16 May The Clacking
“The Clacking”Written by Seth Paul Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available
⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 10 minutes
I think the proudest moment of my life is when my son found the treasure on his Scouts’ Geocache Weekend in the Woods; my worst moment is what I found at the same time.
Jacob had been excited since the first moment his troop announced they were going to be doing this. He had never been the most confident kid in the world, but when I signed him up for Scouts, he took to it so naturally you’d have thought he was a born leader. He was made captain of Red Team, and along with all the other captains, he was allowed to take home the tablet they would be using to mark the coordinates from the treasure hunt, and practice with it.
They would not be assigned coordinates right away. Each team would be assigned a clue, and the answer to the clue would be the coordinates to the first box. The box would contain a small reward for each team, as well as the clue for the coordinates to the next box. This box would then lead to the third and final box, which would contain the grand prize for the winning team.
There was a lot of speculation as to what the third box held. Some lowballed and thought it was just a new badge for the winning team, some thought it was a trip to a museum or pizza shop. Jacob thought it would be a cool camping tool, like a compass or something similar.
Me, I didn’t bother trying to figure it out. My job for the day was just to watch the team, along with a few other parents, just to make sure nobody cheated.
The Saturday we all went out to the woods was a misty and grey late spring morning, cool enough still to wear a light jacket (which I was), but it promised to heat up as the day went on. My son was as ready for things as he could possibly be, having spent the last few nights practicing around the house, making his own clues and locating every crayon he’d asked me to hide away somewhere. He was pretty good at it, and I was hoping he and his team would win.
While the Scout troop leaders got the groups together, handing out colored jerseys and serving up juice boxes and small bags of snacks, I looked up as far into the woods as I could see. The mist made things hazy a few hundred feet out, and the hilly terrain didn’t help things much. I hoped the GPS systems worked really well, because it wouldn’t be good to see any kids go missing.
Once all the teams were corralled and the rules explained for the last time, the first clue was given out. All the teams dived into a huddle and started working on them. I listened, but obviously couldn’t give any hints. Not that the Red Team needed them; Jacob’s practice paid off and they wasted no time getting the first clue sorted out. They were already on their way into the woods by the time the other teams had written down the first number.
I and three other chaperones followed along, watching to see how they did. They walked up into the woods, Jacob leading the way, arriving at a clearing slightly up a hill with a large rock in the center. As he neared the rock, the tablet started beeping, the app on it acting like a metal detector, getting louder and faster as he moved closer to the right spot.
There, in a small crack in the rock, was what looked like a plastic bag. Jacob pulled it out, and the team crowded around, seeing what was inside. Inside the bag was a box, and inside the box was a clipboard for them to sign, along with a couple of baggies filled with Sour Patch Kids. They took one of the bags, signed the clipboard, and put it back where they found it.
The second clue was inside the bag of candy, and this clue was a little harder to figure out than the last one; they needed about ten minutes before they got the answer. I already saw Green Team coming up the ridge towards them, so they had to hurry if they wanted to get the next clue in time.
The second box was found in a picnic area, underneath a trashcan near the restrooms. This one had another clipboard, several boxes of trail mix, and the third clue.
With Green Team hot on their heels, they needed to work fast. I thought they were going to be stumped, but then Jacob looked at the clue and shouted, “Wait! That last one… I think I know where that is! It’s by Benchley Cave! Get our stuff. We’ll put in the numbers as we go!”
Benchley Cave wasn’t so much a cave as a small rock formation that went into the side of the hill by about fifteen feet. I remember going there as a teenager near dusk with my girlfriend at the time. There was a custom at the time to throw something in there for somebody to find later (some things grosser than others). We never did; before we could, we got kicked out by rangers who said they didn’t want us starting trouble, or fires, or something.
The other parents and I followed after Jacob and his team, reaching the flat area where the cave was located. He wandered up to the cave entrance, but the beeps got colder there, so he moved on. I guess actually putting it inside the cave would have made things too obvious for the last location.
