Chapter two of my short story horror collection. Feel free to enjoy the video of my reading, or read the story for yourself below.
Autumn leaves fell against Mark’s face, leaving wet marks, like cold, ghostly kisses. Wiping his face, he walked on.
This was Weston Park. The path carried on towards the museum. The excitement was rising in Mark’s chest with every step. It felt like a balloon ready to be burst. This was going to be great. He had been studying American Indigenous culture for the last two years, and now he was going to see a whole museum full.
Reaching the steps, he could see the information panel. He stopped to savour it, enjoying the anticipation. Knowing that the experience could never live up to his imagination, he was going to relish this and not miss a thing. The wooden board was made to look like animal hide, to give it an authentic feel. It simply said, "The home of the Sioux." Sheffield University had managed to persuade one of the world’s largest private collectors of "Indian Artifacts" to allow it to be displayed at the museum—even better, they had allowed Mark to go and see it the day before it opened, meaning he would see it first, alone and in private. He was going to advise them about the layout, but in reality he was just going to marvel at it.
Mark walked up the steps and approached the museum entrance. There was meant to be a guard, waiting to meet him, but there was no one. He tried the door, it was open. The guard must be doing his rounds, he thought, but still felt uneasy walking in unannounced. He walked on regardless, he could always explain his presence if challenged. He entered a dimly lit entrance. There was a musty, old smell in the room that added to the sense of history. Mark walked past a couple of empty packing crates. It looked like last minute changes were still happening.
Mark stopped as something grabbed his leg. His heart thumped in his chest, his head felt like it was going to explode, and his mouth went dry. It was something cold, with a vice-like grip. He wanted to look down, but a voice whispered for him not to. Once he looked down, he would be forced to face reality.
It spoke, in a voice so quiet and full of pain.
"It’s out, the careless fools let it out."
Mark summoned the courage to look down. It was the guard, or at least most of him. He had been mauled. His trousers were torn, bloody rags with nothing inside, his chest prised open, and his face barely recognisable.
"What the fuck?"
Mark stepped back, pulling his leg out of the man’s grasp. The world was spinning and he fell to the floor, his stomach contents erupting in front of him. Everything was blurry. He tried to focus and regain control. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled his mobile out, but dropped it on the floor.
"I’m getting an ambulance. You’ll be all right mate, they’ll be here in a minute," Mark said, recovering his phone.
"No time, just listen. They let it out. It’s hungry, it's been trapped a long time. Catch it. You have to catch it. More will die," the guard gasped between laboured breaths, foamy bubbles of blood dripping down his chin.
"You’re delirious, mate. Blood loss or something. It’s out? What’s out? Did you fall in a machine? Forklift, maybe? Look, it’s going to be all right, just try to stay calm."
Mark looked around, hoping to see some kind of machine that could have done this damage, there was nothing, just empty packing cases, and a Totem pole. The pole was on the floor, split in half. It looked like a bomb had gone off inside it. Looking back at the guard, Mark could see blood wiped on the floor around him, like something had dragged him about like a blood-soaked rag.
"You don't understand. I don't work for the museum. I work for the collector. I’m part Sioux. My job is to keep it safe, keep it intact. But they broke it. They broke the Totem. And let it out. It was a cage. A cage of talismans to keep the Earth demon trapped. It's out. It's angry." The guard was almost shouting, blood and spittle landing on Mark's face.
"Even if I believed you, how? How am I supposed to catch this thing?"
The guard had remained still, his breathing shallow and his eyes rolling into his head. With a final long breath that sounded like his soul escaping, the guard shuddered once, then died. Mark was alone. He looked at his phone, he hadn’t called anyone. He doubted paramedics could have done anything. What was he expected to do? This was Sheffield in the 21st century, demons don’t exist, this was stupid.
He inched across to the pole, trying not to breathe or step too loudly. There was nothing else here, the museum was empty, wasn’t it? But he could hear creaking, and an occasional squeaking. Was that the building settling, water pipes rattling? Was he being stalked? Do demons even stalk?
Crouching, he looked at the pole. It was split almost perfectly in half. There were shards of wood hanging from inside. This had taken incredible strength, the wood was solid. How could anything be trapped in that? Was it just a spirit, a ghost? Stupid, that’s what it was. Some vandals must have broken in, damaged the pole, and ripped the guard up? No, that was even more idiotic. No human could do that. What was he supposed to think? This didn’t make any sense. There had to be a rational explanation.
Mark turned one of the pole halves around to get a better look at the carvings. One of the faces was damaged. It looked different to the other breaks. Maybe this had been done while unpacking the Totem. Could this have caused the spirit to be released? Yeah right, Spirit, as if that was possible.
From somewhere deep in the museum there was a crash. The violence stole Mark’s breath. It sounded like something had been knocked over. Something big. An electric current raced down his spine as the hairs on the back of his neck stood up. He still tried to believe, deep down, that the guard had been killed in a machine. He didn’t believe in ghosts, and goblins. Something real, something solid, had caused that noise. The museum was empty. No one was here except him and the grisly guard remains.
