The world is in chaos. From the gates of hell come the monsters and beasts that myths and legends are made of.
“Make sure you get home early. I want you here by sundown. Understand me?”
Meredith nodded his head as he looked up at his mom’s tired face before taking a bite into the hot and fragrant salt-bread he held in his hand.
“Meredith, you have your cell phone with you?” Too sleepy to reply, Meredith nodded again while his mom went on giving instructions—the same instructions she gave him every single day. “Remember to charge it in school. The battery in that thing isn’t reliable, and I need to know where the three of you are at all times.”
His mother bustled around the tiny kitchen as she finished preparing the lunch boxes. She was a short, thin woman of about thirty or more years, and Meredith had never seen her laze around, not even when she was sick. Even then, she always found something to do. That had not always been the case. When his other mom, Elizabeth, had still been alive, they’d led a comfortable life. But society had been cruel, even though their marriage was legal in the eyes of the law.
Being gay and living in an ultra-conservative society, they’d found people had shunned them and looked for reasons to hurt them. She and Elizabeth, who’d died not six months earlier from leukemia, had been hurt more than enough. It was their reason why, after segregation became normalized, they’d gone through all the trouble of setting up their town in the middle of nowhere Colorado, which had continued as a bastion of acceptance and diversity in a rapidly changing country. Men and women like his moms had found each other and pulled their money together until, finally, after three years of hard work and paying off the right offices and people, they’d had the chance to move and left their respective towns and cities to settle there.
Established back in the days when cowboys and Indians battled each other, Merry Springs had long been abandoned by its original settlers. Elizabeth had found the town and thought it would be the perfect place where they could be who they wanted to be, safe to love whomever they wanted, and be freed from the shackles of society’s formalities. It was only an hour’s drive from to the nearest city that boasted a school, general hospital and shopping center, so they’d jumped at the chance and moved there. That the town name, Merry Springs, happened to be Lucas’ pet name for him had been a bonus. Two months was all it had taken to finalize the sale and transfer of title and make the land their home. Their only problem had been the town’s isolation from modern amenities.
Finished with his bread, Meredith took his leave of his mother before going out to the back of the house in search of his younger brothers. He found them in the middle of their expansive organic vegetable garden, poking a stick into the pumpkin patch.
“What are you two doing? Get inside and brush your teeth. Now, please,” Meredith called out, stopping by the edge of one of the many vegetable plots.
The shorter of the two boys, Bobby, looked up at the sound of his voice.
“Meredith, the pumpkins lost all their leaves,” Bobby yelled out.
“And the charcoal we scattered last night is all gone, too,” the taller of the two piped in. Freddy was the middle brother, and at twelve, was five years younger than Meredith. Bobby was eight and followed Freddy everywhere.
Meredith shrugged. “Could just be that last night worms ate the leaves, and the rains washed out the charcoal.”
“I think the zegben ate them. Mom said these are their favorites,” Bobby said, dropping the stick and coming to join him where Meredith stood waiting for them.
“There’s no such thing as zegben, Bobby,” Meredith said in a patient voice, waving his hand for Freddy to hurry. Five years ago, a potentially new species of carnivore had been discovered in Borneo, described as having hind legs longer than its front legs. It had been assumed that the reported sightings of zegben in the area might actually have been sightings of a member or relative of the new cat-fox species, since it sounded similar.
The previous year, someone in town had stumbled into a rotting cadaver of an animal no one could identify. From the shark-like teeth in its jaws, it had definitely been a predator. The wildlife authorities had declared it a wolf. No one believed them as no wolf on record ever stood thirteen feet tall. Meredith thought it was all a bunch of crappy speculation.
“But Mom said—”
“I know what Mom said, but she’s just trying to scare you with stories of cannibalistic monsters. Who’s ever seen a zegben? Name me one person who’s actually seen a rat-tailed, cat-faced dog. Not around here, they haven’t.” Meredith saw the disappointed looks on both Bobby and Freddy’s faces as they shook their heads. “You see? Now let’s go, or we’ll be late for school.”
Meredith led them back into the house so they could brush their teeth. Ten minutes later, they said their goodbyes to their mother and began the short hike down the trail to the railroad tracks, weaving their way through the chickens feeding on the ground. Their mother had sold the car to pay off part of the hospital bills when their other mom, Elizabeth, had died. It was a good thing the sugar beet mill’s lone steam train was scheduled to pass sometime around five-thirty. That gave them about ten minutes to get on the train.