The Swollen


by AC Bauer

“There’s nobody out there. Trust me, Lewis.”

“But Raymond Mordecai said at night they come out and try to get you,” Lewis whined. “He said they take you, and they drag you down and –”

James sighed heavily. “Remember the last time Raymond Mordecai told you anything? You almost broke your leg. I don’t like you hanging out with that boy. Or listening to him. He’s just trying to scare you.”

“But Dad–”

“Look,” James said. He pulled back the curtains in his son’s room. The fenced-in backyard below them was dark aside from a half circle of ground that an outdoor light illuminated. The grass there was lush and green, but beyond the light’s glow waited the rich and unruly gloom of a moonless night.  

Lewis drew the covers closer to his face and leaned over to peer out the window. 

“See?” James said. “There’s nothing out there. Nobody is going to hurt you, okay? Not while your dear ol’ dad is around.” He sat up straight and struck a heroic pose. 

Lewis laughed. It was the first time James had heard his son laugh all night. Ever since Janice had dropped him off earlier that night, the kid had been scared out of his mind. Really, it was just like Janice to do something like that. Let her kid hang out with some juvenile delinquent like Raymond Mordecai and then send him packing to James’ place when he got too freaked out to deal with. 

Figures, James thought. Make me be the parent when things get tough. 

He looked at Lewis. “Everything is going to be okay, son.”

The words came out of James’ mouth effortlessly. Lewis wanted to believe them, but deep down he just couldn’t. Not after what Raymond had told him. 

“But what about what Raymond said?”

“It’s nothing,” his dad said. “It’s all just a joke meant to scare kids like you. I’m sure when Raymond was your age, someone told him the exact same story and he reacted the exact same way as you.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, it’s how that stuff gets passed to kid after kid,” his dad said. “Now, let’s get some sleep. And again, don’t let Raymond scare you anymore tonight. He’s had his laugh. Leave it at that.”

His dad walked over to the bedroom door. 

“Besides, that kid is an idiot,” his dad said. 

Lewis chuckled.

“Goodnight, son,” James said. “Do you want me to leave turn the nightlight on?”

“No, it’s okay.”

James was just about to pull the door shut when Lewis added, “Actually Dad…”

His dad raised his hand and gestured for Lewis not to say another word. James turned on the nightlight and went back to the bedroom door. “Goodnight, Lewis. I love you.”

“Love you too, Dad.”

The door snapped closed behind him. Lewis flinched at the sound and pulled the covers over his chin. He rolled over on his side, away from the light, away from the window. He tried to sleep, but he kept thinking about the story Raymond had told him. About the big, bloated bodies coming out of the ground, snatching people up, and taking them away. 

Stop, Lewis told himself, shaking loose the mental images from Raymond’s story. Raymond is an idiot. Dad even said so. 

Still, that didn’t stop Lewis from rolling over and peeking out the window again. 

The outside light was still on, and the portion of the yard it lit was undisturbed. But Lewis knew the problem, if there was one, would lie elsewhere. He knew the things Raymond had told him about never stick to the light but to the shadows. 

Lewis strained his eyes, peering deeper into the blackness of the backyard. Slowly his vision began to adjust to the darkness. Lewis stared out into the backyard for several minutes. He ran his gaze along the fence line, through the trees and bushes, without seeing anything. 

Maybe his dad was right. Maybe Raymond was really just trying to scare him with some bogus story. And maybe Lewis, not just Raymond, was an idiot for falling for it. 

But just as he was about to settle back down into bed, Lewis saw something. He noticed something reach out from the night and into the porch light’s semi-circle of light. 

It was a hand. Plump and white, it sank its fingers into the ground and pulled, dragging the rest of itself forward. Inch by inch, it slowly emerged from the darkness. First a forearm, then a head, followed by a pair of shoulders. More and more of it crawled into the light, revealing a pale, puffy body.    

Lewis’s eyes widened, and he let out a sharp scream. Immediately, the thing below him lifted its shaky, wobbly head and looked up at the window. Its mouth hung open loosely and thick, slimy saliva dripped down its face. Its eyes were hollow holes, yet despite the blackness inside of them, Lewis knew.  

It saw him.

Lewis screamed again. 

Suddenly, the door behind him flew open. Lewis turned and screamed at a shadowy figure looming in the doorway. He threw himself under the covers, hoping that it would keep him hidden and protected.

It didn’t.

He felt firm hands tighten around his shoulders. The covers peeled away from him, and Lewis screamed even louder. 

“Lewis! Lewis! It’s me! It’s Dad! What’s wrong? What happened?”

“There’s some… some… body out there!” he wailed. His voice shook wildly. 

“It’s okay, son,” his dad said as he wrapped his arms around him. “It’s okay. It’s okay.”

“There’s somebody out there!” he shouted. 

He felt his father’s comforting grip around him slacken. His dad pulled back the curtain. 

“No one is out there, Lewis,” he said. “Maybe you were just having a bad dream.”

“There’s somebody out there. I saw them. I know I did.”

“Lewis…”

“Dad, please… believe me.”

