The last house I burglarized was three years ago.  I’d been doing it for nearly a decade before that house, and was extremely talented in getting in and out without ever being detected.  I would spend weeks picking my target, making sure it was nobody I could have ever crossed paths with, and then weeks after that casing the house and learning everything I could.  When I finally decided to make my move, there was no closet I didn’t know about, no dog I hadn’t befriended in the yard, and no camera whose blind spot I couldn’t exploit.

This house was the home of Winston and Mary Manchester, a couple in their mid-eighties who inherited their wealth after the death of Mary’s parents.  Her father was a businessman with questionable ethics who often dealt in off-shore accounting, and although the whole sum of what he left to his only daughter is unknown to anyone but the Manchesters, their estimated worth was in the hundreds of millions, even after all these years.  They spent the first twenty years or so of their marriage teaching and living just above the poverty line - Mary taught English literature and Winston taught history - but were able to retire early with the inheritance.

With that money, they traveled the world and explored their passions, collecting all sorts of extravagant objects, each worth a small fortune to someone like me who lived in a 900 square-foot apartment.  They had an impressive collection of rare books, vases from the Ming Dynasty, hand-spun Persian rugs, and so on.  Their house was a reflection of their wealth, interests and adventures, and now served as a memory bank in their old age.

I spent months learning every inch of their house and everything there was to know about Mr. and Mrs. Manchester.  I knew their routines, their history, their personal information – everything.

I know that in the books and movies I’m supposed to say this would be “my biggest payday” and “my last job” and all that jazz, but to be honest, I had nothing but plans for future heists after this one.  True, it would be my biggest score to date, but I never intended it to be my last.

When the day came, I was wired with excitement and energy.  I always got a serious buzz when breaking into someone’s house, and this was to be no different.

I waited until Sunday afternoon.  With the Manchesters being religious, I could always count on three hours at least on Sundays during which the couple would drive into town and attend church services.  Sometimes it lasted as long as four or five hours, but never less than three.

The trick to getting into someone’s house is simple, but easy to mess up.  All you have to do is act like you belong there, and if someone sees you, they won’t think anything of it.  If you’re lurking around corners doing your best not to be seen, that may work for a time, but the second someone sees you, your ass is in the back of a cop car.

As soon as I saw the car back out of the driveway and disappear down the street, I donned my orange vest and white hat with the power company logo on it, grabbed my work bag, and walked across the street.  One of the neighbors stepped out of his house to get the mail and saw me as I approached the front door.

“They’re not home,” he called to me from across the yard. “They’ve gone to church.”

“That’s just fine,” I called back.  “I just need to check the lines in their backyard.  We’ve already spoken with them on the phone.”  I shoot the man a friendly, innocent smile and continue to the backyard.  He smiles back and begins to flip through his mail.

The backyard was surrounded by an eight-foot fence with a large gate on the side.  I unlatched the gate and surveyed the area to make sure that no other nosy neighbors were going to interrupt me, then I went to the back door.  I kept a pick set in my bag along with a few other tools of the trade, but it wouldn’t be necessary here.  All of the locks had a keyless entry number pad, the code to which just so happened to be the last four digits of their only son’s telephone number.  I punched the code in and heard the deadbolt click.

I opened the door and heard a security alarm begin to beep from the hallway, notifying me that I had thirty seconds to disarm the system before emergency services were notified.  I shut the door behind me and hurried to the security box on the wall to punch in the code – the same code as before – and the system display changed from ARMED to DISARMED.  

It’s generally not advised to use the same code for the security as you do for your doors, but the elderly often can’t remember the various combinations and usually have their system either lock them out or contact police while they are punching in the wrong code or flipping through their handwritten notes.  In my experience, the code to the door was usually the same for the security system, and if it wasn’t, it probably had the same theme.

With the system disarmed, I was able to tour the house at my leisure.  I had three hours, but I wanted to be long-gone by then, so it would be a short tour.

As I had observed through my binoculars from across the street several times, the house was adorned with exotic decorations and antiques from all over the world.  There were paintings everywhere, which probably cost several thousand dollars each, but I was never much into art.  Selling art was hard unless you had something stolen from a museum, in which case you could sell it for quite a bit, but usually ended up in prison anyway.

What I was most interested in was in the bedroom.

I made my way up the long staircase leading to the second level of the house and to the end of the hallway where the master bedroom was located.

