Deathwatch

“What do you sup­pose did it?” John­ny asked, pass­ing the flash­light over to Dan. The sprin­klers had browned the shin­gles, but that was­n’t the focus. A chunk was miss­ing from the cen­ter of the stain, about 2x3 feet, a foot above ground. John­ny observed a pile of plas­ter and dry­wall beside an old ice­box in the garage. The studs had splin­tered under the force of some…tool, per­haps. “Teenagers?”

Dan angled the flash­light on the destruc­tion, bit his lip as he mulled over the ques­tion, then said, “I don’t see how. None of my teens could’ve done that, not even with a sledge.”

“And that’s not all either.”

“No?”

“Nope. Come.” John­ny led Dan from the garage to the gate that used to block the entrance to the back­yard, but now lay as a splin­tered mess on the grass beside the walk­way. John­ny paused a moment, then shook his head and con­tin­ued. The back­yard had a mess of wood and met­al beams jut­ting up into the air where some­thing had uproot­ed his daughter’s play­ground. They cracked the slide clean in half. They destroyed two cor­ner sup­ports, just like the gate and garage. “What do you sup­pose did it then?”

Dan exam­ined the wreck­age for a time, still bit­ing his lip, and John­ny wished he had some gum to hand the man. Instead, he just wait­ed, look­ing towards the back of the yard where sim­i­lar dam­age pierced the back fence–a hole about three feet wide, two feet high. Dan fol­lowed his gaze and gasped at the sight of the thing. Then, at last, he stopped chew­ing his lip and said, “The way I see it, what­ev­er did it came through that fence, prob­a­bly out of the creek, came through the play­ground on its way over to your garage. Is there an exit wound?”

“Huh?”

“An exit wound. In your garage?”

“Oh, no.”

“It might still be inside. Did you check?”

The idea of a wood-destroy­ing thing in John­ny’s wood­en garage both­ered him. He looked at the house. Its win­dows were dark and cur­tained, all save the liv­ing room where he’d flicked on the cof­fee table light after hear­ing the rack­et out­side. The crash of the play­ground and a loud clock-like clack, clack, clack. Thank God the house sur­vived the onslaught.

“See­ing what it’s done, would you check?”

“No, but it’s not my garage. Whew, this will sure­ly cost a pret­ty pen­ny, Johnny-boy.”

“I’m more wor­ried about what did it than what it’ll cost to fix it,” John­ny said. It was only half-true. This would cost him a cou­ple of lungs to fix. “Would you check with me?”

Dan bent near­ly in half to look beneath the play­ground, shook his head at the wreck­age, then said, “No, John­ny, I don’t think I will.”

“Oh, come on.”

“Come on what? Something just smashed through your fence, your play­ground, your garage–hell, it smashed your fence twice if you count the gate–and you think I want to go shake hands with the critter?”

If John­ny were hon­est with him­self, he prob­a­bly wouldn’t go any­where near the thing if he had that as an option, but it was in his garage. “What do you think it is, at the very least?”

“Fuck if I know,” Dan said. “But can I offer a suggestion?”

“What?”

“Bun­dle up, you know, in case it attacks. And bring a shov­el,” Dan said, hand­ing him back the flash­light, “insteadof a flashlight.”

#

John­ny tried his best not to dis­turb Grace as he put on a sec­ond lay­er, but as he but­toned up the plaid shirt, he found she was look­ing right at him. She’d wok­en with the sound too, but had fall­en back to sleep when he left to check it out.

“What was that sound, hon­ey?” she asked. Her night­gown had shift­ed over–the edge of her left nip­ple was bare­ly vis­i­ble. John­ny found him­self with a painful erec­tion inside his dou­ble-lay­ers. He avert­ed his gaze, try­ing not to appear child­ish, then sighed, think­ing of the garage.

“There’s some­thing in the garage, but I don’t know what.” He fin­ished but­ton­ing his shirt and went over to the foot of the bed, where he had a sec­ond pair of socks. “But I’m gonna check.”

“You sure it’s safe? It was loud.”

Break­ing through all that wood required tremen­dous strength. He had cement­ed the play­ground into the ground, but when that thing shat­tered the two front sup­ports, the whole thing ripped free of the ground, cement and all. It was­n’t safe, but she did­n’t need to know.

