By Steve Stred
I killed my brother for the first time when he was four.
It told me I had to do it.
You see, we lived on a farm out in the middle of nowhere. Nice two-storey house painted white. Cosy deck that led out to a dusty driveway. It was what you’d picture a farm to look like. Red barn. Fields and fields of corn and grain. We even had horses and cows and occasionally pigs. Our chicken coop was around back, my job was to collect the eggs.
The fall of 1971 was like no other.
First, the snow came early. Second, the thing below my bed started to stroke my feet each night. Third, I killed my brother for the first time. He was only four.
I know Seth loved me, being his big brother, but I was only eight and I didn’t want to be taken.
After waking up on the morning of October 15th we found the ground covered in a thin layer of snow. Both of us were so excited, we immediately threw on our jackets and shoes, not taking the time to even search for our winter clothes.
We rushed outside, the crisp air forcing our already reddening hands into our pockets. We slushed around, pretending to skate on the white powder, smiles as wide as our anatomy would allow.
Seth was so wrapped up in his enthusiasm that he spun around fast, his feet slipping out from below him and he fell to the ground with a giggle and a thud.
I skated over to him, helping him up while wiping the snow that clung to him off. We laughed and howled, moving further away from the house.
It wasn’t until we’d moved by the red barn and were playing near the large, round hay bales out in the field that I spotted an extra set of tracks in the snow.
“What’s that?” Seth asked me, as I tried to follow where the tracks led, travelling off into the field.
“Someone was out here,” I replied.
“Don’t think so.”
“Should we follow them?”
“Better not. Might be a stranger or a hippy.”
Seth nodded, not sure what the second word was. But I did. My dad had long warned mom and me of the bra-burners and joint smokers who wanted to bring the country down with them.
We turned to head back to the house, my stomach reminding me that we’d skipped breakfast, when a noise caught my attention. I looked back towards the field, finding something odd at the nearest bale of hay. I took a step towards it when I saw movement and realized that it was someone or rather, something’s fingers rhythmically moving at the side of the hay, as though impatiently tapping its fingers.
“Seth, go. Go now, run! Run to the house!”
I pushed my brother ahead as the hand began to come around the bale, frantically searching to grab onto something with the darkened nails that grew haggardly from the ends.
We rushed to the house, our little legs carrying us away from the thing in the field as fast as they could. Our mother was startled when we burst into the kitchen, asking us what was wrong. She summoned our father when we told her something had chased us. He went looking and when he returned told our mother that he had found other tracks that had come back towards the house before turning away and disappearing back into the fields.
Being young, we’d long forgot about the thing in the field by that night.
A farmhouse at night is a scary place. The house creaks and groans as it settles from a long day of being a home for a family.
I had grown accustomed to the normal noises you’d hear as I drifted off to sleep each night. The water pipes, the floors, the stairs as father made his way from reading in front of the fire to the bedroom.
Sometime after I’d fallen asleep a new noise introduced itself to the nightly symphony.
It shook me from the dream I was having, so pervasive the sound was. At first, I thought it was mother slapping father’s wet jeans on the washing machine. A splattering sound. When I felt something pressing under me from below my mattress, I knew it wasn’t mother but the thing that had been out in the field.
I frantically tried to tuck my blankets around my feet, foolishly believing that this would prevent the thing from coming out from under the bed.
The wet noise stopped when I pulled my legs back. I moved as far away from the end of the bed as I could, wishing that I’d ran screaming from the room when I first heard the noise.
Thinking about screaming made my brain tell me to stay quiet. Maybe if I stayed motionless it would simply move on.
That thought flew from my young head as soon as the decaying fingers danced over the edge of the bed. What followed was the worst thing I’ve ever seen. Dirt matted hair caked with blood and gore sat on top of a rotting face. The things eyes were squeezed shut, black mold growing over the eyelids, keeping them closed.
No nose existed, the cartilage long ago having been eaten away. Cracked lips outlined yellow, plaque covered teeth. The leech-like tongue moving over the ends of the teeth as it pulled itself up to a sitting position.
