Tags: short story, short fiction, horror, fiction, macabre, thriller, suspense, blood, gore, murder, suicide, Halloween, creepy, dark, rape, horror flash fiction
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By J.T. WARREN
Published by J.T. Warren
Copyright 2011 J.T. Warren
Cover Design by Karla Herrera
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to anything real is entirely coincidental.
This is for all the women in my life.
Special thanks to my first readers, LeeAnn Doherty and Karla Herrera, and immense gratitude to my wife for her steadfast support.
Sometimes There Are Monsters.
He could kill his little brother. Lying in bed, pillow cupped around his ears to muffle the high-pitched, little boy screams coming from the adjacent room, Brian could imagine storming into his brother’s room and punching the little twerp in the face. Maybe it would kill him or just knock him out—either way, it would be a solution.
Ralph was eight already and that was too old for nightmares. Too old for screaming for mommy and daddy in the middle of the night. Too old for monsters. Yet, there he was in his little room with his Batman nightlight forever on, sitting up in bed and screaming because something was in his closet or under his bed or crawling behind the walls or glaring at him from the vent in the floor.
Brian released the pillow from his head and punched the sides of his bed. The mattress squeaked. It had squeaked a lot last week when Mom and Dad were out at a movie and Nina was over. She’d been wearing a short black skirt and long black boots that reached past her knees. Her skin had been flushed with heat and she had smelled so wonderfully sweet, so intoxicating. And that was true because he’d been drunk a few times since starting high school three years ago and the way he’d felt tangling with Nina on this bed had been exactly how he’d felt when he got drunk with Lee and Cody: dizzy with joy.
Then Ralph had started screaming and Brian had tried to ignore it but Nina had freaked. “Sounds like someone’s killing him,” she said. He told her not to worry about it and went back to her breasts, which were tightly constricted beneath her top, and slid his hand along her soft inner thigh. The screams had gone on, however, and Nina snapped her legs shut. “What is wrong with him?” she asked.
So, he’d gotten up, went into Ralph’s room and had already been telling him to shut the hell up already when he paused. Ralph was sitting up in bed, face dead pale, tears streaming down his chunky cheeks, a large Maglite in his hands. Brian’s Maglite. “What the fuck is wrong with you?”
With trembling arms, Ralph aimed the flashlight at his closet. The door stood slightly open. Inside, the hanging clothes (some of them Mom’s because she had already filled up her own closet and the one in the hallway) were still, harmless. Ralph swung the light into Brian’s face and for a second the dangling clothes were dark wraiths in a black cave but then Brian was waving his hand in front of the beam and telling Ralph to turn that fucking thing off.
Ralph lowered the beam. “It’s in there,” he said, his voice small and fragile.
Brian glanced at the closet again, hesitating at the clothes (were they moving now, just slightly, as if disturbed?) and then went right to Ralph’s side and grabbed the flashlight. His brother did not want to let go.
“It’s my flashlight,” Brian said. “Let go.”
“Please,” Ralph said. Tears bubbled up in his voice. “Please.”
Brian tugged on the flashlight again but Ralph held strong. If not for Nina waiting in his bedroom, Brian would slap Ralph across his chubby face and then twist his arms until the kid howled and finally relented.
Brian tugged the light again and bent down close to his little brother’s face. He smelled of baby shampoo. “Listen to me, you little shit. If you blow up my spot with that girl, I will fucking kill you. Got that? So, shut up and don’t make a single fucking noise.”
Slowly, Ralph nodded and Brian stood up. The flashlight slid from Ralph’s hands. Brian smiled. “There’s no such thing as monsters anyway,” he said.
When he turned around, Nina was standing in the doorway. She had on her jacket that only extended halfway down her ribcage. There was a pause in which Brian tried to find the right thing to say but just as he was about to speak—My brother has nightmares, but he’s okay now—Ralph erupted in tears.
“What did you do?” In that question, Brian could see the bitch of a mother Nina would one day become.
“Why’s he crying?”
“He’s a little baby.” Ralph cried harder and Nina put her hands on her hips. Way too Mom to be sexy now.
“You need to grow up,” she said and walked down the hall. Her heels clacked away until she was at the door and then out on 73rd Street. The momentary blast of traffic from the open door was the only goodbye.
Brian turned to his brother. The tears kept flowing like a goddamn broken faucet. “You fucking shithead,” he said and tossed the flashlight at him. In the darker corner of his mind, which had just joined forces with the rejected part that had wanted to get back to Nina’s soft inner thighs, he thought the heavy flashlight might hurt Ralph and that would teach him, but when the flashlight crunched against the kid’s nose hard enough to spurt blood out his nostrils and stain his pajama shirt, Brian suffered a painful smack of guilt.
