Santa’s Little Helpers

Santa's Little Helpers

Santa’s Little Helpers

“Daddy, what’s with all the weird Santas?” said my daughter Alexandra, pointing to the hand-carved and painted wooden figurines staring back from the shelves, end tables, book cases and countertops.

Nearly every surface of our first floor was populated with little Santas. Short, tall, fat, thin, every size and shape imaginable, from four or five inches to a foot or two tall. Each one had a distinct personality. Some looked suspicious or paranoid, while others appeared blissfully silly. There was a Mr. and Mrs. Santa, locked in an embrace, eyes leering affectionately at one another. Some had their eyes shut, some frowned, some smiled and some were even laughing. Each one was as unique as a snowflake, different yet all part of one giant wooden family of miniature Christmas figurines.

“Well,” I said, “Your grandpa carved them just for you, right before he passed away. We like to call them Santa’s little helpers.”

“But I never met him.” said my daughter.

“That’s right. He passed the same year you were born. On Christmas eve, six years ago today.” I paused and looked around at the little faces.

“He made so many. How long did it take?” said Alexandra.

“I think it was a couple of months. Grandma said he locked himself up in his workshop for weeks and weeks, carving and painting. He wasn’t feeling well, so it helped distract him from being sick. When he was done, he packed them up in boxes with your name stenciled across them. He made Grandma promise that you’d get the Santas. He said he made them especially for you. He said he made them so they could watch over you and protect you.”

“Sometimes I think they’re a little scary.” said Alexandra, rubbing her eyes.

“No, they’re just a little funky, that’s all.” No sooner had I finished those words when the lights flickered.

“What was that?” said Alexandra.

“It’s just the ice storm outside. The weatherman said it could cause power outages.” I listened as the sleet and rain battered the windows and siding, clicking and clacking, like popcorn popping all around the exterior of the house. The storm had been raging since sundown and the world outside was now encased in an inch of ice. The smaller trees were bowed with the extra weight, some bending to the ground, some breaking or losing limbs to the glossy glaze, often dragging power lines on their way down.

”Don’t worry, we’ve got the candles and flashlights ready. It’ll be just like camping!” I said.

“I’m not really crazy about camping.” said Alexandra. “Last time I got poison ivory.”

“You mean poison ivy.” I corrected.

“Are they magic?” she said, pointing to the Santas.

“Well, grandpa said they were. He told me they were filled with a special protection spell for his only granddaughter.”

“But what if the magic wears off? There doesn’t seem to be much magic around anymore. Not like in the old days.” said Alexandra.

“I think we just have different magic now. Magic from technology. Folks in the old days didn’t have technology, so they used other magic. Magic from nature and the spirit.”

“I don’t think they’re actually magic. They’ve never said anything or moved or anything. I think the magic has worn off.”

“Well, you have the right to believe anything you like, but let me tell you a special story that I was saving for when you got a little older. I guess tonight is as good a time as any to tell you, since it’s Christmas eve and all.”

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“Is it scary?” said Alexandra, moving closer.

“No, not really, but it could have been, if it not for those Santas.” I said, pointing to the little carved Saint Nicks. “Let’s see, it was February and you were just one month old. A late winter storm had dropped about an inch of snow on the ground and your mom and I were finally able to get you to sleep. You didn’t like to sleep when you were a baby. I always felt it was because you were nosey and never wanted to miss any action, no matter how small or dull. Anyway, we had taken down all the Christmas decorations except for the Santas. I think we wanted to keep grandpa in our thoughts a little while longer, so we left all those tiny guys lounge around the house.”

The lights flickered again and the wind howled outside. Lexi drew closer.

“Keep going, dad. It’s just the icicle storm.” she said.

“Okay, where was I. Oh yeah, this was back when we lived in a townhouse in the city. We had a tiny little front yard with a tall, skinny maple tree and a little blue birdbath. Nothing like the big yard we have now, with that giant oak tree outside your window. It wasn’t a bad home, but the neighborhood was not always the safest place. Especially for a little baby girl like you.”

“I don’t remember that house.” said Alexandra.

“No, we didn’t stay there very long. Anyway, Mom and I went to bed and were sleeping for a while when we heard a terrible smash downstairs. I got up and grabbed the baseball bat next to the bed and your mom dialed 911. I could hear someone, a man, shouting outside. I rushed to your room and saw snowy footprints on the carpet just outside your bedroom door. My heart pounded with fear. I opened the door and your were fast asleep. I closed the door quietly and followed the footprints down the stairs. The living room looked like there had been a big struggle. One of the windows was broken and the curtains were torn down. There was broken glass and furniture tossed all around. The Santas were scattered about the living room floor and our TV was in the middle of the room, somehow undamaged. I made my way down the stairs and noticed that the front door was wide open. Carefully, bat in hand, I walked across the disheveled room and out the front door.

What I saw was confounding. A young man was tied to the Maple tree. His hands were bound behind him and his feet and torso were lashed to the trunk of the tree with twine. He was gagged with a napkin from our table, but I could still hear his muffled shouts. He thrashed wildly about, but the twine held tight. I just stood and stared for a moment, unable to make sense of what I saw before me.

“What did you do? Who tied him up?” asked Alexandra.

“Well, the police showed up and they arrested the man. When they removed the gag from his mouth he shouted “Santas! Them Santas got me! It was them Santas!” over and over again as they took him away. The police said he was hallucinating. They said he had taken all sorts of bad drugs and it made him see things that weren’t there. And while that may be true, there was one thing that no one could ever explain.

“What was that, daddy? What couldn’t they explain?” said Alexandra.

“All those little footprints out in the snow of the yard. They were all around the tree to which the burglar had been tied.

“It was the Santas!” said Alexandra. And then she smiled and cocked her head to one side. “That’s just another one of your stories, daddy. None of that is true, is it?”

“Well, you never know. There’s lots of strange things in this world that people can’t explain.” I said, smiling. Just then the lights went out. I grabbed a flashlight and flicked it on. My daughter hugged my arm. I could hear my wife upstairs, fumbling for her flashlight and mumbling.

“That story scared me!” said Alexandra. “Now I’m afraid to go to sleep! Tell me it’s not a real story, daddy. Tell the truth!”

My wife came down the stairs to the living room. “I almost got it all done. Stupid ice storm.”

“Daddy scared me!” said Alexandra, as she left my side and clung to her mother.

“Ok, ok. You got me. I was just pulling your leg. That story is totally made up.” I said as the lights flickered back on.

“Seriously. On Christmas eve? You’re gonna go put her to bed and undo what you’ve done! Come on sweetie. Daddy was only fooling. You’d better get to bed before Santa gets here. Remember, if he sees you’re awake, no presents!” said my wife.

“Yeah, you’d better get your little butt in that bed right now!” I said and scooped my daughter up into my arms. She giggled as I carried her up the stairs to her room. I told three more happy christmas stories, one about a bunny that was half kitten named “Bitten” and one about a rabbit that was half cat called “Rabbicat”. I finished it all off with a tale of silly bedtime nonsense courtesy of the “Bed Hogs” – a family of swine who want ALL of the bed.

With my daughter finally asleep, I helped my wife finish wrapping the presents. We piled them beneath the tree, set out the milk and cookies and the carrot for the reindeer, and had a glass of wine. We sat in the quite, listening to the storm fling ice at our windows.

“I hate ice storms.” said my wife. “I always worry about that big oak tree outside her room. That one branch goes right over top.”

“It’ll be OK. I said. I think it may be slowing down a bit.” I said. “I am wiped out. I think I’m ready to hit the sack.”

“Me too. I can’t believe you told her that story on Christmas eve! That whole thing STILL creeps me out when I think close that wacko was to her room. He was a murderer. A wanted murderer was in our house!”

“I know. I still get that weird feeling every time I open her door when she’s asleep. I’m takes me right back to that night.” I said. “And his face when they took him away. His eyes were really freaky, remember how he stared at us in court?. What was his name again?”

“Raymond Rankaler.” said my wife with a shudder. “I’ll never forget that name. He killed that family up in Carbondale, just for kicks. He was a real psychopath.”

We fell asleep quickly and the storm intensified. Just after midnight, however, we were awakened by a sudden massive impact to the house. It was as if a giant had karate chopped our roof. I jumped from the bed and ran to my daughter’s room. My heart seemed to drop to my feet as I threw open her bedroom door. A blast of ice, sleet and cold air stung my cheeks as I stared. A giant oak branch had torn loose from the trunk of the great tree outside and sliced through the roof of my daughter’s room. I could hear her crying from beneath her covers, so I knew she was alive. That she was un-touched by the mighty wooden arm was miraculous enough, yet it was the manner in which she had been spared that dropped me to my knees. I knelt down and pulled my sobbing six-year-old daughter from beneath her sleet and rain soaked covers. I brushed the bark and ice from her face and held her tightly in my arms.

“You’re OK, you’re ok, sweetie.” I whispered and checked her ams and legs for injury, but found nothing out of kilter.

After a moment, she stopped crying and looked up at me. A smile spread across her face and she pointed to the floor around her bed.

“Daddy, look! The Santas saved me again!”

She had seen what I had upon entering. The little wooden Santas had amassed themselves into a ring around her bed, arranged and piled into a barrier that was just high enough to prevent the giant icy bough from crushing grandpa’s only granddaughter.

Merry Christmas, and thank you again, Santa’s little helpers.

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Tales from the Boschard – Chapter 2: The Hooligritz

Skull Stick

The Hex of the Hooligritz

I stared at it and it seemed to stare back, peering into my soul, listening to my thoughts. Deep, hollow eye sockets regarded me with cold intelligence.  The polished ebony stained wood, the hand carved teeth and the deathly grin generated a sinister aura around the black wooden walking stick with the skull handle, propped upright against the door to the shed.  It loomed like an evil sundial, casting a long shadow in the low morning sun.  My breath flowed and swirled, floating for a moment before evaporating –  white wispy fingers of steam in the crisp Pocono mountain air. I rubbed my bare arms to keep warm.  It was late September and the nights often dipped below forty degrees, leaving the grass and leaves wet with dew by dawn. Uncle Charlie stood next to me, his chest heaving slightly.  Beads of sweat glinted from his forehead, in defiance of the cool air.  His eyes darted from the skull stick to the nearby forest.  He pulled a red handkerchief from his back pocket and mopped his head, flattening strands of jet black hair against his pink scalp. Wide blue suspenders kept his trousers snug beneath his enormous round stomach – all held captive by a white t-shirt.

“What is it, Uncle Charlie?”  I asked.

His eyes darted back and forth.  “It’s bad. Gerald, very bad,” my uncle said as he bent down to get a closer look.

There were three leaves tied with delicate vines just under the jaw, one brown, one red and one gold.  A strange symbol was carved on the top of the skull.  It looked like the hex signs that decorated nearby barns.  But it was different, more angular, with small letters from some language I couldn’t identify.

I had never seen my uncle in such a state.  His fingers trembled slightly as he tucked his handkerchief back into his pocket.  He coughed and put his hands on his hips, dark eyes dancing about like twitchy flies searching for a landing spot.  It was Saturday, the first day of my weekend with him.  Just Uncle Charlie and me, fishing, chopping, sawing and stacking wood, playing cards, watching TV – a weekend treat that I enjoyed every September since I was seven.  I was eleven now, and a stark uneasiness began slither up my spine, like a vine, spreading its tendrils upward to my brain.

