Short Story
                                         Gruesome Jack
                                                         By Gerald E. Sheagren


 It wasn’t even nightfall yet and tendrils of fog were already drifting in; long gray fingers floating and curling
on the sea breeze.  

 Carl Lindstrom pressed his foot down on the gas pedal and there was a chirp of rubber as his Saab shot
ahead along the narrowing, winding shore road.  He couldn’t afford to be out once the fog set in; a thick
pea soup where you couldn’t see your hands in front of your face.  Every damn night for the past three
years, it came, without fail, like the devil’s clockwork, hanging like a funeral shroud from sundown to
sunrise.  

 And once the gray miasma was in place, Gruesome Jack and his band of merry cutthroats would be on
the prowl, emerging from their eternal haunts to wander about.  Unable to take the horrors any longer,
everyone in the small shore community of Franklin’s Cove had fled, packing up their belongings and
putting their homes on the market.  Carl was the very last of the holdouts; his reasoning either due to
stubbornness, stupidity or a serious brain disorder.  He liked to think it was stubbornness.  Even though
his two grown and married daughters had begged him to leave, each offering him a spare bedroom in
their home, he’d remained adamant in his purpose.

 As he drove, Carl glanced to his left, taking in the choppy waters of Franklin’s Cove, where, on June the
fifth, 1767, a British fleet under the leadership of Admiral Nigel Franklin had sunk the pirate ship Hell Bent,
commanded by Captain John “Gruesome Jack” Rogers.  After a vicious battle, the ravaged Hell Bent, with
all of its masts having been blown away, had gone down quickly.  Any of its surviving crew who had tried to
swim to safety had been summarily shot dead by British regulars stationed aboard the victorious ships.  
Although wounded seriously, Gruesome Jack had remained valiant and standing strong, going down with
his vessel like any good captain was expected to do.

 And by all historical accounts, Gruesome Jack had fully live up to his moniker.  Merciless and
bloodthirsty, he’d had a patch over his right eye, assorted facial scars, a left ear that’d been sliced away
by a cutlass blade, a hook for a right hand, and last but not least, a wooden left leg from the knee down.  
But, despite all, he could reportedly hold his own against any number of opponents and come out the victor.

 All had remained absolutely normal, with the dead resting peacefully, until a team of underwater
archaeologists had arrived on the scene in 2012, sponsored by the greedy state, to salvage any treasures
that might have been aboard the Hell Bent.  And lo-and-behold if the divers hadn’t discovered a large
cache of gold coins, jewels and priceless artifacts that in the present day market was worth well over forty
million dollars.  And in the process, the idiots had violated the underwater tomb of Gruesome Jack and a
good number of his crew.  Such a terrible slight could not go unanswered.  Unfortunately, while the state
capitol was rejoicing in its eye-popping windfall, the poor inhabitants of Franklin’s Cove would wind up
paying the terrible price.

 Carl drove past a long row of abandoned homes, each with a weathered realtor sign next to the road,
their lawns choked with weeds and bearing hip-high grass.  And with no one willing to buy them, there the
houses languished, with peeling paint and broken windows; shutters hanging and front doors bashed in;
their roofs thickly speckled with seagull droppings.  And two miles further ahead, a good dozen of the
seasonal mansions had been left to the mercies of Mother Nature, as well as Gruesome Jack and his
vengeful crew.  Paradise had been turned into a hellhole.

 Finally reaching the fortress he called home, Carl parked his Saab and got out, eyeing his house with its
reinforced steel-plated doors and heavily boarded-up windows.  It hadn’t taken him long after the initial
attacks for him to realize, unlike the rest of the town’s inhabitants, that it was paramount that he should turn
his little Cape Cod into a virtual World War Two bunker.  Worriedly, he looked at the nicks and chips and
slash marks that covered the house’s façade, wondering how much longer he would be able to hold out.  
Well, at least he’d been able to keep his front lawn freshly mowed.

 Sighing, he popped the truck with his remote and started the long process of hauling the bags of canned
goods and boxed items, along with bundles of bottled water, into the house.  Even shopping for food had
become a nightmare.  Since the local grocery store had long been shut down, he was forced to drive a
distance of twenty-three miles in order to stock up.

