Shuddersome Shorts

Tales of Eerie Terror

#64



A new voice comes to PDF as Randall Stephan hunts up this clever little contrivance -- a homage to H.P. himself that doesn't miss a beat. That's right, Faithful Fiends, beware of the darkness of the woods, because the hunter becomes the hunted in this grisly little grimoire which we call...

 
 

Entrails
 

By Randall Stephan
About the author


[The following account is the last recorded entry in the personal diary of convicted murderer Damon Claeton Quinn, found under the mattress of his hospital bed shortly after he was released into the custody of the Pennsylvania State Police for questioning regarding the brutal murder of three of his companions in the vicinity of a hunting lodge, owned by one of the victims.]

AS I LIE HERE IN THIS SEMI-PRIVATE HOSPITAL ROOM sifting through the remnants of my fog enshrouded memory and traversing the rough and maddening angles of this recollection of events that appears all too fantastic to be a figment of the realm of truth, I am slowly coming to the conclusion that I must surely be insane. What I have been constructing more fully in my mind each day, since awakening from my coma one week ago, is a tale that I dare not tell my physicians, nor the authorities, for fear they will never again let me walk the streets a free and legally sound man. It is the horrifying memory of the events that transpired to put me here, in this broken and shattered body, that daily taunts me with the realization that I’ve lost three of my closest friends to a grotesque abnormality of nature that defies any rational explanation. As my frame slowly mends, it is my brain that begins to come unhinged. Oh, how I wish that I had never awakened to the fact that I must carry this unholy information around in my throbbing skull for the rest of my days!

This journal entry will be my last attempt to piece this madness together for the sake of my own wits and, as a reminder, to whoever may find these pages after I’ve gone, that these events were not some drug induced hallucination or a sick urban legend propagated by mischievous teens. Let this account serve as a warning to others not to venture into that accursed place in the highland-wilds of Potter County, Pennsylvania nor anyplace else that the hand of man has not cleansed with concrete, steel and the welcome wash of the electric lamp!

The ordeal began two weeks to this very day. My four comrades and I had planned a weekend getaway at the newly purchased hunting cabin of my friend Dick Rockaway. Although the hunting season had not yet begun, the four of us had set out to escape our wives and the stress of the workplace under the guise of a “housecleaning trip”, in which we planned to consume a few beers, clear out some land around Dick’s cabin, take a few pokes at some coyotes and, possibly, poach a deer or two.

This was to be our first trip to the cabin as a group, Dick having only purchased the place a few months before in the heat of midsummer, and we were all ripe with anticipation at seeing this new camp where we men could be the Neanderthals we are without being bothered by the laws of civilization. I was a bit hesitant, at first, at the thought of breaking game laws which could scar our permanent records for life, not to mention cost a pretty penny in fines, but it was nothing that we hadn’t done before, under shadier circumstances, and Dick had assured me that this little cabin in the woods was so secluded that there was no way in Hell we’d run across a game warden — or any other person, for that matter. I shrugged off my fears, consigning them to old-age cautiousness, and resigned to cut loose with the rest of the boys unhampered by the baggage of guilt. After all, I had barely reached my thirties; Dick being the oldest at thirty-seven, and the other two guys, Jaime and Chad, were in their mid-twenties. We were still young enough to raise some Hell, and who in Hell would we be hurting anyway?

…Who? Indeed…

It was late on a Friday afternoon when the four of us ascended the mile-long, washed-out, dirt track that served as the driveway to the cabin. We were all in Dick’s overloaded Jeep Cherokee; with he behind the wheel, Jaime riding shotgun, and myself and Chad in the rear, bucket seats respectively. The sun was beginning to disappear behind the crown of a ridge in the Endless Mountains as we rounded the last bend in the lane. The cabin came into view as if some magical, gilded, storybook house had suddenly materialized from out of the sparkling, gold-flecked rays of the dying orb’s last gaze. We grew silent at the beauty of the little cabin and, as the truck rolled to a stop, we piled out to take the scene in up close. Compliments and toasts flew like so much chaff as we four finished our cans of beer around the warm hood of the Jeep.

