Copyright (c) 2015 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Filled with Darkness
By R. Peterson
Jillian Everson heard the doorbell ring just as she was putting a sudsy The Nut Job into the DVD player. Joey Mason, Kylie Wilkes and Jennifer Lewis sat on the floor eating chocolate-chip cookies and playing with Legos in front of the TV. Patrick Denning had just rubbed bubblegum in Tina Andrew’s hair and then chased Bella into the kitchen … Tina was screaming. Jill would have to use peanut butter and her old toothbrush to get the gum out of the girl’s hair … and then catch the cat before the little monster started swinging her by the tail again. She wondered if Beth Denning would care if she held her four-year olds curly head under a sink filled with dirty dish water … for say an hour. Probably not … that’s why the kid was such a puke. Jill settled for wiping her hands on Patrick’s Batman blanket … paybacks were a bitch.
The UPS driver was just climbing back into his truck when Jill opened the door. She waved but he ignored her … maybe if she’d worn that lacy see-through mail-order blouse from Nasty Dress. A cardboard box sat on the step. When Jill reached down to pick up the package, a gust of wind blew off the combined address and postage label. Now she didn’t know who the box came from. The white piece of paper sailed across the street and fluttered over Bruce Pitman’s jet-boat cover. The box weight was stamped just above the sealing tape: 4.19 lbs. “They don’t make glue like they used to,” Jill said as she carried the package inside.
Maybe that bitch Arlene Summers has sent me a couple of kilos of Anthrax, Jill mused as she placed the box on the kitchen table and searched the cutlery drawers for a knife to cut the tape. I’ll bet she thinks I let her steal my no-good, worthless, bastard of an ex-husband Kevin on purpose now that she realizes he lays around and texts other women on her phone while she wipes tables at Spare-A-Dime. The image made Jill smile. She pulled Patrick back by his hair and shoved him into the living room just as he was about to grab Bella cowering behind a broom in the corner. She found the knife. And he could have died in my arms she mused as she watched Patrick shove Kylie Wilkes into a floor lamp and stomp on a Cinderella Castle Jennifer Lewis was building with Legos.
Jill sliced the tape that sealed the box and opened the flaps no one but the CDC has four pounds of anthrax, she reasoned. Jill was dumbfounded for a moment, and her mind skipped to another part, like an old scratched record. Her mouth fell open revealing four thousand, eight-hundred and forty dollars’ worth of cosmetic dental-work. A great smile is everything. She was paying that leg-humping orthodontist Ed Wheeler twenty dollars a week … maybe fifteen … if she wore the see-through blouse the next time she went in to have her braces tightened.
The package appeared to be empty of everything … including light! It was a box filled with darkness. Puzzled, Jill carried the cardboard container into the hallway, where she could examine it under brighter light and sat it in the middle of the floor. Patrick ran past chasing Jennifer; she swatted his butt. She turned the open box every possible angle but still could see only a dense swirling blackness.
Jill hesitantly reached her hand inside and was amazed when she could not touch the bottom? The outside of the box was only four inches deep! Her curious arm disappeared to her elbow … and then her shoulder, and still no bottom! Something felt cold. Jill jerked her arm out, suddenly terrified. The sun freckles that always attack twenty-two year old recently divorced women’s arms were gone, replaced by a milky-white skin as smooth as Joey Mason’s baby sister’s bottom. Jill smiled stupidly at first, and then gasped when she noticed the webbing between her splayed fingers. “My God! I’ve got a frog hand,” she shrieked as she ran to the recently installed kitchen sink to wash-off her horror.
Jill used a scrubbing pad, but all she managed to do was splash water all over a rack of clean dishes. Her hand was still webbed. She was drying her hand and examining the thin pieces of skin stretched between her fingers when movement caught the corner of her eye.
Joey Mason stood in the hallway, peering into the box, holding a plastic Iron Man in his sticky fingers. The child dropped the toy into the open box and bent to retrieve the action figure just as Patrick barged past chasing the cat and bumped him. Jill sprinted toward the hallway and watched as the child tumbled headfirst into the box. Her outstretched hands missed the four-year old by inches, as his chubby legs disappeared into the darkness.
Jill danced in the hallway, pulled her hair with both hands and screamed toward the ceiling. “Enough is enough … I need to wake up now! Please God let me wake up!”
God was obviously on break … and Jill did not wake up. She knelt beside the box, shoved a broom handle as far as she could reach into the opening, and shouted into the darkness. “Joey are you down there? Are you OK?” She put her ear next to the swirling blackness and listened … nothing. Then she tried again. This time she thought she could hear voices from far below. Joey was speaking to someone. “My daddy says he’ll buy me a bike when I’m six … a pretty one.”
The voice that answered sounded rough like a play-bucket being filled with gravel. “I know where there is a red bicycle …come with me!”
