Friday, January 25, 2013

The Monster on Browning Street


While trying to track down more information and solve the riddle of the message.png image I uploaded, I came across a short story that made me feel a bit sick.  The subject matter is unbelievably familiar.

The Monster on Browning Street
--Charlotte Hamm 

Brad heard the pet door in the kitchen creak.  A few moments later, Mr. Stumpey, his cat named for an unfortunate accident involving a mouse trap, came sneaking into the living room.  The feline jumped onto the couch, his tail curled about his deficient paw.
Brad smiled and stroked the animal’s back, eliciting a deep purr.  He was glad to see the cat; with what had happened to his neighbor’s dog last week, he was never sure if each time Mr. Stumpey went out was the last.
He’d been the one who’d found the dog—or rather, what was left of it.  Something terrible had apparently found it first.  Brad had never seen a dog without its jaw.  Of course, he’d never really wanted to either.  
It hadn’t been the first animal found mauled, either.  Brad had only seen the most recent carcass, but apparently they had all shared similar mutilations.  In total, there had been five, each partially skinned and disemboweled.  Not cleanly, either, like a hunter might, but with a savagery equal parts cruel and desperate.   The fact that this had taken place right after the McPherson boy had gone missing only heightened the paranoia within the community.  Though Brad couldn’t see how they were related, he too was unnerved by the unfortunate string of tragedies.
Brad stood up to switch off the television.  He never used the remote to do this; it made him feel lazy.  Behind him, Mr. Stumpey had already disappeared again.  He smiled as the sound of the pet door squeaking signaled the cat’s next fearless excursion.  Brad flipped the light made and his way upstairs to bed.
Brad sat straight up, disoriented.  The clock on the bedside table read two thirty-four.  He struggled to gather his wits.  What had he heard?  Shattering glass.  Where had it come from?  Not downstairs, it hadn’t been loud enough for that.  Then where?
He jumped to his feet before scrambled over to his own window.  Across the street sat the answer to this last question.  His neighbors, elderly retirees, were clearly up.  Their house was lit as if they were throwing a party, though the sounds coming from their second floor gave a distinctly different impression.
Lights within the other houses nearby come to life as his street awoke to the barking of dogs and the blood-curdling screams coming from next door.  Unable to move from the spot, he stood agog for several minutes until the familiar sound of sirens joined the maddening chorus of animals.  Apparently someone with a better head in a crisis had thought to call the police.  By now the shrieking of his neighbors had died away, leaving the tired yet intensely curious community to wonder what had caused them.  Brad watched until the crime scene tape made its appearance before finally pulling himself away.
The next morning, the tape was still there.  Brad noticed it, along with a gaggle of other residents as he took his trash to the sidewalk.  It wasn’t garbage day.
James Teague, leader of the community watch, was out in front of the group.  Brad grinned at the older man’s slippers.  Teague had dressed hastily but hadn’t forgotten his usually stern look.
“You expect us to just let this go?” Teague asked a tired looking officer.  Brad had apparently missed the beginning of the conversation.
            “We’re doing all we can,” the policeman said flatly.  “You’re not going to be able to handle this by yourself, sir, so you should probably leave it to us.”
            Teague scoffed at the idea.  “Right, just like the Hoffmans did?”  He was referring to Brad’s elderly neighbors.  “They were depending on you for protection!  And look at them…”
            “I’m aware of what happened,” the police officer interrupted.  He suddenly appeared pale as he spoke.  “No one wants that again, trust me.  We’ll find the animal responsible.”
            “You’d better,” Teague added as the mob began to disperse.  He nodded at Brad, noticing him for the first time.  “Can you believe this?”
            Brad shrugged his answer.  “I still don’t really know what happened.”
            “The Hoffmans are dead!” Teague announced without an ounce of propriety.  “Whatever got those pets must have been really hungry last night because it did a real job on them, too.”
            Brad, his eyes huge, couldn’t find the words to say.  He’d expected something bad, sure, but this?  “It… it ate them?” he stammered.
            “I would think so!  Why else would it break into their home?” Teague reasoned.  “Of course, I haven’t seen the bodies, but I can only imagine how horrendous it must be in there.”
