Thursday, October 11, 2012

Boo

This is another of the stories I wrote for the BYU 38th Ward Book Club's first Hallowe'en.[1] Back then I didn't have a lot of experience writing fiction—especially horror fiction. So I drew heavily from my experience rather than from my imagination (as you will see here and in some of the stories I'll post later on). The idea for this story came from To Kill a Mockingbird, as I acknowledge in the first paragraph. But this one takes a darker turn. Read on if you dare! Happy Hallowe'en!

NOTE: I've annotated this story, but I recommend you read it all the way through before reading the notes.

My older brother Pete isn’t like other boys. When I was six I asked my parents what was wrong with him. They got mad at me and told me that nothing was wrong with him—God had just made him a different way. They also told me not to tell the kids at school about him. Well, now I’m nine and they all know about him, anyway. My parents don’t usually take him out of the house and so, for all the other boys, he is a mystery. They used to pester me to tell them about Pete, but I never told them anything. So now they pick on me and they’ve made up horrible things about Pete. They say that there were weird lights in the sky when he was born or that he’s part reptile. Sometimes they say the same things about me—I don’t have any friends. Last year our teacher read To Kill a Mockingbird to us. Ever since then all the kids in the neighborhood started calling my brother “Boo Radley” or just “Boo.”

I hate them. But even though I don’t like it when they talk to me, I like to be around them. Sometimes when I see them doing stuff, I try and go watch what they’re doing or listen to what they’re saying. Sometimes I let them see me and sometimes I don’t. When they see me, I join them, but they usually pick on me and chase me away. They’re cool and I want to be cool, but I can’t be—not like they are. So, most of the time I just watch and listen from the shadows.

Right now I’m up in a tree. They can’t see me because the branches are thick—and because they’re too stupid to look up. Bobby Jones and Tysen Cluff are arguing and I’m betting they’re about to fight.

“You’re too chicken!” shouts Bobby.

“I am not,” screams Tysen, his hands clenched.

“You are, too,” says Bobby. “This is just like the time when we were all at Casey’s house and you wouldn’t jump the ditch.”

“You didn’t jump the ditch, either,” sneers Tysen.

“Yeah,” says Bobby, coolly. “But I wasn’t dared to.”

“Well, then I’m daring you now. You sneak into the Hawkins’ house and get a peak at Boo.”

Bobby laughs. “I already have.” That’s a lie—I know Bobby’s never been in our house. And he’s certainly never been down into the basement where we keep Pete.

“Oh, yeah?” Tysen says. “Then what does he look like?”

“Can’t tell you. If I told you then you’d try and get out of going in there yourself.”

“No, I wouldn’t!”

“Yes, you would. ’Cause you’re a chicken.”

Tysen balls up his fist and plunges it into Bobby’s face. A scuffle ensues. When it’s over, Bobby has a black eye and Tysen a bloody nose. They fight all the time. But they’re always friends again after two or three days. That’s not what worries me. What worries me is that Tysen might actually try to sneak into our house. And then he’d see Pete. That wouldn’t be good…

I get up the next day and get ready. As I’m walking to school, Tysen Cluff walks up to me and puts his arm around my shoulders, resting his elbow on my backpack.

“Timmy! How ya’ doing today, buddy?”

“I’m okay,” I reply, feeling suspicious.

“You think I could come over and play, today?”

“Tysen, you know my parents won’t let me have friends over.” He flinches when I say the word ‘friend’.

“Aw, come on! Just this once! You want to, don’t you?”

“Yes,” I lie.

“Well, then, why don’t I come over this afternoon?”

“I already told you, my parents won’t let me. If you try to come in the house, my mom’ll go berserk.”

“Don’t your parents ever go places in the afternoon?”

“Yes,” I blurt out almost before I realize what I’m saying. “My dad doesn’t get home from work until five and my mom goes shopping on Fridays.” I didn’t mean to tell him—I didn’t want to tell him. I tried to stop myself, honest. I know what will happen if he tries to go down in the basement.

“Well, we’re in luck!” Tysen says brightly. “Today is Friday. So, why don’t I come over? I’ll leave before your parents come back.”

I nod guiltily. Something bad’s going to happen, I just know it.

“Good, I’ll meet you at your house after school.” He takes his arm off my shoulders. Then he grabs me by the collar and yanks it up, choking me.

“You better not tell anyone about this, you little twerp,” he breathes in my ear. I nod again. I don’t know why I’m doing this. I’m going to be in trouble—and for someone I don’t even like.

Tysen lets me go and runs ahead to school. I take my time, dreading the afternoon when he’ll invade my house. I just know he’s going to try and get a look at Pete.

