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Science Fiction Horror Historical Fiction

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

The Specimens

By Nathan You

William Sperit had always been a curious young man, always keen to better understand the world around him. He would never leave a stone unturned, often quite literally. He'd taken up insect collecting and would spend many long days out with his net and traps. He searched through fields and undergrowth and yes, sometimes even under stones. Searching for tiny creatures he could catch and kill to put on display for posterity. Often these searches would take him far and wide as he searched for the very best prey. One day one of these hunting trips led him to an old abandoned house in the forest.

William was surprised to find the place. He thought he knew all areas around his father's assate, all the local woodlands and groves but he'd never even heard of such a building. The house was still very large and grand despite the battering that time had done to it. He didn't understand how it could have been so easily forgotten about. Intrigued and being the curious young man he was, he decided to investigate the derelict structure. Not knowing that this would be a decision he'd soon come to regret.

He waded through the overgrown grass towards the crumbling building and searched for an entrance. Despite there being no trace of any occupants all the doors seemed to remain locked. He did however find a broken window low enough to the ground for him to reach and so he climbed inside, careful not to scratch himself on anything that remained of the glass.

He tumbled down out on the other side in an undignified heap. He landed on his bag and cringed as he heard a crunch. Panicking at his own stupidity he opened his bag to check the contents. It was even worse than he'd feared, practically every specimen jar was broken and their contents ruined. An entire day's hunting, wasted and all because of a stupid mistake. He sighed and got up, not wanting to spend too long lingering in self pity. Maybe if he found something interesting in this house the whole day wouldn't end up being a complete waste.

The room he found himself in seemed to be some kind of study. It was full of books and papers strewn about as if someone had been intently searching through them before being interrupted. Despite this there was no trace of anyone else around. William tried the door that led out of the room, it wasn't locked, so he opened it and moved deeper into the house.

It led into a darkened hallway, the only light in the house seeming to come from the exterior windows. He always made sure to keep a lantern with him to attract moths for his collection. He retrieved it from his bag and lit it with a match so he could use it to help light his way. He followed the path of the light down the corridor to a sitting room. The sunlight streamed in through the windows, diminished somewhat by the curtains. In the semi darkness he could see the silhouettes of several figures sitting at the room's chairs and tables.

"Hello, are you alright?"

He called out almost instinctively, forgetting for a moment that he was technically trespassing and perhaps shouldn't be drawing attention to himself. But the figures didn't react, in fact they didn't seem to move at all. Curious he drew closer to them, illuminating them in the lantern light. There were six of them, all different ages, some men, some women, some rich, some poor, but dressed up neatly in their finest clothes as if on display.

He got closer but they still didn't react. They obviously weren't asleep as their eyes were open and some even held their hands up as if frozen in the middle of gesturing while talking. But they weren't statues or mannequins either; their skin was clearly real. They seemed to just be people, but totally unresponsive, not moving an inch or even seeming to breathe. It was as if they were in a trance or holding a pose whilst waiting for an artist to finish painting their portraits. Cautiously he put down his lantern and touched one, an elderly woman in a black dress. Her skin was cold and her limbs felt unusually rigid. Eventually he risked grabbing her wrist and feeling for a pulse.

He felt for where the pulse should be and suddenly he came to the horrible realisation of what these things were. These people weren't just frozen in place. They were dead, their bodies stuffed and mounted like taxidermied animals in a museum exhibit. Whoever, whatever had done this was more horrifying than he could comprehend. What kind of sick, twisted mind could come up with something so obscene?

William hardly had time to reckon with the horror before him before he heard someone approaching. Fearing that they must be whoever killed those poor people, he searched for somewhere to hide. But it was too late, he could already see the figure aroaching. He only had one chance, he froze in place, if he didn't move them maybe, just maybe the figure would mistake him for one of its grim trophies. He stood as rigid as he could, one false move and he would surely die.

The figure moved through the display of propped up bodies. It turned to each of them in turn inspecting them as a scientist might a microscope slide. The figure wore an impeccably tailored gentleman's grey suit but there was something wrong about it. William couldn't make out much detail in the gloom but whoever they were the figure seemed impossibly tall and thin. Their fingers seemed especially elongated, extending out almost as far as their forearms again. He could hear the figure making strange clicking noises as they moved. The noises didn't sound like anything a human being would make, they were so horrible, so natural. Each added to his growing sense of panic. The terror was so intense now it was as if his body couldn't decide whether to try and run for his life or never move again.

