The author’s inspiration for this story:
The idea from this story came from two different incidents. Years ago when I was learning how to rollerblade I was cruising along Alki Beach. I was going faster than I should have because I hadn’t learned how to stop yet. So there was a car pulling out of the marina but he was looking the other way and didn’t see me and because I didn’t know how to stop I sped up. I passed in front of the car with only a half a foot between us and slammed into the back of a mountain of a man who was on the other side of the driveway. When he turned around I instantly regretted it as he had the words ‘WHITE’ and ‘POWER’ tattooed on each forearm and a large swastika tattooed on the side of his neck and he was huge and he looked at me like a concerned parent.
As he was helping to … the grass he bellowed at the driver, “What the hell is wrong with you, you coulda killed somebody!” Ok, so at this point there was maybe nine or ten other Hell’s Angel type of biker guys running from the bar across the street to their brother’s aide. The poor Mexican kid behind the wheel drove away.
Now I am surrounded by a bunch of men with racist tattoos, one of which who is kneeling at my feet and unlacing my skates, everyone is asking me if I was ok and I was so terrified by these guys I started crying. My tears prompted an even bigger man than the one I knocked the wind out of to send his girlfriend, named Spider, back into the bar to get me a glass of water. Another man helped me to my feet and asked me if I wanted a ride somewhere, and I said no, explaining that my car was parked only nine cars down. When Spider came back she handed me a can of lemonade, after promising everyone I was ok, and apologizing to “Mountain” for slamming into him I was allowed to leave.
Never in my life, as I walked barefoot on the hot pavement back to my car carrying my skates and lemonade, had I been so confused.
The second incident was day I sat down and wrote The Monster. There are some parts of my state that do not celebrate diversity and I was in one of those parts and had to stop for gas. The station is exactly like the one I wrote about, when I was going inside a guy was coming out, he wasn’t wearing a shirt because it warm that day, and he is the guy I based Caleb on, down to the last detail.
My heart started beating so fast that I thought I was gonna have a heart attack and this was my prayer please dear God, I can deal with anything he says to me, just don’t let him hit me. Not only did he not hit me, he didn’t say anything to me either. He opened his candy and waited for me because he was holding the door. I said thank you as I walked by him and he just nodded his head, jumped in his pick-up truck and left. I was like what in the hell. That encounter reminded me of the one years earlier and on the drive home I was left to wonder what makes a person abandon their oath? I pledged to protect this country against enemies both foreign and domestic and that’s a pretty big deal but so is walking around proudly displaying a swastika tattoo.
When I got home I wrote The Monster and I’ve been so surprised and amazed by the feedback I’ve received for this story.
By Crystal Connor
After only four days of what was supposed to be a two-week visit, Maleka Davidson was leaving Alabama. Maleka hated this place. She was disgusted by the ignorance of poverty. The stifling heat reduced her to the sin of sloth. Her head hurt from trying to decipher these coded Southern sayings. Just last night, she figured out that the word Bard meant borrowed, Southern translation for the state of Georgia was Jawjuh, and that she was from the Nawth as in, and I quote, “Ya’ people from up Nawth sure do talk funny.” It was almost as if she needed an English-to-Southern-United-States dictionary.
Maleka was tired of eating fried food and drinking either grape or red Kool-Aid made with three cups of sugar, despite the directions clearly stating that only one cup was needed. Maleka was especially terrified of all the large and strange bugs that could star in their own horror movies. Maleka took a break from packing; even the slightest of physical activities made her sweat profusely. She lay on the bed and smiled about the conversation she had had with her uncle this morning at breakfast, revolving around the apparently sacred origins of grits.
“Maleka, y’all eat grits up Nawth?” Bryannah asked.
“Of course we do,” Maleka explained to her 12-year-old cousin. “There are quite a few farms within driving distance of Seattle that grow corn, but that…”
Bryannah looked puzzled and Uncle Emmit angrily interjected before Maleka could continue.
“Ain’t nothing as good as grits can be made from corn! Dontcha read yo’ bible?”
“Exodus 16:15. What poured down upon hims chirren when they was roamin’ roun’ in dem woods was grits. It says so right in da Bible, ‘It’s the food the LORD has given you to eat.’
“So the manna that God rained on the Israelites on Mount Sinai was really grits?” Maleka asked slowly.
“Ain’t is what I said?”
Why not? Maleka had spent the last year fighting in the streets of a foreign country because someone had misinterpreted the holy writings of an ancient text, so why should it be any different right here at home? Using her toast as a spoon, Maleka took another bite of the buttery, salted grits and smiled. It was no wonder her uncle had mistaken them for ambrosia. Uncle Emmit went on to explain that after the miracle on Mount Sinai, there was no mention of grits for another 1,000 years. Experts, he explained, found evidence that grits were only used during secret religious ceremonies – and were kept away from the public due to their rarity.
The next mention of grits, he continued, “Was found in all dem ashes over there in Pompell in a famous woman’s diary.”
