The reason I’m dangling fifty-feet above the floor in this dirty, old mineshaft is my daddy ain’t never seen a horror movie in his sorry life. I feel like it’s common knowledge at this point that anything worth its salt can’t be killed by conventional methods like getting hit in the chest with wussy little shotgun pellets.
It all started late last night, (the argument could be made it started decades earlier when my daddy chose ‘literature’ as his preferred means of entertainment and not horror films) when we were sitting around the T.V. in our living room watching some Seinfeld re-runs. Momma had her legs draped over Daddy’s like she usually did. My little brother, Tony, was stumbling around with his stuffed rabbit, Mr. Bungle, clutched in one chubby fist and a half-eaten hotdog in the other. I was sitting on the floor leafing through some old House of Mystery comics trying not to hear the kissy noises my parents were making.
I wish it had been storming, seems like the proper way to start these kinds of stories off, but it wasn’t. It was like any other sticky hot summer night with the cicadas screeching like their lives depended on it. George did something funny on the show and that creepy old laugh track kicked in. My mom and dad both started chuckling, but were interrupted by our collie Maggie yapping up a storm out front.
We all looked at each other. Living in the country like we do, it wasn’t all that uncommon for some kind of critter to set Maggie to barking like her tail was on fire, but that night something was different. “Must be a raccoon or something,” Daddy said. Momma didn’t look too sure though, and shoot, neither did he.
Maggie was howling now and Tony had dropped Mr. Bungle and was holding a dust bunny-covered hotdog. Crying himself a river. My mom started to say, “Maybe we should” when Maggie howled long and high and was cut short with a whimper.
Then my daddy made his first and most important mistake.
He let my momma go to the door first.
He wasn’t even standing behind her. He was still hovering around the arm of the couch when she reached for the handle and opened the door.
Then she wasn’t there.
My daddy said, “Oh,” and slowly walked his way over to the open door and peered out. He stumbled back a couple paces and started shaking and looking around like he all of a sudden didn’t know where he was. Then my mom started screaming outside and he ran upstairs.
Tony started crying again and I told him to shut it, then I stepped myself over to the door and peeked out.
At first I didn’t realize what I was seeing, it being dark and the human mind’s propensity for not seeing what it doesn’t want. Then the thrashing shapes came into focus and I’m sorry to say I screamed and maybe wet myself. Just a little bit.
Something big was hunched over my momma on the ground with its face pressed into her chest, moving its head back and forth. My momma wasn’t making much noise and wasn’t moving much now aside from the creature shaking her. I took a step forward, not sure what I was gonna do, but I was gonna do something. The creature’s Doberman ears perked right up and it stopped cramming its face.
It raised its head.
An uglier thing I’d be hard pressed to find. It was big. I mean really big, like two tall men standing on top of each other. It’s back was covered in tangled, matted fur with large patches of what looked like mange. A bullish yet scaly snout flanked by two tusks extended out from its face. It stood up and took a step over my momma and its mouth split open into a thousand bloody teeth. Something grabbed me by the shoulder and pulled me back into the house. My daddy, now holding a shotgun.
He stepped out onto the porch and I scrambled into the living room and tucked a wailing Tony under my arm and took off for the basement.
Little kids don’t usually get killed in the movies, but I had a sneaking suspicion that at this point, anything went.
On our way down the basement steps I heard the first blast from the shotgun and the thing in our front yard let out a roar that shook the windows.
We huddled up back by the water heater and heard another blast.
After what seemed like an eternity with nothing happening, I told Tony to stay put while I went upstairs. Poor little baby was just blubbering away, still holding onto that nasty old hotdog.
At the top of the stairs I poked my head around the corner and saw my daddy through the open front door. Just sitting on the porch.
I walked outside and he looked up at me and said, “That bear killed your momma.”
From inside the living room a hundred dead people laughed at us from the T.V.
I woke up the next morning cuddled up with Tony near the water heater. I walked upstairs and found my daddy sitting at the kitchen table with a bottle of whisky in his hand.
I looked out the kitchen window and saw a lake of dried blood in the grass. But no Momma. And no monster.
Then I noticed a new mound of dirt out by the farm, but only one.
“Did you kill it?”
My daddy took a swig straight from the bottle and nodded his head.
“I hit it twice with the shotgun. It run off into the woods to die, baby girl.”
“But you didn’t see its body?”
He turned and looked at me with bloodshot, teary eyes and said, “Ain’t no bear can take two shotgun blasts at close range and live.”
That’s when I knew we was still in trouble.
Ain’t no bears live this far north in Alabama. And that wasn’t no little black bear did that to my momma, neither.
I went to the fridge and filled a cup with orange juice and grabbed a banana. Then I went down to the basement and left that tiny breakfast on the floor next to Tony, because I was fairly certain my daddy was long gone at that point, and I didn’t want Tony to be hungry while I was out.
The rope and flashlight I pulled out of the garage. On my way out the front door I looked over at my daddy. He didn’t even raise his head.
I’m at the bottom of the mineshaft now and its taken me longer than I thought it would. It must be noon at least, and if I want to get back home by nightfall, I gotta shake it.
Walking through the tunnel with the dark, musty air close all around me, I start thinking about where that thing might have come from. This mineshaft seems like the kind of place something like that would live. Somewhere deep and dark with no one to disturb it while it sleeps off its human snack from the night before. But no, too far away from where we live. Doesn’t make sense. I start running through the different scenarios I’ve seen late Saturday nights on the all-night monster fests on T.V.
It could be alien.
It could be a freak mutation caused by environmental pollution.
Or maybe it wormed its way through some portal from another dimension.
As these thoughts are going through my head, my flashlight beam lands on the box I’ve been looking for and I realize it doesn’t matter where it came from. I’m going to kill it regardless.
It took me much longer climbing back up the rope with my extra weight than I thought it would, so it’s full dark by the time I get back to my house. Fresh blood is splattered all over the front porch. I poke my head through our shattered door and don’t hear anything. I climb through and work my way upstairs. No one in Tony’s or my room. I creak open the door to my parents’ room and step inside. I flip the light switch and nothing happens. Should have seen that coming. I’m about to turn around and leave when I hear a tiny whimper coming from the clothes hamper in the corner. I walk over and lift up the lid. The beam from my flashlight illuminates Tony’s face. He’s shaking and crying and holding a new, nasty old hotdog in his tiny fist.
Through sobbing hiccups he says “issy?” and I say, “ Yeah, your Issy is back baby brother, now quit that crying, we got work to do.”
If you’ve seen one horror movie you’ve seen ‘em all. The heroes always think they’ve killed the monster but they never do, not right away. It always comes back for one last encore. So, it’s no surprise when we see the beast inspecting the forty or so pounds of deer meat I scavenged from the freezer and dumped on our couch. We’re outside, about fifty feet away from the living room’s slightly propped open window.
Think about the greatest beasties cinema has to offer: Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, Jaws, The Stay-Puft Marshmellow Man. Know what their common denominator is? They’ve all been blown up.
While the beast is shoveling still frozen deer meat into his maw, I reach down and pick up the fuse running into the house through the window. I look at Tony.
“You remember Looney Toons?”
“Yeah, oony toons!”
“You remember Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote?”
“Yeah, go boom!”
“That’s right, little brother, go boom.”
I light the fuse.
Tony and me, we’re going to be just fine.
Ryan Tippets is a photojournalist in the Coast Guard. His work has appeared in Heater, Shotgun Honey, and The Molotov Cocktail. He lives in New Orleans with his wife and three sons.