By Nathan Good
There was something unnatural living over on the golf course – at least that’s what William kept saying anyway. The problem was that he wouldn’t say anything else. When Davy managed to get the old man’s attention, and hold it for more than a second to ask him what the hell he was talking about, William wouldn’t say more than a couple of stuttered words.
“Hunting” he said. “Hunting in the grass.”
The doctors didn’t have any better luck. They sat William down and asked their routine questions, and he would go along with it, nodding and giving the same old answers, until they mentioned the thing on the golf course, at which point he just stopped talking.
It’s not like the old man was the world’s greatest conversationalist. Over the years he had settled on a few old stories and grunting along where necessary, but this was different. He didn’t want to talk about it. Like, he really didn’t want to. And after this last incident, Davy wasn’t meant to ask him about it either. He wasn’t meant to “encourage him.” Instead he was meant to watch out for “erratic behaviour.” Like that was a new thing, like he hadn’t been watching out for William for years now – making sure he ate three meals a day and didn’t forget to get dressed, both of them counting down the weeks until that first fucking bed bath.
Whatever was going on out on the golf course, it sure had gotten under the old man’s skin. Gotten under there and stayed there.
The living room was dark and Davy’s beer was warm. He drained what was left, more saliva than booze, and reached for another.
If William was trying to be secretive about leaving the house in the middle of the night, it wasn’t going well. He clambered around by the front door, swinging the duffel bag backwards and forwards into the walls as he struggled to slip his shoes on. Dull thuds echoed through the flat. Davy listened.
How long had he been waiting there in the dark – two hours? – three? However long it had been since the old man turned in for the night, all sweet and innocent, with a “see you in the morning.”
Davy set the metal of the bottle cap against one of his teeth and slowly peeled it back, spitting it onto the seat next to him where it rolled against the others.
He was thinking about his mother, how she would have laughed at William crashing around in the hallway. She would have said he was looking to wake the dead. And, oh there was an irony in that.
The noise changed. William had stopped fussing and turned softly towards the front door. Davy heard the chain slide across the runner, and then the bolt shoot backwards. Night air whipped into the flat and fluttered against his cheek for just a moment before William slipped outside and the door closed behind him.
Davy didn’t move. There was no rush, he knew where the old man was going. He would walk through the estate and take the alleyway to the main road. Then he would cross and stumble up the grass verge. There was a pathway there, hidden in the trees. It ran up through the woods along the edge of the golf course. It was overgrown with thorns and knee deep in condoms and broken glass, but it was there, if you knew where to look.
Davy knew because he had followed William before. That time he had turned around rather than clamber through the bracken and shit that would have taken him to the hole in the fence and out onto the golf course. That time he had sat right where he was sitting now and waited until William came home just before dawn.
But that was before the latest trip to the hospital. Before he had stumbled into the bathroom one evening and found William trying to gouge chunks from his inner arms with a chisel. That was back before he was watching out for erratic behaviour.
The pathway was worse than he remembered. Thorns ripped at his jacket and opened seams in the skin around his ankles. Moonlight sat fat and bloated in puddles amongst the tree roots. He didn’t use his torch. He left his phone in his pocket and he tried to be quiet. When he fell and his hands sunk a few inches into something soft, he didn’t swear, he didn’t make a sound. He just bit down on his lip and clenched his fists a little tighter.
It was slow going but as the path climbed uphill the thorns started to recede. He could make out large stretches of cut grass through the thinning tangle of branches. Maybe William was already out there, doing whatever it was he was doing with whatever he was lugging around in that duffel bag.
His phone started to shriek. The noise was impossibly loud, it seemed to sliced at him as he fumbled for it, prying it from his pocket. He cupped it in his hands, trying to throttle the thing. Arrows and lights danced across the screen. A name flashed there – Kelly. He hung up and jammed at the volume rocker, looking around for any sign of William, but nothing moved.
It was 2:00am. Kelly wasn’t calling for a chat at 2:00am. It would be something else, maybe the same sort of thing it had been last week when her ex had shown up in the middle of the night and announced himself by wailing on his car horn and demanded to see his kid. She was on the bottom floor, and he had walked around the place, ploughing his hands into every window, rattling them in the frames. When he got the call, Davy could practically see Kelly sitting beside little Jason’s bed, pressing her hands against his ears so that he wouldn’t hear his Dad screaming. By the time he got over there the police had already taken the guy away. Kelly was in shock. She curled up on the sofa and he sat beside her watching cartoons with Jason as she twitched in her sleep.
Out in the trees he slipped the phone back into his pocket and felt his stomach churn. He loved them, maybe. Something like that anyway, but he had to do this first. Take care of this crazy old fucker.
