daugh­ters unto devils

Pre­pare for un­put­down­able thrills in this block­buster hor­ror film in book form. Think Lit­tle House On The Prairie meets The Ex­or­cist!

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - First Read - by Amy Lukav­ics

Ev­ery­body, welcome to our new homestead!”

Ma frowns. I can’t help but won­der that if at any point, be­tween the dis­ap­point­ment of the sec­ond cabin and the chil­dren be­gin­ning to cry ev­ery night about their ha­tred for camp­ing, per­haps Pa had con­sid­ered that tak­ing the word of a cou­ple of farm­ers about how much op­por­tu­nity this land held might not have been the clever­est idea.

Joanna and Charles be­gin to cheer at the men­tion of the word homestead. Black­jack and Peter, the ox, gain a sud­den burst of energy, as if they know that their bones will fi­nally be able to prop­erly rest if they just fin­ish it now, and the wagon be­gins to glide ef­fort­lessly through the prairie. As we gain speed we be­gin to bump, softly at first but in­creas­ingly vi­o­lently as the wheels tear over an­i­mal holes and thick bunches of field grass. I fold my arms over my mid­dle in an ef­fort to keep things as still as pos­si­ble.

“Slow down,” Ma nearly yells and throws her hand over the up­set sun­bon­net on her head. “It’s not go­ing any­where.”

“It’s beau­ti­ful, isn’t it?” Pa cries out in re­sponse, with­out slow­ing down. “At last, at last!”

But the dreamy vi­sion of the cabin fades as we draw closer. It be­comes painfully clear when we pull up that the yard and sur­round­ing area are in need of some se­ri­ous work. The bark from the logs is peel­ing away from the wood as if the cabin is shed­ding. Weeds have over­grown ev­ery­thing, spread­ing hun­grily over the ground, the bot­tom perime­ter of the cabin, even cov­er­ing an old busted wheel­bar­row that sits be­hind the fence.

The fence it­self is more of just a frame, re­ally. Long pieces of bro­ken wood tilt di­ag­o­nally away from the posts and dis­ap­pear into the grasses be­low. Ex­tra pieces are piled nearby, though not nearly enough to fin­ish the pro­ject, also cov­ered in weeds. Sweat rolls down my neck and soaks into the col­lar of my al­ready ru­ined dress.

“Beau­ti­ful, in­deed,” Ma re­marks. “It looks like no­body has lived here for years.”

“The weeds grow quickly out here, Su­san.” Pa sighs, clearly ag­gra­vated at her lack of fer­vor. He pulls the reins in, and Black­jack and Peter slow to a stop in front of the new cabin. “They’ll only take one good work­day to get rid of. And I’ll be able to scrape all that bark off with my draw knife, and re- clay the gaps be­tween the logs...”

Joanna and Charles jump from the wagon as soon as it stops. They run around the new yard like wild ones, cheer­ing and scream­ing with their arms flap­ping around their heads. A cou­ple of nearby rab­bits flee in a wide- eyed frenzy. I get out and stretch grate­fully, care­ful to hide my swollen ab­domen away from my par­ents so they don’t take no­tice.

Let this be my place to start anew, I think as I look again to the hori­zon of trees. For me and for the baby. I stop. The baby, not my baby. Even in my deep­est thoughts I can­not feel grate­ful for it, and this fills me with shame. “Who cares if we have to fix it up, Ma?” Emily says from be­hind me, pulling me from my thoughts. She heads through the weeds to the front door of the cabin. “Look at the size of it!” Ma and I fol­low Emily while Pa tends to the an­i­mals, ea­ger to see the in­side, as well. Han­nah sits on Ma’s hip, low­er­ing her hands to glide over the tips of the grasses pok­ing up from be­low. As we ap­proach the door, it’s dif­fi­cult to ig­nore the pu­trid stench that seems to be grow­ing heav­ier with each step.

“Ugh,” I say and pinch my nose. “What is that?”

It’s too much for Han­nah. She be­gins to

With guilty se­crets weigh­ing down on her, six­teen- year- old Amanda Verner can’t be sure if the true evil lies in the land, or within her soul...

As much as I don’t want to be­lieve it, I know that the liq­uid is, un­ques­tion­ably, blood

scream, claw­ing into the air as if she wants to swim out of Ma’s arms and away from the door, and we’re forced to wait in the odor while Ma runs to set the baby in the back of the wagon so she can crawl around over the blan­kets. Emily doesn’t even look at me. The sun pounds down on us and the prairie, and I re­al­ize that never in my life have I bore wit­ness to weather this hot. And isn’t it sup­posed to be au­tumn right now? I won­der if the stench is a dead an­i­mal roast­ing some­where in the stag­ger­ing heat. Hope­fully the body isn’t in­side the cabin.

