Deep Down Inside - Part 31 - A Haunting
Written by circes_cup :: [Tuesday, 29 October 2013 11:55] Last updated by :: [Monday, 24 February 2014 14:39]
Part 31 - A Haunting
Warning: This is adult literature. If you’re not of a legal age to read this stuff, don’t.
Disclaimer: This is a work of pure fiction. No semblance between the characters described here and real individuals -- living or dead -- is implied or intended.
Story background: see Part 1 for background on Cuthbertson.
"By the time we get there, Cuth, are we even going to be in Colorado?" Robby joked as the truck climbed the gravel road.
"I promised you it was remote," Cuthbertson replied. His voice was stilted with exhaustion. "There's not a police department on earth that would look for you two up here."
Cuthbetson, Robby and Leonard had met through their common defense lawyer, who had built a local reputation for beating workplace sexual harassment charges. However, the lawyer's reputation hadn't been enough to beat the charges against Robby, and he wound up skipping bail after the conviction. Leonard was charged only as an accessory, but he nonetheless helped Robby flee the law. The two were, no pun intended, thick as thieves. So they had worked out the perfect deal with Cuthbertson: Robby and Leonard hang out at Cuth's hunting cabin for a few months, and for rent, the two spend a few days a week fixing the place up.
"And a fix-up it certainly does need," Cuth had told them. "Although I always call it "the cabin", the place is actually a six-bedroom house. It was built in the nineteenth century as worker housing for the mine, and passed from one one owner to the next over the years. Nobody ever took care of it. Now, when storms come, the building almost shudders."
When he came up for a hunting weekend, Cuthbertson elaborated, he used only the kitchen and the first floor bedroom. Everything else -- dining room, parlor, and five upstairs bedrooms -- sat unused and cluttered with old furniture. Perhaps, Cuth had suggested, Robby and Leonard could clear it out.
And rather than simply give the men directions and a map, Cuth had decided to come up with him, spend the weekend there. "A weekend up there will be good for me anyway," Cuthbertson explained as the truck rumbled up the steep access road, his voice thick with fatigue. He had been struggling to keep his eyes open the entire ride. "I really need a break from the campaign trail. It's consumed every spare moment, and I'm not going to make it the last three weeks without a little break. I'll probably just sleep the whole weekend."
"Well, thanks. I can't believe I'm going through this shit to being with," Robby lamented. "Some girl puts on a short skirt but then pretends she doesn't want it-- that's not my fault."
"That's why you have to show them who's boss," Cuthbertson chuckled wearily, as he slowed the truck to a halt.
Off to their right, a driveway led to a tidy log cabin, Cuthbertson's closest "neighbor"-- if you could call someone that lived a mile away a neighbor at all. The guy was out front, waving adamantly and jogging down the driveway.
"Been a while," the neighbor said as he huffed up to the truck.
Cuthbertson nodded in reply.
"It hate to say this..." the neighbor started. "In fact, I feel kind of silly saying it... But your house...."
"What?" Cuthbertson asked.
"I've been seeing things."
Robby felt a chill go through him. Cuthbertson cocked an inquiring eyebrow.
"Strange things. A shadow." the neighbor continued. "A flying shadow. It descends from the sky at dusk. Sometimes, I can glimpse it cross the sky on a starry night-- a little splotch of black. The stars blink as it crosses in front of them."
"Is this like a drone or something? Like the military is looking for something?"
"No, doesn't have wings. And it's silent."
"One night, when I saw this thing in the air, I took a walk up your driveway to check on everything. This thing was on top of your roof. It was shaped like a person, but was all wrapped up on dark cloth, so I couldn't see any features. It saw me and bolted off into the night. I ran all the way back. Cuth, I wouldn't go up there tonight."
"What you're describing doesn't make an ounce of sense."
"It comes and leaves quickly, almost every night, as if it's checking to see if you are there. I think it's waiting for you."
The truck's motor growled patiently in the silence.
"I know it sounds silly. But I'm telling you, I've seen this thing too many times for it to be my imagination. Ever since this thing started showing up, I've been going up to your house occasionally, in the daytime, to make sure you haven't been broken into. And once..."
"Once I saw a dark form inside your house too."
"Well, was I broken into?"
"No, that's the strange thing. I circled the whole place -- no broken windows, doors completely shut."
"What are you suggesting, that this thing dropped in through the skylight?"
"You could stay at my place tonight. In fact, you should. I'm telling you."
Cuthbertson sighed as he put the car back into gear. "It's probably nothing. Besides, there are three of us, and we all know how to use a gun."
