George watched the thing in the back yard. It was as big as a dog.
Armored, it resembled a pill bug, what they used to call roly-polies in his youth. Its back was segmented with brown plating the color of roaches. Its front reminded George of a turtle. Eyes gleamed far back in a dark muck. He couldn’t imagine what sort of teeth were in there. Did it have fangs or bone-blade-gears like a living garbage disposal? He saw what it did to the cat. Blood, gore, and green innards had flown in two directions. Some of the white fur still floated on the morning air. The cat had screamed. A neighbor told it to shut up, but the world was still minus one fat cat.
The creature patrolled the back yard, chittering to itself.
What is it?
George thought of centipedes. Beetles. Bear traps.
He had come downstairs for normalcy. CNN. Coffee. The smell of grinding beans calmed. Then he looked out the back door to admire the view—something he did every morning—and found his normalcy perverted by the abomination eating pets on his lawn.
A bird landed near its face. George gasped. The thing glided across the grass. It paused. The bird tilted its head. Chirped. It happened fast. Thin legs snatched. The bird screeched, a feather whirled up, and it was gone. A ripple passed down the creature, then it sat still again, eyes gleaming.
But so much was lately. Like what he found before coming downstairs. Like what happened to his daughter. Like the neighbor not seeing the cat’s gruesome demise. That was life these days: not seeing what was in front of you. George hadn’t seen his daughter—work is too busy, I’ll go outside with you next weekend, I promise—now that chance was gone. He hadn’t seen how badly his wife was hurting and now she was gone, too. The cat, the bird . . . they hadn’t seen. Everyone was gone. Everyone was dead.
The thing hadn’t moved. But it was still there. No matter how impossible it might be, it was real. Like the mess upstairs in the bathtub, the blood on the tile. Like his daughter in the cemetery.
How did we get here?
The cat and the bird were only out for a walk and got eaten up. Like his daughter, just out for fun, then life came around the curve, some idiot kid texting while driving too fast jumped the sidewalk, and a little girl who only wanted to ride her hoverboard was wiped out; his sweet ten-year-old daughter was crushed between a car, a tree, and life’s stupid randomness. She wasn’t killed but destroyed. Smeared. What mad universe would allow such a thing to a girl who colored a picture for his office last week?
If I had just gone out with her . . .
He once had dreams. He once had hopes. Now his daughter was gone, and his wife was a suicide.
Now this thing. Where did it come from?
It was bigger.
Impossible. It made no sense.
But what did? A dead daughter? A dead wife?
The coffee stopped brewing. The pot clicked off. Silence. Too much of it.
George opened the back door. Immediately the creature scuttled towards him, mewing eagerly. George went to embrace the impossibility. What choice was there?
Paul Wilson lives in a suburban neighborhood much like the one he turned into a horror playground in his novel Hostage. He lives with his wife, daughter, son, and three cats, one of which actually likes him. He has worked a spectacular list of jobs including retail district manager, a 911 operator, and the head of a college security department.