Part 1: The Body
In the small town of Lacon, IL, on the corner of South Center & Third, there is a two story house. 273 South Center sits square and dilapidated on a steep hill of dirt. A four foot tall concrete wall strains to keep the earth from spilling onto the sidewalk. A long and lumpy yard slopes back to street level and is punctuated by a detached garage.
Old trees keep the house in perpetual shade, giving the baby blue siding a cool grey tone. Though rather squat, so high gives the house a sense of stature. This combined with the unnatural girth and length of the home, make it appear monstrous.
The structure sprawls further on its mound than would seem sensible. There are many additions, some more recent than others. Built with cheap materials, they now are the shabbiest parts of the exterior. Enclosed porches are missing their windows. White fiberglass doors stand bare as entryways.
There is direct access to the basement from the sidewalk. A wide gap in the center of the retaining wall reveals a steep ramp leading down to the foundation. At the bottom, standing in knee high water, there are two immense doors with fist-sized hinges. The door frame itself is large enough to fit a carriage. Coal was once delivered here, another testament to the properties age. In the water a styrofoam cup bobs along amongst the leaves. An abandoned child sized bicycle stands overturned draped in wet plastic bags.
The water fills the entire basement. Waterlogged wooden timbers are all that hold the house upright. The house stands still. Obese, sick with gangrene sending poison through it’s main arteries. Still the house remains.
Part 2: The Eyes
Jason Evans is the youngest of three brothers. The oldest, John, is off at college. His second eldest brother, Jeff, is a studious senior in high school. Jason is in eighth grade, but is very tall and bulky for his age. He will likely be drafted for the football team when he hits high school next month. Already he’s popular amongst the older kids and has earned the nickname, “Bull”.
Jason sneaks out around 1AM for walks about his neighborhood. July days are hot and humid in central Illinois, but the nights are magical. One walks on the sidewalk in the daytime. Taking reasonable care to avoid other people’s yards, trees, and fences. At night everything is silent and no one is watching. It feels like adulthood.
Six houses make up Jason’s block. 217 South High, his home, is on the corner of South High & Fourth Street. Having been zoned over a hundred years ago, the lots are large. The house itself is a small ranch style home, Jason lives in the basement. The wood paneled room is a collage of posters. They cover the esoteric interests of each brother. Each one had slept in this room at one point or another. The baby of the family, Jason’s crib had been upstairs when he was born. But once he was a bit older he was swapped with John and moved downstairs.
As the eldest, and favorite, John had earned his own room first. Jason then spent 10 miserable years as the roommate of Jeff, who was at turns whiny and abusive. A middle child’s adolescence is never easy on the youngest.
But at last, John’s move to college allowed Jeff to ascend and the basement room was now all Jason’s. Jeff had even taken his all holy “study desk”, which Jason had not been allowed near. He had gotten crayon on it once when he was six. With one bed and no desk, the small cramped room felt huge to Jason. And empty. He hadn’t considered how little in the room was his own until then. He displayed his five favorite GI Joes in the basement window. The soldiers stood together, high up and cramped.
A small horizontal rectangle near the ceiling, the window had always been there. It doesn’t let in any sun as it is under the bottom branches of a large cypress tree. In summers past, the three brothers and their friends would use it in games of hide and seek. An escape route of last resort. It was less easy for Jason to squeeze his adolescent bulk through the opening now, but he could do it.
The old cypress tree is a special place for Jason, and by moonlight even more so. He had thought of it as his clubhouse all through childhood. Sitting on it’s sap covered branches, able to look out and see people. Secure in the knowledge that he was secluded from their vision. It was private.
He climbs to the top of the tree, much higher than the surrounding houses. The tops of the various maples and oaks are in full leafage. In the moonlight they remind Jason of mountains. Beyond the rippling dark mountains, he could see the second story of the house on South Center & Third. The house with nobody inside it.
Part 3: The Feet
217 South High is only a 250 foot diagonal line from 273 S. Center. It’s strange how far away two houses can feel when they’re on opposite corners of the same block. Jason reflected on variations of this thought often. During his 1:00 am walks, the block wasn’t divided into six individual yards. It was one huge yard with people’s things on top of it.
