's 2014 Horror Write-off:

" The Thing On Owl Creek Ridge "

Submitted by Nick McLean

No one had thought of the man as a transient. He was just between livings, working odd jobs, on his way from the East Coast to the West Coast. He received a level of trust not given to those in the town between livings whose bad deeds were known, or suspected. After all, he was dressed neatly, spoke clearly, and wore a genial smile, and white skin. It was good enough for West Virginia in those days.

Mr. Hannah did not like transients, or visitors though. He had inherited this from his father, who in his turn had inherited the attitude from his father who had lived through the Civil War. Mr. Hannah's family had lived in the town, owned land in and around it, for four straight generations. His father raised him in the good way of the Lord, and he did not flaunt his wealth. His pride was set firmly in his family: his wife, two boys, and a bright eyed little girl. Often he spoke of his brother who had gone away to school to become a businessman in Charlotte.

The transient had cash. He slept in a nice boarding house and in the morning talked with the owner about odd jobs that he might take. The boarding house owner gave him the names of several farmers, and tradesmen he might speak with. He paid a visit to Farmer Macdougal. Farmer MacDougal hadn't believed that a refined traveling man would have any use on a farm but the transient said that he could prove his worth, and if the Farmer MacDougal didn't think much of his skills he would leave without compensation. By the end of the night the man was awarded compensation and a seat at the family dinner table. Farmer MacDougal had a homely wife, and his children, even the girls, all took after his own broad shouldered, chiseled visage.

The transient found work next at the sleepy out of the way farm of widow Preston. Widow Preston was easily charmed and found work for the man right away. She had him in for lunch, and insinuated that he might board the night in her guest room if he were tired by the evening. The man smiled, and said nothing of it, but only went back out to work repairing a long barbed wire fence. The only livestock that ever occupied Widow Preston's land were wild pigs who wandered out of the thick woods. The man knew that the land could have been put to excellent use, and knew that Widow Preston was a fool. He thought his point further proved when he came upon a dilapidated storage barn. He went inside and looked around. It was cool, and dark in there and smelled rotten. There was a cot on the ground, burst at the seems, where a squatter had once rested. Further inspection turned up an empty bottle of cheap whiskey, clouded by time and elements. The transient man dropped the bottle and went back to the fence, carefully shutting the barn door's rusty latch on his way out.

At dinner he resented the widow's conversation and advances but didn't show it. When all was done he took his money, and left her alone on the dilapidated farm. He found the town's only bar and enjoyed a night of drinking and raucous laughter with the locals. They were all sorry to see him leave before the night had truly worn on. He went back to his room at the boarding house.

Mr. Hannah was a cultivated man. He read religiously every day. Fiction, essays, poetry, anything so long as it was mentally stimulating. Often he read The Bible, and when he did he'd stay after church on Sundays and talk to the pastor about the things he'd read. What did Pastor Lenten think of Jesus' condemnation of good deeds? What did he know about Gehenna? And what in the Hell was John trying to say in Revelations? That Saturday he spent time reading from the Book of Job that he might have something to talk with the pastor about on Sunday.

His reading was interrupted when his maid knocked on his study door and told him a man had come calling about odd jobs. Mr. Hannah said to direct him to the foreman but she reminded him the foreman was in Charlotte at an auction. Mr. Hannah sighed, dropped a pencil into his Bible, shut it and laid it on the end table.

The transient stood, with polished shoes and a new shave on the patio with his hands in his pockets. He seemed to be sizing up everything his eyes brushed over, the house, the tobacco crops just beyond the garden, the men working in the fields. When Mr. Hannah opened the screen door and stepped out he felt those eyes brush up and down him for a split second before meeting his own.

The transient smiled, introduced himself as David Lee Solomon, and explained that he was looking for temporary employment. Mr. Hannah grunted. The man went on saying that he'd done work for several other farmers in the area who could vouch for his skills, and promised that he would work hard.

I've already got help for the season, Mr. Hannah had said curtly, hoping the man would give up and be on his way. He gestured to a group of men who were busy sharpening spades by the well.

Niggers? The transient exclaimed.

Negroes, yes, said Mr. Hannah. They've got all the seasonal work covered. I do not need any help.