A large four-poster bed stood in the middle of the room with four oak pillars on each corner.  A jetted hot tub was at the far end of the room with a television screen mounted on the wall above it, and the furniture in the room consisted of finely crafted dressers and vanity tables and other such items accented with polished ebony.

I took only a second to take this all in before going over to the wall in the corner.  Just above the dresser was a panel with no indication that it was actually a door except for a small crease where the wall started, and the door ended.  I pushed on the panel and it popped open with a click.

At the top of the hidden closet was a television monitor which displayed the feed from the security cameras, and just below that was a black box with a red light that indicated a live recording.  I found the remote resting next to it and deleted all stored data from that day and also stopped the live recording process.  

I was now invisible.

At the bottom of the closet was a small black safe, complete with a large dial in the center and a silver handle to the left of it.  This is what I’d come for.  I had no idea what was in the safe, but I saw them through the window frequently opening and closing it.  They never took anything in or out, but every night they came to inspect whatever was in the safe.

When they opened the door, it seemed to me that they were just checking to see that whatever was in there was still actually there, instead of visiting something of sentimental value.  They would dial in the combination, peek inside, then close it again.  Sometimes they would touch it or call the other person over to look, but never took it out. 

Whatever it was, they wanted to keep it safe, and given their expensive taste in decorations and furniture, this was probably something of immense value.

I bent over and tried the few combinations I could guess – birthdays, anniversaries, and so on.  Nothing worked, not that I expected it to because safes like this often come with a code from the manufacturer, but I came prepared for that.

In the underground world of misfits and criminals, I’m what’s known as a yegg – a safe cracker.   

Cracking safes is what got me into burglarizing houses in the first place - the best places always had a safe with untold riches.  I picked it up as a hobby when I was a teenager and found that I had a natural talent for it.

I took out my equipment and went to work, listening with a stethoscope to the subtle clicks made by the dial as I slowly spun it.

As I worked, I fantasized about what I might find in the safe.  Would I find some rare jewel or artifact?  Drugs perhaps?  Those were my two best guesses, although both seemed equally unlikely somehow.

It took me almost an hour to crack the safe, and by that point I’d used up half my time, which was just fine considering I had an hour and a half to collect whatever I wanted from the house and get out of dodge.

When I twisted the handle counterclockwise, I heard the inner workings of the safe move and let out a heavy clunk as the bars inside the door slid into their slots.

I pulled the door open, which was surprisingly heavy for such a small safe, to reveal the contents within.

In my wildest dreams, I never could have imagined what I found lying in the safe.

It was a pair of human hands.

They were an ashy-gray color, and the fingers on each hand were curled slightly as if grasping an invisible baseball, reminding me of the curled legs of a dead spider.  I didn’t need to investigate further to know that they were real – I could feel it in the pit of my stomach.  It was that same feeling you get when you stand in a graveyard or drive past a fatal car accident.

One appeared to be the hand of a man; it was wrinkled and calloused, and had gray hairs on the knuckles.  The other was that of an old woman, with manicured fingernails and dainty, thin fingers.

I pulled a pen light from my pocket and clicked it on to get a better look.  They seemed like they’d been there for a while, with skin that looked like leather, and black coagulated blood on the stump just above the wrist.  The smell, which hadn’t occurred to me until now from the shock of seeing the disembodied hands in the safe, was wretched.  I raised a hand to my face and covered my mouth and nose, clenching my teeth to keep myself from throwing up.

I thought for a moment about what I wanted to do about my discovery, but I knew the answer already. 

This didn’t change anything.  I would still take what I wanted and be gone. If the Manchesters wanted to keep hands in a safe, that was their business and I didn’t need to have any part of it.

I closed the safe and closet and carried my bag out of the room.

I worked quickly to take what I wanted and leave - jewelry, statuettes, books, and so on. I always get a rush doing this, but after seeing those hands I just wanted to get out with the loot as soon as possible.

I was on the top floor, taking a tribal mask off the wall in the hallway when I heard voices downstairs.

I checked my watch, which told me I still should have plenty of time before my three hours were up, but fate doesn’t work on a schedule.

The voices I heard were that of Mr. and Mrs. Manchester, and they were asking each other if the other had set the security alarm before leaving.  I wanted to hit myself in the forehead but refrained.  I’d forgotten to re-arm the security!  It was a mistake that almost never comes back to haunt you, but when it did, it was cruel.