Jason’s house is small but tidy. The lawn is well maintained with a chain link fence and a smattering of trees, the largest being the cypress. All the houses in the neighborhood are old, but they are well kept up. 273. S. Center is the only exception.
Jason walks next door, behind Cory Mooberry’s detached garage. It is more of a large shed, particularly as it sits at the back of the lot with no clear access for vehicles. Not that a vehicle could fit, what with all the junk stored inside.
But Jason has already seen there is to see in the Mooberry garage. He had broken in weeks ago. He found a full set of 1992 olympic dream team cards. They were in an plastic baby wipes container. Nearby, he found a .22 Detective Special and bullets. He’d known what type of gun it was because it’s name was on the grip. He took the cards, but left the gun.
A couple feet behind Cory’s “garage” there is a wire garden fence. This marks the end of Mooberry land and the beginning of The Hattan’s. A shin high “stick it in the ground and call it good” job, the fence is not a real hurdle to pass.
The Hattan’s are an elderly couple. Long time empty nesters. They don’t give out great candy at Halloween, but their house remains a great attraction. This is due to the suit of armor displayed in their entryway. Real metal, reproduction or not.
Their yard is the most tended to on the block, with large rocks and unique landscaping choices. There is an eastern influence to the arrangement with a lot of open spaces. For Jason, it is unnerving to walk through. He had forced himself to sit in their gazebo for a couple of minutes one night to prove to himself he could.
They had installed a tall cedar security fence on one side of their lawn. It is a stark intrusion to the otherwise purposeful landscape, but was put there as a message.
The Hattan real estate is directly next to 273 S. Center., the dilapidated house on the corner.
The run down property seems to be bursting to overflow its allotted space. The entire premises feels as if it could wash away one day. The main entrance to the garage is a barn-style door that faces the street and is padlocked shut. The side door is boarded shut. It’s roof sags. Behind the garage there is a 200 square foot lot of weedy sand. It was once a child’s sandbox.
Jason follows the Hattan’s barrier fence to The Wursters, a catty corner lot with nothing in it but a noisy dog. Silent as possible he steps through a massive hedge of bushes and over the rotted railroad tie.
The back of the garage is a peaked wall with no windows. A pickup truck hood leans against it, along with some anachronistic farming equipment. Old wagon wheels, tractors, hoes and the like are common decorative tropes in the midwest. Rusted metal and rotting wood.
A 75 foot expanse stands between him and the empty house. Jason had never snuck into someone’s house before. But then again, a few weeks ago he had never broke into someone’s garage. True, he would have loved to see Guy Hattan’s suit of armor unsupervised. To snoop for whatever other treasure must be in that house, but he knew better. Besides, they had motion sensor lights. If he got too close to the house, the lights would turn on. This was something he had found out on one of his earliest late night forays.
“There wouldn’t be any motion sensors here…”
He dismissed the temptation.
It was true though. The lot had been vacant for years. Jason remembered a big couple who had been “fixing up the place”. It had sat idle since Gene McCann (Jason had always heard this name pronounced “May-kin”) had died of old age. Considered odd amongst the locals, he lived in Lacon his whole life. Jason’s Dad was friends with a man who had worked at the local Maytag repair store in high school. His memory of Gene was that he was very soft spoken and detail oriented. Once had brought in a magnifying glass to inspect a refrigerator. He had spent an entire half hour inspecting it in the store. Odd, but a natural born Laconite. The fat couple had come later, after Gene had died and the Maytag repair store had closed it doors.
These two were not from Lacon. Even as a child of no more than eight, this registered in his mind. He recalled that they drove a hunter green minivan. First Mr. Fatman would heft himself up into the vehicle. Then the van would do a see-saw maneuver as Mrs. Fatman followed in passenger. Thus bringing balance to the aching shock absorbers. His brothers would sing “lowrider” when they saw the van cruise by and Jason would laugh and sing along.
In secret, always husky for his age, Jason feared that he was destined for that fat minivan life.
