Fumbling through the night, I notice something in the distance; flashing red and blue lights just beyond the tree line. As a black man in America, I’ve never been so happy to see those flashing lights as I was now. I ran as fast as I could, like a moth to a flame.
There was a sigh of relief, maybe Kassidy was able to call for help after all. Perhaps, just perhaps, Kassidy is with them, and that sicko was sitting in the backseat with his hands behind his back. Finally, this nightmare ends, and the only monsters I’ll have to contend with were the ones that involve Claire.
Reaching the lights, there was only silence and snow. I was completely over this damn snow. The lights came from the black Sheriff SUV that had visited Kassidy and I a few days before the storm. Sheriff Walton, Alice Walton. Had Kassidy ran and got help and Sheriff was here to rescue me? “Hello? Hey, is there anyone here?” I called out, but there was only silence. “I need help! My wife may be in danger.”
Walking towards the beefy vehicle, I could see that someone was in the driver seat, their window was down. It had to be the Sheriff; I quickly ran over.
Alice Walton was sitting behind the wheel with her head thrown back, her neck sliced open. The Sheriff was made into a human Pez Dispenser. Dried crimson gore of flesh and viscera exposed. I was frozen in place at the sight of such violence, as the clouds gave way to the light of the moon the horror was even more gruesome. There was a gentle breeze that gave life to the dirty hands of the gnarled tree branches around me. A weird thought ran across my mind; Blood seems black in the moonlight.
Something rustled behind me, and before I could turn around something sharp and heavy came crashing at the back of my head. I buckled, bouncing off the Sheriff door, from the sheer force of the blow. There was a serrated, scorching pain emanating from the back of my skull. Before the shock could subside, there was a second hit just as strong as the initial whack. I collapsed further onto the car door with my forearm and hands absorbing most of the impact.
I shrunk to my knees into the cold, wet snow. Turning to see the cause of my pain; the moon, full and sleek, loomed high into the chilly night, a figure shrouded in a shadowy blur towered over me.
“Mister… Knox?” The final blow folded me into the black.
Each step was felt mundane, the darkness was starting to become more disorienting. I no longer knew how far or how close I was to the road or even if I wanted to backtrack to the cabin, just how far had I marched? This was bad, really bad, shit! I’m in a fucking nightmare right now; a simple romantic trip has somehow turned into something out of a damn Stephen King novel.
There’s a reason why so many horror movies are set out in the woods after the protective warm rays of the light are gone. There’s a brooding dread of not knowing what can’t be seen in the cold dead of night and what you can’t see can see you. What the eyes can’t see can play terrible tricks with the imaginations of the mind pulling forth the darkest boogie men and things that goes bump in the night we’ve grown to rationalize from budding youth into adulthood. But my boogie man was real, Mr. Sullivan Gray; every twig snap, every slight breeze of the wind felt like it was being made by him somewhere out there; stalking me from the shadows eager to do to me what he had done to Roxane. Part IV
When I heard the whicker of moving brush and the soft snap of a twig sound coming from the impenetrable unknown night of the woods, I panicked. A deranged killer was lurking in the shadows of the night, and with it being so dark in these woods, it felt like he was just a hand grab, no, more of breath away from me. My pulse was up, and every hair on my body was standing at attention, but it was just wind, and my imaginations piecing together what my eyes could not wholly see. The moon hid behind heavy clouds; a single beam of my flashlight served as my candle in the dark, but as thick as the night was that’s all it was, a flickering flame in the cavernous black. I tried to reason the noise as the nightly wildlife, but my mind could only think of the hideous snow thing that sat in the back of the cabin. I shone my light at where the sound seemed to have come from, my hand clenching the shield, index finger at the ready on the trigger. There was nothing but snow and woods,
“Get it together, Nero, don’t let your emotion obscure you.”
“Never discharge a weapon clouded with emotion.” I could hear Mr. William schooling me now; it was comforting in a way. Part III
Double-clicking the x2 icon on the key fob, I popped the truck to the Mustang. A sleek, edgeless tactical black box the size and thickness of a thesaurus was tucked in the right of the trunk. There was a dial pad like that of a telephone styled in the center of it, with two small oval-shaped glass on each side of the pad. There was a tiny red light just above the number two, indicating that it was locked. Less than a year old, at the time it was the latest in biometric security to deter unauthorized usage. I set both mines and Kassidy’s even though I knew she probably wouldn’t come near the weapon I still wanted her to be able to get to it if push comes to shove.
