Butcher

The final bell rang and the double doors flew open under the pressure from a tidal wave of yammering students, each caked in sweat from the sweltering mid-May afternoon heat. In the middle of that tidal wave was a tall, blonde girl named Georgia Larson, a senior at the high school who had just finished the final exam of her high school career. She was looking forward to getting out of this small town life and into one of the bigger cities, like New York or Los Angeles. Well, first she had to go to college—and for the sake of her parents she had applied (and gotten accepted to) Missouri State University in Springfield. Not that Springfield wasn't big compared to her dinky hometown, but she wanted something far bigger. Still, she supposed, this was a good jumping off point.

Walking beside her, staring down at her phone and flipping through Twitter and Tumblr at the same time, was her friend Lita. They shoved their way to the edge of the stream of students to escape the current and found their way underneath a tree, whose shade offered little respite to the heat.

"Your dad taking you into Springfield for your driver's test?" Lita asked, glancing up briefly from the glowing screen of her iPhone.

Georgia now had her own phone out and was scrolling through Twitter as well. "Yeah, and then we're gonna go look at used cars and he's gonna help me pick one out."

Lita pocketed her phone, apparently having accomplished whatever it was she had set out to do, "You're not gonna take that old ass truck your grandpa left you?"

Georgia shook her head, golden tresses falling into her face. She brushed them away, "No, that thing devours gas and handles like a garbage truck. Dad's gonna keep it to help move stuff around the farm. I just want something that has a working a/c." Georgia felt sweat beginning to form on her brow and she reflexively wiped it away. "Good lord. I'm gonna make a stop at the gas station on the way home. Feels like I'm about to die of dehydration."

They exchanged promises to text one another later and went their separate ways. Georgia's family lived on one of the outlying farms so she was walking alone before too long, glad to be away from the droning din of the student body. Golden fields stretched out all around her as she walked along the side of the faded-grey road. The occasional bird, or pair of birds, would zoom overhead, chirping happily. Her nose and eyes were open, glued to the road, watching for any roadkill that might pop up along the way. Armadillos and skunks were a problem along her particular stretch, though it was her older brother that would be the one that'd have to come out and clean them up with the shovel. The wind had picked up once or twice, bringing her a much needed reprieve, but by the time she came up to the gas station that sat on the corner of the highway and the dirt road that lead to her house she thought she was going to melt.

As she stepped onto the blacktop of the Conoco parking lot, Georgia noticed an unfamiliar car sitting askance across two clearly marked parking spaces. It was a newer model, she could tell, still shining blue with none of the telltale signs of dust and pollen the cars of all the local folk usually had. She peeked into one of the darkly tinted windows and saw a briefcase sitting in the passenger seat.

Georgia turned just in time to avoid being bowled over by a square jawed, blue business suit wearing asshole who came barreling out the door. He glared at her as they passed, unlit cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth, but didn't say a word. She turned and watched him get into the blue car. It started up with a barely audible purr and then glided out of the parking lot, turning right down the dirt road—where Georgia would be eventually heading. She hoped silently that he wasn't going to see her father. Her frown deepened when she saw the man throw the transparent wrappings of his newly purchased cigarette pack out the window at the last second.

The station owner, who Georgia knew simply as "Mister Paul," greeted her as she entered and the door swung closed behind her with a melodious ding. She threw him a "good afternoon" in return and wove herself between the candy and chip aisles to the back where the cold drinks were kept in big refrigerated shelves behind heavy glass doors.

Georgia took a few seconds to appreciate the cold gust of wind that washed over her as she opened one of the doors before reaching in and grabbing a bottle of Coke. She pressed the plastic bottle against her forehead as she shuffled to the front, where Mister Paul was looking at her with a big grin. The old man had been running the Conoco for as long as Georgia could remember, and his stark white hair, wrinkled face and three-toothed mouth hadn't changed at all in that time.

"'Nother scorcher out there, I see," the old man said as he tapped Georgia's purchase into the register. It pinged and the drawer slid open.

Georgia handed over her dollar bill and sighed, "It's really bad," she twisted the cap off the soda and took a deep drink. The chill it brought crept pleasantly down her throat and into her stomach. "Who, uh," she looked over her shoulder towards the door, "Who was that guy that was in here just before I got in? I didn't recognize him…"

Mister Paul frowned and leaned on the countertop, which was slightly raised. With his beady eyes narrowed he said, in almost a conspiratorial whisper, "Gov'ment man, I think, and a rude sonuva gun, too. Asked me about that pointy house halfway 'tween here an' yer farm…"

The mention of that house gave a shock of surprise to the girl, "Really? I…I didn't even know anyone lived there."

Mister Paul shrugged, straightening. Georgia noticed the brief flash of pain shoot across his face as he stretched his back, "Reckon someone has to be, eh? See smoke comin' out of those chimney's from time to time. Though I'd thought it to be abandoned long before you or yer brother was born."

Georgia wanted to ask a follow up question, but she knew it would be useless. Indeed, the "pointy house" held a lot of mystery to Georgia Larson, but in her eighteen years she had never been able to get anyone to tell her about it. She only knew that something very bad had happened there before even her brother Jake was born, and he was twenty five years old last January. The back of her skull was all a-tingle now, as it always became when she was presented with some kind of mystery. And the mystery of the "pointy house" was one that she had been wondering about for her entire life.

She thanks Mister Paul for the soda and left the gas station. She stopped at the precipice between the parking lot and the dirt road and bent down to pick up the discarded cigarette pack wrapping. "…fucker," she muttered under her breath, stuffing the wrapping into her pocket.

