Sugar and Fear III

Act I | Act II | Act III

            The brothers slept in their own beds, with all the lights still on from the night before. Erring on the side of near-irrational caution, Ross had pushed the dining room table up against the patio door, and moved the armchair from the living room between the front door and staircase. The teenager also kept his window unlatched in case they needed a second-story escape. At some point in the night, Ryan had taken his pillow and comforter with him to his brother’s room, and slept on the floor right next to his bed, something he was prone to do when he had a nightmare or there was a thunderstorm.

            Ross lay awake in the morning, thinking about how things had been left the night before, replaying Ryan’s confession that he had no choice but to come along.

            “Hey…Ryan?” Ross muttered.

            “Hm?” his brother responded, half asleep.

            “I’m sorry about last night.”

            Ryan climbed to a sitting position, still wrapped in his thick comforter. “Why?”

            Ross rolled onto his side and pursed his lips, thinking. “I give you a lot of shit for being worried all the time, but I should have listened back in the woods. We got real lucky, and we wouldn’t even have been there if I hadn’t dragged you out with me. So…I’m sorry.”

            Ryan nodded slowly, staring ahead at nothing in particular.

            “Thanks. And…I could have stayed behind, but I didn’t. I wanted to show you I wasn’t scared of everything, so…I guess we’re both idiots,” Ryan said with a chuckle.

            Ross sat up in his bed and stretched. “Guess we are. But hey, just because I’m older, doesn’t mean I’m not freaked too. I’m just better at hiding it. Gotta keep it together, y’know?”

            “I get it.”

            “We good?”

            Ross held out his hand, and Ryan gave it a light slap.

            “Yeah.” Ryan said.

            “How you feeling, butt-munch?” asked the teenager.

            “I think I’m okay. Lots of sugar and falling down a hill being chased by a smoke monster just made me cranky. How ‘bout you? You didn’t like, land on your spleen or anything, did you?”

            “Nah, I’m fresh. But…I don’t think that thing is dead either. Schwan’s Guy hits it with his truck, but there was nothing there? Just that smoke again.”

            Ryan sighed. “It turned to smoke when we hit it with the floodlight, too. Must be like some kind of defensive mechanism, like a turtle going in its shell.”

            “And it only comes out at night. As soon as the sun went down, it was on us.”

            “So what do we do? It’s probably pissed at us,” Ryan said.

            “I would be, too.”

            “That thing is hanging around our neighborhood. It chased us all the way through the woods. It was in our backyard! I think it really wants to eat us.”

            “Us, or someone else.”

            “Ross! Oh man!” Ryan shot up to his feet. “Halloween – kids’ll be all over the neighborhood in the middle of the night!”

            “Shit you’re right,” Ross said, standing up from his bed. “It’ll be like a smorgasbord for that monster.”

            “Yeah a…smorgul…shdorb…” Ryan mumbled.

            Ross left the room and went downstairs, climbing over the armchair he had used to bar the front door.

            “What happened here?” Ryan asked, following over the chair.

            “Barricaded the doors, just being cautious.” Ross said with a wink.

            The brothers stood in the living room, pacing around each other.

            “We should call animal control again!” Ryan said with a snap of his finger.

            “That won’t work Ryan, a bear wandering around in the woods is no big deal for them, and if it is, they aren’t gonna go off the word of a ten-year-old who also already called and told them it had horns and red eyes.”

            Ryan slumped into the couch. “Probably would have been better off not saying that, huh?”

            “It didn’t help, that’s for sure.”

            Ryan’s head drooped, and he cupped his hands in his lap. “Sorry.”

            Ross sat down and bumped shoulders with him. “Don’t worry about it, you dork. We just gotta figure it out ourselves.”

            “I really wish we didn’t have to. Why is this on us?”

            “No one else would believe us. Cops wouldn’t show up unless there was already an emergency, and by the time we have an emergency, they’d take too long to get here,” Ross thought aloud.

            “Yeah but the cops have guns,” Ryan said as he held up his hands as finger guns.

            “Would a gun even work?”

            “Can’t call the Ghostbusters.”

            “The thing got hit by a truck and walked it off.”

            “Poof…smoke.”

            “The knife worked. Silver. Silver bullets could probably do it.”

            “If we had a gun, sure, but we don’t. Police don’t have those either. Where would we get silver bullets?”

            “No idea. I don’t wanna try stabbing it again, though. I don’t wanna be that close to it. We got lucky last time. Also, it’s made of smoke? I don’t know where I’d stab it anyway. Does it have a heart?” Ross shrugged, throwing his hands up.

