Would You Rather

by Adam Decker

 

 

            The house stood against the deep green backdrop of a hill and a forest.  The siding was light peach and the trim a reddish-orange.  Except for a few pieces of loose roofing, an occasional stray slice of siding, and bush stumps in front of the porch, 123 Baymont fit perfectly in that middle-class neighborhood.

            The house was unoccupied, left to a daughter who didn’t want or have the time to maintain it.  That daughter ran an antique shop in a town eighty miles away, and returned only to her former home to store items that could no longer hold a spot in the shelves of her shop.

            The porch was occupied.  Alex Drake sat in a chair on its concrete surface with his feet propped up on the railing, sipping Miller High Life Lite out of a can.  He watched his house, the white and charcoal home that sheltered he and his family, the one about ninety paces directly in front of him across the street.

            When the beer can gave up the last of its nectar, Alex dropped it to the porch floor and smashed it, compressing it to the width of a thick pancake, kicking it to the side, along with several of its brothers that went before.  Alex had drunk beer on this empty porch for three nights in a row now, not because he didn’t like his own porch, and not because his wife preferred he drink across the street.  Alex was watching for a perpetrator.

            Alex was also waiting.  Even though he had put down a good case or so in the last three nights, Alex was not an alcoholic, very rarely even drank by himself.  The beer was to pass the time while he waited.  He looked down at his watch. It read 10:30.

            The “perp” as his sheriff-deputy cousin referred to it, was nowhere in sight.  There were no hooded men creeping through the backyard, no shadowy figures tying to open a window.

            Alex’s family was safe and sound, snuggled in their respective beds, unaware of the late night surveillance mission going on across the street.

            The “perp” Alex was waiting for, stood about six inches off the ground, wore a fury gray coat and black mask, and frequented alley garbage cans.

            For the last month the Drake’s were kept up at night by scratching and clawing, violent and unapologetic noise, that traveled through the walls of their house, up and down, in and out, constant and bulky.

            The first day Alex heard the noise he was sitting in the living room.  He thought that a squirrel had some how gotten into the walls.  He thought maybe it was lost or confused, that maybe it would leave.  Maybe it wouldn’t like the dark, tight confines of his house’s walls.  If it were only that simple.  If it were only a squirrel.

            Several days into the stay of their new houseguest, Alex and his wife Tina, decided that this was no small squirrel.  It sounded like it barely fit between the walls, like every trip to the outside was a struggle to escape.  They were sure that the bandit was a Raccoon.

            Alex tried several tactics to get rid of the pest.  He beat the walls with his hand, following the crawl of the fury rascal as it squeezed slowly away.  And when that only displaced the creature to a different wall in the house, Alex beat a pan with a wooden spoon until his family had left, and only he and the raccoon remained.

Alex inspected the outside of the house, trying to find where the animal entered.  He combed over every inch of the walls, the foundation, and the roof.  He found nothing but a four-inch section of rotten wood above the porch, a hole too small for the thing that was wallowing in the walls of his house.

Alex bought a trap and put a can of cat food in it, and on night fifteen of the inhabitation, on his way home from a softball game and beer drinking, he passed by the cage.  Sure enough, inside was the biggest, fattest, furriest, raccoon Alex had ever seen.

“Finally, I got you, you son of a bitch.”  The raccoon did not respond.  It was calm, maybe a bit scared, and it covered its eyes with a paw. Alex giggled all the way into the house.  He lay in bed with a smile stuck to his face.

Alex awoke near dawn, walked down the stairs, and grabbed the phone book out of the desk drawer.  He flipped through the pages and found the listing.  Plucking the cordless phone from its stand, Alex pushed the numbers for the Humane Society.  Waiting for an answer, he walked to the front window.

“I’ll be damned.”

The cage sat in the same spot next to the stairs just like the night before.  But it was empty.  The biggest, fattest raccoon that Alex had ever seen had freed itself from a structure that was supposed to be inescapable.

Alex dropped the phone, ripped open the front door, and scampered down the porch steps.  The corner of the cage door was bent back about two inches.  Gray fur speckled with blood was stuck to the corner top corner—the fat freeloader had squeezed his way to freedom, but at no small cost.

We are at night number thirty now.  The raccoon has been strangely quit the last few evenings, as if he knew that his nemesis waits for him on the porch across the street.

Alex’s scouting mission was for one reason—to see where exactly the masked nuisance is getting into the house. After a month of war, Alex knew very few facts about his enemy.

So there he sat, on his neighbor’s porch, watching and waiting and drinking, staring at the roof of his own house.  Surely it was the roof.  It had to be getting  in on the roof.