Georgia finished the soda not long after she set off from the gas station, putting the empty bottle into her backpack to discard later. It was another mile down this road to the farm, and in the interim she had texted her mother she was going to be a bit late getting home because of a "detour" to Lita's house. She then texted Lita to ask her to cover for her "just in case," and her friend readily agreed, not prying into the reasons why.

That reason why, of course, was the "pointy house." A half mile down the dirt road a sudden cluster of tree sprung up in the middle of the otherwise empty, flat plains. A paved road jutted to the left off the dirt road and went into the trees, where the mysterious house waited ominously. As Georgia stood at the beginning of the pavement, she looked down to see the smoldering remains of a mostly-used cigarette. The frown returned to her face.

One foot stepped onto the paved road before her whole body stopped. It was a strange, and entirely new, feeling for the girl, to have her brain and body in such strong opposition to one another. Her muscles told her to stop here, to turn and run home, but the voice in her brain-one of unmistakable "logic"-spat and cursed at the cowardice of her body. She'd gone into the woods to look at the pointy house dozens of times since she was a kid, why should now be any different?

Because you're going to do more than just look, her body protested.

So? Maybe I'll just go up to a window or something, no harm in that, her brain shot back.

In the end, her body relented and she found herself halfway to the trees before she could think clearly again.

The shade brought by these trees felt different than the ones near the school. There was a welcoming respite from the heat, but also a feeling of disgust, of wrongness. It was like an old fear of the dark resurfacing inside of her mind. But Georgia pushed on.

The trees parted in a wide circle around the pointy house. A ten foot brick wall with an iron gate stood between Georgia and the house now. She slipped off her backpack, putting it behind a tree that stood a good ten feet from the gate, and instinctively crouched low to the ground as she approached the black iron construct. She felt silly, but couldn't bring herself to stand up.

She pressed up against the tan brick wall and peered around through the bars and was struck by the sight of the blue car from the gas station in the driveway. The man in the suit was here. Georgia couldn't recall ever having seen anyone visit the pointy house, or even having seen anything in the driveway in the first place. But there the blue car was, and the garage door was open.

Inside the garage was one of those gigantic classic cars that was the stereotype tank of a vehicle one would associate with the 1950s. It was even colored candy red and stark white like in all the pictures and ads. Some kind of Cadillac, she thought it was. It looked to never have been driven, like the blue car it was clean and free of the marks of country life. The question of the hour was how long had it been in there? Even if it was rarely used the stresses of time alone should have given it some signs of distress, but there were none. The car looked untouched.

Georgia looked up through the bars at the house, and it stared right back at her, as it always did, with its multitude of tall, rectangular window-eyes. The wide front door had always seemed like a mouth, but the open garage now took away from that image. Even if the garage now reminded her of some kind of open head wound, or a tumor even. Both images sent unpleasant chills down her spine.

This newly presented information was too much to resist. She had to get closer now. A quick study of the gate showed that there were pegs in regular intervals along the bottom that stuck into tiny holes in the pavement. One could simply lift the gate and move it aside. But just from leaning against the thing, Georgia could tell it would be too heavy for to do alone, and that's when she noticed that the bars of the gate weren't quite as close together as she had once thought.

Experimenting, Georgia turned herself sideways, sucked in a deep breath and found that she could easily slip through the gap between the two innermost bars. She popped out on the other side with a sigh of relief, looking back to the tree where she had left her backpack. The shade from the trees seemed darker then, but she didn't think too much of it.

Then she realized she still had her phone in her back pocket. She reached back and pulled it out, looking down to the screen and noticing that there was no signal. Which was strange. There was a cell tower on the back southwestern edge of the Larson property, built nearly a decade ago. But somehow it wasn't reaching inside this circle of trees? Strange, she knew, but again she thought little of it. But still, she silenced her phone anyway before pocketing it.

The pointy house with its yellow-tan walls and dark black tiled roof towered over her like the parapets of a castle. All along the roof, in varying shapes and sizes, stuck up steel pipes. Others had claimed to see smoke coming from these things but Georgia had never seen it herself, not even in the winter. The house seemed to gape at her as she stood at the gate, aghast at her audacity in coming into its realm. But this "forbidden" area seemed normal enough. The ground felt solid beneath her feet, the air smelled alright (tinged with hints of smoke and car exhaust). A stray, lone cloud passed over the sun, casting its shadow along the entire area. Georgia looked down to see the entire yard was long dead, patches of yellow grass sprouting amongst the dirt and rocks. Against the front of the house, near the ground, was a broken waterspout encased in spider webs, if there was a hose to go along with it, it was long gone. Long dead bushes lined the front of the house, interrupted by a two-step porch leading up to the mouth—the front door. On the far side of the porch, Georgia saw peaking above the edge the remains of a small birdbath that was half missing the bowl. For some reason, looking at it made her feel a bit sad.

The ground floor windows were much wider than the second and third floor counterparts, but still in that strangely immaculate state. Two wooden bars made a cross in the middle of the windows, like pupils, and the inside of the house was hidden by a curtains.

Georgia slowly sauntered forward, first letting her right hand brush against the back bumper of the blue car then bringing up her fingers to dance lightly along its side all the way up to the hood. It was still hot. She looked into the window and saw that the briefcase was gone, replaced by an open pack of cigarettes. A few of the cancer sticks had spilled out onto the leather seat.

A heavy thumping noise from her left, inside the garage, snapped her attention back to reality. She jumped and almost let out a cry of surprise, barely managing to suppress it with a hand over her mouth. The shadows inside the garage seemed to fight against the sunlight, which at this time of day should have at least shown inside the building a tiny bit.

