Mid-Afternoon of the Dead

Mid-Afternoon of the Dead

By Eric J. Juneau

"I believe... Colonel Mustard did it in the bathroom with the candlestick," Curtis said, pretending to hold a monocle and pipe up like he was a 19th century detective.

"OK, drama-boy," Ginny smiled. She always laughed at Curtis' antics. That was mostly the reason she agreed to go up here with him this weekend. She liked a guy who could make her laugh. She took the yellow envelope sitting to the side of the game board on the wooden floor and blew in it like she had seen Johnny Carson do in old episodes of The Tonight Show. She took out the cards and looked at them. "Ha, you're wrong. It was Professor Plum," she exclaimed, holding out the card for him to see.

"I said Plum."

"No you didn't, you said Mustard."

"No, I didn't."

"Yes, you did, you liar."

"Fine." Curtis knew he had said Mustard, but it didn't hurt to try. His three friends knew he was kidding anyway.

"Can't we play something else for a change?" Tricia asked. "We've already played this twice."

"We could play strip poker," Curtis said.

"We are not playing strip poker," Ron said.

"Oh, please."

"No."

Ron had been a bit of a stick in the mud since he got up here.

"Well, if this cabin had a TV in it, we could be watching the Broncos game."

"Sorry," Curtis apologized. When he had invited his friends up here he didn't tell them what a backwoods dump it was, just waiting to burn down. Ron had called it the second little pig's summer home, and nobody else thought he was too far off. It was right on top of a hill, miles from any form of intelligent life, surrounded by birch trees and fallen orange and yellow leaves from the autumn. Even the squirrels looked bored.

The four sat around the unused game board in silence for a time. Ginny played with her long dirty blond hair. Tricia straightened her red "Ithaca" sweatshirt. Ron merely leaned back on his hands waiting for someone to say something. His eyes flicked back and forth, looking around at the artifacts in the cabin - a gas lamp, a collector's plate of a snowed-in cabin, a pendulum clock swinging back and forth, back and forth.

Tricia tapped her foot on the brown wooden floorboards. "You might as well look in the closet for another game," she finally said.

"All right." Curtis got to his feet and walked a few steps to the middle hallway, which bridged the living room to the kitchen. He opened the door and saw a few old plaid flannels hung on the rack. On the top shelf was an assortment of old board games with cardboard corners bent and folded.

"Let's see... we've got, Hi-Ho Cherry-O."

"Oh, I used to play that game when I was little," Ginny said.

"There's Trivial Pursuit, Parcheesi, Sorry."

"We can play Sorry," Ron said.

Sorry was the one on the bottom. He tried grabbing it and shuffling the pile around, trying to jerk it out from under the other boxes without them all falling over. On top, the Trivial Pursuit box was ready to topple. He lifted up a hand to push it back and a small black book fell off and landed on the floor.

In the other room, Tricia began collecting the pieces of the Clue board and putting them back in the box.

Ron whispered so Curtis wouldn't hear. "Man, can you believe Curtis took us up here this weekend? There's nothing here."

"I like it," Ginny said as she played with the string from her gray hooded sweatshirt. "I love all this nature stuff. It's so beautiful when it's fall, it's so pretty. There's no cars or anything. Just you and your friends."

"Yeah, I'll second that," Tricia said, "Having a campus in the middle of the city is not fun at all. Although having all the bars in walking distance is nice."

"I hate this place," Ron said. "If we didn't bring alcohol up I would have shot myself from boredom."

"Ron!" Ginny exclaimed.

"There's nothing to do here but play board games."

"Ron, you've been complaining ever since you got here. If you didn't want to come up, you shouldn't have. So quit bitchin'," Tricia lectured. That immediately shut Ron up.

"Hey, guys. Look at this." Curtis came back in with a small book.

"What's that? Your little black book?" Ginny teased.

"You won't believe this. This is some girl's diary I found in the closet."

"Really?"

"I think it's from the people who owned this place before," Curtis added.

"How cute. Let's read it," Ginny said.

"Uh, it's not that cute. Look." Curtis sat down in the formed circle and showed them the pages. There were the nearly recognizable scribbles of a little girl made in black pen, along with a rather disturbing drawing in colored pencil showing a stick figure girl laid on a burning slab of wood with knives and pins stuck in her, bleeding onto the ground.

"Oh my god."

"Yeah, this person was seriously fucked up," Curtis said. He turned the page, there was a drawing of another stick figure girl curled up in fetal position in the corner of a room with a large kitchen knife sticking out of the side of her stomach.

"What does the writing say?" Ron asked.

Curtis began reading. "'I am sad. Daddy said today that if I didn't eat my dinner I would be sent down to the basement again. I told him I had a stomachache, but he wouldn't listen. I hate the basement. It's so dark down there and there are rats. Daddy sends me down there almost every night. I hate it so much. He says it's for my own good. He says it's because I'm a bad girl, but I don't think I'm a bad girl. Daddy's just being mean.'."