As we gathered our gear from the roof-rack, the sun breathed its last warm breath upon the shallow valley, reclaimed its golden sheen from off of the trees and eves of the cabin and, while the shadows grew long around us, a chill and sinister breeze blew from within the heart of the forest.

I cannot say that I noticed it consciously at the time but, looking back, I feel that there was definitely something amiss…a feeling of damp oppressiveness that seemed to muffle the blasts of our guns as we took turns firing at anything remotely interesting within the encircling tree-line. After unpacking we sat around a massive bon-fire joking and getting "shit-faced". I imagined that the specks of diffused light, sparkling off of our discarded bottles and cans in the weeds just outside the glow of the fire-light, were the eyes of hungry crocodiles waiting to ambush the next man who left the circle to take a piss.

Morning found me dazed and sore from the drunken revelry of the arrival celebration the evening past. I left Jaime, still sleeping, and still fully clothed, on his cot in the spare room we had shared, and stumbled out of the open screendoor in the front of the cabin. Off to the side of the house, closest to the invading woods, were Dick and Chad. It appeared as though they had begun drinking again and were taking turns with a great, old ax at splitting logs. They stopped and chided me a bit as I approached, for sleeping so long. It must have been near noon and I both looked and felt rather disheveled.

“You missed it, bud,” ribbed Dick, “There were at least a half dozen doe out here when I got up this morning at the crack of dawn.”

“Yeah, they were all surrounding this huge, white buck right over there!” Chad’s finger stabbed at the air, indicating a spot about twenty feet away, in the center of the wide drive.

“You’re shittin’ me, you assholes.” I growled, and turned to go back into the quiet darkness of the cabin to nurse my aching head. Dick spoke up and I could hear the seriousness in his tone.

“It’s no bullshit, man. This thing was fucking massive!” He had dropped the ax and was gesturing with his arms. He appeared as a small child trying to explain the breadth of the Universe. “You should’ve seen the rack on this thing, I couldn’t even count the number of points it had! I woke Chad up and dragged him to the front window just as the whole herd of ‘em moved into the brush and up the mountain.”

“I saw it, Dude,” Chad coughed, “It looked like a fucking moose! —Those doe were all around that monster like a bunch of harem whores or something. They all went up that trail over there.” Now I was intrigued. Try as I might, I could not discern a hint of playfulness in either of their voices. I made my way down the driveway to the foot of the mountain slope which spilled down to meet the lane. Sure enough, I could see a wide game trail cut through the Mountain Laurel and grasses which filled in the spaces below the giant shrubs. I walked to within a foot of the mouth of the thing, for that is what it appeared to me to be: A jagged, darkened aperture that snaked its way up the steep, wooded slope of the mountainside, like a throat, into the bowels of the forest hunched above. I shuddered without really knowing why at the time but, I realize now, that a feeling of uneasiness had gripped me since arriving at that secluded property. It was a feeling which was entirely alien to me; I who had spent much of my free time, my whole life, in and around the wilderness.

I knelt, stiffly, to examine the moist earth which lolled out like a tongue from between the bleached, dead branches of Laurel that framed the opening of the mouth of the trail like spiny teeth. Sure enough, there were tracks. Most were from medium sized animals, the prints of those bringing up the rear obliterating those of the animals that had gone before. However, to my shock and surprise, I was able to discern another set of hoof-prints, a set much unlike the others. They were those of an animal that had gone up the steep incline ahead of the rest and, though blurred by the flailings of the trailing doe, their monstrous outline and depth remained evident.

My mouth agape, I could only stammer as my eyes bulged from their sockets. It was as if those doe had followed a Clydesdale into that haggard darkness! I spun around, like a madman, into the smiling faces of my two pals who had crept up behind me.

Dick spoke, “Tonight, before dusk, we’re gonna go up there and wait him out.” He bared his teeth in a distorted grin like a Cheshire Cat with a five-o-clock shadow, and Chad just cackled.

It was about two hours before sunset when Dick, Chad, and myself came to rest on the rocky slope of the heavily wooded mountainside. Jaime had complained of a sickness much more severe than the fleeting symptoms reminiscent of a hangover and had refused to leave his small bed except to run to the bathroom at infrequent intervals. Alas, against my better judgment, the three of us had taken our rifles and canteens and left him behind in hopes of bagging that mammoth albino in order to claim bragging rights to the greatest kill ever; even if those words of braggadocio could only be spoken softly to close friends and business associates below the din of crowded sports bars.