“Will it make you feel better if I go out there and check?”

“No! Don’t do it! Raymond said –”

“Something to scare you,” his dad said. “And you’re letting him win, Lewis. Raymond was just trying to frighten you. I promise you. Just like I promise you there’s nobody out there.”

“But Dad…”

“No. Look. I’m going to go out there. You can watch from the window and see that everything is perfectly fine. There’s nothing to be afraid of.”

“Dad. Please. Don’t.”

It was too late. He was already out the door. 

An agonizing amount of time passed before Lewis saw his dad enter the backyard. James walked right up to the outer edge of the outdoor light’s glow. He turned all around, looking. Finally, he looked up at his son’s room. James shook his head. 

“There’s nobody down here,” he said through the muffle of the window.  

Suddenly, a hand reached out from the darkness and wrapped around James’ ankle. With a mighty tug, it sent him sprawling on the ground. Lewis gasped from the safety of his room upstairs. He saw his dad try to fight back, but whatever had ahold of him pulled him further and further into the darkness of the yard. 

James looked up at his son’s window one final time before slipping away into the night. 

As his dad disappeared, Lewis pushed himself away from the window. He pulled the covers over himself, shaking. 

Had he really seen what he thought he saw? Had his dad really been taken just like Raymond said he would be? 

“No, no, no, no, no,” he whispered.

He sat there for several minutes before mustering up the courage to peek out from beneath the covers. He pressed himself up against the wall and eased over to look out the window. 

There was nobody there. 

But he had to be sure. 

Lewis crept out of bed and made his way out into the hallway. He knocked softly on his father’s bedroom door, then, without receiving an answer, pushed it open. His dad wasn’t there. The sheets on the bed were flung off the side of the bed, likely from whenever Lewis first started screaming. 

Lewis got a bad feeling in the pit of stomach. His dad hadn’t come back inside yet. That could mean only one thing. 

He had to do something. Lewis ran downstairs and headed for the door to the backyard. As he made his way there, he found the door was already open, the porchlight still on. And in the doorway stood a large man. 

It looked like Lewis’ dad but different. Swollen. Pale. Covered in patches of fine black dirt. The man had thick arms and legs and a big rubbery face with hollow black eyes. Syrupy drool dripped off its chin. 

“It wantssss ttthhhhe flesssshhhh,” the man slurred. “It needssss tttthhhe flesssssshhhh.”

It came lumbering forward, then with shocking swiftness, rushed toward Lewis. It snatched him up in its big, bloated arms, and carried him out into the backyard. 

Lewis struggled for a moment, but it was useless. The thing was too strong for him to break free. 

He looked up at the thing that held him. He could see his father’s face beneath the horrible, rubbery veneer. His sharp cheekbones still managed to stand out as well as his broad forehead. But it wasn’t him. Not anymore. 

They passed beyond the range of the outdoor light and moved into the poorly lit portion of the yard. They came to a hole dug in the ground. It looked like a massive mole hill, with a gaping black hole in the center. 

This is where they came from, Lewis thought. Just like Raymond said. 

The man who was not his father stood before the hole, holding Lewis tight, waiting. Slowly, a distended hand emerged from the hole. The same bloated hand Lewis had seen earlier in the night grab his father.  This close to it, Lewis could see its broken fingernails and dirt-stained fingers. He could smell its musty, dead stench. 

Soon, an arm reached out of the ground, and a swollen head poked out of the hole. It gurgled up at Lewis.  

“It wantssss…”

Once again with shocking speed, it grabbed onto Lewis’ ankle and pulled furiously. Lewis pulled back, trying to break free from the thing’s grasp, but before he could, the body of James shoved him onto the ground. Lewis hit the ground with a thud and was quickly dragged into the hole below. 

As he was swallowed deeper and deeper into the cursed black earth, Lewis felt himself changing. Swelling. The color draining from his body. He was losing himself. He felt his mind slipping away, replaced with something else. Something primordial. Something ancient. He was being hollowed out to make room for it. He was becoming just some body like the others. A vessel for it.  

The last thing Lewis thought of before his mind went blank was Raymond Mordecai and his fondness for scary stories. 

#

In his kitchen, Raymond Mordecai poured himself a cold glass of apple juice. He gulped down half of it as he heard his mom yelling from upstairs for him to start working on his homework. 

“Yeah, yeah… bitch,” he muttered safely out of earshot. He finished the juice and rinsed the glass in the sink before looking out the window into the backyard. He didn’t expect to see what was there.  

In the darkness of the yard stood a figure. A large, white figure. Raymond pressed his face closer to the window and curled his lip in confusion.  

Was that the kid from the bus stop? Lewis or some shit? Why was he in his backyard? And why’d he look so… pale? And swollen?

Raymond set down the glass in the sink with a soft metallic tink. He then unlocked the kitchen door and stepped outside.  

“Hey! What are you doing here, kid?”

The bloated boy moved closer to Raymond. Drool poured from his puffy lips. And from somewhere deep inside of him came the words, “It wantssss ttthhhhe flesssshhhh. It needssss tttthhhe flesssssshhhh.”

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