Hey, folks! In honor of this spooky season, here's a special treat from Greensboro: A brand-new "The Coming Evil" short story for your reading pleasure. This is a fun little romp through the more lighthearted regions of "The Coming Evil" universe, though, in the town of Greensboro, even a simple thing like reading a bedtime story to a sick girl in bed can reveal something sinister... Now brace yourselves for the terrifying tale of...
Harvey the Grasshopper!!!
Happy Halloween :)
Historian’s Note: This story takes place approximately eight years before the events in “The Coming Evil, Book One: The Strange Man”.
“Tell me a story.”
Dras Weldon sighed, his shoulders sagging. Though he was only fourteen, he felt like an overtired parent suffering a hyperactive child. “Just because,” he groaned.
“Please?” Annie Myers whined, throwing in a labored cough, just to remind him that she was sick.
Dras frowned, glaring at her. “I already played Barbies with you all day.”
“Tell me a story, and I’ll go right to sleep and you won’t have to worry about me anymore.”
The boy thought to suggest that Annie’s sister, Rosalyn, be subjugated to bedtime duty, but his best friend was busy washing the dishes from their makeshift dinner of Spaghetti-Os. With her mom away at an emergency PTA meeting tonight, flu-ridden little Annie had no one left to bother. Dras was over at the Myers’ house anyway, hanging with Rosalyn as he did most every night, and he had tried to do the decent thing by spending a little time with her six-year-old sister. Now his heroics threatened to be the undoing of his dignity.
At last, he relented, knowing it would mean a lot to Rosalyn. “Fine. What story?”
Annie scrunched up her face in little girl excitement and pointed to the dresser across the lamplit room. “That one!”
Dras sulked over to the book in question, snatched it up, and stared down the cover.
“It’s…” he studied harder, tilting the book from side to side, as if trying to decode an ancient text. The cover depicted a cheery-looking grasshopper—or cricket?—dressed to the nines in some sort of Victorian get-up, lounging about like Willy Wonka on the deck of an ornate pirate ship attached to a hot air balloon as it sailed over green fields. “Um…”
“It’s Harvey the Grasshopper and His Magical Dirigible!”
Dras dropped the book as though it had oozed grossness all over him and slowly craned his neck to regard the kid. “Say wha—?” He wasn’t even exactly sure how to say “dirigible”.
Annie snuggled up in her bed, pulling the covers tighter. “Harvey travels across the world, bringing good dreams to kids. Read it!”
Dras considered. He eyed the book again. “Riiiight.” I’ve got a reputation to think about, here, the boy complained to himself. He strained his ears toward the kitchen and, sadly, detected the clinking of dishes. Rosalyn was still slaving.
Go on, you lug. Just suck it up. No one has to know.
“Okay,” he blurted. Dras procured the book and sat on the edge of Annie’s bed, seeing her face light up with anticipation. He gulped once, ready to sacrifice his self-respect, but suddenly halted, a stroke of utter brilliance slapping his floppy blonde top. “Tell you what,” he began, grinning devilishly. “How about I tell you the real story of Harry—”
“—Harvey,” he rolled his eyes, “the Grasshopper. Would you like that?”
Annie squinted suspiciously, gauging the older boy. “Ooookay.”
Dras restrained a deliciously evil laugh. “See, they can’t print the real story about Harvey.”
“Because you’d never sleep again!” Dras shouted. “That’s why not!”
“I don’t believe you,” Annie huffed, her body tensing.
Dras stood and moved toward the lamp, nearly singing conspiratorial notes. “Well, it’s your loss.”
“Wait!” Annie called. Then she grimaced. “Fine. What’s the real story?”
Dras kept his back to her. “You sure you wanna know?”
“I said ‘yes’, didn’t I?”
“Alright.” Dras shrugged, as though it were no big deal. “But I warned you.” Without provocation, the boy reached out and jerked the chain on the lamp, plunging the room into darkness.
