How to Disappear Completely (Chapter 2 of 3)

At first the girl joked that either her phone is haunted or her dog is a sorcerer. Both explanations could probably get her on a talk show, but she knows better now. It’s Ghouli. It’s always been Ghouli. It’s like she said to the police – she put it on the fireplace mantle herself. Twizzler would not stop barking at it even though it wasn’t ringing. It was well out of his reach. Then, like magic, POOF, phone was gone, only to be found days later, boring a hole under the fridge as it disintegrated into some kind of acidic ectoplasm. Ghouli creeps, sight unseen and it does not like the taste of electronics. Then the barking stopped too.

Twizzler has been missing for days. She knows where he went, but who would believe that a slimy, mutant, octolandshark ate her dog?

Losing Twizzler was the last straw. Jumping into her mom’s minivan, the girl speeds off to the hardware store down the street, squealing turn into the lot and does a terrible job parking in her rush. Rummaging through the glove compartment, she wrenches a pair of giant sunglasses and slams them onto her face. She flings the door open and throws her hood over her head and stalks in. NO ONE can know what’s going on.

“Oh, hi Ricki!” greets a young man in a home hardware vest. Huh. Well, there goes any chance of being discreet.

Lowering her sunglasses a fraction she turns to the young man. “Why are you at the hardware store?” She snarls.

“Uh, I work here?” He replies motioning to the vest.

“Whatever. You never saw me here, Noah. You tell anyone, you’re a dead man.” She brushes past him, walking with purpose towards a certain section of the store. Wooden mouse traps, sticky paper mouse traps, electric mouse traps, rat traps, skunk traps…

“Where the hell are the bear traps?” She wonders aloud.

“Why the hell do you need a bear trap?” Noah asks, strolling to her side.

“Go away, Noah.”

“I mean, we live in the suburbs, and I really don’t think Mrs. Esposito’s chihuahua deserves an end like that. Little bugger is annoying I’ll give you that. You should really just talk to her. She makes the best churros.” He rambles.

“Shut up, Noah.”

“Testy. What? Got less than 300 likes on your latest instagram pic? Hashtag too-pretty-2-care?” He teases. Turning on her heel, she starts to storm off in the direction of the pest poison. He grabs her arm, making her spin around, hood falling down at her shoulders. Her eyes stare daggers at him. “Hey, I’m just kidding.”

“I need to kill something.” She whispers.

“Kill something!” Noah yells. The limited shoppers in the aisle shift their gaze to the teens. She whips her hood back up over her head. He doubles over with laughter. “Why do you need to kill something?”

“Something ate Twizzler.” She whispers.

“Oh, man. I’m so sorry,” he says, sincerely. “Do you know what?

“Yes.”

“Alligator? I just read this thing about them in sewers…”

She shakes her head. Contemplates telling her friend about the monster creeping the streets of their cul de sac. She thinks better of it.

“Never mind, yeah it was a gator.” She says waving his concern off.

“Ricki, what’s going on?”

“Nothing.” She says, rushing to the exit. This time he wasn’t able to catch up.

Sitting in her room at her house, Rikki ponders various ways to catch that dog murdering mothertrucker. Maybe she could electrocute it. Fill the bath then chuck a hair dryer in. A bear trap would have been the best, painful and then she finish the job.

“Ricki! Someone at the door for you.” Calls her mom from downstairs. She bounds down the steps and once she sees who it is, she quickly jumps outside and silently shuts the door behind her.

“Noah. What do you want?” She asks on the porch.

“You didn’t answer your phone.” He says waving his phone in his hand as if she didn’t understand.

“And that’s a good reason for you to come knocking on my front door?”

“Maybe. You never and I mean NEVER not answer your phone.”

“Well, thanks for checking in. My phone’s destroyed, I need to get a new one.”

“Destroyed how? What the hell is going on with you?” He asks steering her away form the porch light. She swipes at the mosquitoes swirling around her head.

“Nothing is going on.” She says smacking an especially tenacious bug.

“Come on, you can trust me.” Noah prods. Thinking back on past events, Noah has been a trustworthy friend. She steers him onto the rocking bench on the porch, sits next to him and lets out a heavy sigh.

