Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Gal's 62 Days of Horror Christmas Takeover 11: I. Clayton Reynolds


Note: From what I've been told, this story is based on true events.  Keep that in mind as you read through this story.


The Duck Man
By: I. Clayton Reynolds

Long trails of white and amber light reflected across the polished glass surface of the lake at the bottom of the hill.  Katie and I walked through the quiet night to her sister's place, where I had left my pickup truck parked.  We had walked to the party from there after dropping off the kids.  Katie held close to me.  I don't know if it was to keep warm, or because we had had a fun night and she wanted to be close, but I didn't really care.  Feeling her next to me was a damned good feeling and I wasn't going to spoil it with questions.

            The kids were still asleep when we placed them in their seats, having carried them out.  Katie stopped me before I could climb in the driver's seat.

            "You had a few too many tonight, mister.  Hand me those keys," she said.  I smiled and handed them over.

            I was rounding the bumper to the passenger fender when I heard a noise, and stopped.  I looked at Katie.  "Did you hear that?"

            Katie stood still with her mouth open.  A slow stream of fog escaped her mouth as she stared. I whipped my head in the direction of where she looked, but I saw nothing there.  Then I heard the sound again.

            It sounded like a duck, but not just a short quack.  It was long, as if the duck were in pain or frightened out of its mind.  It had a staccato quality to it that was almost mechanical.  A ratcheting sound.  I knew right away what was happening.

            "Come on out, guys," I said.  I began to walk toward the row of hedges on the opposite corner.  Dusty and Bill were jacking with me.  Trying to scare me.  I wasn't that drunk.

            I was about halfway to the intersection when Katie broke her silence.  "Don't.  Stay here," she said.  Her voice was not much above a whisper.

            The noise came again.  This time I felt it as much as I heard it.  My gut tightened up and nausea took over.  I had to hold back vomit.  Maybe I was that drunk.

            I turned to look at Katie.  She still stood stiff next to the truck, her eyes still focused on the intersection.  I looked again and still saw nothing.

            "Come on, guys.  Quit being stupid."

            I stepped back toward the curb when I heard the roar of a vehicle coming from over the hill.  Before it crested, another came from the south, lighting up the intersection.

            The pickup truck coming from the south had the right of way and no stop sign, but he screeched his brakes as he came into the intersection.  I recognized it as Derek's truck.  We had just come from Derek's party.

            The duck noise came again, louder and higher.  Again I felt the urge to puke.  The truck at the stop sign banged into reverse and spun its tires as it backed from the intersection and then took off down the alley.  It was Dusty's truck.

            I could hear Dusty's engine winding up as if he was running some kind of race.  Derek turned toward his house and sped away.

            I went to the passenger door of my truck and got in.  Katie followed my cue and got behind the wheel.

            "Go down there to Derek's," I said.

            "What was that?" she asked.

            "I don't know.  Were they racing somewhere?"

            "No, I mean that thing."

            I looked at her.  "You mean the sound?  I don't know.  It was weird--"

            "No," she said.  "I mean the big white thing with the blanket over it."

            "I guess I didn't see it."

            She took a deep breath and started the truck.  Cold air blasted from the vents at my feet.

            "What do you mean you didn't see it?" she asked.

            "We arrived at Derek's just as Dusty pulled up.  I met up with them in the driveway.

            "What the hell was that?" Derek asked.  Dusty shook his head with raised eyebrows.

            "What were y'all doing?" I asked.

            Dusty said, "I was chasing that thing.  I had it on the floor and it was outrunning me.  What the hell?"

            "What thing?" I asked.  Both Derek and Dusty looked shaken.

            Derek said, "We saw something - I don't know what - up there at the top of the hill.  I almost hit it with my pickup."

            "Yeah, I was right there when you slammed on your brakes."

            "You saw it then," Derek said.

            "I didn't see anything.  I just heard a noise."

            "It looked like a guy with a white blanket over his head," Dusty said, "except it was about eight feet tall.  Tall as my pickup cab... and faster."

            I turned to look at Katie who was standing in the dry yellow grass.  She nodded.  Her eyes were wide and I could see her hands shaking.

            "I'm cold," Derek said.  "I'm going inside.  I'll see you later."

            "Yeah, I need to get the kids home."  I looked toward the truck and I could see movement in the back seat.  "I'll see y'all sometime this week.  I want to hear more about this."

