“You can’t save them all, Sonny. Hell, sometimes you can’t even save one.”
The lights were off in the master bedroom but since a streetlight was situated just above the window outside it was never really dark, not completely, even with the drapes drawn. It was late autumn and cold enough to wear a sweater inside unless you were wealthy enough to blast the heat. Rain drummed a distant beat upon the ceiling but soon winter would bring the quiet weather. Elle leaned against the window looking down at a row of black panes across the street. The proximity of maples turned the darkened roads below into a wild canvas of wet leaves. They were the only thing that had colour in this dreary landscape. There weren’t even lights on in any of the windows in the area indicating that people were going about their evening within the confines of their home doing regular-folk things such as cooking dinner or watching television. Taking it for face value you would think that this entire housing complex was completely abandoned. But Elle knew they were there, moving about in the dark.
She was starting to understand how things worked around here. The book Elle found in the basement was opening many doors and teaching her such wonderful things! Elle sighed as she threw herself upon the bed and reached under the covers to find it. Its ragged pages were encased in old leather hard as bone. It shouldn’t have been under there. Elle was getting careless and she didn’t care. She was preoccupied. It had been twenty-minutes since she had beckoned and now finally a noise was coming from the closet. Good, it’s finally here.
“I can see you.” Elle teased. She barely had on her nightgown and as Elle sat up the rest of it came off. She was staring into the darkness contained within the closet and could hear floorboards creak as weight shifted inside. If Elle squinted her eyes the large outline of a body could be barely seen but that was still no good as nothing was coming out and precious time was wasting.
“Why are you always so shy? If you don’t come out here I’m going to have to come in and get you.” Elle planted her hands on her hips.
Patience wasn’t one of her virtues so Elle picked up the brush from the side table and threw it into the closet at what most would run away from screaming.
It came out. Elle smiled as she welcomed it into her bed.
Shaw wasn’t drunk. No way. He was mildly buzzed at best. Maybe Shaw wouldn’t have been so cold if he drank more (mental note for next time). It was one of those nights where the wind seemed driven to take refuge from the cold inside of your jacket. Shaw’s cell buzzed in his pocket. He was almost too cold to answer it but looked at the display and cursed instead. It was Elle’s father. ‘Chuck’ (Charles hated being called Chuck) loathed Shaw almost as much as he despised the fact that his daughter had married him and he hasn’t stopped calling since, pleading and threatening mostly for them to end what he called a sham. Look no further for the reason why they were barely existing in this rundown townhouse complex beside the highway bridge at the ass end of this desolate manufacturing town.
There was no appreciation from Chuck that Shaw had given up everything to be with Elle because Chuck was behind it, all of it. There was no pocket out of Chuck’s reach to fill and it made life Hell enough for Shaw to want to kill him, as in seriously want to rid the planet of that invasive asshole. Fuck the chair and fuck the time as long as that cocksucker wasn’t breathing.
Shaw answered his cell. “How you doing, Chuck? Things good on the rich side of town?”
“Listen to me, you Little Shit. I’m assembling my team of lawyers…”
Shaw sighed. He was tired of this. “To do what exactly, Chuck? Everything I had you already taken away from me. Maybe you should try a hit man.”
“The thought has crossed my mind.”
“Must have been a quick trip. Listen, I would love to chat but it’s been a long shift on the line and I need to shower. Oh, and fuck your daughter.”
Shaw ended the call and stuffed the cell back into his pocket. As he entered the complex Shaw spotted the blonde again. She was standing at the mouth of a thin alley between a row of redundant structures dressed in a jacket and skirt, beckoning him to come over. Shaw had always assumed that the strange woman was a prostitute but was beginning to think that she was something else entirely. What that was he wouldn’t even hazard a guess. Women that tall and beautiful belonged in magazines and not around alleyways in this shithole. Something was wrong with that scene. Shaw figured that if he actually obeyed her silent whim he might as well have thrown his whole marriage away and Shaw worked far too hard for that if nothing else.
“What is with you? Aren’t you cold?” He called out from across the street. “Is this all you do?”
