Shadow in the Backyard
© By Gary Morton
* Order Paperback Copies of My Horror Collections and Novels
* Order Paperback or e-Book versions of my Books
* This story takes place at home. The description is of the house and its residents.
Think I Saw a Shadow
Mid October and fall sunshine’s delicate warmth lifts city spirits. The sky is light blue. Soft white clouds drift imperceptibly … and on the beach, waves of metallic green surge with the southern breeze.
In a stroke-weakened left eye I see a world that has darkened. There’s slight pressure in my head, and I fight for balance and relief from the panic of sudden illusion.
When I open my right eye I see vigorous women, teens … jogging, cycling, rollerblading, strolling on the waterfront. People of Toronto and a peaceful warmer autumn … then dust rises with smoke on the trail. It blinks my better eye shut and I race off seeing something dark shimmer again … a premonition of a graveyard world, on an easy fall day.
I step in off the alleyway in the sunny tints of late afternoon and open the old and creaking wooden gate. In the dappled shade of four big trees I look around the backyard.
A huge silhouette falls across most of the yard. It hangs there like a web of shadows or a decrepit tarp. Then I see Shadow my black cat sitting on top of a mound of junk. His eyes glow … straight black lines center his yellow stare … and without a hint, I see his intent.
He bounds down, leaps on an old table beside me and meows. Then he suddenly arches his back and hisses at something in the yard.
So much stuff is strewn there that it’s hard to see anything other than shifting shadows and clutter. After a moment something does move. I see a liquid shadow at first, then quicksilver darkness, a black flash followed by a dry slithering sound in crackling leaves.
Disbelief fades as I realize that something definitely moved behind the barrels and sped out of sight. It appeared only in my stroke-blinded left eye. When I closed it the yard looked normal.
It could’ve been an illusion, but not if Shadow saw it, too.
It Must Be Hiding
I hurried up the fire escape to my second floor deck and sat there spooked, looking over the yard. Something ugly was hiding in that damn junkyard. But where would it hide?
“Peter,” I muttered. “I hate that filthy old landlord. He’s turned this place into a freaky fun house of antique rubbish.”
The biggest hiding spots were two wooden sheds constructed from discarded boards and old doors. One of them built against the trunk of a huge sumac tree. Both had tarnished padlocks, and clutter on the roof … mounds of tick-eaten wood, tin, pipes and wheels up there. A door hole in the side of one shack served as an opening for dozens of huge spiders at night, but it was too small for something large.
The weeds had all died so nothing could be hiding in them unless it had dug a hole in the dirt. In place of a lawn a stretch of old carpet covered the duff in the center of the yard. I could see suspicious bulges there.
Two large barbecues sat next to a rusted piece of iron railing that had bicycles tied to it. Next to them the trunk of the old maple rose, ringed inside a three-foot high well-like circle of old stones, bricks and rotted slabs of deadwood. I had the feeling that a sinister new tenant could be residing there.
A three-legged rusted wheelbarrow filled with wood chips and dirt shielded a dark corner near the maple tree and fence. Free camouflage existed everywhere near that tree. Maybe something could hide up in dense layers of withering leaves. Studying all four trees I noted the items Peter and tenants had attached to the trunks … owls, a rubber cobra, an ancient push lawnmower, a lizard, old rusted pans, a decaying piece of armor, a skull, a plastic cow. A plastic Christmas tree stood at the foot of the maple, and the larger tree’s wind vane swung above it. The wind vane being a pink plastic swan with a black propeller that creaked as it spun. A bat on a wire moved below it.
The cat fluffed his tail and hissed again. He crouched on the fire escape, looking at the general yard. But I saw nothing moving. Boxes of crap and a mish mash of junk showed everywhere … things like an old mesh dog cage, piles of old sinks, wooden barrels, a heap of rusting bicycles and parts behind a railing marking what used to be a garden … a scattering of rubber tires, old toys, a piece of broken stained glass window, heaps of plastic flowers and Peter’s horrible teddy bears.
A number of hideous maggot things could’ve been breeding in those old rotten teddy bears or even the decaying Santa cap hanging from the fence. Over by the table a stuffed penguin stared idiotically from a toy car … cute little bears hung in baskets on the fence. Three Oktoberfest teddies sat in a planter on the tree … and scariest of all was a rag doll sitting inside a rubber tire on the garden fence. It may have once starred in a Stephen King story.
It was a sure thing … something wicked had this way come and nested down there. I saw it and it wasn’t an animal or a snake … when I caught a glimpse of the thing it shifted outline, size and silhouette like some kind of shadowy demon. It was hard to pin down, other than to say that it existed and the gut feeling was of an evil presence.
A puff of moths suddenly shot up like a geyser from a hole in one of the old wooden barrels. My cat Shadow leapt at them as an entire heap of garbage rocked. I ran down the steps, grabbed him and went back up and inside. I could feel my skin crawling as I put the cat on the table and steadied myself against a rising panic attack.
Peter and His Brother
The night was nearly sleepless and featured a multitude of haunted nightmares. Something dragging on the roof was a recurring theme, and when I woke I was often dreaming of being in the grave instead of bed. A spotlight suddenly shone on me and I rose with a startled shake.
The light was a sunbeam; it was near noon on Saturday. I heard the side gate slamming shut and knew that it had to be either Peter or James going into the backyard. Shadow bounded past me as I opened the deck gate. I followed him down with the idea of hurrying to the front to grab my Saturday paper. I saw the landlord’s van over the fence in the lot and as soon as I hit the junkyard turf, there he was. Old hunched and wrinkled Peter wearing his cap and flannel work shirt, and he was pulling a kid’s wagon stacked high with stuff. An old plastic light-up Santa sat on top of the pile.
