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Saturday, October 17, 2015

Trimixer by Eric Price

Scary does not need darkness.
It doesn't require monsters, ghouls, or ghosts.
Not all evil lurks in human form.
The most ordinary day can become a horror story.

****


Aiden’s childish screams pierced the humid air as he ran through his sprinkler. Water warmed in the inflatable pool. The cool, cloudy morning had turned into a bright, hot day.

Steve stood on the edge of the wet grass watching his son play. Matted hair dripped water from his head, and his soaked green and blue swim trunks clung to his legs and made a sloshing sound as he ran. Steve’s wife, Annie, sat on the front porch step. She looked striking in her cutoff denim shorts and maroon bikini top. He could think of a handful of things he’d like to do with her instead of work, but none of them would happen during the day with Aiden awake. Oh, well. Nothing wrong with planning ahead for tonight.

Once they wanted to have another kid; a girl would have been nice. A boy and a girl, what more could they ask for? But after three miscarriages in a row, the hurt became too much, and they decided Steve should get a vasectomy. With Aiden turning seven, they didn’t want to start over with a baby. This would mark the last time Steve would wonder what it would have been like having two children.

A dull, splashing sound brought Steve out of his daydream. He looked down to see water droplets splatter the toes of his work boots turning the tan leather a reddish brown.  He remembered he had work to do. As he walked to the silo shed, Annie’s phone rang. “Hello. Oh, hi Clarisse. Thanks for calling me back. Hold on, I have to run in the house to find the paperwork.”

He passed the barn door and remembered he needed to take another bale of hay to the orphaned calf. He had thrown several bails down, so as not to half to climb the rickety latter to the hayloft more than every couple days. After carrying a hay bale to the stall where he kept the calf, pulling off the twine, and breaking the bale apart, he checked the water tub and found the calf still had plenty before setting off for the silo shed again.

He found the light on in the shed. He had finished chores at dusk the night before; had he left it on? Mistakes like that happened when he hurried. He flipped the switch off, turned on the fuel to his old tractor and worked his way to the rear of the Trimixer to open the silo shoot. He turned on the silo unloader and gave it a few minutes to fill enough for the cattle.

When silage piled to the opening of the shoot, he started the tractor and turned on the power-takeoff (PTO) to bring the silage to the front of the wagon. And earsplitting screech cut deep into his sole. Something must be grinding. He reached for the PTO lever, but the noise stopped.  The shrill screech happened again, this time much shorter, and stopped. The sound couldn’t have come from metal grinding metal as he first suspected. It came from a living creature.



A raccoon? The mixer wagon had killed them from time to time. Usually their head would get crushed when he shut the door. Occasionally one would get ground up by the three augers used for churning the feed, hence Trimixer. But he never heard one scream out before.

The scream sounded almost human, and the only animal he knew of that could make such a human like sound when in distress was a cat. He must have turned the wagon on and caught one of the farm cats. This would devastate Aiden. They had a lot of farm cats, but the boy had a name for each one, and he could tell them apart from a hundred yards. Should he tell Aiden, or just let it go? Let him think the cat ran off? The toms would do that.

Steve’s mind flashed to a time when Aiden climbed into the feed wagon. The boy was a climber since before he could walk. He climbed out of his crib and crawled into their room at nine months. Last winter Steve rounded the Trimixer to open the silo shoot when a voice screamed, “Hi Daddy!” Aiden’s head popped over the side of the mixer and Steve’s heart damn near stopped.

“What the hell are you doing in there?” He had screamed, before he could catch his language.

Annie came around the door and yelled, “Aiden! How dare you run off!”

His stomach did flips, and he shook the memory away. A replay of the sound occurred in his head. His stomach churned again. Steve didn’t particularly care for cats. Death didn’t bother him. He hunted every fall, and brought home the occasional deer. But the sound. Oh God, the sound! Ugh!

He turned off the silo unloader, and climbed on the tongue of the wagon to look in. A streak of crimson impregnated the silage’s normal tan color. He looked away. He closed his eyes and thought he would puke the reminder of his lunch. After a few deep breaths of the sweet, fermented smell of fresh silage, he felt better. He stepped off the tongue without looking at the mess again.

