And impossible as it seemed, George Bolster was grateful for his family’s unbridled cries of terror as they masked the otherunearthly sounds that ghosted their every move.
Whump. Whump. Whump.
The steady beat of an unseen giant’s footsteps up the stairs.
“Into the bedroom, now!” George shouted at his panicked wife and sons. They scrabbled into the room at the end of the hall while the floor quaked beneath their feet. Once inside, George slammed the door shut and braced his back against its oak frame. His sons Cory and Matt clung to Sharon’s sides, their eyes wide and terrified, darting around the room, looking for death in benign shadows.
“Sharon, push the dresser over.”
Stifling a sob that made her entire body shudder, she reluctantly pulled away from the boys and ran over to the large dresser. George grunted as the unseen force in the hallway pounded against the door.
Matt leapt to his mother’s side to help push the heavy piece of furniture across the floor and against the bedroom door. Cory, who was only six and barely forty pounds, could only curl up into a corner and whimper. A clap of thunder made the entire house quake and they all shrieked in unison. George still pressed his weight against the door while Sharon and Matt gathered as much bulk as they could find and piled it as high and as fast as they could on top of the dresser.
The door shook as it was rammed again and again, so hard that the arch above the doorway began to crack. It wouldn’t be long before the entire wall would collapse and then where could they go?
A deep thrumming emanated from beyond the door, a sonorous hum that was not so much heard as it was felt. It hurt like hell. They felt it vibrate their chest walls, disrupt the hammering rhythm of their hearts. It crept up their spines and exploded in their skulls, threatening to liquefy their brains.
So they screamed. Fighting fire with fire. The pile of debris stashed against the door shook as the pounding on the door continued. Staggering on jellied knees, George peered out the sole window into the moon bathed woods outside. It was only a drop of twenty feet or so. Maybe, if he jumped first, he could catch them one at a time and they could run into the woods. But it was so damn cold, well below zero, and they didn’t have a coat between them. Could they possibly navigate their way through the snow steeped forest to their nearest neighbor a mile away?
Suddenly, everything stopped. The pain ceased and they all dropped to their knees. What sounded like a thousand tiny claws ticked across the hardwood floor of the hallway, retreating to the other end and descending the staircase that lead to the living room below.
George shook his head and went back to the window.
“Is it gone, daddy?” Cory whispered.
“I don’t know. Everyone stay quiet.”
He kept his eyes on the faintly illuminated yard and his ears tuned for any sounds within the house. Matt and Cory muffled their cries into their mother’s breast.
“What are you thinking?” Sharon mouthed.
George pointed out the window and used two fingers to simulate running. It was their only chance.
“George, we’ll freeze to death.”
One look from her husband ended any protest. Gently pulling the boys from her sides, she went over to the dresser and found two blankets, several pairs of sport socks and one wool hat. She worked in silence, wrapping the boys in the blankets and putting an extra pair of socks on their shoeless feet. Cory, being the youngest and frailest, got the hat.
George gathered his family by the window.
“I’m going to jump into the snow out there. Matt, I want you to go next, then Cory, then mom. Once we’re all out, I want you to stick close and run as fast as you can. We’re going to try to make it to Glenn’s house.”
“But that’s really far and it’s so dark out,” Matt protested.
George hugged him and felt close to tears. “I know, little man, I know. But we have to get out of here and Glenn’s house is the closest to us.”
“Maybe it’s gone away,” Cory said. They all looked towards the door. The entire house had been silent for almost five minutes now.
Sharon placed a hand on her husband’s shoulder. “It might not be a bad idea to wait a while and see.”
George wanted nothing more than to run like hell from his house. Freezing to death was a welcomed option to the thing downstairs.
“I’m not sure−”
The floor exploded just five feet from where they sat as the assault recommenced, this time from below. A fist-sized hole opened up between the splintered wood. A maniacal rush of thrashing and clawing blasted from the fresh portal as the floor shook from repeated efforts to widen the gap.
George threw the window up hard, shattering the glass. Without a moment’s hesitation, he jumped out into the cold night. He landed in a three foot pile of snow that cushioned his fall. His right leg throbbed a little and his lungs hurt as he sucked in his first draft of frigid air.
“Okay, Matt, jump!” he shouted.
Sharon plucked her youngest son and aimed him into his father’s waiting arms. George caught him and they both fell back into the snow. He was back on his feet by the time Cory had himself perched on the windowsill. Cory looked back at his mother, afraid to leave her alone, even if it was only for a moment.
“Go, Cory. I’ll be right behind you.”
The opening in the floor grew wider as more shards of wood shot out of the hole like lava from a volcano. Cory sprang into the air and almost sailed past his father. After a quick tumble in the freezing snow, George was back up and waiting for Sharon.
Heavy moaning filled the room. Sharon’s bladder lost control. Something was trying to find purchase on the jagged edges of the hole. Something huge, black and evil.
“Sharon! Come on!” George and the boys were shouting to her from the yard. Momentarily mesmerized by creeping fear, she turned back to the window and placed a foot on the sill.
As she prepared to jump, a trio of shadows stretched from the trees like a sentient ink spill and engulfed her family. One second they were there, calling for her to jump, and the next instant they were gone as the shadows retreated back into the forest.
She never noticed the presence behind her.
Hunter Shea was born and raised in the Bronx, New York. His short stories have appeared in dozens of magazines over the years. Forest of Shadows is his first full length horror novel. His second novel with Samhain, Evil Eternal, will be out in spring, 2012. He has been a book reviewer, editor, blogger, op-ed ranter and anything else that can keep him happily ensconced in his room with his keyboard and overactive imagination. He currently lives in New York with his family and savage cat that was rescued from a shelter. He’s working hard on his next novel and can be found at www.huntershea.com where he’s always happy to hear from you.