Today marks the release of my new horror story, 6×6. It’s the tale of a ten year old boy who explores his dead grandfather’s basement and finds himself in the middle of a deadly game. Each choice begets a monster. Each move invites a nightmare. Will the boy survive long enough to win?
You can find the story here, at Fiction Press:
Or you can read it in its entirety below! Just depends on whether you like white text or black 😉 Don’t let the monsters getcha!
The first time I walked past my grandfather’s basement door was the day he died. My father had come to check on him that morning and found him dead in his armchair, his eyes wide open and his hands gripping the arms of the chair tightly. My father didn’t seem especially sad or surprised. He said something to me about his dad being dead for years in a way, but I didn’t know what that meant. I don’t think they had been close.
He came back to get me from school after I called in sick. Mom was at work so Dad had no choice. I had a stomach ache. Sometimes I fake those so I can go home and play in the woods near my house instead of be stuck in a cramped, ugly school building but today’s stomach ache was real. I had a feeling inside of me like something horrible had just happened. Turns out I was right.
Dad brought me here straight from school so he could talk to the estate lawyer. I don’t really understand what that is – I’m only ten – but I think it has something to do with Grandpa’s stuff. His house is old and ugly. Too many browns and greens. Brown books, brown leather chairs. Green carpet, green stains on the walls. I don’t think Grandpa cleaned because I don’t think he left that chair; the chair facing the basement door.
When the lawyer opened the basement door I saw my dad do something weird. He wouldn’t look at it. When the lawyer asked if they should go down there to make an inventory, my dad didn’t answer. When I looked up at him I saw sweat on his forehead. His jaw was clenched. His hands were balled up into fists. The lawyer asked again and again my dad didn’t answer even though he was standing not even five feet from him. The lawyer gave me a confused look and suggested they move on to the kitchen instead. My dad smiled and agreed and resumed talking like the mention of the basement had never happened.
I started to follow them to the kitchen…but then held back. I wanted to look down there. I wanted to know what had made Dad so uncomfortable. The door was open. It was a plain brown door, wooden with copper hinges and a plain copper doorknob. Through it were stairs descending to the lower level. The stairs went down about six steps and stopped on a landing. There were boxes piled all along the stairs and even more boxes on the landing. It looked like more stairs led further down. The brown theme continued down there as the carpeted stairs were a thick brown. The walls were white. Nothing out of the ordinary…and yet….
There was a smell. It was old and musty like any basement, but there was something else. It was heavy and thick and wet. It reminded me of something. I stood there trying to remember what and as I did something peculiar happened. The light let into the landing from the upstairs room started receding, like it does in a room when a cloud moves over the sun. It was getting darker, little by little, and as it did I noticed something else: the stairwell seemed to be getting longer.
I gasped when Dad’s hands wrapped around my shoulders and yanked me towards the foyer. Had I not been breathing? My lungs seemed to say as much. How long had I been standing there?
“Close that door on your way out,” my dad said to the lawyer, “There’s nothing important down there.”
It was the first time he had acknowledged the door’s existence. The lawyer nodded. He looked uneasy. As Dad pulled me out the door I saw the lawyer’s head slowly turn towards that open door.
I didn’t know why at the time, but I knew I had to come back. I had to walk down those steps. I had to see what was at the bottom.
Grandpa’s house was only three blocks from mine. I suppose that made it that much more extraordinary that Dad hardly ever visited his father, just stopping by maybe twice a year to make sure the old man was still breathing. My dad never talked about his dad other than to say that Grandpa had travelled a lot during the war. I never even knew which war.
Sneaking out was easy enough. After we got home Dad went almost straight to bed. Mom went up to check on him after work and came back down without saying much. She hugged me and told me she was sorry about Grandpa but I could tell in her voice that she wasn’t. Something about the old man had seemed like a burden on the both of them. So when she went to bed, I simply climbed out my bedroom window and into my neighbor’s yard. Grandpa’s house was just a few yards down and across one dark street. No one would see me. Maybe it would have been better if they had.
When I got there I was a bit surprised to find the front door unlocked. I was even more surprised to find the lights on. When I saw the lawyer’s briefcase sitting by itself in front of the basement door I froze. Could he still be here? Did he come back? I stood still and listened for a while. No sounds. He didn’t seem like the type that would have left his briefcase, but perhaps he had. I quietly walked over the hardwood foyer onto the brown carpet of the living room. The basement door was open, and the briefcase was sitting in front of it like a sentinel.
The lawyer must have gone down there earlier, because the lights were on. One small electric candelabra lit the landing and I could see more light coming from below. I was relieved. The basement seemed much less creepy with those lights on. I suppose if I had stopped to remind myself that I was alone in that house the creepiness would have come tumbling back, but I was too transfixed by that sensation that I absolutely had to go down there. It was like I knew something important was down there and only I could find it.
