Gulp Fiction #6: Demons & Dutch Velvet by P. Williams

Published on 27 November 2023 at 01:09

 

 

For my parents. 

You know why.

 

-P.W.

 

 

 

 

 

It was one of those perfect summer days. The sun was shining warmly, acting as a constant but not overbearing presence in the sky. A light breeze was blowing, rustling the clumps of tall grass and making the branches of coniferous trees dance in fun, upbeat movements. At the end of a quiet suburban road, there are flashes of movement. Excited screams and scores of laughter caught the breeze and floated on it.

 

Children were at play. In large groups, leaping and laughing and holding hands and climbing trees. They were launching themselves around corners, shouting out as they scared each other. They separated and converged and formed into different groupings, following invisible commands, traversing transparent lines drawn in the sand, the ones that only children could see.

 

It was a time of peace. Not just in this small town, but in the world at large. There was no war looming overhead. There was no horrific economic crash to prepare for, or to recover from. For the first time in decades, things were calm. Nice. Easy. There was an almost childlike innocence that was absorbing back into mainstream life.

 

Of course, it is in times like these that sinister stirrings can be brought to seed. The downside of an easy time is the laziness that comes with it. It makes you let your guard down, allows you to lessen your vigilance. To stop watching for the bad times. The end times. This is a story of just such a time.

 

At the end of this street, on this lovely summer day, the end began. Not in a large crash of incendiary devices hitting the dirt. Not in the loud rush of overhead planes, or in the panicked voice of a television evangelist. No. Here, the end began with the laughter of a child. We found Hell hiding in our own backyard. On this fateful date, in this somber story, a most dreadful and dark place will empty out, like the bottom of a cocktail glass.

 

 

*****

 

Demons & Dutch Velvet

 

Part One: Mom

 

I leaned over the counter, smiling as I took in the scene playing out beyond my window. Our daughter Eva was out there, playing, looking like the straight-up leader of the pack. I smiled even wider when I thought about how, only a scant few weeks ago, she had seemed to have no friends at all.

 

I sighed. They grow up so fast.

 

Usually, it was her sister Ellie who was the leader, the one who made friends easily wherever she went. And it was usually Eva’s path to stay inside with a good pulp story, usually horror or a space opera, and disappear into her story for hours. It was nice to see a change. It was good to see that our move here was a positive thing. It helped to assuage the parental guilt that always comes with uprooting your kid’s life, starting again with a new school, new friends, new home, all because one of the parents got a new job. Sometimes one that they didn’t even like.

 

I sighed again when I looked down and saw that the counter I had leaned on was wet, the lip of it soaked with soapy water from the cleaned dishes. As I took a step back to dry off and start on supper, I was nearly bowled over by Eva, who tore through our home at top speed. I caught her by the back of her t-shirt as she ran past, halting her mission and making her look at me while I spoke.

 

“No running in the house, Eva, we don’t want you to slip and get hurt. Now, where are you off to in such a hurry?”

 

She looked up at me with flushed cheeks. They were a dark pink, both from the exertion of her run, and her embarrassment from almost crashing into me. I gave her a big friendly wink, setting her child nerves at ease, letting her know that I wasn’t mad. She beamed back up at me, the deep dimples in her cheeks making themselves known.

 

“Sorry, mom! We’re just playing a game. It’s the bestest game ever!”

 

Eva ducked past me and opened up the full junk drawer in our kitchen, the one I always thought I would get under control one day. She rifled around loudly, muttering a little to herself.

 

“What are you looking for, honey? Be careful, there’s a letter opener and other stabby things in there.”

 

She gave me a reassuring, toothy smile. “I know, mom, I’ll be careful. I’m just looking for some of daddy’s extra tools.”

 

I frowned slightly, thinking that he wouldn’t like that if he found out. “Eva,” I began, but she hurriedly interjected, promising that she would take ‘extra super careful good care’ of them. I sighed and relented, as his more important tools would all be in his kit in the garage anyway.

 

She palmed a few items, which were obscured from my view. She quickly closed the drawer with a small slam and started to run again. When I called out to her, she knowingly slowed down, apologizing for her speed again. Just before she disappeared from sight, I asked her what she needed the tools for. She told me it was for the game.

 

“What game?” I asked her.

 

She smiled the biggest smile I had ever seen on her face when she spun around and told me: 

 

Release the Horde,” before she quickly, but not too quickly, dashed out of sight. I heard a door open and slam shut, signifying that she had already left the house. I looked out the window again, saw her rejoin her friends. They all whooped excitedly when they saw what she had in her hands. Then, moving as one to a psychic command only they could hear, they flew away, laughing and zipping serpentine all over the yard and then around the corner, out of sight.

 

“Release the Horde,” I said aloud, smiling and shaking my head. The things that kids come up with. Really, it sounded like something right up Eva’s alley, as the last book I had seen her reading was something called The NecroNomNomNom, a pulp story about kids accidentally summoning an evil tossed salad.

 

I heard distant clanging and rattling sounds. I hoped that the kids weren’t going to break anything, but I decided to have faith in my kids and just let them play. I didn’t want to be one of those overbearing mothers, the kind that was always interrupting, always shutting things down. Not taking the child’s feelings into consideration, embarrassing them in front of their friends. In short, I didn’t want to be my mother.

 

I turned the burned up on the stovetop, readying some water to boil for my husband’s after work tea. I smiled and returned my gaze to the window. He would be back anytime now.

 

 

 

 

Part Two: Eva

 

I used the tiny yellow screwdriver that I had grabbed from our junk drawer. It was a little keychain one that we got from a school assembly. The words Tino Insana Prep were written on the side of it. As I tightened one of the many screws and nuts, I gave my orders to the other kids gathered round.

