Snippet - A Horror Short
There was a dead fly in the crease of the book; at least the delicate, desiccated remains of one.
It was tiny. Perfect against the white backdrop, it was still possible to trace the fine veins lining its wings. Slender antennae formed a V-shape on the page, like two fingers stuck up in a final message of disdain to whoever had killed it. The insect corpse even held the faintest trace of light brown, the colour it must have been in life. Unless that was the colour its’ blood had stained the page when the book had been slammed shut. It was long dead, that was obvious. He could have blown it off the page to disintegrate into dust had he wanted to. He didn’t
Masson turned the book over, still open, and carefully laid it face down noticing that its shape now was not too dissimilar to the small corpse tucked inside it. The title stared up at him; “Garden Pests and How to Prevent Them.” Innocuous enough, Masson couldn’t shake off the feeling that the words were somehow faintly mocking.
There were other books ranged along the shelves that lined the garage wall. Most of them shared a theme; gardening.
Losing interest, Masson turned back to the job in hand. To the right of the bookshelves was a shadow-board, a range of quality tools in place upon it with one notable exception. The unmistakable shape of secateurs was painted in white against the black board, the tool itself missing. Masson shrugged. It would have been nice to have the whole set, but beggars couldn’t be choosers.
He glanced longingly at the shredder that stood alone against the far wall. It would have brought him a decent price when he sold it on, but there was no way he could carry that out of here unnoticed.
Regretfully he bent to unzip the holdall he had brought with him and began lifting the tools down, placing them as considerately as he could into the bag. He had brought old towels along to layer between the tools and minimise damage as much as possible. They were near pristine; it would be a shame to scratch them.
He stood tall, hoisting the wide strap of the now heavily laden bag onto his broad shoulders, the job complete. A movement in the corner of his eye caught his attention, like that of a small bird flying low to land upon a branch. He looked up to see the shiny new secateurs hanging in their rightful place on the shadow board, rocking back and forth gently under the weight of their own momentum.
Masson felt his flesh turn to goose-bumps. How could that be possible? The board was right above him; if anyone was going to hang anything on it, they would have had to lean over him to do so. He would have seen them, he would have heard them; hell, he would have heard their breathing and smelled their body odour, they would have needed to get so close. There was no one else in here with him.
There was no way they had been thrown. They had landed so precisely and so silently in their proper place, the idea that someone had launched them from behind was ridiculous.
So how had they got there?
Masson lowered the bag carefully to the ground and ran a trembling hand over his greying beard. He risked a look behind, reluctant now to turn his back on the shadow board. Unsurprisingly, there was no one there. He turned back; the secateurs hung innocently in front of him, the swinging had ceased and they were in perfect place against their painted silhouette.
There had to be an explanation for this, Masson reasoned. He had somehow overlooked them, perhaps when he had allowed himself to be distracted by the books. His mind’s eye had told them there were no secateurs when in fact, there were. It was an oversight that’s all; nothing to get spooked out about. Maybe he was getting too old for this line of work.
Shrugging defiantly as if to demonstrate that it was no big deal, he bent to unzip the bag and make room for the secateurs. He reached up to them, only to find their space on the board once more empty, no sign of the tool anywhere.
A thrill of fear raced the length of his spine. There would be no rationalising this time; this was just plain weird.
“Screw this,” Masson said, once more hefting the bag and turning on his heel in a hurry to get out of there.
A brass screw, about an inch or so long, dropped in a vertical line right in front of his eyes to fall with a clatter on the concrete floor. It spun noisily at his feet, coming to a stop with the pointed tip facing him. Had he been a single step quicker it might easily have drilled into the top of his skull.
“What the..?” Masson could hear the fear in his own voice. Whatever was going on here, it was freaking him out. He looked up, shielding his eyes with his free hand in case there were any more sharp pointed objects about to drop from the ceiling, “Bloody kids!” he grumbled half-heartedly, knowing there were no kids within spitting distance of this place.
