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Hungry Jack: A Horror Short Story by cam

Chris has written more than 200 flash fiction/short stories. Working Vacation was 21st out of 6,700 in the 2016 Writer's Digest competition.

hungry-jack

“Hello, Sherry? Jack?” said Ben as he entered his friends' home without knocking. A sixty year old woman stood in the kitchen doorway, her face, normally rosy and pretty, appeared grey, her brow furrowed. She half turned and pointed.

“He’s in there—eating. Eating all the meat he can find. Ben, he won’t talk to me.” Sherry's eyes glistened with tears she had not yet shed.

“Let me give it a try,” said Ben. He slipped past Sherry and entered the kitchen. A tall, slightly built man sat at the table and gnawed on a drumstick like a beaver on a birch branch.

The two men had been best friends since the 1970 Cambodian Operation. Jack had been pinned down by a Viet Cong machine gun nest and Ben had provided cover fire along with a grenade so Ben could escape back behind the American troops' line. One of the VCs had whipped Ben’s grenade back in his direction and the blast had been enough of a distraction for Jack to sprint to safety. But a piece of shrapnel had lacerated Ben’s left cheek from his ear to the corner of his mouth. The scar was just one of the excuses Ben used to explain why he had never married. The closest he had ever gotten to that sacred institution was when he was best man for Jack's and Sherry's wedding.

After coming back from the war, the two had become fishing buddies. A small, secluded lake about ten miles from town was their favorite fishing spot. Ben and Jack would pack up their gear and some food on a Saturday morning and get home late in the evening with a cooler full of bass and bluegill to clean.

hungry-jack

A few days before Jack’s huge behavior change, the two had been sitting on his back porch drinking beer and watching the stars appear after sunset. A bright light had flashed across the sky and appeared to have gone down in the vicinity of the lake. Jack had commented that the meteor hadn’t had a tail, which he thought was strange. If the pile of empty beer cans hadn’t been so large, they might have driven out to see where the meteor, which is what they assumed it had been, had hit.

“Looks like you worked up an appetite out there on the lake today. Any sign of that meteor we saw the other night?” Ben was still standing in the kitchen doorway watching his friend stuff turkey into his mouth. “Catch anything worth keeping?”

Jack looked up and gave his jaw a break for a few seconds, then went back to cleaning off the bone.

“You’re soaking wet, you know,” said Ben. “Where’s the boat? It’s not in the driveway.”

Jack finally gave up his obsession with the turkey leg and went to the refrigerator. He had emptied that of meat, so he checked the freezer and returned to the table, munching on a frozen hotdog.

“Alzheimer's?” said Sherry from the doorway.

“I don’t think so, but what do I know?” said Ben. “He should see his doctor right away.”

“I already called. Doctor Jamerson wants me to take Jack to the ER right now." Sherry untied her apron. “What are you going to do?”

“Go to the lake. Apparently he left the boat out there, but I can’t imagine why. He loves that old piece of junk. Come on, I'll help you get him into the car before I leave.”

Ben drove Jack’s truck so he could pull the boat back. The seat was still soaked from Jack’s wet clothes so he sat on a raincoat Sherry had pulled out of the hall closet. Whatever had happened to Jack had changed him considerably, and the answer was most likely waiting out at the lake. He thought of Sherry taking Jack to the emergency room all alone and hoped he wasn’t giving her any problems. Ben pressed the accelerator to the floorboard and raced along the county roads.

The dirt two track wound through the state forest for half a mile. How many years had he and Jack been taking this route to fish in Oasis Lake? Could it really have been forty years? They spent a good deal of the time in silence while they fished, occasionally breaking it to voice one of their deep thoughts. Which one of them had changed the name from Oasis to Osmosis Lake? The remoteness and serenity, the music of croaking frogs and singing birds, the smell of pine and fresh air had turned them both into amateur philosophers.

hungry-jack

Ben scanned the lake and surrounding forest. He stopped when he came to the north end. The shoreline, which was kept in nearly perpetual gloom by overhanging trees, lay exposed to the afternoon sun. Tree trunks and branches were splintered for hundreds of feet into the forest but there was no sign of fire. Ben was stunned at the sight but forced himself to stay focused on finding out what had happened to Jack. The boat was floating in the middle of Osmosis Lake. That explained why Jack’s clothes were wet when he got home. For some reason, he had swam to shore and abandoned the boat.