One could always tell the newcomers who were going to “stick”, and The Fatmanns were not Lacon material. They were socially awkward, insular and belonged to no church. They were also “from the city”, most likely some suburb of Chicago. They didn’t seem to be around the house much and they weren’t missed when they left. A realty sign was probably still in the yard somewhere, though it may have fallen down or been tossed by mischievous youths. Regardless, no one had bothered to put up a new one.
“There definitely wouldn’t be any motion sensor lights here…”
Once again, true, but Jason dismissed the temptation a second time.
Best to stick with garages. Detached garages at that. Almost sheds.
Barely even a crime.
Part 4: The Hands
Vertical slats of wood, draped in a layer of cracked peeling paint, form the garage walls. In places there are loose boards or small gaps. Peering in through a crack, Jason can tell the garage is full of stuff.
Crawling under the pickup hood, Jason begins to dig at the base of the wall using a rusted old cultivator. The hood against the garage is a makeshift a tent, keeping him concealed as he works.
“Like an old robbery flick, drilling into the side of the safe.”
Six inches down, he could feel the base of the earth saturated slats when a slow wave of dread spread over him. He couldn’t see anyone who may be coming. He pulled at the boards harder. He began to felt desperate to get into the garage. Something instinctual. He would be safer inside the garage than in the cramped quarters he had confined himself.
In his panic, he forced himself through a three slat gap. His jacket tore and he banged the pickup hood with his foot. It fell on it’s back, clanging loud against the antique debris in the sand.
Stunned, but safe inside, he looked back at the hole in the wall and the now silent hood. With a forced calm, he arranged the boards back to a closed position and paused, awaiting any response. None came, everyone was asleep.
Tarp covered stacks of boxes stood in tall cube formations, from the center of the garage to the barn door. The boxes created a narrow “U” shaped walkway between themselves and the perimeter. One shelf lined the inner wall. Many different shaped boxes rested on the shelf in stacks, also obscured by tarps.
Jason turned his attention back to the center boxes. There was one section that seemed to have deflated. Upon closer examination, “melted” became a better description. There was what looked like foam or cottage cheese leaking from under the tarp.
Jason turned on his cell phone’s flashlight. The foam revealed itself to be brightly colored. It was more akin to insulation or partially chewed cotton candy. He grit his teeth and ripped off the tarp like a bandaid.
They were comic books.
Moldering putrid comic books in this case. But after slowly peeling back the tarps on some of the other cubes, he found many to be in quite good condition. All stacked orderly in their boxes. And they were old, he could tell as soon as he touched one.
Until now he was trying to keep his flashlight to a minimum. Now he threw caution to the wind and poured over his loot. Each cover was more exciting than the last. X-men #1. Daredevil #7, the issue Wally Wood was on the book and gave Matt Murdock his iconic red costume. Steranko issues of Strange Tales with Nick Fury Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D on the cover. Spider-man annual #1 with the first appearance of The Sinister Six. Spider-man #33 “The Final Chapter”, argued amongst some to be the greatest comic book ever set to paper.
“You just hit the god damned jackpot, Tiger!”
And his mania grew. This truly was the jackpot, in a literal sense. Many of these books, in good condition, would net thousands or tens of thousands. He became careless.
Unable to focus, he expanded his search to the shelf where he found more than comic books. There were old men’s magazines, hot rod magazines and old school nudie mags. Some of the boxes held other smaller boxes with other assorted treasures. Zippos with girls painted on them, Westclox alarm clocks, matchbooks, ornate knives. He stopped himself.
“It’s all mine.”
But as soon as he thought it, he knew it wasn’t. Of course it wasn’t. Some of it he didn’t even recognize. But he knew it was valuable, all of it. The person who it belonged to wasn’t here anymore. That much was certain. But who did it belong to? Mr. Fatmann? When he and his wife had squeezed into their minivan and puttered off back to Chicago, had he left his treasures behind ?
“Not enough room.”
That made Jason smile. He took a deep breathe. We would need to catalog everything and take it home piecemeal. Even if it took weeks, this stuff hadn’t gone anywhere in the last several years.
