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Today's Story by Joyce Chong

It inched its way in, each sound growing louder as it got closer.

The Rope Ladder

Christian had scrounged the ropes up from the cellar. They were dirty and rough, stolen from their places around the house. We took the one holding up the tire swing in the backyard, the one that tied the rickety back door shut, and a couple stored away in the barn. Then Momma and Poppa tied them to the rafters, so we could get up into the hayloft, which is where we slept now.

It’d been weeks since we’d heard from anyone new. Christian had arrived alone, and he had some food with him; he told us his parents were dead. Mostly Sissy talked to him because she knew him from school, but my parents were worried. Food was getting low. Mom and Pop always gave me and Sissy extra food, even though I could see the longing in their gaunt, dirty faces for more. I eat less now; I told them it was only fair. Sissy doesn’t care, either. She never ate much, always too busy staring critically at her waist in the mirror, skipping meals and dipping out on her chores.

We were sleeping when there was a sound at the barn door. I didn’t dare breathe as I slowly pulled up our makeshift rope ladder. My Pop always told me to keep it off the ground, but I’d forgotten about it this time. We weren’t expecting anything anymore; I never bothered believing there would be other people out there. I was probably right, maybe there wasn’t anybody out there.

The thick stench of rot came from outside the door. My family huddled near the back of the loft, but I lay on my stomach, desperate to peer over the edge without being seen. There was a loud, audible slap and then the sound of dragging. It made me sick to my stomach, and everyone froze behind me. We knew there was no one out there. No one that could help, no one with food, no one alive. Slap. Drag. Slap. Drag. It was a muffled thump. The grass and dirt dampened the sound, but even still, it grew uncomfortably loud. The dragging carried dirt with it, a gravel crackle that was accented by the occasional and rare huffing breath.

Finally, slap. It sat outside the door, wheezing its scratchy breaths every few seconds. I froze, my sister covered her eyes and Christian held her close. My parents gave me looks that screamed not to move and to get over there at the same time.

The door creaked, moving back and forth in the small space that the locks allowed. It was hit forcefully, I could hear the sound of wood splintering. Slap. Drag. Bang. The door was weak, and we had been too naive to realize this. Another crash, and the doors were hanging open, the hinges giving way. I ducked my head when the door collapsed. Nose to the ground, I breathed in the scent of dirt and hay on the wooden floor of the loft. There were no crevices to see into the barn below. I waited.

It seemed like a minute had passed without a sound. It hadn’t come in, but neither had it moved. I risked a glance over the loft, and saw a shadow in the doorway. Slap drag. The shadow moved. Slap drag. Something black appeared at the entrance of the barn. Slap drag. It inched its way in, each sound growing louder as it got closer. Slap drag. A black mass appeared, looking like a giant slug. It propelled itself with its head by throwing it down and pulling itself along. Like a leech. Slap drag. Each time it moved, it stopped to look up and glance around. I caught sight of yellow, jagged teeth.

The scent of swamp rot filled the barn, burning the insides of my nostrils as breathing became difficult. Slap drag. Slap drag. It moved faster now, until it sat just below the hayloft. I stared down at its back, the stomach seemed to be clear and the thing was as long as a bike. Something was floating inside of its gut- it looked like an arm. I steeled myself to keep looking, to avoid turning back to my parents as I slipped a hand into my pocket and pulled out Bobby Trenton’s pocketknife. I stole it from him in class, not realizing everyone would be dead a week later.

The creature looked as if it couldn’t see nor hear, it kept turning its flat head to look around. I caught sight of two beady black eyes. Slowly, quietly, I pushed back into a crouch, then crawled right up to the edge of the hayloft’s floor. It sat below, huffing and puffing its rotted breath. I opened the pocket knife and jumped, aiming for the thing’s back.

I screamed as I fell, terror wrapped itself like barbed wire around my bones. I didn’t care if I broke an ankle falling, as long as I got the knife in. The thing made a sound that was something between a hiss and a pig squeal as my feet landed square on its back, knife lodged in its head. I fell over off the thick, squishy surface. My nerves were getting the best of me. Only now, I realized how oversized the creature was. It was large enough to swallow me whole.

I pushed myself back, screaming as the thing lifted its ugly face to me. It was speckled with dirt, teeth as long as kitchen knives. I thought I’d die from the smell alone. Before it could move towards me, Christian jumped down on its back. He grabbed the pocket knife stuck in its head and sliced the blade down the length of the creature. I scrambled to my feet in its confusion, wiping the tears from my eyes. This had been a stupid idea. Christian took the knife out with force, and jammed it into the head again, pulling it out with a wet squish.

“Put down the rope!” I yelled to my parents.

The gutted creature leaked clear fluid, and something else. Mr. Walters, my neighbour, stared back at me. His bodiless head lay beside an arm. Christian put a hand on my shoulder, pushing me away.

“Go on up,”

I obeyed, slowly climbing into the hayloft where my mother was crying and my father looked ready to kill. They pulled me in for an embrace as Sissy wiped the tears from her face. Christian shut the barn door and sprinkled hay over the horrid mess. He climbed back up the rope ladder and we all sat in dumb silence.

My father walked over to the rope ladder, pulling it up for us to see, and said, “Don’t forget.”


Joyce Chong is a hobby writer studying health sciences in Ontario, Canada. She writes poetry mainly, but occasionally delves into fiction. Horror is her preference.


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