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The Cuckoo

by Josh Lowe about a month ago in Horror · updated about a month ago

A disturbing short horror story on the struggles of motherhood

Warning: The following story, while entirely fictional, may be disturbing for some readers. Reader discretion is advised.

Part One

“Travis, stop! I told you not to go too close to the water,” Elaina yelled, her anxious voice echoing through the surrounding forest. Travis stubbornly turned away from the water, which, moments before, he had been eagerly walking towards. He was perhaps too confident for a seven-year-old who had no idea how to swim. Not to mention how freezing cold the lake water was.

“Sorry,” he muttered, as he walked back towards his scowling mother. Elaina sighed, she could see the disappointment in his eyes, an all too familiar sight. Travis had never met his father, and Elaina’s mental-health had deteriorated after he’d left, leaving her in recurrent battles with child protection agencies. She wasn’t a bad mother, at least not by intent, but her drinking certainly had not helped Travis’ already troubled childhood. Elaina had hoped that spending a few weeks away from the city at her parents’ old lake house, with just her and her son, would help them get back on top of life. It was nice being in such a nostalgic place. There were so many memories of summer holidays there.

“Ok, champ,” Elaina said, “How about we go for a walk through the forest instead?”

Travis looked up at Elaina with a grin of excitement, “Ok,” he chirped, as they began to walk down a roughly cleared path between the trees which, much to Elaina’s liking, lead them in the opposite direction to the lake.

The morning’s stormy showers had left a myriad of puddles scattered across the ground which reflected the smoky grey clouds that hovered above. It wasn’t raining anymore, but Elaina had insisted they wore their matching yellow raincoats ‘just in case’. Travis walked ahead, splashing in every puddle he could find. Elaina smiled as she trailed behind him, keeping her distance to escape any backsplash from Travis’ chaotic stomps. Suddenly, something brushed past her head, causing Elaina to jump in fright and duck to her knees.

“Shit!” Elaina shrieked. She looked up to see the blur of a Cuckoo gliding up into an old oak tree further up the path. Realising there was no danger, she quickly stood back up and brushed herself off, taking a deep breath of relief. Travis had ceased his stomping and had turned back to look at Elaina in confusion.

“What’s wrong?” he said, concerned.

“Oh nothing, sweetheart. The bird just scared me that’s all. Can you see it?” Elaina asked, pointing up at the Cuckoo, “That’s a Cuckoo.”

Travis’ gaze followed Elaina’s finger up to the top of the old oak tree.

“I see it!” Travis exclaimed, “But what’s it doing?”

Elaina squinted her eyes as they stepped closer.

“Oh,” Elaina said, “I know what it’s doing. Do you wanna know something interesting about Cuckoos?”

Travis stared up at Elaina, intrigued, and nodded his head eagerly.

“Well, the mother Cuckoos aren’t very good at making nests. So, instead of laying their eggs in their own nests, they lay their eggs in the nests of other birds.”

“Wow!”

“Mhmm, but the sad part is, in order to make room for their own eggs, the mother Cuckoo will push some of the other bird’s eggs out of the nest and replace them with her own. That’s what this one is doing at the moment.”

“Shit,” Travis said, “That’s not good…”

“Travis!” Elaina scalded, “I know I said that word before but it’s not good to do that. Promise me you won’t say it again?”

“Sorry,” Travis said as he stared at the ground sadly, “I just don’t think what the Cuckoo is doing is very nice.”

“I know, it’s not really, is it?” Elaina sighed, “And when the Cuckoo eggs hatch, the other bird won’t know that her eggs have been replaced by the Cuckoo eggs, so she’ll raise the Cuckoo chicks for the mother Cuckoo.”

“Well, that’s nice of the bird at least,” Travis said.

“I suppose it is, isn’t it?”

Elaina smiled at Travis’ naivety and ruffled his hair, pulling him into a hug. Her eyes wandered across the landscape as she took in its serenity, and then froze abruptly. For a moment, she swore she could see two yellow eyes watching them through the tree branches beside them, just a few metres into the dense forest. Travis pulled away from the hug effortlessly as Elaina stared curiously. Suddenly, a few metres ahead on the path, Travis gasped, “Look what I found!”

Elaina snapped out of her gaze, and turned back to Travis, “What is it, darling?”

“It’s a snail!”

“Oh, wow that’s lovely!” Elaina replied with poorly forced enthusiasm. She turned back to look into the forest again, but there was nothing there.

Part Two

The light from Elaina’s old laptop illuminated the room, causing the uneven wooden slats on the walls to cast shadows, and exaggerating their imperfections. Elaina took a sip of her tea as she clicked open one of the emails from the child protection agency.

Hi Elaina,

Thank you for keeping me updated regarding your temporary change in address. I’m glad to hear you’re doing well. I’ll need to check in on you and Travis this week. It’s nothing to worry about, just our usual monthly catch up. Are you free this Thursday around 10am? Happy to arrange another time with you as well if that won’t suit. Let me know.

