Monday, April 06, 2009

Shell Knob

Shell Knob, Missouri.

The dirt road rolled out in three directions and none of them looked promising. The sun hung low in the sky as it started it’s arc towards the distant mountains to end the day.

The large man with the sunglasses slammed the grill of the SUV hard. He then slammed his fist into it three additional times for good measure. “Muther…,” he growled before looking up at the woman exiting the right passenger side. He wiped his brow and tried to compose himself. “Must not have been some little thing back there in the station. Think it was sumthin’ a bit more, huh?” He smiled and tried to switch his anger to charm. “Sorry. I should have listened to you and let the service man check her over back there instead of listenin' to those two.” He motioned with his head and frowned.

The woman looked at the SUV, then sighed and slipped her phone into the pocket of her coat. She then dropped her hand into the pocket on the other side and slid a packet of cigarettes out. “I made a call. They’ll be here soon.”

The two men in the SUV were talking in low tones in the back seat.

The woman brought a cigarette up to her lips, then lit it with a golden lighter. The suns rays glistened down onto it and cast sparkles up into her sunglass shaded eyes and face.

“Those two are gonna be mad.” The man’s dark skin glistened with the exertion of trying to fix the engine. He dabbed at his brow with a handkerchief, then shoved it back into his back pocket.

The woman didn’t look back. “I don’t give a shit.” A puff of smoke drifted out of her mouth and swirled around her head like a departing soul. She reached out and tapped the glass of the windshield and the two men inside opened their doors and climbed out.

The bearded man said, “Can’t get it going, huh?” He was the nicer of the two for sure, but even that wasn’t saying much. “And now we’re stuck out here in the ass crack of the world? Hell Knob, was it?” He grinned an arrogant grin. His “casual chic” clothes were wrinkled and his tie was open and loose around his neck like a noose.

The other man said nothing, but continued to stare blankly between the woman and the man at her side.

The bearded man pointed. “This whole trip was some sort of bullshit adventure tour. Come see the fucking scary place. Authentic negro tour guide shows you a haunted sink hole. Real scary.” He slapped the arm of the quiet man and chuckled. “We can tell everyone we were taken in by a Hottie and a Hick.”

The quiet man remained for a minute, then he growled, “Bullshit. We’re not paying for this.”
The woman’s cool cracked ever so slightly as she exhaled and flicked her cigarette toward the giant sinkhole ringed by tall trees on three sides. It’s arc took it to the rim where it bounced three times and smoldered. “Ok, that’s it. No more of this tough guy moneybags bullshit.” She flipped another cigarette out of her pack and placed it between her lips. She pointed at the bearded man with the golden lighter. “You two wanted to come see it. Well there it is. You two didn’t want to wait another fifteen minutes at the station like Harold asked, so here we are until the other truck comes out.”

Harold bowed his head, raised it and glanced at the hole and the small twirl of smoke at it’s rim, then back to the two men. He hated them. Hated their attitudes. He took out his handkerchief again, wiped his face, then slipped it back into his pants. He shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans.

The dark haired woman lit her cigarette. “And you leave that racist bullshit up your asses where it belongs.” She exhaled. “You two came to Shell Knob, Missouri to see something you heard about. We didn’t invite you. We don’t want you here. You came without being asked.” She pointed back to the hole. “It’s all true. I may not sound like someone who’d know, but I do.”

Harold smiled wide. “She does talk well, don’t she?” He chuckled.

“I got out of here at the tender age of 17 and went to New York to go to school. Lost my accent in the process, but I didn’t loose my memories. All the stories about this place.” Her face was cold again - stony and calm. “It’s all true. Even been corroborated by several UC professors, but I’m sure you two know that. You two being fancy scholars yourselves.”

Harold grinned and looked away.

