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“Hey, everyone! Join us, won’t you?” Yuki says, looking up from her mostly-carved Jack-o-lantern. “There should be plenty for everyone.”
Her assistant does not look up from his own pumpkin. His eyes are focused on the carving knife and the Sharpie line he is cutting along. “She ain’t kidding, guys. We got a pumpkin patch that could make Linus Van Pelt jealous.”
“Y’all are more than welcome to take some seeds home with you, but if you wouldn’t mind leaving some back for my next harvest, that’d be amazing.”
“We got a scary one tonight?”
Yuki beams at the question, “We do! In the spirit of the season, we’ve got a terrifying tale about a man who encounters an unearthly creature that begs the question:
The question comes from Tom Spelling, a neighbour from across the street, after something large slammed against the tin doors of the free-standing garage. It being such a late hour makes it all the more jarring. There is no traffic, no people doing yard work, no one blasting music to soften the audible blow.
Donny Tomasi, the owner of said garage, struggles to come up with an answer. Another loud crash delays the inevitable as the attention is taken from him.
‘Holy shit!’ exclaims Bob from next door. He points to the impact spot on the garage. ‘That one was all the way up there!’
All eyes are again on Donny. A cold sweat breaks across his brow. No way in hell the men and women on their street were gonna let him go now. Even if he is fortunate enough to bail, they’d all be left with…that. While he doubts that any of them would open up before the police or animal control arrive…someone, at some point, would have to peek and go in.
And that wouldn’t be good for anyone, Donny reflects. Why? Why the hell did I have to go out that night?
Three weeks ago, Donny was leaving the cinema after a late night double-feature. He pulled out his mobile and dialed his girlfriend. He fully didn’t expect her to answer while she was at work. She answered just before it went over to voicemail.
‘Hey! How you doing, Jess?’
‘Ugh…Not even here two hours and I’m already dragging.’
Donny stood on the footpath in front of the lobby doors and glanced both ways down the street and walked across to the carpark. ‘Did you get yourself a coffee or, like, a bunch of sugary candy?’
Jessie sighed, ‘You know I don’t like coffee.’
‘It was only a sugg—’
‘I got a large from Maccas on my way in. Freakin’ sculled it waiting to be let in. Nada on the effects.’
Donny shuffled his mobile and got out the keys to his Barina. ‘That sucks! Whadda they got you doing tonight? Maybe you’ll wake up more when you’re up and around?’
‘You sound so peppy right now,’ Jessie pouted. ‘Weren’t you sitting down for four hours in the dark!?’ How do you even do that?’
Donny shrugged even though she couldn’t see. He put his car into drive and started on his way home. ‘You decided to date a nite owl…plus I’ve had a ton of junk food and the horror movies got the heart pumping good.’
‘Even ones you’ve seen dozens of times at home?’
‘Well, I don’t have a hope in hell of a pick me up. They got me printing and tearing out the A6 and -7 sales labels, then I have to stuff them into the portfolios by aisle. It’ll be a suck-ass boring night for awhile yet,’ Jessie groaned.
A flickering in the distance caught Donny’s eye. He slowed the car down and peer out his window to the right.
‘You still there?’ Jessie asked.
‘Yeah. Hey something weird is happening.’ Donny pulled the Barina to the shoulder. ‘Something’s glowing in one of the paddocks.’ He unbuckled himself, grabbed his torch from the glovebox, and stepped out.
‘Another torched car?’
‘No, not that I can see…it’s faint and small. Doesn’t look like a fire.’ There were no other cars on the road, so he crossed at his leisure.
‘Of course you’re gonna go investigate. Like you haven’t just watch a bunch of teenagers make some dumbass decisions.’ Jessie tried to keep her voice straight, but ended cracking herself up.
‘Mhmm. And if it’d been an action movie I’d be wandering around ready for someone to pick a fight.’
Jessie got the giggles out of her system and turned serious again, ‘Can you see what it is yet?’