Eventually the figure stepped into the light and William immediately wished that it hadn't. He could now see the creatures' full monstrous nature. Whatever it was, it certainly wasn't a man, it wasn't even human. Its skin was as grey as its suit. Its Spider like hands were tipped with sharp curved claws and its mouth was full of needle-like teeth. But despite these animalistic qualities it moved with a deliberate and reasoning purpose and its dark sunken eyes gleamed with intelligence.

The creature approached William, inspecting him just as it had the others. The thing reached out its hand towards him, the creature's claw brushed delicately across his face. The thing leaned in to get a closer look at him and he could feel its warm breath on his skin. William knew he couldn't react, if he moved, if even so much as breathed, the creature would realise he wasn't a part of its collection. The clicking noise was so loud now. Agonising second after agonising second passed as the creature continued its inspection. William couldn't take it anymore, he was sure he'd break any second but before he could the creature finished and simply turned and walked away.

He waited until the creature had left the room and was long gone before he finally felt safe to move. He stood among the dead, surrounded by people but completely alone. Every instinct told him to run, to run and never look back. But something stopped him, he didn't know if it was some sense of morbid curiosity or if it was some misguided heroism, some idea stupid childish that he could stop that thing. But whatever it was it pushed him forwards. He turned to where the creature had gone and followed it deeper into its lair.

The path led him to a set of stairs leading down into the basement. The deeper down he crept the darker it got. He didn't dare relight his lantern, knowing that stealth was more important than sight. He had almost approached the bottom when his foot tripped on a step. He managed to stop himself from tunneling down but he worried that the noise he made would alert the creature. So he scurried down the last few steps and found something to hide behind.

He pressed himself against a set of shelves and listened as he heard the creature approach. He heard it's horrible clicking noise from the other side of the shelves, it must be looking for him. Here he was hiding again, just as powerless as before. What was he thinking, there was no way he could fight this thing. Any second it would find him and kill him, ready to be stuffed along with all the others. Eventually though he felt relief as he heard it climbing the stairs to go look for him on ground level.

With the creature finally gone again he felt safe enough to light a match. In flickering light he could see that the shelves were filled with amber glass jars. He reached for one to bring it closer to the light. The jar bore a label with characters he didn't recognise. Inside he could see pickled organs floating in liquid. His stomach turned as he realised where they were from. The people in the room upstairs weren't just trophies, that creature, that abomination was pulling people apart to study them like they were animals.

Bile rose in his throat but suddenly he was hit with a wave of inspiration. He remembered what these specimen jars were usually filled with. He opened the jar and the potent smell of ethanol confirmed his theory. He knew what he had to do. Working quickly he poured the contents of as many jars as he could onto the floor and climbed the stairs. Then he struck a match and threw it into the liquid, ready to end this horror show once and for all.

As the flames erupted behind him he bounded up the stairs. He ran back along the passageway to the sitting room. The creature was there admiring its sick collection. It turned to look at him, flexing its long bony fingers and clicking all the while. It lunged at him, its claws outstretched. Propelled by adrenaline William dived out of the way and the creature embedded its claws in some of the plush furniture.

By now the flames had spread from the basement to the ground floor and were quickly catching on the dry old wood of the house. He had to get out as quickly as possible, William knew there wasn't time to make it back to the window, so he made for the door and started to try and kick it down. The creature screamed and he risked a look back at it. The thing was in a state of mania, seemingly and having completely forgotten about him, it tried in vain to rescue it's trophies from the flames. It seemed obsessed with this task even as the flames grew higher around it. Soon it too was caught in the same blaze as its oh so precious collection. William kept trying in vain to open the door but the smoke was overwhelming him now. He mustered up all last gasps of strength he had left and rammed himself against the door. It didn't so much fall off its hinges so much as shatter into splinters as he slammed through, out to the other side.

Now outside he scrambled as far from the house as he could. Lying in the grass he turned to look at the building. The building was now almost completely engulfed in flames. In the fading light of evening moths rose from the undergrowth attracted by the light of the fire. He lay back in the grass, finally shore that he could rest assured that whatever that thing was it would surely burn along with the house and the nightmare was finally over. He'd never really know what that thing was or what all its horrible studies were for but then again, maybe understanding wasn't all it's cracked up to be.

February 18, 2023 04:29

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1 comment

Mary Bendickson
01:14 Mar 03, 2023

Did that experience change William's mind about cutting up critters? Spooky story.

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