“Don’t you go with him,” Jill screamed, thrashing the broom inside the box. “Don’t you dare go anywhere with him!” The broom was jerked violently from her hands.
“Do not come between me and my toys,” the voice from below warned. “Or I’ll have to make new dinner plans … to include you!”
Jill almost dialed 911 with her shaking hand, then an image of a student nurse asking with a sweet voice how she liked her last electro shock treatment pushed that option out of her mind. She decided to call her next-door neighbor Erma Kite instead. If anyone needed committed to State Hospital North that woman did. Erma answered her cell phone on the fifth ring and sounded sloshed - no surprise, even though it was just past two in the afternoon. Jill asked her to come over right away. “Why what’s up?” Jill decided to tell the truth; that last resort that works on mothers and drunks.
“I’ve lost one of the children,” Jill told her.
“How the #%@& did you do that?” Erma sounded like she was chewing ice cubes.
“He fell into a cardboard box and I can’t get him out.”
“Helpless aren’t you,” Erma sighed. “I’ll be right over.”
Jill had barely hung up the phone when the front door burst open. Erma staggered into the hallway; she clutched a water splashed cell phone in one hand, and made curious swipes against thin air, in an attempt to keep her balance.
“That was fast.”
“I was outside watering my roses.”
“You don’t have any roses.”
“Then your roses, I got soaked with that %#@& hose doing something.”
“I need your help bad Erms. Something awful is happening. I feel like I woke up in an episode of Twilight Zone.” Jill ushered her toward the innocuous looking cardboard box. “You haven’t been drinking have you?”
“No way,” Erma told her. “It’s only six in the morning. I don’t have my first drink until after lunch.” Erma’s foot, off balance because of a substance abuse monitoring band around her ankle, slid on part of a Lego castle which was scattered across the vinyl floor and she fell, almost tumbling into the box. Jill had to pull her back. “Joey fell in there?” Erma leaned forward and stared at the swirling blackness. “He’s too little.”
“The box is too little,” Jill was pulling her hair again. “That’s why this is so impossible. I know he’s somewhere inside; I saw him fall in. Also I’ve heard his voice. There is someone else in there too … someone not nice. I’ve heard them talking.”
Erma was on her knees. Her hand was inches from the darkness, when Jill stopped her. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you!”
“This is why!” Jill held up her right arm and made a swimming motion with her fingers. “The black smoke stuff that’s in the box changes you.” Erma stared at Jill and then shook her head. She began uncoiling the cord on a vacuum cleaner. Jill stared at her fingers. Her hand had returned to normal, complete with tiny sun freckles.
“The first thing we’re gonna do is suck out all that smoke,” Erma said as she connected two extension tubes onto the vacuum’s hose and poked it into the box. Her eyes grew large when she realized she couldn’t touch the bottom by swinging the extensions around. ‘It’s got you hallucinating.” Erma assured Jill as she flipped on the switch to the vacuum. “What a shame, sending someone a box of high quality weed that’s already burning.”
Both extensions and Erma’s arm disappeared into the box all the way up to her shoulder. Before she could say WTF? The hose was jerked violently out of her hand. A second later the vacuum cleaner itself slid across the floor and banged Erma in the side. Jill pulled her away from the box and they huddled against the wall. The twenty foot cord grew tight, pulled loose from the wall outlet and followed the vacuum cleaner into the box like a slithering snake. The swirling blackness remained.
Erma broke loose from Jill’s grip and lunged toward the box. “You give that vacuum and the boy back,” she threatened. “Don’t make me come down there!”
Laughter could be heard from deep inside the box, like a compactor in a recycling center crushing aluminum cans. “If you want the boy … you come and get him!”
“Do you still have Kevin’s extension ladder in your garage?” Erma asked. “The first thing we got to know is how deep this thing is.”
“Watch the kids … and don’t let them anywhere near the box,” Jill told her. “I’ll get it.”
Patrick Denning ran past chasing the cat. Erma grabbed him by his Spiderman shirt, opened the door to the same closet that she’d taken the vacuum from, and shoved the squirming brat inside. She held the door closed with her foot while he wailed and beat on the inside of the closet with his tiny fists. Erma paid no attention. Instead, she stared at her right hand, the one she’d shoved inside the shipping box. Thin strips of skin stretched between each finger. “Aren’t I the lucky duck,” she said.
Jill lowered her ex-husbands twelve-foot aluminum extension ladder into the black swirling rectangle. It barely fit between the box’s edges. Just as she began to fear that it wouldn’t be long enough, a tremor ran through her arm as the ladder struck bottom, with four rungs sticking out the top. “You want me to go down?” Erma swayed as she leaned against the closet door obviously unable to stand, let alone climb down a ladder.
