Published in "Canopic Jars: Tales of Mummies and Mummification"
Great Old Ones Publishing, November, 2013
"They are lean and athirst!" he shrieked... "All the evil in the universe was concentrated in their lean, hungry bodies. Or had they bodies? I saw them only for a moment, I cannot be certain."
—Frank Belknap Long, "The Hounds of Tindalos"
This began in circumstances ordinary for 1945: a boy and his mother leave home, travel north to be with a wounded soldier, their father and husband. Ordinary. But when the end comes, I will not have prepared you for the rest.
A cab brought us from the railroad station. The driver squinted in the dark and through the rain for the address mother gave. When we got there, the man said, “Why didn’t you just say it was the Cornelius?” He sounded annoyed, barely helped with our luggage, most of our summer things. Yankees, I thought to myself.
The house stood apart. There were others on the block but our rented place stood alone, taller, deeper. “Row homes,” mother called those others, first I’d heard the term.
Inside, she and I stood dripping just beyond the vestibule. The place stank. What houses are like in the north, I figured.
“Stale air,” mother draped her arm over my shoulder. “We shall air it out.”
I called, “hello,” to the empty rooms and the house welcomed us with an echo that was nothing I’d said. Later, there was singing somewhere far away, high-pitched voices and low drones like sacred harp back home but singing words I did not know. Still, they sounded like home and I cried.
When our things arrived, the house swallowed them. Our rugs were islands, our chairs, tables and lamps huddled on their shores surrounded by splinters and varnish.
I should tell you about Terry. He could not fly, he did not jump. He was an ordinary, skinny, blonde kid. Not a bad guy, he just did what people he clapped onto wanted from him. When he hung around with “Bluto” down the way, whom I will mention only here, Terry was forever in Dutch.
“What Bluto expected,” Leslie told me.
Terry was not a smart kid but, like Grampa used to say, “some people just know which way the wind is going.” Maybe that was the problem.
I met Terry right after I met Leslie and I met her on the day mother made me go to Fifth and Hawk elementary where I told everyone I was temporary and would be heading south soon as daddy got better. Daddy was in the big hospital in town, a special place. Burns from the war in the Pacific. He was a pilot.
My first day, Leslie walked me home. She’d run ahead then skip backwards to talk. She knew where I lived. See, while I had noticed no one, everyone had noticed us. Course they did. We were new, the ones in the big place, the Cornelius.
Leslie followed me onto the porch, still talking. She petted the woodwork. She watched the carpenter bees buzz the porch ceiling and not land anywhere. She kept trying to look in the window.
“What’s it like? Living in the gods’ house?” she said. I had no idea what she meant. “Living under the Mark?” Again, no idea.
She ran backwards to the sidewalk and pointed to just below where Tudor half-beam wood began at the third floor. A flat stone, about a foot on a side, was let into the brick. I had noticed, figured it was something Yankee houses had.
“Doc Cornelius put it there. Before my time, back when dad was a kid. One day Doc got out on the porch roof, right there, put up a ladder, measured, chopped out some bricks and cemented that thing in. The Mark. Something he found out there in the world. An expedition. Said it would bring the gods. What people said he said.”
“Gods. The gods.”
I squinted. There was a head with horns cut in the stone. Too many horns or too many arms, more arms than any animal I knew and I knew octopuses. We starred at it until afternoon heat began to make the head and arms wiggle. When I’d had enough, she was still looking.
“Yep. It moves now,” Leslie said. Then she ran down the block to her place.
Mother asked why didn’t I invite my little friend in? I said, “Well, I guess I will.”
Her first visit, Leslie could not stop touching and looking. And talking. She talked a streak about the house and Doctor Cornelius and the things he did.
“Cornelius was sta-range?” she wiggled her fingers and drew out the word. “Here is one of the best hospitals in the world. Right here…” She spun ‘round to take in the whole town, “…and Cornelius would not doctor there, nuh-uh. He saw people here,” she spun ‘round again. “Down there.” She pointed to the floor.
