Copyright 2013 SkullDug Jerry
Copyright 2013 SkullDug Jerry
The headlights of the blue BMW drilled into the night, illuminating the black tarmac that flowed like a river of madness through the Pennsylvania mountains. A double yellow line split the road lengthwise from Tafton to Mountaintop – 26 miles of harrowing hairpin turns and wild camel humps – a roller coaster ride through old-growth Pennsylvania forests.
Ken kept both hands firmly on the steering wheel – his eyes forward, scanning the shoulder of PA route 390, vigilant for suicidal deer hiding in the darkness between the trees who were more than eager to bound into the path of his speeding vehicle.
He toggled the high beams but they were no match for the darkness that sent it’s fingers through the trees, squeezing the road into a narrow blue tunnel through the woods.
Tanya stared out the passenger window. She shook her head and tossed her bobbed black hair – releasing dim shimmers of blue in response to the cold dashboard illumination.
“You always do this.” she sniped.
Ken adjusted his jaw from side to side.
“The traffic was stopped.
For twenty minutes.
I had to get off – I can’t just sit there like that.”
Tanya frowned. ”We’re lost. You have no idea where we are, in a place that we have never been.” She pulled her cell phone from her purse and sighed. ”AND we have no signal. Of course – we have no signal. We’re in the middle of NoSignalVania.”
Ken winced at every word. Tanya’s shrill, nasal voice had evolved into a first class irritant as of late. It was like a million sewing needles stabbing and gouging his eardrums with each sentence. He found himself drifting away during her monologues, staring off into space, dreaming of the days before marriage and wondering how he could have been duped into matrimony all those years ago. How could he not have noticed that sputtering, insidious, acrid tongue? A tongue that found him time and time again musing on just how to tear it out, to cease it’s wagging forever so that he might find peace. Instead, he soldiered on in silence, obedient to the stereotype of the henpecked husband.
“Why are they always doing construction in Pennsylvania. Everywhere you turn, a lane is closed or an exit is under repair. I hate this state.” Tanya shook her head.
“We are not lost. We’re just…temporarily confused.”
Tanya shook her head and scowled. She glanced back at the road. ”Jesus!” She braced her hands on the dashboard and dug her feet hard against the floor of the car.
Ken snapped his gaze back to the road in time to see a deer flash past the headlights. He jammed both feet onto the brake pedal as the car began to skid sideways. Suddenly, another animal, this one thicker with dark gray and black streaks, sprang into the path of the sliding car. It moved like a cat stalking prey, low to the ground and surprisingly agile for its bulk.
There was a moment that seemed an eternity. It was filled with clenched teeth, white knuckles, squealing tires and the smell of burning rubber and hot brake shoes. It swam slowly into focus and then WHAM! The sickening thud of metal hitting flesh and the tinkle of shattered glass broke the spell.
The collision spun the car 90 degrees off the road and into a shallow swale on the right shoulder. Thick ferns and mountain laurel cushioned the car to a shuddering stop.
“Oh my god. Are you OK?” Ken reached over and touched Tanya.
“I think I bit my lip.” She dabbed her mouth and examined the bright red that coated her fingertips. “Yeah, I’m OK, I think.”
“What the hell did we hit?” Ken unbuckled his seatbelt.
“A deer. I think I saw a deer.”
“No, we missed the deer. Something came out of the woods after it. Something bigger like a bear.”
Ken opened his door and circled around to the front of the car. The grill was mangled and steam seeped from under the crumpled hood. The right quarter panel was crushed and the right front tire was rotated at an impossible angle. Thick black goo was smeared across the damaged areas.
“Shit, shit, shit.” Ken kicked at the ferns. ”There goes my insurance.” He turned and looked back down the road. A dark mass lie motionless on the blacktop, partially blocking the right lane.
“I think you hit a bear.” Tanya was standing next to him, dabbing her lip with a tissue. “Way to go Mario”.
