The three kids had always visited their grandmother’s house on the last weekend of the month; a long two days of junk food, games and storytelling. But with her sickness, she had to move in with their uncle Ray. It wouldn’t break their tradition but it was a home they’d never been to, and with Ray at work and grandma sicker than they’d realized, they had to fend for themselves.
Thirteen-year-old Jalen helped their grandma mostly. Twelve-year-old Denise planted herself in front of the bookshelf, scanning for a book to read. Keisha, the six-year-old, explored.
Keisha looked throughout the home as if she were searching for gold. Curious and weird were just some of the names students and teachers had called her at school. The girl had a strange addiction to hand lotion. She used to eat it when she was a baby; got sent to the ER a few times for it, too. These days, she’d rub it over her hands three to four times a day. Girl was a slippery one, had thick skin, too; she’d laugh along when the kids called her names.
The second floor was boring. Mostly under construction. One of the bedrooms had only one doorknob on the inside. She wasn’t excited about staying the weekend. In one of the rooms, she walked to the window and looked down. Boards and about a hundred bags of trash were scattered all over the yard. Immediately, she wanted to leave. There’d be nowhere for her to play. She pouted and stomped back down the steps to get a better look at the first floor. The family room had been transformed into a mini-library but no kid-friendly books. The kitchen was huge, twice the size of theirs back home, but no snacks. Eventually, she went to see her grandmother to hear a story. That was the only thing to save this disaster of a weekend, but she was already asleep and Jalen said she’d be too weak to tell them any stories.
Keisha pouted and dragged her feet down the hallway. How was she to survive the weekend with nothing to do? Before she made it to the kitchen, a draft tickled her ankle. She turned to the door that she assumed was a closet, and opened it. The room was black, with no light from the hallway or kitchen to support what she wanted to see. So, she stepped in and reached on the sides for a switch. Nothing. The draft crawled up her legs and settled around her stomach and chest. A loud screeching from the door’s rusty hinges sounded like nails on a chalkboard. She turned and stuck her foot in between the door and frame to stop it from closing and in doing so, her head rubbed against a dangling string.
She reached for the chain, grabbed it and pulled. A single bulb above her lit up, illuminating the steps a few feet ahead of her. A basement! Keisha had never been in a basement before but knew all about them. It’s where people keep their secrets.
She removed her foot, allowed the door to close and her smile lifted into this big great cheese-a-thon. If it weren’t for the darkness returning at the bottom of the stairway, she would’ve run down, but there was another light to be searched for. A hunt that she was on board for. Trying her best to ignore a foul stench, she reached for another dangling cord, turning it all into a game. She kicked boxes in her search, a few bags, even tripped over one but nothing was going to stop her from this light-hunt. Minutes of fun turned to boredom, there were no chains hanging from the ceiling and she headed back to the light shining from the top of the stairway. Feeling on the wall, near the steps, she felt a switch. She flipped it and voila.
Lights that were stretched along the ceilings and walls illuminated the room, as wide as the house itself. Her gaze took her in circles and what started off as excitement and smiles turned into disappointment and frowns.
Like the backyard, it was a mess. Boxes and trash bags everywhere like her uncle had just moved in, but she knew he’d been here longer than she’d been alive. The basement was big, but felt like the walls were closing in on her. It was dirty and with her curiosity sinking, that smell from before took control of her senses. She covered her face and prepared to leave.
This was not at all what she’d imagined; a basement was supposed to be for treasure, not trash. As she returned to the stairway, a stack of boxes behind the steps caught her attention. They looked like the others, sloppily stacked and put together with no type of method. Yet, she felt drawn to these boxes.
Something drew her around those steps to that stack. She didn’t fight it, she allowed whatever mysterious thing that was happening to her. It wasn’t the boxes at all, it was what was behind them. She pushed the stack out of her way and focused on the corner of the brick wall. She pulled loose bricks out of the wall and found a hole. That curiosity in her returned in full force and without a thought, she reached in and fished around for something…anything.
She grabbed on to it and pulled it out; a metal cube with glowing glitter all over it. She placed it in her lap as she rested against the wall. She tried to open it but her hands were so slippery that she couldn’t get a good grip. A wipe of her hands on her shirt couldn’t help, but God help her, Keisha wouldn’t quit. She tried and tried, rubbing all over the box. Then she cut herself on the corner of the cube. She didn’t scream out until she saw the blood squirting from her palm. “Jalen!” she cried out.
Her brother came rushing down the steps, looking for her. “Keisha?”
She shoved the cube back into the hole and pulled a box in front of it to hide.
He hopped down the last couple steps and looked. Found her crouched down in the middle of boxes. “What—how—what’re you doing down here?” She held in her tears as best she could but her hand was throbbing. “Are you okay?” he asked.
She nodded first, but quickly covered that with a fierce shaking of her head. “No, no. I cut myself.” The pain wasn’t that bad, but she didn’t want her brother to see the cube.
Jalen took a look at her hand, then lifted her into his arms and carried her up the steps. He patched her hand and made it all better.
With their grandmother sick in bed, Jalen fixed dinner; peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, potato chips and chocolate milk. It was the only thing in the kitchen he could make, Denise and Keisha didn’t complain.
After dinner, they sat in the family room together as Jalen tried to get the tv to work but all he got was static. “Let’s have grandma tell us a story,” Denise suggested.
