A novella from author of the best-selling supernatural occult horror novel, Devil’s Nightmare…
Parents always tell their children that there are no such things as monsters. They’re only a figment of imagination caused by watching too many horror movies late at night. But what if they were wrong? What if the monsters were real? What if the creature that neighbor kid teased you about really was lurking in the woods behind your home?
On October 31, 1987, one family finds out exactly what it means to believe in monsters. Sometimes the news headlines don’t tell the real story.
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Excerpt from Creature of Maple Hills
The wind was gusty when Brayden stepped out to the back yard. The temperature had also dropped several degrees in the past couple of hours. It felt colder than usual for a late October night in central Texas, but it still wasn’t cold enough to light up the fireplace. It could be sixty degrees outside and his mother would want to fire that thing up, a product of being cold-natured. But if the warm-natured family members didn’t make it nice and toasty inside for her, they’d all suffer from the complaints. At least a fireplace kept her from jacking up the heat on the thermostat.
“Hey, dummy,” he heard Cayden yell as he began his trek across the yard.
Brayden turned around, walking backwards. “What?”
“Better take this with you.” His brother tossed him a flashlight. “Don’t want to get bitten by a snake.”
“You’re the one that’s afraid of snakes.”
“I’m not afraid of them. I just don’t like the slimy things. There’s a difference.”
“Not really. And they aren’t slimy. They just have smooth scales.”
“Slimy or not, don’t forget about that coral snake we saw in the woodpile last week.”
“I know how to handle snakes, Cayden.” He flipped the flashlight on.
“I’m just saying. If you get bit in the butt, I ain’t sucking the poison out.”
Brayden laughed. “I think I’ll be fine.”
His brother did make a good point. The snake they’d found in the woodpile was only about twelve inches long. Its small, fixed fangs would make it difficult to penetrate his skin—let alone through clothing. But Brayden also knew corals were the second most venomous snakes in the world. If it did manage to get in a lucky strike, it could mean very bad news for him. He wasn’t taking any chances.
He checked the woodpile for snakes, scorpions, tarantulas, or any other critters that his mother—or Cayden—would freak out about if they made it inside the house. Other than a few toads and a couple of small cockroaches, the coast was clear. Before carrying any logs inside, he rolled them around on the ground a few times, shining the light on them. He didn’t want to end up with a roach scurrying down his shirt. Venomous snakes and tarantulas he had no problem with. But cockroaches? Nuh-uh! No thank you. Those nasty things gave him the heebie-jeebies. That last tale in Creepshow sure as heck didn’t help the matter, either. Blah!
The first two logs were clear of any of Stephen King’s cockroaches, but while he inspected another log, something rustled from the edge of the forest nearby. Brayden spun around and shone the light in the direction the noise came from. It was more out of curiosity than fear. He loved animals and anticipated spotting a deer or maybe even a bobcat. That would be so cool! He’d never seen one out in the wild.
A couple of small trees swayed. The bushes rustled again. It couldn’t have been the wind because he’d only felt a slight breeze. Branches popped—big ones from the sound of it. Brayden squinted his eyes. He wasn’t certain, but he thought he caught a glimpse of something just inside the tree line. His eyes widened when something big moved within the shadows of the forest. More branches cracked as it moved. Brayden aimed the beam of light ahead of where he saw the movement. The light reflected off a set of eyes several feet above the ground. They blinked and then he heard a low growl and more twigs and branches snapping. It was moving toward him!
Brayden stepped backwards, tripping over one of the logs. He heard a loud snap and a roar that sounded like a lion. He screamed and sprinted towards the house, leaving the firewood behind. Without looking back, he rushed inside and locked the sliding glass door. His heart pounded in his chest, his breathing labored.
“What the heck?” his twin brother said. “You look like you just saw a ghost.”
Brayden switched off the porch light and yanked on the cord to close the vertical blinds. He peeked through them expecting to see a cougar in the backyard. That in itself would have been a rare and exciting sight, at least from the safety of inside the house. He didn’t see a cougar or any other animal in the darkness. Something was out there, though.
Cayden grabbed his shoulder, making his body jump. “Dude, what’s got you on edge? A bunch of raccoons chase you inside or something?” Cayden pulled the blinds aside. “Or maybe it’s the Creature of Maple Hills. Whoo-oo-oo-oo-oo-oo!” He lifted his hands and twitched his fingers at his brother while he voiced his bad ghost impression.
Brayden didn’t say anything. He just swallowed and gazed at his brother.
“Oh, give it a rest, Cayden,” their father said. The brothers turned around. “Dinner’s almost ready, so—hey, didn’t your mother ask you to get some firewood?”
“And? Go get it.”
“He did go out,” Cayden said. “But, chicken shit is too scared of the—”
“Hey! Watch your language, boy,” Brandon said, pointing at Cayden. He then repeated for Brayden to get the firewood.
He shook his head in a rapid tremor. “I’m not going back out there.”
“Why the hell not?”
“I think I heard a cougar . . . or something.”
Cayden laughed. “Oh, please. There’re no mountain lions in Austin.” He snatched the flashlight off the mantel. “I’ll do it.”
“No!” Brayden grabbed his brother’s arm. “Don’t go out there.”
“Dude, let go of my arm.” He pulled away from his brother’s grip and unlocked the patio door.
“I mean it, Cayden. There’s something out there. I saw it. It sounded big.”
Cayden rolled his eyes and shook his head. “You’re pathetic, you know that? I swear we didn’t come from the same sperm.”
“Watch it, Cayden,” his father warned.
“Sorry, Dad.” He glanced at Brayden and shook his head before heading outside.
“I’m not kidding,” Brayden said. “Don’t go out there.”
Cayden ignored the warning and hiked across the large back yard. Brayden pushed the blinds aside and watched his brother trek into the darkness.
* * *
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Robert “Sharky” Pruneda is a native Texan, video game “enthusiast” [addict], and fan of all things horror. He left a career in the newspaper industry in 2011 to pursue the life of a nocturnal author, brainstorming new and creative ways to creep out his readers. He doesn’t only write horror though. He also pens the occasional family-oriented tale just to keep from going completely nuts with all those creatures of the night whispering in his ears. When he’s not pulling ideas out of his twisted brain, you’ll likely find him on social media or fighting alongside his fellow gaming buddies where they all get shot up into Swiss cheese (or turned into little bite-sized chunks because of “Sharky’s” obsession with explosives). Medic!
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