The boat launch was a crumbling concrete slab that sloped down into the water from the gravel parking area. He was about to resign himself to swimming out to the boat, when he remembered a small dingy someone had left in the weeds not far from where he stood. He found it and wondered if he might be better off swimming. The wood was spongy and the oars were missing. Among the junk in the bed of Jack’s truck was an aluminum canoe paddle, one of those things a person hung onto, not knowing why, just that it seemed to be a good idea.

He sat in the bottom of the dingy and paddled toward the fourteen foot fishing boat. His mind was a juggernaut through history. He saw an explosion and Jack sprinting across an open field, the air around him filled with pieces of turf kicked up by bullets from the VC guns. He saw his best friend sitting in the kitchen with a pile of turkey bones on a plate and a frozen hotdog sticking out of his mouth like a stogie.

He let the dingy drift for a moment while he leaned back against the stern and rested his arms. The frogs and birds were silent and the air smelled of rotten fish. It was as if the vitality had been sucked out of the entire area.

The two boats bumped, and the modest sound bounced back from the surrounding forest. The dingy was taking on water. Ben had to either stay in the the tiny boat and try to pull the fishing boat to shore before he sank or he would need to crawl out of the dingy and into the bigger boat. The rising water around his feet and ankles helped him decide.

Ben grasped the gunwale of Jack’s boat and pulled the boats together. Something thick and sticky coated his fingers, and his hand slipped. He landed on the rotten boards of the dingy and looked at his hand. The crimson shade of congealing blood covered his palm. He hadn’t cut himself though. The blood had been on the edge of the fishing boat.

Cool water rose above his belt and shocked him back to the present. He struggled to where he was suspended between the two boats and labored until he lay exhausted on the bottom of the fishing boat in half a foot of water mixed with blood. Ben looked around to see if Jack had been cleaning fish, but saw no carcasses. Besides, there was far too much blood to have come from even the biggest bass in the lake, or a dozen of them. Blood coated everything, the seat, the motor, the inside of the hull.

He climbed onto the bench at the stern. The anchor rope was slippery with blood, so Jack rinsed it off and pulled. Damn anchor’s snagged on something. He pulled harder and felt the weight move. Whatever the anchor is snagged on is coming up with it. He pulled his pocket knife out and pressed the blade against the rope, but what he really wanted was to see what was at the other end. He put the knife away and pulled harder, hand over hand.

The body of a man broke the surface, facing down, the anchor rope wrapped around his waist. There was no way Ben could get the corpse into the boat without capsizing, so he yanked the cord on the old Evinrude and the motor roared to life. He eased the boat forward, and the rope slithered like a snake in the water until it was taught and the body was in tow.

At the boat launch, the body floated face down in the shallows. Ben gathered his nerve and gripped the man under the arms. He pulled the corpse onto the concrete where it lay, still facing down. Ben shook with fear and anxiety. Not many people fished this lake. What if he recognized the face when he turned the man over. What if he was a friend? He gripped the man’s soggy shirt, pulled up and tipped him over.

Ben looked into the dead man’s face as if into a mirror and saw a scar that ran down the left cheek from his ear to the corner of his mouth. Ben stumbled backward and fell hard on his hip, but the pain could not distract him from what he had seen. How could this be? It was impossible. When his heart slowed, Ben crawled forward to have a second look, to convince himself that what he thought he had seen was a mistake. He touched the scar on his own cheek. “My face. How can he have my face?”

Ben sensed the presence of another in his mind. He heard a click as the door to his consciousness was unlocked and swung open on rusty hinges. Neatly stacked memories floated through the doorway.

Lidded eyes opened, a hand grabbed Ben’s throat, and a familiar voice spoke.

“I’m hungry.”

