Matt Hayward

The March-April Selected Story is by Matt Hayward

Please feel free to email Matt at:

Matt Hayward

by Matt Hayward

“I dare you to jump.”

“No way, you jump.”

They peered into the rushing water below. White water bubbled and rushed around the few sharp protruding rocks. Alan placed his glasses onto the rough yellowed grass by his feet and looked to his older brother.

“If the jump didn’t kill you, mom would.”

“Mom talks the talk but she’s far too drunk to actually do anything. Come on, don’t be a wuss.”

Alan approached the edge. His stomach felt fluttery as his legs carried him forward. He knew he would do it, but he felt as if he were watching someone else go forward through their eyes, like an outer body experience—some part of his mind had decided this without his consent.

The bristly grass blades crushed beneath his bare feet. The ground was warm and dry. This summer had been a real scorcher and here in Finis, West Virginia it was hot as hot could be.

Alan felt wonderful. There were no Lewis brothers here to beat the shit out of him, no four-eye name calling after him, no school, no worries. There was Eddie of course, but just like any siblings they tolerated each other just fine when needed. Anyway, it was Alan’s birthday, so Eddie had to be nice.

“Al,” Eddie laughed, “Al, I was kidding, come on, dude. It’s like fifteen feet; you’ll break your damn neck.”

Alan closed the gap with one final step toward the edge. The rushing dark water below was hypnotic. The fluttering butterflies inside him grew restless and his toes tingled.  But there was nowhere else to go now. He was thirteen this year, and for a fresh new start, that meant changing what you could. Exfoliating the bad and creating the good. He’d never been courageous, not really—but if he could act like a courageous person would, that would be a start.

“Quit being such a baby,” he heard himself call back to Eddie. “Can’t be scared of everything.”

With that, his feet left the cliff. He felt the world disappear beneath him, and from somewhere far away he heard Eddie yell. His stomach felt elevated and strange as he fell and his balls shrank back inside him, as if they were trying to escape the coming impact.

Air rushed past him as he tore toward the glassy black surface. It only lasted a couple of seconds but that plummet felt eternal. It felt amazing. Alan was smiling as he smashed down into the drink. The roar of river was replaced by rushing bubbles. The coldness of the water disappeared in an instant and he kicked back toward the shimmering reflection of sunlight overheard.

His head broke the surface as he swallowed the hot summer air. He laughed and hooted, listening to the sounds echo throughout the wood. Some rooks took flight from their trees, cawing their displeasure. He laughed the whole doggy paddle back to the bottom of the cliff.

Eddie was rushing down the embankment, skillfully avoiding the prickly bits. They knew this wood better than any anyone.

“You fucking lunatic!” Eddie was laughing. Good. That meant no trouble. “How was it?”

Alan pulled himself out of the water, the air cooling the wetness on his skin. “Why don’t you find out?”

“Uh-uh. No way. You were about an inch away from one of those rocks in the river; no chance in hell I’m trying that. Besides, you don’t have a towel.”

“Look at this hot weather; I’ll be dry in no time.” Water dripped from his arms and ran from his legs, making a dark pool around him which the thirsty dirt drank around his feet.

Eddie was being surprisingly nice today, and that alone was better than any birthday present he could ask for. Well, he couldn’t be a bad brother all the time; a friendship needed balance.

Alan grabbed the transistor radio and turned on the AM. “The Show” was Big Mike’s Countdown. A pirate radio show that played decent rock music, it was something that both brothers couldn’t get enough of. Eddie listened all the time, but this summer was the first time Alan had been exposed to it—and it was pure bliss.

Last month the Stone’s new single “Satisfaction” had just been released and since the lyrics were too suggestive, the mainstream stations wouldn’t play it. But Big Mike played it all the time. That along with a truckload of other rock staples, The Beatles, James Brown, and best of all, Muddy Waters.

As they ascended the steep dry hill to leave, Big Mike’s disc jockey voice called from the top: “All right you crazy kids, Mikey’s got a spoonful more to feed you, so open wide and prepare yourself for another helping of fresh hot rock n’ roll, doctor’s orders! It could be a spoonful of coffee, it could be a spoonful of tea, but one little spoon of Etta James is good enough for me.”

