K-Zone (Philippines) - - FRIGHT FEST -

Johnny gri­maced while read­ing the chap­ter on leeches in his sci­ence book. Leeches gave him the hee­bie jee­bies—how they can latch onto your body and make tiny Y-shaped punc­tures on your skin so they can drink your blood with their suck­ers (A. K.A. mouths). The leech would then leave you alone, but later re­turn with a swarm. Any­one would, and should, freak out. Johnny checked the clock. It was past 10:00 PM. He book­marked the page with a pen­cil be­fore plac­ing the book un­der his pil­low. This­prob­a­bly­wasn’t thebestbed­timeread­ing, he thought. Out­side, it driz­zled, and the soft tap­ping of the rain­drops against the win­dows lulled him to sleep. In the dark­ness, Johnny felt a sud­den damp­ness. Well, it’srain­ing, he told him­self, his eyes still shut was as he try­ing to get some sleep. His ears felt un­easily cold. He thumbed his ear­lobe, the one that wasn’t pressed against his pil­low. Why was it wet? He sat up quickly. He looked for an open win­dow, but all the win­dows were closed and it had stopped rain­ing. He touched the same ear again. It was dry this time. He must’ve been imag­in­ing things. He lay down again. “Ouch!” he yelped a lit­tle too loudly. Some­thing had poked his neck from un­der the pil­low. Johnny turned on his bed­side lamp. The pen­cil had slipped out from the book and it was the sharp end that poked him. He put it away, then turned off the light and pulled the cov­ers closer. He shut his eyes a lit­tle tighter and fell asleep. The next day, Johnny’s mom an­nounced that they were vis­it­ing a lake. On a whim, she de­cided that they would go on one last sum­mer road trip be­fore school re­sumed—as soon as Dad got back from work. Also, Johnny’s pet dog Ajax could come and sit be­side him in the car. The fam­ily ar­rived at the house by the lake later in the af­ter­noon. Johnny and Ajax went for a walk while Mom, Dad, and his sis­ter Sam un­packed. “Don’t wan­der too far,” Dad said. “I’ll just rest my back af­ter that long drive, and then I’ll catch up with you.” Johnny and Ajax jogged for a while. A skinny kid and a small, hair­less dog with a col­lar, but no leash. Ajax didn’t need it. He fol­lowed Johnny around when­ever they went for walks, and he al­ways re­sponded to his owner’s voice. He was what they called a “good boy.” It was get­ting dark pretty quickly. Johnny lost track of time while walk­ing along the mouth of the lake, tak­ing in the sur­round­ings. His san­dals had col­lected gunk through­out their ex­cur­sion, so he walked to the wa­ter to wash it off. Ajax fol­lowed. He wet his tummy and went fur­ther in, sub­merg­ing his shoul­ders. Johnny was en­joy­ing wad­ing in the wa­ter when Ajax let out an un­ex­pected howl. Johnny turned and scram­bled to­ward him. Ajax made whim­per­ing sounds, which wor­ried Johnny. There were things stick­ing out of his pet. He dragged Ajax to shore. The slimy things were stuck to Ajax’s stom­ach and shins. They glis­tened in the moon­light. Johnny knew what

they were. He peeled them off his dog one by one. How many? He lost count af­ter the eighth leech. He tried to get a grip on the cold, slip­pery par­a­sites, yank­ing them off force­fully but gen­tly so it didn’t hurt Ajax, and then un­cer­e­mo­ni­ously throw­ing them back into the wa­ter. Ajax licked his mas­ter’s hands to thank him. Johnny was just re­lieved that his dog wasn’t hurt. He stroked Ajax’s ears and neck, then no­ticed that his col­lar was miss­ing. Johnny looked for it by the shore but didn’t find it. Just then, he saw a glint of metal in the shal­low part of the lake. He told Ajax to stay put, then went into the lake to re­trieve the dog’s col­lar. The cold wa­ter stung this time. It made Johnny re­tract his hand be­fore sub­merg­ing it again, clos­ing his fin­gers around the col­lar and fish­ing it out of the wa­ter. On the lakeshore, Ajax stayed in his spot, just as he was asked, but he was bark­ing his head off. The wa­ter was mov­ing, even though Johnny was stand­ing still. The wa­ter was freezing now, lap­ping against Johnny’s knees. He heard click­ing noises and turned around. From the lake’s depths emerged a gi­nor­mous leech. It was as wide as a boat and stood a good 10 feet tall. The slimy crea­ture had rows of sharp teeth the size of Johnny’s thumbs, and a mouth that could eas­ily fit his head. The crea­ture made dis­gust­ing squelch­ing noises as it dragged its body through the wa­ter. Johnny was sup­posed to be run­ning now, but he was frozen in place. The click­ing and slith­er­ing grew louder. Ajax’s bark­ing grew louder, too. “Ajax! Please get help!” Johnny cried. Ajax bolted in the op­po­site di­rec­tion. Johnny fell on his back as the mon­strous in­sect crept closer. He felt a cold, rub­bery sheet hug­ging his legs, his arms, and his face. He closed his eyes and braced him­self for the sting­ing pain, but it didn’t come. Johnny passed out. When he awoke, he was back in his room in their va­ca­tion home. He went down to check on ev­ery­body. His mom lec­tured him for fall­ing asleep by the lake. His dad had to carry him all the way back. Re­lief washed over Johnny, but not for long. A click­ing noise made him shud­der. Thi­sisn’thap­pen­ing, he thought. His mom, dad, and sis­ter heard it, too. They all looked at each other as the click­ing noise filled the room. Ajax started jump­ing and bark­ing. A crea­ture as big as Johnny’s thumb swiftly crept in through the win­dow. Loud click­ing noises came from its over­sized pin­cers. This was no or­di­nary leech. An­other leech slith­ered in, and then an­other, and an­other. Some­thing larger was break­ing down the door. A swarm was upon them be­fore Johnny could open his mouth to scream.

Spooky Sto­ry­teller: Khyne Palumar Il­lus­tra­tions: Maku Felix

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