“‘S’what they say.” She was amazed at my ignorance. “Cornelius dug things up in ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia and Ultimate Thule. Went with Byrd to Little America—that’s the South Pole—chopped his way through the Darien Gap! He was a medicine doctor but he was a doctor of other things too. Things from old books. There any old books here?” I shook my head. “Well, he went on trips to find more books and maps and things.”
“Not like from the Esso station. Museum maps, old books maps, maps dead people pass down in families from time immemorial. That’s a long time. He kept them up there.” She pointed to the ceiling.
“In your attic. With his books and his things.”
“How do you…?”
“ ‘S’what people say!”
We went from room to room. Leslie looked on tip-toe or squatted down and looked under. “He had things. People say.”
“You keep saying, ‘things,’” I got in edgewise.
“Things like the Mark stone and more. People say he found lost Atlantis. That’s at the bottom of the sea. The Atlantic Sea I guess but some say it’s somewhere in the Greek Sea or the Arctic Sea. Imagine the things he could’ve brought from Atlantis? Right into your house. You know Atlantis, right? That’s the Ante…”
“Antediluvian continent. I know that much.” And I did. Antediluvian times were the old olden times, times before Noah’s flood, before God and everything.
She stopped talking and looked at me. “Antediluvian, indeed. People say he found relics and remains.”
“People. They say he found relics, remains of the great old ones. The ones who came before real people got created. Things! What’s in the attic now?”
“Nothing,” I said.
“No books, no maps?”
“Just grandparent’s stuff, silver cups from…”
Of course we went to look. She talked and talked and ran her hands over the flowered wallpaper in the side hallway and up the stairs. At the top of the steps, the air was gray and dusty.
“You get splinters going barefoot here?”
“I don’t go barefoot. I almost don’t come up here ever.”
“Well huh, right back,” I said.
The attic light bulbs had clear glass with little tips on the ends. Right away he saw those things, Terry called them “titty-bulbs.” The light they threw was hard. But I will not get ahead.
The few boxes we’d put up there were shoved into the middle of the room. Last I’d been there they were to the side under one of the angles of the roof. Or maybe not. I don’t want to make things up.
By the time Leslie’d gone through grampaw’s skeet shooting cups and such, mother called dinner and did my little friend want to stay?
“Can I use your phone?” she yelled and was already half-way downstairs, hands trailing the flowers on the wall.
“But I’d love nothing more!” She almost cried into the phone, “Please.” Finally she hung up and said, “I can’t.” On her way out she turned to mother like she’d forgotten something. “Thank you so much I can’t tonight and maybe could I have a raincheck?”
“Why, of course,” mother said. Leslie was gone and the house was quiet.
I’ll get to Terry in a bit. That night, another sound began. The sound was in the hallway wall or maybe in the stairway to the attic. I heard it half the house away. This wasn’t singing like before. First, I thought it was a cricket. A cricket’s a hard little bug rubbing itself. But in the dark, this became less and less cricket-like and more and more like stretched skin might moan forth if bowed upon. Never heard the like. I followed. The noise stopped in the side hallway to the attic. The big flowers were gray and black in the dark. I put my ear to them and felt their soft roughness. Underneath was that one-string fiddle, faint beneath the flowers and plaster. Then the sound was inside me, inside my head.
Of course it was not. The sound was in the wall, in the stairway wall. I stood alone in the dark, a big space for my barefoot self to fill. Then–I don’t know why–my mind went to that Mark, the stone in the bricks just above mother’s bedroom window. The thing moved. I could not see it, but I felt the horns, arms or whatever they were writhing round that head and turning, turning inward, reaching inside and for us.
Then the sound was gone and I had a splinter in my foot, the which I pulled out in daylight digging with a needle, pulling with the tweezers.
Leslie and I began sharing nickel pops at Engquist’s Drug Store after school; did that pretty much right off. Terry joined us. Then he started walking home and going with us to the Saturday matinees downtown. Then that was us.
