The Greenhouse

As a kid, there was no time I looked more forward to than summer.

It meant no school, of course, but it also meant going back to my home village.

I grew up there, but once I got into second grade, my parents moved to the city. I didn’t hate it, but it was so different.

For a kid, a village is a fantastic place. The vast grassy plains, the deep forests, the mountains, and of course the cornfields. It was a whole different world.

Each year we spent the warm summer month there. My parents had of course sold our old home but now owned a small cabin nearby.

I was always excited to go back and couldn’t wait to hear about all the things that had happened. In a city, change is ever-present. In a village, however, even the small things really mattered.

Well, what I want to say is, that those summers were special to me. That is, until I was in sixth grade. That year everything changed.

Once we’d arrived and settled in, I set out on my bike to meet up with my two best friends Mark and Tom. I couldn’t wait to hear all the stories.

I found them at the soccer field, as always. After we’d greeted each other, I started to ask them right away what I’d missed.

There was the crazy bull at old Werner’s farm that had caused a whole lot of trouble. Miss Richter had burned down half her house due to a faulty fuse. And I’d missed the big soccer match between all the sixth and seventh graders.

I’d just passed the ball to Tom when he stopped and turned to me.

“Oh yeah, there was that terrible thunderstorm a couple weeks ago. It even damaged that old man’s greenhouse!”

“What old man?”

“The evil old man!” Mark chimed in.

I looked from one to the other.

“Wait, who are you guys talking about?”

“That rich old dude who moved here,” Tom began. “He built this giant mansion!” He put all his emphasis on the word giant and held out his arms to show just how big it was.

“Yeah, but the greenhouse is even bigger,” Mark exclaimed.

“Mansion, greenhouse?”

The two of them nodded as if that was enough to explain it.

“You should’ve seen the constructions! They had all those cranes and bulldozers! They were so huge!” Tom held his arms out again. He always did that.

Mark next to him, nodded in excitement. “It took months!”

I rolled my eyes. I didn’t get what the big deal was. I saw cranes and bulldozers every day on my way to school.

“Why’s he evil?” I asked, suddenly remembering Mark’s remark.

They both eyed me and got closer, answering me in hushed voices.

“It’s because he’s hiding something! Ever since his greenhouse was damaged, he’s sneaking around the place. He’s keeping watch all day every day.” Mark started.

“Yeah and Christopher Siegert said the old man’s performing weird rituals inside the greenhouse. He said he saw it from one of the broken glass panes!” Tom went on.

I listened as they rambled on, but I didn’t understand half of it. Christopher Siegert? Broken glass panes?

“My parents said they heard weird things and screams inside one night,” Mark said, turning to Tom.

“Yeah and those dark cars that go there, they must be secret agents or something!” Tom replied.

“Guys! Hold on! Slow down! I’ve got no idea what you’re talking about!” I cut them both off.

For a second, they both stared at me as if they’d forgotten that I was even there.

Tom’s face lit up in an instant. “You want to go see it?”

Moments later, we were on our way to a small hill in the center of the village. It was there that I first saw the mansion and the greenhouse next to it. I could also see a scaffold on one side of it. On the way, they reiterated all the stories and urban legends. There were probably as many as people lived in the village.

The mansion itself was a big, fancy place, but it was nothing compared to the massive greenhouse next to it.

“See, I told you! You can’t see anything!” Mark exclaimed.

“Yeah fine, whatever,” I said, annoyed.

I had questioned them over and over again what was really going on inside. All they said was that no one was able to look inside. I hadn’t believed them. I was sure it was nothing but a dumb trick to surprise me. Now I saw that they were right. The glass was milky and blurred, making it impossible to see anything.

“So no one has any idea what’s inside?”

They both nodded.

“I bet it’s dinosaurs,” someone called out from behind.

The moment I turned around, I saw Erik, one of the younger kids in the village. His friend Rick was right behind him, as always.

“Don’t be stupid, Erik, the dinosaurs are all dead,” Mark said to the little boy with a smile on his face.

“Maybe they are doing some sort of genetic experiment,” Rick mumbled more to himself than to us.

