A man finds bizarre sculptures in an abandoned house. About 2000 words.
In Whose Image We Create
A white Jaguar sped toward the setting sun. The top was down. The driver in a light gray Gucci suit had an elbow propped on the door. A chime grabbed his attention. The elbow rose, and the hand slid into the suit to extract a titanium cell phone. A flick of the wrist and the phone opened.
“Al, this is Rick. Tresury’s bailing us out, and they’re gonna go through the books Monday. We need you in early tomorrow.”
“Shit! Tomorrow’s Sunday. How early?”
“As early as you can. I’ll be in by seven.”
A front tire, dropping into a deep rut, jolted the sports car. The phone cart-wheeled over his shoulder. Instinctively, he turned to catch it. The car lost its guiding hand, and it swerved off the road. Al grabbed the wheel and slammed his foot on the brakes just as the car side-swiped a tree. It swerved down an embankment, and smashed into a stout tree.
Life for Al Jordan had been rosy till this summer. With a degree in real estate law he worked for the loan department of a bank. With its encouragement he approved loans with abandon. Bales of Ben Franklins from commissions and legal fees rolled in. He used to silently laugh as former school mates came to him for loans he knew they couldn’t repay without unusual luck. But now, with the collapse of the housing market, he was careful where he went for a meal or drink, for he knew he wasn’t welcome. He recalled that a rival, Lowell, had disappeared. Al’s belief was the failure of Lowell’s bank had convinced him to disappear.
Al lifted his head and groaned, for his beloved car was hissing at him. Disoriented, he felt in his pocket for his phone, then recalled it flying out of his car. Cradling his head, he got out of the car, climbed the bank, and stepped into the road. He walked back hoping that the tough titanium body had kept his phone intact. He came upon one half of it. Cursing all false advertising, he kicked it down the road. For a moment, he considered which way to walk. Then, realizing he hadn’t passed a house for miles, and remembering there was a lonely old house not far from there, he turned around.
Three years ago, Lowell had boasted to him that he had sold that house for way above its value to an attractive researcher who had retired on the earnings of several patents she had acquired while working for some tobacco company. Lowell had said she was an expert on genetics and wanted the isolated house to conduct some experiments away from neighbors who might complain about the noise.
The pink clouds were now purple bruise and gunmetal gray. The wind huffed a chill under his jacket. Al hurried and crested the incline in the road just in time to see the windows of the house darken as the last rays of the sun dimmed over the horizon.
The road dipped for a hundred yards before rising at a slight angle for about half a mile. By the time he got to the gate, the feeble light of the crescent moon was all he had to keep him from stumbling on the crumbling brick path to the house. Yet, weary and unused to walking in such feeble light, he did stumble once. It was at that time, unmoving, that he noticed the silence, so different from the serenading of crickets on his own property at nightfall. Another odd thing was the lack of leaves on the lawn from the huge oak tree, though the yard was otherwise wild from an uncaring homeowner. Then, he heard it, a low hardly audible grating sound coming from the earth. It was just for a moment in the calm between two exhalations of the wind. He waited with keen attention. Yet, there was only silence from beneath. He decided it was from his imagination, heightened by the unfamiliar surroundings and adrenaline remaining from the accident.
Up the path he went till he stood at the bottom of the porch stairs. The two dark windows stared down at him, seemingly judging him for worthiness. The house loomed over him now, as if he had shrunk to a kid on his first Halloween. All that was lacking was a parent urging him up those steps. He chuckled, went up the worn wooden steps, and thought; what had brought that memory back from all those years? Then, he realized this was the night before Halloween.
He pushed the bell. Silence. He pushed again, harder and longer.
Nothing. He knocked and shouted, “Hello, anyone here?”
All he heard was an echo like a whisper.
His hand went to the door knob and twisted. With a click the door swung open, and his feet pulled him inside. There was an odd odor like sawdust and acorns mixed with musk. He paused just inside the doorway till his eyes adjusted to the dimmer interior. Then, he began to understand the shapes. A contorted sofa and armchair occupied the living room. The fabric sagged over the metal parts giving the furniture a sad starved appearance.
Another step. There was that grating sound. Looking down, he observed sawdust sprinkling the carpet like snow.
He heard a plop like a ball dropping into deep mud. It seemed to come from beneath the floor.
He yelled, “Anyone, here?”
Again, the echo, but he was ready for it. His ears judged it was coming from the right. Not even thinking over the logic of why he should follow an echo, he proceeded toward its source and entered the next room.
The bizarre sight changed his mood as if someone had slapped his face and yanked his hair.