“I’ve been seeing things,” she starts. “Well, something in particular.”

“What is it?”

“A monster.”

“A monster?”

“Yeah, you know. Big, slimy, multi limbed, lots of teeth, eats everything.”

“You can’t be serious.”

“I thought I was crazy. I started noticing it when we were at school. I kept getting this feeling, of being watched, and that’s when the animals started showing up.”

“Animals.”

“Yeah. You know how I have to check the filter in the pool?” She asks. “Well, dead animals have been showing up in the filter, mangled, half eaten.”

“That’s beyond messed.”

“I know.”

“But your conclusion is that it was a monster that was doing it? Maybe it’s some creep’s sick joke?” Noah supplies.

“It’s not.”

“How do you know?” The scepticism can’t be left out of his voice.

“I’ve seen him do it.”

“Him?”

“Well I don’t know if it’s a him. I call it, Ghouli.”

“Ghouli,” he breathes. He keeps repeating her, trying to understand.

“I saw him take Liberty’s cat the other day. I was in my room, it has a perfect view of the back yard. Mittens was strolling by the edge of the pool when suddenly something in the pool launched out. Its slimy arm latched around cat and dragged it away, but the weird thing was I couldn’t see it in the water. It just popped out.” After a long moment of silent deliberation… or judgement, Rikki ventures… “So…?”

“I believe you. If this thing is what killed Twizzler, it’s personal. I loved that dog more than you.”

“Hey!”

“So how do we get it?”

“Tomorrow night. My mom has a roast chicken in the fridge we could use as bait, which is fine and dandy but we have nothing to catch it in. You don’t sell bear traps at the hardware store.”

“Don’t worry about the bear trap, I’ve got something better in mind.”

“You do.” Rikki says utterly not convinced.

“Ye of little faith, give me some credit. I’m positive you will find my alternative just as good.” He says with a knowing grin.

Tomorrow could have come quick enough. The sun has set and Rikki Harper is sitting on her porch in a hoodie and sweatpants and a plastic bag with roast chicken.

“Where have you been?” She whisper screams at Noah as he climbs the steps of her house.

“I was getting the supplies.” He replies motioning to his father’s beat up pick-up. “Nice outfit. I’m sure Monique would love to how the mighty have fallen.”

“I didn’t want my nice clothes to be covered in blood.” she replies, heading towards the truck. Lowering the hatch reveals a tangle of ropes, metal and caging. “What the hell is this?”

“A croc trap.”

It looks pretty heavy duty. Complicated.

“Okay then! Where should we put it?”

“Why don’t we put it in the woods just beyond your pool. Lure it out.”

Two hours. It takes two hours to move and assemble the damn thing. Now, flushed and exhausted the friends wait in the pool shed for Ghouli to come. They hang the chicken from a tree. The wind keeps blowing the chicken, making it look like it’s dancing.

“Do you think it’s going to come?” Noah asks.

“Patience. It’s always hungry”

Before either of them can say anything else, a ripple forms on the glass surface of the pool. Then right before their eyes a slimy disembodied arm emerges from the pool, then another and another until Ghouli has risen onto the pool deck. Not a single drop of water can be found.

“Holy sh–” Noah whispers and Ghouli turns to the shed towards them… and the chicken. They duck. Time stretches for eternity. Ghouli moves towards the shed silent. It sniffs the air, and stops at the hanging chicken. It trudges on. Rikki peers through the crack in the panelling and signals that the monster is moving towards the bait. Closer, closer, closer it gets. One more step.

SNAP!

And a shriek that could not be unheard, shattered the night.

How To Disappear Completely (Chapter 1 of 3)

Ghouli looks through a mirror above the fireplace, through a living room and beyond into the kitchen where the family eats. A father, a mother, a daughter, a furry thing lapping scraps at her feet. Forks and knives clang against ceramic plates. Ghouli is hungry too. The furry thing has stubby little legs, low to the floor. It run-waddles to the fireplace. It can’t see itself (nor Ghouli) in the mirror high above, but it barks anyway. How does it sense Ghouli’s presence – the smell? Ghouli can only smile for so long before it requires a new texture to gnaw between its teeth. All appendages raise in unison to punch through the mirror. SMASH!