The house was weary with age, Robby noticed, as he circled the outside of the structure. Grey and weathered, the building stood alone on the ridge line. Old mine infrastructure receded up the hillside behind it.
The neighbor was still with them. He had followed them up there, hoping to point out all the places he had seen his mysterious evening shadow. Cuth showed no interest, and was inside unpacking.
"Mining here was hard and dangerous," the neighbor remarked as they circled the building, "Men came out here with dreams of fame and fortune. But the mines were cruel: they chewed people up and spat them out. I've always wondered how many stories came with this old house -- men who toiled until they were broken, men who came here with big dreams only to find endless hardship, or worse. It's hard to imagine the number of lives that must of come through here. Every time the wind blows, the house seems to sigh, as if it isn't quite done releasing all those miseries into the air."
Robby appraised the neighbor briefly, and wondered whether he really wanted to spend the next three months hiding out in this off-kilter little corner of the world. But he didn't have a choice.
The neighbor pointed down. There were lithe, delicate footprints in the dried mud of driveway-- human footprints.
"Could be anything--" Leonard remarked as he ascended the front steps. "--hunters perhaps."
"Hunters who walk the woods barefoot?"
"You're right. That is strange," Robby replied from the threshold. "You coming in?"
The neighbor's brow furrowed as his eyes scampered over the front of the house -- up and down, back and forth. "No." His voice was firm. "I'm not."
Floorboards creaked as Robby and Leonard stepped through the main threshold. Despite the fact that the late afternoon sun was still well above the ridgeline, Cuth was already sleeping off his exhaustion in his bedroom; they could hear the snoring.
Creak-crunch-creak went the stairs as Robby climbed to the second floor. The smell of dust and old wood greeted his nose as he climbed the last stair. The first room contained furniture-- much of it old and beaten, some of it covered in white shrouds, the rest of it faded from sunshine and neglect. The second room was the same thing, although this room was a corner room. It had windows on two walls, making the room a brighter space -- until it suddenly darkened.
Robby spun on his heels. Out of the corner of his eye, he thought spied a shape in the window-- human-like in form, but shrouded and dark. By the time he finished turning, the object was gone.
He heart thumped loudly as he approached the window. Whatever he saw looked like it had been hovering just on the other side of the glass. But that wasn't possible. Things of that size don't hover twenty feet in the air. His mind was playing tricks on him, he knew. It was giving in to the power of the neighbor's suggestion -- creating images that weren't there. The window must have been briefly darkened in some other way, by a plane passing in front of the sun, or perhaps a cloud.
It's nothing, he told himself. Nonetheless he found himself moving briskly back to the staircase, thumping crudely down the hallway. But before he turned to go down the stairs, however, the window at the end of the hall darkened too, briefly, before brightening again.
And then, from downstairs, he heard a scream.
Robby half ran, half tumbled down the staircase and almost bowled Leonard over at the bottom. They found Cuthbertson bolt upright in his bed, panting.
"Uh..." Cuth responded, trying to remove the stupor of sleep from his mind. "Yes, yes, I'm fine. Just had another nightmare."
"The same thing again?" Robby asked.
"Always the same thing," Cuth replied.
Leonard glanced between the two without comprehension.
"Being trapped, crushed-- claustrophobia nightmares," Cuth explained. "You ever have nightmares?"
"Yes," Robby replied. "But mine are always dreams about falling."
When he said this, Robby heard something in the distance-- a playful, musical vocalization. It was probably the call of a songbird. But it reminded him of a girl's laugh.
The howling of coyotes greeted Robby as he left the house with Cuth's car keys in hand. Milk, bread, eggs, spaghetti sauce, beer--- Robby ticked the items off in his mind as he began backing down the driveway.
Funny, he thought. The afternoon sun was still well above the horizon. Is it normal for coyotes to howl that early?
The trip to the general store was uneventful -- efficient even -- and it left him time to check out the the rest of the street corner as well. A shuttered gas station was there, and a boarded up church as well. Apart from the general store, there was only one other establishment still in business -- an art gallery of sorts. The artist, apparently, was a welder, and the front of the shop was populated with all manner of wild creatures crafted out of reclaimed metal. The dragon made of motorcycle parts was particularly clever. Stepping inside, he saw even more metal sculpture, as well as the bright blue of the artist's welding torch. He was apparently at work on a piece.
"Can I interest you in anything?" the proprietor asked as he cut his welding torch off and raised his visor.
"No thanks. I'm a little short on cash right now. But I should be around here a while. Maybe I'll buy something later."
"You staying up on the ridge line, in that old house?"
Robby didn't respond.