“Of course, it’s safe, Grace,” he said. “Would I go if it weren’t?”

“Is it an animal?”

“I think so,” he said, unsure. “Maybe a raccoon.”

“That was too loud for a raccoon.”

“No, the sound was the play­ground. It knocked the whole thing over.”

“A rac­coon knocked over the playground?”

“Okay, so not a rac­coon. You tell me.” He slipped one foot into a sock while she thought about it. “Tell me what you think knocked over the play­ground, Grace.”

“A bear?” Grace asked.

“We’re in the mid­dle of Nebras­ka, Grace. We don’t get bears.”

“Jus­tine saw a bear that time, remember?”

“Not a bear, Grace. It was a buffalo.”

She huffed, but remained silent.

He slipped the sec­ond sock on over his left foot, then spent sev­er­al moments putting on a pair of boots. For good mea­sure, he dug out his win­ter coat and gloves. It was unbear­able to wear that in the Sum­mer, but he would do any­thing before going out into the garage. He was bound to find some­thing in there. No exit wound means it’s inside.

#

He stood out­side the garage door far longer than he cared to admit, but he’d nev­er encoun­tered a critter–as Dan had called the thing–in his own garage. Rac­coons got in the trash cans, sure, but they were just a minor nui­sance. One that he could deal with swift­ly using the old BB gun he got as a kid. But Grace was right about one thing; rac­coons couldn’t break through a wall like that. This was different.

He unlocked the door, adjust­ed his grip on the shov­el, then opened the door and entered.

He half-expect­ed to be attacked the moment he entered. That’s why he’d bun­dled up. But there was noth­ing in the garage except all the stuff they usu­al­ly kept in there. The ice­box, fish­ing gear, tools. The box­es of hol­i­day dec­o­ra­tions that would sit up in the rafters anoth­er four months before they took them down and defaced the house.

He approached the ice­box, looked inside. Grace used it for long-stor­age of bulk foods. Veg­gies and meat, most­ly. That’s all there was. He checked the tools, the fish­ing gear. All was fine. Untam­pered with.

He breathed a sigh of relief, and then he heard it.

Clack, clack, clack.

He caught his breath. It wasn’t a soft sound, but loud like a dog’s bark. It came from above him, in the rafters. The thing infil­trat­ed the hol­i­day décor. He hur­ried over to the tools, to where he kept the lad­der. He quick­ly set up the lad­der while briefly leav­ing the shov­el on the counter.

Clack, clack, clack.

God, maybe he’d ask Grace to do this. That’d be good. Then she could iden­ti­fy it and tell him after. But that was a cow­ard­ly thought. He had to do this. He had to go and see the cause of the dam­age. The one thought that kept him mov­ing, one foot after anoth­er, up those lad­der rungs, was that this thing seemed most attract­ed to wood.

What sorts of crea­tures did wood attract? Ter­mites? Maybe this was a giant termite.

Clack, clack, clack it sound­ed again, as if count­ing down his last steps.

He reached the top, shov­el in his right hand, his left grip­ping the clos­est rafter. The clos­est box, a large red Tup­per­ware con­tain­er, read Hal­loween décor in a black sharpie. It’d be the first to come down when the hol­i­days over­took them. He could­n’t see much more, but knew there were rough­ly six box­es on the ply­wood sheet on the rafters.

He had to move the box to see beyond it, so he set his shov­el on the ply­wood and gripped the box with both hands, slid it over while fight­ing to keep bal­anced on the lad­der. With Hal­loween pushed aside, he could see the rest of his wife’s décor. Thanks­giv­ing and Christ­mas most­ly, but some New Year’s and East­er in the back. He could­n’t see any­thing else there.

Was it behind those oth­er hol­i­days? There was only one way to find out.

He climbed the last few rungs on the lad­der, then turned around, gripped the rafters like his life depend­ed on them. Lift­ing him­self, he scoot­ed his butt onto the ply­wood. He imag­ined the wood of the rafters splin­ter­ing as the play­ground had done; him crash­ing to the floor far below. That’d hurt like hell. But they didn’t splinter.

Turn­ing, he grabbed the shov­el with his right hand.