The brass section filled the summer air just as they reached their spot on top of the cliff. Etta’s soulful voice always gave Alan gooseflesh, and that mixed with the cold damp of his skin was a powerful combination. He sat and put on his glasses, listing to the song as Eddie fished out a crumpled carton of smokes from his jeans pocket.

“Want one?” he asked.


Alan had only started two months ago himself, and although he didn’t like the ‘swimming head’ feeling he always got, he did love the smell. He caught the cigarette and motioned for the lighter. Eddie sat across from him against the large oak, nesting his back into it. They sat and listened to the rest of the song, smoking their smokes.

“Only one more year and I’ll be driving,” Eddie said, swirling his cigarette in his fingers and watching the smoke drift. “Just one more year, man. Getting out of here the minute I do. Or maybe sooner.”

“Yeah, and you’re taking me with you.”

“You? You’re never leaving this town, Al. Sorry to break it to ya.” He popped the cigarette back into his mouth and drew the comb from his side pocket, running it through his greasy black hair. “You’ll work at the dam, just like dad. Probably knock up some chick just as you’re getting ready to go to college too. Then it’s all downhill. Hit the bottle pretty hard I bet.” He laughed.

Alan flipped him off. “Why have you always got to be such a dick?”

“Oh, come on, lighten up. I’m just kidding with you. You’ll leave sooner than you think.”

“Well,” Big Mike’s voice interrupted from the radio. “The summer of 1965 has just begun. Let’s leave behind those winter blues and slip inside our dancin’ shoes. Time’s running out kids, and those pesky parents of Finis are so unfair, so blow ‘em sky high and y’all get outta there!”

Alan choked on his cigarette, it burned the back of his throat as he hacked and coughed. “What—” His voice was cut off in another coughing fit. “What did he just say?”

Eddie looked angry. “It’s about time you learned all about what Big Mike said, Al.” He flicked his cigarette over the edge of the cliff. “Finis is a dark place, and you’re lucky it’s your birthday, because I’m going to give you the best damn present you could ever hope to get: your life.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I won’t tell you,” Eddie pushed himself from the oak, “I’ll show you.”

He made his way towards the thicket of trees behind him. Mostly birches, their spindly grey trunks leaned toward each other as their skeletal branches intertwined.

“Through here.”

Alan followed his brother silently. Their feet crunched the dead leaves and yellowed grass. The river ran loudly from out of sight below to their right. The sharp pine needles poked at Alan’s soles as he tiptoed over them.

“You’re scaring me, Ed,” he called. Alan kept his eyes on the ground moving beneath him, stepping carefully. The sunlight and shadows patterned the carpet of debris.

“Scaring you? You’re not a kid now, man. No time to be afraid. We got to make this quick, so keep up.”

From ahead, the thicket cleared and across the open tall grassed field in front was their home. Their home. That old familiar wooden structure that their Dad had inherited from his father. That comforting place with the newly-fitted shingled roof. It wasn’t much, but it was more than most had.

And now Alan saw—Mom and Dad were on their knees in the garden, visible only when the tall grass swayed, coming in and out of view. Mom’s golden brown hair blew back over her shoulders as the wind picked up. Dad’s brown puffy coat, the old one Alan had known all his life, was zipped up to his neck.

Sure, they might have drank a little too much, Dad might have spoken with his fists on a few occasions, but they were his parents, and deep down he loved them. Eddie had to be joking. They would never kill their Alan, their child, would they? Why were they on their knees?

“What are they doing?”


“Praying? Oh come on. We’re not religious.”

Eddie barked laugher and slapped his knee. “Religious? Damn right we’re not, at least as far as God is concerned.”

He looked to Alan, shaking his head. That familiar you’re such an idiot expression filled his face. “They’re a damn cult, Al. Mom and Dad are part of a cult. The whole damn town is.” He looked to his brother for a response but got none. “Remember Sammy Hogan? His big scholarship last year? What a laugh that was. He didn’t go anywhere. He’s six feet under back in the wood and the whole damn town knows it too. Him, along with about a hundred others.”

“What are you saying?”

Eddie imitated Big Mike: “No more than one per couple, those are the rules according to the scripture.”

“What scripture, Eddie?” Alan almost shouted.

“The book, it’s been here for years. Loads of small town folk practice magick and old traditions. They’ll play it down if you ask them of course, but they believe it.”

