A Novelette By Robert Swartwood

Chapter 4

Tyler heads into the hole first. He doesn’t seem scared, not at all, which is good for me, because if my little ten-year-old brother knows what’s down there and isn’t scared, then maybe I shouldn’t be scared either. Except that’s wishful thinking, because I know he’s terrified. The thought of whatever happened to Laddie is still fresh in my mind, and I can’t help it, I keep thinking about the dried blood on Ty’s shirt.

The hole is tight for a couple of feet, then expands. When my feet touch the ground, I turn and look around. It’s some kind of cave, not too big, but not too small either. Being five-foot-ten, I have to crouch to stand.

“Ty,” I say, wrinkling my nose because the scent of something rotten it heavy, “how did—”

Then I see it.

The cave is circular, almost ten feet across, and the entire floor is dirt. There’s not much light, as the only source is the sun shining in through the hole, but still I clearly see the spot of tall grass. Two, maybe three feet high, it sways slowly back and forth, as if to some soft breeze that’s there but can’t be felt.

I look at Ty standing beside me—he’s short enough that he doesn’t have to crouch—and frown at him. “What the hell is that?”

My brother doesn’t answer. Instead he takes a deep breath, holds it in a few seconds, then exhales. He slowly walks toward the grass, as if toward some dangerous beast. He extends the stick as far away from his body as possible, keeping the tip toward the middle of the swaying blades.

For an instant I wonder just what the hell he’s doing. Lost his mind, I think, but then it happens.

All of a sudden a few of those blades reach out and grab the stick. Ty doesn’t even put up a fight. He simply lets go and backpedals to where I am, watching as the stick is quickly pulled into the center of the grass.

I watch this with open mouth and wide eyes. I’m reminded of a special I saw on Wild Kingdom, of a cobra snatching at an unsuspecting bird. This has got to be my imagination, it has to be, but for a second I hear a low growling coming from somewhere in the grass.

Ty stands beside me, panting.

“What the fuck,” I say, staring ahead. The grass is no longer swaying; now all the blades are standing still.

“When I got down here, Laddie was barking at it,” Ty whispers. It’s almost as if he doesn’t want the grass to hear him.

“But … you said you killed Laddie.”

He’s staring at the grass, which has begun to sway again. Tears have resurfaced in his eyes. He nods and says, “Yeah, that’s right. I—I did. It got him first—it pulled him in just like that stick—and then … then I had to kill him.”

Ty explains how it took him awhile before he got home. He walked his bike most of the way, encountering no one on the trail, which he was thankful for because he was crying like a baby. He didn’t know what to do. He thought maybe when he got home he’d wake me up, see if his big brother had any ideas.

Then he returned home.

Laddie was waiting in the backyard, sitting on his hunches. If anything, the lifeless stare Laddie gave his master should have worried Ty, but it didn’t. Instead, the fact that the dog’s tail wasn’t wagging was what bothered him. Because—as anyone who knows anything about Laddie knows—his tail was always wagging. This was probably what saved Ty’s life, because his first instinct was to rush forward and give Laddie a hug.

He only took a few steps forward before his dog attacked.

“So he attacked me, and I—I broke his neck. I mean, there was nothing else I could do. He did manage to bite me a little here”—he points at his chest—“but it was nothing. And I changed my mind about telling you, so I … buried him myself.”

For the longest time there is silence. Like my brother thought after Laddie was sucked into the grass, this all seems so crazy, so surreal. Yet now I’m seeing it with my own eyes, I’m watching the grass, and I know Tyler is the last person in the world who would lie to me. Sure, he jokes, but this is no joke.

And that’s why I believe him.

“Okay,” I say, keeping an open mind, “so now what?”

“I don’t know.” The tears have stopped for now, and he stares at the grass. Really, it’s hypnotizing, and I wonder just how long I could stand here watching it.

“Ty, you said there was a board over the hole. That means somebody else has to know about this thing. We’re not the only ones.”

My little brother looks up at me and nods, and I can see the sudden courage in his eyes. “You’re probably right, but that doesn’t matter anymore. We’re on our own, and we’ve gotta stop this thing. We gotta stop this thing before … ”

“Before what?”

Slowly the grass sways back and forth, beckoning.

Tyler whispers, “Before it spreads.”

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