All Stories, Horror

Surrounded by Jonathan Payne


Gregory Self woke earlier than planned, disturbed by scurrying and scratching sounds up above. Squirrels on the roof again. He lay awake, waiting for the noises to stop, but they only grew worse.

Reluctantly, Gregory rolled out of his bed and lolloped down the stairs to the kitchen, where he put the coffee pot on the stove. Even from down here the noises on the roof were loud and clear. He grimaced at a Bang! up above, followed by more scratching. Big squirrels.

As the coffee brewed, he wondered what the weather might have in store today. Perhaps something in the atmosphere was disturbing the wildlife.

Gregory took his mug and coffee pot out onto the porch, where he liked to sit in the morning, contemplating the forest. But this morning the infernal noises on the roof were becoming annoying. He flinched at another bang.

Setting his mug on the table, Gregory strode out into the clearing in front of the cabin, looking back up at the roof. Nothing. No sign of squirrels, but still the scratching and scurrying persisted.

He resolved to return to his coffee.

Stepping back up onto the porch, Gregory jumped at the sight of something moving around the side of the cabin, up on the guttering. Definitely not a squirrel. It looked human, like a man’s leg.

“Hey! Who’s there!?” No answer. Then silence. Then more scurrying.

He marched around to the right of the cabin, but saw nothing. He was returning to the front when he spotted what appeared to be two — no, three — young men leaping from an overhanging tree onto the roof.

Now Gregory was scared. He abandoned his coffee, rushed back inside and locked the door behind him. He stood dead still for a moment, wondering what to do next. Why the hell are there strangers jumping around on the roof?

He listened intently. It sounded like there were more people arriving.

Whatever this was about, it wasn’t funny. He rushed into the kitchen and picked up the phone. Dead. He hit 9-1-1. Still dead. Nothing.

This was getting ridiculous. Gregory unlocked the front door at speed, marched purposefully back out onto the porch, and began to shout. “Hey! You! Whoever you are…” His announcement was cut short by another four or five young men leaping onto the roof, making a tremendous clatter as they did so.

“Hey!” he called again, striding out to the edge of the porch to get a better view.

Now there were even more people up there, so many that there could have been little room left on the roof. As far as he could see, most — perhaps all — of them were athletic young men, about his own age. They were similar in appearance and wearing what appeared to be rock-climbing shoes and gloves.

The intruders showed no interest in Gregory or in their surroundings. They were leaping athletically onto the roof, landing on all fours. With each new arrival, they would whisper to each other frantically and then reposition themselves to make room, holding onto the roof all the while with both hands and feet. Their movements were quick, precise and sideways, like a crab.

What the hell? Gregory ducked back inside and locked the door again. The clatter inside the cabin was by now becoming unbearably loud. He rushed upstairs to fetch his rifle.

To Gregory’s horror, as he arrived upstairs, several intruders were visible through upstairs windows. Apparently the roof was now full and some of the climbers were lowering themselves down the sides of the cabin, hanging on with both hands and feet to whatever was available.

By the time Gregory had retrieved his rifle from its case under his bed, the bedroom window was totally obscured by three intruders who were standing on the window ledge and gripping the top of the frame. He rushed over to close the blind. As he did so, he heard their whisperings clearly for the first time.

Let’s go, let’s go! Come on, move over! Hurry!

But they displayed no interest in him or in looking inside the house. Gregory was not even sure that they had seen him. He rushed to close the other blinds in the second bedroom and at the top of the stairs. Then he took his rifle and box of ammunition back downstairs.

What to do now? Gregory slumped down onto the bottom stair, clutching his rifle between his knees. The noise of climbing, scurrying and whispering was becoming louder and more eerie by the second. Like a disturbance at the monkey house. And still, by the sound of it, new intruders were landing on the roof all the time.

Gregory sat still for a while, paralyzed by fear and confusion, watching and listening. He saw several intruders lowering themselves down in front of the downstairs windows, just as they had done upstairs.

Spurred back into action, Gregory rushed to each of the downstairs windows, closing the blinds as he went. Now the whole cabin was in almost-darkness. He decided not to turn on any lights; darkness felt safer.

