Authors: James Kahn
Mouth put his hand to his mouth. I got up to look for a trapdoor or some other place a treasure might be hid. As soon as the
kitchen door closed, Chunk started to talk, but he was interrupted by arguing in the next room.
“But, Ma,” came Jake's voice, “this was supposed to be
“Just shut up,” yelled the old woman. “Shut up and do what I told you.”
Data whispered to me, “What about those two guys who came in before us? What happened to them?”
Chunk finally pushed in close and told what he'd been trying to tell us since Mama first crowded us. “Guys, look, if we don't
get outta here now, there's gonna be some kinda hostage crisis,” he whispered. “Out in the garage there's this truck—the same
one I saw this morning—bullet holes in it the size of Big Macs—”
Mouth cut him short, though. “Big Mac, yakkety-yak. Chunk, I'm startin' to O.D. on all your bullshit stories.” I think Mouth
was feeling kind of snappish after the business with his tongue.
Then something else bizarre happened. There was this
churning, bumping, whirring noise echoing through the place like a washing machine having a nervous break-down. Then this
guy started swearing, and there were feet on stairs, and another door flew open, and this guy came stormin' out, spattered
all over with dark green ink, yellin' and stompin' across the room toward the kitchen, holdin' up his hand, which had the
face of a president stamped on the palm, but I'm not sure which president.
“How the hell am I supposed to finish up downstairs with that piece of Smithsonian shit I got to work with?” he shouted.
Then he saw us. That stopped him. He just stared at us for a second, then made a fist with his hand, and another one with
his face, and turned and ran back through the door and slammed it behind him.
Before we could speak, Mama came out of the kitchen carrying a tray of glasses, which she set down on our table. The glasses
were filled with this rusty-orange-colored liquid with these scuzzy little particles floating in it. It looked like something
from a drainage ditch.
She gave us each a glass.
“This supposed to be water?” said Mouth.
“It's wet, ain't it?” the old lady said.
“Yeah, sure—looks great,” said Data.
“Yeah, great mule piss,” said Mouth. He was really pushin' his luck, it seemed to me. The old lady looked at him real strange.
That was Mouth, though—always doin' what he shouldn't.
He started pouring his glass into the others, just to irritate her, I think. The sound of the water trickling sounded kind
of like going to the bathroom, which gave me an idea. If I pretended I had to go to the bathroom, I could excuse myself from
the table and I might get a little time and privacy to check the place out. So I started to
squirm around the way I used to when I was a kid and had to go. That made me remember that this was the sort of place that
had daddy longlegs in the bathroom, so I shivered, and then I really did have to go a little.
The kitchen doors flew open, and Jake came out wearing a bloody apron and carrying a huge, steaming pot with a big ladle in
it. He set it down on the table and said, “Okay, who ordered Fish Surprise?”
Chunk raised his hand, kind of nervous. Jake ladled a mess of the stuff into Chunk's dish. It was totally gross. Kind of a
jellified black soup with fish heads and parts. I think it's considered a delicacy in France or some damn place, but it just
made me sick.
“Yummy,” said Chunk. I couldn't tell if he was kidding or not. He knew a lot more about food than I did.
Mama looked into the pot. “Is there any left?” She checked her wristwatch.
“Then it's time to feed your brother,” the old lady went on.
“Let Francis do it,” said Jake. “I fed it last night.”
“Francis is busy,” said Mama.
“But I hate goin' down there, Ma. It—”
“He's your brother. Now get goin' before it gets cold.” She pushed him hard.
He walked across the room without much enthusiasm, opened a creaky old door, and walked down a lot of creaky old stairs.
Now that we were alone with Mama again, it seemed like a good time for me to try out my plan. I stood up. “'Scuse me, ma'am,”
I said, real polite. “Where's the men's room?”
She turned to look at me. Chunk, behind her, kept motioning me to forget it, but it just looked like he was
dancing to the silent jukebox again, and I was hearing my own tune now—I mean, I really knew I was in the right place at the
Mama glared at me. “Can't you hold it?”
“Yeah, Mikey,” said Chunk, “can't you hold it?”
Mouth, of course, couldn't help stirring things up. He poured a thin, noisy stream of water from one glass to another. What
It was perfect for me, though. “Lady, please!”
