Ep.55 – The Dead Thing Under the House - Sometimes Death is Only the Beginning!
Blake has been tasked with going into the crawlspace to find the source of a putrid odor, but that was only the tip of the iceberg of morbid insanity that awaits him.
The Dead Thing Under the House by David O'Hanlon
Music by Ray Mattis http://raymattispresents.bandcamp.com
Produced by Daniel Wilder
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Old Man Jennings ventured from his home on Sundays. He’d amble down the gravel path that led from his porch to his mailbox for the weekly accumulation of sales ads and bills, and promptly retreat into seclusion. In Blake’s thirty-one years, he’d never seen anyone come to visit Meadowview’s mysterious hermit. Once a week, a lawncare service came out to take care of his yard. Twice a year, someone power washed his siding. He paid them all with a check, slipped through the mail slot, when they were finished. A barred door with two locks hung on both the front and rear of the house and they stayed shut. He would open the ornate front door with its beveled stained-glass window to enjoy the weather, but never the security door. His windows were much the same with heavy, blackout curtains on the inside and bars on the out. His groceries were delivered promptly at one in the afternoon, every Thursday for as long as Blake could remember. A little doggie-door, for lack of a better term, would lift out and Jennings would pull the bags through to the obscure solitude of his self-imposed prison. Theorizing about what went on inside the home was a Meadowview pastime as familiar as the annual crawdad boil or the town’s community yard sale. Depending on who you asked, Old Man Jennings was a Satanist, a serial killer, or a space alien. Some people even believed he was already dead and his ghost was just stuck there. Blake didn’t believe any of it. The ancient coot would have to leave the house to murder people, after all. As kids, Blake and his friends dedicated enough hours spying on the man to know that never happened. As an adult, his divorce had forced him to move back in with his mother… directly across the street from Jennings. Blake found himself peering through the blinds out of habit and the geezer still stayed locked inside, just like he always had. So, it would be an understatement to say Blake was shocked to find Old Man Jennings standing on the porch when he answered the geriatric’s frantic knocking. Jennings’ hair was an explosion of white that jutted from his dark scalp in all directions. The mane was much more ample than Blake’s own, which was retreating faster than a chubby kid at fat camp. Jennings stood on the porch with the grim stature and utter silence of an animated skeleton. Blake shut the door, removed the chain lock and opened it fully. “Mister Jennings, are you lost?” “No,” Jennings said. “There’s something dead in my crawlspace.” Blake squinted at the elderly man. “Pretty sure there’s people that take care of that.” “There is, but I don’t like strangers.” Jennings pointed a bony, accusatory finger at Blake. “That’s why I came to you. I’ve known you longer than anyone.” “We don’t really know each other, though,” Blake muttered in confusion. “Then how did you know my name?” Jennings’ lips peeled away from toothbrush-commercial quality chompers in what might have been a genuine smile. “Is your mother home?” Blake shook his head. “She’s in Toledo, visiting my sister.” “Oh? How is Sharon? Still married to that banker?” Jennings looked away and tsked. “Sorry, about your own divorce, by the by.” Blake’s jaw dropped open. “How’d you know about that?” “Just because I don’t leave my house doesn’t mean I don’t talk to my neighbors.” Jennings shrugged. “Your mother’s been my pen pal since 1984.” Blake looked over Jennings’ shoulder at his home. “My mom sends you letters? From across the street?” “She respects my eccentricities.” Jennings jabbed his thumb toward the street. “Speaking of, think you can help me with the dead thing under the house?” Blake sighed. “Yeah. Let me change into something else first.” He shut the door and headed upstairs. He wasn’t about to mess up his favorite self-pity outfit crawling around in the mud and spiderwebs that surely occupied the crawlspace. The thought of all those spiders hiding in the dark prickled his skin with a wave of primal terror. He pulled the Ghoulies II t-shirt away from his goose bumped flesh. Blake Sterling’s father gave him the most heroic name in history before he split. However, it wasn’t a name he ever lived up to it. Spiders were only one of his many phobias. Stretch marks peeked over the band of his sweat pants from a childhood full of expired Twinkies and Ding Dongs his mom brought home from her job at the gas station. Years of bullying led ‘Blake the Blob’ away from the sweets… and food in general. He looked like one of those kids the infomercial people feed for a nickel a day. His dainty form lacked definition or distinction, minus a single tattoo. His ex-wife’s name was coiled around a rose over his heart. He got it the day she said she’d marry him. The mirror inside the closet door reminded him of all the reasons Kayla left. Blake grabbed a black t-shirt from a drawer and pulled