I’m just sneaking this under the wire for my day at the blog… family issues came up and I’ve only just arrived home. Still, I wanted to get this story up for you all, and I certainly hope you enjoy it!
It has some disturbing and violent pieces, so I’m placing it behind a cut, if you’d rather not read a creepy-kid horror story… 😉
The Lion Roared
by Jodi Lee
© 2007 – Previously published in the Tainted anthology from Strange Publications
The clunking noise from behind the firewall of the beat-up ’74 Malibu had progressively become louder for over an hour. No matter how many times Emmy turned the stereo up, it didn’t seem to take too long before the clunking over-powered the heavy bass beat.
There was a moment when she thought she could feel the thumping right through the gas pedal; Emmy could have sworn the pedal pushed back at her foot. Telling herself it was just nerves from driving through the storm, she kept on; eyes straining in their sockets as though the simple act of bulging out a bit would give them super powers.
That was what she needed really – super powers. Infra-red vision to see through the swirling snow or laser eyes to burn through the harder drifts. Screw that, Emmy thought to herself, I’d super power up a bubble and just float there. Swearing under her breath, she admitted she wasn’t even entirely sure where there was…Brad’s map had been of little help for the city chick.
Emmy tore her focus from the road for just one second to flick her lighter and touch the flame to the tip of the cigarette that had dangled from her lips for a half hour. In that one moment, some kind of dog wandered out onto the road; Emmy saw the red reflection of the animal’s eyes barely in time, and she swerved while hitting the brakes.
She didn’t hit the dog, but there was one final catastrophic BANG from the motor of the Malibu. After trying several times to restart the vehicle, Emmy gave up and swore profusely as she spent several minutes digging through her over-sized purse looking for her cell phone. The profanities increased in volume and intensity when she realized the phone wasn’t in her purse. Leaning back with eyes closed, Emmy tried to calm herself.
Leaving the city had been a bad idea. Brad had insisted she make the five hour trip to his family’s vacation home to meet the parents. Emmy hadn’t realized that driving in the middle of a storm was a bad idea; she drove in all weather in the city and had never had a problem. And at least in the city, if she had an accident, she’d only have to walk a few feet to find help.
She glanced out of the window, hoping to see some form of life, but there hadn’t been any lights along this road for some time. If there was a dog out wandering the roads though, perhaps there had to be some sort of civilization close. Emmy turned the lights and ignition off, her watch catching her eye as she did so. The luminous dial showed her she was now an hour late for the dinner…perhaps Brad and his family would come looking for her.
Switching the ignition back to ‘Accessory’, Emmy switched CDs and settled in for a bit of a wait.
Emmy woke with a start. Cursing herself for falling asleep, she tried to figure out where the beeping noise was coming from. Emmy could barely move her fingers she was so cold, but rummaged through the trash on the floor until she found the source of the annoying beep.
Her cell phone; only now did she recall plugging it into the outlet on the dash. Emmy pushed the talk button, to be met with static and whistling noise.
“Hello?” she yelled. “Hello? Anyone there…I need help!”
“Emmy?” Brad’s voice broke through the static and Emmy’s heartbeat quickened. “Emmy, where are you? You’re late, and we’ve waited dinner on you!”
“Brad, I think I’m lost and I nearly had an accident; I can’t get the car to start again. Can’t you come and get me?”
Static had overtaken the phone again, but she thought she could make out Brad’s voice behind it. It sounded as though he was talking to someone else.
“Did you stick to the map, Emmy?” he asked.
“No Brad, I decided to go exploring in the hills in an area I’ve never been to before, right in the middle of a damn blizzard! What the hell do you think?”
“All right, all right, I’m sorry. What happened?”
Emmy pulled the phone from her ear and looked it. How could he be so stupid? Didn’t she just tell him? “I nearly hit a dog, and after the car stopped, so did the motor. I’ve tried to get it started, but it won’t. I’m getting really cold, Brad.”
“Yeah, if it storms on the first of March, it’s always really cold. There should be an emergency kit in the glove-box though, open it up and light some candles. And there’s a blanket in the back. Can you tell me what the dog looked like?”
Frustrated, Emmy bit back a smart-assed response. First of all, she knew it could be cold in March. Generally, the weather was the same in the city as it was here, only the snow didn’t swirl around as intensely. “Emmy? You there?” Brad’s voice again.
“Yeah, sorry. Look, there was a lot of snow, all I could see was shaggy fur, pointy ears and red eyes. That could describe pretty much any dog ever born.”
“Nah, there’s only a few that’ll have red eyes when light hits them. They gotta have blue eyes for them to glow red. Only blue eyed dogs around here are the Wilson huskies…you’re about fifteen minutes away, it won’t take us long to come and rescue you. Ok?”
