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Stories from Members
Rusty Keele

Grandpa's Old Friend 

Johnny kept his eyes on his shoes as his mother spoke.

"Thanks for taking them on such short notice. I'm not sure how long I'll be gone... probably a few days at least."

"Its no problem. We're always happy to help dear." replied his grandmother.

He could feel his mother's hands on his shoulders as he looked over at his older brother. Billy was looking down too. They both knew that something was wrong – that was the only time they seemed to come here. In fact, it had been several months since they last visited their grandparents. He thought they looked much older, though they still acted the same - very kind and overly polite, like they had always been.

His thoughts were pulled back as his mother kneeled down and turned him around - giving him a quick hug and her usual last bit of advice, "Be careful John, and you listen to your grandparents okay?" She squeezed him and then gave Billy a hug and the same advice.

His mother stood, smiled quickly and thanked his grandparents for watching the boys. As she started driving away Johnny raised his hand and gave his mother a delicate wave, but it was a wasted effort. She didn't even look in his direction as she quickly sped away.

Johnny quickly lowered his hand and looked at his brother again. Billy looked angry and a little bit disgusted. His grandparents must have seen it too, because they started right in, "C'mon boys," said his grandfather, "let's get your stuff inside and then you can help us finish these decorations." He gestured at the hay bale and the bag full of grandpa's old clothes. "We're going to make a scarecrow to scare all the little Trick-or-Treaters." he said as he stooped to pick up the suitcase. He was slow standing back up and Johnny could tell that grandpa wasn't like he used to be.

Billy could tell too, "Oh, don't worry about our bag grandpa - I can get it." He took it out of his hands, and grandpa didn't even argue.

***

Stuffing grandpa's old clothes and making them into a scarecrow proved to be more difficult than Johnny thought. Not that stuffing hay into a flannel shirt was hard, but his grandmother was being very specific about the whole task. She insisted that the scarecrow look as life-like as possible. Thus Johnny, Billy and even grandpa were taking great care in filling the clothes with just the right amount of hay.

The end result was impressive. They had used some of grandpa's old work pants and boots, a long sleeved red flannel shirt, a painted milk jug for the head, and to top it all off grandma had attached one of grandpa's old fishing hats. It was pulled down tight over the head making it difficult to see the face. To test out the effectiveness of their creation grandma had both grandpa and the scarecrow sit on the porch swing. When grandpa pulled his hat down low and rested his chin on his chest it truly was difficult to distinguish the two. Johnny and Billy laughed as grandma said, “Even I would have a hard time telling them apart!”

***

“Ninety-eight... ninety-nine... one hundred!” Johnny uncovered his eyes and looked around. He would have shouted “Ready or not here I come” but he didn't want to wake his grandparents. They had slept unusually late this morning, and the boys had decided to play some of their favorite old games – like Hide-n-Seek.

Johnny looked around the living room, but didn't really expect to find Billy there. Next he tried their bedroom, the bathroom and the kitchen. Finally he made his way out the back door into the yard. It only took a second for Johnny to see Billy standing next to the closed door leading to the cellar under the house.

“That's not a very good hiding place.”

“What?” asked Billy. “Oh, yeah – forget about the game, come look at this.”

Johnny walked over to the door and was quite surprised to find that it had been locked up. “Locked up” was perhaps too mild of an expression – the door had been reinforced with plywood, several 2x4's and a formidable looking padlock.

“Why would they do this?” asked Billy.

“I guess they didn't want us playing in the cellar.”

Billy thought about that for a moment, then slowly began shaking his head. “No... no. We haven't been here in over a year, and grandma and grandpa had no idea we were coming until yesterday morning. I think they're hiding something down there.”

Johnny looked at his brother doubtfully. “Like what? Our long lost uncle that we never knew existed?”

Billy completely missed his brother's attempt at humor. “C'mon – let's find the key.”

“Um... maybe we should just leave it alone. I don't think they would lock it without some good reason.”

Billy looked at him then, “You're just afraid!” He started flapping his arms and making chicken noises.

“No I'm not!” Johnny shoved him and immediately knew that he had made a mistake. Billy lunged at him and pushed him down hard. Then he stood over him with that rage flashing in his eyes. For the thousandth time Johnny just kept his mouth shut and waited for Billy's burst of uncontrollable anger to subside. After a moment Billy calmed down and said, “We'll start with the keys in the kitchen.”