He stood there watching his little brother cry, watching the blood create a wave pattern over the Batman insignia on his shirt. The kid was so pathetic. He wasn’t even trying to stop his own nosebleed. God knew if Mom or Dad were home, this would turn into an epic situation complete with a “Family Conversation” and Brian would be grounded for a week while Ralph hugged up close to Mom, a stupid grin on his face.
“Clean yourself up before Mom and Dad get home,” Brian said. “And if you say anything about this, I will kill you.”
True to the harmony of big brother/little brother relationships, Ralph hadn’t said anything. Mom never said anything either, even after doing the laundry, which meant Ralph had either stuffed his ruined pajama shirt down into the garbage or it was stashed in his closet. Food for the monster. Give him the taste of blood.
Mom and Dad were in there now, soothing poor, little Ralph. His screams had disintegrated into pathetic sobs Brian could just hear through the wall. He had never suffered such extreme nightmares; he had never thought a monster was living in his closet or under his bed. It was a goddamn brownstone on the Upper West Side—monsters lived in creepy old farmhouses out in the boondocks, not in spacious million-dollar homes.
Brian could almost let himself fall back to sleep but now he was thinking about Nina and her soft skin and intoxicating smell. He couldn’t exactly jerk off in here with the whole family a few feet away, so he squashed the lust into anger and got out of bed.
Mom and Dad were sitting on the bed on either side of Ralph. His face was swollen, his eyes wet, but the crying had stopped. Dark purplish bruises encircled both eyes. What lie had Ralph told them? The monster hurt me? It was only a matter of time before the parentals said those damn words: Brian, we need to have a talk.
“There’s no monsters, honey,” Mom said. She caressed Ralph’s face, pushed some of his matted hair off his forehead. “Daddy checked under the bed.”
“The closet,” Ralph murmured.
Dad got up and started toward the closet. He stopped when he saw Brian in the doorway. Father and son, both dressed in sweatpants and undershirts. In Dad’s exhausted face, Brian saw a kin both in family resemblance and growing impatience with the little nighttime screamer.
“Monsters again, huh?” Brian said casually.
Dad gave him the classic don’t-screw-with-me stare and went to the closet. The hinges squeaked faintly when he opened the door and flipped on the overhead light inside. Ralph made a kind of startled gasp when the closet was illuminated as if he expected whatever horror he believed resided in there would pop out and chomp down on Dad’s head with its massive serrated fangs. In fact, that’s probably what the little coward did think.
There was Mom’s hanging clothes mixed with the few dress shirts she had purchased for Ralph to wear on holidays and heaped on the floor was a motley mix of stuffed animals and assorted toys. Stuff his little brother should have given up to local shelters years ago.
Dad made a show of peering deep into the closet and then glanced back over his shoulder to the bed. “All clear,” he said. In that moment, Brian could imagine some giant-fanged beast leaping from the closet and decapitating his father. The geyser of blood would be massive. He could almost hear how the blood would splatter on the wood floors.
“Close it,” Ralph said in that tiny voice before burying his face against Mom’s shoulder.
Dad sighed and closed the closet door all the way. The door rubbed against the frame and then the little bolt clicked into place. He ran his hand along the edge of the door where it met the moulding. “You know,” he said, “I could put a latch on here, something to make sure the monster can’t come out.”
Ralph looked out hopefully from the crook of Mom’s shoulder. Mom was giving Dad the face that asked, What the hell are you doing?
“Would you like that?” Dad asked.
“That’s stupid, Dad,” Brian said. He couldn’t help it.
Dad’s stare shut Brian’s mouth but, let’s be honest, it was a stupid idea. The kid needed to get over his fears not be told there actually were monsters living in his closet.
Dad went to the bed, sat. The mattress squeaked and Brian thought of Nina. Christ, he had been so close before Ralph ruined it. How long did he have to wait to lose his virginity? By the time it happened, the condoms he bought would be expired. How was it possible that rubbers could expire?
“I want you to listen to me, Ralph,” Dad said. “I know you get frightened and I know sometimes it can be really scary. We can tell you that there are no monsters or that they can’t hurt you, but I’ll be honest with you. Sometimes there’s monsters. In this world, monsters are very real.”
“Peter, what are you—”
Dad put a hand on Mom’s shoulder to cut her off. He probably winked at her, too, although Brian couldn’t see Dad’s face. “It’s okay,” he said. “We should be honest with him. Sometimes there’s monsters and sometimes they can hurt us, but only if we let them. Only if we’re scared.”