“Yeah right, idiot,” Tom yelled at him. Rick was quiet in an instant. He shuffled around awkwardly and stared at his feet. It was no secret that no one except Erik liked him.

“I bet it’s his personal zoo and he’s keeping tigers, lions, and rhinos in there!” Tom went on.

The others all stared at him, excited at prospect of having a zoo in the village.

“Maybe it’s just a dumb old greenhouse? We’ve got something like that-”

“There’s no way!” Tom yelled at me and stared me down as if I’d insulted him.

“Why can’t we see inside then?” Mark stepped up to me and questioned me.

I raised my hands to calm them down.

“Alright, alright, sorry guys, but why has no taken a look or asked him about it?”

“You can’t do that!” Erik exclaimed.

“We told you he’s evil!” Mark called out. “He’s creepy and always trying to do something to us if we get too close! Especially now, since the storm damaged some of the glass panes!”

As I listened to Mark, I let my eyes wander over the mansion and the greenhouse below. I could also make out a scaffold on one side, most likely erected to repair the damage they’d told me about. We were still so far away from it though.

“Why can’t we get closer?”

“We’d get beaten up like Phillip Müller!” Tom said.

“Who’s that now?”

“He’s from the next village over. He heard about the broke panes right after it happened and tried to sneak in.”

“Did he make it?” I asked.

Tom shook his head.

“He was beaten up by the old man real bad,” little Erik started. “I heard he can’t ever walk again.”

“Shut up, Erik,” Mark yelled at him.

“It’s true!” Erik protested. “I heard he beat the living hell out of him and chased him all the way to the cornfields!”

“Oh yeah? If he couldn’t walk anymore, how was he able to get to the cornfields?” Mark asked, smiling at him triumphantly.

“I don’t know, but it’s true Mark,” Erik said in a low voice.

“I heard it too,” Rick started, but one look by Mark shut him up right away again.

“You’re all exaggerating,” I interrupted their argument.

“He’s always watching though,” Tom said while he looked down at the mansion. “I bet he’s looking up at us even now!”

“I always take the long way home now, so I don’t have to drive by his place anymore,” Erik admitted. He was obviously a bit embarrassed about the fact.

“That’s because you’re a baby,” Mark said, laughing.

The two of them never got along. Mark was the type who enjoyed to make fun of younger kids. I liked him a lot, but at times he gave Erik a bit too tough a time.

“He really is scary though,” Tom said, while he still watched the mansion apprehensively. The rest soon agreed.

After a while, we left the hill and went back to the soccer field. As much as I tried to convince them to sneak up on the place, they all seemed to be truly scared of the old man.

It was in the early evening that I decided to head towards the place on my own. The mansion had been built on a vast empty plain next to the road connecting the lower and upper part of the village. It was this road that Erik had talked about before.

As I drove up to the mansion, I was still sure they were all exaggerating. I was surprised, though when I noticed an older man watching me from a bench at the edge of his property. The moment I stopped to look around he got up and took a few steps towards me. He stared me down with an angry expression on his face.

“Get the hell out of here, kid,” he yelled over at me,” or do I have to make you?”

With that, he started to walk towards me with hard, quick steps. I thought about trying my luck, but his eyes and the expression on his face made me drive off after all.

In the next couple of days, we often saw the old man. Whenever we drove by his place, he’d yell at us from afar to get a move on. At one point, we could even see a giant, angry dog by his side. The beast started to bark like crazy the moment it saw us. Some of the others drove faster, yelling at me that he was about to let the dog go.

A few days later, we were building a small hideout in the woods. It wasn’t long before I started to talk about sneaking up on the greenhouse again.

“There’s no way,” Tom said while he was trying to break a thick branch of a tree.

“You saw his dog didn’t you?”

“I know, but maybe if we sneak up from behind and-”

“He’s going to get you,” Tom cut me off right away.

Mark didn’t say anything. He was busy going through a toolbox from his dad’s workshop.

“He can’t watch all the time, guys!” I tried once more.

“But he does,” Tom said while pushing his whole weight against the branch.

“Why’s this not coming off,” he yelled and started to kick against it. “You stupid piece of a,” he went on.

