's 2013 Horror Write-off:

"Five Seconds"

Submitted by J. Ford

Uncle Taylor and Aunt Ida used to run a horse farm up in Mountain Top. Well, just Uncle Taylor after their separation. Since I was young, mom and dad would regularly go up to visit on Sundays figuring they could use the company since their only neighbors were the horses and a lack of human contact wasn’t healthy for their only child Michael, or Cousin Mike to me. Cousin Mike always looked forward to our weekend get tog- ethers. Mike was always loud and emotional, like most latch key kids are. He treated me like his older brother rather than a cousin. Often times, he would get out of hand like when he ate a piece of dirt but blamed it on me. You know boys stuff.

Mike’s bedroom was on the second story of his parent’s modern looking frontier home. Through a bay window, he could see clear above the tree tops straight onto distant mountain peaks obscured by cloud or fog. All clear, except for the big radio antenna. Just down the hill from the pasture was a gully that had a tall radio antenna situated within it. Spots of brown rust showed on the lattice work suspending it, leading one to wonder why it wasn’t decommissioned years ago. Uncle Taylor vehemently forbade Mike from ever going near it. Mike once told me about how he would find dead birds and half eaten rabbits lying near it but I always figured (even as an eight year old) that the birds kept flying into the antenna and animals would nest under it. He seemed to think it was the tower that ate them. During nights, the lattice work would be swallowed by the dark and all we could see is a giant red eye in the sky, blinking. One time, when I slept over at his house, the light beamed through his window turning the room wall and room Kool-Aid red for five seconds and then five more of total darkness.

“1-2-3-4-5-1-2-3-4-5” infinity.

As problems began to emerge between his parents, Mike kept fantasizing about running away from home. “No more yelling and no more goddamn red lights keeping me awake at night,” he would say. Even though his parents moved him into a different room, he still kept arguing that the antenna was problem. He seemed to keep putting it off until, during our junior years in high school, he dropped out and joined the Army. Wherever he was, he’s have more than red lights to worry about.

After Mike’s dropping out and leaving, things on the farm began to turn bitter after Aunt Ida and Uncle Taylor separated. In mid-June, a forest fire blazed through the area. Fortunately, the house was unscathed. The stable and some of the horses were lost when the rusted radio antenna came crashing down. I was there when the demolition crews dismantled it for scrap. It looked like a squashed insect. Come late fall, Uncle Taylor suffered a stroke and passed away shortly after. I sent a letter to the base Mike was stationed at bearing all the bad news. When Mike returned, I surveyed the damage with him. He had since joining the service but despite some changes in personality he was still the same old Mike. I showed him the four concrete slabs where the antenna once stood. He punted his heavy Army issue boots against them like he was defaming an old and bitter foe.

Instead of opting to sell the land and the remaining horses, he stayed, rebuilt the stable, and took care of the remaining horses. Things looked to be turning around, finally. On Thanksgiving weekend, I went to visit the new farm. During that time, he told me about the new radio antenna being set up. One day while he was bailing hay, he noticed a team of men in black overalls with grey hoods. Mike shouted to them but only one noticed and seemed to wave at him but there wasn’t much contact after that. He took me up to his old bedroom- which had been converted to a storage room- and we looked out the bay window with a set of binoculars. I felt like an astronomer trying to find a planet. Though it was broad daylight, I could see the blinking light. The antenna was situated at a father location which was no doubt a relief for Mike. Because it was so far away, I couldn’t ascertain other details about its construction but I noticed how the light appeared more purple than red.

Things began to unravel slowly. First, the animals would be spooked and then he the wild ones would come running out of the forest. After having a black bear try to get through the fence, he kept his deer rifle handy. Almost as if they were spooked by something in the woods. Some of the grey hooded antenna workers would show up on his farm. As usual they didn’t even talk to Mike much less explain why they were still working in the area. Overtime, they became a nuisance. One evening, he heard some commotion coming from the stables, so he got out of bed and grabbed his rifle. Outside, he saw the hooded figure trying to get into a stable and shined his flashlight while aiming his gun towards the individual. What happened next was really weird. The hooded man just vanished.

Mike said, “I had my rifle trained on him one moment, then he vanished from the spot he was standing in like he wasn’t even there to begin with!”

The next morning, a horse went missing. He couldn’t locate the animal but noticed spots of blood on the ground. The next was worse. He found another horse’s body lying in the grass one morning with its eyes and tongue removed. When we talked about it over the phone and he mentioned how clean and precise the wounds were. I began to worry about his mental state. I never really asked him about his military service- if he was in combat or not- but maybe all of this could be chalked up to shell shock. Then he brought up the antenna again, he could see it clearer now. Not because of the weather or lack of leaves on the trees but the feeling that it’s changing positions. As if it was getting closer and closer to the farm.

“I notice because it keeps changing locations,” he said. “Yesterday, it was at the northeastern side of the house. A few hours later, I found it moved to the west side.”

After that my contact with Mike became infrequent. I heard virtually nothing from him in ten weeks. Curious about the antenna, I contacted the communications company that operated the previous one. It turns out the previous site near Mike’s home was decommissioned. A new tower was erected only it was fifty miles away from any residences including Mike’s. I tried to call him, but I kept getting interference. On one occasion, when I tried to call, there was no ring tone but endless waves of static with what sounded like the deep voice of man murmuring throughout.

After several failed tries to call him, I drove up to the farm. It was dusk when I got there. The dirt road was now blocked by a gate. I got out of the car and hopped over it. When I reached the house, everything looked desolate. The mood of the setting was somber to say the least. A lone pony sat in the high grass, almost resting. The house looked dark and empty. Maybe Mike got tired of all the trouble and left? But why would he leave one of his animals just lying here unattended? I shouted as loud as I could that it was only me and not some intruder. Above the chimney I saw the antenna’s light, burning brighter than ever. The structure was shorter than I expected it to be but it still matched the size of the house. The light really was purple and not red. In the vacant window, a figure appeared. I shouted again and it disappeared then I looked up again and it appeared that the antenna was winking at me. A door opened and I saw Mike standing in the front entrance. He looked like he hadn’t slept in days and his hair was getting longer. I tried to shout but he shushed me and motioned to come in.

We went up to the bed/storage room which now appeared to a fire blazing away inside. Instead it was only the light bathing every square inch of the room in a heavy purple, sparing no corner. I had to shield my eyes but Mike’s were already adjusted to the pulsating glow. The entire room felt like a sauna as the light pulsed through stinging my hands and face with baking heat.

“Three of my horses died,” he said. “That last one in the field is my last pony. I gave her some tranquilizers to help her sleep. She won’t feel anything. After it finishes the last one, it’ll come for me. And I’ll be ready.”

Whenever he wasn’t talking, he continued to drone, “1-2-3-4-5,” in time with the light’s blinking. He sat on the floor looking out with the deer rifle in his hand. I told him what I found out about the new antenna but he wouldn’t listen.

Finally, he broke his gaze but still matched time with the light. “I’ve seen all kinds of things. But I don’t need to tell you that! 1-2… You see, one night, it took my third, so I followed it. Into the woods. All I can say is that it wasn’t some animal but it sure as hell wasn’t some rusty tower. 5… They all stood in a huge pit. It smelled like an abattoir. Christ, the blood!” There he stopped.

We noticed the room seemed colder and darkness lingered on longer than the light. “6-7-8.” He snapped up from his position and opened the window. Now the light was spotlighting the sleeping animal in the pasture as if it were some staged production. At first, I didn’t notice the movement. Then, like a spider under a rug, it crept out from the trees one leg at a time. The limbs appeared to be bent not from trauma but because of their joints. Whatever metal framework I’d imagined it was made out of no longer feasible. It was a living, mobile entity. It’s the unearthly light perched atop a stick-like frame.

An arm or leg (I really couldn’t tell which) speared into the horse while another hooked appendage traced along its side making a noise like an apple being peeled. Shots rang out. Mike aimed with his rifle and began shooting for its extremities and, of course, the eye. It started to move closer to the house, closing distance rapidly. I started to panic. With one swipe it could demolish the entire structure. Mike told me to run downstairs. The window shattered and he was pulled out. I screamed for him but the house began to creak and pop. I ran down the stairs but was knocked cold on the first landing.

All I could remember when I blacked out was a strange dream. I was strapped to a table in a white tiled room. Mike was lying adjacent to me unconscious with six grey hoods standing over his body. They appeared to be examining his head and face. One noticed that I was awake and moved towards me. I just stared into the pitch black opening of the hood until I woke up.

Fire and rescue crews had pulled me from the wreckage. They came to the area because of a forest fire started by a downed telephone line. My throat was hoarse from the amount of dust and debris littered around me. I saw that the roof had been torn off. Farm tools and machinery were thrown about-bent and damaged. In the field still lie the remains of the dissected animal. I told the crews about what happened to Mike and despite their disbelief, they mounted a search party. While looking the woods, we found a large basin that many of the rescue team noted had not been there before. Strewn about were half buried bones bleached clean and piles of animal skins and organs which were not chewed on in any way but left to rot there. Further down, I could hear the faint sounds of speech and a man standing at the center of the pit. I ran to find that it was Mike except, he was standing still with his back to me and face to the forest. I kept trying to get his attention but he didn’t seem to hear. His ears appeared to be bleeding and his voice sounded numb and stifled.

To this day, I’ll never forget his face. Eyes continuing to stare even though the sockets were empty and the words he formed from his tongue-less mouth.