Pea Ridge

📅 Published on May 18, 2022

“Pea Ridge”

Written by Xavier Poe Kane
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 10.00/10. From 1 vote.
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Autumn was Thor’s favorite season; the world changed around him in an amazing cornucopia of scents. The color of the leaves meant nothing to him, but the aromas did. Fungi bloomed as quadrillions of spores feasted on decaying matter. So much of the woods around his house smelled like pine and cold, peaty earth. But more than scents, the sounds of the woods played a happy score. Acorns fell with the softness of rain in the forest. In other places, ripe walnuts dropped with a clatter. He followed his ears to these sounds and enjoyed chewing on the nice seasonal alternative to kibble. But the most exciting sound of all—squirrel! His ears perked up when he heard the dead leaves crunch as the rodent foraged for acorns. He turned and sped toward it.

Thor smelled it before he saw it. The scent reminded him of the den room his two-legged packmates used to do their business; the eldest pup or alpha female marred their natural scent with a stinging putridness when they cleaned the giant water bowl.

A gray creature lumbered across his path; it was about the size of the smaller pup, and it also walked on two legs. He barked at it in the hope it would be his new friend.

The creature responded by emitting a squeal that would be almost too high for his family to hear, but the intent came across loud and clear to Thor. He backed away when something larger charged through the trees. An adult version of the creature burst through the brush, emitting a deeper squeal that bordered on a growl. Despite it being foreign to him, he knew it presented a threat. His fur went up, and he took an aggressive stance while he attempted to retreat.

The smaller one retreated. The larger creature swiped at him, but Thor jumped out of the way. The creature issued another high-pitched bellow from a gaping, circular maw. The scent of the water bowl cleaner was more pungent, and it stung the millions of olfactory nerves in his snout. He whimpered in pain before he caught the creature’s follow-up.

It was a glancing blow, one that traced along the line of Thor’s spine to reveal pink musculature in a long, bloody gash. He howled in pain as the adrenaline kicked in. He contorted himself, ignoring the pain, and took off through the woods in a desperate race to get back to his pack’s den.

* * * * * *

The creature uttered a clicking noise, and its child hurried to its side, slithered up its back, and perched there. She sniffed the air of the alien world. Her son needed sustenance. They, along with the rest of their swarm, had only been on the planet for less than a rotation, and food proved elusive. It was a strange world full of exotic prey, fear, sickness, and all the attendant emotional energies. Its kind preyed on the weak, culling them from nature.

It avoided the healthy and strong, engaging them only when necessary for defense. The last animal threatening its child had been healthy and strong. After the fight, less so. It considered pursuing it now that it was injured. Instinct held it back. The animal could be returning to a group, and the creature wouldn’t be able to fend off a swarm of those things. Besides, it sensed an easier meal close by.


I love the country, especially during fall. Ninety minutes ago, I fled the city. I spent the first half an hour caught in a miasma of traffic as commuters jostled to get home. Unlike the zombie horde, I made an escape from the concrete jungle where one marks the passage of seasons more by temperature and less by the panoply of nature’s colors. St. Louis, and my destination, is in the hilly parts of Missouri. The foothills of the Ozark Mountains camouflage the fact that I live in a plains state. About 30 miles southwest on I-44, I’m greeted by hills painted in vibrant reds and yellows.

Just over an hour into my journey, I turned off the highway. Shortly after that, down a gravel road, over railroad tracks, and down into a tree-lined, one-lane thoroughfare. I am invisible to the handful of those that commute or play this far from civilization. This is when the transformation happens; surrounded by nature, I am no longer a drone but a human being.

I roll down the windows. It recently rained and a hint of its musky, earthy fragrance lingers like my wife’s perfume whenever she leaves the house. Gravel crunches under the F-150’s tires as leaves fall around me like giant earth-toned snowflakes. In the back of the extended cab, I hear claws as Snaggletooth, my three-legged mutt, struggles to find purchase to enjoy the breeze in his fur and the country smells far keener than I ever could.

I turn onto my driveway. It’s about a quarter of a mile long and leads straight to a garage that started out as a one-car brick affair when my grandfather built it with the old house in the ‘50s. Later, they expanded by adding a two-car garage. When my parents inherited it and the 250 acres it sat on, my mother next made my dad build a six-foot privacy fence. He started on one side of the garage and, when he finished, an acre around the old house had been enveloped.

