Day Four of my free PASKAGANKEE excerpts brings Chapter Three. If you're here for the first time, you might want to check out the first three posts before reading this one:
Now here's Chapter Three:
The drizzle turned to freezing rain and began falling more steadily as George Hooper crossed the uneven muddy track and approached the log cabin. The temperature seemed to have grown noticeably colder during the time he spent studying the granite foundations scattered around the deserted village. It stood to reason, though. George wasn’t sure how long he had been standing motionless in the cold rain, but he knew it had been a while.
For some irrational reason, he was having trouble forcing himself to complete the short walk to the cabin to ask for help. The sense of dread and foreboding, which had begun gnawing at him almost the moment he stumbled into this clearing, had grown rapidly until it threatened to freeze him—literally—where he stood.
“Just do it, you freakin’ wimp,” George muttered to himself. His voice sounded somehow foreign and his breath crystallized in the chilly air, swirling into the rain and disappearing. He reluctantly resumed trudging through the mud and weeds, the footing becoming more treacherous. The ground crunched under his boots and George realized for the first time he was shivering violently. How the hell long have I been standing out here?
The entire area seemed deserted but George felt certain it was not. Someone had started a fire inside that cabin, and George was positive no one had left while he was standing out here. Oh really? Are you sure about that? You were zoned out; you don’t have the slightest clue how long you’ve been staring at those gigantic granite blocks, now, do you?
The feeling of dread mushroomed, worming its way through George’s intestines and growing in inverse proportion to his distance from the cabin. Finally he reached the front porch, and as he mounted the steps, the panic exploded, threatening to overwhelm him. He looked frantically from window to window, certain someone (something) was staring out at him, waiting and biding his (its) time until George wandered close enough to launch an attack.
No one was visible in any of the windows; George could see that quite clearly because the glass in all of them had been cleaned to a smudge-free shine, and the rooms inside were as empty and vacant as the eyes of a zombie, a shambling undead monster intent on cracking his skull open like a coconut and devouring his brain.
Where in the hell did THAT come from? When have you ever watched zombie movies?
George’s hands were shaking violently, and he knew it was not just from the lousy weather conditions. There was something evil about this place, he could sense it. Sense it, hell, I can almost taste it. There was no point in kidding himself. He wanted desperately to leave, to run somewhere, anywhere, to get out of this cursed place while he still could, but he had no choice but to continue. If he turned around now he would freeze to death, his soaking wet clothes stealing his body heat and inviting hypothermia.
A couple of loose floorboards in the porch creaked and groaned as George worked his way hesitantly to the closed front door. He thought it odd that the otherwise immaculate and solidly constructed log cabin would have loose floorboards for him to trip over. Had it been built that way on purpose?
George thought the only way things could get any worse at this point would be to fall through the porch on one of those loose planks and break an ankle. That would leave him at the mercy of the malevolent force stalking him. Stalking and preparing to attack— watching with red-rimmed eyes and stinking dead breath redolent of rotting flesh, watching and waiting for the perfect moment to rip your throat out.
After what felt like an eternity George reached the front door. His movements were becoming slower, clumsier, a sure sign of the onset of hypothermia; it was imperative that he shed his wet clothing and begin to raise his body’s core temperature.
The cabin door stood before him and still George could not shake his conviction that something evil was lurking on the other side, inches away. It was listening intently, just as he was, separated from him by nothing more than a slab of oak with hinges on one side and a shiny brass knob on the other.
George raised one gloved hand and banged on the heavy wooden door and was surprised to see it swing slowly open. It creaked loudly, as if only reluctantly complying with the laws of physics. The noise sounded eerily like a scream. George was certain that when he had examined the house from a distance the front door had been tightly closed. Or had it? His mind seemed to be working just as slowly and clumsily as his body. Maybe he only thought the door had been closed; maybe he had never really even checked at all; it was so hard to remember, so hard to think.
He eased his head warily through the partially open door. “Hello?” His voice sounded fearful and hesitant, even to him. Clearing his throat and putting a little more conviction into it, George tried again. “Hello, is anybody in here? I got lost hunting and I could use some directions . . .”
By the time he finished speaking, George’s voice had diminished until it was barely more than a whisper. If the cabin’s owner was here, he clearly did not wish to reveal himself.
George took a few hesitant steps into the house, finding himself in a large open room, a combination kitchen/living area with a short hallway branching off to the left. The hallway featured three doors placed side by side, presumably opening onto a bathroom and maybe a couple of bedrooms. The entire home appeared empty now, but it was plain it hadn’t been for long. To George’s right, a massive fieldstone fireplace took up most of the side wall, and inside the fireplace red-hot ashes still glowed, the flames only recently having been extinguished.
But where was the person who had been warming himself in front of the fire? There was only one entrance to the cabin, at least as far as George could tell, and he had been standing in front of it for a long time. Had the cabin’s occupant departed just prior to George discovering the tiny abandoned village? Or was he even now hiding in one of the rooms behind the three closed doors lining the hallway?
