Our congratulations to Anton Kukal, winner of eSpec Books’ February Flash Fiction Contest. His prize is publication on the eSpec blog and one free ebook from among the eSpec publication list.
For those interested in submitting to this month’s contest details can be found at:
Monsters in the Attic
Gerry lay in his bed with the covers pulled over his head listening to the monsters open the attic door, the soft clicking of the knob being turned, the squeaking as it swung, the metallic bump as it closed again. His heart pounded in his chest. The monsters crept down the hallway, soft creaking footfalls echoing on the hardwood, until they stopped at the open door of his bedroom.
Not able to endure the silence, Gerry dared a one-eyed peek between the folds of his blanket. Three monsters waited, but he knew better than to cry out. Daddy had to go to work. He owned a company that did energy research for the government. Mommy had an early meeting. Neither would believe him, and both would be mad, really mad, so he held his breath, watching the monsters, hoping they would walk past his room.
With wrinkled orange skin, the monsters had heads like squished oranges with pointed ears, and big yellow eyeballs with bright red pupils that glistened in the dim glow of his Scooby Doo night-light. The eyes never blinked. They didn’t have eyelids, but they had plenty of teeth, yellow and long and sharp. They wore dirty, greasy rags as clothing, all stitched together into a rectangle of cloth pulled over their heads and tied at their waist with frayed ropes. They didn’t have shoes on their boney feet, but they had nails on the ends of their fingers that made their hands look like claws.
One of them carried a big cardboard box, the box Daddy used to store the Christmas decorations; the box Daddy blamed him for taking. The monsters were thieves. Last week, they stole the motor out of Mommy’s vacuum cleaner and the week before they’d taken the motherboard from Daddy’s computer. Lots of other things disappeared too, like the screen door spring, the cookie cooling racks, and all the silverware. They’d been eating with plastic ever since. Of course, he got in trouble for every missing thing.
The monsters moved past his room, creeping downstairs where he heard them rummaging in the closets and poking through the pantry. The basement door creaked. The monsters were going to Daddy’s workshop where they would move Daddy’s tools around. He always got in trouble when Daddy’s tools were moved, but not as much trouble as when the monsters played tricks. Sometimes they did silly things like putting grease on the door handle, but they also did dangerous things, like stringing a trip rope on the basement stairs. Of course, Daddy would blame Gerry for everything and Gerry would get punished.
At the breakfast table the next morning, Gerry had to warn Daddy, “The monsters went into your workshop last night. You should be careful if you go there.”
Daddy looked up from his iPad. He always checked his email at the breakfast table. Mommy didn’t like that, but Daddy did it anyway.
“Gerry, there are no such things as monsters,” Daddy said with a big sigh. “Monsters are only superstitions. Superstitions are things people use to explain the unexplained.”
Daddy was a scientist. He gave talks all over the world. Everyone said Daddy was very smart, but sometimes Gerry didn’t think so. “But everything can be explained. The monsters did it all.”
“I’ll tell you who is responsible,” Daddy’s voice gave him chills. “There’s a bad little boy in the house whose attention-seeking behavior is causing him to act out.”
Gerry knew better than to argue. Daddy was working himself up. He didn’t want a spanking or to go to bed without dinner. If only Daddy would believe him. He wanted to cry, but that would just get him in more trouble, so he tried to hold the tears back.
Mommy crossed the room and laid a hand on Daddy’s shoulder. “Let’s not start the day off poorly.”
“We have to get a handle on this monster thing.” Daddy rose from the table and stomped away, leaving the rest of his breakfast uneaten.
Mommy sat down next to him, and put a hand on his arm. “Why do you go into Daddy’s workshop?”
“I don’t,” he insisted.
“Gerry, I know things are bad, but stealing things only makes our situation worse.”
Mommy gave him that look. The one that always made him feel guilty even if he wasn’t. “And you have to stop setting your little surprises through the house. The iron balanced above the bathroom door could have really hurt someone.”
“I didn’t put the iron there,” Gerry insisted. “I can’t even reach the top of the bathroom door.”
Mommy sighed and pressed her forehead against his head. She started to cry. “You have to stay out of Daddy’s workroom. You have to stop your pranks. You know how much stress Daddy is under. The government is canceling his contract. His business is going bankrupt. We’re underwater on our mortgage. The bills are piling up.”
Gerry opened his mouth, but Mommy laid a finger over his lips.
“I don’t want to hear about monsters. There’re just superstitions, like your father said.”
As Mommy went back to finishing the dishes, he muttered under his breath, “The monsters are real.”
That night he lay in bed listening to the monsters creep past his room. He didn’t understand about ‘bankrupting’ and ‘mortgages,’ but they sounded real bad and they made Daddy angry all the time and Mommy so sad. He decided enough was enough. If Daddy and Mommy wouldn’t stop the monsters from messing up the workroom, from stealing things, and setting their nasty tricks, then he would have to do it. He got out of bed, put on his bunny rabbit slippers and picked up his little slugger T-ball bat.
