This story is by Robert Leigh Hunt and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
It was no moonage daydream that had sent his uncle, Tom into early dotage. Andy had seen the thing that had. It was enough to push anyone over the edge. When the paramedics had finally arrived, he’d been damn near out of his mind.
Andy considered it no small mercy that, along with everything else, Tom had no memory of the hellish apparition.
As for himself, Andy could have uttered not a word of the horror he’d witnessed. Who on earth would’ve believed him?
Andy Garnier, along with his parents, waited with his uncle for the caregivers to move the poor old guy into his new place of residence. Like every retirement home, even the best, it smelled faintly of urine and bleach. Andy breathed shallowly.
Andy’s mother leaned down to the wheelchair into which slumped his dear uncle and fussed with the collar of his blue Veterans polo shirt. Tom Garnier was his dad’s older brother by six years. Dad called him Tommo. To his few remaining friends he was still Tommy. To the landlady of The Vaults, his favourite haunt for a weekday drink, Tom was always “Big Tom.” To Andy, uncle Tom was the best of men.
“You shouldn’t be here,” Andy said quietly. “I should have helped you escape.”
Uncle Tom gazed blankly at Andy to whom he enjoyed making silly remarks whenever it was required of Andy to be solemn and composed. “Don’t be nervous now, Andy’ his uncle had said before his graduation speech. ‘ No need to be making Chunky Monkey in your pants ha ha ha! Andy remembered how back in the day he used to love calling his uncle and shout “ Ground control to Major Tom! and Tom would laugh. It wasn’t that funny then, but it would be deeply unfunny now.
Andy regarded the man in his isolation. Uncle Tom was once a major in the army and the captain of his local cricket team for three years running. He’d also been something of an authority on Tudor history at the conservative club. Today, he was being talked over like baggage. Andy thought; Maybe I could help him yet.
Andy also noted the pressed cardboard receptacles stacked up by the door. They were ready for anything that might come, unannounced, from out of Tommy. Andy was not good with bodily fluids and hoped Uncle Tom would keep it together long enough for Andy to disappear the way the monster had vanished. Sweat popped under Andy’s T-shirt as that image sparked from his memory.
“Goddammit,” Andy murmured unheard. He wondered, was there yet another grotesque demonic form slouching it’s way unseen toward them?. An entity possibly too large to be grasped by the mind in one take. A demon of Unknowing.
His dad was talking to Dr Armin, or more accurately his father had been talking to Dr Armin. Now the physician-in-charge at The Albrechts Home was holding forth while his dad looked like he might be listening to someone explain calculus. His mother straightened up and checked herself in the mirror while asking questions of the good doctor at the same time. The good doctor was unaware and didn’t miss a beat as he continued to describe the medical terms of dementia.
Andy’s hands began to sweat. He thought he may yet need one of those cardboard containers himself. Andy was still afraid. He was terrified in fact of the thing that had touched his uncle, late one night six months ago. He had not slept much since. Andy allowed himself to think of that late drinking session at his uncle’s house that had ended in purest nightmare.
Until that point, Andy had never heard any of the senior members of his family cry or see them afraid.
That night, the garden doors had been wide open; As Indian summers went, it had been a hot one. More than a few beers had been defeated in short order, yet the victory party was still in full swing by midnight. They’d both gone back inside with their drinks if only to keep from disturbing his neighbours with their raucous laughter. As they had both settled into leather armchairs a low noise from the garden reached them. It was not the neighbours, but it was a sound devoid of humour. The laughter had ceased in the drunken pair anyway.
From the shadows that clung to the back fence, something impossible to ordered nature, ungainly approached the house. The lights from the sitting room caught it. Massive hands appeared first like claws that hung with desiccated flesh that covered over its long arms in grey folds.”Holy God,” stammered Tom, almost quietly as he began to rise giddily from his seat.
Its agonised face, as deformed as its dejected mouth that gibbered and salivated, leered into the room. Andy, falling helplessly from his chair sunk to his knees as all the strength run out of him like liquid crap down the back of his legs. Tommy could only stand and stare as they both heard the long and terrible moan come from out of that things mouth. Its eyes were dilated and opaque as if from huge cataracts. Then, as one large talon opened with the cracking sound of old bones, it reached for Tom.
Andy had wanted to grab his uncle who was helpless with fear and get him away, but he couldn’t move. Maybe he’d been too afraid. Andy remembered how that thing touched his uncle. Its scabrous hand sliding inchmeal down Tommy’s face and body in a sickening caress. Its sightless eyes almost smiled. Andy screamed a shrieking girlish scream.
The monstrous thing groaned once more. This time there had been other sounds coming from out of the thing’s hateful mouth. Andy heard himself cursing his uncle when he had not been allowed on the swings that time when Andy was seven. Then when he had been told off for eating his dessert before dinner; “Go to hell.”
Other voices cursed and laughed; his mother’s vicious laugh when Tom had offered to look after Andy during the school holidays. All the curses in the world seemed to bubble up from the things corrupted guts, but it was his voice that hurt and haunted. Andy cried; “Please God help me!
Just as dead leaves choke an unguarded storm drain so his heart was filled with a cankered bitterness. He was afraid only for himself. “God, help me! Help me!
Andy’s curses accused him. As the thing caressed, its dire caress, his uncle’s eyes faded and became almost like the things eyes. With his head lolling back, Uncle Toms mouth sagged open as if he was suffering a heart attack. From out of his slack mouth a thick trickle of drool slipped greasily down his front. Then, as a shadow burned away, the thing retreated from the lights of the room and out again never to return. Andy had been left to sob uncontrollably.
Now, Tommy had a nurse to dab at his mouth and chin. His uncomprehending eyes, wide and expectant. Dad fidgeted with his car keys absently. For Andy, this signalled imminent departure.
Uncle Tom was to be left as he was once found—-as a baby; gaping and about to soil himself while his family were waving “Bye bye, Tommy, bye bye” Andy swallowed and felt near to tears.
The nurse wheeled Tommy into his new room with its emergency buttons and bedpans. Andy stood next to the bed that had safety bars either side of it. One day, Andy thought, he might be in this very place, slobbering into his oatmeal while watching cartoons. Andy might not reach the heights of success like his uncle, but he might end his days pooping into his duds. He would need to be changed and washed like a two-year-old by people younger than him. They might laugh and say “Now that ain’t chunky monkey down there is it Mr Garnier haha!
Surely, death would be preferable.
Andy’s breath caught in his chest. There was another Demon here.
He had blundered into a trap. It was behind Andy just to the right of his shoulder. This monster was different. It didn’t need to touch anyone or even move much under its crushing weight. Andy knew it. He knew it was content to remain as a shadow like the shadow of the door or the shower curtain on the wall. Andy knew its eyes were not like those of the other monster; they were more like poke-holes in a leather strap. It didn’t have to open its slash of a mouth as it didn’t need to bite down on anything or anyone’s brain matter. It wanted only to whisper a simple message to him over and over again like an old song;
‘All your fault, Andy.’
‘All your fault.’