☰ Blood Bird ★ Benjamin Shelor (Part Two)

Something screeched in the distance.
It was a hollow wail, like a bird’s call, but not a nice melodic bird.
The sickly screechy kind.
It was the only sound that traveled.
I swallowed thickly.
“What was that?” Bob aimed his flashlight sky bound. “It came from above us, to the west.”
Ernie’s face went pale. He didn’t answer.
“It’s that bird ol’ Bill used to talk about before he died,” someone said.

“Now ain't the time for bein’ a smart ass,” Ernie snapped at the entire posse. “There are three kids out here missin’. My kids. My own—“ He took a moment to compose himself. “And goin’ on about giant birds won't help us find them.”
“Keep cool, Ernie,” I whispered.
Ernie’s paleness had been replaced by an apple red fury that bubbled just beneath the surface. His beard twitched and his eyes were eerie balls of fire in the light of our torches.
A man about to snap.
Like any good man would in his position.
The Blood Bird called again, directly above us this time. We could all feel the wind from its wings blow through the trees. Those with hats put their hands to them to keep them from blowing off. The thought of that … thing … being real made my palms sweat. To think how large its wingspan must be to blow the hat off a man’s head made me sick.
Where had it come from?
Why was it here?
I didn’t know the answer to the first question, but my instinct told me the truth about the second: to feed.
“Oh my God!” Two of our group yelled in unison, and took off through the trees.

A third backed up, carefully, quietly, his hands in the air.
“Look Ernie, I didn’t sign up for this. My wife just had a kid. I can’t be out here gettin’ killed for yours.”
“Well then git the hell outta here, Rollins!” Ernie bellowed at the man, spittle flying from his mouth and dangling in beads on his beard. Rollins gave an apologetic look and turned to run full speed back to the trucks.
And then there were three.
Just me, Ernie and Off Duty Bob.
Bob kept trying to see the bird through the canopy of suffocating leaves above us.
“Put your light to the ground, Bob. You trying to get us all killed?” I whispered.
“There’s something up there.” Bob pointed, ignoring me.
I craned my head up to get a better look.
“It’s Gene’s toy rifle.” Ernie breathed and pointed it out for me. It dangled from its strap on an impossibly high branch.
Bob cupped his mouth and gave a yell. “Gene?”
Ernie slapped him upside the back of the head. “Shut up, Bob. You want that bird to come back?”
“Don’cha want to find them?” Bob rubbed the back of his head.
“Of course, but I don’t want that bird findin’ us. Gene must have left his rifle laying around out here and the bird picked it up.”
My heart fell.
Ernie was lying to himself. I knew it, Bob knew it, and honestly, deep down Ernie probably knew it too. That bird hadn’t found Gene’s toy rifle laying in a ditch somewhere. The longer I looked at it, hanging from its strap, reflecting our lights as it moved with the breeze, the more I started to lose hope.
From where I was, it was hardly visible, but I climbed up a pine to fetch the toy. Now I could see something shiny and red on the stock. I didn’t say what I knew it was. I didn’t have time to anyway.
A scream diverted my attention.
And not a bird scream.
A grown man scream.
“Where’s Bob?” Ernie asked.
I dropped out of the tree and looked around too but didn’t see him. The sound of his cry came from the left a ways. We exchanged a look and went toward it. Before long, we were in a clearing. And what we saw there defied my imagination.
A bird the size … well, had to be double the size of one of those giant condors from South America. Dark, blood red feathers on giant wings gusted while wicked talons gripped the front of Bob. He was struggling, but looked close to the end of those struggles. The talons looked like they’d sank deep into his rib cage. The bird was struggling too, struggling to lift big Bob up into the air.
It was about to succeed when a rock sailed through the air and struck the creature in its long naked head. That head was like nothing I’d ever seen. Its eyes were gnarled pits. Skin like cracked stone blasted with soot.
I swiveled round just in time to see Ernie reach for another stone.
That fire was in his eyes.
A look of revenge. The next rock thudded against a wing but not before Ernie was sprinting forward.
He let loose a string of curses on that bird that might’ve made me blush under other circumstances. I was still trying to overcome my shock. It wasn’t until Ernie was just about riding the thing that my stupor broke. Then a shame washed over me. Ernie was risking his life and I was just standing there.
The bird let go of Bob. I don’t think it was used to folks fighting back like Ernie was. It squawked and twisted and seemed keen on ripping my friend to shreds.
But it didn’t. That was on account of me whacking it across its ugly head with the butt of the toy rifle.
“Lock and load, motherf—“
It screeched and lifted up into the air with a headache instead of a prize.
Then, it was gone. Vanished into the pitch black sky.
We could still hear its cry in the distance.
Toward Oak House. The eerie sound made me cringe. But then, another sound came from that direction. The sound of a girl yelling for help.
Ernie turned toward me, his eyes wide and filled with hope for the first time this evening.
“Stay with Bob,” he said, with more hero in his voice than I’d ever heard.
And then he was gone too. Sprinting off into the darkness after his only daughter, leaving me and what was left of Bob all alone in the woods.