 

“There, now do that one next, and then that one over there. Remember, they want it done just right.” I turned the screwdriver to the right. Righty Tighty. I saw Spencer and Benji turning their parts the wrong way. “No you doofuses, the other way. Yeah, like that.”

 

I smiled. This was fun! And things were really coming together. I started to see that we could win this game. I felt a tug at my sleeve and I looked to see who it was. I didn’t notice them come up, I had been lost in my tasks. Mom said that I did that a lot, I got too focused. It was all because of my reading habits, at least that’s what she thought. I looked at who was trying to get my attention and saw that it was only my sister Ellie.

 

“Eva,” she whispered into my ear, not wanting to be overheard. “Look! It’s Johnny Miller, that mean boy from Mrs. Yeager’s class.”

 

At the mention of that name, I looked up, shocked. I couldn’t believe that he was here. He had a lot of nerve showing up to our house, especially after the way that he treated us at school. Johnny came up with a big, stupid, ugly grin on his face.

 

“What are you guys doing?” Johnny asked, “Can I play?”

 

I stopped what I was doing and I whispered to the others to stand in front of it, hide the thing that we were working on. We weren’t supposed to let anyone else see it, especially not jerk-faced idiots like Johnny Miller.

 

“None of your business, butthead!” I shouted at him, balling my small hands into fists. Ellie stood a bit behind me, not wanting to be part of the confrontation. 

 

Even though she was my twin, we were very different. She was outgoing and extra girly, usually making friends with everybody. I was pretty different. She was the pink, I was the black. She was the popular one, I was the one who wasn’t afraid to say it like it was, and even say it a little extra mean because I knew some good words from my books. Johnny Miller lived down the street. He was twelve, and was two grades ahead of us. He always found an excuse to be mean during lunch or recess. I hated him. Because of this, it made me happy to see his face drop, disappointed when I told him no.

 

“Come on, why can’t I play?” He looked sad. Crestfallen, which was a word I had learned from the book CobGoblins, a story about evil GMO corn.

 

I stuck my tongue out a him. “Because you’re too old,” I informed him. “And also, you stink and we all hate you.”

 

He started to turn red and looked down at his feet.

 

“Come on guys,” he said, “I just want to play too. I heard that you guys were playing Release the Horde.”

 

A serious hush fell across our group. I turned and signaled to the others to calm down and to wait a minute. I whispered to Ellie to pack up our stuff and help them move it. We didn’t want anyone else to figure out how to play the game. It was ours, we had invented it. Well, us and Digs, anyway.

 

“I don’t care what you heard. You’re not allowed to play with us. You’d ruin it, and spoil the whole thing. Go away.”

 

“But…can’t…,” he began, but I shooed him away, louder. “No! You can’t play with us. This is my house, my yard, so get out of here now before I tell my dad and he throws you out of here himself. He won’t be so nice about it.”

 

In actuality, my dad was the nicest man ever. But Johnny didn’t need to know that. He reddened some more, but he looked a bit scared about what I had said. He turned to leave.

 

“Whatever,” he said, trying to sound like he didn’t care, but failing at it. “I don’t want to play with you guys anyway. You and your stupid trolls. I just wanted to come and make fun of you anyway.” He turned and left the way he came, trying not to let his shoulders droop.

 

“They’re not trolls! That’s what you are,” I shot at his retreating back. He stiffened but didn’t stop. Soon enough, he was gone. I turned and watched my group return, as they had just gone off and hid our secret device. They looked ready for the next part of the game. I looked over everyone there, sensing that someone was missing.

 

“Digs? Where’s Digs?” I asked. They all shrugged and looked at each other, unsure. Ellie stepped forward and said that she thought she saw him hiding in the rose bush again. I nodded. That made sense.

 

“Okay, you guys keep working with the tools I got,” I told them, getting back into my role as leader. “I’ll go talk to Digs and find out what to do next. Who’s got the pen and paper?”

 

Pen and pad in hand, I ran again, this time my mom was not around to tell me to slow down. I ran all the way to the other side of the house, to where the hedges were. And among them, the rose bush.

 

 

 

 

Part Three: Mom

 

I heard a rustling sound from outside the window. When I peeked out, I saw the bushes on the side of the house shake and I heard the sounds of twigs snapping.

 

“Hey!” I opened the window and shouted out, “What are you doing out there?” Eva sheepishly popped her head out of the thick hedges, smiling her dimpled smile at me.

 

“Sorry mom, I was just talking to Digs.” She turned and cocked her head slightly to the right. She nodded and lifted her paper pad, writing down a few things. “A steel line, a triangle, and a turny kit,” she mumbled quietly.

 

I furrowed my brow at the strange words. “What are you talking about, honey?” Eva turned another of her happy smiles at me. “Nothing mom, just talking to Digs. He’s the one helping us plan to release the horde. He lives in your roses.” She nodded and wrote something down again, scratching out one of her previous etchings. “Ooooh, I see.” She scrunched her face in innocent confusion and looked at me. “Mom, how do you spell ‘turny-kit’? I guess that’s one word, not two.”

 

I thought for a moment. “Do you mean a tourniquet?” Her eyes lit up and she bobbed her head up and down excitedly. “Yeah, that’s the one!” I frowned. Not just because that was a weird thing to be talking to a rose bush about. I also wasn’t quite sure how to spell it, just because I knew how to say it.

 

“Your dad will be home any minute. Why don’t you get your sister and then you two can wash up for dinner. You can ask him how to spell it when he gets here.”

 

She looked disappointed for a moment but, as kids often do, she immediately got over it and moved on. “Okay, mom. I’ll go find her.” Before I could give her another warning about her speed, she shot off, leaving a few falling leaves in her wake.

 

 

 

 

Part Four: Eva

 

“Okay, you got all that?” I asked when I had finished relaying the instructions to the others. They all nodded, while Art and John, who had just joined us from across the street, looked a little lost. They shared a confused look before Art, reading back his notes, asked me, “What’s that last thing again? I have four, nine, C3, X, three forks, a spool of kite string and a..a..a,” he looked up, the question in his eyes.