it over his head before changing into a battered pair of Wranglers that were already stained from painting his kitchen. His face soured. It wasn’t his kitchen anymore. He threw on his sneakers and didn’t bother tying them. The crawlspace was going to be more fun than his usual day of self-imposed purgatory. Blake slumped down the stairs and met Jennings on the porch. The two men made their way across the street and through the gate of Jennings’ chain-link fence. A piece of the butterscotch lattice was removed from the side of the house to reveal the access point between the cinderblocks. The mid-morning sun was blocked by the trio of white oaks in the front yard leaving Blake to unravel the mysteries of the crawlspace on his own. The putrid-sweet stench of rotting meat lingered leisurely from the opening. Blake knelt down and groaned. “A bit tight,” he said. “It’s called a crawlspace for a reason.” Jennings tapped him on the shoulder with a small, metallic flashlight. “The smell is strongest in my bedroom. Straight ahead fifteen feet and then hang a left. You should find whatever it is in that area.” “Right.” Blake took the light and let its beam stab into the tangible darkness. “Mister Jennings, are you sure you don’t want to call someone that knows what they’re doing?” “You’re a grown up now, you can stop with the ‘Mister Jennings’ stuff. My name’s Harp. And you do know what you’re doing, Blake. You’re pulling a carcass out from under my house for me.” He turned to leave then twisted back. “Oh, I’ve got an apple pie cooling right now for you too. Come get me when you’re all finished.” Blake shimmied into the space. The flashlight revealed a few broken spiderwebs dangling from the floor. Whatever died had crawled in along the same path that Blake now took and the goose bumps quickly returned. He clamped the flashlight between his teeth and crawled along, panning his head from side to side looking for the vagrant spiders as much as he was the dead thing. Once he made it what he surmised to be fifteen feet, he turned as Harp had instructed. A wave of steam swirled in front of his light and he paused. Blake took the instrument from his mouth and huffed hard watching the breath fog. He crawled forward slowly, shivering at the sudden bite of cold pressing against his face. The progression was like stepping into a meat locker as he left the warm summer air behind him. The temperature continued dropping with his advance. Something jutted out of the earth in front of him. He squinted at the shape, trying to discern its nature. It didn’t help. Harp’s pungent guest spread its perfume with exponential intensity as he inched closer. The light flickered and dimmed before it could reveal the source of the growing stench and then went out completely. Blake continued onward, shaking his head like a dog in an attempt to bring life back to the tool. It worked… And he wished in hadn’t. The illumination fell on the mound of disturbed dirt and then onto the arm—the very human arm that reached out of the shallow grave with its fingers furled into the soil. Blake followed the limb to the naked shoulder, up the livid flesh of the neck to the face. Between the strands of dirt-caked, blonde hair the dead woman’s expression was frozen in a final moment of stark terror. The flashlight plopped next to the corpse with Blake’s panicked screaming. He scurried backwards until he was far enough away to risk taking his eyes off the corpse and turned in a mad dash for the exit. Blake collapsed onto Harp’s porch swing. The neglected chains called out in a demented screech at the arrival of its first guest in decades. Harp pushed open the security door and watched Blake shudder with heaving breaths. “There’s a dead woman under your house,” Blake whispered. Harp leaned on the porch rail and crossed his arms. “Just the one?” “What?” Blake took his eyes off his shaking hands and looked at Harp. “Was there only the one body down there?” “I… I don’t know. I didn’t keep looking after I found that one. Why would there be more than one? Why are there any?” Blake shot up. “Why the fuck are you so calm right now? Exactly how many dead bodies under your house would you consider too many?” “Three,” Harp answered, matter-of-factly. “Three would be very bad. Did you bring the body out?” “I’m not disturbing a crime scene!” “Do you know she was murdered?” Harp raised an eyebrow and held his hands open waiting for an answer. When Blake shook his head, he continued. “So, it’s not a crime scene. She might have crawled under there on her own. I need to see the body to be sure.” “I’ll draw you a map, because I’m not going back down there to get her.” Blake paced the porch. “She was partially buried so that rules out your theory.” “And she was pale.” Harp opened the security door and held it ajar. “She looked scared and there was no blood around her. That sound right?” Blake nodded. Harp gestured for him to enter the home. “You’ll be my first guest since 1981.” “Did… did you kill her?” Blake watched the old man’s face fall. “No, but I know who did. One body means he’s found me. Three would mean he’s not alone, so let’s hope you didn’t miss any.” Harp Jennings nodded for Blake to come in. “The pie’s ready. We need to