By Robert S.C. Cutler
Jenny Zimmerman heard the noise clearly in her dreams. Something was running back and forth across her bedroom floor—tiny
claws clicking and scrapping on the hardwood. She was playing in her grandfather’s barn, while small pigs with feet like rats scurried
around the stalls. She tried to get a closer look, but the pigs moved further away until they were completely gone.
The barn faded and she was now in the old farmhouse kitchen with her grandmother. A large pot containing an un-plucked chicken
was boiling over on the wood burning stove. “No Jenny!” her grandmother yelled, grabbing her shoulders as she reached out to touch
the curled feet. Afraid of being beaten, Jenny ran out of the house and across a field crying. Before long she was standing on the
front porch of her own home. Her mother and father were scolding her for not obeying her grandparents and waking her baby
brother who was bawling in her mother’s arms.
Her grandparents appeared at the end of the driveway—her grandmother with a large rolling pin and her grandfather holding his belt.
“No! Stay away! I hate you all!” Jenny yelled. She ran inside the house, then shut and locked the front door. Peeking through the
front window, she waited.. She knew what was coming—she giggled at the thought.
Flying up through the trees, a large flock of blackbirds scattered into the air. The ground beneath her parent’s and grandparent’s
trembled. Jenny knew by the terrified looks on their faces that the Beast was near. Soon, she wouldn’t need to worry about them
anymore—soon she would be happy—finally alone in her house.
Jenny’s cats jumped on the bed and shook her awake. She sat up, disoriented, in the dark. Blurry red numbers on her small clock
showed just past five in the morning. She was breathing heavily—the dream still fresh in her mind. This was the second straight week
she had dreamt of her family and the Beast. Although she knew it to be only a dream, she could still see their angry faces and the
Beast circling the house in the adjacent woods—patiently waiting for an opportunity.
Jenny hadn’t been to her grandparent’s farm since she was twelve and her brother, David, was born. She felt abandoned that summer,
spending most of her time alone while her parents and grandparents played with the new baby. She would often be punished for the
slightest offense—her grandmother sitting her in the corner of the hot kitchen for hours—her grandfather threatening with his belt if
she didn’t stay out of the barn. Jenny hated the weekly visits and rejoiced when she came back home after a long weekend. Hidden
away in her bedroom, their strict rules couldn’t touch her.
She carried the anger from feeling abandoned into the seventh grade where she was in constant battle with her father and his ill
temper. Unlike her baby brother, she could do no right. She didn’t do well enough in school; her chores weren’t done to his
satisfaction; she wasn’t gentle enough with the baby. Her mother sat back and let Jenny’s world fall slowly apart.
Jenny started to daydream about them all dying—of her just living in the house with no rules. That December, part of her dream
came true. Her grandparents died in a house blaze on the coldest night of the new winter—the first night she dreamt of the Beast.
Jenny, staying the weekend to give her over burdened parents a break, was fortunate to escape without injury.
To no avail, her father tried to console his grieving wife after her great loss. Anger and resentment was targeted toward Jenny who
always felt as if she were in the way. Instead of getting better, her home life became more unbearable until eventually, her only escape
was in her dreams. The Beast was seldom far off.
Remembering the time, Jenny broke out of her trance. She got out of bed and danced across the cold floor cursing winter all the way
to the bathroom. To her disgust, mouse droppings were scattered all over the bathroom tile and floor near her bed.
“Not again!” she moaned. “You worthless cats!” Both cats stretched out on her bed, blinked and purred.
While drinking her morning coffee, visions of the Beast kept flashing through her mind. After a ten-year absence, the recurring
nightmares once again terrorized Jenny in her sleep. They had stopped around the same time her parents, along with her brother,
David, all died in the same car accident.
Jenny hadn’t seen her family since the mid-eighties when she had left without warning. The then eighteen-year-old felt oppressed by all
of their rules and neglected in favor of her baby brother. At the memorial service, she was filled in on all of the family news she had
missed the past eleven years. Days later, she took ownership of the house as well as all of the contents within. It was as though she
had never left. A living ghost remembering each knick knack filled room with warmth and lonesome pain. Although comfortable in
her childhood home, something was still out of place—unsettling.