The woman didn’t say anything. She smiled. Shaw heard the click of her heels walking away as he hurried to his door, fumbled his keys into the lock, and pushed it open to be greeted by the warmth inside. Shaw was glad to be home, except that everything was unusually dark and a strange noise brought his attention to the other side of the living room.
“Elle?” Shaw called out. He could not see into the room as his eyes were not adjusted but Shaw sensed the presence of something there.
“Elle.” A strange voice repeated. “Elle…Elle.”
Something was wrong here, horribly wrong. The air was filled with an odour Shaw could not place and he felt as though he were in one of those dreams where something terrible was about to happen but nothing could stop it from happening and all you could do was helplessly watch it unfold.
A head popped up from behind the coffee table. It wasn’t human. Fuck, it wasn’t even close.
Dare finally got through on her shitty cell. She knew that Bobby didn’t like being called when he told her to do something. Dare knew he would not be kind but she was freezing and this was torturous bullshit.
“Bobby? I know, Hon, listen…what am I doing out here? It’s freezing and he’s not biting.” Dare hugged herself to ward off the shiver. “What do you mean he will? This happened five seconds ago and I can’t…”
Dare moved the phone to her other ear and cradled it on her shoulder as she leaned down to remove her heel. Fuck, that hurts. “I don’t get it. I really don’t. Who is this guy? He looks like a nobody. I don’t get why you need him brought to you like this. Exactly like this. I’ve had enough of this, Bobby.”
Dare stood back up and winced at the words that were spoken to her.
“No Baby, I didn’t mean it like that. No, don’t do that.”
The words became threatening, colder, and the tone -harsher.
“No…Baby, you know that I love you…so much. If it means that much to you I can wait out here all night. Do you want me to fuck him? I can do that, Baby, I can fuck him for you.”
Dare started to cry. It made her even colder.
“Baby, just please don’t be mad at me.”
Shaw froze as rigid waves of terror enveloped him. Somebody must have doped him. He could make out enough of the creature to know that it was larger than a dog or anything else that could have gotten in somehow. He could hear it snorting out something all over the carpet before it came around the table and sat staring at Shaw with mild interest. This couldn’t be real, unless Elle’s grandfather had stopped by to visit but…nope, that wasn’t anybody’s grandpa. Shaw had to take a piss, but it could wait as there were more pressing matters. This…this was definitely something new. The creature sat up and sniffed the air. It looked like a child except that the body was all wrong. It was naturally hunched forward with loose leather-like skin hanging from an awkward set of bones. A pair of blood-filled eyes silently measured him from the corner beside the staircase. It wasn’t any kind of animal or relative that Shaw had ever seen and that scared the shit out of him. It didn’t look like it belonged here, maybe at the pool hall.
This can’t be real. This must be a joke, somebody wearing something, maybe a costume. The only problem with that train of thought was that Shaw was staring right at it and it was staring right back. And it did not look like a joke.
Shaw thought of Elle upstairs, probably sleeping. He had to get to her but in order to do so Shaw would have to pass right by this…whatever. He thought about just tackling the damn thing but since Shaw didn’t know what it was capable of that was probably a very bad idea. And he thought this day couldn’t get any worse.
“Think, Shaw, think.” As he finished talking to himself the creature repeated exactly what he had said in a deep husky growl and Shaw fled right back out the door to immediately busy himself trying to walk calmly down the strip like he wasn’t actually losing his shit all over the place. Shaw was surprised that, despite the surrealistic nature of how the evening was unfolding, he was able to logically think this through: strange creature in house, don’t want to challenge it, too risky to try to get past it, creepy as fuck, time to get help from somebody who might know what the Hell was going on.
“Number ten, it’s got to be number ten.” That’s pretty much the only thing he remembered from the day they moved in and met the strange man that was their landlord. Skittish fellow. It was late to be calling on him but if this wasn’t an emergency than Shaw didn’t know what would then qualify. He had been desperately banging on the door for a good while when the landlord finally answered.
