I've Learned Not Everything Waits for the Dark

Originally published at NoSleep on April 25, 2022.

Tags: #horror #shortstory #nosleep

I think we all know the old phrase about things going bump in the night but honestly, those things don’t scare me as much as the things that you see in the day. I should just start at the beginning so that this makes sense.

My name is Bethany and I’m one of those average girls you would see working a cashier's job or as a barista at your favorite coffee shop. I’ve got that uninteresting brown hair, eyes that can’t make up their minds if they want to be brown and hazel, and a figure that advertises that I prefer donuts over the gym. I think petite is the word.

I work as a cashier at a local mom-and-pop shop in a small town in the pacific northwest. It’s not anything to write home about but it pays the bills and keeps me in the small studio apartment above a local dry cleaner. The Russian family underneath has always been nice and I’ve had dinner with them a few times in the two years I’ve been in this town.

I was a nobody and I liked it. Nothing special, nothing interesting. No boyfriend never bothered with any of the dating apps, had no contact with my bible-thumping parents I ran away from, and only had two people I would call friends. Joyce and Carl.

Joyce was a fellow cashier who also ran away from her parents while Carl was the day manager of the store. I worked. We hung out after work a lot and those two are the only ones I had any connection to.

So what is the point of all this? I just wanted to make it pretty clear how boring and unassuming I was. I have nothing special in my past, I don’t profess to be interested in anything supernatural or weird. I just want you all to understand I didn’t ask for this in any way.

I think I first noticed it about two months ago. I may have seen it before then but it wasn’t close enough for me to realize something was out of the ordinary. All I knew at the time was trying to keep my white sun hat on while the summer wings ripped at my blue summer dress tangling it up between my legs. I was on my way home from a short shift at the shop and was taking my usual way home down an alley. The damn dress had gotten itself tangled again and I was silently cursing Joyce for convincing me to buy it when I came aware of a scent on the wind that had not been there before. It was that smell of rotting soil like from a compost pile? Since I had fences all about me, I assumed that one of those people had started a compost bin and being all green. It wasn’t a strong odor but enough to make me ignore my dress and decide to start walking again.

It was standing at the edge of the end of the highway, still a thousand or so feet away. At first, I just thought that someone else had decided to take the alley. Not something I’m really fond of since I’m not much of a fighter but something I had dealt with before. I kept my eye on what I assumed was a person and took two more steps before the hair on the back of my neck started to tingle. The wind had shifted and the earthy decay had gotten a bit stronger which did not help the unease that was settling in my stomach.

I studied the man standing down there, shielding my eyes with my hand from the bright sunlight. It was just a tall blackish silhouette. What the hell was my problem? I tried to take another step but my brain just would not let me. Details came into focus as I could not tear my eyes away from it. Though I could not make out any fine details, the first thing I noticed was that the arms were longer than you would expect, hanging down to where your knees would be, its head was elongated in the strangest way, as if someone tilted their head to study you but didn’t tilt their head. The wind hit me hard pushing down my hat and when I pushed it up, my heart jumped. It seems that in that small moment, it had moved about ten feet closer while still maintaining the same posture.

I have no shame in admitting that my flight instinct kicked in and I sprinted back the way I came as fast as my legs could take me not once looking back. The stench of decay was strong around me and the wind seemed to try and push me back. My brain felt like fire from the Adrenalin and the fear that was now coursing through me like a fourth energy drink. I did not stop running until I charged into my workplace catching Joyce and a few customers off guard.

It was Carl that must have realized that something was wrong because he did not hesitate to walk up to me, take me by the arm, and lead me back into the break room. He asked me a few times what was wrong or if he should call the police and frankly I could not get any words out. He just brought me a coke and told me to relax.

It took about twenty minutes plus Joyce sitting with me that I finally began to calm down. As my breathing began to slow, rationalization kicked in. Though my friend was being very polite, I could tell from her face she wanted an explanation.

“You okay, Bethany?” Joyce asked, her eyebrows knitted in concern. “What happened?”

“Ummm….I just had a scare.”

