John Michael Osborne

The November Chosen Writer is John Michael Osborne

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by John Michael Osborne 

The late spring of  Van’s sophomore year in high school, he and his best friend, Gage, went down to the beach one hot, sunny day after school.

“What is that?” Van asked, pointing to the ground. A hideous, foul smelling, contorted thing washed up from the tide. He thought, That’s the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen. It looked like a cross between a mutilated vampire squid and a giant spider crab, a little bigger than the size of a soccer ball.

Gage shook his head. “Beats the hell out of me. And I don’t want to know.”

“Do you think it’s dead?”

Gage shrugged and repeated, “Beats the hell out of me. And I don’t want to know.”

Van grabbed a long, crooked stick partially buried in the sand and poked at the creature, and one red eye popped open. The boys jumped back.

“It is alive,” Van gasped.

“Well, it’s probably going to die soon. Leave it.”

“No, I’m going to take it home. Maybe my dad can tell me what it is. Maybe he knows how to help it.”      


Van’s father, a marine biologist, was away at work on the Florida coast in Apalachicola. He wouldn’t be back until the end of the next day. Van felt sorry for the poor animal as he picked up the creature and placed it in a little red wagon full of water and left it in the garage. He hoped it would live long enough for his father’s return.

He was a pudgy kid who loved science, books, and animals. A fun night for him was to listen to music, curl up on the bed with his pet Rottweiler, Beebo, and read. He tried to get Beebo to look at the creature, but the dog sniffed the air and then refused to come into the garage.

After the sun settled behind the suburban landscape, Gage came over. The two boys went into the garage to peer at the thing. It looked a sickly gray, and its tentacles, legs and claws plopped languidly around like it had little life left.

Gage’s lip curled as he gazed at the creature. “Damn, the thing is gruesome,” he muttered.

Van said, “I’m not sure this poor thing is going to make it before Dad gets home.”

Gage waved his hand in front of his face. “You should open up the garage door and let this place air out.”

“Maybe you’re right.” He opened the door and moved the wagon by it. Then he left the house door open and closed the screen door so his mom and grandma could come right in when they got home.

Beebo sat at the screen door and growled. “Come on, Beebo,” Van called. The dog only growled some more and didn’t move. He’d always listened to him before. “Come on!” Finally Beebo followed the boys upstairs. 

He looked through some of his father’s marine animal books, but couldn’t find the creature that was in his garage. He snapped the final book shut.

Gage said, “If you had your phone with you, you could send a picture of it to your father and find out that way.”

Van placed the book on his desk. “Don’t remind me.”

A bully stole his phone and wouldn’t give it back. Van was too afraid of what the guy would do to him if he reported the brute. And he was too ashamed to tell his parents.

Gage opened a bag of chips and poured it into a bowl. “I don’t know how Adam gets away with the mean things he does to you.  Didn’t he grab your books out of your hand and throw them into the trash can at school?”

Van was silent.

Gage sat down in bean bag beside Van’s bed. “You need to stick up for yourself, Van. You can’t keep letting bullies push you around. You really need to grow a backbone. If you don’t, bullies are going to keep picking on you until you graduate.”

“I know, I know,” Van muttered. He was sick of hearing that. And he wished he could stand up to bullies. He always feared the consequences would be painful. Adam was known to beat up younger boys from time to time.

He sat down on his bed and watched a horror movie with Gage. While they ate chips and drank Coke, they heard what sounded like a couple of dogs in a fight. Van peered out his window.

“Hey! That’s enough racket!” a man from next door shouted.

People called their dogs inside but the dogs still sounded like they fought with something. A couple of dogs whined and then screamed. The boys rushed back to the window, but they couldn’t see any dogs or where the fight came from.

They didn’t see or hear anything else until they heard a man exclaim, “Oh, my God!”

Then they heard nothing for several moments so Van went back to the TV. It was quiet again for a short while until Beebo growled at something.

What’s his problem? He’s with us in my bedroom. There’s nothing in here for him to be growling at. “Beebo, shut up!” The dog remained quiet for a little while before growling and barking again. Suddenly the dog got up and trotted out of the bedroom and down the stairs.

