Shuddersome Shorts

Tales of Eerie Terror


Put your claws together, Faithful Fiends, in welcoming back pulp-maestro Jochem Vandersteen! Sorry, no sign of his intrepid spook sleuth Harvey Banks, but allow us to introduce psychic investigator, Ryan Nova, a woman with a lot on her mind...or is that "on everyone else's minds", heh, heh, heh. Nova is called in to use her powers to find a missing child... but what she finds...well, you'll see...


Visions of Terror

By J. Vandersteen
About the author

LITTLE TOMMY WAS PLAYING OUTSIDE, alone in the woods. His mother had forbidden him to play there, but as children often do, he had disobeyed her. After all, what could possibly happen to him here? His attention was drawn to a squirrel, hopping through the bushes. He decided to follow the creature to its home. Tommy had absolutely no idea what a squirrelís home looked like, so, as children often are, he was curious. He ran through the woods, getting further and further away from his home.

Tommy didnít see the glowing green inhuman eyes, hidden in the bushesÖ.


"Donít worry, maíam. Weíll find Tommy. Donít worry," sergeant Tucker said to the crying woman. He didnít blame her for crying. Mrs. Barker wasnít the first mother to lose her child in Ashville this week. A wave of panic had struck the parents of the town, since four children were missing in one week. They all seemed to have been removed from the face of the earth.

No one knew where they were. No one had seen them talking to strangers since they were missing. No one had seen them stepping in a car. Still, he was of the opinion that someone had to have taken the children. It was the only thing that made sense to him. Children simply didnít just vanish like that. Of course, he didnít tell that to Mrs. Barker. After all, Tucker prided himself on his humanity. He knew many cops who, after thirty years on the force, had become cynical and jaded. Not Tucker, though. His wife and grandchildren made sure of that. He shuddered at the thought of his grandchildren getting lost, lost like little Tommy Barker.

There was some commotion at the door. "Excuse me, maíam," he said to Mrs. Barker and walked to the door. He saw one of his rookie cops barring a young womanís way. "Iím sorry, miss. You really canít go in there now," the rookie told the lady.

"Listen, my name is Ryan Nova. Mrs. Barker has asked for my assistance. I think I may be of help. Please let me in." Her voice was hoarse, deep and warm. It was a very nice voice to listen to. She also was a nice woman to look at. Her face was pale, with deep brown eyes, framed by shoulder length black hair. She wore a dark suit over a silvery silk blouse. A lot of men would probably find her very attractive.

Mrs. Barker followed Tucker to the doorway. "Please, let her in," she said. "She can help us."

Tucker nodded. "Itís okay if Mrs. Barker says so, Eddy. Let the lady pass."

"Thank you, sir," the lady said, then extended her hand to him. "My name is Ryan Nova. Pleased to meet you."

"Same here. Nameís Tucker. Sergeant Tucker."

Then Mrs. Barker interjected: "I called Miss Nova. Sheís a psychic, you know." Tucker rolled his eyes. He had dealt with psychics before. Never had one of them given him a single useful tip. He thought of them as a bunch of frauds, quacks and nuisances. "Miss Nova has been really successful in quite a number of cases, sergeant," Mrs. Barker assured him.

"Iím sure she has, Mrs. Barker. Fact is though, we usually donít work with psychics anymore."

"Listen, sergeant Tucker. Iíll make you a deal. You let me do my work for one day. If thereís no results whatsoever, or if you think Iím harming the investigation, I go. If not, you allow me to go through with my doings."

Tucker rubbed his nose. He always did that when he had an important decision to make. "You drive a hard bargain, lady. But, all right, just this once. Because Mrs. Barker has so much faith in you."

"Great," Ryan said, smiling. "Mrs. Barker, I need a picture of your son. Also, I need something personal of the boy. Something that was very dear to him."

"Sure, Iíll get you his baseball card of Babe Ruth. Heís very proud of that one."


With the baseball card and Tommyís picture in front of her on the table, Ryan sat down in Mrs. Barkerís living room. "I need to concentrate now. You folks would really help me if you were quiet for a couple of minutes." Tucker nodded, and sent the cops outside for a moment.

Ryan closed her eyes, touching the picture and the card. She had to focus on the psychic imprint of the boy on the items. It wasnít easy. It never was, but it would be worth all her pain and effort if she would see something useful. The way the pictures came to her always varied. Sometimes it were just flashes, like her mind took photographs through someone elseís eyes. Sometimes it was hazy, like in a dream. And sometimes, sometimes it was like she was having a nightmare. This was one of those instances.

