Oscar ‘Osmo’ Momente winced as the tyres of his battered, black Ford Mondeo crunched the gravel on the long track leading to the farm.
‘Hey, is that it there?’ Osmo’s daughter, Marie, asked.
‘Shh,’ Osmo hissed, fearing the slightest noise would bring down undue attention on the car and its four inhabitants.
To their right was a large stone farmhouse, the single illuminated window like an accusatory eye that watched their trespassing. Far ahead on the left was the only other light save the moonlight. This light to the left was their destination – the spa that had been built on the abandoned farmland.
They’d had a call from someone who worked at the spa to say that their missing dog, Misty, had been spotted nearby.
‘Isn’t that barn around here?’ Graham, Osmo’s seven year old son, asked.
‘Quiet, honey,’ Mrs Grace Momente insisted, noting the lines of worry that scored her husband’s face.
They wound along the snaking path, Osmo not daring to go faster than five miles an hour lest he alert some unseen guard to their presence.
‘It’s as creepy as I thought,’ Marie whispered to her brother.
He nodded, his eyes wide with fear.
‘Do you really think this is where all those people ended up?’
‘Yes,’ Graham said.
Osmo glared at them in the rearview mirror.
‘Come on, Oscar, no one outside the car is going to hear that,’ Grace said.
‘I don’t think we should make any noise at all. You’ve heard what they say about this place.’
‘Personally, I’d have left the dog. It’s not worth the four of us being chopped up and—’
‘Oscar, shut up, the kids.’
‘They know all about it.’
Graham and Marie nodded bashfully.
‘See. Now, can everyone please shut up?’ Osmo said. ‘I’m as scared as you all are. Let’s find out what happened to Misty and get out of here.’
Osmo took the car down a track which wound to the left, into a huge field where the spa sat in the far left corner. As they negotiated a tight s-bend, Marie gasped.
Osmo glanced from the side window to see a tall man with cadaverous skin standing on the corner of the field. His heart started to pound until he noticed that it was clearly a scarecrow. The man wore a battered black fedora and a long brown trench coat. His long, greasy hair and beard were matted together in thick clumps, hiding most of his pale face. His eyes were staring glassily ahead.
Osmo looked away, pleased to get the creepy scarecrow out of his eye line.
‘Dad, he just moved,’ said Marie, the panic in her voice impossible to miss.
‘It’s just the wind, honey,’ Osmo said.
‘The others didn’t move,’ Graham said, pointing to the other figures that stood sentry around the field. There were five that Osmo saw in the quick glance he took before he had to concentrate on the road once more. ‘If it was the wind the others would have moved too.’
‘Just your imagination,’ Grace said, unable to suppress the shudder that ran through her.
Marie and Graham eyed the macabre figures suspiciously, watching for the slightest hint of movement. They saw none, so tentatively relaxed. The tramps remained still, their arms held out against the wooden poles like paupers re-enacting the crucifixion.
Osmo pulled up outside the spa.
‘I’ll go in,’ Grace said, noting the worry on her husband’s face.
Osmo nodded. ‘Thanks, honey. I don’t know what’s the matter with me.’
‘I’m scared too, dad,’ Marie said. ‘But we’ll be ok. I think it’s too late for Misty though. I think the thing in the barn got him.’
Osmo said nothing, just gulped.
Grace didn’t acknowledge her daughter’s comment. She put the tales of the ‘Thing in the barn’ down to urban legend, but couldn’t deny the creepiness of the place. She went up to the spa’s glass door and knocked gently on the frame.
Osmo winced at the noise and glanced around furtively. He knew they were really pushing their luck being out here and wished he hadn’t brought his family with him, but the truth was that he needed them for moral support. Nothing moved in the field, so he slumped back in his seat, inching his car door shut.
Grace smiled at him, mouthed a sorry, then held up her fingers in the peace sign. Two minutes, that gesture meant.
Eager to get it over with, Osmo waved her inside.
She turned the handle and disappeared into the spa.
Osmo, Graham and Marie eyed the field while they waited. In the distance, they saw the dim outline of the barn. A number of people had disappeared in town over the last year, and a rumour had started that said the bodies were being taken to feed something that dwelled in the barn. Osmo knew he was too old to buy into such shit, but the bodies had to be going somewhere and this was as good an explanation as any.
The moon was a bleached sickle scything through the overbearing darkness and tumorous clouds that hung above them. The sickly pale light cast the field in an eerie glow, making even the most normal thing seem like a figment of a living nightmare.
Osmo breathed deeply, trying to calm himself. His skin crawled. The stories had really gotten into his head.
‘What do you think it is?’ Graham asked.
Marie shrugged with the kind of nonchalance that one about to enter her teenage years can easily muster. ‘I think it’s a dinosaur.’
‘I heard it was a werewolf,’ Graham said.