 

“A turny-kit,” I told him. “I’m not sure about that one yet. I’m going to ask my dad when he gets home.”

 

As if on cue, my mom opened up the door and shouted out, “Eva! Ellie! Your dad is almost home, it’s time to come in. Dinner’s ready in ten minutes!”

 

I sighed and faced my friends again. “I wish we didn’t have to eat,” I said forlornly, which was another word that I had learned from CobGoblins. “I’m not even hungry. I don’t want to slow down the game, we’re so close to releasing the horde and winning.” I sighed again; there was nothing I could do about it. So I shrugged.

 

“You guys start on that, and we’ll eat as fast as we can, right Ellie?” She nodded quickly in earnest agreement, her blonde pigtails flapping like bird wings. “I’ll tell Digs how we’re doing on the way in. See you guys again soon.”

 

I smiled when they all snapped off a salute to me. This was the best game ever!

 

 

 

 

 

Part Five: Dad

 

“What you think, pal? One for the road?”

 

The question, asked by Sam the bartender, was exactly the kind of question I wanted to hear. Not ‘honey, can you do this?’ Or ‘daddy, can you help me?’ Don’t get me wrong, I love my family. More than anything. But, being the lone man in the house, being faced with all of that feminine girlish energy all of the time, it could get exhausting. Which is why, every single Friday, I found myself here. Here, in this same bar. Oftentimes, even on this same stool. This was my temporary solace, my safe place. My escape from husband and fatherly duties, for just a couple of hours a week.

 

“Please,” I said happily. “I gotta be home ASAP. We are having some of the kids’ friends over today.”

 

Sam gave me a knowing look, his easy smile matching his always demure professionalism. He gathered up what he needed for one more drink, one more special Friday treat, as I had come to know them.

 

“Dutch Velvet, comin’ up,” Sam said with a smile. He measured out three quarters of an ounce of Wenneker Chocolate Mint Liqueur, then the same amount of Banana and Light Cream Liqueur. He added them, with some ice, into a cocktail shaker. As his hands performed this practiced routine, Sam asked me, “How’s the family? How is Danger and Doom?” No matter how many times he said their names, Sam always smiled in an amused way, as if hearing them for the first time.

 

I won a bet with the missus, having correctly guessed that we would have twins once she was pregnant. It was just our luck, I just knew it would happen. It felt like one of those unavoidable life things. Having won the bet, I got the rights to give the kids their middle names. I already had them picked out. And the best part was, they were gender neutral.

 

Sam strained and drained the shaken contents into a chilled cocktail glass. He reached behind the bar and produced a generous scoopful of chocolate shavings for garnish. As he sprinkled them evenly atop the light green concoction, I thought about the day my girls were born.

 

Ellie Danger and Eva Doom were born just after three AM on a Tuesday. They were disgusting at first, as all babies are, but when they began to walk and talk, they really came into their own. Eva especially had grown into her middle name. Her mom joked, every time that she misbehaved, that it was my fault because I was ‘the one who Doom-ed her’, but we got pretty lucky in that regard. She rarely got into trouble. She was a happy kid, always smiling. Always laughing. But everything she enjoyed, every single thing she liked pretty much since she was able to walk and talk, was all doom and gloom. Blood and guts stories of the ridiculous kind. Like FrankenSwine or Nightmare on Sesame Street. She was a good kid, but a bit odd. Had a hard time making friends, even before we started moving a lot. That was why, as exhausting as a group hangout for kids at my house sounded, I knew we had to do it. Apparently Eva really hit it off with a ton of kids today, and they’ve been playing together nonstop. I smiled thinking about that.

 

“Danger and Doom are safe and happy,” I told him, my usual response that always got a little chuckle from Sam. Today was no different. He slid the chocolatey chartreuse cocktail across the bar top, which I caught easily in my cupped hand, despite how many of them I had already consumed. I picked it up and tilted it in a toast to the creator. “Here’s to you, Sam. I wish a little Danger and Doom on you as well.” I downed the entire contents after getting a glance at my watch. I left a nice little tip on the counter and slid the empty glass back over to Sam. With a whistle and a wave, we parted ways and I headed home.

 

 

 

 

Part Six: Mom

 

I shared a look with my husband that was equal parts horror and holy crap that’s hilarious. We watched with wide eyes as our daughters tore at their food like starving dogs. Their hands and utensils were moving so quickly that they were almost a blur as they transported bite after bite after bite to their stuffed faces.

 

“God Almighty! Did you two just get out of prison or something?” They slowed down a bit after their dad’s joke, but only a little bit. “Sorry dad,” Ellie managed between large bites. “Sorry, we just want to get back to the game,” Eva added, her cheeks full like a chipmunks.

 

“Well you need to slow down, you’re going to choke on your food,” I told them. “It’s not safe.”

 

“Sorry mom, we’ll be safe. The game is just important, that’s all. We have a deadline.” Something about her words unsettled me a little. For just a moment, for the first time that day, she had a serious look on her face. Like she was responsible for something important.

 

“I’m sure that it’s important, but I’m sure that it can wait for ten minutes so you can eat your food like little girls and not like some wild animals.” I smiled, that particular momism was usually good for at least a smile back. The kids exchanged a look and then went back to eating. After only a few bites, Ellie put her fork down. “I’m not hungry anymore,” she informed me, pushing away her plate.

 

“Nonsense,” I told her. “You’ve barely touched your food. I know you girls are having fun but it’s time to eat, okay? That game can wait.” I smiled again, but this time it was a bit more strained. I looked over at my husband, who nodded his support. He smelled like alcohol and chocolate.

 

“But Mom, Digs is waiting for us.” I felt my patience start to ebb away. 