A nigger over one of your own? Please, do a favor for me. An upstanding, man like you could lend a hand to a fellow white man and let a few niggers go for a couple days. They'd appreciate it, you know?

I gave you my final answer, sir. Now if you would please inquire somewhere else---

Mr. Hannah's attention was diverted from the man to his wife, a neighbor woman, and his daughter coming springly down the walkway toward the house. He grit his teeth.

The women came up and said hello, politely and curtsied as Mr. Hannah introduced them to David Lee Soloman, a man inquiring about work who was just about to take his leave. The transient's smile, and charm was restored by the appearance of the women and he struck up conversation at once and admired what a lovely family they were. He turned his attention to the young girl.

You look like a true southern belle, he said making her blush. He winked at other ladies who smiled, You must take after your mother. Your father is a lucky man to have so much. Such a beautiful family and with so much to call his own.

Ahem, if you'd excuse us Mr. Solomon, interrupted Mr. Hannah. We've got time sensitive engagements. He began to shoo the women into the house, putting his hand into his daughters back and pushing her along. Come along, Ladies, inside. Go find Ms Smithy, dear. Eventually he'd mustered them through the door and into the house.

He turned then to the transient man, Sir, I think it's time for you to leave. You won't find any work here. Then he yelled to the men working at the spades; Harl! Would y'all kindly escort this man off my property. The transients face twisted, his lips curling back and eyes turning to slits

Excuse me? I can find my own way, good day to you, you nigger lovin' no good son'bitch.

The workmen stood with their spades in arms, ready to see the man out.

The next day was Sunday. Mr. Hannah was at Church early in the morning with his family. He only half heard the preachings of the day and thought most of the time about what he would discuss with the pastor afterward.

When the sermon was over, and tidings concluded the congregation sang their final song then began to shuffle out of the wooden church. Mr. Hannah found himself caught like a salmon trying to swim up a stream of human bodies. The priest stood at the head of the church, waving and god-blessing parishioners. By the time the flow of people had ebbed the preacher was caught in conversation with the Widow Preston about the upcoming church picnic. Mr. Hannah stood awkwardly by waiting for their conversation to end. The pair talked and talked and every so often they would look to him and smile. Once the Widow Preston asked him if his wife would be taking part in preparing for the church picnic. He nodded, smiled hesitantly, and tried to ask if he might speak with the pastor for a minute but the two had already begun chatting again, and Mr. Hannah felt silly standing there with them. He rushed off. When he was home he locked himself in his study to read. When he came out for lunch he read from the Bible to his family and the day wore on in much of the same manner till finally he'd fallen asleep with a copy of Dante in his lap.

David Lee Solomon, the transient, woke up late, sat in the common room of the boarding house, chewing his nails and distractedly making idle conversation. At noon he wandered around town, inquired about some work, and after making some arrangements, headed for the outskirts of town that he might find a man who would sell him some liquor.

When morning came it was discovered that the Hannahs' daughter was not in her room. In fact, she was not anywhere in the house nor could she be found anywhere on the farm. Everyone was searching for her, from the foreman to the workman, Mr. Hannah himself, his sons, and even a few neighbors.

The sheriff's office had been contacted after an hour of fruitless searching. A deputy was sent out. He asked a lot of pointless questions, wondered if she was inclined to run away, and generally seemed lazy and idle to Mr. Hannah. At his pressing the deputy reported the case to the sheriff who was convinced to open an investigation immediately. Mr. Hannah organized a group of men to search the woods around the property. They hunted around all day. One man shot a wild boar, another fell down a ravine and twisted his ankle. By sunset that day they regrouped at the church, all empty handed. Father Lenten prayed for their deliverance and the return of the Hannah's bright young daughter.

The search was picked up at first light the next day. They prayed for divine help at dawn, and Mr. Hannah's fretful appearance aroused pity in all. By noon many of the searchers began to feel exasperated and woeful that they may find the girl. They'd enlarged the area of their search, and rallied more volunteers. The sheriff's department was conducting their own investigation all the while, though when Mr. Hannah spoke with a deputy during their noon break it seemed they hadn't a clue.

