Tim McMullen's Missives and Tomes

Thursday, October 30, 2014

For A Good Time (another Halloween trick or treat?)

by Tim McMullen

His quiescence was shattered by the piercing shrillness of hideous laughter. He lifted his head slowly, painstakingly; a quaking chill ascended his spine as he did so. When his eyes finally focused, he surveyed his surroundings in startled disbelief. The shrieks and cackles sliced through the dense, musty atmosphere and assaulted his already frayed nerve-endings. The acrid smell of smoke and human odor flared his nostrils in a most obscene manner. He squinted through the murky air to the walls around him.
Barely visible, the implements of destruction hung suspended from the walls and ceiling. A huge chain, each link fully as large as a human skull, had been attached to the wall at one end, while the other was fixed to a grotesque two-headed scythe sporting spade-shaped spikes at both ends. He shuddered as his gaze fell upon savage metal hooks which could shred a man's flesh like a plow in a field of jello. Then he saw the murderous wooden clubs that could mash a man to a bloody pulp. The wailings of the other victims pierced his groggy senses as he stared in slack-jawed wonderment. Wiping the sweat from his forehead with his forearm, he let the arm linger there in an attempt to block out the scene.
Wilton Fischler blinked his eyes rapidly, threw back his head, splayed his fleshy lips in a piscatorial grin, and liberated a resounding belch. Ducking his head sheepishly, he admitted to himself that he was more drunk than he had thought. After some moments of silent embarrassment, he surveyed the wavering room again.
It was nearly pitch dark, or so it seemed to him, with only the flicker of a few candles on distant tables. Given his present state of inebriation, it was understandable that the nautical paraphernalia strewn around the walls had taken on a different and much more ominous shape in his eyes. The anchor, the grappling irons, and the belaying pins had been drunkenly metamorphosed into the sinister and threatening instruments he had seen; hence, the torture-chamber effect.
"I guessh I better get outa' here while I shtill can!" he mumbled, scratching the thinning fringe of brownish hair at the back of his head with a vacant look. It had been a tough week; sales were way down, and, more particularly, he had "the horn." In fact, it was the old "manly urge" that had propelled him to this little bar on the wharf, but thus far his overtures had encountered firm rebukes and little else.
"To hell with 'em!" he murmered. His hand fell to his right pant leg, and he felt on the outside of his pocket for a moment; then, reassured, he patted the spot and said, "Who needs these broads, anyway?" He lowered his gaze to the table for a moment and then began lifting the empty glasses, bottles, and cocktail napkins that lay scattered on the table, obviously searching in vain. "It must be around here shumwhere," he insisted. "Here, little Billy-willy! Here, little bill."
Howls of laughter rose from the youngsters at the next booth.
"Wha' sho funny?" Wilton muttered as he rose to leave. He painstakingly pulled his wallet from the breast pocket of his shiny, blue, serge suit and carefully removed a twenty-dollar bill which he then place neatly and methodically on the table, exclaiming, "That should cover the damages, my dear,"· to no one in particular. He turned slowly and searched for the dull green light of the exit.
Upon turning his head, he found that the room, in a fit of uncooperativeness, had begun to spin around him in a most disorienting and disconcerting manner. He grabbed hold of the table in an attempt to steady his equilibrium back down to the familiar, easy rolling which he generally equated with such wet evenings.
Gradually, the walls began to assume a more reasonable shape, and the floor flattened itself into a semi-walkable surface. Wilton launched himself on a course which he hoped would lead him through the maze of tables and patrons toward the back of the place; once there, he counted on finding a rear exit. He had some trouble negotiating the path, and more than one table corner reached out to jostle him rudely; nevertheless, despite all of the pratfalls thrown at him by the unfriendly room, he eventually made his way to the rear of the establishment. Here he found himself confronted with the specter of a long, desolate hallway, illumined dingily by the glow of two red neon signs.