“Hey!” Annie protested.
A bright beam of flashlight luminescence split the evening gloom, aimed right at Dras’ face, twisting his smooth features into a horrible display of shadowed terror. He shouted, “Mwuahahaha!” and was swiftly met by a pillow to the face.
His expression fell as he retrieved Annie’s pillow for her. “Alright, alright. Enough funny business. Prepare to hear the truth that will forever shatter your young idealism.”
“Just make it good, Weldon,” she threatened.
Dras took his seat on the bed, held the flashlight under his chin, and began his tale.
* * *
To understand Harvey and his horrors, one must first uncover the macabre origins of grasshoppers.
Long ago, before Man spread his dominion over the Earth, the kingdom of fairies shepherded the All-Father’s Creation. The fair-folk cared for the animals, the plants, and each other, living in perfect harmony. But one fairy possessed special knowledge of future events, and he foretold of a coming day when Man would subjugate the fair-folk. This doomsaying fairy’s terrifying prophecies won him many followers who began to build an army to oppose the coming of Man. They journeyed into the shadow of the Earth and consulted the dark spirits who lost their foothold on the Earth when the All-Father spoke Light into existence. The fairy rebel struck a truce with the Dark, proposing an alliance to stomp out the race of Man, still in its infancy. The Great Rebel—as he became known in Old Legend—promised he would divide the Earth with the dark spirits, sharing the spoils of war. The spirits agreed to the proposal, all the time planning in their wicked hearts to turn on the Great Rebel and swallow the world in forever black night.
Together the Dark and the Great Rebel worked together, taking willing fairy warriors and...changing them. Soon, these fairies’ legs snapped and bent backwards, giving them incredible leaping abilities. Their slender, beautiful arms became serrated deadly weapons. A hard exoskeleton masked their once-fair faces, concealing them behind horrific visages of war. These poor creatures lost all ability to speak—to sing—only able to communicate by scraping together their claws in primal bloodlust. The Grasshopper was born. These elite warriors descended upon mankind but, despite their numbers, their diminutive size proved their downfall.
Man was simply too big.
The fairy kingdom soon fell, but the Dark, when they sought their revenge, discovered an unforeseen consequence of their allegiance with the fair-folk. The Great Rebel and his surviving followers were now more evil and powerful than even those ancient dark spirits. And the Great Rebel, or Harvey, as was his given name, demanded loyalty from the Dark and rebel fairy alike as he planned a future and final attack on Man...
* * *
“Are you making this up?” Annie groaned, crossing her arms. Her eyes wavered, though, revealing the tiniest bit of unease.
Catching on, Dras grinned. “Gettin’ scared, already? I haven’t even gotten to the bad part yet.”
Annie’s sassy attitude faltered, her eyes widening ever so slightly.
“We could always quit if you’re too scared,” Dras offered, just a hint of condescension in his voice.
“No,” Annie quickly replied. “Just…hurry up, okay?”
Dras’ lips parted and he sang, “Ooookaaaayyy...”
* * *
The first human to uncover the shocking truth of Harvey was a little girl named Francie Stephens. Francie and her brother Thomas, like many children, heard fantastical tales of a benevolent grasshopper in his magical dirigible, come to bring them sweet dreams. Harvey wrote those stories himself. It was all a part of his plan. In an effort to meet Harvey, Francie stayed up past her bedtime, hoping to catch a glimpse of the grasshopper. Sure enough, Francie heard the hiss of steam and mechanical grinding of tiny propellers over the evening breeze. Francie raced to her window and saw the floating ship journeying over the fields, headed her way. In glee, she hid under her covers, barely peeking out, as Harvey entered her open bedroom window.