“But the melted pile by the door…”
That’s right. They could be ruined. Looking at the sagging roof it was clear the structure wasn’t safe. A strong rain and another box could be destroyed, or worse, the whole structure could cave in. This sent a pang of real fear through him. Not so much because of potential damage to the various antique items. But because then everyone would be able to see them. They wouldn’t be his anymore. Someone would find an heir or the bank would take them.
“Why hasn’t somebody taken them?”
Surely the realtor had seen them.
“They thought it was worthless junk.”
That made him smile even more. Maybe the Fatmann’s put it up for sale, meaning to come back and get their antiques once storage could be arranged. Then Mr. Fatmann had a heart attack. Mrs. Fatmann didn’t have as great an interest in the junk, which explained why it was kept in the garage. She just let it rot here. She collected her husband’s life insurance check, got the stomach staples surgery. Married a man half her age. Good for her.
Or maybe they had both died in a car wreck, cramped up in that little green minivan.
“What a mess that must have been.”
But that didn’t make sense. Someone would have stepped in. They would have had an estate sale. Jason had been to one with his parents before. It was at an old farmhouse. The family of the deceased had arranged all the person’s possessions around the house. Every room was cross between department store and garage sale. Vases. Furniture. Antique egg cartons. Transistor radios. Coils of different types of barbed wire. A wood burning kit. A drawer full of men’s handkerchiefs. Dolls. Medicine bottles. On and on like this.
It was the most morbid and fascinating thing he had ever seen.
Jason put the hood back against the garage and started walking towards the house.
Part 5: The Legs
It was only 25 paces to reach the house, but it was less concealed from the street than Jason liked. He preferred to stay on the interior of the block where there weren’t any streetlights. Though from this angle the house was backlit and he traveled in it’s shadow. Feeling confident, drunk on excitement, he strode straight through the yard. And then his phone buzzed. He bolted into the rear entrance of the house. The iPhone screen shone bright through his pants pocket.
Once he was in the porch he took out his phone to turn off the alarm he had set. The addition was aglow in blueish screen light. It’s windows were missing. An old wicker loveseat, partly smashed, stared at him from the opposite end. It was 1:30AM, he had left his bedroom a half hour ago. Setting the phone to go off for every half hour made sure he wouldn’t lose track of time. Resetting the alarm, he jammed the phone back into his pocket.
His eyes adjusted to the dark, he could see the love seat again. Turning around he could make out the white back door. There was a little tiny window in the upper center. Behind it was black. He tried the doorknob. Locked but it felt cheap in his hand. Like the hardware used on houses in the suburbs it was lightweight with a polished brass finish. It was also loose.
He could get in if he wanted to.
“Why? There’s so much in the garage, why should I go in the house.”
He kicked the door knob off without responding to his conscience. It thudded to the ground but didn’t startle him. He had made the decision and wouldn’t be shaken now.
The door didn’t give. Of course there was a deadbolt.
He exhaled, took aim at the lock, and gave it a kick like in the movies. The white door gave, but not all the way. He kicked again. It was louder than the movies. Again and again he stomped at the door until it came apart in splinters of fiberglass. He looked through the gnarled opening with accomplishment and dismay.
“There’s no hiding this.”
No. The door had become a ticking clock. Now it was only a matter of “how much time will pass” until someone notices the smashed door from the sidewalk. That could be a while. In the meantime he would have to move his haul from the garage by cover of night. Depending how much he could get per night, the race was on.
“This had better be worth it,” He thought as he slid through the tattered entryway.
It was cold in the house, to the point that Jason’s belly quaked. He turned on the phone’s flashlight. The linoleum floor was sinking in several places. It created an odd funhouse effect. Standing on one of the areas that dipped would likely be a quick trip to the basement. Jason’s mind flashed to the steep coal delivery entrance with it’s boggy wetness. There would be rats.
A refrigerator stood in the middle of the room.
“Well the floors good enough to hold a refrigerator.”
He took his first steps into the room.
The floor creaked but didn’t give.