One sign had a quite familiar message; he read and comprehended it almost immediately. It said "M-E-N." Undaunted by the darkened hallway, he propelled himself toward the men's room. Upon reaching the door, however, he found that the second glowing sign was now readable. He gaped up at it in unequivocal astonishment. There, in bright, red-lit letters,was the word, "OMEN."
Wilton felt the word register in his besotted brain slowly, as if some slug-footed insect had to transport the message from his eyes to his mind. When this torpid courier finally completed its commission, the import was clear: He, Wilton Fischler, was to be the recipient of some form of special warning. He readied himself by extending his left arm toward the door frame in an attempt to calm the almost convulsive trembling which wracked his unwilling body. Unfortunately, as his hand reached the door, his arm gave an involuntary lurch, said lurch being just sufficientt o swing open said door. Tumbling helplessly through the opening, he twisted instinctively so as to land in a sitting position. He sat, visibly jarred (pickled, as it were), staring at the luminous soothsayer flashing fierily in the distance.
After some moments, he perceived that its message was changing. First, the sign had gone out, leaving him in near darkness. It returned, however, displaying the same word as before, "OMEN." Then it blinked out, suddenly, only to reappear with a new image. He rubbed his eyes and read the new word carefully. Emblazoned in scarlet luminescence, it glowered ominously: "WOMEN!" Again it flashed and was gone. Finally, the full intent of the transmission was articulated as the sign began to change rapidly back and forth, from one word to the other, each pausing for a second and then giving way to its counterpart. Still he sat in the men's room doorway staring up at the gleaming edict. 
"OMEN" [pause] "WOMEN" [PAUSE] "OMEN"..."WOMEN"..."OMEN!"
After another thirty seconds, the message winked out and did not return. With its final flash, he felt his stupor subside significantly. A fierce spasm contracted his scrotum, threatening to retract his testicles permanently. Fischler jerked his knees toward his chest and fumbled helplessly at his pants.
"Oh, Jeez' ...Oh, Jeez'...Le'mme alone!" he cried. Only then did he realize exactly where he was sitting. He pulled himself up and staggered out of the doorway to the other side of the hall just as two young women emerged from the portal beneath the recently expired oracle. Standing on tiptoe with his back to the wall, Wilton pressed his behind and his sweaty, outstretched palms against the wall of the dingy hallway in an effort to escape the reach of the two approaching females.
"No! N-N-O-O-O! Huh-uh...Huh-uh…Huh-uh!" he shook his head as he chanted his terrified incantation in their direction.
As they passed, the blonde nymphet in the floral-fishnet stockings whispered to the vixen in the leatherette mini-skirt. Gales of giggles accompanied their return to the smoky bar. Frantically, Wilton plumbed the depths of his right front pocket. With a gasp of deliverance, he plucked the scrap from his pants, and with trembling hands he gingerly unfolded the paper and held it before him. It resembled the silhouette of a human bust, but Fischler, the Wary, knew better; it was, in fact, the center of one of those toilet seat covers, the useless part that trails down in the water and sucks the ring into the toilet when it's flushed.
There, in the middle of the oval, was the telephone number he had scrawled down off the restroom wall several hours earlier. In a flurry of frantic fingers and flying paper, he shredded the scatological memorandum and its now dreaded contents. Finally, flinging the confetti over his shoulder with cavalier flair, Wilton, the Wise, caromed past his extinguished savior and, braving the frigid blast of air which blew by him as he pushed the handle of the rear door, lurched confidently out into the brisk darkness of the expectant night.