“Eddie, this isn’t funny.”

“It gets worse. Remember the Flatwoods Monster over in Braxton County the year you were born? Big Mike told us over the radio that it’s all true. That thing exists. They say the second born is to be sacrificed in his name, before adulthood, then the family can live on. Only one for every couple. The second child is killed. But you’re going to be the first to escape it.”

Alan’s stomach cartwheeled. Eddie wasn’t the most imaginative person, and this was one hell of a story. He tried to poke a hole in his brother’s logic. “What? And you believe this? Why wouldn’t anyone ever put a stop to something like that?”

“You ever see a cop around here?” Eddie laughed, “No one gives a shit about our small town. We’re on our own.”

“You’re playing a joke, Eddie. If you’re serious, why wouldn’t our parents just kill me when I was born?”

“Because the rules say you must die when you reach lucky number thirteen. Usually kids are killed at birth, so the parents don’t get attached. Hell, I don’t know. All I know is that I’m getting you out of here. Big Mike told us everything.”

“About Big Mike…why wouldn’t other people hear his broadcast from anywhere else?”

“It’s a local pirate station, and no one knows who he is. We’ve had meetings to discuss this, all of the kids. Did you know there are only sixty-seven kids in the whole town?”

“I never thought about it.”

“You’ve never noticed that every child in this town is an only child?”

“So what are you saying we do?”

“We’re already doing it. We’re getting out of here. Johnny’s got the car running, your stuff’s already packed.”

Alan’s head felt fuzzy and light. It was as if when he came back up from the water earlier, he had emerged into some horrific parallel existence—one where parents offered their children as sacrifice to some monster in the woods. Was he never going home again? Was he never going to step through that familiar whitewash door to the smell of the big open fire in the living-room burning? His comics! Was he never going to read one by torchlight in his bed again?

This was one big elaborate prank. Had to be.

Eddie turned and began back towards the thicket and Alan gave one final look back to their parents on their knees in the garden before following. Could they really be in on this? Big Mike’s voice grew as they approached the cliff through the wood, fighting for sonic real estate against the river’s roar.

“…the night, kiddies. You’ve all been training for this real hard, and it’s going to go great, I just know it. They say Rock N’ Roll is the Devil’s music and then they read their sick book and practice their sick, utterly unmentionable acts. Hypocrites! Each and every one of ‘em! But we’re not playing their game anymore, no way. Tables have turned folks, and we’re making the change. Our first escapee is Alan Peterson led by his brother Edward and we’re all going to pitch in just like we talked about.”

Alan’s feeling of disorientation and lightheadedness increased hearing his name called by Big Mike. The DJ’s voice grew distant as his thoughts whirled. His parents were going to kill him? His stomach felt as if its bottom had been removed, just like when he had jumped from the cliff. I’m going to vomit…

From Elm Road, though really more a dirt track than a road, came the growing noise of an engine. A large one.

“Good, Johnny’s almost here.” Eddie’s voice snapped Alan back to reality. “Get the radio, squirt, then wave a happy bye-bye to Creepsville, because it’s the last time any of us will ever see this place.”

Alan picked up the transistor radio just as The Beach Boys started “I Get Around.” He was running on auto-pilot. The happy harmonies came from both the radio in his hand and the radio from the car that came into view through the spindly trees.

Not Johnny’s usual beat up ride; what came down the dirt track was a brand new pearly-white Ford Shelby Mustang. Johnny in a Mustang? What sort of crazy dream is this? Golden dust swirled in the mighty car’s wake as it pulled to a stop. Two dark stripes ran the length of its blinding white body. Johnny honked on the horn.

“Time to rock, man!” Eddie called, rushing to the car.

“Hey!” Johnny greeted.

Johnny Morris had been Eddie’s best friend for as long as Alan could remember. “I thought if we’re finally leaving, we’d leave in style.” Johnny threw his hands up as if he were weighing something invisible. “Nabbed it from my dad’s show room. What a pony, huh?”

He had on sunglasses and a black muscle shirt and Alan figured that Eddie was thinking the same thing he was: Johnny Morris looked like the coolest kid to ever walk the face of the earth.

“Johnny, you old dog!” Eddie shouted, clapping his hands and moving like he needed to pee. He popped the door and hoped into the passenger seat, bouncing on the leather.