 And, since there was no longer any electricity or mail delivery, he had to drive that same damn distance
to do everything from collecting his pension and Social Security checks at his post office box and doing
any necessary banking business to eating a decent meal and buying his monthly regimen of prescription
drugs.  And twice a month he’d rent a motel room for the night in order to shave and shower and get eight
hours of peaceful and much-needed sleep.  And every now and then he would even go to Saint Peter’s
church to pray to the good Lord to rid his life of Gruesome Jack and his infernal crew.

 Thank heaven his wife Miriam wasn’t alive to experience all of this misery.  She’d been a strong-willed
woman, never willing to give an inch, but even so, he doubted that she would have held up under the
circumstances. She’d passed away from cancer over five years ago, when the town was still normal.  He
often went to her grave at the Eternal Rest Cemetery with a folding chair, sitting and talking to her for
hours.  But like everything else, the little burial ground had fallen to neglect, with its caretakers having long
ago joined the exodus out of town.  But out of love and respect he’d pulled the weeds and yanked the
encroaching grass around Miriam’s marble stone, often placing a nice bouquet of flowers.

 Completing his grocery-lugging chore, Carl pulled his Saab into the equally fortified garage and lowered
the steel plated door, making sure that it was locked.  Then he went into the house and started his usual
security rounds, lighting a number of battery lanterns and making sure that the doors, both front and back,
were properly bolted.  He looked out a small peep hole in the rear door to see, as expected, that the thick
gray fog was rapidly rolling in.  Then he dutifully prodded the inside boards of all of the windows to make
certain they were all holding up.  And then to top it off, with a rare bit of humor, he snapped a salute and
clicked his heels together, shouting “The bunker is secure, General!”

 And now it was time for a little something to eat.  Using a hand opener to remove the lid from a can of
baked beans – the food of champions – Carl poured its contents into a pan and placed it atop a camp
stove.  As usual, the beans were bound to give him the farts, especially with his nervous stomach, but
being alone, it was actually good to listen to the rumbling noises.  Sometimes he would even carry on a
conversation with them, as though the gas was speaking to him and he was answering.

 Sometimes in the morning, once the fog abated, he would do his duties out in the back woods, bringing a
roll of toilet paper.  He’d actually dug a latrine and sprinkled it once a day with lime to control the odor.  If
he couldn’t wait until morning, he’d settle for Miriam’s old porta-potty she’d used when suffering through
her final stages of cancer.  Thankfully, he had all the bases covered.

 Once the beans were sufficiently heated up, Carl grabbed a spoon and walked about the house, eating
out of the pan.  There was no longer any need for etiquette and manners.  It didn’t take long for the first
blast of gas.

 “So you’re asking me how I’m doing.  Well, with everything considered, I’m holding up quite well.  You
seem to be in good spirits.”

 There was another long rumble.

 “Yup.  Everything is secure.  The doors checked out and the boards over the windows are holding up.  I
should be safe and sound for another long night of high jinx.  Per usual, I’ll get my necessary sleep during
the day.”

 And then it started, the opening salvo, with a pounding at the back door, quickly followed by an incessant
rapping at the boarded window over the kitchen sink.

 “There you are, you insufferable bastards.  You just can’t give me one peaceful night, can you?”

 Now there was a scratching sound at the boarded-up picture window in the living room, reminding Carl of
an eager dog seeking entrance to his master’s home.  Chills coursed down his spine as he thought of
what could be making it.  Was it a claw or yellowed nails as long as scalpels?  Could it be the pointed end
of a rusty cutlass?  Or maybe it was Gruesome Jack’s hook.

 “Bugger off!  Admiral Franklin did the world a justice when he and his men finished off the likes of you!  
‘Hell Bent’ was a very befitting name for your shit-ass ship.”  Carl now found himself screaming at the top
of his lungs.  “And that’s where you should be now, burning in the fiery depths of hell!”

 When he heard a pounding noise at the front door, he tossed aside his pan of beans and hurried over,
curling his hands into fists and pounding right back.  He did this for nearly a full minute, heart racing, sweat
stinging his eyes, his knees quivering like Jell-O.  As many times as he lectured himself to remain calm
and cool, he could never follow his own advice.

 “Try all you want!  You’re not getting into this residence.  This is my sanctuary.  I’ve lived here for forty-
seven years.”  Carl felt the warmth of tears.  “My two daughters were born in this house and my poor wife
died here, and come hell or high water, I’ll be living in this place until the good Lord decides otherwise.”

