We've reached into the recesses of Prospero's twisted past to bring you these four short stories, and endeavored to stay about as spoiler-free as the back cover with regard to the present day storyline, so whether you've already read Splinters or not, tune in every Sunday night in October for a fresh tale of the dark and clandestine history of everyone's favorite Splinter-infested small town!
Click here for Four Trips to Prospero, Part 1: The Stuff of Legends.
Click here for Four Trips to Prospero, Part 2: The Kirby Ridge Lights
For our third tale, let's take a trip back to a time when horror reigned supreme...
The Prospero Chronicles:
Not Quite a Hollywood Ending
By Matt Carter
Jack started, “All I’m sayin’ is-”
“What you’re saying is wrong,” Bill said.
“Look, are you gonna let me finish or-”
“I’ll let you finish when you start talking sense,” Bill said.
“Look, do we live in America or some Soviet hellhole where free speech means shit?” Jack protested.
“My van, my determination on what counts as free speech,” Bill said.
“Awww, come on, give him a chance to make his case,” Annie said, leaning over to Bill in the driver’s seat and kissing his ear. “Even if he’s dead wrong, you know I enjoy watching you two argue.”
I couldn’t see it, but I knew Bill was rolling his eyes then.
“Fine, you may proceed,” he said.
“Thank you,” Jack said, tipping her a nod. “All I’m sayin’ is, in a completely objective, fair fight, that I do believe Jason Voorhees would defeat Michael Myers.”
Bill snorted, turning to his girlfriend, “You hear these lies?”
“I do,” Annie said. She turned back to face us. Well, more me and Jack, really. Ned and Brenda were sitting in front of us, but they were more into making out than Jack and Bill’s argument on horror movies. “Go on, Jack, back yourself up here.”
Jack was just getting started, “Well, first, Jason’s got a cooler mask.”
“If you’re Canadian,” Bill said.
Brenda pushed herself away from Ned long enough to say, “Hey, my mom’s Canadian.”
“No offense intended,” Bill said.
“She didn’t take any,” Ned said, pulling Brenda back to him.
“Even so, the hockey mask’s cooler,” Jack said.
“If he didn’t change masks every movie, you might have a point,” Bill said.
“He’s only been in two movies. The hockey mask could stick!” Jack said.
“Still doesn’t hold a candle to Michael Myers’. Pure blank equals pure terror,” Bill said.
“It’s not blank. It’s just a William Shatner mask, painted white,” I said.
“Bullshit,” Bill said.
“You really oughta read Fangoria more,” I said. “They got a lotta cool stuff like that.”
“You’re serious?” he asked me, then turning to Annie. “He’s serious?”
She turned back to me and smiled, “Yeah. You do need to read more Fangoria, and it is a spray-painted Captain Kirk mask.”
I blushed. Annie could always do that to me. I’d liked her since, well forever, I guess. It was hard not to, really, being that she was the prettiest girl in a small town in the middle of nowhere (the fact that in addition to being cute and having curly brown hair, which I always liked, she really filled out like crazy when puberty hit her, certainly helped). Of course, being that she was the way she was, there was a lot of competition, and I didn’t have a lot to offer.
He was my best friend for pretty much that same forever. He was smart, buff, good-looking, funny and most important of all, confident. He didn’t have any problem chasing after Annie. He didn’t have to be afraid of screwing up, not like me.
The one thing I had over him, the one thing he didn’t know as well as he thought he did, was horror movies. We’d seen all the same movies, binged on all the late-night showings down at the Canterbury Theatre in Prospero. He’d seen the movies.
I absorbed them. I let them in.
Maybe that explained why I couldn’t get a date.
“Are you sure we’re goin’ in the right direction?” Jack asked, craning his neck around to peek out of one of the van’s rear windows and seeing nothing but the endless woods we’d been watching for the past fifteen minutes.
Annie checked the map, “You did take the third dirt road off Douriff?”
“The one with the sign marked Tillerman Road?” Bill asked.
“I wouldn’t call that a sign,” Annie said.
