"Is he in there? Is he home?"
Kara was angry with herself for tagging along with her friend Janelle to the old man's house. Janelle and her boyfriend Josh wanted to see for themselves the house of the world famous horror author Francis Tourette, hopefully even get a peek at the man himself. Tourette, author of 28 novels of unparalleled terror, gave new meaning to the term recluse. His dilapidated mansion loomed up from the dense forest like an alien doorway to another dimension. It served as a barrier between the world's most successful horror author and his surroundings.
Josh turned around and smiled at the girls. In one hand he held a small flashlight, in the other a large stick he'd found on the long trek to the house.
"Come on," he whispered and gestured for them to keep up with him. "It's right over that bend." He raised his stick and pointed.
Janelle finished tying her long black hair into a ponytail and scooted ahead of Kara, reaching her boyfriend in a dozen quick steps.
Kara was obliged to keep pace.
"There it is," Josh suddenly quipped. "Those trees hide most of it, but the house is there."
The girls stopped and strained to see just where a house, no less a mansion, could be hidden within the forest.
"I don't see it," Janelle said.
"Me neither," Kara added in an annoyed tone. "Don't tell me you dragged us all the way out here for nothing."
Josh scoffed at the girls. "Can't you see it?" He jiggled the stick further. "There. Right there."
Janelle leaned forward. "He's right!" she exclaimed while jumping up and down. "Oh my God! He's right! I do see it!"
Kara tried to see the house but couldn't. "I still don't see…" She suddenly noticed a tall chimney, brick faded from the elements and streaked with lichen, poking up between heavy branches. "Okay, so we can see the house, but now what do we do?"
"We try to see the man himself," Josh replied as he began to strut forward. "He's got to be home. He's a recluse, he's always home. I bet you he's in one of those upstairs rooms right now working on his latest book."
"That's fine, but why did we come here in the first place?" Kara asked.
Neither Josh nor Janelle was able to answer. For the first time since they'd started their journey they were at a loss to explain why they took it. It was as if their thoughts had been altered somehow, changed by someone to suit their own needs.
"I don't. I mean…" Josh sounded like a fool.
Janelle struggled to form a coherent sentence. "No, we came. I don't know."
Kara also felt a strange lack of understanding seep into her being. She could see in her mind's eye all the memories of her past, her childhood, birthday parties, her first kiss, all these and more steadily drifting away from her hold on them.
Josh lurched forward. Janelle followed, both lumbering along on rubber legs, oblivious to their surroundings, being spurred on by some unseen force that beckoned to them with irresistible power.
"No, we can't..." Kara mumbled. "We, we can't go..." She too was stumbling toward the house, completely helpless against the force that was pulling her in.
Something moved in the shadows of the trees, something sinewy that undulated between the prodigious girths of the numerous oaks and pines.
Josh plunged ahead however. Janelle was on his heels and Kara a few steps behind her. All three had seen the beast lurking in the woods but could not stop themselves from moving forward.
"Must reach… house. Must..." Josh mumbled as he stepped past a small wooden stake marking the property line.
The beast crept forward, slithering through the brush with ease. Its cavernous maw opened wide, exposing foot-long fangs that were slicked with venom. Past meals dotted the inside of its mouth, hanging in ragged clumps from between teeth. The beast had cleared the tree line, exposing its sinuous bulk to its prey, its movements dictated by something other than itself.
Kara managed to stop. She noticed a figure, a solitary person staring at them from one of the upstairs windows of the house. The man was old and sat in a hunched over manner, his weathered face pressed against the dirty glass of the window.
Josh and Janelle saw the creature in their peripheral vision, but couldn't flee, incapable of grasping their situation. They simply continued walking toward the house.
Janelle was snatched first, yanked off her feet in a split second, and Josh was next. He was hoisted into the air and snagged a branch of a tree. He hung there like a slab of beef over a pen of lions, dangling for the briefest of moments before his killer coiled up and swallowed him whole.
Kara felt paralyzing fear grip her. She'd seen her friends eaten alive and she had no doubt that she would be next.