 And then, suddenly, as if to contradict his assertion, Carl heard a screeching noise coming from the
direction of his bedroom. And he knew what it was in an instant – the sound of nails being pried from
wood.  The bastards were breeching the window next to his bed!  That couldn’t be possible!  Just this
morning he’d checked the outside boards and they were sturdy.

 Rushing to his unused refrigerator, Carl swung open the door and grabbed a loaded Sig Sauer from the
top shelf, racking back its slide to chamber a round.  He wasn’t so naïve as to think that bullets would stop
ghosts or the walking dead or whatever the hell they were, but the gun did offer him a small amount of
reassurance.  And, if he had no other choice, he could always put the end of the barrel against his temple
and end his miserable existence once and for all.  But suicide was considered a sin.  If he was to do so,
would he be able to join his beloved Miriam in the peace of heaven?

 “C’mon – you raving lunatics; if you want a piece of me, here I am!”

 As he was slowly making his way down the short hallway, his shaking legs nearly giving out from under
him, Carl heard the final shrieking of nails and the sound of breaking glass.  Now the filthy buggers had
only the inside boards to deal with.  Rushing to the doorway of his bedroom, he took aim and emptied all
fifteen shots through the remaining barrier, knowing full well that it was a useless act of defiance.  As he
watched in horror, there came a relentless pounding, and two nails popped from their anchorage and flew
onto his bed.  It wouldn’t be long now!

 While backing down the hall, he knew that all was lost.  His gallant fight was over, and there was no place
to run and nowhere to hide.  The sonsofbitches were going to rid Franklin’s Cove of its very last resident.  
And there was one big question reaming – would they grant him some mercy as a worthy opponent, or
would they slaughter him like a defenseless lamb?  He fully expected the latter.

 Carl retreated to the living room, turning over a couch and seeking refuge behind it.  It was a truly
laughable defense, but he could think of nothing other. He couldn’t help thinking – if only Admiral Franklin
and his men could return from their graves and rush to his rescue.

 And then he heard a great splintering noise, followed by the remaining boards clattering to his bedroom
floor.  Fog quickly surged through the breeched window, finding its way into the hallway, accompanied by a
nose-flinching stench of decay, mixed with the odors of brine and seaweed and dead mollusks.  They were
here!  They were in his home!  And then, if things weren’t bad enough, every single one of his lanterns
flickered off, bathing the house in total darkness.

 Then he heard a number of shuffling feet, coming in his direction, with the terrible smell of decay getting
stronger and stronger.  But what really terrified him the most was the sound of wood thudding against
wood.

 And that’s when he heard the horribly croaking voice, saying, “Ah, Me Hearty, you were a tough nut to
crack.”  

                                                                         * * * * * * * * * *

 When Carl snapped from unconsciousness, it was in the early morning light, with the fog having cleared
away, his forehead throbbing with pain, a filthy rag shoved into his mouth.  Shockingly, he found himself
buried up to his chin in the packed sand of a deserted beach, with gulls squawking overhead and a fiddler
crab’s claw locked onto his right ear.  He tried to scream, but it only came out as a muffled groan.  He
struggled mightily, but only his head would move, with the infernal crab still holding on.

 Oh, sweet Jesus, where am I?  Help me, someone, please help me!  

 He finally recognized where he was.  It was Crawford’s Beach – where he and Miriam use to come;
comfortably seated in lawn chairs, sipping wine coolers, and listening to the surf gently lapping against the
shore.  Oftentimes they would linger, holding hands, to watch the sunset, painting the horizon with pinks
and yellows and rosy-reds.

 And in those opening two minutes of horror, with his eyes tearing with emotion, Carl was struck with one
very stark realization.  High tide would be arriving around noon and he had plenty of time to wait for it.
About Gerald E. Sheagren

Gerald E. Sheagren is a
68-year-old retiree, and
former Connecticut
resident, who now lives in
the historic town of
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania,
along with his wife Sharon
and three cats.  Over the
past 25-odd years many of
his stories have apeared
both online and in hard
print.  Although he likes to
write in every genre, his
favorites are horror and
crime.
To read other short stories,
click one of the titles below.