The September Editor's Pick Writer is Neal Privett
Please feel free to email Neal at firstname.lastname@example.org
It was October when the bats came.
No one in town could understand the phenomenon. Jen Tate saw them circling overhead every evening as she walked home. She would stop and stare at the sky, standing there, speechless. The sight of thousands of bats swarming and circling overhead, every night at dusk gave her the shivers. There had always been a few bats at night, here and there, chasing bugs in the crisp air. But this was something completely different. Where did they come from…and why were they there? It was unsettling.
And then the mysterious deaths began.
The first reported death was David Roe, a pillar of the community; everyone liked him. He was found in a ditch behind his shack. He was completely drained of blood and his skin was so pale that he glowed in the early morning darkness, eyes wide open and face frozen in terror. Whatever he saw at the last moment of his life must have been god-awful. Half the townspeople said it was obvious what he saw….it was the bats that got him.
“Ridiculous,” Sheriff Jim Blake told them. He had to threaten the men who discovered the body to keep such nonsense quiet. There was no proof, he said, that those damned things attacked and killed Roe. What did they want to do? Start an unnecessary panic?
The next death was a woman. Jane Tucker, church employee. A good woman, they said. She was found sitting on her porch, slumped back in a creaky old chair. Eyes wide, skin white as a shroud. Mouth open. Little drops of blood stained her cotton dress. Whatever drained her did the job right and wasted hardly any of the red stuff. The small-town paper got wind of this one. And the bottom blew out, despite the sheriff’s attempts to keep it quiet.
More deaths followed. All good people. The worst was a child. Four years old. A little girl in her bed. Whatever had gotten her crawled in through a hole in the window. Her veins were dry as a desert. Her young parents were inconsolable.
By this time, it was the second week in October. An evil had come to Moundville.
You could feel it on the wind; taste it in the cool air. And it was targeting the good souls. People watched the coming dusk with guarded eyes. The swarm of bats grew.
Something was out there. Something was coming for them.
Twenty-year-old Jen Tate sat on the porch of her father’s modest little house on Seventh and Douglas. She stared into the gathering twilight and said nothing. The bats were circling overhead.
She made it safely inside just as the bats swarmed and encircled the house. Some of them began hurling themselves against the front door. The sound of bats hitting the wood and glass at top speed was deafening. The air was alive with their squeaks and chattering.
“Jen!” Her father rushed into the living room and grabbed the girl, pulling her close to him. The elderly mechanic stared out the window with a stunned and horrified look on his face as the bats beat their furry heads against the window. The sound of their fangs dragging against the glass made Jen cover her ears in revulsion. She looked in horror at the scores of beady black eyes gazing at her hungrily from the darkness outside.
The bats continued their attack. They pushed their bloody noses against the window and smeared streaks of blood up and down the glass. Jen’s father grabbed her and dragged her to the cellar door down the hallway. He threw the door open and shoved her down the rickety wooden steps.
“Put the bar over the door and don’t open it, Jen! I’m going to call the sheriff and keep these damn things out of the house until he gets here!”
Jen did as she was told. She lifted the heavy bar and slammed it in place. The door would not be opened until she was ready. She flicked on the light switch, and a large circle of light illuminated just how scary the cellar was.
The cellar was damp and cold. Jen inched her way backwards down the steps and chose a place in the corner. She sat on the cold dirt floor and pulled her dress around her legs. A light bulb hung down from the heavy floor beams and swung in a tiny arc as the vibration of her father’s work boots shook the floor above her head. He moved about frantically. She could hear his panicked cries as he rang up the sheriff’s office from the living room telephone.
Suddenly there was a fantastic shattering of glass and the mad swirl of fluttering wings. She gasped as she understood that the night horde exploded into the house. A lightning-fast succession of gunshots rang out. Six shots were fired. Her father had emptied his pistol at the little demons. His screams were lost in the mad turmoil of noise that engulfed the living room.
Jen buried her face in her hands and sobbed. She cowered there in the half light of the cellar until she couldn’t stand another second, then she picked herself up and slowly ascended the stairs. Each step creaked under the slight weight of her shaking legs. She stopped at the door and put her ear to it. There was nothing at first, but then the sound of bats squeaking made her jump. And there was something else. She could hear them sucking, lapping at her father’s blood. The thought made her cry out in grief and fear.