“No way, I’m pretty sure I can make it!” I said in an optimistic voice. “Back in the city, I-”

“Shut up,” Mark yelled at me while still looking over his tools. “Don’t talk about the old dude all the time, it’s getting annoying.”

“It’s only annoying because you’re afraid of him,” I yelled back.

“So what?” Mark got up, giving me the stink eye.

“You’ve only been here for a few days! He’s been yelling at us constantly for weeks! He even chased me with that dog of his! It almost got me this one time, you know?”

I murmured an apology.

“I just want to know what’s inside,” I said in a low voice.

“We all want to know, but we tried everything!” Tom exclaimed. “There’s no way we can get any closer!”

“Oh, we’ll see about that,” I said.

They all gave me a hopeless look but left it at that.

Next morning I decided to prove that I meant what I’d said.

I decided to sneak up on the place on my own. It would be easy as pie, I told myself. First I’d get close to the greenhouse. Once there, I’d rush towards the scaffold, hide behind the tarpaulin surrounding it and sneak inside.

I believed everyone’s stories, of course, and I’d seen that giant dog. Still, I was confident that the old man wouldn’t be able to catch me. I was a fast kid.

I set out on foot right after breakfast. I didn’t follow the road towards the mansion. Instead, I made my way through the grass directly into the direction of his greenhouse. That way, the massive glass construction, and the high grass would both hide me from his view.

Everything went well, and I was soon only meters away from the greenhouse.

The moment I got up and was about to hurry towards the scaffold though I heard something. It was the loud barking of a dog nearby. I’d barely taken a few steps when I saw the old man coming towards me with his dog on a leash.

“Don’t even think about running, boy.”

I froze.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing here?” he demanded.

“I’m just-”

“Shut up, boy! I’ve seen you around, believe me! You’re not one of the local boys, are you?”

I stayed quiet. All I could do was to stare at the angry dog by his side and its bared teeth.

“I asked you a goddamn question!” he screamed at me and took a few steps closer. The dog at his side started to growl in anticipation and struggled against the leash holding it back.

I tried to speak, but couldn’t. Fear welled up in me, and I had to take a few short breaths before I was able to answer.

“I’m staying at a cabin,” I brought out in a low, shaky voice. “I’m not here to cause any trouble, sir,” I added quickly, “I was just trying-”

I didn’t get to finish the sentence as the old man suddenly gave the dog more leash. The giant beast came rushing towards me, jaws wide open and saliva flying from its mouth.

I stumbled back a step but lost my footing and fell to the ground. With each passing moment, the beast came closer. I could already see, could already feel the jaws closing around my arm or leg. I screamed up as the animal lounged itself forward and felt something wet and hot between my legs. Just before the beast was upon me, the old man jerked the leash backward, and it came to a stop only inches away from me.

I sat on the ground, shaking, crying, not able to move. The dog was still right in front of me, barking and growling. Its saliva sprayed onto my legs, and in a panic, I inched away from it.

“Get lost boy,” the old man screamed at me once more.

“Next time there’ll be no more leash!”

With that, he pulled the dog back to his side. He kept staring at me until I got up and started to walk away on shaky legs.

“Wouldn’t be the first boy that happened to,” he yelled after me laughing.

As an adult, I’m sure he’d only said it to scare me, but thirteen-year-old me totally believed him. I hurried straight back to our cabin.

For to whole day, I stayed holed up in there. I was so afraid, I didn’t even want to go outside. The image of the dog came back to me again and again. Even in my dreams, I was chased by the giant beast. Now I knew why Mark was so afraid.

It was three days after the encounter that I finally went out on my bike again. I was still a bit anxious, but I made my way to the soccer field.

“Wow, there he is,” I heard Tom exclaim when he saw me. “Where the hell have you been?”

For a moment I stayed quiet, but then I told them what had happened.

“See? We told you so,” Mark said.

He was the only one who didn’t seem to feel sorry for me. All because I’d disregarded his warning. At times I couldn’t stand his attitude.

“I bet it’s true. He probably got other kids before,” Erik said out loud.

“Yeah, I bet it is!” Tom agreed.

“Yeah, but I’m not giving up,” I said finally.

The others looked at me in confusion.

“What are you talking about? Do you want to get killed for real?” It was Mark who seemed to be seriously angry now.