“Just call Triple A.” Ken began walking toward the shadowy shape.
Tanya fumbled for her cell phone. “Uh, can’t. No signal. Unbelievable.”
Ken slowed his steps as he neared the carcass. A musty odor, somewhere between cat urine and vinegar, wafted through the night air. Ken recognized more detail in the moonlight. The entire creature was about five feet long and had four legs, the front ones longer than the hind and all four capped with five to six inch glossy black claws that looked as if hewn from obsidian. It appeared to have a small amount of black fur on it’s back which was streaked with dark gray patches that mimicked forest shadows. Overall, Ken thought it vaguely resembled some kind of deformed black bear mixed with a mountain lion. The fur gave way to black velvety skin that concealed sinewy muscles throughout the body of the animal. The shoulders were bulky and the head was elongated and wide, with an odd sloping forehead and two large eyes, shut tight into ten inch slits. A twisted pair of foot long black horns jutted from just behind the creatures large pointed ears. The most astonishing feature, however, was the nightmarish mouth of the beast. It gaped slightly open, and was circled in a row of black teeth on the outside, and rows of similar fangs on the inside. It was as if a shark’s mouth had been turned slightly inside out around the edges and painted gloss black. A black forked tongue lolled from the open mouth, dripping with gooey dark saliva.
“What the hell IS that thing?” Tanya had joined Ken.
“I have no idea. Maybe a bear that was burned or something. But it has horns, I think.
“Bears don’t have horns, moron.” Tanya looked at her phone again. ”How the HELL are we going to get a tow truck.
“We’ll have to walk and get help” Ken looked around at nothing but shadowy forest as far as the eye could see.
“I’ll bet that’s some kind of endangered animal. I’ll bet this dumb-ass state is going to fine us on top of everything.” Tanya started walking back toward the disabled BMW. ”And there’s no WE in this whole walking to find help thing.”
Ken shook his head. ”Seriously? What the hell are are YOU going to do while I’m walking?”
Over his shoulder, a pair of headlights flickered their way through the winding darkness of the stoic trees, distant tires clinging to the blacktop, hissed through the curves like a mechanized serpent as the vehicle neared.
“Looks like someone just caught a lucky break.” Tanya stood, hands on hips, a smirk writhing across her red lips.
Ken ran toward the approaching vehicle, arms waving. Blinded by the headlights, he could make out the dark shape of a late model pick-up truck, slowing to a stop before the motionless body of the strange creature.
“Hey, hey!” Ken waved his arms. ”We hit something and we need help.”
The driver opened the door and stepped out. He walked past Ken in a flurry of flannel, scraggly beard and greasy hair, eyes fixed on the creature in the road, the scents of sweat, tobacco and body odor swirled about him in the night air.
“Hey, thanks for stopping, we…” Ken put his hand on the stranger’s shoulder.
The truck driver spun and pushed Ken away. ”Nacht Teufel!” He hissed through broken teeth and began to back away toward his truck.
“What?” Ken stumbled forward. “Hey, what the hell? Where are you going?”
“Ein Junge Nacht Teufeufel!’, shouted the bearded stranger as he climbed back into his truck and gunned it in reverse.
“No, no, no!” Ken sprinted after the truck as it sped away into the darkness. He waved his arms and shouted until the tail lights disappeared into the night. He hung his head and slowly turned back toward his wife.
“What the hell was that?” Tanya raised her arms, palms toward the sky. ”Did he not speak English? Why didn’t you stop him?”
“I don’t get it. How could he just leave us here?” Ken shook his head.
“I’m going to take a nap in the car. Good luck on your walk.” Tanya turned and headed back to the car.
“Seriously? You’re gonna sleep while I walk alone on this ridiculous road? In the middle of the night?” Ken spread his ams wide in disbelief.
“Good luck.” Tanya climbed into the back seat of the disabled BMW and slammed the door.
