by Robert Kostanczuk
And so it came to be that Nan and Kix ended up at the godforsaken Destree barn.
The descent into night, the whipping rain and their frantic plight had brought them there.
As the thunder roared and rumbled outside, the partners in crime caught their breath and gathered their senses amid the sounds of rats scurrying through the hay and across patches of grain strewn across the dank Kentucky dirt.
Nan and Kix had just stolen a car.
Neither had been in any serious trouble with the law before, but crystal meth and deadly youthful boredom fueled this particularly reckless criminal escapade.
In a wave of panic, they ditched the beater vehicle in a marshy thicket that was pretty far from home.
That made for a fairly long journey by foot.
But rationality of thought was not in the cards on this volatile day.
While trekking back to their hometown, Nan and Kix had stumbled upon the deserted Destree farm, which was just a quarter mile from where they eased the swiped car into a swampy area.
The barn provided necessary shelter from a volcanic storm that worsened an already tense situation resulting from the ill-advised car heist.
“That joyride wasn’t worth it,” Kix said, shaking his head in disgust.
“Yeah, tell me about it — what a waste,” Nan concurred, trying to catch her breath. “We got a long walk back.”
Kix peeled blobs of mud off the bottom of his boots.
“Ya think anyone saw us take it?” he asked his girlfriend, bracing for a reply he didn’t want to hear.
“I don’t know, but I don’t think so,” came the best-case-scenario response.
The heavy oaken barn door that Nan and Kix had closed behind them was not staying shut in the heavy wind, which slammed it open and shut on an all-too frequent basis.
It was unsettling to the pair, who were also subjected to the unnerving sound of creaking wood that radiated from all corners of the old structure.
Sitting on a bench near the entrance, Nan and Kix huddled together, waiting for the storm to break so they could trudge back to town, and out of the mounting nightmare encompassing them.
Twilight was quickly plunging into nocturnal shackles.
“I can’t wait to get out of this hellhole,” said Kix, looking around at the sporadic lightning that lit up cracks and holes in worn walls surrounding him.
“There’s something truly weird about this place,” Nan whispered, although not quite sure why she felt the need to whisper.
She stole a sidelong glance at Kix, to see how he was holding up.
He had only two previous run-ins with police; one for disorderly conduct at a football game, and one for underage drinking at a friend’s party. Nan boasted a clean slate; she was just along with Kix for the ride, latching on to his rebellious nature, which she found invigorating in her stale, rustic life.
“It’s all gonna be all right,” she said while playfully ruffling up his wet, matted head of hair.
“I know it will,” Nan concurred.
Although beginning to feel chilled by her wet clothes, Nan was physically warmed up by her boyfriend‘s self-assured demeanor.
The sense of well-being slipped back into a state of unease as soft thuds were heard.
The hayloft appeared to be the source, and the sound increasingly resembled methodical footsteps.
Looking up, Kix and Nan couldn’t help but think they were not alone.
Remaining perfectly still for a few seconds, both were hoping it was merely Mother Nature rocking the rickety, light-starved barn, and stirring up noises.
“It’s nothing, I think,” Kix said quietly.
However, increasingly loud gurgling began wafting through the air from the upper reaches of mammoth, but rotting, overhead beams.
The teens were hearing something akin to a rippling, muddy stream. Nan wondered if it was water rushing into the barn, but the noise was coming from up above.
Kix had enough of the unwelcoming Destree property: “Looks like the weather’s let up; better get while the gettin’ is good. I never thought I’d make it onto this land. It’s as messed up as everyone said it was.”
Just before stepping outside, Nan caught sight of a slight glistening in a rear corner, near horse pens.
Swinging open the barn door for more light, Nan walked toward the glint.
A smile of recognition soon stretched across her face.
“It’s true; the Destree calliope really does exist,” Nan said with an air of wonderment.
Its columns of whistles draped in cobwebs, the wagon-mounted calliope was glazed in dull circus colors of gold, scarlet and purple.
Peering more closely, Nan honed in on the wooden housing that encased the calliope, except for sizable, oval openings on two sides of the wagon, through which the worn whistles could be seen.
Jesters, with menacing smiles, were carved at the borders of the openings.