“Is it a hex?”  I asked and reached to touch the stick.

“Gerald, don’t touch it!”  Uncle Charlie grabbed my arm and jerked me backwards.  I stumbled, shocked.  Uncle Charlie had never shown an ounce of hostility toward me.  He was always as happy as a rooster in the morning, and just as loud, but in a jolly manner.   He was part Cherokee and his Native American genetics bubbled through an ever-smiling face, strong cheekbones and squinting, corner-wrinkled black eyes that twinkled with kindness and good nature.  He sported a textbook beer belly, but never touched alcohol.  His girth came from an unbridled love of Pennsylvania Dutch cooking.  I had seen him eat two corn pies, a cheesesteak, three hot dogs, and half of a shoe fly pie just for lunch.  He usually washed it all down with a couple of bottles of my grandfather’s home made birch beer.   But all that good-nature seemed to have been spirited away with the arrival of the skull stick.  His grip on my arm still ached long after he had released and my apprehension blossomed into fresh fear.

Uncle Charlie spat and rubbed the scars on his crooked right arm.  My eyes lingered for a moment on his forearm which ran straight from the elbow to about midway to the wrist where it took a thirty-degree jog and then zig-zagged straight again.  Two years ago, he had been working with a mortar mixer, a big blue one with paddles that mixes the mortar to perfect consistency.  One of the paddles got stuck so my uncle reached in to un-jam it without turning off the power.  The mixer resumed and a paddle caught Uncle Charlie’s arm.  It broke it in 3 places and nearly tore it off.  The surgeons did the best they could, but it still looked like something Dr. Frankenstein had re-assembled from spare parts.  Luckily, Uncle Charlie had the use of his arm, however his hand had lost a good deal of strength and dexterity from the damage.  His dauntless spirit just switched gears and re-trained his left arm to do most of the work, leaving his right arm to less difficult chores.

I was with him on the day of the accident. The memory of his agony, his mangled and twisted arm and the merciless power of that machine had a particular effect upon me.  I suppose the trauma gave rise to a fear of mechanical devices.  I was unable to use or even approach nearly any type of power equipment after that day.  Drills, leaf blowers, even lawn mowers terrified me.  I refused to get within ten feet of anything with a motor or spinning blades or gears.  I harbored a particular phobia regarding the old red chainsaw that Uncle Charlie used for fall clean-up and found myself shying away from the roar of its loud engine.  I would take shelter behind the shed or a large tree trunk until he he was finished cutting.  I wasn’t quite old enough or strong enough to handle that dangerous tool anyway, so my uncle was content with my wood-stacking and raking duties, though he often teased me about my aversion, kidding that the chainsaw was going to get me in my sleep.

“It’s a dark pow-wow.” Uncle Charlie mumbled.  I stepped back.  I knew about pow-wow.  My Nana would invoke the ancient Pennsylvania Dutch ritual whenever we were sick.  I remembered something about the sixth and seventh books of Moses called “The Lost Friend.”  It was rumored to have been filled with practical prayers and remedies, incantations to cure illnesses and perform general healing.  I had never heard any mention of “dark” pow-wow.

“What’s dark pow-wow?” I asked.

My uncle frowned. “Somebody wants to put a hex on me.  And them leaves is callin’ the Hooligritz.  Probably that hooftie Eline.  He still blames me for swampin’ his goddamn boat, that son-of-a-bitch!”

Uncle Charlie’s Pennsylvania Dutch accent usually invaded his speech whenever he was truly upset.  I generally knew enough words to follow along.  For instance, I knew that a “hooftie” was a derogatory term for an uneducated country bumpkin.

“Hooligritz?”  I queried and looked deep into the forest.  There were thick trees and foliage as far as the eye could see, with a fresh carpet of orange, brown and gold leaves betraying the approach of autumn.

“Yeah, the beast of the woods.  We gotta get ready to keep him away when it gets dark.”

Hooligritz? my brain was on fire.  Something coming? At night?  A beast?  Now I started to sweat.  “Uncle Charlie?  What is the Hooligritz?”

“We only got about ten hours of daylight to get ready.  I’m gonna need your help.”  Uncle Charlie grabbed my arm hard again. “This is very serious stuff, now.  You gotta really pitch in and help me, OK? And do everything I tell ya, right?”  He let go of my arm and ducked into the shed. A moment later he emerged with a burlap bag, tied shut with a small length of rope.

I nodded and we hopped into his Jeep Cherokee Chief, a 1974 model with wood panel sides and a crank on the back to open and close the big tailgate window.  He tossed the burlap sack onto the back seat and dug through his pocket for the car keys.

The inside of the vehicle smelled like old cheese and smoke.  A pair of handcuffs dangled from the emergency brake handle beneath the dashboard, a glinting testament to Uncle Charlie’s secondary duties as Constable.  His first passion was as chief of the local volunteer fire department.  His reputation for valor in the face of flames was legendary. He winked at me as he reached up on the dashboard and grabbed the emergency light.  With a loud magnetic “thunk” he slapped it onto the roof and hit the button labeled siren.  Stones flew in all directions, churned from the spinning tires as we roared down the bumpy mountain road.

“This here counts as an emergency.”  he said, eyes fixed on the winding gravel path ahead.  “We gotta get some special stuff before dark.”

In a flurry of dust and stones, we hit the blacktop of Route 6, tires shrieking in tune with the wail of the siren.  We wound along for a few miles, and then made a sharp left exit onto a tiny backwoods road that twisted through Dekkar’s Hollow, a natural preserve maintained by the Pennsylvania State Fish and Game Commission.

Dekkar’s, as we called it, was one of my favorite places on Earth.  It was a boggy, wooded basin for a slow trout stream that wound lazily between the mountains.  Beavers had dammed it in places, creating serene pools that served as natural labs to a variety of zoological wonders.  It was an endless supply of newts and efts, tiger frogs, snakes, turtles, stick bugs and all manner of things which young boys find fascinating.  I remember relentlessly nagging my grandfather to drive me there nearly every waking hour during my summer visits.  Most of the hollow was designated as state protected game lands, home to wild turkey, deer, bobcats and even black bears.  Thick vegetation formed a curtain of quiet sanctuary around the bog and it was often nearly impenetrable.  There were old wooden bridges, cascading waterfalls, and even quicksand in some areas, all of which added up to adventure of the highest order.

I gazed out the window as we sped along the narrow two-lane road.  My eyes searched the landscape that whizzed by, scanning the mammoth limestone rocks that skirted the shoulder, their gray stoney faces bearded with green moss, ferns and lichens, dripping with dew and spring water, mouths open, revealing dark caverns of intrigue.  We called them bear caves, and imagined families of the black beasts bedding there for the night.

“Where are we going Uncle Charlie?” I asked, staring at the side of his face.  The skin on his cheek looked like worn leather, ruddy and criss-crossed with wrinkles.  Sweat zig-zagged its way from beneath his scalp and ran along the crevasses, changing direction as it found its way down his face.

“The witch’s house.”  Uncle Charlie glanced at me from the corner of his eye and switched off the siren.

“What?”  My body shuddered and my blood turned cold.  “No!  I don’t want to go!”  I shook my head in protest, feeling a little dizzy and nauseous.  “Uncle Charlie, please!”  I pleaded and my mind raced in a frenzy of panic.  Were we really going to visit that place, the witch’s house?

My fear was born at the far end of the hollow, where the great gorge of the Lackawaxan river formed the boundary to the state game lands.  A two-hundred foot canyon carved into the gray limestone by the rushing water, the gorge was a favorite fishing spot for my uncle and me.  The witch lived at the far end of a clearing, just before an old railroad trestle that led to the gorge.  Of course, as kids, we had dubbed the house “the witch’s house” because it looked like the kind of place where a witch would live – clapboard siding with peeling paint, a roof in need of repair and vines and moss decorating the walls, a rickety porch with rotted timbers and an old rocking chair positioned just ahead of the ever-gaping front door.  For a time, my sisters, cousins and I were satisfied that it was just an abandoned shack, with an imaginary witch owner, until one day, as we drove by, we spied the old lady who actually lived there, sitting in that chair on the porch, long raven tresses streaked with white, black eyes sunk deep into her weathered skin like two lumps of coal pushed into a leather glove, wearing a tattered black dress from the last century. I swear she was even smoking a pipe!  It was dusk when we caught that first glimpse many years ago, which further shrouded the event in magical trepidation.

“Naah, don’t be scared.  She ain’t no witch like you guys believe.  She just knows pow-wow.”  Uncle Charlie kept his eyes on the road as we wound along the wild twists and turns.  “Betty’s a real nice lady, you’ll see.”

Betty?  Did he say Betty?  I swallowed hard as we rounded a tight turn.  The trees surrendered to a grassy field, dotted with scrubby pine trees and swimming in ferns and mountain laurel.  Uncle Charlie slowed down as we approached the house.  It was set back about 50 yards from the road at the end of a gravel driveway.  It still looked abandoned, with moss and vines weaving along the surface, diving in and out of holes in the walls and eaves.   The front door grinned open as usual, a black portal to the inner-sanctum.  My heart was pounding as we pulled up next to the porch.  A slight breeze stirred the rocking chair, creaking it back and forth on the rotten porch floor.

“She ain’t gonna hurt ya!”  Uncle Charlie said as he grabbed the sack from the back seat and pulled me along behind him.  We ascended the porch stairs and the ancient wood groaned beneath our feet with each step.

I smelled chicken and cabbage and heard a strange melody from inside the house.  As we passed the rocking chair and crossed the threshold, I could hear more clearly and realized that it was an old woman’s voice, lilting a melody as if sung through vocal chords of burlap and clay, raspy and growling, yet somehow pleasant.  It was something I recognized from church, a hymn, perhaps, but in German.

It took my eyes several seconds to adjust to the dark interior.  There was an oval rug in the middle of the room, with a couch and two chairs in a semi-circle around one side, all facing an enormous stone fireplace at the back of the house.  The mantle was a thick piece of oak and the stones of the fireplace were singed black around the mouth of the hearth.  A low fire glowed beneath a large cast-iron pot suspended by a chain from a hook that was anchored in the top of the masonry.  The smell of cabbage filled the room and seemed to originate from that great black cauldron.  An old woman stood with her back to the door, preparing vegetables and a chicken on the stone counter in the corner of the room.  Her hair was long and jet black with silver-white streaks.  It swayed well past her shoulders and slithered midway down her back in a tangled cascade.

“Charles.” said the woman without turning around.  She tilted her head back and sniffed the air.  “And you’ve got the younger Brunner child with you.”

My heart was pounding as the old woman turned around.  She smiled, baring mostly gums with a few irregular teeth sprouting at various angles.

“Aaah, little Gerald!  You look like a healthy fellow!”  She pointed her boney finger toward me and tilted her head to one side.  “Last time I saw you, you wasn’t doin’ so well.  Your dad brought you here when you was chust a baby.”  She nodded and looked up, remembering.  “You had impetigo.  But ole Betty fixed you up, real good!  Now look at you!  A fine fellow, alright!.  He don’t remember, he was so little!”

