"...pulled right up into the trees. A horrible sound -- screams, growls... and blood. Drip-drip-dripping down from the darkness."
Allen and Bobby cheered, slapping each other five. Max smiled. Uncle Pete grinned, satisfied with his performance... until he saw his girls.
Practically hiding behind each other, they looked like had just borne witness to a car wreck right there on the beach. He might have been too successful.
"Oh... hey guys," he said, forcing a reassuring chuckle and quickly moving to their side, "it wasn't that bad."
They shuddered under their beach blanket, and not from the weather. He rolled his eyes. He was gonna get it now.
"...maybe you should give the stories a break, huh? It's pretty close to the girls' bed time."
This kicked-in the girls' survival instinct. They may have been scared out of their wits, but going to bed before everybody else was the worse fate. And Bobby would never let them live it down.
"No!" Summer spoke up, taking the initiative before her mother's worry gathered momentum. "We're fine! We don't need to go to bed, we're fine. Right Jane?"
"Y-yeah, we're fine... we just caught a chill for a minute."
"Yeah, a weird chill."
"We're totally fine."
"Yeah, totally fine."
Aunt Chris arched her eyebrow. "You're not getting too scared by your dad's grisly stories?"
"No! We... we like..."
"Yeah, we like 'em! We won't get nightmares."
Aunt Chris was not convinced. But at the same time, she could feel their older brother starting to crack a smile.
"...I mean, we're not babies, mom..."
Before their brother could quip to the contrary, Aunt Chris threw them a life-preserver.
"Alright. You can stay up a little while longer. But just one more story, right dear?"
Uncle Pete heard her loud and clear, seeing a chilly bed in his future if he voted otherwise. "Yeah, one more story ought to do it."
He looked over at Max and all but winked.
"It'll be a good one, though."
"Oh lord, well at least give us a little break then, dear?"
"Alright, Christine my bean. I'll give you a little breather."
Aunt Chris flashed him a smile that seemed to suggest his future wouldn't be so cold after all. "Thank you, dear."
With that, the adults began to talk about boring things, Allen and Bobby started talking about things that weren't boring, but wouldn't let him in on, and Summer & Jane were girls.
Max sighed. He'd have to wait it out.
He strolled down to the edge of the shore, and looked out over the lake. A ways off shore, there were some big, round rocks jutting out of the water; he wondered if he could hit one. He found a nice, smooth stone nearby, good for throwing, and tossed it as hard as he could. It looked like it would go the distance...
A dull, hollow sound. As if the rock were... empty.
Before Max could ponder this any further, something caught his eye, just across the lake. A light, like theirs.
"Uncle Max? Uncle Max, how many people live on the lake?"
"What's that, little buddy?"
"How many other people live out here on the lake?"
"Oh, there's a few few of us scattered out here. Kind of a lot on this side, actually."
"What about the other side?"
"Well... no one on the far side, I don't think... forest preserve. Pretty much just wilderness out there, kiddo. On the near side, I think there might be a few people. There used to be. Why's that, little buddy?"
"Oh... I saw another light on the other side. It looked like somebody else else had a bonfire."
"Had the same idea as us, probably. It's the perfect night for it."
"You think they were telling ghost stories too?"
Uncle Pete ruffled Max's hair. "Might be. You just never know."
"Dad! Bobby's making fun of me!"
"Oh geez, Bobby, don't tease your sisters."
Uncle Pete took off to get things under control back by the fire. Max looked back over the water. He was going to show Uncle Pete how far he'd thrown the stone earlier.
He could swear there were more rocks earlier.
He took one last look at the fire across the lake. It was time to get back to his own.
Max walked up to find things in much the same state as he'd left it. He could tell the parents were about ready to ship the kids off to bed; he had to get things back on track.
"Pete... Uncle Pete, have you decided what the last story is gonna be?"
"Oh yeah, the last story... wellll I dunno, I think your folks might be getting a little tired."
"Yeah honey, we've got a big day tomorrow."
"NO! Just one more. One more, before we go to bed -- you promised!"
