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Edward Harris walked into the barn to find another cow had been gutted during the night.
It was a cold March morning as he slumped down onto a square bale of hay and removed his hat, running his hands through the thinning grey hairs on the top of his head. He let out a sigh and after a deep breath he stood up and walked over to the cow. This would be the third time in as many weeks that he had woken up to find one of his cattle gutted.
He paced around the carcass examining the damage done and unsurprisingly it has been killed the same as all the others; slashed across the throat, deep and wide and then cut from just under its ribs to just before its udder…it was also completely devoid of its stomach and various other innards, just like the last two.
Edward slapped his hat on his knee and let out a quiet curse before he went back to the house to change into his overalls. Moving the carcasses to the woods behind the farm was messy work and he wasn’t about to stain his nicer jeans with cow blood again.
As he entered the house he glanced into the den and stopped.
He hadn’t set foot in there since Mary had passed.
For a long while he just stood staring into the room, as if it were miles away. He regarded the knitting needles she left on her side table with an indescribable sadness. Her glass was still there, stained with the remnants of sweet tea that once filled the cup. With a hollow pop, a single tear rolled down his cheek and landed squarely on the vamp of his work boot and jolted him out of his daze. Edward wiped his eyes and carried on upstairs to change his clothes.
By the time he had gotten back outside the temperature had dropped a good 5 degrees putting it well past comfortable working weather and Edward decided that after moving the carcass he would spend the rest of the day in the cellar organizing the left over winter provisions. Edward finagled the cow carcass onto a large flat board behind the barn, he then hooked it up to one of the horses – same as he had done with the others – and began dragging the corpse towards the back woods. The day had been brighter this morning but now the wind was picking up and by the time he had finished prepping the saddle, board, straps and rope, the air had dropped another two or three degrees and the sky had darkened in anticipation of the storm soon to come.
Edward popped his collar and continued across the barren fields towards the tree line at a steady pace, looking back every so often to make sure the carcass didn’t slide off the board attached to the back of the horse. After a few gusts of wind he thought on the carcass and what animal had been killing his cows, he thought that Mary would have probably had some idea as to what did this, she was always clever with these things. It wasn’t long before he found his mind drifting back to the night Mary had passed and his heart ached again.
He recalled the doctor coming out of their shared bedroom shaking his head solemnly while he dabbed his large forehead with a monogrammed handkerchief.
“What?” Edward pressed the doctor with a lump in his throat.
“She’s sick Ed…and she’s not going to get better.” He said flatly, “She’s in pain and she’s going to die.”
“When?” Edward asked with tears swelling in his eyes.
“Soon, Ed. Tonight, maybe tomorrow morning…” The Doctor said, his eyes flashing to the floor.
Edward sat down in the chair outside his bedroom and cried softly into his hands.
The Doctor took a few steps down the hall to gather himself and after a deep breath Edward leaned forward. Looking through the crack in the door that the doctor had left he leaned forward to see his wife; tied to the bed where he had left her.
The scene in the bedroom painted out a horrid tableau depicting what could only be described as “hell on earth.” The sheets were stained with blood and human excrement and the walls were dark and wet with the humidity Mary’s thrashing body created. Her eyes were bloodshot and soulless as if her very being had been lost within the murky waters of her now blackened soul. Blood ran down her jaw forming a small crimson coloured pool on her chest, and lines were drawn down her chin from when she had bitten small pieces off of her tongue and spat them at Edward the day before. She laughed maniacally and screamed in between short, shallow breaths which gradually sped up as if she was running. Edward was sitting, staring through the crack in the door, one hand over his mouth and desperation in his eyes when Mary’s eyes met his. She smiled an evil, cancerous smile and spit towards the door, laughing when it only went a few inches and landed square on her pregnant belly.
“What about the baby, it’s nearly 9 months…” Edward said standing up shaking
The doctor walked back down the hall towards Edward, his own eyes red with tears from seeing the vision of hell he’d witnessed in the room moments earlier.
“It’s dead and if it isn’t she will kill it, Ed.” The doctor grabbed Edward by the shoulder, “This isn’t Mary, you need to know that. I don’t know what it is, but it isn’t human.”
Edward had arrived at the back of his lot.
The horse had stopped on its own without him realizing and he dismounted quickly. The wind had stopped for the time being but snow was starting to fall, coating everything in a thin white film like white washing a fence. He hadn’t had a good night’s sleep since Mary’s passing and he felt particularly weak getting down off the horse, but nonetheless the work needed to be done.
