In the moments before dusk while the autumn sun was slowly setting and the winds still played their sprinkling notes over red and golden leaves, a boy led his father down a dirt path through a small park.
“There it is dad.” The boy, who could be no older than eleven said. He extended his index finger and pointed. The father looked at where his son pointed, paused for a moment, and cringed.
“Son of a… you weren’t fibbin’,” father said. A head hung from the wild mass of oak tree in front of father and son.
Rays of light escaped through slits in the canopy, dust motes slowly drifted through the cool air, and the head of a middle-aged man with a stony face rocked silently in the breeze. The stone was not in the expression, but relief, seemingly chiseled and carved from flesh.
“I told you!” The child said triumphantly. They stood there, puzzled. The head itself was not in any state of decay; its cheeks still flush, the face more somber than dead. It looked like a child’s toy, a figurine, the kind of thing boys do to their sisters dolls. Only…
“It’s a head alright,” He admitted; whatever else he had meant to say escaped him at that moment. He stood there with his jaw locked, on the verge of a syllable, a phrase, a something. But then it was gone. “It’s.. a head alright.” he repeated.
“Son, you head down to Mr. Raines house – he’s a policeman. Let him know what we’ve seen here and that your father will vouch for you.” The boy nodded, and ran down the winding path toward help.
The park, little more than a copse of dense wood with a path through it, seemed almost suspended like the head itself. The fleeting moment of stillness dragged on as the gentle stirring of wind made the sound of leaves whisper.
“Hello?” The father said in a brisk, stern voice, just as his son was out of earshot. The head took on an illusory floating appearance; the fine line from which it dangled seemed to disappear in the purple tones just before night set on.
“Are you… alive?” he asked, fearing more than anything in this world a response. In his minds’ eye, he could see the eyes flit open, and grave worms pour from the lifeless mouth as it woke from its undying slumber. His neck felt slick, and his stomach slicker. He knelt down, picked up a good sized rock, and like a child hoping to skirt the all seeing eye of parental authority, looked left, then right, and threw it at the head.
There – he could swear the head moved, perhaps not much, but it did, and of this he was sure. He reeled back from the ghastly face.
A husky policeman made a valiant effort to keep up with the boy, his ruddy face testimony to the pace which was necessary to have been kept. He drew in ragged breaths as they made their way through overgrown ivy and dense foliage on either side of the path.
“Hold up a second there boy,” He said, breathing in sharply, and believing this very second he may have a heart attack should he not slow his ascent over the small hill.
“It’s just around the corner Officer Raines,” the child said, as eager as a schoolboy could be. The policeman used the brim of his hat to soak up the sweat on his drenched forehead. He saw the boys’ father, and knew him by name.
“Edward Thistle? Something like that.” He thought to himself, and disregarded the thought with a wag of his jowls.
“Edward, your boy here says-“ As he approached, ready to recite the cry wolf parable, his eyes fell on what appeared to be a head suspended by some type of fishing line from one of the old gnarled oak trees.
“Well, I’ll be damned,” The officer said, his flush skin burning against the rapidly cooling night air. “Your son ain’t a liar.”
The little boy was quiet, excited to see how the adults handled the situation, vindicated, though he did know not this word, is how he felt.
“Officer Raines, should you not attempt to examine the, err,” Edward fumbled. “The body… or what’s left of it?” He finished eager to see what a trained eye in the art of detection and forensics might find. In truth, Harley Raines was neither trained in the art, nor was he especially qualified for the job.
“Well, of course.” The officer said matter-of-factly. He approached the floating head, taking slow, careful steps forward into the thick brush. At a distance of four or five feet, the officer stopped in his tracks, his voice wavering slightly.
“Ah, well, this is obviously a head which has been… separated from its body.” He said this as if presenting new information, keenly observed through an eye over a microscope. He stood on his tippy toes to see just where the fishing line had been attached, but his nerves would not let his curiosity venture too far.
“Well, Edward, we should really be calling a, you know – professional. I’ll fetch the coroner. He’ll know what to make of this, and once we know the cause of death we’ll be able to cut the poor guy’s head down, and find the monster that did this.” Officer Raines appeared to have convinced Edward and his son, and made a pudgy trot to his police car.
A thin, pale man in a black coat held a flashlight that trembled audibly in the dark, causing the loose connections inside to produce an intermittent flicker of light. The coroner had thick framed glasses, and jowls like a hound dog.
