The Disappearance of Tucker Willoughby

I will never forget that evening in Ebon County.
Not for a long time, for damn sure.
————————————————————————————————–
It was a cold day in August,
the kind that keeps your lips chapped
and you can’t help but lick them
because the itching drives you mad.
My editor had sent me to some hick town
named Ebon County,
partly due to the gloomy cloud cover
but also because of the general malaise
that had seeped into the folk that lived there.
About a half hour’s walk from the city center
lay the coast
but instead of the refreshing crisp mist that usually inhabits the shore,
the faint waft of decaying fish permeated the town
right down into the pores of the timber laden homes.
There were reports of children allegedly missing,
vanishing without a trace
into the woods behind the old Willoughby place.
The validity of these accounts were taken
lightly
so to speak,
as many of the residents of Ebon County seemed afflicted
by a curious sort of mental inhibition.
Functioning,
true,
but there were moments during my interviews
when the individual would seemingly forget
where and when they were
and would erupt into a furious rage
when asked
about the woods
behind the Willoughby place.
All,
but one.
—————————————————————————————————–
Richard Willoughby was a
rough
sort of individual.
Grizzled and grayed,
the dirt-filled lines on his face
poorly concealed his age.
A touch of vitiligo had left
bizarre, nonsensical patches
of grey and white in his beard.
The smell of cheap booze
oozed from his sullied clothes
and his hideous cough revealed
a poor taste in tobacco.
Oblivious to the state of Ebon County
and the string of disappearances,
he would ramble on and on
about the harsh winter fast approaching.
Ebon County had once prided itself on two things,
he would say.
Potatoes
and fish.
The latter seemingly ceased to be of any value
after the completion
of the new power plant
just upstream.
Splitting the particles,
I think he said.
Which led potatoes to be the sole source
of just about everything
in Ebon County,
and Tucker believed
that the coming winter
would be devastating
for both the potatoes
and his young boy,
Tucker.
————————————————————————————————————-
Tucker was,
gaunt,
to say the least.
His skin looked as if a slight breeze
would cut him open.
Pallid
and looking almost as leather does,
it almost hung over his frame
as does a damp towel.
A shock of auburn hair covered his
soot-ridden scalp
and his clothes,
near rags,
did little to cover his body.
When asked about the disappearances
of the local children,
he looked down at his feet
and whispered unintelligible mutterings.
I still do not know if he had ever been to school;
Ebon County was in dire need of
essentials,
it seemed.
Richard asked him to get ready for supper
and Tucker scampered to his room,
breathing gravelly
as his thin legs struggled
to bring him up the stairs.
I did not know it then
but that would be the last time
I would see Tucker Willoughby.
—————————————————————————————————–
It was April when my editor had asked me
to follow up
with Richard
and his boy, Tucker.
Winter was on its way out
and I admit that, too,
was curious of the goings on
in Ebon County.
Upon arrival,
I could shake the feeling
that something felt
amiss.
I could not place it then
but, looking back,
I had yet to realize that the entire town
was devoid of all children.
There were no screams of delight
from little ones
running down the street
or even gulls squawking;
it was as if I had entered a town
that had not been lived in
for some time.
The smell of dead fish still hung about the town
perhaps
even strong than before
and I remember,
as I made my way up
to the Willoughby’s
that I had not seen a single soul
the moment I arrived.
———————————————————————————————————-
The house,
my God,
the house!
It had only been eight months
since I had last seen it
yet it clearly had not stood
the test of time.
The windows were broken
and jagged pieces
littered the warped timber
of the porch.
And the door!
It had appeared to be completely ripped
from its hinges
but it had not been forced open
from the outside,
but rather,
from
within.
The familiar smell
of Richard’s cheap bourbon
wafted out from inside
yet somehow I knew
that he was not inside.
A sharp gust of frigidity
blew off a shutter,
barely hanging by a nail,
and as it landed
a sharp bugling pierced my ears
and elicited a stifled gasp.
I turned in the direction of the call
to see a small trail
leading into the woods
behind the Willoughby place.
I cannot say
from where
I felt this sudden urge
to enter the woods
but I know
that to acknowledge the depths
from whence it came
was to invite
too dark of thoughts,
the kind that no mind
should entertain.
The sun was setting,
though just above the horizon,
I figured that I had about two hours of light left.
I grabbed my camera
and departed
into the woods.
——————————————————————————————————————–
To say I had not kept track of time
would be an understatement.
The woods had this way
of blotting out whatever light made it
unto the treetops
and there was a fog
that had crept its way
up the beach
and into the town
and I found myself
lost.
Something about trees
and the way fog hung about their slender branches
reminded me of Tucker
and I shuddered at the memory
of his grisly gait.
