The Goats

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

By late November all the trees were dead, and Taylor was running out of time.

It was late November, and the trees were dead.  Dirty snow crunched under Taylor’s boots as he and Tim trudged to the bus stop, a half block away from home.  Tim’s mittened hand was tucked safely in Taylor’s large one, and he trailed behind, stomping small imprints into Taylor’s weary path.  His red boots shone in the sun.
“Do you have all your homework?” Taylor asked.
“Yup,” Tim replied, popping his ‘p’ with intense concentration.
“Did you remember the note from Miss Elmore?”
“Uh-huh.”
“Lunch? You have that too?”
“Yeah.”  Tim listed to the side, and Taylor tightened his grip on his brother’s small hand.
“Don’t do that,” He chided, “You’ll slip and fall.”
Tim didn’t answer him.  Didn’t speak at all, actually, until they were standing on the curb next to the large yellow sign that indicated a school bus would stop there. 
“Taylor?” 
“What?” 
Tim hesitated, rubbing a red knit mitten over his cheek. 
“When are Mommy and Daniel and Jeff coming back?”
Taylor, in the middle of re-tying Tim’s boots, paused.  He licked his lips, staring intently at the shoes before him.
“Soon,” he said.  Soon was a safe answer.
“You keep saying that,” Tim complained, kicking his feet out of Taylor’s hands.  “But when?”
“Soon,” Taylor repeated, firmly.  “Just wait a bit, okay?”
Tim listed to the side, flopping dramatically onto his side.  Taylor snorted from his nose, reaching out to ruffle his hair.  Tim grabbed at his fingers with both his hands and pressed close to his touch.
“Why didn’t they take us with them?” He asked, in a fragile voice.
“You don’t want to go where they went,” Taylor replied, as the bus pulled up and the doors folded open with a squeak. 
“Yes I do!” Tim whined.  Taylor shushed him gently, helping him up the rickety steps. 
During the long ride to school, Tim sat huddled up against the window, avoiding eye contact.  Wearily, Taylor rubbed a hand over his cold face.  Before they got off the bus, he stuck his hand in his pocket, insuring the key to the basement was still there.  It was, just like it always was.  He held it loosely, letting it fall from finger to finger. 
He watched Tim run off to join the rest of second-grade class, and he swallowed thickly. 
 
Ms. Kelvin was Junior year’s best teacher.  She was the only teacher in the entire school that insisted her students call her by her first name: Irene.  She was kind, but firm.  Taylor felt he lucked out getting her as his homeroom teacher.  He had so many things weighing on his mind, and teacher problems didn’t need to be one of them. 
The Junior class was small, and Taylor appreciated the kindness Irene showed to each of them individually.  Sometimes it felt like she was prying, but mostly, it was comforting.  He appreciated the days he could just be a seventeen-year-old again. 
They were all busy drafting self-reflection essays that day, and Taylor sat staring at a blank sheet of paper as the wall-clock ticked way.  He felt Irene’s hand come to rest on the back of his chair, and twisted his head around to squint at her.
She peered curiously at his blank paper and turned a confused smile towards him.
“Stuck, Taylor?” She asked quietly, so as not to disturb those around them who were busily filling in their own sheets.
“I guess,” He muttered with a shrug. 
“You guess.”  Irene leaned forward and braced her hands on the desk.  He could smell her perfume.  “Let’s see – what’s something you like about yourself?”
Taylor shrugged.
“Something you dislike?”
He shrugged again.  Irene sighed.
“How’s your mom?” She asked, gently, and Taylor failed to see how that had any bearing on his reflections.
“Fine, I guess.”
“She didn’t come to Parent-Teacher night.”
“I know.  She was busy.  She’s always busy.”
“How does that make you feel?  You could right about that.” Taylor tapped his pencil rapidly against the desk.  He shrugged.  He realized he was bouncing his knee uncontrollably.  Irene was looking at him with pity in her eyes. 