Georgia gazed into the darkness at the ancient Cadillac, with its ruby red body and pearl white covering. She wanted to touch it as she had the blue car. She stalked towards it, but again found her body refusing to obey just before she stepped into the shadow. Her arm was up, fingers outstretched into the darkness. She jerked her hand away without even fully knowing why it was important for her to do so.

No, her inside voice insisted, and this time she didn't contradict it. Georgia took two steps back, eye still locked on the car and the darkness it sat within. She backed up until her right leg and hip came in contact with the burning chrome of the blue car. She spun, almost falling over, into the grass—which was dead and yellow beneath her feet.

She was about to catch her balance when the thud from deep in the bowels of the house came again, sending her flat onto her ass. The ground was hard and nearly caused her to bite her tongue as she landed. She sat, trying to gather herself, but the thudding continued, getting closer and louder. Now Georgia was awash in panic. She leapt to her feet, nearly losing her balance again, and scrambled towards the gate. In went the breath, she turned sideways and…couldn't fit through the bars. Even in the same spot, the passage was too narrow for her thin frame. She could only look in disbelief.

In the corner of her vision, to her right, stood a half dead bush against the wall on the far end of the yard. She rushed to it, practically diving into the prickly pile of twisted branches and dead leaves. That was when the front door opened, slowly with hinges creaking loudly.

From the darkness came one of the tallest, fattest men Georgia had ever seen in her life. He was easily seven feet tall, and had to be at least six hundred pounds, and he wore no shirt, but something akin to an apron that could barely contain his massive belly beneath its stained cloth. He was also wearing a large, droopy sunhat that obscured most of his face. But Georgia could see twisted, dried lips beneath the floppy edges. Lips that worked soundlessly as the fat man mumbled incoherently to himself as he lumbered down the unnecessarily twisty brink path from the front porch to the driveway. He stopped halfway down the path, raising his head up and smelling the air like a wild animal. Georgia could hear his wet, phlegmy sniffs. The sound made her sick to her stomach. Seconds ticked by like hours before the fat man, satisfied, continued his slow walk to the driveway and the blue car.

Georgia sat as still as she possibly could, every muscle in her body screaming in agony, but the ones in her legs being particularly loud and insistent. Flee! Flee! They roared at her. But she remained.

She watched with wide eyes as the fat man maneuvered himself behind the blue car and bent over to get his thick, sweaty fingers hooked under the bumper. With a groan, the fat man lifted the backend of the car from the ground and began to push it forward. Into the garage.

Georgia swore there wasn't room for another car in there, but at the same time she couldn't quite remember if the Cadillac had taken up the entire space. A fog descended on her memory, frustrating and confounding her. She had just been looking into it.

The sound of the fat man letting out a wheezing breath and dropping the blue car brought her attention back. The fat man lifted the sunhat a bit and wiped a hand across his face, which was turned just so Georgia couldn't see it, and then stepped into the shadows. The door began to slowly come down a second later, the inner mechanism chugging and clunking loudly.

Georgia sinks into a crouching position, wrapping her arms around her legs and closing her eyes. Anxiety tugs at her, exacerbating her indecision. That man is in the house somewhere, inside that house that is calling to her. The lingering stench of sweat and something Georgia can't place lingers in the area where he had walked. It's sour and makes the girl want to puke.

It was then Georgia realized she really had to pee.

Georgia relieved herself behind the bush, stepping out afterwards, still staring at the now closed garage. In her peripheral, the front door moved a bit to reveal it was still open, a yawning portal into darkness, calling to her. So she went.

The two steps up the porch felt to Georgia like climbing the steps up to the electric chair. She didn't want to go, but she also had no say in the matter. The door opened a bit more for her and her nose was assaulted by the stench of dirty, stale air. She covered her nose and mouth with the front of her shirt and pushed the door open to step inside.

Inside, she found herself standing in a mini-foyer. To her left was a little, intricately carved bench with birds carved in midflight on the back. A tiny end table with an empty candle holder sitting upon it was at the end of the bench. To her right was a little dip in the wood, like little cubbyholes. She leaned in and saw one of the six grooves held a pair of shoes.

In front of her a hallway stretched thirty feet to a wide open room, and fifteen feet down this hallway two rooms split off to either side. She walked to this crossroads.

To the left was a living room of some kind. There was a fireplace in the opposite wall, and against the windows in the front was a couch missing its cushions and its back looking like it was torn open with a knife. A single leather recliner in a similar state of disrepair like the couch sat in the right side of the room, facing the fireplace. A pile of old newspapers sat next to the recliner, piled haphazardly, the words long faded into obscurity. There is an empty spot to the right of the fireplace, perhaps where a television had once been, but now is only home to a pile of trash-food wrappers, empty bottles of both glass and plastic, and shredded, discarded clothing.

The right passage led to a dining room. A long table with eight chairs around it was the centerpiece for the room. Each piece of the set covered in thick layers of dust, with more broken candle holders in the middle of the table. A china cabinet sat up against the wall, completely empty, the doors-and the contents within-removed long ago.

As Georgia studied the dining room a sudden pulse of pain shot through her skull, causing her to fall to her knees. Her breath caught in her chest, she struggled to breathe as the world around her turned into a whirling blur. She was jerked back into reality when there came from behind her the light sound of children giggling. She stood slowly, trembling, and found herself facing a restored version of the living room she had seen only seconds before. There was a blazing fire in the fireplace, she could feel its heat. A string of snowflakes cut from paper was strewn across the hearth, with three little stockings stuck up evenly across it as well. But the names were too faded for Georgia to read. The curtains had been peeled back from the window, revealing a snowy landscape outside. On the couch sat a man with a bushy moustache surrounded on either side by women wearing long dresses. Their lips moved silently, and one woman laughed. The two women looked similar, one several years older than the other. The older woman had her hand on the moustache man's leg.