If I’d re-armed the security alarm, I’d know when someone entered the house.  I thought the three hours was a given, so I’d been careless.  Now, this burglary had become a robbery, and if I got caught, the sentence would be that much worse.

I slipped into one of the bedrooms and listened for their next move.  The room I was in looked to be a spare bedroom, so it seemed like a pretty safe hiding spot for now.  I would wait until they were either in another room or otherwise occupied, then I’d slip out the back.

I heard them climbing the stairs slowly and my heart began to race.  I was oddly exhilarated by the thought of being caught in a way that surprised me.  I’d never been so close to getting caught - it was absolutely intoxicating.

I heard their footsteps hit the hardwood floor and make their way to the bedroom, probably to take one of their typical Sunday naps, when they stopped suddenly.

“Someone’s been here,” Winston Manchester said.  “Things are missing off our walls.”

Instead of panic, or even a suggestion to call the police, I heard something that I hadn’t expected.

I heard sniffing.  

Not like the sounds someone makes when they’re sick, but something different.  The inhalations were long and drawn and the exhalations were broken and quick.  It was an innate, predatory sound like a wolf catching the scent of a lamb.  It made my blood turn to ice.

“He’s still here,” Mary said.

My mouth went dry and my palms began to sweat.  The sound of footsteps approached, and I knew I had to make a bold move if I was to get out and away without being arrested.

I reached into my back pocket and pulled out the black ski mask I’d only ever used on one other occasion.  Like a motorcycle helmet, it was something I’d never wanted to need, but was glad as hell that I had it.

I had just pulled it over my head as Mr. and Mrs. Manchester came around the corner.

They stared at me for a moment with unusual curiosity.  

“Who are you?” Mary asked.  She didn’t seem scared whatsoever - not the reaction I would have anticipated.  She looked me up and down.  “What are you doing here?”

I didn’t know how to answer, so I ignored her question.  “Go to your bedroom and close the door and I won’t hurt you.”

Winston smiled wryly.  “He won’t hurt us,” he said in a mocking tone.

Just then, I saw something unusual happen to Winston Manchester’s eyes.  They seemed to grow in their sockets, and the pupils dilated so far that the irises could no longer be seen.  The bridge of his nose began to widen and his jaw shifted forward as if his mouth were filling with more teeth.  His nostrils flared and he drew in a long breath, and from the back of his throat I heard a snarl that seemed somehow reptilian - like a crocodile.

I had a sudden dark realization then that there was much more than my freedom at stake here.  My life was now, somehow, on the line, and that thought made the skin on my scalp tighten and tingle.
I needed to get out of there.

The bag I held had about thirty or forty pounds of stolen loot in it, and with all my strength I flung it at the elderly couple and rushed forward.  Winston knocked the bag out of the air with ease, but the surprise of my action was enough for me to slip past them and into the hallway. 

Mrs. Manchester let out a strange hiss, and I felt her hand, eerily strong, take hold on my vest.  I unbuckled the front and slipped it off, bolting forward toward the stairs.  I heard them moving quickly behind me, but for a moment I thought that I could make it.

I heard another hiss then, but not from behind me - this hiss came from above.

I looked up and saw Mary Manchester on the ceiling.  Her gray hair hung down in her face and her neck was twisted around so that I could see her large eyes between the strands of hair.  They were just as dark and large as Mr. Manchester’s.  Her joints bent and curled in unnatural ways, her bony hands gripping the drywall like talons, and her thick, black tongue slithered out of her mouth like a snake, lapping slowly at the air.

I bolted for the stairs, and in my haste, I tripped over my own feet and tumbled down the winding staircase.

Each barrel-roll my body made was painful, and when I felt my shoulder pop and the heat radiate from it, the last two rotations became excruciating.

I landed at the bottom of the staircase with a THUD and tried to sit up, but the world around me was spinning either from the six or so rotations I’d made or from the pain – I couldn’t tell which.

One of the creatures let out another growl at the top of the stairs that snapped me back into reality – if that’s really what I was experiencing now – and as my vision came into focus I saw Mr. and Mrs. Manchester standing at the top of the staircase.  Their arms hung at their sides and both of their heads were cocked to the left, like curious dogs, staring at me through eyes like black marbles.

I scrambled to my feet, accidentally putting weight on my left arm and regretting it instantly.

I turned on my heels and ran for the nearest door and threw myself inside.  Behind me I heard the loud footsteps of my pursuers as I slammed the door shut.