"Oh my god."

"Do you know who lived in this place before?" Ron asked.

"No, no idea," Curtis responded.

"What else does it say?"

"Next entry. 'When I was outside today, I found a raccoon. He seemed really friendly. He came up to me and everything. But Daddy saw me and told me to get away. Then the raccoon ran away. I named him Ricky. I hope Ricky comes back soon. I like it when Daddy and I go for walks, we hardly ever go out anymore. Daddy says we need to keep in the house to keep away from the bad people.'." He flipped the page.

"'Daddy wants me to go down to the basement with him tomorrow. I'm scared. Daddy's never gone down to the basement with me before. He always makes me stay down there alone. I'm scared of what's going to happen. I'm going to pray very hard tonight. I hope that God and Jesus give me strength."

Curtis turned the page. It was blank. He flipped through the rest of the book. There were no more diary entries written.

"Is that it?" Ron asked.

"There's no more?" Ginny asked.

"There's no more."

"So what happened in the basement?"

"I don't know."

"We should go check it out," Curtis said.

A second of silence fell over the group. None seemed too keen on the idea at first.

"Come on, guys. Don't you want to find out?" Curtis said.

Again, silence.

"She might be dead, we have to find out."

"I am curious," Ginny admitted.

"I don't know why I'm doing this," Ron said as he and the others got up.

The four moved through the small hallway through the kitchen to a door. They found a rickety staircase descending into a dark cellar that looked vacant and less than inviting.

"Ron, can you get a flashlight? There's one in the drawer over there," Curtis said as he pointed.

Ron, who was at the back of the line, quickly grabbed an old flashlight. He shined the light down into the cellar. The floor was pure, packed-down, brown dirt. The walls were made of stone. Inky blackness seemed to swallow up the small constricted room. One could feel as if the walls were closing in. The air was dry and dusty. A small puddle in the far corner of the room rippled as leaked water fell down from the ceiling. It was the only sound, the plink, plink, plink as the drops fell.

"Nothing special," Tricia commented in a hushed voice. They began to descend, Curtis at the front, followed by Ginny, Tricia, and Ron.

"Oh god, it smells," Ginny said. "It smells like old diapers and shrimp."

"Ginny, eww," Tricia chided.

They reached the bottom of the stairs, the dirt ground crunched under Curtis' tennis shoes.

"There's nothing down here," Ron said.

"Look around," Curtis commanded.

"Oh god," Ginny pulled her sweatshirt over her mouth so she wouldn't have to breathe in the acrid stench.

Ron's flashlight flickered back and forth, searching for anything unusual. Ginny and Tricia were feeling and touching the walls made from mortar and red & gray rocks. They didn't know whether they were looking for a secret passageway, a loose stone, or what.

"Aw, this is stupid," Ginny said. She turned and approached the boys. "Curtis, there's nothing dow-wha-"

Ginny tripped and fell onto her stomach, leaving her mouth gaping open in pain, her brown bangs hiding her half-shut eyes. "Ow," she said. She turned back to see what she had tripped over.

A hand sticking out of the dirt.

"AHHHHHH," she shrieked and backed away, scuttling across the dirt on her hands and feet like a crab to the protection of Curtis and Ron.

The hand was palm up, with small fingers reaching upward, crooked, as if it was grasping for something, maybe Ginny's leg.

"Oh my god, what is that?"

"I guess we found her," Curtis said.

Tricia looked to the boys. "So what do we do now?"

"Call the police," Ron suggested.

"Wait a minute, we're not sure if this is her yet. We should dig her up," Curtis said.

"Who cares who it is? It's dead, we shouldn't do anything with it," Ginny said.

"They're going to dig her up anyway. And they might think we did it."

"That's ridiculous, there's no motive or nothing."

"This cabin's condemned, abandoned. We're not supposed to be here."

"Oh, god," Ginny said. Everyone turned away from Curtis, disgusted at his irresponsibility.

"If the police get here then there'll be a ton of legal trouble and court stuff and a whole bunch of bureaucratic shit that I don't want to deal with and I don't think you do either. We should take her up and cremate her."

"Oh god," Ginny said.

"We have to. Come on."

"He's right, Ginny," Tricia said.

"Ron, there's some shovels in the shed outside."

Ron went to get shovels and came back with three of them and a trowel. "This is all that was there." The three began digging, Ginny took the trowel. They dug and dug for near half an hour. She was buried fairly deep. Soon, they began to find the paisley-flowered dress of a little girl. Ginny, who was digging at the head on her knees, found the beginnings of her face soon after.

"Ugh," she grunted as she turned away to catch a clean breath, at least as clean as possible. "This is so gross. She looks like that girl from The Exorcist."