The house that once stood here burned down when I was 10. My little brother Glen and I finished growing up in the one built in its place. My wife and I fixed it up about five years ago when my parents sold us a fifty-acre plot after retiring from ranching. They sold the other 200 acres to Glen, who never wanted to leave the tiny village of St. Cloud, and he took over the family ranching business.

I park the truck and take a moment to enjoy the exhibition nature is putting on for me. Blazing reds mixed with purplish maroons and punctuated by a burst of gold. The sun adds to the show; its slanted rays now give everything a golden glow. I inhale deeply as a cool wind tugs at my t-shirt, carrying the promise of another rain.

I never paid attention to this until my bill-paying job sent me to the desert for six months. After 180 days of nothing but sun-bleached sand and brown buildings, I came home in August and noticed for the first time just how many shades of green the leaves were. That fall, the colors popped for me, and I haven’t taken the Midwest’s natural beauty for granted since.

“C’mon, Snaggle. Let’s get inside.”

Hauling a gym bag and rifle case in one hand, I press the garage door button and hear the ancient machine creek to life as the heavy aluminum door lowers.

My tripod dog races into the yard looking for a tree after the long drive. Relieved, he begins his ritualistic inspection of his surroundings. My eyes follow him as he deftly hobbles across the lawn. My gaze pauses on the empty space where I started building a swing set. It was going to be a nice one, complete with a treehouse, tiny rock wall, and curvy slide. I stopped building when we got the cancer diagnosis. I burned it to the ground after the funeral.

The wound is raw, the scab recently pulled off. Petra started talking about adoption. Deep down, I don’t think either one of us wants to risk cursing another child with whatever big-C gene we’re carrying. She also wants to sell the house and land to Glen and build a dream home somewhere else. In concession, she offered to build here in St. Cloud, but I know she wants to build somewhere far away from the memories that haunt this place.

Writing is the overt reason I’m here. To say goodbye to my childhood home is another. Petra is strong. She is my hero, the light that keeps the darkest recesses of my mind from overwhelming me—again. This place has always been an anchor for me, a touchstone of happy, uncomplicated times in my life. But it’s been tainted for both of us now. I have to be strong for her, pull anchor, and move on.

I frown as I step inside, greeted by the stale stench of uncirculated air with a hint of mildew. “We forgot to keep the fans on.”

With the temperate season, the A/C hasn’t kicked on much if at all since our last visit a month ago. I head deeper inside. As it’s a ranch-style home, with a straight line from the side door by the garage to my bedroom. In fact, I can see into the walk-in closet from where I stand. Behind me, I hear the click-clack of dog claws on the wood floor as Snaggle rushes in, carrying a faint odor of ammonia.

“Well, at least you smell clean, buddy. Did you roll in some Windex?”

I drop the gym bag and rifle case onto the bed. Snaggle remains close—unusually close.

“Did King Nigel hiss at you again?”

An eight-foot king snake lives under our porch. We have a treaty of sorts: if he leaves us alone, he can eat all the rodents and other pests he wants. The treaty does allow him to hiss at the dogs if they get too close.

* * * * * *

The rain beat a steady tattoo on the metal roof as I sipped a scotch on the rocks, protected from the downpour by a covered patio running the length of the front of the house. From time to time a gust of wind causes the rain to sheet. Angry dark clouds force an early darkness to fall. Snaggle lies at my feet, his head and ears perking up from time to time when he thinks he hears something. Nature always provides great ambiance for plotting a novel. My next will be about a murdered bully haunting the small town that made a pact to kill him and got away with it.

It was Petra’s idea that I come down without her and take one of the dogs. She knew I needed some time and space to process the topic of adoption and selling this place before we discussed it again. Just me and my laptop with, hopefully, a little target practice before deer season. A weekend of no interruptions. I hadn’t even told Glen.

The landline rings on cue.

“Too good to be true,” I mutter as I step inside and answer without looking at the caller ID—only three people possess this number. “Hey, little brother.”

Snaggle follows, not wandering more than a couple of feet from me.

“Wassup, big brother?” comes Glen’s drawling voice.

He always fit in better in St. Cloud.

“Didn’t know you was coming down till I saw your truck drive past the field this afternoon.”

