The Structure of Dirt

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: February 28, 2018

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Submitted: February 28, 2018

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The past week-and-a-half was a blur of convoluted city life. For a young boy coming out of a rural highschool, downtown Billings was both exhausting and ever-capricious. To him, the night seemed day and unwilling to give rest. And the people were unusual -- glaringly unctuous, yet unwilling to show direct crudity. He knew that he'd inevitably have to make peace with the city life if he wanted to get a job that could eventually mean something. But for now, Thomas was simply glad to finally be making the turn onto the down-winding dirt road to the place which he knew best as home. The place where he knew he'd find his six siblings that he'd sworn to move away from as soon as the opportunity arose; the place where life was slow, and permeated by his mother's evening cooking.


Thomas rolled down his side window, allowing the cool autumn breeze to wash over his face. It carried the fresh scent of pine, one that his father used to describe as "pure, unadulterated green." He smiled, recollecting the many fond memories he had of his father making similar quips to brighten up Thomas and his siblings. His quick sense of humor and wit never ceased to amaze him. It was as if the entire world were set up for the sole purpose of giving his father things to laugh about. Now, as an adult, Thomas was able to see past the assumed superhero merry-man into someone more human. For months, lines of age and fatigue deeped into his father's face, and a tired demeanor tugged at his countenance. Two weeks before Thomas left for Billings for job interviews, his ill and frail grandmother passed away. That, Thomas hypothesized, on top of the bittersweet emotion accompanied by Thomas's going away, had overwhelmed his father. One afternoon, when Thomas was out looking for something he had misplaced somewhere in the barn, he had heard his father weeping in the nearby workshop. He felt a twinge of sorrow, but shook the memory from his head, unwilling to get caught up in emotional turbulence after a week's hard work.


He turned once more down the dirt road, emerging from the line of tall trees into a grassy clearing. He looked around the land, feeling a wave of fondness for the scene. A mile's worth of lush grass stretched freely across the property. It danced and shuddered with the touch of the wind, and shimmered with the sunset's golden light. It brushed up against the several buildings that stood erect as silhouettes against the sweeping snow-tipped mountains that contoured the land several miles out. All was as Thomas had remembered it, save for one peculiar detail. The road was attended by an unfamiliar short wooden fence, one winding for an acre and ending next to the house. The left side of the fence set was unfinished, ending abruptly near the end of the lot. Thomas spotted his second-oldest brother (as he was the oldest) carrying a handful of wooden planks down the road. He slowed down and waved to his brother, who acknowledged him with a nod.


"Tom, it's good to see you again," he called out. "How was your stay in the city?" His brother looked more or less the same as when Tom had last seen him. Tousled blonde hair rolled down onto his shoulders, capped underneath an elongated straw hat. His youth had always kept him in an average build, but his face, however, managed to make him look four years older than he was.


Thomas pulled up next to his brother. "It went well, Ron, but I think I'm glad to finally be home. How has everything been while I was gone?"


"Everything's been pretty normal around here." Ron paused for a moment. "Though, I guess there's actually been something rather strange going on with the animals."


"What do you mean?"


"Listen, it's a long story, and I need to at least get these," Ron gestured with his chin toward the wooden planks. "...and another stack on the fence before dark. I hate to cut our reunion short, but my arm is getting pretty tired just standing here."


"Oh, alright," Thomas said. "I'll talk to you in a bit, then."


Ron started once more toward the end of the fence, indicating the conversation was over. Thomas rolled up his window and drove down the remaining portion of the dirt road. As he approached the large wood-built house, he found himself surprised by the fact that no one was out in the front yard. Usually, Trevor could be found enjoying the evening sunset while studying, or Mary working on her petite garden. But this time, there was not a person in sight.


Thomas turned off the engine of the Sedan, and swung open the door. He stepped onto the dirt, reveling in its distinct feel. Too long had he dealt with austere and cold concrete, unfit to welcome him to somewhere he could consider a home. Thomas sighed a breath of relief. He was finally home. Though, he couldn't shake the feeling that something was awry.