The hole in the fence was small. As a kid he had slipped through with no problem, but now he had to lay on his side and kick his legs against the tree roots to snake his body underneath. How had William done this? The old man could barely reach up to get his coffee jar from the cupboard.
He was determined, Davy would give him that. Whatever William thought was out here, it was worth a face full of mud.
On the other side Davy crouched and looked around. The golf course stretched out in front of him. It was a clear night and he could make out the greens, bunkers and hedge rows that carved up the hillside.
A small figure shuffled across the grass in the distance. William was limping and he was dragging the bag behind him now rather than over his shoulders. He moved towards a verge behind one of the greens, where the ground fell gently away, and the moonlight didn’t follow. It must have been a dip no deeper than six or seven feet, designed to trap the overzealous golfer that punts over the fairway, but from where Davy was crouching it might as well have been a canyon, a sinkhole, an absence of anything at all.
He crossed to one of the tree lines and moved down towards William. As he went, he kept his eyes on him. He had that same feeling he got sometimes in the flat, when he would look at the old man and not recognise him. For whatever reason he would find himself stuck in the past, looking for his stepdad as he had been – a blonde guy with too much cheap aftershave and a constant grin. A guy that would leap over the little wall around their house rather than use the gate. He drove a motorbike back then, and he took it seriously, had all the leather gear and everything. Davy pictured William with his arm around his Mum’s waist, a huge smile across both their faces. This version of William gave him a wink and said “wotcha kid.” He would see these things and then he would look up and see this other person, this old man, and he wouldn’t be able to connect the two. In those moments it was like he had been living all these years with a total stranger.
Davy stopped where the tree line ended and watched as William unpacked the duffel bag. He was on the centre of the green, right where the flag stuck out of the hole. The first thing he pulled out was a metal flask. He twisted the cap and sunk whatever was inside. Then he reached down again. He got his hands around something and lifted it out. Davy recognised it immediately – their old video camera. The thing was a monster, all chunky plastic and levers. It recorded onto tapes that you had to fit inside bigger tapes to get them to play. It must have been hiding in the old man’s room this whole time. Davy was smiling, just a little, as William placed the camera onto the grass and pulled a tripod out of the bag.
It took him ten minutes to set the whole thing up. He kept adjusting the legs and checking back through the lens, trying to get everything lined up just right. Now and then he would stop and take a pull from the flask.
When the camera was pointing directly into the thick darkness just beyond the green, William walked backwards, lowered himself to the grass and waited.
A few clouds broke apart, spreading themselves thin across the sky and Davy watched the stars disappear. The moonlight rose and fell, sometimes catching on the metal of William’s flask, and sometimes blinking out entirely, leaving just an outline of the old man on the green. Davy pulled his jacket around his neck and shuffled one of his legs out from beneath him, trying to keep the blood flowing.
After an hour he was ready to go home. His face was numb and his hands felt wrong, like his fingers were creaking when he bent them. If William wanted to catch himself pneumonia then fine, but Davy was tired. He wanted to sleep and he wanted to wake up tomorrow and meet Kelly. He wanted to forget all about the golf course and the video camera and whatever William thought was hiding out here.
He was up on one knee, ready to stand and march straight over to the old man. He was going to grab him and pull him to his feet. Then he was going to throw the camera back into the bag and march them both down to the main gate, which they would somehow wrench open so they could take the road back home.
In front of him, William had started to move. He rocked forward onto his hands and crawled towards the video camera. Davy crouched back down and watched.
His stepdad moved slowly, his shoulders raised and his head low. He stopped every few feet and looked passed the camera into the darkness beyond. Davy again thought of the old man struggling to reach for the coffee jar. He could practically hear William’s joints groaning as he inched forward.
When William reached the tripod he stretched upwards and pressed a button on the side of the camera. Then he slumped backwards and Davy could see him struggling to draw deep breaths.
The clouds had disappeared completely and the moon shone bright and almost full above them, but somehow the darkness beyond the camera remained. It was something more than a shadow. It seemed to lap against the edge of the green, pulsing back and forth like waves against a beach, and as Davy looked towards the centre, deeper into the heart of it, he saw the thing inside.
It was big. It was big but it was low down, like it was trying to flatten itself against the side of the grass verge. He jolted backwards and slipped, twisting awkwardly into the hedge.
Davy could see legs, or something like legs. They moved slowly, shifting the weight of whatever they were attached to, so that the whole thing rocked gently. They were long and black and they bent at odd angles around muscular joints.
