There’s A Creature in The Woodshed
A Short Story by Marley Starr
Growing up, it’s easy to ignore stories of monsters who lived here before us. Like they’re just fairytales our parents tell us to put us to sleep, or scare us out of misbehaving. We have enough pride at a certain age to scoff, roll our eyes, and claim how fake it all is.
That is, until you’re pointing the barrel of your gun directly at one in the woodshed.
I grew up in a small town on the coast. It’s the most idyllic place to have grown up, so I’ve heard. Every time we’d meet a visitor from far across the continent, they rave about how safe and picturesque it must have been to roll down a hill overlooking the sea, or have seafood feasts every night. I always politely agree and quickly change the subject to ask about their life from wherever they’re from.
This year for my thirteenth birthday, My dad took me out on the fishing boat. I got to meet all types of travelers with their own wild stories from the different places they come from. The big open prairies, flat farming land, imposing pine forests and vast deserts- Those who travel from that far always have some sort of wild story to tell. My absolute favorite subject to hear about, though, are about the ruins. Old abandoned land that you can tell wasn’t like this before. I’ve heard stories from folks who’ve found moss growing over old steel towers of wood and plaster and faded images of weird objects and devices on them. Or clay brick walls nearly eroded to dust with text from a long dead language.
The ones that intrigued me, and frankly, frightened me the most, are the images of the old monsters. We used the word monster liberally, as there’s really no other term to call them. The stories we were told as kids that one day they all disappeared, and their history and language were completely destroyed. That way, nobody knows how and when they all died. Some say their monuments melted and crumbled, and they couldn’t withstand the elements and died in increasingly terrible natural disasters. Others say they held out for quite a while, while different populations flew away to find a new home, and the rest of them dwindled away while their sky filled up with so much smoke, they couldn’t even see the stars. Some people say they never even left, and have been living secretly and scrounging for food and shelter from us. I didn’t believe that.
I wish every day that I didn’t.
People say they’ve found old remains and monuments of their likeness. They came in many different shapes and sizes, so it’s difficult to even describe one. It’s especially hard to know what they look like when I ask the travelers who’ve seen “pictures” of them. They become agitated and panicked. They’d yell at me. “Hush, boy!” Almost like they don’t want anyone to hear. Almost like they don’t want to remember. By then my father would just pull me away and scold me, telling me to mind my own business. All they would ever tell me afterwards is to remind my father to reinforce the locks on the house.
The only person who’d remotely budge is my grandfather. My parents live a traditional fisherman’s life and choose to have very little time for nonsense. When my siblings and I would misbehave, our father would scold us with a grunt and be on his merry way, my mother always agreeing with him. They chose not to have time for fairy tales and imagination, so the one person I’d turn to was my grandfather. He’s a kind old man, and always divulged my creativity. He’s a self proclaimed scientist and chooses to study the “old world.” He’ll bring back relics and artifacts from a hike and tell us all about what it was used for, even though he probably has no clue himself. He was the only one who would tell us about the monsters.
He said they were long and slender, with matted, greasy strings coming down from their heads. They would breathe weird gurgles and gasps through tiny holes, and a big gaping hole right in the middle of their face. They walked on skinny stumps with slender, bony claws at the end of them, and their skin was always smooth and fleshy. The scariest part of all, he told us, was their eyes. They were mostly white with a beedy black dot in the center. And if you caught them in the light, they’d glow a terrifying yellow.
He’d always say these are the kinds of creatures that would eat our toes in the night if we stayed up too late, or would steal our birthday gifts if we were bad kids that year. These are the same creatures that the travelers talked about having seen on the side of crumpled old buildings, or in stone monuments tucked away under moss and vines. They whisper this to each other and share a type of pain in their eyes that only puts a pit in my stomach. That only reinforces what I don’t want to believe.
Once, in the dead of the night, I heard a scratching at the door to the woodshed. When I looked, the door was swinging wide open. It’s never open.
My parents have always derided me about how my imagination won’t get me anywhere. How I need to grow up and be a man, to stop listening to my grandad’s old stories. I knew I wouldn't get another chance to prove that I’m more than they think I am, so I took my father’s rifle off the wall and crept out the back door .