Heading out for work, Jenny noticed her usually subdued cats at her brother’s closed bedroom door. They were pawing at it and
chirping as if a bird or mouse were on the other side. The two male litter mates were obsessed and wouldn’t stop until she kicked
them both outside. “Pests! Go find a girlfriend!” she scolded. She double checked her brother’s bedroom door to make sure it was
closed tight. She would check for more mice droppings when she got home from work.
An array of office staff and professionals rushed through the front doors of the Leesburg Plaza Towers . It was nearly eight a.m. ,
and the important matters of the day wouldn’t wait. Coffee was already prepared by the early arrivers. The late comers scrambled
for the precious last drops before the official day started.
Jenny loathed her job and coworkers as much as she hated liver and onions. Life as a staff assistant was both stressful and
unfulfilling. The engineering firm she worked for was full of socially inept college graduates and potbellied, balding, middle-aged
perverts who were stuck perpetually in 1975. Both groups made each and every woman feel like a sex object rather than a human
being. If she hadn’t taken all of her sick days for the year, she wouldn’t have thought twice about calling in.
Retreating to the safety of her cubicle, Jenny turned on her computer and waited impatiently for her e-mail to load. A stack of
engineering drawings were piled to her right waiting to be scanned and then filed—another group was on its way. The goal of the day
was to make it till noon when she would have lunch with two of her girlfriends at their favorite Italian bistro. The hour away from
work was brief, but at least it was a break.
“Hey, Jen, how’s your Monday going so far?” a voice from across the aisle asked. Stan Jensen sat reclined at his desk—pen in hand—
clicking on his keyboard. His smile was half-phony and half-sincere. “I have a new trainee I’ll be showing around later. He’s kind of
shy though. Face got burnt in a fire, so try not to stare.”
Jenny smirked in his general direction, but didn’t offer much more. She thought it funny that Stan had just told her not to stare when
she felt as if there was a bull’s-eye on her rear-end whenever she passed by. Preferring to remain in her shell, she returned to her
business without further eye contact.
Lunch was a disappointment. Only one of her friends showed, and she only stayed long enough to drink a diet soda. As usual, Jenny
was left by herself. Half-way through her salad, she felt someone staring at her. Unlike the stares she was used to at work; this was
deeply disturbing, but familiar at the same time. Unable to stand it any longer she turned abruptly and caught her admirer rushing
away wearing what looked like a baseball cap and white dress shirt. Her appetite gone, she left the rest of her lunch and returned
reluctantly back to work.
While daydreaming at her computer, Stan Jensen snuck up behind her and slapped the back of her chair. Ready to tell him off, Jenny
turned and momentarily lost her breath. The man from the restaurant was standing next to Stan, still wearing a baseball cap. His face
was horribly scarred. He had no eyelashes and his nose was partially missing exposing his nasal cavities. His reconstructed lips were
bright pink and moist. A small drip of drool hung precariously from the corner of his mouth.
“Jen, this is Adam Reinhart,” Stan grinned. “He’s one of our new design engineers. You’ll be dealing with most of his work, so I
thought I should introduce you to one another.”
“Nice to meet you, Mr. Reinhart,” Jenny greeted and extended her hand.
Adam hesitated, and then took Jenny’s hand and firmly shook it. She was thankful it wasn’t deformed like his face.
“You can call me Adam,” he slurred. He pulled a white handkerchief from his pants pocket and blotted the drool from his mouth
before it traveled down his chin.
“Next stop is the break room! Which also happens to be my personal favorite,” Stan laughed at his own joke. Both men disappeared
around the corner leaving Jenny once again by herself. She caught Adam staring at her a few more times before the end of the day,
but decided to not let it bother her. To Jenny, he was just another gawking male with only one thing on his mind.
Jenny returned home after the long day at work and a tiresome commute. She always felt great satisfaction pulling into her driveway.
This was her house—the one thing that made her most happy. Accustomed to her cats greeting her at the car, she became concerned
by their absence. She called their names over and over without success.
After changing out of her work clothes, she heard their distant cries. Following the sound, she walked down the hallway and stopped
in front of her brother’s bedroom. The door shook violently causing her to jump back and gasp.
“Barney? Spike? How on earth did you get in there?” she asked, opening the door and freeing her over dramatic cats. The air in the
bedroom was stale. A thick layer of dust covered everything from over ten-years of none use. The window shades were pulled down
and the curtains drawn. The only sign of disturbance was on the bed where her cats had obviously been sleeping.