Alan moved slowly toward the car, still feeling like he needed to vomit, the transistor radio clutched tightly to his chest. The great white’s idling engine purred ahead. Johnny climbed out and popped the seat down so Alan could get into the back.

“Johnny, is it true?” Alan asked. His voice sounded weak and distant to his own ears.

“True as true can be, kid. Sorry to tell you. But happy to tell you happy fucking birthday, ‘cause we’re getting you the hell out of here.” He slapped the white metal of the door impatiently. “Come on, Daddy-O, we got to get moving.”

Alan let himself slowly into the backseat. The smell of new car made his stomach worse. Johnny slammed his door shut and shot off so fast that his head hit the leather headrest. He was once again knocked back into reality.

Alan fell silent. He had always wanted to get away, but due to the circumstances, he hated the new found tingle he had inside himself—the feeling of excitement. He hated that he liked the rush, but he couldn’t deny it. He wasn’t a kid anymore. He thought that maybe his parents had told Eddie to take him to the river while they set up a surprise party, but that was far too hopeful. He was also worried that they had just forgotten his birthday again. Now he knew the real reason.

The picket fences swished passed as they sped down Pine Street. Once a picturesque quiet slice of suburbia, those pickets all seemed like jagged teeth to Alan now. This town was bat-shit crazy.

“There’s Mrs. Stewart,” Eddie hissed, looking out the window. “All right, slow down.”

Johnny did. Mrs. Stewart stood with a hose, watering her front lawn, a slim woman with a pretty polka-dot dress. Her home behind her was a carbon copy of every other home on the street, perfectly manicured.

From the radio came Big Mike’s voice again: “All right kids, we’ve reached it. It’s Big Mike’s Countdown! Is everybody ready? Ten! Nine! Eight! Seven! Six! Five!”

Mrs. Stewart lowered her garden house to wave to them. Her face held a wonderfully warming, country smile. But Alan now knew that behind that smile lay dark and twisted secrets…his balls crept back inside him in anticipation as Big Mike’s countdown continued. Eddie smiled back to the woman, and slowly raised his middle finger.

“Two! One!”

Johnny hit the gas, and suddenly Mrs. Stewart’s home exploded. Boom!

A rush of hot air shot past the car, bringing the scent of gasoline and charred wood. Alan shot his head out of Eddie’s window to look back down the street, wind firing air around his face. Fireballs of all shapes and sizes rained down to the perfectly maintained garden below.

Where the Stewart’s home once proudly stood was now a black and flaming gap, like a cavity in an otherwise perfect mouth. Alan’s adrenaline rushed through his bloodstream, making his heartbeat drum in his ears and he smiled— because he knew that mouth wasn’t so perfect, that mouth was really home to sharp serrated fangs.

Mrs. Stewart body lay on Mr. Roger’s identical lawn across the street; a black slump surrounded by burning debris.

Both Eddie and Johnny were whooping at the top of their voices. “Did you see that? Laura did it; she actually planted the bomb. What a gal! You think the rest of them had the balls to do it?”

A second explosion answered his question. Alan ducked back inside from the window in shock. It sounded like the Roger’s place. He was surprised to hear himself cheering with the other two.

Once again, a rush of hot air blew past the speeding white Mustang, carrying smoke and screams. Alan thought those screams were deserved. Another extraction from the gums of Pine Street.

They hit the intersection at the top of the road and waited. From behind, more homes combusted. The engine purred, the homes roared, and the Beach Boys sang. Alan could feel and hear the impact of flaming objects hit the street behind the car. The charred burning smell became overwhelming. How many homes had went sky high now? Six? Seven?

From the end of Hazel Street to their left, where the public entrance to the woods lay, came the unmistakable roar of engines. Alan positioned himself in the backseat of the Mustang to get a better view. He watched in excitement through the rushing black toxic smoke of Pine as cars came into view from the Hazel Street wood entrance.

A pack of oddball hatchbacks and old, beat-up classics came out from hiding and crawled slowly towards them; cars of all shapes, size and colors. If he had to guess a number, Alan would guess at least forty. The sun gleamed off their metal surfaces, and between the earth shattering explosions on Pine, the Beach Boys grew in volume from the combined radios on Hazel.