“I would say it was more than a scare,” she responded, not letting it go.

I shook my head and took another sip of the soda that Carl had brought. “It’ll make no sense.”

“Try me.”

“I…” my mind went back to the strange, bent, decaying, shadowy figure that I thought I had seen. “I thought I saw...something in the alley.”


“Look. I don’t know what it was. It looked weird shape and it appeared to teleport closer to me. It smelled horrible.”

“So, a bum?”

“No!” I said, anger coming over me that I had not expected. “it was something.”

I enunciated the last word trying to get through to her that I knew what I saw. I just did not understand it. Joyce just stared at me for a few minutes before slowly beginning to nod her head.

“Okay. You saw something. It looked dangerous?”

“I dunno. It didn’t do anything. I just got really scared and felt the desire to run. So I ran.”

Silence reigned between each of us. I was trying to process what I saw and Joyce to decide if I had gone nuts. Honestly, it could have been either.

“Let me talk to Carl and I’ll drive you home.”

The drive home was uneventful though I could not take my eyes off of any of the alleys, doorways, and paths that lead into the small woods we had around the city. Though I didn’t see anything, it felt like something was looking back at me.

That night, I triple-checked all my locks, left the lights on, and hid under my blankets. I’d be lying if I said I slept that night. I started awake when my alarm started screaming and in my panic expected to see that thinking oozing through my bedroom door. Nothing was there though and my heart began to calm.

For most of the morning, nothing was out of the ordinary. I was able to shower, dress, check my email, watch a few videos on the internet, and other time-wasters until the alarm on my phone went off. I had convinced myself that what I saw was either a fluke caused by the hot sun or just something I had completely mistaken for something else. I was ready for my afternoon shift, stepped out of my apartment, locked the door, and made my way down the steps.

That was when my nose picked up the smell of decay. Sweet rotting apples mixed with hay and mold. My heart began to beat so loud that I could barely hear my feet on the steps and the machines of the dry cleaners clacking away. That smell filled the stairwell like a sickening fog engulfing me as if it was trying to force its way into my brain.

I gagged and made the mistake of looking back up the stairs where I came from. Standing there was it again. This time though I got a full view of the grotesque monstrosity that my brain told me could not exist in the real world.

The visage stood seven feet filling the stairwell, its arms drooped down towards its knees. From this distance of twenty feet, I could see that it was twitching like a movie out of focus. This abomination seemed to have three joints per arm and its leg bowed backward from its body giving it a strange leaning appearance. Its clothing was ragged, a pea coat and shredded jeans where I could make out the pale skin. When I focused on the exposed skin, I could swear I saw stuff wiggling as if trying to get out. The face was covered in a rotted bandanna as if it had been injured. I could not make anything out except movement under it too.

I tried to scream but my breath was stolen by the stench coming from this unnatural scarecrow. That’s it. It was like a scarecrow from hell. It was the thud of someone opening the door behind me that broke the spell.

Someone grabbed a hold of my shoulder and the scream finally escaped. Spinning around ready to attack with my purse, I stopped when I saw the startled expression of Carl.

“Whoa! Beth! It’s me!” He grabbed my wrist and stopped me from beating him with the purse.

“There! There!” I shrieked, spinning around and pointing up the stairs. Carl looked but like me, nothing was standing there.

“What? What is it?” Carl asked, placing his hand on what I realized was a concealed gun. “Do you have an intruder?”

There was nothing there. The hallway was empty and that monster was nowhere to be seen. I broke into tears gripping him.

“What are you doing here?” I asked him.

“Joyce thought I should come to get you for your shift. You were a mess yesterday. She was right. You don’t have to come. God, smells like a barn in here.”

“Get me out of here. Now!”

I pulled him out of the stairwell and climbed into his beat-up blue Honda. He followed suit, started the vehicle, and began to pull away. I stared out the back of his window at the doorway and could make it out in the shadow.

What the hell was happening? Why had this monstrosity come looking for me? I racked my brain pretty sure that I did not hallucinate. I struggled to digest the image of the creature that continued to replay in my brain. When we finally arrived at the store, I did not wait for Carl but charged right in and to the break room. I needed to find somewhere safe.

