By Elijah Bansen

Stillness. Everything was still across the dusty landscape as he trudged up the path toward the ranch. There were no crops to be seen in any direction, nor were there any animals. It seemed totally devoid of any jovial signs of life. There were, however, plenty of fences marking off huge tracts of dust-filled land on which nothing grazed. He wasn’t sure if that was due to the ranchers falling on hard times, or because of the general lack of grazable pasture on their land. Either way, it made for an eerie look as he approached the barnyard.

There wasn’t much to look at once he got there. Just a simple ranch house and nearby barn on the opposite side of the yard. What did catch his eye, however, were two men, one sitting and the other standing, by the fence along the yard’s edge. Tossing away his cigar, he stamped it out with the toe of his boot and made his way over to them.

“Howdy!” He greeted them with a tip of the brim of his hat. “You the ones who called for a hunter?”

“Y-yes, sir,” the standing man answered him. “I’m called Wilson. And you?”

“The name’s Wynt,” the newcomer declared. “Wynter Mylls, hunter by trade. The barkeep in town said you folks were given quite the scare.”

 “That’s true, sir. Well, at least the master has.” He patted the sitting man on the shoulder. “He’s the one who found the sickly thing.”

Wynt knelt down and looked in the master’s eyes. There was a distant look to them, like nothing had ever been perceived, or everything that was had been replaced by something else completely and entirely sinister.

“Hey, you!” Wynt gave him a soft smack on the cheek, an ill attempt to rouse some movement within him. To all appearances, the man looked like a body without a soul. Or like a body whose soul had been tied up, stuffed in a trunk, and mailed off to the furthest corner of Timbuktu. “Come on, old man, I need you to say something here. I’m not going in there blind to what I’m hunting.” Another smack was given and the master’s lips began to quiver, then shake, and then spill out a few words.

“M-m-m-mother! Mother why did you leave meeeheeeheeeeee!”

Wynt grimaced and stood up as the master fell into a tempest of sobs. With fingers to his temples, he pondered hard what it could be.

“He’s been like this ever since he came out.” The ranch hand offered. “He wouldn’t eat anything, or drink, or even sleep.”         

“Has he spoken of anything else?”

“No, sir.”

Wynt nodded, the truth dawning on him with more and more certainty. “I know what it is. I’ve seen it before. Once. Maybe twice. It becomes hard to remember after so long.” Shading his eyes from the sun with one hand, he scratched at his stubbly chin with the other. “However, this is an extremely dangerous job. I’m going to require more than my usual rate, if you truly want this thing gone.”

“Of-of course.” The ranch hand spoke with a voice that sounded like tree bark being peeled off the trunk. Fear and desperation leaked out of every pore of his shaky voice. He reached out his hand to offer a small pouch full of wads of cash. “Please, if you have any decency, just rid the barn of the creature!”

Wynt flicked his eyes to the pouch and then to the ranch hand’s eyes. “You hold onto that until the job’s finished. I find it works well to incentivize myself by holding out on the reward till I have a task completed. Although, judging by the size of that purse, it may not be nearly enough.”

He left the rancher hanging on his final statement as he himself stepped forward and set about his preparations. Slinging off his shotgun from his shoulder, he selected two incendiary shells from his bandoleer and loaded them into the double chambers of the weapon.

“If’n you don’t mind me askin’, sir, have you discovered just what it is that’s hauntin’ the barn?”

“A kleftimaylu,” Wynt responded evenly. “A foul creature whose ancestors came over on some poor immigrants’ vessel and made their home in the New World. Legend has it they came from one of the Greek isles somewhere.” He stood and turned back to the rancher. “If I don’t come out in a day’s time, burn the barn and pray. Neither one may work, but you at least have more chance of killing it that way than not. Especially if it’s been lulled to sleep after feasting on my bones.” He glanced one last time upon the ranch owner, who still sat on his chair by the fence, slightly slumped over, retaining that dazed and distant look. Wynt noticed for the first time that the master held close to his chest a small silver crucifix. “It’s just a piece of silver, good sir. It can’t do you any good against the beast. Just try and rest.”

