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"Sabertooth" by S. Z. James

At that time, I was eating pretty poorly. I’d go down to the stand on the corner and get a hot dog once every couple of days and I’d eat  and then I’d go to the store and buy bread and then I’d see if I could scam any of the restaurants on the block out of some of their spare meat so I could make sandwiches. On the weekends I’d go out and spend what little I had on booze and cheap fried food.

I was also bored. Horace was the one with the steady job, and sometimes he’d invite me out, sometimes he’d even buy my drinks, but most of the time I’d just go down to the rocky beach out past the docks and throw rocks into the water, or just walk around, looking at the city. It’s nice to do that, sometimes, especially in the winter. It’s so much quieter, but you can hear the hibernation happening, almost, like a heartbeat. It comes in through your pores, the cold and the sweat under the layers of wool and leather, the thrum of the heat under the streets.

I got a motorcycle in the spring, which Horace told me was the worst time to get one, since that’s when they cost the most because all the yuppies buy one in the spring so they can tool around on it all summer. “Buy one in the fall, when they get bored of them and you can get one for half off,” he said, but I wanted one now, so I bought one when I got a big feature in one of the local papers. An all-black Triumph. I’ve still got it somewhere, I think, maybe out back under a tarp or something. When it was new, it was a real thing of beauty. I drove around all summer looking at the sky. Got out of the city and all, and found some great backroads. That’s how I found the barn in the first place. I was out, wind in my face, no helmet because back then I thought I was some kind of daredevil, but to be honest it always scared me, distracted me from that full sensation of flight a motorcycle can sometimes give you—but the barn I found because I stopped to take a piss, and I’m looking out at this beautiful forest and suddenly I notice through the trees that there’s this building, and it’s huge, I mean it’s like an airplane hanger, and there’s a road leading up to it from the outside. Like I said, I’m bored, so I walk up to it, and the whole thing is just sort of this empty shell, it had been cleared out, looked like it had been swept, too, not a speck on the ground,  so I turn back to get back on my bike (why did I go down to the barn in the first place?) and ride away. But something pulls on me, I mean physically, like gravity tilts a little bit, I guess it’s more of a push than a pull, and I find myself walking around a tree, turning back to the barn again, and I look closer, and there’s a hole in the ground in the middle of that clean floor that I didn’t notice before. It’s blacker than anything I’ve ever seen, blacker than new-moon night with the lights off and the blinds closed, and I’m being pulled toward it, or maybe I just think I am, or maybe I wasn’t at all, but no matter what I start walking back to the barn, I go further in this time, the first time I stopped at the doorway and just looked in, but now I’m crossing the floor, looking up at these ancient beams that are barely holding the place up, thinking this isn’t safe, I shouldn’t be in here, this thing’s liable to collapse, but I’m at the hole now, and I stop myself and look down into it, and it just keeps going on and on. I find a rock somewhere on the floor and I drop it in, because I figure this thing has got to be a well or something, though I can’t make out any water at the bottom and there’s no bucket, and when I drop the rock it makes a sound like a bone cracking and this feeling comes over me like I’m sneaking past the mouth of a cave with a horrible beast inside, so I run out of there and I’ve got the fear on me and there’s something hot on my trail, I can feel it breathing down my boots, the moisture of it, a rabid dog or a wolf, a sabertooth tiger, and I jump on the bike and slam the kickstart and peel out of there like Steve McQueen. 


I went back some time later, and the barn was still there, but I didn’t want to check on the hole. Horace said he thought I was nuts, that’s why I went back, so I could show him the place, but when we pulled up in his car, (he didn’t have a motorcycle, thought I was crazy for that, too, I don’t know how he knew so much about when to buy one. He always knew about stuff like that though, some wisdom, I guess they call it street smarts, and he was usually right) I didn’t want to get out of the car, so he called me a pussy and went in himself. He came out shrugging his shoulders like I was a kid who thought there was a monster under the bed and he was my dad, annoyed that he still had to check on these things for me, telling me to go back to sleep. I had a few nights like that, afterwards, just like when I was a kid, where things in the apartment looked like faces and peered at me through the darkness, and I was too scared to move so I didn’t turn on the light and just pulled the covers over my head. 

Horace confirmed it though, so even though I had been planning on calling the cops, I changed my mind after that and forgot about it for a while, but something about it has been on my mind lately, so I thought I’d write it down. I’m going to go out there this weekend, maybe, see if the hole’s still there. For some reason, I have a feeling it is, that it’s been there this whole time, waiting for me to fall in. Maybe it’s just for me, maybe I’m crazy. Maybe this is the thing I’ve been waiting for, this hole in the world, the unpredictable thing I haven’t been able to find. Maybe it’s a cure for boredom.


When I got out there it was raining, usual for November in the coast range, and the water hissed and pinged off the hot bike as I set it down on the kickstand and turned toward the barn. It looked pretty much the same as it had the first time; big, black, intimidating, extra now that I was here alone knowing what was inside. I had looked around for a farmhouse, or the remnants of one, but the only thing for a mile in either direction was a shambles of old granite that could have once been a foundation, or something else. No farmers, ghostly or otherwise, to explain the barn’s presence. I was convinced now that there was something off about the hole, and accordingly, I’d brought some equipment like I’d seen on those ghost hunter TV shows, an infrared camera and a tape recorder, to see if I could catch anything that my eyes might miss. But when I mustered my courage and got everything ready to go and went down there, the inside of the barn was clean, still, there was no wind, and the hole was gone. Horace had been telling the truth. It took a lot to cross the threshold but once I was in I scanned every corner—maybe it had shrunk or moved—and found nothing at all. The place in the center of the room where it had been looked just the same as anywhere else. When I turned to leave, though, as I looked out into the rain, I felt a cold trickle, almost wet, or maybe I didn’t feel it, just thought it was there, and my spine froze up, and I knew if I turned and looked I’d see it, maybe it would jump on me anyway, even if I didn’t turn, and who was I, to come meddling around here with my instruments and my motorcycle, to be in here with this thing that I knew then to be older than the barn and older than the trees and the earth and the sky, some primordial thing, to which I was my life was a thin flicker?

Fear is strange. Before, I had run as fast as I could. Now, something was telling me that this was like a bear and that I shouldn’t try to challenge it, or intrude on it, and should just walk away slowly, so that’s what I did, taking the quietest steps I could and feeling the breath tightening my lungs, Orpheus leaving Hades, not looking back and at the same time wanting to do so with all my being, but I’d read that story in high school or since in some girl’s apartment, again out of boredom, maybe, and I knew that if I looked back I would be trapped forever, and so I kept walking, slow and deliberate, my boots squishing the mud and snapping twigs in the forest until I could see my bike, and I climbed on, kicked down, and now that I was on the road the fear had mostly passed, and I couldn’t feel that tendril of cold anymore, and like a fool I looked, and black fire was consuming the forest, and it rushed forward until it was nearly upon me, and I leaned down over the handlebars, closed my eyes, and fled. 

S. Z. James is an author residing in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Lurch Zine and Deep Overstock.


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