A short story
As per usual no amount of public outcry could have saved our hospital from becoming a government housing establishment. Overnight the 80 year old stable community fell to ruin. A third of the houses went on the market at the same time, dropping the land values and the streets were crammed with cars because no parking was provided for the government tenants. It has been five years since then. We had to stay because Mum couldn’t afford to move us until Dad returned from his tour of duty. Our house was a big four bedroom on a block just over an acre in size- I’m not sure how that equates in American terms sorry. Most of the yards, gardens and street trees have grown wild and scraggly so it’s always a bit of an adventure when my brother and I play outside. Our house is better maintained than most but lately Mum has let it go because we were being robbed all the time. I think it’s cool how the Ivy has begun to envelope my bedroom window.
It’s October now, about halfway through when my brother and I are at Richard’s house. We’re making signs to hang on our bedroom doors with his dad in the workshop. It took me three tries to get Tamerlane to fit right. Seth has it easy. Richard’s dad is sitting with us at the big workbench when things start to get unusually quiet. It took us a moment to realise that it was so quiet because all of their birds were silent. Richard’s family raise chickens, pigeons and quails. The place just didn’t feel right when they all go silent. We could actually hear the summer-dried leaves rattling in the trees over the shed. We shared silly faces as Richard’s dad got up to look outside.
‘The damned gates are open again.’ He muttered.
He stepped out leaving us kids in the shed so he could close the gates and almost immediately the door slammed closed with a sound like gunfire. We were too shocked at first to realise that he was yelling and pulling on the door to open it. It took even longer for us to realise we were trapped inside.
Richard went back to what he was doing, ‘This happens sometimes. He’ll get it open soon.’
‘Don’t you think it’s weird… and creepy?’ Seth used his hands to portray a spider dancing on the table.
I told them, ’One of my other school friends lives in a government house. She says that their doors get stuck all the time.’
‘This isn’t a government house’ Richard pouted.
I deliberately pouted back, ‘I don’t think the ghosts care.’
Seth giggled though it was probably at my expense.
With an angry howl of pain Richard’s dad pulled the door clean off the hinges and had fallen backwards with it landing on top of him. We went quickly over to the, now empty, door-frame and peered out. I looked up as Richard’s mum opened the back door to see what had made the noise. I saw it plain as day. She jerked as if pushed or pulled back inside and the back door slammed closed. Richard’s dad shifted the door aside as he rolled over to look at the house.
We heard glass smash inside and there was an awful scream from the house.
Richard’s dad scrambled to his feet, slipping a little on the gravel of the path leading to the shed from the house. He ran around the side, not bothering with the back door, to the kitchen window. By the time we got there he was disappearing through it. It was a long tense moment as we crept closer. We wanted to know what was going on but we were also quite hesitant.
‘It’s alright!’ He called back. ‘Just some broken dishes.
Seth and I looked to Richard, who shrugged again.
‘Words are more useful, remember?’ I said to him bluntly.
I’m pretty sure he was going to shrug again but caught himself and gave a sheepish smile, ‘Doesn’t your house do this?’
I said , 'No.’ a bit more firmly than intended but Seth sort of looked to the ground and replied, 'All the time.’
I tilted my head, ‘No, it doesn’t?’
Seth nodded, ‘That’s because you blame me moving your things all the time.’
‘Because things started to get lost shortly after you started walking.’
We eyed each other off for a moment until Richard’s dad opened the back door for us. He was looking rattled. But Richard’s mum was far worse. As we came into the kitchen she was trying to put the kettle on but her hands were shaking so badly she was struggling to put it the right way onto its stand.
‘Shall I make some cocoa?’ She took a deep breath to calm her nerves before she turned around to get our responses.
I just nodded appreciatively as the boys headed for Richard’s bedroom. I was about to follow but decided to ask, ‘Are you okay?’
Richard’s dad leaned against the counter and answered for her, ‘She’ll be right. Go play and I’ll bring the cocoa down shortly.
As I left I heard him pull his wife into a hug.
It was the first time I experienced anything out of the ordinary. I was only 8 years old, Seth was six. Just before my tenth birthday myself, Seth and some of our friends came home from school together to find every single window in our house jammed open using an assortment of household items ranging from books to chairs. Even pet cages had been used; Seth’s heavy wooden rat cage and my wire guinea pig cage had been wedged into our bedroom windows. My guinea pig’s cage was a little bent and was rattling a bit as if some great force was still trying to close the window. I could hear Mum inside shouting at something. My friends were scared and stayed at the gate with Seth as I went forward to investigate.
It took a lot of effort to open the front door enough for me to squeeze through. When I finally made it inside I saw that there was a pile of boxes leaning against it. The sort of boxes one sees in moving trucks.
