THE FENRIS WOLF
Three Dark Tales
By Justin M.D. Nelson
Copyright 2016 Justin M.D. Nelson
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Table of Contents
The Fenris Wolf
The forest was cold and silent, and a painful wind blew fresh snow through the trees and across the ground. Tyler and Andreas had trouble adjusting to the bright afternoon sunlight reflecting off the pure white snow. Still, they entered the forest from where Barb Thorson’s son had been attacked on the northeast side of Mandal Lake. They trekked the wilderness searching for any clues that could guide them on their way.
“Hey Ty, what should we be looking for exactly?” Andreas asked his cousin, after moving for about an hour, “If there were any tracks, the storm would have covered them up.”
“You’re right. If nothing else, we’ll wait until night falls and then we can…”
“Listen for the howling?”
Tyler turned to him with a grim expression on his face.
Andreas chuckled as he said, “You know, this could make a hell of a story for our grandkids someday.”
They continued to wander for a few more hours, searching the grounds occasionally for any sign of life. For miles, nothing caught their attention.
“You’d think we’d have at least found some deer tracks by now,” said Andreas.
“Maybe they’re too scared of the Wolf to come around. If it’s scaring the folks in town, I bet it’s got everything else out here pretty riled up too.”
“Everything’s too scared to come out? That’s bad news for the other hunters in town when… Wait. Ty, what’s that?”
Tyler turned towards Andreas’s gaze and saw it instantly. A tall tree with four large claw marks cut into its trunk. The two moved in to examine the marks.
“Are those… from a bear?” Andreas asked.
Tyler ran his fingers over the slashes and said, grimly, “Nope, they’re from a wolf.”
“They’re way too big to be from a wolf.”
“Look at the claw marks. There are four here, the middle two are the same length. They’re also longer than the other two. If this was from a bear, the slashes would have been all different lengths and further apart, so I’m pretty sure this was from a wolf.”
Tyler turned and looked at his cousin and said, “Andy, you realize how big this thing is?”
Andy took a deep breath and said, “As big as a grizzly bear, I would guess.”
“Exactly,” said Tyler.
They held their rifles and surveyed the area, which began to grow darker with every passing minute.
[ * ]
The night before, back in the town of Mandal Lake, Minnesota, everyone sealed themselves up in their homes as a blizzard howled through the night, even though it was not just the blizzard they wanted to keep out.
In downtown, or rather, what could be considered downtown in a community of three hundred people, the only lights on were those of Dahl’s Café, proudly owned and operated by the Dahl family. That night around midnight, the same family held a get-together in the café.
Two-dozen people, both family and friends, young and old, huddled together in the warm building. Hot drinks and warm blankets were shared among the group. As the kids sat with Grandpa Ragnar and Grandma Ella, the adults and older kids stood in circles, discussing the turn of events around town.
“Every night for the past two weeks!” Aunt Kathy exclaimed with a hushed energy. “I’ve been keeping track, every night for the past fourteen nights!”
“It’s been so hard for the kids, especially,” chimed in Aunt Carol, “Some nights, I have to leave the TV or the radio on to drown out the noise! You know, so the kids can stay asleep.”
In another circle, another group of relatives spoke more eagerly.
“Everybody’s heard it. The howling? How can you not?” said Uncle Ben.”
“But, why does it only howl once?” asked Uncle David, “Aren’t wolves supposed to travel in packs and call and respond to each other? Why have we only heard one? And how is this one wolf loud enough to wake up the whole town?”
“I don’t give a damn about that!” Uncle Jack yelled, grabbing all the attention in the room at this point. “It was fine when it was just making noise, but now, it’s coming onto people’s property, and it’s bringing our town into its territory. I don’t know about you, but Barb Thorson’s son, that was the last straw for me!”
Everyone in the room seemed to shudder. A couple people in town claimed to see a large wolf, but no one gave it much thought. That is, until the incident with Barb Thorson’s seven-year-old son. After going out to play in the snow one evening outside their house, Barb went out to find him laying in the snow, his clothing torn to shreds, covered in cuts and bleeding badly. It happened a couple days previous, and her son was fine, but he was still in the hospital.
Uncle Jack became even more agitated. “Someone has to do something about this! Someone has to go out there and take care of that thing before it hurts anyone else! In fact, why hasn’t anyone done that already?”
Aunt Agnes, Uncle Jack’s plump and patient wife, moved in to calm him down. “Everyone’s dealing with it the best they can, Hon. We don’t know enough about it to just go out and start hunting for it.”
“Well, someone has to know something. Isn’t there anyone around who can tell us what we’re dealing with?”
“Have I ever told you the story of the Fenris Wolf?” asked Grandpa Ragnar.
All eyes in the room, young and old, turned his direction. The question came out of nowhere and seemed so out of place.
Grandma Ella turned to her husband, “Ragnar, don’t go scaring the kids with another one of your ghost stories!”
“This is no ghost story, dear,” said Grandpa, with a sly grin, “This story was told to me by my grandfather, a story that’s been passed down all the way from our ancestors in Norway.”
Two of Ragnar’s grandsons sat listening intently to his words. Tyler, a boy of sixteen, sat with his fifteen-year-old cousin Andreas, whom everyone called Andy.
