When Steve Nurburn finally found the place, he whispered silent thanks to the deity he didn’t believe in. He had gotten lost three times on his way here. Four if you counted the point when Steve took the wrong exit on the motorway. That little detour had cost him 35 minutes — but it had been Steve’s fault.
That the farm was in the middle of nowhere had caused the other three. To call what he had driven on for the last three-quarters of an hour a ‘dirt track’ would be generous. Even a driver not as geographically challenged as Steve would have had trouble. Or so Steve told himself.
Steve squinted through the windshield. All around him were miles upon miles of luscious fields. Even a city boy like him had to admit, it was rather beautiful. He didn’t even know there were so many different shades of green and brown. To his right, Steve could see a few metres of a pen, which disappeared behind a wall of hedges and shrubbery. The fences of the pen looked huge. There was no sign of the man whom he’d come to meet.
Steve opened the door to his car and got out. He stretched his legs. He’d been in the car for hours. He was a tall and overweight man who didn’t enjoy being in such cramped conditions for so long. Whilst he reawakened his body, Steve inspected the mud that caked the lower half of his blue BMW M5 and tutted.
He scanned the area. There was nobody. There were almost no sounds. Birds tweeted and insects buzzed, somewhere in the grass. “Hello?” he called; a bit uncertain. “Mr Rondal?”
Steve looked down at his smart leather shoes, then at the muddy fields. He grumbled to himself. He leaned back into his car and reached over to retrieve the pregnant brown envelope. He wasn’t sure why it had to be cash, but then again, what did he know about animals?
Steve jumped and banged his head on the ceiling of the car. “Bugger!” He backed away, envelope in one hand, and rubbed his crown. Oh, I hope I don’t get a bruise there.
Grinning like a fool, Steve turned around and nodded at the man who had appeared behind him. “Ah, Mr Rondal! I was just about to come looking for you!”
“Sorry, Mr Nurburn!” His West Country accent was so thick it was almost impenetrable. “I do most sincerely apologise!” He then bowed — one arm across his torso, the other extended. Steve wasn’t sure if he was being made fun of, and his smile faltered.
“Er… not a problem, Mr Rondal. It’s fine.” He forced the grin.
The man straightened up. “Call me Gerald.” He extended a grubby hand caked with dirt. Steve had to stop himself from recoiling. With an internal grimace, he shook the offered hand.
“Steve,” he said.
The man was short, fat, and stinky. He had long, thin hair, and a complexion that screamed alcoholic. And his eyes… there was something wrong with his eyes.
“So, I understands that the horse is for your lil’ girl, ‘en?”
“That’s correct. Her name’s Raquel.” The thought of his daughter helped Steve to feign his smile. “She’s always dreamed of owning a horse, but…”
Gerald winked at Steve. “The cheapest an’ best ‘orses you can find are roight here, Steve-O! Roight here!” He walked towards the pen and beckoned Steve. “Roight this way, sir. Roight this way!”
The stable was gigantic and long. Looking at it straight on, the walls and roof made the shape of a pentagon. Inside the building, hungry darkness lingered.
Steve stood in the open doorway and stared inside. His eyes adjusted to the gloom. His heart raced. The stench was awful; rot and decay.
“Mother of God…” said Steve. “What are they?”
Gerald smiled; his yellow teeth visible. “A new breed,” he purred, as he flicked through the envelope of cash. Why, oh why, had he handed over the cash straight away?
“What’s wrong with them?” Steve was dimly aware his voice had acquired a wavering, high-pitched quality.
“Oh, there’s nuffin’ wrong with them,” said Gerald with a humourless chuckle. “Moighty strong beasts, they are!”
Something ahead in the darkness whinnied. The noise was deep, primal, and somehow intelligent.
“Are— are you sure they’re okay?”
“Oh, they’re foine! They’re jus’ ‘ungry! Tha’s all!”
Steve spun around. He was about to ask why on earth he would buy an unfed animal when Gerald kicked him in the chest.
As he sprawled backwards into the darkness, the main thought in Steve’s surprised mind was: He’s quite limber for a fat man.
Steve hit the dusty floor and the stable door shut with a clang, followed by frantic clicks that could only be the locks.
Something thudded in the shadows. The floor vibrated.
“Wha—?” asked a disoriented and winded Steve.
Something breathed to his left, hot and heavy.
“O-open the door, Rondal!” he wheezed.
“Oh, I did forget to mention one thing, Mr Nurburn!” Steve could hear the maniacal grin in his voice.
The shadows were closer.
He took a deep breath. “OH, GOD. PLEASE, LET ME OUT!”
Things moved all around him. Faster now. Closing in.
“The thing I forgot to mention,” he said, ignoring Steve’s pleas, “is that these ‘ticular ‘orses… well, they’re carnivorous.” Gerald took care in his pronunciation of this last word.
“Carniv— oh Jesus Christ.” Steve whimpered.
He caught a glimpse of something in a sliver of light from the door. Something with too many teeth.
“MR RONDAL!” He was squealing now. “MR RONDAL! PLEASE! PLEASE! I’LL—”
Something clamped around his leg and he screamed in agony. Something else grabbed his arm and his flesh tore. Steve heard splintering sounds that he knew were his own bones snapping.
Scott Thimberton — his real name — chuckled as he counted the money to the cacophony of Steve Nurburn’s screams.
He knew from experience the wet, ripping sounds would continue for a while.
22nd July 2019