The room had a tall peak and with an octagon window near the top. He could see the tree branches he’d seen from his Cypress peeking in on him. Aside from the refrigerator, which didn’t look particularly antique-ish, the room was barren. Just a small pantry with empty shelves. Not a promising start. He continued on.
The next room had a much lower ceiling to accommodate the second floor above. Here there was a couch and an old, though not vintage, TV. This was beginning to become a disappointment. He had been anxious, but he now was getting angry. Straight ahead there was a closed door and a large entryway to another room. From where he stood he could see the bannister of a staircase in that next room.
To his left was an unexpected set of saloon doors.
He peered over the saloon doors. It was some sort of small hallway closet that had served as a hall tree, with coat hooks on either side. Beyond that, a more traditional door. Closed and locked. He tentatively marked this area as “clear” in his mind and continued on.
He returned his attention to the door to the left of the entryway. Opening it revealed a staircase going down to the basement. The exposed walls showed the wall’s slats and horsehair infused plaster. He couldn’t quite see the bottom of the steps with the phone light. But he could hear water dripping. His light refracted in trace glimpses. It gave the illusion of movement and all at once he felt that panic he’d had under the pickup hood.
What if someone burst through the saloon doors behind, gave a push and closed the door?
Forcing down his terror, he backed out and closed the door. Door closed, he jerked around to give the saloon doors another look. No one was there. He pressed on into the next room.
“If there’s nothing in that one, I’ll cut my losses and turn back.”
This room had a chandelier, hung much too low for it’s ceiling.
“That may be worth something.”
Perhaps this had been a dining room at one point, with the fixture just above the table. Looking closer at the ground he could see marks were table legs had once stood. He nodded to himself with pride.
“I’m getting pretty good at this.”
Good at what exactly, he couldn’t say. What did he know about old lighting fixtures? Scanning the room it seemed like more of the same. From between the boards covering the windows, the street light raked in. He was near the front of the house now. This lighting somehow exaggerated the different shades of the wallpaper. Jason could clearly see where pictures had once hung. It reminded him of that light trashy cops shows would use at crime scenes.
And like a detective, he started to put it together. This was the section of the house with the least bit of renovation. Likely the wallpaper here predated the The Fatmann’s and went back to Gene McCann’s time. Likewise, with the unfinished worn wood floor as opposed to the linoleum in the first room. He was time traveling, alone, in an empty house… and leaving footprints.
The room turned left and there was a door leading down to the street. Boarded shut. To his left, a wooden staircase lead upstairs to the second floor. Straight ahead were ornate oak double doors. Looking back he could still see the refrigerator in the kitchen, enshrined by a shaft of dim light. He hadn’t found anything yet, other than a potentially valuable chandelier.
He’d invested too much to turn back though. Strategically, he thought it best to clear the first floor before continuing upstairs. He’d seen enough slashers were the protagonist was dumb enough to go upstairs with a killer chasing her.
He slid the wooden doors open with a creak. The door caught on something. Trying to wrench it open it came off it’s track fell loose and cattywampus. Another loud blunder.
“In for a penny, in for a pound.”
Girding himself he stepped over the door, into the dark room.
Part 6: The Mind
He was in the basement, but didn’t realize it yet. A tool bench had broken his fall, as well a rib and maybe an ankle. His face hurt. He laid on the bench, gasping.
Belly down, he lifted his head to look up. Everything was black. Below his ankle felt like dead weight, and he knew that it was hiding great pain. Breathing in too deep hurt as well. Rolling over, he could make out the wallpaper of a room above him, framed by jagged silhouettes.
Broken floorboards and timbers. The floor had caved in long ago. And all at once things started to add up. He had stepped into a room with no floor and fallen into the basement. The comics and antiques in the garage hadn’t been forgotten. They had been saved. The “for sale” sign hadn’t fallen over. It was taken down because the house was condemned and scheduled for demolition. The chandelier was still there because it held no value. The fridge wasn’t moved because it was too dangerous to bothered with.
“Another part of the main floor had already collapsed.”
He had been a fool.
“A bull in a China shop.”