She nodded kind of understandingly, like maybe she really
somebody's mama once. “Downstairs, to your right,” she said. “And stay to your right!”
I nodded and went to the door before she changed her mind. I could hear Chunk whispering behind me, stuff like “Mikey, don't,
you can't…” but I ignored him and started down the stairs.
It was dark, too dark to see much, and twisting down, so I kept my hand against the wall to guide me. The wall was cool, damp
stone. The steps were rotting wood. They creaked the whole way down.
At the bottom was a long corridor with a few bare bulbs dangling from the ceiling. There was nobody else around, so I took
out the map to see if I could find any comparisons or clues. But I didn't get much time to check, because suddenly I heard
this weird growling coming from the other end of the hall. It made my hair tingle.
I put the map away and followed the sounds. They led me, after a little turning, to a thick wooden door, open a crack. The
growling was much louder inside, like a sick animal or something, and mixed in with rattling chains.
I don't know, but somehow it wasn't exactly scary, just sort of sad and weird and pitiful.
I pulled the door open a little wider, and I stuck my head inside.
It was a stone room, small, like a jail cell, with heavy, old wood beams and a slatted ceiling. There was a light in the room
above us, which sent stripes of light through the slats into this room. There was a thin, stained mattress on the cement floor.
There was rotten food and rat turds all over everywhere. And against the far wall, sitting in a hard wooden chair, there was
a large… person.
Sort of a person. He was kind of too big, though, and not shaped exactly right—but he was hard to see, 'cause he was all in
Jake stood beside this guy, holding the pot of food. The guy growled at Jake, not human but like a thing. Jake held the pot
out and talked like he was talking to a pet dog.
“Here, boy. You hungry? Want your supper?”
The thing grunted and held out his arms. They were thick, with more muscles than I'd ever seen, covered with curly, dark hair
and too long for his grayed old coat. Heavy metal chains wrapped around his wrists, connecting him to the stone wall. He whined
like a starving child. Scared as I was, that crying sound made
want to cry tears, swear to God.
Jake held the pot just a few inches from where the chains held the thing. “Here, fella—this what you want? Your Tender Vittles?”
The big guy roared and grabbed for the bowl. Made me jump, it sounded like a wounded wolf. Jake dropped the pot, and the fish-head
soup spilled all over the floor.
The big guy cried again, more sort of like a rabbit in a trap.
Jake was real sarcastic, though. “Oh, poor boy. Sorry, fella. Maybe tomorrow night.”
The big thing whimpered. Jake laughed and turned for the door, which I jumped behind to hide. Jake walked right
by me. He didn't see me in the dark, so he walked back upstairs. So I came out and took a step into the room.
There was a small black-and-white TV against the wall, and it was turned on now, without the sound. It sat on bricks, near
the floor, with a little rabbit-ears antenna on top of it. The reception was awful. It looked like an old movie, with a sword
fight and people yelling. I think it was
The Count of Monte Cristo
, which I never saw, but I read the Classics Comics, so I knew this was definitely a sign, because the count got to be count
lost treasure map and dug his way to freedom.
Anyway, this big guy wasn't interested in any of that now. He was on his knees, eating the fish heads and tripe off the floor,
sometimes mixing it in accidentally with little bits of cement or rat bones or dirt, making little satisfied grunting sounds.
Then he heard me.
He lifted his head—and there in the whitish glow of the crummy TV, I saw what he looked like. And man, I was scared.
He was bald except for a little topknot, and his head just wasn't the right shape. High up were two partly formed ears, more
like dried apricots that had gone bad. His eyes weren't the same size or color, and they were at two different levels on his
face, one near where it was supposed to be and one down along the side of his nose. And his nose was all wrong, too, kind
of off-center and squished, like he'd fallen on his face and it was made of clay.
But his mouth was real sad.
He growled at me like I was going to steal his food, though, so I didn't stick around to argue—I just took off and hoped the
chains held and he'd had all his shots.
I ran down the basement hall, back up the stairs, and
into the lounge so fast, it made me wheeze. And I ran smack into Brand.
