The Wompus Wulf nosed at the window, leaving a streak of snot across its surface.
“Be very quiet and remain perfectly still,” Grayden warned.
The beast exhaled, fogging the thin sheet of glass with the fetid moisture of its breath. A deep rumble began in the back of its throat. Tillie caught a glimpse of the monster’s moistened canines as its lips receded, the rumble in its throat growing into a growl. And then the monster lunged, shattering the window. Tiny shards of broken glass filled the air, glinting in the dimness of the house like snowflakes in moonlight.
Tillie screamed and fell backwards. At first she thought that her scream had been so powerful that it had propelled her to the floor. Then she noticed that Grayden had also been thrown from his feet.
“What’s happening?” Grayden yelled, grabbing hold of the leg of the couch to stop himself from rolling. The couch began to slide, dragging Grayden with it across the living room floor.
“It’s the creeping house,” Tillie said. “The Wompus Wulf must have frightened it.” She glanced up at the broken picture window. The scenery beyond the Wompus Wulf’s head was a blur of motion. “The creeping house is running.”
The creeping house lurched again, rattling the pictures of the kindly hunter against the walls. One portrait slid from its hanging wire, the frame cracking as it hit the floorboards.
The Wompus Wulf held tight to the house, its claws set deep into the wooden siding.
Tillie stood on shaky legs and tried to lift one side of the heavy wooden coffee table. “Help me, Grayden!”
On all fours, Grayden crawled to the other end of the coffee table. Slowly, he stood up, feeling the house’s gait and trying to sway in time to its strides.
The Wompus Wulf shoved its entire head through the shattered window, its jaws snapping at Tillie and Grayden.
“On my signal,” Tillie yelled. “One. Two. Heave!” Tillie lifted her end of the table and Grayden did the same, flinging the table on top of the Wompus Wulf. The table smashed into the creature’s forehead, knocking the beast away from the creeping house.
Tillie ran to the broken window and scanned the moonlit plain. In the faint light she could make out the shape of the beast rolling into the grass and then springing back onto its feet. Without pause, the Wompus Wulf continued to run, relentlessly pursuing the creeping house.
“It’s still coming!” Tillie said. “It’s following us.” Tillie watched the Wompus Wulf run beside the creeping house for a few seconds. Then the monster changed course, disappearing behind the house. Tillie stuck her head out of the window as far as she dared.
“To the back door!” Grayden said from over Tillie’s shoulder. He stumbled towards the kitchen.
“Good idea,” Tillie said, following him out of the living room.
By the time Tillie caught up to the young warrior, he had already opened the back door and was peering through the screen door, searching for any sign of the Wompus Wulf.
“There it is,” he said.
The Wompus Wulf was sprinting 30 feet behind the house, the beast’s tongue lolling from one side of its mouth.
“How fast do you think we’re going?” Tillie asked, swaying with the continuous movement of the house.
“I don’t know,” Grayden said.
“I’d say we’re going almost as fast as Nora,” Tillie decided. Just then, the door to one of the kitchen cabinets fell open, emptying a whole set of plates, saucers, and teacups onto the kitchen floor. “And we’re making nearly as much noise as Nora, too,” Tillie added.
“How is the creeping house even moving?” Grayden asked. “I didn’t see any legs on the outside of the house.”
Tillie shrugged. “If something’s scared enough, I guess it’ll find a way to move – even without legs.” She looked up again, scanning the area behind the house for the Wompus Wulf. She saw no sign of the monster. “Where’d it go?”
Grayden pressed his face to the screen door. “I don’t see it either.” He turned to Tillie and smiled. “Let’s look on the bright side – maybe the house has outrun it!”
Just then, the blurred shape of the Wompus Wulf launched itself from one side of the back door. The beast shredded the top panel of the screen door with its claws, leaving strips of screen flapping in the wind like a torn spider’s web.
Grayden let out a “yip” of surprise and jumped backwards, grabbing Tillie by the arm and pulling her with him.
“In the future,” Tillie said, “I think we should avoid looking on the bright side – and through that screen door.”
“Agreed,” Grayden said, settling down into a crouch, his back against the kitchen wall farthest from the door.
Tillie joined him on the hardwood floor.
The creeping house continued to run, the Wompus Wulf continued to follow, and Tillie and Grayden continued to cower in the kitchen. Then, the Wompus Wulf disappeared from view once more, ducking off to one side of the house.
“How stupid does the Wompus Wulf think that we are?” Tillie whispered to Grayden. “It thinks that we’re going to fall for the same trick again.” Tillie stood up and wobbled from side to side, readjusting to the movement of the creeping house.
“What are you doing?” Grayden asked.
“I’m just going to give the Wompus Wulf a taste of its own medicine.” She crept to the kitchen closet and removed the mop and metal bucket.