I could see fresh heaps of new rubbish, and it bothered me so much that I forgot about being spooked a day earlier. Taking a step I tripped over a beat-up hot plate and grease lacquered microwave he’d dumped by the walk.
“So Peter, I see you’re working.”
“I’m cleaning up,” he said. “The fire inspector is coming on Tuesday. A very bad person phoned the inspector.” Turning, Peter started muttering curses at the door to the basement apartment.
I frowned, noting that what Peter called cleaning up involved bringing more trash in rather than taking any out. “Hum, fire inspector,” I said. “I think you’re in trouble Peter. There are too many fire violations. You have to fix that leaking roof. The ceiling in my kitchen is collapsing.”
“My heart,” Peter said. “It’s bad. I can’t do too much hard work. Empty this wagon for me. I go to see my brother.”
I emptied the wagon, finding the bottom of it filled with heavy rocks. Constantly bringing in piles of rocks was another of his personality malfunctions. He’d come to your door to offer you rocks and he had rocks on the roof lining the fence of his deck. Possibly even more rocks were in his head.
The cat and I watched with irritated faces as Peter said hello to his teddy bears … each one of them having its own name. He tipped his cap at the Oktoberfest bears then climbed the fire escape. I noted that he was carrying a crazy-looking clown doll.
Then he stopped at my deck and yelled down. “I hang the clown here!”
“No,” I said, and then I dashed up. “I don’t want a clown that hangs from a pink parachute. It doesn’t look good.”
“Okay,” he said. “I’ll put it on the roof.” He went up the rickety wooden steps that led from my deck to the rooftop gate. Peter saw those steps as his stairway to heaven. A way to his brother and piles of heavenly rooftop junk.
He’d turned the roof into two sundecks. One was his and the other belonged to the tenants, except that the gate was nearly always locked, so only Peter could get in. The woman on the top floor could get on the roof through a bubble skylight, but she never used the deck.
Everything had rotted up there. On the angled section the shingles had shrunk and warped to such a degree that it looked like a hundred years of drying and mummification. The flat portions were worse … so much busted flat roofing and it needed work or the whole thing would collapse down on my kitchen. And of course he had lawn chairs and an assortment of other stuff on that weakest portion of the roof.
Peter’s brother was an item of debate among the neighbors. He’d tell everyone about visiting his brother on the roof. Some people thought he had a crazy brother living behind the rooftop fence. But I’d been up there … and there were sun umbrellas and toys and stuffed animals. At the highest point a picture of Jesus remains illumined 24 hours a day. East of Jesus a wooden toy devil with outstretched arms and a necklace of rosary beads faces the heavens.
I wondered exactly what Peter worshiped. He called a picture of Jesus his brother, and he had a skull painted black and hung on a chain on the rooftop gate. The wooden devil was also his brother, so technically he had two brothers. Biblically Jesus is not a brother and neither is the devil.
I came back from the front with my newspaper, hearing Peter banging on metal objects and singing songs in Greek up on the roof. It was weird. I wasn’t sure if he was singing, chanting or praying …perhaps all three. And what were the songs about? He’d lived in Cyprus many years ago and he’d told me his job in the civil war had been poisoning guard dogs belonging to the British. Later he worked with the army when they’d taken a monastery, and he had an assortment of pipes and metal pieces that he banged to send signals of a sort. Those sound items he’d replicated on a tree in the backyard and on the roof, and often he’d get to banging out crazy percussion on the metal. Below in the backyard it was to stimulate his memory of days gone by. Above on the roof it was a crazy occult religious thing of his invention that involved songs and chants.
That top deck had been an item of wonder among the tenants. There were days when he forgot to close the gate and we went up and drank beer. I remember talking to James and Dianna up there. Peter had odd things like a toy tractor, fake birds, busted pieces of iron railing and an old ship he’d made of discarded wood chips … but the items of conversation were the normal things.
An ashtray was filled with ancient cigarette buts. He had his incense burner on a round patio table that was surrounded with chairs tilted down and derelict. There was a chair for a child near the fence and a small barbecue. Dianna said it creeped her out, but James and I speculated as to Peter’s sanity. No one went up there but him. If he sat there alone, he probably imagined that others were with him at that table … smoking, eating from the barbecue … perhaps he saw a child over in the small chair.
It was all food for thought and I felt a bit lost in reflection as I picked up the cat. Then suddenly I saw it again … the new resident of the yard. It was close … and shot out from behind a stack of rain-bleached boards … like it was going to rip my leg off. In my blinded left eye I saw liquid darkness morph to a hideous head and fangs … the thing had a huge melting jaw, blood on its twisted lips and a drip of ooze like fear running. Being dog-bit would be bad enough but this sucker was beyond rabid. It shot into my brain like poisonous serum and I knew it wanted my body and what might remain of my mind after paralysis set in.
I staggered back. My cat Shadow hissed and ripped a piece out of my arm as he leapt free. Then fear became amazement. The beast ducked away quickly from Shadow. It was afraid of my black cat … but it sure as hell wasn’t afraid of me. I wondered about Peter as I went up the steps. Should I tell him that something dangerous had got into the yard?
Creeping up the deck steps I peeked through the rooftop gate. Peter was at the top. His arms were raised and I heard shouting. “Strike him down, my Brother! Strike this crazy man down!”