Uncle Max got to his feet. The kid was right. If there was one thing Uncle Pete tried never, ever to do, was break a promise to the kids.
"Aaahhhh, we've got time for one more story. Let's see. We've done ghosts. We've given the boys their blood n' guts. What's left... wait. I know. I know."
Uncle Pete turned his gaze to a big, quiet house, not far from his own. Large and rustic, it loomed in silence on the edge of the lake. Not a light shone within it. No cars in the lot out front. If you weren't looking right at it, you might not even notice. It was almost like it wasn't there.
"A ways back, this area wasn't nearly as built-up. A few of these houses were out here. Actually, there was a bit more on the other side, but after a while everyone started grabbing up the lots a little closer to town, and suddenly everyone was over here. Now... this house here, it was a summer house, here as long as anything. People don't rent it so much anymore. One family used to rent it out a lot. Every summer, actually. But for some reason, they just... stopped."
by Mike Wasion
Maybe I'll get to keep one this time, it thought to itself dimly. Beads of sweat formed across it's massive temples, pounding like drums.
It could smell them.
The clouds began to roll in, and rain was a certainty, but it didn't matter. The day had been perfect. The weather had been perfect, held through the entire wedding. It didn't matter if a storm was coming. Everything had been right when it needed to be. It was still right. A few rain drops couldn't change that.
In fact, Mary Ann loved a good storm around these parts. She used to watch the thunder over the lake when her family vacationed here as a girl, nestled quietly in the upstairs picture window. She loved the lake so much. Felt connected to it. Always had. It was a part of her.
One summer vacation, when she was about twelve, she decided that she was going to get married at the lake, right on the waterfront. Of course at the time, she was heartsick over some lifeguard she'd seen buying soda down at the concession stand, but still. It was a thought that never left her. Like the lake itself, it was perfect. Someday...
Someday, had been today.
And with Zach... she still blushed just thinking about him. They had dated for two years, and she'd just never gotten over him. He made her feel like a little girl. Like the little girl down at the beach, too afraid to order a soda because she'd have to stand next to the lifeguard. Like the little girl who stared out at the darkened lake and watched the lightning hit the water. He was perfect. He made the world feel perfect. And now it was their world.
"Hey, doe-eyes. You can stop dreaming, you're living it now."
Sandy snapped Mary Ann out of her trance. It really was like a dream. But Sandy was right. 'Someday' was the rest of her life. She couldn't even believe it, still teared up thinking about it.
"Let's get inside, huh? You don't want your wedding dress to get rained on."
Mary Ann pulled her attention from Diamond Lake, and toward the heavens. Sandy was right, as she had a habit of being. Sure enough, a light bead of water dropped onto her arm.
"The others are already inside. Zach and Ronnie are getting you guys settled in, Rog & Mallory are raidin' the fridge. Let's get in there before a hurricane starts. 'Sides, a hurricane's about to start on our booze, we leave that bunch alone."
Mary Ann laughed. Same ol' Sandy. They'd been best friends since the summer she decided to get married here. She was the only person she'd told it to. More than a decade later, and they'd stuck together long enough for Sandy to see it with her own eyes, as the Maid of Honor. There had never been any other choice.
"You're right. This is one dress I can't afford to mess up."
"Well, not before tonight, anyway."
A low thunder clap in the distance, somewhere above the lake.
"Get your ass inside, woman! The husband awaits!"
Giggling like the schoolgirls they used to be, and in a way still very much were, the two ran inside. Sandy shut the door behind them just in time for another thunder clap to signal a break in the storm. A muffled rise in the wind and a sound like pebbles on the walkway told them they'd gotten inside not a second too soon.
The light shining in through the windows was dropping fast. But the old lamps about the large, open living room cast a warm glow, and an equally warm feeling over the old lodge. The fire Roger was just getting started perfected the scene.
"Hey hey, I got some food goin'... ah, some steaks in the icebox, and we got all those leftovers, so we're set. Steaks should be done in like a half an hour or less. 'Til then, we got that champagne to keep us company," Mallory yelled from the kitchen.
