She wished she’d never taken that short-cut. It had seemed a decent and rational idea at the time. Of course when driving through the countryside at night in an area you don’t know, taking an even more unknown direction, one can but hope to find a road sign, let alone your destination. Tall twisted trees rapidly replaced open fields as night had fallen. Shadows had flickered into strange and unnerving shapes as her headlights picked out knotted and unexpected patterns in the undergrowth.
The car rattled and creaked as she pushed the accelerator harder toward the floor, her stiletto heel not helping the situation she bent down quickly and whipped it off. Her old, rusty Ford was held together by gaffa tape and wishful thinking. It did not need to be doing over 60 miles an hour down a dirt track.
Of course this is precisely what it did need to be doing, due to the very large, very loud and very slimy thing that was galloping along behind her. It screamed ravenously. She chanced a glimpse in the rear-view mirror. In the red light of her rear lamps she could see what appeared to be several mouths, moving independently of the main creature. And tentacles. Lots of tentacles. She hoped they were tentacles.
Her hair fell in front of her eyes in sweaty strands as she wished her car to go faster. Faster. Faster! The creature had come out of nowhere, red eye-shine in her headlamps and glistening saliva. She hoped it was saliva.
The thunderous impact of its feet on the ground behind her shook the car. She swerved as the dirt track veered sharply to the left. Grit and dust sprayed out from her sliding tyres as she struggled with the steering wheel.
‘Why did I not get a car with power steering?’ she thought to herself.
She then laughed. Partly through hysteria and panic, and partly due to how absurd that thought was, given the situation.
The creature lashed out with two of its tentacles and swung itself easily around the bend behind her. Now a good deal closer, she risked another glance in the mirror. Its bilious black body flexed and pulsed. Long legs, taught with racehorse-standard muscle. There was no way this was anything natural. This was some hellish demon. This was some monster from another dimension. This was some crazed experiment gone wrong. This was a man stood in the middle of the road.
A man stood in the middle of the road?
She slammed on the breaks and pulled the wheel to one side. Autopilot kicking in. She wanted to evade the thing chasing her, but did not want to run over a human being. God forbid!
The wheels skidded on wet grass and the car slid sideways into a tree.
The airbag deployed. Through the shock and the airbag she heard the man shouting. Was the creature turning its attention now to him? Had she escaped being devoured?
She nursed her shoulder, over which the tight seatbelt held her in place. There was broken glass all over her. Most of the windows were shattered. She tilted her head back and tried to breath calmly. Her throat was dry and her breaths were shallow and quick. She looked around. All was darkness. The crash had killed the car. The engine and the lights were gone.
The man was silent. Had he been eaten?
She noted the airbag beginning to deflate.
“Sorry ‘bout ‘Arry. Likes shiny lights is all. No harm.” The man said through the empty aperture that once held the drivers side window, shocking the poor woman into screaming.
A roar from the creature silenced her. She clasped her hands over her mouth.
“What was that… thing?” She managed after a moment.
“’Arry.” The man replied.
“’Arry. Short for ‘Arrold. You know?”
Seeing the woman was in no way grasping what he was saying he shook his head and walked away.
“What’s your name, miss?”
“I’ll call the mechanic for you. Won’t be out ‘till mornin’ now though. Stay put.”
The man walked away a few paces, paused and whistled loudly with his fingers.
“But that thing!” Katherine hissed, “It’ll hear you!”
The man grinned at her,
“I should hope so.”
The creature trotted up to the man, sank onto its haunches and let him tickle it under the chin.
She hoped it was a chin.
“Come on boy, back home now. That’s enough walkies for one night.”
And with that the man and his monster faded into the darkness of the wood.
Illustration: Rylan Cavell