After a tough drought, cattle feed had already grown scarce. Steve didn’t want to waste it, so he drove the wagon to the bin to add corn. The normally herbivorous cattle would have to be omnivores for the day.

He could see the house from the corn bin. The sprinkler shot streams of water in the air, but Aiden was nowhere around. Annie walked around the house apparently looking for him. Lust for his wife and anger for his son tore him in two. They had told Aiden countless times not to wander away…especially while Steve did chores.

Steve filled the wagon with corn, and while it mixed, he searched behind the Trimixer for Aiden. When he knew the boy wouldn’t get ran over by the wagon, he backed up and drove to the cattle lot.

Steers lined up at the bunks jostling for a better position when he turned the corner to the feedlot. Steve wondered if they’d be so anxious if they knew what they were getting this time.

The wagon unloaded, and Steve half turned to the rear watching the feed fall into the bunk. A flash of movement in front of the tractor caught his eye. He instinctively hit the brakes, certain Aiden had managed to elude Annie and come to the cattle lot. They had stressed over and over not to go near the cattle lot, especially while Steve did chores. A brown tuft of fur disappeared under the bunk. Just a groundhog.

Steve released the brake and turned to watch the silage fill the bunk again. The light colored silage looked wet with crimson. Even as he drove, the blood didn’t stop; in fact, it seemed to grow thicker. I must have killed a whole litter of cats.

The grain turned to a trickle as the wagon emptied, and Steve increased the throttle to get the remainder out of the Trimixer. He reached for the lever to stop the PTO when a piece of tattered material dumped into the bunk. Even through the dark red stains, Steve recognized the green and blue pattern of Aiden’s swim trunks.

“What the —?”

He didn’t understand what he saw. How could Aiden’s swim trunks have gotten into the feed wagon? The humanlike scream replayed in his mind. But there’s no way. I went straight to the tractor from the house. Aiden played in the sprinkler.

A dark shadow of realization crept over him and he vomited. He had stopped in the barn and checked on the calf. How long was I in there? Several minutes. Where was Annie? She went in the house when the phone rang. He stumbled off the tractor and snatched a piece of the fabric from a steer’s mouth.

“Oh, God. Oh, please God no.”

He looked at the trunks and tears blurred his vision. His head grew light, and the world faded dark. He thought he would pass out, but he vomited again instead.

Carrying the remains of the trunks he left the running tractor and headed for the house. Annie came around the corner of the house looking worried. “Steve, I can’t find Aiden anywhere. Steve. Steve! What are you holding?”

He stopped and looked at her from across the yard. He wanted to speak, but desert sand tore at his vocal cords. The worried look on Annie’s face stretched into complete horror and she ran. She didn’t run to Steve. Instead she ran in the direction of the feedlot. Steve wanted to follow her. He wanted to grab her and stop her from seeing the nightmare, but he couldn’t. Something in him refused to take even one step in the direction of his son’s mutilated body.

****

The sound of sirens snapped Steve out of whatever kind of daydream or blackout he had been in. A look around revealied he sat on the end of his bed. How did I get in the house? And who called the cops?

He felt a weight in each hand and heard a voice. “Hello? Sir? Are you still there?”

His left hand lifted a phone to his ear. “Hello?”

“Sir, the police and an ambulance are on their way. I need you to stay on the line with me.”

“I killed my son.”

The phone clattered on the hardwood floor. His right hand raised the barrel of a .22 caliber pistol to his mouth. The barrel tasted like metal and oil with a faint hint of smoke. Steve never heard the report or felt the recoil when he pulled the trigger.

****

Eric Price lives with his wife and two sons in northwest Iowa. He began publishing in 2008 when he started writing a quarterly column for a local newspaper. Later that same year he published his first work of fiction, a spooky children’s story called Ghost Bed and Ghoul Breakfast. Since then, he has written stories for children, young adults, and adults. Three of his science fiction stories have won honorable mention from the CrossTime Annual Science Fiction Contest. His first YA fantasy novel, Unveiling the Wizards’ Shroud, received the Children’s Literary Classics Seal of Approval and the Literary Classics Award for Best First Novel. His second novel, The Squire and the Slave Master, continues the Saga of the Wizards. It is scheduled for a Fall 2015 release. Find him online at authorericprice.comTwitterFacebook, and Goodreads.