“Boy, may I have a word?” It asked, its voice surprisingly musical.
I shook my head frantically, wanting this creature to leave.
Instead, it leaned forward so that our cheeks touched, and it whispered into my ear just what I needed to do.
I wasn’t myself for the next few days.
Seth wanted to play, which I tried, but he knew something was wrong.
My mother and father didn’t pay much attention to it, both were so busy preparing the farm for winter that neither said much as the weekend approached.
Each night I cried myself to sleep, only to wake when the thing’s fingers found my feet.
When Friday came, I was shaking, I was so scared.
The thing had said that dusk was when I needed to do it.
After dinner, I asked mother if me and Seth could play outside for a few minutes. She looked outside, her mind determining if it was too dark for her boys to play, but then nodded.
“A few minutes. It’s getting dark.”
A few minutes was all I would need.
I let Seth run ahead before me, the remnants of that first snow now melting away. The muddy mess that was left in its place made for difficulties running, but Seth did his best to sprint away, wanting to say he was faster than his older brother.
I trotted along, then sped up as we got closer to the hay.
When I saw the fingers of the creature indicate where it was hidden with a little wave, I pulled the knife from my pocket.
Seth’s eyes went wide seeing my deranged face, but before he could scream or run, I shoved the knife into his neck and turned and ran.
I heard his choking and gagging before a wet slapping sound silenced him.
My father found me a few hours later, crying behind the barn. They’d looked everywhere for us after we didn’t return when they called. I explained how something had chased us and I’d ran, thinking Seth had returned to the house. My father shook his head, the tears telling me they’d found his body.
I killed my brother for the first time when he was four.
It told me I had to do it.
After that night no noises came from under my bed, no fingers found the soles of my feet.
It wasn’t until five years later that I saw Seth again.
But maybe that’s a story for another time?
The fall of 1976 was a glorious time to be alive.
I’d turned thirteen as summer wound its way to an end. My parents reluctantly let me get a stereo and with the Thin Lizzy 8 track jammed in, I would dance in my room most nights. I’d hum along to ‘Jailbreak’ not completely confident in my knowledge of the words.
My mother and father never fully returned to the same people they were before Seth had been taken. I missed him most days, but frankly, I’d kind of moved on, happier now that I was still alive.
I tried to stay out of their way, but at the beginning it was impossible. Cops came, questions were asked and everything was a blur. I had made a decision and I’d need to live with it.
Now, a thirteen-year-old with time on his hands, I began exploring more of the land that surrounded the farm. It didn’t really dawn on me that it’d been five years until one night I’d returned from a walk and found my parents at the kitchen table. They had old photo albums opened before them and mom was busy wiping away tears with her handkerchief.
“Everything ok?” I asked, kicking my boots off and walking to the table.
“Just remembering Seth. Been five years already,” my dad said. His eyes were red but he was steadfast in refusing to cry in front of me.
“Five already. Wow. Seems so long again.”
“Not for me, for us,” my mom snapped, leaving the table. My dad and I sat silently until we heard their bedroom door slam.
“I’m sorry, dad. I didn’t think.”
He waved his hand, brushing it away. I hadn’t meant to be disrespectful or upset my mom, but figured it’d be best if I went to my room.
Closing the door, I stared at the end of the bed, that nightmarish time flooding back.
I turned off the light and tucked myself into bed. I deserved to not eat dinner that night or any night after for that matter.
Sleep came quickly, the morning arriving in the blink of an eye.
I found mom in the kitchen the next morning. I approached slowly, gave her a hug and a kiss on the head and whispered ‘sorry’ in her ear. She gave me a hug back and smiled, before continuing about her morning.
I made some toast and then let her know I was going to go do my chores and then spend the day outside. The weather had been great lately, so I wanted to make the most of my time before it became too cold and the snow arrived.
Once I’d finished my chores, I waved at dad who was working on a tractor and headed to the far end of the north field. I’d been meaning to spend some time there earlier in the year but just never got around to it. Now, hopping over the wooden fence, I looked back and was surprised at how far away the farmhouse actually was.
