Barn Door to Hell - Prologue
After much consideration, I’ve decided to pull the trigger on serializing my novel Barn Door to Hell here on my Substack. I have some of my most consistently engaged followers on this site, and because of this, I’d like to offer early access to my work-in-progress.
Barn Door to Hell is a horror novel about a Pennsylvania town under attack when a supernatural entity that feeds on and reanimates decaying matter escapes the barn where it was originally trapped twenty years prior. I’m about halfway through the manuscript, but I have a clear path forward and show no sign of slowing down. Because I edit as I go, you will be getting a coherent manuscript, as opposed to a rambling first draft, but it’s possible you’ll encounter some typos.
I’m putting Barn Door to Hell behind a paywall for premium subscribers. $5 a month gets you a chapter delivered to your inbox bi-weekly, along with occasional bonus content like behind the scenes notes and such on Barn Door and other stories. Once the book is finished, I’ll be contacting premium subscribers for their shipping details so I can then send out signed paperbacks as an additional “thank you.” Then, it’s onto the next one.
Now, without further ado, here’s the prologue for Barn Door to Hell.
The barn, with its faded red paintjob and rusty hinges, loomed over Al and Tim West as they stood at its door. Though the brothers stood in broad daylight, the sight of the structure gave Al a queasy feeling. It made no sense. He expected nostalgia. He expected regret. Queasy, though? That was something he hadn’t anticipated in the slightest.
He looked at Tim’s face to gauge if the barn inspired a similar feeling in his brother. It was hard to tell. Tim liked to call himself a stoic. On Saturday nights after drinking half his body weight in pints of Pabst Blue Ribbon, he was always bombarding the group chat they shared with their mother and their sister Sharon with quotes from Marcus Aurelius and other long-dead men who had marble busts made of their faces. He told anyone who would listen that he wasn’t beholden to his emotions and always looked at things logically.
That didn’t explain the weekend binge drinking, and his go-to facial expression didn’t look discerning or serious so much as it looked like someone who was simply checked out from reality. In a private text message last summer, Sharon told Al she thought Tim took their father leaving them hardest.
Now, Tim’s face looked like it usually did. Any light his eyes held when they were kids had long died out, and they were shadowed underneath from too many sleepless nights. His mouth was set in a tired scowl. It would have looked like the same old Tim to someone who didn’t know him as well as Al did. Sharon would’ve been able to spot it, too, were she here, but she worked in shipping and it was peak season.
Tim was not unaffected in the presence of the barn. Al could tell by looking at his hands. He always tucked his thumbs under his fingers and made fists whenever something made him uneasy. Sometimes he squeezed so hard, his thumb joints made a popping sound—they did this now.
“What is it?” Al asked, hoping against hope that Tim would be able to articulate what it was they both felt and, more importantly, what could be causing it.
“Nothing,” Tim said and quickly opened his hands.
Al should’ve known better. He gave the bottom of the barn door an absent kick. What was he so worried about anyway? What did he think they were going to find in there? Mutilated cattle? Maybe a gray alien wiping down its flying saucer with Turtle Wax and an old T-shirt rag?
He took the keyring that had belonged to their grandfather out of his pocket. Tim sucked in a sharp breath. It was another sign that he was nervous.
But it’s more than nerves, isn’t it? You feel like you used to feel as a little kid, whenever you were about to get on a rollercoaster or enter a haunted house at a fairground. You’re dreading this. You’re dreading what you might find. You’re—
Al found the key labeled BARN and stuck it into the rusty padlock.
Both brothers exhaled with relief when the barn door opened on no more than several bunches of hay and some stray tools. They looked at each other and Al laughed. It loosened the knots in his stomach. Even Tim cracked a smile.
“What the hell was that?” Al said. “Why were we so nervous?”
“Speak for yourself, bitch,” Tim said.
“Too many horror movies, I guess.”
“I haven’t watched a movie in twelve years.”
Al narrowed his eyes at Tim. “I don’t believe you.”
Tim shrugged. Al figured that was the end of the discussion. He could’ve pressed if he wanted to because of course Tim was lying. When Tim wasn’t posting quotes from dead philosophers to the family group chat, he was sending memes that featured screencaps from various entries in the Fast and Furious franchise combined with quotes about family. They made one of those movies for every year it seemed, so no way he hadn’t seen one in over a decade.
