Saturday, April 25, 2015

Vegetables Are Bad For You by Stuart R. West

Kyle will never forgive his parents for telling him vegetables are good for you. They lied.
* * *
Eleven years old, Kyle considered himself too mature to believe in ghosts or any of that silly supernatural nonsense. Just the stuff of spooky movies, nothing more. But regardless of his age, he couldn’t deny the sounds he heard coming from the cellar. Actually, more like felt the noise as weird as that seemed. High-pitched humming echoed in his mind, circling round and round in his skull’s cavern.     

Drawing him down the steps. 
He couldn’t decipher what the voices were saying, not really. Just sort of a sad song, a desire, a longing for companionship. 

Something Kyle missed as well.

With his parents still at work, Kyle had no reason not to investigate. They weren’t here to tell him to stay out of the cellar. Not that that would stop him. In fact, every adventurous kid worth his salt usually took such orders as a challenge. 

His family hadn’t lived in the old house for too long. One day, out of the blue, Kyle’s dad had come up with a stupid idea about country living. Cleaner air, better values, living off the land, blah, blah, blah. Whatever. Kyle’d been against the move, recognized it for nonsense. But his voice never carried any weight in family decisions, the curse of being eleven. So when they packed up, Kyle had no choice but to man up and say goodbye to his friends. The friends he thought he’d have forever. But when you’re a kid, things change. And you’re powerless to do anything about it. 

The steep and narrow stairs slanted, dirt-covered piano keys groaning out percussive notes with each footstep. Kyle’d been in the cellar before, not his first rodeo. But earlier when he’d gone down with his mother, he shamefully snatched onto her apron the entire time. For good reason. Shadows danced and swooped, threatening to snatch him up and whisk him away to a dark world. Rusty and sharp-looking tools lined up along a stone wall, a Grim Reaper’s one-stop shop.  Bottles flanked another wall, sitting on shelves and lined up perfectly like at attention soldiers. In the bottles, bulky yellow globs swam in even murkier water. Kyle’s mom warned him not to come down here alone. At the time, he’d silently agreed, thankful for his mother’s wisdom. Even though it seemed embarrassing now.

But he had to know about the sounds. The noise drew him down like metal shavings attracted to an unseen, but definitely heard, magnet. Simply, he had no choice. Just like so much of his life.

The light bulb at the bottom of the stairs provided very little coverage, a small oval of light. Once he pulled the string, the bulb swayed. So did everything else. Shadows darted to even blacker places. Eyes and grins seemed to form in the jars’ gelatinous masses. The light continued swinging, a pendulum chop-chop-chopping light across the dirt-covered floor. Like a metronome, it counted out the beats of Kyle’s hammering heart.

And the strange humming intensified. One voice, two voices, a disembodied chorus singing in Kyle’s ears.

At the foot of the stairs, Kyle grasped the flashlight his mother had placed there on their last visit. Flicking it on, he swiveled the beam, familiarizing himself with the creepy cellar, a far cry from their refinished basement in the Kansas City house. Green strips of algaeor something else entirelypainted the stone walls. Spider webs hung like forgotten cotton candy. Leaves crunched beneath Kyle’s feet as he shuffled across the dirt floor. With no windows or doors in the cellar, how in the world had the leaves gained entrance? A chill roller-coastered down his spine. But he couldn’t turn back now, no way. That’s not how a man would act.

A mummy of a bookshelf leaned against a back corner, the bottom warped and aging into dust. And Kyle knewabsolutely sothe sound came from behind it. After tucking the flashlight beneath his arm, he planted his feet solidly and yanked the bookshelf. He watched as it toppled backward. When it landed in the dirt, a cloud of dust rose. So did a rotten scent, so strong Kyle’s eyes watered. Bent over, he coughed until the fumes passed. Then he aimed the light toward the uncovered corner.

Glistening stalks of varying sizes grew out of the dirt, not unlike the asparagus Kyle loathed. Except these were slug-colored, pink, white and grotesque. Black rings circled small nubs, almost limbs. Kyle rubbed his eyes, swung the flashlight away, then looked again. No illusion, the stalks moved, actually moved! They twisted and bent as if uprooting unseen legs from the ground. As Kyle dropped to his knees for a closer examination, warning sirens bellowed in his head. Some of the strange growths attempted to dodge the flashlight’s beam, but the dirt cemented them firmly. Little holes opened at the top of each stalk, mouths silently gasping for air. Whispering. Small hairs (teeth?) waved out with each puff of breath. 