“The… Fenris Wolf?” asked Tyler, “I don’t think I’ve heard that story.”
“I haven’t either,” said Andreas, “Is that what you think it is, Grandpa?”
“I’m not sure,” said their Grandfather, “But, quite honestly, I had forgotten all about the story until just recently. Everything that’s been going on around town, the howling, the talk of wolves, the Thorson boy, it all brought back a memory that I’d like very much to share with you all. If you want to hear it, of course.”
Tyler and Andreas grew up together with their grandpa’s stories. Both of them happily ignored their parents’ advice to refrain from taking his stories to heart. Whether it was hunting, fishing, sports, summers at the lake, or anything else, the two of them were a team, partners in crime. And they were proud to consider Grandpa Ragnar their third member.
“I want to hear it!”
The kids gathered around Grandpa and Grandma. The adults tried to maintain their conversation out of earshot.
“This is the story of the Fenris Wolf,” Grandpa Ragnar began.
“The Fenris Wolf was one of the children of the mischievous god, Loki. The Wolf grew more powerful and more vicious every single day. Eventually, the gods became worried that it would become too powerful for them to control. So, they decided that it needed to be tied down, tethered before it became too strong. The gods commissioned dwarves to make an unbreakable restraint. However, the Wolf would only allow himself to be restrained if one of the gods put their hand in his mouth. And so the god Tÿr agreed to put his right hand in the Wolf’s mouth. When the Wolf struggled to break free, he bit off Tÿr’s hand. But the bond kept the wolf bound, and so the gods rejoiced.”
“This part of the Norse legend is well known. But, according to some, the gods also commissioned humans to take part in the Wolf’s restraint as well. So, Odin ordered the Vikings, our ancestors, to take the Wolf to be restrained in a distant land. Lead by Leif Erikson, they journeyed to a land that was as far away as their ships would take them, on the other side of the world. The Vikings obeyed, and landed in North America, long before anyone else in Europe set foot on North American soil.”
“So, the gods opened the way to the New World. In exchange, the Vikings restrained the Fenris Wolf in the countryside, sealed away in the wilderness of the New World.”
The room fell silent; all focus having turned to Grandpa Ragnar.
At that moment, they heard the howl.
Everyone froze and remained close together in the darkened room, quiet, as though trying to keep themselves unheard over the noise. It was low, haunting, almost mournful, but very powerful. The family held their children close, and the howl continued over the roar of the blizzard for much of the night.
[ * ]
The temperature fell as the sky became darker. Before long, the boys saw the first few stars appear in the sky.
Andreas took off his gloves and breathed into his hands hoping to get some feeling back into his fingers. He turned to Tyler and said quietly, “Well, it’s getting close to nighttime and no sign of anything. We should head back towards town, don’t you think? We don’t have to turn in, let’s just be closer to town if we hear anything.”
Ty took a final look around the forest and turned saying, “Yeah. Let’s head back. Maybe we’ll find something along the way, so keep your eyes open.”
They made their way back. Though they did have a map and compass, they had no trouble following their own footsteps.
They went only ten paces when they heard it.
A howl. The same heart-stopping howl they heard every night for several days. But this was different; it was close, very close. And at such a distance, it seemed otherworldly, too frightening to be real anywhere but in a nightmare.
The boys stopped dead in their tracks, their rifles in hand, listening for any sign of movement. When the noise stopped, they held their breath. The forest made no noise. Even the wind seemed to pause.
Andreas slowly took off his pack and removed a large flashlight. Tyler leaned over to him in a whisper.
“Did you hear where it came from?”
Andreas shook his head, took one long breath, and turned on the flashlight. The shaft of light reached further ahead than they expected, bringing several yards of trees and forest into view. It reflected off the snow, glowing in the night, putting them only somewhat at ease.
“See anything?” whispered Tyler.
“No,” said Andreas. He aimed the light at the surrounding area. He saw nothing, just more darkness in the distance beyond the view of the light. “Let’s keep moving, quietly. Have your shots ready.”
They loaded up and proceeded through the forest, lights shining ahead. The moon was full above them, bringing some light to the dark forest. It might have been possible to see without the aid of the flashlight. This, of course, was a risk the boys were not willing to take. They knew well that wolves hunt best at night, having excellent night vision and hearing, and using the cover of darkness to sneak up on their prey.
“What’s that?!” Andreas exclaimed under his breath.
He and Tyler spun around toward a sound that made them both jump. Their hearts beat faster as the sound grew louder.
Something came out of the darkness, startling the boys. They looked and saw that it was a deer, running straight after them. It passed by within a yard of Andreas, running off a nearby slope. Before they could react, another came into their sights, and then another, and another. Before long, a whole pack of deer ran right past them from the dark of the forest, off the hill, then back into the darkness. They listened as the sound of running faded into the night.
“They ran… towards us?” said Tyler, looking very confused. “And they didn’t stop when they saw us? That doesn’t make any sense!”
“They weren’t running towards anything,” Andreas stammered, looking out into the forest with sheer terror in his eyes, “they were running away from something!”
Tyler looked out, pointing his rifle. Sure enough, one more figure came out from the darkness.