“Well, I wouldn’t really call this a road either,” Bill said, a heavy bump that nearly sent us all flying backing him up.
“True,” Annie said.
“But I did take it,” Bill said.
She turned back to Jack, “Then yeah, we’re going the right direction. Twenty minutes down Tillerman Road if you take it safe, pass through the creek…”
“…which we just did,” Bill said.
“…then just a few more minutes and we’re there,” Annie said, showing that smile to Jack that made it impossible to argue with her.
“It also means we’re now legally in Prospero,” Bill said with a dramatic shudder.
Ned broke off from Brenda long enough to say, “Screw Prospero.”
“Screw Prospero,” Jack and Bill agreed.
The name brought a shudder. Bill, Jack and Ned reacted to Prospero the way they did because they were on our school’s football team, the Braiwood Tigers, and if you knew what was good for you, you trashed Prospero and their terrible, terrible football team, the Prospero Poets, every chance you got.
I shuddered because of the stories.
Everybody had heard them. That Prospero was home to aliens and monsters, that people disappeared in these woods all the time, that there were ghosts, and killers, and Bigfoot…
I knew they weren’t true. They couldn’t be true. They weren’t any more true than the movies we’d snuck in to see and now could pay for because hey, we could do R-rated movies now. I knew the difference between real and make believe, but there were parts of my mind that didn’t, and tell them, yell at them, scream at them as much as I might, they still couldn’t shake that belief that the monsters under my bed and the fairy stories the big kids tell about the woods outside Prospero just might be real. Not all of them, but maybe, just maybe some of them…
“Anyway, the mask’s immaterial. Purely cosmetic,” Bill said. “Michael was first. He was the groundbreaker, the one Jason copied.”
Actually The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Black Christmas both beat Halloween by a few years, and that’s if we don’t count Psycho as the granddaddy of them all, not that I was going to correct them.
“Legacy don’t mean shit in a one on one fight,” Jack said. “Besides, if I’m still countin’ points, my second one’s a better one.”
“Oh yeah?” Bill challenged.
“Yeah, Jason’s diversified. Michael’s just into his knives. Jason’s got machetes, pick-axes, knives, knitting needles…”
“And Michael’s unstoppable!”
“Yeah, ‘cept if you shoot out his eyes and set him on fire!”
Bill looked at me in the rearview mirror, “Drake, man, back me up here?”
I shrugged. He wouldn’t like my answer, but I was having fun and looking for an excuse to jump into the conversation, “Honestly? I think Cropsey could take them both.”
Bill shook his head, “I should’ve known.”
“Nice,” Annie said.
As usual, Jack was much less diplomatic, “Cropsey? Seriously?”
“He’s faster! He’s just as strong! And he’s got those shears! I mean, did you see that raft scene?”
Jack laughed, “Next you’re gonna be makin’ a case for Harry Warden or Frank Zito. Or, hey, I know, why don’t you try to bring The Thing into it again.”
All right, now things were getting personal, “Hey, The Thing’s a good movie, if only enough people saw it-”
Bill pulled the van to a stop, “We’re here.”
Jack and I got out the back of the van, Bill and Annie the front. Ned and Brenda stayed exactly where they were. If they got as far as it looked like they were gonna get, I began to think hitchhiking home might not be an awful idea.
Freeling Farm loomed before us. Its name was far more impressive than the reality, naturally. There was an ancient-looking and overgrown farmhouse with a rusted out hulk in front of it that might have once been a pickup truck, and an even more dilapidated barn with half of its roof caved in. Halfway between them was the stump of a tree with an old ax sticking out of it. It looked like the kind of place one of our movies would take place in, and if they’d taught me anything it’d have been to run then and there and never look back, maybe while tossing a road flare in to make sure the evil was gone for good.
But that wasn’t what we were here to do, was it?
No. Being that Bill also happened to be Bill Freeling, and being that his mother had recently inherited it from his grandfather, the farm was now his responsibility, sort of. I mean, yeah, his parents owned it, but they barely had time to do anything with it these days, certainly not until winter had passed.