‘No. Hang on a sec, I’m just getting the light on.’ Donny sighed. ‘Shit…so the glowing died as soon as I got to the other side of the street.’ He found a break in the fencing and stepped over. His light hovered over the grass, sweeping left and right. He held it over a patch that was singed—roughly a metre square. ‘It looks like it may have been a fire after all…’
In the background on her end, the quiet music on the Big W PA stopped and a tinny voice called out, ‘Jessie Selsnik. Jessie Selsnik, please come up to the service desk, thank you.’
‘Crap… you’re gonna have to tell me about it later,’ Jessie said, rushed. ‘Gotta go.’ The line went dead from her end.
Donny pocketed his phone and crept closer to the spot. ‘Okay, let’s see what we got here,’ he muttered to himself. There were no remains or ash that he could see, nor could he smell any petrol. There were, however, a handful of much smaller spots where it looked like people had been sitting.
Probably kids smoking and playing with lighters.
Within the blackened grass, he spotted two rocks, identical in shape and size. One of them looked…off. Donny gave the strange one a quick tap to ensure it wasn’t hot to the touch. It wasn’t. Still warm though. He picked it up and studied it closer, shining the light on it.
It really started to bother him; he couldn’t quite put his finger on why the thing was so odd. Like a stick insect or one that resembled a dried up leaf, it wasn’t one hundred percent identical to the real deal. But it was a goddamned rock. Neat looking, too.
Donny decided to take it home. He’d show it to Jessie and give her all the deets. Maybe she, too, would agree that there wasn’t something quite right about it.
Ten minutes later, Donny pulled into his garage and popped the strange rock on to the work bench. Jessie had the weekend off after her overnight stint, she’d probably be over to use his washing machine since hers was on the fritz. He’d show her the rock then.
Except that would never come to be.
The next day, Donny went to leave for an evening shift at Big W. The thought of getting to see Jessie in passing at the very least was at the forefront of his mind. So when he saw that the rock (maybe) looked bigger than it did the night prior, it did not properly register.
When he returned home later in the evening, he was so buggered from the workday that he didn’t notice the rock wasn’t where he left it…or that he gained another four litre paint can in the back corner of the garage.
Saturday arrived and Donny decided to get some light shopping done in anticipation of Jessie’s visit around midday. He backed the Barina out of the garage and remembered the rock. To his dismay, it was no longer sitting where he put it. Or course he chalked it up to being misplaced by none other than himself. And it bothered the ever-loving hell out of him that he had no recollection of moving it.
Jessie’s old civic was sitting in the driveway, earlier than expected, so he parked just behind her. She was nowhere to be seen, neither in the lounge room, nor in the kitchen or dining areas. After he put away the food, Donny retreated to his bedroom, where he suspected she would be after her shift. He opened the door. And there she was, under a single sheet, snoring lightly. He decided to let her be.
Donny took refuge in the garage with a stubby of James Squire in hand. The summer was weeks away and he decided to get some routine maintenance done on the lawn mower and whipper snipper. They’d be having a go once or twice per week depending on the rainfall. He was so engrossed in the cleaning and tinkering that he completely missed Jessie entering and nearly jumped out of his skin when she leant over and plugged in her iPhone. The little smiling faces of the hearts and stars stickers on the USB adaptor matched his girlfriend’s face exactly.
Jessie laughed. ‘You really didn’t hear that door squeaking open?’ She kissed him on the forehead.
Donny took another sip of beer after settling down. ‘Have a good nap?’
Jessie nodded, stifling a yawn. ‘The birds around my place are going crazy right now. It sucks trying to sleep after the sun comes up—forget about a solid nap in the afternoon.’
Donny reflected on the past couple days before speaking. ‘Huh, they have been quiet here lately. They usually wake me a good two hours before I’m ready.’
‘None here at all right now. It’s perfect.’
‘I don’t suppose you feel like going out today?’
‘Gimme a little longer to rest. We’ll figure something out. I can be lazy all day tomorrow.’
‘Cool. I shouldn’t be too much longer in here.’
‘Take your time; no rush. Oh!’ she set down a small stack of envelopes and flyers on the workbench, ‘You’ve neglected your letterbox. Bills and rubbish. And two missing cats.’
