The House on Burkhardt Street (cont.) • Torgus the Angel • Nametag • Jambi the Angel • Wednesday • Damballah
Soundtrack: Theme from The Kids from C.A.P.E.R. by Ron Dante and Jake Holmes
NOTE: This story is being pubbed in serial form. You should probably start with EPISODE 1.
The House on Burkhardt Street (cont.)
It had been months since the last time I’d driven up Burkhardt Street on the way home from Dad’s house—not long after Rusty disappeared. No one from his shop had heard from him in several. The lights had been left on in the house, his truck still in the garage. Even stranger (it seemed to me), there were no accounts of anyone venturing inside to look for him, no investigation by the police. Nothing. Eventually, LES had cut off the power there. Seemingly overnight, the place had begun to have a look of decay, as if it hadn’t been lived in for years. In fact, as time went on, the families on either side of it moved away, and those houses remained empty.
Tonight, as I slowly drove towards the old Kelvin house in the twilight of a hot August evening, the whole dead-end block had a blighted appearance.
It was the want-ad that made me come here. I’d gotten to thinking, and sometimes you just can’t turn that off. Could she have left behind some clue? Something only I would understand? Something that might still be here after all these years? And when I tried to slow it down, my imagination spun all the harder. What if she came back here? What if she’s hiding out here right now, and needs help?
I got out of the car and waded through the dead weeds covering the lawn, but my steps slowed as I neared the front door. It was dead silent at this end of the street. There weren’t even any birds in the trees. The trees themselves didn’t look too great, either; parts of them were dead or dying. I swallowed a dry lump, my breath coming shallow. I veered from the door, going instead to the front window, off to the right. As I squinted through the cloudy glass, trying to turn the vague shadows within into a couch or TV, I was suddenly reminded of all the times we’d dared each other to go up to the black windows of the NFMA. And now I’m actually going to work there, I thought. Because of her. Because she’s alive.
This thought hastened me, and I drew a lungful of air, staring a second longer through the dark pane before turning away. There’d seemed to be something all over one wall in there—mold, maybe?
In the backyard, the door to the shed had fallen off and was propped inside against the rear wall, which had ribbed sheets of faded fiberglass screwed down over it. When we were kids, Marissa had never wanted to play in here, like we did in Dad’s shed, even though I’d begged her. Consequently, I’d never been in here before. There was a busted weed whacker, a couple rusting gas cans. But the most noticeable thing was a wooden post driven into the dirt floor. There were marks on the post. The hairs on my arms stood up as I took a step forward. The wood was scored in places—the grooves were old, the edges softened by time. Then I saw the bullet hole sunk in the base, a vertical crack running out from it.
Suddenly, I didn’t want to be in here anymore. I backed out and looked over at the steps leading up to the back screen door on the house. How many times had we slammed in and out of that door? Now it hung by one rusted hinge. “I’ll look in a minute,” I muttered, then shut up because the sound of my own voice in the stillness was startling.
Behind the shed was the old plank door to the storm cellar, rusting corrugated steel nailed on top. Another place I’d wanted badly to explore as kids—it had to be crawling with salamanders and other fun stuff. But that, too, got vetoed by Marissa, even though Rusty had cheerfully encouraged us, saying we could pretend we were cavemen—prisoners, even.
What if she’s down there? a voice whispered. I jerked, looking around. The voice had been my own, inside my head. Why would Marissa be in the cellar, of all places? Before I’d even realized what I was doing, my feet had carried me all the way over to the rotting door. My hand, already reaching down for the handle, stopped as an image came to me of something on the other side of that door. Something dragging itself up, one step at a time.
I backed away, the dreamlike silence of this place almost palpable. “Stupid,” I tried to whisper, then quickly turned my back on the cellar.
There was nowhere left to look except for the house itself. I looked up at the dark and dirty windows, the dangling screen, the warped back steps. I wanted to leave this dead place, to drive away from the house on Burkhardt Street and never come back. But then: The wall in there had something all over it. Something that had looked wrong. Much as I wanted to blow this joint, I needed to know what that something was.
The shadows were by now very long, the back of the house made peachy by the soft glow of the setting sun filtering through the bare branches. My head was a war of contradictions as the steps creaked under my weight. I hoped the back door was locked; then I could just leave and say I tried.
But I also hoped it was unlocked, because then I wouldn’t have to break a window. Because—let’s face it—I wasn’t leaving ‘til I’d been inside. Come to think of it—why weren’t there any busted windows? Ordinarily, an abandoned house would be a magnet for kids on a dare, teenagers looking for a place to get drunk or laid.
I pushed on the handle, and the door swung inward, a little dust raining down from around the frame. Here were the old cupboards lining the wall of the laundry room, the door of the washing machine hanging slightly open. Rusty used to tape his marijuana baggies on the back of that washer, and we’d regularly pinch some, replacing it with dried ditch weed.
Beyond the partly open door, the living room was a land of shadows, and I pulled out the penlight on my keyring. The large rectangle of a TV—a heavy old Sony flatscreen—was immediately on the left as I entered, sweeping the faint glow over a dusty carpet, a crumbling plant, an expensive but stained sectional sofa. It looked as if Rusty had completely redone this room since I’d last been inside over a decade ago.