The dog growled louder and more angrily. Then they heard thrashing and scraping sounds and the power went out.

“Hey, what the hell?” Gage gasped. “What’s up with the power? There’s no storm.”

“I don’t know, but—” Van stopped mid-sentence, because his dog sounded like it attacked something downstairs until Beebo whimpered and cried out. Van’s heart felt like it might bounce into this throat.

Then silence. “We have to go downstairs and find what happened to Beebo!”

Gage nearly dropped his soda. “Could that sea animal have attacked your dog?”

“No way! You saw that thing. It was too sick to do anything. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s dead now.”

But whatever it was down there still scared Van. Gage’s breathing sounded like might pass out. Van wiped the sweat from his forehead. They ran to the edge of the hallway to the foot of the stairs.

Gage grabbed Van’s arm. “Hey, you aren’t really going down there, are you?”

“I’ve got to! I’ve got to find out what hurt my dog.”

“Look, I’m sorry about saying you need to grow a backbone. You don’t have to prove anything to me.”

“I’m not trying to prove anything to you! Something attacked Beebo and if he’s hurt I have to go get him help.”

Still, Van hesitated at the top of the stairs. “You don’t really want to go down there, do you?” Gage asked. 

The truth was he didn’t. But if his dog was inured he had to go down to help him.

Van’s hand shook as he grabbed the railing. His sweaty hand slipped and he nearly tumbled
down the stairs. This reminded him of the day Adam, the bully who ripped Van’s phone from his pants picket after gym class. Van’s pants sat on the bench while he was getting dressed. Adam took a picture of him undressed and shared it with a bunch of girls. He was always afraid of Adam and he never possessed the courage to stand up to the bully. Adam laughed at him there in the locker room. Then so did a lot of the guys.

He felt that same kind of fear right now.

“Van, you’re crazy to go down there! If something attacked your dog, then it’s got to be really big and vicious. It could be another dog or a big rabid animal. It could even be a person.”

“I don’t care. I have to go help Beebo.” But he did care. And he was terrified at what could be down there.

He descended two steps and gazed down into the darkness. He couldn’t see or hear anything.

“Wait. Don’t go down there yet.” Gage ran to Van’s room. Van heard his closet door open and Gage digging for something. He ran back with Ban’s baseball bat. “Here. Take this.”

Van took the bat and froze once again. He heard clawing, then the screen door to the garage creaked open.

“Van, run!”

Something clicked on the tile floor in front of the door. Then it bolted up the stairs. He couldn’t see it well, but whatever it was it looked black and small. Van and Gage sprinted into his parent’s room and slammed the door shut. The thing ran after them and clawed against the door.

“Van, we really need to get out of here!”

“Go in the bathroom. There’s a sliding door that leads to the laundry room and the laundry room is right by the back door.”

“What about you?”

“I’ve got your bat.”

Gage disappeared. The door banged several times and then cracked near the bottom. Something screeched like a live hog gutted in a slaughterhouse as it smashed the door apart.

Van waited for it to come through. He thought of Adam as he raised the bat above his head.

This time I’m going to face my fear. This time I’m not going to going to be afraid. I’m not. I’m not. Whatever you are I’m going to kill your for hurting my dog.

The thing broke in and Van thought of all the guys that ever bullied him, especially Adam. He pictured Adam’s face as he swung the baseball bat down. “This is for you, Adam!”

He couldn’t make out what it was, something black and small, not much bigger than the size of a bowling ball. He nailed the creature and it squealed like a rat caught in a slicing machine. The thing somehow grabbed the bat and flung it back at him. The bat bashed against his ankle and he fell over and hit his head against the nightstand.

He nearly passed out from the pain. He felt blood trickle down the side of his face. He shot up just as a something touched his leg. He ran into the bathroom and slammed the door.

Gage threw the back door open. “Van, come on!”

“Hold on.” Van groped in the dark to find something he could use as a weapon.    

“What are you looking for?”

“Rubbing alcohol. If I can dump that on the thing I can get a lighter and burn it to death.”

“Van, you’ll burn the whole house down! We have to get out of here!”

The creature banged against the door and broke it in. The thing, whatever it was stunk like dirty fish. Van found a small case and flung some liquid at it and the thing screamed like it had been gutted. He pocketed the bottle and joined Gage.