            “Then what do we do, Ross?”

            Ross’ mind flickered between images of flashing lights and the monster’s form exploding into thick black smoke. When his gaze refocused, he found himself staring ahead at the bay window, where on the sill sat a row of plastic jack o’ lanterns, each with a fake candlelight within. Ross’ mouth slowly opened as the idea crept in.

            “I think…I’ve gotta plan.”

            “What? What do we do?”

            “We gotta go to Walmart.”

            “Where all great plans start,” Ryan muttered.

~

            Mariah Carey’s Fantasy played over the speakers high in the ceiling of the Walmart. Ross and Ryan stood in front of a large shelf filled with an assortment of lights, staring aimlessly between them. Ryan pulled one box by its top, leaning it over the edge of the shelf, but then let it tip back into place.

            “Something portable, I guess?” Ryan wondered aloud.

            “These’ll work then,” Ross said, reaching for a shelf overhead. “How many do we need?”

            “I dunno, how many do you think will make a good circle to surround it?” Ryan asked as Ross pulled a box from the shelf to hand to him.

            “Four could work, like a square? Put them in corners and…make the edges of the lights touch, or overlap?” Ross said, tapping the four corners of the box his brother held.

            “Then five, one to put in the center, too,” Ryan tapped the middle of the box.

            “Five it is,” Ross grabbed more, piling the boxes into Ryan’s arms. “Holy crap these things are expensive.”

            “How much you got in the car fund?” Ryan asked peering from behind the tower of boxes.

            “My car fund? We can’t use that, no way.” Ross shook his head vehemently.

            “This was your idea! Did you seriously not think about having to pay for the lights when your first step was ‘buy lights’?”

            “Shut up, nerd-burglar, I thought we could use what mom and dad left us.”

            “What else are we gonna do? Ross…” Ryan glanced around, then whispering, “…lives are at stake.”

            Ross stared at the price tag on the edge of the shelf, and his heart sank.

            “I hope this works…”

            “Well, if it doesn’t work, you won’t need to buy a car anyway, you’ll be dead.”

            Ross sighed.

            “Alright, what else do we need?” Ryan asked.

            “One more thing,” Ross said rushing off.

            “I’m getting a cart!” Ryan yelled, going the other way.

~

            Ross stood in front of a collection of shelves filled with an assortment of urns of different shapes, sizes, and colors. Ryan pushed a cart with the boxes of lights up next to him, and looked at the shelf, directly at a sticker of an old man with a speech bubble that said “The Best Place to Rest – in Peace™”.

            “This is mortifying,” Ryan muttered.

            “Are you afraid?”

            Ryan opened his eyes widely and nodded. “Yuh-huh.”

            “Can we get what we need and go? I feel like this old dude, who is probably dead by now, is judging me.”

            “Hey excuse me?” Ross flagged down an older lady with short, curled hair and a blue vest.

            “What can I help you boys with today?” she asked.

            “We’re trying to find the right urn for our pop-pop,” Ross replied.

            “Pop-pop?” Ryan repeated, then changing to a somber tone with “Ooooh uh…pop-pop.”

            “You see, he always said he wanted to be crammed into the finest silver urn Walmart had to offer.”

            One of the lady’s eyebrows shot up, but she reached for a particular urn all the same.

            “But not one of those silver-plated ones,” Ross assured. “The real thing, through and through. Only the best for pop-pop, y’know?”

            “Well, this one says it’s pure silver. Hopefully your pop-pop approves.”

            “Thank you, ma’am. Pop-pop appreciates it,” Ross said, tapping his finger under the message on the box that said it was pure silver.

            “You’re welcome, and I’m sorry for your loss,” the lady said.

            “Oh…uh…right! Thank you!”

            “Pop-pop, Ross?” Ryan said, watching the urn get tossed in the cart.

            “Whatever,” Ross waved his hand, and began pulling the cart to a check-out line.

            As Ryan placed the six boxes on the conveyor belt, Ross could only see stacks of dollar bills slowly moving towards the monster’s gaping maw.

            “All that hard-earned money…” Ross sighed, swiping his debit card.

            “Aw what hard-earned? Dad let you use the riding mower on everyone else’s lawn, and all you did was listen to the Walkman and ride around in circles.”

            “Not Mr. Glaser. That whacko wouldn’t let me touch his lawn.”

            “Of course not, it’s like his third kid.”

            Ross picked up half the bags and pushed the others at Ryan.

            “Alright, let’s get outta here, we’re burning daylight.”

