My father was always the most caring of men. I know many of my friends had had problems with their fathers at some point. Some were prone to drink and others were quick to anger. My father did neither of these things. He had no problems expressing his love for my mother and me. He was a jovial, gregarious, man who loved life and loved those around him. He had the occasional beer or mixed drink from time to time, but never in excess. He was a very restrained and moderate man. In fact, I can only remember one time he yelled at me unfairly.
I was young, ten years old or so. I was playing with my friend, Benjamin in the back yard. We lived in rural Simsbury, Connecticut, the town was surrounded by mountains and deciduous forests. We were talking about which monster would win in a fight: the tomatoes from "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes" or the clowns from "Killer Clowns from Outer Space." The conversation quickly burnt out when I quickly told my friend in a matter-of-fact tone that neither existed so it didn’t really matter.
It was then that my friend turned to me and said, ”Fake monsters aren’t that scary… Now real monsters, they scare the bejeezus out of me.”
I was worried that he was about to tell me a bunch of hogwash and try to scare me, but my curiosity overcame me. I had to hear more about this real monster. I paused for a moment before asking him cautiously, "Real monsters? What are you talking about?”
Benjamin said, "Don’t you know anything, man? Haven’t you heard of the creeping fiend?” I answered in the negative and he told me the story of the creeping horror.
My friend began, "They say that there’s something around these parts, that there’s a creature living in the woods. My dad told me he saw it once reach down from the trees and snare a full-grown deer and pull it up into the tree and rip it apart with its bare hands and my father would never lie to me.”
I asked Benjamin, "What does it look like?”
“It looks like a man, but he’s super skinny like he’s never eaten. He has an old gas mask on and he wheezes heavily. I’ve been told he’s a soldier that came back from World War II that had his lungs rotted by nerve gas. I heard that a flamethrower melted the mask to his face and he can only feed by reducing his prey to a puddle and sucking up the fluids. He was unable to live amongst people so they banished him out into the woods.”
Benjamin continued. "His name comes from the fact that he skulks around the woods and no one knows he’s there until you hear him wheezing right behind you, but by then it’s too late. If you hear him, don’t turn around because he will get you. Your best bet is to run for your life. They say he comes out to anyone who calls out his name. If you shout his name five times he’ll appear behind you."
I was a little scared, but I knew that Benjamin was probably lying to me. I told Ben, "You’re full of it! There’s no such thing as the creeping fiend.”
He quickly retorted, "If I’m a liar, why don’t we try calling him, you big chicken?”
I was so angry at being called a coward that I momentarily lost my better judgment. I don’t like to be scared and there was a likely possibility that I would easily spook myself and send my heart racing. I called my friend out, "If I’m going to call him then you are going to call him with me.” Benjamin reluctantly agreed and we set about calling the creeping horror, unbeknownst to me, this would set off an irreversible chain of events.
Benjamin and I stood facing each other just in case he would appear behind one of us. We started out in a barely audible whisper, "Creeping horror.”
We paused in uncertainty before continuing a little louder, "Creeping horror.” My heart was thumping around in my chest. “Creeping horror.” We practically shouted now. Maybe it was us doing the calling together, but I felt braver. We shouted now, "Creeping horror!” I sucked in a deep breath to roar his name one last time, but something stopped me dead in my tracks.
The door to my house burst open and my father flew out into the yard with a look akin to horror mixed with another indiscernible emotion on his face. I wouldn’t understand that look for many years and when I would finally comprehend it, I would tell myself that I would give anything to not recognize it. He roared, "Stop!” Benjamin broke into a dead sprint, fearing the tone in my father’s voice, essentially leaving my ass hanging out to dry. My father gripped me by both arms so hard that I thought my bones would break. He looked me directly in the eyes and said, "Never say those words again! Do you understand?! Don’t!”
I never saw my father so worked up in my entire life. At first I thought that he was mad at me for shouting. Was he was angry at me for playing with Benjamin who my mother had called a bad influence? That was true. A few years later he would fall in with the wrong crowd and vanish off the face of the earth completely. Later it dawned on me what had incurred that fearful look in my father. He was terrified! He was horrified of the creeping horror. He knew something I didn’t. Had he seen the thing with his own eyes? I decided that I needed to get to the bottom of this.
I couldn’t ask my dad, so I waited a couple of days when I was alone with my mom to ask if she knew anything about the creeping horror.
She looked at me quizzically before responding, "It’s just old folklore around here. It’s just a story parents told their kids when they were younger to keep them from running off.”
I asked, "Did grandpa ever tell dad the story of the creeping horror?”
She thought for a moment and said, "You know, I don’t think he ever mentioned it, but probably. I could ask him if you want.” I answered in the negative. I had to do some more sleuthing on my own.