So I took one step and then the next, leaving the briefcase behind and the door open. The wood underneath the carpeted steps creaked, but nothing out of the ordinary. The landing smelled musty but somehow less organic than it had before. I touched the boxes piled on the right side of the stairs. I stopped to open one. Inside were old magazines. Older than my dad, I think. Smiling faces looked up at me from the covers. A lot of ladies with big hair and men in sharp suits. Occasionally a fire engine red car would be on the cover. Always red. I wondered why.
I got down to the landing itself, the mid-way between two sets of steps, and opened a bigger box sitting on the floor. This one was also filled with magazines, but of a different sort. These were all ladies, and only a few of them were wearing clothes. I felt my blood get hot and a smile cross my face. I found my dad’s porn a couple of years ago but he quickly found out and hid them. Suddenly I had access to a treasure trove. Sure it was all in black and white, but that was better than nothing. And yet…I knew that wasn’t what I was supposed to find down there so I carefully closed the box back up and turned around to face down that final set of stairs into the room below.
The carpet was still brown down there, but a lighter shade. To the right I saw a door and to the left the room opened up. I walked down the steps and looked left. To my surprise the basement was much bigger and much nicer than I expected. The room was nearly as big as the whole house, with three semi-flush light fixtures in the ceiling, all illuminated; walls treated with honey-brown wood molding; and nice, comfortable looking furniture. There was a full length brown couch against the far wall and in front of it a long black coffee table. On the wall to my right was a yellow loveseat. To my left in the middle of the room was a brown easy chair facing an entertainment center bearing a small record player. On the far left wall was a large brick fireplace. There was another door down there, in the corner beside the couch. From here I could see thick foliage covering the glass panel in the top half of the door. I knew it must lead outside and had been overgrown out there. The door probably hadn’t been used in decades.
I turned and opened the door to the right. Inside was another large room, though maybe half the size of the great room. The floor was uncovered concrete and the walls were bare cinderblock. Three long wooden work benches adorned the room along with racks of old tools all carrying a thick layer of dust. A single light bulb with a long threaded switch hung in the center of the room. Curiously it was turned on. It was then I noticed fresh footprints in the dust on the floor. They circled the room, ended at another door in the right-hand wall and then came back. So the lawyer had been down here.
I walked over to the door the tracks stopped in front of, adding my size sevens to his much larger prints, and opened the door. There was no light in this room. In fact, it was so dark that at first I saw nothing. As my eyes began to adjust to the gloom I had the sense of the room – much smaller than the others – opening up to the left. The room was empty, and on that left-hand wall was a large square opening. It was roughly six foot wide by six foot tall, and the darkness coming from within it was so deep even my young eyes couldn’t penetrate it. I chose to believe that hole led to a simple crawlspace, but something in my gut warned otherwise. I had the very real sensation that whatever that hole was, it was staring back at me. I shook the feeling off, closed the door and returned to the basement great room.
I smiled as I entered the room. There was something weirdly welcoming about it. Part of it was the lighting, part of it was the comfy old furniture, maybe part of it was the cool old record player; but the truth was I couldn’t quite put my finger on the real reason that room was so exciting. Maybe it was because it was an adventure. I had snuck over here late at night. No one knew I was here, and everything in this room was, for now, mine to play with.
Contrary to the state of the stairs leading down to the basement, there was only one large box in this room. It was sitting on an end table next to the fireplace. I ran over to it, dodging furniture, and began prying it open. Inside was an old reel-to-reel movie projector. My smile widened. I had always wanted to play with one of these. I pulled it out of the box and noticed the single film canister beneath it. My excitement grew.
I placed the projector on the coffee table in front of the couch. I looked around and spotted a book on another end table by the loveseat. I grabbed it and propped it under the front part of the projector, angling it at the large empty wall above the couch. I then retrieved the film canister, opened it, and began loading it onto the projector. It didn’t occur to me at the time how unusual it was that I knew exactly what I was doing, having never operated a device like that before. My hands simply moved and my mind was too caught up in the excitement of discovery to notice. When it was loaded I pressed a small toggle switch and the projector sprung to life.
The contents of the loaded reel surprised me. It wasn’t a movie, at least not in the traditional sense. It was what at first appeared to be a stationary image. A grid six rows across by six rows down; white outlined boxes on a pitch black background. My ten year old mind immediately thought of a big checkerboard. Each square was filled with an image. It was when I focused on the top left square that I noticed the film contained moving pictures after all. The top left image was of a little girl with a cat in her arms. Her facial features were vague but I could see eyes blinking and the cat swished its tail back and forth slowly.
I tried to look at the image in the next square over to the right of the little girl…and discovered I couldn’t. Every time my eyes attempted to peer away I felt them slingshot right back to that top left square. Out of the corner of my eyes I could see that each square was filled with its own moving image, but for whatever reason my mind only wanted to gaze at that little girl holding the cat; and the more I looked at her the more uneasy I began to feel.