©1985 Tim McMullen

All rights reserved

Crack-Up (Another original story for Halloween)

by Tim McMullen

"One...two...three candles!" cried Jenny Ashton. "C'mon, everybody, let's sing. Then you can blow the candles out, Willie." Her thin lips punctuated around a wide grin, she raised her slender, mauve-tipped hands in unison and then dropped them for the downbeat. "Happy Birthday to you .... "
On the cul-de-sac where the Ashton family lived, Willie's older brother, Jeffrey, with his precocious, "TV kid" quips and his dark, tousled hair fringing grinning grey-green eyes, had achieved something akin to "star-status." In this new tract, where ancient oaks had ultimately acquiesced to a baneful sprawl of beige boxes, Jeffrey had been the first of the block's new batch to walk, the first to talk, and, by the age of three, the first to read. At about this time, perhaps even in celebration of his future brother's feat, little William had been conceived.
Gazing up from his infant's crib on his first day home from the hospital, Willie had gurgled happily into his brother's anxious face. Jeffrey proffered a tentative finger to the tiny pink alien, and it grasped the extended digit in its wrinkled little fist and bubbled with delight.
"This baby is my brother," a beaming Jeffrey had announced to his elated parents.
From his earliest months, Willie had loved the sound of people. Music boxes, rattles, musical mobiles, and other devices designed to engage infant attention were equally ineffectual. For this reason, story telling emerged as a major preoccupation for the Ashton household.
A discomfited, wailing Willie became a cooing, sedate Willie at the drop of a "Once upon a time...." Although initially entranced by all the stories which were recited to him, first by his parents
and, later, by his brother Jeffrey, the toddler became especially enchanted by the fantastic visions of Lewis Carroll and the Brothers Grimm. His narrators, particularly Jeffrey, responded by filling his nighttime wanderings with dragons, goblins, beasts, and monsters.
By the time he was two years old, Willie had been initiated into the Secret Society of the Supernatural; its founder and only other member was his brother, Jeffrey. Starting with traditional superstitions like ladders, black cats, and sidewalk cracks, Jeffrey quickly became expert at inventing little diversions of imagination which could utterly thrill and, ultimately, terrify his little brother. Jeffrey was both his teacher and his tormentor. Willie knew that Jeffy had been scolded repeatedly for "scaring the pants off" him, as well as the other neighborhood kids, but the scoldings neither deterred Jeffrey's creations nor jaded William's credulity.
Despite the air of festivity and excitement surrounding Willie's third birthday, Jeffrey seemed distracted; he even mumbled to himself, as if he were trying to recall some misplaced or forgotten something. Willie had wondered about his brother's curious behavior several times. At dinner he had almost asked Jeffrey why he was looking at him so funny, but his father had asked him a question and the moment passed.
Willie was very excited at dinner, and he received several jovial reprimands about speaking with his mouth full. Despite his obvious anxiety, it had been decided that the dinner dishes should be cleaned up before Willie opened his birthday presents.
While the others were busy, Willie sidled in and surveyed the shared kingdom of his and Jeffrey's bedroom. His blue, He-Man blanket dripped a corner off of the bottom bunk and onto the floor. He crossed to the bed, lifted the wayward corner, and pulled the blanket toward him. Draping it over his shoulders, he tied two of the ends around his neck and flung the rest of the blanket cape-like behind him.
Alone in Castle Greyskull, he again turned his attention to his surroundings. Before him loomed the magical enchanted tower where the evil ones held the princess. Grabbing his sword, HeMan made a daring leap for the ladder that lead up to the tower. His foot slipped on the rung, and he nearly plunged down into the moat where the alligators and dragons swam hungrily, but he clung bravely and began to climb. At the fifth rung he stopped and turned his head to look over his shoulder.
"Wow!" he gasped under his breath.
Willie had never viewed his world from the vantage of his brother's top bunk. This ascent had been strictly forbidden by both his parents and his brother, and he had never dared venture up the ladder for fear of being caught; the height of the perch had also been a significant deterrent. But the cape and the sword had propelled him upward, and now he gazed out on virgin territory.