I knew I should’ve taken the back way to the house. “Well, I came down to—”

“Yeah, yeah, I know. Writers gotta write.” His voice carries a dismissive quality I know so well. “But listen, let’s get together tomorrow.” His tone shifts into Bigfoot-hunter mode. “I was plannin’ on checkin’ all the trail cams—”

“Look, I didn’t come down here to go chasing Bigfoot—”

“It’s not Bigfoot.”

“Or aliens.”

A pause. “I’m sure we’ve got somethin’ this time! Sarah and me were on the front porch the other night, and we saw a shooting star—only it didn’t disappear! It hit the earth over your direction toward the Pea Ridge mine.”

I shake my head. “Yes, because aliens want to mine an exhausted iron mine.”

“Not iron! Rare Earth elements! You know they’re talking about reopening it? They even did a survey!”

“If I say okay, can I hang up?”

“Sure, and get back to your writing or, if I know you, watching the storm and sip’n on some scotch.”

“Fine.” I crack a smile; he’s a goof but he’s my goof. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”


* * * * * *

I spend the rest of the night researching Ken McElroy, the bully of Skidmore, Missouri. Murdered in 1981, the killer got away because the entire town kept silent. Everyone had an alibi for a shooting with 46 witnesses that happened in broad daylight.

Much like his browser history, a writer’s dreams are often equally fucked up. When I go to sleep, I dream of Ken chasing me and Glen through the woods with an M1 Garand rifle. I turn and look back only to see it isn’t Ken anymore—it’s  Bigfoot, and he’s holding an anal probe. I wake up before he can catch me. As the dream fades, I realize I can’t remember if he caught Glen.

Snaggle is scratching at the door.

“I told ya to go earlier.”

I get out of bed to let him outside. The storm has passed, but it’s too cloudy for the moon to light up the yard. He steps onto the small concrete porch outside the side door and sniffs at the air.

“C’mon, hurry up.”

Typically I’d leave him, but he’s been clingy tonight so I don’t want him howling outside my window until I let him in. He looks over his back at me as he starts to piss on the wood railing. I shake my head. I want to be mad, but it’s hard to be angry at a three-legged dog lifting a phantom leg. He finishes and retreats into the house. As I follow, I catch a whiff of ammonia. I consider investigating, but Snaggle lets out a whimper.

“It’s too late.” I yawn and follow him inside.

I crawl under the covers and just start to drift when I hear a thud on the roof of the other side of the house. Immediately, I’m awake and so is Snaggle. By the blue night-light in the master bath, I can see one lip curled into a silent snarl. He is no longer throwing shade but looking a little scared. Both of us are wondering if we heard what we thought we heard.

The momentary silence is shattered by a frantic skrit-skrit-skrit-skrit noise coming from the roof. It grows louder as it nears this side of the house. It echoes in the attic crawl space.

“That’s a damn big squirrel.”

Snaggle lets out a low, barely audible growl in agreement as the scurrying sound crests the center of the roof and begins a descent down the other side—right over the bedroom.

I think to myself that I have time to get up and head to the window to see what it is. I will my body to move, but it will not obey.

“It’s probably just a raccoon.”

Snaggle throws some more shade as we hear it jump from the roof and land with a dull thump on the ground.

“It’s gone, right? Nothing to worry about. Let’s go back to sleep,” I say, as I lie down and roll over. I close my eyes, trying to will myself asleep, but I hear the splintering of wood as something plows through the privacy fence.

I’m out of bed in a flash, pulling my rifle from its case—a semi-auto clone of the AK-47. I quickly insert a five-round hunting mag. I consider grabbing a flashlight and investigating, but I’m too spooked. I rationalize not going outside by convincing myself that it ran away when it crashed through the fence.

I crack a window and listen to the sound of nothing. No birds. No insects. Even the wind remains still. I sit in the dark for about 15 minutes before nature comes out from hiding. Crickets and frogs resume their nocturnal serenade. I put the rifle in condition 3: magazine inserted, no round in the chamber, and safety on. I lay it next to me in bed and, after about an hour, I’m able to fall into a light slumber.


“Looks like a damn bear, bro!” Glen whistles. “Maybe the same ‘un that got ‘hold of Thor.”

I wince at the memory of the wound on Glen’s black lab after getting swiped at by a brown bear. The dog survived, but it had been touch and go.

