Sequel to Shadow, Fog and Firelight
“There are black zones of shadows close to our daily paths, and now and then some evil souls breaks a passage through. When that happens, the man who knows must strike before reckoning the consequences.”
H. P. Lovercraft, “The Thing on the Doorstep”
Noun: miner's canary (plural miner's canaries)
1. A caged bird kept caged in mines because its demise provided a warning of dangerous levels of toxic gases. 2. (idiomatic) Any thing, especially an organism, whose demise or distress provides an early warning of danger.
Wiktionary, the free dictionary
Nate McKeley didn’t hear the rats at first on account of the rain. The seven-year-old lay huddled in his bed, tightly clutching his covers. With wide watery eyes, he stared up at the ceiling, alert for a slightest leak or the sickening crash of a large branch breaking through the roof.
Nate hated this craphole hick town and their newest home as well as the “Oh Joy Good Ole Wonderful Humboldt County” locale. Tweakers junkies abound as well as potheads, although you don’t have to worry about one of the potheads robbing you the way you do with those tweakers.
Unlike San Diego where the McKeleys heralded from, there were no amusement parks and places of interests for those with rather short attention spans and boundless energy such as Nate. The Bayshore Mall in Union Town was ugly, small and pathetic, while the twenty plus stores here were tiny, mind-numbingly boring and often occupied by long-winded and annoying people.
The only plus side of this whole Humboldt region aside from the nice Victorian-era architecture was that it was located within the heart of the majestic redwood forest. Trouble was, you had to be basically a millionaire to live in one of those showy museum houses, and when you belonged to a slightly lower income bracket such as the McKeleys, you were stuck in either slummy ole Union Town or worst, crappy ole Curtisville. And even if they were able to sell off this enormous English-style ranch house that they had just inherited from Grandma, due to the expenses of numerous renovations, they still wouldn’t have enough to move to a more decent kid-friendly locale.
And what was the point of enjoying the forest scenery when the extended periods of sun and warmth were so few and far between? There was either a lot of fog or a lot of rain, or in this case, a lot of fog accompanied by heavy monsoon showers, lightning, thunder, and sometimes marble-sized hail and nearly hurricane-force winds.
Nate sighed, wishing his dad had just walked away from this massive money pit and stayed in San Diego rather than take that new job transfer as a customer engineer for the Control Data Corporation, where he now took care of a large room full of noisy, antiquated computers and peripheral equipment.
He looked helplessly around his dark room that held a carefully organized assembly of his various belongings. Nate wrinkled his brow as a heavy lump formed in his throat. His two older brothers, Russel and Larry, adjusted well to the big move, already making new friends, on their way of becoming the top "uber-cool" jocks that all the popular kids aspired to be; Russel with his skill in sports as well his display of athletic prowess on his beloved bike as well as skateboard while Larry (Lars) earned the respect as well as envy via his musical talent in the local and already massively popular dark metal band Mauve Vagrant.
Nate, on the other hand, rebelled the move with frequent temper tantrums, hunger strikes and lengthy periods of simmering resentment. To add insult to injury, he was placed in Special Ed because he wouldn’t sit still in a “normal classroom setting.” Eventually, he left off most his unpacking for three months until his mother finally pitched a fit and told him that unless he did it himself that she was going to send his “jerky” brothers to do it all for him.
So with this threat looming overhead, Nate got to work, sullenly unpacking one box at a time and slowly putting stuff away. When he finally finished hauling out the last box, he realized that he was missing a box full of his favorite comic, his patchwork duck plushie and his security blanket.
Great, it's bad enough I get stuck in the Re-Tardo Class with all the losers and mental cases, he thought, but then the stupid movers end up loosing all my favorite stuff in the whole wide world.
A thunderous gust of wind shook the side of the house, hurtling loose twigs and leaves against the casement window. The tow-haired small boy stared at it, holding his breath. Another bluster shortly followed, accompanied by the new clatter of debris against the small diamond-latticed panes.
Groaning loudly, Nate burrowed deeper beneath the covers. Another reason why he hated this stupid house: it was too close to the lousy woods. Too many towering trees that could topple over any minute, too many creepy sounds he couldn’t quite identify, especially at night.
Shrill voices whispered.
Nate frowned, uncovering his head. His hands clenched the blankets so hard that his knuckles turned white.
“Who’s that?” he croaked out. His fingers trembled slightly.
No one answered.
Only the whispering.
He strained his ears.
No, it wasn’t whispering.
It was more like squeaking, but not from something metal like a rusty hinge or a TV antenna... no, more like from something living.
Nate listened hard, trying not to move and make noise.