He felt sorry for her, in a way. She sighed.
“You have an older brother, don’t you?  I’d love to know how he’s influenced you personally.” 
A full-body chill went through Taylor’s bones.  He froze, every muscle in his body tensed.  He was sure Irene caught it, but she didn’t say anything.  If anything, she seemed to understand. She opened her mouth, then paused, as if thinking of something to say.
“Irene?”
It was Susan Dern, who waved her hand awkwardly in their direction.  Irene offered Taylor a gentle smile, then got up to assist Susan.  Taylor chewed on his pencil eraser.  In his mind he was double-checking the boiler room, but he knew no one had been down there.  He’d made sure of that. 
He shoved his hand in his pocket and squeezed the basement key. 
“Can we get a pizza?” Tim asked, rolling on the kitchen floor with his favorite stuffed animals.  He’d already made the breakfast table into a fort, and now he was getting underfoot.  Taylor sighed, stirring the macaroni with concentrated slowness.
“No,” He said, firmly.  “I’m already making dinner.”
“But I want pizza!” Tim howled, like a wolf. 
“No.”
Tim seemed about to speak again, when something crashed and reverberated through the pipes.  He sat up and peered into the darkness.  All the lights in the house were off, save for those in the kitchen, in order to save money.  They were already going without heat.  It was hard stretching a part-time salary over monthly expenses as it was. 
Tim squeezed his stuffed hippo close to his chest.
“Taylor,” He whispered, with just a hint of a whimper, “The boiler’s banging again.”
Taylor paused, licking his lips.  “I know,” he answered, “I’ll check it later.  Macaroni’s almost done.”
Tim seemed to forget about the boiler after that, dashing in and out of his homemade fort with his hippo and bear in tow.  They were playing pirates. 
Tim was going for two bowls and some spoons when he felt Tim grab his shirt from behind.
“Tell me a story, Taylor!” He shouted, excitedly bouncing up and down.  Taylor sighed, regretting the decision to let Tim drink a glass of Coke while he got dinner ready.
“I don’t know any stories,” He announced, taking down two bowls from the cupboard.
“Then make one up!”
“I can’t!”
“Then tell me a different story!” Tim cried, “A true one!”
Taylor paused.  Slowly, he set the bowls down on the counter.  “I only know one,” He said carefully, “but it’s too scary for you.”
“I’m not scared of anything,” Tim announced.  Taylor turned around, leaned heavily over the stove.  His heart was pounding in his ears.  The boiler banged again.
He’ll have to know sooner or later, Taylor thought.  I can explain when he’s older.
“Taylor?”
Taylor turned around with a dry smile.
“Once upon a time,” He began, ladling spoonfuls of macaroni into two bowls, “There were four baby birds that lived in a tree beside a big, big forest.”
“What were their names?”
“Da- uh, they didn’t have names.  They’re birds.”
“Oh.”
“So they lived beside a forest, right.  And there was a mother bird that cared for them every evening, after she got home from flying all day.  There was a big baby bird, a medium baby bird, a little baby bird, and a very, very small baby bird, who had just come out of his shell.”
Tim’s eyes were round with anticipation from his spot on the kitchen floor.  He held his hippo against him. 
“Well, one day, the biggest baby bird fell out of the nest.  But he didn’t die.”
Taylor paused, gathering his thoughts.
“No, instead of dying, he turned into a goat.  A big, black goat, with yellow eyes and long, curling horns.”
Taylor picked up the two steaming bowls and set them on the table, atop Tim’s blanket fort.
“And the goat ran around through the woods, howling and knocking his horns against the trees until they rattled.  But then the mother bird came back from flying, and saw that one goat- birds, I mean, was missing.  She was worried.”
Taylor stopped, and looked down at Tim, watching expectantly on the floor.
“This is the scary part,” He warned, “I’ll tell you the rest later.”