Terrence Adolphus to name him fully, got bad grades. He lied. We knew that. I knew because he was a bad liar. Leslie knew because she’d known Terry forever and knew what was so and what wasn’t. He stole things—from our house now and then, but always gave them back a day or so after. He stole a funnybook from Enquist’s, a Classics Comic Leslie and I wanted and couldn’t afford. We yelled at him. Then all three of us sat and read it in the shade of our house. “The Mysterious Island.” Very good. Terry let Leslie keep it. He would have gotten a licking he brought it home. His old man—what Terry called his daddy—gave out lickings (“Beats the snuff out of him,” Leslie said) for everything, things, if I had done them, mother would have just looked disappointed about. After one visit to Terry’s place, I never went back. He got a licking. The Old Man heard him cuss or maybe because he’d brought us there, but he got a licking like one I’d never had; got it as though we weren’t even there. Probably got one later for coming home with band-aids on, I don’t know. That was Terry and he started the real troubles at the Cornelius, but maybe that wasn’t his fault.
The House? There were still smells. Stale air? Mother was mostly right. We aired out the place and most of it went. Not all. Something alive-smelling remained. Probably from the basement.
We still had echoes and noises at night. “Old houses have old sounds,” mother said and put her arm over my shoulder. No idea what that meant but it made it better.
Sounds in the walls? I pretty much convinced myself of mice, bugs and such. But the echoes never went away. Every night-sound in that big old place brought its whole family of cricks and answering cracks with it, like some small and hard-footed thing was wandering.
Leslie and Terry liked the attic, two big rooms and a hallway. The front room looked through a maple onto the street, the other looked down on the two-storey ‘row homes’ that filled the rest of our block. The only things we put up there were the gramparents’ things I mentioned and some board games.
The attic’s smell was sweet and thick.
“Flour paste and horsehair,” mother said after one sniff, “flour wallpaper paste and hair-plaster that lies beneath.” The paper was rough and smooth. The big green and red flowers Leslie loved running her hands over, felt alive under my hand.
“Huh,” Terry said.
“Old ways of making things, cher,” mother said. “Open the windows, young sirs and madam, the odor will depart.”
We opened them. The smell departed. Her arm on my shoulder cured my worries and embarrassed me in front of Leslie and Terry.
The basement really stank. Not like anywhere else I knew except the hospital where daddy lay, a place full of rotting limbs. Those stinks were alive.
“Why…coal dust,” mother suggested. I knew coal to be long-a-gone ferns and dinosaur bodies squeezed into to black rocks. Daddy told me when I was young. So I credited mother’s assessment. Coal dust it was. Mother had ways of removing the dark from the world.
Apart from that, the cellar was jim-dandy, wide and deep as the whole house. Bigger, I thought. And three bulbs to light it all; each hung from a cord with a pull chain that dangled at tip-toe height. First time down there, Terry ran the length, leaped and swatted all three bulbs, set them to swinging. Shadows came dipped and spun, light and dark traded places, back and forth alive, each changing for the other. I didn’t like that.
The smell up where we lived had mostly departed but that living odor lingered below even when the outside hatch was opened to fresh the air when we played submarine, rocket, or bomber plane down there.
“Coal dust,” I insisted, defending my mother’s honor.
Leslie sniffed. “Cockroach,” she said, “maybe rat. Probably Cornelius’s patient’s bodies.” She laughed.
Terry, who loved rumor, laughed. It was at the back of the basement, past the last bulb, where I was later found hugging the “crate of gut-jars” as Leslie called them, but I will not get ahead.
School eased us into October, then November. Leslie, Terry and I went to the Saturday matinees. We improved the movies on our way home. Terry liked playing bad guys but was too nice for it. Leslie would not be the girl. None of us liked girl parts, anyway, so she was mostly the buddy who dies.
Four blocks shy of home, was the bridge that carried our street over the railroad yards. We hung over the cement balustrade to spit into the locomotive’s smokestacks. That was good and we came up sooty and smoked.
