by Julio Toro San Martin
What was the name? For the life of her, she couldn’t remember. She’d thought highly of the exhibit and the work of art, but now, funnily, couldn’t remember its name.
She knew it had been somewhere on exhibit in London before the war. Then, when the Nazi bombs started falling, it had been moved to a private collection outside the city.
At the end of the war, her husband had found it amid the ruins. Apparently, relocation hadn’t saved it from the bombs. After numerous thorough inquiries, no owner was found, so he had it shipped to the States.
Well, she wasn’t about to drop the conversation just because she couldn’t remember the name. Already, Alice had moved on to another topic, yet Mona wanted so much to show her the thing.
Looking outside, Mona listened to the wind blowing the unsettled yellow and orange leaves that had fallen from the trees, and in dim autumn’s wake, felt the slowly encroaching cold and greater oncoming darkness, far removed from summer’s sultriness.
If she wanted to show Alice, she would have to do it quickly, in case Alice decided to leave earlier than usual because of the weather.
“The pumpkins this year,” Alice said, “are smaller than last year’s crop. I’ve searched all around, but one really must go to the countryside to shop for the best ones, don’t you think?”
“I really don’t know about that sort of thing,” Mona answered. “When I was younger, my father and older brothers and sisters took care of the shopping, and now that I’m married, Mr. Macready does the buying for pumpkins.” She paused for a second, then continued in a lighter tone, “My, but you did say we get a lot of traffic here during Halloween, didn’t you?”
“Oh, yes!” Alice said, barely containing her enthusiasm. “It’s a regular fair around here. The children come from all parts looking for candy. You do give out candy and enjoy it—Halloween, I mean?”
“I suppose,” Mona said. “Now that the boarder’s gone and Mr. Macready won’t be getting back from Europe for some time, I’ll have to do something to keep away the boredom. Yes, I think I will give out candy.”
Mentioning how alone she was brought back a slight twinge of the depression she had been feeling. With Mr. Macready working in London as a building contractor and the boarder, his business at the university now finished, back home in the Southwest, it was only Alice, dear Alice, and her frequent visits—except recently, when she’d gone on vacation—which provided Mona with at least some company.
When she’d moved here with her newlywed husband from Alabama, she hadn’t expected this to come about: no husband, no children, no job and no expectation of finding one, and no friends, except for Alice and a handful of acquaintances who rarely visited, if ever. It was enough to drive any sane person to depression and to cling onto any scrap of companionship that could be found.
So when Alice said she was leaving, Mona wouldn’t have it. Besides, she hadn’t yet shown Alice the exhibit piece her husband had sent her.
“Oh, Alice, must you go?” Mona asked. “Can’t you stay for supper?”
“If it will make you feel better, I can stay a while longer.”
“Oh, it most definitely will! You can help me cook!” Mona said, her face brightening. “But first, do let me show you the exhibit piece. It’s a simply marvelous thing. They say it was made by an artist in the ’30s. He was said at the time to be absolutely, deliciously deranged. But isn’t that what they say of all true geniuses, dear Alice?”
She led Alice to the basement door.
“We keep it down here. It’s much larger than you would imagine. I feel rather ashamed, but I can’t remember the piece’s name for the life of me. As I’ve said, it was rather popular during the ’30s. I really can’t go on showing you without sharing any real information with you. Do wait for me while I go search for one of the newspapers that Mr. Macready sent me along with the piece. Its name and more of its history is in them.”
Alice opened the door and turned on the stairway lights.
“My, but you’re in a hurry!” Mona said. “Though you have been a dear, offering to stay until after supper. Do you want to go on ahead and wait for me downstairs? Very well, do mind your step on the way down while I go search for that paper. I shouldn’t be more than a few seconds.”
Alice walked briskly down the steps and stopped at the bottom, since the rest of the basement was still in darkness. Not wanting to waste too much time, she decided to go on ahead, feeling in the darkness for the overhead pull-chain light switch.
From upstairs, she heard Mona yelling clearly.
“I do appreciate you staying, Alice. You can’t imagine how depressing this time of year can be for someone without company. I suppose it can be a time of quiet contemplation for others, but not for me. I think it’s simply beastly. The days getting shorter, the outside world emptying of people, the colors growing dullish and gray, everything dying and slowly turning cold like the inside of a bland, frozen refrigerator. It’s beastly!”
After groping and almost giving up, Alice found the chain and pulled it. The overhead light bulb lit up spectacularly, forcing the blackness to retreat a short distance away.
She was surprised at how large the basement was! There were still vast sections in darkness. In a corner, she saw two pairs of ripped up men’s shoes, neatly placed side-by-side. For some reason she couldn’t quite grasp, she found the display deeply strange and unsettling.
Mona’s voice was coming closer.
“The newspaper says the piece was originally on display in Southwark Street, London. It’s a representation of an obscure totem creature from Nome, Alaska, based on some barely-known legend from the place. You can read about it all in more detail soon.”
Alice noticed some kind of symbol in blood-red paint on a crossbeam above. This was all deathly strange. As she moved closer to the outer darkness, she thought she might be able to make out the outline of something hiding in the shadows.
Was it an elephant’s trunk she had glimpsed? And three shiny glazed things, perhaps eyes or massive marbles, coming closer? There was definitely something in the darkness … moving.
She was turning to leave when something hit her hard across the head. Dizzying pain sent her sprawling to the ground. Looking up, she had just enough time to see Mona rushing across the basement and up the stairs, carrying a hammer in her hand, stopping only to turn off the lights.