Ken stood motionless, mouth open. And then he heard it. Low at first, but growing slowly louder. A low growl rattled from the carcass on the road behind him. He turned around and his legs buckled.
The creature’s claws made a rasping sound as they scraped the blacktop. The eyes were wide open, luminous and green, and as big as pie plates with no visible pupils – just two organic headlights glowing in the thick night. Slowly, it struggled upright, tilted its chin into the night air and began to howl. It was low and mournful at first but built quickly to an ear shattering crescendo that echoed through the black forest.
Ken clamped his hands over his ears and gathered his legs beneath him. Gingerly, to avoid drawing attention to himself, he began to step backwards toward the safety of his car. After a few steps he turned and broke into a run – his shoes clacking on the hard surface of the road.
The creature howled again and Ken quickened his pace. Behind him, he could hear claws scuffling on the blacktop as it tried to regain it’s senses. He reached the car, grabbed the door handle and yanked. It was locked. He pounded on the window. Inside, Tanya shook her head and extended her middle finger.
“Unlock it!” he yelled. Tanya extended both middle fingers and lounged back down on the back seat.
“C’mon!” Ken bellowed and beat his fists bloody on the window until he was out of breath. He paused and looked past the car into the dark forest. Everything had gone silent. All the katydids and crickets and tree frogs were suddenly mute. The night seemed somehow darker as the soft rustle of the grass and the wind in the leaves coaxed a pair of giant luminous green eyes from between the trees. Ken’s blood ran cold and he felt light headed. Slowly, a second creature, identical to but about twice the size of the injured one behind him, emerged from the shadows directly across the road from his disabled beamer. It moved with careful determination, barely making a sound in the forest night, confirming it’s status as an evolved nocturnal predator.
Ken dropped to his knees and hid behind the car. His heart pounded in his temples and his hand rested on his thighs where he felt something solid. He fumbled in his pocket and pulled his cell phone and 2 receipts free before finding his car keys. Warily, he stood back up and peered over the car. The creature was gone. He turned and looked behind him.
The larger creature was now tending to the injured smaller one, nuzzling and grooming it’s wounds with a giant black forked tongue. Short chirps and whimpers drifted through the dark air as mother creature cared for her child.
Ken fumbled with his keys and dropped them, tinkling into the thick ferns. ”Shit!” He bent down and began to rummage his fingers through the thick foliage. Suddenly, he felt warm air on his neck and that acrid smell from before. Before he could turn, giant, powerful jaws clamped around his torso, and bore down with unbelievable force. His head felt as if it would burst from the mounting pressure. He felt his ribs snap and the blinding burn of his flesh tearing beneath the black razor teeth of the beast. He was lifted above the car, sideways, his head slightly lower than his legs, which he could no longer feel as the pressure continued to increase to impossible levels. He felt gushes of warm blood running up his back and coursing along his neck and chin. His head swam – the pain was blinding and mounted to a crescendo of cracking bones and rending flesh followed by swirling blackness as he lost consciousness.
And then Ken was hovering above the entire scene. He could see his limp body in the creature’s massive jaws, like a rag doll, flopping as the creature began to thrash from side to side. After a few flicks, his body split in two, blood and entrails spilling onto the tarmac. But Ken felt at peace. There was no pain. In fact, no feeling at all. He looked down upon the creatures as they milled around the disabled vehicle. Far away, he could hear his wife’s shrill screams as the mother creature pried the car doors open with giant black claws.
A white light opened up above him, drenching the night in a glorious glow of salvation. It washed his floating spirit in joy and redemption and mitigated all earthly sounds and images, beckoning his weary soul to eternal bliss.
A feeling of unprecedented warmth and contentment flooded through Ken’s being. He grinned and dove headfirst into the light, delighted by the realization that he was finally free of his wife’s acrid tongue forever.