The game trail that we had followed up from the driveway of the camp wove a most steep and circuitous route around the shrouded face of the mountainside. We had hiked for little more than an hour when the tracks of the individual animals ceased to merge and led off into separate paths among a great stand of dense pines. The layers of dead needles that covered the ground there made it impossible to track the beasts any further, even had we the will to.

Dick unslung the rifle from his shoulder and took a deep slug from his canteen.

“Well, I think that’s enough hiking for the day. Let’s take up our positions in this area here and wait for ‘em to start down the mountain to graze......whaddaya say?” He was rapidly scanning the surrounding forest as he spoke and his movements gave the appearance that he was conversing with an invisible creature that darted to and fro about his head.

“Sure,” I answered. “They probably all hook up here and head down below together. We can spread out among these small clearings and get a wider shooting angle over the whole area.”

“Let’s do it, fellas. It’s not getting any lighter out here,” Chad added. “I’m headin’ over there.” He disappeared through an archway, formed by the dead trunk of a fallen pine which leaned against its still-living neighbor, and into the shadows. I heard him stealthily pace a few yards beyond where I had seen him vanish and; I assumed he had found a hiding place, for we heard from him no more. Dick and I nodded at each other, a silent understanding that we would speak no more, for fear of scaring the game, and slunk off into the bush in opposite directions to wait for our prey.

I soon found a sturdy, young pine with bare lower branches that I quickly scrambled up into with ease. Perched about fifteen feet off of the forest floor, sitting in the crotch of two branches that grew from the trunk in the shape of a V, I could see the sparse clearing where the three of us had so recently stood. The frail end of the deer trail was still barely visible where it dissolved into the pine thatch.

The sun was sinking quickly in the west and the fact that the sky had turned menacing and overcast early in the afternoon caused darkness to fall much sooner than we had hoped As I sat there on the rough branches of that tree, strange shapes seemed to appear and grow in the dimming world beneath the canopy of the forest. I rubbed my eyes several times to coax them to focus and tried to catch the movements of the chipmunks which I heard scampering sporadically through the leaf-litter below me. I began to become acutely aware, despite my preoccupations, of a mounting anxiety that crawled, as sure footed as a gecko, from the pit of my bowels to the base of my spine and upward, grasping each vertebra in its clammy little hands as it went. I tried to convince myself that this feeling that had suddenly come over me was the adrenaline-trickle of anticipation but, try as I might to deceive my wits, it succeeded in lashing down any barriers of fancy. I was nervous...almos t— scared. And I didn’t know why.

My anxiety grew steadily over the next half-hour, building pressure, like a long dead volcano waking from the slumber of an aeon. Its molten core was the pit of my stomach which churned a noisome protest against the acids that built up within its walls. A cold sweat, like a fine glaze on hot porcelain, broke out upon my brow. I struggled, increasingly, to hold on to my rifle with hands so weak and clammy as to be virtually useless.

I was no longer pondering why I felt this terror but, only how to rid myself of its grim hold upon me. The pressure built — I held it in like a man — the minutes ticking by as I waited to burst, or simply faint and fall from my perch to the stony floor of the forest below. Maybe I would roll all the way down this mountain to the safety of the cabin...no...the truck; then I could make my way out of this nightmare. The thought seared my brain, then was lost.

Above me, in the branches, a raven had come home to roost. It barked a loud trumpet of displeasure at finding me in its abode. I lurched with a start. The flashlight, that had been hooked on my belt, dropped into the darkness below. In the tripwire of my mind I cannot say that I ever heard it hit the ground, for that was when the wailing started. It was a high-pitched yelping, reminiscent of the cries of a tortured animal caught in a steel leg-trap; almost a dog-like yipping and baying or...howling? The unspeakable noise seemed to engulf me. It rang out from the depths of the trees, echoing within the fragile walls of my paranoid mind and I shook as with an ague.

