North Carolina-September 1889
Ken ladled his dogs’ dinner into three dirty old bowls. Banging the ladle on the bottom of the empty pan he called, “Paunchoe, Sadie, Max, c’mon now! Dinner time!” The dogs ran out from the woods behind the cabin, ears pricked and tails wagging.
He rolled a cigarette and poured three fingers of whiskey into his glass as he watched them eat from his rocking chair on the front porch. Ken loved this time of year, the air was cooler, the trees brighter, and the hunting was always better. He planned to go hunting the next few days to stock up on meat for the coming winter.
“Ya’ll eat up now, we got us a busy day come tomorrow!” Ken told the feasting dogs. They raised their heads for a moment, wagged their tails, and returned to wolfing down their dinner. He finished his cigarette and whiskey and cleaned up the empty bowls. Giving his dogs a loving pat on the head, he brought them into the cabin. They lay down on the floor and immediately drifted off to sleep. Ken changed into his night clothes, and followed their example, flopping into bed, asleep almost before his head hit the pillow.
A piercing howl shattered the silence of the night, Ken sprang upright in his bed as the dogs jolted from their sleep and began barking excitedly. The high-pitched ululating howl continued for several seconds. It was unlike anything he had ever heard and the source was no more than a couple hundred yards from the cabin.
“Y’all be quiet!” he grumbled. They immediately ceased barking, but continued deep throated growls and looked at the window, ears pricked, listening intently. Several seconds later the howl came again, intense and angry, like a beast pursuing prey. He threw on his overcoat and grabbed his rifle from above the fire place. Taking care to keep the scrambling dogs inside, he opened the door and stood on the front porch.
“What on God’s green earth was that?” he asked himself in a whisper. A third ear-piercing howl shattered the cricket-call of the deep night, this time closer to the cabin than before. Whatever it was, it was moving in his direction. He heard the crunch of leaves under heavy feet and the swish of tree limbs swaying, and then snapping. By the light of the full moon, he stared into the forest about fifty yards from his porch and saw trees and bushes violently jerking back and forth.
He heard another distinct howl, different from the first, just beyond the tree line–the cry of a creature in agony, then a triumphant, primal roar and a sound like that of wet burlap being torn apart. Ken’s blood ran cold. He breathed heavily, gulping in air and felt sweat begin to run down his face. Once again, he scanned the tree line for any sign of movement, as the dogs inside the cabin whimpered loudly.
A deep guttural growl now filled the air. Something flew from the tree line toward the cabin, nearly hitting Ken. It crashed into the front of the cabin with a sloppy wet smack and slid down the wall onto the porch. His eyes followed the trail of blood, and settled on the head of a large black bear, trailing bits of fur, bone, and flesh from the neck laying on the porch step. He looked back toward the forest. Standing in the clearing was a huge creature, perhaps eight to ten feet tall, covered in long shaggy black fur; it was difficult to tell for sure in the moonlight. Its eyes glowed a fearsome red in the moonlight, blood dripped from long razor-sharp teeth. In one of its hands it clutched what looked to be one of the bear’s legs, its vicious claws dug deep into the flesh.
When his eyes met the creature’s, for a split second time seemed to stop. His feet felt rooted to the spot, his sweaty hands shook as he clutched his rifle. He tried to breathe, but something prevented it. A lead weight crushed his entire body and kept him from moving, or even making a noise.
The creature dropped the ravaged leg and opened its arms wide and threw back its head roaring at Ken. It ran straight at him with astonishing speed on two legs, like a man. Ken raised his rifle to his shoulder and fired. An eerie human-like yowl of pained rage erupted from the creature as it stopped in its tracks and looked down at the fresh bullet wound in its stomach. Ken cocked the lever of his rifle and chambered a fresh round as the creature turned to retreat into the woods. He fired again, hitting the creature in the shoulder. It disappeared into the trees in less than a second, howling in rage.
Ken stood on his porch in stunned silence and stared at the spot where the creature had disappeared. Eventually he turned and went back to the table on the porch and poured himself a full glass of whiskey which he downed in seconds. He sat in his rocking chair, replaying in his mind the events that had just occurred, over and over. It wasn’t until the first rays of the dawn that he finally moved. He opened the door to the cabin and said to himself, “What could have possessed God in heaven to make a monster like that?”
