Big Rock Road
by Robert L. Steele
part 1 of 2
Big Rock Road is not actually a road; it’s a cul-de-sac. It has nine houses in all, and at the entrance, where there should have been a tenth house, sits one big-assed rock. Of the nine houses, all are occupied with the exception of one.
No one has lived there in sixty years. Shortly after being built, the foundation started sinking, shifting and sagging. It was discovered that a series of caves and tunnels deep underneath the house were starting to collapse. No one ever moved in, and it was condemned fifteen years ago.
The big rock that had inspired the name of this so-called road was joined by a small park with swings, a large children’s play set, some picnic tables and a few benches set in the shade of the tall line of trees that encircled the little cul-de-sac. The vacant house was all too close to the little playground, so it had been neglected by all the children. They called it a trap.
All the children who have lived on the cul-de-sac have always known the house was haunted. They’ve all seen and heard things that couldn’t be explained otherwise. Sometimes it was just lights; sometimes dark shapes were just suddenly there, lurking inside the empty house. Other times the shapes would be seen running or slithering around the yard. Hattie, my sister, just said it smelled funny. She had a simple mind.
My name is Mike Sweeney, I am sixty-two years old, and everyone on Big Rock Road knows me as Old Man Sweeney. My Mother and Father purchased a house here the year before I was born, and I have lived here all my life. I grew up here with my little sister, Hattie. I’ve promised her I would never leave her.
Hattie was four years younger than me, and according to my mother she was already a rare beauty. She was tall for her age and carried herself with a grace well beyond her years. She had deep, burning green eyes and an abundance of curly red hair that cascaded over her shoulders displaying her fine porcelain skin.
It was rare that you would see me without Hattie by my side. I was her big brother and she was devoted to me. She followed me around like all pesky little kids do with their older siblings, but I did not mind this, for I adored her.
I watched her die at the age of eight. But maybe die isn’t the right word. I don’t know that there is a term for what I saw that night.
The year we lost Hattie was warmer than most. I had just started playing slow-pitch with the local YMCA team. Because of this, Hattie and I had were spending less time together.
Hattie spent most of her time with mother that summer. The other kids living in the cul-de-sac were older than Hattie, and they were mostly boys who, like me, were playing on slow-pitch baseball teams that summer.
Hattie enjoyed helping mother. She seemed to enjoy everything she did. That was the real beauty of Hattie. She was a pleasure to be around, because she saw pleasure in almost everything. On this warm summer day Hattie was going to the small mom-and-pop grocery store to pick up a few items so she and mom could bake cookies.
She was given extra money so she could get a soft ice cream cone. She loved the new strawberry flavor that had just been added. On this smoldering afternoon Mr. Krates, the owner, made the cone a little smaller.
“It’s a hot day, and the ice cream will melt before you can eat it. And since you are my best strawberry customer, today the cone will only cost you a smile,” the older man told her as he winked one eye and flashed a toothless smile.
It wasn’t Hattie’s lucky day; things like this always happened to Hattie. Everyone loved her and it seemed they all wanted to see her smile.
Dad was fond of saying, “Hattie’s smile was the light that kept the darkness at bay.”
Hattie skipped along the road side with pink ice cream dripping down her chin and stumbled a little over cracks in the pavement. She took her first bite into the cone and it crunched and crumbled down her face. She struggled to lap up the mess of strawberry ice cream that was threatening to stain her blouse. Hattie circled around the big rock and plopped down on one of the benches to finish her ice cream cone before it melted completely and ruined her outfit.
The house next door loomed over her and seemed to move in the shimmering sunlight, and then something from inside the house slithered out of the darkness that was hidden behind the grimy windows.
The weeds and long grasses on the unkempt lawn moved and bent in strange patterns. These were not patterns created by any breeze. These patterns were being created by the beasts that dwelled inside that house, and they all were heading towards my little sister.
All that was left of Hattie was a half-eaten strawberry ice cream cone that had melted completely and stained the dried grass beneath the rock a creamy pink. No one ever saw her again, and no one ever heard her screams.
They searched for Hattie for five long days, and then they brought in cadaver dogs. They widened the search area and another five days went by. The search was called off, but I still looked for Hattie. My mother cried a lot and did nothing more.