“Maybe. It didn’t sound so heavy on my roof.”

“Maybe you were too scared? I mean look at that roof.”

For the hundredth time, we look at my metal roof. The paint is scraped off in long jagged lines. Whatever did this, its claws had torn through the sheet metal; the entire roof would need replacing. How would I explain this to the insurance?

I shrug. “I can’t do anything about the roof, but I can fix the fence. Mind running to Lowe’s with me?”


* * * * * *

“You goin’ back tomorrow?” Glen’s voice is louder than the drill he’s using to screw in one side of a 16-foot 2×4 while I check level.

From a young age, we worked the ranch together. Even as adults, when we work together, we fall into a comfortable, efficient rhythm.

“Nah. Petra gave me a weekend pass. I’ll go home Monday.”

“Must be nice workin’ for the gov’ment. Gettin’ all these days off no one else does.”

He gets just a smile.

“Whaddya think did this?”

I shake my head. “No idea.”

“Well if you ask me, I think something escaped from that UFO we saw go down.”

“Like what?” I indulge his flights of fancy. We’re both storytellers at heart, me with writing and him with the gift of gab.

“I’ve got some theories. First, since they were on their way to a mine, could be a slave revolt that took down their masters and caused it to crash.”

We move to the middle runner.

“Not likely. If they’re advanced enough to cross light-years of space, I doubt they’re relying on manual labor to mine ore.”

He looks at me with an irksome glare. I swear the man invented side-eye.

“True. Maybe jus’ mechanical failure. I mean UFOs are machines, right?”

“You’re the expert.” I sport a shit-eating grin as I level the 2×4. “But I’d guess an alien civilization that can travel vast distances for long periods is way older than ours. And mechanical reliability would be one of the first things they master.” I’m pulling it out of my ass now.

“Gotta have an answer for everything, don’t-cha?”

We’re mounting the final 2×4.

“Well, maybe an alien dog of war got loose and is on the prowl?”

He shakes his head. “Now your jus’ makin’ fun of me. Next, you’ll tell me they’re predators that escaped while bein’ shipped to an intergalactic zoo.”

“Now who has an answer for everything?”

He shakes his head again as he picks up a dog-eared picket and holds it in place as I check for plumb. “Okay, smart ass. Then why the clean bathroom smell?”

He’s got me on the lingering smell of ammonia.

* * * * * *

Glen’s cracked open a Bud while I’ve poured myself two fingers of scotch.

“I don’t like it. I wanna know what’s out there.”

We’re sitting on my back patio. I’m relaxing while he stands and surveys the field we played in as children.

“We could go check the game cameras?”

“It’s gettin’ dark. In the mornin’?”

“Sounds good to me.”

“Listen, I know you wanna have quiet and write. But jus’ in case this is the same thing as got Thor, do you wanna come over? Sarah’s making her fried chicken.”
“It sounds tasty, but I planned on just being … alone.”

He looks at his shoes as an avoidance technique. After playing alien theorists, I told him about Petra’s desire to buy land elsewhere. We hadn’t talked much since I told him I intended to put my wife first on this.

“We’ll do it. When I texted Sarah, she told me she knew. The girls been talkin’ on Facebook. Either swap 50 acres for 50 acres or, if you’re sure you wanna pull stakes completely, we’ll buy it outright—keep it in the family. I’ll always carve out a plot if you decide to come back home.”

I look out at the field where Glen and I would pretend to be Luke and Vader or Batman and Joker. Then I look at the bare patch of ground where not even grass has started to grow back. There are bad memories here, too, and Petra doesn’t have as many good ones to outweigh them.

“Yeah, Glen, I think I’m sure. I read somewhere marriages rarely survive the death of a child. Petra’s all I got. I’m gonna fight tooth and toenail not to lose her too.”

Saturday Night

The creature approached the source of so much anxiety and despair. Its child was left somewhere safe while she explored the alien world and foraged for food. The prey bled so much negative energy that her stomach responded with hunger pangs. This resulted in complacency. Prey this far gone did not put up too much of a fight.

* * * * * *

I fight the urge to drink myself into oblivion. Snaggle and I lounge on the front porch. Worried the bear may come back, I lean my rifle against the door frame. I sit with my laptop, the screen’s light fighting against the October night and the blinking of the cursor mocking my writer’s block. Once more the phone disturbs my solitude. Petra’s voice is soft on the distant end.