“Naw, he don’t remember none of that.”  said Uncle Charlie.  “Betty, I need your help.  Eline put the Hoolagritz on me.”

Uncle Charlie and Betty began speaking in Pennsylvania Dutch and German, most of which I couldn’t follow, so my attention shifted to the room in which I stood.  There were all kinds of jars with mysterious contents of every color imaginable.  Old magazines and books were abundant, but all neatly placed on shelves and in cabinets.  The neatness and absolute cleanliness of the interior was striking, given the relatively shabby, rundown nature of the exterior.

“You’re in for a rough night, all right.”  said Betty, gathering several jars from a shelf above the sink.  “Here, this is bloshter for the thresholds, doors and windows.”  She held out a small mason jar filled with an orange-crimson colored jelly-like substance.  “Smear it across every one of them in the cabin.  Then make a circle in the middle of the room and wait inside of it.  This won’t stop it alltogether, but it’ll slow it down chust long enough.”  She held up a small jar of yellow powder.  “Mix this pulvertranken mit some hot water.  Put two tablespoons in a cup and drink it after sundown.   And this last one is the difficult one.”  She paused and handed Uncle Charlie a bag of what looked like purple and grey dried barley, clumped into fluffy tufts that resembled the insulation commonly blown into attics.  “This is the gashenk, the offering that it must devour.  You MUST feed it from your own hand and you MUST repeat these words while feeding:  Vater, sohn und heiliger geist.  Do you understand?  Keep repeating until it finishes and goes back to the woods or until the sun come up, whichever happens first.”

“Jesus Christ, my own hand?”  Uncle Charlie looked pale as he stuffed the potions into his burlap sack.

“If I was you, I wouldn’t be using the Lord’s name in vain right now, Charles.  You gotta show no fear and hold your hand real steady and let it eat until it’s had enough.  The bloshter will give it pause at the thresholds and outside the circle and the pulvertranken and the words will protect you as long as you stay steady and calm.  Wait for it to break the circle, then slowly, very slowly feed it the gashenk.  And remember, slow, NO SUDDEN MOVEMENTS! Just make it to daybreak and you’ll be OK.  It can only be called for one night, and only once in someone’s lifetime.”

Uncle Charlie’s hand trembled as he cinched the bag shut.  “I’m not sure…”

“You gotta be sure.”  Betty said.  “That’s the one thing you gotta be tonight.  And not chust for you, but for young Gerald’s sake too.  Dat beast has been sent for you, Charles, but sometimes they get confused when things don’t go right.”

Then Betty lowered here eyes, clasped her hands together and mumbled something in German.  “All right naw, you best be headin’ back before dusk.”  Betty’s bony hand grabbed my arm.  Her strength was surprising.  “And you help your uncle, junge mensch.  Do as he says tonight!  It’s very, very important!”

She followed us halfway down the front porch as we walked to the car.

“Merken sie, vater, sohn un heiliger geist!” Betty repeated, hands cupped around her mouth, shouting above the din of the Jeep as it roared away on the gravel driveway.

My uncle drove the entire way back to the cabin in silence. I had a vague disconnected hope that I might wake up and realize this was just a bad dream.  But I knew better.  I could still feel Betty’s grip on my arm and my clothes smelled of cabbage.  I don’t ever remember smelling anything in a dream.

Back at the cabin we immediately began smearing the thresholds with the bloshter.  It smelled terrible, like rotten wood, old soap and fetid swamp scum.  I held my nose but smeared gobs of it across every doorway and window.  Luckily, the cabin was small.  It had 2 bedrooms, a living area connected to a tiny kitchen and a bathroom.  There were only two doors, one at the front and one at the back and half a dozen windows so we were done in less than ten minutes.  Finally, we rolled the carpet up in the living room and painted a circle in the middle, just big enough to hold me and Uncle Charlie and a card table.

“Uncle Charlie?”  I said, quietly. “I’m really scared.”

“Now don’t you worry, little guy.  Chust stay behind me keep your eyes shut if you have to. It’s almost dusk, so help me get the drink ready.  Here, hold the Gashenk.”  He handed me the bag.

Uncle Charlie filled a big, tin camping kettle with water and lit a burner on the stove.  I stared out the window into the forest.  The sun was dropping behind the trees, sending golden fingers of sunshine between the branches.  I wished that I could hold the sun up to keep it from plunging into night, but I knew I had no such magic.  I was powerless to halt the approaching darkness.

Uncle Charlie grabbed two chairs from the kitchen and a small card table and flashlight from the closet.  He took three candles from the bathroom and placed them inside the circle.  He set a large thermos full of coffee next to the candles and then hurried to the porch.  He returned moments later with his fireman’s axe and leaned it against the table, within easy reach.    After a minute, the kettle began to boil and Uncle Charlie poured some steaming water into two big, gray ceramic mugs.  He pulled the pulvertranken from the sack and carefully measured two tablespoons of the yellow powder into each mug.  He mixed them with a spoon and set them on the table inside the circle.  We sat down and waited for the sun to disappear.

“Here we go,” my uncle whispered as darkness spread through the forest.  He lit the candles  and we drank the concoction.  It was pleasant at first, like tea, with a slight bitterness.  But by the third gulp, it started to burn, like liquid fire roaring down my throat.  I gasped.

“Keep going, I know it burns but you gotta drink all of it down!”  Uncle Charlie said as he tipped my mug back to my lips.  “Whoo hooo!  That is hot stuff!  But not as bad as the last batch of horseradish I made!” said Uncle Charlie.

I felt woozy.  My face was hot and my head felt like it was inflating.  I thought it was going to burst.  I closed my eyes, swallowed hard and just like that it subsided.  In fact, I felt a soothing, cooling sensation spread throughout my mouth and throat.

“Wow!”  I gasped.  “That is some weird stuff!  Why did I have to drink it?  I thought it was only for you, anyway?”

“Well, I thought better safe than sorry.  Just in case the Hooligritz gets confused.  I thought a little insurance in your system couldn’t hurt.”  Uncle Charlie chuckled and slapped me on the back.

“Now what?”  I said and looked out the back door.  It was a full moon, and the forest was awash in dim silvery-blue light.  I could hear the “Geeky Birds” – the collective cacophony of frogs, katydids and other assorted nocturnal insects and amphibians that sang to each other each night, belting out their mating tunes like some primeval dating service in the trees.  It was a soothing sound, and it usually lasted until dawn.  The air was still, not even the slightest whisper of a breeze disturbed the leaves.  I looked at the Budweiser clock on the wall.  It was 9:30 p.m.

“Now we chust sit and wait,” he said.  “And play cards!”  Uncle Charlie pulled a deck of cards from his pocket and we started to play.  We played blackjack, war, and go fish.  Hours passed and we played gin rummy.  I looked at the clock.  It was 3 a.m.  My eyes began to burn, the lids quivered shut, my head nodded and jolted me back to consciousness.

“Gin!”  I said and laid down my cards for the 10th time in a row.

“Got dammit!  These cards are SOUR!”  My uncle slammed the cards onto the table.  “Why don’t you take a nap for a bit.  I’ll stand watch.”

“Are you sure Uncle Charlie?”  I asked, rubbing my tired eyes.

“Absolutely.”  he said.  “Chust lay your head down and take a snooze.”

I put my head down and closed my eyes.  I felt I had not even had a chance to doze when I was awakened by a rumbling vibration that shook the table.  I sat up and looked at the clock – it was 4:30 a.m.  I’d been asleep for an hour and a half.  I looked at Uncle Charlie.  He was slumped in his chair, snoring loudly.  I looked around the room.  Everything was as we had prepared it.  But there was something wrong.  Beyond Uncle Charlie’s snoring, the forest was silent.  The “Geeky” birds had ceased their singing and there was still and hour before sunrise.  I looked out toward the back door.  The wind began to rush through the trees, howling like a banshee.  The lights of the cabin flickered and then went out.  I could see leaves and loose twigs swirling and gathering in the moonlight outside, whirled together by the spinning air.  They seemed to coalesce and then pull apart, gathering mass after each iteration, until finally, they spun together into a hulking form; A great beast of leaves in the rough shape of a giant grizzly bear, but with a death’s head of twisted branches and vines nearly two feet across.  The vines tangled into a pointed jaw, with smaller areas corkscrewing into sharp black teeth, glazed with sap.  The arms and legs were tipped with giant claws of the same twisted branches and vines and it’s eyes were two milky white orbs that glowed from within deep set sockets of the grinning skull.   Its mouth gaped wide and an unholy bellow echoed forth, shaking the walls of the cabin and rousing Uncle Charlie from his slumber.

Hooligritz

Did you remember to rake those leaves?

“Holy Jesus!”  Uncle Charlie shouted and stood, knocking his chair back to the floor.  “Get behind me!”  he shouted as the Hooligritz lumbered forward towards the back door, creaking with each step like a giant wicker basket of evil.

“The bag!  Hand me the bag!”  he yelled as I grabbed the sack from the floor.

The creature was at the back screen door.  It paused for moment, sniffed the air and roared again.  Uncle Charlie crouched down and I did the same,  remaining close behind him.  He reached down next his left foot and pulled his axe closer.

The Hooligritz reared up and crashed through the screen door, knocking it from its hinges straight forward to the floor with a crash of splintered wood and broken glass.  The damp night air washed in through the open portal and across the beast, carrying the scent of rotted wood and eons of forest decay.  I stared as it creaked into the kitchen, its massive form scratching deep furrows into the wood paneling of the walls.

Uncle Charlie opened the bag and grabbed a handful of the gashenk and held it out in front of him.  A waft of night air stirred the dusty stuff into the air.  The swirling particles tickled my nostrils and I fought back a sneeze.

“Steady now.” Uncle Charlie said, trying to calm his trembling hand.

The beast entered the living room and creaked up to the edge of the circle.  Slowly, it pushed its chin across the threshold of the bloshter circle and opened its mouth.  A wave of chilled breath spilled forth, bearing with it the reek of rotted leaves and a damp, foul odor of worms and earth.

“Vater, sohn und Heiliger Geist.”  Uncle Charlie began to repeat, over and over as he unclenched his fingers and dumped the first batch of the purple and grey Gashenk into the toothy maw of the creature, which responded with a low, raspy hiss of approval that seemed to come from everywhere.

Uncle Charlie reached back into the bag and pulled out another handful, slowly extending his fist back into the mouth of the Hooligritz.  Again, the dark breeze stirred the dusty Gashenk into the living room air, tickling my nostrils.  I remembered the witch’s words to remain still so I shut my eyes and pinched my nose, desperately fighting the urge to sneeze.

“Vater, Sohn und Heiliger Geist,”  Uncle Charlie repeated and dropped another handful into the creature’s mouth. Its round milky eyes closed halfway, as if in some state of bliss, and it began to make a rumbling sound from deep within its throat.  Was it purring? I thought.

My uncle reached into the bag and pulled another handful of gashenk and extended it forward.  A strong gust of night air blew the whole handful into my face.  I struggled against a sneeze with all my might.  I held my nose and swallowed.  I could feel my throat and sinuses burning with the urge.  I closed my eyes and concentrated and slowly the sneeze waned and drifted away.  I opened my eyes.  The Hooligritz was in a crouched position, its head swaying slightly back and forth to the cadence of Uncle Charlie’s chant.