An hour before sunset the body of a young girl was discovered in the Widow Preston's old barn, beaten and throat cut. The Sheriff announced that they were searching now for a murderer and rounded up his men to go out and shake down the usual suspects and interview possible witnesses. Mr. Hannah broke down and cried in the arms of Father Lenten who delivered the news. He sobbed and pawed at the priest, falling to his knees in front of everyone. His wife wept too, and their sons.

The next few days came and went with Mr. Hannah sitting in his study, or on the porch, brooding and succumbing to bouts of weeping. The men in the field would look up momentarily, and then try to ignore him and give him space to grieve. The pastor visited often, along with bands of neighbor women who had come to comfort Mrs. Hannah.

The funeral was that Sunday. Mr. Hannah's brother and wife had come out as soon as they heard and offered the grieving father and mother whatever they needed. When they all convened on the family cemetery two men climbed out of a freshly dug hole, wiping their dark brows of sweat and soil. Even sharp spades can't take the enormous effort (toil?) out of digging a grave.

Mr. Hannah and his close relatives bore coffin from the parlor of the house to the grave site. They lowered the little girl into her final resting place and Mr. Hannah was sure that he had dropped something into the hole though his bleary eyes could not search it out amongst the mud walls and pine wood.

The pastor began a sermon on the inevitability and injustice of life and death but Mr. Hannah heard nothing. He stared through the preacher as if he were an empty shroud. Strange wheels had begun to turn in his mind, and his heartbeat slowed till it was almost imperceptible. Blood pooled in his feet and an itchy sensation climbed up from his stomach into his chest and finally into his temples where the blood pounded. It was as if insects from the disturbed Earth were seeking him out and climbing up his pant legs, he thought. It didn't bother him though. The preacher finished his words and one by one the family threw handfuls of dirt or flowers into the hole which was soon after filled in again by the workman.

The next day the crime was pinned on a black worker on the testimony of one David Lee Solomon. The man, one Joshua Freeman, had worked on the Hannah's farm on and off. He was an alcoholic who supported himself by selling liquor illegally. At the trial Mr. Solomon explained that he had visited Mr. Freeman the night of the disappearance to purchase alcohol and that Mr. Freeman had told him he had a plan for revenge on the upstanding Mr. Hannah who he believed had shorted him wages.

Many of his fellows came to defense of his character along with several other of the poor whites, claiming that Freeman would do no such thing. Going over the evidence the sheriff did observe that an empty bottle of whiskey had been found at the scene of the crime. Mr. Freeman wept during his testimony, and blathered when the prosecutor accused him of being a deranged, jealous alcoholic with a lust for white women.

Mr. Hannah paid no attention to the sobbing man however. He stared the whole time at the transient, Mr. Solomon. The man's face was almost expressionless but Mr. Hannah was sure there was a shining in his eyes. Some kind of delight as Mr. Freeman broke down. Did the corner of his mouth twitch? Ever so slightly it seemed to as Mr. Freeman left the stand, and perhaps again when the Jury provided a guilty verdict. The Judge ordered that Mr. Freeman would be hung for his crimes the next morning.

The Hannah's were given the seats of honor at the hanging that they may have the best view. A scaffolding was erected in the park where they normally had the church picnic and many of the townsfolk had gathered to watch. When asked if he was excited to see the negro kick and squirm Mr. Hannah only grunted. He didn't mind the proceedings, only he scanned the faces in the crowd.

As they were marching Mr. Freeman up the gallows, Mr. Hannah's eyes settled upon the face of the transient. The man calmly watched them tie the noose around the doomed man's neck, Mr. Hannah carefully waited for his reaction. All his senses were bent toward the task. He didn't hear the colored choir take up a hymnal at the far back of the crowd, or the demand that they shut up by several deputies. He did not hear the shouted pronouncement of death by the Sheriff, nor the priest's delivery of last rites. He did hear the pop of the trapdoor and the crack of the rope as Freeman dropped down.

The transient's pupils widened, and eye brows raised. Before the last breathes were gone from Mr. Freeman's lungs the transient who had provided the evidence for his conviction turned away and began to push through the crowd. When he was almost out of sight around a corner Mr. Hannah stood up craned his neck to see where the man was going. The transient walked off the lawn and began down the street toward the boarding house.

