When you come across it, half-buried in the grass by the side of the walking path, the first thing that stands out is how comically out-of-place it is.The hideous ochre rust that adorns its surface is in sheer contrast to the small ring of bright yellow flowers that surround it. You lean in for a closer look. It appears as if someone hastily dug a pit for it and then jammed it in there before fleeing.
You carefully dig it out of the ground. Perhaps when you get back home, you can sell it to that antique shop down the street. Or maybe you can give it to Enrique for his upcoming birthday. He’s a big fan of old things.
As you scrape the dirt away, you get a better look at the object. It’s a bell shaped like a cartoon anvil. You grasp it by the large ring on top. Oddly enough, it doesn’t ring. Curious, you turn it upside down. The clapper has been taped to the side. Briefly you wonder why, as you remove the tape and ring it a couple times.
The sound is mellow and gentle, with a clear, high pitch and a pleasant waning note. Almost immediately, you sense the gaze of some flesh-craving crime against nature. You look around, like a startled rabbit, but there’s not a soul in the woods save you. The sun is sharp and bright, but suddenly you’re aware that the trees all but blot out the sky, and there isn’t a creature to be heard at all. It’s just you and the miles and miles of suddenly very empty forest around you.
You stand up, still clutching the bell by the clapper, and start walking. You can feel your heart throbbing in your chest. You are also suddenly very aware of how squishy it is. You walk slightly faster, eyes flashing from side to side. There it is again; the feeling that something is watching you, seeking to messily devour your flesh. What little sun remains is swiftly blotted out by the unbroken canopy of dark green trees that tower over you, but the path is well-defined. You just have to follow it.
As you quicken your pace, the lack of sound becomes ever more disconcerting. Where are the birds, the bugs, the squirrels? It’s the middle of summer; you shouldn’t be able to go more than an inch without startling something. But the only noise being made is the sound of your feet thumping on the dirt. Is it just you, or are the trees leaning in towards you? You hear a sound and your heart almost stops. You stifle a plea for mercy and look at the ground. You stepped on a twig.
You chide yourself for your paranoia and ridiculous train of thought. You chuckle to yourself nervously, but you can’t quite help but feel foreign eyes observing you. You take a look around you. The trees aren’t getting closer. They’re sitting plump on the edges of the path. The forest is completely empty, with nothing around you except the plants. Yet you can also sense that it is getting darker, and the clap of thunder spurs you into action. As you return to your car, your pace isn’t quite a run, but neither is it a leisurely walk.
Almost as soon as you shut the garage door, the increasingly grey sky turns a deep navy, and in a fashion akin to the world’s largest zipper, tears open. It’s like God’s showerhead; thousands of gallons of water on jet setting pulverize the ground, punching gashes into the earth, which bleed rain. You consider writing this down; maybe you’ll take it to that poetry competition next week. You turn around, planning to get a- wait a minute, what the hell is that!
Enormous grey, emaciated, puckered hands with fingers sharp enough to cut rock are curled around the doorframe on the far end of the room. They are attached to the body of a leper, half peering around the door. You can see ribs and even pulsating organs through the ash colored, inhumanly thin torso. Huge scars line it in a hideous patchwork fashion. The legs are even worse. You can clearly see the bone through the thighs, which are far too scrawny to support the rest. The feet, scarred and stitched, boast three triangular toes. The face is a hideous, grey hairless mess. Two bulging, white orbs with pinprick pupils stare back at you from within lead-colored sockets sunk deeper than the Titanic. There is no nose, only a long, thin gash. The mouth leers jaggedly at you, with crisp, white, shark-like teeth. The whole thing rests upon a two meter tall frame.
For a moment that appears to be an eternity, you lock eyes with hell itself. Then you rub your eyes. The creature is gone. You stare at the door for a little longer. The door refuses to stare back, because doors cannot stare. You let out a nervous chuckle, telling yourself that from now on, you’ll stop reading horror novels and eating those spicy pretzel bits before bed. There are small scratch marks on the doorframe.
You can’t stand making real dinner, but TV dinners taste like motor oil. You weigh your choices, an hour for preparation and cleanup for a warm, savory meal, or ten minutes for a microwaveable box of tasteless processed stuff.
You descend to the cellar, where all your groceries are kept. It’s still the only place in the house with a concrete floor, and as your feet cringe from the chill of the concrete, you consider replacing it with hardwood. You bend down, open the freezer, and search through the various processed edible plastics. You pick out what looks like a mildly edible Hungry Man and close the freezer. As you turn towards the staircase, you see what looks like ash-grey socks sluggishly ascending ahead of you. For a second you pause, but then you dash after it. That Hungry Man in your hands is probably tough enough to incapacitate an intruder. But when you reach the top of the stairs, there isn’t a soul except for you. Then you notice the cuts in the wood.
As your head hits the keyboard for the fourth time, ruining a vital push, you reluctantly accept that you need to get some sleep. The roars of dismay and racist, homophobic slurs that blare through the speakers only confirm it for you. You quit the game and shut the computer down, then get up out of your chair, stifling a yawn and stretching your arms skyward. The rain is still pouring down, and you can hear it drumming on the roof. You stagger out of the room, pulling your shirt and shorts off and tossing them to the ground, and force yourself towards the bathroom. As you perform your nightly ablutions, you start hearing some noises. As if someone is tiptoeing upstairs.
