(Alice faces the terrible secret in 106)
Chapter 8: The Secret in 106
Life went back to normal over the next few days. I had to do more chores and help Grandma do simple things, but she was mostly okay. She took one more of the pills from the doctor, but, other than that, she toughed it out. Her knee did look better with each passing day; however, Grandma was nowhere close to mobile. There wasn’t much I could do to help her. The doctor said rest and really gentle stretching were the best cures.
By Thursday night, the bucket was full again, and Grandma asked me to go down with it; I had been hoping she would forget.
“Please, Alice,” she said, noting my obvious fear, “my knee is much better now, so I’m sure this will be the last time you need to do it.”
I decided that one last effort with the bucket wouldn’t kill me. For all my fear, I had not been harmed in the storage. What would one more trip hurt?
Ten minutes after ten saw me descend to the storage, bucket and stick in hand. Again, I met no one. The storage looked the same as before, turn after turn, as I wound my way in. At the final turn to 106, I put the bucket down and used the stick to push it along the floor to the storage door. Just when I thought I was scot free, the bucket caught on the floor and tipped over, spilling meat, bones, juices and all. I was more angry than frightened at my clumsiness, and my emotions blinded my better judgement.
This is stupid, I thought to myself as I stomped over to the bucket; after all, I’d probably just scared myself into hearing things. I righted the bucket and started to put the meat back into it when something touched my leg. It was too firm a touch to have been a spider. I let out a short scream and jumped away from the storage, causing myself to fall. I took a terrified look at the storage as I scrambled away. Even in the dim light, I was able to see something long and snakelike pull back between the slats of 106, disappearing in the murky darkness.
“Asshole!” I yelled, as I got to my feet. It was the worst word I knew, and I put every ounce of angry, fearful emotion behind it.
“Alice,” came a deep, gurgling and unexpected reply. “Bad gurl.”
I froze in place. I still can’t say what kept me there. My best guess is I never imagined something with a voice, speaking words. Part of me wondered what sort of person would go to this extreme to scare me. Either way, my anger converted to a flash of courage in seconds.
“You asshole!” I called out again, directing my rage at this deranged person. “You’re the one who’s bad! Bad! Bad! Bad!” This was as angry as I’d been in my life, and if I had had a proper range of vulgar words to use, I would have used them all.
Whoever was in 106 pushed the door open, causing me to back up again. Whoever it was stood as tall as I did; though they were substantially wider. I did not need to see clearly to know it was a monster. Not a deformed person or animal, but a true, blue monster from the scariest movies and books. It moved out of 106 with a squishy, sliding sound, like dragging a wet rug over thick mud; and it moved strangely, like it was half crawling, half hopping.
“Baad Alice,” it said again. “Draapping tha bucket. Spilling tha food an tha floor.”
“How do you know my name?” I asked when I had gone as far from the thing as I could without losing sight of it.
“You dan’t remembar mee, Alice?” it asked. The voice was very peculiar, like someone was trying to talk with a mouth full of water. Something about the voice, despite how it sounded, was familiar to me. At that moment, however, I was more focused on running than placing the voice of a monster.
“I don’t know any monsters,” I said.
It started making short, choking sounds I didn’t immediately identify as laughter. This thing was laughing at me, and my slight calm was immediately disturbed by another flash of anger.
“What’s so funny, asshole? Nobody likes asshole monsters!”
It stopped laughing. “Not monstar, Alice. Graandpa. Rememba now?”
Grandpa? I tried to look carefully at it, but there was nothing more to see in that light. My head was starting to spin. The thing, monster or Grandpa, started to laugh again, and I simply ran for the door. Either it didn’t chase me or was too slow to catch me. I took the stairs, two at a time, until I got to the fifth floor, barely able to unlock the apartment with shaking hands.
Grandma had been sleeping when I got in, but my hasty entry woke her. I was sweaty, shaky and felt faint.
“Alice, dear,” Grandma said, still groggy with sleep, “is everything okay?”
“Why is Grandpa in the basement?” I blurted out, harshly, not even sure why I asked it that way. “And why is he like that? What’s going on, Grandma?”
That shocked her out of her slumber. “What silly questions, dear. Did the rats frighten you again?”
