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It Lurked in the Hold

Updated: May 30, 2023

This story is prompt, based on an image supplied by Anvil Magazine.

Esteemed Chairman,

This testimony, by a man who identified himself as Charles, was supposedly part of an unpublished bundle of First-Hand Accounts with the Uncanny. Quite frankly, a sensationalist collection of accounts with no means to collaborate on these events that may or may not be embellished by the author. However, we believe this story holds some credibility due to the specifics regarding the involved vehicle.

- Dr. Bourbon


It happened in late March 1869, near our farmstead among the Utah hills. I remember because the sprouting crops were sticking out of the ground like grass. The family was visiting the city because my sister had lady problems, and my brother had to help my father on the market.

Taking on a man’s responsibilities for the first time, I was determined to prove myself. Like clockwork, I fed the animals and tended to the corps before going on patrol with Simon: our watchdog. All I had was a musket with a crooked spike bayonet. But I didn’t care. I would patrol our homestead till I fell asleep on my feet.

It was the middle of the night when Simon’s barking woke me up.

More annoyed than concerned, I saw him pacing back and forth, growling and snarling at the black sky. Going outside to make him stop, I froze upon seeing what attracted his ire: a bright ball of flame lighting up the clouds as it descended slowly and silently from the heavens.

I could see the fire emerging from a round structure whose features were cloaked by the blackness of night. At the time, I knew about the flying machines that the city folks used to cross the ocean, and I had seen an air balloon at a fair once before. But I had no knowledge of zeppelins or dirigibles.

Simon fell silent as the vessel crashed in the hills right outside our farm. Despite cringing at the sound of the creaking metal, all I worried about was that fire spreading to our acre. Simon followed me as I raced into the dark with nothing but a lantern to light my path.

Out of breath, I reached the crash site. Only then did the vessel’s dimensions become evident, that being at least five times the size of our barn and nearly twice as high.

“Hello?” I cried. But the roaring flames near the vessel’s tail end droned out my voice. The fire didn’t have enough vegetation to burn on the rocky terrain to be a threat, but I still worried about the crew, which was eerily absent.

That’s when I noticed a tree had torn a hole in the balloon’s side. Now, I had no idea at the time how balloons supposedly worked, so it didn’t surprise me when I saw a hold, like that of a ship, inside the envelope.

Simon was squealing in protest as I climbed up the tree. “I’m just going to have a quick look, boy. Stay there!” I said- And the dog lay down with his head between his paws.

As I threaded the wooden deck, I marveled at the steel skeleton around me supporting the envelope. I had never been inside a boat, so I was in awe of this technological marvel as the distant flames were making me sweat.

Still no signs of the crew, though. But I could feel a strange tremor in the floorboards that felt like it could be footsteps. That’s when I noticed a dark trail originating from beneath a pile of toppled containers. Observing the reflection of the flames in the dark liquid that was seeping between the board, I heard beastly snarling and cracking bones as I saw the long shadow of what could be a tail or a tendril projected on the canvas.

Wishing I brought my musket, I backed away toward the exit. That was when my heel hit a broken beam.

As the rushing of thin metal plates filled the hold, something reared its head from behind the crate pile. That's when a box dropped to the floor, revealing the beast's dark visage obscured by the flame's crimson glow. At first glance, its appearance resembled an alligator. But its hindquarters were raised as its head hung low. Horrified, I watched its reptilian hand clutch the corners of the crates as its sunken eyes peered at me from beneath bony ridges. When I swung around, it jumped at me, snapping at my leg as I ran.

As I reached for the branches, I screamed at my dog. “Run, Simon!”

Instead, he barked loudly as if to tell me to climb down.

I tried hiding behind the tree's trunk as the beast stuck its head out of the wreckage. But its long jaws lunged at me from the interior, and the deck beneath him gave way. As the beast fell, it tore the thick canvas along with him on the way down.

Simon finally ran back to the farm as the beast ripped apart the cloth and proceeded to shake the tree. I held on for dear life as the fragile branches were about to snap.

But then, through the roaring of the flames, I heard a gunshot, followed by another.

A horseman had appeared, firing his revolver atop his galloping horse as he charged in with Simon following in his wake.

Startled, the beast attempted to make a break for it. But the rider would have none of it and raced him by at breakneck speed, firing at the monster's flank as he did.

The beast opened its jaws, releasing a stuttering hiss like a broken valve, as the stranger struggled to make his mount turn next to the flames. That’s when the beast stormed forward, using its thick skull as a ram.

The horse neighed loudly as it fell on its side, but not before the rider fired another shot making the monster recoil.

In the light of the flames, I could see him pulling his leg from beneath the horse that was desperately trying to get up. His wide-brimmed hat and duster made him look like a cowboy, but he wore a bird-like mask with a beak covering his mouth.

Scrambling to his feet as his horse dashed off, the masked stranger aimed his weapon as the beast prepared to renew his assault.

Then the beast lunged at him with its uncanny speed.

There was a deafening bang as the second barrel on his revolver spewed a flash of light, blowing the creature back and into the burning wreckage.

There it would stay for the flames to consume.

Attracted by Simon squealing, I climbed down to comfort my dog while the stranger had folded open his revolver to speed-load it. His strange triangle goggles reflected the flames' golden glow as he addressed me with a voice that sounded like a character from an audio play. “Did you see another one?” He asked.

“No, sir. That y-”

His gun clicked as he closed it. “And the crew?”

Something in his voice made me hesitate.

When I didn’t answer, he pointed his revolver at Simon. “Where are they!?”

A paralyzing shiver ran down my back, fearing I might have encountered a predator more formidable, and I shook my head. “I saw nobody, sir. Honest, sir! I think the beast got them all. Please, don’t shoot Simon.”

He just looked at me.

I watched my own reflection as I tried to hold back the tears. It might have been a few seconds. But I could feel myself grow older as he judged my character.

Finally, he holstered his gun. “I better not discover you’ve been lying to me. When somebody asks. You saw no beast.”

Nodding, I wiped the snot off my lip.

He whirled for his horse that returned with its head hung low of exhaustion.

“Thank you, sir,” I said again as he mounted his horse.

But he didn’t even bother to acknowledge my gratitude.


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