The Hartfield Creature
by Dominic Lennard
The creature had been seen by at least half the residents of
Hartfield--a small suburb of the city, population six hundred. Those
residents who had glimpsed it, and it was always just a glimpse,
provided those who had not with only the shadiest descriptions, allowed
their imaginations to fill in the gaps. "It was dark, I couldn't see so
good" was a well-exercised line.
Initially, it was a puma or panther, an escaped pet kept illegally
by one of Hartfield's wealthy, but Hartfield's wealthy weren't wealthy
enough to lend the slightest credibility to such a story. When Maggie
Hamilton's son, an unexcitable zoo keeper, explained that an escaped
pet puma would not kill in such a manner, nor so readily, the rumours
adapted again, evolved to these new circumstances.
Many believed the creature extraterrestrial.
Owing to a clean cut across the belly of a disembowelled cat--far
too clean for a puma or other large cat, at any rate--Cyril Newman, a
fourth-grade science-fiction enthusiast, forwarded what became known
throughout the neighbourhood (to Cyril's intense pride) as the
"Extraterrestrial Projection Hypothesis." The hypothesis, adapted and
named by Cyril from theories surrounding similarly inexplicable big cat
sightings in rural England, held that the creature was indeed
extraterrestrial, and intended to study life on this planet by
imitating one of its creatures, so as not to create suspicion.
According to the theory, sightings of panther or rabid ape were
therefore not the creature itself but a telepathic projection by the
creature of how it wished to appear. This would explain the wounds on
those carcasses that had been found, as well as the unlikelihood of
such a beast prowling around the suburbs: extraterrestrials, it could
be assumed, had a conspicuously poor knowledge of the local fauna.
Bones had been left on footpaths.
So far there had been no human victims, but over the past six months
an estimated seventy pets of various species had disappeared or been
found dead. Nervous residents chattered amongst themselves at
neighbourhood barbecues: it was only a matter of time, they had family
to think of.
Janice Cordwell found a turd on her lawn the size of a jackboot.
These days many residents kept their pets indoors at all times,
curfews were imposed for children under sixteen. The local council
refused to officially acknowledge the creature's presence, which
created further anxiety and rumour. Councilman Mark Smallbone's roof
had bottles thrown on it and his letterbox blown apart. It was proposed
that all parks in the area would be closed after dark, and that no
child was to play unsupervised during the day. The council reluctantly
assented. Order was imposed on all sides. Boyfriends no longer drove
over for Friday-night sex like they used to.
No one could remember seeing Jack Fuller for at least a year.
Only a couple of things about the creature were certain: it walked
on all fours, it had a mane, and, so far, it hunted only at night. When
pictures were drawn by eye-witnesses, they often showed impossible
nightmare creatures--designer-monsters with tusks or flippers or a tail
with a mace on the end. It did not take too long, of course, for some
residents to become dissatisfied with the idea of simply a big cat or
freak primate. The creature became a composite of all of God's
terrifyingly wayward ideas--infected saliva, tentacles, pre-digestion,
that sort of thing.
Connie MacDonald's daughter was a practicing witch.
Eventually, a group was organized by some of the suburb's weekend
hunters. They'd meet on Friday nights, against police warnings, to roam
the streets with their rifles. The mystery allowed neighbours who'd
never before spoken to converge, exchange rumour. They all had
families; this concerned all of them. They exchanged bedtime stories to
use on their children, stories designed to keep them in the house at
night, away from windows, stories to keep their daughters virgins, to
keep them on the straight and narrow.
* * *
David panicked inside and gripped the shotgun tighter: it was
definitely something, he could see it now--a great, heaving black shape
behind a tree in the Rigbys' front yard, eating. The Rigbys' trashcan
had been toppled over and rubbish strewn all over their lawn.
"Alien piece of crap," he whispered to himself, trying to think how
load the gun without looking down and needing to say something to keep
himself together. The street was dark, deserted. It was just him, on
the porch, shotgun in hand: one of the hunters, one of the faithful.
* * *
A year earlier, on his meditative stroll in the neighbourhood park,
Jack Fuller, teacher and antiquarian, thought, Bitch. He then
mentally reprimanded himself for doing so, seizing his bitterness,
folding it several times over on itself, and posting it to some
carefree void in his consciousness where abusive mail was
systematically dealt with. He thought bitch often these days, having
been dragged for months through the minefield of personal antipathy
divorces tended to populate. While he valued decorum and publicly
maintained the appearance of a chummy 'parting of ways,' Fuller's
divorce, he felt, had been not so much a divorce as an anti-marriage,
where each had silently pledged to loathe the other interminably, and
he had been surprised to discover that his wife seemed to have had
something of a head start at this.