I had a very sudden and harsh jolt of maturity. Nothing was right about the situation, and Grandma was holding back, trying to pretend she didn’t know. I had my first ever doubts about her character, and I felt very alone, very cheated.
“Grandpa is in the storage,” I stated without any doubt in my voice, the words forming around the obvious connections my mind was making, “and he is a monster. The meat bucket is how you feed him.”
Grandma made one last attempt to explain it away. “Alice, that’s not nice to say. Your grandfather passed away a long time ago. You have just scared yourself into seeing things in the shadows.”
“No,” I interrupted. “He talked to me. I remembered the voice. It’s him. What’s going on, Grandma? Please, tell me.” I felt like crying, only it wouldn’t happen. Grandma had lied to me about something big; I had to know what it was.
A serious look crossed her face, the kind that was almost angry. “Alice,” she said, pausing for a moment, “there are some things I need to tell you. I am sorry you had to find all this out. I was going to tell you, but I didn’t know how to say it. You might as well sit down, dear.”
I sat at the table, but I kept my distance from her. In some strange way, I was afraid of her, like maybe she was a monster, too.
“When you were little, Grandpa was already getting sick,” Grandma continued. “At first, we didn’t know what it was. Grandpa got these little green blisters and felt sick all the time. The doctors didn’t know what it was. They said he probably had an allergy or infection, and things like that. They knew nothing. Grandpa got so mad he refused to see doctors anymore. He got worse, though.
“Soon, he had trouble keeping food down. The only thing he could eat without making him sick was meat, and the rarer the better. For a short time, I thought he would be all right with that. Then, his mood started changing and he got, well, grumpy. He got angry and mean over any little thing. What’s worse is he started getting rough with me. Sure, he couldn’t get around very well but he was still quite strong, and something about him wasn’t right.”
Grandma stopped to grab a tissue. She was fighting her tears. “I’m sorry, dear. I’ve never told this to a soul, and it’s hard to say the words.” She paused to collect herself before continuing. I didn’t offer her any comfort; something still felt wrong about the entire situation.
“That last Christmas you were here, that was the last normal time he had. After you and your parents left, Grandpa’s body started to change. He started to have long, stringy growths from his legs and waist. And his arms seemed to grow, and his fingers, too. His teeth…” Grandma was never an actress about things, so I could tell the tears were real, but I still didn’t offer any comfort.
“Anyway, I couldn’t keep him in the apartment. The doctors kept calling and asking about him; worried about him spreading a disease to the general public. That’s when I put him in the storage unit. I told the police he wandered off in the night, and they believed it. A few weeks later they found a body near Vasey, and it looked a little like Grandpa when I saw it at the morgue, even though it was a bit rotten. I told them it was him and that was the end of it.”
“After that, I tried to get him back into the apartment, but we nearly got caught. So I set him up with some blankets and things. He has been there ever since. He doesn’t eat much and gets his water from the leak under the door. I know he is deformed; he’s worse than before, but it wouldn’t be Christian to let him die. Besides, I have a marital and moral obligation to support him.”
“Is he still mean?” I asked.
“I won’t lie to you, Alice. He has become the monster he appears to be. That’s why I warned you about rats and told you not to linger there. I don’t know what he might do if he caught you.”
“Why?” I asked, feeling a bit angry at her, knowing what she knew the entire time. “What has he done to you?”
Grandma hesitated, fighting tears again. “At first,” she said, “he would threaten me. Later, he was rough with me again. The only way I had to keep him under control was to cut off his food. After keeping him hungry a few times, he has learned to behave. That’s why I only feed him every few days. Now he is good to me, even if he’s unhappy about it.”
“Why didn’t you take him to a doctor?” I was full of questions and ideas, but only a few that needed answering. “A real doctor, I mean, that knew how bad Grandpa got. They might have done something.”
“You see, Alice,” Grandma said, openly crying now, “if I had done that they would have taken Grandpa away. Worse yet, they would have taken him somewhere terrible and treated him badly.”
“Like a monster,” I said.
“Yes, Alice, just like a monster. That’s why I have to take care of him, why we have to take care of him. He’s still a person, dear, even if he’s gone bad. If I tell the police or doctors, they will kill him, even if they don’t do it right away. If I stop feeding him, he will die. Thou shalt not kill, Alice; that is a commandment from the highest authority. Do you understand, dear? You will help me take care of him, won’t you dear?”