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Short Story - The Thing
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Published article in 'That's Life' magazine

The Thing

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This was written as part of my Creative Writing Module during my second year at University. I had to produce a portfolio containing three short stories, and this one was my favourite. It's a horror story about a couple who encounter a strange creature out in the woods. I'd just read 'Misery' by Stephen King, hence the grotesque descriptions!

The car pulled up from the side road into a lay-by. Looking out the car window, Zoe could see the glistening Thames through a gap in the surrounding bushes. It would be nice to have a gentle stroll by the mighty river to work off the immense meal she and Tim had eaten earlier, Zoe thought.

Tim switched off the engine, and then they both clambered out the car. As she walked through the trees towards the river, she made out the sun’s hazy refection shimmering in the water as it descended, like a digestive biscuit into tea. The moon was peeking out from behind a grey cloud, casting its milky light upon the river. Night birds sang romantic songs to each other and the streetlights glimmered in the black water.

Tim came to a halt at the edge of the riverbank with Zoe stumbling after him through the long grass, her hair tangling in the branches and brambles.

Tim turned, his eyes widening in astonishment as he gazed upon a single spot on the river’s broken surface.

“What is it?” Zoe asked as she approached Tim, watching as his eyes scanned the river’s swirling current.

“Shhh! Listen!” Tim told her, squeezing her arm. He dropped to his knees and crawled forward on all fours, turning back to her, pointing to where part of the river was festooned with bulrushes.

Zoe knelt down on the damp grass and followed Tim’s gaze. “What you staring at?” she persisted.

There was a grunting noise and something shot out of the rushes. A large, black creature scampered across the riverbank, careering around like an out of control toy car. The grunting stopped as it disappeared into the long grass and only the gentle flow of the water could be heard.

Tim faced Zoe. “What in hell was that? It came out of nowhere! Firstly I saw it come up out of the water over there then swim to the far bank, then there it was, running across to there! You saw it didn’t you?”

“No I didn’t! You just marched off ahead! I was all the way back there!” Zoe exclaimed, pointing back towards where she’d been struggling through the overgrowth. “It was probably just a water rat. Let’s go home, we’ve been here long enough now. We can’t leave Mum any longer with the kids,” she told him, strutting away towards the car.

“It wasn’t just a water rat, Zo!” Tim insisted. “It was huge and sounded kind of – kind of like a -"

“- Whatever it was, it’s gone now, so let’s just go, it’s freezing!”

Zoe had been expecting Tim to propose all day. The sudden suggestion that they go for a meal, then a walk in Richmond by a beautiful part of the Thames afterwards, seemed to set the scene, but obviously not. Tim and his sacred nature watching had to go and ruin the potential moment and shatter the chances. Would she ever have the nerve to ask him though? Probably not, it was definitely down to the man, she decided, hoisting herself up onto the car bonnet.

“Zo! Look, quick! There it is again!” Tim whispered sharply, beckoning her.

Zoe jumped down, looking in the direction Tim was pointing, but was unable to see anything. “What is this, Wildlife On Two?”

“Listen to it, it sounds like it’s choking,” said Tim, straining his eyes.

He saw that the creature was standing still; its luminous eyes seemed ablaze in the moonlight. It scratched its head with its hind leg like a rabbit. Long claws jutted out from its paws, curling around into hooks.

The creature suddenly started hurtling towards him. It had a long, rat-like tail that swung from side to side as it ran, and its head was as pointed as a pike’s snout. It was covered in long, scruffy fur, and moved with a grotesque hobble. One eye was squinting; the other was small and glinted like a pearl bead, the colour undetectable in the light.

Tim ducked into the shadows. The thing stopped in its tracks and inhaled deeply making a groaning, chuckling sound in its throat. It then began to scrape at the earth frantically, as a dog would dig for a bone.

“Come on, it’s only a water rat! I’m cold, let’s go,” said Zoe.

“It’s not a rat, Zoe. Look at it for god’s sake, it’s huge! Get the binoculars from the car! I want to get a closer look.”

Zoe came back with them, thrusting them into Tim’s hand. “See anything? People are going to think we’re snooping –”

“Shit! What in god’s name is that, Zo? Take a look.”

Zoe could make out the creature now; it had one blue eye and one half-closed white one. Its nose was mangled and dried blood was smeared on the end of it. It was still digging, its sharp claws rasping into the muddy earth.

“That’s no rat,” Tim remarked, snatching the binoculars from Zoe. “See its teeth? They’re bloodstained – it’s obviously just had its feed. Look! It’s pulling something out of the hole it’s made! What the –”

Zoe grasped the binoculars from him. “Oh my god! It’s a hand – a human hand! There’s no body attached though – Tim, quickly! Let’s just go, I don’t like this!”

“Wait, give them to me!” Tim narrowed his eyes, pushing the binoculars against them. The creature started devouring the hand, gnashing it with its tiger-like fangs. It peered around itself, raising its one blue eye upwards, the bloodshot white of it exposed. Its enormous ears flapped up, revealing spider-like veins inside the lobes. It remained extremely still and stopped chewing.

“Tim, let’s go!” Zoe whispered.