“Oh,” He said, surprised, as if he came upon someone changing. “So a hanging head. Not exactly what I pictured, Harley.” He said in an attempt to sound facetious amidst the morbid atmosphere. He ran his fingers through what remained of his fine silver hair. “Where’s the…” he made a circular motion with his hands, looking about the area. “…rest?” he asked.
The men went to speak, but no words came to them, and instead, they just stood there, hands on hips.
“I see. That’s… well, let’s take a look, shall we?” The coroner banged the metal flashlight again, struggling to keep the floating head illuminated. All three men stopped. The head swayed slowly, as if being propelled by some revenant autumn breeze. One of the eyes flicked open, though, not in the normal sense. The lower lid retracted, revealing beady black gemstones.
“What in heaven’s name – “The coroner stopped, his face suddenly shrinking behind his coke-bottle glasses. The head began to sway in a lateral motion, slightly, like a child on a swing trying to gain momentum. The other eye flicked open, the last of the day’s light fading into the coal black shards.
“Perhaps we should get a specialist out here,” suggested the coroner, his voice rising to a choked falsetto. He looked helplessly to the officer, then to Edward, and probably would have turned to the boy had he known he was there.
There was a creak from somewhere high above.
The head rocked back and forth, and began to soar through the air. It exhausted a shriek, like hinge that needs grease, and it echoed through the otherwise silent twilight.
There was a wet sound . A sick sound.
The sound watermelon makes as it is dropped on hard-concrete.
Busy machine-like teeth bit into the coroners head, chewing through fine silver hair.
The little boy ran down the path, swiftly and silently as young boys do in times which they need to be unheard. The policeman fumbled with his firearms holster, his clammy hands slipping over the brass snap.
“Shoot the goddamn thing Officer Raines, shoot the damn thing!” Edward shouted, he himself beginning to run away from the hungry teeth which were finishing the last of what was left of the coroners head. Raines finally freed his weapon, the sound of his gun cutting through the slick sloshing sounds like fireworks on the fourth of July. The shot must have hit its mark, but only succeeded in making whatever the hell it was angry. The head expelled a sharp, alien cry which reminded the policeman of seagulls fighting over trash at the pier. And those were the officer’s last thoughts. The head lowered itself against the earth, and vaulted into the air, clinging to officers Raines scalp in passing, and removed a sizable chunk of his skull in the process. There was a hollow sound, an aimless shot which fired into the dark, and then silence.
Edward imagined the officers trigger finger squeezing away at his pistol in vain, the top of his skull removed like a cap, and the creature – whatever it was – drinking, no – feasting – on the officers vitae. The last of the light had long since been extinguished, and Edward now realized how alone he was.
Scared, he began to run aimlessly away from this gruesome scene. As he ran toward the way which he believed he had come, his foot became caught in thick ivy and he toppled over into the undergrowth. Edward heard the sound of movement from somewhere nearby.
“Hello?” He said quietly. “Is… someone there?” He asked cautiously, though he meant something, hoped to god there was no reply, and waited with bated breath for a response. The teacher heard nothing. Edwards’s eyes slowly began to adjust to the darkness – he had not made it far at all, and could see the vague outline of the path perhaps thirty feet from where he was now standing.
He ran at a full, mad, sprint toward the path, vaulting over the dark shapes on the ground – rocks, bushes, and rotted out logs, he imagined; with every step his desire for life grew and his resignation to death dwindled. Edward flew across the dark woodland landscape toward the amber streetlights he could now make out through twisted and gnarled branches.
Silhouetted, however, against the orange-gold glow of safety he could see dozens of heads; he saw shadows but knew them as they were, descending from the silent and still canopy above. As if sensing his despair, the familiar terrible sound of the clacking, machine like teeth rang out in chorus around him. Edward, frantic, made his silent pleas and bargains to a god he knew would not answer.
And then he stopped dead in his tracks; a crude image of his face. A dull spider’s carapace was, as he stood mouth agape, taking upon the form of his face, deflating like a balloon to accommodate even the smallest details and scars, carving out a near perfect relief from within. Edward cried out in dismay but could not run.
The streetlights which had been so close were now blacked out by hundreds of suspended heads which slowly descended from above, as if someone had just rung the dinner bell.