“Well, you two sexists bigots – you want the story? You want to see her?” She pointed at the sinkhole with her long, ruby fingernail. “You two can stay here and wait it out by that fucking hole. See what you think of us country folk after a night here in the dark.” She exhaled and slipped off her glasses.
The bearded man tried to size her up. See if she was playing or not. It was clear that she wasn’t. “So, you believe all these little country tales?” He had lost some of the edge to his voice and he almost sounded kind.

“Corroborated, gentlemen. It happened. It’s our history.”

“And, you still believe it? This…thing…is still alive and roaming around?” The quiet man leaned against the car and sniffed the air.

“Yes, Sir. I do.” She walked to the log that served as a road marker and sat down. Insects fluttered through the air and their chirping songs brought both a peace and a sense of being far away from civilization, which in turn wasn’t very peaceful in itself for some reason. It seemed too far away. To removed.

Harold glanced at the hole, then towards the men. Sweat beaded on his ebony forehead. “She’s right. Did happen. Everyone knows.” Harold looked down. “Tell ‘em, Terri.”

Terri Barker sighed and looked to the men as if trying to figure out if it was worth her time or not. She puffed and tapped her cigarette, then cupped her elbow with her left hand as she gestured with the cigarette in her right. “This area was a township back in the early 1900’s. Good, God fearing people who worked their asses off to make things work. They had a particularly hard winter one year and once it broke, well they were thankful. They decided to celebrate in the sun once things started to calm down and the weather started to lighten up.”

She pointed back to the sinkhole area. “Well, the ground was wet and nasty, but they packed up and headed over to the springs over there anyway.” She placed the cigarette to her lips, glanced up, then exhaled softly. “The sun was coming through the trees just fine and they were going to make the best of it. A picnic to celebrate being alive.” She smiled at the irony. “Circled around and prayed to their God for thanks for getting them through.”

The bearded man could hear her accent slipping back from a long forgotten haze of childhood.
Harold stared at Terri like a child listening to a bedtime story.

Terri looked from one man to the other. “Singing and praising. Dancing. Then the Earth went and swallowed them whole. Ate them up. Right in the middle of their praising the Lord.” She smirked. “Ironic, huh? Like those little church going kids that get wiped the fuck out on the way back from a church picnic.”

Harold crossed himself as the two visiting men listened intently.

Terri stood and dropped her cigarette to the ground. Snubbing it out, she whispered, “Men, women and children. They fell down and down. They weren’t sure how many died then – in that fall. Not that it matters.” She cocked her head to the side. “Interested still?”

The bearded man nodded. “Please – go on.” He glanced over to the sink hole spot.

“Well, they sat down there and tried to muster up some sort of plan. Figure out how to get out of that hole before the whole damn thing caved in on them, you know? The thing was deep.” She looked back at the hole with her back to the men.

“They had no way out and folks wouldn’t be getting’ back to ‘em until after dark.” Harold’s voice was small.

“No. No one would know they were in trouble for hours.” Terri sighed. “Well, they sat there ‘till dark. Sat there not knowing that hole was cursed…or whatever.”

Harold looked around nervously.

The two visitors moved closer to each other absently.

“And, this is when the supposed possession took place?” The bearded man rubbed his forehead.
“Yeah. But, it wasn’t some fantasy. Wasn’t some freak out, neither.” Terri’s accent grew stronger. “It was the ground itself. It took one of the weaker ones. Maybe someone hurt in the fall. That ground took her and made her it’s puppet.” She turned and faced the men again. “Whatever happened to her wasn’t…” She shivered.

“It was being in that hole. Someone just…freaked out. Lost control. “ The man was dismissive and the tone of doubt returned to his voice. “Happens. People in tight spaces loosing all control. And, they wouldn’t know about this sort of thing back then.”

Terri interrupted. “She wasn’t human. She killed and ate thirteen men, woman and children. Tore flesh from bone, Gentlemen. Ate them alive. When the rescue party arrived, they heard one man screaming. It’s noted that they thought he was crying for help down there in that hole.” She smiled. “He was cryin’ out for help, alright. Help to get away from her.”

The bearded man cleared his throat.

