“When it’s ready.”
Samuel’s mother turned from the great, boxy, cast iron stove, where bacon sizzled next to the oatmeal pot, and, still stirring, said “Do you see the food on the stove? Do you have some kind of great plan to make things on the stove cook faster somehow?”
Samuel opened his mouth to laugh, the sound dying in his throat as he realized she was serious, and was waiting for his answer.
“Uh,” he said. “No, Ma’am.”
“No.” She nodded. “That’s right. No. If you’re in that much of a hurry, you can go out to the shed and fetch us a little milk.”
He looked through the thick, uneven glass filling the window: even as distorted as it was, the outside world was clearly covered with a thick layer of fresh snow.
“That’s okay.” He backed slowly away, holding out his hands and shaking his head. “I can do without— ”
“Hurry up now.” Her tone was no-nonsense as she took up a plate and began spooning out the thick oatmeal mash. “You don’t want your breakfast to get cold.”
He sighed, defeated.
I’d have been going out after breakfast anyway, he thought, trying to console himself as he laced on his big boots and shrugged into a thick coat. To take care of the animals.
Heading out into the snow with warm oatmeal and bacon filling his middle would have been quite a different thing, though, and he knew it.
“And hurry up and close that door,” his mother called from behind him, just as he cracked open the heavy back door. “You’re letting the cold in!”
Wisely recognizing that his mouth had already gotten him into enough trouble for the day, Samuel bit back his first, second, and third responses, and closed the door behind him as he slipped out into the snow.
~ ~ * * ~ ~
Hood up and head down, he trudged toward the shed. It was this posture, strategically designed to protect his eyes from the blinding radiance of morning sun on white snow, that kept him from noticing the shed door until he was more than half-way across the yard.
The door was ajar, nearly half-open.
Samuel stopped. This wasn’t right. The shed should have been closed up tight, nothing but the vents in the small cupola atop the roof letting out the building’s warm, animal stink; yet here was an open door.
And in front of the door: Tracks in the snow that looked like those made by William Henson’s hunting dogs, though even from three yards away Samuel could see that these tracks were nearly the size of his hand.
“Omigod,” he whispered. “Wolf.”
He started to turn, to go back to the house, to call for help, to do something, anything, but something registered in his brain just as he began shifting his weight.
The tracks went into the shed, but there were none coming out.
Oh, Lord, it’s still in there, he thought. If I go for help it might get away. Maybe it’s not yet done its work. I’m going to get a hiding for leaving the door unlatched, but maybe if I can save the animals…
Right beside the open door leaned a shovel. He crept up to the door, coming at it from the side to avoid casting a shadow across the door and possibly alerting the beast within. He silently lifted the tool from its little hole in the snow, hefting it twice. Three times. Then again, trying to get a feel for using the shovel as a weapon. He listened, but heard only the thud-thud of his heart in his ears, even louder to him than his fearful breathing.
Some small part of his brain fought for his attention, trying to tell him just what a stupid idea this was, and list off all the ways it could go wrong, but before the rest of him could listen he raised the shovel and leaped through the half-open door into the dim, stinking closeness of the animal shed.
He couldn’t see a thing. The transition from the snow-bright outside world to the shadowy shed interior had been too abrupt. His eyes had no time to adjust. Panicked at his sudden lack of sight, Samuel thrust the shovel out in front of him, trying to ward off the snarling, toothy attack he just knew was coming. There was no way a wolf, or any animal, for that matter, could have missed his grand and stupid entrance.
He waved the shovel, squinting at the darker shadows, willing his eyes to pierce the darkness right now, but he smelled it long before he saw it. Mixed in with the other smells in the shed, riding atop the scents of dung and piss and sheer animal stink like some king atop a throne of shit, the coppery tang stung his nose and clung to the back of his throat.
My God, how many did it kill?
Then his eyes caught up with his nose, and he saw the blood, black in the weedy light seeping in through the door. Splashed across the floor, up the walls— the blood was everywhere. Everywhere he looked, liquid darkness and chunks of… stuff. Like something had been not just killed, but torn apart.
Then he saw the head.
No body, simply a head: ears torn, mouth twisted open in a frozen rictus of pain.
A wolf’s head.
“What the hell?”
The first blow struck his hip, the animal lunging out of the shadows, head lowered to butt. He flailed, but pain shot through his hand as teeth snapped shut on his fingers, the shovel clattering away into the dark. He tried for the door but slipped on the bloody floor and went down. In the corner, the old mother goat, their milking animal, watched all five of her offspring working on Samuel, small horns butting, sharp teeth ripping.
My God! he thought, a blow to his temple, sending him down into darkness.
It’s killer kids!
This story is a Friday Fright, and as such was supposed to be published to the site by Friday evening. Makes sense, right?
This week, however, I didn't find out what the topic was until Thursday afternoon. It was "Killer Kids". When Friday came, I didn't have a story in mind yet, and I panicked. In times of stress, my mind, unfortunately, often turns to puns.
It popped into my head.
I ran with it.
Sorry about that.