The house was empty. Marty Mayors walked through the hallway towards the growling sound that was coming from the back yard. He reached the balcony and slid the screen door open. The expanse behind the house was more a forest than a back yard. At the edge of the yard where the trees started, the source of the growling was waiting.
Dusk was stuck in the air. The sun refused to let the night take over. Marty could make out the shape of a small dog right where the woods began. He walked down the wooden balcony stairs and onto the grass. The growling got louder as he approached. Something in his gut told him this was wrong. Why was he going towards the sound? Why was he walking into the grip of the oncoming night? He passed through the back yard and stopped just short of the tree line. The creature wasn’t a dog. It was a fox. And it wasn’t of this world.
Its fur was grey and black. Its eyes were nothing. Not dark, not black, but the essence of void. The fox bared its teeth at him and growled hard. He was stuck looking at its horrible teeth and nothing eyes. Then he saw something walk up next to it. He could only see the creature’s feet and legs. They looked almost human but not quite. The feet were overgrown with blue veins and had broken bones sticking out of their skin. The bones jutted out in all directions and made the feet look more like bear traps than appendages. Another sound joined the growling fox. This one sounded like a long drawn out choke. Like someone was asphyxiating. It was a dying sound. It continued on and turned into a higher pitched, screeching sound. Marty tried to look up at the thing that was standing in front of him. He couldn’t. Some force was keeping his head down. His eyes only able to see the ground in front of him, the fox, and the box of sharp objects that he believed to be feet. The growling mixed in with the choking screech and kept getting louder. They filled his ears. The sounds worked their way through his veins and pushed down through his blood like heroin until they reached his heart. Then he felt like his heart was being stabbed. He was dying now. His body rocked up into the air and he woke.
Marty landed from his short lived hop. Uncle Micah was driving him home from school. The winding roads of the isle offered no easy journeys.
“Sorry man. Didn’t mean to wake you up. You know how these roads are though,” Micah said.
It had all been a dream. A nightmare. Marty had been having these nightmares more and more. Ever since he had moved into his uncle’s house.
“It’s fine. How long until we get home?” He asked.
“You don’t know where we are?”
“I still can’t tell. It all looks the same around here. Just a lot of trees.”
“We are almost home. You should go for a walk. The woods aren’t dangerous if you go during the day and stay on the trails. It will do you more good than watching those cartoons.” Micah said.
“I like my cartoons.”
Well you’re going to ruin your eyes just like your father and I did. Bad eye sight already runs in the family. No reason to add to the problem.”
Marty didn’t respond. He was stuck watching the trees. He sure as hell didn’t want to go into the woods behind the house. Even if he stayed on the trails he didn’t think anything good could be out there. Plus his father was still stuck in the house. His recovery was moving along but he had a ways to go. His breakdown in California had left him bed ridden and unable to work. It had forced them to move back to Washington without any money and even less possessions. They had started a new and were living with the only person who would take them in. Ryan and Micah Mayors had always been close. They played all the same sports growing up. They moved across the country together. They both loved and hated their parents with the same ferocious passion. So when Ryan called and needed a place to come home to, Micah of course said yes. He knew it would piss their parents off but he did it anyways. You didn’t abandon your family. Especially not your brother.
Micah followed the last curve before his house. It was right after the roads bend and was easy to miss. Most people probably went by it without even knowing it was there. Cradle Isle wasn’t a big place but it was big enough. While some houses were close, others were spread out enough that you wouldn’t call the next person over your neighbor. Micah pulled into his drive way. He got out of the truck and opened the metal gate. Marty just watched as Micah got back in the truck and drove onto the property. The house was sprawling. It was far too expensive for Micah or Ryan. Their parents had bought the house to one day be a summer home. Micah had found himself out of a job though and they offered for him to stay rent free. As long as he did upkeep of course. What they didn’t offer was for Ryan and Marty to stay. Micah had been fighting with them over the phone for weeks. He was sure they would be calling again to go twelve rounds with him. He put the truck in park under the carport. Marty got out of the truck and headed from the door.
Marty looked back at his uncle. He knew what he had forgotten. He walked up to Micah and gave him a hug. His father never hugged him. He didn’t find that weird. He never saw his father hug anyone. He was more of a handshake only guy. Micah expected a hug through. He was the emotional one. At least that’s how his dad had put it. Micah released him and patted him on the back.
“Let’s see what your father’s up to.”