Kyle yelped when the flashlight landed on the tallest stalk. A smaller stalk branched out of it, an eyeball dangling at the end. Milky and wide-eyed and horrible. The branch extended, rigid as if held up by a hidden string, a gross one-eyed mannequin. It darted toward Kyle, snapping at him.

Kyle fell back in the dirt. He scrabbled back, leaving a trail of dust behind as if his sneakers had caught fire.

Suddenly the sounds in his head clarified. Voices from somewhere else. Comforting and warm, almost hypnotic.

Yet, even though the voices made Kyle feel as if he were lounging in front of a cozy fireplace, the messages were anything but soothing.

Something needs to be done.
The older people are not your friends.
They’re holding you back.
They must die.

“No!” Kyle locked his eyes shut. He slapped his temples, hoping to stop the voices, the awful messages, praying to awake from this nightmare. Daring a peek, though, confirmed his worst fear. He wasn’t dreaming. The stalks continued to stir, shifting in unison like a mass wave at a sporting event.

Cut them, make them bleed.
A blade across their throats.
The old people have to die.

How easy it would have been to give in. Kyle relaxed, propping up on his elbows. Warmth filled him, sunshine on an August day. He floated in an invisible raft, bouncing and bobbing on tranquil waters, nature taking him where it may. When he breathed, the cellar’s rank odor had vanished. Now the smell of flowers and cinnamon and freshly cut grass in the summer and everything fine and wonderful he’d associated with growing up filled his nose, his thoughts.

That’s good, Kyle.
Don’t fight us.
Let us take over.
Destroy the older ones.

But as Kyle basked in golden memorieseverything good about his childhood zipping by in a hurried slide-showone image burned stronger than the others. His parents

Clearly, these creatures—aliens, monsters, mutants?—wanted him to kill his parents. His parents who sometimes sucked and made him move and leave his friends behind and punish him and…

The parents he loves.

With a small battle-cry, Kyle climbed to his feet. “Not gonna’ listen!” Holding one hand over an ear (even though the sounds came from within), he shot the flashlight around the cellar. Shadows played hide-and-seek, zipping up the walls like bats skittering away in a cave. Then he found something. A fairly ancient looking gas can, rusted and crumbling at the top.

What are you doing, Kyle?
Listen to us.
We wouldn’t lie.

“Shut up. Just…shut up.” The can weighed heavy in Kyle’s hand. Giving it a good shake, liquid sloshed up, spilling out a hole at the top. Orange and brown rust flakes coated his hand. The pungent aroma of gasoline swept all other smells away. Using a heave-ho motion, he spilled the gas onto the stalks. “Eat it.”

Don’t do this.
You’re killing us.
Killing us….killing….

The hellish stalks wilted, then sprang up like air dancers at a car dealer, their lives contingent upon the wind’s whim. Kyle tossed another round, giving the eyeball stalk an extra dose. The voices died down to a hiss, air deflating from balloons. The stalks shriveled and collapsed on themselves, their dried husks curling up into nothing but small kernels. And the voices stopped.

Kyle dropped the can, wiped the sweat from his forehead. And listened. Nothing. Just the plinks and tinks of rafters wheezing under the weight of the house. One last touch, Kyle buried the hideous garden beneath the bookshelf, a gravestone of sorts.

He clapped dirt from his hands, a job well done. Then raced up the stairs like the devil himself had pitched a fork in his bottom.

At the top of the stairway, he slammed the door shut. Leaning against itkeeping monsters at bayhe thought about the new role forced upon him, a very responsible, adult role. Caretaker, gardener, year round de-weeding.
* * *

Here I am, talking about myself, pretending not to. Ah, I'm probably not fooling anyone, but play along anyway, 'kay? Just imagine James Earl Jones narrating and we'll all get through this just fine.
For more of Stuart R. West's adult and young adult suspense tales filled with light heart and dark humor, check out his Amazon page.
And please do check out Stuart's blog featuring weekly rants, failed stand-up comedy routines and incisive author interviews: Twisted Tales From Tornado Alley

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