He stepped up to the front door that he knew all too well, and wiped his shoes on the sinewy welcome mat. He turned the brass doorknob until he heard a distinct click, then pulled. The door issued a familiar high-pitched creak as it was forced open once more after an uncountable number of times. As he walked into the house, the fresh smell of cedar and warm vegetables filled his nostrils. Thomas somewhat eased up at the scent, taking comfort in its familiarity.


"Hello?" he called out. "It's Thomas, I'm back from the city."


His calls were met with silence, but were broken a moment later by the faint voice of a woman.


"I'm in the kitchen, come and talk to me in here!"


Thomas removed his suit coat and hung it onto the ornate coat rack next to the door. He started down the long hallway filled with antiques upon hand-crafted plinths. Some of these were highly decorated, such as the vase that his great-grandfather had passed down through the generations, and others were plain works by him and his siblings when they were younger. Everything, regardless of its actual worth, served a sentimential value for at least someone in the family. Nothing struck him as particularly mawkish, though the mounted quilts made by his grandmother left a wistful impression on him. He rounded the corner, and continued down the next hallway. After living in a two-bedroom city apartment with a friend for a week, Thomas had a newfound appreciation for just how large the country house was. After walking for another short distance, he found himself at the white door that led to the kitchen. It was left slightly ajar, and the swishing sound of a stirring pot could be heard from inside. He pushed the door open, and saw his mother, Debra, toiling over a set of pots and pans with a wooden spoon in hand. Though she often spent her time working outside with the animals and plants, her skin was fair and delicate. She was already past the middle-age of women of the land, but decades had been spent doing hard work that caused her to be hardy. Much like his father there was no denying her age, as wrinkles had already began their onset, but she possessed a strong air that would make anyone hesitate to describe her as "old".  She had her fine black hair fixed into a bun, and wore a tattered, long-sleeved blue dress.


"Hey, ma." Thomas said. 


Debra jumped in surprise, and turned to face Thomas. Her surprise was quickly overwhelmed by an outstanding joy at seeing her son, and a smile grew wide on her face.


"Tommy!" She moved quickly to hug him. "Welcome home! How was your trip?"


Thomas thought back on the hardships that he faced on his trip, but, standing before his mother now, he found it easier to see the good. "It went really well, or at least I think it did." Thomas said. "I had a few interviews with several different banks, and I think I made a good impression on the managers when I met them."


Debra's smile widened. "That's wonderful, hon!" She made a slight gesture with her head toward the kitchen counter, where there was an accumulation of pots and pans currently in use. "Are you hungry? I'm making some soup, and it'll be done soon."


"I could eat," Thomas admitted. "I had a pretty long road-trip, and I've been missing out on your cooking anyway."


Debra resumed cooking. The two took several minutes to catch up on the happenings of the week, exhausting every conversation topic that managed to surface. When silence finally hit, Thomas's thoughts wandered to the remark made by his brother earlier. Thomas lingered around the room, feigning interest in examining various antiques while trying to come up with a way to present the topic.


"So," he started. "I talked to Ron on my way in, and he mentioned something about trouble with the animals while I was gone?"


Debra slowed what she was doing, but did not look up from it. "Oh, that." she began slowly. "Some of the farm animals have gone missing over the last few days."


"Missing?"


"I don't know a whole lot about it, except that the pig and cow pens had lower counts the next morning on a few nights. You should probably talk to your father about it, he's been looking into it lately and could give you the full story."


"Where is pops?"


"Last I saw him, he was going out back," Debra said. "Also, when you see him, tell him that supper is about ready."


...


Several minutes passed while Thomas searched the back of the property for his father. Eventually, he spotted him emerging from the forest line.


"Hey, pops!" Thomas called.