Turns out it was even trickier than that… there was a flat rock that the kids had to lift and discover a dug out hole where the box was located. Once they did, the cry that went up had all of the adults there clapping. Red Team had done it, and with plenty of time to spare before any other team was even there.
Before we even opened the box, the boys wanted us to take their picture, smiling and posing with the sealed container. I took as many as I could, but reminded them they had to open it and sign the clipboard if they wanted to make sure they won fair and square.
The box opened. The clipboard was signed, and the last baggie was opened to reveal… movie passes. Generic movie passes, good for free admission to a Saturday morning show.
The other kids were ecstatic, but I could tell Jacob was a little disappointed. He’d wanted something a little more worthwhile than a movie pass. To be honest, I thought they could have done a little better myself.
The other teams arrived and signed the paper, and before they could act jealous of Red Team the Scout leader told them they’d be having a picnic right here, by the cave.
As the hot dogs and burgers were getting warmed up, I saw that even though Jacob was playing with his friends, he seemed a little down. I figured it had to do with the prize, but I didn’t know what I could do to cheer him up.
Then it clicked; I wondered if people still kept up the custom of throwing something into the cave. The kids weren’t allowed to go in, but I was pretty sure nobody would mind if I disappeared in there for a few minutes.
For something the size of a living room, the cave still got dark toward the back, and the gloom of the rainy day didn’t help much. I shook my cell phone to turn it on, and shone it down on the floor.
I almost lost my grip when I saw what was on the floor.
There were a few things in the cave… a wallet, a watch, a few coins, an old switchblade… but then there was another object, along with a smear of blood.
I thought maybe about calling the police, but the closer I looked, it was clearly not a human injury. The skull sitting in the midst of the dried blood was animal in shape, but nothing I had ever seen before. I don’t even know how it could have been attacked, and by the looks of it, eaten right down to the bone, since it had predatory jaws and long, sharp teeth.
I would have hated to run into the thing when it was still alive, but it was still incredibly fascinating to look at. If it was some undiscovered animal, it would be something truly unique.
It would certainly brighten Jacob’s day.
I lifted it out of the dirt. It seemed stuck for a moment, but after a little work, it pulled free. I turned it around, studying it. The skull itself was pretty clean, save for some blackened bits stuck to the bottom, and it wasn’t bloody despite where it had been sitting.
I took off my jacket and wrapped it up before leaving the cave with it over my shoulder. It was warm enough that it wouldn’t look strange to anyone, so nobody would think I was walking out of the park with anything.
I waited until we got back into the car and drove out of the park before I handed Jacob my jacket, which he unfolded and revealed the skull. He was a little spooked by it at first, but when he asked me what it was and I couldn’t tell him, his attitude changed. Suddenly he wanted to know what it was, and told me he wanted to look it up once we got home.
He and I spent quite some time looking up stuff on the internet, the skull sitting next to the computer monitor in his room, but we still came up dry. Not even sites talking about Bigfoot and other ‘cryptids’ (a word I didn’t even know until that day) showed anything like what we had found.
I began to wonder if maybe we had stumbled across a movie prop, or some kind of hoax…. a very weird and pointlessly elaborate hoax, but a hoax. I couldn’t help thinking that wasn’t the case, though… it looked and felt like bone, even if we couldn’t figure out what it came from.
We finally gave up for the night and decided that we would have dinner, and he could tell Mom and his older sister everything that happened that day on the geocache hunt. I couldn’t have even tried to keep him quiet, though he didn’t talk about the skull… that was just for us until the time was right, I guessed.
I was doing some spreadsheet work in my home office that I got stuck with over the weekend when Jacob came to my door, pale.
“Dad, there’s a weird noise in my room. Can you check it out?”
Jacob wasn’t the kind of kid to make up excuses to stay up late or get attention, but even as I got up to take a look, I didn’t quite know what kind of noise to expect.
