|< Back to Phoophie Tales||Tales from the Dark Side >>|
"The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear,
"The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear,
and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown."
~ H.P. Lovecraft
I don't know when and I don't know how, but I was fighting for my life. One thought was tearing through my cranium as two powerful hands clenched my shoulders. Instinctively, I thrashed around as the two fists had taken hold. But my resistance came to a halt as the long nails burrowed painfully into me. I winced and realized it was futile to fight. Then, I was suddenly flung to the ground, and a heavy weight crushed my backside. I squirmed and straggled, but to no use. A heavy fist jammed into the back of my head and started to rub rapidly back and forth. "Noogie, noogie, noogie," my brother teased.
"Jared," I groaned. "Uggh, get OFF!"
"Shut up, Ronald."
I cupped my hands around my mouth and blared a long siren of emergency. "Moooom!" Jared immediately leaped off of me. I stood and dusted myself off. Gosh, brother's are a pain.
Jared was in a corner of my room. You had had to give it to him, though--he was cool. Leaning back, his curly blonde locks just grazed his shoulders. I was known as uncool--my hair was normal, my face was skinny and long, and I was short. My height had sealed my fate of being uncool.
"Hey, twerp," said the fourteen-year-old. "Callin' for mommy every chance you get."
I felt my face burn with anger. "It gets you in trouble, doesn't it?" Jared chuckled. "Oh, Ronnie, Ronnie, Ronnie," he crooned. "So naive. So young. One day, Mother-Dear will just not come." He placed an arm around my shoulder, indicating a fake hug. My mother entered the door. "What is it?"
"Nothing," my older brother said. "Just having some fun."
My mother had a yeah-right face. She folded her arms. "OK," she warned, "but if I have to come in here again. . . When your father gets back from his business trip, he's not going to let you act like this." She left it at that. After mom had vanished from the hallway, Jared flicked my ear. I sighed. "Ugly," I said.
"Stupid," Jared retorted.
"Retard," I insulted.
"You already said that, Galileo," I said finally.
"Who's he?" I corrected. "You have a way with words. Maybe you should write stage plays." Jared laughed mockingly. I retreated and sat on my bed. Jared made a weird sucking noise. It was coming from his nose. . .oh, no. He started gulping and something slithered up his throat. "Aah!" I screamed. I sprinted across the hallway.
I entered the living room and heard hurried footsteps behind me. Jared tackled me and I rammed into the mantelpiece. Dad's Junior High basketball championship skittered across the wood. I heard a crack as it shattered on the floor.
I slammed hard face-up on the ground. Jared loomed over me. He spit--and down came the loogie. It hung inches from my face. . .
"NO!" screamed Jared. He sucked his snot-spit back into his mouth. I looked over and gasped as I saw what had made him yelp.
Dad's trophy was broken. And when I say broken, I mean broken. The once-glorious figurine had been a golden man with a basketball. I could always imagine the breath-taking moment where the player was frozen; could see the amazing capture of time the player was forever confined to--his arms outstretched, pleading to reach the hoop, his legs flailing in mid-leap, all in his shiny golden glory--
And now the man had been reduced to shards of broken dreams. It wasn't actually gold--just cheap glass spray-painted gold. Fragile as. . .well, thin glass. I scooped up the sharp torso and extremities of the faithful basketball player. I felt a pang of sadness.
"Dad's gonna kill us," breathed Jared--sad for a different reason.
"Yeah," I whispered.
"Let's bury it," Jared suggested.
"Yeah," I repeated.
"And when he finds out, you'll just take it like a man."
"Yeah. . .wait, no!" I fumbled. Jared smiled. "You broke it."
"You pushed me!"
"Yeah. . .but you broke it." I sighed. Dad just wouldn't find out. We gathered up the remains and Jared fetched a shovel. We traveled to the backyard and set a place to dig. "Get started," Jared commanded, and tossed me the shovel. There was no point of arguing. I broke the rich soil with the blade of the shovel and dug in.
After lifting only a few shovels-full of dirt, I banged into something.
Don't expect this to be a treasure chest.
The clang of metal against metal rang in my ears. "Huh?" questioned Jared. "What did you hit?" I looked at him. "I know. I really do," I scorned sarcastically. We threw the shovel aside and scooped handfuls of dirt. I uncovered a small lid. With a handle!
"What's that?" Jared asked.
"It's a handle. Useful for opening things with."
"Not that, Ron," he responded. "That."
He pointed at a sign on the hatch.
I glanced at it. There were words beneath the caution symbol.