~

            The brothers spent the better part of the day trying to figure out how to configure and set up their trap, all the while wondering where their quarry had come from. Was it a demon straight from the bowels of Hell? Was it an alien that arrived on a meteorite? Was it perhaps a spirit that only the Oneida nation would be privy to? Was it older than all of that, a manifestation of pure fear and uncertainty, and people just never saw its ilk as industrialization edged them out and shrunk their natural, eldritch stomping grounds? That last one was spot-on, but there was no way the boys could ever confirm that guess. As they got the last floodlight set up, they simply agreed that whatever it was, it sucked.

            The boys sat on the hill behind their house, looking in at the orange glow from all the lights on within. The sun had dipped behind the hills, and in the silence of the early night, you could hear those frogs chirping in the distant swamp at the far end of the forest. Ross and Ryan knew the monster would be on its way. For whatever reason, they felt it in their bones that it would head straight for them when night fell.

            “Y’know what?” Ryan snapped a twizzler off between his teeth.

            “Hm?” Ross said with a mouthful of peanut butter cup.

            “Since we’re the first people to have seen this thing, I think we get the honor of naming it. That’s what happens, y’know? If a scientist discovers something, they get to name it.”

            “Well, you saw it first, so what’s it called?”

            Ryan’s head cocked to one side, and he looked up at the stars, just beginning to glimmer in the night sky.

            “The…Suckmeister 6000.”

            “6000, huh?”

            “Yeah, that’s the level of its total suckage. Like, that’s how much it sucks being anywhere near this thing.”

            The brothers laughed, and then climbed to their feet, strutting into towards the house. Ross stopped short, next to the silver urn, which stood upright on the ground. The teenager plucked the lid from atop the urn and slid it into his pocket with a shaky hand. His other shaking hand rested against the hunting knife on his hip. Ryan continued further, standing next to the back corner of the garage, amidst a nest of extension cords that splayed off into the dark where five floodlights waited. The ten-year-old picked up two ends of an extension cord, gripping them tightly in each hand.

            “Hey.” Ross chirped.

            “Huh?”

            “You afraid?” he asked.

            “I’m not afraid – I’m cautious.” Ryan smirked.

            “Me, too.” Ross replied.

            They weren’t waiting for very long until Ryan saw the red eyes dotting the dark at the top of the hill.

            “Ross, it’s here.”

            Ross turned and watched as the monster trudged down the hill.

            “Alright. When I give the word, you Doc Brown those cords, then flip the light switch in the garage,” Ross said.

            “Yeah…got it.”

            “Come on, Suckmeister 6000! Fresh meat here for yah!” Ross called, pretending to hold a matador’s cape.

            The beast bared its teeth, a haze of gray slithering from between its white fangs. It coiled against the ground, and then took off.

            “Ready! Ross shouted.

            The monster reached the base of the hill.

            “Get ready!” Ross began to back up as the monster drew closer.

            With roughly a yard between them, Ross screamed “DO IT!” and dashed away. The monster’s foot stomped next to the silver urn and in a blink bright lights doused the backyard. The monster halted, cowering in the one darkened patch of grass between the four floodlights, its body beginning to smoke.

            “It worked! Go for it, Ryan!” Ross shouted, standing at the other edge of the light.

            Ryan stepped into the back door of the garage and flipped the switch beside the doorframe. Another floodlight showered the yard, hitting the center of the circle and the monster itself – but only for a split second. The monster burst into smoke, and then the lights shut off all at once. However, not just the floodlights, but all the lights, all over their house. Ryan shrieked and flipped the light three more times – off, then on, then off again. Nothing.

            “What happened?!” Ryan ran to Ross and grabbed his arm.

            “We must have tripped the circuit breaker with all the lights!”

            The torrent of black smoke coalesced back into the monster, and it shook itself from the daze.

            “Run!” Ross grabbed Ryan by the collar and yanked him towards the house. “We have to turn off all the lights and then reset the circuit!”

            “All the lights?!” Ryan threw the patio door open, and the boys jumped into the house.”

            “As many as you can! Go go go!” Ross slid the patio door closed while the monster barreled up on the house. It slowed as it came to the door, and Ross reflexively locked it, backing up while Ryan scampered around the house. The beast blew its smoky breath against the glass of the patio door, and then pressed its snout against it.

            “What the hell is it doing…?”

            A crack snapped and traveled up the glass, and the monster pressed harder into the door. Then it raised a claw, scraping slivers straight off the glass until it simply shattered beneath the monster’s weight. Ryan rushed from the back room just as the monster stepped into the kitchen.