Kind regards,

Jaycie.

Elaina sighed. It was frustrating how much work she had to put in just to keep Travis with her. It didn’t seem fair. But she was all too familiar with the process, and it had become part of her regular routine by now. She clicked the ‘reply’ icon and began half-heartedly typing her response.

Thanks, Jaycie.

10am Thursday is fine.

Regards,

Elaina.

“And… sent,” Elaina sighed, rubbing her eyes and proceeding to comb her fingers through her hair to comfort herself. She took a deep breath, and walked to the kitchen, before pulling some beef patties out of the fridge. It was getting late, and Travis was going to be hungry sooner or later. After eyeing off the bottle of Merlo on the counter for a moment, Elaina reached over and twisted off the lid.

Suddenly, Travis’ scream echoed through the house. Elaina dropped the bottle instantly, causing red liquid to spill across the kitchen floor, which then rippled through the broken shards of glass. She sprinted out of the kitchen, calling out to Travis, “Travis!? Travis, where are you?!”

Elaina’s panic consumed her as she glanced around anxiously, and noticed the front door was open. She bolted over to it and ran outside, “Travis!? Travis?!” she yelled, but her screams were only met with the constant chirp of crickets and the fading sound of Cuckoos in the evening breeze. Travis was gone.

Part Three

“As I told you before, ma’am, we’ll do everything we can to find your boy. We’ve got a search party being organised as we speak, and if they find anything, you’ll be the first to know,” Sheriff Goodspeed said softly. Elaina huddled under her blanket on the lake house's balcony. She was too shocked to look up at the Sheriff, but he continued nevertheless, “The best thing you can do is wait here in case Travis finds his way home, ok?”

Elaina nodded, “Yeah… ok, I can do that,” she sniffled.

“Do you have anyone you can call, so you don’t have to be alone?”

“Uh, yeah. I do.”

“Ok, you have my number. Please don’t hesitate to call me if you need anything else. Anything at all.”

The Sheriff smiled sympathetically, turned and began to walk back towards his car, then stopped.

“Oh, and I know this may not be any consolation,” he said, looking back at Elaina, “but I’ve seen quite a few kids disappear in this town over the years, and they just about always turn up… Alive of course,” he added.

Elaina wiped a tear from her eye and looked up at the Sheriff’s hopeful eyes, “Thanks,” she croaked. Sheriff Goodspeed nodded and walked back to his car where the other officers were waiting. As the police cars pulled away from the house, Elaina picked up her phone and flicked open her contacts. Her finger hovered over her father’s name for a few moments, before she locked her phone and stuffed it back into her pocket. She couldn’t bare to tell him she’d lost Travis. Not yet.

Part Four

It was impossible for Elaina to sleep knowing that her son wasn’t there with her, but she lay in her bed hoping it would at least pass the time faster while she waited for the police to call. It didn’t. Guilt, shock, regret, and pain ate away at her as she tossed and turned. At some point though, she must have fallen asleep, because she awoke to the sound of a Cuckoo calling in the trees outside the bedroom window. She sat up groggily and stared out into the view of the lake. The moonlight reflected off the water’s surface, causing it to sparkle as it gently rippled in the breeze.

After only a brief moment though, Elaina grew tired of the view as she remembered what had happened. She turned back to the bed and froze in fear. Her bedroom door had creaked open, and down in the darkness of the hallway, were two yellow eyes staring back at her, or at least they looked like eyes. Elaina was terrified, and she lunged at the light switch by her bedside almost immediately. As the lights flicked on, she glimpsed back down at the corridor. It was empty.

Elaina sighed a breath of relief; she must have imagined it. She walked back to her bedroom door and closed it, but as she turned back to her bed, she screamed. Sat at the foot of her bed, was Travis. He was naked, shivering and covered in dirt. Elaina recovered almost instantly and ran to his side, “Travis! Travis, baby, what happened to you?” she sobbed, “I was so worried.”

Travis didn’t say a word. He just sat there blankly staring out of the window as Elaina held him in her arms.

“Let’s get you cleaned up, ok? Then I’ll have to call the Sheriff and let him know you’ve come home,” Elaina said softly, “he said you’d come home, you know? He knew it.”

Part Five

Elaina covered her mouth with the collar of her shirt as she scraped the rotten meat patties into the bin, causing a wave of flies to scatter around the room.

“I was so worried about you that I completely forgot about the dinner I was making,” Elaina said, “You must be starving, darling. Let me get this cleaned up first and I’ll cook you up something for breakfast.”