A police car rolled up and stopped at the curb.  A sheriff’s deputy exited the car.  He had a serious look to him, was dressed in black, and was draped with an assortment of crime fighting devices on his belt.  He stopped on the sidewalk and looked at Alex.

“Sir, are you aware that drinking on someone else’s porch without their knowledge is considered trespassing?”

“What if I’m drinking with law enforcement?”  Alex lofted a beer into the air and his cousin caught it with two hands.

“It depends how many beers you have to bribe with.”

“Several,” Alex said.

“Then, I think you’ll be fine.”

Cousin Shane walked up the driveway and then up the steps, plopping down in the chair next to Alex.  He loosened his belt and placed his flashlight on the floor.  Shane cracked open the beer and drank a swallow that seemed to consume half of its contents.

“Sometimes there’s nothing better than that first swig,” Shane said.

“No doubt.”  Alex affirmed with a drink for himself.

Shane noticed his cousin’s eyes were entranced with his house across the street. “Seen the perp yet?”

“Nope.”

A large picture window—at least five feet in length and half as wide—sat directly behind Alex.  Two curtains—once white, now gray—hung behind the glass.

Out of the corner of his eye, Shane saw, or thought he saw, one of the curtains move.  He turned to see them perfectly still again.

“What’s wrong?” Alex asked.

“I swear something moved behind those curtains,” Shane said.

Alex looked briefly, and then turned back to his surveillance.  “Probably an animal or something.  Who knows what’s in that house.  The thing hasn’t been occupied for ten years.  Hell, we’ve got a raccoon in our walls and we live in the house, hard telling what’s in there.”

“Why doesn’t she rent it out?”

“She uses it for storage or something.  She’s got an antique shop in Collingston.  Old man Divan down the street said that there’s so much crap in there, that there’s just a walkway of space from the front of the house to the back.  The rest is just boxes and crap.  I don’t think this goddamn raccoon is ever going to show up.”

“Would you rather be staked down in the dessert with your eyelids cut off, facing the sun, or be dropped off naked in Antarctica.”

Alex laughed.  “Antarctica.  I wouldn’t want to freeze to death, but I think it would be quicker than the dessert.  Plus things would be trying to eat you.”

“Good point.”

“Would you rather,” Alex started, “be eaten by an Alligator or a shark?”

“Gator, definitely,” Shane responded.  “The shark’ll just nibble on you, come by and take a bite here and there, the gator will drown your ass and come back later to eat.  Less painful than the shark.”

Alex got up, lit a cigarette, and walked back a couple of paces so the smoke wouldn’t bother his cousin.  He stood with his back to the window.

He pulled hard on the cigarette, opened his mouth, and let the smoke escape into the air.  “Would you rather be quadriplegic or blind?”

“Blind, for sure,” Shane answered.

“I don’t know if it’s that cut and dry.  I mean think of all the things you wouldn’t be able to do if you couldn’t see.  Read, drive, watch tv, the list goes on.”

“Yeah, but I’d still be able to walk.  I could wipe my own ass.”

“You’d be able to walk into stuff, bangin’ into everything.  Take away my arms and legs, I think my eyes are more important.”  Alex sucked the white glower down to the filter, dropped it on the porch, and smashed it out with the heel of his shoe.

“I think you’re…”

Shane didn’t get out the last word.

In a split second the window behind Alex shattered.  Two large arms grabbed him around the chest and pulled him into the house.  His legs, from the knee down, hung out onto the porch.

Shane jumped out of his chair as if it were an ejection seat in a jet fighter.  He landed at the base of the window and his cousin’s feet.  Shane grabbed Alex’s ankles and pulled without hesitation.

Even at three feet away from the window, the inside of the house was pitch black.  The only evidence—besides his legs—Alex was still in this world was the panicked screams that came from the darkness.

Whoever had him, was strong.  Shane pulled and tugged but made no progress in retrieving his cousin.  After a short one-sided tug-of-war, Shane fell backwards to the porch concrete, holding one of Alex’s shoes in each of his hands.

Shane recollected himself to his feet, grabbed the flashlight off the porch floor, and pulled his gun from its holster.  Commotion echoed from inside the house.  Alex was being dragged through the clutter, bouncing off the boxes and antiques, his head bumping along the floor.

Shane stood at the dark window with his gun and flashlight pointed in.  A door slammed and the ruckus seemed to descend, like someone rolled a bowling ball down stairs.  Shane could only imagine that his cousin’s head was bumping toward a basement.  Alex’s screams for help went from a distant whisper to non-existent.