His father wore matted leather and had a shotgun slung across his back. His deep brown hair was ruffled, and his boots were muddied.  His face had a dirtied and weary look about it, but he gave a smile to Thomas. 


"Tom, good to see you!"


The two approached each other and embraced.


"How was living in the city?"


"It was good," Thomas said in a matter-of-fact manner. "What's going on with the animals?" 


The smile faded off of his father's face.


"Did your mother tell you about that? Well, it started about a week ago when we noticed that a few of the larger animals had gone missing. It wasn't obvious, maybe only one or two, but we just assumed that they got out somehow." He paused. "I obviously couldn't have that, so I went and checked the pen fencing. Sure enough, there was a decent-sized hole in both of them. Now, aside from a bit of questioning that probably would've been the end of it after I fixed them up. But, when inspecting the holes, I noticed something rather unusual."
He looked down toward the pens in the distance. "They were jagged, like they had been split. And I'm not sure how I missed this at first, but there were clear signs of struggle. All the way into the forest, where I just found a trail of blood leading to the body of one of the cows with its udders missing."


Thomas's eyes widened. "The body?" He breathed. "So, you think something..." He trailed off, not wanting to make the addition of 'someone'. 


"I think something has forced its way into the pens, and has been eating the animals after dragging them out into the forest." his father finished.


"So..." Thomas half-stammered. "What do you want to do about it?"


His father shook his head. "We can't afford to be losing our animals like this, so I intend to put an end to whatever's going on tonight. I'll get the shotgun, and I'll wait out in the barn for a little while. It's right next to the pens, so I'll be able to hear and react to anything that happens."


"Are you sure?" Thomas asked, his voice lined with concern.


His father started toward the house. "Yeah, I'm sure."


Thomas followed alongside him. He deliberated over the matter for a moment, then turned to his father. "Listen, could I at least come out with you? I don't, you know, want anything bad happening."


He gave a short laugh. "It'll be fine, but you can feel free to join me if you want to."


The two walked back to the house in silence.


...


The evening went by quickly. Between catching up with his family on the affairs of the last week and the pressing anxiety upon Thomas, the sun had set before he knew it. He was beginning to feel drowsy, but the sight of his father, equipped in the necessary accoutrements for hunting, drove away his fatigue. His father helped him get prepared, and, before long, Thomas found himself sitting against the cold stone walls of the stables. The night was dreadfully dark, for there were no stars to brighten the sky. Slender forms of clouds drifted about the sky, enveloping it in a total blackness. The night would have been warmer than others, but the howling winds bit through Thomas's clothing, chilling his flesh.


His father sat across from him. There was only the slightest vestige of the jolly man he had known his father to be about him. In his place, there existed a somber and tired man. One who had been withered by the ages, like a decrepit house. His father looked up at him. Though the two, as Thomas knew, were to stay quiet and avoid making any unnecessary noise, his eyes spoke silent volumes to him. Thomas looked down at the hunting rifle in his hands, and began to fiddle with the barrel. Time passed, and complacency crept up on him, taking its toll on his vigor. 


...


Thomas awoke with a start to the sound of distant, animal squealing. Not a second later, a shrill, agonized scream pierced the emptiness. Thomas looked up to his father, who had already began running down the hill and toward the sound. Thomas hastily stood upright, securing his rifle at his side. His father ran past his line of sight, and Thomas plunged after him into the darkness. The bitter wind bit at his very skin, but he could feel his body heating quickly with the onset of adrenaline. He hurried down the hill, trailing the faint sound of his father's footsteps as fast as he could run.


He eventually ran past the cow pen, which was noticeably quiet. He advanced through the tall grass until he arrived at the side of the pig pen. The proximity yielded naught but silence and the view of a handful of terrified pigs glaring at him with wide eyes. He turned from side to side, scanning everything visible to him. He expected something worse than he could ever plan for to be poised in front of him, but nothing caught his eye. Then, as he turned to face the nearby northern treeline, he caught a glimpse of a prominently dark figure entering the forest. His father, Thomas guessed. 