Kassidy felt it was unsafe to have it anywhere inside the car where the kids could become curious. Even with the black box being secure with our thumbprint, she didn’t want to have them asking questions or being curious as to why Daddy needed a gun. Of course, I could easily give the copy and paste kind of answer most parents would give their children. “To keep us safe.” However, that answer isn’t as accurate as we want it to be. I knew that guns never really kelp anyone safe; they level the playing field. The very moment you draw a weapon, then you’ve accepted both the possibility and responsibility for someone dying. Though you don’t think about it, you ultimately have made the judgment that the person or persons at the end of your muzzle life are less important than that of your own and the person you are protecting.
Pulling the box from its corner, I rested my thumb onto the reader; within seconds, the light went from red to green. With the lock disengaged, the mini hydraulic arms pushed the cover open. The Smith & Wesson M&P shield 9-millimeter lay undisturbed between the thick gunmetal gray foam lining with three fully load clips nestled underneath it. Each clip held about seven to eight rounds giving me a total of twenty-four.
It was both light and heavy all at the same time as I lifted it from the foam bedding.
“Always remember to respect the weapon and in return, it will respect you.” Mr. Williams would always preach. The M&P fitted firmly into the creases of my hands, even while unloaded it still felt like pure power, I had my fingers wrapped around.
Taking one of the magazines from the safe, holding it with an index grip; I slid the magazine in a solitary smooth motion, then pulled the slide back racking the first round into the chamber. A small orangish like fin popped up signifying that weapon was armed with a bullet now resting at the ready in the barrel. Holding the now active weapon in my trembling hands, I was unsure if the shaking was from the cold getting to me or the fear, maybe it was a cocktail of both? A simple romantic trip has somehow turned into something out of a movie. Part II
I awoke with a shudder, gasping as if I had been drowning. Cold dampness, like morning dew, covered my goose flesh skin. I buried my face in my hands to better gather myself. There was a slight ache on the side of my neck.
It’s your fault …
I shot up once again with my head on a swivel. From left to right, the room was clear of anyone else, but I was sure that I had heard someone calling out to me. It was the same familiar tone I had heard that pulled me from the blackened void. The same voice I heard beckoning me back to reality. I was drenched with sweat, and the world felt unbalanced.
Forcing myself to my feet, I made my way to the kitchen for a glass of water and then upstairs to the master bathroom. The cabin was dark with only the dying embers of the fireplace lighting my surroundings. The day had gone, and the night had come. How I question myself, how had I slept the day away? I turned the shower on and ran it until billows of steam were visible, I swallowed two of Kass aspirins she kelp behind the bathroom mirror and climbed in.
My head was swimming with thoughts, I had no recollection of being tired or fatigued. What I could piece back together was that there was breakfast, chess… and the sting of something attacking my neck. I rubbed the sore area in contemplation of all that had happened. The hot water felt soothing and refreshing to ache on my neck, and the bruise on my arm. The injury I seemed to have gotten from my attack, no I did it to myself. No ghost or Freddy Krueger just rough sleeping, that’s all.
By the time I stepped out the shower the aspirin had started to kick into effect. The pain almost felt nonexistence now. The night was dead silent, the low crackle of the fireplace downstairs could be heard. Getting dressed, I realized I had not heard or seen from Kassidy since I woke, nor did I hear anything from Sullivan.
“Babe!” I called out, “Kass you here?”
I checked my pockets for my cellphone, nothing. I then walked down back into the living room rechecking the coffee table, nothing, and then the couch still zilch. Dropping to my knees, I search the floors thinking in my sleep it might have fallen.
“Babe have you seen my cellphone?” continued silence.
“Kass?!” I sat up listening for any kind of movement. “Sullivan?!” Stillness.
Was I alone? If so, where could they have gone? Making my way back to my feet I walked over to the light switch on the wall near the front door. I flipped it once, and the cabin lights filled the room.