Johnny nodded slowly, never taking his eyes off Billy. “Yeah... okay,” he agreed.

***

A short time later, after several trips to the key rack in the kitchen, Johnny and Billy had exhausted every key they could find and they still hadn't unlocked the cellar door. Billy had the crazy idea that if he somehow willed it hard enough, they would find a way to get into the cellar. The boys looked around the yard, and after finding nothing that would help them Billy tried pushing the door, jimmying the lock, and even attempted to use a crow bar to gain access to the forbidden cellar. Nothing worked. They gave up momentarily when grandma called them in for breakfast.

It didn't take long before Billy could stand it no more. He questioned their grandmother as she worked over the hot frying pan. “Grandma, why is the cellar door locked?”

She didn't directly answer his question, but she did stop everything she was doing as she looked at him and replied, “You boys stay away from that cellar – you hear? There is nothin' but no-good down there. Just stay away from it.” She gave them some scrambled eggs to go with their oatmeal. “Just eat your oatmeal and let your grandpa and I worry about the cellar door.”

Johnny grinned at his brother, “Yeah, just eat your GOAT-meal, Billy!” Johnny laughed at his own cleverness, but Billy just watched his grandmother as she removed her apron and made her way out of the kitchen.

***

Later, while his grandmother was at the grocery store, Johnny's cartoon watching was interrupted by his older brother. “C'mon, let's find that key.”

“Oh, no...” Johnny rolled his eyes and let out a exaggerated sigh. “Can't you leave it alone?”

Billy ignore his protest and glared at him until he finally relented and turned the TV off. “I think I may know where it is,” said Billy.

Billy led him to the closet in their grandparents room. They both kept a careful eye on their sleeping grandfather as they tip-toed by, but he never stirred. Johnny gave his brother a disgusted look and whispered “What're you gonna do? Go through grandma's nighties?”

Billy once again ignored his younger brother's sarcastic remark as he slid one of the doors open. He used both arms to deftly part the hanging clothes. Johnny was not impressed, “Great. Now what, Moses?”

Billy had to point to the back of the closet before Johnny saw it – a wooden gun rack that held several rifles. “How did you know about this?” he asked.

“Grandpa took me out shooting when we were here last year – it was fun.”

Johnny thought for a moment, “Are you going to shoot the lock off?”

“Don't be stupid!” said Billy as he moved a .30-06 hunting rifle to one side and revealed a set of keys hanging from the back of the closet. He grabbed them and looked at Johnny, “C'mon scaredy-cat, let's see if any of these will open the lock.”

***

The first key that they tried didn't work, and the second one didn't even fit, but the third time was the charm. The lock quietly popped open. Billy just stared as a smile crept up his face. He looked at his brother and grinned, “It worked!”

They quickly removed the padlock but had to push the door several times to get it to swing in, revealing the darkness below. A blast of hot air greeted them. Johnny scrunched up his face and quickly plugged his nose, “Ew... rotten eggs!” Billy just waved his hand back and forth in front of his face a couple times, then took a few cautious steps down into the cellar.

There was a light switch at the bottom of the stairs. That had always been the challenge: to see who could walk – not run – to the bottom in complete darkness and turn on the light. Johnny had never been any good at that challenge, but Billy had been, and he was doing fine now. Johnny noticed that Billy walked slower and more carefully than he had ever seen.

Halfway down the stairs they heard something rustling around in the cellar. Billy froze. There was a long sucking sound followed by a squishy pop. Neither of the boys moved for several minutes. Johnny was about to tell him to come back – that they should leave – when Billy turned and looked at him. “You coming 'fraidy cat?”

Johnny bit his lower lip, looked up at the back door to the house, then started down the stairs even more slowly than his brother.

***

Billy reached the bottom of the stairs, but didn't immediately turn the light on. He stood there, peering sailor-like into the darkness with one hand above his brow. After a moment he reached over and flipped the switch.

