Survivor's Guilt

Submitted into Contest #27 in response to: Write a short story that ends with a twist.... view prompt



It was a particularly breezy December’s Eve here in the busy city of Tanglewood Michigan. The streets were roaring to life before the sun could even reach its halfway point above the horizon. Headlights shone everywhere, lighting up the city like a well-decorated Christmas tree. The store fronts beamed with the standard red-and-blue neon signs in their windows. Earlybird’s waited outside in their heated cars for the right moment to hop out and rush inside before the chill had a chance to nip at the napes of their exposed necks. 

On the next block over, fifty-year-old Charles Maynard stumbled his way through the alley beside the Hillard’s Tavern & Spirits liquor store. The stench of fresh alcohol was heavy on Charles’ breath as he merrily slurred the words to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer while strolling towards the back parking-lot. Charles stopped abruptly, pausing to crack open the twist-top bottle of alcohol and taking a long swig of its contents. A satisfied grin came upon his face as he exhaled loudly. 

“Man! That hits the spot.” He swirled the bottle around in his hand, listening to the slightly chilled liquor slosh around. He pressed the rim to his cold lips and tilted his head back for another drink. “Empty already?” Charles peeked a blurry eyeball down the neck to check. Dissatisfied, he tossed the bottle aside, landing with a shattering crash against the frozen asphalt. “Oh, well,” he said, shrugging and walked on. 

Completely drunk out his wits, Charles began to whistle a broken tune when a sudden odd noise caused him to doubletake. He scanned behind him as he rubbed his eyes to steady his vision. Finally able to see, a lone trashcan lid spun as a tiny furry head popped up from a garbage pile. A relieved chuckle escaped from Charles’s throat when he saw that it was only a raccoon scavenging for its next meal. Something still didn’t feel right to him. He scanned around for a second time when his gaze stopped at a spot behind the dumpster. 

“Hello,” his voice was short and uneven. The sun was almost perfectly set in the colorless sky. Its dim light, mixed with the strong effects of the alcohol, made it hard for Charles to see clearly in front of him. He tried to sober himself up as fast as he could when he spotted two floating dots. They were golden in color that seemed to grow brighter the closer it came. Fear began to set in chest when a low growl arose from over in the corner. 

Tripping over his feet, Charles sprinted the remaining distance towards his car. He bent over, severely out of breath, clenching his chest and forcing his lungs to draw in the icy air. His eyes darted back and forth at the empty corridor behind him. Charles steadied his breathing and rubbed his eyes again. 

He threw himself down on all-fours and began to hurl. When he was finished, an unusual outline in the show caught his attention. “What is this,” he leaned down and placed his palm over top of the mark, “a pawprin—” His voice trailed off as he felt the presence of a long, ominous shadow stretching over him. Fear-stricken, Charles’ body involuntarily tensed up in a deluded attempt at somehow making him seem invisible. 

The creature slowly lurched forward; the sound of the hardening snow crunching underneath its weight with every step. Little beads of sweat froze on Charles’s brow as he felt the heat from the creature’s heavy breathing on his back. The creature peeled back its thick lips as the same low, guttural growl from before filled Charles’s ears. This sound had a different pitch to it; now louder and intense with intimidation. Drool dripped from the creature’s teeth as its golden eyes glowed with a look of savage hunger and rage. Without a moment’s hesitation, it lunged at Charles, sprawling him out flat onto his stomach. Fully sober and extremely frightened, Charles let out a wail of terror. 

“Help! Help!” Charles squirmed around underneath the creature’s massive weight. “Somebody...please!” His cries went in vain as his words were cut short by the rapid, blunt pain from the creature’s teeth sinking deep into his back. Charles clawed and pulled at the ground—at anything—trying desperately to do whatever he could to save his life. With a quick kick of his foot, Charles managed to knock the large creature off him. In the rising sunlight, he was able to clearly get a good look at his attacker. The light faded from Charles’s eyes when the beast rose onto its hind legs, and he knew that he was staring at the face of pure evil. “Wh—what are you?” The creature flexed its paws, revealing a handful of claws. The fierce wind roared, blowing around at the thick, dark pelt of the creature’s fur. 

The beast lunged at Charles again, pinning him back down on the ground again; the gaping wound on his back, being torn wider the more the beast pursued him. A sea of hot red crimson began to pool underneath him, turning into a bloody slush as it mixed with the snow. Charles weakly reached out and grabbed a fistful of the beast’s matted coat. He could feel the life draining from his core as his eyes started to roll back. He forced his grip tighter and yanked in a final attempt to force the creature off him, but it was useless. He was too weak from the dramatic amount of blood loss and setting frostbite. Charles gave into death as the creature bore into his nearly frozen torso. Some far-off voices floated in the air as the people were responding to Charles’s dying cries. The beast quickly reared-up from Charles’ mangled carcass as it let out an ear-splitting howl towards the faint silhouette of the moon. 