Until then, they’d put it on Bill to look the place over, see if there was anything worth salvaging or if they’d be better off just selling the land.
A sharp breeze picked up, knocking a couple slats from the roof.
Yeah, selling the land was looking pretty good.
“Oh yeah, this looks like fun,” Jack said. Looking back at the van as it started to rock, he added, “Kinda wish I was in there.”
“Join them if you want, but we got some work to do here. It’ll take maybe an hour or two, but we need to check the place from top to bottom. House, barn, orchard, anything inside the fence, it belongs to my folks,” Bill said.
“This’ll go faster if we get them to join us,” Jack said, motioning to the van.
It had started rocking faster. Bill said, “They won’t be much longer. Come on, if we split up we can get this done a lot faster.”
“I’ll take the barn,” Jack said, zipping up his jacket and making tracks away from the house. Of course he wanted the barn, that’d take, what, five minutes to determine that was useless? The pockets of his letterman’s jacket always had at least two joints hidden in the lining. Odds on he’d be smoking up long before trying to figure out how useless that barn was.
“Guess that means we’ll take the house and orchard,” Bill said, leading the way to the porch.
I didn’t like the looks of any of this. Not the barn. Not the house. Not the woods.
It was stupid. Silly. Too many movies making me think too many things, but it all seemed too familiar.
Annie put her hand on my arm, “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” I said, feeling more strength from her. “Just fine.”
“Cool,” she said. “Come on, let’s stick together, this place freaks me out.”
Suddenly I felt a whole lot stronger.
We joined Bill on the porch in time to see the front door fall inward with a heavy, clattering thud.
“You broke it,” I joked.
“No I didn’t,” Bill said, picking the door back up. “It was like that when I got here. Like it had already broken off but someone laid it against the door.”
“Your grandparents?” Annie asked.
“Maybe, but I don’t think so,” Bill said. “More likely squatters.”
So much for all that fear going away, “Do you think they might still be here?”
Bill sounded confident, “Doubt it, not with weather getting this cold, but just to be safe…”
He ran back to the van and slid open the side door. I could hear Ned and Brenda cursing at him and him yelling something about this being his van before he jogged back, carrying a new-looking hunting rifle.
“What the hell is that?” I asked.
Bill smiled, “My seventeenth birthday present. Oughta make any squatters think twice, don’t you think?”
I can’t say how skeptical I looked, but it couldn’t have been nearly as much as Annie.
Bill called the ground floor, and I got the second. Annie was eager to take the basement, but Bill didn’t want her to go down there alone, which meant she had to stick with one of us. I’m sure Bill meant for her to join him, but she decided to join me instead, which, while being kind of awesome, kind of set me on edge. I liked her, but I liked being friends with Bill too; I didn’t want to get in the middle.
We wandered the second floor for a few minutes in silence, taking in every detail that seemed to back up Bill’s squatter theory. There was dust on the floor, sort of, but it looked like someone had swept a path in the middle of the creaky hardwood floor, if not very well. There were wide, heavy footprints the size of diving flippers that made me laughingly think of the Bigfoot stories again (at least I wanted to think they were just stories).
And then there was the bedroom.
Most of the bedrooms were every bit as dilapidated as the rest of the house, but the master bedroom had been cleaned up not that long ago by the looks of things. The bed frame was bent and discarded in a corner of the room, its saggy mattress holding place of pride in the middle of the room, though covered with about an extra foot of leaves and grass twisted into some kind of giant nest. The dresser was empty save for a small shrine of cheap trinkets and pieces of brightly colored trash that looked like the kinds of things people would have lost or thrown away on hikes; soda cans, emergency whistles, a retainer case. More odds and ends trinkets hung from the ceiling on pieces of string.
“Whoever was here was really weird,” Annie said.
“Yeah. I mean… it’s like someone’s pretending to be a person but doesn’t quite know what they’re doing. Like an animal at the zoo that’s only seen people from a distance and thinks it can escape if it does what it sees everyone else doing,” I said.