Caution: Bomb Occupancy
"Oh, cool," I cried. Jared rubbed his neck. "Bomb occupancy?"
"Like a bomb shelter!" I explained. "They must have built this in the fifties or something." I took hold of the handle and heaved. The hatch quickly yielded and inside was darkness. A ladder was nailed to the wall. "Go down," said Jared, egging me on. I grabbed the ladder and silently lowered myself.
It was dark. The only light was from the surface overhead. Then, suddenly, that light was gone, too. Jared quickly slammed the door shut. I hurried back up the ladder and pushed, but something heavy was on the lid. "Jared!" I screamed. "Jared!"
"I will let you out on one condition."
"I am entitled to one noogie and loogie a day, without the mom patrol."
"Never!" I hollered.
Footsteps slowly faded away. "Jared!"
I dropped and landed on the cement. My hands out in front of me, I staggered in the darkness, feeling for a light. Something brushed past my knee. I shivered and kept searching. Eventually, my finger scraped across a light switch.
I turned it on.
"Oh my God!"
Lined up in rows across the walls were corpses. Dead human bodies. I recoiled and shrieked. What the heck had brushed against my knee? I turned in fright. Another dead person. Blood was oozing from its stitched eyes. Black stitches lined the eyelids and lips of all the corpses. In the middle of the room was a blood-red mahogany coffin.
I screamed. "Let me out!" I shrieked. "I'll do whatever you want! JUST LET ME OUT!" I banged hard on the hatch, but a heavy weight was still upon it. I felt a terrible pain in my head as I collided with the roof. I quickly turned and detected a flicker of motion. In horror, I realized one of the stitch-victims had moved.
I pressed myself against the wall, desperately attempting to get out. The disgusting deceased humans were slowly standing up and shuffling towards me. I screamed. I screamed and screamed until the closest undead creature was near me. With a sob, I planted my shoe in his stomach , driving him backwards. He stumbled backwards, but regained his footing. Oh, my gosh. I started banging hard on the hatch.
I felt a horrible pain in my leg.
I thrashed around. A corpse was behind me, his eyelids neatly embedded together, blinding him. A needle with black twine was jutting out of my thigh. "OHH!" I yelled. His bound mouth was trying to form muffled, lipless words. His mouth attempted to move--to break the thread.
The needle sank farther in. It made a faint imprint as it snaked up to my back. Pain tore through me as, from the inside, I saw the needle cross my cheek and pass in and out of my lips, stitching them. Twine sewed my eyes closed, rendering me blind and mute. My tears stung my eyes as they failed to leak through the black thread.
The darkness drew in.
I could only hear my muffled cries. Distant echoes rang in my ears. I wiped my eyes, but it caused nothing--the thread took over. I could only see a black void of space hanging endlessly before my eyes--a desolate emptiness.
"Ohhh," I groaned. It seemed to last forever.
"Hmm? Ohh." I felt myself hold onto my aching head.
"You banged your head when you climbed down the ladder. You fell."
Jared's voice was light, mocking, final.
I opened my eyes. No thread. It was all just a nightmare.
"Get out of there," said Jared above me, in the blinding light from the surface. "If mom finds out you got hurt, she's gonna kill me." I sat up. Rubbing my head, I made it to my feet. The unbearable pain in my forehead was numbing. I slowly looked around.
Jared hopped down the hole, landing perfectly. He wandered in the darkness. "If there's a light in here. . ." He found one, and the room flooded with light. And before my very eyes was a mahogany coffin.
I stood, mortified.
Jared's mouth hung open.
"Like the dream," I breathed. "What?" Jared asked, not looking away from the casket. I paused. "The thread and needle. . .the stitches. . .the bodies. . .the coffin. . ."
Jared did not respond. He clumped his jacket up and bundled it against him, fighting the Winter cold. Slowly, in unison, Jared approached the casket and I backed from it. "No!" I warned, but Jared did not stop. "I have to find out," I said. He placed his hand on the dark-red wood. "It's cold." He stood in silence.
"Don't!" I cautioned.
Jared did not falter--he stood, defiant, un-obeying, solute. He lowered his hand to the latch and began to lift. . .
"Boys! What are you-- Oh!"
I turned in shock. Mom was above us, gazing down in disbelief.
"Do you know what this is?" Jared inquired. "Get out!" Mom demanded, racing down the ladder. She snatched me by the coat arm and collared Jared. "You will not come in here! Do you understand?"
Judging by the paleness in Jared's face, he understood.