“No!” Tim cried, incredulous, “You can’t do that!”
Taylor squinted at him, but Tim bobbed his head up and down enthusiastically.  Taylor leaned on the table and scrubbed his face.  He felt a hundred years old.
“The goat came back from the forest,” he said, “And he started . . . bashing against the bird’s tree with his horns.  The middle baby bird was afraid, so he picked up the little baby bird and flew to another tree, where they’d be safe.  He was still a young bird, so he could only carry the one.  Then he went back, to get his other brother baby bird, and carry him back too.
“He heard growling and bashing as he got close to the tree, and he was scared.  He peeked through the leaves and saw the mother bird fighting with the goat.  She chirped at the middle baby bird to save the tiny bird still left in the nest, and he tried to.  But as he got close, the goat hit the tree so hard, the little bird fell out of the nest.  And then the goat ate him.”
“Like this!” Tim shouted, leaping forward and latching onto Taylor’s leg.  He wrapped his arms and legs around and growled playfully. 
“No! Off! Get off.”
Tim laughed, bounced onto the floor, and rolled under his fort.  He peered out, only his bright, round eyes showing.  His hippo too, stared up with shiny bead eyes.
“After the littlest baby bird was gobbled up, the goat snatched up the mother bird and carried her off into the dark, dark forest.  And she became a goat too.  And – and –”
The words were sticking in his throat.  Taylor took a deep breath.  Sometimes a lie made a better ending.
“And they lived happily ever after.  The end.  Get up here and eat.  You need a bath.” 
The boiler banged, and Tim got up with a sigh, his hippo at his side. 
“That was a bad story,” He announced. 
“Well, sorry,” Taylor snorted, “It’s the only one I know.  Eat your food.”
“Are you going to check the boiler?”
“After dinner.”
“I don’t like the boiler.”  Tim said around a mouthful of noodles.  “It scares me at night.”
“We’ll get a new one soon.”
“When?”
“Just soon, okay?”
Taylor sighed, watching, as if through a glass, while Tim shoveled macaroni into his mouth.  He looked a little like Daniel did at that age.  Daniel was in third grade when Jeff came back from the hills. 
Taylor sighed.  He’d lost his own appetite.  His bowl sat untouched when he cleared the table and sent Tim upstairs to run a bath. 
When he heard the water running full and hard, and heard Tim singing off-key to his rubber duck, he wiped the last of the crumbs off the table and got to his feet. 
He fished in his pocket for the basement key, while he went for the huge black flashlight that sat by the front door. 
The basement door was one of the few doors in the house that actually locked.  Taylor stood before it, in silence, key in his hand.  From down below, he heard them rolling around, thumping madly on the walls.  He turned the key in the lock, and it clicked. 
Instantly, it was silent, save for Tim’s happy splashing in the tub upstairs. 
Taylor flicked on the flashlight and swung the door wide. The stairs creaked as he made his way down, fingers skimming the walls as he went.  The door at the bottom of the steps was boarded up, as the hinges had broken and the door no longer shut properly. 
Taylor saw it was open as he reached the bottom.  There were only a few gaps between the boards.  He’d done it in haste, but he was careful.
He shined the flashlight into the basement beyond the boards.  A pair of yellow eyes stared hatefully at him from between the boards near the bottom, rectangular pupils narrowed into horizontal slits.  From deeper within, another pair of yellow spots glinted in the darkness, huge and unblinking. 
They stared at each other for a long while.  The nearest pair of eyes disappeared, and the boards groaned as a great weight pressed against it.  They wanted out.  They wanted out right now.
But Taylor wasn’t about to let them out.  Oh no.  The day he let them out would be the day he was old enough to buy a gun.  A big gun.  A hunting rifle.  Then, on a day when it was bright out, he’d break the boards and shoot them as they came up the stairs. 
He was too big, too old, to eat.  They’d probably gore him to death and trample him into the floorboards.  Then they’d eat Tim, like they ate Daniel. 
