Weird Words 2: “ITCH YOUR IMAGINATION”
Presenting the final tale in our Weird Words 2 short fiction contest, an imaginative one from Rod Labbe
ITCH YOUR IMAGINATION
By Rod Labbe
My name is Lisa, and today’s my 14th birthday. Last year, I had a stale Halloween cake and some cheapo presents bought at Goodwill. This year, it’s zip, zero, nada. No big whoop. I’m still better off than before, a heckava lot better off, even without a cake.
I miss Debbie and think about her every day. She’s gone away to a school for disturbed children. I just can’t picture my baby sister being there, with all those nutty kids. I just can’t. It wasn’t her fault. I suppose I could say it wasn’t my fault, either, but what difference would that make?
I’m writing this down in a notebook I stole from CVS. If the story’s published by a magazine, I might be able to buy a house for Debbie and me. We’d be safe—as long as we don’t have an attic.
It’s the attic I can do without.
IN THE ATTIC
By Lisa Jean Marlowe
Part One – The Scratching
I’d just gone to bed when I heard a scratching sound coming from my bedroom wall. It was faint and seemed to be moving in a straight line. I immediately thought: Mice? Or rats? Yikes!
For a few minutes, I wasn’t sure what to do…then, I carefully tip-toed across the threadbare indoor-outdoor carpeting, trying to be as quiet as possible. Squeak! I accidentally stepped on my cat’s rubber banana, and the scratching stopped.
Whatever sleep I got was full of bad dreams. In one, the wall had broken open, and there were shriveled monkeys inside. Rotten, hungry monkeys, with glistening eyes like peeled grapes. The dream bothered me for days, especially after…well, heh, I’m getting ahead of myself.
My mother and father were in the kitchen when I shuffled downstairs at 8 AM. Debbie was watching TV, an old episode of Spongebob Squarepants, when he was still funny. Of course, my parents were already drunk, no big whoop.
“Jesus, why are you up so fucking early?” Ma slurred. She was cooking Spam; her nightgown was splattered with spots of grease, and the spots had formed a smiley face.
I sat at the table and yawned.
“I didn’t sleep so good last night. There were noises in my walls.”
“Noises? What kinda, hick! noishez,” dad hiccupped. He had scrambled eggs on his chin, and my stomach did a slow churn.
“Scratching sounds. Like a mouse.”
He laughed, coughing up a glob of egg. “There ain’t no mice around here. Itch yer
imagination. Stop eatin’ so much junk at night, and you won’t have nightmares.”
“I heard ‘em, too,” Debbie said, thoughtfully peeling an orange. “They scared me.”
“Feh. Mice.” Ma picked her false teeth with a fork. “Come on, girls. We live in the city, not the frickin’ country.”
“It’s true! I did hear ‘em!” Debbie whimpered.
My father winked mischievously. “Tell you what. Mice like cheese. If we put a hunk in the attic, and it’s gone tomorrow, we’ll have proof there’s a mouse. Great idea, huh?”
PART II: Going Up There!
Dad’s “great idea” for bait was a slice of Kraft American cheese, and he couldn’t even take the plastic off without getting the piece all squishy. He finally managed to unwrap a whole slice and gave it to me for safekeeping. Debbie and I followed him to the attic door, both of us biting our bottom lips nervously as he fumbled with the key.
“What if it’s waitin’ for us?” Debbie whispered. “What if…”
“Fer Christ’s sake, it’s a mouse, not a fuckin’ rhinoceros. Calm down.”
He opened the door, and Debbie squeezed my hand. “Aren’t you gonna turn on the light, Daddy?”
“No, we’re goin’ up in the dark. What a dumbassed question.”
He tugged on the light chord, and I heard a click from somewhere in the attic.
“C’mon,” he ordered. We obediently fell into step behind him.
The attic was a big room with dirty windows. There were boxes of junk, and I saw my Etch-a-Sketch and Debbie’s old Creepy Crawler set. I went to grab for a ragged Archie comic, and my foot went through a cracked floor board.
“What the fuck are you doing?!” dad hollered.
“I didn’t mean to!” I hollered back. “The board’s already broken!”
I pulled my foot out and promptly bumped into a pile of magazines. It tipped over in a wave.
“Christ almighty, stay still and don’t touch nuthin’, why doncha!”
“Jeez, I’m sorry.”
“Yeah, you look like you’re sorry.” He yawned. “Might as well put the bait right here. Good a place as any.”
Being the dutiful daughter, I did as I was told.
Minutes passed. We all stood staring at the cheese.
“Huh. Ain’t nuthin’ gonna show with us standin’ around like a coupla shitstains,” Dad sneered. “Might as well go– ”
Something moved near a box.
“A rat!” I shrieked, pointing. “It’s a hairy rat!”