‘Pfft. Cats are probably on an extended wander. Little bastards have been through my bins more’n once.’
The two chatted for awhile longer. Donny was not yet finished with his project, but Jessie disconnected her phone and announced that she needed to use the toilet.
‘Alright, while you’re in there, decided on what we’re gonna do tonight,’ Donny said over his shoulder.
She did—and they ended up going to one of those paint and drink dealies (her painting was better).
Later in the week, Donny had enough dry days in a row to warrant a good mow for the front yard. So when he got home from work a shade before three o’clock, he parked his car out front to give himself room to bring out the mower. He also needed to remind himself to take Jessie’s iPhone charger back in the house (she already had a couple spare chargers lying around for convenience). Donny slid the tin door aside and this time noted something was amiss.
Over on the left side of the garage, he had a small assortment of plastic storage containers: Christmas decorations, Halloween stuff, various lengths of extension cords. There was a fourth container. Like the rock he found, there was something not quite right about the mysterious addition. Hesitantly, Donny approached the boxes and reached out to give it a poke.
The next few seconds would be a blur to Donny whenever he tried to think back on it. When his index finger was centimetres from the side of the container, an ear-shattering roar escaped the box. Its sides blew out slightly as it jumped off the ground. The lid popped off and revealed several rows of serrated teeth. The entirety of the lid was covered with the razor-sharp features; inside the box they ran the entire perimeter, going impossibly deep to its unseen core.
Donny snapped his hand back and stumbled over his feet trying to escape. The plastic box jumped up and bounced over to him, snarling and growling without pause. Donny scrambled to his feet and launched himself through the door and slammed it shut. He fumbled with the padlock he normally never used with shaking hands and managed to get it locked as the mimic box crashed into it. Thankfully it didn’t have enough weight to it to do much damage. It continued its assault for a few minutes and ultimately gave up.
Donny’s mind raced, what do I do? Do I call the cops? The AFP? They’d throw me into a mental ward. And what if they do believe me and see this thing? I’d be put into indefinite quarantine and they’d seize my property. Hell with that!
Whatever the hell that thing was needed to eat, right? He supposed a week or two in the garage with no access to food and water would do it in. It was a waiting game now. In the meantime, he’d just have to keep this whole ‘monster’ thing on the downlow.
Okay, just park outside and hire someone to mow for a couple weeks. I can bullshit something about the mower being busted and waiting on a part.
There were times during the next several days when Donny almost forgot there was some sort of otherworldly monster stashed away on his property. In fact, one hour before the intervention he was currently in the middle of, he was on the cusp of putting the situation in the back of his mind.
Donny was prepping dinner while Jessie was reading in the lounge room; he left his post at the counter to ask her for the measurements needed for the barbecue sauce. Before he got a word out, he saw the little heart and star stickers on her phone charger.
‘Oh, haven’t seen that one in a bit,’ Donny said, nodding to the power point.
‘Yeah! Completely blanked on where it was. I’ve been driving myself mad trying to find it at home,’ she rolled her eyes, ‘and I randomly remembered that I left the damn thing in the garage on my way here. When did you start locking it up?’
Donny made up a story about burglaries in the area, got the recipe from Jessie and quickly retreated to the kitchen.
Shitshitshitshit, he thought. How do I know that she isn’t the monster? He looked out the screen door on the side of the house. It could have died before she went in. No way around it…I’m gonna have to check.
Donny put on the stovetop fan and the AM/FM radio perched on the refrigerator. He crept across the dining room and stuck out the side door. Very gently, he slid open the garage door. The additional container was no longer there…nothing looked abnormal…there weren’t any extra things he could see.
‘Whatcha doing out here?’
Donny spun around, taking two steps backward. He choked on his own saliva and went into a coughing fit. He regained his composure to address Jessie.
‘That’s twice I’ve got you bad out here,’ she said, smiling.
‘Yeah…got me good…I’m, uh, just looking for bin bags, we’re running kinda low in the kitchen. I thought I had an extra back out here.’