He hesitated, no longer sure of himself. Should he go out the way he had come in, through the overgrown back yard and over the ramshackle fence that he had not been convinced would take his weight as he climbed over it? Or should he take the big risk of being caught and open the garage doors that led straight out onto the street?
The mere fact that he was even considering the second option gave the lie to just how scared he really was. It was not a sensation he was used to. Ordinarily he had nerves of steel. Now that he thought about it, there had been something odd about this job from the off. Why would someone who owned a range of immaculate, expensive tools such as these allow their garden to become so wildly overgrown? Who would let their fence fall into such disrepair, while these items hung unused yet well cared for in their garage?
He peered out of the grime streaked windows. It must have been his imagination, because it looked like the greenery outside had become denser since he had shut the door on it a bare fifteen minutes ago. Like the garden had somehow moved closer.
He considered his options. The reassurance of an ordinary, mundane street lay just beyond the old-fashioned corrugated steel garage door that had to be heaved open with a chain and pulley system. That was odd too, come to think of it. A garage as well equipped as this should have a more modern entry system, surely.
On the other hand, Masson reflected, although the garden to the rear meant a slower escape, it also offered the comfort of camouflage.
The whiskery, spiked head of some nameless weed raked across the filthy window, leaving a trail of viscous fluid in passing. Masson shuddered: he was sure those weeds had not been so tall or so close before.
It helped make up his mind to go for the quickest way out; the garage door. It took an effort of will to turn his back on the windows and move towards his chosen exit. It left him feeling exposed to some nameless danger. The bare skin on the back of his neck prickled unpleasantly, as if someone was behind him.
He shrugged again, feeling foolish for allowing himself to be rattled. It was just a garage in an ordinary street; that was all. If he was jittery it was because he was afraid of being caught. He was too old and too tired to face another prison sentence. Being sent down again would finish things between him and Jen for sure. It had been a mistake to come here; this would be his last job. He’d go straight from here on in if it killed him.
He set the bag down heavily at his feet, the tools inside clanking together awkwardly. He winced, hoping he hadn’t scratched them. The chain mechanism for the door hung immediately in front of him. It was only now he was close up that Masson saw how out of keeping it was with the perfect condition of the tools.
The chain was caked in grease and dust. In parts it had rusted, tiny flakes of red-brown spiralling to the floor like dead skin when he reached out to touch it. He felt a tiny flicker of panic at the thought that the door might not open at all as he expected it to.
It suddenly dawned on him that of course the garage door would open. It was precisely because it had been left wide open and carelessly unattended a mere few days ago, allowing him to look in and see the wall of tools just begging to be stolen, that he had come here in the first place.
With renewed optimism, Masson spat onto the palm of his hands, rubbed them together, then took a firm, two-handed hold of the chain and heaved.
He heaved again, altering his grip and stance to give maximum leverage. The chain remained stubbornly unmoving, the door not giving an inch. Puzzled, Masson ran the back of his gloved hand across his brow, conscious that the sweat gathering there was not entirely due to physical effort.
There was a skittering, clattering noise across the floor behind him. Masson froze, finally allowing himself to acknowledge that there really was something strange going on here. He gripped the chain as if it was a lifeline, dreading what he might see should he turn around.
All at once aware how vulnerable his back was, exposed to the wide, empty garage, he whirled around, trying to shake off the image of those secateurs buried deep between his shoulder blades.
There they were; sitting innocently on the floor just a few feet away; the blades open wide like a sharply smiling mouth.
Masson looked on disbelieving as the screw began to move, rolling first its flat head, then its spiteful little point, creating a metallic scratching sound as it jerked across the floor. It positioned itself alongside the gawping secateurs, where it came to a sudden and absolute stop.
Masson whimpered, his hands slick and sweating inside the gloves where they gripped the now forgotten chain. He was afraid to take his eyes off the strange pair; uncertain of what they might do next.
He felt movement beneath his fingers. It was not accompanied by the straining rattle of long unused machinery, as it should have been. Rather it made a soft, whispery sound, underscored by the slightest suggestion of wetness.
