Here is one of two Halloween stories I have had in my head this year. The hope is to start work on the second soon. Very soon.
This hasn’t been edited so keep that in mind when you run across errors.
It hid in the dark, in a hole dug in the corner of a basement of a burned out house on the bad side of town. That’s what he’d heard at least. That’s what the street people said. Where the house stood, or what remained of it, was never one of the showcases of the city, was never the place that families went to live when they sprouted children, no, this was the place you came when you had nowhere else to go. This was a place of flop houses, drug dens, and chipped dreams. The fires had hit in the eighties, sweeping from the house at the end of the street and engulfing half of the houses, the others being coated in the soot and debris that fell like snow and covered everything for a half mile. The house where it started still showed its skeleton, and the house beside it was the same way, the cement stairs that once lead into the house leading now to nowhere and the ribs of the house revealing nothing within but emptiness. The teenager stood at the edge of the crater and stared down into it as the sun slipped into the darkness like a secret lover. She had taken the bus out here and had walked the fifteen blocks to get to the house. No one came out to this old neighborhood anymore, not even the squatters, and she wasn’t worried about anyone else. Whoever might be out looking to cause her trouble wouldn’t much like what they found if they hassled her. Not at all. So here she stood, her head full of the stories the old men of the street had told her for the price of some stolen wine and a shared cigarette or two.
“It lives in the basement. You’ll know which house by the smell of the sewer and the ribbons tied around two crooked light poles that stand at the end of its driveway. No one knows who puts those pink ribbons there but every year they bleach, fade, and rot away only to be replaced the next Spring. When you find those ribbons you’ll have found the house.”
And here she was.
She’d found the house.
And just like they’d said there were ribbons on the two blackened light poles, faded from a long, hot Summer and just barely held together as Fall’s cool winds slithered over the streets. She pulled the hood of her sweatshirt up and dug her hands into her pockets. Someone had left Jack-O-Lanterns on the porches of the old houses here and it sent a shiver up her spine. It was like hearing laughter in a graveyard. She wrapped her fingers around the small thing she’d brought with her in her pocket and bit down on a smile as she kicked rocks into the hole. It was getting dark but there was enough light to see into the basement and just as she’d been told, there was a rope tied to an errant piece of metal and the rope dropped down into the darkness and in that darkness lay the basement and there, in the far corner of the basement was a hole that was dug into the earth, a hole that glistened with wetness, even as the light faded. The girl lit a cigarette and kicked a few more rocks in and then clenched the butt in her teeth and knelt down to grab the rope and slowly she lowered herself down. And they were right about something else, her street friends, it stunk here, and the closer she got to the hole in the wall the more she gagged. She pulled the handkerchief she was wearing around her neck up and covered her nose. There were more ribbons down here, all pink, all worn. In the far corner, opposite of the hole were several glass mason jars, all full and in a pile but her curiosity, strong and dark as it may be, wasn’t enough to lure her to investigate. No, she was here for something else. She started to march towards the hole but when her left foot sank into a small crevasse and her boot got caught she was stuck and heard something chuckle from the darkness of the hole. Something that sounded like leaves catching fire. Damn. She hadn’t wanted to hurry things, to rush things, her curiosity strong enough to stave off her fear but it seems that, even know, even here, even with this she wouldn’t get her way. She saw something move in the darkness but it was black moving against black so she could make out no shape. The girl looked down and saw her boot was lodged and lifted her leg but it was still stuck, she looked up and the darker black moved in the darkness, shifting weight and watching. The girl lifted again and still her boot was caught. She looked up and the darkness was gone, replaced by a wide shape that stunk of the sewer and gave off waves of thick heat. The girl twisted her foot from side to side and lifted and she felt the light go out of the basement, felt it as if it had drained away or been sucked away. She was out of time. The girl knelt down and pulled at her foot and it shifted, sure, but it was stuck and good. Having no other choice she quickly untied and then began unlacing the boot and as she did she felt something big and heavy approach and hover near, could feel the thick heat of it and its smell made her gag. She didn’t look up. She didn’t look up. She didn’t look up but focused on the boot and when she had it loose she closed her eyes and stood quickly and pulled her foot up with all she had and it stuck for a second then was free and as soon as she was free she hobbled away from the shape and into the other corner. As soon as she was to them she spun around and looked in time to see something that glistened with blackness as it receded into its hole. And again came the sound of leaves catching fire. This time it was laughing at itself. The girl had gotten the better of her there but that didn’t happen often, and never twice.