“I have to find out what’s in there,” I answered.

“Yeah but the old dude is going to get you for real this time,” Tom said.

“There has to be a way to trick him,” I protested.

“You’re going to get eaten by his dog,” Erik chimed in as well.

“Oh yeah? He can’t watch the place all day, can he?”

“But he’s always out there, you know that!” It was Mark who didn’t seem to let it go.

“I know Mark, but if he’s out there all day, then what about the night?”

The others looked at me, puzzled.

“What do you mean?” Tom asked.

“I mean is he out there at night, too?”

“I’m sure he is!”

“How’d you know, Mark? Have you ever been there at night?”

“Of course not, why’d I do that?”

“See?”

“He’s probably doing worse things at night,” Erik said in a low voice.

“Shut up, Erik!”

“Stop it, Mark, don’t be mean to him!” I intervened

“Maybe he’s letting the dinosaurs he keeps inside roam around the house,” Erik continued.

“That’s stupid!”

Mark didn’t leave Erik be. I honestly had no idea what sort of problem he had with the little boy.

“He has to sleep though,” I went on.

“You don’t know that! Maybe he doesn’t sleep,” Tom cut in.

“What? No, everyone has to sleep. Also, he won’t be able to see us during the night,” I continued. “We’d probably be able to sneak up way easier in the dark.”

“And get eaten by his dog?”

“Shut up, Mark, you’re annoying,” I yelled at him, fed up with his constant interruptions.

“Whatever.”

“I really want to know what’s inside,” Tom finally said.

I nodded. Soon enough Tom said he’d come along if I went back there during the night. The moment the two of us started to make plans, Mark grudgingly agreed as well, if only to see what would happen to us. Convincing Erik was even easier. The little boy seemed to be the most excited out of all of us.

We spent a lot of days planning our nightly approach. In the end, it wasn’t just me, Tom, Mark and Erik. The little boy had talked about our plans with Rick, who wanted to tag along as well.

We were all furious. When Rick arrived one day, to learn more about our plan, we told him to get lost. The problem was, however, that he said he’d tell on us if we didn’t allow him to join in. So in the end, there wasn’t much we could do.

We’d decided on a Thursday night. We reasoned that the old man might stay up late on the weekends, so we probably had a better chance on a weekday.

Getting out at night wasn’t tough for me. I’d done it countless times before to explore the village and the cornfields at night. My parents had never found out a thing.

My friends simply told their parents they were staying over at each other’s places. I was surprised that this thing even worked.

“Eagle four has arrived,” I said in a low voice when I met up with Tom and Mark. They gave me a prearranged hand sign to show that they’d noticed me.

We’d decided to meet up at the edge of the village sometime after midnight.

I was really surprised to see Erik. He was a good two years younger than us, so I’d had my doubts that he’d be able to sneak out by himself. He was a crafty little guy.

The last one to arrive was Rick, a solid quarter hour after everyone else. To be honest, I was more annoyed that he actually came and not the fact that he was late.

We planned to set out on foot in two different teams and meet up in the grassy plain near the greenhouse. One group consisted of Mark and Tom. I was stuck with Erik and Rick.

We felt like spies or secret agents as we sneaked around corners and rushed from one building to the next. We robbed through the grass and hid between bushes and behind trees as we went on our way. I’m sure we must have looked absolutely ridiculous. I guess it was pure dumb luck that no one saw us. I’m pretty sure we’d have been safer if we’d just walked down the street the regular way.

Everyone was nervous and scared but also excited beyond belief.

The only one who didn’t seem to care was Rick. He was annoying and whined about having to sneak around constantly. I had to tell him multiple times to be quiet, but he’d just start complaining again after a while.

When we finally arrived near the mansion, Tom and Mark were already there, waiting for us.

“What took you so long,” Mark asked in a hushed whisper.

I only took a sideways glance at Rick, and he knew.

“Well it’s not my fault,” Rick complained, not to bother lowering his voice at all.

We all looked up in shock, and for a moment, we were all sure the old man must have heard us.

“Quiet,” I hushed him. “He’ll find us!”

Rick was going to complain again, but then Mark went up to him and pushed him to the ground. He didn’t say a word and simply stared down at him in anger.

