Howard Carver sat on the back patio, nibbling contemplatively on an ear of corn. Below him, murky Louisiana swampland stretched on as far as the eye could see. Above, the sky was bleeding shades of red and pink. Soon it would be dark. He didn't have much time to decide what to do with the remains in his cellar.
The problem was not that it didn't like bones, mainly because they were easy enough to dispose of. All he did was collect them at the end of the week and dump them in the marsh behind his house. The problem was that it wasn't eating anything at all.
Howard noticed the smell last Thursday, went downstairs to investigate, and found the bodies untouched, uneaten, and beginning to rot. He figured it just wasn't hungry, as unusual as that might have been, and decided to wait around and see what it would do.
Two days later and the stench had gone from a faint lingering in the air to the unbearable and unmistakable scent of decay. Howard descended into the cellar, this time brandishing a flashlight. Gagging, he brought his hand over his nose and mouth, though it did little to lessen the stench. He reached the foot of the staircase and swept the beam of light forward, cutting through darkness and revealing the source of the problem - three bodies, in various states of dismemberment and decay, were sprawled across the dirt floor. A severed arm was resting at his feet. It appeared to have been gnawed on, but was more or less intact.
Howard drew the beam of the light across the room and stopped on the figure huddled in the corner. He didn't like seeing it. He tried to avoid it as much as possible. But if it was dead, well, that alone was worth a look.
That hope was quickly dashed when it fidgeted and slowly turned to face him, joints rolling and popping. It blinked, blank eyes reflecting the light, but made no move to approach him.
"What's the matter with you, ya little bastard?"
Howard waited to see if it would do anything else, but it just sat staring at him, flies swarming around its head in the darkness. It reached up and grabbed one out of the air, plucked off the wings with its teeth, then allowed the remains to drop to the floor. Howard saw what must have been hundreds of dead flies surrounding it in a perfect circle.
It opened its mouth and made a strangled gurgling noise at him, then turned away, facing the wall, and did not move again.
Howard went upstairs to think. So it was only eating flies now? Did that mean he no longer had to bring it human meat? Since he arrived at the house four years ago, it had been a constant torment, a lingering darkness over his life, and only after he started to do what it wanted was he able to live in any semblance of peace.
No, it couldn't be that simple. Maybe--just maybe--it was dying. If it was, that meant he would finally be free.
As he finished his second ear of corn, Howard decided to gather the remains as usual and dump them in the marsh. Nature and the elements would surely take care of the rest. He went back inside as dusk bled into night, shadows lengthening, growing deeper.
The first thing that registered, upon entering the cellar, was the sound of gurgling dissolved into silence. That was the same sound it made when it was hungry, except this time it looked less like it was hungry and more like it was positively dead. The legs were drawn up beneath its body, much like a crushed spider, and it lay unmoving in the corner where he had last seen it.
Howard stared on in amazement. He had to compose himself for a moment before going to make sure it was really dead. Prodding and poking at it gave no sign of life. Nor did a stab from the kitchen knife that Howard kept with him whenever he descended into the cellar. After a moment of silence, he erupted into hysterical laughter. The hell that he had endured for so long was finally over.
He screamed and laughed, kicking the body again and again and again. Oh, it was finally done. Howard wanted nothing more than to live a normal life, and now he was going to move far away and try to forget that he had ever encountered such an awful being as the one that once inhabited his cellar. It was truly the stuff of fantasy, and ever since it had entered his life, he felt like he was wandering through a perpetual dream-state. Howard had entered reality again. Now all he had to do was get rid of the damn thing's body and leave.
His celebration came to a screeching halt when the cellar door burst open and in streamed a small group of locals from the town over, their shotguns trained directly on him, waiting for the moment to fire. Howard froze instantly under the harsh gaze of the light brandished by their leader.
"Howard Carver," he said, voice booming off the walls of the cellar. "Prepare to die."
"No!" Howard cried. "No, no, don't kill me! Please, I only did what I had to!"
The leader spit on the floor, disgusted, and then leveled his gun at Howard's chest. "Keep talkin', boy. Nobody wants to hear what you have to say."
"No, no! Oh God, it wasn't my fault, I swear! I'm free now! I'm free! Please don't-"
"You've been murdering for too long. It's time you pay your dues."
Howard opened his mouth to explain, but his words were lost beneath the shotgun's blast. The following silence was broken only by his wordless moan, the exhaling of a final breath, and then his body crumpled forward and was still.
The leader took a step forward while the rest of the group kept their distance. Mumbling curses under his breath, he kicked Howard's corpse, decided that wasn't enough, and spit on it. He didn't care about the legal repercussions of what he had just done - all he wanted was revenge for his daughter's death. He knew it was Howard. The disappearances had not started until he moved in several years ago. There was simply nobody else in town capable of doing such a thing.
He knew everybody like they were his own family. They had lived quietly and peacefully for countless years before Howard moved in to the dilapidated plantation house on the edge of town. He was a stranger. There was no other explanation, as far as they were concerned. It had to be Howard.
He cursed Howard's soul, damned him to Hell, and the sense of relief he felt at exacting justice for his daughter was immense. After a moment of silence, he turned around to motion for the others to come down and help dispose of the body.
What he didn't see was the twitching, writhing creature on the ground only a few feet behind him. He didn't see as it rose to its feet, joints rolling and popping and cracking with each movement. He didn't see as it shed its old skin, body glistening and reborn anew, blank eyes watching him from the darkness all the while. He only heard the strangled gurgling, that hungry groan, and as he turned to face his daughter's true murderer, by then it was far too late.
Written by Fleeingserpent