Bone Dry

Bone Dry

 

1004 Reese St, in the town of Glenville.
A rare house for East Texas. It had been the music building for the turn of the century Texas Holy Righteous Bible College.
The college was haven of extreme Christian fundamentalism, and closed in 1910 due to a scandal concerning a Dean and his midnight dalliances with his coed students. A number of children were conceived by the Dean’s appetites.

There were stories of payoff’s to keep people silent .Some said the newborns went  to the north-east for adoption, or were taken in by other congregations.
Many of the young mothers were never seen at the school again.
Others, however, whispered of darker things. Terrible things that happened under that building, in that dark cellar.
Regardless, the elders of the church worked hard to keep the charismatic Dean under control and out of trouble.

The red brick building loomed over the surrounding neighborhood, dwarfing the houses it squatted among.
Pecan trees grew like the walls of an ancient castle, a canopy of foliage that hid the house from view.
Three stories tall, it had an attic and a full basement.

The water table in Hunter County was high enough that basements would flood, especially the basement of a building built in 1904.
But not this place. This basement was bone dry.
The kind of dry that seemed to suck the moisture right out of your breath.

My dad thought maybe they stored the musical instruments there to keep them safe from the humid east Texas summers.
Maybe some kind of desiccant built into the walls, he said.
But no one stayed in the basement long. Oh sure, adults would try to talk it off like it was no big thing, but there was something more.
A faint gnawing at the back of your mind that would slowly swell into dread as time wore on.
I couldn’t stay in the basement long without my eyes drying out and getting scratchy.
My baby sister Jenny used to say she had crackers in her eyes.

Jenny was five, and not supposed to open the basement door.
And boy, the trouble we would get into if we left the door open.
The stairs leading down into the darkness were steep and worn.
I always wondered how many people must have tromped up and down each step to wear and discolor them like that.
The smell of old earth, and something more, like a mild decay, was the first thing you would notice when you opened the door.
My mother tried and tried to get rid of the smell, but with a concrete floor and dull red brick walls, she couldn’t find the source of the odor.
It seemed to come from everywhere.

I had three older brothers, and we would play a game of chicken. To see who could stay on the landing at the top of the basement stairs, with the door shut and the light off. Those were the scariest times. When my mind would create nameless horrors in the inky black, just down the stairs. The first sound of a creak, the first faint scratch would send me out the door, heart racing as I imagined something dark, creeping slowly, every so slowly, up the stairs. Something that would leave me as dry as that basement, a husk of hair, leathery flesh and bone.

I remember that fall night, a week before my twelfth birthday.
I had fallen asleep reading Famous Monsters, and woke up about 2 am, needing to use the bathroom and get a drink.
I was almost to the bathroom when I saw it.
The basement door was open.

It was never open.
Not at night.
Especially not at night.

I panicked for a moment, wondering what horrors were now in the house, ready to strike.
My heart felt like it was going to hammer its way out of my chest.
As I stood there, rooted to the floor in fear, something wet touched the back of my leg.
I gasped and jumped to get away from whatever was about to kill me.
All my breath came out in one incredibly sigh as I saw it was Bo, my dog.
Shaking, laughing silently at how silly I had been, I patted him, grinning my relief.
I had almost forgotten the basement door.

Almost.

Then I heard something that I didn’t want to hear.

*tap*

A sound from the basement. Faint, but definitely a sound coming from the basement.

*tap*

Bo had heard it too, and he stiffened, backing away from the door, never taking his eyes off that door.
His ears pinned back to his skull, body shaking. I had never seen him back down from anything.
As I put my hand on his head, he snapped at me, and darted into the living room.
In shock, I jerked my hand back. He never snapped at me. Ever.

*tap**tap

I know that sound, but I can’t place it.
I slowly moved to the door, wanting to slam it shut, run to my room and dive my covers.
But there was something familiar about that noise.
I was so close to the door now I could reach out and touch the knob.
I peeked around the door, looking down the stairs.

*tap**tap**tap*

I could make out a faint light spilling over floor at the right of the staircase.
Ha! A flashlight! It hit me like a semi hitting an armadillo on the highway.
It bet it was one of my brothers, down there hiding some girlie magazines, no doubt.
What a perfect hiding spot. No one would ever think to look down there.

Maybe it was the night air, maybe it was the time of year, but the smell of must and decay was way thicker now.
Maybe he was hiding them behind a wall, and that is what is causing the smell.
The exposed earth, or some rotted support that he is moving.
I filed this away for future blackmail material.

*tap*

Slowly, so very slowly I started down the stairs, keeping the balls of my feet to either side of the worn step, avoiding the middle, where it would be most likely to creak.

*tap**tap*

I was grinning like a madman, my heart exhilarating.
I was the hunter here. I was the boogie man.
When I finally set foot on the basement floor, I gasped at how cold the concrete was under my bare feet.
November in Texas can be a cold month, but not this cold.
I moved around the stairs, staying in the shadows, until I could see the light.

*tap**tap**tap*

It was a flashlight, but not my brothers.
It was a Raggedy Ann flashlight. It was Jenny’s light.

That’s when I saw her. And them.

Jenny was sitting with her back to the wall, surrounded by crumbled bricks and piles of rotting earth.
It looked like the bricks exploded out from the other side, as if something had dug its way out of the wall.
Her face was gaunt, and her eyes sunken. She looked like a balloon that was slowly deflating.
Her right hand moved mechanically, as she dropped the rubber ball then caught it again.
Roots had sprouted from the dirt behind the wall and had forced their way under her skin.
Thick, scaly roots that entwined her whole body, boring into her soft skin.
They pulsed rhythmically, as if they were draining her of every bit of fluid in her body.
As if they were…feeding.
The pile of dirt next to the girl’s body began to move, taking shape.  A leg appeared, then another and a tiny hand.
In a matter of moments, what had been the pile of dirt and roots sat up and looked up at me.

It looked like, like…a baby.
A baby made of black earth and roots running thru it like veins.
It even had something trailing out of its center that looked like an umbilical cord.
It’s head lolled on its shoulders, as if it the neck were unable to support the weight.
The freakish head bobbled obscenely as it shambled towards Jenny, leaving a trail of wormy dirt in its wake..

I saw its mouth out, and the head surge forward, latching on to Jennies left thigh.
A horrible sucking sound came from the abomination.
The things head worked feverishly back and forth, all the while still making the horrible gurgling.
A trail of blood rolled down Jennie’s leg onto the floor.

After a moment, the thing sat back and swiveled its head to look up at me.
It’s lips were a mixture of blood and dirt.
A muddy mix of horror and perversion.
The girls blood trickled down it’s front and mixed with the blood already on the floor.

When those lips smiled at me, I screamed…

*tap**tap*

as the ball hit the concrete floor

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