“Let’s get out of here before it starts playing by itself,” Kix said a tinge of urgency.
Slipping onto the soggy ground of the abandoned acreage, Kix and Nan began to walk back home down Old Moon Road in the heavy humid air that replaced the rain.
Faint at first, a sour and discordant melody trailed from the rear.
As Kix and Nan moved further away from the Destree property, the mournful, dirge-like tones of the calliope grew in intensity.
Remnants of the roiled weather shot out muffled blasts of electricity in the dense, purplish heavens.
“Who’s playing that contraption? No one’s lived on the Destree farm for years,” Nan said with a perplexed shake of the head.
She and Kix sped up their walking as the calliope’s devilish presence faded with each forward step.
Home — and respite from the stolen-car fiasco — was about three miles ahead.
The roads leading there were winding, rural, and largely unlit.
Bottomland hardwood forests lined them.
“Maybe we shouldn’t have panicked; we could’ve just taken the car back instead of ditching it,” Kix said during the walk in darkness.
“It’s water under the bridge; it’s over, we’ll be OK,” offered Nan, genuinely believing that the worst was over.
She then looked behind her, out of boredom.
She thought she saw a shape — a stocky shape — silhouetted against the still agitated skies.
It was pretty far in the distance. It was rather small, and human shaped.
Nan turned back toward the front, hoping the vision would just disappear.
Peering to the rear again, Nan found that her perception was not illusionary.
Something was skittering along the high weeds and dense brush at the side of the road, and picking up speed.
Trying not to alarm Kix, Nan slowly swiveled her head to the front.
A few seconds later, she methodically looked back.
It was closer.
This time, she snapped her gaze ahead of her.
Letting a full minute pass, she warily turned her sights toward the rear again.
It was gone.
“What you lookin’ at?” Kix said, looking back himself and seeing nothing.
“I thought I saw something; it’s no big deal. Let’s stop at this convenience store. I’m dying of thirst. I need some water.”
The Take-A-Break was a figurative beacon of light for Nan — a return to normalcy at such a tumultuous time.
The boxy, ramshackle outpost glowed at an otherwise unlit four-way stop at Old Moon Road and Oakwood.
Everyday things could be bought at Take-A-Break. Pop, chips, Red Bull, warmed-over pizza slices sitting under a cheap heat lamp … it all felt like regular living to Nan. It was what she yearned for now.
Inside, a wiry, disheveled cashier eyed Nan and Kix as they got a couple bottles of water and brought it to the checkout counter.
“Will this be it?” asked the worker.
“Yep,” Kix said, digging money out of his jeans.
“You guys look like you’ve been through a lot tonight; you’re kinda wet and dirty,” the cashier said while taking the dollar bills.
Nan proceeded to tell him much more than she really wanted to, relating how they had got caught in a storm while out for a long walk, and were forced to take cover in a dirty barn along the side of a road.
“Oh, you must be talking about the ol’ Destree farm,” said the worker, his eyes lighting up in recognition. “By the way, they call me Slick the Stickman, ’cause I’m pretty resourceful, and tall and skinny.”
A smile stretched across Slick’s weathered face that was peppered with the beginnings of a silver and black beard.
His eyes danced with energy, while the auto-mechanic jumpsuit he donned spoke of everyman relatability.
Because it was on an outskirts of town where there was little but agricultural activity, Take-A-Break had been a sporadic stop in the past for Nan and Kix, so they were unfamiliar with the colorful Slick.
Before they could begin to pay for the water, the pair took in some history of the Destree land, courtesy of a talkative Slick.
“An odd, twisted little girl once lived there,” he said while aimlessly running his hand through his thick, greasy and flowing locks of hair.
“Her name was Madison, but she was known as Madsy,” Slick continued. “Over time, that turned into Fatsy. Actually, the mean kids had a complete name for her: Fatsy Noodles.
“Actually, she wasn’t very funny,” Slick quickly shot back in a corrective, but patient, tone. “Fatsy Noodles was, in truth, pretty creepy. And probably pretty deadly.”
Slick, who had been standing, pulled up a stool, and sat down, and settled in behind the counter.
* * *
“Fatsy was always different, even when she was just 4, 5. But when she hit 14, 15 — she hit her stride, let’s put it that way,” Slick smiled slyly.
