My family and I had recently moved from Vermont a few years ago to Baltimore, Maryland where my father had gotten a job at the Annapolis Naval Academy as an instructor. I was 18 years old at the time and my older brother Jeremy at 21 years of age was following in our father’s footsteps. He was double-majoring in physics and nuclear engineering at the Naval Academy. He was a hard working, driven, and passionate individual with great aspirations in life. Future totally planned out and ready to take on the world. 

I on the other hand was quite the opposite. I was never focused in school since I was far too busy playing video games and going to the arcade every weekend instead of doing my homework or working on any long-term projects. I graduated high school with poor grades and a bad transcript, meaning that my opportunities for college were very limited. I desperately wanted to take a gap year to get away from the stresses of school and my parents. You can imagine how disapproving they must have been to hear that. However, my plans to take a year off were shortly interrupted by a family trip to see some distant relatives which I was required to go to. 

My aunt and uncle owned a ranch just a few miles West of Salt Lake City out in Utah. The ranch was kind of out in the middle of nowhere. We had to drive about an hour and a half off the main road onto some old dirt road to actually get there. The surrounding land was for the most part relatively flat with a few small ravines and hills here and there, but otherwise you could see for several miles ahead of you on a sunny day. The ground was all red sand with a few small patches of grass, bushes, and tumbleweeds. It was really dry out there so there weren’t any tall trees like in Maryland or Vermont. The ranch itself sat upon a small hill with a dirt driveway out front that led to a parking area off to the side since there wasn’t a garage. It was neatly built with wooden logs and a slanted roof. Inside there were two floors. The bottom floor was where the kitchen was. Just to the right when you came in through the front door. If you kept walking straight, you would enter a short hallway that led to a large living room with two couches and a sofa chair where our uncle sat just next to the cobblestone fireplace. The floors were all wood with a nice polish overcoat to prevent splintering, except for the large circular rug in the middle. Just behind the large sofa there was a staircase that led to the second floor where all the bedrooms were. Me and my closest cousin James who was 17 at the time were in the first bedroom by the top of the stairs. The next one over belonged to our two female cousins Mary and Ellie who were both 15 years old. My brother and our oldest cousin Henry who was 19 at the time slept in the third bedroom. The other two rooms were for our parents. 

After dinner that night we all went into the living room to play some games on the XBox. Like me, James was really into video games so he had quite the collection of games we could play. Our aunt was very strict on TV hours so we had to turn off the video games at nine o’clock every night. In addition, we had a curfew where we had to be inside at eight o’clock before dark. 

That night it began raining hard so we didn’t even want to go outside that day anyway. The next day our uncle and father took the boys out shooting while the girls stayed home. My father had brought his AR-15 assault rifle and 45mm glock handgun with us to practice on such an occasion. Jeremy and my father of course with military training were nailing every target they shot at. They had taught me to shoot a few times so I wasn’t that rusty. 

After a long day of shooting and driving my uncle’s jeep we made our way back to the ranch for supper. When we had finished, as usual, we all went into the living room to play on the XBox before bedtime. Our favorite game was Mortal Kombat 10 which I was particularly good at since I had so much experience playing it at home and at the arcade. At about nine that night my brother Jeremy went upstairs to go to bed while the rest of us stayed downstairs. 

“Oh crap!” Henry exclaimed.

“What is it?!” I asked.

“Son of a bitch I just realized I forgot the ammunition bag at the shooting range!” He answered. 

“It’s okay we can go down and get it tomorrow,” I replied. 

“No we can’t, if we leave it out overnight an animal could find it and rummage through it. I was supposed to bring it in after we went shooting today. Oh no, if dad finds out he’s gonna flip out. That stuff is expensive!”

“But we’re not allowed to go outside past eight o’clock” I said. 

“It’ll be quick, no longer than ten minutes.” 

“Trust me we’ll be fine, we’ll bring some flashlights and if it makes you feel any better I’ll bring the hunting rifle with us.” Henry assured me. 

“Fine” I reluctantly replied. 

“Ten minutes, if we can’t find it we’ll just have to get it in the morning” 

James and I went to our rooms to get a pair of flashlights while Henry went to get my uncle’s hunting rifle and a few rounds just in case a mountain lion or something got too close. We met up just outside the front door with our equipment along with our jackets since it can get really cold at night, especially out here in the desert. 

The shooting range indeed wasn’t that far. It was about a 5 minute drive there and back on my uncle’s jeep, but since we couldn’t make too much noise it wasn’t an option, so we had to walk instead. As we got closer to the shooting range Henry took us on a shortcut through a long, rocky ravine that would get us there about a minute earlier. It was filled with many jagged rocks that came out of the ground at funny angles so I had to be extra careful as to not twist an ankle. Some rocks stood about eight feet in the air like an arrowhead coming out of the ground so we couldn’t see exactly what was on the other side of the ravine. Luckily though Henry had been through this path many times so he knew the area well. As we made our way down into the ravine I couldn’t help but notice a foul stench in the air. 

“Oh man that smells like a dead animal” I exclaimed. 