Carmen was a thin, quietly short, bespectacled blonde, and, like
Fuller, a high-school teacher in her mid-forties. He'd thought them
alike in many ways until he'd discovered her and Murray, the
rattle-brained over-the-road neighbour, going at it like dogs one
afternoon. After that he had her picked as a whole different species of
blonde altogether. Murray had been disgustingly carefree about the
ordeal afterward; Carmen, however, had ranged the whole legal process
against Fuller in pursuit of a profitable and, at least outwardly,
moral victory. Suddenly, Jack Fuller was insensitive, lazy, mentally
abusive, and both impotent and latently homosexual. It's over now,
he again reminded himself, sending off another bundle of uneasy
thought-mail and allowing himself a steamily overstated exhalation in
the wintry afternoon air. He'd gotten the house, after all. He was free
to relax by himself, and to take advantage of his so far untouched
Enveloped in no less than a singlet, two shirts, a cardigan and a
slicker, Fuller was determined to enjoy his stroll in the park despite
the temperature. It would be his first night back home after a
three-month absence, and he felt a somewhat desperate urge to
re-accustom himself to his neighbourhood. The restless nights of the
past month had been spent at a youth hostel in the village, bunked up
next to a bearded fat man who panted phlegmily in his sleep like a St.
Bernard and masturbated with a frequency simply beyond analogy. Indeed,
this had been another factor worked into Carmen's defence: not the
masturbating fat man, but that he, Fuller, had suddenly up and left
once everything had hit the proverbial. According to Carmen it was only
the woman who was permitted that type of drama, but it was over now.
Back at the house, Fuller relaxed himself by fetching for
examination, and not for the first time that day, his latest
acquisition as antique collector: a medieval sword. It was, for such a
weapon, in remarkable condition (suspiciously remarkable, in
fact--though Fuller naturally tried not to admit as much). The sword
was a gift to himself for having survived such a torturous time in his
life, and he looked forward to caring for it for a further fraction of
what had been its long and probably glorious life.
He placed the antique, which he had wrapped in a blanket, upon the
dining table and sat down. Just at that moment, Wellington, Fuller's
short-haired Chihuahua, and one thing for which he hadn't even had to
argue during the settlement, trotted in from his usual spot by the
heater, probably in pursuit of his dinner, and proceeded to do what he
always did when not otherwise occupied: tremble.
Fuller peeled the folds of the blanket slowly away from their
habitant and did the same series of estimations that he loved to do. He
guessed the sword a good five-feet long--the blade at least four of
those feet. It was a broad sword: double-edged, steel, with a pointed
tip, and, as he had again been reminded when lugging it in from the
living room, very heavy. It was a two-handed weapon without question.
He crossed the room to a large pine cabinet, opened a lower
compartment and removed an armful of cleaning products, carrying them
over to rest next to the sword on the table. Wellington sneezed and
tugged weakly at his trouser leg, whimpering hungrily.
He polished the blade until it glistened impressively, and he was
awed by it. Aside from a score or so of small nicks, why it looks
nearly new, he thought, admiring his work.
Although it certainly wasn't unusual for Wellington to cower
inexplicably, when Fuller finally stood up, took the sword in a steady
grip and held it before himself, examining his reflection in the blade,
the little dog made for the next room as if it were the last refuge of
his very mortality.
* * *
Early the next morning (or what he assumed to be as much), Fuller
was awoken by an incessant ringing of the doorbell, a shrill robotic
chirrup that caused his slumberous mind to scrunch up irritably inside
It was Murray. And as soon as Fuller opened the door he began saying
something or other, with an over-conciliatory countenance, with hand
gestures--with a quantity of get-up-and-go that was not only intensely
annoying but downright unnatural so early in the day.
Fuller stood there, rubbing one eye, partially dislodging his
glasses, irritated this man was even here, let alone demanding a
portion of his attention.
"What?--did you just get up, Jack?" Murray asked, "It's one
o'clock..." He peered at Fuller as if he were inspecting a piece of bad
"And?" Fuller grunted.
