Horror Challenge Honorable Mention
Long and grey and terribly thin, their fingers scraped his cabin’s night-fogged windows. He listened to them from his chair beside the fire, a pot of stew churning with bubbles over the flame.
It’s only the wind, he said. It’s only the branches on the old oak tree.
Their nails shrilled against the glass like fumbled chalk on a blackboard. He heard their graceless shuffling, the muted thuds of their bodies clamouring over one another. How long would they persist? How hungry were their awful, toothy mouths?
It’s only the dogs outside on the porch. It’s only the raccoons coming alive.
Into a bowl he ladled the stew and tore a fist of bread from the loaf to dip in it. They crawled the length of the porch while he ate, more of them now, dragging their dry, bony bellies. Their shoulders clicked as they heaved themselves, like twigs popping underfoot.
He sopped up the last vestiges of broth-softened carrots and onion with a second slice of bread, then crossed the floor between his chair and the kitchen to wash his dish. He heard them there, too, on the bed of gravel beneath the window, pawing at the side of the cabin, clawing deep grooves into the siding. He heard them crawl toward the backyard, even more of them, rolling and lunging in the dirt.
It’s only the possum again. That’s all it is, he said, going back to his chair. Maybe kids lighting some faraway Halloween fireworks.
One of them closed a slender hand around the knob on the cabin’s front door and shook, rattling it back and forth. It was no use; he’d installed a deadbolt long ago, and a thick chain above it that slid into a sturdy track.
You’re no more than the goddamn wind! he shouted at them, and a collective hiss rose from their paper lungs, their protests laden with dust. They began to growl and roil, firmer now in their clumsy reaching, their noises not so different from his mother’s death rattle in the hours before she passed.
He laughed and reached for an unopened box of cigarettes on the side table, peeled the ribbon seal from around the plastic and tossed the packaging aside. The flame at the end of his lighter quivered from the tremble of his hand. What the hell are you going to do now? he spat.
At the window above the sofa, they piled on top of one another, and he saw their faces on the other side of the glass, their hung-open mouths making them looked warped and long like putty stretched out. Where their eyes should have been were holes carved into their heads, enough to put your fingers inside and reach for whatever drove them.
A few of them found the back of the house, or maybe more had come out of the woods. They overturned the dogs’ big water dish, the clang of its metal cacophonous. Up the concrete steps they scraped, gnashing their jaws, practically howling now with hunger. He laughed again, turned on the television and crushed the cigarette’s burning end onto the cover of an old Costco magazine.
And then he heard it: the back door he’d forgotten to lock swinging open, the screen door that split so easily down the centre like a zipper coming undone. And their too-thin bodies pouring through the tear like a sea of silverfish, wriggling grotesquely into his cabin and slithering across the laminate floor in triumph. The shriek of them coming for him sounding nothing like the wind at all.