The door to Daddy’s workroom in the basement was open so he walked right in. He caught the monsters using Daddy’s tools to work on a device about as tall as him. All the missing stuff was there. A gazillion wires connected Christmas lights to computer chips and circuit boards mounted on two cookie cooling racks, both attached to the shiny trashcan from the upstairs bathroom. Through holes cut in the trashcan, he could see springs connected to knives, the knives working as levers, pushing back and forth, controlling gears that drove spinning spoons and seemed to generate a strange glowing ball of cracking energy.
“You have to leave.” Gerry announced, talking like Daddy would talk.
The monsters looked up from their work, red pupils staring, mouths open in surprise. Their teeth looked so sharp, glistening in the florescent light. He wanted to run upstairs and hide under his covers.
Gerry lifted the bat and pointed the tip at them. “You have to leave!”
One of the monsters put down the wrench it was holding. “That’s what we are trying to do. My name is Hinky. My friends and I came from another world.”
“Just go back there.”
“The internal power supply of our portal generator broke so we’ve been building a perpetual motion engine as an external power supply.”
“Daddy gets mad when you don’t put his tools back. His ‘bankrupt’ is upside down, and his business is ‘mortgage,’ so you can’t stay here anymore.”
The monster took a step toward Gerry. “We want go. Your father’s workshop is very well equipped, but parts have been hard to find.”
“Is that why you stole the vacuum motor, the computer parts, and everything else?”
“We needed them for the perpetual motion engine,” Hinky explained.
“Why put the iron above the bathroom door?” Gerry could understand stealing stuff to go home, but not the mean tricks. “Daddy fell down the stairs on your trip rope. He could have been really hurt.”
The other two monsters giggled, inanely.
Hinky shrugged. “We’re gremlins. We like to play pranks.”
“You should stop that!”
Hinky smiled, looking almost sad. “I think that too. Sometimes I can control myself, but it’s hard for me and impossible for them.”
“I got in lots of trouble for your stealing.”
“I’m sorry,” Hinky said. The other two giggled, again.
“Our stuff is ruined.”
“I know your family is having financial trouble and our presence is adding to your worries. I intend to pay you back.”
Without supervision, the other gremlins had started playing with Daddy’s torch, the one with the big tanks of ‘oxy-something’ and ‘seta-lean.’
“Make them stop!” Gerry shouted. “Daddy says the torch could blow up the whole house.”
Hinky turned. “Back to work!” They looked sullen. “You want to go home, right?” Grudgingly, the gremlins picked up their tools. “They’re not as smart as me.”
Gerry could see that. “How long till you leave?”
“Just a few more adjustments and then we’ll connect the perpetual motion engine,” Hinky pointed to the device made of their stuff and then to the flat bar of shiny metal lying on the floor, “to our portal generator and be gone.”
“How will you go?”
“We warp space and time, folding reality over itself, to move from one location to another almost instantly.” Hinky reached in and hooked a spring to one of the knives.
Gerry didn’t understand the explanation.
One of the other gremlins drilled a hole in the shaft of a fork and bolted it onto the base of Mommy’s missing iron, energy cracked between the tines. The other used one of Daddy’s extension cords to connect the two machines.
“Will it work?” Gerry asked.
“Watch,” Hinky pressed the button on the stolen kitchen timer and the air above the portal generator began to shimmer. A dot of colored lights appeared, then the lights became a small ring, and then the ring was big enough for the gremlins to walk through. The two giggling gremlins leapt into the ring and disappeared.
“I’m leaving the perpetual motion engine behind. It uses forms of energy that your world has not yet discovered.” Hinky bent down and picked up the portal generator. “Give the engine to your father as payment for letting us stay here. He can reverse engineer its components and isolate the energies. All your money problems will be solved. Enjoy your life, little human.”
Hinky stepped through the portal and the prismatic spray of lights winked away.
Daddy stormed into the workroom. “I finally caught you!”
Gerry had never seen Daddy so mad, and he tried to explain. “I followed the monsters here! I talked to them. They are gremlins from another world.” That was the wrong thing to say, but he had proof this time. He pointed to the device. “They left you their perpetual motion engine. They said you can reverse ‘something’ it and make lots of money.”
Daddy was in a rage. “I’ve told you never to use my tools without my permission. I can’t believe you built our stuff into some child’s toy.”
“I didn’t,” Gerry insisted.
Daddy picked up the device, raised it high above his head, and then brought it crashing down against the tile floor. The device shattered, springs popping and gears rolling away, sparks danced from its innards, and then with a sad little whine, the levers stopped moving, all the lights winked out, and a small curl of smoke rose from the ruins.
“How many times do I have to tell you,” Daddy raged. “Monsters are just superstitions!”