"Niiice! Hey, you guys wanna make some s'mores later?!" Roger cackled in satisfaction as his fire popped and snapped to life.
"Oh... we used to make s'mores in the fireplace when when I was a kid! I love s'mores!"
"Pretty sure Roger was kidding, Mary Ann."
"No, there's s'more stuff in the kitchen, where it always is, the same spot as when you would sleep over Sandy, remember? My parents never stopped buying it. I never let them."
Roger gave her a funny look. "Oookaay..."
"Well, my uncle's got this stuffed bear upstairs with all his hunting stuff, y'know all his trophies and stuff, and it used to scare me to death as a kid. He used to tell stories about how he had to fight one off with this homemade torch..."
"There are bears around here?!" Roger asked, startled.
Sandy looked at him like he just got off the bus. "Well I mean, I know there are bears around here, but around here here?"
"Yeah. In fact, the bear stuffed upstairs is one he got right around here. It's a hunting lodge, Roger."
"I thought it was a summer house!"
"Well, it was a summer house when we stayed here, a hunting lodge when my uncle stayed here... when we'd cross paths, sometimes it was both. But yes Rog, there are bears around here. That's what I was saying. My uncle would tell us these stories, and I'd get terrified, I'd think bears were gonna break in, or that old stuffed one would come downstairs and get me, so he told me about the torch he made, and told us that if we made s'mores the bears wouldn't come around, because they'd be too afraid. I poked the one upstairs with a hot s'more one time, and left a little burn mark. My dad was so mad, but my uncle just laughed. Said it was his fault."
"Um, I'm pretty sure Roger was kidding."
"I don't care! We're having s'mores tonight, dammit!"
Sandy rolled her eyes, finally breaking down into a chuckle. "Okay, okay, I'll go get the stuff!"
Sandy picked up the bottom of her dress, and shuffled into the kitchen.
Trophies lined the walls and perched on desks and end tables, a moose head above a seldom-used fireplace, a bobcat, a hawk, a bear standing menacingly in the corner. Whatever spot wasn't taken up by some fierce animal was filled by a huge fish, or the tools of the trade -- fishing poles, gaffes, bows, rifles -- topped off with some old leather furniture, a huge oak desk, and a liquor cabinet.
"Man, I can see why you like to hang out in here. This is the manliest thing I've ever seen!"
"It's crazy, isn't it? Mary Ann's uncle's a huge wilderness guy. I guess the hunting's awesome around here, he's been coming up here several times a year since they were kids. Sometimes he roughs it out there with just a tent and some gear, sometimes he makes his base right here. He's got stories that'll blow your mind, man. You feel like you're there."
Ronnie sat at the desk and put his feet up, grabbing a nearby bottle of brandy.
"Dude, I half expect the Playboy bunnies to come outta somewhere."
A figure appeared in the doorway.
"Uncle Don keeps those locked up when he's not around."
Mary Ann walked into the study, and Zach's eyes lit up, warmer than the old lamps and the fireplace combined.
"Hey hon", he said rushing over to his new bride, wrapping his arms around her. It was an effortless gesture. It was like watching two magnets.
She spotted Ronnie over Zach's shoulder and cracked a smile, cocking her eyebrow. "Ahem..."
He quickly pulled his feet off the desk, instinctively sliding the brandy to a far corner.
"Better," she purred.
"Me & Ron'll be right down, I was just showin' him around."
"Actually honey, I was going to look out at the lake for a minute. Just a minute. I thought you might like to come with me, then we can go down and have s'mores and stuff."
Ron stood up. "Uh, yeah man, I'm gonna go check on Sandy, make sure Rog hasn't fallen into the fireplace. I'll yell up when the steaks are done. No rush."
"Awright man, we'll be down in a bit."
Ron slugged Zach on the arm, smiled at Mary Ann, and headed out of the room.
The clouds that had been forming had become one giant cloud, near-black and impenetrable, weeping over the lake. Thunder rolled, and lightning reached down to touch the water in cold, white bursts.