He went inside, the dogs were cowering in the far corner of the room and they had lost control of their bladders and bowels. He called them over to him, but they remained still, cringing and shaking. Kneeling on the floor, in a gentle and reassuring tone he reached out to them, “C’mon now, its ok, ain’t nothing gonna hurt ya. It’s gone.” Hesitantly, looking around as they moved, they slinked over to their master. He scratched them behind their ears and patted their heads. “That’s right, it’s all good now.” Paunchoe, his favorite, looked up at him with large frightened eyes and licked the back of Ken’s hand.
After cleaning up the mess, he cut a few chunks of the dried deer jerky hanging in the corner and tossed them to the dogs. Taking a hunk for himself, he sat on the end of his bed and watched the dogs as they devoured their breakfast. He said, more to himself than to them, “Well pups, looks like I scared him off, but I got a feelin’ he’ll be back. Think the best thing to do is track him down and finish him off. We’ve already put the hurt on him and he’ll likely be more dangerous. Best we deal with him directly.” The dogs stopped chewing and raised their heads. They looked at Ken for a moment, tails wagging gently, as if they understood and agreed. A moment later, they returned to their meal.
Ken put on his hunting clothes, grabbed his knife, his Colt Peacemaker .45 pistol and his Winchester repeating rifle. He loaded his pockets with beef jerky, some extra ammunition, and assorted other gear he would need and headed for the door. He turned around before leaving and said, “Best ya’ll stay here, you won’t do me no good anyhow pissin’ yerselves and runnin’ away out there.” The dogs looked at him for a moment, and then lay down on their beds.
Ken walked through the clearing toward the place he first saw the creature. A few feet into the woods he stopped to look at the bear’s body. Its right front leg and head were missing. Its belly had been torn open and its entrails were strewn several feet in every direction. Flies and other insects were crawling over the corpse.
Making the sign of the cross over his chest he said, “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.” He turned his attention to the direction he thought the creature had fled. Searching for a moment, he saw a trail of blood leading off into the woods. He could see that he wouldn’t need to rely on the blood trail to track the creature–its path was made clear by the broken tree limbs and crushed bushes it left behind.
He followed the trail for an hour; its course through the forest became more and more erratic. First it went one direction, then backtracked and went in the opposite. Ken began to notice a pattern; it seemed to be making its way back to the cabin. He was stunned for a moment when he realized that the creature was heading back toward his home. He thought This thing is either very smart or very dumb, never seen anything get shot and come back for more. Unless it’s comin’ back to even the score? He shook his head and almost chuckled, There’s no way an animal would come back for revenge. But then again, this thing ain’t an ordinary beast.
Ken quickened his pace; now he was worried about his dogs. They had been left in the cabin, and would be no match for this creature. He continued to follow the trail, now heading directly back to the cabin. In the distance he heard a familiar roar. He broke into a run, tree limbs smacking him in the face as he ran. The sounds of smashing wood filled the forest, along with the panicked yelping of dogs. Breathing fast and hard, he sprinted homeward.
Once there he saw the cabin completely torn apart. Only one wall remained standing. The rest of the cabin was in splinters. His bedding and furniture had been torn to pieces. Shards of shattered stone from the ruined chimney littered the ground. He saw no sign of the creature except for a fresh path of destroyed plant life that headed north into the forest.
He saw what little remained of Sadie and Max. They had been completely torn apart. Their legs had been ripped from their bodies and thrown seemingly at random. Ken fell to his knees beside what was left of his dogs and cried. They were like his own children, and now two of them were gone. He looked around for signs of Paunchoe, but did not see him nor any sign of him in the wreckage.
Ken searched for anything he could salvage that was useable. He found some jerky, ammunition, extra clothes, his traveling pack, a rusty hatchet, and four sticks of dynamite that were holdovers from his days as a miner. Everything else was missing or destroyed. He packed his gear and set it on what remained of the front porch, then collected the pieces of Sadie and Max and placed them next to his pack, intent on returning to bury them. He gave his dogs’ one final sad look, picked up his traveling pack and set off in the direction the creature had taken.