I was plunged into darkness, but I didn’t need to see to find the doorknob and flick the lock.  Just as I did this, I felt the doorknob jiggle and heard the pounding and clawing and screaming on the other side of the door.  It was a heavy door, probably solid oak, or redwood, so I hoped it would hold for at least a minute or two, but I didn’t want to take any bets on that.  I needed to barricade it.

I pulled the ski mask off of my head, then took the flashlight out of my pocket and flicked it on.

I found myself standing at the top of another staircase.  Had I not stopped to close the door behind me, I would have found myself falling down another flight of stairs in my haste to escape and likely would have broken my neck.

I followed the stairs down to the basement level of the house.

At the bottom of the staircase on the wall to my left was a light switch.  I flicked it up and the room was illuminated by the light fixtures in the ceiling.

There was a lot I’d seen of the interior of the house already, but the basement had been, up to this point, mostly a mystery.  It had windows, but they were underground and surrounded by window wells, which made it difficult to peep through unless you were closer to the house than I liked to be during my surveillance.

Like the rest of the house, the basement was furnished with more antique artifacts on the walls.  The room I was standing in appeared to be a rec room, complete with a large television, pool table, and air hockey, but those things weren’t what drew my attention.  The first thing I noticed above all else was the sour metallic scent of old blood and the long streaks of rust-colored stains that covered nearly every surface to some extent.  

My eyes then fell upon a large chest with a lace doily and a lamp on it.  Forgetting the bloody scene before me for a moment, I hurried to the chest, hoping it was heavy enough to use as a barricade.  After trying to lift it, I judged that it weighed enough to do the job, or at least as much as I could lift with just my right arm.  

I muscled the chest to the bottom of the staircase, then worked on pushing it up the stairs.  It took a few minutes to move it with only one hand, and by the end my brow was doused in sweat, but I’d been able to successfully blockade the door against my aggressors and had earned myself time to think.

Back down at the bottom of the stairs, I noticed a trail of dried blood leading either to or from one of the rooms on the far side of where I stood.  I debated what to do for only a moment, ultimately deciding to follow the trail because I doubted that what I would find in that room would compare to the horrors which still pounded and shrieked on the other side of the basement door.

I grabbed a pool cue as I crossed the room, not sure what else I could use as a weapon but wanting some sort of protection.  I paused just before entering the next room and listened for any sound other than the sounds made by the Manchesters upstairs.  When I was satisfied, I entered the room.

My stomach twisted with the discovery of the two dead bodies lying in a heap on the floor of the next room.  They had chunks of flesh missing from their bones and a dry pool of blood around them, but I could still tell who they were in an instant.  

Before me lay the lifeless bodies of Winston and Mary Manchester.

The scent of death still hung in the air, but not as badly as it had in the safe, probably due to the improved air circulation in the basement.

I knelt to investigate the bodies further and noticed two things that made me realize that my chances of survival were much worse than I’d imagined.

First, both bodies were each missing a hand, which I was now certain were being kept safely locked up in the bedroom upstairs, although I still couldn’t understand why.

Second, the bits of flesh that were missing from each of the bodies came with sets of deep grooves that went down to the bone.

Someone, or something, had been eating them.

I recoiled from the bodies and began to wretch uncontrollably.  My breakfast climbed up my throat and spilled onto the blood-stained carpet.

What the fuck had I gotten myself into, and how the fuck was I going to get out?

I wiped the water from my eyes and the spittle from the corners of my mouth and considered my situation.  I had really only a handful of scenarios I had to prepare for, and those could be broken down to the two innate reactions to danger: fight or flight.

I chose flight.

I quickly explored the basement to see what I had to work with.  Most rooms had the subterranean windows with window wells that could easily be climbed through – the only decision I had left to make was which window.

I chose the window in the room with the chewed-up remains of Winston and Mary Manchester.  It would let me into the backyard, so I would hopefully have time to climb out and get to sprinting before I was found out.  If I went through the front, I ran the risk of being seen through one of the many large front-facing windows that were visible from where the top of the basement door stood.

I opened the window and began to climb out, trying to be as gentle with my left arm as possible, and it was at that moment that I realized my mistake.  In my haste, I hadn’t noticed that the screaming and the pounding at the basement door had stopped.

I was only half-way through the window when I felt a pair of strong hands on my shoulders, causing me to cry out in pain from the pressure on my empty shoulder socket.

