They were standing around the artifact like it was some sinister Christmas tree, the snowy morning sun outside their kitchen still dim. This dark stone creature, standing with its head touching the ceiling near the fan, with such a gnarled, ancient and animal shape, appeared overnight or must have. “Mudder,” Alice asked with a hushed voice so it wouldn’t hear her, “where’d it come from?” Taking a drink of coffee her mother replied “Uhh.” and returned to her original puzzled expression.
After Alice and Daniel went to school, she arrived back at the house in her pajamas, hoping when she opened the door it’d be gone. It wasn’t gone, and it stood there staring into her with the same pelagic glare, with the same imposing stature made indifferent by the ages. Lighting a cigarette and cranking the sink window open, she walked up to it. “What in fuck,” she asked with an exasperated look that gravitated down at the mail being shuffling in her hand. Janine Marie Gosse, you still haven’t paid your phone off. Janine Marie Gosse, you have a car payment. Janine M. Gosse, you are eligible. Janine Gosse, you’re ineligible. Janine you have to remember to pick up the Lunchables before 11. Janine you need to start taking those night classes again. It would help figure out what to do with this Frankenstein in your house. What will city hall think? Is this a heritage site now? “Gerry,” she puffed into the phone nestled between her shoulder and ear, “I need you to come over and check this out.”
Gerry sat down at the table after giving it a good look, defeated as if by some intractable challenge. “This is a demon.” “Ah for Chrissakes.” “Well I don’t know what it is, it doesn’t look like anything.” “Isn’t there someone at the university who specializes in these?” “I can’t think of any, unless there’s demonologists at the university. I don’t know how much of our taxes fund those departments.” “Well how do I get it out?” “You can’t move it without knowing what it is, it could be a heritage thing.” “It appeared out of nowhere in the middle of the night, it’s not a part of history.” “We don’t know that yet.” “Well you have tools, I don’t have any around here except a few screwdrivers and batteries in the drawer.” “We don’t even know what it’s made of, it could be tougher than a bull’s nuts.” “Well we’ll have to get testing — I don’t want to still be looking at this fucking thing tomorrow, it’s blocking Narwhal’s food.” Gerry drew back a few drinks from his thermos. Bringing in a selection of sledgehammers one at a time they laid down layers of newspaper and flyers around the artifact, having moved the table and chairs away from its feathered legs. “Put your goggles on Gerry,” Janine laughed. Taking a cursory swing at the artifact’s outstretched hand, the hammer bounced off dryly. Gerry shook his arm and took a more athletic stance and hauled into it again. “Prick — ” he gripped his arm, letting the hammer bump the floor momentarily. “Dent up the floor,” she grumbled. Janine sized up the artifact herself and took a few swings in different areas, none taking so much as a chip off its strange body. “Guess the newspapers can go back in the pantry,” Gerry sighed. They both stood around the figure looking in vague directions, calculating. Janine inspected the feet as she lifted up a flyer from the floor. “It keeps going down.” “What?” “The feet keep going under the floor, it’s rooted.” Gerry inspected it himself, trying to get a fingernail between the artifact and the vinyl flooring and, as she said, it was as though the foundation of the house seamlessly adolesced into the towering figure. Now they both stood staring wild-eyed as if at an intruding animal.
Shearing through the vinyl they peeled away around the base of the artifact, seeing the house’s foundation was made the same dark material. “Now what the fuck,” Janine observed, gesturing toward it as though expecting a handshake. Put ‘er there ole cack, stay awhile longer ho ho me buddy. “It’s 11,” Gerry pointed at the stove clock. “I’ll keep going.”
While she was away he managed to shovel a few inches below the kitchen around its feet yielding rocks and gravel, until striking something solid and unbudging. At this point the kitchen was turning into an excavation site, but they had to find some way of upending the artifact and hopefully breaking it down enough to move the pieces out the door. But it seemed to be made of a metal — but one that didn’t ring when struck — it would thud like stone or wood. Whatever the material, it was thoroughly sturdy and seemed as heavy and immovable as the world itself. Gerry texted Wilma, who had a rock drill and generator, and after a while Wilma texted Jake, who had a jackhammer and happened to be on his lunch break as well as kind enough to lend it while he was working. Digging around what he thought was a piece of uprooted rebar Gerry discovered another gnarled form in the ground a few feet away from the artifact, made of the same material but looking like a piece of masonry. Janine and Wilma later drilled and drilled around the artifact but only made the drillbit smoke.
