THE DARKEST CORNER
A light rain tapped on the window while the flashlight’s orb cast a faint glow across Tyler’s face. Wide eyed and lips pursed, the boy read at a feverish pace, knowing that any second now his stepfather could barge in and demand he turn out the flashlight and go to bed. Or even worse, he’d confiscate the worn and torn paperback. Worse yet, he would wait until Tyler fell asleep and scare the living daylights out of him at some point in the middle of the night.
Tyler loved the horror section of the local library and even though he was only nine years old, he already had an impressive collection of books in his mental library. Sure, there was still a mountain of books he simply was too young to understand completely (notably collections of tales by Lovecraft and Poe, in which a nine-year-old mind had tried to read but quickly lost its way), but series that his older sister grew up on, like Goosebumps and Fear Street, were some of his favorites. He drew monsters and creepies any chance he got. His notebooks for school were covered in re-imaginings of the classic Universal Monsters, while he kept a journal with half-baked monster story ideas in between his mattress and box spring. It was already over half full.
All this being said, Tyler absolutely hated being scared. Reading about monsters and gore was one thing, but being afraid to use the bathroom in his home was a whole other psychological obstacle.
This is why he didn’t like his stepfather. When he wasn’t berating Tyler for wasting his time with his monster drawings or refusing to let him stay up late on Saturday nights to watch Svengoolie, Bruce was usually making comments to his mother that would make her blush and sometimes cry. Bruce also took a very keen interest in scaring Tyler whenever he had the chance to.
Like most young boys his age, the basement and garage were two of the scariest places in the known universe. Full of undiscovered dark corners and teeming with all sorts of cretins that thrived off of the paranoia and terror of a young boy, Tyler never wandered into these places without having a damn good reason to.
Bruce relished any opportunity he could get to order Tyler into the garage, either to take out garbage after dinner or to fetch a tool to fix some household ailment. But the basement was where Bruce really got his kicks.
Last winter, Tyler’s mother was nursing a broken ankle. She had started a scrap booking project right before her accident. Now, she was unable to make it down the steep basement stairs for the last old photo album she wanted to finish up the project while she was bed-ridden. Tyler could still remember his mother calling him from her bedroom and asking if he would be a doll and bring up the box of photo albums from the cavernous basement.
He could still hear the shower running in the bathroom. Bruce had returned home early from work that day, smelling like cigarettes and the bottles of beer his mother made her delicious fish sandwiches with during the summer. Only, this wasn’t summer. This was just another Thursday afternoon in the household. If Tyler hurried, he’d be able to get in and out of the basement without Bruce realizing he was down there.
Tyler scurried down the carpeted steps to the lower level of the house. He held his breath and strained to listen for the shower still running upstairs. It was.
He dashed across the kitchen and clutched the basement door knob. Suddenly, his mind seized. He was gritting his teeth. While Bruce was definitely the scariest thing that could get him in the basement, it certainly was not the only thing.
Tyler didn’t give his mind enough time to cook up any horror images, as he pulled open the wooden door leading to the basement. Flipping on the light switch just before the descent into darkness, Tyler took the steps down two at a time.
He knew exactly what box he was looking for. It was either on top of the pool table that was currently covered by a dusty painting tarp or underneath the stairs, wedged against the wall with a handful of other boxes full of Christmas decorations and old school projects from both he and his older sister. He was racing against the clock on this mission. Tyler held his breath and let his eyes adjust to the dim lighting before looking over the items on top of the pool table.
The boy’s father had passed away when Tyler was six. His mother and father explained to him that his dad was going to go to Heaven because his heart didn’t work anymore.
Tyler’s parents had a ten-year gap in between them, with Mr. Welch being the senior. Dad also had twenty-five years of heavy smoking and untreated diabetes under his belt. All of this was far too much for a young boy of six to comprehend.
All Tyler really needed to know was that he was losing his best friend. The father who watched baseball games with him and coached him in pee wee football. The father who helped him draw robots and aliens from outer space. They had dressed as Frankenstein and Igor the Halloween before his dad went to Heaven. Tyler was Frankenstein.
Lily, the only other sibling in the household, was fifteen when her father passed away. Now, as a freshman in college, she hardly came home and on the rare occasion she called the house, she and their mother usually argued. Most of the time it was about Bruce. Tyler knew Lily hated Bruce – she had told him as much – and Tyler spent many nights wishing he was with Lily at Northern Illinois, in her dorm, watching Svengoolie like they used to with their dad.