Ralph was rubbing his eyes. The kid was falling for this crap. Brian clenched his jaw and tried not to laugh.
“I’ll put a latch on the closet for you and that will keep the monster away, but I want you to remember that no matter what monsters you face, all you have to do is be brave.” He caressed Ralph’s head. “Be brave and stand up to the monsters. If you can do that, they can’t hurt you.”
“How do you know?” Ralph asked.
“Because monsters are just like bullies. Remember that kid who used to push you around on the playground?”
“Marjon,” Ralph said.
“Right. And I told you to push him back and what happened?”
“He stopped pushing me.”
“Exactly. All you have to do is stand up and fight back. It’s what Batman would do, right? When the monsters come, be brave, fight back, and they’ll go away. I promise.”
Then they were hugging and Brian went back to his room. His pillow still smelled faintly of Nina’s perfume. The aroma stirred him. He couldn’t sleep. He stared at the poster of Lady Gaga on his ceiling and quietly did what he had to so he was able to sleep. He dreamed of silky smooth thighs that snapped shut and he woke in the morning with an idea.
Ralph was in the kitchen eating a bowl of cereal and two pieces of toast. Four butcher knives lay on the counter with a sagging stick of butter. Three of the knives were smeared with buttery grease.
“Don’t you know to use a butter knife to cut butter?” Brian asked as he went about making his own bowl of cereal.
Ralph didn’t say anything. He started shoveling scoops of Fruit Loops into his mouth as fast as he could without choking. Mom was out for her weekly Saturday morning yoga and, from the sounds of it, Dad was in Ralph’s bedroom installing a latch on the closet.
Brian sat in the chair closet to Ralph and ate his cereal leisurely. “You know Dad was full of shit, right?”
Ralph ate faster.
“A stupid little latch isn’t going to stop any monster,” Brian said. “In fact, it’ll probably just piss the damn thing off.”
Ralph stared at him. The bruises in the corners of his eyes made him look even more pathetic. He should tell Brian to shut the fuck up but Ralph would never do that. If he did, Brian would laugh and then twist his arm behind his back until the little kid started crying, “Mercy!”
“I just have to be brave,” Ralph said.
Brian laughed. He leaned close to his brother’s face. “That’s bullshit, too. Monsters don’t care if you’re brave or not. Actually, if you try to be brave it makes you tastier. It makes them want you more. Nothing can stop a hungry monster.”
“Shut up,” he said. Fruit Loops dribbled out between his lips.
Brian grabbed Ralph’s shoulder and squeezed it until Ralph cried out and then he released. “Don’t tell me to shut up. I’m your big brother and I’m trying to tell you how it is. I’m not going to blow smoke up your butt like Mom and Dad. If you can trust anyone in this world, it’s me. I’m your blood. I’m looking out for you.”
Ralph wouldn’t look up from his cereal bowl and the pinkish milk within.
“When the monsters come, being brave won’t be enough. It won’t do a damn thing.”
“Then what should I do?” Ralph’s voice was so small.
Brian sat back, shrugged. “Pray.”
Ralph ran out of the kitchen calling for Dad and Brian couldn’t help himself: He laughed until Dad entered the kitchen and told him to stop being a dick. His eyes said he knew how Ralph had ended up with those bruised eyes. Then he told him to clean up all those knives.
Later, Brian called Nina.
“You want to hang out?”
“No,” she said.”
“Why are you such an asshole?”
“To your little brother. I’m not wasting time with someone who’s a dick to his own family.”
“I was just messing with him. He’s a scaredy cat. Thinks there’s a monster in his closet. It’s pathetic.”
“You want to know why I don’t want to hang out?” Nina asked. “Just listen to yourself.” Then she hung up.
That night, Brian found what he wanted in his own closet—the skeleton mask he had bought for last Halloween. Cody and Lee bought the same ones and as a trio of black-clad skeletons, they had made it into several bars. They had been on quite the streak and were making some headway with a trio of drunk girls dressed as whorish vampires when a bouncer took an extra-long glance at their IDs and the party was over.
The mask was basically a latex piece affixed to a ski mask, but it was cool because the jaw moved with your own jaw. It would be the perfect effect. To complete the ensemble, Brian donned the same full-black outfit he’d sported on Halloween.
Ralph’s routine was the same every night: after dinner, he sat with Mom and Dad and watched Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune and then whatever program was on that night for the eight-o’clock hour and then he went to bed. No one cared what Brian was up to during that time. Usually, he stayed in his room and played Call of Duty or looked at porn on his computer.
