A phone rings in an empty house late at night. The calling tone echoes for an unnaturally long time before it finally clicks off into silence. Then, an automated voice utters in monotone: “You have. One. New message.” Another abrupt click and the message begins to play into the dark:
There is a creature in my yard and it will not go away. It comes at night and I know it is coming for me next. You will dismiss this call as the ramblings of the old shut-in next door, but I am telling you: once it gets me it will go for you, and so you need to get me out of here.
We probably haven’t exchanged more than a couple of pleasant smiles and waves as I sit on my porch in the morning and you leave your house to go to work. I presume that’s what you’re doing, but I don’t go out on the porch these days. Not anymore. What I’m trying to say is, I know you have no reason to trust me, but I need you to at least listen to me before you decide I’m senile, if only for the comfort of an old man.
I live alone in the house next door. My wife died a couple of years back, and I could never bring myself to sell it, though keeping up with the bills and yard work can be difficult. The kids send me money, but they don’t come to visit anymore, you know how kids are… you’re the same age as my sons are now, I believe. Maybe that’s why I’m calling you instead of the police. Funny what age and nostalgia do to you. You’re almost as much of a complete stranger to me as any officer would be, and yet here I am, asking you for help because you remind me of my boys. They’re both away for business now. If I had just called them earlier maybe I could’ve fixed this. I guess it’s my own fault for being so damn stubborn.
I’ve always insisted on doing things by myself. Of course, I can’t remember, but I imagine I’ve been this way since I was a child. You only came here a few years ago to my recollection, so you wouldn’t know that I fixed up our entire house by myself. Before my wife and I moved in, the house fell fairly far into disrepair after the previous owners accidentally caused a fire. At least, that’s what we were told by the agent, but when we arrived, I didn’t see any signs of scorching or ashes. The place was just…overgrown. It felt almost wild, with vines crawling up walls laced with thin cracks, weeds growing out of gaps in the front porch, and scathing grass bending in a cutting wind. It rather unnerved my wife, I think, as she seemed uneasy for the first few weeks living there; however, I had some experience from helping my father out around the house as a teenager, and I was diligent in doing yard work every day until the dense jungle had been reduced to a relatively normal lawn.
Yard work has always been comforting to me. Being outside, working with my hands - I genuinely enjoy the regular task of keeping the lawn tidy. My sons were born soon after we moved, and growing up they kept me busy, but I always found the time to work in the yard. As I’ve gotten older, my wife has tried to convince me to hire someone to do it on account of my bad back, but I can’t bear the thought of someone else taking over my carefully established routine. After her death, going into the backyard and digging my hands deep in the soil became the only way I could truly feel my grief. Taming the wilderness is as familiar to me as breathing.
So, I have encountered plenty in my backyard. You know how many animals come and go every day, crossing the border between our yards and the woods behind them. There are countless times when I’ve woken up to a pile of feathers in front of the back door or bloody messes of unidentifiable meat near the trees. You must understand that this wasn’t like that.
It started with the rabbits. Maybe around a year ago, give or take. Ever since my children stopped coming around. I was bringing some broken branches that had snapped off during a summer storm to the back of the yard, dragging them almost inside the forest. It was a sunny day with very few clouds, directly contrary to the stormy weather the night before, and the bright light was glinting off of something that lay beneath one of the large pine trees. Putting the branches down, I walked closer, thinking something from my deck had blown across the yard. Instead, I approached to see the still body of a small, brown rabbit.
I wasn’t surprised at first. Foxes and coyotes are found in abundance in this area, you know. I figured the poor rabbit had just been in the wrong place at the wrong time. But no, it couldn’t have been that, I realized. The fur of the rabbit was smooth and undisturbed; it was not matted with thick, rusty blood or peeling away in patches. In fact, there were no signs of injury whatsoever. It would have looked like the rabbit had just gone to sleep if it had not been curled into an odd mimic of the human fetal position. All of its limbs and its head were pressed into its chest, compacting the corpse into a tight ball of fur. Those limbs should have been broken, contorted like that, but the rabbit was not bleeding at all. It was certainly a bit strange, but I honestly didn’t pay much attention at first. Any number of things could have caused that rabbit to die in that peculiar position, I told myself. I went about the rest of my day as normal.