Bruce entered the picture a little over a year ago. He and Mom worked together and soon Bruce was coming over for dinner and taking Mom to movies and dancing. Tyler never remembered his dad taking Mom dancing, but he also never remembered Dad making Mom cry. Bruce and Mom married two months ago, but Mom still cried sometimes.
The box wasn’t on the pool table. Tyler hadn’t been down in the basement in quite a while, and everything looked out-of-place. Perhaps Bruce had moved things around? Maybe Mom cleaned up before she fell at work?
Tyler scrambled across the cold pavement and leaned over, palms on knees, straining to find the white box marked “PHOTO ALBUMS” under the stairs.
Footsteps across the floor up above.
Tyler felt a knot in his stomach tighten.
He knew Bruce couldn’t sneak down here and scare him if he was on high alert, but if Bruce came down here, he’d torment Tyler with tales of cretins and half eaten bodies buried in the walls of the home’s foundation. Then he’d tell Tyler to go upstairs, and proceed to chase Tyler up the stairs screaming, “They’re coming! Run!!!”
Bruce would laugh and Tyler’s heart would skip a beat into his throat. Tyler hated being scared.
He couldn’t find the box anywhere. The basement door opened. He heard his stepfather clear his throat and start clambering down the stairs.
That was the first time Tyler saw the creatures in the basement.
After Bruce had found his stepson huddled against the pool table, eyes wide and lips drawn tight, he proceeded to spin his tale of tortured monsters left down here to die by the home’s previous owner.
The shadows behind Bruce began to shift in silence. Tyler watched with fascination as the beasts quietly came to shape behind his stepfather. As if born directly from the shadows, the things grew arms, a torso, then eyes.
They were hideous, straight out of horrible dreams and lost hope. Albino white flesh was stretched across jagged rib cages. Thick, purple lips were pressed back in sneers, revealing yellowed fangs. Reptilian scales covered a barrel chested tripod glowering behind his stepfather. One of the taller cretins had three eyes. A shorter monster only had one. They seemed to be listening to Bruce’s story as well, cocking their heads from left to right like the family’s dog Rufus did whenever they asked if he wanted to go for a walk.
Bruce continued to weave his tale, lowering his voice and adding as much violence and gore into his babble as he could. He kept his eyes on Tyler. Tyler let his eyes dart from his stepfather’s thick brow to the moving shadows behind the pot-bellied bafoon.
The tall creature with three eyes slowly reached for Bruce’s throat, stopping inches from wrapping its talons around the doughy flesh beneath Bruce’s jugular. The little cyclops furball bared its teeth and leaned forward as if to take a bite out of his calf. Tyler’s eyes met a brooding, hairy monster in the darkest depths of the shadows. The thing offered a subtle nod to the young boy.
When Bruce finally stopped talking long enough to catch his breath, the creatures disappeared back into the darkness. Tyler stared at his stepfather with blank eyes, scared witless but also realizing he had gained an invaluable ally that day.
Tyler didn’t dare venture into the basement for the rest of the winter. By spring time, he had decided to let the monsters living in his basement be. If they didn’t bother him, he wouldn’t dare enter their lair. He would make an unspoken truce with the beasts and pray his mother never needed him to go back down there. The scrap booking project was never finished.
As the final chapter of his latest book began, Tyler’s bedroom door swung open and Bruce’s wide shadow killed most of the hallway light from entering his bedroom.
“What the hell are you doing?” Bruce lumbered into the room and reached for the book.
Tyler quickly tossed it behind his bed and held the flashlight tight, pointing the bright beam into his stepfather’s eyes.
With a curse, Bruce stumbled forward and stubbed his toe hard against Tyler’s bed post.
Bruce howled in pain and Tyler cowered in the corner of his bed, the flashlight trembling in his grasp.
Mom darted into the room, eyes wide and jaw unhinged.
“Bruce! Jesus, what happened?” She bent over to inspect Bruce’s foot in the dark. Tyler aimed the flashlight at the floor for her to see her husband’s injury.
Bruce snarled and took a deep breath. “I just… stubbed my toe… Tyler’s reading again past his bedtime. I thought we were going to do something about this?”
Mom straightened up and looked at Bruce, then at Tyler. She looked into her son’s eyes with genuine fear. “Tyler, honey. We’ve talked about this. Please. Please listen to your stepfather.”
