There are some things lurking in the night that man was not meant to see.
|The screams awoke Dan Wesley from a dead sleep. Sitting upright in bed, he sat listening in the dark, unsure if the sound had been real or if it had been part of a dream. Sure enough, the inhuman wail sounded again, piercing the night. Swearing under his breath, Dan got out of bed and quickly began to dress.
Stirring, his wife turned over partway in the bed. “What’s wrong?” she asked, voice slurred with sleepiness.
“Something’s scaring the animals,” he answered, pulling on his shirt. “Probably the damn coyotes again. Go back to sleep. I won’t be long.”
Starting into the hall, he grabbed the Winchester rifle that had belonged to his father from over the door. His son Troy appeared from his bedroom at the same moment. The boy was in sweatpants and western boots. He was pulling his battered Carhartt jacket on over his bare chest, and like his father, had a rifle in one hand. Only twelve years old, nevertheless, he had acquired his father’s sensitivity to the pulse of the farm around him. “Coyotes again?” he asked.
“Seems like,” Dan replied, racing down the stairs and through the kitchen to the back door. He grabbed a pair of flashlights from the shelf next to the door, tossing one to Troy, who caught it deftly in one hand. The screen door squealed as they stepped out into the chill, dark night of early spring.
They stood together on the back porch, breath misting before them as they stopped and listened again. They did not have to wait long before another terrified wail issued from the goat barn on the other side of the yard. Dan looked at his son. “You sure you locked the barn up tight when you finished chores tonight?”
“Like Fort Knox,” Troy replied quickly, no hint of doubt or deception in his voice. Dan took him at his word. Troy was exceptionally mature and responsible for his age. If he said he locked the barn properly, Dan would not dispute it.
He chambered a round in the Winchester, and Troy followed suit. “You go around to the left. Go in through the granary door. I’ll go around and come in through the pasture side. Maybe we can catch the sombitches between us,”
Troy nodded and stepped off the porch. Another thing Troy never needed to do was warn his son to be careful with the rifle. The boy was cool-headed enough to check his target before firing. There was little risk that he would accidentally shoot one of their animals, or worse, him.
As his son moved off into the darkness, early morning ground fog cloaking his departure, Dan made his way across the barnyard, pausing only to climb over the gate. The screams started again, and the sound chilled Dan’s blood. He had heard frightened animals before, having spent his entire life on the farm, but there was something about the way the goats were sounding now. Absolute sheer, primal terror.
The lights flickered on in the barn. The screaming stopped, followed by something even more frightening. A roar, animal and enraged, broke through the night, unlike any coyote he had ever heard. Unlike any other predator Dan had ever heard, in fact, outside of a grizzly bear. And there were no grizzlies in Wisconsin.
Two quick shots rang out, jolting Dan. Troy was inside with whatever beast was attacking their stock. Sprinting, Dan crossed the field in record time, arriving at the back door just as it burst open from the inside. Something big and dark blasted out of the barn, knocking Dan onto his back. He managed to keep a grip on his Winchester, but the flashlight went flying. It landed in the mud a few feet away, pointing back into the field. In its light, Dan saw what it was that prompted the goats to scream in terror. His voice caught in his throat, or he would have screamed as well.
Standing a few yards off, the beast paused long enough to look back at him. It had to stand a good head above Dan’s own six-foot-three stature. Covered in dark fur, Dan could nevertheless see sinewy muscle moving beneath its skin There was the limp body of one of the mohair goats his daughter raised cradled under one arm. And its face…
It wasn’t a man. It wasn’t a wolf, but the most frightful combination of both. It glowered at Dan through red, glowing eyes, and its muzzle was completely covered in blood. Breath condensing in the chill night air, it growled, but to Dan’s ears, it sounded more like a tangle of human words, but the muzzle could not fully articulate.
They locked eyes for a few moments more until Dan regained his senses, remembering his rifle. The beast caught the movement and turned, bounding across the field faster than any man could. It leaped the four-foot fence on the far side without effort, disappearing into the fog. Dan could still hear it as it splashed through the marsh on the other end of the property.
With the creature gone, Dan jumped back to his feet and ran inside the barn, remembering the gunshots that had preceded the things hasty exit. He found Troy, apparently unharmed, staring at the carnage all around.
Every last one of their goats out of a herd of twenty was dead, slaughtered. Not just dead, but torn apart. Pieces of them flung everywhere. Blood painted the white-washed walls like some gory modernistic painting.
“Are you okay?” he asked his son.
Troy’s eyes were huge and wet. The boy had broken bones before and never showed much emotion. Now he looked on the verge of tears. “I…I shot at it,” his voice wavered. “I shot at it. I missed. I…”
Dan put his arm around his son’s shoulder. “It’s okay, Troy,” he said, pulling the boy close as the tears came. He couldn’t blame him for the outpouring of emotion. The sight of the carnage within was enough to horrify the toughest of men. Worse, Dan had only seen a shadowy figure in the fog. Troy had seen the beast full-on in the light. He expected many sleepless nights for both him and his son in the weeks to come.
“It’s not gonna be easy, but we’ve got to get this place cleaned up somewhat before morning. Can’t have your mom or sister seeing this.”
Troy breathed in deep, a long, stuttering inhalation that shook his whole body. The boy’s visage was grim but determined. He looked up at Dan, eyes still moist, but he was no longer crying. “What are we going to tell Lindsey?”
Dan sighed. “I’m presently wrestling with that.”
He went to the door leading to the pasture, where the thing had made its escape, straining to make out anything in the moonless night. There was nothing to see, but he could hear the thing, still out there somewhere in the distance. Labored panting, growing fainter as it continued to move off. Then a howl, a sound that made Dan’s skin crawl, echoed through the surrounding hillside.
Dan shut the door, locking it tight.