Mary Ann looked out through the picture window in the master bedroom, like she'd done countless times as a child. Through the storm you could barely see across the lake; it was like it went on forever.
Zach stood behind his new bride, arms around her waist. The storm was pretty, but to him, it was just a storm, over a lake. He knew, however, what it meant to Mary Ann. To her, it was nothing short of magic. He could feel it. Watching it together, where she had the very first time, was her way of sharing something special. Almost like saying this means the world to me. Like you do. He tightened his hold, and kissed the nape of her neck.
"Hey honey... didn't you say this was your parents' room?"
"Mmm... yeah, when we'd come here when I was little, this is where they'd sleep. My room was right down the hall."
"Don't you think that's kinda... weird?"
Mary Ann turned turned to Zach, an impish look on her face. "Well, it's the master bedroom isn't it - master?"
"You are so bad."
The newlyweds looked up with a start, as a huge thunderclap sent veins of blinding white light out across the lake.
"Jesus, that was close!"
Mary Ann let out a shuddering laugh. "Yeah, they get pretty close sometimes, but they never leave the lake. I haven't seen so much as a tree get struck since we've been coming here."
As the illumination from the lightning faded, Mary Ann thought she saw something on the edge of the gravel parking lot out front. Movement in the edge of the trees. She strained to see what it could be. It looked big, but the dark washed back in, and she couldn't make it out. She couldn't see whatever it was anymore, could barely see the cars. Was it a... had it been a bear? No. Just the thought of it being a bear made her wonder if she'd seen anything at all. All this talk of bears - it did happen from time to time, but at most they would come in under cover of darkness, and check out the cars. If there were no candy wrappers or whatever in the lot, they would leave. Maybe Uncle Don had taught them a lesson.
Bear or no bear, with Zach she was safe. She sighed the most contented sigh.
Perfect. The world is perfect.
Ronnie lay spread out on the couch, his arm around Sandy. "So, are you guys gonna stay another night, or you bailin' tomorrow?"
"Ahhm....not sure. We might take the train out in the afternoon sometime, but we might stick around. I dunno. Don't wanna cut too deep into the honeymoon, man. Well actually, Mal kinda wanted to check the area out a bit, soooo we might bail from here, but kinda bum around the countryside for the weekend before heading back. Either way."
Mallory strolled out of the kitchen and sat across from Roger at the fireplace. Roger poked a sharp stick full of marshmallows into the fire.
"Yeah, I kind of wanted to check out the next town over. They still have, like, a Pirate Ship Pizza."
Ronnie cackled, amazed. "Seriously?! I heard there's a Biggy's Drive-In somewhere around here."
Roger shook his head, stoking up the fire. "Yeah dude, that's just what we need. Say Mal, wanna hit Biggy's with the Best Man over there?"
"Uh, thanks, I think I'll pass. Next you'll wanna go to the Bates Motel."
"Say Ron, how come you wound up the best man? Everyone knows I'm the best man around here, or anywhere else, for that matter."
"Oh, well, Zach said something about actually having to be a part of the male gender, sooo that excluded you, Rogina."
Sandy rolled her eyes at Mallory, and passed her the champaign.
Suddenly, a noise outside. Gravel sounds. Creaking. The cars?
"What the hell?!" Roger sat up in a snap. Everyone else froze in place.
"What was that? Is that... somebody?"
"I don't know, I mean Nick left a bag by accident, but I don't think he'd come all the way back out here to get it. I didn't even hear a car pull up."
"No. I mean, it sounded big, random. Is it like, an animal or something?"
Roger's eyes widened. "Holy shit, what if it's a bear?!"
"Dude, it's not a fuckin' bear, what the hell?"
"No seriously, Mary Ann said there were bears, right around here!"
"Dude, there's no fuckin' bears!"
"Well what the hell do you call that up in her uncle's room then?!"
"Shit. What if it is a bear?"
"Man, I'm glad we made those s'mores..."
"What the fuck was that?!"
Zach and Mary Ann looked at each other, eyes as big as saucers.
Thunder? Had the house been hit?
