The Sugar Shack
By: Dawn DeBraal

Billy Manning hid from his parents when they argued. He had an old shack in the woods he would go-to getaway. Originally the shed was used to boil down sap and sell maple syrup at their roadside stand. The health department closed them down for not having the proper licensing or the right kind of food safety measures. So, the shack fell into disrepair and became a haven for the young boy.

Billy closed the door of the shack behind him. The dark of the shed broken apart only by the thin spaces between the rough sawn lumber that made up the shell. The day was bright and crisp. If they had been able to, his dad would have been making maple syrup as the temperature had risen, and the sap started running on this waning winter day. Billy sat in the corner of the shack on a pile of gunny sacks he had stolen from the barn. The old feed sacks were itchy and sneezy but gave enough padding from the cold hard ground.

He heard dripping. Craning his neck around, Billy spied drops that fell intermittently from the roof. He stood on his tiptoes, of a wooden box he had pulled up, and saw what looked to be a sticky gelatinous blob attached to the ceiling.

He heard drip, drip, drip. Billy reached his hand out to touch the drops, but something made him pull his hand back after seeing the old cauldron they cooked the syrup in on the floor. It was cast iron, and he could see the drips coming off the blob were burning a hole in the cauldron. His mouth dropped open in amazement.

The color of the drops was amber, transparent in appearance. Inside the blob, he could see movement. Was it a huge bug colony thawing in the shed? He saw it move again. Screeching, he fell back off the box — his chest heaving. There was something big, and it was alive in that blob.

"Mom! There's something out in the sugar shack! I saw it, a golden blob that's melting, and it's burning a hole in the cauldron."

"Oh?" She asked without much interest. Billy knew she wasn't paying attention and knew she had probably lost the "discussion."

"Where's dad?"

"He's in the barn." She left the room. He could hear the television come on. She would not talk until her show was over. Billy ran out to the barn.

"Dad, there's something in the sugar shack." His father was mucking out the horse stall.

"Billy, you were told to stay out of that building. With all this snow, the roof is just not safe." His father forked another load of manure mixed with straw into the wheel barrel. "Stay away from that building, at least till the snow is gone."

"Okay, Dad." Billy's shoulders slumped. Sometimes he felt like his parents didn't even care he was around. Staying away from the sugar shack was not going to be a hard thing to do. He was scared of what was out there.

Billy ran out to the shed once the weather was a little warmer, and the snow was off the roof. He was curious if the blob was still there or not. Opening the door, he gasped when he saw that the blob had tripled in size. It now touched the floor. The cauldron melted in several places as the drip, drip, drip continued. He sucked in his breath. A couple of weeks ago, when he was out here, the blob was giant but not as large as it was now. He watched for a few minutes and saw the shift inside. It was like a cocoon! He lost his confidence and ran out of the shed. In all of his ten years, he had never seen anything like it. He tried looking it up online, but there was nothing that fit the description of what he had seen. He decided he would stay away from the sugar shack. Who knew what was in there?

The light through his bedroom window awakened him one night. It seemed to focus a beam down as it hovered over the sugar shack. Billy quickly jumped back into bed and pulled the covers over his head. He was too scared to even think about what he had just seen. Eventually, sleep overtook him.

Billy walked down the driveway that morning, thinking about the nightmare he'd had. The beam was coming out of the sky, aiming onto the sugar shack. He wondered if something happened to the blob in the corner. Billy caught the bus. He found he was having a hard time concentrating at school that day. When the bus dropped him off at home, thinking it was weird, Skippy didn't meet him. He put his bookbag on the porch and continued looking for his dog.

Billy padded along the path that led to the sugar shack. He didn't need to go any further. Skippy lay on the trail covered in yellow goo. The same kind he had seen in the shack a few weeks ago. Skippy was melting into the ground. Billy thought about the cauldron suddenly repelled by the dead dog.

His mother heard the scream and came out. "Honey, what is it?"

"It's Skippy; he's dead!" Billy felt the explosion of emotion as the tears fell down his cheeks. His mother walked in front of him. She knelt to touch the dog. Billy shouted.

"No! Mom! It will burn you!" His mother snatched her hand back, studying the various levels of decay of Skippy and stood up quickly.

"What is it?" She pulled Billy close.

"I don't know, Mom. It was in the sugar shack, and it's been growing out there for a couple of weeks."

"Why didn't you tell us?" Billy looked at her in frustration. 

"I did, Mom. No one came with me to look." Snot ran down his face in rivulets. 

"Let's go back to the house. We will bury Skippy, but we need to use the tractor to pick him up. Poor thing." His mother rushed him back to the house. For whatever reason, she locked the doors. When his dad came home, he was shouting outside the locked door. 

"Why is the door locked?"

"It's Skippy, he's dead, on the path to the sugar shack. Something like acid is eating him." Dale Manning shook his head, grabbed a flashlight, and headed out the door. 

"Don't touch him. It burns!" His mom shouted after her husband. Dale walked down the path using the flashlight to scan back and forth. There was no dog. He did see a glint on the ground. Dale stooped to pick up the shiny circle and then quickly dropped Skippy's rabies tag on the ground when he sensed the burning. Dale shook his hand, trying to cool his fingers. He wiped his hand off in the grass, wondering what the hell he had just experienced — he walked back to the house, locking the door behind him. Damn, his hand hurt. Mr. Manning ran his hand under the tap in the sink, crying out in pain. The goop on the burned thumb and forefinger spread over his hand. Billy's mom took a dish towel covering the wound.

"We need to go to the hospital. That's a bad burn." Billy's mom said after watching the skin peel. Dale put his hand to his stomach.

"It will be fine, just leave it be. I wonder what that dog got himself into?" 