Checking the front door, I noticed it was unlocked, opening it I become aware of just how silent the night really was; There was a clearing in the clouds, with the moon shining high up into the night like a nocturnal sun. My eyes caught a set of tracks leading from the cabin to the dark shadows of the protected forest. Could the tow truck had come as they said they would for Sullivan aid and had Kassidy gone to accompany him and if so, why without me? With closer inspection, I could tell that these were not human footprints but those of an animal, a raccoon maybe.
I sighed walking back, it was very much unlike for her to just leave with a stranger without my knowing. Stepping back into the cabin I looked around for my cellphone some more. Maybe she had left a text or phone call. Going back to the couch again I sifted around the cushion, and sure enough, there was no sign of my device.
There was a distance rumble, and the lights went out. “Shit!” I exclaimed. If it wasn’t already bad enough that I couldn’t find my phone I was now fumbling in the dark. I held my hands out in front of me feeling my way around until I was back near the light switch next to the front door. I flipped the switch once, no reaction, I then flicked it a few more times hoping something other than black would occur, only to be disappointed. I then shuffled my way through the dark until I was in the kitchen. Searching the drawers for a flashlight, I thought I could go out to the garage and check to make sure that the circuit breaker just hasn’t been tripped again. Rummaging around in the drawers I felt nothing except the familiar shapes of spoons, forks and other miscellaneous kitchen items, but no flashlight.
Standing there in the dark I thought of when I previously laid hands on it since we been here at the cabin. Ah, that’s right, I remember now. The last I used it was around the first night we arrived, and the lights had gone out then because of the breaker trip.
I went for the kitchen door that led to the garage, feeling around I knew that the breaker panel was just next to the door. I felt a top of the box, and sure enough, it was there, the flashlight was right where I had left it. I smiled triumphantly while flipping the switch on its handle, the light while blinding at first, was a slight beacon of joy from blackness. Checking the breaker, it was indeed flipped left when it should have been right. Switching it back into its proper position the cabin again lit up like a Christmas tree. I closed it, turned off the flashlight, and headed back into the kitchen closing the door behind me.
I need to find my phone, I muttered to myself. The morning had turned to night, and the storm had long settled. My wife has been gone with a complete stranger for no telling how long, I wasn’t even sure of the time she had left with him, and I had no way of calling her to make sure she was okay. I went upstairs to see if maybe, somehow it was upstairs. There was another rumble, this one more mechanical sounding. Before I could make it halfway up the lights again went out, I then heard the kitchen door to the garage creek open.
“Hello?” I inquired. “Baby is that you? You made it back?” nothing but silence. I turned on the flashlight, illuminating dark sections of the cabin. Carefully I went back downstairs and into the kitchen. The cone of the flashlight shined on the kitchen garage door slightly ajar. I was somewhat, no I was a hundred percent positive that I had closed the door behind me when I came back in. Carefully I made my over to the door, I could see faint clouds of my own breath as I neared the door. I quickly examined door then stepped into the garage, that’s when I noticed that the carport entrance was opened. It was dark outside, only the contrast of the snow giving any sort of depth to the world. Bewildered and slightly frighten I swung open the breaker panel and flipped the power switch back on. For the third time the cabin lit up, with the power back on I maneuvered the garage door switch down. There was a rumble, the same mechanical thunder I heard just before the power had gone out.
The moon peered from beyond the clouds lighting the lush white floor. As the garage door closed, I had taken notice of something in the snow, patterns that had disrupted the neatness of the bleached earth. Footprints, there were human footprints in the snow. Just a single set leading from the garage to somewhere outside. Had they been there before? I wondered. Curiously I stopped the door from closing midway, the tracks seemed to have led all the way to the back where the lake was.
I followed them tangled in thoughts of just who these belonged too. The clouds blinded the light of the moon like they do the sun on a perfect spring or summer afternoon. The world was just black and white, removing the flashlight from my pocket. I shinned it on the patterned tracks. Each step beneath my feet disturbing the quiet, there was a rustle somewhere out in the blackened void. The wind started to whisper as if the night was trying to warn me of something dark and foreboding. Ignoring it I continued, then before I could make another stepped, I stopped. Someone was standing between me and the lake. They were wearing white and had long black hair that seemed to drift in the wind.
