Tuesday, April 25, 2017
DON'T SAY ITS NAME
DON’T SAY ITS NAME
By Daniel Skye
Stephen Henriksen felt a sharp pang in his gut when his father-in-law pulled into the driveway. The Wrangler was a ’95 and had over 200,000 miles on it. The engine rattled, the tailpipe coughed up exhaust fumes, and it shook and vibrated every time Russ Cogdell drove it. But somehow it managed to keep on running. Just like Stephen’s father-in-law.
Stephen and Russ exchanged awkward hellos at the door and shook hands like they were total strangers.
“Russ, it’s so good to see you again,” Stephen said, feigning enthusiasm. But Russ could see past his plastic smile and forced pleasantries. He was a detective for more than twenty years. He could sniff out a liar in a second.
Russ made himself at home in Stephen’s favorite chair, a leather recliner. When he sat down, his untucked, ruffled sweater revealed the holstered pistol at his side. Stephen recoiled slightly at the sight.
“Relax, Stephen,” Russ said, shaking his head. “It’s only a gun.”
Russ was retired, but he still carried a piece for protection. He made a lot of enemies over the years. Sent a lot of men to prison, robbed a lot of young men of their youth. That pistol rarely left his side.
Stephen’s fingers had never even grazed a pistol. Sometimes he felt inferior in the presence of his father-in-law. And Russ seemed to sense this, which only raised his sense of superiority.
“Can I get you something to drink?” Stephen asked, trying to retain that forced smile.
“Whiskey, straight, no rocks.”
“Coming right up.”
The kids were upstairs playing Halo on Xbox. Joyce was setting the table. And the turkey was in the oven, which is exactly where Stephen wanted to stick his head at that particular moment. Stephen loathed his father-in-law, but not as much as Russ loathed Stephen.
Russ Cogdell was disappointed that Joyce hadn’t kept her maiden name. He was even more disappointed that his only daughter had settled for someone as timid and weak as Stephen Henriksen. A man with no spine. A man who didn’t know how to say no or stand up for himself. A man who didn’t even know how to use a gun.
Stephen poured Russ a stiff glass of whiskey, and poured one for himself too. He sighed and whispered, “Let’s get this over with.”
Russ accepted the glass of whiskey and gave Stephen a vague nod of appreciation.
“You should come down to the range one day,” Russ said, though it sounded like more of a challenge than an invitation. “I’ll teach you how to shoot. A man should know to use a gun.”
“Yeah, maybe I’ll take you up on that,” Stephen muttered, guzzling down his whiskey.
Joyce sauntered out from the kitchen to greet her father.
“Daddy!” she exclaimed. “Happy Thanksgiving!”
“Princess!” Russ returned her enthusiasm. “How on earth have you been? I hope mister jelly spine over here is looking after my little angel.”
“Daddy, be nice.”
“This is me being nice. And where are my two grandsons?”
“They’re upstairs playing with that darn Xbox that you bought them last Christmas. Thanks a lot, by the way.”
“Hey, they’re my grandchildren and if I want to spoil them, I’ll spoil them. Besides, they should have the childhood that I never had. When I was a kid, all we had to play with was a stick and a ball.”
Next he’ll be telling us how he used to walk twenty miles through the snow to get to school, Stephen thought and had a silent chuckle.
“Grandpa!” Todd exclaimed as he darted down the stairs, Jody following behind him. Todd was the older of the two. He had his father’s wavy hair and facial features, but shared none of his personality.
Jody seemed to take more after his mother as far as looks were concerned. He had her light brown hair and piercing blue eyes. Though he seemed to display more of his father’s personality traits than Todd did. Like his father, Jody scared easily, was timid, and often afraid to speak up.
“Oh, boys, it’s so great to see you again,” Russ said, giving his grandsons a big hug.
“Grandpa, tell us a story,” Jody requested.
“Yeah, a scary story,” Todd added. “Like the urban legend about the guy with a hook for a hand. Or the one about the babysitter who kept getting creepy phone calls.”
“No, no, no,” Joyce protested. “No scary stories, dad. The last time you told them one of your stories, they didn’t get a wink of sleep. And neither did I.”
“Oh come on, Joyce. They’re just boys. In a few years, these stories will have no effect on them. They’re going to grow up with some backbone, if I have anything to say about it. They need a strong male presence in this house.”