I made my way down a natural path, snaking and winding through the trees that still stood, and found soon I had arrived at the edge of a creek. I remember my dad saying he used to fish up in this area when he was my age, but I didn’t realize it was this close.
If I’d have known this place existed I’d have spent every day here during the summer, splashing and cooling off.
I took some time to investigate the shoreline, searching for any old junk left behind that my dad might have discarded but found nothing. No fishing poles or chairs. I figured it was getting close to lunchtime now having been walking for a bit and should head back. I knew I’d be visiting the creek again next year.
But after only a few steps towards home, I heard a splash, a giggle and the sound of my dead brother call my name, laughing as if he wanted me to play.
Turning, there he was, standing waist-deep in the creek. He waved, laughed again and motioned for me to come towards him.
I took one step. Then a second. A third.
Seth splashed water towards me with both hands, his face a ball of sunshine in the gloom of the forest.
It was during his third attempt to splash me that the mirage of his appearance flickered for a brief moment. The sun reflected just perfectly through the water as it arced towards me and I saw not Seth but the thing that had taken him five years ago. The black-mold covered eyes. The long, thin fingers with the sharp nails growing out of the end. Its body had changed ever so slightly, dark fur growing over the entirety.
I wanted to scream.
Instead, another thought popped into my head, a thought that I used to propel myself forward.
So, I did. I never looked back, never looked to see if Seth was still there or the cackling howl of laughter I heard fading behind me was in fact from that monster.
I rushed into the farmhouse, up into my room and slammed the door shut.
I didn’t believe I was truly safe in my room but I had no other plan that seemed better.
When the weekend arrived, I’d decided to face my fears head-on and go back to the creek. I asked my dad if I could take the .22 and some bullets and go hunt grouse. He thought that was an excellent idea, not knowing that I was hoping to take down a beast, not a bird.
I kept the .22 cracked open until I hopped over the fence, then inserted two bullets, one in each chamber and snapped it shut.
Arriving at the spot near the creek I was pleased to find the area deserted, even if slightly annoyed that I wouldn’t be able to open fire.
I found a broken tree that had toppled over in some long-forgotten windstorm and took a seat. I crossed my left leg over my right and settled the rifle in my lap. I should’ve known better than to relax as shortly my eyes grew heavy, my vision blurred and within a matter of minutes, I was sleeping where I’d sat.
The delicate caress of razor-sharp talons rustled me from my slumber.
My eyes snapped open and I was looking into the coal-black decay of the creatures face.
I fumbled the gun, it dropped from my hands to the dirt beside a tree. I tumbled over backwards, more in an attempt to put space between me and the thing than a clumsy manoeuvre.
The thing hissed and leapt onto the tree, looking down upon my cowering self with amusement.
Then it jumped.
While in the air, it transformed, landing beside me not as the hideous creature but as Seth.
My brother smiled and kneeled beside me, his teeth rotten and emitting a stench that turned my stomach.
“Brother, I’ve missed you,” Seth said, in a voice half his, half the creatures.
I rolled to my left, found the .22 and popped off two shots between Seth’s eyes before I could even fully comprehend what I’d done.
My brother fell to his knees, smile disappearing. The body fell forward landing with a thud in the mud by the base of the tree.
My dad found me a few hours later. The sounds of my screaming had led him to my location.
I explained what happened while I tried to wipe away the tears and the snot that just kept pouring from my eyes and nose.
He listened, but if he believed me, I couldn’t tell.
When he finally picked me up and carried me home, I looked back over his shoulders, finding no sign of my brother or the creature.
I slept for a few days, finally getting my energy back. My parents didn’t ask me any more questions or details about what had happened out by the creek.
As the fall of 1976 turned into the winter, I soon forgot about what had occurred, the mind of a youth able to put traumatic events behind it.
But things wouldn’t be all well for long.
No, three years later, Seth would visit me again.
I’d just turned sixteen when I saw him once more.
But once again, I think that’s a story for a different time and a different place.
The summer of 1979 hadn’t gone how I’d pictured it.
After the events three years ago, I managed to put it out of my head, but I refused to return to the creek. My parents spiralled a bit further; depression, despair.