On our side of the bridge was a little triangle park. The park was thick with trees and tall grass and had a canon from the War of Northern Aggression. We frequently stopped there and used it for our improvements.
When we got home, we went to the attic and read aloud from “Tarzan” and such or played Monopoly, Parcheesi, or Mr. Ree. Terry found the hidden closet up there pretty soon after autumn had shortened our after-matinee time outside.
The door looked just like the wall with flowers and baseboard. But looking close, there was a thin line, a break that rose from the floor to about four feet, then over, then down. Right off, Terry started working to get it open. Why? Have to ask him, and you can’t. He worked on that for I don’t know, sliding the blade of his Barlow knife into the crack and working it up and down. He was devoted, as mother might have said. Finally, he stopped playing Monopoly and just worked. We called him back for his turns and at first he came, then he stopped.
“What is wrong with you, Terrance?” Leslie yelled.
“Get this Goddamn thing open,” he yelled back.
“Why!” she shouted.
“It’s a goddamned door and goddamned doors should open.” There were other words, lots of cussing.
The hours he spent after-school and after-matinees cutting at whatever held the panel closed and the “bastard,” remained steadfast. I bet Terry had never worked so determined on anything in his life. He’d get it almost open, fingers halfway in, then it would slip and snap shut. He’d cuss and be back at it.
November. Leslie and I were settled into evening gloom, scaring each other reading A. Conan Doyle’s “The Lost World.” Terry worked.
“Goddamned cursing,” Leslie said.
“Son-of-a-bitch,” I said.
We’d just finished the chapter, “To-Morrow We Disappear into the Unknown” when Terry, on his knees, shouted “Jes-us Fuckin’ Christ!” He’d gotten his fingers inside the panel. “Have the Goddamned thing. I got it. Now I got it.” The door and its flowers creaked and cracked.
“You’re fixin’ to break something,” I said.
“I’m okay. Sum-bitch…”
“Don’t give a fig about you, you’re fixing to break the damn wall.”
Then he stopped shaking with effort. The door stopped cracking and creaking, as though they’d come to an agreement. Suddenly Terry’s right arm—he was a south-paw—slid to the elbow into whatever was on the other side of that panel. At the same time, the titty-bulbs in our room and the hallway went out. All the lights in the attic so far as I could see, maybe all the lights in the house went out. With the dark came autumn shadow from the street. I saw Terry’s shape, and that not so well. He looked to be hugging the panel, his ear against the door, his head turned so I saw nothing of his face. But he spoke and he spoke in whispers; not the usual Goddamn sum-bitches, now there was a smooth flow of whispered nonsense. Down home we’d call it ‘speaking in tongues.’ But this was quiet, personal.
“You all right?” Leslie’s spoke over my shoulder.
First, there was Terry’s quiet voice; then there was another, another voice, another presence in the shadows with us. I may be wrong when I say voice. But someone was there who wasn’t us. And, this may not make sense, but a darkness lay between Terry and me. Between where he was and where Leslie and I stood, a great gulf was fixed, as they say.
Leslie pushed the light button on and off. I jiggled the titty-bulb in its socket. But that was us. And there was the other place where Terry and that other someone were.
Then the darkness between went away. Lights came on – all over the world for all I knew. The windows were black mirrors and Terry, Leslie and I were alone.
Terry’s arm slipped slowly from that little closet, like someone disarming a bomb in a movie. I expected horror and there was some blood, but nothing more than might happen to any boy on any day of work or play. For a moment, the skin of his hand and arm was bone-white and runneled, like he’d been too long in water. He held the edge of the panel with his fingertips.
“Terry,” Leslie said, “your hand.”
“Hell with it. I gave it. Almost. Shit. We got to find them jars. They’re in there, somewhere. Jars of guts, then the gods.”
The panel slipped from his fingers and slammed shut. Could have heard it all over the house. Mother was at the hospital, though.
“Guess not.” Terry whimpered with a sigh. Forgive me for it but I was thinking, ‘That is Terry, almost but not quite, never all the way.’ And whatever eluded him was always the goddamned importantest thing in all the wide world.