At the same time, the father accidentally knocks and spills his beverage across dining room table… the mirror cracks at the impact, but does not shatter. A commotion at the table, everyone distracted. But, the daughter spins to stare at Ghouli, only the daughter.

Oh, that pretty face! Ghouli likes a pretty face.

A peak further out the mirror, a piece of broken glass falls to the carpet. Ghouli’s ectoplasm drips in globs onto the mantle. Too loud, the yapping is too loud. That furry thing is too loud. It must be quiet, Ghouli must be unseen. Eyes unflinching Ghouli stretches one slimy appendage. So close, Ghouli is so close. Just one bite so fast, so quick, Ghouli could have the fuzzy thing.

Buzz buzz.

What is that? With one slick move Ghouli retracts its arm. Instead it wraps around some kind of rectangular animal, bright and shiny.

Content with its catch, Ghouli sucks itself back into the mirror, coveting its treasure.

Here Be M_NST_RS

The Sore Points cover that song, she forgets the title, but cranks it up anyway:

On a map of the world
He stands alone
With his dreams and his demons 

hic sunt dracones

hic sunt dracones. They don’t teach Latin at her school, but thank you, internet. It means, “here be dragons”, a warning on the maps of ancient mariners for uncharted territories.

The music pulses, dust flies past the windows of their jeep as the sun beats down on its cherry red paint. She climbs higher and higher into the peaks of the Mackenzie Mountains in Canada, but the true destination is between the twisting hills: The Valley of Headless Men.

“What do you think we’re going to find up here?” her travelling companion asks in his comforting baritone. They’ve been travelling for days. She contemplates her answer before a wicked grin creases her lips.

“Dragons.” She whispers ominously. The pair break out into a bout of laughter. They’ve been doing this for ages now. Philippe and Melisande, French anthropology students from Paris. Or as the community likes to call them, Le Chasseurs de Monstres, backpacking around the globe in search of the profound and extraordinary.

“Peut être” (maybe) Philippe replies, scanning the sprawling hills of the mountainside. The expanse arrests her heart. The car rumbles as she pulls the Jeep onto an outcropping of the peak. Legend tells of evil spirits that claim these lands as home. Another speaks of the mysterious Naha tribe that once resided here, with their brutal custom that gave the valley its name.

Clambering out of the car, the pair make there way to the trunk. Flinging it open they sit on the ledge and stare at the scenery for a moment. The air is heavy with the scent of rain but there are no clouds in sight. Just stillness.

“Do you find anything odd about this place?” Melisande breaks the silence, grabbing her mountain pack from the car. She secures it onto her back and swings her leg up to tie her hiking boot. The wind whips past her ear and she could have sworn she heard a weep.

“Everything about this place is odd. Where is everything? There are no sheep, no goats, deer, squirrels, not even crickets. Nothing.”

“According to the two tribes we interviewed, apparently ‘supernatural creatures’ prowl the hills at night. Maybe they ate all the woodland creatures.”

“Supernatural. We both know that there’s no such thing, just the unexplained and uninformed.” She nods in agreement and the two of them start their descent into the valley. Rocks slip and slide past, but they are sure footed and never falter.

The grass at the bottom of the peak is so green it appears iridescent in the midday sun. Philippe picks up a nearby stone. Turning it this way and that, the stone glitters like a jewel.

“What do you think it is?” He asks handing it to Melisande. She takes it gently into her palm.

“I don’t know.” She replies looking out at the empty grove. Another light catches her eye. Handing off the rock she trudges off towards the direction of the shimmer. Philippe catches up quickly and together they stop at the sight of the unusual glittering.

A cave marked by six giant blocks of the same mysterious rock as the one Philippe found, two appear to have been broken and toppled. They shimmer and glow like shells on a beach. The blocks are all stacked into the wall of the mountain like a doorway. Archaic runes are etched into the columns. Melisande traces the pattern with her hand feeling a hum coming from the stone.