Joyce spilled her salad when I came bursting in the door, looking at me like I was possessed.

“What happened?”

“I saw it again, Joyce. I’m not making this shit up.” I begged her.

The frown was back and she set her plastic fork down. I frantically explained to her again what had happened and what I saw. With each word, her frown became deeper and I think she realized I was not making this stuff up even though it was so hard to believe.

“That sounds horrifying.”

“No shit,” I said, finally collapsing in a chair beside her completely worn out from my tirade.

“Sounds like the Mulch Man.”

Both Joyce and I got silent as we turned to face Carl who had come in some time while I was screeching about my encounter. It took me a few seconds to realize he had named it.

“Mulch man?”

“Yeah,” Carl said, grabbing a soda from the machine, cracking it, and sitting down. “It’s a local legend.”

“Mulch man,” I said again trying to make the words come out of my mouth.

“Well, now you have to tell us about it,” Joyce said in a mixture of humor and seriousness.

“Not much to tell. I lost a friend to it...I think when I was a kid,” Carl started sipping on the bubbling beverage. “In short, around these parts, there is something called the Mulch Man. No one knows what it is or where it comes from. All we know is that this legend has been pervasive as long as we’ve lived in this area. The S’Klallam tribe has stories about him I think. No one knows why it shows up or its motivations but people report seeing it and then they disappear. That’s what happened to my friend. I was eight and he told me he saw it. Two days later, he vanished from his backyard. No one has seen him since.”

“Oh, that’s comforting,” I responded. “Is there any way to fight it?”

“Not that I know of. I can do some research but I’m not sure what’s out there or what. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact you saw him. I hadn’t heard its description in years.”

I did not work that day. I was too much of a mess but Carl didn’t let me out of the break room. Joyce would check in on me and Carl said to scream if I even got a whiff of decay. I didn’t and that day was mostly me on my phone reading up on anything I could find. And that was pretty much nothing.

Near the end of the shift, Carl came back in with a bit of hope on his face.

“Hey, Beth. So, I called my grandmother. Her family has been here for years and I told her what is happening to you.”

“Great, now everyone is going to think I’m nuts.”

“No, she won’t. She’s always dabbling around with the weird and the strange. She immediately latched on to what you said. My gramma told me to come to get some stuff for you. Like a necklace, a recipe for a ward, and a few other things. I’m heading out now to get it. She’s about 45 minutes away. Go home. Joyce will go with you and keep you company.”

So, that’s what I did. I went home and that’s where I’m sitting right now typing this and wanting to make sure that this got posted. I could have easily left this for Carl and Joyce to find but I don’t want to take a risk of no one believing the story and more people getting hunted by this Mulch Man.

The smell of decay has flooded my room and I can sense it in the closet to my right. The smell came when Joyce stepped out to get the food from the delivery driver. Carl is still 30 minutes out from his last text but the thing, this Mulch Man is here and it’s waiting for me. I don’t know how but I know it’s waiting. I can see Joyce flirting with the delivery driver (who is pretty cute) and I don’t blame her. No one expected it to just show up like this. I’m not going to risk her life so I’ve made a decision.

I’m scared to death, I don’t know what fate is going to wait for me or what this thing is going to do to me but I’m not going to risk Joyce’s life. Carl, if you’re reading this, thank you so much for everything you did to try and stop this thing. Joyce, it’s not your fault. I’m glad you weren’t here when it decided to appear. I couldn’t forgive myself if it took you instead.

So, this is it. My story. Not all creatures wait in the dark to find you. Some stand in broad daylight and steal away people. We believe in a foolish lie that the sun will protect us. I can see the sun shining through my window right now and I’m still going to be taken away.

Okay. I can’t put this off any longer. I can hear Joyce coming up the stairs. I’m going to hit send, stand up and open the closet door.

I hope it doesn’t hurt.

— © Jonathan J. Snyder, All rights Reserved Like what you read and want to buy me a cup of coffee?