After we exchange the obligatory pleasantries, she simply says “Thank you.”

I’m silent, thinking to myself: Fucking Sarah. Fucking Facebook.

“Don’t be mad at Sarah. She thought we’d already talked about it.”

Even a hundred miles apart, she can read my mind.


“Do you want to talk about it?”

No. Not really. No, I think to myself. However, my lips respond with, “Sure.”

“A fresh start is good for both of us. I know—”

“I know what you’re about to say. I idealize this house, this land. But when I get down here, I get sullen. It’s not a healthy place for either of us.”

Her silence reflects the unintentional harshness of my words.

“Listen, I’m sorry.” I break the silence. “It’s just been a day. Glen and me had to fix the fence. I just spent the last hour talking with an adjuster about the roof. They’ll get someone out here Tuesday since Monday is Columbus Day. I’ve called Alex, and he’s not happy about me taking leave on such short notice, but he gets it.”

“Do you want me to let you go?”

No. Not really. I actually wish you were here. “Yeah, I was in the middle of a paragraph when you called.”

“Okay, I love you.”

“I know.” Nice, Han. Cool. Real cool.

I hang up. “Well, just me and you, buddy,” I say to Snaggle, who gets up to scratch at the door. “Fine, I could use some me time.”

I hear it as I rise: the sound of someone creeping along the fence line. I scan the top of the dog-eared pickets. It’s a still night—too still except for an odd bunch of rustling leaves on a tree about 25 yards away.

“Hey! Who’s there?”

It stops. Snaggle barks. I turn and look at him. He’s barking at me from inside the doorway. His hackles are up. I reach for my rifle, thumb the safety off, and charge the bolt to chamber a round.

The rustling leaves stop.

“Get the hell outta here!”


“I’ve got a gun!”

It’s a cloudless night, and the clearing behind my house is bathed in moonlight. I fire a round, hoping to scare whatever threat or nuisance is hiding there.

If it cries out in fear, I don’t hear it; without ear protection, I become momentarily deaf in my right ear and can barely hear out of the other. What I do hear sounds like something on two legs running away.

“Great, some punk kid or meth head.” I put the rifle’s safety on and head back inside with my laptop. “I didn’t need the fresh air anyway.”

* * * * * *

The creature did not run too far. Confused, she stopped to catch her breath. The prey signaled end-of-life emotions. Yet as she closed in to seize upon it, it bellowed with the sound of thunder and created lightning. The prey she normally fed upon would welcome the next stage in the circle of life and would not fight the inevitable.

* * * * * *

I secure the house. Deadbolts are thrown and locks set. Feeling a little exposed, I close the blinds and blackout curtains. I’m not Stephen King—nor will I ever be—but I do have some fans. While I appreciate them, sometimes they can be intrusive. I put some water on for some Sleepytime tea; if that doesn’t calm me down, I’ll have sleepy time scotch. I put the laptop away, writing an impossibility tonight. I try reading about a murderbot, but there’s too much going on for anything to hold my attention. I need something.

Fuck it. I want to do it. Before Petra entered my life, it helped me deal with the darkness. I used to do it with cigarettes. I don’t smoke, but I’d buy a pack specifically for this. Maybe I can get a similar effect with a candle. I dig one out, place it on the dinner table, light it, and start playing Blue October’s “Hate Me” on my phone. Closing my eyes, I hold my hand above the flame, just far enough that I feel its heat on my palm.

I know the first stanza is about pushing a girlfriend away, but Furstenfeld’s words remind me of my own different loss. My hand lowers on its own, the cleansing fire making my hand sweat as the sharp tingling of burning nerves registers. I thought I had won this war against myself—that Petra had been my peacemaker. But here I am, once again on the battlefield. I start to feel the first layers of my skin burn and peel away.

Tap … tap … tappity … tap …

The sound pulls me out of my self-pity. It sounds like a bird hitting the window above my kitchen sink. I extinguish the candle and curse myself. Petra wouldn’t be happy. She knows what these scars mean, and I promised her never again after the last time she caught me.

