Those Who Turn From God

Originally published by Schlock! Webzine

“This is it,” Daniel said. He slowed the rusted pickup truck to a stop near a small clearing in the woods. The headlights cut through the tall pine trees, casting shadows like prison bars along the forest floor.

“You sure you want to do this?” I asked as Daniel climbed from the truck.

Daniel reached behind the driver’s seat and pulled out a heavy-duty bolt cutter, fire-engine red with rubberized black handles and carbon steel jaws. “You have any better ideas?” He slammed the door and went around to the back of the truck.

Original audio production by Tales To Terrify

“Shit,” I whispered under my breath. I grabbed my flashlight from the seat and exited the passenger side, closing the door behind me. “No.” I walked toward the back to meet Daniel. “I just— I don’t know. Maybe we should call the cops. Explain what happened.”

I shined my flashlight on the dead body in the back of the pickup. It was loosely wrapped in a dirty white sheet stained with a bloom of deep red blood. Rings of duct tape were tightly wound around the ankles, the torso, and the neck. A single hand slipped out from between the folds of the sheet, its dark skin standing out in stark contrast to the white cotton fabric.

“That ain’t gonna bring him back.”

It wouldn’t of course. But it was the right thing to do. I didn’t say that though. Instead, I just shrugged and said, “Still …”

Daniel opened the tailgate. It dropped with a loud bang that echoed like a gunshot through the trees. I flinched at the sound. Dead leaves rustled as something unseen bounded away through the underbrush. A gust of chilly October air slipped icy fingers down my neck and into my jacket. I shivered. For the first time, I noticed the sound of the forest, a pulsing drone of crickets and frogs that reminded me just how far away we were from civilization. We were a good twenty minutes drive into the woods, miles from the nearest town. It was quite literally the middle of nowhere.

Daniel dropped the bolt cutter on top of the body, then turned to me. “Look, we both wish it didn’t happen, but it did. There’s nothing we can do now but look out for ourselves.”

I resented the way Daniel was saying “we.” We wish it didn’t happen. Nothing we can do now. But there was no “we.” I wasn’t the one who pulled the trigger—Daniel was. Sure, the gun belonged to my dad, and yes, I was there when it happened. But I had nothing to do with it. Daniel was the one who had urged me to call Marcus. Daniel was the one who suggested we go out shooting pumpkins in the woods behind my house. Daniel was the one who said …

I pushed the memory out of my mind. I didn’t want to think about it. The point was, Daniel didn’t give a shit about “we.” He only cared about himself.

Daniel grasped the sheet with both hands and pulled the body to the edge of the tailgate. “All right. Grab the legs.”

I didn’t move. “Where are we taking him?”

“That way.” Daniel pointed into the woods.

I swept my flashlight in the direction Daniel had indicated. The dim circle of light settled on the crumbling ruins of a small cabin nestled between the trees. The wooden structure was pale and weather-stripped in some places, blackened and rotting in others. There was no glass in the windows, leaving them as dark and empty as the eye sockets of a rotting bird.

I played the light across the front of the cabin. The place had clearly been abandoned for a long, long time. Decaying steps led up to a splintered front door. The wood was scarred with jagged diagonal gashes that looked like blows from an ax. On the wall beside the door were crude letters scrawled in faded red paint. Some of the letters were practically illegible, but I could still make out what they read: BURN IN HELL.

“In there?” I asked. I hoped my voice didn’t betray how freaked out I was by the house. It looked like something out of a slasher movie. I wasn’t in the mood to get murdered.

“Not the house,” Daniel replied. “The well.”

“Oh.” I panned the light past the house until it found the well that Daniel was talking about. It was a six-foot-wide circle of flagstones piled waist-high and capped with a heavy wooden lid. Two flat metal bars were crisscrossed over the top. Ancient padlocks clamped the ends of the bars to rusted metal rings driven deep into the mortar between the stones. A knotted tree with thick horizontal branches loomed over the well like a guardian.

Daniel slapped the side of the truck to get my attention. “C’mon, we don’t have all night.” He slid his arms under the body’s shoulders. “Help me lift.”

I hesitated for a moment, then tucked the flashlight under my arm and grabbed the body by the legs. Together, Daniel and I carried the corpse over to the well and lowered it to the ground.

“Goddamn, he’s heavy,” Daniel complained as he stood. He pressed his fists into his back, twisting his torso to loosen his spasming muscles. Then he picked up the bolt cutter off the body and walked over to the well. “Gimme some light?”

I shined my flashlight on the well. “You sure no one will find him?”

“Out here?” Daniel spun in a circle, gesturing with the bolt cutter at the dense forest. “Nobody even knows where this is.”

“You did.”

Daniel clamped the bolt cutter around one of the padlocks. “That’s because my asshole brother took me here when we were kids once.” The lock dropped to the ground. “And he only found it by accident.”

“Then why’d he take you here?”