I have a recurring nightmare: I’m at a location that I know is haunted but only after a certain time – usually after midnight. The location varies, sometimes it’s an old victorian home, sometimes a townhouse or a bungalow. Sometimes it’s a familiar place, other times not. I’m with others, family and/or friends and everything is going just fine. There is conversation and friendly interaction which often centers around some sort of dinner party or family gathering..
As the haunting deadline grows near, everyone leaves and I am alone in the house. A clock usually chimes the hour and then I realize that I’m by myself and something very frightening is about to descend upon me. I try to get out of the house, but my legs feel as if they are made of lead. There’s usually some strange noises, apparitions and other creepy things swirling around me and I wake up, startled and uneasy. I always have the feeling that some sinister spirit has passed by and disturbed my sleep patterns, leaving me with a sense of deep trepidation and an awareness that something is or has been very close.
I’ve had the dream many times throughout my life and it always brings back the feelings and sensations I experienced growing up in my childhood home which was legitimately haunted (more on that in another series of blogs that I am working on).
I am not one to shy away from strange and creepy things. As a matter of fact I am oddly fascinated with them. So when I had the dream again the other night and awoke in my usual state of dread, I paid very close attention to my surroundings. It was 1:11 a.m. and there were no unusual sounds. My wife was sound asleep as was my daughter and our cat Sasha. I ran the dream back in my mind and tried to remember as many details as I could and this is what I was able to recall:
I live in an abandoned city with my family. Most of the buildings are in disrepair and unoccupied and there is debris strewn about everywhere. There are other residents living in nearby buildings, but they are few and far between. We are friendly with many of them and often pool our resources to survive. My wife, daughter and I have taken refuge in a small four story apartment complex. It has roughly forty different rooms and we’ve cut interconnecting entryways between them, creating a network of spaces which we can traverse at will.
During the day, we scavenge, trade and interact with our neighbors. After sundown, everyone barricades themselves inside until dawn. Night is when “they” come. It is usually after midnight and you can hear them approach. They shout orders in a language that none of us can understand over the din of their chainsaws. Most of the time they remain in the distance, but sometimes they come very, very close. They are bipedal humanoids that wear gray body armor and dark, round goggles – obscuring most of their faces. Their boots are loud on the pavement and they always travel in groups of a dozen or more. None of us are really sure if they are organic or synthetic. We’ve never gotten close enough to make that determination.
They command large insect-like creatures on leashes made of rusty chains. Roughly the size of german shepherds, these creatures are metallic gray and resemble crickets with the exception of their mandibles. Unlike crickets, these insects have rows of hideous fangs that drip with foul smelling saliva. They whir and screech and chatter like giant cicadas at the peak of mating – squeals more like metal on metal grinding than anything biological. Again, none of us are really sure if they are organic or synthetic. The creatures are held at bay on the chains while other humanoids chainsaw openings into the buildings, providing egress for the eager monsters that are then released to scour the structure for food. We are the food, or perhaps just sport to satisfy a bloodlust.
I’ve rigged our dwelling with booby traps to ensnare or slay the beasts, should they gain entry. I have a vault on the top floor near the rear of the building where I put my family while I man the traps, waiting for the inevitable. A clock strikes midnight and I can hear the chainsaws at the end of the block. I brace myself at the lever of the first trap – a great slab of concrete suspended over a second story doorway to the stairwell from the first floor. I wait, poised to pull the pin that releases the chain to send tons of crushing cement and re-bar down onto a slavering insect.
And then I wake up, just as the chainsaws are chewing into my building’s front door.
That morning, I ventured into the basement for a morning workout. As I entered the exercise area, I noticed that the TV over the bar on the other side of the room was on. I also noticed that an old clock that we had recently taken down from the wall upstairs and put on the floor in the basement was ticking. The pendulum was swinging back and forth – tick, tock, tick, tock. It’s the kind of clock that you wind up and start by giving the pendulum a nudge. I had stopped that pendulum the night before at my wife’s request. She hates that tick, tock sound. Somehow, it had begun on it’s own in the middle of the night. My question is: who or what nudged it back to life? I stopped it again and it has since been still.