A pang went through him.  He brushed his hand over the smooth boards between him and the eyes.
These boards were supposed to make a treehouse out in the woods.  They’d bought the lumber and left it in the backyard, for when the weather grew warm and they could finally make a tree house in that perfect tree that Daniel had found. 
Instead, on the day the birds fell out the tree, Taylor took their treehouse boards and locked the goats in the basement. 
When the goats were dead, he’d get a better job.  He’d buy more lumber.  Then he and Tim would finally make that tree house, and Tim and his hippo could play pirates until their hearts were happy. 
He nicked his fingernail in a large crack forming in one of the boards.  It was starting to buckle outwards under the duress.  He needed new boards soon. 
He knocked on the faulty board.  One of them was right next to the door, and slammed against the barrier between them.  The board buckled some more. 
Taylor backed up the stairs, watching the eyes in the darkness between the boards.  He wasn’t working that weekend – he’d run to the hardware store and get new boards and stronger nails.
But he was only buying time, and he knew it.
 
Irene was sympathetic, but Taylor still felt his ears heating up.  He drummed his fingers nervously on desktop.
“It’s the rules, Taylor,” Irene was saying, with a sorry smile, “Three strikes and you’re out.  Two hours of detention is nothing, in the grand scheme of things.”
Taylor didn’t answer her.  He turned his head to the side and drummed his fingers harder.  Irene signed, shuffling through a stack of homework papers.  She had a lot to do, but she felt sorry for him, in her own way. 
“Maybe turn in your homework on time, going forward,” She offered, but Taylor remained silent. 
“Does your mom know what you’ve been doing?  You can get exception slips if she signs for them.” 
Again, no answer.
Irene watched him for another few moments, before returning to her own work, while thoughts jangled around Taylor’s mind like marbles in a jar.
He doodled aimlessly on a blank sheet of notebook paper, jiggling his leg restlessly. With his free hand he gripped the basement key.
He was turning scenarios over in his mind, calculating risks.  Aimlessly, he drew a goat’s eye into the margin of his paper, wondering if he should’ve just told Tim to visit with the neighbors until he got home.  They didn’t know the Wilmers very well, but they seemed nice, and the thought of Tim alone, for hours, without him filled Taylor with unreasonable fear.
They seemed to know when someone was home.  They liked to bash against the boards.  The basement door was locked, but the door itself was only so strong.  Could they get out if they broke through the boards?
The two hours dragged on, and on, and on.  Taylor though he might actually go mad.  He felt like a spring, wound far too tight. 
When Irene reshuffled her papers and stood up, he nearly leapt out of his seat. 
“I can go home, right?” He demanded, shaking all over from pent up anxiety.  Irene rolled her eyes.
“You can go home,” She said, and Taylor was out of the door before the words had fully left her mouth. 
Taylor ran all the way home, though the cold burned his lungs and his legs ached from the distance.
Everything’s fine, everything’s fine, he kept repeating, over and over in his mind. You’re just overreacting.  Just overreacting.  Everything’s fine, everything’s fine –
He threw open the front door and dropped his backpack and coat in the hall without a second thought.  The lights were off.  The house was going dark.
“Tim?” He shouted, into the silence, “Tim, where are you?!”
“Shhh.” 
Taylor glanced towards the kitchen.  The blanket walls of Tim’s fort rustled a little, and a pair of wide brown eyes peeped out.
“Shhh.”  Tim held a finger to his lips.  Even from a distance, Taylor saw he was shaking.  He rushed to Tim’s side, fell down on his knees. Tim leapt up and wrapped his arms around his brother, burying his face in the front of Taylor’s shirt.
“C’mon, Tim,” Taylor said gently, “What’s wrong?  You gotta let me know.” He felt sick to his stomach.  Something about this house was . . . off.
“Someone’s knocking on the door,” Tim whimpered, “I’m scared, Taylor.”
