Today I unveil the shared story begun on the first day of Coffin Hop 2012. I have to hand it to you people. You rock.
The fun part of this exercise is seeing the different writing styles. I see hints of Victorian gothic tone and Lovecraftian imagery, with a flare of heavy metal sentiment to spice it up. Some contributors chose to explore the atmosphere of the story, others provided background. Some steadfastly tried to forward the plot, while others knocked the plot onto another set of tracks.
In short, the story’s a mess.
And now, it’s up to me to end it. In five sentences or less.* Egads and little fishes!
But first, the winners! The shared story contest winner is Eric Tolles. He wins a copy of Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury, and an e-book of Valknut: The Binding, by me. The grand prize winner is Nina D’Arcangela. She wins the TESSpecFic pack of five e-books, pictured below, plus e-books of my short stories Rose in Winter and Hell Hole. Your comments were appreciated.
And now, the story. (My contributions are boldfaced.)
The Thing in the Closet. And…that Other Thing Out the Window
David Garley watched the tree shadows dance on wall above his bed and prayed for the darkness to end. He was supposed to be asleep. Tomorrow was Halloween and a school day, so his mom had sent him to bed before nine o’clock to “stock up on sleep” for the big night ahead.
Sleep. Ha. As if he’d ever be able to get to sleep early. He might not sleep at all. He’d lain awake past midnight every night for the last two weeks. But this had nothing to do with the excitement of Halloween.
It had more to do with the dread.
Dread of the sound in the closet; the one that slapped and bumped. The one that sounded like something had crawled up out of the ocean and hidden in the darkness.
At twelve-years-old, David believed in fact, not make-believe. He discovered early that storks didn’t carry babies and that his dad swiped teeth for change. But all that common sense couldn’t deny the truth…when he stabbed the pumpkin from Bradbury’s farm, it screamed.
That resulting scream was David’s first glimpse into the world beyond the one he had taken for granted. Now he could see how the lines blurred and the veil lifted. Staring into the abyss of his newfound knowledge, he was chilled to the marrow in his young bones.
This clarity of vision convinced him the noises in the closet were malignant. They had grown more persistent as Halloween approached, until tonight. The persistent sounds were accompanied by a fetid stench of something rotten and unclean. In his mind, he was brave enough to investigate, but when he swung his thin legs to the floor, his muscles seemed frozen.
He kept a flashlight on the nightstand next to his alarm clock. A silver chain with attached crucifix generally hung from his lamp, but that night, he’d worn it to bed. His aluminum bat, a present from his father for the new baseball season, was propped between the bed and nightstand. Gripping it with one hand gave him the strength to stand. Then he palmed the flashlight.
The moon slipped out from behind the clouds that had hidden half of its face like Erik’s mask and twisted the limbs of the tree outside his window into fingers playing shadow puppets on the far wall of his room. He watched as a rabbit mutated into something misshapen; with horns and far more appendages than anything born of this world. Its teeth were legion. Some other landscape had spit that creature from its belly, and David’s bones chilled at the thought of the mouth that could smile upon such a monstrosity or the breast that could nurture it.
David snapped the flashlight on, aiming its beam like a sword at the beast. The light flickered.
The beast vanished in the yellow, fading light, but David knew that it would be back the moment he shone his light on any other part of the room. The sounds in the closet had morphed into low growl. Ten thousand years of fight-versus-flight glued David to his spot on the floor, his eyes and ears filling his body with terror.
The growl seemed to be getting closer. Was it in truth, or was it just in his head? His heart was now racing, he began to fear it was about to explode.
He jumped. The flashlight slipped from his hand. Clattering on the floor. It’s light skittering wildly over the wall as it rolled.
“David, what are you still doing up?” His mother flicked on the light switch. He blinked against the burn. She stood in the doorway, hand on her hip. He pointed at the closet and the fetid odor that still crept out from its depth.
David had always been a strange child, special. It had been a tough pregnancy, and a deadly birth; his biological mother, Sarah’s twin sister, died. Sarah and her husband took David in, and cared for him as their own, despite the way darkness and unnatural coincidence seemed to love David as much as they did.
His mother’s arrival changed the parameters. Whether he had been born of her body or not, she’d always been there for him, his security in an often confusing world, in all ways his mother. As if his weak flashlight beam had suddenly flared to illuminate the situation, he realized that this time he must be her protection against a horror she did not understand.
The sounds in the closet changed from sounding like a feral animal to seeming more like a guttural human growl. Then the growl took the form of one low, menacing word repeated over and over: “Sarah.” David had never heard the voice before, but his mother’s eyes widened in more than just terror at hearing someone speaking from behind the closet door.
Sarah backed from the closet, her lips forming the same word over and over, soundless as though from lack of air.
And David knew what that thing in the closet had to be. From childhood, he’d heard stories of Weird Uncle Willie, who had died in the electric chair when his mother was a child. Cousins whispered rumors in his ear that Willie was the true cause of David’s real mother’s death, that she died of fright when Weird Uncle Willie caught her in her hospital room, alone except for baby David in her arms.
And now Willie was back for Sarah.
The closet door creaked open. And a man-shaped thing immerged, its flesh rotting and falling away from the bone. It reached for Sarah. She screamed and stumbled over a chair. As Willie bent over her, David ripped the crucifix from his neck and thrust it into the monster’s face. But Willie swept it away and knocked David against the wall. Stunned, David slid to the floor. The only mother he’d ever known would die, and he couldn’t stop it.
As Willie’s bone-tipped fingers reached for Sarah’s throat, a crash came at the window in a spray of glass. The misshapen beast swept into the room on wings of black ice. It seized the corpse of Weird Uncle Willie, winding him in the grip of its countless appendages. Then, in a wind tainted by decay and death, it hurtled through the window and was gone.
David looked at the closet, now standing open and empty, and knew it would never hold anything but clothes again.
*Okay, way more than five sentences. But I had a lot of loose ends to tie up. Hopefully I got most of them.