The farm started to become run down, so I picked up the slack, putting school aside and almost overnight was a full-time employee. I did what I could and helped with where my dad no longer was.
Slowly, through all of this, I became friends with the son of one of our feed supplies. Derek was a few years older than me, but it was nice to chat with a boy close to my age when they’d come each week. They’d drop off chicken feed as well as anything else we’d ordered that week.
Along the way, Derek started to come visit on the weekends. He lived in the town nearby but hadn’t spent much time in the wilderness. We’d go hiking or kick an old soccer ball he would bring. It was Derek who first introduced me to alcohol, having swiped a few cans of beer from his dad.
By the time the summer of ’79 arrived, he had a fake ID that let him buy beer for us each weekend and we’d get drunk and rip around in his beat up pickup truck. At the end of July, he picked me up and we drove into town, specifically to buy the AC/DC album ‘Highway to Hell.’ I’d heard some AC/DC but this album put them over the top for me.
Derek cranked the tunes, I cracked some suds and the nineteen-year-old and the sixteen-year-old bombed up and down the dirt roads around town, looking for trouble but never really finding any.
My parents were dead set against me getting my license. My dad already let me drive the farm truck and the farm equipment during the day, but they wouldn’t let me get my real license. Part of me believed it was because they didn’t want to open the door to the possibility of me leaving one day. One son was already gone forever, if the second left they’d be done for.
So, it was Derek who let me have a turn each night. He’d drive out of town, then pull over. I’d hop behind the wheel and slam the gas pedal each time, trying to spill Derek’s beer on his lap.
I lived for these moments.
During the day I’d bust my hump helping at the farm. Each night, I’d go to sleep exhausted and sore.
But the weekend would arrive and I’d hear Derek’s truck rattling down the driveway and the hardships of the previous week all disappeared.
I’d yell to my parents that I was heading out and off I’d go, laughing before I even got in the truck.
It was a normal weekend when Derek disappeared.
We were about twenty miles north of town, listening to some hard rock. Derek had guided the truck up a rough back road, into a clearing. He parked it and we piled into the box of the truck, popping open the two folding chairs that we kept there for just such an occasion.
He tossed me a beer and we sat in the chairs, feet propped on the box of the truck and sipped the warm drink.
“Gotta piss,” he said to me at one point, tossing the crushed empty towards me as he leaped over the side. He stumbled and I laughed. He gave me the middle finger and trudged into the deep weeds and bushes that lined the clearing.
I zoned out, watching the sun slink lower towards the horizon, when it dawned on me that Derek hadn’t returned yet.
“You get lost?” I hollered out.
Hearing no reply, I stood, searching the edge of the clearing for any sign of his mop of brown hair.
Finding none, I called his name again. This time a rustle in the bushes replied, the branches waving around as though Derek was making his way back to the truck.
When I saw the long, skinny fingers appear and push back the branches, I didn’t even hesitate. I jumped out of the box of the truck, got behind the wheel and turned the key. When the engine came to life, I slammed my foot down as hard as I could and didn’t look back.
I knew the thing that had taken Seth had also taken Derek. I also knew I was in deep shit. I was the last person to see Derek alive. I was sixteen, driving his truck and I had been drinking.
But I didn’t care. I drove straight into town and made a bee-line to the police station.
At first they didn’t believe the drunken ramblings of a teenager, but I finally convinced the one officer that they needed to come look for Derek.
I ran back outside, but before I could get in the truck, he hollered that I wasn’t going to be driving drunk and to get in the back of his cruiser.
I did my best to direct him to where we’d parked. It was tough as daylight was fading and soon the night would reclaim its hold on all details visible to the eye.
The officer turned his spotlight on as we slowly bounced and rocked up the forgotten road. When we came to the third clearing, the reflection of a discarded beer can got our attention and he pulled the car to a stop.
“Stay here,” he said, making his way to where I said Derek had went to relieve his bladder.
The air crackled with anticipation. I expected to hear the officer scream as his head was torn off, but after a few minutes, he walked back over, flashlight darting all around the clearing as he went.
