Al Bruno III
Al Bruno III
If I close my eyes I can still see Daddy from my bedroom window, he's plowin' the whole season's potato crop back underground. If I looks real hard I can see his lips movin', I think he's prayin' but I'm not sure.
I can see my Grampa too, walkin' along behind the tractor with a hoe to take care of anything the tractor misses. They're were bein' real careful bout it all.
As to what exactly happened, I can't rightly say. All I gots is bits of stories here, some gossip I overheard an what I seen with my own eyes. It's kinda like puttin' together a puzzle when ya only got half the pieces. Makes me feel a little like Sherlock Holmes from the movies.
Well, anyways, I figure it all started when my father got up the money to buy the farm next door, the McCabe place. No one'd been livin' there for about eight years 'cause when old Mr. McCabe died he didn't leave no kin to inherit the place. On a count of the fact he went crazy an shot 'em all dead.
I remember that night real good, I was only seven years old and I got woke up around midnight by a sound that I took to be thunderin' but then I started to hear screamin' and hollerin'. I jumped out of the bed and looked out the window to see Mrs. McCabe run out of the house, by the full moon's light I could see her nightgown was stained all black with blood.
She's screamin' to Jesus and for someone to help her when Mr. McCabe runs out onto the porch and there's a flash from his gun and she's dead and he's standin' there all alone on the porch as if he don't know what he just did.
I hears a squeal and turns to see my big brother David next to me, he musta seen it all too, cause he's as white as a sheet and shakin' all over. I looks back outside and Mr. McCabe's gone back inside his house. I heard him fire his gun one last time. An that was the shot he used to kill himself.
No one knew why he done it, even eight years later when my Daddy bought the place, people were still bringin' it up. One of the cashiers at the A and P said that Mr. McCabe was an alcoholic, Mrs. Pickrel said back that she heard there was all sorts of craziness in the family but I don't know if I believe any of that. But I do know one thing, Mr. McCabe was gonna lose his farm onna count of some failed crops these last coupla seasons, from what my Daddy told me the McCabe family was gettinreal desperate.
Daddy said he was gonna knock down the house and just add the land to his field. Momma was worried that we wouldn't be able to handle the extra land but Daddy said that takin' care of 40 acres was just as easy as takin' care of 25, he'd jus have to get up earlier in the mornins and that was fine with him.
Of course that meant we’d be havin’ to get up early too but we both knew what would happen if we didn't do our fair share of the work.
Grandpa was afraid that we wouldn't be able to get the new land in plantin' condition on time, 'cause of all them big 'ol trees that had growed up right in the middle of the McCabe field in the eight years since it was plowed and planted. They was huge ugly oaks, an to be honest I don't know how they could've growed up to be so big so fast. Maybe the ground there was better for oaks then for taters, thats what I thought anyway.
Daddy just said that we could handle it, ifin' we all worked together and when it came time to sell our crops we'd be set fer a real long time.
Anyways, round about the next Saturday, after me an my brother finished in the fields and takin care of the livestock- Daddy told us that he was knockin' the house down soon. He wanted us to go through the place and see if we could finds anything useful or valuable.
I'll be honest, I was kinda scarit about goin' into the old place but David looks at me an whispers, "Whatssamatter? You a fraidy-cat?"
My face got all flushed like an I said real quiet, "I ain't no fraidy cat." and started walkin' towards the house. The windows was all boarded up, the house just looked, well, bad. That's the best word I can think of to describe the feeling I got standinon the front porch, it was like I was walkin' by a cemetery at night; you knowed better than to go inside. Maybe that's why none of the kids ever went near the house in all of the eight years it was abandoned. I got to the front door first, it was all mildew and dirt. It was locked with a rusted padlock that looked oldern' me. Then David comes up from behind holdin' a key, "It might help if you had this."
"Well open it.", I looked back to my house, no one was watchin' us, "An quit messin' with me or I'll tell Daddy 'bout that bottle of Wild Turkey you got stashed under your bed!"
"Do it an you'll die."
"Just open the god-friggin'-damn door sos I can get this over with."
David stuck the key in my hand and says, "You first. Bet you're chicken."
"Aw quit it!"