He didn’t smile at that one. Breathing with pain, he started to look around. His eyes were adjusting, but everything was still dark shapes. He reached his hand down to feel what he was laying on. He felt a mounted vice, the rough painted wood of the workbench, and then a little lower his hand met icy water.
He jerked it back. Scooting away from the edge, his face pressed against basement wall. It was hard stone and slick with condensation. He recoiled and almost fell off the bench altogether.
His breath was coming in gasps now. He felt the perimeter of the space he occupied with his hands and tried to stand. Gingerly, he made a tripod of his hands and good foot. Pushing himself up to standing, he steadied himself with the slimy rock wall. The top of his head was a foot and a half away from the opening. Above him, he could make out the door frame against the wallpaper. The dark silhouettes of what had been the floor were becoming clearer as his eyes adjusted.
Following the frame of the floorboards there didn’t appear to be any floor left at all, just scraps. With his back to the wall he looked right to see where the it had gone. Evidently an interior support had given out. The floor was still somewhat attached on the exterior wall, creating a skewed ramp of floor. Unfortunately, this was much too steep to scale, particularly with his ankle and the water. Worse yet, it created a partition in the basement, acting as a false wall and obscuring the full view of his prison. Looking about him, there was only wall, darkness, a brick column and the caved in floor.
Still standing, his right leg supporting him, he thought it through. There were two exits from the basement, the staircase and the coal entrance. The latter lead directly to the sidewalk. Due to the caved in floor and lack of light, neither escape was visible. He had a rough idea of where they should be, but would require him to fumble around in the dark. In a couple feet of water. Injured.
“I need to get home.”
This thought came entirely too late, he realized. If he got out, right now, he was going to be completely soaked. He would need to make his way back to the house, hell with the comic books, and —
“There’s no way I could make the drop back into the window.”
The window in his garden level room was right by the ceiling. Even in good health it was a leap of faith. He had to dangle his legs through and trust that his feet would find the headboard. With his ankle he was liable to break his neck.
“I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.”
He began the consider waiting it out until morning. He could scream bloody murder until someone came to rescued him. Then something crawled over his neck. Swatting it away in a blind panic he fell off of the workbench and into the blackness.
The water came up to middle of his thigh. It filled his shoes and underwear. Getting to his feet he plunged forward towards the brick. His knee throbbed from the concrete below. Misjudging the distance between himself and the brick column, he fell face first into the water. Screaming and cursing, back on his feet, he clung to the brick like a cat to a tree. The pain in his ankle momentarily forgotten, he took stock of his surroundings once more.
The brick column was a chimney. He visualized the exterior of the house and cross referenced it with the location of the door above him. The exit out to the sidewalk should be behind the collapsed floor.
Unfortunatley, the floor was firmly butted up to the brick chimney. Feeling around, there was no clear way through. And assuming he did get through, he couldn’t be sure he’d be able to open those doors. Who knew when they’re been last opened or how they were sealed.
But somewhere there was also a staircase.
Looking left there was the dark outline of a passageway, but it lead the wrong way. By Jason’s reckoning, the staircase leading back to the first floor should be on the other side of the chimney.
“It probably just loops around.”
But it was dark through that portal, pitch black. He was loathe to leave the relative comfort of his now familiar workbench. It’s open ceiling that let in the faintest amount of moonlight.
There would be no light, faint or otherwise, in the next room.
Part 7: The Head
To Jason’s surprise, there were steps leading out of the water and into the next room. He lay sprawled on them for a moment before recognizing that his top half lay on solid dry ground. It was very dirty, dusty, and he could feel grit on his face. Looking back he could water shimmering around the catastrophe laden basement. It was almost bright when compared to the cavernous chamber he was climbing into.
Looking ahead he could see nothing. He reached for the right side of the entry way and felt his way along the wall. A few steps and when he looked back he could no longer tell where the entry way had been. Sudden pain. He bumped into what felt like a pipe. While examining it he found that the ceiling was quite low where he was. He stooped lower as he limped forward, wet and shaking.