“I wanted? Maybe something. Shit, you know?”
“Sure,” I said.
Leslie steered Terry downstairs to the bathroom and ran cold water on his hand. With the blood washed away, the damage was as I said, nothing that didn’t happen to a boy every day. The dead whiteness of the flesh, the wrinkles, that was almost gone.
“You’ve been bit; bit by something with tiny teeth. Something bite you? And who were you talking to? I could not understand a word, Terrance.” Leslie talked until the cold water stopped the blood. Terry dried his hands with toilet paper and she stuck three, four Band-Aids where he still oozed but that was that.
Terry shook his head and had no goddamn idea what the hell.
“Yeah, a goddamn bite,” he said, “you got something in there that tasted me.”
”S’what I said,” she said.
“Probably splinters, Leslie! Anyway, you’ll keep the hand.” Visiting daddy I’d seen people didn’t keep hands and other parts. I loved daddy but did not like to visit that place. They did not like me being there, either.
I am now at the kernel of this. After being ‘tasted’ Terry was different. We played, still went to the matinees and improved them coming home, but Terry was more grown up. Mother said. I thought he was just queer. Leslie said he listened more.
“Not to us,” I said.
Okay, I have avoided this, this strange, impossible part. I’m not pulling your leg though. Here. The kernel. The horror.
We were coming up from town. Late November. A wonderful day, chilly but warm enough to stay outdoors until darkness came. Darkness was coming. Leslie and I were riding the canon—something we’d seen in a movie. Terry wasn’t on the gun with us. He was walking around the little park watching the sky.
“I wonder,” he said, “what’ll they give back?”
“Huh?” we said. He’d been queer all day.
“I fed them. Gave them up, gave them me.”
“Queer,” Leslie said.
“Time you noticed,” I said.
We’d rutched almost to the muzzle of the canon when Leslie screamed. I thought she was fixing to fall and, since we were making like the barrel was pointed over a cliff, I turned to save her life. She wasn’t falling. She was staring, eyes-wide. The sun had just set and shadows were coming for us, crawling from under the trees by the west. There were lots of trees and wind enough to make the autumn grass whisper.
Terry stood on the bridge balustrade. He often threatened to walk the bridge’s narrow ledge, a good thirty-foot drop to the tracks. Leslie always talked him out of it. There he was standing on that cement rail, his back to us and I don’t know if he heard Leslie’s scream or not. I didn’t peep for fear he’d lose his balance. When Leslie drew breath to shout again, I turned to hush her and we both fell off the canon. Not hundreds of feet to the rocks, just three, four to the grass. For half a second she gave me mad-eyes then her face got bigger. I turned.
I know what I want to say: from where he stood, Terry just seemed to float on smoke or steam that huffed around him from a passing train. I want to say that but, no. He was lifted, borne aloft on swirls of spark and soot. He was awash but not in train smoke. There was something—that dark something I saw when the panel had held him in its mouth, when he spoke in private tongues to the darkness. That something held him now.
We called. I think he did not hear. Leslie ran toward. I followed. Terry was still awash, lifted above and beyond our reach, over the tracks. He looked not at us but somewhere else, I don’t know where, but not at us. The long arms of darkness wrapped him. They were alive. Sparks—what I thought were sparks—swirled and crackled like Christmas tinsel on the Lionel tracks. And there was a smell, that alive stink of something that had rotted its way from another world into ours, the stench of something from beyond and long ago. This was the full-out reek that lay under what the Cornelius sometimes fed us until mother made it depart through open windows.
Terry dissolved into the arms and the sparks. Leslie reached for him and failed. She began to climb onto the railing. I dragged her off. We argued, sure, but I was proud of her that she tried, and disgusted with myself that I hadn’t.
In a moment, the arms, the sparks and Terry whisked away, a meteor trail up the sky toward our house.