“What door?  The front door?  It’s probably just the mailman, Tim.  The mail comes-”
“No!”
Tim sounded genuinely distressed.  “No!”
“Tim?”  Taylor pulled him off and held him at arm’s length. “Tim, what door?”
Wide brown eyes roved wildly.
“The basement.”
Immediately, Taylor dropped Tim and shoved him back under the blanket fort. 
“Stay here,” He said seriously.  “I mean it, Tim, don’t move.”
Taylor got to his feet and found the flashlight.  His hands were shaking, but he steeled himself, approaching the basement door.  His heart leapt to his throat.  Like the faulty boards, the door itself had cracked.  It was buckling outwards. 
Taylor pressed his hand against it.  The door was warm, like someone had been pressing against the other side for quite some time. 
The crack was long, but hair-thin.  Taylor switched on the flashlight, pressed it to the crack, and then leaned in close, peering into the darkness through the narrow gap. 
There was an eye right there.  Staring at him, less than an inch away.  Taylor leapt away from the door with a shout, and the thing on the other side rammed into failing barrier with vengeance.  And it did it again!  And again!  Wood splintered away from the doorframe.  The hinges pinged in distress. 
“Tim!” Taylor screamed, scrambling wildly back towards the kitchen.  A bolt flew away from the door and hit the wall.  Taylor fell on his hands and knees, fumbling underneath the table for his brother. 
Tim was crying, clutching his hippo close to him.  Taylor had to fish him out from beneath the table.  They needed to get out.  They needed to run away.  Far away. 
Right now!!
“Tim-” He gasped, bundling the second-grader into his arms.  At that instant, the basement door flew off its frame.  Taylor froze. 
It was too dark to see anything.  The sun had set, and the house was dark.  Only the orange wash from the street lights outside offered any source of vision.
Something in the dimness nearby huffed.  The wooden floorboards groaned as a great weight moved across it. 
A low clop, clop, echoed off the silent house.  Hooves.  They drew nearer.  Four points of light peered around the corner, into the kitchen. 
Tim started crying harder.  Gooseflesh went all over Taylor’s body.  He jumped up, slamming the light switch. 
Instantly, the kitchen flooded with light. 
Tim screamed.  Taylor lost all feeling in his legs.  His stomach went into his throat. 
 
He barely recognized his mother.  Her skull had split open, letting four long horns spiral up through her hair at odd angles.  Her eyes were huge, sunken, and yellow, with rectangular pupils, like a goat’s.  Skeletal shoulders jutted out from her pajama dress, which was torn towards the bottom, where her legs were tangled, bent at an unnatural angle, covered with mats of thick black hair.  Two large hooves pounded angrily on the floors as they fled from her.
Jeff was in worse shape.  After he’d devoured Daniel and left wide scrape marks over the floor, his back wrenched backwards.  He was misshapen, twisted unrecognizably into something horrible.  He didn’t look like himself anymore – he didn’t even look human anymore.  His arms were all bendy and disjointed, stretching all the way to the rough-worn floor, while his neck was obscenely long and thin.  What was left of his human parts were emancipated and leathery, twisted out of proportion and coming away in chunks, while thick black goat hair covered the rest of him.  Bony spines like vertebrae jutted from his back.  His face was rotting away, revealing rows and rows of sharp teeth and giant, globular eyes, rolling restlessly in their sockets.
He tossed his misshapen head and snorted, long black horns gouging furrows into the ceiling.  Tim howled, terrified. 
Mom whipped around to stare at them, huge eyes rolling in her skull.  Her disheveled hair was spilling over her shoulders.  Something black and foul was oozing from her nose and ears. 
Tim, she whispered, and Taylor knew she was speaking, though he couldn’t hear a thing over the roar in his ears and pounding in his head.  He had to take Tim away from here.  Had to take him away now.