But what I needed to see was closer to the kitchen. As if something in that waiting darkness were calling: Come and see. The front door lay straight ahead, its small window admitting a dim rectangle of light, the short hallway to the kitchen on the right. As I entered the hall, the carpet felt stiff, crunching softly under my feet…
The thing on the wall stretched from the floor to just short of the ceiling. Swiped in dark, trembling lines that had dripped in places, it had four bifurcated lobes with two rough, concentric circles, the center one slashed with four barbed, arrow-like symbols arranged in a circle, pointing inward and seeming to expand and contract like the pupil of some mad and glaring eye. Crooked lines sketched their way out from the center like broken capillaries, many punctuated by a teardrop shape, so the crazed eye appeared stitched open by the wires of some deranged circuit.
Below it, the hallway carpet was saturated and black. Dried pools and smears led back the way I’d come.
I wanted to kick the front door out and fly from this place, but instead I lifted my penlight for a closer look because I had to know, had to see…
It was the color of dark rust, beginning to flake in places…
The blackened center circle slowly rolled, until its gaze came to rest on me. The gathering gloom of that hallway became electric, closing in, stabbing my brain with frantic thoughts of flight as my feet stayed nailed to the floor.
From that center, tendrils of black crawled outward, like fast-moving rot. Without knowing I’d been about to do it, I dropped the penlight into my pocket, plunging the house into total darkness, and placed both my hands flat against that bloody wall (for I’d known in my heart it was blood), feeling the sticky crust under my palms. An instant later, blue fire leapt across the wall, racing along the lines of dried blood as if it were gasoline. I jumped back from the licking flames as they ate at every symbol and whorl, exploding in places like strings of firecrackers.
I stumbled back into the living room, knocking something over in the dark with a crash, making for the front door. I wrenched at the door handle, finally managing to get it open as the house began to fill with the smoke of burning insulation and wiring.
I sprinted down that sidewalk, flung myself into the Buick, and laid rubber. It was only after I’d gunned it for several blocks that the thought surfaced: I should probably call the fire department. I screeched into the parking lot of a U-Stop, braking next to the payphone. Then, another thought: If they see me on their surveillance making this call, the cops might think I had something to do with the fire.
I spent the next minute with my head on the wheel, laughing my fucking ass off.
When I recovered from the hysterics and took a few deep breaths, I put the car in gear and drove back the way I’d come. At the mouth of Burkhardt Street, I stared into the shadows at the far end. The shape of the house was dark and silent. The fire had apparently burned out on its own.
As long as the damn thing’s shut, said the voice that may or may not have been in my head. I eased on past the dead-end street and headed for Castle Hill.
At the bottom of the hill, I hesitated, staring up at the dark window of our empty apartment. The sudden thought lit up in my head: Wonder what Marki’s doing tonight?
As I steered through the quiet residential streets, the pall over the Kelvin house, the nightmare wall, the fire…all of it began to recede. By the time I got to Marki’s, the whole thing felt like some distant dream. My heart felt lighter, in fact, than it had in as long as I could remember. I longed to tell Marki that my long-lost common-law sister, Marissa, was alive. Alive.
When Marki opened her door, she looked me up and down. “What the hell happened to you?” She took my hand and gently pulled me over the threshold.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, your hands look like you’ve been cleaning out a chimney! You’ve got some on your face, too.”
Sure enough, the palms of my hands were smudged with reddish-black grime. I turned to look at the mirror in her front hall and saw that I’d gotten it on my forehead and around one eye. The horror of whatever was at the end of Burkhardt Street gripped me like a sudden frost, and I ran for the bathroom.
My face and hands were pink from scrubbing when I at last forced myself to stop. I came back out to Marki’s warm and inviting little kitchen. “Could I just stay here tonight?” I said a little unsteadily, and between these words were the silent ones: Please don’t make me talk about it.
In response, Marki hugged me tight, then gave me a beer.
Torgus the Angel
How much damage has the Nameless managed to cause before the closing of that terrible Gate? And now that it has found one secret way into Your World bypassing the Channels altogether, it will surely try again. And again.
Little Speaker, Your faithful watchers—even I, most humble servant of the Book—are seriously discussing breaking the Law in the name of the greater good.
Tuesday when I pulled up, Ronnie’s car was in its usual slot next to mine. In my space sat a bright red Monte Carlo. So, Chris Donnel was also here. Lovely. I parked in a visitor’s spot and walked back down the slope to our building.
Ronnie had his luggage out on the bed and was rummaging in the closet. In the bathroom down the hall, the toilet flushed. I watched him for a bit. “Your thing starts Friday, right?”
He jumped at my voice. “Shit, Tor.” He backed out with a couple neckties, holding them up and frowning from one to the other. “Which one do you like?”
“The purple one.”
After another moment’s consideration, he laid the blue one across a white shirt in the suitcase, smoothing it out. “I just want to have everything ready to go, you know?” He pulled out the ironing board and laid out a pair of black trousers.