The unusually eerie sound caught the attention of the many townspeople around the area, shaking them to their cores. A few people towards the sound. Among them was young Wellsman Power Corp. intern Amanda Powell. She was the first to enter the alleyway and unfortunately the first to witness the gruesome scene. The sun, now nested in its fullest position in the sky, shone its bright rays over the shredded body of Charles Maynard lying frozen in a pool of his own blood, shimmering with ice crystals. Beside him, a trail of red animal tracks led off into the distance, slowly being covered up by the new falling snow. 


Another person was found dead in the streets of Tanglewood last night, bringing the total now to five people slain from these alleged beasts’ attacks. Authorities believe that it was a rabid, wild dog of some sort that is on the loose... 

“Hey, turn that crap off,” yelled local John Bannister from his table-booth in the back end of the Sunnyside Diner. He was a scruffy fellow with a shaggy, gray beard and a salty attitude to match. He was a very simple man when it came to clothing; dressed in his usual faded plaid shirt, blue denim jeans, and a red, wholly trucker’s cap. “Every day it’s the same thing with these reporter people on the News. Always talking ‘bout this dang dog they ain’t caught yet—” 

“John,” shouted out waitress Kelly Mitchell from across the counter, “now you watch your mouth, sir!” She pointed a finger at the faded, laminated sign that hung from a feeble thumb tack on the wall behind her. She fixed a hard stare on Mr. Bannister. “You know the rules here, John, no profanity! This is a family restaurant.” She reached underneath the cash register and slid out the remote. Mr. Bannister held up his hand and waved in defeat. Kelly snorted in triumph as she clicked over to another TV channel. 

The front chime had sounded off as the door swung open and a young man, bundled up from head to toe, came strolling in. He made his way over towards the counter and pulled out a barstool. He slipped off his gloves and waved at Kelly to service him. 

“What ‘er you havin’ today, son?” Kelly reached into her apron’s pocket and took out her notepad. She tilted her head to the side and slid out a greasy ink pen from her messy bun; little strands of blonde, curly hair stuck around the pen’s cap. The young man unfolded the menu that was sitting in front of him and pointed a slender finger at the pictures on the page. Kelly began to scribble down his order while asking her usual follow-up questions. “So, you want a number four breakfast combo with a coffee, right?” Her southern-grown accent came out heavy in her voice, hinting that she was not originally from this state. “Coming right up.” She tore off the order slip as she headed towards the kitchen window. 

The young man took off the remainder of his outerwear, pulling off his hat and sliding down the face mask that was serving its purpose of keeping the chill away from his face. Patches of his skin had turned red from where it was exposed to the harsh weather. He had grayish eyes that surprisingly complimented well with his trimmed, light-brown goatee. “Hey,” a voice called in a harsh tone, causing the man to turn around in his seat, “it’s rude not to speak back to a lady!” Mr. Bannister was irate at the young man’s lack of response as he yelled from his booth. 

“Here’s ‘yer food, hun.” Kelly had returned with a steaming-hot plate of freshly cooked breakfast. “Can I get you anything else,” she asked, forcing herself to smile at him. 

“Hey, son, she’s talkin’ to ‘ya again,” Mr. Bannister inserted himself. 

“John,” Kelly snapped back, “Now, you just stay over ‘dere where ‘ya at and leave this young fellow alone!” 

“See, that’s what’s wrong with this new generation. These young punks don’t...” Mr. Bannister scoffed under his breath as he mumbled the rest of his words while cutting up his now-cold pancakes. 

Kelly shook her head and placed a hand on the young man’s shoulder, “Now, you don’t go mindin’ John, he’s just set in his ways.” She tried to sound apologetic on Mr. Bannister’s behalf before leaving to go check on the other customers. The young man sat there and ate in silence, tuning out everything around him. 

Several minutes had passed before the young man had finished. He dawned his hat and gloves again, and awkwardly stood up, stumbling over the stool legs. He pulled his mask back on over his face as he pulled out some cash from his back pocket and slid it across the counter along with his dishes. The door chime had caught Kelly’s attention as she waved to the man and watched him walk out, disappearing down the street. 

“Young punk,” Mr. Bannister mumbled again. 

“John,” Kelly overheard him and lightly swatted at his shoulder with a rolled-up newspaper that was holding, “the next time you harass one of my customers, I’ll have ‘ya thrown out on ‘ya hind!” Kelly glared at Mr. Bannister, and he knew by her look alone that she meant business. 


It was nearing closing time at Sunnyside, and the sun had already begun its descent well-passed the horizon. The lack of light had caused the temperature in the little city to drop severely below freezing; the fierce wind whistling against the windows. Frost had started to form on the glass which made Kelly wrap her shawl tighter around her chest. There was a small thermostat box posted up on the opposite wall. 