The ominous wheels quickened their pace inside Mr. Hannah, doing the work for his heart now. He began to step away but his wife clutched his arm and held him there. As the doctor declared Mr. Freeman dead a uproarious cheer erupted from the crown and a band began to play. Mr. Hannah's sharpened senses were overwhelmed and he felt he might be crushed under the weight of the cacophony.

Many people came up to see what the Hannah family thought of the justice served. Many hoped to hear Mr. Hannah declare his daughter avenged. They were disappointed when he waved them away, and said he felt nothing of it. The sheriff approached and asked how he was and if he enjoyed the hanging.

That man did nothing, spat Mr. Hannah.

You don't believe justice was served today? You doubt my office's investigative ability.

You're a hack. You were always a nigger lover. That's your problem. You couldn't protect your family because you cared more about those niggers.

Mr. Hannah's gaze turned directly to the sheriff now, ready to face accusation that he hadn't been able to protect his family. He had already convicted himself of that crime, and would not have this worthless, ill mannered, lazy man who had failed in his duty try to push this all on him. Fuck you and your worthless department. Now if you'll excuse me. Mr. Hannah shouldered the sheriff out of the way and went with his scowl to face the crowd of sycophants.

He was far away from his wife the whole day, even when the two embraced alone in the parlor and he held her as she had so needed to be. He felt ill for it but the wheels of his mind were turning to dark industry now. There was so much to plan, so much action to take. He would have to act fast.

The transient had left town the day of the hanging and hitchhiked on to the next town. Mr. Hannah told his family that he would have to visit his brother who had returned to Charlotte after the funeral. His wife had remained behind to help take care of things and comfort Mrs. Hannah. He kissed his wife, hugged his boys, and left the foremen in charge the business matters of the farm while he was away.

He returned in the middle of the night several days later. Mrs. Hannah found him laying in his study in the morning, dressed but disheveled. His eyes were wide open and he hadn't slept. He told his wife he had arrived late and hadn't wanted to wake her. When she asked how things went he said nevermind and that his brother hadn't been available. Mrs. Hannah didn't mention that she had telephoned his brother in Charlotte and found that he hadn't heard Mr. Hannah was coming down, though he would make the arrangements to meet him.

Mrs. Smithy served them breakfast and Mr. Hannah was distracted by a book the whole time. He spent no time resting that day, even though it was Saturday. He walked about the grounds of the farm, surveying his land. Eventually he wandered into woods he owned. He skipped lunch and when he finally returned he slept through dinner. When his wife went to bed he went into his study.

The next day he had his foreman commission a group of workman to help him with a project up on Owl Creek Ridge. It was through the woods and up the hill on the border of his property. He was vague on the details but he explained that they would be digging out an old cave that his grandfather had dug out during the civil war to hide his family.

When questioned by his neighbors Mr. Hannah explained that he was sure there was coal in the mountain side, and that the rumor had long been kept in his family. Most people believed he was trying to distract himself from grief and humored his strange and sudden plans.

Under the careful guidance of Mr. Hannah the workmen dug a deep shaft into the ridge. It sloped at an sheer angle, causing many of the men to complain that it was dangerous. His foreman was frustrated by Mr. Hannah's insistence on managing the excavation but there was no arguing with the man. Against every point and argument he held up an excuse as to why things must be this way. When his attitude bordered on agitation, an emotion not commonly exhibited by Mr. Hannah, the foreman threw in with the rest and figured he was only trying to get over the grief.

After some thirty feet of digging Mr. Hannah had them begin to widen the end of the hole so that there was a small room at the bottom. They found no sign of coal, and Mr. Hannah canceled the plans saying that perhaps it was located somewhere else in the area.

He declared the next day that he would not let the labor be for waste however and that he would turn the newly excavated tunnel into a fruit cellar. Mrs. Hannah reminded him they had a fruit cellar on the property but rebuked her and said it was flooded. The foreman wanted to take a look when he heard that, as no one had told him.

Mr. Hannah flew into a wild rage when the man tried to enter the cellar to have a look for himself. He shouted at his foreman of twenty years, threatened to fire him if he wasn't going to listen and do his job properly. The foreman tried to explain he was only trying to do his job but Mr. Hannah told him to mind his own goddamn business.

