The Ladies of Horror
Picture-Prompt Writing Challenge!
Locked Room with Friend
by Scarlett R. Algee
Your landlord’s name, you think, is Henry.
He stares at the locked, battered door under the stairs to your tiny loft bedroom, scratching at a scab on his arm in a way that makes you think he’s on crank or glue or drain cleaner, something. A flake of paint wilts off the door underneath his scowl and drifts to the floor.
“You sure you want to open that?” he demands. “Gonna be full o’ rot an’ rat shit.”
No. You’re not sure. But your boyfriend lost his job at the QuikMart two days ago and he’s started pestering to move in with you, even though your sleeping space won’t fit anything that’ll hold both of you, so you nod. “I can clean it up and use the space.”
Henry grunts and scratches and says nothing, but the next day, when you get home from work, there’s a rusty key Scotch-taped to your door.
Your boyfriend promises to be there when you open the room, to help you clean, but that’s before one of his buddies calls. So you’re alone when you pull on gloves, strap on a mask, and fumble the key into the lock, knocking off another shower of collected paint.
Bucket. Brushes. Tile cleaner. Bleach. As you nudge the door open with your hip, you’re prepared for almost anything.
You’re not prepared to find the room occupied.
You don’t scream. You just suck in a lungful of stale air through your mask and cough.
A television on a teetering stand, its screen spiderwebbed by cracks. A ceiling fan, thick with dust and unmoving. A cloudy window with its drapes pulled back to drag the floor, their once deep red color faded to nearly beige by years of sun.
And a recliner, black or brown, leather flaking away and stuffing sticking out, shoved against a peeling wall.
You don’t scream because something is sitting in the recliner, looking at you from tiny black-button eyes.
“…Hungry,” it says.
It makes no move to attack you, or even to get up from the rotting chair. Just says again, “Hungry,” and stares quizzically at you, until you set down your cleaning supplies and go make a cheese sandwich with potato chips, because that’s all you’ve got in the kitchen.
Funny. When you were six years old you’d had a little crush on Peter Jenssen in first grade, until the teacher had loudly announced one day that boys didn’t have crushes on other boys, and the laughter had started.
You’re sure there had been words. But what you remember is going to a toy store sometime after that with your parents, and finding a blobby black and white plushie that maybe was meant to be a cartoon whale, but to you had just looked snuggly and soft and friendly.
You’d named it Clyde, and the other kids had laughed about that too, and you’d squeezed and whispered to and cried on Clyde off and on for the next eleven years.
And this thing in your spandrel recliner, it seems to shimmer out of focus when you look at it directly, transparent and indistinct; but if you look from the corner of your eye or from beneath your lashes, it solidifies, becomes black and white and bulbous. Soft-looking. Friendly.
You decide to call it Clyde, too. It doesn’t seem to mind.
Every day you go to work, and every night you bring back burnt pizzas and leftover breadsticks. Clyde doesn’t comment on the food, but the plates are empty every morning.
The cleaning is its own task; you’d been foolish to think a day or two would be sufficient. Three days in, the broken TV and the ceiling fan are gone, the window is halfway to clean, and you’ve ignored fifty-eight messages from your boyfriend, demanding to know what’s taking so long.
On the fourth day he shows up and breaks your nose because you haven’t answered him.
And while you’re hunched over the bathroom sink, sniveling and bleeding, he tromps for the room under the stairs and throws open the door, shouting that he’ll do it himself.
Unlike you, he screams, but it’s a short-lived noise.
The snaps of his bones, the slurps, those take longer.
You’ve just wrenched your nose back into line, coughing and gagging on half-clotted blood, when the door to that room creaks open.
The footfalls are soft thuds. The broad flat—hands?—that grip your shoulders aren’t plush, but almost gummy in their gentleness.
“Hurt?” Clyde says.
You straighten up, smearing gore as you wipe at your face. In the mirror, Clyde is just as you remember from being six: plush, rotund, smiling with a red open mouth.
“I’m okay,” you tell him, leaning back against him. Now you’re grateful you’d pressed Henry for that key. “I’ll be okay.”
And you ask, “Are you still hungry?”
Fiction © Copyright Scarlett R. Algee
Image courtesy of Pixabay.com
More from author Scarlett R. Algee:
The Lift: Nine Stories of Transformation, Volume One
The hall is dark and the overhead light flickers. Sounds echo, and there’s a creaking and clanging that gets louder as you stand in the semi-dark. The elevator opens and you’re offered a ride. Step inside and ride it to the story chosen for your transformation. Don’t be afraid, for Victoria, the mysterious girl who operates The Lift, waits to guide you. Set in the same world as the award nominated audio drama, The Lift’s first written anthology features nine all new stories by fan favorite writers and special bonus content by creators Daniel Foytik and Cynthia Lowman. The collection is brought to life with beautiful illustrations by Jeanette Andromeda for each story.