“Like they’re playing house?” she asked.
“Something like that, yeah,” I said.
Annie looked at me a little oddly, “All right, maybe they weren’t quite as weird as you.”
“Hey, I just call them like I see them,” I said.
Bill yelled from downstairs, “You guys find anything?”
“Nothing good!” Annie yelled back.
“There’s nothing down here either! Give it another ten minutes, then I say we head home!” Bill yelled.
“Works for me,” I muttered. It was getting colder by the minute and the air was feeling wet. It wouldn’t be long before it’d start storming, I knew it. And of course there was also that unpleasant feeling that whoever was in here hadn’t been gone long enough.
She turned her eyes to me, “So… you got any plans on November 9th?”
Like she had to ask; I had that day marked on my calendar. Two movies came out that day: A Nightmare on Elm Street and Silent Night, Deadly Night. The other guys were arguing about which one to see. They both had cool posters, and they both sounded pretty scary. Nightmare had Wes Craven behind it, and sounded like it had a pretty trippy story, but Silent Night had a guy killing people dressed as Santa, and there were rumblings among local parents that they might put on a protest against it.
If they were going to protest it, it had to be good, right?
Still, while the other guys were arguing between them, I had a far more pragmatic solution.
“Double feature,” I said.
She smiled, “A man after my own heart. Want some company?”
“Well, sure, I mean a bunch of us were going to go and-”
“No,” she said. “I mean… would you maybe think about wanting to go with just me. I mean, just you and me.”
She must have seen my confusion, because she quickly added, “You know, like, a date?”
Oh. So that was what she meant.
Every fiber of my being just wanted to scream yes right then and there. Unfortunately there were more rational parts of my brain that wanted to question this good fortune, and even investigate the matter further.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because you’re nice, and you’re not that bad-looking in the right light?” she said, a playful smile forming on her very cute lips.
“No, what I meant… I mean, what I mean… Bill. Bill’s what I mean,” I said. Bill wasn’t just an obstacle between us. Bill was also my best friend. He was the guy who’d protected me from bullies ever since the third grade, not because he wanted anything from me or because I had toys he liked to play with, but just because that was what was right, and that was the kind of guy he was. Whenever I was short some change for the ice cream truck, he’d cover me, and sometimes he’d just show up to hang out with a new issue of my favorite comic that he was finished reading and give it to me.
We argued like friends, sure, but we were still friends, and I valued that a lot.
“Bill and me… we’re not working out, I don’t think,” Annie said. “I mean, I like him, he’s still really cool and all, but whenever we’re together it’s like I’m not the most important thing to him. You’ve always been so nice, and so sweet. You’ve always been a friend. And I know you like me. I know you’ve always liked me,” she said.
“Bill told you?” I asked.
“He didn’t have to, but he did verify,” she said. “Come on. Why don’t you just take a chance and let me take care of Bill?”
Great. Just great. All I had to do was say ‘yes’ and I’d get everything I’d ever wanted, but I’d probably lose my best friend in the world.
It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair at all.
But it also demanded an answer.
“Annie, I-” BLAM!
There was a gunshot outside. A pained, short squeal.
“Bill,” Annie said beneath her breath, running down the hall and hitting the stairs before I’d even figured out just what happened. Then I was after her.
I caught up to her at the house’s overgrown front lawn.
“Bill!” she called out. “BILL!”
He didn’t answer.
I put my hand on her shoulder, “It’s probably just him and Jack messing around. Trying to give us a scare.”
They always liked pulling jokes, the more messed up the better. I know Bill saw how scared I was, I didn’t put it past him to pull something with Jack to give me a good scare. Maybe even with Annie, making her give that speech to take me off guard…
No. She’d never do anything like that.
“I don’t know,” Annie said. She walked over to the van. Its sliding side door was wide open. Ned and Brenda were gone. Their clothes still covered the seat and floor, but they were nowhere to be found.
Even more disconcerting was the single drop of blood on the floor.
“What the hell?” Annie said.