A few minutes before nine, flashlight in hand, Brian went into Ralph’s room. He left the TV on in his room at the perfect volume that was loud enough to satisfy his parents that they’d know what he was doing but not so loud as to elicit a knock and a reprimand. Far down the hall in the family room, some stupid sitcom with a laugh track droned on. Mom laughed occasionally and Ralph’s high-pitched laugh always followed.
Ralph’s bed was neatly made, the Batman comforter pulled tight across the top. Two Batman posters hung on the wall among some handmade crayon signs. One declared in alternating orange and blue colors: Monsters Stay Out!
Brian laughed and went to the closet. The latch was a simple two-piece set that would snap under the slightest pressure. That was good. It would minimize damage. He was going to get quite the grounding for this, which would be bullshit, but this was going to be too good to pass up.
He opened the closet, the squeak sounding much louder than usual, and pushed his way through the clothes and over the stuffed animals until he was against the wall, which was really the other side of his own room. No portal to some otherworldly dimension. Just a plain wall at the back of a closet that smelled a little like the crap that accumulated in the lint trap in the dryer. He smelled it once because Cody had said you could get high off the fumes. Cody was an idiot.
When he heard them coming down the hall, Brian slipped on the mask and turned off the flashlight. He left the closet door slightly ajar and the bedroom light flushed through to make him feel a bit vulnerable. He tried to back up more but, of course, there was no where to go.
It was Dad. He put Ralph in bed. “Are you going to be my brave boy?” he asked, the words slightly muffled.
“Closet,” Ralph said.
After a moment, Dad said, “Huh, yeah. I thought it was closed.”
The bed made its noise when Dad got up and his LL Bean slippers slapped across the floor.
Brian pressed himself flat against the wall. Even if Dad did his cursory examination to declare an “All Clear,” he wouldn’t see Brian. He wasn’t actually looking for anything, just trying to appease his timid son.
But Brian had no reason to worry: Dad pushed the door shut with that familiar rubbing wood sound. “And now it’s latched,” Dad said. “The monster can’t get out, but if a monster comes … what are you going to do?”
“Be brave,” Ralph said.
“Because then it can’t hurt me.”
“That’s right. Now, sleep well. I love you.”
“Brian said monsters can hurt you even if you’re not scared.”
Dad thought for a moment. “Big brothers are strange things,” he said. “You know your Uncle Roger? He used to torment me all the time when we were kids, but we’re best buds now. One day, you and Brian will be like that. I promise.”
“So it’s not true?” Ralph asked. “The monsters can’t hurt me?”
“Be brave and no harm will come to you,” Dad said.
Brian’s jaw hurt from holding in his laughter.
“Okay,” Ralph said. “Goodnight, Dad.”
The light went out and the bedroom door closed. The faintest splash of light from his nightlight barely reached under the closet door. Brian straightened himself, adjusted his mask. He would wait a few more minutes and then get this show going.
“No monsters,” Ralph said. He sounded very far away. “I’m brave. I’m brave.”
A snort escaped Brian’s skeletal mouth.
“I’m brave,” Ralph said again.
Brian stepped back and felt for one crazy second that he was going to fall off the edge of a cliff. A burst of vertigo swam through him. Then he hit the wall again and the dizziness vanished. He was too excited, that’s all.
Ralph had probably just closed his eyes, maybe even after kissing that ratty stuffed animal chipmunk he always slept with. Behind him, in Brian’s room, the show 1000 Ways to Die was sarcastically ridiculing some poor idiot’s hapless demise. Brian loved that show. His favorite death was the woman with the exploding breast implants that erupted on the airplane. He strained to hear if he had seen this episode before but the show seemed to be coming to him from a vast distance, like several blocks down the street. In fact, he couldn’t hear any traffic outside, either. No matter where you were in this house, the street noise was never completely gone.
Well, seems I found one place to escape the chaos of the city, he thought.
He readied himself, cracked his neck, and took a deep breath, but someone was in here with him. Someone was standing to his right, a tall, dark figure and it was reaching toward him now and—
But that was stupid. Just a trick of the eyes. It was Mom’s wedding dress all sealed beneath layers of plastic. He was the only one in here. No such thing as monsters, after all.
You don’t seem too confident about that, a voice offered inside his head. It was the same voice that said he was a loser whenever he looked at online porn.
It was being in here that was screwing with his head. That’s all. People weren’t meant to hide out in closets.
That’s because it’s a place for monsters.
