[This is a short story for Chuck Wendig's latest flash fiction contest. I haven't entered one of these in a while, but this one...this one grabbed me. It featured this photo:
The challenge, as always, was simple. Look at the picture. Write a story. 1000 words or less. Enjoy.]
Buck stood in front of the door with one hand on the knocker and the other curled around the grip of the gun in his pocket. Both hands were sweating.
This wasn’t right. He was a tough guy. He had beaten Anthony King to death with his bare fists. But this? This had his heart pounding in his chest like a hammer. Still there was no going back. Joey had been very clear about that.
“You want in Bucky?” the gang leader asked with a smile. ”Then get rid of old lady Huxley. Old broad’s been up there on that hill giving us the evil eye like she owns the place. But you’re gonna show her who’s really in charge, aren’t you Bucky?”
And Bucky didn’t say, ”Why don’t you do it yourself?” He didn’t say, ”What’s so important about one old woman anyway?” And he really didn’t say, ”Don’t call me Bucky.”
What he said was, ”You got it Joey.” And now here he was, standing in front of the door pissing himself with fright waiting to knock. But there wasn’t any going back.So he swallowed his fear and brought the knocker down hard on the old wood of the door. The sound seemed to boom into the house beyond. He waited for a long time after that, thinking maybe she hadn’t heard the knocker this late at night, that maybe she had up and died in her bed. But mostly he thought of the stories the neiborhood kids used to tell each other about her. About she made people disappear.
He was about to knock again, when he heard the sound of shuffling footsteps in the hall beyond. There was a clatter of locks being turned, and the door swung open, not with a creak, but silent as a ghost.
Old Lady Huxley stood there in her nightgown, her hair askance, her face wrinkled. But beyond that she looked…tired. Not sleepy, but bone tired, as if she were carrying a great weight.
Buck didn’t say anything, but pulled the gun out of his pocket and pointed it at her. She shrugged, and motioned for him to come inside.
He stepped across the threshold, his mind barely registering that this wasn’t the way it was supposed to go. In and out. Unload the clip into the old woman and run.That was the plan.
The plan evaporated.
“You’re that Harris boy aren’t you?”
“Yes ma’am,” Buck answered, barely aware of the gun shaking in his hand. The old woman was leading him down a hallway, and on either side…at first they looked like skulls. On all the shelves, in all the cubbies, empty eye sockets staring up at him. But a stray slant of moonlight hit one of them and he saw it was a pink porcelain doll’s head. And somehow that was worse.
Mrs. Huxley pulled open another door and this one did creak. But it wasn’t the creak that chilled Buck to the bone. It was the other sound. It was faint, almost on the edge of silence. But it was there.
Buck found himself standing in a worn out kitchen, with strangely patterned yellow wallpaper and an old refridgerator that rattled and shook as if it would give out at any time.
“I’m so glad you could come by,” Mrs. Huxley was saying. ”It was getting late. I rather thought you might not make it.”
Buck found his tounge somewhere in the back of this throat. ”You were…waiting?”
“Oh, yes. It gets to be very hard work when they get so restless. That Joey is so nice to send you boys up here.”
“What?” Buck croaked. He heard the sound of laughter again, and this time it…it sounded like children.
“Oh, yes indeed. You might say Joey and I have something a deal going on. He was a godsend young Joey was. It was getting so hard to go out and find them.”
“Hush dear. I know it’s not easy. But really you have only yourself to blame. Beating that man to death? Such a tragedy? He had a family, you know.”
Buck hadn’t known, hadn’t wanted to know, but now he was sitting in this old woman’s kitchen and there were doll’s head’s everywhere, on the counter, on the table, on top of the refrigerator, rows and rows of eyeless porcelain skulls, all of them somehow watching him.
“I want you do know I don’t relish this,” said Mrs. Huxley grabbing joey by the elbow and leading him toward another door. ”But if it gets out…that wouldn’t do at all. Better to keep it fed. Keep it amused. Otherwise…”
Joey didn’t care what would happen if the thing, whatever it was, got out. He only wanted to run run run, as far away from here as he could. Forget Joey, forget the gang. And most of all forget Mrs. Huxley and those thousands of empty eyes.
But she led him down the steps as easily as a lamb.
“Go on ahead deary,” said Mrs. Huxley. ”Best not to keep him waiting.”
And Buck took one step and then another down into that darkness. The gun was still in his hand, and he had the fleeting thought that that he might yet be able to fight his way out of this. But then the door above slammed shut and he was left in the dark with a single bare bulb to light his way. He stumbled toward the weak light, until he found himself standing in a of circle eyeless porcelain skulls.
A shape materialized out of the shadows in the far corner of the basement, vaguely human, but impossibly long-limbed, and then it came closer he saw that it hadno face. Nothing but two dark and empty eye sockets.
The gun clattered to the floor, and Buck screamed in terror.
And as the faceless thing carried him away to play, the sound of children laughing echoed in his ears.