 

“Digs? Who the hell do we know that’s named Digs?”

 

I placed a hand on my husband’s arm, letting him know, nonverbally, to reel it in a bit. After that, I answered his question. “Digs is their friend who’s running the game. He lives in my rose bush.” When my husband met my eyes, I just shrugged a little bit. 

 

“Oh,” he said. Then, after a moment, “so does he owe us rent or something? I may have to have a little talk with this Digs fellow.” The girls giggled politely and then went back to eating their food quickly, but at least now it was a much more reasonable pace.

 

“So this Digs guy, he’s running the game? What game is it? Ghost in the Graveyard or something like that?” The girls scrunched up their faces, obviously they’d never heard of that game before. Once again, it was me who answered his question. “They’re playing something called Releasing the Horse.”

 

“The horde, mom. Release the Horde.” Eva was very quick to correct me. She darted another serious look to her sister. Like they had a secret. Maybe this game wasn’t as fun for them now as it was when it had started.

 

“Right…um, Release the Horde. They’ve been playing it all day.” Their dad frowned, finding the name of their game just as odd as they had found his to be. He asked them how to play the game. Eva looked hesitant, but then she flashed her dimples at us again and said, “It’s about invading; and taking over the world.”

 

I felt a little creeped out again, although I couldn’t say exactly why. “Invading, eh? Like Martians or something?” I was happy that my husband was there to ask these kinds of questions. It helped to remind me that they’re just kids, they’re just telling stories and playing games all day. Invading the world, sure. Like the aliens in the movies. They’re just playing, they must have seen an alien movie on Svengoolie or something.

 

“Kinda. I don’t think they’re from Mars, though. Just from a different place. Some place that’s real hard to get out of, and it sounds really scary.” Their dad couldn’t help himself. It was the Friday night drinks, the ones he doesn’t think I know about. It’s fine that he wants to do that to unwind after a hard week of working, but it could make him a little more sarcastic at the dinner table at times. This was something that wasn’t cruel in nature, but kids do not always pick up on sarcasm, and we often forget about that when we speak. “Hmmm, hard to get into and kinda scary? Sounds like he’s all in your head, alright!” He laughed and slapped at his knee, obviously amused by himself.

 

Eva looked down, the smile dropping from her face now. Her eyes looked hurt. I couldn’t understand how this game was having such an effect on her. Maybe it wasn’t the game. Maybe it was the other kids. Maybe she was overstimulated, having so many kids talk to her and listen to her. It was something she wasn’t accustomed to. “You’re laughing at me,” she said, sadly. “Digs said that you were gonna laugh at me and make fun of our game.”

 

The emotion of his little girl was able to cut through the chocolate fog on his breath and brain. My husband looked at her seriously, no longer laughing. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to. What else did this Digs say to you? Did he say anything else about me?”

 

Eva and Ellie looked down in sync, both playing with the edge of the tablecloth, a shared nervous habit. “He said that you would kill him. Him and all his friends too. He said that’s what adults do.” I could tell by the look on his face that my husband was a little creeped out too.

 

“Well that sure doesn’t sound like me,” he said, in a tone that he was trying to pass off as playful. “I don’t kill anybody, I’m just an accountant.” He held up his hands in mock surrender. When that didn’t get a reaction, he elbowed Eva playfully. He did it again, softy but forcefully, rocking her in her seat. She finally broke down and grinned, a beaming smile on her face once again. “I know dad, I don’t believe that part. It’s just part of the game. But Digs says that he needs our help, because our world is..is..” She trailed off and pulled a half-smirk, her thinking face. She turned to Ellie. “What was that big word he used again?” 

 

“A turny-kit,” Ellie said. 

 

“No, no, the other one.”

 

Ellie thought for a moment, then her face brightened. “In-voolner-vole,” she said slowly. Eva smiled and pointed. “Yeah, that’s right. He needs our help because our world is in-voolner-vole. And they can’t get in without some help from people who are already inside.”

 

It suddenly clicked for me. “Are you saying invulnerable, honey?” They both nodded. I frowned on the inside, but tried not to show it. This whole game thing was starting to turn weird to me. I had to be fair, though. I had to take into consideration that my girls read a lot, and they were always surprising us with new words they learned and tried to sound out, or some new fact or rule that they had stumbled across. This invasion thing, it still sounded like a child’s tall tale, but there was a creepiness to it, all due to the amount of respect that they seemed to have for the game. Like it was the most important thing in the world to them. Eva went on.

 

“So we’re trying to help them get in. We’re helping them build….well…something that will help get them out of there.” Eva had hesitated. She had looked worried for a split second. Like she had almost spilled the beans about something big.

 

“Help them get out of the rose bush?”

 

Eva shook her head. “He’s…they’re not in the rose bush. They’re somewhere else…they just talk through the rose bush.”

 

“And why is that, honey?”

 

She gave me a look of understanding that was beyond her years. Or maybe it was just past mine. “Because only kids would listen to bushes, or play in them. Adults never do that stuff anymore.”

 

Before we could lob another question their way, Eva and Ellie both pushed their chairs back, as if on a secret cue that only they knew. “Can we go back out and play now? The other kids are waiting.” At this, I stole a glance out the window, seeing that, indeed, the other kids were still hanging out nearby in our yard, waiting. There seemed to be a few more of them than I remembered there being, but that wasn’t too out of the ordinary. There were a lot of kids in this neighborhood and it was a Friday. I’m sure that they all played together often.

 

“Okay,” their father said, after meeting my eyes for a quick telepathic parent convo. “Just promise me that you’ll both be back inside by eight o’clock. You have to take your baths tonight.”