He eyed the dresser with particular interest. The dresser top was too tall for him, so he kept his bank and his other personal possessions on the little orange plastic table beneath the window at the foot of the bed. Occasionally, he had pulled out the bottom dresser drawer and used it for a step up to the top, but he'd never dared more than a few seconds' peek before he jumped down. Now, from the top of the bunk ladder, he could see everything.
Jeffrey kept a blue pig filled with pennies and nickels; it was there in the far corner standing guard over Jeffrey's possessions. A plastic tortoise-shell comb and brush set nestled beneath the pig. To their right lay a pile of objects. Willie couldn't identify everything, but the ring of keys, the marbles, and the bits of string suggested the probable importance of the other objects. Suddenly, though surrounded by the other things, and undoubtedly hidden on purpose, a black plastic whistle poked its snout out from the pile. It looked like a real playground whistle, the shrill warbling kind like they used at the park.
Willie found that his feet were entangled in his cape as he hastened to descend, so he paused for a moment, untied the blanket, and let it drop to the floor. Birthday avarice in his eyes and the whistle in his mind, he pulled out the first two drawers in stair-step fashion and clambered up onto the dresser top. He carefully extricated the whistle from beneath the pile. It had a cord looped through the hole at the end, and he delicately slid his head through its noose. He let the whistle dangle on his stomach for a moment, then he brought it slowly to his lips. The whistle wheezed a muffled chirp from Willie's breathing, and he quickly clapped his hand over it. Carefully holding his breath, he clamped the whistle tightly between his teeth and looked at himself in the dresser mirror.
Hey, you kids, stop that, he shouted silently, then he held the whistle and blew an imaginary blast on it. The kids stopped instantly, and Willie viewed himself proudly in the mirror.
"Watch out, Willie!" Jeffrey suddenly cried from the doorway. The whistle shrieked in Willie's mouth, and he nearly toppled off the dresser.
"You must be crazy! Did you check for cracks, Willie? Did you?" Jeffrey demanded in frightened tones.
"Wha...what?" whimpered the confused child, spinning from the mirror in alarm.
Jeffrey grabbed Willie, pulled him down from the dresser, and placed him emphatically on the floor.
"What cracks?" Willie ventured hesitantly. "The cracks! The mirror cracks! They might have got you, Willie. You might have been a goner if I hadn't caught you!"
The little boy's face worked and wrinkled itself to the verge of terrified, trembling tears, but the older boy put his arm around his brother, reassuring and calming him.
"It's okay now, Willie...it's okay," he whispered earnestly and hugged his shoulder. "It's okay. I was just afraid that that might have been one of the mirrors of death." He paused to allow the weight of his words to sink into the credulous consciousness of the little boy.
"M-M-Mirrors of death?" came the inevitable reply.
"Sure, haven't you heard of them? I guess nobody told you 'cuz you were too little. They don't get little kids. They can't get you until you're at least three years old." After another pointed pause, he continued. "That's why I shouted 'cuz now you're three, and they can have you if they want!”
"Who? Who can have me, Jeffy?"
"The people in the mirror. The...uh...mirror monsters!! The ones who've been trapped inside and can't get out."
"Inside the mirror? How, Jeffy? It's too thin, isn't it?" he asked, regarding the mirror warily.
"Jeffrey! Willie!" Their mother's voice startled them, and Willie jumped. "What are you boys doing? You're so quiet!"
"Nothing," Jeffrey answered, "We're just playing." There was a long silence while they listened to their mother puttering in the kitchen.
"Willie, you remember Wonderland, and Alice and the White Rabbit, don't you?"
"Well, don't you remember her other story of the Looking Glass room, where everything 's backwards?" William nodded, and Jeffrey continued, "Well, that was just a story, of course, but some of those things are true. About the mirror was real, only that's not how it happens. Inside the mirror world it's not as happy as Alice, and you can't just step through like she did; but on the other side, they sit and watch and stare at us, just waiting for someone they can take."
"H-How do they do it?" William had taken several steps back from the mirror, and he now gazed intently into Jeffrey's earnest face.