“Do you mean the ruins of Pompeii? What famous woman?” Maleka inquired.
“Girl, you just as slow as molasses running downhill in January. Aunt Jemima.”
And if it wasn’t Uncle Emmit’s wild stories that re-invented history, it was her auntie Tammy’s constant complaint of how nothing made sense.
“Look at this damn blue bird sitting his ass upon that Goddamned tree branch! Look at him; that’s a damn shame. It just don’t make no damn sense!” No one offered that birds were supposed to be in trees; everyone just chuckled and shook their heads, and Maleka did the same.
Maleka knew she was going to miss them but she just couldn’t stay in the South. She was mortified that her extended family members, and their neighbors and friends seemed to perpetuate the negative stereotypes of blacks in the South. In her family’s defense, the whites down here didn’t seem much better. With their UFOs, swamp monsters, unfounded fear of the government, pickup trucks, and Confederate battle flags, Maleka couldn’t help but hear that banjo song from the movie Deliverance every time she listened to them talk.
The most unsettling thing about being in the South for Maleka was everyone’s devout belief in superstitions, and truth be told, this was the real reason she was leaving.
The woman who lived across the street from her grandmother’s house always dragged a broom behind her wherever she walked when she left the house, even if it was only to check the mail. When Maleka asked her great-grand-aunt why she did that, she was told, “Cuz she dohn wants deze fixuhs tuh git her foot track.” Maleka knew what fixuhs were before she had a chance to unpack. Fixuhs were evil spirits, and apparently, they were everywhere.
The first night Maleka stayed in her grandmother’s house, she noticed a broom upside down by her bedroom door. When she took the broom into the kitchen to put it away, pandemonium broke out.
Her cousin Maybell explained that the broom was placed outside her door to protect her from the hags, and that this protection was necessary because she had seen a hag with her own two eyes. Maleka thought if she drank as much as her cousin did, she would probably see things too. Not only were there hags but also there were signs, omens, dreams, mojo rings, witches, wearing a dime around your ankle, charms, talismans, myths and swamp monsters. Maleka’s sleep was unrestful, and during the day, she was jumpy and on edge.
“You all packed and ready to go?”
Maleka jumped nearly five feet off the bed at the sound of Leticia’s voice, and her cousin laughed until tears rained down her beautiful ebony face.
“Girl,” Leticia said as soon as she caught her breath. “You is just as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full o’ rocking chairs.”
“I must have dozed off; I didn’t hear you come in.” Maleka said through her smile. “Yeah, I’m almost done. I really didn’t have that much stuff to pack anyway.”
Leticia sat on the bed next to Maleka and pushed herself back until she was resting against the wall. Maleka did the same.
“You really can’t stay no longer?”
“Ticia, it’s so hot down here, I can barely think. Hey, why don’t you come up to Seattle? Once I get home and settled, I can buy you a plane ticket. You can stay as long as you like. I think you’ll like it. It’s really pretty, there’s lots of water, and its cool.”
“Girl, I ain’t never been on no airplane before.”
Maleka could hear the fear in her cousin’s voice. The two were the same age, 28, but her cousin had never traveled outside of her county.
“So? There’s a first time for everything. You can catch the Greyhound … I know! What about Amtrak? That’ll be cool … to ride the train across the country; I can even get you your own private cabin!”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, just think about it. OK?”
Both girls looked toward the door as their grandmother walked through it. Fat Mike was behind her, carrying a large Styrofoam cooler that looked heavy, even for him. Her grandmother had packed a feast that would have fed an army for a month.
The cooler was filled with fried-pork-chop sandwiches with mayo and hot sauce, buttermilk fried chicken, scuppernongs, Maypops, onion-and-tomato sandwiches, potato salad and macaroni salad, cracklings and half a dozen banana moon pies.
“Grandma, this is too much food. I’ll be home in just a few days.” Maleka really wasn’t protesting, because her grandmother had packed all of her favorite food, even if it was more than she could eat in just a few days.
Fat Mike went to load her car, and her grandmother sat on the edge of the rickety bed and touched Maleka’s face before she started talking.
“Now don’t you go wandering too far off de road, don’t let darkness catch ya’ and stay out dem woods at all cost. If you hear a chain rattlin’ on de tree, you best be movin’ along, cuz it might be a plat-eye.”
Great, Maleka thought. Just what I need, another Southern monster. She had no idea what a plat-eye was, and she wasn’t going to ask. She didn’t want to know. All she wanted was to be back in the Great Pacific Northwest where all she had to worry about was good old-fashion ghosts, Bigfoot, and the occasional serial killer.
Her grandmother handed Maleka a small burlap sack tied closed with a piece of twine. “Keep this witchya at all times, no matter what happens.”
Maleka took the little bag with trembling hands. She didn’t want to take this with her; she didn’t even want to touch it. This was what she wanted to get away from in the first place. Maleka dropped the amulet of protection into her handbag and gave her grandmother a big hug and kissed her goodbye.