A feeling of guilt rushed over her upon seeing all of her brother’s awards again. David had not only been a superb athlete, but also
something of a wizard in math. He and their parents had been on their way to George Mason University to accept a scholarship in
mathematics as well as tennis when the accident occurred. She still had a difficult time believing they were gone.
Out of the corner of her eye, she thought she saw someone standing behind the door. Paralyzed with fear, she stood barely
breathing. Her body shuddered at the thought of an intruder. A loud crash in the kitchen echoed throughout the house. With her
mind racing, she ran quickly from the room, grabbed her cell phone, and continued out the front door leaving it wide open. Hiding
behind her car, she called 911 and prayed that the police would arrive soon.
After waiting fifteen-minutes for someone to show up, a disinterested Virginia State Trooper made a half-hearted search of her house.
Finding no one inside, he reassured Jenny that she would be just fine and walked back to his patrol car without a glance her way.
Annoyed by the troopers flip attitude, and still a little spooked, she warily walked back into the house and discovered the source of the
crash. Her cats had apparently jumped up on the counter and knocked a small sauce pan and dinner plate she had left by the sink.
Shards from the plate reached clear out to the living-room rug. After cleaning up the mess, she curled up on the sofa and wrapped
herself in an afghan blanket. Both cats joined her as she lazily surfed through the television channels in search of something decent to
Still seeing the person standing behind her in her mind, Jenny turned all of the lights on in the house for comfort. Even though it was
proven no one had been in the house, nothing explained how the cats ended up in her brother’s bedroom. She knew the door had
been shut—she had doubled checked it before she left for work. The house had a different feel to it also. She had grown so
accustomed to living alone—her subconscious knew each and every noise and nuance. Now the walls that once bounced back her
voice, seemed to absorb the sound—muffling it as if something was blocking the way.
Growing weary from the lack of sleep, she finally dozed off in front of the television with both cats curled up beside her. Her dreams
started off innocently: She was walking with her mother near the house, collecting pinecones for the fireplace. Somehow, they
became separated. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she grew despondent with feelings of great sadness. Desperate to find her
mother, she climbed up a small tree to see if she could spot her. She found her on the front porch with her father and brother. They
all stared at Jenny, shaking their heads collectively, and then turned and walked into the house. She curled herself into a ball and
cried. She hated them all and wouldn’t be satisfied with nothing short of their deaths. Unable to get to them, she was determined that
someone would pay for her pain—someone would suffer.
The world around Jenny turned gray—void of all sound. The wind was so still it was as if the earth had stopped spinning. Darkness
engulfed her, stealing her last breath. As she closed her eyes, the Beast appeared.
Tall, barren oaks seemed to march in succession down a cragged hillside. Patches of icy snow smothered the brown, lifeless
underbrush and jutting boulders. Muscular legs fought against gravity, while massive claws gripped the loose, rocky soil. Slowly, the
Beast crawled toward the frozen lake, desperate for food—its moist nose sampling the frigid air for warm, soft flesh.
Sudden movement from the road below caught its attention. Jenny’s mother and father were pushing her baby brother in his stroller.
The Beast’s body became ridged—coiling for the strike—patiently sizing up its meal.
A cascade of debris poured down the hillside as the Beast charged effortlessly with blinding speed. A spray of rocks and dirt hit the
side of bother her mother’s and father’s face. Losing her grip, the stroller rolled away from her mother, falling over, and spilling Jenny’
s baby brother out. Before her parents could react, the Beast had first disemboweled her father, and had her mother’s head in its
powerful jaws. Razor sharp teeth dug in deep causing her body to convulse and twitch. Her skull exploded—the loud crack echoed
throughout the hills and off the surface of the lake. Her baby brother screamed and cried —his knit cap and sweater covered in dirt
and dried leaves. With one swift swipe of a paw, the woods fell silent.