            "Hell, you done heard about all I know," said Dusty.  "It was tall, fast and white."

***

It was a week before I saw either of them, and Katie and I had not spoken about it again.  I happened upon both of them at Hazel's Boat House, a restaurant on the lake front.  Derek was having catfish with his wife.  Dusty was at the bar with a bottle of beer and a skinny blonde that I didn't know.

            "So, what did you see the other night?" I asked Derek, whose booth was next to our table.

            "When?"

            "After the party.  On Juniper Street."

            "I went to the store after the party and got some burritos and a Coke.  That's about it."

            "I mean the guy with the blanket over his head.  You got to the intersection of Juniper and Lake, and you skipped to a stop.  You said you almost hit the guy."

            Derek lowered his brow and showed me a puzzled expression.  He half smiled and said, "I don't know what you're talking about."

            "I don't know what you're talking about either.  The waitress has been here twice.  Are you going to order?"

            "Dusty," I called to the bar.  I called a second time before I got his attention.  He walked over with the blonde in tow.  She stood behind him and did not speak, and Dusty didn't introduce her.

            "Dusty, remember last week after the party when you saw what looked like a tall guy covered in a blanket and you chased him down the alley in your truck?  Tell me what you saw exactly."

            Dusty took a long pull form his longneck beer bottle, then dropped his face and looked at the floor, scratching his head.  He started shaking his head as he lifted it.  "What are you talking about?"

            "After the party.  I saw both of you stop at the intersection of Juniper and Lake.  Katie drove me down to Derek's and you both told me you saw an eight foot tall guy with a blanket over his head."  I turned to Katie.  "You said the same thing."

            "I remember you pulling up with your kids in the truck when I was leaving.  I said 'See you tomorrow,' and you left.  I didn't see no guy with a blanket on his head," Dusty said.

            I could see that Dusty was holding back a laugh.  Maybe he thought I was crazy.  More likely, I was right all along.  There was someone in the bushes playing a prank.  After all, I never saw anything - I just heard the weird duck sound - and Katie must have been in on it.

            I spent the rest of dinner watching for interaction between Dusty, Derek, and Katie - looking for a wink, a nod, or a knowing look - but there was nothing.  They all went about their business and Katie only said goodbye to Dustin as we left.

***

It happened later that night, actually early Sunday morning, when I found myself rolling down the country road returning from the Harper place in my service truck.  They had called around midnight saying their furnace was out.  It was supposed to be well below freezing overnight, definitely not a good night to be without a furnace.

            Like many folks who lived east of town, the Harpers didn't have much.  They couldn't afford things like routine maintenance on their home, so they ended up out of luck on the first really cold night.  I couldn't even charge them extra for an after-hours call.  They couldn't pay it, even if I did.  I'd charge them for the new igniter, but that was it.  Price of doing business.

            I was still a mile or so from the paved Farm to Market road when something large blew across the road in front of me like a speeding ball of smoke.  I hit the brakes and my truck came to rest at a 30 degree angle to the road.  I looked out and saw a path of damage where branches were broken and weeds were smashed flat.  The barbed wire fence was laid over, its metal posts bent almost parallel to the ground.  That was as far as I could see with the truck's headlights.

            I grabbed the Maglite from behind the seat, clicked the button, and rested the black metal end on my shoulder as I guided the beam with my hand.  The path of destruction continued past the fence.

            I caught the reflection of an animal's eyes.  Two together.  A bobcat or a coyote, I thought... until it stood.

            A large, pale mass rose from the weeds and stood at a height taller than any human.  A coat of flowing hair, like that of an Afghan hound, draped its body.  It turned its head away and I lost sight of it for a moment, and then I saw its eyes turn back, this time closer to the road.

            It let loose its whining howl, this time much more furious than what I had heard in town.  The same nausea came over me as before and in waves as the figure seemed to disappear from view.

            I dropped the light in the seat without bothering to shut it off and pressed the accelerator to the floor.

            I was giving the old work truck all it had and doing my best to keep it on the road.  I glanced in the side mirror and saw that the monster was visible in my taillights.  It was keeping pace with me.

            I felt my balls crawl up inside me and my heart try to crawl out of me.  I was coming upon the intersection with the highway and knew I would have to slow down to make the turn.  I checked the mirror again, and the beast was gone.  I checked all three mirrors and even tapped the brakes to offer more illumination behind.  It was no longer behind me.