Without warning, my nose erupted in a massive sneeze.

Instantly, the Hooligritz reared up and roared, spraying sap across the room.  With flick of a giant paw, it tossed all two-hundred and fifty pounds of Uncle Charlie across the room as if he were a toddler.  I scrambled backwards as the creature lurched toward me, milky blue eyes shifting to bright orange, jagged mouth gaping wide.

I closed my eyes and curled into a ball, trying to get as small as possible.  I thought perhaps I could just melt into the paneling, disappear from view in some magical way, waiting for the  jaws of the Hooligritz to feast upon my frail frame.

Suddenly, I heard a thudding sound, like someone chopping wood, and a voice hollering, “Get yourself back to hell, you horse’s neck ya!”

I opened my eyes to see Uncle Charlie, straddling the neck of the Hooligritz, and hacking away at its head with his fireman’s axe.  He clung to the creature’s neck-vines with his crooked arm, hanging on for dear life like a rodeo star.  Shards of vine and branch flew as the axe rose and fell.  Dark sap sprayed against the walls and flowed from the wounds that he inflicted to the head of the beast.

Uncle Charlie chopped with the fury of a mad lumberjack.  The Hooligritz arched its back and let out a bellow of agony that shook the earth.  It bucked and twisted, trying to toss Uncle Charlie from its back, but to no avail.  One of the vines snapped loose and whipped across my chest, tearing my shirt and slicing my skin like a quartermaster’s lash.  I felt warm blood spreading from the wound and clamped my hand across my ribs, pushing hard to stem the blood flow.

“Run Gerald! Get out now!”  yelled Uncle Charlie.

I stood up but the fray blocked both doorways.  I was trapped.

The Hooligritz began to buck, like a bronco, whipping Uncle Charlie up and down; straining his damaged arm to its limit and ultimate release.  He flew straight up and slammed into the ceiling, then crashed back down to the floor in an unconscious heap; chunks of plaster from the ceiling rained down upon his motionless body.

The Hooligritz loomed over Uncle Charlie’s still body for a moment, head cocked to one side.  In that brief pause, I had the flash of and idea.  Slowly, quietly, I edged around the beast and made a mad dash out the back door toward the shed.

The Hooligritz wheeled and bellowed.  I could hear its claws scratching the hardwood floor in a wild effort to gain traction as it rumbled toward me.  I ducked into the shed, swallowed hard and grabbed the chainsaw. I began pulling the cord like I had seen Uncle Charlie do countless times before, but the saw refused to start.

The Hooligritz bashed through the back door of the cabin, its wide shoulders grazed the frame in a shower of splinters as it ambled forward, closing the gap with surprising speed for a creature so large.  I doubled my efforts, yanking on the starter cord as fast and hard as I could.  From the corner of my eye I could see those giant orange eyes getting closer – I could smell the beast’s foul breath.  He was close – nearly upon me.  My arm burned and I doubted I could complete one more pull when the chainsaw roared into life.

What happened next is still a bit hazy.  I remember jamming the saw into the mouth of the Hooligritz.  I remember a horrible bellowing sound competing with the scream of the chainsaw as I dug the blade into the twisted vines and branches. I remember sawdust and sap clouding my eyes and clogging my throat.  I remember slashing and leaping and screaming.  And then the saw was quiet.  I sat down, surrounded by piles sawdust and cut brush, vines and branches.  I was covered in sap, my arms ached and I had scratches and scrapes everywhere.  The Hooligritz, now a pile of yard waste, was no more.  My throat burned and I began to sob.  I turned toward the cabin, tears washing sawdust and grime down my cheeks.  “Uncle Charlie!”  I rasped.

Before I could muster another thought, the wind stirred, swirling the sawdust and twigs into the air.  It spun and twisted around me, like a dust devil, raging faster and faster.  In a moment, the pieces began to re-assemble, forming the Hooligritz once more.  The beast was restored to its previous form, with the addition of sawdust and wood chips as the majority component, making it seem even more solid and formidable than before.  It reared up on its hind legs and roared, eyes blazing orange once again.

I pulled on the chainsaw cord but nothing happened.  Somewhere, in the far reaches of what was left of my rational thought, I knew that it was probably out of gas.  I began to tremble and backed up against a tree as the Hooligritz closed in, jagged mouth gaping to devour me.

I stared into that black maw, a void lined with wood particles, sawdust, leaves and vines.  So this is it.  I thought.  I die in the belly of this ancient forest creature.  This sucks!  I crouched down and closed my eyes again, one last time.  I felt its chilled breath on my face and smelled that rotted forest scent.  Warm sticky sap dripped and rolled down my arms and the laceration on my chest began to burn. I held my breath and waited for the end.

Nothing.  No viney forest teeth mauled my flesh.  No bone-crushing jaws ground me to pulp.  Just silence.

Then I heard birds chirping in the trees and felt a spot of warmth on the back of my neck.  What the hell?

I opened my eyes.  Rays of sunlight streamed through the trees behind me, across my shoulders and onto the forest floor.  A pile of sawdust, wood chips, leaves, branches and twigs lay in a massive heap before me.  Floating dust particles danced in the sunlight, stirred by the cool morning breeze.  It was dawn and I remembered  what Betty had said,  that we just had to make it through the night.  “Sunlight!” I whispered.

I chuckled to myself at the thought of something as simple as sunlight destroying that evil creature.  The chuckle devolved into an uncontrollable laugh-spasm born of desperation and trauma.  When it subsided I stood up and brushed what was left of the Hooligritz from my arms and legs.  Blood from my chest gash had soaked through my shirt, coagulated into a crusty stain that formed a giant crimson backslash across my torso.  I stumbled across the back yard and into the cabin.

Uncle Charlie was lying against the wall, his back to me.  I walked over to him, bent down and shook his shoulder.  Nothing.  I shook it again, harder.  Still nothing.  I felt tears welling up in my eyes.  I shook him again and he coughed.

“Uncle Charlie, you’re OK!” I yelled and pulled his arm.

“Vell, now, OK’s a pretty strong word for how I’m feeling right now, but yes, I’m still alive.  “How are you little fellow?  What happened?” he asked.

“I think the sunlight killed it.”  I said as I helped him up.

“Yup.  That’ll do it.”  he said, stretching his neck and shoulders.  “Good old sunshine.  Oh boy, looks like you got a nasty gash there.”  Uncle Charlie said pointing to my bloody chest.  “Hold on there a second.  I’ll get you all fixed up.”

Uncle Charlie ducked into the bathroom and returned with some gauze, adhesive tape and a bottle of disinfectant.  I pulled off my torn shirt and he swabbed the long gash.  In five minutes I was patched up with gauze and tape across my chest.  Years later, that seven inch scar would become a grim reminder of the fury of the Hooligritz.

“Tell your mom you got cut climbing a tree.  I think it’s best that we keep last night just between you and me,” Uncle Charlie said and squeezed my shoulder.

We took a walk around to survey the aftermath of the struggle.  There were long claw marks across the hardwood floor, rough furrows dug an inch or two deep in places.  The paneling had been scratched by the wide shoulders of the beast and the rear screen door was smashed and flattened on the floor.  We walked outside.  The chainsaw lay in front of the shed next to the pile of sawdust, twigs and branches that had been the beast.

“What’s with the chainsaw?”  said Uncle Charlie.

“Well, I kinda used it to cut up the Hooligritz.”  I said.

Uncle Charlie started laughing.  His face turned red and he laughed harder until he began coughing.  “You little bugger!  I thought you were afraid of that chainsaw?”

“I was more scared of the Hooligritz, Uncle Charlie.”  I said.

“Well, you done good, kid.  I’m real proud of you.”  Charlie said, gazing around at the chaos.  “That’s fireman’s valor.”

“What is?”  I said.

“When you ignore your fears and and charge into the fire, like you did there.”  said Charlie, winking.

“Really?”  I said, shrugging.

“You betcha.” said Uncle Charlie.  “Anyhow, this place is a real goddamn mess.  Whadda say we get it cleaned up?”  He pulled his red handkerchief out and blew his nose.  “Now we’re gonna need paneling, hardwood flooring and a new door.  And that doorframe looks pretty verhuntzed! he said with a chuckle.”

We worked all morning, hammering, sawing and sanding until the cabin was back to its former self.  We raked the vines, sawdust and leaves of the disintegrated Hooligritz into a pile in the yard and set it ablaze.  We stood still for a moment and watched the flames roar; an orange, red and yellow pyre reaching high into the crisp blue sky.  The fire hissed and popped, sending wild sparks into the air.

“Well, now, that ought to do it.  How about a cold birch beer?”  Uncle Charlie said, dabbing his forehead with his handkerchief.

“Yeah!”  I said. “That would be great!”  I smiled and wrapped my arms as far around his big beer belly as I could manage.  We never told anyone about what happened that night.  Perhaps Uncle Charlie was a little embarrassed that he got his butt kicked by a pile of leaves and vines.  I think it’s more likely that the whole incident would have just invited ridicule and questions regarding our sanity, so we kept the tale to ourselves.  We always maintained a special understanding between us from that night forth.

Uncle Charlie passed away decades ago and was honored with an epic fireman’s funeral.  Dozens of fellow fire fighters delivered heartfelt eulogies for their fallen chief and 20 fire trucks led the final parade to Charlie’s resting place; a fitting send-off for a lifelong hero of public service.  I can still picture him on that night, swinging his axe and whooping like a wild Cherokee warrior on the back of that creature from the Pennsylvania woods.

The events of that night have slowly dissolved into the past and I now have a family of my own, living far from that cabin in the Poconos.  Sometimes, however, when I find myself alone, gazing deep into the night forest, I feel a tingling sensation from the scar across my chest.  It’s as if I carry a piece of that dark creature within my skin, forever connected through some ancient blood bond to the primeval night forest.  And I always make sure to keep my chainsaw ready with a full tank of gasoline, just in case…

Chainsaw

Gassed and ready!

Garbage Disposal

Bloody Garbage Disposal

Good Riddance to Bad Rubbish!

“Bitch!” The words stumbled across his teeth like clumsy elephants, sliding over his lips and struggling through sour bourbon breath.

She assumed the usual position: fetal, head covered, waiting for the blows. They came as sharp kicks to her ribs. She felt relieved that Frank was wearing his sneakers instead his pointed cowboy boots. She focused on peaceful thoughts as he kicked: sunny meadows, beaches, sunsets. It was a technique she had learned as a child when her parents were drunk and angry. Focus on a pleasant memory and dissolve into it. She often imagined that these escape mechanisms were visible to onlookers as gleaming glass globes in orbit around her head – beautiful scenes of tranquility playing inside each one for the world to behold.

“And get that garbage disposal fixed by the time I get home!” he said, delivering one last kick to her buttocks.