The hands pulled me up and out of the window well and I was tossed face-first onto the grass.  I scrambled to get up, but I felt another pair of hands on my feet.  I raised my head and saw the face of Winston Manchester staring back at me, only inches from my nose.  His eyes were black and I saw that his teeth were jagged and crooked as if they’d been carved out of broken glass.  He smiled at me and his breath was hot and putrid.

The hands that held my legs moved up my body and I was lifted off the ground like a rag doll.  I kicked and screamed against Mary Manchester who flung me over her shoulder as if I were nothing more than a misbehaving child.

I clawed at her head and beat my fists against her back and kicked my feet but nothing I did made her falter even a step.

The thing impersonating Winston followed behind us with the Cheshire grin across his face and his dark predatory eyes never moving from mine.

I was carried into a shed at the far end of the yard where I was abruptly plopped into a chair.

“Open your mouth,” Mary said.  

I locked my jaw closed.

“Open. Your. Mouth,” she said again with a snarl.  Her voice suddenly sounded as if there were two people speaking at the same time - one using the same voice I’d heard from Mary when they first arrived home, and another, different voice that didn’t seem human.

I didn’t move.  I frantically searched my surroundings.  I was sitting in a wooden chair with leather straps on the armrests. Along the walls hung various gardening tools – rakes, shovels, pitchforks, loppers, and so on.  If I could get to one, any of them would be a fantastic weapon, but the hard part would be actually crossing the shed.  It was only maybe 12’x12’ and with three of us inside it, it felt much smaller.

My scan of the room completed with the object next to which I sat.  It was an old table saw, and my chair was butted right up against it.  It looked like it hadn’t been used in a while.  The blade and the metal table were covered in rust, and clumps of old sawdust had collected along the outer rim of the platform.

Winston stepped forward, pushing Mary aside then, and grabbed a tight hold of my nose.  My eyes watered and I felt a pop as my nose broke; I could feel blood building up inside my closed nostrils.  I knew what he was trying to do, and I knew he’d eventually succeed, but I wasn’t going to make it easy for him.  I clamped my jaw shut and breathed through the corners of my mouth.

Winston caught on immediately and released my nose; a small trickle of blood began to drip from my upper lip.  He then reached over with his other hand and grasped my dislocated shoulder and began to squeeze.

The pain hit me like a gunshot and I cried out immediately, and before I could control myself, a dusty rag was stuffed into my mouth.  I choked on it and the blood from my nose started to soak into it, and I moved to let it out, but suddenly the leather straps were tightened against my left wrist, cinching my mostly useless arm painfully against the wooden armrest.

Mary clapped and giggled and began to dance around like an excited child.

Winston took a hold of my right forearm and slammed it on the saw platform next to me.

It was then that I realized the saw wasn’t covered in rust – it was covered in blood.

I kicked and screamed and pulled away, but Winston didn’t seem to pay any attention whatsoever; it felt like the chair had been bolted to the ground.  He clicked a button and the saw sprung to life.  The blade moved faster until I couldn’t discern the individual teeth – it was just one single vibrating object.

I bit against the rag, thankful for it then because without it I was sure that my teeth would have surely cracked from the force of my jaw as it clamped down.

When the sawblade bit against my skin, all I could feel was heat and a dull throbbing pain.  Blood, tissue, and bone freckled my face and clothes as the blade ripped through me with surprising ease, and I watched in horror as my hand was severed from my body

The saw reached the end of my wrist and Winston released his grasp. I pulled the bloody stump to my chest and sobbed and screamed through the cloth as the pain hit me in waves with exponential intensity.
Mary picked up my hand from the table saw and examined it closely as if appraising its value.  Blood dripped from the severed wrist. She caught a droplet on her finger and brought it to her lips.

Without another word, the couple turned around and left the shed.  They slammed the door shut and I heard the click of a padlock on the other end.

I sat in the dark, dazed from the loss of blood and exhausted from the pain.  I knew I needed to move, but I didn’t seem to have the strength or energy to do so.  I was losing blood quickly and could feel the effects on my body already.

With an effort, I worked to get my other wrist free.  I had to bend low and use my teeth to get it free and focus everything I had to ignore the pain in my right arm and my left shoulder.  It took me an eternity free myself and by then I was even worse off and my teeth ached.

I had to stop the bleeding, or at least slow it down, but before I could do that I had to get my left arm functional again.

My left arm hung limply by my side.  I’d seen videos of people dislocating joints in the past, and several wherein a friend knocks the joint back into place.  I didn’t have the luxury of a friend, so I would have to do it myself.