He snatched his hands away, repulsed, staring in shocked horror. The chain had taken on a greenish tinge, its multi-linked back covered in minute white hairs that bristled obscenely as it moved. Myriad legs trampled over one another as what could only be described as some kind of hellish millipede toiled in an endless loop; over and over and over, squeezing itself through the cogs of the pulley repeatedly, having no effect whatsoever in raising the garage door.
Masson staggered backward, sickened. He wondered if he had inadvertently inhaled something when he broke in here. Perhaps he had released some long-contained hallucinogenic gas, or accidentally swallowed some sort of mind altering substance. He recalled the strange weeds growing in the garden; he could have brushed them aside and then absent-mindedly raised his hands to his mouth, somehow ingesting their toxicity. Perhaps the top of the ramshackle fence he had clambered over had been laced with some kind of drug.
He looked on, his limbs paralysed, his mind racing. The impossible millipede slowed, stopping at the height of the chain’s turn. A small, misshapen head turned to look straight at him, bright yellow eyes glaring, antennae pointing accusingly. Ice cold fear griped Masson. This was no hallucination: this was real.
He forced his frozen limbs to back up until he had all three of his odd oppressors in view. He wished he had thought to drag the bag with him; the tools it held could prove useful now, and to hell with keeping them near perfect.
The bag jumped once, visibly rising an inch or two clear of the floor. Masson jumped too, startled. It jumped again, this time moving closer to him. Masson retreated until his back was to the wall, cold and unforgiving behind him.
He watched fearfully, aware that he had run out of room to back away should the bag advance towards him anymore. He held his breath, his mouth dry with fear.
Something bulged inside the bag; a fast, violent movement as if a boxer was trapped inside trying to punch his way out. It came again, from the other side this time. Then again, and again until the bag was a frenzy of internal strikes that were all thwarted by the strong canvas constraint; so far.
Masson dared to look away long enough to check the distance to the window. Suddenly the prospect of facing the fast-growing garden weeds was not so daunting. He looked back to find that the bag was slowly unzipping itself.
A wave of nausea washed over him. He knew the variety of tools stashed away inside that bag. Most of them were bladed; all of them were made to carry out specific jobs. Amongst the other things he had lifted from the shadow board there had been a particularly mean little pruning knife, a pick mattock, uncomfortably similar to an axe, and a pruning saw. He did not allow himself to dwell on the power tools. He knew it would be deeply unwise to wait around to see what might happen should those supernaturally animated objects find themselves free.
He ran for it, his heart pounding so fast his chest ached. He kept his focus on the window; that grimy rectangle of light that was now his only hope. He was in fingertip reach of it when he stepped hard down on something solid, sharp and awkward, causing him to cry out as he crashed to the ground in pain, his sprained ankle already swelling and horribly tender.
The sharp little screw rolled away from him, not stopping until it reached the wall at the other end of the garage, as if it was content that it had done its part and could stand aside now.
Even in his pain and fear Masson knew how absurd the thought was. That an item such as a screw could be capable of conscious thought, much less smugness, was ridiculous; yet he just knew that was what it was thinking.
He pulled off the gloves, now wet with sweat, to hold his ankle gingerly aloft, scared that if he had to lie it flat the pain would be unbearable. The gloves had barely hit the ground before they lifted off again, flying across the room like a pair of deformed crows. The shredder whirred into life, engulfing the gloves and grinding them to nothing.
There was a heavy dragging sound as the bag slid a fraction closer, its zip apparently snagged. Panic gave Masson a surge of adrenalin. Shoving aside the pain in his ankle he heaved himself upright, using all of his strength to reach that window, his leg trailing uselessly behind him.
Gritting his teeth against the pain, Masson reached up to the narrow window and lifted the bar that would free it. To his relief it came up easily, a draught of cool and very welcome air rushing in to soothe his flushed face. He had reached both hands up to the sill and was preparing to haul himself upwards when the zip finally gave on the bag, the unmistakable sound of it opening slicing through the heavy atmosphere.