The next day there was a lock on the door of the fruit cellar shed and no one asked why. They all knew that Mr. Hannah was not taking things well, and that his beloved daughter's death had so greatly disturbed him that he was not his usual self.

Work was begun on the new fruit cellar with Mr. Hannah overseeing the whole thing. It wasn't until the preacher came out to visit that he stopped and left the site at Owl Creek Ridge.

In his study Mr. Hannah smoked his pipe while the Father Lenten did not. The priest tried to explain that life isn't easy, and pointed to the Book of Job as an example of how the Lord works. Mr Hannah mustn't give up the faith.

Aye, Job, said Mr. Hannah. I've read it a few times over. I know how the Lord works, and how the Devil works with him to test us. I have become quite an industrious man, Father. I will not renounce the Lord God. I think you will like the fruits of my labor. I think you, of all people, will appreciate what I'm working toward. He filled his pipe again and puffed.

Satisfied, the preacher counseled Mrs. Hannah that her husband was only trying to work through his grief and that he would eventually be better. He said that she should really do the same, and hoped to see the family in church next Sunday.

Next Sunday they were in church and Mr. Hannah sang loudest of all. He was hurrying his family out the door when the preacher and the Widow Preston approached them. Mrs. Hannah was invited to help plan for the church's picnic in the fall, and Mr. Hannah could help out as well. He hugged his wife and said it would be a good thing for her to do though he wouldn't have the time himself. He left his wife and boys at church and headed home.

The steep tunnel now had muddy stairs and the bottom was domed with mortar and bricks There were still the shelves to put in, a shed to build, and perhaps some more structural reinforcements. That was when Mr. Hannah canceled the project. He said it was too deep and would probably fill with water in the winter. It would not work for storage at all. He paid the hired men for the labor and apologized to his foreman for not listening to him earlier. The foreman said he understood and patted his boss on the shoulder though he was beginning to feel that Mr. Hannah was losing his mind.

The following day Mr. Hannah purchased a scrap corn silo from another farmer, saying that he was going to expand. The Hannah family had grown solely tobacco as their staple crop for generations. It was true they had a garden, but that was only for subsistence. There was no need for a corn silo but Mr. Hannah would hear no arguments. He had it carted up to Owl Creek Ridge where he said it would be repaired. A smithy was built on the hill but no blacksmith was employed.

The morning after all the arrangements had been completed Mr. Hannah took his boys up to Owl Creek Ridge and recruited them into his industry. Being good children, who trusted their father, they followed his commands without outward question.

When their mother asked them of their work at dinner the boys fell silent and Mr. Hannah answered for them. They were enjoying the work, and relished the chance to be a part of their father's farm business first hand. Truly, working with one's own hands is the Lord's work, said Mr. Hannah. He warned all against idleness and the sin of sloth.

The boys helped him ease the corn silo's chute down the tunnel in Owl Creek Ridge. It was then like a giant slide into darkness. A rope was secured at the top and they worked by lantern light in the catacomb. They filled in the sides of the chute with mortar so that the room was completely sealed up.

The corn chute stuck out the top but Mr. Hannah declared it would need to be higher. They began to pull apart the silo and fashion its pieces into a great tube that fit onto the chute.

On Sunday the preacher complimented Mr. Hannah on involving his boys and teaching them hard work. Mr. Hannah smiled, shook the man's hand and thanked him. He told the preacher how much he hoped he would appreciate their project when it was finished and that he would have to come out.

A couple months passed and Mr. Hannah and his sons worked alone most of the time up on Owl Creek Ridge. Always working and building. The foreman was glad that Mr. Hannah was away from the farm because he feared the man's somber moods. The gardener complained about not having a fruit cellar to store the excess vegetables, and Mrs. Hannah worried that their purchased canned goods would go bad over the winter in the pantry. Mr. Hannah was not concerned with it so much as they left the old fruit cellar alone. They could build a new one on the other side of the house for all he cared. The foreman took this as permission and hired some extra men to dig out the hole and build the shed.