In this case his brother appeared to be a black wooden devil icon he was facing. Moments later he lowered his arms and headed for the gate. I waited on the deck as he came down, noting the ugly scowl on his face. Lately that look had become nearly permanent … like natural meanness or the look a person has when they’ve eaten something foul and it keeps coming up.
“Everything alright up there?” I said.
“Yes. I pray to my brother. Someone called the fire inspector on me. Someone crazy! So I pray for this crazy man to be struck down.”
“Hum,” I thought. “If this crazy man comes into the back yard he probably will be struck down. Or else half the neighborhood will be struck down … because most of them have complained about Peter at one time or another.”
The Ceiling from Hell
At 3 am, an Ozzy Osborne CD climbed to high volume in the backyard. I knew it was James, the musician living in the back basement. He often returned with friends late at night, drank beer and played his guitar or CDs.
I opened the door to the deck and the cat bounded over the gate and disappeared in inky darkness as he ran down the fire escape. I opened a beer and reluctantly followed him down.
James was in a bitter mood. Shadows from the alley spotlight melted on his face and long dark hair. He looked stoned and the darkness magnified his resemblance to Ozzy Osborne. His temper flared. “There’s nothing in this place but junk!” he said. Then he grabbed an old futon bed-board set and tossed it over top of Peter’s little shack. Turning back, he picked up the old microwave oven and hot plate Peter had left by his door. Carrying the junk up the fire escape to the top he tossed it to the cement walk, smashing it to pieces.
I looked at the wreck then stumbled into a big pile of dirty dishes next to one of Peter’s shacks. The rot on them had rubberized. I watched as they rocked and fell and I felt like breaking them all, but I didn’t want to touch them.
Instead, I sat in a lawn chair and waited for James to calm down. His girlfriend sat silently in the shadows. My cat Shadow watched from other shadows, and in my murky left eye I saw a different sort of shadow hanging by the tree. It existed in a beam of the night light where no shadow should’ve been.
The music gained volume … another set of heavy metal songs filtered by James’ old CD player. In the corner of my eye I watched the shadow morph to something bigger then move into the tree over the gate. Moments later it slipped down the wall near some hanging wiring and crept around and through James’ open door. I saw the cat show his fangs as it disappeared into the basement.
The music died out and the night got quiet. James started talking about his apartment. “The basement is a wreck. I have one good room left,” he said. “Peter hasn’t fixed anything for years and his front section of the basement has piles of junk rotting in it.”
Taking a slug of beer James stared up at the tree, seeing part of that same permanent web of gloom that hung over the backyard in the daytime. “I need help to get that thing out of there,” he said.
“What thing?” I said.
“I’m talking about my bed, the double futon. I haven’t used it in months. The ceiling went rotten in the bedroom and it leaked, ruining the mattress. I can’t carry it out by myself.”
“Okay,” I said. “Let’s do it tomorrow.”
“No, let’s do it now.”
“Uh, I really don’t want to go in there now.”
The entrance to the basement was like a dark cave existing under my deck. Water and cobwebs dripped from a high ceiling even though it hadn’t rained in a while. Some of Peter’s scavenged paintings showed in the dim light as I followed James down wooden steps to his apartment. The main room was like a music studio and open with no shadows, but my feelings changed when I got to the bedroom. Odors from the rotting carpeting stung my nose. I could see the old soaked mattress. It looked nasty, wet and heavy. Then James turned on a chandelier and the bedroom light and I caught sight of the ceiling.
It sagged so low and deep that I stepped back out the door, fearing imminent collapse.
But James walked in and started shifting the bed, apparently unafraid of the malignant pregnancy above him.
I’d heard of the landlord from hell and the tenant from hell, but figured that it would take both and a big smoke cloud of black magic to create such a phenomenon of slimy decay from a simple ceiling. To allow that ceiling to exist Peter had to be worse than the landlord from hell … like maybe the devil really was his brother.
In a way, the bulge resembled a shark’s belly … but not quite, because it had some patterns like a tropical fish … one that’d been dead long enough to host the growth of numerous parasites.
A skin-like gray substance hung and fluttered like cobwebs in the east corner. Silvered stalactites formed a jagged row of shark’s teeth near the center. Fluorescent green goo pulsed in a gash where a board had broken through peeling paint. Splits in the drywall had leaked plaster that fused with mould to create white foaming orifices and spots of blackened decay that had rounded like mushrooms. The leakage dripping to James’ bed ran red and rust like blood and corrosion.
I was amazed to see the ceiling light still working … though it didn’t resemble a light any more. It was weak and had the effect of a morbid eye sunk into a mass of swollen rot and webbing. The glass from its cover had cracked leaving broken shards protruding while the remaining bare bulb and spots of glittering rot worked to blind me.
“I bet Peter doesn’t want the fire inspector to see that,” James said.
“Yeah, because it looks like fifty people bled and died in the room above you.”
“Peter says the shower leaked and damaged the ceiling.”
Foul fishlike odors reached the bottom of my stomach with the force of sandpaper. I choked up acidic bile and had a sudden vision in my half-blind eye. A maggoty shadow moved inside the womb of ceiling rot. It struck me with sudden fear that faded to numbness in my legs and a hair-raising gross out in the rest of my body.
“I think I’m going to be sick,” I said. “Let’s toss this mattress quick.”
