From the Fictober prompt list on Tumblr, Prompt 1: “It will be fun, trust me.”
Warnings: Horror, unseen monsters, implied violent death, Midwestern gothic
“You do realize that this is not my idea of how to have a good time on a Friday night?”
“So you’ve said, but you’re still here aren’t you?”
I was forced to grunt in acknowledgement as I followed Kevin up over the chain link fence. It was one thing to hop over the short fence between our yards but the one around the county fairgrounds was at least twice that height.
“Surprised there’s no barbed wire at the top,” I muttered, slinging a leg over.
“It’s the fair, not a prison,” Kevin jeered, already on the ground.
“Says you,” I jeered back, dropping the last few feet. I landed with an unfortunate jolt, but kept my balance.
“I’m the one who practically lives here during fair week,” he pointed out.
“Which, once again, begs the question of what we’re doing here now. You always say you’ve had enough by the time your 4-H events are done.”
“This is different!”
I followed him across the open field, the long grass dry and rustling now in early October. It did feel different, like this, with none of the booths or crowd I was used to from fair week, and only the permanent buildings taking up space. It was more open, yet the buildings seemed to loom somehow taller in the dark. With no lights on, only the dim light of the quarter moon lit our way.
“Seriously, Kev,” I said as we got near the office building. “What got you in such a hurry to do this now?” We both kind of liked sneaking into places we weren’t necessarily supposed to be, but Kevin had insisted that it had to be the fair tonight, even though there wasn’t anything to see here that we hadn’t seen before.
“Well, people said they were hearing weird noises, right?”
“People always say that. And I thought that was out in the fields?”
“Here too, though, I heard my mom saying on the phone. Thought it was time someone came to check it out, right?” He looked back over his shoulder to grin at me. “It will be fun, trust me.”
“I doubt it,” I muttered again, but sighed and resigned myself. If I was going to back out, I should have done it before we hopped the fence.
The office was closed and locked, as was the first exhibition building. We skirted both, avoiding the brighter open areas where someone driving by might notice us. The next big building was latched but not padlocked, so we eased the door open and snuck inside.
It was pitch black once we had closed the door behind us, but the tiny bit of light coming in from the night windows gradually showed nothing but empty concrete floor, probably the reason it was only latched shut in the first place.
Still, we inspected the place, quiet at first, but then more confidently as our eyes adjusted.
“This space is so different without all the stuff and people,” Kevin said, throwing his arms out in the middle of the floor. “And tonight, it’s all ours!”
He shouted the last two words, and the sound amplified strangely around us, tossed back by the empty metal walls in not-quite-echoes. It sent a weird feeling down my spine, so I grimaced at him.
Kevin laughed at me a little, but he didn’t shout again.
We finished that building quickly, and the moonlight outside seemed brighter as we came out the far doors. It made me feel weirdly exposed, all of a sudden, and I was the one who hustled ahead to the next building, one of the barns.
The barn was empty too, of course, all cleaned out but still full of the scent of straw and “large herbivore” that every barn I’ve ever been in has.
“Cow barn,” Kevin said, and I shrugged. He helped with the cows a lot at his aunt and uncle’s place, and spent a lot of his time in this building for 4-H when the fair was going. I wasn’t a farm kid or a 4-Her myself, and hadn’t really gone to the barns when I was hanging out with friends at the fair.
I ambled down the middle aisle as Kevin made sure to poke his head into each stall and behind all the equipment, still apparently looking for the source of the mysterious noises.
We got all the way through with no unexpected signs of life or signs of ghostly activity, or whatever it was we were looking for.
Kevin grinned in answer to my questioning look. “Horse barn next.”
He spoke the words as we were stepping back out into the space between buildings, and that weird shiver went down my spine again. Clouds had started to blow across the sky, already partly obscuring the moon. I rolled my shoulders, decided there was no way in hell I would admit that this place was starting to creep me out a little, and followed him into the next barn.
We followed the same procedure in this one, with the only difference being my hands clenched nervously in my pockets that Kevin definitely did not need to know about. It seemed too dark in here, somehow.
He was a few feet ahead of me peering into yet another obviously empty stall when something further into the building shifted.
Kevin and I froze, listening.
