Based on the theme ‘Feeding The Animals’

They came up from under the dirt, from some unseen nest. Some of them looked like men but people said they weren’t. They said they were a darker thing, animals from somewhere else, or perhaps the old bones of forgotten people come back.

They always came with a storm, when the clouds began to scatter and then regather as swiftly as if they were made of starlings, and to the townspeople it seemed that the thunder was shaking them loose from the ground. When the rain started it would hammer the cracked roads and cover the distance in mist, descending like a curtain between the town and the hills and fields around it. The downpour was always ferocious, attacking the farms and driveways with enough power to throw up loose pieces of dirt and gravel.

It was then, when the world seemed hazy and changed, that they came to fill the narrow streets and haunt the windows. And when the animals were hungry, they had to be fed.

#

Gemma slipped quietly into the kitchen and opened the fridge, standing on tip-toe to reach the juice. She kept glancing at her father who was washing up furiously, his brow furrowed. She knew he hated washing up, and he would often fly into a rage over something small whilst he was doing it. He kept looking out the window at the sky outside, as if it were waiting for him.

The juice carton was full and heavy, and she knocked over her glass trying to pour it in.

She froze, her stomach shooting up into her chest. He dropped his plates back into the murky water and looked at her, his jaw tense.

“You can clean that mess yourself,” he snapped. “And your dress is muddy, again.

His voice was rising.

“Sorry dad.”

She felt herself shaking. She knew the storm was coming soon. She knew they would be here, and she hoped she was still small enough to hide with her brothers and sisters. But if her dad got angry enough, she knew she wouldn’t be allowed to hide this time.

He sighed and carried on scrubbing the plates, little showers of washing-up foam escaping his hands and landing on the floor.

#

She had to stand at the back window. That was how it worked. She stood at the window with her hands pressed against the glass, smearing her prints on it as the thunder trembled through her bones, her breath slowly misting the view.

She didn’t want to see it anyway.

She listened to the hurried footsteps upstairs, the curtains being drawn, and then nothing but the angry roar of the rain. This time, they all got to hide except her. She wondered how many of the other families’ children had to stand at the window, if any of her friends were doing the same.

They came, just shapes at first, almost human but not quite, and wandering like they were lost before gathering and moving in. She began to breathe heavily, her cloud of mist growing, her heart pounding.

“Sorry dad,” she whispered.

She wished she’d been more good, that she hadn’t spilled the juice or got mud on her dress, or pulled her sister’s hair or marked the walls with crayon when she’d been told not to.

They kept coming, slowly, noticing her, moving closer and closer. They stood at last in front of the window, and she looked up at them, dark towering shapes peering in through the fog she had put up between them. She wanted to run away, terror now clenching like a fist in her stomach, but she knew she wasn’t allowed. She had to stay here, looking at them, while they decided.

Hours seemed to pass, and the rain fell and the thunder shook her, and none of them made a sound. Then, suddenly, they decided, and they took her, undeterred by fog or glass. She screamed but no-one came, and their strange blackness covered her like the clouds.

Gemma and her muddy dress were gone, and the town fell quiet. No-one knew where they had come from, or what they wanted, but when the storms came and the animals rose from under the dirt, it meant that they were hungry. And when the animals got hungry, someone always had to feed them.

-Rob