This was not an ideal scenario, but very little of this night had been ideal. Ernie should not have run off alone. But we’re talking about a man and his kids.
They say that’s a powerful connection.
I turned to Bob. We wasn’t breathing so well, but then again, how can you breath when your lungs are torn to shreds?
It looked bad. Like something from a nature show on predators and prey. I covered him with my coat and started feeling bad about the hard time I’d given him.
“I’ll get help,” I said.
He grabbed onto my arm and held me there.
“No.” he choked out. Blood dribbled down the corner of his mouth. “Kill i-i-it.” he stuttered.
I nodded. “We will.” Hopefully, there was confidence in my voice.
Bob shook his head ‘no’. The motion made a wet sucking sound. All of his blood was rushing out of his body and pooling up underneath him.
“Not f-from t-this w-world.” He croaked, then tried to swallow and couldn’t. His eyes widened. The horror of his own death right in front of him.
His arm went to his chest and I watched as he ran a line from his collar bone to his navel with the tip of his finger. “I-its m-mouth.”
He was talking nonsense. Too much pain.
“Okay, Bob, just be still. Everything is going to be okay,” I lied.
He coughed up more blood and I forced myself to hold his gaze. There was nothing else to do but be there for him while he died this horrible death.
It wasn’t long before his eyes rolled away from mine and his gasping breaths slowed.
I said a prayer over his mangled corpse and closed his eyelids myself.

When you’re running through the woods alone at night, all you hear are branches cracking, your boots smacking the earth, and your own ragged breaths. All you see are spots of brown and green, illuminated by your flashlight. All you feel are cold drops of dew spattering onto you as you disturb branches.
I heard Judy scream.
“Daddy!” A high pitched, shrill little girl’s scream.
But I was grateful for it. It told me what direction to go in.
My heart was pounding so hard, I had to slow to a jog and catch my breath. Every so often, I called out the little girl’s name, until finally, she answered me.
“Help,” she cried.
I wove my way between trees and bushes until I found her. She was alone. Hovering at the trunk of a tree. Tears slid down her face and mixed with dirt.
“Judy, are you okay?”
Her little head shook with fear. She pointed.
“My daddy. That thing took my daddy. It wanted him. Wanted him so bad.” She looked up at me “It wants all of our family. Forever and ever.” Judy burst into tears and wept uncontrollably.
I knelt down beside her and squeezed her shoulders.
“It’s okay. We’ll get your daddy back.”
I wasn’t sure how, but I hoped my words would come true anyway.
I helped her to her feet and her crying slowed.
“Judy? You’re a very brave girl. And you shouldn’t have to be brave anymore, but I need you to be. Just for a little longer. Can you be a shield maiden for me?”
She looked up with a little surprise and wiped her eyes. Slowly, she nodded.
“Good. Right now, we need to find your brothers and get you guys home. Where are they?”
Judy stumbled. She was in shock. I caught her before she fell.
“Dead.” she swallowed hard. “It killed them. The bird took them.”
I balked.
“You saw the bird take your brothers?”
She nodded. “Gene’s … Gene’s head was … was gone before his feet left the ground.” She pointed in the direction I’d come from. “He dropped his toy in the trees. I saw it. I saw him try to shoot … Thought that stupid thing was real.” She broke down in tears again.
I saw the rifle hanging from the branches by its half broken strap in my mind’s eye and winced.
“And Jack?” I whispered.
“Ripped in half. Over that way.” She pointed again in the opposite direction. Her face had gone blank just then. Full shock seemed to have set in.
No more emotion.
She needed a respite.
I rubbed the stubble on my chin as my mind worked out a plan: get Judy home and bring back more people to find Ernie. I hoped he was still alive.
Poor Judy and Janice, to lose three of their family all in one day. The boys were bad enough, but I prayed the little girl was wrong about her father being gone too.
We made our way back down the hill and away from Oak House property, going slowly. Every noise made her jump. I kept telling her that it was going to be okay.
I don’t think she believed me. I don’t think I believed me.
We passed the womp, womp, womp noise that sounded like a generator again and Judy saw fit to enlighten me.
“That’s where it comes from.” She pointed to nothingness. Just darkness between trees.
I looked at her, then back at the pitch black. The sound was coming from a few feet away, but I couldn't see anything.
“What is it?”
“A hole.” she answered. I assumed she meant a portal. “The other side is different than here. You have to use your ears to find it.”
My skin crawled. At this point, I had no reason not to believe her. I ushered her down the hill twice as fast after we passed that ‘hole’. I had no explanation for it, and I didn’t need one to know that staying away from it would be a smart move.
Had she just said she had gone through it?
Why? Why in the Sam hell would a 12 year old girl be so brave as to explore something like that? When I was 12, I would have ran away as fast as my legs could carry me. But not Judy.
She was a damn shield maiden.
We made it to the clearing where we’d parked the trucks. I helped Judy into the passenger's seat. She was shaking. From fear. From cold. From loss.
I sped all the way back to the Lanshire farm.
Janice was overwhelmed with relief and despair when she heard the news. She and Judy held each other and cried. Vanessa looked at me with tears in her eyes.
The cops combed over the Oak House property for the next few days.
They found Bob’s dead body, along with the remains of three others.
All they found of little Gene was a finger, as if the monster had eaten up the little boy completely. Jack left behind a leg. The search team found it on the roof of Oak House. Three stories up. They couldn’t explain how a little boy’s body part ended up being left so high up. I wasn’t about to explain it to them and earn myself a one way ticket to the loony bin.
Ernie’s entrails were missing. He was in about the same condition Bob had been when he’d died, only the bird fed on Ernie.

