The house I can’t go back to sits on reservation land nestled in the woods. I’m not affiliated with the tribe; it’s just cheaper to live out there. Maybe now I have a better understanding of why.
My driveway is a dirt turnoff on the highway, unremarkable except for the forest and thick vegetation that renders the property semi-isolated. The roar of traffic from the casino keeps the rent down, even if it does keep me up a few nights a week. You almost get used to it after a while. After a while, you don’t even hear it.
But not last night. There must have been some event going on at the casino, some concert or fundraiser, because the cars were screaming by into the early hours. I didn’t get to sleep until around two in the morning, and even then I roused bleary-eyed an hour later. I wasn’t sure what woke me—all seemed deathly still out on the road, an eerie vacuum where the night’s Daytona 500 had been. I burrowed down and tried to go back to sleep. I was awake again a while later when I noticed the automatic porch light had come on.
This isn’t unusual; like I said, the area around my house is pretty densely wooded. I get a lot of late-night visitors, possums and raccoons, investigating my garbage cans before they blunder off to ill fates on the busy highway. I had taken to securing the lids with bungee cord, but even that extra measure only worked about half the time. The creatures that live in these woods are resourceful to the point of uncanniness, and I don’t mean that as a garbage pun.
I soon realized it wasn’t the outside light that had woken me, but a sound. There was someone knocking at my front door. I shook the remaining sleep off me and rolled to look out the window. The upper story of the house is a loft accessed by an old carpeted set of stairs. My bed was pushed right up against the window, and I could see out past the crest of roof and identify who was standing on the porch.
There was no one.
Some member of the nocturnalia, then. And unless the possums had sprouted hands, the knocking was just a windblown tree branch raking against a far corner of the house. The light clicked off, and relief flooded through me as the shadows flooded back into place outside. Swaddled in this explanation, I rolled over to go back to sleep.
The light blazed back on, and the knocking resumed, way more insistent this time. I bolted upright in bed. There was no more denying the sound or where it came from. I checked again out the upstairs window and saw no one. Still the knocks volleyed, fast and urgent. The noise finally drove me out of bed and down the stairs to investigate.
Up until this point I hadn’t been afraid. Not truly. Like I said, triggered lights and unexplained noises happen all the time when you live in the woods. But as I neared the landing, my heart started to beat in time to the rhythm savaging my door. I shouted something, some threat, go away or back off or I have a gun. A part of me couldn’t be sure I wasn’t dreaming. I knew that, in half a second, I wouldn’t have the stones to open the door.
I wrenched it open.
There was no one there.
I looked down. The thing hiding in plain sight on my doorstep seized my ankle, and I fell.
I had been so stupid, looking out when all along the thing had been just below… just below. I screamed as it latched onto me. As soon as I was down it began to climb, heaving its tortured anatomy in alignment with my own. Nothing matched up.
I nearly blacked out when I saw the face surging to meet me.
The lower mandible of the jaw dangled by a hinge, the thing’s tongue like a fat, loosed worm sliming a trail up my chest. Ropes of pink drool hung from its tattered gums. It gasped and rattled as it came; its right eye rolled in its head, fixing on me, and fixing on the ruined left half of its face, where the other eye dangled uselessly by a nerve. The imbecilic expression made it seem almost shocked by its own predicament.
I shoved the thing off me and rolled out from underneath it. I was on my feet and running for the stairs, bolting up to my bedroom hands over feet. The terrible thing I had let inside couldn’t possibly make it up that amount of steps after me. I had a moment to breathe; to think.
I turned back to the foyer. I forced myself to look. A low moan of terror started in my chest, building to a scream, when I saw it. Because the thing was coming up the stairs after me, swimming up the steps one elbow stroke at a time, pulling along the legs set backwards on its trunk, its spine twisted like the whole track had derailed with the train. And it kept coming, dragging its own offal, like some horrible imperative drove it. Like with its unfixed eyes I was all it could now see.
I stumbled back, groping behind me, and reached into the yawning mouth of my closet as another mouth yawned toward me. My fingers closed over the peeling athletic tape of my old baseball bat.
I’ve never been a violent person. My whole life I’ve mostly been a coward, which explains my short-lived baseball career, and the wet stain darkening the front of my pajama bottoms. But something came uncoupled inside me in that moment, terror splitting my mind wide like a bad egg and letting the yolk of rational thought drain away. The thing reached the top step and reared, roller coaster spine causing it to nearly fall over backwards down the stairs. I struck. I brought my bat down like an avenging angel driving out the Devil, and I was screaming. I don’t know if I had ever stopped since opening the door.
I pulped the thing until it expired there on the stairs. And then I kept on beating at it, screaming, until my frenzy finally drove me from the house.
I ran pell-mell for the highway. There were lights pulsing there, strobing red and blue through the trees. I slipped in a runnel of liquid, caught myself on the bat, plunged on. I didn’t stop running until I saw the squad cars and men in uniform gathered on the road. I immediately latched onto one of the officers I recognized from town, sobbing, babbling. I’m lucky the guy didn’t blow me away. “The house,” I croaked. “In the house.”
“You live around here?” The officer drew me aside and closer to where the fire crew was just pulling up. I noticed the smoking, twisted vestiges of a car overturned in the ditch, the hood crushed and windows blown out. So that’s why the police were out here this late. Whoever had been behind that wheel, their tragedy was my salvation. "We're still looking for the driver,” the officer explained when he noticed the direction of my gaze. “Blond female, early thirties. It’s a miracle she managed to pull herself from the wreck. An impact like that should have mangled and killed the person driving.”
His morbid congeniality wore off then when he noticed the expression on my face. He trained his flashlight beam on me, then swept it along the length of my baseball bat, illuminating the blood and blond tuft of hair on the business end.