Cardboard

Susie Tompkins from Grade two, was not someone that I really ever thought about. In all honesty, I wouldn’t even know her if it wasn’t for Jason Stettner in the fourth grade. I knew about her parents, mine called them “those loser boozers down the block.” As I biked past her house most mornings before school, I would see her waiting on her front porch, watching the nearby creek, hands folded neatly in her lap while she waited for the screaming match inside to end, and for her big brother to walk her to the school. Sure I felt bad for her, but it didn’t really bother me at all. My life was separate, until the fight after school that random Friday.

Jason had been running his mouth all day at me, his dad was better at this or that, how he made more money, was stronger. Standard things that normally didn’t bother me, but my dad has just told us he was very sick. Sick with cancer and I knew he couldn’t defend himself by just living his life as normal. So I hit Jason. Hard, in the mouth, with all of my third grade strength. He went down with that blow, his head bouncing off the pavement, blood splattering across the playground. The kids who had gathered went silent and scattered, leaving me with a kid bleeding profusely from the head while a teacher came out to investigate the ruckus.

Needless to say, the detention was long and dull and watching my friends run free at the end of the day for the next two weeks drove me to near madness. The near reverence I was treated with by classmates and other grades after the story had gotten around was nearly worth it. However, on the first day it was finished, Susie, a girl I only knew by name and had never talked to, was waiting by the tree at the edge of the school yard for me. She wore a simple white dress, stains upon the collar, her hands muddy for some unknown reason.

“I heard what you did to Jason.” She started off hesitantly, falling in pace with me as I tried to ignore her and walk home.

“And? He deserved it. Nobody talks about my dad like that.” The thought of it made my hand curl tightly into a fist.

“W-w-well yeah, that’s why I need your help.” She stuttered a little, obviously nervous about what she wanted to ask.

“You have a bigger brother though, why would you need me?” I stopped and looked at her head-on for the first time in the conversation. She was trying hard not to cry, but tears formed in the corners of her eyes.

“He can’t see It, he’s too old.” Her words were barely a whisper, and what they implied made my neck hair stand on edge. “And It’s getting worse. It killed my hamster today. I had to bury it before my parents got home.” She offered her dirty hands for way of explanation, “It used to just eat rotten things around the house.”

“What are you talking about?” Grabbing my hand, she started leading me to her house. We walked without a word for the remaining block and bit, and she brought me inside.

Her house was a disaster. Spills and near rotting leftovers dominated the kitchen, while dust, empty boxes, and filthy, crusted clothes held the living room hostage. Susie immediately acted embarrassed, and pulled me quickly towards the basement. The stairs were treacherous, haphazard wood seemingly only held together by rusty nails. At the bottom, she pulled the string to the only light in the room. It flickered to life slowly, casting large swinging shadows. Wordlessly, she pointed to a blanket covering a large mound in the corner. The moving shadows gave the form the appearance of rapid breathing, and my heart plummeted in fear.

“What’s under there?” I tried to speak bravely, but a quiver of fear had crept into my voice.

“It.” She stepped behind me and cowered, pushing me towards the blanketed beast. I approached slowly, palms sweating. The house settled and the resounding creak made me flinch, pulling away. After a few moments of internal fighting, my curiosity got the better of me, and I reached out and pulled off the blanket as quickly as I could, my other hand balled up, ready to strike at the monstrosity underneath.

All that was underneath were wet cardboard boxes. Damp and mildewy, a pungent near rotting smell filled my nostrils as the blanket stopped stifling the odor. I sighed in frustration and relief, mostly relief as I dropped the blanket on the ground and turned to Susie.

“Seriously? It’s boxes.” I rolled my eyes at her, and began to walk back towards the stairs.

“But… It’s there.” She hissed quietly and urgently as I walked by and grabbed my arm with fearful strength. “Can’t you see it? Just laying, sleeping, with the blood of…” she trailed off and fought back tears. I pulled free and continued to leave annoyed at this strange girl who thought that a wet stack of cardboard killed her guinea pig.

I reached fresh air, and she stumbled out after me, freely sobbing now. “You must be too old too, I thought, I just thought…Maybe you could save us. No one believes me.” Sitting down on the walkway to her house she gave up as I walked away.