He stuck his hands under his armpits and flapped, "Chicken! Chicken! Braak! Braak! Braak!"
I undid the lock and pushed the door open, the hinges squealed like a dyin' piglet. Old, dirty air went up my nose, while I waited form my eyes to get used to the bad light. Part of me half expected to see Mr. McCabe standin' right in front of me, his rifle pointin' right at my head.
"ARE YA SACRED RALPH!?!" My brother shouted from behind. My heart leapt right out of my chest and I ran forwards into the house.
I stopped in the kitchen, there was dusty dishes sittin' in the sink with stains so old on 'em they must've justa 'bout turned to stone. I asked "Hey Dave! Ya think these are any good?"
He didn't answer an I started to get real nervous. I looked around me and all I saw was the sun shinin' through the open door.
I called him again, "David?"
I didn't hear a word.
I walked back out the door thinkin' he'd never come in but he wasn't outside neither.
Deep in my heart of hearts I was sure he was fucking around but I was still gettin' real worried. I started walkin' around the house real cautious like. All I found in the parlor was some old furniture with dark stains on it, I could guess what those stains were. All the time I was gettin' more an more scared, I promised myself that if David jumped out from around a corner tryin' to scare me, I'd go get my baseball bat and break his legs.
The door of one of the rooms was open a crack, I pushed it open real cautious like. Not that it mattered 'cause the hinges squeaked like I don't know what.
My brother was all bent over in the corner, I heard the sound of pages turnin' and I figures he'd found one of the McCabe kid's dirty magazines. I was gettin' ready to tell him that if he was plannin' to jack-off to some dead kid's dirty books he was a real sick ticket.
But when I got closer I seen that what he had in his hands weren't no Playboy's. They was books, real big old books with funny lookin' covers and no pictures at all.
David sensed me lookin' over his shoulder and shut the book he was lookin' at, "Why ain't you workin' like Daddy said?"
"I was wonderin' where you got to."
"I'm doin' my work. Go on and see what's in the other rooms."
"What'cha got there?"
"None of yer business."
I went and looked through the rest of the house, 'bout two hours later I'd gotten everything worth keepin' into a big pile in the kitchen. It wasn't much, just old silverware, tools, and clothes. I felt kinda funny about takin the clothes, an I was hopin' none of 'em would fit me cause I didn't want to be wearin' no dead kid's shirts.
Anyways, David still hadn't come outta that room an I starts to get all worried all over again. I try to get in but the door's locked, so I knocked and I called him, "David?"
He didn't answer, but I knew he was in there. "David? Listen, Daddy's gonna start think we're goofinaround and come in here and tan our hides unless we get this junk back to the house.
I still don't hear nothin'.
I hears the lock click open and David walks out, he looked different in his face. A little older maybe but also he looked real excited and scared. I remember he had that look on his face when he shot his first deer and my Daddy handed him a big 'ol knife and said "Now gut it."
I asked him, "You takin' those books with you?"
He gives me a funny stare an asks, "What books?"
"The books you been lookin' at all this time!", I said back.
"There ain't no books here."
By now I was gettin' righteously pissed off, "Oh yeah? Let's see if there's no books here." I tried to walk into the room and my brother punched me in the gut. I doubled up, half expectin' to puke, my brother never hit me like that before. Sure we'd roughhouse and fight but this time he meant to do some hurt to me. It was his way of tellin' me what he found in that room was nobody's business but his own.
An that was fine by me.
Anyways, we got the stuff to our house about an hour before supper. Part of me felt like tellin' Daddy that David didn't do hardly no work at all but I knew it wouldn't come to nothin'. David was the oldest an there weren't hardly anything he couldn't get away with.
By and by I forgot about what happened in the house until a coupla night's later when I got woke by some funny dreams. When my eyes got all adjusted to the dark I could see my brother weren't in his bed. I figured he must gone to the bathroom but round 'bout an hour went by and he still weren't back.
I couldn't get to sleep so I figured to go lookin' for him. After a few minutes of walkin' around the house barefoot an tippy-toed I knowed where he was-that Goddamned McCabe house. I went back to my room an looked out the window, sure as shootinthere was a faint light leakin' out of the boarded-up windows of the place.