My fear sensors were in overdrive.
“We have to get out of here,” I said. “We have to call for help.”
“No, it’s like you said, it’s probably a joke,” she said, rifling through the various tool and gear boxes that Bill kept on the floor of his van. She opened one, spilling flares all over the ground, before she found what she wanted: a heavy tire iron.
“You pulled that out for a joke?” I said.
“No,” she said. “In case it isn’t.”
There were drag marks on the ground, carving a path through the dry, tangled grass leading to the barn but no more blood at least, which was more comforting. Annie led the way confidently, holding the tire iron in front of her as if it were some sort of mythical sword that could slay dragons with a single swing.
“Bill? Jack? Brenda? Ned? You all in there? Are you pulling some kind of joke?” she called out, the closer we got to the barn.
I pulled at the back of her shirt, “Please, Annie, we need to get the hell out of here. I got a really bad, I really, really got a bad feeling about this. Let’s just-”
“Please,” she said as we got to one of the large barn doors. “This is all just-”
She swung the door open, and the first thing I caught was the roar of thousands of flies in the air. Then the smell. Meat, rotten. The coppery smell of blood. I bent over, trying not to puke and failing.
When I got up is when I saw the bodies. I saw the animals first, raccoons and dogs and cats and squirrels and maybe even a couple deer, butchered and half-eaten on the ground, a couple hanging from ropes from the ceiling like those things we found in the master bedroom.
Then I saw the people. There were three, maybe four that had been here a while, down to mostly dry, taut skin and broken shards of skeleton. The four closest to us, though, were fresh.
Ned, near-naked, with half his skull caved in. Bill with his throat mangled. Brenda and Jack hung upside-down from ropes. Jack was missing an arm and was clearly dead. Brenda was bleeding and in her underwear, but alive, moaning lowly for help as she reached for us.
If the thing eating Jack’s arm hadn’t seen us first, we might have even gone to help her.
It was shaped like a man, but wasn’t. It was taller, more muscular than any man could be, with a muted, bearlike face and a body covered in shaggy, black fur. Its feet were massive and powerful, and its hands ended in thick claws. It was like some animal that had wanted to look like a human and was doing a piss-poor imitation.
It turned to us, growling and coughing, its eyes too human and staring at us.
No, it couldn’t be Bigfoot. It wasn’t Bigfoot. There was no such thing as Bigfoot just like there was no such thing as monsters or horror movie bad guys. There was no Jason, no Michael, no Cropsey. Things like that didn’t exist in the real world. People like Jack and Ned and Bill didn’t just die, they didn’t just.
Annie didn’t scream when the thing stood to its full height, but I knew she wanted to. I wanted to. Maybe I did. Everything then just started to blur.
The creature growled, “Mine.”
What the he-
It cleared the distance to us in two quick steps, wrapping its arms around Annie. She didn’t even scream, didn’t even try to swing her tire iron. One second she was embraced by the beast like she was its long-lost daughter it hadn’t seen in decades, the next there was a thick twisting cracking sound and I could see her head on the floor seconds before the creature actually dropped her body.
I had to make it to the van. I didn’t have my license. Maybe I’d get in trouble. Maybe getting in trouble would be good. Maybe… Oh Christ, Annie… ANNIE! WHAT THE HELL HAPPEN-
A heavy weight slammed into my back, and I was sailing through the air.
I hit the ground hard, rolling into the stump.
The creature was every bit as horrible in the light, maybe even worse. If anything it seemed to have grown. Its fur wriggled like worms as its mouth curled into a snarl. Teeth like a wolf’s mixed with teeth like a rattlesnake’s as it hissed and roared at me.
It charged. Something in me had snapped, clearly, because there was no way in hell I could have gotten to my feet on my own. No way I could have circled around that stump and grabbed that ax stuck in the wood. No way I could have ripped it out and swung it into the beast’s jaw.
There was no way I should have seen that jaw fly away in a trail of thick, blackish-red blood that spattered heavy on the ground.
No way at all.
But it happened. It did. And I did it.
