[See what happens? See? I take one day off to celebrate Independence Day and now I’m like a bum, waiting till late afternoon to get myself together. Anyhoo, Chuck Wendig, flash fiction challenge, you know the drill. I would have liked to make this story longer, and I may go back and expand it at some point, for now here it is, clocking in at just under a thousand words.]
Nothing ever changes. Especially not summer.
I remember the summer days of my childhood, the sun blazing hot, the air dripping with humidity, the carefree, unfocused existence of a life without walls. It was on a day like that me and Spot and Sammy Felps faced off against the monster in the woods.
In my mind it was the Fourth of July. It might not really have been. Memories get all jumbled together. One summer day runs into the next. But it was close to the Fourth because Sammy had a box of M80s his brother had gotten from across the state line.
Sammy was all for blowing up Mrs. Smith’s mailbox, but I allowed we’d get found out and my dad would blister my bottom with his belt, so Sammy said, “There’s this place out in the woods that Vincent found last year before he moved. Come on!” He took off on his bike and I followed with Spot tagging along behind me.
The woods had all kinds of trails, and we kids had explored most of them, but as I followed Sammy farther and farther back into the woodland I found myself wondering how far these trail could reach. Then it seemed there wasn’t a trail at all, but Sammy kept going through the trees his bike tires crackling along the fallen leaves. I hesitated for a moment, wondering if I could even find my way back on my own. Spot was about winded out, and he looked up at me as if to ask, “How much farther boss?”
As if in answer Sammy turned and yelled, “Come on! We’re almost there.”
“There” turned out to be a shallow canyon cut into the red clay by a rushing stream. Trees grew out along the edge, but in the canyon itself there was nothing but a few scrub bushes.
“Cool huh?” Sammy said. “We could blow off a stick of dynamite here and no one would know.”
We jacked around with the M80s for a while, throwing some in the stream where the made huge splashes when they went off. Others we buried in the ground where they blasted craters almost a foot wide in the red clay.
“My brother said he knew a guy who blew his hand off with one of these things,” Sammy told me after a while. “Can you imagine?”
I tried to think of my hand disappearing in a spray of red and found I could imagine it very well indeed. Then I had an idea. When I told Sammy he got this real big grin on his face and said, “Yeeeaaah,” all stretched out like that.
I took the M80s and planted three of them in the base of the canyon wall. I lit all three with a match and ran like crazy. They blew almost simultaneously and the thud was so loud it shook me to my bones.
With the bottom blown out, the canyon wall fell away slowly almost all in one piece until it hit bottom and smashed into a thousand red clay pieces.
“What is that?” Sammy asked.
He was pointing at something in the newly revealed clay. At first I thought it was just a rock, wet and glistening in the sunlight. But there was something about the texture that made me take a second look. And it was then that I realized that it was not stone I was looking at but skin.
Up till now Spot had been resting with his head on his paws regarding our antics with a kind of tired indifference, but now he got up and started to growl.
Sammy walked toward the thing with hand outstretched, and touched the slimy surface. He pulled his hand back instantly and said, “Ewww.”
I was standing back a few feet with the box of M80s in my hand when the thing moved, unfurling itself into a creature long slender arms that ended in three tentacle-fingers and long powerful legs that bent the wrong way like a chicken’s. It’s head was round with four beady eyes, and the whole thing looked strangely toad-like. Then it opened a mouth filled with teeth like needles and roared into Sammy’s face. Sammy wet himself on the spot. But the worst was yet to come.
The thing reached down and picked Sammy up with one of its tentacle hands and raised him into the air over his head. Sammy started twisting and screaming and crying and for a moment I couldn’t do anything but watch.
Then I remembered the box of M80s in my hand. My hands shook as I fumbled for a match and the box of M80s went sprawling to the ground. I’m certain the thing would have eaten Sammy if it hadn’t been for Spot who suddenly took off toward the monster and bit down hard into the back of its leg.
The monster screamed and clawed at Spot, picking him up with one arm and throwing him through the air and into the stream where he landed with a splash and a yelp.
All of it happened in a moment, but it was the moment I needed, striking a match and bringing it up to the fuse of the M80 I heaved back and threw it with all my might. At that very moment the monster had opened that terrible mouth once again, and the M80 sailed past those terrible teeth and fell down its throat.
For a moment the monster paused, with an almost puzzled look in its face.
Then its guts blew out.
A haze a purple and green goo that splattered over Sammy like a tidal wave of filth. The thing fell, dropping Sammy, who crawled away, still bawling like a baby.
After Sammy washed himself off in the stream, we three made our way back in silence, each of us contemplating the unknown terrors that might lie sleeping in the earth beneath our feet.