Al knew he had Tim on this, but he decided not to pull the trigger. Calling Tim on his bullshit wasn’t why Al was here. He and Tim were here to take an inventory of their grandfather’s possessions and see what they could sell, splitting the profits between themselves and Sharon. This was something he hoped to get through as quickly as possible.
So far, it hadn’t been going very well. Upon arrival, they found the farmhouse mostly gutted, save for some books and magazines, a rifle, some outdated appliances, soiled furniture, and a whole lot of junk. The old homestead wasn’t just the home of an old man whose heart up and called it quits. It was the home of someone who had given up on living long before his body threw in the towel. Most disturbing had been the broken mirrors and picture frames and the deep gouges and ragged holes in the drywall. The authorities had found no signs of foul play. All the damage had apparently been done in the months leading up to Alvin Herschel West’s death.
More than likely, the state of the house had caused Al’s queasiness prior to entering the barn. He’d heard it was bad, but he didn’t fully grasp how badly the man had let himself go. It messed with his head, and he knew it messed with Tim’s head too, even if Tim wouldn’t admit it.
The inside of the barn, though disused, was not in such a sorry state. Inside its walls, the deep unease Al felt prior to entering dissipated.
He looked up at the hay loft and spotted the rope on which he and his siblings used to spend afternoons swinging. Sometimes other kids from the neighboring town would join them, but usually it was just Al, Tim, and Sharon. It was still tied to one of the rafters. He gave Tim a light backhand to the chest and pointed up. Tim followed the gesture and smiled again. It was nice to see so soon after the initial smile of relief. Al preferred it to the checked-out way his brother looked most of the time.
“I can’t believe it’s still there,” Tim said. His voice wavered with emotion.
“I wonder if it can still hold our weight.”
“I wouldn’t bet on that,” Tim said, but Al was already climbing the ladder to the loft.
The rungs creaked but felt sturdy enough, so Al proceeded. The feel of the coarse wood on his palms gave him the nostalgia he expected to overtake him upon initially viewing the barn. Ascending that ladder to the hay loft, he was ten again. Just a kid with his whole life ahead of him. Dad hadn’t left. His grandparents were still alive. He didn’t need to hustle to pay the bills or make repairs on his home. It was funny how a simple sensation could bring him back like this.
He reached the top of the ladder and stepped onto the hay loft. Below, the barn door slammed shut. The sound brought him back to the present and the dread was there to meet him, now evolved into full-fledged panic. He rushed to the edge of the loft.
His brother was standing below with his hands in his pockets. Al wondered if his thumbs were tucked inside his fists.
“Dude, are you okay?” Tim asked. “You’re crazy jumpy right now.”
“Did you close the door?”
“Then who did?”
“If you say it was just the wind, I’m coming down there to kick your ass.”
Tim cracked a third smile, but this one held an air of condescension. “Last time we fought, I remember it going a different way.”
“Then, you have selective memory. Can you open the door, please?”
Tim scoffed, but he turned to try the door just the same. When he gave it a shove, it didn’t open. He fiddled with the latch, but it didn’t come undone. When he looked up at Al, his face was pale. His eyes held a vulnerability Al hadn’t seen there since they were kids. The last time Al remembered seeing Tim with that expression was when they watched their father walk out the door for the last time, carrying a weather-beaten Jansport and wheeling a brand-new valise behind him.
This was silly. They were grown men. If they were trapped in their late grandfather’s barn, they’d find their way out. There were plenty of tools in here they could use, not to mention their combined strength. So, why were they both so freaked out?
The answer became apparent when the hay on the barn floor began to move. It rose to make hills like sand dunes and caved inward like ground around a sinkhole. It undulated like so many colossal worms lay beneath it and rippled like a troubled pool. With the movement came sounds: deep, guttural moans from somewhere within the earth. It sounded like the stirring of a massive creature, of several massive creatures, waking from a centuries-long slumber.
The brothers met each other’s gaze. The sheer panic etched across Tim’s face made Al long for the checked-out, wannabe stoicism.
The hay parted like a golden, biblical sea. It opened not on a typical barn floor, but onto a deep crevasse. The sides of the new opening were lined with elongated, serrated spikes jutting from what looked less like earth and more like pale flesh. Even the skin immediately around each spike was red with irritation. The pit seemingly had no bottom, but fiery orange light emanated from deep inside it.
And the smell. That was worst of all. It reminded Al of his farts whenever he’d consumed too much meat.