They walked into the house. The living room was wide and open. It doubled as a dining room. The hallways leading out of it and to the bedrooms formed a U and ended up connecting into the opposite side of the living room. Next to the kitchen was the sliding glass door that lead to the balcony, and to the back yard. Marty ignored the sliding glass door and ran down the hallway towards his dad’s room. He didn’t knock. He turned the knob and pushed the door open. His father was in bed, the TV was showing some old horror movie. His dad loved the old spooky films. Marty loved them also. They had spent countless nights watching scary movies together. Sometimes his dad took it too far and would hide under the bed and wait for Marty to come in. Marty would always get into bed and get ready to watch the movie, assuming his father was just in the bathroom or something. Then his dad would sneak out from under the bed and would jump up from the beds horizon with a hockey mask on, scaring the shit out of Marty. That was fun for Ryan Mayors. Marty hated him only for a moment and then would start laughing. It was one of their things.
“Hey dad. What ya watching?” Marty asked.
“The one with the killer who appears in peoples dreams,” Ryan responded.
Marty had already had his fill of scary dreams today. He wasn’t interested in going down that road again.
“Haven’t you seen that one enough?”
“Never. How was school?”
“It’s school. It’s always shitty. Just gotta get through it,” Ryan said.
“I just wish it wasn’t so far away. I miss my show every day because it takes so long to get home.”
“Well there’s only one school in the area. Everyone that lives on the Isle has to drive a ways to get to it. You always have Saturday morning cartoons.”
Ryan got up out of bed. The action had once caused him pain. Now it was normal again. He was allowed to do normal tasks around the house. Just nothing stressful. Also no coffee. His heart didn’t need to be pushed. Caffeine was too much for him. That’s what the doctor had told him. Normally he would have told the doctor to fuck off, but when you find yourself unable to move or function, stuck in a state with no family or friends, that’s usually a sign that things need to change. So no coffee. Stress was a different case though. Ryan’s parents had been barking up Micah’s tree since they moved in. They wanted him out. Marty could stay of course, but Ryan had to fend for himself. Micah had been holding them off for weeks but it wouldn’t last forever. Eventually they would kick them out. It was their house after all and they had a history of calling the cops on their own kids. Ryan and Micah had both experienced that.
Ryan and Marty walked into the living room. Micah was talking on his cell phone in the garage. He was trying to hide the conversation from Marty. He was obviously talking to his parents.
“Marty. Go out on the deck for a second. I’m going to see what’s going on.”
That was something Marty didn’t want to do. It was the last thing he wanted to do. But telling his father no never ended well. He lost that battle ten out of ten times. The dream was scary, but his father would be scarier. Marty slid the door open. The screen door on the other side of it was already open. He walked out onto the deck and closed the door behind him. His father went straight for the garage. He had his “NOT TAKING ANY SHIT” face on. He was ready for battle with his parents. The balcony, or deck, or whatever you wanted to call it, was very large. It was larger than some of the apartments Marty had lived in with his father. He walked to the end of it and leaned up against the wooden railing. The woods were there to greet him. No sign of the fox or its horrifying owner. He stood there watching the trees. Smelling the rain. Breathing in the isle. Then he heard something. Someone was coming up the stairs from the yard. They were moving slow. Each board of the wooden steps creaked. He turned around to see who was coming up behind him. The steps continued, slow and ominous. Then Carol Mayors, Micah’s wife, peeked out over the wooden deck and made her way to the top of the stairs. Her hair was grey, but she wasn’t as old as Ryan or Micah. Ryan told Marty that she had issues. She was supposed to be taking medicine to help her. He didn’t know if she was though. Marty didn’t fully understand what was wrong with her. She was just off. Scared. Untrusting.
“Marty. Can you smell it too?” Carol asked.
“Something is in the air. Like poison.
Carol walked right up to Marty. She was an inch from his face with her hands on his shoulders. She was whispering into his ear like someone was hiding in plain sight listening in on their conversation.
“It smells like gas. Something is in the air. It’s going to make us sick.”
“Carol!” Micah said
Micah was in the doorway. His eyes weren’t happen. Carol looked back at him with a worried look. Like a kid who got caught doing something they shouldn’t be.
“Come inside Carol.”
Carol let Marty go. She started walking towards Micah and then turned back to Marty.
“There’s something in the woods. I hear it late at night,” Carol said.
She walked past Micah and into the house. Marty turned back to the woods and listened. He didn’t want to hear the growling. But he needed to know if it was there. He didn’t hear anything. It was light out though. In his dreams the fox didn’t come out until dusk.
“Marty. This weekend isn’t a good time to go out on the trails. There’s a storm coming in. the news say it might be a bad one. We are probably gonna be stuck inside all weekend.”
Marty was okay with that. In his dreams bad things only happened out in the woods. Never inside. The house was safe. He turned away from the woods and walked into the house with Micah.