I lost interest for a few years. I was a kid after all and easily got distracted. Five years would pass before my interest was renewed. I was a teenager then and was constantly in competition with my friends. We always had to prove who was the strongest, the smartest, the bravest. A few of them like to boast that they had actually gone into the woods and at the top of their lungs called forth the creeping horror. Some embellished the story by saying they saw him and escaped; while one or two said they had actually kicked his ass. They were quickly singled out as liars. All this talk brought about a resurgence of interest in the creeping horror.
I began tracking the stories back to their roots. I asked my friends where they heard the tale. Most had heard it from their parents, who had heard it from their grandparents, who in turn had heard from their great grandparents. I caught a lucky break one day when I was talking to my friend’s grandfather. He told me, "Why don’t you ask your pa about all of this? He’s got his own story. If the tales are true he lost two of his friends when he was out playing with them-” He cut himself off and said, "Old age must have made me a gossip. Ask your father if you want the story.”
I tried to press the topic, but he would only respond, "Ask your father.”
I knew I couldn’t ask my father that. I decided to do a little research at the local library. I didn’t know the kid’s names or what even happened to them. I went to the library and asked the ancient librarian if she had any local papers from the sixties and seventies. She looked at me like I was a huge time sink in her otherwise busy life of sitting behind a desk reading a harlequin novel. I held my ground and insisted that I be allowed to view the records. She huffed and took me back to where the microfiche was stored.
A little side note: research using microfiche is in no way fun or intriguing. I wholeheartedly agree with movies opting to montage it and have someone stumble across relevant information within minutes. It took a week of going to the library after school, asking the same stuffy librarian for permission to use the microfiche who by the end disliked me so much that her hatred was palpable, and then tirelessly looking through it for hours before I found something. I expected to come across a headline like 'two youth mysteriously vanish', but what I found instead was much more grisly: Two local teenagers bodies found in woods.
I read and re-read the article until I was confident that this was what my friend’s grandfather was talking about. The article in the newspaper discussed the discovery of two bodies in the woods. The bodies were badly decomposed and looked like they had been torn apart by scavengers. They were only able to identify the bodies by linking the parent’s missing person report with the discovery of the corpses. The two missing teenagers were named Alan and Justine. No leads had been discovered, but police were hopeful. The kids were the same age as my dad and had attended the same school.
I exclaimed, "It has to be the creeping horror! He did this.” All of a sudden, I didn’t feel so alone in the backroom of the library. It was as if the mere mention of his name was enough to call him to me.
I quickly left the library, but the sensation of eyes watching me didn’t leave until I arrived home. I wanted to talk to my dad, but I was afraid of what might happen. I didn’t know what was a worse outcome: he might lose it and scream at me or he might tell me everything. I quietly ate dinner and went up to bed. I had trouble sleeping that night. Just as I was nearing that border between sleep and the waking world, I would hear something that would snap me awake. I would hear a rasping breath that seemed to be only inches away from me. I finally decided that I had to confront my dad or find out what was making that rasping sound.
My confrontation with my father went poorly. The minute I mentioned his friends, his face contorted into a look of pure anguish and fear and he stepped so close to me that I was fearful that he would smash my toes with his feet. He grabbed the collar of my shirt and pulled me close while saying in a tone that could not be disobeyed, "This is not a fun little mystery to unravel. People have died Goddamnit! I don’t want to hear this type of talk ever again! Do you understand me?”
I left the investigation into the creeping horror alone. My father refused to talk and I realized that the only way I could get the full story of his encounter with the fiend was through him since the other two had died, I had to let sleeping dogs lie. For a couple of nights, I heard the sound of heavy breathing just as I was about to fall asleep, but that eventually subsided. Time continued to pass, I graduated high school and went to an out-of-state college. The next time I would hear of the creeping horror would be from my father’s lips as he lay on his death bed.
It was late during my senior year in college that I received a panicked call from my mother. My father had been in hospice care for the past few months. He had pancreatic cancer and people who are familiar with oncology know that that manifestation has a eighty to ninety percent mortality rate depending on when it was discovered. My father dealt with ulcers all his adult life or what he thought were ulcers. The cancer crept and metastasized through him until there was little to do, but wait for the end. I drove home as quick as I could and found my mother had basically entered a catatonic state after calling me. My father was in bed and creeping towards the end.
My father asked me to give him a little injection of Demerol to help with the pain. I could see from his gaunt body and glassy stare that he was on Death’s door. I gave him the Demerol. It took effect almost instantaneously and he relaxed noticeably. He told me that he didn’t have much longer on this earth and he had something he needed to confess. It was now that he told me about the creeping horror and the death of his two friends: Alan and Justine.