James nodded and I went in with my head down. I grabbed the bottom part of the mattress and found it so slimy that I lost my grip. I didn’t want to touch it again but fear of the ceiling gave me the strength to seize it and begin pulling it out. We climbed the stairs with fumes strong as fingers poking our noses and eyes … moved through the alley darkness to the street and dumped the foul mattress with Wednesday’s garbage.
Heading back inside my skin crawled and itched. “Think I need about three showers,” I said. Then I grabbed the cat and went back upstairs.
Another day … blinding autumn sun, dusk that fell quick as a knife. I got busy on the net. During a pause in browsing I looked up and had the feeling that something was off. It was quiet, too quiet. It’d been that way for a week. The other tenants used to make a fair bit of noise. Lately I hadn’t seen any of them other than James late at night. Now the place seemed more than haunted. I heard the odd door slam, peculiar hushed voices and little else. Noises a reclusive ghost passing in the hall could’ve made.
Shadow was scratching by the front door of the apartment. He never went out that way so I walked over and turned on the hall chandelier. Some type of black bug was there and the cat was knocking it about. It was probably the biggest, ugliest bug in the city… a black beetle with huge protruding eyes, and tough, too. It buzzed angrily at Shadow like it wanted a scrap and he answered by seizing it with his fangs and tossing it against the wall. I moved in to squash it but failed. It hopped aside then Shadow seized it again and this time he ate it.
The little beast didn’t want me to get his bug. He took it in a long gulp, then his eyes popped and he started to choke. Long hacks followed like the bug was trying to fight its way out. I picked him up and patted his back to ease the coughing, but even with that, it went on for five minutes.
Finally, the bug was digested. I frowned. “Now the place is infested by monster bugs,” I muttered. Then I heard a scream. Not a loud scream but a muffled scream, like the person had been partially gagged or silenced and was in a state of terror.
I opened the door cautiously and Shadow ran out. Across the hall the door to the small front apartment stood open. When I knocked it opened more. The tenant, Stefan wasn’t in.
It was a peculiar scene. The place was in disarray and there was a smear on the floor where something had been dragged. The stain was red to spatters of black, forming a twisting path out to the hall and stairs. I turned on the hall light for a closer look then went back in Stefan’s apartment.
Grime-blackened curtains were billowing in a foul wind from the street. It rose and fell and I heard bizarre noises below. At the window I saw a shadowy figure moving rapidly at the front. A raw scraping noise came from the side alley leading to the backyard.
An unwanted vision rose in my mind. I knew the tenant, Stefan, hated Peter. When he moved in he tossed Peter’s trash apartment décor and repainted the place. Stefan put in simple furniture then. But now the place looked like another of Peter’s mad palaces, with moldy carpeting tossed over the hardwood and kitsch paintings and knickknacks cluttering the walls. I picked up an animal carving and studied it. It was so old the wood had blackened and warped. It was impossible to guess what animal it was … and it gave me the shivers because it reminded me of that shadowy thing I’d seen in the backyard. A chill hit me, I thought it moved in my hand and let go of it … leaving it to bounce away on the floor.
The room felt like a bad omen so I slammed the broken door and left. I went down the stairs wondering. The front hall of the house was Peter’s kitsch curiosity shop. A wide hall with a high ceiling that would've been attractive had he not filled it with clutter. Colored lights and strings of lights were plugged in around a wall cabinet filled with mismatched pieces of crappy art. A statue of Jesus stood at its center. The rest of the hall was a muddle of paintings and hangings … brass plates, naked cupids, stands of plastic flowers, an antique rifle, and a gold birdcage with a fake parakeet inside. He had an aquarium filled with rubber bugs, lizards and shells. Teddy bears in pots and a big Santa doll in a sleigh worked to complete a dusty nightmarish tone.
There were two apartments on the ground floor. Neither of the tenants answered when I knocked so I went to the front. The door was a glass and silver one that once belonged to an ice cream parlor. I got a good view of the front yard from it … but saw no one out there.
I stepped into the front yard and looked around. Some strings of lights illumined the area and highlighted sprays of plastic flowers. Peter had plastic flowers in wooden barrels. A fifty-year-old rusting baby carriage was filled with more flowers. There were piles of rocks and deadwood, a horseshoe fastened over the door, a construction of tiered birdhouses filled with flowers and tiny teddy bears. Light from the street was blocked by a berry tree, bushes and a fence made of deadwood, segments of bent, rusted railing and tall weeds.
A shadow moved on the lower portion of the roof above the door. I stepped back quickly and saw that it was Shadow my cat. I’d accidentally shut him in Stefan’s apartment so he’d gone out the window. He crouched beside a ceramic roof bear, then I saw his eyes and fangs flash as he hissed.
Another shadow was moving near the side alley. I stepped over and it was gone in a flash, but I did see something oozing over the gate to the back yard. In the alley a dark drag marking ended at a basement window. I crouched to look and found the window locked. The light was out.
I returned to the front door. Shadow had jumped down and I was about to reach for him when a figure suddenly appeared in the dark beside me. It startled me. I stepped away, and then saw that it was Peter. He’d come up the steps from the front basement.
Even in the dark, I could see how dirty he was … like he‘d been digging for coal or something. And his pockets bulged. It looked like they were full of sticks.
“Come in the house, I show you something,” he said.
A serious frown pinched his blackened face. I followed his hunched figure inside to his cabinet of ornaments. He stopped and pointed to two tiny teddy bears in baskets. “My babies, my babies!” he cried. “Stefan, hurt my babies. He’s crazy in the brain, that man.”
“They look alright to me,” I said.