 

They groaned in unison. “Digs says that after we release the horde, we don’t need to take baths anymore. We could also stay up as late as we wanted to, and watch all the R-rated movies without getting in trouble.” She said this with a goofy kid smile on her face, like she was joking. She was just telling us a kid’s dream scenario. But something about it sent a chill up my spine. “Well,” said their dad, trying to remain unfazed, “I could see why it’s getting so popular with the kids then.”

 

The girls shouted out some polite but rushed thanks for the food, and they were off. We heard the other kids welcome them back to loud acclaim. I only caught a glimpse of them before the herd moved on, away from the line of sight my kitchen window provided. It looked to me like there were now about a dozen kids here, all playing this game.

 

My husband was about to speak, but I held up a hand, halting him. I then put a finger to my lips and I gestured toward the window. He crept up next to me and listened.

 

Eva was back in the rose bush. To talk to Digs, I assumed. I heard her speak in tiny whispers. I was not able to catch every word, but I caught enough of them to worry me.

 

“Got rid of him….Johnny is an older kid….too old, he’s like the adults………of course I want to help……….can’t we keep them? Do we……..to…really…kill them?”

 

Soon enough, we heard the bushes rustle and shake as Eva ran away, off to carry her directions back to her group. Back to her horde. We walked quietly back to the table and sat down. We waited a spell before we spoke, each digesting it all in turn. 

 

“I don’t think we need to worry,” he said, speaking first. “They’re definitely being little weirdos, but they’re our little weirdos. They’re good kids. Let’s just let them have fun. Nobody has gotten hurt. If that happens, we’ll break it up. Otherwise, how many times did we play games growing up where you pretended to kill other people? Cops and Robbers, Cowboys and Indians. Hell, even Clue for Christ’s sake! They’re being normal, at least what passes for normal with kids.”

 

I felt a little bit better. Everything he said had made sense, I had to admit that much to myself. Still, I thought that I would feel better hearing a second person say the same thing. I asked him if it was okay if I called my brother. “Sure thing,” he said. “While you have him on the phone, why don’t you ask him when that ditsy wife of his is going to return my good vacuum?”

 

He headed off to the living room. I decided to clear the dishes before I made my call. I noticed, but only in a distracted sort of way, that all of the forks we had used were missing.

 

 

 

 

Part Seven: Eva

 

I shook the bushes as loud as I could, to make it sound like I was running out of them. After I did that, I crouched down on the ground and sat directly beneath the kitchen window, just like Digs told me to. I was lying just out of the line of sight of my parents. 

 

They talked at the dinner table for a minute, and then I heard dad stumble off to the other room, ready to sit down and watch TV. I already knew what he was going to do. He was going to put up his feet and put on Frasier, even though he’s seen it all about a thousand times already. Then he’s going to start snoring after half of an episode, unless mom wakes him up for something. 

 

This was good. So far, everything was going according to plan, even though we had to pause for dinner. I heard mom on the phone with Uncle Bill. They talked all the time, even though Uncle Bill lived far away, all the way in Weyauwega. Even though it was louder and less private, they always talked on video too, so I was able to hear what he was saying.

 

“Yeah, things are good over here. Just been a very hectic day so far! You know how kids can be.”

 

“I know,” my mom said, “that’s why I’m calling you, actually. I just wanted to get your opinion on something…something that the girls were talking about.”

 

I perked up. This was exactly what I was waiting to hear. Digs and I wanted to hear how much they knew…if maybe I had said too much and now they were able to guess part of the game.

 

“Sure thing sis. What are ol’ Danger and Doom up to now? I haven’t seen them since Christmas.”

 

“They’re both great. The same, just smarter. Growing so fast…some days..well, every day actually, I get surprised by them and the things that they know, or the things they say.” Mom paused a minute. I could already hear the beginning of dad’s snores from the living room. “They’ve just been acting a little extra strange today..they’ve started playing this new game, it’s hard to explain. On the one hand, it seems like it’s helped them make a lot of friends real fast, especially Eva, who usually has a hard time with that.”

 

I wiped away one quick, stupid tear that came so fast that I wasn’t able to stop it. It’s okay, I thought. I have friends now. And pretty soon, I’ll have a lot more. All I have to do is release the horde.

 

I had heard enough. I knew that they didn’t guess the important thing, which was all that mattered. I hurried back to where Digs was waiting. He said he had a present for me.

 

 

 

 

Part Eight: Mom

 

“Don’t worry about it, all kids do this kind of stuff. My kids are about driving me nuts with a new game as we speak! They haven’t stopped playing it for almost three days straight! Can you believe that?”

 

I blew out a little breath of relief. He’s right. So is my husband. It’s a game, just a little game. “Three days? That sounds like quite some game.” My words meant little, simply a throwaway observation. I was just buying time in the conversation, trying to get my mind back on track. Trying to feel less worried, now that I had heard what I needed to hear.

 

“It’s got some nutty name too, wait til you get a load of this. It’s called Release the Horde.”

 

My blood went cold. 

 

“I’m sorry, what did you say it was called?”

 

I held my breath, waiting for my brother to repeat himself. To say those words again. It felt unnaturally still in the house for that one, long second. My heart beat so loudly in my ears that it almost drowned out the worst of my husband’s booming snore.

 

“It’s called Release the Horde."

 

My knees felt weak. I had to sit at the table again. “Did you say, Release the Horde?”

 

“Yeah sis, Release the Horde. Some name, huh? I thought that it sounded weird at first too, but remember how we used to play Queenie Eye Oh or Buck Buck? Those all have weird names too.”

 

The room started to spin. I pressed my eyes firmly closed, trying not to drown in the oncoming tidal wave of frightened thoughts. Yet even as I was fearing the worst, I was still simultaneously trying to find an explanation. A plausible excuse. The next words that came over the phone, however, I couldn’t deny. Something was horribly, horribly wrong.

 

“You wanna know the absolute weirdest part of it? Even though my oldest is the one who came up with the game, he’s taking orders from some imaginary friend that they came up with.”