"They do it like this," said Jeffrey. "They watch and wait for something to happen. They wait for a mirror to crack, or if they are really strong, they crack it themselves from the inside. They try to keep the cracks as small as possible so's no one will notice."
William sat with his back against their bunk bed and began to cuddle himself into a blue He-Man cocoon created by the blanket which he had plucked from the floor. He sucked on a soggy satin corner of the cocoon, eyes widened in unquestioning incredulity.
"Then, when someone comes up to one of their mirrors with the little cracks, they get ready. If the person gets too close or stays too long, then they've got him."
Jeffrey grabbed William's arm. The little boy jumped and sucked in breath between his teeth.
"You can't get away, and they hold you and pull you until they suck you right into the mirror. But that's not the worst!" The younger boy trembled, and Jeffrey released his arm. "When they suck you through," he whispered, "they like pull you all inside out!" Jeffrey accompanied this narrative with a pantomime of frantic tugging and a graphic slurping noise. "Your brain and...and your guts and everything are on the outside of your body. Then you have to be with the people on the inside... always."
"Why don't we just break the mirrors so those people can't get out?" asked William, squinting hesitantly from the depths of his blue cocoon.
"What, are you crazy? That's seven year's bad luck! You know why? Because when you break a mirror, you let the mirror people have a lot more power," Jeffrey snorted condescendingly.
"Then, what do we do?
"Just be careful! Don't look too long or stand too close to a mirror, and don't be BAD...because they always take mean, bad people...and always remember to check for cracks. Anyway, this mirror is okay, because I've checked it carefully now, and it's okay."
William sat thoughtfully, without speaking, and filed away the information in his three-year-old brain. He glanced sideways at the mirror and then back at his brother. Jeffrey had to look away to keep from laughing, but Willie read the gesture.
With a particularly dramatic facial contortion meant to convey his deep disgust, Willie emitted a condescending snort of his own and then clucked his tongue on the back of his teeth in a "Tsk" of disbelief.
"Willie!" his mother cried suddenly from some distant room. "Come in here, Sweetie, let's open your birthday gifts.
"Okay!" the little boy yelled. He flashed an angry look at his brother, and Jeffrey burst into hysterical laughter. Willie turned and left the room, but he snuck back stealthily and peeked around the door jamb.
Jeffrey stood looking into the mirror, and Willie knew that Jeffrey was ridiculing him. He was pretending to be his little brother, and he approached the mirror with a look of mock dread. He inched closer and closer, laughing aloud at his "Wary Willie" imitation. Finally, he pressed his nose against the glass and leaned his right brow against it as well.
"Hello! Is anybody there? Come in...come in...HELLO!"
Humiliated, Willie turned from the doorway and retreated from the sound of his brother's derisive laughter.
"Stupid Jeffrey! I'll never believe him again, not ever!" he whimpered. A sharp pain swelled in his throat and a tear pooled in his eye as he relived his betrayal. "I hate you! I hate you and I wish you..." Willie stopped himself. Never before had he uttered such angry words, and as he spoke, he felt the hatred flow from his body like the oil he had seen his dad drain out of the car. He ungritted his teeth and unclenched his fists, but the ache in his throat merely crawled down into his chest, and he stopped at the end of the hall and cried softly.
When it came, the scream was so incomprehensible yet so overwhelming that Willie was reflexively flung against the wall. The sound conveyed a sense of pain so much beyond human endurance as to be inconceivable, yet before it had ceased its wail, Willie was on his feet and sprinting for his room.
Without thinking, he ran to the dresser and climbed up on the bottom drawer which he had left open. By this time only one leg barely protruded from the mirror above the dresser. Willie grabbed for it and clung on with every ounce of his three-year-old might. The leg recoiled convulsively, as if trying to kick free, and Jeffrey's shoe carne off in his hands as Willie tumbled backward onto the floor.
When Jenny and Alan Ashton came running into the room, they found Willie sitting at the foot of the dresser, sobbing, with Jeffrey's dirty sneaker pressed to his chest.