“I’ll do it,” Jill told her. “You just make sure another child doesn’t fall in.” But before she descended into the darkness she grabbed a baseball bat also swiped from the garage. Kevin used to coach a Little League team before he found out it was more fun to strike-out with women. “I don’t know what’s down there with Joey,” Jill told Erma. “But I’ll bash its head in, if it don’t give me back that little boy!”
“And the vacuum,” Erma told her. “Don’t let that bugger keep the vacuum.”
Jill was almost all the way inside the box when she felt the ladder slip. “Erma, help me!”
Her best friend was still holding the closet door closed with Patrick inside. Erma stretched out both hands but the ladder slid all the way into the box taking Jill with it.
A mass of gray fur with tiny black eyes pulled the bottom of the ladder off a ledge.
“Jill, are you OK?” Erma forgot about the closet and the child inside, and staggered over to the box, where she fell on her knees and peered into the dark opening.
Jill had flunked Math in high school, and hadn't even heard of the laws of physics. But even she knew that it was impossible for something to be larger on the inside than it was on the outside. Impossible or not, she stood on a middle rung of the ladder and clutched its sides, watching as a large rodent brushed past her leading Joey into an even deeper darkness. “No!” she screamed. The creature turned revealing a segmented fleshy tail that wound around its midsection like a snake. A long tongue licked Joey’s arm. “Mmmm tastes like pork,” the rat hissed. It made a vertical sweeping gesture with one clawed hand. Jill and the ladder both tumbled. The bat fell from her hand. She splashed into a cool liquid that stung her eyes and watched the aluminum ladder sink. She couldn’t touch bottom and began to swim. “I’m alright,” Jill yelled to the tiny light above. “But there’s some kind of stinky water down here. Better take a foam cushion off the couch and toss it down just in case I can’t find someplace to stand.” Jill watched a light flicker in the distance. The rodent and Joey stood silhouetted in a doorway, then the door banged closed and there was only darkness.
Erma jerked the closet door open and dragged Patrick along by his ear as she hurried into the living room. Kylie Wilkes and Jennifer Lewis were asleep on the floor in front of the TV. Tina Andrews was still watching an animated video. Both cushions on Jill’s couch were doubles with zippers on both ends. Erma couldn’t hold onto Patrick and take out the foam pieces. She reached up and unfastened a macramé plant hanger from the ceiling and then hung Patrick on the hook by his shirt collar. Patrick began to scream like a banshee. Erma retrieved a roll of duct-tape from the kitchen drawer and put a piece across the boy’s mouth. “Damn! That’s so much better,” she said. She almost tripped on Bella and opened the door to let the cat outside.
Erma stumbled back to the box and forced the square of foam through the opening. “Are you still there?” she called. There was no answer.
Jill swam toward what looked like light. Her hands brushed against something that felt smooth like glass. She paddled around looking for an edge and found herself in a round room. Jill was getting tired and was relieved when she discovered she could stand on her tip toes. Jill placed her hands and then her face against the glass. “If this is some kind of window,” she muttered. “I wonder what’s on the other side.” The glass appeared to be thick and acted like a lens. Jill had to move closer then adjust the distance to see clearly. She could just make out Bruce Pitman’s covered boat across the street. When she moved farther along the curved surface she could see the small arborvitae shrug that grew next to her front step. It was as big as a tree. Just then a large object moved past the glass. A cat as big as an elephant! Not just any cat … Bella! Jill reached one finger into the liquid she was immersed in and tasted it. “Whiskey! Not just any old whiskey either. It was Seagram's Seven Crown, the brand Erma drank. Her next door neighbor had left an unfinished bottle on her step and Jill was swimming in it.
Erma paced around the open box in the center of the hallway. She thought about calling the police, but the light on the GPS ankle monitor she was wearing was already yellow. Another ten feet and the light would turn red, send a signal and the cops would arrest her for breaking probation. By court order she was not supposed to leave her own yard. The first thing the sheriff would do would be to haul her back to county lock-up … this time for six months. All this over a stupid DUI. Erma remembered the bottle she’d left on the front step. Jill didn’t like her drinking in her house, but damn it … Jill was missing.
Jill felt the slick surface she stood on suddenly go from horizontal to almost vertical. She slipped and her head splashed under the blended whiskey. Once again she was swimming. Light distorted images from inside the bottle like a carnival funhouse as she went rushing down the inside of the bottle’s neck. The neighbor’s petunias grew large, then small. Bruce Pitman’s jet-boat spun in his driveway then appeared to launch in the sky like a rocket. Erma Thomas’s dental bridgework lined the top and bottom of a cave entrance into which the liquid was pouring. Jill screamed.