The main entrance to the barn was an enormous sliding door on the front, which laid open about two feet. Wynt gripped a hand to its side and gave a great heave, grunting and straining against its mighty weight. Clearly it was meant to have been handled by more than one person. A steady stream of sunlight entered the barn, casting its warm rays upon the wooden slats of the floor, but not venturing farther than about ten or so feet in. With one last deep breath, and a mental check of all his gear, Wynt shoved the butt of his gun into his right shoulder, squared his frame, and entered the barn.

As soon as he passed the realm of the sunlight’s glow, he felt the presence that resided within the barn’s interior. Tantalizing and whimsical, it drew him in, urging him to throw caution to the wind and enjoy the pleasant nature of the barn around him. All around, there were stacked haybales, feeding troughs, and equipment for the riding and care of horses. In a way, it was somewhat pleasant. Every smell and aroma invaded his nostrils, telling him the story of this place, however mundane and boring it might be.

And it was because of this aloof atmosphere that Wynt did accidentally drop his guard, for only the briefest moment, when he recognized the pleasing scent of a well-ridden horse that reminded him of his childhood. The good memory flooded his mind for only a few seconds, before it was too late. All at once, the great main door of the barn was pulled shut all the way, swiftly and forcefully, with a resounding boom that echoed throughout the now cavernous barn interior.

Wynt froze, solid as a prize-winning carved statue, and held his ground. With movements so slow that they would bore a lazy mare, he reached into the pocket of his coat and produced a small glass cylinder filled with a special liquid. Giving it a couple shakes, he held it aloft and waited a few more seconds as it started to give off a soft glow. In a minute, its luminous rays filled a small area around him, and he set it on a low crate nearby. But something else caught his eye, something that he did not much like, nor did he find very encouraging.

What he had at first perceived as a cobweb, he now recognized as a singular strand of something much larger. He tucked the glowing cylinder into a shallow pocket on the front of his coat and continued on his way forward into the barn, following the strand. Just as he suspected, it was soon joined by others, of varying thicknesses and lengths. Soon, he found that everything was covered in them, and he noticed another curious thing. His ears just barely picked up the shallow, heaving sigh of a creature that seemed gargantuan.

Behind him, there was suddenly a rapid pattering of feet. He whirled around, falling to one knee, and leveled his weapon back in that direction. Nothing. Carefully, he twisted back around and crept along his way, but this time with a more attentive ear. He began to hear new sounds. There was this constant creaking and groaning of the building itself, even as he stood stock still. And most curious of all, it seemed to him that the strands…were singing to him. To him, it felt like a rhythmic song, something befitting a night in a warm tavern after an evening with good friends and a hearty beer. It was, in a way, pretty. The way in which his cannister of light glistened its delicate rays off their glossy forms mesmerized him, and captivated his whimsy, for only the briefest of moments.

But that was all it took. He never had the chance to see it coming. All he perceived was the sudden thrust of something hard and forceful ramming into his side, sending him sprawling. In that chaotic moment of confusion, he lost his shotgun. It slid across the floor, whacking the side of a crate in the process, causing it to misfire. The final image he retained from that fraction of a second was the flash from the shotgun shell illuminating with a hideous red glow a twisted, grotesque, and horribly misshapen face. Barely visible, just outside the view the flash of light created, one could say that a horrifying, yet familiarly shaped body could also be perceived. But altogether, the shape was something that few had ever truly seen, yet fewer still who had lived to tell the tale. In that moment, Wynt wondered whether he would ever get to tell it.

It felt like waking from a terrible dream in which you have just suffered a fatal injury or illness, but then awake to discover yourself completely fine. He wasn’t quite sure what happened. Cautiously, he picked himself up off the floor, and checked his body for broken bones. Yet something felt off. He felt as though he should be far worse than he actually was. Groping through the darkness, he felt for nothing in particular, but something he knew he needed. Something he desperately needed in order to survive! No. No he didn’t. There was no danger. He recognized where he was as his fingers came into contact with the bedsheets. Gingerly, he rose to his feet and felt the comfy bed dressings that held tightly to the mattress, reminding himself of where he was. This was his room, in his house, back in Louisiana. It was a modest home, but by no means destitute. With enough bedrooms for he and his wife, their infant son, and an extra for a guest, should one arrive, they had no want for space.