 

I knew the story before he even finished telling it.

 

“He said that he talks to him through that Dogwood Shrub that Mary planted last year. Remember that ugly thing? Cost us about sixty bucks and it just looks like a dumb pile of red sticks.”

 

I clutched at the phone, scared to ask, but knowing I had to.

 

“What’s his name?”

 

“The imaginary shrub dude? His name is Digs, apparently.”

 

I dropped the phone, sending it clattering off the side of the table and down to the floor. When I picked it up, my brother gave me a huge smile on the other end of the video. “You okay there, butterfingers? You look a little pale.”

 

“Y-yeah, I’m fine,” I stammered out. “You did say Digs, didn’t you?” He smiled again. “Yeah, Digs. And you would be named Drops. Be careful with that phone; it probably costs as much as ten piles of red sticks, you know.” 

 

I wanted to tell him. I wanted to warn him. I had no idea how to phrase any of it without sounding like a crazy person, but I needed to say something. Before I could, however, Eva and Ellie suddenly dashed into the kitchen, pausing at the doorway with huge, happy grins on their face. My brother spotted them over my shoulder and shouted out their names.

 

“Hi Uncle Bill!” Ellie shouted out happily, bouncing foot to foot with excitement. “Do you wanna see what we got?” It wasn’t until then that I realized both of my girls were standing with their hands hidden behind their backs.

 

“Sure thing kiddo, what you got there?”

 

Almost in perfect unison, Ellie and Eva brought their hands forward, revealing what they had been hiding. Each was clutching a small obsidian sphere, smooth and so black that it almost seemed to suck the light from the room. The small spheres were attached to a thin metallic chain that was fashioned into the image of a vine. “Look what these can do!” Ellie and Eva launched the dark orb towards the floor, keeping the chain wrapped around their middle fingers like a Yo-Yo. When the balls got to the end of their chain, however, instead of recoiling back up, they simply disappeared. In a blink, they were completely gone from sight, just two silver vines, dangled, each pulled taught by nothing.

 

“Wh-wh…where did they go?” I could barely choke the words out. So much was happening around me at once. So many things, all seemingly small, insignificant, yet together it all seemed to spell disaster. It reeked of catastrophe.

 

Ellie smiled. “They went to a different dee-mon-shin.”

 

“A different dimension,” my brother clarified, as quick as a whip. “My boys have got those too and they told me the same thing! I can’t figure out how those darn things work. Danger! Doom! Make them reappear, will ya?”

 

My head whirled, trying to connect all the things I was being told and shown. I felt pins and needles all over. The girls flicked their hands upward and the sleek, dark objects reappeared.

 

“Isn’t that crazy, sis? Technology sure is cool these days! The kids are learning so much, so fast. In fact, you should see my backyard right now. It looks like a freaking scrap yard, the kids have been building all kinds of gizmos and gadgets. They can learn anything from YouTube now.”

 

The girls looked at me, expectantly. I asked the only question I could think of. “Where did you get those?” At that moment a tiny glimmer of light seemed to reflect from both orbs, as if a giant pair of eyes were waking, opening for just a moment. 

 

“We got them from Digs.”

 

I wanted to scream, but I settled on shaking instead. I could barely keep my grip on the phone.

 

“Sorry sis, I gotta get going. The kids just came in, they wanna play something with me. I’ve been promising I would. Love you!” He hung up the phone before I got any words out. The girls kept their eyes on me. When I didn’t say anything, they started to turn to go.

 

“Wait,” I called out. “Girls, why don’t you stay inside? It’ll be dark soon, maybe it’s time for your friends to go home.” I looked out the window. I saw that more children had come. My yard was practically crawling with them now.

 

Eva fixed me with a hard stare. One that didn’t match up with the smile on her face. She placed the black orb into her pocket. “Can’t mom, sorry. Zero Hour is at eight o-clock sharp.”

 

They zipped away in a blur. When I felt I could move again, I glanced at the clock. It was half past seven.

 

 

 

 

Part Nine: Eva

 

The game was almost over. Digs told me so. We were almost done, had almost won already! He said that other kids were playing too, and some of them were playing for a lot longer than us. But we were the best and we were going to win. And when we did, we were gonna be able to do whatever we wanted. That’s what the first place prize was.

 

Still…I did feel a little bit bad. I felt bad about what might happen to mom and dad, since grownups weren’t allowed to play. Because they couldn’t be trusted. That’s what Digs said, but still…

 

I stuck a fork into the ground and then wrapped it with copper wire. It was just like tying a shoe, with the rabbit looping around the tree and into the hole. Digs showed me how. I attached the wire to the big pipe that was sticking straight up from the ground. It reminded me of the big tubes you could go down in Super Mario. Digs said it was just like that, that they worked the same way. That he thought I was very smart.

 

Remembering that made me smile. I liked it when I was told I was smart. Sometimes it felt like nobody noticed.

 

There was a noise coming from the pipe now. Kind of like humming. Kind of like the noise that Ellie made when she chewed. I knew that the sound meant we were close. We almost won, we were in the last level now. I wanted to win more than anything. Still..I did feel bad…I felt -

 

“What’s that, Digs?” I asked. I heard him whispering through the pipe. When I put my ear up to it, it tickled when he talked. He felt close. It felt like petting a dog who got excited and licked your face, licked you in your ear. It tickled, and I listened.

 

Digs explained to me that I didn’t have to feel bad. I gave them a chance already. He reminded me how they had laughed at me when I told them the truth.

 

He told me that I was smart, that I understood that it was the right thing to do. How only I was smart enough to know that he was real, and that he needed help. The place where he was trapped was dark and hot and scary. He asked me if I understood what it was like to be scared.  Scared and alone. He said his only wish was that he had someone to help him when he was scared. That he needed a friend. I brushed back another stupid tear. I told him I needed one too.