He was all dirty and bruised and looked totally pissed off. He grabbed me by the collar and lifted me in the air and stared
at me so hard, it hurt. “Death's too good for you,” he said. “I'm savin' you for Mom.”
I wheezed a little louder, and he dropped me. “Brand, what happened? You look awful,” I said. I was actually pretty glad to
see him, but with that thing in the basement, and Brand looking like he'd fallen into a blender, I didn't know what to say
“I'll tell you what happened, twerp,” he said real quiet but like he was shouting. “I was on your trail on that teeny bike
when Troy Perkins pulled alongside me in his red Mustang, with Andy and Stef in the car, and he asked me if I wanted a lift.
So I grabbed onto the door handle, and he grabbed my wrist and peeled rubber, and in eight seconds I was going sixty on that
bike. So when he finally let go of me, all I could do was plow off the road into the tall grass and wreck myself and follow
you here on foot. So I dragged my ass out of the field and found your slimy-snail bike tracks in the dirt, and between those
and the Twinkie wrappers Chunk dribbles behind him wherever he goes, it wasn't too hard to keep tabs on you yahoos. So when
I saw your little Hobbit sneaker prints toddling up to the lighthouse, I just used my massive powers of deduction and zeroed
in on you.”
“Way to go, Brand,” said Mouth. “You've earned your decoder ring for sure.”
“Shut your face, Mouth, or I'll shut it for you.”
“I'm trembling,” said Mouth.
Brand glared at him and then at me. “And after Mom finishes with you,
to deal with.”
I looked over at Chunk for some support, but he'd eaten
most of his Fish Surprise and was real obviously wishing he hadn't. “Can we go now, you guys?” he whispered. “I think I'm
gonna be sick.”
I looked over at Data, but before I could say anything about anything, Mama walked back into the room from the kitchen. She
looked fed up.
“All right, boys. Go on home. It's on the house.” She pointed at Chunk's empty dish.
Chunk stuck his head under the table and barfed.
“And now it's on the floor!” Mouth laughed.
“Go on, get out of here,” Mama said with a smile she didn't mean but tryin' to sound like a mom. “Jake'll clean up. Now git.”
We got. Tried to beat each other to the front door is what we did, and we all won. And as soon as the door was shut behind
us, Mama put the C
sign in the window.
We shivered a group shiver.
“Let's go,” said Brand, and he marched us off.
We were pretty quiet until we got to the graveyard, each of us thinking our own thoughts. Chunk spoke first.
“Hey, guys, I gotta stop here a minute. I still feel sick.”
So we stopped. It was getting on to dusk, and the shadows of the tombstones dissolved into the bushes all around us. We sat
there a minute while I got it all straight in my head, especially the stuff about this Mr. Gruesome that was so weird, I couldn't
even believe I'd actually seen him at first. But I had.
“Okay, now listen up, guys, this is hard to buy, but it's total truth, swear to God. When I went into the basement, I found
this room down there, and I'm tellin' you, they got an ‘it’ in there. A giant ‘it.’ And they got it chained to the wall, and
when it… when it came into the light and I saw it…” My chest got tight when I thought of that face, and I had to give myself
a puff on the inhaler. “Guys, you
should have seen its face. It was horrible. All the parts were mixed around—
“Like your brain, lame-o,” said Brand. He hadn't been there for the whole first part like the other guys, so he didn't know
how spooky it was. He didn't hear the growling, and he wasn't into finding the treasure. So he just pulled me up. “Say good-bye
to your little pals.”
Before he could pull me outta there, though, Chunk said, “Look,” and pointed back toward the lighthouse. We all looked.
Jake and Francis were coming out the side door, carrying a large, limp bag. Sort of body-sized. Then Mama came out right behind
them, carrying another bag all by herself.
Jake opened the garage door.
Chunk gasped. “Lookit there! That's it!” he said. “That's the car from the chase this morning!”
For the first time it occurred to me, maybe his story wasn't total bullshit after all.
Jake opened the back and then pulled up what looked like some kind of false bottom, but it was hard to see in the dark. Jake
and Francis stuck their back into the bottom and then tried to load in Mama's bag, but it wouldn't fit, so they closed the
trunk on the one and carried the other back into the restaurant.