The Adventures of Phippen Abercrombie, Book II: the Monster Purge
The House on Cutler Street
The abandoned house on Cutler Street loomed, as always, dark, empty, and ominous. Blackened windows, like the soulless eyes of the undead, weighed down on fifteen year old Everett Turner as he approached. He felt them as sure as he felt the knot of fear twisting in his stomach, as sure as he felt the sudden need to go to the bathroom. He knew he would have to shuffle past as quickly as possible.
Everett generally avoided this route from his friend Cameron’s house but he was running late tonight. He had stayed longer than he should have. The sweet siren song of a new video game is irresistible to a certain type of boy at a particular age. They had been killing zombies with reckless abandon when Everett looked up and saw the darkening sky pressing in on the windows. He felt a lurch in his stomach as he realized he would need to take Cutler Street home to make it in time. He grabbed his back-pack and was out the door in a flash.
He stole a furtive glance at the slumbering beast and wished he was back in his friend’s room. He wished he was at home in his bed. He wished he was one hundred feet ahead and already beyond this horror of a house. However, wishing would not make it so. With no alternative, he continued to amble along the deserted street trying not to look at the weathered, three storey Tudor house. As if by denying its existent he could rob it of its frightful power. But the house would not be denied tonight.
Although the blackened windows and old gnarled trees were alarming enough, these were not what made this house particularly frightening to Everett, and the many neighbourhood kids who avoided Cutler Street. This house was by far the most feared and talked about place to all the children in town. The old house was the stuff of legend and nightmares.
It was not the fact that no one could ever remember seeing a light on at the house or a single person ever coming and going. Nor was it the overgrown garden, weeds, grasses and countless old rose bushes gone to seed throughout the property. It was something else in the yard.
Two enormous, derelict, overturned ship hulls flanked the house. The first of which Everett was now coming alongside. The hulking masses were draped in rotten, moss covered canvas. In the dark they looked like immense burial mounds. Fifty feet long, fifteen feet wide and twelve feet tall, they loomed over the yard. Not a soul in town knew why they were there but every child knew about them. They had all grown up hearing the stories about the bodies that were buried beneath them. How the owner of the house had come out at night and had dragged children from their beds as they slept and had taken them back to be imprisoned beneath the hulls for the rest of eternity.
All the homes on the west side of the Cutler Street had frontage on the lake. Most were very large, owned by wealthy families from Carson or Valmont, the largest cities within driving distance. This picturesque, lakeside community was an irresistible draw in the warmer months. It was late summer now and most of the houses along the lake were still busy with weekend visitors and vacationers from the city. Yet the house with the inverted hulls was always empty, winter, spring, summer and fall. No one in living memory, as far as any soul in town could tell, had crossed the threshold of the house on Cutler Street for years.
Everett knew, because he was a very smart boy, that when you passed the yard at night, alone and in the silence, you could hear the fingernails of the undead children,twisted and gnarled by the passing years and clawing at the inside of the wooden ship hulls. He hummed to himself now and willed his eyes to remain on the road ahead. He would show no sign of acknowledging the house or its tombs.
Yet still, one ear listened intently, scanning for even the slightest sound. None came.
Ahead, on the road, he saw a movement. Something small was in the narrow lane crossing toward the yard of the shadowy house. It was a puppy. The small dog was limping, favouring one of its front paws. It was moving steadily toward the overgrown and weed infested yard. It moved as if drawn to the house; as if in a trance.
Everett picked up his pace as he passed the first ship’s hull, now unaware of it crouched to his right. All his senses were focused on the puppy. He wasn’t sure why, but he did not want the dog getting anywhere near the abandoned house. Perhaps it was nothing more than companionship in a wretched place that spawned Everett’s concern for the helpless creature.
“Here boy,” he called quietly to the small dog as it stepped over the curb and into the yard.
The dog did not look at Everett it simply started to push its way through the overgrown foliage. The boy was soon at the place where the dog had entered the yard. He stopped and looked up at the house. He called again to the dog. It didn’t look back.
Everett was in the middle of the yard looking up the pathway to the stone steps and the massive oak door beyond. He was midway between the two hulking mounds that were the inverted hulls. He looked up at the house, at the small black, dormered windows in the attic room on the third floor. He tried not to imagine what it would be like in that room. What monstrous entity was gazing back down at him from within the gloom hoping he would be foolish enough to come closer? Was it the old man who preyed upon the innocent children who had gone missing over the years? The same old man that had dragged the terrified young ones from the security of their beds and entombed them beneath those godforsaken rotten hulls?
Everett looked from one hull to the other. Why would anyone have those? He wondered. A shudder ran down his spine and he looked away, back into the overgrown yard.
The puppy was limping off to the right as if it intended to go around the house to the lake side. To do this it would need to come very close to one of the hulls. Everett didn’t like this. His stomach flipped and he wished once again that there was a public washroom nearby.