"Well, yeah: I just wanted to stop by to pick up that stuff of
"What stuff? It's all mine," he interrupted.
"I know that. Like I said: just the hairdryer in the bathroom
cupboard, and a couple of odd--"
"Yeah, whatever..." Fuller stepped back grudgingly, allowing Murray
room to enter. "Suppose I should invite you in."
He closed the door and leaned against the wall watching impatiently
as Murray scurried about the house, lifting cushions and rifling
drawers. "Watching the game this afternoon?" he called out from another
room, though Fuller wasn't about to sing out a reply to such a hopeless
pleasantry, and walked into the lounge room where he could pretend he
hadn't heard it at all.
Having forgotten completely about the sword until then, he eagerly
went over to examine it once again, resting against the bookcase. It
seemed somehow lighter than it had been the previous night, he noticed,
and he gripped the relic like a knight or lord had so long ago.
Murray finished and entered the living room just as Fuller leaned
the antique back against the bookcase. "Whoa--what the hell is that?!"
he gasped with his armful of trinkets, staring past Fuller to the
sword, moving toward it.
"It's nothing. Got everything then?" Fuller stepped forward.
"Doesn't look like nothing to me," Murray replied, placing the items
on the couch and coming closer. "Where did you get it?"
"I got a good deal on it, if you must know. Now will that be all?"
Fuller said brusquely, irritated that this man had stayed as long as he
"You and I ought to find out about it... We ought to research it and
contact a rich collector. I could help you with the research, you know.
And surely Carmen'd know something about it--teaching history and all."
Fuller was utterly incredulous, and unable to attempt a reply to
this outrageous offer for several seconds. Who did this man before him
think he was? He was dumbstruck not only by Murray's presumptuousness,
his blissful indifference to all he had already taken from Fuller, but
also by the man's appalling disposal of the carefree, spiritual persona
he apparently only projected.
After all he'd taken--and now evidently he wanted the sword as
well--Fuller reached casually behind him and felt for the hilt. A spurt
of electricity touched the tip of his finger, clenched his wrist, and
guided his grip around the weapon.
"Come on, Jack! It'll be a great investment. Give me a look. Seems
really old; who knows how much it's worth?"
"I'm not sure, Murray." Fuller cringed as Murray moved closer and
closer, flailing with his ridiculous hand gestures.
"Show me, come on... Just give me a look please..." Murray
persisted, before Fuller finally raised the sword effortlessly out in
front and made a step backward, letting it glint in the light. "That's
more like it--wow." Murray leered over it, almost salivating,
"Looks so cool... must be so old."
Just then Fuller felt the sword change somehow--its weight?--he
wasn't sure and gripped it tighter, watching the way the blade
interrupted the air before him.
He stepped forward, and with terrific force thrust all four feet of
blade through Murray's chest.
Fuller did not panic immediately--panic was late on the scene. He
was able to withdraw the blade, for instance, with a steady hand even
before Murray hit the floor, dead. However, anything his panic lost in
punctuality was more than made up for in intensity, and Fuller was
overcome as he looked upon the body before him, blood darkening the
carpet around it.
It was the sword! thought Fuller with a burst of childish
blame-laying. He knew this to be the truth, but his mind was
immediately aware of the impossibility of explaining such a bizarre
notion to the police. He looked at the sword, lying on the ground in a
sheath of blood. It looked quite unmagical--a normal sword, really--but
the way it had guided his hands… And how he'd felt, striking him down…
It was as if the sword's own history and grandeur had destroyed Murray,
Jack Fuller spent the next hour pacing around his house,
contemplating the paucity of options he felt had been left to him.
There was, however, one thing he was sure of: no one would suspect him,
a mild-tempered teacher and antique collector, living in a quiet
suburb, of anything. Certainly not murder, no matter who the victim.
Pacing into the lounge room Fuller was horrified to see that
Wellington had taken one of the man's fingers between his small,
rice-like teeth and begun gnawing at it coarsely, as if in fearfully
belated but sincere defence of his master. Or was it the other way
round? Fuller thought, remembering his failure to feed the animal the
previous night. How must it have looked to the hungry dog when he
felled this massive creature and left it lying there dead on the carpet?
He put the body on a tarpaulin in the basement. Normally a quick
thinker, he found he had no secret reserve in his mind allocated to
dealing with such a situation sensibly.
He dragged the body to the basement and left it there.