They whipped their heads toward the door in unison, only to see that it wasn't there. It lay splintered on the floor nearby. In the doorway, was something else.
Something Else let out a low growl.
It bent down to fit through the doorway, rain whipping at it's back. It couldn't quite fit, so it reached it's enormous clawed hands through, and pushed and tore until what remained would allow it's entrance. It stepped inside, stretching it's back-jointed legs until it was upright. It stood at least eight feet tall, maybe nine.
It wasn't a bear. It wasn't anything they'd ever seen. It wasn't anything anyone had ever seen. It had arms like a man's, though each was about the size of a man, miniature tree trunks with four-fingered hands. Each finger ended in a claw, like a cat's claw, but the size of a trailer hitch.
It was shaped almost like a bulldog, top-heavy and barely used to walking erect, with a wide torso that merged seamlessly into an enormous head that was mostly brow and mouth. It's eyes, so bloodshot they were almost fully red, rested in moist puffs of protruding flesh that stood in for eyelids, like some giant prize fighter who'd lost. It's eyebrows were like two fleshy turtle shells that just barely connected in the middle.
The mouth, easily the size of a grown man's chest, had an almost vaginal shape, a dripping, ovular thing that started between the eyebrows, rimmed with huge, triangular teeth like a shark's.
The entire thing was jaundiced, it's leathery skin drooping and wrinkled in some spots, pulled taut in others, exposing a frame that was lean, but well-muscled.
Moreover, it was decidedly male.
It's animal eyes darted between Sandy and Mallory. Mallory, terror-struck made a move for the stairs. The thing let out a hateful breath, and shifted it's body toward her, stepping with it's knuckles like a caveman.
Roger let out a panicked, primal scream and rushed the thing, fireplace poker in-hand.
The creature raised a hand and smacked Roger's chest with it's palm, stopping him mid-step like a Mack truck. In the same swift movement, it closed it's hand, bending Roger backwards. It crumpled him like a piece of paper, and tossed him aside, dead instantly.
Sandy pounded the thing desperately with her fists. The creature turned with a frustrated growl and backhanded her, sending her flying into a nearby wall. She slid to the floor, barely conscious, a pool of blood slowly forming around her.
Ron rushed to get to her, but the thing grabbed him by the ankle and tossed him like a rag doll. He yelped. Across the room, he smacked against the stone corner of the fireplace, breaking bones, rattling brain against skull. The creature was trying to throw him into the fireplace, but this would do.
It's distractions out of the way, the thing turned it's attentions once again to Mallory. She was frozen in place and the base of the stairs, unable to move. Paralyzed, her mind wiped clean from fear.
The creature picked her up with one hand, and pulled her close. Peering at her. It ran it's hooked claws through her long hair. Breathing.
Mallory wet herself.
It ran one claw gently down her forehead, and down her cheek. She shuddered, wide-eyed. It ran it's claw over her jaw, slowly down her neck.
With one quick snip, he plucked it on the edge of her jugular. A pencil-sized jet of blood shot out in a rainbow arch. She gasped.
It set her onto the floor to bleed out.
Just then, howling like a wounded animal, Ronnie ran up behind the creature, holding the stick of s'mores above his head. The creature spun around and Ronnie speared it right in the eye. It popped and hissed, gushing yellow fluid down it's misshapen face. It's eye socket was chunky, bubbling mess of ruined eyeball, and melted marshmallow.
Zach arrived at the banister just in time to see the creature raise Ronnie into it's jaws and bite down deep into it's torso, shattering his rib cage, spilling his organs into the thing's mouth. It chewed him like bubble gum, Zach catching a quick final glimpse at his face before it got caught on the longer teeth, tangled, and pulled off.
"Oh God, oh God, OH GODOHGOD!" Mary Ann screamed like a train whistle.
Zach started to run down the hallway. "Get upstairs!"
Mary Ann couldn't move her feet, Sandy was laying on the floor, not moving, a little white object in a big red puddle...
Mary Ann screamed again.
"Get the fuck upstairs! Get to the attic, GO!"