            "I saw it," I told Katie when I got home.  She was asleep, but I was too wound up to let her stay that way.  "I saw the duck man.  It was tall and hairy, with long white hair that hung off of it like a blanket just like you said.  It made that sound, that howling/quacking sound.  I saw it."

            Katie had her head raised and her hand shading her eyes.  She looked at me through slits of eyelids.  "What time is it?" she asked.

            "Did you hear me?  I saw it."

            "Yeah.  You saw the duck man.  Good for you.  Goodnight."  She dropped her head back onto the pillow and rolled the blanket over her.  I didn't know what I expected, but it was a disappointing reaction.  I went to the kids' rooms and checked on them, then went to bed.  My mind was racing, and I had trouble falling asleep.  I got up once to check the locks of the house.  Halfway through my check, I began to feel foolish, not only for thinking a monster might come to my house, but also for thinking it would use the doors properly.  It was miles away.  I returned to bed.

            I tried to talk about it.  Derek, Dusty, and Katie all continued to deny seeing the thing.  I was forced to examine my own sanity, but I knew what I saw and what I heard.

            What was I going to do?  I wasn't going to go hunting for it.  I had no witnesses.  All I had was a good campfire story.  The outcome could have been worse.

***

            As the winter went on, the duck man traveled further toward the back of my mind.  Life went on and the reality of the experience waned.

            On week in mid-February, it turned warm outside.  The weather around here, who can figure it out?  Katie and I slept in the cool night with the window opened a crack.  The fresh air was nice, as were the smells of the night.  The organic sweetness of the fallen leaves and winter grass were comforting.

            In the distance, I could hear dogs barking, and even further away, a train's whistle.  I heard a car drive down the street and somewhere, a few blocks away maybe, I heard a sound like the scream of a rabid duck.

            I jerked upright in bed and Katie did the same.  I looked at her and could see the wonder on her face.  She was hearing it.

            "What is that?" she said to me as she felt across the night stand for her glasses.  Once she had them, she reached for the lamp.

            "Don't," I said.  "Leave the light off.  I want to look out the window."

            "What is it, David?"

            "It's the sound I've been telling you about.  The duck sound.  It's out there."

            "Oh, God."  Katie got up and tried to look out the window over my shoulder.

            The street was as peaceful as ever.  Everyone was asleep in their beds, peaceful in their ignorance of a monster in the neighborhood.

            I turned to Katie, but she was gone.  I left the room and went into the hallway.  The light was on in the bathroom and the door was closed.  I paced the hallway, waiting.  I looked into the kids' room, and they both seemed fine.  Aaron was sprawled out on top of the covers like he had fallen from a tall building; Danielle was rolled up in her blanket, flanked on either side by plush stuffed animals.

            I head the door click and Katie came out into the hall, and turned toward our bedroom.  I followed.

            She turned to me and raised an eyebrow.  "What are you doing up?"

            "Im nervous.  I don't know what it is, but it's scary."

            "What is?"

            "The duck man."

            "Oh, honey.  Are you going on about that again?  I'm getting worried about you.  Scary stories are one thing, but when you are up fretting in the night... Let's just go to bed."

            I stood with my jaw hanging down to my chest.  What the hell was happening?  We had both just heard the sound not ten minutes earlier.

            "What do you think that sound was?"

            "I told you, I didn't hear it.  I just saw you yelling across the street."

            "No, Katie, I mean just a few minutes ago.  The sound that woke us up.  The duck man sound from outside."

            She said nothing, just stared.  The look on her face said it all.  It was a look of pity.  She felt bad for me.  She thought I was cracking up.  I think, if I looked in a mirror at that exact moment, the man staring back at me would think the same thing.

***

It happened again two nights later.  It was closer this time... and louder.  Katie sprung out of bed before I did.  She was hyperventilating and barely got out, "What the hell is that?"

            I shot to the window and scanned the street.  The moon was high and the neighborhood was well lit.  I saw nothing.  I turned around and Katie stood, breathing hard, holding a hand to her chest.

            "You heard it?"

            She nodded.

            "What did it sound like?"

            "Like a long, yelling quack.  Just like you said."

            I switched on the lamp and stretched across the bed.  I grabbed the paperback book from my nightstand and folded over the back cover, then took a pen from the drawer.  I stood up and handed them both to Katie.

            "Write down what you heard."