He went on to weave the story.
Nan and Kix sat down on a couple of stacks of 24-can cases of Coke.
They heard Slick explain that Fatsy never was really fat, just “big boned” and maybe a bit more muscular than girls her age around the county.
“I think you could call her a fireplug; ya know, a bit short and stocky. They say she was just 5 feet and 1 inch when she left high school, and sort of went into seclusion and became just a mysterious living thing.”
Madsy Destree really only left her family farm to do harm, Slick related.
As the legend went, she particularly enjoyed exacting revenge on those who had taunted her in elementary school and high school.
“Picture this,” Slick urged, making sure he kept eye contact with his small, captive audience.
The descriptive narrative unraveled as if it were being told around a campfire, in the moonless gloom, on Halloween.
The only child of Clemson and Gertrude Destree was always an outsider; a loner.
She wore her pigtails thick and full, draping them over the front of her shoulders.
Madsy kept to herself; didn’t have many friends.
“Her first childhood friend became a turncoat; Melissa Gyner saddled her with the reputation of being heavy,” Slick related. “Melissa even made up a rhyme: ‘Fatsy Noodles ate some poodles.’ That was around when she and Madsy were both in first or second grade.”
Nan repeated the quirky name: “Fatsy Noodles — sounds like a dumb cartoon.”
Slick had a quick retort: “She sure was no comic. Fatsy didn’t just idly by and let people dump on her.”
Melissa paid the price with ravaging puncture marks, one on the top of her right forearm, the other on the underside, Kix and Nan were told.
“The wounds got infected; Melissa almost lost her arm,” said Slick, taking a bite of an apple, then putting it down.
“Ya ever see an alligator snapping turtle?” Slick asked.
“Don’t think so,” Kix replied.
“Nope,” Nan answered definitively.
Slick detailed how that kind of turtle basically has “a one-fanged upper jaw and a one-fanged lower jaw that snaps and pierces.”
He added that, as the story goes, Fatsy had a tightly drawn, and compacted mouth that was able to violently spring open into a gaping, gruesome yowl.
“She was supernatural; that’s the only way to explain it. She’s a ghost, and ghosts apparently can bite, can’t they?”
Nan and Kix looked at each other, and smirked.
“Maybe she could bite, but she also sucked,” Kix chortled.
Slick dismissed the mockery, deciding, instead, to proceed.
“As long as you’re laughing, you’d probably laugh at the fact that Fatsy kinda waddled when she walked,” he related. “But when you saw that bizarre walk heading for you, it wasn’t so funny. She really was an it, not human — something demonic.”
Slick felt it was time to summarize the saga and wrap things up.
“Fatsy disappeared about 75 years ago. She left the farm as a young adult, and never returned. There were newspaper articles that she made it out to the West Coast, that she was seen walking out into heavy surf on some California beach, and was never seen again. Authorities reported it was a stormy, turbulent day. It’s assumed she drowned. Her body was never found. She might have died in her late teens or early 20s. Who knows?”
Nan couldn’t help but wonder just how “supernatural” this Fatsy really was.
“So, how many people did she bite?”
“Well, legend has it she bit quite a few, and sometime gargled with their blood. It’s not only about how much she bit, but who she killed.”
Leaning toward Nan and Kix, Slick whispered his next sentence for dramatic effect: “You see, there’s pretty strong evidence she murdered two, three — maybe five six people, including a couple of drifters who wandered into this sleepy, forgotten corner of Kentucky.”
Nan was sucked into vortex of rural folklore that spun with wild allure and endless questions.
“Why the murders? Why the killing?”
Slick explained the slayings were always about retribution for perceived personal harm.
“She’d follow; she’d stalk; she’d get her man — or woman, or boy, or girl — whatever the case might be. She’d appear out of nowhere; striding forcefully toward her victim; pigtails pressed against the front of her shabby dress; mouth slowly opening … then, agape.
“If people looked at her the wrong way because of the way she looked, Fatsy would exact revenge. There’s a story about her tracking down and killing an old woman who kept staring at her in a grocery store. The woman’s body was found with bite marks — punctures — all over her face.”
For the slightest moment, Nan considered the possibility that it was Fatsy who trailed her and Kix on the way to Take-A-Break.