I didn't have know idea what was goin' on but I didn't like the way my brother was behaving an I didn't like that rotten old house. I could hardly wait 'till tomorrow, that was when my father was havin' it all torn down.
That Sunday, when we came home from Church, Daddy and a couple of his buddies had their tractors all ready. Hooked to the back of each tractor was a long line of chain and all those chains were hooked onto the McCabe place. That's how they were gonna pull it down.
My bother and I had to load all the scrap wood an such into the back of Daddy's truck and dump it in the woods way in back of the state park.
Daddy told us to change out of our Sunday best an get ready, Momma followed us into the house. She's still scoldin' David for the way he was behavin in church, the whole time he was all laughin' and gigglin' to hisself. It was real embarrassin', 'bout half the people in church saw him.
While we're changin' in our room I sees for the first time David's got scars all over his chest, he was lookin' like he rolled through a mile o' thornbushes. "What in the Hell happened to you?" I asked.
"Nothin' happened to me.", he answers as he pulls on his shirt an leaves.
Fine, I thought to myself, be that way. We'll see how you act after your little playhouse is gone.
Then my eyes happened to glance at somethin' under his bed, it was a dirty 'ol burlap sack. I looked out the window, my brother was standin off to one side of the McCabe place, watchin' the tractors as they started to pull it down. I opened the burlap sack and looked inside.
I found the books, those damned books, I was hopin' that somehow they were still in the house gettin' plowed under for good. I shoulda known better.
There was four of 'em, they looked old, oldern' me and oldern' the padlock on the front door of the McCabe place. I started to open one, the pages were yellow and reminded me of onionskins. My eyes managed to catch one word before I heard my father call my name in a tone that I knew meant I was dangerously close to a whuppin'.
I shoved the books back into the sack and pushed the sack back under the bed. I ran outside an started loadin the pieces of the house onto Daddy's pickup. I noticed that my brother weren't sweatin' at all, an he was pickin' up the heaviest pieces with no problems. I couldn't remember him ever bein' so strong.
While I lay in bed that night, listening to the sound of David gettin' the sack out from under his bed and goin' outside, I started to think about everything that had happened. Mr. McCabe killin' his family, them old books, my brother's scarred-up back, the way the McCabe acres is filled with this big ol' trees when there shouldn't a been nothin' growin' there but weeds an wild taters, my mother mentionin' that her best butcher knife was gone; and that one word that I saw in the old book before I had to close it; Shub-Niggurath.
I didn't know what it meants but sure as I knew somethin' was wrong with the McCabe place I knew that word was bad too. No. Not bad, evil.
But I couldn't make heads nor tales of it at the time so eventually I just fell off to sleep.
The first thing I heard round about four'o clock onna next morning was the sound of my Daddy's chainsaw.
I got up and looked out my window, Daddy was cuttin' down the trees in the McCabe field.
David started groanin' in his sleep and twistin' in his bed, I looked at him real careful like; the scars were on his neck now too, he looked real pale an real tired.
Then his eyes popped open, he looked all crazy in them eyes. He screamed sometin' that sounded like another language but it weren't no other language I ever heard before.
He got up an outta bed and ran out into the field an I sees him tryin' to stop Daddy from cuttin' down the trees. Not just by yellin' either, he grabed the chainsaw outta Daddy's hands and threw in down, yellin' and babblin' all the time.
Next thing I know is my father goes an clouts him upside the head. Then he's yellin' an gettin' all red faced but all I see is my brother's hands curlin' up inta fists. I thought oh no. Here it comes!
But it didn't come, David just got up an walked back into the house. When he walked back in the room, we jus looked at each other. I had to ask, "Why'd you go an do that for?"
"He's killen them.", he said, "He's killen them."
He got changed into his work clothes and went back downstairs to have breakfast. I heard a long wooden crack an looked outside to see the first of the trees go down.
After chores I seen Grandpa, sittin' on the porch an sippin' away at a jug of that nasty tastin' hooch his old buddy from down the road Mr. Seith makes.
I didn't know how well oiled he was but I was hopin' it was enough so he would tell me somethin' I didn't all ready know.
"Grandpa," I started, "What really happened at the McCabe place?"