Rats, he decided. His lips were tightly pursed in a worried pout. Nate absolutely hated rats. They gave him the creeps, especially the big ones. Now he had another reason to hate this place, the scary ugly neighbors living in the walls.
He rose slowly up in bed, his eyes big and wide as they carefully traced the noise. They soon fixed on the plastered walls surrounding his closet.
What the heck were they doing? he wondered, staring at that spot. Having a late-night party?
The squeaking grew louder. Now there was scuffling and scrabbling, and then--thumping like they were leaping off the support beams and landing heavily.
“Fighting,” Nate finally muttered. “Like they've all gone nuts or something.”
He swallowed hard. His attention was soon riveted on his closet door. The air around him was filled with the scratching of their scaly paws on the timbers and their incessant, high-pitched squealing.
They’re getting closer.
Icy prickles of goose bumps spread rapidly over his legs and arms and down his back. He sat frozen, his eyes--huge blue-green saucers filled with terror. He envisioned a heaving mass of greasy black fur oozing from the large chewed hole at the back of his closet.
The whole pack clustering within the cramped space, heads raised with quivering whiskered snouts and bared yellow incisors; hungry eyes glinting red as they searched the door for a weak spot.
Suddenly, more than anything he wanted to get out of this room. Tossing aside the blankets, he scrambled out of bed and raced for the welcoming crack of golden light coming from beneath the bedroom door.
“Mom! Dad!” He yelled.
The light winked out.
Panicking, he threw open the door and ran full force into someone coming down the hall. The impact sent them both tumbling back, and slamming onto the floor like sacks of heavy potatoes.
“Ma-AAA,” Nate wheezed.
“Ahh... duuude! What the hell?!” Russel sat up unsteadily, rubbing his head. Finally, he dragged himself to his feet and glowered down at his youngest sibling still sprawled out on the floor. “Okay, dumbass, whatcha do this time?”
“I didn’t do nothing,” said Nate through his wheezing.
“Well you musta done something,” said Russel, hauling Nate up by his pajama front. “I go to use the bathroom for ten minutes and you come out like you set your room on fire.”
“I swear, Russ, I didn’t do anything!” Nate replied, addressing his fist. “It was the rats!”
“Rats? What rats?” Russel released his hold on Nate’s pjs. “I don’t see no stinkin’ rats.”
“No!” Nate cried, gesturing wildly toward his room. “In my closet. They’re breaking in through the walls!”
“Phft! You dreamed it all.”
“No, I didn’t!” Nate cried in outrage. “They’re real honest-to-God killer rats and they’re comin’ in to eat me... just like that Willard guy!”
“Will you pipe down!” Russel warned. “You want to wake up Mom and Dad?”
“I don’t care!” Nate grumbled, folding his arms stubbornly. “As long as they come up here and check my closet for rats.”
“Look,” said Russel sternly, “the last time you got your closet checked, it was because you stayed up till midnight watching the Halloween Monster Marathon.”
“Yeah, well that was just a regular nightmare,” Nate replied. “The rat one’s real.”
Russel frowned as he thought about Nate’s nightmares. Usually, they were about monsters--sci-fi/horror stuff he either saw on TV or at the movies. If it was about a real life critter, it was an enormous hulking mutant one like King Kong or Godzilla, or a prehistoric one such as T-Rex or one those Velociraptors.
“Okay... okay,” he said finally. “I guess I believe about the rats.”
“So you’ll check my closet.”
Russel shrugged. “Sure, I guess.”
Nate stared hard at him. “What d’ya mean you’ll guess?”
“That’s what I mean--sure, I guess.”
“You’re still guessing whether I’m making this up,” Nate whined.
“Look, dammit!” Russel fumed. “Do you want me to check for rats or not?”
“Sure, okay,” Nate replied. “I have to go to the bathroom though.” He walked a few paces before turning back to Russel, “And don’t you go touching my stuff while I’m gone.”
Russel rolled his eyes, unimpressed. “Yeah, whatever... like I’m going be touching your dorky, germy stuff.”
The moment Nate left, Russel thought about leaving just a note stating the closet was secure and rodentia-free, but then decided against it.
Nate may be a gullible when it came to ghosties and ghoulies, but he certainly wasn’t stupid.
“Rats, my ass,” Russel muttered as he stepped through the doorway to Nate’s room. “It’s bad enough I have to sleep through a raging hurricane without some pipsqueak complaining about the local wildlife.”
Switching on the light, he stared at the closet door. For some inexplicable reason, he didn’t want to take another step forward. Finally, he said irritably, “Well, screw this!” Storming forward, he grabbed the knob, twisted it hard. With a slight squeak and rattle, the door swung outward.