I walked gingerly towards the woodshed and held the gun close to my chest. I had never held it before, it felt too large and clunky in my hands. It felt wrong. It’s almost like fate itself was begging me to stop before I got to the shed. I should’ve listened. When I got there, I quickly pointed the rifle outwards and yelled, trying to spook the critter. I expected it to be the regular kind of varmint. The ones that chew holes in your grain storage, or wander in accidentally. Instead, the beams of moonlight shone down on a crouched figure in the corner, shoveling raw fish guts into its mouth. My stomach churned at the sight of it.
It had long matted black hair, and skin so pale you could see its veins. It’s back was hunched, and you could see the indentation of its bones poking out. Everything grandfather had said was true, and the worst part of it all, were the beaming yellow dots in the sea of white that were their eyes. I trembled as I cocked the gun and shouted for it not to get any closer. It stood on its hinds and reached its spindly hands out towards me. It screeched at me in its strange tongue, its lips morphing over rows of flat teeth. Its cries were high pitched and nauseating.
In a fit of panic and adrenaline, I fired my first shot. It missed and went directly over its head. The creature stiffened and stared at me, letting out a high, sharp noise. Its eyes shot spears into my soul as I became dizzy with fear. My pulse pounded in my ears as I squeezed my eyes shut and prepared for the next shot. Before I did, however, I got a glimpse at the creature’s eyes. Out of the moonlight, its eyes were a kind of icy blue surrounding the beedy black dot. The skin around them twisted in an expression I couldn’t identify, but at this point I didn’t care. I squeezed my eyes shut and fired twice.
One bullet landed in its chest, and the other in its head. The creature slumped to the ground as a pool of red liquid gathered around its body. I ran to get my grandfather.
I led him to the woodshed and explained what had happened. The night was dark, so I couldn’t be sure- but a look passed over his face for just a second. Was it fear? Regret? Grief? I couldn’t tell, I still can’t to this day. Whatever it was, he quickly buried it deep down before swallowing hard and proceeding. If he was trying to protect me, it’s too late at this point. He walked in slowly and assessed the body. His expression was calculated and thoughtful. To him, it wasn’t some wild animal like I had first thought. Before anything, he draped a blanket over the majority of the body, making careful work to avoid touching certain areas. He inspected it with a similar care and tenderness he had given my siblings and I when we fell asleep at parties and needed to be carried upstairs to our beds. By its dirty and unkempt look, it seems that the only dignity and kindness the creature has gotten or will ever get, is in death.
I began to ask questions, and he responded simply and robotically. That is until I asked how old it was. He paused and looked aside, returning to his inspection. I asked him again, frantic. Instead of matching my panic, he stood up and sighed.
“It was a child. Just a bit younger than you.”
I felt sick. For the first time in my life I had seen these creatures as something more than a nightmarish story. With my grandfather’s patience and respect towards it, I began to see it as a person. Like I had put down a family pet running in a field, or worse. Mercilessly killed another being like me, who was screaming out for help in a language I couldn’t understand.
We made quick work of disposing of the body. I suggested we dump it over the edge of the cliff towards the sea, but even I felt a hard lump of shame in my throat as I said it. My grandfather did not respond, as he tightened the blanket around the body and carried it gently towards the woods. We spent the rest of the night into the morning burying it. We didn’t speak to each other after that. It was only after he spent a few seconds longer with his head bowed at the makeshift grave did I ask:
“What was it?”
“From what I’ve heard, They were called humans. This was their earth before us.”
The next day went past like a blur. Grandfather told me he’d take care of cleaning up the mess in the shed, and that I should wash myself off. After both our tasks were finished, we returned inside to greet my parents, concerned over the loud sound last night and wondering where I had been. My mouth was dry, I had no words. My grandfather instead put on a smile and spoke for me. He said that I had found a wild animal digging into our food supply, and that I bravely took it out with the rifle. My father was overjoyed and clapped me on the shoulder. He told me how proud he was of me for hunting my first game, and to protect the family no less. He began to go on about how he should book a hunting trip next week, just the two of us. I barely listened.
After that night, I never asked another traveler about their theories on humans. When little kids believe they’re real and that they’ll come get the misbehaving children in the night, I leave the room. When folks whisper to one another about them in a tone of voice I didn’t once understand, I bow my head and only listen. I get why they speak so softly now. I understand that terrified look in their eyes. It's the same look I have now. But I’m not scared of seeing the humans again. I’m scared to see a similar pair of eyes looking back.
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Very well written. Keep up the good work!
Original narrative & well developed characters
Easy to read and follow
Well-structured & engaging content
Zero grammar & spelling mistakes