He grabbed Tim’s hand, dragging him across the hardwood, scrambling widely towards an escape – any escape.  The front door, that was no good.  They were right there, stomping their hooves and growling, mouths full of sharp fangs and black tongues. 
The back door!  The back door was open! 
Taylor flung Tim through the frame, grabbing the bucket of kindling from beside the fireplace. 
They were closer!  Closer still!  Jeff’s head was tilted nearly upside down, Mom was stomping her hooves and shaking her horns angrily. 
His fingers were shaking, but Taylor was lighting fires in the newspaper.  They blazed with a dry hiss, and momentarily, the goats paused.  He watched their pupils contract, staring hatefully at him from beyond the fire while he scrambled for Tim. 
“The lumber!” He cried, “For the tree house!”
“But-”
“Not now!” Taylor screamed, frantically feeding the flames – higher and higher.  “We can’t let them get out!”
They couldn’t let the goats pass through the door.  The backyard was walled in with sturdy, antique stone.  They were trapped.  If the goats got through, there would be nowhere for them to run. 
Tim was handing him dry two-by-fours, and Taylor was shoving them into the blaze.  The goats were closer now, at the very edge of the fire.  The light was dancing in their hollow eyes.  They needed more fire. 
He held his hand out to Tim, but no new wood appeared.  He turned to Tim, terrified.  Tim was staring at him with wide eyes.
“That’s it,” He whispered, “That’s all of it.”
Taylor opened his mouth to reply, but nothing came out.  His chest went tight.  The fires were starting to die.There was nothing he could do anymore.
“Come on!” He barked, grabbing Tim by the hand and pulling him towards the very back of the garden.  He banged his fists on solid stones, despairing.
“Taylor?” Tim whispered, and his voice was shaking.  Snowflakes were sticking in his eyelashes.
“What?”
“I’m . . . I’m scared.”
Taylor glanced down.  Tim clutched his hippo to his chest, eyes brimming with tears.  He had no coat on.  His breath fogged the breeze. 
“I know,” Taylor replied, kneeling down to wrap his arms around his brother, “I know.  I am too.”
The fires were dying.  The goats stomped their hooves from behind the flickering embers, rattling their horns and baying like black dogs.
Taylor wanted so badly to just cry.  But Tim was huddled up against him, shaking, holding back his tears, so Taylor held his back too.  The two of them knelt down in the snow, and Taylor wrapped his arms around his brother, hiding him with his body.  He pressed his forehead to the ground and his nose went numb in the frost.
“Oh, God,” He prayed, but the words stuck in his throat, and he couldn’t continue.
“It’s okay, Taylor,” Tim whispered, clutching his hippo tight.  “It’s okay.”
The fire was burning low.  Jeff was laughing from behind the dying embers, a sound like dead leaves shaking in burning trees.
“Oh, God,” Taylor whispered again, squeezing Tim.  Tears trickled down his nose and turned into ice on the cold, hard ground.
 
Someone called the house when Taylor and Tim didn’t show up for school the next day, and the day after too.  No one ever answered or came to the door, and soon, police officers and volunteers were busy combing the back woods and the highway ditches for them.  There were dogs and mounted men and everything.  No one found any sign of them.
“It’s like they vaporized,” said Detective Brown on the evening news, “But we’ll find them.  We won’t stop until we do.”
They interviewed Irene, the teacher from the high school. 
“Taylor was a bright young man, and a caring older brother,” She said, “We’re doing everything on our end to find them.”
But the dogs and men and police officers never did turn up any sign of the missing boys.  They tried tracing Taylor’s cell phone, but nothing ever came of it.  They never stopped searching. 
Not until March, when the snow melted.
In March, Channel 16 reported one of the boys had finally been found. 
It was Taylor. Irene was the one who found him.  He was all over the garden wall. 
 
Beside him, a little plush hippo lay ground into the mud.


Submitted: April 30, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Arlie Robertson. All rights reserved.

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