Comments

Stephen Bonniol on March 18, 2017:

Great Story! It kept my interest right till the end.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on May 11, 2016:

Nell, finally, someone remembered the fireball going down out at the lake. We will get this one sorted out eventually. Thanks for reading. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Nell Rose from England on May 11, 2016:

Its got to be aliens! they saw that thing go down and then, well, lol! whatever it was it was really chilling! great story!

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on May 11, 2016:

Shauna, I'm having fun reading the comments on this story. I know what happened, but I did leave a lot unsaid. I wanted to see if people would put all the elements of the story together. Something did happen and it wasn't pretty. You are tiptoeing around the edge of it, though. By the way, this story must have gotten linked somewhere. It has had 927 pageviews in the last 45 days. That is extremely high for my stories.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on May 11, 2016:

You had me captivated right through to the end, Chris. The story line is intriguing, full of mystery. The ending caught me be surprise. I'm not sure if Ben was back in 'Nam or if he'd gone mad some 40 years later. Or if his buddy had gone mad and ate him while they were out fishing. Which is it?

Eric Wayne Flynn from Providence, Rhode Island on April 24, 2016:

Excellent and compelling short story. Well done.

Nadine May from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa on April 19, 2016:

That story does have a rather unexpected twist. Ben saw his mirror self...had he died! Clever!

Skyler Saunders from Newark, DE on April 14, 2016:

Told with an adept voice and structured to deliver the best surprise, this story elicits a genuine sense of the macabre. From the backstory about Cambodia to that mysterious boat, Chris Mills blends seamlessly, humor, horror, and suspense. A superb story.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on April 05, 2016:

Deb and Lawrence. Thank you for reading this story. The ending is just what I wanted, unexpected and strange, but satisfying as well.

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on April 05, 2016:

Chris

Wow! Didn't expect that end! Had to go back and read it a couple of times to see if I'd missed anything.

Absolutely awesome!

Lawrence

Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on April 05, 2016:

Wow, what an ending! I'm really impressed with this story.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on April 03, 2016:

Robert, thank you for visiting and reading my story. I appreciate the comments.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on April 03, 2016:

Frank, thank you. That is the neat thing about creative writing. We have an endless supply of material around us to make our stories more interesting. I know you've learned this yourself. I'm getting it slowly but shir....I mean surely.

Robert Sacchi on April 03, 2016:

Good build up to a creepy ending.

Frank Atanacio from Shelton on March 30, 2016:

Cam the descriptions were perfect.. I like the rope was slippery with blood.. yeah it gave a great deal to that section.. a very good short fiction here my friend.. keep up the creative work :) Frank

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on March 29, 2016:

Michael, as always, it is a privilege to have you visit my page and comment on my writing. Thanks for your input.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on March 29, 2016:

Buildreps, thanks for the vote up. There are a couple of sentences in the story that might help readers understand what happened. Here are the sentences: "The frogs and birds were silent and the air smelled of rotten fish. It was as if the vitality had been sucked out of the entire area." These entities, whatever they were, physically thrived on meat based protein. They had consumed everything in and around the lake. They also consumed the "soul" of their prey as seen in the second to the last paragraph. These explain the meaning of the phrase "...the vitality had been sucked out of the entire area." Thanks for reading.

Michael-Milec on March 29, 2016:

Your clerification Chris, has calm down my troubled soul, giving me clearer view into the comfusing words of my first reaction. Learnig from your through 'exegesis' for a future commenting of similar thoughts, I would put them on a "shelve" for some time, then try to understand my first impression. Thanks for your guidence and a patience with me. Blessings and peace.

Buildreps from Europe on March 29, 2016:

That was a surprising end that I didn't expected. I enjoyed reading your short fiction very much, Chris. We can't vote up anymore, but consider this as an upvote! Have a great day.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on March 28, 2016:

I understood your intent, Christine. It was a good insight worth passing on. I'll keep your title in mind in case I do something further with this story.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on March 28, 2016:

Michael, Your initial response to this story is very interesting. "... waking up from a nightmare, commenced within a real life paradigm..." Indeed, what does it mean? I assume it would be applied to the point-of-view character, Ben. Possibly to Jack, or even both men. In a sense, they both woke up from a nightmare when they returned from Viet Nam. But the decades between their war experience and this horrible experience related in my story, were filled with good things, it seems. The word "commence" is interesting. It means to begin or to start. Jack began a new nightmare when he went to the lake alone. Ben followed and apparently faced the same fate as Jack. But what is the new nightmare which is commencing? Could it be that when the creatures consumed the bodies of Jack and Ben and consumed their consciousness as well, that Jack and Ben continued to know, and see and to be conscious of what was happening around them? This would truly be a nightmare of an existence. I see these two creatures continuing this behavior of stealing the identities of people by consuming their physical bodies and absorbing their minds. If the victims remain conscious in the mind of these creatures, it would be a nightmare of hellish proportions.

Right now, that is my best guess. Thanks for passing on that bit of insight. Very interesting.

christinemariezzz on March 28, 2016:

Not saying you chose an inappropriate title, Chris, with Hungry Jack as the mix, the flow of the story is good.

Yikes, I got others telling me word titles for my fine art pieces and I've yet to throw away my numbering system. I offer suggestions here.

No doubt keep your choice, I'm not up to ditching my numbers yet!

~Christine

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on March 28, 2016:

Christine, Titles are always difficult for me. Once Hungry Jack came to mind, I didn't even consider anything else. That in itself might have been a reason for thinking further. Who knows, maybe I would have stumbled upon Juggernaut too. Thanks for the insight and the comments.

Michael-Milec on March 28, 2016:

... waking up from a nightmare, commenced within a real life paradigm...

Hi Chris.

This was the first and only thing I could type after reading. Wondering why, and what kind of comment is it, you my friend, are a mysteries solver, please tell me why weird my thinking is ...

Thank you.

christinemariezzz on March 28, 2016:

..."His mind was a juggernaut through history."...

You are your own griddle-master in stories, I get Hungry Jack.

Good work Chris.

I a poet, however, in my opinion:

Putting this man in his own battleship eating his own meal; my title would have been Juggernaut.

Respectfully,

~Christine

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on March 28, 2016:

Emi Michele, I'm glad I could give you a bit of a surprise today. Thanks for reading and commenting.

Emi Sano from Baltimore, MD on March 28, 2016:

Very good read! I was not expecting that at the end. I love it.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on March 27, 2016:

Randy, the body was lots of different people at one point or another when I was writing. It may even have been you for a brief period. haha. I'm glad you enjoyed the ending.

Randy Godwin from Southern Georgia on March 27, 2016:

Great twist at the end, Chris! I thought the body would be Jack, not Ben.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on March 27, 2016:

Ruby, every story at this point is an experiment. If this is too cryptic, I'd love to know about it. Finding the balance between expecting too much from a reader or insulting his intelligence is worth the effort. Thank you for stopping by to read and comment.

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on March 27, 2016:

You left a lot to imagine. How could that last scene be? Wow, the war left so many wounded with memories, vividly real and imagined. Suspenseful write!!

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on March 27, 2016:

Eric, I left a lot unsaid in this one, so good luck figuring it all out. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on March 27, 2016:

Authenticz, I appreciate you reading the story and for the comment.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on March 27, 2016:

John, I caught it too. Thanks. I think it is as it should be now.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on March 27, 2016:

Whoa, what a tale. I will be thinking on this one for a long time.

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on March 27, 2016:

Quite a suspenseful and eerie story Cam. I enjoyed the read. Just one thing I noticed. You repeated these two paragraphs:

"The body of a man broke the surface, facing down, the anchor rope wrapped around his waist. There was no way Ben could get the corpse into the boat without capsizing, so he yanked the cord on the old Evinrude and the motor roared to life. He eased the boat forward, and the rope slithered like a snake in the water until it was taught and the body was in tow.

At the boat launch, the body floated face down in the shallows. Ben gathered his nerve and gripped the man under the arms. He pulled the corpse onto the concrete where it lay, still facing down. Ben shook with fear and anxiety. Not many people fished this lake. What if he recognized the face when he turned the man over. What if he was a friend? He gripped the man’s soggy shirt, pulled up and tipped him over."

Authenticz HubPage from North America on March 27, 2016:

Nice story!! CAM good work