What was I looking at? What kind of film only carries a semi-static image? Was this some kind of game in which I didn’t know the rules? The film was in color, albeit only barely against that stark black background. At that thought I began to feel more uneasy. There was something about that dark background. It reminded me of something, though I could not put my finger quite on what.
I jumped when the projector suddenly cut off and the grid removed itself from the wall and I was staring at nothing but honey wood paneling again. I noticed the lights had dimmed a bit. Perhaps there was a power surge or something. I exhaled in relief at the sensation of being able to move my eyes again. I wasn’t sure why I had been so fixated on that little girl, but I knew I would prefer not to look at her again.
I jumped again when a small metallic scratch sounded from the overgrown outside door. I froze and listened intently. There it was again. There it was along with a…meow? I got up and walked to the door. I tried to peer out the glass paneling again but it was still too overgrown to see anything but dark leafy green. The scratch came again, and since I was standing so close this time I could tell it came from the foot of the door. Without thinking, I wrapped my left hand around the old doorknob and pulled. At first the door predictably did not budge; but then I pulled again, and again, until finally on the fourth pull the door whipped open with a whooshing sound and the smell of rotten vegetation.
What ran inside wasn’t a single cat, but three. Three cats, all black like the one the little girl had been holding in the image. They scurried about the room, one hopping on top of the coffee table where the projector stood, another climbing atop the entertainment center and the third curling up upon the loveseat. I smiled, and as I did four more black cats ran past my legs. I laughed and walked inside, leaving the door ajar. One of the new arrivals stood on an end table, purring at me. I petting him (her?) gently and continued to smile. The cats excitedly explored the room like they had been waiting to come in for quite some time. Maybe they all lived in the thick overgrown hedges outside. Maybe they….
I heard a thump from outside the doorway, followed by a heavy swish. I stopped moving, stopped thinking, my hand still upon the cat. For some reason, I was suddenly terrified to turn around. I heard it again. Thump. Swish. This time closer.
I made myself turn around, backing up a bit as I did. There was another shape emerging from the vegetation in the doorway. This one was also small but significantly larger than the cats.
A human arm shot forward from the vines, landing on the inside carpet and gripping the fibers. That was the thump. What followed was a mass of dark hair, lanky and long covering a pale white face. The body swished as it pulled itself inside the room. I knew instantly that I was looking at the little girl from the image, and yet…this was no little girl at all; this was something much, much worse.
Above a thin white frilly dress sat a face that was anything but that of a child. I say “sat a face” because there was no neck. Its mouth was wide and curved downwards at the corners. Above it was no nose but rather a lump of flesh. Its eyes were enormous, easily the size of my fist. There were no eyelids. That lank hair hung over its face like wet seaweed.
I backed up frantically, not even thinking to speak to the thing. I only knew that I had to get away from it. It pulled itself towards me with its single long white arm, for there were no legs, and dragged its mass of a torso across the carpet. The cats simply sat calmly, each of their eyes turned towards me. Without thinking I did something horrible. I grabbed the cat on the end table and flung it at the little girl.
The girl paused as the cat landed directly in front of her. Neither moved for a second, but I could see her eyes turn away from me and towards the cat. Her impossibly wide eyes seemed to widen. I thought for a moment she might pet it as I had. Instead, she opened her mouth wide, then wider, and then so wide I could no longer even see her body behind the gape of her mouth, and then leaned forward and swallowed the cat.
My horror complete, I turned and ran for the stairs. I shot up them like a bullet, hearing one more thump-swish behind me as I reached the landing. As I rounded the landing towards the top of the steps, a little cry escaped my mouth. There was no door there. Where once was a door to the living room was now a plain white wall. I ran to it, my hands frantically sweeping along the sheetrock. Nothing. There was no hint that a door had ever been there.
I knew she was getting closer. I knew I would be cornered there in the landing, so I ran back down. Thankfully the girl-thing was slow, having only covered a few more feet between the outside door and the stairs. I slid between the easy chair and the entertainment center, making my way towards the fireplace on the other side of the room. Her arm shot to her side, and then she swiveled that strange mass of a body in her frilly white dress towards me.
I didn’t know what to do. There wasn’t enough space between her and that outside door and even if there was I had a very strong feeling that I would not make it through that thick vegetation in time. As my heart raced even faster I saw her pause. Her toad-like eyes (for that’s what I now saw them as) turned towards the cat sitting by the projector on the coffee table. Her arm reached out and grabbed it, her mouth gaped wide and she swallowed that one down as well.
She did seem to be after me, but the one thing that distracted her was the cats. There were five more. I put away all sense of guilt and grabbed another cat off of the fireplace. It purred in my arms as I reared back and tossed it in her direction. She caught that one and began to devour it as well. The cats weren’t fighting back. I took the obvious fact that these cats were no more normal than the freakish girl monster to heart and continued with the only method I thought might save myself.
