What a cluster-fuck, thought Officer Hammond as he crossed the threshold of the doorway into the machine shed. A drive out into the country to find an old man who'd worked himself to death in the July heat was one thing. But the smell coming in waves from inside the metal structure suggested a wild animal problem, and that was quite another thing entirely. He drew his pistol and moved forward.
Hammond couldn't call for backup. In a town the size of Cherry, he was the sheriff, the deputy, and the goddamn dog catcher. Besides, most of the town was already half-cocked at the Independence Day street dance. That meant yet another busy night, another holiday he'd have to miss.
The day's last light filtered through the small, rectangular windows spaced along the tin shed's long walls. Hammond's flashlight cut an alley of daylight through the spacious blackness that didn't reveal much--just some dusty cardboard boxes, broken lawn mowers and a few moldy straw bales.
A flash of green and red seared through the windows, followed a few seconds later by a loud crackling sound. The sun wasn't even down yet, but the good people of Cherry didn't waste any time when it came to celebrating the nation's birthday.
Before he left town, Hammond promised his son that this year would be different, that he'd be there this time to watch "the fire boomers." If he didn't get himself in gear, Davie would be crushed. Again. He decided to perform a quick sweep of the shed and then scoot his boots down the road. The heat in there had started to choke him out. And then there was that smell--the sickening sweet-and-sour of death and something underneath, like the lion cages at the zoo.
He stopped when he saw a human form on the floor a dozen feet in front of him.
"Well, shit," said Hammond as he approached the old man's corpse, which lay facedown in the dirt. Pools of blood flanked his midsection like like obscene wings. Kneeling down, he grabbed the body by the shoulder and wrenched it onto its back. What was left of Miles Brody's abdominal cavity reminded Hammond of the cattle mutilations he'd seen over the past few weeks. It was a growing problem nobody in Cherry wanted to acknowledge with more than threats toward the local coyote population. Whatever had disemboweled the old guy had also plucked his eyes out of the sockets and sliced off his nose, leaving only his mouth intact, which hung open in mute protest. Red and blue lights blossomed outside and glinted off the old man's teeth. Soft reports followed.
That monkey-house smell grew stronger still. Ragged breaths filled the air behind Hammond.
He barely had time to turn around before it was on him, ripping into his insides just the way it had done to Miles Brody. His only shot went wide before the thing reached one of its malformed limbs to knock the pistol away. Then the other hand fell to the ground, still clutching its flashlight. Thus disarmed, Hammond screamed and battered the creature's moist skin with his gushing stumps as the creature continued its deadly work. Wet sounds, like a serving spoon moving through his wife's famous macaroni salad (which she brought to the pot luck earlier in the afternoon), echoed off the shed's thin walls.
More colorful blossoms filled the shed's windows when the thing pinned him to the dry ground and brought its smooth, broad face up close to Hammond's. As he faded into oblivion, Hammond watched little stars--blue, green, red and yellow--cavort and dance deep within the thing's vast black eyes. I made it to the fire boomers, Davie, he thought. I made it this year.
Doug Murano lives somewhere in the wide-open spaces of the Great Plains. Before beginning work on his M.A. in English, he promised himself that he would make his living with the written word upon graduation. So far, so good. When he's not on the job, he composes dark little stories. During the last two years, he's even sold a few. Find a complete listing of his publications, and keep up with his latest shenanigans, at http://muranofiction.blogspot.com.