I put the rag I’d spit out back into my mouth, held my breath, then threw myself into the side of the shed.  I could feel my shoulder grind against the socket, but it still refused to pop back into place.  I took a moment to compose myself, then did it again, throwing my entire body weight into it.  Triumphantly, my shoulder slid back into place.

The pain was agonizing, and I felt it radiate from my shoulder to my stomach and down to my testicles.  I fell to the ground, clutching the stump of my severed wrist to my chest.  It was still bleeding terribly, and now I had to address that.

I took my shirt off and used my left hand and teeth to tie it as tightly as I could around my bloody stump.  Dizzy from the pain and working hard to focus and fight back the shock I could feel setting in with every passing moment, I then removed my belt and looped it around my elbow, pulling it taught so that it could act as a makeshift tourniquet and hopefully prevent me from losing any more blood.
Thirty seconds later, I blacked out.

I awoke to total darkness.  For a moment I thought I’d been somehow blinded or maybe I’d died and this was the afterlife, but then I noticed a thin sliver of dim light coming from the bottom of the shed door, and I simultaneously understood where I was and how long I’d been out.  The sun had set and the light I was seeing was either moonlight or the light from a neighboring house.

I sat up groggily, trying to remember what all was real and what I’d dreamt.  Without thinking, I raised my hands up to my face, except only one hand touched my cheek.  I looked down, my eyes having adjusted to the dark now, and saw the stump covered in my bloody shirt.  None of that had been a dream.

My shoulder and wrist ached terribly, but for now I could manage to think.  I’d evidently not bled out and still had a chance of survival.  All I had to do now was escape the shed.

I staggered to my feet, and felt a rush of disorientation and had to sit down in the chair for a moment.  As I sat, I looked around the room.  There were plenty of tools hanging on the walls, so I might be able to use one of those to break the lock or bust down the door.

I stood up, pausing for a moment to ensure that I wouldn’t pass out again, and walked to the door.  I put my weight against it and felt it give a little.  I could probably break it down.  I went to kick it, then I stopped, thinking about the noise I would make by doing this.  I’d already rolled the dice to get my shoulder back into place, but that had been hours ago.  Surely the creatures that had put me there would hear my escape attempt and would return to either kill me or make sure I didn’t have any other means of escape.

I sat back down in the chair, feeling nauseous now but desperately not wanting to throw up.  I needed to think about this before I did anything, but I needed to do it quickly.  I was lucky as hell that they hadn’t come back to finish me off while I was out, but there was no way I wanted to take any more of that luck to the bank.

I needed to escape, but first I had to make sure that I was ready for them.

I searched in the dark shed to see what I had at my disposal, and began to slowly formulate a plan.

It must have been an hour later when the creatures posing as the Manchesters heard the loud smash as I kicked the shed door with everything I had.

It took three hard kicks before I heard the satisfying crack as the metal holding the lock in place began to break against the force.

Two more hard kicks and I nearly stumbled out onto the lawn.  The night air hit my face and I realized how hot it had been in the shed.

I heard footsteps approaching to my left and I retreated back into the shed for what would be the last time.

Mr. Manchester must have seen me duck back in, because without hesitation he lunged through the threshold of the shed toward me, but I’d anticipated this. I held a small bucket filled with gasoline which I had siphoned from the lawnmower.  I had set it on the shelf, so it wouldn’t spill during my escape, but now it was poised in my hand for attack.  As soon as the creature was within range, I threw the gasoline into his face.  It wasn’t much, but it did the trick.  The toxic liquid poured into the thing’s eyes and mouth and he grabbed his face and howled, stumbling back toward the pitchfork which I had propped up against the corner of the shed.

If I had both arms working, I would have used the pitchfork myself, but being that the one good hand I had was still throbbing from the pain of dislocation, I knew I wouldn’t be able to put enough force behind the jab I would need to successfully kill the monster.

The metal tines of the pitchfork glimmered in the starlight, ready and waiting for something to bite into.  I shoved Mr. Manchester as hard as I could into the corner of the shed and heard the wet crunching sound as the metal tines of the fork pierced his flesh.

He howled in pain and grabbed at his stomach, which was now pouring blood, and I knew I’d done it.
Mrs. Manchester hadn’t been as fast as her husband, so as I had impaled him with the pitchfork, she was just getting to the mouth of the shed.