I ran to my left and grabbed another cat off of the back of the sofa. I was perilously close to the girl now. I tossed it her way and then scrambled over the couch towards the outside door. As she caught the cat and proceeded to make her meal I reached the vegetation with every intention of pushing my way through to freedom. Instead, my body halted as if hitting a net. The vegetation began to yield like a trampoline, but then simply tossed me back. I threw myself at it again and again, trying to stick an arm or a leg through at least but I simply could not gain purchase. It was as if this were no natural collection of vines at all, but something more sentient and filled with intention.
I turned around. Thump. Swish. My god she was right there behind me. Her mouth opened in preparation to swallow me whole like one of her cats. I screamed and tried to slide beside her. Her arm gripped my side, fingers digging in ferociously. I screamed again, this time in pain. The cat on the loveseat was beside me, so I grabbed it, turned and dropped it into the mouth that had opened for me.
She let go. I scurried away, this time towards the entertainment center where the last two cats were. The first was beside the record player so I simply grabbed it and tossed it behind me without looking. I heard the girl pull herself closer to grab it. There was only one cat left. I had no plan beyond that last cat. I had no reason to believe that she would do anything but eat me alive after there were no more felines to consume, and yet I had no other recourse. I had no means of escape. All I could do was delay the inevitable.
I placed my foot upon the first shelf in the entertainment center and began to climb. She had already finished with the last cat. She had eaten faster that time. She was ready for me. I could tell without even looking at her. As I climbed I heard the thump-swish cadence behind me at a faster pace that before. As my hand gripped the top I felt the unit quake as her painfully strong hand grabbed the bottom corner. I pulled myself up and as I did so I felt her pull herself midway up the shelving behind me. The last cat purred contentedly in front of me as I scrambled my way towards it, crying out in fear and panic and desperation. I grabbed the cat with one hand, flipped over on my back and threw it behind me. Her face was there already. Her amphibious eyes were glaring at me and the top of that mouth crested the top shelf. The cat sailed towards her and her head slurped towards it – and me – like the maw of a hungry eel.
I closed my eyes and curled up into a ball in the corner of the shelf. There was now nothing between me and the girl-thing that wanted to eat me. The next sensation I would feel would be that of being consumed alive.
And then it was silent.
I breathed, in and out, in and out waiting for death, but I heard nothing. No thump-swish. No rocking of the entertainment center as she climbed on top. There was nothing, and then I heard a mechanical whirring sound. I forced my eyes to open. The projector had come back on, and the cat girl was gone. I was alone in the room once more.
After several tense moments of looking and listening for the monster to come jumping up over the lip of the entertainment center and grab me, I peeked over the corner. She really was gone. Not only that, but I looked at the grid projected on the wall and immediately saw that her square was empty. The cat girl was – what? – vanquished? Is that what happened? Had I defeated her simply by distracting her long enough to survive?
I didn’t know, but I did know that I had never been so happy to be alive. I climbed down from the top of the wooden shelving and plopped down on the table next to the projector, grinning and breathing deeply in relief, my lungs taking in every breath as if it were a treasure.
I felt the grid calling me to look at it again. After what had happened the first time, that was the last thing I wanted to do. I got up and looked at the outside door. It was shut again. Strange, I had not heard it close. I walked over to it and pulled the handle. The door was held shut, not giving an inch. Impenetrable vegetation not withstanding, I would not be leaving this way. I crossed my fingers and turned, heading towards the stair case. I walked up the bottom steps to the landing, fingers still crossed. My heart dropped when I rounded the corner and saw that the door was still gone. There was still nothing there but a plain white wall.
It was at that moment that I had a sense what was happening. I had no idea how or why it was happening, but I thought I understood it nonetheless. Something was playing a game with me, and that something wouldn’t let me leave until it was finished.
There were 36 squares on that grid. Each held a horror. I had emptied one square by surviving what lay within it. I understood then that I would not be able to leave until I had survived them all. It was a guess, surely, and one I dreaded the reality of, and yet what choice did I have?
Another idea struck me as I sat on those steps with my face in my hands. Maybe I didn’t have to clear all of them. Maybe I only had to clear six of them, like tic-tac-toe or Connect Four. I had no evidence for that theory, but it was better than the alternative. One had tried to kill me and I had survived. Now I only needed to do the same for five more.
Or so I hoped. I got to my feet and reluctantly returned to the great room below, taking a seat on the coffee table facing the wall. The whirring projector and the strangely moving grid, each square filled with something terrible, eagerly awaited me. I looked towards it but not at it, willing myself not to choose a square yet as I had chosen the first. From the corner of my eye I could see them all moving, all but that top left piece. Each square shifted, squirmed, pulsated or writhed. Each square held something unassuming, like the little girl with the cat, yet vaguely hiding a hideous nightmare no human should be made to witness. No human, and especially no ten year old child.
Yet here I was, trapped until I did just that. I took a deep breath, and then looked at the next square over from where the little girl had once held her feline lunch. In it stood a very tall man in a long trenchcoat. He was wearing a hat – a fedora, I thought they were called – and his eyes peaked over his collar. His hands were in his pockets.
