook locks she had grown up with on Grandma’s screen doors back in Northeast Minneapolis, back when such things were still deterrents to simple theft. Winter didn’t question its purpose on the inside of a pantry, but she left the light on long enough to slip the hook into place hoping it would be enough if a wild animal decided to attack the door. She thumbed the power off on her phone and slipped it into her jeans pocket just as the wood at the entry of the cabin creaked and the snuffling sounds filled the space beyond the feeble door between her and that which lay beyond.
And then, she held her breath.
Outside the door, something scraped along the floors, ripping at the wood as it shuffled into the single room of the cabin. Winter fought back a gasp as the animal knocked over one of the chairs, sending it skittering across the floor with a wooden scratch. Unable to hold her breath any longer, Winter breathed as low as possible. It seemed as if each intake and exhalation of her lungs was as loud as a turbine, and her beating heart a conga calling the creature to its breakfast, whatever it was. The little sunlight filtering through the woods seemed to bend around it when she had seen whatever linger inside the cabin, and it seemed to be living shadow, for all she could recall.
As Winter breathed, she wrinkled her nose at the retching smell of decay and rotten meat filtering through this place to her. The smell hadn’t been here when she’d entered — the cabin had smelled musty and of wood rot, not this stomach-curdling stench that now greeted her. Winter held back a scream, not sure how long she would be able to keep the sound of abject horror buried deep inside.
The snuffling sounds began once again, loud enough so she could visualize where the nose the sounds came from as they followed the cracks of the flimsy door. It traced the side of the door with hinges and then around the top of the door. The snout then slowly, methodically, tested the air under the door. There was enough light filtering through that Winter could see the shadow of the beast’s nose as it blocked the light.
Finally the hunting nose came to rest where the doorknob was. And stopped.
The silence that followed stretched into eternity. And then the door knob turned. Followed by a tug at the door, the hook and eye prevented it from opening beyond a fraction of an inch.
Winter almost lost her battle to contain her scream, but shoved her fist into that near-traitorous mouth.
The door handle squealed as it turned the other direction and there was another tug, with the hook still holding the door closed, at least for the moment.
The nose snuffled again at the doorknob, tasting the air.
A distant sound of gunshot echoed in the distance and the hunt for Winter stopped abruptly.
The beast howled as it had before coming to the cabin and a cacophonous din erupted as it scrabbled towards the front door, knowing over the table and second chair, sending the old stoneware crashing to the ground. Winter breathed out with heavy sigh and was surprised to discover she was crying. Unsure if whatever had just visited her was truly gone, she sat in the dark, sobbing as the light under the door narrowed and eventually became more shadow than light.