This time Rick seemed to finally get the message. I looked at the mansion. The windows were still dark, and everything was completely and utterly quiet.

There was also no sign of the giant dog anywhere. We waited for another couple of minutes, listening for any and all sounds.

When nothing happened, I finally made the hand sign for ‘Clear,’ and we carefully inched closer.

As we made our way through the high grass, we were all serious. Everyone, even Rick, tried to be as quiet as possible.

One wrong noise could mean that the old man came for us with his dog. We had no idea what he might do if he found us out here in the middle of the night.

We inched forward one by one, each taking only a step at a time. It was a slow process. Every noise we heard made us freeze in fear.

Finally we’d all made it and were next to the greenhouse. It really was massive. It must’ve been at least twenty meters wide and probably twice as long.

By now we had to be quick. We might have been hidden from gazes inside the mansion, but we weren’t protected by the darkness anymore. Even long past midnight, the lights inside of the greenhouse were still glowing.

We hurried towards the damaged area, and moments later, we vanished below the scaffold’s tarpaulin.

Here we could see the damaged glass panes and the repairs that were being carried out. We’d never even considered that the repairs might already have been finished. It was pure luck that two of the large glass panes were still missing. The hole was covered by another thick layer of tarpaulin. It was stretched over the metal framing to keep the greenhouse closed off.

We tried to pull it off, but it seemed to be connected to the metal framing. Whatever we tried, there was no way to pull it off.

“What do we do now?” I whispered.

Everyone shrugged, a dire look on their faces. Except for Mark, who grinned. Within moments he pulled out a pocket knife and went forward.

He rammed the knife into the heavy fabric and started to pull it downwards. It was though and took him almost a minute, but finally, there was a hole big enough for us to enter.

The inside of the greenhouse was absolutely astonishing. In an instant, the darkness of the night was replaced, and we found ourselves in a tropical jungle.

The heat inside was almost unbearable. It had to be far above thirty degrees Celsius, and the air was heavy with moisture.

For what had to be minutes, we just stood there, looking at the lush vegetation all around us. Tropical trees rose high into the air, while thick vines entangled them. The ground was a mixture of various underbrush and strange exotic flowers.

Suddenly we heard a rustling in front of us. I cringed back instinctively, expecting a tiger, panther or hell, even a freaking dinosaur to jump us. Instead, it was a small animal, looking like a chipmunk or squirrel that rushed away as quickly as it saw us. I laughed a little, as relief flushed over me.

As we finally started walking again, it seemed as if the whole place was alive. There were many different birds in here, some were parrots, others were birds of paradise.

“Do you think there are any real dinosaurs in here?” Erik asked, excitedly.

No one was able to answer him. We were all too overwhelmed by this new, completely different world all around us. Secretly though, I think we all hoped to actually see a real dinosaur. Even if no one wanted to admit it.

As we started to explore, we soon found a little stream and right next to it a small path. It seemed to lead us through the whole place in a circle.

“Did you see anything other than birds and squirrels?” Mark asked me.

I shook my head.

“Let’s keep searching,” Tom said.

With that, we continued and followed the small path. For a while, we were still careful and tried to stay hidden between bushes and behind trees. Soon enough though, we realized there was no danger here. As we started on our second round through the place, we’d seen nothing but birds and other small animals.

“This is so boring,” Rick started to complain again.

He went over to a set of stones placed next to the path and sat down right there in the open. After a little while, Erik followed him and soon enough, Mark and I joined them. Tom was still on his way, exploring.

I was quite disappointed, to be honest. The place was amazing, no doubt, but my initial astonishment was long gone. I’d looked for an adventure, for hidden secrets and I hate to admit it, dinosaurs. As beautiful as the place was, it was plain boring.

“There has to be something here,” Mark started after a while, “otherwise he wouldn’t keep watch all the time!”

“Maybe he just enjoys scaring people?” I said, shrugging my shoulders.

“What do we do now?” Erik asked.

“I’m going to go home,” Rick mumbled and got up.

Before he’d barely taken a few steps, Tom came back to us.

“You guys, you guys, I found something!”

“Is it a dinosaur?” Erik called out.

