A Warm Welcome

By Sam Smith

is temples throbbed as he lurched through the undergrowth, each step tightening his chest. Stopping to catch his breath momentarily, he leaned against a tree and scanned his surroundings for any sign of sanctuary. Nothing but dense foliage rose up to barricade him on all sides.

He glanced upwards through the lattice of branches at the failing light; the last thing he wanted was still to be out here after dark.

Following a minute’s rest, he trudged on warily, listening for anything untoward. It began to rain heavily, the canopy of tree limbs providing scant cover, and it didn’t take long for him to become completely drenched.

A wet crunch from somewhere behind sent him stumbling ahead once more, boots squeaking as he slithered over downed tree trunks. An unfamiliar animal’s grunt to his left caused him to stop too quickly, and he narrowly avoided plunging blindly into a quagmire. This time he threw himself to the ground, covering his head with his hands. When he was sure the danger had passed, he got slowly to his feet and moved on, looking all around.

Then, through the rainy haze, a square patch of light could be glimpsed. As he drew nearer, he squinted ahead and saw that it was emanating from the window of a squat, picturesque farmhouse. Just like Grandmother’s place in Little Red Riding Hood.

He attempted to hide the limp in his left leg as he walked, and ran a trembling hand over his wet face to check for any cuts or bruises. Stopping at the fence that skirted the perimeter of the dwelling, he washed his face in the water butt, before approaching the front door.

He patted his jacket pocket and felt the slight heft of the Swiss Army knife, blade already out, and was instantly reassured. Taking one last breath, he hammered a fist on the rain-splattered door. A muffled sound from within, and it was opened to reveal a bloodshot eye, which looked him up and down.

“Well?” barked the owner of the eye.

The stranger cleared his throat before replying.

“I got separated from my rambling party and I just need a place to ride out the storm”, came the well-rehearsed reply.

The door opened a little more and an elderly man’s head emerged, like a turtle’s from its shell.

“It’s barely even coming down out there”, he sniffed.

From somewhere behind him came a sing-song voice.

“Who is it, Alfred?”

The sound of approaching footsteps followed, and then the door was opened fully to reveal a plump woman wiping her hands on a chequered apron.

“Don’t stand on ceremony young man, come in!”

She shoved her indignant husband aside and ushered their guest in, before spinning to face him.

“Were you giving him the full inquest, you old goat?”

The old man didn’t reply, instead choosing to slope into the front room. He growled over his shoulder at the interloper to “close the damn door”, then was gone.

“Never mind him”, the pinafored lady said as she removed the stranger’s coat, “It’s the cold affecting his mood, not you.”

As she secreted it in a bustling pantry, he remembered the knife in the pocket and silently cursed himself for being so complacent. Looked as though he’d have to…improvise. He hovered awkwardly on the threshold for a few more seconds before wiping his muddy boots on the mat and stepping into the kitchen.

The woman busied herself near the sink, and the stranger took the opportunity to scan the large table that occupied the majority of the room. Three place settings, which included three plates, three forks…and three steak knives. Just one would do.

In one smooth movement he grasped the handle of the nearest one and held it low by his side. He glided into the living room and glimpsed the top of the old man’s head over the back of the armchair. It was reflecting the eerie glow from the television and sending it around the darkened room as the old man swayed his head.

The stranger crept forward, raising his knife in readiness, and ran a tongue over his dry lips.

Snick! He felt something enter his spine, and his limbs went limp. The steak knife clattered to the floor a few seconds before he did, a large cloud of dust sighing from the carpet as he landed.

“Ahh, the impetuousness of youth”, whispered the old man, rising stiffly from his chair. He stepped over to where the stranger had fallen, and picked up the steak knife between thumb and forefinger.

“This’ll need a wash”, he said to his wife, who was standing directly behind the stranger. As she stepped into his eye line, he used the last of his strength to turn and look at her, and immediately wished he hadn’t.

From the neck down, she still resembled the same sweet, slightly doddery old lady as before, but her face had…changed. It was now a monstrous black protuberance from the misshapen and deformed head, easily double the size it had been. Two compound eyes, made up of hundreds of glistening red orbs fixated on the stranger’s helpless body. Instead of a nose, there was now a long, flexible appendage that extended slowly from the face, twitching horribly. It must have been what he felt enter his back earlier.

But by far the worst of all were the jaws, which the stranger felt compelled to gaze at, even though he would rather be blinded than to ever see anything quite so terrible again. To describe them would be to go mad, but describe them he must. They were large black mandibles, slick with mucus, and they clicked and quivered whenever she (it?) made any movement. The mucus shone in the light, and ran along the mandible’s razor sharp edge before splattering and pooling on the cottage’s wooden floor. The stranger saw that the creature was clutching something by its side that resembled a used rag, only realising after a few moments that it was the old woman’s face that the creature had been wearing like a mask.

The old man now appeared by her side, having taken on the same appearance, and put a hand on her shoulder. Finally, the woman spoke. When she did so, the mandibles opened and closed in a grotesque imitation of a human mouth speaking.

“We’re ever so sorry it had to end like this, love, but I’m sure you understand that we can’t let you go. Now, shall we make a start on dinner?”

The creatures shuffled towards the stranger, and the last sound he heard was that of the proboscii unfurling from their alien faces.

 

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Sam Smith is a former Creative Writing and Scriptwriting student. His preferred genres of writing are sci-fi, horror and comedy. Among his influences are George Orwell, H.G.Wells, Charlie Brooker, Terry Pratchett and Stephen King. His stories have been featured in Maudlin House, Lit Cat, Visitant Lit, Two Words For and Baphash.


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