Bogleech.com's 2016 Horror Write-off:
The Boogiemen used to be sick kids. They got sick and they stayed sick; they liked getting doted on by their worried mamas, and skipping chores, and being able to snot and fuss and complain without getting scolded, so they invited the sick in whenever they could. Soon they were more sick than person, and they got wicked.
So the granddaddies got together and whupped 'em, drove 'em out of the village, and now they lurk out in the bad and barren places where nobody, grown or otherwise, ought to be. It's lonely there, so sometimes they sneak back to the edge of the village, watching for kids that look like they might make for good boogiemen so as to snatch 'em up and fill 'em with sickness.
That's how granddaddy tells it.
I didn't believe him. Mama says I'm a skeptical critter. Papa says it's a good skill but it needs guidance. I just couldn't figure how somebody gets so sick they're not a person anymore.
Then Goodwife Naylor had her baby. Mama brought me and my sister Jadinn to see; she said it would be a good learning experience, that we had to get naturalized like all the other kids. I don't think we saw what she expected us to, 'cause Goodwife Naylor's baby came out sicker than anything I ever saw. At first, watching it flop around like that, when everybody was all quiet, I figured that maybe as it got older it'd grow legs and fingers. Then Goodwife Naylor started screaming and the cunningwoman got to making signs, and Mama hustled us out of there real fast, so I got turned around on that idea pretty fast.
Later Mama sat me and Jadinn down and gave us this long talk about the Compact. How Them That Move keep the world turning around us, the sun shining and the rain falling and the crops growing, babies being born, people dying, and how we had an obligation to them. Do right by Them That Move and Them That Move permit you to go on in their way of things. Do wrong and all the world moves against you. She talked about how humans abuse the Compact, how we've built up a debt and we pay it in hard ways sometimes, which is why we saw what we did.
So now I figure the Boogiemen must be Them That Move, or at least working for 'em. I imagined them creeping in through Ms. Naylor's window and scooping the baby out of its crib. Its body would have to kind of jiggle and pool in their hands like an egg that hadn't cooked through yet, and they'd run whooping through the Naylors' cabbage patch and out into the woods. Maybe that kind of baby couldn't grow up into a proper person, but I figure it would make for a pretty good Boogieman.
The next summer Weepy vanished. Weepy was a big, skinny kid, only ten but nearly his papa's size. He didn't talk, except in weird nonsense words to Blue, his papa's hunting dog. You couldn't look him in the eye or he'd run away sobbing-that's why we called him Weepy, to be honest I don't think even his parents remember his real name-and you couldn't get him to do anything. Couldn't play, couldn't sing, couldn't do chores. His papa would've beat him daily if it weren't that Blue was so protective of him. The only cussing I heard out of his parents, I heard out of his papa, and that was only 'cause Blue went missing along with him.
And of course nobody asked, but it was a known fact to anyone under fifteen in the village that the Boogiemen got them.
The winter after that, the Baumgartners' daughters caught a real dire fever. The Baumgartners boarded themselves up inside, windows and doors. I had a crush on Wendy, the second-eldest Baumgartner, so the whole affair got me worked up into a lather. I'd look out our window at the Baumgartners' cabin and make up prayers to Them That Move-I'd play 'til my fingers bleed for 'em under the singing stones, I'd go out into the woods and kill the first thing I saw, I'd give up my good arm and my whittling knife-anything to keep the Compact off Wendy.
Dumb stuff. The Boogiemen already had a claim.
I went to bed fretting about three nights in. My guts quarreled with me all night and I couldn't sleep a wink, so I know I wasn't dreaming when I saw them pass my window.
Six. Each about half again a grown man's size, covered in long shaggy hair from head to toe, and huge, round, dark eyes that shone like water under the moonlight. One of them caught me staring and turned, real slow, to look me in the eye. For a moment as it turned its eyes flashed, so full of moonlight it spilled over the sides. It bent up against the window and the only thing I could think about was how close together its eyes were on its huge furry head.
It shushed me. One thick finger, held up against lips hidden under all the hair.
Then it turned right back around and joined back up with its gang. I watched them pick around the outside of the Baumgartners' cabin in silence, then scuttle up the walls. A few minutes later they scuttled back down, all but the first with pale, soot-streaked blobs slung over their shoulders. I didn't say a word.
Nobody saw the Baumgartner sisters again. The boards came off the windows and doors, and then the Baumgartners packed up a wagon and rolled out. A few other families followed suit. Us that stayed started rigging up our chimneys special.
I still didn't say a damn thing.
Which might explain why I've got these goddamn mumps.
Mama and papa and Jadinn are staying with the Naylors. Weepy's papa watches the house at night with his longbow. The cunningwoman comes by and brings treated water to sprinkle on the places where the swelling's bad.
But I know what's coming. There is a Compact to observe.
I wasn't the last we got out of the village. Two years later Jadinn got the measles. That made things easier for me in some ways and tougher in others. Having to walk somebody through a whole new world's tough but it makes you appreciate how far you've come. Far as I know everybody else picked up and left not long after.
Last month I ran into Weepy. He does good work, animal husbandry stuff over in Complex C. Way I understand it administration gave him a once-over, pointed him at the ecodomes, and from there all they had to do was leave him with keys to a habitat and watch the magic happen. I hear we're a few generations out from backbreeding wolves into the population.
I was on a little post-graduation retreat. Only thing I miss from the village is all that natural splendor stuff. Complex C's no substitute, but one day it's gonna be. You can see it taking shape. Mind you, we might have to set it down on a whole different ball of rock before all this business is over, depending on how this last bunch of forecasts comes back.
I don't get anxious about that. Not my job. My job is considerably cooler.
Anyway, I got out of my tent one morning and I saw Weepy, way out on a far hill. Couldn't have been anybody else-the shock of blonde hair, the weird beanpole scraggliness, it was all unmistakable even from that distance. Him and his dogs, a good dozen and change of 'em. He waved, and I waved back.
I ducked back into my tent and put on my capstone project.
You want to be a wild thing, you've got to make your own suit. Those are the terms of graduation. It's a formality really, but it matters. Shows you give a damn. Plus you get to put in a little flair of your own you'd never get if we mass-produced them.
I gave mine horns.
My job's kind of a Frankenstein job. It's a little bit pediatrics and a little bit black ops and a little bit park ranger, and nobody'd have to do it if these primmie dipshits outside the domes would just vaccinate their goddamn kids. But instead we have to play this idiot game where we go out and sit on our thumbs in the woods, watching and waiting for the moment where either somebody swoops in to pull the kid out so they can get some actual treatment or the kid dies of diphtheria.
It's a tough job but it needs doing. Us reintegrated folks know that best. My team, the Wild Things, half of us are from the old village or from one of the settlements two or three days' ride out. Wendy's sisters Edith and Harriet run with the Bed Lurkers out around what's left of the Pacific Northwest.
Looking at the world from behind the goggles, hearing your own breath at once muffled and amplified under the mask, there's an understanding that seeps in and wraps around your brain. It's a comfortable feeling, like a well-worn set of work pants, but it's hungry too.
There is a Compact. It's the duty between monster and child and it's older than time. All it asks is that it gobble you up. Same as any obligation.