Frightened to take a hand off of the wall for fear he would be lost, he kept one arm skidding along the wall. The other remained outstretched ahead of him. Making a wide sweeping motion with his free hand he felt something solid. Another wall. He walked crouched, with each hand touching a wall. He was in a tiny hallway. Or a large crawl space.
“This doesn’t make any sense.”
It didn’t matter anymore. This was the only direction available. Had there been other paths? He wasn’t going to go back and fumble around in the darkness. Out. He had to get out. A few steps further, he began to hear a clattering under his feet. It felt like walking over twigs in the forest.
Lifting his good leg higher he was able to keep moving, more or less dragging the wounded ankle along. More obstructions began to block his path. His foot caught something on the step up and he fell into the refuse.
Reaching down to feel what he was caught on, he felt jean material. Closing his hand on the jeans, he felt a hard rod of bone within. At this point he lost control of his body. His arms turned into rubber. His hands flew everywhere.
He felt a deflated nylon jacket with the jagged protrusions of a rib cage inside, an arm, hair. He screamed wildly. With no rational thought in his mind he tripped over more articles of clothing. Bodies. Shoes. Rings. Teeth. He started to dry heave.
“There’s no air in here”
He tried to turn back but there was no direction. He couldn’t tell up from down and was only dimly aware of his own screams. There was no way out. He was the dying amongst the dead. This was a pile of little boys who had trespassed. This was the resting place of the stupid and the naive.
Be began to feel himself submerging. His screams gave way to coughs and retching noises as his voice gave out. He was being sucked under in this pile of forgotten remains. He lashed out. Tearing at clothes and cracking bones, he struck at the walls themselves.
The tunnel had narrowed and shifted downwards. In the supine position with his arms above his head, Jason could barely move now. He had reached a dead end. He howled and gyrated his body, arching his back and bringing his feet down hard like a tantruming child. Snot and tears mixed with the grime to burn his eyes.
His body wiggled as he bit hard on his cheek and tasted blood. Something shifted, detached and roll upwards from his waist. He felt the weight of it on his chest and the wispy tuft of it’s hair tickled his chin. It was a skull. A skull trying to get close enough to eat him. It would steal his face. He began to beg.
“Please God no. Don’t do this. No. No. No.”
The dead man’s head was now cheek to cheek with Jason. He began to beat his own head against the ground as hard as he could. His body spasmed in a self inflicted, though still involuntary, seizure. Then came a magnificent crack.
Jason came up from the water gasping for air. He stood and fell several times in quick succession. He began to belch out water. There were no clear thoughts as he tried to run again and again fell. Suddenly he realized he could see. There was a great old furnace in front of him. And to the left of that there was an open door with human forms spilling out of it and into the water where he was standing. The head bobbed in the water nearby.
He pounded on the door at the top of the steps. He realized he could open it by turning the door handle. Screaming. The rest is a blur of images. The sight of the saloon doors. The refrigerator in the middle of the warped kitchen. The gnarled root on the ground of the yard, where he sprawled after darting from the house. The streetlight as he ran home in the middle of the street. And finally, his front door.
When he arrived home, wet and panicked, it was just after 2am. He had been in the condemned house less than half an hour. Unnoticed, he went straight to bed. The next day a few well placed excuses covered everything with his parents. The missing phone being the most contentious part of his convoluted story.
273 S. Center was torn down two weeks later. There was no fan fair, it was done quietly. The house that had been bursting to share it’s secrets disappeared and it’s land was bulldozed level. If any bodies were found, it wasn’t mentioned in the Lacon Home Journal. The garage was also leveled. The whereabouts of the comics and antiques are unknown. At least, unknown to Jason Evans, who never inquired about either.
Jason went on to high school and did, in fact, join the football team. He never told anyone about his encounter at the dilapidated house on the opposite corner of his block. His already good sized frame continued to grow through his junior year. Within a few months of the incident, he couldn’t fit through his bedroom window if he wanted to.
His brother moved out and went to SIU the following year and Jason inherited his study desk.
I wrote this for a Skillshare class called “Storytelling Fundamentals: Character, Conflict, Context, Craft” taught by Daniel José Older.
I hope you enjoyed the story. — Jp