Enjoy "Open Wounds!"
Richard Galvin was drunk. He sat on the bar stool as best he could, struggling to maintain his fragile balance. It was a sensation Richard had experienced many times before, but he would never be quite used to it. The bartender had stopped serving him a half hour ago, but that didn’t bother Richard. He continued to supply himself from the glass flask of Jack Daniels in his blazer pocket. The bartender simply shook his head with a mixture of pity and disgust and washed his hands of the matter. It would soon be closing time anyway and Richard would no longer be his problem.
Richard wondered what he had done to incur God’s wrath while he sloshed down another gulp of Jack. He knew that everyone had their problems, but Richard’s life was so full of heartache, he was surprised he continued to function. He had been blessed with his wife, Mary, and his daughter, Grace. But everything changed four years ago when Mary…
Richard had loved her completely and unconditionally. With her passing came a constant dull pain. Sorrow had been Richard’s only mistress ever since.
Grace was 12 at the time and Richard mourned for his daughter almost as much as he did for himself. The only thing more horrible than continuing on without his wife was the thought of his daughter growing up without a mother. But Grace was resilient, much more so than her father. Within a year, she had resumed a relatively normal existence.
The clam, however, did not last. A few weeks ago, Grace had her 16th birthday. That’s when everything changed. His happy, active young daughter had became an introverted shell in an alarmingly brief period. Richard thought it was just a phase. He never thought…
His little girl was dead. All he could do was pray that Grace was with her mother now.
Richard felt hands on his shoulders but pushed them away. He was too proud to be escorted out of the bar. He stood up as best he could and stumbled out the door, into the streets. The last thing he saw before passing out was the harsh light of the streetlamp outside of the bar.
When he opened his eyes, Richard was surrounded by darkness. He tried to stand up. Pain shot through his skull and seared his thoughts. Richard had no idea how long he had been unconscious, but he was fairly sober, so it must have been quite a while. Yet it was still dark. Could he have been there all day and into the next night? Richard dismissed the possibility. He hadn’t been drunk enough to lose an entire day, and even so, a policeman or a good Samaritan would have intervened. So how had he sobered up so quickly?
His eyes burned and his face throbbed, but Richard managed to survey his surroundings. He was still propped up against the bar, almost exactly where he had passed out. Richard was alone. And where was the hard light that had been shining down on him? It was just as well; it would have scorched his sensitive vision anyway. The last thing he needed was more pain.
It was going to be a few minutes before Richard could stand again. He tried to regain his composure, but it wasn’t long before he remembered why he had been drinking in the first place. Visions of his little girl, his Grace, flooded his addled mind. How could this have happened? Richard stared into the alley next to the small pub. He was about to allow himself a few tears when something caught his attention.
Something was moving.
Whatever was out there reflected the moonlight every few seconds, each time sending a shock through Richard’s entire body. Although he was several hundred feet away from the creature, He could somehow sense that it wasn’t human.
Adrenaline erased his pain. Richard was on his feet in seconds. He searched through the darkness for a weapon, desperately seeking anything that had even the slightest chance of protecting him – a board with a nail in it, a sharp bit of metal, a discarded length of pipe – but there was nothing.
Richard’s heart pounded so hard it felt like it was going to explode out of his ribcage. He clutched his chest; he could barely breathe. He watched the creature shamble closer and closer. Richard was losing ground quickly. He had to make a decision.
There was no other choice. Richard lurched for the bar door, fully expecting it to be locked for the night. He yanked the knob with every ounce of strength he had. It almost came off in his hands as the door flew open. Richard didn’t look over his shoulder to gauge the distance between him and the creature; fear would not permit him.
The door slammed shut behind him and Richard quickly locked it. The interior of the bar looked like it had been abandoned for years. Wooden chairs were piled in the corner like kindling and a thick layer of dust sat atop everything he could see. The building was lit only by the moon.
He called out. No one responded. As he surveyed the room, Richard felt like he was the only living soul within a hundred miles.
Nestled behind the bar, between empty and broken bottles, was an old rotary phone. Richard ran his fingers over it. They turned black with grime.
He stared at it for a moment. Finally, he grabbed the receiver. No dial tone. It was dead.
Richard carefully returned the receiver to its cradle. He stared at the bottles surrounding the telephone. Perhaps one of them had something left in it. The thought of getting some alcohol excited him greatly. Maybe if he could –
Richard recoiled in terror. His eyes darted to the source of the noise. It was the phone.
