Christmas Takeover 29: Mark Sheldon: You Did It Again

You Did It Again

A Story by Mark Sheldon
2,087 words

Darkness. A voice whispers, “You did it again…”

Anne snapped awake, startled; barely even aware that she had dozed off. She looked out the window to see snow falling in a mad flurry, engulfing the car in a foggy blizzard. She could only just barely make out the ghostly shapes of the mountain forest trees – mere yards away from the frosted glass of her window.

In the front seat, her father was squinting over the steering wheel, struggling to see and stay on the buried mountain road. His glasses were beginning to mist and his curly hair was matted with nervous sweat. Next to him, Anne’s mother fidgeted in her seat, nervously tugging on her blood-red hair.

“Harold, there’s a driveway up ahead!” Anne’s mother shouted, breaking the screeching silence in the car.

“Mary, we don’t need to stop. I’m fine. It’s under control,” Harold defensively replied, unable to disguise the noticeable tremor in his voice.

“Dad, please just stop the car,” Anne pleaded – although she of course did not want to miss Christmas dinner at her grandparents’, she wanted much less to continue traveling in this obviously dangerous weather.

“Harold, now!” Mary desperately attempted to take the wheel from Harold, but he pushed her hands away. As he lost control of the car, he fought with the wheel to regain control, but inevitably skidded into a massive tree trunk in front of the barely-visible driveway.

“Are you happy now? Look what you did!” Harold snapped at his wife.

“Harold, there’s a cabin up there!” Mary exclaimed as she peered through the blizzard up the phantom driveway.

“That’s lovely, but what are we going to do about this Goddamn car?”

“Once the blizzard clears and we get cell phone reception again we can call for a tow truck.”

“A tow truck? Are you out of your effin’ mind? We’re in the middle of nowhere! Do you know how much that will cost?”

“Dad, please! Can we just get to that cabin and then figure out what we’re doing from there?” Anne pleaded from the back seat, both wanting to stop her parents’ arguing and get to the warmth of the cabin.

“All I know is that I’m not paying for a Goddamn tow truck,” Harold grunted as he wrenched his door open and climbed out into the bitter blizzard.

The family trudged through the snow toward the cabin, Harold mumbling grumpily at the back of the line. It was not far from the road to the cabin, but with the blistering winds and the harsh snow, the trek took almost half an hour.

The cabin was old and small. At first glance, one would naturally assume that it was abandoned. Nonetheless, Mary politely asked, “Is anybody here?” before entering. Cobwebs decorated the long-forgotten floors and furniture of the cottage. A small table stood in one corner, and a single chair sat at an angle to the table in the other corner. Against the far wall under the window was a dusty couch. The cushions of the couch were shredded with age, torn as if by the claw of some monstrous hand.

A fireplace stood alone in one corner; old firewood that had once been piled, now was strewn about the floor. A large chopping axe hung above the fireplace.

Anne and Mary hastened to start a fire while Harold moped on the forgotten couch, watching the snow fall on the ground through the window as the afternoon light turned to dusk, and then night.

Time passed. The blizzard digressed to light snowfall. Anne and Mary were sitting by the fireplace; Anne was reading a book and Mary was filling out a crossword puzzle.

Harold’s snores reverberated against the cabin walls. Annoyed, Anne glanced away from her book and shot her dozing father an evil glance just in time to see something outside running in the snow. The shape flickered in and out of the frame of the window too quickly for Anne to distinguish what it was.

“Mom,” Anne whispered, “there’s something outside.”

“What?”

“I just saw something running outside – in the snow.”

Mary got up, walked over to the window, and leaned over her snoring husband to look out into the white night. The first beams of morning sunlight were beginning to creep through the trees.

“I don’t see anything out there, Anne…”

“Mom, I know I saw something…”

Underneath Mary, Harold snorted and rolled over in his sleep. Mary took her coat from the back of her chair and walked over to the door to glance out into the early morning.

“Please be careful, Mom,” Anne shakily whispered.

“Don’t worry, sweetie, I’m sure it was nothing to worry about.”

Mary opened the door and stepped out into the bitter air. At first, she saw nothing, but then she noticed something curled up in the snow, about fifteen feet from the porch step. Mary shivered as she stepped off the porch into the knee-deep snow.

As she drew closer to the shivering form in the snow, she saw that it was nothing more than a child – a boy, no older than twelve. She knelt by the boy in the snow; he had a vacant, manic look in his eye.

“You’re going to die,” the boy said in a hoarse croak, a slight smile crossing his lips.

An icy chill shivered down Mary’s spine – and it wasn’t from the cold air.

“Why don’t you come inside, hon?” Mary said, once she had regained her composure. “We’ve got a nice, warm fire that’ll keep you all nice and toasty.”

“A fire won’t save you,” the boy smirked.

Mary shivered again, but nonetheless offered her hand to the boy. To her surprise, he willingly took her hand and followed her, without complaint, back to the cabin.

“Where did he come from?” Anne asked, amazed to see their young visitor.

“I don’t know, but the poor thing must be half-frozen.”

“I’m fine,” the boy vacantly replied.

“What’s your name, hon?” Anne asked, kneeling down to eye-level with the boy.

“I have no name – not anymore.”