He followed the path the rest of the day and into the night. He sat down near a gnarled old tree in a clearing. He had to rest. As he sat there gazing up at the stars, exhaustion overtook him and he drifted into restless sleep.
He awoke just before sunrise and continued his journey. He hadn’t heard the creature or Paunchoe since he left the ruins of his cabin, but the path was clear. It was mid morning when he found another clearing near the base of a mountain. There was a cave seated in the rock face directly in front of him at ground level, the creatures trail led right to it. The entrance must have been twenty feet high and at least ten feet wide. Footprints and a trail of leaves and brownish dried blood led directly into the cave.
He moved as quietly as he could to the side of the cave entrance and stood with his back to the wall. He waited, listening. He heard growling and shuffling from inside the cave. From time to time a rock flew out of the cave mouth. He heard a second sound as well, whimpering. He knew that Paunchoe was in there and that creature was trying to get to his dog.
Sweat beaded on his forehead as he returned to the tree line. He took the four sticks of dynamite out of his traveling pack and trimmed the fuses to about four inches. Ken stood up and bellowed at the top of his lungs, “Hey in there, we got unfinished business you and me. Get your hairy butt out here and let’s dance you furry son of a…,” Ken was interrupted by a reverberating roar coming from the cave. As the creature appeared at the entrance, he lit the fuse on the first stick of dynamite. Its filthy matted fur stained with blood and dirt, the creature spotted Ken and howled once again. He threw the dynamite directly into the path of the creature as it started to run for him. Ken dropped to his stomach and shielded his head with his hands. The creature only made it a few steps before the dynamite exploded.
The explosion threw the creature backward, slamming it into the rock face where it slumped to the ground with a heavy thump. It lay there and struggled to get to its feet. Ken grabbed his rifle and pocketed the remaining dynamite. He didn’t take his eyes off the creature as he slowly advanced on it. When he got to within a few feet of it and he could see that it was still breathing. Nothing could have survived that! Ken thought.
He raised his rifle, and the creature’s lifted its head from the ground, baring its bloody and broken teeth. It let out a weak growl, its red eyes glowing with hatred as it pushed itself up. Ken shot the creature through the left eye, liquefying the eyeball and sending a stream of bright red gore shooting from the back of its head. He shot it five more times in the head after it fell, completely destroying the top of its skull.
Ken reloaded and charged his rifle; he closed the distance between them and looked down on the creature. It was huge and powerfully built. The explosion had torn a hole in its chest. He could see parts of the creature’s ribs, and what he took to be its lungs dangling from the chest cavity. Its legs were burned from the explosion and were criss-crossed with gaping wounds.
Whimpering inside the cave reminded him, “Paunchoe! You in here boy? Paunchoe!” About one hundred feet inside the cave, he saw Paunchoe crouched behind a pile of rocks in a corner. He was badly hurt, Ken saw blood on his flank and one of his legs seemed to be broken. When Paunchoe saw Ken, his eyes lit up and he wagged his tail weakly. Ken reached down and stroked the top of the dog’s head very gently, “There there now boy, I’m here, everything’s gonna be ok.”
Paunchoe bared his teeth and began to growl. Ken heard footsteps from deeper in the cave and drew his pistol. From out of the darkness of the cave, another creature appeared. It was smaller than the first, only five or six feet tall, but with the same glowing red eyes. In an instant, the creature charged at him from the darkness, gnashing its teeth and extending its claws. Ken shot the creature twice in the chest and it fell to the ground a few feet from him. No sooner had the creature fallen than two more came from the darkness. He shot the first one in the head as it approached, and turned to aim at the second. He managed to get off one shot, hitting the creature in the leg. As it fell it clawed Ken’s leg. He screamed as he fell to the ground. Paunchoe barked as he lurched from his hiding place and attacked the creature, growling and sinking his teeth into the creature’s leg. It turned around and ripped Paunchoe’s head from his body and hurled the head at the cave wall. Ken raised his pistol and fired his remaining two rounds into the creature’s head. It slumped to the ground, dead.