William was standing by the camera now and Davy saw the old man cover his nose just a second before the smell hit him. It was thick and solid in his nostrils. It sank into his skull and coated his tongue. It smelt earthy, and old. He thought of damp walls deep below the earth.
The thing was moving towards them. It was huge, he could see now how far back into the ditch it stretched. The legs had shuffled almost to the edge of the green and the bulk of it was following. There were hints of a shape. He looked towards the centre, staring hard, right into the fetid core of it, scanning for something he could label – a face, eyes, anything – but the shape remained just a shape, a twisted inscrutable knot.
Then it was gone. The shadow beyond the camera was nothing more than an empty ditch.
William cried out in frustration – a noise that sounded flat and very small in the wide open space. The old man jumped backwards with his hands screwed into balls, his arms planted against his sides. He started pacing up and down, muttering into the wind.
Davy breathed deeply and closed his eyes, rocking gently until the acrid smell in his nostrils had gone and he could think clearly.
After a while the old man started to disassemble the camera rig, pouring whatever remained in the metal flask down his throat as he worked. He didn’t stop to look into the hole beyond the green. He just packed the bag, threw it over his shoulder and started to stumble up the hill.
Davy edged backwards to stay out of sight.
Kelly lit a cigarette and told him he looked like shit for the fourth time that afternoon. Every time she said it he nearly told her exactly the same thing. It was true. The bags under her eyes were the size of slugs. He held his tongue. Maybe her ex had been around again, doing his screaming routine at the windows. Just thinking about it made Davy’s knuckles ache like he had already hit the guy, but it was Kelly’s thing and if she wanted to tell him she would.
Across the park, sitting on one of the benches a redhead woman was making a big deal of whipping her head back and forth. She looked at Kelly, then at the ‘No Smoking’ sign on the little gate, then back again.
“I didn’t sleep great,” he said.
They were sitting on the swings, Kelly kicking herself gently backwards and forwards whilst he stayed planted. A few metres away Jason was clinging to the handlebars on the roundabout and dragging it around and around. Something metallic screeched in the centre of it.
“So get more sleep,” said Kelly. “You got to look after yourself Davy. It ain’t no good you getting strung out.”
“I know that.”
“And if you think I’m going to be looking after you the whole time. I ain’t. I’ve got things of my own, you know?”
A little girl in a plastic coat ran over to the redhead woman, who leaned forward on the bench and whispered something into her ear. The girl turned and stared right at them. Kelly threw the cigarette butt and kicked at it, missed.
She was right, he did look like shit. By the time he had managed to pick himself up and leave the golf course it had been getting light. It had taken him that long just to stop shaking, and even then he had stepped away slowly, not wanting to turn his back on the ditch beyond the green.
That morning the old man had fussed around in the kitchen as usual, crashing mugs and spilling milk and cereal across the worktops. Davy left his damp clothes in a pile, threw on a hoodie and joined him. William had already made two cups of coffee. He nodded at one, Davy took it. Nothing else. The old man ate his cereal and went back to his room. Later, Davy heard him leave. It was Saturday, he played pool on Saturdays. Nothing unusual at all.
In the park, the redhead and her kid were getting ready to leave. Jason yelled something from the roundabout and waved at them. It might have been goodbye or something else. Neither of them acknowledged him.
Kelly lit another cigarette.
“I need to know what’s going on,” she said and Davy looked across at her. He fumbled for a place to start. Yesterday he might have been able to reply. It would have been complex, sure, but it would have been possible.
“With us, I mean. I need to know where we’re at. For Jason.”
Her trainers chewed at the gravel until she was still beside him.
He leaned towards her. “I love Jason. You know I love Jason. I’d do anything for him.”
“And me?” she asked.
Davy ran his palms across the links in the chain that attached the swing to the crossbar. They were big and chunky, so that kids wouldn’t get their fingers all torn up in there.
“And you,” he said, and took a deep breath through pursed lips like he was the one huffing on a cigarette. “But, it’s not easy right now.”
“You’re Dad?” she said, not rolling her eyes, or turning away, but actually reaching out and taking his hand.
“He isn’t my Dad.” The stock response – pointless and involuntary, as usual.
Kelly ignored it. “It won’t be hard like you think,” she said. “We could do it, you know? Live together I mean, if you want. I can help with him.”
Jason spun himself away from the roundabout, and almost fell, his legs pumping to keep him upright. He was yelling nonsense to the sky.
Davy felt sick. The cigarette smoke was turning his stomach. He needed to stand up and get some air, some different air, or something.
“Kelly, I got to go. I’m sorry. I got to go.”
