Winters Secret

Prompt Day #73: What would be the last thing in the world you’d expect to find in your neighbor’s trashcan?

Winters Secret

 

The absence of the squirrels was the first thing I noticed. Living in the country, surrounded by trees, you see a lot of wildlife, especially squirrels. They’re everywhere, but then, they weren’t. I can’t say when it happened because it’s not something you realize immediately. It’s just one day, you look around and think “You know, I haven’t seen a squirrel in who knows how long.” That’s how it was when the whole thing first started.

It was around the time the missing squirrels were being pondered that the neighbors invited us over for a cook out. Mr. and Mrs. Winters were retired school teachers who’d moved up here just last year. We’d never spoken more than a few idle chats at the mailbox, but Hal and I agreed because we felt bad for them. They never seemed to have any visitors.

For two teachers, I found them to be a little strange. Their conversations were so shallow, it was as if they were scripted. Mrs. Winters asked a lot of questions about the “varmints” which I surmised were the now missing squirrels. She wanted to know if we had many around our home, did we ever put food out for them, how big were they, had we ever seen any raccoons or deer. Meanwhile, Mr. Winters was keeping my husband well hydrated with beer. When Hal asked to use the restroom, he was given directions and sent into the house. When Hal came out, he had miraculously sobered up and bee lined to me.

“I got a call from Mom just now, Dad fell and she is taking him to the hospital, we have to go.” He said. We made our apologies to the Winters and headed back across the road. When we got home, I grabbed my purse and car keys. Hal was just standing there.

“Hey. Let’s go!” I said, confused at his sudden lack of urgency.

“No, listen, all that stuff I just said isn’t true. Ok? Mom never called me. We just needed to get out of there.” Hal said whispering.

“What?” I demanded

“Look, those two are weird, right? So I go in to use the bathroom, and you know I was a little drunk. So, I got confused in the house and ended up going out the door into the garage. Honey, the garage was spotless, right? But it stunk like death. I thought maybe some rat or chipmunk had gotten in there and died so I sorta walked around, you know, trying to find it. I was gonna clean it out for them. I followed the smell to the garbage cans. I peeked under the lid and the thing was full of animal hides! Like they were flattened, like deflated or something, and oh man, they stunk so bad. I had to get out of there. That’s why I made up that story. Something freaky is going on over there.” He stopped at took a deep breath, searching my eyes to see if I believed him.

“So what are you saying? I mean maybe he tans them or something?” I said, truly unsure of where he was going with it.

“No, they were trashed. Some had maggots crawling on them. What are they doing with them?” he asked excitedly.

“I guess I don’t know.” I said.

“Well, I’ll be watching them. That’s probably where all our squirrels have gone. That’s probably why she was asking about them, they’ve ran out and want more!” He pounded his fist in the palm of his hand. I hadn’t seen what he had. Perhaps I would have taken him more seriously if I had. But I blew it off. I shouldn’t have. I know that now.

Monday mornings, the garbage truck comes. It comes through our road around 3am, so we all put our cans out the night before. Hal waited until the lights went out at the Winters’. He snuck over and opened the can. There was nothing there but trash. Baffled, he came back empty handed and without saying a word to me, went to bed.

By the time the boy from down the street went missing, we’d both forgotten about the mystery bin in the Winters’ garage. Hal was one of the volunteers who went out searching the woods for him. He was out every day after work until dark for two weeks straight and then the searches were called off. I had been spending my evenings at home alone during that time and had noticed that for those two weeks, the Winters’ never left their house. They didn’t even put trash out. I had begun to worry about them, as old as they were. I decided to go over to check on them. I had been meaning to go visit for a while anyways since we’d never reciprocated with a cookout of our own.

I knocked on the door but there was no answer. I tried the knob and it was unlocked. I let myself in.

“Mrs. Winters?” I called out and then “Hello?” There was no answer. I walked through the living room and leaned down the hallway.

“Hello? It’s Kayla Michaelson from next door, Mr. and Mrs. Winters? Are you there?” There was a silence I found ominous. They’ve probably gone out of town I thought to myself. But I knew better. You certainly don’t leave your door unlocked when you go out of town for a few weeks. I needed to check the rooms down the hall but I couldn’t bring myself to do it, not just yet. I decided to use the opportunity to check out the garage, suddenly remembering Hal’s story. I opened the door into the garage and the scent of death was over powering. I staggered backwards, choking and gagging. Thinking maybe Mr. Winters was in there lying on the concrete dead, I pulled my shirt up over my nose and headed back in. Hal was right, the place was OCD clean. Not a screw out of place, not to mention how clean it was. In the far corner, closest to the garage door, stood an old mustard yellow upright refrigerator. I followed the smell to it. Stealing myself for a shelf full of spoiled meat and squirming maggots, I opened the door. The missing boy, or what had been the skin of the boy, fell out onto my feet. I screamed and jumped back. I shivered and tried to calm myself down. I looked down at him. He lay there, deflated as if he had somehow been deboned and gutted. It was literally just skin, hair and clothing. I moved it with my toe, rolling it onto its back. There, at the base of what was once his skull, there was a ragged, but perfectly round hole about the size of a tennis ball. I bent down to examine it closer and I could see suction marks, like a hickey all around the hole and the ragged edges looked like teeth marks on further inspection. Something with a round mouth or proboscis had punctured the boy’s skin and sucked him dry. That is what happened to the squirrels that Hal had seen in the garbage cans when he’d been in here.  The Winters. It had to be. I needed to find them and I needed to call the police.

I slowly opened the door back into the house and looked around. I listened. Silence. I headed down the hall as quietly as I could, peeking into each room I passed. They were all empty. The master bedroom was as immaculate as the garage. You might think no one had ever lived here. I decided to check out the basement. I found the door in the kitchen. I turned on the flashlight on my phone. I got halfway down the stairs when I saw it, hanging from the ceiling. A large web like tent, the kind you see in trees infested with gypsy moths. It was huge with anchoring strands of web spread out at all angles attaching it and stabilizing it to a variety of landmarks in the basement. I backed up the steps and turned on the light. The thing was at least ten feet wide and was floor to ceiling in height. Shadows writhed about inside it. I turned and ran back up the stairs never even seeing the two adult-sized chrysalises plastered to the back wall of the basement.

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