Masson whimpered, his strength leaving him. He did not want to turn and face whatever horrors now lurked behind him, but he had to. Unwilling to give up on the possibility of freedom just yet, he left his slick hands resting on the sill and turned his head to see.
It was not possible. Even though he was looking at the evidence of it at this very moment, it was simply not possible.
The tools had somehow escaped the bag and were arranged in a row before him, the secateurs dead centre. The bag, its job done too now, hung a little further back; its open zipper like a wide, jagged grin, laughing at him.
He was going to die. The certain knowledge of it assailed him. He did not waste time or energy wondering which of the tools would do it; they all would. They were assembled before him like a sharp army, the secateurs its’ general. He had no doubt that each and every one of those tools would do its designated job; on him.
A small, smart little budding knife, its glossy handle glinting like marble, fell out of ranks. It spun a whole circle, skittering to a neat stop about a foot away from Masson’s damaged leg where it lingered menacingly. Masson held his breath, waiting for the rest to follow; they remained still.
He didn’t dare move. Even if the throbbing pain in his ankle allowed him to run, he knew instinctively that he would not get far before he was pinned down. Where anyway would he run to? The weird head of the millipede chain was still watching him, the garage door remaining stubbornly closed. There was nowhere else to go.
A rush of gentle air rippled over his hands, reminding him that the window was still open. There was little chance he could haul himself up and out of it without injury at the very least – those tools would fly at him the moment they understood his intention – but he had to try. He wiped his forehead on the sleeve of his upper arm. Then he took a shallow, wavering breath, and pushed upwards.
For the merest of moments he thought he might succeed. A fleeting euphoria rippled through him as the cold air embraced his head and shoulders; then his world became one of heat and agony.
The budding knife did the first of the work; slicing through the leather of his soft shoes as easily as skin, to begin removing his toes as if it were dead-heading roses. Masson screamed and kicked ineffectually, the knife clinging to him obstinately. There was the rattle of metal across the floor behind him as the other tools closed in.
A double-headed hand hoe took up the cause, flicking between its solid, flat hoe head to its triple-pronged fork head as it worked its way up the back of his legs, hacking into the back of his knees, hopping from the left to the right like some indecisive insect, leaving his flesh hanging raw, exposing the bone beneath. Masson thought he was probably screaming but he couldn’t hear it anymore.
His hands flailed uselessly as his grip on the sill weakened and he fell to the ground, landing face first, the smell of dust and concrete hard in his nostrils. He felt the cartilage in his nose give and the warm trickle of blood as his nose snapped. The taste of salt filled his mouth, gore and mucus twisting its slow way down his chin, through the stiff bristles of his beard.
Masson tried to push himself up, only to find his hands clamped to the ground as two u-pins circled his wrists and drove easily into the hard surface. He was trapped.
Part of him was thankful that he couldn’t see what was coming next, like the flat head of the shovel as it came for him, smashing into his skull and driving all thought and feeling out once and for all.
As the room darkened and his body became numb, from far, far away he thought he heard the whining, electric thrum of a power tool coming to life…
To any outside observer the garage would no doubt appear normal; excessively clean and tidy perhaps, but normal. The floor had recently been washed clean, a pressure-washer standing neatly to one side, all its tools properly stored. Only a very observant looker-on would have detected a trace of self-satisfaction about the machine, and even then would likely dismiss that as imagination. That same curious individual might also wonder why the door was left wide-open with no one in attendance, its old and slightly rusty chain hanging to one side as if waiting for someone to put it to use. A large shadow board full of immaculate tools hung on one wall, every tool pristine and in its rightful place; a veritable treasure trove to any opportunist thief.
The bookshelves would probably be of less interest to a burglar. The books for the most part shared a theme; gardening. There was one volume however that seemed to catch the eye more than the others, though why would be impossible to explain.
Had anyone unwary enough to wander in picked up the book entitled “Garden Pests and How to Prevent Them,” they would find nothing more amiss than the dried, desiccated corpses of two dead flies in the crease of the book…
S P Oldham.