Aphelion Issue 218, Volume 21
June 2017
 
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The Boar's Head

by Susan Anwin





Anna moved into the funky old house after her pop's death. It stood on a steep hill, its strangely unmatched building blocks looking like were recycled from an earlier building. Some stones had intricate patterns carved on them, swirls, knots, mythical monsters, grimacing faces peeking out from behind the curtain of ivy. Anna never tired of imagining back stories to them. There was one that reminded her of a boar's head, lips pulled back menacingly from its tusks. It always seemed to look a little different depending on the time of day, or the play of light and shadows. She asked her parents about the story of the house, but they couldn't tell her much.

"That house was old even when your grandparents bought it," her mother shrugged.

The valley outside the big living room windows was often filled with fog, and Anna spent many an hour spacing out, daydreaming when she was supposed to do her uni assignments. She had always loved fog, did Anna. She would invite Liz, her best friend from school, another dreamer, and they would make up stories about the carvings in the wall.

"Someone killed a boar here a long time ago, and its ghost still wanders around restless. Boars used to be sacred in some cultures, you know? One night it passed through the house and then when dawn came, it froze into the stone."

Liz raised an eyebrow. "How do you know it's a boar's head anyway? It could be anything. A dragon, maybe?"

It did look more like a dragon in this opaline light, Anna had to admit.

One night Anna woke up. She couldn't tell what woke her up, so she turned to look at the clock. It was 2:30. She rolled back on her right side, about to cocoon back in her blanket, when she heard it; a sort of rustling, fumbling noise. She froze, her eyes opened wide, searching the darkness. She couldn't tell where it came from, one moment she was sure it came from outside, the next she could have sworn it was in the next room. After a couple minutes, it stopped, and she made a round in the house, but found no sign of intrusion.

In the light of the morning she managed to convince herself that she must have been dreaming the whole episode. A couple nights later Liz was staying over for a pajama party. Her breath deepened into a light snore in the next room, when Anna heard it again.

"Slept well?" she asked Liz the next morning.

Liz stretched like a happy cat. "Ooh yes. It's so peaceful here, so quiet. You're lucky. It's like it's not even part of the city."

"Dreamed anything?"

"No." Liz cast her a careful glance above her coffee mug. "Everything okay?"

"Yeah, I just... I had a weird dream."

"Wanna share?"

"Uh... maybe later. Gotta think about it."

It was an unusually windy night, and Anna was lying in bed on the verge of falling asleep, when something turned over downstairs. She sat up with a start. She put her feet on the cold floorboard as quietly as possible and took the torch and knife she prepared on her nightstand. She tiptoed out of her room, avoiding the creaky floorboards, crept down the stairs with her heartbeat thundering in her ears. The house was eerily silent, devoid of even the usual old building noises. Nothing moved in the dark. The silence stretched on, and Anna was about to return to her room, when she heard a clatter from the kitchen. She stopped by the kitchen door, knife trembling in her hand. But when she jumped in, flashing around the torch, she found nothing. Anna turned off the torch and waited until her eyes got used to the dark again, before moving on.

The bathroom was empty too. The swishing bushes cast eerie shadows on the walls of the living room and she couldn't stifle a whimper when she saw movement, but it was just the mirror in the anteroom. She stood still for a while, taking in air in small, shaky gulps, cold sweat drying on her skin. She was scanning the garden from the living room; nothing. She was about to give up and head back up the stairs, when she caught movement from the corner of her eye. She froze, and moved her head just a hair's width to get a better look at the garden. First, she only saw the bushes bending, branches shaking in the wind. Then she saw it; a denser shadow amidst the shadows. It looked like nothing she knew and her head hurt and the fine hairs stood on edge on the back of her neck just by looking at it. It was prodigiously big, bigger than any dog (or boar) had the right to be and had somehow the wrong shape. Things were sticking out of it in all the wrong places, things she tried her best not to imagine. Anna quieted down even her thoughts, lest that thing would notice her. She wasn't at all sure the walls of the house would pose an obstacle to it.

The creature stopped for a minute as if it felt her watching, and Anna squeezed her eyes shut, helpless. When she opened them again it was gone, clomped away through the bushes.

She saw no sign of it when she checked the garden the next morning.

She arrived home from university at around 2 p.m. She was about to unlock the front gate when she dropped her bag. Her keys fell from her numb fingers. Her jaw hung open in a rather unflattering expression.

The boar's head was gone from the wall.


THE END


2017 Susan Anwin

Bio: Ms. Anwin was born and raised in Budapest, Hungary. Her flash-fiction "Talk of Armadale Trees" was featured in the anthology My Favourite Place, published by the Scottish Book Trust in 2012. She has had a number of short stories published at Aphelion as well, including Dragonfly-Man in our April, 2017 issue.

E-mail: Susan Anwin

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