Francie nearly squealed with delight as the smiling grasshopper in suit and top hat walked the deck and surveyed young Thomas sleeping below. Her eyes growing in pleasant astonishment, Francie watched as Harvey tapped a cane on the railing, and, with a wide, sweeping gesture, sprinkled magical golden dust over Thomas’ head. Francie wondered what wonderful dreams her brother must be having—
Until Thomas sat upright, stiff as a board. His eyes were glazed over, his small mouth open in a slack-jawed stupor. From his perch up above, Harvey cackled, shrill and tiny, as a horde of clicking insects exploded from every porthole of the magical airship, filling the room with buzzing. Francie gasped in horror, unable to look away.
The army of grasshoppers swarmed Thomas, seizing him by the pajamas and lifting him out of his bed, high into the air. Thomas did not kick or scream, just hung there helpless as a thousand grasshoppers flapped their miniscule wings and carried him out into the dark, windy night.
Francie wanted to scream, to chase after her brother, but she dared not move, fearful that she would be taken next. At least another thousand grasshoppers still hovered in her room. They charged the airship, disappearing inside, then re-emerged, carrying a small glowing pod.
Harvey danced on the deck, pumping his cane like the mad drum major of a parade straight from Hell. He pranced and giggled in mischievous glee, watching as his army slowly lowered the pod into Thomas’ bed.
Francie continued to watch in mounting terror as the pod glowed and expanded. It grew so large that a seam down the middle split and frothy white foam bubbled out. The insect monsters swirled around the blossoming cocoon, their buzzing reaching deafening heights. All the while, Harvey danced, clicked his heels, and flapped his coattails, reveling in his despicable deeds.
Soon, the pod took on the form of a little boy.
With the imposter planted, the insects returned to their place inside the ship. Harvey cooled, tipped his hat, and worked the levers. A hiss of steam, a pop of exhaust, and the magical dirigible casually floated away into the moonlit night.
Francie did not sleep that night or for many nights after. She never discovered what happened to her brother Thomas—though her parents never noticed the boy’s absence. For the thing that Harvey left behind looked just like Thomas. But the new Thomas did not pout or pull at his sister’s hair or ask for extra helpings of dessert. No, now he behaved as a perfect little boy, but Francie knew the terrible truth…
* * *
Annie sat in silence, her face pale and expressionless.
“Hey,” Rosalyn greeted, finally entering the room, her chore done.
“Ack!” Annie jerked with a start.
Dras stood, aiming the flashlight in Rosalyn’s face. She batted away the light, annoyed. “Dras, your brother’s outside to pick you up. What are you doing?”
“I was just telling her a story,” Dras said, innocently enough.
Rosalyn moved over and switched on the light. “Well, I’m done now. Do you want me to read you something, Annie?” The older girl spotted the children’s book on the dresser. She picked it up. “I could read you Harvey. It’s your favori—”
“No!” Annie shouted. She blushed, then relaxed. “No, uh, that’s okay. I’m pretty sleepy anyway.”
Dras snickered, but stopped abruptly when Rosalyn eyed him. He stammered, wringing the flashlight. “Uh…um…well, I’d better be gettin’ home. Later!”
“Fine,” Rosalyn replied. “And don’t forget to take your dumb Pod People movie home with you! It’s been sitting here since Halloween.”
Dras raced out the door, and Rosalyn turned back to Annie, raising an eyebrow. “Told you a story, did he? Was it scary?”
“Don’t listen to him. Dras is a goof.”
Rosalyn re-tucked her little sister into bed, kissed her on the head, then moved to switch off the lamp.
“Could you…” Annie bit her lip. “…keep it on?”
Rosalyn warmed. “Okay. ‘Night.”
She readied herself to leave, but Annie called her back. “Rosalyn?”
Annie considered. “…Okay.”
Annie lay alone in her room, listening to the night. From outside the sounds of chirping insects reached her attentive ears. They grew louder. Closer. She thought she heard the hiss of steam…
“Rosalyn, wait!” Annie hollered, grabbing her favorite stuffed animal and scurrying out the door. “Can I sleep with you tonight?”
Copyright 2009 Greg Mitchell