Three children were sitting in front of the recliner, staring up in wonder at a bald old man with a very Santa Claus-like beard and wearing a plaid, long-sleeve shirt reading from a thick book with an intricately designed cover emblazoned with the image of the shadow of a sleigh drawn by tiny reindeer shooting across the face of the glowing moon. The old man raised a hand and waved it back and forth, eyes darting across the pages of the book rapidly. The children clapped at whatever it was he was saying, the tiniest one clapping a hand over her mouth to stifle a giggle fit. Behind them was a very large, very old looking television—a big screen set in wooden frame, with a panel open on the left side, exposing dials and switches. It looked similar to the kind Georgia's grandparents used to have. Placed on top of the TV, with a handmade white, frilly doily under it, was the Nativity made out with little porcelain figurines.

The whole scene drew a smile to Georgia's face and she found herself stepping deeper into the living room. But none of the figures, which she saw now were slightly translucent, showed any signs of having seen her.

She reached out as if to touch the old man on the shoulder when suddenly everyone in the room was looking in her direction. She felt their gaze and for some reason it made her want to cry out in pain and terror. They gazed past her, through her, to something in the doorway. The two boys and little girl began to scream, their mouths open wide. The old man dropped the book from his lap and was beginning to stand. Georgia shut her eyes.

When she opened them again, they were gone and she was standing in the dilapidated living room alone once more. But she turned to see a yellow light coming from the dining room.

The vision that greeted her was quite the sight to behold. More of the string-snowflake decorations lined the top of the room, going all around. On the china cabinet was a cadre of paper cutouts: a joyful, red-cheeked Santa in his sleigh, candy canes, Christmas Trees and of a head-bowed, arms spread in welcome Jesus with brightly glowing yellow halo. Spread out across the restored table was a Christmas dinner that could have rivaled the one her giant family had every year. Roast turkey and ham, stuffing and mashed potatoes with steaming gravy, cranberries and all kinds of vegetables. There was no smell, but Georgia felt her stomach grumbling just the same.

Shining china plates and silverware sat untouched around the food, and it was here that Georgia noticed something was off. Only seven of the eight places were set. The chair closest to the corner farthest away from her was empty. Unprepared. Something about that empty spot put a sinking feeling into her guts that swelled as she stared at it.

Then, in a blink, it was gone. Her head ached once more, causing her to closer her eyes and try to will the pain away. She still felt like she couldn't leave yet.

Georgia sighed, walking around the table and into the open doorway that lead into the kitchen. There were no appliances there, big empty spaces where a fridge no doubt once stood. Even the place where the oven was supposed to be was empty, old wires and tubes sticking out haphazardly from the floor and wall. The green and white checkered linoleum was warped and twisted with age. And there was a screen door next to the sink area.

Georgia gingerly pulled open the screen door, the hinges squealing as she did so. This lead out into the garage, where she noted there was indeed room enough for the Cadillac and the blue car. The fat man had been through here. Then another realization struck her. That man had been far too large to fit through this tiny doorway. She stumbled back into a cabinet, nearly hitting her head on the one hanging from the ceiling.

A blue, transparent hand came over hers. Georgia turned slowly to see the older woman from the couch standing there, leaning heavily against the cabinet with a cigarette in her mouth and a look of despair on her face. Spread out in front of her was what Georgia recognized from her own father's slaughter house as the remains of a half prepared pig. In fact, to her even greater surprise, she saw a familiar branding mark on one of the vivisected swine's legs—an "L" in a circle. The mark of the Larson farm. The woman stared blankly at the wall as ashes from her cigarette fell into the gutted animal, which had two very sharp looking knives sticking out of it. Her permed hair looked disheveled and her face told a story of tiring, unending work.

Now the kitchen was filled with appliances. The oven was back, and so was the refrigerator. In fact, there were two of them, facing each other from opposite ends of the kitchen. Multiple microwaves and can openers lined the counter tops, and the big steel coated sink basin (which looked large enough to bathe a small child) looked good as new.

The moustache man shifted against the frame of the doorway to the dining room, staring at the smoking woman's back with his own look of distaste. He mouthed something to the woman, who turned and shook her head, motioning to the pig with an open hand then tapping her wrist as if she were wearing a watch.

The man's face twisted in anger, lips curling back to show teeth. He spoke again, this time his voice—deep and hollow-reached Georgia's ears. "If we don't feed him," the man said, sounding both far away and very close at the same time, "he'll start acting up again. You gonna be the one to explain it to the boy this time?"

"We have to do something," the woman said, her voice was gravelly from the years of smoking, "It's getting out of control, we won't be able to keep this up with just your paycheck and my dad's Social Security…"

They both looked down at some unheard sound. Georgia followed their gaze but quickly looked up to see them gone, leaving her alone again.

Georgia moved out into the hall again, intending to see what was at the end of it, but she was instead greeted by the ghostly images of the three children, huddled around a door that came just before the end of the hall. The two boys and girl huddled close together, like thieves in the night, whispering amongst themselves, again not acknowledging Georgia when she got close.

She leaned in and heard the older boy say, "What's he do down there all day?"

"I 'unno," said the younger boy, hands deep in his pockets, gaze focused on the shaggy carpeting. "He never comes up during the day."

The little girl, who Georgia estimated to be around six years old, was sucking her thumb with a worried look on her face. She clutched a ragged teddy bear in the crux of one arm. She stared at the door with untrusting eyes.

The older boy sighed, "How can you not know? He lives here, and he's your uncle!"