Two large windows provided a feeble light from the moon. A large table with mathematical symbols carved into its legs and top had been pushed to one wall. On the table, propped against the wall, was a large mirror imbedded in solidified sand with colorful stones randomly arranged around the frame. That wasn’t what had grabbed his attention so tightly. Sculpted into the wall above the mirror was the life-sized face of a young woman. So detailed were her features that it appeared like the finest work of Michelangelo. The face was one of extreme anger with a deep sadness in the eyes. It all gave the appearance of being an altar.
Al wondered if the sculpture represented the researcher, then he looked into the mirror. Someone was clinging to the ceiling!
Spinning around, he raised his arms to protect himself. Several heartbeats he waited. When he lowered his arms, he realized the thing on the ceiling was made of sand and stone just like the material around the mirror. Then, he inhaled a scream, for he recognized the face of Lowell peering at him. Pain was etched into the face, yet there was pleasure in the eyes.
Al took a deep breath to calm his nerves. Turning back to the table, he noticed a drawer, slightly open. As he pulled out the drawer, the top of a thick black notebook scrapped against the wood. Grabbing the book, he laid it on the table on its spine, allowing it to open where it may. Written in a fluid hand, the words told of genetic research beyond ethical and legal boundaries, plans to create tireless and loyal workers willing to toil without a thought for money, and dreams of fame, power, and glory.
Al flipped to the last written page. He read the last words and, like the words in a song, couldn’t stop repeating them. I know God when He created Us. Had the face on the wall written those words? He supposed she had. So, what exactly was her creation? He had visions of slaves with sweat glistening on their muscles toiling in factories.
It was at that moment that he nearly turned and ran. What stopped him was the memory of taunts from his classmates twenty years ago. He’d been afraid of heights and been unable to climb anything in gym class. He was proud he’d learned to overcome those fears. Gritting his teeth, he stepped into the room.
The adjoining room was the kitchen. It was darker, yet he could make out a door next to what appeared to be a stove. That would be to the basement. Somehow, he felt the answer was behind that door and down those stairs. His legs stretched into the room.
Again, there was that odd smell of sawdust and acorns. Al pulled a Zippo lighter out of his Gucci jacket, lit it, and jumped in surprise and fear. A figure was sitting at a table in the far corner. It was clad in raggedy clothes resembling a lab coat. Moving closer with the Zippo raised, his eyes examined the face. It matched the first one he had seen on the wall above the mirror except it was thinner. He took a step closer. The skin was crinkly with deep lines. He leaned to the right. There were two black hollows where the eyes should have been. He bent forward. The ear had been cut off. Small ragged fragments rimmed the hole. His breath disturbed the crinkly strands of dusty hair hanging over it.
An arm shot out. It snatched his wrist in a shaky grip as if trying to sap enough energy to stand. Her mouth full of black teeth sucked in a deep breath. There was the smell of rotting flesh and acorns. A voice as dry and cracked as dead leaves pleaded, “You’re not one of them! Get me outta here. Please!”
From behind, thin yet powerful arms encircled his waist and thighs. The desperate grip from the woman’s arm was forcefully unclenched finger by finger as the woman shrieked, “Don’t let them take you down into the basement!”
Arms bound his chest and legs. Cursing and yelling, he was lifted off the floor. He struggled as he was carried down into the basement as the sound of something like spikes striking wood filled his ears.
The creatures didn’t pause, as they carried him down into dark fear. It was as if they relied on another sense to navigate. Al felt himself sinking. Sinking at a steep angle, he was a ship plunging into the depths of the sea. The smell of acorns rose from the creatures while the musk grew as they descended . His body shifted. His feet were level with his head once again, as they reached the basement floor.
The procession stopped. Twisting his neck in every direction, Al raged. His head was gripped, a gritty sweet paste was forced into his mouth, and his jaws clamped closed. Choking, he couldn’t resist swallowing. A warm glow invaded his body and aroused his passions. More hands covered him, ripping off his clothes. The procession moved forward. The smell of musk was overwhelming.
Stopping, they lowered Al to the floor. Al rolled over onto his hands and knees. He strained his eyes for any hint of his fate. By chance, the headlights of a passing car swept through the small windows at ground level. Like a rapid series of photographs, the scene was etched into his mind: four legged two armed creatures surrounding one giant one, a golden new-born gushing out of it into waiting arms, the creatures rubbing their legs together in a grating cacophony of unmistakable joy, and, worse of all, they all had the face of that woman or of Lowell under their shifting antenna.
The creatures came to put him to work. They laid him between the open legs of their queen and caressed every feature of his face, for termites are blind.