He crawled across that ply­wood toward those oth­er box­es, then used the shov­el to whack on the box­es. It made a hol­low sound as expect­ed. Grace had filled none of them to the brim, thank God. What he also expect­ed was for some­thing to skit­ter out from behind the box­es, but in that, he saw noth­ing. Noth­ing moved.

He scoot­ed clos­er to the box­es, pushed a cou­ple toward the back of the ply­wood sheet, right up to the edge. Noth­ing moved from behind them.

He was cer­tain he’d heard it from up there.

What if, and this was just one ter­ri­fy­ing pos­si­bil­i­ty, the thing hung from the roof?

His eyes shot up. He sur­veilled the beams of the roof for any­thing hang­ing on or between them. His hands and shoul­ders con­vulsed in panic.

It dropped on him from the dark beams above. It was a mon­strous dark brown cylin­dri­cal bee­tle, two feet long.

He screamed, tugged at the thing, but it latched onto his out­er lay­er of clothes and felt at his face with two mul­ti-seg­ment­ed anten­nae. Despite a shield cov­er­ing its head, he could tell it was look­ing at him. He imag­ined the thing doing to him what it had done to the garage wall–ripping a hole clear through him, leav­ing a pile of entrails on the oppo­site side. In his fear, he smacked the thing with the shov­el. It flew off him on impact. Imme­di­ate­ly, the thing regained its foot­ing and skit­tered across the ply­wood right for him.

Now, at some dis­tance, he could make out the patch­work of yel­low­ish-gray hairs, like one of his wife’s hap­haz­ard­ly made quilts. He struck out with the shov­el, knock­ing the thing out of the rafters and down onto the garage floor.

Heart pound­ing against his chest, throat swollen, he crossed to the lad­der and start­ed down, but then he tripped up on his own feet and fell. One leg slipped between two of the rungs and there was a sick­en­ing crack as he hit the ground. Pain shot through his leg like the worst Char­lie horse ever. He cried out in agony.

But the thing…he saw it across the room, by the ice­box. It came at him, its six skit­ter­ing limbs tap­ping like met­al on concrete.

His hands were emp­ty. He’d lost the shov­el at some point. It lay a few feet away, clos­er to the tools sta­tion. But the rungs still trapped his leg. The bee­tle was get­ting clos­er. He turned, exam­ined his leg. The jagged end of bones jut­ted out of the leg. There was no time for that, though. He reached for­ward, sit­ting up, and freed his use­less leg from the ladder.

He lunged for­ward and grabbed the shov­el, and spin­ning around, he screamed and swung the shov­el downward.

The bee­tle flat­tened in the mid­dle and became motionless.

He remained above the bee­tle for moments more, then exhaus­tion over­took him and he col­lapsed to the ground.

#

“John­ny,” his wife called from outside.

“I’m in here!” He had laid down on the floor to rest a moment before strug­gling back to the house, but thank­ful­ly, that’s when he’d heard her voice.

She entered the garage, saw the flat­tened bee­tle, gasped, then saw him. She ran to him at once.

#

Leg in a cast, John­ny lay down on the bed, know­ing he’d tak­en care of the crea­ture in the garage. The ordeal was over. His wife, won­der­ful Grace, had found him and tak­en care of him. And now, all was well.

Until he heard them–

Clack, clack, clack…

Clack, clack, clack…

A dozen clack­ing in unison.

He hob­bled over to the bed­room win­dow and watched as they tore through the fence and came for the house.

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Care­tak­er at // mail@maxblood.pub // Author Web­page // Oth­er Sto­ries

When he’s not home­school­ing and par­ent­ing, Max Blood spends his days spin­ning hor­ror tales for online audi­ences. He spe­cial­izes in the weird, the cos­mic, and the mon­strous. With a pas­sion for turn­ing cryp­tid sto­ries into pos­i­tive­ly hor­rif­ic mon­sters, he has cre­at­ed many tales of mon­ster hor­ror. He has also dab­bled in ghost sto­ries and body horror.

He cur­rent­ly lives in Bak­ers­field, Cal­i­for­nia where he writes his nov­els and short sto­ries, and in 2023, he launched Max Blood­’s Mau­soleum, a mag­a­zine of orig­i­nal hor­ror stories.

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