“Burial ground?” She inquires.

“Have you seen these markings before?” He asks moving his hand over the stone. “Pre-Latin. What do you think? Are we talking Norse Gods here or — ?

A shudder vibrates through his arm and he jumps away.

“Did you feel that?” he breathes.

“Feel what?” she asks, removing her hand from the doorway. He wrings his hands trying to escape the feeling and re-composes himself. “Nothing.”

“Should we go inside?”

“Ladies first.” Philippe smiles with a dip from the waist.

“Then after you.”

He chuckles, grabbing her hand so that they enter the unknown together. It doesn’t take long for the darkness to consume the light. Philippe takes a flashlight attached to his belt and the cave is bathed in light. The team stares in awe at the tunnel. They wander on, each step echoing off the walls of the tunnel, until they come to a fork in the path.

“Left or right?” asks Philippe. Melisande stands before the right tunnel as a tendril of dust swirls at her feet, beckoning her forward.

“Right.” She states, already moving deeper into the unknown. Her hands drag against the walls of the cave, taking in the curves and edges. It’s cool and she fends off a shiver. Turning a corner the walls of the cave expand out into a massive room. The light from the flashlight refracts off of the stone in blinding streams.

“Shut it off.” Melisande says moving towards the centre of the room. Her partner quickly extinguishes the light and shoves it back into his belt. The stones’ luminous glow lights the cave, revealing floor to ceiling runes, and on one wall, a mural.

Painted on the wall in gruesome streaks of red so dark it could be black is an image of… a creature. Multi-limbed and arms spread wide, its hands the size of dinner plates, while its finger-claws splayed wide, beckoning. The head is forward, eyes trained on the viewer, its hackles raised. Protruding from its mouth row upon row of razor sharp teeth, as its lips are peeled back in a snarl.

Finally, Phillippe speaks. “Tell me you know what we’re looking at?”

“The runes could be an old tribe language. And that,” Mel explains pointing to the creature. “I have never seen anything like that, but looking at this room it appears that they might have worshipped it.” She moves away from the mural in hope that a larger viewing range might shed some light on the mystery.

In one swift move… crunch. She falls to her knees, they vibrate with the impact as her hand comes away red. Pain explodes from her ankle as a stream of French expletives pour from her mouth.

“Mel, are you okay!?” Philippe worries. Dropping to his knees, he pulls the flashlight out again, illuminating his friend. A gash the size of an industrial nail blooms across her hand but when he catches sight of the thing that made her fall, his blood freezes.

“I’m fine.” She replies. Rising on one leg she cradles her mutilated hand and yanks the bandana around her neck to stanch the bleeding. Drip, Drip, Drip. She follows the blood to where she had fallen. Right next to her foot print lays an ivory white skull so clean it could have been fake. A hole the size of a fist is embedded in its temple. She follows Phillippe’s gaze. Spiralling from the broken skull are hundreds of others, embedded in the ground swirling to the edges of the cave room.

“Well, now we know where all the heads went.”

“I’m all for exploring this place, but maybe we should take a look at that ankle first.” Philippe says taking her arm and supporting her weight. She nods taking his hand. Hobbling back towards the entrance, they both take their first lung full of clean air. The sun has dipped below the horizon leaving a haze of reds and violets.

“We can’t make it back up that mountain.” Philippe states, helping to set Mel down in the grass.

“I guess we’ll have to set up camp here then.”

The night is silent except for the crackle of flames. Melisande sits in the grass, sketch book in hand as she tries to recall the cave room with the mural. Her ankle is wrapped in gauze along with her hand. Thankfully it isn’t broken and tomorrow they should be able to explore more.

“So what can we deduce about this… creature?” She asks pointing at her sketch. Philippe circles the fire with a bowl of soup. He flips open a small field notebook from his pocket and begins to read.

“Other tribes thought something cursed and resided over the land. There are accounts from indigenous people saying that the devil lives in the valley, killing those who dare to enter it.”

“Like a carnivorous animal, not the literal devil.”

“Obviously there was something, because that skull shrine exists.”

“Is that what it is?”