School seems to drag. The teachers’ voices seem to hum like a nightmarish version of their Charlie Brown counterparts, droning out to eternity. Like any other day, recess comes and goes like a mayfly. As we all rush outside, I look at Tysen—he doesn’t make eye contact with me. He runs off with his friends to the basketball court. I follow them and hide behind a big green box with a sticker showing a lightning bolt that says, “Caution: Electrical Hazard.” The guys chatter for a couple minutes about the baseball game the night before and then Bobby (whose right eye is still sporting a purple shiner) pipes up.

“So, Tysen…are you going in tonight?”

There is a pause and then I hear Tysen’s voice say, “Yeah. I’m going in.”

Several of the other boys suck in their breath. One of them says, “You can’t go in there! You’ll get caught!”

“No, I won’t,” Tysen says nonchalantly.

“How you gonna do it?” asks another.

“I’d be really stupid if I told you guys,” Tysen says and then spits on the ground.

“How’re we going to know if you really see Boo,” whispers a tiny kid that everyone calls Runt.

“Oh, I’m sure Bobby can back me up on whatever I see.”

I can’t see, since I’m hiding behind this box, but I distinctly feel as though Bobby flinches at that moment.

“When are you going?” Bobby finally asks.

“Midnight,” Tysen replies.

“Then I want to be there,” says Bobby. “Just to make sure you really go in.”

“Oh, I’ll go in.” Then I hear the sounds of a basketball game starting. I wait until I feel that everyone is engrossed in the game and then stand up and quickly walk away.

The rest of school seemed to take even longer. The blackboards seemed to melt into thick, gooey tar that stopped everything from moving—even time. My yellow No. 2 pencil, with the words Eberhard Faber—words that bounce off your teeth like a ping-pong ball—embossed on the side in shiny green letters, moved across the page so slowly my eyelids started to hurt. During lunch and second recess, I avoid Tysen and his friends. Instead, I go out to the sandbox and dig sand tunnels. Before the end of recess to sixth-graders come and kick them down. I hate them, too.

When the final bell rings, I trudge unwillingly home. My feet try walking in all different directions, but in spite of their worst efforts, within ten minutes I find myself standing in front of my own house. Waiting on the porch, trying not to be seen by any passers-by is Tysen. When he sees me he waves.

“Timmy! Awesome! Let’s go inside.”

I pull the house key from my pocket and open the front door with it. It slowly creaks open and we step inside.

“Why don’t you give me a tour of the house?” Tysen says.

“Okay.”

I take him upstairs and show him my room, my parents’ room, and the guest room. Tysen looks around at them, pretending to be interested. I even show him the bathroom. Then we go back down to the main floor and I show him the living room, the kitchen, the parlor, and the TV room. Again, Tysen gives a poor imitation of enthusiasm. When we were through, his eyes brighten.

“Now can we see what’s in the basement?” he asks.

“No. No one’s allowed down there—not even me.” That’s a lie.

“Isn’t that where your parents have your brother locked up?”

I squirm for a moment. Then I say, “Do you want to play some XBox 360?”

“No way! You have the new XBox 360?”

“Yep!” I say, smiling.

“Oh, we totally have to play!”

So, we go back into the TV room and start playing on my game console. After about ten minutes, Tysen announces that he’s thirsty and asks if we have anything to drink. I get up and go into the kitchen, keeping my eye on the door to the basement. I pour some Sunny D [2] for the both of us and go back into the TV room. I give him his glass and he gulps it down.

After he’d been at my house about an hour, Tysen announced that it was time for him to leave. I agreed since my mom would be getting home soon. Really, I don’t know why I let him come over at all. I don’t like him. But once he’s gone, confusion sets in. Tysen never tried to sneak down into the basement. If that wasn’t the reason he invited himself over, then why? I go back into the TV room to turn off the XBox 360 and that’s when I notice it. Apparently, while I was in the kitchen pouring Sunny D, Tysen undid the latch on the window. Suddenly it all makes sense. He probably intends to sneak in that way, tonight. Half an hour later, my mom gets home from shopping, and not long after that, my father. Several times I remind myself that I should go latch the window that Tysen unlocked so he won’t be able to sneak in. But for some reason, I never do. I meant to. Honestly, I did.

I wake up around 11:30, the thought running through my head that Tysen is going to try and sneak into the house tonight. My parents are already asleep in bed, so I don’t bother waking them. I quietly slip out of bed and change back into my clothes. I should just go down into the TV room and latch the window, but I don’t. Instead, I open my bedroom window and step out onto the roof. On the other side of the street, hiding under the shadows of a giant red maple, I can just make out the outlines of Tysen, Bobby, and a few others. I stay motionless and listen intently—I can just make out what they’re saying.

“Go on,” Bobby whispers, harshly.

“No! Not yet! I said I’d go in at midnight and that’s when I’m going in,” says Tysen.

“Why wait?” asks Bobby.

“Because, Boo’s parents just barely went to bed. I want to make sure they’re asleep before I go in.”