“But what about your parents, sweetie? Where are they?” Mary asked, growing more concerned by the second.

“No parents – not anymore.”

“What happened to them?” asked Anne, now feeling the same shiver of the spine that had been haunting her mother ever since discovering the strange boy.

“They changed and I made them go away.”

“But, where do you live?” Mary asked, inching ever closer to the mysterious child – despite the warning in the back of her mind.

“I live in the barn on the hill,” he responded, nodding toward the back of the cabin.

Mary and Anne glanced at each other; they hadn’t noticed a barn, but the blizzard was very thick when they first came to the cabin, so it might have been engulfed in the freezing flurry.

“But…who takes care of you?” Anne inquired, finally asking the question that both she and her mother had been thinking all along.

“I’m taken care of.”

“What the hell is all this commotion about?” Harold barked, waking out of his deep sleep. “Where’d the kid come from?”

“I came from the barn on the hill.”

“The barn on the hi…”

The room almost, but not quite, lit up from the light bulb going off in Harold’s mind.

“Barn? You wouldn’t have any tools in that barn, would ya, kid? Anything that could fix my car?”

“Harold, don’t be ridic – ” Mary started to say, before being cut off by the boy.

“Yes, there are tools,” the boy chipped in, then added quietly, “But I wouldn’t if I were you…”

Apparently, Harold hadn’t heard this last comment for he jumped up from the couch and exclaimed, “Perfect! I can fix the car and we’ll be back on the road in no time! There ain’t no way in hell I’m paying for a Goddamn tow truck.”

“Harold, this is absurd,” Mary protested, but Harold was already out the door. “Anne, stay here and keep an eye on…the boy,” Mary instructed as she ran out the door after her husband.

Anne ran to the window to watch her parents walking around the cabin through the snow, Mary pleading with Harold as she trailed behind him.

“They’re not coming back, you know.”

Anne jumped, startled, for she hadn’t noticed him come up behind her.

“Why do you say that?” she asked, shakily.

“Because…I know what’s out there. You’re all going to die.”

The slight smile on his face sent chills down her spine. These were not things a child should be happy to talk about.

“What’s out there?”

“I can’t tell you. You’ll have to see it for yourself. Just like I did.”

Frustrated, Anne hurried away from the window to sit by the fireplace and tried to read her book, but couldn’t find the will to focus. Frustrated even more, she threw her book on the floor. That was when the distant scream pierced through the walls of the cabin.

“They’re gone now,” the boy said, sadly gleeful.

In a panic, Anne ran for the door, stopped and returned to grab the axe from over the fireplace. As she ran out the door, she heard the boy call after her, “That won’t help you, now!”

She trudged through the snow around the cabin. Sure enough, the cabin was at the base of a small hill, and at the top of the hill was a barn, even older and more abandoned than the cabin. The walls of the cabin seemed to be collapsing in on themselves.

Anne was beginning to climb the hill when suddenly she was tackled to the ground by the boy who, with surprisingly almost super-human strength, wrestled the axe from her and lodged it into a tree stump that was sticking out of the snow like a tombstone in a cemetery.

“You can’t stop it now, you’re already dead!” he mocked at her, as he ran up the hill toward the barn.

Anne picked herself up and chased the boy up the hill. He ran, laughing, into the barn and slammed the door behind him. Moments later, Anne herself wrenched open the barn door and entered, panting from the exertion of running up the hill.

It was almost quiet, except for a reverberating humming coming from the upper level. The boy was nowhere in sight. Sharp, threatening tools hung from the ceiling – this had once been a slaughterhouse.

Ahead, a vibrating light illuminated a ladder leading to the upper level. Anne made her way through the ominous darkness toward the pulsing light. The closer she got to the light, the louder the humming became.

As she reached the base of the ladder, a monstrous carcass fell from above and fell to her feet. It was a beast. The creature was covered with thick, curly hair. Enormous fangs protruded from the creature’s massive snout. Blood and brains leaked and oozed from a wound in the back of the beast’s skull.

“Get her!” the boy’s voice screamed from above.

The sound of a large animal running across the floorboards reverberated from above. Anne turned around and ran toward the barn entrance. She looked behind herself just in time to see a second beast – this one very much alive – jumping to the barn floor. Anne burst out of the barn, slipped and tumbled down the hill through the freezing snow. Her tumble was broken when she collided with a tree stump, sticking out of the snow like a tombstone in a cemetery.

When the stars cleared from her eyes, she saw two things: the beast descending the hill toward her, and the axe sticking out of the stump she had collided with. With an adrenaline rush of survival strength, she grasped the axe, yanked it out of the stump and into the neck of her predator in one full swoop.

The beast let out a hideous shriek and collapsed to the ground.

For the first time, Anne noticed the long, blood red hair of the beast. She looked up the hill to see the boy, smiling down at her. Anne looked back down at the creature as it morphed into the familiar form of her mother.

As Mary’s blood leaked into the snow, her flowing red hair and the bloodstained snow became indistinguishable – from above it looked as if her hair was growing and spreading out across the snow.

As she died, crying, Mary whispered, “You did it again…”

Mark Sheldon is the author of The Noricin Chronicles and the Sarah Killian series. He has also published a collection of short stories titled Mores From the Maelstrom. He lives in Southern California with his wife Betsy.

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