There was a violent thrashing in the house. Peggy stood at the top of the stairs with her eyes wide and her shotgun firmly gripped. Her hands trembled, and she had to force her finger off the trigger to stop herself from shooting accidentally. Below, in the swimming dark, glass shattered and wood splintered. Something was creating a typhoon of destruction. It sounds like a boar, she thought. A giant, pissed off, wild boar.
And then, just as quickly as the attack on the house had started, it stopped. In her mind, Peggy saw the chaos she envisioned in her living room, spinning and tearing her world apart, suddenly vanish, and all the tokens of her life fall from the still air down onto the floor. Peggy let out a yelp as something brushed against her leg.
“What is it, Momma?” asked Andrew. “Is it a hog?”
“Get back!” she yelled. “Get back in that room and hide!” She shoved her son into her bedroom and closed the door behind her. With the door closed, the small amount of illumination that shone in through the window was cut off from her sight. She felt the blackness encase her body like concrete. The silence resting at the bottom of the stairs was heavy and seemed to creep toward her. Peggy blinked in a vain attempt to force more light into her eyes.
Footsteps ran to the back door and stopped. Peggy knew it was her husband, but her breath was held hostage by fear. “Peggy?” Dale asked. He crept into the house. Broken glass tinkled under his weight. “Peggy, you okay?”
Just as she was about to speak, she saw the eyes, those burning rubies that pierced like needles. Her courage collapsed in her throat. She tried to yell out, but couldn’t. Every hair on her body stood straight as though it were trying to flee from her crawling skin. She couldn’t see in the darkness, but she knew that it was smiling at her. It saw her, and it was excited by her fear. Her hands grew weak and the shotgun began to slip from her fingers.
But that feeling of wood and metal sliding against her skin was enough to break the spell. She heard the voice of her father again. Just point where you know your hazard is and pull yer finger back on that trigger. The gun’ll do the rest. Air leapt into her lungs as she let out a weak croak. The red eyes twinkled at her, and she heard a heavy foot settle onto the stairs. Her gaze locked onto her hazard, onto those horrible red holes that punched through the veil of reality, and she raised her father’s favorite gun.
“Peggy?” asked Dale.
His voice was distant, around the corner. She knew he was safe from the blast. She placed her finger on the trigger and pulled it back.
In the final seconds of Peggy’s life, she regretted not closing her eyes. Her father always scolded her when she did. He taught her, quite sternly, that closing your eyes when firing a weapon was an almost guaranteed miss. It may have been the darkness, or the fear, or the nightmarish events of the night that caused her eyes to stay open, or maybe the lesson just finally held true. But the flash of light that filled the stairway when the shotgun discharged was enough to see more evil than she could have seen in a lifetime. Thick horns of rotten bone spiraled off the creature’s bald head. Its skin was black and peeling and looked as though it was suffering from third degree burns. This burnt skin clung to a hulking body that looked human in muscle structure but beast in form. But truly, her eyes only saw the mouth.
Peggy never heard the squeal the creature made when she shot it, the squeal that sounded out like a steam whistle and cracked the front window. She never felt the pounding in the wood as it charged up the stairs to where she was standing. Her body never made a motion to defend or flee, even as the light vanished and the sight of that horrible mouth disappeared. She only saw the image of that mouth, wide and grinning despite its scream, filled with long teeth that looked like syringes, and the long, snake-like tongue that was coiled within it. That mouth closed down on her shoulder as the creature slammed her feeble body into the wall. The teeth punctured through her mortal form and bit into something deeper, something spiritual, and infected her with its presence. Peggy felt her true self, not her human form, being pulled down into torturous depths. Oceans of pressure crushed her core. Invisible claws tore at her fiber. Unholy flames seared her conscious mind and all the while jeers and laughter surrounded her. The beast delighted in her suffering, savoured the taste of her soul, and consumed it fully. Peggy sank into the abyss and was gone.
Dale heard the shot, the scream, and then the sound of that beast charging his family. He rushed into the darkness. His feet kicked aside debris as he sprinted around the corner and up the stairs. Halfway up, his toe caught a step and he fell forward, slamming his chin on the edge of another step. Tooth enamel cracked when his jaw snapped shut, and the shotgun Dale carried fumbled from his hands. He flailed up the stairs in a panic. Silence was all around him again, and he cursed himself for not having the mental wherewithal to snatch the flashlight from the Sheriff’s hands during his pursuit.
He groped in the darkness, his fingers striking out like claws, waiting to make contact with some unspeakable form at any minute. He tripped over Peggy’s leg and fell on top of her, screaming out in surprise. He felt her skin and the cloth of her robe and scooped her body into his arms. “Peggy!” he shouted. The body of his wife shook lifelessly in his hands. “Peggy! Peggy, say something!”
The bedroom door cracked open and a sliver of soft white shone through. A small shadow was huddled behind the door. “Andrew!” Dale shouted. “Andrew, turn on the light!” A switch was flipped and yellow light fell on the landing. When Dale saw Peggy’s body, pallid and broken, he nearly threw her back to the floor in shock. Her shoulder was covered in hundreds of small holes and thick, black fluid, like old motor oil, leaked from each one. It stained her robe and was smeared across the wood floor. Her veins were traced in black throughout the length of her body as the viscous fluid absorbed into her bloodstream. Peggy’s eyes were open but dead, like a heroin addict getting that final fix of all fixes.
Downstairs, Gus Holcomb used his surplus of body weight to bust open the front door. He came in, shotgun ready and eyes wide, and looked up from the base of the stairs.
“We need an ambulance, Sheriff,” Dale said. “We need one now!”
Gus moved with a cautious quickness to the top of the stairs. A gasp fell from his mouth when he saw Peggy. “Where’s the beast?” Gus asked.
Dale spun his head, reminded of the imminent danger, and saw nothing. He looked to Andrew whose eyes were fixed on his dying mother. “Andrew!” Dale hissed. “Where did it go?’
Andrew shrugged his shoulders and shrank away from the door.