Two massive red eyes stared back at them. The fiercest, most ferocious-looking eyes either boy ever dreamed of. As the eyes came closer, they saw the creature’s sharp teeth, twice the size of those belonging to a normal wolf, and every single one of them bared in a fierce growl. Then, into view came the full body of the Wolf. It was indeed the size of a bear walking on all fours, but its fur was black and ghostly. It moved constantly on its skin like black fire.
As it stared them down, Tyler needed to summon up all the will power he could muster just to whisper a single word. “Andy?”
No response, both could only keep their eyes fixed on the beast, coming closer and closer in the light.
“Andy!” Tyler whispered fiercely.
“What?” he answered.
“We need to shoot it before it gets any closer. Aim your gun and shoot, on the count of three.”
“OK,” Andreas said, the light trembling in his hand as the Wolf still crept forward.
Tyler never finished. At that instant, the Wolf sprinted forward, charging them at full speed.
Andreas dropped the light, and both boys fired their rifles. Both could be sure that at least a couple of their bullets would hit the Wolf. But the Wolf dodged them, moving from left to right with incredible speed that seemed like a blur. All the while, its eyes never stopped watching them. They fired two more shots. Still, the Wolf dodged them completely. Still, it ran towards them, getting faster with every step, until it came up over them. It sprinted right up in between them, passing by and break-neck speed, and slid around on the other side facing them, its monstrous claws coated in something wet.
Tyler looked and saw Andreas lying on the ground, with deep cuts on his chest. He covered his chest, causing his gloves to turn red with blood.
Before Tyler could move in to help, the Wolf leaped up into the air onto Andreas. It seemed to pause in the night sky as it loomed over him. In the time it took the Wolf to fall upon him, he grabbed the rifle at his side and held it out above him. When the Wolf came down, his jaws locked into the shaft of Andreas’ rifle, preventing it from biting down on him.
As it shook its head trying to break his grasp, Tyler took his rifle and smashed the butt end of it as hard as he could into the side of the Wolf’s skull. It fell to the side, giving him just enough time to pull Andreas up. Both of them aimed their rifles at the Wolf and fired once more.
The Wolf leaped aside, dodging the bullets with ease. It bared its teeth and edged closer and closer to the two of them, turning its attention to Tyler.
Suddenly, it seemed to pause, looking at Tyler with a hint of fear in its eyes.
The Wolf knelt down, growling, ready to pounce. But when Tyler and Andreas aimed their rifles, the Wolf dashed away, disappearing quickly back into the darkness, leaving the boys looking after it in the silent forest.
Andreas dropped his rifle and fell to his knees, holding his chest.
“Are you alright?” asked Tyler, as he knelt down beside Andreas.
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
“Here, let me take a look.”
Tyler examined the wound with the flashlight. “The scratches aren’t too deep. But we still need to cover it up.”
Andreas went to work stripping off his coat and the layers that protected him while Tyler took out some bandage wrap from their pack. Tyler hastily wrapped them around the upper part of his torso.
“What the hell was that thing?” said Andreas.
Tyler continued wrapping bandages as he said, “There’s no point in pretending we don’t know.”
“Grandpa was right,” said Andreas, with awe in his voice and eyes. “Ty, do you think it’ll it come back?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Well, what scared it off? It wasn’t the guns, I can tell you that.”
Tyler stopped wrapping the bandages as he hurried to grab his rifle and gear. Andreas quickly put his clothing and his coat back on. When he looked up at Tyler, he noticed something.
“Hey, you’re wearing that necklace Grandpa gave us.”
Tyler checked around his neck. He’d kept the necklace tucked under his coat before they went out into the forest. As they fought the Wolf, it came out without him noticing.
[ * ]
That morning, the blizzard was gone, leaving new fallen snow in its absence. Andreas was up and moving, having spent the night at Tyler’s house a mile outside of town.
“Hey Andy,” said Tyler, “this wolf, or whatever it is, that attacked the Thorson boy, I think we should go after it.”
“Wait, are you serious?” asked Andreas.
“Yeah. We’ll get our hunting rifles, pack some supplies, and go after it.”
Andreas looked outside into the woods; half expecting to see something prowling around near the house.
“Ty, we’ve never hunted wolves before. And you can’t just wander around the forest looking for one. We not even sure if that’s what it is!”
“Grandpa seems to be sure.”
Andreas had his reservations. He liked Tyler’s ideas that walked the line between brave and foolish. But the thought of hunting down something truly dangerous got better and better the more he thought about it.
“Listen,” said Tyler, “We’ll go right away. Our parent’s don’t need to find out; my parents can think I’m staying at your place, and your parents can think we’re staying at mine. And as for the Wolf, It’s fair game since it’s attacked someone in town. We’ll track it down, and…”
Tyler aimed an imaginary rifle and made the sound of a gunshot.
Andreas gave this idea some thought, then finally said, “If we go looking for it, we’d sure as hell better find it and kill it. We’re going to have a tough time explaining it if we come home empty handed.”
After taking their hunting rifles and a few rounds from the safe, they loaded some supplies, planned a route, and suited up in their warmest hunting gear.
“All set?” asked Tyler as they headed for the door. But the two of them stopped short.