The sensation that someone (or some thing) was standing next to him came on stronger. He could feel the hand reaching through the darkness as if the air were water and he could detect the vibration. His skin prickled and went cold. Hot breath warmed his neck. Whatever it was wasn’t next him but behind him, something that lived beyond the wall, something that only came out at night, and now it was coming out and finding him, an offered sacrifice trapped behind a latched door.
Its hot hand clamped onto his shoulder, its curved talons pushed against his skin. A bit more pressure and blood would be flowing down his chest and he’d only have a moment to register the sensation before the beast’s enormous mouth chomped off his head.
Stupid thoughts. Stupid stupid stupid. But still, shit, what if . . ?
The scream came from his mouth and most of it was born out of fear but, he told himself, this had been his plan the whole time and, sure, he’d gotten a bit spooked, but there wasn’t any monster back here, only him, only him dressed as a skeleton and trying to scare his brother shitless.
So, he screamed and charged forward. He thrashed through the clothes, kicked the stuffed animals out of the way, tripped and fell against the door, but he caught himself before the doorknob could give him a black eye. Then he was hammering against the door and howling, only it wasn’t howling it was screaming because the thing was still behind him, its grotesque claw still on his shoulder.
The door vibrated against the fragile latch. Brian flicked on the flashlight and pounded it against the door. He wouldn’t look behind him because he didn’t want to feel stupid, didn’t want to know he was really freaking out right now and not simply playing a prank. But that wasn’t the full truth—he didn’t shine the light behind him because he didn’t want to see the monster face-to-face, didn’t want to notice how the light reflected in the saliva pooling in the corners of the thing’s fleshy lips.
He hit the door harder and thought the latch must have been stronger than he’d suspected. Maybe Dad had strapped on a combination lock or wedged a door stop in the bottom for good measure.
The door burst open with a groan of rubbing wood, the little latch snapping free from the moulding with a creaking wooden pop and Brian the skeleton monster fell forward toward Ralph who was out of bed and standing right there holding something that reflected in the flash of Brian’s flashlight, the same Maglite that had damn near broken Ralph’s nose.
“BRAVE!” Ralph screamed.
Ralph stepped forward and lunged his arm out like some hero slaying a dragon and the flashlight caught the thing in his hand again and Brian was falling too fast to move out of the way, too fast to save himself from the butcher knife, too fast to stop the blade from piercing his stomach and riding all the way up deep into his insides.
Brian hit the ground. His body flushed with red hot heat and he felt like he’d pissed himself. The knife was buried in him, the handle protruding out. He’d noticed a knife had been missing from the butcher block when he’d cleaned up the ones smeared with butter.
Ralph stood over him, face pale. “I did it,” he said.
Screaming against the pain in his abdomen, Brian tore off the skeleton mask. “Help!” he yelled but his voice sounded weak. Could he be dying so quickly? The morons on 1000 Ways to Die died almost immediately. Something penetrated them, vital organs ruptured, and death took them off.
“Help,” he said again in a voice so small and so far away.
Mom and Dad would come running in any second and they would call 9-1-1 and he’d be okay. He’d be fine.
Ralph stepped closer. The dim light cast curving shadows up his fat cheeks in a demonic smile. A more malicious grin than the rictus of the most gruesome beast dwelling in any child’s closet. But that couldn’t be right. Why would he be smiling?
“I am brave,” he said. His voice was strong, confident.
Heat gave way to fierce cold as if Brian had been dropped into an ice bath. He trailed his hands along the floor and felt the smoothness of Nina’s thighs. Then her legs snapped shut and he stared up into the open closet where a hulking black beast with impossibly long teeth watched him with giant, tumorous eyes bloated with squirming worms.
The monstrous thing stepped from the closet. Its lizard feet stomped on the floor. The whole house shook. Black, oily mucus splattered next to Brian’s face. He thought of how he imagined Dad’s mutilated neck geysering blood. The beast bent toward him. Its shoulders hunched into mountains riddled with open, oozing sores. Its fiery breath stank of things rotting in a boiling sun. Things long suffering and not yet dead.
Brian waited for the beast to bite off his head with a mouth too large to comprehend, a jaw as vast as the whole world, but the thing seized his ankles with slimy claws and started dragging him back into the closet.
The knife jolted inside him bringing fresh pain. He was faintly aware of the streaking sound his back was making along the wood floor. The sound of skin sliding through blood.
He shut his eyes and tried to scream but the darkness swallowed him and then he was beyond the closet and falling into a nightmare abyss where monsters reigned.
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