Short Story
                                         The Ugly Things
                                                                 By Tom Koperwas


 Hal Forster applied the final dabs of paint to the canvas, then leaned back and smiled.

 "Beauty incarnate," he sighed, as his eyes ran over the otherworldly depiction of a natural garden
landscape copiously populated with swarms of colorful bees, clouds of jewel-like butterflies and moths,
and exquisite, exotic birds covered in brilliant feathers.  "The way things should be."

 Turning his gaze toward the large studio window, he froze.

 "Unfortunately, our world is full of ugly things," he muttered, eyeing the dull brown-and-gray sparrow
perched in the flowering olive tree outside.  Depressing a stubby joystick, he drove his electric wheelchair
over to the open window.  Taking hold of a small-caliber rifle, leaning against the wall, he aimed it at the
sparrow.

 "Damn junk bird," he growled under his breath as he slowly squeezed the trigger.

 "That's four sparrows and two finches you've bagged this week, Mr. Forster," said a gruff voice from
outside the window as the sparrow fell.

 Hal grinned.

 "Mike of Mike's Pest Control and Property Maintenance!" he exclaimed, looking down at the man in
overalls with a protruding pot belly standing next to a dusty F-150.

 "I'll be cutting your grass and trimming your hedges now, Mr. Forster. I'll pick up your kills, too."

 "Thanks, Mike.  By the way, how's everything looking in my woods?" asked Hal, pointing to the
wheelchair access trail leading into the thick wall of trees at the edge of his lawn.

 "I've swept it clean of pests. Wasps, hornets, rats, mice, rattlesnakes, flies — you name it.  Got all the
tools I need in the back of the truck.  Sprays, poisons, traps, sonics..."

 "That's great, Mike," interrupted Hal.  "But what about the ugly things?  Did you take care of them, too?"

 "Of course, Mr. Forster," said Mike, his face suddenly taking on a grim and solemn appearance.
"Eliminating the ugly things is in the contract.  And you pay me well to do that extra work."

 "Sounds like you don't like doing it, Mike."

 "I fully understand the need to eliminate pests," said Mike.  "But I can't understand why you want to get rid
of the ugly things.  They help us.  Spiders kill flies.  Bats eat mosquitoes.  Owls eat mice.  We need them
because they maintain the balance of nature."

 "Not on my property!" Hal proclaimed.  "I find inspiration and beauty in the woods.  Inspiration to fuel my
sketches and paintings.  Inspiration that my customers pay generously for.  Let the ugly things maintain the
balance somewhere else."

 Hal slammed the window shut.  "Damn fool!" he shouted as he wheeled himself back to the easel.

                                                                                 #

 Hal was driving his chair down the shadow-speckled asphalt trail when he caught a glimpse of small, fluffy
animals cavorting in the thick summer underbrush.  Leaping happily into the air, the vivacious little things
were a joy to behold.  Hal studied the squirrel-sized creatures carefully, noting the thick greenish-pink fur
that obscured most of their features: their long tails, their short snouts, their tiny feet.

 Wonder what they are? he thought.  Such beautiful little creatures.  Funny, I've never seen them before.  
Perhaps they're one of those invasive species I've heard tell of.

 "Must hurry home and paint them," he whispered eagerly under his breath as he depressed the joystick
and raced back through the woods to his studio, his face flushed with delighted anticipation.

                                                                                 #

 Hal had just finished preparing a canvas for one of his fantastic landscapes, toning it with a vivid yellow
ocher, when he caught a glimpse of the cute, furry animal dashing frantically out of the woods toward his
house.  Behind it, running in full pursuit, came a snarling weasel-like creature.  Hal cried aloud as it
pounced upon the smaller prey, piercing its pinkish-green throat with its needle-like fangs.  Then it turned
about and slithered back towards the woods, dragging its victim by its bloody neck, leaving a broken red
trail on the manicured lawn.

 Hal reached for his phone and dialed frantically.

 "Hello, Mike!" he howled.  "Get down here right away.  I need you to remove an ugly predator that's
invaded my woods, hell-bent on killing the beautiful animals!"

 He fell silent when he heard no reply.  Holding his breath, he pressed his ear close to the silent phone.  
When he heard Mike's voice, it was little more than a whisper.

 "I don't know, Mr. Forster," the pest control/ maintenance man whined.  "The animal may be there for a
reason.  Perhaps an important one.  Why don't we just leave it be till we know more about it?"

 "Unacceptable!" shouted Hal angrily.  "You have a contract to kill the ugly things on my property, and I
expect you to honor it!"

 Hal switched off the phone and wheeled his chair to the studio window.  He was still waiting there thirty
minutes later when Mike drove his F-150 up the driveway and exited the truck, carrying several custom-
made bait stations into the woods.

                                                                                 #

 Hal drove his chair past the small patch of pumpkins on the edge of his property and entered the woods.  
Coming to a thicket of sassafras trees, he paused to admire the brilliant profusion of red, yellow, and
orange leaves glowing in the diminishing light of the late October day.  "Nature's Halloween palette," he
declared with bated breath.  "The colors of transformation.  Now, if only I could see one of my little
friends..."

 As if on cue, he saw one of the tiny, squirrel-like animals eyeing him from the shadows of the woods
behind him.  But the animal had changed, having shed large clumps of its attractive pinkish-green fur,
exposing patches of wrinkled, leathery skin.  Its eyes, no longer hidden beneath the thick fur, bulged
hideously from its skull.  Long, sharp claws protruded from its feet.

 Hal felt a cold sweat break out on his brow.  The animal had been transformed.  Without a predator to cull
it, it had become aggressive, hungry.  Gone was its beauty and gentleness.

 "No!  Stay away!" he shouted, as the ugly thing moved toward him.  Hal depressed the joystick and
steered the wheelchair onto the main trail, the animal following close behind, its squeals bringing the
woods to life.  Out of the shadows they came, the hungry animals leaping from the trees, skittering across
the ground.

 Hal raced frantically toward the safety of home.  Behind him, a squealing horde emerged from the woods
onto the trail.

 Somehow, he got the front door open and squeezed in, slamming the door behind him.  Wheeling the
chair to the big studio window, he slammed it shut.  Peering through the glass, he saw the ugly little things
climbing up the exterior wall of the house.  Turning the chair about, he went to the fireplace and checked
the flue to make sure it was secure.  Already he could hear the animals overhead, scurrying across the
roof.  A steady pounding came from the door as the animals leapt against it.  Outside, the squealing rose
till it became a disjointed roar.

 Hal took hold of the phone and tried dialing, his hand shaking uncontrollably.  After several attempts, he
managed to dial the number.  "Hello, Mike!" he cried.  "It's Hal Forster.  I need your help!  Come right
away!"

 Hal held his breath and waited.  When he heard no reply, he snapped his eyes shut and screamed,
"Mike! Please talk to me!"

 Desperately, he squeezed the phone against his ear and listened. He heard the faint sound of breathing,
then a distinct click as Mike hung up.


                                                                         THE END
About Tom Koperwas

Thomas Koperwas is a
retired teacher living in
Windsor, Ontario, Canada
who aspires to write short
stories of horror, fantasy,
and science fiction.  
RECENT PUBLICATION
HISTORY:Vacation - Feb.
Releases 2020. – Jakob's
Horror Box., Dying For
Love - Apr. 14, 2020.
Literally Stories., Shortfall -
May/June 2020. The
Literary Hatchet. Issue 26.
To read other short stories,
click one of the titles below.