Thomas, split between what to do, remembered the Coleman lantern and set of matches that were set outside the pig pen. He reached downward and felt for the pair, then, after a moment of searching, his hands stumbled upon the cold metal. He scooped them up and initiated the process of lighting the lamp that he had done dozens of times before. After working with it for several moments, the lamp illuminated the night. Gripping the handle of the lamp in one hand, Thomas patted down his side with the other, ensuring that his rifle was still intact. He resolved to pursue his father in the forest, but would not do so blindly, keeping the lamp at hand. He jogged down the grassy path that led to where he last saw his father. One that, upon being lit by the lamp, was clearly stained by splotches of dark blood.


...


"Pops?"


Thomas had been searching the woods for at least a minute now. While he was not an impatient man, he was aware that even seconds could prove to be critical at a time like this. He was by no means lost, for he had ran through these woods as a child countless times. However, Thomas had always been restricted from going into the forest at night without an adult. The chipper woodlands he had known seemed just a memory now, as if they were replaced by an unknown and ominous place.


"Pops?" Thomas called out louder this time.


 He emerged from a thick section in the forest out into the beginning of a glade. The far edges were dark, as his lantern only shone so far, but it appeared to be in an ovaloid shape. Here, the winds were blocked by the mass of the trees and possessed more of a gentle touch. An array of iridescent flowers swayed back and forth with the breeze, rising above and falling below wild patches of grass. The foliage of the forest brushed against the dim moonlight, eclipsing the dark with the totality of shadows. Thomas took a step forward, extending his arm that held the lamp outward. At the edge of the shadows, he spotted spots of the same dark red he had seen before. They formed a trail that seemed to curve inward toward the back of the glade. Thomas swallowed hard, and pressed forward, following the trail. As he progressed, the red discoloration of the grass became noticeably more concentrated.


A soft smacking sound resounded through the glade, originating just beyond the edge of the lantern's light. Thomas froze in place. Blood rushed from his face, and he felt his heart banging against his chest, rocking it back and forth. He couldn't bring himself to breathe out, as he felt as if his throat was strangling itself. The smacking stopped suddenly. Thomas began to back up, and hastily set his lantern to the ground, nearly dropping it in the process. His hands violently shaking, Thomas grabbed for the rifle at his side. Though he was well-practiced in shooting rifles, he forwent the standard procedures for safety and instead struck the rifle out in front of his body. A low, guttural noise sounded from the shadows, causing Thomas to tense up. 


From the darkness emerged a hideous, massive creature. Dark, rugged hair wrapped it completely, save for blood-stained claws longer than hands and mangled teeth that rose from its gaping jaw. The fur around its mouth was smeared with the dark red, and black pupils stared at Thomas with a crazed intensity. The bear slowly approached Thomas, curling its lips back to produce the guttural, vibrating sound. Thomas's mind was numb with fear, and he struggled to make any motions with the gun. It widened its mouth, and let loose a brute roar. Thomas aimed the barrel of the rifle down, fixing on the center of its face. The bear suddenly lurched forward with vicious speed, propelling itself with its grotesquely powerful hindquarters. Thomas, his legs jerking back on their own, pulled the trigger. His ankle became caught on an elevated part of the ground, and he stumbled backwards. The gunshot rang out through the forest, and the bear released a loud cry before falling mid-charge. It slumped to the ground, limp. Thomas, unable to comprehend what had happened, rolled to the side and jerked upright, rifle still in hand. He looked down to the animal at his feet. Blood rolled from its head, yet its eyes remained open; fixed ahead at what would have been its next meal. Thomas took a deep breath, trying to calm himself. Oddly enough, standing here in the darkness, shaking and sweating profusely and wrought with nausea, Thomas found himself missing the ordained function of the city. 


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