Kids have the craziest imaginations. They’re always making shit up, they think it’s funny. Anything that comes out of a kid’s mouth is probably just some childish game of make-believe. That’s why there was no way in hell I believed a second of the crazy story my little sister told me of this thing called “The Shriek.”
“What the hell is ‘The Shriek?’” I asked her.
Her eyes grew wide with wonder and fright. “It’s a demon of the forest that lives in the trees and kills people with its voice. They say it can make sounds so horrible that people would rather die than listen to it for more than a few seconds.” Her eyes became glassy and her gaze dropped, “I heard one boy stabbed a pocket knife into his ear and died after hearing it.”
“You don’t scare me, Ginny,” I huffed crossing my arms. “I’m not falling for some crap elementary school ghost story.”
“You should be scared!” she spat back, “The Shriek is real and it lives in our backyard!”
I rolled my eyes. “Yeah, and Mom and Dad are getting back together. See? I can lie, too.”
“You’re such a moron, Jimmy!” Ginny stormed off, but not before shouting, “I know The Shriek is real. I’ll prove it to you!”
I rolled my eyes as she slammed her bedroom door in a fury. Ginny was so dramatic, always spinning these fantasy stories about the creatures that lived in the woods behind our house. She was the imaginative one, whereas I was much more practical. I was never too big on imagination. I didn’t have the patience for it. You’d sooner find me plucking out my own arm hair than in the woods hunting for cryptids. I was way too mature for games of legend and lore. The only creatures that I knew that lived in the backwoods of Norwick, Virginia were squirrels and the occasional hiker. Nothing to fear there except for the limited access to showers on the Appalachian Trail.
But even though I was used to Ginny’s overreactions to tall tales, there was something about this monster story that bothered me. Most of the time, the creatures that Ginny made up were magical and friendly – luminescent unicorns that frolicked through meadows, camouflaged tigers that lived in caves and only ate blueberries, furry jackalopes that could grant you a wish if you caught them by the antlers – that sort of thing. But this thing – The Shriek – Ginny had never constructed something so morbid.
I decided not to waste my time thinking about it too much. Ginny had probably just read one too many “Goosebumps” books and had monsters on the brain. Next week she’d be telling me about how “The Creature from The Deep” lived in the pond in our neighbor’s backyard and all this crap about The Shriek would fade.
I checked my watch: 8:12 PM. Dad wouldn’t be home from work for another four hours at least. I put on some TV to pass the time and threw a bag of popcorn in the microwave.
That’s when I heard the shots.
At first, I thought it was the popcorn, but when I opened the microwave and saw that the bag was still flat, I began to panic. Normally, gunshots heard near my house weren’t a big deal (this was rural Virginia, after all), but it was Sunday, and I knew from many loathsome years of Dad dragging me out into the mountains for deer season that hunting was illegal on Sundays. Anyone caught shooting a gun today would be in serious trouble.
I sped down the hall to check on Ginny. She may have been annoying as hell, but I was still her big brother and felt responsible for her.
I reached for her bedroom door handle without even knocking. “Ginny? Ginny, are you – oh, crap.” Ginny wasn’t in her room and her bedroom window was wide open, giving me a perfect view of the woods behind our house.
I put two and two together and flew out the back door, making my way to the shed that Dad used as his workshop. I prayed to a God I didn’t believe in that I was wrong, but I knew how stupid Ginny could be when she went too deep in her fantasy world. I fumbled with the padlock on the door, lining up the four-digit code Dad had given to me and Ginny for emergencies only. I jumped inside and felt all the color drain from my face as I stared at the empty space on the wall – Dad’s shotgun was missing.
I turned and sprinted towards the woods, not even bothering to shut the shed door behind me. What was Ginny thinking? She was only nine years old and hardly 60 lbs. – the recoil from Dad’s 12-gauge would shatter her ribs instantly. And if she misfired…holy crap, I needed to get to her.
I burst through the tree line at the edge of the woods and fought my way through layers of thick branches.
“Ginny!” I screamed, “Ginny! Answer me!”
I leaped over rocks and roots, flinching at the sharp twigs that cut up my arms and legs. The sun was already beyond the horizon and my sense of direction was skewed by the sinister shadows cast by the trees as night descended.
“Ginny, where are you!?”
I strained my ears for an answer, but all I heard was some kind of rustling. At first, I thought it was just the wind, but this sound wasn’t…natural. It was a kind of hissing, like a million cans of aerosol being released at the same time. But it was subtle, almost like the noise was being whispered into my ear by someone standing right behind me.
