The Scuttler

by Emily Livingstone

We spoke sometimes about the life before the little cape by the graveyard, but not often.

During the day, light streamed onto the wooden floors, and we played, my little girl and I.

At night, I tucked her in and drank tea alone. I learned not to leave the curtains open, or the darkness stepped in.

In bed, it was so quiet, I heard the acorns drop from the oaks onto the graves as if someone was knocking. I almost thought I heard the traps snapping shut on mice in the basement, crushing their necks.

In the morning, I went down to shake the little corpses free while centipedes swam along the damp fieldstone walls.

*

One night, the knocking of the acorns became a knocking at my door. A thin woman who avoided my eyes stood there, bent in a sad, trembling curve.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

Though I’d only opened the door a fraction, she passed right through. She sat on a stool, and, in the cheery kitchen light, I saw through her.

I went cold, but then part of me took over. The part that had worked hard for years, until I couldn’t, until I lost everyone but my child. I made tea.

She held it in both hands. She didn’t drink, but color seeped into her body, and her eyes found mine.

Still, she was nervous, and asked me to look out the window.

She said, “The Scuttler. It gets us when we’re weak. If it knows this sanctuary is here, it will come. It’ll take us on our way in.”

Then, she told me her story, and got up to leave, standing straight and strong.

“Where are you going?” I asked.

She smiled. “We all have our journey, even if our bodies are nothing but shadows.”

She was the first, but not the last. Many weary spirits sat in my kitchen. I napped during the afternoons with my daughter to make up the sleep.

I had purpose. I felt a sense of peace, and I clung to it.

*

Then, for weeks, no one visited. Wakeful out of habit, I looked out my bedroom window. Beneath the moon, under the oaks, was a massive thing, moving so quickly over the stones that it seemed to float. It was like the basement centipedes, with many legs and a writhing body. The Scuttler.

I wanted to check on Gemma, but not to carry my terror into her room. Then a picture of the great antennae prodding at her window, the terrible body coming through, bloomed in my brain, and I did go. Her sleeping face was calm, her body entangled in her blankets like a fly in a web.

*

The Scuttler didn’t want ghosts coming to me. It wanted to consume them with their eyes still blank with bewilderment.

I didn’t know how to guard against it. I bought lights for the walkway, closed the windows tight. More than once, I heard the terrible pattering of its many legs across the roof.

For several nights there were no signs of it.

*

I was relieved when, finally, one evening, I heard a voice call out. I opened my door to an old man inching along the walk, my lights shining through him. I smiled, then froze.

The Scuttler came out of the dark. It snatched the old man, and the pincers sank into him. Like a wisp of smoke, he disappeared between the mandibles of the Scuttler. It paused then, and we confronted each other. I wanted to rip its antennae from its head. It swiped at my legs with a long feeler, and I fell. It sprang, and the pincers were close, dripping venom.

I scrambled backward, stumbled inside, and shut the door. My skin burned where venom fell on my leg.

I spent the night on Gemma’s floor, alert for the Scuttler.

*

I researched. I spread cayenne pepper around the yard, and for good measure, around the cemetery itself. People saw, and called me “witch.”

*

The ghosts returned. I asked for news. Usually, they said, the Scuttler didn’t stay in one place long, but now, it seemed fixated, patrolling the graveyard boundaries.

I knew I should leave, but I felt responsible to the dead. It would be blasphemous to abandon them.

Witch, they said. Maybe I could be.

I bought strange books, mixed ingredients. I gathered ghosts to help me. They watched over Gemma while I became a raven, big as the house.

Power surged through me, and I wondered if the Scuttler felt this way. If I ate all my guests, would I be an immortal monster?

I waited, glaring down my beak until I saw the rippling insect come into the graveyard.

Then, I dove.

Emily Livingstone is a writer, teacher, and mom living in New England and writing strange stories in the dark when the kids are asleep. Her work has been published in The Molotov Cocktail, Necessary Fiction, Jellyfish Review, Atticus Review, and others, and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and Best Small Fictions. 
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