The hair on the back of my neck stood on end. That was not the silence of nothing there. That was the silence of something that wanted you to think there was nothing there.
Even as I thought this, I watched Kevin deliberately relax his shoulders, as if shaking off the scare. He turned toward me.
No, I thought, don’t—
“Come on, don’t tell me you’re scared of the da-”
A weird, scuff-clop cut him off, and suddenly his eyes were as wide as mine. Without another breath, we both bolted back the way we had come.
We didn’t stop to try and close the doors, just kept running. We ran straight away from all the barns by unspoken agreement, pausing finally among the little square of ‘historic’ buildings that sat in about the center of the fairgrounds, putting our backs to the wall of the little old farmhouse, trying to pant as silently as we could, and listening hard through the pounding blood in our ears.
All was quiet.
It was darker now, with the clouds fully covering the moon, but we both peered around and saw nothing, heard nothing.
“We’ll keep headed this way,” Kevin whispered directly in my ear, voice almost silent. “Make for the fence and get over before we head back around for our bikes.” I nodded, still panting, but the adrenaline was keeping me from feeling the fatigue just yet. Hopefully, whatever- whatever was in that barn couldn’t follow us over the fence. We could always flag down a passing car, too, probably, as soon as we were over, and come back for our bikes some other time.
We snuck around a couple more buildings, still listening hard, pausing again each time to listen. Nothing, nothing, and I was beginning to think that we had just scared ourselves half to death for nothing. The wind blowing in could have been blowing leaves across the floor deeper in the building, or maybe someone was here deliberately making noises to get people talking as a prank. It wouldn’t be the first time.
We both froze again, daring turn our heads only a scant inch to meet each other’s wide, terrified eyes.
It was like- like the step of a horse, but dragging weirdly. I swallowed against the sick feeling in my stomach, something in my brain revolted by the sound, by the wrongness of it.
It was behind us still.
“The fence!” Kevin mouthed, and I nodded. We both took a deep, silent breath, stepping away from the wall of this building—
Scuff-clop. Behind…and to the right.
There was more than one of them.
We bolted left, without any conscious thought, just trying to get away. I realized our mistake only after we had burst out onto the racetrack, past the grandstand and out onto the wide loop of dirt around the open field in the center.
There was nothing out here. No buildings, no cover.
And nothing ahead but the river.
We could still hear those awful, half-dragged footsteps, the sound and rhythm changing as they multiplied, hit the dirt, and picked up speed…
Kevin and I kept running. The river was our only hope at this point. We could swerve right and eventually reach a fence, but some part of my brain was telling me we wouldn’t make it, and kept my feet pointed dead ahead.
Unfortunately, Kevin gave into the temptation of the fence.
“No—!” I got out, but I didn’t have enough breath to shout, and it was already too late.
I’m not sure which was worse: his scream, or the way it cut off.
Don’t look, my brain told me. Don’t look.
My head was turning even as I thought the words, unable to heed what was undoubtedly very sound advice—
Then came the sound, as if someone took a horse’s scream and a howl and mixed them together into a broken, ear-piercing sound effect, except that it wasn’t in a movie but spilling from the throats of at least three of whatever it was back there.
I hadn’t realized that I could run any faster than I was already running. My eyes stayed glued dead ahead on the thin line of trees that separated the field from the river; I wasn’t sure my sanity was going to survive hearing that noise. It definitely wouldn’t survive seeing whatever had made it.
Something was still chasing me, I knew, but the riverbank was coming up fast, and I crashed through the bushes heedless of any pain, just barely missing a tree, and then I was over the edge and plunging into the dark cold water.
I came up gasping, feeling the current already carrying me away, but still nearly screamed in terror when that awful, shrieking cry was raised again right on the riverbank where I had jumped in. I half-choked myself swallowing my scream, but managed it by reminding myself that the thing was venting its frustration at losing me.
Managing to get a couple of good, deep breaths in, and still riding my adrenaline high, I got myself situated and began to swim as best I could, anything to help the current carry me away more quickly. I’d worry about the dam if I got that far.
Then there was a splash behind me.
I’m alive, and giving #Fictober19 a try! Might not manage every day, but this will be a good challenge for me, as I don’t feel I’m good at prompt-writing of this kind. Also testing out the horror-writing chops on at least some of them.