He was sorta drunk an slow to answer me, "I don't rightly know. But what I do know is that the McCabe's was gonna lose their land ifin' they didn't make good money with the next crop. Steve McCabe started to get real desperate 'cause there hadn't been much rain that summer, so him and his son started messin' with things that they shouldn't a been a messin' with."
"What kinda things.?"
"Aaaah, I don't know ifin' I can rightly explain it. They was tryn' to get help, but not from people.", Grandpa looked scared an confused, "They tried to get help from Them."
"Yea, Them. Them what come from Outside. I don't zactly know what it means except for stories my fatha told me. He told me 'bout an army buddy 'o his, they was hemmed in by kraut troops round about 1917. Everyone else in their foxhole was dead, either by gettin' shot or the kraut's mustard gas, an they was jus ‘bout runnin outta ammunition.
My fatha was firin' the machine gun, an he saw that his pal, I think his name was Pat or sumptin', wasn't nowhere near by. He turns real quick an sees this Paul or Pat all bent over tow grenades, he's talkin' in somethin' that sounds to my fatha like a preacher speakin' in tounges. Then he took his knife and cut his hand over the grenades an let the blood fall on 'em.
More shootin' made my fatha turn back to the krauts, they was about as close as we is to the outhouse. He tried the machine gun but it were empty.
He turned back to grab his rifle an sees Pat run up to the foxhole's edge an throw a grenade. The first thing my fatha told me he thought was, 'Ah that's no good, he threw too high up.'
The grenade went off 'bout ten foot inna air an my fatha sees a little cloud o' smoke hangin' over the krauts, but the cloud o' smoke don't go away, an it's gettin'bigger!
The Krauts had been onna ground, thinkin' there was more grenades but then they sees the cloud an they starts starin' at it like they jus up en forgot there was a war goin' on.
An then the cloud turned from smoke inta fire. Anna fire got real big. An ropey things started commin' outta the fire and pickin' the krauts up an burnin' em all over. My father said the screams was so loud they covered up everything else. In justa few seconds the krauts was all dead, jus burned to ash.
The fire cloud hung up inthe air for a little while an then it started to float to my fatha's foxhole. He says he was so scared he shat hisself.
Then Paul throws the other grenade an it blows up on the cloud, an then the fire cloud turned back into a regular smoke cloud an disappeared. My fatha never found out what it was."
"Why didn't he just ask his friend?"
I didn't think Grandpa heard my question, but after a little bit he answers, "Cause right after the cloud went away, he shot him." Grandpa went to take another swig of the hooch an almost dropped the bottle, "Ahhh, we shouldn't even be talkin' such things anyway, it's against God. Why don'tcha see if yer Ma needs help in the house?"
I went inta the house, feelin' very afraid. I ran upstairs aimin' to burn them damn books no matter what would happen after.
My brother weren't in our room sose I just went an reached under his bed.
The sack weren't there no more. It was gone.
I looked in the closet. It weren't there neither, an I seen that his bike chain was gone. An so was mine. When I asked Momma if she knew where David was, she said he rode his bike inta town.
I got my bike an decided to look for him, I knew I had to try an stop him from doin' whatever he had on his mind.
I got to town 'round about two o'clock. I pedaled through town, lookin' fer my brother's bike but I didn't see nothin'. Finaly I stopped at the drug store, I parked my bike right up by the door sose I could keep an eye on it an I went inside.
The bells over the door jangled an Mrs. Johnson an I got to talkin' as I bought a bottle of Pepsi-soda an a Hershey bar. I asked her ifin she's seen my brother an she gives me a funny smile. "Well between you and me an the lampost Ralph, he by here a few minutes ago with Jill."
"Jill Fladager?" I asked.
"That's right." she smiled.
I got my change an said goodbye. Jill Fladager, aside from bien' the ugliest girl I ever seen, was the preacher's daughter. What would she be doin' with my brother? An more impotantly what was my brother doin' with Jill Fladager?
An Jill Fadager was a virgin, an that's with a capital V, from what I hear. Apparently it's a big braggin' point with her.
So what was she doin' with him?
What was he doin' with her?
I finished the soda, threw the can away an checked around the town one more time my eyes peeled for a glimpse of David's big 'ol green bike. I didn't see nothin'.