Stephen was about to open his mouth when Joyce mouthed the word, “Don’t.” That was Joyce. Always the mediator. Always the peacekeeper. Always begged Stephen to leave it be.
“Sit down, kiddos. And I’ll tell you a story that’ll make your skin crawl. It’s a story about a monster so scary, so hideous, so powerful, you can’t even mention its name.”
“How come?” Jody asked. He was young and full of questions. Stephen and Joyce could both attest to that fact.
“Because to speak its name aloud is to summon it,” Russ said, speaking in a low, spooky voice, laying it on thick. “You can never say its name out loud. If you do, it will come for you.”
“What will come for you?” It was Jody asking again.
“Its skin is black as tar and thick as the hide of a rhinoceros. It has jagged, shark-like teeth and eight eyes like a spider. Some say it’s as tall as a house. They say its enormous hands could squash you like a bug. And they say it can smell fear, especially the fear of children.”
Jody gulped. He was turning pale and Joyce could see he was visibly terrified. But Todd was eating all this up. And he also picked up on Jody being scared. And couldn’t help but his egg his grandpa on.
“Come on, grandpa,” Todd said. “You have to tell us its name.”
“I’ll tell you what,” Russ said, “I’ll write it down.”
As a former detective, Russ still had the habit of carrying a small notepad and pen with him. He never knew when it would come in handy.
He scribbled something down on a blank page of the notepad and flipped it over for Todd and Jody to read.
“The Creach?” Jody blurted out, then covered his mouth with both hands when he realized his mistake.
“You’re not supposed to say its name out loud,” Todd said, jabbing his brother with his elbow.
Stephen stood there with his arms folded, clearly not amused. “It’s okay, boys. It’s just a story.”
“Or is it?” Russ added with a grin that was downright malevolent. It was a two-for-one. He got to pull Stephen’s chain and give his grandkid’s a scare at the same time.
“Come on, dad,” Joyce interjected. “I have to get the turkey out of the oven. When I get back, I don’t want to hear any more stories about monsters or goblins or ghosts.”
“What a buzzkill,” Russ said as Joyce returned to the kitchen.
“You alright?” Stephen asked Jody.
“Fine,” Jody assured him. “I just hope I didn’t summon the monster.”
Stephen sighed, exasperated. “Jody, there’s no such thing as monsters. They only exist in books and movies and stories people tell each other. They don’t exist in real life.”
Russ felt a slight vibration. At first he thought he was imagining it. But he was certain he felt the floor trembling under his feet. And it wasn’t the effects of the alcohol. Russ had barely touched his whiskey.
He looked down at his drink, bemused. The whiskey was rippling in its glass. It would have reminded him of the scene in Jurassic Park with the cup of water, had he seen Jurassic Park.
“Does anyone else feel that?” Russ had to ask.
“I feel it,” Stephen said, hating to acknowledge or give Russ any credence. “It feels like the floor is vibrating.”
A thunderous rumble caused the house to shake from its eaves to its foundation. Jody squealed. Todd giggled at his brother’s trepidation. Stephen and Russ exchanged puzzled glances.
“Could it be an earthquake?” Stephen wondered.
“We’ve never had one before,” Russ pointed out.
The front door practically exploded on impact, chunks of splintered wood flying in every direction. An arm about the length of a tree forced its way through; its long, ragged fingers slithering like snakes across the carpet. It was just as Russ had described. Skin as black as tar and rough as the hide of rhinoceros.
This monstrous arm stretched out across the living room. Russ drew his pistol from its holster, just a second too late.
A massive, giant hand engulfed Russ and ripped him from the leather recliner. His gun dropped to the floor and he winced in pain. The wet snapping sounds of bone and cartilage filled the room as the creature squeezed Russ between its fingers.
Stephen’s paternal instincts immediately kicked in. He had a duty to protect his sons at all costs. He made a move for Russ’s pistol. He’d never even touched a gun before. But he gripped it with both hands and wrapped one finger around the trigger.
He fired three deafening shots, striking the creature with every round. The bullets penetrated its rough exterior, and a viscous black fluid oozed from its wounds.
The long, massive arm retracted, carrying Russ’s limp body off into the night. Stephen and his sons could do nothing but watch in stunned silence. Joyce stood in the threshold of the kitchen, staring at the gaping hole where their front door once was.
“What in God’s name was that!?” Joyce screamed.
“It was The–” Jody started, but was cut off by his brother.
“Don’t say its name!” Todd cried.
“It was…a monster,” Jody whispered.