“They are okay. But today when I come, I found them upside down in their baskets. Other things were touched and a vase of flowers is missing.”
“Where is Stefan?” I said. “I heard a scream. Now I see his door has been left open.”
“That crazy man! I pray to my brother to strike him down! Soon it will be quiet here. The people are mostly quiet now. It’s better for my babies. They sleep well and quiet tenants don’t use too much water and electricity. The bills I have to pay … heat, water and electric. It’s better for the house to be quiet and dark.”
“Quiet and dark! It already is quiet and the back of the house is darker than parts of the moon. If you want to save money try turning off some of the lights you have at the front and on the front roof. The other tenants can’t be using much power. I haven’t seen any of them around other than James once in a while. What happened to them?”
“The house is light and dark. The back must be dark. My brother wants it that way. And quiet … the tenants gave me the rent for this year. Now they are sleeping. Stefan is sleeping with them now.”
“If you say so,” I said. Then I went back upstairs, wondering about Peter and his babies. “Maybe his madness has finally driven the tenants out,” I thought. “Maybe something far worse is going on. Maybe the other tenants are nuts, too, and somehow in this with him. Maybe that shadowy demon got them and they’re more than sleeping.”
I returned home in the early afternoon, thinking it another day in a long string of sunny days. Each of these days had been tarnished by the landlord and the new threat in the backyard.
I’d work on my computer or try to enjoy the weather. Then the hammering would begin. Hours of banging, and the first three days were out on my deck. Peter was building a new set of stairs from my deck to the roof. His stairway to heaven; it allowed him to come up the stairs to my deck and then he could take his new stairs to the roof, his two sundecks and his gods and demons.
Nails were his specialty, he hammered about a thousand into the new stairs and he was around the house building railings and doing other noisy stuff. Neighbors yelled from their yards and windows for him to cut the noise. But he plunged blindly onward with the hammer, cursing the fire inspector for ordering repairs.
The backyard would’ve provided some relief, but that was killed by fear of the new inhabitant. I wouldn’t even go down there without Shadow. And it must have looked odd to see me carrying a black cat with me everywhere.
Finally, the noise was too much and I went down and talked to James in the back yard.
“I just got back from up North,” he said. “But I can’t have any friends over. Peter’s always here, hammering.”
“He’s driving me nuts,” I said. “The fire inspector didn’t order those particular repairs. He only has to clear out junk from the hallways and stairwells. Peter’s working on some master plan of his own. The roof is rotten. Dust is falling on me while he walks around up there, so why is he building new steps up to it?”
“I’ve never seen this back yard look worse,” James said. “Years ago this was a beautiful place with rose bushes and flowers. Now there’s scrap everywhere and the trees are overgrown, making it dark even in the daytime. He took out the lights, so it’s pitch black at night.”
“Yeah, I use my own spotlight hook-up now. I’m wondering what he’s doing up there on the flat-roof? All that banging and he hasn’t taken any shingles or roofing stuff up. I keep hearing noises at night, like something dragging. None of the other tenants seem to be around any more. I find that suspicious.”
“Maybe he’s building another one of those shitty junk houses up there and the raccoons moved in. We should check it out some time.”
“Think I’ll take a look up there after dark. Peter always leaves at dusk.”
But of course, I never did get to checking out the roof after dark. Instead, I was on the phone and the computer. Drank some beer and passed out dead tired.
Late at night the weird noises started. The cat jumped on me and I sat up, finding that I’d passed out on the couch with all my clothes on. I went to the window and saw nothing in the side alley. My cell said 2 am so I knew it wasn’t James as he partied nights usually after 3 am.
I probably wouldn’t have suspected anything much if it weren’t for the constant humming sound. It was a low hum that rose and fell, almost like an engine sound … intense and irritating but subdued … from the south corner of the ceiling. Meaning it had to be coming from the roof.
A moment later, I heard footsteps and scraping above. Someone or something was up there so I walked through the apartment and went out on the deck. The rooftop gate sat in blue-black darkness and silence at the top of the stairs. The noises had subsided.
I went up with the cat behind me, pushed Peter’s skull and chain aside and opened the gate. Peeking inside I saw a floating area of darkness backlit by the sky. Returning with a flashlight I entered. Flicking it on, I saw something move and nearly jumped out of my skin. But it turned out to be the cat in ahead of me so I calmed down and looked around. The flat portion had fresh patches of tar, which I avoided. I gathered that Peter had been attempting to fix some of the holes, and that something had been up there making those holes.
The skylight reflected a cloudy sky. A torn flag fluttered on the fence. A toy clown shifted in the wind by the creaking railing. The sweep of my flashlight beam illumined old lawn furniture and decaying sun umbrellas. When I swept it over the angled portion leading to the higher deck I spotted a large hump in the rotted shingles.
“Hum, that thing wasn’t there before,” I thought as I stepped closer.
The thing was a giant cocoon of rotted shingling and tarpaper covered with festering nodes of roofing slime. It was about the size of a human body and that aroused my suspicion. Picking up a piece of deadwood, I began to poke at it. In most areas the tar had hardened, but in one spot the stick went through into something soft. When I pulled it out, I saw blood at the end.
Remaining calm while feeling like either fleeing or throwing up, I peeled a piece of shingle back. That released an explosion of gas and foul liquids that sent me reeling on my heels. I dropped the light, scrambled to pick it up and put the light beam back on the cocoon. I saw maggoty ooze and a piece of cloth. It was part of a shirt. Inspecting it with the stick, I realized that it had to be one Stefan’s shirts. He was the only tenant who dressed that loud.