“The cavalry has arrived gentlemen,” Eddie said, now sounding quiet and serious. He turned back to face Alan. “Happy birthday, shit for brains; your present is your life. Let’s ride.”

The roar of the engines kicked into life to their left as Johnny led the way straight ahead, towards Bull’s Point, the make-out point to the kids. The highest point in all of Finis, West Virginia.

It dawned on Alan that one of those explosions must have been his own home. His home going sky high. He shocked to find a smile creeping across his face.

Mike’s voice from the radio once again: “It worked, you crazy kids! Now go, go and don’t look back. What’s to come next is the real Big Mac. Get to Bull’s Point as quick as you can…a treat for the eyes is my present to the newly free man!”

Alan’s heart punched his ribcage and his glasses were fogging up. He was laughing hysterically as Eddie banged the roof with one hand and Johnny honked the horn repeatedly. They drove that way for a long time, a constant barrage of noise barreling up the dirt road followed by the other cars.

When they reached Bull’s Point, Johnny cut the engine. It ticked loudly as the noise of the other approaching vehicles grew. He left the radio on quietly, and the Kinks began to play. To either side, Alan listened as the first of the other kids parked and cut their engines too. The three boys climbed out and stood at the edge of the cliff overlooking the whole of Finis. From up here it seemed tiny, surrounded by woodlands and nestled away from absolutely everything else.

Pine Street was on fire. From behind, car doors popped and slammed and chatter grew as the other kids joined them on the edge. As they watched, another home went sky high with a satisfying boom; the biggest one yet. Every tree within a mile radius leaned backwards as the house rained down in bite-sized pieces.

From either side, the crowd of cheered. They clapped, hugged and danced on the spot.

Alan looked to his brother and said, “Dare you to jump.”

Eddie grinned. “Not when I know what’s still down there.” He pointed to the far side of town. To the woods. “Look.”

From the thicket came a noise like a freight train, cutting through the explosions and the kid’s cheering. A frightening hoot of anger made Alan’s hair stand on end and his eyes bulge. The roaring triumph from the gathered crowd died down. Nothing in existence could make a sound that terrifying…could it?

“What was that?” Alan asked, his eyes wide. Eddie nodded toward the woods again.

As they watched, it emerged. Bending trees in its wake, the creature stood at least ten feet tall. Alan’s nerves sung and his heart tried to escape his ribcage. There was a united gasp from the crowd around him, but that sound seemed far away.

The creature’s body was slim in proportion to itself, its arms like birch tree branches, slender and long. Alan’s head slowly shook from side to side in disbelief. Its skin was an ashen grey; its spider-like fingers flexed, visible even from where they stood. Its head was round and bulbous, with two sickly dark holes for eyes, almost like that of a skull.

It lurched slowly through the pine trees, trembling and quivering like the ancient creature it was. The crowd watched in terror and amazement as it slapped one grotesquely long-toed foot in front of the other.

“Oh my god, let’s get out of here!” Alan screamed.

“Calm down,” Eddie smiled. “It’s Saltushom. Known to some as the Flatwoods Monster. The one I told you about.”

As they watched, the creature leaned its gaunt frame over a bleeding, sprawled body of a parent and scooped it from the road. Its lower jaw seemed to dislocate as it stuffed the person shakily inside. A quiet sharp sound, like a branch snapping, drifted to their collective ears. The crowd let out a combined eeew and one kid screamed.

“I don’t think we need to watch this,” Eddie said. He turned to Alan. “Where do you want to go?”

Alan thought about it. “Everywhere.”

“Good.” Eddie smiled. “Let’s go everywhere.”

The fires roared from below and the engines purred all around, as the Kinks played on the radio.

Matt Hayward is an Irish, Dublin-based musician and author. His rock band Lace Weeper have become a staple in the Irish music scene, and he has written and recorded with various notable musicians including My Sister’s Machine vocalist Nick Pollock, Edie Brickell, Clannad’s Ciaran Brennan, Malfunkshun guitarist Kevin Wood, and many more. Lace Weeper has released three studio EPs to date and are working on their debut album.

Matt has written copious short stories in the past few years, and in the last year has seen a handful make publication. The latest, “In the Woods, We Wait” was his first self-published short and is due to be read on an upcoming episode of Tales To Terrify. His first novel, A Dark Place, has just been completed and a second, titled The Flood, is currently underway.

You can reach him at