We ran. The Cornelius was just a half-mile but I’d never run that far, so fast. What was I going to do? Tell mother? What else does a kid do? The long wall of row homes passed in slow motion, our breath and legs held and slowed us. Ahead, where Terry and whatever it was had gone, time ran regular. Our feet were lead, our chests filled with sand and cement. When we reached the Cornelius we died for breath.
The Cornelius was utterly black. We breathed.
“Your mom? Not in?”
“Hospital,” I remembered, “daddy…”
“We’re it. The rescue.”
I never liked the house. That evening, it did not like me. Silly. Not the house, no. Houses do not like or not. They are. But something was there that wore the house, and that did not like me. Us. Leslie and I leaned on our knees and breathed and breathed and did not pass out.
“Look.” She pointed.
The streetlight on the corner was out and the house showed little more than angles, black brick and gray wood. Still…a thing moved across the face of the Cornelius. A moth flickering on the screen is something like it. The whole rest of the block was dead. If not dead, then sleeping, silent, except for the flap of that growing many-limbed thing that was trying to enter our world from the Mark. I do not mean to be dramatic. I have tried not to be, but that is what it seemed. This thing rose and fell back, rose again, stretched, beat itself against the dormer above or strained down to where it rattled mother’s bedroom window. It was smoke learning to have muscle and teeth.
“Terry’s in there,” Leslie said.
I knew that he was. I just did not want to go in.
We went in. No lights, nothing worked. We ran upstairs into a darker place, down the side hallway, darker still, then climbed the attic steps. We climbed into a downpour of stench, a breath from some Cornelius place where his maps and books had taken him, maps and books that had been part of this house and had lived in these rooms. The thoughts ran through me. How? I do not know. The light ahead was not the hard-edged brightness of titty-bulbs but soft and smoky, a curling light that threw gray shadows. There were voices in that light, far-off but clear and foreign. The walls hummed with them, those flesh-strung violins sang. The sacred harp in tongues, fed our ears.
In the front room, the little closet stood open, a gap in the wall’s black and gray flowers. Something moved inside, a thing our size that crawled away from us.
Leslie called but Terry did not respond. She dove.
I hesitated. Something urged me stay. The cricket in the wall, I now guess. I pictured Jiminy Cricket. Jiminy Cricket was in my hand, small with long antennae. He said, “stay.”
No. I gripped him hard and followed.
The door closed behind us.
I’m older now. I didn’t then know what being a child in the womb was like. I still do not, I suppose, but I do know now that at our beginning we are alive in the body of another, close and embraced by wetness and meat; outside is an alien world, untouched but at-hand.
That experience is probably kin to what Leslie and I felt crawling in that darkness, incomprehensible sound surrounding us. I also know that at our end, the earth will enwrap and hold us forever. A baby has no sense of beginnings or endings or of the world and I suppose a corpse hasn’t, either. We did. We knew we were inside a place both alive and utterly alien. The house? No. Was it a creature, one of Cornelius’s “old gods”? I do not know.
Jiminy Cricket wiggled in my hand. We crawled, we walked, we ran. Light of a sort aimed us. We moved through rooms—or caverns—walls like slabs of meat rose around us, stars aloft and distant above. We kept on. Winds came. Icy arctic night roared from a side space. We went on, following Terry. From another side, a fetid corruption strangled me, heaving screaming jungle birthsoup belched on me, then vanished. We followed Terry. He’d been invited. We’d not.
Jiminy buzzed reminders to my hand. “Not wanted (“needed,” “fit,” “required”),” it sang. His antennae augured their way out of my clenched fist. I called to Leslie but she would not stop. We kept on. Places passed on either side, a black depth of water, living lights moving in it. Sometimes the way narrowed to a few inches and thousand foot drops gave way to either side of our running feet. And always and ever, alien winds arose from here and there. The smell was what a spider looks like.
Hours and miles later, the way ended. Ahead, Terry knelt by a pit. A greasy light arose around him. Terry reached into the light and, one after another, withdrew a series of glowing jars.