Jessie continued to smile and tilted her head. Her eyes told him she was skeptical.
‘What’s in the garage, Donny?’ Bob asks, intense and icy. His gaze is fixed on him. Under normal circumstances, ‘Big’ Bob Kazansky, retired Air Force vet, would absolutely be able to intimidate Donny with such a look.
‘Answer him!’ Tom speaks up.
Others in the growing mob of neighbours affirm this. Bob grows tired of waiting for an answer and starts of toward the garage.
‘No, don’t!’ Donny cries out.
‘I can tell when you’re lying, dear,’ Jessie said, crossing the threshold and cutting off Donny’s only means of escape.
He hastily pulled a garden rake from the near wall and held the heavy metal tines toward the imposter. ‘Stay back! Don’t come any closer!’
Tom and some of the other neighbours hold Donny back. Bob cautiously approaches the garage. He looks back at the mob as if to say ‘do I keep going?’. The crowd eggs him on. He acknowledges this and keeps moving forward.
‘Hello?’ Bob apprehensively calls out. ‘Is anybody in there? We though we heard some trouble earlier. Is everything okay?’ He inches closer and closer to the door.
Faint sobbing comes from the inside and builds. ‘I need help!’ a wavering and muffled voice speaks up. ‘I need help!’ this time the voice is much louder.
The crowd gasps and chatter resumes.
‘I’m hurt! Jessie’s voice is loud and clear for most to hear.
Bob runs up to the garage door. It’s padlocked, but a key is still dangling from it. He unlatches it and pulls the door open with all his strength.
Donny lunged at the imposter and swung the rake as hard as he could. The metal tines shredded its clothes and skin. It shrieked and fell against the wall. A hideous amount of blood poured from the wound. The cries for help dwindled, but it still tried to get to its feet. Donny walked over to the creature and brought the rake down hard on its calves, puncturing muscle and breaking bone. It tried to cry out again, but slumped over, unconscious. He had the right mind to put the thing out of its misery…but it looked so much like Jessie…he couldn’t raise his weapon again. Instead, he tossed it aside and shut the door and locked it.
Donny stumbled to his house, locked himself inside, and promptly vomited on the kitchen floor. He didn’t have a clue how much time passed after. Then there was a knock at the door, which turned out to be Bob, Tom, and the rest.
Bob gasps at the scene. Blood has pooled and smeared all over the floor. Jessie has managed to crawl to the door and lean against it. She spills all over the pavement as soon as Bob opens it.
Without hesitation, Bob picks her up and shouts, ‘Call an ambulance! Jessie’s messed up—bad! Oh my god.’
Donny tries again to break free and yells, ‘Stay away! You don’t know what it can do!’
The crowd pulls him back aggressively and tells him to keep his goddamned mouth shut.
Bob turns around, still holding Jessie, and carries her away from the garage as gingerly as possible.
The tin door opens further. Everyone, aside from Bob and Jessie, turns their attention to the garage interior.
Donny screams another warning. The grip on his body eases as the mob tries to process a second Jessie, unscathed and standing behind Bob. Talons jut from her fingertips and her jaw is dislocated, mouth hanging impossibly low with several rows of serrated teeth exposed.
“Dude, that’s harsh,” the assistant sighs, shaking his head. “The paranoia was real for him.”
“Rightfully so!” Yuki says. “But poor Jessie, getting a good working-over just because she remembered where she left her USB adaptor. But hey, everyone else was going to get messed up a whole lot worse.”
“Not really. There’s no way it wouldn’t finish her off too!”
“Oh,” Yuki pauses, thinking about that for a second. “Damn, I guess you’re right. We’ll put some money on it and we’ll go back sometime to see.”
“What? We’ve made worse bets before.”
No, not that…Yuki, look,” the assistant says, pointing to the carved pumpkins. “You didn’t, like, make two of those, did you?”
“I…did…not.” Yuki slowly turns to her Jack-o-lantern and confirms there are two when there had only been one. “Bail! Bail! Bail!” she shouts.