“Well, what do you know,” said Russel as he prodded the hangers of clothes and jumbled assortment of toys littering the floor. “Just a regular first-grade closet. Nothing scary about that... Well, unless you count those Happy Trolls and that Smurf Doll. ”
Suppressing a shudder at this sickening visual overload of saccharine cuteness, Russel shoved the clothes aside and thumped on the back wall with his fist. Then he stood motionless, listening for any noises signifying a verminous horde on the move.
“Just as I suspected,” Russel growled. “Nothing but a kiddie nightmare.”
He glanced at the carpeted floor that was visible between the small piles of clutter. No signs of droppings or stolen tidbits. As he stood there, rubbing his chin in thought, he felt a slight tug on his pajama sleeve.
“Ye gawds!” exclaimed Russel as he spun around. “Gees Louis! Don’t sneak up on me like that! You want to give me a Cardio-Pulmonary Infarction!”
“Sorry, man,” muttered Nate. He stared around Russel to stare at the back wall. “So did you find anything?”
Russel shrugged a shoulder casually. “Didn’t find a thing.”
“You sure?” Nate insisted.
“Yeah, I’m sure,” Russel sighed as stepped back into the bedroom, closing the door behind him. “No rats or rat holes. Zero, zip, zilch, nada, nothing.”
Nate was utterly dumbfounded. “But I heard them! I was wide awake!”
Russel shrugged again. “Well, they must have quit fighting and holed up someplace else then.”
Hopefully, in Lars’s basement bachelor pad, he thought ruthlessly. He was still pretty steamed at Larry for sneaking that perch into his pillow last month.
Turning, he started walking back toward the hallway.
“But Russ!” Nate exclaimed as he tugged at his brother’s arm. “What if they come back?”
Russel paused with one foot across the threshold. “Look, if it happens again,” he said reasonably, “then go pile some furniture in front of the door... like what that kid did in Cujo.” Pulling himself free of Nate’s grasp, he continued on down the hall.
“Russ?” Nate asked cautiously.
“Can I sleep in your...?”
“No,” Russel cut him off as he trudged into his room, shutting the door behind him.
Sighing wearily, Russel flopped into bed, folding his arms beneath his pillow. Shutting his eyes, he tried to catch up on some much needed Zs, but try as he might he couldn’t quite concentrate. He couldn't stop the nagging feeling persisting in the back of his mind... not about the rats that Nate claimed to have heard, but about the closet itself.
After what seemed like an hour of trying to contort himself in all sorts of yoga positions trying to find some sort of comfortable resting place, Russel finally gave up.
Man, this thing’s driving me NUTS!!! he thought as he glowered up at the ceiling. I took care of Nate’s rat problem so why can’t I just get to sleep already and not care!
Furrowing his brow, he then rolled over and buried his face into his pillow.
You remember... they were there when you opened the door, but not there when you checked the floor.
“Now, I know.” Propping himself up on his elbows, he stared at the door. Then he got up and opened it, wondering if Nate was still up.
Russel looked at Nate dusting off his hands then at the various furniture that was now piled up in front of the closet door.
“Uhh, hey Nate,” said Russ finally.
“Yep, whaddya want,” Nate gave him a quizzical look.
“Uhh, you wouldn’t happen to have some of those troll dolls in there?”
“Wh-what?!” Nate gawked at him.
“Oh maybe a Smurf doll,” Russel continued, feeling rather stupid.
“Dude!” Nate screwed up his face in utter disgust. “I hate those freaky, creepy things!”
“Yeah, well... you know,” Russel hesitated. “I thought I saw some...”
“Well, you must have been mistaken,” Nate continued irritably. “Or your head ain’t workin’ right! I always hated those goddamn toys... seriously, those things are creepy as hell!”
Russel was about to insist that he didn’t imagine anything, and that he really did see those inhumanoid things, but then the resulting argument would probably take all night.
“Okay,” he sighed, turning to walk out the door. “Guess, you’re right then. G’night.”
As he stepped back into the hall, he thought he heard a soft sound coming from the vicinity of the closet. A sound almost like a whispering voice, like what one of those god-awful baby dolls would make... or maybe even a rat.
“Please. Let us out. Please. We’ll be good. We promise.”
“What--” Russel sputtered. He glanced back at Nate. “You say something?”
Nate gave him a weird look. “Huh-uh.”
“Oh, okay,” said Russel numbly and resumed walking again. He could still feel Nate staring at him as he disappeared down the hall.
Afterwards, he lay awake with the light on, watching his bedroom door for a long time. And then put a baseball bat by his pillow, and at last he fell asleep.
Written by Mmpratt99 deviantart