Grandpa Ragnar stood at the doorway, a stern look on his face that seemed very out of place.
“And where are you boys off to?” he asked them, his arms crossed.
Tyler and Andy turned to one another.
“We’re… um, going hunting,” said Tyler.
“Hunting for what?”
Tyler thought about it for a moment, then said with a shrug, “Wolves.”
Their Grandfather’s expression seemed to ease up at this point. But he still looked nervous, or sad, the two of them couldn’t tell.
“Well, I can tell you already that you’ve forgotten something.”
Ragnar pulled something out of his pocket. It was a leather necklace, with a dark wooden symbol hanging on it. The symbol looked like an upward facing arrow.
Ragnar took the necklace and placed it in Tyler’s hand.
“Grandpa, what is this?” asked Tyler.
“Boys, this symbol is a rune, one of many symbols that were essentially our ancestors’ alphabet. This one happens to be made after the god Tÿr, the one who gave up his hand to defeat the Fenris Wolf. So, in a way, this is his symbol.”
“So, this symbol is… good luck?” asked Andy.
“Oh yes,” said Ragnar, “The best luck you can ask for, in fact. It’s a way of saying ‘we know who you are and we’re not afraid’.”
The boys looked up at their grandfather, whose eyes looked almost pleading.
“You two take care of yourselves out there. Look out for one another.”
Then he smiled, and the boys smiled back.
“We will, Grandpa,” said Tyler.
Tyler took the necklace and tied it around his neck. Then, the two of them grabbed their gear and headed out into the bright cold afternoon. Ragnar watched as they disappeared down the road.
[ * ]
In the middle of the dark forest, Tyler held the necklace in his hand.
“Do you think… this scared the Wolf away?” he asked.
“I think it did. That has to be it.” Andreas looked around the forest, aiming his light out into the darkness. “Ty, we need to get back to town, before it comes back.”
They loaded up their rifles, packed up and prepared to head out.
“Will you be alright?” asked Tyler.
“Yeah, I can handle it.”
They had less than a mile before they would be back in town, but Andreas had slowed down sustaining his injury. Both searched the forest to make sure they were alone.
Ty chuckled and said, “How am I going to explain to our parents that you got mauled by the Fenris Wolf?”
Andreas smiled and said, “Hey, maybe we can get Grandpa to vouch for us.”
After another half mile, they stopped on top of a high hill. Andreas needed to sit down.
“Sorry about holding us up,” he said.
“Don’t worry about it. We haven’t seen anything yet.”
Andreas held on to his chest.
“What did Grandpa say about the bond?”
“The bond? The Wolf let the gods tie him down using the unbreakable material, but he had a condition. It was only if one of the gods…”
“Put their hand in its mouth,” Tyler finished his sentence for him, “The only way the Wolf would be defeated is if something was given up.”
The two of them sat down, bundled up to keep warm as the wind whistled through the trees.
Suddenly, they heard a howl. It was loud, it shook the branches on the trees, and it was very, very close.
Tyler and Andreas snapped up their rifles, grabbed the flashlight, and searched the forest frantically. They turned and saw something approaching them. It moved closer and closer up the hill until they could see it in the light of the moon.
The eyes, teeth, and black flowing fur brought all new terror to the boys as the Wolf came into view.
In a hurry, Tyler secured the necklace making sure the rune was clearly visible. The Wolf seemed to flinch, lowering its head, but it continued growling and approaching with ghostly, ravenous eyes.
“Why isn’t it stopping?” Andreas asked with panic rising in his voice.
“It can tell we’re weaker now. Just… don’t back down.”
Tyler aimed his rifle straight at the Wolf’s heart as it inched further. Then, without knowing why, Tyler began to inch forward as well, as if hoping to confront the beast face to face.
“Ty! What are you doing?” said Andreas. Tyler did not answer.
When they were several yards apart, Tyler and the Wolf paused, as though expecting a dual to break out. The two of them locked eyes with one another.
Suddenly, after what seemed like several minutes, the Wolf lunged and Tyler fired.
The shot missed, as the Wolf bounded to the side. Tyler aimed and fired again. It bounded to its left, causing the shot to miss again. He aimed one last time. The Wolf spread out its front legs and held its head low. Tyler held his breath and fired.
The Wolf lunged again to the left, but this time, it let out a cry. It had been hit, not in the heart or the head, but in the hind leg. Even so, the Wolf did not waste any time.
In the time it took for Tyler to exhale, the Wolf ducked to the left, and back again to its right. Tyler jumped to his left hoping to avoid the Wolf, but instead found his right arm caught in the massive jaws of the Wolf, with the momentum forcing him down to the ground.
At that moment, Tyler thought of nothing else but breaking free. He dragged beside the Wolf, wrapping his arm around its neck, trying to get it to let go of his arm, as it shook its head fiercely from side to side. The Wolf bucked up and down furiously as if trying to tear his arm off, all the while never loosening its grip. It seemed to Tyler he would fight with the Wolf forever.
Then, he heard a gunshot, and everything stopped.
He found himself tumbling away from the beast, rolling onto the snow, and down the hill. Andreas chased after him, jumped down, and grabbed his arm, causing the pain to finally register. Tyler yelled again at the pain as he felt the blood rush up his arm, but he also noticed another sound, a shriek that seemed to rattle the earth and sky.