Ma re­joins us, and her face twists up again in re­ac­tion to the smell. She steps in front of Emily and opens the front door. The sight that greets us is si­lenc­ing. My stom­ach breaks out in goose­flesh, de­spite the swel­ter­ing heat.

The cabin’s hard­wood floor has been com­pletely torn out, and pokes jaggedly in­ward at the edges. Weeds and dirt and dead grass floor the en­tire in­side, and the light from the open door­way prompts dozens of grasshop­pers to fly through the air. Var­i­ous pieces of fur­ni­ture, most of them bro­ken, lay scat­tered over the ground.

There is a dark sub­stance, a stink­ing liq­uid that cov­ers the en­tire edge of the torn out floor. As much as I don’t want to be­lieve it, I know that the liq­uid is, un­ques­tion­ably, blood. There is more of it splat­tered up the sides of the peel­ing bark walls, and a bro­ken chair amongst the wreck­age is also ru­ined with the red. Fat black flies the size of coins buzz against the filthy glass win­dow that lines the back wall.

As ter­ri­ble as the sight is, as pos­i­tively jar­ring, it is noth­ing com­pared to the smell. Emily and Ma and I re­coil and groan, our arms over our faces as we peer into the mess of a cabin. It is the smell of rot, thick and warm, it is the un­mis­tak­able smell of death. And it is heavy.

“What in Heaven’s name?” Ma man­ages.

“Why aren’t you go­ing in­side?” Pa calls from the front of the wagon, where he holds a bucket for Peter to drink from. “What’s it like?”

“Come over here,” Ma yells back. “See for your­self.”

The edge to her voice causes Pa’s smile to die away in a sec­ond. He steps over a piece of bro­ken fence to meet us af­ter check­ing on Han­nah in the back of the wagon. His eyes squint in rage as he takes in the con­di­tion of the cabin.

“What in the Hell?” he growls, and Ma doesn’t even scold him for the curse. He steps in­side, and we all fol­low.

“What hap­pened here?” Emily asks, her voice meek. I look to the near­est cor­ner of the cabin only to find that it’s been filled by pil­lars of dense spi­der web­bing. “Pa, I think that this is blood. It looks like...”

“I know what it looks like,” Pa snaps, his face flat. “Some­body must have slaugh­tered an ox or horse in here.”

“But why would they do it in­side?” Ma says. “This cabin is com­pletely ru­ined! We can­not set­tle here.”

“It’s not ru­ined.” Pa fran­ti­cally be­gins pick­ing up the old fur­ni­ture, most of the pieces com­pletely caked with the dried blood, and toss­ing them out the front door. “We can re­move all of the soiled items, and re­move the bark from the wall with my draw knife. And I’ll build a new floor.”

“With what sup­plies?” Ma chal­lenges. “And what money?”

“I’ll find a way to ar­range it,” Pa prom­ises. “We can camp out­side un­til I get it fixed. We’re al­most at the end of the map that was drawn for me on the moun­tain. The nearby set­tle­ment should only be a day or so away to the west. I can leave to­mor­row.”

“You don’t even know if the set­tle­ment will be there!” Ma is start­ing to get teary. Emily and I re­main silent. “They also said there would be ‘ plenty’ of de­cent home­steads that were un­oc­cu­pied, as well. Who­ever drew up that map could have mis­re­mem­bered, they could be send­ing you out into the wilder­ness to die, or it could take you days—”

“Su­san.” The tone of Pa’s voice is dan­ger­ous enough to si­lence her out­burst in­stantly. “You will camp out­side with the chil­dren un­til I re­turn, and then I’ll fix the floor and the walls and you’ll won­der what you ever had to com­plain about in the first place.”

How heavy his des­per­a­tion must be, if he is will­ing him­self and the rest of us to ac­cept the con­di­tion of this cabin. “It will be hard work,” he con­tin­ues, “but the Lord will smile upon us for it.”

I watch Pa work to move the bro­ken fur­ni­ture out to be burned. Here is my new home, my place to be­gin clean, a place that is rot­ted and over­heated and cov­ered in filth. I’ve never heard of any­body slaugh­ter­ing an an­i­mal in­side their cabin be­fore. It’s al­most fit­ting, in a sense.

I’m start­ing to be­lieve that Hell is ev­ery­where.

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