This time, it’s The Cryman.
Finished the first revision yesterday and, yep, I do believe this is the scariest thing I’ve ever written. If it ain’t, it’s in the top 3.
Here’s the first chapter. At least, until the next revision:
“That’s one small step for man…”
Aaron held his breath.
“…and one giant leap for mankind.”
Aaron exhaled with sheer joy, sheer ecstasy, and some puzzlement. What’s the difference between man and mankind?
Who cared! They were on the moon!
He danced before the smoky TV images of Neil Armstrong’s oddly canted leg (made so by the angle of the landing gear camera) feeling around the solid gray surface. “Oh my God!” Aaron crowed. “We’re on the moon! We’re on the moon!”
That was met with a simultaneous “Don’t you blaspheme!” from Mom and “Get the HELL OUDDA DA WAY, boy!” from Dad, followed by an immediate, “So what? It’s just the moon!” from Kathy (who would much rather be watching Bobby Sherman, Aaron guessed), and nothing from Darrell who was, inexplicably, asleep. Little twerp.
“Just the moon?” Aaron gaped at Kathy’s petulant little moue as he, wisely, danced the hell oudda Dad’s way. “Just the moon?” expressed again as he danced out the living room and through the kitchen and out the door, Dad’s, “Boy! You get your butt back in here!” having no effect, no effect.
Because it was a magical night.
And a foggy one. And a steamy one, here in the middle-of-nowhere, swamp-laden, pine-tree’d hotter-than-heck werewolf-haven, deep deep southern Alabama. The mist gathered at the usual spots around the house, camouflaging zombies and vampires and Frankensteins using it to steal closer, eyes bright with hunger, but Aaron felt invulnerable because science was ward, and tonight was all about science. The backyard pole light reflected off the fog and back into his eyes, ruining his night vision, but that didn’t matter, either, because up there, all white and pure and wonderful…
Aaron danced up to the telescope, the one Dad had bought from Sears and Roebuck for Aaron’s birthday a year ago, surprise, because Dad thought it a toy and all toys were for babies—”Why don’t you want a football or a basketball or somethin’ like that?” Because, Dad, Aaron was the most uncoordinated kid in Damascus School and if you really, really wanted to see Aaron at his most babyish, Dad, then just come watch him try to dribble a basketball while running down the gym’s warped floorboard court. That’s how he’d earned the nickname, “Spaz.”
But he wasn’t a spaz with the telescope.
Aaron centered the spotter scope dead in the middle of the moon, set the screws down, and took a preliminary glance through the lens. The sudden blast of white light blew his eye apart and he blinked, stepping back to rub out the afterimages. Be nice to have a moon filter, or a more professional scope, but it was pointless asking Dad for either. In this area, he and Dad agreed—Aaron’s telescope was a toy. But a useful one.
Aaron braced and went back to the scope. Gently, now, take your time. His eyes teared but he held steady and…there. There.
The moon. My moon.
Craters and rays and seas whirled and, at any other time, Aaron would have been entranced, risking permanent blindness while trying to memorize details, but he wasn’t looking for the usual stuff tonight. Oh no. He was focused on the Sea of Tranquility and knew, just knew, if he looked hard enough, he’d see it.
Aaron squinted, holding his breath. Had to be there, had to be. It was the only man-made item on the moon…well, okay, there was the Orbiter, but that was on the other side out of view, and some Soviet stuff but he wasn’t going to waste his time with Commie crap. So…concentrate.
The image swam and he blinked and then his eyes swam so he blinked again and things wavered and blurred but he stayed with it and there….there! Clarity. He held his breath, staring at the deep gray surface, looking for a reflection, anything, even from the orbiting module…
Gasping, Aaron shot straight up, knocking the scope off target. He stared hard at the fog-shrouded edge of the woods. What the heck was that?
Silence, and that made him even more nervous. This place, this Alabama, was full of strange, degenerated creatures (like his 7th grade classmates, giggle) that called and crowed and cackled in weird, unearthly pitches twenty-four hours a day, continuously raising Aaron’s neck hairs. But he’d never heard anything like THAT sound before. And worse, all the other calls and crows and cackles had stopped. Dead.
Aaron peered intently past the pole light. Nothing. The fog swirled, occasionally revealing a patch of weird Spanish moss hanging from the trees here and there. Aaron caught his breath because Spanish moss was alive. It was. On moonlit nights, it flowed off the trees and wound about the yard like a gray boa constrictor, looking for young boys to smother. How many times had he heard its brittle fingers scraping at the den window while he tried to sleep?
