It was bedtime and the kids were bouncing off the walls. My wife had left the house fifteen minutes earlier. I yelled up to the second floor from the kitchen. “You all have ten minutes to get your pajamas on and teeth brushed.” I had pretty much pulled an all-nighter the previous night in order to complete a presentation for my job. I was wiped and the last thing I had on plentiful supply was the patience to coerce, repeat commands, and appeal to their better angels. So I bribed them. Yeah, I bribed my kids with a credit each toward TV, if they went to bed earlier than usual. The response was the transformation of pure chaos into redirected purposeful, reward driven excitement. I was amazed by how much the promise of TV could positively influence their behavior. As an only child, I spent a lot of time in front of the TV, but I don’t recall having such an addiction to it. Maybe I did have a long forgotten addition to it. Maybe the difference was generational. Who knows.
I was just about to go upstairs when I thought to look in the fridge to see if there were any strawberries and yogurt left. The basket of strawberries played shy, a little hard to get, hiding somewhere behind a first world problem of too much food. With the stacked lunches and dinner leftovers, the basket had plenty of places to hide it’s rather considerable bulk. But I soon found them. I thought to myself, now, I just needed the yogurt. I paused as I realized I had finally arrived at a stage in life when the consumption of food excited me on some level. Spending hours each day bathing in stress, forces oneself to seek out anything that can momentarily lower the levels enough to be a functioning human being. Just tap a vein and recline into your favorite poison. “Good grief!” I said out loud. Sugar was fast becoming mine. I could already feel the dopamine release readying itself just from the thought of the creamy vanilla yogurt spread over the strawberries, that in all honesty were getting a little long in the tooth for the season. After all, it was Fall – but thanks to Fredrick McKinley, these strawberries could last a little bit longer, maybe not as sweet, but they were still accessible out of season to be my fix tonight.
I stood up straight in reaction to a cold draft that moved across my back, as well as an odor that reeked of old and rotting garbage. My wife would’ve said,”Something smells like pedos,” or farts for all non-Spanish speakers, “look for old broccoli.” I turned my face up in disgust and quickly scanned the fridge interior for old broccoli leftovers. Coming across the yogurt, I turned my attention to its pursuits and thereby called off my hunt for the source of the foul smell. As I began to close the door on the fridge, I caught a view of what appeared to be the shadow of a long and skinny man leaning on the wall beyond the steps. I froze in place. On second inspection, it turned out to be nothing more than shadows cast by the lines of the banister bending and folding against the angles of the wall. I still hadn’t gotten used to the many long shadows the new house cast. My children hadn’t either. They wouldn’t go anywhere alone in the house – even my daughter, the youngest and bravest. She had no fear of going any place alone in our previous home, but this house just didn’t sit right with her, at all.
The odor had abated and I walked up the stairs and helped each child into bed, gave them their hugs, and told them I loved them over repeated interruptions. I must have given and received nine hugs, five “I love yous,” four, “See you in the murnings,” and three, “Goodnights,” from all three children. I stepped out into the hallway and said, “No more talking and getting out of bed or you all will lose the TV credit.” I walked back downstairs with a determination to devour the strawberries and yogurt. While reaching into the fridge, I remembered that I’d forgotten to give them their allergy meds. Dammit.
I closed the refridgerator door, grabbed the meds, and a couple of glasses of water to take upstairs. Before, I set a single foot on the steps, I heard my oldest son call, “Dad! Dad!” I didn’t answer back. He was calling in his typical, I have-a-question-I-could’ve-asked-you-many-times-before-bedtime, but-didn’t voice. I decided to hide from him and catch him with a scare. The time of the year was close to Halloween and everyone was in the scaring spirit. My children and I spent hours trying to scare one another and this was an opportune time to get him. I carefully placed the water and meds down, so as to not make a sound. I ducked around the corner and perched myself atop the steps that trailed into the dark basement below. “Dad!” I could hear him still a ways away.
I sniffed at the air while furrowing my brow. The rotting smell was back again. “Dad!” My son was now in the kitchen. It wouldn’t be long before I would get the chance to reach out and grab his leg and yell, “Boo!” Or maybe, “Aaaggh, gotcha!” I crouched on my knees and leaned in a little to see him. He was just out of my vision, but I heard him drink the water and go back up the steps. I thought to myself, he must’ve remembered he hadn’t taken his allergy pill, so he came down to get it. With the moment past, I began to lift my leg from the crouching position to stand up. I felt a hand gently grab my ankle. A chill ran up my spine. I jerked my head around and saw a white hand with long and unkept nails holding my ankle as it reached out from the dark, below. I struggled to get free, but the hand violently yanked and pulled me down into the basement. My head bounced on one of the steps and I slid into unconsciousness, while the hand dragged me deeper into the basement.
When I came to, my eyes were greeted to a heavy darkness – the air was thick with dread and fear. Maybe the dread was coming from me, coming from the realization that I was not alone. Whatever had dragged me down here was still here with me. I looked around and strained my eyes to see into the darkness before a pair of yellow pupils popped on like light switches; Sickly and jaundiced, they stared back at me from the darkness. A smile slowly stretched over long, yellow and jagged teeth. The yellow eyes and teeth lurched forward and screamed, in a low howling voice, “Boo!” The sound of voice horrible. It was layered with many garbled, tortured voices screaming and moaning from some terrible place. I closed my eyes and winced to hide myself from the fear.
Seconds later, I screamed as I felt a sharp pain in my leg as if thousands of needles were jabbed into it. With the eyes and smile now inches from my face, the rotted and rancid smell I kept catching a whiff of upstairs was now identifiable as the ragged tatters that hung between its teeth. It stayed just inches away for several minutes. I screamed again, in response to the white, hot pain and terror as the muscle and tendon in my right leg was ripped from the bone. The thing’s teeth parted and my flesh was pushed into its jagged maw by the white claw. I could feel myself sliding into shock as I began to shake. It became hard to focus on anything beyond the pain and the knowledge of my eventual blackout. I tenuously held onto consciousness while I watched it chew with what appeared to be some sense of satisfaction welling up in it’s sickly eyes. The dopamine release was kicking in for the creature, just like it had for me at the thought of eating the strawberries. Each time I’d caught the rotted smell on the air, it was the smile of this thing waiting in the shadows- watching and waiting and smiling at me. Anticipating the excitement of the upcoming meal – me.
by malakhai jones