talk.” The tangy sweetness of the pie reminded him of the ones his mom served him every Saturday morning. It soothed him from the shock of his discovery. He speared a chunk of fruit and raised it to his mouth, savoring the smell after the one he faced in the crawlspace. It went down a lot easier than Harp’s tale. “So, a psychic vampire killed the girl and buried her under your house to say hello?” Blake asked around a mouthful of pie. “Moskon isn’t a vampire. He’s a moroi.” Harp stood up from the faded, thread-bare cushion of his couch and walked away. “They leave their bodies at night to eat the souls of the living.” “That’s definitely more believable.” Blake got up and followed Harp down the hallway. Pictures hung with yellowed pieces of tape along the corridor. One showed a smiling, young, Harp Jennings sitting atop a camel in front of a pyramid. Blake skipped the next few and found another showing Harp in furs with a pack of sled dogs. Harp passed through the archway of the kitchen. “I wasn’t always a homebody.” “Why aren’t the pictures in frames?” “The moroi can travel through mirrors.” Harp pulled a pitcher from an archaic Frigidaire. A single picture hung on the door from a heart-shaped magnet—Harp and a woman standing at an altar. He touched her face lightly. “I learned that one the hard way.” “Let’s pretend like I believe any of this. Why is Moskon pissed at you?” “The last time I saw him, I stuffed his mouth with garlic and sewed his lips shut before burying him.” Harp sat two glasses on the counter. “I’m pretty sure that might have been what did it.” He poured the tea and handed a glass to Blake. “I need you to help me kill him.” Blake sipped the tea and shook his head. “We need to call the cops and report the body.” “In the morning.” Harp pointed at the floor. He continued before Blake could protest. “Look. She’s been there this long, one more night won’t hurt. You think I’m crazy and I think there’s a monster coming to kill me. Give me until morning to prove one of us right.” It was a quarter past three in the morning, and Jennings was clearly insane. Blake’s chin dipped closer to his chest as he nodded off once again. Harp poked him in the thigh with a sharpened branch from the front yard’s oak trees. Blake snapped awake and clutched his makeshift spear, ready for a fight—not that he’d ever won a fight in his life. The garlic bulb crinkled as Harp rolled it in his bony fist. “We have to stay awake, boy. That bastard’s coming tonight,” Harp whispered. His eyes jumped around the room, looking for signs of movement. “You said the bars keep him outside. And there’s no mirrors he can use to sneak in here through.” Blake stood up and dropped his spear on the coffee table. “Even if he comes, we’ll never see him.” “Damn.” Harp licked his lips. “I wanted to keep him out for so long that I never about needing to lure him in. Think we should open the door?” “Yes, we should.” Blake squeezed Harp’s arm gently. “So that I can go home and call the cops to come get the girl. There’s no monsters, Harp. We’ll get this sorted out in the morning and get you somewhere safe where you can get the help you need.” “The help I need?” Harp pushed Blake away. “You foolish boy. I’ve seen things that would make your asshole pucker so tight, you’d shit spaghetti noodles!” He stormed to the door and threw it open. The stained-glass motif shattered as it struck the wall and fell like colored hail. Harp worked the locks open and pushed the security door out of his way. He spun back into the house and lobbed the garlic at Blake. “I’ll show you I’m not some demented old coot, Blake.” He pointed into the night. “We’ll just let him in. Then you’ll see a real monster. Oh yeah, you’ll see alright. This all ends right here when we push stakes through Moskon’s heart and trap his demonic soul in a prison of rotting flesh for eternity!” “I’m not sure how that was supposed to change my mind about the demented part, Harp.” Blake started toward the door. “I’m going home, now.” Old Man Jennings barred his path and pressed the point of his stake into Blake’s breast. Harp’s dark eyes narrowed with an intensity that made Blake shrink back. “You’re a coward, Blake. That’s why the kids used to bully you, why you’re always the first one laid off, and why your wife left you! You don’t take risks. You don’t challenge yourself. You never step outside your well-defined bubble of bullshit!” “Fuck you!” Blake slapped the stake from Harp’s hand and pushed the old man to the floor. “You’ve been locked in here longer than I’ve been alive and you call me a coward because I don’t want to stay and play pretend with you? I may have failed at everything I’ve done, but at least I’ve done something.” Blake glared down at Harp and realized what he’d done. He extended his hand to help him up, but before he finished his apology, Harp’s boot caught him dead between the legs. Blake gasped and fell to the floor, trying not to return Harp’s apple pie. The old man stood and dusted off the seat of his trousers. “You’re right, boy. I’ve been hiding in this house for thirty-nine years, but for the forty-eight before that I was goddamn Harp Jennings!” Harp dragged Blake upright by his collar. “I swam with sharks in the wreckage of