But the surreal yarn which the convenience worker spun seemed such a fantasy, that it actually put her mind at ease about there being any chance the demon girl was, indeed, the follower.
She and Kix grabbed their bottled water and began walking out of the Take-A-Break, heading back to Old Moon Road.
“Thanks for the tale; it’s interesting,” said Kix, giving a flick of his hand to wave goodbye.
“I think it’s more than just a tale,” Slick grinned.
* * *
Out in the dense, muggy atmosphere again, Nan and Kix quickly gulped their water and tossed the bottles away.
Refueled, they both discussed how this horrid little episode which entangled them, was about to end.
Home was just a mile away.
Immediately to the left, the fairy-tale residence of Widow Kyefsky rose above them, outlined against vibrantly endless and cosmic skies.
An ornate mishmash of Queen Anne and Victorian architecture, the mansion fit the otherworldly leanings of Lady Kyefsky, who was strongly rumored to be a witch.
She was standing out front, at the beginning of her winding walkway, which cut through a massive wild garden of overgrown grass, burgeoning bushes, fiery flowers and assorted vegetation.
She waved at Nan and Kix to come near.
They didn’t want to, knowing her reputation among the locals as a crazy eccentric.
For the flash of a second, Kix considered tugging Nan’s arm and leading her to the other side of the road.
But he opted to gut it out and directly pass by her.
“Come! Hurry! You’ve been followed here. Get off the road!” Kyefsky prattled, while simultaneously motioning for the two youths to move up the passageway leading to her home.
“Who’s following us?” Nan asked incredulously, conveying a hint of fear.
“Something ungodly. Something dangerous,” came the response.
Kyefsky ushered Nan and Kix along by successively placing her hand on the right shoulder of each, and then firmly steering them up the uneven stone path.
They moved, she followed behind, giving gentle nudges to the small of their backs to provide them with a sense of urgency.
Kix found himself inexorably following the old woman’s directive, as did Nan.
Neither knew exactly why they were so compliant.
As she was hurriedly prodded along toward the looming, arched doorway of Kyefsky’s house, Nan wondered to herself if this creepy lady did, indeed, have mind-controlling capabilities.
“How do you know we were being followed?” asked Nan, not looking back in the direction of Kyefsky.
The answer to the question came with firm assuredness: “I have certain powers, dear. And I very much know this thing that is after you.”
Swinging open her heavy, oaken front door, Kyefsky led her two charges inside to a foyer where crimson stained-glass windows loomed up above.
Taking a quick look outside before closing the entrance, she made a pronouncement with a discernible air of relief: “No sign of the ghoul.”
Nan had the overwhelming sensation of being locked in; shut off from the outside world.
It was so quick, she didn’t know how it happened.
Kyefsky ushered her visitors to a side parlor. The room was dimly lit, with clutter that included old books, herbs in bottles and burning candles.
“Fatsy Noodles is after you. She is angry. You invaded her space at the barn; I know all this because I have the help of that,” said Kyefsky, pointing to a crystal ball on a rough-hewn wooden table.
“Sorry, lady, I don’t know you,” Kix said in a hybrid tone of annoyance and fright.
Kyefsky grew silent for a few seconds, curiously looking over the two disheveled young people, as if assessing exactly what kind of naïve innocents she had standing before her.
“Believe what you like. You can stay with me for safety or go back out there. You decide.”
The ultimatum resonated with Nan.
She was in no mood to venture outside, just yet.
Besides, it could be fun checking out the spooky old house, she thought.
“Come up to my little nook; it’s safe there, follow me,” said Kyefsky, sensing the youths were acquiescing.
Kix just smiled in bewilderment. The situation was reeling in Nan and him.
Kyefsky guided the pair to a wooden, spiral staircase with large knots in the surface of the wooden boards.
She informed them the twisting steps led up to one of the two turrets in her home.
She tried to stay calm and orderly, but wore down and spoke with urgency: “Come, hurry, climb the steps.”
Kix and Nan followed Kyefsky up to the turret as their footsteps made the staircase creak and crackle with shards of sound.
The witchy woman spoke before opening the door to their place of refuge.