September was chilly and windy, and they had the church picnic on the lawn in front of the courthouse. Mr. Hannah sat in the bandstand just as he had the day of the hanging but did not pay much attention to the crowd. He was lost in a book. His sons sat together beneath a tree not minding the coolness of the shade. Their eyes looked to the girls who danced and flirted in the grass, but their minds were elsewhere. Deep in a hole up on Owl Creek Ridge; their wills caught up in the machinations of their father. Mrs. Hannah chatted with the Widow Preston and felt some strange connection that day to her loneliness.

After the food was served and everyone sat around eating Mr. Hannah stood on the bandstand steps and called their attention. In a booming voice he announced that his project would soon be completed and that everyone would be invited to come and see the end of his labors. He spoke about the Lord's work, and how so many authors in the Bible had advised that hard work was the only path to Heaven. Everyone clapped and agreed, though they felt a little chided by the man.

That October his labor was finally complete. Mr. Hannah was up early in the morning and roused his boys. By now they had been infected by his anxiety, and nervous excitement gripped them all. Before anyone else--even the foreman--woke, the trio carried a box, much like a coffin, out of the old fruit cellar and loaded it onto a cart. Another cart prepared the evening before and covered by a large tarp they retrieved from the barn with two mules. These supplies they took up to Owl Creek Ridge. By mid-morning everything was in order.

Everyone in the town, even the Sheriff, had been invited to Mr. Hannah's unveiling. Out of curiosity many people showed up. His boys met the group outside the house and offered the audience refreshments and food. Mr. Hannah had purchased an entire pen of pigs the previous week, though there was no pork served to the attendees. Mostly in fact, they were served grilled vegetables which there was no room for in the half completed fruit cellar. During the lunch the boys delivered a speech written by their father on the importance of hard work and faith in the Lord. They read some passages from the Book of Job, the part where God and the Devil make the bet, the part where Job refuses to deny the Lord, and so on. After everyone had eaten and their curiosity was sufficiently peaked the two boys led the party up toward Owl Creek Ridge.

When they'd reached the summit they found Mr. Hannah standing on a scaffolding in front of the hole in the ridge. A huge, awkwardly shaped structure had been set into the ridge behind him. It was covered with several tarps, all tied together that they might be pulled away like a single curtain. There was something sinister about its jagged edges, and the way its form distorted the tarps.

A rickety stairway led up the to the scaffold's top where Mr. Hannah stood. His boys joined him and everyone else gathered below.

Thank you all so much for coming out, he shouted down at them as he observed the faces in the crowd. The preacher, the widow, his confused wife, his neighbors, his foreman, the sheriff even, and so many others. He wore his finest suit and shoes. He had been a handsome man with good taste, but the elegance of the clothing did nothing to hide the purple shadows that had grown under his eyes, or the whiskers that appeared on his face and hadn't been shaved. His hands were cracked, and dry, covered in cuts and scrapes. Something black had lodged under his chewed finger nails and it seemed that he had never been able to get it out or never tried. On his belt he wore his revolver.

I am so glad you all came, preacher, he gestured and nodded then continued my neighbors who were there in my time of need, our thankless sheriff, my friends. The sheriff and his deputies grimaced but before they could protest Mr. Hannah held out his arms and continued his speech. It seemed to them that he was not holding out arms, but instead spreading wings, like an angel or some creature out of folklore.

Friends, it has not been a good year for my family. I failed to protect my dearest, most beloved daughter. A terrible sin for a man who calls himself father. He looked at the preacher. And then justice failed my family and you, he pointed to the sheriff, and your lackeys murdered an innocent man and called it justice. To my face you called it justice and then ridiculed me. Didn't you Sheriff? You all did in your hearts and minds, and private conversations, I know.

But today, I will make all things right. As the Lord works in mysterious ways so does the Devil and the Justice that my family was denied when our only daughter was killed will be delivered today. Divine Punishment is come.

He gave the signal and his sons pulled the ropes that brought down the tarps. Everyone in the crowd gasped when the beast appeared before them, naked in the light of day with rusted skin. Woman fainted, children screamed and ran, and men fell backward. Mr. Hannah had unveiled the Devil himself, in all his heinous terror, to them.

