Don’t Let It Feed

Ernest Kirby didn’t die in vain. The soft-spoken 73-year-old, who had painful arthritis and an inoperable tumour somewhere in his bowels, saved 12 others on that bleak night in early December.

He didn’t think twice about it, he acted on instinct. And, had Ernest survived those events, he would have shushed any attempt to hail him as a hero. “I’m no superman,” he would have said. “I was just trying to help.” And then he would have smiled his lopsided smile and added: “I was only doing what anybody else would have done.”

But Ernest didn’t get to say any of those things. He died at 2:38 a.m. on a cold winter’s morning.

Since the death of his wife, Ernest volunteered at Lille County Primary School. It was a humble building on the outskirts of town; two storeys tall with a fenced-off playground. Ernest offered his time and found it enriched his lonely life. The sweet old man was a hit with the children, too — they all loved him for his gentle demeanour and inextinguishable good mood.

On a dark afternoon an hour after the final bell had rung, Ernest was in charge of 11 children — along with Mrs Wondrush. Watery grey light trickled in through the windows. It had snowed for the better part of the day.

Almost all the kids had been collected, but the group in the room still waited for their parents. Steve Marshall phoned to say he had no idea when he’d be there to pick his daughter up — the roads were undrivable due to the snow. Sally said she reckoned that was probably the case for all the parents.

Ernest smiled. “Not to worry, Sally. I’ll wait here with you until they arrive. I’m in no rush.”

“Thanks, Ernest.” She wrapped her arms around herself. “I just wish Dave’d get the damn heating back on.”

“You swore!” cried Lucy.

“You didn’t hear that, okay?” she said with a smile.

Ernest grinned. “I’ll go see what’s taking him so long.”

They tried to make it seem like a game, to not frighten the children. They locked the door and barricaded it with tables and chairs. They took care to not make too much noise. “Okay, gang,” Sally whispered in a shaky voice, “let’s play who can stay the quietest.” She raised her finger to her lips: “Remember, we’ve got to be quiet.”

The 13 of them huddled in the corner of the classroom as the blizzard swirled its chaos outside. The school was deathly silent; they couldn’t hear a sound. The place was quieter than quiet. The snow muffled all noise.

As they hid, the oblivious kids with fingers pressed to mouths (shhh), Ernest replayed the handyman’s last moments over and over. The open cavity of his chest. The snapped bones. The organs that quivered and throbbed as they failed to keep their owner alive. Dave fought through the pain to deliver his final message. He coughed and sprayed blood from his lips. “Don’t let it get the children. Don’t let it feed,” he’d said through gritted teeth. And then he sighed as he let out a long, protracted breath. Dave never took another.

His life ebbed away on the floor.

Ernest’s mind showed him the hole in the basement wall again. The void (what could do that, dear God, what did that) that yawned was blacker than black. Chilly air seeped out. The awful smell of rot and decay permeated the atmosphere.

The sounds from within.

The insectoid scuttles.

Sally shook him awake from an uneasy sleep. “Ernest,” she whispered. It was dark. The children had closed eyes and heavy breaths. He checked the well-worn watch that Marge had bought him, eyes bleary. It was gone half two in the morning. “Has anyone—” he began, but then bright headlights flashed through the window. An engine cut off.

“Let’s go,” he moved his stiff and aching body. “Now.

They woke the children, fingers to lips. The kids, none the wiser, grinned and nodded. They pulled the tables and chairs away from the door with the utmost care. Then, with a loud click, they turned the lock, pushed open the door and stepped into the inky black corridor. Sally led. Ernest at the rear.

The front door was 50 paces away, if that, and they could see the headlights through the glass and—

He heard it.

A buzzing, clicking noise. Clack-clack. It was in the hallway with them.

It had waited.

Clack-clack. A scuttle in the darkness. Clackety-clack! Another fluttery humming sound. The air escaped his lungs, and he could hear his heartbeat as it thundered in his chest (not now, don’t let me have a heart attack, please God, not now).

It was on the ceiling. Clackety-clack. Up ahead. It crawled towards them. The others didn’t see it, but Ernest did. Clack. It was above them and still, they moved (too loud you’re too loud it’ll hear us). Clack-clack. And then it moved away. Whatever it was, it was past them, down the hallway and—

Tyler coughed. Spittle flew. “Ew! Miss! Tyler coughed on me, he—”

It dropped with a meaty thud to the floor and scuttled towards them, screeching and clicking. My God, it’s fast, Ernest thought, and then he threw himself at it with everything he had.

His joints were popping and he was colliding with it and the thing was screeching and buzzing and it had him and the pain was stabbing and oh, the pain, the pain and somewhere someone was screaming and it was him, he was the one screaming and his chest was exploding but the children (don’t let it get the children don’t let it feed) were safe they were safe and the pain the pain the pain (run run get out run please save the children the children the children)—

3rd December 2019

Written for the #BlogBattle prompt: “Innocent”

20 thoughts on “Don’t Let It Feed

  1. aebranson

    A gripping story even before the monster appeared! There were lots of tidbits that made me wonder: Was there something symbolic about his time of death being 2:38 (I noticed that if you add those numbers together, the sum is 13)? Just what did he volunteer doing at the school (which staying in the word count might have hindered that information)? And then all the questions arose about the monster. Does it only feed on children although it kills adults? And how did poor Dave figure this out?
    I LOVED how you inserted all the clickety-clacks as the monster approached. It almost made my own heart beat in cadence with it. This seems like something that could expand into a whole novel. Great work!