Tyler felt the blood boiling in between his temples. His cheeks went flush and his heart began to race. Enough was enough.
“Bruce,” Tyler pushed himself out of bed and stood toe to toe with his and his mother’s burly tormentor, “I’ll stop reading at night if you show me where you hid the photo albums in the basement.”
Bruce and the boy shuffled through the dark house, into the kitchen.
The man turned to Tyler, a sneer on his wide face. “Whatever you’re thinking, it ain’t gonna work. Try anything smart down here and I’ll tear your asshole out through your mouth.”
Tyler kept his eyes on Bruce’s, jaw set and fists clenched.
Bruce opened the door leading to the basement and flipped on the light switch. Bruce began his descent into the damp basement. Tyler followed with a grin tickling the corners of his mouth.
With a grunt, stepfather pulled the photo albums box out from under the pool table.
I never thought to look UNDER the table…
Bruce flashed a toothy grin and held his hands up, waiting for Tyler’s next move.
“What’s this all about, kid? Huh?”
Tyler took three steps towards Bruce. Bruce took two steps back.
“Mom wants to finish her scrapbook project. She needs those albums. It’s not nice that you hid them from her.”
Bruce scoffed, wiping at his nose. “Oh, so that’s it. You want more pictures of Daddy around the house, huh? Well sorry, bud. This is my house. I run shit around here.”
Bruce stomped forward, grabbing Tyler by the nape of his neck. Tyler whimpered and struggled to no avail to get out of the grip.
“You’re going to learn that sooner or later, dip shit. If not, you’re going to hate me for the next nine years before I kick your sorry ass out of my house.”
Bruce let go and pushed Tyler to the ground. Tyler landed on his tailbone and a hot wave of pain splintered up his spine. Tears welling in his eyes, it was now or never.
Tyler pushed himself up, his flesh prickly and hot from the pain throbbing against his backside. He glared at Bruce and pointed to the corner of the basement where no light reached.
Bruce turned and looked and then grinned back at Tyler. “What’d you see a mouse? Chicken shit…”
Bruce kicked the photo album box back under the pool table and stormed past Tyler, headed for the stairs.
Tyler’s mind raced.
“You’re the chicken shit. Go check over there.”
Bruce was now glowing red-hot, meaty fists clenched tight. “I’m going to knock your teeth down your throat for that one, buddy boy..”
Tyler shook his head and grinned, “No you aren’t. Just go check over there.”
Bruce gave one last glance to the top of the stairs, where the warm light from the kitchen beckoned, before heading to the darkest corner of the basement.
“What the hell am I looking for?” Bruce was now almost completely swallowed up by the shadows.
Tyler held his ground, “Remember that story you told me last year, about the monsters living down here?”
Bruce let out a snort, “Ohhhh, shit. You’re gonna tell me a scary story? Ha!”
His obnoxious laugh echoed through the brick basement.
Tyler ignored his stepfather. “It wasn’t a story. The monsters live down here. You belong down here with them.”
Bruce sighed and stepped forward, back into the faint glow of the halogen bulb hanging from the ceiling. “All right, you got your kicks. I’ll even forget about the chicken shit comment, but that’s the only freebie you’ll ever get.”
Tyler felt the butterflies gnawing at his insides.
Where were they?
“You hurt my Mom. You scare me all the time. You don’t care about us.” Tyler stammered, staring deep into the shadows behind Bruce.
Bruce shook his head and punched his right fist into his left palm, “You just don’t get it, do you?”
The big man lunged forward, fist cocked back, at Tyler.
Tyler squeezed his eyes shut and coiled back, prepared for the blow.
He heard a wet slapping sound and then a loud thump.
Opening his eyes, Tyler saw Bruce lying on the cement ground, an enormous hairy arm wrapped around his knees. A long tendril, wet and pulsating, rested across his stepfather’s mouth.
Bruce let out a choked cry and struggled to wiggle free. Another tendril slapped across his forehead. A third slid around his throat.
The shadow beast began pulling Bruce into the black abyss with it. Bruce squirmed and shrieked helplessly, his muffled cries hardly more than a whisper.
Tyler watched as more of the creatures appeared from the shadows, pulling Bruce deeper into the corner of the basement until they all disappeared.
The little boy grinned, the knot loosening in his stomach.
He walked up the basement stairs, flipping off the light and closing the door.
The darkest corner of the basement was no longer something to fear.
– an original short story by Justin Hamelin. (2012)