Constructed from scrap metal, it had a long gullet like a dragon's and its head was a massive metal skull. A cavernous mouth opened up ready to swallow the world whole. It was filled with sharp teeth and splattered with blood. Decaying pigs' heads were lodged in the gums, and a necrotic halitosis wafted from the open mouth. The demon's deep inset eyes were black at first, scowling and evil. The two sons had poles used for lighting high chandelier candles which they held to the eyes ceremoniously. The black coals inside caught fire and burned red hot while pouring black smoke like dark magic into the air.

The crowd was screaming still and had backed up several feet. They decried that Mr. Hannah was insane, that he was an evil man, a servant of the devil, and that he was damned and doomed and should be committed. The Sheriff thought he ought to arrest him then and there but he was so high up on that scaffold right in front of the nightmare's mouth. Mr. Hannah seemed to exude the same aura of invincible otherworldly menace that the thing he had brought into their world did.

Mr. Hannah drew his gun, pointed it into the air and fired several times. The shouting and screaming went silent but the whimpering continued.

I have read deeply of scripture. I have read over and over so much literature on the topics of justice and good and evil. I had a vision of such a beast as you see here before you. This Fiend of the Pit will help me, a good upstanding man of society, to deliver justice today. Divine Punishment.

On cue his boys broke open the coffin that they'd lifted up onto the scaffold and wrestled an emaciated and bound man from the box. He had two black eyes and wore only his underwear. They could see his ribs when he faced his back to them as he tried to squirm away they saw that it was covered in lashes. No one recognized the man. Mr. Hannah's sons beat him into submission with clubs and the crowd gaped, horrified. No one dared help the man though. Mr. Hannah's show would go on and they could only witness it. They were caught in the iron grip of human awe at the preternatural.

This man, announced Mr. Hannah, this is the man who murdered my daughter. A man you all trusted and let deceive you. His sins are numerous and there are so many levels of Hell he belongs in. I will send him there. Through the demon's mouth like a portal to the next world I will send him alive into Hell that he may be received into his Divine Punishment.

At that the boy led the man to the demon's mouth. Mr. Hannah removed his gag while his boys cut the mans ties but held him firmly and threatened him with their cudgels. Despite this the man turned to the crowd and began to plead. He begged for their help, looked everyone of them in the eye and begged. No one dared approach the gigantic demon however. Its flaming eyes told them that if they tried to help the man then they too would be devoured.

Mr. Hannah didn't let the pleading go on for long. He grabbed the weakened man by the throat with his free hand and held him up in front of the demon's hungry mouth.

David Lee Solomon, in the name of God I commit you to eternal damnation, and he flung the man over the teeth and into the devil's throat. The crowd watched him disappear into the mouth, many of them remembering his legs and bare feet stuck out helplessly as he was swallowed. The man screamed the whole way down and the echoes seemed to indicate that a portal to Hell had truly been opened and that a host of sinners were suffering in inside the stomach of damnation. There was a final thud when the man hit the bottom and a shriek.

Mr. Hannah stared down the throat, listening to the man scream and squirm in the mouth. He imaged him first landing in the viscera of butchered pigs mixed with stale water and lye powder. The man would be melting down there. The garish stink that rose from the throat seemed to confirm that. The screaming waned and Mr. Hannah imagined that the man was now really in Hell, suffering that fate continuously. Melting away forever.

He turned away then, and put his arms around his sons. The crowd was still looking at him but getting antsy. He walked down the wooden stairs, went up to the preacher and shook his hand, I hope you like it, he said. Then he went to the sheriff; I suppose you want to arrest me. He put his hands up and after a moment's hesitation the sheriff and his two deputies jumped on Mr. Hannah at once and he was marched down Owl Creek Ridge and to the jail.

At his trial, his lawyer had him plead not guilty by insanity and he acquiesced that he may avoid the death penalty. I'm not afraid to meet the Lord, I look forward to it but I have more to do here on Earth, I know.

He spent the rest of his life in a state mental institution. The townsfolk formed a mob and burned down his house after the trial, fearing him to be some kind of sorcerer and resenting his blasphemous of both God and the State. They couldn't bring themselves near the thing on Owl Creek Ridge however.

Mr. Hannah's family left town, along with everyone who was closely associated with him. The land wouldn't sell, and Mrs. Hannah changed her name. Only his sons visited him in the institution when they could.

The devil still lives up on Owl Creek Ridge, waiting to swallow the sinners of the world and restore the balance of justice.