The sun hangs dangerously low, filling the forest with shafts of orange light. The trunks of the redwood, the fir, the Douglas, Crayola Indian Red by day, are long columns of blood in the fading light. If the sun were high, the forest would still be deep in shadow, full of patches of filtered green sunlight. In the rapidly deepening night, however, the splotches of green are given way to purple. The sun is setting and I am late. The Creatures will be very hungry.
Some night animal chirrups as I roar past in the jeep. The road bends left, and the faded wooden sign “Emmet’s Crossing” looms up in the headlights. Another left at the crossing, and the road becomes more unstable; it’s not graded here. I fling out my right arm to catch the bag on the passenger’s seat, to prevent it from tipping, as the jeep is rocked about by the road.
Suddenly my wind-worn house looms up out of woods, the last rays of the sun glancing off the belfry. The jeep shudders to a stop, and I cut the engine and yank out the keys. Kick open the door, hop out, lock the door and slam it shut, and dash up the stairs. Unconsciously, I run my hand along the railing, earning a handful of splinters and grey paint chips. A faint gurgling can be heard from inside the house.
I dig into my pocket, fumble for my keys, and unlock the deadbolt; switch keys, then unlock the doorlock. It always sticks like this and I must jiggle the key a little; it’s probably as old as the door itself, and that’s not young.
I throw the door wide. The old parlor is sunken into shadowy twilight, grey and blue and quiet, except for the heavy tick-tock of my grandfather’s Grandfather. A humlike moan throbs from below my feet. It is not loud—the Creatures never are—but it is very deep, almost too deep to be heard. Every mote, every particle of dust vibrates, and each vibration vibrates every other particle, and I vibrate also. I can feel it in my lower abdomen, somewhere between my large intestine and genitals. I think my stomach has sunk somewhere down there, too. It’s time to feed the Creatures.
I take a second to compose myself; not an easy task, as the others have joined in the unholy chorus now also. The house is alive with the rising crescendo of humming monsters. A growl joins a moan joins a gurgle joins another growl and so on, but not so loudly that it is more than just noticeable. A deep breath, then I turn right and march the fourteen steps or so into and through the kitchen, then left into the pantry. I open the upright freezer and am greeted with a blast of cold, moist air; reach in and pull out a cellophane-wrapped parcel the size of my head. Shutting the door now I turn and reach up onto the shelf for two good-sized cans, then turn again and march out of the pantry into the kitchen. Unwrap the parcel, crack open the cans, and empty the contents into the large serving bowl—it may have been someone’s punch bowl once—sitting on the table. Another deep breath, and I pick up the bowl, turn completely around, walk seven or so steps, and stop at the cellar door.
I live in a very stately Victorian home. A century ago it would have been a small mansion, standing on the beachhead staring with soft candle-lit eyes across the sea. This kitchen would’ve been the province of someone’s housemaid, the cellar an ice-house for the storage of perishables. A radical design placed the ice cellar some fifteen feet under the kitchen, instead of out and away from the house, as in most buildings of the era.
Today, the house squints at the ocean with eyes lit coldly by jury-rigged electricity—and I have boarded up a broken attic eyeball. The refrigerator makes the ice-cellar redundant, except as a prison for monsters.
I turn the doorknob and pull. The sound seems to drive the Creatures into a frenzy; they are making the elated gurgling noise they make when especially anxious. They must be anxious now; this is the first late feeding in two and a half weeks. I descend the first eight steps to the landing, where I must duck my head under the arch which supports the weight of the kitchen. The stairs are in a state of marked disrepair, crumbling with a century of abuse, wet and slimy with moss. The walls are overgrown with moss and mold here, and tiny pale spiders dart along the webs they build to catch millipedes. If it were not so damp and alive here, the air would be musty, but instead it is full of an unpleasant rich green odor, and the vibrations of the tuneless Creatures.
I descend the second eight steps now and approach the heavy door. The ceiling here is low and the passage narrow, and the door fills most of it. The door is heavy oak, bound in sheet metal, riveted to massive safety-hinges set directly into the brick. The living grey-green walls tremble with the bedlam; I can scarcely breathe in the thick air. With a single fluid motion I insert the key into the lock and make the full right-hand turn which unlocks it. The Creatures know better than to try and force their way past me at feeding time, but I can feel them pressing against the door. I wedge my left foot against the bottom of the door and pick up the bowl with my right hand; turning now, pulling the door just slightly and setting the bowl down by the wide crack of the open door. In a flash the bowl is capsized and a greedy paw snatches up the contents. I slam the door shut, scoop up the bowl, turn and head back up the stairs. Sloppy gobbling noises accompany my ascent, punctuated with little hiccups and belches.
Up to the landing, around the bend, and up the second flight of stairs to the kitchen now. I shut the cranky door, and lean against it with a sigh. After a moment I turn and walk into the parlor and settle onto the sofa. The springs are so bad my back nearly reaches the floor, but then, that’s what makes old sofas comfortable. The room is very dark grey now...there aren’t any street lights out this far, of course, and only the dim fluorescent light of the pantry is on, casting faintly flickering yellow shadows across the room. The faint munching noises sound like water, like water in a river, bubbling and cascading over the house. Grandfather’s Grandfather keeps right on ticking...
When I awake the room flows with liquid silver light. The moon is risen and just past full. In the parlor, unearthly silence. I sit up and slip on my shoes. Shit. The groceries. The milk must be pretty well gone by now, but just about everything else should be okay. I get up out of my hammock of a couch and trod off out the front door—still ajar from my hasty entrance.
The jeep is right out front of the house. I come up on it from the passenger’s side and notice the doors are locked. I dig into the right front pocket, and the sudden force of my pulse catapults my heart directly into my throat. I left the keys in the cellar door.
Up the steps into the house, charging through the parlor and the kitchen foyer. I am too late. Goofy big slimy footprints track across the tile to the back door, which is agape at the moon-wet ocean. I dash out, but am too late. Some two hundred feet away, wobbling towards the surf, are the Creatures, their bumpy heads glistening. They have escaped and I cannot stop them, cannot even try. The ocean licks their toes and they giggle like mutant schoolgirls at the sensation. Knee deep, then waist deep, then leaping into the sea. I cannot hear it over the surf’s distant rumble, but can see briefly in the moonlight a spattering splash and somersault, then the uneasy still of the ocean.