It was such a relief to have Travis home safe, it felt like a huge weight had been lifted off Elaina’s chest. Still, it was worrying that Travis hadn’t said anything since he’d returned. What happened to him? She wondered. Travis was not providing any answers though. He just sat silently at the kitchen table, staring out the window towards the lake. Something wasn't right, but Elaina couldn't quite figure out what it was. There was a lingering sense of dread that followed her around. Perhaps it was the thought of losing Travis again. Regardless, she was watching him like a hawk now, and she'd decided almost the second he had returned that he'd be sleeping in her room from now on, with the door locked and the lights on.

Part Six

It was Thursday morning, and three days had passed since Travis’ mysterious return, yet Elaina’s unease had only gotten worse. She had awoken in a sweat this morning, only to find Travis standing at the foot of her bed, staring at her with an eerily blank expression. He was still yet to say a word, or to show any sign of emotion for that matter. It was almost as though his body had found its way home, but Travis’ soul was still lost somewhere.

To make things worse, the foul decaying stench of rotten meat had returned, despite Elaina having thoroughly cleaned, sprayed and scrubbed the kitchen to remove the rotten meat patties several days ago. Travis was sitting contently in his room, and so Elaina had decided to use the morning to try and find the source of the foul odour which, presumably, was a dead rodent that had died rather inconveniently somewhere around the house.

Elaina crinkled her noise as she patrolled each room and, after a somewhat embarrassing amount of time acting like a police hound, she decided that the odour must have been emanating from the basement. She grabbed an old dish cloth from the kitchen drawer to cover her mouth and nose before venturing downstairs into the basement.

A sense of unease fell over Elaina as she reached the last step. Her father always discouraged her from entering the basement as a child because he would use it as a storage area for most of his sharp tools and gardening equipment. As she walked around the room, the stench became overwhelming. It was definitely something in the basement that was causing the smell. It was only a small room of about four by four metres, and the majority of it was empty aside from a large wrench, some crates, and a few bits of broken furniture which had been dumped down there for storage. As Elaina began to scan through the items in search of the mystery culprit, her eyes locked onto a small hole in the far wall.

“What on earth…” she muttered, as she pushed some of the crates out of the way. The hole was even bigger than she had first realised and was at least two feet in diameter. Grabbing her phone from her pocket, Elaina flicked on the flashlight, shined it into the hole and gasped. It wasn’t just a hole, it was a tunnel, and a deep one at that. What was worse was that the smell was definitely coming from within the tunnel. Determined to rid her house of the stench, Elaina began to climb into the hole. As she squinted into the tunnel, which was now illuminated by her flashlight, she could see something shiny and yellow a few feet ahead.

“What the hell?” Elaina muttered as she crawled closer to the mysterious object. As she creeped closer, she moved her phone light to the side to get a better look at the object and screamed. There, on the floor of the tunnel, was Travis’ half decayed body. Its limbs had been chewed off, and the carcass was severely disfigured, but it was clearly him, still wearing his yellow raincoat, which was now tattered and covered in dried blood. As Elaina screamed and stared in horror, something moved on the other side of Travis’ body. She moved the light in its direction and screamed again. There, in the darkness of the tunnel, was a gruesome humanoid creature. Its skin was damp, grey and shiny. Its eyes were bright yellow, and its mouth formed a snout-like beak which stretched out to form a toothy smirk. It suddenly grabbed Travis’ carcass and dragged it deeper into the tunnel, screeching, and disappearing into the darkness. Elaina was still screaming as she stumbled backwards out of the tunnel and landed on her back in the basement. She turned to her side and threw up on the floor, her hands violently shaking.

As she began to try and slow her breathing, the other Travis appeared at the bottom of the basement stairs. The darkness in the basement was just enough to show the yellow tinge in its eyes. Its mouth began to stretch and morph, forming a vicious snout-like beak. It was identical to the creature in the tunnel but smaller and younger. This one was just an infant.

“You’re not Travis. You’re not Travis. YOU’RE NOT TRAVIS!” Elaina screamed.

It lunged forward towards Elaina, but as it did, she grabbed the old wrench from the floor and swung it into the creature’s skull. It fell to the ground and, after a moment of writhing and screeching, began to try and stand again, but Elaina was too fast.

“You killed my baby!” She screamed as she heaved the wrench into the creature’s skull again and again until the basement floor resembled her spilled bottle of wine she had dropped a few days before. After the creature stopped moving, it seemed to morph back into its impression of her son, and Elaina turned away from the grotesque corpse.

Tears streamed from her face as she looked around the room in panic. Her eyes locked onto the motionless figure which had stopped midway down the basement stairs.

“Oh Elaina,” Jaycie muttered in shock, her face was pale and her eyes were wide with fright, “Elaina… What have you done?”

The rotten smell had since moved on from the house, but deep down in the tunnel beside her, Elaina swore she could hear the sound of a Cuckoo.

Horror

Josh Lowe

Neuroscience student from Brisbane, Australia. Just looking for a little creative outlet. Thanks for taking an interest!

Twitter: https://twitter.com/J0SHwrites

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