On the winding road that seemed to stretch on forever, Maleka saw a filling station that looked like it hadn’t been updated or remodeled in the last 100 years. She even heard the cheerful “ding-ding” as she pulled up to the pump. The breeze in the wake of a passing semi felt good against her sticky skin. She was grateful for the cooler temperatures that were chasing the submerging rays of the sunset.
Maleka bought two bags of ice, a six-pack of Coke, oil, and a road map she had GPS on her cell phone, but she hadn’t had a signal in almost three hours. Maleka also bought 45 dollars’ worth of gas and some candy. The old man smiled at her as she dumped her stuff in front of him to ring up. Maleka returned his smile while looking away from his blue running eyes, wrinkled skin and broken teeth. As Maleka was rummaging through her purse for cash, because Visa wasn’t really everywhere that she wanted to be, the charm her grandmother gave her tumbled out on to the vintage countertop.
Maleka had made it halfway back to her car before the old attendant came chasing out behind her.
“Hey, girl, wait a minute, you done left yo charm.”
Maleka turned to the sound of his voice and almost ran from the man who was holding the small bag her grandmother had given her. When he extended it for her to take, she flinched away from it.
“Oh. Thank you, sir, but I don’t think I need it.”
The man looked at Maleka with a flash of anger and it was clear that he was personally offended by Maleka’s fear of it.
“Your peoples gave this to you for good reason. You need it for protection. I reckon you a long way from home, so I suggest that you take this with you.”
Maleka took a step away from the man and shook her head.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea to mess with stuff you don’t understand.”
“Girl you don’t have to believe but you can’t afford not to listen.” The man warned as he walked up to her and dropped the charm into one of her bags.
Maleka slowly turned around and walked away from him, so shaken up that she almost forgot to pump her gas. She drained her cooler, crammed in the six cans of Coke, and replaced the melted ice. She added oil to her car, opened the map, charted her course, and cursed the non-existent signal on her phone. As Maleka was placing the trash into the plastic bags, her attention was once again drawn to the charm resting at the bottom. She tossed all the trash on top of it, balled up the bags, and threw them away. As she sped away, she noticed the old man watching her leave from the window.
Maleka had been driving in the dark for almost two hours. When she first learned how to drive the freeway scared her the most, but when her stepfather took her on her first night drive she was calm and confident.
When they drove at night, there was really no need for his instructions, so he just let her drive. The night lessons were Maleka’s favorite time with her stepfather. He didn’t warn her about the dangers of boys, drugs and alcohol, he did not bitch at her for not doing her chores or getting just a C on her math test, or quiz her about military terminology. It was just she and Dad spending a few hours at night driving under a blanket of stars. Maleka had always enjoyed driving at night; she appreciated the solitude and welcomed the memories.
She could have shot herself for tilting her head all the way back to drink the last of the Coke. She looked back at the road in time to see a deer bolt out in front of her car and freeze just a few feet ahead of her. Despite everything she had been taught and had heard, Maleka slammed on the brakes and yanked her wheel heavily to the right. Her car slid off the pavement and lost traction in the gravel. She tried to right herself but overcorrected, sending the vehicle over the yellow line. As she fought the car to avoid any oncoming traffic on the two-lane stretch of road, the car returned to the correct lane before leaving the road, going into a ditch, and slamming into a tree.
Maleka put the car in park but left the engine running, afraid that if she turned it off, she wouldn’t be able to restart it. The front of the car was damaged, but not badly enough to deploy the airbags. She rubbed her head, unhooked her seat belt, and snatched her cell phone off the floor in front of the seat next to her.
“Fuck!” Maleka threw the phone back on the floor with such force that it bounced up and landed on the passenger seat. Maleka pounded on the steering wheel and looked into the rearview mirror.
The deer was still standing in the middle of the road. It turned its head as if to look in the direction behind them before returning its gaze to the car. The deer raised its head to the sky, and Maleka watched the antlers of the large animal retract back into its head.
That’s not what you saw; you hit your head pretty hard, and your vision is blurry. That isn’t what you just saw.
Maleka watched the deer stand on its hind legs and take the form of a man. He started to walk slowly toward the car.
Don’t let darkness catch ya and stay out dem woods at all cost.
Maleka grabbed the rear view mirror and moved it so that she could watch the man approaching as she reached beneath her seat for her gun. Without taking her eyes off of the man in the rearview mirror, Maleka put her car in reverse and then back in drive and back again until she gently rocked her car out of the ditch.
Only when she got the car back on the road did she take her eyes off the man. She pulled away slowly, but as she picked up speed, the front bumper, which was being dragged beneath the car, punctured a tire. The car began to wobble before it took a nose dive to the right, the tire so damaged that she was driving on the rim. She drove another 200 feet before the car died completely. She was on a slight decline, so she let the car coast down a bit, then steered the car off to the side of the road when she felt it losing momentum.
A quick glance in both the side and rearview mirrors did not reveal the man’s whereabouts, but she knew he was still coming.