A door slammed upstairs and I flinched, raising my hands up a little as if to catch something unseen. There was a thumping of heavy, angry like footsteps heading down the upstairs hall and down the stairs. I stopped to listen with my hands still slightly raised. Something I couldn’t see brushed past me, cold against my hands. I was immediately struck by great pain as my palms seared. I doubled over, recoiling my hands to my chest and screamed. Mum used a door-frame to catch herself out of whatever momentum she’d picked up. With wide eyes she just looked at me for a moment. A fresh burst of pain made me whimper and press my freezing hands in even tighter.
Mum came over and held me tight. She was trying to sooth me as she coaxed my hands free so she could look at them. I certainly couldn’t look at them… or at least not right away. My fingernails were chipped and bruised. The skin of my palms had blanched and gone callousey. It took a long time for the cold numbness to dissipate. By then my friends had gone home, probably out of fear, and my brother was upstairs in his room. I was scared too and cried myself asleep.
It took months for the skin on my palms to go soft and supple again. None of the doctors could explain it, that’s for sure, but my skin stayed whitish and powdery. Dad came home when I was about ten and a half. He and mum stayed up for many hours as she explained to him everything that had been going on. I stayed up too, curled on the couch listening to them. It was one scary story after another. Eventually my Dad came and sat on the couch next to where I had curled up.
‘Are you alright, Tam? And your brother? Did you want to move too?’
I sat up. ‘Mum wants to move?’
‘Things have been hard for your mother it seems.’ He sighed and slid lazily down in the couch a little as he tried to relax. I noticed he still hadn’t even changed out of his uniform yet.
‘How long are you home for?’ I asked him.
‘Pretty much for good now. I have sore legs. They’re called shin splints and I can’t travel with a full pack any more.’
‘What’s a shin splint?’
‘It’s complicated but it means that my work now will mostly be on base. If you want to we can move closer to the base.’
I nodded slowly and showed him my hands. ‘Some of my friends have been hurt too.’
He was gentle as he moved my hands around. It was somehow very comforting and I climbed into his lap where I eventually fell asleep- we were both exhausted.
But it was very dark when a shuffling sort of sound woke us both. At some point Mum must have thrown a blanket over us. I looked up to see my Dad was wide-eyed and alert, glancing around the room haphazardly. I could only see the part of the room around the bay window. A cold orange tinted light was thrown across the wall by the streetlight outside our house. As my eyes adjusted to the dark and I began to wake up some more I could see more detail. I went to sit up but Dad held me down gently.
‘Ssssh. Just stay still for the moment. Until I say okay?’
I nodded very slowly and felt Dad stiffen a little as we heard a snuffling noise. Something behind our chair moved, brushing past behind us, and gave a long, soft moaning sound. I felt my Dad tense up around me then relax.
From there everything sort of happened at the same time. The thing behind the chair made a movement big enough for me to feel the draft of air, there was a wet thud sort of sound and my Dad began to twitch and slide off the couch with me still in his lap. Something pulled and tore at the blanket covering me. I huddled up and screamed at it to go away whilst calling for my Dad to help. I couldn’t see his face now that I was covered by blanket. The scraping, biting, pulling at the blanket continued until I heard someone coming down the stairs quickly. The light was turned on and I felt the blanket fall limp once more. Mum cried as she came over. I threw the blanket off and looked to my Dad. His hand was to his neck and there was blood dribbling down onto his uniform. He was mouthing words but only a rattling choking sound came out. Mum pulled the phone from his hip pocket and rang for an ambulance. I watched on with wide eyes as the lights flickered out.
Mum leaned protectively over Dad and we held our breath subconsciously until the lights came back on. We waited for a moment and eventually Mum returned her attention to the lady on the phone. I was directed to get the
first aid kit and some cushions for Dad. It was hard waiting for the ambulance
to arrive; there was a horrible, pregnant quiet about the place.
I eventually saw the red and blue lights flashing against the wall. Mum asked me to get Seth and wait outside for the ambulance to arrive so they knew where to go. I headed for the stairs as something big and noisy thudded down and stopped at the bottom of the stairs. I heard the unmistakable sound of Seth wailing. Running forward I found him at the bottom of the stairs. He was lying-sitting sideways looking up at me with pale skin, red- inflamed eyes and nose and snot everywhere. He reached up to me pathetically with one hand while still using the other to support himself.
you fall down the stairs? Silly boy.’ I tried to muster some sarcastic humour
but I didn’t feel or sound funny and it just made him cry even harder. I helped
him up and the first thing he did was roll up one of his pyjama legs. I looked
over to see what was holding him up as he revealed a band of blanched calloused
skin. With another screaming wail he let it fall and almost fell sideways. I
managed to catch his arm before he did. As best as I could I helped him up. We managed to
almost get to the door when the whole house groaned and began to shake. It was like
a small earthquake as objects jittered in their places and eventually fell from
I heard mum yelling at us to get outside so I helped Seth forward
despite another groaning creak and reached for the door handle. But I withdrew
my hand immediately because on the walls around the doorway shadowy bulges had
appeared. They came in and out of view a few times before they became clear and then they were moving. Like a face behind a bed-sheet the features moved and slid in
and out of view with more prominence. Some grew more defined with faces pulled up and wrinkled
around their eye sockets and noses in a soundless scream. Silence rent the air as three
faces moved in the wall or perhaps behind the wallpaper around the door.