He stared at it, dumfounded. Maybe… maybe the line got jiggled back in place when he tested it a minute ago? Richard cautiously reached for the receiver.
“It’s cold, Dad. It’s so cold here.”
“Grace!?” Richard’s jaw quivered uncontrollably. He had to grab onto the edge of the bar to remain standing.
“I’m scared, Dad. I want to see you again.”
“Where… where are you!?” Richard exclaimed. A bead of sweat trickled from his forehead into his eye.
“I’m waiting for you, in our special place. Please hurry, Dad. It hurts so much.” There was a click, but no dial tone. The line was dead once more.
“Grace? Grace!” Richard threw the receiver down in frustration. It fell to the floor, shattering on impact and sending black plastic slivers fluttering through the air. He had to find his daughter! Richard vaulted over the bar and rushed towards the door. He reached for the doorknob.
Something pounded on the other side of the door. Richard quickly withdrew his hand; he could hardly breathe. He stood still for a moment, listening, stuck in the icy grip of horror. The creature had found him! If he was ever going to escape, if he was ever going to find his daughter, he needed to find another way out.
He could hear the hinges creaking loudly behind him, the wood splintering with each strike as he watched in helpless terror. The door was slowly giving way to the creature’s assault. Fear jolted Richard’s memory and he recalled an exit the bartender sometimes used to take out the trash. He took a deep breath and scrambled down a short flight of steps to the door. As he slammed it behind him, he heard wood crunching and falling to the ground from back inside the bar.
Richard was plunged once more into the darkness. He began running down the street as fast has he could. In the stillness if the night, his footsteps were like sledge hammers against steel. He stopped. Richard realized the sounds of his loafers hitting the pavement were like a beacon. What if that thing heard him? But then again, he didn’t have the luxury of stealth. The creature could crash through the door at any second and then what would he do? Richard crept down the street carefully, going just slowly enough to avoid creating any unnecessary noise.
He rounded the corner of the bar. No indication of the creature remained, except for the shattered front door. Richard stared at the hole where the door had been, gathering every ounce of courage he had left. He readied himself for his getaway.
Richard shot past the open door and sprinted towards his sedan. The second bar door burst and the sound echoed through the streets. Richard let out a small yelp. He threw the car door open and dove into the driver’s seat. Mercifully, it started on the first try, the noise of the engine booming through the empty town. His tires squealed. In seconds, Richard was swallowed by the blackness of the night.
An ominous fog had descended over the forest. The clouds had separated somewhat, allowing the full moon to shine down. The air was stale. The normal hum of the insect world was totally absent. Richard remembered it the way it was when his daughter was young. The two of them used to take walks nearly every Sunday before winter came and paved the forest floor with impassable snow, but they had stopped going when Mary passed on. Richard always assumed his daughter had outgrown their excursions.
And he knew that his daughter was there now, waiting for him.
He closed the car door. He would have to go the rest of the way on foot. Richard stared down the path he and his daughter had traveled so many times before and hesitated a moment. The night had twisted the once inviting forest into something wholly malevolent. Instinctively, he pulled his bottle of Jack Daniels from his blazer pocket and took a swig, then forced himself down the path. If Grace was there, he had no choice.
Every leaf, every branch seemed to be watching, violating him with every move he made. He shouldn’t have been there. He shouldn’t have been doing what he was doing. The forest had tried to warn him, but he hadn’t listened. Yet, he was prepared to accept the consequences of his actions. He would do it for his daughter.
Richard stopped walking. He put his hands up to his mouth and readied his lungs.
He listened intently. His only reply was the wind whistling gloomily through the naked branches above him.
The path became narrower as he went on. Richard and his daughter had never traveled much beyond this spot. He worried that he would run out of forest. Maybe his grief-addled mind had concocted the whole ordeal. Grace was gone; he knew it for a fact. He had seen her body. How could his poor child have called him from beyond the grave? Leaves and twigs crunched underfoot as Richard was pulled deeper and deeper into his despair.
Richard called out again. He listened to the lonely crunch of his footsteps as he waited for an answer. Again there was no reply. He reached into his jacket for the bottle and stopped.
The crunching of footsteps continued.
Richard almost dropped the bottle. He was paralyzed.
The noises stopped. Then they started again, closer this time. They were slow, heavy and deliberate. Richard had heard his daughter traverse the forest path hundreds of times.
This was not his daughter.
Through the fog, something flashed. It was the creature! It had found him!