He breathed a gentle sigh of relief at the thought of home, yet that disjointed feeling pervaded his thoughts, until he had to sit down on the springy mattress to clear his head. Why did he feel this way? What was wrong with him? Through the open window, a cool breeze drifted in, reminding him that it was nighttime, and he was all dressed for bed. His hair was freshly washed, his nightgown donned, and upon his feet were his favorite slippers. All that was missing was his darling wife, who he assumed must be out somewhere else in the house, probably putting the baby to bed.

Again, the wave of distorted memory washed over him like a favorite drink that had been given a secret new ingredient the barkeep refused to disclose. He shook his head in frustration as he tried to think. Nothing made sense. Why was this happening?

The cool night air was suddenly overpowered by a new feeling. From under the door came a waft of dark mist, that he couldn’t quite identify, until he stepped closer and sniffed. And with that sniff came a sudden realization!

“No! No, no, no, no, no, no, NO!” He screamed at the top of his lungs as he rushed to the door and threw it open. As he did so, in came a tidal wave of smoke that knocked him on his haunches, filling his nostrils and eyes with burning coals. Coughing and sputtering like a madman, he crawled over to the doorway and did his best to peer out. What he saw was his worst nightmare. The whole house was in flames, and right there, not a dozen feet from the doorway, were a couple charred corpses, one the size of an adult and the other that of a child. He knew exactly who they were. There were only two people they could be. They both lay there, engulfed in flames, and Wynt knew this feeling all too well. Forgetting the fire and smoke, he let out a bloodcurdling scream of rage. He roared and yelled until he couldn’t do either anymore. By then, the fire had engulfed even more of the house and had reached his room. He didn’t care. He simply sat there, alone with his grief.

And suddenly, he woke up again. It was a shock that shook him to his core. He was back in his own room, with the door closed, the window open, and no smell of flames. But one thing was for sure. His heart was pounding. Whatever he had just gone through, it had been for real. Of that much he was certain.

Then he remembered his wife and child! Quickly, he sprang to his feet and darted for the door, threw it open, and rushed out. There she was, cradling the baby, her back turned to him. He stopped, wondering what to do. However, there was nothing he could do. As soon as she turned around and smiled, something exploded and sent a ball of fire through the room.

He woke up again with a snap. Snarling like a vicious animal, he leapt for the door, barged through it again, and came into the living room where she stood, once again, with her back turned, rocking the child to sleep on her shoulder. This time, instead of stopping, he rushed past her and on into the next room, intent on finding whatever it was that exploded before. Not quick enough! Once more, the room exploded.

This time, he woke up and yelled something foul, and then rushed out to try again. This had to work!

After dozens of attempts, he sank to his knees in his bedroom. It was useless, nothing he did was working. He couldn’t find the source of the danger in time. Everything had been tried, yet nothing had worked. It was hopeless.

No! There has to be some way around this! He thought, and got to his feet. Now. AGAIN!

And again he tried. And a thousand more times he failed. By the end of it, he was weak and in need of rest. So he did that. He flopped down on his bed, a mess of tears, and still ended up burning to death in a few minutes. He could find no way out of this deadly nightmare of his!

As he crouched there on his knees, he wondered what on earth it could mean. Somehow, somewhere, he felt like he had seen this before. Had he done this before? Where? When? What had he done differently? The one thing he hadn’t tried yet was…no…he couldn’t. He wouldn’t! He would never be able to live with himself if he did that!

NO! I WON’T!

“But you must!” A voice spoke into the momentary silence before the predestined explosion was set to come. He wondered to himself if it was just in his head. “Do it! You know you must!”

Slowly, the door opened. And in walked his wife, without their child, stepping softly in her bare feet, making no more noise than a ghost. Wynt froze and stared her down with a look that penetrated her freakish expression.