The younger boy replied in an annoyed tone, "I'm not allowed to go down there, and Mom doesn't like talking about Uncle-," but as he said his uncle's name, Georgia heard another sound, like a swarm of flies buzzing right in her ears.

She yelped and clapped her hands over her ears, and the children turned to look at her. Their eyes had turned into black pools and their mouths were hanging open, far too wide for such small children, and overflowing with a substance as black as their eyes. Georgia cried out again and turned to flee.

Standing almost right against her was the old man. His face looked tired, the lines and wrinkles in his face far more pronounced than they had been the first time Georgia saw him. Heavy bags darkened his eyes, and he was trembling ever so slightly. He raised one skeletal hand to the end of the hallway behind Georgia. When the girl didn't move, the old man took one step towards her. That did it, she turned on her heels (noting the absence of the children) and scurried into the tiny alcove that was the end of the hallway. All that was there was a stairway leading upwards. She turned and the old man was still standing there, head dipped down and to the side, but his sad eyes still staring at her.

So up the narrow staircase she went. She was greeted at the top by a single open door with a rays of sunshine spilling out into the hall. It was the only open door, and the only accessible one. A pile of detritus reaching all the way to the ceiling blocked whatever was beyond this single access point. Not know what else to do, Georgia entered.

Her eyes forced themselves shut from the brightness. The room was warm, like it was outside, and the air was filled with a horrible aroma Georgia was familiar with: blood. She slowly opened her eyes, vision clearing, to find herself standing in what was once a bedroom. The only hint to that effect being a stained mattress sitting against the wall under the window. Piles of trash stood tall on either side of her, various dark stains covering most of the floor. Something was written on the shining window, something that hadn't been visible from the outside.

It was written in some dark substance, long dried. "H-U-N-C." The letters were scrawled in very childlike writing. Her heart is beating like a drum between her ears now, threatening to leap right out of her chest. Then something brushes up against her leg.

A piece of trash had fallen from the pile to her left and rolled along into her. Slowly, reluctantly, she leans down to pick it up. The paper is moist in her hands, but she still manages to unfold it without it falling apart.

More words are written on the paper in black ink in a similar hand to the writing on the window.

"SO HUNGRY," it reads, "EAT. FULL. HUNGRY AGAIN."

For some reason Georgia's hands are shaking. The trembling gets so bad she drops the paper and it lands face down between her feet, revealing something she hadn't seen when she first picked it up.

Numbers are scrawled on the back of the paper. "1000000000000066600000000000001" is written again and again and again, in varying sizes. Georgia's eyes are drawn to the numbers in the middle, but looking at the thing as a whole makes the backs of her eyes hurt, like she's been looking too closely at fluorescent lights for too long without blinking. She kicked the paper away and rubbed her eyes until the pain faded.

Georgia began to back out of the room before opening her eyes again and she bumped into something solid. Something cold and wet. When her vision returned nothing was there. But when she stood for a moment, in the silence, and concentrated she could hear a faint breathing from behind the pile of trash that blocked the rest of the corridor. She peaked around the doorframe and saw that the trash was visibly pulsating in and out, slowly, like some massive living thing was trapped beneath it all.

The sound grew louder and the trash pile began to shake, causing debris to roll down it and in Georgia's direction. She leapt out into the hallway and headed for the stairs, not looking back as something shifted and belched beneath the trash pile.

Georgia nearly fell on her face as she reached the bottom of the stairs, leaning heavily on the railing for support as she gasped for breath. The upstairs was silent once more but she didn't want to go back up and check what exactly it was that emerged from the garbage. Right away her eyes went to the door where the children had been, and she saw that it was open. Not inwards like one would expect, but outwards into the hallway.

Georgia knew what was expected of her, but she couldn't do it. She began to weep silently, crying out in her mind for her mother, for her father. Even to her older brother, Jake. He would always chase the monsters under her bed, or in her closet, away when she was little. But, of course, nothing came. Nothing happened. She was alone, only having herself to rely upon.

A worn path along the carpet looped away from the door into the hallway and into a narrow corridor beside the stairs. Georgia decided to follow it instead. Wherever it lead, it had been a very long time since anyone used it, cobwebs were strewn across Georgia's path, thick like dense brush in a forest. She pushed through, thankful that the creators of these webs were nowhere to be seen.

Georgia found herself standing in a room with an old machine. There was a massive hole in the middle, and the top gave evidence of a panel of some kind that had long ago lost the dials that were once there. She was, however, able to make out a single faded word along the top of the panel. "Whirlpool."

But that didn't hold her attention for long. From a small slit near the ceiling came a thin beam of light. Another door, its window covered with a thick cloth that had been nailed to the walls to block out the sunlight. Georgia tore it down, pulling hard enough to rip the cloth from the nails, but the material was so weak already that it didn't pull the nails out with it. Georgia found herself bathed in the warm sunlight of the late afternoon sun, filtered through the canopy of the circle of trees. She reached for the doorknob and…

It was locked. The knob didn't budge an inch no matter how hard she turned it. She sputtered in a mixture of anger and fear as her palm eventually grew too sweaty to even grip the brass knob anymore. She let out a whimper and threw herself weakly against the door, pressing her face up against the glass.

Outside she could see the wall that encompassed the estate. It taunted her with freedom. With a running start she could easily scale the wall. If only she could get outside. But the door. The door! Four inches of steel-strength wood and a couple of rusty latches were all that stood between her and freedom.

A thick, calloused hand fell on her shoulder, and she turned, greeted by a figure she had been expecting. The old man. Only now there was a massive wound going across his chest, from shoulder to hip. A terrible gash. It was pitch black inside the wound, Georgia was thankful for that. He looked at her with his sad eyes and stepped aside for her to go back the way she came.