“Ronnie…” I came farther into the bedroom. “About…everything…”
He paused, the iron in his hand. Then he set it down and came around the board, sighing and pulling me into his arms, holding me against his chest and resting his chin lightly on my head. After a moment, he said softly, “It’s just that for the first time in forever, I feel like we’re on the edge of something real. You, finally getting away from that damned place. Dad, pulling the Godfather act…it’s all got me thinking. I don’t know, I—I wish you were coming with me.” He paused, then whispered: “Instead of Chris.”
The bathroom door opened, and Chris Donnel strolled down the hall, smoking a cigarette. He looked me up and down, then went over to sit on the bed. “Heard you put on quite the show the other night.”
Ronnie looked uncomfortable. “Hey Chris, get me that grooming kit.”
Chris tossed the kit over, continuing to smoke, never taking his eyes off me. “So, now whatcha gonna do for money, honey?”
“Actually—” I began, but Ronnie interrupted.
“Hey Tor, I forgot. Dad gave me this last night.” He fished around in his pocket, then handed me a rectangle of plastic. I turned it over and recognized it instantly: it was the red checkered nametag I’d lost earlier in the summer—now oddly chipped and discolored. “Thought you might want it as a keepsake.”
“Where’d you find this?”
“Dad said this young blond girl stopped in, looking for you.” He shrugged. “Said she just wanted to return it.”
I stared down at it, thinking back to my freshman year, my last conversation with Mitch, on the night he went insane. Short blond hair. About your age. Real big blue eyes. “Who was she?” Thinking, inexplicably, about the winter of ’92. Mind-control Muzak and the theft of names. It’s gone…they took it away.
“She said she was a friend of yours, which didn’t really make a lot of sense.”
“Why not? It might’ve been someone Marissa and I used to party with.”
“Tor, I said young girl. He said she couldn’t have been more than eighteen.”
As the old nametag sat innocently in my palm, a cold prickle began to work its way up my spine. For reasons unknown, the silence came to mind: that silence, on the other end of the phone three nights ago—gleeful, knowing, sly—and my hand curled around the little piece of plastic, as if doing so would somehow protect the name inscribed there.
Clearly bored, Chris swung his legs over the side of the bed, dropping his cigarette butt into a beer can on the nightstand. “I’ll leave you two lovebirds to reminisce. See you downstairs.” He left the bedroom and went out the front door.
“We’re leaving early tomorrow morning, from his place,” Ronnie explained, sorting through a pile of socks. “Thought it would be fun to check out the casinos, see some sights before Friday.”
I was still clutching the nametag, thinking about the want ad in my backpack. In some way I didn’t understand, they were in direct opposition to each other. I didn’t want to be left here, alone with these alien feelings of insane hope, mixed with quiet dread. “I think Marissa might be trying to contact me.”
“Why, did you find a Ouija board?”
My head filled with white-hot metal. I grabbed my backpack and left the room.
“Shit,” he said, coming after me. “Tor, I’m sorry. I’m sorry! But you’ve got to stop doing this and let her go. It’s keeping you from moving on with your life—”
“Stop doing what? What am I doing? Exactly?” My breath was so shallow I could barely push the words out.
“Look, I know you still drive out to that pasture sometimes. I know you still have that old bottle of rotten booze—”
“You’ve been following me? You’ve been spying on me? Going through my stuff?”
Helplessly, he lifted his hands. “I love you.”
We stared at each other. Finally, I said, “Your pants are on fire.”
He sniffed the air. “Shit.” And ran back into the bedroom.
Jambi the Angel
Oh man. Oh man.
Okay, I’m gonna lay it down for You right now, like it or not.
It’s sniffing down Your trail, and it’s gonna find You, even if Your magic’s not detectable. It knows Your name.
But one thing in Your favor: It’s also afraid of You. That’s why it left the nametag. It’s feeling You out, trying to figure out how much You know, how dangerous You really are.
As Your watchers, we thought we knew You. But now we’re not so sure. All those years of daydreaming and watching the sky and serving pancakes, You have been harboring a power unimaginable, beyond even the adumbrations of Damballah.
And, ready or not ready, life’s about to get real funky. Heaven help us.
At quarter to seven, the sun has just cleared the horizon, spilling light through the dense wall of trees fencing the east parking lot. An old blue Buick sedan rolls up the drive and pulls into one of the few empty slots.
Dressed in her best jeans, the NFMA’s newest employee walks up to the big glass doors on the southeast corner of the building, the lobby within still dark at this hour. Her ancient magic still veiled from detection by even the most advanced chymistry, the “failed” pee test has placed her, like all the other nonmagical hires, in Production Assembly.
Ah, well. At least the plan sort of worked.
She takes a deep breath, hitching up her backpack, pulls open the door, and disappears within.
Across the street, in the shadow of a warehouse, an idling UPS truck shifts into gear, motors away up North 48th, and hangs a left.
Now. Let the war begin.
Copyright © 2018 by Shoshana Sumrall Frerking
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living, dead, or otherwise, is purely coincidental.