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My entry this time is based on an actual incident. Mom and my brothers will recognize it. My apologies to them for the non-trivial liberties I took with history and their personalities.
We are now also meant to provide a tag line for our stories, so here's mine:
What terrors lurk in the root cellar?
The house we lived in that year wasn’t much. The wind blew in everywhere you could imagine a draft, and some places you couldn’t. The old enclosed porch we used as a root cellar was worse. It wasn’t just the wind that could get in through the chinks and cracks in that one. Though it stayed just enough above freezing not to spoil the potatoes, it was infested with everything from spiders to mice, maybe more. At least there weren’t any snakes in that part of the country.
By the end of October the porch was full of root veggies from the huge garden we’d maintained all summer, plus rows and rows of quart mason jars full of fruit—peaches, plums, applesauce, tomatoes. It was Mom’s pride, but none of us much cared for it when we had to go in there and dig out a bunch of spuds or parsnips. I especially hated going for parsnips, because I really couldn’t stand them so it was sort of doubly icky.
As a result, it was usually Mom who had to go rummage in the gunny sacks for the evening meal. We kids would make ourselves scarce, even though my brothers were older than me and supposed to be brave and tough and all that stuff teenaged boys claimed to be.
The night I’m talking about was Halloween, so we were all upstairs working on our costumes, even though we were too old for trick-or-treat. There was a party at the high school for everyone who wanted to come, and we had to have costumes. It was cold upstairs, but we were all working in our rooms to keep the costumes secret, for some reason I can’t remember now.
It was that time of year when dark came on early and took us all by surprise, and a gloomy afternoon was the worst. This one was rainy enough to make me glad I was too old to trick-or-treat, though the truth was we lived too far out in the sticks to make that work anyway. The previous fall, when we’d just moved in, I walked the mile up the road to the nearest neighbor, was given an apple, and walked back. That was it. No one else lived close enough to visit.
So this year I was pleased we’d be going to the high school, where I was sure they would have candy. My oldest brother would drive us in after dinner. He’d just gotten his license and was itchy to show it off, though carting the siblings around wasn’t what he had in mind. I could hear those pleasant kitchen noises that meant Mom was starting to fix dinner, though no good smells were rising yet. It didn’t much matter, since we were all saving up to stuff ourselves at the party.
The wind and rain beating on my windows was kind of creepy. It wasn’t really dark, but that super-spooky kind of dusky light, and I hadn’t turned on my lamp yet, so I could see out. I kept flinching from things flying by the window, but maybe that was because we’d been studying Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” in art class. That was the teacher’s idea, to keep our interest when we just wanted to play with paints and clay. But I thought the screamer was dodging some kind of black ghost or something and for the moment blowing leaves made me jump.
I switched on the light, which kept me from seeing out, but might have made my jitters worse. I kept glancing at the windows, now blank black rectangles, and wondering what might be looking in. Honestly, I was kind of enjoying working my way up to a good case of the spooks.
Then Mom screamed.
It sounded just the way the one in the painting looks.
I nearly wet my pants. Mom never screams.
If Mom was screaming, it meant an unthinkable horror. With visions in my head of accidents with the kitchen knives, vampires, monsters, and the undead, I left my room at full speed.
My brothers, I’m glad to say, catapulted from their rooms just as fast. We narrowly avoided a pile-up at the top of the stairs and flew down in close formation.
As fast as we were, Mom had stopped screaming before we got there. It might have been a single scream. Cut off by the fangs of a vampire?
The door to that porch/root cellar was open and the very dim bulb inside glowed feebly. We raced for the spot, crowding around the door, too worried about Mom to be scared, though I kind of hung back and let the boys go first. After all, there were two of them, so Mom and Dad could spare one if the vampire got him.
Mom stood there, looking a little shame-faced, but shaken. While we watched, she pulled on Dad’s heavy work gloves—he wasn’t home—and reached into the nearest potato sack.
She glanced at us. Her voice was almost steady as she said, “Sorry to scare you. But… have you ever felt a furry potato?”
She pulled a dead rat from the bag.
I’d have run, but my knees had gone weak.
And those rotten boys were laughing.