The girl shifted her weight as she tried to keep her bootless foot off the damp dirt and watched the hole but saw no movement. It was watching her just as she was watching it. The heat of the basement had subsided but it was still warm down there and as she caught her breath, weighing her options, she noticed that as hot as she was there was a chill against her leg. She risked a glance and saw that she was standing next to the glass jars, jars that looked to almost give off their own light, here in the gloom, jars that were full, full and labeled with a name and a date, scrawled in brown on the otherwise clean surfaces. It cherished these. It prized them. She could tell by how clean they were. They may not be stacked neatly but these were still its prizes. The girl knelt to take a closer look and heard a hiss from the shadows and the air turned hot. She ignored the heat and the sick feeling of dread that was bubbling in her stomach and squinted to see what was in the jars. That sickness calcified into a knot that was quickly rising up her throat as she saw what some of the bottles held and she shot up and away from them. There were dozens of the jars, dozens upon dozens of them and probably more hidden away in other places in the basement, older jars, far older, with more of the same. Trophies, trophies that ranged from hair, to nails, to fingers, to bone, to…a fetus, the jar she’d seen had held a fetus and the date marked on the jar was only three weeks earlier. The name on the jar was Treece. She had gone to school with a Patreece but the girl had gotten herself pregnant and had dropped out to be with her twenty-something year old boyfriend. Patreece that went by Treece with the pretty brown eyes and the shy smile. The girl spun around to leave, to run, fear slipping its fingers through her hair and across her cheek in cold rivers but the heat burned it away and the basement was sweltering. She felt the heat on her, against her like someone crowding near, and she felt sluggish and sleepy. The sound of the leaves again but now it sounded like words.
I take. I take. I take what you give me…and perhaps I give you something in return.
There was no joy in those words, nor was there a threat, just a bargain, a bargain that had been promised. The offer of a barter. And was that what was in those jars? Trades? Barters? And for what? She thought of Treece’s jar and felt sick.
The basement was gone, covered over in darkness that was full of life. She could hear nothing, the sound dampened, but could feel that something was moving, something heavy and vast, something greedy. And it was that greed, that perhaps that made her wonder again what else was hidden in these ruins. But she had come for this. She had come to barter. She had come to trade. She felt it near, so near, and could smell the rot and stink of its breath. It knew why she was here, knew she wanted to strike a bargain, and now it was simply waiting to see if it was worth its attention or not. The girl reached into her pocket and winced as she caught the edge of something and felt the sting and burn of blood. It came closer and her hand wavered. Wavered until she thought of all the blood that she’d worn, worn like dress when things had started to go bad and someone turned their eyes on a twelve year old girl. Five years. It had been five years but it felt so much longer, as if time itself had recoiled at the sight of what had been done to her. She gritted her teeth and pulled her prize free and the heat decreased a little and she felt it move away, not quickly, as if out of fear, but more out of curiosity. The girl held the thing she’d brought tightly between her fingers and pushed first one, the other sleeve of her jacket up. The heat rose and it came closer.
Five years. Five years and it wasn’t over. She was no little girl but she was thin, she was pretty, and she was clearly still their flavor, though they still had a taste for the young meat. She grimaced with disgust. It started with a hand on the knee. A hand on the back. A kiss on the cheek. It started as a friendship. That was how it started. And now her sister, her nine year old sister had a new friend, a new friend that was very familiar to the girl, who had known them since she was twelve. It had been that first time, when everything went red, and she had known it was wrong, had cried and cried and cried until there were no more tears left in her, it had been then that she knew things would come to this. She never would have guessed it would lead her here though to take care of things.
Her face was burning up, it was close, impatient, bored. It was time.
“I have a bargain. I will give you something if you will do for me a favor. One favor.”
There was a heavy silence and she could feel its hot breath on her as it considered her words.
“Favor?” It asked.
“I will give you my most prized possession, something I cannot live without if you will take care of a problem.If you will do me this favor my possession is yours.”
“Fa-vooooooooor?” Impatient again.