I’ll be sure to check it again after my next nightmare.
Beware the forests of Pennsylvania. They’re dark but they’re watching you. You can feel the hairs on the back of your neck stand up on end because you know that something is waiting in the darkness between the trees. Watching and waiting for you to turn your back. Just for a moment…
Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the Night Gallery…
Rodman Edward Serling (“Rod”) was a writer, television producer and narrator, best known for taking us on a weekly journey to the wonderfully bizarre, sometimes dark (but always brilliant) place, called the Twilight Zone. It was a television show unlike most others of its time; censorship reigned throughout TV land, yet we find social commentary and moral criticism heavily woven into the science fiction and fantasy fabric of the Twilight Zone. A strong foundation of incredible stories (many of them written or adapted by Serling) and solid acting (from numerous soon-to-be-famous actors) combined to build a thought provoking and thoroughly entertaining series. Among the 156 episodes, those not to be missed: Nightmare at 20,000 Feet (crazy passenger William Shatner has an awful flight), Living Doll (Telly Savalas is a bad dad who hates his step-daughter’s new toy),It’s A Good Life (everyone must think good thoughts, ‘cause little Billy Mumy will be very upset if you don’t), The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street (Claude Akins and his suburban neighbors are whipped into a frenzy of paranoia), To Serve Man (Richard Kiel is 9-foot tall alien who says he’s on Earth to aid mankind), and, perhaps my favorite, Five Characters in Search of an Exit (a heartbreaking little slice of existentialism). The series (which ran from 1959 – 1964) has more than stood the test of time – many of it’s messages are still just as relevant today, and the twist endings still just as impactful – it is quite simply one of the best TV shows ever.
Then, there was – Night Gallery. Serling’s next project found him leaning away from sci-fi and more towards horror, and, the series may have missed the mark more often than not. Regardless, as a kid, I fully embraced it. My preadolescent brain thought this was one of the best things to ever happen to TV. The music and images of the opening credits alone did (and still does) scare the bejesus out of me (and, call me finicky, but I prefer my bejesus deep inside of me, thank you very much). When I would hear the opening notes of that twisted tune, the tone was set – I knew that I was in for a delightfully disturbing hour of horror. Seen recently thru adult eyes, I’ll say that Night Gallery perhaps hasn’t aged quite as well as the Twilight Zone, but between spying long gone actors and chuckling over hairstyles and fashions of the day (1970-1973), there’s a wonderful nostalgia trip to be had in watching almost any of the episodes. That being said, the show does indeed have moments of true creepiness. In fact, some episodes were quite effective: The Sins of the Fathers (famine forces a boy, Richard Thomas, to become a sin-eater), The Caterpillar (put it in your ear and it eats through your brain!), and perhaps my favorite – The Flip-Side of Satan. It’s a bit goofy (it does star Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In’s Arte Johnson after all), but the story of a late night dj working alone at an isolated radio station has a moment that still freaks me out – the sound of the demonic incantations from the mysterious record he plays continue to haunt me (it’s just as spooky as the opening title score!).
Rod had a productive career – ranging from radio to TV to film (he co-wrote the screenplay for the original Planet of the Apes movie). He was the winner of multiple awards (including 6 Emmys) – and thanks to his talent and success (and partly through his many censorship battles and various network struggles), he actually helped to form some of televisions industry standards.
Friday, June 28, 2013 marks 38 years since Rod Serlings’ passing. He died of a heart attack at age 50. As Rod said in the Twilight Zone Ring-a-Ding Girl episode: “We are all travellers. The trip starts in a place called birth – and ends in that lonely town called death. And that’s the end of the journey, unless you happen to exist for a few hours in the misty regions of the Twilight Zone…”
Phoebe Mason always had trouble sleeping. She was only a little girl, and, as was natural for little girls, she was prone to the nightmares that shook her from sleep in a 3 A.M. panic, leaving her defenseless in darkness, half-drowned in an ocean of sheets and sweat and tears. Even from infancy, she could scarcely get a wink without jolting upright and dropping open her mouth to scream for mommy.
