Shout at the Devil
Bubbling emerald-green liquid glowed like a backlit cauldron. Something dark stirred below. A pale, slender hand and forearm broke the surface and grasped the air, animated after an eternity of submersion. The hand slowly closed into a fist. Failing to capture its target, the arm lurched for Mark’s ankle, seizing him with an iron-grip. He tried to kick free, but he was no match for its clutches.
Mark abruptly found himself in his bedroom. The non-descript white wall helped him wipe the images from his mind, but his chest thumped at a wicked pace. It was only some water and a hand. Why am I so scared? Damn Ms. Wood and The Once and Future King. Relieved it was only a nightmare, probably spawned from his eighth grade reading list, he laughed. That was no Lady of the Lake. He rolled over onto his sprawled copy of Salem’s Lot and dropped off to sleep.
Mark didn’t want to get out of the brown AMC Pacer that day his family finally went house hunting. It wasn’t intuition. It was stubbornness. He wasn’t cool with change of any kind.
After years of living in the Twin Cities, his parents wanted to join the secret brotherhood of a small town. “Everyone should live where the doors can be left unlocked,” his mother had said. The tiny blip of Winona was just the place.
Mark bobbed his head to the Metallica lyrics. “Not dead which eternal lie, stranger aeons death may die! Drain you with your sanity, face the Thing that Should Not Be!”
A jarring swerve into the driveway forced him to make his acquaintance with the new property. And this particular structure wasn’t extending any open arms. The white paint appeared dingy. The wrap around porch wasn’t inviting anyone to sip lemonade and wait for dusk. The patches of grass in the front yard were like swatches of beard on a scabby chin. Mark wasn’t eager to get to first base.
His mother turned to the backseat and tapped his thigh. “Honey, turn that off.”
Mark had noticed her lips moving, but couldn’t make out her words. He removed his headset. “What?”
“We’re here, sweetie.” She smoothed loose strands of dark hair that escaped from her pony tail.
He pressed the stop button on his Walkman.
His sister Tausha swung her legs and stared out the window. Her bubble gum pink dress made her look like a giant flower scrunched into the seat.
Their mother’s eyes widened at the sight of her daughter suddenly spread eagle. “Come, now. You’re going to be seven soon. It’s time you sat like a lady.”
Tausha made a face, clapped her legs together, and continued to gnaw on her cherry-flavored sucker. Listening to her smack her lips and munch made Mark want to flood his ears with more music. She’s so annoying.
His dad turned to his wife in the passenger seat. “Keep an open mind. It’s been empty for almost five years.”
“Yeah, I wonder why,” she replied.
He took her hand and squeezed it. “You like bargains. And we need one.”
The realtor pulled up next to them. She stepped from her Buick wearing a wine-colored blouse with hefty shoulder pads and a gray pencil skirt. Her hands clasped, she stood and smiled while waiting for Mark and company to join her. “I told you I had the house for you.”
Mark’s father shook her hand. “Well, it sure is big enough for us to work out of.” He turned and rubbed his wife’s shoulder. Mark’s mom smiled as if she still needed to be impressed. She took her daughter’s hand. Tausha yawned and then sucked on her lollipop.
The realtor strutted along the blacktop driveway in her high heels, the family trailing behind. “Was built in 1869. Mr. Choate owned a department store downtown. Was even friends with Marshall Fields from New York.” She spun around to catch her clients nodding with recognition. “He made his money as a lumber baron. Most of this home’s constructed with gorgeous mahogany detailing. Place is so big that he buried a railroad tank car out back to fuel the furnace.”
Mark’s father wrinkled his brow. “Can’t be cheap to heat.”
She averted her eyes. “It’s not that bad. You’ll be surprised. Besides, you can rent out the back bedrooms to the local college students. The last residents did—before they—um.”
“Before what?” Mark’s mom asked.
“Before—they moved.” The agent’s eyes shifted.