By the time Billy and his mother finished the dishes. His dad was moaning in the living room, trying to watch the evening news.

"Maybe burn salve will help, his mother brought the tube and some bandages. When she removed the towel from his dad's hand, she screamed. "That is bone! Dale, get in the car, we are going to the hospital, now!" His father could tell by his mother's voice she meant business. Mercy Hospital was twenty-six miles from their house. By the time they pulled up in front, Billy's dad was moaning and groaning, rocking himself back and forth in the front seat. They walked him into the emergency room.

The doctor saw Dale right away. The wounds had gone through his hand. The first joint of the thumb and forefinger had melted away. Only bone tips showed through. Where the water had taken the goo onto his hand, appeared to be burning like acid peeling layers away. The doctor took a sample to give to the lab. He knew he couldn't use water to stop the burning. All that did was carry it to another part of his hand. Was it a chemical?

The nurse came in, "There are no results. It is something they have never run across." The doctor pulled the nurse aside.

"Have them run more tests. This man is going to lose his hand if we don't do something quickly. He's already lost the tip of his thumb and forefinger. The nurse went back to the lab. The only thing the doctor could think to do was to cut out the burned area to try and save the hand.

In the operating room, a nerve block numbed Dale's arm and hand. The doctor cut the tissue around the thumb tip, placing it on a paper napkin supported by a metal tray. The nurse sounded a warning. The metal tray was melting.

"What the hell is this stuff?" Doctor Mark hissed. He looked down at the scalpel. The end had burned off.

"We need to call someone who knows about what this is." He put his arm on Mr. Manning's shoulder. "Dale, I need to stop until I know more about what we are dealing with."

The Sheriff went out to the Manning Farm. He came with a few deputies.

"The shed's outback through the woods. Follow the path off the kitchen." Flashlights scanned the area until they came into the woods seeing the sugar shack. The three men aimed their lights.

"Be careful; it's acid and will burn you." The Sheriff pulled back the door, shining the light around the shed. Nothing looked suspicious. He stepped inside.

The thing undulated and spat, hitting the Sheriff in his face. He screamed as the burning fluid dripped down his chest. The two deputies reached in and grabbed the Sheriff out of the building. One deputy called for an ambulance on his radio while the Sheriff screamed in the background. By the time the ambulance arrived, he wasn't crying anymore. The deputy cautioned the EMTs not to touch his face or chest.

"He's gone." Said the EMT, we aren't going to transport him and contaminate the ambulance. We can't risk it." They left the tarp over the Sheriff and drove away. The two deputies stayed to watch over the Sheriff and would wait until a scientist from the Army came out to inspect the body.

Dale Manning lost his arm. They had to take it far enough away from the burned area. The doctor tried to give him plenty of a nub for a prosthetic so he would have movement in his arm.

Billy slept on a chair next to his dad's bed; his mother sat next to him. It was weird to see his dad's arm. The bandages stopped where there should have been a forearm and a hand. But now there was nothing. Billy felt a little guilty for not trying to warn his dad more. If he had thrown a fit, he could have gotten his parents out to that shed before the thing grew to the size it was now. Skippy was dead, and his dad lost his arm. He heard that the Sheriff was dead. No one knew what they were dealing with. Should he tell them about the bright lights that night?

When the sedation wore off, Mr. Manning started screaming again. The nurse increased the meds and carefully removed the bandage. They hadn't gotten it all — the goo continued to burn through his dad's body. Mr. Manning was rushed back into surgery.

The reporter pulled up in front of the Manning farm. Kevin Mack of WJTK talked about a weird substance in an old syrup making shed in the woods, behind the house, that it had killed the Sheriff, the family dog, and the owner of the farm was currently in surgery.

Lights came out of the sky, shining down on the farm. The cameraman stepped back with a jump spinning around.

"Ladies and gentlemen, I don't know if you just saw that. Lights are coming out of the sky shining down on this farm. It's incredible. It's impossible. I don't know what is going on, but we aren't going to stick around to find out." The reporter and cameraman jumped into the back of the van, which sped off, leaving the mysterious lights behind. The two officers watching over the Sheriff were scared for their lives also ran for their cars.

When the Army arrived, they scoured the property. The shed was empty. The maple syrup cauldron burned through in several places was hauled away. Skippy had melted into an indent in the ground where the acid continued to eat away after it burned through the dog.

Men and women in hazmat suits combed the farm. Nothing was there. Whatever it was, had disappeared. The officials watched the news broadcast over and over. Brilliant lights shone down on the sugar shack in the woods. The Army confiscated the footage.

Billy Manning and his mother came home from the hospital. His father did not make it. The surgeon kept cutting away, using everything they could to stop the burning, but they couldn't stop it in the end. Billy tried to be brave, watching his mother cry. Today had been the worst day of his life. He lost his dad and his dog. Home didn't feel safe anymore even though the Army had checked everything out and said it was all clear. They had cordoned off the area where Skippy died, and where the Sheriff had melted into the ground with yellow tape.

His mother told him it was time for bed. They hugged. Billy climbed the stairs dressing in his pajamas, wondering what had been in the sugar shack. He tried to go to sleep, but he kept picturing the blob, his dad, the Sheriff, and Skippy. Billy heard the men speak that the place where the Sheriff and Skippy dissolved were still burning into the ground. They did not know how to stop it.

He couldn't sleep. Maybe it was the noise keeping him awake. Wait, the sound? What was that sound? Billy got out of bed, opening the closet door. He cautiously pulled the string hanging from the ceiling. Light spilled across the closet.

Shrieking, Billy fell back on the floor, scooting away on his butt. He could see the undulating amber mass hanging down from the ceiling. It was burning a hole in the carpeting — drip, drip, drip.

THE END

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