* * *
It was during the next month that Jack Fuller began to fall apart.
Since the death of Murray he did not leave the house, and no one
visited, not even Carmen. A habitual nomad, Murray had been an equally
unreliable lover and tenant since his free-living days in the '70s.
However he was expected to have disappeared, Fuller was clearly not
thought to be implicated.
After two weeks Fuller descended to and began living in the
basement, bringing the sword, Wellington, and all the food from
upstairs with him. He slept with the sword, used it for everything. He
knew its dints and contours like the back of his hand.
He became sick several times over the next few weeks from eating
unsuitable food or food past its expiration date. He would not leave
the house. It was his house. He would eat the food he had and kill
anyone who entered.
He stopped getting sick. He was able to eat unrefrigerated meat two
weeks old without getting sick.
He ran out of food.
He used the filthy sword to cut flesh from Murray's body.
He killed the dog and ate what little flesh it provided. A week
earlier the dog had impressed him by killing and dragging in a dead cat
nearly twice its size for its master; but they had both, at some point,
become aware that the armistice between them was over.
He began to leave the basement during the night to gather food,
using the hatch at the back of the house to sneak in and out. In the
absence of his glasses, within a few months his eyesight degenerated,
but his night vision improved several-fold.
The basement was not heated and the nights were cold. He felt hair
begin to bristle in regions of face and body where there wasn't hair
before. The hair on his head grew long and matted, fell about his
shoulders in clumps. His body became heavily muscled from all the
activity he was doing. Soon he could swing the five-foot sword with one
arm easily. He developed a stoop, which eventually degenerated into a
He discovered that he could run faster using all fours. He used two
legs only for short bursts of speed or for reaching things, or for
emphasizing his bulk in the reflection of car windows as he passed them
in the night.
At some point he had come to understand that he had cut Murray down
in the present, although he revered the sword for its encouragement. By
now the weapon was filthy, tarred with dirt and gore, and dead
blunt--more like a narrow club than a stabbing weapon. He no longer
recalled Carmen to his mind at all. The fiction of their marriage had
been destroyed and she could no longer mean anything to him.
He dragged the sword along rocks in the night but this was
ineffective and he was unable to find any way of sharpening it. After
it failed to kill a stray Labrador and the animal got away, he began to
use it to bludgeon his prey to death instead.
Soon he was strong enough from clubbing to abandon the sword
altogether, and did so without reluctance. He could run faster without
* * *
Jesus Christ, it had fur--David could see it now… It had to
be two hundred and fifty pounds, he estimated, wanting to size it up
while trying not to be too frightened by the realization.
He glanced down at the tattoo across his forearm: a basic skull
design. All the hunters had one: it was just something they decided. Gives
us confidence, David thought, and unity.
If he made a sound it would hear… Even so, he was going to
have to go out on to the road. He told himself, Walk down the
street a little, make sure this isn't someone's Great Dane you're gonna
It was too big for any sort of dog--shoulders too broad. Even in the
dark from a hundred feet he could see that. He stood in the middle of
the road and stuffed a shell into the gun, hands shaking.
The creature's head swivelled, he could see it looking at him
through the darkness.
It hauled its body around the tree and roared--a bizarre sound David
couldn't identify as any animal he was familiar with.
He found himself trembling and raised the gun to his shoulder as the
beast began to charge toward him: a ferocious gorilla-run, its long
powerful arms hurtling it forward.
It roared again.
He quickly aimed the gun and fired. The creature bellowed and its
shoulder exploded, filling the darkness with bloodspray.
Before he fired the second shot--the one that killed it--part of
David had had time to realize that it was, technically, human.
The police were called, but no one was arrested--merely a formality.
No one in Hartfield questioned that the carcass lying in the street was
that of a gorilla. It was a gorilla with mange escaped from a zoo, they
said, shielding their children from the sight.
© 2013 Dominic Lennard
Bio: Mr. Lennard is a writer and academic from Tasmania,
Australia. His fiction and poetry has appeared previously in Aphelion,
and he has also published essays on topics including horror film, movie
stars, and Batman on film. His non-fiction book, Bad Seeds and Holy
Terrors: The Child Villains of Horror Film, is forthcoming from SUNY
Press. He also blogs at dominiclennard.com.
His last short story appearance in Aphelion was The
Root in the May 2013 issue.
E-mail: Dominic Lennard
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