    • Joshua G. J. Insole

      Thank you very much! I really appreciate it. 🙂 Actually, it was purely accidental that the time adds up to 13 — great spot, though! I kinda wish I had done that intentionally! 😉 Yeah, there were a fair few details I wanted to add, but couldn’t due to word count constraints. I think I might leave the questions unanswered, in case I can return to this story in a later Blog Battle. 🙂 Thanks, I had great fun writing that clickety-clack bit! 😀 Thanks again! 🙂

  2. Gary

    Is it just me that thinks the key to the dark places requires a certain number…and that appears to be thirteen. Had there been 12 or 14 kids then might Earnest not have left at normal hours, the snow not layering in a certain way and the creature glowering neath the school floors cursing numeracy.

    Apologies for absent reading Joshua. I did manage something last month, but never got time to read any…so here I am.

    Stay away from happy…this is clearly your genre. The writing flowed very well. Top drawer stuff.

    • Joshua G. J. Insole

      Thanks, Gary! I think you’re ahead of me at the moment! I’ve been (mostly) on top of writing, but I’ve fallen behind with WP messages and others’ stories, here and on Reedsy! How quickly it snowballs out of control 😀

      Yes, when I ‘go with the flow’, so to speak, it seems to mostly strike the same tone of darkness. It comes quite naturally, more than the other feelings. Maybe don’t fix what isn’t broken, eh? 😉

      • Gary

        Only in terms of messages for January! Writing is yet to find the habit forming. That said I’ve a darker concept for this months prompt. We shall see how it unfolds.

        I’m actually thinking your writing genre is forging the direction. I would wager you could try something else and it would naturally end up with a bad day for someone(s). The adage don’t fix what isn’t broken is possibly forged from a wise mind. Stick with what you’re good at 🤔

      • Joshua G. J. Insole

        How is your main WIP going — the one started for NaNo? Mine still needs a fair bit of work, but it’s getting there, although the journey gets a bit bumpy, every now and then. Ooh, I look forward to reading that one, Gary! I do love a dark tale. 😀

        Haha, yes, you may be right. I thought I was going to write a happy story for the ‘harp’ prompt. Was that October? November? I lose track. It started off so pleasant, but quickly went off the rails…

      • Gary

        It’s fully drafted, but does need polishing up. Might do that in the camps. Then again the first comment on the new bit is from a beta reader who thinks I should take this months story into a novel. I was proper unsure of it… it then again I say that a lot so now I’ve now no idea if they are or aren’t! Still it’s for readers to decide really.

        With you, I rather think happy is more a trick to provide reader attachment before hitting them with a brick. King also does that a lot too 😊

      • Joshua G. J. Insole

        That’s the first hurdle passed, though! I’m still scratching away at my first draft. I know where I’m going with it, but the river has slowed to a trickle… I need to give myself a kick up the–

        I’ll be over to have a read of this month’s story as soon as I can. Very interesting comments, I look forward to reading it! Uncertainty is a good sign, I reckon. It means you’re taking risks and experimenting, as opposed to resting on your laurels!

        Yes, I think you’re right. Make a real, believable and lovable person. And then put them through unspeakable things… I think horror is a good balance of a fear of the “monster” and a fear for the character’s well being.

      • Gary

        I’ve passed that hurdle about four times now. Somehow they all seem to enter dormancy wrt publishing. Like I said earlier though… the good habits seem way harder than bad ones. Your absence suggested a bit of a slow down. It is noted here too btw. Any longer and, like I said before, I’ll kick you on FB 😂😂

        No worries about rushing to read this months either. I’m slowly catching up on everyone else’s too. For me this was a return to a genre I started in. But trying a more Gothic edge. Definitely an uncertain attempt given the time gap mind.

        Kings formula again really. First part engage the reader to invest in the key character, second to pitch ordinary into extraordinary and final to resolve it all. The more I read of him the clearer that aspect becomes. Obviously to make it work as he does requires some pretty fine writing though 😳

      • Joshua G. J. Insole

        You really should see what you can do with your finished pieces — who knows where it could lead? You are correct, though, the bad habits are easy… Ha, yes! Don’t be afraid to give me a kick! Sometimes I definitely need it! I’ve told my partner to tell me off if she sees me procrastinating! 😂

        I’ve caught up on a fair few stories now! Some really great ones, as always. I love seeing the different directions they all go in. Yours was really great! I do love gothic horror — I think you really nailed it!

        It’s a good formula. Easy when you break it down into it’s building blocks, but to really master it requires practice — of which King has had a lot!

      • Gary

        You’re not the first to say that Joshua. I’m great giving advice, but rarely take my own! No idea why apart from some irrational quirk that seems not to believe they’re any good even when comments say otherwise…go figure that one!

        Will certainly drop on you on FB if I see any dips in productivity now then!

        You’re right about the story variety too. Best part of these sort of prompts really. I also like consistent entrants too because it lets you see their style and voices grow over time. So many good writers. I mentioned before I’ve seen yours grow too, much more fluid and a firm narrative voice. I guess that ties in with your King comment…. practice… can’t do that too well without that good habit mind 😱

      • Joshua G. J. Insole

        You should give yourself a good talking to! I can understand the fear… but when all of your readers unanimously agree that your stuff is great, maybe we’re right? 🙂

        I welcome that! I think the reason NaNo was so successful was the fear that you’d look at my stats and tell me to kick up the gear! 😀

        Thanks, Gary! It means a lot. 🙂 I look forward to the varying styles and genres we get each time… We each clearly have our own little niche, which I think is really lovely. 🙂

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