“You see any animals?” he asked, sliding back into the driver’s seat.
“A lot of odd tracks over there. I can see where your friend stopped to piss. The ground was soft enough that his footprints are pretty visible. There’s a lot of animal tracks around it though. I’ll get the dogs out tomorrow and we’ll take a look. My guess,” he paused, finding my eyes in the rearview mirror before continuing, “Bear got him. I’m sorry to say that. I’ll take you home and contact his parents.”
Arriving back at the farm in a police cruiser was not an ideal moment, but the officer filled in my parents. My mom gave me a hug and told me go inside while they spoke more with the officer.
They never asked me much about what happened with Derek. They had too much darkness already to open another door leading to misery.
I never heard if the police went out to search for Derek. I doubted they did.
I decided to search for him on my own. I would take the farm truck when I could and return to the clearing every chance I had, but as the weeks passed, the tracks faded.
At the start of December that year, I went out to the clearing, finding the first snowfall in the air as I drove. The light flakes twinkled and danced as they travelled down to the ground from the clouds above. As I turned up the old road, I spotted something running away in the distance and at first I assumed it was a deer. I steered the truck through the slippery muck, arriving at the clearing for what would most likely be the final search until spring. The snow had increased as I’d drove, the flakes growing thicker and coming down faster.
Stepping out of the truck, the cold air caught me off guard, sending a full-length shiver through my body.
Before I could even take a step towards where Derek had walked into the trees, something moved off to my left. Turning, I saw it wasn’t a deer this time, but my deceased brother Seth running and jumping through the snow.
“Come play!” he cheered as he fell to the ground and started to make snow angels.
I found I was crying.
People always said bad things happen in three.
Never again, I thought. Never again would I allow the dark creature to visit me and force me to kill my brother.
“Goodbye Seth,” I called out, waving at him as I returned to the truck and started to drive away.
I would return to the farm, pack my bags and go as far away from this wretched place as I could.
But it was not to be.
No sooner had I started to descend through the snow on this poor excuse for a road did I sense someone was sitting beside me.
Looking over, Seth was sitting in the middle seat smiling up at me, while on his right sat Derek.
My brain turned to mush as I let out a cataclysmic wail, the pitch enough to crack the glass on the mirrors and create a spider web across the windshield.
My foot was controlled by forces beyond my own, the gas pedal pressing ever closer to the floor.
The truck bounced and shook as it sped up, hurtling faster and faster down the road.
I kept yelling, while now Seth and Derek joined in, the three of us forming a demonic symphony.
I took one last look over, watching as my brother and friend flickered, in their place sat the black mold encrusted thing that had kept coming back for me.
It laughed maniacally staring straight ahead before looking over and smiling as Seth had.
“Tree,” it spoke, forcing my eyes back to the front, where through the cracks and the snow I saw a large birch tree only feet away.
I never felt the impact nor the sensation of being ejected through the glass.
I flew through the air long enough to think of all the good times with Seth, with mom and dad. Before I landed in a mess of torn skin and broken bones, I was able to spot the beast dancing on the crumpled hood of the truck.
Then all went black and the snow went red.
The police would find the truck and the remains of the driver who’d been ejected from the cab.
Three sets of footprints were found around the deceased.
A child’s, a man’s and something unidentifiable. Those same tracks were found on the hood of the crushed truck.
The police refused to put that in the official report, instead stating the cause of the crash was speed, conditions and alcohol.
Steve Stred writes dark, bleak fiction.
Steve is the author of a number of novels, novellas and collections.
He is proud to work with the Ladies of Horror Fiction to facilitate the Annual LOHF Writers Grant.
Steve has appeared alongside some of Horror’s heaviest hitters (Tim Lebbon, Gemma Amor, Adrian J. Walker, Ramsey Campbell) in some fantastic anthologies.
He is an active member of the HWA.
He is based in Edmonton, AB, Canada and lives with his wife and son.
You can follow Steve on Twitter @stevestred
You can follow Steve on Instagram @stevestred
You can visit Steve’s Official website here