“WHOOO UR YOOOO?” Glasses far too large for his gaunt face were powerful enough to make the landlord’s eyes as large as saucers. Unkempt strands of hair stuck out of his trucker’s hat and his teeth were as crooked as an American banking institution. For a second Shaw wasn’t even sure if it was him.
“You’re the landlord, right?”
“WAT DA FAAAK!” The man shouted then continued to stare at Shaw without blinking for long enough that Shaw momentarily considered returning to his place to reason with the creature in the living room instead.
“Um, I just moved into number seventy-six and there’s a monster in my living room.”
“Well, Shit then!” The man exclaimed before pausing to think. “What’s it look like?”
“What? Ah, an evil orangutan that wants to kill me?”
“Well, did you hang up the beets?”
“What am I, a DJ?”
“Beets! Beets -as in vegetable! Boy, an intrepid genius you’re not! Come on in then, I’ll fix you.”
As Shaw entered he could smell something pungent boiling in the kitchen. A small seventies television rested on a plastic child’s table in the corner. The couch across from it was yellow and was probably once white.
“Oi, the name’s Grady.”
Shaw was uncertain if he wanted to come into contact with the hand that he was shaking. “I’m Shaw. So, what are we dealing with? Am I on drugs?”
“Nah, Looks like you got yourself a squatter. Pesky little buggers, always coming out around Halloween and messing about.”
“Christ! The thing spoke to me.”
“They don’t really talk. They just repeat what you say.”
“Why?” Shaw was taken aback by how normal this nightmare was. No wonder rent was so low.
“Why do beets hold them off? Beats me. Ha! Get it? Ah, I just work here. Now, there are two types of these things: squatters and sitters, and you better hope that it’s not a sitter because that means all kinds of shenanigans!”
“My wife is in the house.”
“What?! I don’t like the sounds of that! We better hurry up or it’s bound to cough up something nasty on her.”
“Shit, now I got to clean up the carpet.” Said Shaw as Grady opened and closed drawers and cupboards looking for what would most likely be in the fridge but it wasn’t Shaw’s place to announce the obvious in someone else’s house, especially if they were trying to help him.
“Oi, one more thing.”
“Don’t look at my dog.”
“What dog?” Shaw found the answer as he looked into the dining area and discovered the nastiest canine he had the immediate displeasure of laying his eyes on ever. It was resting on the linoleum right in front of a bookcase filled with old, thick books. The whole area had a musty feel and smell to it. What a strange collection to have and a strange place to put it, right beside the dining table and all. But the dog itself looked like it had just been freshly vomited up from Hell.
“What the fuck is that thing?”
“Shhh! Don’t say that. That’s Tulip. The thing’s got a low self-esteem. If it sees you look at it it’s going to freeeeeek out and then the squatter in your living room is going to be the least of your problems.”
“Sure. Whatever. No problem.” But Shaw couldn’t help but continue to stare at the rabid-looking thing as soon as Grady left the room to bang around the kitchen some more. The dog’s fur resembled the needles of a porcupine. It had a head that was shaped like a mutated potato and claws that looked like they could erase your face with violent ease. Once it began to turn its head in Shaw’s direction and he could see the side of its face and the out of place strikingly blue, human eyes that were turning his way it only made matters worse because now he was focused on the face -locked in, frozen as one would be when staring at an oncoming train.
“HEY!” Grady’s head popped around the corner. “You looking at the dog?”
“No. I was just…”
“Don’t look my dog!” Grady shook at spatula at him. His large eyes made him look absolutely insane. Lucky for Shaw Grady was as paranoid as he was squirrely and after that little episode Shaw vowed to never look at any dog ever again.
“GRADY! What in the Christ are you up to now?” Grady’s wife entered the room. She looked like she belonged in an alley. Shaw wasn’t really much a judge of such things but…yeah. She looked at Shaw and frowned as he sheepishly waved.
“Woman, I need the beets!” Grady’s face lifted up, mostly eyes behind those glasses again. Shaw didn’t know if he could ever get used to that.
“Well, I thought you would never ask.” The woman began rolling up her sleeves.