Mark picked up his phone from the floor and dialed 999.
"What service do you require?" the operator casually asked.
"I need the police, and maybe animal control," Mark whispered.
"Please state the nature of the emergency," the almost mechanical voice asked.
"There’s a dead guard and something in here with me. I’m at Weston Park museum. Send someone now!"
There was an explosive crash as the door to the next exhibit broke off its hinges, smashing against the wall. A second crash sounded as Mark’s phone smashed on the floor. He crouched, trying to melt into the floor, staring down, trying to resist the urge to look up, not wanting to look at the door, scared of what he might see. There was nothing, just the door swinging on the remains of its hinges. Mark felt around the floor, trying to find his phone, praying it was still intact.
That’s when he saw it. Embedded inside the remains of the Totem. It looked like a thinner, but longer version of the Indian artifact. It was the same colour, and texture. That’s why he had missed it the first time. It was almost part of the relic, as if it had somehow been carved inside the wood. Mark put his hand on it and applied a little pressure. It moved. He gripped it and eased it out of the wreckage. The end glinted like it was electric. It was a spear; unlike any spear he had ever seen. It was carved from tip to tip with animal symbols. The wood was ancient, much more ancient than the Totem that had contained it. As Mark gripped it, his fear lessened. Crouching, he moved around the remains on the floor, trying to get a better view of the broken door. He wanted to face his fear and see whatever it was, then at least he could decide what to do next. He slid beside one of the packing crates, hiding himself, then, slowly, very slowly, he looked around it.
He could see into the next room, which was also dimly lit, but bright enough for him to see nothing was there. As Mark concentrated on the room, he became aware of a crunching, cracking sound. It seemed to be coming from above. Cautiously, he looked up. The front of his trousers got warm as he wet himself with fear. On the roof, upside down, was the creature.
It had eyes the colour and intensity of the sun. It calmly stared back at him. In one of its arms it held the remains of the guard’s leg, stripped now of flesh, the bone sticking out of the end. It crunched as the creature chewed. It was jet black and covered in matted long black fur. The body was five feet long and looked like a cross between a wolf and a chimpanzee, A face like an eagle, but the beak was full of razor sharp teeth and a forked tongue.
Mark felt hope rise as he heard a new sound, distant but rapidly approaching, police sirens. He only had to get outside and he would be safe. He glanced up, fearful that the creature would have moved. But it was there, chewing, without a care. Not taking his eyes from the beast above him, he tried to slide closer to the door. It stopped chewing, looking directly at him. Mark stopped, waited, then moved again. Thump! The leg dropped at his side as the creature stood up on its four limbs, staring at him, hanging from the roof like some monstrous bat, like a cat that had cornered a mouse.
Mark knew he was seconds away from death and could feel his body taking over. He slipped as panic gripped him, and he ran towards the door as the demon leapt from the roof towards him. Screaming, Mark threw himself on his back, holding his arms in the air to ward off the coming attack. He was aware of a force on his right arm, as if he had been hit by a baseball bat, but his eyes were squeezed shut. He was going to die, but could not face seeing the reality.
He waited for the inevitable end.
Mark opened his eyes. The creature was beside him, it had missed by inches, and must have stunned itself on the floor. He was rooted to the spot with terror. Come on Mark, move it, move it, he thought. With a suddenness that shocked him, he was up and running again. The pounding behind told him that his pursuer was up, too. He could hear and smell its laboured, rancid breath. There was a push in the small of his back, and once again, he found himself sprawling onto the floor. He spun around and pushed out his arms to hold the beast back. He had his eyes closed. Time appeared frozen.
He was waiting for the inevitable attack, but there was nothing.
Mark opened his eyes, his arm was vibrating. He was still holding the spear. There was a bright light emanating from the end, and the creature was in it. Its mouth was open in a silent scream as it was squeezed, contorted, and dragged in through the end of the spear. It was reaching out, trying to grab something, but with a sudden burst of speed it was dragged in. The spear seemed to glow, and became too hot to hold. Mark dropped it, but instead of crashing on the floor it remained in the air floating in a ball of light to the remains of the Totem pole. The pieces of the pole raised up to meet it, then enclose it. A light moved around the cracks, like a zipper closing, and behind it the pole was repaired. Then darkness.
Mark was left on the floor by himself. The Totem was now intact, and at the top a new symbol had been carved. It was an effigy of Mark, but he was wearing an Indian headdress.
Mark turned his sweat-stained face, he could not believe what he had just been through. This morning he had been an ordinary man, oblivious of the things that lurked in the shadows, now his life was changed forever.
A light caught Mark's eye, waiving in through the museum entrance. It was a police officer with a hand torch. The beam passed around the room before lighting up the remains of the guard.
"Shit, what the?" The officer pressed his radio button. "Sergeant, you’d better get in here."
Mark sat in a puddle of vomit and urine, on his own in a museum that had been vandalised, his only other companion the grisly remains of the dead guard. How the hell was he going to explain this?