That night, I had strange dreams of a rotten cardboard monster with blood on its lips from eating Susie, and it chased me through the town under a crescent moon. It’s strange creaking laughter still haunted my ears when I woke up the next morning. Going downstairs, I noticed my mother in a bit of a panic.

“Did Sparky sleep with you?” Sparky being our dog of course, a smaller greying ball of fluff that was around twelve years old.

“No he didn’t, I thought he was with you.” As I was responding, mom was already rushing off to the back of the house, calling for Sparky. I joined, and we searched the entire neighbourhood for most of the Saturday, completely unable to find him. Resigned, we made posters after supper, and drove around town posting them in hopes of being able to find him. Nothing turned up until the next day.

My father came in around noon on the Sunday with Sparky’s collar in his hand, blood staining it’s bright blue fabric a strange depressing maroon. He looked defeated, and I felt the same way deep down. He was gone, some coyote had killed him, or maybe some teen trying to look good in front of his friends. That night we held a burial for him, and laid his collar in a small grave near the back of the fence.

“May he bring joy to those around him in heaven as he did here on earth. Ever curious, he must have wandered to the creek in search of a frog or fox to play with. We love you and miss you little guy.” I stopped listening at that point, because the creek went right by Susie Tompkins’ house and a sinking feeling had settled into my gut. I needed to find out what she had done to my dog, some kind of sick revenge for me not believing in her cardboard monster.

As soon as I was put to bed, I snuck out of the window and crept along the roof to where it almost met the garage. I ran along the garage roof and dropped to the ground in the garden, a tomato plant squishing under my feet as I landed. I almost sprinted the entire way, rage pushing my feet across the pavement. It was dark, and I didn’t even notice Susie running towards me and we collided roughly, pain exploding across my head as I tried to get back up.

“What the hell are you doing? What the hell did you do to my dog?” I yelled at her, pushing her back down as she tried to get up. She looked up at me, defenseless, blood running down from her eyebrow.

“I-I-It killed him.” She sputtered out, and that simple, obviously foolish defense made me lose it.

“There is no ‘It’! That was just a bunch of stupid boxes in your stupid basement and you can’t even face the truth of what you did!” I tried to swing at her, but my vision was blurry from tears and I missed, falling to my knees as I began to weep. “Why did you do it?”

She tried to answer me, opened her mouth, but a muffled roar from her house startled both of us. It was somewhere between a motorcycle engine and the crumbling of a pile of bricks. Looking towards her house, I saw something moving within that wasn’t human. Susie grabbed my hand and started trying to pull me towards the woods around the creek. I fought her, and started walking towards the house. There was no way this could be real. The cardboard wasn’t a monster. I saw it with my own eyes. As we got closer to the house, the smell of damp, near rotting things came on strongly, enough to make my eyes water.

I opened the door to a gruesome scene. Her parents laid dead on the living room floor, their bodies skewed awkwardly across the floor, heads on an angle too sharp to be normal, faces frozen in a look between disbelief and terror. It was in the corner, hunched over, peeling skin off of the face of Susie’s deceased brother. He was cradled almost lovingly in It’s limbs, as it pulled out one of his eyes and stuffed it into the orifice one would consider being mouth adjacent. It’s skin was a darker brown like wet cardboard, and looked moist to the touch and leathery. Stiffening at the sound of the door opening, It went entirely still and blinking, I had to fight the impression that it was just a pile of cardboard once more. I turned to Susie, but she had run away, leaving me alone with three bodies and a mound of cardboard.

Turning back to the living room, the beast had disappeared and so had her brother. I realized I needed to get out of there and call someone for help. But turning around to leave resulted in a moist grasp upon my arm and pain in my wrist, as talon like claws wrapped around it. I was dragged off my feet with a gurgling sound from the creature. My head struck a corner and blackness enveloped me.