Maleka took a deep breath and let her training take over. Her mother taught her how to shoot with a Smith & Wesson model 29.44 Magnum, and her Uncle Sam had given her a badge marked “expert.”
The wonder nine that Maleka held in her hands was Smith & Wesson’s M&P, with a 17-round capacity, and a velocity 100 feet per second above what was advertised. Maleka had no doubt of the weapon’s capability, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that she needed something more.
Keep this witchya at all times no matter what happens.
She pulled the lever on her seat until the headrest was lying on the back seat, then turned around, pressed her back into the steering wheel, and waited for the man, deer, or whatever the hell it was that caused this accident, to close the distance between them.
Maleka reached over, opened the glove box, and grabbed the four extra high-capacity magazines. She grabbed the phone off of the passenger seat and shoved the clips and phone into the back pockets of her blue jeans. It wasn’t long after that she saw the top of the man’s head crest the hill.
“Guard me, O Lord, from the hands of the wicked; protect me from the violent …” Maleka’s prayer was interrupted by movement on the edges of her peripheral vision. Maleka was hesitant to take her eyes off of the approaching man, but whatever was on the other side of the road was closer to her than he was. Her eyes slowly traveled to the view outside of her driver’s-side window. Her eyes seemed to almost drag her head with them. Blurs of black and gray shapes became sharp lines, defined images … more deer, methodically taking the shape of man.
“Deliver me from those who work evil; from the bloodthirsty, save me.” As if adding an exclamation point to her prayer, she pulled the trigger, killing a beast whose metamorphosis was nearly complete.
The rear window imploded. In the rain of broken glass and shadows Maleka fired six more rounds in rapid succession, crawled to the passenger side of her car, and ran into the deep, tangled abyss that is the Alabama wilderness.
Don’t let darkness catch ya’, and stay out dem woods at all cost.
The tree-lined paved road was lit by stars, but Maleka was plunged into absolute darkness once she entered the forest. After nearly tripping and breaking her ankle, Maleka kicked off her flip-flops and immediately gained speed. It was a double-edged sword, as her tender spa-pampered feet quickly yielded to the unforgiving rough terrain of sharp rocks, jagged twigs, and tangled and knotted tree roots that carpeted the floor of the wilderness.
As she ran, she unbuckled her belt and threaded her gun through it so that she wouldn’t lose it. She refastened the belt loose; the gun beat against her thigh as she ran, but she wanted to be able to maneuver her weapon freely when she needed to.
Instinctively, she stopped running. Maleka slowly, blindly, extended her hand out in front of her, and before her arm was fully outstretched, her fingertips brushed against the rough bark of a large tree. Maleka stepped closer, put her cheek against the tree, and then extended her arms outward as if to give the tree a hug. With her arms fully extended, the tips of her stretched and exploring fingers still felt bark on both sides.
Maleka kept her right hand on the tree and used her left hand as a feeler to detect any other large objects in front of her, until the large timber that blocked her path was behind her.
Her fear heightened her sense of awareness, and her deprivation of sight sharpened her ability to hear, Maleka found it easier to just close her eyes rather than peer into the darkness. She controlled her breathing and concentrated on the muted sounds of the forest.
The terrain underfoot became soft. Instead of rocks, pinecones, and fallen branches, Maleka felt leaves, moss, and mud. She stood still, cocked her head, and listened. The absence of sound alarmed her, but she continued to walk, slowly at first, then faster and faster until she was once again running at full tilt.
The ground was soft and soundless, but as she picked up speed, she heard branches snapping behind her to her left. Hoping to achieve the same level of strength, speed, and victory as the Greek Goddess Nike, Maleka ran. And ran, and ran.
And slammed into a low-hanging branch.
There was a flash of bright light around the edges of her vision, her feet swung out from under her, and she landed on her back. Her lower back just above her tailbone exploded in pain as it came into contact with a fallen log, and as her head bounced off the ground, Maleka bit her tongue. Running headlong into a thick branch had caused worse injuries than the car accident.
Maleka swallowed blood and listened to the sounds of the forest. Nothing.
She performed a quick mental diagnostic of her body and categorized her injuries.
She told herself she was fine and slowly sat up. Without warning, it started raining, not the light misty drizzle that she was accustomed to in Seattle, but a hard and heavy downpour of torrential rain of biblical proportions.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” Maleka screamed up to the heavens. “Is this your idea of a joke? Well I don’t think it’s funny! Didn’t you hear me calling you for help?”
Maleka was standing, though she did not remember the physical act of standing up. Her hands were balled into tight fists, and she was defiantly staring into the night sky and blinking away the rain. A voice in her head suggested that maybe this was not the way she should be talking to God, but she was so desperately angry and so thoroughly terrified that she couldn’t stop herself.
“Give me a fucking break, answer my prayer, do something! I’m not asking you to part the sea; I’m just asking for a little help. Is that asking for too much? Are you there?”
