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by Matt Sunrich
The fact is, most houses contain at least one monster.
They usually live in attics and basements, proverbially enough, as these are among the least visited spaces in a residence. The larger the house, the better they like it, as there are bound to be great swaths of the place that remain unoccupied most of the time.
There are, of course, a variety of monsters, and the bulk of them are, thankfully, basically humanoid in appearance. The type of monster a house contains is closely related to the environment more than anything else. Unfortunately, there are monsters associated with every biome, so all you can do, really, is choose the one that disturbs you the least.
Unlike insects and other household pests, all attempts at keeping them out are futile. Let’s just establish that right now. They can always get in.
For all intents and purposes, the best thing you can do is just assume that one is living in your house and act accordingly.
It was a warm Saturday morning in early October when Emily Pollock made a fateful error.
She had woken up feeling out of sorts and decided that it would be best to call in to work. She oozed out of bed and stumbled to the phone in the hallway, lifted the receiver, and began to press buttons. Unfortunately, the number her addled brain impelled her to dial was not that of her employer but, rather, her own.
Now, under normal circumstances, this would have proven merely annoying, but in this particular instance, it resulted in something else entirely.
Emily, who had never been much of a go-getter, worked a menial job, as her degree in Anthropophagy—she had failed to read the application form carefully—had yielded nothing worthwhile and, in fact, often got her ejected from the offices of interview committees with large vocabularies.
Fortunately, her parents had allowed her to move back into her old room, though they politely avoided her most of the time, as they had a large vocabulary between them, and locked their bedroom door at night to avoid accidentally being consumed in a moment of desperation or confusion or what have you.
They had both already left for work by the time she got up, leaving Emily in the house by herself.
The phone rang six times before anyone answered, which was highly unusual. The voice on the other end that ultimately reverberated against her eardrum was harsh and dry.
“Who disturbs my slumber?”
“Burrito Hut? Pollock here. I don’t think I’m going to be able to make it into work today.”
“If you hang up immediately I might consider sparing you.”
“I’m sick. I should probably stay in bed, you know?”
“This is your final warning, mortal.”
“It’s not like I call in that often. Cut me some slack. I feel really yucky.”
“Have it your way, then.”
Bemused, Emily replaced the receiver and stood, bracing herself against the jamb of the linen closet, looking down at the living-room furniture through the balustrade and wondering whether or not she had just been sacked, unsure of whether or not she even cared. She was completely ignorant of the fact that she had just engaged in a clipped conversation with the creature in the basement.
Why her parents had a phone installed down there is anyone’s guess.
Now, the interesting thing about domestic monsters is that their ability to terrorize the resident’s occupants is limited by the fact that they’re frequently thwarted by doorknobs.
It’s difficult to say why such a simple thing could prove such an obstacle. Perhaps the concept eludes them. Perhaps when the killing instinct possesses them they lack the presence of mind to execute rudimentary tasks. Perhaps it’s just, as they say, one of those things.
They don’t dare break a door down, as this would be too noisy, and stealth is the monster’s bread and butter. As such, they have no choice but to wait until someone opens it for them.
This was indeed the case with the monster in Emily’s parents’ basement.
After hanging up the phone, it had ascended to the top of the stairs and then stopped dead, hoping that the girl it had spoken to would find some reason to come down there. It noticed a paint can filled with soiled rags, thought they looked quite interesting and imagined that she might have need of one at some point. The faint aroma of WD-40 permeated its nostrils as it absentmindedly slid a tentacle along the door’s grimy facing.
Prior to the phone’s ringing, it had slept for over thirty years. The basement was very dry, as the area saw less than average rainfall, making it the ideal environment. The ground beneath the sub-floor had an unusually large number of trenches (the result of small tectonic shifts), one of which had been the perfect width and depth for its sarcophagus, and the footings were spaced in such a way that they created the simulacrum of a small temple.
The phone had rung many times before, of course, but someone upstairs had always answered it by the third ring. On those rare occasions when a call came in when no one was home, it would stop on the fourth or fifth ring, as people gave up if no one had picked up by then. The tipping point was six rings, for reasons lost to the ages, and until that morning it hadn’t come to that.
The monster had never seen the interior of the house and had never given it much thought. It had merely been looking for a safe, perhaps permanent, place to rest. Its former dwelling, an abandoned department store, had burned down, and, awakened by the extreme heat, it had barely escaped. Fire was dangerous to everyone, but it was particularly bad for those who, like it, had been mummified.
Emily crawled back into bed but found that she couldn’t sleep. She threw the coverlet off and painted her toenails and then tuned the radio to a jazz station and played Escape from the Mindmaster on her Atari 2600 (made possible by Starpath’s patented Supercharger expansion cartridge). After a while, she began to feel a bit better and decided to eat a bowl of cereal.