She closed her eyes and listened. She heard the apartment door slam. Then blam, blam, blam, blam, blam came the sound of his feet on the stairs outside. Then the jingle of the keys, the roar of the engine and the chirp of the tires as he gunned the big buick away down the street. She stayed still for a few minutes and then began to sob. Emotions boiled up from all directions, mingling together like a mad concoction from some chemist of misery – rage, humiliation, desperation, anger, with river of deep and profound sadness flowing through everything. A pool of tears collected around her cheek and formed a salty puddle on the cold linoleum floor. She stayed there for about an hour and then slowly pulled herself up, gingerly pressing on her ribs, assessing the extent of the damage. She shuffled to the kitchen counter, grabbed a handful of paper towels and dabbed her tear-stained face. She looked out the kitchen window and saw an enormous black raven perched on a wire. It stretched, extended large black wings and arched its beak skyward.

I’d give my soul for that kind of freedom she thought and felt a wave of jealousy wash over her. The black beast folded its wings back against its body, cocked its head to one side, and looked straight at her. Did it wink one eye? One gleaming red eye? She stepped back, startled, and the bird took flight in a flurry of black feathers. A moment later, the door buzzer screeched.

“Who are you?” she said, staring at the man in the doorway. He had black hair, a pointed goatee and swarthy skin, and his coveralls were pitch black. Dark eyes gleamed from within deep sockets, framed by thick black eyebrows. He grinned, showing perfect white teeth and when he spoke, his voice seemed to resonate from everywhere, deep and warm with an accent that was vaguely latin, but with a hint of german or nordic sprinkled throughout.

“I’m Sam, from Johnson Plumbing.” He smiled and lifted his toolkit, revealing the company logo.

“But, um, I didn’t call yet, I don’t think…” she said, managing a nervous smile.

“Is this not apartment 237 at 3477 North 33rd?” The man pulled a scrap of paper from his pocket and unfolded it.

She nodded. “Yes this is…”

“And are you, uh, Ta-ra Mag-nu-son?”

“Yes, but I…” she leaned in and looked at the paper.

“Well, according to my notes, you called yesterday for a garbage disposal repair. If this is a bad time I could…” Sam said and took a step back.

“Okay, well, I just don’t recall.” she shifted her gaze to the sink. “Wait, since you’re here, I actually do need my disposal fixed.”

“Perfect!” Sam smiled and walked past Tara to the sink. She smelled a hint of smoke as he passed. Not cigarette smoke, but some other smoke. Something more acrid, more complex. Sulfur?

“How much will this be?” Tara asked.

“How about you let me have a look and assess the damage. Then I’ll give you an estimate. Sound good?” Sam smiled. Did he just wink?

Uh, okay, I guess.” Tara glanced back out the window, looking for the giant raven but he was gone. When she looked back, Sam was on his hands and knees beneath the sink. She noticed something funny about his shoes. They had the wrong shape. Were the toes too wide? Or perhaps the heels were too narrow. There was also something strange about the way his coveralls fit his buttocks. It was as if there wasn’t a gap where there should have been. Instead, she noticed a small ridge
protruding from between his buttocks, as if he had a deformed tailbone, or maybe…

“Okay, ma’am, the bad news is I think your old unit’s done for.” Sam stood up, adjusted his coveralls and wiped his brow. “The good news is, I have a special on my top replacement unit, the Dispose-All 5000. It’s 50% off this week. The boss wants to clear the inventory and this baby’s got all the bells and whistles. Mountains of horsepower too so it can destroy everything you can feed it. And I mean EVERYTHING!”

“How much?” Tara stared at Sam’s shoes. They really were oddly shaped. The toes were too wide and they went up in the back in a strange manner.

“As much as you can feed it!” Sam smiled.

“No, I mean, how much does it cost, you know, with labor.” Tara massaged her bruised rib.

“Oh, yeah, lemme see. About an hour’s work plus parts, let’s just say $50 bucks.”

Tara’s face lit up. “50 dollars? Wow, is this replacement some cheap piece of…”

“Oh, no way, ma’am. The Dispose-All 5000 is one serious hunk of hardware. I mean, there’s nothing it can’t handle. Nothing at all on this earth.” Sam grinned and stroked his goatee.

“Is there some kind of warranty?” Tara crossed her arms.

“Well, you can add one for just five dollars. And that’s a life time warranty. Forever.”

“Forever, huh?” Tara grinned. “Ok, how long will it take?”

“Forever’s a mighty long time, ma’am.” Sam said, gazing out the window.

“No, I mean how long for the repairs?” Tara said.

“I’d say I’ll be out of here in hour. Now if you’ll just sign your name here, then we’ll be all set.” Sam pulled a black clipboard with a form attached from his toolkit. “It’s just for the, uh, warranty and the labor. Nothing special. Standard stuff but I do need a signature before I can start.”

“Ok.” Tara started to scrawl her signature on the black line near the bottom of the form. She paused. At the bottom of the page she noticed some extremely small print. It looked like something in another language, but it was too tiny to really understand.

“What’s this, Spanish?” Tara pointed to the almost microscopic text.

“Oh, no, that’s the warranty. The unit’s made in Germany so the warranty’s in german. You know, precision manufacturing and that kind of thing. Nothin’s made in the good ole’ USA anymore, right?”

“Yeah, really, everything’s Chinese.” She finished her signature and handed the clipboard back to Sam who smiled and placed it back in his toolkit.

“Allright, I’ve got laundry to do so if you need me, just holler.” Tara said and walked down the hallway to the laundry room. She could hear Sam’s tools clanking as he began the repairs. Was he humming a tune? What was that song? Something from an old movie?

Tara had just finished loading the washer with clothes when she heard a knock on the doorway behind her. She turned to find Sam, toolkit in hand.

“All done, ma’am.” Said Sam.

“Really?” Tara wrinkled her brow. “But it’s only been…” she looked at her watch. What the hell? An hour had passed yet it seemed like just five minutes. She grabbed her cell phone to verify. There it was, an hour later.

“I just need to show you a few operating tips before I go, If you don’t mind.” said Sam as he turned and headed back toward the kitchen.

“Ok.” said Tara, following behind. Those shoes really look weird, she mused.

“There’s just few things you need to know about this unit.” said Sam. “The first rule is ALWAYS run the water whenever you use the D-5000. You must run the tap to operate the blades.” Sam reached out and turned on the faucet. The water swirled and gurgled down the drain.

“Now the second thing is the MOST important rule. NEVER get near the D-5000 when it’s running. That’s why the switch is across the room.” Sam pointed to a red switch across the kitchen on the opposite wall, next to where Tara stood.

“Turn it on and wait until the blades finish grinding. You’ll be able to tell by the sound. Then turn it off. DO NOT go near the unit while it’s in operation. Got it?” Sam raised his eyebrows and smiled.

“Yes, I think so.” said Tara.

“Good. It’s very important that you follow these rules because this unit is extremely powerful. Safety must be observed at all times.” Sam picked up his toolkit and walked towards the door.

“And if anything doesn’t work, call me right away. You have a lifetime warranty that covers any problems.” Sam paused at the doorway. He smiled and handed Tara his card.

“Ok.” Tara said and put the card in her pocket. “Thanks. Oh wait, I almost forgot, here’s the check.” Tara handed Sam a check made out to seventy-five dollars.

“Well, that’s mighty thoughtful of you ma’am. Thank you very much!” said Sam as he walked through the doorway.

Tara watched Sam walk away down the hall. She could hear him humming that strange tune again. What was that song? A song from the sixties? The Stones perhaps? When he was gone, she locked the door and returned to the sink. OK, let’s try this thing out she thought and pulled a large plate of left-over chicken breasts from the fridge. She carried the plate to the sink and set it on the counter. She picked the largest hunk of chicken and dropped it into the disposal drain hole and turned on the water. Then she walked across the room to the switch. She stared back at the sink and flipped the power on. Immediately, the lights dimmed and the metallic whine of large spinning metal blades filled the room. A loud grinding sound rattled the cupboards. It shifted pitch for a half-second as the blades engaged the chicken and then returned to a smooth metallic whirring hum. Tara flipped the switch off and walked over to the sink. The chicken breast was gone. Not a trace remained in the sink.

Tara grinned and stuffed the rest of the meat into the drain. She left the plates in the sink and walked back to the red switch. Flick, grind, and grind and grind, louder and louder and then whirr. Tara flipped the switch off and walked back to the sink. Everything was gone. Even the plates had been sucked into the disposal and destroyed.

“Wow!” Tara said out loud. A flood of exhilaration filled her soul as she rushed to her boyfriend’s room and gathered a mountain of football trophies in both arms. She was giddy with revenge, sweet and diabolical, payback for all the beatings and abuse she had endured. She hurried back to the kitchen and dumped the gilded statues into the sink, piling them high, well beyond the capacity of the small stainless steel basin. Grinning, she flipped the switch. Instantly, a flurry of black metal mechanical arms encircled the mass of trophies, lifting and spinning them in the air like a robotic juggler, feeding all to a central array of circular blades which spun just above the drain. The arms manipulated and twisted the items, systematically sending each piece into the whirling slicers and then down the black drain hole which expanded and contracted, like a giant camera aperture, to accommodate the chunks as they fell. The Dispose-All 5000 consumed all of Frank’s trophies in about 5 seconds.

Tara clapped her hands in delight and hurried out of the kitchen. She returned dragging Frank’s Laz-E-Boy recliner across the linoleum kitchen floor. She squatted down and heaved the chair up onto the counter top, balancing it across the sink. With a gleam in her eye, she danced across the room to the switch. Flick, whirrrrr, grind and voila! Frank’s prized recliner was gone. No more “get me beer!” with legs up and a bag of chips on his lap. No more sleeping through the last innings of the Yankees game, snoring like a buzzsaw in the living room.

Tara stared down into the drain. It looked so normal, so unassuming. Slowly, the black cloud of an idea began to boil around her head. A way out. An escape from the abuse. She grabbed her keys and left the apartment. Her brain crackled with excitement. This was it. She had a way to put everything behind her. To start over. To erase a life of abuse that had started with her drunken father and a string of bad-decision boyfriends and ended with Frank. She practically danced down the stairs and out the door.

She waltzed through the oppressive heat and humidity of the New York City heatwave. She hurried across the street, weaving around the crowds along 33rd and ducked into Sal’s corner market at the end of the block. She grabbed a bag of ice and a six-pack of Frank’s favorite beer.

Back at the apartment, Tara dumped the ice into the sink and arranged the beer cans in a neat circle. Then, she sat down at the table and waited.

The sun had disappeared about an hour earlier when she finally heard Frank’s footsteps on the stairs outside. Then came the jingling of the keys and the clumsy attempts to unlock the door. Finally, Frank stumbled into the kitchen.

“Haaaey!” He slurred. She could smell his breath. It reeked of bourbon and Budweiser. “Man ammm I huungarrree!” he said, brushing past Tara. He opened the pantry, grabbed a bag of chips and ripped it open, spilling handfuls onto the floor as he stuffed the crunchy morsels into his mouth. “Aaay, wha’s in the siiink?” Frank lurched across the kitchen. Tara watched closely. She had to time this just right.

“Haaaaey! My flavorite!” Frank leaned over the sink and Tara jumped from her chair and flicked the red switch on the other side of the room.

Nothing happened. No whirling blades, no metal arms. Just silence. Frank plunged his hand deep into the icy basin and dug out a cold beer. He popped the tab and opened it, click, hisss.