"I see," the proprietor responded. "Perhaps I could interest you in this..." He pointed to an oddly welded hanging mobile, something like a dreamcatcher. "...to ward off evil spirits."
"I think I'll be fine on my own, thanks."
"Have it your way," the proprietor chuckled, firing up his welding torch again. Ropes of metal were strewn about his workspace. They were being joined together in triangles.
"What are you making?" Robby asked.
"Clothing," the sculptor replied over the hiss of his torch.
"For one of your sculptures?"
"No, for a person."
"Steel clothing -- what kind of person wears that?"
But the welder did not hear him over the noise of his torch. Or perhaps he didn't want to answer the question.
Robby felt a pang of unease as he re-entered the house. The brightness of the afternoon was giving way to rose and purple colors of dusk. The lights at the end of the driveway blinked on in the thickening gloom. Apart from the house itself, that light was the only sign of human presence within sight.
In the emptiness of the evening, the howls and yips of the coyotes swelled into something more adamant, more frantic.
"What do you think is going on out there?" Leonard asked as Robby put the groceries on the kitchen counter. "Do the coyotes see something?"
"What, are you nervous?" Cuth mocked. "Did my crazy old neighbor get to you?"
"No," Leonard defended. "I'm just curious what's gotten into them. They don't usually sound so... anxious."
"You don't need to worry about them. I can't even tell you how many house cats I've seen that pack of coyotes tear apart," Cuth laughed. "Coyotes are like us. They don't take shit from others. They dish it out. We're the hunters -- we and the coyotes -- not the hunted."
As if in response, Robby heard that playful sound in the distance-- that songbird's cry, almost a musical laugh.
The howling of the wolves intensified further. Their cry was urgent, like a warning.
CRUNCH, came the sound from the woods. Robby nearly jumped when it heard it. The sound was like the breaking of bones, and it was followed by a canine whimper. The remaining wolf howls grew all the more fanatic.
CRUNCH CRUNCH. Something was destroying something else out there. The coyote howls were fewer in number, but even more panicked.
CRUNCH CRUNCH CRUNCH CRUNCH CRUNCH. The final sounds were followed by an empty silence.
"What the hell was that?" Leonard asked. "Why would they go quiet all of a sudden?"
"Maybe they killed something and are feeding," Robby suggested.
"I don't know," Leonard disagreed. "The noises they were making sounded frightened."
"Oh, so now you speak wolf?" Cuth retorted.
Moments later, there was a bright flash on the slope below them, followed by a loud POP. The lights in the house blinked out. The house swam in an ocean of evening gloom.
"Damnit," Cuth swore. "Everything here is falling apart."
"What's down there?" Robby asked.
"The utility boxes. And everything's together -- phone, electricity, cable. Hopefully it's just a fuse. Come on, let's take a look."
"What about the thing that got the coyotes?" Robby cautioned.
"Nothing got the coyotes. You're getting into your head. Take the shotgun if it makes you feel better. Just, when you shoot, don't shoot me. Leonard, you can stay here."
The two men ventured into the night, flashlights in hand. The walk down to the utility boxes was only about forty yards, but Robby couldn't shake off a feeling of unease as their path submerged them into the darkness.
The utility equipment was a mess. Cuthbertson knelt down to examine it more closely. Padlocks were missing. Circuit boards had been smashed. Meters were cracked.
Robby faced away from his friend, peering into the encircling darkness. "Uh, Cuth...."
"Why the hell would somebody do this?" Cuthbertson asked the boxes. "Vandalism, all the way out here?"
"What?" he snapped.
"There's something out here. With us."
Cuth wheeled around in silence.
"Listen. It's walking through the woods."
"Then give me the fucking gun," Cuth swore, grabbing it from him.
The two men peered into the darkness for several long moments. Out of his eye, Robby spied something on the ground, glinting back up at him from the fragmented utility boxes. He picked it up. The object turned out to be a padlock, or a least, the remains of one. It had been crushed and bent. The indentations in it appeared to have been made by.... fingers.
"Uh, Cuth, we should go back to the house."
Cuth examined his friend critically. "You're scared, aren't you?"
"Fine," he concluded. "I'm not the cable guy anyway. I have no idea you to fix this stuff. Best I can do is call the utilities tomorrow. Let's go."
But when they rounded the front of the house, Robby stopped in his tracks.
A pile of eight dead coyotes was waiting for them. Their predatory eyes were vacant. Their vicious mouths of sharp teeth hung listlessly open.
It was only after staring at the pile for a few moments that the men noticed the writing. A message had been scrawled on the side of the house -- written with the blood of the animals.
It read, "No longer the hunters."