An I didn't see David again till supertime back at home, he was in a good mood. We had pot roast fer dinner, he ate lots a meat but wouldn't have no vegtables.
The next day I found my bike lock back in the closet.
It had blood on it.
I looked at the blood for a real long time feelin' all sick in my stomach. I tried to convice myself that it might be David's blood, after all he'd really takin' to cuttin' himself lately.
But somehow I knowed in my heart whose blood it were.
I hardly slept at all that night onna counta this nightmare I had wherein David's got me all chained up in the new field, an all he can say is "ARE YA SCARED RALPH? ARE YA SCARED RALPH?"
An somethin' starts a 'growin' up outta the ground. It's the McCabe house all good as new. All lights shinin' from inside it an a cloud comes up outta the chiminey. A cloud of fire. A cloud of fire shaped like Mr. McCabe's face.
I woke up, and had to bite my lip not to scream, "YES! YES I'M SCARED!"
I was real tired in the morning but I had to get up onna count of it was time to start plantin' an with the bigger field we were all gonna have to work extra hard to get it all done.
David was already up an helpin' Daddy get the tater seeds ready. My father gave me a real bad look, that Why can't you be like your brother? look.
While we was workin' I notice that David was hangin' around the seeds alot, puttin' his hands in 'em an stuff. I wanted to say somethin' to Daddy but I knew it wouldn't do no good. I was alone in all this. Anyone else I told woulda said I was crazy.
Months went by, things was pretty quiet, at least they looked quiet anyways. But there was other things goin' on; like fer instance Jill Fladager.
They never found no trace of her. Folks round town were sayin' she probably run off, onna counta that's the way most preachers daughters got; or so they say. Police searched for her for a while and then gave up.
But she weren't the only one. Other girls an boys disappeared from time to time. All of 'em were either real young or real unliked. And I seen two of 'em with my brother a couple a days before they vanished.
And David was gettin' bigger, all muscles an such, an his face, which used to have all bad zits, cleared up, an all of a sudden he had money, lots of money. He was buyin' flasy clothes and gettin' pretty older girls from the High School, even though he dropped out years ago.
I figured out the pattern to it all late in the summer. David would go out a t night every night 'till the full moon then someone would dissapear an he would stay home the next night.
There weren't nothin' I could do about it all. I mean, I was just a fourteen year old kid, who'd believe the crazy things I'd have to tell them? All it would do is most probably get me killed.
A month before harvest, it all went ta Hell.
The family was happy, Daddy was pleased as a pig in shit 'bout the tater crop commin' in, it looked like a whopper. An they was all so pleased at David, cause he'd been workin' so hard to help with the crops an made enough money to buy a car for himself by workin' odd jobs.
Odd jobs. I knew what kind of odd jobs he was into, but who could I tell?
I knew he'd go out that night, it was the full moon. I wondered who was gonna turn up missin'. I wondered if it was a sin to jus sit by an let all this happen.
That night as I watched David get up outta bed, get dressed and grab our bike chains outta the closet and walk downstairs. I got up and ran to the window, you couldn't see the full moon onna count of the heavy rainin' goin' on. I saw David, he was walkin' all casual like inta the woods behind the new field. Then he turned, looked right at me, and waved.
He was darin' me to follow him! I knew it was crazy to even think the idea but I also knew in my heart of hearts that somehow I'd end up in the woods anyway. At least this way I had a chance to do it my way. I got dressed, grabbed my baseball bat an sneaked outside.
David was shoutin' and singin', his words were all funny but I recognized one; Shub-Niggurath. I started to get scared then, scareder than anything.
I couldn't see too far cause of the rain and the big 'ol oak trees. Hell I nearly walked into a couple small ones! I pretty soon found myself standin' at the edge of some of the biggest trees, they were all in a big circle an my brother was in the circle, he was jus standin there gettin rained on.
So I hid behind the nearest tree an watched, after a while he talked again, his voice soundin' old and deep, it didn't even sound like him really, "Shub-Niggurath. Black Goat of the Woods With a Thousand Young. The final sacrifice is here-"
I looked but didn't see nobody in the circle.
"Revive your children and let them feast!"