The thing pulled what was left of Ronnie free from it's teeth, and tossed it to the floor. Ronnie's legs still kicked, his shiny black shoes thudding against the floor. It looked up and spotted Mary Ann. Slowly, it moved for the stairs. It would probably break right through if it tried to climb them. But it didn't matter. It would get up somehow.
It let out a low growl...
"Get the fuck away from her!
Zach reappeared at the banister, a camouflaged, pump-action shotgun in his hands. Wasting not a second, he leveled a shot off the side, right into the creature's forehead. The creature howled, began to move; Zach wouldn't let it. He pumped, and let off another shot at the thing's massive head. It's forehead caved in.
Zach ran past Mary Ann, putting himself between her and whatever it was that was howling in agony downstairs.
He fired another round at the creature, winging it in the shoulder. He couldn't afford to waste a single shot. He ran to the base of the stairs and fired a volley of shots at the monstrosity, pumping and blasting as fast as he could, until there were no rounds left. Desperately, he fumbled for more, trying to remember what Don had taught him about loading the damned thing.
The creature's body had been tough, absorbing blast after blast with little more than pock marks. But it's head... there was nothing left of it's head above the jaw. It was like the thing had no skull. It stumbled blindly about the living room, tripping over furniture and bodies, it's long, wet tongue lapping at nothing. It was slowing down, thick, pus-colored blood running from it's open throat. It was bleeding to death. Hopefully.
It shuffled past an old, stained mirror - and stopped dead in it's tracks.
Woozily, it turned to the mirror, seeming to 'look' into it. It had no eyes, had no head, but it could see what was waiting for him there. Something the others couldn't.
Standing within the mirror was a woman in a pretty, blue dress. Dark stains rimmed the color, and streaks ran all the way down the front. Like the thing, the woman had no head; nothing above her pretty bottom lip, which she licked as though something sweet were on it.
She pointed a finger, and began to laugh. Somehow, though it's rotted, blood-caked stump of a neck, it laughed.
What's good for the gander..., she hissed into it's nonexistent ears.
The creature began to shake, trying desperately to claw at a head which was no longer there, to shred eardrums which were long gone.
Something in it's stomach swelled.
It's chest puffed out, like something was burrowing through it. It's bull neck bloated, and the sickening greenish blood squirted out past the flopping jaw like something was pushing it out. A bulbous, blood-red object began to push itself up out of the hole, and for a moment it looked like the creature might be vomiting it's organs.
Slowly, the red mass began to split, unfold... it blossomed like a flower into a hand. It's fingers were clawless, but pointed, like bony razor-sharp spikes. Pure, undiluted hate manifest, so pure it was almost poisonous just to see it.
Without warning, the beet-red arm it was attached to vomited forth like a battering ram and obliterated the mirror.
Zach re-learned everything he knew about loading that particular gun, quick. This had to stop before it went any further.
He raised the shotgun to finish the horror of, when the sickening red arm whirled around and raked him hard across the chest.
He fell back, stunned, and unloaded a shot into it's blood-colored palm. The hand recoiled back into the throat like a frightened animal.
His chest felt like fire. And it was spreading. The pain was coursing through his entire body. His muscles ached, his bones hurt... it felt like his blood had been replaced with rubbing alcohol. And it was making him angry. Anger, as red and hot as his ragged chest, as the claws that slashed it. Clouding his vision. Replacing everything. Rage that pushed him past the point of collapse. Pushed him somewhere else.
Letting out a guttural scream, Zach charged the thing, and shoved the barrel of the shotgun right down it's throat, letting off a round into it's belly. He pumped the up-ended barrel, and fired again. And again. And again.
The creature staggered backward and fell like a redwood. It convulsed wildly, and let off one final, choked, roar of hatred before it finally stopped living.
It began to drip, until it's flesh slid off it's bones like melted butter, it's bones followed suit, and nothing was left but a profane puddle.
Breaking free of her shock, Mary Ann ran down the stairs. She knelt down before Sandy's prone body. To her shock, she saw that tiny breaths escaped her lips. Sandy was alive.
"Oh God, Zach... she's alive..."