I carried on, ignoring the noise and putting one hand out in front of me like a shield to prevent me from running headfirst into a tree, but that did nothing to stop me from losing my footing. My shoelace snagged on an upturned root and I felt my body lose contact with the ground. For a moment, I was flying through the darkness, then I collapsed onto the hard November ground. Dirt and rocks sprayed my face and stung my eyes, and there was something else in the mix…something wet.
At first, I thought it was just mud, but then the smell hit me. The stench of rusty metal and flesh was one that I knew well from hunting with Dad – it was the smell of a fresh kill.
I sat up and dusted myself off, noticing in the dim light that my clothes were covered in a dark stain. When I lifted my gaze, I found myself in a small circular clearing surrounded by trees, and not more than ten feet in front of me –
“Ginny!” I scrambled over to the limp figure lying on her back in the middle of the clearing and screamed. From where I had landed, a stream of red trailed to my sister’s body, blood oozing from a baseball-sized hole in her head. The earmuffs she had been wearing lay blown in two just a few feet in front of her. Her fingers were still clutched around Dad’s shotgun that lay across her tiny chest.
Before I could even process what I was seeing, the most awful noise I’d ever heard in my life erupted through the trees. Instinctively I covered my ears with my hands, but the sound cut through my flesh like razor blades. It was as if Freddy Krueger was trying to claw his way out of a junkyard inside my head. The clamor of metal scraping on metal pounded in my eardrums so intensely I felt like someone had strapped two amplifiers on each of my temples. I fell to the ground, paralyzed from the pain, praying that the noise would stop. “I’d rather be dead than listen to another second of this,” I thought. I squeezed my eyes shut and pulled my knees into my chest.
“Stop it!” I screamed, “Please, make it stop!”
Then, as if someone had been listening to me, the noise stopped. Shivering and in a cold sweat, I opened my eyes and sat up. I looked around the clearing, my eyes now adjusted to the darkness, and pissed myself. I knelt at my sister’s side, covered in blood, piss, and dirt, and let out a bone-rattling shriek.
“I know you did this to her!” I screeched getting to my feet, “She was right about you!” I took the shotgun from my sister’s hands, “Show yourself, you fucking sonofabitch!”
A strong wind picked up and the hissing noise I had heard before shot through the trees, but this time it was a hundred times louder. I resisted the urge to plug my ears and tried to drown out the noise with my anger.
“Show yourself!” I screamed again.
I looked around the clearing and saw nothing but trees. I was afraid I had gone off the deep end, that I had gone crazy after seeing my sister’s body, but then The Shriek struck again.
A terrible clicking noise filled my ears like a million bugs had been released in my brain and were nesting themselves into my ear canals. I dropped the shotgun and clawed at my head. I began ripping out chunks of my hair and scratching at my ears until I felt blood caked under my fingers nails. I had to get the noise out of my head, even if it meant ripping my brain from my skull.
“AGHHHH!” I screamed pounding my fists against my temples. Then as quickly as it had started, the noise stopped. The woods became eerily quiet. In my moment of sanity, I grabbed the shotgun from the ground and aimed it at the trees.
“GET OUT OF MY HEAD, FUCKER!” I shot three rounds into the woods. I couldn’t see any kind of physical trace of The Shriek, but I had to try something. Maybe I could hit him on accident…if there was even anything to hit.
I reloaded the gun for another round when I heard a voice.
“Mom?” I spun around in the direction of her voice, but there was no one there.
“Jimmy, honey,” She sounded like she was right next to me, but I was still all alone in the clearing. “Where are you? Where’s your sister?”
“Mom, I – “ Suddenly a scream filled the air – Mom’s scream. I felt every hair on my body stand on end.
“You’ve killed her!” She didn’t just sound shocked, she sounded maddened. Her voice ripped through my body like broken glass. “You’ve killed your own sister, Jimmy!”
“No…no, I didn’t – “
“YOU KILLED HER!” Over and over again Mom repeated my mistake, her voice growing louder and shriller each time.
“No! I didn’t! No!”
“YOU KILLED HER!”
Tears were streaming down my face. I was screaming in agony.
“YOU KILLED HER! YOU KILLED HER! YOU KILLED HER!”
I couldn’t take it anymore. I couldn’t hear Mom say those words again. I reloaded the shotgun, my sobs hardly audible over Mom’s shrieking. I aimed straight like Dad had taught me, apologized for my actions, and pulled the trigger.
The papers called it a tragic accident. The townspeople blamed Dad for leaving two young kids alone with access to a firearm. Neither of those statements was true. It was The Shriek. I didn’t want to believe it, and in the end, it was my ignorance that killed my sister and me. That and the evil thing that lives in the woods behind our house.
A Short Fiction Tale by Lilian Grace