            There was an air of excitement in Teague’s voice as he spoke about the killings.  Brad found it off-putting.  “Do the police have any idea of what did it?”
            “Most people are saying it had to be a bear.  That, or perhaps a mountain lion.”
            “Do we even have those here?”
            Teague smiled.  “We do now.”   He waved as he turned.  “Be careful, though.  It happened right across the street, after all.”
            Brad felt his heart pounding.  Teague was right—what if the beast that attacked the Hoffmans got hungry again?  He’d have to be cautious.  Maybe he could board up the windows and…  Brad paused as the feeling of something winding about his ankle demanded his attention.  He looked down to see Mr. Stubbey weaving back and forth against his feet.  Apparently it was time for breakfast.  Brad reached down to scoop his cat off the ground.  Maybe he could use something to eat, too.
The next few days were an odd time to live on Browning Street.  Fear of the beast lurking among them had driven more than a few residents to the extreme.  No one left their house unless they had to and fences had sprung up overnight.  Brad thought they made the neighborhood look like a prison yard.  Worse still was James Teague’s quickly growing band of suburban mercenaries.  Brad understood the terror was to a degree warranted; whatever was out there had killed almost half a dozen pets and at least two humans in the last month.  His response, though, had been far more reserved.  He’d boarded up the windows on the bottom floor and didn’t go out after dark if he could help it.
Tonight, however, Mr. Stumpey hadn’t yet come home and Brad was beginning to worry his cat had missed its dinner only to become one.  Certainly going out onto the front porch wasn’t going to result in a grisly death, right?  Armed only with a can of tuna, he carefully turned the lock and stepped into the cold, uncertain air.
He’d hardly had time to call to his cat when a rumbling from a few houses down caused him to involuntarily duck behind his porch’s front railing.  A moment later, several of the neighborhood’s more impressionable men, armed with whatever they’d had laying around their house, come sprinting by.  Brad watched them pass as James Teague came to a rolling stop out in front of him.  He was driving a golf cart emblazoned with the Browning Street Watch’s crest.  Even in his current state, Brad had to stifle a laugh.
            “You shouldn’t be out here with no way to defend yourself,” Teague chastised from his ridiculous carriage.  “There’s been another attack!”
            “What?  Who?”
            “The McPhersons,” Teague replied with fake sympathy. 
            “Oh my God…”
            “Yes, it’s dreadful.  Hardly surprising, though, considering the thing must have acquired its test for man there first.”
            “You mean their son?”
            Teague gave Brad an exasperated look.  “Who else?  Apparently we’re dealing with a real brute, too.  Rumor is it gutted Paul McPherson without so much as a struggle.”  Teague still seemed to be deriving morbid entertainment from it all.
“Tonight will be its final meal, though.  We won’t rest until it’s dead!  You should put that can away and join us!”
            Brad looked at the tuna still clutched in his hand.  This all seemed so surreal.  “Thanks for the offer, but I don’t really own a gun.”
            “Suit yourself.” 
Teague began rolling slowly out of sight as Brad watched.  Then he was alone again and the crushing weight of what was happening all around him came rushing back.  Brad winced at the smell of the fish juice he’d spilled on his shirt.  Maybe Teague’s blue-collar militia would get that thing after all.
The following morning brought no news of the beast’s capture.  Nor did the next.  Or the day after that.  An all out panic eventually consumed even the most rational residents of Browning Street.  The police, despite their promises, were actually doing very little as most were themselves afraid.
Several families had packed up and left, content to wait it out elsewhere.  Others were determined to play hunter.  Brad just wanted it to end.  He’d begun leaving work earlier so he could arrive home before nightfall.  His employer was quite sympathetic and didn’t complain.  There were no offers of a place to stay, though.
Thursday, despite his best efforts, he couldn’t get away as he normally did.  A coworker had lost an important file and it had to be replaced.  As a result, it was already dark when he arrived home.  Brad felt uneasy as he stood watching his garage door roll noisily towards the ground.  He’d taken to doing this to make sure nothing somehow slipped in as it closed.  It made him feel silly but somehow safer.  Now inside, he allowed himself to relax.  There was pizza in the fridge and a Bill Murray movie on television.  Maybe the night could still be salvaged.