“Yeah…you might want to bring a tow rope though. Are you sure about that eye thing?”
“Yes, Emmy, I am. We’ll have to leave the car there until the storm passes. After that, my dad and I will take the tractor out and get it out.”
Tractor? Emmy thought. Why on earth would they need a tractor at what was supposed to be a vacation home? “All right, just hurry.” She pushed the end button before he could respond.
This was going to be the last weekend with him. He’d been getting on Emmy’s nerves for some time, but the nonchalance and flippancy on the phone just now sealed it. Emmy had a tickle at the back of her neck that usually signified trouble…she passed it off as the storm and her situation.
She searched the glove-box for the kit Brad had mentioned, but couldn’t find it. There wasn’t a blanket in the back either, so Emmy wrapped her arms around herself and tucked her chin to her chest. If they didn’t get to her soon, she thought, all they’ll find is a frozen corpse.
Emmy wasn’t sure how much time had passed. She had fallen asleep again, and now the battery had worn itself down as well – it was not only dark, it was silent as well. Looking outside of the car, she saw that the storm had lessened quite a bit. She could now see a light only a few yards from where she sat shivering. Without over-thinking it, she grabbed her purse and cell phone, and left the car. Since it was Brad’s crappy vehicle, she left the keys in it. If someone came along and wanted to steal it, she no longer cared.
Outside the snow was deep but loose, and it wasn’t too hard to walk through. The stars were beginning to peek through the remainders of the cloud cover, and the wind had stilled entirely. The silence, as declared so often, was deafening.
Emmy found the driveway to the nearest house by noting the difference in the way the snow was piling up on it. There was only the one light on for the entire house, and as she drew nearer, she saw it ran on a large battery attached to it. An emergency light like those at the college she and Brad attended.
Knocking on the door, Emmy prayed someone was home. She stood shivering and puffing clouds of vapor from her mouth. She knocked again, and waited – still there was no answer. Finally, Emmy decided to try the door herself, and found it unlocked. Blessing her luck, she walked into her new shelter.
There were faces pressed to the window, staring at her.
As she roused herself from a dreamless sleep, Emmy could feel the eyes on her, even before she had turned to see them.
They couldn’t have been any more than 10 years old, any of them. There were three; they had their hands cupped around their eyes, noses pressed firmly against the frigid glass. Emmy couldn’t place what bothered her most – that they just stood there staring at her, or that they were completely silent. She stretched her legs as she pushed herself up to a seated posture on the dusty old couch. She waved to the children at the window.
They didn’t wave back, they didn’t move. Frustrated, tired and hungry, Emmy didn’t feel like dealing with the local smart-ass children; she flipped her middle finger at them on her way past the window.
Emmy rustled through the nearly empty cupboards, discovering tins of food she didn’t, and couldn’t recognize. The wrappers had been torn off most of them. After a pretty thorough search of the drawers, she finally found something that could be used to open a can so that she could at least eat something, even if it was condensed soup without water or heat. What she found in the first can made her retch.
A piece of finger.
Her appetite completely doused, she took another look at the crap in the can she’d opened. Now as she looked at, then poked the floating pink bits in a sea of red sauce, she realized the can held cocktail weenies. She laughed.
Emmy ate them with her fingers even though she was no longer hungry. She walked through to the living room again, and was startled to see that the children still stood at the window. She grabbed her purse with sauce-stained fingers and took it into the kitchen where she sat at the table and tried to raise a signal on her phone.
Absolutely no bars showed in either of the battery power or the signal symbols. Great, she thought to herself, he gets me out here in the middle of nowhere, with no service, no people except pod children at the window, and I have no way to find him.
A few, silent tears escaped her tightly shut eyes.
It was getting dark. Emmy had taken another look into the living room; the pod children were still pressed to the window. She was exhausted, but there was no way she was going to try and sleep on that couch, with those things watching her. No way in hell.
She’d made the rounds of the cabin – and it was a cabin, not a house – checking the other rooms; mostly she was doing this because she didn’t want to suddenly find herself confronted by some insane country bumpkin with a gun. Now, after securing the locks on the only door, she moved into one of the tiny bedrooms. Emmy had discovered that the beds both smelled of mold and rot, but the one in this room was a lot better than the others. She closed the door tight, and pushed a chair under the doorknob.
She didn’t cover up, in fact she didn’t open the bed up at all, only lay down on the covers. She’d used her jacket as a blanket the night before, and she’d have to do the same tonight.
It wasn’t long before Emmy’s eyes began to close and she sighed, slipping into a half-sleep state.