God did not answer her. She couldn’t hear anything over the rain. She still couldn’t see anything, but she didn’t want to just stand there, so despite nearly having been decapitated, Maleka started running. She counted her steps as she ran. There were 2,112 military steps in one mile with a 30-inch step. Maleka’s running stride was 70 inches, so she knew she had run nearly two miles since plowing into that tree.
The soft mud that had padded Maleka’s footfalls was now an enemy combatant. Encouraged by the rain, the mud became thick and hostile, her feet were buried to her ankles with each step, she had to use force to wrangle her foot free, and before she knew it, she was calf deep in mud.
“This is fucking bullshit.”
Maleka took a deep breath, turned around, and slowly made her way out of the deep mud. A bolt of lightning arched across the sky. In the flash of light, Maleka saw that she was in a small valley. It took Maleka almost a full minute to register what she had seen on the valley ridge.
Her pursuers had morphed themselves into one of the most feared and formidable canines on both the face of the planet and in the depths of nightmares.
Maleka now had to run from a pack of dogs that had the ability to run at speeds of at least 40 miles per hour and sustain those speeds for several miles at a time.
Though there was nothing remotely humorous in Maleka’s situation, she started laughing.
Maleka bolted away from the descending predators. It took her ninety steps to reach the slight incline that marked the valley wall. Digging in with hands, forearms, knees, and feet, she scrambled up the hill. When she reached flat land, she stood up and ran. Maleka counted sixty steps before she tripped over an exposed tree root. She reached out with her hands to break her fall, but she kept falling.
Maleka slammed to the ground on her shoulder and began to tumble, roll, and slide. Once again, she was laughing, and she received a mouthful of dirt, leaves, and, to her utter horror, a bug. She hated watching the damsel in distress trip and fall in horror movies, and yet here she was falling for the second time.
Did she see lights? Maleka slid to a stop on her face, stood up, and ran. She did see lights. The lights that shone through the window of the cabin were like a beacon promising a safe haven from this storm.
She could hear the footsteps of the dogs behind her. She thought she heard them running past her as well, and knew that they were racing ahead to cut her off and surround her.
With every breath she took, she inhaled fire. Both of her feet were swollen, cut, and bleeding. Pain exploded from her feet to her jaw with each step she took. Her hands, arms, and face were scratched and cut. The pain in her side was so intense, she might as well have been pierced by the Spear of Destiny. The trees blocked out the light of the moon. It was so dark that she couldn’t even see the tips of her fingers on her outstretched arms. She’d just returned home from the war and was in excellent physical condition; otherwise, she would have been caught two miles ago. She kept running. She ran faster.
She was so close that the warm light glowing in the window offered her enough light to see the edges of her surroundings, but she didn’t look at what was moving within the shadows. She jumped over the four steps of the cabin’s patio and slammed her shoulder into the door, expecting resistance, but with one turn of the knob, the door opened.
The rug slid under her feet and she almost fell … again. As Maleka regained her balance, the only thing she saw was a pair of denim-blue eyes. It took three seconds for Maleka’s vision to pan out, allowing the panoramic view of the inside of the cabin to come into focus.
The man she was looking at was shirtless and tattooed. On his broad and chiseled chest was an eagle in flight, and clutched within its mighty talons was a large swastika. The man was sitting in a chair, his foot on the edge of the table, and his chair was tipped back on the two hind legs. Covering the wall he was against was a large Confederate battle flag – an image that, for the majority of black people living in the United States, is a symbol of racism. His hair might have been red or blond, but his head was shaved. He wasn’t alone. Another man stood by the window, and yet another sat on a small sofa directly in front of the man she had first seen.
Maleka spun around, slammed the door closed, and engaged the deadbolt.
Once the door was closed, she saw a large chair. It was as heavy as it looked, and she had to use all her strength to drag it to the door and position the chair under the door handle. Maleka stumbled a few steps back and turned to face the men she had locked herself inside with.
For almost five minutes, no one spoke.
She pressed her hand to the pain in her side and took a closer look at the guy by the window. He wasn’t standing, as she first thought; he was sitting on top of some type of cabinet. He had a huge sucker in his mouth, and she could smell the cherry scent of the candy from the other side of the room. He had the same denim colored eyes as the one leaning back in his chair. He wasn’t completely bald, because his red hair had grown out a little. It reminded Maleka of a peach.
The thought of such a juicy fruit only served to underscore the dryness of her parched throat. As if reading her mind, he tightened the cap on his bottle of water and tossed it to Maleka. She drank it down greedily. Cool water ran down the sides of her mouth as she drank, as much as she could before she started coughing.
Both of the man’s arms from shoulder to wrist were covered in colorful, incredibly detailed tattoos, but what stood out the most were the flags. On the inside of his upper right arm, near his chest, was a tattoo of a red flag with a black swastika in the center. On the left was the American flag. The man sitting on the couch wore a Dewalt wife-beater and was wearing a ball cap that read, “The South shall rise again.” At first she thought they all looked the same, but it was clear to her that the one leaning back in his chair and the one in the window were related, possibly brothers.