“No, no. She’s asleep. Maybe she’ll tell us one tomorrow when she’s feeling better,” Jalen said, giving up on the old television.
“Well, what’re we going to do? It’s too early to go to sleep.” Denise reached for a book and opened it up.
“I have a story,” Keisha said.
Denise laughed. “You? A story?”
Keisha looked at Jalen and he smiled. “Yeah? Tell us.”
“Please, Jay. I don’t want to hear no kindergarten crap.” Denise rolled her eyes.
“Then don’t listen. She can tell me.” Jalen sat on the floor as Keisha sat across from him. Denise remained on the sofa with her legs rested on the arm, her face buried in the pages of a book.
Keisha jumped right into the story. “In the 1840’s there was an evil man by the name of Butch Ridder. He robbed people, killed them and ate their body parts—”
“Whoa—whoa—wait.” Jalen held his hands up.
“What? You said I could tell a story,” Keisha pouted.
“Yeah, but…this—where did you hear this?” he asked.
“I don’t know. Can’t remember.” Keisha shrugged. “But can I finish?”
Jalen didn’t answer. Denise was looking up from her book now. “What are you…scared of your little sister’s story, Jay?”
“Of course not. It’s just—if mom knew she were—”
“God! Mom’s not here. Let her finish the story.”
“Fine,” he said.
Denise closed the book and shifted in her seat to hear the rest.
Keisha continued. “Before he ate his victims, he’d always say ‘Butch sho’ like some of that flesh’.” Keisha mimicked the voice in a thick western tongue that had Denise grinning and her brother covering his mouth. “Butch terrorized the state for ten years. One night, he followed a young woman to her house, attacked her once she went inside, and tied her to a chair. Then, he searched the home for anything valuable. All he found were weird dolls and necklaces. So, he decided to just eat her. ‘Butch sho’ like some of that flesh’ he said as he looked at her neck. But as he lunged for it, something stopped him. He was frozen in place and couldn’t move. Suddenly, ropes flew from the woman, the chair blew away and she levitated.
“He begged for mercy, realizing the woman was a witch. She wasn’t so merciful. A stick from the corner of the room flew into her hands and she beat Butch so bad with it that blood covered his entire face. She ripped out his tongue with her hand and fed it to her rats in the cage. She gouged out his eyeball, crushed it with her teeth and spit it out at his chest. But she did not kill him. All of this was part of her ritual…a spell… and she banished him to The Glitterbox forever. The end.” Keisha clasped her hands together and smiled.
“What the fuck?” Jalen blurted.
“Ooooohh. I’m telling mommy.” Denise pointed at him.
“Oh crap. No. Don’t.”
Denise chuckled, but then turned to her sister. “Who told you that story, Keisha? What’s The Glitterbox?” she asked.
All Keisha did was shrug. Then, she yawned. “I’m sleepy.”
Her brother and sister stared at her, dumbfounded. Keisha stared back with slow-blinking lids. “What? Why are you looking at me like that?”
Jalen was at a loss for words.
“How about we sleep together tonight?” Denise suggested.
“Yeah, good idea,” Jalen agreed.
“But I wanted to sleep upstairs in that middle room,” Keisha protested.
“No,” Jalen demanded. “We sleep together. We don’t know this house that well, okay? Plus, we’ll be close to grandma if she wakes up and needs anything.”
“Fine,” Keisha pouted and crossed her arms.
“Cool.” Jalen stood. “I’ll get the sheets and stuff.”
It was midnight when Uncle Ray came home. He’d seen Jalen and Denise asleep in the middle of the room and smiled. But where was the little one? Keisha? He ventured down the hall to his mother’s room and saw her fast asleep, but no sign of the young girl. He walked up the steps, turned on the hall light and checked the rooms, saving the middle room for last; the one under construction with only the doorknob on the inside. He pushed it open, walked in and found an empty room. Just as he left it, but he heard someone breathing. “Hello? Keisha, you in here?” No answer.
The breathing continued and as he turned to leave the room, the door slammed shut. The fuck?
He hustled to open it but his hands kept slipping on the knob. “What is this?” He kept trying and trying, but his hands kept on slipping.
All the light he had in the room was from the neighboring house. It shined like a spotlight on the door, turning the room into a bright hallway with black walls. The breathing intensified, stronger, man-like. He knew it wasn’t his niece and he stopped trying with the door and turned to put up his fists to an intruder. “Who’s there? Show yourself?”
Then, from the shadows, came his little niece Keisha. He felt the weight of a thousand dumbbells roll off his shoulders and he dropped his fist. “Oh God, girl. You scared the living crap out of me.”
Keisha stood in front of the window, looking up at him.
“What’re you doing up here? You okay?” He stepped forward. Then came that breathing again, followed by a grunt.
“Butch sho’ like some of that flesh.” He saw her mouth move but the voice, that deep-toned accent, stopped him from moving any closer.
“What’d you just say?”
“Butch sho’ like some of that flesh,” she said again. Then, she took a step toward him.
He turned and tried the knob but God dammit it was still slippery. Then, a small hand grabbed his wrist and squeezed so hard that it crippled him. The last thing he felt was her tiny teeth chomping at his neck.
© 2021 M. Sydnor Jr.