“Naw, you’re still chicken,” sneers Bobby. “When midnight comes around, you’ll just make up another excuse.”

“Shut up, Bobby,” says Tysen. “I said I’m going in at midnight and I’m going to keep my promise.”

“You better.”

“Or what, Bobby? You gonna give me another nosebleed?” Tysen sneers.

Bobby takes a step forward. “You better watch it,” he threatens.

“If you’re so anxious, why don’t you go in?” Tysen says.

“Shut up, you guys!” I think that was the Runt. “You’re getting too loud. Somebody’s going to hear you.”

Everyone shuts up. I can’t see them well enough to tell what’s going on, but I’m pretty sure that Bobby and Tysen are still glaring at each other.

The moon slowly peaks out from behind the mountains. The distant sound of church bells sings a haunting melody.

“Okay, it’s midnight,” Bobby whispers. “Get going.”

“I’m going. I’m going,” says Tysen. He sounds a little unhappy. He leaves the shade of the maple tree and begins crossing the road.

I leap to my feet and scramble (as quietly as anyone can be said to scramble) back into my bedroom. I sneak out of my room and rush down the stairs, my socks whispering against the carpet. I round the corner at the bottom and dash to the TV room. Tysen still hasn’t come in. I crouch behind the couch and wait.

Seconds later a whining noise betrays to me that Tysen is opening the window. I can hear a soft breeze blowing through the bushes outside, but other than that everything is morbidly silent. I hear him coming through the window and I peak over the top of the couch. He has his back to me, so I run back out of the room. I hurry to the basement door, but instead of locking it, I go down and close the door behind me. I glide down the stairs as quickly as I can, my feet whishing against the wooden steps.

From the darkness at the bottom, I watch as the door slowly opens and the stretched face of Tysen Cluff peers around the edge. He squints down at me, but doesn’t see me—nine years of practice have taught me how to blend into my surroundings. Tysen steps down and shuts the door behind him. He comes down the stairs making no more noise than a spider. At the bottom he hesitates—there are several rooms down here.

After a moment, Tysen makes up his mind and walks toward the pantry. He goes inside and looks around, trying to distinguish something in the pale moonlight streaming through the tiny window. Apparently he realizes that that’s not Pete’s room and comes back out. He shuts the door softly and goes to the next door. In there he finds a bunch of our old things stored in boxes. This room has two windows, so it’s a little easier to make out its contents. Tysen steps out again.

Now there’s only one door left. Tysen braces himself, probably gathering his nerves, and then grips the doorknob. At this point I can still stop him. And I want to stop him. But for some reason I don’t.

Tysen turns the knob, pushes open the door, and steps inside. I sneak in behind him and hide in the shadows before he shuts the door behind him. And I do something that surprises even me—I lock the door behind him!

Tysen, who doesn’t notice I’m in there, creeps forward. A pale light, grey like death, casts its feeble glare around the room. Like the pantry, there’s only one window in this room, making it very difficult to see. A low rumble in the corner starts to grow louder—Pete must be waking up. Tysen halts in the middle of his tracks, stopping so that his face is perfectly illuminated by the rectangular gleam shining tenuously through the window.

“Bad idea!” I whisper.

Tysen whips around, searching for the sound. Just then Pete leaps onto Tysen’s back, his pale green skin showing briefly in the light. Tysen slaps Pete down to the ground and runs for the door. He yanks on the doorknob, but the door doesn’t open. Oh, why did I lock it? Pete jumps onto Tysen again and drags him down into one of the corners. During the next few minutes Pete’s growls and Tysen’s screams mingle into a macabre symphony. I watch the whole thing in sick fascination.

After it’s all over, I go and wake my parents. They get all worried and take Pete out into the forest. They tell me that we’ll go back and get him in a couple of days, when it’s safe again.

The next morning the police come to ask about Tysen Cluff. My parents swear they don’t know anything about it. The police tell them that some of the local kids had dared Tysen to sneak into our house and that Tysen never came back. They ask if they can go down into the basement. My parents lead them down there, but there’s nothing to see—Pete licked up all the blood, so there was no mess at all. Then the police tell my parents that Tysen was trying to get a look at ‘Boo’ and ask if they can see him. My parents inform the police that they only have one child and that the state records will verify that. The police come by to bother us again for several days after that and then they leave us alone. When my parents are sure that everything has died down, we go back and get Pete. He’s okay, but looks a little lonely.

A week after Tysen disappeared, I run into Bobby on the playground during recess.

“Hey, Bobby!” I say. “Want to come over to my house and play?”

Bobby turns white and runs away. I’ve discovered a new power. I feel good.


Notes:

[1] To read my first horror story from that year, see my post Lightbearer.

[2] Timmy's choice of drink was inspired by this commercial.

Image attributions:

Abandoned Old House is by Яick Harris, available at http://www.flickr.com/photos/rickharris/3426703228/.

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