Leslie and I had stopped. I could barely move or breathe, but we stopped, how to explain this? We stopped because Terry seemed to know what he was doing. This not very smart boy had gathered around him a half-dozen of these jars. Various colors played over him, colors I knew and others I had no name for. Quickly, he opened one jar, put it down, reached, opened another, placed it at what seemed a measured distance from the first.
So it went, a pattern being made, colors and life oozing from the open jars.
“What in the hell…” Leslie said.
Jiminy squirmed and screamed.
“Jars of,” Terry said. He didn’t look but he was speaking to us. He continued to work. “Hearts, lungs, parts there ain’t no names for. God-parts, waiting.
“Leave now,” Terry said, “we have it to do.” Jiminy said, both of them said. “Leave now and the gods will be reborn. They have lain await here in parts and in many places. They begin again. Here the world begins. Anew.”
Jiminy gave me a jab. I opened my hand.
“Hell!” Leslie said, seeing the thing for the first time.
I don’t know, grabbing him had seemed natural. I’d loved his movie and he was a good little fellow.
“What the hell?” Leslie screamed.
Jiminy’s tail fired like a glow-worm. The air lit. Every mote in the world glowed. The Jiminy bug spread wings and flew.
Why? I don’t know why I knew but I did know Jiminy was not Jiminy Cricket but something from Doc Cornelius’s dreams. The bug’s right name popped into my head but I have long forgotten it. I knew, too, that Jiminy must not get to those jars of lungs and parts and...
…and, well, I knew things and among the things I knew, I knew I couldn’t let that little bug go. I grabbed him.
The which did not stop him. He flew higher and higher, me with him, holding him.
Now, I was not a heavy boy but I should have been more than a cricket-sized bug could haul aloft.
Leslie called. Her voice and she were dwindling, below. Jiminy screamed in the tongue of the old gods. From below, Terry looked up. His face was as full of ancient hate as the “old man’s” had been that one time I saw him reach for his son and beat him out a licking.
How high? Don’t know. What was I doing? Don’t know. Light and smell oozed from the jars Terry had opened. In them life crawled, craving substance and bawling like babies. I knew (How? Don’t know…) that if the parts managed to gather and touch, the critter fluttering from the Mark would be with us in the world. And I knew that would be a very bad thing.
Then I fell.
Did I let go? Don’t know. From how high? Don’t know. A long drop, sure. Not as far as daddy falling from the sky in the Pacific but the light, colors, the jars, the pit rushed toward me and then I was in it all and overwhelmed.
Terry’s mom and old man were dead. Terry killed them the night before, killed the old man first, sleeping. A butcher knife. Many times. His mother fought but she was very small and he killed her too.
They found Terry on the tracks below the bridge. People said he’d jumped. A train had run over his body but he’d probably been dead before.
I woke, Leslie screaming and shaking me. She’d found me at the far end of the cellar. The lights were on and swinging and I was hugging a box of jars. Looked like old preserves in Ball Jars. But I did not look closer.
How’d I get there? You know by now.
Leslie verified everything I remembered: following Terry, the thing from the Mark, the opening in the attic, the trip through…?
What? Through to the pit. She watched me fly, she said, she saw me drop from on high. Then light like the sun and she awoke in the basement. I was a mess. We never told mother.
Leslie and I watched the Mark that night before we knew about Terry and his parents. After we knew, we watched the Mark for days in the cold winter sun. It did not wiggle.
My daddy passed soon thereafter, a war hero. Everyone was sad. And so soon after the shock about the Adolphus family, a whole family done in like/that!
We were sad, Leslie and I. I still am. But daddy could not have been whole again, and like I said, Terry wasn’t a bad guy, just someone who knew which way the wind was going. Sad, but I rushed to help mother pack the place because we were going home woth daddy.
When we left, I wondered what to do with those jars I woke up hugging. I would not open them even to flush or burn them or whatever. The box was almost full. Just a half dozen missing.
Sometimes I wonder about Doc Cornelius. What happened to him? To his patients, the ones he saw in the basement, to his books and maps, his ‘things’?
The jars? I left the decision to Leslie. I still miss her and sometimes wonder.