“Well I have no other way to describe it and it has all of the general markers.” He explains, handing her a bowl of soup. It’s warmth eases the muscles in her shoulders.

SNAP!

 The pair turn towards the sound. Emerging from the bushes, a tall man with a large brimmed hat and overcoat stalks towards them.

“Hullo there,” he rasps. “I don’t get many visitors around these parts.”

“We’re on business.” Phillippe answers lightly. The Tall Man smiles back.

“Business. What kind of business?”

“We’re… budding anthropologists. We were told that there could be some interesting cultural landmarks nearby.”

“Anthropologists,” he repeats. “What a fascinating field of study. You know I came across some palaeontologists last spring. Lovely people.” Mel notices the long scar from his eye to his throat.

“How long have you lived here?” Phillippe asks.

“A very long time. My family has been on this land for centuries.” He replies, taking a seat on the other side of the fire.

“Part of the Naha tribe, then?”

He laughs. “No, that tribe disappeared a long time ago. Just me.”

“What happened to them?”

“The tribe? They just disappeared. One day there and gone the next. See, they thought they could control it.” He explains.

“Control what?” Mel asks intrigued.

“The beast. They revered the devil of the valley as a god. They worshipped it.”

“You mean the creature in the cave?” She asks for clarification.

“Ghouli, some called it. Shadow of the night.”

“But it’s a myth, right?” Philippe puzzles.

A grin crimps the sides of his cheeks at the idea. “Of course Ghouli is real. The Naha tribe thought that by giving it travellers, it would be enough. But it’s never enough.”

The fire now stripped to its embers and all that’s left for light is its glow, and the stars. A shiver shakes Mel’s body. She tries to rise on her bad ankle but slips on the rock.

“You said it’s never enough,” she pauses. “Present tense.” Mel says on her feet. The Tall Man rises as well.

“Smart girl. I knew it the first time I smelled you in that cave.” His nostrils flare as if he’s trying to remember the scent.

“We need to go.” She whispers to Philippe, slowly backing away.

“Ghouli cannot be tamed.” he starts, licking his lips. Gradually, the whites of his eyes turn to black. “Ghouli is hungry. Always hungry. Sheep are too wool-laden for Ghouli! Squirrels are too small. Ghouli misses the tribe, how delicious they were.”

Grabbing Mel, Philippe yanks her towards the direction of the jeep but before the second step, The Tall Man is in front of them. Before their eyes, his teeth once blunt and human explode from his mouth to become jagged peaks designed to rip flesh from bone. The sound of their racing hearts is deafening. Ghouli savours it. The rip of clothes echo through the night as The Tall Man disappears and in his place, the beast from the mural.

“I can see into your mind. How scared you are.” Ghouli circles. “Le Chasseurs de Monstres.” The equivalent of a laugh rocks Ghouli’s body as saliva flings in every direction. The acrid stench of Ghouli’s breath would knock out anyone but the fear has already paralyzed the pair.

“Real monsters have no hunters.” Ghouli whispers as two slimy appendages burst from its back like wings and wrap around the neck of Philippe. Philippe gasps, grasping at the “arms” only for a split second before it throws him to the ground with a thud and crack of a broken neck. Melisande can only gape in utter shock from the sight of her fallen friend.

Ghouli bends to examine his first meal. He takes a bite. Blood spurts showering the grass. Ghouli turns, a head tilt and red toothy grin. Like a path of breadcrumbs the dripping blood marks the path Ghouli makes towards her as she tries to make her escape, slipping over rocks, cutting her legs and hands. The iron scent in the air is now as strong as Ghouli’s stench.

“You should have read the sign before entering my home.” Ghouli snarls, lips receding to show its many rows of teeth.

“What sign?!” Mel cries in hysterics. She glances at the entrance to the cave, reminded of the swirling patterns of the runes. Ghouli leans into her savouring the hunt, its face centimetres from her nose, its eyes tearing through her mind. A claw clasps around her neck and she chokes.

“You know what it says — ” Ghouli starts, taking her injured hand to it’s tongue for a taste.

She does know. “Here be Monsters.”

And the valley was plunged into silence once more.