Roars echoed through the cave. Ken looked up and saw three more of the creatures, each as large as the first, standing at the mouth of the cave. He had no time to reload his pistol, and his rifle was lost somewhere in the clutter on the cave floor. Ken realized he had one option left. He dug a second stick of dynamite from his pocket. His hands shaking and slick with blood, he lit the fuse and threw it at the approaching creatures. He rolled behind the boulders that Paunchoe had used for cover and covered his ears, the blast rocked the cave. Blasting loose rock from the walls and ceiling, the cave collapsed on the creatures, burying them beneath tons of rubble.
Kens head throbbed like it had been hit with a hammer and his ears were ringing. His leg was bleeding severely; he took off his shirt and wrapped it around the wound. It was no good, the shirt soaked through in seconds. Ken knew he would bleed to death if he couldn’t stop it soon. He rummaged through his travel pack and pulled out a small hatchet, his last bottle of whiskey, and another shirt. He cut the remaining pieces of his trousers in the area of the wound off and threw them to the side. He wrapped the shirt around the top of the hatchet, covering the blade. Dousing the shirt with the last of his whiskey, he lit a match and set it ablaze. He put the handle of his hunting knife between his teeth and applied the flame to his open wound. He shrieked, biting down hard on the knife handle. As he burned the wound he felt as if he would pass out from the pain but fought to stay conscious. After what seemed like hours of agony, the wound stopped bleeding. He dropped the makeshift torch on the ground. His heart pounded, and he could feel it in his burned and mutilated leg. Feeling dizzy and nauseated, he leaned to the side and threw up onto the cave floor.
With his body aching and his leg burning and painful, he grabbed his torch as he crawled over to Paunchoe’s remains. Putting his hand in the dog’s soft fur he lovingly stroked him. “I’m sorry boy, I’m so sorry.” He knew he had to try and find a way out of this place. He saw his rifle on the floor a few feet away. He crawled over to it and checked it over, it appeared to be undamaged.
Ken slung his rifle over his aching shoulder, with his hands shaking; he managed to reload the pistol. He began to crawl down the narrow passageway, holding the torch in front of him.
After crawling for what seemed like hours, he saw a split in the passageway ahead. It forked off in two directions, one heading to the right and one to the left. Ken was beyond tired, beyond exhaustion even, but he knew he had to keep moving. Weak and terrified, Ken pressed on and chose the passageway to the right. The cave was cold and dark, and the smell of rot and feces filled the air. The flame on his hatchet torch had shrunk; he only had a few minutes at best of light remaining. He continued half crawling/half dragging himself along the passage.
About fifty feet into the passage, he saw a chamber ahead. He could hear footsteps and a low pitched growling coming from it. Terrified, he raised his head and searched in the blackness ahead. It looked to be a shadow at first, slowly heading in his direction. The figure let out an ear splitting high-pitched shriek and began loping toward him. Ken dropped his torch and pulled his revolver from its holster. He aimed at the creature, this one much smaller than the others, about the size of a human child of five or six years old. Its red eyes glowed in the dim light given off by his torch. It rushed at him, arms extended and teeth grinding. He pulled the trigger and another loud crack filled the cave. He heard the creature drop to the ground.
After the echoes dissipated, he could hear the sounds of more of these creatures. Their screams sounded almost human–reminiscent of the wails of children. The sounds of many small feet echoed through the passage headed toward him, accompanied by howls and shrieks. “Oh good Lord, “he whispered, “their nursery.”
He unslung his rifle and pointed it in the direction of the noises. In the fading light of his torch he could see several small figures running in his direction, he opened fire, missing several times, but dropping four of them as they rushed towards him. As he pulled the trigger again, his rifle gave a dry ‘click’. More creatures advanced on him from the darkness. He recited the Lord’s Prayer in his head as he reached into his pocket and withdrew the remaining sticks of dynamite. He lit them with his dying torch and held them close to his body as the advancing creatures reached him. He felt a peace wash over him as the explosion rocked the cave.
Deadman’s Tome is a growing horror zine that publishes short stories and flash fiction whether it’s ghost stories, zombie invasions, bigfoot sightings, slasher sprees, bizarre fiction, classic horror literature or erotica. The darker the tale the better. If you enjoyed the story, or even if you didn’t, leave a comment below as it helps the authors.