Fiction: There's Something in the House
By Michael Jaycox
“There’s something in the house.”
It was Mr. Moncell’s daughter, Maya, who came to him first.
“What’s in the house, my dear?” He was reading a rather lengthy book in the upstairs office and made a show of putting it down. “Tell me.”
For a moment, she mulled the words over in her mouth, as if they were a particularly sticky piece of food. Then, she whispered, “A monster.”
“A monster!” Mr. Moncell smiled. This was a favorite game of hers. Last week, gnomes had run amuck in the garden. “Ooooh! What kind of monster? Was it scary?”
She pushed her father, a little shove with a lot of effort. “Very!” She hugged herself. Little brown curls bobbed over her eyes. “It’s here, downstairs! A little monster! It’s … it’s black with scales like a snake and teeth like a wolf — I saw it!”
Mr. Moncell frowned. “Just how small was it, my love?”
With two fingers and her thumbs, Maya made the shape of a small coaster.
“But it’ll get bigger,” she said, with confidence.
“And how do you know that?” he asked.
Maya set herself straight and looked him in the eyes. “Because … it’s only a baby.”
On Wednesday, there was a bump in the night. Nothing so bad as a crash! or a bang! — really not much more than a gentle thump. Mr. Moncell didn’t even hear it, but Mrs. Moncell did. She was a light sleeper. A worrier and a bad dreamer. She was sure it was nothing at all, but she pulled on her slippers and shuffled into the hall, just the same.
And then …
Mr. Moncell tumbled out of bed and into the nightstand. “What happened? Who’s hurt?!”
Mrs. Moncell hurled herself through the doorway, gasping out words with no meaning.
She swallowed, inhaled. “There’s something in the house …”
“What? No, there’s nothing in the house, honey. You must have been sleepwalking.” Mr. Moncell held out a hand. He wondered whether he might have to put a jingle on the door. “Let’s get you back to bed.”
“I was not!” She wiped the sleep from her eyes, as if to prove it. “I saw it.”
Maya’s door opened, and her face appeared from the shadows. “Did you see the monster, mommy?”
“There’s no such thing as monsters, sweetie.” Mr. Moncell moved quickly past his wife and brushed Maya’s hair aside. “There’s nothing but fat shadows and mean tricks of the eye to scare us in the night. Now, go back to sleep. I’ll be making pancakes in the morning.”
“The monster doesn’t like pancakes,” Maya said.
Mr. Moncell sighed. “And how would a little girl like you know that?”
“I can hear it.”
“Me too.” Mrs. Moncell looked from left to right, up and down. “He hates pancakes.”
“Well …” Mr. Moncell rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Then, I’ll make waffles.”
But there would be no waffles.
The next morning, the Moncells woke to find their doors locked — all of them. Bathroom, cabinet, and garage doors. The little drawers in the pantry that Mrs. Moncell kept the spices in. The oven door. The garage door. Even the shoeboxes appeared stuck. Not a handle would turn. Maya couldn’t get out of her bedroom, and when the fire department arrived, they were forced to come in through the upstairs window, which Mr. Moncell, fortunately, left open on warm nights.
No one could explain what happened. The firefighters yanked and pulled and tugged and pushed on Maya’s door until suddenly every door in the home burst open with a thunderous clunk! Every single door in the home except for one.
That door simply rattled.
“It’s the monster,” Maya said, pointing at the basement door. In response, a gust of air pumped through the cracks in the frame like a burp from the underworld.
The firefighters looked from the quaking handle to Mr. and Mrs. Moncell. “Monster?”
“There’s no monster,” said Mr. Moncell, calmly. “The foundation must be settling.”
Mrs. Moncell shook her head. “No. I’ve seen it.” She stepped away from her husband. “It has eyes like bonfires and talons like an eagle. I don’t know what it’s here for, but it watches us and—”
“It’s growing,” finished Maya. Her hands clumped into an embrace and then pulled away to form something the size of a large beach ball. “Fast.”
Mr. Moncell sidled in front of the door, as if he might hide it from view. “Well, that’s all very imaginative, but—”
“Something’s inside,” one of the firefighters said, pointing his finger past Mr. Moncell’s shoulder.
“Oh, no, we have a serious draft coming up from the—”
Another one of the firefighters shook his head and said, “Doors don’t just burst open like that. It doesn’t make sense.”
“And how come your keys didn’t work?” asked a third.
Pretty soon, the questions were coming fast and with increasing alarm. None of Mr. Moncell’s stuttered responses landed with any weight, but Maya’s voice cut through the commotion when she said, for the second time, “It’s the monster.”
Boundaries were raised.
Mr. Moncell ordered the household to forgo all talk of a monster — it was an absurd proposition to put forth. If there were concerns with the home, everyone was welcome to bring them to his attention via a written account of all tangible evidence.
No one was to go near the basement door.
