(Alice is in a tight spot. Is she up to it?)
Chapter 10: A Battle in the Dark
In that second of recognition, I was frozen with fear. Killing it had seemed like such an easy task before I entered the locker. Now, face to face, I wasn’t sure I could do it. The tentacles that flowed from the bottom half of the creature were still; the upper part, the human-looking part, looked like a deformed man at rest. His face held only the faintest resemblance to the cranky old man I remembered as a child. The mouth that hung open was a little too large to be normal, and, even though there were several missing, the teeth were sharp and pointy, like a dinosaur’s. For the millionth time, I wanted to run.
The monster twitched and shivered. It grasped at the corner of a blanket with a couple of tentacles and covered itself. This was such a human action it shocked me. Could I have been wrong about Grandpa? Was I really about to murder a person for no reason other than my blind, stupid fear? Was I more of a monster for wanting to do it? My mind wandered to the stories I occasionally heard in the news, stories about other countries where people were attacked or killed because they were different. I always felt bad for those people; Grandma had told me to pray for them and the people who hurt them.
While I battled my conscience, Grandpa stirred. One of his watery, red eyes opened to peer at me. He must have been half asleep. He jumped back and growled at me. I jumped back, too. The next thing I knew, one of his tentacles lashed out and knocked the flashlight from my hands. It tumbled to the floor and started to flicker on and off. Grandpa was awake, but he didn’t seem very steady. I had a moment of hope as he lunged and I sidestepped into the corridor. That seemed to outrage him; he crashed through the bars, destroying the entire front of the locker in one, violent push. This was much stronger than I had imaged. The shattered wall of wood pulled down some of the wires hanging in the ceiling and I heard cracking and popping sounds from 106, or what remained of it. The lights in the storage began to flicker. I don’t know how, but I knew the time to strike had come; if I waited any longer, I would be in the dark and a lot of danger.
The light held for long enough to make out his body flopping against the wall, tentacles coiling and twisting madly. I rushed forward and thrust the stick into the center of his body with every ounce of strength I had. It felt like I got him. There was a second of heavy resistance followed by the stick moving freely forward. I felt like a monster slayer, knight and King Arthur, all put together.
Grandpa started screaming like wild, so loud I thought someone might hear. He lashed out with one of those human arms and caught me squarely in the head. The corridor swam before my eyes and I was on the floor, without remembering the fall. I could taste blood in my mouth and feel it on my face, warm and salty. The corridor smelled like smoke. I looked around, confused, and noticed the remains of 106 had caught fire. In the light of that fire, Grandpa lay on his side, twitching, with the stick lodged firmly in place. I was disoriented, but had enough instinct and adrenaline to get moving.
My head hurt like I’d bashed it off a wall. The corridor was almost completely dark as I stumbled out. It is something of a miracle that I made it to the door. The hall was filled with smoke, too. I was more confused than ever. I tried to get to the other end of the basement hall so I could attempt the stairs, but the smoke was so thick I could hardly breathe. The exit next to the elevator was open, with a few people gathered around it, already. I made it half way to the door before Mr. Gruber and Mr. Quesnelle came and pulled me the rest of the way. In my mental haze, the fact it was dark outside confused me; I had expected sunlight, somehow.
“Alice,” Mr. Quesnelle asked me in a scared voice, “are you all right?”
“Grandma,” I said, coughing hoarsely. “She needs help.” It was all I managed to get out before a wave of nausea and dizziness washed over me.
“The firemen have been called,” Mr. Gruber said.
“The fire department will get her out, Alice,” Mr. Quesnelle said, trying to be comforting. “They are almost here now.”
The little group of tenants guided me to the lawn on the other side of the parking lot. I hadn’t sat for more than a minute when a loud boom came from the building, followed by the longest, loudest jingling and crackling sounds I’d ever heard. When I looked, the whole side of the Riverview Apartments was raining down broken glass and chips of masonry; it rained down onto the parking lot, shattering and crashing with a sound like a waterfall, mixed with screams from the building. About five seconds later, the crashing stopped and was replaced with muttering and shocked voices from the little group of residents around me. The lights in the building had gone out. I was too far gone to appreciate how lucky we were to have moved away from the building, seconds before.
“Jesus,” Mr. Gruber swore, “that must have been the gas. We need to move farther away, in case something else blows.”
I was about to protest when another wave of nausea hit me and I threw up on the grass. All I could think of was Grandma, and how she might be sleeping through all this. The thought of losing her made me even more nauseous, and I nearly threw up again. Only Mr. Quesnelle managed to get me moving, assuring me that the firemen would save her.
The fire was out of control by the time the fire trucks had set up. Later on, the safety people discovered the wiring was faulty and the gas water heater wasn’t maintained properly. After the investigation, they tore down the building. Most of the bodies were recovered, including Grandma’s, but nothing was ever mentioned about the presence of a monster. A big part of the basement had caved in, so I always assumed that the combination of fire and rubble had obscured his features enough to hide his form.