She wailed and lurched toward me with terrifying fury.  She grabbed me before I could move, clutching both shoulders painfully, but this time I held back my instinct to cry out.  Instead, I spat the mouthful of gasoline which I had stored in my cheeks into her face.  She roared and let go of me immediately and her hands instinctively flew to her eyes.

I ran out of the shed as fast as I could.  I hoped that with gasoline in her eyes, she’d be slower than I was, even though I was exhausted and had lost a lot of blood.  All I needed to do was to make it to the street.  I just had to get out of the backyard and make it to the street.

I got to the gate separating the back yard from the front and to my horror I discovered that a lock had been placed there in the time between my arrival and now.

I heard loud, angry footsteps behind me and I turned to see that Mrs. Manchester was already coming toward me at full speed.  Her eyes were black in the center and extremely bloodshot, giving her an even more terrifying look than before.  I turned and ran for the house. 

My legs pumped and my heart raced as I ran for my life toward the back door.  I could feel a growing wetness in my makeshift bandage and knew that I’d reopened the wound on my wrist.

I could hear her only feet away from me when I got to the house and slammed the back door.  I didn’t bother locking it because I knew she would just break the glass window and let herself in anyway.

I darted across the house, dodging furniture as I went, and I’d nearly escaped when I felt the toe of my left shoe catch against the edge of the Persian rug in the front room.

I tumbled forward, throwing my arms out without thinking and landing painfully on my formerly dislocated shoulder and current bloody stump of a wrist.

I howled in pain and clambered to my feet, but just before I could catch my balance I felt a hard shove at my back.  I fell forward again, narrowly missing the corner of an end table with my skull.  I twisted around just in time for Mrs. Manchester to land on top of me.  Her knees dug into my shoulders and I cried out painfully.

Her face was contorted in an inhuman grimace and her teeth bared at me with the same sick jaggedness I’d seen before.  Strands of saliva hung down from her mouth like a wild animal before a meal.

Her knee ground into my left shoulder and I could feel it threatening to pop back out as my hand searched frantically for anything I could use and my eyes wildly scanned the area.  I’m not sure if my hand or my eyes found it first, but next to my left hip, fallen from the end table I’d nearly smashed into on my way down, was an old ceramic lamp.

I clutched the base and cracked it against Mrs. Manchester’s skull as hard as I could.  The lamp shattered, and Mrs. Manchester was knocked off balance enough for me to push her off of me.

I leapt to my feet and toward the door while Mrs. Manchester attempted the same thing.  She was screaming, and the side of her face was covered in black blood.  I cleared the remaining six feet to the door, clicked the lock open and threw myself into the night air.

I could still hear her furious roars and the thudding sound of her footsteps behind me as I scrambled out of the yard and toward my van.  I was losing blood again at an alarming rate - I could feel it trickling down my forearm and dripping off my elbow as I clutched it tightly against my chest.

I wrestled with my pocket to pull the keys out while darkness began to form again in the corners of my vision.

I could hear her approaching footsteps behind me.

The darkness deepened, my mind whirled, the keys fell to the ground with a metallic clatter and I followed soon after.

I awoke in the hospital, where I eventually learned that a neighbor had discovered me lying in the street shortly after hearing what he thought was an animal attack.  I would later discover that it was the same neighbor who had waved at me as he checked the mail.

A year went by before the doctor appointments finally stopped - I had to go to physical therapy to learn how to do my daily activities with only one hand.  Six more months went by before the daily night terrors became less frequent, and another six before I stopped my weekly visits to my therapist.

Although a few of the neighbors reported seeing Mary Manchester after that night, nobody ever saw Winston again, at least as far as I heard, giving me hope that I’d actually managed to kill the creature masquerading as the elderly man. Some nights I would lie awake, wondering where the second creature went.  Was she still around, or had she fled to wherever she’d come from?

The answers to these questions plagued me for a long time, causing sleepless nights and more than the occasional panic attack.  The only thing that would help keep me calm those nights was the fact that I now lived hundreds of miles away from the Manchester house.

I took my dog for a walk this morning, happy to finally feel like the whole ordeal was all behind me and wanting to enjoy some of the fresh air and agreeable weather before the rain started up again.  We spent an hour or so at the park and were just about to cross the front lawn when I noticed something that made my blood turn to ice.

I was already home.

Standing in the window, wearing a sinister smile and looking out at the street, at me, was me.  Except it wasn’t, because there was one key difference.

The thing standing in my house, wearing my face, had both of its hands.


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