Half of the cellar was one big open room with a cement floor. In the right corner stood an immaculately dressed man. He was wearing a dark pinstriped business suit. He had dark hair, a greasy mustache and was wearing a black fedora. His arms were folded when the light came on, but after just a few seconds of glaring at the boys he raised his left arm and looked at his watch – or at least where his watch would have been if he had been wearing one. He put his arm back down and glanced nonchalantly at them once again, “Well... someone sure took their sweet time coming down the stairs, didn't they?”

Billy didn't answer, he just stood there staring unbelievingly at the man. Johnny noticed that the man was standing inside a circle that had been painted on the cement floor. It was a big circle, about ten feet across, and there was a star inside – its points just touching the lines of the circle.

“Well, no harm done, eh? Come over here and give me a hand would ya?” continued the gangster-looking man. Billy continued to stare and Johnny looked back and forth between them. “C'mon boys, don't just stand there – I need your help.”

“What are you doing down here?” asked Billy, finally breaking his silence.

“Oh I'm an... old friend... of your grandfather. I'm kinda stuck here in this... lovely place. Come over and give me a hand back upstairs will ya?”

Johnny replied this time, “I'm going to get grandpa.” He turned to start up the stairs.

“Wait!” shouted the man, desperately pleading now. “Please, I've been here a long time. I'd really like to go upstairs but I can't do it myself – I need your help. Please, help me.”

Johnny wasn't convinced. “C'mon Bill, Let's just go get grandpa – something doesn't feel right here.”

The man in the suit was now focusing completely on Billy. “Bill, you know what it's like to get stuck somewhere, don't you? You know what it's like to need some help. I need your help, Bill. I need it now. Come over here and give me your hand.” He stretched his arm out, palm up, and looked at him expectantly.

Johnny thought the man was insane, but Billy just said “Yeah” and starting walking towards him. It only took Billy a few steps to reach him.

“No!” shouted Johnny as he grasped the man's hand.

The man took Billy's hand and held it tightly. A slow, wicked smile spread across his face, “You humans are so naïve.”

Billy had a concerned expression on his face now as he tried in vain to withdraw his hand. The man only held it tighter, and starting laughing as he began backing up – pulling Billy into the circle on the floor. As he did so he began to change. Johnny thought it was like watching the special effects from some Hollywood movie. The man's shoulders got broader and larger, he gained nearly a foot in height, his legs got bulkier and his feet changed into hooves. His clothes seemed to melt away and were replaced with red fur. He gained incredible muscle and bulk on both his legs and arms, his hands grew long claw-like nails, and great huge leathery wings sprouted from his back. Worst of all was his head. It went from greasy gangster to monster. He now had four very sharp teeth extending from his mouth – even when it was closed – and two big ram horns protruded from his forehead and circled back around. The whole transformation was accompanied by a long sucking sound which finished with a soft pop as as his wings fully extended.

Johnny couldn't believe what he had just witnessed. He was so scared that he could do nothing but cower on the bottom stair. The great huge demon flung Billy back, slamming him into some invisible barrier at the circle's edge. The demon, however, paid Billy no attention – he was glaring intently at Johnny. When he spoke Johnny noticed that his voice had changed too – it was deeper and much throatier now. “Listen, you filthy little rat, I want your grandfather down here now! Do you understand? I want him down here within the next five minutes or I am going to eat Bill here for lunch – and I am very hungry. Now go!”

Quivering on the bottom step Johnny glanced at the demon, “Grandpa? What do you want him for?”

“You idiot! Do you think I'm down here because I want to be?” His voice was deep and booming. “Your stupid grandfather trapped me down here, months ago, with that infernal spell book!” He let out a long howl of pain, then looked directly into Johnny's eyes again. “I need to kill him to return to the astral plane. You now have four minutes before I bite your brother's head off.”

Tears were forming in Johnny's eyes as he looked one last time at the monster, then turned and ran up the stairs.

***

“Grandpa! Grandpa wake up!” Johnny was shaking his grandfather vigorously, but to no avail. He appeared to be dead. He pounded on his chest, slapped his face, shook him even more vigorously and even threw a cup of water in his face, but nothing would wake him. Johnny slumped over his grandfather and began to cry. After a few minutes he decided to see if his grandmother had returned. He ran to the front door yelling for her. He flung the door open and raced onto the front porch – the driveway was empty, she was still gone.