She stayed in the cellar until the sounds of the bats disappeared, replaced by the sounds of the sheriff. Only then did she lift the bar at the door to come out.
Grief followed her for days. She paced around the now-empty house, cleaning up the mess that the bats had left.
Someone had to find out what was going on in Moundville. Why not her?
Jen grabbed the empty pistol from the floor. She carefully loaded it and tucked it into the pocket on the front of her dress. She passed by the fireplace, and tucked a large book of matches into her dress. Grabbing more ammunition, she went outside, bent on whatever revenge she could.
She walked the two miles to the river. That was from where the townspeople claimed the bats originated. Was it rumor or fact?
She came upon the Harris house, the one that all the children avoided; the one that everyone knew was haunted.
The ancient house took her breath away. For a moment she forgot about the bats. The dark relic of a house that waited ahead captured every ounce of her bewildered attention momentarily. Giant, discolored columns held up the high roof that was lined with rotting nineteenth-century wooden shingles that looked almost scaly. It gave the house the appearance of a great black lizard.
Jen stood there in awe of that hulking, mysterious corpse…the remnants of an earlier time now past…once the pride of the legendary Harris family, all murdered in their sleep.
She had come through a wall of willow trees into a lost world she never knew existed. The only sound was the crickets and a lone owl in the thick woods beyond. Her blood was already frozen in her veins, but if it was possible, the red liquid got a few degrees colder when she saw this ghost of a house, giant and silent as a grave.
The paint had long peeled away. The wood had long begun to crumble and rot. The house seemed to hover above the ground, almost teetering.
The shingles and spires reached skyward into the night like defiant spirits reaching out to God. The upstairs windows, silent and mysterious, loomed like dark eyes. The top windows in the attic peered down at her mercilessly. They were empty sockets in a deaths-head. The glass had been shattered out long ago, giving the house the appearance of a grime drenched skull.
She had purposely come at dusk, hoping that the bats would leave the house for their night deeds. The sight of a bat mob circling heavenward, then spiraling down in great blasts of wing and gnashing of fangs snapped Jen out of her trance.
The bats were leaving. Now was her chance.
She ran to the house and jumped onto the wide porch. Without thinking, she tried the front door handle and pushed. The door creaked from the heavy rust of idle years, with all the creepiness of a horror radio show her father used to listen to on Saturday nights.
Jen moved silently and cautiously into the front parlor. Her eyes slowly became adjusted to the darkness and she navigated her way around the old furniture…the dust-blanketed tables, and sheet-covered chairs. She moved like a ghost by the towering fireplace, wondering at the framed photographs and the candelabras that still gleamed with value and taste after all the long years. No one robbed or vandalized this place, and she understood why.
She gasped with surprise as cobwebs tickled her face and hair. Her fingers frantically began to grab at the crawling spiders traipsing across her soft skin. Dust rose from the tables and chairs and settled again in the moonlight streaming from broken windows as she danced and jumped, trying her best not to scream.
This dark, forgotten place was straight from her nightmares, but it also held the goal of her vengeance. She reached into her dress pocket and caressed the cold steel of the pistol. As she worked her way through the front room, she prayed in short frantic whispers. She wondered if any deity actually heard her. She wondered if it even mattered now, if anything mattered now. She only thought of her old father and his awful death. That was the thing that pushed her on.
She wanted to find their nest.
Giant, grotesque portraits hung from the walls. The faces were shadowy and long. Jen silently pushed through the living room and up the stairs that moaned and creaked even under her light weight. At the top of the stairs, there were a myriad of rooms, each branching off into even more unspeakable darkness.
She pushed down the cobweb-ridden hallway and turned about in circles trying to decide which room the beasts used as their nest.
Her emotions wrestled in her gut. She was starting to lose some of her rage. The fact of being in an old mansion in the dark with a throng of blood-thirsty bats somewhere inside began to unravel her. The panic shot up her spine and exploded in her brain all of a sudden. She bumped into a table in the hallway and a glass lamp fell and shattered on the floor. The sound echoed over the dark house.
She propped herself against the wall and held onto her chest. Her heart thumped wildly and she tried to slow it down. She took deep breaths and closed her eyes for a moment. Maybe she wasn’t as brave as she had thought. Maybe she should let the sheriff handle this.