In seconds, Alice was in total darkness, tasting blood on her lips. Something was slowly crawling or slouching toward her. Not sure what else to do, Alice started yelling for help.
“Help me! Someone, please! Mona! Help me! Anyone!”
She heard Mona upstairs, moving around in the kitchen and running water. Was she getting supper ready? Even after what had just happened? The kitchen radio blared on.
Suddenly, a terrible, fishy stench reached her nose, and horrible slopping sounds started to inch toward her. Whatever it was, she could tell that it was big.
All her bodily defenses told her to flee, so she got up and flung herself in the direction of the stairs with all her might. She crashed straight into them, banging herself up. Pain flashed across her shins and nose, yet she immediately got up and ran blindly up the stairs. Hammering into the door, she reached for the handle and tried desperately to twist it, but it wouldn’t budge. The door was locked.
The sound of the Andrews Sisters singing on the other side blended with her own words as she screamed, “For God’s sake, Mona, let me out! You can’t do this! Frederick knows that I came to see you today! People will come here, you can count on that! What about my daughter? Think of her! I was supposed to go to Washington tomorrow to visit my brother, who’s a Senator! Do you understand, Mona? He won’t let this go! Oh please, Mona! Please!”
Mona calmly put down the knife she was using to chop vegetables for the chicken stew and made her way to the basement door, rather bored. She quickly began to chastise Alice.
“Do be a dear and hush now, Alice. All this fuss is just serving to make you all flustered. The thing in the basement, it … I know that I’m not myself lately, but … it gets inside your head, strange-like. You think they’re your ideas. I can’t explain it right; it’s strange. Now do be a good dear and hush. I promise it won’t hurt for long.”
Alice heard as Mona went back to the kitchen and resumed cooking. She slowly slunk down by the door and began to weep uncontrollably.
From the bottom steps, something began to make its way up to her.
Mona sat alone eating supper and lamented the fact she always ate alone. First the boarder hadn’t come for supper anymore, then Mr. Macready, and now Alice. Outside, she saw the new-fallen night, heard the howling wind crashing against the window glass, and grew despondent about her lonesome predicament.
She hated this time of year, hated what it represented to the soul. She felt as fragile as a weathered leaf, like she would crumble if pressed too hard. She couldn’t—wouldn’t—forgive Alice for leaving her alone like this, just her and her supper.
At least the children and their laughter during Halloween would bring some jubilation to her world. Their ringing, merry voices carrying within them the promise of spring and regeneration, when all things are made new again after the death of autumn and winter, would bring her some joy. This was some happiness to look forward to, some companionship.
She’d most definitely have to invite some children into the house—perhaps for supper! It was definitely what it would want. She’d do this before hibernating for the winter, before turning herself off, before awaiting nothing but the spring, before dying temporarily, drowning herself in sorrow and drink.
The thing in the basement was quiet now. It usually did this after a feast. Mona sensed it in her head and was strangely calmed.
She got up and went to look for Alice.
“Are you done being dead yet?” she asked.
When she found Alice, she would pick her up and hang her on a coat rack and talk to her. It was simple to do, since the creature usually broke all its food’s bones as it sucked sustenance from the inside. Then she’d have Alice all to herself.
She carefully unlocked the basement door and peered into the darkness. Alice lay in a heap in a corner. As she inched nearer, a hand reached out to grasp her ankle, and grabbing onto it, yanked hard. This couldn’t be! Alice should have been dead!
Mona lost her balance and tumbled down, falling and hitting herself horribly against the steps. Her neck was twisted in a very awkward way.
Now, at the bottom of the steps, she waited calmly for her end. There was no fear, only expectation. The thing, subtly controlling her mind, didn’t want her to struggle.
Mona gasped as hundreds of sucking filaments appeared from the dark and embraced and attached themselves to her. Then the gentle feeding began.
In flashes, Mona saw what the creature had seen in its long life. Dizzying planets swam before her. Uncountable acolytes praised and worshipped it on worlds now dead. She saw this and much more, and was astounded. But it wasn’t to last.
Soon the squeezing and breaking began, and the mashing of her insides commenced. As she slowly felt her life leaving her, she finally remembered the thing’s name. She thought this quite comical, quite deranged even. But of course, how could she have forgotten?
Its name was Ran-Tegoth.
The well-dressed woman who boarded the airplane a week later was rather strange and yet distinguished, with an air of steely purpose about her. She sat in first class and wore dark glasses and extraneous makeup, as if to cover some unsightly blemishes. Most took her for a socialite.
She spoke of traveling to many places and of a brother she had, a Senator. No one guessed she was leaving her daughter and husband behind—her whole life, in fact—to start a new life. The only items she carried with her from her old life were a carry-on bag and a huge container in the plane’s cargo hold.
The metal container was roughly the size of a small car. It was marked hazardous and dangerous and was not to be opened. The creature rested inside.
Alice was much more suited for its purposes. Mona could never have offered it much. She was already dead, even while alive. It needed something more vivacious, more adventurous, something with more to opportunities to offer.
By 9:45 p.m., the plane was airborne, bound for Washington, D.C.
No one ever found the grotesquely punctured loose skin-bag thing that had been dumped inside the garbage can in front of the Macready residence—the thing which once had been Mona Macready.
Copyright © 2014 Julio Toro San Martin