The next week, another one turned up. This time closer to the center of the yard, but still curled up unnaturally tight. More kept on coming. Eventually, I had to start disposing of them, because no scavengers or predators were picking them up. Even though they were sitting in the yard for days on end, there was, oddly, no smell. Usually, the stench of animal carcasses after just a day outside is worse than anything. It’s a strong odor of rot, coppery blood, and dirt that distinctively marks the animal as dead meat. At no point did I catch the faintest hint of it from the bodies. Sometimes, it wasn’t even an entire corpse. Just a paw, or an ear, again with no sign of damage. These ones weren’t twisted but instead looked as if the rest of the rabbit had vanished… or the animal bits purposefully dragged to my yard.
When the deer leg appeared, I only rationalized the mysterious remains further. I justified the oddity of the rabbits by imagining skittery foxes, constantly scared away by the dogs across the street before they ate their kills. Trying to stay logical, I saw no reason to panic over the deer leg. I found it easily enough, cast in heavy shadows by the pine tree that it was under. Come to think of it, it might’ve been the same pine tree as the first rabbit… I wasn’t paying attention back then. It was small, most likely from a small buck or young doe. The leg was torn from its socket, a bone protruding from the joint. It was picked clean, absent of any remaining sinew or blood. I looked around the rest of the yard after discarding it, but the rest of the remains of the deer were nowhere to be seen. Chestnut fur and a sleek, polished hoof were the only indications that the stripped leg had once been one of the soft-eyed creatures I saw in my backyard.
I should’ve known it was a warning. If only I’d realized sooner; I would’ve sold the house immediately to try to avoid what I now know was coming. Rather, I marked it up to eccentric predator behaviors. “Mother Nature works in her own ways,” I repeated to myself over and over again when the flock of dead crows covered my lawn in dark, unruffled feathers. I spent the afternoon sweeping away the birds’ stiff and curled bodies, only to wake up the next morning to a mass graveyard of squirrels, all coiled under their kinked tails.
Did you ever notice? I think I recall hoping you wouldn’t at the time. My stubborn streak of independence was still going strong, and I didn’t want to be pestered by offers of help from well-intentioned neighbors. Stupid of me, in hindsight, but my dogma was still that the deaths were from natural causes, albeit extreme ones. If someone had just pointed out to me the
complete strangeness of it all…I want to believe that it would’ve changed something, anything, if someone had just…been there. That week back in November, when the neighbors went on vacation and you left for…wherever? That week that I was completely, utterly alone? That was when it came.
It was exactly six weeks ago, the second full moon of November. A blue moon. I awoke in the dark for a glass of water. It had been a late night and I wanted to fall back asleep as quickly as possible, so I didn’t turn the lights on. I walked downstairs in the dark, quickly grabbed a glass and filled it, and started going back upstairs, Stumbling out of the kitchen and climbing the stairs, I was overcome by a sudden feeling of apprehension. My world felt like it was collapsing around me, closing in on all sides and slowly narrowing around my shaking body. The glass slipped from my fingers, spilling water over the floor and shattering into a million pieces. Shock ran through my body, and my gaze jolted upright, directly towards the living room window in front of me.
And then I saw it. It never once turned its head towards the house, but I am convinced that it saw me first, that it let me see it. Against the backdrop of midnight, its bluish-purple, inky coat appeared fluid, slipping in and out of existence as it carefully moved across the grass. I never took my eyes off of the creature, but it would suddenly appear several feet away from where I last saw it. I watched it slink across the lawn, encased in shadows, and as it moved towards the streetlights, I finally saw it in sharper detail. My breath caught in my already frozen body.
The creature was cat-like, the size of a lion and the shape of a panther, but it had… too many limbs to be either one of those. Too many limbs to be any sort of animal I knew. Each one was smooth with muscle; at least eight different rippling legs supported the huge beast.