That wasn’t so bad, was it? Just a guy in a coat.
And then the lights went dim again and the projector cut off and the room was filled once more with silence. I had chosen. I listened, breathing softly. There was no sound around me. No thump-swish. No sound of scratching from the outside door. Nothing.
Part of me wanted to believe that was it. Part of me wanted to believe that the projector had simply died and I was released from this wicked game – if that’s what it was. I wanted to believe that, but then I turned around and saw the man in the coat.
Of course it wasn’t a man. I knew that would be the case as soon as I chose the square. Just as the girl had not been a girl, this would not be what it appeared either, and it wasn’t.
It hovered there, in the opening between the great room and the landing. It hovered, covering an impossible eight feet from floor to ceiling (had the ceiling been that tall before?). At very first glimpse it did indeed look like a man. It was tall, yes, but vaguely humanoid and standing – or rather, hovering – erect. Its body was brown and leathery with skin that somewhat resembled a coat. Its eyes peered up over something like a collar with the corners of its face turned up as if in a smile. I could not see its mouth so I couldn’t say for sure. Its eyes were large and bright yellow, and above them was not a hat at all but some kind of ears folded over upon each other.
I looked at it and it looked at me for several long moments. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to react because the thing just hovered there, watching me. It was between me and the stairs so even if the door had been there I would not be getting out that way. I knew the outside door would be held shut so I didn’t even consider it. No, I had to find some way of beating it or outlasting it, like I did the little girl. There were no cats in the room this time though. I was left with nothing but the tools at hand. I looked around. There was another book lying on the ground in the corner. I turned and walked towards it, picking it up. When I turned back around my blood ran cold. The “man in the coat” had gotten closer. I had heard no sound when I walked the few feet towards the book, but then I supposed I wouldn’t if the thing truly hovered a foot off the ground. It was now several feet to the right of where it once “stood”, now parked in front of the entertainment center. It had moved closer to me, but was now frozen in place again.
Its location was not all that had changed. Its shoulders seemed wider. The ears on top of its head had begun to unfurl. Its arms were now held a few inches in front of its chest, still folded but beginning to extend towards me. I could now see a bit more of its face. It was smiling, but there was no nose or lip there, only teeth.
I flung the book towards the creature. It did not move, but the book somehow sailed through it as if through a two-dimensional projection. For a moment that made me wonder if what I was experiencing was even real, but then I remembered the painful grip of the cat girl. No, this monster was real as well; but I was apparently not going to get rid of it by throwing books.
I eased my way back towards the couch, facing the coat man the entire time. This time it did move, but not towards me. It swiveled in the air, turning as I moved, always so it could face me. I stopped again and it stopped too. Why did it not move towards me?
I began to shift left again and gasped as my foot caught the edge of the coffee table. I tumbled down between the table and the couch. I yelped in pain as my ankle turned, my hand gripping the table and my face buried in the carpet. I lay there for two – maybe three seconds, and then felt the room darken as a shadow passed over me. I turned my head and screamed.
The coat man was hovering directly over me, horizontally. Its “coat” was now opened wide and as I could see, not a coat at all but giant leathery wings. Its ears stood erect, pointed and pink, its yellow eyes glared hungrily above a smiling, gaping, shark-tooth filled mouth. I screamed, and screamed and screamed, flailing my body without any logical reasoning left with which to scramble away from the thing. My body seemed to believe that that was it. It had got me. I had lost.
But the coat man – more a giant humanoid bat than a man – just hovered there, maybe a foot or less from my face. Suddenly I understood the rules. It could only move towards me if I wasn’t looking at it.
I made my arms push my body backwards, eyes always locked on the yellow eyes in front of me. Soon I had slid out from under it. Its eyes followed me but its body did not. I shifted back across the carpet on my bottom until my back was to the wall. What could I do? Surely I could survive now that I knew how the monster operated, but for how long? Did it move if I blinked (didn’t seem so, but still I wondered). What would happen when I started falling asleep? I knew the answer to that one. I would never wake up again.
At that moment I noticed something. The coat man’s huge wings were stretched wide, one above the couch by the wall and one above the coffee table. The one above the coffee table looked wrong. Part of it was missing. An entire wide swath of its wing was simply gone, ripped open in a vaguely circular pattern. Then I saw why. That wing was directly below the semi-flush light on the ceiling. The book hadn’t gone through it because it was a projected image. The book had gone through the coat man because it was a shadow.
That didn’t really make sense and I knew it, but at that moment it was all I had. Light. Light would be the way to beat this monster. Luckily, there was a lamp on the end table just beside me. I reached for it, and then something horrible and unexpected happened. As I grabbed the lamp and pulled it towards me, the lights not only on the lamp, but in the room itself began to flicker.