Tappity … tap … tap … tappity

The bird bangs in a persistent rhythm. It annoys the piss out of me. I head to the master bath to shoot some NyQuil just to put me out. I do all the before-bed things one does in their bathroom and shuffle to bed. Snaggle walks in and curls up near the closet door, eyeing me with concern.

Tap … tap … tappity … tap …

“Seriously? The fuck?” I mutter at the bird that had somehow followed me into the bedroom.

I ball my hand into a fist and hit the wall next to the window to shoo the little bird from my windowsill. The NyQuil begins to take effect. As it does, I swear I can still hear dull thumps in the same rhythm as the tapping. I try to fight the drug-induced sleep coming fast, but resistance to oblivion proves futile.

* * * * * *

The creature became perplexed by the strange den her prey inhabited—harder than soil but softer than rock. It sensed its prey, knew it to be close by the emotional energy it radiated. She knew where in its shelter it would move to and followed, testing it for an entry point. She sensed another presence, but one not ready to be consumed. That would be a challenge. Besides, the larger prey seemed settled and gave off less energy. Not knowing if it was playing a trick, she tested the alien den one more time before pursuing other smaller prey nearby to take to her child.


I decide not to tell Glen what happened last night. I don’t want to fuel his appetite for conspiracy theories.

We pull up to the tree with the first game cam we put out. He is the first one out of my side-by-side ATV. I open my laptop as he brings me the camera’s SD card. It’s filled with pictures of several does, a couple of spike bucks, and a truly magnificent ten-pointer.

“Look at the date. Nothing since Tuesday. That’s the night Sarah and me saw the UFO crash.”

I scroll through the pics on my laptop, looking at the time stamps. For at least a month, deer used the path with consistent regularity, passing by the camera at about the same time each day. But for the last four days, nothing.

“Let’s get to the camera over by the stream. That’s the camera it would’ve passed by last night. It’s our best shot for clues.”

Glen hops into the passenger seat of the ATV. I take the wheel and go roaring through a rough trail through the trees at 20 mph. My brother holds onto our rifles as we bounce along down the trail, impish grins on our faces. I turn a corner and hit the brakes too late as we run into a pile of dried gray fur and white bones. It smells like vomit. Now we smell like vomit.

“What the fuck!” Glen cries in disgust.

We’re covered with fetid fur. I put the ATV in park, and we dismount. Gray fur wafts through the air.

He picks up a bone and examines it. “Ever see anything like this?”

“No. These are deer bones … looks like just the back half.”

“Yeah, but the fur … it’s a dark gray, don’t-cha think?”

It’s as if he’s read my mind, and I nod. Owls eat their prey whole and then regurgitate the indigestible bits of fur and bone.

“Yep. But what the hell kind of owl is big enough to make this big of a pellet? And there’s the ammonia scent again.”

“Yeah, I smell it too.”

“Should we look for tracks or get to the next camera?”

“You really wanna be out here any longer than we hafta? Even with your AK and Petra’s lever-action you borrowed me,” he holds up the .44 mag Henry rifle to make his point, “somethin’ that size—not sure I wanna mess with it.”

I get in the driver’s seat, silently conceding his point. With a careful sense of urgency, I drive us to the next camera.

“Fuck me! Majestic!” my passenger shrieks as we approach the tree the next camera had been strapped to.

In front of it lay the other half of the deer in the pellet. Everything past the rib cage is gone. The front half seems like a hollow shell of the deer, as if a predator had sucked out all the organs. The carcass reminds me of a business trip to Shreveport. A restaurant there served crawdads, and the deer’s remains resemble the leftover husks

Glen hops out before I can come to a complete stop and runs to the buck, dreams of having it stuffed and mounted on his wall after deer season now dashed. He lifts it by the antlers, and I can see the dead, white eyes staring into nothingness. A discolored tongue hangs from its mouth. The familiar stench of ammonia returns.

“Fuck you!” Glen screams to the absent creature that savaged the animal.

I witnessed him this upset over a dead animal once before; we had found a doe killed by a poacher. The asshat cut out the backstrap and left the rest to rot. I tried reassuring him that it would feed the scavengers so it wasn’t too wasteful. Glen would have none of it then and he won’t hear it now, so I remain silent.

“It would’ve been okay if it ate the whole thing. But to leave half of it? Such a waste! You fucker!

“Perhaps something scared it off before it could finish?” I offer.


“Let’s get the cam.”