“Peter said he was going to get Stefan for calling the inspector,” I muttered. “Looks like he got him and turned him into a giant pile of maggots.”
Pulling out my cell phone, I looked up Peter’s number. I assumed calling him would be safe because his home residence was a few kilometers away and he wouldn’t be able to get here to confront me. I planned to ask him a few pointed questions.
I punched the talk button and waited. A moment later the call went through and my hair stood up broom straight, because I heard a phone ring at the top of the roof.
I cancelled the call instantly and waited. Nothing moved up there. I waited five minutes more, hearing only the creaking of old wood in the wind. Stars and faint light glowed at the top so I decided to check it out and went slowly up the next set of steps. I moved the light around, saw something shadowy move near the east fence and ducked back.
The light was by the south fence. I crept over, seeing Peter’s picture of Jesus and his little devil illumined by a night light. Now he had a tiny Plexiglas construction built around them to protect them as a personal shrine. A motor hummed though I couldn’t see one, and a brass vase produced a light mist that drifted like smoke.
Some other large objects near the east fence caught my eye. My beam flashed in my cat’s eyes. He was already over there, standing on what looked to be a weather-beaten coffin.
I walked over and found three grave-battered coffins. Two closed and one open … all of them dirt-crusted like they’d been freshly pulled from a graveyard. I moved my beam to the open one. A fully clothed body was inside. Moving the light up to the face, I saw that it was Peter. His eyes were closed but he wasn’t dead, he was sleeping.
Clicking off the light I moved away quickly and headed for the stairs. I got down the first set then heard a bang behind me as I headed for the gate. That caused me to slip right into the wet tar, and before I could get out my foot went crashing through the roof.
I was stuck there in the dark, trying to pull my foot up without making any noise. A damn splintered board had caught my ankle, making it more than difficult. Maggots touched my flesh, and then I heard noise above. The glow of a brighter light appeared at the top. I saw Peter and something else … a massive shadow … big enough to be a bear moving or more like sliding beside him. They turned at the top of the steps and I saw its face. It was feral and demonic, with fangs and hellish red eyes that moved in transformation with the rest of its shifting form.
They were about to come down but Peter, being near blind, couldn’t see me. He turned and the thing followed him over to his shrine.
Knowing they might not be out of sight for long I worked to get my leg loose, finally pulling so hard I put a bad cut in my ankle. Wet tar sealed the wound as I got free and headed for the gate.
I shut the gate and the cat and I went down the steps and into my apartment. Locking both doors I went into the bathroom to work on cleaning the wound. Then the phone rang. It was Peter.
“Is everything okay there at the house?” he said.
“Yes, everything’s fine. Why do you ask?”
“One of the other tenants complained about noise on the roof. You weren’t on the roof were you?”
“No. I’ve been sleeping. No one’s up there.”
“Okay, I’m just checking. I have to make sure my brother is okay.”
I hung up, and I thought about calling the police. But I didn’t. They’d never believe murder had gone on up on the roof without me knowing about it or being a part of it. They’d think I was in on Peter’s crazy deal … a nut talking about teddy bears, shadows and maggoty monsters.
Stairway to Heaven and Hell
Peter left the roof at the first sign of the morning sky. He chanted a weird verse as he passed but he didn’t try to enter my apartment. I believed he was satisfied for the moment. I saw Venus above and watched his hunched form move slowly down and out the back gate. He took nothing with him and no creatures followed. It gave me the feeling that only Peter could leave … his ghastly beasts were rooted here at the house.
Looking at the calendar, I realized it was the end of October. Halloween had arrived and I had entered into the witch’s zone at midnight with the ugly roof find. If the day progressed in the same fashion, it would be deadly.
At least I was still alive. The other tenants had perished, except for James, as he may have headed back up North before they got him.
My first piece of luck had been my black cat. Then I’d managed to escape from Peter and his beastly friend. But it was all very tiring and in a sense, too much. Thinking that perhaps it was the end and I no longer cared; I fell asleep and got lucky with a strange dream.
The dream delivered understanding of the bizarre happenings, disappearances, Peter’s madness and the shadowy apparition roaming in the backyard.
Weird dreams had disturbed my sleep from the beginning and I’d always believed the decrepit house was haunted. The haunting seemed to be by some hidden spirit. A silent and frightening phantom that opened doors, rapped on the walls and moaned occasionally. It struck mostly in dreams.
Haunted dreams always started with doors swinging mysteriously open and strangers coming in. The voices of a young man and others were in the dreams and I’d often get up to confront the intruders and find no one there. The bothersome spirits never fully appeared in the house, but when I went out on the deck, I’d see an apparition of a witch-like woman sweeping up leaves.
This time it was different. I woke on my bed and was surprised to see the furnishings altered. A large box set with drawers sat on the coffee table. I opened a couple drawers and found objects that resembled cigars, a twisted gold ring and some personal items I couldn’t identify. The set had animal carvings and twisted faces that weren’t from this world. Yet they seemed very real and genuine.
Red curtains fluttered on a tarnished moon and the room was thick with damp odors. Tall leafy plants stood near the window and broad fernlike greenery blocked my view of the couch. I spotted the cat sitting at the bottom of the bed and he was staring at something at the far end of the couch. I strained to see but saw nothing other than plant leaves and blur. Closing my right eye I looked with my left. A man came into view … or rather a being similar to a man. He was emaciated and wearing ragged clothing … the frightening aspect being his face. His right eye was gone and his skin had melted into a hideous web of exposed flesh. Gouges in the flesh resembled acid burns more than death’s decay.