“No. No, no, no!” I cried, letting go of the lamp and helplessly watching the lights at they threatened to go out. They did go out, first for a second and then for two. Each time they did the coat man got a little bit closer. My hand fumbled down the cord of the lamp looking for the plug. I knew that was the cause of it because I had a socket like this in my house. If I died tonight, if the coat man killed me it would not be because I have given up, but because of faulty wiring.
I yelled in helplessness as the lights then went out completely. My hand found the plug. I knew I could electrocute myself by doing this but I had no other choice. I moved the plug around, trying to connect it again to the current. The lamp plopped down in my lap and the light blinked, then blinked again, and then finally stayed on….
And the coat man, its open grinning mouth now inches from my face, began to wail. As soon as I knew I was right, I hurled the lamp directly into its mouth, then pulled my legs tightly towards me and watched. The lamp sailed into the coat man and then through it. Unlike the book, this time as the object sailed through the coat man dissolved around it. The wail got louder and I placed my palms to my ears. Those yellow eyes got wider and wider, the mouth extended and enlongated…and then to my horror actually folded back upon the coat man himself. Its body was twisting and curling and folding and retreating from the hole where its mouth had been, the hole I had made with the lamp. The wail grew louder and those yellow eyes seemed to accuse me as if to say, “This can’t be happening. I was supposed to have you.” Then finally the last traces of it rolled away like a balloon that had just been popped.
The coat man was no more, and I was once again alone. I shot to my feet and cheered. I yelled and hollered and celebrated like I had just won the winning touchdown. I paid no mind to the lights getting brighter again and the projector snapping back to life. I paid no mind because I didn’t care. I had defeated two monsters this evening and in the midst of that rush I truly felt like I could defeat anything.
At that moment my eyes traveled back to the grid. Without thinking they settled upon a square directly in the middle of the board. I instantly knew I had made a mistake and instantly knew it was too late to take it back. I could not look away.
Inside the box was a worm.
I felt the room darken once more and the projector stop. This time something was different. Shimmering waves of faint light cascaded across the carpet, furniture and my skin. I could sense movement above me. I looked up and my jaw dropped.
The ceiling was water. Vast, deep and dark, with only a hint of light playing and projecting from the surface of it in the very spot the semi-flush light should be. It was churning, moving and tossing about like waves on the ocean. I had a sense of vertigo, as if I was standing wrong-side up and with the wrong thought I would fall upward into that black, rolling abyss.
I walked towards the center of the room, my gaze cast upward. I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. My mind couldn’t wrap itself around what I was seeing. There was an ocean suspended above my head. In the dark waves I could see the hints of small, fluttering fish. I say fluttering because above me they gave the sense of being birds, flapping and flitting about, looking for meals of insects just like the creatures I was supposed to see moving above me would do.
I backed up a few steps and sat on the loveseat. I didn’t understand. This wasn’t horrible. In fact, this scene playing out above my head was somewhat mesmerizing. I had a moment where I wondered if there were sharks in that water, but even that didn’t scare me much. I was ten feet below the ceiling, and surely no shark could leap out that high, could it? Or would one simply fall onto the floor if it did, catching itself in my version of gravity and landing on the carpet. I laughed a little at the thought. The idea of a shark on the carpet should horrify me, but I think somehow I was getting used to this game; perhaps even in a way being…entertained by it?
I saw a large dark shape move deep within (above?) the water and thought for a moment that my imaginings might play out before me, but then it was gone again. Despite the single refracting point of light causing the luminous shapes upon the carpet the water was as dark as an ocean would be under a night sky. I remembered sitting on the beach with my mom during a vacation to Florida one year and having a sense of how massive and dark and impenetrable the ocean was as the sun went down and all we were left with in front of us was that endless, rolling black. To a human being, so small and insignificant, the scale of the ocean was a scary thing.
I saw it again, that big black shape moving by above me. This time as it did the fish skittered away. They moved off to the corners of the ceiling as if there were more water over there, and what I was witnessing was merely a single small lens into a vast and encompassing body of water.
Ceiling water, I thought, and laughed again.
I stopped laughing as the shape came back, got bigger and bigger, closer and closer to the surface, and then….
A cold wet spray splashed onto my face, arms and chest as the creature broke the water. My eyes widened and my breath left my chest as an utterly massive…thing shot out of the ceiling. It was enormous, nearly the size of the entire room below (above?) it. It was the shape of a cylindrical worm, its mouth segmented into four “lips” that expanded as it shot forwards. Inside of its titanic mouth was a pink fleshy mass that contained more dark water, fish, and a stench that spoke of other decomposed creatures that had been unfortunate enough to become this monster’s lunch.
It grabbed the easy chair in the center of the room, and then retreated into the water above me.
At first I simply sat there, my hands gripping the loveseat but my body unwilling to break from the paralysis of shock. This wasn’t a slow, plodding little girl I could dash around the room and avoid. This wasn’t the coat man stuck in its tracks by my simple stare. This was a gigantic beast that could easily reach every corner of this room if it so chose. It had eaten the furniture.