“I need you to make someone go away. I need you to…I need you to make them go away. I need you to make them go away…forever.” And did she mean that? Did she mean the implication? Then she thought of her sister, and how soon, very, very soon, she would start being taken to secret places, and told secret things, and taught about blood.
“Bargain?” It whispered.
The girl felt tears welling up but the heat of the thing burned them away. And was it fair, was it fair that it had come to this? Was anything fair? Some things can’t be tattled away. Some things can’t be fixed. Some scars don’t ever go away. Sometimes they just end in red.
“I offer this.”
The girl took her prize and gritted her teeth and before she could think twice she ran it down her arm and split the skin open and sent wide rivers down her arm. The thing recoiled in shock and her arm burned incredibly but it was too late to stop now. She switched hands and her hands was shaking now, she felt sick and weak but she ran the blade down her arm and more rivers sprouted and she dropped to her knees. She dropped the blade and forced herself to look up and there, in the center of the darkness she saw the thing that lived here, its face drawn with shock at what she was doing, and seeing it, she would have surely gone mad had she not been so far down the well and falling fast.
“I…I…I offer…I offer my blood. I offer my body…I offer myself…please, please, please…protect her…please protect her…”
She wobbled, she wavered, and she started to fall sideways into the jars but before she connected with them something stopped her, something grabbed her roughly and with great strength. She was pulled back up and kicked her feet and realized she was being held up, above the ground. Everything was going white. She closed her eyes. She was drifting. She felt something hot and rough against her skin, against her left arm, then her right, something that burned and stung but before she could wonder what it was her mouth was forced open and something cold and hot at once flooded her throat and she thought she felt glass against her teeth, thick glass like a jar has, and then she was dropped to the ground again and everything went black.
The thing was in her dreams waiting for her. It revealed itself to her and it was an awful thing but there was more to it than that and it took her hands and showed her what it was, and her heart ached at what it had been through, and raged and what it had become. It was a monster, a thing, a beast, but it had not always been that. But some armor, chosen to protect, can also bind, and now it was bound, to this place, and to the darkness. And for the first time in years she cried.
When the girl woke her face and eyes were wet, though she couldn’t tell if it was from tears or dew. It was morning and everything in the basement was damp and she felt soaked through. She sat up and realized she had passed out in a corner of the basement where there was a nest of clothes. Why was she here? Her mind felt fuzzy but suddenly everything rushed back to her and she looked down at her arms and there were long, jagged scars that ran from her wrists up to the ditches of her elbows, scars where something had burned her wounds closed. It hadn’t worked.
It hadn’t worked.
She stood up slowly, carefully, her hand on the cold black wall of the basement, and she looked towards the hole and saw nothing. She stumbled forward and her foot kicked something that made a high, sharp sound and she looked down and saw the razor, coated black with her blood, and beside it was a jar, lying on its side. She knelt and looked down at the jar and saw yesterday’s date – October 30, and the year, and inside was thick, red fluid. A lot of it. She stood up quickly, queasy and weak but run through with fear. She was about to leave, leave as quickly as she could but something caught her eye in the corner, near the hole – another jar. This jar was larger, far larger than the rest, and far older, in fact it was more of a jug and she had no choice but to see, to see what it was, despite the danger. Despite the fear. She stumbled forward and got within ten feet and didn’t need to go any further. She saw all she needed to see.
Within the great glass jar was her sister’s teddy bear, floating in a mixture of thick brown and yellow fluid, the bear itself soaked in red, and floating with it were the hands that had hurt her for so many years, the mouth that had assailed her, and all of the parts of the person who had brought her here in the first place, had brought her to the darkness.
The girl smiled.
It was a shaky, weak smile but the darkness was gone. The morning had finally come. The girl looked past the jar and into the darkness and saw something black move deep within the hole. And she smiled and said nothing. After a moment the girl turned and made her way slowly to the edge of the basement and climbed up and out. Mist covered the ground and it was as if she’d woken from sleep into a dream but she knew that this dream would be sweet, and she would wake from it safe, and that her sister would never fall asleep to tracing the highways of scars that ran across her body like she had. And it wasn’t a perfect ending. And it wasn’t a pain free road ahead. But it was a happy ending, and for once, she could greet her dreams with a smile.
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