As he stepped away she dropped the butt into the gravel, it was finished anyway. She nodded to the toddler, who was laughing now and spinning in circles, his arms stretched out at either side.
“Say goodbye to him at least,” she said.
He couldn’t count them properly in the dark, but there were a lot. Maybe a hundred. A whole row of tiny video tapes, stacked in little piles behind the books. William had been hiding them. Even though Davy never went in the old man’s room, he had been hiding them. Just in case.
The flat had been quiet when he returned from the park, no sign of William at all, but still Davy had hovered outside the old man’s bedroom door for a while, pretending that maybe he wasn’t going to go in there.
The room was exactly as he remembered it. His mum’s silver mirror stood on the dressing table. The leg was still wonky, glued that way after an accident in a past life. The curtains were still stained in that odd marble pattern and the place even smelled the same. Davy’s head swam as he walked around.
It didn’t take him long to find the tapes. The books looked odd straight away, almost hanging off the shelf.
None of the tapes had labels. He took some down and held them clumped together in his hands. He moved them up and down slowly, testing the weight like it might tell him what was recorded on them, but the cases just felt hollow, made from cheap grey plastic that scratched as he rubbed them together.
The small, square television was squat in the corner, and the video player was balanced on top of it. A little orange light blinked.
He took off his trainer and propped open the bedroom door. Through the gap he had a clear view of the hallway. He would hear a key in the front door.
He started with the tape on top of the left hand pile. The VCR chewed at the cassette and a motor began to whir inside. The golf course appeared on the screen, washed in moonlight. The line of smooth grass gave way to the gaping blackness after just a few metres. Towards the top of the screen he could make out the treeline raised against a silver sky. Grains of static whirled like ravenous insects over everything. The deep and constant rumble of wind spilled from the old television speakers.
Davy watched for a few minutes. Nothing appeared in the darkness. Nothing changed at all. He hit a button and the tape sped forwards. Half an hour rolled by in a few seconds. When he hit play again the scene was the same. The shadow was just a shadow. He moved closer, squinting into the yawning blackness, but seeing nothing.
The next tape was the same. The scene was set like the stage of a theatre. Grass, sky, treeline, but nothing in the middle. Davy hit the buttons. Play. Forward. Play. And then he changed the tape and did it again. Sometimes the sounds of the wind stopped, and sometimes when it started again the pitch had changed, but nothing moved.
The tapes piled around him as he discarded them. He loaded them faster, glancing to the bedroom door each time he started a new one.
He was half way through the third pile when he saw it. It wasn’t the gigantic form he had seen the night before but it was something. Right at the centre of the darkness, it moved. Long and spindly, it reached towards the light and then retracted. Again, it edged forward, pulled back, repeated the same gesture until it disappeared a few seconds before the tape finished.
He fumbled with the next one, jammed it into the cassette player with shaking hands. He was crouched at the television. As the tape started to play he pulled himself up to his knees.
The thing beckoned him from the darkness. It was one of the legs he had seen the night before, bent at the same impossible angles, but smaller, much smaller. It twisted and juddered behind the static. Davy looked away from the screen at the stacks of unwatched tapes still piled around him.
The thing grew. With each new tape there was more of it. It began to fill the shadow, more and more legs appearing until they clustered around a shape at the centre. The thing stopped juddering and began to move with purpose. It held itself low to the grass, it hid from the light.
Davy moved faster. He skipped three of four tapes at a time and he sat so close to the screen that when he opened the VCR to put a new tape in, the thing was still burned into his corneas, crouching in the corners of his mum’s bedroom.
By the time he reached the last tape his hands were covered in sweat. His t-shirt clung to his back.
This one was the clearest by far. As the creature moved forwards, Davy could almost see every part of it. He was pressed against the tv screen and he had turned the volume to full. The bedroom was filled with a low howling. If William were to come home right that second Davy wouldn’t have heard him, he wouldn’t have cared.
The creature kept moving forwards. The legs tore chunks from the golf course. The mass at the centre reached the edge of the grass, just inches from the ring of moonlight.
He saw the eyes first. Two spots flickering into existence in the centre of the screen. The swarm of static insects had gone. The tape was crystal clear. He saw the eyes and then he saw the rest. The face at the centre of the shadow stared back at him, and the huge mass behind it, all the legs and muscles, coiled like a spring.
Then one of those eyes, cold and reptilian winked at him as lips peeled back to reveal row after row of ancient teeth. The crackle and thud of the wind through the speakers fell away and instead he heard the creature speak. It said “wotcha kid.”
In the morning, when Davy shuffled into the kitchen, the old man had already set his coffee on the table. Davy sipped at it and watched as William went about shaking cereal into a bowl.