In all the horror that surrounded her, horror that she would never recover from, never comprehend, was only just starting to even process the presence of, she had been spared this one little thing. Her best friend was alive. Because of him. Her perfect one.
He was no longer bleeding.
"Zach... you saved her... that thing, it would have... you saved me..."
She broke down, sobbing uncontrollably. Zach stumbled over to the puddle that had been the monstrosity. He picked up the shotgun. It was covered with... something... but it probably still worked.
He walked over to the two girls.
"You saved us..."
She turned to look at Zach. At her husband.
"I love you so, so much..."
Eyes she didn't recognize stared back at her.
Zach raised the gun, and shot her in the chest.
The old cottage was set back in the trees, but it faced the lake. You could still get a pretty clear look. For that, she was thankful.
It had been a two-story once, small with a pretty low ceiling, but he had torn down the second floor so he could so he could stand up. Torn down one of the walls so he could get in and out. Old dead vines covered the hole like a curtain.
Girls lined the walls, and the shelves, and the floor. He sat some around the table, to keep her company when he was out. The girls on the shelves, they were mostly the same girls on the walls, everything above the bottom lip. At first he tried to keep them lined up in the order he caught them, but now he just sort of put them wherever. He used to comb their hair sometimes too. Well, he still did, just not with the brush. He couldn't hold that anymore.
The girls on the walls, he did his best to keep their dresses on, or their rings failing that.
These were the girls he'd gotten mad at, couldn't control himself around. He got to have those ones, but they wouldn't bring them back for him to play with. They stayed asleep.
The girls on the floor -- the ones in the hay, like Sandy and Mallory -- those are the ones they keep, Krollock or the Succubus. He looked over them until the springtime for Krollock and his bag man, or until they had the whore's babies... kept them in a trough for her, like a big wooden box full of angry tongues, and he fed them to make sure they didn't eat their mothers. Everyone in the cottage was his responsibility. He was their guardian.
But when he did good, when he did his job and brought them their quarry, and kept their pieces together long enough for them to do what they would, sometimes they would give him a reward.
Sometimes, they would wake someone up for him to play with.
Mary Ann come to, again at the big wooden table.
She couldn't get up from the chair. Though she didn't know why; she wanted to more than anything, but she just couldn't get up.
Most of the other girls sitting at the table were little more than skeletons. She hated looking at them, but she was there alone for so long sometimes, that sometimes she found herself talking to them. When she did, it made her cry. She couldn't even bare to look at the rest of them, littering the old shack.
The flies... there were always so many. And they wouldn't leave her alone. God, how she hated them.
The only thing that got her through it, the only thing that helped her keep what little sanity she had left until they let her sleep again, was the lake. She could see it, through some spots in the boarded-up windows. She tried to focus on it, as best she could, as long as she could, until they let her go. But they would always bring her back.
She heard the familiar sound of heavy footsteps in the woods, and her heart died.
He was back.
The vines parted, and the Beast walked in. Another girl clutched in his clawed hand. Mary Ann shut her eyes, until she heard the sound. It would either be a thumping around the wall, or crackling in the hay.
Tonight it was hay.
She waited for the sounds to stop, then opened her eyes. She wanted to keep them shut, but if he noticed, would get mad.
He walked over to her, breathing heavily, but quietly.
He began to run his claws through her hair. Slowly. He never did it quick.
Tears welled up in her eyes. Sometimes she could look away, as long as she kept her eyes open. She looked away from him, looked down... and saw her wedding dress.
She screamed. She couldn't help it. She could tell he was getting angry, but it didn't matter. This was Hell.
Growling, The Beast grabbed her hair, and pulled.
The old, bloodless wound separated.
The top of Mary Ann's head came off, just above the jaw. It dangled by the hair from the thing's claws for a moment.
The screaming stopped. Her eyes glazed over, and she slept again.
One of the flies buzzing around Mary Ann's neck landed briefly on the wedding ring buried in the puffy flesh of the Beast's finger, before flying off to inspect the new arrival.
The creature sighed. He would try again later.