We went into his bedroom, and as soon as we went in, I could hear it… a slight clacking noise, like a castanet, but quieter. I looked under his bed, opened the closet, even checked the floor for a water pipe issue, but found nothing.
Then it got louder. Something in the room was definitely making the sound, but neither of us… could…
The skull. Jacob gasped at the same time as I noticed the slight motion in the jaw. The sound was the teeth snapping together, lightly, but growing ever stronger and louder as we stared at it.
It had to be a movie prop. Nothing dead could move like that, not without help.
The teeth became even more animated, the clacking growing louder and louder. I moved toward it, seeing if maybe I could find a cord to wrap around it to get it to stop until we could find the off switch.
As I grabbed it, there was a sound at Jacob’s window. The blind was closed, but the window was cracked open to let the night breeze in. I told Jacob to turn off the light so I could what might have caused it, hoping to tell him it was a bird, or a tree branch, even though there was no tree outside his window.
When I lifted the blind, what greeted me was a dark, hulking shape, fingers already forcing their way through the screen into the window.
I slammed the window shut as hard as I could and ushered Jacob out of the room. My wife came out of the bedroom asking what the matter was, and when I told her to lock herself in and call the police, she called Jacob over and closed the door. I heard her lock click, and then I heard Jamie, our oldest, locking her door, too.
I closed Jacob’s door, but with no lock on this side, I couldn’t do anything here to keep it out. I then realized I still had the skull in my hand. I dropped it, ran downstairs, and went into the kitchen to find a knife to protect myself. I had told my wife to call the cops, but the cops didn’t seem like they were prepared for something like this.
I had found a butcher’s knife in the silverware drawer when I heard the clacking again.
I went back to the living room, where the skull lay, toppled over, having fallen down the staircase, now lying in front of the fireplace.
I heard something shuffling from the chimney. Looking around quickly, I saw the hall closet a little ways away, and I jumped in.
I watched through the crack in the door as that blackish stuff on the bottom of the skull grew into a small, tentacle-looking mass, placing the skull upright again. It started clacking and jumping like crazy and a large… thing slithered down the chimney, unrolling itself into a shape roughly seven feet tall.
That was all I wanted to see, but I couldn’t look away as the thing came closer to the clacking skull, grabbing it and…
It placed it back on its body, right where the head would be. I now realized it had been headless when it came down the chimney.
I nearly vomited as a squelch came as the tentacles reattached itself to its neck, and slimy flesh began to regrow on its surface.
I shut the door all the way, knife at the ready, hoping it did not go upstairs, that it would stay here and leave them alone. I had taken the skull, after all; if it was mad, it would be my fault.
I didn’t have long to wait as the closet door flew open, and it stared at me with its bulging eyes.
Its ragged, fleshless lips.
Its horrible breath.
And its scream of anger.
I thrust the knife forward. It screamed again, but as I pushed forward, I felt a sharp pain in my side, and I blacked out.
I awoke in the hospital. I had a large wound in my side, heavily bandaged, but I was also greeted by three very happy faces. My family was okay, and Jacob held my hand.
Nobody else but me had seen the attacker, so nobody knew what really came into our house that night. I just said it was some crazy guy, and he attacked me with the skull before making off with it.
My wife and daughter believed it. But Jacob didn’t. He didn’t see the attacker, but he knew about the skull and what it was doing.
My side is now healed, from what I can only assume was some kind of claw or bite from when I had rushed it, trying to defend myself while terrified but what came after me. And I still am.
See, I’ve been trying to find a way to put my home on the market. I tell my wife I just don’t feel safe in the neighborhood, but she insists the kids have all their friends here, and if we just buy a security system (she suggests PanOptics, I’m not so wedded to them), we should be okay.
But she doesn’t fear what I fear… that it may come back someday. She didn’t see those eyes, to know what it was capable of.
When I go to sleep, I think I can hear clacking. I pray it’s just my imagination. I just hope someday it isn’t coming from under my bed.
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None AvailableSeth Paul Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A