's 2017 Horror Write-off:

The Yara-ma-yha-who

Submitted by ZippyWharrgarbl

When I was a kid, my family's house backed onto bush that was wild and

tan, baked by the sun most months of the year to leech the wetness that came with the infrequent rains right out. I remember seeing pictures of European forests and the rainforests of the Amazon on the television and in my picture books, and looking out at the yard, at the muted green of the leaves, and the brown and white and tan of the gum tree trunks. It was almost surreal. The forests other places had were make-believe, surely.

Like any child would, I loved to wander in it. Mum would never let me wander out of sight of the kitchen window, of course, but I would hop the fence when she and Dad were at work to explore it. I knew a good chunk of it off by heart; I can still remember the old walkways and hidey-holes in my head, I can walk along them when I close my eyes. I didn't really get what my parents worried about then. Now, I guess it was probably me getting lost, or being kidnapped, or attacked by something far from home or help. None of that happened, but something did, I can tell you that.

It started with finding some slime on the path, most of it dried, and a shoe that was caked in it. One thing I learned about the bush early on was that you find a lot of weird stuff in it. So, while the shoe was kind of odd, I'd found weirder things people had lost. The slime could have been a thing some animal did. I gave it a prod with a stick and left it at that. I nearly slipped on the next half-dry puddle of the stuff, some ways up the path. Whatever it was had left a trail. I followed it without a second thought, eager to see what was capable of making so much slime. A frog, maybe, though the water tanks were a while away and the sun was hot enough to toast a frog before it could hop across our tin-sheet roof. I doubted It would last along a dirt track.

I looked around for other clues, piecing them together in my young, inventive mind; I saw chip packets, ripped open and discarded, the leavings of a particularly self-absorbed hiker. I picked them up and tucked them into my back pocket, meaning to toss them at home. I saw that there was more and more wet slime as I walked, and there were more clothes, too. I laughed when I reached a pair of undies, thinking the hiker must have dropped them after getting hungry. There were flat patches of grass every now and again, and I saw a creek in a clearing that seemed to be running along with the slime trail. I eagerly hurried along, wanting to solve this mystery- what would I see? A naked backpacker, asleep in a pile of wrappers and packets? A roo that had run through someone's laundry line? It was very exciting, and I wanted answers.

Above the rustling and insect song, I started to hear something. It wasn't a nice noise at all. It could have been a bird, maybe, but it sounded eerily like retching. Strong retching, too, like what I would do when I needed to fake a sickie to get out of school. If this was someone who was sick, I didn't want to get too close. I slowed to a walk, and then to a creep, my thoughts going from whimsical images of a befuddled, clothed kangaroo to that of zombies and monsters and all sorts of nasty things. The slime trail was fresh now, the sun glinted off it like the slow, burbling creek that ran nearby. The noise was so close, and I could see a figure in the distance, bright red against the washed-out tan and green.

I ducked behind a ghosty gum and watched, wide-eyed. It had to be a person, but it didn't look like any person I'd ever seen before. Their skin was red, and they didn't wear proper clothes, just a little piece of cloth over their goolies. They were bent double, coughing and retching and heaving, clutching their big belly like they were trying to squeeze the sick out. I crept closer, ducking behind trees and bush, trying to make sense of it. Were they sick? Were those their clothes on the slime trail? I couldn't imagine they were; those were large clothes, but the red person was short and round, like a baby. Their head was huge, too. Their arms were long, and their legs were short, like someone had pulled their hands and that had yanked their legs shorter. As I got closer, I had more questions, rather than answers. Their fingers were flat and round at the tips, like suckers, and their mouth was big and toothless. And- at this, I froze, hand clasped over my mouth- their belly was moving.

I looked again, but I wasn't mistaken. Something thrashed in their belly, like an animal trying to free itself. I was nearly sick. I started to wonder- were they sick? Did I need to go get help? Should I go and help them?

I was still wondering this when feet popped out of their mouth.

Almost entranced, in morbid curiosity, I couldn't look away as the red person threw up a whole other person. The person gasped, coughing out slime, and tried to run, but his legs were too weak and small. His skin was reddish, but not the violent hue that the strange person's was, and likewise, his proportions were close to but not exactly that of the red person.

"Help," the man rasped, trying to crawl. "Help me..."

I should have. I know I should have. But I was a kid, I was shocked, and above all, I was scared. I couldn't move, couldn't speak, I hid and I watched the red person press their sucker fingers to the man's face and neck. The man got paler, and with a groan, stopped moving. I shook my head, but still, I couldn't speak. The red person, with the toothless mouth and the baby-like body, was so unlike anything I had ever seen before. I watched, helplessly, as it finished whatever it was doing, and then, slowly, like a snake eating a rat, swallowed the man whole again.

The creature ambled to the creek, and I ran. Maybe it saw me, maybe it didn't, but I ran, I ran and tripped and cried all the way home, and even there I locked the doors and windows and didn't even open any to let the heat out. I didn't set foot in the bush again after that. All I could do was watch the faded branches sway from my window, and in the soft greens and browns, every now and again, I'd see angry, blazing red.