A shot rang out, pulling me to my senses, and in that instant I was able to pinpoint the sound of the terrible wails for they, as the sound of that rifle report, came from Chad’s position.

I relaxed. He must have blasted a coyote... But the wails began before the shot. The moans continued, they were lower in pitch now, more...human?

What in the hell is that!?

Human experience, human nature, told me what, in fact, the sound was. I stiffened yet more at the realization, fought the acknowledgment of the possibility. Life had not prepared for me a choice with which to decide how to act upon the situation. My screaming soul was encased in stone, my body perched upon its trellis, gawking like a wide-eyed gargoyle. “Ch...Ch...Chad”--I babbled. It couldn’t be! My mind screamed at me in denial; intuition shouted back its opposing view. The groans, themselves, continued.

The sight of Dick charging through the clearing where we had parted ways, toward the sound of the screams, roused me from my paralyzation. I caught only the bobbing wash of his flashlight and the quick flicker of his silhouette in the near-dark. Gathering my remaining resolve, I slid from my loft down the rough trunk of the pine, and ran, blindly, toward the dim glow where Dick had stopped running.

I know not how I kept from breaking an ankle as I crossed the rough-shod span between my hiding place and Chad’s, but I pray to the Gods, to this day, that I had fallen and been knocked unconscious so that I’d never seen the thing which I would come upon, for it will haunt my every waking and sleeping moment for the rest of my days!

As I charged through the last low-lying stand of pine-scrub and into the bright glow of Dick’s flashlight, I was confronted with a scene of inexplicable horror. Chad lay, twitching, on his back, his right hand wrapped around the stock of his father’s .30-06 Mossberg he had always carried, and his mouth wide open in a bloody scream of terror. His belly, from the sternum to his groin, had been splayed open and his organs were strewn all about the ghastly scene, gore and bits of flesh matting down the small plants which grew from the forest floor all around him. The sight was so inexplicable and so completely unexpected that I simply lost touch with reality. I could only stare at Chad’s heaving body in the trembling circle of the flashlight, his dying screams resonating within me like the hollow core of a bell.

Finally, Dick brought me back to reality with a harsh blow from his elbow. “What the fuck are we going to do!”

I noticed that Chad had either died or passed out and I could only hope for the former because there was no chance we were going to be able to save him. His screams had ended, though they will forever live on within me, and a glazed film had already set upon the surface of his half-opened eyes. I tried to regain some of my composure...tried to make some sense out of the gruesome matter.

“What in the hell happened!?” I screamed. My voice returned to me from the depths of the forest. “What the fuck happened?” I repeated again, more quietly this time.

“I don’t know, he just started screaming and I ran over here and this is what I found!” Dick was beginning to pace back and forth beside Chad’s body, the flashlight flying wildly and causing disturbing angles to appear and reappear in sharp shadow. My mind began to grasp at some sense of order. A familiar shape was trying to get my attention.

“Wait!” I hissed. “Stop moving the fuck around, and keep the light still!” He stopped and stared at me wild-eyed, but I was staring at the ground.

“Oh my God!” was all I could get out, for my very life’s breath had been sucked out of me by the realization of what I saw. The shape that had been banging at the steel-clad door of my frozen mind was the shape of a pointed hoof-print! They littered the ground all around Chad’s mangled body, forming a twisted wallpaper that framed the horror which lay before us. Of course, I would have thought it coincidence; I would have thought it a figment of my tortured imagination; I would have thought it an hallucination! But the prints, matted in the blood and guts of my childhood friend, even left their telltale, crimson mark upon his exposed flesh! I took a step backward; no, reeled, at the sheer number of them. I could actually make out the tracks of a few individuals which continued from the bloody ground to leave their mark upon the surface of his arms, his face, the butt of his gun! By all the things which live and breathe and move upon the face of this earth it could not be!

Ice water burst through my veins. All the hair on my body stood so stiff and erect that it hurt my skin to move. Dick’s voice cut through the trance we had both been in.

“You’ve got to be kidding me! This can’t be for real! It...it’s impossible! Am I mad? Am I fucking mad!?”

