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LONGBEARDS by Chris Dankland

Before The Smiths signed the contract for the brand new house they were set to purchase, the real estate broker said: I have to tell you that in the last few weeks a few of the construction workers have sighted some Longbeards near the woods. I’m only mentioning it because you said you have a small dog.

Yes, said Mr. Smith. Thank you. We’ll be sure to keep him inside the house at night.

That’s what I’d do, said the real estate broker, nodding. Just in case. I’m sure that as more and more people move into the neighborhood, the the Longbeards will retreat further into the woods. Longbeards like to be left alone. Maybe you’ll hear them howling late at night.

Gregory! said Mrs. Smith, playfully poking their seven year old in his chubby belly. Are you excited about hearing some Longbeards howling? Sounds like fun, huh?

Gregory nodded ecstatically, lifted his head and cried: A-WOOOOOOOOOO!

Laughter filled the office like the bubbles in their glasses of champagne.

///

The first time the family heard the Longbeards was two weeks after they moved in. A sound like seven singing trumpets broke the seal of night. It was 3am. Mr. and Mrs. Smith sat up in bed at the same moment.

Longbeards! said Mrs. Smith in a hushed gasp, touching her lips.

There’s a lot of them, said Mr. Smith. He headed toward the window.

Gregory appeared at their bedroom door. Mommy! he shouted. On stubby chubby legs he ran in and dived into their bed.

It’s okay baby, said Mrs. Smith, cradling her son to her stomach. It’s just Longbeards.

Everything’s fine. Listen! Do you hear them howling?  Gregory moaned and pushed his face deep into his mother’s side.

Sparky ran into the bedroom and hid beneath the bed.

They sound sort of spooky, don’t they? said Mrs. Smith. The Longbeards’ howls were a combination of tornado sirens, rat screams, and alligator snarls. Woe to the usurping inhabitors of the earth, they howled. Woe to those who wear the crown of pride. Woe to those who scatter and destroy the sheep of the pasture. Woe to the wicked gluttons. Woe to you all on the day of our furious wrath.

Mr. Smith nodded. They do sound strange, he said. A wave of unease rolled through the room. But they’re much more frightened of us than we are of them, he added.

///

The Smiths were one of the first families to move into the new neighborhood. All day the surrounding streets were filled with the sound of hammers and buzzsaws and the chatter of Latin American construction crews. But at night, after the construction crews had gone, the neighborhood was as still and silent as a stone dropped in the ocean.

Mr. Smith was proud of the new house that he’d bought for his family. It had not been acquired easily. It had cost tens of thousands of hours of toil at the law firm where he worked. His legal specialty was handling peanut allergy lawsuits. Mr. Smith worked for a candy company that made a small chocolate covered confection called Bloopers. The candies were sold in nearly every movie theater in the country.

But, six or seven times a year, some unfortunate soul with a deadly peanut allergy would purchase these candies, consume them in the dark theater seats, and go into immediate anaphylactic shock. Due to the contents of the candies, which contained a particularly potent peanut butter cream center, these allergic reactions were sudden and almost always fatal. Men, women, and children alike would swell up and suffocate in a matter of minutes, choking in their seats even before the previews were over. This created terrible litigation problems for the company. It was Mr. Smith’s job to ensure that lawsuits from grieving families had a minimal impact on company profits.

But they are gone! the families whined. The ones we loved are dead forever! And now we are alone.

It’s the unfortunate nature of the universe, answered Mr. Smith. The universe gives and the universe takes away.

You are responsible! the families cried.

We are not responsible, answered Mr. Smith.

You are the cause of all our misery! You have destroyed our happy home! the families cried.

It wasn’t on purpose. We all just want nice houses, answered Mr. Smith.

///

The house is on fire! screamed Mrs. Smith. It was ten o’clock at night.

What? asked Mr. Smith. He was in the living room, watching cable news.

THE HOUSE ACROSS THE STREET IS ON FIRE! screamed Mrs. Smith.

They ran to the backyard and poked their head over the fence. The fucking house is on fire! shouted Mr. Smith. Luckily it was an unoccupied house far away from them, in another part of the neighborhood that was still being built. Bright orange flames swirled through the house’s walls and windows like solar flares on a distant star. A giant black river of smoke snaked up from the burning roof.

Longbeards! shouted Mrs. Smith.

Fifteen or twenty Longbeards surrounded the house, jumping up and down on their heavy hindlegs. They were screaming. With giant clawed paws they beat their furry chests and kicked dust into the air. Their gaping mouths were wet with slobber, silver in the moonlight. Their huge eyes glowed like yellow light bulbs. Thick mossy beards hung from their jaws all down their bodies, tangled hair tossing through the air while they danced and howled, blurring the air. They shook their fists above them as if to rip open and tear down the sky.

I’m getting the machine gun! said Mr. Smith, rushing inside. Call the cops!

A minute later Mr. Smith had his machine gun in hand, pointing it over the top of the fence. He pulled the trigger and sprayed wild bullets at the Longbeards. The Longbeards darted in twenty different directions. In less than fifteen seconds they had completely disappeared into the night.

///

Mr. Smith didn’t sleep that night, but his family did. Mrs. Smith dreamed that a Longbeard arm was growing out of her mouth. At first the arm was limp and dead, but then it started moving. Little Gregory dreamed that there were thousands of lollipops in his veins. Suddenly a hundred gaping slobbery mouths appeared all around him, sucking at the air. Little Gregory rose up into the air and was pulled apart by the suction. Sparky dreamed that he was trying to run away on broken legs.

After the fire department put out the fire, after the cops came by the house and wrote down his report, Mr. Smith stayed up in the living room with the machine gun resting on the loveseat. His wife had wanted a house with lots of big windows. She loved sunlight. Mr. Smith drank coffee and sat in the living room till dawn. He watched. He listened. He waited. He worried.

///

In the deep dark woods, The Longbeards huddled in their cave. The Longbeards waited too. They lay awake, stretched longwise against the wet March soil, full of freshly sprouted spring buds not yet emerged but slowly clawing out. One by one by one the humans would all be turned to whispers, mere coils in the wind. Evaporated. Dissipated. Forgotten. Tear their poison roots from the ground and purify the dirt that life might rise anew. Better to blast the trumpet and drown the deafened world with silence than to let it mumble endlessly its parched and wicked sickbed hallucinations.

Furious breaths filled The Longbeards black twitching noses. Kill them all and eat the children.

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