She saw a small child being lowered on the soft grass. It was just a baby. Whoever it was that had put the baby down, walked away from it. The baby was lying all alone in the grass. Alone in the cold night. The baby screamed and opened its eyes. They were glowing a faint, eerie green. They were not human.

"No!" she screamed, opening her own eyes, pushing herself away from the table. Sweat glistened on her brow. Tears were in her eyes.

"Whoa, lady! Relax!" Tucker said, putting a hand on her shoulder. "You scared the hell out of me there. What did you see?"

"I-I donít know. It was like-like staring into the face of evil."


Ryan didnít know what to make of the images she had seen. What was the link between the monstrous baby and little Tommy. She knew the images she saw shouldnít always be taken literally, but the images looked so real.

"Sergeant, Tommy was last seen in the woods, right? I would like to search them. Maybe I can catch Tommyís psychic imprint there."

" Listen, lady, we already searched the woods quite thoroughly. There was no sign of the boy," Tucker told Ryan.

"We had a deal, remember?" Ryan said, smiling.

"All right, all right. Iíll take you there," Tucker muttered.

"Great!" Ryan exclaimed and put the boyís picture and card in her jacketís pocket.


The woods were scary, this late in the evening. The trees were dead, their branches resembling skeletonís arms and hands, reaching for whoever dared to go near them. The cold November wind blew through the few leafs they still had, rustling them, making it appear that someone was following you, walking through the dead leafs on the ground. Ryan shrieked as a squirrel suddenly appeared from the bushes, hurrying into a tree.

"Christ, lady! You keep startling me! Please go easy on me, Iím an old man. This heart canít take too much anymore," Tucker complained.

"Sorry," Ryan apologised. "It was really silly of me, getting scared by a squirrel. Itís just, well, the images that I saw - theyÖ"


It was dark She couldnít move. It smelled bad. Children were crying. And there, in the darkness peered two eyes. Two green, glowing eyes. She was going to stay there forever. She was going to die there, she was never going to see her mommy again.


Then the images were gone again. "Weíre close, sergeant," she said, sure of herself. "Tommy is still alive, but he canít get away. We have to find him. We have to find him fast."

"You had them visions again, lady?" Tucker asked, surprised.

"Yes, I did. I didnít even concentrate, but still I had a vision. It was very clear this time. That means weíre close. Itís like Iím being drawn somewhere now. Follow me, please."

They walked through the woods for about an hour. They had arrived at a very thickly wooded area. "Tommy is here," Ryan said. "I can sense it. I can feel his fear."

Tucker looked around. "I donít see him."

"Thatís because youíre looking around you. You should be looking under you," Ryan said and pointed to the ground. Then Tucker saw it. It was a dark hole. It looked like a rabbitís hole, but much bigger.

"Heís in there," Ryan told Tucker.

"Maybe, but I canít crawl in there. I mean, sure, itís big enough for a kid to crawl through, but IímÖ "

"Thatís okay, sergeant. I think I can worm my way through it. Iím going to need your flashlight though," Ryan said.

"Wait a minute! Iím not sure I can allow a citizen to go in there. The hole might collapse or something. You might get trapped in there," Tucker protested.

"Iíll be okay," Ryan assured the detective. "Just give me the flashlight. If Iím not back in fifteen minutes, try to dig me out."

"All right. But itís -- pardon my language -- your ass on the line. Be careful."


Ryan slid her legs into the hole. It was cold and damp. She could feel bugs crawling over her legs as soon as she had them in it. She didnít like bugs, but she also knew this wasnít the time for childish fears. Slowly she lowered the rest of her body into the hole, then her face. And then it was dark.

She switched on the flashlight, using it almost like a blind man uses his cane. There was a narrow tunnel. On her hands and knees she crawled through it, trying to ignore the worms, the spiders and insects she had never seen before. She knew Tommy was at the end of the tunnel, and she knew she would have to save him. The air was stale and she had trouble breathing. There was very little oxygen in here. Her heart pounded. How long was this tunnel going to go on. She did her best not to think of the stories of her childhood. The stories about evil gnomes and trolls living deep in the earth, kidnapping little children to eat them. Then the tunnel became wider, the feeling she was in the neighbourhood of Tommy grew stronger. Yes, there it was. The end of the tunnel. It ended in a large cavern. Nothing could have prepared Ryan Nova for what she encountered there.