"I can't," Georgia whimpers, quivering like a trapped animal. "I can't, I can't, I can't…" she clenches her eyes shut and tries to make herself small.

A low rumble cuts off her crying. The whole house shakes and shudders, sending dust from the ceiling and nearby shelves raining down upon her. Georgia looks up to see the old man has vanished. Something heavy is picked up and dropped beneath her feet, causing her to jump up.

You have to, Georgia's inside voice says. You have to do the hardest part yourself. And she knows she does.

The house seemed darker by the time she returned to the outwards opening door, which seems to have opened even more since she last saw it. Squeezing around it while trying not to touch it, Georgia's nose is assaulted with the saturated smell of blood in the air. Barely able to keep herself from vomiting, Georgia leaned forward through the doorframe and found a rickety wooden staircase leading down into darkness with a tiny orange light at the bottom. It seemed so far away to the girl, but she swallowed her fear and began her decent.

The railing she grasped for support rattled under her weight and each step she took amplified her fear that it's going to give out and she's going to tumble the rest of the way down. She's so concerned with going down that she doesn't register the door is closing until she hears the latch click. No turning back now.

When her feet finally find purchase on solid ground she lets out a great sigh of relief, even as the creepy orange light spills out around her. She begins to head for it but is stopped almost right away as she steps on something hard. She looks down to a lone shoe beneath her foot. She steps off of it and leans down to look without touching. It looks like some kind of fancy footwear and she is about to pick it up when she sees the orange light reflect off of something shiny. She turns her head and almost screams as she sees a badly mutilated corpse in an all too familiar looking business suit lying crumpled in a pile of discarded, indistinguishable meat.

She recognizes the man in the suit from the gas station right away. Even if his head is nowhere to be seen and his entire torso has been split open by a nasty blade. Something from the room with the orange light moves, slithers almost, and causes her to stop herself from actually screaming.

Up to the edge of the doorway she creeps, almost in a crouch, and she peeks around the edge to see that the orange light room is what she had feared it to be. The floor turns from wood to white tiles, and slopes gently down in several places throughout to large drains. From the ceiling, hanging from hooks, are varying types of meat. Some she recognizes as cattle and pig but others…just make her stomach sick from looking at them.

Something massive moves among the hanging, swaying meat monoliths. The fat man. His bulbous, misshapen head no longer obscured by the goofy sunhat, he is more horrific than Georgia could have imagined. His eyes are massive, milky orbs that are too big for his face, and he has no nose to speak of, only a hole where one should have been. His thin lips are stretched thin over black and yellow rotting teeth of varying shapes and sizes. He can't quite seem to close his mouth all the way.

Clutched in one meaty hand was a cleaver that was one of the largest of its kind Georgia had ever seen, and in his other hand was a chain, wrapped around his bulky wrist. The chain snaked down and around his arm, and the end was securely hooked into a still bleeding hunk of red meat. The fat man, with a grunt of effort, hoisted the meat onto an unseen table and began to chop and cut, his entire body jumping and jiggling with each swing. She feels like fainting but fights against it, surveying the room with all the concentration her brain will allow. Through the pillars of meat she sees another door, this one with a red light coming from it.

Georgia takes a deep breath and slips into the room, right away almost hitting her head on something sticking out over the edge of the butchering table. She stands, keeping an eye on the fat man, and sees that it is the briefcase from the blue car. It sits open, blood stained papers splayed out all over. A business card sits on top of the pile, a single blood fingerprint in the middle.

"Chris Callum," it reads, "Wright County Collector's Office." So he was a gov'ment man. Georgia drops the card back into the case and crouches again.

The fat man is concentrating hard on the piece of meat he has up on the table so Georgia slips out and to the first rime-covered carcass, a cow she thinks. Thankfully the open side is facing away from her so she can stand without fear. She moves in concert with the fat man's chopping. With each thud, she moves to another meat pillar. She avoids the ones that look…mysterious. She keeps her eyes on the ground, making sure to avoid the wetter looking spots.

The red light door is in her sights. Only a couple more jumps and she'll be home free. But then she notices something. The room has gone quiet. No more thumping or grunting. The meat slab she is hiding behind violently crashes into her, the impact knocking the breath from her lungs and sending her flying across and sliding across the slick floor. She rolls over a drain, tearing a hole in the left knee of her jeans and cutting up her skin. She can no longer hold it in, a wail of pain escaping her lips.

"Thought I smelled something," comes a dripping voice from where she had been standing.

THUD

THUD

THUD

The fat man stomps into view, brandishing his cleaver with a malicious, twisted smile. Now Georgia has a very clear view of him. His apron is gone, revealing a massive belly with a single large scar across the middle. His eyes are indeed milky, but there is a dark blue stain in the middle of each. Thick strands of drool slowly drip from the corners of his mouth, his teeth looking more like tusks now.

"Fresh meat two times in a single day," he slobbers, "Lucky me." He takes a small step (for him) towards the girl, sending her screaming and flailing away to try and hide behind another slab of meat. He gurgles, a horrible kind of laughing, "But you…no, you won't hardly make a meal. And that other fella…in his fancy suit…had lungs near black as coal…ain't gonna get much good outta him either." A thick, sickly pink tongue snakes out from between his teeth and drags itself back and forth across his cracked lips. "We're so hungry," he growls, "So very hungry." He takes another step that sends Georgia screaming madly towards the red light. "Oh no you don't, girl!" The fat man laughs, picking up his pace, which is still comparable to a slug.

Georgia flies into the red room, realizing a bit too late that this is where the meat the fat man is preparing for consumption is held. All around her are piles of meat in different states of decay. Some visibly infested with wriggling maggots. Some look to have had enormous chunks ripped out of them by something with razor sharp teeth.