I shone my flashlight around and came across the carcass of a dead deer laying next to a tall rock about ten yards off to my left. I took quick notice to the claw marks on its sides which I figured must’ve been the cause of death, probably a mountain lion or a pack of coyotes. Upon closer examination though I noticed the claw marks had a fine precision to them, like the deer had been operated on by a professional surgeon. Strange to say the least, but we had to keep going if we were to make it back to the house before anyone noticed we had left. The shooting range wasn’t quite what you’d expect to see. There weren’t any round paper targets set up anywhere other than a few beaten up tin cans we had brought from the ranch to use as target practice. No designated boxes or lanes for individual shooters, just a wide open field with some dirt mounds behind the tin cans to prevent any rounds from going past the targets and going stray. Henry walked over to the other side where he had left the bag. Thank God it was still there. 

“Alright we have the bag, now let’s get going before anyone knows we’re gone.” I said.

As we got back on the path to the house we went through that rocky ravine again, but something was different. That god awful smell of rotting and decomposing flesh was more noticeable and more agonizing to pay attention to than before. It was several times stronger than it had been before. This time I had to plug my nose as I just couldn’t stand it. I figured it must’ve been that deer carcass we came across on the way here. But as I walked over to the area I had last seen the carcass, my eyes gazed in wide horror as where there had been a body of a dead deer, there now lay a pile of six or eight of them. All with the same, precise, surgical-like gashes on their bloodied corpses. Each one was piled on top of the other as if someone had just dropped them there, but these carcasses looked fresh. Like they had only been killed a few minutes ago. Whatever was responsible for this was obviously fast and deadly efficient in dealing with its prey. In the three minutes it had taken us to get through that ravine and retrieve the ammo bag from the shooting range, it had killed more than six full-grown deer without making a sound, at least not that we could hear. 

“James!” a familiar voice shouted.

“Over here it’s mother, come on inside before it gets too dark”. 

It was my aunt’s voice, but something just didn’t feel quite right about it. James looked at Henry and I confused. We all knew it couldn’t have been his mother. The first thing that felt off was just the voice itself. Yeah it was my aunt’s voice alright, but it sounded more like a recording. Like it was rehearsed or staged if that makes any sense. Then it hit me…  if she knew we were outside past dark she would have sounded a lot more mad than she did. 

“Come on, all of you, I made pancakes for breakfast” it said invitingly. 

Wait no, no no no that can’t be right, it’s still nine o’clock at night and breakfast isn’t until another 12 hours. Henry loaded and cocked the rifle and pointed it to where the voice was coming from. A large boulder standing about eight feet tall, so we couldn’t see what was behind it. As curious as I was to find out who or what had made the voice, part of me out of sheer terror did not want to know. We all stood there like deer stuck in headlights, every inch of our bodies shook with fear. I couldn’t move a muscle out of the fear something would see me move, but I knew deep down that it was probably watching us this very moment. 

All my senses had gone into overdrive. I could hear everything, even Henry and James’ breath. I could still smell the foul odor of rotting and decaying flesh, although it wasn’t coming from the pile of deer carcasses anymore. It was coming from behind those rocks where the voice had come from. It then stepped out from behind the rocks to reveal itself as my eyes caught onto every horrific detail of it. 

At first I thought it was just a malnourished deer based on the antlers but where a deer’s mouth would have been, there was a coyote’s snout filled with sharp teeth. Its legs were long, muscular, and covered in brown fur. Its arms were even longer, in fact they almost seemed to drag on the ground when it stood upright. Its hands were humanoid with longer fingers. At the ends were long, razor-sharp claws that could cut through flesh like paper. The most disturbing part however, was that the creature’s skin was covered in gashes and torn tissue. Where the skin had broken or was missing, I could see rotten flesh and ribs sticking out. It looked at us with glowing yellow eyes and an awful smile. Not a happy smile, no not at all. It was a smile of sheer menace and hunger. All of a sudden Henry yelled like a mad man from behind me as he fired a round into the creature’s abdomen, but the creature seemed to hardly notice. He fired another, then another and another, each round hitting its target, but still the creature seemed to be unfazed by it. It then lunged at Henry in one swift motion, I had never seen an animal move that quickly. It pinned him to the ground, flinging the gun away as it began to tear through his body like a child opening a wrapped present. James and I out of fear for our lives took off in shock back towards the house, leaving Henry, or what was left of him behind with that thing. 

We got back to the house and locked every door and window we could find. We went upstairs to our room, locked the door, and barricaded the entrance. I looked out the window to make sure it hadn't followed us. James and I sat on our beds looking at each other. We were shocked to say the least. I was still trying to process what had just happened, what we had seen. We were at a loss of what to do. What could we do? I wanted to get my aunt and uncle and tell them what happened, but I didn’t want them to go out there searching for Henry with that thing still out there. I wanted desperately to go out looking for him, but the fear for my own life far outweighed my guilt of leaving Henry behind. There was no sleep for neither James nor myself that night. I tried plugging in my earbuds from my phone to listen to some music to help me go to sleep, but it was no use. I wish I could say that was the end of it. About two hours later a noise coming from outside my window caught my attention: a voice. Henry’s voice!

“Help! Don’t leave me here! Please!” it said. 

James and I went up to the window and opened the blinds to take a look. It was standing just outside the front door one floor down from where I was. Its hands and snout covered in fresh blood. It slowly turned it head upwards to glance at James and I. Its hungry yellow eyes glowing in the night as the moonlight from above reflected upon them. After a terrifying moment that felt like an eternity, it turned away and began to walk back into the desert. It knew I wasn’t going to fall for its trick. I took one last look at it before closing the blinds and I swear, I saw that same smile, glancing right back at me.

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