He practically had a heart attack. “Where? Where?! Tell me where!”
Debbie screamed and jumped down the stairs two at a time.
“There! Oh, my Gawd!”
“Come on, ya filthy bastid!” He readied himself, hands balled into hammy fists, scrambled eggs on his chin. “Come on!”
Our cat, Omar, casually strolled out from behind the box and meowed.
“Sheeit. Some fuckin’ rat. You kids are always imaginin’ the worst.”
Later, once we were alone, I told Debbie I’d seen a monkey. “It was dried-up, with eyes like peeled grapes…a monkey who’s rotted for years inside our walls, tryin’ to find his way out.”
Debbie clapped her hands over her ears. “Stop trying ta scare me!”
“I’m not trying to scare you.”
“You are, too, and you’d better stop!”
Part III – That Evening
At 11:30, Debbie mentioned the attic again. I was babysitting, and we were in the living room watching TV.
“Do you think the cheese is gone?” she asked, biting into a chocolate donut.
“I dunno. Why doncha check?”
“Uh-uh, not me.”
She coughed, and a soggy piece of doughnut somersaulted under the television set.
“Ugh, Debbie, that’s gross.”
“I’m tellin’ Ma you’re watchin’ nasty movies on cable.”
“Oh, shut your trap. You’re watchin’ ‘em, too.”
“Yeah, but I’m not enjoying it.”
I switched the channel to Saturday Night Live.
“I heard a noise. In the kitchen.”
“Go and see.”
“It’s your imagination. Eat your donuts and don’t drop any more on the floor.”
We went back to not talking for a while.
A small blur cut the air and landed flapping on Debbie’s head. A bat!
“Eeeeee!” my sister screeched. “Get it off me, get it off me! Liiiisssaaaa! Hellppp!”
Frantic, I rolled a magazine into a club and swatted her noggin as hard as I could. The bat squeaked, fell off and tried to fly away. I got really panicky and smashed its skull with my father’s bowling trophy.
Debbie wouldn’t let me see if she’d been bitten. I knew that bats carried Rabies, so I called 911, ate one of Debbie’s chocolate sugar donuts, and waited.
Part Four – The Cheese
My folks weren’t exactly thrilled to have to their party-time cut short. My mother could barely talk, and dad had trouble standing without help from the nearest doorway.
“Bats!” he roared in my ear, giving me a good blast of his whiskey breath. “Why’d ya have to leave the fuckin’ windows open for, huh?”
“You’re the one who left them open, ‘membah? You wanted fresh air after ma cooked that cabbage!”
“Don’t sass me, you bitch! You shoulda closed them. What the fuck you got for brains, mush?”
He stomped off and began swearing at my mother. Before long, they were involved in one of their typical rip-roaring fights.
My parents. My wonderful parents.
I hated them so much.
You’re probably wondering what Debbie was doing during all this craziness. Luckily, she hadn’t been bitten, but the doctors were still going to do some tests on the dead bat. The EMT guys left, and Debbie had gone to her room.
I didn’t hit the sack until after one o’clock. Too bad I had to kill that bat. Killing is bad…but sometimes, you just don’t have much of a choice.
First thing I did the next morning was knock on Debbie’s door.
“Hey, can I come in?”
“Yeah,” she said, sounding ok.
“Feelin’ any better?”
“A little. I heard noises in my wall again last night. Think it could be another bat? I hope not!”
I leaned against her bureau and grinned. “I told you, Deb, it’s a monkey.”
“Stop! I don’t wanna hear no more!” she moaned, sinking deeper into the bed.
“I’m only kidding.”
“It’s tromma, Lisa! Tromma! I thought for sure that bat was gonna suck my blood. I’d be a vampiah! With fangs!”
“We can check the cheese this morning,” I said, changing the subject. “I’ll see if Daddy’s awake.”
The kitchen was a wreck…chairs and tables tipped over, broken glass everywhere, and someone had even vomited on the living room shag rug. My parents were gone and so was the car. I avoided cutting my feet and grabbed a hammer from dad’s tool drawer.
“They’re not home,” I yelled to Debbie. “You stay in bed. I’m goin’ up alone.”
As I climbed the attic stairs, my imagination wandered. What if I saw another bat? What good would a hammer be? And what if there was something bigger in the attic, something much bigger than a bat?
I stopped on the landing, blinked, and shot down stairs–my hammer raised like an Olympic torch.
Debbie was waiting by the door. She had a sheet wrapped around her shoulders.
“Whattsa matter, Lisa? What’d you see?”
“The cheese. It’s…it’s…gone!”
A loud howling came from the attic, louder and louder, until and the hair on our necks rippled.
“Leesey! Omar followed you again!!”
Without thinking, I rushed back up; I had to save Omar!