I got to my feet as soon as I could force myself to do so. I was sopping wet. I wanted to shake that feeling off, but I couldn’t. Somehow being covered in the inescapable wetness from that ceiling made me feel like I was in it; and if I was in it that meant the monster already had me.
The shadow in the water approached again, this time much faster. I darted to the right and backed against the wall, unsure of what else to do in preparation for the sea worm’s approach. It broke through the water, spraying me and everything else in the room once more. This time it angled down and grabbed the end table that had been beside the easy chair. The table was so small compared to that massive mouth that it was like a giant picking up a piece of doll furniture. After gripping the table, it released it for a moment before snatching back out and swallowing it. As it retracted into the water, its body turned towards me, seeming to watch me there with an eyeless gaze.
Oh god. It had noticed me. The next time it emerged it would not be furniture it was after.
I didn’t know what to do. I had no idea how to fight such a thing. I was a bite sized snack compared to that beast and there wasn’t a single object in this room I could think to use against it. I began to shiver as my sea-water coated body caught a draft.
A draft. The outside door was still closed so I looked to my left. The door to the workshop stood open. I ran towards it with all the speed I could muster just as the massive shadow returned. I heard it emerge behind me, and I saw the light in front of me darken as its enormous shape blocked the light coming from the water. I ran through the workshop door, and just as I did I felt it smash into the frame behind me. I spun around and saw that wide open pink maw smacking against the door frame, too big to enter in after me. Yet I saw the wall around the frame crack as it did so. As the monster continued to attempt to break its way through the obstruction after me, I knew it might eventually succeed. It withdrew, and as it did I looked around frantically, knowing full well that if I did not conquer this challenge soon it would likely take me no matter where I hid.
I took in the contents of the room. Dusty workbenches. Ancient tools covered in grime. A single spool of yarn lying on the floor. The footprints of the lawyer I now new was either consumed by one of these monsters or swallowed up by the….
The hole. I remembered the hole in the wall in the next room over. 6 feet by 6 feet. 6 squares by 6 squares. It had to mean something. I walked over to the door on the far wall, my fear now being eclipsed by the beginnings of an idea – an idea that might not only defeat the worm but possibly get me out of this nightmare entirely. I opened the door and stepped inside, looking into the black.
The hole stared back at me. There was no doubt in my mind now. That darkness was sentient; there was intention behind it and I thought I knew what that intention was. Whatever that darkness contained, it was the source of the projector. That darkness was where the monsters came from. I was certain of it. It was alive and hungry, waiting – how long? – for lost souls like me and the lawyer to wander down here and feed it. But first it would play. First it would make us choose how we died.
A small smile crept across my lips as I heard the worm bashing once more against the doorframe. My idea seemed solid, and perhaps was the only one that might save me from the worm and whatever terrors might come after it. If the hole was hungry…I would feed it.
I walked back into the workshop and waited for the worm to withdraw again. The doorframe was bent so far inward now that I thought one more time might be enough for the beast to break through. I don’t know why it kept withdrawing; perhaps the air was unpleasant to it. Whatever the reason, I was grateful it did because it presented me with an opportunity.
As soon as the monster withdrew, I ran through the doorway after it. I saw its bulk retreat into the ceiling and as it did I made a run for the projector. I wrapped my arms around it and yanked its cord out from the wall. I turned to run back to the workshop with the heavy object, but as I turned I saw that unmistakable shadow return once more. The worm had come back faster this time.
I screamed in frustration and hurled the projector towards the workshop. I knew there would be no way for me to close that space carrying the heavy thing before the worm devoured me and it both. Instead, with the projector now close to its eventual destination, I leaped towards the end table beside the loveseat and pulled as much of my body as I could beneath it.
This time the worm roared as it exited the water. It was a deep, guttural sound I hoped no real living earthly creature could make. I could feel not only the cold wetness from the ocean expelled from above me but also the warmth of the creature’s insides as it drove itself against the end table and the carpet and the wall beside me. It bashed and slammed and pressed those four segmented lips against me, the table and the wall. The sound got louder and I screamed along with it as the creature tried to make purchase. It was the angle. The table being against the wall and the creature’s massive bulk prevented it from taking hold of the table and likely me with it. That didn’t prevent two of those segmented lips from attempting to scoop me up. As I screamed, I felt those slimy protuberances, each as thick as a tree trunk slapping and scrapping against me. It was trying so hard to end this and take me with it back to that endless vertical deep.
Part of me at that moment wanted it to. Part of me wanted it to take me so I could drown in that darkness and all of this could be over with. With one more roar however, the beast gave up and retreated into the water above. I took one second -all I knew I could spare – to catch my breath. I then slid out from under the table and dashed towards the projector on the floor, taking hold of it and heaving it through what was left of the workshop doorway. I carried the thing around the corner and towards the hole. I hear a muffled sound as I did. The worm was already returning and it was roaring in the water. This time the workshop doorway wouldn’t hold. I knew that so I waddled as fast as I could, carrying the heavy object towards the door at the end of the shop.