“Ooooh yeah! Ice cold baby!” Frank said. “Bitch, I thought I tole you tah fix that disposal!” He clenched his fists and lurched toward Tara.

“I did! I did!” she said, recoiling.

Frank raised his arm to stike and Tara covered her head. From beneath her arms she heard the door buzzer.

Frank stopped, mid swing. “Git the damn door!” he slurred.

Tara un-crouched and scurried across the room. She opened the door. It was Sam, the plumber.

“Sam, what, what are you doing…” Tara fumbled with her words, trying to compose herself.

“Ms. Tara, I hope I’m not bothering you, but after I left, I remembered that I forgot to install an important part of the system.” said Sam, glancing past Tara at Frank, who lurched drunkenly toward the door.

“You the asshole that didn’t fix my disposal?” Frank’s words sprayed from his numb lips as he pointed at Sam.

Sam stepped into the apartment, toolbox in hand. “Why yes sir, I was here earlier and…”

“Shithead! You didn’t fix SHIT! What kine of moron plummer can’t fix a disposaaall.” Frank tilted the beer can back and drained the remaining portion. He crushed the can and tossed it to the floor.

“Oh, I am so sorry, sir. I neglected to install a very important part. I assure you, I can have everything honky dory in 5 minutes.” said Sam, smiling.

“You are a shit plummer. You are as worthless as my shit bitch over there!” Frank pointed at Tara who was standing by the red dispose-all 5000 on/off switch.

Sam smiled and raised his hand above his head. He glanced at Tara and then snapped his fingers. “There, I fixed it. I just installed the kill switch.” said Sam.

Frank lurched across the kitchen, coming nose to nose with Sam. “What the hell are you talking about? You ain’t fixed shit, jack-ass!” Frank poked his index finger into Sam’s chest. “I wann a full refund of all my money, dickhead!”

Sam glanced at Tara. “Sir, why don’t you just go get another beer and let me show you how well your system works?”

Frank chuckled and staggered to the sink. “Okay, Mr. finger-snap plummer, I WILL get another one, but that doesn’t make you less of an ASSHOLE!” Frank thrust his hand deep into the chilled water of the sink.

Sam motioned to Tara who nodded and threw the switch. For a moment, nothing happened. Then, suddenly, the dispose-all roared into action. Metal cables tipped with black barbs shot up from beneath the icy water. One tore through Frank’s neck, one through his shoulder and another pierced his hand. Black blades emerged: whirling, synchronous metal meat grinders.

Frank screamed, pulling against the barbs as the cables tightened, drawing him closer to the spinning blades.

Sam smiled and walked over to Tara, her face was a mask of horror. She reached for the switch but Sam grabbed her wrist and shook his head.

Frank pulled back, straining against the cables, driving the barbs deeper into his flesh. Blood from the wounds dripped down, forming crimson puddles on the kitchen floor. He wimpered, one last pathetic plea, “help me!” before the cables pulled him into the blades.

Tara closed her eyes and clung to Sam. Blood and bone swirled into the air above the sink. It hung there for a moment, evolving like a cloud of gore. Then, with a loud swoosh, the blades devoured the fountain of red that was Frank, sucking it down the drain, leaving no trace of Frank behind. Even the blood on the floor was drawn up and into the disposal.

Sam flipped the switch to “off”. Tara released her embrace, trembling.

“Oh my god, oh my god!” her voice quavered.

Sam grinned. “No, not quite. Think a little lower, my dear Tara.”

Tara stepped back, horrified. “You mean?”

“Don’t worry.” Sam smiled. “I’m not here for you.” he said and pulled a handful of papers from his toolbox. “This is the contract you signed earlier.”

Tara gasped and put her hands to her mouth, “Oh no, oh god no!” she said, backing away.

“I told you, I’m not here for you. This is a release for Frank’s soul.” Sam smiled as he scanned the contract. “You’ve suffered enough in this world. I see no need to send you downstairs to my domain for more pain. Besides, your ex-boyfriend was wrong. I’m not an asshole, I’m just Satan. You know, the Devil. My job is to weed out the bad souls and get them off the market, so to speak. Plus, I can’t very well afford to behave like an asshole these days, what with all the social media scrutiny and everyone so damned connected. It would just destroy my brand. Of course, haters gonna hate, but I guess that’s a good thing given my line of work.”

Tara recoiled as Sam’s entire countenance transformed in that moment. His clothes dissolved, revealing black skin and matted ebony feathers. A long black tail curled from between his buttocks, twisting back and forth as he spoke. His shoes retracted, exposing black cloven hooves and his eyes glowed red like two embers in a dark fireplace. His grin revealed a forked tongue that darted between pointed white teeth – in stark contrast to his pitch black lips and mouth.

“Its not like in those stories you’ve read, either.” said Satan. “I only collect the souls that deserve eternal damnation. You know, the ones that are so bad they don’t get recycled. No second chances for them. Of course, I do provide a little guidance along the path. Some healthy temptations for those less disciplined individuals – a little hand-holding, if you will.” Satan said, smiling. “Take you, for instance. When push came to shove, you wanted to save captain douchebag. Even though he’d been stomping you senseless for the last two years. Your soul is without compromise. And then there’s ole’ Franky there.” He said, pointing to the sink. “I just whispered in his ear for one night while he slept and he was convinced that the broken garbage disposal was the most important item on his bucket list. I’ve always found that the simple minds are the most malleable. You know something? I don’t think an eternity of suffering is nearly enough for all those nice things he said about me. What do you think Tara?” said Sam.

Tara was petrified. She stared at Satan, unable to muster anything more than a half-shrug.

“Unfortunately, as you well know, all good things must inevitably end. So I wish you the best of luck, my dear. I am off to attend to more pressing engagements.” Sam raised his hand and snapped his fingers again. In a flurry of black feathers and sulfur, he was gone.

Tara stared at the spot where Satan had been. She began sobbing and slid down into a crouch on the kitchen floor. Slowly, the sobbing gave way to laughter. Uncontrollable, hysterical laughter. She felt a warm glow spread through her soul, as if her heart had become a miniature sun, spreading rays through her body, filling the room with a golden wash of warmth and hope. Tears of joy slid down her cheeks. She jumped to her feet, giggling, and ran into the bedroom. The imaginary glass globes returned, in orbit around her sunny head – filled with scenes of white beaches, green forests, sun drenched picnics and happy children. The thought orbs spun and glinted as she stuffed a suitcase with her favorite clothes and darted out the door.

She danced down the bustling sidewalk, humming the Devil’s tune she had heard earlier, oblivious to the crowds and the stifling New York heat. She skipped all the way to the transit depot and boarded the first bus she came upon, never once considering its destination. “Pleased to meet you!” she sang to the bus driver who smiled and closed the doors. As she twirled down the aisle, she whispered to herself: “I hope you guess my name!”

Road Work

Night Highway

If you would just stop and ask for directions…

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.

Night Eyes

Here kitty, kitty…

Jerry SkullDug

Thanks for digging the dark

 

 

 

 

Tales from the Boschard – Chapter 1 – The Mound


Tales from the Boschard Logo 
Forward
I grew up in an area of northeastern Pennsylvania that was struggling from rural to suburban in the early 1970s.  New housing developments elbowed their sterile green lawns into seventeenth century farmland, upstarts shaking their fists at the old Pennsy Dutch hex signs and traditions.  In many ways, it was a culture clash, but it also provided an interesting fusion.  Much like turn of the century railroads, telegraph and automobiles invaded the old west – with Model-Ts chasing horses past swing-door saloons, modern times were hot on the heels of the stubborn Pennsylvania Dutch agrarian ideologies.
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These same ideologies had deep roots in Germanic storytelling.  Grimm’s fairytales, the original German ones, lived up to their author’s namesake for they often veered into dark waters.  Consider Ashenputtel (Cinderella) in which white doves peck the evil sisters’ eyes out at the conclusion.  And who can forget the adorable ending of Schneewittchen (Snow White) that finds the evil queen locked in a pair of red-hot iron shoes and dancing herself to death.  Fusing the dark, traditional tales with modern interpretations and mutations, I heard plenty of creepy stories, deviously attached to the real places and characters around me.  Compound that with my childhood home being legitimately haunted (just ask the rest of my family).  Perhaps that’s part of the reason I gravitate toward dark corners of the psyche with my content.  Or perhaps I’m just a bit twisted.
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Tales From The Boschard was born of that fusion – the name Boschard is a mash up of old and new.  The ‘bos’ from the Old German for a wooded area (Bosc) and the new English word, orchard, providing the ‘chard’ part.  I’ve tried to re-create that linguistic fusion in some of my characters as best I could as well – particularly for the old-timers who routinely lapsed from English to German to Pennsylvania Dutch, often in a single sentence.  Here’s a commonly used example of Pennsylvania Dutch  that my father asked me to decipher when I was a kid:
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Saville der dago
tousand buses inarow
nocho demis trux
summit cows and summit dux
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Here’s the translation:
Say Willie there they go
a thousand buses in a row.
No Joe, them is trucks,
some with cows and some with ducks.
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Many of these tales are haunted folklore passed down from family members and acquaintances and others are based on actual events.  I think that all of them will give you a glimpse into that place where my darkest dreams routinely came true – haunted, weird, northeastern Pennsylvania.
Hex signs

What The Hex?

Chapter 1 – The Mound
 
He had us corralled like sheep – trapped between the garage and a chain-link fence too high to scale.  His snow white hair, breeze-blown up in the back, completed the portrait of a mad white rooster.  He squinted at us through black, beady eyes, barely visible between the leathery creases of his withered face.  His skeleton right hand clutched a hefty cane – that bone-white instrument of retribution.  We had all seen him hurl that rod with frightening accuracy at cats, dogs and wicked children.  He clutched the polished weapon with hands covered in worn, yellow gardening gloves. It was strange, but we had never seen him without those gloves, even in summer.  His long sleeve shirt hung on his gaunt frame like rags on a scarecrow.  Even his work trousers seemed two sizes too large for his wiry legs.
 
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“Naah I got yous!” his gravelly voice rumbled.
 
Pappy Zanders had finally caught us.  Nearly a month of torment at the hands of three eleven-year-olds had come to an end, right here and now in the old devil’s yard on a sunny day in July.  Not that we didn’t deserve a show-down with our nemesis – we had surely earned his attention through apple thievery, tomato tossing and numerous other pranks that would likely have resulted in lawsuits in today’s world.  Perhaps it was the challenge that lured us to this moment – Pappy was old, but he was angry and very agile for man of his years.  The thrill of the chase and the ultimate satisfaction of eluding a mysterious old man was just too good to pass up.
 
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I glanced over at my accomplices, Steve and Ritchie – their eyes were as big as pie plates.  Steve’s lip trembled beneath his enormous nose.  Had I not been so scared, I would have chuckled at the sight of an eleven-year old boy with the face of Jimmy Durante, twitching and pale with terror.  In that distracted moment, however, Ritchie , the smallest but arguably the most daring of the three of us, decided to make a break for freedom.  He darted to the right of the old man, his spindly legs slipping on the dewy grass.  I watched with astonishment as Pappy wheeled around and brought his cane down across the shins of the floundering young boy who dropped to the grass, clutching his legs.
 