“A tiger?” Mark pipped up.

“Some sort of secret hideout?” I asked, as well.

We were all excited again. Tom seemed to be a little embarrassed by all the attention he was getting.

“Well no, but there’s some sort of building over there.”

As we moved forward, we had to fight through the underbrush to make it to the center of the greenhouse. It was there that Tom had found the building. By now, we were all happily chatting with each other. The danger the place had held had evaporated entirely, and the old man had all but vanished from our minds.

“A building sounds dumb,” Rick continued to whine.

It was at this point that Mark stopped and stared at him. “Will you shut up for once!?” he yelled at him. Rick stopped talking right away and did his best to look away from Mark.

“Is that it?” I asked Tom when I saw a rectangular concrete block in front of us. Tom simply nodded.

I was disappointed once more. I’d hoped it might be some sort of secret hideout, but it seemed to be nothing but a giant concrete block. It didn’t even have a door or windows. The only visible thing was some sort of console on one side.

Maybe it was nothing but the freaking generator that powered this place. I’d seen similar things in the city.

I was about to step forward to take a closer look at the console when I heard something. It was a door opening and then falling shut again. We knew instantly what this meant.

“He’s coming for us,” Erik blurted out before he covered his mouth in shock.

As quickly as we could, we hid between the various plants and bushes, hoping he wouldn’t find us.

I knew there could only be one reason for him to be here in the middle of the night. He knew we’d sneaked inside.

With each passing second, I anticipated to see him with that giant dog and letting the beast go to get each one of us. For a moment, the memory of the dog’s fangs returned, and I started shaking in sheer panic.

Was this why he’d created this place? To lure us kids here to hunt us down?

I listened, breathing heavily as the echo of his footsteps came closer and closer. My heart beat heavy inside my chest. I desperately told myself to calm down, afraid that my heartbeat alone could give me away.

The moment I saw him though, all those thoughts vanished into thin air.

There was no hint of the dog. Instead, he was all by himself. That wasn’t all though. His attire was completely different and utterly strange. He wasn’t wearing his usual clothes but wore a sort of lab coat. In his hands, he held a variety of weird items: syringes, surgical tools, and other things. What made the whole thing even stranger, was that the old man was smiling.

Without even looking around or searching for us, he stepped up to the concrete building. It was clear to me in an instant that he wasn’t here because of us. He probably had no idea we were here at all. So, what then was he doing out here?

My question was answered when he stepped up to the console on its side. He put down the assortment of items and tools he’d brought and took out a key. He inserted it at the console, then seemed to press a few of the buttons.

A second later, one of the walls of the building vanished in the ground, revealing three big holding cells. No, I realized, cages. I watched with wide eyes.

He stepped up to the first of them and took out a small device. He pressed down on it, and moments later, the cage opened.

His face started to be distorted by an unnaturally wide grin, and he was beaming with happiness.

“Oh my dear, it’s been quite a while, hasn’t it? You must’ve been so, so lonely,” he said in a voice filled with pure excitement and not just a bit of malice.

I leaned forward in anticipation to see what was inside the cage. Then we all heard the sounds.

At first, it was nothing but a moaning, but it soon changed to a sort of low scream. I could hear something moving and soon the clatter of metal. I was both scared and almost as excited as the old man.

“Now then, why don’t you come outside? Or do I have to… make you?” he called towards the cage.

It wasn’t long before something stepped outside.

I don’t know why or how, but I knew instantly that the creature was no normal animal. Something was completely wrong with it. Its shoulders, upper arms, and legs were covered in fur, the rest, however, was hairless. For a moment, it reminded me of a human being, but there were too many things wrong with it to justify such a comparison.

As the thing moved, I saw that its arms and legs were weirdly twisted, as if the joints were put together the wrong way round. The body looked scrawny, yet muscular. The worst, however, was the things face. There was no visible nose. The mouth was nothing but a dark, empty hole with no discernible teeth. The eyes were deep-sitting, bloodshot, and endlessly tired. A deep sadness seemed to emanate from it.

The closest way to describe the creature would be to call it a deformed, mostly hairless ape.