He looked up the hill and saw the Wolf, struggling in place. There with him at the base of the hill, he saw Andreas holding on to his arm. Both of them collapsed on the snow, unable to move.
Tyler looked at Andreas, “You got him, Andy!” he said.
Andreas smiled, and then both turned to look atop the hill.
The Wolf could barely stand as it looked at them; it supported itself on shaking legs as it let out a cry of pain. They saw where Andreas landed his shot, right in the Wolf’s heart. Its head hung low as its black fur seemed to be blowing away like leaves in the wind. With determination, it closed its eyes, reared itself, the let out one final howl. The boys looked on in amazement at both the sight and sound. It continued to howl as its body seemed to come undone around its heart, falling to pieces and blowing away on the wind. Finally, they watched as what remained of the Fenris Wolf blew away and disappeared into the cloudless night.
[ * ]
A few weeks later, back at Dahl’s Café, half the town sat enjoying meals, warm beverages, and visiting the Dahl family. This evening, however, Grandpa Ragnar was not telling stories. He sat in the back row behind the children as Tyler and Andreas sat up front.
A couple dozen eager faces looked at them as one of the children said, “Tell us about how you beat the Fenris Wolf!”
With that, the boys turned to each other and began to tell their story. Andreas bared his chest to show the scratches the Wolf left on him. Jaws dropped, and sounds of admiration echoed through the room. Tyler told them of his battle with the Wolf, wrestling with it as it held him by his hand. He held up the cast of the hand that, one day soon, he would be able to use again. Voices in the room shouted their approval.
“Is all of that true?” asked a young girl, one of their younger cousins.
“Yeah, is that for real?”
Both of them looked to their Grandfather, who said nothing. He just gave them a wink and a proud smile as he listened to them tell their story.
Will looked through the church parking lot, which was, at the moment, the site of the church’s annual sale. Tables stretched out across the lot, carrying dishes, tools, toys, clothing, anything donated to give the church some extra money. Will and his friends found nothing of interest.
“God, this is boring,” said his friend Nick, looking through old and withered baseball cards, “Why are we even here?”
His friend Steven walked toward them holding a fireplace poker like a sword, “You always find something good at these things.” He held the poker like a fencing saber and started stabbing an invisible enemy. This earned him a dirty look from the pastor’s wife.
“Don’t get us kicked out of this place,” said Will, looking through a stack of paintings that smelled like mold.
“It’s a church, they can’t kick me out.”
As Will flipped through the paintings, the last one in the stack caught his attention. When he saw it, he almost gasped.
The painting was well detailed and very realistic, almost looking like a photograph. It showed a man in a suit from his shoulders up. His suit was neat and clean, his hair was styled, and his eyes were brown and dark. Nothing about the man seemed out of the ordinary, with one exception. The man had no mouth. Instead, it looked as though someone had taken a piece of string, and sewed a mouth onto where it should have been, making a crude, artificial grin.
“What the hell?”
Will picked up the painting and looked at the frame. It was old and dusty, as though it had been in an attic for years. On the bottom of the frame was a small plaque with an engraving.
He never took his eyes off the image as he turned his head toward his friends.
“Guys, check this out.”
Nick and Steven walked up behind him and reacted in much the same way at the sight of the painting.
“What the hell?” asked Steven.
“That’s what I said.”
“That is messed up,” said Nick, “It’s not real, is it?”
“Of course it’s not real, you idiot, it’s just a painting.”
“It looks just like a picture.”
“Who looks like that in real life?”
“Guys! Shut up!” Will exclaimed. He checked painting from every angle.
“Are your really going to buy that thing, Will?” asked Steven.
“I… I don’t know.”
“You should hang it up on your wall,” said Nick, with a mocking tone in his voice, “It’ll impress the girls.”
“Shut your trap,” said Will, turning to Nick, “I’m not spending the night with this thing watching me.”
Steven nudged Will, “It freaks you out, doesn’t it? You’re scared of the guy, aren’t you?”
Will shook his head in frustration. The day had gone exactly as he thought it would; he and his friends went out in the morning, and by the afternoon were arguing and fighting one another. He was tired of going through the same routine every day during summer vacation. He wanted more than anything to prove something to them. What it was, he wasn’t sure.
“I’m not scared,” he said, taking the painting under his arm, “you want me to sleep with this thing on my wall, I’ll do it.”
Nick and Steven exchanged surprised looks.
“The whole freaking night?” asked Nick.
“The whole freaking night.”
“No cheating?” asked Steven.
A minute later, he paid the pastor’s wife for the painting. She gave him a confused look when she saw the painting, but was grateful for both the ten dollars, and seeing three delinquent boys leave the sale. She had other customers to deal with. The boys took their bikes and rode back to their homes.
[ * ]
That night, Will excused himself from the table, leaving his parents downstairs to watch TV. He went up to his room, closed the door, and then took out the painting from his closet. The sun was setting at this point, and in the low lighting, the painting seemed somehow more realistic. He never thought about Mister Grinn’s eyes until just now; they seemed to be watching him.
“No cheating,” he said out loud.