the Saratoga. I climbed two of the world’s tallest mountains. I pilfered the pyramids of forgotten pharaohs. I dedicated my life to adventure and dangers and reaped treasures the likes of which you can’t even imagine!” “Then why are you hiding?” Blake wheezed. “Because Moskon took my greatest treasure.” Harp’s voice cracked. His lips quivered and the fury in his eyes turned to miserable sadness. “I killed a lot of monsters and a lot of men that weren’t no better. But I couldn’t stop him from taking my Mable. I didn’t lock myself in here because I’m afraid of Moskon killing me, boy. I locked myself in here so he wouldn’t kill no one else that I loved.” “I… I don’t know what to say.” Blake threw his hands into the air. “Maybe you murdered the girl under the house, or maybe there is a soul-sucking monster coming to get you. Either way, I’d feel a lot safer as far away from you as possible.” Blake hung his head with a sigh and walked around Jennings, straight out the door. He didn’t look up until he was safely through the chain-link gate. His muscles tensed against his attempts to look back at the home. The image of Old Man Jennings rushing down the gravel path with a stake over his head rippled Blake’s flesh with goosebumps. He turned slowly, expecting the worst. Instead, he saw Harp leaning on the doorframe in defeat. Blake gave him a curt nod and crossed the street quickly. In his haste, he completely overlooked the man in the black peacoat strolling down the sidewalk. Blake bumped into the man and apologized. “No worries,” the man said. His voice was winter fog, low and cool. He looked Blake over. “It’s quite some neighborhood here. Like a postcard, really.” “Yeah, it’s pretty nice. Have a good evening,” Blake said as he hurried up to his porch. “I see why my old pal Harper, chose this place,” the man called after him. Blake turned to find the sidewalk empty once more. He hurried inside and locked the deadbolt and the chain-lock. He kicked his shoes off and padded up the stairs to his room. He was going to put his comfortable clothes back on and raid his mother’s gin collection until he forgot all about the dead body, Harp Jennings, and the creepy man on the sidewalk. He peeked through the blinds at Jennings’ home. The old man waved at him and pulled the security door shut. The blinds snapped together noisily as Blake turned and went to the closet. He jumped away with a scream that would have made Dee Wallace jealous. His haggard reflection glared back at him in the mirror. He laughed at his own panic and bent down to retrieve his sweats and t-shirt from the closet floor. Blake paused, dropping the clothes and rubbed his fingertips together, observing the damp soil that came off them. His quivering breath fogged before him and he fell over backwards. Filthy blonde hair poked between the hanging jeans and slacks. The lamplight reflected pathetically on the cold, lifeless skin that stretched forth and crawled along the floor. Blake’s panicked breaths perverted his words to inarticulate squeals and grunts. He found his voice as the frigid fingers curled around his ankles and jerked him across the carpet. The dead thing was no longer under the house. ** Blake’s screaming would stop soon. The newly risen were full of such insatiable hunger. Harp sighed and clicked the locks into place. A man grasped the bars of the security door and leaned in close. A series of small scars lined his tanned lips where they’d once been sewn together. His hands smoked as they wrung the iron, but the man in the black peacoat smiled through the pain. Harp recoiled away and raised his wooden stake. “It seems there’s a vacancy across the street,” he hissed. “What do you say, Harper? Won’t you be my neighbor?” Harp lunged forward and the stake jabbed between the bars. Moskon took a calm step away and shook his head. “Meadowview is such a lovely place to raise a family, Harper. You’d know that if I hadn’t killed yours.” Moskon turned with a chuckle and crunched along the gravel path. “There’s such potential in these small towns.” “Come inside and let’s finish this,” Harp growled. “No.” Moskon held his arms wide. “See how easy it is to walk away from a fight, Harper. You could have done that once. Now, you’re going to hide behind your bars and your stakes and your garlic and you’re going to watch as you become the last man in Meadowview. Then when there’s no one left for you to care about, I’m going to turn you and bury you right there in your crawlspace. I’ll stitch your lips around garlic cloves with a stake in your chest so you can’t do anything more than spend your eternity rotting away in stillness—just some undead thing under the house.” Harp watched Moskon’s clothes fall, empty to the sidewalk as his body twisted into a tower of fog that disappeared into the predawn sky. Harp opened the security door and push it out of his way. Moskon was a monster of his word. Harp ambled over to his porch swing and sat down to the symphony of squeaks and pops of the neglected chain. It groaned as his long legs pushed him into a gentle rhythm and Harp stared at the stake clutched in his arthritic hands. Maybe he still had one more adventure in him.
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