Erma looked slyly up and down the empty street before she lifted the bottle to her lips. Something brushed her tooth. The first thing she thought of was a grasshopper … screaming her name. She could see something the size of a dark insect thrashing an inch from her tongue. Erma dropped the bottle of Seagram's Seven Crown and it shattered on the concrete step. “I’m losing my mind,” she shrieked. Two children playing with a bounding dog, two houses down, stared in her direction just before they dashed toward their own front door. “See … your mother isn’t the only one.” Erma mumbled as she went back inside Jill’s house to get a broom and dustpan.
Jill staggered to her feet after the explosion. It had to be a miracle that she wasn’t cut by the shattered glass blowing outward in all directions. Translucent bubbles as big as basketballs to her but that she knew would be invisible to her now much larger best friend clustered together as they formed alcohol vapors evaporating into the atmosphere. Straw broom bristles as big as tree trunks suddenly swept her off her feet and into a plastic dust pan. Seconds later she felt the pan begin to tip and Erma dumped the contents into the bin under the kitchen sink. Jill had just enough time to jump toward the edge of the receptacle and grasp the edge of a plastic liner as the soggy glass fragments rattled into the bottom of the garbage can. The plastic material was hard to hang on to and Jill slid almost to the floor, then let go and tumbled onto a cluttered baseboard next to a towering bottle of Dawn dishwashing detergent, a monster sized package of d-CON rat poison and an equally large can of Comet cleanser. She was knocked unconscious. When she woke minutes later, her arms and legs were tied with string now as big as thick rope. The rodent creature stood holding Joey’s in the back of the cabinet just behind a barn-sized box of green scrubbing pads and a bottle of Old English furniture polish. Before she could scream, she heard footsteps. One of Erma’s shoes kicked the under-the-sink-door closed and Jill was once again plunged into darkness. Jill sat on the baseboard and began to cry.
Erma unhooked Patrick from the ceiling and led him into the kitchen where she watched his guzzle three large glasses of chocolate milk. Five minutes later he yawned and she carried him into the living room. She spread his Batman blanket over him and two other children. Erma decided to lie down on the couch and take a nap of her own. She purposely avoided looking into the hallway. Surely Jill had only driven to the market to buy more milk and would be back soon. Drinking alcohol caused nightmares and not drinking made them more vivid. There was no strange box in the hallway filled with darkness. Erma was almost sure … a little sleep and she would be certain. The overstuffed couch wrapped around her like a giant Teddy Bear … minutes later she was asleep. The only sounds inside the house on Cloverdale’s Galbraith Street were the ticking of a clock and the snores of a woman dreaming her way to sobriety.
Tiny beams of light filtered from a badly drilled facet opening that a sloppy workman had recently gouged in the vinyl countertop. Jill began to see shapes appear in the darkness. Unblinking vermin eyes drew closer. The rodent appeared dragging an unconscious Joey. “Your flesh belongs to me now, and I like it roasted.” The creature pointed at Jill. “But first I want you to watch as I feast on your young charge.”
“Who are you?” Jill gasped.
“I’m everything that you are afraid of and more,” the rat snarled as he dropped Joey’s leg on a clump of sawdust and lit a stick-match again a striker on the side of a Blue Diamond box, holding it above his hairy head like a fiery torch. The rodent’s voice was like a rusty key turning in a corroded lock. “I am the shadow that vanished when you turn quickly. I am a sound in the night that you can’t explain. I am rent that comes due the same time a pantry runs empty. I am broken bones and shattered hearts. I am household repairs that replace a new dress and shoes. I am the toy you lost that turns up broken. I am a laugh that escapes at a funeral. I am the tire-tracks on a pet squashed in the street. I am a disease that picks children for a team.” The rat lit a candle stuck to a small plate that Jill kept in case of electrical outages. His black eyes glistened. “But most of all … I am ravenous.” The rat danced toward joey.
“Get away from him!” Jill thundered. The string that bound her began to break. She watched the flame flicker … she took a deep breath and blew with all her might. Jill watched the rodent turn and lunge for her across the cluttered baseboard just before the match went out.
Erma woke up when she heard the mouse trap snap under the sink and a tiny thumping sound. “Bella, dinner’s ready,” Erma said as she rose from the couch and stretched. The rodent was still wiggling under the steel bar and snap spring when Erma lifted it in the air and carried it onto the front porch. She didn’t see the two tiny figures, one dragging the other jump onto the kitchen floor from under the open sink cabinet.
At the same time Jill’s cat began to eat and swallow the rodent, Jill and Joey began to grow. By the time Erma returned to the kitchen the two stood in front of the now taped and closed shipping box. “I’m never drinking again. I had the most awful nightmare,” Erma said.
“We all did,” Jill told her. “They turned and stared at the box now sealed with fresh tape. A pre-paid shipping label was stuck just about top center. Jill and Erma wanted nothing more than to be rid of the package. Jill reached out to clasp Erma's hand. Unsteadily, they walked towards the box. Together they knelt and looked to see who the horrible box was addressed to. They both gasped.