The children were dirty, naked and starving. Cold, iron chains imprisoned them to the cavern walls. Their ribs were clearly showing through their skin, their faces betraying no emotion, like they were drugged. They reminded Ryan of badly kept pets. Never had she felt so disgusted, so sick. Who could do this to these children? Why?

Then she saw them. Green, glowing eyes in the darkness. The same eyes as she had seen in her visions. Her flashlight uncovered its owner.

It really couldnít be called a human being anymore. It was probably more than six feet tall, but its back was badly hunched. It was incredibly thin, like a skeleton. Its naked skin had the colour of weather-beaten parchment. Its fingers seemed like claws, its nails long and black. Its teeth short, but sharp. But the most terrifying aspect of this creature remained the eyes. Those glowing eyes.

It was feeding one of the children a bowl of worms. Then Ryan realised how close she had been, comparing the children to pets. Thatís what they were for the creature: pets, to alleviate his loneliness.

Slowly, its attention caught by the sharp light of the flashlight, it turned its face to Ryan. It growled, baring its short, razor-sharp teeth. Teeth that could probably rend flesh from bone in seconds.


She didnít have time to be scared. Instinctively, she reacted. She used the only weapon she had, and hit it with it full force. She smashed the flashlight into its disgusting face. Metal hit bone. There was a loud crack, but Ryan didnít know what made that sound; the metal or the bone.

The creature stared at her, completely befuddled. Then she was offered a glimpse into the thingís mind, and what she saw there moved her deeply.


She saw how its mother gave birth to the howling mutant. She saw how her mother asked the doctor to kill it. She saw how the father decided to leave it in the forest. She saw the father kill the doctor, just to make sure no one would ever know what his wife gave birth to. She saw how the thing grew older, surviving only by instinct. Somehow, she felt its loneliness. She even felt sorry for it.


That distraction was enough, however, for the creature to recompose itself and attack once again. Enraged by the pain caused by her blow, he came at her again. He grabbed her by the throat, growling at her. The smell of his breath was sickening. Ryan felt her windpipe tighten. She tried to breathe through her nose, butÖ She started to get a strange feeling in her headÖ Like in college, when she had smoked that jointÖ The thingís features started to fadeÖ


Suddenly the creature let go. Its hands slowly slid off her throat, air returning to her lungs at last. The tables were turned now. The creature was the one being choked now.

Two children had used their chains as a noose, wrapping them around its neck. They pulled at the chains with all the strength their young bodies could muster. Their ferocity, the look in their eyes and the hatred emitted from them scared Ryan even more than the thing had.

The creature tried to fight them, but it didnít have a chance. The chains were wrapped too tight. The combination of both the childrenís strength, combined with their incredible aggressiveness was simply too much for it. There was a snap as his windpipe broke, and the creature fell down on the floor. The children looked satisfied at their handiwork. They had killed their oppressor and that made them very happy.


Tucker and his men helped Ryan to free the children from their chains. The parents didnít recognise their own children anymore. Their sweet, innocent offspring had gone from child to savage in a few weeks time. Their eyes had trouble adjusting to the light. They had trouble standing upright. They didnít speak but growl. It would take a lot of social work, love and care to make them behave like children again.

The parents didnít think of thanking Ryan, of course. They had other things on their minds. And really, she thought, why should they thank her? She had turned their innocent children into killers.

She had to go. She had to walk away from the policemen, from the parents, from the children. First she started to walk, then she started to jog, then she started to run.


Crying, she sat on a tree stump, her head buried in her hands.

"Easy now, girl." Tuckerís deep voice sounded. "No reason to cry. Youíre a hero, girl. Remember that."

"No, Iím not," Ryan said, wiping her tears away as she looked up at the policeman. "A hero would have saved those children from that monster. Those children saved me. I didnít save them. They threw away their rarest gift, their innocence to save me."

"Thatís a lot of crap, and you know that. Your appearance, your fearlessness gave those children the strength and courage to fight back. You should be very proud of yourself."

"I donít know, sergeant. I have a feeling that one savage monster was killed, but two new ones were created in its place."

Tucker put an arm around Ryan, comforting her. "Donít worry. I know what you fear, but itís not going to happen. That mutant grew up without love, without comfort. Those two kids have got parents who love them very much. It will take some time, but theyíll be okay. Kids have a way of bouncing back. Youíll see."

"You may think so, sergeant. But you didnít see what was inside that thingís mind. And you didnít see what was in those childrenís..."

The End.

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Visions of Terror and the character of Harvey Banks are copyright 1998 by J. Vandersteen. 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!)