 

The more we talked, the more everything made sense. It was so much easier to understand things when Digs said it. He said that sometimes, you need to make the right choice for everybody. Even if other people don’t like it, you should do it if it’s the right thing. He said it was like my parents deciding to move us here. They decided that me and Ellie should change schools, change houses, leave behind all the stuff we couldn’t fit into the truck. They didn’t ask us if it was okay, they said that we were doing it. That it was the right thing for the family. I wasn’t happy when we did that, but dad and mom were happy. And now I had Digs for a friend, if I didn’t come here, we wouldn’t have met. So wasn’t it the right thing to do? For them to decide for all of us?

 

Digs said that this was the same thing. He said that this was fair. He said it was our turn to decide. Digs said that we could have anything we wished for if we helped him. He would help other trapped people too, he would free all his friends to come with him once he was out. And if they were his friends, then they were my friends too. All I had to do was release the horde. Then I’d have more friends than anyone! They needed me.

 

Mom and dad would understand. When enough time went by, they would understand. They had said that to us before we all moved again, that it was all going to be alright, and it was true. They were just the only ones who knew it at that time. This time, it was up to me to decide what to do. Not just for me, but for Ellie too. Digs said he knew I’d make the right decision. Because I was smart. And if mom and dad weren’t happy at first, that was okay. They would just need time. From the things that Digs says, it sounds like there’s nothing but time where he comes from. They’ll be okay.  

 

I smiled as I put another piece into place, building the giant puzzle, just like he said to. The picture would be clear soon. It was almost time to meet all my new friends.

 

 

 

 

Part Ten: Dad

 

I was jolted awake by a powerful, fear-fueled shake. When my eyes shot open, it wasn’t the good doctor Frasier Crane that I saw, it was my wife. She was wide eyed and shaking, looking like she had just seen a ghost. Hell, for all I knew, maybe she did. I had both of my feet firmly planted in the Land of Nod, a bomb could have hit the house and it wouldn’t have woken me up.

 

“Honey? What’s wrong? Is someone hurt?” I sat up, a little too quickly, and strained my neck as I did. Even so, I looked around quickly, trying to pinpoint the danger. Trying to find the reason for my rude awakening. I saw nothing amiss.

 

“Something is wrong. We need to get the kids inside.”

 

I tried to squint at the clock in the other room but couldn’t make out the time. “What time is it?” I asked.

 

“Almost eight. But Eva said that it’s Zero Hour.”

 

I shook my head, confused. “Ooookay…and what does that mean?”

 

A terrified, bloodcurdling scream ripped its way across our yard. I was on my feet in two seconds flat, running for the door. My wife was a few steps behind me, shouting something that I couldn’t understand.

 

I threw the door open and rushed around the corner, not even taking the time to put on shoes. I saw kids, a ton of kids, assembling things in the yard. They had stacks of pipes and forks and radiators and all kinds of jagged metal crap wired together and piled almost a mile high. More kids were still bringing things over, all moving like some kind of a manic assembly line. A sweat shop that produced junk, operating right here on my lawn. Just as my wife caught up, I spotted Eva. She climbed out of the large rose bush and looked up at us. I couldn’t read the expression on her face.

 

“What happened?” I asked. “Who screamed? Who’s hurt?” She blinked at me before answering. “Nobody’s hurt,” she assured me, flatly. Then she added, “But it was Sue Ellyn who screamed.”

 

I looked around, trying to pick their friend Sue Ellyn out of the crowd. There was a virtual sea of working children there. I didn’t see her. “I don’t see her. Did she go home?” Eva looked at me, blinking. Not answering. “What happened? Why did she scream?” When I got no response, I searched for Ellie, spotting her huddled nearby. She was holding some kind of a black ball, looking deeply into it. She looked like one of those cuckoo psychics with their crystal ball.

 

“Ellie! Ellie, what happened to Sue Ellyn?” Ellie’s head snapped up, like she was in a trance that I had broken. She looked at me and shrugged. “She got scared and went home,” she said in a small, high voice.

 

“Scared of what?” I asked her. She shrugged again. “She saw Digs.”

 

“Digs?” I took me a moment to remember where I had heard that word, that name today. “You mean that imaginary guy who lives in the roses?”

 

“He’s not imaginary,” Eva snapped, deciding to end her silence. I was confused by what they were telling me. My feet were cold and muddy. I saw that with only one day of play, my yard went from pristine to hillbilly junkyard. I lost my temper.

 

“Now that is ENOUGH! No more of this nonsense. No more Digs, no more games. In fact, no more talking plants of any kind. This game is FINISHED, you hear me? You both come inside right now and get to bed. I’m going to call Sue Ellyn’s parents and get to the bottom of this.” After a moment I added, louder so as to be heard across my whole property, “And you can tell the rest of your little rascal gang here to beat it, too!”

 

Nobody moved. The kids all looked to Eva, not to me. With a small nod from her, they all went back to work. It was as if I hadn’t spoken at all. They didn’t even turn their heads to look at me.

 

I stomped over to Eva with hard, heavy steps. I splashed mud all over the bottoms of work pants. I gripped her by the shoulders, forced her to look at me. At my serious face. A serious face that was about to get angry.

 

“I said, it is time to go to bed. Now.”

 

She shook her head and smiled. The kids continued to work. Continued to build.

 

“I can’t, dad. It’s almost Zero Hour.”

 

I heard my wife gasp behind me. I turned and saw her cup her hands over her mouth. She was pale and shaking.

 

“I don’t care what hour you think it is, it’s bed time. Do you understand me?”

 

From over my shoulder, my wife asked, in a weak and quiet voice, “What is Zero Hour, Eva?” This question, Eva decided to acknowledge. “It’s when we release the horde,” she told us. “That’s why Sue Ellyn screamed. That’s why she was able to see Digs. He almost came all the way through. He was just testing it.”