Additional bones jutted out of its shoulders and spine, contorting in impossible ways to form warped, shifting structures on its back. One second it whipped razor-sharp tentacles in the air and the next the bones were solid and still, forming finely pointed spikes down the creature’s lengthy spine. The eyes had pupils so large that it was impossible to see the irises, but even the black cavities seemed to glow with intense ferocity. Its face was pulled back in a snarl, revealing a pair of huge fangs the length of my forearm. They dripped with a dark, thick liquid that shone ruddy scarlet.
Monsters don’t exist. I know that. But even as I was aware of that fact, I watched as what could only be described as a monster stalked across the road to the house of the neighbors across the street. Their dogs, I noticed then, had been dreadfully silent the entire time. As it got closer to the house, it started dissolving into the darkness more frequently, sporadically reappearing in a completely different place. No matter how intensely I gazed out my window, fixated on the beast, I just couldn’t keep track of it. The last things I saw before it disappeared for the last time were its fangs, drenched in a bloody, soaking crimson. I spent the rest of the night on that stair, watching and listening. The howls I was expecting never came.
I went over the next day before the neighbors came back. Still half convinced that my visions from last night were part of a dream or perhaps sleep paralysis, I walked up to the neighbors’ fence and saw their two dogs, large Golden Retrievers, curled in the fetal position in the backyard, their bodies cold and unmoving. There was no blood, no damage: all the usual signs I had come to associate with those wild animal corpses in my yard. Except this felt different. Never before had the creature attacked anything close to human, at least not to my knowledge. Those animals were wild, they were part of something other. Dogs are, as they say, man’s best friend. The deaths of the dogs felt malicious, as if the creature was mocking me.
Over the past month, I’ve seen it two more times. Both times, I’m certain you and the neighbors were both away. There is never any noise to warn me, just that horrible tightening in my entire body. Then, I find myself shock-still and watching as it circles the house and disappears into the darkness. Two weeks ago it killed almost all of the neighborhood cats. People were upset, reasonably, as I had no good explanation for why eight cats had suddenly appeared in my yard, lifeless with no apparent cause of death. I’ve stopped going out on the front porch if only to give them all peace of mind, but nevertheless, the neighbors across the street left again two days ago. They seemed the most unsettled by the passings, as if they knew there was a force behind the deaths more sinister than an old man. Their kids play in the street sometimes, and I am loathe to imagine what the monster would do if one night they were left at home alone.
It is hungry for human flesh, I can see it in its all-consuming eyes. I do not know why it only hunts for those weak and alone when it could easily bite a healthy man in half, but it seems to have relegated itself to wild animals and household pets until now. I don’t know what changed, or why it has suddenly decided to hound me, but I have known since I saw its gleaming fangs that it will not go away. It will come for me soon and then steal into the night, fading in and out of view like it isn’t real, but it is real and it will destroy me.
Utter darkness surrounds my window as I call you now from my kitchen. No lights are on in your house either, but I can see your car in the driveway. Are you home? Can you even help me? There is a dreadful resignation to my fate stirring in my chest with the knowledge that I am powerless against these powers of which I know nothing about, and it makes me want to curl up into a ball so tight that I never have to face them again. This monster and I are playing a game of cat’s cradle, and my fingers will only form a grandfather clock that counts down to the end of my life. I can only pray that you are able to break the strings.
With a long beep, the house falls silent again. No one is home, and won’t be until the next week, after the owner of the house returns home in a rental car from a business trip with his neighbor’s sons. The young man will climb the steps to his elderly neighbor’s front porch first thing the afternoon he returns home, eager to get to know the man he heard so much about from his colleagues. When the door fails to open after repeated knocking, he will go around to the backyard to see if the old man is tending to his lawn like usual. As he walks in the shadow of his own house, he will see movement in the darkest corner, but he will forget about it a moment later. He will think that for the rest of his life he will never forget the sight of the old man’s twisted body, bloodless and perfectly preserved among the tall, scratching grass and untamed vines, not realizing that he has looped the thread and continued the game.