“The car you stole belongs to a distant relative of Fatsy’s. The bloodline definitely is connected. She doesn’t like that you stole the car. She doesn’t like you were in her barn.”
Kix and Nan were jolted by Widow Kyefsky’s knowledge of the swiped vehicle.
“You might be right about the car; I’m not saying you are. But how do you know about it?” Kix said with piercing curiosity.
“I have powers,” Kyefsky said, as she swung open the turret door in front of her.
Kix needed to crouch down a bit to enter through the low doorway.
Inside the cylindrical room, he and Nan quickly took stock of their surroundings.
Windows surrounded all sides of the lofty space, which burned with the soft glow of evenly spaced candles lining the circular wall.
Walking along sturdy oak floorboards to the front of the turret, Kix and Nan gazed down, and saw a car parked in the street.
It was situated so that its headlights — its bright beams — blazed directly toward the front door and up the walkway.
Though it was difficult see details of the vehicle, Nan believed there was caked-on mud along the bottom edges.
She felt she was looking at the well-traveled, four-door Buick sedan from the 1990s that Kix and her had swiped and dumped in the mucky bottomland hardwood forest, rimmed with cypress trees.
“That’s the car we stole,” she whispered to her mate.
Kix merely stared in stunned confusion at the vehicle.
Then, he spoke: “I don’t know what’s goin’ on here.”
Kyefsky had descended the staircase while Kix and Nan were distracted by the bizarre sight in the world below the windows.
Rustling, commotion then wafted up through the open door of their lofty room.
“Let me go!” came a scream from down below.
It was Kyefsky.
Fatsy’s bite had dug into Kyefsky’s left arm at the foot of the staircase.
“Oh, it hurts! Oh, it hurts!” she whimpered with chilling emotion.
Kix and Nan shuddered at the wailing that reverberated up to them.
Peering down to the bottom of the stairwell, they watched a shadowy figure slowly ascending.
Then it became clear to the pair that it was a dazed Kyefsky making her way up.
She used her right hand to painstakingly pull herself along.
When she finally stood before Kix and Nan, Kyefsky rolled up the left sleeve of her billowy blouse to reveal ugly wounds.
The top of her forearm had a puncture wound that oozed blood.
On the exact opposite side of her arm was another puncture wound that also bled, on the underside.
“Who … what bites like that?” Kix blurted in dizzying wonderment.
“She bites like an animal … she may still be my house! I don’t know where she is!” Kyefsky cried. “I fought her off. I fought her off. But I don’t think she wanted to kill me. She could have killed me if she wanted to.”
The words were delivered breathlessly, but with clarity and an increasing sense of composure.
For a few seconds, Kyefsky stood silently with Kix and Nan in an attempt to hear any noises or movements that would indicate the stalker was still present down below.
There was one slight bumping sound, followed by what resembled faint shuffling along the floor.
Kix finally spoke … in a whisper.
“Why should we be afraid of her? Does she have some sort of super power?”
Kyefsky, who was calming down, answered.
“I don’t know if she’s from another world. All I know is that she’s not right — and is terrifying.”
The need to get Kyefsky to a hospital for her bite wound forced the trio-in-hiding to venture down the stairs.
Kix led the way, mentally stoking his bravado in the event he had to punch the ungodly thing.
At the foot of the stairs, the trio stopped and scanned the darkened home.
A grandfather clock along a hallway ticked with a mesmerizing cadence.
There was no sign of the attacker.
Slowly, the three comrades made their way to the front of the house to see if the stolen car was still out front.
On the way, a shuffling noise was heard in a hallway closet which had its door slightly ajar.
Nan began to walk backwards.
Her senses were on high alert. Acute focus came into play like never before.
A flash of black darted from the closet, along the floor.
“Pluto!” Kyefsky blurted with a sense of relief.
It was her cat.
Kix and Nan laughed at the absurdity of the surreal situation engulfing them.
The low hum of a running car engine then seeped into Nan’s awareness.
It was the stolen Buick, still pointed at the house, but this time the headlights were off.
No one appeared to be inside.
“The keys must be in the car; I have an idea,” she told Kix.
Her plan was to hop in the car and return it to the house where it was stolen — leave it parked on the street in front of the residence, and then run like hell.
“Let’s make amends,” Nan said, squeezing her boyfriend’s arm for emotional support.