As the creature stepped towards the old man, I saw the shackles around its legs and the chains connected to them. I saw dried blood around its ankles. Once more, it made a sound that could’ve almost been called human. I got shivers all over my body when I heard it. The creature dragged itself forward, moving slowly. A moment later, however, it rushed the old man. I already saw it jumping him, but then it was yanked back by the chains and stopped a meter in front of him.

For a moment, the smile on the old man’s face vanished. It was replaced by his oh so common expression of pure anger. Then the smile returned, but this time, it was different. There was no happiness in it. There was only pure malice.

Once more, he took out the small device I’d seen and he pressed down on it again. The creature screamed up in pain and started twitching and writhing.

“One would’ve thought you’d learned by now, my dear,” he said, laughing. The way he said the last word made me feel sick to my stomach. He stepped up closer to the creature, putting his foot on its head. For a moment, he pressed down hard with a sardonic grin on his face. The thing opened its mouth, but all that escaped was a soft, painful moan.

“Well, that’s what you get for not behaving,” the old man continued before he took his foot away.

I saw the eyes of the creature look up at him. They were filled with anger, but they also seemed to be pleading with him. Another sound escaped the ravaged mouth. It was a long and dragged out scream. To this day, this sound was one of the creepiest and saddest things I’d ever heard. It was so close to that of a human, yet so different. I almost gasped when I heard it, but quickly covered my mouth.

Erik, who was only a few meters to my right, was too shocked to do so and a short, high-pitched scream escaped his mouth.

In a moment, the old man jerked around his face distorted by tremendous anger. When he saw the little boy trying to hide between the bushes, he was upon him in an instant.

“How dare you,” he pressed out, his face almost purple with anger. “You little shit!” he screamed at Erik. The little boy was too scared to run or do anything, and in a moment, the old man pulled him out in the open.

“What the hell are you doing here? How the hell did you get in?”

When Erik didn’t say a thing, the old man started beating and kicking him.

I watched, got up on shaky legs, but I didn’t know what to do. At this moment Mark of all people rushed forward. Soon after Tom and I followed him. Only Rick stayed back, not taking more than a few steps.

The old man’s expression turned to surprise when more kids came running towards me.

“Let go of him!” Mark screamed. Moments later we were all upon him, trying to pull him off, Erik. The old man was in such a rage now that he didn’t even seem to notice our efforts and continued to beat down on our friend. It must’ve taken us half a minute to push him off.

“Run away, Erik!” Mark screamed at the little boy, but Erik wasn’t moving. His little face was swollen and covered in bruises.

“Come on, Erik, get up,” I started as tears streamed down my face. When Tom and I tried to pull him up, his whole body felt wrong, and his head dangled in a weird angle.

Then, my friends, the old man I all looked up as the creature behind us screamed again. It was a scream of triumph and excitement. When I turned around and saw its mangled body from nearby, I realized that the creature had to be female.

Then I saw them, the shackles. They were lying on the ground next to the creature.

When the old man saw what had happened, his face changed to a visage of pure terror. He held up his hands but noticed he wasn’t holding the small device anymore. He must’ve dropped it when we charged him.

“Where the hell did it go goddamnit?!”

He was out of it. He fell to his knees, desperately searching and rummaging through the lower vegetation around him. A second later, he picked something up, but all the color drained from his face when he saw that the small device was completely crushed.

He didn’t get to lament or curse because right then the she-beast was upon him. A bloodcurdling scream cut through the air before the beast opened its mouth impossibly wide and closed it around the old man’s throat.

His face changed to sheer and utter terror as he started clawing at the thing, but his attempts were futile. The beast’s mouth might have been toothless, but its jaws pressed down harder and harder on the old man’s neck.

There was the disgusting wet sound of something breaking, following by a gurgling before his body grew limp.

The beast released the mushed neck and a moment later it raised its arms high into the air before it brought his fists down on the old man’s head.

I heard the crunching of bones and blood splattered all over the vegetation around. Over and over the thing beat down at the old man’s body.

When I could finally rip myself away from the sight, a new horror awaited me.

The other two cages had opened up as well when the device was destroyed.

Two more creatures emerged soon after. They were different, more deformed and horrible than the she-beast. Yet, they too showed the same similarities to human beings, but they were pitiful and nightmarish caricatures.