“Stop being a comedian, Woman, I need them now!” Grady persisted.
“Oh, alright then.” The bag lady said as she opened the fridge and scooped three of them out of the crisper.
Grady did not look pleased. Shaw doubted if he ever could.
“We need four, Woman.” So according to Grady his wife’s name was ‘Woman’. Shaw doubted that he could ever pull that off on Elle but these two looked like they lived together for far longer than six months.
“We only have three.”
“I looked. Three. You used the last bunch at number fifty-six last week.”
“It might not work!”
“Listen, call a neighbour.”
“It’s late. You call.”
Grady looked like his eyes were going to pop through his glasses when Shaw purposely coughed. “Hello? Remember me? Monster in living room…wife in danger?”
“Ah, well isn’t it all about you then?” Grady’s wife sneered.
Grady turned to Shaw and snorted but not like the creature in the living room. “Fine. We can work with these but I should take something else just in case. Better safe than sorry, yeah.”
Grady left the room with ‘Woman’ following. They argued some more going down and back up from the basement before Grady came back with the beats strung together in one hand and a couple cobs of corn in the other.
“Are you fucking serious?” Shaw was perplexed. It was just too strange that everyone acted like this was normal.
“We’ve got all kinds of nasty critters around here.” The way Grady said it sounded like ‘creeetiiirs’. They headed out the door. It was still cold. At least some things were constant.
Shaw pushed his hands deep into his jacket pockets as they silently made their way back to Shaw’s place. As they stood at the door, Grady said: “Ok. Let me go in first. You come in and flank to the far wall. It’s either going to come out this way or through the back if it knows how to open a sliding door. In either case, don’t move or make a sound.”
“Are you ready?”
“Let’s go!” Grady held up the strung beets like it was a threatening object and opened the door. Shaw followed him in.
Dare was pacing in the dark, lighting a smoke, waiting for the man to come out of unit 76 when a basement window facing the alleyway slid open. Dare could hear the sick, raspy breathing coming out of it like a demented dog in heat. Fucking Chawd again. Dare had forgotten about this window and about him. She could almost feel the stench of his mangled soul emanating from the blackness in which he lived.
“Time for me to come out, no?” Chawd said. Dare could see his mangled fingers scratching at the thin screen that separated them but the only thing that truly separated them was Bobby’s form of house-arrest.
Dare sighed. “Last time Bobby let you out look at what you went and did.”
“Oh yes…hee hee hee! Yes, I do remember…all the time. BUT…but they were all just so young and so pretty and they smelled sooo good. SO GOOD! Hahaha! I just wanted to get close to them from far away. That’s how it started anyways. YOU would do the same. YOU don’t understand what it’s like for me alone in here with just my hands to play with.”
“That’s just fucking gross. Fine. You do what you want but YOU will have to answer to Bobby.”
“But Bobby does not have to know. It could be our little secret.” The fingers danced over the screen with hope. They looked like Chawd had spent some time biting on them. Dare recalled the one time he threw his right ear at her, not like there was much of it to begin with anyhow.
“You know there are no secrets from Bobby. In fact, I imagine that he knows were talking right now. He probably even knows what you’re thinking. Do you want to go through all that again, Chawd?”
The window immediately slammed shut and the drapes closed.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought, Bitch.” Dare returned to her cigarette.
The monster was still there, licking itself. It looked like nasty business. As the streetlights fell upon it the creature looked up with its blank red eyes. Damn, the thing was creepy. Shaw rushed in and plastered himself to the far wall beside the bay window while Grady ran at the thing waving the beats around like a madman yelling, “Hey! Hey!”
The creature did not move. It returned to licking itself until Grady pulled out the corn and started shaking them at it. He began chanting in some language that resembled Latin but Grady wasn’t sure if it was a language at all or just some nonsensical irritant. The creature hissed at the corn and vomited half-a-dozen black slugs onto the floor. Its whole body began to heave again and Shaw wasn’t sure if he could stand what might be coming out this time. Grady continued banging the corn together and picking up the pieces that fell off to fling them at the creature, which seemed to piss it off to no end. It looked towards the staircase as though it was even more afraid of what might come down than the maniac dancing and chanting in front of it. Grady made to move in on it but the creature went for the front door instead.