He was an apparition or evil spirit of some variety, but he wasn’t a ghost. I realized that this being had never been human even though I took him as male, and I don’t think he knew I could see him. He sat there in silence, showing no reaction or movement. Like a wicked chameleon confident in his dead-man’s camouflage.
I woke up in a fog then began to think. It all seemed to come together. The long-term presence of ghostlike beings in the house indicated some connection with a spirit realm. The rest had to be a colossal accident. Peter really was the landlord from hell. Years of rot and his collection of every old artifact and odd piece of junk combined with his eccentricities and the construction of the rooftop shrine had created the right conditions. His stairway to heaven was the lightning rod that strengthened the haunting of the house. He’d unwittingly created a crossover point to some ghostly realm. The old metal pipes he banged on the tree and the songs he sang in Greek to his brother on the roof, plus the positioning of every kind of crazy idol, symbol and rusted antique must have created alchemy of mold and decay. He’d done the job by pure accident, and now he’d gone mad. Perhaps contact with the monsters had cinched the deal, and the day that wicked shadow demon crossed over to the back yard was the day he lost his mind.
Dealing with Peter was one big problem. Another was the deadly black apparition he’d brought in. I had a theory on that fanged shadow, and a plan to test it out.
I kept an eye out for Peter all day, but his van didn’t show at the back. When the sun began to fall I stepped out on the deck holding a ball of string. I closed the door so the cat couldn’t get out then fastened one end of the string to the screen door. A test pull opened it but I closed it quickly to keep the cat inside.
Leaves were falling and swirling in a light breeze. The dying rays of the sun filtered through in dusty beams. The yard had its usual rust and musty smell; an abandoned atmosphere strengthened by occasional gusts of wind and the creak and rattle of boards and debris.
I walked down the fire stairs unwinding the string as I went. Once in the yard I walked over to the alley gate and looked back. It was certain the shadow demon was lurking somewhere, waiting to strike, but I couldn’t spot it.
I took a walk around like Peter would do … picking up a couple rotten teddy bears to say hello, sorting some old boards, rattling the lock on the gate, looking at the decaying contents in a number of old barrels. Nothing seemed to be happening so I stopped, leaned against the tree and kicked up some leaves.
It struck with lightning speed; a mound of leaves exploded and some plastic crates and a gasoline can got knocked aside by a force of darkness that felt like sizzling wind. Its rush at me seemed both predatory and desperate, like I’d always been its chosen prey. I saw the warped fangs and burning eyes rise out of a head that spun and enlarged like a twister.
In an instant, I was thrown against the tree and in spite of the shock I knew I was being swallowed, like a person going into the belly of a snake. I did try to strike out and in doing so pulled the string I’d set.
An overwhelming force took my head. My skull and mind fused as I went through a warped black hole. A wall of screeching sound ripped me like I was in an MRI scanner that had gone off the rails. Both eyes went blind then filled with a continual swirl of shadows and dark smoke. I was tumbling out of the sky toward a misty place and saw fragments of a strange scene. It was a world where everything had been destroyed … a planet resembling a huge junkyard. I was headed towards a spot with endless rows of broken gravestones and bubbling earth … skeletal figures creeping in long grass and murk … hundreds of ancient coffins like the ones Peter had on the roof but these were strewn near open graves.
Cloudy faces appeared … worm-eaten and earth dripping … broken bones protruding through rotted cloth and flesh … this was a planet where the dead had risen from the grave … and the corpses hadn’t been human in life either.
Claws of pain tore at my legs, I thought I was finished, and then everything swirled in choking smoke again. I had the feeling of being sucked down a huge drain. I hit the ground and found myself thrown into a pile of Peter’s junk. A rusty nail punctured my leg. My shoulder got bashed by an old sink, but I still got up quickly, and saw that my plan had worked. The cat had got out and chased the beast off.
Being out of breath and still unsteady on my feet I sat in a chair by the fence. I checked the bleeding on my leg then I saw the cat going up the fire escape as the shadow demon slipped onto the roof.
Darkness swept in fast like a blinding curtain closing. I went up and turned on my outdoor light then went down and sat in the backyard with a beer. I had to think it out and though my theory had proved correct, I still couldn’t believe it. This house was a crossover point, but not to our spirit realm. The connection was to another world; a repulsive junkyard planet where the dead had risen.
My experience showed the travel to be mostly one way. If I’d gone all the way through I would’ve been killed or driven mad by the undead apparitions populating that place. It could’ve happened that way to other tenants and they returned as corpses in coffins. If not then maybe Peter killed them and stuffed them in coffins he brought back.
Peter must’ve transformed a weak connection to that world of the undead and trash into a powerful one. He remained alive but mad and was now a servant of that junkyard realm. His mistaken magic had somehow kept him functioning as an eviler incarnation of his former self.
Swallowing the last of my beer I decided that the whole thing creeped me out royally. I went up the steps planning on going in for the night … then a haze of light showed above. Something was happening on the roof.
Climbing the steps I found the gate unlocked. The first deck was mostly dark so I opened the gate just enough to slip in. Yellow light glowed above and I could see a human shadow elongated against the fencing. He was moving and dragging something heavy.
It was hard to see so I listened. Leaves rustled and lifted in the wind. I heard street sounds, birds, night sounds, and the voices of children out for Halloween. Then I heard humming … the same low hum that bothered me constantly in my bedroom.