Somewhere in the dark Emmy could hear thumping, clanking and banging, occasionally interspersed with the colorful language she herself was known to use. She knew she’d locked the door, and was sure the noise she was hearing was all in her imagination.
The laughter of several children floated up to her from somewhere beneath her. Emmy’s eyes snapped open; she was now fully awake. A male and female voice joined those of the children, and Emmy thought she recognized them. She was almost certain she’d talked to that voice, the woman’s voice, on the phone before. Emmy was almost positive the woman was Brad’s sister.
She rose slowly, almost silently slipping to the door and pulling it open. Emmy cringed when the hinges protested with what nearly sounded like a young girl screaming. As she stepped into the short hallway and glanced into the kitchen, Emmy tried to call out; her throat closed and she felt as though she would be sick. Hysterical shakes settled into her body as the children from the window smiled at her from their places at the little table. The woman stood near the old fashioned cook-stove, and the man was building the fire inside it.
When they turned around, she saw they were missing their faces.
Emmy woke to her own screams pealing into the silence of the bedroom. Light was seeping in through the window now, and she knew she’d actually slept. Her stomach rumbled and she felt a pressing need to relieve herself. She swung her legs over the edge of the bed and put her feet on the floor. It seemed a lot warmer in the room now than it had when she’d first come in.
The hair on her arms rose as she reached the door…the chair was back in its place against the wall, and the door was open a crack. How did that happen? How could it happen? Emmy opened it the rest of the way, and listened carefully before she stepped out into the hallway. The dream rose to her mind as she heard a noise coming from the kitchen. Her breath started to hitch in her chest, and she had to bite her lip hard, drawing blood, to keep herself from screaming.
Scared as she’d never been before, Emmy never the less stepped out into the hall, peering through the dim light. Her eyes felt like they would pop out of her skull, and her skin felt as though it were burning and freezing in turns.
Brad stood beside the cook-stove. Someone, she assumed his father, was stoking the fire in it. When Brad saw Emmy standing there, he smiled and started towards her, but she backed up a step.
She’d moved far enough that she could look through into the living room, and there were the children, pressed against the glass, just as they’d been the day before…only it seemed to Emmy that they’d switched positions. She avoided Brad’s reaching arms and with a deep breath, walked to the window. Moving from one to the other, she stared directly into the eyes of each child.
They weren’t right. They weren’t real, but they also weren’t right.
“I see you’ve met the Martin triplets,” Brad spoke. At Emmy’s confused glance, he continued. “When old man Martin’s wife went crazy, she locked the boys out in the cold during a storm. When old man Martin managed to get home – he found them like this…pressed against the glass, looking in. Somehow, they’d died like that – all three of them,” Brad spoke. “He found his wife in the kitchen, with her face practically melted onto the cook-stove. She’d fried herself, literally, on the top.”
Emmy couldn’t stop looking at the children. She heard what Brad was saying, but it wasn’t sinking in. Something was not right with those children. And their mother…she’d sounded so much like Brad’s sister!
Brad’s father came into the room, introduced himself as Michael, and he carried on with the story. “Martin had those little statues built of the boys not long after the funerals. Each one has a piece of the dead child inside it. He never told anyone which piece, and the guy that made them – he died before he even finished. They’re not completely painted, but you can only tell during the summer. Martin put them there, against the glass. If you ask me, he was loonier than his wife.”
Emmy turned to them, finally breaking eye contact with the one she felt was the leader. “They’ve moved.”
Brad and his father exchanged a look, one Emmy was not blind to. They knew something.
“What? What is it?” she asked.
“Old man Martin, he used to come into town once in a while and tell people the boys had been in the house at night. He came in less and less over the years, but when he stopped all together some folks in town drove out to check on him. He’d been dead a while, you understand. About a week I’d guess, from the rumors.
“He died the same way his wife did, face first on the cook-stove. The thing was though, his nose, cheekbones and jaw had been smashed. There were bruises on the back of his neck and on his arms. Little hands.” Brad replied.
Emmy turned to the boys again. The looked like innocent little lambs, peeking into an abandoned house. She was sure they were grinning at her.
“March it was.” Brad’s father was now lost in memory. “The first of March that year was deadly cold, and the storm blew up outta nowhere. One moment it was clear and sunny, colder than a penguin’s ass, next thing it was so thick no one could see the ends of their own noses. The lion roared that year.”
Brad nodded. “The month went out like a lamb though, innocent as could be. Just like the boys there. Innocent.”
As Emmy watched, one of the smiles grew wider, one frost-covered eyelid winked down.
The lion had roared again… and the innocent had things to do.
Jodi Lee is publisher and editor in chief of Belfire Press and The New Bedlam Project – new issue April 1st!