“Piss off.” The thing said as it turned and skulked out giving Shaw a moment’s glance as it did.
“Well, that was different.” Grady mused as he shut the door behind it. “Oh well, there’s one problem solved.”
“How? It’s still out there.” Shaw asked.
Grady waved it off. “A lot of things are out there. It’s right grisly! But as long as they don’t get into here it’s fine and that’s part of the problem. That was no squatter come in all on its own. Nope. That was a sitter.”
“It was here because of what’s been summoned.” Shaw looked like he didn’t understand so Grady elaborated. “It’s a sitter, as in ‘babysitter’ as in it keeps watch for what was really called here, as in conjured. And they really do a horrible job most of the time. I mean, did that thing even try to watch out for anything? No, it didn’t. It couldn’t find a fuck to give, probably went out to find itself a rat or rabbit. Volatile bastards they can be! Bottom line is that somebody in this house had to perform a spell to bring something here that that thing watches out for and if it wasn’t you than it was probably your wife and if it was your wife than she’s most likely up to some tomfoolery you most likely won’t approve of. Am I making any sense here cause you’re staring at me like I’m talking in Braille.”
“Elle would never do that. I know this woman and I would bet my life against her going behind my back to do anything at all…Wait.” Shaw held up a hand and listened. He moved to the bottom of the stairs and motioned for Grady to follow. “Do you hear that?”
“Not really.” Grady shrugged. Shaw looked at him and wondered if his hearing was as good as his eyesight then heard it again.
“Hey, that sounds like…”Shaw tilted his head but it came louder this time and louder again. “That sounds like my wife…moaning.”
With that Shaw belted up the stairs.
“Damn.” Grady said to himself before calling out, “You don’t want to go in there, Brother! What you might see could scar you for life or even longer!”
Shaw only heard ‘scar’ as he kicked open the door to the master bedroom to find his wife lying beneath some giant red demon or devil that was relentlessly pounding her as she wrapped her legs tighter around its massive torso and brought her head back to let out another loud cry of pleasure.
It didn’t take long for Shaw to piece together what was going on, as Clive Barkerish as it was.
“What the fuck, Elle!” Shaw screamed. The demon turned and looked at him, its face a mess of patterns, carvings, burns. It looked like a well-planned cutting board.
Grady rushed into the room. The demon-devil-thing screeched like an eagle and a three-pronged tongue came out of its mouth to viciously lash about. The landlord rushed to close the closet door before the creature had a chance to rush back in but it was too late and Grady was almost clobbered between the door and the bedroom wall as it leapt through and disappeared.
“Damn!” Grady said as he shoved the door back. “Almost had it trapped in here.”
Shaw threw his arms up. “Yeah? And then what? Did you see the size of that thing?”
Shaw then turned to Elle although he didn’t even want to look at her. “And you…you brought this thing into our house so it could…” Shaw looked as though he couldn’t even say it, “FU…FUCK you?! Mother Mary Flying Nun Fuck! What the Hell? And I suspected Tom!”
Elle couldn’t look at him either. “I don’t know what the fuck…I don’t know what I did. I’m so sorry.”
“No , you’re not. I am.” Shaw stormed out and Grady followed, but not before he scooped up the book from the bedside table and saluted Elle with a “Hey! How you doing, Ma’am?”
“At least I know where that book went!” Grady called out as he left the room and almost fell down the stairs he was just so naturally lanky, awkward and out of his mind.
“What book? Is everybody crazy? Ah, never mind. I don’t even know exactly what I just saw but I know exactly what it was.” Shaw said as he rushed through the living room being careful not to step on any of the slugs milling about the carpet.
“What was that?”
“Divorce.” Shaw pulled the front door open and left it for Grady to close behind him. He stood on the street and could feel Grady standing restless beside him, most likely concerned with his state of mind and for good reason.
“Listen, it may not be all her own fault. This place changes people, and not for the better let me tell you.”