At the top of the stairs, I found out what had been making the scratching.
Two brown animals were perched on the edge of the board I’d broken—brown monkey-things with wrinkled faces and peeled-grape eyes blacker than ink. Thick red tongues wagged in and out of their mouths like obscene party favors.
My dream monsters!
They were alive and real and eating what was left of our cat. I stood frozen to the spot, thinking, and then went downstairs.
“Where’s Omar?” Debbie asked. “Is he all ok?”
“No. He’s dead. They ate him.”
“Ate him?! Who? Who ate him?”
“The monkeys? You mean, they’re real?”
“Yep. At least two, but there’s probably more.”
And that’s when I got the idea.
Part Five – Monkey see, Monkey do.
“You’ll have to speak louder, I can’t understand a word you’re sayin’.”
My mother’s skin was pale beneath her orangey mask of Cover Girl.
“Enunciate yer words, Lisa. E-nun-ci-ate! You ain’t a moron, are ya? Andy, what is she saying?”
“Damned if I know. These kids are always talkin’ gibberish.” He closed the frig door and stumbled into the living room.
“Oh, fuck! Who the hell hurled on this goddamned carpet?”
My mother rubbed her bloodshot eyes. “You did, asshole. You had to put that fake bacon on your Spam omelet. I warned ya, don’t do it. You’ll get sick, but noooo. Never listens to me, nooo.”
“Yeeyech! Goddammit, that’s sickening.”
“Never mind the puke. Come in here and see what your daughters are doin’.”
He glared at me. “So, what is it this time. More friggin’ mice?”
“I heard glass breaking in the attic.”
“Christ!” he muttered, going past me.
At the attic door, I motioned for Debbie to stay in her room.
“Where’s the fuckin’ key? I can’t do nuthin’ without the key.”
“I dunno. Maybe it’s unlocked.”
“I locked this door yesterday, and the key was right here. Didja take it?”
“Try the knob, daddy,” I meekly replied.
“Turnin’ the goddamned knob won’t do a bit of good.” But he did just that. The door pulled open, and he tripped backwards, almost losing his balance. Instantly, a rotten smell smacked us like an invisible boxing glove.
“Jesus Christ! That’s some raunchy stink! And who left the light on?”
“I dunno. It wasn’t me.”
“Whatevs. Let’s go the fuck up and please, don’t break nuthin’ this time, ok?”
I stared at his feet in front of me. He was wearing two different socks, and one had a big hole in the heel.
The attic was quiet…and smelly. No monkeys. And they’d taken Omar. All that was left was a pool of blood on the floor.
“What’s that red stuff, Daddy?”
“Red stuff? Where? I can’t see nuthin’ but the mess you made.”
“Near where we put the cheese.”
“Hmmm. What’s this?” He touched a finger to the wet puddle. “How did…”
In an instant, a monkey jumped from around a box and had hold of my father’s neck. He was caught completely off-guard, falling hard to his knees. Three more monkeys flew from the floorboard hole and were on him, ripping and chewing.
“Jesus Christ, don’t just stand there like a friggin’ goon, get ‘em off! These fuckers have sharp teeth! Ow, ow, owwwww! Son of a bitch!! Get them OFFFF!!!”
A spray of blood exploded like a garden hose, and I didn’t move. I wanted to see him die. It didn’t take long.
I backed down the stairs, bumping into Debbie. She’d wrapped the sheet around her head, like a shroud.
“Just like kitty,” she laughed. “The monkeys, the bats. And now, daddy, too. Daddy, tooo…”
“Sshh, you’ll spoil it!” I put a hand over her mouth, but Debbie squirmed away, leaving a glob of drool between my fingers.
Our mother was coming upstairs. Each step groaned under her weight. “Who was that yellin’? And where’s your drunken father?” she demanded.
Debbie giggled. “He’s in the attic. He wants you.”
She hauled her fat ass to the attic landing. “Hey, dickhead! What’s with all the commotion? Come on down and have a drinky-poo. I’m lonely.”
I noticed she had on fluffy blue bedroom slippers. For some reason, I’ve never forgotten those slippers.
I took out the key I’d hidden and locked the door.
“They deserved it,” I said.
We hugged each other and listened to the screams from above.
Part Six – Now
That’s about all there is to tell.
Debbie’s in school, and I’m on the road. No one ever found a trace of my parents, unless you want to call a piece of fluffy blue slipper a trace. Those stinky monkeys sure were hungry.
No more Spam omelets. No more drinking and puking on the rug. No more making our lives miserable.
Sometimes, though, when I’m walking by the woods or waiting for a ride, I get this funny feeling they know where I am. The monkeys. Maybe they’ve followed me…
Eh. I just tell myself: itch your imagination.