“There, that’s better,” she said with a grin, rubbing her arms, as the furnace clicked on. The smell of burning oil filled the vents for a second since the heat was never required to run this high before. She had returned behind the counter and grabbed the checklist that was stashed away underneath the cash register. She took out her greasy pen again and began scribbling away on the piece of paper. 

While she was doing her count, Kelly kept glancing up and staring at the front door. Although the sign was turned off, she still had this eerie feeling that made her go over there and double-check the locks. She still wasn’t feeling too secure, but she tried to brush it off and finish her work. Kelly found the TV remote and turned the station back to the News. The reporters were still chatting away about the story of the recent wild dog attack. “What a shame.” Kelly shook her head as she licked her index finger and continued to count. 

It had only been an hour or so when Kelly had finally completed the checklist. She gathered up her things and headed towards the back, preparing to leave out for the night. She entered in the alarm code and turned off the lights. Bundling up with her handknitted scarf, Kelly made her way out into the blistering cold. 


Everything moved faster than Kelly had time to react. She didn’t predict the deer bolting out in front of her. She swerved; her car barreling headfirst into a large oak tree and down into a ditch before coming to a halt. 

Coughing and gasping for air, Kelly pushed open her door and crawled out. Kelly grabbed a large branch and hoisted herself up. She dusted off her clothes and hair. “Ow.” She felt something warm and sticky in the palm of her hand when she released her hair. Her face paled when she realized she was staring at her own blood. Her eyes widened as a faint scream struggled to escape from her throat. Kelly reached for her phone and dialed 911. 

“911-Emergency, how can we help you?” The operator’s voice sounded pre-recorded. 

“Hi, yes, I hit a tree. I—I need help please.” Kelly’s words were shaky, and she tried to catch her breath. 

“Yes, ma’am, can you give me your name and location?” The operator was calm and collected while talking Kelly through her situation. “Ma’am, take a few deep breaths, and tell me a little more about your situation.” 

Kelly calmed herself down and continued talking, “I’m Kelly Mitchell and I was going south down Haddon Street, and—and I swerved around to miss this deer that—” she paused as the image of the wounded animal flashed across her mind. The deer! Where is it? Kelly searched around for the doe. She went silent as she took a few steps towards the front of her car. 

“Are you still there, Ms. Mitchell?” The operator asked. 

She was sure that she had missed the deer, but a gut feeling was convincing her otherwise. Scared, Kelly examined the grill and her hood, but found nothing. Exhaling a sigh of relief, she got back on the phone, “yes, I’m still here—huh?” Something in the wood line had caught her attention. She narrowed her eyes to get a better look in the dim streetlight. She didn’t see the deer, but another creature with golden eyes. Kelly craned her neck, “hello?” she called out as if the animal could understand her. 

The high adrenaline rush started to fade as Kelly drifted in and out of consciousness from her injuries. Her bones have grown stiff from the chilling December airs. A sudden, terrifying sound broke the stillness of the night. Kelly looked up and froze, staring aimlessly off in the direction she thought she heard the noise. Then it sounded again; a low and unnatural growl that sounded like it came from the bowls of hell. “Who—who’s there?” Fear settled in her chest. Realizing that her phone was still on, Kelly quickly pleaded with the operator, “something, something is—ahh!” … 


“What are you watching, son?” interrupted a deep, burly voice as a medium-heighted man entered the living room. 

A startled young boy turned down the volume. “A show.” 

The man raised his brow, “what kind of show, son?” 

The boy returned his attention back to the TV, raising the volume back up. “The reporter called it a: Documentary.” 

The man looked at the caption that was plastered on the bottom of the episode. “The Case of Kelly Mitchell.” His voice was tinged with delight. 

“Yeah,” exclaimed the boy, “do you know her, dad?” His eyes widened at the thought of his dad’s response. “Because, if you did,” he smiled, “that would be cool!” The boy’s voice squealing. 

“I think I did used to know a Kelly once?” The man said, stroking his neat goatee in thought. He fixed his gaze onto the static-filled tube as the images of Kelly’s reenactment played out. He particularly zoned in on the image of Kelly. “Ah, yes,” he muttered under his quickening breath, “Kelly Mitchell.” His pulse sped up, skipping several beats, and his mouth began to water. The more he stared at her image, the more he was being controlled by bloodlust. 

The man turned to leave, grabbing his jacket at the door. “Where are you going?” the boy asked. 

“Just out.” The man said, opening the door; the brisk winds nipping at his nose. 

The boy turned around and cocked his head. “To where?” He persisted, but he had asked too late; his father already out the door. 

The man stood in the doorway, desperately clenching his chest and calming down his breathing. He looked out in front of him at the empty stretch of road; his son’s question lingering in his ears. He grinned a devilish grin, baring two sets of razor-sharp fangs. His once gray eyes, now golden as the moon above. He laughed as he bolted down the driveway like an uncaged beast being guided by the dim moonlight. “I’m just going to pay an old friend a visit,” he whispered with delight, “… I hope she still remembers me.

February 05, 2020 18:57

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