Shaw shot him a glance that looked like it came directly from Hell. Shaw looked around him like a man standing at the door to madness. Grady knew what was coming even before Shaw started to yell…more like scream.
“Quiet! You’ll wake the neighbours.” Said Grady, though he knew most of them did not sleep. Grady was just tired of this street turning into everyone’s television.
“I’m ok. AAAAAHHHH! AAAHHHH! Ok…ok…now I’m ok.” But then Shaw started to scream again and writhe around like he was being devoured by insects.
“Ok…Alright.” Shaw stopped but it looked like he was rock-ready to start right back up again.
“You’ve got to focus, Champ.” Grady coached. “Things can only get better from here.”
Shaw wiped drool from his mouth. “I feel like I’m knee-deep in clown shit.”
“At least you’re not screaming anymore. There’s a starting point.” Despite their obvious differences Shaw actually felt that Grady was genuinely concerned. He was a good guy. Maybe they could go out for a beer and talk about how the devil was banging his wife while Shaw suffered the line. Sounded like the beginning of a long and prosperous friendship.
Shaw’s cell buzzed. It was Chuck again. Probably needed some time to think about some new threats. Shaw answered.
“Whatever you were gonna say, Chuck, you needn’t bother. You want your daughter back? You can FUCKING HAVE HER!”
Shaw threw his cell down the street. “That was refreshing. Amazing how an hour can change your life. I need a drink and a gun.”
The house phone rang inside and Shaw looked at Grady, who just shrugged. Elle picked it up in the room and was yelling and sobbing. Soon her father would send a car or come himself for her though Shaw thought Elle would be hard-pressed to explain what had happened. Shaw didn’t want to be there when that went down but he did not know where to go to wait it out until he could come back to an empty house. If Elle decided to stay that would make things worse for both of them so Shaw hoped she had enough logic to get the Hell out of here and back to the house on top of the hill from where she came. Whatever the case, Shaw couldn’t be there right now. Everything was closed and he sure as Hell wasn’t going back to Grady’s to tempt himself to look at the dog again. Maybe he could walk until he reached a place that wasn’t infested by Stephen King.
As if on cue the woman appeared from out of the darkness of the alleyway. It looked like she had never left. Her mascara was running. She had been crying. She looked like a mess with impeccable thighs. That’s ok because Shaw himself had just finished having a complete mental breakdown and felt better for it. And just as she did the last couple of times she saw him the woman smiled and beckoned Shaw over with a manicured finger.
“That looks like a really bad idea.” Shaw said as he started walking towards her.
“You know, right now might not be the best time to make a decision with your whole emotional mental state and all.” Grady called after him. Shaw looked back at him but only for a moment.
“Ah, I see. Fine then,” Grady waved him off. “You go ahead. Why listen to me anyways? I’m only the landlord of this God-forsaken place. What do I know except for how to fix pipes and ward off demons?”
Grady looked at the book he held and frowned. “And you, you Little Troublemaker! How is it that you keep getting out? I have a feeling that somebody’s been messing about in my things but that’s ok. I got a dog to watch over you now. Yer goin back on the shelf, Lad, and I’ll be a mighty sore plug if you manage to get out again and get up to no good!”
In spite of everything, Grady thought that Shaw could have handled things worse. Grady liked him enough to feel sorry for the poor bastard. All of this had the look of Bobby’s design and if that was the case than Shaw wasn’t coming back, not the same anyways. Grady tried to warn him but that’s where it ended according to the rental agreement.
Besides, there were more pressing matters at hand. There were tenants to attend to and grounds to keep. Especially now that night season was coming. Soon all sorts of miscreants would be out and up to all kinds of mischief. It was time to let out the dogs. All of them. Had to nip things in the butt this year and make sure that the things that stalked out of their dirty holes looking for trouble were dealt with before they could get up to some real nasty business, Oi!
When the kiss becomes a bite,
it’s time for you to go.
And if I knew how this would end
I would have never left my bed
so I could just be left for dead
and ended up this tortured soul.