            "What?"

            "Write it down, so you can remember."

            "Jesus, David.  I'll remember."

            "You did not remember last time.  Write it down."

            She began to write with her shanking hands.  When I was satisfied that she had written enough, I held out my hand and she gave me the book.  I put it on the bed and turned off the lamp, then returned to the window.

            I stayed back a couple of steps in the darkness of the room because I didn't want it to see me.  Then I remembered what happened when I shined the Maglite in its face, remembered the reflection.  Tapetum lucid.  It meant the beast had night vision like other nocturnal animals.  It could likely see me just fine.  Maybe not.  How dark was dark enough?

            I went through the house shutting down anything that made light.  The clock on the microwave oven, the night lights in the kids' rooms.  Even that damned little red LED on the TV that was to alert me that it had turned off... as if I could not figure that out on my own.

            When I got back, Katie was in bed asleep.  She had forgotten by now, I guessed.  I wondered if writing it down might have left a mark on her memory.  I decided not to wake her.  At least I had her now handwriting to show her.

            I closed the window and locked it, then walked around the bed.  When I sat on my side, I picked up the paperback from the mattress and put it in the nightstand drawer.  Somehow, I managed to fall asleep.

***

Katie did not remember a thing.  I could not understand - how does one forget something like that?  I was proud of myself for thinking to have her write it down.  I could confirm not only to her that she heard the thing, but it was also my insurance against my own doubt.  It is a short trip to self-doubt when I know something happened and everyone else knows it didn't.

            I retrieved the book from the drawer and headed out of the room toward the kitchen.  As I walked, I flipped open the back cover and stopped dead in my tracks.  Instead of an unprinted page with my wife's shaky handwriting, there was a paragraph with the title, "About the Author."

            It was my turn to hyperventilate.  I had gone mad, sure as shit.  Completely fucking cuckoo.  Off the deep end.  The blank page on which I thought I had her write did not even exist.  I flipped it over to look at the cover.  It was the correct book - same gold lettering, same painting of a desert highway.

            I returned to the bedroom and sat on the bed.  I tried my best to remember everything.  Could it have been a dream?  It was too vivid.  Everything in the house was unplugged just like I remembered leaving it.  The book was where I remember putting it.  The window was closed and locked.

            I looked around the room.  I remembered all of it.  I noticed at the baseboard under the window, and next to Katie's nightstand, something that looked like a large white bean.  I stooped over and reached for it.

            It seemed to be a large spit wad, still slightly wet.  I remember making these in school by chewing up notebook paper.  The notebook paper, with its lines, would produce a ball of mush with a blue-white color.  This was more yellowed, more the color of the pages of the paperback book in my hand.

            I began to take the wad of pulp apart.  It mostly disintegrated in my hands.  I did eventually see tiny bits with the blue lines of ink made by a shaky hand.  There wasn't enough of it to prove what it was to anyone else, but I knew.

            I opened the back cover of the book and I could see where the page had been torn from the binding.  Katie had taken this a bit too far.

            I strode into the kitchen and showed her what I found.  I asked her how she could do it, how she could make me think I was losing my mind.  She kept up the charade and denied knowing anything at all.  I dressed and went to work.

***

In the evening, I went to Hazel's instead of home.  I sat at the bar knocking back more mugs of beer than I should.  Like clockwork, Dusty came in after six, stood at the end of the bar, and ordered a longneck.  I gave him a nod.

            I was more certain than ever that all of this was an elaborate prank.  Dusty, who was not someone who would ever be called a mastermind, gave no indication that he knew about anything.  he didn't crack a smile, didn't act overly concerned or feign interest.  If he was in on some kind of prank, he needed to get to Hollywood because he was giving the performance of a lifetime.

            I didn't know what to think.  I was angry when I talked to Katie, but in retrospect, she was no less convincing than Dusty.  The more I thought about it, the more impossible it seemed that what I saw on the country road that night was a hoax.  No one could have known I would be there at that time.  I did not mistake some other animal for an eight foot tall beast.  And the eyes.  Would any of my friends have gone to the trouble to fake that detail?

            I drove home, though I probably should have called Katie for a ride.  I just wasn't sure she would come get me.  When I walked inside, everyone was sitting together on the couch watching TV with a bowl of popcorn.  I went into the kitchen and sat at the table.  A cold plate of food sat there covered in plastic wrap.  I buried my face in the palms of my hands.