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“Get in the garage, naw yous hooligans!”  Pappy shook his cane and hissed through crooked yellow teeth. We pulled the groaning Ritchie to his feet and shuffled through the open door and into our purgatory – the garage of Pappy Zanders.
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My eyes took a moment to adjust to the dark interior.  The smell of auto tires and turpentine with a just a hint of Pine Sol bullied the air.  The tools were meticulously arranged – hung on pegboards in perfect symmetry. The boxes were neatly stacked and aligned with precision.  The floor, painted and buffed, seemed clean enough to eat from. There were glass jars of nuts, bolts, nails and other hardware tidbits, carefully arranged along the top of a massive wooden workbench with a giant iron vise anchoring the left hand corner.  To most, the immaculate workspace would have seemed shocking.  But to those familiar with the ways of Pennsylvania Dutch craftsmen, this garage was more the norm. Old Pappy Zanders was no exception.  His garage was a model of cleanliness and order – the pride of the Pennsylvania Dutch.
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“Sit daun!” he snapped and waved his cane toward a bench against the wall.
We complied and Pappy slowly approached, tapping the cane upon the shiny concrete floor.
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I saw a grin begin to twist it’s way across Pappy’s gnarled face and I stared up at him, my mind racing with images of a sadistic old man beating the consciousness out of my head and then burying me in the back yard – only to have my own father dig me up and rescue me so that he could beat me again for my indiscretions. I heard a  raspy chuckle wheeze it’s way through Pappy’s leathery throat.
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“So yous like my apples, huh?”  Pappy reached up and pulled a dark, dusty bottle from a high shelf.  “Me too.” he sniffed and pulled the cork from the top with hollow “plunk.”  “Bet yah never had apples like these!”  He handed the bottle to Ritchie.
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“Go ahead, have a swig – puts hair on your chest.”
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Ritchie took a sip and grimaced but managed to swallow a solid gulp.  He coughed and sputtered.
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“Ha!”  Pappy laughed and took the bottle back.  “Here, you try it!”, he said and handed the dusty bottle to me.
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I looked down the barrel at the silvery liquid and gave it a sniff.  It smelled good, like apple cider.  I put the bottle to my lips and took a mighty swig.  Instant fire raced down my throat and spread warm fingers through my stomach.  I felt my dinner begin to stir and try to come back up but I managed to cough and choke back the urge to vomit.
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Pappy chuckled again and yanked the bottle away. “Naw that’s good apple jack!” he hissed.  It was Steve’s turn.  Pappy pressed the bottle into his hands and bade him drink. Steve took a big, deep swallow.  He paused and looked up. His eyes began to tear, his face turned pale and his stomach began to heave.  He dropped to his knees and spewed a seemingly endless waterfall of chicken pot pie all over Pappy’s clean garage floor.
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“Naw you’re cleanin’ that up, yah hooftie!”  He snarled and tossed a shop towel to the wretching boy.  And then Pappy began to laugh.  He swung his can back and forth and laughed loud enough to echo through the rafters of the garage.
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I glanced at Ritchie who shrugged.
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“I remember ven I vas your age.  I used ta do the same dumb stuff as yous do.”  the old man mused. “I would hop on da trains and ride ’em all da way to Wilkes-Barre and my mom would give me such a beatin’ ven I got back!  Onced, I even stole da cow from Shitzy Emery’s barn.”
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He pulled a stool over and sat down.  He pointed a crooked finger at me.  “I know you, your Cheralt’s son from up the hill on first awenue.  I know your pop.”
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I nodded.
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‘Well naw.  Tell yous what.  Sit here for bit and listen to an old man’s story and maybe I’ll keep dis incident chust between us.  ‘stehen sie?
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We all nodded.
A
“Vell then.  I’ve got a real good one for yous today.  You know that mound up the hill in the cemetery?”  He pointed his cane out the window toward the graveyard beyond the woods.  “Ever vonder vat’s inside that thing?”
A
We nodded again, recalling the thirty foot hump of grass in the middle of the graveyard affectionately known as “the mound.”  It looked like a big sodden pimple in the middle of Fairview cemetery.  We had tugged on the chains that kept the massive gray slate doors of the crypt closed.  We’d even shouted down the vent in the top – calling to the dead that we presumed were listening and waiting patiently for someone to set them free so they could haunt the tombstones and neighboring woods.  We all imagined hideous things run amuck inside the mound after sundown.
A
“Ahh, I see yous all know the mound real well.  Did cha know I was the caretaker when I vas younger?”
A
We looked at each other.  Steve was still a bit pale, but he shook his head.  I nodded and spoke up.  “I think my dad may have mentioned it to me.”
A
“Vell, what dit he tell ya?”
A
“Not much, just that you worked up there when you were younger.”
A
“Ha – I worked up there every summer until I vas twenty-two.  I used to clean that mound every other Saturday.  One Saturday, July 7th, I got locked in that place ower night.”
A
Once again, old Pappy Zanders had us – but this time, we were happy prisoners of the old man’s story.  We leaned forward, eager to hear the secrets we had only been able to imagine.  Even Steve managed a grin through his vomit flecked lips.
A
“It was summer, so I was up there later than usual.  I always kept the mound for last – I don’t know why.  Naw yous boys know that place is cursed, doan cha?”
A
We looked at each other.
A
“Well it is.  The West Catty Witch cursed that whole cemetary in the early twenties.  And the Delaware indians before dat.  Ever notice how cold it is up dere?  Always a good ten degrees lower than the rest of da woods around.  But that’s another story.”  He shifted in his seat, settling in for the long haul.
A
“So it was gettin’ dark and I was chust finishin’ everything up for the evening.  I unlocked the padlock on them big chains and pulled doze heavy slate doors vide open.  Naw remember, there was no real lock on them doors, chust the chainz and padlock and I always brought dem inzide with me.”
A
Steve cocked his head.  “How could you get locked in then?  And what’s it look like in there?  Are there coffins and stuff?  Can you see dead bodies?”
A
Pappy’s eyes became slits and his nostrils flared.  He thumped his cane into Steve’s chest.
A
“You gonna yap all through MY STORY?”  he snarled.
A
Steve clutched his chest and recoiled, shaking his head. “No” he sulked.  “I was just curious…”
A
Pappy interrupted, “That’s Okay.  Everybody wants tah know what it’s like in there, but I’ll get ta that in a minute, chust keep your shirt on, Gibby.” He pointed his cane at Steve who returned a nervous grin.
A
Pappy took another swig from the bottle and exhaled.  “So, I remember takin’ them chains in with me that night too.  I put ’em on da bench chust inside the doors. But when day showed up to get me aut that night, they was on the outside, wrapped up und padlocked shut chust like I vould ah done.”
A
Ritchie had recovered from his shin whippin’.  He leaned forward.  “So what happened in there?” he queried.
A
Pappy’s face seemed to change before our eyes.  The ruddiness of his skin gave way to a more ashen tone and his eyes softened.  His voice changed as well.  It no longer carried the ferocity it had moments ago.  Even his shoulders seemed to slump forward as he rested his cane on the garage floor.
A
“Yah sure yah vanna know?” whispered Pappy.
A
We glanced at each other and nodded “yes” in unison.
A
“Vell alright then.  I’ll tell yous the story.  Like I said before, I saved cleanin’ up the mound for last.  It was around sewen-thirty or so und the sky was getting that pink glow chust before the sunset.  I unlocked da doors and took them chains in an set ’em on a bench in the back.  Now it’s alvays dark in the mound ’cause there ain’t no lights, but with da doors open and the sunlight comin’ in, you can see pretty good in there.”
A
Steve raised his hand.  “What’s it like in there, Mr. Zanders?”
A
“It’s like nothing you ever seen.  There’s one big room in there with wooden drawers all round da sides.  The ceiling is made of big wooden arched trusses, all hand carved with the strangest stuff I ever seen.  Old pagan symbols from ancient times, indian words, stuff in languages I never recognized.  Looks like a bunch of weird totem poles them indians used to make.  In the middle was this brass bowl on a vooden stand and a five pointed star was painted on the floor – musta been five feet across – in dark red, like blood it looked.
A
“Now them wooden drawers along the edges, that’s where the bodies are.  And the fronts of them is all carved up wit strange symbols and other words I couldn’t make no sense aut of.  I didn’t like to get too close to them anyways ’cause I know them bodies were right there.
A
Pappy took another swig of apple jack and swallowed.  “Anyhow, I went over to the right side where I kept the broom and I headed to the back of the mound – I used to sveep it aut from the back to the front an chust sveep all the dust aut them doors.  But when I got to the back and before I could turn around, them doors slammed shut and I heard the chains bein’ wound around the handles.  Everything vent pitch black chust like that” Pappy snapped his fingers.  “The only light was chust that little sliver that leaks through the vent way at the top of da mound.  I thought “somebody is playin’ a joke on me.  And not a wery funny one”.
A
Ritchie spoke up.  “What did you do?”
A
I ran in the darkness to them doors and threw my veight against those big slates.  I pushed and pushed but I could hear them chains clinkin’ on the other side, so I knew I was locked in for good.  But I kept on pushin’ until I chust about passed aut.  I slid down against the cold doors and sat on the damp floor.  And that’s ven I heard it.”
A
“What?”  I gulped. “What did you hear?”
A
Pappy’s eyes narrowed and he took another swig.  “I heard this soft swishin’ kind of sound.  All muffled, like sandpaper rubbin’ together inside a shoebox.  I thought maybe it was rats scratchin around in the dark but then I realized what it was.  It was breathin’ –  real slow and raspy, comin’ from inside of them coffin drawers.”
A
Steve shook his head.  “You’re fulla crap.”
A
“Naw, you’ll change your tune whan I’m done, I’ll guarantee that!  ‘Cause then I heard them drawers slidin’ open.  I couldn’t see nothing in the dark, but I could hear everything and it vas comin’ from all around me – all da drawers was creakin’ and slidin’ open.  I grabbed my broom, the only thing I had to defent myself with.  And then I heard this other sound – like a long hissing visper.  And I smelt da most awful smell I ever smelt.  It was like earth and rot and mildew and sawdust all rapped up in one – and it was gettin’ clozer und clozer.”
A
“Holy cow”, I muttered and looked at Ritchie.  He was leaning closer to Pappy, his eyes wide.  Steve had a smirk on his face.  “I’m not buyin’ it,” he whispered.
A
“So I stood up and and kept my back against the doors and started screamin’ and swingin’ that broom.  I could hear what I imagined were five or six pairs of rotted feet, shuffling across the floor – all headin’ straight for me.  So I started svingin’ as hard as I could.”  Pappy demonstrated with his cane, swinging it wildly through the air of the garage.
A
Ritchie was smiling.  “Did you hit any of ’em?”
A
“Well”, Pappy stopped swinging his cane. “I ain’t sure ‘cuz of the darkness in there, but I hit somethin’ and I swear I knocked somethin’ loose, cuz I heard it fly off and clatter across the floor.  Maybe it was an arm or a hand.  I kept svingin’ an hittin’ and svingin and hittin until my shoulders nearly popped off.  But they kept on comin’ at me – gettin clozer und clozer.  That’s wen the got damn broom snapped in two.”
A
Pappy dropped his cane.  So I started svingin’ my fists.”  Pappy threw wild hooks and upper-cuts in the garage air.  “It felt like I was punchin’ flimsy, rotten fabric with brittle twigs packed inzide that would crack with each strike.  The smell was almost too much and I started gettin’ goofy.  I could hear ’em breathin’, raspin’ and shufflin’ and then, one of ’em grabbed me by the arm.  The hand vas nothing but bone and dried grizzle but the grip was like iron.  I tried to get loose, but a couple more grabbed my arms and legs and held me still.  Then, dey started to moan.  Low at first, but then they got louder and louder and I could feel my hearbeat gettin’ slower and slower.  My chest felt like it was in a vice and I couldn’t hardly breath.  I remember this burnin’ pain climbin’ up my arms and wrappin around my ribs.  I felt like they vas drainin’ the life outa me and I finally must’ah passed aut.”
A
“But how’d you get out?” I asked.
A
“My parents called the cops when I didn’t come home at the regular time.  They searched the cemetary and finally got a pair of bolt cutters to get the chains off the doors of the mound.  They said I was layin’ on the floor, unconscious against the doors ven they finally got in.”  Pappy took another swig of apple jack.
A
Steve stood up.  “That story’s a load of crap. There’s nothin’ but old, dead bodies in that mound and you were never locked in.”  Steve smirked and walked out of the garage.
A
Ritchie and I looked at each other.  “Did that really happen?  Did you get locked in there that night?”, I asked Pappy.
A
Pappy frowned.  “What I didn’t tell your goofy friend is that when the cops found me, my hair was the color you see right now – snow white!  But when I went in it was chet black.  It had changed in the time I was trapped in there.”  He paused. “How old do yous think I am?” grinned Pappy.
A
“I dunno, Seventy or Eighty?” Ritchie shrugged.
A
“I’m thirty-eight” , whispered Pappy, the smile withering from his face.
A
“Holy crap, that’s just six years older than my dad!” I said.
A
“Them things in that mound drained the life outa me that night.  And anyone who spends any time with me gets drained too.  Every woman I ever courted died after a month.  All my dogs and cats, dey don’t last two veeks with me after I pet ’em.  Here, look at my arms where they grabbed me.”  Pappy rolled up his sleeves.  I gazed in horror at the black marks that criss-crossed Pappy’s arms.  Deep indentations furrowed his skin where the boney fingers had grabbed.  The black color spread from those furrows like vines winding their up way past his shoulders where they disappeared beneath his sleeves.  He lifted his shirt to expose his chest.  The black vines swirled around his ribcage and encircled the center of his chest – surrounding his heart like a thicket of doom.
A
“What da ya think ah’ them apples, huh?”  Pappy chuckled and pulled his shirt back down.
A
Ritchie and I backed up towards the door.  “Ah, Mr. Zanders,”  I stammered.  “Um, I think I gotta get home now.  Thanks for the story.”  We ran out of the garage and up the hill to my house, not stopping once to catch our breath or look back.  From that day forward, we never went near Pappy Zanders again.  We would wave to him and say hello if we saw him, but we never played any pranks on him.  He passed away 2 years later – my parents told me it was a heart attack.
A
Now it’s possible that ole’ Pappy Zanders had some kind of weird disease or heart condition and very possible that he was NOT thirty-eight years old and that he made the whole thing up.  Perhaps it was the dim light or stagnant air of the garage that made our imaginations run wild, or maybe there were some tailings left in that apple jack that made us hallucinate the whole thing.  Years after that, we ran around that cemetery and played in the nearby woods, but none of us ever ventured anywhere near that mound again – just in case.  To this day I still remain uneasy for having shared a bottle with old Pappy Zanders and I can’t help but wonder if someday the black lines will appear on my skin and begin to drain the life from me just as they had done to that old man.
A
Beware the mound

