(Horror stories about the desert.)
The deathbed story my grandfather told was not one I initially believed. He’d been in a car accident. There was head trauma. He was in and out of consciousness for a few days before an aneurysm took him out of this world.
During his moments of lucidity, he talked to me. It didn’t make a lot of sense. The doctor told me everything Grandpa said following the crash could be explained by brain damage, and I agreed. It seemed like he was conflating the old scary stories he used to tell me as a kid with real events from his past.
The real event went like this: in 1980, he was patrolling Cañón del Cristo, a spot in the Mojave that had, over the years, become a place where drug cartels went to dump bodies. Despite no bodies turning up in over twenty months, he still liked to give it a walkthrough every now and then.
“Nice scenery and good air,” he’d claim. “Aside from when I’d find a body.”
His trouble started when a rattlesnake startled him, causing him to jump back and lose his footing. It was a bad spot for that. He ended up falling about eight feet and shattering his knee.
That part I already knew. I had vague memories of him in a cast when I was very young.
He was on the canyon floor for hours. Whenever he tried to move, the pain was so intense he’d just stop and scream. There was nothing he could do. His radio was out of reach. There were no cell phones back then. It was only a matter of time before a mountain lion came by and put an end to it.
It turned out mountain lions were the least of his worries.
Storm clouds were gathering overhead. Cañón del Cristo was known for its flash floods. If the rain was anything more than a sprinkle, he’d drown.
It was much more than a sprinkle. As thunder roared and rain pelted his supine body, he waited for the inevitable flood that would end his life.
I knew this part, too. According to his previous versions of the story, a patrol car came by after he hadn’t been making his routine radio checkins. The other officer got him out of the canyon just before he was buried in mud and floodwater. He brought him to the hospital, got a cast, and recovered for a few months. The end.
But recently, as he lay dying, my grandfather insisted that wasn’t what really happened.
Grandpa said he was panicking and hyperventilating in the dirt, which caused him to pass out. When he came to, he was in what looked like a shallow cave in the side of the canyon. And there were people in there with him.
Now, I need to pause to tell you about the scary stories my grandfather told me when I was young. He used to talk about creepy children with tiny eyes who wandered around the Mojave and kidnapped other children. I always thought it was a way for him to scare me away from going into the desert by myself.
And it worked. The way he described those kids — their fat, pale faces, bald heads, huge, toothless mouths, and pinprick-sized red eyes — gave me nightmares for years. And it certainly kept me away from the desert.
Decades later, as I listened to the story from his deathbed, Grandpa recalled waking up in that cave with two of those creatures from his scary stories.
“I screamed when I saw them,” he said. “They were so awful looking. So alien.”
“What did they do?” I asked, regretting the unveiled skepticism in my voice.
“They turned around and stared at me,” he replied. “Their god damn mouths were wide open. I thought they were gonna eat me alive. But they didn’t. Obviously. There was a dead coyote on the floor. One of them shoved the whole thing into its mouth.”
“Fur and all?” I inquired.
“Fur and all. It closed its mouth and sorta shook. Then it opened up again and spit what looked like half the coyote into the mouth of its friend. It was like ground meat with bits of fur and bone in it. I just kept screaming.
One of them came over and put its hand on my busted knee. It hurt more than anything. I was yelling and hollering and praying I’d pass out again. Whatever they were gonna do to me, I didn’t want to be conscious for it.
Before I knew it, I heard shots. It was the sheriff and a ranger. They’d been looking for me. They filled those bastards with more holes than I’ve seen since the war. After that, they dragged me out of the cave and brought me to the hospital. The rest is history.”
I studied my grandfather with pity. Like I said, I figured he was combining the trauma from his fall with the scary stories he told me when I was a kid. I didn’t give it much thought. I smiled and nodded and patronized the poor guy until he passed away a couple days later.
In his will, I was given his home.
I moved into his desert ranch six months ago with my wife and newborn daughter.
It didn’t take long before I realized my grandfather had been telling the truth.
It started with footprints in the dust outside the front and back doors. They weren’t ones I recognized. They looked like three long, fat toes connected to stumpy feet.
A little while later, the same footprints were showing up around the windows, especially the one overlooking the baby’s room. Our little Paige. I bought a rifle that same afternoon.
I called the police to notify them, and they assured me they’d send regular patrols around. They didn’t seem surprised by the footprints, and they asked, unprompted, if a newborn lived at the house.
“Just make sure the windows are locked,” I was told. “A good lock should keep out most would-be intruders. Besides, if someone breaks in, you’re well within your right to use your weapon. Feel free to set up some security cameras, too. They’re cheap nowadays.”
I took their advice.
The footprints didn’t show up again. When I scanned through the camera footage, I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. Things were quiet for a while.
Three days ago, my wife had gone to the store. I was home alone watching Paige, who was asleep in her crib. It was around noon.
I heard the screen door open and I commented, “that was fast.” My wife had left for the store only twenty minutes ago. It took ten just to get there.
She didn’t respond. I figured she’d forgotten something.
Paige began to scream.
“What’s wrong, Paigey?” I called. “Hey Erica, can you check on her?”
No one replied. And Paige kept shrieking.
“Erica?” I got off the couch and headed down the hall. There was a bizarre, musty smell in the house – almost like Erica had stepped in something while she was outside.
“Calm down, Paige, I’ll be right there.”
The screaming grew muffled, as if she’d found her pacifier. “See?” I said, turning the corner into her room. “There’s nothing to yell ab–”
I froze in my tracks. Something was holding Paige by her mouth with its long, pink fingers. It was short and stout, with a bald head and a massive, gaping maw. And small red eyes.
“Drop her!” I screamed, rushing at the thing. It was bringing my daughter to its mouth.
I grasped Paige’s leg and pulled, hearing a sickening pop as her hip dislocated. But it freed her. Her screams began anew. I clutched her to my chest and backed away, my eyes never leaving the monster in front of me.
Its red eyes glared at me. Something was happening to its face. Slits were opening in a circle from its cheeks to its forehead. I kept moving. I was heading for the gun safe in the master bedroom.
The slits stopped once they looked like wide gashes encircling each of its tiny eyes. It walked out of the room, toward us, with its arms outstretched. Its fingers elongated.
“Get out!” I yelled. “Get out of our house!”
The flesh around the slits lifted. I stared with disbelief as what was underneath came into view. It was a cluster of countless red eyes. They bulged outward like swollen cranberries as it strode toward us, its hideous mouth gasping and gurgling with every shuffling step.
I reached the bedroom and slammed the door. I placed Paige on the bed. Long fingers were scraping at the door. I tried to unlock the gun safe. The combination was taking forever. I couldn’t remember if it was our anniversary or Erica’s birthday. And I couldn’t remember if I even had those dates right. I was panicking.
By the time I got the gun out, the scraping had stopped. I burst out of the bedroom, gun ready, but the thing was gone. The screen door was open. Fat, three-toed footprints went out into the desert.
I called 911 and the emergency services came. I gave them our security camera footage and they’re in the process of investigating. Paige spent the night in the hospital, but she’ll be okay. The police told the doctors there was no need to call CPS. The cops know what’s going on. I know they do.
I also know we can’t stay in that house anymore. Not while Paige is a baby, and, if possible, not after that, either.
Over the last couple days, nothing has tried to enter our home. Erica and I are looking at real estate options in the city while police cars are a regular feature on the street outside. Things have been quiet. I was praying I’d scared the things away for good.
I almost believed I had, until I found face prints on Paige’s window early this morning. And marks from long, greasy fingers.