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Day Two Hundred and Forty-Two: Boogeyman

January 21, 2012 Leave a comment

Ethan Chaskey was certain that it took just under forever for his father to finally come into his bedroom after he called. Yes, it was three in the morning, and yes he knew his father had to sleep, but he still found himself wondering if his father really wanted him to die, or if he just wasn’t taking things seriously enough.

“Whaddyou want, Ethan,” his father asked. His voice was thick and sleepy. His face was puffy, and Ethan wasn’t even certain his eyes were open. He wore the same old sweats and a t-shirt that he always wore to bed, clothes so very different from the suit and tie he left and came home in. Sometimes Ethan wasn’t sure if the man who he saw at night was actually the same man he saw during the day. He had no real reason to believe that his father had been replaced by someone else. Right now he had bigger problems.

“Dad,” he said. He pulled the covers up to his chin and glanced at the closet door. “Dad, it’s in my closet again.”

His father sighed and ran his hand over his face. “Ethan,” he said, and for a moment it seemed like he would just turn around and go back to bed. Instead, though, he walked over and dropped down on the edge of the bed. The whole bed seemed to sink under his weight, and Ethan wondered why it didn’t break. His father wasn’t fat, like Mr. Waltham down the street. But he wasn’t a little guy. He was… dad. He was bigger, just because that’s what dads were. And while he’d been told that he would one day be a grownup, just like his dad, Ethan had never been able to imagine himself so big that his own bed would groan under his weight. It’d probably snap if he tried to jump on it.

“Ethan,” his father said. “We have to stop this.” He reached over and put his hand on Ethan’s head. “You’re eight years old, kid,” he said, “and you’re way too old to believe in closet-monsters, okay?”

“But dad -”

“I know,” his father said, rubbing his eyes again. “I know you think there’s something there, but I promise you, Ethan. There are no monsters.” He looked over at him, and even through the sleepiness, Ethan could see the power in his father’s eyes. This was the man who went to the office every day, who signed contracts and had deals and clients and things. And when he came home and talked about his day, this was the look in his eyes. There was so much that Ethan didn’t understand about it, but he knew that his father understood it all – every bit of it. That was how he looked now, but this time it wasn’t helping.

His father patted him on the leg. “Okay, kid?” he said. “No monsters.” He stood up and yawned for a long time. “G’night, Ethan,” he said.

“But dad, I really need you to check!” Ethan wanted to burrow under the blankets and go to sleep. He wanted to be able to lie back and close his eyes and wake up with the morning sun on his face, just like normal people did. But the closet wouldn’t let him. It was like a noise that you could barely hear, but couldn’t ignore. It was like the splinter in your finger that you couldn’t find. Like those hairs down the back of your shirt after a haircut.

Opening the doors would bring him peace, of course. He knew that. If he could just go up and open the doors and look in, he’d see that there was nothing there but all the stuff he jammed in when he last cleaned his room, plus whatever clothes he’d gotten around to hanging up. There would be no monsters, no creature, no horrible things waiting to devour a sweet little boy like him whole. He knew that was what he’d find.

But he didn’t believe it for a second. It only worked when his dad did it. He didn’t know why, but that was the way of things. His father would open the doors for him, do the fatherly thing and take the chance for his son. Then there would be only clothes and toys, and Ethan would be able to sleep.

“Please, dad,” he said quietly. “Just this one more time.”

His father stood there so long, Ethan thought he’d fallen asleep. Finally, he sighed. “You know, Ethan,” he said. “Your mom thinks I shouldn’t be coming in here like this. You know that?” He turned around and walked slowly to the closed, stepping around toys and books and clothes on the floor. “She thinks that we’re just encouraging your imagination. That you’ll grow out of it if we just leave you alone.” He took the handle of the closet door and turned around to look. “I think she’s right. So this is it, Ethan.” He fixed him with The Look again. “Last time.”

Ethan nodded, his eyes looking past his father.

His father opened the door and turned around, face-to-face with a creature the likes of which Ethan couldn’t have begun to imagine. The boy froze, hands gripping the bedspread and eyes wide.

The thing’s skin was red and glistening, suppurating and dripping from what looked to be like a wound that covered its whole body, a wound that drenched the bedroom in a foul smell that made Ethan want to stop eating for the rest of his life. Great, swollen flies crawled over it, digging into its flesh before burrowing out and flying to another place to dine again on the blood and blackness that coated the monster’s thin, powerful limbs that were folded in on itself. Its teeth and its claws shone like the knives in his mother’s kitchen, catching the scant light in the darkened bedroom and glimmering in the shadows. And its eyes – eyes that were horrible, poisonous yellow – stared right at him. They were eyes that promised a long and lingering death, an eternity alone in a darkness deeper than any bedroom, any closet could offer. The thing looked first at Ethan’s father, then at Ethan. It growled in a sub-sonic rumble that Ethan could feel in his bones. And it smiled.