I wondered what in the Hell he was talkin' about. Then I seen in the background, some of the shapes that I took to be trees was movin'. Their branches snappin' around like snakes.
"Gorge yourself on the pure blood of my kin!"
Then I realized why he got me to come here. I was his sacrifice. He was gonna give me to those tree things, like he musta done to all those others.
My bravery dried up at that. I turned to run but I seen more of those tree things staggerin' at me from the way too.
David pushed me down from behind. I started swingin' wild with the bat but didn't hardly hit him. He grabbed my wrist an shook the bat outta my hand. Then he pulled me by the hair an dragged me into the circle. He was laughin' at me like this was some kinda Three Stooges rerun an I was Curly. I screamed "Don't do this David! I'm your brother. Please!"
"Shub-Niggurath's Young have tasted my blood and want more!", David scramed, "In return she will give me power! I shall be the father of a race of Gods!"
I stopped listenin to him 'cause some of the creatures had gotten close enough for me to see them an I started screamin'. They may'a looked like trees in the dark but they sure didn't look like no trees up close. They had three short devil-hooved legs, praticaly no middle at all, except for what seemed to be a buncha mouths all strung together, an the top was all these octopus tentacles with itty-bitty mouths all over'em.
I was cryin' for David to not let them get me but he just stepped back an laughed.
Then light flashed from the woods. Buckshot hit my brother's face an he fell to his knees screamin'. His hands runnin over his head.
The tree-monsters stopped, my father an grandpa stepped outta the woods, they musta heard on of us leavin' the house. They both had guns. Daddy ran to me an pulled me away, the monsters didn't even try to stop us.
They were all too busy with David. I heard him screamin' all the way back to the house. Where we barracaded ourselves until the sun was high up in the sky.
We never found any trace of David or his books, so we agreed to tell the police he jus dissappeared like all the others.
I didn't think I'd be sad about what happened to him but I was. I cried for what musta been a whole week. I guess it's true what Grandpa said, "Kin is kin."
Things were almost regular again after a while but then this morning happened. See my Daddy and Grandpa woke up and started harvestin' early. They let me sleep in a lot since that night, maybe because of the nightmares, maybe because they felt sorry for me. Usually I woke up anyway hearing the sounds of them workin’ and the tractor an all that.
But this mornin’ I got woke up by screamin’.
I tried to ask my family what was goin on but they all told me to stay in my room. I listened at my door as best I could. They spent all morning talkin' all scared like an tryin' to keep calm by drinkin' Mr. Seith's hooch.
There was somethin wrong with the taters, that much I figured but I couldn't figure what. Daddy decided they had to plow the whole crop under, even though it meant we'd lose everything. They were even makin’ plans to move away, to just pull up stakes.
I couldn't stay at the top of the stairs after that. I ran down an demanded to know what was wrong. Why did we have to plow the whole crop under?
My Daddy looked me right in the face but I kenw he was lyin'. "They've got somethin' wrong with 'em inside. They're full of tater bugs."
They told me to get back up in my room and stay there an they all went to the garage to get the tractor. I saw them walk the long way, around the field.
So there I was, up in my room watchin' my Daddy and Grandpa work an listenin’ to my mother cryin’ downstairs. I was tryin' to figure what's gonna happen to us after we lose the farm. I was tryin' to figure out what David or Shub-Niggurath done to our crops. I was tryin' to figure out just what in the Hell a Shub-Niggurath was, is, whatever.
An most importantly I was tryin to figure out what to do with the tater I snatched from the field while everyone else was in the garage.
It weren’t like no potato I ever saw in my life, it was too big and too soft and it pulsed in my hand like it was alive- like there was sometin' squirmin’ inside. I thought about what David said about being the father of a buncha Gods. I wondered if what David was talkin' about is in my hands, or if it's just a tater rotten with bugs, or if it's somethin' else.
I had a pocket knife on the bed beside me. I told myself again and again that whatever's in there was bad, a hundred times worse than those books an the McCabe place combined.
But it just didn't matter. It didn't matter then and it doesn't matter now, even though what I found there cost me my family, my farm and left me all scarred up with only one good eye.
I hadta know what was in there.
I just hadta know.