No. She would not run from this.
She was at the very top of the old house, the highest point. Suddenly she began to realize that there was nowhere else to go. The full moon swelled and hung so close to the window that she felt she could reach out and touch it. The giant silver orb shook and floated in her eyes, becoming milky through her tears.
Something moved in the shadowy corner of the attic just then. There was a noise, like a rat scratching wood. Jen’s eyes strained to see what lay beyond those shadows. Slowly there was movement, then more movement. Something was awakening to the night. Something was stretching its limbs and groaning awake after a long sleep. Something was becoming alive. She sat there petrified…frozen in a statue-like pose.
Jen gasped. She was not alone. Something was in the corner. Something alive. Her eyes slowly adjusted and the realization rifled through her brain in white-hot flashes of panic.
Across the room was a man-thing, sitting in a chair. The macabre moonlight painted its horrible face in a silver glare as it leaned forward and smiled.
Jen watched in horror as saliva-foam dripped from its fangs and a raspy moan escaped its black lips. The eyes were gigantic and black as the blackest night just before dawn. The face was brown, fur covered, and bat-like, with round cheekbones that rose upwards and out. Slender ears rose from the skull and quivered as it strained to hear. The horrifying anomaly rose from the chair and stretched. It raked the air with its claws and hissed so loud that Jen fought to suppress the scream welling up deep within her body.
The bats suddenly streamed in through the attic window, and the room was filled with a deafening roar of shrill squeaking voices. The thing in the chair moved across the room.
Jen couldn’t stand the sound of the bats in her brain any longer, but she closed her eyes and forced herself to hold onto self-control. She prayed a silent prayer over and over, mouthing the words. The sound of the bats overwhelmed her every senses. Her fearful heart missed beats and vibrated in her chest. She wouldn’t be able to breathe if she stayed there a second longer.
She took the pistol out of her pocked and aimed.
The creature just stood there. Jen noticed a trickle of warm blood rolling down her chin. She had bitten deep into her own lip. A fraction of a second later, she realized that the thing in the attic could smell the precious crimson streak bubbling from her lacerated mouth.
Without warning, the man-creature thrust its face down next to hers, baring its yellowed fangs. Jen stared straight into the eyes of Hell. She raised the pistol but was unable to fire.
Jen began to cry and the hot tears gushed down her cheek as she felt her soul slipping away…taken by the damned thing. In her mind she could feel its unspoken offer to her…Love—blood—death—rebirth…the promise of a thousand midnights, then a thousand more; its monster’s soul quivering and writhing within its grotesque body, wanting her body….desiring her blood.
Her father’s face appeared in her mind. That lovely, kind old man who had taken care of her by himself. He was a good man. He didn’t deserve a death like that.
Jen pulled the trigger.
She fired again and again. The man-creature jerked backwards with each shot, but refused to go down.
She aimed again. This time for the heart.
The creature crashed to the floor and clutched at its chest. The stench of ancient blood filled Jen’s nostrils and she hid her face with her hands. A dark, crimson stain covered its chest and the decayed shirt it wore. After what seemed an eternity, it died. The moon reflected idly upon its glassy eyes.
But she knew it wasn’t over. The bats were deafening. They called to a master that would never answer again.
She reached into her pocket for the matches. They were the “easy-strike” kind and she struck the matches on the bottom of her boot over and over again. Each match was thrown into the debris left on the floor by the bats. She could see the flames lick the debris and watched as they burst into a fireball.
She knew it was time to run. She took off out of the attic and ran through the hallway. Smoke filled her nostrils and she felt like she was choking. Still she ran.
The night air had never smelled so clean and crisp. She stood in the old, haunted-looking yard and stared up at the attic. The flames and smoke raced upwards quickly and the bats began to squeal with fear.
A pack of wolves howled in the distance. It was October…the month of Halloween, and the month when the creatures came.
Neal Privett lives on a farm somewhere in Tennessee, where he writes furiously, drinks too much coffee, and brews horror pulp in the barn. His work can be found in several upcoming anthologies, as well as in Blood Moon Rising, Schlock!, Cheapjack Pulp, Witchworks, We Belong Dead, and The Horror Zine.