Tim bellowed out a curse and made for the door again. Behind him, the hellish crevasse was opening wider. He thrust his shoulder into the door. It rattled but showed no signs of opening. He jerked the latch. Al yelled at him to keep trying. His voice sounded like something between cheering Tim on and berating him to try harder.
The crevasse, which Al could now only think of as a maw, continued to widen. He cried out his brother’s name as the edge of the mouth crept closer to Tim’s heels.
Al wanted to clamber down and help somehow, but what could he do?
Not a thing. Not a single, goddamn thing.
Tim ran out of ground to stand on and plummeted into the abyss. He yelled, a guttural expression of terror and disbelief and rage. All pretense of not giving a shit was gone from his voice. He yelled until his side caught one of the protruding spikes. It sliced through the meat between his ribcage and his left hip, spraying a fine mist of crimson that trailed behind him on his continued descent. The yell transformed into a full-fledged shriek of panic and pain as he ping-ponged from one side of the chasm to the other. Another spike caught his upper arm, releasing another gout of blood. By the time he impaled himself groin-first on a third spike, his screams had stopped, and he was almost too far down to see clearly.
But the fates didn’t see fit to grant Al any mercy. He watched as his brother twitched on the jagged spike, coughing up blood and hunks of vomit. He could still hear Tim blubbering down there, not yet dead, but hopefully close. How much could a body take?
Tim’s weight slid him off the spike and he fell deeper.
And silently. Though Tim disappeared from sight, Al never heard him hit any sort of bottom. The thought chilled him to his core.
The finality with which the hay-covered ground closed over the chasm made him slump in despair. His breath came in ragged and went out just as harshly. Tears stung his eyes, and his heart hammered like an angry visitor on a locked door during a snowstorm. He was whispering something between gasps for air, hardly sure what he was saying but only knowing he was saying something.
A red spot formed on the hay covering the barn floor.
The spot expanded, saturating the dry plant matter and turning it dark crimson.
The substance was blood, Tim’s blood.
“Get out,” he breathed and heard himself clearly for the first time since Tim plunged into the hellish pit.
That was what he’d been repeating over and over, in his head and with his lips. Now, he understood his own words and the desperate meaning behind them. He needed to get the fuck out of this barn. But he couldn’t climb down. The hay could just as soon open again and devour him too.
He needed to think of another solution and fast. If he got stuck in here, if he had to stay in here another minute, his mind would undoubtedly snap—if it hadn’t already.
The loft doors. Of course. He could open the loft doors, use the rope to climb down. He nodded and tried to slow his breathing, steeling himself for the task at hand and doing everything in his power not to think of his brother falling to an awful fate down the gullet of whatever it was hiding under this barn.
His hands and lips were trembling as he reached for the rope. Taking hold of it, he felt no nostalgia for this place. In fact, once he got back to Boston, he aimed to place whatever call he needed to place in order to have this barn and his grandfather’s house bulldozed. Condemn the land or let someone else build on it.
He shimmied the rope toward him along the beam where it was affixed. It was a thick rope, tied with a knot he would never be able to undo, but maybe he wouldn’t need to. Maybe it was just long enough that he could get it close to the loft doors and climb down far enough that he wouldn’t hurt himself by jumping. When he reached a crossbeam and could go no further, he turned and jerked to a stop.
He was face to face with a fat worm made entirely of hay from the loft. Its sides pulsated with impossible life, making the dry, yellow strands ripple like strange fur over muscular animal flesh. Al got the notion that the thing was staring at him, though it had no eyes as far as he could tell.
“Um…” he began.
His mind tried to conjure ways he could get past the creature. He could chance running past it but feared it stood too close for him to get by safely. He absolutely could not jump to the barn’s ground floor. His hands flexed on the rope; it was the closest thing he had to a weapon but couldn’t imagine it would do him any good.
“Oh, shit,” he said.
His exhaustion brought a fleeting moment of acceptance before the head of the hay worm split, revealing a maw full of teeth like bony fishhooks and ushering back his naked fear.
The mouth of the worm snapped forward and closed around his head. His screams were muffled as the teeth sank into the flesh under his chin and at the base of his skull. Tendrils of straw snaked into his nostrils, his mouth, his pores. The skin around these entry points grew hot in less than three seconds, melted like wax in less than ten. Al’s screams became gurgles as he choked on his half-liquefied tongue. The creature lifted him, leaving his feet to dangle. The contents of his bowels evacuated as the hay worm drank the contents of his skull.
Barn Door to Hell will continue with Chapter 1 on Friday, June 16th.