“Request back up at one twenty three Baymont.”  Shane paused flipping through the pages of his mind that held the numerous variations of code numbers that were supposed to be used.  What exactly do you call this situation?  Unsatisfied with any of the police jargon, he spoke in laymen’s terms.  “Possible abduction, subject was pulled through the window of a vacant house and dragged inside.  Specs of perpetrator were not visible.  Over.”

“Roger that.  Units are being dispatched presently,” a voice said through the speaker on Shane’s shoulder.

The frame of the window seemed to stare back at Shane, like the open mouth of a large animal, with jagged glass teeth and a bottomless gullet.  Shane wiped the pointed shards away with the long end of his heavy flashlight and stepped into the house.  He held the flashlight with his left hand and just above it with his right, the Glock from his holster.  Wherever his gaze traveled, so did the gun.

Cobwebs hung from the ceiling, glowing silver in the beam of Shane’s flashlight.  Boxes stood like barricades from the floor to the ceiling, covering what used to be the living room.  A pathway free from clutter started at the front door and ran through the right side to the back of the room and another doorway, maybe the entrance to the kitchen.  The air was dry but thick; it smelled like a nursing home, like mothballs mixed with dust.

Three steps into Shane’s trek he stopped, frozen by the hairs on the back of his neck.  He couldn’t see them at first, but he could feel them.  The same way one can feel eyes on them in a crowded room.  He moved his light slowly from left to right, exposing the reflections of countless pairs of eyes, golden eyes like animals caught in headlights.  They were too small to be mice.  Maybe rats or raccoons, Shane thought.  He kicked one of the columns of boxes to his left, hoping the noise would scatter the creatures.  The eyes only stared back at him, wide and ambivalent.

The bright-eyed creatures were not scared of him, but they didn’t seem to be aggressive either.  Shane took a few quiet steps down the pathway, his gun leading the way, walls of boxes on both sides, and soft purr-like sounds all around, vibrating from the throats of the animals that watched him.  With each closing stride to the doorway Shane could hear little feet scurry behind him.

He could see the sink before he passed through the doorway.  It was full to the brim with brownish water and black mold on the sides.  Something floated in the middle of it.  To his right was a door.  He jiggled the handle and it opened with ease.

The beam from his flashlight exposed a staircase to a basement, but the light dissipated into the black hole at the bottom.

“Alex?” Shane shouted.

There was no response.

Shane pressed the speaker on his shoulder.  “How’s that back up coming?”

There was some static noise, a few indistinguishable words, and then nothing.

Shane started down the stairs.  The boards under his feet creaked with each step and at any moment Shane thought his next would send him crashing to the floor.  The sides of the stairwell were light blue in color, streaked with smears of something dark, like someone dipped a paintbrush in pudding and ran it down the length of the wall.

The basement was darker than the rest of the house.  Shane turned his flashlight over and shined the light in his own eyes.  It seemed to be working but when he pointed outward the blackness in front of him swallowed whatever light there was.  A second later his flashlight went completely dead.  Shane banged the handle with his right hand.  Nothing. 

Shane may as well have been blindfolded.  He began to walk with his arms in front of him, his feet shuffling along the floor.  By the roughness and friction under his shoes, Shane could tell the basement floor was nothing more than dirt.

Shane could hear a faint sound, no doubt the screams from his cousin.  It sounded as if it were coming from below the basement floor.  How could that be?

“Alex!” Shane yelled.

Again there was a noise from far away, from far below.

Shane shuffled forward with his gun pointed forward and his left hand waving and grasping all directions in front.  His feet were stopped by something on the floor.  Shane bent down and felt the pile at his feet.  It was dirt.  Shane followed the mound with his hands.  It made a circle.

Someone had dug a hole.  A very big hole.  Big enough to drag someone down.  Shane could see nothing though.

A light flashed on overhead.  It was a single bulb, red in color, and hung from wires in the ceiling.  Shane scanned the room with the barrel of his gun.  The walls were plain and the rest of the room was bare.  The only thing in the basement was the large hole and the piles of dirt that formed a circle around it.  Shane tried his flashlight again.  This time it worked.

He pointed the beam into the black hole at his feet, but again the light went nowhere.  There was only black.  Shane holstered his gun, stepped over the small wall of dirt, and disappeared into the darkness.

