Just after sundown they emerge from out of the ground. There are eight of them, just as Merle said.
I stand with my gun drawn, waiting for them.
Who has the money? I ask.
One of them, a man, steps forward hesitantly. He tells me it’s in his pocket.
Then get it, I say. Slowly.
He reaches into his pocket, slowly, then pulls out the wad of bills. It doesn’t even look like a hundred bucks.
I take it and stuff it in my own pocket and motion with the gun for them to start walking.
A mile later we come to the van. I load them in, one at a time, and then shut the back. I pull a heavy-duty lock from my pocket and place it on the door. I can hear them inside, whispering to each other.
I drive ten miles before a sheriff’s cruiser pulls me over. I stop the van and then just sit there before Jacob walks up to my window.
How many? he asks.
I pull the wad of cash out of my pocket, hold it up for him to see.
That’s not much at all, he says.
No, it’s not.
That hardly even pays for your gas and time.
Tell me about it.
He looks off over the desert, toward the horizon that marks the border between our world and theirs. He nods once, touches the brim of his hat, then strolls back to his cruiser.
A half hour later I arrive at the cabin. Merle is waiting for me.
About time, she says when I get out of the van. She already has the shotgun out, cradled in the crook of her arm.
We go to the back and take off the lock and then open the doors. The eight of them stare back out at us.
Okay, I say, this is how we’re going to do this. One at a time. The faster you cooperate, the faster this will go.
One of them—a woman this time—says, Food?
I glance at Merle, smile, and then nod at the woman. Yes, food.
The first one to go is a man in his thirties. I keep my gun aimed at his back as I lead him toward the cabin. Before we get to the door I reach into my pocket, grip the switchblade, pull it out. I flick my wrist and there’s a sharp snick and this is what the man hears and turns and sees and before I know it he opens his mouth but I jab him in the throat with the knife and his eyes roll back and his body goes weightless and he falls to the ground.
Fuck, I mutter.
I drop the knife and pick him up but he’s heavier than he looks, now that he’s dead weight, and I get blood on my shirt as I drag him forward. I have to prop him on my knee as I open the door and then I have to drag him across the dilapidated boards toward the center of the cabin, where the locked trapdoor is located.
I undo the lock, grab the metal ring and pull the trapdoor open but the thing inside is already waiting and one of its tentacles reaches out and I have to slam the trapdoor back down, slam it hard, and the creature gives a kind of mewling noise that makes my brain want to explode.
Merle comes running in the cabin, asking what the fuck was that?
I think I hurt it, I say.
Here, help me.
She stands behind the trapdoor, her hand on the ring, and I position myself in front of it with the dead man in my arms.
I look at her and nod and she pulls the trapdoor open and one of those tentacles comes out and I push the man forward and the tentacle wraps around his legs and pulls him forward and then the body is gone down into the pit and Merle shuts the door and locks it.
When we get back outside the rest of them can be heard inside the back of the van. They’re crying and screaming and praying to a god that doesn’t exist.
I look at Merle and shake my head.
It’s going to be a long fucking night.
Robert Swartwood has always had a fondness for horror. In the seventh grade he was inspired to become a writer after reading Insomnia by Stephen King. Robert's work has appeared or is forthcoming in Chizine, Postscripts, Space and Time, elimae, Wigleaf, and The Los Angeles Review. His sf action novella The Silver Ring can be read for free at http://thesilverring.wordpress.com/