Jenny woke in total darkness, covered head to toe in something sticky and wet.. Knowing she had left all of the lights on, she started
to panic. Reaching to turn on the lamp, intense pain radiated up her thigh to her hip. The dim light barely lit the area enough for her
to see what she had gotten into. Several one-inch wounds ascended up her right leg. Her nightgown and afghan blanket were soaked
Emerging from the shadows, the silhouette of a man wearing a baseball cap approached. Jenny tried to run, but fell—her legs unable
to support her weight. As the man walked into the living-room, Jenny’s chest tightened—her breath became erratic. He reached for
her and the room turned to a soft blur surrounded by blackness. She closed her eyes and was back in the woods.
The scent of human sweat wafted past the Beast’s nose causing its salivary glands to go into overdrive. It opened its yellow-green eyes
and stretched it powerful muscles—readying itself for more prey.
Approaching from the west was a man wearing a baseball cap. The Beast took instant notice, and then paused. Although he smelled
like food, the man had another scent emitting through his pores—a scent that made the beast take heed. It was the scent of a
predator. Not just any predator, but one that brought with it certain danger. The Beasts instincts warned it to leave this one alone and
turn tail while there was still time, but its ravenous appetite wouldn’t be denied.
The man appeared through the trees amid the bright rays of the setting sun. His skin was shriveled, unlike anything the Beast had
seen before. In each hand, he bore long knives made of stainless steel. The polished blades reflected the sunlight into the Beasts eyes,
blinding it temporarily.
In a reversal of fortune, the Beast was now being descended upon—it was the prey. The two blades sunk deep into its side, drawing a
fountain of blood, and screams of agony. A single swipe of his mighty paw, harvested strips of flesh from its attacker that hung like
streamers on it sharp claws. The man winced in pain, falling backward down the hillside.
The Beast gave chase —pouncing—crushing his ribcage beneath its weight. In desperation, the man plunged his blades deep into its
back but with little effect. Instinct had taken over—the Beast prepared for its meal.
“Jenny, please, no!” the man pleaded for his life. “Jenny, it’s me, David, your brother,” he slurred.
Jenny was shocked awake by his voice. “David? No! You’re not David! You’re Adam!” she said shaking her head. “David’s dead!
He died ten years ago!” she declared.
“I’m not dead. I survived the accident. I was just too embarrassed by my appearance to come back home. I didn’t want you to see
me this way.” Spittle flew from his mouth and dripped down his chin.
“No, this can’t be true. You’re Adam, and you broke into my house. You tried to kill me! You tried to kill me, you bastard!” she
screamed at the top of her lungs.
“I swear I didn’t. Please, listen to my voice.”
“David? Is it really you?”
“Please, Jenny. I’m bleeding to death. I can feel my body growing colder. I need medical attention. Please.”
“No, it can’t be. You’re already dead! I killed all three of you! I ran your car off the road and watched as it burst into flames!” she
sobbed. “I’ve always hated you. You took my mother away from me! Ever since you were born, all I ever heard was, “Careful with
the baby; don’t wake the baby. No, Jenny, he’s too small. He might get hurt!” Now you want my house, don’t you? You came back
just to take it away!”
“No, Jenny, please believe me,” he cried.
“Liar! This time, you’ll stay dead forever!” she growled plunging both knives down with such force that they broke clean through his
chest, exiting out his back.
Jenny’s world faded away once more, revealing the Beast—its teeth bared—ready to finish the job. In the distance she heard sirens
and then voices calling her name. As the state trooper and paramedics approached, the Beast moved swiftly back toward the lake—its
prey clamped tight in its jaws.
Jenny’s eyes opened wide. The burning pain from the IV brought her back into consciousness. Unable to move, she could only plead
for the paramedics to check on her cats.
Besieged with guilt, the state trooper leaned down next to Jenny in attempt to console her. “I’m just sorry I didn’t get here sooner.
The dispatcher had a very hard time understanding the man that called. We thought it was a prank at first; that is until she recognized
your phone number on the caller ID.”
“I think that’s enough conversation for right now. Our patient has been through quite an ordeal,” the attending paramedic firmly
Dejected, the trooper stood up and walked over to where David was lying—the two kitchen knives were still imbedded in his chest.
Studying his scarred face, he didn’t know how he could have missed him when he first searched the house.
Jenny closed her eyes and smiled. She knew the nightmares were finally over. She could feel the Beast vanishing into the woods—
never to return again. After so many years of insecurity and paranoid thought, there would be no more intruders stealing in the night.
The house was hers and hers alone.