31 Horror Films: Intermission
A story fragment
The following is a snippet of a story that I've been turning over in my mind for over a year now. I hope to finish it sometime this year, but it may linger until 2014. It was inspired by a small shack on a piece of land where my foreman and I were working (back when I was still doing manual labor). There was nothing particularly special about the structure, it obviously held tools and other such things, but its age carried with it a sinister quality. I mentioned this to my foreman, Tim, who agreed. Then, after a pause, Tim said: "The most disturbing thing about that place is that it has curtains." He was correct. It was that detail, that home-like intention, added to something that was so clearly not a home that made it creepy. A week later I started working on this story.
Most of all I remember the curtains by Rob Walker
I remember the small shack jutted out from the ground. The paint, if the structure had ever been painted, had long been scrubbed away by the sands of time. The shack was constructed from wood slats and rusted tin. The slats for the walls and the tin for the roof. It had a front door, painted red, which was obviously pulled from somewhere else. You would know this just by looking at it, it didn't match. Hanging on the door was a new master lock. The biggest kind they make. In the wall facing East, was the shack's only window, and hanging in the window was a matching pair of white, lace curtains. I remember the building vividly, but it's the curtains that stick in my mind the most. The building looked abandoned or at the very least, like a place where Cleveland Borst, the farmer who owned the land, might store an old lawnmower. But for the curtains. Though old and frayed, it was apparent they were hung with impeccable care. And they moved with the breeze.
I was ten when I made my first trip to the shack with the white lace curtains. It was the tail end of summer. It still got up around eighty at one o'clock, but there was a smell on the breeze of the coming fall. I had peddled my bike out to Borst farm and hid in the tall grass so that I could catch a peek at old Cleve. Everyone in town said he'd gone off after his wife died, and his daughter went missing eight years ago. In retrospect, no one would blame him. The daughter, who's name was Penny, was fifteen when she disappeared. There were search parties and news reports, but after a while, people just stopped looking. Some people said that she'd ran off with some boy from Oak Creek; others floated the idea that old Cleve killed her in a fit of grief after his wife died and that her ghost still haunted their farm. It was these stories that became the stuff of local legend. Stories older brothers tell their ten-year-old siblings. I was the latter but, even at ten, was ruled by logic. I had made peace with the well-meaning fabrications of my parents that included giant rabbits and Santa Clause. I no longer believed that fairies whisked away my baby teeth, and I saw the comic book advertisements for sea monkeys precisely for what they were, lies to sell freeze-dried brine shrimp to unsuspecting little boys. When I think about it now, it was logic, oddly enough, that drove me to Borst farm and later the shack. If Cleve was a murderer and the restless spirits of his wife and daughter haunted the grounds, I wanted to see it first hand.
Cleveland Borst was big and scary, that much was clear. He was hunched at 6' 4' and was easily 300 pounds. His gut hung past his suspenders and over his belt buckle. His skin was tanned red from years working the fields, which made it look like leather. When he came out of his front door and the screen snapped shut, he lumbered forward, looking not unlike a bear wearing a man-suit. His hands were enormous. The gallon buckets he carried in each beefy mitt, looked small as he hoisted them into the back of his pickup. Anyone, let alone a boy of ten, would have no trouble envisioning this mountain of a man swinging an ax at someone's face. Just as I was trying to shake this thought from my brain, Cleve heaved himself into the driver's seat with a grunt and started his '87 Dodge. I remember watching him sit there with his truck running, staring into the middle distance before backing out and kicking up dust. Though my banged-up Huffy was no match for the speed of a pickup truck, I decided to press on and follow, riding Cleve's dust cloud all the way to the shack.
When I finally reached the field where the little shanty stood, the sun was sliding to the West. It was hot, and I had no idea how long Cleve had been inside the shack, but as I made my way closer, I heard sounds. From where I was crouched outside, it sounded like Cleve was sobbing. What words I could make out, were caught in his throat amid childlike whimpers. Hearing a man like that let loose with stifled, choking sobs, has a way of cutting you. Then I heard her speak and I suddenly forgot about Cleve. The voice was sweet and young, but there was a patience in it that I found unsettling. It was a girl's voice about my age, maybe a little older. She was speaking calmly to the blubbering man, and before I could make out what she was saying, I heard the door closed and the padlock scrape against the wood outside. As I pressed myself against the shack's wall, I saw Cleve shaking his head furiously and blowing his nose on a red handkerchief. He didn't waste any time, didn't even look back to the shack as the old dodge sputtered back up the road. After the rumble of the pickup had faded, I stood up and looked around, it was quiet, and I gazed up the road and out at the solitary field that made up half of Borst Farm. It wasn't long before I heard the rattling of chains and a sloppy, chewing sound.
Peering past the lace curtains into the shack, the shaft of light from the window lit just enough of the single room for me to see a girl, about fifteen years old, in a white slip. Her hair would have been blond, were it not matted by sweat and grime. Her wrists were shackled, linked to two ten-foot stretches of steel chain bolted into the crumbling plaster walls. She was hunched over the bucket, slurping and chewing. The backs of her hands were red. That's when the smell hit me. It was a tangy waft, the unmistakable scent of blood and raw meat. My stomach felt cold, and I had planned to go home and get the police when all at once, the slurping stopped. I wanted to run, and I could feel my sneakers beginning to turn toward my bike, then she spoke. "Marcus." The sound of her voice was almost a whisper, but my name was unmistakable. "Yes," I said, my voice wavering. She began to wipe her mouth with the back of her arm, there was a slight smacking sound and a rumble as the chain ran across the wood floor. "Penny?" She didn't answer. "Is your name Penny?" I asked louder this time. "I'll answer to Penny," she said plainly. "What are you doing here?" I asked. "Waiting for you." Her reply landed heavy in my ears. I didn't notice the change at first, but, the smell of raw meat began to fade and was replaced with the scent of my mother's chocolate chip cookies.
There's of course more to the story, but that's all I'm willing to post for now. Happy October!
We'll resume with regularly scheduled 31 Horror Film micro blogs tomorrow.