He stepped over his farmland’s boundary and removed the pegs of the fence in order to drag the carcass back into the trees. Within a few minutes he had detached the board form the horse and had begun dragging the board back into the woods.
The woods were still and quiet, with each step the snow crunched beneath his boots and eventually he arrived at the spot he had dropped the last two corpses.
The other cows would now be completely frozen and they were covered in snow. He slid the carcass onto the ground and scraped off the last bits of blood from the board using some snow and ice.
He stood amongst the three distinct piles before slowly turning his gaze to the portion of the woods he had been avoiding. In the direction he now faced lay the broken tree, the small stream and then…the Graveyard, the area in which he had buried his wife and unborn child last month.
The snow began to fall silently as he rubbed his eyes and turned back towards his horse, he did not wish to stand there reminiscing of the things he was without. He did not want to stand and think of the future he had lost, how the family he always wanted was within his reach just last month and how now…he would exit this world the same way he was brought in; alone and scared.
He carried the board out and attached it back to the horse before beginning to ride home, he did not wish to linger. The snow began falling faster and thicker now and the wind began to pick up as well, so he rode as fast as he could without breaking the board dragging behind. By the time he had arrived at the farm the snow was so thick that he could barely see the barn and it was only by chance he slowed down in time to see the open barn doors. He rode his horse straight in, put him in his pen and shut the barn doors before heading inside his home.
The house was silent in contrast to the unforgiving wind which blanketed his entire farm in a white wall of snow. He stood in the front hall catching his breath and allowing a small amount of the snow to melt and drip from his boots and hat. His gaze again fell onto the den, to the empty tea glass, the knitting needles and the baby clothes Mary had been making before her death. He turned to the crib in the den which sat against the wall that was closest to him and shook his head softly.
He removed his coat, hat and boots and walked briskly towards the cellar as he could hear the wind begin to push against the house, causing it to creak and groan with every gust.
In the basement he lit the stove and sat down on the chesterfield. A few moments later he was asleep with the crackling stove illuminating the darkened walls with soft red light. For the first time since Mary’s passing Edward not only slept soundly, he also dreamt.
In his dream Edward was father to a young boy, they were fishing together in the stream by the graveyard out past the tree line behind his house. The boy laughed as Edward showed him how to hook a worm and together they caught almost half a dozen fish. In the dream Mary walked from the direction of the graveyard looking as vibrant and beautiful as the day they met. She was singing a sweet little song that the boy immediately recognized as he stood up and ran to his mother with joy, Edward’s heart was swelling with pride and love when he woke up.
The basement was still bathed in red from the embers but it was well below freezing. He stood up groggily and opened the stove to stir the embers a bit, he added another log before he stopped and stood up listening intently.
There was a soft singing coming from the floor above.
Edward felt a chill run down the base of his spine and his heart began thumping in his chest as he slowly walked to the bottom of the stairs and after a beat he began walking up.
Slowly he crept up the stairs, step after step the singing grew louder and yet more and more familiar until Edward had reached the top step and turned the brass knob on the basement door. Slowly he opened the door revealing the main floor of the house bathed in moonlight, the storm now long since passed.
The voice came out bright and sweet amongst the darkness and as he stepped onto the main floor of the house he now knew why he found the voice so familiar.
As he rounded the corner Mary sat in her chair singing softly to herself, broken glass on the floor, knitting needles in her hands. She stopped singing and looked up towards him. Her face was pale and porous as if bugs had been carving small holes into her cheeks and bone. The smell was muted as her body was no doubt still very cold and her eyes were empty, only the sockets of her eyes remained.
“M..mary?” Edward managed to stammer
She lifted a single pale finger to her face and said, “shhhh…”
Edward was shaking uncontrollably and only managed to mutter a single hushed question, “…the cows?”
Mary stood up and set the knitting needles back down on her side table and walked towards Edward who took a half step back before she arrived before him. Her face was missing pieces of flesh and portions of her jaw were visible through the cracked and broken skin.
“Not for me Edward…” she said in almost a whisper, “…for your son.”
A soft cooing came from the once vacant crib that sat behind him. Edward turned to the crib to see the once white linen lining the crib now blood stained and foul smelling. As he approached the child came into his view, blackened and scaled; an inhuman creature spawned from unfathomable horror. Edward’s eyes filled with tears as he leaned in…and picked up the child. He held him close and kissed the small crimson coloured lesions that dotted the child’s face before he held him at an arms length to admire him.
“My Son,” He said through tears of joy, beaming with the pride that only a father could have for his son.