“Kass?” I called out inquisitively. For a split second, I could have sworn I heard the person say something, but I was even more sure that it was the wind. There was something wrong with this picture, every instinctual nerve in my body had that flight or fight sense going, and it was leaning heavily on the flight aspect. “Kassidy, you okay? Babe, can you hear me?” Still, there was no answer. Against my better judgment I forced myself to step closer, and close, and closer until I was just close enough to honestly see what I did not want to see. My eyes widen, I could feel my very insides plummet to a depth of fear and despair I’ve never had to endure since the nights of those incidents.
As the clouds again moved giving light back to the night, it was all to clear of what I was seeing before me now. This was a snowman, a snowman with the severed head of someone I cared for. The wind whispered,
Those days felt so far away now as I studied the chess board keenly. Sullivan was a poised fellow with hard dark eyes that seemed to be disposed of any real emotion; they were like those of black carbonaceous rock. Eyes made of coal. Strong gusts of wind shook the house causing it to creak. Kassidy sat by the window lost in the deep worlds of whatever she was reading.
As we played for our second game, I took notice that Sullivan was patient, and methodical with each of his moves. He seemed to always open with the Grünfeld defense, nothing too adept but it was clear he knew what he was doing. I moved Pawn to D5, in which he countered by replacing my Pawn with one of his own. The gameplay was quick and precise with his Queen ultimately toppling my King followed up with that phrase of triumph,
“How?” I asked with a bit of frustration in my voice.
“If by “How” you mean, how did I come to beat you yet again then the answer is simple. You are the prey and I the predator.” Sullivan stated as he begun to reposition his pieces back into their rightful place on the board.
“I don’t follow,” I said placing my pieces into their squares.
“In the wild apex predators do not attack their victim, no that would leave too many mistakes, too many variables that could go wrong. The prey could outrun and elude the predator or can call for back up to assist. A seasoned predator knows better than to just chase after a kill. Instead, they stalk their prey, study their prey movement, lure them into a false sense of ease.” Once the game board was set Sullivan extended his in an inviting gesture. “Again?” I nodded a yes with Sullivan opening with Pawn to D4.
“I’m not sure I get how that collates to the game.” I was bewildered as I moved Knight to F6.
“The art of chess is no difference, there is a predator, and there is a victim.” Sullivan moved Pawn to C4 “The board is the wild in which the game of predator and prey is played.”
“And who gets to decide who gets to be what?” I asked moving Pawn to E6.
“We do of course.” Sullivan moved Knight to C3, and I in returned played Bishop to B4 knowing that he is going into his signature opening the Grünfeld Defense.
“Wouldn’t that mean we both become predators?” I smiled assured that this round would be mines. He had achieved two wins over me; I was determined to keep him from gaining a trifecta, Claire was the only one that would beat me thrice in one seating before calling it game. Sullivan moved his Bishop to G5, I moved my Bishop to take his knight from C3, but he swiftly thwarted with Pawn B2 to take my Bishop recapturing his area.
“Is that what you believe?” he asked. Damn, I wasn’t thinking, I was getting ahead of myself, but the game is still in its infancy. I’m still in control. Moving Pawn to H6, I baited him to either have his Bishop take the newly move Pawn or my knight knowing he would take the bigger fish if his was threaten to be taken. He, of course, took the knight, but I was able to capture his Bishop with my Pawn from G7 to reclaim my square. The game was now tied with both of us at a loss of a knight and a Bishop; again I was in control, I would be the predator this round. Sullivan placed Pawn from E2 to E4. The room got silent again as we stared into each other’s eyes, only the howl of the wind blowing about outside. I would think it was Alex with stuffy nose letting out those violent sneezes that ended two of the three little pigs, but he was here in my home playing a game of chess with not even a sniff.
“I’m not sure,” I answered as I moved my remaining knight from its original spot to A6.
Sullivan moved his last Bishop from F1 diagonally to where his knight once stood.
“By now I’m sure you are telling yourself that you are in control of this match.” My eyes widened at the accuracy of his assumption. Was he able to read minds? Had he been in my head this whole time knowing exactly the moves I would make. “From the slight gesture of your face I’m right in my statement,” Sullivan smirked. How did he know what I was thinking? Was he reading my mind, no, don’t be silly he’s just playing mind games, basic tactics, you are not a basic player. You are not the prey. I shift Pawn C7 to C6 to which he moved Pawn F2 to F4.