 

I looked from my wife’s pale, terrified face back to Eva’s young, blank one. “It’s okay, Sue Ellyn was just a scaredy cat anyway. Scaredy cats don’t win.”

 

In the distance, church bells chimed. They marked the hour. It was eight o’clock. My wife pulled me violently backwards, using a handful of my shirt to do so. I stumbled but maintained my balance, twisting my body to keep it upright. She led me by the balled fabric all the way back around the corner. She pressed me up against the house, pure panic in her profile. “They’re releasing the horde! We have to run,” she screamed into my face, making me flinch. 

 

A rumbling, whirring sound pierced the air, crescendoing into a painful whistle. It was like having a tea kettle go off directly in your ear. A small explosion rocked the ground, knocking us both from our feet. My wife looked past me, peeked over my shoulder. She saw back around the corner, where the noise had come from.

 

“The kids! We gotta get the kids!” I shouted out, but she grabbed me again, clutching me with a strength that I didn’t know she possessed. She pushed, forcing us to move as one back into the house. I wondered just what in the hell she must have seen.

 

“The attic,” she whispered quietly, so low I could barely hear it over the ringing in my ears. “We have to go hide in the attic. Quick!” I felt a tug at my heart, I knew that I needed to go back for my children. Yet, there was something in my wife’s eyes that said I needed to do what she said. We worked our way down the hall and pulled down the latch to the attic. A rickety wooden ladder unfolded itself down towards us. She scrambled up the ladder quickly, half-pulling me up as soon as I climbed into grabbing range. She pulled up the ladder behind me and then closed the door as quietly as she could. A small mushroom cloud of dust rose when she did. She looked around quickly, feeling around when her eyes didn’t adjust to the dark quickly enough. She found a large plank and used it to block off the entrance. At her command, I helped to pile heavy boxes on top of it as well.

 

When she seemed satisfied that the door was blocked, I asked her what was wrong. I asked her what she saw. She was so pale she almost glowed in the dark. “I-I-I saw i-it…it was climbing out of th-the ground. It was horrible.”

 

“What was climbing out of the ground? Honey, we have to go get the kids. We need to make sure they’re safe.” She gasped and put a finger to her lips. She made hushing sounds so forcibly that it blew my hair back. “The kids,” she hissed, sounding like a scared cat, “the kids are leading them.”

 

I felt fear at her words. A fear that gripped me in a tight fist, threatening to squeeze til I burst. “Leading who?” She grabbed me in a panic, covering my mouth with one hand and stifling her own with the other. She cocked her head, ears perked. Her eyes went wide.

 

“They’re coming,” she whispered. Her words hit me somewhere deep.

 

A crash splintered the quiet of the house below. I heard that sharp whistle again, and the sounds of many feet stomping the floor. It sounded loud as fifty men. No, not men; children. And, judging from the look in my wife’s eyes, maybe not even that.

 

My wife began to cry, tears cutting clean streaks down her dust-covered face. She closed her eyes, lips moving silently, wordlessly mumbling prayers up to God, begging for us not to be found. I looked down at my feet. They were covered in mud. And blood too, although I didn’t remember when that had happened. As the footsteps grew closer, louder, the truth of our situation clicked in my head. They were following the footprints I had left behind. They were going to find us.

 

The whole house began to shake. An animalistic roar shook the walls, then whistled and whispered away to nothing. Over the emerging silence, I heard Eva’s voice. “Mom? Dad?” I heard her lone, light footsteps. She walked directly toward us, pausing just below the access door that we had blockaded. 

 

“Mom? Dad? Are you hiding in the attic?”

 

I looked to my crying wife, probably for the last time. I mouthed to her that I loved her.

 

“Come down and say hi to my new friends. They can’t wait to meet you.”

 

 

*****

 

 

Children are strange creatures, are they not? They are a part of us, made from us, more closely related to us than anyone else in the world. Yet, what do we really know about them? What do we truly remember about the way that children feel, about the way that they think? They are part of us, yet it is a part of us that we largely ignore, not unlike that small voice inside of ourselves that tells us all of the hard truths that we do not wish to face. Do not wish to know.

 

Children are a volatile mixture, a tempestuous concoction gleaned from the genes of two warring natures. They are born as an unstable vessel, quickly learning, but already containing the very best, as well as the very worst of us, programmed within them. We do what we know to be best for them, but do they always come to know that as true? Or do you think that they never fully forgive or forget the afflictions that we put upon them? The pressures, the rules, the mistakes. The growing pains, the hurtful words, the things that were heard when they were not meant to be. Do they forget them? Do they forgive them? I wonder….did we?

 

 

 

 

 

Dutch Velvet 

 

Ingredients

 

  • 3/4 oz Wenneker Chocolate Liqueur 
  • 3/4 oz Banana Liqueur
  • 3/4 oz Light Cream Liqueur
  • Chocolate shavings or small chips

 

Directions

  • Measure and pour the Liqueurs into a cocktail shaker and fill with ice.
  • Shake vigorously, until the desired texture is achieved.
  • Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
  • Garnish with chocolate shavings, serve, and enjoy.

 

 

It’s the perfect drink for when you need something cool and sweet for those pesky out-of-towners you have coming, for they are definitely not either of those things. If you find yourself out of chocolate shavings, Digs recommends using the pulverized, white-washed bones of the damned to get that nice, crunchy texture and taste. A good idea, although everything is but a poor substitute for chocolate. Make your decisions, take your chances, serve, either willingly or not, and enjoy!

 

 

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Comments

Daniel
3 months ago

All caught up! When’s the next story??

Honor
2 months ago

Great story. Cool imagiery. Saving up to get the poster :) new fave from this series

Pete
2 months ago

Good story. Would make a good movie lol

Sara
2 months ago

Really good. You did a great job capturing childhood