He stepped off the lane and onto the lawn. He felt a surge of energy run through his body; an electric tingle charging up and down his spine from the top of his messy hair to the bottom of his sneaker clad feet. Surely that must be his imagination. Anticipation and fear manifest in an uncontrollable shivering sensation all over his entire body. He nearly doubled over, sick from the feeling of it. He was about to turn and run from the yard, from the house, from the rotten hulls which haunted Cutler Street. He had made up his mind to leave when he heard the puppy whimper from somewhere around the side of the house. Everett hesitated and in that moment he knew he could not leave the poor animal to its fate.
He turned back. He looked up at the house. He took a deep breath to calm himself and stepped forward into the yard.
"Here boy," he called in his sweetest, dog beckoning tone. "Come on little guy, don't be afraid."
He made kissing noises with his mouth which he knew would often work with animals. Not this time. He could no longer see the dog. It had gone around the side of the house, past the hull, towards the lake.
He followed still gently calling as he went. When he came up to the end of the hull closest to the house, the only sounds were his own voice, a faint whimpering from the puppy in the weeds nearby and a rustling from the wind in the trees overhead. The only light was the diminishing amber glow of the street lamps back on Cutler and pale blue moonlight coming from across the lake around the front of the decrepit structure.
He passed between the bow of the hull and the corner of the house. He could smell a musty damp rot coming off the moss covered canvas draped on the overturned boat. He refused to look at it or the house as he called once again for the dog.
"Come on boy," he pleaded, his voice nearly cracking from the strain of fear. "Please, let's get out of here."
He listened intently for the puppy as he gazed through moonlight shining from the lakeside of the house. The weeds on this side had taken over. Anything resembling a tended yard was little more than a distant memory.
Everett strained, trying to hear for the dog he could no longer see. There was nothing. Only silence. Then he heard something. Very faint at first like a rat in the walls clawing tunnels through the insulation. Everett leaned forward. He thought perhaps the injured dog had gone around to the front of the house and was scratching at the patio doors that led out onto the overgrown terrace. He looked around the corner. The wind had died. The lake was so calm there was no sound of the waves lapping at the shore. There was nothing on the terrace. No sign of the puppy. It seemed to have vanished.
Everett started to back away from the isolation of the lakeside and the quiet scratching noise. He needed to get back to the lane, back to safety.
The scratching, he knew what the scratching was. He fought to keep his mind from forming the thought. He subconsciously felt that if he acknowledged it he would have to deal with it. The sound grew louder as he edged back along the side of the house, back in the direction of the hull. He knew it would. But louder wasn’t quite right. It wasn’t so much louder as it was more abundant. He struggled against the reality of his situation but he could not push it away.
In the darkness they scratched and clawed only feet away from his position. Countless undead children trapped beneath the rotten canvas and wood. It was not the moldy old coverings, saturated with moss and mildew he could smell but the decay of the dead now trying desperately to take him down with them.
Everett was glued to the spot. He had turned to look at the hull, his back to the dark, empty house. The boat was now rattling and shaking. Whatever was beneath it would not be contained much longer. His young, terrified mind was screaming to run, but he could not move. Every fear he had ever imagined about the house on Cutler Street and every nightmare from which he had awoken, sweating and shaking, was coming true. This was exactly as he knew it would be.
He suddenly realized why he could not find the dog. There had been no dog. No limping puppy in need of help, he had been tricked. The house had fooled him, had lured him into its clutches and now he would be devoured.
The rotten hull lifted slightly. He could see it clearly in the amber street lights. Green, grey, rotten fingers, the flesh barely clinging to the bones reaching out from under the rim. Bloody at the tips from decades of clawing at the rotten wood inside the inverted tomb. In spite of himself Everett leaned forward, transfixed by what he saw. Numb with terror.
Run, run, RUN! His mind was screaming.
He turned to the street, his muscles coiled to spring into action. He would flee from here, back to his home, to his bed, to safety. He would never walk this street again. Never talk of this house or even allow himself to think of it.
His young, agile frame ready to launch itself from the yard, away from the hull and it's hungry, clawing inhabitants but something strong and unyielding grabbed him from behind.
He could not move an inch. His energy expended in a wasted effort to escape. Then he knew. Just then he knew as sure as he knew that there had been no dog. He knew that the moment he had stepped from the lane and into the yard all had been lost. He had broken the rules.
You never look under the bed, behind the shower curtain, in the closet. You never pull your head from beneath the covers; you never walk slowly up the stairs from the basement. You run two steps at a time and don't look back. And you never, ever, ever step off the lane and out of the street lights. There are rules and if you follow the rules the monsters do not get you. Everett had broken those rules tonight and for that he would pay a price.
Slowly he was turned by whatever powerful, undeniably terrible creature had a hold of him. His eyes came upon it in the dim light, he stumbled back as it let go and he fell to the ground at its feet.
Everett looked up into its bile yellow eyes. Its scaly lips curled back in a triumphant grin as the blackened, wretched, ominous, house on Cutler Street loomed in the background; the beasts willing accomplice. This thing belonged here and Everett knew, as it reached down to claim its prize, that he would never leave this place again.
Coming winter/spring 2017/18