One’s body was so twisted that it had to crawl out, dragging its lower appendixes behind. One look at its head made me shudder. Where the face was supposed to be was nothing but scar tissue and a gaping maw.

The other creature was much larger and overtook the crawler in an instant. It was walking on its four appendixes. They were long and bony, while the rest of its body was thick and bloated. It gave the thing the appearance of a four-legged, humanoid spider.

Pure terror befell us when we saw the other creatures. Rick was the worst. He was in utter hysterics, screaming louder and louder as he rocked back and force on the forest floor.

Suddenly the she-beast stopped beating the remains of the old man, and in a moment she jumped towards Rick. The creature grabbed hold of his shoulders. It let out a bellowing scream before it started beating him in a sudden frenzy.

I stood there, unable to move at all. I saw the spider-beast tumbling towards me. For a moment, its empty eyes stared at me before it noticed Erik’s lifeless body. It went closer, and I saw its jaw unhinge. There was no sound of chewing or flesh tearing, it was devouring him whole.

It was Mark that finally took me out of my trance, as he crashed into me. He screamed at me, but it was all incoherent and made no sense. Then he started to pull me into the jungle around us, and soon we were both running.

I saw Tom next to us as well. Tears were streaming from my face. My vision was blurry, and I had no idea where I was going. I stumbled after them before I suddenly crashed right into the glass panes of the greenhouse.

We looked around, but there was no sign of the entrance anywhere. For all I knew we were completely trapped.

Suddenly another scream of the she-beast cut through the air. It was followed by the sounds of it tearing through the vegetation of the greenhouse. For a moment, I didn’t know what to do, but then in sheer desperation, I threw myself against the glass. Again and again, I did it, but it was much sturdier than I’d expected.

Then Tom threw a heavy stone against the glass. It didn’t break, but there was a small crack. Each one of us picked up whatever we could find close to us and threw it against the glass pane.

The sound of glass breaking was mixed with the sound of the she-beast bursting from the jungle behind us.

I threw myself forward. The sharp edges of the glass scrubbed along my arms, leaving long gushing cuts behind, but I didn’t even feel it. I was out first, followed back Mark.

“Tom! We’ve got to-” I started, but Tom’s screams cut me off. They lasted for no more than a few seconds.

Mark and I didn’t look back. We simply ran, and once we couldn’t run anymore, we stumbled forward until we were back in the village.

What happened next is nothing but a blur. The village erupted into chaos when they found us. We were both bloody from the glass, screaming and crying. We must’ve rambled on about the old man, the greenhouse, the monsters, and our friends.

When the police arrived, they found the corpses of the old man, Rick, and Tom, as well as one of the creatures inside the greenhouse. Erik’s body, however, was never found.

I spent the rest of summer either answering questions or at the office of a therapist.

Of course, they didn’t tell us anything, we were kids, after all.

The story itself made the local news, but it was quickly and discreetly swept under the carpet.

It was years later that I put the official story together from bits and pieces. The she-beast was deemed a female gorilla. Police caught it a few days after in a nearby forest and safely disposed of it. The other creature that they’d found in the greenhouse was an adolescent one, they said.

The old man must have acquired them illegally and kept them as pets in the greenhouse. The night we entered, the two animals got loose due to our fight with the old man and n the rampage that followed everyone but Mark and I was killed.

In the month after the event both the mansion and the greenhouse were locked form the public. Important people came and went before the place was stripped and eventually abandoned. It still stands even now, a grizzly reminder of what happened that night.

I needed therapy for years. Even now, my dreams are haunted by the creatures I saw that night. My therapist keeps reminding me that something like those creatures couldn’t exist. It had most likely been my fear that had transformed the gorillas into the nightmarish things I saw.

Here’s the thing, however. The official stories only ever talked about two of the creatures. The she-beast and the crawling one that died inside of the greenhouse.

The third one, the one that had devoured Erik’s body, was never mentioned.

For years I’ve looked up news about my home area. There are the occasional reports about livestock being killed and half devoured remains of animals. The official stories blame it on wolfs or other wild animals.

Yet, I can’t help but wonder. It’s been two decades, but what if that third thing is still out there even now.