Next to his bed was a painting of a young boy, playing ball with his dog—some decoration his mother purchased when he was a baby. He took the painting down and put the painting of Mister Grinn up. He stepped back, noticing that the image seemed to be looking out into the room. A chill went down Will’s spine, but he shook it off.
After a few hours, he put on his pajamas and tucked himself into bed. He looked at his alarm clock.
Will closed his eyes. He was asleep in just a couple minutes.
[ * ]
Will dreamed he was in a classroom at school. But something was very wrong. It was dark, like a black fog was in the room. He looked around, and saw his classmates, sitting completely still in their desks, facing downward. Then, he heard the scratching of chalk against a chalkboard. He looked up and saw his teacher, writing something on the board he couldn’t read. She moved quickly, in a way that seemed more like a twitch, writing fast, inhumanly fast. When she finished, she turned around.
Will saw that she had no face.
He shrieked. The students in the class all turned to him. They also had no faces.
His heart dropped, he got up and ran out of the classroom, out into the hallway. The same black fog filled the hall. He turned to the far side of the hall. The window was there, the light from outside glaring bright. In front of the window was a man. He wore a suit. Will felt himself getting closer and closer to the man. Before he could see his face, he woke with a start.
[ * ]
The room was dark and quiet. Will gasped and wiped sweat from his forehead. He looked at his alarm clock.
He turned to the other wall.
Mister Grinn was still there, looking down on him, with his demented smile.
Will felt fear rising up in his chest as he lay back down, turning from the painting. He closed his eyes tight, trying to forget it was there. Within minutes, he fell back to sleep.
[ * ]
Will found himself on a long road out in the desert. Above him, clouds passed by quickly, as though the day were rushing by. The desert and the sky changed colors, from red, to white, to purple, to black, going through a constant change. Will ran down the road, but felt as though he were running in slow motion. He turned around. Off in the distance, too far to make out any features, a man in a suit stood watching him.
Fear welled up in his stomach as he turned and kept running. He ran towards a town off in the distance, a town that would not get any closer. He turned again. The man was closer. His hands were in his pockets.
When he turned to keep running, the town seemed even further. He called for help, but no sound left his mouth. The clouds above him became more and more fierce, as though a storm were brewing. He turned one last time.
The man was there, standing above him. His hands were covered with blood. When he looked up at his face, Will shrieked. It was the face of Mister Grinn.
[ * ]
Will shot up in his bed, finding that the scream had stopped in his throat. He breathed heavy, as though he’d just run a mile. He looked outside and then turned to look at the painting.
Just like before, the painting of Mister Grinn stared at him, with his twisted smile.
Will shook, as he turned to look at the clock.
“One-oh-four?” asked Will out loud, “That’s it?” It already felt as though the night had gone on for ages. He looked out the window and saw the stars and the moon up in the sky.
Will turned to the painting of Mister Grinn.
“If it happens again,” he said to the painting, “You’re going down.”
He fought the urge to cry as he laid his head back down.
[ * ]
It was Steven and Nick, in a dark room. It must have been a basement. They moved as though they were underwater. Will noticed their faces. They had mouths and noses, but no eyes. Surprisingly, Will found himself not screaming. They held up a painting.
“No cheating,” they said in a low, droning voice.
Will looked at the painting. The face looked just like his; the same nose, eyes, and hair.
But the mouth…
[ * ]
Will’s eyes shot open. He looked up at the clock.
Will pulled the blanket up over his head and let a few tears run down his cheek.
He just lay on the bed, shaking, wondering why he was doing this to himself.
You’re being an idiot. You’re scaring yourself. Just take the damn thing down if it scares you so much. You’ve got nothing to prove.
The coaxing didn’t work. He looked up from the covers over at the painting. Its eyes seemed to have changed; they seemed to look right down at him.
Will looked, but only for a moment. Then, he turned away, put his head down on the pillow, and closed his eyes tight. He slept.
[ * ]
All he heard was the sound of breathing. He looked around where he was standing. It was a forest; foggy, dark, dead. The sound of the wind blew through the dead branches. It was night, but there were no stars and no moon.
The breathing had a voice.
Will looked around, feeling frozen in place.
“Being… brave. It’s… easy. In… the… daylight… Isn’t it?”
Will turned and looked up.
He found himself looking into the face of Mister Grinn. He was fifteen, twenty feet tall, and looked down on him like a bird of prey.
The mouth, or what could be called a mouth, opened up. It tore open, like flesh being ripped apart. Down in his mouth was nothing but blackness. Will shrieked—he heard himself this time, as Mister Grinn swallowed him whole.
[ * ]
Will woke up.
He didn’t get up or look over at the clock. Instead, he looked out the window. There was no moon and no stars.
But there was something else in his room.
In the room, there was the familiar sound of someone breathing heavily.
He turned his head, slightly, toward the painting.
Will saw Mister Grinn.
Standing in the room.
Right above him, his artificial smile drawn over him.
Will froze. He couldn’t scream, he couldn’t run, he could only lie in his bed, frozen with fear he didn’t think possible.
He watched Mister Grinn, open his mouth, with a tearing noise that made him want to vomit.
Not once was Will able to scream as he saw the mouth of Mister Grinn consume him.