Beware the mound

Copyright SkullDug Films 2013

Jerry SkullDug

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Short Story – The Floor Boy

FloorBoy2Phoebe 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?”

“…I guess.”

“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.

Little Miss Mad

Little Miss Mad

Hellavator

There’s lots of stories in this ole’ skull of mine.  Quite frankly, too many to produce as media in my lifetime.  So I thought why not just write them down and share them.  So here goes.  Most of my recent writing has been in screenplay format, so going back to the old literature-what-is-the-character-thinking-feeling-etc format is a bit out of my comfort zone.  But hey, I’ve got stories and they got’s to come out so enjoy and bear with me while I get my short story chops back…Oh yeah, I forgot – I’m going to put links to more info throughout the stories and illustrations & perhaps animations (my own, of course) – isn’t it time that literature evolves with the information age?  Perhaps…I’m sure literature purists will wave their arms and accuse me of leading the witnesses…we shall see…let me know what you think…
JerrySkullDug
-SkullDug Jerry
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Hellavator

Elevator2

Frank stood motionless, eyes transfixed on the stainless steel doors.  Waiting.  He watched the numbers count down – 52, 51, 50.  He hated the word – E-L-E-V-A-T-O-R.  It was too symmetrical – same number of consonants as vowels – unnatural.  He had been trapped in an elevator for three hours when he was 7.  The old man he was trapped with spent the time doing unnatural things to him.  That was another word he hated – P-E-D-O-P-H-I-L-E.

He had managed to avoid this moment for nearly 40 years. He took the stairs, good for the heart – at first he would stop every 10 floors, but now he stopped every 5, burning legs, heaving chest.   Wasn’t exercise good for high cholesterol?  Dr. Smith said “you need more cardio, I don’t like these numbers”.  What was that medicine he had refused to take?

As he stared,  dread began to climb up his ankles, his legs, his buttocks and groin.  It slithered over his hips and wound it’s way around his spine.  Sweat trickled down his back. His neck and cheeks flushed.

Karma.  It was karma that had written this comedy of errors.  He had never cheated on his wife.  10 years of marriage, 2 beautiful children.  Straight arrow all the way.  But today he had broken his vows.  The new paralegal was just too willing, too persistent and too hot.  And now, there was Karma, grinning, laughing.  Karma had hired the crew to repaint the stairwells today – stretching that yellow tape across the doorways.  Karma had arranged his first trip in the metal box on a wire – the Otis death trap.  Karma was conducting this horrendous atonal symphony.

Dread was now holding Frank’s head in both hands, jamming it’s tongue down his throat like the paralegal had done 2 hours ago in his office.  He swallowed hard.  Dread was now swirling around in his stomach, making his head spin.  And then “ding! –  the elevator opened it’s jaws wide, an empty stainless steel and faux wood grain crypt.

“Grow up, be a man” he scolded himself.  He mustered every ounce of courage and stepped across the threshold.  He closed his eyes and the doors slid shut behind him.  He was alone in the box.  How many elevator accidents were there every year?

“There, you’re in.  Was that so horrible?”  He opened his eyes and watched the numbers count down. 48, 47, 46, 45, 44, and then BAM! It happened.  First there was a loud pop and then the sound of the cable whipping around in the elevator shaft.  The lights flickered and then went out – plunging the universe into darkness.  Emergency power clacked on and an eerie red light flickered to life – bathing the interior with a hellish glow.  Metal groaned, the floor shuddered and then another “BANG” and the elevator went into free fall.

“I’ll come clean if I survive this” he pleaded in his head.  “I’ll tell her the whole story and we’ll get past it all.  Just let me survive this – please!”  The floor dropped and a sickening weightlessness filled his chest.  A flurry of images swirled in his head – his mother, smiling, sending him alone to the corner grocery, the firm breasts of the paralegal, the horrid grin of the elevator pedophile – thick, dirty fingers unzipping his fly.

His heart pounded in his throat, a lightening bolt of pain radiated through his shoulder and down his arm.  He felt sick.  His stomach spasmed and he vomited.  It hung in the air for few seconds, victim to the same free fall and slowly draped itself across the walls.  The fall seemed to last forever.  How can four stories be such a long trip?

He remembered that someone somewhere said “if you jump just before impact, you will survive“.  He had to time this just right.  He watched the numbers dwindle – 40, 39, 38.  He crouched, ready to spring.  Down, down, the elevator plunged – 30, 29, 28, 27.  Faster and faster, the smell of hot metal and burning paint flooded the chamber. 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4.

The pain in his arm intensified and he felt an unbearable weight upon his chest.  He couldn’t breath, he couldn’t move, his arm was on fire, his chest collapsing.  Through a haze he saw the numbers – 3,2,1.  The lights flickered and he tried to jump but his legs buckled.  Suddenly…

…everything stopped.  There was no crash, no twisted metal, no wrenching impact.  The lights flickered and everything was still.  The pain in his arm was gone.  His chest felt light.  His breathing was regular and he had stopped sweating.  He blinked and wiped his eyes.  He was OK.  He had survived.  “Ha!  Karma my ass! I am alive!”  He began to laugh.  He slumped down against the back wall and laughed like a giddy schoolgirl.  The lights flickered again and “ding” the doors opened.

Corridor2

He looked up and smiled.  Through the yawning doors he could see a dark corridor.  It was constructed from quarried stone blocks, each about 2 feet by 3 feet.  They were scarred and stained by centuries of wear.  Torches flickered a faint orange glow, intimidated by the darkness of the corridor.  White objects littered the stone block floor of the corridor.  He squinted and his smile disintegrated.  Is this the sub basement?  The smell of rotted meat and sulfur wafted into the elevator.  He closed his eyes and opened them again.

A dark figure was now standing before him.  Thick gloves covered meaty hands and he was dressed in a heavy coat and loose pants of a stiff fabric that appeared to be coated in soot.  A long, dark object dangled from his left hand and trailed along the floor.  His face was a mystery.  It was as if the area where his face should have been was bending the light around it – an ocular dead spot.  Must be an effect of the fall he thought.

Frank blinked again and rubbed his eyes.  “Hey –  you with the fire department?”  He straightened up and brushed dust from his sport coat.  “Man am I glad to see you!”

Silence.  The figure did not move.

“Boy, I’ve always hated those damn things.  I think I might need some medical assistance – that was quite a fall.”

The figure remained motionless and mute.

“Hell – o!  I said I think I might need some kind of medical check up…”

With a lightening flick of his wrist, the figure whipped the rusted chain through the darkness.  It struck Frank just below his jaw and wound around his neck 3 times.

He tried to scream, but his trachea was crushed by the chain.  He dropped to his knees and grabbed the links that continued to tighten, mangling his airway.  He sputtered and the warm thrill of blood painted his lips.

The figure jerked his arm and dropped his captive prone.  Slowly, the dark stranger began to drag Frank into the darkness of the corridor.

Frank tried to scream, but managed only a gurgle.  His writhing arms and legs disturbed the bits of bone and dried flesh strewn about on the floor.

He watched behind him as the elevator doors slowly closed, devouring all hope.  Above the door, illuminated numbers flickered for a moment – an upside down 4, a backwards 3 and an 11. He heard the breath of his captor rasping – or was it a low, whispered laugh.

elevatorNumbers

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Copyright SkullDugFilms – 2013

 

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Other SkullDug approved stories and poems:

http://www.burialday.com/short-fiction/kelpie

http://www.burialday.com/short-fiction/worm-house#more-630

http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/horrorindex.html