Brad awoke to the sound of a beer bottle toppling from the coffee table to the floor.  He’d dozed off.  The lamp to his left suddenly seemed blinding.  He squinted as he tried to find the cause of the noise but his head was swimming.  To his left, a shadow darted across the wall.  His heart pounded.  This was it.
He’d decided to make a break for the carving block in the kitchen when the source of the sound suddenly leapt up upon the far window sill.  Brad gasped then laughed in relief as Mr. Stumpey mewed appreciatively back at him.  He took several deep breaths to steady his nerves as he went to stand beside the cat.  The scene outside the window was disquiet as Brad absentmindedly rubbed his pet’s neck.  Was this his new life?
He craned his neck to stretch.  Sleep was becoming a premium and even what he did find was fitful.  He wondered if his neighbors—those who hadn’t fled, anyway—felt like captives, too.  The house next door was dark.  It been that way since his neighbor Phillip had packed up a week ago.   He’d been one of the first to leave.  Brad hadn’t noticed at first, but the driveway wasn’t empty tonight.  James Teague’s golf cart sat in the front lawn as if he’d pulled up in a hurry.
Brad had to admit this was strange, but he wasn’t about to go investigate.  Teague was, if nothing else, cautious; if anyone was armed, it was him.  Besides, Brad was sure the rest of the watch would be along shortly.  Teague was seldom seen without them these days.   
He pulled himself up the stairs with some difficulty, resolved to try and go back to sleep.  Hopefully his nap hadn’t ruined his chances of a full night’s rest.
An hour later, however, Brad finally gave up and rolled out of bed.  His head hurt from the battle raging in his mind.  Why hadn’t he heard Teague’s men show up next door yet?  Maybe the older man had left already and didn’t need them.  He uttered a curse word under his breath as he reached the window.  Next door the cart sat just as it had earlier.
Now what?  He could call the authorities, but the police hadn’t been any help up until now and standing around doing nothing certainly hadn’t saved the Hoffmans.  Was going over there really worth the risk, though?  Brad reminded himself what a prick James Teague really was.  It was an agonizing choice, but he knew there was really only one right thing to do.
Brad removed a baseball bat from his closet before saying a quick prayer.  This was his neighborhood, damnit, and he was tired of standing by while everyone on Browning Street either died or was scared away.  If that beast was next door gnawing on the captain of the watch, Brad was going to either kill it or hope Teague was at least enough to fill it up.
Brad felt a sense of confidence as he strode the distance between his yard and Phillip’s.  It may simply have been the sleep deprivation, but he felt a calm he hadn’t since the first attack.  One way or another, his parole from this terror came tonight.
The front door was slightly ajar as he approached.  Brad had seen enough horror movies to know this was never a good sign.  Edging slightly forward, he pushed the door open with the bat.  It was dark inside and the lights didn’t work when he tried the switch.  Phillip must have had the power turned off.  Brad took out his cell phone to use it as a flashlight but it couldn’t quite illuminate the entire room.  Brad noticed his feet squished as he stepped onto the carpet.  He swept the light towards the center of the room and immediately recoiled at the horrible scene in front of him.
A body lay mangled and partially dismembered on the couch.  There was no doubt it was Teague’s.  Brad’s scream caught in his throat as he fought the urge to retch.  The bravado that had carried him here had abandoned him, replaced by a distinct feeling that he wasn’t alone.  He desperately began waving his phone from side to side, but the effect was more strobe-like than helpful.  Instinctively backing up, he eventually ran into the wall but his feet kept moving on the blood-soaked floors anyway.  He was losing his mind.
Then he heard it: a sickening snap that seemed to be coming from across the room.  The sound, though repulsive, helped him to focus.  With his phone pointed straight at it, Brad watched as Teague’s body suddenly started twitching as it being reanimated.  That was impossible, though, right?  Brad readied his bat as best he could, but suddenly the corpse became just that once more and again lay still.  Something smaller, apparently having been hidden behind Teague’s body, stood up.  It looked to be a child!  Brad was shocked but relieved it wasn’t the monster.
