This Week’s Prompt: 37. Peculiar odour of a book of childhood induces repetition of childhood fancy.
The Research: Childhood Dreams
My home was much as I remembered it. The old house was still there, with the same squeaky rickety stair. My brain added the missing hollering at dad to fix it for once in his goddamned life, and the perplexity over how exactly out here in the desert there could be something so moist as to squick. When I was little, used to wonder if it was worm guts or ant insides crushed against the nails.
It’s been several years now since we left the old place. I spent the better part of my childhood years here, and even when it became my dad’s house instead of our house, I’d still visit over the summers. Now that he’s gone, having found a way to drown in the brittle bone wastes of Arizona, it was mine again. It was eerie, how well kept everything was. How meticulously well kept everything was. It was a curiosity over such antiquarian tendencies that led my feet clacking up the stairs towards my room when I was little.
There is something cliché in the parent maintaining perfectly the state of nest once it’s emptied. It was some relief then, that the bed was so broken and beaten. No doubt a raccoon…no, that’s upstate talking. Coyotes then, or javelinas or gila monster or I don’t know. Some sort of small animal. Maybe an imported raccoon.
The place was an absolute wreck, books strewn across the floor and blankets shredded and sheets wrapped into strange bundles. Still, there was one book that seemed mostly intact. The Watsons Go To Birgmingham. Never liked it much, too serious. But as I thumbed through the pages, the smell of rotting cod wafted up and out, and I saw the bones stuffed between the doodles.
When I pushed the bones between the pages, back when I was only approaching the first decade of my life, I didn’t know dead cod would smell like. That came with the move up north. But I knew what it smelled like. It was the nightly creature that would come scuttling into my room and the house, make off with a few things, move a few things, and then go back.
I had three friends back then, Tami, Chris, and George. They didn’t believe me at first when I told them that I had seen four sets of glowing eyes in the night. It’s limbs were like a MR. PLASTIC ™, stretching out to pull its skittering form forward. It was gross and slimy and squirming and ick ick ick.
“Right, but it’s not hurting anyone, so who cares?” Tami asked, tossing a rock at a cactus. “Sounds like a neat pet.”
“Yeah, but what if later, it gets hungry?”
“Then bring it a shaking cactus?” Chris said, letting another rock fly. It hit an adobe wall and a dog barked at us irritably. “I mean, a kid in Phoenix, he goes to my school. Says that a kid he knew had one of them, and after a few days it burst into a bunch of spiders. Had to fumigate the place.”
“Ew, why would I want that?” I said, playing with the stones.
“Well, then it’ll eat the spiders. Problem solved.” Chris said with a shrug.
“But wouldn’t it run out of spiders?”
“Yeah, but see, you’d move already. Because even grown ups don’t like spiders. At least, not that many. And maybe the fumigators would kill it.”
“Guys,” George said with the uptmost childhood sincerity, “I think your missing the obvious here.”
“What?” Tami asked, tilting her head.
“We catch it.” George said, eyes all a glitter. The three of us should have laughed, but now the prospect seemed tangible and real. We could actually catch it. Maybe.
“How would we?” Chris asked, having stopped throwing stones to consider.
“Well, it does crawl about. Maybe we could steal some mouse traps?” I asked, thinking to the scurrying noises on the floor.
“We’ll need more than mouse traps.” George chimed in, waving his stick around. “Monsters fight back, don’t you know? We’ll need some bats or big sticks and a blanket.”
“Why a blanket?” Tami asked, frowning.
“Because, you know, birds fall asleep when covered by a blanket right?” George said. There was a general nod of consensus. “Right, so I bet this things like them. Or like a dog, and it’ll get real confused, and that will mean we can whack it before it rips our eyes out and eat them.”
There was a general hiss of disgust at the mention of disfigurement and anthrophagy, that died down after a bit of nervous laughing. Tami mentioned that she could swipe some of her dad’s golf clubs and George and I agreed that that would do nicely for beating in the things skull. So we began that day to set our fateful trap, for the thing lurking in my house.
It had to be at a sleepover, to get us all over to my house. My parents were surprised and pleased that I was having friends over, having grown used to an almost pathological avoidance to admitting relation to the house. They thought it was because it was old and squeaky. Because they didn’t know that no kid is inviting their friends over to get eaten by monsters.
The next trip was staying up late, with the lights off and all of us ‘asleep’. We figured noise might scare it off, or maybe draw its attention. In a kids mind, the line between ‘thing we’re going to beat up’ and ‘thing that will eat me’ is a flexible, blurry one. So we carefully measured our breathing and tried not to jump with excitement or fear when a coyote howled outside. A coyote walking the streets, you must understand, was quite the event.
But we strained our eyes awake. Well, okay, George and Tami did. Chris fell asleep, despite the efforts, and I was on the verge of dreaming when the scurrying in the living room jolted three of us up. George held a finger to his mouth and Tami slowly handed out supplies from the gym bag she had brought her stuff in. Sadly, they were mostly baseball bats. She said golf clubs were too big.
So we quietly opened the door, Chris having the blanket as punishment for being a little kid sleepy head who couldn’t stay up late for a monster hunt. I had the flashlight, since it was my house and I’d be damned if we were going to hunt a thing blind and groping in the dark. So we went out carefully, a flickering column of light running head of us. Slowly we made our way to the pantry, where there was a scurrying hissing noise of the most awful sort. And sure enough, there we found it.
It was like a newt with a spiders face and the mouth of a gila monster. It’s gaping toothless maw was surrounded by dozens of blank, empty eyes reflecting back my light, a sudden candelabra. It swallowed up our screams like fish rushing into the hungry jaws of a bear, but Chris was quick as a whip and tossed the blanket over it’s face. Fear turned to adrenaline and we shot ahead swinging. Battered and bruised, it belched and groaned and almost roared until we stopped an eternity later.
Body disposal had been briefly discussed, but temporary storage had been arranged. We dragged the body back, and with careful work propped it up on a close iron in the mouth. A few fish bones fell out and, to hide them, I shoved the bones into whatever book I could find.
And in the room, I wondered if I had ever taken the thing down. Never named it. Bragged about it for years, but when we left I kinda forgot it happened. So, with a dulled curiosity, I opened the door and was struck immediately by the smell of rot. But there it hung, like meet on a hook, its eyes swollen and dried out. There was something glimmering there, some little flash of light as I closed the door again. But I’m not that worried. After all, its dead.
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