To her father’s chagrin, she often demanded that her mother sleep with her so that she didn’t have to be alone. Every night for years, Phoebe’s mother spent the night with her, lulling her to sleep with sweet dreams in mind or soothing her when the nightmares shook her awake. But when Phoebe turned five, her father decided enough was enough.
“You’d think the kid would be able to make it through one night by now,” he had grumbled, walking past Phoebe’s bedroom, only to find her snuggled up with her mom.
Mrs. Mason was a patient woman, but her husband was right; it was time Phoebe learned to sleep on her own. As soon as Phoebe fell asleep that night, her mother slipped away, and the little girl was alone in the dark for the first time.
The Masons had moved into the house on Danby Drive only a few months before their daughter Phoebe was born. The house had not been lived in for years, and the last family before them had left suddenly. Mr. Mason had heard that they moved away because their young son went missing, but he thought it was unnecessary to mention it to his wife. Mrs. Mason, though patient and compassionate, had too many nervous tendencies, and to hear that a child went missing in this area would only worry her. Besides, it had been over a decade ago, and there were no such records since.
The first night Phoebe slept alone was the first night of anything unusual happening. She woke not from a nightmare but from the sound of something scratching from below. She did not jolt upright or gasp in terror. She didn’t even cry. She simply opened her eyes and stared at the ceiling, listening close to the scraping beneath her bed.
A muffled voice broke through the silence, and it wasn’t Phoebe’s.
“Hello?” it said. It sounded to Phoebe like a little boy.
“Hello?” Phoebe whispered back.
“Who are you?” it asked, after a pause.
“Who are you?” Phoebe retorted.
“Marcus,” said the voice cheerily.
“I’m Phoebe. Are you real?”
“I think so. I feel real. Are you real?”
“Yes! Of course I am! Where are you?”
“I’m in the floor,” said Marcus.
When Phoebe took too long to reply, he changed the topic: “Do you want to be best friends?”
“Okay,” said Phoebe, and thus began a most peculiar friendship between a little girl and the invisible boy that lives under her bed.
The next night, Phoebe insisted that she sleep alone, and this continued for several days. Mr. Mason was happier than he had ever been, particularly in the last five years, and Mrs. Mason, though she missed her bonding night times with her daughter, was relieved that the little girl was finally starting to develop a sense of independence. There were no concerns until both of the Mason parents woke in the middle of the night to the sound of their daughter’s violent laughter.
Mrs. Mason rushed into the bedroom to find Phoebe giggling to herself, hands covering her rosy cheeks in an attempt to stifle the noise.
“What’s so funny?” asked Mrs. Mason, trying and failing to feign happiness through her exhaustion.
“My friend is telling jokes,” Phoebe replied, still giggling a little.
Mrs. Mason glanced around for a phone or a walkie-talkie, finding nothing of the sort. “Your friend? What friend?”
“Marcus. He lives under my bed.”
A sudden look of understanding passed over Mrs. Mason’s face, and this time her smile was genuine. “Marcus?” she asked, and she bent over to peer under the bed. “Ah, very nice! Hello, Marcus!” her comment was directed at the dust bunnies, for she saw nothing unusual under the little girl’s bed.
“He’s not there, mommy,” Phoebe whined. “He’s all the way under the floor.”
“Ah, I see. So then what does he look like?”
Phoebe shrugged. Then she crossed her arms and pouted. “Mommy, go away. Marcus won’t talk with you around.”
“Of course not. But doesn’t Marcus know it’s bedtime?”
“Tell Marcus he should sleep, too. His mommy and daddy probably want him to go to bed as much as your mommy and daddy do.”