My father was out every night talking to anyone who would listen. After a while his search would eventually end up at Cal’s Highway Bar and Grill where he would drink himself into relenting. It became too much for my old man, and eventually days would start and end at that bar. My father had given up. He passed away without ever seeing his beautiful daughter smile again. I kept looking.
The search party had gone into the old house and found nothing. So far I had used that as my excuse not to go inside myself, but I know what I had to do. I had to go in and get Hattie out of there.
I won’t lie to you and tell you I was brave enough to take this venture at night, but my attempts during the light of day were uneventful. The beasts that took my sister would only face me in the dark of night. And so I made up my mind.
* * *
I sit on the front porch and wait for the sun to fall. Evening comes, and darkness creeps past me. It slowly floods Big Rock Road with shadows that fill the street, and the old empty house seems to sigh in relief.
The air does not stir, nothing moves, and the night is quiet. Still I sit and watch. I am afraid; but this is for my Hattie, and with the image of her sweet smile in my mind I finally gather the courage to cross the street.
I want no one to see. I go around to the back; everything is overgrown, dry, sun-baked and dusty. The dead grass crunches under my feet and tangles itself in my shoes.
There is a small set of stairs going up to the back door. I hesitate, telling myself I am listening, but I know I am just delaying as long as possible.
The first step creaks and the second is rotten and collapses under my weight. Even though the wood is rotten it snaps and pierces the silent night like a gunshot has gone off, and I want to run. I stop, I wait, I look around but there is nothing to see. I must go forward.
I expect the door to be locked and am surprised when it is not. The rusted old knob turns in my hand and the hinges screech as I pull it open. Once again I wait; there is no sound but my breathing and the rapid beating of my heart.
The hot air has been trapped in the house all day. It tastes stale. It smells of rot, mildew and something like deep, damp earth. I have a flashlight with me, but I hesitate once again, lying to myself that I am just waiting for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. The only light entering the house is coming from the moonlight shining through the broken and grime-covered windows.
I take a tentative step inside. My eyes are beginning to adjust to the gloom surrounding me, but I question what I’m seeing. There are thousands of twinkling reflections of light all around the room. They look like little stars flickering in the black night sky. Still there is no sound. Nothing has moved and my fear is subsiding. The tiny points of light sparkle and flicker in the heavy gloom as I raise my flashlight and turn it on.
A strong beam of light shoots through the empty house and illuminates the faces that have been looking back at me, with their twinkling eyes.
Dolls; there are thousands of dolls everywhere. They sit in the crumbling mildew-coated chairs, on the tops of old dusty tables, on the windowsills; they lounge across all the furniture. They lie and sit in every position imaginable on the floor, and some are even nailed to the walls. This light is shining back from the glassy depth of the dolls’ eyes.
As I play my flashlight beam around the room, their shadows dance and move. Some wiggle, some shrink and others jump to twice their size and then fall back into the puddles of darkness. But as far as I can tell nothing is really moving on its own.
There is a sound. At first it is low and then increases slightly in volume. It is coming from the very darkest corners and deepest crannies of the room. It is not the sound of movement, it is but one word repeated over and over like in a chant.
Malzone, Malzone, Malzone.
It grows in volume and for the first time since entering the house I can no longer hear my heartbeat or the blood pumping through my veins. Then as suddenly as it began, the chant stops, and there is the soft sound of movement. It sounds like small clawed feet dragging across the floor. Something brushes lightly against my leg.
The dolls’ eyes are still staring at me, taunting me, daring me to stay. Sounds of movement have become more frequent and hurried. Like a frenzy. Again something brushes against my leg.
As I turn, my foot kicks something and there is a small squealing sound. I turn for the door, crashing into furniture and fall face down onto the dusty and molding carpet. Something scampers over my back and jabs me in the side. The flashlight is ripped from my hand. Something else reaches out and roughly caresses my cheek. It is cold and hard. I cannot see what it is but I am repulsed by its very touch.
The door is not that far away and I scramble to my feet and bolt through it. The rotten steps give way once again and I sprawl face first in the dry grass and dirt. From behind I can hear something, like laughter, but as though it were laughter being hissed through clenched teeth.
I return to my house with the shameful weight of failing my sister bearing down on my shoulders. The tears running down my face have mixed with the dirt and dust of the house next to the big rock.
I tell myself I am only twelve. And then I have to remind myself Hattie is only eight. I will go back!
* * *
Copyright © 2009 by Robert L. Steele