            “Back! Go!” Ross shouted.

            “What about the circuit breaker?” Ryan cried, pushed down the hall towards the front door.

            The circuit breaker was in the basement, and the only door to that basement was blocked by the monster occupying the kitchen.

            “Just go!”

            The monster swiped its claw and caught the wall of the kitchen, taking the phone right off its socket and onto the floor with a sad jangle of its bell. At the front door, Ross started pushing the armchair away.

            “I’ll take it back outside from the front door, you go through the living room and loop back to the basement, trip the breaker!”

            “Look out!” Ryan shoved Ross up the stairs as the monster rounded the hall and slashed the armchair to its wooden bone. The boys rushed up the stairs with no other route open to them.

            “Dammit! I don’t know what to do now!”

            “The laundry chute!” Ryan rushed to the wall separating their doors to their rooms, where a small hatch sat. “I can slide down it and get to the basement! You just have to get it back to the trap.”

            “Are you sure?”

            “I don’t have a choice,” Ryan said, opening the laundry chute hatch.

            The stairs screamed under the stress of the monster as it awkwardly made its way up the flight, slipping and sliding off the edges of several steps for every one that it cleared.

            “Wow, bears can’t work stairs,” Ross muttered as Ryan yelled, tumbling down the laundry chute.

            The monster clawed into the top step and pulled itself on a sinewy arm over the remaining stairs. Ross yelped, running into his room. He slammed the door, but it swung right into the monster’s head and splintered. The monster shook its head and tore what remained of the door off its hinges. Ross backed up into the side of his bed, pulling the knife from his belt. He held the knife ahead of him, and the monster halted, instead opening its mouth wide, wider than it ever had before. It exhaled a slow, bubbling stream of gray smoke along with a gurgling sound from deep in its throat.

            “You don’t like this thing, huh?” Ross said, looking at its shoulder that still bore the wounds from the night before.

            The monster coughed, rattling everything in the room and blanketing the floor with a gray sheet of haze.

            “Feeling’s mutual,” Ross sneered.

            The monster coughed again, and then stomped a foot forward. The claw flexed, slicing through the carpet and into the wood beneath, clenching splintered wood and torn textile in its palm. Ross threw his hand forward, launching the knife into the thing’s left shoulder. It flinched and snarled, enough time for the teenager to climb over his bed and lift the window. The monster leapt forward, falling on the bed. Its weight easily snapped the bed frame and crushed the mattress, and it gave Ross no footing to propel himself out the window, leaving him to flail halfway through it. In its thrashing to right itself, the monster stretched its arm out and caught Ross’ right leg at the knee. He screamed out as the claws tore through the denim and into the flesh of his leg.

            Ryan bounced off the walls of the laundry chute to slow his fall, and then plopped out onto a pile of dirty laundry. Upstairs, there was the sound of a door thudding as Ryan climbed off the laundry and scattered around in the dark.

            “Where the…hell is the circuit breaker…?”

            The boy’s mental map of the basement was by no means detailed, nor accurate, thanks to their mother having mostly forbade them from playing there, and an aversion to being in the basement caused by a recurring bad dream. He stumbled forward and found the cold concrete wall. Upstairs, the monster let out a rattling cough, and Ryan jumped.

            “It’s fine, it’s fine, it’s finnnnne.”

            Ryan’s fingers soon caught a metal box, and he felt around to find the lid. He ran his fingers over the switches, and then aligned the side of his hand with them, brushing them all over with a snap. Hoping for the best, Ryan swung his hand around, looking for and pulling on the pullstring of the lone lightbulb he knew was in the back corner of the basement. When that single naked bulb bathed him in its dim orange light, Ryan dropped to his knees and opened his arms wide in praise. When he heard Ross scream, he scattered upstairs.

            Ross fought through the pain and pulled himself out of the window and onto the roof of the garage. The monster was close behind, snapping its maw as it wiggled through and broke the window in its sill. Ross was halfway across the roof when the beast emerged and clamored across the shingles itself. Seeing the floodlights on, Ross knew they were back in business.

            “Ryan! Ryan are you ready!? Unplug the floodlights, reset the trap!” Ross shouted, limping towards the backyard.

            “I’m here! I’m ready!” Ryan rushed to his original position and picked up the cords to pull them apart. The lights blackened and he waited in the dark. “Where are you?”

            Ross dropped off the top of the garage and rolled over the grass.

            “Ha, didn’t crack my head open or break my neck,” Ross climbed to his feet and hobbled forward. “Ow aaah, okay! Get ready!”