She was pretty accurate there. Her hair was brown and curly, going down to her shoulders. She looked about preteen, a little tall for her age. The diary made them think she was five. Was she retarded? With the dirt taken out, her arms rested at her sides, her bloated skin a grotesque discolored pinkish-gray. She would look like she was sleeping peacefully, but her eyes were wide open and completely white, only a hint of a blue hue where her corneas once were, void as an empty well. She wore a light blue Sunday dress with printed flowers and a gold heart necklace hung around her neck.

"Oh, god, this is terrible," Tricia commented.

"I know," Curtis said. He went to the wall and leaned against it, burying his eyes, taking a rest, expelling grief.

"Do we know how she died?"

"Probably asphyxiation," Ron answered. There were no blood stains on her dress or other marks telling how she could have died.

Tricia bent down before the corpse to look at the necklace. Upon closer inspection she found it to be a locket. With her sharp fingernails, she pried it open. There was a picture inside.

"Hey, Curtis. Why does this locket have a picture of you in it?"

Curtis did not lift his eyes up. Ginny, Tricia, and Ron stared at him, waiting for an answer. Without moving the rest of his body, Curtis went into his pocket and retrieved a shiny metal pistol.

Pointing it at Tricia he said, "I really wish you hadn't found that."

"Curtis, what are you doing?"

"Put that away."

"Y'know, you had to go and look at that locket. Why did you have to do that. This could have been simple. We just dug up the body, take it up, and burn it. And it's done, it's ended. But then you had to look in the locket."

"Who is she, Curtis?"

"Why can't anything be simple? Why can't these things just go the way they're just supposed to? I go to all the trouble to set this up, I spent two whole nights trying to make up shit to put in the diary. Man, I had everything planned out so well. You said and did everything I wanted you to. All I wanted were some witnesses to get rid of the evidence. I thought that this would be the one time when things went right."

"Curtis..."

"Nooooo, first Haley had to come in and see Dad and me taking care of Mom. And then Dad had to go and get all moral on us, and then he had to be taken care of. NO! Don't leave!"

Tricia had been edging towards the stairs, but stopped as soon as Curtis noticed her.

"I don't want you to miss this."

"Curtis, don't do anything stupid."

"Stupid? Stupid?! Was Haley being stupid? Was Mom being stupid? Was Dad? They just didn't realize how important it was. This has been my entire life ever since I was born. And Dad wanted to stop it after twenty years, just because it wasn't moral? Well, maybe he should have thought of that before he dragged me into it. Well, I'm not quitting now. There were just a few kinks we had to work out. Just a few minor bugs. I'm not giving up over a few minor bugs. We just need to get rid of Haley, she was a mistake. She needs to be taken away so we can start clean again. And then everything will be all right and we can start over. Everything will be all right. Everything will BE ALL RIGHT! EVERYTHING-"

The fetid corpse of Haley sprang to life and wrapped a cold, stiff hand around Curtis' neck. Curtis dropped his gun and gagged on his words as the risen body cut off his air supply. With her dirt-encrusted fingers she raked him across the chest, creating streaming blood dripping down his torso in rivulets.

"Auggh, help," Curtis cried out weakly. He flailed his arms and hands, reaching out for his friends who stood motionless with fear. Haley's cadaver began pulling him back with her into the hole. Her gaping mouth opened wide, moaning like a low banshee's cry and the hissing of a snake. With her purple tongue she licked her gnashing teeth deliciously and brought them down on Curtis' neck. Vermillion liquid spilled out of the wound. Curtis yelped in pain. Haley pulled her head back, ripping off a chunk of Curtis' flesh in her mouth, chewing it, making disgusting squishing noises, blood drooling from her bloated lips. She growled in satisfaction and pleasure.

Ron, Ginny, and Tricia turned 180 degrees and bolted up the stairs. Ron lingered a bit on the stairwell, never taking his eyes off them. It was like watching a train wreck.

Haley tripped at the edge of the pit and fell in, dragging Curtis down with her. Ron could hear screams of agony and pleading by Curtis, and moans and groans coming from Haley, or what used to be Haley, whatever Haley was now. He could hear her shredding off Curtis' flesh with her teeth, devouring it, munching hungrily. Curtis struggling, crying, yelling in agony. Finally, his cries weakened and then they were no more. But the chewing still continued. She ate and ate, consuming Curtis to her contentment.

Tricia grabbed Ron's shirt and pulled him up the rest of the stairs. Ron stumbled on the wooden steps and fell on the linoleum kitchen floor. She slammed the door shut and stood with her back to it, protecting it with her body. The three looked to each other for a moment.

"What should we do now?" Ron said.

"Run like hell?" Tricia said.

"I'll drink to that," Ginny said.

The three rushed out of the cabin to the tan Oldsmobile parked in front of the house, and immediately took off.

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