He returned to the bottom stair and waited. But for what?

For three, maybe four, more minutes, the climbing and whispering continued. Then, perhaps only twenty minutes since he had been awoken by the first arrival on the roof, it stopped.

Gregory sat very still and listened. Now there was no movement, save for the occasional sound of someone shifting position or adjusting their grip. And no more whispering, expect for the odd Move over! or OK, you’re good.

An eerie, disconcerting silence settled over the cabin, inside and out. Occasionally the cabin creaked, as if in complaint.

What to do now? He was freaked out by the bizarre events of the morning so far, but you couldn’t fire at someone — even many someones – who were doing nothing, could you? Just for climbing up the outside of your house? It didn’t seem right.

Gregory remembered that the window in the living room had a large hole in the lower right corner, a sizeable gap between frame and pane that he could talk through and, if diplomacy failed, shoot through. He would just need to open the blind.

Still sitting on the lowest stair, Gregory loaded his rifle and poured all the spare ammunition into his pockets. Then he tiptoed gently across the living room, stopping to listen again to the weird, disconcerting sounds of a small wooden cabin entirely surrounded, cocooned, by human bodies.

He opened the blind slowly, just enough to get a good look at the gap in the lower corner. Now he saw the bodies, if not the heads, of the three intruders who were covering the window. And this struck him as very odd: they all looked rather similar to each other, and to himself.

Since he had no idea what to do with it, Gregory put this thought out of his mind, breathed in deeply, and determined to try negotiation.

He cleared his throat, and then leaned in close to the gap in the window. “Hello! You there! Can you hear me?”

Nothing. Not a movement, not a sound.

Gregory paused, then tried again, but louder.

“Hey! You! What the fuck are you doing on my house? Hey!”

Still no response, but this time he detected a slight ripple of movement as some of the intruders adjusted their positions. Then silence again.

Gregory was losing patience. “Hey!” again. Nothing.

He moved the barrel of his rifle up close to the gap in the window and aimed it at the lower legs of the middle intruder. A deep breath, and then a slow squeeze of the trigger.

Now there was a flurry of activity. That’s got their attention. All three intruders on the window ledge hopped out of the way, followed by frantic whispering. Then, after just a few seconds, they were climbing back into position.

It wasn’t clear to Gregory if he had actually hit the target. He was straining to look for evidence when he felt a sharp pain in his lower left leg. Something had taken a piece out of his pants and his calf, which began to bleed profusely.

What the hell?

He grimaced and hobbled over to the kitchen.

Gregory took a roll of bandage down from the cabinet over the sink and tied it tightly around his wound. All the while he kept a close eye on the living room window, where the three intruders were back in place, exactly as before.

He limped back to the window. “Hello?” he said, more quietly now, through the gap. “Can you hear me?” Nothing.

“What are you doing here?” Nothing.

“You need to move away from my house. I’m going to count to three. If I reach three, I will shoot to kill.” Now he got louder again. “You understand!? Shoot to kill! All you have to do is move away. Just move away from my house.”

Not a movement, not a sound.

“One! Two!” He paused. “Three!”

Gregory stepped back from the window, and aimed his rifle at the belly of the guy in the middle. Once again, he breathed deeply, then squeezed.

A frantic flurry of movement outside the window was obscured for Gregory by a sickening pain in the pit of his stomach that spread quickly across his torso. He dropped the rifle and wrapped both arms around his midriff. He felt nauseous, and sensed the room starting to spin. He tried to speak, but nothing came. He toppled face-first into the hard wooden floor.

A pool of deep red blood began to spread slowly from Gregory’s belly as he lay prostrate and lifeless. It reached the rifle, which lay beside him, and engulfed it. Eventually it reached the small, stone fireplace.

By sunset, the pool of blood had congealed.


Jonathan Payne


Header image: By 小学校体育研究会 (新要目に基く運動会催し物選集 1936) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

5 thoughts on “Surrounded by Jonathan Payne”

  1. Hi Jonathan, the story was as claustrophobic as the events. The thoughts on the self were very interesting and left us with many questions that made us not only think on the story but look within.
    A very interesting tale that captivated.

    Liked by 1 person

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