I remember that,
though it was April,
there were scarcely any leaves
among the gnarled
and twisted branches
and the ground
seemed to sink
under my weight
and would release a stench
most foul
almost akin
to rotted meat.
The fetid stench of death
lingered in every corner of the woods
and I began to panic
at the thought of being trapped
among the dried brambles.
A sudden snap of a dried branch
just ahead
almost had me bolting out of the woods
but I was too far in
so I hide behind a fairly large cropping of crops
that had emerged from the fog.
A familiar
raspy breath
broke the silence
and the pounding in my chest
and I gambled on a quick peek
and it was then
that I saw it.
———————————————————————————————–
This creature,
this
thing
was monstrous.
It stood no less than eight feet tall
and the proportions
that would typically define one as ‘human’
were the farthest description of it.
It’s arms were long
and fell almost past the creature’s knees.
Five
thin and bony fingers
stretched out
feeling the air,
its fingernails
split and yellow
and caked with old blood.
The skin of this thing
appeared to be sloughing off
and to be barely hanging on;
as if it were draped atop it
like a damp towel
and the smell,
my God,
the smell!
Not even in the most rancid slaughterhouses
had I smelled a stench
as ripe as the one emanating
from this abomination.
But all of this
pales in comparison
to its head.
I cannot say that I am a believer in the Book
but what I am about to tell you
makes me think
that must have been something here before,
back when things existed in the blackness
that no mind could scarce fathom.
It was clearly
the head of an elk
but it lacked any semblance
of a defined face
for all that remained
of that noble creature
was its skull.
Massive antler
wrought with knots
and jagged ends
spiraled from its glistening head
and long
black hair,
greasy in appearance
fell over the thing’s exposed
shoulders.
From its tattered chords
echoed another demonic bugle
that rang among the emptiness of the woods
and I swear to whatever gods that exist
that inside that hellish cry
I heard it say,
Tucker.
My mind snapped
and panic had hit me in full force.
I jolted up,
brought my camera to my face
and took a shot.
————————————————————————————————-
The creature let loose
another infernal scream,
whipping in my my direction
and locking its horrendous gaze
upon me.
My God,
it had no eyes!
Empty sockets
were all that remained
and the dark glimmer
of freshly let blood
dribbled down its gastly
visage.
I screamed
and ran.
The thundering roar
of its devilish hooves
close behind
filled me with dread
and my legs felt heavy
as if burdened by some kind
of force that lay within the fog.
I cannot say for how long
I had run
but I do remember the fog lifting
and I found myself back at the Willoughby place,
no creature in sight.
Tucker.
I ran inside and shouted for him
but I received no answer.
The living room showed clear signs
of struggle;
furniture was strewn about,
as well as a few potatoes
that were covered in a dark sort of liquid
that smelled by no means
savory.
I called again for Tucker
and heard no response.
Mustering what was left of my resolve
I made my way upstairs,
the piercing sound
of rotting wood
groaning beneath my soaked boots
sapping my courage.
They sound
wet.
I came across a door
that I knew had to be Tucker’s room
and,
after muttering a prayer that I knew meant nothing,
flung open
the door.
————————————————————————————————–
I vomited.
Whatever stench the creature had
paled in comparison
to the malodorous fumes
that greeted my senses.
Dried blood had covered the walls
in an array of spurts and fine mist
in such large quantities
that I grew sick in questioning
its origins.
I turned to face the bed
and I pray that if there is a God
and he is good
that he removes this memory from me forever.
There,
spread out among the tattered frame of his bed
lay what was left
of Tucker Willoughby.
No longer was there any skin
to provide him protection from the elements;
his emptied stomach
ripped and shredded open to the cold air
and my God,
there were no organs to be found within.
His entire bottom half was missing
as were his eyes.
I vomited again.
Just then,
the faint sound
of that things bugling
rang out
in the dead of dusk
and once again
I could scare make out the name
Tucker
being strained through wretched chords.
My mind could no longer bare the reality
of the situation.
I ran down the stairs
and into my car
and watched as the sign for Ebon County
fade away
into the miasmic fog.
—————————————————————————————————–
It has been years since that night in Ebon County.
My editor deemed me mad,
though my picture of the beast
has been making its rounds in many conspiracy circles.
I have read online that after the terrible discovery
of the bodies in Ebon County,
government officials had quarantined the entire town
and razed it to the ground.
There are plans of placing a shopping mall out there
once the ashes settle.
No footage or documentation of the thing has ever surfaced
and to my knowledge,
my photo is one of the only pieces of proof I have
of that vile night.
The other
being that ungodly bellow,
that corrupted bugling
wailing in the night,
screaming
for Tucker Willoughby.

~LT