His father hadn’t been listening. He was busy scoping out the open lot. Weeds and grass coexisted in untamed overgrowth. A neglected fountain sat with gloppy water. “What’s with that?” He thumbed in the direction he’d been looking.
Mark gasped—the structure from his nightmare. He’d seen himself standing over it in the darkness. What the hell? No way. He gaped as if it gazed back at him. “And so we meet again,” it seemed to utter. He thought he might write to Stephen King to give him an idea for a story. Mark thought it might be a variation of the story “Weeds.” The thought made him smile.
“A developer has been dying to buy that lot. You could sell it,” the agent said. “Come on, I’ll show you the interior.”
“Oh, look, honey. A jasmine bush. Must be a good sign,” Mark’s mother said, cooing.
Her husband shot her a winning smile.
Once inside, Mark stared at the neutral-colored walls. The entryway was carpeted in sea-green, but much of the downstairs flooring was perfectly laid wood—not newly finished, but not in need of repair. It was easy to imagine a man in a suit playing a baby grand piano in the music room or holding a party in the spacious living room, classical music filling the air. Mark could almost hear uncorking champagne and clinking glasses.
The family of four and their tour guide filed into the dining room, their eyes immediately drawn to the dangling crystal tear drops of the chandelier. Even encrusted with dust, its refracting light glinted at Mark.
Just as the agent opened her mouth to speak, Tausha shrieked and howled. All of them stood transfixed as the little girl dropped to the carpet and pounded almost right through the floor. Then she tried to creep into the hollow space under the built-in buffet, her wailing a clear effort to summon the dead. What is wrong with her?
Everyone gawked at the swinging door to the pantry, the passageway to the grand living room, and to the exit to the open lot and driveway. Nothing was there. Mark’s mother scooped Tausha up and whisked her outside. The screams echoed through the walls. Once finally free from the confines of the house, her sobs softened.
Mark glanced to his father who offered up a shrug.
“Too much candy?” Mark asked. She’d gorged herself on sweets before, but the only evil he could think of at the moment was sugar.
Mark and his father, camera in hand, finished the tour with the realtor.
The first night Mark spent in the house with his father came suddenly. His mother was back at the old home with Tausha, singlehandedly packing up their belongings. So it was just the two men of the house.
“Why’re we sleeping in the dining room?” Mark asked.
“Because we’ve at least three exits, my boy.” He slapped his son’s back.
Three exits for what? It’s three ways for someone to get in!
He watched as his father busied himself with blowing up the inflatable mattress. Mark knelt beside the work in progress, helping to spread out the unfurling plastic mass. Their golden retriever, Salem, lazed in the corner. The air in the room become thick. Mark wished for a night light, but realized he was too old for such things.
Soon their indoor camp was ready, the sheets and pillows willing to offer some comforts. They smelled like faint artificial flowers, just like in the previous house, which was no longer home. One day sights and sounds of this place would become familiar.
Father and son got into the sleeping position. The lights were out and night illumination beamed through the trees, filtering in past the translucent window sheers into the room.
Mark drifted into a deep sleep. Blackness was just about to burst into a full spectrum of color when he shot fully awake. His could suddenly see his breath. But it’s summer! The door to the living room was a pitch black opening. Then something in the void took shape. It came into focus like an outline rising from the depths of cloudy water. It methodically advanced toward the dining room—a vague figure of a man. His body was undefined, but the face skeletal, sunken, pale. The eyes mere shadowy holes.
Then the mouth opened. Would it speak? Would it try to devour them whole? The hands raised and one curled out, not in invitation, but in a way that foreboded some kind of harm. Mark thought he saw pterodactyl-like wings in the shadows, unfurling in the dark.
Mark, although spellbound, tore his attention from the intruder, turning to his father, not for deliverance, but just to have a witness. His father stared in horror at Mark. Just then the dog sprung up and yipped—it, too, wanted rescuing.
Shout at the Devil
You can find “Shout at the Devil” in “Under the Bed, Vol. 4 No. 8.”