A second later, his world went dark.
The Last Photo of Dr. Graham
The front door slammed shut, startling the doctor. He turned around and faced a man in a black suit.
“Good evening, Dr. Graham.” He said quietly, “Did I startle you?”
Dr. Graham quickly set down his supplies and stared at the man in the suit, as though he couldn’t believe he was really there.
“No, not at all.”
The doctor trembled as he checked his pocket watch, and turned nervously back to his guest.
“Can I help you, Mr. Donaldson?”
The man in the black suit looked around Dr. Graham’s shop. On an ordinary day, the shop was crowded with customers from all over the city, the state, and now the entire United States. People came for miles to have their photograph taken in his humble store. Photographers were not difficult to find, but Dr. Graham offered something a little different.
“The mayor sent me, Dr. Graham,” said Donaldson, trying to sound casual. “He was becoming worried about you, and so was everyone else. You were supposed to appear at city hall at seven o’clock this evening for your party. It’s currently 7:45, and yet, here you are. And you seem to be in quite a rush to leave. Are you going somewhere?”
“Yes. I am. A client in… New York, wishes to see me right away.” Dr. Graham continued to tremble as he packed his supplies into a suitcase.
“You seem nervous, Dr. Graham. Is everything alright?”
“Yes, yes. Everything is fine.”
“Really?” Donaldson took a few more steps inside. “Well, I’m surprised you would turn down a party with the mayor for some client in New York. Does it have something to do with the photograph?”
The doctor turned to him, looking very afraid. Donaldson added softly, “You’re not having problems with your wonderful camera, are you, Dr. Graham?
Dr. Graham had, in his possession, a camera that he built himself. This camera took photographs just as well as the finest cameras in existence. However, Dr. Graham’s camera had the remarkable talent of taking photographs from twenty-four hours in the future. He simply pointed the camera at his subject, snapped the picture, and after developing the film into a photograph, he had a snapshot of where the subject would be and what they would be doing, exactly one day from the time the picture was taken. Selling these snapshots to eager customers had earned him a remarkable living, and a reputation across the city.
Over Dr. Graham’s store was a large sign that read “Doctor Geoffrey Graham’s Photo-Fortunes: Est. 1922”. While his photography was sufficient, it was the element of fortune that made his business thrive. With his long white hair, his faded brown suit, and his strange mood swings, it was easy for patrons to dismiss him as a charlatan, a mad scientist, or just a crazy old man. In the past few months, however, Dr. Graham’s accurate predictions made believers out of even the firmest skeptics.
It was not until tonight, he realized, it had also earned him a few enemies.
“My camera is just fine, Mr. Donaldson.” Said the doctor, trying to remain calm. “I’m having a few problems with the development process, however.”
“Does this mean the city will not get to see your fortune?” Asked Donaldson.
“I’m afraid not sir. We’ll have to try it again some other time. Right now, I desperately need to get to New York. A very wealthy patron is offering me a great sum of money for a prediction. So, if you don’t mind, I’d like very much to finish preparing. Good night, Mr. Donaldson.”
“Just one moment, doctor.” He said. The doctor was obviously both scared and flustered, but he wasn’t going to get rid of him that easy.
“Now, you know very well I was one of your most outspoken opponents when you first opened your… business, a couple years ago.”
Dr. Graham looked at him, remembering bitterly.
“As I recall, you dismissed my work as ‘cheap parlor tricks offered to a gullible crowd by an equally senile old man’.”
Mr. Donaldson was one of the mayor’s most trusted advisors. When word had gotten out of the doctor’s “Photo-Fortunes”, the mayor sent Donaldson to investigate. It seemed obvious to him, at the time anyway, that it was just another scam, a mountebank aimed at foolish citizens too eager to believe in fortunetelling.
“That is true,” Donaldson admitted with a nod. “However, I began to think there might be more to your methods when your predictions became more public.”
Donaldson walked towards Graham as if trying to trap him against the back wall of the shop.
“I remember reading stories about your predictions in the newspaper. I read the story of the young girl who saw herself being saved from a collision with an automobile in one of your photographs. This eventually came true. I read that you were in a bit of trouble when one of your patrons, an elderly man, saw himself at the bottom of the river. That night, he committed suicide by jumping from a bridge. You were under suspicion until you photographed the mayor’s youngest son. When you correctly predicted he would not die of his pneumonia, he was so thrilled that he made you a city hero, is that not correct, doctor?”
“It is.” Said Dr. Graham, checking his watch again.
“This is why the mayor threw this party at city hall for you. You even had the courtesy of letting the mayor use your camera. He took a picture of you at exactly 8:00 p.m. last night, and you were going to reveal to everyone your photo-fortune. I know it’s only 7:50 right now, but I’m eager to find out what has… developed.”
Dr. Graham seemed to turn pale for a moment, but he said nothing as he looked straight at Donaldson.
“Tell me, doctor, are there any predictions that have not come to pass?”
Donaldson could tell breathing was becoming more difficult for the doctor, as though the walls were closing in on him.
“No,” he said.
“No? All of the predictions in your photos have come to pass? Not one has been wrong yet?”
The doctor inhaled with great effort and shook his head.