Harold shook his head. “Horror.”

“So…they show up and look down in that dark hole, but they don’t see anything. Nothing at all. Too deep. Too dark.” Terri stepped closer. “They lowered torches and lanterns down there and that’s when that woman – she starts calling out all quiet and sweet. She says for them to lower a rope. That she’s hurt and needs someone to help her up and out. “ She shook her head and smirked. “Up and out indeed.”

“They got her up and out and into a cart, right Terri?” Harold was entranced. “She got up and out.”
“And away.” Terri stared. “Far away. When they went down in that hole after, they saw the mess down there. The Hell. Men, women and children eaten alive. Clawed, chewed, and torn asunder.” Terri scratched at the air in front of the men and laughed when they both jumped. “Little kids with their faces chewed off. Entrails spread around of the floor. Sex parts gnawed off. Necks…”

“OK! We understand!” The man before her swallowed hard and nodded. “She killed them all. Ok. But, it still says nothing about a monster. Well, not a monster of fiction. She was a monster like Charlie Manson.”

“Little woman like that overpowered six men folk? Took down ten adults by herself?” She frowned. “Strong woman, huh?”

The bearded man continued to stare at the sinkhole. “Perhaps it was something else.”
Harold took a step back. Then another. Then another.

“Legends and tales, John. Legends and tales.” The bearded man slapped his friend on the back. He walked forward and chuckled out, “Don’t tell me you…” The man’s words were cut short by a small, popping sound. Dragging and scuffling carried on the cool breeze.

The bearded man blinked, then looked back towards where his friend should have been. “Carl?” He glanced down at Carl’s feet. They stuck out from behind the SUV on the ground and kicked out spasmodically. “Carl?!” He looked over at Harold, now about fifteen feet down the road and looking back towards the scene, then back to the feet as they twitched. He moved around the SUV and gasped as Terri’s hands shoved him hard from behind.

Terri slipped the pack of cigarettes from her pocket and watched as “She” reached out and yanked the bearded man to the ground. The golden lighter glistened in the sun as Terri watched her passengers discover what they were looking for.

Terri lit the cigarette and moved off down the road towards Harold.

“I hate seein’ that, Miss Terri. Hate it awful!” Harold rung his hands and paced back and forth. The man looked like a huge child.

Terri caught his shoulder and held him in one spot. She looked back as She continued to devour the two men. “Shhh...Harold.”

Harold froze and clamped his eyes shut tight. He whispered a prayer, but Terri didn’t pay attention. Her eyes remained locked on the SUV and the motion towards the back of it. She narrowed her eyes as She stood and stared after them. Terri’s heart skipped and her breathing grew more rapid. “Go on now. Git,”Terri whispered.

She was willowy and dark skinned. The harsh weather and elements had taken their told on her old flesh. Her eyes were dark, oily pools in sunken sockets. Her teeth were sharp, yellow and horrid. When her mouth pulled back into a smile, Terri looked away with a whimper.

A moment later, Terri got the nerve up to look again, but She had gone. Terri waited a minute and fought the urge to light another cigarette. She rolled the lighter through the fingers of her shaking hand, then released Harold’s shoulder.

“She gone?” Harold kept his eyes shut tight.

“She’s gone. Let’s go.” Terri started off for the SUV with Harold close behind. She didn’t look to see what had become of her two clients. No need. They’d be gone. Dragged off to the sinkhole and down into the dark.

“We’re ok for a while, Miss Terri?” Harold slammed the hood and ran to the driver’s side door. He hopped inside and locked the door, though he knew that if She wanted in, a locked door wouldn’t matter.

“For a while.” Terri climbed in and slammed the door. “As long as we bring her folks, she’ll leave us alone.”

Harold crossed himself and brought the SUV to life with a twist of the key. “Heaven help us.”

“Heaven ain’t got nothin’ ta do with it, Harold.” Terri slipped her sunglasses on as long shadows passed over the tainted and malevolent ground around them.

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