“See, Ethan,” his father said, turning his back on the thing in the closet. “Nothing there.” Behind him, the creature seemed to swell and pulse, like a great heart made of poisoned muscle. It opened its mouth wide, new teeth seeming to sprout from its black and diseased gums as the four-part jaws spread wider and wider like a flower full of needles right behind his father’s head. Saliva dripped onto his shoulder, but he didn’t even seem to notice. “Okay, son?” he said. He looked behind him again and shook his head. “And that doesn’t count as cleaning your room, by the way.” The infinite teeth behind his head shivered and trembled, coming closer and closer to snapping shut until they came within a hair’s breadth of brushing his father’s cheeks.

He must know, Ethan thought. There’s no way he can’t know. He trembled under his bedspread and, in his head, screamed for his father to run. To come into the bed, even if it did collapse, and hide under the blanket with him until that thing in his closet got up and went away to some other boy’s house. His father was there, so calm and so sleepy and so old, and that thing was going to eat him from the head down and Ethan would have to watch. If he looked away, that’s when it would strike. And it wouldn’t stop with his dad.

His father walked away. Behind him, the thing closed its horrible mouth again, and still it seemed to smile as it shifted its position in the closet. Ethan’s eyes were pinned to it. “There you go,” his father said. He knelt down by the bed and brushed Ethan’s cheek. He looked at his son for a moment, at the way he was still staring at the closet, and followed his gaze. The thing raised a single six-fingered hand, its joints creaking and cracking as it did. Each finger ended in those terrible, broken knives, and it waved.

“You know what?” his father said. “I’m going to leave that door open for you tonight. So if you wake up again and you think there’s something there, you can just look over and see for yourself.” He leaned over and kissed Ethan on the forehead. “You go to sleep now,” he said. “Love you.” He rubbed his son’s head once, and then was gone. His footsteps went on for a little bit, and then the door to his bedroom opened and closed, and Ethan was well and truly alone. With the thing.

He couldn’t move at all. He was pretty sure he’d peed the bed.

The creature in his closet stared at him with those awful, owl-like eyes that seemed so much more intelligent and hateful and evil. Then it reached out with its spindly, skeletal hand and wrapped its long and steely fingers around the doorknob.

Slowly, its gaze never leaving Ethan’s, it closed the closet door. The last thing Ethan saw of it was the malicious glimmer of its eye.

There was a moment of perfect, peaceful silence before a voice slithered into his head.

Good night, Ethan. Pleasant dreams.

Day One Hundred and Ninety-six: The Ladies of Halloween

December 3, 2011 1 comment

For the month of December, I’ll be world-building. This means taking a look at the people, places, and institutions that I have created over the last six months and trying to figure out more about them. This will involve a look at the stories in which they’ve appeared, and then some speculation, stream-of-consciousness writing, and with any luck a few revelations. In addition, I may come back and add new material as the Elves in my unconscious ship out new ideas, so I’ll be sure to link them up.

Your feedback as readers is, of course, more than welcome. There are probably questions that I’m forgetting to ask and holes that I need to fill.

Wish me luck!

——————

I think I’ll do one more character sketch today, and move on to something more complex for tomorrow, when I don’t have to work and I can spend more time pulling information together. Perhaps one of my cities or Evil Corporations….

In any case, the randomizer today gave me Marisse Leroux from day 162: A Day Out. Of course, if I talk about her, I also have to talk about her sister, Lola Whittier. So let’s do a two-fer today!

As a bit of background information, this story was written for a Worth1000.com contest, the theme of which was “Halloween.” I thought about the topic for a while, and decided that I would invert the way Halloween is usually done. Instead of people pretending to be monsters for a day, how about monsters that pretended to be people? A fine start… So let’s see what the story tells us about Marisse and Lola:

  • At the beginning of the story, they appear to be two beautiful women. Lola has pale skin, long auburn hair and green eyes. Marisse has deep brown skin and “hair that was nearly blue-black.” Lola is wearing a blue suit with matching nails. Marisse is wearing a Little Black Dress ™.
  • They live outside Sylvania City, about a half an hour by bus. The walk to the bus stop is a long one, so it’s safe to say they live in a non-urban environment.
  • It is implied that they don’t get out much. They “pointed out the things that had changed since the year before – a new strip mall, a restaurant that had gone under, a house that had gone somewhat overboard on the holiday decorations.”
  • Lola is the more conservative/shy of the two, whereas Marisse is more outgoing and risque.
  • Their Halloween excursions are a regular event for them.
  • Lola and Marisse have known each other “for ages.”
  • Lola thinks that Marisse “could be a little much sometimes.” She wants to be able to talk to someone else once in a while.
  • Dogs don’t like Lola very much.
  • Sunset is a key time for them on this day. As we learn at the end of the story, they remain human until the sun sets, at which point they revert back to their true monstrous forms.
  • Upon the setting of the sun, Marisse “shrank and withered, becoming a skeletal version of herself. Her eyes burst into flame and sat in her dessicated face like two hot coals. Her hair whipped up around her head in an unseen wind and waved about, dry and rasping. Her mouth opened, a black and toothless maw, and a howl…filled the air.”
  • Upon the setting of the sun, “Lola’s back arched and lurched, and two great wings burst forth. They were long and spindly, and webbed with tattered skin that was nearly thin enough to see through. Her skin turned the dull gray of unpolished granite and cracked at the joints. A dull red glow came through the cracks, like molten stone, and when she moved there was a grating and crumbling sound. She stood on thin, insectile legs…”
  • Lola is at least a thousand years old.

Okay, so that’s a lot to go on, but it still leaves a lot of really fundamental questions unanswered. Who the hell they are being chief among them. Let’s take a look at the questions this story raises, in the order they occur to me:

  1. Where are they from originally?
  2. How did they come to know each other?
  3. Who were they before they became monsters?
  4. Why do they become human on Halloween?
  5. Why does their transformation only work until sunset?
  6. What kind of monsters are they?
  7. Why do they seem to be so unfazed by their condition?
  8. What do they do for the rest of the year?
  9. Why do they live near Sylvania City?

Well, hell. I have a feeling that I’m going to have to do a whole lot more world-building just in the process of answering all those. The upside is that it will give me more to work with in other stories set in this world. If monsters like Lola and Marisse can exist, then so can a lot of other things. Let’s see if I can brainstorm some answers with whatever the Elves of my Unconscious decide to give me.

Where are they from originally? I like to think that Lola and Marisse were never human to begin with, actually, which pretty much crosses question #3 off the list. But it then shoots us right to #6, so why not go there first?

What kind of monsters are they? Other stories set in Earth Prime either state or imply the existence of a dark universe that abuts the one these stories take place in. Stories such as Bequeathal, Sleeper, and Business suggest that there are people whose sole job is to make sure the Horrible Things from that universe never break through – and to fight them to the death if they do. They are the Custodes Omnium, the “Protectors of All,” and their job has been to keep those Things out of their universe.

They do not always succeed. In The Quarry, two boys discover one of these dark gods near their town, and the crew of the popular TV show StoryBreakers actually come close to freeing one of them entirely – before sacrificing themselves to send it back to the Hell that spawned it.

So we have a place for Lola and Marisse – or whatever their names are – to come from. They’re not Elder Gods or anything like that, though. In the Hell Dimension, they would probably be lower-tier nightmares. Relatively powerless beings who are only really good at physically attacking or dominating humans, rather than unmaking their reality piece by piece. So that answers #1 as well.

How did they come to know each other? Answering this question will require me to come up with a social structure and cultural milieu for the Hell Dimension, which is going to take more than just this evening to work out. I like to think that the closest analog to how they met each other would be that they were doing volunteer work together. If the Hell Dimension had volunteer work, which it doesn’t, but there’s no better comparison. They met each other doing an activity that they enjoyed – making hats out of strangled kittens or something [1] – and clicked as friends pretty quickly. Or whatever it means to be “friends” in the Hell Dimension.

So there we are – a pair of monstrous girlfriends in a horrifyingly incomprehensible Hell Dimension that abuts Earth Prime. Now that that’s cleared up…

Why do they become human on Halloween? That requires the investigation of another important question: How did they get to Earth Prime? My guess is that they were summoned. I mean let’s face it – if there’s a whole universe of unspeakable horrors just a shadow’s depth away from our own, you know some jackass is going to try and use it for his own nefarious purposes. So, a thousand years ago or so, some young, wanna-be sorcerer summons these two nightmares from beyond the veil. I reckon he thought he was going to get a god or something, but he was barely strong enough to keep Lola and Marisse in line, so it turned out he was lucky.

What’s more, he couldn’t send them back. Either he didn’t know how or it just wasn’t within his power, but he had called them and now he had to keep them. Unfortunately for Lola and Marisse, their summoning included a condition that they could not harm him (which was clever on his part) as well as a condition that they obey him. Also clever. But the two monsters, in the fashion of anyone who’s ever been conscripted to do a job they didn’t really want to do, followed the letter of the law very closely while abandoning its spirit.