Dick was right, this couldn’t be happening, but a steadily growing murmur was resonating in the trees around us and I began to accept the reality of it all. It was the sound of heavy animals, stamping and snorting in the shadows of the wood beyond our sight, that convinced me it would be best to flee that place…and right quick.

“Let’s go, we’ve got to get out of here, we’ll come back for him...we’ll come back for him!” I grabbed the big man, forcing him in the general direction of the trail which we had ascended to reach this forsaken place. And at that, we both began to run.

Perilously, we crashed forth, through branches and brambles that lashed out at us like studded bullwhips, descending the harsh trail that led back to the cabin. Occasionally, in the flailing beam of light, I could make out dark splashes of moisture strewn about the topography and the black shapes of deep hoof prints that headed downward such as we.

“Do you see that?” I shouted, jauntingly, at Dick’s back. “Those tracks, and the blood?” — for that is what I assumed the patches of moisture to be; they and the large tracks seemed closely interwoven.

“Maybe Chad got the bastard with that one shot he got off!”

I felt a slight reassurance at the sound of the words; though not much, it was some semblance of justice. We could only hope within the hearts that pumped ancient and half-forgotten blood memories through our veins that some sort of twisted vengeance had been wrought upon whatever the thing was which had plied its terrible wrath upon our dear friend.

Exploding into the clearing where the cabin lay, I stumbled and sprawled, face-first, into the sharp gravel of the drive-way. Our descent from the abomination on the mountain had been quick and torturous and my muscles were quivering with acidic exhaustion. As I drunkenly regained my footing, I had time to see Dick lunge through the open doorway of the cabin and disappear into the blinding, rectangular ray of light bursting forth from within, I assume, to wrench Jaime from his sick bed. I doggedly limped after, my brains on a mescaline carousel ride half-way between here and Hell.

Just as I gained a foothold on the wooden front porch I noticed them again. Muddy hoof-prints, co-mingled with crimson, forming an infernal aberration of a nature induced linoleum flooring design. They appeared to go in all directions including within the cabin itself! I took a step over the threshold and put a hand up to the open door in order to brace myself, but recoiled in pain. Something sharp had pierced the palm of my hand. I looked up to see the wood planks of the door splintered and sagging as if they had been traumatized by the battering of large, heavy objects. By the way the door hung aberrantly from only its lower hinge I could tell it must have given easily. Dick wouldn’t have been able to do this with his mortal fists or feet and, from my vantage-point on the ground, where I had fallen, he had appeared to run directly through an unrestricted opening.

Blood from the lacerations on my face and head began to seep into my eyes, mushrooming into my retinas and painting the world a surreal hue of violet—a suitable backdrop for the horrors which awaited me within the cabin. Fortunately, I cannot recall, with any real sense of accuracy, the affront which I then walked into upon entering the place, for all of my sensibilities were awash with loathing and disbelief at the scene. From the recent horrors which come to me in sleep, both at night and in the daytime hours, I can gain an insight into bits and pieces of what occurred in the minutes following my entrance into that dread abode. I dare not guess whether my conclusions are accurate or not, but can only pray for the latter. Prayers, however, are seldom answered and, as of late, my belief in any sort of benign protector from the Heavens is lost.

For, what kind of god would bestow upon me a recurring nightmare of corpses, hanging like dressed game, from the rafters of a familiar hunting cabin—corpses with the faces of friends frozen in twisted screams of silence and blurred by the steam rising from their own entrails which lay beneath them in sickening piles? A dream of a still-frame, black and white flight through the forest in a buddies’ Jeep Cherokee, toward the nearest highway, avoiding herds of strange deer that leap and turn in unison, with one mind, like a flock of birds? What kind of god would permit a great, white abomination, splay-hoofed and crowned with monstrous antlers, to exist in the forests of Pennsylvania to chase me through these nightmares on foot, after the Jeep has crashed, into the center of a two-lane blacktop road and the path of an on-coming truck? What god, indeed, would allow that beast to leave me with the ghastly shape of its track, in black and purple, upon my waking flesh?

The End


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Entrails is copyright by Randall Stephan. It may not be copied or used for any commercial purpose except for short excerpts used for reviews. (Obviously, you can copy it or print it out if you want to read it!)