 ©1985 Tim McMullen
 All Rights Reserved

The Box (a little halloween treat—a short story from "So It's All Done With Mirrors, That's No Reflection on You")

by Tim McMullen

"What the Hell happened here, Sarge?" said the younger officer, addressing the man who had just sat down at the desk and picked up a small digital recorder. The older man listened for a few seconds and then motioned for the speaker to be quiet and go about his business. The sergeant pushed the rewind button and adjusted the earpiece. Then he hit the play button and began to listen in earnest.

"I've sat with this recorder in my hand for half an hour trying to figure out how to start. I'm a bus driver, not a newsman. Still, I want to get it all down carefully and clearly in case something happens.
"I guess the weirdness started with the box. I found the box yesterday...Sunday. I'd been digging in the backyard, taking out some fenceposts so that Phyllis, my wife, can plant a vegetable garden. Somebody put a chain-link fence across the middle of the yard before we moved in, and I'd just left it there for the last three years. I guess they had a dog or something. Anyway, I was working on the last post when my shovel clanged on something metal. It was only about a foot and a half down. I used the hand trowel to get it out. It was a square, black metal box. I figured my shovel must have dented it pretty bad, but there wasn't a scratch on it. It was black and smooth and shiny. I went to put the box up on the porch, and when I turned around, I was surprised to find that the last post had fallen over on its own. It was lucky, though, because the light was fading. I quickly scraped the dirt into the hole, put away my tools, and carne into the house. I admit I was anxious to get a look at that black box.
"I sat down at the kitchen table to examine it, but there wasn't much to examine. It was just a metal cube, about eight inches a side. That's it. No top or bottom. No hinges. No latches. No markings of any kind. I banged it on the table but nothing happened. I quickly decided that if I couldn't get it open, then I didn't need it, but as I went to toss it in the trash, I held it up to my ear and shook it. I don't know how I missed it before, but the damn thing rattled ...loudly! Just then Phyllis hollered from the bedroom, so I laid the box on the table and went in there.
"When I came back, I must have cried out because I remember telling Phyllis that nothing was wrong. But there...on the table... he box lay open. There were no hinges or anything; the top was simply not there. Inside was a big, brown rock. I took it out and looked at it. Then I went in the bedroom and showed Phyllis the rock and the box and told her what had happened...where I got them. She said it seemed stupid to stick a rock in a box and bury it. Then she said, 'Maybe it's valuable?' Oddly enough, this hadn't occurred to me, but it made sense. That could explain the trick lid; it was a sort of mini-safe.
"I looked down at the rock and checked it out carefully. It was about six inches, and it was rough and jagged. It was mostly brown, with a few shiny spots. The shiny places were weird, though, not like granite or quartz. Not like anything I've ever seen. They looked almost like glass, but they didn't scratch. I even scraped on one with the diamond in my ring, but it didn't make a mark. After that Phyllis said that I was crazy, it was just a stupid rock, and to throw it away. I pretty much had to agree.
"Anyway, none of that matters. Here's the point. As I stood there with the rock in my hands, I felt something. It moved. I jumped and yelled, and it fell out of my hand and hit the carpet. 'It moved!' I yelled to Phyllis, 'The damn thing moved!' When I bent down, I saw that the rock had cracked, and when I picked it up, it broke in half.
"I guess I about lost it then, when I saw that. The rock, or whatever it is, is thin. I mean the outside is thin, and the thing is hollow. And inside. Inside the outer shell I saw that horrible ooze. It was like...I don't know...like a brown jellyfish. It was sort of liquid; it spilled out of the rock and pooled on the carpet, but it didn't let go. There was a strand of it that strung from the rock to the pool, and it hung on when I lifted or lowered the rock. I didn't have time to experiment much because my wife yelled to clean it up and threw me a box of Kleenex. I laid the dry half down. Only one side had the ooze on it. Then I picked up a big handful of tissues—the stuff was really ugly—and I tried to scoop it up into the rock. It worked, but it was weird. It all went back in the rock. It didn't soak in at all; both the Kleenex and the carpet were bone dry. But God that stuff was ugly! I held the wad of tissue under it and walked right out of the back door and to the trash. I opened up one of the plastic trash bags and threw the whole mess inside; then I closed it up tightly.
"I felt such a relief to have that stuff out of my hands, but then I've always been squeamish about things like that. I mean, if something has spoiled and gone all fuzzy in the refrigerator, I'd rather throwaway the container than try to save it.
"On my way back into the house, I saw that the back porch light was out. I was surprised because it was so bright out there. I looked up and saw that the moon had just come up above the trees and it was huge. The whole block was brightly lit, and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. I found this big, bright moon very comforting. Nevertheless, I switched on the back porch light and checked to make sure that it worked. The back yard was flooded with light.