Richard was terrified. His breaths became short and wispy. Without thinking, Richard darted down the small path. A few seconds into his mad trek, there was a break in the small path, and to his left, Richard passed a field. Morbid curiosity got the better of him and he gazed over as he sprinted past.
Through the tall grass of the moonlit pasture, the creature shuffled threateningly towards him, arms outstretched. He could see it was wearing a tattered blazer, but any other details were shrouded in darkness and fog. The flash of reflected moonlight came once more. Richard screamed with such force he could taste blood.
The encounter gave him a temporary burst of adrenaline. All the pain, all the weariness Richard had felt before vanished. He powered down the increasingly smaller path with everything he had to give. Finally, he arrived at the farthest point he and Grace had ever dared to visit.
The voice of his daughter cut through him like a sword.
Grace stood before him, pale and naked. Her lips were blue. In the moonlight, her hair was more white than blonde and all the life had drained out of her once vibrant green eyes.
“Is this how you liked me best, Dad? Is this really how you wanted me?”
Richard’s daughter stared at him with her piercing, mournful eyes.
“Grace! I… I’m so sorry!” Tears streamed down from Richard’s eyes and warmed his frozen cheeks. “You know that I’m a different person when I drink! I never should have started again… I never meant to hurt you like that!”
Grace spoke with sorrow.
“It hurt so much every time…”
Blood trickled down the inside of her pale thighs.
Richard fell to his knees, crying.
“When your mother died, I couldn’t stand it! I had to start drinking again to dull the pain! I was weak! I’m so sorry, Grace!”
“Is that why you killed me, Dad? Is it because you couldn’t stand to be reminded of what you had done?” A single tear slid down her white cheek. “Is what you did to mw; was it my fault?”
“Of course not!” he yelled. “Don’t you see, Grace? I did it because I love you! I did it to save you!” Richard buried his face in his muddy hands. “I knew… I knew I could never stop drinking again. I knew that I’d never be able to stop hurting my baby. I left you here because I knew this is where you’d want to be. This was the last place that you and I had good memories together.”
Richard reached out and grabbed his daughter’s hand, squeezing it hard.
“I’m sorry, Grace! Daddy is so sorry!”
Grace reached out and dragged her fingers down her father’s wet cheek. Her father wept in her embrace.
“I couldn’t stand to see you so depressed near the end. I knew I had to do something!”
“Dad, I was pregnant.”
Grace’s hand went stiff. Richard stood back up, alarmed.
Blood sprayed out of a fresh wound on her chest, splashing over Richard’s white dress shirt. She toppled over next to him, limp and dead. Behind her stood the creature. Richard opened his mouth wide. A primal scream echoed through the lifeless woods.
He was gazing into his own eyes.
The creature wore an old, muddy suit, just like Richard’s. Its skin was rotting and it smelled like spoiled meat. With a demonic grin, it relished in Richard’s pain. It seemed to grow stronger with every negative emotion that Richard had. The moonlight reflected menacingly off of his tarnished belt buckle.
It lunged at him.
Richard yanked the bottle of Jack Daniels from his pocket.
“Leave us alone! Leave us both the hell alone!”
The bottle crashed down on the creature’s head, shattering and spilling alcohol everywhere. It doubled over in pain. Through the open wound, Richard could see he had cracked the monster’s skull. But it wouldn’t be long until it came after him again. He knew he had to work quickly.
With a savage cry, Richard thrust the broken bottle into the creature’s abdomen. He drove it through with all of his strength. Richard could hear the glass tearing the monster’s insides to meaty shreds as he gave the bottle a single twist. Hot blood drenched Richard’s arm. The two figures keeled over onto the cold forest floor.
All was still.
Richard’s eyes jetted open. The cement wall he was propped up against bit into his back. Light poured over him from the streetlight, searing his eyes. He had to squint to see. The streets around him were empty. He was back at the bar.
There was some sort of liquid in Richard’s lap. For a moment, he thought he had wet himself. Hadn’t he had a lot to drink that night? Surely, he had conjured the story of the creature and his daughter in a grief-stricken dream. Everything was going to be okay.
But Richard knew that it wasn’t urine that flowed from his body. He put his hand on his lap and lifted it to his eyes.
It was covered in blood. Between the trickles of crimson, his skin had become very pale – almost white. Most of the broken flask was still lodged in his midsection.
Richard let his head fall back against the wall. He stared into the night sky. The clouds had cleared and the stars had come out at last. The moon was full and bright.
As his vision began gradually fading away, a small grin formed on his lips.
“I love you, Grace.”