            Katie entered the kitchen and sat down.  She touched my arm with her hand and said, "Are you okay?"

            My chest hitched and a snort escaped my nose.  I was unsure at first if it was a sob or a laugh. It was both.  I laughed as the tears rolled down my cheeks.

            "I'm so sorry," I said.  "I'm so, so sorry."

            She patted my arm and gave a half-hearted smile.  "We'll survive, dear.  Things just got carried away."

            "Yeah," I said.  The laughter was gone from my sobs.

            "I think you should take some time off," Katie said.  "We could go away this weekend.  Stay some place nice.  We could take the kids to the museums or something, or we could just relax and hang out in a hotel room and order pizza.  What do ya say?"

            "I have been promising to take Danielle to the Children's Museum for several months.  Let's go.  Tomorrow.  We'll stay a few nights at a hotel on the river.  Something with a view.  I'll tell the guys at work first thing in the morning."

            "Danielle was pretty worried about you.  You should go talk to her."

            "I suppose I should.  Is she in the living room?"

            "No.  I sent the kids to bed before I came in here."

            I nodded and stood, then walked to Danielle's room.

            Danielle stood on her bed staring out the window.  Her light was off and she did not seem to notice me enter the room.  I sat on the end of the bed, not to close because I did not want to make her stumble.

            "Hey, Girly.  I wanted to talk to you and see how you're doing," I said.

            She continued staring out the window.

            "Are you not talking to me?" I said.  She gave no reaction.  I continued, "Look, I'm very sorry.  Mom and I had a fight, and I got too upset.  I shouldn't have left like that.  I'm really sorry I scared you upset you.  From now on, I'm going to work to be a little more patient, okay?  Danielle?"

            The girl didn't move a muscle.  She just stared out the window with her arms at her side and her head cocked.  She held a teddy bear by a leg in her left hand, and her bare feet were planted in the soft mattress of her bed.

            "Danni.  Danielle," I called.

            When she still did not react, I stood and walked toward the window.  When I got close enough, I looked at Danielle's face.  Her expression was blank.  I gazed out the window to see what she might be watching.

            The night was clear and moonlight lit the backyard and alleyway.  I could see the swing set and the garbage cans, but nothing out of the ordinary.  I turned back to Danielle and she was locked on me, grinning.

            "Hi, Daddy," she said.

            "Hi, Girly.  Did you not hear me come in?"

            "No.  Sorwy.  I was watching."

            "What were you watching, hun?"

            "The no-man."

            "The no man?"

            "No, not the no man, the 'no' man."

            "Do you mean snowman?"

            "Yes.  He was by the fence looking at me."

            I felt my skin tighten and a shiver march through me.

            "What did the snowman look like, hun?"

            "Big and hairy and white, like on Woo-doff the Wane-deer.  The bom-a-bull no-man."

            I was so breathless I could barely get my next words out.  "The snowman was out there at the fence and he was looking at you?  How do you know it was looking at you?"

            "I waved at him.  He waved back."

            I didn't want to alarm her, so I did my best to conceal my panic.  I pressed my shaking hands against my thighs and cleared my throat.

            "Danni," I said, my voice cracking, "Would you like to sleep in mine and mommy's room tonight?  Both of you can in your sleeping bags.  It will be like a campout."

            "Yes.  That's fun, Daddy."

            I picked her up, hugged her close, and carried her with me through the house, not wanting her out of my sight.  I roused her brother and he took his sleeping bag to the master bedroom.  I returned to Danielle's bedroom and got her pink princess sleeping bag from the closet.

            Katie was in the bedroom when we all arrived.

            "What is this?" she asked.  She made a slow exaggerated gasp faking excitement for our fun little sleepover.

            I exited the room with the intention of double checking every lock in the house.  Katie followed me into the hallway.

            "What are we doing?" she asked.

            I turned and walked toward her, not wanting her to stray too far from the bedroom.  

            Danielle just told me she saw a snowman standing by the fence looking at her, and that it waved back at her when she waved to it.  It's the fucking duck man.  He's outside somewhere."

            "She probably heard you talking about the fool thing, and her imagination went wild."

            "I don't think so.  I was talking to her and she didn't even hear me.  She was staring out the window at something.  She was transfixed on it."

            "You're acting as though you believe this 'duck man' is real."