“To scare me.” Daniel cut the second lock, then circled to the other side of the well. “He said there were a bunch of witches that lived out here, back in the 1800s. Slaves, or former slaves. I forget. Weird shit was happening in town—dead crops, livestock missing, shit like that—so, of course, the first thing they thought was, ‘It’s gotta be witches.’ Obviously.” Daniel strained to cut the third lock. Finally, it snapped. “Folks in Cedarville tracked them down out here and lynched six of them. Right up there.” He nodded to the branches of the tree extending overhead, then moved to the fourth and final padlock. “Then they chopped them up into pieces and threw them down the well.” The last lock hit the ground.

“Jesus.”

“Yeah, people didn’t fuck around back then.”

“Bunch of racist fucks.” I shook my head sadly. The story didn’t surprise me. Cedarville had a long, sordid history of racist violence.

Daniel removed the flat metal bars from the well and tossed them aside. “Anyway,” Daniel continued. “Point is, nobody’s finding him out here.”

“You think any of it’s true though?” I tried to sound casual, but my nerves were fried.

“What, about the witches?” Daniel scoffed. “Nah, my brother made that shit up.” He grasped the edge of the cover and tried to lift it. It didn’t budge. He grunted and tried again with a different grip. “God damn, this is heavy. Gimme a hand?”

I walked over to the well and grabbed the other side of the lid. Something caught my eye. “Hold up.” I shined my flashlight on the cover, then brushed away a layer of dirt and rust flakes to reveal words carefully carved into the wood. I read them aloud: “THUS IS THE FATE OF THOSE WHO TURN FROM GOD.” I looked at Daniel. “You sure he made it up?”

“Jesus Christ. Are you serious?” Daniel took off his faded Cedarville High baseball cap and scratched his fingers through his hair. “I don’t even know what to say right now.” He put the hat back on his head. “I’m just curious,” he said, standing up straight and putting his hands in his pockets. He shrugged his shoulders up by his ears. “What exactly do you suggest we do?”

“About what?” I asked.

Daniel gestured to the body on the ground, then to the well. “About him. About this. What do you have in mind?”

“I don’t—”

“You must have something, because you’re doing everything you can to make this a pain in the ass. First, you’re talking about cops. Now, it’s witches. So what is it? What’s your idea?” He spat on the ground. “Or are you just being a little bitch?”

I bristled. I knew Daniel didn’t have a very high opinion of me. He never had. He was always calling me a bitch, or a faggot, or a pussy. That’s what he called anybody who didn’t fall in line with whatever he wanted to do. As soon as anyone dared to challenge him, the insults started flying.

“What are we gonna say?” I asked, trying to remain rational. “About what happened?”

Daniel’s hands flew to his face, then exploded away from his temples with splayed fingers, mind blown. “We’re not gonna say anything!”

“Someone’s gonna ask, eventually. We should at least have our story straight.”

“So we just say we don’t know. We haven’t seen him.”

“His mom knows he was at my house.”

Daniel’s face went slack. “She does?”

“He called her.”

Daniel was quiet for a moment. Then, with sudden violence, he kicked the side of the well—one, two, three times—then stormed off toward the edge of the clearing. “FUCK!” he shouted at the trees. His voice carried for a while before echoing back. He snatched up a handful of rocks off the ground and hurled them into the woods, where they clattered like firecrackers against the trees. A flock of birds took flight in a mad rush of flapping, silhouetted against the moonlit clouds. “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!” Then he strode back toward me, his face a mask of fury. “Why didn’t you tell me that?”

“I— I didn’t—”

Duhhh, I— I didn’t—” Daniel mocked viciously. “You’re so fucking stupid.”

He kicked one of the padlocks with the toe of his boot. It sailed through the air and punched through the rotting wood on the side of the cabin.

“At least I’m not a fucking murderer,” I breathed, almost to myself.

“What did you say?” Daniel approached me, his head cocked.

I clenched my teeth. “Nothing.”

“It was an accident, asshole,” Daniel sneered.

“Was it?”

“Yeah, it was.”

“What about what you said?”

“When?”

“Right before.”

“I was fucking around. It was a joke.”

“He didn’t think so.”

“Maybe he shouldn’t have been so sensitive.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t have been so racist.”

I could feel my heart ricocheting around my rib cage. I had never dared to stand up to Daniel before. I should have done it sooner, before what happened to Marcus. I should have stepped in. I should have stopped it. But I was too afraid.

Well, not anymore.

Daniel sneered at me. “You think I killed him on purpose? Huh? You faggot piece of shit.”

He stepped up into my face, close enough for me to smell his beer-tinged breath, then put his hand on my chest and tried to push me. I swiped my arm sideways, knocking his hand away.

“Don’t touch me,” I growled. My voice was trembling. With fear, yes. But also with rage. I could feel it filling my head like a darkened thundercloud, crackling with electricity, ready to burst. I was tired of being afraid. I wanted to do something. To fight back. For myself. And for Marcus.

“All right, you know what?” Daniel said, suddenly animated. “Fuck this. Fuck you, fuck him, fuck everyone. You don’t want to help? Fine. I’ll do it myself. And then I never want to see you again.”