“I advise you to stay put,” Grayden said.
“Oh, pish tosh,” Tillie said. She placed the bucket over the mop’s head, grabbed the mop handle with both hands, and held it in front of her like a sword. In a loud, overly theatrical voice, she began to recite her lines. “Oh, goodie!” she exclaimed. “The Wompus Wulf must have given up. I guess I’ll go to the back door and look to make sure it’s gone.”
She turned and winked at Grayden.
He did not respond.
Tille made her way towards the back door on her tiptoes, being careful to stay a couple of feet away from it this time. “I’ll just look outside now.” Gently, she poked just the edge of the metal bucket through the door frame.
At the same time, the creeping house made a gigantic leap across a rain-swollen stream. Tillie lost her balance and fell toward the back door. She plunged face-first through the screen door, the mop and bucket slipping from her hands and disappearing into the night. The lower screen panel of the door jammed into Tillie’s belly, knocking the wind from her lungs.
“Tillie!” Grayden yelled from behind her.
The door opened, swinging out into the black night and carrying Tillie’s breathless body with it. Bent double over the flimsy metal frame, Tillie clutched at the screen panel beneath her.
“Hold on!” Grayden called, standing in the doorway and trying to get a grip on one of her legs. The screen door swung back and forth, flinging Tillie forward and back. Each time Grayden thought he had a grip on her, the house lunged, pulling her away from him again. Eventually, the door stopped swinging and remained open, standing out from the back of the house like the fin on the back of a fish.
Tillie held tight, wheezing and trying to catch her breath.
Grayden grabbed the edge of the door and tried to force it back. Then he detected movement out of the corner of his eye.
The Wompus Wulf snapped at Tillie, missing her dangling foot by inches.
“Leave her alone!” Grayden screamed, frustrated.
Tillie thought she heard a chortle of laughter from the running beast. She tried to pull herself along the door frame toward the creeping house.
The Wompus Wulf leapt again, this time catching the lowest corner of the screen door with its claws. The metal frame shook, breaking the door’s top set of hinges.
Grayden reached out to Tillie.
Tillie strained to catch hold of his hand.
The Wompus Wulf snarled bhind her, leveling its open mouth with Tillie’s dangling legs.
Unable to reach Tillie’s hand, Grayden did the only thing he felt he could do. He lept forward, diving from the creeping house with his arms spread wide.
The young warrior’s silhouette passed between Tillie and the pale yellow moon. She tried to yell “Grayden, no! What are you doing? Have you gone mad? Get back in the house this minute!” or something along those lines, but she still had no breath.
Grayden landed on the Wompus Wulf’s greasy back, grabbing the beast’s matted fur like reins.
The Wompus Wulf continued its pursuit, ignoring Grayden.
The young warrior clutched a clump of the Wompus Wulf’s twisted fur and began to hack at the creature with his dagger. Tillie could see the weapon flashing in the moonlight, red blood running across its surface and slipping free each time Grayden lifted his arm.
Enraged, the Wompus Wulf lifted one of its front claws and began to slash at the unwanted passenger, cutting itself more often than Grayden with its wild, unfocused swipes.
Grayden held tight to the beast and continued to attack.
Tillie finally reached the doorway and dropped from the screen door like a sack of rutabagas. She watched Grayden hack at the Wompus Wulf like a mosquito on a mangy dog. Suddenly she remembered Uncle Quentin’s oft-told story of when he lost his eye in a knife fight with Jack O’Daggers – and of how painful that loss had been.
“Go for its eyes!” she screamed.
Grayden looked up. Elated to see that Tillie had climbed back inside the creeping house, he did as she suggested, stabbing at the eye nearest him. His first hit was wide, glancing off the bone over the Wompus Wulf’s eye socket. The second jab found its mark, the pike tooth dagger plunging deep into the creature’s eyeball. The Wompus Wulf reeled backwards and fell to the ground.
The only part of Grayden that Tillie could see protruding from beneath the writhing body of the Wompus Wulf was the arm that had wielded the dagger. It lay limp.
“Grayden!” Tillie yelled. She stared into the dark, the image of Grayden and the Wompus Wulf receding into the distance. She considered jumping from the back door and running back across the plains to help Grayden, but she knew that the house was moving much too fast; she would be dead as soon as she hit the ground. “Stop running!” she screamed at the creeping house.
The creeping house gave no indication that it heard her. If anything, it increased its speed.
“I said stop!” Tillie yelled, grabbing a plate off the floor and throwing it against the kitchen wall. It shattered into dozens of pieces. “I’ll destroy this entire kitchen if you don’t slow down and let me off.”
Still the house did not respond.
“Please,” Tillie said softly, beginning to cry. “Please stop running. I must go back. My friend’s back there hurt – maybe dead – and it’s all my fault.”
The house continued to run.