Weeks passed.
They never found the portal.
They never found the bird.
Nothing was normal, but things went back almost to the way they were before the kids went missing.
Vanessa and I decided to try for a baby. I told myself it wasn't to replace the kids that were lost. I mean, they weren't even my kids. But after everything that happened, we realized life was too short to wait for the perfect moment to start a family.
The ordeal in the forest obviously changed me forever.
I was quiet all the time, and Vanessa worried. She didn’t like me just sitting around dwelling, so she came up with a long ‘honey-do’ list for me.
I’d never tell her this, but I was grateful. When I didn’t have anything to do, I ended up just staring out our window at the neighbors’ yard. It brought back the horror of that night every time. The image of those three kids starting the journey that would lead to several bloody deaths was wielded into my mind's eye for all eternity.
I fixed shingles and patched holes in sheetrock. I painted and mulched around the bushes in the front of the house. Worked my way all through the list, until only one thing remained: re-check the crawl space under the house.
No problem.
As soon as I opened the grate, I heard it.
Womp, womp, womp
My chest tightened, my palms began to sweat. I backed away from the opening under my house and frantically caught my breath.
This couldn’t be happening.
Not again.
I never wanted to hear that noise again.
So I stopped backing up. I clenched my fists. I was going to have to see where it was under the house. I had to find a way to close it.
I had to …  fix this.
I put one hand in front of the other and forced myself to crawl inside. My eyes adjusted to the darkness quickly and I saw her before she saw me.
Her chest opened in a gaping maw. A vertical mouth hole ran from her collarbone all the way to her belly. The alien mouth harbored hundreds if not thousands of sharp, pointy teeth. Judy tilted forward and I watched her spit out a blood red egg from the hole in her chest.
When the mouth closed, she looked normal. She proceeded to cover up the egg with dirt from underneath my house.
My hand shot out to stifle a scream, but it was too late.
Judy looked up. She put a finger to her lips. I tried to calm my breathing and my shaking body.
“I had to,” she said.
“Judy … What did you have to do? What made you … like this?”
“I went in the black. I was brave.” Then she shook her head and smiled a horrible smile. “But you can’t be brave there. Not me or you or anybody. It changes you. The best you can do is survive.”
“I believe you,” I said.
“So I have to take care of the egg. That was the deal. To incubate it. The bird changed me so I could. Only it’s not a bird there. It’s … something else. ”
“Don’t worry. We’re going to find the hole and stop this.”
“No. I already have a plan, silly.”
I was about to question her when I heard the first crack. The egg was hatching. But that was nothing compared to the second crack. Judy grabbed my finger, yanked it the wrong way, then twisted it off like a bottle top.
I screamed, looked down at my bloody stub in pure terror.
How could she possibly that strong?
A little red beak poked through shell. Wet wings pushed on the egg’s membrane. It's little breast opened up. Rows of greasy long teeth gaping wide. A wiggling pink tongue with a hook on the end. Perfect for eviscerating some small intestine.
My severed finger hovered above its mouth, Judy dangled the treat near it, coaxed it to eat.
A mouth in its chest. Just like Bob had warned. And finally I realized what was happening. That little blood bird was about to get a taste of my blood. My gene pool. Cursing my line.
Clever little Judy, always looking out for her family. The finger fell and was snatched up before I could stop her.
I cried out in despair.
“Don't worry,” she said. “You may not be a warrior but you are a finder. You'll find your finger again.”
“On the other side.”
And she was right.

Benjamin Shelor is the author of "The Fractured Spheres" sci-fi series and "Horror in Reverse", which has been published in Twisted Sister Literary Magazine
You can find Ben's blog here.
Find him on Twitter @SeeBenWrite.

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