's 2014 Horror Write-off:

" GUT "

Submitted by JON STRONG

My wife was a treasure to me. She was an artist, and since she had no job and we made money selling pelts and mounts I brought in alongside my day job, she often watched and once in a blue moon helped me skin the occasional deer I brought in so we could get the meat in the freezer fast and the pelt tanned asap. We were an awesome team. My game often provided great references for the fantastic creatures she illustrated, and she often gave me the spirit I needed to go out into that cold and bring it in for her. This explained the bear-like manticores she began to breath life into alongside cougar sphinxes, deer-like unicorns, magpie harpies and bobcat-headed chimeras, but every once in a while I joked that the drawings and notes almost seemed as if she had seen an actual beast and had drawn it.

Iím a skeptic by nature, and she was often superstitious, so I wasnít shocked that when I joked about it she answered calmly that yes, there was a unicorn out there, out in the woods that were essentially our back yard. I laughed a bit, asked her if she was tired, what anyone would do when their loved one begins insisting theyíve seen creatures that donít exist, you know? I told her she probably mistook a buck with a broken or lost antler, and quite frankly, itís possible. That or a pony that often wanders off of a distant neighborís property and onto ours. She seemed a bit more upset about my teasing than normal, though.

I shrugged it off, and the next morning, I went out in the woods to check the gut pile I left out to attract deer. When you leave out a carcass or anything bloody and meaty, itíll almost always be deer that come first to eat at it. I normally go out to check to see if it had frozen overnight or not, because we live in a chilly climate, as well as to avoid my wifeís somewhat bruised demeanor after last nightís small scuff. To my surprise, there was only a faint stain and smell left where I had left it. Clean, gone, no organ or meat to be seen. The gut piles, in my experience, are almost never cleaned up in one night here, so I got suspicious and went to see if anything else was up. A few yards deeper in the forest, I saw the deer that I had presumed eaten their fill so voraciously.

They were in one hell of a sorry state. Iíve seen wounds left on younger bucks that were pretty damn bad, and while this was pretty on par as it appeared to be a dispute, the poor sods appeared to have been beaten after they were down. Two does, even, lay before me a few meters away from each other. It looked as if they had been dragged by some brute and mullered. I would have said bear, but the wounds looked roughly like hoof and antler injuries, ignoring the punctures that were as thick as the head of a railroad spike and long slashes that dragged across the flesh. I scanned the area, afraid that whoever did this was still around, but whatever it was had been gone a while; the bodies were cold, but not bloated.

After aging the closest doe based on the wear of its teeth, I grabbed the it by the hind legs and began the strenuous task of dragging it back to my truck, rueing my decision to provoke my wife. She often helped with this task, and despite the fact that this doe appeared to be somewhat lighter than the bucks I normally drag, without her the task was heavy. While I was dragging the doe, I noted a long jagged seam along its belly the matched the other slashes, albeit appearing to be much deeper. Iíd need to check that out.

Eventually I made it back with the doe in the back of the truck and made my way to the house. I deposited it, after some struggle, on the table in my garage. The garage had always been my makeshift workshop that I did all the messy jobs in, and now was no different but for the sense of unease that prickled at me. I was uncomfortable alone in the room with the mangled creature, so I called in my wife, luring her with the description of what had happened to the doe. She was often as curious as I was, and now was no exception.

She reacted the way I did with the corpse, and we unanimously agreed the best place to start would be in the abdominal cavity, where that deep gash had been. Upon closer inspection, the wound was a lot cleaner than the rest of the slashes, almost surgical in comparison. While I worked on getting a sense of the wound before opening it, my wife had gone to look at the puncture wounds. They werenít like anything I had seen, and suddenly she asked what side the doe had been laying on when I found it. It was the opposite side that it was laying on now, and we realized that the puncture wounds could be clearly seen through. It penetrated both sides of the flank, and it appeared that aside from the skin and muscle and bone, the deer was hollow.

Hollow it was. When I finally opened the deer up, it had next to no organs. A fair portion of the intestines were left, crushed near the hindquarter side of the abdominal cavity with the uterus and ovaries, and the stomach had been left intact. Everything else had been picked clean, and almost all of the membrane surrounding the missing organs had been eaten as well. I stuck a finger through the topside of a puncture, and indeed, looking into the cavernous corpse I could see the tip of my finger. I noticed I had pushed something out while I did so. Something sharp, as it had cut the tip of my glove. I looked at where it fell in the corpse and picked it up.

It was white and borderline pearlescent and an inch and a half long. My assumption was a shard of a rib or something that had been injured during the furious attack on the poor creature. My wife insisted it was a shard of ivory, but we both decided whatever it had been was less important than figuring out what happened to this animal and turned our attention back to the task at hand. We set it aside and simply stared at the deer. Whatever had attacked it had been merciless, there was not a damned doubt about it.

What perplexed me the most, though, was one of the untouched organs. I understood leaving the lower intestine and stomach behind; there was potentially sickening waste in the former and god knows what in the latter, but the uterus bothered me. That organ in and of itself is a huge wad of smooth muscle, also known as wild animal food. Whatever ate the rest of this thing obviously wasnít interested in this, though. Maybe It had been scared off? I mentioned to my wife that there had been a second doe, and I wanted to see if the injuries matched as well.

The corpse was a small bit stiff and a small bit bloated, but it was good enough to find out what we needed due to the cold slowing the decomposition. It appeared that whatever had done the job still hadnít come back to finish it, so instead of hauling this one all the way back, weíd just autopsy it in the woods. I discovered after inspecting the teeth that this one wasnít even sexually mature yet, untouched by the rut that had just passed. Alongside that, the damage was nearly the same as this oneís friend. Punctures that went from one side through to the other, slashes, and a gash down the belly with a nearly empty body cavity. The only differences were that this one had the lower intestine and stomach, but no uterus and no blood. She had been drained.

I had never in my life seen anything like it, and I doubt I ever will again. At least, outside of this forest. Itís been happening often lately. I think whatever this beast is, itís getting hungrier as the winter grows harsher. Itís getting harder to keep my wife from leaving the house to help it. She insists its her beloved beast, but I doubt that it is, and even if it was, I doubt itís a benevolent creature.

She left while I slept. I would be worried, but I canít say I havenít seen it coming. Iím going out to look for her. I shouldnít have to watch her, sheís smarter than this. Iím not mad at her for this, but Iíd go to hell if I tried to say I werenít afraid of whatís out there. If it is what she thought it was, Iíll have the world on my shoulders, but Iím bringing my rifle anyway. Whatever monster this is happens to be a threat to my and everyoneís safety, so someone needs to take it down. I can hear it in the distance. Itís almost a whinny mixed with a rough, whooping bark, like an alarmed roe deer. Like itís saying to me, ďCome and peg me, assholeĒ.

I miss my wife so much. She was so strong. Iím so scared.