He didn’t know what time William had gotten home the night before – had heard nothing at all after he finished up with the tapes and collapsed into bed – but if the old man had been into his bedroom even for a second then he knew what Davy had been doing. The tapes would still be there, strewn across the floor, the last one still on pause in the VCR.
The old man hadn’t stirred the coffee right. Granules stuck to the side of the mug and left bitter crescents on Davy’s lips.
William fell into the seat opposite him and nodded, waved at Davy with the end of his spoon before sinking it into the mound of soggy cereal.
“Most important meal of the day,” he said and shoveled a spoonful into his mouth. Milk dripped from his chin to the table as he chewed.
Davy turned away. It was early and the way the sun was shining through the windows meant that he couldn’t see outside, but instead saw every smear and mark on the glass. Rows of ghostly hands were pressed there, overlapping and spreading across one another to form the shape of something much larger.
“Why do you go out there?” he said and then raised the coffee to his lips again, watching William over the rim of the mug. The old man chewed at the cereal, swallowed and took another spoonful.
“Why do you film it? What are you trying to get on those tapes?”
William ignored him.
Davy stood up, he walked over to the kitchen counter and flipped the switch on the kettle. He threw open the cupboard door and took out the coffee jar. He twisted the top off and dumped some into his mug, slammed the jar down on the surface. Everything he did was so loud because the old man wasn’t saying anything.
“Look, you know I’ve seen it, right? You know what I’m talking about. So why go out there? What are you trying to do?”
William put the spoon down and turned towards him. Flakes of cereal clung to his lips.
“How’s Kelly?” he said.
The kettle boiled behind Davy, an inferno just inches away.
“She is a nice girl,” the old man continued. “You should take care of her. Do the right thing.”
Davy sunk against the worktop and watched as William turned back to his cereal. By the time he remembered to pour out the coffee, the water in the kettle was cold. He drank it anyway.
Later Davy stood outside the bathroom door. He could hear his stepdad inside, shuffling across the linoleum and turning the taps on and off. Twice, he reached out to the doorknob and then backed away.
When he did it, he did it fast – sweeping into the bathroom and closing the door behind him before the old man had a chance to protest.
His stepdad was naked apart from the bandages wrapped around his forearms. He was standing at the sink, trying to push a cotton bud underneath one of them, chasing an itch. When he saw Davy in the bathroom mirror, he looked down, seemed to cower against the sink.
He looked old. He wasn’t in bad shape, but the skin didn’t fit right anymore. It looked too tight across the bones in some places, but fell away loose in others. His legs were covered in scars.
Davy took the cotton bud from William and threw it into the little bin below the sink. Then he opened the cabinet and took out a small pair of scissors.
William flinched, but when Davy took his arm and started to cut at the bandage, the old man turned his wrist to help.
The bandages fell away and both men looked down at the scarring. The skin was starting to heal, pink and bright, but parts of William were missing. The chisel had carved deep grooves into the flesh, and the new skin could do nothing but stretch out over those peaks and valleys.
Davy put the scissors down and reached back to the cupboard, where rolls of bandages were hidden away in a corner. He thought of his Mum, placing them there years ago, and what she imagined they might be used for.
He phoned Kelly that afternoon. She sounded good. She told him about some friend Jason had made on his way back from the park. They had gotten along really well and Jason has been chatty and excited all night, better than she had seen him for a long time.
Davy listened and when she had finished he told her that he needed to see her. She should come round next week. Bring Jason.
He cleaned the kitchen windows. He drank every beer in the fridge and passed out in the living room, sprawled across the sofa.
The old man woke him up just before midnight. He had the duffel bag all packed up and slung over his shoulder. He was standing in the doorway and looking at Davy.
“Get your boots on,” he said. And Davy did.
They crossed the estate and stumbled up the grass verge. They found the pathway hidden in the trees. Before they started through the bracken and thorns Davy stopped and held his stepdad by the arm – careful not to put pressure on the scars he knew ran deep there.
“Please Dad,” he said. “Why do we go out here?”
He thought William wouldn’t answer, but in a voice that sounded very much like a young man in a leather jacket, standing beside a motorcycle, William said, “I’ll show you.”
The trees that lined the path moved gently, perhaps the branches parted slightly, to let them enter. In the distance, from somewhere out on the golf course there was a sound that could have been a growl, or could have been the wind.
William went first, and Davy followed. They entered the path – hunting in the dark.
Bio: Nathan lives in London, where he writes horror stories in the middle of the night. He tweets occasionally @Na7hanGood
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