On moonlit nights…
The terror fell on him like an avalanche, freezing his breath, locking his legs to the ground. He was sure, sure! that gray tendrils crept along the ground seeking him, wrapping around his body until he was cocooned, then dragged back to the woods and hung from a tree and then slowly drained of fluids. A little whimper escaped him.
Aaron almost fell down in sheer fright, but terror held him rigid. Something was walking along the edge of the woods behind the chicken coop! Barely able to breathe, he stared hard at the darkness.
Had to be, and Aaron almost fell down again, this time from sheer relief. Of course. It was looking for a chicken dinner. A somewhat clumsy fox at that, breaking branches here and there…
Hmm. Foxes weren’t generally so obvious. Was it rabid? Aaron was chilled anew.
An odor began wafting about him. Aaron sniffed, trying to identify it, and wrinkled his nose in disgust. It was repellant, like old leather left wet in a closet for a couple of years, mold and age, dank, with an underlying tang of dried sweat and manure. Good Lord (sorry, Mom), what’s this fox been doing, rolling around the bottom of an abandoned sewer?
The smell expanded, filling Aaron’s nostrils to the point of dizziness, and he knew the fox was coming closer. Oh no. Holding his nose, Aaron peered hard at the woods behind the coop, trying to spot it…
The night moved.
A good portion of it, at least, a giant black shadow creeping along the trees, massive, dark upon dark, and dripping malevolence. Aaron’s heart stopped. He was paralyzed, under the spell of the ogre or troll stalking him under the bright, exposing moon, a monster with the gaze of a basilisk that would stride across the yard, remove Aaron’s head, and suck out his innards through his neck hole.
The thing stopped on the edge of the woods, cocked its tree-shadowed head to one side, and smiled.
Aaron shouldn’t be able to see the red-encrusted, filed spikes that were its teeth, but a trick of moonlight caught them perfectly. He was reminded of a shark, but an evil, gloating, lustful one, the joy of Aaron’s coming murder on its face. Aaron was so paralyzed he couldn’t even wet his pants. He was going to die, and rather horribly, here, in his own back yard, eaten by a nightmare while Neil Armstrong cavorted on the moon above…
Dad’s yell cut through the night, breaking the spell like a battle between two dark wizards. Aaron sagged as if binding ropes had been cut from him and fell to his knees, to be almost immediately yanked to his feet by the lapels of his shirt. “Now just what in the HELL are you doing out here?” Dad, roaring in his face, another monster.
“I…ah!” Aaron was split with two tasks, trying to keep Dad from murdering him and trying to point at the monster in the woods so Dad could get his shotgun and dispatch it. Or at least try to. Aaron wasn’t sure if something so evil could be killed with mortal weapons.
“You WHAT?” Dad yanked him off his feet, one handed, straight into the air, further proof that Dad was the strongest man in the world. As if the beatings he gave with the short Mexican bullwhip weren’t enough proof.
A part of Aaron was deeply annoyed by this. A monster was bearing down on them, and Dad was more concerned about some private violation of his ever changing rules of decorum. Like, really, what’s the problem here? It’s a night of Magic and Science, and Aaron was in his own backyard, bothering no one, participating in a world event in his own small way, and there was no school because it was summer and nothing, really, he had to do tomorrow so what the hell was the problem?
Oh, and, Dad, there’s a monster bearing down on us.
“Dad!” Aaron managed the whole word, despite being choked to death, “Look!” and he managed a frantic hand point at where the monster was…
Gone. Just gone.
“What?” Dad, suspicious, held Aaron suspended but followed the point because he never ignored a warning. Must be those years as a scout for Patton. But there was nothing there for Dad to see.
“A monster,” Aaron choked around Dad’s vise hand, “There was a monster over there by the chicken coop.” Too late, Aaron realized that, without supporting evidence, this wouldn’t be received very well.
“A mon…” Dad paused just long enough to gather strength and, mini-seconds later, Aaron was flying through the air and crashing into the side of the laundry shed, managing to catch the foot of the tripod on the way and spilling the telescope. He hoped that sound of breaking glass wasn’t a lens.
“I’ll monster you!” Dad roared, reached down, and, this time, flung Aaron towards the house. “Get your ass inside, boy!”
And, for once, Aaron was grateful for Dad’s rage, as he scrambled up the steps. One monster had vanquished the other.