“You…know…what you must do.” She said again, in an even, domineering, and malevolent voice. A voice, Wynt noticed, that he did not remember. Not in the slightest. “You know you want to! Just leave. Go, save your wretched hide, and jump the hell out that window! Go! Leave us behind to die! It’s what you want, isn’t it?”

At that moment, her figure, her image, her form, flickered. Like a dying candle, it flickered for one moment, but regained its composure.

But that was all Wynt needed. He set his teeth.

Oh, it’ll pay for this! It is gonna pay through its wretched nose for even daring to go this deep! That cocky little creep!

He balled his fists and steadied himself. Then he walked across the room to where she stood. He was taller, and he made sure that showed. From a mere two feet away, he glowered down at her.

“When you’ve been a hunter as long as I have, you pick up a thing or two.” His expression darkened. “One of the most important lessons you learn is about yourself. Creatures such as you are clever and tricky, but when it comes down to it, you’re all the same. You never learn. You have no restraint, so you always go for the biggest splash. Do this enough times, you learn the pattern. Even with your clever trick of wiping my mind, it’s easy enough to break free. You always charge straight for the darkest of memories. So you’ll forgive me for calling your bluff. Run the game enough, you learn every play there is. So, if you please, enough with this façade. The jig is up. Let’s see what you really look like.”

She did not like that one bit. As was expected. Her face began to contort like a viper, her body reeled backward, her arms flew up, her legs split into a dozen more, and the room faded like a poorly drawn picture. It rapidly receded away behind her, and a bright light blinded him for a moment.

When he awoke, for awake he now was, he saw his predicament. In the very back of the barn, in a place where no light shown, he was stuck in an enormous spider’s web. But not just any spider’s web. He was tangled in the threads of the kleftimaylu, the mind-thieving spider, an ethereal demon of a forgotten age, of which there were few left in the world.

A dozen yards away lay his glass luminescent jar, which cast a faint light upon the scene. He noticed this just before he saw her. The cold blue luminescence bathed her in an eerie, somber, and grotesque aura. She was a kleftimaylu, a many-legged spider with a human-like face, a conglomerate of all of her past victims. Great and terrible, she stood upon the web above him, screeching like a hyena, sounding his impending doom.

But he still had a couple tricks up his sleeve. Literally up his sleeve. With his arms held fast to the sticky strands of webbing, he flicked his wrist, sending his knife into his hand. In one smooth motion, he cut his arm free and reached over to cut his other loose. As soon as it was, he reached into his coat pocket and drew forth a revolver loaded with silver bullets. Right as she came down to land the fatal blow, he fired, striking her between the eyes.

The resulting screech and shower of dark purple blood would’ve been enough to kill anyone’s eardrums and sense of personal hygiene. But as soon as her body hit the ground, Wynt simply laid back upon the web, and enjoyed the silence. Reaching into his coat pocket, he pulled out a small flask of whiskey, uncorked it, and took a swig.

The image of his wife’s twisted face was marked in his mind’s eye like a stain upon his brain. It was true though, what the beast said. Curious, how it seemed to know what even he seemingly did not. He had to get out of there. There was nothing he could’ve done to change what happened. And it did supply ample incentive to kill the thing as soon as possible. Strange how these creatures operate, he thought. To derive simple pleasure from watching their helpless prey suffer mentally and emotionally. And yet, eventually, it always gets the better of them. Prod the sheep long enough, and you’ll eventually wake the Wynter Wolf.

One day, he swore to himself once again, he would find the beast that set fire to his home. Afterall, it was for that reason that he became a hunter. And on that day, the creature would be forced to sit helpless on a spit, limbless and helpless, as he gave it a taste of its own medicine. But until then, he would carry on with his work. His second most fervent desire was that no one else should have to suffer his fate. To that end, he had made it his duty.

These kinds of jobs were always the most taxing. He only hoped the ranchers could afford to pay his fees. At the very least, they could stand to buy him a new coat. After another swig, he took up his knife again and set about the task of freeing himself from the piece of artwork that was meant to be a deadly snare. It was always a pity, having to destroy these things. In a way, they really were one of the most beautiful things in the world.