“But mom-my! Marcus doesn’t have a mommy and a daddy. He said they left him here a long time ago, so he doesn’t have to do what they want.”
“Well, then I’ll be his new mommy, and I want him to go to sleep. You sleep well now, all right, Phoebe, baby?”
Phoebe uncrossed her arms, placed them at her sides, and sighed deeply. “Okay, mommy.”
“I love you.”
“I love you too.”
Mrs. Mason left, shutting the door behind her, leaving Phoebe in the dark with her “imaginary friend.” A few moments of total silence passed, in which there was no scratching, no wind-blowing, no laughing, no jokes. In those moments, Phoebe was afraid that her mother had broken some spell by finding out about her friend, and now he must be gone forever. Or worse, Phoebe had ruined her own imagination by revealing it. She would have cried if Marcus hadn’t spoken up.
“Your mommy sounds nice,” he said. “She’s gonna be my mommy.”
He began scratching again, a quiet, persistent pattern of fingernails running against rough wood.
“She’s a nice mommy,” Phoebe concurred. “But I like talking to you better.”
“Someday you should help me up so she can be my mommy.” He scratched harder, the grainy sound of friction growing stronger.
Phoebe thought about this. “But I like it this way.”
“I don’t. I want her to be my mommy. Can you help me up?” Marcus was scratching madly now, hard and sharp against the wood, and the noise thundered through Phoebe’s ears until she could scarcely breathe.
Mrs. Mason couldn’t fall asleep that night. Instead, she lay completely and totally awake, scanning the ceiling, biting her fingernails. Something about that conversation had struck her oddly, and it was nagging at her.
At around 2:30 A.M., she could no longer contain herself, so she woke her husband by shaking his shoulder rather aggressively.
“What? What is it? What do you want?” asked Mr. Mason dazedly, still half-asleep.
“This house. Who lived here before us?”
“It was empty.”
“Come on, Jim. It’s an old house. Someone must’ve lived here.”
“Uh… I don’t know, twenty years ago some people lived here.”
“Why did they leave?”
“I didn’t want to tell you.”
“What is it? What happened here?”
“Their kid went missing. He was Phoebe’s age.”
Mrs. Mason had a sudden pounding of her heart, a sudden nagging feeling in her chest. Her head throbbed with every quickening step toward her daughter’s room. When she got there, she threw the door open and turned on the light only to find that the bed had been pushed against the wall crookedly, blankets strewn everywhere, and Phoebe was sitting on the floor clawing ravenously at the floorboards. There were tears in her eyes, and her fingernails bled, leaving crimson streaks on the wooden floors, but there was unbridled glee in her voice while she giggled to herself madly.
“What’s wrong, Phoebe? What’s going on?” Mrs. Mason repeated shrilly, trying to pull her daughter away from a slightly darkened spot on the floor. “You stop that! Stop this right now!”
But Phoebe was persistent, and the wood chipped away under her nails, creating little holes and crevasses in the floor. Only darkness lay beneath them, but it was an open darkness, like the space underneath a porch, filled with a vast and empty sort of black.
Mrs. Mason dragged Phoebe away but crawled closer to the spot. Gingerly, she dug her fingernails into the wood and pulled, scraping away at it. One of the boards was just faintly the wrong shape; its edges peeled in some places, leaving narrow gaps in others. It was wrong for the house, like it had never meant to be there. That was the one Phoebe had dug at, and eventually Mrs. Mason pulled the board loose. She instinctively brought her arm up to cover her face when she saw what lay below.
There lay the missing child.
There lay the body of a boy abandoned, ignored, forgotten.
A little corpse, a little mummified boy with empty, hollowed eyes, all blackened by time and rot, lying in the space below. He was covered in spider webs and dust and dead flies and everything that had ever made Mrs. Mason want to vomit. And he almost seemed alive, for his hands were facing upward, his fingernails were rubbed raw, and the petrified skin was embedded with wooden splinters that looked far too fresh.