Osmo wanted to join in, but he was too on edge. ‘Can we cut this out, kids? It isn’t helping.’
‘Your mother’s been in there a while,’ Osmo said, trying to sound flippant.
‘You know mam,’ Marie said. ‘Her two minutes is like twenty, especially if she gets gassing.’
This brought a welcome chuckle from Osmo, lightening the mood a little. ‘Yeah, if she gets banging her gums we might be here till sunrise.’
Marie snorted laughter.
Graham didn’t say anything. He didn’t like it when they talked bad about his mam.
‘I’ll give it a few minutes then I’ll go in after her,’ Osmo said. ‘Sure she’s just talking to the receptionist or something.’
His kids both nodded.
‘It’s been five minutes, dad,’ Graham said.
Osmo eyed the clock on the dash to see that his son was right. He’d had a feeling it had been five minutes, he just didn’t fancy getting out of the car. He’d hoped Grace would come out of her own accord, saving him the worry of having to go in. He was going to give her a bollocking when he saw her. She’d known how much he’d dreaded coming here and now she was deliberately making him wait. It wasn’t on and boy was she going to know it.
He got out of the car, pleased that he’d oiled the squeaky hinge before setting out here. His feet crunched on the gravel. Even this minute sound seemed too loud, like it was going to bring the owners of the farm down on him like a ton of vengeful bricks.
‘Lock the doors and don’t open them for anyone but me,’ he whispered to Marie.
‘Not even mam?’ Marie said, smiling.
‘Of course your mam, but I’ll be with her, won’t I?’
‘What about Misty?’ Graham said. ‘If we see him should we let him in?’
‘Misty’s dead, Graham,’ Marie said, then clapped a hand over her mouth as if blurting out a secret her brother shouldn’t have been privy to.
Graham nodded as if he had indeed considered this as a possibility.
‘Misty’s not dead,’ Osmo insisted. ‘We’re going to find him and your mam and get the hell out of here. Now do as I say, lock the doors and don’t open them till we come back.’
Osmo carefully shut the door and waited until he heard the click of the central locking. He gave Marie a thumbs up and strolled over to the glass door. Loathe to create unnecessary noise, he dispensed with the formality of knocking and opened the door to find himself in a pleasant, wood-lined room. There was a long, polished mahogany reception desk, upon which sat a phone and a guestbook.
‘Grace?’ he called. ‘Come on, let’s get out of here.’
Grace did not reply.
He approached the desk, eyed the guestbook. It was blank. This struck him as odd, but he didn’t want to spend any longer here than necessary. He noticed that there was nothing on the other side of the desk. Again, he found this odd but tried not to dwell on it.
Behind the desk were two doors, one against the back wall and one to his left. The one to the left was open slightly, so he headed for this one first.
‘Grace?’ he called out, trying to keep his voice as low as possible.
Silence greeted his cry.
The sign on the door read, ‘Treatments room’. He pushed it open, wincing as the hinges squealed. The room was totally, utterly, empty. This he found very disturbing. Was this even a spa, or a front for something more sinister?
‘Grace, honey. Let’s fucking get out of here,’ he shouted. The only reply was his own voice echoing off the bare wooden walls.
He left this room, leaving the door slightly open, and headed for the back door. Shoving this door open revealed a long room that was as bare as the treatments room. The skin on the back of his neck began to crawl. His throat felt as dry as the gravel on the path outside.
Suddenly it occurred to him that Grace was in hiding, wanting to scare him to teach him not to be so nervous about things. If she did, he would gladly scream like a little bitch as long as it meant they got out of here.
The light died towards the end of the room, but he could see there was a door set into the back wall. He pulled his mobile phone out of his pocket, using the feeble light to illuminate the floor in front of him. There was a small object at the far end of the room near the door. He couldn’t tell what it was at this distance, and after squinting his eyes it still wasn’t clear, so he was forced to move closer.
‘Grace, this isn’t funny,’ he said, his voice shaking much more than he would have liked. ‘Let’s just go, alright? You scared the shit out of me. Let’s go.’
Silence swallowed his cry.
He slowly made his way up the room, scanning round with the torch to see if his wife was lurking anywhere. The room was bare so it quickly became obvious that she wasn’t. He reached the mystery object and glanced down to see that it was one of Grace’s shoes. A few small splashes of bright crimson marked the floor around the shoe.
‘Very funny, Grace,’ he called out, and tried a laugh that died in his throat. The shoe was in keeping with Grace’s sense of humour, but the blood made this unlikely to be a joke.
He grabbed the handle of the door and pulled it open.
A long, dark path led through the mud towards the forbidding silhouette of the barn. Trails in the mud made it look as though something – or someone – had been dragged up there recently. He knelt and looked at the scuffs, noting a few flecks of blood against the blades of grass.
He gulped and set off towards the barn he’d heard so many bad things about.
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