The cabin was just one big square room, the kitchen was along the wall to her left, and the view from that window was of more woods. A large brick fireplace sat in the center of the widest wall, and there was a door off to the side that Maleka guessed to be a bathroom. There were three sleeping bags rolled up in the corner along with three backpacks and a slew of hunting rifles.
Along the wall above the couch hung pictures of Hitler standing in a moving Jeep, bikini-clad blond women displaying tools, and redheads posing with cars. There was also a poster of the University of Alabama football team running on the field. Maleka was surprised to see that poster hanging so proudly, as most of the players in the poster were black.
Finally, the guy in the window swirled his candy to one side of his mouth and asked, “So what the fuck are you running from to make you think you’re safer in here with us than out there with a gun strapped to your belt?”
“A pack of wolves,” Maleka answered.
“No ma’am, you might wanna try that again. We ain’t got no wolves down here.” The candy man explained.
“I know, but they weren’t wolves at first.” Maleka’s thoughts were jumbled and confused, and so were her words. She heard herself talking and was afraid that she wasn’t making any sense.
“See, she told me to keep it with me, then I didn’t think I needed it, so I threw it away.”
“You threw what away?”
“I really didn’t think it would do any good; it’s just a stupid superstition.”
He slowly took the candy out of his mouth and asked again, “You threw what away?”
“The man at the gas station tried to give it back to me, but I didn’t take it.”
“HEY!” he shouted. “Do you hear me fucking talking to you? I’m not going to ask you again. What did you throw away?”
“The charm?” He echoed. “What charm, what was it for?”
Maleka noticed how his eyes lowered to the gold cross she was wearing around her neck as he asked the question.
“It was to protect me from the monster.”
The man leaning in the chair slowly lowered it back to all four legs, and the one on the couch took off his ball cap and ran his hand through his thick blond hair. As his blond locks unraveled to fall against his sculpted shoulders, Maleka knew without a doubt that this man was a direct descendant of Thor.
Maleka could see the conversation the men were having with their eyes, but she had no idea what they were saying.
“Travis, she’s high. She’s probably from California, and they say they got some good-ass weed out there.”
The three of them shared a laugh as Travis put the candy back in his mouth and leaned against the window.
“I’m not high, and I’m not from California,” Maleka hissed.
Travis shrugged his shoulders. “That might be so, girl, but you ain’t from around here. You say you ain’t high, but you done spooked yourself so bad you ain’t thinking straight, and you ain’t making no damn sense, so I can’t tell either way.”
“I scared myself?” Maleka was furious.
“What you was running from is most likely coyotes.”
“I know the fucking difference between a wolf and a coyote,” she started, but the man in the chair interrupted her.
“Really, Big City? Because you said they weren’t wolves at first, so what were they then, dingos?”
“Fuck you too, you stupid fucking nigger cunt bitch! There ain’t no fucking wolves down here. The only dogs we have out there in our woods are the coyote and maybe … maybe a pack of strays. You was running through the woods at night. It’s dark out there, and the woods has a way of playing tricks with your senses. You was just seeing things.”
“Caleb’s right,” Travis explained. “You fucking people are all the same; you come down South and act like it’s a trip to the fucking zoo. Y’all come down here so that you can laugh at us ignorant, po’ white trash, redneck hillbillies, and point at the dumbass country niggers.”
“Y’all watch movies like Deliverance and think we’re just a bunch of inbreeds sitting down here making moonshine, playing banjos, eating fried chicken and spitting out watermelon seeds. Then the next thing you know, y’all is running through the woods in the middle of the night, shooting at shadows and running from dogs that are expecting to be hand fed.”
More laughter. Maleka started to say something, but stopped. She turned her head toward the door. The others heard it too. Scratching. The door shook gently. Something heavy landed on the roof, and the ceiling creaked in protest under the weight of whatever was walking across it. Everyone looked up at once.
The door shook again, forcefully this time. Travis tracked the footsteps on the roof with his head, leaning farther and farther back until he was looking directly above him.
There was a long deep howl lasting almost 10 seconds before the others in the pack answered the call.
Everyone started moving at once. Maleka unhooked her gun from her belt and reached into her pockets for the extra clips. Without taking his eyes off the ceiling, Travis stood, slowly turned around, and closed the interior shutters.
Caleb grabbed the hunting rifles that had been leaning against the fireplace. The man sitting on the couch flew past Maleka to close the shutters in the kitchen. He closed them in the nick of time. The glass in the kitchen window shattered, but the shutter was not breached.
“Ryan,” Caleb called and tossed a rifle to the man who now stood behind Maleka.
The silence that followed was deafening. With the enveloping hush, everyone looked at Maleka, who was looking at Caleb with a look that said I told you so.
When Maleka had first tried to explain the night’s events Travis thought it was a joke. Now he thought it was her fault. He flew from the window to loom over her.
“You fucking threw the Goddamn charm away? You just fucking threw it away?”