Mr. Moncell took to tallying up deficiencies and making amends. The shadows he attributed to musty corners, so he scrubbed them down, drew away the curtains, and installed motion lighting so that no one would ever be surprised by a wary silhouette. Each door he wrangled with a sliding bolt; a storage shed was built out back to make up for the space lost below.
For a day, they all worked hard to construct a new normal, until the Gibbons family across the street called the home line and declared, “There’s something in your house!”
Mr. Moncell did his best to calm the news crews hunkering down outside the front door. When he pushed them off his property, they took refuge on the Gibbons’ front lawn; they were all too happy to accommodate. Channels 4, 7, and 9 were all reporting “A Monster in The Heartland” in lieu of their primetime programming. The national networks were on the way.
“It’s not a monster!” Mr. Moncell shouted from the upstairs window. “It’s just backed-up pipes!”
But the footage playing on television screens across the city showed three black tentacles, suckers the size of manholes, slipping out the window wells and slapping at the side of the home; there was a rumbling in the earth that could be felt in neighboring zip codes.
“The governor just declared a state of emergency!” Mrs. Moncell shouted from a floor below. “They’re calling in the national guard!”
“The national guard?” Lights flashed across the street as rubberneckers and looky-loos directed their cameras at Mr. Moncell, who stared back indignantly from the bedroom window. “This is all a bit of an overreaction, don’t you think?”
That’s when a foundation-shaking thrump! exploded out from the downstairs den. Brick littered the floor. Drywall dusted the furniture. A large hole remained where there had previously been a painting of the Moncell family.
Maya pointed at the opening in the wall. “It was the monster, daddy!”
The reporters across the street, now with a straight-line view into the home, shouted something similar.
Mr. Moncell gritted his teeth and ushered the family upstairs. “Has everyone lost their mind?”
The first pamphlet came from Saint Vincent’s Baptist Church. It read, “The Lord Awaits Your Salvation,” in big block letters and looked to have been written and printed in a day. Mr. Moncell found the calls to Christ a tad obtuse and shoved the papers back through the mail slot with all the others that followed: an instructional from the local police department, pleas from the trash man’s union, letters from the governor, invitations from the media, guides from the D&D Players of America, a how-to from the National Guard. Groans came from the growing (but distancing) crowd outside the home every time he expelled another piece of literature out onto the front stoop.
“There’s no such thing as monsters,” Mr. Moncell told his family each time he returned to the master bedroom, in which he had instituted a mandatory lockdown. “If there’s something in the house,” he admitted for the first time, “then it’s anything but a monster.”
“A demon?” asked his wife.
“Not that either.”
“A ghost?” said Maya.
“Nor that.” Mr. Moncell paced before the bed. “Perhaps an optical illusion. A bear! They’ve come down from the woods before—”
“It has tentacles,” said Mrs. Moncell.
“Then an octopus!”
“And stingers!” cried his daughter.
“Then it must be a scorpion!”
“But it’s larger than a house!” they shouted in unison.
“Whose house? Not ours. Why who would claim such a thing—”
The floor shook. It leapt. Portraits and frames fell from the wall and the bed frame overturned. “Earthquake!” Mr. Moncell cried as talons thrust up through the floorboards, skewering the dresser on route to the ceiling. “Take cover—”
But his wife and daughter were already gone, stumbling down the stairs and out through the foyer and onto the lawn, where they were greeted by a small battalion of first responders who then looked up at Mr. Moncell in the upstairs window with a great mixture of anger and awe and yelled, “Run!”
Mr. Moncell leaned out into the warm air, his glasses askew. Something — something large — rose from the kitchen window beneath him, grabbed the trunk of an apple tree out from the yard and flung it through the next-door neighbor’s Jeep Cherokee. “Oh, my heavens!”
“Run!” everyone cried, once more. And to their surprise, he did.
To no one’s surprise, the house was gone. Not even the rubble remained, just a hole, deep and still burning. The neighboring homes were flattened, as was most of the town. By the time Mr. Moncell fled his home, almost everyone had already evacuated, so casualties were sparse — at first.
It took another day for Golgaton (that’s what people are calling it now) to grow past the point of containment. As of this moment, it stands four stories tall and is making its way towards St. Louis. Some are wondering whether it might be drawn towards the current of the Mississippi and wind its way down to New Orleans, which would be an optimal outcome, according to experts: at least they might be able to push the beast out into the gulf and wash the entire ordeal away.
Many are blaming the Moncells for allowing such a creation to incubate in their presence. Something so large may now require an army to subdue, but at the size of a small coaster … well, who’s to say? Or, as Mr. Moncell has been telling the cable news networks each evening, “Maybe the real question we should ask ourselves is who put the monster in our basement in the first place? Seems, with the ratings all your shows are getting with this destruction, the only person not benefitting from this disaster is me.”
Mr. Moncell’s memoir is being released by Penguin Random House in December.
Michael Jaycox studied journalism at the University of Colorado. Currently, he is a first-year student in Lighthouse Writers Workshop's The Book Project, typing away from Denver.