I did it! I faced my fear! If I can beat that creature, whatever it is, I can face Adam.

Van ran outside and to the wooden fence at the edge of the yard. Something black came out the back door, ran along the back of the house and around the corner.

“What was that thing?” Gage asked.

Van’s lungs sucked in air. “I don’t know.” It can’t be that animal I found at the beach. It just can’t be. It could barely lift a leg the last time I saw it.

Van’s mom and grandma came home.

“Van!” his grandmother shouted. “Where are you?”

They ran around the house to the front of the garage. Van’s mother tried to switch on the light. When it didn’t come on she grabbed a flashlight from a set of shelves at the back of the garage.
She looked at the fuse box, clicked some switches and the lights came back on.

Van cried, “Beebo!” He found the dog gutted on the floor.

Van’s grandma stood at the edge of the garage. “Did you put this in here?”

He wiped his eyes. “Yeah, Grandma, but I put it in the wagon, not on the floor where it is now.”

Van’s mom crouched down beside Beebo and placed her hand on the side of the dog’s head. “Oh, my God.” She went over to the creature. “What is this thing?”

Van was shocked to find the beast was now shiny and black and its tentacles had grown. It was pushing itself across the garage floor. He recognized it as the small black beast that chased he and Gage upstairs. How did it get around so fast? “I found the animal on the beach. I want Dad to tell me if—”

“This is no animal!” Grandma said. “It’s a sea demon. I’ve seen this in Israel when I was a little girl.”

A demon?

Van’s mom said, “Ma, you really don’t think that’s some sort of demon!”

“Van, go get my little brown case,” Grandma said. “It’s in your parents’ bathroom.”

Van ran upstairs to the bathroom and turned on the light. The little brown case was on the floor. It was the case he found the bottle with the liquid in it. He threw that liquid on the creature and it went nuts. He took the bottle out of his pocket and opened it. It had no smell. He shrugged and put it back in the case.

What does Grandma keep in here?

He returned to the garage and gave the case to his grandma. Grandma threw what looked like some white powder on it and then some of the liquid. The thing shrieked and moved faster across the garage floor. Its tentacles reached out to try to grab hold of anything. Van and Gage jumped back.

“What is that you put on it?” Van asked.

“Carbolic acid and holy water,” Grandma said. “That demon looks hurt probably because it went to war with an angel.”

“Let me do that, Grandma,” Van demanded. “If that thing hurt Beebo, I want to do that to him.”

She gave him the bottles and he splashed the water and covered the creature in the powdered acid. The sea demon screamed more as it sizzled and burned, smelling like rancid meat. It flopped all around the floor as it turned back to gray again.

Grandma said, “Those things bring nothing but evil and misfortune. It attacks sea animals and people, sucks their blood and consumes them. Feeding off of living things gives it strength. ”

The demon kept screeching. Van’s mother covered her mouth and ran out of the garage.

Van agreed with his grandma. He wanted the beast out of there. “What do you want me to do with it?”

“It will die now,” Grandma said. “Don’t touch it! If it attaches itself to you, you may not be able to get it to let go. In an hour, you can use the shovel to throw it in the garbage.”

“You got guts, Van,” Gage said. “I never knew you had that in you. You did something I
never could. You stood up to pure evil. You fought that demon and you’ve defeated it.”

“Yeah,” Van muttered. I did do that, didn’t I?

“No one will ever bully you after I tell everyone about this.”

He grimaced and shook his head. “Nobody will ever believe you.”

Gage showed him a video on his phone of Van hitting the creature with the baseball bat. “They will when they see this.”

Van felt an unusual sense of relief. He knew that things were about to change for him at school.

John Michael Osborne lives in Tallahassee, Florida, but is originally from Atlanta, where he graduated from the University of Georgia. He briefly worked for a small magazine called The Rock and Roll Probe where he had a cartoon and some satirical articles published.

John had his first five horror short stories published in Blood Moon Rising, a magazine from Long Beach, New York. They have also published his “Black Knight” series. Occasionally he still writes satire. Cynic Magazine published “Ol’ Moo U” in their May 2017 issue.