Travis was a whole foot taller than Maleka, and as he screamed down at her, she realized that the candy he had had in his mouth was not cherry flavored but, in fact, strawberry.
Neither his size nor his proximity intimidated Maleka, since both were to her advantage. Her situational awareness was acute. Maleka had mentally established that inside the cabin was her zone of security, and she knew where everything was.
From a very early age, Caleb had developed a healthy fear of women and learned to never underestimate their capacity for brutality nor be surprised by the vicious glee with which they carried out their monstrous deeds. Caleb did not like the way the girl’s demeanor had changed, and though he couldn’t pinpoint what had changed he just knew something had.
“If you knew it was to keep you safe, why did you fucking throw it away?”
She knew how much room she had to maneuver. She knew how many steps it would take to reach Caleb, understood that he would have to be the next one neutralized, because under no circumstances was she going back outside into unfamiliar terrain while it was dark.
With eight older sisters, a mother who was acquitted for the slaughter of his father, and having served a ten-year prison sentence for killing a woman who was doing her best to kill him, Caleb had firsthand knowledge of how truly cruel and dangerous a woman could be, and he understood that they were in no way, shape, or form the weaker sex.
“Y’all think y’all so much better than us, so sophisticated and educated.”
Maleka’s breathing slowed. She was unprepared to deal with deer that changed themselves into people and then changed themselves into wolves, but fighting men was what she had been trained to do, and she had seventeen confirmed kills under her belt just this year alone. Her personal best so far.
That was what it was. She was calm, almost relaxed. Travis was a big guy.
Most people who saw him coming would quickly look for the nearest exit, or cross the street. No one ever made eye contact with him, but this girl was looking him right in the eye and didn’t even flinch, and Caleb didn’t like that.
Maleka slowly slid one foot in front of the other, but kept her hands at her sides, thus assuming a basic battle stance. Close-quarters combat was Maleka’s specialty. Because of her stealth, speed, agility, and ferocity in hand-to-hand combat, comrades in her unit started calling her “the black mamba.” Most people didn’t see her coming, and those who did lacked the necessary training to defend themselves, and perished. And such would be the case with Travis.
Before he realized that he had even stood up, Caleb found himself by his brother’s side. He gently pulled Travis away from Maleka and protectively stood between them.
“What the fuck were you doing out in the woods at night for anyway?” Travis demanded over Caleb’s shoulder.
“They crashed my car.”
“Of course they fucking crashed your car! Dumbass.” Travis was furious and pacing back and forth.
“I don’t understand why you’re so upset, Travis,” Maleka taunted. “You said I was shooting at shadows and running from dogs that are expecting to be hand fed. Maybe we should open the door and give them some doggie treats and scratch their heads.”
For a frightening second, Caleb was unsure if he was going to be able to restrain his brother. He would have loved nothing more than to knock that smug smirk off her face, but Caleb had a feeling that was exactly what she wanted, and he refused to be baited.
“Travis, there are four of us in here and enough guns for us to have three each. We just have to maintain our zone of security until morning, and then we’ll be able to offer adequate cover to reach the truck. The nearest town will be our extraction point.”
Travis and Caleb looked at each other in astonishment, and Maleka fought feelings of frustration.
“Extraction point?” Travis echoed. “Are you in the Army?”
Something else jumped onto the roof. The door bulged in violently as if kicked, but the chair under the doorknob held.
“These ain’t terrorists you was shooting at out there. There ain’t no fucking extraction point, and in case you haven’t noticed, we’re surrounded. The cavalry ain’t coming, and you just fucking got us all killed.”
Maleka was losing her patience with Travis.
“I killed two of them in the street.”
“Did you kill them, or did you just shoot them?”
The voice came from behind her. Maleka pivoted 180 degrees and took three steps back so that her back was toward the door and the three men were in view full.
“You said at first they weren’t wolves, so then, what were they?”
Whatever was on the roof was now jumping, as if trying to stomp its way through. The door was kicked again and splintered along the hinges. The front-room window shattered. The noise outside sounded like breaking tree branches, and a mixture of hyena calls and wolf howls. Ryan burst into hysterical laughter, and Maleka decided it wasn’t such a good idea to have her back to the door.
“Ok, Big-City, if you have a plan to get us all outta here alive, you might want to tell us, because that would be some pretty good fucking information to have right about now.”
Before Maleka had the time to ignore Travis’s hysteria, Ryan asked his question again.
“What were they at first?”
Before Maleka had a chance to answer, Caleb offered his hypothesis. “So what are we dealing with here, werewolves? Well, if that’s the case, we’re all fucked because none of these bullets are silver.”
“Can they fucking do that? The moon’s not even full!”
As Travis’s question drifted slowly toward silence, all of the men turned to Maleka for the answer. She thought that she was going to collapse as the heavy weight of how truly dire their situation was settled upon her shoulders. As if things were not challenging enough, unlike the men in her unit, these guys were not going to just do what they were told, and Travis was already becoming a problem.