"When I came back to the bedroom, Phyllis asked if I'd gotten rid of all that crud, and I said, 'Yes,' but then I saw the other half of the rock on the floor. She was sitting on the other side of the bed watching television, so she didn't see it. I nonchalantly picked up the rock and walked toward the bathroom with it. As I moved, I looked down at this hollow half rock, and I realized there was something in it. I tipped it over into my hand and found a feather, a claw, and a bone. I sat down on the side of the tub and stared. It struck me that this stuff had been laying in that slime for God knows how long, but they were completely dry, just like the rug. You talk about getting the creeps. I thought about the box and the rock...and the slime...and the things in my hand. I held the objects closer to my eyes, closer to the light, but they were just what they looked like. The feather was jet black and about four and a half inches long. The claw was huge and pointed, and it was a dirty yellow-brown. It was like the claw of a big cat or a wolf. In fact, it looked too big for a lion or a wolf ...maybe a bear or something. And the bone? I'm no geologist or archaeologist, so I don't know what the hell it was, but it was clean, smooth, and white. Snow white.
"Needless to say, all this stuff—everything that happened with that box—really bugged me. Bugged? Hell, it scared me like I couldn't remember. But then I asked myself, What's the big deal? It's just a rock with some junk in it. Rocks get formed lots of different ways, don't they? So this stuff from some animal, or a couple of animals , got surrounded by a rock. Then I remembered the box. Who put the rock in the box? And who buried it? Then I realized that I didn't have the box. I couldn't even remember where I'd put it. I mentally retraced my steps and decided that I must have left it in the bedroom. I put the stuff back in the rock and put it in the cabinet under the bathroom sink. I figured I could wait until morning to decide whether to show the rock to somebody or to just toss it out.
"I went back to the bedroom, but I didn't see the box. I asked Phyllis about it, but she hadn't seen it either. She said she thought I had it with me when I took it all out to the trash. I don't think I did have it then, but I'll admit that I was agitated, and I might have tossed it. I looked all over for that stupid black box, even places I knew it couldn't be. Finally, I decided that I must have put it in the trash, but I also decided that I could wait until morning to find it.
"Phyllis was already asleep when I got in bed. I lay awake for a long time. I couldn't stop thinking about the box and the rock. And the slimy ooze. Actually, I was a little afraid to go to sleep because I'm once in a while bothered by nightmares, and I figured tonight it'd be unavoidable. I remember seeing 11:53 on the clock, so I'd laid there for almost an hour. After that, I must have gone to sleep.
"I had a restless night—tossing and turning—then at 3:30, I was suddenly awake. Phyllis must have snored, or I thought she did, because it woke me up. Although, when I turned over to look at her, she was on her side. Phyllis seldom snores, and when she does, it's always on her back. But now she was on her side and sleeping soundlessly. I wanted to just go back to sleep, but I knew from experience that I'd never make it. I needed to go to the bathroom, and I knew that I'd never get back to sleep until I did.
"I got carefully out of bed—Phyllis is a light sleeper—and I walked down the hall to the bathroom. When I was done, I ran the water very softly so as not to wake her. I can't explain what I felt in that next instant. I slammed off the water and sprang to the window. I had heard something right outside the bathroom window. It was a snarling and a kind of scraping sound. I'm still not sure why I'm alive right now. I'm truly amazed that my heart didn't stop altogether...I was so freaked. This God-awful growl just burst up out of my backyard. I couldn't have hesitated more than a second before I slipped open the louvered window and looked out. I couldn't see or hear anything. It was pitch dark. I looked up, and I could still see the moon big and bright through the trees. Then I realized that Jack Stratton's yard next door was bathed in moonlight and porch light. I looked back into my yard, but I couldn't see a thing. Nothing. I slammed the window shut and ran...RAN...to the back door, but it was already locked. I flicked the porch light switch up and down, but nothing happened. I ran to the front door, which was also locked, and then I went from room to room locking all the windows. In the den I noticed this recorder, and I decided to put this all down. I went to check on Phyllis about half an hour ago, but she was still asleep.
As I re-listen to all this stuff, it sounds dumb, but it still gives me the creeps. It's almost five o'clock now, but dawn hasn't started to break. At least, not in my yard. I've decided what I'm going to do when morning comes. I'm going to get the rock from under the sink, and get the other half out of the trash; then, I'm going to find that damn black box, and I'm going to put it right back in the hole it came out of and bury it! And then I think we're gonna move out of this house and never come back, whether Phyllis likes it or not. In fact, I think I'll get the rock in the bathroom right NOW..."

When the sound stopped abruptly, the sergeant stared for a moment at the recorder and then looked up blankly. Then he heard two men speaking loudly, way off at the back of the house.
"Geez, Bill, wouldya' look at this!"
"These scratches...look at 'em...in the cement...bunches of 'em! What the Hell could have dug into the concrete like this? They must be over three-quarters of an inch deep."
"Yeah, and look at this door. Whoever broke this in must have used a truck!"
The sergeant looked down at the recorder and then stood up and walked to the bedroom. The young man looked up, his face quite pale, and said, "Sarge?" His voice quavered, "Sarge, is this really a body...a human body?"
Instead of answering, the sergeant, with the recorder still in his hand, turned back to the door where another voice had just appeared.
"What do you make of this, Sarge?" the man said, and held out a large, black metal box.

©1985 Tim McMullen
All rights reserved