The Grim Beast of Iaeger (#FreeFictionFriday)

by Bob Freeman
originally published in
Legends of the Mountain State 2
(Woodland Press, 2008)

Gather round the fire, children, for I have a tale to tell about a night not unlike the one that wraps around us now, with a moon hidden behind the thick veil of a sinister storm and the promise of an unrelenting torrent. Can you hear it on the wind? Does your spine tingle with dread and an anticipation of grim reminders of days long past, when the wild was just beyond the light, lurking in the shadows? Draw close to one another, for there’s safety in numbers, and that’s a lesson that could have served a young girl on a cold, godless night had she been of a mind to trust in it. Her name was Dawn Troyer and this is as much her story as it is of the strange happenings that haunted this tortured landscape but a short time past, and haunt it still if you believe in such things that do more than just go bump in the night. Sometimes those things can bite.

Dawn Troyer was pretty, popular, and quite possibly pregnant. Witnesses placed her in the Iaeger Pharmacy purchasing a home pregnancy test soon after the Cubs’ narrow win over the Big Creek Owls, thanks to a miraculous pass that slipped through the hands of an Owl defender and found Quarterback Danny Chaplin’s favorite receiver in the end zone for a last second touchdown. It can be surmised that Dawn feared that Danny had made another miraculous touchdown pass some weeks earlier in the backseat of his Cutlass Supreme. The two young lovers had a heated exchange on the walk bridge that traversed the Tug. When they finally parted company, Danny joined his friends in front of Iaeger Supply, drinking warm Pabst Blue Ribbon, while Dawn stormed off tearfully into the fractured night.

As morning light spread across the small hamlet, there was no Dawn to be found and the inhabitants of Iaeger were quick to gather together, not only to support a distraught family during their time of despair, but also to join in the search for one of their own. As their attempts at finding the teen turned fruitless a murmur spread through the community, passed by superstitious lips that had seen more than their fair share of strange happenings in this neck of the woods, and their fears were amplified when Delbert Gentry came forward. Delbert had been driving along Sandy Huff Road late that Friday night, off to do a spot of coon hunting with his dogs in tow, when he’d spotted a chestnut-haired cheerleader walking along the loose berm. He stopped and offered the girl a ride, but she’d refused.

The road through Sandy Huff Hollow weaved through the wilderness like a feral snake and was steeped in local lore as a place where the dead were restless. When night fell on the Hollow it was transformed they said into a haunted place where none but the bravest of souls dared pass. Dawn Troyer knew well to steer clear of such a dreadful place, but in her distress it seemed she’d sought solace among the tormented spirits that called the Hollow their home. Why, I can almost hear their anguished wails even now, drifting across the wilds. Can you hear them? Listen close, children. No, it’s more than the lament of the ghosts that haunt those woods, it’s something even more sinister, more terrifying. It’s the very embodiment of the primal night itself.

Surely you’ve heard the tales of the grim beast that makes the Hollow its home? Some say the ghosts that haunt Sandy Huff are the victims of the dread beast, who wail in eternal agony over their horrific demise from the claws and fangs of the unspeakable creature. I hear tell that many a hunter has spied the beast, often raring up on its hind legs and tearing through the woods with its dog-like maw snapping viciously. Yes, children, more than one man has been chased from the Hollow by this terrible beast. What then of a poor defenseless girl, in a state of remorse over a life that had taken an unexpected turn? What hope would she have against such an unnatural creature?

It was on the fourth night of Dawn’s disappearance that Danny Chaplin, broken-hearted and riddled with guilt, stalked off into the Hollow with revenge on his mind, despite the warnings and pleas of his friends and family. Armed with a 12-gauge pump, Danny entered the haunted woodland, hoping against hope that he might find his girlfriend alive, but with the nagging feeling in his gut that something far more sinister had happened to his lost love.

Hours later, nestled in the relative safety of their small town, the inhabitants of Iaeger heard shotgun blasts echoing down from Sandy Huff Hollow, and when first light broke, the searchers returned to the woods, but Dawn was still nowhere to be found. Instead they found the mangled body of Danny Chaplin, his entrails spilled out across the forest floor, his face frozen in abject terror. Clutched in his hand… a ragged and torn remnant from a blue and gold cheerleader uniform, dripping with blood.

Let this be a lesson to you, children, should you ever think that you’re brave enough to enter into Sandy Huff Hollow alone. There is a grim beast that calls the Hollow its home and should you draw its attention there can be but one outcome. So cling to one another and say your prayers, and if you ever find yourself with a curiosity about what may lurk in the shadows of the wilds, remember Dawn Troyer and Danny Chaplin. In the dark and quiet places there are things that are better left alone, that is if you’ve a mind to live to see another sunrise. Now, off to bed with the lot of you, but keep an eye open and an ear to the ground… and remember… there’s safety in numbers. Sandy Huff Hollow is no place to walk alone.


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