Maleka’s plan A was to stay inside the cabin until daylight, but whatever monster had chased her in here, and had been kicking the door and jumping on the roof, had a different idea. Maleka was going to have to come up with a plan B and C and a contingency plan, and she should have done that 20 minutes ago.
Maleka took Caleb’s rifle to inspect it and was disappointed at her discovery. Caleb’s weapon of choice was a Winchester Model 70. A bolt rifle.
This was the perfect weapon for a sniper – and of course to use for hunting – but the mere seconds it took to reload this gun manually would cost someone their life in a combat situation. With a quick scan of all the weapons, she knew she wouldn’t find what she was looking for.
“What’s the matter?”
Maleka handed Caleb his gun back.
“I was really hoping for a semiautomatic, or at least a gun that could have been easily converted. Even a revolver would be nice. Are there any handguns here?”
“Semiautomatic?” Caleb asked. “I guess if you’re hunting people but we came out here to hunt deer. I got a Colt .38 out in the truck.”
“My state allows the use of semiautomatic for big-game hunting,” Maleka explained. “And the last thing anyone is doing right now is going outside.”
“What’s considered big-game hunting in California … a Colombian drug lord?”
Maleka wanted nothing more than to knock Travis unconscious with the butt of his own gun, but as the best possible defense plan formulated in her mind, she knew she was going to need him.
“I’m not from California, Travis. I’m from Washington. Is there a window in the bathroom?”
“No,” they all answered at once. Finally, God had answered her prayer.
Maleka opened the door to the small bathroom and asked Ryan to drag over the chair that Caleb had been sitting in. She used the chair to hold the door open, then lined the bathtub with sleeping bags.
Because Caleb was the tallest, he was the one she put in the bathtub, and he was thankful for the padding of the sleeping bags, as he would be shooting directly over Maleka’s head from a kneeling position. Maleka wanted the gunfire aimed in such a way as to produce highest the concentration of fatalities. It was one thing to shoot at the heads of unsuspecting elk. It was another thing entirely to be shooting at moving targets that had the ability to change from one creature to another, and whose sole purpose was your demise. Travis’s position was on the ledge of the tub, and Ryan sat on the toilet. They would surround her as she sat on the floor, and her goal was to provide them with enough automatic fire to give them enough time to reload their guns.
With the men in place, Maleka moved the two floor lamps to each side of the bathroom door and used the outlets in the bathroom to plug them in. She directed the swivel heads of the lamps toward the cabin door and turned all the other lights in the cabin off. Just like a cop shining his light into your car window, not only would the bright lights of the 100-watt bulbs blind anyone, or anything, coming through the door, the intense white light directed outwards would provide a safe haven of darkness behind which they could hide.
They sat in the silent dark for almost twenty minutes, and when Travis started talking, it startled everyone.
“Caleb,” he said. “I think you’re the coolest mother-fucking man I ever met.”
The iron shutters on both windows started to rattle. Caleb cleared his throat, but when he started talking, his voice was full of emotion.
“You’ve always followed me. No matter where I went, I knew if I ever wanted my little brother, all I had to do was turn around and you’d be there. In all my life, this is the only time I wish you hadn’t followed me.”
Hearing Travis and Caleb say goodbye was more than Maleka could deal with. She had fought in four theaters in places that you would never be able to find on a map, just to be killed in her own country by a fiend that should not exist.
Keep this witchya at all times no matter what happens.
There was nothing she could do about it now, and Travis had been right all along. She indeed had killed them all. This was so unfair; it was just a stupid superstition, none of this was real. Except it was.
Maleka wasn’t just apologizing to Caleb, Travis, and Ryan. She was also apologizing to her cousin Maybell who put a broom by her bedroom door to keep her safe from the terrors that lurked in the night. She was apologizing to her grandmother, who had given her a gift that was meant to see her through on her journey, and to the gas-station attendant who knew how important it was when he tried to give it back after she left it on the counter. But more importantly, Maleka apologized to God for her earlier blasphemous display of disobedience.
With a final kick, the door broke in half, flying inwards in two pieces, and as the wind and the monsters rushed in, everyone started shooting.
About the Author
Master Imaginationist and Instagram photographer Crystal Connor is the Chief Imagineer working for the Department of Sleep Prevention’s Nightmare Division. A Washington State native she loves anything to do with monsters, bad guys (as in evil-geniuses & super-villains. Not ‘those’ kind her mother warned her about), rogue scientific experiments, jewelry, sky-high high-heeled shoes & unreasonably priced handbags. (more…)
About the Narrator
Stephanie Malia Morris works in a bookstore by day and a library by night, which gives her access to more books than she can possibly read over several lifetimes. She is a recipient of the Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship Award and a graduate of the 2017 Clarion West Writers Workshop. Her short fiction has appeared in FIYAH, Apex, Nightmare, and PseudoPod. She is a regular podcast reader for Uncanny Magazine and has narrated short fiction for the all four of the Escape Artists podcasts, StarShipSofa, and Far Fetched Fables.