Friday, July 24, 2009

Are you a bad nut?

A few years ago, my family had an addition built on our house so my B-Mom and great-aunt could live with us. Having the room adjacent to the roof, my window has a nice view of distant trees and curling roof tiles.

Sometimes, when the weather’s nice, I like to sit on the roof and read, write, or just take in the air. It's nice to feel like I'm on top of the world.

Good writing material, huh?

As I look at almost everything in life as an inspiration--locking memories and visuals away in some gym locker in the back of my mind--here is where I could write about the obvious “we built the addition on an Indian burial ground,” but instead pulled out something from the locker that my great-aunt told me about two years ago:

We were sitting in the pygmy kitchen/den when she claimed to have heard big squirrels scampering about on the roof (due to my family’s paranoia I don’t tell them I frequent the roof).

What if she was right?

Maybe a bunch of squirrels got loose from Willy Wonka's chocolate factory? Yet, squirrels looking for bad nuts isn't a great premise for a horror story though, is it? So what if there were really giant, hairy creatures scurrying across our black and blue crumbling roof tiles?

Tell us about it. Here's mine:

Margaret lay in her bed, magazines strewn across the right side where a husband should have lain. They kept her comfortable, the magazines, filling a certain hole in her heart. As she thumbed through Reader’s Digest a thump came from the roof. It’s too early for Santa Claus, and not geographically correct for ninjas, she thought. She knocked the sound out of her head. It must have been a squirrel she told herself.

The news was coming to an end. “Breaking news…” but Margaret turned it off. She vowed to be asleep before Leno came on unless one of her soap stars happened to be on. Another thump shook the roof, this time echoing outside. “Damn pests.” Since she had moved from Germantown to a suburb of Philly she learned to hate squirrels. Living in the city she rarely had to deal with them. Rats, yes. But squirrels. There was something about these rodents. It could have been their bushy tails, or their black, zombie eyes. They were worse than rats because they could leap, climb, almost fly.

Almost in her late-eighties, Margaret was just waiting for the day she’d die. Those sunken, periwinkle eyes were losing all their color. Her lips were chapped; wrinkles running like map rivers which made her red lipstick bleed into her skin. Every time the wind blew, or the weather dropped below 70 her bones would ache and yell. It was time.
Shifting her pale, dead eyes to the whirring ceiling fan, she breathed heavy, shallow breaths. Her arms were dumbbells as she lifted them and placed them on her chest. As she smiled, her whole face quivered and shook. Then there was another bang. Three. Like children’s footsteps racing, pitter-patting over the crumbling roof.

“Oy! These fucking squirrels.” It might have been her mouth to blame for never being married.

Her father was in the military and –

Another bump.

Margaret hopped out of her bed, nearly dislocating her hip. The bedside lamp flickered as a whoosh of wind blew over trees. Her feet shimmied, taking her over to the window. Outside was blacker than chimney soot. She could see Carol and Steve Creed’s porch light on. An owl scooped down, or at least Margaret could hear it’s dinner squeak and then rustle in the tree. The night seemed so deadly. Two houses down smoke bellowed from the fire place. A familiar smell of burning wood circled the room putting Margaret at ease. The scratching squirrels on the roof were even louder and ferocious from the window. She put two shaking hands down on the window sill. “Shoo,” she called. Her voice came back to her. “Git outta’ here.” The scratching continued. Her heart, her small, fragile heart began to pick up speed. She could feel a little moisture form above her brow. It was almost midnight. The light flickered behind her again. Her neck hurt as she turned it towards the porcelain lamp. On the roof, where the scratching continued, she heard a faint, clicking sound. Like teeth chattering, or a 45 on a record player that was done and waiting to be turned off.

The scratches ceased. She turned her head to look back outside, hoping to see something in the void of darkness. Her cat jumped on the chair beside the window. That’s when she screamed. And that’s when the scratching continued. “You scared me, Jackie. You nearly gave mama a heart attack.” The black tabby, its copper highlights shimmering like an ocean under the moonlight, cooed and nestled against her knew. Her stocking began to roll down her leg. “What is that, Jackie? What’s the sound?” She was talking to her cat like the daughter she never had.
Taking a seat next to her cat, she pulled a tin can, a painting of Vermont in March. She used to keep cookies in there when her niece and nephew would visit. Now they were gone; careers, families, and new locations. As she cleaned the weed, she thought about Caleb. She liked him most.

The light went off. On.

He was CEO of some company she couldn’t remember the name of. Rolling the blunt she smiled.

She never would finish smoking it, but the first hit was always the best. It burned her weak lungs, but it made her head stop spinning. Her eyes closed as she held her breath for a second. Those dying eyes dilated, giving them color again.

Scratching. That damn scratching. The can sat on top of the magazines, its lid black and burnt from ash. She let the jay burn on there for a bit as she got up to look out the window. The light buzzed on and off faster this time, like a strobe light. Something else, another sound, haunted the room. It sounded like a dog at first, but as she leaned her ear closer to the window, it sounded more like a child with emphysema. A deep heaving chest. Margaret could only imagine a turtle back bellows used to make a fire grow bigger; the valve going in, out, in, out like a fishes mouth.

A warm, foul odor like rotten eggs and fecal matter came in through the window with the air as a ghost would come through a wall. The panting, the scratching, the smell, the dancing light…

Margaret was anxious. Then the lights went out. The light next door at the Creed’s, her bedside lamp, the moon, her burning weed. All out now. She stared out the window. That stench and warm, sticky smell came through the screen as she pressed her nose against it. Then a low growl, like a hungry volcano, resonated through her ears. And when her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she was in the face of a beast.

Its long snout, crooked, piano wired whiskers jutting out like a beet field, pressed against her pig nose. “No.” Her exasperated voice, a balloon deflating, was the last thing she’d say. Unless you count the screaming. That beast, that, that thing pawed at the screen. Claws like hairy raptors. They pierced the tiny wires, splicing them from top to bottom like gutting a fish. As the monster wriggled through the window, Margaret looked around. A bag of wire hangers were beside her. She was on the floor, against her closet now. No strength make it out the door, or even to the phone on the end table beside her bed to call for help. She could scream, but she couldn’t muster any breath just yet. She was breathing heavily like the gigantic rat beast coming through the window. The fur was steel wool and shades of brown, copper, silver and red could be seen if the lights were on. It plopped to the floor, birthed from the window, its tail, a thick, long, writhing worm stood taller the beast itself. Its buck teeth clicked against its split, snake-like tongue. At first the poor old woman thought it was smelling her out, but then another battering shook the screen. One, two, three, four more beasts came into the room. Their noses sniffed the air. They formed a V shape, then scurried to each corner of the room.

Jackie had since left the room, and now Margaret was left with these creatures. To die. To be mauled limb from limb. Like a Thanksgiving turkey. When the pain seared through her veins, crawling from her toes to her skull, that’s when she breathed from her diaphragm and began to scream. The sound was cut off quickly, as if her vocal box had been ripped out. Or maybe that’s because her vocal box had been ripped out.

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