            "Dammit, it is real.  You have heard it, you just can't remember.  No one seems to remember but me."

            "Yeah, would you quit saying that?  You sound like a lunatic, David."

            "Would you quit saying that and just believe me?  Or don't believe me.  Whatever.  Just stay in there with the kids while I lock the doors.  I feel better having them in our room tonight.  Is that okay?"

            "Well, I can't very well kick them out now, so okay, they can stay in our room."

            "Go back in there, Katie, please.  I don't want them left alone.  I don't know what's going on, but I want to be safe.  I'm going to go check all the locks."

            Katie sighed and returned to the bedroom.  I went through the house watching out the windows and listening as I went.  I neither saw nor heard anything.  With everything checked out, I returned to the bedroom, and locked the bedroom door.

            The kids were already asleep.  I expected them to be up chattering all night, so it was a relief. I got in bed with Katie and put my arms around her.

            "Are you okay?" Katie said to me.

            "I don't know," I said.  "I just don't know."

***

I was startled when I woke up because I was surprised I had fallen asleep in the first place.  I had lain in bed for hours listening for any noise at all, and was sure I could not fall asleep, but I must have drifted off at some point.  Time had passed and I had been dreaming - about what, I could not remember.

            The bedroom door stood open.  I sat up in bed to find everyone accounted for.  Someone must have gone to the bathroom and left it open.

            A glance at the window told me it was still dark out.  I decided to have a look around before trying to get some more sleep.

            I went down the hallway looking in each bedroom.  All looked okay.  I mentally made a note to turn up the heat not he thermostat when I got there.  I hadn't noticed when I was in the bedroom, but it was chilly in the house.

            I went into the living room and then into the kitchen.  That is where I stopped.

            The back door was standing wide open.  I froze for a moment and then backtracked into the living room.  I grabbed the poker from the fireplace and stepped into the kitchen, peeking around the door frame before going through again.

            I made my way to the open back door.  Cold air blew in from outside while the night dragged away the heat.  I peered around the edge of the doorway, checking the outside area for any danger.  I saw nothing.

            I pulled the screen shut and latched it.  I had not locked the screen, but I did now.  I grabbed the wooden door and pushed it closed, but it caught before it closed.  The latch was busted.  Both the doorknob bolt and the deadbolt were ripped out of the door from impact.  The doorjamb itself was also torn away.

            I worked the deadbolt back and pushed the door closed.  I placed a jug of laundry detergent in front of the door to keep it from swinging open.

            I again searched the house, turning on every light as I went.  Someone (or something) had broken into the house and cold still be inside.  I checked each room, closet, and nook.  I did not find anyone (or anything).

            Daybreak was warming the horizon and I took the time to call in and leave a message that I would not be working today, but would stop in later.  I made coffee and began making a family breakfast.

***

I lied.  I told my employees that my wife's mother was sick and that I needed to go out of town.  I said I would be gone for a week at least.  I got stuck there for over an hour rescheduling jobs and various appointments that I would miss, while my family sat wherever they could find a seat and waited.

            We drove back home to pack our luggage and make reservations for our trip.  I left my family in the locked pickup truck until I inspected the house.  Everything was in order, so I waved them in.

            Katie went with the kids to help them pack.  I got on the computer to find a place to stay.  Instead, I found myself looking at cryptozoology sites trying to find some explanation of what the duck man might be.  I found plenty of info regarding Bigfoot, Sasquatch, the yeti, and so on, but nothing that fit exactly.  After about twenty minutes, I was interrupted by a tremendous crash from outside.

            I ran to the front door and threw it open.  A blue pickup truck had crashed into my parked truck and flipped over into the driveway onto the back of Katie's car.

            I ran to the wreckage and found the driver, a teenage boy, hanging from the seatbelt with an airbag over his face.

            "Are you okay?" I called to him from down on my knees.  The cab of the truck was smashed to the point that his head was cocked sideways against it.

            "I think so," said the boy.

            I stuck my head inside and looked him over as best as I could.  He had cuts with minor bleeding, but nothing life threatening as far as I could see.

            Katie was beside me when I got back out and onto my knees.

            "Call the police, Kate," I said.  Then, to the kid in the pickup, I said, "Just stay where you are. Don't move.  Let's let the guys who know what they are doing handle this.  I'm afraid that if I try to get you out, I'll make things worse."

            "Get me out," said the kid.  His voice was quavering and he started to wriggle in the seatbelt.