He began, "When I was in junior year in high school, I had two close friends. I had known Alan all my life and I had met Justine freshman year. For two long years, I had carried a candle for Justine ever since I saw her. Your mother would enter my life much later in college. Justine was home schooled until the first year of high school. She and Alan were close friends. They actually lived next to one another and when I learned this, I was constantly pressuring Alan to set us up. He was hesitant and I sometimes wondered if maybe he carried the same feelings for Justine, but he eventually relented and set about giving me an opportunity to talk to her.”
He gave a series of wet coughs before continuing, "One day Alan invited Justine and I to hang out. We went to his house and packed a lunch while shooting the shit. We eventually decided to have a picnic out in the woods and go exploring. We all knew of the creeping horror myth, but none of us really believed in it. I was ecstatic to have this opportunity to make my feelings for Justine known. We really didn’t know each other socially so the only opportunity I had was through the medium of Alan. He played the role perfectly and introduced us and then we ventured out into the woods to explore.”
He continued, "We quickly tired of exploring and settled down for lunch in the bag I had been carrying. I carved up some bread and cheese and we ate while making small talk in a small, idyllic clearing. I kept glancing over at Justine, I couldn’t help it. Looking at her just took my breath away. I had a serious case of puppy love. When we had finished with lunch, Alan suggested that we have some fun and try and call the creeping horror.
“Justine was at first opposed to the idea but she quickly relented when I agreed. I desperately wanted to prove myself to Justine and this seemed like a viable way. We all faced each other and began to call him. We needed only shout his name five times. We began, 'Creeping horror!’ My eyes were focused on Justine and a smile played across her face. ‘Creeping horror!’ I knew that I was madly in love with this girl. ‘Creeping horror!’ Her face had dissolved into uncertainty. ‘Creeping horror!’ Her face was sheer terror now. She broke away from us screaming. She had apparently heard some heavy breathing. She ran off and Alan gave me that commiserating glance that I should be the one to comfort her.
“I pursued her through the woods and found her a little while later. She was close to breaking down in tears and was insistent that she had heard the breathing right behind him. I soothed her with comforting words and when she had calmed down, I made my feelings known. I told her that I wanted to go study with her. She accepted my feelings and agreed to go on a date. Before returning to Alan, I planted a kiss on her, my first kiss, it took my breath away. We returned to Alan and were getting ready to return home when he made the challenge. He wanted to complete the summons.”
My father paused for a second and I wonder if he was going to continue on with the story. He decided in the affirmative and proceeded, "I had no desire for tomfoolery, but Alan was insistent. Justine was terrified. I realized he wasn’t going to back down and consented, but I stipulated that we call the creeping horror as far away from Justine as possible. I didn’t believe in superstitions, but I didn’t want to scare her any further. Justine agreed to wait in the clearing while me and Alan proceeded further into the woods for this fool’s errand.”
“We decided that it would be better to call the creeping horror on our own far way from each other so we walked in opposite directions until we could barely hear the other. I wanted to be far enough away from Justine that should something spook me, I wouldn’t embarrass her by crying out like a child. He asked if I was ready and I answered yes. I swear to God that I would give anything to never have agreed to tempt fate like that, but that ship has already sailed.
“We began calling his name, 'Creeping horror!’ The forest was deadly quiet. Our second invocation ‘Creeping horror’ sent our echoes rebounding through the woods. I heard a twig snap in the distance. I figured it was the wildlife in the area being startled by our shouts. I shouted a third time, 'Creeping horror!” There was a rustle close by in the underbrush. Whatever it was, it was getting closer to me. I called again, 'Creeping horror!’ I could have sworn that I smelled sulfur. Were we on hunting grounds? Was I smelling gunpowder? I sucked in another breath and gathered myself before shouting one final time, 'Creeping horror!” I literally roared it the last time and had to take a few seconds to catch my breath. When I did, I realized that I wasn’t the only one breathing heavily.
“It was almost negligible at first, but it slowly grew. Before I knew it, the sound was a few yards behind me. It was the sound of breathing. It was deep and sounded like it was coming through some sort of breathing apparatus. I spent a few seconds thinking that it was my overactive imagination, but the sound grew louder and closer. I knew that if I turned around, it would attack me. I knew that this was the creeping horror. The sound of labored breathing grew closer until it was just a few feet behind me. I willed everything in my body to run, but I was paralyzed where I stood. Fear and panic washed over me like a tidal wave.
“I knew that if I tried to run, the fiend would be on me in a second. It was so close that I could hear the dry rattle in its lungs as it huffed and puffed behind me. I knew my only option was to fight. I had brought my pocket-knife the bread and cheese for lunch. I slowly slid my hand towards my pocket. The sound of breathing was just inches away now. My fingers glanced the pocket-knife and I pulled it up into my hand.