“Come on,” he forced himself to call out.  “You’re safe.”
The child appeared to be holding on to something pretty tightly.  Though the darkness prevented him from seeing clearly, Brad hoped it wasn’t Teague’s gun.  The child’s state of mind couldn’t be good after what it had witnessed.
            “I’m here to help you.”  Brad was careful to speak slowly and reassuringly.  “I know you’ve been through something terrible.  Let’s get out of here.” 
The child slowly raised its arm, bringing whatever it held towards its mouth.  It paused briefly to rip a piece off with its teeth before flinging the rest at Brad.  He ducked as it bounced off the wall behind him.  Brad gasped as his phone illuminated the awful thing in the floor; there laid the forearm and hand of James Teague!  Several fingers were missing, though it was easy to guess what had become of them.
In front of him, Brad could hear the child’s gibbering laughter but felt frozen.  It wasn’t until he heard the sound of it jumping from the sofa that he managed to scramble for the door.  The monster beat him there, though.  Recoiling at the sight of the "thing", Brad swung his bat wildly and missed before stumbling sideways.  This was enough of an opening for the monster to leap onto him.  Brad could feel it reaching for his throat and managed to push it away, though it still spun him to the floor by his arm.  It was small but powerful.
Brad struggled to his feet and managed to mostly dodge the monster’s latest attack, though still took quite a blow to his left arm.  He yelped in pain as he fell backwards.  Luckily his momentum had taken him towards the door and he toppled through it and onto the front porch.  A second later the monster was upon him again, this time pinning him to the ground.  It cackled maniacally, wheezing and drooling blood, as it hacked at him through his exhausted defenses.  Just when it seemed he could no longer hold it off, the creature suddenly jumped up to assume a defensive posture.
Battered and bloodied, Brad looked up from his prone position to see Mr. Stumpey bowed and hissing at the monster.  The thing was responding to the cat’s challenge.  This was all the opportunity Brad needed.  A new found strength driving him, he leapt to his feet, his baseball bat in hand.  He reared back.  Momentarily distracted, the monster did not see the blow coming until it was too late.  It flew from the porch and across the yard. 
Brad ran after it, his weapon raised, but he stopped just short of delivering the next blow.  Now that they were in the moonlight, he could hardly believe what he was looking at.  He recognized the monster.  This was the McPherson’s missing son!  The face was contorted and drawn and his teeth were razor sharp, but there was no doubt it was him!  Brad’s knees felt weak.
The boy started to move again, his long, gaunt arms reaching for Brad as if to hug him.  Almost reflexively, Brad brought his bat down again, this time squarely on the thing’s head.  It made a sickening thud and then the monster was still.
Gasping for air, Brad fought back tears as he pulled himself across the lawn and towards his house.  He needed to call 911 and his cell phone was lost somewhere in a house he was not going back into.  Mr. Stumpey followed along behind him.
Once inside his house, Brad instinctively locked his door before limping over to his phone.  Though he wasn’t sure what he’d say, he gingerly dialed the number as he collapsed into a chair.
            “911 emergency,” came the voice on the other end.
            “Yes,” Brad stammered.  “I need an ambulance and police to 132 Browning Street.”
            “And what is the nature of your emergency?”
            Brad looked down at the cuts covering his torso and arms.  “The ambulance is for me.  The police,” he began as he pulled himself up to look out the window, “they’re…”
            “Yes, sir?”
            Where was it?  The yard where he’d left the monster was empty.
            “Sir?  Are you ok?”
            There was no reply, but as the operator listened she heard something that still haunts her to this day.  Though the terrible cackling and shrieking were almost impossible to listen to, it was the sound that preceded them that troubled her the most.  Though it was hard to say for sure, it reminded her of the creaking of a pet door.

Is it possible that this is in some way a reference to what is happening in Pale Forest?  I don't know of any Browning Street here, and I've never heard of Charlotte Hamm, but this is too much of a coincidence not to look into.  I believe I'll need to do a little investigating into Ms. Hamm.

The more I dig the deeper the hole gets, believers.  I'm not sure I'll ever get to the bottom.

Until next time...