And if he was hiding, why? Could it be he was afraid of George? Certainly he couldn’t be any more fearful of George than George was of him at this very moment. A strained chuckle forced its way out of George’s constricted throat. He wasn’t sure whose voice rang in his ears, but it sure as hell didn’t sound like his.
Scattered throughout the interior of the cabin was the spoor of various small animals that had apparently taken up residence, and George was forced to step around their droppings as he made his way cautiously toward the hallway. He couldn’t see any animals—or any living thing at all, for that matter—but it was clear the embers cooling in the fireplace across the room had not been built by any wild animal, large or small.
George hesitated, unsure of how to proceed, unsure whether he even wanted to proceed but unable to stop himself. He had to see who or what was in here with him. His intuition screamed he wasn’t alone, and he was not about to strip off all his clothes and spread them out in front of the fireplace without fully scouting the interior of this creepy house first.
The question was simple—a cliché, really—but perplexing: which door should he open first? The crushing silence weighed on George with an almost physical presence. The only sound he could hear was the rushing of blood in his ears. He felt (knew) if he chose the wrong door he would be trapped inside a room with no escape and some God-awful, red-eyed, foul-smelling monster closing in to do who knew what to him Oh, you know what; yes you do, don’t kid yourself Georgie boy. It’s a cold-blooded killer, and it will rip your head right off your body, and the last thing you hear will be your skin tearing and your bones breaking, and the thing will drink your blood and snap off your limbs one by one, and you will never be found, not ever.
Every fiber in George’s terrified body was telling him to run, to sprint out of the cabin NOW into the freezing early evening drizzle and take his chances with a slow death from hypothermia. The only reason he didn’t bolt was he felt (knew) that if he tried to run, he would be pursued by the creature and taken down from behind; that he would never see it coming. The die was cast, George thought, with the emphasis on die. He had no choice but to confront the monster now.
George unconsciously shrugged the Mossberg 464 lever-action hunting rifle off his shoulder as he stood in front of the three closed doors, holding the gun in front of his body like a shield with two stiff arms, knuckles white, hands shaking.
He chose the middle door to open first for no particular reason other than it was the one directly in front of him. Grasping the knob in one sweating, shaking hand, George turned it slowly, listening intently for the slightest hint of a sound from the other side of the door, something that would give him an indication whether anyone (anything) was inside the room.
Silence. Deathly silence, George thought to himself as a hysterical laugh bubbled up from his gut. He choked it off in what sounded like a sob.
Predictably, the door creaked as it opened. George thought it was the most terrifying sound he had ever heard. It swung wide to reveal a bedroom, devoid both of furniture and of people. In fact, beyond the straw, animal droppings and other detritus of wildlife habitation, he could see nothing inside the room at all.
Relieved, George stepped into the bedroom and poked his head warily around the door, and when he did he leaped back, a strangled scream escaping his throat, as he found himself face to face with . . . something. His panicked eyes registered a massive form, a mountain of shaggy hair covering a head placed atop a gigantic body. Straw and leaves and dead grass stuck at odd angles out of the filthy, unkempt head of hair and small worms or maybe even maggots appeared to be wriggling inside it as well.
And the smell. It was horrific. A stench of death, of rot and decomposition, assailed George with an intensity beyond anything he had ever experienced. In the back of his racing mind he wondered why he had not noticed it when he first opened the door, and he realized he had been holding his breath in fear.
He had to escape, to get away, to run. George tripped over his own feet and fell to the floor, heels scrabbling as he scuttled backward, his rifle useless and now forgotten after dropping it in his mindless panic. One of his fingernails ripped off as he grabbed at the pine floor, and he didn’t notice. A splinter embedded itself deep into his palm, and he didn’t notice that either.
A whimpering sound filled George’s ears and he realized it was coming from him. He couldn’t stop it and didn’t care. His only conscious thought was to get away from that horrible thing stepping out from behind the door. He shoved himself desperately across the dirty floor as the monster shambled after him, and he kept going until he smashed into the far wall of the empty bedroom. The thing followed, eyes red as George had known they would be, breath stinking and foul as George had known it would be, and George now knew he was going to die; he was going to die all alone somewhere deep in the northern Maine woods at the hands of something foreign and inhuman.
The massive creature kicked the Mossberg across the room, whether on purpose or by accident George couldn’t tell. It clattered against the wall and fell to the floor. For one brief moment George thought the shotgun might go off when it struck the wall, blasting the creature to kingdom come and saving his sorry ass. But of course it did nothing of the kind.
The thing turned and advanced on George, a blood-chilling growl of fury issuing from deep in its monstrous chest. It grabbed George, slapping one meaty paw onto each ear and shaking his head violently from side to side. George heard a terrifying SNAP and knew it was the sound of his own neck breaking. He felt one instant of the most incredible pain he had ever experienced, and then a tingling numbness filled his extremities.
He began to drift, to lose consciousness, and was amazed to discover the fear was gone. He could see blood splattering the floor, lots of it, and although he knew it was his own blood, he found he didn’t care. George’s last conscious thought was that the creature’s putrid breath wasn’t quite as disgusting as he had thought it would be.
Then he was gone.
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