I saw the light from the great room dim as I went. I heard the roar get louder and the splash of water on the great room carpet. I heard the smash as the worm dove itself into and then through the doorway behind me.
I crested the corner of that dark door where the hole awaited. I felt the hot breath of the worm behind me as I turned, took two steps towards the hole…and threw the projector with all my might.
As the object disappeared into the gloom I found myself wrapped in silence. There was no thump as the projector hit the dirt of a crawlspace, as I had mislabeled the hole earlier. It simply dropped away into the gloom. There was no smash of a giant ocean beast hitting one final doorway between it and its prey. There was no roar. There was no drip of water. There was nothing. All I could hear was my labored breath and my ten year old heart beating.
I turned around, took two steps back towards the workshop and peeked inside. The doorway to the great room was still a ruin and a thick trail of slime and ocean water covered the floor, erasing the footprints and any proof that me or the lawyer had been here. Believing I was safe I turned back around and crept towards the hole in the wall. I had to see. I had to look. I reached the wall, put my hands around the lip and pulled myself to the tips of my toes to peek inside.
Dirt. There was nothing inside but dirt and a few discarded air conditioning pipes. It was merely a crawlspace.
What? How could that be? The projector wasn’t there. There was no evidence that I had tossed anything at all inside. What was going on?
I wandered back into the great room, climbing over smashed molding and sheetrock. The carpet was sopping wet. The ceiling was back to normal but the furniture the worm had eaten was still gone. The projector was too. Some dreadful part of me had thought I would walk back into this room and see it on again, the grid waiting for me to make my next choice. But it wasn’t. That meant I won, didn’t it?
I decided there was only one way to find out. I went to the stairwell, climbed those first six steps, closed my eyes, took a deep breath, then opened them again and looked to the right.
An open door. My grandfather’s living room. The lawyer’s briefcase sitting there like a sentinel. A wide grin crossed my face and I ran up those last six steps like nothing could stop me.
As soon as I got to the living room I grabbed that basement door and slammed it with all my might. Never again, I thought to myself. Never again would that basement harm another soul. I turned and looked at the chair behind me.
“I’m sorry, Grandpa,” I said, suddenly filled with grief and understanding at the life he must have led, forever holding watch over that dark and terrible place.
I took my hands off the doorknob fully intending to never touch it again, and wanting more than anything to go home and give my dad a hug. I looked at the windows and saw it was still dark. I must not have been down there as long as I felt I had. I walked to the front door and opened it, stepping out onto the porch.
At first I was too thrilled to be outside to notice that it had been mid-November, and therefore chilly and breezy when I went in. The air was now perfectly still, neither hot nor cold. By the time I noticed it I had noticed something else. Standing at the end of the cul-de-sac to my left was what looked like a man. I say “looked like” because it was too tall to be one. The dim light from the street lamps several yards away from it gave me the impression that it was a man in a coat.
But I knew better.
I then heard one cat purring from the porch railing to my right, then two and then three. I slowly looked behind me. They were all over the porch. I heard something shuffle in the bushes beside the house.
I ran, fast and far, away from that house as quick as my legs could carry me. I ran and ran and ran, sticking to the street this time for fear of what might creep in the darkness of my neighbors’ yards. As I ran I heard a deep, wet roar. It was distant, but unmistakable. I became very grateful the nearest lake was miles away.
“No. Please, no,” I whimpered as I ran. What had happened? What had I done wrong? I thought I had won. I was so damn sure that I had won.
I stopped on the top of a hill overlooking my house. I stopped because there was a moving, writhing mass down there covering the house and everything around it. It was a swarm. Giant beetle-like insects with horns and wings, each the size of a man.
I heard something emerge from the trees on my right and quickly stepped away as a twenty foot tall, slender…stick man would be the only way I could describe him, awkwardly shambled towards me.
To my left a sewer lid burst open and a towering stack of green translucent slime emerged. I watched in horror as the slime took the form of a human hand and reached towards me.
I backed away as each of the monstrosities approached me. I knew where they had come from. If I had kept playing the game, I would have seen each of them within squares of their own on that accursed 6×6 grid. The hand. The beetle. The thin man.
I turned and ran away from my home and away from the horrors behind me. I had nowhere to go. There was nowhere to run. I knew what had happened. By throwing the projector into the mouth of the darkness itself I hadn’t saved anyone. I had, in fact, damned us all.
I let it out. My god…I let it out.
I stopped running, the sounds of living nightmares and human screams now forming a chorus around me. I stopped and turned to the only direction I had not yet looked. I turned my head upwards and stared at the sky.
There were no stars up there. There were no airplanes and no moon. There was only darkness.
And the darkness stared right back.
Written by Rob White