I held Seth close to protect him and watched the faces move away from the door and fade to nothing. The other shadowy bulges also began to fade and eventually nothing was moving. I could see the red and blue flashes were quite close now and, not wiling to risk further hesitation, I wrenched the door open and practically dragged Seth outside. I let him fall gently onto the lawn and flagged down the ambulance.
I felt desperately weak and breathless as I watched the ambulance crew get their gear and head inside. I turned my back to the ambulance to get the flashing lights out of my eyes. I wanted to go to my brother but my body was heavy, as if under a large sodden blanket heavier and thicker than the one Mum had tossed over me. I dug my fingers into the grass as I let myself down into a sitting position. From here, while I waited, I noticed our neighbour’s house. Three windows on the second storey had been wedged open by random things. My eyes moved down to the front door and along to the family room or sitting room window. The big glass door held firm as someone behind it was trying desperately to break it open from inside.
Despite the heavy feeling I pulled myself up and looked for something to use. I saw in the ambulance a big heavy duty torch and grabbed it. Suddenly I felt light and free and energised as I leapt the small fence separating our yards and took their front steps two at a time. I couldn’t hear anything and they howled in desperation and thudded struck the glass with their fists. I waved the torch at them and pointed to the glass plane where I would strike. The woman nodded and waved her small fire extinguisher in return. I motioned the count with the torch and she mirrored me. One….. Two…. Three… SMASH!
Glass flew everywhere! A great blast of frozen air blew a gale from inside the house. At the same time a blast of humid, night air rushed in as if filling a void. As soon as she was off the porch she cried out in gratitude and fell to her knees. I looked back into her house from outside. I watched as three faces in the wall yawned and mouthed around the fireplace. I was scared stiff watching those faces; I couldn't breath and daren't try to move. They moved along the wall, drawing closer. An animalistic screech rent the air in the room and fell out of the house around me as a whispy white creature moved, on all fours, awkwardly in the opposite corner of the room to the faces. I strained my eyes trying to get a better look from where I was.
As if scared off by this thing in the corner the mouths closed and the faces retreated back into the walls. Still wide eyed and frozen in place I couldn’t break eye contact with the thing. It crossed the room angrily once it saw me looking at it. It stopped a short distance from the empty window frame. I could see a dim light in it somehow. Now that it was closer I could see that it was canine. It had pearly fur-less skin and a lean bone structure but definitely dog-like. It stared at me despite the bare sockets and I stared at it. It growled and snapped but I was too scared to react… so it backed down. Like a whipped dog it shrunk back to its corner and disappeared further into the house.
I didn't notice that I was holding my breath until I could suddenly breathe again. I gasped at the warming air and slowly and shakily left our neighbour's house for our own. The ambulance staff were pushing against the stretcher carrying my Dad and despite the open door it just wouldn’t go forward. Leaping into action I once again leapt the small fence and bounded up to our doorway. I slid to a halt and made an atavistic bark. I didn’t think of it, I didn’t want to do it but for whatever, unknown reason I bark-growled like an angry dog into the house. Three or four things moved. I could see nothing but I could somehow perceive it none-the-less. A deep whistling sort of growl came back from within our house and I felt a cold draft against my face. It had a metallic tint to it. I leaned forward a little to get a better look and began to see the pale forms, mostly on the other side of our front room. I stepped forward and did that guttural barking noise again. With awkward voices and clatter the stretcher was released and the ambulance staff almost fell out the door in their hurry.
Immediately things began to return to normal. The cold draft
dissipated, the houses stopped vibrating and the sounds all returned to normal,
town ambient, sort of noises. I saw the ghostly canines trotting casually across the road up the street but they were smaller now with thick opalescent pelts.
All told, thirteen houses on the streets directly around where the hospital had been had come under some sort of paranormal attack. Richard’s mum was also taken to hospital the same night as my Dad. More houses were coming under attack too as the week progressed.
Over the next few weeks I began to go out at night. Whenever the opportunity arose I would help those under attack. That barking growling sound that I can make somehow gets the spirits to back off and leave. The phantom creepy canines became more docile. With every family I helped it became easier and easier for me to see them. I can see them quite clearly now and you may call them hellhounds and be mostly right. All I know for sure is that I have become an alpha to their pack. A therianthrope wolf. And as it turns out there were a number of kids in my school, just like me, who did and are still doing what I am. My Dad came home from hospital last night. Mostly it was his vocal chords that were damaged, nothing life threatening but it’s still really sad. But it’s really strange too. I have no trouble deciphering his grunts, groans and growls in conversation. I think he is one too, a therianthrope that is. Between us and these spirit dogs that are hanging around town, our crime rate has dropped to practically zero. Soon housing prices will start to rise again from the ashes like a phoenix....