by R.C. Mulhare
“Are you sure this is the right road?” Special Agent Dante Stamos said, staring through the windshield of the rental car at the rows of corn flanking the country road which they drove along.
His partner, Special Agent Blake Matherton, sitting in the shotgun seat next to him looked up from the map unfolded across his lap. “There aren't any turn offs for us to have taken by accident.”
“Unless this is what you suggested we were looking for,” Stamos said. “I thought we were looking for something large enough to mutilate cows and trash a barn, not cornfields and grass as far as the eye can see.”
The cornfields fell off, replaced with empty meadows that might have served as cattle pastures, now empty of cows.
“It's a portal we're looking for. We could have driven into it,” Matherton said, still poring over the map.
Stamos glanced to his partner. “A portal? Really? You think aliens opened a portal, trashed some farms and flew back through? This is why the kids in Quantico call you 'Mulder' and they're starting to call me 'Scully', except I'm certainly not a smart little redhead.”
“If it is a portal, I doubt that aliens had anything to do with opening it.”
“All right, then what opened it?”
“Bored or desperate or overly curious people messing about with portal magick.”
Stamos snerked. “You serious? Out here? This is read-the-Bible-and-fellowship-at-church country. Doubt many people have the Starry Wisdom Library tucked under the bed or on the top shelf of the bookcase.”
“This is the kind of place that one person is sure to do something like that. Places like this, where there aren't many people to take notice, they can pull off all kinds of things. Those cows might have been a mass sacrifice, but they hid it in plain sight by crying foul play.”
“Like a serial killer hiding in plain sight, by pretending to be a bystander or a shocky witness,” Stamos said.
“Now you're starting to talk like you're in Special Cases,” Matherton said.
They crossed a bridge spanning a river, the banks covered in tall trees and brush that continued into scrub growth alders and skunk trees.
The pylons of high tension lines rose up in the near distance, the lines strung across the road and out of sight over the edge of the land.
“We're coming up on the turn-off,” Matherton said. “This next right.”
“Gotcha,” Stamos said. As the turn-off came into view, Stamos turned the car onto the road, off the paved road and onto a dirt one partly finished with gravel. They stopped before a locked gate, a simple iron affair that stood level with the hood of the car. Matherton dropped the map onto the dashboard, got out and taking a key from his breast pocket, unlocked the padlock on a chain before swinging the gate open, before returning to the car.
They drove through, gravel crunching beneath the tires. They passed between the pylons, which made Stamos think of torii, the great free-standing gates outside of Shinto temples he had seen in pictures that his brother sent from Okinawa.
The road dipped into a wet spot, a mud hole in the middle of the scrub land beneath the high tension lines. Trees rose around them, their roots and trunks half-hidden with weeds and rangy bushes.
Something rose up beyond the trees, taller than the topmost branches, taller than the pylons, a murky shadow against the sunset sky, yellow eyes narrowed, arms hanging nearly to its ankles.
“The hell...?” Stamos said, hitting the brakes. The car halted, some distance from the thing. “What... is that?”
Matherton grabbed a camera from the case in the floorboards at his feet. “My God, this is a first.”
“That ain't swamp gas or a cloud of insects. What in hell is that?” Stamos asked.
“What in hell is right,” Matherton said, taking shot after shot. “It reminds me of some accounts of trolls.”
“Trolls? You serious? Things that hide under bridges and eat goats?” Stamos asked, starting to recover from his initial shock.
“More than that. There's been sightings of them in remote areas across Norway, Sweden and Finland.”
“You're kidding me.”
“Does that thing up ahead look like something that would hide under a bridge?”
“Have to be a pretty damned big bridge.”
The thing turned and stepped toward them, the ground trembling beneath the wheels of their car, the trees shaking and releasing a fall of leaves ready to drop.
“Um, it's coming closer,” Stamos said, knowing he'd just stated the obvious.
The thing loped toward them, trampling bushes and even whole trees, brushing them aside with a thick-fingered hand.
“Back out, back out, back out!” Matherton cried. Stamos threw the car into reverse and slammed on the accelerator. The thing loped after them, gaining speed. The wheels of the car spewed gravel before hitting the tar as they swung onto the road.
Looking up, neither of them saw their pursuer.
“What? Where?” Stamos cried.
“That thing was there a moment ago,” Matherton said, camera still clasped in his nerveless hands. “It must have stepped back through the portal it may have come through, or the portal could have closed behind us.”
“You get that thing on film?”
“It should be all the proof we need. Angstrom can't argue it's all in my head this time.”
“You know he's likely to think you doctored the film.”
“Not when I have you to corroborate the account.”
R.C. Mulhare was born in Lowell, Massachusetts and grew up in one of the surrounding towns. Her interest in the dark and mysterious started when she was quite young, when her mother read the faery tales of the Brothers Grimm and quoted the poetry of Edgar Allan Poe to her, while her Irish storyteller father infused her with a fondness for strange characters and quirky situations. When she isn't writing, she moonlights in grocery retail, and given the cross-section of people you see in grocery stores, this gives her a lot of ideas for characters in her stories. An emerging author and member of the New England Horror Writers, her work previously appeared in Atlantean Publishing's "Beyond the Wall of Death: Lovecraft @ 125", "A Terrible Thing", and Awen 96, Macabre Maine's "Lovecraft ME", and FunDead Publication's "Shadows in Salem", "O Horrid Night", and "Entombed in Verse", with six more stories due for release later in 2017. She shares her home with her family, two small parrots, about fifteen hundred books and an unknown number of eldritch things that rattle in the walls when she's writing late in the night....
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