“Quiet! Just watch it – what’s it doing?” Tim followed it with his binoculars. It started scampering towards them, beginning to grunt and snarl. Its one eye flashed a bluish-grey in the twilight. “Zoe, get in the car!”

“The keys!”

Tim chucked them at her and scrambled after her.

Zoe unlocked the door, swung it open, then started up the engine.

Tim could smell the creature’s foul breath as it began to advance on him, now only a few inches behind him. “Quickly! Let me in!” Tim fumbled with the door handle. “Shit! The thing’s just bitten me! Zo! Let me in!”

Zoe leaned over the passenger seat, yanked the lock up and pushed the door open. There was a series of snarls as the ferocious creature sunk its teeth into Tim’s right ankle. It thrashed its head around with Tim’s foot in its mouth like a manic dog, splashing blood and foam. “Get this thing off me!”

Tim grasped tufts of the creature’s rough, matted fur in his hand in an attempt to prize the thing off. The creature only grew angrier and began to hiss and spit at Tim like a deranged ally cat, dragging him by the ankle back down towards the river.

Zoe flung herself out of the car door, the engine still on, and snapped off a branch from a dead-looking fir tree.

“Get back!” she cried, jabbing the creature in its ribs as it continued to drag Tim further down. The animal let go of Tim’s ankle and charged towards Zoe, clamping its teeth into her leg like a plug to a socket. The great branch snapped in half as she stabbed it into the creature’s neck, then it began to crumble like a clod of dried clay through her fingers.

The creature released its mouth from Zoe’s leg and began to wheeze and splutter, choking up globules of blood and raw flesh.

Tim heaved himself up, ignoring the searing pain in his thigh, taking Zoe’s hand. He pulled her up while the thing lay motionless on the ground. Both stared down at the thing, Tim clutching the gaping wound in his leg. Blood was seeping through his jeans and was slithering onto his white trainers. Tim froze, his panic-stricken eyes looking for rescue.

“What’s the matter?” Zoe asked him, grasping his arm.

“I feel terrible. Quick, let’s go! Quickly, Zo!” Tim replied, making his way towards the car.

Zoe followed, a hand placed on his back. Tim began to loose his balance, Zoe catching him in an embrace. Rivulets of blood started trickling from Tim’s mouth, and his face was turning a pasty green.

“Tim! Tim!” Zoe bellowed, shaking him so that the blood spattered all over her face like chickenpox. Loosing her grip on Tim, he fell, his body clattering heavily upon the ground. His eyes were wide open, glazed over with a kind of pink sheen.

Zoe was crying, stroking his face with her bloodied hand. She began shaking all over, her hands trembling hysterically. She shook him, his body as limp as a rag doll. She cried aloud. “Help! Help! Somebody, please!”

Tim still lay motionless. There were grunting noises as the thing began scampering towards Zoe. She began dragging Tim through the car door, slipping as she did so. She could smell the stale breath as it enveloped around her and could hear the snorting getting nearer. She began screaming, Tim slipping from her grasp as she tried to slam the car door shut.

Tim went rolling down the bank, his body careering straight into the beast, knocking it sideways. The creature gathered itself up, charged towards Tim, and then flung itself at him. It began tearing off Tim’s flesh like a demented lion, ramming mouthfuls down its gullet, then there was a grinding sound as it sunk its great teeth into bone.

Zoe slammed the door shut and began revving the engine. She turned to see the creature languidly ripping Tim to shreds, its eyes flashing a blood red in the moonlight.

She reversed the car, swinging it to the right. She slipped it into gear, and then accelerated forward.

There was a smash as the thing lunged through the back window into the backseat, glass shattering behind her. It grizzled, the moonlight catching on its shark-like teeth. Its looming silhouette was outlined in the light that poured through the rear window, its eyes blazing.

Zoe slammed on the breaks, her screams echoing around her in the night.

The creature scrambled into the driver’s seat onto her lap, grunting in the same bizarre manner. She felt for the door handle, prizing it open. The thing bit into her. She felt no pain, only panic. Her heart was pounding through her ribcage, clanging like a metallic bell. There was a crunch as the car hurtled into something. Zoe flew forward, the windscreen shattering, sprinkling over her like shards of icicles. The creature flew forward, smacking into the dashboard.

It lay still for a moment; its body sprawled out upon it with its paw and the glistening hook-like claw, dangling down the side. It then began to heave itself up, searching around for its prey. Its eyes were barely open, one tooth protruded over the rim of its bloodstained lower lip. It breathed inwards, and then let out a ghastly whoop as it crawled through the smashed front window towards the lifeless carcass of Zoe.

Zoe’s eyelids fluttered and she blinked, her left hand twitching. She raised her head, only to stare right into the eyes of the thing. Its eyes were squinting and mucus dribbled from its snout, smearing onto the car bonnet as it neared her. “Away!” Zoe uttered, her voice sounding like a muted trumpet.

The thing pounced upon her, scratching at her back like a burrowing rabbit. Rake-like scrapes were illuminated upon her back, shiny liquid oozing out of them. Zoe tried to scream, but nothing came out.

An owl hooted, and something squawked as the thing tore Zoe’s body apart so that only her skeletal frame was left, pieces of skin fluttering in the light breeze. The creature ran off into the night.