He ran back down into the cellar, stopping on the last step. He couldn't hold back the tears. “Grandpa is dead – I can't get him to come down here.”

“Oh, he's not dead, not yet anyway,” came the evil reply from the huge demon. “If he was dead I wouldn't be here now would I? You have one minute. Go drag him down here if you have to... or kill him yourself.”

Johnny shot the demon a horrid look, “I would never do that!” The demon just laughed, motioned towards Billy and said, “Tick...tick...tick.”

Billy was sitting inside the circle leaning against its invisible wall. His knees were close to his chest and his arms were wrapped around them. There was blood trickling from his left temple. He glanced at the demon and then his brother. Johnny could once again see that infamous rage in Billy's eyes. Looking back at the demon, who was standing with his arms across his chest making very emphatic ticking noises, Johnny ran upstairs.

***

He tried all the same ways to wake his grandfather again, but none of them worked this time either. Finally he flung the covers back and attempted to pull his grandfather out of bed. He only succeeded in making him flop out of bed onto the floor. He tried to pull him, but it was no use – Johnny was too little to drag his grandfather all the way downstairs.

“No...” whined Johnny, who was breathing very deeply now. He ran to the front porch again – looking for his grandmother, or anyone, to help him. The neighborhood was empty. He looked around furiously, but all he could see was the scarecrow.

***

The demon had stopped his sarcastic ticking and was looking at Billy, trying to decide which of his succulent parts to eat first, when he heard Johnny coming back down the stairs. He was both crying softly and breathing hard as he dragged his grandfather's heavy shape roughly behind him. The demon immediately pushed all thoughts of lunch from his mind and stood eagerly at the circle's edge with his fingertips pressed lightly together in anticipation and glee.

Johnny stopped when he reached the bottom, his grandfather's form laying on its stomach, stretching across the bottom five steps. Johnny adjusted the fishing hat and looked quietly at Billy. Billy was standing now, staring in disbelief at what Johnny had dragged down the stairs.

“Bring him to me,” said the demon, never taking his eyes from grandfather.

“Let Billy go first.”

The demon answered by turning around and grasping Billy's neck in his huge hand. He lifted him into the air and turned to face Johnny again. Billy was struggling to breathe. “You have about one minute to drag him over here before poor Bill runs out of air.” He glared at Johnny.

“Ok! Ok, just put him down,” cried Johnny. The demon didn't move. Johnny quickly turned and placed his hands under his grandfather's armpits, then started dragging him towards the circle.

Johnny dragged him as close as he dared, always keeping one eye on the demon. He dropped his grandfather's form just outside the circle line, took one last look at the monster and Billy, then used his foot to scoot his grandfather's arm inside the circle's line.

The demon didn't waste one second as he dropped Billy and grabbed grandfather's arm with both of his huge hands. He yanked him into the circle and immediately began slashing and hacking at his back. Billy didn't lose any precious time either – he quickly scrambled out of the circle and without even a glance at Johnny or the demon he took off running up the stairs. Johnny, however, backed up against the wall and watched as the demon slowly stopped his attack and looked around at the mess he had created. Instead of blood and gore everywhere there was only hay. It covered nearly the entire floor inside the circle and some of it even floated lazily in the air.

The demon threw back his head and let out a long terrible howl. When he was finished he just stood there, hunched over the scarecrow, his whole body sagging. Finally he looked up at Johnny with fire in his eyes. “You... little... imp!” He gnashed his teeth and let out another howl – this one directed at Johnny. Johnny just cowered against the wall until it was over, then turned to go upstairs.

The door at the top of the stairs flung open, streaming in sunlight. Billy came trotting down the stairs with the .30-06 in his arms and the rage even stronger in his eyes. He stopped at the bottom, lifted the rifle towards the demon and pulled the trigger. There was a deafening boom as the demon was hit in the right shoulder by the bullet. His huge form was thrown backwards onto the floor. Writhing in pain he sat up just in time for Billy's second shot. Billy continued firing, again and again, until the demon's bloody hulk lay unmoving on the floor.

He dropped the rifle, and looked at his brother. Johnny, eyes wide and hands over his ears, noticed that the rage had gone out of Billy's eyes. He stood up, and with his ears ringing embraced his older brother and began to sob uncontrollably. Together the two of them started back up the stairs.


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