            "No, you have got to stay still."

            The kid kept moving.  He managed to get his seatbelt loose and he collapsed to the roof of the cab.  A dam broke somewhere and torrents of blood rolled from beneath  his body.

            "Shit," I said, and grabbed his arm, pulling him from the wreck.  I rolled him over to find a large gash in his back.  Something had cut or stabbed into him, and it was deep.  

            Katie was still inside.  No one was there.  Where were the goddamn neighbors?  I ran inside and grabbed the full stack of dish towels from the kitchen drawer.

            I wadded a couple into a pack and stuffed it down into the wound.  I pressed and held and tried to stop the bleeding, but it kept coming.  I grabbed another towel, folded it, and pressed with the other hand.  No good.  I grabbed another.

            There were enough towels now that more was not going to do anything.  The towels were saturated with blood and it looked like I had done little more than slow the flow.

            "You still with me, kid?" I said.  There was no answer.

            Katie came out of the house and said an ambulance was on the way.  I could already hear its siren in the distance.

            "Wake up, kid - your ride is on the way."

            I looked up to Katie.  "See if you can get him awake."

            She nudged him and yelled "Hello" into his ears, but he gave no response.  The yellow winter grass around him had turned a peculiar deep reddish brown color.  Katie's hands had smudges of bright glossy red on them from where she had put her hand on his back to shake him awake.

            Katie put her hands on the kids neck to feel for a pulse.  She shook her head and grabbed his wrist.  She shook her head again.

            "I can't feel a pulse," she said.

            "What do we do?"

            "CPR, I guess."

            "If I roll him over, he's going to lose the rest of his blood."

            "If you don't," Katie said, "he's already dead."

            The ambulance was still several blocks away.  I considered just holding the blood until they arrived, but seconds counted in this situation.

            "Can you do the CPR?" I asked Katie.

            "Yes, I can."

            "Roll him over.  I'm going to keep my hands on his back underneath to try to hold in the blood."

            Katie pushed with both hands and I grabbed with one and we rolled the kid over.  She started the chest compressions and I tried to hold the towels tight in the wound.

            She was on the third round of compressions when the ambulance arrived.  The paramedics took over, put a defibrillator on him and attempted to shock him back.  It was no good.  They put him in the ambulance and the EMTs continued to do chest compressions while they whisked him away to the hospital.

            As the ambulance pulled away, I saw that the neighbors were out of their houses and looking on.  I grumbled and turned to go inside, but a police officer insisted I stay until he filled out some paper or another.  He had a lot of questions and the blood was a dry sticky paste on my skin before he finished.

            When I was at last free to go in and clean up, I saw the kids standing outside the front door.  I had no idea how long they had been there or how much they saw.  They might have seen it all, might have seen that kid die right there while I tried to stop up his new drain hole.  Whether they did or not, they saw me now, and I was covered with drying human blood.  I had to be a frightening sight, and the look on the kids' faces confirmed that.

            "Go back inside," I said.  They hurried through the door.  When I looked back, Katie was spraying the red spot on the lawn with the garden hose.

***

It was too late to go anywhere, and both vehicles were out of commission.  Katie's might have had a chance, but my truck was a goner.  I called one of the guys from the shop and he gave me a ride to the hardware store to get a new doorknob for the back door.

            I had underestimated the damage.  I went to change the doorknob and it was no use.  The doorjamb was beyond what I could repair with a simple hammer and nails.  I tacked a piece of wood up to the frame to hold the door closed for the night.  The storm door was locked, and the solid door could not be opened form the outside, although a good kick could do away with both doors.  It would have to do.

            I entered the kitchen and found Danielle standing on a chair looking out the front window.  Gooseflesh rose on my arms.

            "Danielle," I said.

            She turned to me immediately.  The steel came out of my shoulders.  I expected her to be entranced as she was the night before.

            "Look, Daddy.  It's no-ing."

            I walked over to the chair and took her in my arms.  "Let's go see."

            I carried her to the front door, opened it, and we stepped out onto the porch.  Big flakes of snow were falling.  The temperature had dropped over the last few hours and I thought about how the snow just might stick if there was enough.

            "It's pretty, isn't it?" I said.

            "Yes, pretty no," she said.

            I smiled at her as she smiled at the snowfall.  If we had gone south as we planned, we would have missed it.  That didn't make me any less nervous, but it was some consolation.

