A short story
There is a monster that lives on Abington Street. It creeps in dark corners and leaves the smell of burning in its wake. It oozes strange black goo and sometimes, late at night when every eye is shut and the moon flickers behind a cloud, you can hear it crackle a spiteful and melancholy challenge at the sky. People go missing, and they don’t come back, and the next morning the whole street smells burnt. Like burning beans. What sort of creature is this?
I, Benjamin Garrick, am going to catch this monster.
I set out with the knife I took from Davy’s secret box under his bed, and, slowly, I open my window and let cool air waft into my bedroom. The wind speaks of dew and quiet and just that hint of burnt. The monster is nearby. I am glad Davy was gone this evening because it made it easier to get the knife. He’s gone to his girlfriend’s again.
Carefully, I ease my way down, catching the button of my shirt on the window ledge. It tears, and I say one of the bad words Davy says when Mom or isn’t around as the button pops and bounds downward to be swallowed by the yawning night.
I dangle by my fingertips, kicking my feet, and it hurts a bit, but I don’t know if this hurts less than letting go will. But then the wind speaks again and brings that smell, and I clench my jaw. I have a mission. A sacred duty.
I drop, and the fall isn’t nearly as frightening as I thought it would be. Landing as quietly as I can (which isn’t very quiet, to be honest) I scramble to my feet and poke my knife at that thick darkness breathing in slow groans around me. It flinches back at the touch of my blade. Or perhaps it is I who flinched.
The burning, smoky smell grows stronger.
Mom says the smell is the broken sewer pipe. She says Mrs. Nancy is always flushing things down her toilet she ought not to, and eventually, it’s messed up the entire street. This seems like an awful complex explanation when the true answer is fairly obvious. The monster leaves the smell as a warning. But Mom doesn’t see it that way, and Mrs. Nancy won’t admit to sticking rocks and toothbrushes and little-stuffed cats toys down the toilet. She’s an old lady who has to be at least five hundred years old with more wrinkles than a face. She clutches her little golden cross necklace and holds it up when Davy walks near. That’s because he wears black and talks too loud and plays loud music and watches bad movies, but I think it still kinda shocks him every time she does that.
Carefully, I ease across our lawn, avoiding the orange street lights. Orange streetlights are gaps where things don’t quite line up correctly and everything becomes plastic, and I need my wits about me. Besides, I do want to bring the monster’s attention to me. Kneading the knife in my hand, I run my fingers along the initials engraved inside. D. G. Dad got it for Davy back when he was around a lot. He used to tell me he’d get me one when I turned ten, but I’m eleven now, and he’s gone. Mrs. Nancy said he wasn’t a good person, but I don’t see how that can be true.
That’s okay though because when I get the monster, Dad will think that’s pretty cool. And he’ll know I’m old enough to have my own knife. Then I won’t have to take Davy’s. And then Dad will come back.
The smell is getting stronger. As I walk down the street, my shadow stretches before me, and cat ears grow from the top of its head. A tail swishes behind me and my fingers sharpened like claws. The shadow’s head tilts slightly in a confused, wild sort of way. This does not startle me. It is just the monster messing with my mind. Besides, if I could be anything, being a panther would be a good option for my current mission.
I press on until I reach Dr. Orn’s house. Dr. Orn hates everything. He hates the color yellow and he hates lawn clippings, and I think the only thing he doesn’t hate is giving people disgusting medicine. For the most part, the medicines are horribly tasting, and he thinks its funny to watch you squirm. In his defense, though, his medicine does work, and he is quite rich because of it. He is handsome and cheeky and has a car he takes to the car wash every three days because birds seem to love a nice, clear target. That’s another thing he hates. Birds. And I’d like to say he’d not very fond of children either. He used to babysit me and Davy, and every time we went, he’d spend the entire evening reading us a list of rules until we passed out from boredom. Mom adores him. She thinks he should start his own radio show and give life advice.
Next to his house, there is an old house with ivy growing up the side and more of a dirt patch along the front than a lawn. The house is pressed into the earth by the many comments made by its neighbor Ms. May, who has garden flamingos and color coordinated flowerbeds. She likes to sit on her front porch with her hands glued to her hips, and she waits until someone walks past. Then, she catches them quickly with her words and makes to you listen to forty minutes of all the awful grievances she has gone through lately and how they all have sprouted, in one way or another, from the owner of the horrible house next door.