"And you?" My mother turned to me. She shifted her hand to my ear, pulling it painfully. I winced and nodded. That night we were sent to bed an hour early. As I lay in bed, I felt terrified of the idea that a coffin was right outside my house. And my room was right next to the bomb shelter.
Curiously, I peered out of my window. The hatch was closed. Padlocked.
I opened my window, and scrambled to the dew-damp grass below. I dusted the soggy grass clinging to my pajamas off and approached the door. I bent down and put in my supposed code, my mom and dad's anniversary:
March 3rd, 1994. I attempted to unlock the lock, but no dice. "Hmm," I hummed to myself. I entered another code:
My birthday. January 1st, 1995. Again, I jerked the lock, but nothing. I pondered the matter, and I finally came up with the answer I was sure about.
Mom's birthday. September 3rd, 1967.
Breathing hard, I placed my trembling fingers upon the lock. I pulled.
"Hmm," I repeated, focusing solely on the mysteries of this hatch. I would have to continue this the next night. I was tired. So I went to my mattress, suffering a long, dull sleep filled with thoughts of frustration and curiosity.
When the sun rose the next morning, I was already awake. Eventually all of my family was awake, and the whole day I asked important questions about my family. I recorded every date, every important number.
That night, I had a fresh list of numbers.
The first I entered was all the birthdays, then the important dates, and finally the number of letters in our names.
Ronald, Jared, Ima, Robert (I miss Dad, I thought. Can't wait until he gets back.) --last name: Preforoaru. Precisely twenty-nine letters. I entered:
Still nothing. Angry, I went to bed that night wondering what on earth could be the code to that padlock.
I had school the next day, so I wasn't able to collect any more information.
The day was boring. . .until something interesting happened in math. We learned about exponents. An exponent was one of those tiny numbers next to the normal-sized ones. It causes the number to multiply by itself however many times the number says so. Like this: 43. It means 4 x 4 x 4, which equals 64. That gave me an idea.
Late at night, when even the moon was dim, I wondered if the 9 in 0029 was an exponent. No. . . Mom wasn't that clever. Whatever was in the coffin wasn't that important. Nonetheless, I quickly added up the math.
29. 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2.
Brilliant, I thought. The number of the letters in our name, with nine as an exponent. If this was correct. . . Amazing.
I grasped the lock firmly with one hand a pulled up.
Inside the padlock, a tiny lever activated itself, twisting away from a steel metal rod. The rod retracted, burying itself far into the lock, landing on a pad. The pad yielded under the weight, raising another rod. It popped up out of place, unlocking the latch.
I opened the hatch, and dropped into the darkness. I flicked on the light, and there sat the mahogany coffin. The dark-red wood looked rich and smelled heavy of deep lumber. I approached the coffin, and placed my hand on the smooth surface.
It was cold. Just like Jared said.
I placed my hand on the rim, gripped it tightly, and lifted.
Inside, was a body.
It was a tall man, with brown hair and freckles.
He was my father.
My eyes brimmed with tears, and I fell to the ground, sobbing. My own dad was lying in a coffin, his eyes and mouth stitched together. It felt like hours, until I was done sobbing. I wiped my eyes, but suddenly felt a sharp pain.
I looked behind me, and saw Mom there, a needle in her hand, stuck in my arm. "Wha--?" I screamed, dazed. She glared at me in disgust. "I told you not to come in here," she said. I yanked the needle out of my arm, crying uncontrollably.
"My victims live here," she explained, but I did not understand. She threw me to the ground.
"I've lived here since the fifties," she explained. I opened my mouth, but she hushed me. "I was NOT born in the sixties. You see, Ron. . .I am a ghost. For years, I have stitched my victims. . .the bombs could not hurt me if I prepared a sacrifice. So I sacrificed the other occupants to satisfy the gods. But the bombs did deform me. . .I am immortal."
I sat, sniffing.
"Your father found this shelter. So, he just had to go. . ." She pointed at the corpse. "So, rise, my victims." Just like my nightmare, stitched victims appeared from my shadows.
My mother continued, "So now you know my secret. You're coffin will be next to Father's. . ."
I stood to protest, but my own mother jabbed the needle in my arm again. It snaked up to my face, and started to lace over my retinas.
The wound on my arm was dripping. I fell to my knees, catching the red coffin to balance myself. Soon, a twin casket would lay next to his, side by side, containing my eyeless, mouthless body.
The wound was oozing horrible arterial blood.
Blurry redness dripped on the coffin, forming a perfect match of color.
My mahogany blood dripped on the mahogany coffin.