Through the piles of offal is a thin path that snakes to a deep staircase that leads up to a pair of wooden double doors. This is where she needs to go.

The fat man's silhouette fills the doorway as she scrambles to try and not fall into a meat pile. The fat man just moves forward, the meat pushed aside by his girth as he moves. He's laughing.

Georgia reaches the stairs and flies up them, slamming into the doors hard. But they don't budge. She tries again, throwing her weight into it. But the doors barely move. Thrown into a deep pit of disbelief, Georgia grabs the steel handles and jerks the doors back and forth with all her might, but the doors just shake and rattle uselessly.

The fat man laughs even harder, and the sound is accompanied by a horrific ripping sound. It is a sound that makes Georgia even sicker to her stomach than she already was, because it is a sound she is familiar with. Images flash in her mind. Images of her father cutting open pigs and cows while she watches, explaining the process of cleaning the animal in preparation for the butchering of the meat. She continues to pull and push the doors as she affords herself a glance backwards at her pursuer.

She regrets it instantly, every ounce of strength leaving her body at once.

The man's belly has split open along the scar, revealing row upon row upon row of dagger like fangs with a thick and meaty tongue flopping around amidst them. Four whip-thin tendrils sprout from the black hole of a throat in the back of the fat man's belly. They flail around wildly, reaching out to pieces of meat sitting along the floor and scooping them into the dripping maw. The fat man slowly approaches Georgia, throwing his arms wide open in a welcoming gesture. In a single blink his eyes go from milky white and blue to a pure blood red, with streams of crimson liquid overflowing his eyelids and pouring down his sweaty, waxen face.

Georgia screams so loud, so hard, that her vocal chords give out seconds later, her voice trailing off to a weak, scratching wheeze. Prickling, tearing pain fills her throat but she can't stop herself. Spittle flies from her open mouth as she gasp-screams.

The fat man is almost at the bottom of the stairs now, proceeded by an air so foul that it breaks down the last of Georgia's ability to keep the contents of her stomach to herself. She vomits harder than she ever has before in her life, spraying the front of her shirt and the stairs just below her with a half-digested, chunky brown and yellow mixture.

The fat man finds this particularly hilarious, halting his advance to throw back his head and laugh. The laughter doesn't just come from the mouth on his face, but also the one in his belly. He turns away from her and moves to one side, out of her sight. Not a second later he returns holding a long, green hose with a yellow plastic nozzle attached to the end. He twists the end of the nozzle and squeezes the trigger, sending freezing torrent of water all over the doors, steps and Georgia herself.

"DIRTY LITTLE PIGGY!" the fat man screams from his belly mouth. It sounds like tires scraping against gravel, as heard from someone underwater.

Georgia flails and gasps against the rushing water as it soaks her completely, somehow managing to hold onto the door handles with one hand without losing her footing. She coughs and gasps as the spraying water eventually dies away and the fat man throws the hose to the side.

"Now you get down here," the fat man warns. The muscles in his belly mouth contract and twitch as he talks through it, the throat dilating with each syllable. He stands at the bottom of the steps, leaving only twenty stairs between him and Georgia. "You will regret making me come up there."

The girl begins to weep openly, hiccupping and wailing as she tugs weakly at the closed doors.

Angry shouting from the behind the fat man interrupts their exchange. Hollow, echoing screams filled with rage. His eyebrows raised, the fat man begins the arduous task of turning around, but before he can get very far, familiar ghostly apparitions appear all around him in a whirl of white smoke and blue light.

Georgia regains control of her sobbing, watching with shock as the family from upstairs appear from the smoke and light. The two women seize that fat man's arms while the three children swarm over his back and shoulders, biting and tearing into his flesh. Tiny gashes appear where they bight, oozing blood and grey-yellow pus.

The old man appears on the stairs between the fat man and Georgia, the gash in his torso shining brightly. And beside Georgia the mustache man appears, pushing against the door, visible strain showing on his pale face. The door flies open, sending dust and wood splinters showering down upon Georgia, and she covers her face from the rush of sunlight. She feels her feet leave the ground and finds herself thrust upwards into the light.

The fat man roars in anger as the women and children bear down upon him and dig their spectral limbs into his quivering fat layers. Georgia catches a glimpse of the old man as the doors swing shut.

"Go," he mouths, and he smiles. It's a sad expression, but also one of satisfaction. The fat man's angry roars become mute and distant as the doors slam shut.

Georgia finds herself standing near the backdoor she had found earlier. She runs past the door and into the sprawling backyard. As it was with the front, every inch of ground here in the back is dead. Trees peak over the edges of the wall along the edges of the yard. A patio extends from the back of the house, and scattered all around it are black and rusted iron pieces of furniture. A couple of chairs and a wire-mesh table. In the middle of the patio is a well-used fire pit, filled with leftover ash from many years of use. Children's toys also litter the ground-wagons, melted action figures and dolls, and there's an empty sandbox near the giant oak tree in the back corner of the yard.

That oak tree is the only living thing in the backyard, and even then it looks sickly and dead. Its leaves were mostly gone and those that had the misfortune of sticking around had become brown and black. Georgia trots over to the tree, gazing up at it as she stretches her muscles in preparation. She is about to jump when she hears in the distance the loud cracking of wood…and the horrible roaring of the fat man.

In defiance of his size, the man comes bounding around the corner in great strides. His belly-mouth is wide open and slavering, literally foaming as the tendrils whip flail angrily from side to side. The mouth is open so wide that the fat man is practically bent backwards in half, his arms waving uselessly, his head entirely obscured from Georgia's sight.