My gaze follows his to the tree. It’s gone. Without speaking, we sprint to the tree, each taking one side.

“Found it!” I say, holding up the mangled piece of equipment. “Looks like the card is intact! A miracle!”

“Let’s look at it back at your house.”

It was not a suggestion.

* * * * * *

We sit at the kitchen table in the assumed safety of my home, Glen looking over my shoulder. Snaggletooth dozes at my feet, glad to no longer be alone. The camera had overlooked a food plot planted for the deer. Normally, the camera showed all sorts of wildlife paying the plot a visit: a clutch of turkeys, six raccoons, too damn many damn squirrels, and lots of deer, including the recently departed “Majestic.”

The dates get closer and closer to Tuesday, or rather Wednesday morning. Around 2 a.m., we see the buck with the giant antlers near the camera. As we advance the pics, they move like an old hand-cranked movie. Majestic approaches but seems hesitant. He keeps looking back over his left shoulder. A few times he takes the crouching pose of a prey animal right before attempting to flee.

In the gray-black background of the night vision image, the hulking outline of a teratoid shape can be seen stalking Majestic. Next, the buck crouches down as if about to flee. Then he is being pushed toward the camera, body contorted as his rump disappears into a blurred snapshot of an unidentifiable predator.

The dead stare of Majestic glaring a thousand yards past the camera concludes the macabre slideshow. We just stare at the haunting image. I scroll back through and look at the first pic in the series.

“It’s big. Whatever that blur is. And does that look like a juvenile?”

Glen nods in agreement. “You can stay the night with us. Or you can go back to St. Louis.”

“Likely it’s just a brown bear and her cub. Nothing too scary.”

“Look, chances are you’re right, like always. But what if it’s not? Lots of strange doins afoot. Told you about Thor, but did I tell ya old lady McCain is missing’?”

“No, you didn’t. What happened?”

“We don’t know much. Just her car was found barely outta her driveway. Maddie Hess is spreadin’ the rumor that she off’d herself after plowin’ through that biker few months back.”

“But you don’t believe the old gossip, huh?”

He looks down as he shakes his head dismissively. “Nope. I told you, Sarah and me saw the damn thing crash ‘tween my place and yours.”

“And these … things. They came from a crashed UFO on its way to mine iron—I mean, rare Earth elements?

“Make fun of me all you want, big brother.” He taps the five-round magazine of my rifle as he passes it on the way out. “You’re gonna need a bigger mag.”

After he leaves, I go to the gun safe and grab the three 30-round magazines I use for target practice. I empty the military surplus rounds used for plinking and replace them with bullets better suited for hunting.

Sunday Night

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

The world has turned upside down. Glen was right. Fuck! Aliens!

About 5:30 p.m., Snaggle wanted to go outside. I followed him out, rifle slung over one shoulder. He sniffed around the fence before he started barking his head off. Then I heard it. A soft skittering sound like claws on wood. I can’t call it a face that appeared over the top of my fence; at first, it was just a round mouth two to three times the size of what I assumed to be a neck.

Six hook-shaped claws, three to each side of the nightmarish mouth, gripped the top of the wooden fence. These it used to lift a slender, serpentine body over the top. I could hear scratching on the other side of the fence at what I presumed were claws on its feet propelling it up and over. The top of the fence picket crumbled under its weight causing it to lose its balance, topple to the ground, and roll toward Snaggle who barked wildly. The creature let out a scared, ear-splitting cry.

My dog nipped at the strange creature, which lashed out at him with its tongue, the proboscis wrapping around his remaining back leg. He yelped in pain. Instinctively, I unslung the rifle and shouldered it. Muscle memory kicked in as I sighted down the barrel, aiming for center mass. My thumb flipped the safety to fire. My finger slid onto the trigger. Squeezed. Light recoil into the shoulder. The smell of smokeless gunpowder.

Missing the small target, my bullet splintered a fence panel next to the alien. It let out a distressed howl, answered by a low rumble somewhere on the other side of my fence.

But it didn’t let go of my dog, and I was about to go full John Wick on its ass. I adjusted fire and aimed for the pink mouth. My vision tunneled, and I fired into the gaping maw. The Russian-made hollow point expanded as it contacted the soft tissue. The projectile didn’t leave a massive exit wound. The creature slumped to the ground with a gentle groan. Blue-green blood oozed from the orifice and shredded viscera floated out in clumps in various hues of pink, blue, and beige. The stench of ammonia hung heavy in the air.

