The smell of must, and wet leaves jolted the boy from his hallway resting spot. The boy gawks at the front door, and shivers. He knows who is back.
“If I open this door, and let you in, will you hurt me?”
“…Yes, son. I probably will.”
The boy whimpers and clamps the peephole shut, leaving the dark figure alone on the porch, its carcass bloating in the drizzling rain. The figure comes back each night, sometimes at dusk, sometimes later, but always at night. Some nights it calls for the boy, other nights it stands watch silently. Each time the boy asks the same question, and each night the figure responds with the same answer.
A lit candle shivers on an end table as the boy shuffles by, whimpering to himself as he paces. The Bennett home looks as it did when things were normal, except an empty generator sits where the coffee table used to be, and the windows are secured by plywood and nails, one of the last jobs Mr. Bennett finished before he died.”
“Why dad?! Why would you want to hurt your own family?!” The boy darts back and flips the peep hole open again. The figure still lurks.
“Son… You must listen to me. I’m not the same anymore. Not really, anyway. There are some things that you can’t understand unless you were out here with us. The feeling is so strong; we don’t even try to stop it. I’ve told you.”
“But, you remember me. You remember the soapbox races, and the Christmas presents, and mom’s Shepherd’s pie!”
“You’re right. I do, and those were nice memories. But, that’s over now. Remember that night? You turned around, even when I gave you specific instructions not too. You turned and watched as they dragged me into the gravel pit. I’m sorry.”
“But, you remember everything. Doesn’t that mean you’re still you somehow! There must be something I can do to help!”
“There is. Go down to the crawlspace and slide the 8-track to the side …”
“Listen to me! Slide the 8-track to the side, and grab the cigar box. Inside the cigar box will be a key. It’ll open up the gun safe. Don’t worry, it won’t hurt me one bit”
“I won’t do it! If you’re not really you, why is it every night you come back?”
“You’re one of the last ones left my boy, and if there is anyone that deserves to have you,I think it’s your old man… Don’t you agree?”
A shrilling gasp erupts from the boy’s throat, it ascends into a scream – an inhuman, gurgling cry. The boy’s tears smother him, he tears hair from his head and convulses, releasing his lunch onto the living room floor.
The figure hangs its head, and the rain trails off its swollen skull and patters against its rotting jean jacket. For a brief moment, very fleetingly, the figure seems to remorse; but, with a slow headshake, the figure returns its gaze at the peephole stoically. Light from the hole shines on its balding head. Abscesses like popped bubble wrap leak yellow and orange fluid, some if it dried and caked to its temples in a diabolic mixture of color.
“There is another option…” The figure offers.
“Yes?” The boy blurts through smothering tears.
“You can open that door, and come with us.”
The figure said things like this before, but with hesitancy, as if there was a part of it that still felt. But, each night it came, it became more restless. It became less understanding.
“Your mom and sister are out here too. They stay in Mrs. Eckhart’s cellar. Sometimes they still sing early nineties songs on the old tape book, even though they can’t hold a tune like they used to, but that doesn’t stop them from trying! And you remember playing miniature hockey with the neighborhood kids down there?”
“Yeah, I remember.”
“Well what if I told you that we still have the net, and the styrofoam puck?”
“Yes. And wouldn’t you know, Bert, and John still come around too.”
“Scout’s honor. You may not recognize Bert these days, and I’m not sure how John would goal tend the net, but they’ve been asking to see you. In fact, they’ve been dying to see you.”
The boy didn’t know it, but his hand rested on the door latch. He smiles, reminiscing about summer days at Mrs. Eckhart’s, and seeing his mom and sister again. Were they really waiting for him?
The door is open. His father stands with an empty grin, wearing the jean jacket he always used around the house. The same jean jacket he wore the night by the gravel pit.
“Run boy! Head to the house!”
The boy hurdles himself over the fence, and looks back to see his father stop in his tracks.
There are five or six of them, all with their attention on his father. He fights two of them off with hard rights, but they are strong. They dive at his legs, and leap on his back.
They take chunks from his neck, and wrist, and they keep eating. His father lashes violently, and screams. They begin to drag him back and through the field as he still struggles, hands grabbing chunks of soil and weeds, but the ground is dry this year, the crops not yielding as much barley as they should, and so the weeds give way. As they drag him back towards the pit, the boy sees his father’s pupils roll back, revealing two silver coins for eyes. They shine in the moonlight.
Now on the porch, the bite marks are clear to see, but they are only shriveled holes, and his eyes still shine like white flares in the night.
“What is it, boy?”
“Will it hurt?”
“Yes, son it will, but not for long.” It offers the boy a curled, and boney hand.
“You’ll feel cold at first, but then warmth will come over you, like a tide coming in from shore. It will carry you like a warm blanket out past the breakers, and into deep water. There you will sink, and fade into the depths with me, forever.”
That night, from the hill at Gilmore Park, two figures can be seen shuffling through a long dry field, past a gravel pit, and down the trail to St. Ester Estates. They make their way past dark, and empty homes, to the last house on the right. They cross the overgrown lawn, and disappear through a basement window, just as the birds begin to chirp their morning song, and pink streaks hint at a beautiful day, with clear autumn skies.
©2012 Matt Demers
Matt Demers was born and raised in Windsor, ON and earned an arts degree from the University of Windsor in 2009. He is an active member of Scribophile, and has work published in “Exercising The Body While Conditioning The Mind with Nutrition.”