            The monster crashed into the ground seconds later, and Ross limped back to the center of the trap, picking up the silver urn. The monster rose to its feet and rushed forward, snarling as it pounced. Ross tried to back up, but stumbled in pain and fell to one knee. The monster was nearly on top of him.

            “Ryan now!”

            The circle of floodlights burst to life, and the monster shrieked as it flew through, nearly melting into smoke as it landed in the unlit center. Ryan threw down the cords and ran to the back door of the garage. He wrapped his arm around the doorframe and groped for the light switch, watching over his shoulder as the monster closed in on Ross.

            “You came to the wrong neighborhood,” Ross exhaled.

            The center light turned on, covering Ross and the monster blinding white. The thing exploded into black smoke, and spiraled erratically with nowhere dark to turn. Ross held out the shining urn, with its single source of darkness within. The smoke shot straight for it. Ross nearly lost his grip on the urn as the smoke rushed into it. He held the container close, tucked to his body and braced in his arms, his feet digging into the grass. When the last of the smoke had found its way into the urn, Ross dug the cap from his pocket and clapped it shut. His hands shaking, he fell on his back and laughed.

            “Holy…oh…holy shit!” Ross laughed, gently setting the urn next to him.

            “Ross!” Ryan rushed over to his brother with a roll of duct tape in his hand. “Are you alright?”

            “Yeah, yeah! I mean…no, ow…he got my leg, but it’s not that bad…ow.”

            Ross held onto his leg, finally expecting the wound. In the light, ribbons of smoke rose from the three gashes, but it soon seemed to dissipate. Ryan ripped tape from the roll and began applying it generously around the urn. By the time he had finished, there was nothing left to the roll. The brothers took the time to clear out the floodlight trap, and at least shove the evidence in an old toybox in the garage. Ryan propped up Ross and helped him to the couch in the living room, and then used the phone in their parent’s bedroom to call for help. The ten-year-old returned to the living room a few minutes later, slumped down in the couch next to Ross, and let out a deep sigh.

            “Police are on their way, ambulance too. How are you doing?” said Ryan.

            “Adrenaline still going, doesn’t hurt that much,” Ross said, chewing on a peanut butter cup.

            “You’re bleeding on the couch. Mom and dad are gonna freak.”

            “Well, the rest of the house is thrashed,” Ross said. “I’m sure a little blood will be the least of their worries.”

            “Look on the bright side – mom probably won’t be mad at us for eating all the Halloween candy.”

            The brothers laughed, but it quickly dissolved in their exhaustion.

~

            In the week that followed, Ryan and Ross became the talk of the town. News broke of two brothers who fended off a bear that had broken into their house Sunday night. The elder sibling sustained minor injuries, but otherwise the only damage was to the home. Animal control faced scrutiny when the brothers had called to report a sighting of the bear a couple nights before, but the authorities dismissed it as a Halloween prank. A Schwan’s delivery driver was also interviewed, having reported to his superiors that he hit something big the night before the incident, but lost sight of it in the woods. Other residents were shocked to think that something so dangerous could have been wandering around their neighborhood. Halloween went off without a hitch – if not for the brothers sealing trapping the monster, then at least for the animal control specialist parked on the block to put everyone at ease.

            Ryan and Ross found the time by the next weekend to take a stroll into the woods with a shovel and a taped-up urn.

            “That should do,” Ross said, leaning on the shovel and staring into the hole dug near the base of the big crabapple tree. “You got it?”

            Ryan held out the urn, wrapped in duct tape and bearing messages of warning written on it in permanent marker.

            “I also have a note to put with it, here…” Ryan unfolded a sheet of yellow legal paper and cleared his throat. “To anyone stupid enough to open this jar. Beware, for inside is a freaky monster with horns and claws, called the Suckmeister 6000. Brothers Ryan and Ross trapped it in 1995. If you wish to vanquish this beast, listen carefully – it fears the sun’s light, and silver’s bite.”

            “Nice. Like the Hobbit.”

            “In the day it is smoke, and at night it roams,” Ryan continued. “We used Spotbright brand portable floodlights, and they did the trick. Silver bullets probably work too. Good luck, and godspeed.”

            “Perfect,” Ross chuckled.

            Ryan rolled up the note and pulled back a piece of the tape on the urn, putting the instructions between, and then handing it to his brother. Ross looked down into the hole, and then tossed the urn in without a further thought. He dug the shovel into the mound of dirt, and looking at the urn one last time, cocked his head and said, “Hasta la vista, baby,” before dumping the earth on top of it.

Act I | Act II | Act III