I woke up, some time later, lying in a pile of filthy blankets in a earthen room. The room was dim, the only light coming from a flickering, dancing source just outside of the room. Weak rays that managed to get in were barely enough for me to see my surroundings. I made out a larger pile of fabric in the corner opposite of me, with a large form lying in it. Possibly the beast? Hard to tell with so little light. It quivered slightly, and I tried to move as little as I could so as to not alert it. Susie’s brother was in the other corner. Well what was left of him, most of his limbs had been pulled off, and his skull was stripped clean with half the spinal column still stuck to it. I gagged at the sight, and slowly swallowed the vomit, trying not to puke all over the floor.

A grinding noise emanated from the entrance, and the room went dark as something squeezed through the opening, and the now familiar stench of rot filled the room. As It fully came through the door frame, whatever was on the makeshift bed quivered more, and seemingly hummed in response to the closeness of the monster. It lumbered over to the opposite side of the room, and began stroking whatever was over there. As the light shifted, my brain finally managed to put the pieces together and it clicked on what was lying on the bed.

It was a nest. Full of slimy, dark eggs. Drawing in a sharp breath as I realized why I was still alive, my vomit couldn’t be contained any more. Loudly and violently I spewed my stomach’s contents across the floor, and drew in a ragged breath before It looked at me, and slowly moved towards me. In the low light, it was hard to make out It’s features, but it had large, flat black eyes, deep-set near a lipless mouth. The mouth opened and a hot fetid blast of breath accosted me, and I could just make out bits of flesh from between Its inward facing teeth.

Dragging me by my arm, which I noted was coated in dry blood, It threw me onto the nest as if I weighed less than a sack of potatoes. The eggs held firm beneath my weight. They felt almost like coarse jello and my skin began to crawl with the sensation, sending shivers down my spine. In a strange grunting language, It began to sing. Tonewise, it was otherworldly, and filled the earthen room with a strange resonance. I began to drown in the sound, feeling paralyzed by the mere weight of the implied meaning to the song. The song made fire course through my veins and my mind fuzzy. As the pitch increased, I felt the eggs become hungry, and heard cracks, growing louder and louder. Birthing time had begun.

As soon as the eggs began to open, soft tentacles lashed out and began probing my skin. Small pricks of pain spread across my body and began to intensify as the tentacles latched onto any open skin they could find. A rumble from nearby shook the ground in the room, and It turned it’s head in a quizzical manner and casually snapped my legs clean through at the shins before going to investigate. I wished that the pain from the legs had been worse, as the pinpricks had escalated into flares being fired directly into my skin. There were at least a dozen of the tentacles attached to me. One, in the center of my back, was pulling itself into me, I could feel it begin to writhe under my skin and…

 

Beeping and a bright light brought me back from where I had been. Somewhere dark, with a coarse jello centre. My body felt disjointed, as if it had been torn apart and pieced together in a way that was just off enough to notice. Cotton filled my mouth, until it moved and I realized it was in fact, my tongue. Opening my eyes led to the discovery that the world was too bright of a place, and the dark place might in fact be better. A small bed supported me in a sterile room, monitor attached to me, beeping in time with my heart beating.

My mother explained everything over the next few hours. Apparently a bear had broken into the Tompkins’ house, enraged by rabies or some disease and killed the entire family, but Susie had managed to get out and get help. She really didn’t understand why I was out there in the first place and the only reason that made sense I could offer was that I had been looking for Sparky’s remains,which seemed to satisfy her. The bear had brought me down to a cool dark place, an apparent sinkhole that opened into the wall of the Tompkins basement, and had attacked the officers that came down to subdue it. Even though I knew better, that simple explanation made the terror that came on any time darkness crept in seem a little less horrifying.

Months passed by, Susie was adopted by some family in a town or two over, and all thoughts of the night passed. It became some story I told, of that time I was attacked by a wild bear. The only real scar I bore from the encounter was a strange circular divot in the middle of my back, between the shoulder blades. Susie’s house was left empty, and slowly collapsed into itself, absolute neglect being it’s final killer.

Eight months after the event happened, when the snows had receded and spring was coming, fighting through the late winter rains, I woke up in the middle of the night, drenched in sweat. My back was on fire, and the bedding beneath it was soaked in a dark liquid that I quickly recognized as blood. My scar was completely burst open, seemingly from the inside. On the floor, a small pile of boxes lay, seeming to quiver in the moonlight from my window.

 

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