            I looked out at the street.  It looked odd without my truck parked there.  The tow truck had taken it away while I was gone to the store.  I didn't get a chance to clean it out; I would have to go do that in a day or two.

            I built a fire in the fireplace and we made s'mores by roasting marshmallows.  We opened the curtains on the large windows in the living room so we could see the snowfall.  It was a happy evening.

            Again, I insisted that we all sleep in the same room.  I asked the kids to make sure they locked the door again when they came back if they went out of the room.  Then I said that I didn't want them to leave the room, not without one of us.  Katie thought I was being ridiculous.  I wished so much that she could remember the duck man.

***

I woke in the night, and heard a sound.  I thought it was in my dream.   I raised my head so I could listen, and heard nothing.  I needed to go to the bathroom.

            I swung my legs over the side of the bed, and found the floor cold.  I put on my slippers and walked around the bed.

            The first thing I notices was that the bedroom door was open.  That brought me fully awake.  I switched on the light and saw that Danielle was not in her bag.

            I might not have panicked right then, but for the fact that cold air was wafting in through the open door.  I took off running through the house.

            The bathroom was empty.  I called out Danielle's name as I sprinted down the hallway toward the living room.

            "Danielle," I yelled when I entered the room.  I stopped in the doorway.

            A robust yell came from the creature who stood there with my daughter in his arms.  It was the roar of a dragon, the bleating of a giant sheep, the scream of a goliath duck.  The sound vibrated through me.  I felt my insides shake and my bones threatened to crumble.  Nausea overtook me and I vomited all down the front of my pajamas.  My legs wobbled and I had to grab the doorway to remain standing.

            It's dark eyes stared into me.  It had matted white hair all over its body, and had two sets of black horns like a goat.  When it made it's duck sound, great sharp teeth shone from black gums and lips.  It's head reached the ceiling of the living room.  It had short muscular legs and long feet hat ended in hoof-like toes.

            The nausea took me again and I doubled over.  When I raised my head, the creature was ducking into the kitchen, still holding Danielle in his arms.

            "I'm playing with the no-man, Daddy," Danielle screamed as if she was going high on a swing at the playground.  She did not fear this monster.  I sure as hell did.

            I bounded over to the fireplace and grabbed the poker.  I cut into the kitchen and saw one white leg as it went out the back door.  The storm door was wadded like aluminum foil and the wooden door stood open.

            I ran out the back and into the alley with all the speed I could muster.  The duck man was running down the alleyway at a speed that I could not believe.

            I ran after it, brandishing my fireplace poker.  At the end of the alley, it crossed the street.  It cut between two houses and disappeared into the woods.

            I followed.  The monster and my daughter were out of my sight by then.  I ran deeper into the woods.  The light dusting of snow was the only thing making sight possible in the dark night.  I kept going.

            I don't know how far I ran, but there was plenty more to go.  They called this area the Kildreth.  It was an area that was a tangled mess of rocks, trees and near-impenetrable growth.  Homes out in the Kildreth were few and far between and the roads were as random as threads in a dollar bill.

            I expected to come upon a road or a farmhouse eventually, but I didn't look for one.  I followed anything that looked like a hoof print in the snow.

            I saw when it ran.  It got up on those three hoof-toes, and that gave it some leg for running.  It's stride was long and quick.  I looked for those three-toed prints.  In my madness, I saw them everywhere.

***

There have been several suns now.  I'm not sure how many.  I have not yet found fence or a road or a home or my daughter.  My legs pain me and I need water.  I cannot rest, though.  If I stop, she gets farther away.

            I have yelled her name until my voice has turned to ash.  I must find her soon.  I must.

            My tattered pajamas are no longer putting up a fight against the cold.  Brier and cactus tear at my flesh.  I'm certain there must be a creek around here.  I will drink when I reach it, but I won't stop for more then a moment.  Danielle is waiting for me.  I must catch her and her captor, The Duck Man.

About the author:
I. Clayton Reynolds is an author of horror, suspense, and the supernatural.  He studied Anthropology, Psychology, and History at the University of Texas and Iowa State University.  A native of Texas, he now lives in Central Iowa.  Through his studies, he has gained extensive knowledge of legends and beliefs from around the world and deep into the past.  His research has helped him to understand how and why frightening legends and cautionary horror tales have developed throughout the human past.

No comments: