's 2013 Horror Write-off:

"The Children's Field"

Submitted by C. Lonnquist

               I'm tired of saying it. I didn't bury him. I'm sure he's dead. I hope he's dead.

               I don't know why I keep telling you these things. I don't know why you won't release me, I didn't kill him.

               You know about the Children's Field? It lies between Mankato and St. Peter. There are a number of boulder-dotted hillocks along the river valley, but you know which one I'm talking about. The Children's Field. The one the old folks tell the story about.

               They say that you can hear them weeping when the moon hangs in the sky, a waxing gibbous glowing ochre among the stars.

               Lucas Whittaker was braver than I was. He wanted to see if the stories were true. We took his old Cutlass down the road. They say the sounds are worse after the first frost, so we went in late November. The heater was broken, and the windshield fogged with our breath. We parked the car, and Whittaker pulled two shovels from the trunk.

               "So, what happens when we find baby skulls?" He asked. He was smiling, seemingly impervious to the cold. "We keep ‘em, or donate them to the Historical Society?"

               I shrugged and blew on my hands, chapped and stiff with cold.

               Whittaker and I stumbled across the uneven ground, dying grass cracking under our feet, brittle and hardened by the frost. I thought I heard a sound, but I think it was just an owl. It was low; a whisper in the dark. A figment of my chilled mind and active imagination.

               Whittaker chuckled as we worked, spades prodding at the half-frozen ground. He talked about grabbing a beer afterwards. He talked about dumping me at the apartment while he chased after skirts up at the dorms. I wish I had warned him, but how should I have known? Even now, when it's all done, you don't believe me. Even know, you think I killed him and buried him in the Children's Field.

               "You know they say that the trolls lived here?" He leaned on his shovel and smiled at me. "The old Norwegian guys. They say that's what the big boulders are. Troll carcasses. That all the kids that went missing back in 1800's gotten eaten by the trolls."

               "That's where it gets the name." I said through chattering teeth. "Everyone knows that."

               He shrugged and poked his shovel back into the ground.

               It thrummed; the ground, shuddering in a single seismic pulse, barely perceptible if not for the fact that the shovel wrenched itself from Whittaker's hands and wagged back and forth, a half-buried tail protruding from the dirt. Whittaker let go, a wild grin on his face, eager and terrified.

               "You see that?" He pulled the shovel from the ground. We heard something slip from it like wet slush. I turned my phone towards it, the bright phosphorescent screen shining on something pale and slick like mucous.

               "Whit…" I hugged my shovel to my chest, my other arm outstretched, the phone quaking in my grasp. "Whit, I don't know what that is?"

               "I'm gonna taste it." He lifted the shovel up and stuck his tongue out.

               He stopped. The sound made him stop. The crying, faint and ephemeral, found our ears.

               "I think I hit a kid." Whittaker said. He looked down at the ground. White phlegm oozed out of the hole the shovel had made. The crying came from all around us.

               "Whit!" My voice should have been a shout, but instead pushed out as little more than a breath. "Whit, we need to go!"

               There was a sensation; a tapping at the bottoms of our shoes. The feel of rain on your shoulders, but pushing upward through the soil of the Children's Field. A thousand insect legs; a thousand dulled needles. I shifted from one foot to the other uneasily. Whit pressed his hand on the ground.

               He looked at me, and I wondered if he was half-mad. He beamed, the gash of a smile slicing open his face. He reached to touch the white slime.

               The crying grew louder and gained focus. I looked towards the sound, and Whit followed my wide-eyed horror.

               Something stumbled across the field, short and spindly, with a distended stomach and eyes that caught the glow of the moon and threw it back with an ivory glow. It tripped and fell and screeched in words we didn't understand. It reached for us. Thirty feet. Twenty. The thing was small, but human shaped. A child? No child had eyes that big. No child moved that way. Its fingers were too long, its mouth too wide. It should have had a nose or ears. It shouldn't have been shaped like that!

               Ten feet; tiny teeth reflected the light; not sharp or feral, but cracked and broken and missing. I think there were tears refracting the light.

               "It's a kid, James." Whit muttered, running towards the thing that wasn't quite human. "It's a little kid!"

               If I had been running, I wouldn't have felt the thump beneath my feet. If I had followed Whit, I wouldn't have seen the boulder on his left rattle so slightly.

               Whittaker caught the child-thing in his arms, murmuring consoling noises as it thrashed wildly. At times, it appeared to be clinging to him. At others, its legs kicked fervently, as if still running. It flailed and screamed and shrieked, batting at Whittaker in terror, its head swiveling back and forth, eyes wide, mouth opening and closing over and over, uttering sounds and noises like words.

               Then the boulder lifted. Then the thing the color of dying moss poured out from the lichen-streaked rock, lifting the massive stone as it seethed forward.

               Legs shouldn't have that many joints. They shouldn't be covered in hair like stalks of dead grass. They shouldn't end in hooks that seemed to glow beneath the gibbous moon.

               There shouldn't have been so many!

               The legs twisted across the frosty earth, creaking and bending and folding and reaching. They stretched out, deep hooks sinking into the child-things shoulders, pulling at bone nad muscle and wrenching the white thing away from Whittaker. He cried out in surprise and grabbed his shovel, charging at the legs. I swallowed and charged after him.

               I could see the thing under the rock better now as it pulled the screaming child back towards the boulder. Blood caused steam to build on the cold grass, and beyond the mist, eyes like a gazing balls reflected the light of the moon. They didn't move, and as the thing threw the rock back angrily, I saw more of them. No arachnid has that many eyes! No living thing has that many eyes!

               A slit like torn paper pulled up the things face, and clear teeth clattered against each other as it pulled the child towards it. Tentacles caked in filth and dirt scratched around the mouth, and two furry arms like pedipalps danced across the white skin of the thing that couldn't have been human. Little hands, white and gnarled, tried to push past the shadowy creature, but it pushed each one down with its long, rattling legs. Whittaker froze and stared blankly at it before cracking his shovel across one of the pedipalps. The creature's mouth made no sound, but it grated a thousand legs together with a stridulating hiss, hairs raking across shadow and chitin.

               A hook caught Whittaker around the leg. He fell, the shovel catching him in the ribs. He cried out, a grunting moan as he clutched his arms around his torso and began to slide back towards the thing under the boulder. He screamed then, and I think I screamed to, though I do not trust those memories. His fingers tried to clutch the dirt, but the frozen ground did not give purchase.

               I fell to my knees, long legs all around me, hooks pulling at my clothing, empty glassy eyes peering at me from beneath the propped boulder. The thing and I stared at each other as I grabbed Whittaker's hand and pulled. It dragged its legs across each other again, the air filling with hissing and weeping, some of it perhaps my own, and some of it definitely Whittaker's.

               Twisting, bristly limbs surrounded Whittaker, and he was gone except for his hand. The bundle of broken-looking legs that surrounded him seemed to pulse as he fought beneath them. I heard a tearing and fell backwards, suddenly staring at the starry night, black legs rasping around me. I closed my eyes. I muttered prayers, making up words as I hugged Whittaker's arm to my chest and heaved backwards, my heels digging into the dirt.

               The stridulating stopped. The weeping stopped. I opened my eyes. I wonder if I had been sleeping. I could still feel Whittaker's arm clenched in mine, but it wasn't right. It wasn't heavy. I looked down at my chest, my hands wet and slick with what I first thought was sweat.

               Past my feet, the boulder had been restored. Between the boulder and I, there was a slick trail of something dark that lead up the front of my pants and across my shirt where I held the glove of skin that once ran from Whittaker's elbow to his fingertips.

               I screamed again, then, and threw the macabre thing aside.

               You found me when you patrol car passed by the road as dawn crept across the sky, bloody and mad, crawling and drooling. I don't think I blinked once for the next eight hours. I feared that if I did, the thing would reach at me from the darkness and take me where it took the child-creature. Where it took Whittaker.

               And you don't believe that I didn't kill him, that I didn't bury him, but I swear that I didn't. I can prove it.

               Go out to the Children's Field on the night after the first frost and press your ear to the ground as I did while I lay there among the cold grass and warm blood of my best friend. Go there and listen for the words that I heard; the small, terrified voice that picked through the frozen dirt like tiny worms. Go there and hear what it said to me:

               "They're moving under my skin, James! They're eating me!"