But just like there was no way I could have done that, there was no way it should have still been standing, roaring and pissed off at me. There was no way it should have made that snapping, splintering wood sound with tentacles and clawlike, fingerlike appendages bursting out of that place where its lower jaw should have been.
That shouldn’t have happened.
Me running away should have, and that did happen, so at least some of the day made sense.
Bill left the keys in the ignition, he would have left them there so Ned and Brenda could have the radio. All I needed to do was… Annie. No. Why’d you have to, why…
I couldn’t see it but I could hear it running after me. I knew it would catch me. I knew it would do to me like it did to the others though maybe, no, probably worse.
And so maybe that’s why I let the autopilot kick in again. I dodged to the side and stopped, let it barrel into the van. It hit hard, knocking the van onto its side. The creature fell down, stunned.
I took the chance and went crazy on it with the ax. I chopped it in the back, over and over and over, not letting up, never stopping, splattering its thick, wriggling blood everywhere. Some of it got onto my jacket and tried crawling to me, kept trying to get to my face, so I just threw off the jacket. The beast itself kept pulling itself together, reattaching parts I’d chopped off and growing new parts, growing bigger and stronger and turning to me, eyes coming out of every new wound I made.
I was going mad. I knew that then, but I didn’t care. I knew what it had done, and I knew what I would have to do.
I swung the ax into the van’s gas tank, watched it spill all over the creature.
I found one of the flares that Annie had dropped. I lit it.
Then I lit the creature and the van up.
I ran off before the gas tank itself blew, but I stood watch, holding my bloody ax as I watched the creature scream and burn into a pile of nothingness.
I collapsed to the ground, screaming and crying and laughing and wondering just what the hell I was going to tell the world. This was, after all, the part of the movies they always left out. You always saw the heroine (never the hero, there was never a hero in the end) getting carted away, to be taken care of, maybe to return in a sequel but probably not. You never saw them have to justify what they’d done, to explain to a world that could never believe them. You never saw…
You never saw…
The tears came in a torrent. Annie. Annie. Why, god, why…
“Not bad, kid. Not bad at all,” the voice behind me said.
I turned, autopilot raising my ax high. There were three of them. A large man in a heavy coat wearing a fedora and sunglasses, a middle-aged woman holding a rifle and a boy who couldn’t have been older than twelve, also holding an ax. The large man was older than them both. His smile was unpleasant, but not nearly as unpleasant as the curved iron hook where his right hand should have been.
“Killed yourself a bear-Splinter on your first try. I seen experienced hunters who couldn’t do that without some help from yours truly,” he said.
“Who are you?” I asked. “What was that?”
“Who I am ain’t relevant. What that is, is the greatest plague mankind has ever seen. These monsters wanna be us, and some of ‘em are better at pretendin’ it than others. This guy you just torched, he’s one of the others. They can try to walk like us, to talk like us, even kill like us, but they ain’t us. And he ain’t the only one in this here forest now. This is a busy time of year, and if we don’t do somethin’ about them soon, they’re gonna be a problem. So lemme now ask you somethin’, boy. What’s your name?” he asked.
“Drake. Drake Tymon,” I said.
“Well, Drake Tymon, you ready to join the war?” he said.
Jack. Ned. Bill. Annie.
“When do we start?” I asked.
Sixteen-year-old Mina Todd knows about the otherworldly shapeshifters that secretly run Prospero and has dedicated her life to fighting them. Ben Pastor, in town to attend the funeral of his missing childhood friend, Haley Perkins, has never believed any of the strange stories about what happens in Prospero. When Haley turns up alive and well at her own memorial service, Ben and Mina are forced to work together to uncover what happened to her. Though they may not always understand each other, Ben and Mina’s unlikely friendship may very well be the only thing that can save the town, and possibly the world, from its insidious invaders.
The dark history of Prospero is not over.
Or here for Four Trips to Prospero, Part 2: The Kirby Ridge Lights
Or check out The Prospero Chronicles official website, for tips on defending yourself and your loved ones from Splinters.