Its tongue loosened around Snaggle’s leg, and he took off like a gunshot. He ran past me and into the house. As I beat a hasty retreat, its parent broke through my fence, giving me a better look at the snakelike species. It stood at maybe 7 feet tall on two spindly legs which matched its arms; each limb ended in with three long, hook-like claws. At the top of its body, it had a mouth as big as Snaggle and two eyes to either side that glared with hungry, murderous intent. The pink of the mouth contrasted with the dark gray skin on the front of its body.

It looked at its dead spawn and then at me. With a bellowing clamor of rage and loss, it reared backward. In the woods, I could hear this call answered by other, similar wails.

I turned and ran, slamming the door behind me as I heard a tongue slam against the metal. I threw the deadbolt and pushed my wooden desk against it, hoping it would hold. Snaggle whined, and I looked at his leg. The tongue must’ve been coated with something acidic; the fur was already gone, and a painful-looking chemical burn was dissolving the now exposed pink skin. I didn’t have any milk, but I hoped some bismuth would work. Retrieving it from the medicine pantry, I poured the hot pink liquid on the injury, and it seemed to soothe as he looked up at me with grateful puppy dog eyes.

That was two hours ago. As I hid, I called the sheriff; the dispatcher must’ve thought me crazy, drunk, or on meth. I heard hardly contained giggles in her voice. Eventually, I convinced her to send a deputy—when one became available.

What I thought was just a momma bear and her cub proved to be a pack of these otherworldly creatures. They’re casing the house, and I find myself unconvinced by their intelligence. They focus on the door the first adult saw me and Snaggle retreat into. They aren’t breaking through windows or the back porch’s French doors. Unexpectedly, light footfalls echo from the roof.

That I’m as alien to them as they are to me is my only advantage. Unfamiliar with Earth dwellings, I wonder if they are actually predators that were destined for a galactic zoo or if they were bred for war. Either way, they have been unleashed on an unsuspecting world.

I’m suddenly overcome by a memory. When I was in high school, we went to Fort Walton Beach for our senior trip. Our hotel overlooked the beach, and one night I broke curfew and just sat in the sand looking out into the blackness. Clouds muted the moon. A faint hint of horizon separated the deep black of the gulf from the lighter black of the sky. I felt peaceful staring into that ominous void, and I thought that it was what purgatory must be like.

I push such thoughts of the end out of my mind. I’ve prepared for this. I’m hunkered down in my walk-in closet. I made a fatal funnel when I got in a prone position and aimed at the front door. I’ll have a chance. But if they find they can break in through multiple doors, they’ll be able to attack as a horde, which would spell doom … the crawl space!

Built as an expansion, the closet’s foundation was poured with a small crawl space for ductwork that never got installed! I’ll try to hide in there. I pull back the area rug covering the opening and lift the door.

“After you, buddy.”

I help the medium-sized canine into his hidey-hole. Unfortunately, they built it at a time when people tended to be smaller. I can only get him to safety.

“Be quiet,” I tell him as I close the entryway and replace the area rug.

I can hear the door as it starts to give way. It won’t hold much longer.

I look at the two 30-round magazines on the floor next to me. I reload the one I fired from earlier and snap it back in place. Plus the one in the chamber, I have 91 rounds total. They provide a false sense of comfort. Time is precious and changing mags in an AK is slower than in an AR. My mind works the math on how far the creatures can advance in a handful of seconds. I’m not convinced the odds are in my favor.

This leaves me with only one last task as the door starts to fail: call Petra. I pick up the cordless, landline phone just as it begins to ring.

“Fuck, Glen, you always had shitty timing,” I curse as I hit the green button. I don’t give him time to respond. “Listen, brother, they’re here. There are more than two of them. A whole pack. Shelter in place. If you don’t hear from me, Snaggle is in the crawl space under the walk-in. And—”

As the door begins to give, the enraged swarm bangs harder. I have only seconds.

“Tell Petra I love her.”

I shoulder the rifle and take aim at the first pink mouth I see.

Rating: 10.00/10. From 1 vote.
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Written by Xavier Poe Kane
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Xavier Poe Kane

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