“I could now feel the breaths heating the back of my neck. I tightened every muscle in my body to prevent pissing myself and voiding my bowels. I had to act quickly or be consigned to death by the creeping horror. I didn’t want to be reduced to nothing but a splatter on the bed of the woods when I had so much life left to live. I was in the grasp of the creeping horror now. It rasped in a low, gravely voice that went right into my ear, 'I’m so hungry.’ I wanted to run, I wanted to plead, I wanted to be back at home. I thought that I was going to die out there in the woods.” He asked for another shot of Demerol and I relented.
“I felt the thing’s hot breath on me and I knew that I was at its mercy. It leaned in close to my other ear and said, 'Your flesh will be mine.’ That was all it took. I whirled around and stabbed behind me. The blade pierced flesh and caught on something. The creature stumbled backwards and as the adrenaline drained away from me, I realized what I had done. Justine laid on a bed of leaves gurgling wetly. My blade had pierced her throat just below the jaw line. She writhed in a panic and clutched at the bloody knife. Before I could get to her, she pulled out the blade and blood flowed from the wound.”
My father paused to composed himself before continuing, "I knelt by her and put pressure on the wound, but it was too deep. It was so bloody. I told her I loved her. She just gurgled in shock. She died shortly after. I wept for a few seconds before I heard Alan exclaim, 'Jesus Christ, what happened?’ The pieces slid into place, she had wanted to scare me. She crept up behind me breathing heavily like the creeping horror legend. She had only wanted to play a joke on me.
“Alan knelt at the body and pressed a hand into the ragged wound and took her pulse with his other hand. He paused a few seconds as if time would prove him wrong. It didn’t. He turned back towards me and was in the process of telling me, 'She’s dead. We have to call the police-’ when I stabbed him in the chest. He tried to stumble back and crawl away, but I was on him with my pocket-knife. I raised the blade several times and brought it down into his body. The third stab slipped between the ribs and pierced the heart. I had panicked and in my fear of being caught in a prank gone awry, I had killed my best friend and my girlfriend.”
I listened to his tale in shock. He told me how he left the bodies where they lied. He told me of the months spent in anticipation of being revealed by the police. That time never came. He said it all with a sense of quasi-relief and shame. He spoke of the guilt that had grown in him which was compounded by my inquiries into the creeping fiend. The very thought of that memory rent wounds deep into his soul. It was only now that he was able to confess to his crimes because he was so close to Death’s door.
My father, the benevolent and loving man, had the weight of two souls on his mind. He had spent thirty years with that secret and no one to tell it to. It had eaten away at his conscience for thirty fucking years and when he finally told someone, I doubt it eased the pain of it all. He wanted to cleanse his conscience, but was afraid of the consequences. It was then that I learned my father was a coward. He couldn’t face the consequence and bring consolation to the two families of his friends. He fled from the truth and with time, the crime eventually became unsolved. The man I saw as my hero, my role model, was nothing more than a coward. He asked for another shot of Demerol. I gave it to him.
I plunged the syringe into the small rubber stopped bottle and withdrew the entire solution. My father watched me with bright and delirious eyes. I leaned in close to him and whispered, "I love you.”
He mumbled something about Justine, but he was slipping further each second. I had already given him so much Demerol, just a little bit more was all that was needed. I pierced his arm with the needle and injected the entire solution into him. My last memory of him was looking into his face. His face was eerily similar to the emotions he showed me that one day so long ago when I had tried to call the creeping horror with my friend Benjamin. The emotions expressed in his face were that of unbridled fear and uncontrollable guilt. He died looking that way.
I’m writing this now because I know that he is dead. I killed him. He slipped away peacefully after an overdose of Demerol. I know that the families of Alan and Justine deserve some sort of respite. They deserve justice, but that time is gone. Finally their killer can be revealed. At the end of it all, I am ambivalent. There are two conflicting emotions: my childhood admiration and respect I have for my father and the horror of the terrible secret he bore for over thirty years. He was my idol and he was also a fiend capable of unspeakable horrors.
I won’t conclude this story by saying there never was a monster because that’s not true. The monster wasn’t something as simple as flesh and blood, nails and fangs. The monster isn’t isolated in the small town of Simsbury, Connecticut. It is everywhere. It was and is a part of us. The creeping horror was my father the day he accidentally murdered his girlfriend and stabbed his best friend to death to protect himself. The creeping horror was me that night when I gave him that fatal overdose. In some horrible way, the creeping horror is inside all of us. It is in who we are and what we can become, given circumstances that are entirely out of our control.
Written by EmpyrealInvective