“Good!” I shouted. “Fine with me.” I strode back toward the truck, my chest heaving, my mind racing. For a brief second, I considered whether the keys were still in the ignition. Had Daniel taken them? I didn’t remember. But if he hadn’t, I could start the truck and just leave him behind. Leave him with the body. With the witches. Let him find his way back to Cedarville on foot. In the meantime, I would go to the police. Tell them what happened. What really happened. What Daniel had said. What Daniel had planned.

Before I could reach the truck, something heavy crashed into the back of my head. I crumbled to the ground. A gush of blood poured from my hairline, spidering down my forehead and over my eyes.

Daniel loomed over me, the bolt cutter dangling from one fist. His face was a watery blur, as if I was looking at him from the bottom of a lake. “I didn’t kill Marcus because he was black,” Daniel growled. “I killed him because he was stupid.” He lifted the bolt cutter and propped it on his shoulder. “Him being black was just a bonus.”

Suddenly, a powerful thud reverberated from within the well. It was a hollow sound that seemed to double over itself as it bounced off the inside of the circular stone walls. The cover over the well vibrated.

Daniel spun around in the direction of the sound. “Yo, what the fuck?”

Another thud. The heavy wooden cover began to rise off the well, levitating slowly, as if on a cushion of air. Eerie orange light spilled from underneath, distorted by shimmering waves of heat.

Daniel took a step backward, his eyes locked on the well.

With a roar like a jet engine, the cover launched violently into the air, turning end over end like a coin flip, disappearing into the dark as it arced through the midnight sky. It crashed through the trees somewhere in the distance.

I groaned in pain and sat up, clutching the back of my head. I felt drugged, confused, suddenly unsure of why I was in the woods in the first place. Then I saw the body wrapped in the sheet on the ground next to me. Marcus.

In an instant, it all came back to me. The gunshot. The panic. The sheet, from my mother’s closet.

The woods.

The well.

The witches.

I touched my fingers to the gash in my scalp, then looked back up at Daniel. He was no longer standing over me with the bolt cutters. Instead, he was walking toward the well. The bolt cutters slipped from his fingers, dropping silently onto a soft bed of pine needles. His mouth hung open, his skin reflecting the glow of the firelight. His wide-open pupils were black marbles; embers danced in his polished glass stare.

I followed the direction of his terrified gaze, blinking my eyes as my concussion-dulled brain strained to process what I was seeing.

A shadow was rising from the well.

Then another.

And another.

Six, in all.

The shadows flew up and circled Daniel as he stood frozen, unmoving, paralyzed with fear. They dipped and swirled, intertwining like wisps of smoke as they wrapped around his body. Black, vaporous tendrils encircled his wrists and ankles. Currents of super-heated air venting up from the well caused his clothes to ripple. Sweat poured down his face. His lips quivered as he whispered the same phrase over and over, like a penitent reciting the rosary.

It sounded like, “I’m sorry.”

At the same time, the two metal bars that had been crisscrossed over the well began to rise from the ground where Daniel had thrown them. They started to spin, slowly at first, then faster and faster, until they were just a blur. Like … airplane propellers? No, not propellers. I thought back to my summer mowing lawns with my uncle. That’s what the spinning bars reminded me of.

Lawnmower blades.

The sickening realization of what was about to happen hit me at the same time that it happened. The whirling blades launched through the air at Daniel. I turned away, shielding my face from the horror. A torrent of gore sprayed at me, slapping long tendrils of blood across my arms and back. Hot, wet chunks of flesh pelted my body. Through my clenched eyelids, I could see the orange light from the well flare brighter. Heat surged against my skin, the way a campfire pushes heat in your face when you squeeze a splash of lighter fluid into the flames.

After a moment, I lowered my arms and opened my eyes, afraid of what I might see.

But there was nothing.

Daniel was gone.

The only thing that remained was a smattering of dark red stains in the dirt, with long smears stretching along the ground to the well and up over the flagstone sides. It was as if something—or pieces of something—had been dragged inside.

I rolled to my knees and tried to stand, stumbling a few steps then pitching forward face-first into the dirt. My palms tore on the rocky ground as I reached out to break my fall, my brain slamming painfully inside my skull from front to back, threatening to burst out through the seething wound in my scalp. I moaned in agony, then turned over and sat up, eyes rapidly scanning the air around the well, searching for the murderous shadows, sure they would be coming for me next.

They were.

The shadows disentwined and separated as they lowered themselves to the ground near me. There were six of them, each distinct in form and size, their silhouettes visible against the hellish glow still spilling from the hole in the earth. As they drifted closer, one of them leaned down toward me.

It had a face.

No, not a face—the suggestion of a face, the way the brain finds faces in rolling clouds or knotted tree trunks. It was a trick of the eye, the mind searching to make sense from the senseless.

The shadow drifted closer. My nostrils burned with the acrid smell of woodsmoke and brimstone.

I heard a whisper. A woman’s voice. A single word.

“Cedarville …”

I pointed a trembling finger.

Then the shadows flew past me and into the woods, headed in the direction of the town.


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