She closed her eyes and waited for the inevitable.
After a few minutes she opened them, half expecting to see the snake rearing up in front of her, but instead stared into the smiling face of an old man.
"Do you know who I am?" the man asked.
Kara rubbed her eyes. "No, I don't," was all she was able to muster.
"I am Francis Tourette. Perhaps you have read some of my books."
"I… I don't know. I…"
The man's smile broadened. "My mistake, of course you couldn't have. You did not exist until recently."
Kara felt ready to pass out. Her world spun in her head like a maelstrom, individual points of memory being lost in the swirling tempest.
Tourette steadied her with his hands on her shoulders. "Easy there, Miss. We are safe now. The snake, another of my creations, is gone, biding its time in my imagination until I call it forth."
"But how? Why? Why kill us?"
Tourette shook his head. "My dear, you, your friends, the snake, are all part of the prologue to my new book. I am calling it All Dripped Red. I like starting a novel with a bang, so to speak, and in this one the death of a few inquisitive young people served that purpose quite well."
Kara felt the last traces of her memories fade into nothingness. The realization that her reality was a lie, that she was in fact nothing more than a product of someone's imagination struck her like a sledgehammer in the gut.
She fell to the ground, sobbing uncontrollably.
Tourette reached down and helped her to her feet. "There, there," he said quietly. "However, I do have some good news for you. I have decided to keep you alive, perhaps even make you into the main protagonist in my tale."
Kara perked up. "Really?" She could feel life slipping back into her body.
"Yes, would you like that?"
"I would," Kara replied eagerly. "But what happens to me?"
A sullen expression settled over the old man's face, staining his otherwise pleasant persona.
"Well, I'm afraid the outcome for all of us is rather dire. You see, I'm a slave to my craft, forever doomed to churn out new books whether I want to or not. When I write one, the forces of creativity energize my body, giving me life. But when I fail to write, for whatever reason, I can feel my life draining away. I am very old, far older than I seem. I have lived ten times longer than a normal man, constantly rejuvenated when I write my books." His gaze fell to the ground. "But I am tired. I am weary of meeting their demands, their deadlines, and so I am writing my final book."
"Your final book?"
"Yes. I can already feel the pressing weight of their expectations. It suffocates me."
Kara could sense a growing pressure around her. It was as if the air itself was solid and steadily moving inward, shrinking the space she was standing in, threatening to compress her into a tidy little box.
Tourette looked up at his pretty creation. "This book, All Dripped Red, will be my last, and therefore, sensing their demands, I must make it the last for everyone else as well. He could read the shocked expression on Kara's face. "Yes, mankind will be extinguished."
A sharp noise cut through the scene. It emanated from a thick copse of gnarled oaks behind the house and quickly spread to the surrounding area.
Tourette glanced around. He couldn't hide his surprise. "It seems that they do not wish to wait for me to complete the book. They are finishing it themselves." A glint of peaceful resignation washed over his face. "I cannot help but wonder how they plan to end it. The irony that no one will be around to read it is not lost on me either. It's humorous in a way, I suppose."
The beast slithered from the brush, coiling and uncoiling in a disturbingly smooth rhythm. It yawned wide, exposing dozens of needle-sharp teeth, and flashed a burning glimmer of hunger in its glaring red eyes.
"I see it's here," Tourette said. "And, dare I say, its brethren is as well."
Four similar creatures shot into the clearing. Two rammed into the house, effectively demolishing the structure as if it were made of cardboard. The other two reared up, towering thirty feet over the hapless pair of humans gazing up at it.
Kara couldn't move. She saw in her peripheral vision hundreds of other beasts along the tree line. They were poised to strike and were not about to let their prey escape.
"Interesting," Tourette mused. "Although personally I would have developed the main character a bit more before I unleashed the antagonists." He glanced over at Kara. "I am sorry that I did not create you sooner. I would have loved to see you enjoy life more."
Kara could only nod as the beasts crashed down upon them.