“OK,” Kix confirmed. “That works. I just want to make sure that freak isn’t in the car, or around it.”
As Kix and Nan edged toward the vehicle, Kyefsky went to the bathroom and wrapped her wounded arm in gauze, with plans to drive herself to the hospital.
She had always prided herself in being self-sufficient.
The bizarre and rattling experiences which had just descended would not force her to deviate from that characteristic.
“You guys gonna be OK going home?” she asked her unexpected visitors after emerging from the bathroom with her wounded armed covered.
“Yeah, we’re leaving. We might take that car — or we’ll walk. Just depends,” Kix answered.
Kyefsky headed to the rear of her home, where the garage stood.
She never made it.
A crushing bite to the neck sent her into shock, and brought death almost immediately as blood gushed on the rain-soaked grass.
At the same time, Kix and Nan peered into the Buick from a cautious distance away.
Then, they methodically walked around the vehicle to see if anyone — or anything — was in hiding.
All seemed quiet.
“I don’t know about getting in,” Kix said as he shook his head with uncertainty.
“It’s now or never,” shot back Nan, opening the passenger-side door.
Inspired by his girlfriend’s moxie, Kix jumped into the driver’s seat.
He immediately noticed the car’s charged atmosphere.
It emitted a crackle, a heightened air.
Sitting still for a few seconds to survey the surroundings, Kix and Nan realized this was make-or-break time.
Then, Kix placed the car in drive and headed down Old Moon Road.
* * *
“Man, I will never forget this night,” said Nan, peering straight ahead into the humid, hazy darkness.
Kix merely smirked at the pure nuttiness of it all.
“I just wanna drop this sucker off, and right a wrong, and get on with our lives again — in a normal way,” he intoned, giving Nan’s left knee a loving squeeze.
Kix wasn’t so sure his frame of mind would ever be totally returned to its original, carefree state, but he believed in the joint power of Nan and himself to weather any storm.
Nearing the ramshackle home from where the car was stolen, Kix noticed no lights were on in the house.
That was a good sign. It was late; the folks there must be in bed, Kix thought to himself.
With only a lone, corner streetlight providing sparse light down the block, Kix pulled the Buick up at the curb in front of the house.
Kix and Nan deftly and quietly closed the car doors.
They inched away, looking back at the vehicle just once.
Unbeknownst to them, a child was watching their arrival and departure from a front, anterior window of an adjoining house.
Berenice gazed with innocent curiosity as Kix and Nan, hand-in-hand, ambled away, while the trunk of the Buick Skylark lifted open ever so slowly.
A small figure crawled out of the trunk.
Totally catching the attention of the 8-year-old Berenice, the youngster plopped the chocolate ice cream cone she was eating on the window sill.
She normally wouldn’t have been up so late, but her birthday celebration had been extended by several hours.
Wiping her sticky hands on her pajamas, Berenice looked on as the mysterious being carefully rearranged pigtails.
They were moved from her back to the front of her bib overalls.
Berenice then saw a silhouette of the visitor with mouth agape.
Next came methodical movement as the presence in front of Berenice started to take steps, following Kix and Nan.
The steps gradually quickened.
Berenice giggled; whoever she was watching managed to put on a little show by ambling along like a duck.
Robert Kostanczuk is a former full-time entertainment/features reporter for the Post-Tribune daily newspaper of northwest Indiana.
He won first place for “Best Personality Profile” in a 1992 competition sponsored by the Society of Professional Journalists, Indianapolis chapter.
His fiction piece “Safe Haven for Nathan” was published in “Homicide Lullabies: A Collection of Adult Horror Stories” (2016: Severance Publications Ltd.).
Robert’s horror-themed “I Eat Anything” was included in “Shocking Stories” (2018), a collection from Rainfall Publishing Company of the United Kingdom.
His short story “Frozen Burial” was published in 2019 by The Horror Zine, a print — and online — magazine.
Also in 2019, his beastly yarn, “A Stirring in the Woodland,” was published by Schlock! Webzine of the United Kingdom.
Robert’s “Lizzie Borden Versus Belle Gunness” appeared in the Spring 2020 issue of Suspense Magazine.
Robert lives in Crown Point, Indiana.