For example, the sorcerer never explicitly commanded them not to murder his entire family.

Unfortunately, he couldn’t get rid of them and they couldn’t get rid of him. They were stuck together until his death half a century later, and by that time they had developed a kind of grudging respect for each other. What’s more, Lola and Marisse had become fascinated with the human world and how it worked. It was so very different from the one they had come from, and it seemed much more interesting. Plus, the kittens almost never tried to kill you.

Before he died, the sorcerer granted them a boon – one day a year that they could be human. Again, whether the single day limitation was because of his lack of ability or knowledge is unknown. Maybe he was still irked about that whole “murdering his entire family” thing. But the spell took effect on the day he died, which would eventually be known as October 31 – Halloween. Every year after that, they could be human for a day, reverting to their own monstrous forms at sunset.

Why do they seem to be so unfazed by their condition? It took a while. They had good years and bad years, years where they were hunted by the local citizenry and years where they partied until they could barely get home again. Sometimes they railed against the unfairness of only having one day, but in time they came to accept that it was just the way it was going to be. A thousand years is a long enough time to get used to pretty much anything, and by now they look forward to their yearly transformation.

As the narration implies at the end of the story, though, they don’t usually get involved with individual humans. This is often the case with immortals, who lose track of people after a generation or two. The only constant in their lives is each other, and for good or ill they’re stuck together. At least until they meet another immortal being, which could be a really interesting wrench in the gears.

NOTE TO SELF: Have them meet another immortal. See what happens to their friendship.

Of the last two questions, the easier one to answer is #9: Why do they live near Sylvania City? They certainly weren’t summoned there, as Sylvania wasn’t founded until just before the American Civil War. Basically, these ladies – or “ladies” – have done a lot of traveling in their years. Sylvania is just where they happen to be right now. They live on the outskirts of the city because, well, monsters, but the location seems to agree with them.

So, What do they do for the rest of the year? That… is an excellent question. What do monsters do in their free time? I know they like Earth Prime, and they’re pretty much over their “kill everyone” phase of a thousand years ago. If you live in a place long enough, it rubs off on you. Earth bends towards life – living things are everywhere, life emerged early in the planet’s history, and it’s famously hard to kill. The Hell Dimension is all about death. Moving from there to Earth Prime, Lola and Marisse have come to appreciate life in its many and varied forms.

I like to think that Lola is a nature photographer and Marisse watches a lot of daytime TV, but that assumes their monstrous forms will allow them to do those things. They live in a world that they have come to love, but that world would hate and fear them if it knew they existed. That makes their Halloween excursions all the more important to them – it really is the one day a year that they can go out among the world without hiding or worrying about being attacked by people who don’t know any better. Their lives the rest of the year are probably pretty lonely.

Plot Hole: Katherine, a commenter on the story, pointed out that if they were only human once a year, where did they get their dresses and nail polish? An excellent question, and in the revision that I did to actually submit to Worth1000, I basically had their clothes and such become part of their transformed bodies. That’s the fun with fantasy – you can make up any old thing to paper over those pesky plot holes!

Ideas for future stories: As above, introduce another immortal to them and see what happens. How would they react to having a third person in their relationship, and what would be the ultimate outcome? I reckon it would be like any close friendship when a new person is introduced: the balance is upset one way or another, and Lola and Marisse would have to make adjustments to factor the third person in. I think their friendship is solid enough to survive it, but the novelty of having someone new that they can actually spend time with will probably lead to a lot of hasty decisions on both their parts.

Also, they should have a chance to return to the Hell Dimension at some point. Either someone offers to send them back, or someone from home comes to get them. Either way, they should face that choice and have to pick their allegiance. I’m pretty sure we all know which they’d choose – but do they?

They could be outed as monsters, see what happens there. How can they convince the world – and the Custodes Omnium – that they’re good monsters, really? And what would happen if, in the end, they were both outed and accepted for who they are? Maybe they save kids from a burning building or something, I don’t know… It would be interesting to see how they deal with the freedom to be who they are.

On a meta-level, monsters in fiction are an excellent way of looking at how humans deal with each other. They are racism and discrimination and fear made flesh, and offer instruction on how we are to handle our relationships with other humans who are different from ourselves. By using a monster, we can examine our reactions to The Other in an enhanced light, and perhaps figure out the ways in which we treat our fellow human beings as monsters. By starting with monsters, perhaps we can learn to treat ourselves and others better.

A lofty purpose for Lola and Marisse, but I think they would be good characters to use for that purpose.

——-

[1] If they had kittens in the Hell Dimension, which they don’t. And even if they did, they would be Hell Kittens and probably very hard to strangle.