I went up the final steps quietly; just enough to see … and what I saw was Peter. He’d somehow got up there and what he’d been dragging was a body. It was a woman and he was hauling her up with a rope to hang her off one of the center beams running over top of the deck. Peter’s toy devil with the rosary beads was framed behind them and a coffin sat under it. I could see that coffin shaking fiercely. It hummed, and I wondered what in the hell could be in it.
Then the body twisted slowly on the rope. I saw a fire department badge on the woman’s shirt and gulped.
Peter turned quickly. Ghastly light caught his widening eyes. Dried mud and traces of blood formed thick swirls on his forehead and under his eyes. He wore a crown of autumn leaves and sticks on top of his cap and big fisherman’s boots on his feet.
“You’re insane,” I said. “You killed the fire inspector and the other tenants.”
“No. I don’t kill her!” he shouted. Then he pointed to his toy devil. “I prayed to my brother to strike her down. Now she’s dead because she had to die. She ordered me to remove my brother’s home from this roof.”
“What about the tenants? Why did you kill them?”
Peter’s eyes lit up and became the orbs of a fiend. He seized the corpse’s shoulder and rocked it on the rope. “My brother is hungry. He has to eat, and he likes eating people. Come now to see my brother!”
I didn’t answer, but stared in shock as he turned and stepped over to the coffin. It sprang open at his touch and a gross shape began to ooze out. It was hard to believe a coffin could hold something so big. It kept pouring out; rising and growing in white folds like a huge maggot. When it reared up fully I saw a face form … the same fanged and hideous style of face as that of the shadow demon.
“Now you meet my brother!” Peter shouted. He reached down and picked up a crowbar, then began to shuffle toward me. I backed down the stairs. Peter’s shadow and the colossal maggot moved behind the fence. They appeared at the top of the stairs then descended. The maggot oozed slowly in the lead, followed by Peter and the dark form of the shadow demon.
I retreated into the backyard, backing against the alley gate as the maggot shook the fire escape and slithered down. Peter remained near the top watching and my cat fled into the bushes.
I was on my own against this ungodly thing and decided to take the coward’s way out and escape. But the back gate wouldn’t open. Peter’s lock was on it. I had a key but no time to use it, so I ducked across the yard.
The maggot dripped buckets of hot slime as it hit the autumn duff. Leaves and junk snapped to its sticky electric body as it approached me. I tried to jump to the other gate but tripped in the dark, and then with no close escape I got up and started circling the yard with the maggot beast close behind.
It gained mass and slowed down … the hideous thing sucked in everything it passed … pieces of metal, boards, bricks, toys and other debris sank into its flesh and formed a coat on it. Debris ran with a long trail of sizzling ooze behind it.
Seeing my chance, I ran for the west gate, got the key in and managed to get out. The automatic spotlight in the parking spaces came on and I saw a pile of broken stones just as I tripped over them.
I fell hard and found myself watching from the ground as the maggot rose and swelled through the gate. It was about to collapse on me, then it began to glow, radiantly bright. Smoke rose in oily black puffs and curls, its flesh hissed and boiled with pus eruptions, then a spasm hit its widening mouth and fire flew, singing my face and hair. Its eyes smoldered, brightened like black stars and then it came apart … a sloppy gassy explosion of flaming white fat and burning junk swept the alley and parts of neighboring yards.
Blinded and batting out small fires on my clothes I stood up and staggered, believing I was running into the alley. But I went the wrong way and as my vision cleared I heard the gate slam. I was back in the yard and Peter and the shadow demon were a few feet away.
The cat leapt out and hissed, blocking the shadow demon’s attack … and that brought Peter into action. He swung his crowbar at the cat and missed. Then the cat ran for cover with Peter following him into darkness and rubbish. The second ghastly brother slipped closer, preparing to strike. In my blind eye, I saw the fangs rising up and the whirling maw widening.
And in my good eye, I saw my cat Shadow race out from behind the maple tree.
Peter lunged at him and tripped on a fallen piece of board. He tumbled forward just as his monster struck. And it swallowed him instead of me.
The force sent me back against the fence, knocking teddy bears and dust loose. I saw Peter as he was sucked into the vortex. His feet kicked and he went in up to his waist in a dark pool, then there was an explosion of wind as he disappeared in spiraling shadows.
Small fires flickered like candles in the yard. Leaves blew and spun in dust devils. The trees rocked and dead branches fell … gusts sent cans flying and the old wheelbarrow moved on its own.
I put the fires out and silence fell on the backyard. The full moon rose behind a pumpkin shade of haze. Halloween partiers passed in the alleyway. I had that sudden warm feeling that October and blowing leaves can bring, and I looked over a yard filled with light. The sticky web of shadows had left with Peter and his brothers.
I planned on chopping the rooftop devil down. Breaking the magic would leave Peter stuck on the other side. I went up to the roof and found the coffins and bodies gone, like they’d never been there. Some of Peter’s junk had vanished, too … like anything he’d collected from that realm had been returned.
The wooden demon remained with its arms outstretched to sky … but it no longer frightened me. Instead, it seemed like I’d only dreamed of evil.
I had a small saw in my hand and I looked up at the demon again. Then I heard teenagers screaming in a car passing on the street below. My memory slipped into phantom dreams of Halloween … and when they passed I couldn’t quite remember why I was on the roof.
I headed back down to my apartment and slept for long hours. In the morning, the house and the yard were silent. No tenants, no ghosts … but I did see a shadow … moving quietly by some heaps of junk in the back yard.
--- The End ----