The decline—at first—was about a forty-five degree angle.  The hole was large enough to walk upright in.  The air was damp and musty.  It reminded Shane of wet fur—something his dog smelled like after it had been in the rain.  The tunnel walls dripped at inconsistent intervals.  It wasn’t long and Shane had to bend over to prevent hitting his head.  The tunnel shrank as it descended and Shane found himself crawling and then on his belly, pulling himself with his elbows, almost at a vertical decline.  The only thing keeping him from falling straight down headfirst was the tight dirt walls holding him in place.

The wet-fur smell was replaced by another foul stench.  Each push and pull of his arms and legs inched him forward but also into the wall.  The once dirt was now pure mud.  It circled him like a glove on a hand.  The coffin sensation coupled with the odor of rotten eggs almost sent Shane into a panic.  He paused and took a deep breath.

Noise came from below.  Cousin Alex’s screams were gone, but they were replaced by crying.  It was whimpering, like a scared puppy, a non-stop chatter that made Shane sick to his stomach.  Who makes a grown man cry?  It was at that moment that Shane suspected it was not a “who” but a “what”, that he was dealing with.  Some sort of animal maybe.

He pulled himself downward through the mud tunnel almost swimming with his arms and legs.  The actual tunnel was non-existent now; it was just a thick soup of foul smelling mud.  The goo entered his ears and nose.  Shane tried to blow it away with his mouth.  A bubble formed and then collapsed with even more of the brown slush.  Shane held his breath, his limbs flailing as a reflex to survive.  A burning sensation filled his muscles from exhaustion.

At least a minute went by with no breath, no oxygen.  Shane felt his heart beating in his chest, rapid and hot.  It would be only a matter of seconds until he had to open his mouth and take a breath.  A thousand different images shot past his mind’s eye—playing guns with Alex in their granddad’s forest, birthdays, graduations, parties around the campfire, beers on the porch.  Funny the things that came out as important just before you were about to die.  Shane gave up hope and let his lungs do their work.  The dark sludge entered his mouth and nose.  Shane began to choke.

The thick soup walls around him began to shoot downward and Shane fell with them, hitting a hard floor facedown. The puddle of mud splashed down on top of him.  Shane gagged and puked up the contents that penetrated his mouth and nose.  It smelled horrific, and tasted worse.

Covered with mud, he stood in the darkness, wiping the slop from his eyes.  The shade of black under his eyelids was the same shade as outside them.

“Alex!” Shane screamed.

Whimpers came from his right.  Shane pulled out his flashlight again, wiped the lens, and turned it on.  There was a faint beam.  He turned in a circle and found that he was in a tunnel.  The ceiling dripped with mud, but the floor seemed to be rock.  At thirty yards away he could make it out the silhouette of a person.  He ran toward his cousin and stopped at the sight in front of him.

Alex was covered with mud as well, but the whites of his eyes shown through.  They were wide with shock, unblinking and unmoving.  The steady choppy breathes of fright escaped from his lungs.  Alex was hanging from something, his waist even with Shane’s shoulders.  His arms and legs seemed to be tied behind his back.

“Alex?”  Shane said.

Shane shined the dim light from his flashlight right into Alex’s face.  He popped out of his trance with screaming.

“You have to get out of here,” Alex shouted.  “Ruuuun! Ruuuuuun!”

“I’m not going without you.”

Alex laughed.  “I’m already dead man, can’t you see.  I’m already dead.”

Shane shined the light on him again, trying to find his arms and legs.  They weren’t tied behind him.  They were gone.  Someone or something had hacked them off.

“It’s got me up here on a giant fish hook man.  It stuck me through the back.”  Alex started sobbing and dropped his head.

“It?”  Shane pulled his gun.

Behind him he could hear two footsteps, soft footsteps, the kind meant for sneaking up on a person.  There was a purr-like gurgle followed by a hiss, a combination of sounds that Shane could not place in the real world.

Shane turned and squeezed the trigger figuring he would ask questions later, but before he could even see the flash from his gun, two sharp objects pierced through his eyes and pulled them completely out of his head.  He fell to the floor motionless.

A final scream came from cousin Alex on the hook above him.  It was cut short.

 

Three squad cars flew up Baymont, and as they stopped in front of the peach house, unbeknownst to the officers inside, the glass on the porch floated up from the concrete and melted back together inside the window frame.

The boxes in the living room stacked themselves back up and the glowing eyes of creatures went black.

In the basement, a dirt floor stretched from wall to wall.

The officers—now on the porch—pounded on the door and flashed their lights into the house.

Across the street, a fat raccoon squeezed into a four-inch opening on Alex Drake’s porch roof and disappeared into the walls of his house.

 

 

Did you like this short story?  Email Adam Decker and tell him what you thought.  Or get to the main course and read the fan favorite novel The Janitor.

 

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