She wants to collapse again, but the actions of the old man and his family give her new, reinvigorated confidence. She leaps straight up into the air, hands firmly grasping the lowest limb, which she quickly pulls herself on to. The limb sags under her, threatening to snap.

The fat man is nearly to the tree, she can hear his monstrous wheezing like buzz saws in her ears. She climbs the next limb, the one that would bring her freedom. As she steadies herself, clinging to it with her arms and legs to begin her crawling across it, the fat man rams into the tree with all his might, nearly knocking the girl from her perch.

"CATTLE!" He shouts, "MORSEL! MEAT! I WILL ROAST YOU LIKE A PIG!" He roars and shakes the tree, causing dead leaves and twigs to fall all around him. "GET YOUR ASS BACK DOWN HERE, GIRL!" His words drift into incoherent babbling and primordial screams.

But still Georgia persists, crawling along the limb, screaming in tandem with the fat man. She doesn't look at him. She can't. She know she'll lose her mind if she does. She focuses on the end, on the edge of the wall which is nearly within her grasp. The shaking jolts her from side to side but her focus overcomes it all. As she nears the end of the limb, it sags down to brush against the top of the wall. Seeing her chance, Georgia throws herself forward with all her remaining strength.

Time slows down. The fat man howls with rage as Georgia disappears over the top. His bleeding eyes meet her sparkling blue ones for a brief moment as she plunges out of sight.

Georgia hits the dirt hard enough to knock the air out of herself. She rolls along the ground, crushing dying strands of never-mowed grass beneath her body as she goes. She comes to a stop on her back, chest heaving up and down as she gasps for air.

The sun stands low in the empty blue sky, and from somewhere in the distance comes the creaking cry of unseen cicadas. That's when the realization hits Georgia. She can no longer hear the fat man. A cool breeze buffets her still damp skin and clothes. She sits up, a sharp pain in her lower back causing her to wince. The peaceful air is pregnant with tension as she eyes the wall warily.

A minute goes by. Nothing. Georgia forces herself up to her knees as the pain in her body fades to a dull pulse.

Something in her back pocket begins to vibrate urgently. She grasps clumsily and pulls her out her iPhone, somehow still in full working condition. She gapes as she receives a flood of text messages all at once. From her mother. Father. Jake. Even Lita. All of them asking the same things: is she okay? Where is she? Is she in trouble? She looks at the clock and sees that it has been almost three hour since she left school.

Georgia laughs and rests her face against the screen of her phone. It's the laughter of the tired and triumphant. Tears flow freely from her eyes, and she can't stop the snot coming from her nose. Laughter eventually turns to cries of tearful relief.

Then the wall explodes.

Shrapnel of all shapes and size fly around Georgia. She shields her face with her arms, dropping her phone. The debris cuts her bare arms, and tears her already ragged jeans up even more, leaving thin red lines all over her legs.

The fat man stands in the newly shaped hole, panting and slavering like a mad dog. From both mouths. "YOU CAN'T GET AWAY FROM ME!" he screams arms waving as he stomps his feet.

All the relief she was just feeling evaporates.

The fat man roars a challenge and takes his first step over the boundary of the now shattered wall. As he starts to take another, his whole body jerks and begins to shake. Georgia can see immeasurable pain register on his disfigured face.

"NO!" the fan man screams, and flames appear, sweeping up and down his legs and over his shoulders, down over his belly and to his legs and feet.

He flails and cries out, a pitiful wailing that sends chills up and down Georgia's spine. It's something she'll remember for the rest of her life.

Inside the belly-mouth, the teeth begin to fall out onto the ground, as the tongue begins to melt like a massive wax tube. The tentacles turn ashen grey and begin to disintegrate and flake away like ashes in the wind, while the black hole that is the throat begins to spew bile and other ungodly liquids.

"NO! NONONONONONONONONONO!" the fat man continues to wail, his voice growing distant and higher pitched as his strange arrangement of internal organs begin to fail and burn with the rest of him. His flesh sloughs off in chunks and sheets, exposing sizzling muscles beneath. His blood boiling and hissing into thin trails of white smoke as it hits the ground.

Georgia crawls straight backwards, trying not to look. Trying not to listen.

Somehow, through all this, the fat man continues his trek forward, each step becoming more difficult than the last. Whole pieces of his stark white skeleton are visible now as puddles of melted skin and muscle form in big puddles behind him. His eyes pop like balloons in his half exposed skull.

When his body finally falls, the fat man is almost entirely bones. And then even they begin to smoke and smolder. He goes completely still and his skull cracks with a violent CRRKK, spilling red and pink brain matter all over the grass. Then the rest of him explodes into a gout of bright orange and red flames. Black smoke rises from the mess, coiling into the sky to be blown away back towards the house.

Through that thick shroud of smoke, back in the yard of the pointy house, Georgia thinks she can see seven glowing figures standing in a line. They each raise a hand before being blown away with the smoke.

Georgia eventually manages to stand on her own. She stays in that one spot, though, staring up at the pointy house. The one mystery in her life she had never been able to figure out throughout her entire youth. With its multiple smoke stacks and dirty window-eyes, and its tumorous garage. Its trash laden guts. She stands there until every piece of the fat man has burned away with the fire, leaving only an amorphous shape burned into the grass and soil.

Georgia begins to turn away from the house, but something makes her cast one last glance upwards. She wishes she hadn't done it as she sees a shadow figure standing in one of the attic windows, staring down at her with wide, red eyes. It's thin and wiry, and it raises one claw-like hand to bang its palm against the glass in a grotesque "good-bye."

Her phone buzzes again, breaking her from her reverie. She picks it up from the ground and stares at the screen. It's her mother calling. She turns and flees from the house as she answers.