This story is by Mercy Jackson and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“You. Stole. From. A. Dead…. person? ” Pablo whispered to himself, barely aware that he had spoken. How the fuck had he wound up here? The rain had begun to fall faster, huge drops bouncing off the roof. The attic was high enough for Harry and Pablo to stand without stooping over, boxes and books had been stacked in rows against one wall; some unmarked, contents anonymous. A tall scrolled wooden armoire sat in a corner. All dusty mementos of the past, too significant to be thrown away. Moonlight spilled from a red stained glass window and rippled across the hardwood floor tinting everything crimson. A layer of pristine dust blanketed all and an underlying smell of mold and something else…something meaty scented the air.
Harry’s voice dropped to a whisper and his pale pox marked mug leaned closer, filling Pablo’s field of vision. “I was inside the library when she stroked, was the first one to get to her.” He smiled and Pablo swore he could see pieces of a Big Mac stuck in his teeth. Pablo leaned back and Harry just moved in closer. “Recognize this?” He opened his hand to reveal a rusted square shaped key. ” She always had this around her scrawny neck.”
Pablo still wrestled with the truth while his mind conjured a picture of a dog on a leash pulled and dragged by his master . “You…You really took that off her?”
“Damn straight. ” Twenty year old Harold Ramsey, Harry to all his friends, two people that is, had no love for Professor Jessica Brian. She was, or had been, a seventy -year old history teacher at Union County College and held her classes like a court making her students learn entire passages of text by rote. Professor Brian had earned the nickname “Iron Brian,” whispered behind her back and sometimes spoken to her face. She had been found in the library, face down, arms spread out…a swan dive over a pile of books. The official cause of death was listed as coronary failure. Harry had been the first one to come upon her at 2:45 in the afternoon. It was his brilliant scheme to rush over to her house, knowing she lived alone, and take whatever valuables he could get his greasy hands on.
Harry is a young man of reason, who does not believe in fairytales or myths. He is ruled by his own set of facts and has no appetite for fiction or comics like so many of his peers. Brute strength is all that is needed in his limited worldview. “Don’t look so fucking shocked. She wasn’t a nun, probably killed her husband and used his dick for a bookmarker.” He laughed at his own joke.
Pablo ran a hand through his hair using his fingers to massage his forehead, “But that’s not right…stealing from the dead.”
“Whose gonna tell. She sure as shit ain’t. That old bitch gave me an F for two semesters back to back . I told her she was going to ruin my average.”
What’s the average of zero divided by zero? Pablo mused.
Harry gave his best “Don’t make me fuck you up” stare. “What’re you grinning at?”
Pablo broke eye contact and looked at the floor. “Nothing.”
Harry turned in a circle, threw his hands up and the flashlight beam rose and fell with his movements. “Why an F, I asked her.” He paused. “You know what the crone told me?” Harold pitched his voice into a nasal whine and squinted. “I gave you an F because there is nothing lower.”
Pablo bit his lip to stop his grin . “Man, she wasn’t so bad.” He remembered a sweet old lady who sometimes brought homemade cookies to class and loved teaching about the past and its lasting impressions on the future. One of her favorite quotes had been emblazoned on a piece of varnished wood that sat on her desk, “Hold on to a piece of History”.
” You say that cause you were the class pet.”
“Not true. I just didn’t mind putting in the work. And I’m here with you now… up in this stinking attic.”
“‘Really?” Harry gave a cruel smile. “I had to remind you that I’m the one who beat the shit out of Billy Davis to get him off you.”
“Yeah, I remember” The leash snapped tighter, and at that second he hated Harry for reminding him about his weakness. Pablo was sure that Harry had intervened only because he relished the idea of kicking Billy’s ass. Everyone seemed to be bigger than him. Anyone better at any sport. In the showers after gym class he would be the last to go in, afraid of his smallness in all regards. He had tried wrestling and was pinned in eight seconds; attempted the fifty yard dash and fell flat on his face before he had moved ten steps. English was where he ruled. Pablo had learned at a young age that through books he could escape and become a thousand different heroes at anytime. Anyone but himself. Pablo would go on to do all of Harry’s English homework, but he was protected now, and that was worth it. Right? Harry had came to him late that afternoon and asked for a ride. Of course Pablo obliged and found himself in front a two story Cape Cod, a collection of washed out gray wooden clapboards set far back from the street, flanked by two large Oaks. No lights on, only the pencil thin beams from his car had cut through the rising darkness and illuminated the door like some still life painting. Each step thereafter a yank on the leash. It is hard to push back when you’ve always been dragged. So he watched as Harry had searched room to room, opened cabinets, pulled out drawers, checked underneath beds, sofas, and chairs. They had been standing in the upstairs bedroom when a sudden slap of rain hammered the roof. Harry’s gaze had traveled upward and that’s when he saw the access door in the ceiling leading to the attic.
Harry broke Pablo out of his reverie. “Let’s get on with it.” Something shifted in the darkness to their left. Harry swept his flashlight in that direction to push back the darkness. Nothing there, but in the pool of light on the surface of the armoire, a square shaped lock. He strode over, jammed in and turned the key. The door creaked open and with an unmanly shriek Harry jumped back . The smell of rot spilled into the air, and outlined in the bleeding light was a person. A face from every kicking, screaming nightmare . A thick head of white hair, branched blue veins throbbing in its temples; skin as thin as cigarette paper; the nose a lump of flesh and a red slash for a mouth . The face pulsed filling and deflating like a balloon.
And then its eyes flicked open.
Harry felt an ice pick slide through his head as if all the brutality, hate and venom in the world had been spiked into his brain . Pebbled beads of sweat spilled from his neck, and ran down his back. Heat bloomed on his leg as his bladder let go.
Holy fuck! He backpedaled raising his arms, palms facing outward. The thing sat up, reached out, fingers curled grasping nothing and then it launched itself from the armoire with such speed that it was on him in a heartbeat. Pablo had been standing behind and then he saw bone white hands embrace Harry like a spider wrapping around its prey. His body crumpled, the bones snapping. A face hovered over Harry’s shoulder and gave Pablo a grin. Pablo screamed, spun and ran to the access door, fear giving him the athletic prowess he never possessed. He kicked and stomped on the wooden panel, his heart hummingbird quick trying to fly out of his chest. The panel burst open and banged against the ladder knocking it down. It was at least a fifteen foot drop to the floor below. Pablo didn’t hesitate. Fuck it. He leaped. And was in the air when a heavy cold hand with iron fingers clamped on his shoulder and reeled him back like a fish on a line. Pablo found at that moment, exactly what piece of history Professor Jessica Brian had been holding onto.
Outside on the street, the rain continued and the wind picked up. A cloud slid across the moon and inside the attic all was silent once again.