June rain snaredrummed on the tent surrounding Janine’s house, now missing a wall and looking like an archaeological dig with six people shoveling, excavating and drilling while the kids were at school. They moved into her aunt’s house up the road until the artifact could be dislodged. Gerry couldn’t believe what they were finding. Pillars beneath the ground, walls, and having drilled through those walls, tunnels — catacombs. The artifact was an ornament to a moth-holed structure of some kind, intricately engraved with scenes still mud-and-rock-covered. None of this raised any outside attention, outside this tent life continued as usual. Janine never talked to anyone from the news, no one out for groceries would raise a question, and why would they — none of this was intruding on anyone, it was up on the hill with a few of her neighbors around and they only minded their own business. Janine was nevertheless convinced this thing would be removed from her property, a company could pour a new foundation and the few parts of her house needing renovations could be paid for.
Every night Gerry drove across the bay after the evening’s digging he’d spend some time reading about ancient burial sites and cities in an effort to figure out what they were encountering, none remotely resembling the shapes and structures embedded in Janine’s property. It was as though their neighborhood was thrown up in the air one night and fell on top of Atlantis. He laid up sometimes until 3 in the morning with his TV on mute trying to calm his nerves enough to fall asleep.
Driving in through fog cover Gerry arrived at the usual time after supper to greet Janine and the kids. She and Gerry stood out on the patio looking down at the tented site. “We’ll have to stick dynamite in the place after a while and try to blow that thing into the sky I guess,” she admitted, staring wide-eyed. “I don’t know if we have anything on this planet that can remove that thing,” Gerry answered coldly. Janine placed her palms against her eyes, trying to stretch her face like pizza dough. “Is this our life now or should I marry that statue?” Gerry stared at the tent.
Janine went inside after he started walking down, and watched the kids watching Wonders of Science, scrolling through her phone. Her old friend Zach is visiting Madagascar, commemorating it with an inspiring meme — We Are Not Passengers In This Life, We Are The Drivers. 7 likes, one automated porn account commented a link. The whirr of tools floated in through the windows again, the dig continuing. The neverending dig. What in Christ’s name is down there, I wonder. What’s this all about, what could possibly be worth all this time. This is taking up a lot of effort. The kids will be on summer break soon. Why our house — why couldn’t it be Amanda’s? Why couldn’t Zach come home to a demon living in his kitchen? Hasn’t he earned it?
Gerry’s rock drill stopped dead. “Alright climb out of there we’re through with this,” Janine said, switching off the generator. “We’ll figure out how to fill in this hole tomorrow, I need an aspirin and a bath.” “Turn that fucking generator on right now,” Gerry said, his head still turned towards a large passageway and fiddling with the controls on the drill. “No Gerry you don’t have to do this, we’re all wearing ourselves thin — ” “Turn it the fuck on right now, turn on that fucking power.” He turned and glared at her from down in the dark stony paths. “Now I said turn that back on, don’t be simple.” The hiss of car tires passing in and out of ears’ distance down the lane made them both look up, until quiet returned. “This place is doing something to us, to me, it’s been doing it for two months,” Janine answered, climbing down the ladder into the echoing structure. “I can’t sleep anymore, it feels like it’s watching me through the walls — not just that statue, but all of it. This whole place, like disembodied eyes. It’s following me when I’m driving into town, I feel the eyes on me when I’m in bed, when I’m working. We need to stop, I need to take the kids and get out of here.” “Alright go ahead, I’ll keep looking.” “What for? We’ll just keep this here. Whoever built this won, I’ll move.” “I really don’t care what you do, or where you end up — I’m not done. If you want to go live in Machu Picchu be my guest, I will be right here doing this. And disembodied eyes, not quite. They have bodies. Everywhere. There are things in here no one could build, not even today. So I don’t even understand why you thought this would ‘end.’ Look down that tunnel, that’s not a closet. Two days ago I walked down it until I hit a crumbled pile blocking the path, I walked for forty minutes with my flashlight. Every inch of that tunnel is engraved, it is detailed. It does not end.” “Well that’s great Gerry, I’m glad the Vikings impress you so much with their fucking mud huts. Tina must be happy with you spending all your time at my house.” “Just shut the fuck up and turn that generator on.” Janine climbed the ladder and walked up to the house while Gerry restarted the generator and continued.
Driving past the tent lit by a single lawn floodlight, Janine asked the bleary-eyed kids in her backseat where they wanted to spend the night.