(The Potato Soup Prompt Challenge was to use these three prompts: Melting snowman, flat tire, mashed potatoes. For the next prompt challenge, click on the “Story by Prompts” tab.)
Head pounding, stomach roiling, and vision swimming, Detective James sat up. Moonlight filtered through a hole in the building James found himself in. Only one eye could see the shadowed interior; the other was swollen shut. He grimaced through the pain and got to his feet, dizziness pouring through him. Stumbling to a waist-high wall, he surveyed the building. He determined it to be an abandoned barn when he saw molding straw. The stench of piss and death clung to the insides of his nostrils as he headed for the doors.
With the fog permeating his brain, he couldn’t remember how he had gotten to the barn or where the swollen eye had come from. It hurt to breathe, ribs sensitive to the touch. Just as he reached a hand out for the doors, an image came to him: a white Forester with a flat tire. His mind clung to the memory.
Sarge talked about how the unseasonably warm weather canceled his family’s holiday sledding trip as James followed him from the vehicle wrapped around the trunk of a pine tree. The driver was missing from the crash site; the annoying key-in-ignition ding echoed as they searched the woods—never finding a body.
He must have been called out to a crime scene, but where? It had been night in the memory, so perhaps not much time had passed since he had been unconscious. And what had happened to Sargent Donaldson?
James strained with the doors until his fingers hurt—they wouldn’t budge. He gave up and began searching for another way out. He was standing at the foot of a rickety ladder looking up into the black loft when he heard someone at the doors. The detective moved behind the low wall, reaching for the gun that should have been strapped to his hip. He looked around the edge with his good eye.
A thin being cloaked in shadows moved inside and searched along the opposite wall. Finding what they were looking for, they began to drag it to the entrance. The sound of moaning ebbed and flowed as the person being dragged slowly came to. “Please,” a female voice mumbled. “Please let me go.” The voice didn’t sound like his wife’s, but for some reason James was reminded of Jessica.
He had been eating Christmas dinner with his family when his cell rang. His identical six-year-old boys immediately sang along to “Deck the Halls”, food falling from their mouths. With his own mouth full of ham and mashed potatoes, he went to the living room to answer the infernal thing when it rang for the third time in a minute.
There had been another murder. The killer had upped the victim count from previous years. “You promised,” Jessica said as he headed to the front hall. The first Christmas he had been scheduled off in years, and he went to work.
“Please,” the woman pleaded. She no longer sounded groggy—she sounded scared. James wondered why she didn’t attempt to free herself. The person dragging her didn’t say anything. The door shut behind them, something heavy locking into place.
Detective James rushed to the doors and attempted to open them again. When they didn’t move he raced for the ladder. He found a fist-sized hole in one wall of the loft. Air warmer than late December in Michigan should allow whistled through the opening. Several hard kicks to the surrounding wood made the hole bigger. A tall tree grew close enough to the barn for James to leap onto and shimmy down. He followed the pleas through the moonlit forest, always remaining ten feet behind.
A structure loomed in the darkness. Flickering light poured out on the slushy snow when a door was opened. As the light fell on the assailant, James clenched the tree he hid behind. He rubbed his eyes and shook his head several times. What he saw couldn’t be possible.
The door shut after the woman had been dragged inside. James ran to the window—needing to understand. Now that he could see her properly, he realized why she had allowed the being to drag her. Her right leg was missing—someone had cut it at the hip. Bloody bandages wrapped around the socket. As he took in the rest of her body, he saw he had mistaken more bandages for clothing. Her entire body was wrapped in them. Both of her arms were gone as well, only bloody bandages remained. The woman lay on a metal table, a bright lantern next to her dark hair. James made his unwilling eyes look at the creature standing at her feet.
It held a saw covered in rusty blood in its stick arm. Coal-black eyes set deep in a melting snowman’s face watched the woman without any expression. A drooping carrot with a chunk missing sufficed as its nose. Five pieces of coal formed a crooked line that made up its mouth. The creature’s slim white body advanced around the table on legs James couldn’t see. The saw rested on the remaining leg at the hip.
Her scream rent the night as the teeth of the saw cut into her flesh. Blood puddled on the table, the raised lips at the edges keeping the viscous liquid from falling onto the floor. The woman’s eyes locked on his, and he pitched away from the window, bile rising in his stomach. Firm hands stopped him. He turned, falling against the shed as a scream erupted from his throat.
The thing behind him looked much like the snowman inside the shed, except it stood on one human leg, with a broken tree branch for the second leg. Two human arms reached out for him. The creature violently knocked his head against the building. As his world turned dark, Detective James knew the next time he woke he would be missing limbs—that would be attached to the snowman carving up the woman.
Candice Azalea Greene is the author of horror shorts “Ahanu’s Story” (The Trees Have Eyes), “Selcouth” (Amazon), “I Didn’t Have Arachnophobia, Exactly” (The Grey Rooms Podcast), and “The Cabbage Patch Kids” (Monstronomicon). When not writing horror or fantasy, Candice is either binge-watching Supernatural for the hundredth time or painting rocks to hide around her Rocky Mountains community. To connect with Candice, search her on Facebook or Instagram.