You take a look at the mirror from an angle. Leering at your reflection from your bedroom is the leper, tilted and peering through the doorframe. It has no eyes, and something red is splashed over the mouth, giving a hideous impression of lips. And it is still smiling. Those enormous hands are wrapped around the doorframe. As you startle backwards in fright, all thoughts of sleep gone, the toothbrush dropping from your mouth, it pulls back into the bedroom. You immediately peek through the door, but as usual, there is nothing there. Nothing except the gashes in the frame.
You are huddled in the bed. Every light in the house is on, which is probably a terrible idea since the storm is really getting underway now. Thunder is smashing and crashing, while the lightning is flashing at every second, sure to fry the circuits in your house very soon. But you don’t care. Your eyes zip around, sure that with every flash, the creature will be back. You aren’t even sure why you’re in the bed. You’re about to get up and make for the car, and then you realize you might encounter the thing on your way. And who’s to say it isn’t waiting in the car?
As the hours pass, your eyes start to lower. Your mind starts to wander. And then you fall into the half awake, half asleep twilight that comes from unwary sleep.
A sound startles you out of your half-sleep. And then, for one split second, your nose is touching the gash in the face of the leper. It is wet, limp, and soggy, with a rubbery texture. Your eyes are centimeters away from the empty, ragged sockets. And you can taste the warm, wet breath on your lips. It smells of urine, rotting meat, and putridness. This time, your scream most certainly awakens the dead. But you have no time to enjoy the exaggeration, as the entity flees the instant it notices your wakefulness . This time, you grab the axe at the bottom of your bedstand. It was a gift from your father, who claimed that you could never be too careful. You snorted then, but now you appreciate his prescience. With the cutting tool in your grasp, you pursue the creature into the hallway. But once again, it’s gone. You stand there, in the middle of the hall, breathing deeply. You’re tempted to pass it off as some sort of hallucination. And then you recall the gashes in the wood, the sounds from the day, and above all, the smell and the feel of that beast against your skin. It was like touching decay and death. It felt wrong. And now, it’s vanished without a trace. But you know. You know. It will return. It will be back.
You cannot touch it. But it can touch you.
As you stand in that lit hallway, in a twilight between wakefulness and slumber, carrying an axe in the middle of the night as thunder and lightning rage outside your sheetrock cage in a crescendo of brilliant destruction, you wail.
And then, with a brilliant flash of insight, it hits you. This is all because of that bell. Everything started when you rang that bell. You knew there was something wrong with that. This thing wants the bell. But then, you realize, the bell has been sitting on the dinner table the whole time. It could have taken the bell anytime it wanted. It's playing with you! So you do the only rational thing. You snatch the pair of pants from the ground and don it hastily. Time is everything. You snatch a flashlight from your bedstand, and then run downstairs. Quickly, you find a scrap of paper and a pen and write a note. You aren’t even sure what you wrote, but you are sure that it is important.
You grab the car keys and bell from the table and race into the garage. The bell and note are stuffed into your pocket, and the axe into the shotgun seat. You turn the key as you push the remote to open the garage door, but the car isn’t starting. A particularly brutal flash of lightning startles you. You look to the side and see the demon, entering the garage from your house. The eyes are back, but blood is oozing from its pupils. It is still grinning at you, and you know for a fact that its hands have become longer. It is reaching out to you. But then, as it sees you see it, it stops, oddly unsure whether or not to move forward. That is all the time you need. The car starts up, and you smash the accelerator, forcing the car from 0 to 60 in three seconds.
The car ride shreds what is left of your nerves. The rain is coming down in buckets upon buckets, and every time you look to the side, you can see the hellbeast, illuminated by flashes of lightning, standing at the edge of the road, reaching out to you and the bell. Providence smiles somewhat, as you do not encounter any obstacles. When you reach the walking path, you get out, hoisting the axe and flashlight. You don't bother to shut the door.
You pound through the woods, the rain soaking you to the already-chilled bone. This time, the trees are definitely leaning out at you. But you don’t care. Fear has given your feet wings, and you race through. But even as you speed down the path, the monster still pursues you. Every time you dare to look back, it is shambling towards you, kicking up mud, following the pathway and the bell. You keep searching the ground with your flashlight. There! The little ring where you found it! You skid to a halt and fall to your knees. Hastily, you press what remains of the tape back to the clapper, securing it. Then you bury the bell back into the grass, far deeper than you found it.
You stand up, but then slip on the wet ground. As you lie there triumphantly, slightly sunk into the mud with the rain splashing onto you, the flashlight illuminates a sudden movement. You look over, and burst into exhausted tears, as the flashlight illuminates the devil himself, strolling towards you. The face is grey, hideous, messy, rotting, and elated as the water runs down its awful visage. Its eyes have returned, and it stares at you with undisguised triumph. You can see water vapor being emitted from the ripped slit in the middle of its face. The mouth is upturned in a victorious leer, teeth deep black and rotting. You are too tired and exhausted to offer any sort of resistance. As it leans down to pick you up, the last thing you see before merciful slumber takes you are the beast's hands, great bony things, with the flesh, meat, and muscle completely degloved. They are growing.