I would hate to see things end up this way.
Louis was doing good the other day, almost human-like still. So we walk out to Dr. Chin's to see what work he's got.
Says he'll give us forty if we take some bags of oats over to Aiyaz's mill. So we hitch up his horse and wagon, load it up. Folks'd always laugh at Chin for running horse and wagons like its old times. But now them folks can't afford the e'trics, and there's hardly a gas truck anywhere to be got by now. I guess Chin gets last laugh on that.
So Louis and I are going along with the wagon and Shirley, that's Chin's mare, the older one. And the road is bad. Gumbo and deep puddles all through, wherever it's not washed out. Rain finally came last week. So we're going along about an hour, and we get into one puddle so deep, the mud's up to Shirley's hocks and she won't move. Louis and me undo the harness and get alongside to encourage her.
Then I get that feeling up the back my neck, and my arms tense up. It's that smell what does it, like acid and sulpher, small at first like you'd hardly notice. But it's trouble every time. I point the ditch to Louis and say we got to get out, now. But you know it's already too late.
About a dozen of them arms shoot out the puddle about Shirley, black and skinny like oily cords. Grab her about the chest and loins and each leg, snapping around like bullwhips. A bunch of others grab Louis, and he's under and gone before I can lift a boot.
And Shirley's screaming, teeth all bared and eyes rolled back to the white, thrashing around on three broken legs flailing every which way. Chin's 20-gauge O/U's in back of the wagon so I do what's got to be done, and scramble onto the field beside the road.
And then after a minute there's a bubble out of the mud, and I'll never forget what comes up. It's Louis. Clawing his way up and out of the puddle to the edge of the road, using the one arm still on him, wailing and gasping. And the whole half of him below his hips is gone, just white bone shards jutting out where legs where. As the mud runs off, I see the slime-burns: not a stitch of clothes on him, and not a patch of skin either. He was ingested, lord only knows how he got out again. Turns his flayed head to me, moans in horror, his mouth wide open, and I notice mine is too.
Louis puts his arm up to plead for help. I give him the only help I got for it. My shot takes him in the nose, blows the rest all to pulp.
It's all over. I set there a long time, resting my nerves. Them tentacles slowly pull down what's left of Louis and the horse, for feeding I guess. After an hour, the acid smell's too much. I throw Chin's shotgun over my shoulder and start walking for home.
And the morning's getting on, but the chickadees are still out singing. I can hear them calling in the poplar rows still standing guard between these long-abandoned fields. Calling and calling, like they always had and always would, as if to say that everything's fine, can't you see? What a glorious morning!
I see there's english ivy climbing the poplar trunks. Not native to this area, an invasive species they used to say. They said it's a problem. But I ain't heard about that in a while.
I love how these stories of yours start out folksy and then suddenly wrench themselves into an otherwordly and horrific direction before finally settling back into the folksy modality again. Great work setting and then breaking expectations. Amazing stuff.