I was standing in the middle of a dark school hallway. It was barely lit by the flickering fluorescent light above, but it gave enough visibility to the horror I was placed in. Hanging from the ceiling like festive Christmas decoration, were sheet-covered figures. Each heavy breath that escaped my mouth seemed to make them bob, though slight it was apparent from the ropes tight whining sound that could be heard as they faintly swayed to and fro. There was a soft hum like an echo; it was a familiar tune with an even more familiar tone. The door behind me was locked, and the only visible path out was forward, through the hallway of dangling cadavers. I could hear, no more like feel the rapid session of my heart beating through my ears. I had to force my body to obey simple commands, left foot, right foot, I did my best to avoid touching them fearful that they might move.
As I navigated down the sinister hallway, I started to mummer words that seemed to match the hum.
Should old acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind? Should old acquaintance be forgot and days of Auld Lang Syne?
I could see three doors at the end of the hall. There was one to the left, one to the right, and the main double door that seemed to lead further down the darkness. Nearing them, I felt compelled, almost tranced to approach a specific entry. The humming got louder as I neared the entrance to the right. There was a chill, small clouds of breath plumed in front of me. I was cold, so damned cold I could feel it in my bones. This wasn’t some standard type of cold either, but the kind that starts in the stomach and then radiates in waves up and down the body, before settling in the spine. It was as if the cold was alive and ran off pure, unfiltered fear. I took hold of the doorknob bracing myself, I wasn’t sure of what to expect, but I was readying myself of the unexpected.
Opening the door, I gazed into a dark but still recognizable classroom. It was poorly lit by the flickers of ember undoubtedly from a candle. There was a rotten, putrid odor, flies buzzed and flew past me as if they were trying to escape whatever it was that was in this room. Just peeking around I could see nothing too out of pla- wait, there was something. The source of the humming was coming from someone or thing hanging from some wooden construction. Concentrating onto the unfamiliar object, I was able to make out that the hanging purpose was a body, a grotesque and disfigured human body. It was beheaded and skinned, organs with the hands and feet removed from the rest of the body. I stumbled back, tripping and falling on my rear end.
The humming continued, but now there was a dragging sound accompanied with it. What I saw made my soul shriek, the corpse was moving on its own, dragging itself by its stump’s. I sprung to my feet and took off as fast as I could down the hallway pushing the bodies to the side. They started to convulse sporadically, as I tried to run through them. The door that was sealed shut was now open with a bright light, I could hear the dragging and humming at the heel of my feet. I dared not look back afraid that it was right there ready to pounce. Just as I was home free the door SLAMMED shut; I crashed into it trying to open it, pounding and screaming for help.
“OPEN UP! SOMEONE, PLEASE HELP ME!!! LET ME OUT!!!!!” there came no answer, no one to help me. The fluorescent lights overhead darkened until there was nothing but a haze of blackness. @sexwithluna
“I’ve got yooooouuu~ under my skin.” Henry hummed to himself as he finished shaving the undesirables from the meat.
“This is an art form you don’t see anymore.” in my stroll down memory lane I hadn’t notice someone else was standing in attendance of Henry at work.
“The amount of skill it takes to do his job took years to cultivate”
“I’m not following. If you’re talking about Henry here… I’m sure it doesn’t take that much to cut up a bunch of meat”, I was already over this conversation, but Henry had disappeared into the freezer and I still needed my salmon.
“The term butcher has been misused for years. In earlier times, the butcher was revered. Respected. His ability to navigate flesh, bone, muscle to present an item pleasing enough to the masses to go home and subsequently destroy… it’s art. He is a sculptor with a product we consume without reverence or appreciation.”
“Well, that’s one way to think about it. If I decided to think about it that is.” I moved to turn my cart to leave just as Henry made his reappearance. His deep vocals breaking up this awkward encounter.
“How can I help you two?”
“We aren’t together, but I need 6 salmon filets. The skin on and deboned, please. I also need 2 pounds of crab meat.” Henry the butcher left to put my order together and I was left alone with the stranger again.