He turned back to his desk to pack his case.
“Excuse me, Mr. Donaldson. I’d hate to be rude, but I really must leave, immediately.”
Donaldson walked up behind him, grabbed him by the shoulders, and forced him around. The old doctor held up his arms as if trying to defend himself.
“You’re thinking too small!” He said, his temper mounting, “Don’t you see what an incredible opportunity you have here? The camera really works. You can predict the future, and yet you practically give your predictions away. You could sell them for millions. Or, even better, you could put it to use elsewhere. The stock market, doctor! Take a photo of a man before he goes to the trading floor and find out which will rise and which will fall, tilt things in your favor.”
“That is not what I made it for!” Stammered Dr. Graham. “The camera is meant to help people, not take advantage of them! It should be used to let them know what’s in their future so that they may…”
“You old fool!” Donaldson pulled the doctor and shoved him back against the desk, causing several items to fall to the ground. “If you won’t put this marvelous device to use, I will. Tell me where it is! Where is the camera?”
To his amazement, the doctor pulled out his watch and checked the time once again. He felt him trembling in his hands as he struggled for air. The doctor seemed to panic even more once he checked the time.
Questions raced through Donaldson’s head, as he held the eccentric doctor in place. Why was he checking the time? Why did he seem so nervous? Why was he so eager to leave?
Donaldson looked at Dr. Graham right in the eye. “It worked, didn’t it? The photo-fortune, it developed. And you saw something you didn’t want to come to pass.”
Dr. Graham said nothing; he only looked at him with fearful eyes, his watch held firmly in his trembling hand.
“You saw me, didn’t you? You saw me taking the camera from you. You expected to see yourself showing the photo at city hall. But instead, you’re here at your shop, with me taking the camera. It’s almost eight o’clock, that has to be it!”
Suddenly, in a burst of energy, the doctor lunged forward, knocking Donaldson backward and pinning him against the wall. Even more mechanical pieces fell to the floor, as Donaldson tried to get his bearings. The doctor ran for the exit.
“Help! Police! Police!”
Donaldson ran after him and caught the doctor just as he reached the door. Pulling on the back of his suit, he yanked the doctor back into the shop until he stumbled onto the floor. Donaldson stood over him as he backed away toward the back of the shop.
“Give me that camera, doctor!”
Graham struggled to his feet and ran toward the back.
“No! I can’t!”
The doctor reached behind the curtain and tried pulling something from the back. Donaldson could not see what it was, but the doctor seemed to be struggling with it. He guessed that it must have been a weapon of some sort, a baseball bat, or a rifle. The doctor was trying to defend himself.
Donaldson was ready to fight back. He grabbed a heavy pipe that had fallen from the desk and charged the doctor. He brought the pipe back as he saw the terrified expression on Dr. Graham’s face. He heard a cracking sound as the pipe made contact with the doctor’s skull. He saw the doctor fall to the ground, holding in his hands not a weapon, but his camera on its tripod.
He’d taken the camera out to try and protect it. Before Donaldson could react, the camera fell to the floor, smashing in half as it made contact. Broken parts littered the floor around the camera. Dr. Graham’s body lay next to it, blood spilled across the floor.
Donaldson dropped the pipe and took a step back.
“No! This can’t be…”
The marvelous camera, and the man who invented it, both were destroyed. Gone forever.
Donaldson looked down at the remains of the camera. He wondered for a moment if he could repair it. The parts appeared to be the same as those in the doctor’s shop.
At that moment, a thought occurred to him.
He looked up and ran to the desk. Maybe the doctor left plans to the camera somewhere. Maybe he could still rebuild it. He searched through his suitcase feverishly. There were parts, mechanical pieces, some clothing, but no plans.
Just then, at the bottom of the case, Donaldson found a photograph, a newly developed photo-fortune. He studied it carefully.
When he saw the image, his blood ran cold.
In the photo, the doctor lay down on the floor, in the ruins of his shop, blood flowing from his skull. Over him, Donaldson saw himself, being dragged out of the shop by two police officers. From the look on his own face, he seemed to be screaming hysterically.
It was the photo of Dr. Graham taken by the mayor at city hall, twenty-four hours earlier. Donaldson took out his watch.
It was exactly 7:59 p.m.
Sirens started blazing from outside on the street. Donaldson turned around just in time to hear someone coming up to the shop. They knocked loudly and demanded that someone open the door.
Donaldson backed up against the wall of the shop. He did not need to answer the door to know what was in his future.
Thank you for reading!
If you enjoyed these three short stories, you’re in luck. A book of short fiction is available at your favorite retailer. It contains seventeen short stories, including the three in this collection, and it is called “”. Also, check out my first novel, “”. If you would like, keep up with all my endeavors at my website; , and subscribe to my mailing list while you’re there.
-Justin M.D. Nelson
About the Author
Justin M.D. Nelson is an actor and a writer currently living in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His short story “The Last Photo of Dr. Graham” won first place in the East Grand Forks Campbell Library’s Short Story Contest in 2012, and was published in the Exponent. His short story “Last Day at the Beach” was published in the spring of 2014 in Straylight Magazine. That same year, he published his first novel, “The City of God”. Please feel free to contact the author at his and browse his other works.