Mr. Dunkin, who owns the house with the ivy and the old rusted car and the tree that dips down lifeless limbs to tap at the windows on rainy, cold days, thinks Ms. May is amusing, I imagine. I personally think he lets it get this bad just because it irritates her. There are stories about Mr. Dunkin being mean to kids a long, long time ago. Mom used to always make us walk on the other side of the street when we passed by. Don’t want him getting any ideas, she’d say. Just to be safe.
I don’t know Mr. Dunkin, so I can’t say whether this is a necessary step or not, but many people believe it is. No one’s seen him in a long time and people are starting to talk about selling the house.
After passing his house and Ms. May’s house, I reach the end of the road. Beyond, a large forest stretches into infinity. It has woven branches and beaded eyes and is overall very temperamental. If there is something we all can agree on, it is that it is only a good idea to enter the forest when it invites you.
I don’t think the monster is in the forest this way. The forest smells like dirt and more dew and pine needles. No burning.
I turn and am about to head in a new direction when a flicker catches my eye. I squint at it.
Just between two houses on the left, something scampers. My heart bubbles up into my throat, and my grip tightens on the knife. If I kill this monster, things will be okay. I know they will.
Quiet as a panther, I glide across the lawns and sidewalks, and I press my back against the rough bricks of the house I’d seen the flicker near. Something skids again. It whispers something I cannot hear and shoves cold shivers down my spines. This monster is a thing of shadows and ash. Fire and darkness all at once. Taking a deep breath, I hold up my knife and step around the corner. All is quiet. All is dark.
A burnt darkness.
The air is heavy with smoke, but I still can’t see where the smell is coming from. The monster moves the air around me and propels me forward, and I cannot do anything but follow. Deeper and deeper between the ever narrowing crack between the houses. Soon both houses scrape my shoulders, and then I am turned to the side to continue on. And I cannot go back. I am pressed forward. Trembling sets into my bones like a great cold, and I almost drop my knife. But I do not. I push and tug and struggle until finally, I reach the edges of the houses. A great black curtain covers the exit. When it brushes against my face, at first I believe it to be a spider web, but soon my mistake is rectified. I press against the curtain, and it gives. The darkness eases back, and the silence disappears. I am swamped in noise all at once. Drowning in it.
They are familiar voices, talking, laughing, arguing, murmuring, snickering, complaining. They are Abington Street. I push the curtain aside once and for all, and squint at the sudden light. Inside the forest behind the houses, they have set up a circle of flat stones jabbed into the earth. They sit in lawn chairs at picnic tables with red and white checkered table clothes inside the circle and no one appears to notice me. The smell of burning beans, of cooking, is overwhelming, and I realize suddenly that this is where the smell is coming from. This is the source.
My knife falls to my side. Carefully, I ease forward. A large bonfire in the middle of the stone circle has a very large pot on it, and they are cooking some type of chili.
Their eyes are chilly.
One by one they turn to look at me. Blank faced sharks. I see Mom and Mrs. Nancy and Ms. May, and Dr. Orn and much more, and they all fall quiet. Quiet as the dead. They sway together in some unfelt wind.
Hello, little boy, they say. Hello, Benjamin. Thought you’d join us early, did you?
“What’s going on?” I ask.
They look at each other. They smile.
Something is very, very wrong, and it isn’t until then that the feeling in my gut suddenly became something I can see with my eyes. Someone’s black clothes with a stripe of a band symbol lay on the floor near the fire. I know those clothes. The fire dances screaming shadows twisting in agony across the stone circle. There are names written on the inside side of the stones.
David Dunkin, says one.
Jason Garrick, says another. That’s my dad.
And many more names. But one stone stands out from the rest. As the crowd slowly eases closer, coiling tighter and tighter around me, my hands tremble and my vision blurs, but I can still make out Davy Garrick on the newest stone. The red paint is still wet.
Mom takes a step toward me and she smiles and it looks very nice. You are the good son, Benjamin. Eat with us.
She holds out the bowl. I take it and am shaking so bad the broth spills over my fingers. And I know, right then, why the street smells like burnt beans the night after someone goes missing.
I’m holding Davy in my hands.
I’m holding him.
“I-I won’t,” I say. I want to ask why. I want to ask why so desperately. But I can’t. Abington Street exchange glances with each other and shrug. They moved closer until I can’t hold the bowl anymore. It falls to my feet and spills across my shoes, and I cannot move my knife, they are holding me so tight. Like an anaconda.
Like a snake. A monster.
Gulping down a breath, I shut my eyes. They press me into the earth and pull me down.
I was wrong. There is not a monster that lives on Abington Street.
There are monsters.
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