“I understand your disinterest. You’ll have to forgive me. It’s a job hazard. I’m in plastics. Plastic Surgery I mean.”
“What would a cosmetic surgeon be doing up here in the mountains?”
“I have to spend my salary somehow. These cabins are perfect to find solitude from the hustle and bustle of Atlanta and my own private practice. I just purchased an estate on the other side of the lake; a few acres where I can relax. I’m Sullivan Grey.”
“Nero. Nero Lawton, my wife Kassidy is over by the fair-trade coffee. We inherit our cabin, just west of the lake.”
“Aye yes, that lovely cabin that sits just on the lake. The sunsets paint it exquisitely with an amber-like glow.”
“Um… yea, my wife’s grandmother loved how the sun would set on the horizon between the break in the tree line.” I was never one to just carry on a conversation with strangers unless I absolutely had too but here I was chatting it up. There was something about this man, that just made the hairs on my neck stand up, it was his eyes. In the youth of my years, my Oldman would tell me that the windows to a person soul were there eyes. If you look close enough you could see all you needed to know before they even uttered a word. The brown tint of his windows hid something that just didn’t sit all that well with me.
“My wife too fell in love with that scenery as a child and when her grandparent’s past; the home was handed down to her.”
Henry the butcher approached just in time to save me from this encounter. Another moment and I would have found a reason to walk away, as politely as I could of course. With my fillets in hand, I quickly took my leave to find Kassidy.
“Did yer need anything?” Henry spoke in a thick southern accent.
“I think I’ve found what I’ve been looking for, Henry, thank you.”
Nero Lawton. Watching him disappear into another aisle I knew I had finally found the clay I needed to mold my masterpiece. Educating Nero will be my Moonlight Sonata.
The butcher was a hefty fellow, years of dissecting animals for human consumption had given this man a very brawny physique. You could see the power in his arms as the cleaver in his hand was going to work on the back leg or the “round” as the meat cutters would call it, of a steer. Under the sweat and blood of his black leather apron was the letters H.E.N.R and a faded Y, Henry, that must have been his name. I was willing to bet my last dollar that the little town folks here called him Henry the Butcher as if that was his god given the last name. It sounded more like the name of a serial killer from a slasher film.
As Henry the butcher worked, he had the radio going, the classic tune of Frank Sinatra under my skin came soothing through the air. I remembered back as a child my father would play his guitar at my mom’s bedside. In his younger year, pop’s use to sing and play in a blues band, it was how they met, my mom would tell. One of her favorite songs she just loved to hear him sing and play was Frank Sinatra, “I’ve got you under my skin”. Even when he thought she would be tired of it he always asked, “What do you want to hear Baby?” With lips as pale as the moon mom would smile; using all her strength mom would reply in a raspy whisper “Play our song.”. While sick and weak in that cold room he would play that song so soulfully that even the doctors and nurses thought it would somehow bless her with some type of miracle.
The store had a traditional style, the type of look city fresh markets tries to imitate with its wholesome fruits and veggies in wooden crates stacked in the middle of the aisles. Even though I knew it would annoy her I decided to get started on the shopping, grabbing a pushcart. Kassidy had a knack for getting caught in conversation in what seemed to be with no end, I bore easily of extended banter that lacks any interest to me. I know this to be selfish, hell maybe even childish at times but I’m honest and will politely excuse myself so that I would not let the lack of care creep across my face.
Rummaging through the seasoning of the spices aisle, I picked just what I needed for tonight’s dinner. This evening supper would be a special one, Crispy salmon, with crushed new potatoes, Kassidy’s favorite meal. It was the initial dish that impressed her with on our first date, that eventually led to other dates and an “I Do”. At that time between student loans and bills, I barely could afford the mainstream stigma of a first date. Yet fortunately for me, I was taught some very useful skills as a young single man still making his way into the world. After the passing of my mother at an early age my best friend mom filled the role of “Mother” for me. Mrs. Flow could damn near cook any and everything you desired. Her cooking was so good it’ll have you wanting her to open a restaurant just so you could enjoy her meals whenever.
Looking over everything in the cart, I had just about everything I needed for tonight and the rest of the week. The only thing I was missing was the actual salmon itself.