When she reached the kitchen, she emptied the box into a bowl and found that the cereal had been replaced with washers. While they bore a passing resemblance to Cheerios or Apple Jacks, it was clear that no amount of milk or sugar was going to make them palatable. She picked one up and examined it and then allowed her eyes to roam about the room. When her gaze fell on the door leading to the basement, it struck her that perhaps the cereal and washers had—not unlike the Prince and the Pauper—traded places. These sorts of things, though unusual, were known to happen.
At over eight feet in height and possessing glowing, red eyes; jagged tusks; desiccated, bandaged skin; and four tentacles protruding from its back, the creature cut an imposing figure. It had been born (if birth is, indeed, how you’d describe such a thing) untold years before in Upper Egypt, when a careless scribe got distracted by a beautiful, deformed woman as she fell from a chariot and accidentally drew the wrong hieroglyph on a shard of ostracon. The sun had just set, and the shadows in the nearby escarpment coalesced like spilled ink into the horrifying thing that now stood, thousands of miles from its land of origin, at the top of the basement stairs.
Those who survived the encounter dubbed it Throk’z.
It had not, of course, come into existence mummified. That had come later and was the result of a terrible misunderstanding. Nevertheless, the process had depleted none of its savagery, though it found that, having no internal organs, it suffered frequent indigestion.
Not that eating in the traditional sense of the word was a major concern.
The creature dug its bony fingers into the door when it heard Emily moving about in the kitchen beyond, and its tentacles flailed menacingly.
When her footsteps neared, it silently glided back to the basement floor and concealed itself beneath the stairs, watching through the slats as the door swung open.
Emily flipped the light switch, and the bulb, suspended on a wire from the ceiling, snapped on. She vaguely recalled that her father kept the washers on the shelf next to the hot-water heater. The unpleasantness of eating cereal that had moldered in the basement didn’t even cross her mind as she descended the steps.
The shelf in question was covered with dusty nuts and bolts and rusted machine parts. She crouched down and saw the washer box at the very back and reached for it.
Just as her fingers were wrapping around the container, something brushed against her leg.
Her entire body went cold.
She wasn’t sure whether she should turn around or remain perfectly still. She ultimately decided the former would be the best course of action. The washer box fell from her hand as she beheld the horror that hovered over her.
Throk’z’s eyes burned like coals in the half-light, and its dry, mephitic breath came in rasps. The black nails on its cracked fingers inched toward her, trembling in anticipation. Emily was paralyzed, and though the notion of screaming occurred to her, no sound whatsoever emanated from her vocal folds.
Just then the phone rang.
Both Emily and the monster turned their heads to the off-white rotary phone attached to the wall.
It rang again, and a bead of ice-cold sweat ran down Emily’s back.
On the third ring, Throk’z crossed its arms and sighed.
“You gonna answer that?”
Emily nodded slightly and reached for the receiver, keeping her eyes focused on the monster. She held the earpiece several inches from her head as she spoke.
“Pollock? Where the hell are you? You were supposed to be at work two hours ago.”
“Um, it’s complicated.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Emily recoiled as one of the creature’s tentacles snatched the receiver away from her and placed it against the side of its bandaged head.
“I must warn you that you are dealing with forces far beyond your feeble mind’s ability to comprehend.” Its eyes narrowed at this, and it ran a fingernail across the corner of its mouth. “Sorry, that was an awkward construction, wasn’t it? What I’m trying to say is, I’ve been having a rotten morning and am in no mood to deal with more crap. So please kindly get off the line.”
Without waiting for a response, it hung up.
“So,” Emily managed, “where do we go from here?”
Throk’z looked around the tenebrous basement and then back at her. “I’m at a loss. I really just want to go back to bed. I was planning on killing you, you know, ripping you to shreds, but I don’t think I have it in me anymore to do that sort of thing. It’s just too much trouble.”
Emily cautiously moved toward the stairs. “I don’t suppose I’ll be seeing you again.”
“Nah,” it replied. “I think I’m gonna find a new place to crash.” As it shambled back into the darkness under the floor, Emily studied the Cheerios scattered on the concrete but had lost her appetite.
Three years later, Emily got a lucrative job delivering garbage to billionaires but disappeared while flying a shoddy replica of the Enola Gay over the Himalayas on a dare.
Throk’z’s current whereabouts are unknown.
Matt Sunrich is a librarian/organization enthusiast residing in Tallapoosa, GA. He enjoys comic books, pulp fiction, sword and sorcery, horror, classic video games, urban legends and folklore, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, word games, and the music and lyrics of They Might Be Giants. His fiction has appeared in The Strange Edge. He recently penned two essays on Star Wars that will appear in forthcoming anthologies from Sequart. He is currently working on a book about fantasy heroine Red Sonja for Hasslein Books. His first crush was on Smurfette